Friday, August 11, 2017

Murphy's Law: Why we think things go wrong when they don't.

     Richard Robinson. Why the Toast Always Lands Butter Side Down (2005) Or: The Science of Murphy’s Law. The title suggests that we’ll ,learn physics and chemistry and stuff like that. Instead we learn about perception. Murphy’s Law is in the eye of the victim: Our understanding of the way the world works is good enough for dealing with everyday risks such as sabre tooth tigers, but simply wrong when it comes to reality. We overestimate and underestimate odds depending on whether the event is good or bad; we assume cause-effect when there is simple coincidence; the world as we experience it is a roughly computed illusion based on limited and filtered sense data; we see what we expect to see and ignore what we don’t expect; we rely on quick, mostly sub-conscious calculations; we extrapolate patterns in time and space from the flimsiest data. In fact, it’s surprising that we manage as well as we do.
     Well-done. Robinson has the knack of making abstruse concepts clear, of seeing the example in daily experience that makes his point. He’s also careful to reference sources: all the counter-intuitive claims sport a footnote number. Come to think of it, the book implies a better definition of intuitive: it just means “matching the illusions our sense present to us.”
     Recommended. ***

No comments: