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Ch. 1 - The Truth about Relativity 
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Post Ch. 1 - The Truth about Relativity
Ch. 1 - The Truth about Relativity



Fri May 28, 2010 6:13 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Truth about Relativity
Ariely backs up the great, simple truth that relativity influences all areas of our lives with some practical findings. He even suggests how we can reduce the influence on our behavior and thinking that relativity exerts.

I think often about how relativity affects my assessment of my own happiness. It's not that my life has any intrinsic degree of happiness; it's rather that I either see that I'm well off, happiness-wise, or not so well off by comparing my state to that of others or perhaps to my fantasies. When I get bored with my routine of going to work, mowing the lawn, living with the same people, fixing stuff that breaks, etc., I try the experiment of imagining myself in some desperate situation such as that of our brave soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan. What wouldn't I give, then, to be able to come home and mow my wonderful, blessed lawn?

Of course, it's very much the same when it comes to wealth & materialism. It's a bit sick, actually, that the thought should ever enter my mind that I'm in any way one of the have-nots of our society, but it does. Relative to what I see around me in my area, I'm sort of low-rent. The level of luxury that I enjoy as someone with a middle-class income is fairly extraordinary and could be considered obscene by about 95% of the world's population. I've done nothing to deserve all this, I was just born in the right place to the "right" people.

President Obama has received some heat recently for suggesting that at a certain point, people are making too much money. Relativity drives a lot of this race to greater riches, as Ariely explains in this chapter.


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Last edited by DWill on Sun May 30, 2010 8:04 am, edited 2 times in total.



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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Truth about Relativity
Yeah, this is an interesting chapter. I keep thinking, that cannot be right! People are not that simplistic! But it is possible. I know as I was thinking through his different scenarios I tried to relate it to my own life. He brought up a survey about subscriptions to the economist. I would choose only internet option because I do not want a bunch of magazines that I have to recycle. I am not sure what that has to do with relativity. I just know myself and I have problems with creating paper piles. It seems like there are multiple things that go into decisions.

Yet I know I chose my house because it reminded me of my grandmother's house. So there is definitely relativity involved in some of my decisions. Yet, it was actually the emotional attachment to my grandmother's house that made me fall in love with my house. I am assuming he will talk about emotions later. It is a very thought provoking book. I am enjoying it so far.



Sun Jun 06, 2010 11:50 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Truth about Relativity
seespotrun2008 wrote:
Yeah, this is an interesting chapter. I keep thinking, that cannot be right! People are not that simplistic! But it is possible. I know as I was thinking through his different scenarios I tried to relate it to my own life. He brought up a survey about subscriptions to the economist. I would choose only internet option because I do not want a bunch of magazines that I have to recycle. I am not sure what that has to do with relativity. I just know myself and I have problems with creating paper piles. It seems like there are multiple things that go into decisions.

Yet I know I chose my house because it reminded me of my grandmother's house. So there is definitely relativity involved in some of my decisions. Yet, it was actually the emotional attachment to my grandmother's house that made me fall in love with my house. I am assuming he will talk about emotions later. It is a very thought provoking book. I am enjoying it so far.

And in fact, you're right--people aren't that simplistic. The most important fact to emphasize about the experiments that Ariely summarizes might be that still, a great number of people go against the trend he identifies. What I'm trying to say is that when a result is statistically significant, that only means that enough of the subjects have followed the trend that we can say the effect is real and not due to chance. But the effect doesn't show up in 100% of the subjects, not even close. This means that there isn't a determinism is in the forces Ariely describes, only that because the effects are really there for a large enough percentage of people at a given time, we will notice the effect on society as a whole.

Another way to look at the picture is that each one of us is put into thousands of situations in which we make decisions that relativity can influence. None of us are going to react in the ways Ariely says are predictable 100% of the time, probably not even 50% of the time. Yet even 30% would be very significant. When we're not responding predictably, millions and milions of others are, and when we are, millions of others are not. We will respond predictably at some times and not at others to the same basic conditions because of significant variables such as our mood, but overall and across time we are all influenced significantly by the irrational thinking that Dan talks about. The total effect is like having 30% greater water pressure through a hose--you definitely have a big difference.

Dan does tell us that through conscious--that is, rational, thought--we can catch ourselves sometimes responding in automatic, irrational ways, or we can be more aware of when marketers are using relativity to influence us, such as showing us the $3,000 bicycle first so that we'll think the $1,800 one is a bargain.

The irrational forces Dan talks about are at their base primal, emotional ones. When relativity makes us believe that one of two items is a bargain, that gives us an emotional hit; it lights up our pleasure zones when we get something that we must have for less money than we expected we'd have to pay. That isn't quite the same as your reason for liking your house, which seems to me to be of a different emotional nature. According to Dan's criteria, you didn't react irrationally. For one thing, you know why you chose the house, and for another, emotion is an important aspect of rationality, as we've said from time to time in various discussions on BT.


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Last edited by DWill on Mon Jun 07, 2010 8:32 am, edited 3 times in total.



Mon Jun 07, 2010 8:14 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Truth about Relativity
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The irrational forces Dan talks about are at their base primal, emotional ones. When relativity makes us believe that one of two items is a bargain, that gives us an emotional hit; it lights up our pleasure zones when we get something that we must have for less money than we expected we'd have to pay.


Good point. :)



Mon Jun 07, 2010 10:32 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Truth about Relativity
It is a very good point.

I finally found a copy of this book (though I'm lacking chapter 5 and 12 listed in these forums) and have finally begun to dive in. I couldn't help but to laugh while reading about the idea of driving 15 minutes to save 7 dollars on a pen because it sounds exactly like my mother, and indeed, probably like a lot of the bargain-hunting mothers out there. Hording the coupons to save 25 cents on a can of green beans.

seespotrun2008 wrote:
I know as I was thinking through his different scenarios I tried to relate it to my own life. He brought up a survey about subscriptions to the economist. I would choose only internet option because I do not want a bunch of magazines that I have to recycle. I am not sure what that has to do with relativity. I just know myself and I have problems with creating paper piles. It seems like there are multiple things that go into decisions.


I was thinking the exact same thing. Not only would the paper add up, I wonder what's the use of having a duplicate subscription. I would have definitely been one to pick the internet subscription over both, despite the deal. I guess it also applies to ones interests. Perhaps if it was a magazine catering to a hobby of mine that I really really love, I may want to have that paper copy to thumb through at nights. And that would tie into the other types of emotional influence in such decisions.

I'm going to be making a few furniture purchases once I move, and I'm definitely going to be scrutinizing offers and my own decision-making processes after reading this chapter.


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Wed Jun 09, 2010 3:08 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Truth about Relativity
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And in fact, you're right--people aren't that simplistic............Another way to look at the picture is that each one of us is put into thousands of situations in which we make decisions that relativity can influence.


Good points, DWill.
Each day we make hundred of decisions that we could not possibly take the time to rationalize the bits of information that our brain takes in in order to make these decisions. We learn to go by our 'gut' because otherwise it would be a swamped in trying to analyse so much data, that even the simplest decisions would take hours. Our world has changed very rapidly and the amount of data available to us on a daily basis for decision making and increased much, much faster than our brains could possibly adapt to.

These irrational decisions based on relativity are really very rational because they allow us to be very efficient in making decisions. And, in many cases, efficiency becomes more important than accuracy. I think it is very interesting that our brains will take something seemingly unrelated, ie the social insurance numbers, and influence our actions. On one hand this could be looked at as a sign of a lower level intelligence or intellectual ability. But, how often are seemlingly unrelated details later found to be quite significant?



Fri Jun 11, 2010 11:46 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Truth about Relativity
Well, as to whether we can call these influences on our choices rational, I have my doubts. It seems that Ariely is using a slightly different definition of rational/irrational than we might use every day. We usually use 'irrational' in terms of some behavior that is bizarre or obviously directed entirely by emotion. It is almost always a very negative word for us, whereas 'rational' is positive (except in the case of 'rationalize,' which means to invent a logical-sounding reason for something we simply want). But I agree with Ariely's use of the word and find it useful because it's more precise. The experiments he cites show the presence of irrationality in that in these situations we tend to stray from what we would agree is--in the abstract--the rational, logical way of seeing something. It's just that in real life, in the heat of the moment, cool-headed rationality tends to go out the window, as we become subject to influences that, were we able to step back, we could recognize as producing irrational thinking. The results of this thinking might not be so bad: we choose a certain product, choose a college to attend or a career to follow. Dan isn't entirely stigmatizing the irrational contribution to our choice-making. He's really just trying to get at the truth, using science to establish that our idealized view of ourselves as seats of reason doesn't stand up in empirical testing.

For Dan, 'irrational' is less a value judgment, although it's less desirable than the rational response.

In terms of this chapter, notice what he says to undermine the view that we are fully rational. We like to say that the marketplace works because people know what they want, they know what it is worth, and they are motivated to find a price that they are willing to pay. The suppliers react to this demand by offering the right product at the right price. But in fact we don't know what we want or what something is worth until we see it in context, beside other choices. This applies not just to products but to larger matters like what we want to do with our lives. We don't know anything except by comparison to other things. This, of course, introduces plenty of opportunity for our choices to be manipulated. The presence of those other things makes us value items differently than we would if we were analyzing them with detachment. That explains why relativity has such a big effect on our lives. Perhaps the biggest effect is that seen in our need to have a higher and higher 'standard of living.'

Dan's metaphor for this need to have more and more comes from a visual perception exercise. The same size circle will appear to be either larger or smaller to us depending on whether we surround it with other larger or smaller circles. Not just perceptually, but cognitively, this holds true. If we see ourselves as small circles surrounded by bigger circles, we will feel deprived and envious. We might try to expand our circle to catch up with the more successful circles. This happens all the time, one particular instance being the explosive growth in CEO pay that was caused by press disclosure of CEO salaries, leading to CEOs demanding to be paid as much as the biggest circles or execs.

Dan says that since feeling this is way is inevitable, the only thing we can do to lessen it is consciously gravitate to smaller circles in our daily lives. If we were to surround ourselves with people who are successful without lots of money, and ignore all the BS we see about the rich and famous, that could inspire us to avoid the irrational trap of equating money with happiness. We might see our own circle as quite large enough already.


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Mon Jun 14, 2010 9:00 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Truth about Relativity
Quote:
If we were to surround ourselves with people who are successful without lots of money, and ignore all the BS we see about the rich and famous, that could inspire us to avoid the irrational trap of equating money with happiness.


This sounds like the only irrational trap is equating money with happiness. Many people also get stuck in the trap of equating happiness with other kinds of successes in life, such as intelligence, education, world knowledge, beauty, athletic ability, accomplishment of children, etc. We could just as easily see our circle as not being large enough by comparing ourselves with people more successful in many other areas of life, and we do.



Mon Jun 14, 2010 12:42 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Truth about Relativity
realiz wrote:
Quote:
If we were to surround ourselves with people who are successful without lots of money, and ignore all the BS we see about the rich and famous, that could inspire us to avoid the irrational trap of equating money with happiness.


This sounds like the only irrational trap is equating money with happiness. Many people also get stuck in the trap of equating happiness with other kinds of successes in life, such as intelligence, education, world knowledge, beauty, athletic ability, accomplishment of children, etc. We could just as easily see our circle as not being large enough by comparing ourselves with people more successful in many other areas of life, and we do.

I suppose it is a package deal in some ways, that it's not just money per se that can make us feel small and inadequate in relation to what others have, but all that usually goes along with having money. But it's money that is usually seen as making some other good stuff possible. Mainly, though, I think in our culture we don't spend nearly as much energy thinking that education, knowledge, and even beauty will make us happy as we spend thinking money will do that. If it were really true that money equates with happiness, it wouldn't be irrational to pursue it. But the correlation is weak, although not absent. It's probably accurate to say that money doesn't make us as happy as we think it will.

The point Ariely is making is that wanting money seems particularly dependent on our seeing how much others have. It might not work this way with all of the items of your list. Knowledge and education might deliver more intrinsic satisfactions to us that don't depend on our estimation of what others have. Accomplishment of children--yes, I can see that our desire for more of this is heavily influenced by what other parents' children are achieving.


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Mon Jun 14, 2010 3:41 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Truth about Relativity
DWill wrote:
And in fact, you're right--people aren't that simplistic. The most important fact to emphasize about the experiments that Ariely summarizes might be that still, a great number of people go against the trend he identifies. What I'm trying to say is that when a result is statistically significant, that only means that enough of the subjects have followed the trend that we can say the effect is real and not due to chance. But the effect doesn't show up in 100% of the subjects, not even close. This means that there isn't a determinism is in the forces Ariely describes, only that because the effects are really there for a large enough percentage of people at a given time, we will notice the effect on society as a whole.

Still, Arierly makes two significant points.

First, nobody's decision-making process is rational. Everyone makes irrational decision at least some of the time.

Second, the ways in which people are irrationale follow certain patterns. While there's variation in how different people react to a given situation, the commonalities are significant and interesting.

The rest of the book, which i read two years ago, goes into more detail about those patterns of irrationality.



Sun Jul 18, 2010 9:09 pm
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