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November 23, 2011

Mythbusters: The Monty Hall Problem

Pet theories department.

I don't watch Mythbusters, but this should be a good episode. The Monty Hall problem is fascinating. It's a mindbender, and it reveals something important about perception. It's on tonight at 9:00 Eastern on Discovery Channel.

One explanation for the Monty Hall problem is "working memory overload." According to that theory, The Monty Hall problem requires us to hold too many things in our heads at once, and we end up dumping some before the problem is solved. Thus, at the end of the problem when we decide on a course of action, we're not plugging in all the facts.

That's the gist of it. Now imagine that applied to, say, politics. Notice how we on the right are presented with the opportunity to make the same argument over and over that runs along these basic lines: Someone on the left has said or done something that is inconsistent with his or her prior acts or statements. Now, everybody does that from time to time, but people on the left seem to do it endlessly. Proof? Think of how often we find ourselves pointing out media double standards.

Here's another example: Remember when Governor Christie was confronted by a teacher at a town hall meeting? On the one hand for the teacher, it was all about the money. That was her big concern. But. On the other hand, it was all about the children. That was her motivation. She was in it for the love of teaching. While in either state of mind, the teacher seemed to have no awareness of the other state. It was as if there were two different people standing there from moment to moment.

I recall the MBM repeatedly using the word "polarizing" to describe the Arizona immigration law a while back--from memory, a law that was supported by 70%. I do not recall them ever using the word "polarizing" to describe Obamacare. I hope that's not just a case of confirmation bias on my part. Another example: A while back, a Mediaite journalist referred to Sarah Palin's kids as "props." There will never be a time when this same journalist refers to President Obama's children as props. Because, different.

One last example. Governor Christie himself brought up a nice example of a double standard in another town hall meeting when he talked the crowd about tone. The head of one of the teachers unions had encouraged his members to pray for his death. That union schmuck was not fired, and there was no outcry on the part of teachers.

Of course, the examples are endless. Pointing them out is a regular feature here at the HQ. It's evergreen. For the most part, I don't believe these people see themselves doing it, and I think working memory overload might be the reason why.

At the point of deciding about a given fact situation, a person's general political stance becomes the basis of of that decision--not all the material facts that might have a bearing on the issue. This is because keeping those general forms in mind is much easier. "I don't recall what I said/reported yesterday about the identical situation, vis-a-vis the Other Group, so I'm going to phrase it completely differently today. Besides, I like this group." So this ballpark-it way of deciding works as a solution to working memory overload, but it also serves-up endless opportunities for rebuttal.

I know Ace has some different ideas about this stuff. Maybe he'll talk about that soon.

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Update: Good grief, that was weak. I put a better explanation of the problem and the solution below the fold.

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posted by rdbrewer at 07:31 PM

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