How Delusional Are You?
We are all delusional, but how many layers of delusion can we subliminally allow wrapped around us—before we ourselves enter into an intellectually vegetative state? Hence, are you an Onion? The beauty of the question is that the faster you repudiate this question, the more of an Onion you’ve become.
I recognize that I am delusional. As Stupidparty has evolved in this century, I keep thinking that I can (along with others) put a stop to it. Stupidparty is transparently awful—and corrupted to its core—so that should be an easy task. I used to think chatting among friends or writing a letter to a newspaper might do the trick. Nah! How about traveling to Ohio and knocking on doors to help John Kerry become president in 2004—at a point in time when we surely should have known the Iraq invasion was illegal, thus a war crime? Nah! OK, how about starting a Twitter account? Surely I can have an impact—nah! Investing the time and energy in writing, marketing an irrefutably watertight book, then a second book—nah! Nah! Expanding my social media presence—nah? Nah!
But I evolve with each failure, pick myself up and start all over again. And here I am with this book, with its determinedly simple solution that only needs a very small number of people (say, ten) to come across it and act. But by now the stench of delusion on my being is something I must rub with parsley in order to spot and repel some of my delusions. This is the defining difference between a “conservative” brain and an evolving brain.
However, my delusions do not start or end with Stupidparty. If I accuse others (basically everyone), I must look at myself first. My delusions run the gamut, from trying to save the world to expecting Americans to understand how to brew a drinkable cup of tea. True story: the cover image from my first book came to me in a vivid dream. Abruptly awakened, I ran down to my computer to seek the envisioned image of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Imagine my musings: God or Ambien? I still believe I can pick a good stock to invest in. But the fact is, statistically we can’t. Research shows that throwing a dart into a dartboard is equally effective.
As we consider an interesting clash of delusions, imagine there were a law that before you could order meat for dinner, you would have to visit your victim while he or she was still alive. Thus, the simple question is raised: is this necessary? We have to block out the consequences of our unnecessary actions to achieve any degree of spiritual well-being.
With thoughts of spiritual well-being still bouncing aimlessly around my head, I keep thinking, hoping I can understand stuff way over my pay grade. Consider the number of times I opened up the science section of the New York Times, excited about broadening my horizons, only to run out of steam barely three paragraphs into an explanation into . . . Well, it would help if I had a better idea of why I would be interested in this headline: cern physicists find a particle with a double dose of charm.
Why the fascination? I should already know this is not going to end well. But my DNA is strong within me: “Go on, Luke,” it tells me, “let the Force overcome your double dose of delusion.” I have no free will. I must go forward. But soon, spirits sinking, I must slow down, reverse, reread, reverse, reread . . .
An experiment at CERN, within the behemoth Large Hadron Collider, counted more 300 Xi-cc++ baryons, each consisting of two heavy charm quarks and one up quark. The discovery fits with the Standard Model, the prevailing understanding of how the smallest bits of the universe behave, and does not seem to point to new physics. “The existence of these particles has been predicted by the Standard Model,” said Patrick Spradlin, a physicist at the University of Glasgow who led the research. “Their properties have also been predicted.”. . .
Up and down quarks have almost the same mass, so in protons and neutrons, the three quarks swirl around each other in an almost uniform pattern. In the new particle, the up quark circulates around the two heavy charm quarks at the center. “You get something far more like an atom,” Dr. Spradlin said.
It’s time for an intervention. Stop and go to the final paragraph . . . See if I can pick up the thread . . .
It is possible one of the experiments is wrong. Researchers at other laboratories, including at CERN, have sought to detect the Fermilab baryon without success. Dr. Spradlin said he and his colleagues are searching the same data that revealed the Xi-cc++ for the baryon with two charm quarks and one down quark. That could confirm the Fermilab findings or reveal a mass closer to theorists’ expectations.
“We should be able to see it with the data we have,” Dr. Spradlin said. “I think we are very close to resolving this controversy.”
And then the final humbling thought: what controversy? What was I even trying to learn about in the first place? Totally forgotten, just like my car keys. My mind now seeks something to allow it to rebuild its self-respect. Well, this looks like a fun movie review. Should I go see Wonder Woman?”
Do we even have free will? I keep playing mind games to try and establish if I do, forgetting that my mind is far too finite to get anywhere close to figuring out a proof. So the question is not so much are we delusional, but how many layers of delusion do we have?
Humans behaving badly—irrationality lives in our core
Seeing mass stupidity—with Onions on the rampage—brings tears to one’s eyes. They should not be respected; their opinions must be rejected. Evidence of Homo sapiens absurdity abounds in plain sight. From sects drinking Kool-Aid, to others having (or choosing) to wear tents throughout adulthood. From Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism) to L. Ron Hubbard (the Church of Scientology); from the incident in Saudi Arabia, where women not properly attired were not permitted to exit a burning building, to the explosive growth of ISIS’s sick belief system; from allowing George W. Bush to get away with misleading the country into a war, to electing Trump as president. From myopically allowing overfishing, to the destruction of the world’s oceans—there is something very wrong with Homo sapiens. Especially the more malleable and fearful among our species. But now economists can prove how irrational the majority of us are. Combine irrational thinking with fear and stupidity, and you get a Stupidparty disciple.
From birth the odds are stacked against us. It turns out that the vast majority of us start out with barely half a deck. Yes, that means you and me. Only targeted education can counter our birthright to make idiotic day-to-day decisions. Yes, there are exceptions, but such persons would likely be deemed as suffering from some type of personality disorder.
In his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), Adam Smith suggested psychological reasons to explain irrational human behavior. In the 1960s, psychologists Daniel Kahneman (2002 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences) and Amos Tversky more fully integrated behavioral economics with psychology. Such efforts have recently reached full bloom. In 2017, Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize, having established that people are predictably irrational in ways that defy economic theory. He argued that economists “need an enriched approach to doing economic research, one that acknowledges the existence and relevance of humans.” Humans make 95 percent of their decisions using mental shortcuts, which I interpret to mean leaving ample room for short-circuiting such shortcuts and inserting a false reality.
In order to quickly grasp what these guys have concluded, it is useful to provide a couple of examples gleaned from the first chapter of Thaler’s best-selling 2015 book, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics. Among countless tests on human beings—leading to mind-boggling results—here are a couple of my favorites:
- Students and their curve. The point of a curve is to ensure that however hard the test, it matters not, because the curve will ensure that the pass rate does not change. So on a hard test Thaler constructed—which intentionally included “some questions that only the top students would get right”—the average score was 72 out of 100. Because a grading curve was used, the top scorers still got their A or A-. But students and parents complained bitterly because students did not get 95–100, the standard benchmark. Thaler’s solution was, on the next test, to use a different scale—with 137 points available. Then everyone was happy.
- Now imagine a group of people (group A) in a room. They are advised they have been exposed to a deadly virus, leading, if fatal, to a painless death. Their individual odds of dying are 1 in 1,000. There is an antidote, but they will have to pay for it. How much would they be willing to pay? If anyone is short of cash, they can borrow money at zero interest with thirty years to pay it off.
Group B is approached for medical-research purposes. Volunteers are needed. They are asked what is the least they would need to be paid to walk into a room for five minutes and get exposed to the same disease at the same risk level as the above group. Now, obviously the answers varied massively—but there was a clear divergence between groups. Members of group A might typically say, “I am not willing to spend more than $2,000.” But for members of group B, the demand was more typically $500,000—or no amount of money would be enough.
He calls this “misbehaving. By that I mean that their behavior was inconsistent with the idealized model of behavior that is at the heart of what we call economic theory.”
Psychologists also point out that Homo sapiens are not very good at learning from life’s experiences. To learn, we need two ingredients—frequent practice and immediate feedback. Hence, we learn to ride a bike safely but might fail to be logical in picking a mortgage or figuring out how to behave in the above-outlined examples.
One final simple example regarding everyday purchase decisions. Imagine you are shopping at Target, looking for an alarm clock—you see it on sale for $50. Someone advises that you can buy the same clock for $40 at a Best Buy, a ten-minute drive away. Many people would drive to Best Buy to secure that 20 percent savings. However, perhaps you were at Target, looking to buy a TV for $525 but then learned you could buy the same TV for $515 at that Best Buy location. Few people would make the effort to save less than 2 percent.
Onions and Trump—it seems no amount of constant evidence, no amount of immediate feedback, is sufficient. Is this a whole new level of Homo sapiens stupid? It would be easy pickings for any economist looking for a research topic, looking for a Nobel Prize. Captain Kirk might argue that the beauty of humans can be in their unpredictability and this certainly has some accidental benefits, but “misbehaving” economically is a polite way of saying, “making bad decisions.”