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OrdinaryTimes 1.32-WhoMan

The Muse calls ‘em Stupid Human Tricks, those tendencies we tend to not notice ourselves embodying. The expert almost never notices the over-confidence his detailed knowledge of a system induces. Almost everyone falls prey to a Law of Small Numbers, where we pre-consciously act as if small samples would exhibit the same patterns as large, statistically significant ones might. We seem encased in biases and blindnesses, each perfectly human, each also perfectly delusional.

Economists seem to be about ready to give up on the notion of rational actors engaging in purely self-interested exchanges. Recent studies suggest that even if we tried to maximize our own self-interested happiness, we are not always in touch with what might render us happy. Lottery winners end up no happier than the poorest of the rest of us. Our status quo seems most valuable to us, and we seem imbedded in a continually shifting context. We seem, as a species, very risk averse, even when we characterize ourselves as daredevils. As economists back away from earlier, more wishful presumptions about human behavior, the many professions classifiable under the broad heading of economic activities seem painfully unaware that their profession’s presumptions, too, more than qualify as questionable.

The seemingly wisest have stopped trying to fix these uncountable biases and prejudices and delusions, choosing to tally them on the feature side of their equations. We can be sure that our models are wrong, but never certain in what way they might betray our trust in them. We will be surprised, and unlikely to ever identify the root cause of the shift. We humans have somehow thrived in spite of our tenacious inability to predict our futures. We seem unlikely to lose this great gift in the future.

We might compute for insight rather than answers, especially after our computations fail to produce reliable answers for about the ten-thousandth time. Perhaps it’s another of the blindnesses economists have been discovering, thanks to the psychologists, keeping us insistent upon computing for answers. Who knows?

I am probably perfectly human in these respects; a WhoMan. I do not know who I am. I do not know who you are, either, and it’s no cynical safe bet that you share this tendency toward cluelessness, too. I, like you, manage somehow to navigate more or less successfully in spite of, and perhaps because, my internal maps prove usually wrong. I could follow your map instead, but it likely suffers from the same shortcomings mine exhibit.

I suppose this recognition could fuel a desolately cynical response, as if nothing could matter because we cannot *really* understand anything. I apparently must know enough to be cynical or accept complete unawareness, but I need not choose to respond cynically.

Hopefulness remains within reach even when I accept that I am not and could not possibly ever be in complete control. I am perfectly free to leverage the remaining possibilities, to grab the occasional passing lucky gold ring while riding my fantastical wooden pony around and around and around this ride. They don’t call it a merry-go-round for nothing.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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