Category Archives: Brain

Jumping to Conclusions: How soon is too soon?

Me: (in as contrite a tone that I could muster) “Sorry madam”
She: (disdainfully) “Nimma sorry nu beda, nimma dudu beda! Hogri!” or “Dont need your sorry or your money! Get lost!”
Ouch! That hurt.

So, having read that conversational exchange , what conclusions have you jumped to, dear reader? Hopefully none. Some of you may have read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink where he writes about how our mind tends to process partial information and how it is at times useful, and at other times, not so.  As my dear friend AC would say, “The human mind is wired to be this way. Overcoming this requires a lot of effort.” Not easy at all.

This happened a few years back.  I had gone to a shop nearby to get additional keys made for the front door of my home.  “Computerised duplicate keys made here” was what they said. Job done, paid for, came home and tried to open the door with the new keys.  Surprise surprise…two of the three keys I got made did not work.  So much so for computer control. :/ Who wrote the #*@# software for that machine?  Not me!

The complementary key chain provided by the shop had a number on it.  I called and complained about the shoddy job done.  The person asked me to bring the keys back to the shop and said it can be fixed easily. Why not do the job right  the first time itself was my thought.

So, I went back, and despite my best attempt to get their attention to my problem, no one seemed to be interested.  This is not what I was expected after the phone call, so I lost my cool, and said a few harsh things to them.  Now, with other customers around, the store owner, a lady, possibly felt the need to control the damage being caused to their reputation.  She flatly denied that they had got any call from me just a few minutes before, and that I was, in effect, lying! Wonder what my blood pressure was at that point?  Luckily for both of us, an employee of the shop stepped in at this point and asked me for the number that I had called.  I thrust the key chain into his hand and asked him to read it for himself.  He did.

And said “Ah saar! Neevu namma VVPuram shop call madidira!” or “You have called our VV  Puram shop”.  So, here is what had happened.  The store near my home was new branch.  The key chain had the number of their older branch in another part of town.  I felt quite sheepish at having lost my cool, and consoled myself thinking “How the hell was I supposed to know?”.  In the meantime, a technician had done some more work on the keys, and even offered to come along with me to check out whether it worked or not.  So before leaving, I decided to apologise to the store owner, and …well, you know the rest. 🙂

So, dear reader, I hope you can find an answer to the question – how soon is too soon to jump to conclusions?  I did!  Not that I remembered.  But, more about that for later.

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SMS me the money

I got this message on my mobile 2 days back:

Look at the month of July. You have never seen this. This year, July has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays. This apparently happens once every 823 years. This is called money bags. So send this on to 6 friends and money will arrive in 5 days. Based on Chinese mythology the one who does not pass this one will have money troubles for the rest of the year. It wont cost you much for that 6 text messages.

Hmmm … Given that I did not heed the advise and forward it to 6 friends, I can surely look forward to money troubles for the rest of the year. Given that it is a Chinese mythology, it will not end on Dec 31 2011, but extend into 2012 too – possibly till the Chinese New Year date in Feb 2012?

Let us assume that the person who sent me the message must have sent it to at least 6 people. Many of the 6, sent it to another 6 who too possibly sent it on to another 6. You get the drift right? The way I see it, the only ones laughing their way to the bank are the mobile service operators. One message at a time.

This got me thinking. Why is it I chose not to forward it, while others did? Is it that they really believed that bags full of money would land at their doorstep, or perhaps into their bank accounts after 5 days? Why is it that some are believers, and others are not? The human brain – the way we are wired genetically – is the answer says my friend Akash.

One possible reason is that we humans see patterns where none exist.  I kept my promise of cycling in the morning, hence I got to see the movie free in the evening.  I prayed for my child, and thus she got good marks in the test. And so on … This is most likely not a conscious thinking process. So, I send a similar message last time, and got Rs. 1000/- back from my friend that I had given up on.  Maybe this time I will get Rs. 100000/-!

Second possible reason is how our brains have been wired over 10’s of thousands of years.  Imagine two of your ancestors going into the jungle with nothing more than just a wooden stick in hand.  They hear a noise coming from the bushes ahead.  One of them does not bother about it.  The other is more cautious and takes a step back.  Unfortunately, out comes a rather large and hungry lioness, and ancestor #1 becomes a meal quite soon.  Ancestor #2’s brain gets one more reinforcement of the message – “When you see a bush shake/or hear the sound of it, BE AWARE!  This in turn got passed down the generation, till such time as our more recent ancestors did not have to think twice about the flight response!

Let us now consider the opposite effect.  It was the wind shaking the bushes.  No lioness.  No ancestor as a meal.  Good.  One more reinforcement.  And passed down the ages too.  No need to flee.

How are these related to Money bags?  The pattern association makes us see pattern between sending the message and us getting money, even if none exist.  With the cost of sending the message being so neglible and with no negative effect visible – the brain says “What is the worst case here?  I do not get any money, but the best case is I get lots of it, why take a chance to miss out on it, when the cost of the SMS is so small” – that the forwarding option comes naturally to most of us.

What is interesting in the SMS is that it refers to Chinese mythology to support the forwarding.  Wonder how the ancient Chinese do the forwarding?  On stone tablets?  So easy, na?  🙂  Once they invented paper, they must have been copying the message onto bits of paper (costly as it must have been!) and distributing it to friends.  Or maybe they invented SMS centuries back, just that the rest of the world did not know about it!

Here’s wishing all believers bags full of money pretty soon, even if I am the one to bear all the hardship for the rest of the year!  🙂