Sunday, August 8, 2010

A thought experiment

Last night we had a debate after dinner. Before telling anything about debate let me tell the thought experiment Adarsh proposed -
Suppose you have been to fifty houses occupied by bachelors. Let us say that in all of these houses you have been offered a glass of water and you have found the glass dirty in all those houses. The next time when you will go to a bachelor's house and will be offered a glass of water, will you not be tempted to be careful?

The debate was about this - will you treat your experience with each individual as separate or will you connect dots and try to infer something from it? Let me clarify it further.

One of the thesis, lets call it "Thesis A", was this -
Don't conclude that generally the glasses in bachelors' houses are dirty. Keep the dirtiness of glass and bachelor status separate, don't connect them. Treat every individual separately and don't connect your experiences of different individuals.
"Thesis B", was this -
Be careful a priori about the glass of water when you enter 51st bachelors' house. This would involve a little bias. If you find the glass clean, weaken your thesis and reduce your bias to some extent.

In fact the debate actually revolves around two questions -
1. Should you connect the dirty-glass experiences?
2. Should you relate it to the bachelor quality of occupants?

As argued, pros and cons of Thesis A were -
Pro) It doesn't limit your actions when meeting an individual for the first time.
Con) Absence of bias increases chances of getting surprised (or hurt). If the person had acted according to your expectations, it would have less surprised or hurt you.

Pros and Cons of Thesis B were -
Pro) It reduces your chances of getting surprised or hurt. It will take time for you to make correct inferences about a person but eventually you might reach there without getting hurt.
Con) It will limit your choice of actions with that individual. You will be slow in reaching inference or sometimes may not even reach there because you are limiting your exploring.

As with most debates, it ended with stating everyone's personal preference.

Whatever my personal preference is, if I go by my instincts, I would be careful with the glass of water in 51st bachelors' house I visit. I think that might be the instinct of most people. (I am not necessarily saying that its the correct thing, but just commenting about my instinct.)

- Onkar

(Damn, this post has become too heavy. I would have left writing it midway had I not been listening to "Tere bina jiya jaye na", the old hindi song from movie Ghar) !


Mansi said...

The dirty glass experiment seems to be an interesting one with interesting inferences! :)

vinay said...

A very interesting experiment that is open to many interpretations...
I might add here, that sometimes or in some cases, the careful approach (Thesis B) would follow irrespective of whether it's a bachelor's house or somebody else's. Imagine being subjected to the same kind of experience for a considerable number of times (50 dirty glasses sounds pretty convincing to train the mind) and I bet that one would start doubting glasses and the weight attached to the occupant would run into obscurity over events.

Besides, I feel that the attribute defining the repetitive or any sort of experience for that matter is very important to be borne in mind. Normally, we tend to evaluate outcomes only for the cases that we care to, which means those that have a considerable impact on us or which engage our senses to a noticeable extent. Whether an aversion or a suspicion arises or not, is then a matter of evaluation of that individual in the light of his own preferences and conveniences.

Thanks for sharing the experiment!

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