Transcript: Thomas Schelling | Mar 24, 2007

[Theme music plays]

The opening sequence rolls. The logo of "Big Ideas" featuring a lit lamp bulb appears against an animated blue slate.
Then, Andrew Moodie appears in the studio. The walls are decorated with screens featuring lit lamp bulbs, and two signs read "Big Ideas."
Andrew is in his early forties, clean-shaven, with short curly black hair. He's wearing a brown coat over a pink shirt.

As he plays on a flip phone, he says
HELLO.
THIS IS
BIG IDEAS,
I'M
ANDREW MOODIE AND I'M ALMOST
DONE HERE.
GOT A LITTLE SUDOKU GAME ON THE
OLD CELL PHONE HERE AND, UH, OH!
CRAP.
I GIVE UP.
SORRY ABOUT THAT.
TODAY'S PROGRAM DEALS WITH
RATIONAL THOUGHT.
SOMETHING I'M APPARENTLY LACKING
WHEN IT COMES TO SUDOKU.
OUR SPEAKER IS THOMAS SCHELLING,
A NOBEL PRIZE WINNING AMERICAN
ECONOMIST AND PROFESSOR AT THE
SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY AT THE
UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND.
HE'S MOST FAMOUS FOR THE WAY HE
APPLIED GAME THEORY TO
ECONOMICS.
USING MATHEMATICAL EQUATIONS, HE
PREDICTS WHAT RATIONAL HUMAN
BEINGS WILL DO IN A GIVEN
SITUATION.
FOR EXAMPLE, LET'S SAY YOU'RE
THE PRODUCER OF A PROGRAM HERE
ON
TVONTARIO,
A LECTURE
SERIES PERHAPS AND YOU WANT YOUR
HOST TO STOP PLAYING SUDOKU ON
HIS CELL PHONE AND DO WAY BETTER
THAN HE IS.
DO YOU PRAISE HIM WHEN HE DOES
EXCEPTIONALLY WELL AND ADMONISH
HIM WHEN HE DOES SOMETHING
WRONG?
LUCKY FOR MY PRODUCER, SCHELLING
TACKLES THAT VERY QUESTION BUT
THE ANSWER JUST MIGHT SURPRISE
YOU.
LET'S TAKE A LISTEN.

A clip plays in which Thomas Schelling stands behind a wooden lectern on a stage and addresses an unseen audience. He's in his late sixties, clean-shaven, with short gray hair. He's wearing glasses, a gray suit, white shirt and striped gray tie.

He says NOW, THE
SUBJECT HERE IS RATIONAL CHOICE
OR RATIONAL CHOICE THEORY.
AND I WANT YOU TO UNDERSTAND,
THIS IS NOT SOME ESOTERIC
CONCEPT IN ECONOMICS OR, OR
SOMETHING THAT IS ENCROACHING
INTO POLITICAL SCIENCE AND
SOCIOLOGY AND EVEN ANTHROPOLOGY.
RATIONAL CHOICE THEORISING,
RATIONAL CHOICE THINKING IS WHAT
WE ALL DO ALL THE TIME.
MY CHILDREN ONCE THEY WERE
TEENAGERS USED RATIONAL CHOICE THEORY.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Thomas Schelling. University of Maryland, School of Public Policy. George Ignatieff Theatre, Toronto. February 15, 2007."

Thomas says WHENEVER
YOU WANT TO WONDER WHAT
SOMEBODY'S GOING TO DO IN
CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES, YOU ASK
YOURSELF "WELL..."
"IF HE OR
SHE IS A REASONABLY INTELLIGENT
PERSON AND I AM A REASONABLY
INTELLIGENT PERSON, I CAN
PROBABLY FIGURE OUT WHAT I WOULD
DO IF I WERE IN THAT SITUATION
ESPECIALLY IF I HAD HIS OR HER
VALUES AND PREFERENCES AND
INTERESTS.
I CAN FIGURE OUT WHAT I WOULD DO
IF I WERE SHE AND THEREFORE, I
CAN ANTICIPATE WHAT SHE WOULD
DO."
THAT'S ALL WE'RE TALKING ABOUT.
SEE, RATIONAL CHOICE THEORY
IMPUTES TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE
DECISIONS TO MAKE A REASONABLE
LEVEL OF INTELLIGENCE, UH,
SOPHISTICATION, AWARENESS, AN
ABILITY TO THINK, TO DO MODERATE
ARITHMETIC, TO THINK SOMEWHAT
LOGICALLY, TO BRING EXPERIENCE
TO BEAR AND, AND TO ARRIVE AT A
REASONABLE JUDGEMENT OF WHAT IS
THE APPROPRIATE RESPONSE TO
WHATEVER THE CHOICE IS I AM
SUPPOSED TO MAKE.
AND I CALL THIS THE THEORY OF
VICARIOUS PROBLEM SOLVING.
I ASK MYSELF "IF I WERE SHE IN
HER POSITION WITH THESE OPTIONS
TO CHOOSE AMONG AND IF I HAD HER
INTERESTS AND HER PREFERENCES
AND HER VALUES, WHAT WOULD I
DO?"
NOW, I MAY BE WRONG BUT THERE'S
A GOOD LIKELIHOOD THAT I CAN
FIGURE IT OUT BECAUSE IF SHE IS
AS I THOUGHT, INTELLIGENT,
SOPHISTICATED, AWARE, MODERATELY
WELL EDUCATED AND IF I AM ALSO
THEN THERE'S NO GOOD REASON WHY
I CAN'T PUT MYSELF IN HER
POSITION AND FIGURE OUT WHAT I
WOULD DO IF I WERE SHE AND
THAT'S ALL WE'RE TALKING ABOUT.
JUST USING RATIONAL CHOICE
THEORY.
ON THE OTHER HAND, A LOT OF
PEOPLE AREN'T RATIONAL.
SOMETIMES I'M NOT.
A LOT OF THE TIME, YOU'RE NOT.
AND I THINK THERE ARE TWO
REASONS FOR STUDYING WHAT I CALL
DEPARTURES FROM RATIONALITY.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH
PEOPLE DON'T BEHAVE RATIONALLY.
THE TWO REASONS IS FOR...
STUDYING THAT ARE FIRST...
IF YOU'RE GONNA TO USE RATIONAL
CHOICE THEORY TO PREDICT WHAT
PEOPLE WILL DO SUCH AS IF WE
REMOVE THE TARIFF ON IMPORTED
SUGAR, WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE
PRODUCTION OF SUGAR BEETS IN
IDAHO?
IF YOU'RE GOING TO DO THAT KIND
OF THING, IT'S IMPORTANT TO KNOW
THAT YOU CAN PROBABLY FIGURE OUT
WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO THE
PRODUCTION OF SUGAR BEETS IN
IDAHO BUT IT'S IMPORTANT TO KNOW
THAT SOMETIMES PEOPLE DON'T
BEHAVE AS YOU WOULD EXPECT...
IN IMPUTING RATIONALITY TO THEM.
AND THEREFORE, IT MAY BE
IMPORTANT IN USING RATIONAL
CHOICE THEORY TO BE AWARE OF
WHERE IT DOESN'T WORK.
WHERE YOU MAY GO WRONG BY
IMPUTING RATIONAL CHOICE TO
SOMEBODY.
I LIKE TO USE THE EXAMPLE OF THE
MAGNETIC COMPASS.
THE MAGNETIC COMPASS FOR 2,000
YEARS HAS BEEN PRETTY GOOD AT
POINTING NORTH.
ACTUALLY, IT POINTS NORTH AND
SOUTH BUT WE PRETEND IT POINTS
NORTH BECAUSE WE'RE MORE
INTERESTED IN NORTH.
BUT IT, YOU KNOW, IT ALIGNS
ITSELF ON A NORTH SOUTH AXIS
ACCORDING THE EARTH MAGNETIC
POLE AND IT'S REMARKABLY GOOD AT
TELLING YOU WHICH DIRECTION IS
NORTH AND WHICH IS SOUTH FROM
WHICH YOU CAN SAY "WELL, IF
THAT'S NORTH, THIS IS EAST AND
THAT IS WEST."
IT'S BEEN HUGELY IMPORTANT BUT,
YOU KNOW, IF YOU'RE ANYWHERE
WITHIN 1,000 MILES OF THE NORTH
MAGNETIC POLE AND YOU DON'T KNOW
EXACTLY WHERE YOU ARE...
YOUR MAGNETIC COMPASS IS
ABSOLUTELY USELESS.
IT CAN POINT EAST, WEST, NORTH,
SOUTH OR ANYTHING IN BETWEEN
BECAUSE THE NORTH MAGNETIC POLE
IS NOT AT THE NORTH POLE.
IF YOU'RE BETWEEN THE NORTH
MAGNETIC POLE AND THE NORTH
POLE, IT WILL POINT SOUTH EAST.
NOW, IT'S TERRIBLY IMPORTANT TO
KNOW THAT THE MAGNETIC COMPASS
IS PROBABLY THE MOST VALUABLE,
RELIABLE NAVIGATION AID THAT'S
EVER BEEN DEVELOPED BUT YOU HAVE
TO KNOW THAT IT DOESN'T WORK IF
YOU'RE WAY UP THERE SORT OF A
COUPLE OF THOUSAND MILES SOUTH
EAST TO THE NORTH POLE ITSELF
BECAUSE THEN IT NO LONGER IS
TRUE NORTH.
IT IS SOMETHING ELSE AND IN THE
SAME WAY I THINK IT'S IMPORTANT
TO KNOW WHEN RATIONAL CHOICE MAY
NOT BE A RELIABLE...
INDICATOR OF WHAT SOMEBODY IS
GOING TO DO.
A SECOND REASON FOR STUDYING
DEPARTURES FROM RATIONAL CHOICE
IS THAT THEY ARE VERY
INTERESTING.
THEY ARE IMPORTANT.
A LOT OF LIFE IS CONCERNED WITH
IRRATIONAL CHOICES.
SOME OF THEM ARE MERELY MISTAKEN
CHOICES, SOME OF THEM ARE
COMPULSIVE CHOICES, SOME OF THEM
ARE, UH...
BASED ON ILLOGIC AND THESE
DEPARTURES ARE IMPORTANT ENOUGH
TO BE IMPORTANT IN THEIR OWN
RIGHT.
JUST AS IT'S IMPORTANT IN
STUDYING HUMAN HEALTH AND
BEHAVIOUR TO KNOW WHAT A HEALTHY
HUMAN BEING IS LIKE BUT IT'S
ALSO IMPORTANT TO KNOW WHEN THEY
MAY BE UNHEALTHY.
THE UNHEALTHINESS IS INTERESTING
IN ITSELF.
NOT JUST BECAUSE IT'S A
DEPARTURE FROM PURE HEALTH.
I'VE ALSO BEEN ESPECIALLY
INTERESTING IN THE FACT THAT
MANY PEOPLE...
UNDERSTAND THAT IN CIRCUMSTANCES
AND FROM TIME TO TIME AND WITH
RESPECT TO CERTAIN DECISIONS,
THEY MAY MAKE CHOICES THAT THEY
CONSIDER TO BE IRRATIONAL.
OR IF NOT IRRATIONAL, WRONG.
CHOICES THAT DON'T REFLECT THEIR
BEST INTERESTS.
IN OTHER WORDS, THEY CAN
ANTICIPATE CIRCUMSTANCES IN
WHICH THEY MAY BEHAVE
IRRATIONALLY AND THAT LEADS TO
THE INTERESTING STRATEGIC
QUESTION, HOW ANTICIPATING
IRRATIONAL BEHAVIOUR MAY THEY
STRATEGICALLY ARRANGE IN ADVANCE
NOT TO BEHAVE THE WAY THEY THINK
THEY MAY BEHAVE WHEN THE TIME
COMES?
WE KNOW ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE WHO
THINK THAT WHEN CONFRONTED WITH
CERTAIN KINDS OF FOOD, THEY WILL
EAT TOO MUCH AND WHO TRY TO
PREPARE IN ADVANCE NOT TO EAT
TOO MUCH.
WE KNOW PEOPLE WHO KNOW THAT IN
CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES THEY MAY
DRINK TOO MUCH ALCOHOL AND THEY
TRY TO MAKE SURE THAT THEY DON'T
DRINK TOO MUCH ALCOHOL OR
KNOWING THAT THEY WILL DRINK TOO
MUCH ALCOHOL, THEY KNOW THAT
THEY MAY MISBEHAVE AND THEY TRY
TO ARRANGE SO THAT ONCE THEY'VE
DRUNK ALCOHOL, THEY EITHER DON'T
MISBEHAVE OR THEY MISBEHAVE IN
LOCATIONS OR CIRCUMSTANCES THAT
MINIMIZE THE DISASTROUS RESULTS
OF THEIR ALCOHOLIC MISBEHAVIOUR.
SO THAT I FIND THAT IT'S NOT
ONLY INTERESTING TO STUDY
DEPARTURES FROM RATIONAL CHOICE
BECAUSE THEY ARE IMPORTANT AND
INTERESTING AND IN FACT, I IMAGE
THERE IS NOBODY IN THIS AUDIENCE
WHO DOESN'T SUFFER FROM AT LEAST
ONE KIND IF NOT SEVERAL KINDS OF
IRRATIONAL CHOICE AND IRRATIONAL
BEHAVIOUR.
SO, I'D LIKE TO TALK ABOUT
DEPARTURES FROM RATIONALITY AND
THIS DOESN'T MEAN I AM...
NOT A LOYAL...
RATIONAL CHOICE THEORIST.
IT JUST MEANS THAT I BELIEVE I
CAN BE A BETTER RATIONAL CHOICE
THEORIST IF I UNDERSTAND THE
LIMITATIONS OF THE BASIC IDEA OF
RATIONAL CHOICE.
SO, WE MIGHT BEGIN BY ASKING
WHAT ARE THE CIRCUMSTANCES IN
WHICH WE REALLY DON'T EXPECT
PEOPLE TO BE RATIONAL?
I TEND TO THINK THAT TEENAGERS
ARE PRETTY RATIONAL BUT SEVEN
YEAR OLDS MAY NOT BE AND THREE
YEAR OLDS LESS SO.
SO, WE HAVE TO EXCUSE PEOPLE WHO
AREN'T OLD ENOUGH TO UNDERSTAND
THE...
THE MULTIPLICATION TABLE OR TO
UNDERSTAND THE WAYS PEOPLE
BEHAVE.
THEN THERE ARE THE...
THE ELDER.
I HATE TO SAY THE ELDERLY
BECAUSE I, YOU KNOW, I'M ELDERLY
BUT, YOU KNOW, I DON'T THINK I'M
SENILE YET AND I THINK THE
SENILE MUST BE EXCUSED.
THEN THERE ARE PEOPLE IN PANIC.
MOUNTAIN LIONS HAVE REAPPEARED
VERY NEAR TO BOULDER, COLORADO
AND ONE OF MY CHILDREN LIVES IN
BOULDER, COLORADO AND WHEN I
VISIT HIM, WE GO HIKING UP IN
THE MOUNTAINS AND THE SIGN SAYS "MOUNTAIN LIONS HAVE RECENTLY
APPEARED HERE.
IF YOU CONFRONT A MOUNTAIN
LION...
DO NOT LOOK IT IN THE EYE."

[Audience laughing]

Thomas continues "AND DO NOT
TURN AROUND AND RUN."
AND I REALIZED THAT SHORTLY
AFTER I TURNED AROUND AND RUN, I
WILL REMEMBER THAT THAT'S THE
WRONG THING TO DO.

[Audience laughing]

Thomas continues SO I THINK
PEOPLE IN PANIC SHOULD NOT BE
EXPECTED TO ACT RATIONALLY
BECAUSE THEY'RE MAKING QUICK
DECISIONS UNDER EXTRAORDINARY
CIRCUMSTANCES.
THEN THERE ARE PHOBIAS.
THE DICTIONARY SAYS THAT A
PHOBIA IS A FEAR BASED NOT ON
EVIDENCE OR EXPERIENCE OR LOGIC.
THAT'S THE SOMEWHAT RESTRICTED
DEFINITION BECAUSE A LOT OF
PHOBIAS LEAD TO NOT FEAR BUT
DISGUST.
SOME PHOBIAS LEAD TO FAINTING.
THERE ARE AT LEAST 200
RECOGNIZED PHOBIAS THAT HAVE
NAMES, MANY OF THEM HAVE GREEK
OR LATIN NAMES.
WE ALL KNOW CLAUSTROPHOBIA,
AGORAPHOBIA, ACROPHOBIA AND SO
FORTH.
AND MOST PEOPLE WHO SUFFER A
PHOBIA RECOGNIZE THAT THE PHOBIA
HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH
RATIONALITY.
A CLAUSTROPHOBE OF WHOM I'M
SLIGHTLY ONE...
KNOWS PERFECTLY WELL THAT TO BE
SHUT UP IN A CLOSET OR IN A
CABINET OR TO GO UNDERWATER IN A
SUBMARINE DOESN'T CONTAIN ANY
RISK OF ANY KIND OF DAMAGE.
THEY SIMPLY
KNOW THAT THEY WILL GO IF NOT
CRAZY, EXCEEDINGLY DEPRESSED.
ALMOST
PANICKED IF THEY ARE SHUT UP.
I RECENTLY WAS, WAS GOING TO
HAVE TO HAVE A FULL BODY SCAN IN
ONE OF THOSE THINGS WHERE THEY
PUT YOU IN SOMETHING LIKE A
TORPEDO TUBE AND SLOWLY PUT YOUR
BODY THROUGH IT IN ORDER TO SEE
WHAT THEY CAN FIND IN YOUR
SPINAL COLUMN OR SOMETHING AND,
AND I DIDN'T HAVE THE SLIGHTEST
CONCERN ABOUT IT UNTIL JUST
BEFORE I WAS TO GO IN THIS TUBE,
I HEARD ONE OF THE NURSES SAY TO
THE OTHER NURSE "DO YOU REMEMBER
THAT GUY YESTERDAY?
THAT'S CLAUSTROPHOBE?"

[Audience laughing]

Thomas continues "WHO WAS
AFRAID TO GO INTO THE TUBE?"
AND ALL OF A SUDDEN I WAS AFRAID
TO GO IN THE TUBE AND I...

[Audience laughing]

Thomas continues I, I ASK
THEM, I SAID "AM I ALLOWED TO
COVER MY EYES WITH MY HANDS?"
AND THE NICE LADY SAID "NO."

[Audience laughing]

Thomas continues BUT SHE
SAID "YOU HAVE TO HAVE YOUR
HANDS AT YOUR SIDES BUT I WILL
GIVE YOU A DARK TOWEL TO PUT
OVER YOUR FACE."
AND I SAID "THANK YOU" AND I, I
GOT THROUGH IT.
BUT, UH, BUT I'M ALSO SOMETHING
OF AN ACROPHOBE.
A, A FEAR OF HEIGHTS AND MY WIFE
AND I USED TO DO A LOT OF
MOUNTAIN CLIMBING AND I FOUND
INTERESTINGLY THAT I WAS MORE
AFFECTED BY FEAR OF HEIGHTS
GOING UP THAN COMING DOWN.
NOW, ON THE FACE OF IT, THAT'S
SORT OF RIDICULOUS.
IF YOU'RE GOING UP, IF YOU FALL,
YOU FALL FORWARD...
YOUR HEAD IS GONNA HIT THE
GROUND WELL ABOVE YOUR FEET BUT
IF YOU'RE GOING DOWN AND YOU
FALL FORWARD, YOUR HEAD IS GOING
TO HIT THE GROUND WELL BELOW
YOUR FEET SO YOU WOULD HAVE
FALLEN FARTHER AND YOUR HEAD
WILL HIT WITH MUCH MORE
MOMENTUM.
WHY WAS IT...
THAT I WAS MORE SUBJECT TO
ACROPHOBIA GOING UP THAN GOING
DOWN?
WELL, YOU PROBABLY WOULDN'T
GUESS BUT IT TURNED OUT THAT MY
WIFE AND I ALWAYS HAD LUNCH AT
THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN AND WE
ALWAYS SHARED A BOTTLE OF WINE
AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN.
[Chuckling]
AND GOING DOWN...
[Laughing]
WE FELT NO PAIN.
[Laughing]

[Audience laughing]

Thomas continues AND I THINK
IT'S MUCH THE WAY IF YOUR CHILD
HAS TO HAVE A NEEDLE INJECTED
INTO HIS KNEE, THE PAEDIATRICIAN
IS LIKELY TO SAY "YOU MAY TURN
YOUR HEAD AWAY OR WE WILL EVEN
PUT A MASK OVER YOUR EYES SO YOU
DON'T SEE IT BECAUSE IF YOU
DON'T SEE IT, YOU'RE NOT SO
AFRAID OF IT."
SO THAT...
PHOBIAS, MOST PEOPLE WHO SUFFER
PHOBIAS UNDERSTAND THAT THERE IS
NO BASIS FOR FEARING WHAT MAY
HAPPEN WITH THE PHOBIA.
HOW MANY OF YOU SAW THE MOVIE
THE AFRICAN QUEEN
WHEN
HUMPHREY BOGART CAME UP OUT
OF...
WALKING THROUGH A SWAMP AND HE
WAS COVERED WITH LEACHES?
BLACK LEACHES?
HE SHUDDERED AND I THINK
EVERYBODY IN THE THEATRE
SHUDDERED.
ALMOST NOBODY COULD LOOK AT THE
IDEA OF LEACHES ATTACHED TO A
HUMAN BODY WITHOUT...
SHUDDERING.
AND YET...
LEACHES DON'T DO ANY HARM.
THEY DON'T SUCK ENOUGH BLOOD TO
DO YOU ANY HARM.
THEY DON'T LEAVE A WOUND THAT
DOES ANY HARM.
BUT PEOPLE ARE AFRAID OF ALL
KINDS OF THINGS WHETHER IT'S
BLOOD OR THE DARK OR FECES OR
WATER OR FURRY ANIMALS OR
SNAKES, REPTILES OF ALL KINDS
AND YET MOST OF THESE PEOPLE
KNOW THAT THESE ARE HARMLESS.
BUT THEIR REACTION IS AN
EMOTIONAL REACTION THAT THEY
UNDERSTAND HAS NOTHING TO DO
WITH RISK OR DANGER.
THEN WE COME TO WHAT I CALL
URGENCY WHICH MAY BE TEMPTATION
WHICH IS EATING...
DRUGS, ALCOHOL, NICOTINE.
ITCHING, SCRATCHING.
SEX.
MANY PEOPLE HAVE EATING PROBLEMS
THAT THEY TRY TO CONTROL, MANY
PEOPLE HAVE SMOKING PROBLEMS
THAT THEY TRY TO CONTROL, MANY
PEOPLE HAVE SEXUAL PROBLEMS THEY
TRY TO CONTROL.
ITCHING IS INTERESTING.
MOST PEOPLE WHO HAVE HIVES KNOW
THAT IF THEY SCRATCH THEM, IT
MAKES THEM WORSE.
BUT THEY SCRATCH THEM.
WHETHER THE SCRATCHING IS
ENJOYABLE DESPITE THE FACT THAT
IT AGGRAVATES THE ITCHING, I
DON'T KNOW.
BUT PEOPLE WHO HAVE POISON IVY,
PEOPLE WHO HAVE...
CHICKEN POX, PEOPLE WHO HAVE
HIVES TEND TO SCRATCH.
AND IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN WITH
CHICKEN POX, THE DOCTOR MAY
SUGGEST PUT MITTENS ON THEM WHEN
THEY GO TO BED AT NIGHT.
WITH MITTENS, THEY CAN'T SCRATCH
OR AT LEAST THEY CAN'T SCRATCH
THE WAY FINGER NAILS CAN
SCRATCH.
I HAVE A STORY I FREQUENTLY TELL
THAT GOES LIKE THIS.
THERE'S A MAN WHO GAVE UP
SMOKING SIX WEEKS AGO.
HE THINKS HE'S ABOUT OVER...
THE PROBLEM.
BUT ONE EVENING ABOUT 5:00, A
FRIEND COMES TO TALK A LITTLE
BIT OF BUSINESS AND AT 5:45 THE
FRIEND LEAVES.
HE SEES HIM TO THE DOOR, SAYS GOODBYE, GOES BACK AND SEES THAT
THE FRIEND LEFT ON THE COFFEE
TABLE A PACK OF CIGARETTES.
AN OPEN PACK OF CIGARETTES WITH
17 CIGARETTES LEFT.
HE PICKS UP THE PACK, RUSHES TO
THE DOOR BUT SEES THE TAIL LIGHT
OF HIS FRIEND'S CAR DISAPPEARING
AROUND THE CORNER.
SO, HE PUTS THE PACK OF
CIGARETTES IN HIS JACKET POCKET
AND HANGS THE JACKET UP IN HIS
CLOSET AND TURNS ON THE
TELEVISION.
SITS DOWN WITH A DRINK OF SCOTCH
TO WATCH THE EVENING NEWS AND 10
MINUTES INTO THE NEWS, HE GETS
UP, WALKS TO THE CLOSET, REACHES
INTO THE POCKET OF HIS JACKET,
PICKS OUT THE PACK OF
CIGARETTES, WALKS INTO THE
BATHROOM, EMPTIES THE PACK OF
CIGARETTES INTO THE TOILET AND
FLUSHES THE CIGARETTES DOWN THE
TOILET.
AND THE QUESTION IS WHAT'S HE
DOING?
I THINK MOST OF US WOULD SAY...
HE IS A RATIONAL PERSON...
WHO FORESEES THAT SOMETIME
DURING THE EVENING, ESPECIALLY
IF HE DRINKS A LITTLE BIT, HE
MAY SUCCUMB TO THE TEMPTATION TO
SMOKE CIGARETTES AND HE BADLY
WANTS NOT TO BE ABLE TO SUCCUMB
TO THE TEMPTATION.
IN MERELY KNOWING THAT THE
CIGARETTES ARE IN THE JACKET
POCKET IN THE CLOSET...
HE KNOWS THAT HE WILL SPEND THE
ENTIRE EVENING...
PONDERING WHETHER HE'S GOING TO
SMOKE A CIGARETTE.
I THINK THAT'S THE KIND OF
STRATEGIC...
SELF CONTROL OR SELF COMMAND
DECISION.
HE MAY NOT KNOW JUST EXACTLY
WHAT IT IS THAT WOULD MAKE HIM
SMOKE THE CIGARETTES BUT HE MAY
JUST KNOW THAT IF THEY'RE THERE,
I MAY SPOIL SIX WEEKS INVESTMENT
IN GOING WITHOUT NICOTINE.
AND THE BEST WAY TO DO IT IS
TO...
DUMP THE CIGARETTES DOWN THE
TOILET.
NOW, HE MIGHT JUST AS WELL HAVE
DUMPED HIS WHISKEY DOWN THE
TOILET IN THE BELIEF THAT...
ONLY IF HE DRANK SOME WHISKEY
WOULD HE LOSE HIS RESOLVE BUT AT
LEAST IT'S AN INTERESTING
QUESTION.
THEN THERE IS SORT OF THE
OPPOSITE OF TEMPTATION.
I SOMETIMES USE URGENCY AS A
SYNONYM FOR TEMPTATION.
THERE'S NON-URGENCY,
PROCRASTINATION.
WHEN I TEACH A CLASS...
AT THE UNIVERSITY ON THIS
SUBJECT, I USUALLY ASK THE
STUDENTS TO GIVE ME A ONE PAGE
PAPER ON...
THEIR PROBLEMS OF SELF CONTROL
OR SELF COMMAND.
WHAT...
WHAT IS THE WORST THING THAT
THEY DO THAT THEY KNOW THEY MUST
TRY NOT TO DO?
AND CAN YOU GUESS WHAT THE MOST
COMMON PROBLEM IS THAT STUDENTS
HAVE?
WELL, WHEN I TELL YOU, YOU'LL
RECOGNIZE IT.
PROCRASTINATION.
THEY CAN'T GET AROUND TO DOING
THE PAPER THAT IS DUE ON THE
10th OF NOVEMBER UNTIL THE 9th
OR 10th OF NOVEMBER.
THEY CAN'T GET AROUND TO
STUDYING FOR THE EXAM THAT'S
GOING TO TAKE PLACE ON THE 11th
OF OCTOBER UNTIL THE 10th OR
11th OF OCTOBER.
I REMEMBER ONE OF THE PAPERS I
GOT...
TOLD ABOUT THE INABILITY TO DO
ANYTHING IN ADVANCE OF THE DEAD
LINE AND IT WAS SIGNED AND DATE
LINED 8:45 A.M. THE DAY IT WAS DUE.
[Laughing]

[Audience laughing]

Thomas continues HE'D BEEN
UP ALL NIGHT CONFESSING
PROCRASTINATION.
WELL...
I THINK THIS SHOWS UP NATIONALLY
AS A PROBLEM AND THE INABILITY
OF PEOPLE TO MAKE SUFFICIENT
SAVING FOR THEIR RETIREMENT.
THIS IS A KIND OF NATIONALLY
ACKNOWLEDGED IRRATIONAL
BEHAVIOUR ON THE PART OF, LARGE
PARTS OF THE POPULATION.
UM...
MANY PEOPLE HAVE DIFFICULTY
ENGAGING IN THE EXERCISE THEY
KNOW THAT THEY NEED TO AND SOME
PEOPLE HAVE LEARNED A LITTLE BIT
HOW TO MAKE SURE THEY EXERCISE
ON DEMAND.
UH, I, I SPENT SEVERAL SUMMERS
AT A PLACE CALLED THE REN
CORPORATION OF SANTA MONICA,
CALIFORNIA AND, UH, AT THE REN
CORPORATION, YOU GET AN HOUR FOR
LUNCH AND LARGE NUMBERS OF
PEOPLE GO JOGGING DURING THE
LUNCH HOUR AND ALL THE PEOPLE
WHO GO JOGGING AT LUNCH HOUR,
JOG IN GROUPS OF THREE, FOUR OR
FIVE.
NOBODY JOGS ALONE.
THEY'VE ALL LEARNED THAT IF YOU
JOG ALONE...
YOU QUIT.
AND ANY OF THOSE WHO DIDN'T
LEARN IT...
JOGGED ALONE AND...
QUIT.
[Laughing]

[Audience laughing]

Thomas continues MY WIFE AND
I GO TO THE YMCA SEVERAL TIMES A
WEEK AND WE TRY TO ENLIST, I'M
OFTEN IN TORONTO OR SOME PLACE
AND IT TURNS OUT THAT NEITHER OF
US WOULD EVER GO ALONE BUT AS
LONG AS ONE OF US FEELS THE
COMPULSION TO GO TO THE GYM AND
DO THE WORKOUT, WE BOTH GET TO
GO SO THAT I THINK THAT...
THERE ARE SOCIAL ARRANGEMENTS
THAT CAN FACILITATE DOING THE
RIGHT THING.
THEN THERE ARE COMPULSIVE
BEHAVIOURS.
I THINK THERE ARE LARGE NUMBERS
OF PEOPLE WHO ARE KNOWN AS
ANOREXICS.
OVER SOME REASONS STARVE
THEMSELVES COMPULSIVELY.
MANY OF THEM WITH TERRIFICALLY
ADVERSE HEALTH EFFECTS.
UH, THERE'S ANOTHER ONE CALLED
GROOMING BEHAVIOURS.
THERE'S A BOOK ABOUT GROOMING
BEHAVIOURS.
GROOMING BEHAVIOURS ARE THINGS
LIKE PICKING AT SCABS AND
PLUCKING AT WHISKERS AND
FIDDLING WITH PIMPLES AND
PULLING THE LOBE OF YOUR EAR AND
DOING OTHER THINGS.
THEY'RE CALLED GROOMING BECAUSE
MOST OF THEM APPEAR TO HAVE TO
DO WITH IDENTIFYING SOME
IRREGULARITY ON THE SURFACE OF
YOUR SKIN USUALLY AROUND YOUR
FACE OR YOUR HEAD AND ATTEMPTING
SOMEHOW TO, UH...
TO REMOVE IT.
AND, UH, I WROTE A BOOK ABOUT
THIS AND IT HAD AN
INTERESTING...
BIT OF ADVICE.
IT SAID, YOU KNOW, USUALLY
THESE...
DISAGREEABLE BEHAVIOURS,
THEY'RE...
IT'S ALSO, IT'S THE SAME THING
AS FINGER NAIL BITING, YOU KNOW,
AND CUTICLE BITING AND ALL THAT.
THEY SAID THE THINGS INVOLVING
THE FACE USUALLY BEGIN WHEN
SOMEBODY MERELY EXPLORATORILY
RUBS HIS HAND AROUND HIS FACE
UNTIL HE FINDS SOMETHING.

[Audience laughing]

Thomas continues THAT HE
CAN'T STAND.
AND THEY
SAID ACTUALLY, IF YOU LEARN WHAT
THE PRE-CURSOR IS SUCH AS
FEELING YOUR FACE, YOU MAY FIND
THAT IT'S EASY TO LEARN NOT TO
TOUCH YOUR FACE BUT IT'S VERY
HARD TO LEARN WHEN YOU'VE
TOUCHED YOUR FACE NOT TO ENGAGE
IN THIS DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOUR
AND THEREFORE, TRAIN YOURSELF
NOT TO TOUCH YOUR FACE, THAT'S
EASIER THAN TRAINING YOURSELF
NOT TO RESPOND TO WHAT YOU
TOUCH...
WHEN YOU
TOUCH YOUR FACE.
THEN THERE'S WHAT I CALL
FASCINATION.
MY WIFE AND I BECAME ADDICTS
ABOUT 15 MONTHS AGO TO SUDOKU.

[Audience laughing]

Thomas continues WE WASTE
ABOUT...
[Laughing]
TWO HOURS A DAY, MOSTLY AFTER
DINNER, SOMETIMES AFTER LUNCH.
WE GET TWO NEWSPAPERS THAT HAVE
SUDOKU SO USUALLY AFTER LUNCH WE
DO THOSE.
THEN AFTER DINNER WE TAKE
SUDOKUS OUT OF BOOKS AND DO
SUDOKUS.
IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT SUDOKUS
ARE, WELL...
THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE THAT
DO THE SAME THINGS WITH
CROSSWORD PUZZLES AND, UH...
BUT THEN THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO...
KNOW PERFECTLY WELL THAT IF THEY
TURN ON THE TELEVISION, THEY'RE
LIKELY TO WASTE TWO OR THREE
HOURS WATCHING SOMETHING.
I USED TO FIND WHEN I HAD TO GO
SOMEWHERE TO GIVE A LECTURE, AN
EARLY MORNING LECTURE, I WOULD
PROCRASTINATE SO MUCH THAT I
WOULD PLAN TO...
PLOT OUT MY LECTURE ON THE
AIRPLANE DRIVING TO WHERE I WAS
GOING BUT I USUALLY HAD A BOOK
OR SOMETHING IN MY BRIEFCASE
THAT I WOULD START READING AND I
GOT OFF THE AIRPLANE AND I STILL
HADN'T DONE THE LECTURE.
SO, I'D GO TO MY HOTEL ROOM AND
SNAP ON THE TV JUST TO CATCH THE
LATE NEWS AND I'D CATCH SOME
KIND OF A POLICE CHASE OF AN
AUTOMOBILE AND...
[Chuckling]
ALONG ABOUT 11:45, I'D SNAP OFF
THE TV AND IT WAS TIME TO GO TO
BED.
SO, I'D SET THE ALARM FOR SIX IN
THE MORNING AND PLAN TO PREPARE
MY LECTURE BEFORE BREAKFAST THE
NEXT MORNING AND I THINK A LOT
OF PEOPLE HAVE THAT PROBLEM BUT
IT CAN BE GAMES, IT CAN BE
PEOPLE WHO, UH, I THINK
STUDENTS, COLLEGE STUDENTS
RECENTLY HAVE BEEN DREADFULLY
ADDICTED TO VIDEO GAMES AND
RECOGNIZE THAT THEY SPEND A LOT
MORE TIME ON VIDEO GAMES THAN
THEY OUGHT TO BUT THEY HAVE A
HARD TIME PREVENTING IT.
I LEARNED EARLIER IN LIFE THAT I
WAS SO ADDICTED, I COULD GET SO
ADDICTED TO CHESS AND POKER THAT
I HAD TO STOP IT AND WHEN I WAS
IN GRADUATE SCHOOL AND EVERYBODY
WAS PLAYING BRIDGE, I REFUSED TO
PLAY BRIDGE IN THE BELIEF THAT
ONCE I STARTED PLAYING BRIDGE, I
WOULDN'T KNOW HOW TO...
STOP.
UH, THERE ARE A LOT OF, UH,
FALLACIES THAT ARE APPARENTLY
ATTRACTIVE AND QUITE WIDE
SPREAD.
ONE OF THEM HAS TO DO WITH THE
FACT THAT IF I WERE TO FLIP...
ONE OF THESE COINS.
I DON'T KNOW WHICH IS HEADS OR
TAILS BECAUSE THEY'RE CANADIAN
COINS.

[Audience laughing]

Thomas continues BUT I
FLIPPED ONE FOUR TIMES AND IT
CAME UP HEADS FOUR TIMES.
AND I ASKED, NOT IF I ASKED YOU,
IF I ASKED A STANFORD UNIVERSITY
UNDERGRADUATE WHO IS A
TYPICAL...
SUBJECT OF AN EXPERIMENT.
IF I ASKED...

[Audience laughing]

Thomas continues WHAT IS THE
NEXT FLIP GOING TO COME UP?
HEADS OR TAILS?
IT TURNS OUT THAT ABOUT A THIRD
OF THEM CONFIDENTLY PREDICT A
5th HEADS BELIEVING IT'S ON A
ROLL.
FOUR HEADS IN A ROW, IT'S GOTTA
KEEP GOING.

[Audience laughing]

Thomas continues ANOTHER
THIRD WILL SAY IT'S BOUND TO
COME UP TAILS.
THERE'S THE LAW THAT SAYS, YOU
KNOW, SOONER OR LATER IF YOU'VE
GOT TOO MANY HEADS, IT'S GOT TO
COME UP TAILS.
AND THEN THERE'S ABOUT A MODEST
THIRD OF THE PEOPLE WHO, WHO...
QUIETLY SUGGEST I THINK IT'S A
50-50 CHANCE.

[Audience laughing]

Thomas continues AND, UH...
AND THE QUESTION IS WHO BELIEVES
THAT THE COIN REMEMBERS?
IF YOU FLIPPED THE COIN, DOES
THE COIN REMEMBER?
I THINK IF YOU ASK THE CLASS...
DOES THE COIN REMEMBER, THEIR
ANSWER IS "NO, THE COIN CAN'T
REMEMBER.
IT'S JUST A PIECE OF METAL."
BUT SOMETHING UP THERE
REMEMBERS.

[Audience laughing]

Thomas continues THEN
THERE'S AN INTERESTING THING
THAT I WOULD CALL INNUMERACY.
THERE WAS AN, AN EXPERIMENT.
UH, THE U.S. AIR FORCE ONCE
DECIDED THAT IN TRAINING YOUNG
PILOTS, THEY WOULD TEST
WHETHER...
MOTIVATING PILOTS WORKED BETTER
IF YOU COMPLIMENTED THEM AND
REWARDED THEM FOR A GOOD
PERFORMANCE OR SCOLDED THEM AND
PUNISHED THEM AND EMBARRASSED
THEM FOR POOR PERFORMANCE?
SO, THEY BEGAN...
TO DO ESPECIALLY COMPLIMENTARY,
PUBLICLY REWARDING
EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD PERFORMANCE.
AND FOR EXCEPTIONALLY BAD
PERFORMANCE, PUBLICLY SCOLDING,
EMBARRASSING, HUMILIATING.
AND IT TURNED OUT...
THAT THE EXCELLENT PERFORMERS
WHO WERE...
COMPLIMENTED AND REWARDED...
DID NOTICEABLY LESS WELL IN THE
DAYS TO FOLLOW AND THEY BAD
PERFORMERS WHO WERE PUBLICLY
HUMILIATED DID NOTICEABLY BETTER
FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS.
AND WHAT WAS THE CONCLUSION?
WELL, THE CONCLUSION WAS
PUNISHING BAD PERFORMANCE WORKS.
REWARDING GOOD PERFORMANCE
DOESN'T SEEM TO MAKE ANY
DIFFERENCE.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT?
WELL, SOMEBODY POINTED OUT THAT
EVERYBODY WHETHER IT'S PLAYING
TENNIS OR FLYING AN AIRPLANE HAS
GOOD DAYS AND BAD DAYS AND
INTERMEDIATE DAYS AND IF YOU
GAUGE THEIR PERFORMANCE, THERE'S
SORT OF A CURVED PERFORMANCE.
SOME DAYS ARE EXCEPTIONALLY
GOOD, SOME DAYS ARE
EXCEPTIONALLY BAD, MOST DAYS ARE
SORT OF IN THE MIDDLE, SOME DAYS
ARE ABOVE AVERAGE, SOME DAYS
BELOW AVERAGE BUT ON THE WHOLE,
IF YOU DO EXCEPTIONALLY WELL,
IT'S AN EXCEPTION.
IT'S AT THE TAIL OF THE
DISTRIBUTION OF YOUR
PERFORMANCE.
IF YOU KNOW THE PERSON'S
PERFORMANCE AND ONE DAY HE
PERFORMS IN THE UPPER 10 percent OF
PERFORMANCE, THE ODDS ARE 9:1
THAT THE NEXT DAY...
HE'LL BE BELOW THAT PERFORMANCE
AND SIMILARLY IF SOMEONE IS AT
THE TAIL, THE OTHER TAIL OF HIS
PERFORMANCE, IN THE BOTTOM 10 percent
OF HIS PERFORMANCE, THE ODDS ARE
9:1 THAT IN THE NEXT DAY OR TWO,
HE WILL PERFORM BETTER AND THIS
I THINK IS CALLED REGRESSION TO
THE MEAN OR SOMETHING OF THE
SORT.
BUT ANYWAY, THIS WAS A SIMPLE
NOTION OF FALLACIOUS REASONING.
A LITTLE LIKE THE QUESTION
HAVING TO DO WITH SAMPLING
THEORY.
IF YOU ASK PEOPLE...
USUALLY BOYS AND GIRLS ARE BORN
IN ALMOST A 1:1 RATIO.
SLIGHTLY IN FAVOUR OF BOYS BUT
NOT ENOUGH TO MATTER.
IF THERE IS A SMALL BIRTHING
FACILITY IN SOUTHERN VERMONT
THAT DELIVERS 50 CHILDREN PER
YEAR AND A BIG HOSPITAL IN
BOSTON THAT DELIVERS 5,000
CHILDREN PER YEAR, IN WHICH
PLACE IS THE RATIO OF BOYS TO
GIRLS MOST LIKELY TO DEPART FROM
50-50?
AND A LARGE NUMBER OF PEOPLE SAY
"WELL, IN THE BIG HOSPITAL WITH
THE 5,000 BIRTHS.
WITH ALL THOSE BIRTHS, SURE
THERE'S MORE ROOM FOR THE RATIO
TO DEPART FROM 50-50."
AND OF COURSE, ANYBODY WHO TOOK
A LITTLE BIT OF SAMPLING THEORY
IN A STATISTICS COURSE KNOWS
THAT, UH, IT'S VERY UNLIKELY
THAT OUT OF 5,000 BIRTHS WHERE
THE STANDARD DEVIATION IS
ESSENTIALLY THE SQUARE ROOT OF
PQN, N BEING THE NUMBER OF
BIRTHS DIVIDED BY N, THAT THE,
UH...
THAT THE LIKELIHOOD OF A
DEPARTURE FROM 50-50 IS MUCH
GREATER IN THE SMALL THAN IN THE
LARGE BIRTHING FACILITY AND
THIS, THIS IS SOMETHING THAT...
APPARENTLY PEOPLE DON'T GROW UP
KNOWING UNLESS THEY ACTUALLY
TOOK A COURSE IN IT.
OKAY, I WANNA COME NOW TO WHAT I
THINK IS A...
SOMEWHAT...
DELICATE SUBJECT.
UM...
SUPERSTITION.
I SUBSCRIBE TO
THE
WASHINGTON POST.
AND I USED TO SUBSCRIBE TO
THE BOSTON GLOBE
AND I
OCCASIONALLY BUY
THE LOS
ANGELES TIMES
AND IN
CHICAGO, I BUY ONE OR ANOTHER
CHICAGO NEWSPAPER.
THEY ALL HAVE A DAILY HOROSCOPE.
YOU KNOW WHAT THE HOROSCOPE IS.
IT TELLS YOU ACCORDING TO YOUR
BIRTH DATE AND TODAY'S DATE...
WHAT THE, UH...
THE STARS AND THE PLANETS
SIGNIFY.
THEY WILL TELL YOU WHETHER...
TO TAKE RISKS, CONSOLIDATE,
TRUST YOUR FRIENDS, BE WEARY.
I READ IT OCCASIONALLY AND IT
TURNS OUT, THEY DON'T GIVE YOU
VERY CONCRETE ADVICE.

[Audience laughing]

Thomas continues BUT AS FAR
AS I CAN TELL BUT, UH, THE
NEWSPAPERS MUST BELIEVE THAT
PEOPLE WANT TO READ THAT.
YOU KNOW THE SIGNS OF THE
ZODIAC.
I RECENTLY HAD A DATE IN NEW
YORK AND IT WAS ON...
MADISON AVENUE, ABOUT 26 BLOCKS
FROM WHERE I WAS AND I HAD
PLENTY OF TIME SO I WALKED UP
MADISON AVENUE.
NOW, MADISON AVENUE OFTEN KNOWN
AS THE HEART OF THE ADVERTISING
INDUSTRY IN AMERICA.
MADISON AVENUE IS ONE OF THE
MAJOR AVENUES IN NEW YORK CITY.
I COUNTED HOW MANY FORTUNE
TELLERS THERE WERE ON MADISON
AVENUE.
READ YOUR PALM OR...
LOOK INTO A CRYSTAL BOWL OR
SOMETHING.
THERE WAS MORE THAN ONE PER
BLOCK FOR 26 BLOCKS.
THEY MUST BE ABLE TO COVER THE
RENT.
[Chuckling]
THEY MUST HAVE CUSTOMERS.
IF PEOPLE WHO READ
THE
WASHINGTON POST
BELIEVE
THAT THE ZODIAC WILL TELL THEM
WHETHER TO TRUST THEIR NEIGHBOUR
AND PEOPLE ON MADISON AVENUE,
MAINLY POPULATED BY MIDDLE CLASS
PEOPLE LIKE ME WILL READ MY
PALM AND TELL ME WHAT'S IN
STORE, PEOPLE MUST BE VERY
SUPERSTITIOUS.
THE AIRLINES ADMIT THAT ON
FRIDAY THE 13th THEY REDUCE THE
NUMBER OF FLIGHTS BECAUSE THEY
KNOW THAT FEWER PEOPLE WILL FLY
ON FRIDAY THE 13th THAN ANY
OTHER FRIDAY.
I DIDN'T LOOK IN MY HOTEL HERE
BUT IN MOST HOTELS IN THE UNITED
STATES, THERE IS EITHER NO 13th
FLOOR OR THERE IS A DUMMY FLOOR.
THE DUMMY IS SOMETIMES A NUMBER
ON THE ELEVATOR PANEL...
AND, BUT IF
YOU PRESS 13, NOTHING HAPPENS.
IN THE BUILDING AT PRINCETON
UNIVERSITY, THE BUILDING THAT...
AT THE TOP
OF WHICH IS THE FACULTY CLUB, IT
HAS A 13th FLOOR BUT IT'S, IT'S
A FLOOR THAT IS NOTHING BUT AIR
CONDITIONING EQUIPMENT AND
STORAGE FACILITIES BECAUSE THEY
DON'T WANT ANYBODY TO OCCUPY A
13th FLOOR APPARENTLY BECAUSE
PEOPLE DON'T WANT 13th FLOORS.
THE DICTIONARY SAYS SUPERSTITION
IS...
BELIEFS NOT BASED ON EVIDENCE OR
BELIEFS ABOUT THINGS THAT MAY
HAPPEN FOR WHICH THERE'S NO...
SCIENTIFIC BASIS.
UH, AT ONE POINT THEY SAY
SUPERSTITION IS THE BELIEF THAT
DOES NOT CORRESPOND TO THE KNOWN
LAWS OF NATURE.
NOW, THAT'S INTERESTING.
YOU SEE, ISAAC NEWTON...
IS OFTEN CONSIDERED ABOUT THE
SMARTEST, MOST RATIONAL
SCIENTIST WHO EVER LIVED, ISAAC
NEWTON BELIEVED IN ALCHEMY.
HE SPENT A LOT OF TIME TRYING TO
TRANSMUTE LEAD INTO GOLD.
BECAUSE IN HIS CENTURY, THE LAWS
OF NATURE DIDN'T PRECLUDE THE
TRANSMUTATION OF ONE ELEMENT
INTO ANOTHER.
IN THE 19th CENTURY, YOU
COULDN'T BELIEVE IN ALCHEMY
BECAUSE THAT WAS CONTRARY TO THE
LAWS OF NATURE.
EVERYBODY KNEW THAT THERE WAS NO
SUCH THING AS THE TRANSMUTATION
OF COPPER INTO SILVER OR LEAD
INTO GOLD OR ANY ELEMENT INTO
ANY OTHER ELEMENT.
BUT THEN IN THE 20th CENTURY...
IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE 20th
CENTURY, ALL OF A SUDDEN IT
TURNED OUT THAT IT WAS POSSIBLE
FOR...
ONE ELEMENT TO BE TRANSMUTED
INTO ANOTHER ELEMENT.
YOU PUT URANIUM 235 IN URANIUM
238 IN THE SAME REACTOR...
AND SOME OF THE URANIUM 238
BECOMES PLUTONIUM 239 OR
PLUTONIUM 240.
ALL KINDS OF RADIOACTIVE
BEHAVIOURS NOW HAVE CONVERTED
ONE ELEMENT INTO ANOTHER.
AND IN THE ELEMENTS LIKE
PLUTONIUM DON'T EXIST NATURALLY
BECAUSE THEY HAVE A HALF LIFE OF
25,000 YEARS AND THEN THEY...
FOUR OR FIVE BILLION YEARS OF
THE HISTORY OF THIS PLANET AT
THE RATE OF A HALF LIFE OF
25,000 YEARS, ANY ORIGINAL
PLUTONIUM WOULD HAVE DISAPPEARED
BY NOW BUT YOU CAN PRODUCE IT BY
WHAT YOU MIGHT CALL ALCHEMY.
SO, THE QUESTION IS WHAT
CONSTITUTES SUPERSTITION?
MANY YEARS AGO, BEFORE RONALD
REGAN WAS ELECTED PRESIDENT, HE
WAS RUNNING AGAINST GEORGE H.W.
BUSH...
IN NEW HAMPSHIRE IN A PRIMARY
ELECTION AND I FORGET WHETHER
BUSH ACCUSED REGAN OR REGAN
ACCUSED BUSH BUT WHAT HE SAID
WAS "WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT
IS VOODOO ECONOMICS."
VOODOO ECONOMICS.
VOODOO BEING WHAT A LOT OF
PEOPLE IN HAITI BELIEVE IN.
YOU CAN CALL IT A RELIGIOUS
BELIEF.
IT'S THE BELIEF IN THE SUPER
NATURE.
THE QUESTION IS WHY DID HE SAY
VOODOO?
MY IMPRESSION IS HE COULDN'T
HAVE SAID THAT'S MORMON
ECONOMICS OR THAT'S 7th DAY
ADVENTIST ECONOMICS OR THAT'S
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE ECONOMICS
BECAUSE THERE MIGHT BE SOME
CHRISTIAN SCIENTISTS.
THERE'S SOME MORMONS IN THE
ELECTORATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE BUT
THEY MUST HAVE FIGURED "NOBODY
HERE BELIEVES IN VOODOO SO I CAN
USE VOODOO SAFELY."
BUT THAT RAISES THE QUESTION
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN
SUPERSTITION...
AND RELIGION?
THIS IS A DELICATE SUBJECT.
I'M NOT GOING TO GO VERY FAR
INTO IT BECAUSE THERE ARE
UNDOUBTEDLY PEOPLE IN THE
AUDIENCE WHO HAVE STRONG
RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND SOME WHO
HAVE STRONG NON-RELIGIOUS
BELIEFS BUT I THINK THAT IT'S...
IT'S INTERESTING THAT, UH...
THERE ARE PROBABLY AT LEAST
THREE MAJOR MONOTHEISTIC
RELIGIONS THAT ONE DOESN'T WANT
TO DESCRIBE AS SUPERSTITIONS BUT
A VARIETY OF OTHER RELIGIONS
AMONG NATIVE AMERICANS OR
AMONG...
BUDDHISTS AND OTHERS THAT ONE
CAN SAFELY SAY "WELL, THEY, THEY
ARE A WORLD VIEW BUT THEY ARE
NOT STRICTLY SPEAKING
RELIGIONS."
BUT THEN THE QUESTION RISES.
YOU KNOW, WE, WE HAVE SEEN
RECENTLY THAT THERE ARE EFFORTS
TO EXPERIMENTALLY DETERMINE
WHETHER PRAYER...
CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
THERE ARE EXPERIMENTS IN WHICH
PRAYER IS BEING USED TO
INFLUENCE THE RECOVERY OR THE
NON-RECOVERY OF DREADFULLY ILL
PATIENTS IN HOSPITALS AND THE
EXPERIMENTS HAVE QUITE A VARIETY
OF DIFFERENT FORMULATIONS.
IN SOME CASES, THE PERSON WHO
PRAYS KNOWS THE NAME OF THE
PERSON HE OR SHE IS PRAYING FOR
AND KNOWS THE RELIGION OF THE
PERSON THAT HE OR SHE IS PRAYING
FOR.
IN SOME CASES, YOU PRAY FOR
SOMEBODY ABOUT WHOM YOU KNOW
NOTHING EXCEPT A ROOM NUMBER.
IN OTHER CASES, YOU HAVE A JEW
PRAYING FOR A CHRISTIAN OR A
CHRISTIAN PRAYING FOR A JEW.
AND THE QUESTION ARISES HOW DOES
THIS ALL TURN OUT?
THE MORE INTERESTING QUESTION IS
IF IT TURNED OUT THAT PRAYER
WORKED, WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT?
AND IF IT TURNED OUT THAT PRAYER
DIDN'T WORK, WOULD YOU BELIEVE
IT?
MY IMPRESSION IS THAT IF A
PERSON KNOWS THAT HE OR SHE IS
BEING PRAYED FOR...
THAT KNOWLEDGE IS LIKELY TO HAVE
AN EFFECT ON THE STATE OF HER
HEALTH.
ON HER RECOVERY.
SO, IF BEING PRAYED FOR HELPS,
IT'S EASY TO SAY "WELL, THAT'S
THE PLACEBO EFFECT."
IF YOU KNOW YOU'RE BEING PRAYED
FOR, IT'S ENCOURAGING ESPECIALLY
IF YOU BELIEVE IN GOD AND YOU
BELIEVE THAT THE PERSON PRAYING
BELIEVES IN GOD.
ON THE OTHER HAND, IF SOMEBODY
PRAYS AND NOTHING BENEFICIAL
HAPPENS, I THINK ONE CAN SAY
"WELL...
GO BACK TO WHAT GOD SAID.
THOU SHALL NOT TAKE THE NAME OF
THE LORD THY GOD IN VAIN."
THAT MEANS YOU DON'T USE PRAYER
TO TEST...
MY DOMINION.
I'M NOT GONNA RESPOND...

[Audience laughing]

Thomas continues AS A...
AN EXPERIMENTAL SUBJECT.
I'LL JUST IGNORE THAT.
THAT IS NOT PRAYER.
THAT'S TESTING GOD IN A WAY THAT
MOSES SAID YOU MUST NOT DO.
SO, I END UP THINKING THAT...
MAYBE THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE
IN CONNECTION WITH RATIONALITY
HAS TO DO WITH BELIEF IN PRAYER,
BELIEF IN...
MIRACLES.
BELIEF IN THE STATUS AND ROLE OF
HOMO SAPIENS IN THE WORLD.
AND I THINK THIS GOES BEYOND
RATIONAL DECISION THAT INVOLVES
FAITH.
I READ FREQUENTLY PEOPLE LIKE
CARL SAGAN AND STEPHEN J. GOULD
AND...
OTHERS ON THE ROLE OF SCIENCE
AND RELIGION AND THEY TRY VERY
HARD TO FIND A RECONCILIATION
BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION.
I THINK THEY FAIL.
SO, ALL I CAN DO IS LEAVE YOU
WITH THE QUESTION...
WHERE DOES RATIONAL CHOICE FIND
IT'S LIMIT?
THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

[Applause]

A black slate reads "Questions and answers."

Thomas says DID
EVERYBODY HEAR THE QUESTION?
HE, HE...
I...
I SAID SOMETHING ABOUT IF I KNOW
SOMEBODY'S VALUES, INTERESTS,
PREFERENCES AND SO FORTH AND I
BELIEVE THAT PERSON RATIONAL
THEN I CAN RATIONALLY IDENTIFY
WHAT THAT PERSON MIGHT BE
EXPECTED TO DO.
HIS
QUESTION IS...
WHAT ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO'S
CULTURE IS SUCH THAT I NEVER
HAVE ANY GOOD WAY OF KNOWING
WHAT THEIR PRIME INTERESTS ARE,
WHAT THEIR VALUES ARE, WHAT THEY
FEAR, WHAT THEY TREASURE, WHAT
THEY LIKE, WHAT THEY DISLIKE AND
I THINK FOR EXAMPLE WHEN WE TALK
ABOUT TERRORISTS TODAY, ONE CAN
SAY IT STANDS TO REASON THAT A
TERRORIST WOULD BUT THEN IT MAY
NOT STAND TO REASON UNLESS THE
TERRORIST IS LIKE WHATEVER I
VISUALIZE.
NOW, I, I THINK A...
A SERIOUS LIMITATION ON USING...
RATIONAL CHOICE...
TO PREDICT THE BEHAVIOUR OF
SOMEBODY WHO'S CULTURE IS SO
DISSIMILAR TO ANYTHING I'M
FAMILIAR WITH, THAT I MAY GET IT
DRASTICALLY WRONG.
NOW, I DON'T, I'M NOT SURE I
KNOW ANY...
BETTER WAY TO TRY TO PREDICT THE
PERSON'S BEHAVIOUR BUT AT LEAST
I SHOULD BE VERY CAUTIOUS ABOUT
PREDICTING SOMEBODY'S BEHAVIOUR
IF...
IF I HAVE NO WAY OF GETTING
INSIDE THAT PERSON'S BELIEFS AND
VALUES AND INTERESTS.
YEAH.

Now a man in his twenties from the audience says
WHAT ABOUT THE REALM OF LIKE,
PUBLIC DISCOURSE OR WHEN YOU'RE
TRYING TO DEFEND YOUR OPINION
WITH A GROUP OF PEOPLE, UM, I
FIND THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE FALL
BACK ON RELATIVISM SO WHEN IT
COMES TO, YOU KNOW, A
CONTROVERSY, THEY'LL, THEY'LL
FALL BACK ON THEIR RIGHT TO HAVE
AN OPINION AND WE'LL JUST LIKE,
WE'LL AGREE TO DISAGREE.
UM, THE CONCEPT OF GOOD
ARGUMENT, BAD ARGUMENT, GOOD
OPINION, BAD OPINION, UH, NOT
EVERYBODY SORT OF AGREES WITH
THAT, I GUESS.
SO, MY QUESTION IS, WELL, WOULD
YOU SUPPORT OR WHAT IS YOUR
OPINION SORT OF A K TO 12
EDUCATION ON TEACHING INFORMAL
LOGIC OR JUST THE DIFFERENCE
BETWEEN GOOD ARGUMENTS AND BAD
ARGUMENTS AND GOOD REASONING AND
BAD REASONING?

Thomas says I THINK THE
ANSWER HAS TO BE YES.
I'M, I'M NOT SURE THAT I
COULD...
DESCRIBE THE CURRICULUM BUT IT,
IT STRIKES ME THAT YES, UH, I
WOULD THINK THAT, UH, MAYBE THE
MOST IMPORTANT INFLUENCE WOULD
BE THE PARENTS OF THE CHILD THAT
THE SCHOOL COULD HAVE AN
EXTRAORDINARY INFLUENCE ON
TEACHING THEM TO...
NOT TO, ONLY TO THINK RATIONALLY
BUT TO IMPUTE RATIONALITY TO
OTHERS AND UNDERSTAND THE
BEHAVIOUR TO OTHERS.
IT'S INTERESTING.
I THINK...
THERE'S A LOT OF INTEREST NOW IN
AUTISM AND AUTISM IS OFTEN
DESCRIBED AS THE INABILITY TO
IMPLICIZE WITH OTHERS, THE
INABILITY TO UNDERSTAND HOW
OTHERS THINK.
THERE'S SOME TERM SUCH AS...
ENTERING THE MIND OF ANOTHER OR
SOMETHING AND I THINK THAT THAT
WOULD BE AN EXTREME CASE OF
PEOPLE WHO, WHO CAN'T RATIONALLY
ANTICIPATE THE BEHAVIOUR OF
OTHERS BECAUSE THEY CAN'T PUT
THEMSELVES MENTALLY INTO THE
POSITION OF THE OTHER AND IT MAY
BE THAT THERE ARE WAYS TO TRAIN
PEOPLE TO DO THAT AND THAT MAYBE
THE SCHOOLS COULD FIND A...
A WAY TO HELP.

A man on the stage walks up to Thomas. The man is in his late fifties, clean-shaven, with short gray hair.

He says UNFORTUNATELY OUR TIME IS UP.
I WOULD LIKE TO THANK YOU VERY,
VERY MUCH FOR THIS ENLIGHTENING,
UH, TALK.
THANK YOU.

He and Thomas shake hands as the audience applauds.

The man says UH, AS ALWAYS.

[Applause]

The clip ends, and Andrew reappears in the studio with a caption that reads "Andrew Moodie."

He says SCHELLING IS
THE AUTHOR OF
THE STRATEGY
OF CONFLICT
IN WHICH HE
INTRODUCED THE CONCEPT OF THE
SCHELLING POINT.
AT ITS
SIMPLEST, THE SCHELLING OR FOCAL
POINT, IS A PART OF AGREEMENT
ARRIVED AT IN ABSENCE OF
COMMUNICATION.
NOW, WHEN I READ THAT, I
THOUGHT...
[Chuckling]
THIS IS A MAN WHO OBVIOUSLY HAS
HAD CHILDREN.
WHEN YOU HAVE A ONE YEAR OLD,
THE SCHELLING POINT IS ALL
YOU'VE GOT.
YOU JUST HOPE THAT WHAT YOU WANT
AND WHAT SHE WANTS WILL OVERLAP
FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE GLORIOUS
THING TO BE CALLED A LOVING BOND
BETWEEN PARENT AND CHILD.
WISHFUL THINKING, I KNOW.
AS SCHELLING ARDENTLY POINTS
OUT, IN GAME THEORY, AGREEMENT
IS NOT THE ONLY RATIONAL OPTION.
THERE ARE TIMES WHEN IT'S
RATIONAL TO BURN BRIDGES.
THERE ARE TIMES WHEN IT'S
RATIONAL TO STARVE YOURSELF FOR
A CAUSE OR TO RISE UP IN PROTEST
EVEN WHEN YOU KNOW IT MEANS
CERTAIN DEATH.
IT'S IMPORTANT TO REALIZE THAT
WHAT SEEMS UNREASONABLE IS STILL
PART AND PARCEL OF THAT COMPLEX
NATURE OF HUMAN RATIONALITY.
FOR
BIG IDEAS...

He opens his flip phone and concludes
I'M ANDREW MOODIE.

[Theme music plays]

The end credits roll.

bigideas@tvo.org

416-484-2746

Big Ideas. Producer, Wodek Szemberg.

Producers, Lara Hindle, Mike Miner, Gregg Thurlbeck.

Logos: Unifor, Canadian Media Guild.

A production of TVOntario. Copyright 2007, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Watch: Thomas Schelling