on common sense and hindsight

Early in his new book,  Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer (Crown Business, 2011), Duncan Watts tells a story about the late sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld, who once described an intriguing research result: Soldiers from a rural background were happier during World War II than their urban comrades. Lazarsfeld imagined that on reflection people would find the result so self-evident that it didn’t merit an elaborate study, because everyone knew that rural men were more used to grueling labor and harsh living standards. But there was a twist, the study he described showed the opposite pattern; it was urban conscripts who had adjusted better to wartime conditions. The rural effect was a pedagogical hoax designed to expose our uncanny ability to make up retrospective explanations for what we already believed to be true. Though Lazarsfeld was writing 60 years ago, 20/20 hindsight is still very much with us. Contemporary psychologists call this tendency to view the past as more predictable than it actually was “the hindsight bias.” Watts, a Yahoo! Labs scientist best known for his research on social networks and his earlier book,  Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (W. W. Norton, 2003), argues that this tendency is a greatly underappreciated problem, one that not only causes us to make up just-so stories to explain any conceivable outcome—but to delude ourselves that we can predict the future by learning from the past…

via 3quarksdaily.

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