Archive for March 22nd, 2009

Found this cool Penn and Teller video on Daniel’s site. It shows the propensity of people to support suggestion (perhaps because they’re being filmed). The suggestion here delves into the healing/medical properties of magnets and snails (which fall under pseudoscience/pseudomedicine):

Magnet and snail facial practitioners prey on the same cognitive biases as snake oil salesmen.

Law of Attraction anyone?

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Poker, especially its variant Texas Hold ’em is a very popular game around the world these days. Unlike other cards games such as Blackjack which are simply a question of odds, playing poker involves much more complex strategy since you are not playing against a house dealer, but other poker players as well.

The popular explosion of poker has also fueled an explosion in the number of books detailing poker strategy and nuances, but the more recent poker literature are beginning to delve deeply into the psychological and philosophical aspects of the game.

One psychologist and poker player: Alan Schoonmaker, has authored a number of very interesting poker books which are less about the strategy of poker hands (e.g. what are the best cards, mathematical odds, etc.), but more about getting the edge of playing the game by understanding the emotional and cognitive aspects of it.

In his book, Your Best Poker Friend, Schoonmaker provides an in-depth look at the challenges facing poker players as a result of our inborn biases and the natural way we think and learn.

I quoted an excerpt of Schoonmaker’s book in the Critical Thinking section because it greatly appealed to our thrust in this blog to encourage the process and practice of critical thinking. Arguably, a successful poker player not only has mastery of odds and risk management, but also has the ability to think critically of both himself and his opponents.

Here’s an excerpt from the excerpt:

Ignoring or misinterpreting later information because of our first impressions can cost us lots of money.

The effects of this tendency combine with one of my favorite subjects, the extremely common belief that we are more talented than we really are. Thousands of studies clearly indicate that people overestimate most of their abilities. Our first impresisons are probably not that good because we are not as perceptive as we think we are.

These insights put Schoonmaker on the same level as other critical thinkers we’ve featured here before like Nassim Taleb and George Soros–who both insist that our ability to accept a world of imperfect information (which is essentially what a poker game is) affects our ability to deal with it.

One of his recommendations:

You must guard against undue optimism, pessimism, and all other distorting emotions. Do whatever it takes to see what is really there, not what you expect, hope, or fear.

This is classic, exactly echoeing William Arthur Ward’s poem on risk.

Check out our excerpt of Schoonmaker’s book here.

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