June 8, 2016

Logical thinking: How good is the current President (or Prime Minister)?

This article is excerpted from Scott Adam's blog at http://www.dilbert.com

The original question is with reference to Trump (who is running for Presidency in US) and I found it interesting because of the thought process outlined.

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I’m not good at predicting the performance of presidents. I thought Reagan would be dangerous, but he presided over the end of the Cold War. And I thought George W. Bush would be unlikely to start a war, much less two of them.

But it gets better. Even AFTER the presidency, can you tell who did the best job? I can’t. You think you can, but you can’t. And the simple reason for that is because there is no base case with which to compare a president. All we know is what did happen, not what might have happened if we took another path. You can’t compare a situation in the real world to your imaginary world in which something better happened. That is nonsense. And yet we do it. Watch me prove it right now.

So, how did President Obama do on the job? Was he a good president?

If you have an answer in your head – either yes or no – it proves you don’t know how to make decisions. No judgement can be made about Obama’s performance because there is nothing to which it can be compared. No one else in a parallel universe was president at the same time, doing different things and getting different results.

I’m not a fan of everything our president has done, but I feel as if historians will rank him as one of our best presidents. Definitely in the top 20%.

Wait, what? Am I crazy?

Many of you think Obama nearly destroyed civilization. You and I can’t both be right. But both of us can be irrational in trusting our opinions. We are literally comparing Obama’s actual performance to imagined alternatives that exist only in our minds. Maybe you think the imaginary president in your mind is way better than the real one, whereas I think the real one did well compared to my imaginary alternative.

That isn’t thinking. Science is pretty clear on that.

And how about your ability to predict the future of your own relationships? Most relationships end badly, so we know that the majority of Americans are not good at predicting the future. Have all of your relationships worked out the way you expected? Mine haven’t.

I think you’ll agree that humans are terrible at predicting the future. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that we think we are not terrible at predicting the future. Our certainty in the face of overwhelming uncertainty is irrational.


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