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    Geek Logik: The Science Of Decisions And Foolproof Equations For A Perfect Life
    By Garth Sundem | June 9th 2008 05:29 PM | 29 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Garth

    Garth Sundem is a Science, Math and general Geek Culture writer, TED speaker, and author of books including Brain Trust: 93 Top Scientists Dish the...

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    Be warned: this article deals primarily with shark attacks, the lottery, beer, and how to get a date using math. Is it a good decision to keep reading? Unfortunately, the answer is "you need to keep reading to find out."

    Sound irrational? Good—your massively irrational mind should have no problem with it, then.

    Consider this: every year when the Discovery Channel broadcasts "Shark Week" visits to Florida beaches decline. Presumably, the network's programming makes the waters no less safe (assuming sharks are not, in fact, empowered by cable television). However, after watching a week of kicking legs seen from below, the idea of shark attack is refreshed in our minds and we choose not to offer ourselves as bait.

    This phenomenon is known as an availability heuristic — a heuristic being a rule-of-thumb. Our rationality is subverted by easily available sensationalist images.

    On the sunnier side of the availability heuristic is the lottery. Should you invest $5 a day or use it to buy lottery tickets?

    Math makes the decision obvious. Suppose you invest five bucks every day at the not-unheard-of rate of 10%. It will take you almost exactly 40 years to accumulate $1 million. To earn this same $1m playing Powerball, you would have to match five balls and the Powerball at odds of one-in-146,107,962. Spending this same $5 a day to buy 73,000 lottery tickets over 40 years gives you about a 1/2000 chance of winning the jackpot. Granted the Powerball jackpot is likely over a million (even after taxes, payouts over time, and splitting with other winners), but there’s no way it’s 2,000-million and thus investing the money wins no matter how you slice it. (Yes, yes—this is oversimplified, but while adding complexity clouds the result, it doesn't change it.)

    However, the available image of immediate wealth subverts this rationality; when we picture the payout, our minds go wonk.

    Alphabetically, the availability heuristic is only the first in a long line of psychological mechanisms that lead us into bad decisions. Imagine—if you will—beer. See, wasn't that nice? Now imagine sitting in front of the taps at your local watering hole (nice again, eh?). Which beer do you like best? If you are like most human beings, the answer is "the most expensive one." A number of studies have shown that by switching price tags, you can switch preferences (for obvious reasons, this is a favorite experiment among university psychology students). This works with other beverages as well—just ask Starbucks.

    And what about the power of suggestion?

    Imagine I handed you a cup of hot (Starbucks) coffee and then asked your opinion about a person whom you had recently met; now suppose I instead handed you a cup of ice-cold soda. Experiments show that your opinion of this person would be different because you have been primed to feel warmth or coldness.

    Add to the list...

    * framing (how you present data is as important as the data itself)
    * impact bias (overestimation of possible outcomes),
    * confirmation bias (recognizing only data that supports your hypothesis)
    * loss aversion (we stand to gain more than we would lose, but our fear of loss prevents us)
    * selective perception (seeing what you want to see),and
    * rosy retrospection (integral to the repeated experience of family Christmas)

    ...and you seem doomed to blunder through life led by your brain's clumsy irrationality.

    Is there any hope for the human race? In the example of the lottery, mathematics offered incontrovertible rationality. Might we be able to apply mathematics to other situations as well?

    A rudimentary attempt at this is the list of plusses and minuses, in which one lists the positive aspects of a decision on one side of a chart and the negative aspects on the other, and then weighs these against each other as if on a scale (the heavier side wins).

    To add a layer of mathematics, if one factor on the list is more important than the others, we might multiply it by two. If it is very important, we could even square or cube it.

    Suppose you were sitting in the aforementioned bar, drinking the aforementioned beer (perhaps while holding the aforementioned Powerball ticket and worrying about the aforementioned shark), while sneaking peeks at a beautiful woman sitting at the bar. What do you think would influence your chance of success with this woman?

    It will certainly help if you are attractive—especially in comparison to her (you might say your chances increase in direct proportion to your looks/her looks); it will also help if you are a witty conversationalist and willing to pursue the interaction aggressively, and hurt your chances drastically if she already has a boyfriend (esp. a large one).

    Putting this into an equation, we could come up with the following (W=Witty, G=Aggressive, Ay=Your Attractiveness, AH=Her Attractiveness, R=Her "Amount" of Current Relationship; all variables from 1-10 with 10 being high):

    Ask Out Equation


    You would, of course, have to evaluate the results on some type of scale, like the one here:

    * If ASK is less than zero you should lower your standards
    * If ASK is between zero and 1, you have exactly a snowball's chance in hell with her
    * If ASK is between 1 and 10, game on!
    * If ASK is greater than 10, consider her more attractive friend instead

    (Can somebody hit me with a widget here?)

    Is this science? Is this math? Is this valid? Completely valid or valid in concept? Are we naught but zombific, perambulatory computers translating input into output with predestined results?

    To find out the answer (and to watch geeks armed with hidden cameras and calculators apply Geek Logik formulas at the singles bar, followed by a segment of me trying—and failing horribly—to affect womens' shoe-buying decisions in an upscale NYC boutique), watch the BBC Documentary "Foolproof Equations for a Perfect Life" on the Science Channel on Sunday, June 15 2008 at 9:00pm EST.


    Comments

    this is very interesting post of the scientificblogging.com. I am firstime visiting this site and feel pleasure with the help of www.yahoo.com i reach here.

    Experiments show that your opinion of this person would be different because you have been primed to feel warmth or coldness.

    maybe that's why coffee is more of a social experience. warmth means doing it together. Beer houses are mostly groups of individuals(men) out to meet other individuals in groups(women) and willing to abandon their group on first sight of the women. Not much warmth.

    Perhaps it they served warm beer that would change?

    Garth Sundem

    Good points. Perhaps warm beer is the secret of the homey Brit pub. On second thought, it's just not worth it...I'll stick to cold beer and my American sense of insulated superiority, thanks. (I would insert a smiley face emoticon here, but then I would have to commit ritual hari kari...) 

    Garth Sundem, itinerant math geek, pop pseudo-psychologist, and author of Geek Logik: 50 Foolproof Equations for Everyday Life

    Garth Sundem, TED speaker, Wipeout loser and author of Brain Trust

    I am really looking forward to watching your show this Sunday because I have been living my life using only basic
    math.:(

    A=Me
    B=beer
    C=Lonely Jerk
    (2B)(2B)+A=C

    Garth Sundem

    Ha! Have you tried something like 6B-B^2? There's an optimal level here. Go out. Find a potential mate. Use math. Write back with data.

    Cheers, 

    Garth Sundem, itinerant math geek, pop pseudo-psychologist, and author of Geek Logik: 50 Foolproof Equations for Everyday Life

    Garth Sundem, TED speaker, Wipeout loser and author of Brain Trust

    Hank
    Unfortunately, while the number of beers increases arithmetically, the loneliness is geometric.

    (W^2+AD^2)/(B^2+FD^2) = Sch

    W = How much do you like women? 1-10
    B = How much do you like beer? 1-5
    F = Fun drunk 1-5
    A = Angry drunk 1-10

    Sch = Number of Schmidts you should have before you will be doomed to loneliness. Resets each night.

    does anyone have the equation for purchasing shoes?

    I had this saved on my DVR for a while and just watched it last night. I have to say that while it was kinda interesting, overall I wasn't impressed. The teasers implied that we'd be getting a closer look at Sundem's equations, but aside from seeing him walk about with his pad/whiteboard, we didn't really get an idea of anything that might actually help us.

    I liked the "change blindness" test and the example of priming, but I was hoping for a little less entertainment and more science.

    Garth Sundem. You are God.

    I saw your show on television the other day, and I bought your book from Amazon.

    It is the most interesting thing I have seen in a long time.

    I love the fact that you are giving us new equations on your site that supplement your book. Keep up the good work.

    I do have a question that needs answering.

    When I was at the University, I took Statistical Analysis. The course started out with 60 people and buy the end of the symester there were only 6 left. I ended up 2nd in that class only beaten by a nurse that was on her way to Yale.

    The course took about 3 hours of study per day. I kid you not.

    Now for the confession...

    I finished that course by the skin of my teeth. I didn't really know understand what all the mathmatics were doing, but through memorization and hard work I managed to succeed by University standards, but I failed by "real life" standards. I just didn't understand what all the mathematics were doing.

    This brings me to my question.

    I don't just want to work your equations, I want to understand what the equations are doing, why they are doing it and make my own.

    It has been thirty years since I was at the University. So I would need something simple to read that I could understand. That is why I like your book. It is very simple to read and understand.

    Can you or your friends in this blog help me?

    Determinism?
    Some of the greatest minds in history have worked on this problem and failed to solve it.
    The closest I believe was Immanuel Kant 1724-1804, who wrote 3 volumes:
    Critique of Pure reason, Critique of Practice, and the Critique of Judgment.
    Few if any have grasped his Systematic.
    Only one other Geek that I know of, has attempted to develop a CAD tool to determine
    complex outcomes, "final purpose", employing Kant's Categories.
    He is Charles M Richter, and former partner of Clive Finkelstein
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_Engineering
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_Architecture R.I.P.O.S.E.

    "ABSOLUTE TRUTH"?
    "My book Geek Logik: 50 Foolproof Equations For Everyday Life, provides ABSOLUTE TRUTH (insert maniacal laugh, and maybe a bit of a wink)."
    Thanks Garth. Now I do Understand that you, wink wink.
    You do know that Mathemata, unlike Dogmata, provides it own ABSOLUTE TRUTH "unconditioned condition".
    Any well defined formula will begin a synthetic logical sequence, even to the absurd.
    Originally Mathematics was thought to be "Analytic", Kant proved otherwise.
    Dogmata (philosophy), is the process where the Apriori is be sought.
    Successful 2009.

    "Suppose you invest five bucks every day at the not-unheard-of rate of 10%....and thus investing the money wins no matter how you slice it. (Yes, yes—this is oversimplified, but while adding complexity clouds the result, it doesn't change it.)"

    Oversimplified? I prefer the much more elegant "Prize fund as a percent of ticket sales", which is public information available on any lottery's website. In California, I recall it's about 50%, meaning that you hard earned dollar invested in the lottery will return 50 cents with an average draw.

    But I'm just a rogue statistical and economics consultant...

    The 'date equation' still needs some work. It is well known that being witty and aggressive are generally positive attributes, being 'too witty', or 'too aggressive' is definitely negative. I would suggest a -(w-j)^2 term and a -(g-k)^2 term, where j and k indicate optimum level of wit and aggressiveness, probably best determined by empirical study.

    Also, you can't underestimate the variance in the underlying variables. In this equation, Ah and Ay both indicate attractiveness as perceived by the woman. It is well documented that some guys have no idea that they are out of their league.

    I like it! Usually I have to blunt equations for on-screen use (TV screen, that is). You're right that adding some negative^2 curves would make things more precise. Please don't take the following as a simple book pimping--that being said, in Geek Logik, I've got a much more thorough version under the title "Do you have a snowball's chance in hell with her?" that includes background compatibility, how many of her friends you've dated, and...the number of drinks she's had (as well as beefed up math). As you know, being a statistician, these equations have the very real potential to quickly spiral into the land of 50 variables and 100 operations.

    Thanks for the comments!
    -Garth

    I just used the foolproof equations calculator on Live Science and it told me I should have 20 kids. Are you sure it works right?

    Worse than useless. I caught the "dating" section of the show and turned it off in disgust. Putting aside the fact that the men were allowed to rate their own attractiveness, which means that the equation is absolutely subjective (and in the case of these men, much too generous) but the conclusion of the efficacy of the equation was that the men's confidence was increased by using it - which is a PLACEBO EFFECT and it told us nothing about the men's decision-making - it was the WOMEN who decided whether or not to hand out their numbers. That's the critical decision, not whether the men would speak to a given woman.

    Only an idiot would be impressed by this pseudoscience.

    Oh yes - and Garth comes off as a huge wanker.

    Garth Sundem

    Of course it's pseudoscience! Didn't you get the joke? It's funny, when I give book talks, my best audience is mathematicians with a sense of humor and my worst audience is mathematicians without...

    Though, thanks for the comment. When I first chatted with the BBC about doing this gig we talked about using Geek Logik equations to create controversy, forcing people to watch the rest of the program which is, in fact, a fairly straight-up look at decision science. And I also agree with your take on the efficacy of the dating equation: it was super fun to watch it released into the wild of the singles bar, which showed that some parts worked and some didn't.

    Garth Sundem, itinerant math geek, pop pseudo-psychologist, and author of Geek Logik: 50 Foolproof Equations for Everyday Life

    Garth Sundem, TED speaker, Wipeout loser and author of Brain Trust

    howardmos
    what  do you think of wind turbines
    If you are no good at science just make up some fiction then sell it to the intellectually less equipped than yourself and make some money. It's not a new equation but it's served many well throughout history. Well done e.r. doctor.

    The BBC Documentary has just aired here in Australia and I was mighty impressed. Not because the maths/logic was foolproof, but because the idea that maths/equations have a larger and more constructive role to play in our lives, is now making prime time TV.

    Remember that 1,000 years ago, people were convinced that the world was flat and 500 years ago, people were convinced that the sun revolved around the earth. All I'm saying is -- keep an open mind. Who knows what we will know in 500 years time.

    For me, I have one maths equation that rules my life -- regarding how to be supportive to women:

    X = The maximum amount of support a man can give
    Y = The amount of support a woman needs

    The equation is:
    Y = X + 1

    I hope this helps, and well done, Garth.

    I like the dating section in bbc horizon.

    Becky Jungbauer
    Can't believe I didn't see this before! It's the Cosmo quiz equivalent for geeks. The problem: after calculating our ASK value, both my husband and I should have lowered our standards. Given that neither of us would do that anyway, and we didn't, it appears we are either proof that the equation is inaccurate or we are the exception and not the rule. Hmm. The word on the street is that Mrs. Rugbyologist is quite the catch herself, so I am curious as to Mr. Rugbyologist's results.
    "Spending this same $5 a day to buy 73,000 lottery tickets over 40 years gives you about a 1/2000 chance of winning the jackpot."

    Is this correct? Each time you buy tickets for a new drawing your chances don't improve they stay the same as the previous drawing. Thus, your chances don't improve over time. Like rolling a dice and trying to get a six. The first time you roll it you have a 1 in 6 chance and the second time you roll it you again have a 1 in 6 chance. That being said the investment route is astronomically better than the lottery route because even over a lifetime of being tickets your chances are still only 1 in whatever million.

    Gerhard Adam
    The first time you roll it you have a 1 in 6 chance and the second time you roll it you again have a 1 in 6 chance.
    While true, that isn't actually the proper perspective.  The 1 in 6 chances are for selecting any number during a particular roll of the dice.  However, if you stick with the same number with each roll, then the chances of the same number eventually turning up are considerably greater than those of any single roll.

    So with fair dice we would expect a particular number that is consistently selected to appear every six rolls (with some variation), but over a large number of events, a particular number should show up about 1/6th of the time.

    To extrapolate this to the lottery, if a particular combination has a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of appearing, then over a sufficiently large number of events, we would expect to see that combination appear every million times.  However, given the potential for variations and the fact that it will only settle on this over a large number of events, it would take several lifetimes to be able to capitalize on the possibility that your particular combination would hit.

    More to the point, if you had taken $5 per day and invested it, you probably would have had an amount comparable to your winnings.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I don't know if I'm just being a cynic, but this all sounds like its cut and pasted from Dan Ariely's "Predictably Irrational." Sorry, I don't have an interest in something that I've already read, and especially when I've read it in more depth.

    Fossil Huntress



    "And what about the power of suggestion?"

    The equation and my bar hopping friends suggest a critical truism... buying both you and your date many drink to increase your collective Ay value... thus not having to lower your standards (which Becky would NEVER have to worry about) while still embroiled in the developing equation.
    The math would change most dramatically 12-24 hrs post Ask...  need to look at that more closely at some later point. Great post, Garth!


    While true, that isn't actually the proper perspective. The 1 in 6 chances are for selecting any number during a particular roll of the dice. However, if you stick with the same number with each roll, then the chances of the same number eventually turning up are considerably greater than those of any single roll.

    hi! i have a question in the part which they showed this girl random calming or emotional pictures doe's the doctor that was beside knew if the picture is going to be emotional or calming ?