Highlights for Thinking in Bets

The punch line of the John Hennigan–Des Moines story—“after two days, he begged to get out of it”—made it part of gambling folklore.

Everything is a bet.

Most people aren’t like poker players, around whom there is always the potential that someone might propose a bet and they will mean it.

Such interactions are reminders that not all situations are appropriate for truthseeking, nor are all people interested in the pursuit.

In the movie, the matrix was built to be a more comfortable version of the world. Our brains, likewise, have evolved to make our version of the world more comfortable: our beliefs are nearly always correct; favorable outcomes are the result of our skill; there are plausible reasons why unfavorable outcomes are beyond our control; and we compare favorably with our peers. We deny or at least dilute the most painful parts of the message.

In fact, as long as there are three people in the group (two to disagree and one to referee*), the truthseeking group can be stable and productive.

“a pretty good blueprint for a truthseeking charter:

  • A focus on accuracy (over confirmation), which includes rewarding truthseeking, objectivity, and open-mindedness within the group;
  • Accountability, for which members have advance notice; and
  • Openness to a diversity of ideas.”

In three sentences, he laid out all the elements of a productive group charter. “I don’t want to hear it. I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, but if you have a question about a hand, you can ask me about strategy all day long. I just don’t think there’s much purpose in a poker story if the point is about something you had no control over, like bad luck.”

We should also recognize that it’s really hard: the norm is toward homogeneity; we’re all guilty of it; and we don’t even notice that we’re doing it.

Coming from a community composed almost entirely of liberal-leaning scientists, the quality and impact of research can suffer.

Liberals would do well to take some time to read and watch more conservative news sources, and conservatives would do well to take some time to read and watch more liberal news sources—not with the goal of confirming that the other side is a collection of idiots who have nothing of value to say but to specifically and purposely find things they agree with.

Anyone can provide the narrative only up to the point of the decision under consideration, leaving off the outcome so as not to infect their listeners with bias.

The way we field outcomes is path dependent. It doesn’t so much matter where we end up as how we got there. What has happened in the recent past drives our emotional response much more than how we are doing overall. That’s how we can win $100 and be sad, and lose $100 and be happy. The zoom lens doesn’t just magnify, it distorts.

At the very beginning of my poker career, I heard an aphorism from some of the legends of the profession: “It’s all just one long poker game.”

Remember, the likelihood of positive and negative futures must add up to 100%. The positive space of backcasting and the negative space of a premortem still have to fit in a finite amount of space.

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