When the nail sticks out

rants, raves and randomness

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans

Let’s face it. There is hardly anything we are sure of.

Uncertainties beset us everywhere. When am I going to die? Am I going to lose my job? Is this plane going to crash? Is this wave going to die on me?

Evans paints a perfect picture of uncertainty.

Picture your mind as a lightbulb shining in an otherwise dark room. Some nearby objects are fully illuminated; you can see them in every detail, present and identifiable. They are the names of your friends, what you had for breakfast this morning, how many sidesa triangle has, and so on. The objects on the other side of the room are completely shrouded in darkness. They are things about which you know nothing about : the five thousandth digit of pi, the composition of dark matter, King Nebuchadnezzar’s favorite color. Between the light and the darkness, however, lies a gray area in which the level of illumination gradually shades away.

In this twilight zone, the objects are not fully illuminated,but neither are they completely invisible. You know something about those things, but your knowledge is patchy and incomplete – the law of the land (unless you are a lawyer), the evidence for climate change (unless you are a climatologist), the causes of the credit crunch (even economists are still arguing about this). The question is how much you know about these things? How good are you at judging the precise level of illumination at different points in the twilight zone?

Evans, Dylan. Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty. Free Press. pp 17-18

One thing that stresses me a lot when I fly (and I fly a lot) is the security measures at the airport. I understand that this is SOP, preventive measures to be undertaken to keep anyone from blowing up the plane. Authorities are moved to act a certain way – faced with uncertainty, a probability that anyone passenger may be a bomber. In any case, everyone is subjected to rigorous scans and checks that seem, sometimes, just redundant.

The UK’s largest airport owner has backed calls for an overhaul of Britain’s aviation security regime after the chairman of British Airways attacked “redundant” anti-terror measures.

Milmo, Dan.  BAA backs call to end ‘redundant’ airport security checks. The Guardian. October 27, 2010. Web. November 23, 2015. < http: //www . theguardian .com/ world/ 2010/ oct/27/ baa-a irport-security-us-uk >

In the Philippines, I always felt like things were done for a show. Security officers chatting while your bag is being scanned. Imagine the time, effort and money spent on all these security checks. Nevertheless, it does feel reassuring. And maybe with all these uncertainties, what we need is to feel safe, even if it is more important to BE safe.

Why is it important to develop your risk intelligence, anyway? From the top of my head :

  • If a certain natural disaster has a high probability of happening, then we better prepare for it.
  • If a certain natural disaster has a low probability of happening, then might we not spend our money on something else that is more likely to happen?
  • If you are looking to invest your money in something, won’t it be better to invest it in something that has a high probability of making money ?
  • If it’s cloudy and gray in the morning, won’t it be better to know what the chances of rain are so we can cancel that afternoon picnic?
  • If you know the chances of your failing a certain exam is high, won’t you study harder?
  • If you were George Bush in 2002 and you believed there was but a small chance of WMD in Iraq, would you still go to war?
  • If you were Noynoy Aquino, without the benefit of hindsight, would you send your troops to Mamasapano to serve an arrest warrant, if you knew the probability of them dying was high?

 

Risk Quotient (RQ)

I used to have a classmate in grade school who always asked my percentage of sureness or un-sureness. The conversation always went like this:

Me : I think Teacher — is absent.

Classmate : Are you sure?

Me : Yeah.

Classmate : How many percent?

I always cracked up when he asked for a measurement of my sureness. For me, it was either we have a class or we don’t – a polarity between 0% and 100%. Being 95% sure the teacher is absent yields the same results as 100%.

As it turns out, risk intelligence is “the ability to estimate probabilities accurately” [p 23]

Evans came up with a test to find out how risk intelligent you are.

Disclaimers : Risk intelligence has no correlation whatsoever with IQ. This is not a measure to see how much you know, but how you rate your certainty or uncertainty.

Discover your RQ : http://www.projectionpoint.com/

Here’s my score :

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. My calibration curve from projectpoint.com

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. My calibration curve from projectpoint.com

 

Here’s my husband’s score :

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. My husband's calibration curve from projectpoint.com

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. My husband’s calibration curve from projectpoint.com

 

The average score, according to the book, is 64. The expert bridge players scored 89. The amateur bridge players scored 74 (Still pretty high). As you can see, mine is below average. I guess I fit the average Jane’s RQ. My husband’s is interesting though. I kind of knew he would score high because he’s a gambler – at 77.9, his RQ is as high as amateur bridge players.

The higher RQ of the experts is accounted for mostly by their better ability to estimate extreme probabilities – that is, their use of the categories 0-20 perfect and 80-100 percent. The amateurs didn’t seem much worse than the experts when using categories, but when estimating very low or very high probabilities, they were overconfident.

Evans, Dylan. Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty. Free Press. p 38

Why do people have low risk intelligence?

Many people, including me, are not comfortable with uncertainty. Am I going to pass or fail? Does he hate me? Will I ever catch that wave? I’m the type who spent $$$ on online psychics when I went crazy with the unknown (Disclaimer : I must admit, some of them are extremely good).

This is what Evans terms as “Ambiguity Intolerance“.

The psychological trait known as ambiguity intolerance leads people to respond to novelty, complexity, and uncertainty in a number of ways that undermine risk intelligence, such as seeing things too starkly as black or white, and reacting to ambiguity with feelings of uneasiness, discomfort, dislike, anger, and anxiety that intrude on rational assessment. For the reason, people who can’t tolerate ambiguity are unlikely to develop a high level of risk intelligence. Getting a fix on your own degree of ambiguity tolerance is, therefore, an important step in improving your risk intelligence.

Evans, Dylan. Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty. Free Press. p 50

Some who have a low level of ambiguity tolerance tend to catastrophize when faced with uncertainty, that is, believing that bad things will occur. I do this ALL the time. I always think the worst will happen. When I refused to go into the water because of the assholes (who might want to take our fight to the beach) ,my Sri Lankan host finally told me,  lookit Trish, no one is going to kill you!! (But you don’t know that, right?)

Another factor is “wanting the answer now.” I am guilty of this – I am impulsive. When I want something, I want it now.  Remember, I wasted hundreds of dollars to pay off many psychics who scammed me. (But yes, I repeat – some of them are good!)

Even if the sources of information are unreliable (like my psychics), I felt like I was the type that wanted closure NO MATTER WHAT. I preferred the bad news to NOT knowing. And I convinced myself bad news was coming.

And it wasn’t just bad news. I always readied myself for the worst-case scenario. This is what Evans terms as  “The Fallacy of Worst-Case Thinking

By transforming low-probability risk into complete certainties whenever the events are particularly scary, worst-case thinking leads to terrible decision making.

Evans, Dylan. Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty. Free Press. p 57

Evans gives an example taken from The One Percent Doctrine :

If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis … It’s about our response.

VP Cheney

The One Percent Doctrine. Wikipedia. Web. November 23, 2015. < https: //en. wikipedia. org/ wiki/ The_ One_ Percent _Doctrine >

If we think like Dick Cheney, and we believe that anything that has a 1% chance of happening should be treated as a certainty, then maybe we should start building zombie-proof houses to prepare for the zombie apocalypse.

And lastly, in the world of increasingly black and white, there’s the “All-or-Nothing Fallacy

Another reason that probability estimates are often skewed towards the extremes of 0 and 100 is the widespread of what I call “the all-or-nothing fallacy.” This is the tendency to think of proof , knowledge, belief, and other related concepts in binary terms ; either you prove/know/believe something or you don’t, and there are no shades of grey in between.

Evans, Dylan. Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty. Free Press. p 62

Think of controversial topics like God, UAP (commonly known as  UFOs) and yes, psychics. It’s either you’re a believer or you’re not. You cannot be somewhere in between!

Evans mentions Richard Dawkins and his work, The God Delusions.

1 Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: “I do not believe, I know.”
2 De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. “I don’t know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.”
3 Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. “I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.”
4 Completely impartial. Exactly 50 per cent. “God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.”
5 Leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. “I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.”
6 De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. “I don’t know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”
7 Strong atheist. “I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one.”

The God Delusions. Wikipedia. Web. November 23, 2015. < https:// en.wikipedia .org/ wiki/ The_God_Delusion >

Many religions, of course, forbid anything but being a #1. But in my hearts of hearts, I believe people have the right to their own uncertainty.

The same goes for the second most controversial known unknowable topic of all time : Unidentified Aerial Phenomenons.

Leslie Kean words it best at the end of her book, UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record :

We in this group are also “militant agnostics”: we don’t know what this something is, nor do we know what it is not. We are not making an extraordinary claim, because we’re not claiming anything beyond the reality of a physical phenomenon, and the five premises that stem from this reality as outlined in the introduction to this book. Yes, that phenomenon is definitely extraordinary.

[]

We ask those on the two sides of this outmoded contest between unwavering believers and nonbelievers to realize the fallacy of both positions, and to accept the logic, necessity, and realism of the agnostic view. Scientists must disavow the untenable claim that we have no evidence other than eyewitness reports, which are to them—of course— unreliable. That is another “extraordinary claim” that doesn’t hold up, as this book attests.

Kean, Leslie. UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record. Three Rivers Press.

Why is it that we talk about UAPs, it’s always about two extremes – the debunkers and the ultimate believers? It’s like saying you’re either gay or straight.

Other factors to consider that lower one’s RQ:

The Ebbinghaus Illusion

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. The Ebbinghaus Illusion. Image from http://www.marketvote.de/ebbinghaus-illusion

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. The Ebbinghaus Illusion. Image from http://www.marketvote.de/ebbinghaus-illusion

From Wikipedia :

The Ebbinghaus illusion or Titchener circles is an optical illusion of relative size perception.

Ebbinghaus illusion. Wikipedia. Web. November 23, 2015. < https:// en.wikipedia. org/ wiki/ Ebbinghaus_illusion >

Evan writes :

According to the psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, something similar can happen when we estimate probabilities. Just as the visual system relies on various heurisitcs to estimate size, the risk system has its own bag of tricks it uses to estimate probabilities.  And just as the heuristics of the visual system sometimes lead to optical illusions, the cognitive shortcuts we use to estimate probabilities can lead us to make systematic errors.

Evans, Dylan. Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty. Free Press. p 71

If I compare my salary to my friend’s (who works as a criminal defense lawyer), then it seems significantly small. But if I compare my salary to people’s salary back home, then I am making tons of money. This is why it’s important to try to look at things as how they are ( and yes, avoid comparing yourself to anyone, if you don’t want to be miserable!)

The Availability Heuristics

Don’t you sometimes feel that some things are over-reported in the media, which in turns, blows things out of proportion? Why is there so much international media coverage on the Paris shooting but not enough, say, on Lumad Massacre (as some posts on FB  point out) ? This can lead to “imagination inflation” as Evans terms it. Because we are over-exposed to certain events through the media, we tend to imagine the likelihood of it happening around us – even if we lived across the globe – relatively high. And how about the Fukushima radiation? I find that it’s extremely under-reported, almost as if there is a conspiracy to sweep it under the rug.

Like, seriously, why is everyone putting on the French flag on Facebook, when no one bothered to put the Philippine flag (for the Lumad massacre victims)?

Wishful Thinking (Optimism Bias)

This is when we believe what we desire is what will actually happen. Many psychics online exploit this and tell you what want to hear. Evans writes :

People with high risk intelligence see the world as it is, not the way they would like it to be.

Evans, Dylan. Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty. Free Press. p 77

From the BBC :

UK policy in Syria has been hampered by “wishful thinking“, says a former top military adviser in the Middle East.

Lt Gen Sir Simon Mayall said the UK had underestimated the staying power of President Bashar al-Assad.

In an interview with BBC Newsnight, he painted a picture of a UK being in a strategic muddle over Syria and described Russia’s intervention as “hugely significant“.

On Iraq, he described the UK’s commitment as “frankly inadequate“.

[]

Lt Gen Mayall says he argued at that time, “that the Assad regime would fight to the last“, but that policy makers had got caught up in the excitement of the Arab spring and hoped the Syrian leader would be swiftly overthrown.

The Russians, he believes were, “in many ways more realistic about the staying power of Assad“.

Urban, Mark. UK policy in Syria hampered by ‘wishful thinking’. BBC. October 2, 2015. Web. November 23, 2015. < http:// www. bbc. com/ news/ uk-34425146 >

Is it wishful thinking to believe that the US would come to the aid of the Philippines if tensions escalate to an all-out war over the West Philippine Sea? I think it is.

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Game changer: America vs China in the West Philippine Sea. Screen cap from Rappler

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Game changer: America vs China in the West Philippine Sea. Screen cap from Rappler

And now let’s go to another example of optimism bias much closer to home : homes (Can’t help the pun). I mean real estate properties – condos, town houses. Case in point : My mom bought some properties from one developer. One condo was cancelled, and the developer had to give her a full refund, but only after dozens of letters, phone calls and visits to the office. Now, it makes me wonder if developers are a. just being very optimistic or b. making us believe that the market is more buoyant than it really is (therefore deceiving us) , simply to encourage buying.  I mean – it happened in Japan, it happened in the US, it can happen in the Philippines!

Now it can be told — or at last openly, fearfully spoken about. Bloomberg reported late last week that “the capital region, Metro Manila, is in the grip of a building boom — led by developers such as Megaworld Corp. and Ayala Land, Inc. — that will add a record number of apartments over the next two years… threaten(ing) to lead to a glut that will weigh on investors.”

Ylagan, Amelia.Condo glut in Metro Manila. BusinessWorld. March 22, 2015. Web. November 23, 2015. < http:// www. bworldonline. com/content. php? section= Opinion &title= condo- glut -in -metro -manila &id=104829 >

Source Credibility

Evans wrote an example about the alleged WMD in Iraq:

With hindsight, it appears that there were only a few sources who told Western intelligence operatives that Saddam Hussein had WMD, but they were particularly vociferous. The most convincing, it seems, was an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball by the German and US intelligence officers who dealt with him. In a series of meetings during the 2000, Curveball told a German agent identified as “Dr. Paul” that Saddam Hussein possessed mobile biological labs.

A decade later, Curveball confessed that his tales of WMD had all been lies. [] When the BND [German secret service] approached him to see if he had inside information about Saddam’s weapons program, Janabi [Curveball] told them what they wanted to hear.

Evans, Dylan. Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty. Free Press. p 81

Evan explains Dale Griffin and Amos Tversky’s discovery : they found out that people tend to put more emphasis on the strength of evidence and not enough on its credibility. In short, it’s not just the intel but the credibility of the one providing the intel.

This is also why it’s difficult for many to take the accusations against Binay seriously when you know the accuser himself is not credible.

MANILA, Philippines – Even as former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado was testifying before the Senate blue ribbon committee on Tuesday, August 26, the city government sought to belittle his credibility.

Mercado admitted he had pocketed funds meant for the construction of the Makati City Hall Building 2, whose alleged overpricing during the terms of Vice President Jejomar Binay and his son as mayors is being investigated by senators.

The former vice mayor, however, offered only an assumption when probed by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV if the older Binay benefitted from the overpricing like Mercado did.

Kung ang vice mayor nakinabang, aba’y siguro higit na nakinabang ang mayor dito. Imposibleng ‘di nakinabang ang mayor,” Mercado said. (If the vice mayor benefitted from it, then perhaps the mayor benefitted even more here. It’s impossible that the mayor did not benefit from it.)

His own confession, however, rendered Mercado without credibility, according to former Makati city administrator Marjorie de Veyra, who also testified before the Senate and whose statement was released on the same day by the city government.

Cupin, Bea. ‘Mercado not credible, abused VP Binay’s trust’. Rappler. August 26 , 2014. Web. November 23, 2015 < http:// www. rappler. com/ nation/ 67288 -makati -building -mercado -binay >

Ang sakin lang, fine, corrupt nga si Binay, pero corrupt din yun witness. Parehong walang credibility. Pano ba yun?

And who can forget Bill Cosby and his victims?

Victoria Valentino, a former Playboy playmate, asks :  “What kind of credibility did I have? 

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Victoria Valentino on her sexual assault. From Straight from the A.

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Victoria Valentino on her sexual assault. From Straight from the A.

 She never called the police because she feared they wouldn’t believe her: “What kind of credibility did I have?… In those days, it was always the rape victim who wound up being victimized. You didn’t want to go to the police.

45 Bill Cosby Accusers: Complete Breakdown of the Allegations. The Wrap. November 26, 2014. Web. November 23, 2015 < https:// www. thewrap. com/ 19- bill- cosby -accusers -complete -breakdown -of -the -allegations -so -far / #sthash.BhBwivGH.dpuf >

I cringe when I hear how the cops here in Japan try to ruin victim’s credibility – most especially if the victim is a foreigner and the suspect is Japanese. Questions raised were always about what sort of job he/she did, the area he/she worked (Roppongi? ) If the victim worked in a bar, then it’s a lot of credibility points lost. Or the other way around, if the suspect turned out to be non-Japanese, then the media would play on it and discredit him, simply for being not Japanese. Remember Joji Obara, the Korean-Japanese man convicted of multiple rapes? His Korean-ness was over-emphasized to discredit him.

Confirmation Bias

This is the tendency to pay more attention to information that confirms what we already believe and to ignore contradictory data.

Evans, Dylan. Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty. Free Press. p 84

Voila, Google! Never has this been easier than now when all we need to do is to type in certain key words to back up our claims.

Is Google making us less rational?

 Google may be making us all more knowledgable, but could it also be making us less rational? I’ve got a suspicion that online search engines are making us especially susceptible to at least one particular blunder: confirmation bias, the phenomenon by which you’re more likely to seek out, notice, and remember evidence that supports what you already believe.

The term “confirmation bias” was first used in a classic 1960 paper by P.C. Wason calledOn the failure to eliminate hypotheses in a conceptual task. Subjects were given a sequence of numbers: “2,4,6” and told that the numbers were picked according to a rule, and the goal was for the subjects to guess that rule. They could test their guesses by suggesting other sequences and the experimenter would answer “Yes, that fits the rule” or “No, that doesn’t fit the rule.”

Most subjects started out by hypothesizing rules like “Even numbers increasing by two.” They then tested their hypothesized rule by asking the experimenter about sequences that would conform to it, like “8, 10, 12?” The experimenter would truthfully respond, “Yes, that fits the rule,” and the subjects would become more and more confident that their guess had been correct.

In fact, the correct rule was simply “Increasing numbers.” That is, any increasing sequence of three numbers would have worked. In order to discover that their original hypothesis was wrong, subjects would have had to test it by asking about sequences that their hypothesis would have predicted would violate the rule, for example, “2,4,5.” The experimenter would have responded “Yes, that fits the rule,” and the subjects would then have known their hypothesis couldn’t be right. Instead, they kept testing their hypothesis with sequences that did fit it, and kept getting affirmative replies, until they felt confident enough to announce that they’d figured out the rule — only to discover that they’d been barking up the wrong tree all along.

Massimo. Is Google making us less rational? Rationally Speaking.  January 27, 2010. Web. November 23, 2015 < http:// rationallyspeaking. blogspot .jp/ 2010/ 01/ is- google -making -us -less -rational .html >

When you see debates online, people are endlessly citing sources to affirm their beliefs. But how did it happen, did you believe it first and try to find a source to back it up? Or did you read something convincing and you got convinced? I think it’s important to keep an open-mind and read sources that not only affirm your beliefs, but challenges them. So yeah, read the Bible and Nietzsche if you can. (Side story: I once tried to hit on a guy in Greece who was reading the Bible and Dostoevsky! What a turn on!)

The Dangers of Hindsight

One best example I can think of is Ronda Rousey’s defeat to Holly Holms – the “I knew she would beat Ronda shitless” attitude, even though many of us initially did vouch for Ronda (I did, before the shenanigans during the weigh-ins )

A comment from Youtube, from a user called Sergio Michel :

Excuses, excuses, excuses, excuses. ‘Game plan’ this n’ that. Rousey TRIED to shoot, she failed, Rousey TRIED takedowns, she failed, in fact Holm took her down! People, Holm is just a better fighter. MMA people are so ignorant as to fight mechanics, its ridiculous. A great Boxer beats a great wrestler every day of the week! On her best day, Ronda cant beat someone like Holly Holm.Holly had the experience advantage, height advantage, speed advantage, power advantage, conditioning advantage, mental advantage, movement advantage, fight number advantage, etc and the list goes on and on and on. Only a total hype believer or casual fan would see Holly as the underdog. I knew she would destroy Ronda.

Did you really? Because I didn’t. I changed my mind after the weigh-ins, not because I knew anything about Holly, but because I hated Ronda’s “kaangasan” during the weigh-ins. It was uncalled for. I didn’t know Holly would win (I thought she would lose ,tbh), but I had hoped, against all odds that she would, just to put Ronda in her place and make her eat the humble pie!! As it turns out, looking at the stats alone, it would have been hard to predict who would win. Prior the November 14 fight, they both had perfect records.

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans.Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm Fight History from Sherdog.com

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans.Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm Fight History from Sherdog.com

Let’s face it – there are some things we claim we knew when we really had no clue!

The Mind Reading Illusion

We like to believe we can tell liars from those telling the truth.

Remember this?

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Ramona Bautista. Image from Rappler

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Ramona Bautista. Image from Rappler

When I watched the video, I was convinced Ramona Bautista was the mastermind of her brother’s killing. How can someone who just lost a brother look like that? Now, looking back, I realized I can’t just judge someone’s guilt or innocence by how they appear. Maybe she is. Maybe she isn’t.  We lie and tell the truth in different ways. What we do need is more information, more evidence from credible sources if we want to gauge the (un)likelihood of her being the mastermind (FYI I haven’t really followed this case).

When people rely on misleading or irrelevant cues, they may become more confident that they have spotted a lie even though they are mistaken.[]

Psychologists have carried out dozens of studies asking people to spot lies and measuring how confident they feel about their judgments. A 1997 review of this research, based on studies with a combined total of almost three thousand people, found that people’s confidence in their judgments bears no significant relationship to their accuracy.

Evans, Dylan. Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty. Free Press. p 96

Besides this, how do we spot lies when he (or she) is a psychopath?

However “there are people who are essentially psychopaths, such as con artists, and these people often make very good liars because they don’t have the emotional response that other people have to lying,” says Robert Galatzer-Levy, MD, a psychoanalyst in private practice in Chicago and a lecturer at the University of Chicago. He explains that when most people lie, they feel some discomfort and it will show up in their facial expressions, manners, and style.

The psychopath liar doesn’t have these responses, so it’s much more difficult to pick up on cues that they are lying,” he says.

Mann, Denise. Born to Lie? Webmd. Web. November 23, 2015 < http: //www. webmd. com/ sex-relationships/ features/ born-to-lie >

Remember the case of Christian Longo in the movie True Story, who took journalist, Michael Finkel, to a wild ride?

It’s really hard to know the truth based on what you see. Because guess what, cliche as it may sound, what you see it not necessarily what you get! When people first start dating, for example, both sides try to behave well. Best foot forward. Which is why I believe it is important to live temporarily with the person you are with – if you live in the same house for some time, then it gets harder and harder to pretend and the real person emerges. Big brother, baby!

The Illusion of Transparency

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Shrek Cat. Image from Imgflip

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Shrek Cat. Image from Imgflip

I feel for the innocent, those being held for crimes they didn’t commit. In Japan, alleged gropers have no way to defend themselves. Because there are no cameras, no other evidence except the women who claim they have been groped, the suspect face two choices : either pay up the alleged victim(s) or contest it in court. The latter is exhausting – it can take years. And because the police can keep you for 20 days without pressing charges, without phone calls, imagine losing everything: your job, your family, your credibility, just on the basis of a woman who claimed you did what you didn’t do. If you hoped the police would be able to tell the truth, that is, see through the woman’s lies and see your innocence – well you thought wrong. If someone claims you groped her, you better run! Says my lawyer friend.  I am sure there are real gropers, but I am also sure there are those who frame guys up to get money.  Nope, your innocence or your guilt will most likely not shine through.

Problems with overconfidence

I sometimes wonder why we go to war.

Think of all the Good Points of not going to war :

(1) Prevent casualties and all sorts of physical and psychological wounds

(2) Avoid destruction of property

(3) Save $$$, time, and energy

When someone gives me the silent treatment (I hate STONE WALLING!) , I suggest talking about it. After all, we are both adults, capable of reasoning and talking, surely we can come to an understanding? And why can’t people or countries, in the name of civilization, just agree to do the same? Communicate, negotiate, reach an agreement?  Considering the saying, two heads are better than one, you would think on a larger scale, countries, who have a million of heads or more, would be more reasonable. And war always just seems like a bad idea.

Evans write :

In species where males regularly  fight one another, most engage in ritual forms of display before locking horns, so they can size up one another first. The fact that the displays are often enough to settle disputes on their own supports the  idea that males can accurately estimate their chances of winning on the basis of such displays. []Even when combat does ensue, the fight normally ends with one male surrendering; fights to death are mainly in the province of chimpanzees and humans. These two species have taken killing to a whole new level by developing special kind of organized group combat called warfare.

Evans, Dylan. Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty. Free Press. p 106

Imagine you were Noynoy in January 2015. The last thing you want is for something to blow up in your face in your last year of presidency. Would you risk 44 lives if the chances of shit hitting the fan were high? Is it to prove a point? Would a country try to prove a point at the cost of 44 lives na ‘di na maibabalik ever? Plus rating down the drain? Or think about Japan’s aggression in WW2, or Germany starting 2 world wars and losing them both?

Or is it because they (Japan, Germany and Noynoy) were confident of succeeding?

A question that begs to be asked : Would wars have been avoided if the leaders were more risk intelligent?

Side note: Is this why we don’t openly challenge China to a confrontation? Because we know we’d lose?

Maybe group think poses a problem. I live in a society where one just doesn’t question status quo. (It disrupts the 和 WA- Harmony) 12 Angry Men, a movie in 1957, is about 12 jurors trying to come up with a verdict. Everyone except one was convinced that the defendant was guilty. When there was one dissenter, all hell breaks loose.

A quote from Juror #9 :

This man has been standing alone against us. It’s not easy to stand alone against the ridicule of others. So he gambled for support – and I gave it to him.

12 Angry Men Quotes. Imdb. < http:// www. imdb. com/ title/ tt0050083/ quotes >

Well, how do we become more risk intelligent?

Thinking in numbers

Evans suggests thinking in numbers.

Look at Homeland Security’s Advisory System that uses terms like “low”, “moderate” or “high”.

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Image from Wired

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Image from Wired

Compare this with the weather forecast, with percentages at the bottom.

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Screen cap from AccuWeather

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Screen cap from AccuWeather

Which is easier to understand? I would say the second photo, that gauges probability in numbers and not words.

By using numbers, we can get a clearer picture of the situation and consequently, how to act. To bring an umbrella or not? To cancel our Paris trip or not?

Collecting relevant data

Expert gamblers know the importance of using data to win at gambling. Evans recounts an example :

 []Ruth Bolton and Randall Chapman proposed a mathematical model for horse racing that could do the handicapping automatically. In other words, if you had the right data about the horses in a given race, you could feed the data into their equation, and it would spit out each horse’s chances of winning.

Evans, Dylan. Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty. Free Press. p 129

A gambler (whose real name was withheld) saw the potential of this equation and moved to HK. He spent the first two years building a database that included a horse’s weight, win history, amount of money won per race, etc. By mid-1990s, the gambler was making a profit of more than 30%.

Can building a database help me increase my chances of winning?

Evans admits this is not fool-proof : the model is only as good as the data that are fed into it [p 134] . In short, which data to consider and which to ignore?

If you are playing slot machine, it doesn’t matter if you input the geo-location of the Pachinko (slot) or the time they open and close. A few years ago, I came up with a simple table of winning lottery numbers for Lotto 6  in Japan. The database included winning combinations in the last two years. After that, I made sure to include the highest probability number in my bets. Unfortunately, I’m still here, dirt poor.

So yeah. Unlike horse races where there are some controllable factors to consider, lotto and slot machines (if they aren’t rigged) don’t require skill – they operate on pure chance. But there’s saying in French – la chance se provoque!

Epistemic Feelings

Well, how about feelings? How do we assess something based on feelings?

Evans quotes De Sousa’s term : epistemic feelings. In order to make good decisions, you have to translate your feelings or hunches into numbers. Sounds cold, I know. I suppose some things are easier to translate to numbers, like gauging whether or not I’m going to pass a certain test. I can easily put it in numbers after I have taken the test : there are 80% chances I’ll pass.

I remember one time when I and a couple of classmates visited another classmate in Laguna. There were a lot of CCTV cams installed around the building. Let’s call one classmate Jen. Jen left her bag with her camera in the massage room, where no CCTV camera was installed. When we came back, Jen’s camera was gone. There were only two people in the building(allegedly) during our absence : two helpers. One helper was MIA when we returned, another was there. The helper who was there insisted she was innocent.

I said, “Dalawa kayo e. So ikaw or siya. [Well, there are only two suspects. You or her.]”

The helper insisted : “Hindi po talaga ako. [It wasn’t me!] ”

I said, “Well, kayong dalawa lang naiwan, so kayo lang pagdududahan.[Well, there were only the two of you left, so naturally the suspicion falls only on both of you.]

She continued to plead innocent. If I was going to translate my feelings into number it would be : 50-50. Di ko talaga alam. Which was why I insisted she was still a suspect, never mind her claims. But if I had other information, I could probably state my feelings in terms of numerical probability. 75-25, for example.

 

Setting a threshold 

Evans suggests setting a threshold on your decisions. Example : bring an umbrella only if it’s 65% and over. Evacuate if the chances of flooding reaches XX%. Visit Paris if the chances of terrorist attacks is lower than XX%. You get the drift. Of course, there are days in Tokyo where the weather forecast says 1% of rain and I chose not to bring an umbrella and it still rained. I don’t beat myself up for it – after all, I could only act according to the type of information I have. But in most cases, the weather forecast is fairly reliable and it does save me a lot of trouble.

Calibrating Epistemic Feelings

The proverbial question : is s/he cheating on me?

Even if we manage to translate our feelings to numbers, Evans suggests calibrating our feelings to be more accurate. Even if you think the chances of your other half is cheating on you range between 50-80%, try to pin it down to a certain number. 51?70?79? For example, my self-rated grade as a believer or not is really vague (3-5). Eventually, if you find your other half is an active user of Ashley Madison, then probabilities rise even more. Business trips, work on weekends and never-ending OT – hmm.. Maybe the probabilities are up to 90%?

100 % Rule 

Don’t assume that everyone knows. Possibilities can never add up to more than 100%.

If there were two helpers when we were gone, their guilt is set initially to 50-50 each.

If there were three suspects, their guilt is 33.3% each.

If there were four of them, then it’s 25% each.

Keeping the 100 percent rule in mind can help you do a consistent job of weighing possibilities against one another. But it won’t tell you anything specific about how you should reevaluate the probabilities as you receive additional information.

Evans, Dylan. Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty. Free Press. p 159

This was precisely my point when I told the helper that she was also to be considered a suspect – because the fact was there were only two of them. They had to share the blame

Bayes’ Theorem

I know. A lot of us are pretty innumerate and intimidated by numbers. But I also happen to think that we sometimes apply this to real lives unconsciously.

 

 

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Image from GaussianWaves

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Image from GaussianWaves

So let’s take Charlie Sheen as an example.

Charlie Sheen tested positive to HIV test.

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Analyzing Charlie Sheen's probability of having HIV using the Baye's Theorem

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Analyzing Charlie Sheen’s probability of having HIV using the Bayes’ Theorem. Screen cap from The Telegraph.

Some background information that may be useful :

  • More than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection (Google)
  • The population of the US is 318.9 Million (Google)
  • Charlie Sheen says he is HIV-positive (CNN)
  • HIV tests after the 3 month window are more than 99.97% accurate. They work for all types and subtypes of HIV. (I-base.info)
  • Charlie Sheen,[] admitted on Tuesday that he has known for four years that he was HIV positive (Telegraph)
  • Many studies have confirmed the accuracy of current methods of HIV testing in the United States, reporting false-positive rates of 0.0004 to 0.0007 and false-negative rates of 0.003 in the general population (Wikipedia)

So, to get the rate of HIV in the US : 1.2 million / 318.9 million = .0037 or .37%

Let’s put this neatly in a table :

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Analyzing Charlie Sheen's probability of having HIV using the Baye's Theorem

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Analyzing Charlie Sheen’s probability of having HIV using the Bayes’ Theorem

If you have HIV (first column), there’s a 99.97% of testing positive and .03% chance of testing negative

If you don’t have HIV, there’s .07% chance of testing positive and 99.93% chance of testing negative.

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Analyzing Charlie Sheen's probability of having HIV using the Baye's Theorem

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Analyzing Charlie Sheen’s probability of having HIV using the Bayes’ Theorem

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Analyzing Charlie Sheen's probability of having HIV using the Baye's Theorem

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Analyzing Charlie Sheen’s probability of having HIV using the Bayes’ Theorem

The chance of getting any positive results (whether true positive or false positive) : .0036 + .000697 = .004297 or .43%

The chance of getting any negative results (whether true negative or false negative) : .0000011 + .9956 = .9956011 or 99.56%

Chances of HIV for Charlie Sheen : .0036 / .0043 = .837 or 84% (<– Bayes’ Theorem)

Why is it so high? Because accuracy rate for HIV testing after a certain window period is really high.

If my calculation is right, then this is bad news for Charlie Sheen. Still, it’s better than 100%, right?

Utility

Assign utility points to your feelings. Of course, the utility points you assign are all subjective. Think of IMDB and their rating system for movies. If you can rate a movie, then maybe you can also rate your feelings. Set a limit to a perfect score (1 out of 10, 10 being the highest, for example).

Using utility points to decide whether to hook up or not?

Let’s imagine.. You’re interested in this guy on Tinder. He seems really smart, funny, witty and has a good sense of humor. Plus, he’s a surfer (or a biker ;P ).  A chance to hook up with him would be.. hmm… 20 utility points. You don’t like rejection so any form of rejection from him would be.. -30 utility points. Considering all the other pretty Tinderellas around you, you think you have a 40% of hooking up with him.

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. To go after a guy or not? Measuring utility

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. To go after a guy or not? Measuring utility

8-18 =-10. Evan suggests that if it’s below 0, then don’t go for it. I wouldn’t be so strict on Tinder – you lose nothing by swiping right. In fact, we hardly notice the people who don’t swipe us right back. I think Tinder made it in such a way that we don’t notice rejections, only “matches” (the right swipes), and therefore only “positive utility”. However, remember the utility points still total to -18, so don’t get your expectations too high !

On the other hand, if you don’t really give a shit (no to Hook up = 0) then what have you got to lose? Go for it girl!

To fight for your relationship or not?

If, on the other hand, you’re in a troubled relationship. Because of personality differences, you’re always fighting. You don’t know if you should continue trying to make it work or not.

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. To fight for your relationship or not? Measuring utility

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. To fight for your relationship or not? Measuring utility

Oh my god. It’s -59.5+15=-44.5!! If you follow Evans’ advice, then this is a no-go. Sorry, girl.

And the biggest question ever when in the water : To paddle or not to paddle?

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. To paddle or not? Measuring utility

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. To paddle or not? Measuring utility

Moreover, when it comes to surfing, there are also several factors to consider when weighing your probabilities. In the case of catching waves:

  • Are your arms strong enough? (Weight lifting, yeah!)
  • Are you using the appropriate board for this particular wave?
  • Is the wave too fast, too small, too slow, too big?
  • Is anybody in the way?
  • Do you have eyes for waves? Can you tell if it’s “surfable” wave or not? (For a long time, I didn’t, so I hired a spotter on shore to be my eyes)

To be honest, for a small or medium-sized wave, I’d put my probability up higher. But to give a more conservative (modest?) estimate, the equation yields : 54-12=42 .  DEFINITELY PADDLE! When you see me paddle, there’s a big chance I will catch the wave. Thinking about this now, I realize that surfing is not only about arm strength, but also learning to ignore waves that are no good. I suppose this is important in an energy-intensive activity like surfing, otherwise you’d be wasting all your energy without catching anything!!

Knowing what you know

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Table of Knowledge. Image from Wikiwand

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Table of Knowledge. Image from Wikiwand

To quote Donald Rumsfield :

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Quote by Donald Rumsfield. Image from Azquotes

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Quote by Donald Rumsfield. Image from Azquotes

If we don’t know the unknown, then how can prepare for it? We can’t. But we can make use of what we know to make a smart guess. I find myself doing this when playing a guessing game with my students. Japan uses the metric system and although I can now tell people’s height in centimeters, by default, in my brain, I always estimate sizes in feet and inches. My student says the “object” is around 190 centimeters tall. Now,  my ex is 184 cm (6′) so it’s a bit taller than him. The only thing around me that that tall is the door.(And it was the door, indeed!)

I would say that in many cases, the information we get comes in small sizes. We have to piece the small bits together to get an image of the picture. Of course, my image of the big picture may be skewed. But it’s still better than no picture at all.  I am always surprised at how some of my girlfriends would tell me, “I met this guy. He’s cute, but I know he’s not your type.” And voila, they introduce me to the boy and he really is no way my type. I always liked to believe I am not THAT predictable, that I’d give anyone a chance but even my girlfriends have long figured out from the profile of my exes what types of guys I prefer – even though I like to claim :  “wit before looks”. Riiight.

Becoming more risk intelligent means being brutally honest with ourselves

  • by admitting our strengths and weaknesses
  • by admitting that we are prone to fall into traps (and now we can consciously choose to avoid them)
  • by admitting that we don’t know everything
  • by making use of what we know, no matter how limited
  • by acting appropriately when things are uncertain

Evans, at the end of the book, encourages his readers to write a self-prediction test that goes like this :

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Self Prediction Test

Risk Intelligence. How to live with uncertainty by Dylan Evans. Self Prediction Test

The predictions have to be clear and measurable. “I will be happy” is vague and hard to measure. Timeline is also important. An example:

Duterte will win in the 2016 elections.

At the end, try to find out which ones didn’t come true and understand what may have lead you to believe otherwise. I’ll go try it now!

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