tell me a story

We naturally avoid ambiguity. We want black and white, right or left, up or down. The greys of life are so distasteful that when a cause is attached to any set of facts, we assume the "facts" are more likely to have really happened.

Nassim Taleb in his book The Black Swain points out that if you ask someone, "How many people are likely to have lung cancer in the U.S.?" you might get a response like "half a million." But if you make one change to the question and ask, "How many people are likely to have lung cancer in the U.S. because of smoking cigarettes" you would get a much higher number. Why is that? Taleb suggests we tend to believe an idea is more likely to be true when a cause is attached to it.

Joey seemed happily married but killed his wife.

Joey seemed happily married but killed his wife to get her inheritance.

The first is broader and accommodate more possibilities. The second statement is more specific and less likely to be true.  But if you ask people which is more likely, more of them would say the second statement. Why?  The second statement tells us a story.

The narrative misguides us. We want an explanation, a back story. That's why it’s hard for us to look at a series of facts without weaving an explanation into them and tying the facts to the because. We like a good story-even when it misleads us about what is true. That's why you should be careful whenever you come across a because. Connecting causes to particular events must be handled with care.

Stephen Goforth