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A decent list from Cracked? Wow.
March 18, 2009 3:56 PM   Subscribe

Five ways 'common sense' lies to you - a description of some everyday logical fallacies and how they effect us in a larger scale.
posted by flatluigi (70 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
This content is so hip that its pants don't fit.

First line from link: Albert Einstein said common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by the age of 18...

Fallacy number one: ARGUMENT FROM AUTHORITY
posted by koeselitz at 4:13 PM on March 18, 2009 [14 favorites]


I saw this a few days ago and for whatever reason, I found it to be one of the most unreadable Cracked "list" articles I'd ever come across, and I love these articles, I get excited when a new one shows up in my feed.
posted by Science! at 4:19 PM on March 18, 2009


#6: You'll hear it as "...from Cracked!"

How It Screws Us: Whatever you may think it is, it's really just a vomitorium of verbiage with numbers along the side that barely even adheres to its own title.

It Gets Worse: Digg.
posted by katillathehun at 4:22 PM on March 18, 2009 [19 favorites]


Fallacy number one: ARGUMENT FROM AUTHORITY

No. Einstein said something that the author agreed with, so the author quoted him. The author did not claim that his argument was true because Einstein said it was. Not every approving quotation of Einstein constitutes an argument from authority.

Is there a name for pointing out fallacies fallaciously?
posted by matthewr at 4:23 PM on March 18, 2009 [11 favorites]


"Sure I bought a lottery ticket! Somebody has to win, might as well be me!"

That's not a fallacy, that's a simple statement of fact (well, depending on the rules of the lottery).

When people claim that playing the lottery is a mug's game, they always seem to me to swinging from one fallacy to another. Obviously you have to be a fool if you think that winning the lottery is a likely outcome, or that you can substantially increase your chances of winning (and of profiting) by buying multiple tickets. But it is equally clearly true that if you have no ticket you have no chance of winning and if you have a ticket you have some non-zero chance of winning.

Investing your retirement money in the lottery would be insane. Buying a ticket or two now and then is merely opening the door to a very unlikely but not impossible stroke of fortune.
posted by yoink at 4:23 PM on March 18, 2009 [8 favorites]


Their examples for the historian's fallacy are terrible. Half of them are obviously stupid. The PlayStation 3's price was instantly and horribly mocked the minute it was announced, backflipping off a roof into a pool is always stupid, and so on.

I only read the first one.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:23 PM on March 18, 2009


How It Screws Us: Whatever you may think it is, it's really just a vomitorium of verbiage with numbers along the side that barely even adheres to its own title.

...and we're really just an online revival of a third-rate dead-tree Mad ripoff, why is anyone listening?
posted by jonmc at 4:25 PM on March 18, 2009


I was excited, I thought it'd be a serious list of fallacies and their everyday use. Now I'm sad.
posted by bluejayk at 4:27 PM on March 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


I found it to be one of the most unreadable Cracked "list" articles I'd ever come across

Likewise, to be honest. Not helped by the fact I looked at almost all the examples given and thought 'who in the fuck's ever thought that?'
posted by opsin at 4:27 PM on March 18, 2009


I don't know if I would call it "decent"...
posted by tybeet at 4:28 PM on March 18, 2009


There were five items on this list.

This list was on two pages.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:28 PM on March 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


matthewr: No. Einstein said something that the author agreed with, so the author quoted him. The author did not claim that his argument was true because Einstein said it was. Not every approving quotation of Einstein constitutes an argument from authority.

I was joking; you're right. There are no arguments in that article that I can find; only declarations without any kind of support. This article rambles on ad nauseum lecturing the reader as if s/he were an abject moron and drawing out the most ridiculous lowest-common-denominator examples ("Hey I heard Lisa tried to stab you! You should have known that ho was crazy!" - Yes, I've said that precise thing quite often, now that you mention it!) in an effort to bolster its own frame of authority. As if that weren't insulting enough, the author keeps bringing up random bits of pop culture in an effort to appeal to as many people as possible.
posted by koeselitz at 4:30 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


There must be a cognitive fallacy involved in posting links to Cracked lists.
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:31 PM on March 18, 2009


ARGUMENT FROM AUTHORITY
No.
Is there a name for pointing out fallacies fallaciously?


SENSE OF HUMOR BROKEN!
posted by rokusan at 4:33 PM on March 18, 2009


It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office. -- H.L. Mencken
posted by netbros at 4:34 PM on March 18, 2009


If they were really just whoring for hits they would have called it Top 10 Big Meaty Fallacies.
posted by rokusan at 4:34 PM on March 18, 2009


Is there a name for pointing out fallacies fallaciously?

Uhm, forum based argument?
posted by lumpenprole at 4:38 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Observing number one has made me a much more sane and reasonable person. I prefer to call it "Never ascribe to malice what can equally be ascribed to ignorance." It's the one nugget of optimism I allow myself.
posted by The Whelk at 4:46 PM on March 18, 2009


Any time we buy a lottery ticket, bet on a horse or enter into a financial agreement with the deposed president of Nigeria, we're being bent over by the Appeal to Probability.

I don't think this guy really gets it. At all.

Here, maybe wikipedia will explain things better than cracked (appeal to crowdsourced authority?):

The logical idea behind this fallacy is usually that, if the probability of P occurring is approaching 1, it is best to assume that P will occur, since it will almost surely happen. The fallacy incorrectly applies a common tenet of probability: given a sufficiently large sample space, an event X of nonzero probability P(X) will occur at least once, regardless of the magnitude of P(X). This is derived from the definition of probability. The operative term is "given a sufficiently large sample space".
posted by naju at 4:47 PM on March 18, 2009


But with the blast shield down, I can't even see! How am I supposed to fight?
posted by Smedleyman at 4:55 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is there a name for pointing out fallacies fallaciously?

Tucker Carlson.
posted by jimmythefish at 5:02 PM on March 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


"A decent list from Cracked?"

Common sense says no, so unless we have another logical fallacy here, I'm saying and sticking with no.
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:03 PM on March 18, 2009


my favorite list
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 5:03 PM on March 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


We all know there is no such thing as common sense.
posted by debbie_ann at 5:05 PM on March 18, 2009


Previously on Metafilter: The Fallacy Files
posted by Queen of Spreadable Fats at 5:08 PM on March 18, 2009


katillathehun: "#6: You'll hear it as '...from Cracked!'

"How It Screws Us: Whatever you may think it is, it's really just a vomitorium of verbiage with numbers along the side that barely even adheres to its own title.

"It Gets Worse: Digg.
"posted by katillathehun at 4:22 PM on March 18 [7 favorites +] [!] "


katilla, a vomitorium is not what you think it is.
posted by Araucaria at 5:11 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


katilla, a vomitorium is not what you think it is.

Metafilter: where cherished childhood myths go to die.
posted by yoink at 5:13 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Appeal To Probability is the fallacy behind one of the most cherished tenants of common sense: Murphy's Law.

Actually, it was Murphy's Mother in Law who was a cherished tenant of common sense. But the rent was cheap.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:14 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Sure I bought a lottery ticket! Somebody has to win, might as well be me!"
That's not a fallacy, that's a simple statement of fact (well, depending on the rules of the lottery).


It is a fallacy. The lotteries I am familiar with do not guarantee that anyone will win.

When people claim that playing the lottery is a mug's game, they always seem to me to swinging from one fallacy to another.

I would suggest that you are engaging in a straw man fallacy of your own, but I actually think you just don't understand their argument. The argument is not that you have no chance of winning, but that the expected value of playing the lottery is negative. That is to say that if you play the lottery a number of times, you will lose money on average.
posted by grouse at 5:14 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would like to point out that in the category of the "Historian's Fallacy," I would never have invaded Russia in 1941 having already seen from Napoleon that this is a bad, bad idea.

And were I Napoleon, I would ask Josephine to take a bath. Not because of any historical fallacies, but because that's how I roll.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:21 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is a fallacy. The lotteries I am familiar with do not guarantee that anyone will win.

There are many kinds of lottery. Given that I said "depending on the rules" I was obviously referring to those in which there must be a winner (as, for example, lotteries in which a complete run of tickets must be sold before a winner is drawn, going to one of the tickets in the set). I can't help your limited knowledge of types of lotteries, however.

I would suggest that you are engaging in a straw man fallacy of your own, but I actually think you just don't understand their argument. The argument is not that you have no chance of winning, but that the expected value of playing the lottery is negative. That is to say that if you play the lottery a number of times, you will lose money on average.

Well, thanks for the gratuitous condescension. I actually covered the fact that the expected value of playing the lottery is negative ("Obviously you have to be a fool if you think that winning the lottery is a likely outcome, or that you can substantially increase your chances of winning (and of profiting) by buying multiple tickets."). My beef (and no, it isn't a straw man, I have seen many people make this argument) is with those who maintain that it is simply irrational to play the lottery. I counter that it is not irrational to spend, say, $2 to enjoy a week's worth of knowing that one has the chance (however remote) of winning $1,000,000.
posted by yoink at 5:28 PM on March 18, 2009


Is there a name for pointing out fallacies fallaciously?

Yo dawg...
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:29 PM on March 18, 2009


While I hate to be a picky little tit, I am one, and the author not knowing that the word "tenet" is different to the word "tenant" didn't fill me with hope. The list is pretty glib and uninspiring, seemingly written by someone who doesn't really understand what he's talking about.

But I'm not here just to knock it, rather to say that if you're interested in this sort of thing, Ben Goldacre's Bad Science is great, either his blog, or his book (out in paperback, but sadly not on sale in the States). His stuff has been discussed a few times here before, but if you thought you might be interested in this list, you probably actually will be interested in Goldacre's writing.

On preview: @weapons-grade...glad to see I'm not the only pedant about this evening.
posted by howfar at 5:39 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


My phallusy is argumentum ad baculum, if y'all know what I mean.

Right. I am logging off and going outside tout de suite.
posted by everichon at 5:40 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Damn, are we really reduced to sloppy seconds from Digg? OK, some of the Cracked.com stuff is mildly entertaining, but not enough to substantiate an FPP. Try harder.
posted by anansi at 5:43 PM on March 18, 2009


Well, thanks for the gratuitous condescension.

Heh, I actually thought I was being charitable by suggesting that you were not intentionally misrepresenting the arguments of your opponents, but I can see how it didn't come across that way.

My beef (and no, it isn't a straw man, I have seen many people make this argument) is with those who maintain that it is simply irrational to play the lottery. I counter that it is not irrational to spend, say, $2 to enjoy a week's worth of knowing that one has the chance (however remote) of winning $1,000,000.

I guess it depends on how you define rationality. If you want to introduce the entertainment value of playing the lottery (which would be different for each person), then you can even make the expected value received positive, although the expected value of money received would still be negative. Obviously, those who maintain the lottery's irrationality place very little entertainment value on the lottery.
posted by grouse at 5:46 PM on March 18, 2009


Yoink: "I counter that it is not irrational to spend, say, $2 to enjoy a week's worth of knowing that one has the chance (however remote) of winning $1,000,000."

Which is fair enough, but it's not quite what you initially seemed to be arguing. Purchasing a lottery ticket as an entertainment in itself is fine, but it doesn't counter the argument against purchasing it as a money making venture. It is always going to be a bad financial investment, even if it's not a bad entertainment purchase.

Also, I don't think that grouse was trying to be condescending, although I can see how one could read it like that.

On preview: OK, I need to stop "power-browsing" while writing these comments, I'm just starting to sound like an echo-chamber.
posted by howfar at 5:52 PM on March 18, 2009


I don't need "Cracked" to tell me that my common sense is often wrong.
posted by mnb64 at 5:55 PM on March 18, 2009


The full list of logical fallacies is a great read, if you get a good site. There are at least 40 of them, from memory. Sorted into about 7 or so categories.

When I saw a list of only five in the FPP link I knew the snark would be big. And how.

/at work, so really don't want to be searching for good sites to link, apologies.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:00 PM on March 18, 2009


Like this one?
posted by louche mustachio at 6:14 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is there a name for pointing out fallacies fallaciously?

Fallacio?
posted by kirkaracha at 6:18 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know what? It's a cracked.com list. I don't know if it's worth an FPP (last Summer Artw made a point to try to kill cracked from FPP's entirely, and IIRC, the mods said that they don't mind them popping up occasionally) but the point of Cracked isn't to be a definitive academic authority by any means, but to be a humor site. The fact that they are often very funny (they are one of the few sites I check everyday, for sure) and garner most of their articles from actual research into interesting subjects I usually don't know much about makes me all the more impressed with them. They're kind of like an internet-age dick-joke Paul Harvey, digging into the everyday things nobody gives much thought to and presenting their stories in the most entertaining way possible.

That said, this list itself was below par for them on both the research and the funny, I thought, but logical fallacies have always been an area of interest for me, so maybe it was just a matter of knowing more than the article did this time around. Possibly my favorite piece from Cracked, though, and one worth reading, is Michael Swaim's call-out against Orson Scott Card. It's not particularly funny either, and doesn't raise any really novel arguments, but it isn't trying to. It's just a cool sign of the times for me to see a site of frat-boy type humor take an angry, passionate stance in favor of gay rights.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:42 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Like this one?

Yeah. Like that one and the others that were already listed in this thread but I didn't see coz of all the noise-making snark.

/don't blame it on the sunshine
//blame it on the snark

posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:11 PM on March 18, 2009


katilla, a vomitorium is not what you think it is.

Araucaria - What I thought it was is not what you thought I thought it was.
posted by katillathehun at 7:33 PM on March 18, 2009


The list of cognitive biases on Wikipedia is pretty comprehensive, and each bias listed links to a page (at least the ones I checked).

When I say comprehensive, I mean more than sixty. Broken out into four categories, plus a short linked list of "common theoretical causes of some cognitive biases" at the end.

It's kind of a cool page that I found when looking for the difference between attentional bias and availability heuristic.

I wish each individual bias' page had a list of associated studies/papers supporting/explaining/elucidating that bias.
posted by amtho at 7:38 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Common sense is neither. Discuss.
posted by clevershark at 7:45 PM on March 18, 2009


That was really awful. "The appeal to probability"? What's that? Is it just appealing to probability badly? That doesn't tell me anything.

Here's a wikipedia list of cognitive biases. Read it instead of the Cracked article! It's one of my favorite pages on the internet. (On preview: beaten by amtho!)

I've taught a course on critical thinking a few times. It is by far the most challenging course I've had to teach. A lot of people resist this, but there's not much evidence that teaching logic or logical fallacies improves everyday reasoning very much. In fact, there's evidence against it. Students who have taken a single statistics class are less likely to make common statistical errors in thinking about sports; students who have taken a single economics class recognize sunk costs and are more likely to leave a movie they don't like partway through. Students who have taken a single logic class are better at pretty much just one thing: taking logic exams. (See Nisbett's Rules for Reasoning.) I haven't yet found a critical thinking textbook that really respects the psychology of general reasoning.
posted by painquale at 7:53 PM on March 18, 2009


Related to the lottery one… not sure the technical term for it, but a great little nugget I picked up from Psych 100 was that if we do make probability/reasoning errors, we tend to put more weight to the things that are more spectacular – whether they are good or bad, it doesn't matter.

Buy a lottery ticket: I am sooo gonna win this fucker.
Buy a plane ticket: Oh noes! I am going to die in a plane crash.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:14 PM on March 18, 2009


My phallusy is argumentum ad baculum, if y'all know what I mean.

Am I the only one who realizes how incredibly awesome this comment is on so many levels?
posted by 5imian at 9:01 PM on March 18, 2009


This article makes me miss the Exile.
posted by wobh at 10:08 PM on March 18, 2009


Here's Bruce Schneier's take on a similar thing, why people over- and under-estimate risks.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:19 PM on March 18, 2009


My phallusy is argumentum ad baculum, if y'all know what I mean.

Am I the only one who realizes how incredibly awesome this comment is on so many levels?


Not when reduced to reductio ad absurdum.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:18 AM on March 19, 2009


Here's a wikipedia list of cognitive biases.

No! No! NO! Goddamnit! I'm supposed to be working today!
posted by Molesome at 3:53 AM on March 19, 2009


...if you have no ticket you have no chance of winning and if you have a ticket you have some non-zero chance of winning.

I have won thousands of dollars by not buying a lottery ticket every day since the lottery was introduced. It's a sure thing.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:54 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


The lottery really is a mug's game. First and foremost, not all of the money put into it is paid out. Secondly, a winner has to pay (rather high) taxes on the winnings. Finally, the winnings are not paid in a lump sum, but over 20 years (usually), so your winnings are further reduced by adjustment for inflation. A $10M winner might see $3M after taxes if taken as a lump sum.

Beyond all of that, money has diminishing returns of marginal utility. Would you like $10,000? Sure, we all would. $100,000? Hell yeah. But at a certain point, while more money is better, it's not as exciting or useful. After you get your first million, you don't really need that second million as much, and it's not going to make you happier than the first million did.

What that all boils down to is the fact that each person who plays the lottery regularly would collectively be happier with what their $1000/year might buy them, than the amount of happiness that one person winning $10M might get.
posted by explosion at 4:53 AM on March 19, 2009


My phallusy is argumentum ad baculum, if y'all know what I mean.

Yelling at the guy from Quantum Leap?
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:06 AM on March 19, 2009


katilla, a vomitorium is not what you think it is.
posted by Araucaria


Great. Now what do I call my special vomiting pit?

Don't you dare say Metafilter, either!
posted by orme at 5:16 AM on March 19, 2009


The lottery really is a mug's game

A friend of mine used to call it the "stupidity tax".

Personally, I don't think it is necessarily a mug's game, any more than fashion, or supercars, or cut flowers are. None have any real use over more prosaic uses for spending one's cash. The standing joke, for example, about supercars and gin palaces is that they give you the two best days of your life - the day you buy it and the day you sell it.

If you want to spend a $1 or $2 a week to be able to sustain the dream that one day you might be fabulously rich, even if the reality is that becoming fabulously rich overnight is no picnic, then go for it.

Obviously if you're the kind of person who's chucking $20 a week at the lottery - or practically any other form of gambling where the house has better odds than you - then you probably need a little chat with a mathmatician about the whole probability thing.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:32 AM on March 19, 2009


There were five items on this list.

This list was on two pages.


I know, right? WTF, Cracked?! This should be at least 5 pages, if not 10!
posted by graventy at 9:18 AM on March 19, 2009


The problem with making a purely mathematical argument against the lottery, based on expected value in dollars (or whatever currency the lottery is being run in), is that sometimes the expected value is positive, at least for some lotteries. Due to the fact that, in many lotteries, when no one wins the jackpot in one drawing, the prize money is rolled over and the jackpot for the following week is increased, there are times when the jackpot becomes large enough that the expected value of playing for that drawing is positive. (This is complicated by the fact that if more than one person wins, the jackpot may be split among all winners, and by the taxes and inflation noted by explosion, but the central point still stands.)

"Fine," says the alleged mathematician. "When the jackpot increases beyond $X, I'll buy a lottery ticket." But here's the rub. Evaluating it on a purely mathematical basis doesn't mean you should buy a ticket when the expected value is positive. It says you should buy as many tickets as you can. Go, empty out your savings account and spend it all on lottery tickets.

Funny how you don't see a lot of those people doing that. Of course, there are good reasons not to, but those reasons all hinge on the fact that utility is not linear to dollar value, and once you've admitted that, you've skewered your original argument that people shouldn't play the lottery since it has a negative expected dollar value: with nonlinear utility, a negative expected dollar value might have positive expected utility for some people.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:23 AM on March 19, 2009


From the article: Hollywood doesn't help us on this one, since every single movie is about the one-in-a-million shot going through. Nobody wants to hear about the underdog who lost the big game 49-0.

Fine, except for the fact that they pair it with a picture from Rudy, which isn't about the one-in-a-million shot going through, or the underdog team winning at the last second against their heavily favored rivals. Rudy gets to play in the final seconds of the climactic game only because Notre Dame already has a huge lead and certain victory over Georgia Tech.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:29 AM on March 19, 2009


Well, there goes 5 minutes of my life that I'll never get back.
posted by ob at 9:33 AM on March 19, 2009


Which is fair enough, but it's not quite what you initially seemed to be arguing. Purchasing a lottery ticket as an entertainment in itself is fine, but it doesn't counter the argument against purchasing it as a money making venture.

What I said was this: "Obviously you have to be a fool if you think that winning the lottery is a likely outcome, or that you can substantially increase your chances of winning (and of profiting) by buying multiple tickets."

And this: "Investing your retirement money in the lottery would be insane."

If you thought I was recommending it as "a money making venture" after reading those statements then you have a comprehension problem.

Again: the argument I am making is against those who say absolutely that there is no positive argument to be made in favor of participating in a lottery because of the extremely low probability of a positive return on your investment. My argument is that this is true for any significant investment of resources, but not true for an insignificant investment.

The person who buys a ticket in a lottery has his or her chances of becoming a millionaire increased by some non-zero amount. If the initial investment is genuinely immaterial to the purchaser (i.e., you are merely forgoing some future half cup of coffee or other purely discretionary good), then it may be perfectly "rational" to dispose of that money in order to enjoy, for a limited time, the knowledge that you have a chance, however minuscule, of winning big.

Now, it may be true that winning the lottery does not, in fact, increase your happiness. Given that this outcome is almost certain not to happen, that remains a rather moot point. The fact is that most of us believe that winning the lottery would contribute to our happiness, and we therefore gain pleasure from the thought that we have increased our odds (from zero to infinitesimally more than zero) of doing so. We pay, that is, our one or two dollars a week for a week's worth of daydreaming: a pretty sweet deal, in my opinion.
posted by yoink at 9:42 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


amtho: Exactly what I was going to link to. As well as logical fallacies. And memory biases.

And I agree with others - a single link to a cracked.com article? Weak.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:44 AM on March 19, 2009


I'm with yoink, buying a single $1 lottery ticket and having some non-zero probability to become a millionaire is probably the best $1 investment one can make, despite having negative expected value. What matters is not expected value, but risk and utility.
posted by ikalliom at 11:43 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nice link, ikaliom--it states the case very thoroughly.
posted by yoink at 12:42 PM on March 19, 2009


That article actually misses the point entirely. By ascribing a value of "approximately zero" to the one dollar, it changes the utility curve completely. That people cannot understand marginal utility is how we go broke; a dollar here, a dollar there, and you've spent $50 eating out this week!

Spend a dollar a day every day for 10 years, and you've spent $3650, which is definitely not zero. The money you spent chasing a 1-in-a-billion shot at netting a post-taxes $100 million or so, you could have had enough money saved up to buy a new kitchen, or a new big screen TV and couch, or heck, in these bad times, a safety net in case you lose your job.
posted by explosion at 2:39 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


By ascribing a value of "approximately zero" to the one dollar, it changes the utility curve completely. That people cannot understand marginal utility is how we go broke; a dollar here, a dollar there, and you've spent $50 eating out this week!

What he actually writes is "The utility of one cent is essentially zero." If my total outlay on lottery tickets is $50 per annum then forgoing that expenditure is never going to buy be a new kitchen or provide a safety net against a lost job (unless I live to be several hundred years old, I suppose), though it might conceivably get me a new couch if I put that money away religiously for 20 years in a dedicated "couch fund." Frankly, I'll take twenty years of enjoying the non-zero possibility of winning the lottery over the knowledge that I've got a nice new couch waiting for me in a couple of decades.

The mistake you (and those who make this argument generally) always make is to assume that we are one step away from saying 'if $1 per week is a good investment in the lottery, then $2 must be twice as good' and so forth. Or, put another way, your mistake is to assume that we are immortal actors whose only possible interests are maximizing our financial rewards over an infinite lifespan. As mortal actors of limited means, it is rational to give up some trivial amount of our monetary capital to place ourselves in the position of being capable (however unlikely it may be) of winning vastly more than we could ever win by methods of simply accumulation and investment--just as it would be irrational to wager our entire worldly possessions even on a bet which offered very favorable odds.
posted by yoink at 5:54 PM on March 19, 2009


Moreover, people who like to smugly pronounce that everyone who plays the lottery simply cannot grasp simple math and are paying the 'stupid tax' are the same sort of people who cherish winning bar arguments over legalistic technicalities that ignore the spirit of the question, and who will also insist that rather than enjoying guitar hero what you should really be doing is feeling bad for not dedicating several years of your life to the study of stringed instruments.

These are the people who don't get invited to more parties.
posted by danny the boy at 9:53 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Testify!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:24 PM on March 20, 2009


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