Day 250 – Expectations

September 7, 2009

An aspect of human behavior has been puzzling me lately…Expectations. When we are asked a question, why do we expect there to be an answer? Since this is probably not terribly clear, consider this:

A friend walked up to me in my dorm one day and asked me if I noticed anything different about his looks. I didn’t right offhand, so I looked at him for a minute, then said, “It looks like you have makeup under your eyes.” He was kind of puzzled at this answer, because he thought his hair looked strange, when in fact it looked no different than any other day. I did not know that he had his hair in mind when he asked me, so I studied him, looking for something different about his appearance. I looked to the point of actually making up something which was not there (makeup). Why? I expected something to be different since he asked me. Since I thought this, I rejected reality (that nothing was different about his appearance) and tricked myself into seeing something that did not exist. Why did I expect there to be an answer? I have no idea.

This idea is kind of what yesterday’s post was about. The answer to my question is that the two photos are identical. I made a duplicate of the same file and posted them both. Even though they are the same photo, 5/10 people who left comments (and one person who did not comment) “found” something different about the two photos. Why? The only explanation I can come up with is that they must expect something to be different. Otherwise, why would I ask what is different, right? I did a little research to see if someone has published work on this type of thing, and the only thing I found was the subject-expectancy effect, which might help explain why 6/11 people saw differences between two identical photographs.

Not until a few days ago did I fully come to terms with the idea that “no solution” (or, to the above questions, “nothing is different”) is a perfectly valid answer that should be seriously considered all of the time. I realized this when I was doing my linear algebra homework. I was trying to find an answer to a problem, and after a few attempts, I was getting frustrated that I was not getting an answer. I thought my math must have been wrong, so I poured over my work trying to find an error. Finally, it dawned on me that there could be no solution to the problem, which is a perfectly valid answer. Sure enough, there is no solution to the problem. I had a few more problems with no solution that night, so now that possibility is always in the back of my mind.

Anyway, the point I was trying to get at (if it is not painfully clear) is most questions have the possibility of having no answer, so we should always consider that possibility. Don’t trick yourself into finding answers that are not there.

By the way, I think horoscopes are utter nonsense. Most of them are written so vaguely that it is almost impossible not to find a way your “reading” relates to your life. It ties in to what I wrote about above: some individuals expect the horoscopes to relate to their lives, so they play Leonard Nimoy (In Search Of…) and find a way to tie the horoscope into their lives. It blows my mind how many people read horoscopes every day and believe them. Remember, it is possible (and the real answer, in my opinion) that horoscopes are arbitrarily written and have no relation to your life. Don’t trick yourself and find something that is not there.

By the way, can anyone recommend any work that has been done in this area? I did quick research, but did not find anything. I would appreciate anything you can recommend.