I have spent too much time playing this game.
I always thought pareidolia involved seeing faces (e.g., Jesus in a tortilla) but Wikipedia defines it as a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. By this definition, it’s something a lot of sportscasters (and many sports fans) are guilty of. How many times have you heard that a certain player is “on a hitting streak” or has a “hot hand”? This article from Skeptic examines the role of irrational thinking in basketball and other sports.
Many public health professionals believe that if people only knew how many calories were in their Big Macs, they’d order fewer of them. This has led to laws requiring restaurants to post caloric and other information about their menu items. But a study of New York City’s law shows that while people are aware of the information, it doesn’t cause them to eat less. In fact, according to an article in today’s New York Times, the study showed that:
..people had, in fact, ordered slightly more calories than the typical customer had before the labeling law went into effect, in July 2008.
What the article doesn’t speculate on is why this might be the case. I think people are less likely to purchase that extra Whopper when they don’t know how many calories are in it. When they find out how many calories the sandwich really has, they probably figure, “ah well, that isn’t too many, and besides I can make up for it by ordering a diet Coke.”
So what will the health police try next?
As my fiftieth birthday approaches, I’ve become interested in learning more about the era I was born into. David Halberstam’s The Fifties was a good starting point, but recently I’ve come across two separate books claiming that the year I was born was a pivotal one: 1959: The Year Everything Changed and 1959: The Year That Changed Our World. The year was certainly important to me, but I wonder — was it really a turning point in human history?
I rather doubt it. Important things happen every year. We fail to realize how important some events are until we have the perspective of history. I imagine 50 years is just the right amount of perspective, so it’s not surprising that such books are coming out now. Perhaps in ten years time we’ll see a similar spate of books about 1969.
The years following my birth were quite eventful as well. Here is a very interesting essay about the early 1960s. Excerpt:
To read through the bound volumes of the newsmagazines Time and Newsweek, issue by issue, from the late ’50s onward, is to be struck, sometime around the beginning of the 1960s, by the sudden proliferation of the word new. Society was newly open, popular culture newly experimental, religious institutions (in the words of one contemporary observer) “newly irenic.” There was even talk among Vatican II-influenced, reform-minded Catholics of a “New Church.” A new national order was under construction: After three centuries, it appeared that America was at last beginning to confront its racial divisions and inequities and move toward greater unity and fairness. And there was a new world order, or at least a “New Europe,” as headlines of the day frequently put it.
Read the whole thing. It’s well worth it, whether you remember that era or not.
Netflix famously offered a million dollars to improve its recommendation system. I don’t think it would cost that much to improve Amazon’s system. What they have now seems really bad. Has anyone ever received a good recommendation for a book from Amazon? I haven’t. Every time I look at the things they recommend for me, it’s the same collection of old jazz CDs and technical books. The recommendations never seem to change.
When I go into a bricks and mortar store, I usually see an interesting book and wind up buying it (either at the store itself or later on Amazon). I know which sections of the store to look in, and even which shelves. But with Amazon, the selection is too big. There’s no way that I know of to find interesting books. And that’s too bad. I like buying things from Amazon. I would probably buy more if it were easier for me to browse.