Remember How Unaware We Can Be

It’s hard to see clearly, and so much of Stoicism deals with the ways in which our own minds fool us, trick us, and fail us.

Science has confirmed this. In 1983, a pair of psychologists asked a large number of people the following question: “Linda is thirty-one years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in antinuclear demonstrations.”

Then the question: “Which alternative is more probable?

(1) Linda is a bank teller.

(2) Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.”

Eighty-five percent of those who responded selected option two. But that’s an illogical answer. If number two is true, then number is one also true, by default. If “Linda is a bank teller…” then it doesn’t matter what comes after the “and”—if she works as a bank teller, then number 1 is true.

We are easily seduced by descriptions, even when they are flat out wrong. The mind plays tricks on us—it’s worth thinking about that the next time you’re congratulating yourself on your own awareness of a situation or problem.