Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Delusional Thinking And The Laws of Probability

When you live in an alternate reality, the real reality may seem harsh and difficult.

You may recall a few years back, one of the deadliest mass-shootings (if not the deadliest) occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The shooter holed up in a hotel room and gunned down party-goers who were attending a concert in the plaza below.


Well, he was insane of course, and one of his delusions was that he could become a big-time professional gambler and make lots of money.  He gambled a lot - and lost a lot.  And apparently he felt the casinos weren't treating him properly, with free meals and free hotel rooms or whatever. So he shot a bunch of people just to get even.

That, of course, makes no sense.  Then again, gambling never does.

I was reading about this whistle-less whistleblower online and adjacent to the article was another blaring ad for an online casino, which claimed that their casino allowed you to gamble "without risk."   I need to buy them a dictionary, as the word "gamble" means to take risk.  You can't have a risk-free casino where everyone wins all the time - you'd go out of business in a day.  Makes about as much sense as "Trump Bucks."

But it illustrates that the vast majority of the people in the world - which on occasion often includes you and me - have only a tenuous grasp on reality.  We want to believe in fantasy worlds, and when we do, someone inevitably takes advantage of us, whether it is a casino, a guy selling space-alien books, a religion, or an investment scheme.

For some reason, we are prone to throwing reason out the window on occasion, and oddly enough, maybe that is a survival skill - for the species in general, not you in particular.  Think about it.  The King gets up on a rock and gives a rousing speech to his subjects as to why they need to go to war with a neighboring kingdom.  Be prepare to die for King and Kingdom!  Never mind you are throwing you life away for the sake of someone else's glory - in fact someone else who has been exploiting you most of your life.  But people take up arms for these "causes" and die, so that the survivors may live - the survivors being the smarter people who sit in the back and plan these things at little or no real risk to themselves.

The "Sport of Kings" ain't horse-racing, my friend!

Delusional thinking gets people to accept the unacceptable, or to rally behind a cause that doesn't benefit them one iota.  We see this today, with poor people in rural areas voting for politicians who promise to "cut their taxes" and "abolish the death tax!"  But most of these folks in the trailer park are paying hardly any taxes, other than Social Security and Medicare - and yea, Republicans want to cut that, for sure.  But down the road, those folks will wish they had those benefits, when they retire.  Worse yet, are people who are on Social Security and Medicare, voting to politicians who vow to cut their benefits, but promise to keep little Elliot from turning into little Ellen.

And unless their trailer is worth $10M, they are in no risk of paying any "death tax."

Of course, Democrats play the same game, on a friendlier basis.  Instead of promising to cut things,they promise free things - "guaranteed annual income" and "student loan forgiveness" - neither of which looks like they will ever see the light of day (and that's probably a good thing).  Both parties cater to delusional thinking to get elected.  One just relies on hate more than the other.

In my last posting, I noted that space aliens simply don't exist, which is to say that if there are other life forms in the universe, they haven't visited us.  Of course, in response to this, I get the remarks, "Well Bob, iN aN inFiNatE UniVeRsE anYtHinG iS PoSSiBlE!"  And this illustrates how people will grasp onto any straw - any life-ring in a storm.  It also illustrates how people don't understand probability and will make long-shot bets and then fail to understand why they failed to play out.

Right now, there is a finite possibility I could look out my window and see a man in an orange bowler hat, riding by on a donkey.  It isn't impossible.  These things exist, after all.  But it is far more likely I will see a squirrel (99% probability) a cardinal (50%) or a deer (25%).  And I know this, as I look out the window and see these things often - but no man in an orange bowler hat, and no donkey.

Just because the probability of anything happening is always greater than 0, doesn't mean it is likely.  A probability of 0.000000000000000000001 is akin to never happening.  Yet people cling to these long-shot propositions, often eschewing a 1:1 payout as being too tame.

For example, I was watching a YouTube video on the rise and fall of Sun Microsystems, a company I once wrote a couple of Patents for.  They casually mentioned that two of every three Silicon Valley startups fail within the first few years - and indeed, most of the principals of Sun had worked for one or more failed startups.  Sun was wildly successful for a time - indeed, back when I used to fly out there regularly, all of my clients had SPARC workstations running chip design software.  But as the PC became more and more powerful, the workstation became less and less relevant.  It is a story as old as time - and one that people investing in "new tech" should learn.

But it is odd, people want to jump on "the next big thing!" even if it has a success rate of 1/3 out of the box, and over time, may never pay off, particularly if you ride it all the way down.  But then again, people are bamboozled by things like "Market Cap" which as I have noted before - many times - is just a fake number calculated by multiplying the number of shares outstanding by the current share price.  It really means nothing.  Tesla didn't decrease in value by 2/3 over the last year - indeed, the company appears to be as profitable as ever, even if there are troubling signs ahead.  What changed is what the last chump in was willing to pay for a share.  And that was affected by the laws of supply and demand (particularly when a primary shareholder is dumping shares to pay for ill-conceived vanity purchases) as well as the troubling waters facing the company.

But most people don't even get this simple concept. Instead they "read something online" or worse yet, saw the shouting guy on television saying "Buy! Buy! Buy!  It's the NEXT BIG THING!" and the plebes invest - or should I say, gamble.

When you ask the folks who throw $500 at some startup - when they are behind on their credit card payments - they reply, "Well, it's only $500 and I can afford to lose that, and well, you never know!"

Yes, you never know.  There may be space aliens, or Sasquatch, or a man on a donkey with an orange bowler hat. We live in a universe of infinite possibilities - but finite probabilities.  People fail to see the difference between the two.

Act rationally in an irrational world is the mantra of this blog.  You can get ahead in this world and live quite contentedly and comfortably, if you engage in rational thinking.  Yet so many people obsess about other things - conspiracy theories, sports stars, video games, celebrity antics, politics, and so on and so forth.  You ask them about the balance in their checking account and they have no idea - but will engage you in an hour-long diatribe as to why the "big banks" stole all the money they never had.  If only the Federal Reserve (or insert whipping-boy du jour) was abolished, we could all be billionaires!

The weird thing is, these folks are not outliers, but increasingly in the majority and historically always so.  There is much talk today about the return of Nazism, which I am not sure is entirely real, but instead some young men thinking they are "edgy."  But the rise of Nazism in Germany is an interesting study in delusional thinking.  Hitler got people to believe that all their problems could be solved by eliminating (in every sense of the word) one group of people.  Sadly, it seems we are going through this again - which makes me wonder what country I should move to, before the trains to Auschwitz start running again.

First they came for the trans people, and I said nothing, because I was not trans.  Then they came for the drag queens, and I said nothing, because I was not a drag queen.....  It is the same old story.

What is weirder is there may not be a country to move to.  Americans have always claimed they were going to "move to Canada" if [fill-in-the-blank] was elected.  But recent events in Canada seem to indicate that the Q-virus has infected there as well.  Even Jolly Olde Socialist England has a strong conservative hold on power - and talks of abolishing their nationalized health care (as well as in Canada).   Pretty soon, the whole world will be fascist.

We get these brochures from the cruise lines and while they are fun to read, it is like "nope - ain't going there, hostage diplomacy!" or "nope, ain't going there, drug cartel violence!" or "ain't going there, pirates!" or "ain't going there, caning!" It is getting to the point where there are few places left to go.  Even Caribbean nations, once the vacation hotspot for Americans and Europeans are getting more and more dangerous.  American Virgin Islands?  Jamaica?  Haiti?  Nope. Nope. Nope.

But I digress.

I guess the point is, delusional thinking is the norm for most people, not only in the United States, but worldwide. And periodically, it seems that it rises and falls like the tides.  A few years ago, if you asked me whether we would be having serious discussions on whether the world was flat or the moon landing faked, I would have laughed at you.  But today?  People are deadly serious about their delusions.

And by deadly, I am not exaggerating.  So pardon me, if I don't subscribe to conspiracy theories or believe in space aliens.  Maybe some people find these things "fun" or amusing or whatever.  But I see a dark side to all of this - and a dark side to humanity.  Rarely do logic and reason result in the mass-murder of millions.  In fact, never.  It is always the delusional thinking.