There is more
We cannot possibly be aware of everything, but sometimes acting as if what we see is all there is can be embarrassing — or worse.
A long time ago, when my hair was long and not so grey — well it is pretty long again, the barbers have only just reopened after the latest lockdown — a friend of mine had come up with a new, jocular greeting. We were deeply into jocular phrases at the time. They combined attempts at sophisticated wit with our own private slang. The kind of thing you do as a teenager.
Anyway, my friend’s new greeting, instead of a more conventional variant on “how are you?”, was “how’s your mum?” Slightly absurd, slightly mysterious even — but he thought, and we all thought, that it was hilarious. He used it with actual friends, and indeed with perfect strangers, whose perplexed reactions just added to the fun.
Until, one day, the mother of the person he greeted had actually died a few weeks earlier.
Limited visual range
When you’re 16, 17 years old, your mum is not supposed to die. None of our sizeable circle of friends had experienced this unfortunate event, and so none of us had considered that possibility. Understandably the mood turned, cheeks became red, and that was the last time that particular jocular phrase was heard.
A clear case of WYSIATI — what you see is all there is — a concept coined by Economics Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. Unlike some other cognitive phenomena, it has a pretty self-explanatory name.
Ideally, when deciding on a course of action, we ought to consider all relevant information. But that is problematic: we cannot possibly identify and consult all information that is germane to what we want to do. Imagine you need to buy a birthday cake — how many different types exist, or can be made especially for the occasion? What about the decoration — chocolate sprinkles, marzipan figurines, little flowers shaped in sugar? How big? Should it be themed? You see what I mean (or YSWIM, to stick with acronyms).
Yet, while we cannot look at everything, we can make reasonable assumptions. The birthday girl or boy, for example, happens to be a fan of and has a…