Philosophy TuesdayAugust 2, 2016
This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.
“We are not rational creatures. We are rationalizing creatures.”
There was a great segment on This American Life a couple of weeks back that was wonderful for illustrating just how funny (and, to look at it in certain ways, insane) our choice making processes can be. How easily they are hijacked by things hidden in the background, things that are hidden deep within our context. And so, also showing how powerful our context can be.
This is the story about how, even with all the knowledge in the world, and even with personal, demonstrable, reproducible, success, Wilt Chamberlain refused to shoot his free throws on the basketball court underhanded. That is, shoot them “granny style.”
The very name given to it gives a hint of why there are less than a handful of players who shoot that way in the league. Even though those who shoot granny style shoot their free throws incredibly well, remarkably better than any other players.
Wilt Chamberlain tried it for a season, and went from being a 40% to a 60%+ thrower, in very short order. Those who shoot underhanded all the time range up in the 80s-95s.
But Wilt doesn’t stick with it. He goes back to the ‘regular’ throwing style, and his percentage drops significantly, and opposing players go back to fouling him as a tactic, since a free throw was the most certain way to ensure he would fail to make a basket.
I love this story as a reminder that, really, knowledge often makes no difference. Especially this being a sport, where there are statisticians and analysts and you can see clear, measurable results, from a different technique. There is no missing bit of information, here, it’s all known and on display.
But the choice is the “non-rational” one. They’re choosing to hurt the team by costing them points.
Our views and our contexts shape so much of not only what we see, but also what choices we make and what actions we take*, on a fundamental level. So very often hidden from us. They didn’t interview Wilt (or Shaq, for that matter, who also never shot underhand even though he was invited to) to ask why he switched back. To hear what his reasoning was. But I wager what he would have answered would have had a great rationalization that “made sense” to him.
Things usually make sense to us. We have our reasons. We can build reasons for just about anything. We can argue for our reasons. And we will even defend, with fury, those rationales. Even if they’re not the authentic reasons and rationales. We can hide those reasons that don’t sound so great when viewed in a straight way, viewed in that “well, when you put it that way…” sort of way.
I think we often forget, or ignore, that our emotions, our feelings, our views, our contexts, our worlds, do not have an impact – a very large impact – on our choices. We live in the scientific age of enlightenment, where we are educated and don’t let that mushy stuff get in the way. Or, of course, that’s our story. The unfortunate thing is that if we are unaware, or ignore, that other side of things, the non rational/logic side, we cede a lot of control. And we shortchange ourselves from winning the playoffs, whatever that “playoffs” may be in our life.
This is another of those not good or bad, right or wrong, smart or dumb things. It’s a human thing. We have our emotions and socials and constructs just as much as we have our logical and figure-out side. It’s what makes our lives so rich and wonderful. The more we be present to and incorporate the “all of us”, the more we can create and fulfill on the possibilities we so amply want.
* Not to mention it shapes our very experience of the moment…