Posts Tagged ‘Knowledge’

A very simple problem (which most University level students get wrong).

A bat and a ball cost $1.10 between them.

The bat costs $1 more than the ball.

How much does the ball cost?

It’s not as simple as it first appears.

Most people answer 10¢. We’re betting you did, too.

But the correct answer is 5¢.

Why? Well, if the ball cost 10¢ and the bat cost $1 more, then the bat would cost $1.10, making a total cost $1.10 + $0.10 = $1.20. Wouldn’t it?

This puzzle appears in a book by the behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman called “Thinking, Fast and Slow”.

According to Kahneman, more that 50% of students at the top US universities (Harvard, MIT and Princeton) get this problem wrong. At less prestigious universities the number of students who gave the wrong answer was more than 80%.

Kahneman writes:

“A number came to your mind. The number, of course, is 10: 10¢.

The distinctive mark of this easy puzzle is that it evokes an answer that is intuitive, appealing … and wrong.

Do the math, and you will see.

If the ball cost 10¢, then the total cost will be $1.20 (10¢ for the ball and $1.10 for the bat), not $1.10. The correct answer is therefore 5¢. It is safe to assume that the intuitive answer also came to the mind of those who ended up with the correct number — but they somehow managed to resist the intuition.”

The bat-and-ball problem is an observation that is a vital fact: many people are overconfident, and prone to place too much faith in their intuitions. They apparently find cognitive effort at least mildly unpleasant and avoid it as much as possible.

This also explains the enduring appeal of fake news, populist politics, and conspiracy theories.

Too many people believe what they want to believe, or what “feels” right, and ignore critical thinking or facts. So when someone asks you “How can people believe [insert politician’s name, political theory, conspiracy story, or whatever you like in here]?” then it’s probably because they’re relying on intuitive thinking and not logical thinking.

In the most simple terms, most people simply can’t be bothered to think.

Perhaps they don’t know how to, but it’s much more likely they can’t be bothered to employ the effort required.

And the implications for our society are serious, and frightening.

Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is knowing what to make of knowledge. (Actually, that's not bad.)


As I roam around the internet on a daily basis, I am often finding little aphorisms or snippets of advice – or commentary on the state of the world – that I really find thought-provoking and even, sometimes, useful. Or people send them to me, obviously caring for my personal or business health. And people post them on Facebook pages, and I think “Gee whillikers, more people should hear that.”

So I am starting an occasional series called “Good Things I Have Stolen”. I make no claim whatsoever to be clever enough to have thought these things up, unless I say so specifically. Only clever enough to recognise good advice, when I see or hear it. And where I can, I will credit them fully.

Today’s are:

“If you attempt only what you can do perfectly, you won’t get started on most tasks.
The world does not reward perfection. It rewards productivity.”

Excellent advice, especially as most A-type personalities, who should be achieving heaps with their days, are also prone to the very specific form of anxiety known as perfectionism, which is frequently a distracting and fatally limiting character flaw. It’s from Peter Bregman’s new book, “18 Minutes”.

"Life is like a cake. It takes time to bake."

With this first “Stolen” post, I will also add one that I dreamed up myself the other day.

“Life is like a cake. It takes time to bake.”

Apart from my inherent poet’s joy in rhymes, (even simplistic doggerel-style ones), this apparently simplistic but I think important piece of advice was born of me reflecting on how we create a life that we will later look back on as “successful”, and on the difference between the perspective (and perception) of passing time of young people, and older people, and what we do with it.

At three years of age, being four seems like a massive step forward, doesn’t it? No surprise, it’s adding another third to one’s existence so far.

Similarly, at 21, taking a year to achieve something would have felt like an age: and an impossibly luxurious and tardy time taken to achieve anything, to boot.

Now, aged 54, I consider a year a perfectly reasonable time to achieve something successfully. The wisdom is born of a lifetime of striving, and an understanding of how anything worth doing is worth doing well. Just as the urgency of the younger person is born of a lack of that perspective.

Yet the world needs both the driving, intemperate urgency of the young, and the reflection and wisdom of the older generations. Harnessing them both together would seem to be the plus sum game.

Last but not least today, this quote from Steve Biko, the brave martyred opponent of apartheid in South Africa, who was murdered by police while in custody in September 1977.

Most potent weapon

"The most potent weapon in the hand of the Oppressor is the mind of the Oppressed." Those that rule control those that are ruled with a mixture of consent and fear. But when the ruled believe in their own abilities to run their lives, look out the ruling class.

On the 18th of August, 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967 and interrogated by officers of the Port Elizabeth security police including Harold Snyman and Gideon Nieuwoudt. This interrogation took place in the Police Room 619. The interrogation lasted twenty-two hours and included torture and beatings resulting in a coma. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody, and was chained to a window grille for a day.

On 11 September 1977, police loaded him in the back of a Land Rover, naked and restrained in manacles, and began the 1100 km drive to Pretoria to take him to a prison with hospital facilities. However, he was nearly dead owing to the previous injuries. He died shortly after arrival at the Pretoria prison, on 12 September. The police claimed his death was the result of an extended hunger strike, but an autopsy revealed multiple bruises and abrasions and that he ultimately succumbed to a brain hemorrhage from the massive injuries to the head, which many saw as strong evidence that he had been brutally clubbed by his captors. Then journalist and now political leader, Helen Zille, along with Donald Woods, another journalist, editor and close friend of Biko’s, exposed the truth behind Biko’s death.

Because of his high profile, news of Biko’s death spread quickly, opening many eyes around the world to the brutality of the apartheid regime. His funeral was attended by over 10,000 people, including numerous ambassadors and other diplomats from the United States and Western Europe.

Donald Woods, a personal friend of Biko, photographed his injuries in the morgue. Woods originally wrote articles critical of Biko’s activism, but later met him, and became a friend. Eventually, he also had to flee South Africa, and became a noted white anti-aartheid campaigner. He further publicised Biko’s life and death, writing many newspaper articles and authoring the book, Biko.

I met Woods personally, and was very impressed with his courtesy and self-effacing manner. A less likely hero – and he too deserves that title – one could not imagine.

(The story of their friendship is moving portrayed in the 1987 movie “Cry Freedom” directed by Richard Attenborough. You can find it on YouTube probably, or your local DVD store. Well worth a watch, great cast.)

The following year, on 2 February 1978, the Attorney General of the Eastern Cape stated that he would not prosecute any police officers involved in the arrest and detention of Biko. During the trial, it was claimed that Biko’s head injuries were the result of a self-inflicted suicide attempt, not those of any beatings.

The judge ultimately ruled that a murder charge could not be supported partly because there were no witnesses to the killing. Charges of culpable homicide and assault were also considered, but because the killing occurred in 1977, the time limit for prosecution had expired. On 7 October 2003 the South African Justice Ministry officials announced that the five policemen accused of killing Biko would not be prosecuted, because there was insufficient evidence, and because the time limit for prosecution had elapsed.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was created following the end of minority rule and the apartheid system, reported in 1997 that five former members of the South African security forces who had admitted to killing Biko were applying for amnesty. Their application was rejected.

More Good Things I Have Stolen about every three days. Enjoy.