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Math Science

Quantum Theory May Explain Wishful Thinking 415

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the over-your-head dept.
explosivejared writes "Humans don't always make the most rational decisions. As studies have shown, even when logic and reasoning point in one direction, sometimes we chose the opposite route, motivated by personal bias or simply 'wishful thinking.' This paradoxical human behavior has resisted explanation by classical decision theory for over a decade. But now, scientists have shown that a quantum probability model can provide a simple explanation for human decision-making — and may eventually help explain the success of human cognition overall."
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Quantum Theory May Explain Wishful Thinking

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday April 16, 2009 @10:54AM (#27597819) Journal
    Well, from the abstract [royalsocie...ishing.org]:

    Two experimental tasks in psychology, the two-stage gambling game and the Prisoner's Dilemma game, show that people violate the sure thing principle of decision theory. These paradoxical findings have resisted explanation by classical decision theory for over a decade. A quantum probability model, based on a Hilbert space representation and Schrodinger's equation, provides a simple and elegant explanation for this behaviour. The quantum model is compared with an equivalent Markov model and it is shown that the latter is unable to account for violations of the sure thing principle. Accordingly, it is argued that quantum probability provides a better framework for modelling human decision-making.

    The human brain is a complex organ. Unfortunately the kind people at the "Royal Society for Articles Only People with Money Can Read" would not allow me to review this research. I would have found this research much more compelling had they reported a much more thorough sample analysis. I'm going to predict that people from different walks of life would respond differently to the Prisoner's Dilemma game. For instance, if you did this on regular citizens with no history of jail time versus convicts serving sentences, I would expect you to have to adapt your model.

    Because you encountered some percentage of "wishful thinking" does not necessarily make that a tried and true percentage unless it is true for human beings in different groups that may affect this decision making. If it truly is quantum mechanics at work, I would suspect that you would see the same percentage in convicts vs non-convicts, Russians vs Americans, women vs men, scientists vs priests, orphans vs parented children, etc. For you see, I'm going to make the assumption that people are deciding on wishful thinking based on their history of interacting with other humans.

    I'm also noticing a disturbing trend in "quantum mechanics" being spewed whenever we don't understand something. I caution you that people in the future might look back on this and laugh that such crude research could in any way conclude that quantum mechanics is at work. It's almost as if we assume we understand other possible explanation so it must be the one we don't understand very well. We don't understand photosynthesis --> must be quantum mechanics! We don't understand the human mind --> must be quantum mechanics! etc. Am I saying quantum mechanics has nothing to do with these things? No. I'm just saying I have seen no conclusive proof.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Must concur. That the Prisoner's Dilemma could be influenced by a persons:

      * Irrational and rational fear of prison (what movies have they recently seen?)
      * Experience with the trustworthiness of others.
      * Complete lack of understanding of probability despite having it explained to them by people who intrinsically "get it."

      Seems pretty obvious to me. That these scientists aren't in-touch with the emotion driven, whimsical side of human cognition is probably because they "don't get invited to those kinds of p

      • by Venik (915777) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:12AM (#27598067)
        In other news: a recent study by the American Wave Mechanics Society suggests wishful thinking may explain quantum mechanics.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by cayenne8 (626475)
          "In other news: a recent study by the American Wave Mechanics Society suggests wishful thinking may explain quantum mechanics."

          I don't think neither wave mechanics nor quantum mechanics can figure out how women think. I think that is pretty much beyond comprehension to anything less than a supreme being.

          • by julian67 (1022593) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:31AM (#27598321)
            I am the supreme being and here it is: sex, shoes, babies, butt size, curtains, weight gain (see sex), wrinkles, dust.
          • by nelsonal (549144) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:32AM (#27598333) Journal
            Women generally think the same way men do (slightly more cautious but it's pretty moot), but after they think it they do a kabuki dance of decit to cover of their tracks. The trick with women is to learn what they actually want which is almost always very different from what they say they want (but they would lose power if they were direct).
            • by cromar (1103585) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @12:09PM (#27598875)
              Man are you hanging out with the wrong women.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by cayenne8 (626475)
                "Man are you hanging out with the wrong women."

                Not really....most of them really are that way. You really can't ever trust them 100%. Some are better than others, but, you always have to be cautious when dealing with them.

                They may say they love you and you are the most important thing, but, you are not. Their financial stability and care of their kids will always outweigh you as their man.

                It has been said that women have it made. They have half the money and ALL the pussy.

                With the latter, they can get

                • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 16, 2009 @02:24PM (#27600557)

                  Your entire post leads right back to the very comment you replied to: "Man are you hanging out with the wrong women".

                  You said yourself that there are exceptions and outliers to the rule. The thing is, they're far more common than you, like most men, realize. If you act the way you described, you'll be less likely to find them.

                  You see, for the most part, you have to be the person you want to meet. Like-minded people do tend to find each other. If you want a straight shooter, be a straight shooter. If you play games, don't be surprised if you end up with someone who plays games as well. If you never let yourself totally go, never trust them all the way, and attempt to be dominant — you will end up with someone who never lets herself totally go, never trusts you all the way, and attempts to be dominant.

                  • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                    by sw155kn1f3 (600118)

                    The same load of bull as the post you're replying to.
                    The truth is that there are NO RULES in relationships. And human beings are different.
                    And NO, you don't have to be the same person you want to meet.
                    All you can do - is understand what you want, set your standards and go searching the person you will feel satisfied with and who will accept you the same way. Everything else just doesn't work.

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by Toonol (1057698)
                  I'm sure no generalization is 100% correct, but it's pretty close to 99%.

                  All women grow up with a vagina. That leads to a PROFOUNDLY different experience than any man experiences. Even putting aside physiological differences between the sexes, which I think have major effects on behavior, the fact is that nearly every encounter with another human being from the youngest age on up is significantly altered by the gender of the participants. People can't help but be significantly affected by this. This
            • by Remus Shepherd (32833) <remus@panix.com> on Thursday April 16, 2009 @12:44PM (#27599307) Homepage

              You're assuming a woman that needs to fight for power. An already empowered woman thinks much like a man but with a more social perspective, with no deception because that kills social relationships. An empowered woman is really a treat to converse with and to know.

              How do you find an empowered woman? My advice would be to stop treating women like alien creatures and assuming they're always trying to deceive you.

          • by Sanat (702)

            Here is what a lady friend of mine wrote to me when asked what she planned to do with her house and empty lots in this financial downturn. Here it is verbatim.

            "This is little reason to ponder resolution. What IS shall be fulfilled without prior announcement of conditions.

            Our joy is in the TRUSTING & developments from this.

            Creative measures abound without the limitations of thought.

            Live this day as a last. Each has its reason, if but to challenge our TRUST. To reason is folly, for truth has no reason, o

            • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 16, 2009 @12:10PM (#27598883)

              Here is what a lady friend of mine wrote to me when asked what she planned to do with her house and empty lots in this financial downturn. Here it is verbatim.

              "This is little reason to ponder resolution. What IS shall be fulfilled without prior announcement of conditions.

              Our joy is in the TRUSTING & developments from this.

              Creative measures abound without the limitations of thought.

              Live this day as a last. Each has its reason, if but to challenge our TRUST. To reason is folly, for truth has no reason, only purpose.

              Constructs of the mind de-rail any initiative with fancy. Loose the need to think. Being the mind hinders the ability to recognize the perfection."

              So basically her position is one of Trusting and Allowing for what is meant to be, and not think things to death.

              Would your lady friend happen to be google translator?

          • by foobsr (693224) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:59AM (#27598729) Homepage Journal
            I don't think neither wave mechanics nor quantum mechanics can figure out how women think.

            It has been figured out a long time ago: obfuscated [meeragadkari.info] mechanics.

            CC.
          • Women think that they have more bargaining power than men, and that they can wield this power more effectively by pretending they don't realize they have it. Women are correct in their thinking.

      • by hdon (1104251) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @12:42PM (#27599289)

        ..fear of prison..

        The Prisoner's Dilemma is a generalized model for decision-making in a non-zero-sum game (net cooperation must yield more than net defection.) A story involving prisoner's and jail time is only the most popular canonical representation for the game. While I've nothing to say in defense of the researchers' intelligence: to levy criticism that the researchers have perhaps overlooked subjects' aversion to actual prison time is to suggest that the researchers are, perhaps, extremely stupid, and have no idea what they are doing at all.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Raffaello (230287)

          It wouldn't be the first time.

          Researchers in many fields (with the obvious exception of anthropology which specializes in such things) are often spectacularly ignorant of their own cultural biases. IOW, they take as "facts" things which are unproven, simply because they and people they know (usually from their local culture and sub-culture of course) take them to be true, or they take as globally true things which are only locally true.

          Absent rigorous statistical proof to the contrary, the null hypothesis h

    • by timster (32400) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:06AM (#27597991)

      I'm not sure you're looking at this the right way. The abstract does not suppose that this phenomenon results from a quantum physics effect, though I don't know if the research does. Rather, the abstract and the linked article are applying the mathematical models behind quantum theory to problems in cognition. The brain could very well compute these results using classical physics.

      • by Rich0 (548339) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:22AM (#27598191) Homepage

        I'm sure I'm not the first to think of this, but I wonder if wishful thinking is just a way of implementing a particular strategy for survivial. What I suggest could be applied to running a business or living in a Darwinian world.

        There are a couple of ways to go about survival in a highly competitive enviornment.

        The most straightforward is to be better than everybody else at one or more things. If your competitors run at 3-4mph and you can run at 5mph then you're going to be the one that catches the gazalle and has dinner. The problem with this approach is that EVERYBODY is trying to catch that gazelle and EVERYBODY is out on the track every morning trying to run a little faster. If you succeed at all it will only be by a little bit, but a little bit is enough, so I think this is the predominant method of survival.

        The other approach is to just try to do something completely differently. Most likely you'll fail and starve and your genes won't be passed on (directly - though your cousin might pass them on), but just maybe you'll succeed. If you do succeed there is a good chance that it won't be just by an incremental margin.

        So, if I were designing an ultimate survivor species, I'd have it do a grinding incremental evolution (approach #1) most of the time. However, I'd also have members of the species occassionally take huge risks for a possible huge reward. As long as families are big enough and these risks aren't frequent then even if the odd member of the family dies the genes that convey these tendencies will still be passed on. If a family member gets lucky then it will be at the top of the food chain for generations.

        Perhaps wishful thinking is just an artifact of the brain that we call "wishful thinking" when things go wrong, and "creativity" or "innovation" when that crazy idea that everybody knows won't work actually does work?

        • by mdielmann (514750) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @12:01PM (#27598761) Homepage Journal

          I was thinking the same thing. If everyone does the same thing, this leads to two results, one of which you mentioned. Superiority is going to be an incremental issue, since everyone is racing for the same goal. The second is, it's obvious that that is your goal. For instance, as a prey species, if all the predators are going for speed, I might go for maneuverability. Sure, I can't outrun them, but I can change direction with no speed loss and they have to slow down, loop back, and speed up again. It might give me enough time to get away, or (on a species scale) just not make it profitable for that type of predator to catch me.
          Throwing in random variability improves overall success for the species because you have a built-in response to the unusual and the unexpected - you do unusual and unexpected things, too. And your responses might be just what's needed in certain survival circumstances.

          • by timeOday (582209) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @01:51PM (#27600093)
            This discussion is a good example of why it is so often naive to assume that "logic and reasoning point in one direction, [but] sometimes we chose the opposite route, motivated by personal bias or simply 'wishful thinking.'" Researchers who make these statements believe they know the "right" answer, and people are irrational for making some other decision. To prove this, they concoct laboratory experiments where intuition from the real world leads to poor decisions in a controlled environment. In the real world, as you rightly point out, situations are much more complex, and often decisions biases turn out to have some rationale. That is not to say our evolved instincts are perfect for the environment in which we now live, especially as judged by modern values. But placing too much confidence in conclusions drawn from simplistic models is a cognitive bias, too.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by godrik (1287354)

          I believe that the repeated Prisoner's Dilema is most of the time badly explained. It is explained a infinitely repeated game game were at each step you have to make a decision.

          An other model is to consider the meta strategy that is the strategy rule of each step to maximize the average outcome. Since the game is infinite, you do not care about the initialization of the process. Recall that the goal is not to have more "points" than the other player. It is just to have the most point possible

          Providing the

        • Quite simply, if enough Americans at once buy into the housing market with wishful thinking (yeah, I can make housing payments that are 80% of my income), then when things fail, they use group think to take the wealth of others and recoup their losses.

          In other words, the wishful thinking may pay off in gang-type situations.

          I had this happen to me in college, when a 2-credit-hour class was demanding reports that took 25 hrs per week. I did it, and most of the others didn't, but mine were all 2 days late. S

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Perhaps wishful thinking is just an artifact of the brain that we call "wishful thinking" when things go wrong, and "creativity" or "innovation" when that crazy idea that everybody knows won't work actually does work?

          I think you may just have hit the nail right on the head. "Wishful thinking" is, in the long run, an unconventional idea that didn't work out. Calling an idea "wishful thinking" before it's tried is just making a prediction that it won't work. (Of course, sometimes the idea calls for a vio

      • by Fractal Dice (696349) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:33AM (#27598359) Journal

        I agree. It feels like this sort of headline is going to get people thinking "spooky quantum particle magic" rather than just using some of the same math that is used in quantum mechanics to model how competing reflexes and instincts add up to a decision.

        When weighing our decision we have to take into consideration the chance that we misunderstood the rules of the game or that the explanation was a lie and we're being conned. We have all sorts of social reflexes and instincts that compete to overrule any mathematical solution we think we've found. If I read it correctly, it is the way you can model all these competing reactions adding up to a single decision that they are suggesting is similar to a superposition of probabilities you see in physics models.

        Then again, I might be wrong. *waffles*

      • by bcrowell (177657) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:44AM (#27598541) Homepage

        The abstract does not suppose that this phenomenon results from a quantum physics effect, though I don't know if the research does. Rather, the abstract and the linked article are applying the mathematical models behind quantum theory to problems in cognition. The brain could very well compute these results using classical physics.

        You're correct that the main thrust of the linked article is just the application of the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics to cognition and game theory. However, the end of the article does have some speculation about whether there could be some more literally quantum-mechanical basis for human cognition. Seems like complete B.S. to me, but it is there in the article.

        There's a long history of people trying to apply quantum-mechanical concepts to all kinds of things outside physics, from religion to social science. Generally it's all nonsense. In this particular article, they observe some complex cognitive behavior that doesn't fit the kind of utility-optimizing model that's commonly assumed in economics. They (a) try to explain this using cognitive dissonance, and (b) come up with a novel application of the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics for modeling cognitive dissonance. IMO, the B.S. sets in at step a. There are lots of reasons the people in the study could be behaving in this particular way, and cognitive dissonance is only one of them.

        In the prisoner's dilemma situation they describe, a long-term strategy that's often evolutionarily successful is tit-for-tat, in which you defect if your opponent's last choice was defection, and play honestly if their last choice was to play honestly. Tit-for-tat is arguably sort of programmed into the human psyche, as an evolved mechanism for making social animals succeed in groups. From that point of view, the question is why these people so often chose not to follow tit-for-tat, often choosing to defect even if their partner had played honestly in the first round.

        I can think of at least two good reasons that are just as plausible (and probably just as impossible to test scientifically) as the authors'. One is that the people in this study go through the first round playing honestly, and then in the second round they tend to say, "Participating in this study is boring. I'm hungry for lunch. Maybe I'll make it more fun by doing the opposite choice the second time around. It would be less boring to try each choice at least once." Another possibility is that they imagine the psychodrama of the situation and find it emotionally rewarding. They imagine telling their friends afterwards, "Ha ha, that poor shmuck! I played him like a trout. First I lured him in by being honest in the first round, and then I dropped the bomb on him the second time around. He didn't even know what hit him."

        Both of these explanations would be considered irrational by a classical economist, which means exactly nothing. Maybe it's perfectly rational to entertain yourself, or to set up a good story to entertain your friends with.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gr8_phk (621180)
        Agreed. The title should not say "Quantum Theory May Explain Wishful Thinking" but rather "Quantum Theory Can *Model* Wishful Thinking". As we know, Quantum theory doesn't even explain quantum mechanics, it just models it really well.
    • I really wish I could believe that.
    • by Chyeld (713439)

      Am I saying quantum mechanics has nothing to do with these things? No. I'm just saying I have seen no conclusive proof.

      Yes, but it's only wishful thinking that makes you say that, as Quantum Mechanics has predicted.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I'm unimpressed with the basic premise. I'll start to be more interested once Quantum Theory can even begin to explain itself before we start applying it as an "explanation" for anything we think is even slightly non-deterministic.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Timmmm (636430)
    • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:23AM (#27598203) Journal

      >>>I'm going to make the assumption that people are deciding on wishful thinking based on their history of interacting with other humans.

      You make a really good point here. When I started on Ebay circa 2002 I trusted people to be fair and honest, like me. Now many years later after being burned multiple times, I don't trust anybody. I assume they are going to find some way to scam me, whether it's directly (credit chargeback) or indirectly (unfair negatives harming my future sales)*. I still have the same brain as seven years ago, but what's changed is my "history of interacting with other humans" and that affects my choices. I'm sure you're right: A convict is less-likely to choose the "trust others" option than the average person, and more-likely to choose the immediate payoff per the traditional Game Theory.

      And no quantum mechanics does not apply to this research. Quantum mechanics is not random; it's predictable and understandable.

      *
      * Example - a buyer once negged me because the postman ran over the package with his truck. How is this in any way my fault? Stupid idiot. More recently, a seller sold me a laptop with spilled soda on it, and then refused to refund claiming it was "as is". Sorry but that doesn't excuse selling junk; U.S. law requires revealing if equipment is non-operative, especially in mail order where buyers cannot inspect the item. (sigh). You cannot trust anybody on Ebay, either buyers or sellers.

    • I'd also add that decisions mostly are dependent on information, first of all. Only people who do not have certain information will resort to "random" or "wishful thinking" decisions (if they're rational, let's assume that here).

      Example: You have a problem with the computer. Something does not work. A file won't delete, a network share is not accessable, whatever. What would you do? You would take rational steps to narrow down the problem. You would check cables, you would check permissions, you would ping

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 1729 (581437)

        Example: You have a problem with the computer. Something does not work. A file won't delete, a network share is not accessable, whatever. What would you do? You would take rational steps to narrow down the problem. You would check cables, you would check permissions, you would ping the machine, you would, in short, eliminate the possible error sources one by one.

        I've had my share of tech support. What does the non-savvy person usually do?

        1) Reboot.
        2) Do the same thing again and again, hoping for a different result.
        3) Close the program used to open the file (explorer, word processor, whatever) and reopen it.
        4) Disconnect and reconnect various devices, from network cable to mouse

        All that (well, maybe with the exception of the first in case of Windows machines) is in the area of "wishful thinking". Especially number 2 is very common and, from the point of an engineer who kinda knows that machines cannot create different results with identical input, stupid. It is basically wishful thinking. Maybe it works this time.

        I disagree that this is just wishful thinking. From the perspective of an end-user, a multi-tasking OS should be treated as non-deterministic. Performing the same operation is NOT guaranteed to produce the same results. Let's take your example of a file that can't be deleted. Sometimes, this is because a background process is accessing the file or has it locked for some reason. Waiting a few seconds then trying again may work in this case. If it still doesn't work, then perhaps the process that locked

    • by kalirion (728907)

      I caution you that people in the future might look back on this and laugh that such crude research could in any way conclude that quantum mechanics is at work.

      Sure, the waveform could collapse that way. We should apply for funding to calculate this probability.

  • coincidence (Score:5, Informative)

    by unixcrab (1080985) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @10:56AM (#27597851)
    The same mathematical model does not necessarily mean that thought processes are driven by anything quantum mechanical. Quantum theory uses probability models as do psychological models. They are defined by probability theory and not the other way round. i.e. quantum theory uses models that existed before the discretization of energy was even considered.
    • by eln (21727) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:00AM (#27597897) Homepage

      You may be right, but if you present it that way how is a geeky theoretical physicist going to get grant money to go hang out with the hot chicks in the psychology department?

    • Re:coincidence (Score:5, Informative)

      by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:00AM (#27597909)
      That seems to be the point made in the article, i.e. "[t]his same mathematical formalism provides an explanation for interference of thoughts in human judgments". They're using the mathematics, not the physics.
    • by yttrstein (891553)
      1. It could be argued (and has, quite successfully by people like Brian Greene) that all things are driven by everything quantum mechanical; including every aspect of the human brain, and therefore some argue, the human mind.

      2. It's unfortunate that an entire article was written on a subset of the subject of quantum psychology (which is not mechanical, but logical) without once having mentioned Robert Anton Wilson, who was one of the first to hew it from General Semantics, among other things.
      • Re:coincidence (Score:5, Insightful)

        by blueg3 (192743) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:39AM (#27598473)

        Technically, an arbitrary physical process (like the functioning of the brain) is based on smaller-scale subprocesses that eventually boil down to quantum-scale interactions.

        To claim that this implies that quantum-mechanical behavior would be evident in the larger-scale process shows a misunderstanding of the physics.

  • by mc1138 (718275) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @10:57AM (#27597861) Homepage
    Or is that just wishful thinking?
  • by eln (21727) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @10:58AM (#27597883) Homepage

    which is why I make sure every cat I put in a box has been killed beforehand. Suck on that, Schrodinger.

  • by Manip (656104) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @10:59AM (#27597893)

    Classical decision Theory *does* account for human's decision making. "Personal bias" (aka values) are very much accounted for.

    • by iamhigh (1252742) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:07AM (#27598021)

      Classical decision Theory *does* account for human's decision making. "Personal bias" (aka values) are very much accounted for.

      Yeah the summary (obviously didn't RTFA) is dumb. Adding to your point, wishful thinking IS decision making!!! If x is a sure thing, but there is a glimmer of hope for 10x, then you will probably have a proportional amount of people attempt for 10x, even though the failure rate is high.

      Ask any restaurant manager in NY or LA about the availability of waitresses to see this demonstrated in the real world.

  • Since chemistry, electricity and matter at the level of cells, neurons, ganglia, etc. behave deterministically, if free will exists at all the root of it MUST be found at the quantum level.

    I'm not, however, convinced that we have to discard determinism in this case. The article says that humans don't always make the most rational decisions, even when logic and reasoning point in one direction.

    The thing is, no decision is made in a vaccuum. For an adult, each new decision carries the weight of millions
    • by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:10AM (#27598053)

      How would free will be explained on the quantum level? Randomness or probability doesn't account for free will, either. Free will is simply magic of the mind, a sort of god-of-the-gaps for not knowing the complex web of the interaction between heredity and environment and the many antecedent events acting upon it.

      • by Petersko (564140)
        "How would free will be explained on the quantum level? Randomness or probability doesn't account for free will, either. Free will is simply magic of the mind, a sort of god-of-the-gaps for not knowing the complex web of the interaction between heredity and environment and the many antecedent events acting upon it."

        I completely agree. What I'm saying is that "if" there is free will at all, the mechanism that enables it cannot be deterministic. As far as I can tell, it's only at the quantum level that an
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      People put Free Will and Randomness in the same basket because they are both non-deterministic. But that's all there is in common. Free Will and Randomness are two completely different things. Random events at the quantum level inside your brain are no different than having randomly-firing electrodes implanted in your brain. It will make your brain's output unpredictable, but it does not constitute Free Will. Or are you suggesting that the Mind somehow controls these Random events at the quantum level?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by FooAtWFU (699187)
        There's an interesting lecture (by John Conway) on quantum mechanics and free will, specifically with regards to how (human) observers interact with quantum systems. I forget all the interesting specifics, but remembered that doesn't come up with an answer about whether or not there's free will -- just ties it to some other things.

        Oh, look, there's a random blog posting linking to the paper and a recording [blogspot.com].

  • I've been flamed for this stance before but I stand by it. Humans are selfish by nature. Thus we try to make every decision we make benefit us even to the detriment of society as a whole. We can of course override that predisposition and there are decisions which have either short or long term benefits/detriment depending on the choices. So if Quantum Theory causes us to be selfish then yes that may explain our decision making.

  • That's my quantum wishful thought of the day. I wish they could find the Higgs.

  • People are stupid. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:04AM (#27597965) Journal

    That seems a much simpler explanation.

    Especially when I see contestants on Deal or No Deal who turn-down $50,000 "banker payoffs" and end-up with only $100 or less in their cases. Pure logic dictates that your odds of winning the big prize is almost nothing, and you should take the banker payoff, but people don't use logic. They use emotion. They "feel" their way through life instead of thinking.

    • by Rob Kaper (5960)

      Gay Strephon declares I'm the girl in his mind,
      If he proves fincere, I'll be conftant and kind,
      He vows that tomorrow he'll make me his wife,
      I'll fondly endeavour to blefs him for life,
      For all other fwains I care not a rufh,
      [b]One bird in the hand is worth two in the bufh.[/b]

      Sadly, most people do not seem to understand this.

      • by Rob Kaper (5960)

        Nor do I understand the difference between Slashdot and other Internet forums. I must be new here. Really, [b]???

    • They "feel" their way through life instead of thinking.

      Are you saying Bruce Lee got it wrong?!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tom (822)

      Why was parent modded "Insightful"?

      What's so non-obvious about people being stupid? That's not the point. Science isn't about proving people stupid, it's about proving how stupidity works. "People are stupid" doesn't explain anything, it's just a killer phrase.

  • by tylersoze (789256) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:07AM (#27598019)

    It's all well and good to use the mathematical techniques of quantum mechanics in other fields but the math by itself is not quantum theory. I get really annoyed with the "Ohhh something weird and mysterious we don't understand it must be because of QM" nonsense. Hello, decoherence anyone? Outside of carefully prepared states, large collections of particles behave classically. You know, that's why we discovered classical physics first.

  • by bencollier (1156337)
    The way that people parrot Quantum Theory at the moment (in an attempt to explain anything vaguely unexplained) has parallels with the Victorian reliance on the Luminiferous Aether [wikipedia.org].
  • This explains why I'm never sure if I want the ice cream or the banoffee pie, until the waiter brings it over, and I realise I've made the wrong choice.
  • Unfortunately the kind people at the "Royal Society for Articles Only People with Money Can Read" would not allow me to review this research.

    Damn you RSAOPMCR!

    Now we'll have to find another acronym for "Read Slashdot's Article Or Present a Meaningful Counter/Rebuttal".

  • by RyanFenton (230700) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:12AM (#27598071)

    Obligitory XKCD comic [xkcd.com]

    The all-enveloping philosophical uncertainty of the human mind, and the uncertainty of quantum theory may describe similar things, and the statistics may even appear to match human decision making - but I'll paraphrase the classic line and say correlated statistics don't imply an actual relationship.

    Just like you can have rather startling symmetry between two structures in different creatures (convergent symmetry/evolution), when they were developed in drastically different ways (but facing the same need/phenomenon), the uncertainty in the human condition is based on our need to model the world in a quick and dirty manner. We need a way to model the ocean of unknown that houses our tiny plankton of knowledge.

    The uncertainty in quantum theory always seemed different as I understand it. It's unresolved variables, waveforms that haven't collapsed. Human minds may function with some electromagnetism, but decisions tend to be made on a larger scale than quantum uncertainty is going to have a large role in changing.

    That's a risk with quantum/string theories - they simplify the way we can view the world, in a way that can often conform with observation, but they still aren't a description of the world we actually live in. The simplicity and accuracy in some places is captivating, but they don't and shouldn't take the place of direct observation. We should NOT expect to get a special understanding of, for instance, the human mental state from theories on such phenomena we can only model but not test. It could happen - but this doesn't seem a valid path to connecting the two.

    Ryan Fenton

  • by memorycardfull (1187485) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:15AM (#27598105)
    Roger Penrose hypothesized this 20 years ago.
  • by greg_barton (5551) * <greg_barton.yahoo@com> on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:16AM (#27598123) Homepage Journal

    ...thought of this [rawilson.com] before... [amazon.com]

  • by Morten Hustveit (722349) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:16AM (#27598129) Homepage Journal

    Whenever I read about the (non-repeated) prisoner's dilemma, someone claims that the "rational" choice for either party is to defect, because it yields the highest payoff for one player. This seems to ignore an important point:

    The game involves three players - "prisoner one", "prisoner two" and "prison". If the prisoners form a team, it will be better for the team if both of them cooperate. There doesn't have to be any wishful thinking, but simply a goal of doing better for the team. You can never improve the score for the team by defecting.

    What is irrational or not always depends on what your goals are.

    • The game involves three players - "prisoner one", "prisoner two" and "prison".

      No it doesn't.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bluej100 (1039080)

      Interestingly, the most empirically successful strategy in iterated prisoner's dilemma games [wikipedia.org] is "tit for tat with forgiveness". If you're playing with someone who isn't as altruistic as you are, total welfare in the long run can be higher by punishing betrayal than by unconditional cooperation.

      In real life, you also have to consider reputation effects: if future partners will be aware of and punish you for your history of betrayal, the most successful strategy is to cooperate, even if you're playing selfish

  • So are they just saying that the mathematical tools of quantum theory are used to explain the effects or are they alluding to quantum mechanics itself being important to understand people's decisions? It sounds like they are saying they are just using the math, but it is a little unclear.
  • Randomness is Vital (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheLazySci-FiAuthor (1089561) <thelazyscifiauthor@gmail.com> on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:25AM (#27598241) Homepage Journal

    This type of decision making might simply be an evolutionarily-selected random seeding.

    For example, when running an evolutionary algorithm, it is vital to have randomness seeded into the mix. This allows for the system or algorithm to escape from local maxima.

    Douglas Adams had a great quote at the end of one of his last lectures regarding humans' re-invention of everything - nothing is ever 'good enough': http://www.guba.com/watch/3000053272 [guba.com]

    Perhaps this is all that just random, unpredictable outcomes from a horrendously complex system we call the brain, which has emerged out of a random, unpredictable and horrendously complex universe.

  • Homo Experimentus (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fuseboy (414663) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:26AM (#27598263) Homepage

    There are a lot of "are people rational" experiments along these lines, and my gut tells me that many run afoul of an incorrect understanding of the context in which experimental participants are making their decision.

    For example, if I choose to defect and screw my opponent, will I be exposed as a cheat when the results of the study are published? What will the experimenter think of me? Will that hurt my chances of an advantageous trade with the experimenter in the future? Am I likely to face reprisal from my opponent? What moral ground will I have gained in subsequent negotiations over an opponent who I knew cheated me? What does it do to my opinion of myself now that I consider myself untrustworthy?

    The brain has to balance innumerable factors such as this when considering the consequences of social actions. My suspicion is that these experiments teach us less about whether 'homo economicus' exists, and more about how hard it to design experiments to reveal him.

  • This paradoxical human behavior has resisted explanation by classical decision theory for over a decade.

    It's called free will. That, combined with stupidity, can lead to all sorts of hard to fathom decisions that people make all the time.

    I'm sorry, but if peoples' decisions were so easily predictable, the future would be largely known and advertisers would need to be experts in advanced math. Because free will and stupidity exist, they don't.

  • Oh, get off it (Score:5, Informative)

    by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:34AM (#27598385)

    The human mind is not a special and unique snowflake. You are a computer. I am a computer. You are a computer. The brain is literally a quivering mound of hacks: look at fMRI studies sometime. We operate according to the same laws of physics that govern that boiler over in the corner. Get over yourselves already.

    Look: maybe it was acceptable in the 18th century to imagine some special mechanism for the human mind, but no longer. There are simply no mental phenomena that require quantum mechanics to understand. It's far easier to suppose that we are simply flawed creatures that sometimes make bad decisions using heuristics adapted more for the African savannah than New York.

  • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @11:36AM (#27598427)

    I checked my pocket to see if I had any money and the measurement collapsed my wishful thinking wave function into an economic dystopia defined from negative infinity to positive infinity (sorry everybody).

    I wish I had checked my mail instead. I might have resolved the universe into a superposition sqrt((depression**2 +/- boomtime**2) / 2).

  • Simple truth (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CopaceticOpus (965603) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @12:15PM (#27598943)

    It all comes down to this: People always do what they think will make them happy.

    Considering how quantum processes might effect mental decisions is a rather intriguing notion, but it isn't likely to have practical value in understanding human nature.

  • You don't need to invoke quantum mechanics to explain why a bunch of software written over a period of several billion years using a random walk algorithm and just about every bad software development model (cargo cult programming, spaghetti inheritance, copy-and-paste, ...) doesn't always follow the optimal course of action.

    I blame Penrose. Not because I have a logical reason for it, but because blaming Penrose makes my R-complex feel good. Yummy.

  • Stupid research (Score:3, Insightful)

    by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot AT keirstead DOT org> on Thursday April 16, 2009 @12:37PM (#27599233) Homepage

    Two experimental tasks in psychology, the two-stage gambling game and the Prisoner's Dilemma game....

    The way people answer the prisoners dillema game has absolutely nothing to do with wishful thinking or not. The whole idea of the game is that "all rational players will play defect, all things being equal." The thing these researches are forgetting is the last part - all things being equal. All things are NEVER equal when playing the game - because anyone who is thinking rationally knows that the person on the other side of the game has just as high odds of themselves behaving irrationally as behaving rationally. Therefore, it really is a total crapshoot if defecting is beneficial to you or not.

    The prisoner's dillema is nothing mroe than a logic puzzle, it is not useful to apply in any given case. The only people who would answer consistently in the prisoner's dillema game are psych students - and that is just because they are trying to show off.

  • by Remus Shepherd (32833) <remus@panix.com> on Thursday April 16, 2009 @12:53PM (#27599403) Homepage

    My first reaction on reading this article? Of *course* quantum theory is closer to human thought than Markov modelling.

    Markov theory (assuming I understand it correctly) involves discrete separable states with transient (but still separable) intermediate states. Quantum mechanics involves superpositioned states -- states that are not separable, of which several can exist at the same time.

    Have you ever felt angry and sad at the same time? Happy and excited? Hungry and in pain? The human brain doesn't do discrete, separable emotional states. We're always some superposition of emotions, thoughts, and needs.

    As for wishful thinking, it's a state of hoping for one outcome while being mentally prepared for its opposite. Wishful thinking is, by definition, a superposition of mental states. Of course QM describes it better.

    When you think about it, this entire line of research deserves one big 'Duh'. But then, I suppose most great insights seem obvious after they've been discovered.

  • by DynaSoar (714234) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @01:12PM (#27599615) Journal

    The map is not the terrain. The model is not the phenomenon. No matter how detailed and accurate, this remains true. A particular model may describe something and have nothing to do with the real world.

    Wishful thinking is far more easily, accurately and realistically described by the well proven phenomenon cognitive dissonance supporting another well understood function that causes rapid jumps to wrong conclusions, heuristic problem solving. When done in a social context, the primary attribution bias would definitely contribute.

    The researchers in TFA, as psychologists, are certainly well aware of these facts. To present such an outlandish, unsupported and non-parsimonious construct when well understood and supported theory already explains more than their "model" (I find it highly unlikely they've actually constructed one) is to take science, dress it in miniskirt, knee high boots and too much make up, and send it out to walk the streets.

    http://www.humantruth.info/thinking_errors.html [humantruth.info]
    http://www.experiencefestival.com/cognitive_bias [experiencefestival.com]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wishful_thinking [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_attribution_error [wikipedia.org]

  • by cherokee158 (701472) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @01:31PM (#27599841)

    There is an implicit assumption by the mathematicians that people are not being rational because they are not choosing the mathematically optimal result.

    But I would argue that they are choosing the evolutionarily optimal result.

    Consider this: All game theory experiments in which the participants were likely to encounter the same players more than once during the experiment have indicated that the optimal strategy in the prisoners dilemma was an eye for an eye, with a tendency to cooperate or reconcile. That is, they would be inclined to trust the other guy, unless the other guy defects. This offers the best chance of achieving optimal results over multiple games.

    This is exactly what the participants did in the math study. And this is how people generally behave in a social society.

    Contrast that with a game where the participants are never known to one another and unlikely to encounter each other twice. In those scenarios, the optimum strategy was to screw your neighbor (defect). This was the strategy considered optimal by the mathematicians in the article. Since this is an unnatural environment, it is small wonder that the participants appeared to behave irrationally. But you don't need special math to describe it.

    We are hard wired to cooperate.

    That IS rational.

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