The mariner observed a news item on television that claimed drinking four cups of coffee or less suggests that his life will be extended by lowering his risk of a heart attack. The mariner is skeptical about the statistical announcements that claim to modify one’s lifespan.
When the mariner was a teenager, he owned a 1939 Chevrolet four-door. In those days, motor manufacture was not as precise as it is today. A gallon of gasoline did not go very far; adding a quart of oil when one filled the tank was de rigueur. Paperback magazines, comic books and newspapers had frequent advertisements for additives to the gas tank or the oil pan that would increase mileage by x miles per gallon, or less oil consumption per gallon. One ad was for belt wax that assured better performance in all moving parts of the engine.
The mariner once added all the claims and determined, skeptically, that if he used every additive, he could increase miles per gallon by fifty percent.
I recently wrote a post called “Our Brain and Probability.” Its premise was that it is hard for the brain to understand events that may or may not occur. The brain wants to say, “Oh, if I drink less than four cups of coffee, I won’t have a heart attack as soon as I would if I drank more coffee.” Someone within that statistical assumption will have a heart attack tomorrow at age forty-five.
No matter how many samples are in a probability table, the conclusion is never absolute.
The brain can add all the suggested preventatives that minimize heart attacks and determine that one will not have a heart attack until the age 105. Death by automobile accident was not in the table.
The current cause is to eat heart healthy diets. The diet approach does not put a probability in its claims, only that one can live without having a heart attack at all. It does not mention that arthritis, cancer or dementia statistics will rise in old age or that slip in the bathtub….
The point is this: The brain is poor at understanding probability. However, the brain is quite superior in its ability to rationalize. For example, the brain can associate being overweight with eating too much. No probability involved. Given the will, one can lose weight by not eating as much. When one will die is not part of the equation except some pencil person will want to find the probability that being overweight affects lifespan by X percent.
Examples are infinite. Driving habits include dozens of rationalities, for example, whether we choose to be rational or irrational by using our text devices at sixty miles per hour. Being rational or irrational is an issue within the brain rather than executing a probability that you may die. One does not say, “It’s my turn to die so that the probability can be true.”
The modern American has so many information sources that they are overwhelmed with information that is useless, half-true, or bogus altogether. Some information may be true but irrelevant. There are two realities, perhaps even two separate worlds, when one listens to FOX news then listens to MSNBC. At PBS the news is rinsed in cold water before broadcasting.
One also must deal with the surreal world of retail advertising. If one watches a commercial on television, one must be careful not to make rationalizations based on the commercial. The mini-realities in beer commercials are particularly surreal. If you drink beer (brand does not matter), you must be one of those beautiful thirty-year olds who have money to burn and know the words to a beer song. Be thirsty, my friend.
The mariner surmises that his rhetoric comes from a reaction to the falsehood presented by information providers. Remember in the Viet Nam war when the US ran an ‘incursion’ into Cambodia? The true word is ‘invasion.’ Today, a coup is not a coup in Egypt; it is the removal of a troublesome, albeit elected, President by military force. The US President, who is the legal arbiter to determine whether it is a coup, fills the air with “I am not required to execute that law.” (referring to the law that says if Egypt has a coup, the 1.5 billion in US aid will stop).
Politics is as bad as beer commercials except politicians use real bullets and our pocket money to sustain their surrealistic world.
It is very hard for one to obtain unbiased and truthful information that is relative to a person’s daily decisions. I wonder if the historian Josephus had a similar problem.