Exploring Hydrocarbon Depletion
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Page added on June 20, 2012
Kurt Cobb is the author of Resource Insights blog and Prelude, a Peak Oil novel
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman likes to pose the following problem to audiences to illustrate our habitual modes of thinking:
A bat and a ball cost $1.10 together and the bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
It turns out that about 50 percent of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology got the answer wrong. The proportion reached as high as 90 percent at other unnamed universities. Okay, now that you’ve had time to reflect on the answer, you’ll realize that your instinct was probably to answer 10 cents. But, of course, that’s wrong. And, all you have to do is some elementary math to realize it’s wrong, and then arrive at the correct answer: The ball costs 5 cents.
What’s in operation here are two systems of interpreting the world, one associative and one logical, often referred to in psychology as System 1 and System 2, respectively. System 1 picks up the numbers $1.10 and $1 and makes an incorrect leap that the ball costs 10 cents. System 2 does the math and then corrects the error. It’s something that happens every day in our lives. But, in this case what is at stake is regarded by most people as so trivial that even very smart ones fail to engage System 2 to check their answer. If, instead of being faced with a trivial problem that has no impact on your life, you were considering which house to buy, you would probably be engaging System 2 on a regular basis. You would be trying to determine if you were getting a fair price by, for example, checking home values nearby, comparing square footage and evaluating features such as a swimming pool or finished basement.
And, this brings me to my topic. Issues such as climate change and peak oil seem so abstract to most people that they do not see them as pressing issues that require a thorough analysis and immediate action. This is true because the effects are not immediately impinging on them or, at least, they unable to connect what effects there are to themselves. And, the usual fact-filled analysis that is often thrown at them therefore doesn’t interest them much. As it turns out, information that is new, but not consistent with one’s current belief system, is normally discarded by most people. Typically, only some exceptional concrete change of circumstances will cause people to open their belief systems to contradictory information.
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