Beginner’s luck rationalized

Bob says that the the name Kepler is ‘popping of the screen’ at him. Was there any other reason why he chose that answer? Apparently not.

Now watch Neil..

To the question ‘ Which is the largest state in the USA?’, his first instinct was Alaska however he wasn’t sure becasue it was based on instinct and not knowledge. He decides to phone a friend Darrel. Darrel picks Texas but says he isn’t sure. We have to remember the Darrel was a radio jockey. Without any hesitation Neil sticks to his gut feeling, picks Alaska and gets the answer right.

Here’s a quiz show called The Eggheads. In  every episode a group of people from different walks of life tries to beat the Eggheads, reputed to be the best  quizzers in Britain. The participants often voice their thought processes and the entire cognitive path they took  to reach an answer. However, they do take guesses..not the educated guesses but the completely wild ones that are purely based on intuition.

From four episodes of the show, here’s a chart of the total number of blunt guesses of eggheads and visitors and the number of times the were right.

(Please click on eggheads to open the chart)


The probability of a right guess is 66.67% for the Eggheads and 60% for the others. What’s interesting is that out of every 100 wild guesses form both the eggheads and the visiting team, around 63  happen to be right. But it’s also worth mentioning that every time a member of a visiting team went against his initial impulse and second guessed his/her moves, it was most likely wrong. Probably this explains beginner’s luck..afterall there is a 60% chance of getting it right provided you throughly believe in two things: 1. That you do not know the answer and there is no way to figure it ou and 2. That your gut is always right.

The art of paying attention


Yes, most of us will in this case. What if there was a monstrous looking picture at the centre of the frame? Will we stare at the empty space in the frame or the picture? Definitely the picture.  Our guess could be that our minds are equipped with the ability to cherry pick the relative minority or a difference. Both the flower and the monster are differences we observe in comparison to the plain area we see in the frame.

Now  let’s consider this picture..IMG_3722

If our minds were equipped only to spot out differences  , then what we’d focus on will be the remaining space on the white frame and not the splash of colours. However we all know that is not true.  We have to guess again. Let’s say that the flower, the monster and the splash of colours immediately called for more mental engagement than the empty space on the frames. The act of processing the details of the flower, monster or the beautiful colours is what we call ‘focussing’.  Our new guess is that our brains focus their energies onto more attention demanding or ‘engaging’  aspects than those that are easy to process like the white board.

It is interesting to note here the white background is used to emphasize the beauty of the splash of colours. However there are few others who think slightly more of the prowess of a humble plain shade.

For example Robert Rauschenberg painted what’s shown below and called it the ‘White Painting’.


If are minds were to focus on the relatively more engaging aspects, what would they pick here? Four squares? These are things that still our minds. They will be left unable to jump into a state which involves observation, analysis and other cognive processes but are left with something indescribable. In short, Robert Roschenberg was one of the people who tried the emphasize the various  ‘shades’ of white rather than using it as a quiet medium to bring other hues in the limelight. He gave a loud and assertive voive to the humble white in his paintings. In a way if his paintings were  music,then they would belong to the genre of the  loudest ,the most beautiful and emphatic sounds of silence ever heard.

We notice here that the more indescribable the object, the quieter the chatter in the brain. After all it is said, ‘ Quiet the mind, and the soul will speak’.




The Postman Problem – Part Two

We saw in the previous post how my mind found a way to believe that it was the postman who knocked at the door. We also saw how quickly it found a reason to believe in the best.

Now let us imagine the same door, only this time  the door is imaginary and there is no postman on the other side but other possibilities that we could chalk out.

Test Possibility: The Case of Ice Age, Live on Tour@Wembley Arena

I have seen the Ice Age series of movies and I like them a lot.  I somehow have this notion that I’d  like them on the screen better than on a stage. (Have to mention that I have never before seen them on a stage and I am completely ignorant of how much better or worse they could be  ) .

And let’s say I’ve been at the Wembley Stadium for a football match and had a very positive experience. After a month, I happen to see this  advertisement at the train station. In other words, this time it is this poster that knocked at my imaginary door.


Because my mind had registered a pleasant experience at the stadium earlier on , I open its doors and consider attending the show. Maybe I’ll not find it as amazing as I found on the screen but it is Wembley afterall. Or even better,maybe the show will turn our great, who knows?

Now let’s say, I had never been to the Wembley previously at all and  do not particularly have an urge to be there .  I do not really know how it feels like to be there. I’ll look at the poster and think of it as a kids’ show which probably was meant for them anyway. Would I bother to give it a second thought and consider attending? I do not think so.

In short this is possibly how my mind worked to reach the belief that the show’s  going to be good..

‘Wembley-Good. IceAge-Good. IceAge Live-???? But Wembley-Good. Ice Age -Good. Ice Age Live…Must be Good.’

and a child who had never been to Wembley must have thought..’Ice Age-WOW!. Wembley-Must be Cool. Ice age Live at Wembley-WOOOWWW’

Our minds have this ability to think that when two or more good but very different things come together,the overall effect must be good. Some call it an experience. Interestingly, the thrill or the pleasure of all experiences originates in our very own minds.

Oh! And maybe that is why some movie stars endorse silly shampoos and fetch money!

The postman problem – Part One

Of the millions of  possibilities, let us imagine three different chain of events, the context being a knock at the door.

Series #1: My order for a box of chocolates is due today and I am impatiently waiting for it.

Series #2 : I expect no parcel today.

Series#3: I expect no parcel and the post man’s voice seemed a lot different.

Here’s my attempt at a diagrammatic representation of  my possible behaviour. ( Please click on the picture to see it enlarged.)


It is worth mentioning that if the postman’s voice were a little and not a lot different, I would not use the peep hole.

And in series#3, I see the red jacket alone (not the face) and still opens the door . (Why did I see through the peep hole anyway? I could have opened the door without the bother.)

I am tempted to say that in each of the chain of events leading to the door being opened, I had some reason or belief in my mind to help support my action. They are as follows:

In series#1, I believed that it is ‘obviously’ the box of chocolates at the door.

In series#2, my belief was that I could tell the voice of the postman from within the door. (Truth is I would not know it if it were to be mixed with a lot of other similar sounding voices.)

In series#3,  Since I know that postmen wear red, I have no reason to doubt the voice .I saw the red jacket myself. Here I assumed the faith that no other but the red clad postman is at the door.

From this experiment,I understand that my mind has a way of conjuring a belief or faith completely skewed toward how it wants or wishes things to be. In the above , my mind wanted me to be safe and unharmed. It wanted to know that  the postman and no imposter knocked at the door.

Taming the dinosaur


That pretty looking T-Rex is the cause of thought experiment#1.  He was animated so well with a not-so- friendly roar and a  realistic head sway  that I made eye contact a couple of times and  guesed  what he was thinking.  I was at Ripley’s Believe It or Not. After seeing more exhibits I came across a picture of another dinosaur but what really caught my eye  this time was the note that was attached to it. The note said that it  lived 90,000,000 years ago. I tried to picture how so long ago those many years could mean and almost gave up.

Making a note of what I saw, did and thought, I get the following..

  1. When I wrote the above paragraph, I unintentionally called the first dinosaur ‘him’ and the other ‘it’.
  2. My mind showed active engagement with the first dinosaur and gave secondary importance to the note.
  3. When it came to the second, the engagement was transfered to the number of years on the note attached.
  4. In both cases, I knew for sure that the dinosaurs weren’t alive and could never eat me up.

Now, Let us try to guess possible  behavioral changes by picturing slightly different scenarios and asking a few what ifs?

What if ?  The T-Rex wasn’t life size but had all the animations intact.

Well..I would consider it a toy and may or may not have read the note attached.

What if ?  The second dinosaur’s picture was enlarged to life size and had loud sound effects attached  inclusive of a roar with giant footsteps proceeding towards me .

I guess I would have read the the note but would also have pictured a deadly dinosaur chase in the head. In  effect, my mind engages with both dinosaur and the ridiculously long length of time.

In short, I have ripped open a few facets of my behavior and they are:

  1. The more real the entity (the ferocious dinosaur) becomes,the better the attention it draws onto itself.
  2. The less real the entity seems, the attention shifts to the next ‘wow’ thing which  in this case is 90,000,000 years.
  3. There is  an  ‘in between’ point  where my mind can be made to engage simultaneously in a visual and verbal feast. It can be made to think about the dinosaur and the number of years at the same time by bringing  a few alterations to the scenario.
  4. Affection is always earned by the thing that is closest to being real, in this case the first dinosaur, the one in the picture.

Maybe that is why admen has come up with interactive ads like this one..

.. or  even this where emotions were evoked when  real life situations that usually went unnoticed were presented on a big screen.


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