I have the unfortunate pleasure of watching my favorite football team, Arsenal, week in and week out. Yeah, the team might be going through a rough patch right now, but so are the fans, and the football “pundits” as they like to call themselves, rip into the team, game after game.
However, these “pundits” have something that the players don’t have on the field: the benefit of hindsight. It is the ability to judge an event after it has already occurred, otherwise known as the “I-totally-knew-it-all-along-but-waited-until-after-it-happened-to-say-it” theory. Hindsight bias allows these analysts to rip into the team’s performance, but hey, you can’t argue with a pundit can you?
Being subjected to this bias is a daily phenomenon at my house. We play this card game called “Monopoly Deal” which is basically a simplified version of the classic Monopoly game. The objective is to create 3 full property sets of the same color. Pretty simple. I like to think of myself as a pretty calm kid, but this game, this game is what sends me over the edge just a little bit. I find myself thinking five-six moves ahead of where I actually am, which leads to my eventual downfall as I let out an internal scream and cry over my 8th consecutive loss.
As I sit there, contemplating my life choices which have led me to that moment, I can only think back at all the moves I could have played to have emerged victorious. I should’ve forced my mom to pay me that $4 million in rent… or stolen that red property from my dad when I had the chance… A classic example of hindsight bias, but how did I end up in that situation?
I just wanted the comfort of knowing that I could have won the game, that I’m smart enough to have won, and that I’m smart enough to figure out exactly why I lost. Since I had predicted a win for myself in the next 5-6 moves, losing triggered a part of me that looked back and said, “well, duh Dhairya, you obviously lost because of that move you did/didn’t make. You just went with the wrong option.” But I am only able to say that so confidently because I have the benefit of hindsight.
Once the game ended and I knew all my opponents’ cards, it was easy to put two and two together. During the game, I had limited knowledge of the situation and could only predict the outcome based on two elements; my own cards, and the properties laid out in front of everyone. So, I guess what I’m asking you is, is it really worthwhile to try to figure out what you could or should have done in this 15-minute game? Especially when the information you have during and after the game is so different?
Let’s look at this game of Monopoly from a different perspective. Why did I just casually think I would win that round in just 5-6 moves, aka another 5-6 whole ROUNDS with three other players? Who did I think I was?! This dilemma of making such unrealistic but seemingly-realistic-at-the-time predictions has been coined as “forecast illusion” by author Rolf Dobelli.
In his book titled The Art of Thinking Clearly, each chapter deals with a different bias or fallacy, and how to avoid falling in their trap. The chapter on forecast illusion talks about the dangers of making predictions about phenomena that really aren’t predictable. Every other day, we witness a group of economists coining a new country as the future superpower of the world, or scientists at an ivy-league school predicting what the inventions of the future will be.
But there are arguably thousands of factors that go into making such claims, is it even humanly possible to make such specific predictions without a supernatural force at play? The issue with these people making predictions is that there are no repercussions to their actions. If somehow, they prove to be correct, they bask in the glory. But if wrong, I mean they were just predictions anyway, we can’t always be right, right?
This leniency and lack of liability mean powerful people can predict literally anything without facing the music. I, on the other hand, am officially in my longest Monopoly Deal losing streak, so I know a thing or two about facing the music. So next time you hear me or someone with a little more credibility make a wild claim, take it with a grain of salt.
All this talk about the past and future begs me to ask one question, what about the present? Let’s put it this way. It’s the summer before his senior year of high school, and our good friend Jake is stressing about getting into a good college. He’s been a pretty good student his whole life, and his dream school is Harvard.
He’s doing some pretty in-depth analysis of his past academic records and trying to determine what he’ll need in his first semester of 12th grade to “guarantee” admission. As the college process ensues, there are two possible outcomes that can occur: 1- He is able to balance his academics and the application process in order to get in, or 2- He frets too much about making the application look perfect that his academics suffer, jeopardizing his odds. Instead of focusing on the best version he could be of himself in the present, Jake got so carried away with his past performance and future prospects that he forgot about his current priorities.
Did he get into Harvard? Who knows, but he probably didn’t qualify for a scholarship or two anymore.
I know, it’s easier said than done to avoid falling in the traps of hindsight bias and forecasting, but I mean what better time to start than now?! Living in the now is so important, as cheesy as it sounds. All those “live, laugh, love” posters have to amount to something right? I promise you, the clearer the world is around us now, the more attainable our future goals will seem. So next time you choose to stop talking to your older sister because she beat you for the 4th game of Monopoly Deal in a row, instead of plotting your revenge or crying about the past, perhaps it’s time for you to admit that Monopoly Deal just isn’t really your game.
About the author:
My name is Dhairya Ghai and I’m of the belief that humor can be utilized to bring light to any matter!
drawing by pigwire