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The Scipionic Circle 88: How Questions Shape Decisions, Short-Term Sacrifice for Long-Term Reward, and How Words Shape Perception and Memory
"Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked." — Viktor E. Frankl
Welcome to another issue of The Scipionic Circle — I hope you find something of value.
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Food for Thought
I. Social Engineering Through Question Framing: Influencing Choices and Behavior
"A few years ago, I was called by someone who was responsible for a programme to install smoke detectors in at-risk American housing. They had a problem: people were happy to receive a free smoke detector, but balked at having more than one installed. For instance, they might accept one in the entrance hall but decline one in a child’s bedroom. I am sure that in the longer term there is a design solution to this problem – making smoke detection integral in light bulbs or lighting fixtures, for instance. However, my immediate suggestion was to borrow an approach from restaurant waiters and get people to accept three or four. One of the great contributors to the profits of high-end restaurants is the fact that bottled water comes in two types, enabling waiters to ask ‘still or sparkling?’, making it rather difficult to say ‘just tap’. I had the idea of turning up at an apartment with five smoke detectors; the fire officer was to casually carry in all five, before saying, ‘I think we can make do with three here . . . How many would you like, three or four?’ We are highly social creatures and just as we find it very difficult to answer the question ‘still or sparkling?’ with ‘tap’, it is also difficult to answer the question about ‘three or four’ smoke detectors with with ‘one’. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb remarks, ‘the way a question is phrased is itself information’." — From Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don't Make Sense by Rory Sutherland.
II. The Power of Choices: Short-Term Sacrifice for Long-Term Success
"Like everything in life, if you are willing to make the short-term sacrifice, you’ll have the long-term benefit. My physical trainer (Jerzy Gregorek) is a really wise, brilliant guy. He always says, 'Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.' Basically, if you are making the hard choices right now in what to eat, you’re not eating all the junk food you want, and making the hard choice to work out. So, your life long-term will be easy. You won’t be sick. You won’t be unhealthy. The same is true of values. The same is true of saving up for a rainy day. The same is true of how you approach your relationships. If you make the easy choices right now, your overall life will be a lot harder." — From The Almanack of Naval Ravikant: A Guide to Wealth and Happiness by Eric Jorgenson.
III. The Influence of Language: How Words Shape Perception and Memory
"In a study by Ullrich Ecker and others, 'The Effects of Subtle Misinformation in News Headlines,' presented in the December 2014 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, students read an article about a small increase in burglary rates over the last year (0.2 percent) that was anomalous in a much larger decline over the past decade (10 percent). The same article came with one of two different headlines: 'Number of Burglaries Going Up” or “Downward Trend in Burglary Rate.' The headline had a significant effect on which facts in the article were remembered.
"The pattern was clear-cut: A misleading headline impaired memory for the article. . . . A misleading headline can thus do damage despite genuine attempts to accurately comprehend an article. . . . The practical implications of this research are clear: News consumers must be [made] aware that editors can strategically use headlines to effectively sway public opinion and influence individuals’ behavior.
"A related trap/trick is nudging. Aldert Vrij presents a compelling example in his book Detecting Lies and Deceit:
"Participants saw a film of a traffic accident and then answered the question, 'About how fast were the cars going when they contacted each other?' Other participants received the same question, except that the verb contacted was replaced by either hit, bumped, collided, or smashed. Even though the participants saw the same film, the wording of the question affected their answers. The speed estimates (in miles per hour) were 31, 34, 38, 39, and 41, respectively.
"You can be nudged in a direction by a subtle word choice or other environmental cues. Restaurants will nudge you by highlighting certain dishes on menu inserts, by having servers verbally describe specials, or by just putting boxes around certain items. Retail stores and websites nudge you to purchase certain products by placing them where they are easier to see.” — From Super Thinking: Upgrade Your Reasoning and Make Better Decisions with Mental Models by Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann.
Quotes to Ponder
I. Viktor E. Frankl on the essence of existential responsibility:
"Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible."
II. Henry David Thoreau on embracing solitude:
"I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude."
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