A scientist has asked you to take part in a test. It is a simple test, all you have to do is work out a pattern of numbers. He gives you three numbers to start with and then asks you to give him another set of three numbers. In return he will let you know if they follow the pattern or not. The first three numbers are: 2, 4, 6
The answer is obvious. Most of us (even me) would guess: 8, 10, 12
The experimenter confirms that the guess follows the pattern. Then he asks for another set of three numbers. How about: 14, 16, 18
… You’d be happy to make a fair-sized bet that the pattern is sequential even numbers. And you would be flat-out wrong
What do you believe?
What the experiment shows is that we search for confirmation of what we believe to be true. If we get that confirmation then we believe it to be even more truer than we did before (dreadful English). Once we have confirmed our belief we stop asking questions. …
A few more numbers:
What if I tell you that both: 10, 108, 804 and 1, 2, 3 follow the pattern? Or that neither of the sequences: 1.5, 2.5, 3.5 nor 3, 2, 1 do? What do you think the pattern is now? In the interests of sanity the pattern is increasing whole numbers.
You only learn when you get it wrong
Repeated guesses that confirm what we already know don’t help us. The only way to understand the pattern is to start making predictions in the hope of getting them wrong. Predictions that invalidate our beliefs instead of reinforcing them.
Paul H Schoemaker tried this test out on college students. He discovered that only 10% of students worked out the right answer. Even when they could make as many predictions as they wanted.
The pattern is rarely uncovered unless subjects are willing to make mistakes – that is to test numbers that violate their beliefs. Instead, most people get stuck in a narrow and wrong hypothesis.
So the next time you try something new, make sure to include some things you don’t think will work. Who knows what you will find?”