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What category/ies should this article be filed in? -- The Anome 14:10, 25 Oct 2004 (UTC)

Lovely example of Counter-Intuition.[edit]

Operations Research on RAF bombers returning from raids over Germany were asked where the planes should be reinforced.

The RAF said to reinforce the bullet holes.

The OR people said to reinforce the undamage pieces. They reasoned that bullet holes in returning planes did not cause them to crash, and thus did less harm, whereas planes that did not return may have had damage in places untouched in returned planes.

The RAF conclusion was commonsense and somehow obvious, but was wrong.

The OR conclusion required more thought, but on second thought, counter-intuitively, seem more correct.

This is one of the best example of CI that can be found!

Tabletop 10:05, 2 Feb 2005 (UTC)

I like that! Can you provide a cite for it, please, then we can weave it into the article. -- The Anome 14:12, 14 May 2006 (UTC)
I do not remember where I read this example. Tabletop (talk) 11:32, 4 October 2009 (UTC)

Classes of counterintuitive ideas[edit]

There seem to me to be three broad classes of counterintuitive ideas, in the sense of this article:

  • Those that involve scales of length, mass, energy, time, etc. that are either far greater or far less than those encountered in everyday life, where the local approximations of common sense (the Earth is flat, the Sun goes round the Earth, things always fall to Earth, species don't evolve, matter is continuous) no longer apply.
  • Those that extend the Copernican principle to a new field of application (the Earth is not the centre of the universe, space is empty and vast beyond imagining, man is an animal, all human history is just a blip in geological time) and thus take us out of our psychological comfort zone.
  • Those involving mathematics above high school level that contradict elementary mathematical understanding.

The reasons for these are (in my opinion) probably:

  • Under most commonly-experienced circumstances, at human scales of length, mass, energy, time, etc., common sense is generally a "good enough" approximation to reality for most practical purposes.
  • The mind is not good at imagining anything much more that a couple of orders of magnitude beyond these everyday limits.
  • Seeing oneself as an infinitesimal speck that exists for an insignificant moment of geological time in a not-particularly interesting random bit of a vast uncaring universe is not good for your psychological health; everyday psychological defenses against despair thus tend to reject ideas that support this world view.
    • (Anecdotally, astronomers, cosmologists and archaeologists are supposed to have higher suicide rates because of exposure to "deep time" and "deep space"; however I don't know if this is fact, or merely an urban legend.)
  • Grade school math is enough for 99.999% of everyday life, unless you are a scientist, mathematician, economist or engineer.

-- The Anome 14:12, 14 May 2006 (UTC)

Darwin Counter-Intuitive?[edit]

This article says: "Darwin's theory of evolution applies the same Copernican principle to the development of species, and also defies common sense in that the effects of Darwinian evolution are generally only visible over timescales considerably longer than a human life, and in the case of macroevolution, considerably longer than any timescale that can easily be imagined by human beings." I think this is not a good example of a counter-intuitive idea as most people think it is very intuitive. I am in favor of deleting this part. Truecobb 19:39, 12 April 2007 (UTC)

I don't experirience Darwins's ideas as couter-intuitive. The analogy with selective breeding and natural selection makes it easy to understand that over long timescales natural selection can change the appearance of a species considerably, as Truecobb says it is better to delete this part because it is not a good example.Viridiflavus 18:47, 13 April 2007 (UTC)

Ok, then let us delete this. Truecobb 19:07, 14 April 2007 (UTC)

optical illusions[edit]

I think a link to optical illusions would be appropriate as examples of counter intuitiveness? Anybody agree/disagree? JH-man 11:02, 17 July 2007 (UTC)

I must disagree, because I think the optical illusion works on a different level of conciousness. In counter-intuitiveness, thinking is involved (planes with bullet holes), not the way the brain processes visual information.Viridiflavus 14:12, 27 July 2007 (UTC)


"Counterintuitive", not "counter-intuitive". The Man in Question (talk) 07:02, 26 November 2007 (UTC)