Challenging statements made under System 1 thinking

Last week, I wrote about the cognitive dissonance often encountered in risk estimation. Just after writing that post, I came across this photo, which had a few comments that I would like to comment onSystem 1 Gematria:

First off, assigning numerical value to letters is a well-known method, known as gematria. It has been used for pseudo-science for ages. It is first order hokum, but can be interesting, not to mention entertaining, nevertheless. It should not, however, be confused with valuable insights. The assumption that the numbers refer to percentages is clearly self-serving, in that that is the only way the argument can be made.

However, it gets worse when we look at the comments. Here is one, taken verbatim from the comment section of the photo:

It’s probably not a coincidence that “Attitude” comes before both “Success” and “Failure” in the dictionary.

The author of the comment is, of course, both right, and wrong. He is right, in that there is no coincidence in “Attitude” being listed ahead of “Failure” and “Success” – they follow in that sequence when listing words in alphabetical order, as is the commonly accepted practice when publishing dictionaries. He is wrong, however, in the implied argument that the numerical value is higher, and that that is the reason why they are listed in that order.

My point – yes, believe it or not, there actually is one – is to challenge “words of wisdom” like this, because they are not wise. They demonstrate the tendency most of us have to go for System 1 thinking. Now, there is nothing inherently bad in System 1 thinking, and it has been part of what has ensured the continued survival of mankind for millenia. It does, however, mean that we overstate the importance of something, such as the assigned numerical value of these letters.

Now, attitude is important, and hiring for attitude (while accepting that skills can be taught) is certainly a good and valuable approach. The wisdom of the quote ends there, however, and I find the notion that hard work and knowledge is somehow less worth than attitude to be laughable.

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