L'enfer, c'est les autres: Cognitive Biases and Simple Cluelessness Edition

One of the most pleasurable reading experiences one can have is when a writer nails something that one sorta knew to be true, somewhere there below the level of an explicit, thought-through idea. That's what I felt like when first reading Elizer Yudkowsky's "Planning Fallacy".

Yudkowsky reviews research which shows that people underestimate the time it takes to finish a task. One reason for this appears to be that they go about estimating the time by thinking about all the steps one needs to take in order to finish the task, add up the times it takes to complete those steps and think they have calculated the time they need to finish the task - without taking into account any unexpected delays. But unexpected delays happen all the time. That's the fallacy.

There is a fix if the task is broadly similar to one you've completed before: Ask yourself how much time you usually need to finish this kind of task. Likewise, you could ask an experienced outsider how long this sort of thing usually takes.

Note the qualification, though: An experienced outsider. I suggest that relative to an unexperienced outsider (a real outsider one might say), you will still have the upper hand at estimation. One, you probably know yourself better than the outsider does with respect to the questions at hand. (Yes, there are counterexamples.) Also, even if you haven't tackled the kind of project you're now doing before, it's likely that your experience contains tasks that are more similar than the one the outsider can draw on. So you've never written a novel, but perhaps you've written a short story? A lengthy feature article for a magazine? Fuck, even blogging can give you a more realistic appreciation of how long it takes to create a readable text.

As ample evidence suggests, however, there are many people whose minds don't contain the concept making a text readable (let alone elegant, etc., etc.). So it's not really surprising when you hear people ask, "What? It took him three years to type up 200 pages?"

Not sure that's what Sartre meant, but it fits quite nicely.

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