I’m writing this blog post from beautiful Trafalgar Park in Victoria, BC.
This post is about what I consider to be healthy skepticism. I think that I am a skeptic in most things in life. I will explain why I am, and why you should consider it.
Two influences have affected my skepticism:
1. Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, fast and slow” (http://www.amazon.ca/Thinking-Fast-Slow-Daniel-Kahneman/dp/0385676514)
2. My first year psychology course
I’ll start in reverse order:
In my first year psychology course, I really enjoyed reading the textbook. It made a strong argument as to why psychology was and should be considered a science. It also made a strong distinction between science and pseudoscience.
The biggest lesson gained from this course was that our brains are NOT designed to understand our world. They are instead designed to impose order upon our worlds.
What does this mean? It means that our brain has a tendency to take meaningless, unrelated events and then relate them together. The brain has the tendency to mix up causation with correlation. From an evolutionary standpoint, this serves us a purpose: if we drink water from a tainted source, then feel sick, we associate feeling ill with the tainted water source and stay away from it in the future. This is an association that we make, but not an explanation. The brain is often not happy with no explanation, so if it can’t see the carcass of a rotting antelope sitting in the water source, it will make up an explanation. If this water drinking individual is from a less enlightened age, he or she might attribute the sickness from the drinking water to evil spirits. If you or I were to drink this water, we instead might attribute our feeling ill to some sort of micro-bacteria in the water. We use what’s called a heuristic to make this determination. I will talk about heuristics next. Realize that this determination is not a result of scientific inquiry, but instead a result of what most easily comes to mind. To truly determine what the source of contamination is, we must actually test the water.
A heuristic is a mental shortcut that we use. It helps provide quick and easy answers to questions in our life. A heuristic requires very little effort and is quick, which is good. But heuristics are also often incorrect. I’ll give a few examples in a minute. Heuristics are a product of what Kahneman calls our System 1 way of thinking. We have another way of thinking that is slow and effortful, but can take in more information. This is the style of thinking that is active when you are writing an essay, or thinking hard about a math problem. Kahneman says that this style of thinking is called System 2. System 2 would be necessary for scientific inquiry.
A couple of heuristics that bias our thinking are:
The Narrative fallacy
Post hoc fallacy
The narrative fallacy is our tendency to construct a story to explain events that have occurred. For example, when reading texts about World War I, authors explain that WWI was caused by a neatly ordered, identifiable set of events. In reality, there were an infinite amount of factors that contributed to WWI…too many for the human mind to comprehend, and too many to track. But instead of saying that, and listing all the events that may or may not have contributed to WWI in some random order, we have the human tendency to want to see a neatly organized set of events leading up to a cataclysmic world war.
Post hoc fallacy is where we believe that some factor caused an event to happen just because it occurred before said event. An example might be the tainted water. Perhaps the water wasn’t tainted at all, but the person who drank the water was sick to begin with. That person didn’t consider that as a possibility, but erroneously thought that the water was the cause of the sickness.
So why the story of the water and sickness? Well, if we were to apply that to hockey and training for hockey, we see how biases and heuristics can affect our thinking.
-Jim went to a certain hockey camp before he had a great season. The hockey camp caused his success.
-Bob shot 1000 pucks everyday all summer. He had an improved shot when he came into camp. This is the only way to improve your shot.
-Sasha does a lot of core strengthening exercises. She’s hard to knock off the puck. Everyone needs to do core strengthening exercises.
-Joe’s dad won a hockey championship when he was younger. He said that his team fought three times a game. You need to fight to win hockey championships.
As I’m sure you detected, these statements are deliberately over the top. However, many people think about hockey and sports in this way. (A caused B, ergo you should do A). Those statements could very well be true, but they should be validated. What if there was a way to improve your shot as well as Bob, without shooting 1000 pucks? Wouldn’t you be mad that you could have spent your time in a different way? What if you didn’t actually need to do core exercises to improve your ability to be knocked off the puck? What if you could do exercises that improve your lower body strength and core at the same time? Wouldn’t you want to do that? What if Sasha developed her puck protection ability by playing soccer and basketball, and she erroneously attributed her success to her core exercises? You and her might both be wasting your time on core exercises!!
I’m not saying that core exercises are bad, or that shooting 1000 pucks is a waste of time. I’m also not claiming that all knowledge in hockey is incorrect. What I am saying is: let’s validate claims about how to train. Let’s validate how we select players for teams. Let’s validate claims about how to develop skills.
Why? Why not just do what people have always done? Why not just ask what all the best players have done and replicate it? As I already mentioned, even they may be unaware as to what training they did that actually had the most impact on their performance and improvement.
I’ll take a quote from Alice in Wonderland (maybe paraphrasing a bit): “Everyone is running as fast as they can to stay in the same spot”. This means that everyone who wants to succeed in hockey (and everything else in life) is already doing all they can to get better than you. You’re all doing everything you can to get better, but you’re all getting better at the same rate. If you want to stand out above the rest, you need to ruthlessly eliminate inefficiencies so that you are maximizing the RATE of your development and learning.
I’m not saying I have all the answers. What I’m saying is that I’m searching for them. I think that you should help search for them too.