Stochastic processes

The snacks I consumed at work yesterday:
* 4 Nutter Butter Cookies ^
* 6 Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers ^
* 4 Nature Valley Peanut Granola Bars +

That’s over 1000 calories of peanut-based food. Now, granted, I like peanuts, but this is just too much. Sadly, it’s simply another result of my deterministic tendencies.

Not sure if I’ve described this phenomenon before, but it turns out that I have too many green shirts. It so happens that I like the color green slightly more than I like other colors. So you might expect that I have slightly more green shirts than shirts of other colors. But noooo. Instead, when I’m thinking of buying a shirt, the green one always looks slightly better and so I often (but not always) end up buying it. That is, my slight green preference manifests itself every time I buy a shirt, rather than just in aggregate. The result: I have more than twice as many green shirts as shirts of any other specific color, even though I only like green a little bit more.

Similarly, with snacks. The peanut butter snack always looks just a bit better (especially when I’m at the grocery store, where I got these snacks on subsequent trips, and I haven’t been gorging myself on peanut stuff recently). Oof. Now I’m paying the price. Next time, I’m going to make decisions probabilistically.

^ (“Made with real peanut butter!”)
+ (“Dipped in peanut butter coating. Bursting with peanuts!”)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Stochastic processes

  1. snafuuu says:

    I’m kind of the same way about red; you should ask Brandon about all the red shirts he has to wash. Red’s not even my favorite color — that would be purple. But for whatever reason, if red is a choice when I’m clothing-shopping, I’ll almost always get the red shirt, skirt, sweater, etc… unless Brandon is there to pull me in another direction.

  2. cychan says:

    This is interesting… I totally do the same thing. We came home from the grocery store once with 3 tubs of ice cream, each with a peanut butter/chocolate theme to it. By the end of the third tub, we were getting sick of the flavors.

    It seems to be another manifestation of the, “short term over long term” effect where people make decisions that have a long-term effect based on short-term wants/desires/effects. In the snack case, we make purchasing decisions for food that will be consumed over a long period of time based on what we feel like eating right now. The clothing case fits a little less well, but you ignored the big picture of your wardrobe and make a decision based on what appealed immediately to you.

    If I had to theorize, I’d say humans have evolved this way because, before “modern times”, our immediate survival was always paramount. We could always worry about future problems later as long as we managed to survive the day. This is unfortunate: it indicates that even when we have near “perfect information”, we are still incapable of making “rational” decisions (in the sense that economists use the term).

    • aj says:

      Right. If I had to theorize further, I’d say it’s a result of two things:

      1. We are generally quite bad at predicting how our current actions will affect our future happiness. I think I’ve written about this before in my LJ.

      2. We are generally bad at acting with randomness. Humans are “creatures of habit”, who often act with “foolish consistency”, etc. Our decision processes are just not wired in that way, it seems. I know nothing abou neural nets, but maybe if our brains are modelled correctly, this result falls out naturally.

      • cychan says:

        I’m not sure if acting with randomness is exactly what you want. Granted, if you had acted with some randomness in buying your snacks or shirts you’d almost certainly have done better than having bought all peanut butter or all green. But it seems (to me at least) that what you really want to do is get the “optimal” combination of shirts. In that case, you’d still do best acting deterministically, but with perfect rationality that maximizes your long-term utility. You’d say something to yourself like, “Given my current wardrobe and my beliefs about my future purchases, the shirt that will give the highest expected utility is the purple one.”

        • aj says:

          Yeah, you’re totally right. The funny thing is that when you’re buying clothes, or food, you’re very often trying to think about the future. About what meals we’re going to make, or how long fruit will last, or whether this shirt would go well with those pants (or, supposedly, if it’ll look good for such-and-such upcoming engagement), and even whether we already have enough milk in the fridge.

  3. rwclark says:

    I’ve had the same problem with blue shirts. I have to make an effort to avoid them. Never thought about it as deterministic, but you’re right, of course.

  4. Anonymous says:

    i think you’re overanalyzing aj. i think it’s just that peanut butter is one of the most superior foods in the world. :)

    • cychan says:

      here here! (about the peanut butter part)

      People used to tell me that I overanalyze stuff all the time. And I don’t think I’ve changed: I think people have just started to humor (ignore) me. In any case, I really like these posts, AJ. =)

      • aj says:

        Haha, I don’t think I could really be accused of not loving peanut butter. We’re talking 1000 calories of it. Per day. And the eating was delicious — it was the digestion that made me think twice. In fact, Cy, if you have any of that peanut butter-based ice cream left…. I might be interested ;).

  5. johnxorz says:

    What, no king sized snickers? 500 calories of peanutty goodness, baby!