Friday, July 24, 2009

Why do fools

Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers had a big hit in 1956 with "Why Do Fools Fall in Love"
Why do fools fall in love?
Why do birds sing so gay?
And lovers await the break of day
Why do they fall in love?
Always the rationalist, I wanted to answer, "Because pair-bonding improves the survival chances of offspring in any K-strategy species, especially ones that have long gestation times!" (OK, arguing evolutionary biology with a song on an oldies station may not be my most rationalistic moment, but let that pass.)

I believe that people really do have good reasons for the things that they, even the things that seem completely irrational and counterproductive. We fall in love because it's genetically advantageous to provide a stable home for child. We root for sports teams because pack-instincts improve our chances of survival in the wild.

Like Anne Frank, who wrote "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart," I've had some reason to reconsider my beliefs about people.

Why do people pay more than face value, often a lot more, for bid packs?

One possibility is rational ignorance. A person is busy, and it may be (overall) more efficient to make guesses and approximation rather than do the work of research and calculation. Once in a while, the theory goes, you lose money that way -- in this case, by not understanding you could get the same bid-pack much more cheaply -- but in the long run the time you save will supposedly compensate you for losses and inefficiencies.

I don't know if this really explains it. The bid-packs are marked "$30.00" in big bold type. The effort of reading and understanding that line, which is right in the center of the screen, is minuscule compared to the effort of actually bidding.

Another possibility is that winning itself, regardless of what is won or at what cost, is pleasurable for the bidder, enough so that he ignores or discounts his self-interest.

It might even be superstition. The universe is a complex place and it's difficult to trace causality. A bidder having a bad day might think that if he "wins" even one auction, at any price, he will be moved into that golden cohort called "Winners", people that universe favors in all things.

None of these explanations is particularly convincing and more and more I feel the appeal of my original, knee-jerk conclusion: some people are just nuts.

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