Oddly enough, I read this and came to the conclusion that the author was not so smart.
The premise here, that there is some underlying objective version of reality when it comes to consuming works of art (wine, food at restaurants, TV images, or even haircuts.) is extremely flawed. This article is like comparing the price of haircuts to the amount of hair removed. Yes, there is a metric, but I'm not sure it has meaning.
You drink wine or eat in a nice restaurant for the experience you receive, not for where the food comes from. Expectations are part of that experience, sure, but trying to assign it all to "expectations" is just a rhetorical dodge. How can anything experiential not involve expectations? It can't. It's ludicrous to think otherwise.
These things are not evidence of you not being so smart, they are evidence of the wonderful experiential nature of being alive. Isn't it great that we can plan and dream about a very inexpensive upcoming trip to the mountains and end up having a better time than somebody who spent 100 times as much for a much longer holiday? Or that we can spend an extra 40 dollars on a bottle of wine and imagine how much better the experience will be -- thereby increasing our eventual enjoyment? There's nothing dumb or not-so-smart about this. This is the human experience. Anybody who has ever spent any time around children understands that this subjectivity is a huge part of our makeup. In fact, to suppose that somehow this would be news to anyone is to assume the audience thinks of themselves as super-rational machines. Perhaps that's the problem: I'm not a member of the target audience. Still, I didn't like it. These books are the kinds you read and end up thinking "People are really broken! They are pretty stupid!" which is most likely the same damn thing you thought before you picked up the book in the first place.
But seriously, this is a good example of how meta-contarianism goes wrong. An example would be the lottery. Contrarian position: 'the lottery exploits human biases and rips them off, ruining lives.' Meta-contrarian: 'ah, but the lottery lets you buy hope, and is cheap at the price! You simply don't appreciate what it does and expose your own intellectual shallowness by being against it!' But really, the lottery just sucks, because if you want to buy hope, there's a lot of better ways to buy hope and engineer superior lotteries http://lesswrong.com/lw/hl/lotteries_a_waste_of_hope/ eg. by running long-drawn-out lotteries where you could win at any time over years! (Hey, if people can enjoy a 1 in a millions chance of winning, then they can enjoy a 1 in a millions chance of winning.)
We can run the same analysis with fine wine. Contrarian: 'expensive wine does not taste better as proved by blind-testing per OP, so it is simply a waste of money and expensive positional signaling which makes us all worse off.' Meta-contrarian: 'this is evidence of the wonderful experiential nature of being alive, isn't it grehttp://lesswrong.com/lw/hl/lotteries_a_waste_of_hope/at how framing can make us happier?'
Well if that is so, why don't you engineer better framing? For example, if you couldn't buy a particular fine wine but instead buy a 90% chance of the fine wine and a 10% chance of an equally-good tasting wine (as measured by blind testing), would peoples' enjoyment fall by more than 10%? Probably not, in which case there's a clear utility gain here to make people happier at less cost! Or, does their enjoyment fall by more than 10%? Then here's another chance to win, by making the gamble the other way. (There's always a way to exploit a bias, after all, that's kind of the point.) But the status quo is not the best status.
Well if that is so, why don't you engineer better framing?
Yes, I'd agree with that, and that's why the article rubbed me the wrong way. I don't think the facts here are in contention at all, it's the tone and slant of the piece.
And yes, the status quo is not always best. In fact, on HN we talk about this issue of framing all the time, just in different, productive contexts: sales pipelines, product positioning, social validation, etc. The list of productive ways to discuss this issue are legion, and it's an awesome and useful thing to talk about. In fact there's only one way to discuss this is a non-productive manner: the way it was discussed in this article, as some sort of failing of the human mind. (It's not a bug, it's a feature!)
I'm also a bit of an existentialist, and this plague of over-rationalization and assuming that everything can somehow be tied to a scientific metric is getting a bit old by now. Huge parts of life are experiential, and that's the way they should be. The geek guy inside us all who thinks that it's all logic and science can become his own caricature if given too much room to run. We are not all little Mr. Spocks, able to get a "true" vision of reality by ditching our emotional, subjective experience of life for some sort of scientifically-valid viewpoint. That was the real emotional roots of my disagreement, not social posturing or any desire to be a contrarian.
I'm going to say this a little differently in hopes the point will sink in: yes, many experiences you have -- probably most experiences you have -- are affected by the vagaries of the human mind. As startup founders, lots of us would like to help you have an even better time of things without spending as much of your resources. The entire purpose of an early-stage startup is to create and shape a narrative that begins with you hearing about something and ends with you being a little happier. Sometimes a lot happier. If you're thinking of the human brain and human experience as something that's broken about us and something that you can hack by making people do things they wouldn't? This is the kind of thinking that gets you Farmville. I don't like where that kind of clinical thinking ends up. It's wrong. It pisses me off.
In fact, your entire line of questioning around why wine has to cost so much or lotteries charge for the dream of winning is exactly the reason I think the startup and entrepreneurial communities rock. We're always asking that question too. Many times we find answers that most people don't want to accept, but that's okay. Most importantly we're doing something positive about it. You're on the right track with your critique of my post. You just need to keep going down this path to its logical conclusion.
Wait a minute, aren't the expensive wines a mechanism of "hack[ing] by making people do things they wouldn't?" The wineries engineering this are the ones taking advantage of human nature -- the same position Farmville's in.
The "clinical thinking" is just a tool for you and I to use if we want to be happier in cheaper and easier ways than drinking $100 wine and playing Farmville all day. It's my experience that by looking at my life with slightly more Mr-Spock-ish eyes, I can understand something about where my desires and instincts come from, and do a better job fulfilling them.
I think we're in danger of getting into either-or thinking here, and it's not like that at all.
Of course you should be introspective to understand yourself better, but at some point life is about being alive. It is both impossible and fruitless to spend all your time in analysis. We call this "analysis paralysis" in the computer world. There are a lot of reasons why this is bad -- the one that comes to mind first is the idea that it's really possible to ever completely understand yourself, that somehow you could sit outside your own head and understand everything that's going on. At some point you just accept that yes, the 100-dollar bottle of wine isn't as good, but yes, it's also really cool to enjoy the fallacy that it'll be a better wine.
At the end of the day, the question about whether the folks charging $100 for the wine have are exploiting folks or not is measured in two ways: as an individual, are they happy making the trade? As a society, is this something that we would be happy for everybody doing?
Farmville passes the first test but not the second. The expensive wine works for both tests.
This is getting quite off-topic, but I agree; I think passing the second test means that there are big industries and a great deal of labor devoted to trying to brand and distinguish slightly different wines, which strikes me as negative.
But very few activities would pass a "what if everyone in the world did this" test :-)
The article just aims to bring that concept to light. It's also a little jab to those who consider themselves "connoisseurs" of anything, wine tasting, televisions, food, or otherwise... because not knowing about one of the most influential forces in your opinion as a "connoisseur" really makes you "not so smart".
I can't speak for wine, but beer has similar licensing that involves a thorough blind tasting test. The tasting is not to judge good or bad, but to identify variety classifications and various properties of each beer. The results are repeatable since it's a test that can be passed with enough preparation.
The reason I harass my dinner guests is that our stories have consequences, that our beliefs often matter more than the grapes. The question is what those stories are. If the only story we can tell about wine is its price, then our pleasure will always linked to cost, even though this link doesn’t exist in most taste tests. A much better (and more cost-effective) idea is to find some other narrative, to focus on aspects of wine that don’t require a big expense account. Knowledge is free.
Well, then I have some wine you might want to buy. Best wine ever. Pay no attention to the cheap-looking labels; I disguise it to keep people from stealing it. Just close your eyes and savour the experiential experience. A bargain at any price!
Oh, and you'll need to wear one of my special energy-flow-enhancing crystals around your neck. Also expensive, but surely able to increase your eventual enjoyment. And I'll enjoy the money.
I don't think that all expectations are equal. It's possible that I'm in the minority, but I try to be mindful of my expectations and control for them.
When my brain is trying to anticipate what will be the best experience for dinner on Friday night I am aware of a mixture of expectations for each option I consider.
Some of the expectations are rational: The semi-expensive restaurant I like is extremely consistent in quality and I know that the food will be cooked with precision using expensive tools and modern techniques, resulting in a higher quality entree (and better experience).
At the same time, some of my expectations about the restaurant are irrational. For example, I can identify feelings that they food quality will be much better than at similarly rated restaurants that I have not visited. Having visited the restaurant several times I'm now afflicted by mere exposure effect, among other cognitive biases.
I don't think of myself as being a super-rational machine, but I know that just following my intuition alone when it comes to expectations is not going to yield the best future experiences.
Well, that is odd, considering the fact that I think you are in complete agreement with the author :).
Oenologists would have you believe that there are such things as 'good wines' and 'bad wines'. Wines with all kinds of complexities and wines that are 'flat'. They, experts on consuming these specific works of art, are the ones suggesting there is an underlying objective version of reality.
The author, on the other hand, points out, with experimental evidence, that your expectations trip you up. You say:
How can anything experiential not involve expectations? It
can't. It's ludicrous to think otherwise.
but the point of the article is not "it involves expectations at all". The point is: the expectations can be decisive. That's a prime argument for the irrelevance of an underlying objective version of reality.
Perhaps that's the problem: I'm not a member of the target
I don't think you are, because what is 'ludicrous' to you, is something most people would deny being an important influence in some professional or hobbyist interest of theirs.
People are already commenting to explain they can taste the difference between X and Y. People don't understand, or can't imagine, that there are circumstances in which they can't distinguish between a glass of red wine and a glass of white wine. If you'd have asked these oenologists upfront, they would've been insulted you would even ask.
"""The premise here, that there is some underlying objective version of reality when it comes to consuming works of art (wine, food at restaurants, TV images, or even haircuts.) is extremely flawed."""
Your premise is also flawed. Even if wine, food etc is like "consuming works of art", their is an underlying tangible artifact in front of you (the food, the wine). Wine experts are paid and consulted because they can supposedly judge this underlying quality.
The "interpretation as art" comes into play, and is expected (different wine critics are expected to have differing opinions).
You wouldn't call someone an art critic if you could pass an Archie comic to him signed "Picasso" and he would believe it and judge it as a work of Picasso.
The same holds for the described experiments: changing your opinion on the same wine based on a more expensive label or a taste-less red dye is way more off than "artistic interpretation". It's cluelessness.
(Also, TV image quality is not a "work of art", it's something technical that can be analyzed).
what you say is true, but i think your haircut example just glides over the more important question of what we can actually compare objectively and what we can't.
it's true that taste varies and is culture-dependent, some people hate punk rock, others love country music, etc. but i think we tend to over-exaggerate this. after all, nobody drinks vinegar by the glass, eats rocks, or likes earing really strident sound.
there is an objective basis to taste, rooted in evolution: eg sugar is energy, we need that to live, so we like it - a lot.