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 :-)