Why Did We Blow On Nintendo Games?

Why Did We Blow On Nintendo Games?


Dang it. If you played old-school Nintendo, then this
has happened to you. Your game went all crazy, so you blew on the cartridge, and bingo. Beating a game like Mario Bros. is all about
knowing the patterns. Luckily we’re good at that
Our brains are nature’s most powerful pattern-recognition devices. They let us pick out meaning from
the chaos: in order to sense danger, so we can see consequences for our actions. For
our ancestors that could mean the difference between life and death. You eat the red berries, and you get sick.
Eat the blue ones, and you’re fine. Plant your crops in late summer, you go hungry.
Plant your crops in spring, and you eat like a king. Since those early days, our brains have kept
evolving, but maybe not as fast as the world in which we live. And while we keep upgrading
the OS, we’re operating with pretty much the same hardware that we had 10,000 years ago. And that can get us into trouble, because
our brains are SO good at picking out patterns, sometimes they see ’em when they’re not there
. . . We can see faces where there’s only shadows
Or movement in still images Or even a cause for autism in vaccines So why are we so good at being wrong? It might be a flaw in our wiring. Our pattern-obsessed
brains don’t like uncertainty. We badly want to be right about how we see the world, and
to do that we look at it through various filters. If you start with the conclusion that the
moon landing is a hoax or that man-made climate change isn’t real… maybe you can can find
some evidence that says you’re right, but you’ll have to ignore a whole lot MORE evidence
that says you’re wrong. When we filter evidence to support that conclusion
and ignore that what disagrees, we’re victims of confirmation bias When we assume that thing A caused thing B because
thing B happened after thing A, we’re victims of the post hoc fallacy. When we insist that random events have meaning,
you’ve fallen victim to the Texas sharpshooter fallacy. It’s easy to hit a bullseye if you
paint it on afterwards. Which brings us to this. I never asked myself why I was blowing on
my video games. It just worked. Except that I was wrong. So were you. It didn’t do a thing.
Our brains were playing tricks on us. The strangest part about the Nintendo thing
is that everyone did it. In a pre-digital world, it spread like a thought virus. There
was no how-to video on YouTube, it was just . . . common knowledge. In South Korea, many people still believe
that sleeping in a closed room with an electric fan on can kill you. They aren’t dumb. We
are more likely to believe something if we see that other people believe it. That’s the
common belief fallacy. Which is why when I saw my friends blow on
Nintendo games, then I blew on my Nintendo games. We thought we were clearing the dust
from the cartridge, increasing the conductivity of the metal connections . . . All it really did was give us an excuse to
take it out and try again. We saw a reason where there was only randomness. And that’s why science was invented. A way
to fight the human tendency of assuming that what we see is what’s true. Instead of starting with a conclusion, and
filtering out all the data that doesn’t agree with it, science starts with an explanation
and does everything possible to prove it wrong. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty recent invention.
Only a few hundred years ago lots of very smart people thought lambs grew on bushes,
and mice were spawned from dirty laundry. We’re fighting some very old habits. The world is complicated, and it doesn’t always
make sense. Patterns make it easier to find our way through the maze of randomness. But
if we’re not careful they can get us lost. Science, above all else, requires a desire
to disprove ourselves. It’s a sharp tool we use to poke holes in our ideas, so we’re sure
that they’ll float. And unless we do that on a regular basis, our princess will forever
be in another castle. Stay curious. Special thanks to David McRaney, without whom
I couldn’t have done this episode. To learn more about how your brain is out to trick
you, check out David’s books, You Are Not So Smart and You Are Now Less Dumb, links
down in the description.


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