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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Romeo and Juliet Fallacy Exposed

"Love" is a famously fuzzy concept. Two people who think they love each other might appear to others to be bitter enemies, while two people might each think they loathe each other, while their friends judge them to be in love but unwilling to admit it.

What we need to do is to operationalize "in love" so that we can measure it and use it for prediction. Let us focus in on something people who claim to be in love often say to each other: "I will never leave you." Now, the length of time two people spend together certainly is measurable. Therefore, we will take claims about being "in love" to be predictive statements about the probable duration of time the people said to be "in love" will spend together.

Thus, when we test Romeo and Juliet's love, we find their claim to have been in love absurd: they only spent a few hours together in their entire life!

Furthermore, let's say we run a test on whether "being in love" is predictive of the amount of time people will spend together in the future, versus other people they already know... and we find it doesn't. Given that finding, we declare we have exposed the "Love Fallacy" and that people have simply misconstrued random sequences of spending time with other people as a sign of being in love.

And when someone complains that we have totally missed being what being in love is about, we respond, "In the literature, being in love is taken to mean that your love is a useful predictor of how many hours you will spend together in the future."

I've re-read the relevant parts of Gilovich, Vallone, and Tversky: it is quite clear that they don't contend the hot hand simply means we can predict the next shot will go in; no, they say having the hot hand implies that. But as I have shown, such an inference is invalid.

The fictitious researchers above should have concluded "Being in love, if real, has no predictive value about the amount of time people will spend together." And Gilovich, Vallone, and Tversky ought to have concluded "The hot hand, if real, has no predictive value for a player's next shot."

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