Feeling hot, hot, hot

So I think some confusion has been generated in our ongoing discussion of "the hot hand" by the word "streaks." And a good bit of that confusion has been my fault, for including the word "streak" when what I really wanted to talk about was just "hotness" itself -- and here I'm thinking of you, Bob Murphy.

Ha ha, just joking, I swear to you all that I never picture Bob and I showering naked together. Never! For real.

In any case, what I am indicating is the feeling that anyone who has played a sport or music, for any length of time, has had that they "on" at some moments, and not at others. And the TGV authors, besides trying to demonstrate that "hot hands" aren't predictively useful, also imply that the idea that "I am hot right now" is some sort of cognitive illusion.

It seems that TGV may be incorrect on their predictive findings, but that's not what I have been addressing. I am asking "Does a lack of statistical significance show that the 'feeling' of being on is 'an illusion'?"

So chuck aside the "streak" aspect -- and I apologize for the extent to which I created a problem by using that word -- and let's address whether it is possible for a person to be "on" and yet, say, actually miss ten shots in a row. What would this "on-ness" be? I think the clearest way to understand it is as a propensity, along the lines of what Ryle or Popper talk about. When an athlete is on, they have a stronger than usual tendency to perform successfully. But that tendency might be offset by all sorts of other things, and so might not appear in a statistical study, despite it being a real thing.

So, for instance, there is nothing perplexing or idiosyncratic about a baseball player saying, "I was really seeing the ball and hitting it well yesterday, and I would've had three homeruns, but the wind off of the bay kept blowing the ball back into the park, so I wound up 0-4."

Similarly, a basketball player might report, "I was so off yesterday! So off that by sheer luck, I banked in three three-pointers that I didn't even intend to bank."

Or a golfer might note, "I played much better on Saturday than I did on Friday, despite shooting a 68 on Friday and a 73 on Saturday. The wind off of the Irish Sea was so unpredictable that if I hadn't been playing better on Saturday, I would have shot 80."

These are all normal, every day reports one hears athletes really making, and most people, and I think anyone who has played sports extensively, knows just what they are talking about.


  1. Assume that when hot a player has a greater chance of sinking a shot than when not hot and that on any specific shot the player may be either hot or not.

    Anyone (either the player herself or someone else) who had insight into the players state of hotness could make predictions on the outcome of the shot the player is about to take that over time would be better than random guesses .

    This is what TGV were testing for when they had players (and their partners) betting on shot outcomes. In theory this test could have provided powerful evidence for the "hot-ness" theory. The fact that it didn't doesn't however disprove the theory - it might just have been a bad test (for example any sense of "hot-ness" could have been lost due to the test conditions).

    It is also quite possible that during a test a player might be "on" for some shots but just through bad luck or other factors still miss them all, while sinking some when not "on". This would also lead to a false negative.

    Within this context I think its now clear to me that TGV's other tests were testing for whether "hotness" (assuming it exists) is random on any given shot. If a player has a 10% chance of being hot on any given shot then statistical analysis cannot detect hotness. If however she has a 10% of becoming hot an any given shot, but a 20% of staying hot once she has become hot then statistical analysis would (I think) be able to detect this fact.


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