Knowing When We Are Biased

See if you can solve the following problem:

A bat and a ball cost $1.10. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

Most people are tempted to say that the ball costs 10 cents. If that was your answer, think again. A few people resist the initial temptation, do some calculation, and discover that the ball in fact costs 5 cents. But however you answered, take comfort. Even at elite universities, most people get this question wrong.

What’s going on here? It’s not that the question is particularly difficult. Here is a tougher version of the original problem:

A banana and a bagel cost 37 cents. The banana costs 13 cents more than the bagel. How much does the bagel cost?

Most people get this question right. What is so challenging about bats and balls?

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The Need For Imagining Reality

A curious trait of our time is that we so stubbornly confuse lack of imaginative capacity with realism. I was reminded of this after visiting an arts exhibition centered on metaphysical art, 'Pittura Metafisica', an early 20th century Italian movement developed by artists such as Giorgio de Chirico, Carlo Carrà and Felice Casorati.

This artistic movement, also known as magical realism, sought to illustrate the strange bind between the external world and the world of imagination. "The art of magic realists," described the curator, "is simultaneously realistic and far removed from reality." The metaphysical artists depict the world it was manifested to them, a world in movement, a world shrouded with dreamlike layers of imagination and meaning, one which invites curiosity and oftentimes evokes detachment.

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