by Vlad Dolezal on March 23, 2010

This is going to be one of those posts.

I’ve got a fascinating topic and a lot of ideas about the topic, but no clear conclusion.

So I’ll just throw all my ideas out there, and maybe a conclusion will emerge. Or, maybe you guys will be smarter than me, and we’ll come up with something cool in the comments! At the very least, I plan to get you thinking.

Read on to find out why hope makes you swim longer, why playing the lottery is worth it (for those who play it), and why false hope might not be so false after all.

Hope makes you swim 50% longer… at least if you’re a mouse

A team of scientists did a fascinating experiment with mice. They tried testing the effect of hope.

Sounds tricky? You bet. But here’s how they managed:

The scientists separated the mice into two groups. Then they put the mice, one by one, into a tank of water with some milk in it (to make it opaque).

In one group, there was an island in the water which the mice eventually found, and could stand on to stop themselves from drowning.

In the other group, there was no island. No matter how much the mice swam, they could do nothing but slowly run out of strength and slide underwater.

At which point the scientists caught them. Tired, but safe, they let the mice rest.

Then, the next day, they did the second phase of the experiment. This time, all of the mice were put in a tank with no island, so no matter how much they swam, they would eventually drown (if the scientists didn’t fish them out).

The scientists measured how long the mice would swim.

The results? Mice from the first group swam on average for 50% longer.

The mice had a past experience of finding an island, which gave them hope. This simple thing gave them strength to swim for 50% longer than the other group of  mice.

How’s that for “hope gives you strength”?

Why lottery is worth playing (for the people who play it)

Every now and then, I hear smug geeky people saying “Hah, look at those silly poor people playing lottery. Don’t they understand statistics? They get a negative net return on each lottery ticket bought!”

At which point I inwardly laugh at those geeks.

It’s not the poor people who miss the point. It’s the geeks who completely miss the point of lottery.

You see, the lottery doesn’t sell money. Really.

Lottery sells hope.

By buying a ticket, the people get to fantasize about what they would do if they won. How their life would get completely turned around, they could relax and afford luxuries and stop worrying about bills and get recognition and power.

The reason you see a lot more poor people than rich people playing the lottery is not because they’re worse at statistics. It’s because the hope of winning the lottery is a stronger emotional incentive for them.

Often, it’s their only hope of getting out of a rut, getting rid of that annoying 9-5 job they need to keep their family clothed and fed. They see no other way out.

And so they play lottery. Because it gives them hope. It gives them strength.

In the same way the hopeful rats swam 50% longer, these people play lottery, and that lets them keep working at their job day after day without going crazy.

Why I like religion (even though I’m an atheist)

I’ll be honest here. I’ve tried re-writing this section 3 times already, but I’m never really happy with what I’ve got. So instead, I’ll leave the religion-hope link up for discussion.

A few small points:

  • I’m an atheist
  • I’m totally cool with people who believe in God, as long as they don’t try to push their beliefs on me
  • I believe religion is very useful for some people, and hope plays an important role. But I can’t quite get my head around it.

If you believe in God and have any thoughts on the link between religion and hope, please share them in the comments.

Is false hope evil or good?

Now we’re crossing some ethical boundaries. Is hope good even when it’s false?

For example, imagine the lottery didn’t actually produce any winners. All those people “winning the lottery” were just hired actors.

Would it matter?

After all, it would still have exactly the same effect on 999,999 people out of a million. It would give them hope, which is what lottery is all about.

Or imagine a doctor tells you there’s still hope to fight that cancer, even though he’s 99% sure you’ll be dead in a few months. Is that ethical?

If it improves the quality of your remaining life, is it a good thing?

I’ll give you my answer (which can be different from your answer) in a slightly roundabout way.

In the book Brave New World, there’s the character of world controller Mustapha Mond. Near the end, he explains to the main characters that in the past he was a scientist, always looking for the truth. But then he was offered a job in the upper administration of the world… and decided to take that instead, to work towards the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, even though he had to sacrifice the truth for that.

In other words, he valued happiness above truth.

That’s something we life coaches work with – people’s core values. Each individual’s values will be different, and they’re all exactly right for them.

And I believe your answer to the doctor question depends on your values. Do you value happiness higher than truth, or the other way around?

What do you think of hope?

As you can see, I don’t have any clear conclusion to this post.

Think of it as an invitation for discussion. What do you think of the topics I covered here? What else do you associate with hope that I completely missed out?

Any thoughts are much appreciated!

(image courtesy of DieselDemon)