They don’t think like you think

One of the biggest poker pitfalls is assuming everyone else thinks like you think. It’s obvious that they don’t, but I still see this thought process cropping up all the time in other people’s games and my own. Players who bluff a lot assume others are bluffing them all the time. People who don’t value bet thinly don’t think anyone else does either.

Here’s one you hear all the time: “I was 3betting him a ton, and he just kept folding. So when he 4bet, I thought he was playing back at me…” Or maybe he was just waiting for a strong hand and finally got one. What do you actually know about this guy? He’s been folding a lot. YOU would be playing back here, but he may not even know what playing back is (especially if he’s old).

I was reading about the Arecibo message, a message sent into space to make contact with aliens. It contains the following information:

  1. The numbers one (1) to ten (10)
  2. The atomic numbers of the elements hydrogencarbonnitrogenoxygen, and phosphorus, which make up deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)
  3. The formulas for the sugars and bases in the nucleotides of DNA
  4. The number of nucleotides in DNA, and a graphic of the double helix structure of DNA
  5. A graphic figure of a human, the dimension (physical height) of an average man, and the human population of Earth
  6. A graphic of the Solar System
  7. A graphic of the Arecibo radio telescope and the dimension (the physical diameter) of the transmitting antenna dish

Doesn’t it seem odd that at least three of the seven elements wouldn’t be comprehensible to most humans? We know that culture and history inform our perspective in powerful ways of which we’re often unaware. It seems reasonable to assume that the alien most similar to me is more different than the least similar human. Who knows what aliens think is important?

My own intuition is that alien life forms, if they exist, would likely be so different from us that we would struggle to communicate with them at all, or perhaps even to identify them as life. What I see in the Arecibo Message is a nerd’s lament, an unspoken hope that advanced creatures thousands of light years away will be more like you than the jocks who ignored you in high school. Naturally I’m sympathetic to this impulse, but I doubt it will be an effective strategy should we ever encounter actual extraterrestrials. If there’s one thing we and the aliens have in common, it will probably be that assholes run the show.


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