In his new book, Risk Savvy, Psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer uses this ‘Turkey Illusion’ to challenge our reliance on data.
Imagine you’re a turkey. As a turkey you don’t know about Thanksgiving or Christmas. Every day a farmer brings you food, so despite your fear on day one, each day’s experience builds your certainty that visits from the farmer are a good thing. Your assumed probability of survival increases every day, until, at the point of highest certainty, you become dead meat.
Gigerenzer asserts that intuition and heuristics (i.e. mental rules of thumb) can often trump data, even in areas like financial forecasting. He draws turkey parallels with the financial crisis in 2008, arguing that updating probabilities based on experience isn’t a bad model per se, but in situations with unknown risks (e.g. Thanksgiving), it can create ‘illusory certainty’ and catch us out.