Sunday 18 September 2011
The quote "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" is popular, being widely attributed to Einstein (probably incorrectly). Unfortunately it's often used to support a common and dangerous fallacy: that if you're trying something and it's not working, you must not be using the best strategy and you must try something else.
It's easy to see the fallacy using a thought experiment. Imagine you must regularly play a lottery which offers red tickets and black tickets, and red tickets have twice the probability of winning compared to black tickets. So you choose red tickets, but you don't win. Would Einstein tell you to start choosing black tickets instead? Hopefully not!
When the best available strategy has a low probability of success, sticking to that strategy requires discipline, wisdom and courage. This is one of the themes of The Lord Of The Rings :-). You see people fail by panicking and flailing, abandoning their best hope to try something, anything, and essentially self-destructing.
Of course, one must also avoid stubbornly sticking to a strategy which is not the best available.
Overall it's probably best not to use aphorisms in serious discussions :-).