Anyway, the email arrives (thanks Rick), boldly proclaiming "This is really weird." Then it gives instructions to scroll down the page doing some simple additions along the way. Toward the end it primes you further with "Just a little bit more". When I reached the punch line, it did have a weird effect on me for a moment. I hope it is "for a moment" with others on whom this trick works, but I suppose some people may go on misunderstanding the reality.
Here, I already wrote this in an email (OK, now I've edited it a little bit):
No, it's just a trick.
When I read this thing and did the additions and scrolled down and then it asked for the color and the tool and I thought "red hammer" and then scrolled further down to be told I was part of a certain important group of people, I felt . . . . impressed. When I came to the part where it says "You were thinking "red hammer" weren't you?", I got a really strange sensation for a minute. Complete incredulity. How the hell...?
It's just a trick that works sometimes.
First, I think the 2% / 98% claim is bogus. It's a lie for effect. It's to increase the stickiness of the meme. Which will work better?
If they'd said the more-true number 2, the trick wouldn't work as well on those for whom it works. Even if it doesn't work on most other people, the ones likely to think something other than "red hammer", the trick would still play on a lot of people, whose who will say "red hammer".
- Telling them they're in a highly significant and, by extension, prestigious group, or
- Telling them they part of a large but probably non-majoritarian group, but that the grouping itself is irrelevant?
So the number is bullshit.
Then, apparently they have researched the likelihood of a person answering a question a certain way out of the blue ( "they" being the scientists). The majority of people (a large number of them anyway), when asked for a color out of the blue, will say "red". It's the same when people are asked to name a tool out of the blue. Most, or a large percentage, will say "hammer." They're just two thing that are likely to come to mind first, except these are more likely. Put the two together and you get some percentage (not necessarily a majority) of people who'll think "red hammer". For that group of people this thing can work (at least the first time they see it). For some people the most likely answers are not "red" and "hammer", but who cares. Then they give you the false 2% / 98% statistic and prime the ones who answer "red hammer", they are primed with the apparent (though explainable) weirdness that the email "knows" you were going to say "red hammer". Some of the supposed 2% wind up wondering what's wrong with them.
If you are falsely primed for an answer to an unanswerable question about an unknowable truth, you'll stand for something so won't fall for anything. Besides, those other people may be stupid. HA! Let's make that meme more sticky. Bullshit can be sticky.
The purpose of having you do the additions as you scroll down the page is to put you into concentration on something else, so that your answers to the questions actually do come from out of the blue.
Maybe some day scientists will discover subtle neurological differences among different types of different sorts of people's brains. I wonder what they'll find different about some people, who read the red hammer meme in the email and pick the color "fuck" and the tool "you" and wonder why they read this far. Why they did the additions. Why they forwarded the email.
Anyway, it was an interesting diversion. I thought the momentary initial reaction when the trick worked on me was pretty cool, and I think the explanation (though there's more to it, I'm sure) is pretty cool, too.