Plausibility is not probability.
As humans, we want to make sense of the world around us. We habitually assess information based on how well they fit the story we want to believe. In that sense, we tend to default to accepting the narratives that sound plausible — regardless of how probable (or likely) they are.
If a chain of events sounds plausible enough so that we can well imagine it, we are usually quick to believe it — even if the individual probability of each event in that chain is rather unlikely.
For instance, if we hear a story about a conspiracy where A does B and therefore C and D happen which both result in E, we will tend to believe the story if the chain of events sounds plausible.
Whether C, D and E are not only plausible but also likely to happen as results often does not play a role in our heuristic assessment.
Whenever confronted with a plausible narrative, asking if that narrative is also probable on top of it can protect us from falling prey to misinformation, conspiracies and drawing misguided conclusions in various contexts.
“Reality dishes out experiences using probability, not plausibility.”
— Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
“The mind is not designed to grasp the laws of probability, even though the laws rule the universe.”
— Steven Pinker
- 🎥 Watch this 12 min. video for a superb explanation of the difference between plausibility and probability.
A few further resources you might like if you find the above idea interesting:
- 📚 Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow
- 📚 Nassim Taleb’s Fooled By Randomness
- 📝 The related concept of Belief Bias
- 📝 The related concept of the Representativeness Heuristic
- 📝 MindVault: Base Rate Error
- 📝 MindVault: Deduction, Induction, Abduction