Wishful Thinking

An example of how we can ignore facts when we don't like them

Posted Apr 22, 2015

Social Scientists traditionally regard people's beliefs about the future to be exogenous to their desires and wishes. It's one thing to want something to happen, but it doesn't suppose to affect our beliefs that it will.  My grandfather's German passport which I found among my dad's documents (see photo) shows how beliefs can be intermingled with wishes. Hugo Winter, a Jewish businessman from Koenigsberg, escaped Nazi Germany in 1934 to Palestine, leaving behind a flourishing business, a huge villa, and many friends and relatives. He never wanted to replace his fancy lifestyle in Germany with  the deserts of Palestine, but he was pressed to do so by my grandmother Jenny Winter. "You are over reacting" he used to tell her. "This whole idea of leaving Germany for a few months until Hitler falls makes little sense."

Since 1936 to be eligible to return to Germany Jews were required by the German law to validate their passport every six months. The document below shows stamps by the German (Nazi) consulate in Jerusalem with the following dates: Aug. 1936, Feb. 1937, July 1937, Jan. 1938 and July 1938.  There is hardly any Jewish-German immigrant who bothered to stamp his/her passport abroad in those years. But grandpa who was so obsessed about wanting back hardly unpacked his luggage while in Palestine. His beliefs were completely distorted. The next renewal date after July 1938 was supposed to be Dec. 1938, but grandpa didn't go to the consulate on that month or anytime after. A month earlier the Kristallnacht pogrom against the Jews took place in Germany, and grandpa gave in to a rational belief updating leaving his desires behind. Quite interestingly, Hugo never wanted back after that date. Until Nov. 1938, Hugo's desires affected his beliefs but after the Kristalnacht it was his beliefs which affected his desires.

Source: mine

About the Author

Eyal Winter, Ph.D., is a professor of economics at the Hebrew University and the author of Feeling Smart: Why Our Emotions Are More Rational Than We Think.

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