Aesthetic bias

Context, always

My interest in wine as an aesthetic experience died a little when test after test found that experts drinking blind were unable to judge quality. When white wine is coloured red, tasters think it is red.  We are driven by our eyes and a range of silly biases.

Yes, That's Torvill and Dean. From 30 years ago. easy

Yes, That’s Torvill and Dean. From 30 years ago. easy

Nope. Haven't got a clue. (Small clue... they won the gold in 2010)...  Don't know or care.

Nope. Haven’t got a clue. (Small clue… they won the gold in 2010)… still don’t know.


It’s like that with art. When we know that a painting is by a great master, we suddenly decide that it is really well painted. Special.

So much better than that other painting, by Anon.

It's a genuine Michelangelo.  Or just pretend.

It’s a genuine Michelangelo. Or just pretend.

And then there’s sport.  When Torvill and Dean came out of retirement for the 1994 Winter Olympics, their bronze medal winning performance was watched by 24 million people in the UK. 24 MILLION.

How many people bother to watch Ice Dance now?  2.4 million?  240,000?  Are the dancers no good any more?   Of course they are.  They may even be better.  We just don’t care to watch.

It’s a little peculiar – our interest waxes and wanes according to the presence, or otherwise, of one of our people.  And if they aren’t dancing?  Well we’re not interested.

I’ve long felt the same way about football.  I’ve always liked the game, but as an arch rationalist I can’t cope with the tribalism. It makes no sense. One of the biggest arguments against belief in a religion is the somewhat obvious presence of a rather similar religion down the road.  Basic modesty and self-awareness dictates that we question our own beliefs when we seem so similar to people who believe something completely different.  Are we so different?  Yet we develop stupid loyalties to ‘our team’, like an idiotic cult member.

TV audiences are like that. We accept or reject a programme not because of what the programme is, but because of something about us.

It is all hopelessly driven by context.  We don’t watch because of it (any more than British viewers watched Torvill and Dean and didn’t watch this year’s championship because of the quality of the dancing), but because of something deep about ourselves.

Isn’t that a little odd?