Sep 6, 2006

Sample Error [LINK]

I've been enjoying OverheardInNewYork.com immensely, a site that allows me to indulge my occasional perverse homesickness. This link in particular reminded me of discussion I had with a friend in which I mentioned my method of remembering large numbers. I break them down into two-digit pairs and map them against numbered streets in Manhattan. For example, a number like 43802107 would transform into "New York Times, Zabar's, north side of Gramercy Park, and Kiev's." To help with that sequence, I'd rely on my days as a bike messenger, formulating the best route from one point to the next. That series of lines would be the visual pattern I'd need to summon up the number later.

"Wow," my friend said, "that explains something I've always wondered about: why all the really smart people come from New York." Well, no, not at all, though flattering coming from an MIT Ph.D. Put aside the fact that it's just a memory device that has little to do with intelligence. It's a basic sample error. My friend did not spend his childhood in New York, but rather encountered New Yorkers later in life in D.C. and Boston, perhaps many of them at college. So his set of New Yorkers are not the same as my New Yorkers. It's said that the very smartest people in the world come from Brooklyn: they're the ones who left.

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