How do you rate on my spillometer?

Imagine you’re out walking in downtown San Francisco with your date, after a really interesting Friday evening of stand-up comedy. Its late in the night and you enter a nice diner where after a few minutes of waiting, you’re escorted to a cramped two-seater table (space is a scarce and expensive luxury in SF). Two tall glasses of water, a large dinner menu, a drinks menu and a crazy tea light occupy that small table, making it seem more occupied than a port-a-potty outside a busy trailer park. As both of you are reading menus to decide on some appetizers, you turn the page. The top of edge of your plastic covered menu hits the top of your tall glass – tilts and drops it, pouring all the water directly in the valley formed between the pages of the plastic covered menu that your date is reading, completely oblivious of your antics. The perfection in chaos lies in the angle of the glass’s spill, the size of the menu in that diner, the angle between the pages of the menu, and how the menu is being read such that it’s leading directly to your date’s crotch. All of this saves everything on the table yet completely drenches your date’s expensive dress, crotch and ass with ice-cold water (with no-ice BTW – in true desi fashion).

Now luckily, I was not out on a date last night. The stand-up was a Joe Rogan show after all! I was with my old friend of five years and the spilling of water was an honest mistake that resulted in his quiet discomfort for the dinner and the rest of the night. Something that I apologized about and was genuinely sorry for, yet something that we made jokes and laughed off for the rest of the evening and later.

But isn’t this the perfect psychological first-date-experiment that we were aiming for in the last post, something a cognitive or behavioral psychologist would use to literally break the ice (ah, figuratively for non-desis – yes) and the “Bad equilibrium” that behavioral economists like Dan Ariely talk about e.g. in his post:

When going on a first date, we try to achieve a delicate balance between expressing ourselves, learning about the other person, but also not offending anyone — favoring friendly over controversial – even at the risk of sounding dull.

This is what economists call a bad equilibrium – it is a strategy that all the players in the game can adopt and converge on – but it is not a desirable outcome for anyone.

With a single “honest mistake”, you’d have broken that delicate balance, jolted your partner out of their comfort zone, tested their impulses, their cognitive control over impulses and their overall response to the stressful stimuli of public embarrassment. Be prepared for some rapid eruption of pent-up resentment against yourself BTW!

Now, I’m by no means suggesting that you go about spilling glasses of ice-cold water on your first dates (and definitely not coffee or tea as my friend from the last post seemed to suggest when I told him about this). All that I’m saying is that we live in a great world of instant noodles, 140 character tweets, speed dating and one-night stands. Yet to know and understand someone better, we rely on a process that rests its foundations on the antiquated medium of conversation, combined with observation while “spending time together” which takes months to yield good results. I’d love to spend my life working in a lab doing research on something like a “Behavior, Temperament & Personality Scanner”, that’d save the world from all this wasteful investment of time, money, energy and heartbreak – which could otherwise be well spent curing aids and cancer (we’ll technically a lack of heartache could prevent heart-attacks too). There should and must be a better and more accurate way to do this I believe, and the suggested experiment is just a possible illustrative example.

And if you’d like to get started on how it’s unethical, immoral or voyeuristic to spy on someone’s mind, let me tell you – all of this is for the good of both parties and the world, and is for the benefit of our obligatory duty of Procreation, around which all of our evolutionary biases (both emotional and intellectual) seem to be based. For a cause like this (or Dharma as it’s referred to in the Gita), Krishna was able to convince Arjuna to fight a war, even if it involved killing his own kith and kin and thousands of innocent others. Heck, I’m just talking about spilling water on a few folks.

So as the Saturday evening falls upon and I head out for the night, let’s hope it’s a spill free one!

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