Friday, December 5, 2014


Our perception is subjective. Science repeatedly confirms that fact.  We are animals, limited by our biological ability to perceive objective reality.

I want to mention two examples of this phenomenon because they surprise me.  Maybe you can relate to them.

My work is cerebral.  To perform it, my brain needs to be working.  My mind will do what's necessary for a period of time; then it will stop.  It gets overheated.  I rest my brain when it's exhausted.  The way I do that is to play solitaire on my office computer.

Solitaire is an old card game that comes loaded on most computers.  I can play it without thought and that relaxes me.  After a few hands, my mind is operating again and I can return to work.

I've had my office computer for about a decade.  During that time, I've played 27,405 games of solitaire on it.  27,405!  Holy cow!  I know this because my computer keeps track of my games and I'm the only person who's ever used this computer.  I find it hard to believe that I've spent so much time and effort playing this game.  If I guessed at the number of games I've played, I probably would have erred by a sizeable degree.  Like 90% wrong.  My subjective perception is way off-base.

The second illustration is my frequency of winning.  My mind says I win some, lose some, and there's no set percentage to that.  But I'm wrong.  After a year of playing, I noticed that my computer said I was winning 13% of the games.  I thought that was an odd coincidence.  The next year it said the percentage was still 13%.  And every year since then, I've won 13% of games.  Over 27,405 times.  But my mind does not recognize any pattern in my winning.  I still don't perceive any set percentage of success.  It seems random to me.

My computer is right; my brain is wrong.  That happens more often to us than we realize.

Do you play solitaire?  Do you ever experience what I'm talking about?


  1. Wow, that's a lot of solitaire! I don't play it much as I don't work at a computer all day, but I do enjoy the game every once in a while.

    I wanted to thank you for your comment yesterday. I really hope you aren't losing too much sleep worrying over me. I will be okay! I promise I have a great support system and a lot of help. But it is so nice to know that you care and that, even from afar, you are such an amazing friend. Thank you so much, Ally. xoxoxoxo.

  2. I play solitaire way more than I should. On level 4, so my success rate stubbornly stays at 2 percent. But winning is SO sweet...

  3. I love solitaire for the exact same reason. It calms my mind. I have a very similar solitaire app on my iPhone to the classic that comes with PC computers. For me, it's not about the winning or losing, but my A-type uber-organized personality enjoys the order of the game.


  4. I don't play solitaire but I will sit down and play an old video game I have played hundreds of times (Star Wars Battlefront is one of my faves) or endlessly scroll through Pinterest. These activities seem to reset a stressed out brain.

  5. I play an online word game similar to scrabble. It seems like the distribution of tiles/letters is not random and yet it must be. I think I see patterns in it and I know that we humans are set up to see patterns even when they aren't there. When my brain needs a rest I like to view images.

  6. I know exactly what you're talking about. I can't tell you how many times over the years I've heard a person offer what seems to me like an empirically incorrect recollection of something that happened, only to realize that that they aren't lying, they believe it -- this is what they remember. Police and attorneys do say that eye witness accounts are the least reliable form of evidence, so I guess it's nothing new that our perceptions are so insular, but it still kind of amazes me.

    You can extrapolate this concept to the very notion of "certainty," which is always offered by new technologies from the invention of the photograph to digital diagnostics, but they always seem to present mainly the *illusion* of certainty. The camera lens does not see what the human eye sees, for instance, so it always amuses me that photographs are so often considered to represent the "factual" visual truth about something. Actually, my best friend did an art installation on this topic! It's pretty cool, you can see it on his website:

    Anyway, excellent topic and awesome post. :)

  7. Oh I MISS Solitaire!!! I wish I had a computer with it on. And Mine sweeper.
    I loved the zooming cards when you win.

  8. I know what you mean we have a report a work that shows management how many customers we serve in an hour etc I always feel like I don't stop working and this damn report shows that 30% of the time i'm doing nothing. I swear this report is wrong hehehe

  9. My hubby's response when I read this to him was...she's had the same computer for ten years! :-D Interesting post. Thanks. xo JJ

    1. Yes, I know that seems old-fashioned but I use the computer for only one thing -- word-processing -- and it works fine. I deliberately keep it unhooked from the Internet to avoid getting a virus and there's no need to update any of its software. I have a second, separate computer which I use for online activity. (That computer has had to be replaced twice for viruses.)

  10. lol, like jazzy says above, i couldn't get past your 10yr old computer! this reminded me of something my mom always told me - that it doesn't matter how you say something, it's how it's perceived. i don't know how this might relate to your solitaire stats, but if your perception of your winnings is greater, then you are probably right. haha.

  11. LOL, I am not that good at playing solitaire, I get easily bored when I do it. Congratulations on your personal record ! :) Hugs

    Fashion and Cookies

  12. Yes and yes to your questions. I love solitaire, especially because my maternal grandma has always played it and when she's in town, we'll sometimes play with two or even four decks on the go at once together.

    It's amazing how much our brain can trick us into thinking that our reality is subtly, or even vastly, as the case may be, different than it actually is. I think in part this ability was honed over countless generations as a coping mechanism for some of life's less pleasant aspects and putting the focus on the good. Sort of like an internal "the glass if half full" sort of filter. :)

    Have an awesome weekend, dear Ally!
    ♥ Jessica

  13. I do play solitaire. I'm actually very fond of the game, and have been. Now that I have a tablet, I have an app for it that also comes with 3 other card games - my favorite being Forty Thieves. They're more challenging than your basic one deck solitaire, using four decks with options of one suit, two suit, or four.

    I actually have to admit I spend quite a lot of time playing them as I play them on my tablet as my night time meds kick in and I get sleepy.

    Sometimes I stop for awhile though. My brain is very good at noticing patterns and I quickly find the game easy or I know i can beat it/not beat it based on certain things.

    I find it excellent mental exercise though.

  14. This is a very timely post for me; a few days ago, I was discussing in class the importance of using a mixed methods approach for analysis purposes, and this supports my point. Even though you might THINK you have a great grasp on something, the brain is prone to errors. In business, we need the hard data to back us up.

    I haven't had Solitaire on my computer ever since I got switched to Mac in 2007. That's probably a good thing!

  15. I have never played solitaire, however in almost every work environment I have been in someone does play it - I am not much of a card player.

  16. Hail fellow solitaire addict. We are in the same line of work and there are times when I really need to focus on my work BUT I need my head breaks. Often I will simply grab my phone and play solitaire until I win a game. I can then also get back to the grind with a mental break and also with a sense of victory, minor though it may be.

    PS: I also hit the blogs such as yours for some of the mental break that it offers from the work grind.