Why the peach rolled cross the road

Riding today I was sniffing out new climbs in the hills near Longquan. The area itself is famous (or at least prides itself and attracts hordes accordingly) for being a peach haven. Nearing the top of the last climb of the day (and struggling) a funny thing happened: A peach dropped from its branch, bounced at the foot of the tree, cleared the foot-wide gutter and rolled directly across the road in front of me. Truly a funny sight to see a peach with such clear direction and motivation.

I topped the climb then took to the road riding the crest to drop back into the basin, happily glugging water all the way. At a quick little incline, I caught the eye of a farmer, who happened to have finished building a peach pyramid roadside when all the sudden, his monument collapsed, sending a cascade of peaches rolling across the road in front of me.

He shouted and I was left thinking, “How is it that twice in one day I find myself dodging peaches?”

For anyone who’s read Daniel Kahneman’s book, “Thinking Fast and Slow”, you’ve probably read up on his whole list of economic interpretations of human decision making and psychology. He builds his understanding through a set of heuristics and biases. In this case, the reason these peaches struck me as so coincidental would be categorized under the availability heuristic.

Without going into the nitty gritty, the availability heuristic suggests that people’s interpretations of a situation and the decisions they make accordingly are heavily biased by the ease to recall pertinent information. This what can often account for that dumb-struck “well what the hell are the odds” type situation you encounter from time-to-time.

When in reality, if you break it down on the basis of the statistical likelihood something has or might happen, a situation might not be so unusual. For instance, I can’t immediately recall ever seeing a peach roll across the road right in front of me, however, of the hundreds of times I’ve ridden the area, there’s only a handful of times I’ve ridden it during the window in which the fruit is at is ripest, ready to fall from the tree on its own volition. Right now, the roadside is strewn with evidence of this.

My point is, it’s easy enough to base your understanding and decisions on things on evidence readily available, but this is just a smooth evolutionary trick to make smart snap judgements. When approaching any kind of situation that requires deliberation in the everyday, this doesn’t always work. So next time you see a peach roll cross the road, just stop and think, “Is this a meaningful coincidence or is it just peach season?”

 

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