Why You are More Than Just One Person

By Shlomo Maital


   In the picture, is “Clocky”.   You can easily buy one from Amazon.  The idea is simple.  Set the alarm for, say, 7:17 a.m. You are determined to rise early, jog, walk, walk the dog, write a chapter or do the dishes.  At 7:17 a.m.  faithful Clocky rings.  But, you’ve changed your mind. You’d rather sleep another 30 minutes.  Clocky, however, is clever.  As you approach it, it runs away.  Zoom….   You chase it around the bedroom…. Finally, you catch it, in a far corner… but – by now, you’ve awakened.  No point in going back to bed.  You’re awake. Might as well get up. 

     Clocky is an example used by Prof. Dan Ariely,   who hopefully soon will win a Nobel Prize in Economics,  in a lecture given here at my university, Technion, last week.  Ariely has explored the nature of ‘irrationality’,   and showed that we human beings are actually quite rational, or systematic, in our irrationality.   For example, when we go to sleep, with good intentions to rise early, we are Person A.  But when we awake,   we are Person B,  another person entirely.    This is why we need Clocky.  (Ariely notes that you can buy lots of Clocky’s on eBay,  but for some weird reason, they have smashed tops and lack wheels).  And this is why we invent all kinds of ways to impose constraints on ourselves, because, when we choose to defer gratification,  as Person A,    Person B doesn’t always manage to actually carry it out. 

     Person A and Person B date  back to Ulysses,  who tied himself to the mast in order to resist the temptations of the Siren song. 

     Just before Ariely’s wonderful lecture (given by the way, without Power Point, simply with Dan standing in front of a packed auditorium, describing some of his wonderful experiments, interacting with the students, asking them questions, and in general, intriguing us with real-world economics about real people, facing dilemmas that we all face),  I presented a research report on the pension crisis, with two colleagues. We recommended that each baby born receive a grant-at-birth, and that it be invested, for…70 years.   With the power of compound interest, it will double five times, in 70 years, and the baby will be a millionaire… and indeed, is already, at birth (albeit a future millionaire).  That money cannot be touched for 70 years… but when you know it is there,  you have the secure knowledge that you will not live in poverty, when you grow old.  This is an example of Person A and Person B, and ways to circumvent the problem they pose.