Magic pill thought experiment
First of all I want to thank you guys. I’m feeling incredibly lucky that, when I asked for comments and ideas, both for my book and for the “Public Facing Math” panel, you guys delivered immediately and impressively.
You guys are the best!
Next, here’s the ridiculous thought experiment I’m cooking up this morning, inspired by this recent Room For Debate focusing on fessing up about cosmetic surgery and this recent New Yorker column by Matthew Hutson about nonconformity as a signal of status.
So, imagine there’s an very inexpensive and very accessible “magic pill” that makes you appear incredibly average. It doesn’t do anything to your health, just your appearance, which is key – we don’t want to conflate the issues of appearance and health. And let’s assume it works for 5 years and then stops. It doesn’t have side effects.
And as we know, average is in a certain sense quite beautiful, if this graph of the “average face of women” in a bunch of countries can be believed (more info here and here). But of course, it’s also not very interesting, being totally average.
So here’s the thought experiment: three questions.
First, would you take the pill?
Second, would you hang out with other people who took the pill?
Third, considering your answer to the second question, would you take the pill?
I’ll give you guys a moment to think about this…
OK, here’s what I think. At first I thought I might take the pill. I mean, it wouldn’t be so bad to live behind a mask of averageness. I’d be bland but attractive, it might be nice. Never worry about a bad hair day, which truth be told I don’t really worry about much now.
But then again, I immediately realized I’d rather hang out with people who refused the pill. I mean, they’d be more interesting for sure, right? They’d be strangely not insecure. They might even be proud of pimples and asymmetries, in a world of everyone looking super perfect. I’d definitely want to hang with them.
But then would they want to hang with me? On second thought, I wouldn’t take the pill because it would matter more to me to signal interestingness than to be considered attractive, especially if attractiveness was cheaply gotten.
What about you guys? This might be the dumbest post I’ve ever written but for some reason I like this thought experiment, and when I’ve asked different people they never give me the same answer, and so far nobody agrees with me.
One last thing. I think the entire game changes if the pill only lasted for 12 hours.