Saturday, May 2, 2009

More Thoughts on Human Memory

Our memory is an imperfect mechanism.  It is possibly our greatest asset and our greatest liability as a species.  

If it were greater, if we remembered with more accuracy, as a group we would not be as susceptible to mistakes of judgement, or irrational exuberance, of all the mistakes that young persons tend to make.  

If it were worse, if we all knew our memories were bad and we misremembered details, then we would not hold grudges as much, we would not list crimes our grandparents commited on one another as reasons for fighting today.  

Fights and actions forty years ago would have less bearing on events today.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have ended; the U.S. might be friendlier with Cuba.  And social problems like racism might be dampened.

The same is true in the smaller world of sports.  The critical issue is what happens when a teams skill level changes.  The Detroit Pistons went to six straight Eastern Conference Finals.  They won a title, and routinely competed with the best teams in the league.  This year they were horrible.  They traded their best player; they took on a notoriously bad team mate; and they were older.  

One can never over-estimate the power of age.  It slowly saps the energy and will of a team.  It makes them incrementally slowers, a little longer to recover, slightly less excited over a game. 

And the Pistons fought through those factors the last season or two.  And this year, after building up and building up, the effects of age and trades broke through.  And the Pistons went from 2nd to 8th in the league.  A precipitous drop.  

If my and everyone else's memory wasn't so bad, we would have quickly realized that the Pistons were worse.  They lost a lot of games.  And that is what happens to mediocre teams.  They lose games.  

Specifically, although I haven't analyzed their schedule, what type of situations does a good team do better than average in.  Is it all road games?  Or is it the second night of back to backs?  Or do they not lose to crappy teams?  Or do they beat the good teams on the road?  Or simply hold court against top teams at home?  These are valid indicators of a good team.

What I want to remember from this post is that when a team drops considerably, from top team to mid-level, from a mid-level team to a worst-in-the-league team, how long does it take to realize that?  There can be a lot of money made because people's expectations change slowly and it usually takes a post-season flame out, or really bad end-of-year ranking to change peoples consideration of a team.  

We really need to see the brutal results to change our opinions.  We'd rather disbelieve our eyes than change our opinions.

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