Wildly Astray Intuition

I’m sure like me you were incredibly heartened by the Thai Cave rescue. It was a horrendous situation, but the bravery of the divers must be commended.

However, I have seen a few people describing the exercise as a ‘miracle’.

I have little doubt that the Thai government relied heavily on weather experts and flood hazard assessments carefully worked out to make a probabilistic risk assessment regarding the boys’ rescue.

All of us possess a super computer – it’s a fast, intuitive mode of thinking. It feels comfortable because it renders decision making fast, easy, intuitive.

In our ordinary lives it works well.

If we met a group of scientists trying to work out how to get a group of young boys out of a flooded cave 2 ½ miles under the surface of the world, we might not expect them to use their “intuition”.

Intuition reliably goes wildly astray when dealing with complexity and uncertainty.

Some solicitors (like us) – with some awareness of how the mind works, and its frailties – use a technique called “decision analysis” as a slow logical check on intuitive decision making; just like scientists check their intuitive decision with tried and trusted mathematical models and techniques.

Decision analysis is a tool used to value the multiple financial outcomes possible in litigation by looking at all of the possibilities, attempting to give an accurate judgment on the possible outcomes (what lawyers do anyway) to translate the client’s expectations into realistic probabilities.

It has to be admitted, that the assignment of a probability (in terms of a number) to a possible future event presupposes a frequency of similar events in the past which given an indication of their probability, and a lawyer is unable to work with those types of statistical models.

We work with precedent and evidence as applied to the facts to try and obtain the same result.

Here’s an example if you want to dig further without getting bogged down in legal jargon. It’s not strictly a legal video, but illustrates the point well:


We normally draw up a decision tree by hand on intuitive modelling to start with and then begin to refine it.

We can then factor into it the facts we can prove, the facts which are doubtful, and the rule of law that applies in each scenario and thus build up a comprehensive picture for the client.

Costs recovery in law is only about 70% on a very good day. It is often unlikely that a client’s financial expectations will be met in a court of law and it is good for them to have an overview of outcomes based on agreed probabilities before they become committed.

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