Before psychologist Amos Tversky died in1988, he conceded that over his professional career he lost many good friends over his finding that the notion of a “hot hand” among basketball players was a myth. The shared wisdom was that the player who successfully makes his or her shots (i.e. the one with the hot hand) should be fed the ball since that player is likely to continue to make shots. Tversky proved that wisdom was wrong. Even so, basketball players refused to accept that truth.
Science writer James Gleick explained Tversky this way. “A Stanford University psychologist, examining thousands of shots in actual games, found [that] the probability of a successful shot depends not at all on the shots that come before.” That people choose to believe otherwise reveals “the discrepancy between reality and belief” that “highlights the extraordinary difference between events that are random and events that people perceive as random. When events come in clusters and streaks, people look for explanations; they refuse to believe they are random, even though clusters and streaks do occur in random data.” Though Tversky’s conclusion made him controversial and even unpopular, he stuck to his position.
Tversky’s willingness to buck so-called “expert” opinion is similar to the experience of the patriarch Abraham. It was Abraham who willingly challenged the expert opinion of his day that the world was populated by many gods, holding the position that there was but one God responsible for everything. The Midrash that explains the reasons why Abraham was identified as a “Hebrew” highlighted the loneliness of sticking to this opinion. The word “Hebrew” derives from the same root as the Hebrew word for “river bank.” According to the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 42:8), “Abraham stood on one bank of the river and the entire world stood on the other.”
Life sometimes demands that people take positions on matters of importance, even though the position taken may be unpopular. As a sign in one Jewish Day School once reminded students: “If you do not stand for something, you will fall for anything.” The lesson of Abraham is clear. Be willing to stand for what you know is right, despite the consequences.