How do humans evaluate?

In my last post, I looked at the meaning of the word “value” and came to the conclusion that it is inherently subjective; nothing can have a value until it has in some way been evaluated.

Observation: As human beings we do ascribe a value to things, but how do we do that, and why can one person’s valuation of something be so different from another’s?

Discussion: Firstly, let’s look at this from a completely abstract and mathematical position. If we look at a property of an object which we call length, we can ascribe a numerical value to that property by evaluating it with regard to a standard unit of length. Such an evaluation may prove useful to us in determining its suitability for some application, but this evaluation alone has not helped in defining any ultimate value in the object.

Object falling through hole

We can see this through an evaluation performed by a mechanical system. An object is dropped directly above a hole in a solid surface. In this experiment, the properties of the object and the hole determine whether the object falls through the hole, or doesn’t. ¬†One might be tempted to see this as an evaluation quite similar to our first – if the object fits through the hole, we have determined that its dimensions are smaller than that of the hole, and if it doesn’t, it is bigger. Such a simplification of the mechanism in this way only shows how easy it is for humans to miscalculate value by making assumptions and describing it in simplified terms that they can easily measure, neglecting to see the full mechanism behind the evaluation. Afterall, if the object is weak and brittle, when dropped it may break when it hits the edge of the hole, not only potentially changing whether it falls through the hole, but also the dimensional properties with which we have been so far evaluating it as an observer.

It is little wonder, then, that human beings tend to evaluate through some kind of intuition or historic comparison when putting a value on things in their lives, rather than through rigorous mathematical evaluation of all the possible properties and features of something that contributes to its value. Such an evaluation would undoubtedly take more time than it is possible for a human to put in, even if they had the inclination to do so.

Human evaluation takes place through shortcuts Рestablished models and standards, emotional responses, intuition.  These are often highly subjective, but as long as we continue to recognise them as methods of evaluation that give an estimated value, rather than an absolute value, then we can start to understand their weaknesses, and their strengths.

Conclusion: Humans evaluate things using models, standards and emotions to come up with an estimated value, not an absolute value.

In future posts, I will look at some of these specific models and their flaws, and then try to establish models that we should use to ascribe value.



  1. Elena
    Posted 3 April, 2016 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    But since value is subjective, then there is no such thing as absolute value?

  2. Elena
    Posted 31 January, 2019 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    I was just reading this, then I saw a past comment from me at the end. Funny how we are drawn to the same topics over and over eh?

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