Earlier I posted about my preference for simultaneously accepting multiple models that conflict with each other, and applying them to different situations. One reason to do so is that one model may be more accurate in particular applications. This occurs in both cosmology and social science. A second reason to do so is that, independent of accuracy, some models have greater pragmatic value in particular applications–that is, they’re more useful even if less accurate.
Consider two theories of basketball. Theory A says that in any basketball game, the better team–the team that has better talent, strategy, and work-ethic–will always win. Theory B says that while talent, strategy and work-ethic are important, luck is also a factor; thus the best team usually wins, but sometimes loses, at no fault of their own. Both theories are internally consistent, and consistent with observed phenomena, though they conflict with each other. In deciding which model to use, I find I prefer Theory A when I’m playing basketball, and Theory B when I’m gambling on basketball, regardless of which model I believe to be more accurate. I consider the ability to accept the viability both models, given their dissonance, and to casually switch between them, to be a fairly useful skill. Even though I know that one theory must be wrong, Theory A makes me a better baller, and Theory B makes me a better gambler, so I benefit from applying both at different times.
I had similar thoughts when reading Why I am Not’s post on charity. The author finds something fishy with the economics of charity auctions, and proposes they may less than perfectly altruistic. So there are two models: first, that charity auctions are highly altruistic, and that attendees ought to celebrate themselves; second, that charity auction attendees are stuck-up self-congratulating jerks. Regardless of the accuracy of these models, I’d recommend using the second in pithy blog posts, while begrudgingly sticking to the first while attending charity auctions. Even if you believe charity auctions are wasteful, hiding your true feelings has social utility, and will keep you from coming across as weird.