Kennon-Green & Co. Fiduciary Financial Advisor, Wealth Management, Global Value Investing

For water to freeze, it must reach 32 degrees Fahrenheit.  For water to boil, it must reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit.  The question: Which freezes faster: Room temperature water (say, 75 degrees Fahrenheit) or boiling water (212 degrees Fahrenheit)?

The common sense answer would be room temperature water would freeze faster because it is only 43 degrees away from freezing, while the boiling water is 180 degrees away from freezing.  That answer is often wrong.  Boiling water can freeze faster than lukewarm water due to something known as the Mpemba effect.  When the eponymous modern discoverer of this property asked his teacher why boiling water froze faster, based on his own observations, he was mocked.

Mpemba Effect

The Mpemba Effect is one of the best examples of counterintuitive truths. Boiling water can freeze faster than room temperature water under certain conditions.  It makes no sense and shouldn’t happen but it does.  It’s a powerful mental model that reminds us not to extrapolate conclusions based on past observed truths.
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If you want to think better, train yourself to consider all proposals, even those that appear absurd.  Look at the evidence.  Some situations involve Mpemba effects.

For example, we’ve discussed many times that evidence illustrates if you want less teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, the worst possible thing you can do is teach abstinence only.  That seems absurd.  It shouldn’t be the case.  It makes no sense.  But that is what the data shows.  It’s counterintuitive.

[mainbodyad]If you want less drug addicts running around, the best thing to do is to stop treating drug addiction like a crime and, instead, like a medical dependency, using the Switzerland model to provide trained nurses in facilities to inject heroin addicts so that they don’t catch HIV or die from an overdose; in the process, radically reducing crime and taxpayer subsidized health insurance costs, while improving the odds someone can get treatment.  Again, it seems absurd to think that providing free synthetic drugs, free needles, and paid medical professionals to inject the addicts could reduce the behavior itself, yet it does.  It’s counterintuitive.

The Mpemba Effect teaches us that you need to be guided by demonstrable facts and evidence, not what you expect to happen; not what you think should be the truth.  Consider all possibilities and then let the outcomes of your experiments and research lead you to truth, even if that means you don’t like the implications or don’t fully understand the reasons.