Why does everyone else seem to have so many?
Most lectures last semester I opened with some elicitation for students to have their input. On at least half a dozens occasions that input took the form of
“What’s your favorite ________?”
The particulars varied, but color and number were both repeated several times.
There are many things I don’t really get about my fellow humans. Fandom, for example, is a deep an impenetrable mystery to me. Favorites are not quite as mysterious. Some are rational expressions of suprema of our personal preference function. I also understand that familiarity is comfortable, that it is convenient to make decisions once for all, and that we can easily transfer emotions from an event onto incidentals of that event. But I have long known that I have relatively few favorites.
When asked what my favorite number was the first time I was honestly surprised. I have heard about favorite numbers, of course, but had always assumed they were more or less obscure. I can not imagine any rational reason to favor one over another; they are abstract, don’t impose themselves on one’s notice, and appear over and over again in so many settings it seemed unlikely that any single emotion would win one over another.
So I asked the class One of the nice things about teaching large classes is that I can get large samples very easily. It would have taken me weeks to get a hundred responses last year. (about 100 people were there that day) “how many of you have favorite numbers?” At least three quarters of the students’ hands rose. I was floored. Three quarters? How could that be?
Later I had occasion to ask the same thing about favorite color. If there were hands that stayed down, I didn’t notice them. Colors are so prevalent in so many settings, how could any one of them come to be favored? I knew, of course, that this kind of favoring was very common, but had not considered how common it was.
I actually had one student visit me in my office and try to persuade me that I ought to pick a favorite number. That conversation was very strange to me as well. He did confirm that his favorite number was based on emotional transference (though not in so many words) but then suggested that I could just select a number at random and that it would then become my favorite. That suggestion further boggled my mind. Suppose I threw a very large die and it picked; what could possibly cause that to become my favorite?
Thus, an unexpected side effect of my first semester as an instructor was adding irrational favorites to my list of things I just don’t understand.