I agree with AC...you’re being too hard on the students. I doubt very much they were stating anything with confidence. It’s quite possible that some of them didn’t really care about understanding physics and were just trying to get the right answer to please the teacher, but others were probably just thinking out loud. Thinking “maybe it’s heat conduction” might just be the first step to thinking “no, it can’t be heat conduction,” or even to realizing “I don’t really understand heat conduction,” and there is nothing wrong with this train of thought. They were probably “biased” towards the idea that there was some physical principle causing the effect, but that was entirely rational because the professor set them up to believe that.
Great story, though.
I think that EY’s problem with this point of view is a typical one that I find here at LW: a consideration of the rational thinker as loner in heroic mode, who is expected to ignore all contexts (social, environmental, whatever) that are not explicitly stated as part of the problem presentation.
On the other hand, these students were in a physics class, and the question is obviously not part of normal conversation.
Are you saying that in an environment for learning about- and discussing rationality, we should strive for a less-than-ideal rationality (that is, some form of irrationality) just because of practical contexts that people often run into and choose the easy way out of?
Would you become equally suspicious of the math teacher’s point of view if some person from a math problem buys 125 boxes with 6 watermelons each, since he won’t be able to handle that amount in most practical contexts?