Economombo – scoring the soothsayers.

By way of something diverting, I thought it would be fun to throw in some light-hearted observations on behavior of very large groups from time to time.

The group I find to be the most amusing is of prognosticating economists. They certainly get a lot of air time. It’s as if the weather isn’t interesting enough, perhaps because none of us are farmers. Or perhaps it’s because we have some misguided notion that economists have something to do with the stock market, and we are interested in the stock market because that’s where our retirement dollars live.

But what’s most amusing to me is that no-one ever takes them to task for making their predictions. Routinely they come up with wonderfully convoluted and semi-convincing arguments for why their prediction will undoubtedly be the best one. But come the future, and where do we find these dark science laureate wannabees? Hiding their faces in the next near future event.

Here’s the news that got my scorecard unction up. It’s from Bloomberg, a relatively innocuous source of news, whose slant isn’t too much greater than a gentle wind from the right.

Japanese, Hong Kong Stock Futures Rise on U.S. Economic Data   By Adam Haigh – May 28, 2013 7:08 PM ET

U.S. consumer confidence climbed in May to the highest level in more than five years, a Conference Board report showed yesterday. The index rose to 76.2, the strongest since February 2008 and exceeding the highest estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists.

Separate data showed that U.S. house prices rose in the 12 months through March by the most in seven years as the recovery in residential real estate gained momentum. The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values increased 10.9 percent from March 2012, the biggest 12-month gain since April 2006, after advancing 9.4 percent in February.

On the other hand, our business has seen a significant drop in orders, our salesmen have much more time to talk, and the proportion of orders for spare parts compared to whole units has also increased. All these signs point to a slowdown in the economy.

And on top of all that, my own personal econo-meter is showing a double down trend. The last time it’s done that was in November of 2008 – right after Lehman brothers decided to cash in their chips.

What happens next? Who knows? But at least I have this little reminder that, according to the pundits of today, things should be getting better. I hope they’re right!

Why study behavior?

Why study behavior?

Why should we study behavior, at all? Really, why do we bother? After all, it can be quite a pain. We analyze it, debate it, argue over it, and never seem to come to any conclusions. So, I ask again, why study it at all?

Fact is, we all study behavior, whether we want to or not, all the time. I’ll prove it, right here, right now. If you already agree then you can skip all this. After all, you’re already a student of behavior, like me. On the other hand, if you are intrigued with the idea of learning about behavior, but think it’s something you don’t have to do, then read on.

Let’s start by looking at some headlines from today’s Yahoo feed.

Global economy is slowing down.
Great lakes states may make money selling fresh water.
Japan’s economy is showing strength.
Fighting in Syria is spilling over into the Lebanese city of Tripoli.
US FDA is slow than Europe in approving new heart valve technologies, putting older patients at risk.
Anti-gay marriage protests are held peacefully in Paris.
Actor Anjelina Jolie’s aunt dies of breast cancer.
An Oregon teenager is arrested for plotting an attack on his school.
A Cleveland man, arrested for heldig 3 women captive for 10 years, may be changed with murdering many fetuses even without evidence.
A young girl is murdered after being lured into a sexual bondage trap.
Finally, an even younger girl hung herself out of humiliation. She was tormented by pictures being circulated of her naked body. Those pictures were taken by three teen boys who had raped her, drawn pictures on her flesh, and then snapped their trophy photos. She was in a drunken stupor at the time.

These eleven headlines are not unusual, unfortunately. They cover the gamut, from economic and political events at the global scale, to intensely personal experiences of people we may know.

Now, here is my point. At any time did you find yourself thinking: how does this impact me, why does this happen, or, how can I prevent this from happening? If you did, then you’re a student of behavior.

I ask myself these questions all the time. Why do any of these terrible tragedies happen? Why aren’t our children better taught? Why aren’t our governments more intelligent and responsive? Why aren’t we all more tolerant of each other? Why, after so many years of Nobel Prizes, can’t we figure out how to keep our society balanced and productive?

I ask myself these questions because, deep down, I’m still an idealist. I’d like to think that everything bad that we endure happens because of ignorance. Someone, somewhere, has made bad choices.

Still not convinced? There’s another reason to study behavior, and that’s for sheer curiosity. This is more the egg-headed academic approach, and it’s as good a reason as any. Unfortunately, many academics don’t seem to be as motivated at the practical level.

You’re not an academic, you say, and you’re still not convinced you already study behavior? Are you, by any chance, ambitious? Do you seek to increase your income, legally or not? Do you seek professional advancement, such as recognition or advanced degrees? Or maybe you’re interested in power – best exemplified by career politicians. Or, perhaps, you are an idealist and want to help others.

If you are ambitious, then, in each and every case, you can’t achieve your goals without studying behavior in some form. Are you a teacher trying to reach more students, or being more effective with a single student? Then you need to better understand how they think and learn, both as a group, and as individuals. Are you a real estate agent trying to sell more homes? Then you must understand your neighborhood, your owners, buyers, competition, and even agents working for you. As an ambitious politician, you know, perhaps better than anyone, that you need to understand your constituents, your donors, your party, your own organization, and the media. There’s even a remote chance, if you’re idealistic enough, that you will even have to better understand your own government so that you can actually contribute to your nation in a positive way.

What, you’re not ambitious? And you’re still not convinced? Fine enough, but are you a nice person, a member in good standing of your own family, and a law-abiding citizen? If you are, here’s a surprise. Being nice to your mother, saying “please” and “thank you” to strangers, even driving close to the speed limit, all these things are learned. Our customs, our taboos, our posted laws are all aspects of behavior. These are socially specific behaviors governed by rules allowing all of us to live together.

As these rules change, then, so must you. In the old times, people drove without seat belts, now it’s mandatory. Today, drivers are learning that driving and texting are dangerous. So, even in this most limited sense, you are still a student of behavior.

Ah, you say, you have me now. You reject society, politicians, indeed, you reject everyone. You’re an anarchist, a survivalist. It’s going to be nothing but you and Nature. Fine. You’ve got me.

Except, well, there is this one thing. What happens when you get hungry? This basic life function must be obeyed or you will die. Guess what? You can’t eat unless you study behavior. That’s right. Do you hunt? Where does your game live, sleep, drink? What’s the best way to sneak up on it? Do you use your bare hands, or a tool? If there’s a tool, how was it made, and how does it work? Maybe you’re not a hunter, but a gatherer. In this case, where does the best food grow? How is it best prepared? Or perhaps you will be a minimalist survivalist, and eat bugs. Fine, what kind? Where do they like to live?

Every single question can only be answered if you study behavior. Not just the behavior of people, but of animals, bugs, and plants. Even as a survivalist you must still study behavior in some form in order to exist.

Gentle Reader, I hope that now you’ll agree that, no matter what you do or what you may aspire, you are a student of behavior. Even if you only live to survive, you must still study behavior even if it is in some small way.

Well then, fellow student, welcome to the club. For al these reasons and more, I too, am a student. Follow me next, then, as we quickly explore the next question; what is the best way to study behavior?

First post and introduction to Behavior

Introduction to this discussion board


This site is a discussion board focused on behavior.  Each discussion begins with a short observation or essay on some aspect of behavior.

Most simply, behavior is all that life does, everything.

Life itself encompasses all scales, and by implication, the actions of life must also be considered at all scales.

This creation has been decades in the making, but only now has enough elements coming available making this possible.  Some of these elements are, in no particular order, the fall of the Soviet Union, the increasing disparity between rich and poor worldwide, the rise of china, the recent recession involving many countries, the even deeper recession that is beginning even now, the internet, and an almost universal acceptance that Earth is getting warmer.

These essays will be unique, although exactly how they compare to others is for another day.  Here, definitions will be explicit, and as extensively anchored to real behaviors as possible.  Too many hours are wasted in arguments where each party uses the same terms with very different meanings. Like the hard disciplines, such as physics, terms must be defined, accessible, and measurable.

Beyond topical essays, you will also find several larger works distributed piecemeal. These works are not afraid to tackle the most salient features of human behavior.

Even as no aspect of behavior is excluded from discussion, no question you may ask will be considered taboo.

There are certain expectations of quality that you should aspire, however.  The standard of quality is rigor, of definition and internal logic.  Yes, every question can reveal some extent of these elements, the more detailed the question, the more obvious and necessary these elements become.

The ultimate arbiter of quality will be two of man’s greatest inventions, logic and science.  Traditional logic was best introduced by Socrates roughly 2500 years ago, and the scientific method as illuminated for us by the great thinkers of the Renaissance.

Logic, science, and explicit definitions are all we need to productively explore this most intriguing and least understood realm of knowledge.

I look forward to your comments.

Again, Welcome.