Human Behavior Insights?

Science magazine is the US of A’s top tier journal for disseminating human knowledge.

From some Australians, this article claims insights into human behavior that can “help conservation.”  It would certainly be good if it were true.  But I’m not even sure these insights are solid.  One of my concerns is that these insights can help big brother manipulate us more easily.

In order of appearance in the article, they are:

  1. People have a strong tendency to avoid making difficult decisions, and as a result, they are prone to accepting whatever default option they are presented with—even when this option is not in their own, or society’s, best interest.
  2. People also have a cognitive bias that causes them to disproportionately weight initial information when making decisions.
  3. … there is a cognitive bias that causes people to perceive that losses hurt about twice as much as gains feel good, often referred to as loss aversion or prospect theory.
  4. The decoy effect is the phenomenon that people tend to change their preference between two options when presented with a third option that is meant to be inferior in some regard (a decoy).
  5. [We have an] … innate desire for prestige, reputation, conformity, and reciprocity … [so that our] … decisions and actions are shaped by perceptions (whether accurate or not) of what other people do and what they approve.  For instance, some utilities reduced consumption by reporting comparisons between the usage rates of the customer, their neighbors, and the most efficient users.
  6. People also behave differently when they think they are being observed.
  7. [Finally,] … we are also influenced by the source of our information … [like] popular actors, athletes, or public figures.

(article – not paywalled: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/362/6417/889.full)

Waves and Particles

Ever hear the story about the blind naturalists and the elephant?

If you haven’t, check it out.  Nice lesson in how only seeing a part of the picture is nowhere near as interesting as seeing the whole picture.  Makes sense.

Fast forward to this century.  Physicists have a problem.  A big problem.  It all starts with  phenomena like lightning or superconductors.  In order to understand these things, physicists like to think of the charges making lightning work as “particles.”

Meanwhile, there are other phenomena like sticky molecules (van der Waals forces) and tunneling.  And in order to understand THESE things physicists think of the charges as “waves.”

Making it even more complicated are some experiments that show the same charges can be BOTH things at the same time.  In a double-slit demonstration, these charges can act like waves, until the very instant YOU try to measure something.  At which point the charges act like particles.

That’s not even the weirdest part.  The weirdest part is the fact that these charges KNOW you are measuring them.

What does this have to do with our blind naturalists?

They had names for each part they measured, but not the whole thing.  They couldn’t.  But in their discussions, they could only focus on what they knew.  “It’s a rope!” “Nope, it’s a trunk!” “Bunk, it’s a flappy leaf!”

If they came up with a new name, it would start them on the process of realizing their new “thing” consisted of all those elements.

The same is true with our physicists.  The electron, the photon, perhaps even quarks are not particles, they are not waves.  We could call them, fordims.

A new word, a new understanding.  Fordims are something new, something very different.  They can act particle-like, but are not particles.  They can act wave-like, but are not waves.  They can occupy the same (3 dimensional) space, but not the same higher dimensions.

This may sound trite, even silly, but sometimes it takes a silly step in a new direction to find the correct path.  Many many smart people have been working on this problem for over a century, without luck.  Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s time to call this “rope-trunk-leaf-bone-tongue-wall” but a new name.

After all, it is the elephant in the room.

 

Emily Dickinson Had a Purpose

Rocking your World since 1884

Do you?

Dedicating yourself to a purpose is mostly unique to our species.  The lives we honor had some purpose involving helping others.

You already have several purposes in life.  Being a good neighbor or child, being a good parent, even taking care of yourself so that you can properly fulfill the others.

But for the ambitious, it’s possible to create an even higher calling for your life.  Something that not only brings deeper meaning for yourself, but for all those around you.

The idea of having a purpose is so powerful, that one of my life’s axioms is that no statement, no fact, no discipline can be properly evaluated without taking purpose into account.

On that note, what did Emily say about her purpose?

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Given that her words have probably lessened the pain of millions, she was a brilliant success as an artist, as a life coach, as an observer of human behavior.

Thank you, Emily.

 

Shivanomics

The time has come, as it must for all things weak and unproductive.

The old tree becomes dry, hollow, and falls to the ground, fertilizing the next generation of flowers.

Taking out the old, bringing in the new.

The old man leaves his home feet first, enabling a young couple to move in.

Who is at the bottom of all this change?

The pantheon of Hinduism has a great character for this, the god Shiva…

the destroyer.

For you must destroy in order to create anew.  Get rid of the old, bring in the young.

The time has come for that to happen to one of the oldest behavioral studies we have:

Economics.

Economists have failed us in so many ways that it’s difficult to describe.  In simplest form, consider these damning accusations:

  1. No economic model has any predictive value.
  2. After so many years and dollars of investment, there is yet to be a single (actual) statement that can be considered a LAW of economics.  Not one.

It’s best if we leave this simple.  And here’s the simple solution.

Shiva.

Yes, the destroyer must come and eliminate all things economic.  All tenured positions, all funded chairs, all areas of grant funding.

Shiva must visit the Nobel committee and get them to rescind the award, saving it for something more meaningful.

Shiva must erase every professional in government, banking, and finance house that carries the title of economist.  Shiva must come with her large eraser and make every journalist, every commentator, and every column that refers to economics go away.

That is what must happen for the situation to improve.  For now we spend so much time, energy, and money asking experts for their insights, and they have none.  For this they are never punished.

And for that, we must plead to Shiva.

It’s time to study Shivanomics.

 

 

Questions versus Answers

Some years ago…  alright, many years ago, I was in public school taking chemistry.  The star quarterback was in my class, and he wasn’t liking chemistry as much as I did.  But he had one of those new calculators, and I didn’t.  The teacher was a nice guy and let us share.

Guess what?  Yup.It's not what you know, it's how you know it.

I would do the problem and leave the answer on the calculator.  The quarterback would have the answer, and then hand the calculator back to me.  He passed the class.

Except one of us learned chemistry.

So, which would you rather have?

A) Answers, or …

B) Questions teaching you how to get your own answers?

That’s right, the correct answer is “B.”

And here’s the reason why.

If someone gives you an answer, how do you know it’s right?

If something changes later on, and you need a new answer, can you get it for yourself?

Best yet, if you understand the process of getting that answer, maybe you can apply it to another problem.  Right?

Right.

So, if someone offers you an answer, try saying “no thank you.”  Instead, ask them to show you how to get the answer yourself.  You’ll thank them someday.

 

Hawking’s Intelligent T-Shirt

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My brother-in-law got me a fun T-shirt displaying this text:

1N73LL1G3NC3
15 7H3
4B1L17Y
70 4D4P7 70
CH4NG3
573PH3N H4WK1NG

I’ll let you wrestle through it, as that’s part of the fun.

There’s a little problem, however.

It’s wrong. Now, I don’t know if the late great Hawking said this, I haven’t checked as yet.  However, the definition itself is wrong.

Fundamentally, there are many things that can’t adapt to change.  In fact, I know quite a few people, generally ex-employees, that do their best to resist change.  That’s partly why they are “ex” employees.

Despite their resistance to change, despite their inability to adapt to change, I wouldn’t call them unintelligent.

That’s part of the problem with not having a good definition.

So, with all due (possible) respect to Stephen H., here’s my hat in the ring.

Intelligence is the reflection of the environment within our defined life form.

Let me break this down.  It starts off with “Intelligence is…”  So that part is easy.  Since it doesn’t have to deal with change, it’s directly related to something else.  So measurement should be easier.  Not easy.  Easier.

Next, it’s a reflection.  This makes our job easier, because that means there is going to be a “source” and a “target.”  Every reflection requires some form of mirror, and the mirror reflects light from some object (the source) to a mind, making an impression (the target).

What’s the source?  It’s the environment.  Buckminster Fuller said it best: Environment is everything but me.

Here’s the fun part.  Where’s the target?  It’s going to be “inside” something.

What is that “something?”

That’s OUR defined life form.  This is the trickiest part, because most of the time no one takes the time to define who has the intelligence.  If we all agree we’re evaluating the intelligence of a mouse, then there it is.  If it’s the entire mouse species, that’s different.  If it’s going to be you, that’s one thing.  But if it’s going to be a whole bunch of us, that’s very different.

No single image summarizes our dread of Artificial Intelligence more than this.

Ever heard of group intelligence?  Some feel that groups are not quite as swift as individuals.  Now we can test for that.  What is the reflection of the environment within the group?  The group may have a great reflection, but if they can’t communicate it within themselves very well, then it doesn’t do them much good.  They would still be considered “intelligent” by my definition, but as many people have argued through the years, intelligence doesn’t always mean you’re smart.

There you have it.  This doesn’t quite answer a lot of the tough questions that are still out there.  Check out the post from 6 August 2018.  In the meantime, be careful out there.

Be intelligent.  Be smart!

 

Unnatural Selection

31 years old and full of fire.

It’s been a while since Darwin published his books about living things. I can’t think of anyone who should hold the title of the world first, and most famous, behavioral scientist.

There is a problem, however. And it’s built into both of his most famous books: Origin and Descent.

He must have known he was doing it.  But as I’ve noted before, taking on GOD did not seem like the best method for influencing the course of human history.  He made the right choice.  But it also means he left us a flawed work.

The flaw is the term “Natural Selection.”

This term appears 247 times in Origin and 155 times in Descent.

Why is it a flaw?

Because it means there are forms of selection that are not natural.

What can be “not natural?”

For one, it was a popular notion that anything people did back in those days was somehow different from what the birds and bees could do.  People can talk to each other and use tools.  Birds and bees couldn’t do those things… or did they?

Of course they could.  Only people didn’t know enough to know that.

People could also choose to cross-breed trees or flowers in ways no one had ever seen before.  These ways were also deemed to be “not natural.”

We had a term for that.  We called it “synthetic.”  So you could have natural selection, and then you could have synthetic selection.

There’s another problem.

People were also considered to be extremely special in the universe.  We had a direct wireless connection to the greatest server of all time, GOD.

So not only was our behavior beyond the natural, it was SUPER-natural.

Here’s where the problem surfaces today.

By limiting his ideas to what is considered natural, Darwin left the door open to those who want to believe that everything people do is somehow above and beyond the rest of nature.

And that’s the real problem.  Because being able to use the established tools of conventional science has been good enough to understand life from bugs to butterflies.

The same tools should be good enough to understand Beyonce and Bulgaria as well.

But we don’t allow it, because we feel that somehow, they are beyond our understanding.

We shouldn’t.  Nothing is beyond our ability to imagine.

Anything less?

Well.  That would simply be, unnatural.

 

 

Where There’s Smoke

They always seem to go together.It’s no coincidence that if you see smoke, there’s fire somewhere inside.

If you live inside a house, you’re taught from an early age to save your life by GETTING OUT.

Drop.  Roll.  Know your escape route to safety.

That’s the easy way to save your life.

What if the smoke you are seeing isn’t from inside your home?

What if the smoke is coming from your society?  What if the news is full of tragic stories?  What if your family and friends are touched by random violence?

What if your planet is being harassed by unthinking newly arrived inhabitants, who litter, obliterate, and violate huge portions of its landscape?  What if the Amazon is cut down?  What if we fill the atmosphere with CO2 and methane?  Why does it matter if we drive so many species to extinction?

These are all variations of seeing the smoke inside your home.  Many people see the smoke, and are crying out as loud as they can: FIRE!

My question is this.  Why can’t more people see the smoke?  How many more cries will it take to move the majority of people?  What will it take to get governments to act?  Even more critically, what will it take to make all governments act in unison?

If you are studying any social discipline, including philosophy, these questions should be at the top of your syllabus.  Your “discipline” should have a methodology, a basis of axioms and reference in which you can answer this question.  Better yet, if your discipline is mature enough, it may even suggest an optimal route of making our world a better place.

If not, then, all I can say is…

Drop.

Roll.

And …

 

 

Goodbye Soft Science

Makes as much sense as most soft science.What’s in a word?

Quite a bit, in fact.

There’s this “news” organization that calls itself “X News.”  Because it says “news” everyone gives it the same credibility as other organizations that deliver true news.

What is news?  We’ll talk about that some other day.

The fact of the matter is that when you are trying to sell something, and that something is not worth much, it’s to your benefit to disguise it.  Ask any fast-talking salesman.

So if your program is a bunch of talking heads talking nonsense, call it “news” so it has more credibility.

What about if your academic discipline is rather “funny” in itself?  What if your discipline has failed to advance our knowledge of its purported subject by any measurable amount during its entire existence?

Simple.  Call it a science.

If you’re a “real” scientist, like in chemistry, or physics, you’re not going to enjoy eating at the same table as an sociologist, or economist.

So you call yourself a “hard” scientist.  Your facts are hard.  Your experiments are hard.  Your conclusions stand the test of time and replication.  They are also hard.

What are the other guys?

So far we’ve been calling them “soft” scientists.

I suggest an improvement.

It’s time to give them a label that gives us a better idea as to what they truly are in the great scheme of things.

Squishy.

They are quite squishy.

You push them, and they move out of the way.

You can pinch, pull, stretch and fold them as much as you want, and they come back exactly the same.

That’s what economics, sociology, and a whole host of other such “sciences” can do.

So it’s time we call an ultra conservative talk show what it is.

And it’s time we call squishy sciences exactly what they are.

Squishy.

Now we need to drop the whole “science” bit from them.  But one step at a time.

 

Happy Birthday Dr. Frankenstein

Image

The novel Frankenstein was published 200 years ago this year, on January First.  I don’t think google did a doodle on it, but they should have.  Today (30 August) is the anniversary of the birth of the author, Mary Shelley.

Science magazine devoted a whole special section on the impact Frankenstein has had upon popular culture. [1] There’s more Franken-things than you can shake a stick at!  Each of which denotes something scary that has been created by humankind.

Try it out.  Pick any noun, say, tomato.  Stick a “franken” on it – and voila – you have a:

Franken-tomato.  Sounds like something that was genetically modified.  Could be tasty.  But our first reaction is, ugh.  Get it away from me.

That’s the whole point of Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein.

It’s not the monster that is the bad guy.  It’s us.

We create things with our knowledge, our technology, our science.  And then we abuse it, we deny it, we argue that it doesn’t exist.  Yet it does exist.

And in our active ignorance, it ends up causing harm.  In the end we may think we have won because we defeat it, but perhaps we are no better off than we were before.

This theme has been used so many times since she rediscovered it that it’s hard to pick the best examples.  Try Colossus, the Forbin Project.  Or Skynet of Terminator, or Adromeda Strain, or; do I need to continue?

The Ancient Greeks created the first rendition of this story.  They talked of Prometheus, who brought forbidden fires to humans.  Without fire we would still be running from the lions, instead of looking at them in the zoo.

What does this have to do with behavior?  Are you kidding?  What doesn’t it have to do with behavior?  This is exactly the kind of stuff we should be talking about, for every new technology: Nuclear power, DNA editing, CO2 sequestration, and more.

Even more importantly, as students of behavior, we should have a framework that allows us to understand and discuss ANY new technology regardless of what that technology may be or how it impacts us.  How’s THAT for a challenge?

Enough for today.  I wanted to make sure SOMEONE said Happy Birthday to Mary.  After all, she did something many activists have been dreaming of doing for years.  I only wish people would read her book and discuss it, intelligently.

Instead of just going, UGH.

 

[1] Science magazine, 12 January 2018, Volume 359, Issue 6372.