Chocolate fireguards…

Am reading (too) much about our species’ many cognitive frailties. It’s a sexy topic these days, and there’s no shortage of quality writing on the topic (personal faves at moment are Dan Ariely and Keith Stanovich).

Here’s a cartoon from Dore to this effect…

A goodly proportion of our frailties seems to be down to our need to think of ourselves as internally consistent, our beliefs attuned to reality, not influenced by other people’s attempts at conning us, or by our previous (irrational) decisions. So, if we spent a lot of money on something that was a dud, then we, if we can, refuse to admit that we bought a dud. And if a meal cost a lot of money, if it’s ok it will taste great, and if it’s great it will taste amazing.* And so on. Emperor’s New Clothes and all that…

* The sentence implies that there is an objective scale independent of our beliefs. Hmmmm.


February 5, 2011 at 7:15 am Leave a comment

Birth of a Prenotion

Zygmunt Bauman is way cool. Always a source of insights and imagery. I must get round to posting the interview I did with him over ten years ago…
Anyway, here’s something from his “Liquid Fear” book of 2006.

In the “Postscript” to his last magnum opus, La Misere du Monde, Bourdieu pointed out that the numbers of personalities on the political stage who can comprehend and articulate the expectations and demands of their electors is shrinking fast; the political space is inward focused and bent on closing in on itself. It needs to be thrown open again, and this can only be done through bringing ‘private’ troubles and cravings, often inchoate and inarticulate, into direct relevance to the political process (and, consequently, vice versa.)
This is easier said than done, though, because public discourse is inundated with Emile Durkheim’s “prenotions” – presumptions rarely spelled out overtly and even less frequently scrutinized, uncritically deployed whenever subjective experience is raised to the level of public discourse and re-represented as public issues. To do its service to human experience, sociology needs to begin with clearing the site. Critical assessment of tacit or vociferous prenotions must proceed together with an effort to make visible and audible the aspects of experience that normally stay beyond individual horizons, or below the threshold of individual awareness.
Page 173-4

And will this, from “The Craft of Sociology” embed? It will bally not. Don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Click on it, I guess, if reading more about prenotions is your thing right now…

February 1, 2011 at 11:14 pm Leave a comment

Hidden Traps of Decision-making

The Hidden Traps in Decision Making
Harvard Business Review
November 2000
by John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, and Howard Raiffa

This article takes a closer look at the importance of challenging business assumptions and lines of reasoning that limit learning. The authors describe modes of thinking that impede good decision making–and offer tips for avoiding these traps. For example: 1) Through anchoring, you give disproportionate weight to the first information you receive. To illustrate, a marketer projects future product sales by looking only at past sales figures. To avoid this trap, pursue other lines of thought in addition to your first one, and seek information from a variety of sources. 2) Through status quo, you favor decisions that perpetuate the existing situation. To avoid, ask how well the status quo really serves your objectives. 3) Through sunk costs, you make choices to justify past, flawed decisions. To avoid, elicit views from people who weren’t involved in the earlier decisions, and discourage fear of failure.

Here’s a bit more.

January 31, 2011 at 12:01 pm Leave a comment

All good things must come to an end. This too.

I started this experiment about a month ago. I was going to do a test a day for 24 days, using it as an excuse to think about the issue the test was exploring. I did the tests, but not the thinking, really. Nor did I answer the questions I set myself. So, if you take the Tom Lehrer line that “life is like a sewer; what you get out of it depends on what you put into it”, then I’ve Only Myself To Blame.

If I were doing this over, I

a) would chose a book of tests NOT selected by someone at a university so proud of its Military Industrial Complex ties. (But then, good luck finding an academic who is not at somewhere intimately attached to the War Machine.)

and I would also have
b) had a table showing expected scores and actual scores
c) followed my initial template questions more closely – using an actual template made in word with appropriate tags and then dropped in
d) done more than one a day, once I realised it was gonna be crap.

How’s that for a hotwash?

January 29, 2011 at 7:24 am Leave a comment

Test 24: The Joyless Division

Holy shit. This isn’t like me. Usually once I get 23/24ths through something I can polish it off, even if it involves holding my nose, stabbing myself in the eye… but not this time.

The last test, the “Peak Experiences Scale” is so boring, so repetitive and so full of spiritualist woo-woo that I gave up at question 22 of… seventy. You’re supposed to answer true or false to a whole series of statements like “I have had an experience that made me extremely happy, and at least temporarily, gave me a glimpse of the purpose that lies behind the events of this world.

Frack. That. For. A. Game. Of. Soldiers.

And according to Janda “Eugene Mathes and his colleagues at Western Illinois University constructed the Peak Experiences Scale to test elements of Abraham Maslow’s theory of personality.” Which is a pity, because I think Maslow is pretty cool – certainly his distinction between health and illness reveals a man who knew which way was up…

Apparently those who have peak experiences are more likely to be ‘self-actualisers’ and “are described as more intelligent, assertive, tender-minded, imaginative, self-sufficient and assertive.”

Did you see that? Whoever proofed this book needs a spanking!

“They are also less authoritarian and dogmatic, and they experience fewer of the barriers we have discussed in this book. Perhaps most interestingly, peakers were less concerned with material possessions and status, and they were more likely to find life meaningful.” This may or may not correlate with “flow”, the concept developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

January 29, 2011 at 7:10 am Leave a comment

Test 23: What’s new, pussycat?

Private Eye has a column called “the Neophiliacs”, where they collate examples of ridiculously hyped “x is the new y” from press releases and adverts. Love of newness for its own sake, is one of the things we’ve been trained into, so as to keep the great consumerist clutter machine running at full pelt. I never saw the point of that – you win the ratrace, you’re still a rat. And I am risk-averse/choice editing, ever since I realised that the creation of false and trivial choices was a way that mental energy is siphoned off, diverted.

Here endeth today’s predictable rant. Anyhow, I thought I’d be exposed as a stick-in-the-mud on this scale, which is 38 items which you score from 5 = strongly agree to 1 = strongly disagree. A little reverse scoring and … I come out well over 85th percentile, and this was despite rejecting statement 13 “I would like to be one of the first passengers to go to the moon” on the basis of the ginormous carbon emissions.

There were also an alarming number of questions about whether sexual equality and changes in sexual mores had gone Too Far.


Janda’s essay is interesting though. Apparently the guys who came up with the test were looking at “category width” (the degree of inclusiveness people use when they place things or concepts into categories.) And this rings VERY true of me – “people who scored high on the Neophilia Scale preferred to concentrate on the “big picture” in life. When collecting information or making judgments, high scorers were likely to make “errors of inclusion.” They would rather have too much information than not enough.” Low scorers, on the other hand, prefer specific details rather than the big picture and are more likely to make “errors of exclusion.”

I am a big picture guy. Or so I like to pretend to myself. Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so, eh?

January 29, 2011 at 7:06 am Leave a comment

Test 22: You’re dead a long time, and I feel fine

This test, the “Sense of Symbolic Immortality Scale” is a 26 item test with a 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree scale. A little reverse scoring and you end up with a score. I was roughly in the 70th percentile, which is OK, considering the baseline is a bunch of nutjobs who believe in a Bearded Sky God who is personally interested in their wretched little lives, and who will plonk them on a cloud to play the harp for the rest of time. Sheesh.

There’s, inevitably, some spiritualist woo-woo in here – if you disagree with the statement “I feel that in spite of my inevitable death, I will always be an integral part of the world” you get marked down.

Ditto, if you “have the feeling that human nature is doomed to destruction” you also lose points….

And bizarrely (another cock-up?) you lose points for affirming that “my love life brings me joy.” Interesting logic there, if that’s what it is…

Anyway, look, Sisyphus has to be imagined happy. It would be fun to do an existentialist version of this test, but I simply can’t be bothered. Bad faith, I know.

January 29, 2011 at 7:02 am Leave a comment

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