Category Archives: behavior

2020-06-06 Check-in topics

Here are some of the topic references Scott, Paul, Edward, and Mark discussed during today’s check-in. If these provoke any thoughts, please feel free to reply by comment below this article or by reply to all from the associated email message from Cogniphile.

Socio-economic and political:

  • Alternate social and economic system –
  • Dark Horse podcast (Weinstein) ep. 19 on co-presidency idea
  • How could a shift to voting on issues rather than representatives work? What are the potential challenges? How could it be better? (There’s not a lot of easily discoverable analysis on this.)
  • Perspective: Despite our challenges and structural societal issues, most people in the U.S. enjoy more security—i.e., most Americans don’t need to worry about being violently attacked or starving to death. I think we agreed on this general point. It in no way lessens the obvious needs for systemic improvements.

    I add an after note, however, that a succession of unfortunate events, especially if medical issues and their crippling expenses are involved, can quickly deplete the average American’s finances and put them on the streets. A homeless person’s capacity to be resourceful literally includes their ability to carry and protect resources which become much more difficult to retain due to space in a car (or backpack) and increased exposure to crime. Social stigma becomes self-reinforcing to the homeless person and we who encounter them. Nearly all doors close. ‘Structural invisibility’ results—’society’ just stops seeing them (or can only see them as choosing or deserving their situations) and predators take society’s disregard as open season on the homeless.

    So, while it is true the threshold of personal disaster is farther from the average American than from the average, say, Zimbabwean or Eritrean, once an American crosses that threshold it can certainly be a devastating and nearly intractable circumstance. There are many trap doors leading down and few ladders leading back up. Thoughts?

Entertainment we’ve enjoyed recently:

  • Edward: Killing Eve – Bored British intelligence agent, Eve, is overly interested in female assassins, their psychologies and their methods of killing. She is recruited by a secret division within MI6 chasing an international assassin who calls herself Villanelle. Eve crosses paths with Villanelle and discovers that members within both of their secret circles may be more interconnected than she is comfortable with. Both women begin to focus less on their initial missions in order to desperately learn more about the other.
  • Mark: Devs (FX network sci-fi thriller series) – Atmospherically dark and brooding exploration of the implications of a quantum computing system capable of peering into past and future. Also a meditation on two competing physics theories, deterministic and indeterministic (Copenhagen interpretation – aka, ‘many worlds,’ ‘multiple universes’). From a genre perspective, it is a thriller.
  • Scott: After Life (Ricky Gervais) – follows Tony, whose life is turned upside down after his wife dies from breast cancer. He contemplates suicide, but instead decides to live long enough to punish the world for his wife’s death by saying and doing whatever he wants.
  • Paul: Exhalation (book of short sci-fi stories) Ted Chiang

    Mark would like to base a few future discussions on the following stories:
    • The Lifecycle of Software Objects “follows Ana Alvarado over a twenty-year period, during which she “raises” an artificial intelligence from being essentially a digital pet to a human-equivalent mind.”
    • The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling – A study in memory and meaning told from interwoven future and past stories. “a journalist observes how the world, his daughter, and he himself are affected by ‘Remem’, a form of lifelogging whose advanced search algorithms effectively grant its users eidetic memory of everything that ever happened to them, and the ability to perfectly and objectively share those memories. In a parallel narrative strand, a Tiv [African tribal] man is one of the first of his people to learn to read and write, and discovers that this may not be compatible with oral tradition.” (Wikipedia)
    • The Great Silence – Mutimedia collaboration version here. An earthbound alien wonders about humanity’s fascination with missing space aliens and lack of interest of intelligences among us.
    • Omphalos – On an Earth on which science has long-since proven the planet is precisely as old as the bible states, an anthropologist following the trail of a fake artifact stumbles onto a shattering discovery.
    • Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom (title is a Kirkegaard quote) – “the ability to glimpse into alternate universes necessitates a radically new examination of the concepts of choice and free will.” (SFWA)

  • Scott: Who are some of your favorite fiction authors?


Hanzi Freinacht on Nordic Ideology

We’ve briefly discussed metamodernism before. Hanzi has written two books on the subject. In this interview he discusses his latest book Nordic Ideology. There’s also a transcript available if you prefer reading. The blurb:

“Hanzi Freinacht, political philosopher, historian, sociologist, & author talks with Jim about effective value memes, cultural code, what it means to have high depth, dynamics of cognitive complexity, the changeability of culture & systems, social engineering, compulsion vs seduction, prioritizing subjective states, cultural attractor points & bad attractors, game acceptance vs denial & how they impact game change, relative utopias, a brief overview of Hanzi’s six types of politics, and more.”

Progressive International

A new, international vision and organization has emerged. Also see this link for the video.

“A coalition of left-leaning intellectuals, activists, and political leaders from around the world officially launched Monday the Progressive International with the support of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 and the Sanders Institute. […] At launch, the Progressive International is supported by an interim Council of over 40 advisors, including Iceland’s Prime Minister Katriin Jakobsdottir, intellectual Noam Chomsky, former Greek Minister of Economy Yanis Varoufakis, author Naomi Klein, and many others. […] The activities of the initiative are divided across three pillars: the movement aimed to forge a global network; the Blueprint to develop a policy blueprint for a progressive international order; and the Wire which offers a wire service to the world’s progressive forces.”

The psychology of rituals

Subtitle: An integrative review and process-based framework, by Hobson et al. (2018), Personality and Social Psychology Review 22(3). The abstract:

“Traditionally, ritual has been studied from broad sociocultural perspectives, with little consideration of the psychological processes at play. Recently, however, psychologists have begun turning their attention to the study of ritual, uncovering the causal mechanisms driving this universal aspect of human behavior. With growing interest in the psychology of ritual, this article provides an organizing framework to understand recent empirical work from social psychology, cognitive science, anthropology, behavioral economics, and neuroscience. Our framework focuses on three primary regulatory functions of rituals: regulation of (a) emotions, (b) performance goal states, and (c) social connection. We examine the possible mechanisms underlying each function by considering the bottom-up processes that emerge from the physical features of rituals and top-down processes that emerge from the psychological meaning of rituals. Our framework, by appreciating the value of psychological theory, generates novel predictions and enriches our understanding of ritual and human behavior more broadly.”

Partisan Innumeracy

In his memoir, China in Ten Words, writer Yu Hua recalled an event following the end of the cultural revolution. Literature had been banned for many years but the memory of its joys had lingered in much of the population. Hua’s formative years had been during the intellectually desiccated period. Emerging from a time when being seen with any book other than officially sanctioned volumes of or about Chairman Mao could have grave consequences, he and many others craved stories featuring relatable human characters and situations.

Eventually China loosened its intellectual restrictions and the word that bookstores would be opening spread like a prairie fire. Hua tells of a local bookstore that announced it would distribute coupons for two books each to the first few customers to come to the shop’s opening. Hua rose before dawn and was dismayed to find several hundred people already in line, many of whom had been in line all night.

To occupy themselves those waiting speculated on how many coupons the shop owner would hand out. The speculations fell into three general groups. Those who’d gotten in line the day prior were sure their proaction would be rewarded with coupons. Those who arrived later and comprised the middle of the line agreed among themselves there would be more coupons for such obviously high-quality people who’d been wise enough to arrive before the deadbeats behind them. Those like Hua, farther back in the line, reached a consensus there would be enough coupons for them. After all, all of them were clearly quality people for having the foresight and diligence to arrive so early. Hilariously, each person’s assessment derived not from any objective assessment, such as estimating the number of books visible through the shop window, but rather on an emotional assessment of how deserving they were for making the effort to be in the line and, tellingly, how undeserving those farther back in the line were, considering they were comparative slackers. When the shop door opened and the actual number of coupons—50—was announced, persons one through 50 smugly congratulated themselves while the remainders moaned and cursed. Person 51 felt auspiciously unlucky and the number ’51’ became shorthand for unlucky throughout the town.

It’s entertaining to poke fun at the sort of irrational innumeracy the Chinese villagers displayed but it’s a universal flaw in human thinking. Our estimates and judgments of others’ estimates and judgments skew sharply in keeping with our sense of identity. Logically, our sense of who we are, which involves ongoing comparisons of ourselves with others, is a psychological matter that has no bearing on quantifiable facts about the world.

Take the results of a recent Ipsos/Axios survey in which American’s belief in whether the reported number of COVID-19 deaths was accurate, under-reported, or excessive. Beliefs closely aligned with political perspectives (which are primarily sociological and psychological, not fact oriented). This does not mean objective facts cannot align with a group’s position on a matter. It means such alignment often has less to do with a group’s objectivity or rationality than with how convenient the facts are to a group’s claims about what is real or important.

As for a more facts-based approach to assessing COVID-19 related death counts, the article linked in the preceding paragraph provides objective reasons for why an undercounting scenario is likely:

  • Insufficient testing obscures many COVID-19 deaths.
  • Several states’ death rates are significantly higher than statistics for other causes would suggest, and are still increasing.

What’s important to most people, however, is not recognizing accurate facts or more valid reasoning but feeling they are true to their in-groups’ values and self-definition.

How the Black Death Radically Changed the Course of History

This article is relevant to our recent discussions and Zak Stein’s (see Edward’s recent post) suggestion that great destabilizing events open gaps in which new structures can supplant older, disintegrating systems–with the inherent risks and opportunities.

A war broke out in heaven

See Zak Stein’s reflections on how the pandemic signals the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. This could be an opportunity to transform our dominant cultural worldview if we but accept the responsibility and get busy enacting it. Just a brief excerpt follows. Click on the link and be rewarded with the rest of this inspiring scripture.

“One world is now gone and a new one has yet to emerge; we are now at the beginning of the beginning. We are living in the liminal: a time of pure potential and change, a time between worlds. This is it: we have arrived at the end of the world. Finally. Now we can start to build a new one.”

The Political Mind

By George Lakoff.  A copy can be found at here. An excerpt:

“One can see in scripts the link between frames and narratives.
Narratives are frames that tell a story. They have semantic roles,
properties of the role, relations among roles, and scenarios. What
makes it a narrative-a story-and not just a mere frame? A narrative
has a point to it, a moral. It is about how you should live
your life-or how you shouldn’t. It has emotional content: events
that make you sad or angry or in awe” (250).

Robert Frank: Putting peer pressure to work to save the planet

Video below. Here’s the blurb:

Psychologists have long understood that social environments profoundly shape our behavior, sometimes for the better, often for the worse. But social influence is a two-way street—our environments are themselves products of our behavior. Author Robert Frank joins us with insight from his book Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work, identifying ways to unlock the latent power of social context—perhaps even on a level that could save the planet.

Frank draws our attention to the threat of a changing climate, asserting that robust measures to curb greenhouse gases could help us curtail droughts, flooding, wildfires, and famines. He draws our attention to new research that shows how the strongest predictor of our willingness to support climate-friendly policies, install solar panels, or buy an electric car is the number of people we know who have already done so. Frank explains how altering our social context could help us redirect trillions of dollars annually in support of carbon-free energy sources, all without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone. Join Frank to learn how fostering more supportive social environments could lead individuals everywhere to make choices that benefit everyone.

Robert H. Frank is the Goldwin Smith Professor of Economics at Cornell University, where he has taught since 1972 and where he currently holds a joint appointment in the department of economics and the Johnson Graduate School of Management. He has published on a variety of subjects, including price and wage discrimination, public utility pricing, the measurement of unemployment spell lengths, and the distributional consequences of direct foreign investment.