Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Psych Files - Episode 92: Passion For Your Work is Overrated

Hmmmm . . . I like that I enjoy my work, and finding work that makes me happy, and that contributes to society, is important to me. But I still found this to be an interesting discussion.

Everyone tells you that you should have “passion for your work”. Personally, I think that’s a bunch of malarky, balderdash and hooey. And much of it could be the fault of psychologists. You might actually enjoy work that you never dreamed could make you happy. In this episode I talk about what Mike Rowe of the show Dirty Jobs had to say about work and how that ties into the research of psychologist Dan Gilbert (author of Stumbling On Happiness).

Just because things hadn’t gone the way I planned didn’t necessarily mean they had gone wrong…the secret is finding the balance between going out to get what you want and being open to the thing that actually winds up coming your way. - Ann Patchett in her book What Now?

Resources For This Episode

  • Mike Rowe the host of Dirty Jobs, talks about the war on work in this video from his Ted Talks speech

  • Dan Gilbert explains his ideas regarding how we all synthesize happiness in this video.

  • Job Characteristics Model (developed by Hackman and Oldham) states that an improvement in 5 aspects of a job can increase motivation and job satisfaction. They are:
    • Variety
    • Identity
    • Significance
    • Feedback
    • Autonomy

BBC - Simulated Brain Closer to Thought

This article from the BBC looks at some new advances in creating artificial model of one small part of the human brain.

Simulated brain closer to thought

By Jason Palmer
Science and technology reporter, BBC News, Prague

Computer-generated image of a human brain
This result completes the first phase of the brain simulation project

A detailed simulation of a small region of a brain built molecule by molecule has been constructed and has recreated experimental results from real brains.

The "Blue Brain" has been put in a virtual body, and observing it gives the first indications of the molecular and neural basis of thought and memory.

Scaling the simulation to the human brain is only a matter of money, says the project's head.

The work was presented at the European Future Technologies meeting in Prague.

The Blue Brain project launched in 2005 as the most ambitious brain simulation effort ever undertaken.

While many computer simulations have attempted to code in "brain-like" computation or to mimic parts of the nervous systems and brains of a variety of animals, the Blue Brain project was conceived to reverse-engineer mammal brains from real laboratory data and to build up a computer model down to the level of the molecules that make them up.

The first phase of the project is now complete; researchers have modeled the neocortical column - a unit of the mammalian brain known as the neocortex which is responsible for higher brain functions and thought.

"The thing about the neocortical column is that you can think of it as an isolated processor. It is very much the same from mouse to man - it gets a bit larger a bit wider in humans, but the circuit diagram is very similar," Henry Markram, leader of the Blue Brain project and founder of the Brain Mind Institute in Switzerland, told BBC News.

He added that, when evolution discovered this "mammalian secret", it duplicated it many many times and then "used it as it needed more and more functionality".

Virtually there

Professor Markram told the Science Beyond Fiction conference that the column is being integrated into a virtual reality agent - a simulated animal in a simulated environment, so that the researchers will be able to observe the detailed activities in the column as the animal moves around the space.

"It starts to learn things and starts to remember things. We can actually see when it retrieves a memory, and where they retrieved it from because we can trace back every activity of every molecule, every cell, every connection and see how the memory was formed."

The next phase of the project will make use of a more advanced version of the IBM Blue Gene supercomputer that was used in the research to date.

"The next phase is beginning with a 'molecularisation' process: we add in all the molecules and biochemical pathways to move toward gene expression and gene networks. We couldn't do that on our first supercomputer."

Organised columns of neurons have been simulated molecule by molecule

Moreover, Professor Markram thinks the exponential rise in computing power will allow the project in 10 to 20 years to integrate many facets of medicine, right down to genomic profile, eventually creating a vast database for "personalised medicine".

Such an approach would allow researchers to simulate, on the level of an individual, how they will respond to a given drug or treatment.

Emerging arts

The conference is a meeting to foster high-risk, multidisciplinary research in information and communication technologies (ICT), and as such is a mix of many types of researchers, from computer scientists to biologists.

Not all of them agree that the lofty ultimate goals of the Blue Brain project are achievable.

Wolfgang Wahlster of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, and a chief German government scientific adviser on ICT, thinks that the reductionist strategy of the project is flawed - that it won't see the forest for the trees.

"Imagine you could follow in one of the most advanced Pentium chips today what each and every transistor is doing right now," he told BBC News.

"Then I ask, 'What is happening? Is Word running? Are you doing a Google search?' You couldn't answer. Looking at this level you cannot figure it out.

"This is very interesting research and I'm not criticising it, but it doesn't help us in computer science in having the intelligent behaviour of humans replicated."

Professor Markram believes that by building up from one neocortical column to the entire neocortex, the ethereal "emergent properties" that characterise human thought will, step by step, make themselves apparent.

"They are not things that are easily predicted by just knowing elements - by definition - but by putting them together you can explore the principles, where they came from. Basically that's what we're after: understanding the principles of emergent properties."

Such emergent properties lead to the very essence of being human - the spatial awareness of lower mammals graduates to political views and artistic expression in humans.

When asked when the simulation would come up with something artistic or an invention, Professor Markram said it was simply a matter of money.

"It's not a question of years, it's one of dollars. The psychology is there today and the technology is there today. It's a matter of if society wants this. If they want it in 10 years, they'll have it in 10 years. If they want it in 1000 years, we can wait."

John Cottingham - The Fine, The Good, and the Meaningful

From The Philosopher's Magazine: John Cottingham - The Fine, The Good, and the Meaningful. The article argues for a spiritual dimension in our lives, with which I am in full agreement. As long as his idea of "goodness" is not tied to a specific religious perspective, I can agree with most of his thesis here. Be sure to read the comments - some thoughtful responses.

The Fine, The Good, and the Meaningful

Written by: John Cottingham | Appears in: Issue 45


Can philosophy really offer advice on happiness? Certainly this was one of its traditional aspirations. In the seventeenth-century, it was taken for granted that the philosopher’s job included talking about how to achieve a happy life. When René Descartes was a schoolboy, one of the state-of-the-art textbooks he studied was a massive compendium of philosophy in four parts published in 1609 by the now forgotten scholastic philosopher Eustachius; it discussed logic and metaphysics and physics and psychology, but it also stated that “the final goal of a complete philosophical system is human happiness.” And this was following a long tradition, that stretched back through the middle ages, and indeed right back to classical times. The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote a treatise called De Vita Beata, “On the Happy Life”; and much earlier his Greek Stoic predecessors had offered many recommendations on how to live in a calm and balanced and tranquil way, how to achieve a “good flow of life”, as Zeno, the founder of Stoicism put it, in the third century before Christ. And going back just a little earlier, Aristotle, the co-founder of Western philosophy along with Plato, gave lectures on ethics which described the goal of human life as what he called eudaimonia, that is to say, happiness or human fulfilment.

So it’s a project with a long history. And when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. To begin with we are, as Aristotle famously pointed out, animals (albeit animals with a rather special, indeed unique, characteristic, that of rationality). And whether an animal is happy or flourishing isn’t at all a subjective question: you can just see, straight off, that the dog or cat or horse with a glossy coat, well-fed but not overweight, not diseased or exploited or imprisoned, not mangy or nervy or snappish, but enthusiastically engaged in the (canine or feline or equine) activities characteristic of its kind – you can just see that such a specimen is happy, flourishing, thriving, a prime specimen of its species. Common sense here is backed up by science, since there are all sorts of physiological, biochemical and behavioural indicators of well-being, which can be established quite objectively. So by analogy, we might reasonably expect to have no trouble identifying a human being who is happy and flourishing.

But of course in the case of humans it’s not quite that simple. We are certainly biological creatures, so it’s reasonable to think the conditions for our happiness will include elements we share with other creatures. To be happy we need to be well-nourished, healthy, free from external repression or exploitation, and able to develop our human talents and capacities in ways that allow them to flourish. Flourishing is a biological term, which etymologically connotes flowering – that is to say the healthy, vigorous unfolding of the capacities peculiar to each species. For a tomato plant, flourishing is quite simply its production of strong leaves and shoots, and then its coming to maturity and bearing rich and succulent fruits. But what are the fruits of human life?

All the basic biological requirements for human flourishing (food, shelter, security and so on) are important and necessary – you might call them pre-conditions. But there are three more substantive elements I want to focus on – elements which go way beyond any of the purely biological models so far mentioned. These elements have to do, respectively, with human achievement, with human virtue and with human transcendence, or to put it in shorthand form, with the fine, the good and the meaningful. They are concerned in turn with the development of talents, with the perfecting of our nature, and lastly with our slow and painful attempts to come to terms with the significance of human life.

Let me take achievement first, since this is relatively uncontroversial. In the island described in Tennyson’s poem “The Lotus Eaters” (taking its cue from Homer’s Odyssey), the inhabitants seem at first to be very enviable. The place is idyllic, supremely relaxed and comfortable. “In the afternoon” (the poem opens) “we came unto a place/ in which it seemèd always afternoon…” Very pleasant. Rather like the planet described in The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, a planet that has stopped rotating on its axis, so that some zones are frozen in perpetual midnight, and others are always roasting in the midday sun, but where the rich and famous live in the pleasant zone where it’s always four o’clock in the afternoon – time for tea and cucumber sandwiches.

The Lotus Eaters are contented enough – but, as it slowly dawns on Odysseus (or Ulysses), there’s something disquieting about them – they never do anything, just loll around eating the lotus (perhaps the ancient Greek equivalent of reaching for the valium). The moral drawn by Homer, and Tennyson, is that the truly happy life must be one where we are stretched. We may not like this fact, we may kick and scream against it, like Odysseus’ companions, whom he had to drag weeping back into the ship, once they had tasted the lotus fruit. But like it or not, we cannot as humans be truly happy if we allow our talents to atrophy. As the parable of the talents (found in the gospel of Matthew) makes clear, talents are for use, not to be to be buried in the ground. Excellence can of course take many forms, musical, artistic, intellectual, athletic; and (as the parable of the talents again makes clear) people have different gifts, and not everyone is expected to achieve the same levels. But some degree of achievement is necessary for everyone, if they are to aspire to human happiness. What is more, achievement does not simply drop into our laps – it must be worked for, striven for. As the Dutch-Jewish philosopher Benedict Spinoza observed, “All fine things are difficult.” This is, again, whether we like it or not, a necessary truth about the human condition.

So happiness requires achievement. But although achievement is necessary for happiness, it is not, I suggest, sufficient – not in itself enough. Something more is needed, and this brings me to my second, and perhaps more controversial, dimension, character development, or (to use a somewhat old-fashioned term) virtue. Consider the case of someone who achieves considerable success, yet who exercises their talents in an utterly vicious way. This, I would argue, cannot constitute human happiness. The Don Giovanni of Mozart’s opera is a complex and interesting character, who exercises his charm and charisma and intelligence in a way that is glamorous and exciting and gratifies his own ego, but at the cost of riding rough-shod over the feelings of others. Can he be happy? Well, someone might object, of course he can: in his triumphant song in Act Three, about wine women and song – viva le femine, viva il buon vino – doesn’t he prove that virtue is one thing, happiness another? You may disapprove of the Don’s life, you may call it vicious, but surely (so runs the objection) that doesn’t show he’s not happy.

We can’t deny that the vicious person may have considerable enjoyment – much of their life may be, to use a notion that Don Giovanni draws on in one of his arias, diverting. But happiness, as Aristotle insisted, has to be assessed not in terms of particular pleasurable episodes, but in more holistic terms, over a life taken as a whole. And many moral philosophers, including the atheist Scottish philosopher David Hume in the eighteenth century, have argued that vice can’t make you happy in the long run.

Is this just because the vicious person is likely eventually to be caught out and get his come-uppance? Even if that were true (and it would be very hard indeed to establish), it does not, I think, get to the heart of the issue. Suppose Giovanni’s crimes had not been discovered, and suppose there is no supernatural justice to drag him down to hell, as eventually happens at the close of the Mozart opera. Even were we to delete this final denouement, it is made brilliantly clear in the music given to Giovanni from the start of the opera that all is not well with his interior life. He may go triumphantly from one conquest to another, he may insist that he knows what he wants, but there is a harshness, an ugliness, a kind of defiant anger in his music that tells us he is not truly at peace. Despite Nietzsche’s later rantings about the will to power, and the need for heroic individuals to “invert eternal values” and be strong enough to suppress the “weak” impulses of compassion and tenderness, the fact remains that we cannot write the script for human fulfilment on our own. We may not like it, we may furiously insist that there must be an alternative, but the moral responses of sympathy, caring and openness to the needs of others are inescapably bound up with the possibility of human happiness. Human happiness is, inevitably, fragmented and damaged when it is pursued in a way that is cut off from the pursuit of the good.

I have so far argued for two necessary conditions for happiness: first, achievement, and second, virtue. I now come to the third and most difficult condition of all, transcendence. The seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal kept a collection of thoughts on the human condition, which, had he lived, he was hoping to turn into a book. One of the thoughts was this: l’homme passe l’homme – man transcends himself. Part of what he meant by this, I think, is that the human being always reaches beyond any given set of circumstances, any given formula for existence: we are never satisfied just with the “given”, but have that mysterious urge to question, to seek for more. That at once puts us in a completely different category from any of the other creatures with whom we share this planet. For an oak tree, or a blackbird, or a horse, if you give them the appropriate environment where all the conditions for their biological welfare are fully met, then they will be happy, or flourish. But humankind, notoriously, is different. However well our biological and social and psychological needs are catered for, we cannot wholly escape that strange restlessness which is our birthright. It is the mark of our unique property of being not just conscious but self-conscious, reflective creatures. We alone know our own finitude, and in that very fact we dimly grasp the infinity we fall short of.

Part of this is that we are aware of our mortality, in a way none of the animals quite are. As the atheist philosopher Anthony Grayling has noted, our total expected ration of life, even if we make it to our eighties, is around a thousand months. And even without dwelling on that sombre thought, we cannot but be aware, more generally, of the fragility that besets human life. We are subject to contingency – the constant interplay of forces that at any moment may interrupt our lives with accident, or disease, or any of what Hamlet called “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” This contingency, this fragility, means that human happiness is intrinsically vulnerable. This obviously affects the first of my elements of happiness, achievement, since achievements are in constant danger of being eroded or undermined by external factors which we cannot control. Nor does my second element, virtue, seem enough to safeguard us against this risk. Even the most devoted and sincere moral projects can come to grief as a result of accident or misfortune: someone may devote their lives to a good cause only to see it go up in smoke.

This illustrates the spectre of futility that seems to undermine that sense of meaning that is so crucial for happiness. For it often seems as if we live in an absurd universe – a universe, certainly, where there are no guarantees that our efforts, however noble or well-intentioned, will succeed. Everything we do seems subject to what the ancients called Fortuna – luck, or fate. Achievement is certainly a hostage to luck, and, as was argued by one of the most influential moral philosophers of modern times, the late Bernard Williams, the domain of morality is not immune either.

Luck gives rise to a sense of arbitrariness – a sense that nothing ultimately makes much sense. And this in turn generates a sense of futility or absurdity – the special theme of the twentieth century French existentialist philosophers, notably Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. In his reflections on the ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus, who was condemned by the gods to the endlessly repeated punishment of pushing a boulder up a hill only to see it roll all the way down again, Camus directly highlights the plight of humankind in the face of a blank and seemingly hostile universe. Camus’s Sisyphus, the “proletarian of the Gods”, stands for all the millions of our fellow human-beings on the planet who are still today condemned to wearisome drudgery without any hope of escape. But Sisyphus is above all a defiant thinker who will not abandon his fierce “lust for life”, who refuses to be docile and accepting of his plight, and who is unflinchingly conscious of the ultimate absurdity of the existence he has to endure. Sisyphus, says Camus, is “the true hero of the absurd.”

In the last sentence of his essay, Camus makes a remarkable claim about Sisyphus’s state of mind, as after each backbreaking effort he watches the bolder roll back downhill again, and turns to trudge down to the valley one more time: il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux, say Camus – “we must imagine Sisyphus as happy”. Well, perhaps. But to take the superhuman heroism of the defiant Sisyphus as our model for the human condition seems to me a profoundly elitist manoeuvre, presupposing the need for a courage so indomitable as to deny realistic prospects for happiness, let alone meaning, to countless numbers of human beings. Most of us, all too conscious of our fragility and vulnerability to fortune, would surely be overwhelmed by the thought that all the cards were as stacked as they were for Sisyphus against the chance of any ultimate success. Yet of course this bleak picture is precisely the one presented by Camus in his book – a book that opens with the chilling pronouncement that “There is only one really serious philosophical problem, namely suicide.” Life for Camus in this mood could only be absurd, futile and meaningless: in a Godless universe, without any of the supporting structures of religion to sustain faith in the power of goodness, all that is left us is “the refusal to hope and the unyielding evidence of a life without consolation.”

So does my third dimension, the need for meaning, lead us to embrace the consolations of religion? Not if you mean by religion a crude view that everything will somehow be made right in the next world. I don’t think a philosopher, using human reason alone, is in a position to pronounce on that one way or another. But I do think that acknowledging the spiritual dimension of human life will guide us towards a richer conception of human happiness – one that acknowledges our need for transcendence, and so allows for the possibility of meaning, rather than absurdity, in our human existence. It’s not about pie in the sky, or an insistence that “everything will be OK in the end.” On the contrary, if you look at the world’s religions, they put suffering at the very centre of the human condition – this is strikingly true, of course, of Christianity, in its central symbol of the cross.

Religious claims about the “triumph” of goodness are very easy to misunderstand. Goodness, in the course of actual human history, is clearly often defeated. When St Paul encouraged his followers to bear adversity with the cry that “neither death nor life nor … any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:38) he cannot have meant his words to be construed as the naive assertion that things always work out for the best. The Jewish scriptures, in which he was so well versed, are packed with stories of terrible trials suffered by the innocent, of heroic goodness often crushed by the forces of tyranny and oppression. So the Pauline thought cannot be a piece of slick optimism, but must involve a more subtle understanding of the power of Goodness.
A rather less well known passage from his letters perhaps expresses it more tellingly: “No trial has come upon you that is outside the boundaries of human experience. And God is faithful, who does not let you be tested beyond your capacity, but with the test provides a way out, the power to endure” (I Corinthians 10:13). The resilience affirmed here is evidently not a magical overcoming of impossible odds, but a certain mindset which will not judge the value of sticking to the side of goodness by reference to its success or failure measured in terms of outcome, but which generates the courage to endure.

Any discussion of happiness and the meaning of life raises questions about suffering and whether it may not somehow be inextricably bound up with the possibility of human happiness and meaning. There are no easy answers here. But I do believe that the traditions of spirituality offer something richer and far more profound, when it comes to coping with human suffering, than anything on offer from the secular atheism of our time. The latter rests its case on scientific rationality – and of course there is nothing whatever wrong with this. Indeed, reason is our greatest human gift, and science perhaps our greatest achievement, with untold power to alleviate distress and improve the conditions for life. But on the religious view, we are here not just to improve the quality of life, important though that is, but to come to terms with that “interior” dimension which spiritual writers have discussed for many centuries. The task, to put it bluntly, is to orient ourselves towards the good, and to grow in knowledge and love of that good. And the disciplines of spirituality, which have traditionally included reading, chanting, mediation, prayer, fasting, and so on, are clearly on a quite different wavelength from rationalistic and scientific solutions.

I am not saying these religious traditions should be immune from critical scrutiny – clearly things can go wrong, institutions can become corrupt, and not all spiritual exercises are equally valid. But at their best, what such forms of life are directed towards is the development of all our human resources, not just for reasoning and rationality, but for ethical sensibility and emotional depth and psychological and moral growth, for tranquillity, integrity, and ultimately perhaps, what has traditionally been called “blessedness”.

The path envisaged by these traditions is not of course an easy one. But we know anyway that human life is not easy – the attempt to solve everything by making it easy is one of the self-defeating idolatries to which humans have always had recourse, and today is no exception. But the very difficulty can have a purifying force, as George Eliot beautifully observed in her novel Adam Bede (1859): “Let us … be thankful that our sorrow lives in us as an indestructible force, only changing its form, as forces do, and passing from pain into sympathy – the one poor word which includes all our best insight and our best love … For it is at such periods that the sense of our lives having visible and invisible relations beyond any of which either our present or prospective self is the centre, grows like a muscle that we are obliged to lean on and exert.”

The precise nature of those “invisible relations” (at least on anything like a religious interpretation) was something about which George Eliot herself was agnostic. If, as I would argue, they ultimately connect with the transcendent, a source of goodness and reality beyond the cosmos studied by science, that is something that cannot by definition be established by science, or perhaps even by philosophy, but must remain a matter of faith. Dogmatism is out of place here, and is in my view one of the greatest blemishes that alienate people from true religion.

What I have been arguing is, to begin with, that there are basic biological and other preconditions for happiness that can be objectively determined, and scientifically confirmed. But beyond that, in order to be happy a human life needs, in the first place, to be one of genuine achievement, one that allows for the successful development of our characteristic human talents and capacities. Second, it needs to be oriented towards the good; for a life cut off from moral sensibility cannot reach integrity and fulfilment. And thirdly, happiness requires a sense of meaning, the courage to endure, as inherently weak and dependent creatures, in the face of contingency and apparent futility; and this brings in the need for a spiritual dimension to our lives, as we recognise our finitude and embark on the search for the transcendent. This last dimension takes us beyond the limits of science, into an area where there are no guarantees; but, paradoxically, this very lack of guarantees may perhaps be the key to the humility we need as we set out on the journey.

John Cottingham is professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Reading and an honorary fellow of St John’s College, Oxford. His recent books include Why Believe? (Continuum, forthcoming 2009), On the Meaning of Life (Routledge), The Spiritual Dimension (Cambridge) and Cartesian Reflections (Oxford). He is editor of Ratio, the international journal of analytic philosophy.

Cognitive Bias in Decision Making

Good article - we are all subject to these biases. Getting to know them and eliminate them is a form of cognitive shadow work (just like emotional shadow work). This article offers further examples of the ways in which we are not nearly as rational as we would like to believe.

Cognitive Bias in Decision Making

Published on September 11, 2008

13 cognitive biases in decision making. These biases are caused by heuristic method, which is commonly used by decision maker to make daily decision.

These biases are caused by heuristic method, which is commonly used by decision maker to make daily decision.

Bias can be defined as distortions in human mind that can lead to misperception and misjudgment. Decision makers usually rely on heuristic methods to aid them in making daily decision. Heuristics are simplified methods that are implemented without complete information and accurate calculation. Because of that, heuristic methods are very vulnerable to biases. In this article I will describe biases that are caused by heuristic methods.

Biases Emanating From the Availability Heuristic

Decision makers usually assess frequency or probabilities an event base on available data in their memory. Decision makers can be biased when they are unaware of unavailable important information. These biases make decision maker overlook many important information and inhibit their objectivity.

Ease of Recall

An event whose instance are more easily recalled will appear more numerous than an event with equal frequency whose instance are less easily recalled. Decision makers are prone to overestimate unlikely events because of their susceptibility to vividness and novelty of information.


  1. People believe that car accidents cause more deaths in United States than stomach cancer. This believes occur because car accidents get more exposure from media than stomach cancer.
  2. Bombardment of repeated uninformative advertising makes the product more easily recalled. It is often the best way to get us to buy a product.
  3. A manager is usually gives more attention to performance during the three months prior to the evaluation. Performance during this period is easier to be recalled than the previous nine months.


Decision makers are biased in their assessment because, some information are categorized into groups which are more retrievable from their memory.


  1. Orion Capital is a small insurance company that insured white water rafting, small company workers’ compensation and bungee jumping business. They managed to very low loss occurrence while, their competitors categorize this kind of operation as extremely risky and shied away.
  2. Consumers associate some location with particular type of product. To maximize traffic, the retailer needs to be in location that consumer associate whit this type of product or store.

Presumed Association

Decision maker tend to overestimates correlation between two events based on the number of similar association.


  1. A lot of mutilation cases in Indonesia were done by homosexual murderers. Because of that, homosexual murderers are associated with the tendency to mutilate their victims.
  2. Because a lot of marijuana users who are delinquents, marijuana use is associated with delinquency

Biases Emanating From the Representativeness Heuristic

Decision makers usually determine probability of an event base on its similarity to other event. Unfortunately, sometime decision maker are unable to make appropriate association between two occurrences.

Insensitivity to Base Rates

Decision makers tend to ignore quantitative information when they get some qualitative information.

Example: In their experiment Kahneman and Tversky presented participants with descriptions of people who came from a fictitious group of 30 engineers and 70 lawyers. The participants then asked to rate the probability that the person described was an engineer. The probability of a person to be an engineer is 30%. But, the participants assess higher probability if the description of a person is match to their stereotype of an engineer. It means that their assessments were very affected by the person’s description.

Insensitivity to Sample Size

Decision makers tend to ignore whether the information they are getting is representative for the whole population.

Example: Eight of ten women in Jakarta suffer from calcium deficiency. Without information about the number of women involved in this survey, we cannot draw any conclusion from this statement.

Misconceptions of Chance

Sometimes decision maker tend to assume that the probability of current event is determined by previous event. They doesn’t aware whether both events are independent or not.

Example: In behavioral finance consumers usually rely on previous information to predict future outcome. Because of that, they become overly pessimistic about previous loser and optimistic about previous winner. As a result, previous loser tend to be undervalued and previous winner tend to be overvalued. This behavior causes price to deviate from their fundamental value.

Regression to the Mean

Decision makers typically assume that future outcome can totally be predicted from past outcome. In fact, above or below average result don’t necessarily continue forever.


  1. People sometimes buy a company assuming that good historical performance is sustainable. Intel stock peaked in the summer of 2000, three to four months after the demise of many of its customers.
  2. People use head to head statistic to predict the outcome of a football match. They doesn’t aware that both club already have totally different players, different coach and different strategy.

Conjunction Fallacy

Sometimes decision maker falsely judge that the probability a conjunction is higher than a more global set of occurrence.

Example: The occurrence of a forest fire depends on humidity level, a source of ignition, and a minimum wind speed within a specified area and time. If an expert estimates a probability of 0.1 for each contributing factor, then his estimation about fire probability should be 0.001. However, if the expert were affected by conjunction fallacy, he might judge a fire to be highly probable.

Biases Emanating From the Anchoring and Adjustment

Decision makers usually make assessment by adjusting an initial value to yield final decision. Because of this bias, decision makers are prone to make un-objective and inaccurate decision.

Insufficient Anchor Adjustment

Decision maker typically make insufficient adjustments when establishing final value. This bias usually occurs when a decision maker sees a situation very similar to past event. This similarity make them thinks that similar outcome will be obtained.

Example: In 1995 Dell and Gateway were very similar company. Some investors thought that similar investment outcome will be obtained from both company. In fact, $1 invested in Dell in 1995 would be worth about $19 in 2005. While, $1 invested in Gateway would worth about 33 cents.

Conjunctive and Disjunctive Events Bias

Conjunctive means that several events must occur together to obtain desired outcome. Disjunctive means that only one of many events needs to occur to obtain desired outcome. Decision maker tend to overestimate the probability of conjunctive events and underestimate the probability of disjunctive events.

Example: Suppose a contractor has five divisions. In order to finish a building on time all division should finish their job on time. Suppose each division has 90% probabilities to finish their job on time. Then he may claim that he is 90% confident whether a project will be finished on time. Unfortunately the real probability that all division will finish their job on time is only 59 % or 0.9*0.9*0.9*0.9*0.9.


Decision makers tend to overestimate their abilities and their knowledge when solving complex problem. They also tend to be overconfident when facing uncertainty. A survey of German stock market forecaster demonstrated that they were overconfident in their prediction. Further, great market experience that measured by correct prediction will increase their overconfidence level.

Two More General Biases:

The Confirmation Trap

People unconsciously search for supporting evidence for their decision and ignoring any refuting evidences.

Example: In investment, once investors purchase a stock they seek evidence that confirms their decision. They are also ignoring information that disconfirms their decision.

Hindsight and the Cures of Knowledge

Sometimes decision makers claim that what was happened was predictable before. For example, in 1991 Martin Bolt and Jon Brink invited Calvin College students to predict the U.S. Senate vote on Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. 58 % of the participant predicted his approval. A week after his confirmation, Martin Bolt asked other students to recall what they would have predicted. “I thought he would be approved,” said 78 % of the participant.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Poem a Day, April 24

April 24, 2009

stepping from a taxi
echoing through the foam
of too many beers,
digging dollars from my pocket
to pay the toll

so many nights
lost in bars and women,
sometimes men,
drowning the days of pain
in nights of darkness

so lost, inhaling smoke
and exhaling despair, clouds
of cynicism and cold breath,
wandering Seattle streets
in the loneliest hours of night

that was years ago, and still
the memory stains my bones,
years spent exorcising the ghosts
have opened space within ribs,
more room to breathe

the ravens of my soul
are proof that barbed wire
around the throat need not
be fatal, that blood flows
after the cleansing

Jen Statsky - Classic Nursery Rhymes, Update for the Recession, as Told to Me by My Father

Awesomeness from McSweeney's.



- - - -

Jack and Jill

OK, so Jack and Jill went up the hill, to fetch a pail of water. But, listen, even water is expensive nowadays. So Jack just innocently asked, "Do you really have to wash your hair every night?" Then, of course, they started getting into it, and Jill became pretty damn passive-aggressive, and unnecessarily, I might add. So then Jack fell down—maybe on accident, maybe on purpose—and he broke his crown. And, with no health insurance, they were both shit outta luck.

Humpty Dumpty

Sure, in a perfect world, we'd all help put Humpty Dumpty back together, whether we were on the king's payroll or not. There's no question about that. But the world isn't lilacs and lollipops anymore, kid. I can barely afford all your mother's pill ... pillows, all the pillows she insists on sleeping with at night. So, if there's some sort of freak accident with a wall? Forget about it. But everyone needs to take a certain level of responsibility for themselves in a time like this, and let's face it: Humpty was carrying—what, 20, 30 extra el-bees on him? That's just reckless. I don't care if you are the king, you can't cover that premium and sleep easy at night.

Old Mother Hubbard

If you want to talk about being irresponsible, this Mother Hubbard is the Cadillac of not thinking about anyone but herself. What is this old woman doing owning a pet in this economy in the first place? You know she's tearing through her retirement funds like nobody's business, so of course her cupboards are bare, cupboards that are probably made of mahogany with gold-plated handles, since people believed in unicorns before they believed that this bubble would ever pop. But, OK, it doesn't all fall on her. Where are her kids? You work hard to raise children, set them up nice in the world, and once times get a little tougher than usual they abandon you. Well, I feel sorry for that damn dog. He's the only innocent one in this whole stinkin' mess.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

"Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky ..." Ha! A diamond. Give me a break. The only place anyone's going to see a diamond nowadays is in a geometry book. And, if some guy proposes to you and shows you some ring with a shiny rock, you run the other way. And fast. Like a gazelle. Because he's mixed up in some kind of silly racket, let me tell you.

Jack Be Nimble

Jack is clearly on drugs. And, sure, the temptation to do some uppers and escape from all this lousy stuff is there. I'm not immune to that; I'm a human being. But, honey, look where it gets you. You spend your days jumping over some candlestick like some sort of circus monkey, but who's taking care of your family? Jack's probably got three kids wearing Ziploc bags for mittens and banging pots and pans on the subway to make a dime. It just ain't right.

Rock-a-Bye Baby

It's sick, it's freakin' sick, honey. I couldn't hold down a tuna melt for days after hearing this one. But it's the sad truth in times like these. People get desperate, they don't know what to do or where to turn, and they do twisted things, like putting some poor, defenseless baby up on a rickety tree branch. Priorities, that's the real problem here. People get their priorities all out of whack, and we end up in a situation like this. Why did they need some fancy rocking cradle in the first place? People get so caught up with image they never stop to think that maybe that poor little kid would have rather just been held in his or her own parents' arms, instead of some high-tech Sears and Roebuck baby palace.

Little Bo Peep

Now, I didn't do none of that collegiate stuff that everyone does nowadays, which I think was the start of this whole mess in the first place, but I'm pretty sure the lost sheep are meant to symbolize hope, promise, and, more specifically, the American dream. I like that part, I do. You can relate to it. But then this Bo Peep chick falls asleep, and at first I said, "Whoa there. Are you trying to say that Americans collectively took a nap at the wheel of the vehicle of their own success and prosperity?" Harsh stuff. But then I thought more about it, and you know what? That's exactly what we did. And, sure, we were following the crooked street signs put up by the banks and investment firms, but that's no excuse to go on autopilot. So, you know, I like this Bo Peep one very much.

There Was an Old Woman
Who Lived in a Shoe

Yep, sounds about right to me. But, for the love of God, use a rubber.

Edge - Lord of the Cloud - A Roundtable

Interesting topic and an interesting discussion, as is usual from Edge. I'm not enough of a tech geek to fully grok all of this, but it's a great discussion.
The central idea we were working on was this idea of de-localized information — information for which I didn't care what computer it was stored on. It didn't depend on any particular computer. I didn't know the identities of other computers in the ensemble that I was working on. I just knew myself and the cybersphere, or sometimes we called it the tuplesphere, or just a bunch of information floating around. We used the analogy — we talked about helium balloons. We used a million ways to try and explain this idea.

John Markoff and Clay Shirky talk to David Gelernter
An Edge Roundtable

In June, 2000 Edge published David Gelernter's audacious "The Second Coming: A Manifesto", in which he wrote: "Everything is up for grabs. Everything will change. There is a magnificent sweep of intellectual landscape right in front of us." Publication of the manifesto led to one of the most vibrant and interesting Edge discussions, with contributions from many of the leading Edge thinkers in the area of computation. from Stewart Brand, to Freeman Dyson, to W. Daniel Hillis. To reprise the introduction:

David Gelernter .....

"...prophesied the rise of the World Wide Web. He understood the idea half a decade before it happened." (John Markoff)

" a treasure in the world of computer science...the most articulate and thoughtful of the great living practitioners" (Jaron Lanier)

" one of the pioneers in getting many computers to work together and cooperate on solving a single problem, which is the future of computing." (Danny Hillis)

" one of the most brilliant and visionary computer scientists of our time." (Bill Joy)

Yale computer scientist David Gelernter entered the public mind one morning in January '92 when The New York Sunday Times ran his picture on the front page of the business section; it filled nearly the whole page. The text of the accompanying story occupied almost another whole page inside.

In 1991 Gelernter had published a book for technologists (an extended research paper) called Mirror Worlds, claiming in effect that one day, there would be something like the Web. As well as forecasting the Web, the book, according to the people who built these systems, also helped lay the basis for the internet programming language "Java" and Sun Microsystems' "Jini."

Gelernter's earlier work on his parallel programming language "Linda" (which allows you to distribute a computer program across a multitude of processors and thus break down problems into a multitude of parts in order to solve them more quickly) and "tuple spaces" underlies such modern-day systems as Sun's JavaSpaces, IBM's T-Spaces, a Lucent company's new "InfernoSpaces" and many other descendants worldwide.

By mid-'92 this set of ideas had taken hold and was exerting a strong influence . By 1993 the Internet was growing fast, and the Web was about to be launched. Gelernter's research group at Yale was an acknowledged world leader in network software and more important, it was known for "The Vision Thing", for the big picture.

In June '93 everything stopped for Gelernter when he was critically injured by a terrorist mailbomb. He was out of action for the rest of '93 and most of '94 as the Web took off, the Internet become an international phenomenon and his aggressive forecasts started to come true. Gelernter endured numerous surgeries through 95, and then a long recuperation period.

Now Gelernter is back. In this audacious manifesto, "The Second Coming", he writes: "Everything is up for grabs. Everything will change. There is a magnificent sweep of intellectual landscape right in front of us."

In his manifesto, Gelernter further developed ideas he had been working on since the 1980s. One such idea was that of the cyberbody as a "cloud":

17. A cyberbody can be replicated or distributed over many computers; can inhabit many computers at the same time. If the Cybersphere's computers are tiles in a paved courtyard, a cyberbody is a cloud's drifting shadow covering many tiles simultaneously.

He also inroduced his idea of the "life stream":

38. A "lifestream" organizes information not as a file cabinet does but roughly as a mind does.

39. A lifestream is a sequence of all kinds of documents — all the electronic documents, digital photos, applications, Web bookmarks, rolodex cards, email messages and every other digital information chunk in your life — arranged from oldest to youngest, constantly growing as new documents arrive, easy to browse and search, with a past, present and future, appearing on your screen as a receding parade of index cards. Documents have no names and there are no directories; you retrieve elements by content: "Fifth Avenue" yields a sub-stream of every document that mentions Fifth Avenue.

40. A stream flows because time flows, and the stream is a concrete representation of time. The "now" line divides past from future. If you have a meeting at 10AM tomorow, you put a reminder document in the future of your stream, at 10AM tomorrow. It flows steadily towards now. When now equals 10AM tomorrow, the reminder leaps over the now line and flows into the past. When you look at the future of your stream you see your plans and appointments, flowing steadily out of the future into the present, then the past.

Today, Bill Gates's name is synonymous with Microsoft Basic. A mention of Bill Joy in the press is usually accompanied by acknowledgment of his early development work on UNIX. Ted Nelson is always associated with hypertext. Jaron Lanier is often identified and credited with his pioneering work on virtual reality. But rarely are "cloud computing" and "lifestreams" (or "lifestreaming") presented in connection with, and with proper credit to, the visionary behind them.

Edge asked John Markoff, who covers technology for The New York Times, and first brought Gelernter's ideas to a wide reading public with his 1991 New York Times profile, and social software seer Clay Shirky. a professor at NYU's graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), to talk to Gelernter about his ideas. The roundtable took place in New York City on April 25, 2009.

John Brockman


DAVID GELERNTER is a professor of computer science at Yale and chief scientist at Mirror Worlds Technologies (New Haven). His research centers on information management, parallel programming, and artificial intelligence. The "tuple spaces" introduced in Nicholas Carriero and Gelernter's Linda system (1983) are the basis of many computer communication systems worldwide. He is the author of Mirror Worlds, and Drawiing a Life: Surviving the Unabomber.

David Gelernter's Edge Bio page

JOHN MARKOFF covers the computer industry and technology for The New York Times. He is the coauthor ofTakedown: The Pursuit and Capture of America's Most Wanted Computer Outlaw (with Tsutomu Shimomura), and author of What The Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry.

John Markoff's Edge Bio page

CLAY SHIRKY is an adjunct professor in NYU's graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), where he teaches courses on the interrelated effects of social and technological network topology—how our networks shape culture and vice-versa. He is the author of Here Comes Everybody.

Clay Shirky's Edge Bio page

Watch the videos and read the transcript.

Judy Willis - Your Brain Owner’s Manual

A nice post from the Psychology Today blogs by Judy Willis, of Radical Teaching.

Your Brain Owner’s Manual

When you know how some things work, you get more out of them, adapt them to new uses, and use them more efficiently. It's more fun to fly a plane, sail a boat, or ride a mountain bike when you use what you know about how these things work and apply that knowledge to the new options you discover through your new knowledge.

I can't promise that you'll be doing brain surgery, treating neurological diseases, or writing books about how the brain learns best after reading a brain owner's manual, but you will learn how to physically change you own brain and help your children or ageing parents do the same. Intelligence is not fixed and what you do, think, hear, read, practice, visualize, taste, and smell all change your brain.

NEUROPLASTICITY - Practice Makes Permanent
Neuroplasticity is the most exciting and motivating brain fact. Neuroplasticity refers to physical changes in your brain that result from your thoughts, environment, the emotions you feel, and the things you do. These brain changes are predominantly in the connections between your neurons. The more a network of neurons that holds a memory (information or procedural memory) is activated the stronger it becomes. When you return to a memory or repeat an action enough, new connections form such as dendrites and synapses. The existing connections (axons) that carry information from a neuron to the next even acquire more layers of myelin that act like insulation on an electric wire. This increased myelin means the electrical impulses of the memory travel faster and more efficiently because the electric charge is more protected from leaking out.

When I changed careers from a neurologist to a classroom teacher I started looking at course curriculum and was surprised in the "Decade of the Brain" that very little was taught about the workings of the brain, whether in health class, science class, or even in my own and other graduate schools of education.

Since becoming a teacher, I've been teaching my students, first in elementary and now in secondary school, about their own brains for almost a decade. They can't get enough of it. (I wish it were as easy to get them excited about adding fractions.) It is neuro-LOGICAL to want to know how your body's most powerful tool actually works and how you can change it to amp up the horsepower like Tim the Toolman, on the television show Home Improvement, or set it to a new default state so at rest it is calm and alert instead of frazzled and stressed out. It turns out to be a matter of strengthening the circuits used the most so practice makes permanent!

Go read the whole article.

Bruce Lipton Video - Healing Perceptions

This week's One Minute Shift from the Institute for Noetic Sciences.

Bruce Lipton Video | Healing Perceptions

Interesting stuff.

Simple Framing by George Lakoff

Great post over at the Rockridge Institute on how to frame a progressive message to make it more acceptable to the mainstream, by none other than George Lakoff. This is an old article, but it's still relevant.

Simple Framing

by George Lakoff
An introduction to framing and its uses in politics.

Last modified Tuesday, February 14, 2006 01:04 PM

Carry out the following directive:

 Don't think of an elephant!

It is, of course, a directive that cannot be carried out — and that is the point. In order to purposefully not think of an elephant, you have to think of an elephant. There are four morals.

Moral 1. Every word evokes a frame.

A frame is a conceptual structure used in thinking. The word elephant evokes a frame with an image of an elephant and certain knowledge: an elephant is a large animal (a mammal) with large floppy ears, a trunk that functions like both a nose and a hand, large stump-like legs, and so on.

Moral 2: Words defined within a frame evoke the frame.

The word trunk, as in the sentence "Sam picked up the peanut with his trunk," evokes the Elephant frame and suggests that "Sam" is the name of an elephant.

Moral 3: Negating a frame evokes the frame.

Moral 4: Evoking a frame reinforces that frame.

Every frame is realized in the brain by neural circuitry. Every time a neural circuit is activated, it is strengthened.

Conservatives Know about Framing

On the day that George W. Bush took office, the words tax relief started appearing in White House communiqués to the press and in official speeches and reports by conservatives. Let us look in detail at the framing evoked by this term.

The word relief evokes a frame in which there is a blameless Afflicted Person who we identify with and who has some Affliction, some pain or harm that is imposed by some external Cause-of-pain. Relief is the taking away of the pain or harm, and it is brought about by some Reliever-of-pain.

The Relief frame is an instance of a more general Rescue scenario, in which there a Hero (The Reliever-of-pain), a Victim (the Afflicted), a Crime (the Affliction), A Villain (the Cause-of-affliction), and a Rescue (the Pain Relief). The Hero is inherently good, the Villain is evil, and the Victim after the Rescue owes gratitude to the Hero.

The term tax relief evokes all of this and more. Taxes, in this phrase, are the Affliction (the Crime), proponents of taxes are the Causes-of Affliction (the Villains), the taxpayer is the Afflicted Victim, and the proponents of "tax relief" are the Heroes who deserve the taxpayers' gratitude.

Every time the phrase tax relief is used and heard or read by millions of people, the more this view of taxation as an affliction and conservatives as heroes gets reinforced.

Now we're hearing the slogan "Tax relief creates jobs." Looking at the Relief frame, we see that afflictions and pain can be quantified, and there can be more or less relief. By the logic of framing (NOT the logic of economics!), if tax relief creates jobs, then more tax relief creates more jobs. That is just how the president has been arguing for increasing tax cuts from $350 billion to $550 billion. The new frame incorporates the old Tax Relief frame into a new "Tax Relief Creates Jobs" frame

Now suppose that a Senator goes on a Fox News show in which a conservative argues with a liberal. The way these shows work is that the conservative host states an issue using a conservative framing of that issue. The conservative host says: "Some say that more tax relief creates more jobs. You have voted against increased tax relief. Why?"

The Senator is caught. Any attempt to answer the question as asked simply reinforces both the Tax Relief frame and the "Tax Relief Creates Jobs" frame. The question builds in a conservative worldview and false "facts". Even to deny that "tax relief" creates jobs accepts the Tax Relief frame and reinforces the "Tax Relief Creates Jobs" frame.

The only response is to reframe. But you can't do it in a soundbite unless an appropriate progressive language has been built up in advance. With more time, one can bridge to another frame. But that frame has to be comprehensible in advance.

Long-term Reframing

Conservatives have worked for decades to establish the metaphors of taxation as a burden, an affliction, and an unfair punishment – all of which require "relief." They have also, over decades, built up the frame in which the wealthy create jobs, and giving them more wealth creates more jobs.

The power of these frames cannot be overcome immediately. Frame development takes time and work. Progressives have to start reframing now and keep at it. This reframing must express fundamental progressive values: empathy, responsibility, fairness, community, cooperation, doing our fair share.

Progressives have to articulate over and over the moral basis for progressive taxation. They have to overcome the outrageous conservative myth that wealthy people have amassed their wealth all by themselves.

The truth is that the wealthy have received more from America than most Americans — not just wealth but the infrastructure that has allowed them to amass their wealth: banks, the Federal Reserve, the stock market, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the legal system, federally-sponsored research, patents, tax supports, the military protection of foreign investments, and much much more. American taxpayers support the infrastructure of wealth accumulation. It is only fair that those who benefit most should pay their fair share.

Reframing is telling the truth as we see it – telling it forcefully, straightforwardly, articulately, with moral conviction and without hesitation. The language must fit the conceptual reframing — a reframing from the perspective of progressive morality. It is not just a matter of words, though the right words do help evoke a progressive frame: paying their fair share, those who have received more, the infrastructure of wealth, and so on.

Reframing requires a rewiring of the brain. That may take an investment of time, effort, and money. The conservatives have realized that. They made the investment and it is paying off. Moral: The truth alone will not set you free. It has to be framed correctly.

Taxation is not an affliction. Tax cuts will not create jobs. These are facts, but stating them as we just did just reinforces conservative frames. The right framing for the truth must be available and used for the truth be heard.

If the truth doesn't fit the existing frame, the frame will stay in place and the truth will dissipate.

It takes time and a lot of repetition for frames to become entrenched in the very synapses of people's brains. Moreover, they have to fit together in an overall coherent way for them to make sense.

Effective framing on a single issue must be both right and sensible. That is, it must fit into a system of frames (to be sensible) and must fit one's moral worldview (to be right).

Framing vs. Spin

Every word comes with one or more frames. Most frames are unconscious and have just developed naturally and haphazardly and have come into the public's mind through common use. But, over the past 40 years, conservatives — using the intellectuals in their think tanks — have consciously and strategically crafted an overall conservative worldview, with a conservative moral framework. They have also invested heavily in language — in two ways:

  • Language that fits their worldview, and hence evokes it whenever used. "Tax relief" is a good example.
  • Deceptive language, that evokes frames they don't really believe but that public approves of. Saying "Tax relief creates jobs" is an example — or referring to their environmental positions as being "clean," "healthy" and "safe."

The Rockridge Institute advises against the use of deceptive language and we will not engage in it. We believe that honest framing both accords with progressive values and is the most effective strategy overall.

Responding to "Tort Reform" in Texas

Conservatives have been battering progressives on what they have framed as "tort reform" – legislation to cap awards in tort cases. They have been most aggressive in Texas, where they have used the following language::

Litigation Lottery, Lawsuit Abuse, Lawsuit Abuse Tax, Frivolous Lawsuits, Greedy Trial Lawyers, Out of Control Juries, Runaway Juries, Jackpot Awards

The term reform is defined in the Corruption frame, lottery in the Gambling frame, and so on. Opposites are defined with respect to the frame, but given opposite values, one positive, the other negative. When you say your opponent is frivolous, it is rhetorically implied that you are the opposite, serious; if your opponent is a gambler, then you are fiscally responsible, and so on. That's how Republicans were framing Democrats.

These words evoke frames that, as they are used in context, evoke conservative values:

 You alone are responsible for happens to you.
You shouldn't get what you haven't earned.
You should be disciplined, prudent, orderly.

We crafted a response that allowed the trial lawyers to take the moral high ground — in a way that fits what they believe. We took out a copy of Moral Politics and listed progressive values. Then we followed a systematic procedure:

  1. Pick out the relevant core values for this issue.
  2. Write down how your position follows from these values.
  3. Articulate the facts and their consequences within this moral framing.
  4. Define us and them within this moral frame.

Here's how the issue looks from a progressive moral perspective:

Tort law is the public's last defense against irresponsible, if not downright immoral, corporate behavior that harms the public. It is only the threat of huge punitive damages that has any effect on companies that put profit ahead of public health and well-being. Without that threat — with a small cap on awards — irresponsible companies can fold the relatively low cost of potential lawsuits into the cost of doing business and go on selling dangerous products unchecked. Public safety requires keeping the courts open for juries to make awards appropriate not just to the suffering of the victims, but to the threat to the public. It is a matter of protection.

The proposal to cap awards would effectively take the power to punish away from juries, and would make it hard for those harmed to sue, since lawyers would have a financial disincentive to take such a case. This would have the practical effect of closing off the courts to those seeking redress from corporate harm. Justice requires open courts.

The fundamental progressive values are:

 We are empathetic; we care about people.
Be responsible
Help, Don't Harm
Protect the powerless

These led to the following language to describe conservative Republicans and the relevant corporations in this case:

 The Corporate Immunity Act;
Corporate Raid on Responsibility;
Accountability Crisis;
Closed Courts;
The New Untouchables;
Rewards Greed and Dishonesty;
Protects the guilty, punishes the innocent.

Taking this morals-based approach changes both how you think as well as talk about tort cases and open courts:

Talk about responsibility instead of victimhood; about accountability instead of grievances; about citizens instead of consumers; about open courts instead of money.

The Texas legislature is ovewhelmingly conservative and will not be swayed by this reframing. However, some legislators know that immoral corporations must be held accountable when they sell dangerous products that harm Americans. They have now been given a powerful tool to express their values. The major newspapers in the state have adopted this framing enthusiastically and now support this position, and it appears that the proposed constitutional amendment will fail.

Communicative, Conceptual, and Moral Framing

Communication itself comes with a frame. The elements of the Communication frame include: A message, an audience, a messenger, a medium, images, a context, and especially, higher-level moral and conceptual frames. The choice of language is, of course, vital, but it is vital because language evokes frames — moral and conceptual frames.

Frames form a system. The system has to be built up over time. It takes a long-range effort. Conservative think tanks have been at it for 40 years. Most of this system development involves moral and conceptual frames, not just communicative frames. Communicative framing involves only the lowest level of framing.

Framing is an art, though cognitive linguistics can help a lot. It needs to be done systematically.

Negative campaigns should be done in the context of positive campaigns. To avoid negating the opposition's frame and thus activating it, do the following: start with your ideal case of the issue given. Pick frames in which your ideal case is positively valued. The contrast will attribute the negatively valued opposite quality to the opposition as a nightmare case.

Mark Edmundson - Against Readings

OK, let's be clear, he's not against reading. What he is against is reading through a philosophical future, or at least those that are predetermined. Most lit departments and professors favor one filter or another, from Marxist to deconstruction to psychoanalytic. Each one brings its own bias to the text.

In reality, every reader brings his or her own bias to a text anyway, so why add another level of that, most of which are political biases in one way or another (especially if you listen to the far right critics of humanities departments).

Anyway, I liked this article.

Against Readings

If I could make one wish for the members of my profession, college and university professors of literature, I would wish that for one year, two, three, or five, we would give up readings. By a reading, I mean the application of an analytical vocabulary — Marx's, Freud's, Foucault's, Derrida's, or whoever's — to describe and (usually) to judge a work of literary art. I wish that we'd declare a moratorium on readings. I wish that we'd give readings a rest.

This wish will strike most academic literary critics and perhaps others as well as — let me put it politely — counterintuitive. Readings, many think, are what we do. Readings are what literary criticism is all about. They are the bread and butter of the profession. Through readings we write our books; through readings we teach our students. And if there were no more readings, what would we have left to do? Wouldn't we have to close our classroom doors, shut down our office computers, and go home? The end of readings, presumably, would mean the end of our profession.

So let me try to explain what I have in mind. For it seems to me that if we kicked our addiction to readings, our profession would actually be stronger and more influential, our teaching would improve, and there would be more good books of literary criticism to be written and accordingly more to be read.

In my view — a view informed by, among others, William Blake, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Matthew Arnold — the best way to think of a literary education is as a great second chance. We all get socialized once. We spend the first years of our lives learning the usages of our families, our neighborhoods, our religions, our schools, and our nations. We come to an understanding of what's expected: We come to see what the world takes to be good and bad, right and wrong. We figure out ways to square the ethics of our church with the ethics of our neighborhood — they aren't always the same, but one reason that religions survive and thrive is that they can enter into productive commerce with the values present in other spheres of life. Kids go to primary school so that they can learn their ABC's and math facts, certainly. But they also go to be socialized: They go to acquire a set of more or less public values. Then it's up to them (and their parents) to square those values with the home truths they've acquired in their families. Socialization isn't a simple process, but when it works well, it can produce individuals who thrive in themselves and either do no harm to others or make a genuine contribution to society at large.

But primary socialization doesn't work for everyone. There are always people — how many it's tough to know, but surely a minority — who don't see their own natures fully reflected in the values that they're supposed to inherit or assume. They feel out of joint with their times. The gay kid grows up in a family that thinks homosexuality is a sin. The young guy with a potent individualistic streak can't bear the drippy collectivism foisted on him by his ex-hippie parents and his purportedly progressive school. The girl who is supposed to be a chip off the old legal block and sit some day on the Court only wants to draw and paint; the guy destined (in his mom's heart) for Princeton is born to be a carpenter and has no real worldly ambitions, no matter how often he's upbraided.

To be young is often to know, or to sense, what others have in mind for you and not to like it. But what is harder for a person who has gone unhappily through the first rites of passage into the tribe is to know how to replace the values she's had imposed on her with something better. She's learned a lot of socially sanctioned languages, and still none of them are hers. But are there any that truly might be? Is there something she might be or do in the world that's truly in keeping with the insistent, but often speechless, self that presses forward internally?

This, I think, is where literature can come in — as can all of the other arts and in some measure the sciences, too. By venturing into what Arnold memorably called "the best that has been known and thought," a young person has the chance to discover new vital possibilities. Such a person sees that there are other ways of looking at the world and other ways of being in the world than the ones that she's inherited from her family and culture. She sees, with Emily Dickinson, that a complex, often frayed, often humorous dialogue with God must be at the center of her life; she sees, with Charles Dickens, that humane decency is the highest of human values and understands that her happiness will come from shrewdly serving others; she likes the sound of Blake and — I don't know — forms a better rock band than the ones we've been hearing for the last decade and more; he seconds Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke and becomes a conservative, in his way twice wiser than NPR-addicted, Prius-proselytizing Mom and Dad.

In short, the student reads and feels that sensation that Emerson describes so well at the beginning of "Self-Reliance": "In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty." The truth of what we're best fit to do is latent in all of us, Emerson suggests, and I think this to be right. But it's also true that we, and society, too, have plenty of tricks for keeping that most important kind of knowledge out of reach. Society seems to have a vested interest in telling us what we should do and be. But often its interpretation of us — fed through teachers and guidance officers and priests and ministers and even through our loving parents — is simply wrong. When we feel, as Longinus said we will in the presence of the sublime, that we have created what in fact we've only heard, then it's time to hearken with particular attention and see how this startling utterance might be beckoning us to think, or speak, or even to live differently.

Everyone who teaches literature has probably had at least one such golden moment. I mean the moment where, reading casually or reading intently, being lazy or being responsive, one is shocked into recognition. "Yes," one says, "that's the way it really is." Then often, a rather antinomian utterance comes: "They say it's not so, but I know it is. I always have."

One of my own such moments occurred reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X. It didn't really figure: That shouldn't have been the book (as it was at least for a little while) for a white, Irish-Catholic kid growing up outside of Boston. What Malcolm had to say about race resonated with me: There was a low-grade race war on in my school at the time, and he changed my thoughts about it pretty directly. In sum, I began to see how scary it must be to be black in America, and to be in real danger much of the time from white officials and white cops and white kids (kids not altogether unlike me and my pals).

But what really struck me in that book, oddly enough, was Malcolm's hunger for learning. By now, nearly everyone knows the story of how Malcolm, in prison, found himself unfit for the arguments that proliferated in the prison yard (or at least one quadrant of it) and took in all subjects under the moon and sun: race, sex, politics, history. He had opinions, but he couldn't back them up. He had almost no facts in his mental files. The answer was simple: He needed to start reading. So he loaded his cell with meaty works from the prison library. But of course, smart as the then Malcolm Little was, he hadn't had much formal education, and the books were loaded with words he didn't understand, placed like landmines in every paragraph. He looked them up in the dictionary, but there were simply too many of them. In the process of running around in the dictionary, he'd forget what the paragraph at hand was supposed to be about.

But this didn't induce him to give up. Instead, Malcolm sat down with a dictionary and a notebook and began copying down the dictionary — starting maybe with aardvark and moving on down the line. It took a while and it wasn't the most scintillating of pastimes, but when it was over, Malcolm Little could read.

And he read ferociously. The whole world of thought came into being for him: history, philosophy, literature, and science. He vowed then that he would be a reader for the rest of his life, a learner; and in time he would vow to use his book-won knowledge, along with a considerable quotient of street-smarts, to help himself through life and to do what he could for his people. In the beginning, doing what he could for black people meant bedeviling the white man; in time, it meant doing his part to serve all of humanity.

I was thrilled to read this. It turned out that I — despite being about as impatient with formal schooling as Malcolm was — had some intellectual aspirations, too. I was curious about things, after my fashion. Malcolm was black, I was white. Still, my 17-year-old self saw him as someone I could, in certain regards, try to emulate. I could read to satisfy my thirst for knowledge; I could use what I learned to make my life a little better, and maybe help some other people along the way. It was an unlikely conversion experience, maybe. But ultimately that's what it was.

I suspect that virtually everyone who teaches literature has had such an experience and maybe more than one. They've read Emerson or Orwell or Derrida or Woolf, and been moved to change the way they do what they do — or they've chosen another way of life altogether. And even if they don't change, they've had the chance to have their fundamental values challenged. Sometimes a true literary education appears to leave a student where he was at the beginning. But that state is only apparent. Confronted by the best that's been thought and said, he's gotten to reconsider his values and views. What was once flat dogma turns into lively commitment and conviction.

I think that the experience of change is at the heart of literary education. How does it come about? For me, it had a long foreground, to be sure, but most immediately I was guided by a teacher. He told me that I — I in particular — might get something worth keeping out of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. And I suspect that's how many of us teachers found the books that have made us who we are. Teachers who've been inspired by great works have been moved to pass the gift on. "What we have loved, others will love," says Wordsworth, addressing his friend Coleridge in The Prelude, "and we will teach them how."

I think that the highest objective for someone trying to provide a literary education to students is to make such moments of transformation possible. Teachers set the scene for secular conversion. These conversions may be large scale — like the one that Whitman seems to have undergone when he read Emerson's "The Poet," and realized that though Emerson could not himself become the American poet prophesied in the essay, he, Walt Whitman, actually could. But the changes that literary art brings can be relatively minor, too. Reading a book may make a person more receptive to beauty than he otherwise would have been; might make him more sensitive to injustice; more prone to be self-reliant. Granted, books can have negative effects, too. One has read Don Quixote; one has read Madame Bovary. But a prerequisite for sharing literary art with young people should be the belief that, over all, its influence can be salutary; it can aid in growth. No one would teach history, after all, if he believed that all, or most, forms of historical knowledge were destructive deceptions; one would not teach music if one felt, as Plato did, that most of it disrupts the harmony of the soul.

I said that transformation was the highest goal of literary education. The best purpose of all art is to inspire, said Emerson, and that seems right to me. But that does not mean that literary study can't have other beneficial effects. It can help people learn to read more sensitively; help them learn to express themselves; it can teach them more about the world at large. But the proper business of teaching is change — for the teacher (who is herself a work in progress) and (pre-eminently) for the student.

Nor do I think that everyone who picks up a book must seek the sublime moment of unexpected but inevitable connection. People read for diversion; for relaxation; to inform themselves; to stave off anxiety in airplanes, when the flight attendant is out of wine and beer. A book can make a good door stop; and if you find yourself especially angry at the cat, have a good throwing arm, and a good angle — well, there's no end of uses for a book. But if you're going to take a book into a room, where the objective is to educate people — education being from the Latin educere, meaning "lead out of" and then presumably toward something — then you should consider using the book to help lead those who want to go out from their own lives into another, if only a few steps.

If this is what you want to do, then readings will only get in your way. When you launch, say, a Marxist reading of William Blake, you effectively use Marx as a tool of analysis and judgment. To the degree that Blake anticipates Marx, Blake is prescient and to be praised. Thus the Marxist reading approves of Blake for his hatred of injustice; his polemic against imperialism; his suspicion of the gentry; his critique of bourgeois art as practiced by the likes of Sir Joshua Reynolds. But Blake, being Blake, also diverges from Marx. He is, presumably, too committed to something akin to liberal individualism; he doesn't understand the revolutionary potential latent in the proletariat; he is, perhaps, an idealist, who believes that liberation of consciousness matters more, or at least must precede, material liberation; he has no clear theory of class conflict. Thus Blake, admirable as he may be, needs to be read with skepticism; he requires a corrective, and the name of that corrective is Karl Marx. Just so, the corrective could be called Jacques Derrida (who would illuminate Blake the logocentrist); Foucault (who would demonstrate Blake's immersion in and implicit endorsement of an imprisoning society); Kristeva (who would be attuned to Blake's imperfections on the score of gender politics), and so on down the line. The current sophisticated critic would be unlikely to pick one master to illuminate the work at hand — he would mix and match as the occasion required. But to enact a reading means to submit one text to the terms of another; to allow one text to interrogate another — then often to try, sentence, and summarily execute it.

The problem with the Marxist reading of Blake is that it robs us of some splendid opportunities. We never take the time to arrive at a Blakean reading of Blake, and we never get to ask whether Blake's vision might be true — by which I mean, following William James, whether it's good in the way of belief. The moment when the student in the classroom, or the reader perusing the work can pause and say: "Yes, that's how it is; Blake's got it exactly right," disappears. There's no chance for the instant that Emerson and Longinus evoke, when one feels that he's written what he's only read, uttered what he's only heard.

Nor, it's worth pointing out, does Marx get much real opportunity here either. He's assumed to be a superior figure: There are in fact any number of Marxist readings of Blake out there; I know of no Blakean readings of Marx. But the student who has heard the teacher unfold a Marxist reading of a work probably doesn't get to study Marx per se. He never gets to have a potential moment of revelation reading The Manifesto or The Grundrisse. Marx too disappears from the scene, becoming part of a technological apparatus for processing other works. No one asks: "Is what Marx is saying true?" "Is Foucault onto something?" "Is what Derrida believes actually the case?" They're simply applied like paint to the side of a barn; the paint can go on roughly or it can go on adroitly, with subtle variations of mood and texture. But paint is what it is.

It should be clear here that my objection isn't to theoretical texts per se. If a fellow professor thinks that Marx or Foucault or Kristeva provides a contribution to the best that has been thought and said, then by all means read and study the text. (I've worked on these figures with students and not without profit.) But the teacher who studies, say, Foucault probably needs to ask what kind of life Foucault commends. Is it one outside of all institutions? Is it one that rebels against all authority? Can that life be in any way compatible with life as a professor or a student? These are questions that are rarely asked about what are conceived of as the more radical thinkers of the era. It is not difficult to guess why this is so.

I've said that the teacher's job is to offer a Blakean reading of Blake, or an Eliotic reading of Eliot, and that's a remark that can't help but raise questions. The standard for the kind of interpretation I have in mind is actually rather straightforward. When a teacher admires an author enough to teach his work, then it stands to reason that the teacher's initial objective ought to be framing a reading that the author would approve. The teacher, to begin with, represents the author: He analyzes the text sympathetically, he treats the words with care and caution and with due respect. He works hard with the students to develop a vision of what the world is and how to live that rises from the author's work and that, ultimately, the author, were he present in the room, would endorse. Northrop Frye does something very much like this in his book on Blake, Fearful Symmetry; George Orwell achieves something similar in his famous essay on Dickens. In both cases, the critic's objective is to read the author with humane sensitivity, then synthesize a view of life that's based on that reading. Schopenhauer tells us that all major artists ask and in their fashion answer a single commanding question: "What is life?" The critic works to show how the author frames that query and how he answers it. Critics are necessary for this work because the answers that most artists give to major questions are indirect. Artists move forward through intuition and inference: They feel their way to their sense of things. The critic, at his best, makes explicit what is implicit in the work.

This kind of criticism is itself something of an art, not a science. You cannot tell that you have compounded a valid reading of Dickens any more than that you have compounded a valid novel or a valid play. When others find your Dickensian endorsement of Dickens to be of use to them, humanly, intellectually, spiritually, then your endorsement is a success. The desire to turn the art of reading into a science is part of what draws the profession to the application of sterile concepts.

Perhaps an analogy will be helpful. Let us say that a friend of ours has been seriously ill, or gone through a bad divorce, or has fallen wildly, unexpectedly in love. The friend tells us all about it, from beginning to end, with all the sensitivity she can muster. The story is long and complex, and laced with nuance. We listen patiently and take it in. Later on we're faced with explaining this situation to a third person, a mutual friend of us both. Our confiding friend, our first one, wants this to happen: She wants her friends to know the story. How do we proceed? Surely we proceed as sensitively and humanely as possible. We honor our first friend's way of understanding the illness or the love affair. If we are a good friend, we tell the story such that, were the first friend there in the room, she would nod with approval and gratitude.

We may not believe the first friend's entire sense of the story. We may have a different idea of what happened and why. But we honor our first friend by keeping true to her insofar as we can. We do not, say, begin with a Freudian or Marxist reinterpretation of what it is she has told us. If we do, we are no friend at all. We have not given someone we care about due consideration.

Just so, we need to befriend the texts that we choose to teach. They too are the testaments of human beings who have lived and suffered in the world. They too deserve honor and respect. If you have a friend whose every significant utterance you need to translate into another idiom — whose two is not the real two, as Emerson says — then that is a friend you need to jettison. If there are texts that you cannot befriend, then leave them to the worms of time — or to the kinder ministrations of others.

In a once-famous essay, "Against Interpretation," Susan Sontag denounced interpretation and called for an "erotics of art." She wanted immersion in the text, pleasure, the drowning of self-consciousness. She sought ecstatic immediacy. To be against readings, as I am, is not to be against interpretation, and it is not to be against criticism. If interpretation means the work, often difficult, often pleasurable, of parsing the complexities of meaning a given text offers, then interpretation is necessary before we decide what vision of the world the text endorses.

To be against readings is also not to be against criticism. Once the author's vision of what Stevens calls "How to Live, What to Do" is made manifest, it's necessary to question it. In time, I learned to ask whether Malcolm X's views about Jews and women were conducive to a good life for anyone. His sense of race relations, early and late in the book, also needed some examination and some skeptical questioning. But this sort of questioning needs to occur once the author's vision is set forth in a comprehensive, clear, sympathetic manner. Criticism is getting into skeptical dialogue with the text. Mounting a conventional academic reading — applying an alternative set of terms — means closing off the dialogue before it has a chance to begin.

You may find that after you've listened to your friend's story about her love affair or her divorce that you can't buy everything she says. Her vision is self-idealizing or skewed. Then, as a friend, you need to bring your reservations forward and to discuss them with her. So it is with the text: The teacher and students inquire into it, and often they too answer in its behalf. But it all begins with a simple gesture. It all begins by befriending the text.

That gesture of befriending should have a public as well as a classroom dimension. The books that we professors of literature tend to write now are admirable in many ways. They are full of learning, hard work, honesty, and intelligence that sometimes, in its way, touches on brilliance. But they are also, at least in my judgment, usually unreadable. They are composed as performances. They are meant to show, and often to show off, the prowess of the author. They could not conceivably be meant to provide spiritual or intellectual nourishment. No one could read a representative instance of such writing and decide based on it to change her life. Our books are not written from love, but from need.

I think that it is possible to write books and essays in behalf of literature that will demonstrate its powers of renovation and inquire into the limits of those powers. Such books can and should be inspiring not only to members of the profession but to educated (or self-educated) and curious members of the general public who are willing to do some hard intellectual work. As a profession, our standing in and impact upon society beyond our classrooms now is minuscule. Yet we are copiously stocked with superb talent: Some of the best young minds in America continue to be drawn to the graduate study of literature. But unless we as a profession change our ways and stop seeking respectability and institutional standing at the expense of genuine human impact, they are destined, as Tennyson has it, to rust unburnished, and that's a sorry fate for them and for all of us.

One must admit that it's possible to develop too exalted a sense of the transforming powers of literature and the other arts. What worked for me and you and you may not have a universal application. It's probable that most people will be relatively content to live within the ethical and conceptual world that their parents and their society pass on to them. Burke and Johnson thought of common-sense opinion as a great repository of wisdom stored through the ages, augmented and revised through experience, trial and error, until it became in time the treasure of humanity. Perhaps the conservative sages were right. But there will always be individuals who cannot live entirely by the standard dispensation and who require something better — or at least something else. This group may be small (though I think it larger than most imagine), but its members need what great writing can bring them very badly indeed. We professors of literature hold the key to the warehouse where the loaves lie fresh and steaming, while outside people hunger for them, sometimes dangerously. We ought to do all we can to open the doors and dispense the bread: We should see how far it'll go.

Mark Edmundson is a professor of English at the University of Virginia. He is author of The Death of Sigmund Freud: The Legacy of His Last Days, published in 2007 by Bloomsbury.
Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 55, Issue 33, Page B6