from the world's big
Exploring the Post-Rational 21st Century
What this Blog Is All About
When Adam Smith wrote that butchers, brewers and bakers worked efficiently out of ``regard for their own interest,'' he was doing more than asserting that self-interest could be good. He was also asserting that self-interest -- a long-lasting, fact-based, explicit sense of ``what's good for me'' -- is possible. His Enlightenment-era model of the mind helped spawn Rational Economic Man, that being who is supposed to consciously and consistently perceive his own needs and wants, relate those to possible actions, reason his way through the options, and then act according to those calculations.
Rational Economic Man has taken quite an intellectual beating since certain financial events that I don't need to rehearse here. But it (it's not really a he, is it?) remains the basis for all the important institutions of society, from courts (where we assume that judges and juries can think ``objectively'' about a case) to medicine (where people are supposed to choose clearly among scientifically-tested options for treatment to elections (where voters are presumed to be weighing ``the issues'' and picking the candidate who best fits their interests. It is because we are supposed to be rational that governments guarantee our human rights: To be enlightened, Immanuel Kant explained, one must ``use one's understanding without guidance,'' and this is impossible without freedom of speech and of thought. The presumption that we're rational -- at least when we're at our best and most human -- is the glue that holds global society together.
That's probably why we 21st-century people have such respect for science (so important in our culture that even people who hate science's version of the world feel obligated to use its language, referring not to ``creation'' but ``creation science'' when they want to deny evolution). Science is, after all, the ultimate collection of methods for creating knowledge by rational means.
It's ironic, then -- historically, colossally ironic -- that science is killing off Rational Economic Man. But it is: The data comes from ``hard'' sciences, from social science, and often from novel combinations of the two, like neuromarketing and neuroeconomics. Some of these fields are more rigorous and prestigious than others, but in they're all using the same fundamental method -- data-based, systematic, value-neutral -- to investigate the mind. And in evolutionary biology, cognitive science, social psychology, neurobiology, marketing studies, economics and many other disciplines, the scientific method is revealing that Rational Economic Man is indefensible, misguided and wrong.
Of course, no one ever claimed that human beings were purely reasoning robots. But rationality was supposed to capture the essential facts of people's behavior, with the mess of emotion and influence relegated to a cabinet of anecdotes and oddities. Today, though, evidence is pouring in that in real life, the moments of explicit, logical calculation are the oddities. We aren't good at stating our reasons for our actions, it seems, because most of the causes of our behavior are outside our awareness. And the rules that govern there aren't those of logic.
People's perceptions and choices are governed instead by innate predispositions (which tell us that an 80 percent success rate is a good bet but that a 1 in 5 failure rate is too risky, even though logically those are the same). People are highly subject to their sense of status and the responses of other people; that we're often moved by incidental, irrelevant perceptions when we make decisions. And our supposedly well-pondered individual decisions can often be predicted by tools of analysis that don't see individuals at all, instead detecting patterns across time. What becomes of our assumptions about rational medicine when, as Dan Ariely showed, the same pills reduce pain more when patients think they're expensive than when they think the medicine is cheap? What theory of democracy can live with the knowledge that people can pick the winners of unknown elections just by looking at the faces of the candidates? Or that people are more likely to vote to raise education taxes if they happen to be casting ballots in a school than in a firehouse? And how are trials supposed to be conducted when we know how easily ``eyewitnesses'' can be persuaded to see and unsee things.
I think the science of human behavior has entered the post-rational era. And that's what this blog is about: Why people perceive, feel, think and act as they do, and the gaps between what research says and what we think. I'm especially interested in where such knowledge leaves the institutions that we live by.
So ``Mind Matters,'' as I see it, include fMRI studies on why people buy stuff; arguments about how perceptions of Vietnam shape policies in Afghanistan; the contrast between what ``everybody knows'' and what real research finds -- and many other subjects that tell us we shouldn't ever be satisfied to say ``we know this.'' Because to really know anything, you have to understand how you know it.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Got $55 million lying around? If so, you might be able to score a spot aboard the International Space Station starting 2024.
- NASA awarded a contract to startup Axiom Space to attach a "habitable commercial module" to the International Space Station.
- The project will also include a research and manufacturing module.
- The move is a major step in NASA's years-long push to privatize.
Image: Axiom Space<p>But first, space-tourist-hopefuls would have to pass through physical and medical exams, and 15 weeks of expert training. After that, the trip sounds pretty comfy:</p><p>"There will be wifi," Suffredini <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/09/style/axiom-space-travel.html" target="_blank">told the New York Times</a> last year. "Everybody will be online. They can make phone calls, sleep, look out the window. [...] The few folks that have gone to orbit as tourists, it wasn't really a luxurious experience, it was kind of like camping. [...] Pretty soon we're going to be flying a butler with every crew."</p>
A render of the ISS tourist experience.
Image: Axiom Space<p>In a blog post, NASA wrote:</p><p>"Developing commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit is one of <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-opens-international-space-station-to-new-commercial-opportunities-private" target="_blank">five elements</a> of NASA's plan to open the International Space Station to new commercial and marketing opportunities. The other elements of the five-point plan include efforts to make station and crew resources available for commercial use through a new commercial use and pricing policy; enable private astronaut missions to the station; seek out and pursue opportunities to stimulate long-term, sustainable demand for these services; and quantify NASA's long-term demand for activities in low-Earth orbit."</p>
NASA's push to privatize the ISS<p>When a Russian rocket launched the first module of the ISS into space in 1998, NASA expected the space station to operate for about 15 years. But the agency has extended the life of the ISS twice, with funding currently set to expire in 2024. NASA spends between $3 and $4 billion per year operating and shuttling astronauts to and from the station. That's a decent chunk of the agency's $22.6 annual budget. What's more, the "major structural elements" of the ISS are certified only through 2028.</p><p>Meanwhile, NASA has been eyeing other projects, namely: putting humans back on the moon in 2024 and establishing a lunar presence. So, to save and redirect money, the agency has been starting to hand over the aging space station to the private sector, which could use it for commercial research and space tourism.</p><p>But some have questioned the move to privatize the ISS, including NASA's own inspector general, Paul K. Martin.</p><p>"An obvious alternative to privatization is to extend current ISS operations," Martin wrote in a <a href="https://oig.nasa.gov/docs/CT-18-001.pdf" target="_blank">2018 report</a>. "An extension to 2028 or beyond would enable NASA to continue critical on-orbit research into human health risks and to demonstrate the technologies that will be required for future missions to the Moon or Mars."</p>
Image: Axiom Space<p>Martin noted that "research into 2 other human health risks and 17 additional technology gaps is not scheduled to be completed until sometime in 2024," meaning that any slip-ups in the process would mean such research might go uncompleted. He also wrote that it's "questionable" whether the private sector could turn a profit on the ISS without "significant" government funding. The Institute for Defense Analyses, a federally funded research and development center, <a href="https://docs.house.gov/meetings/SY/SY00/20180517/108302/HHRG-115-SY00-Wstate-LalB-20180517.pdf" target="_blank">also found</a> that it "is unlikely that a commercially owned and operated space station will be economically viable by 2025."</p><p>The implication is that, if the ISS is handed over to the private sector, taxpayers could end up indirectly supporting space tourism for the ultra-rich. Whether that's worth any of the research benefits that might come from the ISS post-2024 is anybody's guess.</p><p>As the ISS enters its final years, China <a href="http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-10/17/c_138479514.htm" target="_blank">plans</a> to complete construction of a manned space station in 2022.</p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
Paul Krugman on the Virtues of Selfishness<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7ZtAkm6C" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="828936bf6953080e9018307354c0c02b"> <div id="botr_7ZtAkm6C_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7ZtAkm6C-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> The Nobel Prize-winning economist on the virtues of selfishness.
Evolution Is Moving Us Away from Selfishness. But Where Is It Taking ...<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cyeqmYCb" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="6c5efecb56456e9acc25cf36935b1826"> <div id="botr_cyeqmYCb_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cyeqmYCb-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Exploring Morality and Selfishness in Modern Times<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="02eX1Cag" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="45cc6180db791f32683988fb52faff26"> <div id="botr_02eX1Cag_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/02eX1Cag-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> Philosopher Peter Singer discusses the state of global ethics.
Parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.
Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa," but what kind of dad was he?