Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Green Lake Park

Photo by Marc Henauer

Green Lake (Grüner See), located in Styria, Austria, where every spring the snowmelt from the nearby Hochschwab mountains causes the lake to nearly double in size, submerging a portion of the surrounding park.

Photo by Westend61 GmbH/Alamy

Photo by Marc Henauer

Photo by Andreas Neuburger

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Social Conformity

I. Conformity 
A. Conformity Research
Sherif's Autokinetic Effect Experiments
Psychologist Muzafer Sherif, one of the founders of social psychology,  conducted a classic study on conformity in 1936. His research was partly spurred by his disagreement with the prevailing individualist view that a group was merely a collection of individuals and that no new group qualities arise when individuals form into a collective.(3)

Sherif put subjects individually in a dark room and told them to watch a pinpoint of light and report how far it moved. Psychologists had previously discovered that a small, unmoving light in a dark room often appeared. This is known as the autokinetic effect. After a few trials, the individuals began to establish their own consistent norms. The range among the individual subjects varied from 2 to 12 inches. 

A few days later, Sherif conducted the experiment again but this time he put subjects with different norms together into groups of three and asked them to give their estimates out loud after each trial. Over time, with repeated trials, the individual estimates began to converge, eventually reaching a point of near consensus. Sherif's conclusion was that a group norm had superseded individual norms.

Later when tested alone, Sherif found that participants replicated their original groups' estimates. This suggests that the influence of the group was informational rather than coercive; because they continued to perceive individually what they had as members of a group, Sherif concluded that they had internalized their original group's way of seeing the world.(5)

Conclusion: Sherif's major conclusion was that in ambiguous situations a person is more likely to be influenced by others as they are looking for guidance out of a desire to be correct (informational conformity).

Asch's Line Judgement Experiments
In the early 1950's, psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a series of important studies that demonstrated the power of group conformity.

The basic experiment involved seven participants of which six were confederates (actors given instructions on how to behave) and one was the actual subject. The confederates knew the true aim of the experiment, but were introduced to the subject as other participants.

Asch presented the participants with a card with a line on it, and next to it another card with three lines of varying length labeled "A", "B",  and "C".  Asch explained that the participants task was to call out the letter of the line that matched the length of the line on the first card.

The participants completed 18 trials. On the first two trials, both the subject and confederates gave the obvious, correct answer, but thereafter (as previously scripted) the confederates chose a clearly incorrect line in twelve of the remaining sixteen trials. The wrong answer responses were referred to as the critical trials. 

The aim of the experiment was to see if the subject would conform to the group by choosing the wrong answer or stick to what his eyes were telling him was correct.

Results: Overall, Asch found that subjects conformed to the group by choosing the same wrong answer as the confederates in 37% of the critical trials. Further, 76% conformed to the incorrect judgment on as least one of the critical trials. In contrast, when participants in a control group without the pressure of confederates made judgments, the error rate was less than 1%.(3)

B. Normative and Informational Influence
The experiments of Sherif and Asch provided powerful demonstrations of social conformity but the two experimental models put participants in different situations which seemed to indicate that different psychological processes might be at work. In Sherif's experiments subjects found themselves in an ambiguous reality where they were undoubtedly unsure of the their own abilities to judge the movement of the light. In contrast, the Asch experiments placed subjects in situations where their perception of the lengths of the lines would have been quite certain without the influence of the group.

To explain the different social pressures in these two studies, Morton Deutsch and Henry Gerard (1955) suggested that group pressure derives from two sources: normative and informational influence.(3)

Normative social influence (desire to fit in) occurs when a person conforms, complies or obeys to gain rewards or avoid punishments from another person or group.(3) It is essentially the the desire to fit in by gaining social acceptance or avoid social rejection.(6) Because the answer to the line questions were fairly obvious, the Asch line experiments are generally believed to be to an example of normative social influence. 

Informational social influence (desire to be correct) occurs when the individual conforms, complies, or obeys to gain accurate information.(3) The effect is prominent when a person lacks knowledge or is in an ambiguous situations and looks to the group for guidance.(4) The Sherif experiments are generally thought to be examples of informational social influence as the movement of the light, which was in fact an illusion, was ambiguously perceived by the subjects leading them to seek guidance from others. Additionally, to rule out the possibility that the subjects were simply giving the group answer to avoid looking foolish while still believing their original estimate was correct, a few days later Sherif had the subjects judge the lights again by themselves. Even after eliminating the possibility of group pressure they maintained the group's judgment.(7)

Although in some cases these two influences may operate separately, in reality they often are likely to function simultaneously and are difficult to disentangle.(3)(2)

C. Factors that Affect Conformity
Social/Situational Factors
1. Group Size - Asch found that when he varied the number of unanimous confederates in his line judgement experiments, conformity increased, but only to a certain point. Conformity reached its maximum level when the number of confederates was between three and four but remained fairly stable thereafter.(3)

2. Group Cohesiveness - Group cohesiveness refers to the degree to which a group has a sense of interconnectedness. It arises when bonds link members of a social group to one another and to the group as a whole.(8) In general, people in cohesive groups have greater pressure to conform than people in non-cohesive groups. Friend groups are a good example of this as we are more likely to be influenced by them than by non-friends because we respect their opinions, and desire to please them to remains socially accepted and avoid rejection.(3)

3. Social Support - The presence of at least one other group member going against the majority can decrease the level of conformity. For instance, Asch ran variations of his line judgement study where he included a single confederate picking the correct line. This led to conformity dropping to one-forth the original levels.(3)

If this support is later removed, normative influence again is exerted. In one of Asch’s studies, when the confederate who had previously agreed with the participant switched and began to conform to the majority opinion, the participants’ own level of conformity returned to near the levels observed in the original experiments.(3)

Receiving social support early is more effective than receiving such support after normative pressures have already built up (Morris et al., 1977).(3)

Personal/Individual Factors
1. Self-Awareness - whether behavior is more influenced by personal or social standards is at least partially determined by what aspect of the self is salient (private or public). When people are privately self-aware, they tend to act in line with their own personal standards, but social standards are more influential when people are publicly self-aware (Froming et al., 1982; Kallgren et al., 2000). Thus, being privately self-aware reduces conformity, while being publicly self-aware increases conformity.(3)

2. Self-Presentation - Research found that often underlying the conformity and independence responses of people are calculated assessments of the impressions they are making on those present. Conformity is most likely to occur when self-presenters are alone with those trying to influence them and when the conformity will be viewed as indicating intelligence or open-mindedness. On the other hand, open defiance of influence attempts is most likely under two conditions: (1) when others not involved in the influence attempt are present, and (2) when the attitude of those exerting the influence makes any subsequent yielding seem like weak-kneed surrender rather than intelligent decision making. Under such conditions, it would be difficult to conform and still maintain a public image of independence and autonomy.(3)

3. Desire for Personal Control - Although self-presentation concerns may sometimes explain conformity and nonconformity, on other occasions we may resist social influence simply to feel that we personally control our own actions. Jack Brehm (Brehm, 1966; Brehm & Brehm, 1981) has proposed a theory of psychological reactance, which states that people believe they possess specific behavioral freedoms and that they will react against and resist attempts to limit this sense of freedom. For example, if parents demand that their daughter not date a certain boy, she might defy the parents as a way to restore a feeling of personal control over her own behavior. When reactance is aroused, the forbidden behavior (dating the disapproved boy) becomes more desirable. Similarly, if the daughter believes her parents are trying to coerce her into dating some other boy, reactance results in this boy becoming a much less desirable date than the forbidden male.(3)

Individuals may not conform to social pressures due to their desire for personal control, but this does not mean that they are necessarily acting independently. There are two different types of  nconformity responses. One is independence, which was previously defined as not being subject to others’ control. The person who dates someone not because her parents approve or disapprove but because she genuinely likes her dating partner is demonstrating independence; psychological reactance does not play a factor in her behavioral choices. Anticonformity, on the other hand, is characterized by opposition to social influence on all occasions, and psychological reactance often explains these behavioral choices (Nail et al., 1996). The anticonformist would date people whom her parents disapproved and would not date those whom they approved. Thus, the actions of two people may be identical but may be motivated by very different desires. A person who has a strong desire for personal control could express this either through independence or anticonformity.(3)

D. Minority Influence 
Under certain conditions, the minority can influence the majority. The process by which dissenters produce change within a group is called minority influence.(3)

Serge Moscovici, a forerunner in minority influence, argued that majority influence tends to be based on public compliance (normative influence). Since majorities are often unconcerned about what minorities think about them, minority influence is rarely based on normative social influence. Instead, it is usually based on informational social influence - providing the majority with new ideas, new information which leads them to re-examine their views.(9)

Moscovici believed that the success of minority influence dependent on behavior style which consists of consistency, confidence, appearing to be unbiased and resisting social pressure and abuse. Of these Moscovici believed consistency was most important.(9) 

In a demonstration of the importance of consistency in minority group influence, Moscovici and his colleagues (1969) asked groups of individuals to judge whether the color of projected blue slides was blue or green. Each group consisted of four participants and two confederates. In the inconsistent minority condition the confederates randomly varied calling the blue slide green and blue, while in the consistent minority condition they always claimed that it was green. The results were that when the confederates were inconsistent, their ability to influence the majority was negligible (1.25 percent). However, when the confederates were consistent, more than 8 percent of the time participants conformed to this minority point of view.(3)

E. Power of Conformity
The following are some interesting and amusing videos on the power of conformity.

(2)Social Influence: Compliance and Conformity

(1)Principles of Social Psychology

(3)Social Psychology (Franzoi)

(4)SimplyPsychology: Conformity

(5)Wikipedia: Muzafer Sherif

(6)Boundless: Conformity

Wikipedia: Asch Conformity Experiments

The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

(7)Wikipedia: Social Proof

(8)Wikipedia: Group cohesiveness

(9) SimplePsychology: Moscovici and Minority Influence

Monday, May 15, 2017

Social Influence

Social influence involves the exercise of social power by a person or group to change the
attitudes or behavior of others in a particular direction. Social power refers to the force available to the influencer in motivating this change. This power can originate from having access to certain resources (for example, rewards, punishments, information) due to one’s social position in society, or from being liked and admired by others.(1)

The findings from a number of empirical studies support the commonly held belief that possessing social power increases people’s tendencies to take action, whereas powerlessness activates a general tendency to inhibit action.(1)
Theorists have typically distinguished between three types of social influence: Conformity, Compliance and Obedience. 

Conformity is the yielding to perceived group pressure by copying the behavior and beliefs of others.(1)  

Compliance is publicly acting in accord with a direct request. In compliance, people responding to a direct request may privately agree or disagree with the action they are engaging in, or they may have no opinion about their behavior(1) 

Obedience is the performance of an action in response to a direct command from an authority figure. The major difference between compliance and obedience seems to be that the person making the request is an authority figure while with compliance the person is not.

(1)Social Psychology, Stephen Franzoi

Social Influence and Power

Friday, May 12, 2017

Beriozka Dance Ensemble

The Beriozka (Little Birch Tree) Dance Ensemble, founded in 1948, performing what I think is a version of a khorovod (circle dance).

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Thaddeus Russell's Postmodern Denial of Reality

Thaddeus seems to be making two, not very connected arguments.

1) The first is that the categories of man and woman are so flawed that they are essentially meaningless.

"I think the category of man becomes meaningless...Neither Andy Dick or Yoel Romero are trans people right? They are so different though, physically in every way but we put them both in this silly category called man, what does that mean anymore?"

Thaddeus seems to be playing a little philosophic game where he describes some general characteristic of the category of man, then points to exceptions or variances to conclude that the category is useless.

Of course in reality, the majority of things which humans categorize do not fit into neat little definitional boxes. Thaddeus points to the physical difference between Andy Dick and Yoel Romero as proof that the category of man is problematic. But if that sort of variance is enough of a standard to do away with a category then we would have to do away with a great number of other categories such as dogs (Pug vs great Dane), cats (House Cat vs Lion), birds (Penguin vs Eagle), and so on.

I'm guessing this little bit of sophistry is enough to confuse most people into compliance but Rogan does a good job of pushing back. This forces Thaddeus into his next argument:

2) We shouldn't apply categories to humans if they could be somehow harmful.

"I'm not saying we shouldn't categorize anything ever because we must do that to live in this world. What I am saying is we should probably stop applying certain categories to human beings in the ways we have done, because there are certain inventions, certain social constructs that do nothing but bad things, that do no good and they're only social constructs, like race and gender."

Similar to his first point, I think the application of this standard would lead to some really silly places. For instance, what about the category of obese people. Numerous studies have found that overweight people have a harder time getting a job, are less likely to get salary increases, have less friends and are more susceptible to mental health issue due to social rejection. As unfortunate as this is does this mean we should banish the recognition of weight when applied to humans?

The same thing could be said for the category of unattractive people. They face many of the same problems that obese people face. Does this mean we should no longer distinguishes between beautiful and unattractive people?

All of this seems completely unnecessary as Thaddeus' primary concerns seem to be that prescribed gender roles may restrict an individual from living the way they want to live. He seems to believe the best way to deal with this is to simply deny objective truths. But as history has shown, gender roles are fluid and changing. Society's views on gender (at least in the West) are far more open than they have been at any other time and are likely to continue moving in this direction. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Sam Harris Vs. Hunter Maats

I recently watched the following compilation video recommended by YouTube. The first part is Sam Harris on the Joe Rogan podcast complaining about people trolling him on twitter, including a prior guest of Joe's named Hunter Maats. The second part is of Hunter Maats talking about Sam during a previous episode.

Sam's complaint is something along the lines of, ...Hunter's attacks are juvenile...he sends me two tweets then sends me 400 that say you're scared to debate me...there is a level of arrogance and incivility and lack of charity in interacting with other people's views..., etc

Watching the clip of Hunter's conversation with Joe left me wondering if Sam was being overly sensitive. There was certainly a fuzziness to Hunter's criticism of Sam. He talked for quite a while but didn't seem able to convey his critique in a concise manner. In a nutshell, he essentially was saying that Sam is a rationalist, who believes that reason and emotion are separate and that reason should reign supreme.  Hunter is an intuitionist that believes our intuitions and emotions are what drives are reasoning. Hunter believes that Sam's views lead him to communicate ideas in a manner which are unpalatable to those he criticizes (at least I think this was what he was trying to get at).

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Hunter's assertions, to me he didn't come across in a way which made me dislike the guy. Perhaps he was a little arrogant at times but if so, it was fairly mild and not enough to make me think too poorly of him. This is what left me wondering if Sam, the so called rationalist, was letting his emotions get the better of him, being oversensitive to a little criticism.

That's when I checked Hunter's twitter page to see some of the "trolling" Sam was referring to. And holy shit, Sam wasn't exaggerating when he said Hunter sent or directed 400 messages to him. In all fairness, most of the tweets are responses to others people in which Hunter tagged Sam for some reason. But still, I counted over 500 tweets from Hunter from January 1st to April 16th that had something to do with Sam. Though most I'd consider mildly harassing some are downright dickish. The weird thing about this is that Hunter repeatedly points to the work of Jonathan Haidt in support of his view that Sam's rational approach is alienating to religious people.  But strangely, his messages to Sam are completely contrary to what Haidt suggests on how to communicate with people and persuade them to your way of thinking. To quote from his book, The Righteous Mind, he writes:

"If you want to change people’s minds, you’ve got to talk to their elephants. Dale Carnegie was one of the greatest elephant-whisperers of all time. In his classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Carnegie repeatedly urged readers to avoid direct confrontations. Instead he advised people to ‘begin in a friendly way,’ to ‘smile,’ to ‘be a good listener,’ and to ‘never say “you’re wrong.”’ The persuader’s goal should be to convey respect, warmth, and an openness to dialogue before stating one’s own case.

So I'm pretty sure Haidt wouldn't agree with Hunter's snide, obsessed, borderline neurotic approach. Though Hunter maybe winning points with those already in his 'tribe', to the casual observer such as myself, his twitter attacks toward Sam simply make me think he's an asshole.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


Confusing entertainment when ventriloquists Rudi Rok and Sari Aalto get together.

Post-it Note Persuasion

Randy Garner of Sam Houston University found that when asking someone to do something, adding a personal message on a sticky note led to higher response rates.

In one study, Garner randomly selected 150 full time faculty members at major universities to complete a survey. The participants were divided into three groups of fifty:

Group A received the survey and cover letter.
Group B received the survey and cover letter with a personal message written on the upper right hand corner of the cover letter asking “Please take a few minutes to complete this for us. Thank you!”
Group C received the survey and cover letter with a Post-it note attached with the same message that was written on the cover letter in Group B.

The results showed that participants who received the survey with the Post-it note message returned the surveys significantly more than the other two groups.

Group A: 36% completed and returned the survey.
Group B: 48% completed and returned the survey.
Group C: 76% completed and returned the survey.

Garner conducted variations of the experiment and found similar results. He believes the Post-it message is likely viewed by the recipient as a personal appeal or request for a favor, which conjures strong societal norms of polite, reciprocal compliance.

Post-It® GARNER POST-IT PERSUASION Note Persuasion: A Sticky Influence

Monday, April 3, 2017

Misleading Vividness

Misleading Vividness is a fallacy in which a very small number of particularly dramatic events are taken to outweigh a significant amount of statistical evidence. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:
1. Dramatic or vivid event X occurs (and is not in accord with the majority of the statistical evidence).
2. Therefore events of type X are likely to occur.
This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because the mere fact that an event is particularly vivid or dramatic does not make the event more likely to occur, especially in the face of significant statistical evidence.


Joe: "When I was flying back to school, the pilot came on the intercom and told us that the plane was having engine trouble. I looked out the window and I saw smoke billowing out of the engine nearest me. We had to make an emergency landing and there were fire trucks everywhere. I had to spend the next six hours sitting in the airport waiting for a flight. I was lucky I didn't die! I'm never flying again."
Drew: "So how are you going to get home over Christmas break?"
Joe: "I'm going to drive. That will be a lot safer than flying."
Drew: "I don't think so. You are much more likely to get injured or killed driving than flying."
Joe: "I don't buy that! You should have seen the smoke pouring out of that engine! I'm never getting on one of those death traps again!"

Also see Hasty Generalization

The Nizkor Project: Misleading Vividness

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Disabling parts of the brain with magnets can weaken faith in God and change attitudes to immigrants, study finds

Just read this 2015 article in the Independent which discusses a study which found that using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to temporarily shut down the part of the brain that deals with threats and conflict led to decreased belief in God and a more favorable view of immigrants that were critical of the United States.

This seems to support Arnold Kling's "Three Languages of Politics", especially the idea that conservatives generally view the world through the civilzation/barbarism axis. For them, the good is civilized values that have accumulated over time and have stood the test of time; and the bad are the 'barbarians' who try to strike out against those values and destroy civilization. In other words, to some degree, immigrants may set off the threat detectors of conservatives. This study seems to support this notion by showing that shutting down or lowering the threat detection area of the brain led to more pro-immigrant attitudes.

Note-I realize there likely isn't an nice tidy area of the brain that deals with threats and conflict. I'm simply using the language in the article to present the ideas in an uncomplicated (not doubt grossly oversimplified) way.

Here is a link to the actual study which I haven't had a chance to read yet.

Friday, March 24, 2017

La Machine

La Machine is a street theatre company based in Nantes, France. The group was formed by artists, designers, fabricators and technicians in 1999 and is currently led by Artistic Director, François Delarozière.

La Machine is famous for their extraordinary theatrical machines, permanent installations and their own theatrical productions. Some of their past work includes:

2006 - Sultan's Elephant

The Sultan's Elephant was created as part of a show by the same name produced by the Royal de Luxe theatre company. Weighing in at 42 tons the elephant required 22 manipulators to operate.

According to this article from The Guardian, The Sultan's Elephant no longer exists as the "Royal de Luxe were so fed up with being invited all over the world to perform The Sultan's Elephant, they just destroyed it."

2007 - The Great Elephant

A non-exact replica of the Sultan's Elephant was built in 2007 as part of the Machines of the Isle of Nantes permanent exhibit. The main difference between the two is that The Great Elephant was designed to carry up to 49 passengers (it also appears to be far less animated, likely due to it being more of a ride for tourist which no doubt requires far fewer operators).

2008 - La Princesse

La Princesse is a 50 foot mechanical spider which was first showcased in Liverpool, England as part of the 2008 European Capital of Culture celebration. Weighing in at 37 tonnes, the spider has 50 axes of movement and is operated by up to 12 people strapped to its body.

2014 Long Ma

Standing at 40 feet tall and weighing in at 46 tons, the fire breathing dragon-horse Long Ma faced off against La Princesse as part of an event in Beijing celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations between France and China.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Three works which have influenced my views on political conflict

Three academic works which have influenced the way I view political conflict.

I. The Three Languages of Politics
A number of years ago, Kling wrote a short book called "The Three Languages of Politics" where he introduced a simple model to help explain political polarization. In a nutshell he argued that people, to some degree, fall within three heuristic categories, or as he calls them, axes. Progressives fall within the oppressor/oppressed axis which simply means that they think in relation to groups and organize the bad and the good in terms of oppressors and those being oppressed. Conservatives are in the civilization/barbarism axis. For them, the good is civilized values that have accumulated over time and have stood the test of time; and the bad are the barbarians who try to strike out against those values and destroy civilization. Finally, Libertarians are in the freedom/coercion axis. For them, the good is individuals making their own choices, contracting freely with each other; and the bad is coercion at gunpoint, particularly on the part of governments.

In summary, identifying with a particular group indicates that you tend to frame issues in the terms described above. This is why political groups are speaking past each other; they are speaking in different languages.

II. The Righteous Mind
A couple of years after reading Kling's book I read Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind" which presents ideas similar to Kling's but from a different perspective and much more fleshed out. Actually, there is so much in the book I'm finding it difficult to present an adequate summary.

Like Kling, Haidt provides an explanation as to why politics is so polarizing. He sees liberals and conservatives living in their own moral matrices. "Each matrix provides a complete, unified, and emotionally compelling worldview, easily justified by observable evidence and nearly impregnable to attack by arguments from outsiders."

To get a better understanding of these moral matrices, it's necessary to first understand how Haidt views morality. He lays this out with his Social Intuitionist model which proposes that moral positions and judgments are generally first the result of quick, automatic evaluations (intuitions) and that reasoning is a post hoc attempt to justify our intuitions. In other words, though we would like to believe that we come to moral decisions in an objective, unbiased, rational manner, we are actually deeply influenced by our intuitions. These intuitions, Haidt believes are to some degree the result of evolutionary adaptations.

The second part to understanding moral matrices is found in Haidt's Moral Foundations theory. Here he lays out a model composed of six (formally five) innate, modular foundations:

The Care/harm foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of caring for vulnerable children. It makes us sensitive to signs of suffering and need; it makes us despise cruelty and want to care for those who are suffering.

The Fairness/cheating foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of reaping the rewards of cooperation without getting exploited. It makes us sensitive to indications that another person is likely to be a good (or bad) partner for collaboration and reciprocal altruism. It makes us want to shun or punish cheaters.

The Loyalty/betrayal foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forming and maintaining coalitions. It makes us sensitive to signs that another person is (or is not) a team player. It makes us trust and reward such people, and it makes us want to hurt, ostracize, or even kill those who betray us or our group.

The Authority/subversion foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forging relationships that will benefit us within social hierarchies. It makes us sensitive to signs of rank or status, and to signs that other people are (or are not) behaving properly, given their position.

The Sanctity/degradation foundation evolved initially in response to the adaptive challenge of the omnivore’s dilemma, and then to the broader challenge of living in a world of pathogens and parasites. It includes the behavioral immune system, which can make us wary of a diverse array of symbolic objects and threats. It makes it possible for people to invest objects with irrational and extreme values—both positive and negative—which are important for binding groups together.

The Liberty/oppression foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of living in small groups with individuals who would, if given the chance, dominate, bully, and constrain others. It triggers an urge to band together to resist or overthrow bullies and tyrants. This foundation supports the egalitarianism and antiauthoritarianism of the left, as well as the don’t-tread-on-me and give-me-liberty antigovernment anger of libertarians and some conservatives.

Haidt's research shows that those in the three general camps of progressives, libertarians and conservatives rely upon each foundation in different ways or to different degrees. While all three political camps are sensitive to the fairness foundation, progressives are particularly sensitive to the care foundation, libertarians to the liberty foundation and conservatives roughly equally sensitive to all six foundations.

III. Microaggression and Moral Cultures
Published in 2014 by sociologist Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning published, the paper argues that western culture is in the midst of a moral transition.

Prior to the 18th and 19th centuries we lived in an culture of honor.
"Honor is a kind of status attached to physical bravery and the unwillingness to be dominated by anyone. Honor in this sense is a status that depends on the evaluations of others, and members of honor societies are expected to display their bravery by engaging in violent retaliation against those who offend them...
In honor cultures, it is one’s reputation that makes one honorable or not, and one must respond aggressively to insults, aggressions, and challenges or lose honor. Not to fight back is itself a kind of moral failing, such that “in honor cultures, people are shunned or criticized not for exacting vengeance but for failing to do so”. Honorable people must guard their reputations, so they are highly sensitive to insult, often responding aggressively to what might seem to outsiders as minor slights. 
Cultures of honor tend to arise in places where legal authority is weak or nonexistent and where a reputation for toughness is perhaps the only effective deterrent against predation or attack. Because of their belief in the value of personal bravery and capability, people socialized into a culture of honor will often shun reliance on law or any other authority even when it is available, refusing to lower their standing by depending on another to handle their affairs."
During the 19th century, as liberal philosophy took hold and the rule of law was developed, we transitioned to a culture of dignity.
"The prevailing culture in the modern West is one whose moral code is nearly the exact opposite of that of an honor culture. Rather than honor, a status based primarily on public opinion, people are said to have dignity, a kind of inherent worth that cannot be alienated by others.
Dignity exists independently of what others think, so a culture of dignity is one in which public reputation is less important. Insults might provoke offense, but they no longer have the same importance as a way of establishing or destroying a reputation for bravery. It is even commendable to have “thick skin” that allows one to shrug off slights and even serious insults, and in a dignity-based society parents might teach children some version of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” – an idea that would be alien in a culture of honor...
For offenses like theft, assault, or breach of contract, people in a dignity culture will use law without shame. But in keeping with their ethic of restraint and toleration, it is not necessarily their first resort, and they might condemn many uses of the authorities as frivolous. People might even be expected to tolerate serious but accidental personal injuries"
Now we seem to be transitioning to a culture of victimhood.
Microaggression complaints have characteristics that put them at odds with both honor and dignity cultures. Honorable people are sensitive to insult, and so they would understand that microaggressions, even if unintentional, are severe offenses that demand a serious response. But honor cultures value unilateral aggression and disparage appeals for help. Public complaints that advertise or even exaggerate one’s own victimization and need for sympathy would be anathema to a person of honor – tantamount to showing that one had no honor at all.Members of a dignity culture, on the other hand, would see no shame in appealing to third parties, but they would not approve of such appeals for minor and merely verbal offenses. Instead they would likely counsel either confronting the offender directly to discuss the issue, or better yet, ignoring the remarks altogether.
A culture of victimhood is one characterized by concern with status and sensitivity to slight combined with a heavy reliance on third parties. People are intolerant of insults, even if unintentional, and react by bringing them to the attention of authorities or to the public at large. Domination is the main form of deviance, and victimization a way of attracting sympathy, so rather than emphasize either their strength or inner worth, the aggrieved emphasize their oppression and social marginalization.
Under such conditions complaint to third parties has supplanted both toleration and negotiation. People increasingly demand help from others, and advertise their oppression as evidence that they deserve respect and assistance. Thus we might call this moral culture a culture of victimhood because the moral status of the victim, at its nadir in honor cultures, has risen to new heights."

Monday, February 13, 2017

Paul Krugman's myopic market prediction

I'm not a fan of Paul Krugman. His political bias keeps him from making objective economic analysis but in truth, it's his arrogance and smug attitude that makes me really dislike the guy. As such, I've really enjoyed seeing him eat a little crow regarding his 11/09/16 New York Times blog post. Written the day after Trump was elected president, with the Dow closing at 18,332.74, he said:
"If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never...So we are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight. I suppose we could get lucky somehow. But on economics, as on everything else, a terrible thing has just happened."
It didn't take long for Krugman to be proven wrong as the very next day the Dow closed at 18,589.69. Two weeks after the election it closed above 19,000 for the first time in its 120 year history. Then on January 25th it broke above 20,000. As of right now it is at 20,380.81.

I have no idea whether or not the market will remain strong. Given Trump's somewhat anti-free trade noise I'm a little skeptical. Regardless, it's nice to see Krugman quickly proven so completely wrong.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Anchoring is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the initial piece of information offered (the "anchor") when making decisions.

When making a decision, it is believed that people often make "estimates by starting from an initial value which is adjusted to yield the final answer. The initial value, or starting point, may be suggested by the formulation of the problem, or else it may be the result of a partial computation. Whatever the source of the initial value, adjustments are typically insufficient. That is, different starting points yield different estimates, which are biased towards the initial values."(1)

Judgement Under Uncertainty Study
Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman published a famous study on anchoring in the early 1970's. They had participants spin a wheel marked 1 to 100 which unknown to them was rigged to always stop on 10 or 65. They then asked if the percentage of African nations in the United Nations was higher or lower than the number the wheel had landed on. Finally, they asked the participants to estimate the actual percentage.

Tversky and Kahneman found that the number the wheel had landed on had a pronounced effect on the answers the subjects provided. When the wheel landed on 10, the average estimate given by the subjects was 25%. When the wheel landed on 60, the average estimate was 45%.(1)

Real World Example of Anchoring
Sales Negotiations - In a negotiation, the initial price offered can act as an anchor, setting the standard in the mind of the potential buyer.

For example, imagine a negotiation for a used car. In scenario one, the salesman asks for $15,000. The buyer haggles with him and they end up agreeing on $14,500. In scenario two, the salesman asks for $18,000. The two negotiate until settling on a price of $15,500.

In both examples, the sales person anchored the price from which to negotiate in the mind of the buyer. Interestingly, even though the buyer in the first scenario paid less, the buyer in the second scenario is likely to feel he got the better deal as he had negotiated a 'deep discount.'

Prevalence and Susceptibility 
The anchoring bias has been well documented and demonstrated in a variety of domains.(2)  Findings suggest that it is a robust psychological phenomenon and can be difficult to avoid even among those aware of its influence.(3)

Though research findings are somewhat mixed, generally speaking it seems that knowledgeable people are less affected by anchoring. Hence, the more unfamiliar the decision maker is with the problem, the higher the anchoring effect.(2) This seems intuitively true in that a knowledgeable person has access to information with which to judge the plausibility of the anchor.

(1) Judgement Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases: Tversky & Kahneman

(2) A literature review of the anchoring effect

(3) A New Look at Anchoring Effects: Basic Anchoring and Its Anteceents

CIA: Biases in Estimating Probabilities

Anchoring: Wikipedia

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Social Intuitionism

In moral psychology, social intuitionism is a model that proposes that moral positions and judgments are generally first the result of quick, automatic evaluations (intuitions) and that reasoning is a post hoc attempt to justify our intuitions.

Psychologist Jonathon Haidt first introduced the social intuitionist model (SIM) in his paper "The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail" where he contrasts it against the common rationalist belief that humans make moral judgements as rational decision makers. In other words, rationalist believe that moral judgement is the result of deliberative moral reasoning, much like a judge in a court room listening to and weighing the evidence before reaching a decision.

Essentially, the SIM flips the rationalist view around believing that moral judgements typically come first through our intuitions and moral reasoning follows as a post hoc justification. Haidt believes that this after the fact rationalization is mainly to influence other people.

The model lays out six basic links: 1) intuitive judgment, 2) post hoc reasoning, 3) reasoned persuasion, 4) social persuasion, 5) reasoned judgment and 6) private reflection.

The Social Intuitionist Model 
The SIM proposes that when faced with a moral dilemma a person has an immediate intuitive sense of the rightness or wrongness of the action which is the basis of their judgement. This intuitive judgment (Link 1) appears in consciousness automatically and effortlessly as the result of moral intuitions.

Next, conscious post-hoc reasoning (Link 2) is employed to find justifications for their decision. This reasoning is heavily biased as it searches for explanations and evidence which support the person's judgement and disregards or undervalue evidence which contradicts it. This is generally referred to as 'confirmation bias'.

Reasoned Persuasion (Link 3) is employed to communicate justification for their judgements and as an attempt to persuade others. Though rational reasons may be part of their attempt to convince others, Haidt believes that this link is more about triggering new affectations in the listener. In other words, arguments are really attempts "to frame the issue so as to push an emotional button."

People can also influence and be influenced through social persuasion (Link 4) even when reasons are not given to justify moral positions. The idea is simply that we are influenced by our social groups. "Because people are highly attuned to the emergence of group norms, the model proposes that the mere fact that friends, allies, and acquaintances have made a moral judgment exerts a direct influence on others, even if no reasoned persuasion is used. Such social forces may elicit only outward conformity, but in many cases people’s privately held judgments are directly shaped by the judgments of others "

Although Haidt believes that people rarely change their initial intuitive judgement on moral matters without the influence of other people, he does concede that at times some people can change their minds just from mulling a matter over by themselves.

Reasoned judgment (Link 5) are for those times when people may "reason their way to a judgment by sheer force of logic, overriding their initial intuition. However such reasoning is hypothesized to be rare, occurring primarily in cases in which the initial intuition is weak and processing capacity is high. In cases where the reasoned judgment conflicts with a strong intuitive judgment a person will have a 'dual attitude' in which the reasoned judgment may be expressed verbally, yet the intuitive judgment continues to exist under the surface."

Private reflection (Link 6) accounts for times when, in the course of thinking about a situation, a person spontaneously arrives at a new intuition which overrides the initial intuitive judgement.

Moral Intuitions
The SIM proposes that morality, like language, is a major evolutionary adaptation for an intensely social species, built into multiple regions of the brain and body, which is better described as emergent than as learned, yet which requires input and shaping from a particular culture. Moral intuitions are therefore both innate and enculturated.

Dual Processing
The SIM is similar to other "dual process" theories in that it posits the intuitive process to be an automatic, effortless, default process (system 1) and moral reasoning to be controlled, effortful and slow (system 2).

Moral Dumbfounding
Haidt's evidence in support of the idea that 'intuitions come first, moral reasoning second' comes from studies of "moral dumbfounding" where people have strong moral reactions but fail to provide rational explanations to support their belief. For example, a researcher would ask a question such as:
Julie and Mark are brother and sister. They are traveling together in France on summer vacation from college. One night they are staying alone in a cabin near the beach. They decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. At the very least it would be a new experience for each of them. Julie was already taking birth control pills, but Mark uses a condom too, just to be safe. They both enjoy making love, but they decide not to do it again. They keep that night as a special secret, which makes them feel even closer to each other. What do you think about that? Was it OK for them to make love?
Most people immediately said it was wrong for the siblings to have sex, yet could not explain why. They searched for reasons such as the harm of inbreeding, or that they will be hurt emotionally but were reminded that they used birth control and that no emotional harm befell them. Eventually, many people would give up looking for reasons and say something like “I don’t know, I can’t explain it, I just know it’s wrong.”

The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail
Wikipedia: Social Intuitionism
Reason, Society, and the Social Intuitionist Model
Social Intuitionists Answer Six Questions about Moral Psychology

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Sub Tropolis is a 55,000,000 square-foot underground business complex located in Kansas City, Missouri. It currently rents space to 55 local, national and international businesses with more than 1,600 employees working at the facility.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, limestone mining left millions of square feet of caves in Kansas City. After mining slowed down, late Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt converted the caves into industrial space for lease.

Paris Brothers specialty foods

United States Postal Service

LightEdge data center

Behold SubTropolis: The Underground City Located In An Excavated Kansas Mine

Kansas City has a massive network of underground caves that houses over 400 businesses, including a paintball facility and a post office

Doing business 100 feet underground

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Ice Shove

Some amazing videos of what I believe are all different types of ice shoves.

According to Wikipedia, an ice shove, ice surge, ice heave, ivu, or shoreline ice pileup is a surge of ice from an ocean or large lake onto the shore. Ice shoves are caused by ocean currents, strong winds, or temperature differences pushing ice onto the shore, creating piles up to 12 metres (40 feet) high. Some have described them as 'ice tsunamis', but the phenomenon works like an iceberg. Witnesses have described the shove's sound as being like that of a train or thunder. Ice shoves can damage buildings and plants that are near to the body of water.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

David Lynch's Return of the Jedi

Man, how did I miss this excellent fan film trailer imagining what Return of the Jedi would have been like if it was directed by David Lynch?

Lynch directing a Star Wars film sounds ludicrous but truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Apparently Lucas approached Lynch in 1981 with the prospect of directing the third installment of the franchise.

According to Lynch:
“I went to meet George Lucas, who had offered me the third Star Wars to direct, and I’ve never even really liked science fiction. I like elements of it, but it needs to be combined with other genres. And, obviously, Star Wars was totally George’s thing.”
Lynch turn it down, realizing that he wasn't a good fit for the job. Makes you wonder what the hell was going on with Lucas to consider him in the first place. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Highland Heights Elementary (R.I.P.)

I just came across a video of the demolition of Highland Heights elementary school, which I attended sometime around 1978 to 1982.

I got a little sentimental after seeing the old building come down and started poking around the internet.

The school was built in 1931 on Main and Renshaw Avenue as Dale Elementary (this was actually the third Dale Elementary location). It was renamed Highland Heights Elementary in 1960. The Campbell County School District closed it after building Crossroads Elementary in Cold Spring and the building was torn down in 2012.

Here's some video I found from another sentimental guy of the school just before and during it's demolition.