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Thinking Fast & Slow - Intro and Ch 1-3
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 01.24.17

Walt Someguy writes: Welcome to the Thinking Fast & Slow reading group. I am summarizing the introduction and the first three chapters of the book.

The introduction describes how Kahneman came to work with Tversky, and how their working relationship functioned. Many of their ideas came from performing little experiments on themselves and each other -- they would consider a snap judgement that they had made, and wonder how they came about it. For example, they noticed that for small children they knew, they would both come to the same snap judgement of what the child would grow up to do. This, they realized, was because they relied on the resemblance to a stereotypical version of that grown-up job.

Most of their research centered around the idea of a "bias" -- a short-cut in reasoning that provided a quick answer that could suffer from systematic error. He gives a simple example of this with "Steve", an introvert who relied on an orderly existence. Is Steve more likely to be a librarian or a farmer? Stereotypically most people think Steve sounds more like a librarian, while probabilistically he's more likely to be a farmer. (There are twenty times as many farmers as librarian, so introvert farmers must outnumber librarians.)

The first chapter introduces the two main protagonists in his story -- System 1 and System 2. System 1 represents the quick, almost instinctual, part of our minds that takes short-cuts and can make systematic mistakes. System 2 is the slower part of our brain that makes judicious, reasoned judgements. System 2 requires active effort, and can get fatigued and more likely to make mistakes, while System 1 always operates, without any conscious effort on our parts. System 1 contains everything we can do without thinking about it, which sometimes is something that almost everyone can do (depth perception), but sometimes represents something that requires years of practice (play chess like a grandmaster).

Chapter two discusses some of the experiments that illustrate the importance of effort in System 2. Kahneman and another researcher, Jackson Beatty, discovered a surprising physical correlate of the level of effort put out by System 2. They introduced some task that required concentration (Add-1 and Add-3), and measured the amount the subject's pupils would dilate. They found high effort would cause the pupils to dilate. They could even tell when a subject gave up on the task, because their pupils would return to normal size.

Chapter three assembles more evidence to the idea that System 2 is constrained by cost of effort. An intake of glucose can improve performance on tasks that require conscious judgement. Kahneman gives one disturbing example from Israeli parole cases -- most requests for parole are denied, and it requires a conscious judgement to overrrule it. Judges that are hungry are more likely to give the default judgement than judges that have eaten. Kahneman also talks about evidence that people have differing propensities to rely on System 2. He gives the example of the "marshmellow test" (which apparently was really Oreos) -- kids are given the choice between a single Oreo now, or two Oreos 15 minutes from now. Kids that manage to wait the 15 minutes do so by consciously distracting themselves from the Oreos. Follow-up studies show that the kids that can distract themselves grow up to have better life outcomes.

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ATM: devil's strip? tree verge? my dialect does not have a word for this
Posted by Ben on 01.23.17

[Editor's note: the ensuing question does not, as you might have thought, pertain to pubic hair.]

THORN WRITES:

I am still trying not to destroy myself in/with the politics threads and one of the ways I nurture hope is by gardening, so I figured I'd outsource some of that to the Mineshaft.

The city took out five blocks of my sidewalk beside the street last fall at my request, in chunks that are let's say 2.5 by 5 feet (two sidewalk squares) and 2.5 by 7.5 feet (three). Through a neighborhood initiative we planted two winter hawthorn trees, and the larger space has a telephone pole in the middle, at the foot of which I've planted the same fast-growing rose that will be on the fence in front of my house. (It won't be blooming pink at the same times the berries on the tree are orange, or if so I just won't care.) I also threw in a few bulbs that might be interesting (tulips, fritillaries, some giant allium) but it's basically just mud and mulch at this point.

We're the only house on the block with street trees at this point and I'd like to make it look good enough that neighbors warm to the idea. People will walk by and drop litter and dogs will poop there and probably flowers will get picked and so on. I'm fine with all that and also looking for something basically low-maintenance. Are there things you like that you've planted or that you've seen along roads near you that might be interesting or fun? I'm in planting zone 6b (count on lows of -5 to 0F, -20C to -18C, except we've only had a few hard frosts and three days with any snow on the ground this winter so who knows?) and perennials are easy but annuals are often more fun.

Quoting Voltaire on gardens would likely make the post too political to serve part of its stated purpose, but I have no gardening experience of my own to tender, so I can't really serve in any other way. But maybe YOU can, varied reader!

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Guest Post: Three Related Thoughts
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 01.23.17

Nick S writes: 1) It's often been commented upon that there are far fewer representations of working class people and life in popular culture than their used to be. I wonder, could Trump's performance as a populist billionaire have worked if actual working class people were more visible.

2) When did the idea of "selling out" stop carrying much emotional/ethical weight? It feels like, these days noting of somebody, "oh they're just doing it for the money" is no longer intended as criticism, just as a recognition of how the world works. My speculation is that, over time, it became less possible to live in "genteel poverty" -- to live without much money and still be able to participate in the common social life. I remember reading something recently* about how there are no longer the same spaces for bohemian life that their used to be.

On a related note, a couple of years ago I discovered (new to me) Cyndi Lauper's version of "Money Changes Everything" and I was surprised both by how pointed it was, and the fact that it's bite and edge felt dated. It's hard to imagine that song today.

3) I was re-watching parts of Bill Clinton on the Arsinio Hall show (linked from this article) and the thing that struck me about it was Bill Clinton's desire to explain. If the criticism of soundbite politics is that it prompts a thought-like process designed to arrive at a pre-determined conclusion. Clinton, for all his failings, seems to really believe that he can get people to think if he works hard enough. That made me feel a bit of nostalgia.


* I had thought it was in "Exiting the Vampire Castle" but that appears not to be true

Heebie's take: there are spaces for bohemian life, but they are college towns and beach towns, I think. And then a lot of major cities must have their bohemian scene - LA, Atlanta, Miami - where it can still be done pretty cheaply. Probably not very cheap to do it in Manhattan or San Francisco anymore, though.

I'm not sure when "selling out" lost it's edge, but it certainly has. I think a great deal of it stems from the celebration of wealth in the mainstream rap/hip-hop scene - other people can vaguely piggyback on that notion, "It's all about the benjamins!" with a sheepish shrug. Maybe partly the general fragmentation of society - an artist can put out a sell-out album alongside a true-to-their-roots album. There's less rigid control by managers. Maybe partly a recognition of how rigged the system is, and a general sympathy for artists or whoever is selling out.

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First Weekend
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 01.22.17

It's kind of poetic that the estimated size of the marches combined is roughly the same as the margin by which Clinton won the popular vote. My FB feed was absolutely nothing but one long stream of photos of marches. I took Hawaii; it was a nice scene.

I assume everyone has discussed the cake and latest tantrums.

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