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The Collection

An occasionally updated selection of books, papers, and quotes Steve thinks are worthy of your time. Summaries provided courtesy of publishers unless otherwise noted.

Non-Fiction Books

The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human

by V. S. Ramachandra

V. S. Ramachandran is at the forefront of his field – so much so that Richard Dawkins dubbed him the “Marco Polo of neuroscience”. Now, in a major new work, Ramachandran sets his sights on the mystery of human uniqueness.

Taking us to the frontiers of neurology, he reveals what baffling and extreme case studies can teach us about normal brain function and how it evolved. Synesthesia becomes a window into the brain mechanisms that make some of us more creative than others. And autism – for which Ramachandran opens a new direction for treatment – gives us a glimpse of the aspect of being human that we understand least: self-awareness.

Ramachandran tackles the most exciting and controversial topics in neurology with a storyteller’s eye for compelling case studies and a researcher’s flair for new approaches to age-old questions. Tracing the strange links between neurology and behavior, this book unveils a wealth of clues into the deepest mysteries of the human brain.

Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them

by Joshua Greene

Our brains were designed for tribal life, for getting along with a select group of others (Us) and for fighting off everyone else (Them). But modern times have forced the world’s tribes into a shared space, resulting in epic clashes of values along with unprecedented opportunities. As the world shrinks, the moral lines that divide us become more salient and more puzzling. We fight over everything from tax codes to gay marriage to global warming, and we wonder where, if at all, we can find our common ground.

A grand synthesis of neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy, Moral Tribes reveals the underlying causes of modern conflict and lights the way forward. Greene compares the human brain to a dual-mode camera, with point-and-shoot automatic settings (“portrait,” “landscape”) as well as a manual mode. Our point-and-shoot settings are our emotions—efficient, automated programs honed by evolution, culture, and personal experience. The brain’s manual mode is its capacity for deliberate reasoning, which makes our thinking flexible. Point-and-shoot emotions make us social animals, turning Me into Us. But they also make us tribal animals, turning Us against Them. Our tribal emotions make us fight—sometimes with bombs, sometimes with words—often with life-and-death stakes.

The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease

by Daniel Lieberman

In this landmark book of popular science, Daniel E. Lieberman – chair of the department of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University and a leader in the field – gives us a lucid and engaging account of how the human body evolved over millions of years, even as it shows how the increasing disparity between the jumble of adaptations in our Stone Age bodies and advancements in the modern world is occasioning this paradox: greater longevity but increased chronic disease.

The Story of the Human Body brilliantly illuminates as never before the major transformations that contributed key adaptations to the body: the rise of bipedalism; the shift to a non-fruit-based diet; the advent of hunting and gathering, leading to our superlative endurance athleticism; the development of a very large brain; and the incipience of cultural proficiencies. Lieberman also elucidates how cultural evolution differs from biological evolution, and how our bodies were further transformed during the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions.

While these ongoing changes have brought about many benefits, they have also created conditions to which our bodies are not entirely adapted, Lieberman argues, resulting in the growing incidence of obesity and new but avoidable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. Lieberman proposes that many of these chronic illnesses persist and in some cases are intensifying because of “dysevolution,” a pernicious dynamic whereby only the symptoms rather than the causes of these maladies are treated. And finally – provocatively – he advocates the use of evolutionary information to help nudge, push, and sometimes even compel us to create a more salubrious environment.


by Sendhil Mullainathan, Eldar Shafir

In the blockbuster tradition of Freakonomics, a Harvard economist and a Princeton psychology professor team up to offer a surprising and empowering new way to look at everyday life, presenting a paradigm-challenging examination of how scarcity – and our flawed responses to it – shapes our lives, our society, and our culture.

Why do successful people get things done at the last minute? Why does poverty persist? Why do organizations get stuck firefighting? Why do the lonely find it hard to make friends? These questions seem unconnected, yet Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir show that they are all are examples of a mindset produced by scarcity.

Drawing on cutting-edge research from behavioral science and economics, Mullainathan and Shafir show that scarcity creates a similar psychology for everyone struggling to manage with less than they need. Busy people fail to manage their time efficiently for the same reasons the poor and those maxed out on credit cards fail to manage their money. The dynamics of scarcity reveal why dieters find it hard to resist temptation, why students and busy executives mismanage their time, and why sugarcane farmers are smarter after harvest than before.

The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the Greater Philosophers

by Will Durant

The product of 11 years of research, The Story of Philosophy is an endlessly inspiring and instructive chronicle of the world’s greatest thinkers, from Socrates to Santayana. Written with exacting and scrupulous scholarship, it was designed both to command the respect of educators and to capture the interest of the layman.

Durant lucidly describes the philosophical systems of such world-famous “monarchs of the mind” as Plato, Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Spinoza, Kant, Voltaire, and Nietzsche. Along with their ideas, he offers their flesh-and-blood biographies, placing their thoughts within their own time and place and elucidating their influence on our modern intellectual heritage. This book is packed with wisdom and wit.

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

In The Black Swan Taleb outlined a problem, and in Antifragile he offers a definitive solution: how to gain from disorder and chaos while being protected from fragilities and adverse events. For what Taleb calls the “antifragile” is actually beyond the robust, because it benefits from shocks, uncertainty, and stressors, just as human bones get stronger when subjected to stress and tension. The antifragile needs disorder in order to survive and flourish.

Taleb stands uncertainty on its head, making it desirable, even necessary, and proposes that things be built in an antifragile manner. The antifragile is immune to prediction errors. Why is the city-state better than the nation-state, why is debt bad for you, and why is everything that is both modern and complicated bound to fail? The audiobook spans innovation by trial and error, health, biology, medicine, life decisions, politics, foreign policy, urban planning, war, personal finance, and economic systems. And throughout, in addition to the street wisdom of Fat Tony of Brooklyn, the voices and recipes of ancient wisdom, from Roman, Greek, Semitic, and medieval sources, are heard loud and clear.

Extremely ambitious and multidisciplinary, Antifragile provides a blueprint for how to behave – and thrive – in a world we don’t understand, and which is too uncertain for us to even try to understand and predict. Erudite and witty, Taleb’s message is revolutionary: What is not antifragile will surely perish.

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – but Some Don’t

by Nate Silver

Nate Silver built an innovative system for predicting baseball performance, predicted the 2008 election within a hair’s breadth, and became a national sensation as a blogger – all by the time he was 30. The New York Times now publishes, where Silver is one of the nation’s most influential political forecasters.

Drawing on his own groundbreaking work, Silver examines the world of prediction, investigating how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy data. Most predictions fail, often at great cost to society, because most of us have a poor understanding of probability and uncertainty. Both experts and laypeople mistake more confident predictions for more accurate ones. But overconfidence is often the reason for failure. If our appreciation of uncertainty improves, our predictions can get better too. This is the “prediction paradox”: The more humility we have about our ability to make predictions, the more successful we can be in planning for the future.

In keeping with his own aim to seek truth from data, Silver visits the most successful forecasters in a range of areas, from hurricanes to baseball, from the poker table to the stock market, from Capitol Hill to the NBA. He explains and evaluates how these forecasters think and what bonds they share. What lies behind their success? Are they good – or just lucky? What patterns have they unraveled? And are their forecasts really right? He explores unanticipated commonalities and exposes unexpected juxtapositions. And sometimes, it is not so much how good a prediction is in an absolute sense that matters but how good it is relative to the competition. In other cases, prediction is still a very rudimentary – and dangerous – science.

Silver observes that the most accurate forecasters tend to have a superior command of probability, and they tend to be both humble and hardworking. They distinguish the predictable from the unpredictable, and they notice a thousand little details that lead them closer to the truth. Because of their appreciation of probability, they can distinguish the signal from the noise.

With everything from the health of the global economy to our ability to fight terrorism dependent on the quality of our predictions, Nate Silver’s insights are an essential listen.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

by Jonathan Haidt

Why can’t our political leaders work together as threats loom and problems mount? Why do people so readily assume the worst about the motives of their fellow citizens?

In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores the origins of our divisions and points the way forward to mutual understanding. His starting point is moral intuition – the nearly instantaneous perceptions we all have about other people and the things they do. These intuitions feel like self-evident truths, making us righteously certain that those who see things differently are wrong.

Haidt shows us how these intuitions differ across cultures, including the cultures of the political left and right. He blends his own research findings with those of anthropologists, historians, and other psychologists to draw a map of the moral domain, and he explains why conservatives can navigate that map more skillfully than can liberals. He then examines the origins of morality, overturning the view that evolution made us fundamentally selfish creatures.

But rather than arguing that we are innately altruistic, he makes a more subtle claim – that we are fundamentally groupish. It is our groupishness, he explains, that leads to our greatest joys, our religious divisions, and our political affiliations. In a stunning final chapter on ideology and civility, Haidt shows what each side is right about, and why we need the insights of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians to flourish as a nation.

The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology

by Robert Wright

Are men literally born to cheat? Does monogamy actually serve women’s interests? These are among the questions that have made The Moral Animal one of the most provocative science books in recent years. Wright unveils the genetic strategies behind everything from our sexual preferences to our office politics – as well as their implications for our moral codes and public policies.

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

by Daron Acemoglu, James Robinson

Brilliant and engagingly written, Why Nations Fail answers the question that has stumped the experts for centuries: Why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine?

Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are?

Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or destiny. Otherwise, how to explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest growing countries in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Sierra Leone, are mired in poverty and violence?

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson conclusively show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or lack of it). Korea, to take just one of their fascinating examples, is a remarkably homogeneous nation, yet the people of North Korea are among the poorest on earth while their brothers and sisters in South Korea are among the richest. The south forged a society that created incentives, rewarded innovation, and allowed everyone to participate in economic opportunities. The economic success thus spurred was sustained because the government became accountable and responsive to citizens and the great mass of people. Sadly, the people of the north have endured decades of famine, political repression, and very different economic institutions – with no end in sight. The differences between the Koreas is due to the politics that created these completely different institutional trajectories.

Bad Science

by Ben Goldacre

Author Ben Goldacre exposes the epidemic of pseudoscience and gives listeners the tools they need to distinguish good science from nonsense.

How the Mind Works

by Steven Pinker

In this delightful, acclaimed best seller, one of the world’s leading cognitive scientists tackles the workings of the human mind. What makes us rational—and why are we so often irrational? How do we see in three dimensions? What makes us happy, afraid, angry, disgusted, or sexually aroused? Why do we fall in love? And how do we grapple with the imponderables of morality, religion, and consciousness?

How the Mind Works synthesizes the most satisfying explanations of our mental life from cognitive science, evolutionary biology, and other fields to explain what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and contemplate the mysteries of life. This new edition of Pinker’s bold and buoyant classic is updated with a new foreword by the author.

Thinking, Fast and Slow

by Daniel Kahneman

The guru to the gurus at last shares his knowledge with the rest of us. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman’s seminal studies in behavioral psychology, behavioral economics, and happiness studies have influenced numerous other authors, including Steven Pinker and Malcolm Gladwell. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman at last offers his own, first book for the general public. It is a lucid and enlightening summary of his life’s work. It will change the way you think about thinking.

Two systems drive the way we think and make choices, Kahneman explains: System One is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System Two is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Examining how both systems function within the mind, Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities as well as the biases of fast thinking and the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and our choices. Engaging the reader in a lively conversation about how we think, he shows where we can trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking, contrasting the two-system view of the mind with the standard model of the rational economic agent.

Kahneman’s singularly influential work has transformed cognitive psychology and launched the new fields of behavioral economics and happiness studies. In this path-breaking book, Kahneman shows how the mind works, and offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and personal lives – and how we can guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble.

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

by James Gleick

James Gleick, the author of the best sellers Chaos and Ge­nius, brings us his crowning work: a revelatory chronicle that shows how information has become the modern era’s defining quality—the blood, the fuel, the vital principle of our world.

The story of information begins in a time profoundly unlike our own, when every thought and utterance vanished as soon as it was born. From the invention of scripts and alphabets to the long misunderstood “talk­ing drums” of Africa, James Gleick tells the story of information technologies that changed the very nature of human consciousness. He provides portraits of the key figures contributing to the inexorable develop­ment of our modern understanding of information: Charles Babbage, the idiosyncratic inventor of the first great mechanical computer; Ada Byron, the po­et’s brilliant and doomed daughter, who became the first true programmer; pivotal figures like Samuel Morse and Alan Turing; and Claude Shannon, the cre­ator of information theory itself.

And then the information age comes upon us. Citi­zens of this world become experts willy-nilly: aficiona­dos of bits and bytes. And they sometimes feel they are drowning, swept by a deluge of signs and signals, news and images, blogs and tweets. The Information is the story of how we got here and where we are heading. It will transform readers’ view of its subject.

The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World

by Niall Ferguson

Niall Ferguson follows the money to tell the human story behind the evolution of finance, from its origins in ancient Mesopotamia to the latest upheavals on what he calls Planet Finance.

Bread, cash, dosh, dough, loot, lucre, moolah, readies, the wherewithal: Call it what you like, it matters. To Christians, love of it is the root of all evil. To generals, it’s the sinews of war. To revolutionaries, it’s the chains of labor. But in The Ascent of Money, Niall Ferguson shows that finance is in fact the foundation of human progress. What’s more, he reveals financial history as the essential back story behind all history.

Through Ferguson’s expert lens familiar historical landmarks appear in a new and sharper financial focus. Suddenly, the civilization of the Renaissance looks very different: a boom in the market for art and architecture made possible when Italian bankers adopted Arabic mathematics. The rise of the Dutch republic is reinterpreted as the triumph of the world’s first modern bond market over insolvent Habsburg absolutism. And the origins of the French Revolution are traced back to a stock market bubble caused by a convicted Scot murderer.

The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

by Leonard Mlodinow

In this irreverent and illuminating audiobook, acclaimed writer and scientist Leonard Mlodinow shows us how randomness, chance, and probability reveal a tremendous amount about our daily lives, and how we misunderstand the significance of everything from a casual conversation to a major financial setback. As a result, successes and failures in life are often attributed to clear and obvious causes, when in actuality they are more profoundly influenced by chance.

The rise and fall of your favorite movie star or the most reviled CEO – in fact, all our destinies – reflects chance as much as planning and innate abilities. Even Roger Maris, who beat Babe Ruth’s single season home-run record, was in all likelihood not great but just lucky.

How could it have happened that a wine was given five out of five stars by one journal and called the worst wine of the decade by another? Wine ratings, school grades, political polls, and many other things in daily life are less reliable than we believe. By showing us the true nature of chance and revealing the psychological illusions that cause us to misjudge the world around us, Mlodinow gives fresh insight into what is really meaningful and how we can make decisions based on a deeper truth. From the classroom to the courtroom, from financial markets to supermarkets, from the doctor’s office to the Oval Office, Mlodinow’s insights will intrigue, awe, and inspire.

Offering listeners not only a tour of randomness, chance and probability but also a new way of looking at the world, this original, unexpected journey reminds us that much in our lives is about as predictable as the steps of a stumbling man afresh from a night at a bar.

The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us

by Christopher Chabris, Daniel Simons

Reading this book will make you less sure of yourself – and that’s a good thing. In The Invisible Gorilla, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, creators of one of psychology’s most famous experiments, use remarkable stories and counterintuitive scientific findings to demonstrate an important truth: Our minds don’t work the way we think they do. We think we see ourselves and the world as they really are, but we’re actually missing a whole lot.

Chabris and Simons combine the work of other researchers with their own findings on attention, perception, memory, and reasoning to reveal how faulty intuitions often get us into trouble. In the process, they explain:

Why a company would spend billions to launch a product that its own analysts know will fail
How a police officer could run right past a brutal assault without seeing it
Why award-winning movies are full of editing mistakes
What criminals have in common with chess masters
Why measles and other childhood diseases are making a comeback
Why money managers could learn a lot from weather forecasters

The Invisible Gorilla reveals the myriad ways that our intuitions can deceive us, but its much more than a catalog of human failings. Chabris and Simons explain why we succumb to these everyday illusions and what we can do to inoculate ourselves against their effects. Ultimately, the book provides a kind of x-ray vision into our own minds, making it possible to pierce the veil of illusions that clouds our thoughts and to think clearly for perhaps the first time.

Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk

by Massimo Pigliucci

Recent polls suggest that fewer than 40 per cent of Americans believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, despite it being one of science’s best-established findings. More and more parents are refusing to vaccinate their children for fear it causes autism, though this link has been consistently disproved. And about 40 per cent of Americans believe that the threat of global warming is exaggerated, despite near consensus in the scientific community that manmade climate change is real.

Why do people believe bunk? And what causes them to embrace such pseudoscientific beliefs and practices? Noted skeptic Massimo Pigliucci sets out to separate the fact from the fantasy in this entertaining exploration of the nature of science, the borderlands of fringe science, and – borrowing a famous phrase from philosopher Jeremy Bentham – the nonsense on stilts.

Presenting case studies on a number of controversial topics, Pigliucci cuts through the ambiguity surrounding science to look more closely at how science is conducted, how it is disseminated, how it is interpreted, and what it means to our society. The result is in many ways a “taxonomy of bunk” that explores the intersection of science and culture at large.

No one – not the public intellectuals in the culture wars between defenders and detractors of science nor the believers of pseudoscience themselves – is spared Pigliucci’s incisive analysis. In the end, Nonsense on Stilts is a timely reminder of the need to maintain a line between expertise and assumption. Broad in scope and implication, it is also ultimately a captivating guide for the intelligent citizen who wishes to make up her own mind while navigating the perilous debates that will affect the future of our planet.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

by Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein

Every day, we make decisions on topics ranging from personal investments to schools for our children to the meals we eat to the causes we champion. Unfortunately, we often choose poorly. The reason, the authors explain, is that, being human, we are all susceptible to various biases that can lead us to blunder.

Our mistakes make us poorer and less healthy; we often make bad decisions involving education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, the family, and even the planet itself.

Thaler and Sunstein invite us to enter an alternative world, one that takes our humanness as a given. They show that by knowing how people think, we can design choice environments that make it easier for people to choose what is best for themselves, their families, and their society.

Using colorful examples from the most important aspects of life, Thaler and Sunstein demonstrate how thoughtful “choice architecture” can be established to nudge us in beneficial directions without restricting freedom of choice. Nudge offers a unique new take – from neither the left nor the right – on many hot-button issues, for individuals and governments alike. This is one of the most engaging and provocative audiobooks to come along in many years.

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

by Jane McGonigal

In today’s society, games are fulfilling real human needs in ways that reality is not. Hundreds of millions of people globally — 174 million in the United States alone — regularly inhabit game worlds because they provide the rewards, stimulating challenges, and epic victories that are so often lacking in the real world. Instead of futile handwringing about this exodus from reality, world-renowned game designer Jane McGonigal argues that we need to figure out how to make the real world—our homes, our businesses and our communities—engage us in the way that games do.

Drawing on positive psychology and cognitive science, McGonigal reveals how game designers have hit on core truths about what makes us happy, from social connection to having satisfying work to do. Game designers intuitively understand how to optimize human experience. Reality is Broken shows that games can teach us essential lessons about mass collaboration, creating emotional incentives, and increasing engagement that will be relevant to everyone.

Research Papers

Doing It Now or Later

We examine self-control problems — modeled as time-inconsistent, present-biased preferences–in a model where a person must do an activity exactly once. We emphasize two distinctions: Do activities involve immediate costs or immediate rewards, and are people sophisticated or naive about future self-control problems? Naive people procrastinate immediate-cost activities and preproperate–do too soon–immediate-reward activities. Sophistication mitigates procrastination, but exacerbates preproperation. Moreover, with immediate costs, a small present bias can severely harm only naive people, whereas with immediate rewards it can severely harm only sophisticated people. Lessons for savings, addiction, and elsewhere are discussed. (link)

Investing for Higher After-Tax Returns

This report will describe what we have learned about investing for higher after-tax returns, and our investment strategy for tax-paying investors. The Managing Directors of Tweedy, Browne Company LLC have become increasingly aware of taxes over the last ten years as their own wealth and clients’ wealth has increased. We presently have nearly our entire liquid net worths, approximately $400 million of our own money that has been accumulated over the years, invested in portfolios that are jointly owned with clients, including Tweedy, Browne Global Value Fund and Tweedy, Browne American Value Fund, and in separate portfolios whose equity holdings are similar to the holdings of clients’ portfolios (link)

Is There Money to be Made Investing in Options? A Historical Perspective

This paper examines the historical performance of 12 portfolios that include S&P 100/500 index options. Each option portfolio is formed using options with different maturities and moneyness, while incorporating bid-ask spreads, transaction costs, and margin requirements. Raw and risk-adjusted returns of option portfolios are compared to a benchmark portfolio that is only long the underlying asset. This allows the marginal impact of including options in the portfolio to be examined. The analysis reveals that including options in the portfolio most often results in underperformance relative to the benchmark portfolio. However, a portfolio that incorporates written options can outperform the benchmark on a raw and risk-adjusted basis. This result is dependent on restricting option investment relative to the maximum allowable margin. While positive and significant risk-adjusted performance is observed for some option portfolios, greater risk tolerance relative to the long index benchmark portfolio is required. (link

The Science of Art A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience

We present a theory of human artistic experience and the neural mechanisms that mediate it. Any theory of art (or, indeed, any aspect of human nature) has to ideally have three components. (a) The logic of art: whether there are universal rules or principles; (b) The evolutionary rationale: why did these rules evolve and why do they have the form that they do; (c) What is the brain circuitry involved? Our paper begins with a quest for artistic universals and proposes a list of ‘Eight laws of artistic experience’–a set of heuristics that artists either consciously or unconsciously deploy to optimally titillate the visual areas of the brain. One of these principles is a psychological phenomenon called the peak shift effect: If a rat is rewarded for discriminating a rectangle from a square, it will respond even more vigorously to a rectangle that is longer and skinnier that the prototype. We suggest that this principle explains not only caricatures, but many other aspects of art. Example: An evocative sketch of a female nude may be one which selectively accentuates those feminine form-attributes that allow one to discriminate it from a male figure; a Boucher, a Van Gogh, or a Monet may be a caricature in ‘colour space’ rather than form space. Even abstract art may employ ‘supernormal’ stimuli to excite form areas in the brain more strongly than natural stimuli. Second, we suggest that grouping is a very basic principle. The different extrastriate visual areas may have evolved specifically to extract correlations in different domains (e.g. form, depth, colour), and discovering and linking multiple features (‘grouping’) into unitary clusters–objects–is facilitated and reinforced by direct connections from these areas to limbic structures. In general, when object-like entities are partially discerned at any stage in the visual hierarchy, messages are sent back to earlier stages to alert them to certain locations or features in order to look for additional evidence for the object (and these processes may be facilitated by direct limbic activation). Finally, given constraints on allocation of attentional resources, art is most appealing if it produces heightened activity in a single dimension (e.g. through the peak shift principle or through grouping) rather than redundant activation of multiple modules. This idea may help explain the effectiveness of outline drawings and sketches, the savant syndrome in autists, and the sudden emergence of artistic talent in fronto-temporal dementia. In addition to these three basic principles we propose five others, constituting a total of ‘eight laws of aesthetic experience’ (analogous to the Buddha’s eightfold path to wisdom). (link)

How (and where) does moral judgment work?

Moral psychology has long focused on reasoning, but recent evidence suggests that moral judgment is more a matter of emotion and affective intuition than deliberate reasoning. Here we discuss recent findings in psychology and cognitive neuroscience, including several studies that specifically investigate moral judgment. These findings indicate the importance of affect, although they allow that reasoning can play a restricted but significant role in moral judgment. They also point towards a preliminary account of the functional neuroanatomy of moral judgment, according to which many brain areas make important contributions to moral judgment although none is devoted specifically to it. (link)

A Behavioral-Economics View of Poverty

Standard theorizing about poverty falls into two camps. Social scientists regard the behaviors of the economically disadvantaged either as calculated adaptations to prevailing circumstances or as emanating from a unique “culture of poverty,” rife with deviant values. The first camp presumes that people are highly rational, that they hold coherent and justified beliefs and pursue their goals effectively, without mistakes, and with no need for help. The second camp attributes to the poor a variety of psychological and attitudinal short-fallings that render their views often misguided and their choices fallible, leaving them in need of paternalistic guidance.

We propose a third view. The behavioral patterns of the poor, we argue, may be neither perfectly calculating nor especially deviant. Rather, the poor may exhibit the same basic weaknesses and biases as do people from other walks of life, except that in poverty, with its narrow margins for error, the same behaviors often manifest themselves in more pronounced ways and can lead to worse outcomes. In what follows, we illustrate the kinds of insights that might be gained from a behaviorally more realistic analysis of the economic conditions of the poor, and we propose that alternative politcies for alleviating poverty be considered. (link)

Behavioral Economics

Behavioral Economics is the combination of psychology and economics that investigates what happens in markets in which some of the agents display human limitations and complications. We begin with a preliminary question about relevance. Does some combination of market forces, learning and evolution render these human qualities irrelevant? No. Because of limits of arbitrage less than perfect agents survive and influence market outcomes. We then discuss three important ways in which humans deviate from the standard economic model. Bounded rationality reflects the limited cognitive abilities that constrain human problem solving. Bounded willpower captures the fact that people sometimes make choices that are not in their long-run interest. Bounded self-interest incorporates the comforting fact that humans are often willing to sacrifice their own interests to help others. We then illustrate how these concepts can be applied in two settings: finance and savings. Financial markets have greater arbitrage opportunities than other markets, so behavioral factors might be thought to be less important here, but we show that even here the limits of arbitrage create anomalies that the psychology of decision making helps explain. Since saving for retirement requires both complex calculations and willpower, behavioral factors are essential elements of any complete descriptive theory. (link)

The interaction between reasoning and decision making: an introduction

Reasoning and decision making are high-level cognitive skills that have been under intensive investigation by psychologists and philosophers, among others, for the last thirty years. But, methods and theories have developed separately in the two fields so that distinct traditions have grown with little to say to one another. The aim of this special issue of Cognition is to encourage and help workers in these two traditions to understand one another’s research and to reflect and enhance some recent signs of “crosstalk” between them. It seemed to us high time to consider the growing interactions between reasoning and decision making for at least three reasons. First, the two abilities are often interwoven in real life, at least according to the common-sense view epitomized in the maxim at the head of this introduction. Second, their study has led to striking parallels in the conclusions that investigators have reached and to the recent signs of crosstalk. Third, the two fields have important lessons for each other. We will explore each of these reasons before we introduce the papers in this special issue. We begin with a sketch of the everyday assumptions that relate reasoning and decision making – a background that we will defend, though it is sometimes disparaged by philosophers as “folk psychology”. (link)

Misrememberance Of Options Past: Source Monitoring and Choice

This study reveals that when remembering past decisions, people engage in choice-supportive memory distortion. When asked to make memory attributions of options’ features, participants made source-monitoring errors that supported their decisions. They tended to attribute, both correctly and incorrectly, more positive features to the option they had selected than to its competitor. In addition, they sometimes attributed, both correctly and incorrectly, more negative features to the nonselected option. This pattern of distortion may be beneficial to people’s general well-being, reducing regret for options not taken. At the same time, it is problematic for memory accuracy, for accountability, and for learning from past experience. (link)

Black Swans and the Domains of Statistics

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (hence TBS) is only critical of statistics, statisticians, or users of statistics in a very narrow (but consequential) set of circumstances. In was written by a veteran practitioner of uncertainty whose profession (a mixture of quantitative research, derivatives pricing, and risk management) estimates and deals with exposures to higher order statistical properties. Derivatives depend on some nonlineear function of random variables (often square or cubes) and are therefore extremely sensitive to estimation errors of the higher moments of probability distributions. This is the closest to applied statistician one can possibly get. Furthermore, TBS notes the astonishing success of statistics as an engine of scientific knowledge in (1) some well-charted domains such as measurement errors, gambling theory, thermodynamics, and quantum mechanics (these fall under the designation of ‘mild randomness’), or (2) some applications in which our velnerability to errors is small. Indeed, statistics has been very successful in ‘low moment’ applications such as ‘significance testing’ for problems based on probability, not expectations or higher moments. In psychological experiments, for instance, the outlier counts as a single observation, and does not cause a high impact beyond its frequency. TBS is critical of some statistics in the following areas:

1. The unrigorous use of statistics, and reliance on probability in domains where the current methods can lead us to make consequential mistakes (the ‘high impact’) where, on logical grounds, we need to force ourselves to be suspicious of inference about low probabilities.

2. The psychological effects of statistical numbers in lowering risk consciousness and the suspension of healthy skepticism–in spite of the unreliability of the numbers produced about low-probability events.

3. Finally TBS is critical of the use of commoditized metrics such as ‘standard deviation,’ ‘Sharpe ratio,’ ‘mean-variance,’ and so on in fat-tailed domains where these terms have little practical meaning, and where reliance by the untrained has been significant, unchecked and, alas, consequential.

Let me summarize the aims of TBS. What one of the reviewers calls ‘philosophy’ (a term that generally alludes to the sterile character of some of the pursuits in philosophy departments), owing perhaps to the lack of quantitative measures in TBS, I tend to call ‘risk management.’ That is, practical wisdom and translation of knowledge into responsible decision making. Again, for a practitioner ‘philosophy’ is, literally, ‘wisdom,’ not empty talk. As put directly in TBS, it is about how ‘not to be a sucker.’ My aim of the book is ‘how to avoid being the turkey.’ It cannot get more practical (and less ‘philosophical’ in the academic sense) than that.

Accordingly, TBS is meant to provide a roadmap for dealing with tail events by exposing areas where our knowledge can be deemed fragile, and where tail events can have extreme impacts. It presents methods to avoid such events by not venturing into areas where our knowledge is not rigorous. In other words, it offers a way to live safely in a world we do not quite understand. It does not get into the trap of offering another precise model to replace another precise model; rather it tells you where we should have the courage to say ‘I don’t know,’ or ‘I know less.’ (link)

The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment

Research on moral judgment has been dominated by rationalist models, in which moral judgment is thought to be caused by moral reasoning. The author gives 4 reasons for considering the hypothesis that moral reasoning does not cause moral judgment; rather, moral reasoning is usually a post hoc construction, generated after a judgment has been reached. The social intuitionist model is presented as an alternative to rationalist models. The model is a social model in that is deemphasizes the private reasoning done by individuals and emphasizes instead the importance of social and cultural influences. The model is an intuitionist model is that it states that moral judgment of social and cultural influences. The model is an intuitionist model in that it states that moral judgment is generally the result of quick, automatic evaluations (intuitions). The model is more consistent than rationalist models with recent findings in social, cultural, evolutionary, and biological psychology, as well as in anthropology and primatology. (link)

The Moral Emotions

Research on morality has traditionally focused on moral reasoning. Research on the moral emotions has traditionally focused on only two emotions: guilt, and sympathy. But beginning in the 1980′s a “moral-emotional correction” began. As research on additional moral emotions increased, theorizing about morality shifted away from reasoning and towards a greater emphasis on the moral emotions. Four families of moral emotions are discussed: the other-condemning family (contempt, anger, and disgust), the self-conscious family (shame, embarrassment, and guilt), the other-suffering family (compassion), and the other-praising family (gratitude and elevation). For each emotion, the elicitors and action tendencies that make it a moral emotion are discussed. (link)

Institutions as a Fundamental Cause Of Long-Run Growth

This paper develops the empirical and theoretical case that differences in economic instuitions are the fundamental cause of differences in economic development. We first document the empirical importance of institutions by focusing on two ‘quadi-natural experiments’ in history, the division of Korea into two parts with very different economic institutions and the colonization of much of the world by European powers starting in the fifteenth century. We then develop the basic outline of a framework for thinking about why economic institutions differ across countries. Economic institutions determine the incentives of and the constraints on economic actors, and shape economic outcomes. As such, they are social decisions, chosen for their consequences. Because different groups and individuals typically benefit from different economic institutions, there is generally a conflict over these social choices, ultimately resolved in favor of groups with greater political power. The distribution of resources. Political institutions allocate de jure political power, while groups with greater economic might typically possess greater de facto political power. We therefore view the appropriate theoretical framework as a dynamic one with political institutions and the distribution of resources as the state variables. These variables themselves change over time because prevailing economic institutions affect the distribution of resources, and because groups with de facto politcal power today strive to change political institutions in order to increase their de jure political power in the future. Economic institutions encouraging economic growth emerge when political institutions allocate power to groups with interests in broad-based property rights enforcement, when they create effective constraints on power-holders, and when there are relatively few rents to be captured by power-holders. We illustrate the assumptions, the workings and the implications of this framework using a number of historical examples. (link)

Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market

What are the implications of technical change for the labor market? How does new technology affect the distribution of wages and income? Is technology responsible for the changes in the wage structure observed in many advanced economies since the 1970s? (link)

Children prefer certain individuals over perfect duplicates

Adults value certain unique individuals–such as artwork, sentimental possessions, and memorabilia–more than perfect duplicates. Here we explore the origins of this bias in yound children, by using a conjurer’s illusion where we appear to produce identical copies of real-world objects. In Study 1, yound children were less likely to accept an identical replacement for an attachment object than for a favorite toy. In Study 2, children often valued a personal possession of Queen Elizabeth II more than an identical copy, but showed no such bias for another sort of valuable object. These findings suggest that yound children develop attachments to individuals that are independent of any perceptible properties that the indivduals possess. (link)

Prospect Theory

This paper presents a critique of expected utility theory as a descriptive model of decision making under risk, and develops an alternative model, called prospect theory. Choices among risky prospects exhibit several pervasive effects that are inconsistent with the basic tenets of utility theory. In particular, people underweight outcomes that are merely probable in comparison with outcomes that are obtained with certainty. This tendency, called the certainty effect, contributes to risk aversion in choices involving sure gains and to risk seeking in choices involving sure losses. In addition, people generally discard components that are shared by all prospects under consideration. This tendency, called the isolation effect, leads to inconsistent preferences when the same choice is presented in different forms. An alternative theory of choice is developed, in which value is assigned to gains and losses rather than to final assets and in which probabilities are replaced by decision weights. The value function is normally concave for gains, commonly convex for losses, and is generally steeper for losses than for gains. Decision weights are generally lower than the corresponding probabilities, except in the range of low probabilities. Overweighting of low probabilities may contribute to the attractiveness of both insurance and gambling. (link)

A Short Course on Behavioral Economics

A year ago, Edge convened its first “Master Class” in Napa, California, in which psychologist and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman taught a 9-hour course: “A Short Course On Thinking About Thinking”. The attendees were a “who’s who” of the new global business culture.

This year, to continue the conversation, we invited Richard Thaler, the father of behavioral economics, to organize and lead the class: “A Short Course On Behavioral Economics”. Thaler asked Harvard economist and former student Sendhil Mullainathan, as well as Daniel Kahneman, to teach the class with him.

Thaler arrived arrived at Stanford in the 1970s to work with Kahneman and his late partner, Amos Tversky. Thaler, in turn, asked Harvard economist and former student Sendhil Mullainathan, as well as Kahneman, to teach the class with him.

The entire text is available online along with video highlights of the talks and a photo gallery. The text is also appears in a book privately published by Edge Foundation, Inc. (link)

Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases

Many decisions are based on beliefs concerning the likelihood of uncertain events such as the outcome of an election, the guilt of a defendant, or the future value of the dollar. These beliefs are usually expressed in statements such as ‘I think that . . .,’ ‘chances are . . .,’ ‘it is unlikely that . . .’ and so forth. Occasionally, beliefs concerning uncertain events are expressed in numerical form as odds or subjective probabilities.What determines such beliefs? How do people assess the probability of an uncertain event or the value of an uncertain quantity? This article shows that people rely on a limited number of heuristic principles which reduce the complex tasks of assessing probabilities and predicting values to simpler judgmental operations. Ingeneral, these heuristics are quite useful, but sometimes they lead to severe and systematic errors. The subjective assessment of probability resemvles the subjective assessment of physical quantities such as distance or size. These judgments are all based on data of limited validity, which are processed according to heuristic rules. For example, the apparent distance of an object is determined in part of its clarity. The more sharply the object is seen, the closer it appears to be. This rule has some validity, because in any given scene the more distant objects are seen less sharply than nearer objects. However, the reliance on this rule leads to systematic errors in the estimation of distance. Specifically, distances are often overestimated when visibility is poor because the contours of objects are blurred. On the other hand, distances are often underestimated when visibility is good because the objects are seen sharply. Thus, the reliance on clarity as an indication of distance leads to common biases. Such biases are also found in the intuitive judgment of probability. This article describe three heuristics that are employed to assess probabilities and to predict values. Biases to which these heuristics lead are enumerated, and the applied and theoretical implications of these observations ar discussed. (link)

Choices, Values, and Frames

We discuss the cognitive and the psychophysical determinants of choice in risky and riskless contexts. The psychophysics of value induce risk aversion in the domain of gains and risk seeking in the domain of losses. The psychophysics of chance induce overweighting of sure things and of improbable events, relative to events of moderate probability. Decision problems can be described or framed in multiple ways that give rise to different preferences, contrary to the invariance criterion of rational choice. The process of mental accounting, in which people organize the outcomes of transactions, explains some anomalies of consumer behavior. In particular, the acceptability of an option can depend on whether a negative outcome is evaluated as a cost or as an uncompensated loss. The relation between decision values and experience values is discussed. (link)

Human time perception and its illusions

Why does a clock sometimes appear stopped? Is it possible to perceive the world in slow motion during a car accident? Can action and effect be reversed? Time perception is surprisingly prone to measurable distortions and illusions. The past few years have introduced remarkable progress in identifying and quantifying temporal illusions of duration, temporal order and simultaneity. For example, perceived durations can be distorted by saccades, by an oddball in a sequence, or by stimulus complexity or magnitude. Temporal order judgments of actions and sensations can be reversed by exposure to delayed motor consequences, and simultaneity judgments can be manipulated by repeated exposure to non-simultaneous stimuli. The confederacy of recently discovered illusions points to the underlying neural mechanisms of time perception (link)

Visual illusions and neurobiology

The complex structure of the visual system is sometimes exposed by its illusions. The historical study of systematic misperceptions, combined with a recent explosion of techniques to measure and stimulate neural activity, has provided a rich source for guiding neurobiological frameworks and experiments. (link

See No Bias

AT 4 O’CLOCK ON A RECENT WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON, a 34-year-old white woman sat down in her Washington office to take a psychological test. Her office decor attested to her passion for civil rights — as a senior activist at a national gay rights organization, and as a lesbian herself, fighting bias and discrimination is what gets her out of bed every morning. A rainbow flag rested in a mug on her desk.

The woman brought up a test on her computer from a Harvard University Web site. It was really very simple: All it asked her to do was distinguish between a series of black and white faces. When she saw a black face she was to hit a key on the left, when she saw a white face she was to hit a key on the right. Next, she was asked to distinguish between a series of positive and negative words. Words such as “glorious” and “wonderful” required a left key, words such as “nasty” and “awful” required a right key. The test remained simple when two categories were combined: The activist hit the left key if she saw either a white face or a positive word, and hit the right key if she saw either a black face or a negative word. (link)

Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events

With each eye fixation, we experience a richly detailed visual world. Yet recent work on visual integration and change direction reveals that we are surprisingly unaware of the details of our environment from one view to the next: we often do not detect large changes to objects and scenes (`change blindness’). Furthermore, without attention, we may not even perceive objects (`inattentional blindness’). Taken together, these findings suggest that we perceive and remember only those objects and details that receive focused attention. In this paper, we briefly review and discuss evidence for these cognitive forms of `blindness’. We then present a new study that builds on classic studies of divided visual attention to examine inattentional blindness for complex objects and events in dynamic scenes. Our results suggest that the likelihood of noticing an unexpected object depends on the similarity of that object to other objects in the display and on how difficult the priming monitoring task is. Interestingly, spatial proximity of the critical unattended object to attended locations does not appear to affect detection, suggesting that observers attend to objects and events, not spatial positions. We discuss the implications of these results for visual representations and awareness of our visual environment. (link)

Change Blindness

Although at any instant we experience a rich, detailed visual world, we do not use such visual details to form a stable representation across views. Over the past five years, researchers have focused increasingly on ‘change blindness’ (the inability to detect changes to an object or scene) as a means to examine the nature of our representations. Experiments using a diverse range of methods and displays have produced strikingly similar results: unless a change to a visual scene produces a localizable change or transient at a specific position on the retina, generally, people will not detect it. We review theory and research motivating work on change blindness and discuss recent evidence that people are blind to changes occurring in photographs, in motion pictures and even in real-world interactions. These findings suggest that relatively little visual information is preserved from one view to the next, and question a fundamental assumption that has underlain perception research for centuries: namely, that we need to store a detailed visual representation in the mind/brain from one view to the next. (link)

Change blindness: Past, present, and future

Change blindness is the striking failure to see large changes that normally would be noticed easily. Over the past decade this phenomenon has greatly contributed to our understanding of attention, perception, and even consciousness. The surprising extent of change blindness explains its broad appeal, but its counterintuitive nature has also engendered confusions about the kinds of inferences that legitimately follow from it. Here we discuss the legitimate and the erroneous inferences that have been drawn, and offer a set of requirements to help separate them. In doing so, we clarify the genuine contributions of change blindness research to our understanding of visual perception and
awareness, and provide a glimpse of some ways in which change blindness might shape future research. (link)

Efficient Capital Markets: A Review of Theory and Empirical Work

The primary role of the capital market is allocation of ownership of economy’s capital stock. In general terms, the ideal is a market in which prices provide accurate signals for resource allocation: that is, a market in which firms can make production-investment decisions, and investors can choose among the securities that represent ownership of firms’ activities under assumption that security prices at any time “fully reflect” all available information. A market in which prices always “fully reflect” available information is called “efficient.”

This paper reviews the theoretical and empirical literature on the efficient markets model. After a discussion of the theory, empirical work concerned with the adjustment of security prices to three relevant information subsets is considered. First, weak form tests, in which the information set is just historical prices, are discussed. Then semi-strong form tests, in which the concern is whether prices efficiently adjust to other information that is obviously publicly available (e.g announcements of annual earnings, stock splits, etc.) are considered. Finally, strong form tests concerned with whether given investors or groups have monopolistic access to any information relevant for price formation are reviewed. We shall conclude that, with but a few exceptions, the efficient markets model stands up well. (link)

The Efficient Market Hypothesis and Its Critics

Revolutions often spawn counterrevolutions and the efficient market hypothesis in finance is no exception. The intellectual dominance of the efficient-market revolution has more been challenged by economists who stress psychological and behavioral elements of stock-price determination and by econometricians who argue that stock returns are, to a considerable extent, predictable. This survey examines the attacks on the
efficient-market hypothesis and the relationship between predictability and efficiency. I conclude that our stock markets are more efficient and less predictable than many recent academic papers would have us believe. (link)

Doing Good or Doing Well? Image Motivation and Monetary Incentives in Behaving Prosocially

Most charitable organizations depend on private contributions, in the form of monetary gifts, volunteer efforts, or other tangible contributions, such as blood donations. The magnitude of private contributions is impressive–in the United States 89 percent of households donate, averaging $1,620 per year, and 44 percent of US adults volunteer the equivalent of 9 million full-time jobs. This level of prosocial behavior is striking in light of the economic incentive to free-ride in the provision of public goods. In order to elicit contributions, charitable organizations use many creative efforts to incentivize voluntary giving: write bands, thank-you gifts, organized walks, concerts, and advertised donors lists. The government also helps promote charitable giving by offering tax breaks for donations.

The various types of charitable contributions and the many real-life ways of soliciting such donations suggest that there may be different motives for individuals to behave prosocially. These motives are roughly divisible into three broad categories: intrinsic, extrinsic, and image motivation… (link)

The Heat of the Moment: The Effect of Sexual Arousal on Sexual Decision Making

Despite the social importance of decisions taken in the “heat of the moment,” very little research has examined the effect of sexual arousal, induced by self-stimulation, on judgments and hypothetical decisions made by male college students. Students were assigned to be in either a state of sexual arousal or a neutral state and were asked to: (1) indicate how appealing they find a wide range of sexual stimuli and activities, (2) report their willingness to engage in morally questionable behavior in order to obtain sexual gratification, and (3) describe their williness to engage in unsafe sex when sexually aroused. The results show that sexual arousal had a strong impact on all three areas of judgment and decision making, demonstrating the importance of situational forces on preferences, as well as subjects’ inability to predict these influences on their own behavior. (link)

Does the Stock Market Overreact?

Research in experimental psychology suggests that, in violation of Bayes’ rule, most people tend to “overreact” to unexpected and dramatic news events. This study of market efficiency investigates whether such behavior affects stock prices. The empirical evidence, based on CRSP monthly return data, is consistent with the overreaction hypothesis. Substantial weak from market inefficiencies are discovered. The results also shed new light on the January returns earned by prior “winners” and “losers.” Portfolios of losers experience exceptionally large January returns as late as five years after portfolio formation. (link)

Toward a Positive Theory Of Consumer Choice

The economic theory of the consumer is a combination of positive and normative theories. Since it is based on a rational maximizing model it describes how consumers should choose, but it is alleged to also describe how they do choose. This paper argues that in certain well-defined situations many consumers act in a manner that is inconsistent with economic theory. In these situations economic theory will make systematic errors in predicting behavior. Kahneman and Tversky’s prospect theory is proposed as the basis for an alternative descriptive theory. Topics discussed are: underweighting of opportunity costs, failure to ignore sunk costs, search behavior, choosing not to choose and regret, and precommitment and self-control (link)

A Behavioral Approach to Law and Economics

Economic analysis of law usually proceeds under the assumptions of neoclassical economics. But empirical evidence gives much reason to doubt these assumptions; people exhibit bounded rationality, bounded self-interest, and bounded willpower. This article offers a broad vision of how law and economics analysis may be improved by increased attention to insights about actual human behavior. It considers specific topics in the economic analysis of law and proposes new models and approaches for addressing these topics. The analysis of the article is organized into three categories: positive, prescriptive, and normative. Positive analysis of law concerns how agents behave in response to legal rules and how legal rules are shaped. Prescriptive analysis concerns what rules should be adopted to advance specified ends. Normative analysis attempts to assess more broadly the ends of the legal system: Should the system always respect people’s choices? By drawing attention to cognitive and motivational problems of both citizens and government, behavioral law and economics offers answers distinct from those offered by the standard analysis. (link)

Availability Cascades And Risk Regulation

An availability cascade is a self-reinforcing process of collective belief formation by which an expressed perception triggers a chain reaction that gives the perception increasing plausibility through its rising availability in public discourse. The driving mechanism involves a combination of informational and reputational motives: Individuals endorse the perception partly by learning from the apparent beliefs of others and partly by distorting their public responses in the interest of maintaining social acceptance. Availability entrepreneurs–activists who manipulate the content of public discourse–strive to trigger availability cascades likely to advance their agendas. Their availability campaigns may yield social benefits, but sometimes they bring hard, which suggests a need for safeguards. Focusing on the role of mass pressures in the regulation of risks associated with production, consumption, and the environment, Professors Timur Kuran and Cass R. Sunstein analyze availability cascades and suggest reforms to alleviate their potential hazards. Their proposals include new governmental structures designed to give civil servants better insulation against mass demands for regulatory change and an easily accessible scientific database to reduce people’s dependence on populat (mis)perceptions. (link)

Libertarian Paternalism

Many economists are libertarians and consider the term “paternalistic” to be derogatory. Most would think that the phrase libertarian paternalism is an oxymoron. The modest goal of this essay is to encourage economists to rethink their views on paternalism. We believe that the anti-paternalistic fervor expressed by many economists is based on a combination of a false assumption and at least two misconceptions. The false assumption is that people always (usually?) make choices that are in their best interest. That claim is either tautological, and therefore uninteresting, or testable. We claim that it is testable and false–indeed, obviously false.

The first misconception is that there are viable alternatives to paternalism. In many situations, some organization or agent must make a choice that will affect the choices of some other people. The point applies to both private and public actions. Consider the problem facing the director of a company cafeteria who discovers that the order in which food is arranged influences the choices people make. To simplify, consider three alternative strategies: (1) she could make choices that she thinks would make the customers best off; (2) she could make choices at random; or (3) she could maliciously choose those items that she thinks would make the customers as obese as possible. Option 1 appears to be paternalistic, which it is, but would anyone advocate options 2 and 3?

The second misconception is that paternalism always involves coercion. As the cafeteria example illustrates, the choice of which order to present food items does not coerce anyone to do anything, yet one might prefer some orders to others on paternalistic grounds. Would many object to putting the fruit before the desserts at an elementary school cafeteria if the outcome were to increase the consumption ratio of apples to Twinkies? Is this question fundamentally different if the customers are adults? If no coercion is involved, we think that some types of paternalism should be acceptable to even ardent libertarian. We call such actions libertarian paternalism. (link)

Intuitive Prediction: Biases and Corrective Procedures

Decisions vital to the accomplishment of military objectives are determined in large part by the intuitive judgments and educated guesses of decision makers or experts acting in their behalf. The critical role of intuitive judgments makes it important to study the factors that limit the accuracy of jugments and to seek ways of improving them. Previous work in ARPA’s Advanced Decision Technology Program has led to the discovery of major deficiencies in the unaided, intuitive judgments of probabilities for uncertain events. Of the many significant conclusions of this research, the following merit special mention:

(1) Errors of judgment are often systematic rather than random, manifesting bias rather than confusion. People suffer from mental astigmatism as well as from myopia, and any corrective prescription should deal appropriately with this diagnosis.

(2) There are no significant differences between the judgmental processes of experts, intelligence analysts, and physicians, to cite but a few, confirm the presence of common biases in the professional judgments of experts.

(3) Erroneous intuitions resemble visual illusions in a crucial respect: both types of error remain compellingly attractive even when the person is fully aware of their nature. In situations likely to produce illusions of sight or intuition, we must let our beliefs and actions be guided by a critical and reflective assessment of reality, rather than by our immediate impressions, however, compelling these may be.

This paper presents an approach to elicitation and correction of intuitive forecasts, which attempts to retain what is most valid in the intuitive process while correcting some errors to which it is prone. This approach is applied to two tasks that experts are often required to perform in the context of forecasting or in the service of decision-making the prediction of uncertain quantities and the assessment of probability distributions. The analysis of these tasks reveals two common biases: non-regressiveness of predictions and overconfidence in the precision of estimates. In order to eliminate or reduce these biases, we propose specific procedures for the elicitation of expert judgments and for the assessment of corrected values. Our recommendations assume a dialogue between an expert and an analyst, whose role is to help the expert make most efficient use of his knowledge while avoiding some of the common pitfalls of intuition. Experts may, of course, act as their own analysts. (link)

Telling More Than We Can Know: Verbal Reports on Mental Processes

Evidence is reviewed which suggests that there may be little or no direct introspective access to higher order cognitive processes. Subjects are sometimes (a) unaware of the existence of a stimulus that importantly influenced a response, (b) unaware of the existence of the response, and (c) unaware that the stimulus has affected the response. It is proposed that when people attempt to report on their cognitive processes, that is, on the processes mediating the effects of a stimulus on a response, they do not do so on the basis of any true introspection. Instead, their reports are based on a priori, implicit causal theories, or judgments about extent to which a particular stimulus is a plasuble cause of a given response. This suggests that though people may not be able to observe directly their cognitive processes, they will sometimes be able to observe directly their cognitive processes, they will sometimes be able to report accurately about them. Accurate reports will occur when influential stimuli are salient and are plausible causes of the responses they produce, and will not occur when stimuli are not salient or are not plausible causes. (link)

Biased Assimilation and Attitude Polarization: The Effects of
Prior Theories on Subsequently Considered Evidence

People who hold strong opinions on complex social issues are likely to examine relevant empirical evidence in a biased manner. They are apt to accpet “confirming” evidence at face value while subjecting “disconfirming” evidence to crticial evaluation, and as a result to draw undue support for thier initial position from mixed or random empirical findings. Thus, the result of exposing contending factions in a social dispute to an identical body of relevant empirical evidence may be not a narrowing of disagreement but rather an increase in polarization. To test these assumptions and predictions, subjects supporting and opposing capital punishment were exposed to two purported studies, one seemingly confirming and one seemingly disconfirming their existing beliefs about the detterent efficacy of the death penalty. As predicted, both proponents and opponents of capital punishment rated those results and procedures that confirmed their own beliefs to be the more convincing and probative ones, and they reported corresponding shifts in their beliefs as the various results and procedures were presented. The net effect of such evaluations and opinion shifts was the postulated increase in attitude polarization. (link)

Perseverance of Social Theories: The Role of Explanation
in the Persistence of Discredited Information

The perseverance of social theories was examined in two experiments within a debriefing paradigm. Subjects were initially given two case studies suggestive of either a positive or a negative relationship between risk taking and success as a firefighter. Some subjects were asked to provide a written explanation of the relationship; others were not. In addition, experimental subjects were thoroughly debriefed concerning the fictitous nature of the initial case studies. Subsequent assessments of subjects’ personal beliefs about the relationship indicated that even when initially based on weak data, social theories can survive the total discrediting of that initial evidential base. Both correlational and experimental results suggested that such unwarranted theory perseverance may be mediated, in part, by the cognitive process of formulating causal scenarios or explanations. Normative issues and the cognitive processes underlying perseverance were examined in detail, and possible techniques for overcoming unwarranted theory perseverance were discussed. (link)

The Anchoring-and-Adjustment Heuristic

One way to make judgments under uncertainty is to anchor on information that comes to mind and adjust until a plausible estimate is reached. This anchoring-and-adjusment heuristic is assumed to underlie many intuitive judgments, and insufficient adjustment is commonly invoked to explain judgmental biases. However, despite extensive research on anchoring effects, evidence for adjustment-based anchoring biases has only recently been provided, and the causes of insufficient adjustment remain unclear. This research was designed to identify the origins of insufficient adjustment. The results of two sets of experiments indicate that adjustments from self-generated anchor values tend to be insufficient because they terminate once a plausible value is reached (Studies 1a and 1b) unless one is able and willing to search for a more accurate estimate (Studies 2a-2c) (link)

Bayesian Statistical Inference For Psychological Research

Bayesian statistics, a currently controversial viewpoint, concerning statistic inference, is based on a definition of probability as particular measure of the opinions of ideally consistent people. Statistical inference is modification of these opinions in the light of evidence, and Bayes’ theorem specifies how such modifications should be made. The tools of Bayesian statistics include the theory of specific distributions and the principle of stable estimation, which specifies when actual prior opinions may be satisfactorily approximated by a uniform distribution. A common feature of many classical significance tests is that a sharp null hypothesis is compared with a diffuse alternative hypothesis. Often evidence which, for a Bayesian statistician, strikingly supports the null hypothesis leads to rejection of that hypothesis by standard classical procedures. The likelihood principle emphasized in Bayesian statistics implies, among other things, that the rules governing when data collection stops are irrelevant to data interpretations. It is entirely appropriate to collect data until a point has been proven or disproven, or ntil the data collector runs out of time, money, or patience. (link)

A Fundamental Prediction Error: Self-Others Discrepancies in Risk Preference

This research examined whether people can accurately predict the risk preferences of others. Three experiments featuring different designs revealed a systematic bias: that participants predicted others to be more risk seeking than themselves in risky choices, regardless of whether the choices were between options with negative outcomes or with positive outcomes. This self-others discrepancy persisted even if a monetary incentive was offered for accurate prediction. However, this discrepancy occurred only if the target of prediction was abstract and vanished if the target was vivid. A risk-as-feelings hypothesis was introduced to explain these findings. (link)

The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology

In this article, the author describes a new theoretical perspective on positive emotions and situates this new perspective within the emerging field of positive psychology. The broaden-and-build theory posits that experiences of positive emotions broaden people’s momentary thought-action repertoires, which in turn serves to build their enduring personal resources, ranging from physical and intellectual resources to social and psychological resources. Preliminary empirical evidence supporting the broaden-and-build theory is reviewed, and open empirical questions that remain to be tested are identified. The theory and findings suggest that the capacity to experience positive emotions may be a fundamental human strength central to the study of human flourishing. (link)

Positive Emotions Trigger Upward Spirals Toward Emotional Well-being

The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions predicts that positive emotions broaden the scopes of attention and cognition, and, by consequence, initiate upward spirals toward increasing emotional well-being. The present study assessed this prediction by testing whether positive affect and broad-minded coping reciprocally and prospectively predict one another. One hundred thirty-eight college students completed self-report measures of affect and coping at two assessment periods 5 weeks apart. As hypothesized, regression analyses showed that initial positive affect, but not negative affect, predicted improved broad-minded coping, and initial broad-minded coping predicted increased positive affect, but not reductions in negative affect. Further mediational analyses showed the positive affect and broad-minded coping serially enhanced one another. These findings provide prospective evidence to support the prediction that positive emotions initiate upward spirals towards enhanced emotional well-being. Implications for clinical practice and health promotion are discussed. (link)

The Fallacy of Personal Validation: A Classroom Demonstration of Gullibility

Acceptance by subject or analyst is no proof of correctness of interpretations made from case histories, projective tests, crystal-gazing, or graphology. One week after students filled out the Diagnostic Interest Blank they were given identical generalized personality sketches supposedly based upon the DIB. They rated the effectiveness of the DIB, the correctness of the entire sketch, and finally the truth of each of the 13 statements in the sketch. Everyone considered the sketch highly accurate. Minimum correspondence with self-evaluation seems to encourage acceptance of a total diagnosis, although specific statements are evaluated more cautiously. (link)

Specious Reward: A Behavioral Theory of Impulsiveness and Impulse Control

In a choice among assured, familiar outcomes of behavior, impulsiveness is the choice of less rewarding over more rewarding alternatives. Discussions of impulsiveness in the literature of economics, sociology, social psychology, dynamic psychology and psychiatry, behavioral psychology, and “behavior therapy” are reviewed. Impulsiveness seems to be best accounted for by the hyperbolic curves that have been found to describe the decline in effectiveness of rewards as the rewards are delayed from the time of choice. Such curves predict a reliable change of choice between some alternative rewards as a function of time. This change of choice provides a rationale for the known kinds of impulse control and relates them to several hitherto perplexing phenomena: behavioral rigidity, time-out from positive reinforcement, willpower, self-reward, compulsive traits, projection, boredom, and the capacity of punishing stimuli to attract attention. (link)

The behavioral economics of will in recovery from addiction

Behavioral economic studies demonstrate that rewards are discounted proportionally with their delay (hyperbolic discounting). Hyperbolic discounting implies temporary preference for smaller rewards when they are imminent, and this concept has been widely considered by researchers interested in the causes of addictive behavior. Far less consideration has been given to the fact that systematic preference reversal also predicts various self-control phenomena, which may also be analyzed from a behavioral economic perspective.

Here we summarize self-control phenomena predicted by hyperbolic discounting, particularly with application to the field of addiction. Of greatest interest is the phenomenon of choice bundling, an increase in motivation to wait for delayed rewards that can be expected to result from making choices in whole categories. Specifically, when a person’s expectations about her own future behavior are conditional upon her current behavior, the value of these expectations is added to the contingencies for the current behavior, resulting in reduced impulsivity. Hyperbolic discounting provides a bottom-up basis for the intuitive learning of choice bundling, the properties of which match common descriptions of willpower. We suggest that the bundling effect can also be discerned in the advice of 12-step programs.

Recovery from addiction is a distinctly human phenomenon (Logan, 1993), can be extraordinarily abrupt without any obvious changes in contingencies (Premack, 1970, Miller and C’de Baca, 2001), and is commonly described in spiritual terms (Bien and Bien, 2002). Thus it may seem that although behavioral economic and other reductionist approaches are productively applied to the onset of addiction, they are not applicable to studying recovery from addiction (for example, see Miller’s 2003 discussion of his skepticism). Here we want to make the case that behavioral economics sheds new light on recovery from addiction. (link)

The Illusion of Control

Conducted a series of 6 studies involving 631 adults to elucidate the “illusion of control” phenomenon, defined as an expectancy of a personal success probability inappropriately higher than the objective probability would warrant. It was predicted that factors from skill situations (competition, choice, familiarity, involvement) introduced into chance situations would cause Ss to feel inappropriately confident. In Study 1 Ss cut cards against either a confident or a nervous competitor; in Study 2 lottery participants were or were not given a choice of ticket; in Study 3 lottery participants were or were not given a choice of either familiar or unfamiliar lottery tickets; in Study 4, Ss in a novel chance game either had or did not have practice and responded either by themselves or by proxy; in Study 5 lottery participants at a racetrack were asked their confidence at different times; finally, in Study 6 lottery participants either received a single 3-digit ticket or 1 digit on each of 3 days. Indicators of confidence in all 6 studies supported the prediction. (link)

Knee-Deep in the Big Muddy: A Study of Escalating Commitment to a Chosen Course of Action

It is commonly expected that individuals will reverse decisions or change
behaviors which result in negative consequences. Yet, within investment decision contexts, negative consequences may actually cause decision makers to increase the commitment of resources and undergo the risk of further negative consequences. The research presented here examined this process of escalating commitment through the simulation of a business investment decision. Specifically, 240 business school students participated in a role-playing exercise in which personal responsibility and decision consequences were the manipulated independent variables. Results showed that persons committed the greatest amount of resources to a previously chosen course of action when they were personally responsible for negative consequences. (link)

The Justice Motive: Where Social Psychologists Found It,
How they Lost It, and Why They May Not Find It Again

Beginning shortly after the 2nd World War, 3 lines of research associated with relative deprivation, equity theory, and just world contributed to the description of the influence of the justice motive in people’s lives. By the late 1960s, these converging lines of research had documented the importance of people’s desire for justice; nevertheless, contemporary social psychologists typically portray this justice-driven motivation as simply a manifestation of self-interest. The explanation for this failure to recognize a distinct and important justice motive points to the widespread reliance on research methods that elicit the participant’s thoughtfully constructed narratives or role-playing responses. According to recent theoretical advances, these methods generate responses that reflect normative expectations of rational self-interest, and fail to capture the important effects of the emotionally generated imperatives of the justice motive. (link)

Mere Exposure: A Gateway to the Subliminal

In the mere-repeated-exposure paradigm, an individual is repeatedly exposed to a particular stimulus object, and the researcher records the individual’s emerging preference for that object. Vast literature on the mere-repeated-exposure effect shows it to be a robust phenomenon that cannot be explained by an appeal to recognition memory or perceptual fluency. The effect has been demonstrated across cultures, species, and diverse stimulus domains. It has been obtained even when the stimuli exposed are not accessible to the participants’ awareness, and even prenatally. The repeated-exposure paradigm can be regarded as a form of classical conditioning if we assume that the absence of aversive events constitutes the unconditioned stimulus. Empirical research shows that a benign experience of repetition can in and of itself enhance positive affect, and that such affect can become attached not only to stimuli that have been exposed but also to similar stimuli that have not been previously exposed, and to totally distinct stimuli as well. Implications for affect as a fundamental and independent process are discussed in the light of neuroanatomical evidence. (link)

Subliminal Affective Priming Resists Attributional Interventions

We examine two explanations of the subliminal affective priming effect. The feelings-as-information model (Schwarz & Clore, 1988) holds that judgements are based on perceptible feelings. Hence, affective influences depend on the source to which feelings are (mis)attributed. In contrast, the affective primary hypothesis (Zajonc, 1980) suggests that affective influences should resist attributional interventions. This is because the affective system responsible for preferences is separate from the cognitive system responsible for inferences; because early affective processes are automatic and therefore inaccessible to higher-order interventions; and because early affective responses are not represented as conscious feelings. We tested these explanations in two experiments that crossed subliminal affective priming with (mis)attribution manipulations. Both studies found reliable shifts in judgements of neutral stimuli as a result of primes even when subjects were aware that their feelings might not be diagnostic for the judgement at hand. Subjects did not report experiencing any feelings in response to the primes. The obtained affective priming effect was independent of response times and subjective reports of engaging in judgemental corrections. However, the priming effect did prove sensitive to the experimental instructions. We discuss the implications of these findings for the affective primacy hypothesis and the feelings-as-information model. (link)

Bad Is Stronger Than Good

The greater power of bad events over good ones is found in everyday events, major life events (e.g., trauma), close relationship outcomes, social network patterns, interpersonal interactions, and learning processes. Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good. The self is more motivated to avoid bad self-definitions than to pursue good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones. Various explanations such as diagnosticity and salience help explain some findings, but the greater power of bad events is still found when such variables are controlled. Hardly any exceptions (indicating greater power of good) can be found. Taken together, these findings suggest that bad is stronger than good, as a general principle across a broad range of psychological phenomena. ()

Relation of Threatened Egotism to Violence and Aggression:
The Dark Side of High Self-Esteem

Conventional wisdom has regarded low self-esteem as an important cause of violence, but the opposite view is theoretically viable. An interdisciplinary review of evidence about aggression, crime, and violence contradicted the view that low self-esteem is an important cause. Instead, violence appears to be most commonly a result of threatened egotismwthat is, highly favorable views of self that are disputed by some person or circumstance. Inflated, unstable, or tentative beliefs in the self’s superiority may be most prone to encountering threats and hence to causing violence. The mediating process may involve directing anger outward as a way of avoiding a downward revision of the self concept. (link)

Guilt: An Interpersonal Approach

Multiple sets of empirical research findings on guilt are reviewed to evaluate the view that guilt should be understood as an essentially social phenomenon that happens between people as much as it happens inside them. Guilt appears to arise from interpersonal transactions (including transgressions and positive inequities) and to vary significantly with the interpersonal context. In particular, guilt patterns appear to be strongest, most common, and most consistent in the context of communal relationships, which are characterized by expectations of mutual concern. Guilt serves various relationship-enhancing functions, including motivating people to treat partners well and avoid transgressions, minimizing inequities and enabling less powerful partners to get their way, and redistributing emotional distress. (link)

Self-Regulation and Depletion of Limited Resources:
Does Self-Control Resemble a Muscle?

The authors review evidence that self-control may consume a limited resource. Exerting self-control may consume self-control strength, reducing the amount of strength available for subsequent self-control efforts. Coping with stress, regulating negative affect, and resisting temptations require self-control, and after such self-control efforts, subsequent attempts at self-control are more likely to fail. Continuous self-control efforts, such as vigilance, also degrade over time. These decrements in self-control are probably not due to negative moods or learned helplessness produced by the initial self-control attempt. These decrements appear to be specific to behaviors that involve self-control; behaviors that do not require self-control neither consume nor require self-control strength. It is concluded that the executive component of the self–in particular, inhibition–relies on a limited, consumable resource. (link)

Rationality for Economists?

Rationality is a complex behavioral theory that can be parsed into statements about preferences, perceptions, and process. This paper looks at the evidence on rationality that is provided by behavioral experiments, and argues that most cognitive anomalies operate through errors in perception that arise from the way information is stored, retrieved, and processed, or through errors in process that lead to formulation of choice problems as cognitive tasks that are inconsistent at least with rationality narrowly defined. The paper discusses how these cognitive anomalies influence economic behavior and measurement, and their implications for economic analysis. ()

Omission and commission in judgment and choice

Subjects read scenarios concerning pairs of options. One option was an omission, the other, a commission. Intentions, motives, and consequences were held constant. Subjects either judged the morality of actors by their choices or rated the goodness of decision options. Subjects often rated harmful omissions as less immoral, or less bad as decisions, than harmful commissions. Such ratings were associated with judgments that omissions do not cause outcomes. The effect of commission is not simply an exaggerated response to commissions: a reverse effect for good outcomes was not found, and a few subjects were even willing to accept greater harm in order to avoid action. The `omission bias’ revealed in these experiments can be described as an overgeneralization of a useful heuristic to cases in which it is not justified. Additional experiments indicated that that subjects’ judgments about the immorality of omissions and commissions are dependent on several factors that ordinarily distinguish omissions and commissions: physical movement in commissions, the presence of salient alternative causes in omissions, and the fact that the consequences of omissions would occur if the actor were absent or ignorant of the effects of not acting. (link)

The ostrich effect: Selective attention to information

We develop and test a model which links information acquisition decisions to the hedonic utility of information. Acquiring and attending to information increases the psychological impact of information (an impact effect),increases the speed of adjustment for a utility reference-point (a reference-point updating effect), and affects the degree of risk aversion towards randomness in news (a risk aversion effect). Given plausible parameter values, the model predicts asymmetric preferences for the timing of resolution of uncertainty: Individuals should monitor and attend to information more actively given preliminary good news but “put their heads in the sand” by avoiding additional information given adverse prior news. We test for such an “ostrich effect” in a finance context, examining the account monitoring behavior of Scandinavian and American investors in two datasets. In both datasets, investors monitor their portfolios more frequently in rising markets than when markets are flat or falling. (link)

Egoistic and Moralistic Biases in Self-Perception: The Interplay of Self-Deceptive Styles With Basic Traits and Motives

The literature on personality traits and defense mechanisms suggests individual differences in two self-favoring tendencies, which we label “egoistic bias” and “moralistic bias.” The two biases are self-deceptive in nature and can be traced to two fundamental values, agency and communion, that impel two corresponding motives, nPower and nApproval. The two sequences of values, motives, and biases form two personality constellations, Alpha and Gamma. Associated with Alpha is an egoistic bias, a self-deceptive tendency to exaggerate one’s social and intellectual status. This tendency leads to unrealistically positive self-perceptions on such traits as dominance, fearlessness, emotional stability, intellect, and creativity. Self-perceptions of high Alpha scorers have a narcissistic, “superhero” quality. Associated with Gamma is a moralistic bias, a self-deceptive tendency to deny socially deviant impulses and to claim sanctimonious “saint-like” attributes. This tendency is played out in overly positive self-perceptions on such traits as agreeableness, dutifulness, and restraint. The Alpha-Gamma conception provides an integrative framework for a number of central issues in personality psychology. (

Cold Reading: How to Convince Strangers That You Know All About Them

Over twenty years ago I taught a course at Harvard University called “Applications of Social Psychology.” The sort of applications that I covered were the various ways in which people were manipulated. I invited various manipulators to demonstrate their techniques– pitchmen, encyclopedia salesmen, hypnotists, advertising experts, evangelists, confidence men, and a variety of individuals who dealt with personal problems. The techniques which we discussed, especially those concerned with helping people with their personal problems, seem to involve the client’s tendency to find more meaning in any situation than is actually there. Students readily accepted this explanation when it was pointed out to them. But I did not feel that they fully realized just how pervasive and powerful this human tendency to make sense out of nonsense really is. (link)

The Actor and the Observer: Divergent Perceptions of the Causes of Behavior

When a student who is doing poorly in school discusses his problem with a faculty adviser, there is often a fundamental difference of opinion between the two. The student, in attempting to understand and explain his inadequate performance, is usually able to point to environmental obstacles such as a particularly onerous course load, to temporary emotional stress such as worry about his draft status, or to a transitory confusion about life goals that is now resolved. The faculty adviser may nod and may wish to believe, but in his heart of hearts he usually disagrees. The adviser is convinced that the poor performance is due neither to the student’s environment nor to transient emotional states. He believes instead that failure is due to enduring qualities of the student–to lack of ability, to irremediable laziness, to neurotic ineptitude. (link)

Changes In Interpersonal Perception As A Means Of Reducing Cognitive Dissonance

A situation was structured so that Ss were under the impression they were reading to someone a negative evaluation about him. Half of the Ss expected to meet this person later, where the nature of the situation could be explained and rectified; the other half were told they would not be given such an opportunity. It was predicted that there would be greater cognitive dissonance where S was given a choice whether to read the abusive statement or not and where no opportunity to meet the individual and rectify matters would be permitted. This prediction was confirmed. (link)

Feeling “Holier Than Thou”: Are Self-Serving Assessments Produced by Errors in Self- or Social Prediction?

People typically believe they are more likely to engage in selfless, kind, and generous behaviors than their peers, a result that is both logically and statistically suspect. However, this oft-documented tendency presents an important ambiguity. Do people feel “holier than thou” because they harbor overly cynical views of their peers (but accurate impressions of themselves) or overly charitable views of themselves (and accurate impressions of their peers)? Four studies suggested it was the latter. Participants consistently overestimated the likelihood that they would act in generous or selfless ways, whereas their predictions of others were considerably more accurate. Two final studies suggest this divergence in accuracy arises, in part, because people are unwilling to consult population base rates when predicting their own behavior but use this diagnostic information more readily when predicting others’. (link)

Egocentrism and focalism in unrealistic optimism (and pessimism)

People tend to overestimate their comparative likelihood of experiencing a rosy future. The present research suggests that one reason for this error is that when people compare their likelihood of experiencing an event with that of the average person, they focus on their own chances of experiencing the event and insufficiently consider the likelihood of the average person experiencing the event. As a consequence, people tend to think that they are more likely than the average person to experience common events and less likely than the average person to experience rare events. This causes unrealistic optimism in the case of common desirable events and rare undesirable events, but unrealistic pessimism in the case of rare desirable events and common undesirable events (Studies 1 and 2). Study 2 further suggests that both egocentrism and focalism underlie these biases. These results suggest that unrealistic optimism is not as ubiquitous as once thought. (link)

Why the Unskilled Are Unaware: Further Explorations of (Absent) Self-Insight Among the Incompetent

People are typically overly optimistic when evaluating the quality of their performance on social and intellectual tasks. In particular, poor performers grossly overestimate their performances because their incompetence deprives them of the skills needed to recognize their deficits. Five studies demonstrated that poor performers lack insight into their shortcomings even in real world settings and when given incentives to be accurate. An additional meta-analysis showed that it was lack of insight into their own errors (and not mistaken assessments of their peers) that led to overly optimistic estimates among poor performers. Along the way, these studies ruled out recent alternative accounts that have been proposed to explain why poor performers hold such positive impressions of their performance. (link)

Egocentric Biases in Availability and Attribution

Conducted 5 experiments to assess biases in availability of information in memory and attributions of responsibility for the actions and decisions that occurred during a previous group interaction. The S populations sampled included naturally occurring discussion groups (of undergraduates), 37 married couples, 74 female and 84 male players on intercollegiate basketball teams, and groups of undergraduates assembled in the laboratory. Data provide consistent evidence for egocentric biases in availability and attribution: The S’s own contributions to a joint product were more readily available, i.e., more frequently and easily recalled, and Ss accepted more responsibility for a group product than other participants attributed to them. In addition, statements attributed to the self were recalled more accurately and the availability bias was attenuated, though not eliminated, when the group product was negatively evaluated. When another S’s contributions were made more available to the S via a selective retrieval process, this S allocated correspondingly more responsibility for the group decisions to the coparticipant. The determinants and pervasiveness of the egocentric biases are considered. (link)

Intergroup Relations

When people are judged, either singly or together, on the basis of group memberships, intergroup processes are involved. This review, which follows those of Tajfel and Brewer & Kramer, is structured to highlight for research foci currently receiving intense attention.

The study of intergroup relations, like many other areas of research in social psychology, has acquired a distinctly cognitive tone. We accentuate this cognitive atmosphere both to portray current thinking about intergroup processes and to signal our optimism that the cognitive approach will fruitfully augment traditional approaches. The backbone of the chapter is the study of the way information about groups and their members is represented mentally. This approach promises fresh ideas about improving relations between groups and may elucidate underlying processes. We review the effect of categorization on the perception of the variability or heterogeneity of group members. Also important is the effect of categorization on tendencies to differentiate behaviorally between members of different categories, particularly in-group and out-group members. We address the difficult but crucial issue of extracting principles from this research that can be applied to improve the relations among groups. We conclude by noting some inroads that intergroup theory has made in other research domains, and by listing some research questions that appear especially timely. (link)

Ethical Fading: The Role of Self-Deception in Unethical Behavior

This paper examines the root of unethical dicisions by identifying the psychological forces that promote self-deception. Self-deception allows one to behave self-interestedly while, at the same time, falsely believing that one’s moral principles were upheld. The end result of this internal con game is that the ethical aspects of the decision fade into the background, the moral implications obscured. In this paper we identify four enablers of self-deception, including language euphemisms, the slippery slope of decision-making, errors in perceptual causation, and constraints induced by representations of the self. We argue that current solutions to unethical behaviors in organizations, such as ethics training, do not consider the important role of these enablers and hence will be constrained in their potential, producing only limited effectiveness. Amendments to these solutions, which do consider the powerful role of self-deception in unethical decisions, are offered. (link)

The Distortion of Information during Decisions

During a decision might a preexisting preference lead to the distortion of new information in favor of the preferred alternative? An experiment that furnished one alternative with a prior preference found such predecisional distortion. It was also found that in the absence of any initial preference, a developing preference for one alternative led to the distortion of new information so as to favor that leading alternative. The distortion from both sources, preexisting and developing preferences, exceeded the postdecisional distortion from cognitive dissonance reduction. (link)

The Problem of Global Justice

We do not live in a just world. This may be the least controversial claim one could make in political theory. But it is much less clear what, if anything, justice on a world scale might mean, or what the hope for justice should lead us to want in the domain of international or global institutions, and in the policies of states that are in a position to affect the world order. By comparison with the perplexing and undeveloped state of this subject, domestic political theory is very well understood, with multiple highly developed theories offering alternative solutions to well-defined problems. By contrast, concepts and theories of global justice are in the early stages of formation, and it is not clear what the main questions are, let alone the main possible answers. I believe that the need for workable ideas about the global or international case presents political theory with its most important current task, and even perhaps with the opportunity to make a practical contribution in the long run, though perhaps only the very long run. (link)

Some Worthy Quotes

Begin at the beginning… and go on till you come to the end: then stop. –Lewis Carroll

God knows; I won’t be an Oxford don anyhow. I’ll be a poet, a writer, a dramatist. Somehow or other I’ll be famous, and if not famous, I’ll be notorious. Or perhaps I’ll lead the life of pleasure for a time and then—who knows?—rest and do nothing. What does Plato say is the highest end that man can attain here below? To sit down and contemplate the good. Perhaps that will be the end of me too. –Oscar Wilde

But I, in truth, have been once here before: that savage witch Erichte, she who called the shades back to their bodies, summoned me. My flesh had not been long stripped off when she had me descend through all the rings of Hell, to draw a spirit back from the Betrayer’s circle. That is the deepest and the darkest place, the farthest from the heaven girds all: so rest assured, I know the pathwall all.” –Dante

“Surt from the south comes With flickering flame; Shines from his sword the Val-God’s sun. The stony hills are dashed together, the giantesses totter; Men tread the path of Hel, And heaven is cloven.” –Poetic Edda

“He was skilful enough to have lived still, if knowledge could be set up against mortality.” –William Shakespeare

“It is easy to go down into Hell;
night and day, the gates of
dark Death stand wide; but to
climb back again, to retrace
one’s steps to the upper air —
there’s the rub, the task. ”
— Virgil, The Aeneid

“Either slain thou shalt gain
heaven, or conquering thou
shalt enjoy the earth.
Therefore arise, son of Kunti,
unto battle, making a firm
Holding pleasure and pain
alike, gain and loss, victory
and defeat, then gird thyself for
battle: thus thou shalt not get
evil.” –The Bhagavad Gita

“All things roll here: horrors of midnights, campaigns of a lost year. Dungeons disturbed, and groves of lights; Echoing on these shores, still clear, Dead ecstasies of questing knights- yet how the wind revives us here!” –Arthur Rimbaud

“I am Yesterday, Today, and
Tomorrow, and I have the
power to be born a second time.
I am the divine hidden Soul
who created the gods and gives
sepulchral meals to the denizens
of the deep, the place of the
dead, and heaven…Hail, lord
of the shrine that stands in the
center of the earth. He is I, and
I am he! ” –Egyptian Book of the Dead

A process cannot be understood by stopping it. Understanding must move with the flow of the process, must join it and flow with it. –The First Law of Mentat, quoted by Paul Atreides to Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Dune)

Muad’Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It’s shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad’Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson. –from The Humanity of Muad’Dib by the Princess Irulan (Dune)

Greatness is a transitory experience. It is never persistent. It depends in part upon the myth-making imagination of humankind. The person who experiences greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is in. He must reflect what is projected upon him. And he must have a strong sense of the sardonic. This is what uncouples him from belief in his own pretensions. The sardonic is all that permits him to move within himself. Without this quality, even occasional greatness will destroy a man. –from Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib by the Princess Irulan (Dune)

Anything outside yourself, this you can see and apply your logic to it. But it’s a human trait that when we encounter personal problems, these things most deeply personal are the most difficult to bring out for our logic to scan. We tend to flounder around, blaming everything but the actual, deep-seated thing that’s really chewing on us. –Jessica speaking to Thufir Hawat (Dune)

There should be a science of discontent. People need hard times and oppression to develop psychic muscles. –from Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib by the Princess Irulan (Dune)

Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife — chopping off what’s incomplete and saying: “Now it’s complete because it’s ended here.” –from Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib by the Princess Irulan (Dune)

Prophecy and prescience — How can they be put to the test in the face of the unanswered questions? Consider: How much is actual prediction of the “wave form” (as Muad’Dib referred to his vision-image) and how much is the prophet shaping the future to fit the prophecy? What of the harmonics inherent in the act of prophecy? Does the prophet see the future or does he see a line of weakness, a fault or cleavage that he may shatter with words or decisions as a diamond-cutter shatters his gem with a blow of a knife? –Private Reflections on Muad’Dib by the Princess Irulan (Dune)

No matter how exotic human civilization becomes, no matter the developments of life and society nor the complexity of the machine/human interface, there always come interludes of lonely power when the course of humankind, depends upon the relatively simple actions of single individuals. –The Tleilaxu Godbuk (Dune)

The convoluted wording of legalisms grew up around the necessity to hide from ourselves the violence we intend toward each other. Between depriving a man of one hour from his life and depriving him of his life there exists only a difference of degree. You have done violence to him, consumed his energy. Elaborate euphemisms may conceal your intent to kill, but behind any use of power over another the ultimate assumption remains: “I feed on your energy.” –Addenda to Orders in Council The Emperor Paul Muad’dib (Dune)

There exists a limit to the force even the most powerful may apply without destroying themselves. Judging this limit is the true artistry of government. Misuse of power is the fatal sin. The law cannot be a tool of vengeance, never a hostage, nor a fortification against the martyrs it has created. You cannot threaten any individual and escape the consequences. –Muad’Dib on Law The Stilgar Commentary (Dune)

To know a thing well, know it limits. Only when pushed beyond its tolerances will true nature be seen. Do not depend only on theory if your life is at stake. –Bene Gesserit Commentary (Dune)

Ready comprehension is often a knee-jerk response and the most dangerous form of understanding. It blinks an opaque screen over your ability to learn. The judgmental precedents of law function that way, littering your path with dead ends. Be warned. Understand nothing. All comprehension is temporary. –Mentat Fixe (Dune)

Intelligence takes chance with limited data in an arena where mistakes are not only possible but also necessary.
–Darwi Odrade (Dune)

Art is Individualism, and Individualism is a disturbing and disintegrating force. Therein lies its immense value. For what it seeks to disturb is monotony of type, slavery of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of man to the level of a machine. –Oscar Wilde

Conscience and cowardice are really the same things … Conscience is the trade-name of the firm. That is all. –Dorian Grey

I make a great difference between people. I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies. I have not got one who is a fool. They are all men of some intellectual power, and consequently they all appreciate me. –Dorian Grey

“May you live every day of your life.” –Jonathan Swift

“I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.” –Neil Gaiman

“If all misfortunes were laid in one common heap whence everyone must take an equal portion, most people would be contented to take their own and depart.” –Socrates

“The axe forgets; the tree remembers.” –African Proverbs

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” –Max Planck

I would rather die having spoken in my manner, than speak in your manner and live. For neither in war nor yet in law ought any man use every way of escaping death. For often in battle there is no doubt that if a man will throw away his arms, and fall on his knees before his pursuers, he may escape death, if a man is willing to say or do anything. The difficulty, my friends, is not in avoiding death, but in avoiding unrighteousness; for that runs deeper than death. –Socrates, The Apology

The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways — I to die and you to live. Which is the better, only God knows. –Socrates, The Apology

Someone will say: And are you not ashamed, Socrates, of a course of life which is likely to bring you to an untimely end? To him I may fairly answer: There you are mistaken: a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong — acting the part of a good man or a bad. …For wherever a man’s place is, whether the place he has chosen or that where he has been placed by a commander. there he ought to remain in the hour of danger; he should not think of death or of anything, but of disgrace. –Socrates, The Apology

Truth should be highly valued; if, as we were saying, a lie is useless to the gods, and useful only as a medicine to men, then the use of such medicines should be restricted to physicians; private individuals have no business with them. –Plato, The Republic

Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils — no, nor the human race, as I believe — and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day. –Plato, The Republic

Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind. –Plato, The Republic

All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything, we prefer sight to almost everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things. –Aristotle, Metaphysics

For some identify happiness with virtue, some with practical wisdom, others with a kind of philosophic wisdom, others with these, or one of these, accompanied by pleasure or not without pleasure; while others include also external prosperity. Now … it is not probable that these should be entirely mistaken, but rather that they should be right in at least some one respect or even in most respects. –Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

It is well said, then, that it is by doing just acts that the just man is produced, and by doing temperate acts the temperate man; without doing these no one would have even a prospect of becoming good. But most people do not do these, but take refuge in theory and think they are being philosophers and will become good in this way, behaving somewhat like patients who listen attentively to their doctors, but do none of the things they are ordered to do. –Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Any one can get angry — that is easy — or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy. – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Sed nescio quo modo nihil tam absurde dici potest quod non dicatur ab aliquo philosophorum (There is nothing so ridiculous that some philosopher has not said it.) –Cicero

Omnium Rerum Principia Parva Sunt. (The beginnings of all things are small.) –Cicero

That, Senators, is what a favour from gangs amounts to. They refrain from murdering someone; then they boast that they have spared him! –Cicero

Observe always that everything is the result of a change, and get used to thinking that there is nothing Nature loves so well as to change existing forms and to make new ones like them. –Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Do not think that what is hard for you to master is humanly impossible; but if a thing is humanly possible, consider it to be within your reach. –Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it. –Oscar Wilde

All art is immoral. –Oscar Wilde

No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist. –Oscar Wilde

A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal. –Oscar Wilde

Suppose that men kill thee, cut thee in pieces, curse thee. What then can these things do to prevent thy mind from remaining pure, wise, sober, just? For instance, if a man should stand by a limpid pure spring, and curse it, the spring never ceases sending up potable water; and if he should cast clay into it or filth, it will speedily disperse them and wash them out, and will not be at all polluted. How then shalt thou possess a perpetual fountain? By forming thyself hourly to freedom conjoined with contentment, simplicity and modesty. –Marcus Aurelius

Mathematics is the gate and key of the sciences… Neglect of mathematics works injury to all knowledge, since he who is ignorant of it cannot know the other sciences or the things of this world. And what is worse, men who are thus Ignorant are unable to perceive their own ignorance and so do not seek a remedy. –Roger Bacon, Opus Majus

The strongest arguments prove nothing so long as the conclusions are not verified by experience. Experimental science is the queen of sciences and the goal of all speculation. – Roger Bacon, Opus Tertium

It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them. –Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

There are three classes of intellects: one which comprehends by itself; another which appreciates what others comprehend; and a third which neither comprehends by itself nor by the showing of others; the first is the most excellent, the second is good, and the third is useless. –Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

It is not titles that make men illustrious, but men who make titles illustrious. –Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy

It would be an unsound fancy and self-contradictory to expect that things which have never yet been done can be done except by means which have never yet been tried. –Francis Bacon, Novum Organum

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate. –Francis Bacon, Novum Organum

The human understanding is moved by those things most which strike and enter the mind simultaneously and suddenly, and so fill the imagination; and then it feigns and supposes all other things to be somehow, though it cannot see how, similar to those few things by which it is surrounded. –Francis Bacon, Novum Organum

It requires twenty years for a man to rise from the vegetable state in which he is within his mother’s womb, and from the pure animal state which is the lot of his early childhood, to the state when the maturity of reason begins to appear. It has required thirty centuries to learn a little about his structure. It would need eternity to learn something about his soul. It takes an instant to kill him. –Voltaire, General Reflection on Man

Let the punishments of criminals be useful. A hanged man is good for nothing; a man condemned to public works still serves the country, and is a living lesson. –Voltaire, Civil and Ecclesiastical Laws

Men will always be mad, and those who think they can cure them are the maddest of all. –Voltaire, Letter to Louise Dorothea of Meiningen

The man who esteems himself as he ought, and no more than he ought, seldom fails to obtain from other people all the esteem that he himself thinks due. He desires no more than is due to him, and he rests upon it with complete satisfaction. –Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Labour was the first price, the original purchase-money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labour, that all the wealth of the world was originally purchased; and its value, to those who possess it, and who want to exchange it for some new productions, is precisely equal to the quantity of labour which it can enable them to purchase or command. –Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind. –Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

A definition, if it is to be called perfect, must explain the inmost essence of a thing, and must take care not to substitute for this any of its properties. –Spinoza, On the Improvement of the Understanding

Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see. With people with only modest ability, modesty is mere honesty; but with those who possess great talent, it is hypocrisy. –Arthur Schopenhauer

The charlatan takes very different shapes according to circumstances; but at bottom he is a man who cares nothing about knowledge for its own sake, and only strives to gain the semblance of it that he may use it for his own personal ends, which are always selfish and material. –Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena

Education has for its object the formation of character. To curb restive propensities, to awaken dormant sentiments, to strengthen the perceptions, and cultivate the tastes, to encourage this feeling and repress that, so as finally to develop the child into a man of well proportioned and harmonious nature — this is alike the aim of parent and teacher. –Herbert Spencer, The Rights of Children

The fact disclosed by a survey of the past that majorities have usually been wrong, must not blind us to the complementary fact that majorities have usually not been entirely wrong. –Herbert Spencer, First Principles

The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly, is to fill the world with fools. –Herbert Spencer, Essays: Scientific, Political and Speculative

Not curiosity, not vanity, not the consideration of expediency, not duty and conscientiousness, but an unquenchable, unhappy thirst that brooks no compromise leads us to truth. –Hegel

To be independent of public opinion is the first formal condition of achieving anything great or rational whether in life or in science. Great achievement is assured, however, of subsequent recognition and grateful acceptance by public opinion, which in due course will make it one of its own prejudices –Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right

We assert then that nothing has been accomplished without interest on the part of the actors; and — if interest be called passion, inasmuch as the whole individuality, to the neglect of all other actual or possible interests and claims, is devoted to an object with every fibre of volition, concentrating all its desires and powers upon it — we may affirm absolutely that nothing great in the World has been accomplished without passion. –Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History

I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law. –Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals

Human reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer. –Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind. The understanding can intuit nothing, the senses can think nothing. Only through their unison can knowledge arise. –Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

It is therefore not unreasonable to suppose that some portion of the neglect of science in England, may be attributed to the system of education we pursue. A young man passes from our public schools to the universities, ignorant of almost every branch of useful knowledge; and at these latter establishments … classical and mathematical pursuits are nearly the sole objects proposed to the student’s ambition. –Charles Babbage

On two occasions I have been asked, — “Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?” In one case a member of the Upper, and in the other a member of the Lower, House put this question. I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. –Charles Babbage

It is difficult to estimate the misery inflicted upon thousands of persons, and the absolute pecuniary penalty imposed upon multitudes of intellectual workers by the loss of their time, destroyed by organ-grinders and other similar nuisances. –Charles Babbage

I never am really satisfied that I understand anything; because, understand it well as I may, my comprehension can only be an infinitesimal fraction of all I want to understand about the many connections and relations which occur to me, how the matter in question was first thought of or arrived at, etc., etc. –Ada Lovelace

In almost every computation a great variety of arrangements for the succession of the processes is possible, and various considerations must influence the selections amongst them for the purposes of a calculating engine. One essential object is to choose that arrangement which shall tend to reduce to a minimum the time necessary for completing the calculation. –Ada Lovelace

Many persons who are not conversant with mathematical studies imagine that because the business of [Babbage’s Analytical Engine] is to give its results in numerical notation, the nature of its processes must consequently be arithmetical and numerical, rather than algebraical and analytical. This is an error. The engine can arrange and combine its numerical quantities exactly as if they were letters or any other general symbols; and in fact it might bring out its results in algebraical notation, were provisions made accordingly. –Ada Lovelace

It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious. –Lady Windermere’s Fan

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. –Lord Darlington

It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information. –Oscar Wilde

One should always be a little improbable. –Oscar Wilde

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train. –Oscar Wilde

Even you are not rich enough, Sir Robert, to buy back your past. No man is. –Oscar Wilde

Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community, and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards civilisation. –Oscar Wilde

Now, nothing should be able to harm a man except himself. Nothing should be able to rob a man at all. What a man really has, is what is in him. What is outside of him should be a matter of no importance. –Oscar Wilde

A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. –Oscar Wilde

The public has always, and in every age, been badly brought up. They are continually asking Art to be popular, to please their want of taste, to flatter their absurd vanity, to tell them what they have been told before, to show them what they ought to be tired of seeing, to amuse them when they feel heavy after eating too much, and to distract their thoughts when they are wearied of their own stupidity. Now Art should never try to be popular. The public should try to make itself artistic. There is a very wide difference. –Oscar Wilde

A man provided with paper, pencil, and rubber, and subject to strict discipline, is in effect a universal machine. –Alan Turing

Mathematical reasoning may be regarded rather schematically as the exercise of a combination of two facilities, which we may call intuition and ingenuity. The activity of the intuition consists in making spontaneous judgements which are not the result of conscious trains of reasoning… The exercise of ingenuity in mathematics consists in aiding the intuition through suitable arrangements of propositions, and perhaps geometrical figures or drawings. –Alan Turing

The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design. To the naive mind that can conceive of order only as the product of deliberate arrangement, it may seem absurd that in complex conditions order, and adaptation to the unknown, can be achieved more effectively by decentralizing decisions and that a division of authority will actually extend the possibility of overall order. Yet that decentralization actually leads to more information being taken into account. –Friedrich Hayek

A society that does not recognise that each individual has values of his own which he is entitled to follow can have no respect for the dignity of the individual and cannot really know freedom –Friedrich Hayek

Is there a greater tragedy imaginable than that, in our endeavour consciously to shape our future in accordance with high ideals, we should in fact unwittingly produce the very opposite of what we have been striving for? –Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom

But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is past the ocean is flat again. –John Maynard Keynes

Economics is a very dangerous science. –John Maynard Keynes

The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds. –John Maynard Keynes

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. –Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence. –William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Man’s; I will not Reason and Compare: my business is to Create. –William Blake, Jerusalem

Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night. –William Blake, Proverbs of Hell

The strange thing about life is that though the nature of it must have been apparent to every one for hundreds of years, no one has left any adequate account of it. The streets of London have their map; but our passions are uncharted. What are you going to meet if you turn this corner? –Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room

We may enjoy our room in the tower, with the painted walls and the commodious bookcases, but down in the garden there is a man digging who buried his father this morning, and it is he and his like who live the real life and speak the real language. –Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader

She had done the usual trick – been nice. She would never know him. He would never know her. Human relations were all like that, she thought, and the worst (if it had not been for Mr Bankes) were between men and women. Inevitably these were extremely insincere. –Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it. –Neil Gaiman

We live in a world in which the only utopian visions arrive in commercial breaks: magical visions of an impossibly hospitable world, peopled by bright-eyed attractive men, women, children… Where nobody dies… In my worlds people died. And I thought that was honest. I thought I was being honest. –Neil Gaiman, Signel to Noise

There’s never been a true war that wasn’t fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous. –Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Now what are we looking at right here? What’s bang in the middle? Some people think that’s mathematics there. Fine. But if maths is the study that best allows you to think your way to the centre, what’re the forces you’re investigating? Maths is totally abstract, at one level, square roots of minus one and the like, but the world is nothing if not rigorously mathematical. So this is a way of looking at the world which unifies all the forces: mental, social, physical. –China Mieville, Perdido Street Station

For every action, there’s an infinity of outcomes. Countless trillions are possible, many milliards are likely, millions might be considered probable, several occur as possibilities to us as observers—and one comes true. –China Mieville, The Scar

I refuse to play the wink-wink-nudge-nudge game with readers. I don’t like whimsy because it doesn’t treat the fantastic seriously, and treating the fantastic seriously is one of the best ways of celebrating dialectical human consciousness there is. The one-sided celebration of the ego-driven contextually constrained instrumentally rational (as opposed to rational in a broader sense) is bureaucratic: the one-sided celebration of the subconscious, desire/fantasy driven is at best utopian, at worst sociopathic. The best fantasies—which include sf and horror—are constructed with a careful dialectic between conscious and subconscious. –China Mieville

…in every age and every state, there has seldom if ever been a shortage of eager young males prepared to kill and die to preserve the security, comfort and prejudices of their elders, and what you call heroism is just an expression of this fact; there is never a scarcity of idiots. –Iain M Banks, Use of Weapons

…there came a point when if a conspiracy was that powerful and subtle it became pointless to worry about it. –Iain M Banks, Excession

Perdition awaits at the end of a road constructed entirely from good intentions, the devil emerges from the details and hell abides in the small print. –Iain M Banks, Transitions

We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods. Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it. –Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl

Down an alley a washing woman has set out laundry in pans near the rubble of an old high-rise. Another is washing her body, carefully scrubbing under her sarong, its fabric clinging to her skin. Children run naked through the dirt, jumping over bits of broken concrete that were laid down more than a hundred years ago in the old Expansion. Far down the street the levees rise, holding back the sea. –Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl

You cannot bargain with me. My heart is the clock. Find medicine before it ticks dry, and buy your friend’s life. Fail and his corpse is all you will find here. –Paolo Bacigalupi, The Drowned Cities

Like the famous mad philosopher said, when you stare into the void, the void stares also; but if you cast into the void, you get a type conversion error. (Which just goes to show Nietzsche wasn’t a C++ programmer.) –Charles Stross, The Fuller Memorandum

Back before the internet we had a name for people who bought a single copy of our books and lent them to all their friends without charging: we called them “librarians”. –Charles Stross

I am the Eschaton. I am not your God. I am descended from you, and exist in your future. Thou shalt not violate causality within my historic light cone. Or else. –Charles Stross, Singularity Sky

People are entirely too disbelieving of coincidence. They are far too ready to dismiss it and to build arcane structures of extremely rickety substance in order to avoid it. I, on the other hand, see coincidence everywhere as an inevitable consequence of the laws of probability, according to which having no unusual coincidence is far more unusual than any coincidence could possibly be. –Isaac Asimov

It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be … This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our every man must take on a science fictional way of thinking. –Isaac Asimov

The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity — a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop. –Isaac Asimov, Foundation

The surest way to work up a crusade in favor of some good cause is to promise people they will have a chance of maltreating someone. To be able to destroy with good conscience, to be able to behave badly and call your bad behavior “righteous indignation” — this is the height of psychological luxury, the most delicious of moral treats. –Aldous Huxley, Chrome Yellow

Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted. –Aldous Huxley

Never give children a chance of imagining that anything exists in isolation. Make it plain from the very beginning that all living is relationship. Show them relationships in the woods, in the fields, in the ponds and streams, in the village and in the country around it. Rub it in. –Aldous Huxley, Island

I’ve tried to reduce profanity but I reduced so much profanity when writing the book that I’m afraid not much could come out. Perhaps we will have to consider it simply as a profane book and hope that the next book will be less profane or perhaps more sacred. –Ernest Hemingway on The Sun Also Rises

Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called by the Masai “Ngàje Ngài,” the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude. –Ernest Hemingway

In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dulled and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well oiled in the closet, but unused. –Ernest Hemingway

The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light. –Stanley Kubrick

There’s something in the human personality which resents things that are clear, and conversely, something which is attracted to puzzles, enigmas, and allegories. –Stanley Kubrick

I have always enjoyed dealing with a slightly surrealistic situation and presenting it in a realistic manner. I’ve always liked fairy tales and myths, magical stories. I think they are somehow closer to the sense of reality one feels today than the equally stylized “realistic” story in which a great deal of selectivity and omission has to occur in order to preserve its “realist” style. –Stanley Kubrick

The most common human act that writing a novel resembles is lying. The working novelist lies daily, very complexly, and at great length. If not for our excessive vanity and our over-active imaginations, novelists might be unusually difficult to deceive. –William Gibson

Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding… –William Gibson, Neuromancer

I think of Neuromancer as being, in a good sense, an adolescent book. It’s a young man’s book. It was written very young-man’s-book. It was written by a man who was not very young, when he wrote it, but who was sufficiently immature. –William Gibson

Muad’Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It’s shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad’Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson. –Frank Herbert

Anything outside yourself, this you can see and apply your logic to it. But it’s a human trait that when we encounter personal problems, these things most deeply personal are the most difficult to bring out for our logic to scan. We tend to flounder around, blaming everything but the actual, deep-seated thing that’s really chewing on us. –Frank Herbert, Dune

No matter how exotic human civilization becomes, no matter the developments of life and society nor the complexity of the machine/human interface, there always come interludes of lonely power when the course of humankind, depends upon the relatively simple actions of single individuals. –Frank Herbert, Dune Messiah

To be ignorant and to be deceived are two different things. To be ignorant is to be a slave to the world. To be deceived is to be the slave of another man. The question will always be: Why, when all men are ignorant, and therefore already slaves, does this latter slavery sting us so? –R Scott Bakker, Prince of Nothing

Reason, Ajencis writes, is the capacity to overcome unprecedented obstacles in the gratification of desire. What distinguished man from beasts is man’s capacity to overcome infinite obstacles through reason. But Ajencis has confused the accidental for the essential. Prior to the capacity to overcome infinite obstacles is the capacity to confront them. What defines man is not that he reasons, but that he prays. –R Scott Bakker, Prince of Nothing

Every monumental work of the State is measured by cubits. Every cubit is measured by the length of the Aspect-Emperor’s arm. And the Aspect-Emperor’s arm, they say, stands beyond measure. But I say the Aspect-Emperor’s arm is measured by the length of a cubit, and that all cubits are measured by the works of the State. Not even the All stands beyond measure, for it is more than what lies within it, and “more” is a kind of measure. Even the God has His cubits. –R Scott Bakker, Prince of Nothing

If I could be half the person my dog is, I’d be twice the human I am. –Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

You want to tell a story? Grow a heart. Grow two. Now, with the second heart, smash the first one into bits. Gross, right? A bloody pulpy liquid mess. Look at it, try to make sense of it. Realize you can’t. Because there is no sense. Ask your computer to print out a list of every lie you have ever told. Ask yourself how much of the universe you have ever really seen. Look in the mirror. Are you sure you’re you? Are you sure you didn’t slip out of yourself in the middle of the night, and someone else slipped into you, without you or you or any of you even noticing? –Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

Failure is easy to measure. Failure is an event.Harder to measure is insignificance. A nonevent. Insignificance creeps, it dawns, it gives you hope, then delusion, then one day, when you’re not looking, it’s there, at your front door, on your desk, in the mirror, or not, not any of that, it’s the lack of all that. One day, when you are looking, it’s not looking, no one is. You lie in your bed and realize that if you don’t get out of bed and into the world today, it is very likely no one will even notice. –Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

Can any of us fix anything? No. None of us can do that. We’re specialized. Each one of us has his own line, his own work. I understand my work, you understand yours. The tendency in evolution is toward greater and greater specialization. Man’s society is an ecology that forces adaptation to it. Continued complexity makes it impossible for us to know anything outside our own personal field – I can’t follow the work of the man sitting at the next desk over from me. Too much knowledge has piled up in each field. And there are too many fields. –Philip K Dick, The Variable Man

I think that, like in my writing, reality is always a soap bubble, Silly Putty thing anyway. In the universe people are in, people put their hands through the walls, and it turns out they’re living in another century entirely. … I often have the feeling — and it does show up in my books — that this is all just a stage. –Philip K Dick

Life is short. Art, or something not life, is long, stretching out endless, like concrete worm. Flat, white, unsmoothed by any passage over or across it. Here I stand. But no longer. –Philip K Dick, The Man in the High Castle

We stand now at the turning point between two eras. Behind us is a past to which we can never return … The coming of the rocket brought to an end a million years of isolation … the childhood of our race was over and history as we know it began. –Arthur C Clarke, Exploration of Space

The fact that we have not yet found the slightest evidence for life — much less intelligence — beyond this Earth does not surprise or disappoint me in the least. Our technology must still be laughably primitive, we may be like jungle savages listening for the throbbing of tom-toms while the ether around them carries more words per second than they could utter in a lifetime. –Arthur C Clarke

The Information Age offers much to mankind, and I would like to think that we will rise to the challenges it presents. But it is vital to remember that information — in the sense of raw data — is not knowledge, that knowledge is not wisdom, and that wisdom is not foresight. But information is the first essential step to all of these. –Arthur C Clarke

Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done. One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen. –Robert A Heinlein, The Rolling Stones

There is solemn satisfaction in doing the best you can for eight billion people. Perhaps their lives have no cosmic significance, but they have feelings. They can hurt. –Robert A Heinlein, Double Star

By the laws of statistics we could probably approximate just how unlikely it is that it would happen. But people forget—especially those who ought to know better, such as yourself—that while the laws of statistics tell you how unlikely a particular coincidence is, they state just as firmly that coincidences do happen. –Robert A Heinlein, The Door Into Summer

There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Mafia. –Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan

When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in the particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is “So it goes.” –Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5

Teachers of children in the United States of America wrote this date on blackboards again and again, and asked the children to memorize it with pride and joy: 1492. The teachers told the children that this was when their continent was discovered by human beings. Actually, millions of human beings were already living full and imaginative lives on the continent in 1492. That was simply the year in which sea pirates began to cheat and rob and kill them. –Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

Everything that has occurred in Silicon Valley in the last couple of decades also occurred in the 1850s. Anyone who thinks that wild-ass high tech venture capitalism is a late-20th-century California phenomenon needs to read about the maniacs who built the first transatlantic cable projects. The only things that have changed since then are that the stakes have gotten smaller, the process more bureaucratized, and the personalities less interesting. –Neal Stephenson

Though Richard’s Wikipedia entry had been quiet lately, in the past it had been turbulent with edit wars between mysterious people, known only by their IP addresses, who seemed to want to emphasize aspects of his life that now struck him as, while technically true, completely beside the point. Fortunately this had all happened after Dad had become too infirm to manipulate a mouse, but it didn’t stop younger Forthrasts. –Neal Stephenson, Reamde

This was part of Corporation 9592’s strategy; they had hired psychologists, invested millions in a project to sabotage movies—yes, the entire medium of cinema—to get their customers/players/addicts into a state of mind where they simply could not focus on a two-hour-long chunk of filmed entertainment without alarm bells going off in their medullas telling them that they needed to log on to T’Rain and see what they were missing. –Neal Stephenson, Reamde

Above all else, the mentat must be a generalist, not a specialist. It is wise to have decisions of great moment monitored by generalists. Experts and specialists lead you quickly into chaos. They are a source of useless nit-picking, the ferocious quibble over a comma. The mentat-generalist, on the other hand, should bring to decision-making a healthy common sense. He must not cut himself off from the broad sweep of what is happening in his universe. He must remain capable of saying: “There’s no real mystery about this at the moment. This is what we want now. It may prove wrong later, but we’ll correct that when we come to it.” The mentat-generalist must understand that anything which we can identify as our universe is merely a part of larger phenomena. But the expert looks backward; he looks into the narrow standards of his own specialty. The generalist looks outward; he looks for living principles, knowing full well that such principles change, that they develop. It is to the characteristics of change itself that the mentat-generalist must look. There can be no permanent catalogue of such change, no handbook or manual. You must look at it with as few preconceptions as possible, asking yourself: “Now what is this thing doing?” –The Mentat Handbook (Dune)

Because of the one-pointed Time awareness in which the conventional mind remains immersed, humans tend to think of everything in a sequential, word-oriented framework. This mental trap produces very short-term concepts of effectiveness and consequences, a condition of constant, unplanned response to crises. –Liet-Kynes The Arrakis Workbook (Dune)

You will learn the integrated communication methods as you complete the next step in your mental education. This is a gestalten function which will overlay data paths in your awareness, resolving complexities and masses of input from the mentat index-catalogue techniques which you have already mastered. Your initial problem will be the breaking tensions arising from the divergent assembly of minutiae/data on specialized subjects. Be warned. Without mentat overlay integration, you can be immersed in the Babel Problem, which is the label we give to the omnipresent dangers of achieving wrong combinations from accurate information. –The Mentat Handbook (Dune)

Any path that narrows future possibilities may become a lethal trap. Humans are not threading their way through a maze; they scan a vast horizon filled with unique opportunities. The narrowing viewpoint of the maze should appeal only to creatures with their noses buried in the sand. –The Spacing Guild Handbook (Dune)

You should never be in the company of anyone with whom you would not want to die. –Duncan Idaho recites an ancient Fremen saying (Dune)

The trance-state of prophecy is like no other visionary experience. It is not a retreat from the raw exposure of the senses (as many trance states) but an immersion in a multitude of new movements. Things move. It is an ultimate pragmatism in the midst of Infinity, a demanding consciousness where you come at last into the unbroken awareness that the universe moves of itself, that it changes, that its rules change, that nothing remains permanent or absolute throughout all such movement, that mechanical explanations for anything can work only within precise confinements and, once the walls are broken down, the old explanations shatter and dissolve, blown away by new movements. The things you see in this trance are sobering, often shattering. They demand your utmost effort to remain whole, and even so, you emerge from that state profoundly changed. –The Stolen Journals (Dune)

The realization of what I am occurs in the timeless awareness which does not stimulate nor delude. I create a field without self or center, a field where even death becomes only analogy. I desire no results. I merely permit this field which has no goals nor desires, no perfections nor even visions of achievements. In that field, omnipresent primal awareness is all. It is the light which pours through the windows of my universe. –The Stolen Journals (Dune)

Most civilization is based on cowardice. It’s so easy to civilize by teaching cowardice. You water down the standards which would lead to bravery. You restrain the will. You regulate the appetites. You fence in the horizons. You make a law for every movement. You deny the existence of chaos. You teach even the children to breathe slowly. You tame. –The Stolen Journals (Dune)

It is difficult to live in the present, pointless to live in the future and impossible to live in the past. –Leto Atreides II (Dune)

Technology, in common with many other activities, tends toward avoidance of risks by investors. Uncertainty is ruled out if possible. Capital investment follows this rule, since people generally prefer the predictable. Few recognize how destructive this can be, how it imposes severe limits on variability and thus makes whole populations fatally vulnerable to the shocking ways our universe can throw the dice. –Assessment of Ix, Bene Gesserit Archives (Dune)

Some people never observe anything. Life just happens to them. They get by on little more than a kind of dumb persistence, and they resist with anger and resentment anything that might lift them out of that false serenity.
–Mother Superior Taraza (Dune)

Confine yourself to observing and you always miss the point of your own life. The object can be stated this way: Live the best life you can. Life is a game whose rules you learn if you leap into it and play it to the hilt. Otherwise, you are caught off balance, continually surprised by the shifting play. Non-players often whine and complain that luck always passes them by. They refuse to see that they can create some of their own luck. –Darwi Odrade (Dune)

We can solve many problems thousands of times faster than natural selection. Now, by creating the means to execute those simulations at much higher speeds, we are entering a regime as radically different from our human past as we humans are from the lower animals. –Vernor Vinge, The Coming Technological Singularity

If during the last thousand seconds you have received any High-Beyond-protocol packets from “Arbitration Arts,” discard them at once. If they have been processed, then the processing site and all locally netted sites must be physically destroyed at once. We realize that this means the destruction of solar systems, but consider the alternative. You are under Transcendent attack. –Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep

I have argued above that we cannot prevent the Singularity, that its coming is an inevitable consequence of the humans’ natural competitiveness and the possibilities inherent in technology. And yet … we are the initiators. Even the largest avalanche is triggered by small things. –Vernor Vinge, The Coming Technological Singularity

Spider Jerusalem: You want to know about voting. I’m here to tell you about voting. Imagine you’re locked in a huge underground nightclub filled with sinners, whores, freaks and unnameable things that rape pit bulls for fun. And you ain’t allowed out until you all vote on what you’re going to do tonight. You like to put your feet up and watch “Republican Party Reservation”. They like to have sex with normal people using knives, guns and brand-new sexual organs that you did not know existed. So you vote for television, and everyone else, as far as the eye can see, votes to fuck you with switchblades. That’s voting. You’re welcome. –Warren Ellis, Transmetropolitan

You want to know the secret of the world? It’s this : Save it, and it’ll repay you, every second of every day. –Warren Ellis, Planetary

During this week, I’ve been leaving the house only once a day, to clear my lungs before returning to my death bed. So I’ve been getting a single snapshot of the weather each day. And it’s no wonder I’m fucking dying. Yesterday, blazing heat, not a cloud in the sky, people moving in slow motion under the oppressive radiation. Today? Black skies, pissing down with rain, gales turning people’s umbrellas inside out. It’ll be snow tomorrow. Or hot hail. –Warren Ellis

All reality is a game. Physics at its most fundamental, the very fabric of our universe, results directly from the interaction of certain fairly simple rules, and chance; the same description may be applied to the best, most elegant and both intellectually and aesthetically satisfying games. By being unknowable, by resulting from events which, at the sub-atomic level, cannot be fully predicted, the future remains malleable, and retains the possibility of change, the hope of coming to prevail; victory, to use an unfashionable word. In this, the future is a game; time is one of its rules. –Iain M Banks, Player of Games

All life produces waste. The act of living produces costs, hazards and disposal questions, and so the (Environment) Ministry has found itself in the center of all life, mitigating, guiding and policing the detritus of the average person along with investigating the infractions of the greedy and short-sighted, the ones who wish to make quick profits and trade on others lives for it. –Paolo Bacigalupi, Windup Girl

Manfred decides that he’s going to do something unusual for a change: He’s going to make himself temporarily rich. This is a change because Manfred’s normal profession is making other people rich. Manfred doesn’t believe in scarcity or zero-sum games or competition—his world is too fast and information-dense to accommodate primate hierarchy games. –Charles Stross, Accelerando

The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity — a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop. –Isaac Asimov, Foundation

“We have no future because our present is too volatile. We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern recognition.” –William Gibson, Pattern Recognition

Most civilization is based on cowardice. It’s so easy to civilize by teaching cowardice. You water down the standards which would lead to bravery. You restrain the will. You regulate the appetites. You fence in the horizons. You make a law for every movement. You deny the existence of chaos. You teach even the children to breathe slowly. You tame. –Frank Herbert

The monks of the earliest days had not counted on the human ability to generate a new cultural inheritance in a couple of generations if an old one is utterly destroyed, to generate it by virtue of lawgivers and prophets, geniuses or maniacs; through a Moses, or through a Hitler, or an ignorant but tyrannical grandfather, a cultural inheritance may be acquired between dusk and dawn, and many have been so acquired. But the new “culture” was an inheritance of darkness, wherein “simpleton” meant the same thing as “citizen” meant the same thing as “slave.” –Walter M Miller Jr., A Canticle for Lebowitz

“The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use them.” –Philip K. Dick

One of the biggest roles of science fiction is to prepare people to accept the future without pain and to encourage a flexibility of mind. Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories. Two-thirds of 2001 is realistic — hardware and technology — to establish background for the metaphysical, philosophical, and religious meanings later. –Arthur C Clarke

There comes a time in the life of every human when he or she must decide to risk “his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor” on an outcome dubious. Those who fail the challenge are merely overgrown children, can never be anything else. –Robert A Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Well, I’ve worried some about, you know, why write books … why are we teaching people to write books when presidents and senators do not read them, and generals do not read them. And it’s been the university experience that taught me that there is a very good reason, that you catch people before they become generals and presidents and so forth and you poison their minds with … humanity, and however you want to poison their minds, it’s presumably to encourage them to make a better world. –Kurt Vonnegut

Any strategy that involves crossing a valley—accepting short-term losses to reach a higher hill in the distance—will soon be brought to a halt by the demands of a system that celebrates short-term gains and tolerates stagnation, but condemns anything else as failure. In short, a world where big stuff can never get done. –Neal Stephenson

Over the last few weeks, some newsgroups have been full of tales of war and battle fleets, of billions dying in the clash of species. To all such—and those living more peaceably around them—we say look out on the universe. It does not care, and even with all our science there are some disasters that we can not avert. All evil and good is petty before Nature. Personally, we take comfort from this, that there is a universe to admire that cannot be twisted to villainy or good, but which simply is. –Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep

Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe. –Neil Gaiman, The Sandman

Journalism is just a gun. It’s only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that’s all you need. Aim it right, and you can blow a kneecap off the world. –Warren Ellis, Transmetropolitan

A sense of humour is a sense of proportion. –Khalil Gibran, Sand and Foam

All that you see was and is for your sake. The numerous books, uncanny markings, and beautiful thoughts are the ghosts of souls who preceded you. The speech they weave is a link between you and your human siblings. The consequences that cause sorrow and rapture are the seeds that the past has sown in the field of the soul, and by which the future shall profit. –Khalil Gibran

Your thought sees power in armies, cannons, battleships, submarines, aeroplanes, and poison gas. But mine asserts that power lies in reason, resolution, and truth. No matter how long the tyrant endures, he will be the loser at the end. Your thought differentiates between pragmatist and idealist, between the part and the whole, between the mystic and materialist. Mine realizes that life is one and its weights, measures and tables do not coincide with your weights, measures and tables. He whom you suppose an idealist may be a practical man. –Khalil Gibran, Your Thought and Mine

Once there ruled in the distant city of Wirani a king who was both mighty and wise. And he was feared for his might and loved for his wisdom. Now, in the heart of that city was a well, whose water was cool and crystalline, from which all the inhabitants drank, even the king and his courtiers; for there was no other well. One night when all were asleep, a witch entered the city, and poured seven drops of strange liquid into the well, and said, “From this hour he who drinks this water shall become mad.” Next morning all the inhabitants, save the king and his lord chamberlain, drank from the well and became mad, even as the witch had foretold. And during that day the people in the narrow streets and in the market places did naught but whisper to one another, “The king is mad. Our king and his lord chamberlain have lost their reason. Surely we cannot be ruled by a mad king. We must dethrone him.” That evening the king ordered a golden goblet to be filled from the well. And when it was brought to him he drank deeply, and gave it to his lord chamberlain to drink. And there was great rejoicing in that distant city of Wirani, because its king and its lord chamberlain had regained their reason. –Khalil Gibran, The Madman

“The past alone is truly real: the present is but a painful, struggling birth into the immutable being of what is no longer. Only the dead exist fully. The lives of the living are fragmentary, doubtful, and subject to change; but the lives of the dead are complete, free from the sway of Time, the all but omnipotent lord of the world. Their failures and successes, their hopes and fears, their joys and pains, have become eternal—our efforts cannot now abate one jot of them. Sorrows long buried in the grave, tragedies of which only a fading memory remains, loves immortalized by Death’s hallowing touch these have a power, a magic, an untroubled calm, to which no present can attain. …On the banks of the river of Time, the sad procession of human generations is marching slowly to the grave; in the quiet country of the Past, the march is ended, the tired wanderers rest, and the weeping is hushed.” –Bertrend Russel, On History

I like mathematics because it is not human and has nothing particular to do with this planet or with the whole accidental universe – because, like Spinoza’s God, it won’t love us in return. –Bertrend Russell

Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. It sees man, a feeble speck, surrounded by unfathomable depths of silence; yet it bears itself proudly, as unmoved as if it were lord of the universe. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man. –Bertrend Russell, Why Men Fight

People seem good while they are oppressed, but they only wish to become oppressors in their turn: life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim. –Bertrend Russell

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.” –Charles Bukowski

The difference between a brave man and a coward is a coward thinks twice before jumping in the cage with a lion. The brave man doesn’t know what a lion is. He just thinks he does. –Charles Bukowski

It was true that I didn’t have much ambition, but there ought to be a place for people without ambition, I mean a better place than the one usually reserved. How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so? –Charles Bukowski

The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little more off you, until there was nothing left. At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole goddamned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves. I had no interests. I had no interest in anything. I had no idea how I was going to escape. At least the others had some taste for life. They seemed to understand something that I didn’t understand. Maybe I was lacking. It was possible. I often felt inferior. I just wanted to get away from them. But there was no place to go. –Charles Bukowski

There’s nothing to mourn about death any more than there is to mourn about the growing of a flower. What is terrible is not death but the lives people live or don’t live up until their death. They don’t honor their own lives, they piss on their lives. They shit them away. Dumb fuckers. They concentrate too much on fucking, movies, money, family, fucking. Their minds are full of cotton. They swallow God without thinking, they swallow country without thinking. Soon they forget how to think, they let others think for them. Their brains are stuffed with cotton. They look ugly, they talk ugly, they walk ugly. Play them the great music of the centuries and they can’t hear it. Most people’s deaths are a sham. There’s nothing left to die. –Charles Bukowski