Category Archives: Science

Book Review: Sway; The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior

Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman, 2008.

These brothers offer an attractive read that is notably more compelling than most pop-psychology fare. While the book does not clearly delineate a list, MC has bucketed the irrational factors referenced in the book. They include:

1. Loss aversion — the tendency to overemphasize what will be lost, at the expense of what may be gained.

2. Commitment — aka sunk cost. Similar principle to the above, but with time and reputation.

3. Value attrition — favoring preconceived traits and circumstances over objective facts.

4. Diagnosis bias — our reluctance to change our minds once we have decided on someone or something.

5. Rose-colored glasses — dismissal of info that contradicts our hopes.  Overestimating our objectivity.

6. Chameleon effect — predilection to act as we are treated / perceived.  Self-fulfilling prophecies–how your behavior can change an outcome.

7. Procedural justice –the value of a fair process. Willingness to punish someone at our own  expense.

8. The disincentive of money to altruism. Paying people for certain sacrifices can backfire as repulsion.

9. Dissension, and the value of blocking — even incompetent and erroneous blocking.  Breaking the spell of groupthink.

Which one sways you the most?  Write to us!

Your Linguistic Footprint

In the new Discovery TV series, “Manhunt: The Unabomber,” the identity of Ted Kaczynski is determined from the linguistics in his manifesto. A profile was built around someone who read the Chicago Tribune growing up, and received a PhD within a defined time period.

With some study, we can all become trained to infer a writer’s geographic origins, educational institutions, and news sources from word choice, sentence structure, spelling, punctuation, and slang (#teamoxfordcomma right there).

In the show, the linguistics alone are not enough to charge Ted; rather, they form the basis for the search warrant of Ted’s cabin–which is where the FBI obtain bombmaking materials as evidence.

Since that case in 1995, forensic linguistics seems to have been used more, both by the prosecution AND the defense.

Some interesting subtypes include:

  • Forensic Phonetics–correctly identifying a voice, especially on a recording
  • Forensic Dialectology–determining a person’s origin, which can be especially helpful in asylum cases
  • Discourse Analytics–sorting out who is introducing ideas and who is agreeing. Most relevant for covertly recorded confessions.

There is still much variance in the acceptability of these methods. Despite its intuitive resonance, as a relatively new field it must fight for credibility.

Do you think forensic linguistics deserves more prominence in the legal field?  Write us!

Your Robot’s Religion

Artificial intelligence (AI) is developing so rapidly that some believe it will soon be beyond human management.  What if they then become moral beings?  Specifically, is Christ’s redemption–or any other major world religion’s creed–relevant to AI beings?

Pope Francis seemed to welcome alternative humans to the Catholic faith in 2014, when he gave the example of Baptizing extraterrestrial life.

The steep slope of technology means that the question of what it means to be human has perhaps never been more pressing.  There is not a debate about whether test tube babies have souls, even though they are made by humans. But do clones?

Humanity aside, are intelligence and self-awareness enough to qualify something for having an inner life?

If AI has free will, then it can theoretically choose to “sin,” or wrong others, regardless of its programming (like the fictional HAL 9000), especially if we have AI programming other AI.

MC thinks that while all forms of intelligence should be welcomed to worship, only traditional humans are granted certain privileges, such as an afterlife.  This is because of what Christianity calls Original Sin: humans can and will sin without intending to. Part of being human is being incapable of living without flaws, which requires one to choose God for redemption.  Robots that do not make accidents are exempt from this need. So, while AI may surpass us in worldly pursuits of excellence, precision, speed, and reasoning, the human advantage of a flawed soul remains unthreatened.

Are Your Emotions from You?

Your level of emotional dialecticism (ability to experience contrasting feelings simultaneously) and emotional differentiation (ability to separate and communicate various emotions) may be products of the country you live in.

Societies that are more into interdependence are also more emotionally healthy and complex.

Therefore, exercising interdependence with your social network may boost wellbeing, much more than locking oneself into self-reliance.

The Cost of Irreproducible Research

Last week, NPR’s All Things Considered discussed scientific research methodology, and the losses resulting from such mistakes as unclear instruction, cell misidentification, and undetailed methodologies.

PLOS Biology estimates $28 billion worth of research per year is beset with these issues, however that number is in dispute.  Some irreproducible research is still fruitful, plus the magnitude of the errors are not differentiated within that total.

Is our US research model flawed?  Making all doctoral candidates train in research is obviously important, but there seems to be a lack of decently paying post-doc research jobs that causes these people to quickly move on to other lines of work after only a few productive years as grad students.  Realigning employment incentives just might tighten up the rigor.

Lab Research

The Adulthood of Magical Thinking

Our minds have evolved to think “magically” about certain things, particularly by appearance.

In one experiment cited in the article above, students throwing darts at various pictures performed significantly poorer when aiming at a picture of an emotionally favorable object (for example a baby).

We associate images with the object they represent, and what happens to the image can feel like an action against the subject–think of tearing up a picture of someone unpleasant.

Intelligence does little to overcome this gut association.  Alief is the term for an habitual reaction that is at odds with consciously held knowledge. It is why our heart rate increases while watching a car chase on TV, or why we wince at eating bug-shaped candy.  It is easy to appreciate how and why these instincts evolved into our psychology–these impulses were once very telling for survival.

Illogical subconscious associations can be studied either as a human weakness, or a charming illustrator of evolutionary psychology.  We much prefer the latter.