Monthly Archives: April 2013

Choosing Again

consumerAfter finishing the post on The Art of Choosing, I felt the need to comment on all three books including The Paradox of Choice and The Myth of Choice. (Nudge might have been placed in this group, but I decided against it.) Reaction to these books surprises me with its emphasis on consumer choices, but the book publishers probably wanted it that way. I understand that even Rush Limbaugh was talking about Barry Schwartz.  Barry Schwartz seems to be portrayed as a curmudgeon who is trying at the same time to eliminate our consumer choices. With the subtitle of Why More is Less, How the Culture of Abundance Robs Us of Satisfaction maybe I can understand it.  Schwartz’s book was published in 2004 while the Art of Choosing was published in 2010, and the Myth of Choice in 2011. Frankly, the last two books seem easy to write with the Schwartz book as a template. According to Amazon ranking, Schwartz might be the only one making any direct money from his book.

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The Art of Choosing

artofchoosingSheena Iyengar has written the Art of Choosing. It is a slightly different slant on the “choosing” books. These books are different, but they all tell us that the world gives us what turn out to be not genuine choices, and a discussion of how our own brains can do strange things with choices. They also are about personal choice and not really judgment. (I need to learn much more to understand that distinction. I may be making it up.)  This goes also for the Myth of Choice and the Paradox of Choice.

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Feeling is for Doing

IMG_0548The core premise of this post based on Zeelenberg, Nelissen, and Peters paper, “Emotion, Motivation, and Decision Making A Feeling-Is-for-Doing Approach is that emotional processes form part of the intuitional component of decision making. Emotions are motivational processes that order goals and thereby mobilize and give direction to behavior.  Affect has positive or negative valence, but all affect is not emotion.  Moods, evaluations, and attitudes are not.  Emotions are acute, short term/momentary, and cognitively impenetrable. Emotions include guilt, shame, regret, disappointment, envy, gloating, anger, fear, joy, pride, to name only a few.  Emotions can actually be measured fairly reliably and since there are relatively few distinct emotions, there are stable and predictable consequences and correlates of emotion. Specific appraisals elicit specific emotions with specific experiential contents.

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Toward a Culture of Neurons

450Stanislas Dehaene is a mathematician and neuropsychologist who has written two popular books, The Number sense:  How the Mind Creates Mathematics and Reading in the Brain. Using fMRI and magneto-encephalography (MEG), Dehaene and his colleagues have made much progress in relating cognitive function and brain function.  The two books are quite readable even though much of the material is likely to be brand new to the reader.

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Beyond Rationality Part 3

Muon_neutrino_oscillation_longHammond has his own theme and that is basically to use both coherence and correspondence in the study of human judgment. He asserts that is not possible to do a little of both coherence and correspondence in one judgment, but it is possible to oscillate between the tactics of judgment. Hammond sees no winner between empiricism (correspondence) and rationalism (coherence).  Hammond suggests robust flexibility as the effective cognitive activity of human judgment. Flexibility refers to the ease of oscillation along the cognitive continuum between intuition and analysis. Robust refers to the fact that this cognitive process produces good empirical accuracy.  Robust flexibility is common sense and the movement along the cognitive continuum means that it is ambiguous and hard to define.  “Common sense (robust flexibility) means engaging in as much analytical work as required, and in as much intuition as will suffice, because intuition is by far the easiest.”  Finding the right mix of rules and discretion varies, and successful cognition must be adapted to the structure of information in the environment.  Common sense is easy to appeal to and to tell stories about, but not so easy to implement. Hammond recommends humility and not abandoning the good for the unattainable best.

Hammond, K.R. (2007) Beyond Rationality: The Search for Wisdom in a Troubled Time.  U.S.A:  Oxford University Press.

Beyond Rationality Part 2

2012-11-30 12.18.30-1This is the second post about Ken Hammond’s book Beyond Rationality.

Correspondence Researchers

Egon Brunswik abandoned the stimulus-organism-response of the day for his environmental texture as far back as 1935. But he got little notice, especially with the advent of the computer in the 1960s.  Texture could not compete with physics and the computer. But by the end of the twentieth century, there was an emphasis on ecology and environmental texture. As Hammond notes, the times have caught up with Brunswik.  Of course, this emphasis goes back to Darwin’s “entangled bank”.  Darwin made the point that living organisms evolve and survive in entangled relationships among other evolving organisms, all coping with the fallible indicators that are others’ behaviors.

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Beyond Rationality Part 1

brunswikKenneth R Hammond’s book Beyond Rationality-the Search for Wisdom in a Troubled Time was published in 2007.  Ken Hammond is a man in his 90s and this book and really all his writings have a frankness that is easy to like. He is quite willing to look at the people and themes in the world of judgment and decision making and tell you what he thinks.  He is clearly a learned man, and I enjoy his discussions about Oliver Wendell Holmes, Abraham Lincoln, and recent politicians. Hammond says a lot in this book, but I am going to try to limit my discussion of it to three posts.

The above image is Egon Brunswik, who was Ken Hammond’s mentor.  The picture is at the beginning of Beyond Rationality.  

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Simple Heuristics at Work in the World

imitationThis post is based on Chapter 10 of Bounded Rationality and on Gut Feelings both authored primarily by Gerd Gigerenzer. It is largely a shopping list of heuristics or rules of thumb. Gigerenzer makes the important point that more information and more choice are not always better. Less is more under certain conditions:

  1. A beneficial degree of ignorance–This seems more like a coincidence to me, but Gigerenzer includes it.
  2. Unconscious motor skills–Over deliberation can mess up skills.
  3. Cognitive limitations–Our brains can benefit by doing such things as forgetting so we do not have too much information.-Gary Marcus in Kluge would not agree or at least would not be so proud of our forgetting.
  4. Freedom of choice paradox–At some point more options create conflicts that make it more difficult to compare options. Betsch and Glockner point out as I have discussed in Intuition in J/DM that even intuition is slowed by conflicts in the data.
  5. The benefits of simplicity–In a complex world, simple rules can be better than complex rules.
  6. Information costs–Extracting too much information can hurt trust.

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Smart Mobs and Diverse Problem Solvers

smartmobsHoward Rheingold is the author of Smart Mobs -the Next Social Revolution, James Surowiecki is the author of The Wisdom of Crowds, and Scott Page is the author of The Difference -How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies.  Scott Page ties them together in his prologue. Each of them looks in his own way at how diversity can help us make better decisions.  They all build on that fact of cultural evolution that it is great for each of us to make better judgments, but that for us to progress we need to make better decisions together.  I will probably look at Scott Page’s book separately at some point, but here, in his case,  I will look at a paper  that he wrote with a colleague, Lu Hong, “Groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers.”

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Role of Culture in Bounded Rationality

golden-naped-barbetThis post examines Chapter 19 of Bounded Rationality.
That chapter looks at three ways  that cultural processes produce boundedly rational heuristics/algorithms. They are:

  1. Simple imitation and learning heuristics
  2. Over  cultural evolutionary time scale, the aids in number one have given rise to complex motivations, rules, cues, etc.
  3. From these first two, group processes that distribute cognition, knowledge, skill, and labor have arisen.

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