Posts Tagged ‘Psychology’

Inception: Dreaming Is What’s Left Of Psychedelia…

“The trick is to combine your waking rational abilities with the infinite possibility of dreams…if you do that, you can do anything.” —-Waking Life

Here is what you do if you have a passing interest in neuroscience, psychology, or physics but are too lazy to take science classes in college: make movies. In the last decade or so, some of the most successful movies from nearly every genre—from thrillers like Memento to sci-fi/action movies like The Matrix to art house movies like Waking Life—involve quirks of the mind: alternate realities, psychological disorders, and imaginary characters.

Inception, the latest film from Christopher Nolan (director of the aforementioned Memento as well as The Dark Knight, which means we at NPI are predisposed to like him), tackles dreaming, an area so loaded with psychological and epistemological ramifications that the movie feels ready to burst at the seams. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, a thief who enters peoples’ dreams to steal their ideas. This process, known as “extraction,” involves exploiting projections of a dreamers’ subconscious to reveal secrets. Continue reading

On Travel

A former professor of mine once exclaimed that he did not like travel. Student reaction was quite negative. The students who liked this professor then felt a need to defend him; interestingly, their defense wasn’t that it is okay to dislike travel, but that he misspoke, that he didn’t really mean that he disliked travel. This is reflective of a larger and unfair stigma against disliking travel. I say unfair since while most people love the idea of travel, traveling itself is much less pleasant for them for a variety of reasons I’ll explore in this post.

People tend to “fake” traits that are socially desirable if the cost of faking is relatively low. Travel encourages this faking more than most characteristics. It’s easy to see why travel is socially desirable. First, it signals activity, and activity is preferable to inactivity. Travelers backpack, hike, climb, and explore. Second, it signals openness and curiosity. The traveler is interested in cultures other than his own. Third, a love of travel indicates a love of novelty. The traveler has eaten exotic foods or seen exotic animals. Fourth, travel perpetuates the feelings of being in an elite in-group, which is nauseatingly manifested in tired conversations about cities that both travelers have visited*: “Wasn’t Prague beautiful?!” “It was!” and then there is the obligatory listing of the mutual places that each of the travelers visited in said city.** This conversation generally will give both participants a lot of pleasure, sometimes even generating a sort of insular arrogance. People who don’t engage in this self-congratulatory ritual—like my former professor—will be greeted with condescension, the result being that these anti-travel individuals are hesitant to express their preferences in public settings.

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Intentionality and Apologism (or In Defense of Apologism)

I intend to make a simple point: Apologism isn’t bad. In fact, it’s necessary to correct for the human tendency to ascribe intentionality when it’s not there.

Psychological research has demonstrated that when there are morally bad* “side-effects” to a particular purposive (i.e. goal-directed) action taken by Person A, individuals ascribe those side-effects as being intended by Person A. When those side-effects are morally good, meanwhile, individuals generally believe that Person A did not intend the side effect.

*Morally bad in a very generic “murder = bad” sense.

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Extroversion Bias

What factors influence the people we gravitate towards in new situations? Are these factors the factors that ought to influence our social decisions?

If I’m in a social situation with several new people, I’m naturally going to gravitate towards that outwardly warm and bubbly one, the one who is more likely to talk and emote and carries the conversation. Most other people do this too. This isn’t surprising: When faced with a choice, people want to engage (consciously or subconsciously) in social situations that are low cost as opposed to high cost. An extroverted individual is easier to talk to; you don’t have to pry information out of them or worry about coming up with new strands of conversation. When meeting new people, there are a few factors to discriminate by and one of those factors is how extroverted an individual is. So, naturally, when introduced to new people, people will gravitate towards extroverts due to the lower cost of conversing with them.*
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Predictably Paternalistic

arielyWhen I had a class with Dan Ariely—author of the highly acclaimed Predictably Irrational—last semester he performed a dollar auction, where students could bid on a $20 bill. The highest bidder got the $20, but the second-highest bidder had to pay the second-highest bid. What generally results is a bidding war that goes above $20, causing both the highest and the second-highest bidder to lose money. Predictably, then, this led to an irrational escalation of the bids up to $30, at which point the two remaining bidders agreed to split the cost.

Now, the Freakonomics blog directs us to Swoopo, an auction website that takes full advantage of this behavioral economics insight:

“How can Swoopo, the online auction site, rake in $2,151 selling a laptop for $35.86? Easy: set an opening price of $0.01 (almost free!), then let each new bidder top the last by only a penny, and extend the auction each time someone places a bid in the final seconds. Oh, and collect $0.60 from each player for each bid they place. The winner of the auction might walk away with a good deal, but the losers will have racked up big fees chasing their sunk costs. The house always wins. Writer Mark Gimein calls the site “the evil bastard child of game theory and behavioral economics.”
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