Archive for January 23rd, 2011
I’ve previously linked to Wikipedia’s pages for memory biases and cognitive biases. But I’m linking to them again because these pages make great checklists for figuring out what went wrong (cognitively speaking) almost every time I listen to any of our political or religious leaders speaking. And might as well throw in this long list of fallacies for good measure. Many of these problems usually apply to anything you hear on the national stage.
BTW, I hear a lot of people (mostly academics) attacking Wikipedia, and I don’t understand the frustration. Wikipedia is an amazing free resource (and many other people acknowledge this, among them, many academics). Name any other single research tool that offers so much. And then consider that it is free for users.
The folks who made “Lazy Teenage Superheroes” had a lot of fun doing it, and they spent almost nothing. With an outlay of only $300, they filled the video with impressive special video effects, sound, music and humor. I read about this video at boingboing and truly enjoyed watching this 13-minute film. Watching this project made we want to know more about the people who made the video. Here’s the video website.
Before Galileo, and ever since Aristotle, many people believed that heavier objects fell faster than lighter objects. That might be true where air impedes light objects, such as feathers, but many people believed that even in the absence of air heavier objects always fell faster, and it was commonly assumed that, heavier cannonballs fall faster than light cannonballs, even in the absence of any scientific data. The beauty of the scientific method comes front and center in this simple experiment conducted on the surface of the moon by Apollo 15 astronaut Dave Scott.
One of my favorite books ever is Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior, by Geoffrey Miller (2009). I have lately been interested in trying to locate lower level personality differences that are predictive of political attitudes, and Miller offers such an analysis in chapter 9. To begin the chapter, Miller discusses “the central six,” which he defines as general intelligence plus five well-studied and robust personality traits (page 144):
Openness: “curiosity, novelty seeking, broad mindedness, interesting culture, ideas and aesthetics.”
Conscientiousness: “self-control, will power, reliability, consistency, dependability, trustworthiness, and the ability to delay gratification.”
Agreeableness: “warmth, kindness, sympathy, empathy, trust, compliance, modesty, benevolence, peacefulness.”
Stability: this applies mostly to emotional stability. It means “adaptability, equanimity, maturity, stress resistance.”
Extroversion “how friendly, gregarious, talkative, funny, expressive, assertive, active, excitement seeking, and socially self-confident one is.”
Miller spends several pages explaining how well accepted and well researched these five personality characteristics are. He explains (page 158) that people tend to like those whose personality traits are similar to their own. People who score high on openness prefer to “date, marry, befriend and work with high-openness others.”
Miller offers a minute test for determining what your scores are on the big five personality characteristics. I took this test a couple of years ago and retook it recently. I found that my scores had barely changed. Here’s the test.
What can you do with your test results? Lots of things. I found it tantalizing that one can use these characteristics to predict political attitudes. Here’s how Miller sums it up (page 169):
Liberals are only a little brighter than conservatives on average [in general intelligence], but they tend to show significantly higher openness (more interest in novelty and diversity), lower conscientiousness (less adherence to conventional social norms), and higher agreeableness (more widespread apathy and “bleeding hearts”). Conservatives show lower openness (more traditionalism and xenophobia), higher conscientiousness (family-values moralism, sense of duty, civic mindedness), and lower agreeableness (more hard-headed, hard-hearted support for their self interests and national interests). However, since this additional left-right political spectrum has only one dimension, and the central six has six dimensions it is more accurate to describe the complete range of human political attitudes using the central six. For example, the 1960s New Left was basically more open (freethinking) then the 1930s Old Left. Fascists can be seen as basically lower-intelligence conservatives with lower stability (more fear, distress, anxiety and neuroticism) and even lower agreeableness (more aggressive interest in warfare, torture and genocide). Libertarians can be viewed as basically higher intelligence liberals was slightly higher conscientiousness (faith in social reciprocity and the work ethic), lower agreeableness (this taste for conspicuous sympathy displays), and an extra dollop of extroversion (self-reliant insurgency).