CULTURE

David Rand: "How Do You Change People's Minds About What Is Right And Wrong?"

HeadCon '14
[11.18.14]

There are often future consequences for your current behavior. You can't just do whatever you want because if you are selfish now, it'll come back to bite you. In order for any of that to work, though, it relies on people caring about you being cooperative. There has to be a norm of cooperation. The important question then, in terms of trying to understand how we get people to cooperate and how we increase social welfare, is this: Where do these norms come from and how can they be changed? And since I spend all my time thinking about how to maximize social welfare, it also makes me stop and ask, "To what extent is the way that I am acting consistent with trying to maximize social welfare?"


[34:37 minutes]

DAVID RAND is Assistant Professor of Psychology, Economics, and Management at Yale University, and Director of Yale University’s Human Cooperation Laboratory. David Rand's Edge Bio page


HOW DO YOU CHANGE PEOPLE'S MINDS ABOUT WHAT IS RIGHT AND WRONG? 

I'm a professor of psychology, economics and management at Yale. The thing that I'm interested in, and that I spend pretty much all of my time thinking about, is cooperation—situations where people have the chance to help others at a cost to themselves. The questions that I'm interested in are how do we explain the fact that, by and large, people are quite cooperative, and even more importantly, what can we do to get people to be more cooperative, to be more willing to make sacrifices for the collective good?

There's been a lot of work on cooperation in different fields, and certain basic themes have emerged, what you might call mechanisms for promoting cooperation: ways that you can structure interactions so that people learn to cooperate. In general, if you imagine that most people in a group are doing the cooperative thing, paying costs to help the group as a whole, but there's some subset that's decided "Oh, we don't feel like it; we're just going to look out for ourselves," the selfish people will be better off. Then, either through an evolutionary process or an imitation process, that selfish behavior will spread.

SALT: Seminars About Long-term Thinking

[9.18.14]

 

It's the case that a lot of the SALT speakers are book authors, and sometimes we get them when they're on book tour. But usually I'm finding them because I want the same body of research and analysis that they’ve done at book scale. These are not tweets. They're not even TED Talks, brilliant as those are. Those are short form; these are the long form. For somebody to hold forth for the better part of an hour, whatever it is they have to say, they have to have mastered quite a bit.  


[31 minutes]

Introduction

Over the past few years on a nearly monthly basis, Stewart Brand gets on a stage in San Francsico to do a Q&A with an eclectic array of interesting speakers, ranging from world-famous bestselling authors to young researchers and thinkers still under the radar. "My job is curator," he says, "but also I find the people, I get in touch with them, I invite them; they're not getting paid. They do get visibility in a serious context and a fantastic audience. I give a Q&A with them on the stage and then I summarize, which for me is the hardest, in some ways most interesting part because when Steven Pinker or Elaine Pagels or Jared Diamond or whoever talks for an hour, how do you summarize what they said in a couple hundred words and send that out to everybody? It's a form of writing compression that is hard, but I think worth doing. People like it."

The summaries of the SALT Talks, emailed to the membership and then posted on the Long Now website, are a highlight of the program. Check them out, and watch the videos of the talks at the Long Now Seminar page.

Last month I sat down with Brand in San Francisco, at the new Interval Cafe near the Golden Gate Bridge, the latest addition to the many projects coming out of his Long Now Foundation. I was particularly eager to talk to him as it's coming up on the 50-year mark of our first meeting in 1965 at the USCO psychedlic/cybernetic tabernacle in a converted church in Garnerville, NY.  We've been in touch regularly ever since,  talking about ideas, working on an occasional project. It's always interesting.

John Brockman

STEWART BRAND is Founder of the The Whole Earth Catalog, Co-founder and Co-chair of The Long Now Foundation, author of Whole Earth Discipline.

Stewart Brand's Edge Bio Page


SALT: Seminars About Long-term Thinking

For 12 years now we've been doing monthly talks to the public called "Seminars About Long-term Thinking" that the Long Now Foundation sponsors in San Francisco. I don’t have a rap about the SALT Talks—Seminars for Long-term Thinking—this is one of those cases where the acronym rules. SALT talks are an ongoing territorial exploration of people who are talking, writing, thinking about things that bear relation—sometimes tangential—to long-term thinking, bearing in mind that the Long Now, as defined by Brian Eno and Peter Schwartz for the Long Now Foundation, is the last 10,000 years and the next 10,000 years. So we're building a 10,000 Year Clock, we’re bringing back extinct species, we’re cataloging all the languages in the world, and we're giving a pretty highly visible stage to current thinkers.

When Steven Pinker writes his book, The Better Angels of our Nature—the book is incredible, his news is fantastic, that things are getting better in terms of violence and cruelty and injustice in a pretty constant long-term way—everyone wants to hear him say it and tell it with words and presence and slides and quizzing on the stage. 

Simone Schnall: "Moral Intuitions, Replication, and the Scientific Study of Human Nature"

HeadCon '14
[11.18.14]

In the end, it's about admissible evidence and ultimately, we need to hold all scientific evidence to the same high standard. Right now we're using a lower standard for the replications involving negative findings when in fact this standard needs to be higher. To establish the absence of an effect is much more difficult than the presence of an effect.


[42:15]

SIMONE SCHNALL is a University Senior Lecturer and Director of the Cambridge Embodied Cognition and Emotion Laboratory at Cambridge University. Simone Schnall's Edge Bio Page

[NOTE: For my talk at HeadCon '14, I explored my personal experience with a replication project. In the talk, I shared some reflections on this experience, and on how replication efforts are currently carried out. In this regard, I was talking to a group of colleagues in my field who are mostly acquainted with the relevant scientific issues. Edge readers unfamiliar with some of the discussion points can find further details on what some have called "replication bullying" in an article in ScienceSS]


MORAL INTUITIONS, REPLICATION, AND THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF HUMAN NATURE

I'm Simone Schnall. I'm a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge and I study all kinds of judgments, namely how people make judgments about the physical world but also about the social world. One thing I'm particularly interested in is moral judgments and how people's intuitions and feelings shape their moral judgments. At the moment, the field of social psychology is an interesting context in which to study people's judgments. There are all kinds of discussions going on, in particular about replication.

What's a replication? It sounds simple enough. You do the same study again and you see if you get the same result again. But when it comes to social psychology it's a little more complicated because what we usually do is to test a specific question with various different experiments. For example we've done some work with Jon Haidt, Jerry Clore and Alex Jordan to look at the influence of physical disgust on moral disgust. For example, we induce physical disgust by a disgusting smell and then look at participant's moral judgment and we find it makes them more severe.

HeadCon '13 Part I - Sendhil Mullainathan: What Big Data Means For Social Science

Topic: 

  • CULTURE
http://vimeo.com/album/2587837/video/78359326

What Big Data Means For Social Science

Sendhil Mullainathan is Professor of Economics, Harvard; Assistant Director for Research, The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), U.S. Treasury Department (2011-2013); Coauthor, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.

Social Pain

[9.10.14]

Showing that some of the same neural regions that are involved in physical pain are involved in social pain can be very validating for people. For anyone who's felt the pain of losing somebody or who's felt the hurt feelings that come from being ostracized or bullied, there's something very validating in seeing this scientific work that shows it's not just in our head. It is in our head because it's in our brain. It's not just in our head, there is something biological going on that's interpreting the pain of social rejection as something that really is a painful experience. 

NAOMI EISENBERGER is a professor in the Social Psychology Program at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is director of the Social and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory as well as co-director of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory. Naomi Eisenberger's Edge Bio Page


SOCIAL PAIN

The kinds of questions that I'm interested in have to do with the feelings that come up in our closest social relationships. I've been on both sides of this equation, the negative side and the positive side. I've been very curious about both the painful feelings that we have when we lose our closest social relationships or we feel disconnected from others, as well as the pleasurable feelings that we have when we feel close and connected to those that we love. One of the things that we've been exploring in my Lab at UCLA is where those feelings come from. One way that we've been doing this is by turning to the brain to try to understand those feelings of social closeness or social distance.

We started off on the negative side. I started off with this question of: why do people talk about feeling hurt by social rejection? Why do they talk about the pain that comes up when they feel left out or excluded? It's a very palpable experience. Most people, if you ask them to think back to some very painful event in their life, instead of bringing up something that involves a broken bone they’ll often bring up an experience that involves losing a social relationship or being rejected. We all have these memories of being left out on the school playground or fears of being left out on the school playground. So I was very curious. Where do those fears and where do those feelings come from?

LATITUDES OF ACCEPTANCE

Topic: 

  • CULTURE
http://vimeo.com/103517412

I'll tell you about my new favorite idea, which like all new favorite ideas, is really an old idea. This one, from the 1960s, was used only in a couple of studies. It's called "latitude of acceptance". If I want to persuade you, what I need to do is pitch my arguments so that they're in the range of a bubble around your current belief; it's not too far from your current belief, but it's within this bubble.

Latitudes of Acceptance

[8.22.14]

I'll tell you about my new favorite idea, which like all new favorite ideas, is really an old idea. This one, from the 1960s, was used only in a couple of studies. It's called "latitude of acceptance." If I want to persuade you, what I need to do is pitch my arguments so that they're in the range of a bubble around your current belief; it's not too far from your current belief, but it's within this bubble. If your belief is that you're really, really anti-guns, let's say, and I want to move you a bit, if I come along and say, "here's the pro-gun position," you're actually going to move further away. Okay? It's outside the bubble of things that I can consider as reasonable.

We all have these latitudes around our beliefs, our values, our attitudes, which teams are ok to root for, and so on, and these bubbles move. They flex. When you're drunk, or when you've had a good meal, or when you're with people you care about versus strangers, these bubbles flex and move in different ways. Getting two groups to work together is about trying to get them to a place where their bubbles overlap, not their ideas, not their beliefs, but the bubbles that surround their ideas. Once you do that, you don't try to get them to go to the other position, you try to get them to see there's some common ground that you don't share, but that you think would not be a crazy position to hold.

MATTHEW D. LIEBERMAN is a professor of psychology at UCLA. He is the author of Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. Matthew D. Lieberman's Edge Bio Page


LATITUDES OF ACCEPTANCE

When people ask me what I’m interested in studying, the first thing I tell them is that I have Attention Deficit Disorder when it comes to science. They start out thinking that I have Attention Deficit Disorder, which I don't, but I do when it comes to science. I tend to have ideas that range all over the place, and even though I was told early in graduate school to study one thing and study it very, very deeply, that never really worked for me, and I was lucky enough that I didn't have to. 

My ideas tend to all focus on what we call loosely the "social brain." How is it that our brain evolved to make us social? How does it successfully make us social? What are its limitations? How does it lead to a context where we think we understand what's going on, but we're mistaken? That can lead to all sorts of interpersonal issues.

The Third Culture: The Frontline of Global Thinking

[7.1.14]

After years of fermentation, the third culture finally yielded superior results in the 1990s. In 1996, John Brockman, American author and founder of the famous knowledge platform Edge.org, published The Third Culture, a compilation of top scientists’ reflections on and explanations of the mysteries of life, formally declaring the arrival of the third culture...These emerging new scientists, combining scientific acuteness with literary sensitivity, intervene in those areas traditionally guarded by the humanities scholars. In the age of the third culture, scientists also want to explore the meaning of life and its ultimate secret. More and more scientists write for the general public. Their works embody literary science writing, distinctly exemplifying the spirits of the third-culture: the exploration of the eternal mysteries of life through scientific probing.

HONG-SHU TENG is Assistant Professor in the Department of English, National Taitung University, Taiwan. 

Hong-Shu Teng's Edge Bio Page


Following the trend of literary science writing, more and more scientists in the frontline of new thinking write for the general public. Their works embody the spirits of the third culture: probing the eternal mysteries of life through science.

THE THIRD CULTURE: THE FRONTLINE OF GLOBAL THINKING

In his new book The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses published on June 12, Harvard history/literature scholar Kevin Birmingham points out that it was syphilis that caused the modernist maestro’s decaying eyesight and paralysis. When Joyce’s fans celebrate Bloomsday on June 16 in memory of Ulysses, Birmingham’s work offers them an uneasy glimpse into the novelist’s dark life.

That Joyce probably had syphilis was nothing new, because it had been rumoured since the writer’s lifetime. Mainstream critics and biographers largely ignore it perhaps because it suggests celebrity gossip.

Birmingham found from Joyce’s 1928 letters that the novelist received unusual injections made of arsenic and phosphorus compound. He further found that, at the time, there was only one little-known medication called Galyl that went with the description—a prescription specifically for syphilis patients.

Medical knowledge leads this history/literature scholar to present irrefutable proof to solve a mystery whose key lies beyond the reach of literature scholars. The case is arguably closed.

Writing In The 21st Century

[6.9.14]

What are the arts but products of the human mind which resonate with our aesthetic and emotional faculties? What are social issues, but ways in which humans try to coordinate their behavior and come to working arrangements that benefit everyone? There's no aspect of life that cannot be illuminated by a better understanding of the mind from scientific psychology. And for me the most recent example is the process of writing itself. 


(37 minutes)

Introduction

Psychologist Steven Pinker's 1994 book The Language Instinct discussed all aspects of language in a unified, Darwinian framework, and in his next book, How The Mind Works he did the same for the rest of the mind, explaining "what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and ponder the mysteries of life."

He has written four more consequential books: Words and Rules (1999), The Blank Slate (2002), The Stuff of Thought (2007), and The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011)The evolution in his thinking, and the expansion of his range, the depth of his vision, are evident in his contributions on many important issues on these pages over the years: "A Biological Understanding of Human Nature," "The Science of Gender and Science," "A Preface to Dangerous Ideas," "Language and Human Nature," "A History of Violence," "The False Allure of Group Selection," "Napoleon Chagnon: Blood Is Their Argument," and "Science Is Not Your Enemy." In addition to his many honors, he is the Edge Question Laureate, having suggested three of Edge's Annual Questions: "What Is Your Dangerous Idea?"; What Is Your Favorite Deep, Elegant, Or Beautiful Explanation?"; and "What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody's Cognitive Toolkit?". He is a consummate third culture intellectual.

In the conversation below, Pinker begins by stating his belief that "science can inform all aspects of life, particularly psychology, my own favorite science. Psychology looks in one direction to biology, to neuroscience, to genetics, to evolution. And it looks in another direction to the rest of intellectual and cultural life—because what are the arts but products of the human mind which resonate with our aesthetic and emotional faculties? What are social issues but ways in which humans try to coordinate their behavior and come to working arrangements that benefit everyone? There's no aspect of life that cannot be illuminated by a better understanding of the mind from scientific psychology. And for me the most recent example is the process of writing itself."...

John Brockman

STEVEN PINKER is the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. He is the author of ten books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and The Sense of Style (September). Steven Pinker's Edge Bio page


WRITING IN THE 21ST CENTURY

I believe that science can inform all aspects of life, particularly psychology, my own favorite science. Psychology looks in one direction to biology, to neuroscience, to genetics, to evolution. And it looks in another direction to the rest of intellectual and cultural life—because what are the arts but products of the human mind which resonate with our aesthetic and emotional faculties? What are social issues but ways in which humans try to coordinate their behavior and come to working arrangements that benefit everyone? There's no aspect of life that cannot be illuminated by a better understanding of the mind from scientific psychology. And for me the most recent example is the process of writing itself. 

I'm a psychologist who studies language—a psycholinguist—and I'm also someone who uses language in my books and articles to convey ideas about, among other things, the science of language itself. But also, ideas about war and peace and emotion and cognition and human nature. The question I'm currently asking myself is how our scientific understanding of language can be put into practice to improve the way that we communicate anything, including science?

In particular, can you use linguistics, cognitive science, and psycholinguistics to come up with a better style manual—a 21st century alternative to the classic guides like Strunk and White's The Elements of Style?

Writing is inherently a topic in psychology. It's a way that one mind can cause ideas to happen in another mind. The medium by which we share complex ideas, namely language, has been studied intensively for more than half a century. And so if all that work is of any use it ought to be of use in crafting more stylish and transparent prose. 

Expanded Curation

Topic: 

  • CULTURE
http://vimeo.com/92851589

One of the things that Julia Peyton-Jones and I try to do with the Serpentine Gallery Marathons, on which we've collaborated with Edge many times, is to provide a format that isn't like a normal conference: it takes place over 24 or 48 hours. And it happens in the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, so this creates a connection between art and architecture. And then one connects to all the other disciplines through the invited speakers. It's a kind of knowledge festival. The marathon is a hybrid.

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