MonthSeptember 2010

Westerners vs. the World: We are the WEIRD ones

Joseph Heinrich conducts behavioural economics experiments in the countryside of southern Chile

The article, titled “The weirdest people in the world?”, appears in the current issue of the journal Brain and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Henrich and co-authors Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayan argue that life-long members of societies that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic — people who are WEIRD — see the world in ways that are alien from the rest of the human family. The UBC trio have come to the controversial conclusion that, say, the Machiguenga are not psychological outliers among humanity. We are. […]

Others punish participants perceived as too altruistic in co-operation games, but very few in the English-speaking West would ever dream of penalizing the generous. Westerners tend to group objects based on resemblance (notebooks and magazines go together, for example) while Chinese test subjects prefer function (grouping, say, a notebook with a pencil). Privileged Westerners, uniquely, define themselves by their personal characteristics as opposed to their roles in society. […]

The paper argues that either many studies’ conclusions have to be retested on non-WEIRD cultural groups — a daunting proposition in terms of resources — or they must be understood to offer insight only into the minds of rich, educated Westerners.

National Post: Westerners vs. the World: We are the WEIRD ones

(via Josh)

Update: That link is dead, but here’s a PDF of the article

Also: Here’s a PDF of the paper.

Chief of International Pedophilia Ring Blames Nazism on Atheism

The Pope

I know the whole world is abuzz about this, but I’m gonna have my say anyway. Pope Benedict XVI (formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) said:

Even in our own lifetimes we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live.

“As we reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny.

BBC: Row after Pope’s remarks on atheism and Nazis

(via David Forbes)

The Beeb piece mentions that Ratzinger was in the Nazi Youth when he was a teenage – a point I don’t think is terribly relevant. It fails to mention:

1. Adolf Hitler was a member of the Catholic Church until his death (and for the occultniks and conspiracy analysts out there: even what Nazi Mysticism there is evidence for had an expressly Christian element.

2. Ratzinger conspired to cover-up the activities of his global child rape gang.

3. The Catholic Church’s relative silence on the matter of the holocaust while it was occurring.

So what’s the bigger threat to the world? Atheism or Catholicism? (If the Pope really wanted to make a point about atheism, he could have invoked the suppression of religion in Soviet Russia).

This sort of thing drives me bonkers – as innocent people were being sent to prison as part of the Satanic Panic, priests and Boy Scouts masters were actually out raping children and covering it up. And this creep has the gall to blame one of the worst genocides in history – one that was carried out in the name of Christianity! – on atheism?

Are Distractible People More Creative?

Focus of Attention

Consider a recent study by neuroscientists at Harvard and the University of Toronto that documents the benefits of all these extra thoughts. (It was replicated here.) The researchers began by giving a sensory test to a hundred undergraduates at Harvard. The tests were designed to measure their level of latent inhibition, which is the capacity to ignore stimuli that seem irrelevant. Are you able to not think about the air-conditioner humming in the background? What about the roar of the airplane overhead? When you’re at a cocktail party, can you tune out the conversations of other people? If so, you’re practicing latent inhibition. While this skill is typically seen as an essential component of attention – it keeps us from getting distracted by extraneous perceptions – it turns out that people with low latent inhibition have a much richer mixture of thoughts in working memory. This shouldn’t be too surprising: Because they struggle to filter the world, they end up letting everything in. As a result, their consciousness is flooded with seemingly unrelated thoughts. Here’s where the data gets interesting: Those students who were classified as “eminent creative achievers” – the rankings were based on their performance on various tests, as well as their real world accomplishments – were seven times more likely to “suffer” from low latent inhibition. This makes some sense: The association between creativity and open-mindedness has long been recognized, and what’s more open-minded than distractability? People with low latent inhibition are literally unable to close their mind, to keep the spotlight of attention from drifting off to the far corners of the stage. The end result is that they can’t help but consider the unexpected.

Wired: Are Distractible People More Creative?

See also: The Attention-Allocation Deficit

Photo by Hartwig HKD

The Atlantic Profitable Again, Considering Apps for Individual Writers

The Atlantic

The Atlantic is probably my favorite right now, glad to hear it’s doing well. Highlights from Daily Finance’s article:

The magazine is on pace to be profitable this year for the first time in many years, according to Justin Smith, the company’s president (pictured). The growth is coming from both print and digital: November figures to be the single biggest month for advertising revenue in the publication’s history, and Smith projects a year-over-year increase for 2010 of 45%. “We’ve been really fortunate to come out of the recession in a strong position,” he says. […]

Somewhat notoriously, Apple has so far refused to allow most publishers to sell subscriptions directly to consumers via the iTunes store, insisting on handling all the transactions — and keeping the valuable information they generate — itself. To get around this roadblock, the Atlantic employed a vendor called Urban Airship, which allowed it to offer a reasonable facsimile of a subscription, including renewal notices and choices of multiple subscription terms. […]

Other apps are still on the drawing board, but one avenue being considered is to offer mini-apps that give access to the output of individual writers, such as Andrew Sullivan, whose Daily Dish blog continues to be the Atlantic’s biggest traffic draw.

Daily Finance: Behind Atlantic Media’s Growth: A Return to Profits at The Atlantic

Amazing Fake Polish Movie Posters

Polish Star Trek poster

Polish Crank

Something Awful had a Polish movie poster contest – every entry they presented is amazing.

(via Boing Boing)

If you want to get a look at the real thing:

Polish Poster Shop

Pigasus Polish Poster Gallery

A Grey Space Poster Gallery

Makes me want to move to Poland!

William Gibson Interview on Dangerous Minds

A Discussion with William Gibson from DANGEROUS MINDS on Vimeo.

The other night in Portland, Gibson said Twitter was the equivalent of only $300 worth of imported magazines – guess the value has already inflated.

I thought Richard’s comment about how there may never be another LOST was interesting.

See also:

i09’s interview with Gibson

My interview with Richard at Mediapunk.

The Fast and the Flashy at Burning Man Ultramarathon

Burning Man ultramarathon

With outfits ranging from skimpy to salacious, some 30 bleary-eyed runners completed the first-ever Burning Man Ultramarathon, proving that arid weather and late-night parties weren’t enough to derail even the most dedicated Burner athletes from slogging 30 miles through sand, sun and dust.

After months of planning, organizer Cherie Yanek and 36 other competitors kicked off the race at 5 am on September 1. Temperatures hovered around 50 degrees and onlookers included party-goers who hadn’t yet called it a night. There were no dust storms — a frequent concern during the annual gathering at Black Rock City — though temperatures did climb roughly 40 degrees by the time the final runner crossed the finish line shortly after 12:30 pm.

Wired: The Fast and the Flashy at Burning Man Ultramarathon

Russia Building Its Own Particle Accelerator

Collider

Russia is building its own particle accelerator:

The project, nicknamed NIKA and due to be launched in 2016, may reproduce “Big Bang” conditions that gave birth to our Universe and provide ideas of how the Solar system formed.

While Geneva is seeking to discover the smallest known particles, NIKA scientists aim to study the process of these particles’ appearance several billion years ago, which will probably help the mankind unlock some riddles of the Universe.

The Voice of Russia: Russia to build its own collider

(via VBS)

The Politics of Sacrifice

Thomas Friedman, who I usually disagree with but do occasionally find interesting, has this to say in his NYT column:

Contrast that with the Baby Boomer Generation. Our big problems are unfolding incrementally — the decline in U.S. education, competitiveness and infrastructure, as well as oil addiction and climate change. Our generation’s leaders never dare utter the word “sacrifice.” All solutions must be painless. Which drug would you like? A stimulus from Democrats or a tax cut from Republicans? A national energy policy? Too hard. For a decade we sent our best minds not to make computer chips in Silicon Valley but to make poker chips on Wall Street, while telling ourselves we could have the American dream — a home — without saving and investing, for nothing down and nothing to pay for two years. Our leadership message to the world (except for our brave soldiers): “After you.”

So much of today’s debate between the two parties, notes David Rothkopf, a Carnegie Endowment visiting scholar, “is about assigning blame rather than assuming responsibility. It’s a contest to see who can give away more at precisely the time they should be asking more of the American people.”

Rothkopf and I agreed that we would get excited about U.S. politics when our national debate is between Democrats and Republicans who start by acknowledging that we can’t cut deficits without both tax increases and spending cuts — and then debate which ones and when — who acknowledge that we can’t compete unless we demand more of our students — and then debate longer school days versus school years — who acknowledge that bad parents who don’t read to their kids and do indulge them with video games are as responsible for poor test scores as bad teachers — and debate what to do about that.

New York Times: We’re No. 1(1)!

His argument appeals to me because even though I don’t want to understate the role of government and big business in the world’s problems at large (and the US’s economic decline in particular), I also don’t want to let the populace off the hook. There’s a great deal of blame to be placed on the unwashed masses who took out loans they should have known they wouldn’t be able to pay back, or are protesting policies designed to help them get better health care and repair their roads and improve their schools.

However – what’s the underlying cause of the debt crisis? Certainly Americans buy a lot of crap we don’t need, and on credit too. But consider:

The decline in real wages in the US
-Obama only proposes to raise taxes on those making over $250,000 a year
-The bailout, at tax payer expense, bailed out the wealthy
The wealthy routinely avoid paying taxes
-That 23% of the federal budget goes to defense spending (much of which goes to unaccountable private firms)

Who should we be asking to make some sacrifices?

See also:

A Tax Cut Republicans Don’t Like

Taxes and the Rich, take two

Charlie Stross on Future Shock and Religious Tolerance

Future Shock

It’s about forty years since “Future Shock” was published, and it seems to have withstood the test of time. More to the point, the Tofflers’ predictions for how the symptoms would be manifest appear to be roughly on target. They predicted a growth of cults and religious fundamentalism; rejection of modernism: irrational authoritarianism: and widespread insecurity. They didn’t nail the other great source of insecurity today, the hollowing-out of state infrastructure and externally imposed asset-stripping in the name of economic orthodoxy that Naomi Klein highlighted in The Shock Doctrine, but to the extent that Friedmanite disaster capitalism can be seen as a predatory corporate response to massive political and economic change, I’m inclined to put disaster capitalism down as being another facet of the same problem. (And it looks as if the UK and USA are finally on the receiving end of disaster capitalism at home, in the post-2008 banking crisis era.) […]

I’m going to give it a qualified thumbs-up, for now. Thumbs-up, because religious intolerance is clearly not the answer — but a qualified thumbs-up because I don’t believe we should give a free pass to all religious doctrines in the name of tolerance. Some beliefs can kill, when they are translated into action. They can kill directly, as when the Taliban stones women to death for adultery, or they can kill indirectly, as in the Catholic Church’s opposition to the use of condoms (which makes it harder to prevent the spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, where the disease holocaust is killing two million people a year). We should, in my view, not seek to accommodate those religious doctrines that would impose restrictions on people — especially non-co-religionists — through the force of law. (If you’re a Hassidic Jew and don’t want to eat pork products, that’s fine; campaigning to ban pork products from sale to anyone at all: not so fine. And so on.)

But ultimately, religious doctrines aren’t the source of today’s social problems. The taproots run deeper, and religious extremism is only one manifestation of the underlying problem: widespread future shock. And I’ve got no easy answer to how to deal with it, unless it is to apply a little humanity to our fellow sufferers when we meet them.

Charlie Stross: A working hypothesis

(via Grinding)

Is future shock to blame for the rise of radical strains of Islam over the past couple-few decades? Putting it to the Popper test: what would disprove this hypothesis?

See also:

Future Shock documentary narrated by Orson Welles.

William Gibson on future fatigue

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