Thursday, April 2, 2015

Is Agency and stupidity the source of most problems?

I think yes.

Stupidity combined with agency (when others decide for you), are the source of most problems that can be solved but are not.

Agency is very central in modern life. So many things are managed by others (add government....), and other things are honestly beyond our ability to do alone (doctors)

Stupidity alone can be solved via the help of others. we do not know the physics of car engine, the intricacies of computers etc. Yet we get them done by others.
But agency means that those others can take advantage of our stupidity. The mortgage salesmen knows we cannot pay such a huge mortgage yet sells it, the real estate guy persuades us for a bigger house etc.

Without stupidity, agency would not be so pernicious, because we would spot it much sooner. and will be harder to fool.

Yet combined they are the source of most public problems. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

An imaginary "brain myth" of using 10% of our brain

The statement of "we are using just 10% of our brain" is commonly portrayed as a stupid myth.

But much of those arguments are untrue, or at least very misleading.

Ok. If anyone was dumb enough to see the brain as a football field, and the 10% meaning that the mind is dribbling in the last 10 yard, then yes this is stupid and definitely untrue.
The common meaning of the 10% is that we use a small part of our potential. Which is definitely true.
Most of us can learn endless skills, and might be able to mange life vastly better. The exact extent to which this is practical and doable is a huge unknown. But we can all learn to dive, play football, type blindly, and some music . We do not. But there is definitely potential.

What can we learn from this "skeptics" debacle?

1) It is very hard to debunk something without at least trying to think what it means, and pretend for a minute that you beleive it. Otherwise, you debunk something else....
2) Mixing absence of evidence and evidence of absence. There is definitely no precise evidence that we use 10% of our brain potential. But this is very far from a proof that this is not true.
3) Measurement addiction is risky. When failed debunkers attacked the 10% idea, they imagined the meaning is literal as the 10% implies. But this is an error. 10% used is not about measurable space used or blood flowing in the brain. In fact, we might use *more* of our brain when we do not think (the so called "default network" in the brain is a quite active beast).

4) Not everything can be proven vs disproved. Some ideas are just not lying down to your preffered procrustean bed to be handled. Which is fine. Of course something that has not shown clear evidence or which cannot be tested easily is not a proven fact. But it is neither a "myth" to be "disproved" with illogical arguments.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Experiencing the effects of small actions

The process of experiencing the outcome (and the decision) as well as judging it and getting this visceral experience of "this was right/good" and its accompanying jolt of pleasure.

This process is costly and can annul or even contradict the emotional effects of the original action.

When the original action (say relaxing, paying pleasantly attention to a lick of ice cream etc.), is done for emotional effect, the emotional hubhub of the second order process of judging it, looking at it even, can be contradictory. Especially for small actions.

Avoiding such second order effects can be very useful.

PS. Mindfulness, letting go etc. Might partly want to get there.

Also, getting to this avoidance of second orders might not work forcefully, as forcing thought processes can cause contrary effects, as Daniel Wegner shows. That might be why meditation teachers say "gently"

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

wage gap and randomness

Without familiarity with the literature, here is an idea.

SUppose that time on the job market improves wages, not directly but opportunistically, via the randomness of jobs.

The worker meets randomly with opportunities to improve his wage (in multiple ways). Naturally, it is not totally random, because he employs selection to perpetuate anything to his advantage.

This will give a unique longevity premium that might not be captured by common stats of tenure length etc. (for example, this does not need to have tenure on a specific job, or even acquired expertise, just perpetuating whatever advantage comes by rnadomly!)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Goodness clashes with effective help

My experience is that having empathy and heartfelt willingness to help is usually not coming with an economic numerical attitude you the help efficiency. Sometimes even any efficiency thoughts seems sacrosanct to the good person.

Which is why so many humanitarian efforts are useless.

Which is why the good people are so objecting to include the incentive effects (and moral hazard) of social plans.

Absurdly, the current social budgets are over enough for what efficient plans will need. But never enough for wasteful inefficient plans.

It is quite possible that the sum of all current pro climate policies are way more costly than a carbon tax, while having near zero effectiveness!

Why good people don't like the math of effectiveness.

1) good people are the more emotional folks. They might by their nature be less inclined to engage in utilitarian math etc.

2) doing math when the heart is involved feels sacrosanct. Even if effective policies will help many more people, it is emotionally more comfortable to "be emotional"

3) a political effect?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Doing it right is least optimal!

This surprising fact is almost forced logically....

For most things in life we have decreasing marginal utility, that is the more we use, the less valuable it is (the last bite of the icecream is vastly less exciting than the first one etc.)

Similarly, most processes also have diminishing marginal U. Most benefit from exercise is by doing the first little bit (not being sedentary). Ten minutes of social interaction give the most benefit of not feeling lonely, while the rest is nearly useless.

Now to my toothbrushing that made me realize this point.
The "right way" to brush is clearly to twice daily, 3 minutes brushing + floss.

But if I brush once a week for one minute, the effect of this brushing will be five times stronger than the last minute of my seventh day brush. Because this superficial weekly one will remove most dir in a minute, while the effect of every minute in "doing it right" is much lower.

The idea is that the more throughout and "right" you do something, the lower the value of each point of time used.

Now brushing? the second minute per week will still be hugely valuable, even if much less than the first minute. and so on. But the twice daily 3 minutes will have the lowest per minute effect.

Ouch, for "doing it right"

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Going big: The wise, and the teenager version

Big can be about optimality, OR about excitement, story etc. 

first is optimal, second is usually delusional.

Big is optimal. whacking is at once may do it forever. making a million at once can help you retire (if you are smart) and so on.

yet, big is also about a story. it is something that holds on to our imagination. This story element, this excitement - unless it helps doing smart stuff - is foolish.