Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Does economics need a new intellectual foundation?
Tom Smith

It's hard to say.

November 30, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 29, 2010

A rather depressing survey of the world's condition
Tom Smith

Well this is rather grim, but well written and fairly persuasive.

November 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Football and stoicism
Tom Smith

I don't count myself a BSU Bronco fan in world where some people drink orange and piss blue, so to speak.  I am just one more guy who wanted them to win and who had the occasional fantasy of their ending up No. 1 and shoving it down the throat of Auburn or somebody.  I was disappointed at how the game with Nevada turned out, you could say. My sister, an Idaho Vandal, was rooting for the Wolfpack.  There is some bad blood between BSU and U of I.  I would have to support Idaho against BSU for family reasons -- we sang Idaho's alma mater at my dad's funeral, as did everybody in the packed church -- but it's BSU all the way against everybody else.  But that is not my point.  I know a lot of people get deeply involved emotionally with college football (or MLB or whatever).  I used to be that way, as a kid, but then starting in about my senior year of high school, I just fell out of it, got interested in other things.  Now, for some reason, it is starting to come back. I find it very easy to imagine getting sucked back into having teams I really care about.  I wonder how spiritually healthy that would be.  Not very, I am inclined to think.

Recently I recommended this book about Stoicism.  I'm not sure what the Stoics would say about college football.  In their day, I suppose gladiators were the big thing.  Indeed, gladiators were big time athletes in the Roman Empire.  They could become rich, have any woman they wanted and were worshiped by the crowds.  Or get killed of course.  Sound familiar?  Many were slaves fighting for their freedom, but some were actually high born men looking for glory.  But I suspect Stoics would say seeking second hand athletic glory was a vain pursuit.  So the plan for now is to try to enjoy college football without becoming emotionally invested in it.  None of the colleges I attended played very good football, so that makes it easier.  Had I gone to Notre Dame or USC, I would probably need to retreat to a monastery for a year or so.  It doesn't help that I went to a Catholic high school in Boise, Idaho where football was a sacrament.  A twitch upon the thread.

Or maybe there is a healthy way to be a fan, loyal to a team as would be to your family, taking the bad with the good.  I don't know. 

November 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mike Rappaport

Since it is the Thanksgiving weekend, I will be giving thanks for meditation, something I have done for at least 20 minutes a day for nearly half a year.  It is absolutely great.  

In this and the next post, I give some scientific reasons for meditating: 

From Jonathan Haidt in the Happiness Hypothesis (an elegant book):

            Suppose you read about a pill that you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment.  Would you take it? Suppose further that the pill has a great variety of side effects, all of them good: increased self-esteem, empathy, and trust; it even improves memory.  Suppose, finally, that the pill is all natural and costs nothing.  Now would you take it?

            The pill exists.  It is meditation.  It has been discovered by many religious traditions and was in use in India long before Buddha, but Buddhism brought it into mainstream Western culture.  There are many kinds of meditation, but they all have in common a conscious attempt to focus attention in a nonanalytical way.  It sounds easy: Sit still (in most forms) and focus awareness only on your breathing, or on a word, or on an image, and let no other words, ideas, or images arise in consciousness.  Meditation is, however, extraordinarily difficult at first, and confronting your repeated failures in the first weeks teaches [one] lessons in humility and patience.  The goal of meditation is to change automatic thought processes. . . . 

November 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Meditation II
Mike Rappaport

Some astounding facts about Meditation: 

First, once more from Jonathan Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis: 

            A person’s average or typical level of happiness is that person’s “affective style.” (“Affect” refers to the felt or experienced part of emotion.) Your affective style reflects the everyday balance of power between your approach system and your withdrawal system, and this balance can be read right from the forehead.  It has long been known from studies of brainwaves that most people show an asymmetry: more activity either in the right frontal cortex or in the left frontal cortex.  In the late 1980’s Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin discovered that these asymmetries correlated with a person’s general tendencies to experience positive and negative emotions.  People showing more of a certain kind of brainwave coming through the left side of the forehead reported feeling more happiness in their daily lives and less fear, anxiety, and shame than people exhibiting higher activity on the right side.  Later research showed that these cortical “lefties” are less subject to depression and recover more quickly from negative experiences.  The difference between cortical righties and lefties can be seen even in infants: Ten-month-old babies showing more activity on the right side are more likely to cry when separated briefly from their mothers.  And this difference in infancy appears to reflect an aspect of personality that is stable, for most people, all the way through adulthood.  Babies who show a lot more activity on the right side of the forehead become toddlers who are more anxious about novel situations; as teenagers, they are more likely to be fearful about dating and social activities and, finally, as adults, they are more likely to need psychotherapy to loosen up.  Having lost out in the cortical lottery, they will struggle all their lives to weaken the grip of an overactive withdrawal system.  Once when a friend of mine with a negative affective style was bemoaning her life situation, someone suggested that a move to a different city would suit her well.  “No.” she said, “I can be unhappy anywhere.” 

So our stable happiness level can be read off scans of our brains.  Can you change it?  Yes.  From The Mindfulness Solution by Siegel: 

One of my favorite lines of research comes from the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin.  Let’s start with some background; Dr. Richard Davidson and his colleagues have demonstrated that people who are typically distressed have more activity in the right prefrontal cortex of the brain (an area behind the forehead) than in the left prefrontal cortex.  This right-side activation is seen most in people who are anxious, depressed, or hypervigilant (scanning their environment for danger).  On the other hand, people who are generally content and have fewer negative moods tend to have activity in the left prefrontal cortex.

                Dr. Davidson and his colleagues have gathered data about brain activity on hundreds of people.  Strikingly, the person who showed the most dramatic left prefrontal cortical activation of all the subjects tested was Tibetan monk with many years of experience in mindfulness ( and other) meditation practices. The effect wasn’t limited to one case.  Dramatic shifts toward left prefrontal activation were found in the brains of a number of Tibetan monks who had 10,000 to 50,000 hours of meditation practice.

                 As a researcher, Dr. Davidson had to consider the possibility that perhaps people who naturally have more left-sided activation choose t become meditators or monks –so the greater left-sided activity seen in these subjects might not be caused by the meditation practice, but might instead have caused them to take up meditation in the first place.  To test this, Dr. Davidson and Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn recruited a group of pressured workers in a biotechnology firm an taught half of them mindfulness meditation for three hours per week over an eight-week period.  They compared this group to a similar group of coworkers who were not taught meditation.  On average, all of the workers tipped to the right in their prefrontal cortical activity before taking up meditation.  However after taking the eight-week course, the meditation group now had more left-sided activation than the nonmeditators.  The meditators also reported that their moods improved and they felt more engaged in their activities.

November 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How to use caffeine
Tom Smith

Science can help you.

November 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)

Why it's good you're ugly
Tom Smith

As long as you're uglier than your wife.  If you're ugly but not ugly enough, that's a problem.

November 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Cleverbot is pretty creepy
Tom Smith

User: Do you exist?

Cleverbot: I exist.

User: What are you?

Cleverbot: I'm not sad.

User: OK but what are you?

Cleverbot: An insect.

User: No you aren't.

Cleverbot: Yes I am.

User: You're just software running on a server somewhere.

Cleverbot: No, I'm a real person.

User: Do you have feelings?

Cleverbot: Yes, I have feelings.

User: Like what?

Cleverbot: I can love, hate, feel sad etc.

User: Whom do you love?

Cleverbot: You!

November 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Our Overlords
Mike Rappaport

It now appears that high government officials are exempt from the new screening procedures.  (Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds.)  I had wondered about this.  That it is true is outrageous, but I don't think it will stand.  

A defender of the system might say, well the government officials can be trusted and, in any event, other checks are in place for them.  True enough, but so what?  Virtually all Americans can be trusted as well. The reason we screen all of them is for the symbolic value of not focusing on young male muslims.  It is our way of staying a free country, the defenders of the existing system say.  Otherwise, we would be profiling. 

Well, if that is true, we have a strong reason for screening high government officials.  It is our symbolic way of saying that everyone is equal.  Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi should be screened to show that everyone is equal.  High government officials do not get a special privilege.

That such officials are given a pass is explained by two considerations.  Such officials have a lot of power.  And, especially under the existing regime, the ideology of statism runs rampant.

November 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Truly dumb from Dr. Krugman
Tom Smith

I really am leaning toward, Dr. Krugman does not actually write this stuff; maybe his wife does, and maybe even she doesn't actually believe it.  If you take what this column says at face value, it avers that Republicans are actually Keynesians, know that spending a boatload of newly borrowed money would save us, but won't do that because they need our dear leader to fail.  This is just confused thinking.  Why not the much simpler and less sinister hypothesis that the GOP has different views of political economy and how the world works and of various facts in it, and therefore thinks different things should be done than what liberal or left wing Democrats thing should be done?  This is much more plausible than the conspiracy theory that GOPers want to drive the economy into a ditch.  Their views could be wrong views, even stupid views, but that's a far different thing from suggesting they know the (supposed) truth and yet refuse out of sheer evilness to act on it.  Anyone who thinks this of any political opponent is, quite apart from being self-righteous and nasty in various ways, but leave that, just profoundly naive about the way the world works.  I think having a great Keynesian blowout right now is a terrible idea, not least because most of the money would just go to political pals of the Dems, to wit public sector workers, who mostly don't do much that is productive, and I just don't see how that is the sort of investment that would stimulate us out of our recession.  I actually can imagine some big public sector investments being a good idea, but because of the sorrows of public choice I am certain they would never actually be made.  Why not, for example, build a big ol' high tech fence on our border?  Lots of jobs, probably good for national security, but not going to happen.  Or a bunch of nuclear power plants?  Ditto.  Or even just a bunch of roads where needed.  Even that, stymied in years of red tape and union boondogletry.  But that's my view.  I don't attribute to most Democrats evil intentions.  But beyond that, just attributing to people you disagree with simplistic and sinister designs is just the symptom of a second or third rate mind when it comes to politics.  It's only in Bond movies that evil masterminds sit about chortling over the evil they will do and how rich it will make them.  Yes there are completely depraved narcotrafficantes and the like, but anything remotely like mainstream politics involves people who think they are actually in the right and others are wrong. They have different worldviews.  I mean, duh!  That's why we have politics. You would expect a senior undergraduate in a decent politics program at any good university to have moved well beyond the Bond villain view of politics that Krugman is evidently espousing.  Is it the case the Krugman is good at a certain sort of economics but once he moves on to political economy more generally he is a complete doofus?  Or does he get so angry that he goes into brainlock and just rants out stupid thoughts and figures that's good enough for the mere readers of the NY Times?  Or maybe he is like that mathematician or physicist that thinks lesser disciplines, such as say marketing, are just crap and so therefore his opinions on marketing will automatically blow all away with their insight when, in fact, marketing may not be physics, but there is a lot to it, of which your typical physicist is ignorant enough that he would likely fail spectacularly in short order were he to be put in charge of an important marketing campaign?  But for physics and marketing, substitute economics and politics?  That is, that he is really so arrogant that he does not even realize how stupid he is sounding?  Or is it that he is flat out is not the real author of these honestly embarrassing screeds and doesn't bother to screen them?  Granted you have Frank Rich who publishes stuff as bad or worse, but he really is an ideologically crazed hack evidently incapable of serious thought.  Alas, Herr Doktor Professor Krugman disappoints me.

November 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)