Archive for the ‘psychology’ Category

I’m pretty sceptical about our ability to understand something by way of empirical testing in things like medicine, nutrition and economics because it is extremely difficult to isolate the variable you are measuring. And then you’re often forced to engage in some heroic extrapolation to apply it to the problem you’re trying to solve. In fact, I think that much macroeconomics, at least when it is based on this process, is bunk.

So this bring me to an article in the NYT about organic food

One of the things that I mistrust about the organic food market is that it is exclusively based on intuition and branding:

The modern organic movement in the United States was started by a handful of counterculture farmers looking to grow food using methods that they believed were better for the land and produced healthier food. It was a culture built on purity and trust that emphasized the relationship between the farmer and the customer.

You haven’t gotten rid of this kind of risk:

Although the rules governing organic food require health inspections and pest-management plans, organic certification technically has nothing to do with food safety.


Organics has grown from an $11 billion business in the United States in 2001 to one that now generates more than $20 billion in sales, so the stakes for farmers, processors and certifiers can be high. But the agency overseeing the certifying process has long been considered underfunded and understaffed. Critics have called the system dysfunctional.

All this sidesteps the main issue I have with organic food, which is this:

What reason do I have to believe it’s any different than non-organic food? Because it’s “natural”? What on earth makes me think that “natural” is somehow good? We “naturally” don’t have vaccines or antibiotics or life expectancies north of 30ish.


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Happy People

Great article in the NYT a few days ago about how unhappy people watch television more often than happy people:

Although people who describe themselves as happy enjoy watching television,
it turns out to be the single activity they engage in less often than unhappy

What a fascinating thing. What makes TV different from other activities? I always feel like garbage after watching a load of TV. Maybe it has something to do with the difference between being passively entertained and actually pursuing real satisfaction. Do people need to be doing something to feel happy?

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I read a book a few years ago that postulated that birth order and family dynamics are the most powerful forces affecting creativity.

The gist of the argument is that siblings compete with each other for their parents’ attention and can only get sufficient attention by doing something that the other siblings aren’t doing. If the eldest becomes an astrophysicist and her parents are really proud of it, the youger will have always found himself not quite as good at astrophysics growing up (even if it’s just a matter of being younger and so further down the maturation curve). So he’s more likely to be a writer or a lawyer or cage fighter.

The more different the kids’ activities, the more unique attention each gets. Because the older kids do the “easy” things for attention (do well in school, get a stable job, etc), those routes are closed off and the youngsters need to be creative.

The book uses the example of Charles Darwin, who was the lastborn kid of lastborn parents. (The premise being that the effect is enhanced through the generations and not cancelled out – so if a grandparent became a politician, his firstborn become politicians and laterborn become cage fighters, then wouldn’t the cage fighters’ firstborn become cage fighters and laterborn become politicians?). Darwin’s accomplishments are noted for being particularly striking because the evidence for his ideas was available for everyone to see. Indeed, the book points out that it was his perspective and not his intelligence that was the source of his genius. He could see things that other, far “smarter” people could not.

I rather like this idea. One other thing about these geniuses is that they tend to be pretty driven people and the bigger their contrbution the less likely it is properly recognized until late in life or after they die.

So here’s the question: who is happier? The world-changing genius or the happily married businessman who gets no widespread recognition?

And let’s not forget to shed a tear for the laterborn kids out there who thought they were world-beating geniuses but never made it.

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Dogs, Babies

Recently a very good friend of mine said that he had realized that small babies and dogs seemed to take a liking to him.

That’s interesting. Are they responding to the same thing. And if so, what?

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