sorry, this is not a review, just my notes for myself:
-people often feel a need to EXERCISE CONTROL, not just have nice things happen to them; and we...moresorry, this is not a review, just my notes for myself:
-people often feel a need to EXERCISE CONTROL, not just have nice things happen to them; and we tend to overestimate our actual level of control over our lives/futures. people who realize they lose the ability to control things end up depressed (actually depressed people tend to be the group with the most realistic sense of the level of control they have... so a feeling of control, be it real or imagined, is necessary for mental health... even though later in the book he tells us that having the actual ability to reconsider our decisions makes us anxious/unhappy whereas we rationalize a bad but irreversible decision and end up okay with it.) -when we see the present, or imagine past or future, we only notice/recall/imagine some details but not ALL; the things we don't consciously think about or remember, our brains just patch up automatically with what we see around the area, or how we feel NOW (instead of how we actually felt / will feel then) -IF we happen to be feeling neutral and not thinking too hard, our gut instinct will be a better judge of how we'll feel about something in the future, vs. overthinking it and trying to make a "sensible" decision that overrides our gut instinct... but if we're feeling something strong right now, our predictions will be affected strongly by it. -when we imagine how we'll feel when event A happens in the distant future, we start by imagining how we'd feel if event A happened now, and then we adjust... but not too well, so if we start with two different initial feelings, we're likely to end up with 2 different final guesses. and if we're distracted while we're asked to make our guess, we'll just stick with our initial hunch entirely! -when considering buying something whose price has just increased, you "should" compare not with its past price, but with what else you can possibly get for the new price... but most of us do the past-comparison, not the possible-comparison. on the other hand, if we're undecided about whether to buy something at all, many stores have a current-possible-comparison ready for you (a row of TVs all lined up) to trick you into thinking at least ONE of their items is a good buy (compared to the other super-pricy ones they have) so you end up buying it there even if you weren't necessarily planning to, or even if you could get it cheaper on craigslist or somewhere else that you're not easily able to compare with at the moment. -in any case, we tend to think of "relative dollars" instead of "absolute ones" so be wary of this! -the comparison you make now, when deciding, is NOT necessarily the one you'll make later, when enjoying! so you choose the uglier speakers that sound better than pretty ones, then get home and can't compare the two speaker sounds anymore but CAN compare the ugliness of yours to the prettyness of the rest of your furniture. or you meet Americans in Europe and enjoy their company more than that of snobby Europeans, but when you see the same folks again in the States you realize they're not as fun as your usual friends here are. -!!!people DON'T change their minds when the facts contradict them -- they ignore or invalidate the "wrong" facts. -!!!people EXPECT to regret foolish actions more than foolish inactions... but looking back, they DO regret inaction (failing to spend time with friends, go to college, etc) more than most actions. if you acted, you can rationalize about all the things you learned from even a bad experience, but never from a non-experience. -people who experience a minor annoyance feel bad about it; if you experience MAJOR painful badness, your brain rationalizes it and makes you feel better about it. also, you feel better about an irrevocable, inescapable thing than about one you could avoid or change (or an inconclusive possibility of badness)... so don't pay a premium for the freedom to change your mind later -- having to worry about whether or not you made the right decision will hurt, while rationalizing that you DID make the right decision comes naturally if you can't change your mind anyway. -simply explaining away a bad event can help you feel much better about it -- writing about a traumatic event helps a lot. but explaining a good event can also make you feel less fantastic about it -- knowing that X admires you specifically because you have such-and-so in common with them is less cool than knowing you have a secret admirer. so don't try "explaining away" good fortune to your friends! unexplained events are rare/unusual, and we keep thinking about them longer than about "explained" events, so they have a greater emotional impact. (if you liked a movie but can't quite figure out something, you're more likely to think about it and like it for longer than if you liked it but everything made perfect sense and you can stop thinking as soon as you leave the theater.) -...so... uncertainty about whether you made a good decision is to be avoided, but uncertainty about the explanation for a good event is to be desired. -you learn everything that you learn through practice and/or coaching -we THINK that the most-memorable things must be the most common ones, since they happen so often we should remember them most; but in many cases the LEAST common event is the most memorable precisely because it's unusual and stands out so much that it's easy to recall. we really remember the best and worst of times, NOT the most likely of times. -we don't remember how we actually felt, but how we currently BELIEVE we must have felt based on who we are today -false/bad ideas that tend to promote stable societies will tend to propagate more than accurate/good ideas that promote instability/anarchy/disruption... which goes with haidt's ideas about conservatives vs liberals. -a healthy economy is the kind of stable environment that's good for communication... so the belief that money buys happiness causes people to strive and work for more money, which drives the economy, which creates stability. the belief that "more money = more happiness" is a self-perpetuating belief (just like belief that having kids is nice) -Gilbert describes experiments in which people who knew exactly what was going to happen made a prediction about their future happiness that, on average, was further off from the truth than the average predictions of the group who didn't know full details of what'd happen but did have a randomly-selected just-after-the-fact report from someone who'd undergone the event earlier. so he says that instead of relying on our faulty imaginations to predict our happiness under a given circumstance, just ask a random person who is currently in that circumstance. [but his research results show only the means -- maybe the report-readers had lower bias but higher variance? show the spread, people!!! i should check out the paper: Norwick, Gilbert, and Wilson, "Surrogation: An Antidote for Errors in Affective Forecasting," written 2005 but not actually published... hrm... OH YEAH -- also, when he says to ask another person how happy they are NOW to guess how happy you will be in the future in a similar situation, he doesn't reiterate what he said before -- that even asking someone how they feel NOW is imperfect, especially if you only ask one person, since in his field the answer is only really valid if you ask many many people and take the average... so really, the idea that I PERSONALLY will get a good guess as to how happy I will be by asking ONE other person ... seems pretty sketchy.] -he explains that people DON'T tend to trust others' reports as much as own imaginations because we all think we're really unique individuals, different from the average, and we think that others are too; so we're not likely to expect another person to respond the same way we do in similar circumstances. -he claims that we know people are unsuccessfully striving for happiness because we know that they tend to change jobs/houses/spouses a large number of times... but those changes can inevitably come from external sources (I DID find the perfect happy job for me until there were unexpected layoffs -- doesn't mean I'd made the wrong decision for maximizing happiness when I took the job) or the changes themselves can be the source of happiness (I AM happy to move from town to town because I like the variety -- the fact that I moved doesn't mean I was wrong to have lived in town 1 and expect to be happier in town 2 but that I've enjoyed town 1 to the point of diminishing return and now am finally ready to be happy in town 2 as well). -...so are we really all searching for happiness in the same way he claims? seems like the big takeaway point is: if you momentarily are unhappy, just remember that you can't successfully predict your feelings in the future in a SPECIFIC situation but IN GENERAL your brain will make you happy again soon -- unless you have depression, in which case ask your doctor for some frontal lobe damage.(less)
still haven't gotten around to finishing it, but here are some notes to self:
p.4 - Shakespeare actually used to be popular entertainment back in 19th-...morestill haven't gotten around to finishing it, but here are some notes to self:
p.4 - Shakespeare actually used to be popular entertainment back in 19th-century America... you don't need to be "educated" to enjoy him -- just grown up with it constantly around you, labeled clearly as popular entertainment.
p. 31 - Gerald Nachman: "Shakespeare becomes theatrical spinach: He's good for you. If you digest enough of his plays, you'll grow up big and strong intellectually like teacher."
"Alfred Harbage characterized the mood prevailing at Shakespearean performances as "reverently unreceptive," containing "small sense of joy, small sense of sorrow;...rarely a moment of that hush of absorption which is the only sign-warrant of effectual drama." People attended Shakespeare the way they attended church: "gratified that they have come, and gratified that they now may go.""
p. 67 - people believed it to be a natural right to boo actors if they deserved it, not just applaud whether or not it was good. nowadays there's no way you could boo/hiss a performance even if it sucks! it's like you have to protect actors' egos instead of be honest about what you paid for. why does art need to be protected from its audience?
p. 89 - "Opera... was not presented as a sacred text". Composers like Rossini even intentionally left places in their operas for the company to put in a popular song of the day!
p. 97 - apparently England DID have highbrow/lowbrow distinctions in art already in 1850s, and some Americans were aware of this -- does that break down author's thesis that highbrow/lowbrow distinctions are a recent invention, or is he just claiming these distinctions weren't AS important, in America in particular, until lately, in specific fields?
p. 103 - people started to think opera is too important of an art form to permit the uneducated to watch it, as if that'd demean its integrity! especially if you take selections instead of putting on one whole show, sacred-text style. opera became "more of a symbol of culture than a real cultural force"(less)
I hope that when I'm old and going senile, it happens in an interesting way so someone like Sacks can write about it. Many fascinating factoids/ideas i...moreI hope that when I'm old and going senile, it happens in an interesting way so someone like Sacks can write about it. Many fascinating factoids/ideas in this book. Hopefully one day I'll come back and note them here.(less)
The cheesy subtitle makes it sound like a bad self-help book, but it's really a good, broad overview of the di...moreLots to think about. Highly recommended.
The cheesy subtitle makes it sound like a bad self-help book, but it's really a good, broad overview of the different ways that people are starting to use statistics more heavily in their decision-making. Basically, he explains that people are able to collect and store loads more data than ever before, so the "Super Crunchers" are fitting very accurate equations to the data -- and many of their formulas are better at making accurate predictions than seasoned experts with good intuition. In a way, it's similar in style to Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" but the opposite in its moral: Gladwell says to trust your intuition more than you think, and Ayres says to trust (experts') intuition less than we might think.
One thing that struck me was the idea of whether to trust the data and the resulting equation even when you don't understand the underlying mechanisms that the equation describes. For example, in the 1840s, a doctor named Semmelweis found that there was a huge drop in mortality rates at hospitals if doctors and nurses washed their hands. The germ theory of disease was not known yet, so Semmelweis couldn't explain *why* washing your hands would help keep your patients alive - he just knew it would. But many doctors ridiculed Semmelweis and his theory, complaining that hand-washing was a waste of time. It's clear to us in retrospect that those other doctors should have listened to the man with the data instead of continuing to unwittingly kill their patients by refusing to wash their hands. But still today, too often, doctors tend rely on their intuition and the theories they learned in med school years ago, even if new studies have come out that show a different diagnosis or treatment would be better. The same argument goes on in other fields. Ayres describes a scripted, structured, rote-learning method for elementary school instruction called Direct Instruction (DI). This seems entirely contrary to the creative, open, exploratory, problem-solving, student-centered philosophy that many people (including myself) subscribe to. But even though DI seems wrong and illogical, apparently DI students tend to perform significantly better on all kinds of tests - even ones that "required higher-order thinking," says Ayres. So should we stick with our instincts about what's a good way to teach our kids? Or should we go with the method that's been proven to give better results, even if it's anathema to our philosophy?
Of course, you can't have this argument if you're not able to measure your desired endpoint numerically. So you can argue that student performance on standardized tests is not how we should be evaluating our schools, and then you can ignore DI's successes that way. But then are we sure we're not just being like those 1840s doctors, saying "I expect that shouldn't work, so I'll ignore it," and possibly hampering millions of children's educational potential by ignoring something that does work? Ayres clearly believes that expert opinions and theories are well and good when you can't crunch the data; but if good data is available and can be crunched, by all means trust it over the experts. Why argue about whether or not method A *should* be better than method B, when you can find out which one *does* perform better? It's a valid point and an important problem to think about.
Also, apparently some people have found ways to accurately predict the profits of a movie based solely on aspects of the script (ignoring the performance of actors, director, cinematography, etc). It's weird to think that the movie studios might begin rewriting scripts to maximize the expected profit based on an equation. Won't that take all the art out of it? But of course, Ayres points out, the studios already make many "artistic" decisions based purely on commercial (rather than artistic) merit. So all the equation does is improve the quality of those commercial decisions. If they're going to mess with your wonderful screenplay anyway, they may as well mess with with in the right way, instead of relying only on hunches about what works.
He has plenty of examples of cases where Super Crunching has been used for great good, as with MIT's Poverty Action Lab and similar groups that run experiments to find out what policies actually work in reducing poverty, and thus are able to convince governments to make the proven choice. On the other hand, there are also many scary examples of casinos crunching your personal data to figure out exactly how much money you can lose and still have a good time, or credit card companies learning exactly what interest rate to offer you to keep your business. Obviously businesses try to do this all the time - cutting costs and increasing revenue is what businesses are about, after all - but the degree to which they're now using your personal data (collated from many different sources, no less) is pretty intimidating.
Naturally, it sounds scary to think that our doctors, teachers, and everyone else should give up complete control over what they do to a bunch of formulas. But it's not all controlled by computers. At the top, somebody has to be in charge of the data, deciding what information to collect and what variables to put in the regressions and so on. So I wish Ayres talked more about the titular "Super Crunchers" themselves, not just their equations. Who becomes a super cruncher? What's it like to have a job where you create regression models, design experiments, and collect data? If this is the wave of the future, how should we train our students to be good at dealing with these huge data sets in a professional and responsible way?(less)
This book seems to provide the entire rationale/underpinning for Nordhaus & Shellenberger's "Break Through," in which those authors argue that env...moreThis book seems to provide the entire rationale/underpinning for Nordhaus & Shellenberger's "Break Through," in which those authors argue that environmentalism will never be a major force in a given society until its members have met their basic material needs (food, shelter, physical safety, employment). [That sounds reasonable, but then they go on to argue that economic development is the only way to save the planet and that all other environmentalists are morons.] So I definitely want to read this Inglehart book first before I accept "Break Through"'s assumptions.(less)