November 22, 2013
When he began to run the game it became immediately clear that Machiguengan behavior was dramatically different from that of the average North American. To begin with, the offers from the first player were much lower. In addition, when on the receiving end of the game, the Machiguenga rarely refused even the lowest possible amount. “It just seemed ridiculous to the Machiguenga that you would reject an offer of free money,” says Henrich. “They just didn’t understand why anyone would sacrifice money to punish someone who had the good luck of getting to play the other role in the game.”Well, yes...
Henrich’s work with the ultimatum game emerged from a small but growing counter trend in the social sciences, one in which researchers look straight at the question of how deeply culture shapes human cognition...
Some of this research went back a generation. It was in the 1960s that researchers discovered that aspects of visual perception varied from place to place. One of the classics of the literature, the Müller-Lyer illusion, showed that where you grew up determined to what degree you would fall prey to the illusion that these two lines are different in length.
Researchers found that Americans perceive the line with the ends feathered outward as being longer than the line with the arrow tips. San foragers of the Kalahari, on the other hand, were more likely to see the lines as they are: equal in length. Subjects from more than a dozen cultures were tested, and Americans were at the far end of the distribution – seeing the illusion more dramatically than all others.
The most interesting thing about cultures may not be in the observable things they do – the rituals, eating preferences, codes of behavior, and the like – but in the way they mold our most fundamental conscious and unconscious thinking and perception. The different ways people perceive the Müller-Lyer illusion reflects lifetimes spent in different physical environments. American children, for the most part, grow up in box-shaped rooms of varying dimensions. Surrounded by carpentered corners, visual perception adapts to this strange new environment (strange and new in terms of human history, that is) by learning to perceive converging lines in three dimensions. When unconsciously translated in three dimensions, the line with the outward-feathered ends appears farther away and the brain therefore judges it to be longer. The more time one spends in natural environments, where there are no carpentered corners, the less one sees the illusion.
The turn ... is not an easy one; accounting for the influence of culture on cognition will be a herculean task. Cultures are not monolithic; they can be endlessly parsed. Ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, economic status, parenting styles, rural upbringing versus urban or suburban – there are hundreds of cultural differences that individually and in endless combinations influence our conceptions of fairness, how we categorize things, our method of judging and decision making, and our deeply held beliefs about the nature of the self, among other aspects of our psychological makeup.
The prisoner’s dilemma is a theoretical tool, but there are plenty of parallel choices – and free riders – in the real world. People who are always late for appointments with others don’t have to hurry or wait for others. Some use roads and hospitals without paying their taxes. There are lots of interesting reasons why most of us turn up on time and don’t avoid paying taxes, even though these might be the selfish “rational” choices according to most economic models.
Crucially, rational actor theory appears more useful for predicting the actions of certain groups of people. One group who have been found to free ride more than others in repeated studies is people who have studied economics... Economics students “informed on” other players 60% of the time, while those studying other subjects did so 39% of the time. Men have previously been found to be more self-interested in such tests, and more men study economics than women. However even after controlling for this sex difference, ... economics students were 17% more likely to take the selfish route when playing the prisoner’s dilemma.
November 21, 2013
The last meal as a cultural phenomenon grew even as capital punishment faded from public view, and in less than two centuries the country has gone from grisly public hangings, in which the prisoner was sometimes unintentionally decapitated or left to suffocate, to lethal injection, the most common form of execution in America today, in which death is “administered.” The condemned are often sedated before execution. They are generally not allowed to listen to music, lest it induce an emotional reaction. Last words are sometimes delivered in writing, rather than spoken; if they are spoken, it might be to prison personnel rather than the witnesses. The detachment is so complete that when scholar Robert Johnson, for his 1998 book Death Work, asked an execution-team officer what his job was, the officer replied: “the right leg.”
October 31, 2013
What a happiness this must have been seventy or eighty years ago and upwards, to those chosen few who had the good luck to be born on the eve of this festival of all festivals; when the whole earth was so overrun with ghosts, boggles, bloody-bones, spirits, demons, ignis fatui, brownies, bugbears, black dogs, specters, shellycoats, scarecrows, witches, wizards, barguests, Robin-Goodfellows, hags, night-bats, scrags, breaknecks, fantasms, hobgoblins, hobhoulards, boggy-boes, dobbies, hob-thrusts, fetches, kelpies, warlocks, mock-beggars, mum-pokers, Jemmy-burties, urchins, satyrs, pans, fauns, sirens, tritons, centaurs, calcars, nymphs, imps, incubuses, spoorns, men-in-the-oak, hell-wains, fire-drakes, kit-a-can-sticks, Tom-tumblers, melch-dicks, larrs, kitty-witches, hobby-lanthorns, Dick-a-Tuesdays, Elf-fires, Gyl-burnt-tales, knockers, elves, rawheads, Meg-with-the-wads, old-shocks, ouphs, pad-foots, pixies, pictrees, giants, dwarfs, Tom-pokers, tutgots, snapdragons, sprets, spunks, conjurers, thurses, spurns, tantarrabobs, swaithes, tints, tod-lowries, Jack-in-the-Wads, mormos, changelings, redcaps, yeth-hounds, colt-pixies, Tom-thumbs, black-bugs, boggarts, scar-bugs, shag-foals, hodge-pochers, hob-thrushes, bugs, bull-beggars, bygorns, bolls, caddies, bomen, brags, wraiths, waffs, flay-boggarts, fiends, gallytrots, imps, gytrashes, patches, hob-and-lanthorns, gringes, boguests, bonelesses, Peg-powlers, pucks, fays, kidnappers, gallybeggars, hudskins, nickers, madcaps, trolls, robinets, friars' lanthorns, silkies, cauld-lads, death-hearses, goblins, hob-headlesses, bugaboos, kows, or cowes, nickies, nacks, waiths, miffies, buckies, ghouls, sylphs, guests, swarths, freiths, freits, gy-carlins, pigmies, chittifaces, nixies, Jinny-burnt-tails, dudmen, hell-hounds, dopple-gangers, boggleboes, bogies, redmen, portunes, grants, hobbits, hobgoblins, brown-men, cowies, dunnies, wirrikows, alholdes, mannikins, follets, korreds, lubberkins, cluricauns, kobolds, leprechauns, kors, mares, korreds, puckles korigans, sylvans, succubuses, blackmen, shadows, banshees, lian-hanshees, clabbernappers, Gabriel-hounds, mawkins, doubles, corpse lights or candles, scrats, mahounds, trows, gnomes, sprites, fates, fiends, sibyls, nicknevins, whitewomen, fairies, thrummy-caps, cutties, and nisses, and apparitions of every shape, make, form, fashion, kind and description, that there was not a village in England that had not its own peculiar ghost.From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!
October 19, 2013
While searching for confirmation of the animals the Vatican had reclassified as fish so that they could be eaten during fasting - capybaras, sea turtles, beavers and barnacle geese, allegedly - I was more taken with this video of capybaras placidly stealing cabbage from a curmudgeonly swan.
As you would be.
October 18, 2013
October 17, 2013
All of Osvaldo Cavandoli's La Linea are available on Youtube, for now. I love these things.
They were played as filler on the ABC for years, but it appears I was wrong to think they were made by the same mob who did the glorious claymation The Red and the Blue films, or AEIOU which made animations out of impressions in sand, which were also used to fill gaps in the ABC's schedule.
But that was Francesco Misseri and his company, someone else entirely, who specialise in animation in odd media. As well as clay and sand they use paper, ribbons and water, or so says their website. A later effort, seeming to be another example of the dire spread of CGI (but perhaps not), is Pozzie, a boy who is a water-droplet. Cute but not as amusing, lacking as it does the hilariously infuriated characters of the earlier stuff.
I suspect the attitude is: small children must be spared conflict. Which means they are spared narrative, character and drama, of course. And laughs.
October 15, 2013
Cap in Hand
Being on hols at present I am even more than usual out of the mainstream news loop, so it was only yesterday I heard about the death of Chopper Read and of the Australian Labour Party.
I kid, I kid: here's why Bill Shorten is entirely suited to be leader of the ALP.
Apparently he was also schooled by Jesuits, which Gerard Henderson, being an utter cretin, thinks proves something.
August 22, 2013
Lightening the mood, here's Peter Watts reporting on a tick that gives victims of its bite an allergy to meat (though the flesh of birds and - ahem - primates would still be OK). Given what immediately occurred to me, I was pleased to discover on reading further through the post that I wasn't the only person who saw the potential for militant vegetarians to attempt a weaponisation. There would probably be unforeseen collateral effects, as in the mode of The Moral Virologist, although what exactly hasn't yet come to mind.
August 21, 2013
Woy Stanfer Strayer
I probably won't be doing a summary of Senate candidates for this election as I have done in the past, as it's likely to be too fucking depressing. Not only do we have a record number of parties running this time, we seem to have a record number of parties running with the word "Australia" in their title.
Rise Up Australia PartyNever a good sign.
Katter's Australian Party
Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party
Building Australia Party
Uniting Australia Party
Bullet Train For Australia*
Australian Protectionist Party
Australia First Party
The Australian Republicans*
Secular Party of Australia*
Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party
Other preferred parties include the anti-Islamic Rise Up Australia Party, and the Australian Christians party, which wants to cut the intake of non-Christian migrants and take more African Christians.Poor bloody fellow, my sodding country.
And how about the Australian Protectionist Party, which favours a racially/religiously discriminatory migration policy, the rebuilding of tariff walls and freer access to firearms for those of approved “cultural background”. Really.
Meanwhile the Wikileaks Party manages to shoot themselves in the foot, apparently with the same shotgun they're biting the barrel of while pulling the trigger with their big toe.
In official election tickets lodged with the Australian Electoral Commission, they have said they want the fascist Australia First Party, the pro-shooting-in-National-Parks Shooters and Fishers Party, and the “mens rights activist” Non-Custodial Parents Party to win a seat instead of the Australian Greens. In New South Wales, if you take the easy option and just tick the Wikileaks Party box in the Senate, and if they don’t win, your vote will go to those three right-wing parties before it goes to the Greens.* Ok, to be fair, that's probably just to avoid confusion, a la UK Squeeze.
August 18, 2013
Hotel de Michelin
A private hell for Cayce Pollard, from the sculptures of Takanori Aiba, via, via.
July 30, 2013
The more interesting question is who needs the DSM anyway? First of all, bureaucracies. Everyone in North America who hopes their health insurance will cover or at least defray the cost of treatment for their mental illness must first receive a diagnosis that fits the scheme and bears a numerical code.- "Lost in the Forest", Ian Hacking reviews the DSM-5 in the London Review of Books.
The first DSM (1952) and its successor, DSM-II (1968), were heavily influenced by the psychoanalysis then dominant in the United States. But with DSM-III in 1980 there was a new beginning. There were two notable causes, aside from the waning of psychodynamic therapy. First was the discovery of a genuinely effective drug for controlling mania... Second was a comparative study in 1972 of diagnoses of schizophrenia in London and New York. It was a rude comeuppance. Schizophrenia was diagnosed about twice as frequently in New York as in London. Symptoms were agreed on, but not the final diagnosis. ‘Operational’ criteria had to be fixed. Since we did not understand the causes of most mental illness – or rather there were too many incompatible theories of causation – we should rely on syndromes, on observable patterns of symptoms, behaviour in short, on which there could be some agreement. This approach is often called Kraepelinian, after the great German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin...
In Pharmaceutical Reason: Knowledge and Value in Global Psychiatry (2005) Andrew Lakoff writes about gene-hunting drug companies which want lots of spit and blood samples so they can try to match up a disease with DNA, devise a way to detect the malady through DNA markers and then find a new drug that will ameliorate the symptoms. Mental disorders have to be identifiable by means of the DSM, because the US is the biggest market for medications. Partly to avoid ethics committees, and partly to keep a global net in place, the gene-hunters often go to impoverished places. In one case, a French drug company wanted DNA from bipolar patients. There was an underfunded mental hospital in Argentina, but it was psychodynamic in practice. Bipolar disorder is Kraepelinian, not Freudian, and so the hospital had no patients diagnosed as bipolar. The drug company made an offer the hospital could not refuse. So it reclassified its patients to DSM standards; doctors rethought and the patients experienced the symptoms in new ways. Such are the mechanisms of cultural imperialism.
July 23, 2013
The Australian government is currently spending about $32 billion per year on superannuation tax expenditures (taxation based incentives for superannuation contributions). It has been estimated, by the superannuation industry, that this $32 billion in tax expenditures is currently saving the government about $7 billion in pension costs. So, if we dumped all of the superannuation tax concessions, we could not only provide pensions to all of those who would become eligible but also increase payments to provide a more comfortable retirement.- Warwick Smith at Overland.
About 38 per cent of the superannuation tax expenditure goes to the wealthiest 10 per cent, which means that by 2014–15 the top 10 per cent of income earners will receive over $17 billion in tax concessions. So why exactly are we planning to spend $17 billion per year helping the wealthiest Australians save for their retirement?