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Check out these pictures of bodysurfers ducking under waves.
I grew up body surfing and boogie boarding in Southern California. Riding waves is exhilarating and its the #1 reason you are there but there’s one other unforgettable experience that comes with it and that’s ducking under a passing wave.
A crashing wave is an awesomely powerful thing. So its such an incredible feeling of freedom that with just a little agility and perfect timing you can get yourself down below a 1 or 2 foot protective layer of water where all of that massive power can only just roll over you at most gently rocking you forward and back. And then you pop right back up to the surface to get ready for the next one.
With bodysurfing this is everything: ducking under waves until you are in position to catch just the right one. With boogie boarding there’s a little bit of paddling in between but the board is still small and light enough that when necessary you can get under even the most threatening wave.
But for sure the hardest thing about surfing is that this manoeuver is no longer available to you. For one thing you would be putting others in danger if you bail off the board and let the wave throw it around. But anyway the board is so bulky that the wave is going to drag you along with it.
Forget about learning to ride a wave. That’s as easy as anything else when you can get enough repetitions in. The bloody hard thing about surfing is that it can take months to get that many repetitions in because every time you fall you have to paddle back out through those waves. Yeah there are still tricks (turtle roll, duck dive), but even getting good enough at those for them to be useful takes weeks. The first few weeks you are lucky to get into position for 1 or 2 shots per session at actually catching a wave.
Chullo chortle: Kottke.
Dear Northwestern Economics community. I was among the first to submit my bracket and I have already chosen all 16 teams seeded #1 through #4 to be eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament. In case you don’t believe me:
Now that i got that out of the way, consider the following complete information strategic-form game. Someone will throw a biased coin which comes up heads with probability 5/8. Two people simultaneously make guesses. A pot of money will be divided equally among those who correctly guessed how the coin would land. (Somebody else gets the money if both guess incorrectly.)
In a symmetric equilibrium of this game the two players will randomize their guesses in such a way that each earns the same expected payoff. But now suppose that player 1 can publicly announce his guess before player 2 moves. Player 1 will choose heads and player 2′s best reply is to choose tails. By making this announcement, player 1 has increased his payoff to a 5/8 chance of winning the pot of money.
This principle applies to just about any variety of bracket-picking game, hence my announcement. In fact in the psychotic version we play in our department, the twisted-brain child of Scott Ogawa, each matchup in the bracket is worth 1000 points to be divided among all who correctly guess the winner, and the overall winner is the one with the most points. Now that all of my colleagues know that the upsets enumerated above have already been taken by me their best responses are to pick the favorites and sure they will be correct with high probability on each, but they will split the 1000 points with everyone else and I will get the full 1000 on the inevitable one or two upsets that will come from that group.
Remember how Mr. Miyagi taught The Karate Kid how to fight? Wax on/Wax off. Paint the fence. Don’t forget to breathe. A coach is the coach because he knows what the student needs to do to advance. A big problem for coaches is that the most precocious students also (naturally) think they know what they need to learn.
If Mr. Miyagi told Daniel that he needed endless repetition of certain specific hand movements to learn karate, Daniel would have rebelled and demanded to learn more and advance more quickly. Mr. Miyagi used ambiguity to evade conflict.
An artist with natural gift for expression needs to learn convention. But she may disagree with the teacher about how much time should be spent learning convention. If the teacher simply gives her exercises to do without explanation her decision to comply will be on the basis of an overall judgment of whether this teacher, on average, knows best. To instead say “You must learn conventions, here are some exercises for that” runs the risk that the student moderates the exercises in line with her own judgment about the importance of convention.
David Pogue’ followers have been worried about e-book resales and their impact on authors. I also offered my speculations on the same topic. Pogue went to the trouble of looking at the patents and finds:
[The] patents also give the publisher or bookstore the right to impose a minimum price for reselling an e-book. That limit could drop over time, as Apple’s patent makes clear: “As another example, all digital movies must be sold for a minimum of $10 until six months after their respective original purchase date. After the six month period, all digital movies must be sold for a minimum of $5.”
Both proposals suggest that publishers could also limit the number of times a digital item can be resold: “A threshold may limit how many times a used digital object may be permissibly moved to another personalized data store, how many downloads (if any) may occur before transfer is restricted, etc.,” says Amazon’s patent. “These thresholds help to maintain scarcity of digital objects in the marketplace.”
It would be fun research project to work out the optimal scheme: how many new e-books should be produced each period, how should they be priced, how should the “second-hand” e-books be priced etc. Might be easy in the full commitment case. The limited commitment case might be more fun….
this a screenshot, from a few minutes ago (ed: last week), of bwin.com. the bets here are on goals in regular time of the barcelona-milan to be played in a little while. barcelona lost 2-0 in milan so barcelona needs at least 2 goals to force extra-time/penalty kicks. this is for the champions league.
as you can see from the screenshot barcelona winning 1-0 pays 10, 2-0 pays 7.5, 3-0 pays 8.75, while 4-0 pays 12.
what can we learn from this non-monotonicity? gamblers anticipate that barcelona’s extra incentives to score the 2-0 goal make it a more likely event than the 1-0 result (even though they have to score an extra goal!). once they have scored the 2-0, those extra incentives vanish so we are back to the intuition that a result with more goals is less likely.
How could this effect play out in real time? Here’s a model. It takes effort to increase the probability of scoring a goal. An immediate implication is that if the score is 0-0 with little time left, Barcelona will stop spending effort and the game will end 0-0. Too late in the game and it becomes so unlikely they can score two goals that the effort cost isn’t worth it. But if the score is 1-0 they will continue to spend effort beyond that point. So there is some interval near the end of the game where the conditional probability of scoring a goal is positive if the score is 1-0 but close to zero if the score is 0-0.
I would be interested in seeing some numbers calibrated to generated the betting odds above. We need three parameters. The first two are the probability of scoring a goal in a given minute of game time when Barcelona spends effort, and when it does not. The second is Barcelona’s rate of substitution between effort and win-probability. This could be expressed as follows. Over the course of a minute of play what is the minimum increase in win probability that would give Barcelona sufficient incentive to spend effort. These three parameters will determine when Barcelona stops spending effort in the 1-0 versus 0-0 scenarios and given this will then determine the probabilities of 1-0, 2-0, 3-0 etc. scores.
I resigned as Editor of BEJTE last month, along with the other Editors. The journal was sold by Aaron Edlin to DeGruyter Publishing. Speaking for myself, there were two issues:
1. Commitment to open access: Initially, DeGruyter were going to charge for articles and access. We thought we convinced them that this would be a terrible idea, especially as BePress was a pioneer in open access publishing. And we joined as Editors in the old model. I showed the DeGruyter people the Theoretical Economics webpage. Editors at other BePress journals resigned when initially DeGruyter stuck to its guns with a policy of charging for articles. This seemed to move them towards our position. However, the journal webpage still confusingly quotes prices for individual purchase while having a link to Free “Trial” Access. Why is there a link for purchase if the journal is open access? Why the world “Trial” if the journal is committed to open access? So, the message to us was confused.
2. Execution: Along with the transfer of ownership came a transfer of software. BePress actually had quite good software. DeGruyter switched to software sold by Thomson Reuters (perhaps the same software as used by AER, but I am not sure?). They hired just two guys to manage the transition. They were totally overwhelmed. Emails went unanswered. Authors were confused. The software screwed up submission and resubmission of articles so there were constant emails from exasperated authors. There was no intellectual work and all the work was operational, helping DeGruyter fix its problems.
These two problems led to our resignations last month. Although we are still listed as Editors, we have in fact resigned.
Ely (n.)The first, tiniest inkling you get that something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong.
That’s from The Meaning of Liff, a dictionary of should-be words written by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd. It was published 30 years ago this week and Heski Bar-Isaac points me to this very fun discussion of the words and the book from the BBC. You should especially listen to Stephen Pinker’s thoughts on Liff which comes at about the 15:30 mark.
In late January, Amazon received a patent to set up an exchange for all sorts of digital material. The retailer would presumably earn a commission on each transaction, and consumers would surely see lower prices.
But a shudder went through publishers and media companies. Those who produce content might see their work devalued, just as they did when Amazon began selling secondhand books 13 years ago. The price on the Internet for many used books these days is a penny.
On Thursday, the United States Patent and Trademark Office published Apple’s application for its own patent for a digital marketplace. Apple’s application outlines a system for allowing users to sell or give e-books, music, movies and software to each other by transferring files rather than reproducing them. Such a system would permit only one user to have a copy at any one time.
Meanwhile, a New York court is poised to rule on whether a start-up that created a way for people to buy and sell iTunes songs is breaking copyright law. A victory for the company would mean that consumers would not need either Apple’s or Amazon’s exchange to resell their digital items. Electronic bazaars would spring up instantly.
In principle, a resale market is good for the orignal seller. A buyer is willing to pay more to buy the product in the first place if he can recoup some of the cost by reselling the product later on. If the original seller can design the resale market, setting the terms of trade and the quantity traded, the resale market has to increase profits. The main difficulty is that the current owners of e-books say will compete with the original seller for new business. But if the price of resale and perhaps even the quantity is set by the original seller, the competition can be controlled while increasing revenue.
The main problems come with the inability to control the resale market. Today’s ebook buyers compete with the original seller. Ebooks do not depreciate so there is no vertical product differentiation. Price competition will be intense. This reduces the profits the original buyers can make from resale and thus also the higher price the original seller can charge. The original seller also faces competition from the books she sold in the past and this reduces her profits. But then how are authors or publishers going to make any money?
One other solution relies on commitment – the commitment to sell very few books. In the first period, very few Grishams are produced and a commitment is made that no more will ever be produced. Anyone who wants to read it will have to buy one from the lucky people who currently own one. The resale market will sustain high prices and the author will be able to charge a high price for the first editions. Grisham ebooks will be proudly displayed like Picassos. The Koch brothers mansions will each have a Kindle room with readers nailed to the wall. Paul Ryan will be able to walk up, switch it on and see a Grisham flicker up on the screen. Authors and publishers will boast of the price they got at auction not the millions sold in the first few months.
Or, of course, it will be impossible to commit, particularly when the cost of production is zero. Grisham will be forced to tour as relentlessly as Miley Cyrus, reading out unreleased short stories to rapt audiences of deeply unfulfilled practising lawyers.
Many laws that restrict freedoms are effectively substitutes for private contracts. In a frictionless world we wouldn’t need those laws because every subset of individuals could sign private contracts to decide efficiently what the laws decide bluntly and uniformly. But given transaction costs and bargaining inefficiencies those blunt laws are the best we can do.
Some people might want to sign contracts that constrain themselves. For example I might know that I am tempted to drink too many Big Gulps and I might want to contract with every potential supplier of large sugary drinks, getting them to agree never to sell them to me even if I ask for it. But this kind of contract is plagued not only by the transaction costs and bargaining inefficiencies that justify many existing planks in the social contract, but in addition a new friction: these contracts are simply not enforceable.
Because even with such a contract in place, when I actually am tempted to buy a Slurpee, it will be in the interest of both me and my Slurpee supplier to nullify the contract. (It doesn’t solve the problem to structure the contract so that I have to pay 7-11 if I buy a Slurpee from them. If that contract works then I don’t buy the Slurpee and 7-11 would be willing to agree to sign a second contract that nullifies the first one in order to sell me a Slurpee.)
These considerations alone don’t imply that it would be socially efficient to substitute a blanket ban on large sugary drinks for the unenforceable contracts. But what they do imply is that it would be efficient for the courts to recognize such a ban if a large enough segment of the population wants it. (And this is no way intended to suggest that one Michael Bloomberg by himself constitutes a large enough segment of the population.)
“It’s disturbing because I don’t know what it means about whether they could look at my own e-mail,” said Oliver Hart, an economics professor. “We need to have a discussion and a better understanding of the policy.”
He and other professors said the searches would prompt him to conduct more business through private e-mail accounts outside of Harvard’s reach.
If one activity is being monitored by the Principal, then the Agent switches to another one. The only problem is that Google looks at the other one.
There’s someone you want to hook up with. How do you find out if the attraction is mutual while avoiding the risk of rejection? That is simply not possible no matter how sophisticated a mechanism you use. Because in order for the mechanism to determine whether the attraction is mutual you must communicate your desire to hook up but she’s not that into you, well you are going to be rejected.
But rejection per se is not the real risk. Because if she rejects you without ever actually knowing it, you will be disappointed but you won’t be embarrassed. The real cost of rejection comes only when rejection is common knowledge between the rejector and the rejected.
So to design a mechanism that maximizes the number of hookups you need to give people maximal incentives to reveal whom they want to hook up with and to do that you need to insure them against common-knowledge rejections.
And that’s where Bang With Friends comes in.
Bang With Friends is a Facebook app, coded by a few college kids in a weekend, that facilitates no-risk hookups with people on your friends list. You say you’d like to bang them, and no one ever knows, unless they happen to say that they’d like to bang you, too.
Now this indeed takes care of one side of the incentive problem, but I worry about the other side. Suppose I want to know who wants to bang with me even if I don’t have the same lust for them. I can find out by putting all of my friends on my Down To Bang list. The only cost I pay for this information is that all of those who are down to bang with me will be told that I am down to bang with them. In some cases this could be lead to some embarrassment and awkwardness but I imagine some people would pay that price just to find out. And anticipating this possibility everyone is again reluctant to be truthful about who they do want to Bang for fear of being caught out this way.
One way to mitigate the problem is to replace the flat list with a ranking of your friends from most to least Bang-able, and then establish a hookup only with the friend who is highest on your ranking among those who want to Bang back. Then if you do decide to pad your list, you will put the reconnaissance Bangage low on your list. Of course this will allow you to find out those friends who put you highest on their ranking, but at least this is less information than you can get with the existing system.
The Walt Disney Co. recently announced its intention to “evolve” the experience of its theme park guests with the ultimate goal of giving everyone an RFID-enabled bracelet to transform their every move through the company’s parks and hotels into a steady stream of information for the company’s databases.
…Tracking the flow through the parks will come next. Right now, the park prints out pieces of paper called “FastPasses” to let people get reservations to ride. The wristbands and golden orbs will replace these slips of paper and most of everything else. Every reservation, every purchase, every ride on Dumbo, and maybe every step is waiting to be noticed, recorded, and stored away in a vast database. If you add up the movements and actions, it’s easy to imagine leaving a trail of hundreds of thousands of bytes of data after just one day in the park. That’s a rack of terabyte drives just to record this.
Theory question: Suppose Disney develops a more efficient rationing system than the current one with queues and then adjusts the price to enter the park optimally. In the end will your waiting time go up or down?
Eartip: Drew Conway
- Talking about inlaws with your spouse is a minefield of higher-order beliefs that its really just veiled criticism of those traits of your spouse that have yet to assimilate into the relationship.
- Kids love to play games with grownups in large part because they infer that if the grownup is playing then the game must be super fun. The problem is that games for kids are usually boring for grownups. So someone should invent a game where there are effectively two sets of rules. The simple kids rules and the more subtle rules for grownups. Think of Pixar movies with inside jokes aimed over the heads of kids and at the adults.
- We have recently discovered a great exception to the boring-for-grownups rule for games. Its called Escape: The Curse of the Temple. Highly recommended.
- On Economics Job Market Rumors the only threads worth reading are the ones that have many Likes and also many Dislikes. Its gotta have both.
- When you send out emails pitching your students to departments that are hiring, you recycle the text but cut and paste the name of the recipient and the department to customize the email. When you send it to, say LRMU, address it to Harvard pretending it was a cut-and-paste omission.
- Someone should collect data on coughing in concert halls over time. I hypothesize that they are clustered rather than uniformly distributed. (There’s a simple theory behind it.)
The new standard, which was agreed to at a meeting of the International Air Transport Association in October, will allow airlines to ask customers searching for airfares through travel agents or Web sites to first provide their names, frequent flier numbers, contact details and other information before presenting them with prices. A few airlines are expected to test this approach this year, and it could be widely adopted in a few years, according to the trade group. A majority of the group’s 240 members, which include most American airlines though not Southwest, voted for the standard.
Industry officials say the standard, which they call “new distribution capability,” is simply a way for airlines to better tailor their services to the needs of their customers. For instance, an airline might offer a package that includes free checked baggage, an aisle seat and a 10 percent discount to frequent fliers. And customers would be able to compare competing bundles from different airlines. They also say customers will still have the option of shopping anonymously for basic fares if they choose not to provide any information about themselves.
Thank God for Southwest.
Mutually Assured Destruction did not succeed in bringing the Democrats and the Republicans back to bargaining table to renegotiate the sequester. So, a reporter facetiously suggests locking up everyone in a room till an agreement is reached.
This is not so facetious as it seems – the sequester was meant to create agreement because the spending cuts were a hostage that no-one wanted to lose. Schelling thought about this sort of thing but the obvious reference is Oliver Williamson’s “Using Hostages to Support Exchange”. So, let’s go the whole way and think about who we would have to hold hostage to give good incentives for Congress to renegotiate the sequester. We would have to have one Democrat and one Republican to give both sides a hostage to release.
First off, John Boehner is not a good candidate for the Republican hostage. The real sequester leaves the Republicans divided – the defense hawks hate it but the deficit hawks want it. Similarly, a significant fraction of the Republican House caucus would just love to leave Boehner hostage. They are not going to negotiate a grand bargain to get him out. Extrapolating this logic to the Democrats, it is pretty clear Hillary Clinton would be a great hostage – all the Democrats would want to release her. This intuition further suggests Hillary will be great candidate in 2016, should she want to run. She would unify Democrats behind her and is a centrist so she would be a good candidate in the general election. My intuition is that Biden does not generate the same enthusiasm for hostage release.
So who is a good Republican hostage? Reagan, if he were still around, would be great. Who is today’s Reagan? Let’s face it, Jeb Bush does not inspire – Republicans would leave him hostage to get a good deal to free Hillary. Ditto Chris Christie. Rubio? Ryan? If Rubio were left hostage, the Republican Party would not lose a “thought leader” as we say in b school. They could pretty much survive without him intellectually. McCain is a leader on immigration reform, Rubio’s key issue. Sure, they lose diversity but not leadership. Ryan on the other hand is a leader when it comes to fiscal matters. No-one is the House can take his place and the Senate budget experts may have expert opinions but lack charisma (e.g. Portman).
So, Ryan should be the Republican hostage and he should be locked up with Hillary Clinton until a “grand bargain” is reached.
Arthur Robson wrote this on Facebook:
If am peacefully working out, and someone else arrives in the gym, they usually grab the TV remote to bathe in the inane chatter of preternaturally perky news shows. What if I were to arrive while they were watching TV and switched it off?
Which is a good point but still I think that a case can be made that it is morally allowed to turn on the TV but not to turn it off.
If you walk into the gym and the TV is on, that fact is a strong signal that somebody is watching it and would be harmed if you turned it off. On the other hand when the TV is off you have much less information about what people are paying attention to. You only know that nobody turned the TV on. This is consistent with everybody being indifferent to the TV being on and off.
The point being that a utilitarian calculation based only on the signal of whether the TV is on or off will always make it strictly more permissible to turn the TV on than to turn it off.
But note that the inference is a function of the moral code. And if people are following the turn-on-but-not-off code then the TV will be on even if nobody is watching it.
So what we need is an equilibrium code: a code that works even in equilbirium when it is expected to be followed by others.
Congratulations to our colleague Aviv Nevo on his appointment to this position which Thomson-Reuters says will make him the top non-lawyer at the Department of Justice (there’s a joke in there somewhere).
Aviv joined our department the same year I rejoined and we both wanted the same office. Highest seniority in our department determines priority for choosing offices and to break the tie there was a coin toss. I was in Boston and couldn’t actually witness the coin toss but they tell me I lost.
So Aviv got the office, but he also got seniority which means he is in line to be chairman before me. I am sure he will be back with us in time to take his turn.
Imagine a genie which randomly imposes across-the-board budget cuts unless Congress votes to stop them before they happen. This would be a good genie.
Its easy to blame the other side for not coming to an agreement. The genie’s cuts will happen because both sides will blame the other for not reaching an agreement to stop them. This is different than proposing and approving of cuts yourself because you would get the blame for that.
And of course a random genie is blameless.
It’s not a first-best genie. The cuts are random and across the board. But because of the asymmetry of blame they wouldn’t happen otherwise.
Sadly its not even a real genie so the cuts never happen. But Congress and President Obama have now learned how to replicate the genie: impose the cuts on a future congress. From the point of view of the future congress the previous congress is essentially a random genie.
The previous congress, not being an actual genie, nevertheless avoids blame because everyone expects the next Congress to do the sane thing and replace the sequester with something sensible.
All we can hope now is that the current Congress looks at this sequester “debacle” and concludes that in order to make it work as intended the next time the threatened cuts have to be even bigger.
One at a time, 30 men and 30 women entered the simulator and strapped on a set of goggles that transported them into a digital cityscape. A woman’s voice then explained their mission: A diabetic child is stranded somewhere in the city, and you must find him and deliver an insulin injection.
With a whoosh of air, the subjects left the ground – either controlling their flight by a series of arm motions, like Superman, or as a passenger in a helicopter. As they scoured the city, wall-mounted speakers gave the impression of wind whistling by; powerful speakers in the floor produced vibrations to simulate riding in a helicopter. The experiment was set so that two minutes into the simulation, no matter what mode of transport, the subject found the sick child.
After removing the virtual reality goggles, each person then sat with an experimenter to answer a few questions about the experience. This questionnaire, however, was a ruse: During the interview, the experimenter would “accidentally” knock over a cup filled with 15 pens. She would wait five seconds to see if the subject would help her pick them up, and then begin collecting the pens, one pen per second, to give the person another opportunity to come to her aid.
The people who had just flown as Superman were quick to lend a hand, beginning to pick up the pens within three seconds. The helicopter group, however, picked up the first pen, on average, after six seconds (one second after the experimenter began picking them up herself).
The superhero group not only pitched in first, they also picked up about 15 percent more pens on average. While everyone who flew like Superman picked up some pens, six participants who rode in the helicopter failed to offer any help at all.
So, video games where you play the superhero help you behave like a superhero. I’m off to play Zelda for the next couple of hours. Then, I’ll go to work and see if I am (even) nicer to everyone than I am normally.
Consider a team selling tickets for its upcoming baseball season. Before the season begins it offers a bundle of tickets for every game. Some of these games however are certain to have very low attendance (games on a Tuesday, games against poor opponents, etc.) The tickets for these games will be placed on the secondary market at very low prices. Indeed one of the biggest problems for teams is the inability to prevent those secondary market prices from falling so low that they cannibalize single-game box office sales. The problem is so severe that many baseball teams are making arrangements with StubHub to enforce a price floor on that exchange.
The problem has a much simpler solution: stop selling season tickets. The team should instead offer the following type of bundle: you may purchase tickets for all of the predictably high-demand games at the usual season ticket discount.Then you may add to that bundle any subset of the low-demand games you desire but each at a price equal to the face value of the ticket.
This arrangement will make both season ticket holders and the team better off. Season ticket holders will opt not to add the low demand games (unless the opponent is a team they really like for example) and since they weren’t going to those games anyway they are saving money.
The team will increase revenue: supply of tickets to low demand games will be controlled. Secondary market tickets will be priced at or near face value because nobody will buy a ticket at face value for a lousy game unless they actually plan to use the tickets. This enables the team to hold prices at their desired (i.e. revenue maximizing) level without cannibalism.
For decades, [the Justice Department] argue, Anheuser-Busch has been employing what game theorists call a “trigger strategy,” something like the beer equivalent of the Mutually Assured Destruction Doctrine. Anheuser-Busch signals to its competitors that if they lower their prices, it will start a vicious retail war. In 1988, Miller and Coors lowered prices on their flagship beers, which led Anheuser-Busch to slash the price of Bud and its other brands in key markets. At the time, August Busch III told Fortune, “We don’t want to start a blood bath, but whatever the competition wants to do, we’ll do.” Miller and Coors promptly abandoned their price cutting.
Budweiser’s trigger strategy has been thwarted, though, by what game theorists call a “rogue player.” When Bud and Coors raise their prices, Grupo Modelo’s Corona does not. (As an imported beer, Corona is also considered to have a higher value.) And so, according to the Justice Department, AB InBev wants to buy Grupo Modelo not because it thinks the company makes great beer, or because it covets Corona’s 7 percent U.S. market share, but because owning Corona would allow AB InBev to raise prices across all of its brands. And if the company could raise prices by, say, 3 percent, it would earn around $1 billion more in profit every year. Imagine the possibilities. The Justice Department already has.
Here is the Justice Department’s complaint. Davidson says they use game theory models to forecast the impact of the merger. But I do not see that in the complaint. Is there a publicly available document outlining their analysis?
Since you’ve only ever been you and you’ve had to listen to yourself talk about your own thoughts for all this time, by now you are bored of yourself. Your thoughts and acts seem so trite compared to everyone else so instead you try to be like them. But you fail to account for the fact that to everybody else you are pretty much brand new and indeed you would be a refreshing break from their boring selves if only you would just be you.
There are two actions, A and B, and there are two observable types of people L and R. Everybody is the same in the following sense: for any single individual either A or B is the optimal action but which one it is depends on an unknown state of the world.
But in another sense people are heterogeneous. It is common knowledge that in the state of the world where A is best for people of type L then B is best for people of type R. And in the other state its the other way around. Each person observes a private signal that contains information about the state of the world.
Acting in isolation everybody would do exactly the same thing: pick the action that is best according to their belief (based on the private signal) about the state of the world. But now embed this in a model of social learning. People make their choices in sequence and each observes the choices made by people who went before.
Standard herding logic tells us that L’s and R’s will polarize and choose the opposite action even if they get it completely wrong (with L’s choosing the action that is best for R’s and R’s choosing the action that is best for L’s)
(A reminder of how that works. Say that an L moves first. He chooses the action that looks the best to him say A. Now suppose the next guy is an R and by chance action B looks best to him. The third guy is going to look at the previous two and infer from their choices that there is strong information that the true state is such that A is good for L’s and B is good for R’s. This information can be so strong that it swamps his one little private signal and he follows the herd: choosing A if he is L or B if he is R. This perpetuates itself with all subsequent decision makers.)
In effect the L’s choose A just because the R’s are choosing B and vice versa.
This is an interesting article, albeit breathless and probably completely deluded, about acquired savantism: people suffering traumatic brain injury and as a result developing a talent that they did not have before. Here’s at least one bit that sounds legit:
Last spring, Snyder published what many consider to be his most substantive work. He and his colleagues gave 28 volunteers a geometric puzzle that has stumped laboratory subjects for more than 50 years. The challenge: Connect nine dots, arrayed in three rows of three, using four straight lines without retracing a line or lifting the pen. None of the subjects could solve the problem. Then Snyder and his colleagues used a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to temporarily immobilize the same area of the brain destroyed by dementia in Miller’s acquired savants. The noninvasive technique, which is commonly used to evaluate brain damage in stroke patients, delivers a weak electrical current to the scalp through electrodes, depolarizing or hyperpolarizing neural circuits until they have slowed to a crawl. After tDCS, more than 40 percent of the participants in Snyder’s experiment solved the problem. (None of those in a control group given placebo tDCS identified the solution.)
(I know this problem because it was presented to us as a brain teaser when I was in 2nd grade. Nobody got it. The solution while quite simple is “difficult” to see because you instinctively self-impose the unstated rule that your pencil cannot leave the square.)
The suggestion is that with some drugs or surgery we could all unlock some hidden sensitivity or creativity that is latent within us. Forget about whether any of the anecdotes in the article are true examples of the phenomenon (the piano guy almost certainly is not. Watch the video, he’s doing what anyone with some concentrated practice can do. There is no evidence that he has acquired a natural, untrained facility at the piano. And anyway even if we accept the hypothesis about brain damage and perception/concentration why should we believe that a blow to the head can give you a physical ability that normally takes months or years of exercise to acquire?)
The examples aside, there is reason to believe that something like this could be possible. At least the natural counterargument is wrong: our brains should already be using whatever talents they have to their fullest. It would be an evolutionary waste to build the structure to do something useful and not actually use it. This argument is wrong but not because playing the piano and sculpting bronze bulls are not valuable survival skills. Neither is Soduku but we have that skill because its one way to apply a deeper, portable skill that can also be usefully applied. No, the argument is wrong because it ignores the second-best nature of the evolutionary optimum.
It could be that we have a system that takes in tons of sensory information all of which is potentially available to us at a conscious level but in practice is finely filtered for just the most relevant details. While the optimal level of detail might vary with the circumstances the fineness of the filter could have been selected for the average case. That’s the second best optimum if it is too complex a problem to vary the level of detail according to circumstances. If so, then artificial intervention could improve on the second-best by suppressing the filter at chosen times.
The case of The Oscars:
“This is a preferential system. I’m putting Amour at No. 9 because I’m just pissed off at that film. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a movie that I just didn’t understand, so that’s my No. 8. Les Miserables goes in seventh place — it’s not just the most disappointing film of the year but the most disappointing film in many years. Above that I’m putting Silver Linings Playbook, which is just a “blah” film. Django Unchained will go into my fifth slot — it’s a fun movie, but it’s basically just Quentin Tarantino masturbating for almost three hours. Next up is Life of Pi because of how unique it is and for holding my attention up until its irritating ending. Argo is gonna go in third place, but I don’t want it to win because I don’t think it deserves to win and am annoyed that it is on track to win for the wrong reasons. Actually, come to think of it, do we have to put a film in every slot? Because what I want is for my best picture choice to have the best possible shot, so why even give any support to the others? [He has his assistant call the Oscar voting helpline, finds out that voters can leave slots blank and promptly removes all of the aforementioned selections.] I’m basically OK with one of two films winning. Lincoln is going in my second slot; it’s a bore, but it’s Spielberg, it’s well-meaning, and it’s important. Zero Dark Thirtyis my No 1.”
Vote: (1) Zero Dark Thirty, (2) Lincoln, (3) [blank], (4) [blank], (5) [blank], (6) [blank], (7) [blank], (8) [blank], (9) [blank]
Read the whole article for the inside view of Oscar balloting, including beating the shit out of Ann Hathaway, spinnng the iPhone, and filleting the neighbor’s dog.
Gatsby grip: Alex Frankel
I just got back from a short trip. I flew United. I used my app to check our flight status. Surely enough, the incoming plane was delayed by thirty minutes. Decided to spend the extra time in Nature wallowing in the beauty she has created – a dolphin frolicking in the distance in the warm sea – rather than in the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers suffering in the sterile concrete lump Man has created. After all, I’d already printed off boarding passes and even checked in baggage before arrival.
Arrive at the counter and attempt to actually check in aforementioned bags. No such option was offered on the electronic check-in terminal. Find a wandering United clerk who repeats the procedure and encounters the same problem. She finds a higher-up United clerk who tries a third time. Then, the higher-up tells us that bags can only be checked in up to thirty minutes before the SCHEDULED departure not the ACTUAL departure. Luckily, sense is seen and baggage is checked in after some complaining.
So, United expects you to make decisions as if the flight is leaving on time even though it is common knowledge that it is not. Then, why tell you flight status? If they do not tell you, you are more likely to make the decisions they want you to make. If they give you up to date information, you are certainly going to make decisions based on the information. Yes, you can find out the information via other websites. But then if you are late, can’t check in bags etc., it’s your own problem. If United has told you flight status and you’re late, then it’s their problem too. Surely, there is some footnote somewhere on some website that says you should be on time even if the flight is late but who’s going to read that?