The observable examined

Archive for September 2011

They got you!

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How many of us every wonder about how we are being suckered into buying things for all the wrong reasons? I bet you, very few. Even the few who do wonder may not be able to connect the dots. Read this article – Selling Ilusions of Cleanliness– and judge for yourself. The author, Martin Lindstrom, gives examples ranging from subtle presentations (Whole foods with their daffodils, geraniums, and chalk boards) to outright manipulation (bubbly shampoos are cleaner). It reminded me of a video entitled  The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power which also captures some of the machinations of corporations in manipulating consumers to buy their products (eg., catch them young).

Both are worth your time. Enjoy!!


Written by asterix98

September 20, 2011 at 6:55 am

Posted in marketing

poem by my daughter -4th grade

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All the kids in my daughter’s class were asked to write a poem to start their journal entry for this academic year. Parents were privy to this journal as part of back to school night.  I reproduce here, partly because I am proud of her output, but also for an insight into my daughter’s mind (the reference to mom in particular) that I am not able to easily access during normal conversations. So here goes….

I  am a Poem

I am creative, energetic and active

I wonder how the world was made

I hear my thoughts filling up my mind

I see the ocean rushing from side to side

I want to swim as if I were a fish

I am creative, energetic, and active

I pretend that I am jumping off the cliff and the bottom is full of icy cold water

I feel an iceberg in my body making me shiver with fear

I touch warm heater just heating up my skin

I worry about my cousin trying to make me breakdown by teasing me

I cry when I think about my mom

I am creative, energetic, and active

I understand that I can’t fly or soar like the birds

I say the moon is not made of cheese

I dream of sitting on the clouds way up high

I try to understand math

I hope that pigs will fly with the birds

I am creative, energetic, and active.

Below it is in her own handwriting, spelling mistakes and all :-).

Written by asterix98

September 11, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Pascal’s wager -a twist

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Ever heard of Pascal’s wager? In its simplest form, it goes something like this:

If you believe in God and He does exist, you stand to gain infinitely;

If you believe in God and He does not exist, you don’t lose anything;

For the original phrasing look here : Pascal’s Wager

The link provides the broader context for his wager (part of it being his inability to absolutely reject God because he saw many things in Nature that pointed to His existence while at the same time there were many things that suggested He does not exist).

I am a non-believer. But this is where it gets interesting. I am engaged in my own version of this wager and the entity involved is someone dearer to me than God, my deceased wife. While every reason bearing fiber of my being acknowledges the finality of what happened, there is an equally strong “force” which wants to believe that she could possibly exist in an other world ( rational support for this being the notion of the existence of parallel universes now gaining some currency and legitimacy in the outer reaches of Physics), probably not wanting to preclude the possibility that I may still have a chance to meet her again, afterall. This is an ongoing tension between, I suppose, what the brain scientists, would call my left brain and my right brain.

As I write this, my left brain is telling me that it will eventually win out. Nevertheless, being able to entertain right brain thoughts is comforting (another example being , on occasion, I continue to imagine her presence and how she may have (reacted)/enjoyed/approved (to) the accomplishments of my daughter, however small).

This illustrates a generality pertaining to faith, superstitions, belief etc., Unless you can draw on your critical thinking faculties and objectively consider the facts at hand, it is likely you will stay in the comfortable realm of fantasy . Right brain is the default (easier) option for most people.

Footnote : The left brain and right brain terminology, as used here, is meant to distinguish the logical from the emotional and is loosely coupled to an older distinction between logical and wholisitic thinking that permeated much of psychological thinking upto the 90s. Neuroscientific advances have made these distinctions much more nuanced.  More on this topic later.

Written by asterix98

September 6, 2011 at 7:03 am

Guilt and shame

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Most of us probably go through Life without sparing a thought to emotions such as guilt and shame, and their impact on inidividual and collective behaviors within a society. Thankfully, some others make it their business to do just this.

Is Shame necessary? In an excellent essay, Jennifer Jacquet takes on this question.

The context is set with references to the excesses of the financial industry in recent times. Were the bankers shameful of their behavior? But what are guilt and shame? Jacquet’s operational definition “…..Whereas guilt is evoked by an individual’s standards, shame is the result of group standards. Therefore, shame, unlike guilt, is felt only in the context of other people.” In other words, guilt is accountability to the self (your conscience being the judge) but where shame is concerned you are answerable to a group (punishment in former societies was the purview of your peers and more effective. In most current societies that function is offloaded to the various agents of justice. Jacquet argues that this evolution has diluted the effectiveness of shame).

When you mix these mostly ineffective emotional levers with the “tragedy of the commons : individual acts are at odds with the collective good” ,what you get is a range of social dilemmas including over-fishing, energy over use, and  excessive water consumption. Much of Jacquet’s essay explores these issues contrasting human behavior with examples from nature where cooperative behavior is a win-win for everyone involved.

As I read this essay, I felt the topics discussed were also related to another well documented phenomenon of human behavior : diffusion of responsiblity (from Wikipedia – Diffusion of responsibility is a social phenomenon which tends to occur in groups of people above a certain critical size when responsibility is not explicitly assigned). The connection is, diffusion of responsibility in social acts may tend to counter the  restraining influence of guilt and/or shame. Hmm….

This essay is definitely worth your time.

Written by asterix98

September 4, 2011 at 3:22 am

Posted in guilt and shame

Mangos and kings

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Whoever said watching TV is bad? I subscribe to some South Asian channels. On one of them, a program that explores both sides (pros/cons, for/against) of a theme or topic, is aired regularly. I happened to watch it today because I was interested in the story that the compere had just started to narrate. It went like this….

Once a king was traveling with his coterie. All of a sudden a stone flew his way and struck him in the head. He started to bleed. In anger, he thundered that the perpetrator who heaved the stone be brought to him at once. His men fanned out and came back with a woman who had confessed to committing the act. The king asked the woman, in a menacing voice, why she had thrown the piece of rock. She humbly replied that her little son was hungry and she was trying to knock down a mango from the tree to relieve his hunger. In an instant change of mood, the king ordered the woman be given 10,000 gold coins. The people gathered were taken aback by this and asked the king to explain his action. They had expected punishment. The king replied, “Just as the mango tree responds to a stone thrown at it with a mango, I felt I should respond to this women’s need by helping her.”

It is well known in the psychological literature that even when the available information is identical, you can arrive at completely different decisions, depending on your frame of reference. This is illustrated beautifully in the tale above (if the king had primarily identified with his royal status he may have behaved very differently).

Written by asterix98

September 2, 2011 at 5:10 am

Posted in reference frames

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