Video: Magic and the Brain | Watch NOVA scienceNOW Online | PBS Video

The Behavioral Economics MOOC I’m taking (with which I am completely in LOVE!) is a lot about the hard limits of human cognition.   The couse started this week exploring the limits of our brain’s ability to accurately process visual information – visual irrationality.  While browsing for supplemental material to help me understand exactly HOW our brains are so easily fooled (still looking if you know anything) I stumbled upon this little gem.


Video: Magic and the Brain | Watch NOVA scienceNOW Online | PBS Video.

The Better Angels of Our Nature, Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

What thrills me about Better Angels is that it presents overwhelming empirical proof of what we already know; the world is getting less violent, more kind and more fair.   I was born in 1956 when Jim Crow was the law, people with disabilities were invisible and wife-beating was sitcom humor.

Through the din of corporate news and in the grip of Mean World Syndrome it’s easy to forget that rape in the US has been reduced by more than 80% since 1979, that bullying in schools is now treated as a symptom of disorder where it used to be called, “childhood”.  Amid the endless and endlessly wrong predictions of doom we might not notice that the great power of Europe, the nations that gave white people a bad name, the folks who gave us the inquisition, the Crusades, trans-oceanic slavery and the Holocaust are now so gentle they won’t extradite mass killers to the US for fear we might hurt them.

Pinker sites lots of reasons for violences’ decline from outsourcing of revenge to our 130 year worldwide increase in IQ scores.  He also, rightly says the decline of violence in all categories around the world and the rise of kindness and reason are accomplishment for which all of humanity can – and says me should, take a bow.

A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior

This my first REAL MOOC experience.  I watched Michael Sandel’s fantastic in Harvard’s fantastic “Justice: What’s the Right Thing To Do?” But ‘Irrational Behavior’ is a much more serious attempt at pedagogy. An hour’s worth of lectures this week plus a quiz and a written paper.  For our trouble we get a certificate at the end signed by Prof. Ariely himself. The course also has incredible google+ community.   After watching the first couple of lectures I spent an hour chatting with an amazing and delightful international cohort.  We talked about whether it was rational for Amber in India to horde gold in his house.  Whether Peruvians were awed by Milton Friedman and I told them about America’s $75,000 magic happiness number.

We come together as students and share our tales as comrades.  It’s everything Al Gore would have  dreamed! … It’s not too late to join us.

Jonathan Haidt: How common threats can make common (political) ground – YouTube

Ronald Reagan says if aliens attacked the earth all our supposed differences would vanish in the common struggle for survival.  Prof. Haidt is working hard to find ways to help us overcome our partisan (psychological) differences.  This TEDTalk points to issues wherein the politics of for example, Grover Norquist and me are in significant agreement.  To tell the truth, I LIKE believing I am in an important sense on Grover’s and George Bush’s team!

Al Qaeda – Nothing to Fear


This is my first attempt to demonstrate that we have nothing to fear from Al Qaeda.  I’d very much appreciate feedback on how I’m doing.  Thanks – a

Like many other peoples they  just want the US military to leave – “It is now clear that those who claim that the blood of the American solders (the enemy occupying the land of the Muslims) should be protected are merely repeating what is imposed on them by the regime; fearing the aggression and interested in saving themselves. It is a duty now on every tribe in the Arab Peninsula to fight, Jihad, in the cause of Allah and to cleanse the land from those occupiers. Their wealth is a booty to those who kill them. – Bin Laden declares war on “Occupiers” 8/16/1996.

They don’t attack outside of occupation

Nobody does suicide attacks against countries that don’t I occupy

When the US and Israel stopped occupying Lebanon suicide bombers from Hezbollah stopped against both.

Relational Models Theory

With just four fundamental forces nature creates hydrogen, hippopotami and hydrodynamics.  The entire human genome is accomplished with four bases. Prof Alan Fiske, author of RMT, says all our social interactions are managed by four, not five or three, four models that we mix, match and recombine.  Machines for connecting to the web should  be irrelevant.  Once you get online they are just browser containers.  But in addition a market price relationship based on rational value, I have a communal sharing relationship with my manufacturers, I feel like part of the team.  I’m happy to hear good news about our company and the products it sella sno ofter feel a vague or explicit disgust for those deluded zealots.

Fiske’s theory is a fun and powerful to analyze any relationship, except mine with chocolate which is simply submissive.

Relational Models Theory

Relational models theory posits that people use four elementary models to generate, interpret, coordinate, contest, plan, remember, evaluate, and think about most aspects of most social interaction in all societies. These models are Communal Sharing, Authority Ranking, Equality Matching, and Market Pricing. Scores of studies have demonstrated that people in all cultures use these models to organize much of their everyday social cognition. 

Communal Sharing  (CS) is a relationship in which each member of the group as equivalent and undifferentiated with respect to the domain in question. Examples are using a commons (CS with respect to the utilization of the particular resource), people intensely in love (CS with respect to their social selves), people who “ask not fro whom the bell tolls” common well-being), (CS with respect to shared suffering or common well-being) people who kill any member of an enemy group indiscriminately in retaliation for an attack (CS with respect to collective responsibility).

In Authority Ranking (AR) people have asymmetric positions in a linear hierarchy in which subordinates defer, respect, and (perhaps) obey, while superiors take precedence and take pastoral responsibility for subordinates.  Examples are military hierarchies (AR in decisions, control, and many other matters), ancestor worship (AR in offerings of filial piety and expectations of protection and enforcement of norms), monotheistic religious moralities (AR for the definition of right and wrong by commandments or will of God), social status systems such as class or ethnic rankings (AR with respect to social value of identities), and rankings such as sports team standings (AR with respect to prestige).  AR relationships are based on perceptions of legitimate asymmetries, not coercive power; they are not inherently exploitative (although they may involve power or cause harm).

In Equality Matching (EM) relationships people keep track of the balance or difference among participants and know what would be required to restore balance.  Common manifestations are turn-taking, one-person one-vote elections, equal share distributions, and vengeance based on an-eye-for-an-eye, a-tooth-for-a-tooth.  Examples include sports and games (EM with respect to the rules, procedures, equipment and terrain),  baby-sitting coops (EM with respect to the exchange of child care),  and restitution in-kind (EM with respect to righting a wrong).

Market Pricing (MP) relationships are oriented to socially meaningful ratios or rates such as prices, wages, interest, rents, tithes, or cost-benefit analyses. Money need not be the medium, and MP relationships need not be selfish, competitive, maximizing, or materialistic — any of the four models may exhibit any of these features. MP relationships are not necessarily individualistic;  a family may be the CS or AR unit running a business that operates in an MP mode with respect to other enterprises.  Examples are property that can be bought, sold, or treated as investment capital (land or objects as MP), marriages organized contractually or implicitly in terms of costs and benefits to the partners, prostitution (sex as MP), bureaucratic cost-effectiveness standards (resource allocation as MP), utilitarian judgments about the greatest good for the greatest number, or standards of equity in judging entitlements in proportion to contributions (two forms of morality as MP), considerations of spending time efficiently, and estimates of expected kill ratios (aggression as MP).

To learn more, go to this readable, non-technical introduction to relational models theory.

For social scientists, this 2005 chapter is an overview of relational models theory and research.

Here is a fairly complete bibliography of research on relational models theory, updated fairly regularly.

Relational models international Skype lab meeting schedule.

The original creator of relational models theory (and of this page) is Alan Fiske, Professor of Anthropology at UCLA.

Or straight from the horses’s mouth: