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!