THUNK – 53. Christmas Creep & Wars of Attrition

It seems the Christmas season comes earlier every year…and there’s actually a decent reason why: game theory!

-Links for the Curious-

A poll of when consumers feel it is appropriate to start putting up holiday decorations –

Some economics Ph.D’s offer insight into why Christmas Creep isn’t a reversible phenomenon, & why businesses are keen to bring out the tree as early as possible –

A research paper quantifying just how much some decorations can affect consumer purchasing habits –

The first paper published on the famous dollar auction paradox in game theory –

An investigation into the increasing loudness (not necessarily volume) of TV commercials –

The increasing usage of awesome on the internet (such word, many usage, wow) –

A Canadian business owner’s statement regarding holiday decorations before Remembrance Day –

A Consumerist campaign to shame businesses who put up tinsel before Halloween –

THUNK – 51. What’s in a Workweek?

The eight-hour workday has been a standard for centuries. Have you ever wondered why?

-Links for the Curious-

Microsoft Productivity Survey –

Working Long Hours Doubles Odds of Depression –

“Compelling evidence of the need for corporate work/life balance initiatives: results from a national survey of stressful life-events” –

The Robert Owen Museum –

“Get a Life,” from the Economist –

THUNK – 50. Settlers of Catan & Social Capital

How do allied players in Settlers of Catan always come out ahead? I’ll trade two sheep for some social capital.

-Links for the Curious-

A great summary of what social capital is & how it affects societies –

An interesting study about the ultimatum game in several different societies, which notes a high correlation between social capital in a society & more equality in the split –

“Using Experimental Economics to Measure Social Capital and Predict Financial Decisions” from the American Economic Review –

A paper on the evolutionary advantage granted to social animals with altruistic behavior –

Just for fun, a paper on reinforcement strategies for AI playing Settlers of Catan. The AI’s get pretty good, but just can’t match a skilled human settler –

THUNK – 49. Theism, Atheism, & Culture

Some argue that faith or lack thereof indicates intelligence, but it’s really more indicative of culture.

A quick note: believing in a particular god does not make one stupid, or a bad person. That does not mean that one is not stupid for believing mutually contradictory things about that god, or a bad person for endorsing immoral acts due to that belief.

-Links for the Curious-

A study by Vern Bengston et. al about how religion is, unsurprisingly, passed from parents to children –

An interesting summary of ideas regarding geography and its influence on the spread of certain religions –

Penn Jilette on atheism –

THUNK – 48. Is Trolling Anti-Geek?

Is it possible that the act of trolling, by any definition, is fundamentally corrosive to geeks?

-Links for the Curious-

“Internet Ranting & the Myth of Catharsis,” a great summary of many papers with evidence that trolling just makes trolling victims more prone to anger –

“Anger on the internet: the perceived value of rant-sites,” by Martin RC et. al., handily debunking the idea that a little online ranting will get anger out of your system –

“Does Venting Anger Feed or Extinguish the Flame? Catharsis, Rumination, Distraction, Anger, and Aggressive Responding,” by Brad J. Bushman. tl;dr: feed. –

An example of trolling (or maybe not…the inability to distinguish is essential) –

THUNK – 47. Economics is Hard

Economists readily admit their models can’t dictate the best economic system – I wonder how so many people can?

-Links for the Curious-

Meditations on Moloch, an interesting set of thought experiments on the effects of free markets –

“Game Theory & Global Warming,” Schecter et. al, 2008 – SACNAS National Conference, Oct. 9 — 12, 2008

“Earnings Inequality & Mobility in the United States: Evidence from Social Security Data Since 1937,” a very thorough review of data demonstrating that, while income inequality has widened significantly, there is no corresponding increase in mobility –

“Controversies about the Rise of American Inequality: A Survey,” demonstrating that the majority of income growth for the richest Americans in the last couple decades has stemmed from capital gains (not available to lower-income individuals) & self-awarded salary increases –

“The Effect of Unions on Wage Inequality in the United States,” Card, 2001 –

The asterisk indicates highly suspect speculation – please take with a grain of salt!

THUNK – 46. Fiction Lag: Becoming a Character

Have you ever realized you’re acting a little like a fictional character? It’s not just you – “fiction lag” is normal & powerful!

-Links for the Curious-

Urban Dictionary’s entry on fiction lag –

Kaufman & Libby’s “Changing Beliefs & Behavior Through Experience-Taking” –

Galinsky et. al.’s “Perspective-takers behave more stereotypically” –

THUNK – 45. You Should be Making

Everybody’s had an idea for something cool, but some think that it would be beyond them to make it real. Wrong.

-Links for the Curious-

Instructables, a fantastic repository of step-by-step instructions for how to make just about anything –

A resin mold casting tutorial –

The Backyard Bowyer, a guy who puts up comprehensive guides to making your own PVC bows –

The Replica Prop Forum, a community of rabid movie prop reproduction fans who know how to make everything from Stormtrooper armor to movie-accurate Borg cubes –

THUNK – 44. Thinking Clearly & the Origins of Analytic Philosophy

NOTE: I fumble a few definitions & facts in this video (perhaps appropriately) – please be sure to check out some of the links below for a better understanding than I can provide here!

Statements can be true, false, or nonsensical. Analytic philosophy was developed to figure out how to tell the difference, and the current tradition of analytic philosophy strives to make thinking as clear & precise as possible so it’s not hard to do so.

-Links for the Curious-

Reddit commentary (be sure to read MaceWumpus’s fantastic critique!) –

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” –

Frege’s “Method for the Notation of Thought” –

An introduction to modern symbolic logic –

An interview with famous English philosopher A.J. Ayer on Frege and Russell –

THUNK – 43. You Don’t Suck at Math

You might believe that you suck at math…but it’s probably something (fun) you’ve never actually tried before.

-Links for the Curious-

A study in 1978 which found an incredible prevalence of math anxiety among, of all people, college students –

“A Mathematician’s Lament,” by Paul Lockhart –

Paul Lockhart talking some about amazing & unexpected questions that mathematics tries to answer –

An article from the Atlantic about potentially teaching calculus to 5-year-old children –

Vi Hart’s YouTube channel –

“Prime Numbers & the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” by Carl Pomerance at Bell Labs –

Courtesy of pussumman via Reddit, Numberphile’s video about why some people hate math –

THUNK – 42. The Meaning of Life, the Universe, & Everything

What does life, the universe, or anything mean? The most likely answer is both daunting & emboldening at once. (Be sure to check the description for related material!)

-Links for the Curious-

Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness” –

Nietzsche’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra” –

Kierkegaard’s “Sickness Unto Death” –

Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” –

Simone de Bouvoir’s “The Ethics of Ambiguity” –

THUNK – 41. Emotions & Rationality

We frequently think of “emotional” as the opposite of “rational,” but research suggests that feelings might make us think more clearly.

-Links for the Curious-

“Being Emotional During Decision Making – Good or Bad? An Empirical Investigation” by Myeong-Gu Seo & Lisa Feldman Barrett –

“Thinking Straight While Seeing Red: The Influence of Anger on Information Processing” by Wesley G. Moons & Diane M. Mackie –

“Mad enough to see the other side: Anger and the search for disconfirming information” by Maia J. Young, Larissa Z. Tiedens, Heajung Jung & Ming-Hong Tsai –

“Composure at Any Cost? The Cognitive Consequences of Emotion Suppression” by Jane M. Richards & James J. Gross –

“The role of emotion in decision-making: Evidence from neurological patients with orbitofrontal damage” by Antoine Bechara –

The quintessential scene from Star Trek IV: the Journey Home –

THUNK – 40. Why Does Feminism Turn on Itself?

There’s a lot of vitriol for feminists…sometimes from other feminists. Why do cultural movements advocating acceptance and egalitarian principles breed so much infighting?

-Links for the Curious-

A fantastic article from a feminist blogger about the fear of retaliation from bigots for being extreme, and retaliation other feminists for not being extreme enough (thanks to Latkos L for this one!) –

An emotionally charged editorial from a sex-negative feminist about being a minority within a minority of feminism –

A study demonstrating the effect of blind auditions on gender balance in orchestras –

A perfect example of the odd barriers of interpretation which arise when cultural referents are stripped away –

No, seriously, Picard is the best. –

THUNK – 39. When is Ignorance Better than Knowledge?

Nerds like me have an itch to learn new things, but can scratching it be harmful? When is it better to not know?

-Links for the Curious-

An interesting Psychology Today editorial on the truth of the phrase “ignorance is bliss” –

A paper documenting deteriorating mental health for patients diagnosed with terminal illness –

A summary of the discoveries of super-virulent H5N1 strains –

A great philosophical inspection of truth & how we can know it –

From Reddit user denijeur, a summary of a published paper in Science about how less information can sometimes result in better decision-making –

And finally, from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an entry on the Total Perspective Vortex –

THUNK – 38. Superstition & Mindfulness

Many things are supposed to be good or bad luck, but are we gaining or losing something by playing along?

-Links for the Curious-

A breakdown of the most superstitious demographic groups –

An article extolling some of the fun that can be had in apophenia –

An interesting study about how superstitions can actually help people focus on performance –

Any discussion of superstition would be incomplete without a reference to Tim Minchin’s poem “Storm” –

Matthew Crist’s response to THUNK – 35. Health Care Crazy Talk –

The report on existential risks highlighted by Samuel Stringman –

THUNK – 102. Dimensional Analysis & Paperclip Optimizers (Extended Cut)

Dimensional analysis is awesome, but human brains are depressingly easy to distract with number-crunching…still, computers might be even worse!

-Links for the Curious-

Randall Monroe’s “what if?” blog –

A simplified version of Maxwell’s dimensional analysis of the speed of light –

A history of units & dimensional analysis –

Sources of Mathematical Thinking, Dehaene et. al. 1999 –

Summary of the paper from MIT news –

Nick Bostrom’s “Ethical Issues in Advanced Artificial Intelligence” –