Saturday, September 3, 2011

Duncan and Brian

A couple of books are giving me lots of moments of pause, which is more or less a sign of a thought-provoking book, no?  I have mentioned them both before.  Duncan J. Watts has written a couple of books but the only one I have been into is Everything is Obvious, Once You Know the Answer.  He is an Australian physicist and sociologist, specializing in network research, for Yahoo and others.  

I will be reading along in "Everything …", and in making a point, Watts will mention some research results that are quite fascinating.  Example: When a wine store plays German music, its sales of German wine rise.  When it plays French music, French wine sales go up.  Cool!  There was a debate at one time among education theorist about sending information to student minds by multiple channels, such as visually and aurally.  No doubt, some imaginative person will find a way to send scents or touch experiences that also relate to the lesson.  This result on music and sales does get me thinking about what influences me, especially since I know that my subconscious can pick up things I am not consciously aware of.

I did my dissertation on decision theory as a basis for game and education simulations.  (I am bound by pride to insert the link but save yourself and don't click on it.)  Much about decision theory is about trying to bridge math and psychology and that ain't easy.  If you read Duncan Luce and others about his time and look into the original work by John von Neuman and Oskar Morgenstern, you can look at the original axioms they used as basic assumptions about choice and decision.  One of those basic assumptions relates to preference and it says that if you prefer tuna to beef, it will not affect your preference if you could also have a BLT sandwich.  However, it turns out that people are tricky and less rigid than math (big surprise!) and there are good and important examples where the presence of a third possibility does affect which of two other choices is selected, even when it itself is not chosen.

Watts' main point is that people are quite complex, especially in large groups.  But also singly and in pairs. as extremely well discussed by Brian Christian in The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive. (I give the whole title because it is exactly correct.  Time for pastors, priests, rabbis and shamans to take a look into this subject!!)  I have sent copies of Christian's book to four friends.  It has a very high rating and was the subject of excellent articles in The New Yorker and the Atlantic.)  The odd wording of the title comes from trying to be judged a human being and not a computer by human judges who can only see what you type.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Popular Posts

Follow @olderkirby