Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

October 5, 2010

The Human Nature Top 10

Filed under: cognitive biases,Culture,Psychology — Razib Khan @ 8:35 am

A few days Kevin Drum proposed a “Human Nature Top 10.” Here are the criteria:

Not personal pet theories, but aspects of human nature that are (a) widely accepted and relatively noncontroversial among professionals, and (b) underappreciated by most of us. They can come from anywhere: economics, psychology, sociology, politics, anthropology, whatever.

He offers two: loss aversion & regression to the mean. These are excellent. I’ll chip in with two. Mine are probably a touch more tendentious, but I’m going to offer them anyway (I don’t even know what the right terms are, but I think they’re real phenomena which I’ve seen alluded to in the literature):


1: Golden Ageism – the idea that it was better in the past. That we have traversed through the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, and we’re now in the Iron Age. That we’re in the Kali Yuga. That things were better when the Sages ruled. In more concrete terms, a reluctance to acknowledge that poverty is far less of a problem today than it was in the past. A confident knowledge that Americans were smarter in the past. That American manufacturers make less than they did in the past.

2: Cheap Futurism – Both The Myth of the Rational Market and Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations allude to the fact that when it comes to the stock market there is decades of research that it is basically impossible for the smaller investor to systematically “beat the market” by anything other than luck (while most individuals and institutions genuinely beating the market are probably big players with insider information). This means that the whole industry of investing advice is premised on a false model of how the world works, and a substantial proportion of those proffering the advice likely are aware that their insights are “for entertainment purposes only.” But it has been impossible to get the public to not pay attention to these services, first the print newsletters, and now the overwrought programs on CNBC. More generally there is a huge market for sloppy ideologically tinged futurism of all stripes. The more hedged and cautious futurism is the less informative and interesting it is. So the most marketable prognostications are bold and almost always glaringly wrong.

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