Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Staircase, House (Buhrich I), Edinburgh Rd, Castlecrag, May 1958 by Max Dupain

Staircase, House (Buhrich I), Edinburgh Rd, Castlecrag, May 1958 by Max Dupain.

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Doubtless with the best motives, Vladimir Brusiloff had permitted his face to become almost entirely concealed behind a dense zareba of hair

From The Clicking of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse, 1922. In installments.
When Cuthbert had entered the drawing-room on the following Wednesday and had taken his usual place in a distant corner where, while able to feast his gaze on Adeline, he had a sporting chance of being overlooked or mistaken for a piece of furniture, he perceived the great Russian thinker seated in the midst of a circle of admiring females. Raymond Parsloe Devine had not yet arrived.

His first glance at the novelist surprised Cuthbert. Doubtless with the best motives, Vladimir Brusiloff had permitted his face to become almost entirely concealed behind a dense zareba of hair, but his eyes were visible through the undergrowth, and it seemed to Cuthbert that there was an expression in them not unlike that of a cat in a strange backyard surrounded by small boys. The man looked forlorn and hopeless, and Cuthbert wondered whether he had had bad news from home.

This was not the case. The latest news which Vladimir Brusiloff had had from Russia had been particularly cheering. Three of his principal creditors had perished in the last massacre of the bourgeoisie, and a man whom he owed for five years for a samovar and a pair of overshoes had fled the country, and had not been heard of since. It was not bad news from home that was depressing Vladimir. What was wrong with him was the fact that this was the eighty-second suburban literary reception he had been compelled to attend since he had landed in the country on his lecturing tour, and he was sick to death of it. When his agent had first suggested the trip, he had signed on the dotted line without an instant's hesitation. Worked out in roubles, the fees offered had seemed just about right. But now, as he peered through the brushwood at the faces round him, and realized that eight out of ten of those present had manuscripts of some sort concealed on their persons, and were only waiting for an opportunity to whip them out and start reading, he wished that he had stayed at his quiet home in Nijni-Novgorod, where the worst thing that could happen to a fellow was a brace of bombs coming in through the window and mixing themselves up with his breakfast egg.

At this point in his meditations he was aware that his hostess was looming up before him with a pale young man in horn-rimmed spectacles at her side. There was in Mrs. Smethurst's demeanour something of the unction of the master-of-ceremonies at the big fight who introduces the earnest gentleman who wishes to challenge the winner.

Hunters do not produce enough calories to even feed themselves (let alone others) until around age 18

From The Secret of Our Success by Joseph Henrich. Page 63.
Human brain development is related to another unusual feature of our species, our extended childhoods and the emergence of that memorable period called adolescence. Compared to other primates, our gestational and infancy periods (birth to weaning) have shortened while our childhoods have extended and a uniquely human period of adolescence has emerged, prior to full maturity. Childhood is a period of intensive cultural learning, including playing and the practicing of adult roles and skills, during which time our brains reach nearly their adult size while our bodies remain small. Adolescence begins at sexual maturity, after which a growth spurt ensues. During this time, we engage in apprenticeships, as we hone the most complex of adult skills and areas of knowledge, as well as build relationships with peers and look for mates.

The emergence of adolescence and young adulthood has likely been crucial over our evolutionary history, since in hunting and gathering populations, hunters do not produce enough calories to even feed themselves (let alone others) until around age 18 and won’t reach their peak productivity until their late thirties. Interestingly, while hunters reach their peak strength and speed in their twenties, individual hunting success does not peak until around age 40, because success depends more on know-how and refined skills than on physical prowess. By contrast, chimpanzees—who also hunt and gather—can obtain enough calories to sustain themselves immediately after infancy ends, around age 5.5 Consistent with our long period of wiring-up, this pattern and contrast with chimpanzees reveals the degree to which we humans are dependent on learning for our survival as foragers.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

For learning purposes, we are prestige biased, as well as being skill and success biased.

From The Secret of Our Success by Joseph Henrich. Page 43.
We use these prestige cues to help us rapidly zero in on whom to learn from. In essence, prestige cues represent a kind of second-order cultural learning in which we figure out who to learn from by inferring from the behavior of others who they think are worthy of learning from—that is, we culturally learn from whom to learn.
Despite the seeming ubiquity of this phenomenon in the real world, there is actually relatively little direct experimental evidence that people use prestige cues. There is an immense amount of indirect evidence that shows how the prestige of a person or source, such as a newspaper or celebrity, increases the persuasiveness of what they say or the tendency of people to remember what they say. This effect occurs even when the prestige of a person comes from a domain, like golf, that is far removed from the issue they are commenting on (like automobile quality). This provides some evidence, though it does not get at the specific cues “that learners might actually use to guide them, aside from being told that someone is an “expert” or “the best.”

To address this in our laboratory, Maciej Chudek, Sue Birch, and I tested this prestige idea more directly. Sue is a developmental psychologist and Maciej was my graduate student (he did all the real work). We had preschoolers watch a video in which they saw two different potential models use the same object in one of two different ways. In the video, two bystanders entered, looked at both models, and then preferentially watched one of them. The visual attention of the bystanders provided a “prestige cue” that seemingly marked one of the two potential models. Then, participants saw each model select one of two different types of unfamiliar foods and one of two differently colored beverages. They also saw each model use a toy in one of two distinct ways. After the video, the kids were permitted to select one of the two novel foods and one of the two colorful beverages. They could also use the toy any way they wanted. Children were 13 times more likely to use the toy in the same manner as the prestige-cued model compared to the other model. They were also about 4 times more likely to select the food or beverage preferred by the prestige-cued model. Based on questions asked at the end of the experiment, the children had no conscious or expressible awareness of the prestige cues or their effects. These experiments show that young children rapidly and unconsciously tune into the visual attention of others and use it to direct their cultural learning. We are prestige biased, as well as being skill and success biased.

Unknown title by Ryo Takemasa

Cover illustration for Quarterly Magazine Musashino by Ryo Takemasa.

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Your psychology is so deep

From The Clicking of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse, 1922. In installments.
One morning, as he tottered down the road for the short walk which was now almost the only exercise to which he was equal, Cuthbert met Adeline. A spasm of anguish flitted through all his nerve-centres as he saw that she was accompanied by Raymond Parsloe Devine.

"Good morning, Mr. Banks," said Adeline.

"Good morning," said Cuthbert hollowly.

"Such good news about Vladimir Brusiloff."

"Dead?" said Cuthbert, with a touch of hope.

"Dead? Of course not. Why should he be? No, Aunt Emily met his manager after his lecture at Queen's Hall yesterday, and he has promised that Mr. Brusiloff shall come to her next Wednesday reception."

"Oh, ah!" said Cuthbert, dully.

"I don't know how she managed it. I think she must have told him that Mr. Devine would be there to meet him."

"But you said he was coming," argued Cuthbert.

"I shall be very glad," said Raymond Devine, "of the opportunity of meeting Brusiloff."

"I'm sure," said Adeline, "he will be very glad of the opportunity of meeting you."

"Possibly," said Mr. Devine. "Possibly. Competent critics have said that my work closely resembles that of the great Russian Masters."

"Your psychology is so deep."

"Yes, yes."

"And your atmosphere."


Cuthbert in a perfect agony of spirit prepared to withdraw from this love-feast. The sun was shining brightly, but the world was black to him. Birds sang in the tree-tops, but he did not hear them. He might have been a moujik for all the pleasure he found in life.

"You will be there, Mr. Banks?" said Adeline, as he turned away.

"Oh, all right," said Cuthbert.

Narrow technicians versus broader generalists

From 7 Funny, Fawning Reviews of HBO's 'The Final Year' by Christian Toto. Apparently HBO has a documentary out chronicling the final year of the Obama administration, focusing on the foreign policy side of things. The article is a snarky take-down of some of the left wing reviews; reviews reflecting partisan lamentations rather than actual reviews of the documentary itself. I get the snarking but it doesn't add too much to the conversation.

It has been known for several years that some of the keynote initiatives were disasters from their birthing. The past year hasn't actually changed much in that regard other than to make more broadly apparent just how much a disaster that whole foreign policy team was.

But even shallow, snarky articles can have interesting information in them.
Reviews of the film fell snugly in that media bias category. The movie earned an 84 percent “fresh” rating at Critics almost uniformly cheered on “Year’s” obvious bias toward its final year movie postersubject matter. (Movie audiences were less kind, offering a 50 percent rating.)
That is interesting. I don't watch a lot of movies and am not especially au courant with all the ins and outs of the Hollywood apparatus.

But a 35 point difference between the "cultural elite" and regular audiences is a pretty wide chasm. Perhaps it is the case for all movies, in which case, it signifies nothing. But if the average gap between audiences and effete elite reviewers is usually much smaller, then there is some sort of signal in there.

It is customary for insider technicians in a field, whether it be baseball or foreign policy, to berate the ignorance and unknowingness of the population at large and how they just don't get it. But people "get it" a lot more often than the insider technicians would care to acknowledge. Insiders lose perspective. The at-large population may not have mastery of the details but they often have a better grounding in the larger context.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Cabernet and Coffee by Shawn Zents

Cabernet and Coffee by Shawn Zents

Click to enlarge.

But the data take a clear side in that debate.

From The Racism Treadmill by Coleman Hughes.
The prevailing view among progressives today is that America hasn’t made much progress on racism. While no one would argue that abolishing slavery and dissolving Jim Crow weren’t good first steps, the progressive attitude toward such reforms is nicely summarized by Malcolm X’s famous quip, “You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you’re making progress.” Aside from outlawing formalized bigotry, many progressives believe that things haven’t improved all that much. Racist attitudes towards blacks, if only in the form of implicit bias, are thought to be widespread; black men are still liable to be arrested in a Starbucks for no good reason; plus we have a president who has found it difficult to denounce neo-Nazis. If racism still looms large in our social and political lives, then, as one left-wing commentator put it, “progress is debatable.”

But the data take a clear side in that debate. In his controversial bestseller Enlightenment Now, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker notes a steep decline in racism. At the turn of the 20th century, lynchings occurred at a rate of three per week. Now, racially-motivated killings of blacks occur at a rate of zero to one per year.1 What’s more, racist attitudes that were once commonplace have now become fringe. A Gallup poll found that only 4 percent of Americans approved of marriages between blacks and whites in 1958. By 2013, that number had climbed to 87 percent, prompting pollsters to call it “one of the largest shifts of public opinion in Gallup history.”

Why can’t progressives admit that we’ve made progress? Pinker’s answer for what he dubs “progressophobia” is two-fold. First, our intuitions about whether trends have increased or decreased are shaped by what we can easily recall—news items, shocking events, personal experience, etc. Second, we are more sensitive to negative stimuli than we are to positive ones. These two bugs of human psychology—called the availability bias and the negativity bias, respectively—make us prone to doomsaying, inclined to mistake freak news events for trends, and blind to the slow march of progress.
Excellent summary of some of the confounding research out there which contradicts the ideological mantras.

Some other interesting arguments:
But the premise built into the thinking of Coates and Kendi is false. I call it the disparity fallacy. The disparity fallacy holds that unequal outcomes between two groups must be caused primarily by discrimination, whether overt or systemic. What’s puzzling about believers in the disparity fallacy is not that they apply the belief too broadly, but that they apply it too narrowly. Any instance of whites outperforming blacks is adduced as evidence of discrimination. But when a disparity runs the other way—that is, blacks outperforming whites—discrimination is never invoked as a causal factor.

Here’s a clear example of the disparity fallacy: a recent study by researchers at Stanford, Harvard, and the Census Bureau found that, “[a]mong those who grow up in families with comparable incomes, black men grow up to earn substantially less than the white men.” A New York Times article attributed this disparity to “the punishing reach of racism for black boys.” But the study also found that black women have higher college attendance rates than white men, and higher incomes than white women, conditional on parental income. The fact that black women outperformed their white counterparts on these measures, however, was not attributed to the punishing reach of racism against whites.


One crucial way in which groups differ is culture. Culture matters enormously. The importance of culture is, ironically, a value often expressed by progressives. When presented with arguments that point to genetic influences on human behavior, many on the Left respond by emphasizing the importance of culture over genetics, that is, nurture over nature (see Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate for more.) Moreover, cultures differ from one another. This is true by definition. It’s unclear what the “multi” in “multi-culturalism” could possibly mean if cultures were all the same. Put these two premises together, and you arrive at what should be an equally banal conclusion: if culture matters enormously, and cultures differ from one another, then differences between cultures matter enormously.

The supply of Russian novelists must eventually give out

From The Clicking of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse, 1922. In installments.
Even as he spoke the words his leg was itching to kick himself for being such a chump, but the sudden expression of pleasure on Adeline's face soothed him; and he went home that night with the feeling that he had taken on something rather attractive. It was only in the cold, grey light of the morning that he realized what he had let himself in for.

I do not know if you have had any experience of suburban literary societies, but the one that flourished under the eye of Mrs. Willoughby Smethurst at Wood Hills was rather more so than the average. With my feeble powers of narrative, I cannot hope to make clear to you all that Cuthbert Banks endured in the next few weeks. And, even if I could, I doubt if I should do so. It is all very well to excite pity and terror, as Aristotle recommends, but there are limits. In the ancient Greek tragedies it was an ironclad rule that all the real rough stuff should take place off-stage, and I shall follow this admirable principle. It will suffice if I say merely that J. Cuthbert Banks had a thin time. After attending eleven debates and fourteen lectures on vers libre Poetry, the Seventeenth-Century Essayists, the Neo-Scandinavian Movement in Portuguese Literature, and other subjects of a similar nature, he grew so enfeebled that, on the rare occasions when he had time for a visit to the links, he had to take a full iron for his mashie shots.

It was not simply the oppressive nature of the debates and lectures that sapped his vitality. What really got right in amongst him was the torture of seeing Adeline's adoration of Raymond Parsloe Devine. The man seemed to have made the deepest possible impression upon her plastic emotions. When he spoke, she leaned forward with parted lips and looked at him. When he was not speaking—which was seldom—she leaned back and looked at him. And when he happened to take the next seat to her, she leaned sideways and looked at him. One glance at Mr. Devine would have been more than enough for Cuthbert; but Adeline found him a spectacle that never palled. She could not have gazed at him with a more rapturous intensity if she had been a small child and he a saucer of ice-cream. All this Cuthbert had to witness while still endeavouring to retain the possession of his faculties sufficiently to enable him to duck and back away if somebody suddenly asked him what he thought of the sombre realism of Vladimir Brusiloff. It is little wonder that he tossed in bed, picking at the coverlet, through sleepless nights, and had to have all his waistcoats taken in three inches to keep them from sagging.

This Vladimir Brusiloff to whom I have referred was the famous Russian novelist, and, owing to the fact of his being in the country on a lecturing tour at the moment, there had been something of a boom in his works. The Wood Hills Literary Society had been studying them for weeks, and never since his first entrance into intellectual circles had Cuthbert Banks come nearer to throwing in the towel. Vladimir specialized in grey studies of hopeless misery, where nothing happened till page three hundred and eighty, when the moujik decided to commit suicide. It was tough going for a man whose deepest reading hitherto had been Vardon on the Push-Shot, and there can be no greater proof of the magic of love than the fact that Cuthbert stuck it without a cry. But the strain was terrible and I am inclined to think that he must have cracked, had it not been for the daily reports in the papers of the internecine strife which was proceeding so briskly in Russia. Cuthbert was an optimist at heart, and it seemed to him that, at the rate at which the inhabitants of that interesting country were murdering one another, the supply of Russian novelists must eventually give out.