Assorted links

by on May 9, 2012 at 10:52 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1 TallDave May 9, 2012 at 11:12 am

1. Interesting experiment.

2. I remember reading a long while ago that there is supposedly a tradeoff between episodic memory and reasoning — the more you do one, the less you can do the other.

The way he frames religion is very interesting.

2 JasonL May 9, 2012 at 11:12 am

1 – Adam Davidson is in tone and mission one of my favorite people.

2 – I’m not sure it would be possible to give up stories in the way suggested, and even if it were possible there is surely some value in the ability to access elements of common culture and to give common language to aspirations. The comparison to religion seems inapt insofar as variants of religion place high demands on believers to accept doctrine as truth, whereas stories make no such demands. The problems with religion lie not in its story like properties, but in the requirement to replace skepticism with dogma.

3 Willitts May 9, 2012 at 8:14 pm

2. Oh, I disagree, the comparison is quite apt. I think Hollywood and most authors want you to connect their fiction to reality to the point it alters your perception of reality. Through not-so-subtle allusions they send a clear, albeit indirect, message. Fiction permits licentious exaggeration, contrived chains of events, begging the question, and deus ex machina rescues to evoke emotional relief.

Fiction is more of a religion than religion. It would be more interesting to judge religious texts as works of fiction. How good are the stories? If they are not good, why didn’t organized religion make them better over thousands of years?

Turn water into wine at a wedding? Is that your big opening act?

Mohammed rides a frightened, sweating, flying horse to Jerusalem?

Parting the Red Sea? How about teleportation? Why doesn’t God just smite the Egyptians like in a Monty Python skit?

As stories, they are quite humble. The metaphors in Jesus’s parables are great stories in my opinion.

4 Engineer May 9, 2012 at 11:15 am

When we watch a movie, my wife will sometimes say “Why did he do that?” .. and then I say “because the scriptwriter thought it would sound dramatic (or shocking etc.)

5 Andrew' May 9, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Similarly, I was watching Alvin and the Chipmunks The Squeakuel for the 3rd time (because it’s just that great) and I said to my wife “I don’t understand sequels, why on earth is Dave, the main human character, laid up in the hospital for the whole movie?”

My toddler pipes in with a straight face “Because Alvin broke the cable and the big Alvin billboard smashed into Dave. Understand now?”

6 Urso May 9, 2012 at 12:40 pm

I had a similar experience this weekend, watching the Avengers with my friends.

7 Engineer May 9, 2012 at 11:20 am

These days there are people in business who call themselves “startup storytellers” (whereas previously there were “product evangelists).

8 Ted Craig May 9, 2012 at 11:22 am

2. Aren’t most facts presented as stories? Isn’t this Taleb’s great criticism of history?

9 Sammler May 9, 2012 at 11:26 am

Pardon the link-pimping, but I’m rather fond of my old Name That Tune.

10 jimi May 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm

your font and background color choices suck ass.

11 jimi May 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm

never mind. it fixed……

12 James May 9, 2012 at 11:32 am

Tyler, what do you think of the Sound Dollar Act? The main thrust takes away the Fed’s dual mandate, specifically the goal of maximum employment, so the Fed would focus only on price stability. It also gives full voting rights to all bank presidents, among other things. Here’s a brief article from the WSJ on the bill.

13 Bernard Guerrero May 9, 2012 at 11:44 am

2 – Suggested reading: “The Life Of Pi”

14 Cliff Styles May 9, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Nabokov, among others, sees fiction as a laboratory. Why give that up? And so what if there are mistakes made in that laboratory? Mistakes of causation or status-seeking or psychology are made everywhere outside of stories, and without any help from the IQ-reducing effect of stories that Professor Cowen goes on about. I see stories as expanding the domain of personal induction in ways that news cannot.

15 Sam X May 10, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Indeed. Fiction and stories provide society with very useful tools and feedback. Of course, a large portion of what we experience as “stories” is co-opted corporate blabbering, which is perhaps what Robin Hanson was alluding to. But like democracy, just because our corporatocracy has corrupted storytelling doesn’t mean the format is flawed, it means our methods of transmission are flawed. In this sense it does remind me of religion; big media stories often spin the same wheels, tell the same stories, and comfort, pacify. You can receive your support for a small donation to the church.

But fiction, separated from the construct of money, can be a laboratory, it can be a method of learning empathy, it can be the allergic reaction to social policies.

16 k May 9, 2012 at 1:25 pm
17 Doc Merlin May 9, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Humans think in stories. We can’t really process complex time-dependent information otherwise. For us, giving up stories is the same as giving up thinking.

18 CThomas May 9, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Re 2, the analogy seems obviously wrong. If one gives up religion because one believes it is false, that is refusing to ascribe a particular truth-value (i.e., “true”) to the relgious claims. Giving up stories is entirely different, because the enjoyer of stories never believed them. The enjoyer of (fictional) stories ascribes the same truth value to the stories (“false”) as the one who has given them up. So the argument doesnn’t work. And I say that as someone who both believes in a particular religion and who deosn’t like fictional stories.


19 Steve May 9, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Very interesting. I do not partake in religion but do enjoy fictional stories and believe something very similar. The fact that religion is not just a story is part of what makes it religion. A person who takes up religion for its benefits without believing in it is a hypocrite and rightly should be vilified by the faithful adherents. It may be that the author is saying we should try to make a sincere attempt to believe in the religion but the initial motives are very questionable.

20 Bernard Guerrero May 9, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Eh, but if the story has an appreciable effect on the listener’s mindset, that is, on the listener’s way of processing additional data about real life, then the “reality” which one ascribes to the story is irrelevant. What matters is not the literal reality of the story itself, but rather the reality given to the lesson by the listener.

21 Non Papa May 9, 2012 at 11:36 pm

According to Gallup, most Americans think the Bible is the “inspired word of God” but don’t believe the events it describes are literally true ( This suggests that many religious people don’t simply ascribe truth-value to religious claims or, at least, that the “truth-value scale” is not binomial.

22 Alex K. May 10, 2012 at 1:13 am

We always live with one foot (mental state) into the uncertain future. Stories shape our emotional expectations and emotional responses to such possible futures.

Any “architecture” of our possible emotional responses to an uncertain future should include some part that is by and large independent of the actual future — e.g. we need emotional skills for being persistent, being curious etc., and some simple criteria for deciding when to be what.

Religion is a set of stories crafted and improved over millennia with the (perhaps only unconsciously intended) purpose of giving the best shape to those emotional responses.

It is rational to give up on the concrete content of the stories (religious or otherwise) for being simply false. It is irrational to give up on the power of stories to give structure to our emotional responses. It is also advisable to be conservative in how much we depart from the emotional structures enacted by religious myths — our scientistic age is not as scientific at it likes to pretend, and the thousands of years of experimentation in religion still have the upper hand over current science in guiding our emotional life.

23 Ray Lopez May 10, 2012 at 1:31 am

The best story was the NY Times story on economist Paul Romer, of the growth theory fame, trying to establish a sort of Libertarian “Sealand” in Honduras. Well worth reading. Excerpt below.

“Romer hasn’t yet been able to persuade any nations to take on the role of custodian (Sweden and Britain both passed), so Honduras has named a board of overseers until there are enough people to form a democracy. Romer, who is expected to be chairman, is hoping to build a city that can accommodate 10 million people, which is 2 million more than the current population of Honduras. His charter city will have extremely open immigration policies to attract foreign workers from all over”

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