Beginnings loom larger than endings of past and recurrent events

by on April 9, 2017 at 7:11 am in History, Philosophy, The Arts, Uncategorized | Permalink

That is the theme of new research by Karl Halvor Teigen, et.al., here is the abstract:

Events are temporal “figures”, which can be defined as identifiable segments in time, bounded by beginnings and endings. But the functions and importance of these two boundaries differ. We argue that beginnings loom larger than endings by attracting more attention, being judged as more important and interesting, warranting more explanation, and having more causal power. This difference follows from a lay notion that additions (the introduction of something new) imply more change and demand more effort than do subtractions (returning to a previous state of affairs). This “beginning advantage” is demonstrated in eight studies of people’s representations of epochs and events on a historical timeline as well as in cyclical change in the annual seasons. People think it is more important to know when wars and reigns started than when they ended, and are more interested in reading about beginnings than endings of historical movements. Transitional events (such as elections and passages from one season to the next) claim more interest and grow in importance when framed as beginnings of what follows than as conclusions of what came before. As beginnings are often identified in retrospect, the beginning advantage may distort and exaggerate their actual historical importance.

Now let me tell you how I first became interested in this paper…we’ll leave aside why it didn’t quite convince me…

1 prior_test2 April 9, 2017 at 7:34 am

‘we’ll leave aside why it didn’t quite convince me’

Because the excellent Kevin Lewis is no longer self-recommending?

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2 rayward April 9, 2017 at 7:36 am

By chance (?), today’s NYT has an article about The Fourth Turn, Steve Bannon’s guide for setting policy (a scary thought). In the book, the authors predict a coming historical cycle (the fourth), a cataclysmic event that requires extreme measures both in preparation for it and in response to it, something on par with the apocalypse described in the Book of Revelation. One who has predicted the Great Reset and better days that follow it wouldn’t be inclined to accept such a pessimistic view, but would welcome the coming cycle as the start of something positive. Predictions are hard, especially about the future. My favorite are predictions based on code that’s in the Bible. Of course, true believers often see the image of Jesus in their mashed potatoes. Notwithstanding central banks and Lord Keynes, economic cycles, with their booms and busts, are as likely as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Busts, unfortunately, often trigger more than economic calamity, from wars between nations to wars within nations: somebody must be held to account for the suffering. Bannon’s favorite book would hold non-conformists to account, anyone not with us (or them from my perspective) must be against us (them) and therefore held to account. It’s not Cowen’s idea of the Great Reset. At least, I don’t believe it is. But I’m an optimist by nature.

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3 rayward April 9, 2017 at 7:38 am
4 rayward April 9, 2017 at 10:42 am

In his book, Cowen doesn’t identify or describe the Great Reset. As I’ve commented before, the likely beginning of it will be another financial crisis, but this time asset prices will collapse, as the Fed either won’t try to stop the collapse or can’t. Of course, this is the “remedy” of the Austrian School. I also suspect that those living through the Great Reset will long remember its beginning but not its end, just as the Great Depression generation remembered the beginning of the Great Depression but not its end. For religious readers of this blog, the Biblical analogue to the Great Reset can be found in Ecclesiastes. For every economic expansion, there must be a contraction; and for every economic contraction, there must be an expansion.

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5 Michael April 9, 2017 at 9:20 am

Began with a bang. Ended with a whimper.

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6 Thiago Ribeiro April 9, 2017 at 9:53 am

Because beginnings loom larger than endings of past and recurrent events. Haven’t you paid attention?

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7 dearieme April 9, 2017 at 10:50 am

Old soldiers never die they only fade away.

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8 Mark Thorson April 9, 2017 at 12:47 pm

Old professors never fade away, but they do die.

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9 Matthew Young April 9, 2017 at 1:25 pm

Buy the rumor, sell the news

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10 msgkings April 10, 2017 at 1:40 pm

A stich in time saves nine

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11 Thanatos Savehn April 9, 2017 at 9:20 am

If decisive, as in horse races, football games and war in Europe and the Pacific (Secretariat, sudden death overtime, VE, VJ Day, etc.), we focus on endings. If inconclusive, e.g. our various misadventures in the Middle East, we focus on beginnings in order to learn from prior mistakes, to cast blame and to reassure ourselves that inside every Arab tribesman there really is a Locke/Smith-reading American trying to get out.

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12 Ray Lopez April 9, 2017 at 9:22 am

I think you are the next “Thaler”-type behavioral scientist of the social sciences.

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13 Thor April 9, 2017 at 11:27 am

Good point. I will say that with reference to sudden death overtime, the best sports analysis goes back into the play to see the provenance of the winning play.

The sequence that concludes with the winning basket, kick/header, touchdown or slapshot is not just illuminating to assistant coaches…

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14 dearieme April 10, 2017 at 11:55 am

“If inconclusive, e.g. our various misadventures in the Middle East, we focus on beginnings in order to learn from prior mistakes”: it had not occurred to me that that was an American custom.

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15 Alex April 9, 2017 at 10:18 am

Contra:

– any great sports event (with the possible and almost singular exception of Germany-Brasil in the World Cup – but seriously anything else – take the most recent super bowl, NBA/MLB finals, tennis, golf etc etc all are remembered for the ending)

– Decline and Fall. Does Gibbon really deserve additional credit for popularizing an ending? No.

I’m unconvinced.

I’m unconvinced.

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16 Anonymous April 9, 2017 at 10:45 am

Sporting events differ because there is no insight to be found, or interpretation to be made, about the confluence of circumstances that led to them. Any event that is openly planned in advance and bounded in scope is going to be about results, not causes.

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17 Thor April 9, 2017 at 11:19 am

This thread didn’t begin well,as it commenced with the predictable: snark from Prior and a couple of logorrheic paragraphs from Rayward.

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18 prior_test2 April 9, 2017 at 11:51 am

And now, you aren’t ending it either. Though who knows how fate turns – you might, in the end.

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19 rayward April 9, 2017 at 1:25 pm

Of course, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between The Fourth Turn and the “left behind” series of books. Indeed, books by true believers are all the same: they are apocalyptic. One could make the case that Cowen’s book is of the same genre; indeed, one could speculate that after the election he rewrote the ending to account for the unexpected result in the election, that the draft before the election was far more explicit about the apocalypse that awaits. What we have is a book that ends with a prediction for the Great Reset, but without identifying or describing it (other than some will find it very uncomfortable). What is the Great Reset? Will the rich become the poor, the faithful poor become the rich, as prophesied in the Book of Revelation?

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20 Noumenon72 April 9, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Tyler should put a link to the “Wipe Out Annoying People On MR Blog” GreaseMonkey script at the beginning of every comment thread, not just that one time. Someone should reply to every Prior post with a link to it.

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21 Anonymous Bosch April 9, 2017 at 2:52 pm

> “People think it is more important to know when wars and reigns started than when they ended, and are more interested in reading about beginnings than endings of historical movements”

Tell that to all the cults waiting for the apocalypse to happen.

The old quip that comedy = tragedy + time points to another problem with the idea: where we choose to end a story is highly significant for what sort of a story we perceive it to have been. Hence the frustration with books and movies with open, ambiguous endings.

Finally, any event – say, the death of a king – can be the beginning of one story, the turning point of another, and the end of a third. To say that we are more interested in the beginning of a reign presupposes that it serves as the beginning of a story.

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