Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Jane Austen, Game Theorist

Michael Chwe, himself a game theorist/political scientist, has a new book out under this title. As the befittingly straightforward heading suggest, he argues that the English dame was the unacknowledged founder of the academic field in which he studiously labors. How did he make this discovery? As he was watching “Clueless,” a romantic comedy from the 1990s loosely based on “Emma,” he was struck by all the interpersonal manipulation and strategizing he saw unfolding on the screen.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The queen of happiness

A profile of Sonia Lyubomirsky in the NYT (“Happiness Inc.”) quotes another psychologist referring to her as just that – the “queen of happiness.” She has a new book on the subject, in which she argues that we all have a “set point” of happiness – a level to which we tend to return after pleasant or unpleasant experiences as we become habituated to these. So she is a bit skeptical of the longer-term happiness-inducing effects of counting one’s blessings, expressing gratitude, helping others, and other evidence-based prescriptions given by positive psychologists. She no longer even considers her a member of the “positive psychology” movement. Needless to say, she doesn’t believe material acquisitions are very promising either. All this raises an all-important question – can you, then, raise your happiness set point?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Rudeness as self-empowerment

There has bee some fretting lately about the apparent increase of rude and inconsiderate behavior in all sorts of settings. I guess must be seen as yet another alarmist campaign targeting an which practically begs for a positive spin. And this is provided quite nicely by NYT humorist Joyce Wadler. She describes how she found herself suddenly transformed from being a ridiculously polite and courteous person to someone who would blurt out rude rebuttals, rebukes, turndowns, putdowns, etc. at unsuspecting strangers. At first she was a bit annoyed at her newly found verbal disinhibition. But then she discovered something amazing – it turned out this new mode of speaking up held a big promise.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Don’t worry – ever

Hanna Rosin has another programmatic article out in The Atlantic, “The Touch-Screen Generation.” It’s partly based on Rosin’s observation of her own kids growing up, and one could expect her to be slightly worried about all that touch-screening going on. This would only demonstrate, though, that you don’t know her. Rosin has opted to impose no limits on the use of touch-screen devices by her children. The younger one, her 4-year-ol son, is practically growing up with the technology, and she is happy that the tablet eventually became just a regular part of his toy rotation. Is Rosin’s blasé attitude evidence-based, a reflection of credible scientific research into the effects of touch-screen gadgets on the minds and brains of the young? Perhaps, since she quotes several researchers sounding progressively unconcerned as the article unfolds. I have a hunch, though, that her laissez faire attitude stems from something else – Rosin’s apparent inability to cringe from anything.

The poverty of hypnotic hyper-realism

Art critic and academic Roberta Smith reviews in the NYT (“Blazing a Trail for Hypnotic Hyper-Realism”) a traveling exhibition of the Pre-Rafaelites, an English artistic movement launched in the mid-19th century. The members of this self-described “brotherhood” sought to return to an earlier artistic expressiveness, which had allegedly been smothered by the classical poses and smooth compositions of Raphael and other Renaissance painters. Smith compares unfavorably the heavily ornamented paintings of the English artists to the less realistic and more innovative works of their French contemporaries Manet and Cezanne. She berates the hapless Pre-Raphaelites for the “moralizing and endless intricacies” marking their paintings, and for the way “they pile symbol upon symbol, detail upon detail and bright color upon color until the eyes beg for mercy.”


It seems the empiricist “brainset” #DavidBrooks described in his #EmpiricalKids piece has some peculiar side effects. The first among these is apparently broad-spectrum toleration, or social libertarianism. As another op-ed columnist, Charles Blow, writes in the NYT (“The Young Are the Restless”), 70 percent of American #Millennials now support gay marriage – an increase of 40 percent since 2003, while numbers have barely edged among the older generations (including the hapless Gen Xers). Curiously, Millennials are more likely to support some sort of gun control, though they were “the least likely to believe that the shootings in Newtown reflect broader problems in American society,” and “the most likely to believe that such shootings are simply the isolated acts of troubled individuals.” This obliviousness of the the forest, or the workings of broader systemic forces, may also explain the unbending optimism of most Millennials – despite the considered opinion of most experts who prophesy a bleak future for any generation which comes of economic age at a time of crisis and high unemployment (a view reflected in another recent NYT article under a rhetorical question serving as a title: "Do Millennials Stand a Chance in the Real World?").