No example of a barter economy, pure and simple, has ever been described, let alone the emergence from it of money; all available ethnography suggests there has never been such a thing

September 24, 2013 § Leave a comment


What do you usually experience when you read?

Some people say that they generally hear the words of the text in their heads, either in their own voice or in the voices of narrator or characters; others say they rarely do this. Some people say they generally form visual images of the scene or ideas depicted; others say they rarely do this. Some people say that when they are deeply enough absorbed in reading, they no longer see the page, instead playing the scene like a movie before their eyes; others say that even when fully absorbed they still always visually experience the words on the page.

Some quotes:

Baars (2003): “Human beings talk to themselves every moment of the waking day. Most readers of this sentence are doing it just now.”

Jaynes (1976): “Right at this moment… as you read, you are not conscious of the letters or even of the words, or even of the syntax or the sentences, or the punctuation, but only of their meaning.”

Titchener (1909): “I instinctively arrange the facts or arguments in some visual pattern [such as] a suggestion of dull red… of angles rather than curves… pretty clearly, the picture of movement along lines, and of neatness or confusion where the moving lines come together.”

Wittgenstein (1946-1948): While reading “I have impressions, see pictures in my mind’s eye, etc. I make the story pass before me like pictures, like a cartoon story.”

Burke (1757): While reading “a very diligent examination of my own mind, and getting others to consider theirs, I do not find that one in twenty times any such picture is formed.”

Hurlburt (2007): Some people “apparently simply read, comprehending the meaning without images or speech. Melanie’s general view… is that she starts a passage in inner speech and then “takes off” into images.”

Alan and I can find no systematic studies of the issue.

We recruited 414 U.S. mechanical Turk workers to participate in a study on the experience of reading. First we asked them for their general impressions about their own experiences while reading. How often — on a 1-7 scale from “never” to “half of the time” to “always” — do they experience visual imagery? Inner speech? The words on the page?  read more


I have a life without latent content

November 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

The nature and management of assholes — or as I generally prefer to say, jerks — deserves far more attention than it has received thus far in moral psychology. Thus, I commend to your attention Aaron James’s recent book Assholes: A Theory.

James defines an asshole as follows. The asshole

(1.) allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically;
(2.) does this out of an entrenched sense of entitlement; and
(3.) is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people (p. 5).

Nuances of ordinary usage aside, it does seem to me that this captures an important type of person, and one deserving of the epithet.

Two of James’s insights about the asshole particularly strike me. First, why is the asshole so infuriating, even when the harm he does is slight? James’s answer is that the asshole’s entrenched sense of entitlement — the asshole’s refusal to treat others as equals — adds particular sting to the injuries he forces upon us. It’s not just that he cuts in line or takes the last two cookies for himself. It’s that, even when confronted, he refuses to recognize us as deserving equal consideration for line position and cookie consumption. A mere jerk (in James’s terminology) might be moved upon reflection to confess the wrongness of his actions (even if still refusing to yield the second cookie) but all such appeals slide off the asshole. In fact, the more you protest, the more the asshole glazes over and rises, in his own mind, above you. (Here I go somewhat beyond James’s own remarks, but I hope I remain within his general spirit.)

Second — and equally infuriating — the asshole, unlike the psychopath, is morally motivated. It’s not just “morality be damned, I’m getting mine!” Rather, the asshole feels morally entitled to special advantages. An injustice is done, he feels, if he has to wait in the post office line equally with everyone else. After all, he’s not a mere schmoe like you! Sanctimonious selfishness is the mark of the asshole.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: David Crawford

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