Sunday, August 30, 2009

Do Opposites Attract? Not Usually, Except Maybe When It Comes To Money

There was an intersting article in the New York Times a few weeks ago called I Say Spend. You Say No. We’re in Love. by Catherine Rampell. Here is the intro:

"Despite the old saying “opposites attract,” scholars have found that in almost every way imaginable, people tend to choose mates who look, sound and act as they do. But in the area perhaps most fraught with potential conflict — money — somehow, some way, people gravitate toward their polar opposite, a new study says. “Spendthrifts” and “tightwads” (which, as it turns out, are actual academic terms) tend to marry the other. Unfortunately, these dichotomized duos report unhappier marriages than people with more similar attitudes toward spending."

The rest of the article explains the research that has been done on this by marketing and psychology professors.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Does Evolutionary Psychology Support Joseph Campbell's Belief In The Need For A World Mythology?

The mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote a book called The Hero With A Thousand Faces which inspired George Lucas to make the Star Wars movies. Campbell often talked about the need for a new world mythology. This issue came up in a fascinating article in yesterday’s New York Times called a “A Grand Bargain Over Evolution” by Robert Wright. It discusses how “religion and science are actually compatible” because “evolutionary psychologists have developed a plausible account of the moral sense.” The part of the article that reminded me of Campbell is below. Then that is followed by quotes from him that are very similar. He died in 1987, so his remarks were very prophetic.

Here is the NY Times quote:

“Clearly, this evolutionary narrative could fit into a theology with some classic elements: a divinely imparted purpose that involves a struggle toward the good, a struggle that even leads to a kind of climax of history. Such a theology could actually abet the good, increase the chances of a happy ending. A more evolved religion could do what religion has often done in the past: use an awe-inspiring story to foster social cohesion — except this time on a global scale.

Of course, religion doesn’t have a monopoly on awe and inspiration. The story that science tells, the story of nature, is awesome, and some people get plenty of inspiration from it, without needing the religious kind. What’s more, science has its own role to play in knitting the world together. The scientific enterprise has long been on the frontiers of international community, fostering an inclusive, cosmopolitan ethic — the kind of ethic that any religion worthy of this moment in history must also foster.”

Now what Campbell had to say. From page 112 of the book An Open Life: Joseph Campbell In Conversation With Michael Toms.

Michael Toms often interviewed Campbell at KQED in San Francisco for the radio program New Dimensions. Here they discussed social fragmentation. The following two paragraphs are from Campbell.

“And there's going to be [social fragmentation] for a long time. Unfortunately, many of the new mystically motivated movements are reactionary against other peoples. We have this "Power" and that "Power" and the other "Power." These are delaying actions. People are afraid to move into the free fall of a totally new way of looking at others. So the new mythology to come must be a global mythology, and it's got to solve the problem of the in-group by showing that there's no out-group. We're all members of a society of the planet, not of one particular place, and the fact that the three main religions of the Western world-Judaism, Christianity, and Islam-can't live together in Beruit is a refutation of all three in terms of their value for the contemporary world. They're monstrous! We must begin to realize that each is saying in his own language what the other is trying to say in his. There must be brotherhood and cooperation. Because unless that comes, we're going to blow ourselves to smithereens.

Every single one of the old horizon-bound mythologies reserved love for the in-group, and aggression and denigration were reserved for the out-group. Now, something's got to break that. And when we see that picture of our planet taken from the moon, the question arises: What are we going to do with our aggression? How is it going to be absorbed into love and transmuted from gross matter to gold? I think teaching "I-thou" relationships, rather than the "I-it" relationships, which [theologian Martin] Buber spoke about, is the first step. The teaching of humanity rather than the teaching of in-group appreciations is what's important.”

I think that Campbell clearly talked about the same thing as what Robert Wright did in the Times article. He mentioned narrative and awe-inspiring story as something that could foster social cohesion. This is the mythology that Campbell discussed.

If you are wondering why an economist is discussing this, click on the link above which explains the name of this blog. It has to with entrepreneurs being like heroes from mythology. Campbell thought so, too and you can read about that at Joseph Campbell on Entrepreneurship

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Two Champions Of Entrepreneurship Win The Presidential Medal Of Freedom

They are Noble Peace Prize winning economist Muhammad Yunus and the late congressman Jack Kemp. You can read about this at President Obama Names Medal of Freedom Recipients. Here are the testimonials for these two winners:

Jack Kemp
Jack Kemp, who passed away in May 2009, served as a U.S. Congressman (1971 – 1989), Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (1989 – 1993), and Republican Nominee for Vice President (1996). Prior to entering public service, Kemp was a professional football player (1957 – 1969) and led the Buffalo Bills to American Football League championships in 1964 and 1965. In Congress and as a Cabinet Secretary, Kemp was a self-described "bleeding heart conservative" who worked to encourage development in underserved urban communities. In the years leading up to his death, Kemp continued seeking new solutions, raising public attention about the challenge of poverty, and working across party lines to improve the lives of Americans and others around the world.

Muhammad Yunus
Dr. Muhammad Yunus is a global leader in anti-poverty efforts, and has pioneered the use of "micro-loans" to provide credit to poor individuals without collateral. Dr. Yunus, an economist by training, founded the Grameen Bank in 1983 in his native Bangladesh to provide small, low-interest loans to the poor to help better their livelihood and communities. Despite its low interest rates and lending to poor individuals, Grameen Bank is sustainable and 98% percent of its loans are repaid – higher than other banking systems. It has spread its successful model throughout the world. Dr. Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work.

Dr. Yunus has is own website at Muhammad Yunus.

You can read more about Jack Kemp at PRIVATE SECTOR; Coaching Entrepreneurs for Profit and Jack Kemp: A Champion of Small Business.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Paul Krugman Thinks Like A Small Child

And I mean that as a compliment. A book about how children think was reviewed in the NY Times today and it reminded me of something Krugman wrote in Slate magazine in 1997. So I wrote a letter to the Times book review editor showing the similarity. If it gets printed, I will report that here. The letter is below followed by links to the 1997 Slate article and the book review.

"I read with interest Anthony Gottlieb's review of Alison Gopnik's book "The Philosophical Baby" ("Young Philosophers," p. 9, Aug.9). What most caught my attention was the following passage: "A recurring theme of Gopnik’s is the idea that playful immersion in freely conjured hypothetical worlds is what teaches us how to make sense of the real one. She describes, for instance, how small children’s grasp of “counterfactual” situations enables them to calculate the probabilities of alternative courses of action."

By an amazing coincidence, that same Book Review issue had two reviews by Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman. He wrote something very similar in Slate magazine in 1997. It was "You can't do serious economics unless you are willing to be playful. Economic theory a menagerie of thought must play with those ideas in hypothetical settings. Innovative thinkers, in economics and other disciplines, often have a pronounced whimsical streak." Krugman also mentioned how some writers can take their subject "too seriously to play intellectual games. To test-drive an idea with seemingly trivial thought experiments, with hypothetical stories about simplified economies." Maybe we would all benefit from more training in this technique."

The Accidental Theorist

Young Philosophers

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Pictures of Ireland

My students asked me to post pictures of my trip. But I have not gotten around to posting some of the pictures my wife took. Her nephew did take some and he posted them to his blog. So click here to see them. Warning: I appear in one of them.