Fri, 29 December 2017
Robin Hanson returns to the podcast to discuss his new book, The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, co-authored with Kevin Simler. As the subtitle suggests, the book looks at humans' hidden motives. Robin argues that these hidden motives are much more prevalent than our conscious minds assume.
We are not conscious of the vast majority of the functions of our brains. This extends beyond the most basic things our brains do (such as commanding our hearts to beat every second or so) to many things we think of as higher-level cognitive tasks. Hanson and Simler argue that, if the brain were a corporation, the conscious mind wouldn't be the CEO but the press secretary. Most of the reasons our conscious brains give for our actions are actually ex-post rationalizations for decisions that have been made unconsciously and for reasons that aren't immediately obvious to us. As a press secretary, the conscious mind is better off not knowing if we are doing things for selfish reasons since that would make it more difficult to justify our actions to others.
Some very compelling evidence for this thesis comes from studies of people with split brains. People with severe epilepsy have sometimes been treated by severing the connections between the two halves of their brains. Researchers noticed that when one side of the brain was fed information that led to a particular action (e.g. an instruction from the researcher to "stand up") the other side would construct a reason for the action (e.g. "I was thirsty and I got up to get a drink"). If the brain were truthfully answering these questions, it would say "I don't know." However, the split-brain patients confidently gave false answers apparently without realizing they were false. Hanson argues that neurotypical minds are doing the same thing: constructing justifications for our actions even if we aren't really aware of our true underlying motives.
From the book's online description,
"The aim of this book is to confront our hidden motives directly---to track down the darker, unexamined corners of our psyches and blast them with floodlights. Then, once our minds are more clearly visible, we can work to better understand human nature: Why do people laugh? Why are artists sexy? Why do we brag about travel? Why do we prefer to speak rather than listen?"
We discuss this theory of the brain and how it applies to many areas of everyday life from medicine to body language.
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Fri, 22 December 2017
My guest for this episode is Ennio Piano of George Mason University. Our topic is Ennio's work on the economics of biker gangs.
Ennio has two papers on this subject. The first, published in Public Choice, is entitled Free riders: the economics and organization of outlaw motorcycle gangs and it describes the franchise-style model of the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang, and how that model contributed to that gang's rise to prominence. By making the local chapters of the Hell's Angels residual claimants, while the head chapter in Oakland is responsible for the gang's name and reputation, the gang exploits local knowledge while also coordinating activities internationally.
The second paper, Outlaw and economics: Biker gangs and club goods describes how the norms and rituals of biker gangs fit with the theory of club goods. Costly, unreliable motorcycles and even Nazi tattoos can be explained through this theory: they are credible commitments to remain loyal to the club. This behaviour is similar in purpose to rituals practice by many religious sects.
We discuss the history of biker gangs and the gang wars of the 1990s. Finally, Ennio describes the relationship between biker gangs and other criminal organizations such as the Mafia and Mexican drug cartels.
Fri, 15 December 2017
My guest today is Jake Meyer of California State University, Long Beach. We discuss Jake's work on the intersection of financial crises and politics.
Jake's work explores important questions such as the interaction between interest group politics and financial and currency crises. A country's monetary authority needs to manage both the domestic labour market and the country's exchange rate, but particular interest groups tend to favour one over the other very strongly. If one of these interest groups becomes disproportionately influential in national politics, they can affect monetary policy in ways that lead to crises. For instance, if a group that cares about the domestic economy and not the exchange rate takes power, they can push the monetary authority into causing an exchange rate crisis. If a group that cares exclusively about the exchange rate takes power, they can push the monetary authority to ignore the domestic economy to the point that it causes a banking crisis.
Jake's work also looks at the way countries learn in the wake of financial crises. He looks at the change in the growth rate of credit before and after a crisis, and he finds that things like the number of veto players and the independence of the central bank impact this change.
Check out Jake's Quora account, where he answers many questions related to economics.
Fri, 8 December 2017
Today's guest is Kyle Coates and our topic is pro wrestling and the intellectual property problems that arise from it. So prepare to be amazed as we BODY SLAM this topic, or something.
Who owns a wrestler's name, gimmick, and persona? Kyle was inspired to do research in this area when he heard about a legal dispute between the wrestlers Jeff and Matt Hardy and the wrestling network TNA. The Hardys changed networks and wanted to continue using a gimmick they had developed while performing for TNA.
We discuss some of the lawsuits and disputes that have occurred in the pro wrestling sphere, and how to courts have treated these issues. And yes, we answer the most important question: If Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson runs for President, will he be able to use Rock puns in his campaign ads? Listen to the episode to learn the answer!
Fri, 1 December 2017
David became interested in this topic when he became interested in the decentralized legal system of saga-period Iceland. This interest has since expanded into a full book covering everything from Imperial Chinese Law to the customary legal system of Somaliland in northern Somalia. We discuss some of these chapters, with a focus on Somalian, Jewish, Icelandic, and 18th-century British law. We also discuss some of the major themes of the book, such as feud law and embedded or polylegal systems.