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Darwinian Psychology Goes Mainstream

by Michael Shermer, Jun 02 2009
The friendly folks behind the registration counter were efficient in processing the badges for the 450+ attendees, plus selling you a t-shirt or two of primate Darwin, denoting that this year’s HBES conference celebrates the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of <em>The Origin of Species</em>.

The friendly folks behind the registration counter were efficient in processing the badges for the 450+ attendees, plus selling you a t-shirt or two of primate Darwin, denoting that this year’s HBES conference celebrates the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species.

On Friday May 29 I attended the 21st annual conference of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES) — the official organization of evolutionary psychologists and champions of applying Darwinian thinking to human psychology. The last HBES meeting I attended was at U.C. Santa Barbara in 1995, which was sparsely attended compared to this year’s 450+ attendees packed into tiny conference rooms for the simultaneous sessions — always a frustrating choice architecture when you want to attend more than one talk being presented at the same time. I only had a day to attend the three-day conference, so this will be necessarily unrepresentative of the remarkable body of research now being churched out by hundreds of professional evolutionary psychologists from all over the world. Continue reading…

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The Banker’s Paradox

by Michael Shermer, Mar 31 2009

An evolutionary tale for today

Imagine that you are a banker with a limited amount of money to lend. If you advance loans to people who are the poorest credit risks, you are taking a great gamble that they will default on their loans and you will go out of business. This sets up a paradox: the people who most need the money are also the worst credit risks and thus cannot get a loan, whereas the people who least need the money are also the best credit risks and thus it is that the rich get richer.

The evolutionary psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides call this the Banker’s Paradox, and they apply it to a deeper evolutionary problem: to whom should we extend our friendship? The Banker’s Paradox, they suggest, “is analogous to a serious adaptive problem faced by our hominid ancestors: exactly when an ancestral hunter-gatherer is in most dire need of assistance, she becomes a bad ‘credit risk’ and, for this reason, is less attractive as a potential recipient of assistance.” Continue reading…

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How to Avoid Money Mistakes

by Michael Shermer, Dec 02 2008

As the stock and real estate markets rock and roll our economy and disrupt our investment futures, it is time to disengage our emotional brains and step back for a moment to allow our rational brains to catch up and decide what really is the right way to respond to the turbulence of today’s market disruptions.

In The Mind of the Market I integrate hundreds of findings from the new science of behavioral economics to demonstrate how we all make money mistakes. Armed with this knowledge the hope is that we can avoid such errors in financial judgment. Here are the top ten money mistakes that we all make and how to avoid them. Continue reading…

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On the Road with Michael Shermer
(Or, The Chronicles of Skeptica) Part 2

by Michael Shermer, Nov 18 2008

[webmaster broke last week's post into two parts and added new photos to this part]

Day 2. November 8, 2008

“Memo to all American speakers: At some point during your talk please apologize for George W. Bush and make a joke about his stupidity, then thank God for Obama (even you atheists) and mention that you voted for him.” Although no such paper memo was distributed to the speakers, by the second day I began to wonder if it was a tacit agreement nonetheless, since nearly everyone did it. Except me.

On this day the German ethologist and evolutionary psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer, author of the excellent book, Gut Feelings, began with a funny story about an economics professor who was struggling to decide if he should take a new job position at another university, when a colleague told him to just compute the value and diminishing marginal utility of each option and then calculate the decision, “just like you teach your economics students to do.” The professor’s response: “Oh, come on, you don’t understand, this is serious!” His point was that when it comes to real life most of us make most of our decisions under great uncertainty. We use our gut feelings instead, and more often than not that works just as well as complex models. Gigerenzer’s most notable example was an economist (I believe it was Harry Markowitz) who received the Nobel Prize for his complex model of how best to make investments, but when it came to his own portfolio Markowitz reverted to a simple 1/n formula of the equal distribution of funds over a large number of investment tools.

Continue reading…

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On the Road with Michael Shermer
(Or, The Chronicles of Skeptica) Part 1

by Michael Shermer, Nov 11 2008

I have never kept a diary — the narrative recounting of daily events — mainly because most of my daily routine is uneventful and uninteresting. Like everyone else, I’m a creature of habit. If it is Tuesday or Thursday morning, I’m doing the “Barry Ride” with my cycling buddies (so christened because it was started in the 1980s by Barry Wolfe, a National Champion cyclist who passed away a couple of years ago), a two-hour loop through the hills of Glendale and La Canada. (I may someday write a book entitled Tuesdays with Barry, recounting the conversations we have had during the ride over the past 20 years on all manner of topics from the sublime to the superficial.) After the ride I pick up a 20-oz. Latte at the Coffee Gallery in Altadena, stop by the P.O. Box to pick up the Skeptics Society mail, then go into the office for the rest of the day. If it is Wednesday we ride our bikes to Mt. Wilson, a 20-mile climb (followed by a 20-mile descent), then I hang out at the Starbucks in La Canada for a couple of hours, writing and editing without phone interruptions, then to the office. If it is Monday I work all day in the office. If it is Friday I write at home for a couple of hours, then take my step-dad out to lunch, trying out different burger joints around Southern California (and, when needed, drive him to his various doctor appointments, which have grown more common now that he is in his 80s). If it is Saturday morning I’m with the boys again, hammering through a 4-hour ride in the mountains, rotating weeks through four different routes, one flat and the other three monstrous leg-breaking climbs. Sundays are my secular Sabbath, just hanging out at home and doing my best to be unproductive. Best of all, every weekday morning I drive my daughter to school — the best 20 minutes of my day — as we get uninterrupted time to talk and/or listen to audio books (latest one — The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs, an hilarious account of trying to literally follow the hundreds of commandments in the good book). As I said, nothing to write home about.

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