Dan Ariely talks about pain and cheating. In a nutshell: people report less pain when (i) they experience the strongest pain first; (ii) they experience less pain for a longer interval rather than more pain for a shorter interval; (iii) they can take breaks. The data falsifies the common intuition that people will prefer short, high intensity pain. In general, people tend to cheat more when (i) they obtain things other than actual cash; (ii) they observe in-group members cheating successfully; they tend to cheat less when (i) they take away cash; (ii) they observe out-group members cheating successfully; (iii) they experience priming with moral concepts such as the Ten Commandments.

Post yours in comments. I've put a couple with the theme "how brains work" down there.

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David Deutsch: What is our place in the cosmos?
"What does a typical place in the universe look like?"
"This chemical scum has universality: its structure contains, with ever increasing precision, the structure of everything."

Amazing, inspirational talk, one of my favorite on TED.

OB's very own Nick Bostrom talks about humanity's biggest problems -- existential risks, transhumanism, the usual stuff.

Richard Dawkins: The universe is queerer than we can suppose. (Reflections on the fact that sensory modalities, and intuitive expectations, are adapted only to very specialized circumstances.)

I know this isn't reddit or hacker news, but I wonder if their might be some value in having some basic link recommending/voting features. For instance people could suggest rationality related links (reading, videos, book recommendations) that aren't at the level of an essay as most entries on this site seem to be. Perhaps this concept is inherent in the format that we have just not used much, i don't know.

I raise this issue because listing TED links made me think of this recent pycon video with Alex Martelli that riffed on the near/far modes that has been discussed on OB/LW lately (I know he comments on OB occasionally).

Currently it seems like this sorts of links/votings only end up in comments of main entries. As another idea perhaps someone could start up a "rationality" subreddit.

We could create a group on http://friendfeed.com for that. That's how groups on there tend to be used. e.g. http://friendfeed.com/googlebits and http://friendfeed.com/dslr

just posting a link with a quick description as a top-level post is completely fine -- people just don't do it that much.

Daniel Dennett: Cute, sexy, sweet and funny -- an evolutionary riddle (On a strange inversion)
"Why are babies cute? Why is cake sweet?"

Hm, I'm disappointed. He's only able to talk very briefly about the Hurley model for what makes things funny and why evolution would produce it. All I got was something about the brain needing to provide a reward for "debugging", or I guess "discerning the source of a problem".

I'd like to read more about it, but when I googled "Matthew Hurley" and terms like jokes/humor, the only results were ... links to that video!

Anyone know where I can read more about the Hurley model?

For what it's worth, the book has been published and should answer anyone's questions on the subject. I have it, but I've only just began to read it. The book might be somewhat disappointing to some people in the sense that not everything falls in place once you hear the theory. The theory is rather blunt, but sounds convincing so far.

They have a summary of the theory in the introduction:

"Our brains are engaged full time in real-time (risky) heuristic search, generating presumptions about what will be experienced next in every domain. This time-pressured, unsupervised generation process has necessary lenient standards and introduces content --not all of which can be properly checked for truth-- into our mental spaces. If left unexamined, the inevitable errors in these vestibules of consciousness would ultimately continue on to contaminate our world knowledge store. So there has to be a policy of double-checking these candidate beliefs and surmisings, and the discovery and resolution of these at breakneck speed is maintained by a powerful reward system --the feeling of humor; mirth-- that must support this activity in competition with all the other things you could be thinking about."

In fact, they argue that such facility might be necessary for truly intelligent computational agent:

"... We propose to tackle this prejudice head on, arguing that a truly intelligent computational agent could not be engineered without humor and some other emotions."

Awesome follow-up.

Thanks for the summary!

And I got a link to this post - which is something I find funny. Not that I feel like I'm debugging anything...

A book about the subject is coming out early next year, called Inside Jokes.

There's also a video from Dennett's talk, but that too ends too short. Nevertheless, Dennett manages to get into the subject matter. You can get the gist of it looking these videos and the book excerpt, but still not quite enough.


Michael Merzenich talks about re-wiring the brain. In a nutshell: much of the brain's ability to process information is causally related to correct processing of language sounds. During the "critical period" of infant brain development, inherited flaws or bad inputs may distort language sound processing, leading to general low performance on cognitive tasks. Specialized training taking about 30 hours can rectify the problem. The same training is effective at protecting the cognitive abilities of aging brains.

The data falsifies the common intuition that people will prefer short, high intensity pain.

It's unfortunate that Ariely doesn't go into more detail on the results he's relying here, but it sounds similar to the evidence for the peak-end effect, duration neglect, etc. The difference of course, is that the latter are generally considered to be cognitive biases in how we remember pain, rather than a reflection of its 'true' badness, which is how Ariely is selling it.

Anybody have a better idea whether this is different interpretations of the same research, or different research altogether?

Dan Ariely asks, Are we in control of our own decisions?

An entertaining introductory presentation on biases.

Today TED are launching the TED Open Translation Project, offering video subtitles, time-coded transcripts and the ability for volunteers worldwide to translate any talk into any language. The project launches with 300 translations in 40 languages; more than 200 volunteer translators have already contributed.

Laurie Garrett: What can we learn from the 1918 flu pandemic?

An interesting theme in this talk is repeated acknowledgment of how little we know about even simplest facts (for example, whether washing your hands is at all useful against flu pandemic). The discipline of not making up unwarranted certainty.


Vilayanur Ramachandran talks about what brain damage reveals about the connection between celebral tissue and the mind. In a nutshell: a localized brain injury in the pathway between the fusiform gyrus (face recognition module) and amygdala (emotional processing) can cause people to experience the delusion that someone they recognize is an imposter. Amputees whose limbs were paralyzed before amputation end up with paralyzed phantom limbs; visual feedback using a mirror box cures the "paralysis". Synaesthesia gives deep insights into creativity.