Cognitive Biases

Your Bias Is compresses 24 cognitive biases into a very small user interface. The definitions are very brief, but it may be useful as a way to introduce people to the notion of cognitive bias. A PDF and a poster of the biases are also available as well as other materials.

Spatial Skill Is Early Sign of Creativity

From the [New York Times article][]:

> A gift for spatial reasoning — the kind that may inspire an imaginative child to dismantle a clock or the family refrigerator — may be a greater predictor of future creativity or innovation than math or verbal skills, particularly in math, science and related fields, according to a study published Monday in the journal [Psychological Science][].

[New York Times article]:
[Psychological Science]:

I woke from a dream this morning in which I had gotten a nice note from my editor, Craig Gill, outlining ways to be productive — he wanted to make sure I delivered the book on time. One nice bit of advice oneiric Gill gave me was: “don’t think of writing for ‘due by’ but rather week by week.” It was a longer sentence, and better put, but I remember the play on the word *by*. Given that the email had something like five or more bullet points in them, it’s interesting that the one that stayed with me is the one that has the more poetic dimension to it. We are discussing the second chapter of David Rubin’s *Memory in Oral Traditions* today in class: this would seem to support the assertion that formula create stability in memory.

DARPA’s New Brain

[DARPA’s SyNAPSE Program][] “is an attempt to build a new kind of computer with similar form and function to the mammalian brain. Such artificial brains would be used to build robots whose intelligence matches that of mice and cats.”

I, for one, welcome our new cat- and mouse-brained overlords.

[DARPA’s SyNAPSE Program]:

Cognitive Anthropology

There are a number of useful sites out there that attempt to narrate the history of cognitive anthropology and/or delineate its various dimensions. From what I can tell so far, maybe the field has never been quite big enough for the kind of abstraction that narration or delineation usually require. It seems like, in my reading, a remarkable collection of individuals who were loosely allied by principle but not so much by methodology. (Strikingly similar to folklore studies in that regard, I think.)

* The Department of Anthropology at the University of Alabama has a collection of pages maintained by students on the various subfields of anthropology. [Cognitive Anthropology is included](

[Scientists have produced a map of the brain]( The lead researcher notes that they think they have found where particular mental activities occur: that is, their goal was to map, in a one-to-one fashion, links between an ability and a region of the brain. They used a large group of Vietnam veterans with localized brain injuries, who also suffered particular gaps in cognitive function:

> Scientists report that they have mapped the physical architecture of intelligence in the brain. Theirs is one of the largest and most comprehensive analyses so far of the brain structures vital to general intelligence and to specific aspects of intellectual functioning, such as verbal comprehension and working memory. Their study, published in _Brain: A Journal of Neurology_, is unique in that it enlisted an extraordinary pool of volunteer participants: 182 Vietnam veterans with highly localized brain damage from penetrating head injuries.

I need to read [the article]( The summary from the University of Illinois press release defines mental function rather loosely, e.g. “general intelligence.” (This, however, may be in fact a rather precise term within neurology, and thus I am only revealing my ignorance.)

Loss Aversion versus Rationality

Jonah Lehrer reviewed the contribution of Daniel Kahneman in a recent New Yorker essay. Essentially Kahneman has proven that the economic model of human thinking — that is, that human thinking is rational — is flawed. His work is part of a larger exploration of how loss aversion, and other biases, play a role in the thinking and actions of our species. Kahneman’s work is based on surveys where the same situation is presented, but in two different lights: one that foregrounds gains and one that foregrounds losses. When presented with potential modest gains, individuals preferred them to riskier behaviors that would expose them to greater risk, if also greater gains. When faced with potential losses, individuals preferred to take a risk that might, in fact, lead to greater loss but also would perhaps lessen the loss. (I should note that in the case of Kahneman’s survey, the losses and gains were the same: the survey asked the question differently.)

Okay, so much rationality. Lehrer uses the book from which the report is drawn to posit that Kahneman’s work is ultimately optimistic: that if we can see ourselves for the flawed thinkers that we are, we can make things better. (A piece of our Enlightenment heritage, I would suggest.) Lehrer is less optimistic: he thinks we are just too stubborn. I think we think more diversely than simply rationally. There is more to our thoughts than those that can be articulated in a reasonable fashion.