This weblog started with a bias towards behavioral economics when it began its philosophical inquiry into the dismal science because of my undergraduate degree in Research Psychology and well established inclinations. Psychology has a tendency though to focus on the individual as in the question asked by Gary Marcus.Does your brain have a mind of its own? by Gary Marcus on May 4, 2008 at latimes.com
Why can't we stick to our goals? Blame the sloppy engineering of evolution.
How many times has this happened to you? You leave work, decide that you need to get groceries on the way home, take a cellphone call and forget all about your plan. Next thing you know, you've driven home and forgotten all about the groceries.
This obviously takes a evolutionary/biological approach, but using the prevalent analogy of brain as computer there is also the programing needed to make it interact with other brains. That programing would seem to be language, though to what degree it is hardwired/genetic or software/environmental learning is still something to be far better understood.
I don't need words to think about the shape of a car, or how to throw a football, or the taste of a chocolate chip cookie. In fact, things like that are probably easier to think about without using language. That's why the strong form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis -- that language is necessary for conscious thought -- doesn't hold up. But even if language isn't required for some domains, it's still possible that it is required for certain types of mental processes. It may even be required for some thoughts that aren't obviously related to language.Some research suggests that understanding the thoughts of others -- having a theory of mind -- is one such process. Many children who are late in learning language are also late in developing a theory of mind. This story illustrates the classic theory of mind test:
- Mouse nibbles cheese.
- Mouse puts cheese under box A
- Mouse leaves room
- Cat enters room, moves cheese from box A to box B, and leaves.
- Mouse returns.
- Where does Mouse think the cheese is?
Raising the question, does understanding false beliefs of others require language? The "answer" is at the original post
David Munger goes on to write about Ashley Newton and Jill de Villiers who developed a very clever experiment to test this question.
Newton and de Villiers say there are a number of aspects of language processing that could be responsible for interfering with the false-belief test, but it's quite clear that some sort of language processing is necessary in order to reason about false beliefs. So while language isn't a requirement for all thought, it most definitely appears to be a requirement for some thought.
So how does this apply when we move outside the psychological laboratories and experiments? This weblog has been contemplating the many-to-many interactions of sociology and social-grouping that the web helps to make more apparent. With Web 2.0, it is possible to draw the lines. With economics, the lines would seem to be harder to specifically determine until after the fact, though models can be created for useful and often practical approximations.Andreessen on The Psychology of Human Misjudgment via Marginal Revolution by Alex Tabarrok on 3/28/08
Mr. Anderson: Mr. Munger's magnum opus speech, included in the book, is The Psychology of Human Misjudgment -- an exposition of 25 key forms of human behavior that lead to misjudgment and error, derived from Mr. Munger's 60 years of business experience. Think of it as a practitioner's summary of human psychology and behavioral economics as observed in the real world.
Mr. Munger: ...almost everyone thinks he fully recognizes how important incentives and disincentives are in changing cognition and behavior. But this is not often so. For instance, I think I've been in the top five percent of my age cohort almost all my adult life in understanding the power of incentives, and yet I've always underestimated that power. Never a year passes but I get some surprise that pushes a little further my appreciation of incentive superpower.
What the Marginal Revolution post does, to my mind, is put the individual question raised by Gary Marcus to a human species level of inquiry, not as individuals within the species but as a biological organism whose survival depends not only upon its interaction with the environment but its interaction with itself.