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25 February 2010

Income Ineqaulity, Revisited With an fMRI This Time

I don't get this... Okay, so some scientists at Caltech found that the human brain responds to income inequality in a new and fascinating way; sort of, but first a side note.

A while ago I posted about an experiment where monkeys were given different rewards for the same tasks (pressing a lever a certain number of times). As long as the reward was the same, either a grape (preferred) or cucumber, the monkeys would keep working, but if the researcher gave one monkey a cucumber and the other a grape the monkey given the cucumber would soon refuse to work. If only these experiments were done prior to the Fall of 1917... it reminds me of Pike's work post John Rock (holy tangent). The point of all this being that insights into this sort of thing are both to some degree innate in at least primates and not unknown.

So back to the Caltech work. The researchers basically found that people who were better off/richer responded with greater brain activity (were happier) when less advantaged people were given money as opposed to themselves. That is, rich people felt better/reacted more strongly when poor people were given money instead of themselves. The researchers then extrapolate that this must be due to some sort of altruism. But the evidence against altruism is piling up fast. Even searching for it scientifically at this point is to some extent and act of faith.

Isn't it more likely that the rich people reacted more strongly because the poor people getting something means that the less advantaged people are then less likely to seek out the rich and take their stuff? Or to put it like an evolutionary psychologist, which of course I'm not - Caveman makes a kill and the hungry people start staring uneasily. Wouldn't it be nice if they got some meat of their own so that they'd leave you alone? I don't know, maybe I'm completely wrong. Obviously more testing needs to be done.

Why are different disciplines, even within one field such as psychology, so unwilling to look for explanations beyond their own scope? How does this change? I'm finding that very few people care to take on issues too far beyond art or design within architecture, and that crowd would be in charge of everything if they could.

16 February 2010

Just Some Reading

Joshua Prince-Ramus, an architect, gives a talk at TED. He starts by talking about the control that architects have forfeited over the last 50 or so years because they have been unwilling to deal with the liability that goes with being involved in the construction process. To paraphrase his great insight, "where there is liability there is power."

$25 balloon goes 70K feet up. I really like these DIY projects that take cool photos. One of the more interesting ones was that kid and his dad who built radio controlled units that attached to a kite so they could take photos from above.

This is R128, that same home I keep talking about by Werner Sobeck (who teaches at IIT). It seems that if someone builds something which in many ways induces negative externalities on society unwittingly, perhaps it should be required that buildings produce a certain amount of their own energy themselves and can be recycled. It just seems logical that you should be responsible for that which you bring about. I'm aware that legislating such things would be difficult and there would be loop-holes, corruption, and the like and it would also mean that many people could not afford homes. But really, aren't we fooling ourselves when we build these little shanties with poor insulation, ventilation, longevity, and light penetration? It's essentially like a credit card; available to anyone, good times now in exchange for a high maintenance rate for its duration, and in the end you are worse off for it.

Interesting Wikipedia entry: Avicenna, kind of like a Persian version of Da Vinci.