To Notice and to Learn

Observations on ideas, human mind, and the world around us

The Human Mind and Psychology

Where intuition falls short–example: The discipline of finance

One of the recent trends I’ve seen in business over the past decade is an increasing reliance on “data”. You hear people talking about basing decisions on data, ‘crunching the numbers’, doing A/B testing, etc. This doesn’t guarantee being free from bias (indeed, flimsy rationalizations often cite ‘data’), but this is better than thinking that relying on our gut instincts is the best way to go. We’ve learned enough from […]

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Group-ism: the larger problem behind racism, nationalism, and many other -isms

Most reasonable people nowadays acknowledge that prejudice is a bad thing. But it is such a strong, persistent force that we need to constantly guard ourselves against it. It is so natural, this desire to identify with a group and disparage non-group members. We’ve learned more about this aspect of human behavior (via findings from psychology and cognitive science that are finally reaching the mainstream), and so many of us […]

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Summary: The Stuff of Thought, by Steven Pinker

In a Part I of this post, I summarized what I thought were the most interesting points in Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct.  Now, I’d like to continue on to his, in some ways, more impressive book, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (link on  Since they are both related to language, how might I characterize the relationship between these two books?  Here’s what I […]

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Nudge Idea: Reinforce foreign language vocabulary with (almost) no effort

Okay, in a previous post summarizing the book ‘Nudge’, I described the concept of nudges, in which you can reap large benefits from very small, seemingly effortless changes.  In my last post I described an example idea to help conserve napkins, which relied on a nudge to (hopefully) create enough motivation for people to undertake a small effort.  Now I would like to offer an example of what I think […]

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Nudge Idea: Conserving paper napkins

In my last post, I described the power of nudges and categorized them into two types, those that reduce effort and those that increase motivation, in ways that take advantage of how our minds work.  Here is an example of the second type of nudge. Goal: To reduce the use of paper napkins used at fast food restaurants and other food outlets in order to conserve natural resources and reinforce […]

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The Power of Small ‘Nudges’ – Applied Psychology in Action

The field of psychology has advanced a great deal since it gained a rigorous footing after WWII, and is starting to yield practical dividends in our society and in everyday life (See my prior blog post on cognitive psychology).  One very fruitful intersection has been psychology and economics, with the founding of behavioral economics, a hot new field.  The interesting thing is that while many of the findings of behavioral […]

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Summary: The Language Instinct, by Steven Pinker

There has been a revolution in the field of linguistics over the past 50 years, initiated by the work of Noam Chomsky.  Prior to him, social scientists thought, consistent with the dominant Behaviorist perspective of the day (and also with common sense), that children picked up language from those around them through simple exposure, imitation, and reinforcement.  Chomsky was the first to question this, and raised as counter-evidence the rather […]

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Summary: Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

The field of psychology has only had a solid experimental basis after WWII, with the advent of randomized controlled experimentation (which also led to the rise of modern medicine, by the way).  In the past couple of decades, it has had a boost from brain imaging technologies, which can objectively indicate differences among experimental subjects. As part of the social sciences, psychology has been thought of as a “soft” science, […]

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