For those interested in a bit more background to my Times article today, here are some details on how Cummings's topics have showed up in my cognitive economics research. You can judge for yourself if I have spotted what he is working towards.
Starting with Judea Pearl's modelling of causality. Pearl developed a way of using graphs (a kind of diagram showing a network of relationships between objects – like the chocolate example below) to express and work out cause-and-effect relationships. For example, you might use them to determine whether smoking causes cancer, or carbon dioxide causes global warming – or more locally, whether cutting Universal Credit reduces unemployment.
Quite often, we find that when scientists discover something about the structure of the world, the human brain has got there before us. The brain has evolved to seek out cause-and-effect relations in the world around us, and assemble them into a graph just like this. It learns the relationships by obser…
Rory Sutherland's new book Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas that Don't Make Sense continues his 10-year campaign against the traditional, logical pursuit of business advantage, through a scientific lens that includes several cognitive economics themes. As ever, a curated series of amusing anecdotes about people or companies who took an unusual angle on marketing or product invention, fuel a philosophical wander.
That philosophy could be summarised as: if it makes sense, someone's already tried it. So try something that doesn't.
The ideas that underpin the book are broadly based on behavioural economics and cognitive science, with bits of evolutionary theory, statistics and old-fashioned advertising intuition thrown in. At first it doesn't look like a behavioural science book as such: the theoretical backbone takes a while to show. Rory's style is discursive: an after-dinner-talk of anecdotes, dismantling of conventional wisdom, ever-so-slightly outrageou…
Since last year I have been discussing the idea of "System 3" - a set of mental capabilities and processes involved in imagination and mental simulation. These capabilities appear to be used for several mental activities, notably:
planning and thinking about the futurecounterfactual reasoningdaydreaming and mind-wanderingconsumption of fictionmental replay of past experiencesand in empathetically considering how other people experience an event