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The amoeba and the squirrel

[An essay written for the Internet Review, a one-off maybe-to-become-annual publication documenting (and celebrating?) Internet trends]

Every human has two minds: one like an amoeba and one like a squirrel. The amoeba mind is reactive, emotional, intuitive. It decides immediately, without planning or consideration. It is Freud’s “id”, or the System One of behavioral economics: the amoeba is your unconscious. Your squirrel mind plans, trades off immediate pleasures for future gain, is capable of abstract reasoning and cooperation – the superego.

Being an amoeba is often more fun – maybe even more authentic – but the squirrel makes things happen in the long run.

Society also has amoeba and squirrel modes. The amoeba is the local interaction: follow your senses and do what’s in your direct interest, consequences be damned. Squirrel mode requires bigger institutions, and trust: in other people’s knowledge, a shared logical picture of the world, forgoing today’s profit for society’s long-…

The gender pay gap on Euristica: an imaginary island

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I recently gave a talk at TEDxCoventGardenWomen about an economic agent-based modelling system I have built (readers of Thomas Schelling may see some influence). In the talk I use this system to analyse ideas around privilege, prejudice and systemic inequality - and to test some policies that might help to solve the persistent gender and racial pay gaps that we still see in most societies.

The video is below - your thoughts would be very welcome.

Discussion 3 of 3: Lassie died one night

The much-delayed final episode in a short series of posts - part 1 and part 2 here.

Lassie died one night.

As Thomas Schelling* pointed out in a thought-provoking 1982 essay, millions of people watched it happen on television one Sunday evening, and cried. Yet they all knew Lassie was not real – and that the dog who played her was probably in perfect health. Why did they experience the same emotions, the same sense of loss that they would expect to feel if their own dog had died, or even their own grandfather? Why should fictional outcomes and situations provide us with (positive or negative) utility? (And if they do, why can we not simply conjure up unlimited happiness by indulging in films or books that we enjoy and hiding from the world?)

The two hypotheses laid out in the previous posts can provide an explanation not only for this, but for a number of other psychological phenomena:


H1: That potential decision outcomes are automatically evaluated by an associative network representi…