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psychology

Freud against the doctors

I had no idea:

In 1926 … the doctors of the New York Psychoanalytic Society declared their independence from their European forebears by decreeing that only physicians could practice psychoanalysis. Back in Vienna, Freud was livid. Medical education was exactly the wrong preparation for a psychoanalyst, he wrote, as it abandoned study of “the history of civilization and sociology” for anatomy and biology, culture for science. A psychoanalyst trained this way was bound to have the wrong idea about psychic suffering: that it was an illness to be isolated and cured by the doctor. This was a form of piety that Freud could not tolerate. “As long as I live,” he wrote, “I shall balk at having psychoanalysis swallowed by medicine.”

—Gary Greenberg, The War on Unhappiness, Harper’s Magazine (subscription required)

Why is blackmail illegal?

Lizzie Widdicombe of the New Yorker on David Letterman and blackmail:

[CBS producer Robert Joel] Halderman, as everyone knows, is being prosecuted for attempted grand larceny (he has denied wrongdoing), but the act he is accused of committing is blackmail, a crime that, in philosophical and legal circles, presents a conundrum. Lindgren is the author of a paper called “Unraveling the Paradox of Blackmail,” which raises the question: why is blackmail considered a crime? The thinking goes like this: It’s perfectly legal for Halderman to write, or threaten to write, a screenplay (or an e-mail to TMZ) exposing the fact that David Letterman had flings with “Late Show” employees. It’s also legal for Halderman to ask Letterman for money as part of a business transaction. So why are the two things illegal when you put them together? In other words, Lindgren said, “Why is it illegal to threaten to do what you can do legally anyway?”

Interpretations

Two pretty great links via Naked Capitalism:

Psychologists Are Better Stockmarket Speculators Than Economists:

... they scrutinised the share-buying behaviour of about 6,500 persons in an Internet experiment. They found no signs of ‘herd instinct’ during the experiment – on the contrary, some of the test subjects decided against buying those specific shares which had just been bought by so many other players. Psychologists, particularly, mistrusted those shares which they regarded as overvalued. This strategy benefited them enormously: on average they were markedly more successful in their speculation than physicists or mathematicians – or even economists.

The experiment seems to involve trading shares of fictitious companies, so you could argue that somebody with specific domain expertise in, say, finance or economics, would be unfairly disadvantaged because there’s no underlying fundamental reality that can be studied in such an experiment. Of course, you might also argue that given how much information and analysis is freely available about publicly traded companies, the ability to do your own analysis might not be worth much in a competitive sense.

Even better, Rats Outperform Humans in Interpreting Data:

The experiment consists of drawing green and red balls at random, with the probabilities rigged so that greens occur 75 percent of the time. The subject is asked to watch for a while and then predict whether the next ball will be green or red. The rats followed the optimal strategy of always predicting green (I am a little unclear how the rats communicated, but never mind). But the human subjects did not always predict green, they usually want to do better and predict when red will come up too, engaging in reasoning like “after three straight greens, we are due for a red.” As Mlodinow says, “humans usually try to guess the pattern, and in the process we allow ourselves to be outperformed by a rat.”

Again, would you rather be roughly right, or precisely wrong?