Links and Comments from last Sunday’s New York Times

First, a Sunday Review front page essay by Maria Konnikova, Born to Be Conned. It’s about how people are “suckers for belief”, about confidence games, with insights into human nature, e.g.

Monte operators, like all good con men, are exceptional judges of character, but even more important they are exceptional creators of drama, of the sort of narrative sweep that makes everything seem legitimate, even inevitable.

We are all susceptible to attractive narratives. Again:

Stories are one of the most powerful forces of persuasion available to us, especially stories that fit in with our view of what the world should be like. Facts can be contested. Stories are far trickier. I can dismiss someone’s logic, but dismissing how I feel is harder.


It is no accident that the Bible, probably the most influential Western book of all time, teaches through parables and stories and not through philosophical discourse.


human nature is wired toward creating meaning out of meaninglessness


Before humans learned how to make tools, how to farm or how to write, they were telling stories with a deeper purpose. The man who caught the beast wasn’t just strong. The spirit of the hunt was smiling. The rivers were plentiful because the river king was benevolent. In society after society, religious belief, in one form or another, has arisen spontaneously. Anything that cannot immediately be explained must be explained all the same, and the explanation often lies in something bigger than oneself.

This is all about, as I’ve mentioned, the human perception of reality isn’t about physics, or biology, or chemistry — it’s about psychology.


Sam Wang: Let Math Save Our Democracy.

About how gerrymandering is most often used by Republicans. There’s a current Supreme Court Case about this.


The weekly ‘Gray Matter’ essay, this time by Scott Slovic and Paul Slovic: The Arithmetic of Compassion.

About how we respond more strongly to individual incidents, like the Syrian child who washed up on a beach, when we see an image of such an event, than to news with statistics about far worse events.

Again, psychology.

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