Tag Archives: Science

Money can’t buy happiness? That’s just wishful thinking

I know when I don’t have any I can be very stressed, but who would have thought it.
For me money only represents security.

For others I suppose its different. What I do find most unpleasant is the undue influence unelected people with money have over others. It’s all about the power?

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Money can’t buy happiness? That’s just wishful thinking” was written by Ruth Whippman, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 17th May 2016 18.04 UTC

Money can’t buy happiness: it’s a rarely questioned truism. It also tends to be most enthusiastically embraced by those who have never gone without it. “I’ve tried hard to care about money,” Chelsea Clinton once humble-bragged, “but I couldn’t.” No matter how attached we are to the idea that money can’t buy happiness, though, the research shows almost the complete opposite.

After community and social relationships, the association between income and wellbeing is one of the most robust in the happiness literature. And a new study demonstrates just how deep-seated that psychological link is, how intricately our financial circumstances weave their way into our psyches.

Money doesn’t just shield us from obvious daily stresses, this study tells us, but can actually buy us the most basic of our psychological needs – human connection. The higher our income, the less likely we are to experience loneliness.

This study builds on a wide body of research giving a similar message. Although money is clearly no guarantee of contentment, and there are anomalies in the data, as a general rule, the better off we are financially, the happier we are.

But yet we still restate our fridge-magnet mantra about the irrelevance of money to happiness over and over again, a cosy boast of our lack of materialism. And in recent years, with the advent of the highly influential “positive psychology” movement, this idea has been given a new academic respectability.

Positive psychology – the study of happiness and how to improve it – is an academic discipline less than 20 years old, and one of the fastest growing and most newly influential in the US. Positive psychology professors have been contracted to advise everyone from corporate America to the British government, and the field has spawned an entire industry of self-help books, coaching, courses and consultancy.

Right from the start, the basic philosophical underpinning of most of the positive psychology movement has been that our circumstances (including our financial circumstances) are of minimal consequence to our happiness. Instead, what really matters is our attitude. In this worldview, with the right techniques and enough emotional elbow-grease we can “positive think” our way out of almost any adversity.

Often using small or methodologically flawed studies as evidence, positive psychologists restate over and over the claim that money is of minimal importance to wellbeing. “Increases in wealth have negligible effects on personal happiness” writes Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania in his seminal positive psychology book, Authentic Happiness.

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert discussed a similar idea in his wildly popular TED talk, The Surprising Science of Happiness, now viewed over 12 million times. He quoted as evidence a methodological train-wreck of a study from the 1970s that suggested that a small group of lottery winners were no happier than a group of paraplegic accident victims. (Although Gilbert graciously later admitted that the study actually didn’t even really show that much.)

Positive psychology’s insistence that our circumstances matter little to our happiness, and relentless focus on individual effort has an ideological flavor – a kind of neoliberalism of the emotions. And perhaps this philosophical bent isn’t surprising, given the positive psychology’s history and its key financial backers.

A large part of positive psychology’s academic research has been bankrolled by an organization called the Templeton Foundation, a group that has provided millions of dollars in funding to most of the major positive psychology research centers in America. While the Foundation is ostensibly politically neutral, its founder and director until his death last year was Sir John Templeton Jr, a lavish rightwing political donor, who over his lifetime gave millions of dollars to the Republican party and various anti-government rightwing political causes.

From the start, the Templeton Foundation set the intellectual scope of positive psychology’s remit by overwhelmingly funding projects designed to demonstrate the importance of individual effort to happiness via optimism, gratitude exercises and the like, and all but ignoring the impact of social context.

The narrative of the irrelevance of money to happiness has, unsurprisingly been enthusiastically received by corporate America, some of the best customers of the positive psychology movement, who have eagerly replaced pay-rises with “workplace happiness training”, unionization with positive thinking.

But it’s a dangerous story. Money matters. And most of us have a lot less of it than we used to. For most workers, real income has barely shifted for decades, and more than a quarter of working Americans earn what are officially classified as “poverty-level wages”. Forty-six million people in the US live below the poverty line and even the middle class is in financial crisis. Nearly half of Americans would struggle to find 0 in an emergency. Money isn’t a fringe issue to our wellbeing. It’s at the very heart and soul of it.

And instead of being embarrassed to admit that, we should be shouting it from the rooftops, printing it on our fridge magnets and using it as a rallying cry for social action. Money makes us happy! Suggesting otherwise doesn’t make us spiritually enlightened or morally superior. It makes us clueless.

Ruth Whippman will be speaking at a Guardian Live/Somerset House event How to be Happy on 1 September.

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Is there life on Mars? We’re finally starting to wonder again

Yes please, lets hope so even if its just the odd microbe 🙂

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Is there life on Mars? We’re finally starting to wonder again” was written by Seth Shostak, for theguardian.com on Friday 2nd October 2015 11.41 UTC

The most interesting thing we wonder about Mars is this: does it house Martians? This week, some highly technical research touted during a Nasa press conference has given hope for an answer.

Mars is arguably more seductive than Mata Hari. For early astronomers, it was the only planet on which they could see surface features. More out of hope than reason, they compared these features to the topography of Earth. The two worlds were evidently similar, and few scientists doubted that the red planet was carpeted in biology.

In the 1970s, it became possible to send spacecraft to the surface of Mars, and Nasa enthusiastically did so. Two highly sophisticated, life-seeking landers were sent to the red planet in what was known as the Viking mission. The smart money wagered that these rocket-borne biology labs, once landed, would open their electronic eyes and behold Martians. The celebrated American scientist Carl Sagan had ventured: “Large organisms, possibly detectable by the Viking lander cameras, are not only possible on Mars; they may be favoured.”

What the cameras actually saw was a desiccated landscape of rock and sand. Nothing changed and nothing moved, save for windblown dust. There were no clear signs of life – even microbial life.

Their experiments done, the Viking landers slowly died in the bitter cold of Mars, and centuries of optimistic speculation died with them. The red planet was apparently a dead planet.

Water on Mars
‘Scientists reported that the recurrent slope lineae were caused by briny, liquid water staining the dry sand.’ Photograph: Demotix Live News/Corbis

However, that disappointing verdict may be wrong. For decades, evidence has mounted that the environment of Mars used to be far more temperate than now. Its atmosphere was thicker, temperatures were warmer, and rivers, lakes and an ocean dotted its landscapes. Life could have sprung up and flourished.

The significance of Nasa’s press conference this week is that the descendants of any ancient life could still be at home on the planet, and within easy reach of a new generation of landers.

The agency presented news about dark streaks that appear on the walls of some Martian craters and cliffs during warm weather, known as recurrent slope lineae. Scientists reported that they were caused by briny, liquid water staining the dry sand. It’s reasonable to think that much of the water comes from aquifers, extensive underground reservoirs that huddle just below Mars’s dry surface.

Of course, this water would be useful for human expeditions to the red planet. But the truly revolutionary thing is that the lineae are signposts telling us where we should search for Martian natives. All we need do is land a robotic craft near one of these features, scoop up the salty mud, put it under a microscope, and check for anything that wiggles. Voila: life in space.

Indeed, this is such an appealing idea that it may sway Nasa’s approach to searching for life on Mars. After Viking, the space agency concluded that a hunt for biology in only a few places was expensive and inconclusive. It was misled by the fact that on Earth you can find life everywhere.

Consequently, Nasa shifted gears and began searching for habitats, such as the beds of ancient lakes, where it might find the fossil remains of life that is long gone. By looking for extinct rather than extant life, it could sample all of Martian geologic history.

Nasa fans call that approach “methodical”. But critics call it “too conservative”, and it’s now possible that the lineae story will prompt a reappraisal of this longstanding philosophy.

The lineae are like Xs on a treasure map, obvious places to look for life, and begging to be explored. And if Nasa doesn’t wish to send robots to these tantalising spots, some other organisation may.

Finding life in hidden reservoirs beneath the crimson sands of Mars would be revelatory. If the biochemistry of these microbes was the same as ours, we would suspect that rocks from long ago carried their ancestors to Earth. And that would mean – deep in our DNA – that we are Martians.

But if not, if we find life that’s unrelated to ours, then we’ll know of two worlds that have spawned biology – and will confront the unavoidable fact that the universe is teeming with living things.

Mars water

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Algorithms are like invisible judges that decide our fates

This worry’s me, but certainly does not surprise me. We are all playing a game which where the winners and losers are all ready selected before they have even decided to play.  I am not comfortable at all with this: though at my time in life its unlikely to effect me directly,  it is part of a growing trend which ends in exclusion for certain people from what is considered normal society. This is a bad thing



Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Algorithms are like invisible judges that decide our fates” was written by Dave Bry, for theguardian.com on Monday 27th April 2015 09.00 UTC

Imagine that you’re a contestant in an audition round of The Voice, where you belt out your best “I Will Always Love You”. A minute passes. No reaction from the celebrity judges. You keep singing. Another minute, still no encouraging smile or nod. You strain to hit your highest note, pleading with your performance: “Please, please accept me! I am doing my best!” The song ends. No one wants you. Your family bow their heads in shame. Your mom cries. You stand on the stage, alone in the spotlight, heartbroken. A trap door opens beneath your feet and you slide screaming into Adam Levine’s basement torture maze.

Think that’s bad? In the real world, science has come up with something worse. A company called Jobaline offers “voice profiling” to predict job success based on how candidates sound; its algorithm identifies and analyzes over one thousand vocal characteristics by which it categorizes job applicants on suitability.

It’s horrible and dehumanizing, like all our other profiling (the racial kind is always a big hit!) Reliant on born-in, luck-of-the-genetic-draw factors that we can neither avoid or control. Regardless of mood or intent, according to NPR’s Aaarti Shehani, “your voice has a hidden, complicated architecture with an intrinsic signature – much like a fingerprint”.

This is not the only creepy algorithm system HR departments have been employing to help the company bottom line. Companies like Wal-Mart and Credit Suisse have been crunching data to predict which employees are “flight risks” who are likely to quit (easily remedied with a simple anklet attaching the worker to his or her cash register or cubicle) vs those deemed “sticky,” meaning in-it-for-the-long-haul. The information lets bosses either improve morale or get a head-start on a search for a replacement.

The inventors of such programs often enjoy the impeachable, amoral cloak of scientific legitimacy. When it comes to voice profiling, computers are not judging the speakers themselves; only the reactions the speaker’s voice provokes in other (presumably human) listeners. “The algorithm functions as a mechanical judge in a voice-based beauty contest”, wrote Chamorro-Premuzic and Adler in The Harvard Business Review. “Desirable voices are invited to the next round, where they are judged by humans, while undesirable voices are eliminated from the contest”.

The makers of voice profiling programs tout this as a moral achievement. Human beings bring loads of biases into any evaluation; computers are blissfully unaware of differences in race, gender, sexual preference or age. “That’s the beauty of math!” Jobaline CEO Luis Salazar told NPR. “It’s blind.”

The problem is, when applied in a capitalist system already plagued by unfairness and inhumanity, this blindness sounds really, really dangerous. An impersonal computer program gets first say as to who gets to earn money to buy food and who doesn’t, based on an application of a binary code too subtle and complex for us to understand. Over a thousand factors, analyzed for every vocal sample. Over a thousand ones or zeros clicked in the corresponding click boxes. Who checks for the glitch? Who do you complain to if you think you’re getting a raw deal? Is it just me or does technology like this simply pass our penchant for prejudice on to the machines who will soon wrest planetary control from our soft, carbon-based hands?

“Hello, I’d like to apply for a job,” the human being says, enunciating as clearly as possible into the phone receiver. “My name is—”

“Disqualified,” says the cold, computerized voice on the other end of the line. “Too squeaky. Perhaps you should seek work in the silent film business.”

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Democracy v Psychology: why people keep electing idiots

An interesting read. But the real problem in my  opinion is simply that people tend to  either vote simply to feather there own nests or are fooled by alarmist propaganda. Some of course do not think at all and perhaps thats the majority 🙂 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Democracy v Psychology: why people keep electing idiots” was written by Dean Burnett, for theguardian.com on Thursday 2nd April 2015 06.05 UTC

Politicians. Their reputation is very poor. In fairness, this is largely their own fault, but it would be foolish to assume every politician is like this. If they were, the whole infrastructure would collapse before you could say “can I claim this on expenses?” Still, everyone assumes they’re despicable, so always assume the worst.

Politician enacts a bad policy? They’re a terrible person. They change their mind and reverse it? They’re weak and not fit to lead. Politicians promise improvements (cut taxes, increase spending)? They’re obviously lying. Politicians promise to do something unpopular (raise taxes, cut spending)? A cast-iron guarantee it will happen. It’s a lose-lose situation, so why do they bother? Many politicians are clearly in it for themselves, but there surely are plenty who really do want the best and just put up with the negative opinions they get.

So, for the record, not all politicians are idiots (although your definition of idiot may vary). But plenty are. The US seem particularly afflicted with them; Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, these people were/are contenders for the presidency. And the archetype George W Bush WAS the president. For 8 YEARS. The man whose idiotic musings managed to sustain businesses had a nuclear arsenal at his command.

Not that the UK can feel smug, with the amount of demonstrable idiocy in our own system. Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Grant Shapps, Jeremy Hunt, David Tredinnick, a ridiculous Labour party (complete with mugs), the rise of UKIP, and the beloved bumbling mayor Boris Johnson.

Plenty of people are quick to point out that Boris Johnson is actually very intelligent/dangerous, that he’s only pretending to be a buffoon. But this underscores the point; an intelligent person has to feign stupidity to achieve political success.

What’s going on here? Logically, you’d want an intelligent person who understands the best approach and methods for running a country in the best possible way. But no, people seem drawn to demonstrations of questionable intellectual abilities. There are a wide variety of ideological, cultural, social, historical, financial and other factors involved, because politics incorporates all of these things, but there are also some known psychological processes that may contribute to this phenomenon.

Confidence inspires confidence

Prime Minister David Cameron speaking at the Relationships Alliance Summit 2014 at the Royal College of GP's in central London
Politicians always try to appear confident, like Prime Minister David Cameron, pictured here confidently exaggerating the size of his… stimulus package. Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA

Confident people are more convincing. This is has been demonstrated in many studies. Most studies focus on a courtroom setting, and suggest a confident witness is more convincing to a jury than a nervous, hesitant one (which obviously has worrying implications for justice), but it can be seen elsewhere. It’s a phenomenon used-car salesmen and estate agents have exploited for decades. And politicians are clearly aware of it, hence all the media training and PR management; any politician that doesn’t come across as assured and confident gets (metaphorically) destroyed. So confidence is important in politics.

However, the Dunning-Kruger effect reveals that less-intelligent people are usually incredibly confident. More intelligent people, by contrast, aren’t at all. Self-appraisal is a useful metacognitive skill, but one that requires intelligence; if you don’t have much of it, you don’t consider yourself flawed or ignorant, because technically you don’t have the ability to do so.

So if you want an intrinsically confident person to publically represent your political party, an intelligent person would be a bad choice in many ways. This can backfire though; studies have shown that when a confident person is shown to be wrong/lying, they are then considered far less reliable or trustworthy than an unconfident person. This may explain the negative image of politics, which is mostly a series of confident individuals making big promises and failing miserably to keep them. That sort of thing really puts people off.

Politics is complicated

Ed Miliband, leader of The Labour Party eating a bacon sandwich with red sauce during a visit to New Covent Garden Flower Market on the eve of the European
Many things about politics are complex, like how to eat a bacon sandwich properly in public. Photograph: Ben Cawthra/REX

Effectively running a country of tens of millions, all of which have different requirements and demands, is an incredibly complicated job. There are just so many variables that need to be considered. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to condense all this into a convenient soundbite for use with the modern media, so personalities tend to come to the fore more often. And the less intelligent personalities are more confident, so are more persuasive, and so on.

People are often put off by intellectual and complex subjects and discussions in any case. They may have no experience with the issue, or may find it too daunting to want to engage with, because doing so successfully would require a lot of time and effort. But politics, particularly democracy, requires people to be involved.

Personality studies suggest that many people demonstrate goal orientation, a “disposition toward developing or demonstrating ability in achievement situations”. Feeling that you are actively influencing something (e.g. an Election) is a powerful motivator, but if some knowledgeable type starts spouting big words about interest rates or health trust deficit management, this is going to alienate those who don’t follow or grasp such things. So if a confident person says there’s a simple solution or promises to make the big complicated thing go away, they’re going to seem far more appealing.

This is also demonstrated by Parkinson’s law of triviality, where people will spend far more time and effort focussing on something trivial that they do understand than something complicated that they don’t. The former offers far more scope for contribution and influence. And people do love trivial things, ergo less-intelligent people condensing down the big issues into brief (but inaccurate) snippets is a potential vote-winner.

People like to relate

This file photo taken on May 1, 2002 shows US President George W. Bush welcoming Singapore's Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew (L) to the Oval Office for a meeting at the White House in Washington, DC
Many people said they felt they’d like a beer with George W. Bush. Admittedly, not everyone was specific about where they’d like it to be inserted. Photograph: TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

One of the often-cited qualities of George W Bush was that people felt they could “have a beer with him”. Ergo, they felt they could relate to him. By contrast, elitism is a negative quality. The idea that those running the country are outside the norms of society is alarming to many, hence constant efforts by politicians to “fit in”.

The majority of people are prone to numerous subconscious biases, prejudices, stereotyping and prefer their own “groups”. None of these things are particularly logical and invariably are not supported by actual evidence and reality, and people really don’t like being told things they don’t want to hear. People are also keenly aware of social status; we need to feel we are superior to others in some way to maintain our sense of self-worth. As a result, someone more intelligent saying complicated things that contain uncomfortable (but accurate) facts isn’t going to appeal to anyone, but someone demonstrably less-intelligent is not challenging to someone’s perceived social status, and if they’re going to say simple things that support inherent prejudices and deny uncomfortable facts, then so much the better.

It’s an unfortunate situation, but it just seems to be the way people’s minds work. There’s a lot more to it than what’s mentioned here of course, but including that would make the whole thing more complicated, and that’s no way to get people to like something, as should be obvious by now.

Dean Burnett thinks democracy would be perfect if it weren’t for all the people involved. He’s on Twitter, @garwboy

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