This Thing For Which We Have No Name

A Conversation with Rory Sutherland [5.12.14]

"No one ever got fired for buying IBM" is a wonderful example of understanding loss aversion or "defensive decision making". The advertising and marketing industry kind of acted as if it knew this stuff—but where we were disgracefully bad is that no one really attempted to sit down and codify it. When I discovered Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, and the whole other corpus on Behavioral Economics…. when I started discovering there was a whole field of literature about "this thing for which we have no name" …. these powerful forces which no one properly understood—that was incredibly exciting. And the effect of these changes can be an order of magnitude. This is the important thing. Really small interventions can have huge effects. ...

...Markets actually work because they're adaptive. Bad things get killed, good new things sometimes get promoted. But most of the time what you'll find in business is no one has the faintest idea of why the things that work actually work. What's very useful here is that finally a group of academics with money, time, and immensely high intelligence were finally sitting down to codify and make sense of things, which we'd been aware of for years but which, to our shame, we'd never attempted to actually try and systematize.

(49:17 minutes)

RORY SUTHERLAND is Executive Creative Director and Vice-Chairman, OgilvyOne London; Vice-Chairman, Ogilvy & Mather UK; Columnist, The Spectator.

Rory Sutherland's Edge Bio page.


The strange thing about academics, which always fascinates me, is that they believe they're completely immune to status considerations and consider themselves to be more or less monks. In reality, of course, academics are the most status-conscious people in the world. Take away a parking space from an academic and see how long he stays. I always find this very strange when you occasionally get in the realm of happiness research, you get fairly considerable assaults on consumerism as if it's just mindless status seeking. Now, the point of the matter is, is that academics are just as guilty of the original crime, they just pursue status in a different way. ...

~  ~  ~

I have probably stolen, without realizing it, your own job title of "impresario" rather unfairly. The reason I did this was that occasionally people started writing about me online as a "behavioral economist" and I realized that, among academic behavioral economists, this would drive them practically apoplectic to have someone with no qualifications in the field so described. (I'm a classicist by background in any case). So my being described as a behavioral economist would make them practically deranged.


The Paradox of Wu-Wei

Edward Slingerland [5.2.14]

"One way to look at the trajectory of Chinese thought is that it's driven by this tension I call "the paradox of wu-wei." Wu-wei is effortless action or spontaneity. They all want you to be wu-wei, but none of them think you are right now. You've got to try to be wu-wei, but how do you try not to try? How do you try to be spontaneous? I call it the paradox of wu-wei, and I argue it's at the center of all their theorizing about other things. There are theories about human nature, there are theories about self-cultivation, there are theories about government. These are all ways of grappling with this central tension that's driving a lot of the theorizing."

(49 minutes)

EDWARD SLINGERLAND is Professor of Asian Studies and Canada Research Chair in Chinese Thought and Embodied Cognition at the University of British Columbia and the author of Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity

Edward Slingerland's Edge Bio Page.


My training was fairly traditional. I got degrees in sinology, the study of Chinese language, and religious studies. I finished my dissertation, which was a fairly traditional, intellectual history of this concept of wu-wei, or effortless action in early China, and it got accepted by Oxford University Press. I was supposed to clean it up and turn it in, and then everything started to go sideways. The first job I had at the University of Colorado, Boulder, I was about to turn in the manuscript and a graduate student in a class I was teaching handed me this book and said, "You might be interested in this," and it was Lakoff and Johnson's Philosophy in the Flesh, which had just come out. This book blew my mind. It immediately solved all of these problems I had with what I was doing.

I had this problem where I was arguing with all these different stories and different texts and saying they're all about wu-wei, they're all about effortless action, but many of the stories don't use the term wu-wei. So how can I say they're really talking about the same concept if they're not using the word? My only solution at that point was just to put the stories side by side and go, "Eh?" Reading about metaphor theory changed everything. The basic argument that Lakoff and Johnson lay out is that we're not disembodied minds floating around somewhere. We are embodied creatures. A lot of our cognition is arising from our embodied interactions with the world, pre-linguistic interactions with the world. And so we build up these basic patterns: walking down a path, dealing with objects, dealing with containers that then structure our abstract thinking. A lot of even very abstract philosophical language is relying on very basic bodily experiences.


TULIP 2014

Katinka Matson [5.2.14]

"TULIP 2014"
(Click to expand)

Copyright © 2014 Katinka Matson. All rights reserved.

"Imagine a painter who could, like Vermeer, capture the quality of light that a camera can, but with the color of paints. . . .  She is at the forefront of a new wave in photography.". —Kevin Kelly, Executive Editor, Wired
"As the moving lens slides along the surface of one of Matson's tulips, it is able to view the flower from all sides; her floral pictures are so intense that looking at them, you almost get the feeling that you are able to peer around the flowers themselves." —The New York Times Magazine 
KATINKA MATSON is Edge cofounder and resident artist.


THINKING — On Sale Now

The "Best of Edge" Book Series John Brockman [10.29.13]


Every year, intellectual impresario and Edge editor John Brockman summons some of our eras greatest thinkers and unleashes them on one provocative question, whether its the single most elegant theory of how the world works or the best way to enhance our cognitive toolkit. This year, he sets out on the most ambitious quest yet, a meta-exploration of thought itselfThinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction (public library) collects short essays and lecture adaptations from such celebrated and wide-ranging (though not in gender) minds as Daniel DennettJonathan HaidtDan Gilbert, andTimothy Wilson, covering subjects as diverse as morality, essentialism, and the adolescent brain.

Thinking is excellent and mind-expanding in its entirety. Complement it with Brockman's This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking, one of the best psychology books of 2012. 

—Maria Popova,  Brain Pickings

"For ... readers interested in keeping up with what serious thinkers are thinking about thinking, this book offers nourishing food for thought". —Kirkus Reviews 

Contributors: Daniel C. Dennett, Philip Tetlock, Gerd Gigerenzer, Daniel Gilbert, Vilayanur Ramacahndran. Timothy D. Wilson, Sarah-Jane Blakemore, Bruce Hood, Simon Baron-Cohen, Gary Klein, Simon Schnall, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Alva Noë, Daniel L. Everett, Jonathan Haidt, Joshua Greene, Sam Harris, Roy Baumeister, Paul Bloo, Daivd Pizarro, Joshua Knobe, Daniel Kahneman


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