Archive for the Psychology Category

A solution for the Black Lives Matter movement

Posted in Law, Money, Psychology on January 16, 2015 by daviddiel

Some protesters blocked I-93 yesterday to remind us all about the tragic deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Their campaign has grabbed a lot of attention, but the protest messages have focused on race and skewed interpretations of the facts. In response, I would like to offer up a clear solution that would prevent deaths while maintaining the rule of law going forward.

Before you scroll down to see my proposed solution, try to put aside the arguments that you may have heard about race, prejudice, and controversial details of the case. Consider the possibility that an entire society could be so caught up in drama that we failed to see the forest for the trees.

The big picture is that our laws are based on a system of excessive punishment for minor sins. Many people believe that no crime should go unpunished, and that heavy handed punishments for small crimes will prevent larger crimes. This notion, sometimes implemented as a Broken Window Policy or Stop-and-Frisk Policy, was an experiment in human behavioural psychology that has turned out to have unintended consequences.

Michael Brown was suspected of stealing cigarillos and possibly blocking traffic. Eric Garner was suspected of stealing by breaking cigarette tax law and possibly loitering. These are bad behaviours, but in reality they are no big deal.

Some of you will immediately think that it is heresy to say any crime is “no big deal.” If that is you, then please take a deep breath and reconsider whether you want to support laws that cause small crimes to escalate to the level of deadly force.

When faced with arrest, both Michael Brown and Eric Garner had been conditioned to expect to be physically pushed down, handcuffed, held for hours, made to fill out numerous forms, stripped of their clothes and other belongings, locked in a poorly air-conditioned cell, fed low quality food, delayed receipt of medications and medical care, forced to post bail or remain locked up, forced to attend a court hearing, then either further imprisoned or excessively fined, and they would have a public record of shame to follow them for the rest of their lives.

The solution is simply to match the severity of punishments to the severity of crimes. These men should have received a fine on the order of a traffic ticket. A small financial crime, on the order of tens of dollars, should illicit only a relatively small financial penalty. For example, the fine could be capped at ten times the amount stolen plus a reasonable processing fee. More importantly, these men should not have had to fear arrest, because petty theft should not be an arrestable offence. The fear of excessive punishment was the key element that triggered their defensiveness, anger, and eventual bad decisions that led to their deaths.

The cops were merely stuck in the middle between abusively harsh laws and two desperately poor men. Reasonably limit the penalties for small crimes, especially crimes borne out of poverty, and these kinds of tragedies will eventually stop happening.

The spectrum of subjectivity and objectivity

Posted in Faith & Science, Psychology on April 21, 2013 by daviddiel

I recently listened to this talk on world views and the spectrum of subjectivity and objectivity by Deepak Chopra. This is my response:

There is a parking garage that I can see from my window. I see that there are vehicles inside the garage, but I have not explored the interior of the garage. I believe that I could walk through the garage and count the exact number of vehicles inside. I also believe that you could walk through the garage and count the number of vehicles, and that your count would be the same as mine, assuming that we have a shared language that describes our past experiences of vehicles and numbers. It is critically important that we have enough shared experience for the answer to be identical. Otherwise, if we instead try to count blue vehicles, then our experience and perception of the color blue might differ enough to yield different results.

In my opinion, subjectivity arises because your experiences and language associations are unique to you. Other people may have had similar experiences, and may use similar language to describe their experiences. However, each person starts from a different reference point naturally. It takes effort for groups of people to create shared experiences and language.

When a group of people verify that they agree about something through communication, then they will take the mental shortcut called objectivity. Unlike Deepak Chopra, I claim that we all must believe in objectivity to communicate with others.

Using the example of counting vehicles, I cannot continuously question whether trees are vehicles, or whether the number 3 means 5 to other people. At some point in life, I accepted that other people’s experiences of 3 and 5 are pretty much the same as my own. However, through my experiences, I have observed that other people have slightly different concepts of the color blue. Therefore, I would say that there is room for subjectivity in the definition of blue.

Deepak Chopra might say that you create all of the colors of the rainbow in your imagination. However, I disagree with his completely subjective stance. That is because we probably have had a shared experience of a meter stick, and the wavelength of light can be measured in terms of meters. Even if I were color blind, I could use a tool to measure a beam of light. And, if the tool were to read about 700 nanometers, then I would be objectively incorrect to call it blue because that is clearly outside of the range that people have agreed to label as blue.

In summary, even though I agree with Deepak Chopra that science begins with subjectivity, I do believe in an objective reality that exists outside of any individual person.

What the 2012 DA14 asteroid teaches us about ourselves

Posted in Faith & Science, Psychology, War on February 22, 2013 by daviddiel

For many people, the 2012 DA14 asteroid brought up visions of an apocalypse, like something out of the movie Deep Impact. For ages, humans have looked to the stars to interpret events and predict the future. Although I agree with Carl Sagan that astrology is nonsense, I think this event can teach us a lesson about ourselves.

In the days leading up to the 2012 DA14 asteroid event, scientists around the world employed advanced technology to track the threat with great accuracy. Numerous articles were written in advance. We watched closely as a 40,000-ton asteroid predictably flew by the Earth, meanwhile failing to predict an unnamed 10,000-ton asteroid that did hit the Earth on the same day. According to CNN, the explosion of the unnamed asteroid measured 300 kilotons and injured 1000 people in Siberia.

The lesson here is that improbable and unpredicted events can be more important than those that we expect and understand. While it is prudent to watch out for known threats and to try to mitigate them, vigilance does not define importance. In fact, the most important events in human history usually come as a surprise, like a Black Swan. It takes humility to admit, but this is the nature of the universe.

What led to the Adam Lanza school shooting?

Posted in Education, Law, Music-Movies-Media, Psychology, War with tags , , , , , , , on December 19, 2012 by daviddiel

Regarding the school shooting last week in Connecticut, I have been asking the questions: How did this happen? What factors led to the outcome?

Here are the elements that I think were critical:

1) Lanza had access to weapons that he knew how to use. The weapons didn’t have to be guns. They could have been mining explosives. But his killing pathology must have developed through training that matched the weapons.

2) Lanza probably trained through first person shooter video games. The pattern of aiming at a person, pulling the trigger, feeling no remorse, and targeting another person for pleasure is not innate, but learned. The creation of such games is partly funded by war money.

3) The school did not have armed security personnel. In this case, the principal acted heroically to try to stop Lanza, but failed because he did not have a sufficient weapon. An armed police officer on staff, or any adult present with a concealed weapon and proper training, might have stopped the rampage.

4) Lanza had an episode of a mental dysfunction that got out of control. This case particularly points to a childhood developmental disorder, based on who he chose to kill. Lanza’s immediate fear of treatment triggered a trap loaded with biological predispositions and parenting mistakes.

Steps could be taken on all of these issues, but #2 can be addressed for free without passing legislation. All we need to do is boycott video games and movies that trivialize murder. Which video games or movies would you boycott in honor of the Sandy Hill Elementary victims? Answer in the comments below.