Since being dragged into adulthood, I’ve wondered why otherwise intelligent-seeming people don’t think like me. Well, it turns out that I’m not the only one who has wondered. There is a group called the Cultural Cognition Project, who is pondering why, when presented with a set of facts, different people respond differently, or, as they put it, “how cultural values shape public risk perceptions and related policy beliefs.”

“Cultural cognition” refers to the tendency of persons to base their factual beliefs about the risks and benefits of a putatively dangerous activity on their cultural appraisals of these activities. From a psychological point of view it is easier to believe that behavior one finds noble is socially beneficial, and that behavior one finds debased is dangerous, than vice versa. Persons who are “individualistic” and “hierarchical” in their cultural worldviews tend to dismiss claims of environmental risk, for example, because acknowledging such hazards would threaten the autonomy of markets and the authority of social elites. Persons who hold “egalitarian” and “communitarian” worldviews, on the other hand, take environmental risks seriously because they believe unregulated markets are a source of inequality and, therefore, harmful to society. [See End Notes, below, for Reference.]

Here’s another quote from the Cultural Cognition site: “In debates over climate change, gun control, the HPV vaccine, and myriad other risks, Americans respond to scientific data in much the same way sports fans react to disputed calls on the playing field–cheering or booing based on how the evidence affects their ‘team.’ A paper published in Nature links this dynamic to cultural cognition and addresses what can be done to counteract it.” The paper is here.

Of course, the Cultural Cognition people may just think that way because of their cultural perspective. 🙂


Until HBO made a movie about her, Temple Grandin was known only to cattle handlers and readers of books by Oliver Sacks.

Temple recently spoke on her autism at a TED conference, and her twenty-minute talk was fascinating, educational, and challenging, particularly for those of us who wonder why people think and perceive as they do. As an example, when most people hear “steeple” they conjure up a vague image of a pointy thing on top of a building. But an image-oriented person like Temple Grandin flips through a series of specific steeples stored in her memory, things she has actually seen and cataloged. There is, of course, much more than that in her talk.

Her talk is well worth the time. It will change what you think you know about autism. And about thinking.


The comic page is my one nonnegotiable newspaper destination. Depending on the scope, insight, and hilarity of a good comic, I am often tempted to re-tell it, stick it to the refrigerator, share it with co-workers (or sometimes my wife’s co-workers), and/or post it on the ‘net. Fortunately, I have worked hard over the years to build up my resistance muscles to the point they are almost visible in photos. (Indolence, not to mention the difficulty of finding scissors, also helps.)

But when I find a ‘toon that combines multiple interests, I succumb. Like this Speed Bump, which combines community and technology, with a dash of feisty elderhood:


End Notes and Updates

The long, italicized quote under RESEARCH is from a paper analyzing reactions to nanotechnology. The paper can be downloaded here.

In my Jan 25 posting, “Thresholds”, I referred to setting sail on Organization Adventure. I’ve stalled out a bit on the financial organization part (hey, it’s barely even March), but I have more or less maintained my morning walks. And this weekend I configured my e-mail organization rules, including a new one: Social Networking. I get enough Facebook notes to warrant a category, plus the occasional Twitter update.

Wait – did he just say ‘Twitter? Yes I did. Recently a friend at work requested some assistance in checking a particular Twitter function for possible patent infringement, so I created a Twitter account. For some reason, I’ve been actually posting the occasional tweet. Plus I’m also following NASA, Chris Anderson (Wired/TED), one of my progeny, and a friend who just tweets funny stuff. My Twitter name is iideacocarl. My tweets are every bit as inane as my longer posts, but mercifully shorter. You have been warned.

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