Saturday, October 24, 2009

Reason Makes us Men: an argument for rational decision making

Below is a paper I turned in for my advanced decision modeling course a couple days ago.

Reason Makes Us Men:

becoming an effective decision maker through systematic thinking

Introduction

Because reason...is the only thing that makes us men, and distinguishes us from the beasts, I would prefer to believe that it exists, in its entirety, in each of us…
— Descartes
From our earthly parents we have inherited a brain and body heavily influenced by non-rational factors such as emotions, hormones, and the pressure to comply with one’s zeitgeist. These non-rational factors can lead to poor decision making by decreasing the magnitude of a decision’s expected net benefit. However, from our spiritual parents we have received the endowment of human reason, which can often affect the opposite result. In this paper I explore 1) some common cognitive biases and shortfalls of normal human decision making and 2) how overcoming these shortfalls through rational processes suggested by authors such as Saaty, Raiffa, and Bardach help one become an effective decision maker.

Some common cognitive biases and shortfalls of normal human decision making

Being that reason belongs to everyone but good judgment to only a few, man is prone to every kind of illusion.
— Schopenhauer
In 1961 a tribunal began the war crimes trial of Holocaust overlord Adolf Eichmann. Three months later, Stanley Milgram began an experiment to determine whether there was a mutuality of morality between Eichmann and his accomplices in the Holocaust. In a strikingly simple experiment, he separated research participants into “learners” and “teachers.” The teachers were instructed to inflict increasingly severe electric shocks to the learners when the learners failed to remember word pairings[1]. In stark contrast to the predictions of college students and colleagues, over half of the teachers continued to administer progressive shocks all the way to the lethal maximum voltage. This and subsequent experiments[2] demonstrated, among other results, that normal people are willing to set aside their reason when ordered to act by an authority.
Why it is so much easier for a man to drop an incendiary bomb from thousands of feet in the air than to stab a bound mother to death with a bayonet in cold blood, though the result of each choice as measured by destruction of innocent life are so conspicuously disparate? Or why this reality: “Large numbers are found to lack meaning and to be underweighted in decisions unless they convey affect (feeling). As a result, we respond strongly to individuals in need but often fail to act effectively in the face of mass tragedies from nature or human malevolence.[3]” Even a rational process is subject to distortions: “At every stage of the decision-making process, misperceptions, biases, and other tricks of the mind can distort the choices we make.[4]” In addition to the many psychological traps identified by Raiffa, Keeney, and Hammond, the naturalistic fallacy, the availability heuristic, avoiding cognitive dissonance, the fundamental attribution error, and innumeracy constitute a few more of the dozens of examples of cognitive biases and inhibitions to rational decision-making to which humans are prone. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases for a list of about 100 such biases.)

How overcoming these shortfalls through rational processes suggested by authors such as Saaty, Raiffa, and Bardach help one become an effective decision maker

So how do to we build decision models in a way that that gives due consideration to both moral and practical consequences? Mr. Slovic suggests that this is through using what he terms “System 2,” or analytic, thinking (rather than “gut feeling,” or System 1). “Long before we had invented probability theory, risk assessment, and decision analysis, there was intuition, instinct, and gut feeling, honed by experience, to tell us whether an animal was safe to approach or the water was safe to drink. As life became more complex and humans gained more control over their environment, analytic ways of thinking, known as System 2, evolved to boost the rationality of our experiential reactions.[5]” Raiffa in Smart Choices describes his “System 2” approach: “We show you what you need to consider in evaluating your options and the steps you need to take to arrive at the smart choice” (xii). Saaty and Bardach also posit system 2 approaches[6]. System 2 is considered rationally superior to system 1: “Thoughtful deliberation takes effort. Fortunately evolution has equipped us with sophisticated cognitive and perceptual mechanisms that can guide us through our daily lives efficiently, with minimal need for “deep thinking.” I have referred to these mechanisms as System 1.[7]”. Therefore, System 2 approaches hold the potential to overcome cognitive biases, System 1 impulses, and what Raiffa terms “psychological traps” (see Chapter 10, Smart Choices).
System 2 is more likely lead to smart choices. Raiffa goes as far as to say, and I would agree, that “By now it should be clear that the art of good decision making lies in systematic thinking.[8]” Consequently, overcoming the shortcomings identified above through rational structures such as those suggested by decision analysis scholars Raiffa, Saaty, and Bardach helps one become a more effective decision maker.

Conclusion

It's the luminous spark of reason that grants us lordship over the animals, endows us with cell phones, and offers hope, even in our darkest hours, that our species will somehow calculate the way forward to a brighter tomorrow.
Bruno Maddox
Cognitive biases, emotions, hormones, and societal and biological drives to comply can sometimes lead to poor decision making. However, these influences can be managed by adherence to rational decision making models such as those elucidated by Raiffa, Saaty, and Bardach. These processes can overcome many of the inhibitors of rational decision making and, therefore, contribute to a culture of rational, effective decision making.


[1] Blass, Thomas. (2002), "The Man Who Shocked the World,"Psychology Today, 35:(2), Mar/Apr 2002.
[2] Blass, Thomas. "The Milgram paradigm after 35 years: Some things we now know about obedience to authority," Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 1999, vol. 29 no. 5, pp. 955-978.
[3] Slovic, Paul. “Thinking and Deciding Rationally About Catastrophic Losses of Human Lives.” Chapter to appear in The Irrational Economist: Future Directions in Behavioral Economics and Risk Management.
[4] Raiffa. Smart Choices, pgs 210-211.
[5]Slovic, pgs. 8-9.
[6] See Bardach, Eugene. A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis: The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem Solving. Chatham House Publishers, 2000. See also Saaty, Thomas. Fundamentals of Decision Making and Priority Theory with the Analytic Hierarchy Process. 1994 ISBN 0-9620317-6-3, RWS.
[7] Slovic, pg. 8.
[8] Raiffa. Smart Choices, pg. 215.

Jared Diamond, Chinese currency, and the Gleam in your daddy's eye

A couple days ago as I was rushing to the Tanner building I ran into Kirk Larsen, an Asian studies professor at BYU (and my great-uncle's son). I stopped to chat with him for a bit and told him about a book I'm reading, Collapse by Jared Diamond. Somewhat to my surprise, he had read it found it valuable. I say somewhat because about a week ago I was chatting about some of the concepts in the book with another professor, Steven Peck, who I learned had also read the book!

Collapse reviews some ancient and modern examples (such as Easter Island, the Norse Greenland, Vikings, China, Haiti, and Rwanda among others) of societies that either persisted sustainably for centuries or, alternatively, self-destructed. He identifies a five-point framework for evaluating these societies and their fates: 1) human-caused environmental damage 2) climate change 3) hostile neighbors 4) friendly trade partners 5) society's responses to its environmental problems. Generally, I found his analysis reasonable and persuasive. I would similarly evaluate my experience when reading another of his books, Guns, Germs, and Steel. Anyway, one of the more compelling ideas he expostulates is the tension between long and short-term interest in societal, corporate, and individual decision making. For instance, competing fishing companies in the short run have little incentive to curb their fish intake. Because catching more fish in a season will bring them certain, immediate profits and competitive advantage, it is in their short-term interest to overfish. Of course, if all the fishing companies overfish, they destroy the fish populations and impoverish their own and others' future interests since there won't be descendants of that fish population to catch a decade or century down the road.  Peccata contra naturam sunt gravissima - "wrongs against nature are the most serious." 

This idea which Jared Diamond explores illustrates a somewhat uncomfortable truth related to Chinese currency (the Renmindbi). The value of the US dollar constantly fluctuates, and a primary factor affecting the Renminbi:dollar exchange rate is the credit rating of the US government. Unless the US decides to start behaving in significantly more fiscally responsible ways, it's currency and credibility may soon be replaced, and its ability to command low-interest loans will fail: "If another currency or basket of currencies replaced the dollar as the reserve currency, the U.S. would face higher interest rates to attract capital, reducing economic growth for the long-term. The Economist wrote in May 2009: "Having spent a fortune bailing out their banks, Western governments will have to pay a price in terms of higher taxes to meet the interest on that debt. In the case of countries (like Britain and America) that have trade as well as budget deficits, those higher taxes will be needed to meet the claims of foreign creditors" (Economist-A New Global System is Coming Into Existence, May 2009). As of today the single largest creditor of the US government is China - and they're concerned (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/13/AR2009031300703.html). Why are creditors worried? "Key drivers of these risks relate to the unwillingness of the U.S. to live within its means, both from a budget deficit and trade deficit standpoint. For example, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Federal Government's auditor, argues that the U.S. is on a fiscally "unsustainable" path and that politicians and the electorate have been unwilling to change this path.[38]The 2010 U.S. budget indicates annual debt increases of nearly $1 trillion annually through 2019, with an unprecedented $1.0 trillion debt increase in 2009. By 2019 the U.S. national debt will be $18.4 trillion, approximately 148% of GDP, up from its approximately 80% level in April 2009.[39]"

And the "drivers of these risks" don't show any sign of flagging. "This is because expenditures related to entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are growing considerably faster than the economy overall, as the population grows older. These agencies have indicated that under current law, sometime between 2030 and 2040, mandatory spending (primarily Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the national debt) will exceed tax revenue. In other words, all discretionary spending (e.g., defense, homeland security, law enforcement, education, etc.) will require borrowing and related deficit spending. These agencies have used such language as "unsustainable" and "trainwreck" to describe such a future...[42] If significant reforms are not undertaken, benefits under entitlement programs will exceed government income by over $40 trillion over the next 75 years.[47] According to the GAO, this will cause debt ratios relative to GDP to double by 2040 and double again by 2060, reaching 600 percent by 2080.[48]" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_public_debt).

So why is there no check on this gross irresponsibility manifest by the voting public and its elected officials? I think that part of the reason goes back to the old complaint of the founding Fathers: taxation without representation. It also has to do with a quaint little phrase:
"in this economic crisis, first and foremost. He may have contributed to some of it by no means did he start this problem. This problem started back decades ago in reality. So long ago that many of the registered voters wouldn’t even remember because they weren’t even a gleam in their daddy’s eye yet. However, they are registered voters today and they are the nucleus of a voting disaster about to happen..." (http://homelandsecurityus.com/?p=302).

Let me be a little more clear. I propose that a primary reason why the electorate and federal government spend in such a patently irresponsible way is because those that will be paying the bill through their taxes are barred from voting. Illustration: In 1960, let's say, the country faces a recession (unimaginable, right?). The federal government borrows 80 billion dollars, which it spends on bailouts and economic stimulus initiatives. The loan has a 6% interest rate and is to be paid off in 30 years. By the time the loan is paid off, the US paid 173 billion dollars to settle the debt. That means that the country decided to pay 173 billion dollars between 1960 and 1990 in exchange for the privilege of spending 80 billion dollars in 1960. That privilege cost (in addition to paying the principal of 80 billion) 93 billion dollars! See how debt works? (In October 1998 President Hinckley of the LDS church said in priesthood session: "Since the beginnings of the Church, the Lord has spoken on this matter of debt. To Martin Harris through revelation, He said: "Pay the debt thou hast contracted with the printer. Release thyself from bondage" (D&C 19:35).

President Heber J. Grant spoke repeatedly on this matter from this pulpit. He said: "If there is any one thing that will bring peace and contentment into the human heart, and into the family, it is to live within our means. And if there is any one thing that is grinding and discouraging and disheartening, it is to have debts and obligations that one cannot meet" (Gospel Standards, comp. G. Homer Durham [1941], 111)."


So who paid the 173 billion dollars? Let's look at a group of people that paid that debt via their taxes between 1960 and 1990. This group of people were born between 1945 and 1955- part of the baby boomer generation. In 1960 the oldest of this group were 15 years old and the youngest 5. Not a single member of this group was old enough to represent their interests by voting in 1960. By 1990 the oldest members were 45 and the youngest 35 and all had spent a significant portion of their yearly working incomes of the preceding two decades or so paying off the loan they had no say in creating. They were barred from voting (unrepresented) because they were too young.

Now if I were better educated, I would use a real example with real numbers from America's recent history. Yet the illustration shows the problem- the loans we as the electorate choose today through our leaders burden future generations- those who are unborn- those who are, today, not yet even a gleam in their daddy's eye. The unborn who will pay our debts can't complain about their taxation without representation because they're not around yet to object! It is the same problem as faced by many societies Jared Diamond reviews in Collapse: the interests of subsequent generations are breached because of the short-term interests of a present generation. For instance, an Easter Island society, the Rapanui, finds certain and immediate benefits from logging, hunting, and farming activity resulting from wide-scale deforestation. 9 decades of deforestation later, not a single grove of trees can be found on the entire island, soil erosion has destroyed the agricultural potential of 90% of the island, and not a single species of megafauna (animals larger than 40 kg) remains. The young Rapanui living 90 years downstream from the initial deforesters. Both the Chinese currency and Jared Diamond problem disadvantage the "not even a gleam in your daddy's eye" generation.

So is there a solution? I think there are a couple viable ones. I invite your constructive ideas to add to the pool of candidate solutions.

#1: Josh Hansen, my roommate, said that simply internalizing externalities in the present will result in giving future generations a fair shake. Specifically, he suggests tying a mandatory tax increase to any spending (rather than making the payment ISEP [It's Somebody Else's Problem, the spenders would have to pay more taxes if they choose more services]. Make the people that consume a government-provided good or service pay for it? Sounds revolutionary.

#2 One idea I've entertained is to represent future generations by giving them a vote. Some thinktanks and institutions exist already that seek to penetrate the interests of future generations or what the world will look like in 30 years (e.g. the London office of Royal Dutch Shell oil Company, who tries to predict alternative scenarios for the state of the world in coming decades- see Collapse, pg. 447). Obviously it's impossible to predict with absolute confidence the interests or behavior of the unborn, but it is feasible to reach conclusions about their rational interests (such as having a say in their own government, having a means for obtaining a livelihood, security and liberty interests, etc.) Perhaps these thinktanks could be given, say, 15% of the vote to represent unborn generations in decisions that bear an overwhelming likelihood of directly affection them. This contingent would likely make voting decisions likely to result in more fiscally and environmentally responsible policy.

Scariest trailer I've ever seen: http://www.youtube.com/swf/l.swf?video_id=HBo2xQIWHiM&autoplay=1

A lecture by Jared Diamond about Collapse: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IESYMFtLIis



Selfless Satan

Embark with me to a world without intentions and motivations- where only choices and their consequences matter. A world where self-interest and benefit are measured by power, knowledge, and possessions. A world where behavior causes effects, and that's it.

Okay, here we are! Now, this world is isn't terribly different from our own. We live in a world governed by natural laws, where blessings (effects) are obtained by obedience to laws upon which those blessings are predicated (causes) - see D & C 130: 21. Let's seek to place Christ and Satan where they belong in the selfless-selfish spectrum in this world based on a cause-effect principle.

Christ
Effects: possesses all knowledge, all power, an eternal weight of glory, the worshipful adoration of trillions of humans, the constant company of God, boundless possessions, exaltation, peace, and a fullness of joy.

Causes: fidelity to God's will, including performance of the Atonement and every other task God laid upon Him

Satan
Effects: eternal damnation, eternal misery, the company of the damned, a day-to-day waking experience of ceaseless kicking against the pricks, without hope of offspring or glory

Causes: beguiling Eve, advocating his own plan in the Council in Heaven, disobeying God whenever he's not compelled to comply, tempting mankind to sin

Now we have juxtaposed Christ and Satan on an individual interest cause-effect criterion (how selfish they are as measured by effects on their individual welfare). This placement is necessary but insufficient to our placing them on a selfish-selfless spectrum, though, because the measure of selflessness must be against the interests of others.

The actions of both Christ and Satan make your and my salvation possible. Both are actual causes of human salvation (for background about actual cause and related issues, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proximate_causation or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causality). However, it is clear that the actions of each led to different results for the individual actor. Satan's involvement, though necessary for the effect of the Fall (which is in turn absolutely essential to the salvation of man) and the reality of continuing opposition (see 2 Nephi 2:11-17, also the problem of evil and thoedicy), seems to have rewarded him eternal damnation in exchange for his efforts. Yet Christ's efforts, which are neither more nor less essential for the salvation of man than Satan's, are rewarded by the greatest power and possessory interest a selfish individual could hope for.

"He that findeth his life shall blose it: and he that closeth his dlife for my sake shall find it" (Matt 10:39. See also D & C 98: 13 and TG: self-sacrifice).
Selfishness: "that supreme self-love or self-preference which leads a person to direct his purposes to the advancement of his own interest, power, or happiness, without regarding those of others."
Sacrifice: To forfeit (one thing) for another thing considered to be of greater value.

It's interesting that sacrifice is defined and thought of as forfeiting A for B, where B is considered to be of greater value. To me, that "sacrifice" = "a great bargain." It's like exchanging 5 bucks for a 2010 Mustang V6 Convertible. What kind of a sacrifice is that? If sacrifice is instead more of a bad bargain, say, a person sacrificing his or her life so someone else can have the right to vote on whether or not to have a burrito or a taco, then we attain an upleasant deduction. Satan is far and away more selfless than Christ as measured only by effects. His actions, actual causes of our exaltation, benefitted us greatly while resulting in unending personal punishment for him. He made a truly "bad bargain" on our behalf. Christ's actions, also actual causes of our exaltation, also benefitted us greatly, but resulted in a gargantuan ROI (Return On Investment) for Him.

So now we've placed Christ and Satan on our contrived selfless-selfish spectrum. Where we to follow Satan's selfless example, we'd likely behave quite differently- for example, by setting up a regional kindergarten conference and then blowing up the session once all the kids arrive. [God's work is to bring to pass (presumably, maximize) the immortality and eternal life of man. Immortality for all mortals is already assured, leaving only eternal life to maximize. Protected class #1- all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the Celestial Kingdom - D & C 137:10 - which salvation is equivalent to eternal life. So if you slay 100,001 kindergarteners you damn yourself but bring about the net eternal life of 100,000 souls (100,001 guaranteed saved minus one soul unequivocally damned). Now that's selfless in effect both of helping God in his work and maximizing the benefit of your fellow man.]

In fact, God may have pursued a comparable mechanism until the recent decreases in childhood mortality. [1) "The Lord takes away many, even in infancy... instead of mourning we have reason to rejoice as they are delivered from evil." 2) "The only difference between the old and young dying is, one.. is freed a little sooner from this miserable wicked world." (Joseph Smith, Documentary History of the Church 4:553-554). 3) During ancient times and the Middle Ages, the infant mortality rate was about 200 deaths per 1,000 live births and the under-5 mortality rate was about 300 deaths per 1,000 live birth- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infant_mortality#Infant_mortality_throughout_history. 4) History of human life span and mortality




Or, we might set up an arrangement to join one of the other two protected classes: #2 millenial children or #3 Christ. [As essential as mortality is to our becoming gods, Jesus somehow achieved the desirable Godhood status before He ever came to earth- why not just follow His lead and skip the salvation-risky mortal experience? Or why not have everyone be born in the millenium- D & C 45:58 "And the aearth shall be given unto them for an binheritance; and they shall cmultiply and wax strong, and their dchildren shall egrow up without fsin unto gsalvation.]? These three classes are guaranteed salvation with no risk of damnation, whereas the rank and file participants on fallen earth may or may not end up receiving salvation.]

It seems that selflessness and rational self-interested behavior are more different- or more similar- than they superficially appear.

Closing pieces-
1) God commands that you seek your own self-interest. It's simply the ironic reality that to do so is, counter intuitively, to seek in the short-term the interests of others.
2) I feel to be grateful for my mortal experience notwithstanding my failure to make one of the three protected classes above. All of God's mysteries are accessible to me, and He will reveal them based on the pattern evidenced in 1 Nephi 11:1.


100 Shades of Beautiful

I've often thought that "beautiful" is a very broad term that applies to many diverse situations. I think it'd be better to have 100 or so more precise words in place of the term. Would you like to add any to this list the I and a few friends have made?


Sub-categories of Beautiful

  1. emotive music
  2. Skillful performance (e.g. by an accomplished cellist)
  3. breathtaking scene from a height overlooking a valley or mountain range
  4. Excellence, close to perfect (e.g., "Beautiful serve!" in tennis)
  5. Pretty, gorgeous, attractive-looking person
  6. Aesthetic, eye-pleasing (e.g. a piece of art)
  7. Spectacular accomplishment (e.g. the Pyramids)
  8. A simple flower or anything else that happens to touch a person's soul
  9. A constellation in the sky
  10. A moment of peace and love in a relationship (such as couple, family, friends)
  11. A moment when "all the planets align" - often unexpected, when events come together in a serendipitous fashion
  12. Fruition of a goal or plan
  13. A woman
  14. A temple sealing, spiritual
  15. A new baby
  16. - exquisite masterpiece (art or picture)
  17. - a dress looks ravishing on a woman (or a shoe...yes, that can be ravishing!)
    - the angelic beauty of a child
    - a themed, graceful, emotive ballroom-style dance with several couples




Possible sub-category words

Obviously, some these brainstormed words sound silly. However, like most words, once they join our vernacular they are seldom questioned.

  1. Pathsotic
  2. Prowetic
  3. Beautanyon
  4. Skillerious
  5. Stunnesthetic
  6. Beautiful
  7. Beautressive
  8. ?
  9. Cosmotical
  10. Beautrivana
  11. ?
  12. Comeuppleasant
  13. ?
  14. Beaucral
  15. Natival
  16. ?
  17. ?
  18. ?
  19. ?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Nephi: The Criminal

One night, a man crept into a city in the dark of night. His brothers awaited his return, hiding behind the city walls. The man went forth toward the home of a city leader and found the leader lying unconscious on the ground. Rather than assist the leader, the man took the leader's sword, which had a golden hilt and a precious steel blade. After calm deliberation, and using the leader's own sword, the man grabbed the leader's hair and decapitated him in cold blood. Then, donning the leader's clothes, the man imitated the leader's voice to deceived a servant in charge of the treasury into delivering valuable records, kept on metal plates, to the man. The man ordered the defrauded servant into following him out of the city. When the servant tried to flee, the man tackled the servant and physically detained him. Taking the sword, records, and the tricked servant, the man and his brothers then absconded into the wilderness to escape detection.

Crimes the man is guilty of:
1) Larceny, 3 counts (of the sword, garments, and metal records)
2) Burglary (the illegal conversion of property from an edifice at night)
3) Premeditated Murder (typically considered the most pernicious crime in any society)
4) Battery (of the servant)

Crimes of which the man may also be culpable:
1) Impersonation of a community official
2) Fraudulent deception of a bondsman
3) Obstruction of justice (fleeing the scene of a crime)
4) False imprisonment (holding or confining someone without legal authority)
5) Kidnapping (asportation of a person in furtherance of another crime)
6) Assault (of the servant)

Later, a religion claiming adherence to 1) "honoring, obeying, and sustaining the law" and 2) the 6th commandment (Thou shalt not kill) venerates the ethical behavior of the murderer. The man's name? Nephi, son of Lehi.

So what does this story teach about proper ethical behavior? In the LDS church, the faithful sing a hymn:
Do what is right, let the consequence follow.
Battle for freedom in spirit and might;
And with stout hearts look ye forth for tomorrow.
God will protect you; then do what is right.


Non facias malum ut inde veniat bonum - "you shall not do evil that good may come of it."  The hymn and the maxim illustrate a commitment to deontological ethics (do your duty first and foremost, rather than consider the consequences of a particular act and then decide on that basis).  Yet the religion that sings this hymn also manifests a loyalty to a nearly opposite ethical approach.

The Nephi story illustrates a commitment to teleological ethics, sometimes known as consequentialism (the consequences of a particular action form the basis for any valid moral judgment about that action). When Nephi hesitated, the Spirit persuaded him to murder by balancing the man's life against the consequent unbelief of a nation. Consideration of the consequences justified the breach of Nephi's duty to 1) obey the law and 2) obey the "not kill" commandment.

It seems to me that a consequentialist/teleological ethical approach is superior to a deontological one for two reasons. 1) I think a deontological approach's best justification can be sufficiently analyzed from a teleological framework. There's little justification for complying with a duty outside of the argument that that compliance is most likely to result in the greatest net benefit to all stakeholders. Therefore, it seems to me that deontological ethics are subsumed by teleological ethics. 2) A deontological approach seems more lazy because it requires less thought. Sure it's tough to reach a conclusion when balancing the competing and overlapping demands of a constellation of duties- but how much more difficult is it to account for a suite of consequences whose nature, impacts, and number are as difficult to predict and quantify as penetrating the foggy fabric of the future?

One result of adherence to a consequentialist approach, then, is a headache. Though guiding principles exist (e.g. obey the law or don't kill), they are also subject to being trumped by a compelling teleological argument, which one must think about in order to evaluate. That means engaging the difficult and cumbersome process of trying to think through all the consequences of a candidate course of action. This process sometimes leads to surprising deductions. Few of us would consider the perpetration of 4-10 crimes in a single evening as a typical discipleship expectation, but be prepared- and don't forget your thinking cap.


Friday, October 9, 2009

7 Books I'd Recommend, plus other books I've read

7 Books I Highly Recommend (roughly in order):

1. Leadership and Self-deception: Arbinger Institute

2. Finding Darwin's God: Kenneth Miller

3. Guns, Germs, & Steel: Jared Diamond (second favorite author)

4. The Female Brain: Louann Brizendine

5. The Four Agreements: Don Ruiz

6. How to Win Friends and Influence People: Dale Carnegie
 
7. Sapiens: a brief history of humankind, by Yuval Harari





Books I've Read (in rough chronological order):


The Holy Qur'an: Mohammed

The Bible (KJV)

Journey to the Ants: E.O. Wilson and Bert Holldobler

Lord of the Rings Series, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion: J.R.R. Tolkien, my favorite author

A Brief History of Nearly Everything: Bill Bryson

The Five Love Languages: Gary Chapman

Manchild in the Promised Land: Claude Brown

Kaffir Boy - Mark Mathabane

5 People You Meet in Heaven: Mitch Albom

Famous Quotes from Great Leaders - P. Andersen

The Creation- E.O. Wilson

Why We Love: the Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love: Helen Fisher

The Trials of Life: a Natural History of Animal Behavior - David Attenborough

The Selfish Gene- Richard Dawkins

Tuesday's With Morrie: Mitch Albom

Bonds that Make us Free: Terry Warner

Carrie : Stephen King

Jonathon Livingston Seagull:  Richard Bach

Spring/summer 2007

Emerging Adulthood: Jeffery Arnett

You Are Special: Max Lucado

The Secret:  Rhonda Byrne

Effie Marquess Carmack: Karen Davidson

The World of the Harvester Ants - Stephen Taber

The Prince: Machiavelli

The Compassionate Brain- Gerald Huther

Return from Tomorrow - George Ritchie

Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith: Joseph F. Smith

The Alchemist - Paul Coelho

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Douglas Adams

Deception Point - Dan Brown

Band of Brothers: Stephan Ambrose

Blink- Malcolm Gladwell

The Power of Intention: Wayne Dyer

The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell

Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless

Crucial Confrontations - Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

Jun 08 Fire of Faith- John Groberg

Aug 08 The Latehomecomer: Kao Yang

Sep 08 In Defense of Food: Michael Pollan

Oct 08 Angels and Demons- Dan Brown

Nov 08 The Miracle of Forgiveness - Spencer W. Kimball

Nov 08 The Infinite Atonement - Tad Callister

Dec 08 The Great Divorce - C.S. Lewis

Dec 08 A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini

Dec 08 Marathon of Faith: Rex Lee

Dec 08 The Great Transformation - Karl Polanyi

Feb 09 Understanding the Word - John Tvednes

Feb 09 - History of EFY (thesis): John Bytheway

Feb 09 - Seeing Like a State- James Scott

Mar 09 - Outrage - Dick Morris

May 09 - Believing Christ - Stephen Robinson

May 09 - Zane Grey- The Call of the Canyon

Sep 09- Anatomy of Peace - Emery Reeves

Sep 09 - The Color Code - Taylor Hartman

Sep 09 - The Poisonwood Bible- Barbara Kingsolver

Sep 09 - Les Miserables: Victor Hugo

Oct 09 - Anatomy of Peace: Arbinger Institute

Oct 09 - The Precious Present: Spencer Johnson

Oct 09 The Guinea Pig Diaries - AJ Jacobs

Oct 09 Collapse - Jared Diamond

Nov 09 (some of) Who Really Cares - Arthur Brooks

Nov 09 Good to Great - Jim Collins

Nov 09 Superfreakonomics -Steve Leavitt and Steve Dubner

Dec 09 The Four Agreements - Don Miguel Ruiz

Dec 09 Desert Solitaire - Edward Abbey

2010:

Covenant Hearts: Bruce Hafen

Jan 10 Talent Code - Daniel Coyle

Jan 10 Third Chimpanzee - Jared Diamond

Jan 10 Only a Theory - Kenneth Miller

Democracy in America: Alexis de Tocqueville

May 10 The Superorganism: Bert Holldobler and Edward Wilson

(some of) Predictably Irrational: Dan Ariely

Jun 10 Grace Works audiobook: Robert Millet

Jun 10 Amazing Grace - Wilberforce and Olaudah Equiano audiobook: Dave Arnold, Paul McCusker

Jul 10 Seventh Seal- Jessica and Richard Draper

Jul 10 The Male Brain: Louann Brizendine

Jul 10 Red Families v. Blue Families: Cahn and Carbone

Aug 10 The Holy Secret: James Ferrell

Aug 10 As a Man Thinketh: James Allen

September-December 10- about a dozen books and/or articles about homosexuality and same-sex marriage, including drafts of books being written by my friends Keith Penrod, Andy Fernuik, and Brent Kerby

Oct 10 Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation, Simon LeVay

Oct 10 Peculiar People: Mormons and Same-sex Orientation: Wayne and Ron Schow

Nov 10 The Detestable and Abominable Crime Against Nature: Gay Mormon History, 1870-1980, Connell O'Donovan

Nov 10 No More Goodbyes: Carolyn Pearson

Nov 10 Same-sex Dynamics in 19th Century America: A Mormon Example: D. Michael Quinn

Nov 10 Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power: D. Michael Quinn

Dec 10 Gay Marriage: Good for Gays, Good for Straights, Good for America: Jonathan Rauch

Dec 10 In Quiet Desperation: Ty Mansfield, Fred and Marilyn Matis

Feb 11 The Greatest Spectacle, Brandon Janis

Feb 11 Questions of Character: Illuminating the Heart of Leadership Through Literature, Joseph Badaracco

Feb 11 What's the Harm: does legalizing same-sex marriage really harm individuals, families or society?, Lynn Wardle

Feb 11   Public Vows: a history of Marriage and the Nation, Nancy Cott

May 11 Nudge, Cass Sunstein and Richard Thuler

May 11 Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Rationality, Dan Ariely

Oct 2011: Perfect, Joseph Dallin

Nov 2011: The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins

Nov 2011: Rough Stone Rolling, by Richard Bushman (and some of Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History)

Nov 2011: The Book of Mammon: A book about a book about the corporation that owns the Mormons, Daymon M. Smith

Nov 2011: The will to believe: and other essays in popular philosophy, William James

December 2011: I come as a thief, by Louis Auchincloss

December 2011: Flunking Sainthood, Jana Riess

June 2012: City of God, E.L. Doctorow

May 2013: Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

2013: The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor

2013: Inferno, by Dan Brown

2013: Designing Multi-Device Experiences, by Michal Levin

2014: Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less, by Greg McKeown

2015: Sapiens: a brief history of humankind, by Yuval Harari

2015: Struggling in Good Faith, by Mychal Copeland & D'vorah Rose

2016: The Use of Weapons, by Iain Banks

2016: Homo Deus: a brief history of tomorrow, by Yuval Harari


 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Healthcare reform

Brad Carmack 06 October at 14:18
Good question. I'm researching the current Washington health care reform proposal for my ethics class (http://finance.senate.gov/healthreform2009/finalwhitepaper.pdf - check out the executive summary and table of contents to get the gist of the paper) and so far I'm struggling to pick a side. I'm persuaded by many arguments forwarded by the Baucus plan, and the remedies to articulated problems seem plausible and promising. However, I struggle to discern whether the long-run benefits of the Baucus plan, if applied, will outweigh their significant costs and establish a system that's better than the status quo. I'm a bit suspicious of expanding a federal administration over health care since generally public sector spending is less efficient than private sector, and some of the remedies in the Baucus plan seem very similar to Medicaid, which I think has been a significant contributor to the national debt without providing as much worth as the cost for those who pay the cost. Hmm- still thinking, thanks for the question.

Compassion fatigue, Milgram's obedience experiments, and how our inaction results in unncessary deaths

My first blog! I'm so excited.

So I've been discussing on facebook, with my dinner group, and with roommates lately some sticky ethical issues,
healthcare reform, and the consequences of inaction unique to the human condition. The replies have been more
than brief, so I'm going to post some of the dialogue below.


Qui non obstat quod obstare potest facere videtur - He who does not prevent what he is able to prevent, is 
considered as committing the thing.

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