13 March, 2011

Science mapping a Personal Journey

Dan Ariely is a behaviour economist. Aren’t you intrigues to hear that there is a profession called behaviour economics?

Two years ago, I watched Ariely speak about the results of scientific studies explaining why human beings are predictably irrational. It was a fascinating speech, not only because of the findings, but because he is so convincingly and passionately invested in discovering the ways “emotional states, moral codes and peer pressure affect our ability to make rational and often extremely important decisions in our daily lives”.

This morning I had the acute pleasure in watching Ariely’s PopTech 2011 talk, Adaptive Responses.

It is a rare person who can convincing map science as a personal journey of discovery. Ariely tell a touching story connecting scientific findings with personal existential angst and the yearning for love. He does this with such courage, humour, intrepidness, I could only watch in awe.

What is particularly fascinating is to see what a fine line he walks between telling very intimate details of his life without exposing the identity or opinions of any of his family or friends. Secondly, the details he mentions of himself are presented in such a way that lend his intellectual arguments weight without becoming a burden to the audience.


  1. Many times I learn and find comfort from your inspiring posts but this one I found disturbing, and it became a burden, at least to several of us. Much of Ariely's thinking is predicated on a western, pedegreed, male, elitist, upper class philosophy. Far from questioning some of the most fundamental social stereotypes, he reinforces them. He anecdotally discusses the "severely injured", who have a higher threshold for pain he says, and contrasts that to those whom have chronic "non-severe injuries" and have a lower threshold of pain. Scientifically, this is simply not the case. Worse yet, he links this to a 1-10 rating of attractiveness and unattractive people who settle for (adapt to) kindness or humor instead of attractiveness since "people understand their place in society.--a sensible survivor mechanism." Following on Int'l Woman's Day and my own experience of a 5-year rehabilitation from MS--being bedridden to hiking on rocks in a fast stream with any amount of pain you want; I decline morphine and not novacaine--I know that "his talk" would be entirely different if "he" were a woman and relying a scientific facts about women who do most of the work, caretaking, nursing, suffer most of the pain, and are judged and valued least on the male scale of attractiveness. Kindness, humor, and beauty are not mutually exclusive, and are qualities of each human being that is a wondrous and infinite universe. I hope one day he can break free from his male country club stereotypes and perhaps spend a decade in Rwanda on a journey of discovery with women who can explain the concepts of pain and attractiveness to him, and their longings to share true love.

  2. Anonymous5:40 am

    I saw this talk was out on TED too... Must listen to it! (Can't right now at 5.30 in the morning though...)

  3. Kathy, I am so sorry that you found my post disturbing and I presume you meant the fact that I was inspired by it. I can see where you are coming from in connection to gender and scientific research. His was done with veterans from long ago, so even though there might have been women in the studies (let's give him the benefit of the doubt), in all likelihood there were probably a majority of men. No matter what, there was no differentiation as to gender. Also the study was limited, so the results are not robust. I am particularly intrigued about what such a study would result in given primarily with women. For as you say, we are the bearers of much suffering and pain.

    Even though the "science" of the talk is not rigorous, I think his ability to bring scientific thinking and the processes he pursues is well executed. His ability to make it anecdotal and personal makes it easy for the audience to connect to the work. Whether his findings are true or not, I can not judge. Whether they are supported by other studies, even less so.

    All I can say is that his argument about adaptive responses to pain was interesting. The fact that our brain can perceive pain in different manners, might explain in part why women in labour are able to bear prolong pain. For we know it is to give life.

  4. RYN: You were so lucky to have grand parents of such good genetic stock. Various diseases knocked most of my family out really early. No one ate healthily, and several members died of peripheral artery disease. I have that, and I'm not supposed to have fats or salt. Nothing like a stroke to bring you down to earth fast. :)