The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Arielly

How is it possible to account for irrationality in a scientific way? What kind of a science, what kind of a scientist studies the the irrational side of human behavior? How, moreover, can irrational decisions be measured, explained and controlled? Arielly describes experiments which do just this.

A parrot is put in a cage with two sources of food, one takes time and effort, the other is instantaneous. The parrot prefers the food on which it has spent a bit of time. “Contra-freeloading” describes this very phenomenon: many animals prefer to work (or play) for food, rather than eating freely accessible food. Read this against standard economic theory, which holds that rational economic agents always prefer to minimize their effort to produce maximal rewards. Yet we humans, (like parrots) are not always and already rational; we play, we interact with our environment, although our interactions ‘cost’ us more in effort and may not produce higher returns..

Arielly describes experiments which demonstrate how and how much human beings are motivated by meaning, over and above immediate rewards. Some of these experiments point to “the Ikea effect” and explain why we feel better when we own things that we assemble ourselves. Some point to “the egg theory” which explains why Mrs. Baker will buy a cake mix to which she must add some ingredients, rather than a mix which requires no effort at all. Some experiments point to the “Not Invented Here” bias, which is the bias against solutions or goods which we ourselves did not invent. (Also called The Toothbrush Theory because we only want to use our own.) The notion that a personal investment of labour results in an increase in value is not new; what is new is a science that can quantify this revaluation, or ‘over-valuation’. Behavioural economics concerns itself with how systems and institutions and designs make room for the irrational, and what happens when they don’t.

Information has an emotional weight, it is not free of its distribution method or its owner, or the order in which it is presented. Some information can be “primed” — preceded by a particular emotional charge — so as to control its impact. Arielly’s life story, for example. Arielly introduces his work by telling us about his traumatic, disfiguring, painful accident and his prolonged convalescence and rehabilitation. Is this information intended to influence our apprehension of his work? Does it?

The Deal: A Novel of Hollywood by Peter Lefcourt read by William H. Macy

L.A./Hollywood relived by a suicidal ex-husband ex-producer ex-Jew with a  screenplay.  The screenplay is  fresh off the bus from New Jersey, delivered to Charlie (post suicide) by his 21 year old nephew, Lionel. It is about Disraeli but that doesn’t matter.  The screenplay is his property, and all Charlie needs to make it (again)  in this town is one property.

The screenplay, nicknamed Ben and Bill, or Bob and Bill, somehow makes itself known to a studio,  an agent, a casting director,  who manage to get a black pro-Israel karate expert to play Disraeli, the Jew.

The characters are mimetic:

The  studio executive assistant has the unwieldy habit of walking to the nearest ladies room, locking the door, and screaming.   (It is always a mistake to actually read the screenplay.) We visit with her and her Beverly Hills therapist in intimate one hour sessions,  at which she arrives  hystericized with laughter. The therapist is straight out of DSM-V and full of noteworthy advice, relevant to any and all professional women over 35 who work among men. Cut out a small nook of rationality inside the chaos.

The director is paid in  dinar which have been blocked from leaving Yugoslavia, and doesn’t talk to the actors.  The actors are not worth characterizing.

Prepare to grow a dry grin and giggle while reading.

The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber read by Eric Conger

There is a kind of being found among artists, a being-with peculiar to art school graduates, children of artists, girlfriends of artists, gallery owners and oglers and agents and wives, proximate to art, attached to it but uncertain of it, what or where or whose it is. Both proximate and remote, like a cat in a black box of which one must say it is both dead and not dead.

Such is art. On occasion, the remoteness of art maddens the artist. Deflects him from himself. Forces him to account for what he both has and doesn’t have. Impossible. A problematic with the face of Chas M. Columbia graduate, with roots on 113th Street and Amsterdam, previously of Oyster Bay.

Someone one said life is just high school, on and on… The obnoxious little shit we recall from ninth grade becomes the obnoxious little shit in the White House.