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November 2013 posts

Probiotics and Mental Health

Jonathan B. Wight

Well if we live long enough, many of the so-called tales about "gut instincts" may turn out to be scientifically valid, according to this report by Rob Stein on NPR, “Gut Bacteria Might Guide The Workings Of Our Minds.”

The microbes that live in our guts apparently influence our moods and potentially even our ethical and unethical behaviors, sending powerful neurological messages through the vagus nerve. Vagus_nerve

In 100 years, a court of law may take your fingerprints and then check the microbes in your gut to determine if your criminal actions had a biological explanation.  (Just as clever criminals today try to mask their true fingerprints, murderers of the future will alter their gut bacteria levels to provide a convenient alibi for their wicked ways.)

What you eat may correlate with who you are and what you do.  

So much for autonomy of the person!  

I jest, but only in part: humans are just the evolutionary conglomerations of bacteria that learned to cooperate.  If we come to understand more about the working of this generally symbiotic relationship, it is entirely possible that we can create environmental conditions that will reduced mental anxiety and lead to more pro-social behaviors. 

If so, Mayor Bloomberg’s foray into mandating particular foods and portions will just be the tip of the iceberg (lettuce), so to speak.  Paternalism will find a whole new framework of justification.  The "individual mandate" of the future will be to eat the prescribed serving of quinoa, washed down with the requisite cup of cocunut water.  Bacteria rule and human mind will be seen as deeply enmeshed in a power struggle for the right chemicals and hormones.  It's a brave new world.

Corporate Ethics and Social Messaging

Jonathan B. Wight

How do corporations deal with ethical issues?  One new way is to monitor and sometimes direct the chatter on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram and Vimeo.

In “New challenges, opportunities for marketing and PR,” public relations experts report that companies are paying them to track and respond in real time to complaints.  As reported in the article:

“A company needs somebody watching…You can’t wait until three days later and ask, ‘What’s all the chatter about?’ ”

Maybe this helps explain why Twitter’s prices soared more than 70% after its IPO this week. Twitter

All of this would be great if it leads to better and genuine responsiveness to consumers, rather than simply gaming the public’s perceptions and manipulating emotions.

Schumpeterian creative destruction is changing the nature of the corporate-client relationship:

 “It is chaotic, and anyone who tells you he or she has got it all figured out is either disingenuous or delusional. We’re all stumbling forward into this new reality.”

Smith’s Psychology of Active Listening

Jonathan B. Wight

A lot of modern pop psychologists have sold a ton of books about empathy and learning to be an active listener

FYI, here is what Adam Smith had to say about these attributes in getting along with others:

"But if you have either no fellow-feeling for the misfortunes I have met with, or none that bears any proportion to the grief which distracts me; or if you have either no indignation at the injuries I have suffered, or none that bears any proportion to the resentment which transports me, we can no longer converse upon these subjects. We become intolerable to one another. I can neither support your company, nor you mine. You are confounded at my violence and passion, and I am enraged at your cold insensibility and want of feeling.  

Smith identifies that it is part of human nature for people to want to feel that they have been listened to and understood.  Learning how to live in the moment as you interact with another is key to active listening and empathy:

"In all such cases, that there may be some correspondence of sentiments between the spectator and the person principally concerned, the spectator [the listener] must, first of all, endeavour, as much as he can, to put himself in the situation of the other, and to bring home to himself every little circumstance of distress which can possibly occur to the sufferer. He must adopt the whole case of his companion with all its minutest incidents; and strive to render as perfect as possible, that imaginary change of situation upon which his sympathy is founded."  (Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), opening chapters)

Smith goes on to say that because it is impossible to actually feel with the same intensity what another feels, people moderate the intensity of their feelings so that others can go along with it.  Emotional equilibrium is reached by the listener elevating her sympathy and by the speaker lowering her pitch.

New book: Ricardo Crespo's A Re-Assessment of Aristotle’s Economic Thought

Mark D. White

CrespoI'm happy to report that my friend Ricardo Crespo has published a new book with Routledge titled A Re-Assessment of Aristotle's Economic Thought. In conjunction with the book's publication, Routledge has posted an interview with Crespo, beginning with the following poignant question:

Why a re-assessment of Aristotle's economic thought today?

This is an interesting, exciting time for economics. On the one hand, standard economics has become increasingly sophisticated –current micro and macroeconomics bear little resemblance to their 1970s counterparts. Asymmetrical information; industrial organization; new developments in game theory, econometrics and uncertainty management; rational expectations, and dynamic stochastic general equilibrium are all revamping economics.

On the other hand, valuable inputs from other sciences are enriching economic approaches, like the contributions from psychology that have led to behavioral and happiness economics, or the influence of experimental sciences on experimental economics and of neurology on neuroeconomics, as well as the sociological and anthropological notions on identity, reciprocity, gift and institutions used in economic theory developments or the borrowings from ethics that paved the way for capability approaches. New ideas are booming, and it is very hard to anticipate what economics will look like in 20 years.

As new scenarios unfold, we urgently need to rely on philosophy, as its role resembles that of an orchestra director, coordinating all the instruments to produce a harmonious melody. In fact, the greatest economists all started off as philosophers. Adam Smith was a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow, and his close friend and colleague, philosopher David Hume, also wrote interesting essays on economics. The list of other outstanding ‘economist-philosophers’ notably includes John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Carl Menger, Frank Knight, Ludwig von Mises, John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich von Hayek, Joseph Schumpeter, Herbert Simon, Albert Hirschman, and Amartya Sen. These names are associated with very different positions, but we need a neutral, more panoramic philosophical view. My candidate to provide it is Aristotle.

Read the entire interview here, and if you read the book, please feel free to comment on it below.