Pseudo-science takes on irrational exuberance

By Owen Paine on Monday March 29, 2010 11:40 PM

Despite the hat and chin music, or maybe because of the hat and chin music, I love this guy. He's Robert Trivers, the author of several nice models of mother nature, blind altruist. And in addition to these landmarks in the advent of the goo-goo apes, doc Trivers also has some nice stuff to say about the sprinkle of really keen self-deceivers among us.

A delight in self-deceivers of the charismatically-doomed variety has traveled close to my heart ever since aquainting myself with Ahab, that mad manic visionary vengeful skipper, and his chosen cetacean.

See, there's no question, no question whatsoever, about the power of self-deception as Trivers demonstrates with analytic clarity. Among other things, it's the key to leadership on Wall Street, and here's not a bad application of this Trivers theorem to the recent credit market dust up.

"Between a CEO who is consciously trying to maximise the free lunch and a CEO who genuinely believes that a highly levered balance sheet of “safe” assets is the best strategy, who is likely to be more convincing to his shareholders and regulator? Bob Trivers’ work shows that it is the latter. Bankers who drink their own Kool-Aid are more likely to convince their bosses, shareholders or regulators that there is nothing to worry about. Given a sufficiently strong selective is inevitable that such bankers would end up being the norm rather than the exception. The real deviation from the moral hazard explanation would be if it were any other way!"
Ahh, self-igniting and soaring on your own fumes -- now that's the vida loca supreme, mates! And if you can bring a herd of lawless resolutes along, nearly as crazed as yourself -- so much the better. Numbers make for a far more sublime and resonantly catastrophic finale. I cherish that suddden burst of full realization of his folly. As the horn of doom sounds in the background, the CEO, coat hurled to the side, charges toward a buy option: "If this is it -- if this is the big one, boys -- I'm goin' down fully vested!"

Comments (36)


A sociobiologist, Owen? A guy who wrote a preface for Dick "the Dick" Dawkins? Ugh.

(Needless to say, the headline represents an editorial Bronx cheer.)

Al Schumann:

Owen, I believe Trivers' findings add strength to the work of Sir Caractacus Potts, the British philosopher, whose seminal work, "Confabulation: The Flattery of Evolution", influenced Margaret Thatcher, now naturally selected into the peerage as Dame Thatcher. Under her guidance, the British phenotype was molded and shaped by the expression of a successful genotype that quite by accident utterly crushed labor.


u two are just jealous of his hat

--as to socio biology ??
why not
in the right hands
i see a brave new world for us !!--

Al Schumann:

I am jealous of the hat. Hats were a factor in the evolution of the Schumannites, from which tribe I proudly claim descent by way of the usual conjugal mishaps, deceptions, outright fraudulent representations and what not. Were it not for hats, the ÜrSchumanns would not have been able to walk dogs in bad weather. If we hadn't walked dogs, weather conditions be damned, none of us would have met and nature would not have followed its course, however influenced it may be by the usual conjugal mishaps, deceptions, outright fraudulent representations and what not.

I, too, see a brave new world. With hats.


I sense a "studies" kerfuffle gathering near the horizon.


Bring it on. I'm loaded for bear on this one.


bear ??

more like army ants no ??


the confabulatory ambulators
of alpha shumax major

selection pressure
-- for naked spencerians
like my darling Maggie --
serves the same "function"
as cotradiction for hegelians

the all purpose houdini gambit

Al Schumann:

Boink, I hope I can provoke a kerfuffle. I'll start off by expressing my bitter disappointment in socio-biology. I had high hopes for it. How cool would it be if Science supported and enforced the outcome I find most pleasing? Very cool, that's how cool, and even cooler if that meant I was destined to own a walk-in closet full of hats.

Alas, socio-biology -- even in the best hands, such as Trivers' -- turned out to be one post hoc after every ergo propter hoc.


kerfuffle ??

i always thought it was kerfluffle
but i'm gayly dislexic

as to soc-bio and wilsons termites
what up wid dat ???

mjs might have a soft spot for
this chap

which i fail to share

hey anyone who puts Godthe designer
in his proper place
gets my vote
no matter how far off or below she is

His proper place ???


in my youth
i was wont to say

"who's afraid of genetic determinism
if they determine us we now can change them "

its a custer's last stand of pinko humanism

that something is both incomplete and grosslt mis used
hardly makes it a threat in and of itself

a batch of genes
as strict father or mother to the hu- brain
bah humbug
much like homo economicus
its a delightful voodoo doll

btw b4 typing this
i just put a lethal looking hat pin
in my little "herr boinker" doll

while snickering
"kerfuffle this"



provoke who ???

this guy ???

i'd watch my step here
the sour old puss head
has a wicked left hook


and super Guy
if try any of that brooklyn latin of yours
on him
why .... you'll get your hoc knocked back into your ergo with a post ..and nice and propter too


op, aren't you just frustrated that you couldn't find an orthodontist sufficiently skilled to straighten out your typing tooth, leaving you to grapple perpetually with the embarrassment of your then-for-than substitution.


then again
i'd rather the crooked tooth
than the dulled claw

Al Schumann:

Owen, that's just the thing. In practice, socio-biology replaces God the Designer with a series of above the fray critics who are just calling them like they see them. Invariably this means that anyone who disagrees with the critics' revealed truth, or steps too far outside the received proprieties, does so because he's:

• suffering evolutionary maladaptations
• attempting to procreate
• driven by the bad cess of frustrated procreative impulses
• predestined to be part of the tazerable class
• acting under the influence of inappropriate genotypes

It all looks awfully familiar to me, the half-hearted admonitions against brutality notwithstanding.


that something is used by black hats only makes it potentially nasty and lethal

as i wrote
i don't even hope it ain't true

cause we can now design our own genes

take this old chestnut wok of a cook up

john adams vs jefferson

mr A: born equally free of the state

mr J : born equal in the eyes of the state
neither matter to me because we had no such ethical maker

we are born haplessly enough
with what genes we have in what social historical context we find
not by choice but by accident

any nice 18th century oughts posing as isin's
not withstanding

i'm a hobbes guy
without the belief you can square the circle
or that the inability to square the circle is a flaw in .....reality


vide poor old hobbes
--crypto humanist --
battling platonic wallis
over then still undiscovered
transcendality of pi

then again who created pi ???

the maze ahh the maze of it all

"ruggles bring me my hegel "


the necessary existence of a higher decider /chooser
is not required
for an ethical system to exist
or retain its self referential
contradictional validity
even if there is no discoverable
absolute morality as a result
of the absence of this necessary existent
big E existent that is
"no more MR E "

the god of spelling btw hates me
fuck him the nasty buggar
he must not get laid much


after all as engels
that most
innocently clear of thinkers
sez .....somewhere

the necessary in the last analysis
is an accident
and the accidental a necessity



strikes me as sharing your insight and that motivates his harrum scarrum
assault on poor darwinated mendelian
red neck positivists like e o wilson

kool it lou

the enlightenment soul is not
on a trip to some mendelian iron lady

after all

"i ammmm mendel " as the boss sez

and she has the chops and tenure
to let us free ourselves
even from that pious totalitarian creep mendel

Al Schumann:

Owen, this something that's being used by black hats is not science. Socio-biology parasitizes biology through cherry-picking, offers pat justifications and hedges the cruelty of them with admonitions to decency. Gene modification is a separate thing and as sciences go it's in early days yet.


"design our own genes"

I would say that if 'designing our own genes' permits an escape from genetic determinism, then we have already escaped. Or determinism is not what it seems. 1,2,3,many determinisms.

Curious tidbit: My mac auto spell checker accepts "determinism" but flags the plural as misspelled. You wouldn't want to argue this stuff with Cupertino, would you?

I know nothing about this topic.


"I know nothing about this topic"
Al does
and considers socio bio to fall into the same category as the efficient market hype

i have no reason to doubt him on this

i take this point a yet another bout
between "mechanism "
and the dialectic of reality
in this case the genesis of a human brain
and its life products
that's the part where
our conflicted teams
of political guardians come in at least

the rest of the human genome
is for hollywood and the nfl elite
to sort thru
by whatever spurious ad hoc wives tales
superstitious categories
and other vailed coin tosses
the elite gauntlets might use
to filter mass millions into elite hundreds


Ahh Owen, but you overlook the role of genetic determinsm qua general ideology, wenn sie lastet wie ein Alp auf dem Gehirne der Millionen. There is where it's truly vicious. And from a purely subjective point of view I hate the way it bolsters the merito-lotto winners' smugness.


Long ages ago I became an utter "determinist". Everything of now and of future for me was "determined" by a distant past. And if for me for everyone. Then the lunch hour approached and I someone handed me a menu. I was helpless before the entrees. What did "determinism" recommend? Huevos rancheros? (sp?) Chicken fried steak? Time to revise!


"wenn sie lastet wie ein Alp auf dem Gehirne der Millionen"

where is the Hitchcockian suspense in that?

wenn sie wie ein Alp auf dem Gehirne der Millionen ....warte nur ..... warte nur .... lastet!


Anon, you're a brave man to improve on Marx's German.


Marx didn't frame that sentiment in a subordinate clause.


Indeed, indeed, right you are. I fear my veneration for the old boy's ipsissima verba led me into the paths of syntactic wickedness.


"Die Tradition aller toten Geschlechter lastet wie ein Alp auf dem Gehirne der Lebenden. Und wenn sie eben damit beschaftigt scheinen, ... usw.

is enough to make the point.

Love your blog.

Al Schumann:

That's a happy and instructive conundrum, Flak. An entire ontology laid waste by, one hopes, a good lunch.


'Tradition ... lastet wie ein Alp ...?

What is an Alp? This guy?


That's the guy. German 'Alp', piquantly, is cognate with English 'elf'.


we've been here b4 mates
and my common law son in law
still recalls the blush

he has a corking critique of rosa lux under full sail ...

german philogy is an alp others must climb
or is it kill like macbeth killed sleep


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