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Herbert Gintis RSS Feed (Northampton, MA USA)

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Flameless Tea Light Flickering Irregular Wave LED Battery Tea light Candles (1.7*1.3 inch)
Flameless Tea Light Flickering Irregular Wave LED Battery Tea light Candles (1.7*1.3 inch)
Offered by Runing shop
Price: $45.90

5.0 out of 5 stars What a pleasant surprise!, November 22, 2015
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These little lights were an extremely pleasant surprise. The light the project is subtle and beautiful, despite the candle's diminutive size. The take flat 3 volt batteries, which cost about 35 cents each. I don't know how long a battery lasts, but the candle shuts itself off after a while.

The company sent them to me for free because I am a top Amazon reviewer. Very funny, because almost all my reviews are of non-fiction books in the natural and behavioral sciences. I turn down hundreds of offers for free all sorts of things, but this candle captured my eye. A great find.

Concepts of Mass in Classical and Modern Physics
Concepts of Mass in Classical and Modern Physics
by Max Jammer
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.56
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Waste of time, October 26, 2015
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I found this book utterly pedantic and boring. Why would I care what the ancients said about mass, unless as part of a systematic study of the thought of the different philosophers. I found the treatment of Newtonian and relativistic theory labored and lacking in insight. Just study Newtonian mechanics, special relative, and general relativity and you will understand the notion of mass. Also cosmology and dark matter/dark energy.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 3, 2015 10:04 AM PST

Group Selection
Group Selection
by George C. Williams
Edition: Paperback
Price: $35.95
35 used & new from $18.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A book of historic value, October 26, 2015
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This review is from: Group Selection (Paperback)
It is not surprising that this book has no review up to this point. It is very technical (but not very mathematical) and probably only of interest to history science types. I am rankled that I had to pay a huge amount of money for this thin book, most of whose essays I now find can be download from online sources.
The book should cost about ten dollars.
Nevertheless, the essays are very cogent, and George Williams is a careful and thoughtful commentator.

The End Game: How Inequality Shapes Our Final Years
The End Game: How Inequality Shapes Our Final Years
by Corey M. Abramson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $35.23
30 used & new from $26.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Preachy and Anecdotal, October 15, 2015
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Well-off males live about fourteen years longer than poor males, and well-off females live ten year longer than poor females. I thought this book would help me understand why. I was rudely disappointed. The author uses anecdotes and lots of interesting interviews to document difference between well-off and poor, but never attempts a causal explanation of what affects what. Are people poor because they are unhealthy, or is their lack of income the cause of their relatively fragile physical constitutions? We do not find out in this book.

I also object to the sentimental and emotive tone taken by the author. I care just as much as the author about the plight of the elderly and of the poor, but I try not to let my heart take over from my head. The author conforms well to the current culture of sociology in reversing heart and head.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 31, 2015 5:24 AM PDT

On Inequality
On Inequality
by Harry G. Frankfurt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $9.47
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26 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I Agree with his Alternative, October 9, 2015
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This review is from: On Inequality (Hardcover)
Harry Frankfurt's chief attractions are his clear arguments and his short, easy to read books. His On Bullshit was welcome because there is indeed so much long-winded bullshit in professional philosophy and social theory journals and books. People who have virtually noting new to say find ways to say it with big words, in in my territory, tons of equations and esoteric references.

In this book, Frankfurt argues that egalitarianism, by which he means favoring equal distribution of wealth and income, is not a moral ideal. By that he means that there is no reason to favor more equal over less equal on principle, although there may be moral effects of inequality that are undesirable. What is morally important, he argues, is that people have enough of what they need to live a decent life. If that requires some form of distributional equity, so be it. He also argues that excessive consumption by the well off, in the face of the destitution of the poor, is a form of gluttony that is disgusting and offensive. The rich should not act that way. But that does not imply that equality, or even a move towards equality, it a moral good in and of itself.
I quite agree with this argument. Perhaps more important, I believe that at least in my society (the USA), almost everyone agrees that inequality is not a moral evil, although many do not agree, as Frankfurt and argue, that poverty is a moral evil. I believe it is inherently unfair that a child born in one family have a much greater chance at a decent life than a child born in another family. I do not believe that this is completely remedial as long as children are raised in families and families are heterogeneous in their capacity to raise their children properly.
But Frankfurt never talks about equality of opportunity, and he does not make the above argument.
Indeed, Frankfurt does not make any argument for his views, but rather critiques those who have tried to defend egalitarianism. His critiques are not new, and I found some of them rather perfunctory and incomplete.
John Rawls' principles of justice are considerably better developed that Frankfurt's, and they place equal emphasis on the injustice of poverty. But they are in essence extremely egalitarian morally, although Rawls recognizes that much inequality is implied by his maximin principle. I do not much like Rawls arguments. In this I am in agreement with many who argue that Rawls is analytically weak.
Like a true philosopher, Frankfurt does not deal with the behavioral science that attempts to deal with how real people construct a social morality for themselves. If he did, I suspect he would have a much stronger argument.
Comment Comments (12) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 2, 2015 7:38 AM PST

A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature's Deep Design
A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature's Deep Design
by Frank Wilczek
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.47
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Oddesy of Broken and Unbroken Symmetries, September 27, 2015
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We often think of truth as eternal and unyielding---a fact, theory, or model is either true or it is false. We often think of beauty as fleeting and relative---what is beautiful for people in one society may be ugly, revolting, or simply uninteresting in another. In this book, Wilczek claims not only to elevate the status of beauty to that of truth, but to claim that in some sense the most ultimate beauties are at the same time the most ultimate truths. Wilczek is certainly not the first to claim this, and indeed the author traces the idea back to Pythagoras and other classical Greek thinkers. But Wilczek add to the fold the truths of quantum electrodynamics and quantum chromodynamics, as well as general relativity theory.

Now this common vision of truth is well known to be overdrawn. Truth is usually provisional, and often only partial. And beauty is not so subjective and culturally-bound after all---consider the ineffable beauty of flowers in a jungle never seen by human eyes but meant to be attractive to pollinators, or the stunning beauty of objects from cultures infinitely far from our own. My own take on the situation is that both truth and beauty are absolute categories. Truth may be partial, but it is never multiple---when two assertions clash, at least one of them is false. And beauty is an ideal category instances of which can be appreciated cross-culturally and across time. Moreover, there are beautiful things that I do not appreciate, and things I appreciate that are not beautiful. So Wilczek's thesis is not doomed from the start, and I think he does a very good job of defending it.

One problem is that the fraction of the human population that can recognize beauty in mathematical equations is quite small. Most people I know hate math, or at least fear it, and many of the people who appreciate mathematical beauty are in other respects quite lacking in aesthetic acuteness. The high marks accorded to this book by reviewers doubtless reflects a strong selection effect. If you don't like math, you probably won't get much out of this book.

The central message of this book is that beauty is symmetry and the equations of physics can be derived from a small set of symmetry principles. Why this is true, no one knows. Why these particular symmetries instead of countless other possible symmetries, no one knows.

Equally important is that the character of our lives is the product of broken symmetries. It is easy to glorify the symmetries and their Apollonian serenity, but the Dionysian world we experience is the ineluctable product of symmetry-breaking. Nor is symmetry-breaking any less beautiful than symmetry itself. Hegel lamented that the perfect serenity of the Ideal is instantiated as the alienated Real, and saw History as the progressive dynamic from Material to Ideal. But it is the broken symmetries that lends meaning and excitement to our lives.

Perhaps one of the most pervasive symmetry-breaking comes from quantum mechanics, where every material entity has a wave equation, and the wave equation portrays the entity as in a constant and instantaneous superposition of states. When we observe such an entity, the wave seems to collapse into one determinate state among the myriad of possible states. The wave equation is symmetric but the reality is a broken symmetry. The standard Copenhagen explanation of this is incoherent. as is well known, because the concept of an "observer" is incoherent. The only plausible explanation, to my mind, is the many-worlds interpretation, in which the whole universe is in a high-level superposition of states. When we view a quantum event, we ourselves, as observers, fall into a myriad of superimposed states corresponding to the possible outcomes of the event.

But our consciousness is not in a state of superposition! At least mine is not, and when I ask others, they do not report a superposition of states. Thus consciousness is a broken symmetry. How beautiful!

A Singularly Unfeminine Profession: One Woman's Journey in Physics
A Singularly Unfeminine Profession: One Woman's Journey in Physics
by Mary K Gaillard
Edition: Paperback
Price: $24.00
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bemused, September 25, 2015
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I do not know why Gaillard wrote this book, and I do not know why I read it (with pleasure). I guess the author wanted to stress the difficulties of breaking into an all-male enclave. I guess I wanted to learn something about the emergence of the Standard Model. I liked the book, although I may be biased by the fact that I am an academic, and the book is an odyssey of academic schmoozing.
I certainly did not have to be told about the male domination of academia forty years ago. In all my years as an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania and the Sorbonne, and my graduate training in economics at Harvard, I never had a female instructor. The only books I read by women were in economic history and development economics. When I was a first-year Assistant Professor at Harvard, I received a letter inviting my wife to join the Harvard Wives Club. Needless to say, there was no Harvard Husbands club.
Gaillard (which means "hardy" in French) spends lots of time on her personal life, which is okay with me. She also talks a lot about faculty politics and how she was mistreated. Okay. But I don't know an academic who couldn't relate with relish stories of being mistreated. Really boring. Who cares?
I recommend this book because it found it fun reading, I did learn some history of science, and Gaillard is a pleasant writer with a sunny disposition.

The War of the Sexes: How Conflict and Cooperation Have Shaped Men and Women from Prehistory to the Present
The War of the Sexes: How Conflict and Cooperation Have Shaped Men and Women from Prehistory to the Present
by Paul Seabright
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.95
39 used & new from $5.92

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Informed, and Sensitive Interpretation of the Data, September 6, 2015
Modern technology and the social economic organization of contemporary advanced societies have combined to initiate a vast and comprehensive restructuring of the social roles and cultural values that relate the relationships between men and women. Technological changes in the Twentieth century undermined household production of food, sanitation, education, and health care, thus destroying the traditional division of labor between the sexes and rendering mother and wife relatively free to explore alternative uses of her time and energy. The logical alternative has been the workplace, where other technological changes reduced the importance of upper body strength in the workplace, thus undercutting the previously crippling disadvantage of women in attractiveness to employers. We are still dealing with the adjustment to a new modus vivendi between the sexes in the advanced societies around the world.

A second seeming inexorable movement has been the development in the less developed societies of urban areas in which technology and social structure follows a similar trajectory, undermining the forms of patriarchal authority characteristic of the tribal, clannish, and unaccountably authoritarian societies that have dominated human social life since the advent of settled trade and agriculture some 10,000 years ago.

Writers and researchers of various stripes have expended huge amounts of effort to understand this dynamical process and predict its future. Much of this effort is completely worthless, being based on an arbitrary theological prejudice or philosophical speculation. Approaches applying the scientific method, in particular those starting from evolutionary biology and modern behavioral game theory, have been more promising, but even here many writers have embraced untenable principles and thus produced unpersuasive analyses.

Paul Seabright’s new book is an entertaining, well written, highly informative, and persuasive book is dedicated to countering the major pitfalls in the evolutionary analysis of the relations between the sexes, and providing a balanced treatment that asserts positively what can reasonably be asserted, and speculates creatively in dealing with the questions (there are many) that remain unresolved.

Perhaps the two most common errors are to consider all differences in the behavior of men and women the pure product of culture and socialization---the so-called “tabula rasa” or “blank slate” assumption (incorrectly) attributed to the English philosopher John Locke and ably debunked by Stephen Pinker in his book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. The fact is that humans are moderately sexually dimorphic, with males different from females not only anatomically, but also is size, strength, and behavior in every society ever studied. Seabright correctly argues that while it is possible that all behavioral differences are due to social rather than genetic forces, the fact that there are many known differences between the male and female brain suggest that this is not the case, although there appears to be no significant difference in general cognitive capacity between the two. Seabright attributes this fact that in the period of evolutionary emergence there was a marked sexual division of labor, but the challenges were equally complex for men and women.

The second serious error is that of biological determinism. If the blank slate view is characteristic of mindless liberalism, biological determinism is the refuge of mindless conservatism. According to this view, there are extreme behavioral differences between men and women, and these cannot be papered over by a veneer of egalitarian cultural ideology. Perhaps the most compelling example of biological determinism is that women are naturally attracted to pair bonding and sexual exclusivity while males are naturally attracted to promiscuity. This dichotomy is largely true in many birds and mammals in which the female bears most of the cost of producing and rearing young and is virtually assured of having her eggs fertilized, whereas males bear little of the cost, can produce vast amounts of sperm at will, and whose major task is that of successfully inseminating females. But, as Seabright stresses, there are many examples of sexually adventurous females in various species, and this behavior can easily be the product of evolutionary adaptation. I agree with Seabright that it is very likely that under the proper social conditions, the sexual preferences of men and women may be virtually identical.

Seabright correctly concludes that there are no known biological difference between men and women that preclude full gender equality, that the sexual division of labor is likely to become more egalitarian for the foreseeable future, but there is no reason to believe that behavioral difference between the sexes will ever disappear completely.

Part of the power of Seabright’s book is that he is a truly transdisciplinary behavioral scientist. His training is in economics, but his knowledge of evolutionary biology and his acquaintance with contemporary neuroscience and cognitive science is extensive, deep, and mature.

Collective Action and Exchange: A Game-Theoretic Approach to Contemporary Political Economy
Collective Action and Exchange: A Game-Theoretic Approach to Contemporary Political Economy
by William D. Ferguson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $48.15
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting, Rigorous, and Extremely Insightful, September 2, 2015
Political economy has evolved in the past two decades from verbal gymnastics to a scientific study of how people form groups to solve collective action problems. Ferguson's book is a forceful introduction to the analytical techniques involved in this intellectual revolution, together with a presentation of the evidence supporting various models. It exhibits a deep appreciation for the long road ahead in improving our understanding of the political aspects of social life.

I should warn the reader than I am not unbiased---the above is a blurb I wrote for the book jacket. Moreover, the first line of the Acknowledgments credits my graduate game theory course some two decades ago as the inspiration for Collective Action & Exchange.

However, the ideas presented in this book are far from parochial, but rather represent concepts that have been growing in the profession for several decades and now are rather well known an accepted. Indeed, there is a four volume graduate textbook, soon to be published by Oxford University Press, written by Professor Sanjit Dhami of Leicester University (England), that will likely be widely used in graduate courses around the world.

This book is great for self-teaching, but it is rigorous and not meant for your bedtime treat. It is even better for teachers of undergrad economics courses, and can take the place of a traditional first year microeconomic text, or a second year follow-up course. Your students will love you for it because the material is so exciting and real-world. Quite an antidote to traditional micro texts! Indeed, I quit teach undergrad micro years ago because all the texts were the same---ancient, incorrect, and dreadfully, insufferably boring (incorrect is the worst charge, of course, but quite accurate, especially when it comes to consumer and production theory).

I once was giving a talk to project directors at the National Science Foundation (on the importance of integrating the various behavioral sciences) and when I critiqued how microeconomic was taught to undergrads, a member of the audience commented “Well, I don’t believe the textbook; I just teach it.” How deeply saddening. Perhaps it would be better if he really believed it, but that is tragic in another way. Something like this could never occur in the natural sciences, where professionals care about the empirical evidence and shift to new theories quickly when the models explaining the facts become professionally accepted. The great physicist Max Planck once famously said "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." It is a very funny quote, but infinitely less applicable to the natural than to the social sciences.

If you are a teacher, I guarantee that even if you learned economics the old way, you will feel comfortable and authoritative in introducing the ideas in this book to your students.

The most important point developed in this book is that one cannot understand the economy unless one integrates models of market exchange with concepts drawn from political, sociological, and even psychological theory. The challenge is to present such a synthesis with elegance, rigor, and insight. This book does just that. Moreover, it is important in presenting scientific theories, even in the social sciences, without betraying some political bias or other. We all have our biases, of course, but passing them off a scientific truths is unconscionable. This book is pretty admirable in avoiding this fatal pitfall.

Fascinations Deluxe Jellyfish Aquarium
Fascinations Deluxe Jellyfish Aquarium
Price: $74.97
11 used & new from $74.97

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Little Creative Work Makes this Seriously Shine, August 24, 2015
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As is, this is okay for kids. But if you want to make is something fascinating and beautiful, it takes some work. First, I bought two of these tanks and put them back to back. Then I got artificial corals and plants, plus some small jellyfish (sold separately) for the back tank, and I got additional artificial plants and jellyfish for the front tank. Now it looks great.

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