Category Archives: sociology

The Logic of Universalization Guides Moral Judgment

From the abstract:

To explain why an action is wrong, we sometimes say, “What if everybody did that?” In other words, even if a single person’s behavior is harmless, that behavior may be wrong if it would be harmful once universalized. We formalize the process of universalization in a computational model, test its quantitative predictions in studies of human moral judgment, and distinguish it from alternative models. We show that adults spontaneously make moral judgments consistent with the logic of universalization, and report comparable patterns of judgment in children. We conclude that, alongside other well-characterized mechanisms of moral judgment, such as outcome-based and rule-based thinking, the logic of universalizing holds an important place in our moral minds.

  • Universalization: What if everyone did this?
  • Rule-based: An implicit or explicit rule says I may not do this.
  • Norm-based: I shouldn’t do this because many say not to.
  • Outcome-based: How would it be bad if I did this?

Further Reading:

Sydney Levine, Max Kleiman-Weiner, Laura Schulz, Joshua Tenenbaum, and Fiery Cushman / The logic of universalization guides moral judgment

PNAS first published October 2, 2020;


Charles Fourier and the Theory of Four Movements

Nothing is too wonderful to be true if it be consistent with the laws of nature.

— Michael Faraday in his Laboratory Notebook

There are many things to scratch one’s head about in Charles Fourier’s “Theory of the Four Movements,” first published anonymously in 1808. However, his progressive political thought influenced many in France and in the United States. Fourier was a utopian and a socialist, and thought social cooperation and unity were the only ways to overcome the discord and strife he observed in his times. His theory is based on a hierarchy of “movements” within four realms, from low to high: the Material, the Organic, the Animal, and the Social.

As he elaborated on these movements, Fourier claimed that social history went through four main periods of unhappiness and happiness, ascending from a chaotic period, through two harmonious periods which were each seven times longer, before descending into another chaotic period of length equal to the first. In order to achieve this happiness, he thought that we must envision and engineer a new social order to achieve a common purpose. Nowadays, of course, socialism has a noxious connotation to those of the right-leaning and hyper-capitalist persuasion.

  • Ascending Chaos
  • Ascending Harmony
  • Descending Harmony
  • Descending Chaos

And now, the United States teeters on the brink of choosing four more years of terrible leadership, all to maintain the status-quo of funneling more money into the pockets of the wealthy and more power into the hands of the already dominant.

Further Reading:

Charles Fourier / The Theory of Four Movements

[*9.62, *12.63]




Humankind, Unbound

Many books detail how we are our own worst enemy, how we are too smart for our own good, or not smart enough in the right way. This one traces the origin and evolution of eight technologies that make us who we are today, for better or worse.

  • Fire
  • Tools (incl. Digging tools, Weapons)
  • Language (incl. Writing, Music, Art, Symbolic Communication, Ethnicity, Culture)
  • Clothing
  • Shelter
  • Farming (Agriculture, Husbandry)
  • Machines (incl. Ships, the Wheel, and on to Precision Machinery)
  • Computers

Instead of having two technologies, “Clothing” and “Shelter,” Currier combines them, and lists “technologies of interaction” which includes writing, water-craft, the wheel, etc.

Can we overcome the myriad conflicts that threaten our survival? Please check back in a hundred years to see how we’re doing! It’s not very long, compared to how far we’ve come.

Further Reading:

Richard L. Currier / Unbound: how eight technologies made us human, transformed society, and brought the world to the brink

Some reviews:

Book Summary: “Unbound: How Eight Technologies Made Us Human” by Richard L. Currier

Click to access Volume8-Number1-Article7.pdf




Scenario Thinking and Covid-19

Scenario Planning, Analysis, or Thinking is a technique for probing into possible futures when you are anticipating or overwhelmed by tumultuous challenges. One often starts by examining two factors that have both great Importance and Uncertainty and then considering two extremes of each. For their four different mixtures, you can posit causes, how to recover from bad outcomes, what actions would be favorable for all scenarios, etc. In other words, one can develop related stories about these different futures.

In these slides by authors Steven Weber and Arik Ben-Zvi, the two important and uncertain factors are Public Health and Economics, both affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and for their initial purposes independent of each other. For public health, the disease could kill far more than estimated (a secondary wave) or kill less (vanish like a miracle). For the economic impact, the toll could be sustained (a long term depression) or the recovery could be relatively quick (v-shaped). So the two factors and their extremes are

    • Economic recovery is slow (depression, recession), or fast (v-shaped)
    • Health and death toll is worse (than estimates), or better (yay)

The four scenarios that are named are basically

    • Economy good, Health good: Americans Win
    • Economy bad, Health good: Fractured USA
    • Economy good, Health bad: Resilient USA
    • Economy bad, Health bad: Coronavirus Wins

and the scenario stories are told with respect to January of 2021 at the next state of the union address. Each of these scenarios are quite detailed and then followed by Insights and Implications for all. Often Scenario Thinking is used for more distant future analysis, but this shows it can be used for a mere nine months as well.

Further Reading:

Continue reading Scenario Thinking and Covid-19

The Prospect Theory of Kahneman and Tversky

Like it or not, we are all betting individuals. But what interactions are there between the perceived and actual probabilities of things happening and the choices made for or against them? The likelihood of their occurrence, coupled with the size of the gains or losses from anticipating and acting on them, show that people are not entirely the rational agents that we think they are.

Instead of armchair introspection, careful experimental methods were used to give us these (not so) unexpected results. What is demonstrated is that deciding individuals make asymmetric choices based on their poor understanding of relative likelihoods. All sorts of biases and poor thinking on our part contribute to non-rational evaluations of how we end up choosing between alternatives.

The findings are that the near certainty of events happening is undervalued in our estimation, and the merely possible is overvalued. So those things very likely to occur have a diminished weight in our minds, and those things unlikely but possible have an increased weight. These are called the certainty effect and the possibility effect, respectively.

  • Likely Gain (Fear)
  • Likely Loss (Hope)
  • Maybe Gain (Hope)
  • Maybe Loss (Fear)

This asymmetry in valuation leads fearful individuals to accept early settlements and buy too much insurance, or hopeful individuals to buy lottery tickets and play the casino more often then they should if choosing optimally. What factors contribute to this behavior? Emotions, beliefs, and biases, probably all play a role in these perceived payoffs between dread and excitement.

In some “Dirty Harry” movie, the lead character essentially asks “do you feel lucky, punk?”, to goad another into taking a risk. In the movie “War Games”, the supercomputer more or less temptingly asks, “would you like to play a game?”, to encourage the playing of unwinnable matches. Watch out for those that know how to play the odds of hope and fear to manipulate our prospects and decisions.

Further Reading:

View at

Daniel Kahneman / Thinking Fast and Slow



The Devolution of Trust

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a simple game designed to show how the success or failure of cooperation between individuals can be contingent on various factors, primarily some sort of reward. Shown above is a representative payoff matrix between two players; each square shows the two choices and the two winnings for each. Each player cooperates (A or B) or cheats (A’ or B’) with the other player, so for example if A and B’ obtains (A cooperates but B cheats) then A loses 1 and B wins 3.

Each player knows all the values of the payoff matrix so it is said they have perfect information, except they don’t know what their opponent will do. If they are rational and believe their opponent to be as well, the wisest thing to do is for both to cooperate to maximize their winnings, knowing that their opponent knows that they could also cheat. If the game is played only once, however, that is clearly not the case.

If the game is iterated, things change. If each player remembers what their opponent did previously, and it is considered to be informative for what they might do next, then the player could use it to condition their decision to cooperate or cheat. Different algorithms or personalities can be considered for the players, with more or less thinking about what to do and more or less willingness to cooperate, and it is interesting to try different strategies, all the while seeing what adjustments of the payoff matrix might do to the results.

This Evolution of Trust site is a very nice lesson in some of the complications that can result for such algorithms and adjustments. On the whole, this site indicates that rationality and consideration for others can thrive, if conditions are right. In the traditional Prisoner’s Dilemma, the reward values in the payoff matrix are usually considered to be jail sentence time (so less is better), or for the site mentioned above where I’ve taken the representative matrix, monetary value (so more is better).

One thing of note in these examples is that each player doesn’t distinguish their opponent by anything other than their posteriori plays, because these players are supposed to be all part of the same group or society. But what if there is an a priori distinction that conditions their decision? So, if your opponent is a known Y, and you are a X, then you might want to raise your social credit with your other Xs by punishing a Y, even if it punishes you or even other Xs in the long run.

For example if you are a member of gang X, you wouldn’t want to cheat against another X. But cheating against a member of gang Y might raise your in-group social capital and be as important as the value of the reward. Or you might want to punish your opponent in group Y by not granting them any benefits even at the cost of your own benefit. Such distinctions are not usually part and parcel of the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, but they would add an interesting and realistic dimension to the game.

And thus lend insight into the woes of our modern political scene and culturally diverse society.

Further Reading:

[*11.24, *11.172]


What is Turbulence?

In his science-fictional “Foundation Trilogy”, Isaac Asimov famously hypothesized a future science called “psychohistory”, a mathematically grounded theory of generalized and predictive human action, based on an amalgamation of psychology, history, and sociology. The future galactic empire was managed by this theory and practice (look out – almost seventy year old spoilers!) except for an exceptional character that was not anticipated and essentially unpredicable.

Asimov had in mind well validated continuous and statistical theories of physics, for example for idealized gases and their laws. I was stuck by an image for an explanation of turbulence that highlighted key elements of velocity, density, pressure, and viscosity, and how it was (in my mind) analogical to antagonistic individuals, dominating leaders, submissive society, and affiliated coteries. Of course, an article below states that turbulence is still too complicated to provably model correctly at this point in time.

I had no idea that psychohistory was claimed to be an actual field of study these days, albeit being somewhat controversial in its authenticity. And it doesn’t seem to have any mathematical basis yet, as far as I know. Mathematician Dan Crisan gave an inaugural talk a few years ago that was hypothesizing using heat equations instead of fluid dynamics as a basis. Even so, we can’t seem to properly model any sort of social action so how could psychohistory be within our grasp?

In these turbulent times perhaps we should make an effort to understand ourselves a bit better, as we hope to navigate between the Charybdisian whirlpool of civil discord and environmental collapse and the Scyllaian rocks of fascism, authoritarianism, and / or totalitarianism. But hey, isn’t Apple doing an Apple TV+ series based on Asimov’s books? Let’s all tune in!

Further Reading:–Stokes_equations

Philip Ball / Critical Mass : How One Thing Leads to Another (2004)

Concerning Professor Dan Crisan:

Click to access talkinaugural230113.pdf

And also this quite long but interesting essay:

Prolegomena to Any Dark-Age Psychohistory



The Interpersonal Circumplex

May I have your attention please. The following citizens have been declared unmutual: Number 6.”

— From the TV show The Prisoner

Here we have another diagram based on the work of Timothy Leary (the other being the Eight Circuit Model of Consciousness), a simple chart defined by two axes. The vertical axis is currently and commonly thought of as agency (as well as power, control, assertiveness, and dominance) and the horizontal axis as communion (as well as love, agreeableness, friendliness, and affiliation).

The diagram is usually shown with concentric circles centered on the intersection of the axes, inviting continuous twofold measurements and plotting for the factors of dominance and affiliation. Thus it allows comparisons for the different quantified interactions of individuals within a group, perhaps as a metric for social cohesion and its opposite, fragmentation.

It is quite similar to the scheme for CM/CR (Conflict Management and Conflict Resolution), except that the Interpersonal Circumplex (IC) is a tool for understanding psychological and sociological behavior and traits, and CM/CR is apparently more often used in the business and political world. The IC also has commonalities with Grid-Group Cultural Theory, a notion used in sociological studies.

I first ran across something very much like the IC in Anthony Stevens’s “Ariadne’s Clue,” being used as a model for mythological solidarity and divergence. However, Leary is not credited but instead the primate studies of Chance and Jolly (1970) are cited for their work in intimidation and attraction, or agonic and hedonic modes of attention and interaction.

I would think that the IC could be used effectively to analyze the sorry state of politics in these “United States”, as domination and affiliation play their tug-of-war for superiority. I see some interesting papers by Kenneth Locke (2013), and of course I’m also thinking of the political work of George Lakoff as well, but I don’t see any use of the circumflex for Lakoff’s work.

Further Reading:

John M. Oldham, Andrew E. Skodol, Donna S. Bender (eds.) / The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Personality Disorders

Christopher J. Hopwood, Abby L Mulay, Mark H Waugh (eds.) / The DSM-5 Alternative Model for Personality Disorders: Integrating Multiple …

Anthony Stevens / Ariadne’s Clue: a guide to the symbols of mankind (1998)

M. R. A. Chance and C. Jolly / Social Groups of Monkeys, Apes, and Men (1970)

Kenneth D. Locke / Circumplex Scales of Intergroup Goals: An Interpersonal Circle Model of Goals for Interactions Between Groups

Images of the Interpersonal Circumplex:




The Twelve Houses of the Zodiac

How does one circumscribe the totality of human experience, both for the individual as well as for culture? One of the oldest ways is the twelvefold division of the Houses of the Zodiac, which may have its origins in Babylon. Other similar systems were used in India, China, Europe, etc. In my diagram above I’m using Latin numerals along with the Latin names of the houses.

For Western Astrology, four groups of three houses are divided by the four classical elements and then into triplicities (from Wikipedia):

  • Fire : Identity (I, V, IX)
  • Earth : Material (II, VI, X)
  • Air : Social and intellectual (III, VII, XI)
  • Water : Soul and Emotional (IV, VIII, XII)

And somewhat similarly for India, the divisions of Vedic Astrology are broken into four Bhavas or “needs” (from Wikipedia):

  • Dharma : (Duty) The need to find our path and purpose
  • Artha : (Resources) The need to acquire the necessary resources and abilities to provide for ourselves to fulfill our path and purpose
  • Kama : (Pleasure) The need for pleasure and enjoyment
  • Moksha : (Liberation) The need to find liberation and enlightenment from the world

There are more recent and scientific divisions of human universals, such as those by George Murdock, Robin Fox, and Donald Brown, as mentioned by Jungian analyst Anthony Stevens in his book “Archetype Revisited”. These are also grouped into four categories (from Wikipedia):

  • Language and cognition
  • Technology
  • Society
  • Beliefs

Further Reading:

Anthony Stevens / Ariadne’s Clue: a guide to the symbols of mankind

Note that John Crowley’s “AEypgt Quartet” uses the Latin names of the Houses as “books”, three to a volume.





Grid-Group Cultural Theory, V2

The Grid-Group Cultural Theory (also known as the Cultural Theory of Risk) originated from the studies of anthropologist Mary Douglas and political scientist Aaron Wildavsky. Grid and Group are two dimensions of sociality, each with a low and high value: Grid measures the differentiation between people (so low grid means people are similar), and Group measures the cohesion or social bonds between people (so low group means people do not have strong bonds).

From Wikipedia:

A “high group” way of life exhibits a high degree of collective control, whereas a “low group” one exhibits a much lower one and a resulting emphasis on individual self-sufficiency. A “high grid” way of life is characterized by conspicuous and durable forms of stratification in roles and authority, whereas a “low grid” one reflects a more egalitarian ordering.

And so:

  • Individualist: Low group and low grid, Nature is robust
  • Fatalist: Low group and high grid, Nature is capricious
  • Hierarchist: High group and high grid, Nature is tolerant
  • Egalitarian: High group and low grid, Nature is fragile

Further Reading:

[*4.86, *8.112, *11.4, *11.5]