On The Origin of Disgust


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A look at disgust from an evolutionary perspective.

Disgust appeared somewhere in the long history of human evolution. We don’t know when and where.  The absence of the best sources of evidence leaves the assignment of disgust origins to genetic selection in biological evolution uncertain.  Neither contamination sensitivity nor avoidance of decayed substances are present at or shortly after birth in humans, and neither is documented to be present in other primates. The fact that disgust functions to protect humans from microbial contamination is a start for an evolutionary account, but it is far from conclusive.  Both fire and antibiotics are parts of the human antimicrobial repertoire, but neither evolved biologically. So just establishing an adaptive value for a trait does not make a strong case for its biological evolution.

The complete article

Paul Rozin — Emotion Researcher

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Think before you donate to disasters


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A different perspective to donations that you make towards disaster relief.

Donating to large international NGOs usually means that a lot of foreign relief aid will be imported into the affected countries. Most disasters, even the large scale ones are rather isolated. Flood and earthquake areas rarely extend over 10 km, and there will be local businesses which are open for business post disasters, but they will be excluded from relief by the international NGOs. Businesses in the foreign countries will be the ones who benefit from the disaster.

In the long run, these aids do affect the local economies adversely and your well-meaning donations will cause harm to the financial ecosystem. What’s worse is that some international organisations are managed off site in another country and bureaucracy may cause massive waste and inefficiencies.

The complete article

Robin Low — The Middle Ground

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The Economics of Social Status


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Status is similar to an intangible asset which can be transacted. Valuable just like brands.

“Bidding for status” is another activity with economic characteristics. The nature of a bid is that it sets a particular ‘price’ that can be accepted or rejected. Robin Hanson suspects that speaking in public is a way of bidding for status. The very act of standing in front of a group and speaking authoritatively represents a claim to relatively high status. If you speak on behalf of the group — i.e., making statements that summarize the group’s position or commit the group to a course of action — then you’re claiming even higher status. These bids can either be accepted by the group (if they show approval or rapt attention, and let you continue to speak) or rejected (if they show disapproval, interrupt you, ignore you, or boo you off stage).

The complete article

Kevin Simler — Melting Asphalt

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The Walkman Was a Machine for Daydreaming


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Remembering the Walkman.

I can’t help missing that clunky old device. There’s something more human about technologies that have an intuitive connection between what they look like and what they do. When the tape ribbon moves, the music plays; when the ribbon is wrinkled, the music sounds garbled. This logic is the logic of our own bodies, with organs and limbs whose motions are connected to their functions, and which are susceptible to injury and gradual breakdown.

The complete article

Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow — Lenny

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How satellites, drones, and planes are making hedge funds money


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Did you know satellite images are being used to count number of ships living ports in China to get a real-time estimate of economic activity? Sometimes, I feel the world is moving just too fast and I am left behind.

Three thousand miles west in Mountain View, California, lies the source of that oil data, a company called Orbital Insight, which, according to its mission statement, finds “truth and transparency” in the world’s rhythms. What that means in practice is that roughly 30 engineers and scientists spend their days sifting through satellite images for information their customers — not just hedge funds but also asset managers, insurance companies, and government agencies — want. The number of ships leaving China’s ports. The total cars parked outside every Lowe’s in the United States. The income distribution of a district in Sri Lanka. In the case of oil volumes, the key is in the shadows.

The complete article

Joy Shan — The California Sunday Magazine

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What Happens When We Give up Control of Our Cars?


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Malcolm Gladwell warns us about the dangers of autonomous cars.

Words like “autonomous” and “self-driving” mislead because they promise a kind of self-sufficiency on the part of the machine. The autonomous entity is the thing that is supposed to take care of itself. But the coming class of cars does not take care of itself at all. These cars are dependent and, as such, require a larger conversation about what the rules and expectations of that dependency should look like. Once a car belongs to a network, you have to worry about whether the network is safe. Once an algorithm is in command, you have to worry about how the algorithm thinks. We are surrendering control as surely as the first car owners of a century ago did, and when you surrender control, you could end up with a chauffeur problem.

The complete article

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Is the Rise of Contract Workers Killing Upward Mobility?


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Employee cost is often looked as a sticky fixed expense. Having contract workers sounds like a solution. But, contracting might be costly for the company too.

Moreover, there is reason to believe that just as contract work is not a panacea for workers, it is also not a panacea for companies. “Contract workers have a fundamentally different relationship with the companies they work for than employees do,” says Gartenberg. “Just as companies under-invest in contractors, there are ample studies that suggest that contractors likewise under-invest in the companies. This could definitely hit the bottom line in areas like innovation and customer service.”

If we are in fact in the process of solidifying two distinct classes of workers — one employee in which firms invest, and another that is in a sense more disposable — what are we as a society losing?

“A lot,” says Gartenberg. “This is what the American Dream is built on — upward mobility. Contract work and outsourcing, among other factors, appear to be disrupting that engine, and it is not clear what the best policy response, if any, should be.”

The complete article

Knowledge@Wharton

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