Sep 02 2013

Utilitarianism and Deontology Part 2: Hollywood & Dexter

“Do what is right, though the world may perish.” – Kant

Any movie that begins with this hard-core deontological quote fading in and out of the center of a black screen is guaranteed to be a great movie (be sure to read Utilitarianism and Deontology Part 1 to familiarize yourself with utilitarianism and deontology). We already expect the main character will be put in a situation where he or she refuses to compromise on principles even when doing so appears to be the only way to save the world. But somehow, against odds that are beyond impossible, the protagonist manages to have it both ways, saving the world while still managing to hold onto principles. At the end of the movie, we are jumping out of our sofas because the protagonist has his or her cake and eats it too, completely circumventing the idea of trade-off / opportunity cost. In Hollywood, there is no need to make intelligent decisions as long as scriptwriters are there to save the day1.

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  1. Unless the scriptwriters are looking to win an Academy Award, in which case the scriptwriters should choose an ending that is either confusing or depressing.

Aug 15 2013

Utilitarianism and Deontology Part 1: The Subjective Line

Would you kill one person to save five people from dying? Studies (both theoretical and simulated) have shown that around 90% of people would indeed take action to minimize human casualty. That means that 90% of us are, at heart, utilitarians.

A utilitarian is a person who favors the good over the right: a person who believes that the best course of action is the one that maximizes happiness and minimizes suffering. An absurdly extreme utilitarian Continue reading

Dec 27 2011

Public School System Changes Needed for the Benefit of Students

There are parts of our public school system that need to change.  My experience in high school gave me as much perspective on this as any, but my experiences as a private piano teacher have compounded this perspective tenfold.  The most common reason that high school students quit music lessons is because school interferes with them.  The changes I have in mind include allowing for more sleep, making students aware of the least-known benefit of summer school, changing how homework is graded, eliminating group work, and rearranging academic priorities.

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Oct 12 2011

Consequence Displacement

It has been a while since I coined any new psychology terms.  Too long.  I have another one I’ve been dying to share, because it happens all the time to everyone, and something that happens this frequently always deserves its own terminology.  It has to do with all the times when we feel consequences we know we don’t deserve.  I’ve found that some of these situations break down in interesting ways.

Suppose your spouse signs your child up for gymnastics despite your protest that the sport of gymnastics is very demanding on family schedules.  Your spouse reassures you that they will bear all the burden of the difficult schedule.  Months go by, and your child is absolutely in love with the sport.

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Nov 29 2010

Keep Your Goals To Yourself

Contrary to popular belief, repeated studies have shown that sharing a goal with others makes your goal less likely to come true1.  Telling someone about your goals makes you feel Continue reading

  1. Vera Mahler found that when getting validation of our goals from others, these goals feel more “real” in the mind. Also see The Psychology of Action: Linking Cognition and Motivation to Behavior (Gollwitzer and Bargh, eds.) and The Psychology of Goals (Moskowitz and Grant, eds.).

Nov 11 2009

Environmental Normalization

In Fall 2004, I taught two sections of Math 120 at University of Nevada, Reno.  Before classes began, I spent many hours trying to come up with the fairest and most generous class policy I could possibly conceive, and I took great pride in the fact that it was even more generous than the policies of any school teacher I’ve had.  I gave practice exams for every test.  I posted homework solutions, practice test solutions and test solutions online (typed every one of them with Microsoft Word Equation editor – took about an hour for each one).  I allowed students to retake two of three midterm exams, which caused me to have to make up, grade and post solutions for twice as many tests.  The chair of the math department even criticized my policy for creating way too much extra work for myself and for giving students too much leniency.

Before the first exam, a student asked me to clarify if tests were open book or not.  I said tests were not open book, and I heard groans from a few students.  Those students had taken all my generosity for granted, already redefining my way-too-leniant class policy to be their ground level expectation.  They had normalized their environment.  There were many other examples Continue reading

Oct 28 2009

Illusory Gain or Loss

One of the hottest topics that piano teachers talk about when they get together is make-up lesson policy.  The classic conflict arises when a student insists that they are paying for the teacher’s time, while the teacher insists the student is paying for the time slot (tuition), so if that time slot is missed, the lesson is considered missed.  Teachers feel personally disrespected when students disregard their “tuition” policy, and these students (or parents) feel gypped when they “pay for a lesson they don’t get.”

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Oct 26 2009

Perception Imposition

Immediately after a concert I gave a few years ago, a pianist introduced himself and said he’d be interested in being presented at the same venue in his own concert. He mentioned some difficult repertoire he was working on at the time and said he wanted to tour with a solo piano program. I concluded he must be very good, considering the level of music he was working on and the belief he clearly had in himself, not to mention a very likeable, down-to-Earth personality. I suggested we both play repertoire for each other once in a while to get each others’ coaching advice, and he seemed just as excited as I was to have a fellow colleague to bounce musical ideas off of.

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