Nudge this

solaris still

“This has been a great era for the study of error,” David Brooks writes today. “We know that if you ask people what movie they want to see next week, they’re likely to mention a classy art film. But, if you ask them what movie they want to see tonight, they’re more likely to mention a mindless blockbuster.”

I’m sorry, but I’m confused. Where’s the “error” here? Does the error lie in wanting to watch a classy art film next week or in wanting to watch a mindless blockbuster tonight? Surely it doesn’t lie in the altogether wonderful ability of a human being to hold both those ideas in mind simultaneously. Is Brooks suggesting that perception and desire should be static qualities, existing independently of the passage of time? If so, he really needs to watch a lot more classy art films.

Still from Solaris.

8 thoughts on “Nudge this

  1. Chris Nahr

    Twist: Perception and desire really are static qualities in this example, but shouldn’t be. Every day and every week, people will claim to want to see a classy art film “next week” but opt for the blockbuster tonight. In other words, their statements about future desires are reliably erroneous…

  2. Raj Karamchedu

    I think David Brooks is talking, in a roundabout way, about the “judgment under uncertainty” phenomenon. I interpreted his “error” to mean the biases that are found to be endemic in our decision making and in our judgments, at least as per the various books and online courses we are seeing more and more these days. The title “Nudge” gave it away, which is also the title of the book that talks about these aspects.


  3. Nick Post author

    Yes, the problem lies in the sloppy and overly broad application of discoveries about cognitive bias, which, unfortunately, is becoming endemic. It’s evo psy all over again.

  4. A. Cotton

    Love the Tarkovsky pic, what a masterpiece!

    As far as this issue is concerned, I think a quick review of George Ainslie and nowadays Daniel Read’s research on models of intertemporal choice — hyperbolic discounting / subadditive discounting — sort of clears that up… the ‘error’ of selecting smaller-sooner rewards over larger-later ones. David Brooks is more of a consumer than a producer, as far as this field is concerned, just picking over the behavioral finance school and overgeneralizing about it.

  5. The Damned One


    Intellectually you’re in a class above the pundit-industry, and so I wish that you would use this blog to focus on ideas and especially to notice new and interesting intellectual voices at your own high level, rather than what is done here, indulging a sort of faux-discourse found in the media.

  6. Paula Haines

    As Chris Nahr points out what we say we want (in the future) and what we really want right now are often two different things. Most of us aren’t that disciplined. Brooks wants to show that we tend to prefer instant gratification over longer term benefit, meaning that if we want to break away from this pattern we must work through a set process that will see us start thinking and acting consciously towards our desired long-term outcomes.

  7. Jack Davis

    Movies are dying. Creativity is dying. The narrative, plot-devices and intelligent, and meaningful characters that drove these films are dying. Our culture is on life support.

    This is largely due to the fact that our nation has become incredibly distracted and fragmented with these multitasking devices. Who has time to build a thoughtful narrative when you can be checking out your Tweets on your Blackberry? Or you can check your Tumblr, Yahoo Email, or Reddit on your MetroPCS phone!

    If all of us are too busy trying to be all over the place at once, I don’t think we’ll be able to build a thoughtful narrative. If Hollywood directors, animators, cartoonists, comic artists, and yes, book authors can’t lower the noise their “Smart” devices make, than they won’t build an imaginative story. A well thought out cast of characters, plot devices, and story require imagination, and imagination requires contemplation. Contemplation itself can only be gained through the absence of noises generated by Internet-powered devices. In other words, one should turn them off before they work on their project, otherwise, it’s going to be another generic “insert story here” cliche.

    That’s why I read your book Carr, because it was pretty straight forward and thoughtful and gave us a valuable insight on what excessive use of the web was doing to our heads. I used to be an Internet addict for the past 5 years of my life and used to go on Youtube, 4chan, and read articles on trolling/memes all the time. However, once I read your book, I realized my errors and changed my life. You have my thanks Carr!

  8. Sonya Rose Atkinson

    Last night, I watched a wonderful, very touching French film “The Intouchables” – with my eye patch on (I have an unresolved case of 16 mos long chronic double vision that no doctor has yet been able to heal me, nor have I been able to heal myself.)

    I saw the previews for “The Intouchables” when my family and I saw “Pink Ribbon” at a small movie theatre in Santa Monica, one day before one of my surgeries in my breast cancer battle.

    At the hospital, a nurse asked me why didn’t I see a comedy instead [than “Pink Ribbon”], as the documentary pulled the “pink glow” off the ugly face of breast cancer. Just because I see a serious documentary doesn’t mean my mood will be down. And if I see a silly comedy doesn’t mean that I’ll be happy, cheery after…

    In regard to mindless blockbusters: Sometimes, it’s ok to check your brain at the door and just enjoy a movie. You don’t necessarily have to learn something from it. To many, it’s an escape from their hard lives… They don’t wish to think about their everyday struggles.

    Before my close cousin passed away of lung cancer, he watched a lot of old western films. (He couldn’t walk anymore…) Last I spoke to him – he said that he wished – he was out by me (in the West). Movies do have a tendency to give even the hopeless – “hope”. And I do believe, once he passed on… he flew out like an Eagle out here.

    Anyways, I was drawn to your blog after last night’s dream, where I punched a time card in for work (as a paramedic with 5 others). The boss was worried that I would be late, but I wasn’t. I made it just in time – in my own time.

    When looking for dream symbols of time cards, I fell across your post “Fold, spindle, mutilate”, and read this post also.

    Definitely food for thought… A last nice post to read before lunch.

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