Thursday, December 27, 2007

Books, Movies, and Coincidence

I've enjoyed quite a break over the past week and, admittedly, accomplished very little. Leo and I saw two movies, "I Am Legend", a complete remake of the old "Omega Man", so a bit of a disappointment, and the second "National Treasure", an excellent adventure. I also finished three books in that period of time. Book 7 of the Harry Potter series was first; don't ask me to apologize for such a silly with all the others, I enjoyed it so very much. The second was a spy novel called "The Faithful Spy" that was also very good. And finally (today), I finished up the third book, an interesting look at "The Wisdom of Crowds". It was a bit like traveling over the past couple of years of my undergraduate work, hitting on topics of communication, teamwork, group dynamics, and so much more. I found it to be incredibly interesting. To finish up the day (I played "hooky" from work today as I was a bit under the weather with a stomach virus) I listened to some of my favorite podcasts from the University of Houston in a series called "Engines of Our Ingenuity". Surprisingly, the very first one I listened to recounted a story from the "Crowds" book! What a coincidence! In an episode called "Fairness" the podcast recounted the story of a group of monkeys that had learned to engage in an exchange of pebbles for slices of cucumbers. When the researchers began rewarding certain of the monkeys with grapes, which they very much preferred over the cucumbers, the trading broke down. It seems the monkeys did not think it "fair" to exchange pebbles for cucumbers any more and preferred to not engage in trading at all rather than engage in trading that could result in less than optimal results. The book's presentation of the story made an entirely different point than that in the podcast, but the two taken together created quite the interesting view of our instincts and our sense of fairness. There is neither the time nor the room here to explain the topic in detail, but I very much enjoyed the entire discussion and tend to dwell on it even more now that it has been presented to me twice in the same day. Very interesting.

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