Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Toward a Tactical Neural Implant

Lynne Kiesling has a new paper out on the links between Adam Smith and neuroscience. Consider the EE implications of undisciplined sympathy. An outside observer might see a trade occurring and feel sympathy for the plight of the disadvantaged partner, probably because of lousy outside alternatives. If Kiesling is right (and I suspect she is), the Smithian sympathetic response is hard-wired into our brains and the remaining choice is how to channel that response--how to interpret our knee-jerk sympathy.

Here at EE, we urge caution and circumspection. Careful consideration ought be given the likely consequences of interference into voluntary transactions. This is not to say that we cannot or should never interfere, but that there should be a presumption of rational agency in the absence of coercion and that just because some people have crappy alternatives is no reason to force them away from taking steps to improve their welfare. We (and by 'we', I am brashly co-opting the opinions of my gracious host) advocate not letting your sympathy get the better of you. If your brain is tricking you into being stupid, turn the tables and train your brain not to leap to conclusions. Master your neural network.

And do read Lynne's paper. Marvelously fascinating stuff.

Apologies (again) to B. Leeb and R. Fulber.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?