Fortune Telling and the Forer Effect

Last night, I watched the film Now You See Me 2. The character Merritt McKinney, played by Woody Harrelson, is a hypnotist and mentalist. Notably, McKinney is able to “read” people in order to effectively use the power of suggestion on them. Such effects are clearly dramatized in the film series, but I began to wonder why…

Beyond the Paradox of Choice

A while back, I wrote about the notion of free will as a convincing illusion. While I’m inclined to believe that we do not have free will, I will table that belief to examine choice by autonomous decision makers. If one does not believe in free will, it’s difficult to conceptualize choice in the traditional…

Welcome to the Anthropocene

The Holocene was the most recent epoch in the history of the world. It began 11,700 years ago when glaciers from the last Ice Age began to retreat. This paved the way for organized farming, which in turn led to the dawn of civilization. From there, humanity prospered. We developed medicine and transportation, we mused…

Arbitrage: Buy This & Sell It Over There

I started thinking about international commerce when I read a news article about a 16-year old British girl named Beau Jessup. Unlike other 16-year old girls, Beau runs a company called Special Name, which helps Chinese parents give their kids Western names. Thus far, Ms. Jessup has earned £48,000. As the Huffington Post reports: Jessup asks expectant…

Short-termism and Survival

Today, people and organizations seem to favor optimizing for the present, rather than the future. This is known as short-termism, a concentration on short-term objectives at the expense of long-term benefits. While studies show mixed evidence for widespread short-termism, it seems to be a problem empirically. Companies are investing less in research and development, which has historically…

The Intellectual Bubble

I recently discovered The Smart Set, an online magazine published by Drexel’s Pennoni Honors College. I was particularly drawn to Michael Lind’s column, Off Center. In fact, Lind wrote the most popular article in the magazine, a phenomenal piece called “Intellectuals Are Freaks.” He argues that intellectuals are an anomaly in the social fabric. I aim…

The Persistent Illusion of Free Will

Free will is perhaps one of the most important concepts governing human life. It touches everything from politics to intimacy, religion to online shopping. We staunchly believe that we can will our choices into being. For example, I’ve chosen to write this sentence. But what if that’s not actually the case? Human beings have argued…

Are Sociopaths Good for Society?

The title of this post suggests an insane line of inquiry, which makes it perfectly appropriate for Thought Distiller. Whether sociopaths can be pro-social or benevolent has a huge impact on society. This is the pivotal question here: (a) are sociopaths capable of social good, broadly defined, and (b) if so, are they better at doing…

How to Memorize Anything Quickly

When I was first starting this blog, I wrote a well-received article about speed-reading. I said that I wanted the power to read at superhuman speeds and have perfect recall of everything I read. I went on to remark that perfect recall was a topic for another day. Today happens to be that day. People can train themselves…

Are Sports Killing American Academics?

Given that the Olympics are in full swing, it seems appropriate that I take some time to investigate sports in general. I’ve been asking some of my friends this question: “Do you think that Americans’ huge emphasis on sports culture contributes to our dominant Olympics showings?” Most seem to think that makes sense. This has…