Friday, September 22, 2006

The Ick Factor

Many people have feelings toward objects. When I see beer cans, crack vials and used condoms in a playground, as has happened, I have a strong visceral response. It lowers my opinion of the neighborhood to say the least. This reaction, I don't think is unreasonable. It is relying on objects as the traces of likely events, sort of a poor man's CSI. Broken glass is an indicator that you should park your car somewhere else.

When I see a collection of old weapons, or Nazi paraphenalia, it doesn't disturb me. Some of it might interest me, but certain other folks might find it frightening. They won't want to touch it. I wonder, what does it represent to them? Do they consciously believe that the presense of such historical material indicates the imminence of danger? Are flags of the CSA indicators that whips and bloodhounds are close by? I have already mentioned my reaction to a modern, automatic weapon that my friend showed to me. Was my revulsion rational?

Looking at the positive side, I remember that my brother had a favorite Teddy bear when he was a toddler. I don't think I did, although I was quite fond of him. I also remember being surprised once when he tripped over a stone ... and then came back and kicked the stone as if to exact some sort of revenge! Which of us is normal? My children show the same differences.

Professor Bruce Hood has been poking at the boundaries of superstition. He thinks that there are very few rationalists in this world. To prove it he offers to his students a chance to wear a sweater, washed and folded, formerly worn by someone else. He'll even give them 10 quid to do it. There are lots of volunteers until he tells them who the former owner was. For me, it made no difference, but then again I didn't know the name. I probably wouldn't wear the shirt at that price because I'd consider it beneath my dignity [ed: cantankerousness maybe], but I would have nothing against it in principle. I've been trying to think what criminal, or other person, might make me reluctant to wear a thoroughly laundered garment.

9/22/2006 5:25 PM

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At Friday, September 22, 2006 6:48:00 PM, Blogger Steve said...

I wonder if children who will take an ick dare tend to wind up being the rare rationalists?

I guess we were around ten years old when one of my cousins, without hesitation, took the dare to stick his hand into a fresh cow pie while ridiculing those who wouldn't, not because they were chicken but because they were indulging the Ick Factor.

The article implies that the sweater test is performed on an individual in the presence of other people. My guess would be that he'd find less Ick Factor at play if the test were performed one on one.

I might draw the line at living in John Wayne Gacey's house, but it would depend on other factors, too.

Interesting stuff. Have you seen this book?

At Saturday, September 23, 2006 4:55:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

I wouldn't have done it then unless there was a way to wash afterwards. -- well, maybe to impress a girl. Mud I could just wipe on my pants, but cow manure stinks. Today I wouldn't do it, because, well, I'm an adult, and because I know about the possibility of dangerous strains of E. coli. I do remember that the 4H had some contests for who could toss a dry one the farthest.

The cow pie thing is rational, I think. Even children have some sense of potential health issues. I wonder if there were any such concerns before the germ theory infiltrated our consciousness. The odor and dirtiness must have been the big issues.

The John Wayne Gacey problem is different. I would have two possible objections to living in his house. 1) The police might want to dig up everything if new evidence comes in, and amateur cold case investigators might turn up at weird times. 2) Other people would treat the house and me suspiciously, at least differently.

If those sorts of objections could be resolved, and I liked the property, I would have no problem with it. Why would you?

The presense of observers probably makes a difference, especially if the subject is aware of their opinions. Environmental factors would play a role. Time of day, proximity of cemetaries, age of the building, weather, recency of the crimes. Would people be more uneasy sleeping in a B&B in Salem, MA, or a hotel room where Mohammed Atta stayed? I think Prof. Hood could make a career out of this.

Do dare-takers become rationalists? Good question! Maybe they become skeptics, like John Stossel, people who doubt everything on principle, whether it has scientific backing or not. Although I can almost hear a young John Stossel saying it. "I'm not gonna stick my hands in that just on a dare. You do it! But don't ask me for a handkerchief [ed. -- obsolete hygienic device]."

At Saturday, September 23, 2006 11:58:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

I haven't read that book. Right now I'm reading The Lucifer Principle, upon your recommendation. It's very interesting and I hope to make a few posts about it. I disagree with a lot of what he says, but I'm hoping he ties it all together before the end.

Your new rec reminds me of a cartoon in the paper a couple days ago. Hagar the Horrible runs into a fellow that calls himself the "best salesman in France". "What do you sell?" "Rocks." "Well, I'm not gonna buy a rock from you." Guess what. Hagar ends up buying the rock. Something to do with hypnosis. Which reminds me of the salesman described by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, who is almost like a dancer, anticipating the motions and emotions of the prospect, guiding and gliding into a realm of perfect agreement.

I think these super-salesman achetypes are more mythic than real. There are certainly good salesmen, but when people get stung, they like to blame it on something other than their own poor judgment. So, they attribute supernatural qualities to the salesman rather than admitting their own fallability. Did you feel like you were a better salesman yourself after reading the book?

Since I have chosen to be a persuader, maybe you're thinking I need to improve my skills?

At Sunday, September 24, 2006 2:25:00 AM, Blogger Steve said...

Cleaning up the cow poop can be done with dirt, you know. ;>)

I hadn't considered your two reasons to hesitate regarding Gacey's house, but you're right of course. Why would I hesitate? Ick Factor, no more. Like you, I think I would get over it if the property was worth it.

Lucifer Principle is not perfect. I remember being a bit surprised at some comments he made about early medicine for example. He caught a bit of flack for his comments on the Shiites (accused of racism and so on) that I thought was unwarranted but what do I know. I paid close attention to his extensive footnotes as I read the book, and felt some of them were weak or superfluous, but it's still my best model of current events. I think he's right, but maybe I shouldn't. I don't know many (any) people who've read the book, so I look forward to your thoughts if it prompts any posts.

I really liked Influence. I gather it was a must-read for sales types, but Cialdini (who was the head of the psych department here at Arizona State) wrote it for dummies like me to be armed against the techniques of "compliance professionals" well versed in our hard-wired nature. I'd be a miserable salesman. In fact, I went for a car sales job once but flunked the written test they made me take. Don't call us we'll call you.

No, I don't see anything wrong with your powers of persuasion. I recommended Influence because it discusses our hard-wired nature, which seemed to tie in with your theme. If you wanted to change your ways from persuasion to manipulation you might pick up some training tips, though. Scientific American excerpted Influence a few years ago, but I see it's behind the pay wall now.

At Tuesday, September 26, 2006 12:10:00 PM, Blogger mal said...

mmmmmm, it seems that being the youngest sibling, having babies and working with crude oil has eliminated "most" of my icks.

I am not sure that makes me very ratioal though

At Thursday, September 28, 2006 12:20:00 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

Do you feel rational Mal?


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