What you are reading / what I am writing

April 3, 2017

Things are changing fast. Last week, I moved to London. Next fall, I am starting as a faculty member (at the U.K.'s University of Bath). And lately I have been changing my research field from a fairly abstract corner of cognitive psychology to the all-too-real world of commerce.

 

With so much changing all at once, it's oddly easy to change everything else. I have wanted to start writing a blog for some time, but found the time commitment prohibitive. (I'm all too aware that this may still happen to me, and perhaps soon.) But as I turn my days upside-down – on the one hand, commuting late in the morning to avoid rush hour, on the other hand, waking earlier than I have since high school – there are new opportunities to re-prioritize. Time shall tell whether blogging remains a priority.

 

But provided it does, I have ambitious plans. I am a cognitive psychologist by training, but increasingly an economist by inclination. I want this blog to be about the mind and the economy and society and what it is like to be human. The humans I know are not utility-maximizing automatons, but neither are they fools or slaves at the mercy of their passions. For the most part, they are creative, they are deeply goal-directed, and they do the best they can with the mental capacity they have. I want to understand how people work and how that understanding can make the world run better.

 

Here are a few topics I plan to blog on:

 

– Current research in the social sciences (especially cognitive science and economics)
– Applications of the social sciences to real-world problems
– Issues in how (social) science leads (or fails to lead) to knowledge
– The experience of immigrating to the U.K.
– "Book club" style discussions of classic works

 

This last point deserves a bit of elaboration. Practicing scientists tend to get caught up in their own narrow problems. Indeed, it's worse than that, because they obsess over the *cutting edge* in their own narrow problem. In many ways this is great – we need specialists. But it is amazingly easy in science to get tunnel vision. One way, I hope, to mitigate this problem in myself is to understand the history of social science ideas, and to think about how well the foundations hold up in light of what is now known. Further, I hope to bring a multidisciplinary approach to these works, particularly bringing to bear modern cognitive science on classic works in social science.

 

The first book I will blog is Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, and at some point down the road I also hope to blog his other book The Theory of Moral Sentiments – not a work of economics, so much as a vision of human nature and a catalogue of human motivation. In (likely a long) time I hope to go through many of the key works of classical economics – Ricardo, Menger, Marx, Mill, Marshall, Keynes, Mises – as well as some social theorists – Tocqueville, Durkheim, Weber... maybe even Foucault if I can handle him. These people disagreed about a great deal, but they all were keen observers of human nature and I believe we can still learn from them even after decades and centuries of scientific progress. I am blogging about these books because I really do want to read them in full and carefully, and I hope that you can gain from reading my attempts to puzzle out the meaning and truth in these authors.

 

I hope that this blog can be of interest to scientists and non-scientists, and to specialists and non-specialists. My goal is to make things accessible to an educated and curious layperson (e.g., a NYT or WSJ reader). If you have any suggestions for how to make this blog better, feel free to shoot me an email. Otherwise you can also leave comments below each post.

 

 

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University of Bath School of Management

Claverton Down

Bath BA2 7AY

United Kingdom

© 2018 by Sam Johnson