Brains at the Museum

Yesterday, I spent a lovely morning with my family at my singularly favorite place in the entire world: New York City’s amazing American Museum of Natural History.  What drew me there was a new exhibit on the brain.  If you live anywhere near NYC, I have one very short word for you: go. Read more of this post

The Risk of Not Arbitraging

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While I was traveling on business recently, my wife called one morning to tell me we had lost electricity in the house, and at the end of our discussion I reminded her to call the power company to report the outage. “Oh, the whole neighborhood has been out of power for hours – I’m sure someone has called by now” was her reasonable answer. But on second thought, I wondered “what if the reason that you’ve been out of power so long is precisely because everyone assumes that someone else has called, so no one has actually called?” I figured that given that it doesn’t cost too much time to call the electric company (but perhaps lots of frustration), it’s probably worth giving them a call so I repeated the suggestion. A few minutes afterward, I got this text from my son: “You were right, no one has reported an outage…Mom asked me to text you.” Even though everybody on the block had a vested interest in calling and ending the power outage, it took my wife’s call hours later to let them know that there was a problem [why they don’t have sensors to monitor this sort of thing is the topic for some other blog]. But most people, quite clearly, didn’t call, presumably because they also thought someone already had. The same psychological phenomenon – expecting someone else to do the deed – has been shown to prevent people in a busy city from helping someone who is laying on the sidewalk, possibly suffering a medical emergency, even in broad daylight. Psychologists tell us that if you ever find yourself losing consciousness on a busy city street, the best things you can do to save your own life is to get someone’s attention – anyone’s – and look them in the eye and tell them “get me help.” The combination of eye contact – to make it personal – and an authoritative tone might just save your life. Otherwise, you could lay there dying as hundreds or thousands of passersby assume that someone else has or will stop to help you. Read more of this post