Thursday, April 12, 2007

Magnets and Magnates a Currie point theory of the leisure class

Sad to say this might be titled Ising, Thaler and Marx and/or more heat than light.

Richard Thaler claims in the book "Rational Choice" that psychologists have noted that if you poll people on an issue, then isolate them and let them discuss the issue then poll them again, you find that their views move away from the population average and become more extreme during the discussion.

Thaler admits that such an outcome could occur if people rationally pool information and everyone has the same prior (a crazy and standard assumption in game theory). I assume that this is not what is happening and there is a tendency for people participating in a discussion to conform to the view in their group which causes the opinion of all to become the opinion of each and causes this opinion to be held with great confidence -- greater than that justified by pooling information.

To try to be specific. consider a yes or no question where the population is about evenly split. If people in a randomly formed discussion group mostly reach agreement on yes or on no, the average opinion in the group after the discussin will be much further from the population average than in a random group without discussion.

This is exactly the way feromagnetism works (Ising appears because of the Ising model of magnets). little magnets line up. The result is a powerful magnet. If soft iron is placed in a weak magnetic field, the result is a powerful magnetic field. For each little magnetic bit of the iron, the weak magnetic field is a minor influence on the probability that North pole of the magnetic bit points this or that way, however, they reinforce each other and, if the amount of jumbling (that is the temperature) is low enough end up all pointing the same way.

I think this is very interesting. It is relates to magnetism and marxism. The idea that class not individual interests determine people's views can be justified (in part) by this experimental result if one assumes that people chatter with other people in the same social class.

So what is this weasel word "soft" Iron ? Well in fact this is a pretty general principle, but the behavior depends on temperature. At room temperature some Iron (or steel what do I know) forms permanent magnets and some is magnetic if and only if there is an external magnetic field.

The idea is that there are two competing factors. Little magnets all pointing in the same direction are a lower energy state than little magnets pointing in different directions. However, there are many many more different ways in which magnets can point in all different directions.
Willard Gibbs explains to us that the steady state outcome is that with the lowest free energy which is energy minus temperature times a constant times the log of the number of different microstates that correspond to on observed state. Fermi, Dirac, Bose and Einstein note that the different micro states are must be states which can in principle be distinguished but which we lump together.

The point is that whether something is a magnetized (all the little magnetic bits point the same way) or not depends on temperature. Also an exogenous magnetic field makes a difference as descibed above. The temperature below which a material is ferromagnetic is called the Curie point.

So what does this have to do with the leisure class ? Well my pseudo idea is that the analogy of temperature is being forced to confront practical personal problems in daily life (like losing your job and being broke). In contrast interacting with other people and desiring to conform is like the magnetic interaction within Iron (and Cobalt and Nickle).

Thus people who are coddled and protected and have it easy and just sit around talking to each other converge to uniform extreme opinions. On the other hand people who have to deal with life's ups and downs form their opinions based on their personal experiences and don't all agree.

This suggests that isolated groups of priviledged people will end up sharing crazy opinions.

I am a university professor. Get it. I am a professor of economics. I personally am extremely extremely hot . I don't conform. But I resent the pull. (<-- self parody really).

I was thinking of other applications. One is understanding what happened to modernism. Modern music (in the classical idiom) modern art modern poetry all have the feature that the average guy thinks they su ... should be improved. It is suggested that they went off on a crazy tangent fairly recently when they didn't have to convince outsiders anymore (the argument is that its all the fault of the national endowment for the humanities).

Most bloggers agree that the MSM is a cosy club in which people don't have to deal with the real world and where all club members reinforce each other's idiotic ideas.รน

Lefty (righty) bloggers agree that the right (left) blogosphere is a giant "echo chamber" in which people repeat crazy claims to each other until each thinks he has proven his point.

The leisured classes in different countries adn regions have totally different opinions about practically everything.

I think there is something to the idea that a soft and easy life leads to extreme group opinions.

I think this might be modelled by Akos Valentinyi based on the second chapter of his dissertiation.

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