Language evolution in the lab tends toward informative communication (Carstensen, Xu, Smith & Regier)

Alexandra Carstensen (
Jing Xu (
Cameron T. Smith (
Terry Regier (

Department of Psychology, Department of Linguistics, Cognitive Science Program, 
University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720 USA

Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21287 USA


Why do languages parcel human experience into categories in the ways they do? Languages vary widely in their category systems but not arbitrarily, and one possibility is that this constrained variation reflects universal communicative needs. Consistent with this idea, it has been shown that attested category systems tend to support highly informative communication. However it is not yet known what process  produces these informative systems. Here we show that human simulation of cultural transmission in the lab produces systems of semantic categories that converge toward greater informativeness, in the domains of color and spatial relations. These findings suggest that larger-scale cultural transmission over historical time could have produced the diverse yet informative category systems found in the world's languages.

How the Mad Men lost the plot - Ian Leslie (Financial Times)

"Brands are not the rich sources of differentiation marketers like to think of them as, but short cuts through the complexity of decision-making. Most consumers aren’t aware of, or interested in, the difference between Nescafé and Kenco and don’t want to spend longer than they need to thinking about which they prefer. They just want to get coffee and get home. Marketers are usually surprised to hear this and find it hard to accept — they like to imagine that people who buy their brand are deeply attached to it. But the data show that even people who regularly favour one brand over others will pick a competitor if it happens to be more easily available or cheaper that day. In the words of Sharp’s mentor, Professor Andrew Ehrenberg: 'Your customers are customers of other brands who occasionally buy you.'

All of this makes “engagement” largely pointless. Light buyers aren’t fans of your brand. They don’t think of it as special or even unique. They aren’t much interested in whether your vodka is from Russia or Sweden, or how many times it has been distilled. No surprise, then, that they almost certainly don’t follow your brand on Twitter or visit its Facebook page, or that they can think of a thousand things they’d rather do than share a “digital experience”, let alone sign up to a “project”.

Even the people who do join brand pages on Facebook hardly ever click on them. The US company Forrester Research has found that the rate of engagement among a brand’s Facebook fans is seven in 10,000; for Twitter it is three in 10,000. People might watch ads on Facebook or YouTube, but that’s about all the interaction they want (Facebook itself recently conceded this point). A senior marketer at the drinks company Diageo, where Sharp’s book has been influential, put it to me bluntly. “After 10 or 15 years of f***ing around with digital we’ve realised that people don’t want to ‘engage’ with brands, because they don’t care about them.’

What if you were to invent a way of getting light buyers to recall your brand just as they are about to choose? Ideally, it would reach millions of people who aren’t particularly thinking about your product. You’d want them to see the same thing at around the same time, so that they can talk to each other about what they’ve seen, reinforcing each other’s memories of it. You would need to sneak up on them, since they have near-zero interest in hearing from you, indeed don’t want to. You’d need a form of content requiring negligible mental effort to process: one which comes in bite-sized chunks, but which is still capable of moving and delighting. It turns out there is an app for that: the TV ad.


Don Draper’s successors instinctively understood the commercial value of fame, emotion and consistency. But they never quite defined it. We now know that brand advertising, at its best, does something very different to a salesperson, a search result, an email or a Facebook update. It injects a brand into the cultural bloodstream and, by doing so, books a spot in the most important media of all: people’s brains."

Why Are So Many Mass Shootings Committed by Young White Men?

"Those of us who are not committing crimes on a regular basis, [it's] largely because there are constraints in our lives—we have things to lose." ...

"I think we're dealing with how we socially construct masculinity, and the extent to which being masculine means being aggressive," adds Simi, the criminologist. "It's not a simple cause and effect, but it certainly sets up a context that makes men much more likely to engage in violent behavior." ...

"Among many mass killers, the triple privileges of white heterosexual masculinity which make subsequent life course losses more unexpected and thus more painfully shameful ultimately buckle under the failures of downward mobility and result in a final cumulative act of violence to stave off subordinated masculinity," the authors wrote. Read more at

Photo selection study reveals we don't look like we think we look

Results of the study show that the unfamiliar participants chose a different set of ‘good likeness’ images  compared to those that people had selected of themselves. Surprisingly, the images selected by strangers also led to better performance on the online face matching test. The size of the advantage in other-selection over self-selection was quite large – self-selected images were matched seven per cent less accurately compared to other-selected images.

Dr White said: “It seems counter-intuitive that strangers who saw the photo of someone’s face for less than a minute were more reliable at judging likeness. However, although we live with our own face day-to-day, it appears that knowledge of one’s own appearance comes at a cost. Existing memory representations interfere with our ability to choose images that are good representations or faithfully depict our current appearance.

“Interestingly we also noted there were better results when people were smiling in the photos. It is interesting that current passport guidelines prohibit smiling in photographs because this ‘distorts the normal facial features’. Given that faces are generally pictured smiling, and these images are rated as being more like familiar faces, it may be beneficial to permit expression in passport photographs.” Read more at

The Amazing, Autotuning Sandpile

"The sandpile, by virtue of being first, is the most-studied example of self-organized criticality; but there are many others. We don’t really know what it is about the rules of the sandpile that makes the system evolve inevitably towards its complex, critical state, and we don’t have a clear understanding of which cellular automata are likely to exhibit self-organized criticality.

Insight may come from the surprising connections of the sandpile with other parts of mathematics. To a geometer, like me, the sandpile has to do with the emerging field of tropical geometry, which aims to model continuous geometric phenomena by analogous discrete ones. To a probabilist, the sandpile is intimately related with something called a spanning tree, which (on a square grid) is a branching path that touches every point on the grid but never forms a closed circuit. Wherever insights come from, the sandpile reminds us that the really interesting phenomena in math, like the really interesting phenomena in physics, often happen at the phase transitions. It’s there that we are poised between two different regions of mathematics, sharing features of both, passing information across the boundary. And questions, too. Always more questions than answers." Read more at

Jordan Ellenberg is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author, most recently, of How Not To Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking. 


"...Today's young people, reared at the meeting point of two great streams of change -- technological and social -- are responding with a central unifying ethic all their own: that of choice. Born at a time when they had more choices to make with fewer restructions than ever before in history and bred with an overwhelming desire to make these decisions for themselves in every part of their lives, the 90 million Americans between the ages of 5 and 30 might well be dubbed the "Choice Generation." For them, having and making choices is not just a question of process, not just a luxury when ordering from a restaurant menu, not just bubbling in the right Scantron space on a multiple-choice test.  It reflects their sense of self-confidence, their expectation that the world can be conformed to their to their individual personalities, and their believe in taking responsibility for themselves and their community. Exercising choice defines their outlook in no uncertain terms. Choice is an end, not just a means.

Who is the Choice Generation? The Choicers are defined not by their common ages, but a common age - a moment in time when dramatic changes are not just accepted, but expected. Compared to any other cohort in history, they have grown up in a world that has radically expanded the number of choices they get to -- and have to -- make. The sociologist Alan Wolfe has written that 'the general feeling in America is that you are middle class if you say so.' Similarly, you are a member of the Choice Generation if you say so -- if the world of largely unfettered choices in lifestyle and due to technology is familiar; if the demand for personalized decision-making power when working and shopping is second-nature..." --The Next Deal: The Future of Public Life in the Information Age, Andrei Cherny (2000).

The Eternal Triangle Effect

"Communication, whether verbal or nonverbal, is often analyzed as the flow of information between sender and recipient. This causal model, drawn from classical physics, is all too often thought to be the whole story. But we have learned from quantum mechanics that, at least in physics, the entire past history of a system is needed to interpret the present, and that even with such knowledge we cannot guarantee the absence of novelty. In this paper we present a specific example of this general feature of quantum mechanics which has, we believe, a profound analogy to a well-known behavioral situation. We offer this analogy, not as a model, but rather in the hope that it will stimulate a different type of thinking about nonverbal communication and related phenomena."

- Pierre Noyes, "The Eternal Triangle Effect" (1979)

Proof of Imperfection

The Law is a Fractal: The Attempt to Anticipate Everything - Andrew Morrison Stumpff*© 2012


“And they say he’s a skillful commander,” rejoined Pierre.
“I don’t understand what is meant by ‘a skillful commander,’” replied Prince André ironically.
“A skillful commander?” replied Pierre.
“Why, one who foresees all contingencies . . . and foresees the adversary’s intentions.”
“But that’s impossible,” said Prince André as if it were a matter settled long ago.
- Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, 1869

"No man is so wise as to be able to take account of every single case, wherefore he is not able sufficiently to express in words all those things that are suitable for the end he has in view. And even if a lawgiver were able to take all the cases into consideration, he ought not to mention them all in order to avoid confusion." - Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, ca. 1270

Define an inappropriate rule as a rule that, if followed literally, would in at least some cases produce results that can be concluded with reasonable certainty to have been unintended by and unacceptable to even the rule’s author. Even under this definition, it is impossible for a rulewriter to write an appropriate and objective rule to cover every situation in advance. Rulewriters nonetheless act today as though they were unaware of this long-acknowledged impossibility of perfect advance enumeration, and their persistent attempts to achieve it have imposed enormous, under-recognized costs on regulated populations.

"Black Mambo" - Glass Animals

This song (particularly the radio version that's slightly slower) has firmly fixed itself inside my inner ear. For some reason I hear it as I fall asleep and when I wake up. Well done you sneaky little Brits.

"The News, A User's Manual" - Alain de Botton


"It is worth noting how many of the Dictionary's clichés touch on sophisticated disciplines such as theology, science and politics, without going anywhere very clever with the press had made it very possible for a person to be at once unimaginative, uncreative, mean-minded and extremely well informed...The news had, for Flaubert, armed stupidity and given authority to fools."

Big Data Comes to the Office

The metaphor in Pentland’s title, “Social Physics,” is meant to express the extraordinary concreteness of his data, which—unlike the data captured by Facebook or Google—is rooted in your physical actions: in what you do, rather than what you say. (He calls what he does “reality mining,” in contrast to “data mining.”) …his work shows that there is an irreducible socialness to workplace life—a human element—that managers eliminate at their own peril. Offices aren’t untouched environments; they are already structured by theories about what makes people productive. Often, those theories are wrong.

A European Court Ruled That Google Has to 'Forget' You | VICE News

Which Music Artists Transcend the Gender and Age Divides

"Brand Real" - Laurence Vincent


”..You should use your brand architecture to create leverage across the portfolio. To do this, you have to answer important questions about each brand in your portfolio, including the master brand:

- How typical is the brand of its product or service category?

- How much does this subbrand rely upon brand-specific associations of a parent-brand? Are those brand-specific associations strong enough to provide competitive advantage for this subbrand?

- How broad or narrow is the total brand portfolio?

- ***Who is the target audience for the brand, and what is their dominant mode of thinking about brands in the category (i.e. analytic versus holistic)? 

- How typical or atypical is this brand in comparison to other brands within the portfolio?

- How well can audiences outside the organization relate brands withing the portfolio to one another? Is it intuitive? if not, how much effort does it take to sort it correctly?

… there are specific moments in time when you should pay particular attention to brand architecture and focus on these questions. The are:

- Mergers and acquisitions…

- Cost-cutting…

- Crisis…

- Hygiene…

- Diversification (p 91-94) …”

"When I was a Cub Scout, one of my troop leaders advised us boys to focus on our character, not our personality. He said the boy who focuses on developing his personality might win a popularity contest, but the boy who focuses on building his character will triumph in life. That sounds like a cliche you might find on a Successories poster, but it stuck in my head when I was an impressionable youn hoping to make something of myself. It sticks in myhead today when brand managers ask me how to create a more vibrant brand identity. The best brands develop a voice that reflects their character,not desirable personality traits. We can thinks of many ways to describe that character, but the truth is that it is always revealed through actions (p 159-160)."

"… a brand’s behavior should always be guided by a credible promise that results in a consistently strong experience. Brand identity allows brands to get credit for such an experience by giving them a signature. In the same way that you look to the bottom of a painting to identify the artist, a brand identity helps us connect an experience to a brand (p 168)."

Why You Should Embrace Surveillance, Not Fight It - Kevin Kelly, WIRED

”The remedy for over-secrecy is to think in terms of coveillance, so that we make tracking and monitoring as symmetrical — and transparent — as possible. That way the monitoring can be regulated, mistakes appealed and corrected, specific boundaries set and enforced. A massively surveilled world is not a world I would design (or even desire), but massive surveillance is coming either way because that is the bias of digital technology and we might as well surveil well and civilly.

In this version of surveillance — a transparent coveillance where everyone sees each other — a sense of entitlement can emerge: Every person has a human right to access, and benefit from, the data about themselves. The commercial giants running the networks have to spread the economic benefits of tracing people’s behavior to the people themselves, simply to keep going. They will pay you to track yourself. Citizens film the cops, while the cops film the citizens. The business of monitoring (including those who monitor other monitors) will be a big business. The flow of money, too, is made more visible even as it gets more complex.

Much of this scenario will be made possible by the algorithmic regulation of information as pioneered by open source projects. For instance, while a system like Bitcoin makes anonymous bank accounts possible, it does so by transparently logging every transaction in its economy, therefore making all financial transactions public. PGP encryption relies on code that anyone can inspect, and therefore trust and verify. It generates “public privacy”, so to speak.”

UTA Brand Studio Launches First-Ever Brand Dependence™ Index as Key Predictor of a Brand’s Influence and Potential | Business Wire

In the consumer electronics list released today, Samsung had the highest Brand Dependence Intensity score and Microsoft had the highest Brand Dependence Impact score, which adjusts scores for national levels of brand familiarity. The core Intensity score measures how much people are dependent on, or “cannot live without,” a brand. A brand can potentially score up to 100 points for complete attachment or -100 points for complete aversion. A majority of survey respondents gave Microsoft a high brand-self connection score, agreeing with statements such as “this brand is part of who I am.” Apple ranked fifth on the index, with an Intensity score of 18 and an Impact score of 15. Googlesurpassed Apple slightly with an Impact score of 19 and an Intensity score of 18.

Three key factors that influence a Brand Dependence score are enrichment, enticement and enablement. All three drivers have been proven in previous rounds of research to affect a brand’s overall attachment score, but enrichment—or how much a brand symbolically expresses the identity of the individual—has been proven to be the most impactful of the 3. Apple scored very high on enticement (which reflects the aesthetics and experience of the brand) but lagged on enrichment, which may explain why recent Apple advertising has shifted away from demonstrations of product functionality and instead into values, as it did with its recent “Misunderstood” holiday commercial featuring a teenage boy’s surprising contribution to his family.

Unlike traditional ways of measuring brand strength, Brand Dependence™ is measured on the basis of the following two factors: (1) how close (far) a brand is to (from) consumers themselves, and (2) how often and naturally thoughts about a brand come to their mind. These two factors are, in turn, determined by how much consumers see a brand as being like themselves, sharing their values and belief systems, the degree to which they believe a brand is indispensable (or useless) in their lives, and how pleasing it is to their senses. People who are attached to a brand (a high BD score) are more likely to purchase and repurchase products and services than people who merely say they “like” or “prefer” a brand.

The next steps for the Brand Dependence Index will be a custom offering to clients who want to score their own brands as well as interpret the core drivers behind the score.”