American professor wins Nobel Prize in economics for trying to understand bad human behavior

“Humans prefer instant gratification right now, even if they know that being patient would yield them more money or a better life down the road, Thaler found.” WPost

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Ed Vasicek's picture

I haven't read this man's books, but I have read others on "heuristics," how people decide.  Reason is only a part of the equation, and often not the biggest.  People tend to make a decision based upon emotion or least effort, and then look for logical reasons to make their decision look logical LATER.

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

When I first read the article (skimmed) I thought, well duh. No need to research to figure that out... if you accept revelation. Sin makes us stupid.

Where he gets interesting though is when he develops implications. Later in the article he talks about his mantra "If you want people to do something, make it easy." This is common sense, but amazingly easy to overlook in so, so many settings.

I have an article or three in the oven on a couple of topics: one is "all the ways stupid happens" (this is more interesting than it sounds!); the other is the wisdom of helping people change vs. punishing them for how they are--short version: remedial vs. punitive. It's important because in the NT we find both punitive responses to sin and remedial responses to sin, but in ministry and in relationships people are often very, very quick to "go punitive" rather than looking for ways to make doing right easier for the other person (remedial). So we call it "helping people," but help often means changing conditions in a way that makes success easier. And if we haven't thought that through the "help" is often not helpful at all.

I've used this illustration before: if you want to help someone learn to ride a bike, you might try training wheels. Most likely, you won't help them at all if you punish them for falling down... or if you, say, make them ride blindfolded. But I've seen the equivalent over and over again in situations where people want other people to change. They punish where they should assist.  (So self-defeating for all involved!)

Ed Vasicek's picture

Aaron, you and I are on the same page.  I want to shout "Amen" to the above.


"The Midrash Detective"

Bert Perry's picture

Per Aaron's comment, there is a whole area of quality engineering dedicated to making it easy to do the right thing, and impossible to do things incorrectly.  Poka-yoke is a foundation for ISO certification, process design, 5S, and more. 

It's also worth noting that the political opposite of poka-yoke is called "perverse incentives", whereby the government inadvertently (or purposefully, it can be debated) creates incentives to bad behavior.  One of the most famous is the old AFDC program's "man out of the house" rule that gave mothers their welfare check (plus medical care, plus housing assistance, plus food stamps, etc..) on the condition they not marry or live with the father of their children.   We were then "shocked" that many young women took government up on the offer, and it was clear by 1965 (to Pat Moynihan at least) that something was amiss.

Didn't stop us from continuing the mistake for 30 more years, of course.  Really, writing as someone with libertarian leanings, it strikes me that the best criticism of Thaler's approach vis-a-vis government is that so many of the incentives they offer are perverse, or ill thought out.  

Steve Newman's picture

I'm shocked and surprised that no one has made application to the work of God and how the catering to instant gratification has had a profound negative impact on the church. Think about it!

I can have sex now or wait until I'm married? Most people say today, sign me up!

I can have entertaining worship that I understand, or something that I have to think about? They are on board for the cheap entertainment.

We can all say we understand it from the economic point of view, but from God's point of view, isn't it different? Doesn't God want us to be patient and endure? 

Aaron Blumer's picture

Already noted that.

... at least, I thought "sin makes us stupid" pretty much covered it.

Appreciate the applications to worship and entertainment though.

(Side note: I feel old. Can't type worth beans on this phone!)

Steve Newman's picture

Think about the ramifications....

Isn't legalism a "quick and easy" shortcut to spirituality? Or do I have to pray, study, witness?

Isn't the prosperity gospel a quick and easy way to get rich and be "spiritual" at the same time?

This covers a lot of the thinking of modern man. 

Bert Perry's picture

If legalism is easy, please tell me why the English translation of the Babylonian Talmud is 22 volumes at CBD, and why Jesus rebuked those who bound heavy burdens on men, but did nothing to help them carry them.   Didn't He also say something about an easy yoke and a light burden?

I would phrase the debate over music slightly differently.  First of all, the Hebrew and Greek words for worship mean to bow down or prostrate oneself, and what I know about music is that you're going to be hard pressed to sing or play an instrument in that posture.  So it's really about praise, not worship, strictly speaking.  

Moreover, I see about the same errors on both sides.  Most are not really looking at the lyrics, or the question of whether the song communicates the Word of God to the people of God, but are really more interested in what they're used to.  


Aaron Blumer's picture

Steve, I see your point. There are so many expressions of this basic human problem. 

As for legalism being easy, I'd argue that it is. A study of Galatians reveals that the leglists of Paul's day were very selective about the Law. They cherry picked observances that were easy for them culturally and sought to impose them on everyone else as necessary for justification. Also easy in another sense: legalism falsely puts the power of redemption in our own hands. In reality this is infitely harder, but in perception it's easier: because the natural man, the rebel human heart, wants to cling to the notion that "if we need saving at all, we can do it ourselves." It is easier to believe this than to repent and believe the gospel.

Among believers, "legalism" is often the not-very-apt term for oversimplification of the Christian life--or maybe reductionism of the Christian life: if I just conform to a few standards, I'm a thriving Christian (but those standards can easily include praying, studying, and witnessing." In short this sort of "legalism" omits attitudes, values, and the heart. These are harder to understand and correct and require real commitments beyond the easily observable exterior.

On worship and singing, really a different topic, but "worship" has many expressions well beyond the literal meaning of the underlying Hebrew and Greek terms. The thickest book of the Bible is strong testament that music and worship are inextricably linked.

Steve Newman's picture

If we don't have to have more nuanced thinking and continue to learn, an oversimplification of the Christian life sounds pretty good. Don't we hear a lot of people broad-brushing today rather than commit to a more vigorous understanding? Legalism isn't "easy" to do, but it is easier to feel self-justified now rather than continue to think more deeply. In such a case, one is putting off the present need for critical thinking and replacing it with a simple knee-jerk reaction. 

Bert Perry's picture

Aaron, I'm going to disagree with you on the worship thing, and it really has to do with delayed gratification as well.  Now I'll concede that this particular horse left the barn centuries ago--we've been confusing music and worship for a long, long time--but just because music is a form of praise, and worship is a form of praise, doesn't mean we ought to use the terms interchangeably. 

This is especially the case when we consider that in Psalms, the word "worship" is only used 16 times, and only twice does the context suggest that someone would also be praising Him in song.  In neither of those cases does it indicate the words ought to be used interchangeably. So whatever else Psalms does, it does not lend support to the notion that music = worship.  It might instruct us to follow worship with praise in lyric form, but the two are emphatically not the same thing.

Really, I would further argue that most of the church today has lost the dictionary meaning, and to our loss--there is something very profound in the real prostration that is consistently described by the word in Scripture.  When the word describes pagan acts, it generally notes that one would serve the false god, and then worship him; when it is God, one worships, and then rises to serve.  You can really see sola fide  and sola gratia in this, IMO.

One might infer, going back to the original impetus of this thread, that the desire to "do ministry quickly" might have overcome our good sense to do a good word study--with the result that we might tend to be more likely to confuse prostration with singing, faith

Aaron Blumer's picture

DA Carson's Exegetical Fallacies might be of some help on this point. The trouble with word studies is that they can easily slip into excessive focus on etymology and neglect usage and context.

But in this case, the truth is really pretty easy to see. Worship has many expressions, from the gathered forms of prayer, confession, reading of Scripture, and yes, music. None of these things can said to be all of what worship is, but all of them are forms of it. In Romans 12:1 Paul goes so far as to declare all of life worship. "Service" there translates λατρεία which is used several times in the Septuigint (and NT) in reference to worship.

Three of them refer specifically to the sacrifice of Passover and activities associated with it. (Exod. 12:25-26, 13:5).

The verb form, λατρεύω, occurs all over the NT and Greek OT in reference to a wide variety of acts of worship. Example...

and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. (Lk 2:37) 

‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ (Ac 7:7)  

We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. (Heb 13:10–11)  

It doesn't follow that any of these things can be substituted for one another. The worship that is all of life is not a substitute for gathered worship.

Certainly bowing is always at the heart of what worship is. But so is exalting and praising God.

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. (Heb 13:15)  

And this sacrifice is quite clearly linked with musical expressions in the Psalms as well as the NT.

addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, (Eph 5:19) 

Modern worship ....

Where modern worship has gotten off track--and we agree on it being an expression of short term self-gratification--is not in valuing music as a form, but in losing sight of what it is a form of. Even in some very traditional churches, you can hear language from leadership that reflects the idea that worship is experiencing something, feeling something. People think they have worshiped when their spirits are lifted, when they feel encouraged, when they are emotionally moved, when a certain mood occurs. Some of this is legitimate byproduct of worship, but confuses results for causes, and some of this has no place at all. As a focus, this view tragically misses the point.

Bert Perry's picture

Aaron, apart from the use of latreia in Romans 12:1, none of those verses really have anything to do with worship, and it's worth noting that the NAS is the major translation that even translates latreia as worship.  Others translated it as service.

In most of the other verses you cite, the word for worship does not even occur.    I would hope that in agreeing that usage determines meaning, we would agree that it's important that our citations actually use the word in question!

The exception is Luke 2:37, but that doesn't even redefine the word.  To use the same grammar, I could at certain times have been described as "running with vomiting and pain", but that does not redefine "running", but rather means I just ran too soon after lunch.  So while worship often would be accompanied by prayer, sacrifice, service, and the like, it retains a distinct meaning.  

Really, apart from latreia, which is not always translated as "worship" and is by no means one of the major words referring to it, the closest you're going to get to the expanded definition, as far as I can tell, is in places like where Abraham notes he is going with Isaac to "worship", but we know another purpose was to sacrifice.  The question there is whether we can really infer the broader definition, or whether the speaker simply thought the most significant thing going on was bowing down before God.  You'll see the same as Moses approaches Pharaoh, really. 

I'm going to go with Ockham here and take the simpler solution, and the one that seems to match the profound nature of many of the times the word is used; that Abraham simply thought that was the most important thing going on that day.