WIBLIN: What would be your top three questions that you’d love to see get more attention?One of my favorite questions has always been, how do decisions that people feel they are making for personal, idiosyncratic reasons add up to social trends? For example, nobody thinks, I'm not married yet because of a worldwide trend toward later marriage, they think they haven't met the right person yet or what have you. People don't think, I don't want to move out of state because that is no longer popular; they have their own reasons that feel particular to them for wanting to stay close to home. And yet age at marriage is way up and far fewer people move between states. How, exactly, does that work?
COWEN: Well, what’s the single question is hard to say. But in general, the role of what is sometimes called culture. What is culture? How does environment matter? I’m sure you know the twin studies where you have identical twins separated at birth, and they grow up in two separate environments and they seem to turn out more or less the same. That’s suggesting some kinds of environmental differences don’t matter.
But then if you simply look at different countries, people who grow up, say, in Croatia compared to people who grow up in Sweden — they have quite different norms, attitudes, practices. So when you’re controlling the environment that much, surrounding culture matters a great deal. So what are the margins where it matters and doesn’t? What are the mechanisms? That, to me, is one important question.
A question that will become increasingly important is why do face-to-face interactions matter? Why don’t we only interact with people online? Teach them online, have them work for us online. Seems that doesn’t work. You need to meet people.
But what is it? Is it the ability to kind of look them square in the eye in meet space? Is it that you have your peripheral vision picking up other things they do? Is it that subconsciously somehow you’re smelling them or taking in some other kind of input?
What’s really special about face-to-face? How can we measure it? How can we try to recreate that through AR or VR? I think that’s a big frontier question right now. It’d help us boost productivity a lot.
Those would be two examples of issues I think about.
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Big Questions in Social Science
Robert Wiblin interviews Tyler Cowen