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‘Model Land’ and its phantasies threaten us all.

As a mathematician and a psychologist from a network studying real-world decision-making under radical uncertainty, we work on the dangers of investing scientific models with phantastic (wished-for but unrealistic) power to resolve uncertainty and produce optimal solutions. In this short blog we discuss the dangers of forgetting that, in the context of uncertainty, successful anticipatory thinking is not about making good predictions, it is about agility when judging what information to gather to grasp an unfolding landscape, and constant curiosity about what might be left out. Algorithms – and humans masquerading as algorithms, or passing the buck to algorithms – are fragile decision-makers under many real-life conditions.

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The need for constructive ambivalence during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” Werner Heisenberg (1) I have been researching how humans make decisions in contexts of risk and uncertainty for nearly thirty years. Much of this has been in the context of financial markets but much of what I have learned seems […]

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Grappling with uncertainty, and the emotions it provokes

The stories we tell ourselves about futures and the impact of our actions in them are important acts of imagination which enable us to act, despite uncertainty. However, they can also become over-comfortable refuges from the anxiety provoked by uncertainty and a route to disregarding important information and perspectives which challenge our certainties.

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Different Minds: why we need human capabilities and machine intelligence*

“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” —Ursula K. LeGuin To listen to some scholars of decision-making, it is a great wonder that humans have survived as long as they have. We are constantly prone to biases, rely on simplistic […]

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Money and relationships

“Money doesn’t talk it swears” Bob Dylan Differences  in  attitudes to money  are a major cause of disagreements in relationships. Research  shows that financial disagreements are one of the more frequent and less easily resolved causes of relationship conflict. One study found that whilst people are often attracted to potential partners with different emotional reactions to spending, that […]

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‘The heart has its reasons’: emotions and cognition in the world of finance

Let’s call him James, a trader in a City investment bank; young, smartly dressed, confident, and a little impatient. He sat across from me in the interview: “It’s really important to stay cool. For myself, I can say that I really don’t have much emotion while I trade”. Half an hour later, as he relaxed […]

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On fund-managers, rats and hermit crabs: reversion to familiar habits under stress

Hermit crabs rely on acquiring discarded shells for their protection and are constantly on the look-out for better shells. However, faced with environmental stress they prefer to stick with their old shell, however unsuitable, than risk moving to a new one[i]. Experiments with rats show that under stress habitual behaviour persists longer in the face […]

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New Personal Finance MOOC

The Open University’s centre for the Public UnderStanding of Finance (PUFin) launches new MOOC Lead educator: Martin Upton, Director of the True Potential Centre for the Public Understanding of Finance (PUFin) at the Open University Business School, and former Treasurer of Nationwide Business Society Gain the skills to manage your personal finances: managing budgets, debts, […]

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The Emotional Business of Finance

The video below is a presentation I made at the launch of the Open University Business School‘s Centre for the Public Understanding of Finance (PuFin). You can find a copy of the slides here. Martin Lewis also made a very engaging presentation about financial education at the same event. Further presentations from the event can […]

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