(34672) Intr 404.12 HON: How We Decide                     Fall 2010                             
Dr. Stephan Flores (sflores@uidaho.edu)                                                      
3:30-4:20 pm Wed. TLC 144                                                                           
http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~sflores/                                                    885-6147
MW 1:00-2:00 p.m. & by appt.                                                                      315 Commons

How We Decide. This class (one credit, P/F) seeks to understand how we make choices in different contexts and communities, relationships, identities, and public policy debates. The course is tailored to address each student’s aspirations and developing expertise, within their major interests and beyond; moreover, we will develop through shared work individual preparation for opportunities such as applications for major scholarships, internships, undergraduate research, graduate school, and related transitions to professional/career decisions. The process of applying for such opportunities prompts you to reflect upon, develop, and articulate your goals, intellectual identity, and political perspectives. We will draw upon findings in neuroscience and behavioral economics, along with excerpts from psychological research on choice theory and “happiness studies” to learn about some of the “predictably irrational” aspects to the choices we make, including how we tend to make regular mistakes in imagining our personal futures, and we shall consider the ethical and social dimensions of our decisions. We’ll also divvy up public policy and current events topics among the class, so that students can track issues related to their interests as well as participate in wider discussions of national and global importance. Finally, you’ll hone your abilities to prepare for interviews, formulate positions and proposals, or revise an application or personal statement. Limit of 15.

Two primary texts [I suggest that you start with the revised/expanded edition of Predictably Irrational over the summer, and keep up with reading major news stories--(for example, I read the NY Times and also browse other news stories daily)]:

1. Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions (Harper Perennial revised and expanded ed., 2010) but FYI, his latest book is The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home (2010)
2. Jonah Lehrer, How We Decide (Mariner Books, 2010)
Also excerpts from Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness (Vintage, 2005) and his related PBS three-part TV series entitled “This Emotional Life” (2010) with resources/exercises on selected topics via the website: http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/ and occasional articles to share on these topics.

Additional essays/articles and related resources online via the class Blackboard site (also series of links to Op-ed pieces, interviews with CEOs, etc.--see below).


1. Seven written Discussion Starters: a thesis/problem-driven, expressive/illustrative, or question-posing response (approximately 150-200 words each) to some aspect of the text and topics under discussion, and at times also responding to/drawing upon Op-Ed pieces or other articles made available or sent to you (via email and in Blackboard resource folders). Discussion Starters present a means for you and the class to share enthusiasms and doubts as you delve into the text’s significance, methods, and effects--another way to think about the DS is "what I am taking away from these chapters or policy articles and how do I start to relate what I've learned to my own decisions/habits/goals?" A strategy when considering a longer response to a policy/political issue can be approached in this way (from Prof. Amy Cavender, who teaches writing on politics): "identify a political issue that you and others consider important; explain why it is important; give a suggestion about how to handle the issue; explain why you think that's a good way to proceed." No late entries —Discussion Starters are due in class (hard copy that you have copied/pasted/printed from Blackboard), with DS entries also posted on Blackboard before class (by 1:00 p.m. that day). Come to class prepared to share/exchange your DSs , and we’ll rotate responsibility for putting a spotlight on individual responses, using the document cam to introduce the DSs to facilitate discussion. You cannot pass the class if more than two D entries are late or missing.

2. Participation in class discussion (including informal bi-weekly writing in the form of brief Discussion Starter Questions and Comments, as noted above).  Please take advantage of the opportunity our small class provides to discuss your reactions, share your insights and research, and to listen and reply to others' ideas.  I hope that these strategies will enable you to move the class in directions you find most helpful, give you opportunities to develop critical skills through collaborative interaction, and provide for a productive, interesting exchange of perspectives and participation among the class—in sum, to help to establish a mutual responsibility to engage productively with the class texts and with one another.

3. Other required written work (graded Pass/Fail): (1) a series of six to eight "pre-writing" exercises to discover/explore/create possibilities for developing personal statements, plans for programs of study or career paths, or policy proposals--you may be able to incorporate/draw upon some of these for a few DS entries; (2) a concise "term essay/project" that presents a personal statement and/or combined with a plan for a program of study, application to graduate school (including law school or medical school statement), major scholarship, and/or policy proposal (approximate total of 1,000 words or more--see PDF file of collected guidelines on such statements and proposals and also pre-writing exercises, available on the course Blackboard site/folder--see also Prof. Joe Schall's Writing Personal Statements, a substantial online resource for all stages of writing in application to grad school and major scholarships, with detailed examples:
https://www.e-education.psu.edu/writingpersonalstatementsonline/node/1984 ).

4. Due dates: All required work is due when specified, typically at the beginning of class on the due date. I will grant short extensions for medical and family emergencies--but talk with me as soon as possible to request an extension.

5. Attendance is required--your participation is a crucial part of a collective learning experience. Because we meet once a week, your ability to pass the class will be jeopardized if you miss more than two class meetings. Almost all absences will be counted--excused or not--if something extraordinary occurs, talk to me.

6. Office hours. I encourage you to confer with me--especially before assignments are due--to talk about your interests, intentions, and writing strategies. If you cannot make my regular hours, we can usually arrange another time. I also welcome communicating with you by e-mail (sflores@uidaho.edu).

7. Office hours. I encourage you to confer with me—especially before assignments are due—to talk about your interests, intentions, and writing strategies. If you cannot make my regular hours (in 315 Commons), we’ll arrange another time. I also welcome communicating with you by E-mail (sflores@uidaho.edu).

8. Use of laptops and cell phones during class is prohibited; occasional use of laptops—typically for group work and to access the online components of the class—may be permitted with instructor’s approval.

9. Do not submit work for this class that you have submitted or intend to submit for a grade in another course; as always, be careful to cite anyone else's work that you draw upon. See highlighted link on the class website to a useful guide to avoiding plagiarism, and a link to information on the university's policies regarding plagiarism.

Intr 404.12 How We Decide Semester Schedule Fall 2010 (subject to tweaking/revision as we go along)





Predictably Irrational, Introduction and Chapter One (xi-23); Simons and Chabris, "The Trouble with Intuition" (PDF file)  


Predictably Irrational, Chs. 2-3 (25-74); recommended: PDF excerpt from Daniel Gilbert's conclusion to Stumbling on Happiness--see also talks by Gilbert: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy.html



Discussion Starter 1 Due


How We Decide, Introduction and Chapter 1(xi-27); rec. Bill Clinton's Yale 2010 (34 minute) commencement speech (in which he speaks about how he makes decisions): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBDgCATvf6Y

DS 2 Group 1 Due


How We Decide, Chapter 2 (28-56); rec. Kolbert, "Everybody Have Fun" (PDF file, review of happiness research)

DS 2 Group 2 Due


Predictably Irrational, Chs. 4-5 (75-117); see also Ariely's website

DS 3 Group 1 Due


Predictably Irrational, Chs. 6-7 (119-166)

DS 3 Group 2 Due


How We Decide, Chapter 3 (57-92); optional FYI TED Talk on the "Paradox of Choice" : Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz's estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.

DS 4 Group 1 Due


How We Decide, Chapter 4 (93-132); browse the uploaded PDFs on Blackboard on economic policies (Tax the Rich and a piece on Larry Summers) as well as the exchange on free will in links below, starting with Your Move: The Maze of Free Will and the reply to it: The Limits of the Coded World

DS 4 Group 2 Due


Predictably Irrational, Chs. 8-9 (167-197)

DS 5 Group 1 Due


Predictably Irrational, Chs. 10-11 (199-249)

DS 5 Group 2 Due


How We Decide, Chapter 5 (133-166)

DS 6 Group 1 Due


How We Decide, Chapter 6 (167-195)

DS 6 Group 2 Due


Predictably Irrational, Chs. 12-13 (251-294)

DS 7 Group 1 Due


How We Decide, Chapter 7-8 & Coda (196-259)

DS 7 Group 2 Due


Predictably Irrational, Chs. 14-15 (295-322)

Term Project/Statement due

 series of somewhat varied opinion/policy pieces from the New York Times as well as immediately below a key site for various contributors and series:


Opinionator - A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web

also this Series

Home Fires
Steven Strogatz
The Conversation
Line by Line
Living Rooms
The Score
The Stone: The Stone features the writing of contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless. The series moderator is Simon Critchley, chair of the department of philosophy of New School in New York.


ESSAY: Business Journalism's Image Problem

We aren't all dashing muckrakers like Stieg Larsson's Mikael Blomkvist. But untangling the financial crisis isn't just about catching bad guys.



Endless War

Andrew J. Bacevich forcefully denounces 60 years of American militarism in this bracing and intelligent polemic.


President Obama’s bloodless speech on the “end” of the Iraq war showed how the whitewashing of our recent past is well under way.


OP-ED COLUMNIST: Angels in America

Courage and a sense of fundamental fairness sometimes flower in our country in the most unexpected quarters, even as the angrier voices dominate the debate.


EDITORIAL: The State of the War

Americans are increasingly anxious and confused about the war in Afghanistan. They need straight talk from President Obama about what is happening there and the plan going forward.


Hiding in Plain Sight

While we have been fussing about same-sex marriage, marriage itself has undergone a profound change.


Jobless and Staying That Way

Economists of all stripes rethink a safety net that assumes short-term unemployment.


Feeding Fewer Than 9 Billion

A population specialist noted that strategies for limiting hunger need to include family planning along with farming methods.


OP-ED COLUMNIST: The Summoned Self

A look at two ways of thinking about life, one that emphasizes the individual and one that emphasizes circumstances.


OFF THE SHELF: A Call to Fix the Fundamentals

Raghuram G. Rajan writes that systems and large historical forces were the primary drivers of recent global financial instability.


OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR: Four Deformations of the Apocalypse

How my Republican Party destroyed the American economy.


Your Move: The Maze of Free Will
By GALEN STRAWSON [see also a reply to this piece below]


The Limits of the Coded World

Why free will has nothing to fear from neuroscience - or from God.[This is in part a reply to Strawson's piece above.]


Moral Camouflage or Moral Monkeys?

Is the great show we make of morality just a Darwinian cover for our selfish opportunism?


Taking Lessons From What Went Wrong

Disaster can spur innovation, and experts say analysis of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico will probably improve complex deep-water drilling technology.


OP-ED CONTRIBUTORS: Economics Behaving Badly

The limits of what psychology can tell us about choices.


CORNER OFFICE: Re-Recruit Your Team Every Day

Linda Heasley of The Limited says she should always be able to show her workers why they should work for her and her company.


Friendship in an Age of Economics

To preserve our most cherished human bonds, we must push back against the idea of investment and return.


OP-ED COLUMNIST: Punishing the Jobless

A coalition of the heartless, the clueless and the confused is blocking extended unemployment benefits. What can be done?


CORNER OFFICE: Now, Put Yourself in My Shoes

Susan Docherty of General Motors says that by asking potential hires how they would perform her job, she gets an idea of how they think on their feet.


WHITE HOUSE MEMO: Spend or Scrimp? Two Sides in White House Debate

The Obama White House is contending with a policy battle that was last waged under President Bill Clinton.



Congressional Charities Are Pulling In Corporate Cash

At least two dozen charities that lawmakers or their families helped create or run routinely accept donations from businesses seeking to influence them.



PREOCCUPATIONS: I Asserted Myself, and Got the Job

How a job candidate learned to adapt to each step of the interview process.



Robin Young's Interview with Michael Lewis on Here & Now (author of The Big Short, see link below for interview and excerpt from the book)



Listen to Robin Young's interview: Why do some people still believe that President Obama is a Muslim, and others that President Bush banned all stem cell research, despite news reports that disprove both stories? We speak with Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at the University of Michigan who has researched the topic. He found that facts don’t change deeply held beliefs and that sometimes, in fact, being faced with a correction makes people believe even harder in the incorrect story.
• When Corrections Fail: The Persistence Of Political Misperceptions (PDF available on course Blackboard site)