Team 3 Commentary

Kaitlin, Alex and Nichole please provide your commentary on any ideas raised, or neglected, in the question, response and discussion process during the preceding week. And if so inclined you may revisit and comment on previous questions, responses, discussions and commentaries.


When asked to compare the three methods of controlling how many people go to a given bar on a popular night that Surowieki presents in Chapter 5, the group did so based on the given information and then carried that information into their answers to which strategy they would want applied to their favorite bar. In the responses, there was a great deal of discussion regarding what factors Arthur and Bell and Sethares were not taking into account when examining how patrons decide whether to go to a bar on a given night, such as drink specials and featured bands, as well the ability of patrons to see a bar is too crowded when they arrive, and subsequently move on. In this regard, I think the discussions both on the wiki and in class may have lost sight of the purpose of the studies, for which I blame myself. From my understanding of the text, Surowiecki presented these solutions as a basis for comparing strategies of collective intelligence, one in which decisions take into account the decisions of others (Arthur) and one in which decisions are independent of the decisions of others (Bell and Sethares). I think my question lent itself to a digression instead of a discussion about this topic. If I were to revise my question, I would probably focus more on a comparison of independent versus interdependent collective decision-making processes based on these models.

The question of whether or not movie theaters should base the ticket cost of a movie on its popularity or quality garnered opposing responses. The essence of the question was actually, “should profit maximization outweigh convention in this case?” While one answered “no” because the system works well enough and the process of deciding which films should be marked down may be complicated or flawed, two others said that convention should be overthrown in favor of a system that maximizes profits. Dr. Collier brought up a potential reason for our reevaluation of movie theater business practices being the Internet’s influence on how we perceive media and consumerism. This is an intriguing notion and makes me wish I had posed a question that incorporates some other themes that we have been discussing over the course of the class.

Nichole Uiterwijk

While only one person responded to Questions 3 & 4 originally, we were able to generate a lot of discussion in class on the different versions of the “ultimate game” experiment. To summarize the first version of the game, 2 anonymous people with no ties to each other were brought together. One person was randomly deemed the proposer and the other the responder. The proposer was given $10 to split however he or she desired and the responder could either accept or reject that offer. The class decided that “strong reciprocity,” or the willingness to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior even when one gets no personal material benefits from doing so, was much stronger and game the ultimate power to the responder—the power to decide if anyone would get anything from the exchange. While a completely rational responder would accept any offer because he would benefit no matter how small the offer was, the threat of this individually irrational act kept the proposers in check and therefore benefited the collective good; therefore, the most common offer in the experiment was to split the money fifty-fifty.

The second version of the experiment, the researchers gave the two a test and named one of them the proposer based on the results of the test. This, ironically, gave the power back to the proposer based on their “expert status,” as responders were more often low-balled and still not a single offer was rejected. This expert status, as raised in the class discussion, seemed to correlate with the belief that the individual is the site in which knowledge is stored. It also raised questions about convention and how strong conventions run within our society, as they are one of the driving forces for good social behavior that benefit the collective whole. We also raised the question of whether experts were deciding who the other experts are, which we agreed was the case because we “trust” these experts, based on all
their studies and experience, to lead us in the right direction. One societal convention is to trust these experts.


Although I only received one response to either of my questions, I utilized a majority of my presentation time to review Surowiecki’s ideas regarding trust and fairness in capitalism and in taxes and to bring new light to these points. In my first question, I really wanted to incorporate the internet into this discussion of trust in the capitalist world to put the thought into a context we can all relate to today. This, along with the one response to this question, sparked much discussion regarding free-riding on the internet and whether knowledge shared on the internet should remain free of cost. While many of my classmates answered yes because “that is how it has always been,” I countered the argument with the concept of conditional consent from my second question. I gave the example of paying for music on the internet. At one time music on the internet was free and once it was no longer free people found means such as Napster and LimeWire to continue to get this music for free; yet, once the law began punishing these people, society consented as a whole to pay for music from now on.

This lead the discussion smoothly into taxes. In a tax system based on trust (trust of neighbors to live up to their obligations to pay taxes, trust of the government to spend tax dollars wisely, and trust that the state will find and punish the guilty) conditional consent is the sole means of society agreeing to pay. Yet in the not very ideal economic status of today, this concept of conditional consent is being challenged, along with the American tax system. In Surowiecki’s ideal world the tax system operates flawlessly, but take away these conditions and suddenly it crumbles under the pressure. In a time of economic crisis today, society’s trust in the government falters along with their willingness to pay taxes simply because everyone must pay taxes.

Although I attempted to recreate Surowiecki’s examples in the context of today to challenge his outdated ideas, my presentation did not spark as much conversation as I had hoped. Professor Collier seemed to be interested in the topics I proposed, but only a small portion of the class I feel like followed my ideas.

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