Give a Little Nudge

When an opponent comes forward, move in and greet him;
if he wants to pull back, send him on his way.
~ Morihei Ueshiba

In the martial art of aikido, a guiding principle is to take an opponent’s focus and redirect it towards a more positive result. Instead of trying to control him, you “send him on his way.” To the average person this can sound rather New Agey and overly optimistic. But if you have trained enough in aikido to be aware of the energy dynamics and ethics involved, it is totally reasonable.

Modern physics teaches that at the most elemental level, everything in the universe is energy. By the same token, we frequently sense people in terms of energy. We’ll say someone is an energetic speaker, or complain that we have a lack of energy today. And if we are excited about doing something, we might say we are “energized.”

As with aikido, some people are using a sense of energy dynamics to propose new ways of promoting positve behavior. Rather than trying to direct or prevent behavior in a mechanical, command and control way, they are proposing more subtle approaches that channel people’s direction.

A novel example of this can be found in a New York Times article titled “When Humans Need a Nudge Toward Rationality”:

THE flies in the men’s-room urinals of the Amsterdam airport have been enshrined in the academic literature on economics and psychology. The flies — images of flies, actually — were etched in the porcelain near the urinal drains in an experiment in human behavior.

After the flies were added, “spillage” on the men’s-room floor fell by 80 percent. “Men evidently like to aim at targets,” said Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago, an irreverent pioneer in the increasingly influential field of behavioral economics.

Mr. Thaler says the flies are his favorite example of a “nudge” — a harmless bit of engineering that manages to “attract people’s attention and alter their behavior in a positive way, without actually requiring anyone to do anything at all.” What’s more, he said, “The flies are fun.”


Actually, there are many other examples available on the Nudge blog. And frankly, one reason I was interested in this story is that I proposed a similar approach to traffic safety many years ago.

The bottom line is, “nudging” (or whatever you want to call the approach) is a promising way of promoting positive behaviors in many ways – certainly more than just keeping men’s room floors dry.


About Dave Higgins

I've been interested in current events since at least the mid 1960's, and in ideas from modern science since the early 1990's. My website Quantum Age, which has been online since 1996, presents a basic framework for applying ideas from modern science to today's world. In this blog I discuss current events in the context of that framework.
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