Category: Psychology Cognition

Strangers slapping each other

| June 24, 2014 | Reply

From the film-maker who asked strangers to kiss each other, we now have stingers slapping each other.


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Personal qualities not measured by tests

| May 4, 2014 | Reply

Here is a well constructed list that those who do well on SAT tests should carefully review.


Paul Tough, who wrote How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, would add “grit.”

Personal qualities not measured by tests - list


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Asymmetrical tribal blindness

| April 8, 2014 | Reply

Paul Krugman writes:

[P]eople understand the world in ways that suit their tribal identities: in controlled experiments both conservatives and liberals systematically misread facts in a way that confirms their biases. And more information doesn’t help: people screen out or discount facts that don’t fit their worldview. Politics, as he says, makes us stupid. But here’s the thing: the lived experience is that this effect is not, in fact, symmetric between liberals and conservatives. Yes, liberals are sometimes subject to bouts of wishful thinking. But can anyone point to a liberal equivalent of conservative denial of climate change, or the “unskewing” mania late in the 2012 campaign, or the frantic efforts to deny that Obamacare is in fact covering a lot of previously uninsured Americans? I don’t mean liberals taking positions you personally disagree with — I mean examples of overwhelming rejection of something that shouldn’t even be in dispute.

At this point, I tend to agree with Krugman that more conservatives go way off the charts, but I also know many liberals that go way off the charts. Confirmation bias strikes people of all political stripes. When Obama engages in illegal wars, spies on Americans, prosecutes more people under the Espionage Act than all prior presidents combined, most liberals are silent, and even pissed to hear the criticism. I’ve also heard things like the following from liberals, with my own ears:

  • Extending benefits for the unemployed don’t disincentivize looking for work.
  • The fact that many women make less than many men is SOLELY because of gender discrimination.
  • People have “free will,” and the standard social science model (SSSM) is proven true.
  • That people NEVER choose homosexuality, that it is ALWAYS inborn.
  • That Jesus was born of a virgin.
  • That sentient beings from outer space are living on Earth.
  • That it presents no risk to the U.S. economy to borrow or print massive amounts of money.
  • That Hillary Clinton is without any faults.
  • That taking vacations on public transit (planes and trains) is not contributing to global warming.
  • That ALL men are at risk to commit rape.
  • That homeopathy and other health fads and supposed cures that have not passed double-blinds studies are “proven effective.”

You get the idea. I don’t hear these (and similar liberal silliness) as much as I hear conservative silliness, but I hear a lot of silliness out of the mouths people from all political persuasions. I will agree with Krugman, that conservatives are more prone to certain types of false statements, and his suggestions for why are intriguing:

One possible answer would be that liberals and conservatives are very different kinds of people — that liberalism goes along with a skeptical, doubting — even self-doubting — frame of mind; “a liberal is someone who won’t take his own side in an argument.” Another possible answer is that it’s institutional, that liberals don’t have the same kind of monolithic, oligarch-financed network of media organizations and think tanks as the right.


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We create technology and technology changes us.

| April 6, 2014 | Reply

I played guitar at a local coffee house last night ( Hartford Coffee ) In my haste to pack up to go, I forgot my electronic guitar tuner. Last night, then, I realized how dependent I have become on the tuner. I’ve played for many decades and, until 5 years ago, tuned by ear. I’ve fallen out of habit since then because these cheap tuners are incredibly accurate. All you need to do is watch the read-out–you don’t even need to hear the guitar while tuning (one of my tuners attaches to the head of the guitar and picks up vibrations). I made it through the night, of course, but I found myself having to focus on what exactly the tuning problem was (which string or strings was out of tune, and which direction). People who don’t play stringed instruments don’t realize that even when you get the guitar tuned, it might not last for long. Even two songs later, it could require another adjustment.

My point is that I had offloaded a skill to an electronic device. This is a common phenomenon these days. A lot of us don’t know the phone numbers of our friends–no need to, with smart phones. Many of us are terrible spellers, but no problem, because the word processor will signal problems. My Google calendar and smart phone seem to organize me, rather than me organizing them. I find myself shooting out short texts and emails to get right to it, rather than calling, which requires some social graces–younger folks avoid calls like the plague, it seems. This makes me wonder whether they are thus losing some conversational skills. Robin Dunbar has researched the number of friends we have in our social group (it tends to be close to 150), but people who watch a lot of TV have fewer friends, and they might be losing the skills necessary to maintain a robust social group.

This is not a criticism of technology. It can be immensely useful. For instance, I’ve used to connect with folks with keen interests in photography and urban exploring, people I would never have encountered without technology. My misplaced tuner last night reminded me that we create technology but that technology also changes us, for good and bad.


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Sam Harris intends to reclaim the use of the word “spiritual”

| April 5, 2014 | Reply

Sam Harris will soon be writing a book to argue for a legitimate secular use of the word “spiritual.” In this article, he points out that many atheists have used the term, pointing out some distinctions along the way.


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Commenting without reading: An April Fools experiment by NPR

| April 5, 2014 | Reply
Commenting without reading: An April Fools experiment by NPR

NPR played a clever April Fools trick this year. It posted a link on FB with the following headline: “Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?.”


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The failure of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous)

| March 24, 2014 | Reply

What would it seem like if ONLY those who successfully completed a program were featured in the media? What would we think about a school where 85 out of 100 students flunked, but only the graduates showed up to say how good the program was? That is the starting point for Dr. Lance Dodes and Zachary Dodes’ article in Salon: “The pseudo-science of Alcoholics Anonymous: There’s a better way to treat addiction.”

Rehab owns a special place in the American imagination. Our nation invented the “Cadillac” rehab, manifested in such widely celebrated brand names as Hazelden, Sierra Tucson, and the Betty Ford Center. . . . The fact that they are all extraordinarily expensive is almost beside the point: these rehabs are fighting the good fight, and they deserve every penny we’ve got. Unfortunately, nearly all these programs use an adaptation of the same AA approach that has been shown repeatedly to be highly ineffective. Where they deviate from traditional AA dogma is actually more alarming: many top rehab programs include extra features such as horseback riding, Reiki massage, and “adventure therapy” to help their clients exorcise the demons of addiction. . . . Why do we tolerate this industry? One reason may sound familiar: in rehab, one feels that one is doing something, taking on a life-changing intervention whose exorbitant expense ironically reinforces the impression that epochal changes must be just around the corner.

Who is studying the effectiveness of these programs? Not the programs themselves or, at least, they are not making their data open. That makes these authors suspicious:

Efforts by journalists to solicit data from rehabs have also been met with resistance, making an independent audit of their results almost impossible and leading to the inevitable conclusion that the rest of the programs either don’t study their own outcomes or refuse to publish what they find.

What is the solution? Rather than preach to addicts about a “Higher Power,” the authors suggest that they need something far more personally empowering: sophisticated self-awareness.”


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Carrying a guitar makes a man more attractive

| March 21, 2014 | 1 Reply

Because I play the guitar, I read about this study carefully. Simply carrying around a guitar case makes it more likely that a woman will give a guy her phone number. The study merely concerned a guy carrying a guitar case. This makes me wonder how much more attractive a man looks to women when he displays an ability to play a guitar proficiently.

And then there is this companion article by the Onion: “Guy Carrying Guitar Case On Elevator Envied By Everyone On Elevator, Imagines Guy.”


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Situational morality and its consequences

| March 19, 2014 | Reply

Huffpo has a long article on the “moral injury” suffered by combat troops.

It is what experts are coming to identify as a moral injury: the pain that results from damage to a person’s moral foundation. In contrast to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which springs from fear, moral injury is a violation of what each of us considers right or wrong. The diagnosis of PTSD has been defined and officially endorsed since 1980 by the mental health community, and those suffering from it have earned broad public sympathy and understanding. Moral injury is not officially recognized by the Defense Department. But it is moral injury, not PTSD, that is increasingly acknowledged as the signature wound of this generation of veterans: a bruise on the soul, akin to grief or sorrow, with lasting impact on the individuals and on their families.

Moral injury raises uncomfortable questions about what happens in war, the dark experiences that many veterans have always been reluctant to talk about. Are the young Americans who volunteer for military service prepared for the ethical ambiguity that lies ahead? Can they be hardened against moral injury? Should they be?

I’m still trying to sort this out. I’m tempted to engage in a lot of finger pointing–American society happily celebrates warmongering–just try to think of a holiday where we don’t stir in the idea of a soldier fighting or a soldier coming home from battle. We see and hear war images and sounds at many public events, especially sports events. On the other hand, though they are young when they sign up to join the war machine, members of the military are not children. To some extent, they know or should know what they are getting into. They know that they are willing to accept money in order to kill or to support killing on behalf of the United States. Some of them go because they will get to wield weapons and kill. Those people are getting exactly what they want. Those members of the military who don’t actually shoot the weapons are complicit. Those of us who are civilians who fail to speak out are also complicit. Perhaps we should be said to be suffering moral injury too, but that’s a hard argument to make, because most of us don’t give a shit that our soldiers are overseas invading other lands and killing people who are typically poor and brown-skinned.

Most of us don’t call this kind of killing, where soldiers kill, “murder.” After all, there are self-defense murders, and in some cases military actions, including some large-scale military actions do seem like acts of defense. The military PR machine has tapped into this idea by renaming the war machine the “Department of Defense,” even those most U.S wars are wars of choice, acts of strategic aggression to suit the needs of banks and businesses.

To get us reoriented, we should rename the Defense Department. As stated at Common Dreams,

America’s discerning have long recognized that the country can never live without war. It is a country made for war. Small detail: Up until 1947, the Defense Department was called Department of War.

I do think we ought to reframe what it means to kill in uniform. That means that we should stop glorifying the act of killing in uniform unless the reason for the war itself is edifying. We should rename the act of killing in uniform as “situational murder.” The analogy is situational homosexuality.

Killing in war is a brutal act of ending lives that we are working hard to see in a special context. Akin to money laundering, we could call such killing “murder laundering.” It’s a matter of killing where innocent lives are blithely written of as collateral damage, something that is really hard to sell back home when police kill innocent people.

I am keenly aware of the consequences posed by determinism. Embraced fully, it is an excuse for any action, because we were not really “free” to make our choices. This sets up a monumental paradox, because to keep order and sanity we are forced to assume that we are “free.” It is in this crazy context that I resent the attempt to turn non-medical problems into medical problems. “Moral injury” is the suffering one experiences for making choices that are often bad choices. Why did you sign up for the military? Yes, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but only on the battle field did you realize that you were engaged in (I’m speaking of all of America’s recent wars of choice) gussied up murder. Back when you signed up, you failed to think things through. The banality of evil was at play–Hannah Arendt’s notion that the failure to think causes much more damage than intentional wrongdoing.

“Moral injury” is not a medical problem. It is coming to grips with one’s choices. It is usually a good thing that one focuses in on one’s moral compass, even when the result is self-condemnation. Perhaps the occurrence of moral injury is to be applauded as an awakening of conscience, a terrible lesson learned, and a chance to take public positions warning others to say no to the seduction of wars of choice.


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