Category: Human animals
Jonathan Haidt explains why there are not any civilizations without temples, starting at minute 14 of this video. This is the 2013 Boyarsky Lecture at Duke University. About 10,000 years we went from an almost instantaneous transition from hunter-gathers to Babylon. A huge part of our evolutionary development is this newly learned ability of humans to circling around sacred objects (religious and political objects are two dominant examples) in order to form teams. As we circle around, we generate a social energy that knits the social fabric, but also encourages Manichean thinking–us versus them, blinding us to our own faults and faulty thinking. No shades of gray are allowed when we are intensely groupish. This kind of groupish thinking is radically incompatible with scientific thinking. Science is squeezed out, replaced by sacred objects, groupishness and authoritarian obeisance.
At min 24, Haidt gets to the crux of his talk. Those of us who focus on the “care” (empathy) foundation of morality, often circle about it bonding with others like us, rejecting and denigrating the impulses and ideas that tend to drive those who are politically conservative.
Back in 2008, I read Neil Shubin’s book, “Your Inner Fish.” I posted on it here. PBS has worked with Shubin to present a documentary that covers and expands on Shubin’s work. What a great compliment to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos. You won’t want to miss this. It’s a story about plasticity, about how your body is bursting with evidence of your animal ancestors. Another reason to watch this: Shubin’s enthusiasm is contagious.
Excellent lecture by Robert Sapolsky. Scientists used to think that humans were unique in many ways when compared to other animals. The number of ways in which we are truly unique is dwindling, however, and that dwindling number is the focus of Sapolsky’s talk. There is at least one way in which we are unique, and that is our ability to entertain a contradiction. Sapolsky, speaking to a graduating class, challenges them to take on this contradiction: They are highly educated and thus privileged human animals who are educated to such an extent that they realize that it is virtually impossible for one person to make a difference in the world. The more clear this becomes that it is impossible to make the world better, “the more you must.”
Robert Sapolsky can tell stories about the biological effects of stress as well as anyone. In this short video, he reveals that a chair upholsterer discovered the dangers of having a Type A personality.
Over at Flickr, I ran across a photo by Jimmy O’Donnell featuring a beautiful woman in lingerie walking in a church. Maybe O’Donnell didn’t take this photo for any of the reasons I find it interesting—maybe he took it for the mere shock value, or because he simply liked the image. Nonetheless, this photo serves […]
Psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist agrees that the brain is divided, but not at all in the way that is it is commonly thought. This is one of those quick-draw RSA Animate illustrated videos, deeply thought-provoking and also entertaining.
Here’s a transcript of McGilchrist’s lecture on the divided brain.
So you have, essentially, two kinds of attention, one that narrows a thing down as much as possible to a certainty so that you can pick it up and get it and sort it out. This is very useful for manipulating the world. It’s not good for understanding the world. For understanding the world you need what I would call a relational attention in which you don’t see yourself as somehow disconnected from everything around but realize how interconnected you are with it and need to be aware of all of it.
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From the NYT–most of the cells that comprise you do not contain your DNA:
I can tell you the exact date that I began to think of myself in the first-person plural — as a superorganism, that is, rather than a plain old individual human being. It happened on March 7. That’s when I opened my e-mail to find a huge, processor-choking file of charts and raw data from a laboratory located at the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder. As part of a new citizen-science initiative called the American Gut project, the lab sequenced my microbiome — that is, the genes not of “me,” exactly, but of the several hundred microbial species with whom I share this body. These bacteria, which number around 100 trillion, are living (and dying) right now on the surface of my skin, on my tongue and deep in the coils of my intestines, where the largest contingent of them will be found, a pound or two of microbes together forming a vast, largely uncharted interior wilderness that scientists are just beginning to map.