Bat friends, monkeys sharing, and humans holding hands: the brains of social animals synchronise and expand one another Sofia Quaglia is a freelance science reporter, writing about the environment, health and the mind. Her work has been published in The Guardian, BBC and National Geographic, among others. Humans are not the only creatures that show a refined grasp of social norms. If a group of adult male rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) find themselves sitting around a turning table set with food, they will display an ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’ ethos of reciprocity. One monkey will offer another one a … Continue reading Connected-up-brains

Why a meaningful life is impossible without suffering

Pain makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. What’s puzzling is why so many of us choose to seek out painful experiences. KEY TAKEAWAYS From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that we feel pain: It trains us to avoid experiences or stimuli that harm us.  But that begs the question, why do so many people choose to pursue things that will bring them pain?  To psychologist Paul Bloom, the answer is that living a meaningful life requires that we choose to take on a reasonable amount of pain. by Stephen Johnson The writer and philosopher Alan Watts once posed a … Continue reading Why a meaningful life is impossible without suffering

How psychology can help you change someone’s mind

Changing your mind (or someone else’s) is a complex process. But understanding how your brain works can help. If you’ve ever tried to change someone’s mind but found they were completely unwilling to budge in their thinking, it can help to understand how the brain works. Changing your mind—or someone else’s—is a complex process done through assimilation or accommodation, says David McRaney, author of How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion and host of the science podcast You Are Not So Smart. “When the brain is confronted with novel information that generates cognitive dissonance, we tend to assuage that … Continue reading How psychology can help you change someone’s mind

Old not Other

Here’s a puzzle: why do we neglect and disdain the one vulnerable group we all eventually will join? Beauvoir had an answer Kate Kirkpatrick is tutorial fellow in philosophy and Christian ethics at Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford. She is the author of, most recently, the biography Becoming Beauvoir (2019).  Sonia Kruks is Danforth Professor of Politics Emerita at Oberlin College in Ohio. She is the author of Simone de Beauvoir and the Politics of Ambiguity (2012). Old age is not exactly a time of life that most of us welcome, although globally speaking it is a privilege to reach it. In Western … Continue reading Old not Other

Economists assume the desire for wealth is insatiable. What if they’re wrong?

A study that got people daydreaming about winning the lottery yields hope for a more sustainable society By Sarah DeWeerdt The majority of people surveyed in 33 countries around the world say their lifestyle dreams could be fulfilled with a finite—and often relatively modest—amount of money. The findings call into question a founding principle of economics, and suggest unexpected opportunities for achieving sustainable societies. Economists generally assume that people have unlimited wants: no amount of wealth or consumption ever feels like enough, and people are hard-wired to be perpetually driven to accumulate more and more. But the new study suggests that … Continue reading Economists assume the desire for wealth is insatiable. What if they’re wrong?

Hitler’s SS: How do ordinary people become sociopathic Nazis?

Were Hitler’s SS henchmen willing executioners fueled by racial propaganda or mindless servants vying for promotions? KEY TAKEAWAYS When it comes to understanding the evils of Nazism, historiography may be of more use to us than history.  Historiography is the study of how the way historians interpret a particular subject changes over time as trends shift and new analytical methods develop.  Immediately following the war, studies were based on interrogations with former Nazis. Later, these interrogations were replaced with the testimonies of Holocaust survivors. by Tim Brinkhof The driving factors behind the unprecedented violence witnessed during World War II have … Continue reading Hitler’s SS: How do ordinary people become sociopathic Nazis?

Democracy entails conflict

Democracy is a system of politics that has disagreement at its heart. But how do we stop conflicts becoming destructive? Rochelle DuFord is assistant professor in philosophy at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. They are the author of Solidarity in Conflict (2022). Acursory online search will provide you with nearly 100 million web pages concerning ‘the Left’s circular firing squad’. The idea of a circular firing squad is meant to evoke people so torn by their minor differences that they eliminate any possibility for solidarity or collective work. Rather than aiming our weapons at our enemies, we somehow get mixed up and begin … Continue reading Democracy entails conflict

Back to the source: What we gain when we cut out the middleman

Our economy is dominated by middlemen, including huge companies such as Walmart and Amazon. There are many benefits to going direct instead. KEY TAKEAWAYS Middlemen such as Amazon and Wal-Mart became powerful enough to reshape the entire economy. Returning in modest ways to an economy of more direct exchange can help us lead richer lives and build a better economy.  Middlemen are here to stay, so it is important to know how to use them and which ones to trust. Importantly, shorter intermediation chains are better.  For direct exchange to help smooth structural inequities, it has to do more than … Continue reading Back to the source: What we gain when we cut out the middleman

Beyond dust and grime

Zhuangzi thought Confucians were like frogs trapped in a well, unable to perceive the limitlessness of the sea Bamboo, Frog, and Insects, traditionally attributed to Cui Bai (active in the middle to late 11th century). Courtesy Freer Gallery of Art/Smithsonian Asian Art Museum/Charles Lang Freer Endowment Tao Jiang is professor in the Department of Religion and an associate member of the graduate faculty in the Department of Philosophy at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He is the co-editor of The Reception and Rendition of Freud in China: China’s Freudian Slip (2013), and the author of Contexts and Dialogue: Yogācāra Buddhism and Modern Psychology on … Continue reading Beyond dust and grime

When AI Becomes a Ouija Board

Google’s “sentient” chatbot shows us where we’re headed—and it’s not good. By Ian Bogost A Google engineer named Blake Lemoine became so enthralled by an AI chatbot that he may have sacrificed his job to defend it. “I know a person when I talk to it,” he told The Washington Post for a story published last weekend. “It doesn’t matter whether they have a brain made of meat in their head. Or if they have a billion lines of code.” After discovering that he’d gone public with his claims, Google put Lemoine on administrative leave. Going by the coverage, Lemoine might seem to … Continue reading When AI Becomes a Ouija Board