Confirming the coupling of money and power

Much of this week’s American political news has been dominated by two high-profile and highly-anticipated Supreme Court decisions.

The first decision struck down much of Arizona’s intrusion into immigration law, on the grounds not that the law violates individual rights but on the narrower legal grounds that immigration is a federal concern. The second, even more prominent decision gave Barack Obama a win (and Mitt Romney a campaign issue) on medical care.

But it’s neither of these decisions about which I want to write.

Instead, I’m motivated by the less-trumpeted and more predictable Supreme Court decision that upheld the Republican Wyoming legislature’s repeal of a law banning large third-party campaign contributions. This decision was along the same 5-4 ideological lines that had previously removed campaign contribution limits from federal elections.
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Brain study looks for the location of personality

One recent posting was about the claim of evolutionary psychologists that our basic political orientations are more innate than learned. Today, we take a tangential look at the subject by examining a brain study that indicates that basic personality traits may be tied to neural activity in specific areas of the brain.

Oh, great, some of you must be thinking — evolutionary psychology and brain scans. But patience. I’m not going to advocate anything, just report what the study says.

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Another stab at defining free will


There was a free-for-all on free will here a while back.

But that article didn’t contain anything quite like the argument in favour of compatibilism — the notion that free will can exist in a deterministic universe — promoted by Georgia State University philosopher and psychologist Eddy Nahmias.

3:AM Magazine published “Questioning willusionism,” an interview with Nahmias, on May 25th.

Nahmias believes that some of the debate over “free will vs. determinism” arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of what “determinism” means. He argues that determinism doesn’t really mean that the Big Bang created a kind of script that the universe merely plays out by rote for eternity. Nor does he equate determinism with fatalism,  the idea that certain things will happen no matter what. To Nahmias, “determinism suggests that what happens in the future depends on what happens in the past and what we do in the present.”

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Bilingualism can help you think

I had just started reading Guy Deutscher’s 2010 book, Through the Language Glass, an exploration of culture’s relationship with language, when I ran across “Does Speaking in a Second Language Make You Think More, or Feel Less?”

Julie Sedivy’s article, published online by Discover on May 30th, focuses on one way that language informs thought.

Sedivy writes that “we can have different feelings about the same thing—even make different decisions about it—depending on the language used to talk about it.” She reports that a new study in Psychological Science shows that “bilinguals were immune to framing effects and other cognitive biases—but only when working through problems in their non-native language.”
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Are you a Diachronic, or are you an Episodic?

Daniel Dennett believes that our sense of self comes from our brains’ concocting stories, narratives that create the protagonists we call “I.”

Other psychologists and philosophers offer explanations of individual identity that agree, more or less. Antonio Damasio, for example, calls the rational, third stage of consciousness “the autobiographical self.”

Last week, Big Think published “Why Are People Drawn to Stories?” The article, written by David Berreby, features ideas from Johnathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal, a book that claims that “we live our entire lives in a web of story.”
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From the frying pan into the fire?

As I head back home to California today for a weekend visit, it’s a good time for another in my periodic forays into the underworld of the American political psyche.

Earlier this week, I posted a generally negative review of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind.

But my thumbs down was for the book’s political slant, not its core contents. Haidt proposed, quite reasonably, that our politics are founded on our emotions, not on our reason. The most spectacular example of the truth of Haidt’s assertion is the fact that all of the polls show that the U. S. presidential race is, so far, too close to call.

On any rational basis, this seems absurd. Continue reading

Why? Because blogging strokes my brain!

I’m sometimes asked why I devote so much time to “that silly blog of yours.” When I choose to answer, I say that writing organizes my thoughts, which enhances the pleasure I get from reading. Or I talk about self-expression and social communication.

Now, a series of studies by psychologists at Harvard has uncovered the real reason that people like me write blogs like this: We enjoy talking about ourselves.

Not just enjoy, like “I enjoy a good joke,” but really enjoy, like we enjoy food, money, and sex. Honest to goodness, neural cascade, spike of pleasure enjoy.

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“Now that I think about it, I’m not that religious after all”

According to a much-trumpeted new study, rational thinking has a negative effect on the strength of religious belief.

Well, gee, really? Isn’t that the whole idea behind rational thinking? Do we really need a new study to tell us this? Many religious leaders and almost all atheists readily agree that religious belief is more a feeling than a thought, more emotion than analysis. Continue reading