This category contains 6 posts

Morality and filth

cleanliness is next to godlinessDisgust is an odd emotion. I can be (and am) disgusted by ketchup. I can also be (and also am) disgusted by cruelty. We use the same word – disgust – to mean both physical revulsion and strong moral disapproval, and yet it’s not terribly obvious why they might be related, at least logically speaking. In a long essay¬†published in Aeon, Katherine McAuliffe explores how triggers for physical disgust may affect or sense of morality. As with much of sociobiology, there is a lot of correlation without much certainty of causation, but the data and accompanying speculation are interesting.… Read the rest

urlA corner of my office is occupied, I should say graced, by a rather unusual woman. Carved seemingly from a single enormous piece of wood, stained dark, she stands a good 1.5 metres tall. Her mohawk style hairdo, beak-like nose and flat, pendulous breasts are studded with what look to be brass carpet tacks. She is a fine example of a Nimba, perhaps the most recognized form of artwork of the Baga tribe of coastal Guinea, an example of which can be seen in The Louvre (see photo).

Visitors to our house have asked me on various occasions whether or not she is authentic.… Read the rest

Book Review: The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt

I know what you’re thinking – the last thing the world needs is yet another self-help book telling you to be nice to people, love yourself and ask the universe for stuff. And generally, I’d agree.

But The Happiness Hypothesis is different. Haidt is a psychology professor and researcher at the University of Virginia, and his book his a well-written, fairly dense synthesis of the latest research on happiness expressed in laymen’s terms. Haidt organizes his discussion around ten pieces of “ancient wisdom” – one might be forgiven for suspecting that his publisher forced him to put it this way – but the result is a broad exploration of things that studies have consistently shown contribute to human happiness, along with a certain amount of speculation on the evolutionary advantages of certain behaviors and inbuilt reactions.… Read the rest

Synthesizing happiness (without a prescription)

Of all the primary emotions, happiness is the one we’re all aching for more of. And how do we get more? We go out and grab it, right? If we’re lucky enough to have a sufficient degree of freedom, we make our choices, act carefully, get what we want and happiness follows.

Or maybe not. The following talk by Dan Gilbert questions not only our ideas of where happiness comes from, but even the role freedom plays in acquiring it. Is happiness – I mean the lasting kind – more about making the best of our lot in life than about getting what we want?… Read the rest

Emotional cues found more in body language than facial expression

Recent research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem suggests that when it comes to expressing emotions, our facial cues – smiling, frowning, scowling, for example – may be less important than the rest of our body language. Read the full article or listen to the story on NPR.

Correctly interpreting emotional cues can be of crucial importance in understanding people and dealing with them effectively. Do we in practice rely too much on facial expressions? ¬†Can you identify a stance or pose that would express happiness even in the absence of a smile?… Read the rest

Fake it until you become it

It is estimated that well over half of face to face communication is non-verbal, ie body language. The usual breakdown is 55% body language, 38% tone of voice and 7% the actual words. Much of the information being communicated is emotional; we look to someone’s body language to judge if they are sexually attracted, frightened, shy or aggressive. If you’re prone to evolutionary speculations as I am, it makes sense that as pack animals one of the first things we need to establish is hierarchy, and that our body language is a good indication of where we think we should be in the pecking order.… Read the rest

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