Human sciences

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

Why human sciences studies are so hard to replicate

One of the touchstones of what makes an experiment a good experiment is that one be able to replicate it. The fact that something happened once tells us next to nothing, at least in scientific terms. But in the human sciences, replicating the results of a study can be tricky business. This article by Jay Van Bavel in the New York Times sheds some light on why.… Read the rest

“Living life forward” may require looking back

Memory’s contribution to knowledge seems fairly straightforward. To know something, you need to remember it, right? But the purposes of memory go far deeper than that. Not only does memory help understand our past, but it seems to play a vital role in how we understand, construct and cope with our present. This recent article in the New York Times focusses specifically on nostalgia, that bittersweet longing we all feel now and then for a past moment, period or place in our lives. Far from being self-indulgent or simply “living in the past,” nostalgia seems to provoke a number of positive physiological and psychological responses.… Read the rest

Can science help us to understand art?

Over the past 50 years science has made incredible advances in understanding the workings of the human mind. With technologies such as FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) we now can actually watch brain activity in real time, which puts us well ahead of the days when psychiatrists and philosophers were limited to extrapolating theories of human motivation from observing behaviour and asking questions of participants in studies. But can such technological advances. The following article in the New York Times explores the intersection of brain science and visual art.… Read the rest

Daniel Kahneman on bias, reason and the human sciences

In this recent interview with Nigel Warburton, pioneering psychology researcher Daniel Kahneman discusses how we think vs. how we think we think. We like to believe that we come to conclusions – about politics, for example – by applying our capacity for conscious reasoning. After all, we’re reasonable people, aren’t we? Kahneman explains the more common process of coming to conclusions subconsciously, largely emotionally, and then applying reason to ratify our decisions.… 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

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