Sunday, January 30, 2011

What Makes an Intellectual?

Via The Harmonist:
The modern intellectual engages in thought without end, for all purpose would be denounced as agenda or ideology. Restless before this convergence of freedom and uselessness, his occupation takes a critical turn and becomes the mere dissecting of all the interested buzz of the world of practical action. Because it lacks a sense of where thought might find fulfillment, the intellectual realm becomes not a place above the mundane world, but a parallel zone of criticism, where the beliefs of others may enter only to be seen through. The intellectual life reduces itself to functional nihilism, warding off despair only by means of attacking the latest ideology voiced beyond its doorstep.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction

From the New York Times:
Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.

Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.

"Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing," said Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston. And the effects could linger: "The worry is we're raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Cross-cultural reflections on the mirror self-recognition test

From The British Psychological Society:
The performance of young children on the 'mirror self-recognition test' varies hugely across cultures, a new study has shown. This is the test that involves surreptitiously putting a mark on a child's forehead and then seeing how they react when presented with their mirror image. Attempts by the child to touch or remove the mark are taken as a sign that he or she recognises themselves in the mirror. Studies in the West suggest that around half of all 18-month-olds pass the test, rising to 70 per cent by 24 months. Chimps, orangutans, dolphins and elephants have also been shown to pass the test, and there's recent debate over whether monkeys can too.

Inspired in part by past research conducted in Cameroon, in which children who failed the mirror test tended to be the most compliant and obedient, Broesch and her colleagues speculated that the performance in the non-Western, more interdependent cultures may have been affected by the fact that children in these societies are often discouraged from asking questions (they're expected to learn by watching). 'This is in sharp contrast with the independence and self-initiative that tends to be encouraged and nurtured in the Industrial West,' the researchers said. Another factor could be the non-Western children's relative lack of familiarity with mirrors.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Atheists, agnostics most knowledgeable about religion

From the Los Angeles Times:
American atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study, said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.

"These are people who thought a lot about religion," he said. "They're not indifferent. They care about it."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How becoming a Stoic can make you happy

The Stoics were interested in leading a life of "tranquility," meaning a life free of "anger, anxiety, fear, grief, and envy." To achieve such a life the Stoics developed, in the words of historian Paul Veyne, a "paradoxical recipe for happiness," that included the practice of "negative visualization." By frequently and vividly imagining worst-case scenarios -- the death of a child, financial catastrophe, ruined health -- the Stoics believed you would learn to appreciate what you have, and curb your insatiable appetite for more material goods, social status, and other objects of desire.

Reading the book, I had no trouble understanding how negative visualization could be an effective antidote against "hedonic adaptation." By imagining ourselves to be homeless, for instance, we can reset our desire for a more luxurious home and once again appreciate the roof over our head that we started taking for granted shortly after moving in.

Friday, September 3, 2010

God did not create the universe... for us

From Reuters:
In his latest book, he [Steven Hawking] said the 1992 discovery of a planet orbiting another star other than the Sun helped deconstruct the view of the father of physics Isaac Newton that the universe could not have arisen out of chaos but was created by God.

"That makes the coincidences of our planetary conditions -- the single Sun, the lucky combination of Earth-Sun distance and solar mass, far less remarkable, and far less compelling evidence that the Earth was carefully designed just to please us human beings," he writes.
The fact that God did not create the Earth "just to please us human begins" is not an argument against the existence of God.

God has his own life and he does not exist to please us. Rather, we exist to please him. He cannot be seen through eyes that seek to exploit and control him.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Flawed Reasoning is Incapable of Seeing Its Own Flaws

... phenomenon can be observed by anyone who cares to see it, those who have observed it have always laid blame for it on the limitations and the flaws of the systems, never on the limitations and the flaws of the human ability to think and to reason. For some un-reason, we feel that our ability to reason is limitless and infinitely perfectible. Nobody has voiced the idea that the exercise of our ability to think can reach the point of diminishing, then negative, returns. It is yet to be persuasively argued that the human propensity for abstract reasoning is a defect of breeding that leads to collective insanity. Perhaps the argument would have to be made recursively: The faculty in question is so flawed that it is incapable of seeing its own flaws.
Via Harmonist.