Thursday, October 30, 2014

A rarely repentent foodie

#JohnLanchester makes in #TheNewYorker a rarely, almost incoceivably perceptive observation for a foodie: “If shopping and cooking really are the most consequential, most political acts in my life, perhaps what that means is that our sense of the political has shrunk too far—shrunk so much that it fits into our recycled-hemp shopping bags. If these tiny acts of consumer choice are the most meaningful actions in our lives, perhaps we aren’t thinking and acting on a sufficiently big scale. Imagine that you die and go to Heaven and stand in front of a jury made up of Thomas Jefferson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Your task would be to compose yourself, look them in the eye, and say, 'I was all about fresh, local, and seasonal.'” Not a happy thought – and it shoudn’t be. But what else is left for a humanitarian #intellectual, really?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

#PowertotheMeek, with some reservations

A little over a weak ago, a NYT opinion piece reported some studies according to which women tend to take better decisions under stress (“Are Women Better Decision Makers?”). Apparently, this advantage comes mostly from a tendency among men to take silly risks when stressed out. Under such conditions, women remain better attuned to others – and, apparently, to their own gut feelings. In one of the experiments, they performed better on a version of the famous Iowa Gambling Task. In fact, it could just be the case that it is individuals with better calibrated empathy and visceral sensitivity – as opposed to those detached and supremely cool – who make better decisions under stress. And, for some mysterious – mostly biological – reasons most of these individuals happen to be women. So much for the much vaunted superior self-confidence of men – which women are now often prodded to embrace in order to get ahead in the ever accelerating rat race.

Friday, October 24, 2014

#Cool and cooler

In the aftermath of the Ottawa attack, PM #StephenHarper made the obligatory utterances about maintaining Canadian resolve, liberties, etc. Substantively, his statement seemed well crafted. But he himself appeared removed and somehow untouched by all the drama that had unfolded – and after spending over 12 hours under lockdown in the parliament building. This, of course, could be seen as an expression of much needed, admirable, steadfast determination in the face of pure evil. Yet, I was reminded of #LewisMumford’s putdown of spineless #liberals at the start of WW II: “His first impulse in any situation is to get rid of emotion because it may cause him to go wrong. Unfortunately for his effort to achieve poise, a purely intellectual judgment, eviscerated of emotional reference, often causes wry miscalculations.Instead of priding himself on not being carried away by his emotions, the liberal should rather be a little alarmed because he often has no emotions that could, under any conceivable circumstances, carry him away.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

#Self-control for the masses

So what is the secret of effective self-control? According to psychologist David DeSteno (“A Feeling of Control: How America Can Finally Learn to Deal With Its Impulses”), the first step would be to recognize that relying on mere willpower or cognitive control may not be the best strategy. These resources are easily depleted, and we have an almost limitless capacity to invent rationalizations for various lapses. Instead, we need to recognize the role of pro-social emotions like compassion and gratitude. As he and others have demonstrated, such “moral sentiments” can increase one’s capacity to resist unhealthy temptations by 12 percent or perhaps more. And how can we acquire such affective aptitudes? According to DeSteno, it can be taught “fairly easily.”

Friday, October 10, 2014

Dumb and dumber?

Vaughan Bell has hacked into yet another loony book peddling pop neuroscience, Susan Greenfield’s Mind Change (“Head in the Clouds”). Obviously, Bell disagrees with about 98 percent of what the baroness has to say. So why does she hold on to a different, obviously untenable point of view? According to Bell, the famed (if controversial) neuroscientist is basically a half-wit who can barely function at the cognitive level of an average undergrad. In any case, she is less mentally competent than a first-year graduate student who has been warned in a research methods seminar not to confuse correlation with causation. Now this is one curious causal explanation.