January 20, 2015

the-red-towerWe Find Surrealistic Art More Reassuring After We’ve Been Reminded of Our Mortality
It has long been argued that, in the face of existential threats, art can evoke a comforting aura of collective meaning and transcendence. That’s a fairly obvious dynamic with sacred works, but it can also be true of secular images that serve as poignant reminders of the beliefs that give one’s life meaning. Somewhat counter-intuitively, a research team led by psychologist Verena Graupmann of DePaul University reports surrealistic art can serve this same purpose. It argues that the disconcerting quality of such works allows viewers to liberate their thinking “from mundane limitations and fears” and forge “a connection with a more holistic level of meaning.” (Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard)

Personal Story Editing and Happiness
Researchers are studying whether the power of writing—and then rewriting—your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness. The concept is based on the idea that we all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it completely right. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health. (Tara Parker-Pope, Well, The New York Times)

Five Bizarre Rituals—and Why People Perform Them

Rituals can be found in every human group and society, yet they are remarkably difficult to define. One thing they all have in common is being outside the everyday—they do not make sense in terms of cause and effect. Another is that they serve as a badge of belonging and a kind of social glue to unite the people that perform them. This helps explain some strange characteristics associated with the most powerful rituals. (Kate Douglas, New Scientist)

“What Is It Like to Be a Psychopath?”

Cognitive neuroscientist Kent Kiehl discusses his research and personal experience working with “those without conscience.” Scott Barry Kaufman and Kent demystify the historically fascinating illness as it relates to criminal activity, genius, evil, flourishing, the brain, gender, and treatment. (The Psychology Podcast)

The Moral Arc

Today most people are sickened at the idea of merriment at an execution. (Many are disturbed that executions take place at all.) We recoil from other once-common practices, too: slavery, the mistreatment of children, animal cruelty. Such shifts in attitude or belief surely constitute a form of moral progress and suggest, for once, that civilization is advancing and not receding. How such progress came about is the fascinating question at the heart of The Moral Arc, an ambitious book by Michael Shermer, a prolific science writer and the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine. (Sally Satel, The Wall Street Journal)

Are We Real When We Are Online?

Today at 7 p.m.
Must we be virtuous in the virtual world? What is the nature of the connections we make when people don’t know the whole story? Join panelists Judith Donath of the Harvard Berkman Center, Rabbi Matt Soffer of Temple Israel, and the Rev. David Thom of Cambridge Roundtable for a lively discussion on the ethics of Internet anonymity. Moderated by Rabbi Geoff Mitelman of Sinai and Synapses, and presented by MIT Hillel and Sinai and Synapses.

Category: Field Notes


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