Doubt and Uncertainty in Science and Religion

sinai-and-synapsesOn Wednesday, Sinai and Synapses, an organization that “seeks to bridge the religious and scientific worlds, offering people a worldview that is scientifically grounded and spiritually uplifting,” held its second seminar for a small group of scientists, clergy, and journalists. Karl Giberson, who has long written about the relationship between science and religion, and biologist Stuart Firestein, author of the book Ignorance, spoke about belief, knowledge, doubt, and uncertainty—and Sinai and Synapses has made videos of their presentations available on its website.


March 25, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft CorporationValue of Happiness
“For some individuals, happiness is not a supreme value,” psychologists from Victoria University of Wellington write. “In fact, some individuals across cultures are averse to various kinds of happiness for several different reasons.” Take people living in the Middle East, near Iran, for example. If things get too good for them, traditional superstitions state that the evil eye will be cast upon them, and they will fall into misfortune. Being happy—but not too happy—is therefore the safest route. (Rachel Nuwer, Smithsonian)

The Burden of Being the Favorite
Bradford Tuckfield: I’ve done some research with Berkeley Dietvorst, Katy Milkman, and Maurice Schweitzer at Wharton about a disadvantage that comes with being a favorite. This disadvantage comes from the asymmetric expectations people have for favorites and underdogs. Specifically, favorites are expected to win, so winning meets expectations and losing falls short of expectations, while underdogs are expected to lose, so losing meets expectations and winning exceeds expectations. In the face of loss, these different expectations can make a big difference. Favorites who are losing are desperate to avoid a complete loss, and may consider pursuing any strategy so that they don’t look like a loser. (Character & Context, Society for Personality and Social Psychology)

More on Violent Video Games and Aggression
Children who play violent video games may experience an increase in aggressive thoughts, which in turn, could boost their aggressive behavior, a controversial new study conducted in Singapore suggests. (Rachael Rettner, Live Science)

Special Report: Taxpayers Fund Creationism in the Classroom
Taxpayers in 14 states will bankroll nearly 1 billion dollars this year in tuition for private schools, including hundreds of religious schools that teach Earth is less than 10,000 years old, Adam and Eve strolled the garden with dinosaurs, and much of modern biology, geology, and cosmology is a web of lies. Now a major push to expand these voucher programs is under way from Alaska to New York, a development that seems certain to sharply increase the investment. (Stephanie Simon, POLITICO)

Q&A
Darren Aronofsky

He said the story of Noah illustrates a long tension between wickedness and forgiveness. “All of it’s a test,” he said. “We were trying to dramatize the decision God must have made when he decided to destroy all of humanity.” In an interview, Darren Aronofsky described where he got the idea for the film, how he plans to respond to critics, and why he focuses the film on themes of justice vs. mercy. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service)


March 24, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft CorporationPutting Your Hand on Your Heart Tends to Make You Appear and Act More Honestly
Something as simple as placing our hand over our heart, the researchers conclude, can trigger us to behave more morally. But at the same time, skilled liars could use this simple cue to manipulate others into believing that what they say is the hand-over-their-heart truth. (Rachel Nuwer, Smart News, Smithsonian)

How Authorities Get Subordinates to Commit War Crimes Through Orders and Obedience
Sophie Richardot found five distinct formulations of orders, each which provides, to some extent, a psychological cushion for subordinates to justify their actions. Regimes that are legally in power, like the United States military, tend to use ambiguous or partial orders, so authorities can avoid legal problems. Illegal regimes, on the other hand, rely on orders with code words, giving subordinates the illusion of choice, and fragmenting the orders to dispel individual blame. In an email, Richardot explains that her research shows how authorities use psychological tactics, knowingly or unknowingly, to convince subordinates to do terrible things. (Bettina Chang, Pacific Standard)

Catching Contagious Yawns
Previous studies suggest that contagious yawning has to do with how much empathy a person generally feels, and links have been drawn to a person’s intelligence, the time of day, and the weather. But a new study found that none of those things matter nearly as much as your age, and whether or not you are susceptible to yawning in the first place. (Douglas Main, Popular Science)

Body Language and Lying at the Airport
The Transportation Security Administration has spent some 1 billion dollars training thousands of “behavior detection officers” to look for facial expressions and other nonverbal clues that would identify terrorists. But critics say there’s no evidence that these efforts have stopped a single terrorist or accomplished much beyond inconveniencing tens of thousands of passengers a year. The T.S.A. seems to have fallen for a classic form of self-deception: the belief that you can read liars’ minds by watching their bodies. (John Tierney, The New York Times)

Creationists Want Airtime on “Cosmos”
Creationists are grumbling about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey. The show doesn’t contain creationist theories about the universe’s origins. On Thursday, Danny Falkner, of Answers in Genesis, took to The Janet Mefferd Show to make a plea for “balance.” (Sarah Gray, Salon)


March 21, 2014

Cornell UniversityExpressions of Fear and Disgust
Why do our eyes open wide when we feel fear or narrow to slits when we express disgust? According to new research, it has to do with survival. In a paper published Thursday in the journal Psychological Science, researchers concluded that expressions of fear and disgust altered the way human eyes gather and focus light. They argued that these changes were the result of evolutionary development and were intended to help humans survive, or at least detect, very different threats. (Monte Morin, Los Angeles Times)

Religion, Taboo Emotions, and Creativity
Wray Herbert: Psychological scientist Dov Cohen and his University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, graduate students, Emily Kim and Nathan Hudson, have been exploring the ways in which religious differences shape our mental processes and behavior. Specifically, they speculate that Protestants’ psychological defenses—how they cope with forbidden and threatening emotions—may lead to more novel and creative thinking. (The Blog, The Huffington Post)

Do You Brood?
Wray Herbert: Many events in our lives are ambiguous, and we all have this basic urge to resolve life’s ambiguities. But while most of us interpret such ambiguous experiences in a neutral or benign way, others are powerfully biased toward the negative. This bias in interpretation could play an important causal role in brooding and depression. (The Blog, The Huffington Post)

Violent Video Games, Avatars, and Racial Attitudes
Seeing the world through the eyes of another has long been seen as an effective antidote to prejudice. Long-held biases can be compellingly challenged when you walk even a short distance in someone else’s shoes. But disturbing new research suggests temporarily assuming another’s identity can actually have the opposite effect. It finds using avatars that conform to common racial stereotypes can intensify prejudicial attitudes. (Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard)

Meditation Room for Nets Games at Barclays Center
The room has been mostly ignored since its official opening last week, but a few fans have stopped to puzzle over it. (Andrew Keh, The New York Times)