April 17, 2015

spiritual-childChildren, Spirituality, and Happiness
Lisa Miller: A new study just published online in the Journal of Religion and Health by my lab at Columbia University shows that happiness and the character traits of grit and persistence go “hand in hand” with a deeper inner asset: spirituality, which this study measured as a deep spiritual connection with a sense of a sacred world. More generally my research of more than 20 years on adolescence, depression and spirituality shows more specifically how putting a priority on performance stunts development of a child’s inner life and the single most powerful protection against depression and suffering, the spiritual self. (TIME)

Vatican Climate Change Workshop
Called “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity,” the event will feature scientists and world religious leaders, aiming to build a global movement toward curbing climate change, according to the online program. Speakers will have “a special focus on the most vulnerable, to elevate the moral dimensions of protecting the environment in advance of the papal encyclical,” according to the program. (Rachel Zoll, Associated Press)

The Future of World Religions
The religious profile of the world is rapidly changing, driven primarily by differences in fertility rates and the size of youth populations among the world’s major religions, as well as by people switching faiths. Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the largest religious group, but Islam will grow faster than any other major religion. (Pew Research Center Religion & Public Life)


April 16, 2015

cathedral-science-religionDo Americans Believe Science and Religion Are in Conflict?
Jonathan Hill: There is more than meets the eye in survey questions about the relationship between science and religion. Although the results appear to have a straightforward reading at first, we need to recognize that changes in the wording and framing of these questions are tapping into different conceptions of science, religion, and the boundaries between the two. Social scientists would do well to move beyond simplistic survey questions and begin to investigate public conceptions of the boundaries and content of religion and science more intentionally. (Big Questions Online)

Are Scientific and Religious Explanations Incompatible?
Tania Lombrozo: For starters, I think we need to be clear about whether we’re talking about scientific and religious explanations per se, or about explanatory practices in science and religion. (13.7: Cosmos and Culture, NPR)

Analyzing Religious Metaphors in the Climate Change Debate
Dimitrinka Atanasova and Nelya Koteyko: These were chiefly used to describe climate scientists, diverting the focus on to the people rather than the analyses they carried out. The use of “conversion” and “recanting” to describe a transition from believing in climate change to being skeptical are what linguists call novel metaphors—regarded as especially persuasive because they are new to the reader. (New Scientist)


January 21, 2015

sotuScience in the State of the Union
President Barack Obama reiterated his commitment to addressing global warming in his annual address to Congress on January 20, describing the perils of rising temperatures as the greatest threat facing future generations. (Jeff Tollefson and Sara Reardon, Nature)

On Gender and Religious Belief
A big gender divide exists between men and women in their 40s in belief in God and life after death, a poll suggests. Of the British men surveyed, 54 percent said they were atheists or agnostics compared with only 34 percent of women. The study also showed that Muslims in the survey had the fewest doubts about the existence of God and the afterlife. The research involving more than 9,000 British people born in 1970 was analyzed at the University of Essex. (BBC News UK)

What If Heaven Is Not For Real?
Adam Frank: For many folks, what’s most terrifying about death is the ending of their own being. Each of us is, naturally, at the center of a remarkably vivid life. We’re center stage in our own dramas of love and hardship, victory and defeat. The idea that it could just end, that we could just end, evokes nothing short of horror for many people. As Woody Allen famously put it: “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering—and it’s all over much too soon.” But this kind of existential terror never made a lot of sense to me. (13.7: Cosmos and Culture, NPR)

The Edge’s Annual Question
What do you think about machines that think? (Edge)

MOVIES
Ex Machina

The best science fiction often tackles the oldest questions. At the heart of Ex Machina is one of our toughest intellectual knots, that of artificial consciousness. Is it possible to build a machine that is not only intelligent but also sentient: that has consciousness, not only of the world but also of its own self? Can we construct a modern-day Golem, that lumpen being of Jewish folklore which is shaped from unformed matter and can both serve humankind and turn against it in certain conditions? And if we could, what would happen to us? (Anil Seth, New Scientist)


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)

SLIDESHOW
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)

PODCAST
“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)

BOOKS
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)

EVENT
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.

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