Without inner narratives we would be lost in a chaotic world

Robert A. Burton writes: We are all storytellers; we make sense out of the world by telling stories. And science is a great source of stories. Not so, you might argue. Science is an objective collection and interpretation of data. I completely agree. At the level of the study of purely physical phenomena, science is the only reliable method for establishing the facts of the world. But when we use

A common trait among mass killers: Hatred of women

The New York Times reports: A professed hatred of women is frequent among suspects in the long history of mass shootings in America. There was the massacre in 1991, when a man walked into Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Tex., and fatally shot 22 people in what at the time was the worst mass shooting in modern United States history. The gunman had recently written a letter to his neighbors calling

Some men avoid ‘green’ behavior because they don’t want to be perceived as gay

Tom Jacobs writes: There are many reasons people fail to act in environmentally friendly ways. Inertia, for some. Fatalism, for others. Then there’s the difficulty of fully grasping the long-term consequences of our actions. New research points to another, more surprising disincentive for going green: the fear that others might question our sexual orientation. As a 2016 study confirmed, environmentalism is widely perceived as feminine behavior. Even today, caring and

Gregory Bateson changed the way we think about changing ourselves

Tim Parks writes: [F]or Bateson the only worthy object of study appeared to be human behaviour, the kind of complex circumstances – the war, British academia, his family background – that had created the drama he was living through. What he would eventually do was to use the tools of observation and analysis that his father taught him, the zoologist’s attention to patterning and morphology, to bring a fresh approach

What does anthropology say about the emotional lives of others?

Andrew Beatty writes: In his classic thought experiment set out in ‘What Is An Emotion?’ (1884), William James, pioneer psychologist and brother of the novelist Henry, tried to imagine what would be left of emotion if you subtracted the bodily symptoms. What, for example, would grief be ‘without its tears, its suffocation of the heart, its pang in the breastbone? A feelingless cognition that certain circumstances are deplorable, and nothing

Life’s a blur — but we don’t see it that way

By Tim Vernimmen The image above, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” was painted in 1884 by French artist Georges Seurat. The black lines crisscrossing it are not the work of a toddler wreaking havoc with a permanent marker, but that of neuroscientist Robert Wurtz of the National Eye Institute in the US. Ten years ago, he asked a colleague to look at the painting while

We are more rational than we are told

Steven Poole writes: Humanity’s achievements and its self-perception are today at curious odds. We can put autonomous robots on Mars and genetically engineer malarial mosquitoes to be sterile, yet the news from popular psychology, neuroscience, economics and other fields is that we are not as rational as we like to assume. We are prey to a dismaying variety of hard-wired errors. We prefer winning to being right. At best, so

Yes, determinists, there is such a thing as free will

In an interview with Nautilus, Christian List says: I think the mistake in the standard arguments against free will lies in a failure to distinguish between different levels of description. If we are searching for free will at the fundamental physical level, we are simply searching in the wrong place. Let’s go through these arguments one by one. What do you say to those who consider the idea that humans

Social rejection doesn’t only hurt — it kills

Elitsa Dermendzhiyska writes: The psychologist Naomi Eisenberger describes herself as a mutt of a scientist. Never quite fitting the mould of the fields she studied – psychobiology, health psychology, neuroscience – she took an unusual early interest in what you might call the emotional life of the brain. As a doctoral student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Eisenberger found it curious that we often describe being rejected

Rich guys are most likely to have no idea what they’re talking about, study suggests

Christopher Ingraham writes: Researchers embarked on a novel study intent on measuring what a Princeton philosophy professor contends is one of the most salient features of our culture — the ability to play the expert without being one. Or, as the social scientists put it, to BS. Research by John Jerram and Nikki Shure of the University College of London, and Phil Parker of Australian Catholic University attempted to measure

Experiments that make quantum mechanics directly visible to the human eye

Rebecca Holmes writes: I spent a lot of time in the dark in graduate school. Not just because I was learning the field of quantum optics – where we usually deal with one particle of light or photon at a time – but because my research used my own eyes as a measurement tool. I was studying how humans perceive the smallest amounts of light, and I was the first

How culture works with evolution to produce human cognition

Cecilia Heyes writes: The conventional view, inside and outside academia, is that children are ‘wired’ to imitate. We are ‘Homo imitans’, animals born with a burning desire to copy the actions of others. Imitation is ‘in our genes’. Birds build nests, cats miaow, pigs are greedy, while humans possess an instinct to imitate. The idea that humans have cognitive instincts is a cornerstone of evolutionary psychology, pioneered by Leda Cosmides,

The interplay that brings together order and disorder

Alan Lightman writes: Planets, stars, life, even the direction of time all depend on disorder. And we human beings as well. Especially if, along with disorder, we group together such concepts as randomness, novelty, spontaneity, free will and unpredictability. We might put all of these ideas in the same psychic basket. Within the oppositional category of order, we can gather together notions such as systems, law, reason, rationality, pattern, predictability.

Can we get better at forgetting?

Benedict Carey writes: Whatever its other properties, memory is a reliable troublemaker, especially when navigating its stockpile of embarrassments and moral stumbles. Ten minutes into an important job interview and here come screenshots from a past disaster: the spilled latte, the painful attempt at humor. Two dates into a warming relationship and up come flashbacks of an earlier, abusive partner. The bad timing is one thing. But why can’t those

Good Samaritans aren’t the exception

Melanie McGrath writes: A few years ago, I was assaulted on a busy street in London by a man who came up behind me. Some details of the assault are hazy, others pin-sharp. I recall exactly what my attacker did, and that the assault was witnessed by rush-hour drivers sitting at a red light. If there were pedestrians nearby, I do not remember them, though the situation suggests that there

Teens have less face time with their friends – and are lonelier than ever

Teens aren’t necessarily less social, but the contours of their social lives have changed. pxhere By Jean Twenge, San Diego State University Ask a teen today how she communicates with her friends, and she’ll probably hold up her smartphone. Not that she actually calls her friends; it’s more likely that she texts them or messages them on social media. Today’s teens – the generation I call “iGen” that’s also called