“What is interesting, then, is that when you show calculating people what they expect — that you are ready to exploit their vulnerabilities for self-gain — there is no sign of surprise. When you respond to their selfish behavior with kindness, their brains immediately start planning how to best take advantage of you. They are, in fact, selfish jerks.”
“America simply never had a Werner Finck, and we certainly don’t have a Bassem Youssef, even though we’d like to think we do. It is far safer and easier to canonize Chaplin’s ballet performance [in The Great Dictator] while forgetting the unsafe, uneasy provocations of Finck [and Youssef]. Americans tolerate bullshit even when we know – we know – it’s bullshit. At the best of times, there is something luxurious about this.”
“Two years ago, a study of the differences between male and female brains caused a storm. The researchers, based at the University of Pennsylvania, claimed to have found that, from adolescence onwards, men’s brains have more connections within each hemisphere, whereas women’s brains have more cross-connections between the hemispheres.” Well, they’ve updated their findings.
“By one estimate, from 2001 to 2010, the annual rate of retractions by academic journals increased by a factor of 11 (adjusting for increases in published literature, and excluding articles by repeat offenders) . This surge raises an obvious question: Are retractions increasing because errors and other misdeeds are becoming more common, or because research is now scrutinized more closely?”
“In research, the p-value represents the odds that your finding is a fluke, a coincidence, nothing more than a chance occurrence. In p-values, as in golf, lower is better. … And yet it says almost nothing about the size or strength of a result.” If the results of research can always be a fluke, why bother? The problem lies in what we expect from science.
“Cyberspace is no longer an escape from the ‘real world’. It is now a force governing it via algorithms: recipe-like sets of instructions to solve problems. From Google search to OkCupid matchmaking, software orders and weights hundreds of variables into clean, simple interfaces, taking us from query to solution. Complex mathematics govern such answers, but it is hidden from plain view, thanks either to secrecy imposed by law, or to complexity outsiders cannot unravel.”
A team of Hungarian researchers scanned the brains of people who got high scores on a test for Machiavellianism (yes, this is a clinical term for a personality trait) while they played a game of trust. “They found that Machiavellians’ brains went into overdrive when they encountered a partner who exhibited signs of being fair and cooperative. Why? … Because the Machiavellians are immediately figuring out how to exploit the situation for their own gain.”
The Kickstarter campaign is as much about activism as it is about funding—an increasingly popular tactic in the architecture world. “You could say the whole idea of the project is an exercise in radical transparency. What the project does is make blatantly legible a carbon footprint that is invisible, and only exists in the form of numbers and specifics and news.” The point of the tower is to raise environmental awareness. By asking the public to contribute, the firm is putting it to the people to decide if they want a visual representation of pollution on the skyline. It also detaches the project from any corporate influence.
“What defines a person? Is it their memories? Their hobbies? … According to a new study, kindness, loyalty, and other traits of morality are what really constitute someone’s being. … Contrary to what generations of philosophers and psychologists have thought, memory loss doesn’t make someone seem like a different person.”
“Whether the internet is simply a new, more broadly accessible forum for old debates about the meaning of America, or whether it is facilitating a new kind of culture war altogether, is not entirely clear. Nor are online spaces any less susceptible to the imperatives of capitalism than any other part of American culture. But if the culture wars are over, no one told their most energetic partisans: on this new frontier, the battle rages on.”
“In translation, a discontent with reality expresses itself forcefully and most hauntingly by the longing to reproduce this one. The fabrication of a new, parallel reality flies in the face of the already created and as such is based on negation, and what should be the vacuum of a dream becomes continually replete as the source of dreams.”
Drumming ultimately has therapeutic value, providing the emotional and physical benefits collectively known as “drummer’s high,” an endorphin rush that can only be stimulated by playing music, not simply listening to it. In addition to increasing people’s pain thresholds, Oxford psychologists found, the endorphin-filled act of drumming increases positive emotions and leads people to work together in a more cooperative fashion.
“Researchers report that people consistently underestimate how many creative ideas they can come up with if they continue to work on a problem, rather than giving up in the wake of mediocre initial results. What’s more, the study finds the most creative ideas tend to arise after many others have been considered and discarded. If you give up too soon, chances are you’re not allowing your most promising notions to emerge.”
“Imagine a group of porcupines trying to survive a cold winter. They huddle together for warmth, only to then poke one another with their quills and withdraw. Schopenhauer wrote that human relationships are like this: Much as cold drives the animal porcupines together, ‘the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature.'”
This new climate is slowly being institutionalized, and is affecting what can be said in the classroom, even as a basis for discussion. During the 2014–15 school year, for instance, the deans and department chairs at the 10 University of California system schools were presented by administrators at faculty leader-training sessions with examples of microaggressions. The list of offensive statements included: “America is the land of opportunity” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”
“Though perhaps the facts of someone’s life, presented end to end, wouldn’t much resemble a narrative to the outside observer, the way people choose to tell the stories of their lives, to others and – crucially – to themselves, almost always does have a narrative arc. In telling the story of how you became who you are, and of who you’re on your way to becoming, the story itself becomes a part of who you are.”
“Admiration is seen as a noble sentiment – we admire people for admiring others, detecting, in their admiration, a suggestion of taste and humility. Envy, by contrast, is thought to be inherently bad … Is that really the case? Or can something frustrating and painful lead, almost in spite of itself, to positive ends – to even better ends, perhaps, than its more admired counterpart? Not all envy, we are learning, is created equal.”