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Javier E

ROUGH TYPE | Nicholas Carr's blog - 0 views

  • The smartphone has become a repository of the self, recording and dispensing the words, sounds and images that define what we think, what we experience and who we are. In a 2015 Gallup survey, more than half of iPhone owners said that they couldn’t imagine life without the device.
  • So what happens to our minds when we allow a single tool such dominion over our perception and cognition?
  • Not only do our phones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, but the effects persist even when we aren’t using the devices. As the brain grows dependent on the technology, the research suggests, the intellect weakens.
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  • he has seen mounting evidence that using a smartphone, or even hearing one ring or vibrate, produces a welter of distractions that makes it harder to concentrate on a difficult problem or job. The division of attention impedes reasoning and performance.
  • Another 2015 study, appearing in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, showed that when people hear their phone ring but are unable to answer it, their blood pressure spikes, their pulse quickens, and their problem-solving skills decline.
  • The researchers recruited 520 undergraduates at UCSD and gave them two standard tests of intellectual acuity. One test gauged “available working-memory capacity,” a measure of how fully a person’s mind can focus on a particular task. The second assessed “fluid intelligence,” a person’s ability to interpret and solve an unfamiliar problem. The only variable in the experiment was the location of the subjects’ smartphones. Some of the students were asked to place their phones in front of them on their desks; others were told to stow their phones in their pockets or handbags; still others were required to leave their phones in a different room.
  • In both tests, the subjects whose phones were in view posted the worst scores, while those who left their phones in a different room did the best. The students who kept their phones in their pockets or bags came out in the middle. As the phone’s proximity increased, brainpower decreased.
  • In subsequent interviews, nearly all the participants said that their phones hadn’t been a distraction—that they hadn’t even thought about the devices during the experiment. They remained oblivious even as the phones disrupted their focus and thinking.
  • In a 2013 study conducted at the University of Essex in England, 142 participants were divided into pairs and asked to converse in private for ten minutes. Half talked with a phone in the room, half without a phone present. The subjects were then given tests of affinity, trust and empathy. “The mere presence of mobile phones,” the researchers reported in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, “inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust” and diminished “the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners.”
  • the “integration of smartphones into daily life” appears to cause a “brain drain” that can diminish such vital mental skills as “learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity.”
  •  Smartphones have become so entangled with our existence that, even when we’re not peering or pawing at them, they tug at our attention, diverting precious cognitive resources. Just suppressing the desire to check our phone, which we do routinely and subconsciously throughout the day, can debilitate our thinking.
  • They found that students who didn’t bring their phones to the classroom scored a full letter-grade higher on a test of the material presented than those who brought their phones. It didn’t matter whether the students who had their phones used them or not: All of them scored equally poorly.
  • A study of nearly a hundred secondary schools in the U.K., published last year in the journal Labour Economics, found that when schools ban smartphones, students’ examination scores go up substantially, with the weakest students benefiting the most.
  • Social skills and relationships seem to suffer as well.
  • Because smartphones serve as constant reminders of all the friends we could be chatting with electronically, they pull at our minds when we’re talking with people in person, leaving our conversations shallower and less satisfying.
  • A second experiment conducted by the researchers produced similar results, while also revealing that the more heavily students relied on their phones in their everyday lives, the greater the cognitive penalty they suffered.
  •  Scientists have long known that the brain is a monitoring system as well as a thinking system. Its attention is drawn toward any object that is new, intriguing or otherwise striking — that has, in the psychological jargon, “salience.”
  • The evidence that our phones can get inside our heads so forcefully is unsettling. It suggests that our thoughts and feelings, far from being sequestered in our skulls, can be skewed by external forces we’re not even aware o
  • even in the history of captivating media, the smartphone stands out. It is an attention magnet unlike any our minds have had to grapple with before. Because the phone is packed with so many forms of information and so many useful and entertaining functions, it acts as what Dr. Ward calls a “supernormal stimulus,” one that can “hijack” attention whenever it is part of our surroundings — and it is always part of our surroundings.
  • Imagine combining a mailbox, a newspaper, a TV, a radio, a photo album, a public library and a boisterous party attended by everyone you know, and then compressing them all into a single, small, radiant object. That is what a smartphone represents to us. No wonder we can’t take our minds off it.
  • The irony of the smartphone is that the qualities that make it so appealing to us — its constant connection to the net, its multiplicity of apps, its responsiveness, its portability — are the very ones that give it such sway over our minds.
  • We need to give our minds more room to think. And that means putting some distance between ourselves and our phones.
  • Social media apps were designed to exploit “a vulnerability in human psychology,” former Facebook president Sean Parker said in a recent interview. “[We] understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”
  • A quarter-century ago, when we first started going online, we took it on faith that the web would make us smarter: More information would breed sharper thinking. We now know it’s not that simple.
  • As strange as it might seem, people’s knowledge and understanding may actually dwindle as gadgets grant them easier access to online data stores
  • In a seminal 2011 study published in Science, a team of researchers — led by the Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow and including the late Harvard memory expert Daniel Wegner — had a group of volunteers read forty brief, factual statements (such as “The space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry over Texas in Feb. 2003”) and then type the statements into a computer. Half the people were told that the machine would save what they typed; half were told that the statements would be erased.
  • Afterward, the researchers asked the subjects to write down as many of the statements as they could remember. Those who believed that the facts had been recorded in the computer demonstrated much weaker recall than those who assumed the facts wouldn’t be stored. Anticipating that information would be readily available in digital form seemed to reduce the mental effort that people made to remember it
  • The researchers dubbed this phenomenon the “Google effect” and noted its broad implications: “Because search engines are continually available to us, we may often be in a state of not feeling we need to encode the information internally. When we need it, we will look it up.”
  • as the pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James said in an 1892 lecture, “the art of remembering is the art of thinking.”
  • Only by encoding information in our biological memory can we weave the rich intellectual associations that form the essence of personal knowledge and give rise to critical and conceptual thinking. No matter how much information swirls around us, the less well-stocked our memory, the less we have to think with.
  • As Dr. Wegner and Dr. Ward explained in a 2013 Scientific American article, when people call up information through their devices, they often end up suffering from delusions of intelligence. They feel as though “their own mental capacities” had generated the information, not their devices. “The advent of the ‘information age’ seems to have created a generation of people who feel they know more than ever before,” the scholars concluded, even though “they may know ever less about the world around them.”
  • That insight sheds light on society’s current gullibility crisis, in which people are all too quick to credit lies and half-truths spread through social media. If your phone has sapped your powers of discernment, you’ll believe anything it tells you.
  • Data, the novelist and critic Cynthia Ozick once wrote, is “memory without history.” Her observation points to the problem with allowing smartphones to commandeer our brains
  • When we constrict our capacity for reasoning and recall or transfer those skills to a gadget, we sacrifice our ability to turn information into knowledge. We get the data but lose the meaning
  • Phone makers like Apple and Samsung and app writers like Facebook, Google and Snap design their products to consume as much of our attention as possible during every one of our waking hours
  • Harvard Business School professor emerita Shoshana Zuboff argues in her new book that the Valley’s wealth and power are predicated on an insidious, essentially pathological form of private enterprise—what she calls “surveillance capitalism.” Pioneered by Google, perfected by Facebook, and now spreading throughout the economy, surveillance capitalism uses human life as its raw material. Our everyday experiences, distilled into data, have become a privately-owned business asset used to predict and mold our behavior, whether we’re shopping or socializing, working or voting.
  • By reengineering the economy and society to their own benefit, Google and Facebook are perverting capitalism in a way that undermines personal freedom and corrodes democracy.
  • Under the Fordist model of mass production and consumption that prevailed for much of the twentieth century, industrial capitalism achieved a relatively benign balance among the contending interests of business owners, workers, and consumers. Enlightened executives understood that good pay and decent working conditions would ensure a prosperous middle class eager to buy the goods and services their companies produced. It was the product itself — made by workers, sold by companies, bought by consumers — that tied the interests of capitalism’s participants together. Economic and social equilibrium was negotiated through the product.
  • By removing the tangible product from the center of commerce, surveillance capitalism upsets the equilibrium. Whenever we use free apps and online services, it’s often said, we become the products, our attention harvested and sold to advertisers
  • this truism gets it wrong. Surveillance capitalism’s real products, vaporous but immensely valuable, are predictions about our future behavior — what we’ll look at, where we’ll go, what we’ll buy, what opinions we’ll hold — that internet companies derive from our personal data and sell to businesses, political operatives, and other bidders.
  • Unlike financial derivatives, which they in some ways resemble, these new data derivatives draw their value, parasite-like, from human experience.To the Googles and Facebooks of the world, we are neither the customer nor the product. We are the source of what Silicon Valley technologists call “data exhaust” — the informational byproducts of online activity that become the inputs to prediction algorithms
  • internet companies operate in what Zuboff terms “extreme structural independence from people.” When databases displace goods as the engine of the economy, our own interests, as consumers but also as citizens, cease to be part of the negotiation. We are no longer one of the forces guiding the market’s invisible hand. We are the objects of surveillance and control.
Javier E

"In Action How Like an Angel, in Apprehension How Like a God!" Ada Palmer's Too Like Th... - 0 views

  • Homer and de Sade, Voltaire and Samuel Delany, Diderot and Alfred Bester: Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning wears more than two thousand years of influences on its sleeve. It wears them lightly. From the author of Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance comes a devastatingly accomplished speculative fiction debut, an arch and playful narrative that combines the conscious irreverence of the best of 18th-century philosophy with the high-octane heat of an epic science fiction thriller.
  • it’s self-aware, wickedly elegant, and intoxicatingly intelligent.
  • But what, you might ask me, upon hearing this superlative praise, is Too Like The Lightning actually about? People, politics, society, philosophy, theology, and what you’ll destroy to save your world—or a better one.
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  • So many excellently well-drawn characters. Such a sly and clever sideways interrogation of our categories of gender. Such an elegantly blasphemous—though one might say iconoclastic and be just as accurate—approach to religion and society. Too Like The Lightning isn’t a didactic novel. Instead, it presents certain things—certain themes—and invites engagement. Invites argument, without being argumentative. Let me argue with your philosophy and philosophers, your histories, your world!
  • It’s resolutely its own thing: one part theology to nine parts political and personal thriller.
  • Liz Bourke describes herself as a cranky person who reads books. She holds a doctorate in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin.
Javier E

Opinion | Kindness Is a Skill - The New York Times - 0 views

  • I’ve been searching for practical tips on how we can be less beastly to one another, especially when we’re negotiating disagreements. I’ve found some excellent guides — like “Negotiating the Nonnegotiable” by Daniel Shapiro, “The Rough Patch” by Daphne de Marneffe and “The Art of Gathering” by Priya Parker
  • not entirely useless tips.
  • The rule of how many. When hosting a meeting, invite six people to your gathering if you want intimate conversation. Invite 12 if you want diversity of viewpoints. Invite 120 if you want to create a larger organism that can move as one.
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  • Tough conversations are usually about tribal identity
  • The best icebreaker. To start such a gathering, have all participants go around the room and describe how they got their names.
  • Scramble the chairs. If you invite disagreeable people over for a conversation, clear the meeting room, except jumble the chairs in a big pile in the middle. This will force everybody to do a cooperative physical activity, untangling the chairs, before anything else. Plus, you’ll scramble the power dynamics depending on where people choose to place their chairs.
  • You rigidify tribal identity every time you make a request that contains a hint of blame. You make that identity less inflamed every time you lead with weakness: “I know I’m a piece of work, but I’m trying to do better, and I hope you can help me out.” When tribal differences are intractable, the best solution is to create a third tribe that encompasses both of the warring two
  • The all-purpose question. “Tell me about the challenges you are facing?” Use it when there seems to be nothing else to say.
  • Never have a meeting around a problem. If you have a problem conversation you are looking backward and assigning blame
  • Instead, have a possibility conversation. Discuss how you can use the assets you have together to create something good.
  • Your narrative will never win
  • Get over it. Find a new narrative.
  • Never threaten autonomy
  • People like to feel that their options are open. If you give them an order — “Calm down” or “Be reasonable” — all that they will hear is that you’re threatening their freedom of maneuver, and they will shut down
  • Attune to the process. When you’re in the middle of an emotional disagreement, shift attention to the process of how you are having the conversatio
  • Agree on something. If you’re in the middle of an intractable disagreement, find some preliminary thing you can agree on so you can at least take a step into a world of shared reality
  • Gratitude. People who are good at relationships are always scanning the scene for things they can thank somebody for
  • Never sulk or withdraw. If somebody doesn’t understand you, not communicating with her won’t help her understand you better.
  • Reject either/or. The human mind has a tendency to reduce problems to either we do this or we do that
  • There are usually many more options neither side has imagined yet.
  • Presume the good. Any disagreement will go better if you assume the other person has good intentions and if you demonstrate how much you over all admire him or her.
Javier E

YouTube to Curb Its Referrals to Conspiracy Theories and Other False Claims - WSJ - 0 views

  • Videos that could “misinform users in harmful ways,” such as ones that claim the Earth isn’t round or question the actors behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, will no longer be recommended with as much prominence, the Alphabet Inc. GOOGL 1.62% unit said in a blog post Friday.
  • Though the factors underpinning YouTube’s recommendation system are largely unknown, its influence is apparent in the numbers. YouTube has said its recommendations drive more than 70% of users’ viewing time, and that it recommends more than 200 million videos daily on its home page alone.
Javier E

At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-P... - 0 views

  • The phenomenologists’ leading thinker, Edmund Husserl, provided a rallying cry, ‘To the things themselves!’ It meant: don’t waste time on the interpretations that accrue upon things, and especially don’t waste time wondering whether the things are real. Just look at this that’s presenting itself to you, whatever this may be, and describe it as precisely as possible.
  • You might think you have defined me by some label, but you are wrong, for I am always a work in progress. I create myself constantly through action, and this is so fundamental to my human condition that, for Sartre, it is the human condition, from the moment of first consciousness to the moment when death wipes it out. I am my own freedom: no more, no less.
  • Sartre wrote like a novelist — not surprisingly, since he was one. In his novels, short stories and plays as well as in his philosophical treatises, he wrote about the physical sensations of the world and the structures and moods of human life. Above all, he wrote about one big subject: what it meant to be free. Freedom, for him, lay at the heart of all human experience, and this set humans apart from all other kinds of object.
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  • Sartre listened to his problem and said simply, ‘You are free, therefore choose — that is to say, invent.’ No signs are vouchsafed in this world, he said. None of the old authorities can relieve you of the burden of freedom. You can weigh up moral or practical considerations as carefully as you like, but ultimately you must take the plunge and do something, and it’s up to you what that something is.
  • Even if the situation is unbearable — perhaps you are facing execution, or sitting in a Gestapo prison, or about to fall off a cliff — you are still free to decide what to make of it in mind and deed. Starting from where you are now, you choose. And in choosing, you also choose who you will be.
  • The war had made people realise that they and their fellow humans were capable of departing entirely from civilised norms; no wonder the idea of a fixed human nature seemed questionable.
  • If this sounds difficult and unnerving, it’s because it is. Sartre does not deny that the need to keep making decisions brings constant anxiety. He heightens this anxiety by pointing out that what you do really matters. You should make your choices as though you were choosing on behalf of the whole of humanity, taking the entire burden of responsibility for how the human race behaves. If you avoid this responsibility by fooling yourself that you are the victim of circumstance or of someone else’s bad advice, you are failing to meet the demands of human life and choosing a fake existence, cut off from your own ‘authenticity’.
  • Along with the terrifying side of this comes a great promise: Sartre’s existentialism implies that it is possible to be authentic and free, as long as you keep up the effort.
  • almost all agreed that it was, as an article in Les nouvelles littéraires phrased it, a ‘sickening mixture of philosophic pretentiousness, equivocal dreams, physiological technicalities, morbid tastes and hesitant eroticism … an introspective embryo that one would take distinct pleasure in crushing’.
  • he offered a philosophy designed for a species that had just scared the hell out of itself, but that finally felt ready to grow up and take responsibility.
  • In this rebellious world, just as with the Parisian bohemians and Dadaists in earlier generations, everything that was dangerous and provocative was good, and everything that was nice or bourgeois was bad.
  • Such interweaving of ideas and life had a long pedigree, although the existentialists gave it a new twist. Stoic and Epicurean thinkers in the classical world had practised philosophy as a means of living well, rather than of seeking knowledge or wisdom for their own sake. By reflecting on life’s vagaries in philosophical ways, they believed they could become more resilient, more able to rise above circumstances, and better equipped to manage grief, fear, anger, disappointment or anxiety.
  • In the tradition they passed on, philosophy is neither a pure intellectual pursuit nor a collection of cheap self-help tricks, but a discipline for flourishing and living a fully human, responsible life.
  • For Kierkegaard, Descartes had things back to front. In his own view, human existence comes first: it is the starting point for everything we do, not the result of a logical deduction. My existence is active: I live it and choose it, and this precedes any statement I can make about myself.
  • Studying our own moral genealogy cannot help us to escape or transcend ourselves. But it can enable us to see our illusions more clearly and lead a more vital, assertive existence.
  • What was needed, he felt, was not high moral or theological ideals, but a deeply critical form of cultural history or ‘genealogy’ that would uncover the reasons why we humans are as we are, and how we came to be that way. For him, all philosophy could even be redefined as a form of psychology, or history.
  • For those oppressed on grounds of race or class, or for those fighting against colonialism, existentialism offered a change of perspective — literally, as Sartre proposed that all situations be judged according to how they appeared in the eyes of those most oppressed, or those whose suffering was greatest.
  • She observed that we need not expect moral philosophers to ‘live by’ their ideas in a simplistic way, as if they were following a set of rules. But we can expect them to show how their ideas are lived in. We should be able to look in through the windows of a philosophy, as it were, and see how people occupy it, how they move about and how they conduct themselves.
  • the existentialists inhabited their historical and personal world, as they inhabited their ideas. This notion of ‘inhabited philosophy’ is one I’ve borrowed from the English philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch, who wrote the first full-length book on Sartre and was an early adopter of existentialism
  • What is existentialism anyway?
  • An existentialist who is also phenomenological provides no easy rules for dealing with this condition, but instead concentrates on describing lived experience as it presents itself. — By describing experience well, he or she hopes to understand this existence and awaken us to ways of living more authentic lives.
  • Existentialists concern themselves with individual, concrete human existence. — They consider human existence different from the kind of being other things have. Other entities are what they are, but as a human I am whatever I choose to make of myself at every moment. I am free — — and therefore I’m responsible for everything I do, a dizzying fact which causes — an anxiety inseparable from human existence itself.
  • On the other hand, I am only free within situations, which can include factors in my own biology and psychology as well as physical, historical and social variables of the world into which I have been thrown. — Despite the limitations, I always want more: I am passionately involved in personal projects of all kinds. — Human existence is thus ambiguous: at once boxed in by borders and yet transcendent and exhilarating. —
  • The first part of this is straightforward: a phenomenologist’s job is to describe. This is the activity that Husserl kept reminding his students to do. It meant stripping away distractions, habits, clichés of thought, presumptions and received ideas, in order to return our attention to what he called the ‘things themselves’. We must fix our beady gaze on them and capture them exactly as they appear, rather than as we think they are supposed to be.
  • Husserl therefore says that, to phenomenologically describe a cup of coffee, I should set aside both the abstract suppositions and any intrusive emotional associations. Then I can concentrate on the dark, fragrant, rich phenomenon in front of me now. This ‘setting aside’ or ‘bracketing out’ of speculative add-ons Husserl called epoché — a term borrowed from the ancient Sceptics,
  • The point about rigour is crucial; it brings us back to the first half of the command to describe phenomena. A phenomenologist cannot get away with listening to a piece of music and saying, ‘How lovely!’ He or she must ask: is it plaintive? is it dignified? is it colossal and sublime? The point is to keep coming back to the ‘things themselves’ — phenomena stripped of their conceptual baggage — so as to bail out weak or extraneous material and get to the heart of the experience.
  • Husserlian ‘bracketing out’ or epoché allows the phenomenologist to temporarily ignore the question ‘But is it real?’, in order to ask how a person experiences his or her world. Phenomenology gives a formal mode of access to human experience. It lets philosophers talk about life more or less as non-philosophers do, while still being able to tell themselves they are being methodical and rigorous.
  • Besides claiming to transform the way we think about reality, phenomenologists promised to change how we think about ourselves. They believed that we should not try to find out what the human mind is, as if it were some kind of substance. Instead, we should consider what it does, and how it grasps its experiences.
  • For Brentano, this reaching towards objects is what our minds do all the time. Our thoughts are invariably of or about something, he wrote: in love, something is loved, in hatred, something is hated, in judgement, something is affirmed or denied. Even when I imagine an object that isn’t there, my mental structure is still one of ‘about-ness’ or ‘of-ness’.
  • Except in deepest sleep, my mind is always engaged in this aboutness: it has ‘intentionality’. Having taken the germ of this from Brentano, Husserl made it central to his whole philosophy.
  • Husserl saw in the idea of intentionality a way to sidestep two great unsolved puzzles of philosophical history: the question of what objects ‘really’ are, and the question of what the mind ‘really’ is. By doing the epoché and bracketing out all consideration of reality from both topics, one is freed to concentrate on the relationship in the middle. One can apply one’s descriptive energies to the endless dance of intentionality that takes place in our lives: the whirl of our minds as they seize their intended phenomena one after the other and whisk them around the floor,
  • Understood in this way, the mind hardly is anything at all: it is its aboutness. This makes the human mind (and possibly some animal minds) different from any other naturally occurring entity. Nothing else can be as thoroughly about or of things as the mind is:
  • Some Eastern meditation techniques aim to still this scurrying creature, but the extreme difficulty of this shows how unnatural it is to be mentally inert. Left to itself, the mind reaches out in all directions as long as it is awake — and even carries on doing it in the dreaming phase of its sleep.
  • a mind that is experiencing nothing, imagining nothing, or speculating about nothing can hardly be said to be a mind at all.
  • Three simple ideas — description, phenomenon, intentionality — provided enough inspiration to keep roomfuls of Husserlian assistants busy in Freiburg for decades. With all of human existence awaiting their attention, how could they ever run out of things to do?
  • For Sartre, this gives the mind an immense freedom. If we are nothing but what we think about, then no predefined ‘inner nature’ can hold us back. We are protean.
  • way of this interpretation. Real, not real; inside, outside; what difference did it make? Reflecting on this, Husserl began turning his phenomenology into a branch of ‘idealism’ — the philosophical tradition which denied external reality and defined everything as a kind of private hallucination.
  • For Sartre, if we try to shut ourselves up inside our own minds, ‘in a nice warm room with the shutters closed’, we cease to exist. We have no cosy home: being out on the dusty road is the very definition of what we are.
  • One might think that, if Heidegger had anything worth saying, he could have communicated it in ordinary language. The fact is that he does not want to be ordinary, and he may not even want to communicate in the usual sense. He wants to make the familiar obscure, and to vex us. George Steiner thought that Heidegger’s purpose was less to be understood than to be experienced through a ‘felt strangeness’.
  • He takes Dasein in its most ordinary moments, then talks about it in the most innovative way he can. For Heidegger, Dasein’s everyday Being is right here: it is Being-in-the-world, or In-der-Welt-sein. The main feature of Dasein’s everyday Being-in-the-world right here is that it is usually busy doing something.
  • Thus, for Heidegger, all Being-in-the-world is also a ‘Being-with’ or Mitsein. We cohabit with others in a ‘with-world’, or Mitwelt. The old philosophical problem of how we prove the existence of other minds has now vanished. Dasein swims in the with-world long before it wonders about other minds.
  • Sometimes the best-educated people were those least inclined to take the Nazis seriously, dismissing them as too absurd to last. Karl Jaspers was one of those who made this mistake, as he later recalled, and Beauvoir observed similar dismissive attitudes among the French students in Berlin.
  • In any case, most of those who disagreed with Hitler’s ideology soon learned to keep their view to themselves. If a Nazi parade passed on the street, they would either slip out of view or give the obligatory salute like everyone else, telling themselves that the gesture meant nothing if they did not believe in it. As the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim later wrote of this period, few people will risk their life for such a small thing as raising an arm — yet that is how one’s powers of resistance are eroded away, and eventually one’s responsibility and integrity go with them.
  • for Arendt, if you do not respond adequately when the times demand it, you show a lack of imagination and attention that is as dangerous as deliberately committing an abuse. It amounts to disobeying the one command she had absorbed from Heidegger in those Marburg days: Think!
  • ‘Everything takes place under a kind of anaesthesia. Objectively dreadful events produce a thin, puny emotional response. Murders are committed like schoolboy pranks. Humiliation and moral decay are accepted like minor incidents.’ Haffner thought modernity itself was partly to blame: people had become yoked to their habits and to mass media, forgetting to stop and think, or to disrupt their routines long enough to question what was going on.
  • Heidegger’s former lover and student Hannah Arendt would argue, in her 1951 study The Origins of Totalitarianism, that totalitarian movements thrived at least partly because of this fragmentation in modern lives, which made people more vulnerable to being swept away by demagogues. Elsewhere, she coined the phrase ‘the banality of evil’ to describe the most extreme failures of personal moral awareness.
  • His communicative ideal fed into a whole theory of history: he traced all civilisation to an ‘Axial Period’ in the fifth century BC, during which philosophy and culture exploded simultaneously in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, as though a great bubble of minds had erupted from the earth’s surface. ‘True philosophy needs communion to come into existence,’ he wrote, and added, ‘Uncommunicativeness in a philosopher is virtually a criterion of the untruth of his thinking.’
  • The idea of being called to authenticity became a major theme in later existentialism, the call being interpreted as saying something like ‘Be yourself!’, as opposed to being phony. For Heidegger, the call is more fundamental than that. It is a call to take up a self that you didn’t know you had: to wake up to your Being. Moreover, it is a call to action. It requires you to do something: to take a decision of some sort.
  • Being and Time contained at least one big idea that should have been of use in resisting totalitarianism. Dasein, Heidegger wrote there, tends to fall under the sway of something called das Man or ‘the they’ — an impersonal entity that robs us of the freedom to think for ourselves. To live authentically requires resisting or outwitting this influence, but this is not easy because das Man is so nebulous. Man in German does not mean ‘man’ as in English (that’s der Mann), but a neutral abstraction, something like ‘one’ in the English phrase ‘one doesn’t do that’,
  • for Heidegger, das Man is me. It is everywhere and nowhere; it is nothing definite, but each of us is it. As with Being, it is so ubiquitous that it is difficult to see. If I am not careful, however, das Man takes over the important decisions that should be my own. It drains away my responsibility or ‘answerability’. As Arendt might put it, we slip into banality, failing to think.
  • Jaspers focused on what he called Grenzsituationen — border situations, or limit situations. These are the moments when one finds oneself constrained or boxed in by what is happening, but at the same time pushed by these events towards the limits or outer edge of normal experience. For example, you might have to make a life-or-death choice, or something might remind you suddenly of your mortality,
  • Jaspers’ interest in border situations probably had much to do with his own early confrontation with mortality. From childhood, he had suffered from a heart condition so severe that he always expected to die at any moment. He also had emphysema, which forced him to speak slowly, taking long pauses to catch his breath. Both illnesses meant that he had to budget his energies with care in order to get his work done without endangering his life.
  • If I am to resist das Man, I must become answerable to the call of my ‘voice of conscience’. This call does not come from God, as a traditional Christian definition of the voice of conscience might suppose. It comes from a truly existentialist source: my own authentic self. Alas, this voice is one I do not recognise and may not hear, because it is not the voice of my habitual ‘they-self’. It is an alien or uncanny version of my usual voice. I am familiar with my they-self, but not with my unalienated voice — so, in a weird twist, my real voice is the one that sounds strangest to me.
  • Marcel developed a strongly theological branch of existentialism. His faith distanced him from both Sartre and Heidegger, but he shared a sense of how history makes demands on individuals. In his essay ‘On the Ontological Mystery’, written in 1932 and published in the fateful year of 1933, Marcel wrote of the human tendency to become stuck in habits, received ideas, and a narrow-minded attachment to possessions and familiar scenes. Instead, he urged his readers to develop a capacity for remaining ‘available’ to situations as they arise. Similar ideas of disponibilité or availability had been explored by other writers,
  • Marcel made it his central existential imperative. He was aware of how rare and difficult it was. Most people fall into what he calls ‘crispation’: a tensed, encrusted shape in life — ‘as though each one of us secreted a kind of shell which gradually hardened and imprisoned him’.
  • Bettelheim later observed that, under Nazism, only a few people realised at once that life could not continue unaltered: these were the ones who got away quickly. Bettelheim himself was not among them. Caught in Austria when Hitler annexed it, he was sent first to Dachau and then to Buchenwald, but was then released in a mass amnesty to celebrate Hitler’s birthday in 1939 — an extraordinary reprieve, after which he left at once for America.
  • we are used to reading philosophy as offering a universal message for all times and places — or at least as aiming to do so. But Heidegger disliked the notion of universal truths or universal humanity, which he considered a fantasy. For him, Dasein is not defined by shared faculties of reason and understanding, as the Enlightenment philosophers thought. Still less is it defined by any kind of transcendent eternal soul, as in religious tradition. We do not exist on a higher, eternal plane at all. Dasein’s Being is local: it has a historical situation, and is constituted in time and place.
  • For Marcel, learning to stay open to reality in this way is the philosopher’s prime job. Everyone can do it, but the philosopher is the one who is called on above all to stay awake, so as to be the first to sound the alarm if something seems wrong.
  • Second, it also means understanding that we are historical beings, and grasping the demands our particular historical situation is making on us. In what Heidegger calls ‘anticipatory resoluteness’, Dasein discovers ‘that its uttermost possibility lies in giving itself up’. At that moment, through Being-towards-death and resoluteness in facing up to one’s time, one is freed from the they-self and attains one’s true, authentic self.
  • If we are temporal beings by our very nature, then authentic existence means accepting, first, that we are finite and mortal. We will die: this all-important realisation is what Heidegger calls authentic ‘Being-towards-Death’, and it is fundamental to his philosophy.
  • Hannah Arendt, instead, left early on: she had the benefit of a powerful warning. Just after the Nazi takeover, in spring 1933, she had been arrested while researching materials on anti-Semitism for the German Zionist Organisation at Berlin’s Prussian State Library. Her apartment was searched; both she and her mother were locked up briefly, then released. They fled, without stopping to arrange travel documents. They crossed to Czechoslovakia (then still safe) by a method that sounds almost too fabulous to be true: a sympathetic German family on the border had a house with its front door in Germany and its back door in Czechoslovakia. The family would invite people for dinner, then let them leave through the back door at night.
  • As Sartre argued in his 1943 review of The Stranger, basic phenomenological principles show that experience comes to us already charged with significance. A piano sonata is a melancholy evocation of longing. If I watch a soccer match, I see it as a soccer match, not as a meaningless scene in which a number of people run around taking turns to apply their lower limbs to a spherical object. If the latter is what I’m seeing, then I am not watching some more essential, truer version of soccer; I am failing to watch it properly as soccer at all.
  • Much as they liked Camus personally, neither Sartre nor Beauvoir accepted his vision of absurdity. For them, life is not absurd, even when viewed on a cosmic scale, and nothing can be gained by saying it is. Life for them is full of real meaning, although that meaning emerges differently for each of us.
  • For Sartre, we show bad faith whenever we portray ourselves as passive creations of our race, class, job, history, nation, family, heredity, childhood influences, events, or even hidden drives in our subconscious which we claim are out of our control. It is not that such factors are unimportant: class and race, in particular, he acknowledged as powerful forces in people’s lives, and Simone de Beauvoir would soon add gender to that list.
  • Sartre takes his argument to an extreme point by asserting that even war, imprisonment or the prospect of imminent death cannot take away my existential freedom. They form part of my ‘situation’, and this may be an extreme and intolerable situation, but it still provides only a context for whatever I choose to do next. If I am about to die, I can decide how to face that death. Sartre here resurrects the ancient Stoic idea that I may not choose what happens to me, but I can choose what to make of it, spiritually speaking.
  • But the Stoics cultivated indifference in the face of terrible events, whereas Sartre thought we should remain passionately, even furiously engaged with what happens to us and with what we can achieve. We should not expect freedom to be anything less than fiendishly difficult.
  • Freedom does not mean entirely unconstrained movement, and it certainly does not mean acting randomly. We often mistake the very things that enable us to be free — context, meaning, facticity, situation, a general direction in our lives — for things that define us and take away our freedom. It is only with all of these that we can be free in a real sense.
  • Nor did he mean that privileged groups have the right to pontificate to the poor and downtrodden about the need to ‘take responsibility’ for themselves. That would be a grotesque misreading of Sartre’s point, since his sympathy in any encounter always lay with the more oppressed side. But for each of us — for me — to be in good faith means not making excuses for myself.
  • Camus’ novel gives us a deliberately understated vision of heroism and decisive action compared to those of Sartre and Beauvoir. One can only do so much. It can look like defeatism, but it shows a more realistic perception of what it takes to actually accomplish difficult tasks like liberating one’s country.
  • Camus just kept returning to his core principle: no torture, no killing — at least not with state approval. Beauvoir and Sartre believed they were taking a more subtle and more realistic view. If asked why a couple of innocuous philosophers had suddenly become so harsh, they would have said it was because the war had changed them in profound ways. It had shown them that one’s duties to humanity could be more complicated than they seemed. ‘The war really divided my life in two,’ Sartre said later.
  • Poets and artists ‘let things be’, but they also let things come out and show themselves. They help to ease things into ‘unconcealment’ (Unverborgenheit), which is Heidegger’s rendition of the Greek term alētheia, usually translated as ‘truth’. This is a deeper kind of truth than the mere correspondence of a statement to reality, as when we say ‘The cat is on the mat’ and point to a mat with a cat on it. Long before we can do this, both cat and mat must ‘stand forth out of concealedness’. They must un-hide themselves.
  • Heidegger does not use the word ‘consciousness’ here because — as with his earlier work — he is trying to make us think in a radically different way about ourselves. We are not to think of the mind as an empty cavern, or as a container filled with representations of things. We are not even supposed to think of it as firing off arrows of intentional ‘aboutness’, as in the earlier phenomenology of Brentano. Instead, Heidegger draws us into the depths of his Schwarzwald, and asks us to imagine a gap with sunlight filtering in. We remain in the forest, but we provide a relatively open spot where other beings can bask for a moment. If we did not do this, everything would remain in the thickets, hidden even to itself.
  • The astronomer Carl Sagan began his 1980 television series Cosmos by saying that human beings, though made of the same stuff as the stars, are conscious and are therefore ‘a way for the cosmos to know itself’. Merleau-Ponty similarly quoted his favourite painter Cézanne as saying, ‘The landscape thinks itself in me, and I am its consciousness.’ This is something like what Heidegger thinks humanity contributes to the earth. We are not made of spiritual nothingness; we are part of Being, but we also bring something unique with us. It is not much: a little open space, perhaps with a path and a bench like the one the young Heidegger used to sit on to do his homework. But through us, the miracle occurs.
  • Beauty aside, Heidegger’s late writing can also be troubling, with its increasingly mystical notion of what it is to be human. If one speaks of a human being mainly as an open space or a clearing, or a means of ‘letting beings be’ and dwelling poetically on the earth, then one doesn’t seem to be talking about any recognisable person. The old Dasein has become less human than ever. It is now a forestry feature.
  • Even today, Jaspers, the dedicated communicator, is far less widely read than Heidegger, who has influenced architects, social theorists, critics, psychologists, artists, film-makers, environmental activists, and innumerable students and enthusiasts — including the later deconstructionist and post-structuralist schools, which took their starting point from his late thinking. Having spent the late 1940s as an outsider and then been rehabilitated, Heidegger became the overwhelming presence in university philosophy all over the European continent from then on.
  • As Levinas reflected on this experience, it helped to lead him to a philosophy that was essentially ethical, rather than ontological like Heidegger’s. He developed his ideas from the work of Jewish theologian Martin Buber, whose I and Thou in 1923 had distinguished between my relationship with an impersonal ‘it’ or ‘them’, and the direct personal encounter I have with a ‘you’. Levinas took it further: when I encounter you, we normally meet face-to-face, and it is through your face that you, as another person, can make ethical demands on me. This is very different from Heidegger’s Mitsein or Being-with, which suggests a group of people standing alongside one another, shoulder to shoulder as if in solidarity — perhaps as a unified nation or Volk.
  • For Levinas, we literally face each other, one individual at a time, and that relationship becomes one of communication and moral expectation. We do not merge; we respond to one another. Instead of being co-opted into playing some role in my personal drama of authenticity, you look me in the eyes — and you remain Other. You remain you.
  • This relationship is more fundamental than the self, more fundamental than consciousness, more fundamental even than Being — and it brings an unavoidable ethical obligation. Ever since Husserl, phenomenologists and existentialists had being trying to stretch the definition of existence to incorporate our social lives and relationships. Levinas did more: he turned philosophy around entirely so that these relationships were the foundation of our existence, not an extension of it.
  • Her last work, The Need for Roots, argues, among other things, that none of us has rights, but each one of us has a near-infinite degree of duty and obligation to the other. Whatever the underlying cause of her death — and anorexia nervosa seems to have been involved — no one could deny that she lived out her philosophy with total commitment. Of all the lives touched on in this book, hers is surely the most profound and challenging application of Iris Murdoch’s notion that a philosophy can be ‘inhabited’.
  • Other thinkers took radical ethical turns during the war years. The most extreme was Simone Weil, who actually tried to live by the principle of putting other people’s ethical demands first. Having returned to France after her travels through Germany in 1932, she had worked in a factory so as to experience the degrading nature of such work for herself. When France fell in 1940, her family fled to Marseilles (against her protests), and later to the US and to Britain. Even in exile, Weil made extraordinary sacrifices. If there were people in the world who could not sleep in a bed, she would not do so either, so she slept on the floor.
  • The mystery tradition had roots in Kierkegaard’s ‘leap of faith’. It owed much to the other great nineteenth-century mystic of the impossible, Dostoevsky, and to older theological notions. But it also grew from the protracted trauma that was the first half of the twentieth century. Since 1914, and especially since 1939, people in Europe and elsewhere had come to the realisation that we cannot fully know or trust ourselves; that we have no excuses or explanations for what we do — and yet that we must ground our existence and relationships on something firm, because otherwise we cannot survive.
  • One striking link between these radical ethical thinkers, all on the fringes of our main story, is that they had religious faith. They also granted a special role to the notion of ‘mystery’ — that which cannot be known, calculated or understood, especially when it concerns our relationships with each other. Heidegger was different from them, since he rejected the religion he grew up with and had no real interest in ethics — probably as a consequence of his having no real interest in the human.
  • Meanwhile, the Christian existentialist Gabriel Marcel was also still arguing, as he had since the 1930s, that ethics trumps everything else in philosophy and that our duty to each other is so great as to play the role of a transcendent ‘mystery’. He too had been led to this position partly by a wartime experience: during the First World War he had worked for the Red Cross’ Information Service, with the unenviable job of answering relatives’ inquiries about missing soldiers. Whenever news came, he passed it on, and usually it was not good. As Marcel later said, this task permanently inoculated him against warmongering rhetoric of any kind, and it made him aware of the power of what is unknown in our lives.
  • As the play’s much-quoted and frequently misunderstood final line has it: ‘Hell is other people.’ Sartre later explained that he did not mean to say that other people were hellish in general. He meant that after death we become frozen in their view, unable any longer to fend off their interpretation. In life, we can still do something to manage the impression we make; in death, this freedom goes and we are left entombed in other’s people’s memories and perceptions.
  • We have to do two near-impossible things at once: understand ourselves as limited by circumstances, and yet continue to pursue our projects as though we are truly in control. In Beauvoir’s view, existentialism is the philosophy that best enables us to do this, because it concerns itself so deeply with both freedom and contingency. It acknowledges the radical and terrifying scope of our freedom in life, but also the concrete influences that other philosophies tend to ignore: history, the body, social relationships and the environment.
  • The aspects of our existence that limit us, Merleau-Ponty says, are the very same ones that bind us to the world and give us scope for action and perception. They make us what we are. Sartre acknowledged the need for this trade-off, but he found it more painful to accept. Everything in him longed to be free of bonds, of impediments and limitations
  • Of course we have to learn this skill of interpreting and anticipating the world, and this happens in early childhood, which is why Merleau-Ponty thought child psychology was essential to philosophy. This is an extraordinary insight. Apart from Rousseau, very few philosophers before him had taken childhood seriously; most wrote as though all human experience were that of a fully conscious, rational, verbal adult who has been dropped into this world from the sky — perhaps by a stork.
  • For Merleau-Ponty, we cannot understand our experience if we don’t think of ourselves in part as overgrown babies. We fall for optical illusions because we once learned to see the world in terms of shapes, objects and things relevant to our own interests. Our first perceptions came to us in tandem with our first active experiments in observing the world and reaching out to explore it, and are still linked with those experiences.
  • Another factor in all of this, for Merleau-Ponty, is our social existence: we cannot thrive without others, or not for long, and we need this especially in early life. This makes solipsistic speculation about the reality of others ridiculous; we could never engage in such speculation if we hadn’t already been formed by them.
  • As Descartes could have said (but didn’t), ‘I think, therefore other people exist.’ We grow up with people playing with us, pointing things out, talking, listening, and getting us used to reading emotions and movements; this is how we become capable, reflective, smoothly integrated beings.
  • In general, Merleau-Ponty thinks human experience only makes sense if we abandon philosophy’s time-honoured habit of starting with a solitary, capsule-like, immobile adult self, isolated from its body and world, which must then be connected up again — adding each element around it as though adding clothing to a doll. Instead, for him, we slide from the womb to the birth canal to an equally close and total immersion in the world. That immersion continues as long as we live, although we may also cultivate the art of partially withdrawing from time to time when we want to think or daydream.
  • When he looks for his own metaphor to describe how he sees consciousness, he comes up with a beautiful one: consciousness, he suggests, is like a ‘fold’ in the world, as though someone had crumpled a piece of cloth to make a little nest or hollow. It stays for a while, before eventually being unfolded and smoothed away. There is something seductive, even erotic, in this idea of my conscious self as an improvised pouch in the cloth of the world. I still have my privacy — my withdrawing room. But I am part of the world’s fabric, and I remain formed out of it for as long as I am here.
  • By the time of these works, Merleau-Ponty is taking his desire to describe experience to the outer limits of what language can convey. Just as with the late Husserl or Heidegger, or Sartre in his Flaubert book, we see a philosopher venturing so far from shore that we can barely follow. Emmanuel Levinas would head out to the fringes too, eventually becoming incomprehensible to all but his most patient initiates.
  • Sartre once remarked — speaking of a disagreement they had about Husserl in 1941 — that ‘we discovered, astounded, that our conflicts had, at times, stemmed from our childhood, or went back to the elementary differences of our two organisms’. Merleau-Ponty also said in an interview that Sartre’s work seemed strange to him, not because of philosophical differences, but because of a certain ‘register of feeling’, especially in Nausea, that he could not share. Their difference was one of temperament and of the whole way the world presented itself to them.
  • The two also differed in their purpose. When Sartre writes about the body or other aspects of experience, he generally does it in order to make a different point. He expertly evokes the grace of his café waiter, gliding between the tables, bending at an angle just so, steering the drink-laden tray through the air on the tips of his fingers — but he does it all in order to illustrate his ideas about bad faith. When Merleau-Ponty writes about skilled and graceful movement, the movement itself is his point. This is the thing he wants to understand.
  • We can never move definitively from ignorance to certainty, for the thread of the inquiry will constantly lead us back to ignorance again. This is the most attractive description of philosophy I’ve ever read, and the best argument for why it is worth doing, even (or especially) when it takes us no distance at all from our starting point.
  • By prioritising perception, the body, social life and childhood development, Merleau-Ponty gathered up philosophy’s far-flung outsider subjects and brought them in to occupy the centre of his thought.
  • In his inaugural lecture at the Collège de France on 15 January 1953, published as In Praise of Philosophy, he said that philosophers should concern themselves above all with whatever is ambiguous in our experience. At the same time, they should think clearly about these ambiguities, using reason and science. Thus, he said, ‘The philosopher is marked by the distinguishing trait that he possesses inseparably the taste for evidence and the feeling for ambiguity.’ A constant movement is required between these two
  • As Sartre wrote in response to Hiroshima, humanity had now gained the power to wipe itself out, and must decide every single day that it wanted to live. Camus also wrote that humanity faced the task of choosing between collective suicide and a more intelligent use of its technology — ‘between hell and reason’. After 1945, there seemed little reason to trust in humanity’s ability to choose well.
  • Merleau-Ponty observed in a lecture of 1951 that, more than any previous century, the twentieth century had reminded people how ‘contingent’ their lives were — how at the mercy of historical events and other changes that they could not control. This feeling went on long after the war ended. After the A-bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many feared that a Third World War would not be long in coming, this time between the Soviet Union and the United States.
Javier E

Opinion | In Memoriam: What Would Gary Gutting Do? - The New York Times - 0 views

  • He was an adviser and mentor to both me and The Stone’s co-founder and moderator, the philosopher Simon Critchley, who first met and worked with Gary at Notre Dame more than 15 years ago. Simon described Gary’s work well as “a properly American voice, clear, without ever being shrill, tolerant without ever being uncritical, and instinctively committed to the idea that philosophy could be communicated to a larger public audience.”
  • The most bitter cultural arguments in American intellectual life were comfortable places for Gary — or perhaps he saw them as opportunities — and I believe that he entered in them not so much to establish the dominance of his own view — as a believer in God, in humanistic education, or in the promise of the United States — but to help put the debates on sane ground, to level them through reason and friendly engagement, to be a peacemaker and to advance the invaluable work of civil public discourse and argument.
  • I often found myself considering the merit of a certain idea or argument, or wondering about the philosophical soundness of a particular essay. I would quite literally ask, sometimes out loud, “What would Gary do?” I would then think hard about that and try to act accordingly. But when I got stuck, I would write or call him for guidance — a session, I might call it. The pleasure of those calls came not just from having my thinking clarified and gently set right by a person wiser than me, but also from hearing once again his reassuring, friendly, articulate Midwestern tenor, and what seemed to be his endlessly renewable excitement about people and ideas.
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  • A digestible portion of Gary’s thinking on his work and career can be found at 3AM Magazine in this 2012 interview with Richard Marshall. And this quote from that talk is as good as any to return to now, as a reminder of the continual work he saw as necessary for remaining true to both ourselves and to the world around us: “Our fundamental beliefs don’t need intellectual justification, but they do need intellectual maintenance. We need to understand their implications, modify them to eliminate internal contradictions, defend and perhaps modify them in response to objections.”
Javier E

Everyone is biased, including you: the play designed by neuroscientists | Science | The... - 0 views

  • In a 2014 study, Mercier and colleagues found only 22% of participants could solve a reasoning task on their own, but when small groups discussed their thinking, this rose to 63%. “If people are reasoning on their own or only with people they agree with, nine times out of 10 they will stick to biased positions and you are going to get polarisation,” he says. “But if you take a group of people with some kind of common incentive but who disagree about something, then reason can help them get a better answer.”
Javier E

'Affective Presence': How You Make Other People Feel - The Atlantic - 0 views

  • Some people can walk into a room and instantly put everyone at ease. Others seem to make teeth clench and eyes roll no matter what they do
  • A small body of psychology research supports the idea that the way a person tends to make others feel is a consistent and measurable part of his personality. Researchers call it “affective presence.”
  • 10 years ago in a study by Noah Eisenkraft and Hillary Anger Elfenbein. They put business-school students into groups, had them enroll in all the same classes for a semester, and do every group project together
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  • Unsurprisingly, people who consistently make others feel good are more central to their social networks—in Elfenbein’s study, more of their classmates considered them to be friends. They also got more romantic interest from others in a separate speed-dating study.
  • It seems that “our own way of being has an emotional signature,”
  • affective presence is an effect one has regardless of one’s own feelings—those with positive affective presence make other people feel good, even if they personally are anxious or sad, and the opposite is true for those with negative affective presence.
  • “To use common, everyday words, some people are just annoying. It doesn’t mean they’re annoyed all the time,”
  • “They may be content because they’re always getting their way.
  • Some people bring out great things in others while they’re themselves quite depressed.”
  • The researchers found that a significant portion of group members’ emotions could be accounted for by the affective presence of their peers
  • leaders who make other people feel good by their very presence have teams that are better at sharing information, which leads to more innovation. Subordinates are more likely to voice their ideas, too, to a leader with positive affective presence.
  • xactly what people are doing that sets others at ease or puts them off hasn’t yet been studied. It may have to do with body language, or tone of voice, or being a good listener
  • a big part of affective presence may be how people regulate emotions—those of others and their own.
  • Throughout the day, one experiences emotional “blips” as Elfenbein puts it—blips of annoyance or excitement or sadness. The question is, “Can you regulate yourself so those blips don’t infect other people?” she asks. “Can you smooth over the noise in your life so other people aren’t affected by it?”
  • This “smoothing over”—or emotional regulation—could take the form of finding the positive in a bad situation, which can be healthy.
  • it could also take the form of suppressing one’s own emotions just to keep other people comfortable, which is less so.
  • Elfenbein notes that positive affective presence isn’t inherently good, either for the person themselves, or for their relationships with others. Psychopaths are notoriously charming
  • Neither is negative affective presence necessarily always a bad thing in a leader—think of a football coach yelling at the team at halftime, motivating them to make a comeback.
Javier E

'ContraPoints' Is Political Philosophy Made for YouTube - The Atlantic - 0 views

  • While Wynn positions herself on the left, she is no dogmatic ideologue, readily admitting to points on the right and criticizing leftist arguments when warranted
  • She has described her work as “edutainment” and “propaganda,” and it’s both
  • But what makes her videos unique is the way Wynn combines those two elements: high standards of rational argument and not-quite-rational persuasion. ContraPoints offers compelling speech aimed at truth, rendered in the raucous, meme-laden idiom of the interne
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  • In 2014, Wynn noticed a trend on YouTube that disturbed her: Videos with hyperbolic titles like “why feminism ruins everything,” “SJW cringe compilation,” and “Ben Shapiro DESTROYS Every College Snowflake” were attracting millions of views and spawning long, jeering comment threads. Wynn felt she was watching the growth of a community of outrage that believes feminists, Marxists, and multiculturalists are conspiring to destroy freedom of speech, liquidate gender norms, and demolish Western civilization
  • Wynn created ContraPoints to offer entertaining, coherent rebuttals to these kinds of ideas. Her videos also explain left-wing talking points—like rape culture and cultural appropriation—and use philosophy to explore topics that are important to Wynn, such as the meaning of gender for trans people.
  • Wynn thinks it’s a mistake to assume that viewers of angry, right-wing videos are beyond redemption. “It’s quite difficult to get through to the people who are really committed to these anti-progressive beliefs,” Wynn told me recently. However, she said, she believes that many viewers find such ideas “psychologically resonant” without being hardened reactionaries. This broad, not fully committed center—comprising people whose minds can still be changed—is Wynn’s target audience.
  • Usually, the videos to which Wynn is responding take the stance of dogged reason cutting through the emotional excesses of so-called “political correctness.” For example, the American conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who is a target of a recent ContraPoints video, has made “facts don’t care about your feelings” his motto. Wynn’s first step in trying to win over those who find anti-progressive views appealing is to show that these ideas often rest on a flimsy foundation. To do so, she fully adopts the rational standards of argument that her rivals pride themselves on following, and demonstrates how they fail to achieve them
  • Wynn dissects her opponents’ positions, holding up fallacies, evasions, and other rhetorical tricks for examination, all the while providing a running commentary on good argumentative method.
  • The host defends her own positions according to the same principles. Wynn takes on the strongest version of her opponent’s argument, acknowledges when she thinks her opponents are right and when she has been wrong, clarifies when misunderstood, and provides plenty of evidence for her claims
  • Wynn is a former Ph.D. student in philosophy, and though her videos are too rich with dick jokes for official settings, her argumentative practice would pass muster in any grad seminar.
  • she critiques many of her leftist allies for being bad at persuasion.
  • Socrates persuaded by both the logic of argument and the dynamic of fandom. Wynn is beginning to grow a dedicated following of her own: Members of online discussion groups refer to her as “mother” and “the queen,” produce fan art, and post photos of themselves dressed as characters from her videos.
  • she shares Socrates’s view that philosophy is more an erotic art than a martial one
  • As she puts it, she’s not trying to destroy the people she addresses, but seduce them
  • for Wynn, the true key to persuasion is to engage her audience on an emotional level.
  • One thing she has come across repeatedly is a disdain for the left’s perceived moral superiority. Anti-progressives of all stripes, Wynn told me, show an “intense defensiveness against being told what to do” and a “repulsion in response to moralizing.”
  • Matching her speech to the audience’s tastes presents a prickly rhetorical challenge. In an early video, Contra complains: “The problem is this medium. These goddamn savages demand a circus, and I intend to give them one, but behind the curtain, I really just want to have a conversation.
  • Philosophical conversation requires empathy and good-faith engagement. But the native tongue of political YouTube is ironic antagonism. It’s Wynn’s inimitable way of combining these two ingredients that gives ContraPoints its distinctive mouthfeel.
  • Wynn spends weeks in the online communities of her opponents—whether they’re climate skeptics or trans-exclusionary feminists—trying to understand what they believe and why they believe it. In Socrates’s words, she’s studying the souls of her audience.
Javier E

What's behind the confidence of the incompetent? This suddenly popular psychological ph... - 0 views

  • Someone who has very little knowledge in a subject claims to know a lot. That person might even boast about being an expert.
  • This phenomenon has a name: the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s not a disease, syndrome or mental illness; it is present in everybody to some extent, and it’s been around as long as human cognition, though only recently has it been studied and documented in social psychology.
  • Charles Darwin followed that up in 1871 with “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
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  • Put simply, incompetent people think they know more than they really do, and they tend to be more boastful about it.
  • To test Darwin’s theory, the researchers quizzed people on several topics, such as grammar, logical reasoning and humor. After each test, they asked the participants how they thought they did. Specifically, participants were asked how many of the other quiz-takers they beat.
  • Time after time, no matter the subject, the people who did poorly on the tests ranked their competence much higher
  • On average, test takers who scored as low as the 10th percentile ranked themselves near the 70th percentile. Those least likely to know what they were talking about believed they knew as much as the experts.
  • Dunning and Kruger’s results have been replicated in at least a dozen different domains: math skills, wine tasting, chess, medical knowledge among surgeons and firearm safety among hunters.
  • Even though President Trump’s statements are rife with errors, falsehoods or inaccuracies, he expresses great confidence in his aptitude. He says he does not read extensively because he solves problems “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had.” He has said in interviews he doesn’t read lengthy reports because “I already know exactly what it is.”
  • He has “the best words” and cites his “high levels of intelligence” in rejecting the scientific consensus on climate change. Decades ago, he said he could end the Cold War: “It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles,” Trump told The Washington Post’s Lois Romano over dinner in 1984. “I think I know most of it anyway.”
  • Whether people want to understand “the other side” or they’re just looking for an epithet, the Dunning-Kruger effect works as both, Dunning said, which he believes explains the rise of interest.
  • Dunning says the effect is particularly dangerous when someone with influence or the means to do harm doesn’t have anyone who can speak honestly about their mistakes.
  • Not surprisingly (though no less concerning), Dunning’s follow-up research shows the poorest performers are also the least likely to accept criticism or show interest in self improvement.
Javier E

Opinion | The Morality of Selfism - The New York Times - 0 views

  • You probably want to be a good person. But you may also be completely self-absorbed. So you may be thinking, “There is no way I can be good if I’m also a narcissist. Isn’t being good all about caring about other people?”But how wrong you are!
  • We live in a culture of selfism
  • one of the things we’ve discovered is that you can be a very good person while thinking only about yourself!
  • ...22 more annotations...
  • Back in the old days people thought morality was about living up to some external standard of moral excellence. Abraham Lincoln tried to live a life of honesty and courage. Mother Teresa tried to live up to a standard of selfless love
  • But now we know this is actually harmful! In the first place, when people hold up external standards of moral excellence, they often make you feel judged. These people make you feel sad because you may not live up to this standard
  • The second problem with these external standards is that they are very hard to relate to. People are always talking about how Nelson Mandela
  • but what does this have to do with your life?
  • f people are talking to you, shouldn’t they be focusing their attention on your life? Shouldn’t they be saying things you can relate to?
  • If somebody starts talking about some grand hero who is dead or lives far away, you should just respond, “Sorry, that’s not relatable.”
  • The good news is that these days we don’t base our values on moral excellence. We base them on meaning
  • One great thing about meaning is it’s all about the emotions you yourself already have. We say that an experience has meaning when that tingly meaningful feeling wells up inside
  • The other great thing about meaning is that everybody gets to define meaning in his or her own way.
  • You don’t have to read a lot of thick books or have hard experiences to feel meaning. Just do things that give you good feelings
  • now you are probably wondering what you can do to get the tingly meaningful feeling inside
  • First, you want to feel indignant all the time
  • you are showing that you have a superior moral awareness. You don’t have to actually do anything. Your indignation is itself a sign of your own goodness,
  • Second, you want to make yourself heard.
  • By putting up a lawn sign that everybody else in your neighborhood already has, or wearing that T-shirt that all of your friends already wear, you are taking a stand and displaying who you are.
  • You are going to wear your fashion item whether they like it or not!
  • The third thing you want to do is tell your story. It wasn’t easy to come up with feelings as good as your feelings. You had to go through a lot.
  • Sometimes you have to keep talking about yourself even though other people, selfishly, keep interrupting and trying to talk about themselves.
  • The fourth thing you need to do is condemn bad people.
  • If somebody says something new or bad, you need to get on your phone right away.
  • You need to protect people from hearing ideas they may not already have!
  • remember: You’re already perfect just the way you are!
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