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Thinking and Behaviour

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Why it’s high time that attitudes to addiction changed. Three years ago, I put out a call to my blog community: would anyone be willing to tell me the story of their addiction, from start to finish, in all of its gory detail, for the book I am writing?

Why it’s high time that attitudes to addiction changed

The book would combine an account of brain change in addiction with subjective descriptions of what it’s like to live inside addiction. More than 100 people replied. How ant societies point to radical possibilities for humans. It’s easy to find familiar examples of division of labour.

How ant societies point to radical possibilities for humans

What Makes a Person: The Seven Layers of Identity in Literature and Life. “A person’s identity,” Amin Maalouf wrote as he contemplated what he so poetically called the genes of the soul, “is like a pattern drawn on a tightly stretched parchment.

What Makes a Person: The Seven Layers of Identity in Literature and Life

Touch just one part of it, just one allegiance, and the whole person will react, the whole drum will sound.” And yet we are increasingly pressured to parcel ourselves out in various social contexts, lacerating the parchment of our identity in the process. As Courtney Martin observed in her insightful On Being conversation with Parker Palmer and Krista Tippett, “It’s never been more asked of us to show up as only slices of ourselves in different places.” Today, as Whitman’s multitudes no longer compose an inner wholeness but are being wrested out of us fragment by fragment, what does it really mean to be a person?

What Depression Is Really Like. In a piercing letter to his brother, Vincent van Gogh captured the mental anguish of depression in a devastatingly perfect visceral metaphor: “One feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpless.”

What Depression Is Really Like

Anyone who has suffered from this debilitating disease knows that the water in that well is qualitatively, biochemically different from the water in the puddle of mere sadness. And yet, even as scientists are exploring the evolutionary origins of depression and the role REM sleep may play in it, understanding and articulating the experience of the disease remains a point of continual frustration for those afflicted and a point of continual perplexity for those fortunate never to have plummeted to the bottom of the well. The Difficult Balance of Intimacy and Independence: Beloved Philosopher and Poet Kahlil Gibran on the Secret to a Loving and Lasting Relationship. “What’s the use of falling in love if you both remain inertly as-you-were?”

The Difficult Balance of Intimacy and Independence: Beloved Philosopher and Poet Kahlil Gibran on the Secret to a Loving and Lasting Relationship

Mary McCarthy asked her friend Hannah Arendt in their correspondence about love. The question resonates because it speaks to a central necessity of love — at its truest and most potent, love invariably does change us, deconditioning our painful pathologies and elevating us toward our highest human potential. The influential Confucian philosopher you’ve never heard of. A man is hiking in the countryside when he suddenly sees a toddler about to fall into an abandoned well.

The influential Confucian philosopher you’ve never heard of

What will he do? Many people will instinctively run toward the toddler to save him. How video games unwittingly train the brain to justify killing. Mortal Kombat X gameplay.

How video games unwittingly train the brain to justify killing

NetherRealm/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment/Wikipedia Let’s play a game. One of the quotes below belongs to a trained soldier speaking of killing the enemy, while the other to a convicted felon describing his first murder. Can you tell the difference? (1) ‘I realised that I had just done something that separated me from the human race and it was something that could never be undone. Would you be surprised to learn that the first statement, suggesting remorse, comes from the American mass murderer David Alan Gore, while the second, of cool acceptance, was made by Andy Wilson, a soldier in the SAS, Britain’s elite special forces?

While most psychologically normal individuals agree that inflicting pain on others is wrong, killing others appears socially sanctioned in specific contexts such as war or self-defence. Can school today teach anything more than how to pass exams? Daydream with me for a moment while I imagine my ideal classroom.

Can school today teach anything more than how to pass exams?

The first thing that strikes you when you walk in is the arrangement of the room. Not serried ranks of desks lined up before a blackboard but comfortable seats placed in a large circle. This arrangement sends a message: here is a space for open discussion and the free exchange of ideas. On the wall is a poster of Bertrand Russell with the quotation: ‘Most people would sooner die than think, and most of them do.’ There is a display cabinet with row upon row of student dissertations, covering topics as diverse as business ethics, engineering, architecture, political history, linguistics and the philosophy of science. Whatever you think, you don’t necessarily know your own mind. Do you think racial stereotypes are false?

Whatever you think, you don’t necessarily know your own mind

Are you sure? I’m not asking if you’re sure whether or not the stereotypes are false, but if you’re sure whether or not you think that they are. That might seem like a strange question. We all know what we think, don’t we? Most philosophers of mind would agree, holding that we have privileged access to our own thoughts, which is largely immune from error. The internet as an engine of liberation is an innocent fraud. Yuval Noah Harari on big data, Google and the end of free will - FT.com. For thousands of years humans believed that authority came from the gods.

Yuval Noah Harari on big data, Google and the end of free will - FT.com

Then, during the modern era, humanism gradually shifted authority from deities to people. Jean-Jacques Rousseau summed up this revolution in Emile, his 1762 treatise on education. When looking for the rules of conduct in life, Rousseau found them “in the depths of my heart, traced by nature in characters which nothing can efface. I need only consult myself with regard to what I wish to do; what I feel to be good is good, what I feel to be bad is bad.” Thinking positive is a surprisingly risky manoeuvre. Do you believe that positive thinking can help you achieve your goals? Many people today do. Pop psychology and the $12 billion self-help industry reinforce a widespread belief that positive thinking can improve our moods and lead to beneficial life changes. In her book The Secret Daily Teachings (2008), the self-help author Rhonda Byrne suggested that: ‘Whatever big thing you are asking for, consider having the celebration now as though you have received it.’

The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge. In an age obsessed with practicality, productivity, and efficiency, I frequently worry that we are leaving little room for abstract knowledge and for the kind of curiosity that invites just enough serendipity to allow for the discovery of ideas we didn’t know we were interested in until we are, ideas that we may later transform into new combinations with applications both practical and metaphysical. This concern, it turns out, is hardly new. In The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge (PDF), originally published in the October 1939 issue of Harper’s, American educator Abraham Flexner explores this dangerous tendency to forgo pure curiosity in favor of pragmatism — in science, in education, and in human thought at large — to deliver a poignant critique of the motives encouraged in young minds, contrasting those with the drivers that motivated some of history’s most landmark discoveries.

Mr. Why broken sleep is a golden time for creativity. It is 4.18am. In the fireplace, where logs burned, there are now orange lumps that will soon be ash. Orion the Hunter is above the hill. Taurus, a sparkling V, is directly overhead, pointing to the Seven Sisters. Sirius, one of Orion’s heel dogs, is pumping red-blue-violet, like a galactic disco ball. As the night moves on, the old dog will set into the hill.

It is 4.18am and I am awake. If I write in these small hours, black thoughts become clear and colourful. All humans, animals, insects and birds have clocks inside, biological devices controlled by genes, proteins and molecular cascades. The Romans, Greeks and Incas woke up without iPhone alarms or digital radio clocks. Societies built around industrialisation and clock-time brought with them urgency and the concept of being ‘on time’ or having ‘wasted time’. Your brain does not process information and it is not a computer.

No matter how hard they try, brain scientists and cognitive psychologists will never find a copy of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in the brain – or copies of words, pictures, grammatical rules or any other kinds of environmental stimuli. How dreams predict the future by making sense of the past. Gawker. Don Hertzfeldt Explores Brain-Uploading in the Oscar-Nominated Sci-Fi Short 'World of Tomorrow' The Behavioral Sink. Cabinet and the author regret that a previous version of this article omitted its sources.

To readers who are interested in learning more about Calhoun's research, we highly recommend "Escaping the Laboratory: The Rodent Experiments of John B Calhoun and Their Cultural Influence" by Edmund Ramsden and Jon Adams, LSE Department of Economic History, 2008, to which this article is indebted.

How do you design a utopia? In 1972, John B. Is Google Making Us Stupid? Illustration by Guy Billout.