Category Archives: psychology

Paul Bloom debunks the “Moral Law argument for God”

I’ve just finished reading Paul Bloom’s short book, Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil, which was published last November by Crown Publishing. Bloom, who works at Yale, is a well-known psychologist, specializing in the development of morality—especially in infants. I recommend his book, especially if you’re interested in how much of human morality is […]

Are primates hard-wired to be scared of snakes?

Posting will be light today as there’s a Horseman afoot (see next post), but I wanted to call attention to a paper that’s of some interest. It can even be construed as a decent bit of research on (horrors!) evolutionary psychology. The paper by, Quan van Le et al. in Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA […]

Does reading literary fiction make us empathic?

UPDATE:  I had forgotten that Steve Pinker talked about the link between reading fiction and becoming empathic in his book The Better Angels of our Nature (one commenter mentioned this below), but hey, the book is 800 pages long and I can’t remember everything! Pinker mentions his discussion, and his agreement that the Science paper is dicey, […]

A disease of the brain, but not of the mind?

Besides the NBC evening news, the only show I regularly watch on television is “Sixty Minutes,” and I try not to miss it each Sunday. Last night’s episode (consisting, as usual, of three disparate segments) was good, but there was one thing that I’d like to nitpick. (At least I’m not saying that “I don’t […]

Dawkins as you’ve never seen him before

This nine-minute video of Richard Dawkins begins as a lecture on memes—an idea that has never excited me—and seems pretty straightforward except for Richard’s aloha shirt (a nice one, too). At 4:57, he grabs both his notes and the podium and strides offstage.  All hell then breaks loose, with Dawkins appearing electronically as a Great […]

David Brooks: The brain is not the mind

David Brooks always seems to write above his pay grade when he weighs in about science. His pop evolutionary-psychology book The Social Animal, which was excerpted in The New Yorker, was pretty dreadful, and, I think, inimical to the public understanding of evolution in its pretense that we have a thorough understanding of the evolutionary […]

Is religion a mental illness?

Several readers have sent me this link, but I have to say I’m not that convinced that the views expressed in this news item have any substantive content, or will catch on in society. The piece, “Leading neuroscientist: Religious fundamentalism may be a ‘mental illness’ that can be ‘cured’” (note the scare quotes), is from […]

Dutch psychologist admits research fraud—and the lessons

I hadn’t known about this case, reported in today’s New York Times, but perhaps some of you had. It’s a fascinating tale about the Dutch psychologist Diederik Stapel, who fudged data for dozens of papers—data comporting with people’s intuitive ideas about human nature—and became famous along the way.  He eventually got caught and fired.  He […]

Yet another experiment showing that conscious “decisions” are made unconsciously, and in advance

In the last few years, neuroscience experiments have shown that some “conscious decisions” are actually made in the brain before the actor is conscious of them:  brain-scanning techniques can predict not only when a binary decision will be made, but what it will be (with accuracy between 55-70%)—several seconds before the actor reports being conscious […]

Does eroding belief in free will cause cheating? Failure to replicate a famous result.

In his essay written for receiving the Erasmus Prize, “Erasmus: Sometimes a Spin Doctor is Right“, Dan Dennett argues that the idea that free will is merely an illusion—an idea promulgated by bad people like Sam Harris and me—is deleterious to society: There is—and has always been—an arms race between persuaders and their targets or […]


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