Category Archives: psychology

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 […]

Amazing illusions

From Quirky Mind Stuff, by Richard Wiseman (via Matthew Cobb), we have a bunch of illusions, most of them amazing. There are two that you can try yourself, but you’ll need a friend. I tried them, and they both work for me, but for the “tightening thread” phenomenon, be sure that your fingers are relaxed […]

A Sci Am essay: Are humanities scientific?

I’ve found a very strange article on the Scientific American blog Literally Psyched. Maria Konnikova, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Columbia University, claims that “Humanities aren’t a science. Stop treating them like one.” Her point appears to be that humanities and social sciences (“social sciences” aren’t mentioned in the title)—including history, literature, psychology, political science, […]

Sam Harris on spirituality

Sam Harris’s new post, “In defense of ‘spiritual’“, tries to reclaim that word from its associations with various species of woo—especially religion. Trying to extend it beyond Hitchens’s construal as “something that inspires awe,” Sam wants the word to apply to forms of “other-consciousness,” including those induced by drugs and meditation: We must reclaim good […]

Victor Stenger and Janna Levin on (our lack of) free will

UPDATE: Apologies to Victor for suggesting that he himself was trying to save the words “free will,” which he wasn’t; he suggested replacing them with the word  autonomy” (I’ve modified the text to that effect).  As I read his piece yesterday and wrote mine this morening, I somehow forgot that Victor also called for a […]

A new and bizarre illusion

Matthew Cobb called my attention to this illusion that turns beautiful celebrities as ugly as a frog peeking through ice.  Be sure to keep your eyes on the cross in the center! From the YouTube description: It won second place in the Best Illusion of the Year Contest, 2012! It’s a new scientific finding called […]


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