The Neural Buddhists

David Brooks: “The cognitive revolution is not going to end up undermining faith in God, it’s going to end up challenging faith in the Bible.

Over the past several years, the momentum has shifted away from hard-core materialism. The brain seems less like a cold machine. It does not operate like a computer. Instead, meaning, belief and consciousness seem to emerge mysteriously from idiosyncratic networks of neural firings. Those squishy things called emotions play a gigantic role in all forms of thinking. Love is vital to brain development.

Researchers now spend a lot of time trying to understand universal moral intuitions. Genes are not merely selfish, it appears. Instead, people seem to have deep instincts for fairness, empathy and attachment.

Scientists have more respect for elevated spiritual states. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania has shown that transcendent experiences can actually be identified and measured in the brain (people experience a decrease in activity in the parietal lobe, which orients us in space). The mind seems to have the ability to transcend itself and merge with a larger presence that feels more real.

This new wave of research will not seep into the public realm in the form of militant atheism. Instead it will lead to what you might call neural Buddhism.” (New York Times op-ed)

Cities and Ambition

“How much does it matter what message a city sends? Empirically, the answer seems to be: a lot. You might think that if you had enough strength of mind to do great things, you’d be able to transcend your environment. Where you live should make at most a couple percent difference. But if you look at the historical evidence, it seems to matter more than that. Most people who did great things were clumped together in a few places where that sort of thing was done at the time.” (paulgraham.com via the null device)

50 Worst Album Covers Ever?

A compilation by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Anyone prepared to claim that the album cover is a legitimate type of work of art should scan this gallery first. I went through all fifty and they include stunning examples of bad haircuts, tortured superficiality and, curiously, a disproportionate number of pairings between recording artists and dummies. Certainly, looking at most of these is a cross-cultural experience. There are a scattered few which it seems are being lampooned just for the appearance of the artist(s), rather than the cultural iconography they represent. However, there is one album among the fifty that I am proud to say I own, have valued as a profound musical experience, and am quite surprised to see lumped with the others. Can you guess which one?