What’s The World’s Favorite Number?

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Robert Krulwich: “It’s a simple question, really, but a cunning one, because the answers are so embarrassingly, voluptuously personal. Alex Bellos thought it up. He’s a writer, math enthusiast, and nut.

Here’s what he wants: He wants to know your favorite number. Just that. Tell me your favorite, and tell me why, he says.

He’s set up a website, www.favoritenumber.net and he’s asked people to write in. So far he’s had about 13,000 submissions. He wants more. So I’m pimping his site here…” (via Krulwich Wonders… : NPR).

I wonder if there is a significant constituency for 23.

Drugs and the Meaning of Life

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Sam Harris: ‘I discuss issues of drug policy in some detail in my first book, The End of Faith (pp. 158-164), and my thinking on the subject has not changed. The “war on drugs” has been well lost, and should never have been waged. While it isn’t explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution, I can think of no political right more fundamental than the right to peacefully steward the contents of one’s own consciousness. The fact that we pointlessly ruin the lives of nonviolent drug users by incarcerating them, at enormous expense, constitutes one of the great moral failures of our time. (And the fact that we make room for them in our prisons by paroling murderers and rapists makes one wonder whether civilization isn’t simply doomed.)

I have a daughter who will one day take drugs. Of course, I will do everything in my power to see that she chooses her drugs wisely, but a life without drugs is neither foreseeable, nor, I think, desirable. Someday, I hope she enjoys a morning cup of tea or coffee as much as I do. If my daughter drinks alcohol as an adult, as she probably will, I will encourage her to do it safely. If she chooses to smoke marijuana, I will urge moderation.[2] Tobacco should be shunned, of course, and I will do everything within the bounds of decent parenting to steer her away from it. Needless to say, if I knew my daughter would eventually develop a fondness for methamphetamine or crack cocaine, I might never sleep again. But if she does not try a psychedelic like psilocybin or LSD at least once in her adult life, I will worry that she may have missed one of the most important rites of passage a human being can experience.’ (via Sam Harris‘s weblog).

The science behind disgust

 

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In an interview in Salon, Daniel Kelly, Purdue philosopher and author of “Yuck!: The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust,” discusses the evolution of the emotion from a mediator of protection from toxic foodstuffs to one protecting us from dangerous ideas:

 

‘Does disgust play a role in creating social inequality? So gays and lesbians shouldn’t be denied the right to marry on the grounds that their so-called disgusting lifestyle undermines the sanctity of marriage?

The groups that are most likely to elicit disgust are often the lowest on the social hierarchy. Women have been made into objects of disgust a lot throughout history. Disgust can be a very powerful rhetorical tool to discredit, undermine or demonize an opponent or a group of people with whom you don’t agree. An easy way to do those things is to portray someone as infecting the integrity of your own social group. Disgust is a really potent emotion, and using it can be pretty rousing and effective because it has an almost subliminal influence on how we think of things.

Why not use it to make discrimination unfashionable?

I argue against disgust ever being used as a social tool, even to get rid of something we all logically agree is morally pernicious. It’s easy to imagine someone arguing that, since rational and calculated arguments haven’t done a lot to change public opinion about racism, maybe we should try portraying racism and racists as disgusting. The powerful influence of this emotion might help push racism to the edge of society or eliminate it altogether, but my response is that we still shouldn’t do it. It’s not ethically appropriate to deliberately depict any group of people as disgusting because disgust makes it very easy to dehumanize, and that would do the very thing we seek to undo.’ (via Salon.com).

What’s Wrong with the Culture of Critique

A bonobo fishing for termites using a sharpene...

“There’s an essential freedom in being alone with one’s thoughts, oblivious to and unpolluted by anyone else’s. Diminish that aloneness and we start to doubt our own perspective. Do I really think Blue Bottle coffee is that great? Or Blazing Saddles that funny? Do I really not like that pizza place because it isn’t authentic New York-style? Sure, it’s entirely possible to arrive at one’s own opinion amidst a cacophony of others. But it’s also possible to bend, unknowingly and imperceptibly, toward a position not naturally our own.” (via Magazine).

A Trick of the Mind

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“Beliefs come first; reasons second. That’s the insightful message of The Believing Brain, by Michael Shermer, the founder of Skeptic magazine. In the book, he brilliantly lays out what modern cognitive research has to tell us about his subject—namely, that our brains are “belief engines” that naturally “look for and find patterns” and then infuse them with meaning. These meaningful patterns form beliefs that shape our understanding of reality. Our brains tend to seek out information that confirms our beliefs, ignoring information that contradicts them. Mr. Shermer calls this “belief-dependent reality.” The well-worn phrase “seeing is believing” has it backward: Our believing dictates what we’re seeing.” (via Reason Magazine).