CULTURE

Forming the Minds That Will Make the Future

The Reality Club Conversation Continues
[3.30.16]

[ Editor's Note: On March 9, 2016, Edge published a conversation with Howard Gardner called "Liberal Arts and Sciences in the 21st Century." The reaction from The Reality Club was immediate, strong, and engaging, with responses from Douglas Rushkoff, Patricia Churchland, Mark Pagel, Roger Schank, Neil Gershenfeld, Cristine Legare, and David Myers. Now, Gardner responds. . . . ]

Just as readers of Edge base our thoughts about higher education significantly on our own experiences, we also draw on our own more recent experiences as teachers—formal or informal—as scholars, and as human beings who continue to learn, engage, enjoy, and debate. There is no one best or one right way to engage in liberal arts learning: some benefit more from reading and writing, some from debating, some from lectures or Socratic seminars, some from travel and reflection, some from carrying out projects or tackling overwhelming challenges or creating works of art. Indeed, in my ideal school students would be exposed to several different pedagogical philosophies and practices. Not only would they benefit from this diversity, students would also have the chance to determine what works best for them and how they might optimally share with others what they’ve learned and what they can do.

HOWARD GARDNER is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Gardner also directs the Good Project. Howard Gardner's Edge Bio Page

The Mattering Instinct

Topic: 

  • CULTURE
https://vimeo.com/154654826

We can’t pursue our lives without thinking that our lives matter—though one has to be careful here to distinguish the relevant sense of “matter." Simply to take actions on the basis of desires is to act as if your life matters. It’s inconceivable to pursue a human life without these kinds of presumptions—that your own life matters to some extent. Clinical depression is when you are convinced that you don’t and will never matter. That’s a pathological attitude, and it highlights, by its pathology, the way in which the mattering instinct normally functions.

Liberal Arts and Sciences in the 21st Century

[3.9.16]

It is going to be much more of a Wild West—what sorts of things get tried in education. The notion that we’re all going to be singing out of the same hymnal is just not going to be the case. And it may not be bad. The American federal system has been very effective in certain areas, but not in policies of higher education.

HOWARD GARDNER is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Gardner also directs the Good Project. Howard Gardner's Edge Bio Page

THE REALITY CLUB: Douglas Rushkoff, Patricia Churchland, Mark Pagel, Roger Schank, Neil Gershenfeld, Cristine Legare, David Myers, NEW Howard Gardner response

The Mattering Instinct

[3.16.16]

We can’t pursue our lives without thinking that our lives matter—though one has to be careful here to distinguish the relevant sense of “matter." Simply to take actions on the basis of desires is to act as if your life matters. It’s inconceivable to pursue a human life without these kinds of presumptions—that your own life matters to some extent. Clinical depression is when you are convinced that you don’t and will never matter. That’s a pathological attitude, and it highlights, by its pathology, the way in which the mattering instinct normally functions. To be a fully functioning, non-depressed person is to live and to act, to take it for granted that you can act on your own behalf, pursue your goals and projects. And that we have a right to be treated in accord with our own commitment to our lives mattering. We quite naturally flare up into outrage and indignation when others act in violation of the presumption grounding the pursuance of our lives. So this is what I mean by the mattering instinct, that commitment to one’s own life that is inseparable from pursuing a coherent human life.

REBECCA NEWBERGER GOLDSTEIN, awarded the 2014 National Humanities Medal by President Obama, is a philosopher, novelist, and professor of English and Philosophy at NYU. Rebecca Newberger Goldstein's Edge Bio Page

What is Reputation?

[11.5.15]

NEW — A Reality Club discussion with responses from: Abbas RazaWilliam Poundstone, Hugo Mercier, Quentin Hardy, Martin Nowak and Roger Highfield, Bruce Schneier, Kai Krause, Sumit Paul-Choudhury, Margaret Levi.

That is basically what interests me—the double question of understanding our own biases, but also understanding the potential of using this indirect information and these indirect cues of quality of reputation in order to navigate this enormous amount of knowledge. What is interesting about Internet, and especially about the Web, is that Internet is not only an enormous reservoir of information, it is a reputational device. It means that it accumulates tons of evaluations of other people, so the information you get is pre-evaluated. This makes you go much faster. This is an evolutionary heuristic that we have, probably since the birth of the human mind.

Follow the people who know how to treat information. Don't go yourself for the solution. Follow those who have the solution. This is a super strong drive—to learn faster. Children know very well this drive. And of course it can bring you to conformism and have very negative side effects, but also can make you know faster. We know faster, not because there is a lot of information around, but because the information that is around is evaluated; it has a reputational label on it. 

Introduction

This Edge feature is our second foray into the idea of "reputation" in the age of the Internet. The first, in December 2004, "Indirect Reciprocity, Assessment Hardwiring, And Reputation": A Conversation with Karl Sigmund, occurred in another era (or was it another planet): no iPhones, no Facebook, no Twitter. We were sending faxes through our PCs and Macs attached to modems, and short messages through our pagers.

At that time Sigmund said, "In the early 70s, I read a famous paper by Robert Trivers, one of five he wrote as a graduate student at Harvard, in which the idea of indirect reciprocity was mentioned obliquely. He spoke of generalized altruism, where you are giving back something not to the person you owed it to but to somebody else in society. This sentence suggested the possibility that generosity may be a consideration of how altruism works in evolutionary biology."

"I am often thinking about the different ways of cooperating," he added, "and nowadays I'm mostly thinking about the strange aspects of indirect reciprocity. Right now it turns out that economists are excited about this idea in the context of e-trading and e-commerce. In this case you also have a lot of anonymous interactions, not between the same two people but within a hugely mixed group where you are unlikely ever to meet the same person again. Here the question of trusting the other, the idea of reputation, is particularly important. Google Page Rankings, the reputation of eBay buyers and sellers, and Amazon reader reviews are all based on trust, and there is a lot of moral hazard inherent in these interactions."

Gloria Origgi, whose previous Edge feature, "Who's Afraid Of The Third Culture?" appeared in these pages in 2006, is an exemplar of the Third Culture in Europe. According to philospher Daniel C. Dennett, she has completely mastered everything from philosophy to neuroscience, moving gracefully through the conceptual jungles of everything from neuroscience to cognitive science to anthropology. A Parisian, she is an antidote to that European genre of French thought that creates the illusion of depth and profundity that Dennett calls "Eumerdification"*.

In "What Is Reputation?" Origgi talks about "the double question of understanding our own biases, but also understanding the potential of using this indirect information and these indirect cues of quality of reputation in order to navigate this enormous amount of knowledge.

"What is interesting about Internet, and especially about the Web, is that Internet is not only an enormous reservoir of information, it is a reputational device. It means that it accumulates tons of evaluations of other people, so the information you get is pre-evaluated. This makes you go much faster. This is an evolutionary heuristic that we have, probably since the birth of the human mind.

"Follow the people who know how to treat information. Don't go yourself for the solution. Follow those who have the solution. This is a super strong drive—to learn faster. Children know very well this drive. And of course it can bring you to conformism and have very negative side effects, but also can make you know faster. We know faster, not because there is a lot of information around, but because the information that is around is evaluated; it has a reputational label on it."

GLORIA ORIGGI is a researcher at the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris and a journalist. She is a best-selling novelist in the Italian language, a respected philosopher in French, a cognitive scientist in English, and the person you want to sit next to at a dinner party. Her latest book, La Reputation, was recently published in France. Gloria Origgi's Edge Bio Page.

[* Dennett writes in his book Breaking The Spell: "John Searle once told me about a conversation he had with the late Michel Foucault: 'Michel, you're so clear in conversation; why is your written work so obscure?' To which Foucault replied, 'That's because, in order to be taken seriously by French philosophers, twenty-five percent of what you write has to be impenetrable nonsense.' I have coined a term for this tactic, in honour of Foucault's candor: eumerdification."]

John Brockman


WHAT IS REPUTATION?

I'm a philosopher and I do some social sciences, but basically I stick to philosophy in my method, in my way of tackling questions. I was interested in epistemology, in questions about knowledge. At a certain point in the early 2000s, Internet became such a major phenomenon that I started to be interested in transformations of the ways in which we organize, access, produce, and distribute knowledge that was dependent on the introduction of Internet in our lives.

I was interested in the question of trust. It seems like a paradox. The traditional view of knowledge in philosophy and epistemology is that you should not trust, and you should be an autonomous thinker. You should have in your own mind the means to filter information, and to infer new knowledge from what you already know without taking into account the opinion of others. The opinion of others is doxa, and episteme—the true knowledge—is the opposite, being an autonomous knower. With Internet and this hyperconnectivity in which knowledge started to spin around faster than light, I had the feeling that trust was becoming a very important aspect of the way in which we acquire knowledge.

What is Reputation?

Topic: 

  • CULTURE
https://vimeo.com/144038548

That is basically what interests me—the double question of understanding our own biases, but also understanding the potential of using this indirect information and these indirect cues of quality of reputation in order to navigate this enormous amount of knowledge. What is interesting about Internet, and especially about the Web, is that Internet is not only an enormous reservoir of information, it is a reputational device. It means that it accumulates tons of evaluations of other people, so the information you get is pre-evaluated. This makes you go much faster.

Choosing Empathy

[10.20.15]

NEW — A Reality Club Discussion with responses from: Paul BloomDavid DeSteno, Daryl Cameron, Dan Zahavi, and Christian Keysers.

If you believe that you can harness empathy and make choices about when to experience it versus when not to, it adds a layer of responsibility to how you engage with other people. If you feel like you're powerless to control your empathy, you might be satisfied with whatever biases and limits you have on it. You might be okay with not caring about someone just because they're different from you. I want people to not feel safe empathizing in the way that they always have. I want them to understand that they're doing something deliberate when they connect with someone, and I want them to own that responsibility.

JAMIL ZAKI is an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University and the director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab.  Jamil Zaki's Edge Bio Page

REALITY CLUB DISCUSSION
Paul Bloom:
"Zaki correctly describes my own position as “empathy is overrated”. I agree that empathy can sometimes motivate kind behavior. But, as I’ve argued elsewhere, it is biased, pushing us in the direction of parochialism and racism. It is short-sighted, motivating actions that might make things better in the short term but lead to tragic results in the future. It is innumerate, favoring the one over the many. It is capricious; our empathy for those close to us is a powerful force for hatred towards those who harm them. It is corrosive in personal relationships, exhausting the spirit and making us less effective at helping those we love. ..." [Read]

David DeSteno: "How do we go from wanting to harm someone to commiserating with them? The answer, I think, potentially offers a solution to the competing views of Zaki and Bloom. Whereas Zaki is right about empathy and compassion being partially subject to choice, the usefulness of such “choosing” can be called into question. After all, Bloom is quite correct in noting that our care for others is biased. Compassion isn’t dispassionate; even when people’s suffering is objectively equal, we feel more compassion for those like us. ..." [Read]

Daryl Cameron: "Jamil Zaki presents a compelling case that empathy is a choice: empathy fluctuates depending on what we want to feel. I largely agree with this perspective. Despite what some claim, this is a new and controversial framework: as I have suggested elsewhere, this framework implies that apparent limits of empathy actually result from choices to avoid empathy. Empathy may not be fundamentally biased—instead, we choose not to feel empathy in many cases. Is empathy only as limited as we want it to be? ..." [Read]

Dan Zahavi: "To move forward, it can sometime be useful to go backwards. One move that is surprisingly rarely made is to revisit the initial philosophical and psychological debate on empathy that took place during the first decades of the 20th century. Were one to do so, it would quickly become apparent that many contemporary theorists understand (dare one say misunderstand?) something very different by the term ‘empathy’ than the people who originally coined it. ..." [Read]

CHOOSING EMPATHY
A Conversation with Jamil Zaki

I've been thinking an enormous amount about a puzzle concerning how empathy works. Before describing it, I should make sure that we're on the same page about what empathy is. To me, empathy is a useful umbrella term that captures at least three distinct but related processes through which one person responds to another person's emotions.     

Let's say that I run into you and you are highly distressed. A bunch of things might happen to me. One, I might "catch" your emotion and vicariously take on the same state that I see in you; that's what I would call experience sharing. Two, I might think about how you feel and why you feel the way you do. That type of explicit consideration of the world as someone else sees it is what I would call mentalizing. Three, I might develop concern for your state, and feel motivated to help you feel better; that is what people these days call compassion, also known as empathic concern.

Choosing Empathy

Topic: 

  • CULTURE
https://vimeo.com/140116580

If you believe that you can harness empathy and make choices about when to experience it versus when not to, it adds a layer of responsibility to how you engage with other people. If you feel like you're powerless to control your empathy, you might be satisfied with whatever biases and limits you have on it. You might be okay with not caring about someone just because they're different from you. I want people to not feel safe empathizing in the way that they always have.

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