CULTURE

Social Pain

[9.10.14]

Showing that some of the same neural regions that are involved in physical pain are involved in social pain can be very validating for people. For anyone who's felt the pain of losing somebody or who's felt the hurt feelings that come from being ostracized or bullied, there's something very validating in seeing this scientific work that shows it's not just in our head. It is in our head because it's in our brain. It's not just in our head, there is something biological going on that's interpreting the pain of social rejection as something that really is a painful experience. 

NAOMI EISENBERGER is a professor in the Social Psychology Program at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is director of the Social and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory as well as co-director of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory. Naomi Eisenberger's Edge Bio Page


SOCIAL PAIN

The kinds of questions that I'm interested in have to do with the feelings that come up in our closest social relationships. I've been on both sides of this equation, the negative side and the positive side. I've been very curious about both the painful feelings that we have when we lose our closest social relationships or we feel disconnected from others, as well as the pleasurable feelings that we have when we feel close and connected to those that we love. One of the things that we've been exploring in my Lab at UCLA is where those feelings come from. One way that we've been doing this is by turning to the brain to try to understand those feelings of social closeness or social distance.

We started off on the negative side. I started off with this question of: why do people talk about feeling hurt by social rejection? Why do they talk about the pain that comes up when they feel left out or excluded? It's a very palpable experience. Most people, if you ask them to think back to some very painful event in their life, instead of bringing up something that involves a broken bone they’ll often bring up an experience that involves losing a social relationship or being rejected. We all have these memories of being left out on the school playground or fears of being left out on the school playground. So I was very curious. Where do those fears and where do those feelings come from?

LATITUDES OF ACCEPTANCE

Topic: 

  • CULTURE
http://vimeo.com/103517412

I'll tell you about my new favorite idea, which like all new favorite ideas, is really an old idea. This one, from the 1960s, was used only in a couple of studies. It's called "latitude of acceptance". If I want to persuade you, what I need to do is pitch my arguments so that they're in the range of a bubble around your current belief; it's not too far from your current belief, but it's within this bubble.

Latitudes of Acceptance

[8.22.14]

I'll tell you about my new favorite idea, which like all new favorite ideas, is really an old idea. This one, from the 1960s, was used only in a couple of studies. It's called "latitude of acceptance." If I want to persuade you, what I need to do is pitch my arguments so that they're in the range of a bubble around your current belief; it's not too far from your current belief, but it's within this bubble. If your belief is that you're really, really anti-guns, let's say, and I want to move you a bit, if I come along and say, "here's the pro-gun position," you're actually going to move further away. Okay? It's outside the bubble of things that I can consider as reasonable.

We all have these latitudes around our beliefs, our values, our attitudes, which teams are ok to root for, and so on, and these bubbles move. They flex. When you're drunk, or when you've had a good meal, or when you're with people you care about versus strangers, these bubbles flex and move in different ways. Getting two groups to work together is about trying to get them to a place where their bubbles overlap, not their ideas, not their beliefs, but the bubbles that surround their ideas. Once you do that, you don't try to get them to go to the other position, you try to get them to see there's some common ground that you don't share, but that you think would not be a crazy position to hold.

MATTHEW D. LIEBERMAN is a professor of psychology at UCLA. He is the author of Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. Matthew D. Lieberman's Edge Bio Page


LATITUDES OF ACCEPTANCE

When people ask me what I’m interested in studying, the first thing I tell them is that I have Attention Deficit Disorder when it comes to science. They start out thinking that I have Attention Deficit Disorder, which I don't, but I do when it comes to science. I tend to have ideas that range all over the place, and even though I was told early in graduate school to study one thing and study it very, very deeply, that never really worked for me, and I was lucky enough that I didn't have to. 

My ideas tend to all focus on what we call loosely the "social brain." How is it that our brain evolved to make us social? How does it successfully make us social? What are its limitations? How does it lead to a context where we think we understand what's going on, but we're mistaken? That can lead to all sorts of interpersonal issues.

The Third Culture: The Frontline of Global Thinking

[7.1.14]

After years of fermentation, the third culture finally yielded superior results in the 1990s. In 1996, John Brockman, American author and founder of the famous knowledge platform Edge.org, published The Third Culture, a compilation of top scientists’ reflections on and explanations of the mysteries of life, formally declaring the arrival of the third culture...These emerging new scientists, combining scientific acuteness with literary sensitivity, intervene in those areas traditionally guarded by the humanities scholars. In the age of the third culture, scientists also want to explore the meaning of life and its ultimate secret. More and more scientists write for the general public. Their works embody literary science writing, distinctly exemplifying the spirits of the third-culture: the exploration of the eternal mysteries of life through scientific probing.

HONG-SHU TENG is Assistant Professor in the Department of English, National Taitung University, Taiwan. 

Hong-Shu Teng's Edge Bio Page


Following the trend of literary science writing, more and more scientists in the frontline of new thinking write for the general public. Their works embody the spirits of the third culture: probing the eternal mysteries of life through science.

THE THIRD CULTURE: THE FRONTLINE OF GLOBAL THINKING

In his new book The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses published on June 12, Harvard history/literature scholar Kevin Birmingham points out that it was syphilis that caused the modernist maestro’s decaying eyesight and paralysis. When Joyce’s fans celebrate Bloomsday on June 16 in memory of Ulysses, Birmingham’s work offers them an uneasy glimpse into the novelist’s dark life.

That Joyce probably had syphilis was nothing new, because it had been rumoured since the writer’s lifetime. Mainstream critics and biographers largely ignore it perhaps because it suggests celebrity gossip.

Birmingham found from Joyce’s 1928 letters that the novelist received unusual injections made of arsenic and phosphorus compound. He further found that, at the time, there was only one little-known medication called Galyl that went with the description—a prescription specifically for syphilis patients.

Medical knowledge leads this history/literature scholar to present irrefutable proof to solve a mystery whose key lies beyond the reach of literature scholars. The case is arguably closed.

Writing In The 21st Century

[6.9.14]

What are the arts but products of the human mind which resonate with our aesthetic and emotional faculties? What are social issues, but ways in which humans try to coordinate their behavior and come to working arrangements that benefit everyone? There's no aspect of life that cannot be illuminated by a better understanding of the mind from scientific psychology. And for me the most recent example is the process of writing itself. 


(37 minutes)

Introduction

Psychologist Steven Pinker's 1994 book The Language Instinct discussed all aspects of language in a unified, Darwinian framework, and in his next book, How The Mind Works he did the same for the rest of the mind, explaining "what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and ponder the mysteries of life."

He has written four more consequential books: Words and Rules (1999), The Blank Slate (2002), The Stuff of Thought (2007), and The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011)The evolution in his thinking, and the expansion of his range, the depth of his vision, are evident in his contributions on many important issues on these pages over the years: "A Biological Understanding of Human Nature," "The Science of Gender and Science," "A Preface to Dangerous Ideas," "Language and Human Nature," "A History of Violence," "The False Allure of Group Selection," "Napoleon Chagnon: Blood Is Their Argument," and "Science Is Not Your Enemy." In addition to his many honors, he is the Edge Question Laureate, having suggested three of Edge's Annual Questions: "What Is Your Dangerous Idea?"; What Is Your Favorite Deep, Elegant, Or Beautiful Explanation?"; and "What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody's Cognitive Toolkit?". He is a consummate third culture intellectual.

In the conversation below, Pinker begins by stating his belief that "science can inform all aspects of life, particularly psychology, my own favorite science. Psychology looks in one direction to biology, to neuroscience, to genetics, to evolution. And it looks in another direction to the rest of intellectual and cultural life—because what are the arts but products of the human mind which resonate with our aesthetic and emotional faculties? What are social issues but ways in which humans try to coordinate their behavior and come to working arrangements that benefit everyone? There's no aspect of life that cannot be illuminated by a better understanding of the mind from scientific psychology. And for me the most recent example is the process of writing itself."...

John Brockman

STEVEN PINKER is the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. He is the author of ten books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and The Sense of Style (September). Steven Pinker's Edge Bio page


WRITING IN THE 21ST CENTURY

I believe that science can inform all aspects of life, particularly psychology, my own favorite science. Psychology looks in one direction to biology, to neuroscience, to genetics, to evolution. And it looks in another direction to the rest of intellectual and cultural life—because what are the arts but products of the human mind which resonate with our aesthetic and emotional faculties? What are social issues but ways in which humans try to coordinate their behavior and come to working arrangements that benefit everyone? There's no aspect of life that cannot be illuminated by a better understanding of the mind from scientific psychology. And for me the most recent example is the process of writing itself. 

I'm a psychologist who studies language—a psycholinguist—and I'm also someone who uses language in my books and articles to convey ideas about, among other things, the science of language itself. But also, ideas about war and peace and emotion and cognition and human nature. The question I'm currently asking myself is how our scientific understanding of language can be put into practice to improve the way that we communicate anything, including science?

In particular, can you use linguistics, cognitive science, and psycholinguistics to come up with a better style manual—a 21st century alternative to the classic guides like Strunk and White's The Elements of Style?

Writing is inherently a topic in psychology. It's a way that one mind can cause ideas to happen in another mind. The medium by which we share complex ideas, namely language, has been studied intensively for more than half a century. And so if all that work is of any use it ought to be of use in crafting more stylish and transparent prose. 

Expanded Curation

Topic: 

  • CULTURE
http://vimeo.com/92851589

One of the things that Julia Peyton-Jones and I try to do with the Serpentine Gallery Marathons, on which we've collaborated with Edge many times, is to provide a format that isn't like a normal conference: it takes place over 24 or 48 hours. And it happens in the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, so this creates a connection between art and architecture. And then one connects to all the other disciplines through the invited speakers. It's a kind of knowledge festival. The marathon is a hybrid.

Expanded Curation

[7.2.14]

One of the things that Julia Peyton-Jones and I try to do with the Serpentine Gallery Marathons, on which we've collaborated with Edge many times, is to provide a format that isn't like a normal conference: it takes place over 24 or 48 hours. And it happens in the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, so this creates a connection between art and architecture. And then one connects to all the other disciplines through the invited speakers. It's a kind of knowledge festival. The marathon is a hybrid. It's a group show, because artists are doing performances, but they're given time and not space. But it's also a conference because there are lectures and presentations. This year's Marathon, which takes place at The Serpentine Gallery the weekend of October 18-20, will be about "Extinction". 


(37:55 minutes)


Introduction
by 
John Brockman

Hans Ulrich Obrist is Co-director of the Serpentine Galleries, and the initiator of numerous international art projects and exhibitions. One example is the current Serpentine event  (through August 14th), a new durational performance by Marina Abramović entitled "Nothing" in which the artist is in residence for 512 hours.

It is for this kind of signature event that, in 2009, HUO was ranked #1 in Art Review's annual "Art Review Power 100" list of the contemporary art world’s most powerful figures, and #2, #2, #5, in 3 out of the past 4 years. It is a measure of his unique stature, that in today's contemporary art world, one that often seems dominated by money, HUO, who, in the 25 years I've known him, has never mentioned money, prices, or the art market, is arguably the contemporary art world's most influential figure.

"I don't talk about the art market", he explains, "as I don't know much about it. It's not part of my work. I have always worked on public exhibitions towards the end of making the best work accessible for everyone. As Gilbert and George say, 'art for all'."

What interests him is the exhibition as ritual. "A crowd of people is not a crowd but rather a number of individuals gathered in a space who are, contra the experience of an opera or a theatrical performance, not subject to a collective control of attention....Attention is neither monopolized nor homogenized. The exhibition is a very democratic and liberal ritual where the viewer decides the duration of his or her stay. "

I recently visited HUO at his office at the Serpentine Gallery to talk about the forthcoming "Marathon" on "Extinctions," an event that bridges the humanities and the sciences alike. "The spectre of extinction looms over the ways in which we understand our being in the world today," he says. "In response, artists and writers embed these concerns into the products of their creative endeavours. Environmental degradation, genocide, atomic weapons, threats to small, isolated communities, threats to languages, global warming economics and extinction, catastrophes in nature, life wiped out by disease and hunger—the constellation of topics around extinction is ever-expansive and as urgent now as ever before".

Some of the questions on the agenda for the participants to explore include "What is extinction and what are we losing? How do we understand loss and endings? How can an individual understand themselves in relation to a collective responsibility? What is the artist’s role in responding to mass extinction? What happens after the end has come and gone? How can artists, scientists and thinkers imagine new visions of the future? How has the spectre of extinction come to inform artistic and literary practice?" Edge once again plans to be there, collaborating with HUO as in previous marathon events: Maps For The 20th CenturyInformation GardensFormulae For The 21st CenturyTable-Top Experiments Marathon. 

We Live Our Lives in Stories

Topic: 

  • CULTURE
https://vimeo.com/93300123

We think of stories as a wildly creative art form but within that creativity and that diversity there is a lot of conformity. Stories are very predictable. No matter where you go in the world, no matter how different people seem, no matter how hard their lives are, people tell stories, universally, and universally the stories are more or less like ours: the same basic human obsessions, and the same basic structure.

This Thing For Which We Have No Name

Topic: 

  • CULTURE
http://vimeo.com/92670763

"No one ever got fired for buying IBM" is a wonderful example of understanding loss aversion. The advertising and marketing industry kind of knew this stuff mattered, but where we were disgracefully bad is that no one really attempted to sit down and codify it. When I discovered Nudge—Predictably Irrational—was another one, when I started discovering there was a whole field of literature about this thing for which we have no name—these powerful forces which no one properly understood—that was incredibly exciting. The effect of these changes can be an order of magnitude.

This Thing For Which We Have No Name

[5.12.14]

"No one ever got fired for buying IBM" is a wonderful example of understanding loss aversion or "defensive decision making". The advertising and marketing industry kind of acted as if it knew this stuff—but where we were disgracefully bad is that no one really attempted to sit down and codify it. When I discovered Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, and the whole other corpus on Behavioral Economics…. when I started discovering there was a whole field of literature about "this thing for which we have no name" …. these powerful forces which no one properly understood—that was incredibly exciting. And the effect of these changes can be an order of magnitude. This is the important thing. Really small interventions can have huge effects. ...

...Markets actually work because they're adaptive. Bad things get killed, good new things sometimes get promoted. But most of the time what you'll find in business is no one has the faintest idea of why the things that work actually work. What's very useful here is that finally a group of academics with money, time, and immensely high intelligence were finally sitting down to codify and make sense of things, which we'd been aware of for years but which, to our shame, we'd never attempted to actually try and systematize.

RORY SUTHERLAND is Executive Creative Director and Vice-Chairman, OgilvyOne London; Vice-Chairman, Ogilvy & Mather UK; Columnist, The Spectator. Rory Sutherland's Edge Bio page


THIS THING FOR WHICH WE HAVE NO NAME

The strange thing about academics, which always fascinates me, is that they believe they're completely immune to status considerations and consider themselves to be more or less monks. In reality, of course, academics are the most status-conscious people in the world. Take away a parking space from an academic and see how long he stays. I always find this very strange when you occasionally get in the realm of happiness research, you get fairly considerable assaults on consumerism as if it's just mindless status seeking. Now, the point of the matter is, is that academics are just as guilty of the original crime, they just pursue status in a different way. ...

~  ~  ~

I have probably stolen, without realizing it, your own job title of "impresario" rather unfairly. The reason I did this was that occasionally people started writing about me online as a "behavioral economist" and I realized that, among academic behavioral economists, this would drive them practically apoplectic to have someone with no qualifications in the field so described. (I'm a classicist by background in any case). So my being described as a behavioral economist would make them practically deranged.

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