AFFECTIVE FORECASTING...OR...THE BIG WOMBASSA: WHAT YOU THINK YOU'RE GOING TO GET, AND WHAT YOU DON'T GET, WHEN YOU GET WHAT YOU WANT
"The problem lies in how we imagine our future hedonic states. We are the only animals that can peer deeply into our futures—the only animal that can travel mentally through time, preview a variety of futures, and choose the one that will bring us the greatest pleasure and/or the least pain. This is a remarkable adaptation—which, incidentally, is directly tied to the evolution of the frontal lobe—because it means that we can learn from mistakes before we make them. We don't have to actually have gallbladder surgery or lounge around on a Caribbean beach to know that one of these is better than another. We may do this better than any other animal, but our research suggests that we don't do it perfectly. Our ability to simulate thefuture and to forecast our hedonic reactions to it is seriously flawed, and that people are rarely as happy or unhappy as they expect to be."
"In the domain of bodies, most of us accept that common sense is wrong. We concede that apparently solid objects are actually mostly empty space, consisting of tiny particles and fields of energy. Perhaps the same sort of reconciliation will happen in the domain of souls, and it will come to be broadly recognized that our dualist belief system, though intuitively appealing, is factually mistaken. Perhaps we will all come to agree with Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett and join the side of the "brights": those who reject the supernatural and endorse the world-view established by science."
"For a long time the fields of biology and psychology have been quite separate, and only in the last few years people have started thinking about brain imaging and about how the brain and mind relate. But they haven't really thought that much about another part of biology: developmental biology. Brain imaging tells you something about how the brain works, but that doesn't tell you anything about how the brain gets to be the way that it is. Of course, we also have the human genome sequence and have made enormous advances in genetics and related fields, and what I've been trying to do in the last few years is to relate all of the advances in biology to what people have been finding out in cognitive development and language acquisition."
"Most of the psychiatric drugs we use today are refinements of drugs whose value for mental disorders was discovered by accident decades ago. Now we can look forward to a more rational way to design psychiatric drugs. It will be guided by the identification of the gene variants that predispose certain people to particular mental disorders such as schizophrenia or severe depression."
"What interests me is the question of how humans learn to live with uncertainty. Before the scientific revolution determinism was a strong ideal. Religion brought about a denial of uncertainty, and many people knew that their kin or their race was exactly the one that God had favored. They also thought they were entitled to get rid of competing ideas and the people that propagated them. How does a society change from this condition into one in which we understand that there is this fundamental uncertainty? How do we avoid the illusion of certainty to produce the understanding that everything, whether it be a medical test or deciding on the best cure for a particular kind of cancer, has a fundamental element of uncertainty?"
"The main question is: "Why are empirical questions about how the mind works so weighted down with political and moral and emotional baggage? Why do people believe that there are dangerous implications to the idea that the mind is a product of the brain, that the brain is organized in part by the genome, and that the genome was shaped by natural selection?" This idea has been met with demonstrations, denunciations, picketings, and comparisons to Nazism, both from the right and from the left. And these reactions affect both the day-to-day conduct of science and the public appreciation of the science. By exploring the political and moral colorings of discoveries about what makes uws tick, we can have a more honest science and a less fearful intellectual milieu."
"There is a gigantic project yet to be done that will have the effect of rooting psychology in natural science. Once this is accomplished, you'll be able to go from phenomenology. . . to information processing. . . to the brain. . . down through the workings of the neurons, including the biochemistry, all the way to the biophysics and the way that genes are up-regulated and down-regulated."
"For humans, Chomsky's insights into the computational mechanisms underlying language really revolutionized the field, even though not all would agree with the approach he has taken. Nonetheless, the fact that he pointed to the universality of many linguistic features, and the poverty of the input for the child acquiring language, suggested that an innate computational mechanism must be at play. This insight revolutionized the field of linguistics, and set much of the cognitive sciences in motion. That's a verbal claim, and as Chomsky himself would quickly recognize, we really don't know how the brain generates such computation."
"There are going to be things that meet those conditions that are not interestingly computational by anybody's standards, and there are things that are going to fail to meet the standards, which nevertheless you see are significantly like the things that you want to consider computational. So how do you deal with that? By ignoring it, by ignoring the issue of definition, that's my suggestion. Same as with life! You don't want to argue about whether viruses are alive or not; in some ways they're alive, in some ways they're not. Some processes are obviously computational. Others are obviously not computational. Where does the computational perspective illuminate? Well, that depends on who's looking at the illumination."
"I work on developing an understanding of biological complexity and how we can create it, because the limits of software engineering have been clear now for two decades. The biggest programs anyone can build are about ten million lines of code. A real biological object — a creature, an ecosystem, a brain — is something with the same complexity as ten billion lines of code. And how do we get there?"