Why Do We Conform to Society?

 From Scientific Amercian:

Whether you subscribe to the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule or some instinctive moral code, society functions largely because most of its denizens adhere to a set of norms that allow them to live together in relative tranquility.

But, why is it that we put a vast amount of social resources into keeping stealing, murdering and other unfair (not to mention violent and illegal) acts to a minimum? Seems it all comes down to the fact that most of us don’t cotton to being punished by our peers.

“The reason why punishment for norm violations is important is that it disciplines the potential norm violators,” says Ernst Fehr, an economist at the University of Zurich and the senior author of a paper on the issue published [last] week in Neuron. In the new study, Fehr and colleagues uncovered activity in two areas of the brain underlying the neural mechanism involved in conforming to society’s values.  MORE

Crime and Punishment: Why Do We Conform to Society?: Scientific American

A rough guide to philosophy and neuroscience


Mind Hacks:

“Philosophy is now an essential part of cognitive science but this wasn’t always the case. A fantastic new article, available online as a pdf, describes how during the last 25 years philosophy has undergone a revolution in which it has contributed to, and been inspired by, neuroscience.

The article is by two philosophers, Profs Andrew Brook and Pete Mandik, and it’s a wonderful summary of how the revolution occurred and just how we’ve benefited from philosophers turning their attention to cognitive science.

But it also notes how evidence from psychology and neuroscience is being used by philosophers to better understand concepts – such as perception, belief and consciousness – that have been the concern of thinkers from as far back as the Ancient Greeks.

It’s an academic article, so it’s fairly in-depth in places, but if you want a concise introduction to some of the key issues philosophy of mind is dealing with, and how this directly applies to current problems in the cognitive sciences, look no further.

The scope is wonderfully broad and there’s a huge amount of world-shaking information packed into it.

It’s particularly good if you’re a psychologist or neuroscientist and want a guide to how philosophy is helping us make sense of the mind and brain.”

Get the PDF here.

The Targets of Aggression

From Chronicle.com:

“‘Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd. He served a dark and an angry god.’ Thus begins Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a darkly comic tale of multiple murders and unwitting cannibalism. Who is this dark, angry god? And why did Todd serve him?

Set in Dickensian London, Sweeney Todd is the tale of a man whose lovely wife had the misfortune to catch the eye of a lecherous judge. To facilitate his evil designs, the judge has Sweeney transported to Australia, where he spends the next 15 years at hard labor. But the wronged fellow eventually escapes and returns to London, bereft of his wife, his daughter, and his reason for living. Not surprisingly, Todd vows revenge, and is about to get it just as Act I concludes. Facing lethal retribution from the enraged barber, the judge narrowly escapes, whereupon Todd slits someone else’s throat instead, and then quite a few others. Sweeney Todd ‘takes it out’ on the innocent citizens of London, butchering his clients (who then are baked into meat pies and sold to unsuspecting folk).

But this ‘god’ is universal, and Todd is hardly alone in behaving this way. For as long as there have been human beings on earth — stretching back to our animal inheritance — we have been bedeviled by a peculiar need, as insistent as it has been tragic: Making others suffer for the pain we feel, often choosing as our victim someone who wasn’t even the original perpetrator. Biologists call it ‘displaced’ or ‘redirected’ aggression. It operates through the transfer of pain, sometimes physical, sometimes psychological. And it has been going on for a very long time.”

Read on….

A Left-Handed Salute


The Claremont Institute – A Left-Handed Salute, a review of The Intellectuals and the Flag, by Todd Gitlin:

“This short, loosely organized collection of occasional essays makes for a surprisingly interesting and valuable book, well worth reading and pondering. Sociologist and radical activist Todd Gitlin, who has been a figure in the American Left since his Vietnam-era days in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), has made a serious effort to reflect on the failures of the American Left since the 1960s. The criticisms he puts forward here, which are inevitably self-criticisms in part, are unsparing and penetrating, made all the more memorable by his unacademic, direct, and often epigrammatic style.

Gitlin’s criticism is relentless, and will win him few new friends on the Left, though it will likely energize the many enemies he already has there. He sees a story rich with irony, in which it has been precisely the Left’s most triumphant expressions in contemporary American life that led it into the spiritual wasteland in which it now finds itself. And for this lost condition, he believes, the Left has only itself to blame. It embraced the smug disassociation from existing society epitomized in the sweeping call by émigré philosopher and ’60s hero Herbert Marcuse for a ‘Great Refusal’ of the confining ideals and crass manipulations of the modern capitalist political economy. But the embrace of Marcuse’s influential but ill-defined slogan has amounted in practice to a ‘great withdrawal,’ a narcissistic retreat into self-proclaimed ‘marginality,’ an obsession with ever more minute forms of identity politics and the infinite ‘problematizing’ of ‘truth,’ a reflexive opposition to America and the West, and an immurement in ‘theories’ whose radicalism is so pure that they never quite touch down to earth—follies all underwritten and protected by the perquisites and comforts of academia.

Gitlin argues that the results may have benefited individual leftists, who have feathered their own nests quite nicely by fusing radicalism and academic careerism, but they have been unambiguously disastrous for the Left as a political force outside the academy. ‘If we had a manual,’ Gitlin remarks, ‘it would be called, What is Not to Be Done.’ The Great Refusal turns out to have been little more than ‘a shout from an ivory tower,’ an advertisement of futility that was unable to conceal the despair, paralysis, and general contempt, including self-contempt, that lay behind it.”

Daniel Kahneman's Cognitive Biases 'masterclass' online

From Mindhacks (again!)

Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman recently gave a two day masterclass on his work. It’s now been made available on Edge as transcripts and video clips.

Kahneman has done a huge amount of work on cognitive biases – the quirks of mind that make us deviate from rationality, sometimes in quite surprising and interesting ways.

…Kahneman has been involved in identifying many of these sorts of biases, and cleverly, applying them to economic decision making to inform economic models of financial behaviour.

As a result, experimental psychology is now a key part of economics to understand how people actually behave as opposed to earlier models which assumed that people will always act more-or-less rationally to maximise their profits.

The Edge ‘masterclass’ is quite a comprehensive guide to his work and covers work which has been influential in many areas of psychology.

Link to Edge Daniel Kahneman ‘masterclass’.”