Dec 212011

I’ve been catching up on a lot of reading with my kindle and the lovely I found this article particularly good. Not only because it outlines how technology will change how we view crimes, but also a framework for how we should implement that understanding in the future. I recommend checking it out:

The Brain on Trial by David Eagleman in the Atlantic.

Today, neuroimaging is a crude technology, unable to explain the details of individual behavior. We can detect only large-scale problems, but within the coming decades, we will be able to detect patterns at unimaginably small levels of the microcircuitry that correlate with behavioral problems. Neuroscience will be better able to say why people are predisposed to act the way they do. As we become more skilled at specifying how behavior results from the microscopic details of the brain, more defense lawyers will point to biological mitigators of guilt, and more juries will place defendants on the not-blameworthy side of the line.

May 252011

Given the continued coverage of crimes it is sometimes easy to forget we are very lucky.  As reported this morning, murder and other crime continues to drop in California and around the world.  In fact, if you look at crime from a historical perspective, we are really the luckiest people that have ever lived, and things are only getting better.  Steven Pinker’s TED talk on the myth of violence does a great job showing how we are living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.

May 262010

I just finished listening to a short from Radiolab called Killing Babies, Saving the World. The subject follows a lot of discussions I’ve had with friends over the years about the differences in logic choices depending on how abstract a benefit is, or how overloaded one’s thought processes are. It does a great job of illustrating how our minds have changed over time, and how much further we still need to go to confront some of the long term (and somewhat disconnected) issues that challenge our species. Highly recommended.

Jan 032008

Wired has a really interesting story called Clive Thompson on How the Next Victim of Climate Change Will Be Our Minds

People are feeling displaced. They’re suffering symptoms eerily similar to those of indigenous populations that are forcibly removed from their traditional homelands. But nobody is being relocated; they haven’t moved anywhere. It’s just that the familiar markers of their area, the physical and sensory signals that define home, are vanishing. Their environment is moving away from them, and they miss it terribly.

Albrecht has given this syndrome an evocative name: solastalgia. It’s a mashup of the roots solacium (comfort) and algia (pain), which together aptly conjure the word nostalgia. In essence, it’s pining for a lost environment. “Solastalgia,” as he wrote in a scientific paper describing his theory, “is a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home.'”

…Ironically, we may simply be rediscovering a syndrome that we thought was dead and buried. Back in the 1940s, the military considered homesickness to be a serious and potentially fatal illness, because drafted soldiers who got shipped overseas would often become savagely depressed. These days, Americans are rarely dislocated against their will, and the army is all-volunteer. Few of us have the experience of being unmoored in the world.

But that may be changing rapidly. In a world that’s quickly heating up and drying up, you can’t go home again — even if you never leave.

It is a very thought provoking topic for me. I’ve often thought about what it will be like to watch things change around us. Will we move further north with the climate, or adapt and stay?

Nov 162007

I somehow ended up talking about the hedonic treadmill with a friend last night. Shortly after that I ended up reading Pursuing Happiness from Heifer’s World Ark:

Could it be that our biggest social problems today—failing public schools, skyrocketing health costs, widening wealth inequalities, collapsing infrastructure—are related to the fact that, in the midst of plenty, so many Americans still feel they don’t have enough? Could this explain, at least partially, why, as a nation, we have disinvested from so many public goods that don’t yield short-term returns? Happy, trusting, optimistic people almost always want others to prosper, too, and they think about the future. It is only when we get stuck in a mindset of scarcity that we cling to what we have and wall ourselves off from others, especially the have-nots.

Now one of the top linked stories online is this Newsweek article, Why Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness:

If money doesn’t buy happiness, what does? Grandma was right when she told you to value health and friends, not money and stuff. Or as Diener and Seligman put it, once your basic needs are met “differences in well-being are less frequently due to income, and are more frequently due to factors such as social relationships and enjoyment at work.” Other researchers add fulfillment, a sense that life has meaning, belonging to civic and other groups, and living in a democracy that respects individual rights and the rule of law. If a nation wants to increase its population’s sense of well-being, says Veenhoven, it should make “less investment in economic growth and more in policies that promote good governance, liberties, democracy, trust and public safety.”

Happiness is a good thing to dwell on every once and a while.