Nick Haslam reviews 'Scatterbrain: How the mind’s mistakes make humans creative, innovative and successful' by Henning Beck
Once, when we humans reflected on what made us special, we latched on to those qualities that distinguished us from the rest of creation. We were smarter, more rational, more cognitively capable. The philosopher Joseph de Maistre, for example, proposed that ‘the concept of number is the obvious distinction between beast and man’. More recently, with the onrush of the digital age, we have come to feel less confident in our mental powers. We may understand numbers better than other beasts, but our phones can carry out arithmetic calculations at inconceivable speeds and beat the brainiest among us at chess.... (read more)
A few intellectually superior women exist, conceded nineteenth-century anthropologist Gustav Le Bon, but ‘they are as exceptional as the birth of any monstrosity, as, for example, of a gorilla with two heads’. Armed with cephalometers, scales, and birdseed for measuring skull volumes ...... (read more)
How does consciousness, the feeling of what happens, emerge from the object that Tim Parks describes in this engaging book as ‘a gruesome pinkish grey, vaguely intestinal lump’? Is mind identical with brain, is it secreted by it in some fashion, or does it, as some philosophers suggest, mysteriously ‘supervene’ on ...... (read more)
Social psychology has a few iconic experiments that have entered public consciousness. There is the shaken but obliging participant who delivers potentially lethal electric shocks to another person in Stanley Milgram’s obedience research. There are the young Californians who descend into an orgy of brutality and ...... (read more)
Shortly after Sigmund Freud’s death in 1939, W.H. Auden published an elegy to the famous Viennese refugee. Auden’s Freud is flawed and fallible – ‘He wasn’t clever at all: he merely told / the unhappy Present to recite the Past’ – but unquestionably great. ‘If some traces of the autocratic pose, / the paternal ...... (read more)
Nick Haslam reviews 'The Secret Life of The Mind: How our brain thinks, feels, and decides' by Mariano Sigman
Along time ago in a university far, far away, I received an application for graduate study in psychology. The applicant claimed to have no particular orientation to the field, just a broad and open-minded curiosity. In her own words, she was a ‘tabula rosa’: a rose tablet. The student had misrendered John Locke’s famous tabula rasa, the empiricist metaphor of ...
Nick Haslam reviews 'A Day in the Life of the Brain: The neuroscience of consciousness from dawn till dusk' by Susan Greenfield
The youthful genre of popular neuroscience enjoys a few advantages that popular psychology, its older sibling, does not. The general public holds neuroscience in higher esteem, more confident in its scientific legitimacy. The concreteness of brain science – its colourful scans, its focus on a kilogram or so of custardy matter rather than a weightless cloud of mind ...
The spectrum of opinion on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – ADHD in the acronym-crazed world of psychiatry – runs from the firiest red to the deepest purple ...... (read more)
Conventional wisdom has it that Ivan Pavlov made dogs salivate to the sound of a bell, discovered the conditioned reflex, and laid the foundations for behaviourism, an austere creed that ruled the mind to be off limits for science. Almost all of this is false. Pavlov’s bell was in fact a sophisticated adjustable buzzer. The ‘conditioned reflex’ is a mistransla ...
There may or may not be an epidemic of autism, but the idea of 'autism' has been remarkably catching. Once understood as a vanishingly rare condition, identified only in 1943 ...... (read more)