Tagged human nature

Triumph of the (Teenage) Human Spirit

Resilience is sometimes astounding, and we need to acknowledge it.

school-group-wearing-red-c-uA boy, in flames, is running, screaming, across the parking lot of his school on an otherwise ordinary morning. The image evokes Vietnam or Bosnia, but it is Charleston, South Carolina, Wednesday, December 8. The school happens to be the number-one ranked Academic Magnet High School in the United States, and it shares a campus with a highly regarded School of the Arts. The burning boy is running toward the magnet school’s front doors. Read more

Psychological States As Ancient Adaptations

Depressed? Anxious? Happy? Resilient? Thank a hunter-gatherer in your past.

women-at-mongongo-groves-copy3I’ve considered here the high probability that obesity and diabetes are diseases of civilization and the possibility that ADHD may in part be as well. But what about other psychological symptoms and disorders? Randolph Nesse , a distinguished psychiatrist at the University of Michigan, has long been thinking about depression and anxiety in evolutionary perspective, and so have I and others.
Depression is a kind of withdrawal. Although it can be severe or long enough to hurt your reproductive options and even endanger your life, it is sometimes a symptom that gets you out of harm’s way. Read more

The Happiness Summit: Four Religious Leaders Talk

Religious summit finds happiness in relationships and even in suffering.

dalai-lama-emoryLast month at Emory (my university), the Dalai Lama was the center of a conversation-a “summit,” according to the press-on happiness. Also included were a Presiding Episcopal Bishop, the Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth, and a famed Islamic scholar. None of them said anything about mood, and several denied that happiness has much to do with pleasure. Read more

The Social Network, 10,000 BP

Do 21st-century networks hark back to the distant past?

Picture a fire in an otherwise pitch-dark cave, or outside on a still plain on a moonless, starry night. Drop the temperature a bit, perhaps, and add the distant wail of a coyote or some wild dogs. Now add the most important ingredient: four or seven or ten people sitting around the fire talking, Read more

Epidemic Obesity: Adaptation Gone Wild

Obesity is unnatural, but it’s natural to try for it.

titian_venus_mirrorThis morning I sat on a panel for medical students; the subject was obesity. Nationally, as anyone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock knows, the picture is not pretty-in fact it’s pretty ugly. By the standard definition, obesity means a Body Mass Index (BMI; weight in kilos over height in meters squared) above 30, and in about 15 years starting in 1990 we went from 22 percent to 33 percent obese.

Now, I don’t care what you call it or Read more

Human Nature in High Places

Statesmen understand human nature. Why not psychologists and social scientists?

apg_obama_nobel_091009_mn1Most psychologists don’t like human nature, or at least not the idea of it. Clinicians, life coaches, and corporate motivators dislike it because it implies unchangeability. Anyone who took college psychology knows how to modify behavior, from direct instruction to manipulative advertising.

And then, what fool surveying the huge variety of human personalities, needs, and tastes would dream of trying to characterize all that as one thing? Well, some fool might, but not the philosophers, evolutionists, historians and political leaders who have long used the phrase. They’ve always meant something complex, varied, and big-but not limitless.

 Barack Obama, for instance. Read more

Barack Obama on War and Human Nature

Is Barack Obama an evolutionary psychologist?

Since I criticized President Obama’s speech last year in Cairo (and even “rewrote” it) and later pointed out the names and deeds of those who did not get the Nobel Peace Prize because he did, I think it’s only fair that I resume this blog after a long hiatus by writing about his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in December.

I have to say that it stunned me. Read more

The “New Biology” and “The Self”

A couple of weeks ago I posted some musings about “the self” in anticipation of being on a panel with Steven Pinker (author of The Blank Slate and The Stuff of Thought) and Noga Arikha (author of Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours) at Tufts University. The panel, convened by Jonathan Wilson, was titled “The New Biology and the Self,” and what follows was my contribution. The graduate student referred to is Monica Chau of Emory University.

I told a very smart neurobiology graduate student named Monica yesterday that I’d been asked to speak on “The New Biology and the Self.” She said, “What’s the new biology?” I said, “I don’t know, but that’s the least of my problems. What’s the self?” Read more

She’s a Hero

kimberly-munley-hero-fort-hoodThank goodness for a brave woman with character to spare

Five feet and four inches of pure skill and courage, Kimberly Denise Munley, at lunchtime Thursday, saved an unknown but large number of people from injury and death. She did it by running straight toward a terrorist armed with two guns blazing at her and she kept walking into that deadly barrage until both of them fell with serious wounds. Around them were the bodies of the twelve people the terrorist had murdered and at least thirty he had injured—one, it turned out, also fatally. Read more