Tag Archive: Cognitive science


This video, from RSA Animate, discusses the cognitive science behind empathy. There are some surprises in the video, including the fact that there are similarities between humans and animals in their empathic response.

Sure, the word ’empathy’ got a bad rap from the “greed is good” crowd, but never underestimate the power of politics for self-promotion to turn a noble virtue into something scorned. Hopefully this video will help restore it to the prominence it deserves:
RSA Animate: The Empathic Civilisation

Advertisements

Sarah Palin (Wikipedia)

Anyone who has watched American TV during the past two decades should understand that the lies that are propagated by the corporate media are all around us. Whether the discussion be about health care, human rights, the environment or American foreign policy, the tenor of the national discussion in the corporate media always seems swing toward lunatic right wing assertions. Whether it be death panels, Obama’s birth certificate, climate change denial, claims that elementary school teachers are fat cats, privatization of public entitlements, anything mentioned about Ronald Reagan or the belief that free-market capitalism is self-sustaining and good for American workers, the lies consistently support the position of the advantaged by confusing and dividing the masses. But why are the people so taken by the strategy employed by corporate interests? The Buzzflash Blog recently posted an OpEd piece by Peter Michaelson, a privately practicing psychoanalytic psychotherapist from Michigan, who explains why:

Many of us experience anxious, inner turmoil when our beliefs are directly challenged by opposing ideas and beliefs (or, even more distressing, by facts). The emotional impact might be, “Who am I, who will I be, without my beliefs?”

Some individuals can feel a frightening cognitive dissonance, like a lost soul in existential panic, when confronted with facts that do not correspond with their belief system. To avoid this fear, they refuse unconsciously to assimilate the facts into their intelligence.

These are observations from a University of Michigan study, that is also discussed on alternet.org. The lead researcher from the study, Brendan Nyhan of the University of Michigan, puts it this way: “The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong.”

That is why it is possible for Fox News and the Republicans to convince their followers that a noble human virtue such as empathy is a source of injustice immediately after Obama criticized the Republicans for their lack of empathy on health care reform.

Luckily, there are still ways to convince some people to accept reality, though it does not work for everyone. Traumatic events such as job loss, health crisis and the like – all of which are promoted by right-wing policies – can serve to convince delusional minds that they have followed the wrong path. Ideally, however, one would hope there is a way to convince people of reality before they suffer the ill-effects of their illogic. Yet psychiatrist Scott Peck is quoted in the alternet article:

“Only a relative and fortunate few continue until the moment of death exploring the mystery of reality, ever enlarging and refining and redefining their understanding of the world and what is true.”

If this is true, there is only one other form of recourse, and that is to expose and discredit the sources of the misinformation using cognitive science as a guide before they have a chance to create more victims.