How Philosophy Can Reduce Your Confirmation Bias

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Early in my career as a professor, I recognized confirmation bias in my students. In her evaluation of reincarnation in Buddhism, for example, one student wrote that she found it “silly and weird.” This silliness and weirdness, apparently, did not also apply to her own belief in heaven and hell, which she fervently defended for reasons that would have equally applied to a belief in reincarnation. Confirmation bias is the tendency to favor one’s existing beliefs and to reinterpret or ignore evidence that contradicts them. I had realized years before that confirmation bias was strong in me, too. As I became more aware of the way I disagreed with friends, family and colleagues on a number of issues, I noticed…

China and the Loneliness of Not-Knowing

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Since the 1960s, psychologists and sociologists have recognized that loneliness doesn’t have much to do with being alone. As Adrian Franklin puts it, “loneliness could be experienced regardless of whether sufferers are connected to a spouse, family unit, neighborhood, or friendship circle.” According to Carl Jung, “loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.” Since I became an expat living in China, and experienced this for myself, I have realized just how accurate Jung’s description is, and how specific freedoms can act as a bulwark against loneliness. There are, of course, plenty of factors more commonly…

Liberalism as Pluralism: A Conservative Argument.

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There are several possible conservative arguments for the liberal tradition, especially within Anglo-American strains of liberalism. Michael Novak’s book The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, a serious account of the type of morality democratic capitalism requires and produces, offers one compelling narrative as to why the American tradition ought to be pursued. Yet, it is an outlier in conservative intellectual history: most of which is either anti-capitalist, or highly critical of capitalism.  Furthermore, like many conservative writers, Novak conceptually conflates capitalism, democracy and liberalism. Popular discussions of cultural Marxism, postmodernism and the alt right have also largely been avoided by conservative liberals. While John Gray, in The Two Faces of Liberalism, has raised excellent points on this subject, his book has only…

The Strange Order of Things by Antonio Damasio: Book Review

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Feelings are the mental expressions of homeostasis, while homeostasis, acting under the cover of feeling, is the functional thread that links early life-forms to the extraordinary partnership of bodies and nervous systems. That partnership is responsible for the emergence of conscious, feeling minds that are, in turn, responsible for what is most distinctive about humanity: cultures and civilizations… The striking achievements of science and philosophy over the last half-millennium have been marked by the continuous revision of humanity’s place in the cosmos. Heliocentrism was first conceived by the Greek astronomer and mathematician Aristarchus, who suggested that the earth was not the center of the universe. Almost two thousand years later, this theory became grounded in empirical evidence, thanks to astronomers…

A Big Emotion is Not an Emergency: Helping Teenagers Manage Their Emotions

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I learned early in my daughter’s toddler days that savvy moms don’t gasp or shriek when the baby falls and bumps herself. At playgroups, the correct response was modeled for me: toddler falls down; toddler looks toward mom with a face beginning to scrunch with distress and fear; mom, watching from across the room, responds reassuringly; baby goes back to playing. I, too, learned to call out you’re okay! in a pleasant sing song, despite having my heart in my throat. It turns out that the moms in my playgroup were onto something. Young children look to the emotional reactions of others to gauge the appropriate way to proceed. This is known as social referencing. Social referencing is a vital…