How to Avoid the Tribal Trap of Stories: A Scientific Approach to the Way We Think

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How to Avoid the Tribal Trap of Stories: A Scientific Approach to the Way We Think byUlysse PasquierPosted on October 22, 2018The real difference between us and chimpanzees is the mysterious glue that enables millions of humans to cooperate effectively. This mysterious glue is made of stories. —Yuval Noah Harari In Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari describes the stories we tell and believe as the precursors of the so-called cognitive revolution that occurred in our species. Harari explains that our unique ability to create and share fiction—an ability which sets us apart from other animals—allowed us to cooperate and organize into societies. We are constantly surrounded by tales, some of which more obvious to us than…

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…

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…

Don’t Be an Indoor Cat: The Danger of Safety Culture

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Too many of us are behaving like indoor cats these days. Let me explain. I was walking home late at night recently down the back lane to my house. I heard a loud thud as something landed on top of a garbage can. I looked up from my phone to see that it was a squirrel. The squirrel scurried away and I went back to reading late night instant messages. Then another thud. This time it was a cat. A thin, smoky colored athletic little guy, who propelled himself off of the garbage can and into the darkness in pursuit of the squirrel. It felt like I was watching an action movie with hero and villain leaping from rooftop to…