(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘social psychology

“In the deepest sense the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is a search for ourselves”*…

Will the monumental moment of first contact fuel division among war-hungry humanity, or will it inspire our better angels and unite us? Becky Ferreira considers…

Do intelligent aliens exist somewhere out there in the universe? It is a grand mystery that has captivated humans for generations, fueling ever-more sophisticated searches of the skies for signs of advanced civilizations. But while aliens have taken many forms in our imaginations—from hostile invaders to inscrutable ciphers—we have absolutely no idea what extraterrestrial life-forms might look like, how they would communicate, or even if they exist at all.

We can, however, make some assumptions about the only intelligent space-faring species that we know of—humans—and how we might react to contact with an alien civilization. Indeed, people have spent decades developing protocols that attempt to anticipate this momentous event and all of the extraordinary potential consequences it could have on our civilization. It’s an especially important question now, as the world appears more strongly divided than at any time in recent memory, with major powers taking on increasingly antagonistic stances toward each other. 

In 2020, a pair of researchers dug into this question in an article in Space Policy by suggesting that humans might pose as big a risk to ourselves in the aftermath of alien contact as any extraterrestrial species…

The potential consequences of first contact: “Scientists Are Gaming Out What Humanity Will Do If Aliens Make Contact,” from @beckyferreira in @VICE.

* Carl Sagan

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As we listen carefully, we might note that today is the (fictional) birthday of ALF (Alien Life Form), from the 1980s TV series of the same name; he was born on this date in 1756 on the planet Melmac. ALF follows an amateur radio signal to Earth and crash-lands into the garage of the Tanners, a suburban middle-class family who live in the San Fernando Valley area of California. While largely a sit-com, it wove thematic threads (that echo that echo films like The Day the Earth Stood Still and ET) to explore exactly the issues raised in the piece linked above.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 28, 2022 at 1:00 am

“The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation”*…

… and happily that prospect may be more likely than we’d been led to believe in works like Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone

Despite widespread worries that the social fabric is disintegrating, data from the American Psychological Association shows that since the 1950s, cooperation between strangers has steadily increased in the United States.

“We were surprised by our findings that Americans became more cooperative over the last six decades because many people believe U.S. society is becoming less socially connected, less trusting, and less committed to the common good,” said lead researcher Yu Kou, Ph.D., a professor of social psychology at Beijing Normal University. “Greater cooperation within and between societies may help us tackle global challenges, such as responses to pandemics, climate change, and immigrant crises.”

Over 63,000 people participated in 511 studies that were carried out in the US between 1956 and 2017 that were analyzed by the researchers. These studies included lab tests that evaluated strangers’ cooperation. The study was recently published in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

The study discovered a slight, gradual rise in collaboration over the period of 61 years…

Good News: Cooperation Among Strangers Has Increased for the Past 60 Years.” The full study is here.

* Bertrand Russell

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As we bowl together, we might recall that any improvement on cooperation is on a base that’s not too high: it was on this date in 1957 that nine Black students, having been denied entrance to Little Rock, Arkansas’ Central High School (in defiance of a 1954 Supreme Court ruling), were escorted to school by soldiers of the Airborne Battle Group of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. Two days earlier the Black students had faced an angry mob of over 1,000 Whites in front of Central High School who were protesting the integration project; as the students were escorted inside by the Little Rock police (supporting national Guard troops), violence escalated, and they were removed from the school. President Eisenhower responded by calling in the regular Army.

Elizabeth Eckford attempts to enter Central High on September 4, 1957

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 25, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up”*…

A supposed “crisis in masculinity” is much in the public discourse these days. But as Jules Evans points out, we’ve been here before…

Last month Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson released a TV series called The End of Men, warning that American men were becoming effete, flabby and sterile. Civilization is descending into chaos, the series suggests, but that’s OK, because ‘hard times produce strong men’. It also featured a man tanning his testicles to the tune of Thus Spake Zarathustra (you can watch the trailer here).

With that Nietzschean image in mind, now seems like a good time to tell the story of President Theodore Roosevelt and his cult of manliness. Teddy Roosevelt preached a life-philosophy of vigour, and embodied this in his own romantic life. His words and deeds made him an icon to the online ‘manosphere’. Indeed, the popular website ‘Art of Manliness’ sells inspirational posters of him, and calls him ‘the patron saint of manliness’.

And yet there is a darker side to his life-philosophy. It included Social Darwinian attitudes that might makes right, only the strong deserve to survive, there are fitter and less fit races, and the white race has a right to conquer other races, while itself needing to be strengthened through eugenics. It’s a story that helps us explore some of the ways that wellness, men’s fitness, the human potential movement and ecological conservation can lead to ‘spiritual eugenics’

The history– and the dark downside– of the “cult of masculinity,” “Teddy Roosevelt and the End of Men,” from @JulesEvans11.

C.f. also: Benito Mussolini and Vladimir Putin.

* Ronald Wright

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As we parse power, we might recall that it was on this date in 1997 that software running on Deep Blue (an IBM supercomputer) became the first computer program to defeat a world champion in a match under tournament regulations.

The year before, Garry Kasparov had defeated Deep Blue (4-2). In the rematch, Kasparov won the first game but lost the second. The the next three games were draws. And the sixth game lasted only a little over an hour after just 19 moves.

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“Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth”*…

Gerardo Dottori, Explosion of Red on Green, 1910, oil on canvas. London, Tate Modern. [source]

A crop of new books attempts to explain the allure of conspiracy theories and the power of belief; Trevor Quirk considers them…

For the millions who were enraged, disgusted, and shocked by the Capitol riots of January 6, the enduring object of skepticism has been not so much the lie that provoked the riots but the believers themselves. A year out, and book publishers confirmed this, releasing titles that addressed the question still addling public consciousness: How can people believe this shit? A minority of rioters at the Capitol had nefarious intentions rooted in authentic ideology, but most of them conveyed no purpose other than to announce to the world that they believed — specifically, that the 2020 election was hijacked through an international conspiracy — and that nothing could sway their confidence. This belief possessed them, not the other way around.

At first, I’d found the riots both terrifying and darkly hilarious, but those sentiments were soon overwon by a strange exasperation that has persisted ever since. It’s a feeling that has robbed me of my capacity to laugh at conspiracy theories — QAnon, chemtrails, lizardmen, whatever — and the people who espouse them. My exasperation is for lack of an explanation. I see Trump’s most devoted hellion, rampaging down the halls of power like a grade schooler after the bell, and I need to know the hidden causes of his dopey rebellion. To account for our new menagerie of conspiracy theories, I told myself, would be to reclaim the world from entropy, to snap experience neatly to the grid once again. I would use recent books as the basis for my account of conspiracy theories in the age of the internet. From their pages I would extract insights and errors like newspaper clippings, pin the marginal, bizarre, and seemingly irrelevant details to the corkboard of my mind, where I could spy eerie resonances, draw unseen connections. At last, I could reveal that our epistemic bedlam is as a Twombly canvas — messy but decipherable…

Learn with @trevorquirk: “Out There,” in @GuernicaMag.

* Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

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As we tangle with truth, we might send rigorous birthday greetings to Gustav Bergmann; he was born on this date in 1906. A philosopher, he was a member of the Vienna Circle, a a group of philosophers and scientists drawn from the natural and social sciences, logic and mathematics, whose values were rooted in the ideals of the Enlightenment. Their approach, logical positivism, an attempt to use logic to make philosophy “scientific,” has had immense influence on 20th-century philosophy, especially on the philosophy of science and analytic philosophy… even if it has not, in fact, eliminated the issues explored above.

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We might also send birthday greetings in the form of logical and semantic puzzles both to the precocious protagonist of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and to her inspiration, Alice Liddell; they were “born” on this date in 1852.

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“Our social tools are not an improvement to modern society, they are a challenge to it”*…

Nicolás Ortega. Source: “Turris Babel,” Coenraet Decker, 1679

Jonathan Haidt ponders the poisonous impact of social media, arguing that “It’s not just a phase,” and what considers we might do about it…

… It’s been clear for quite a while now that red America and blue America are becoming like two different countries claiming the same territory, with two different versions of the Constitution, economics, and American history. But Babel is not a story about tribalism; it’s a story about the fragmentation of everything. It’s about the shattering of all that had seemed solid, the scattering of people who had been a community. It’s a metaphor for what is happening not only between red and blue, but within the left and within the right, as well as within universities, companies, professional associations, museums, and even families.

Babel is a metaphor for what some forms of social media have done to nearly all of the groups and institutions most important to the country’s future—and to us as a people. How did this happen? And what does it portend for American life?

The high point of techno-democratic optimism was arguably 2011, a year that began with the Arab Spring and ended with the global Occupy movement. That is also when Google Translate became available on virtually all smartphones, so you could say that 2011 was the year that humanity rebuilt the Tower of Babel. We were closer than we had ever been to being “one people,” and we had effectively overcome the curse of division by language. For techno-democratic optimists, it seemed to be only the beginning of what humanity could do.

In February 2012, as he prepared to take Facebook public, Mark Zuckerberg reflected on those extraordinary times and set forth his plans. “Today, our society has reached another tipping point,” he wrote in a letter to investors. Facebook hoped “to rewire the way people spread and consume information.” By giving them “the power to share,” it would help them to “once again transform many of our core institutions and industries.”

In the 10 years since then, Zuckerberg did exactly what he said he would do. He did rewire the way we spread and consume information; he did transform our institutions, and he pushed us past the tipping point. It has not worked out as he expected…

Social media and society: “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid,” from @JonHaidt in @TheAtlantic. Eminently worth reading in full.

See also: “The big idea: how to win the fight against disinformation.”

* Clay Shirky

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As we follow Jaron Lanier‘s advice to “go to where you are kindest,” we might recall that it was on this date 1397 that Geoffrey Chaucer “told” (read aloud) The Canterbury Tales for the first time at the court of Richard II.

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A woodcut from William Caxton‘s second edition of The Canterbury Tales, printed in 1483

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