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Old 12-25-2010, 01:57 PM
Ocean Ocean is offline
Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: US Northeast
Posts: 6,784
Default Re: Science Saturday: Christmas Optimism Edition

Nice talk for a holiday morning. It may have been over an hour, but the conversation was so entertaining that it felt shorter.

John commented on a couple of movies he's watched in recent days. He found a topic which he calls "dark" and goes on to describe movies that contain some variation of mental illness. I haven't watched any of those movies, but I think he refers to the always successful argument of presenting a story that walks the thin line between sanity and madness. It does tap on our inner fear of insanity. Our ties to reality are so central to psychological survival, that any threat, real or imagined can become the most salient event. And that's exactly what movie makers want, their audience's full attention, heightened by questioning the ability to discern between reality and insanity. Remember the classic movie Gaslight? Notice here the agonizing state of anxiety that Ingrid Bergman goes into when Charles Boyer plays another trick on her. He masters the combination of unexplained events (the missing picture, which creates a cognitive dissonance and uncertainty), his display of disapproval towards her (eroding her self esteem and confidence), and interrupting a cheerful moment (turns a moment of shared happiness into emotional rejection and doubt).

In reference to Jesse Bering and his incident in Ireland, I can only say that even research psychologists can benefit from therapy.

Susan Blackmore's book the Meme Machine is an excellent one and gives a very comprehensive description of memes and how they operate. Here the discussion was about her change in opinion about whether the religion meme plexus, is a mostly negative one or positive. It's the well known topic about whether religion is positive or negative for society. John talked about Susan now admitting to positive effects of religion, including the fact that they reproduce more and there are studies that show that religious people are happier. George pointed out how some of the effects in terms of creating a cohesive group would also be positive from a group selection perspective. There wasn't much depth to the discussion. I would only point out that the effects of religion can only be interpreted in a historical context. The effects of religion, such as creating a bond between members of a group, imparting unequivocal moral values with built in consequences, can be positive in a variety of contexts. However, the same characteristics can be extremely counterproductive when they are applied in the context of rivalry with another group that may have a different set of values. Religious wars being the best known detrimental effect.

Towards the end John and George revisit the topic of population growth and cumulative population numbers (number of people that have ever lived). The numbers do sound somewhat wrong. I tried to find out more about it by doing some internet searches, and the number that came up in a couple of places is that the total number of people that has lived to the present is about 110 Billion. George says that his facts tell 107 Trillion. He was surprised about it and contacted the organization from which he got the data (Population Research Bureau) and they confirmed the number. I don't know what's accurate and what not, but at least I can tell that a possible source of confusion could come from the different meaning of billion and trillion in different parts of the world.

Thank you both, and have a wonderful holiday season, and merry Christmas too!
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