Finals Week (6/7/19) – Student Presentations II

Here is the schedule for the second session of Student Presentations with excerpt links (requires course enrollment):

7:00 Dinner served
7:15 Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead To a More Meaningful Life (Pigliucci)
7:40 The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves (Kandel)
8:05 The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains (Lustig)
8:30 Break
8:35 How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (Pollan)
9:00 Why Does Patriarchy Exist? (Gilligan and Snider)
9:25 The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World (Mann)
9:50 Summary and wrap-up

9 thoughts on “Finals Week (6/7/19) – Student Presentations II

  1. Hacking of the American Mind: I am interested in how we can begin to dissociate pleasure with happiness, after corporations attempt to have us conflate them so that we buy products that give us dopamine spikes (190). I imagine there are other ways we can gain freedom over our experience that has been robbed by corporations that own us in a materialistic consumer-capitalist society.

    For example, since the advent of social media, we have begun “making our lives about the number of likes we can receive” (196). This motive for social approval has created an oppressive burden in our lives, that guides our interactions and makes our motives for doing certain activities or being with certain people disingenuous.

    Now that the neural mechanisms behind this manipulation are clear to us: conflating dopamine with serotonin and knowing that consumerist propaganda and social media increase our cortisol which reduces our PFC’s ability to rationally reason through decisions, we can in theory take more ownership over our decisions by consciously blocking those avenues. We can be more aware of the media we consume, whether it’s songs, tv shows, magazines, or social media like Instagram or Facebook. We can consciously try to delete apps, accounts, or set limits on time spent online so that we reduce its hold on our free will that has been “hijacked.” When we feel this “fear” intended to make us feel insecure and buy things, we can realize what is happening and self-soothe, instead of giving into the manipulation. This idea has implications for body image, phone addiction, and unhealthy food, all areas that would contribute to our mental and physical health and our efficacy in terms of increasing our ability to concentrate and fulfill goals.


  2. In The Wizard and the Prophet, Mann describes a tension between food produced through chemical assistance and organic foods. Particularly with ammonia, the Haber-Bosch process “literally changed the land and sky, reshaped the oceans, and powerfully affected the fortunes of humanity…[making] it possible to ‘win bread from air’” (170). The synthetic fertilizer was responsible for feeding ~3.25 billion people, prevented deaths, and allowed people to focus on things like art and science.

    However, not all affects are positive. The fertilizer creates dead zones and kills off our protective ozone layer. Sir Robert McCarrison, a physician, saw that people like the Ismaili Muslim in Hunza Valley who ate natural foods “[were] unsurpassed in perfection of physique and in freedom from disease in general’” (174). The Hunza were not educated or wealthy, so McCarrison concluded diet must be the cause of their health. This inspired McCarrison to test chemically produced grains versus naturally produced grains. He found that animals fed with natural grains grew better than those given chemical grains.

    The narrative of the fight between natural and chemical reverberates in the modern day, particularly in the organic versus genetically modified organisms (GMOs) debate. Walking into a Whole Foods or Trader Joes would tell you there’s a clear movement for organic products. However, prices are typically higher, which leads to issues of equality. Past this, there is also the rise of completely engineered foods like plant based meats from Impossible Foods. With more synthetic foods arising, what responsibility does the government hold for regulating these foods and how do we completely understand their side effects while not stopping the advent of technology? It is difficult to tell Mann’s opinion from the excerpt as he stays fairly neutral to both sides, but perhaps he explains his view at another point in the book.


  3. In the excerpt provided, Lustig begins with some powerful and important points about marketing. However, I believe he reveals himself to be out of his depth when it comes to technology.
    Lustig claims that “by conflating the notions of pleasure and happiness, [corporations] know how to get a rise out of your dopamine and cortisol” (186). By teaching us through marketing that pleasurable things (which increase our dopamine level and are addictive) are the same as happy things (which are longer lasting), companies like McDonalds and Coke get us to associate happiness with unhealthy products. I agree with this strongly: even though many consumers are now aware that such products are unhealthy and possibly lead to unhappiness, we mostly can’t stop restrain ourselves. Lustig even goes so far as to call such advertising “inherently biased and misleading” (190), and not just marketing but “by its very nature propaganda” (190).

    However, I think he goes to far when discussing technology. He writes that “cell phone use is linked with stress, sleep loss, and depression in young adults (although of course causation cannot be proven)” (191). He does so with a logical link: being on your phone—> sleeping less—> tired—>lower GPA. He also uses small anecdotes of extreme gamers to claim internet addiction a crisis. He even compares internet addiction to the opioid crisis (194), which I find incredibly irresponsible and misinformed. While cell phones and the internet are certainly distracting, it is unfair to claim that they are the same as fast food. Hearing a notification on your phone may produce the same dopamine spike as eating a whopper, but the former is likely because you are getting information about something/someone you care about. Lustig attempts to sound countercultural, but ends up sounding more like a grumpy dad.


  4. In Answers for Aristotle, Pigliucci makes the case for sci-phi as “a promising way to approach the perennial questions concerning how we construct the meaning of our existence” (1). He argues that “the conjunction of science and philosophy has much to offer in making the lives of… human beings… better” because while science and philosophy are independently useful, they are more insightful when combined. (9) Just as the factual knowledge that science provides is insufficient without philosophy, philosophy must be informed by scientific advances: our scientific and philosophical pursuits should guide one another.

    Pigliucci discusses the combined roles of science and philosophy in answering the metaethical question of how human morality arose (64-65). The scientific perspective reveals the importance of our being “large-brained social animals.” The philosophical perspective emphasizes the importance of communication and self-reflection in allowing us to “extend… our moral system to… other(s)” (65). Evidently, science and philosophy can together produce profound insights into human nature.

    Pigliucci expresses nostalgia for polymaths like Aristotle, Galileo, and Newton, who explored existential questions in both philosophical and scientific manners. Moreover, he notes that the clear distinction between science and philosophy is a recent phenomenon (6, 9). In an era where science and philosophy are treated as distinct and polymaths are few, I worry that this divide will be self-defeating. Numerous technological developments prompt both philosophical and scientific questions: Are algorithms better decision-makers than court judges? Should an autonomous vehicle prioritize the survival of passengers or pedestrians? With academics being increasingly specialized in their expertise, there are few individuals who straddle the worlds of science and philosophy in their grasp of these issues. I believe this anti-sci-phi intellectual segregation will hinder our understanding of human nature and the ways in which we are actively changing it. I imagine that Pigliucci would agree.


  5. (Why does patriarchy persist?)
    In page 9, Gilligan and Snider state that “patriarchy is in fact not natural to humans. there is a growing consensus among those who study evolutionary history that our capacity for mutual understanding- for empathy, mind reading, and cooperation- was key to our evolutionary success and responsible for our survival as a species.” They then quoted Sarah Blaffer Hrdy: “patriarchal ideologies that focussed on both chastity of women and the perpetuation and augmentation of male lineages undercut the long-standing priority of putting children’s well-being first” (10)

    Back in the Sapolsky reading, he discusses how many animals have practices that seem to be in contrast with putting children’s well-being first. For instance, Hrdy also did a study about competitive infanticide in langurs, when the resident breeding male is overthrown. This competitive infanticide also exists in 119 species (Kindle edition, 334). The question that arises from the excerpt is whether the care for infants and not having a gender hierarchical structure something that is unique to humans? (I do acknowledge that competitive infanticide and patriarchy are not entirely similar behaviors.) If so, was it developed in a similar fashion to how our morality has evolved in the Tomasello reading? (I also acknowledge that this book might not cover this topic.)


  6. Within the introduction to “Why Does Patriarchy Persist?” by Carol Gilligen and Naomi Snider, a glim situation is pictured with respect to the state of affairs in our culture – a definitively patriarchal one, as evidenced by the election of Donald Trump. As put by Gilligen and Snider, the enemy in this picture is a “ghost”. Then, how does one battle, or defeat, a ghost?

    Within the #MeToo movement, powerful battles were won by women, as men with problematic or downright disgusting behaviors were finally told, “no more”. This was further accentuated within the 2018 midterm elections, as women such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashiba Tlaib were elected to US Congress. And yet, what was the net result of this progress? We still live in a society where women make less than men, where sexual assaults are a crisis on college campuses, and where sexist jokes, comments, and innuendos are present in the workplace, school, and walking down the street.

    More must be done for the work Gilligen and Snider describe in order to break down the walls this ghost has created. Namely, men must allow this ghost to be seen and called out. While progress can be made by, for, and with exclusively women, without the other half of the population making a stand and saying that “this isn’t right”, we will remain in a patriarchical holding pattern.

    Until this happens, patriarchy will continue, and people like Donald Trump will continue to hold positions of power.


  7. How to Change Your Mind:

    In the How to Change Your Mind excerpt, Michael Pollan details the experiences and takeaways of cancer patients who are given psychedelic-aided therapy. These sessions are properly conducted by trained professionals, which Pollan calls “White-Coat Shamanism,” to facilitate and aid patients in the experience. The accounts of the patients are especially interesting. Recurring themes that these patients felt after treatment were intense love, meaning, and acceptance. Might be silly, but while reading their accounts I thought of the Beatles, who were known for their involvement in and support for psychedelic drugs. Their lyrics in All You Need Is Love and Imagine reflect Pollan’s descriptions to a tee.

    Considering its positive feedback and success, could this form of therapy be potentially extended to other illnesses, such as depression or anxiety? I wonder what information is known about the sound effects of the drug, or if there really is any that can be applied to the general population. Since these experiences are so dependent on the patient and the trained professionals overseeing them, is it possible that we could make them more accessible / widespread? LSD typically comes with a bad rep, and it seems that the effects of the drug are incredibly dependent on the environment they are experienced under. Psychedelic drugs have such a strong stigma surrounding them, and this stigma is certainly a barrier to the medical community accepting them. Thus, it is interesting that Pollan does not try to overcome it or attempt a more formal medical description in his book. How does he foresee the future for this form of treatment?


  8. In this introduction for “Why Does the Patriarchy Persist?”, we are taken through the structuring of the book’s central thesis: “that patriarchy persists in part because it forces a betrayal of love and then renders the loss irreparable” (16). We learn about the dichotomies of patriarchy vs self, and culture vs psychology. This “age-old” hierarchy, “forces a split between the self and relationships so that in effect men have selves, whereas women ideally are selfless, and women have relationships, which surreptitiously serve men’s needs” (6). This is a difficult topic to take on, for it requires the discussion of examples along the vast scale from singular self to collective society, and how patriarchy infiltrates every degree of it, like a haunting “ghost.”

    Right from the beginning, it is clear that a collective societal instance inspired the pursuit of this book (the election of Donald Trump), but also obvious that much is drawn from the smaller scale, interpersonal examples (like that of Adam and Jackie), suggesting the importance that individual psychology has on this issue. I understand that Gilligan and Snider will answer the question of why the patriarchy persists, but in this endeavor, will they also provide tools gleaned from psychological knowledge that may help us bust this ghost? How exactly can we stop, within our own minds, the patriarchy from persisting? Are we even able to?

    What this topic reminds me of, as we have discussed (“Us vs. Them”), is the notion of stereotype threat. We may learn how stereotypes that arise from hierarchical structures can “force” us behave a certain way, but can the consequences of this threat on behavior be undone through interventions? In the context of patriarchy and sexism, how so? If we cannot repair the love between others, perhaps we must repair the love for ourselves first.


  9. This excerpt from The Disordered Mind gives a comprehensive description of the biological and genetic factors that lead to Schizophrenia. Anatomical differences which include increased pruning of dendritic spines and overall differences in dopamine levels are shown to have direct correlations to the illness (94-95). Also, prenatal environment and genetics seem to substantially increase an individual’s risk. This is most prevalent in a person’s risk increasing from 1/100 to 48/100 if an identical twin has the illness (99). What I find interesting is that even though there is a large amount of biological backing and research to the origins of the illness, the symptoms that are caused by these differences in anatomy and chemistry are often viewed as foreign and ostracized within a community. In the highlighted portion of Elyn Saks’ memoir, she recalls the way that her colleagues uncomfortably left while experiencing her first ever symptoms. Schizophrenia can manifest in all different ways and the behaviors can often be very misunderstood and construed as abnormal and even shocking. However, as seen from this excerpt, these behaviors are based on differences in biology, genetic makeup, experience, etc. Therefore, in order to understand more about this illness, it seems like it would be necessary to understand the biological basis and the origins of the various displayed behaviors. More understanding could yield a greater sense of empathy and allow for thoughtful, caring treatment and attitudes towards people suffering from this chronic illness.


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