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My notes on the recent beautiful short from Neil deGrasse Tyson and Redglass Pictures on the role of science in our democracy.

Science and democracy—the bedrock of modernity?

“When you have an established emergent scientific truth, it is true whether or not you believe in it. And the sooner you understand that, the sooner we can get on with the political conversations about how to solve the problems that face us.”
– Neil Degrasse Tyson, Science in America

Please enjoy this beautiful and inspiring short video from Neil deGrasse Tyson on science, democracy and truth:

I am proud to have been a student of ecology and wildlife biology throughout my 20s, and a student of science and reason in the broader sense throughout my 30s.

Trust in my senses and in my ability to ask questions, make observations and corroborate those observations through an array of measurement methods, cognitive frameworks and peer input has led me on an extraordinary journey. Either I have let go of—sometimes with sadness and great regret—outdated, outmoded and disproven beliefs about the “way things are”, or I have integrated and strengthened past truths in the cleansing fires of present insight.

This has been an indispensable gift that I have applied to relationships, personal development, business—even spirituality, creativity and art.

Science is neither perfect nor complete, but it is an as-nearly-perfect method for ascertaining truth as we have yet discovered. I am humbled and grateful to be a member of the science and reason community and I am confident that, as a vital expression of what makes humans unique and brilliant amongst animals, science will continue to be one of our most abiding tools well into the future.

Featured image, Newton, is a monotype by the English poet, painter and printmaker William Blake first completed in 1795, but reworked and reprinted in 1805.

The short film was created by Redglass Pictures. In their own words:

Redglass Pictures is an award-winning production studio co-founded by Sarah Klein and Tom Mason and based in New York City. Their body of work is defined by a simple idea: that short, cinematic storytelling has the power to touch, teach, and change people. No matter the story or subject, their vision remains the same: give viewers something to care about—something that sticks with them long after the end frame.

In which Dr. Ricks Warren and I discuss self-compassion vs. self-esteem, mindfulness meditation and practical Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques are a proven way to get a handle on the whirlwind of the mind

Dr. Ricks Warren is a clinical psychologist of Cognitive & Behavioral Psychology at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center. He is also a clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry. Ricks is the author of several books and book chapters on the topic of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (which is a subset of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy [CBT]) for anxiety, depression, obsession and has published over 41 peer-reviewed articles on the topic.

I’m happy to say that Ricks’ and my conversation covered a ton of ground in 3/4 of an hour.

We got into his “origin” story as a clinical psychologist, his personal practices of mindfulness and mental discipline through meditation and CBT, various forms of therapy and their effectiveness, as well as a practical toolbox for getting a handle on our minds and emotions.

I think you’ll find this episode especially interesting. Ricks is a real pro in these areas, and I know that most of us suffer from some degree of self-doubt, second-guessing and debilitating thought patterns. Ricks speaks directly to how these things can have power over us, how they can develop into major problems and what we can do about it.

You can listen to the episode below, or at the links provided. Cheers!

Subscribe on iTunes | Stream the episode | Download as MP3 (right-click and choose “Save As”)

Topics covered in this conversation

  • Ricks’ background as a boy who loved helping people and how it led him to study psychology
  • Encounters with Albert Ellis, the eccentric founder Rational Emotive Therapy (RET)
  • The basic Rational Emotive framework and how to apply it in your own life
  • Different counseling and psychological theories
  • Why cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective form of therapy
  • Who cognitive behavioral therapy won’t work for
  • Using psychodynamic therapy early on in the therapeutic process for personal insight
  • Thought-challenging exercises: how to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques to face your fear in a structured way
  • Cognitive distortions—recognizing and overcoming self-limiting habits of thinking
  • “Musterbation” and “shoulding” all over ourselves
  • Insights from Marcus Aurelius and CBT on how to be patient with others
  • Albert Ellis’ unconditional self-acceptance, unconditional other acceptance and unconditional life acceptance
  • Buddhism in modern therapy and Kristin Neff’s research on self-compassion
  • The three components of self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness
  • Writing yourself a self-compassion letter
  • The importance of self-testing in the laboratory of your own life as a teacher and therapist
  • Ricks’ story about tires and handling anger with other people and situations
  • Mindfulness meditation for mental discipline and self care

People, resources and links from this episode

Ricks mentioned that David Burns is a psychologist in the podcast and he wanted me to clarify that Dr. Burns is in fact a psychiatrist.

As public fervor for equality climbs, new equality research demonstrates that an “egalitarian society” may not be what we want after all.

Equality research update: people prefer fairness to equality

“There is no empirical evidence so far that people have any aversion to inequality itself.”
– Christina Starmans et. al., “Why people prefer unequal societies”

New research in Nature, conducted by a research team led by Christina Starmans, shows that the rapidly mounting body of equality research is flawed in one important way: when given the choice, we humans seem to prefer fairness over equality.

These surprising results challenge the findings of researchers Dan Ariely and Mike Norton which were summarized in a widely-read 2012 article by Ariely in The Atlantic titled, “Americans Want to Live in a Much More Equal Country (They Just Don’t Realize It)”. Ariely and Norton’s research showed that “all demographic groups—even those not usually associated with wealth redistribution such as Republicans and the wealthy—desired a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo”.

The Ariely and Norton research is widely viewed as accurate and well-conducted but the Starmans research shows that the whole picture has not been fully represented by research. That is, that when fairness is represented—even in follow-up research by the same authors—both children and adults choose fairness over equality.

It’s a fine point, but here’s how it works. In one study, a preference for equality was proven insofar as children distributed rewards equally between two boys who had cleaned their rooms—and most did. However, when a rewarded boy put in demonstrably more effort, the observing children preferred an unequal distribution that proportionately rewarded the additional effort.

The Starmans teams’ new research also includes some interesting speculation on possible evolutionary causes. The authors write that:

In contrast with equality, fairness allows individuals with different levels of productivity to share the benefits of their collaboration proportionately. This focus on fairness is particularly important for humans (compared with even our closest evolutionary relatives), due to the critical importance of collaboration in human hunting and foraging.

And this has some powerful implications for widespread social adoption of an equality ideal:

To treat everyone equally would entail penalization of more productive individuals when they collaborate with less productive individuals relative to highly productive individuals.

The Starmans team concludes by saying that there may in fact be a preference for equal outcomes, but that additional experimentation would have to conducted that carefully isolates the inequality preference from fairness and other related considerations.

For those of us interested in the mechanics of effective and lasting social progress, the Starmans findings are important to understand. The human mind as it turns out may indeed be wired for a certain type of structural social equality, but equality may yet prove to be lacking as a guiding light or highest ideal.

Furthermore—and this is purely conjecture—it would seem, based on Marxist efforts at achieving equality of outcome in the 20th century, that such a result can only be forced. The results of the Starmans study may point us to exactly why: fairness has an air of rightness about it, and a diminishingly small sample of us may actually want to live in a truly equal society.

Hungry for more Food for Free Thought about social progress and change? Click here.

Featured image was pulled from the King Arthur Flour website. Where else?

Footnotes

Norton, M. I. & Ariely, D. Building a better America—one wealth quintile at a time. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 6, 9–12 (2011).

Shaw, A. & Olson, K. R. Children discard a resource to avoid inequity. J. Exp. Psychol. Gen. 141, 382–395 (2012).

Baumard, N., Mascaro, O. & Chevallier, C. Preschoolers are able to take merit into account when distributing goods. Dev. Psychol. 48, 492–498 (2012).

The light and dark sides of group leadership and membership, how to maintain individuality within a group, and why individual expression is key for group evolution.

Group leadership is fragile, but so is group membership

I like groups when they exist to bolster individual development and growth. I don’t like them when membership requires enduring steadily increasing pressure to subvert individual expression The light and dark sides of group leadership and membership, how to maintain individuality within a group, and why individual expression is key for group evolution..

The expression of individuality is unacceptable to the latter type of group, mostly because it’s sloppy, unpredictable, non-conforming. Instead,  various expressions of individuality—disagreement, alternate points of view, creative expression, non-PC rule-breaking—should always be welcomed with curiosity and a healthy dose of skepticism.

It’s to be expected that such expression will rattle the order that the group more or less exists to maintain.

But a healthy group should have no problem re-orienting. In doing so, it proves that it exists not just to maintain groupish order, but also to regenerate, develop and improve. On the other hand, a group that fails to re-orient, shudders, and even shatters, at the slightest show of individuality is one from which any of us should immediately withdraw membership.

It’s also important to remember that a group cannot take offense. Only an individual can take offense. And offense-taking should be dealt with on those terms: individual to individual, peer to peer. Once the emotional load is dealt with, a functional group can ask: is there something that we can all learn from this? And, is there a way that we can update our structure to reflect that new wisdom?

Featured image is a photo of Synergy by environmental artist Martin Hill. The shot was taken by his collaborator Philippa Jones.

In which my brother and I tumble down the rabbit hole of the perennial relation between good beer and good philosophy—and get sidetracked by postmodernism.

Reality, unreality. Beer and postmodernism.

My brother Evan Meffert and I have been having mind-bending conversations about religion, politics, art and meaning since we were in our teens. And this one is no exception.

Evan spent eight years as an operational engineer at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and moved to Berlin in October to participate in the graduate-level Certified Brewmaster Course at VLB Berlin. VLB Berlin is an international organization that provides research, training, education and service for the brewing industry.

Evan is also a blogger, avid mountain biker and passionate student of philosophy and political science. You can follow his adventures in Berlin and beyond at tmeffert on Instagram or check out his blog at evanmeffert.wordpress.com.

Over the course of our hour together, Evan and I got into the origins of his love of brewing, his favorite philosophers, postmodernism, weird art trends and quite a bit more—beer and philosophy being inextricably linked throughout the ages.

You can listen to the episode below, or at the links provided. Cheers!

Subscribe on iTunes | Stream the episode | Download as MP3 (right-click and choose “Save As”)

Topics covered in this conversation

  • Being a first generation immigrant
  • American vs. German attitudes about alcohol and drinking
  • Getting started in home-brewing
  • The early years of the craft brewing movement
  • Losing focus to gain focus (studying philosophy to become an engineer)
  • Evan’s favorite philosophers, political scientists and economists
  • German and European intellectual traditions—Kant, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Wagner
  • The lofty philosophical underpinnings of Nazi ideology
  • Kirkegaard and the necessity of letting go of what is most precious
  • The intersection of philosophy and real life
  • Inductive vs. deductive reasoning
  • Why it’s important to have opinions and to fully think things through
  • Defining postmodernism and moral relativism
  • That empty feeling you get when you leave a contemporary art museum
  • Evan’s work at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan
  • Constant self-reinvention revisited
  • The Certified Brewmaster Course at VLB Berlin
  • Evan’s story of a contemporary artist’s descent through the 9 circles of postmodernism
  • The practicality of true creativity
  • The impact of postmodernism on modern society: power games and the true nature of language
  • Being a good person—but what is good?
  • What real diversity is and how to build a culture of tolerance
  • The value of a liberal arts education in combating ideological possession

People, resources and links from this episode