Awe and the Supernatural

Majestic mountains, vibrant vistas, stunning scenery – and, perhaps, the transformation of a blob of molten glass into a rearing horse – these are sights that can truly be awe-inspiring, generating those feelings of reverence and wonder. They make time seem to slow down. But do they also make it seem more likely that there must be…

Why Money Doesn’t Buy Meaning

Sometimes psychologists do try to tackle the big questions. We might not be willing (or equipped) to speculate about the  true meaning of life, but we can try to determine what might lead more people in one nation to say “yes” to one simple question: Do you feel your life has an important purpose or…

Inheriting Your Parents’ Learning

In my favorite fantasy world, the Discworld, Death – yes, the skeleton with the robe and scythe – has a granddaughter, Susan, and Susan has an unusual birthmark: when she gets angry, and her face flushes red, and three white lines appear on her cheek, almost like an afterimage of being slapped. Susan was raised…

The brain within the brain

Fractals are fascinating because no matter how close you zoom in, you find a crystal clear picture just as complex as the original – often sharing the same structure as the original. Look closely at the brain fractal below, and you will see many smaller brains inside it; if not for the limits of JPEG…

Mind on the Brain

It is the time of the semester when thoughts turn to the brain, because many psychology texts (rightly!) make the brain the focus of either the second or third chapter. In preparation for these discussions, I try to anticipate what myths my students believe that I might need to debunk. The brain does not exist…

Is free will just a story we tell ourselves?

I recently took another step into the digital age, signing up for an Audible account. Although I have many plans for future audiobooks, I used my first membership credit to subscribe to “To the Best of Our Knowledge“. My inaugural episode was Stories of You, a collection of interviews featuring a psychologist, neuroscientist, and a…

World War Wrapup: Explaining obedience without exonerating perpetrators

Investigating the psychology of war comes with a complex ethical dilemma: In attempting to understand how war and genocide can happen, we find ourselves in the position of explaining that people who claimed “we didn’t know” could have really convinced themselves that the Holocaust wasn’t happening, that SS officers who committed atrocities were influenced by natural human…

What’s in a name? The limits of group labels

  Although this trip to Europe will include facts and details covering so many aspects of war – morality, prejudice, obedience, heroism, resilience, remembrance, propaganda – there is one bigger lesson underlying each of those specific ones, the one thing I hope the students will learn and remember decades hence. For all the we speak…