Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

17 SEPTEMBER, 2012

Dan Ariely on the Truth About Dishonesty, Animated

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“It’s all about rationalization.”

From the fantastic RSA Animate series comes an illustrated distillation of behavioral economist Dan Ariely’s new book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone — Especially Ourselves, which you might recall. Here, Ariely highlights some of the fascinating psychological mechanisms that steer our moral compass — and often do so in directions different from our self-conception as righteous people — explaining everything from why we cheat on our diets to how the world ended up in a massive financial crisis, and offering lab-tested behavioral insights on what we can do about it all.

If you think about the whole financial crisis, we’ve taken people and we’ve put them in situations which basically are guaranteed to blind or, at least, to distort their vision. And we expect people to overcome that.

We all have a tendency to think of people as good or bad. And, we say, as long as we kick the bad people, everything would be fine. But the reality is that we all have the capacity to be quite bad, under the right circumstances, and I think in banking we’ve created the right circumstances for everybody to misbehave. And, because of that, it’s not such a matter of kicking some people and getting new people in — it’s about changing the incentive structure. Because, unless we change that, we’re not going to get forward.

For a closer look at The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, see these annotated excerpts from a chapter on the relationship between creativity and dishonesty.

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13 SEPTEMBER, 2012

How to Raise a Child: 10 Rules from Susan Sontag

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Be consistent. Always speak well of his pop. Do not discourage childish fantasies.

The second volume of Susan Sontag’s diaries, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980, gave us the celebrated author and thinker’s insights on love, writing, censorship, and aphorisms. However, it was in the first installment, Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 (public library), that the beloved public intellectual coalesces out of a shaky young woman grappling with her place in relation to the world and herself — as we’ve already seen in her 1957 list of “rules + duties for being 24″.

Two years later, in September of 1959, Sontag lists her 10 rules for raising a child. (Their object, Sontag’s son David Rieff, edited this very volume.) Underpinning them is a subtle but palpable reverence for the precious gift of “childishness” — something Ted Hughes has spoken to with such stirring eloquence.

  1. Be consistent.
  2. Don’t speak about him to others (e.g., tell funny things) in his presence. (Don’t make him self-conscious.)
  3. Don’t praise him for something I wouldn’t always accept as good.
  4. Don’t reprimand him harshly for something he’s been allowed to do.
  5. Daily routine: eating, homework, bath, teeth, room, story, bed.
  6. Don’t allow him to monopolize me when I am with other people.
  7. Always speak well of his pop. (No faces, sighs, impatience, etc.)
  8. Do not discourage childish fantasies.
  9. Make him aware that there is a grown-up world that’s none of his business.
  10. Don’t assume that what I don’t like to do (bath, hairwash) he won’t like either.

Image via The Telegraph

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12 SEPTEMBER, 2012

Ted Hughes on the Universal Inner Child, in a Moving Letter to His Son

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“The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated.”

“The analogy between the artist and the child is that both live in a world of their own making,” wrote Anaïs Nin in her diary in 1945. Four decades later, 23 years after Sylvia Plath took her own life at the age of 30, Ted Hughes (1930-1998) wrote to their 24-year-old son, Nicholas. The letter, found in Letters of Ted Hughes (public library), is superb in its entirety and a worthy addition to history’s finest fatherly advice, but this particular passage speaking to the beautiful vulnerability of our inner child and its longing to be seen, heard, let loose is an absolutely exquisite articulation of the human condition — don’t let the length and density deter you from absorbing it, for once you do, it’ll saturate every cell of your soul.

When I came to Lake Victoria, it was quite obvious to me that in some of the most important ways you are much more mature than I am. . . . But in many other ways obviously you are still childish — how could you not be, you alone among mankind? It’s something people don’t discuss, because it’s something most people are aware of only as a general crisis of sense of inadequacy, or helpless dependence, or pointless loneliness, or a sense of not having a strong enough ego to meet and master inner storms that come from an unexpected angle. But not many people realise that it is, in fact, the suffering of the child inside them. Everybody tries to protect this vulnerable two three four five six seven eight year old inside, and to acquire skills and aptitudes for dealing with the situations that threaten to overwhelm it. So everybody develops a whole armour of secondary self, the artificially constructed being that deals with the outer world, and the crush of circumstances. And when we meet people this is what we usually meet. And if this is the only part of them we meet we’re likely to get a rough time, and to end up making ‘no contact’. But when you develop a strong divining sense for the child behind that armour, and you make your dealings and negotiations only with that child, you find that everybody becomes, in a way, like your own child. It’s an intangible thing. But they too sense when that is what you are appealing to, and they respond with an impulse of real life, you get a little flash of the essential person, which is the child. Usually, that child is a wretchedly isolated undeveloped little being. It’s been protected by the efficient armour, it’s never participated in life, it’s never been exposed to living and to managing the person’s affairs, it’s never been given responsibility for taking the brunt. And it’s never properly lived. That’s how it is in almost everybody. And that little creature is sitting there, behind the armour, peering through the slits. And in its own self, it is still unprotected, incapable, inexperienced. Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can’t understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own. That’s the carrier of all the living qualities. It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation. What doesn’t come out of that creature isn’t worth having, or it’s worth having only as a tool — for that creature to use and turn to account and make meaningful. So there it is. And the sense of itself, in that little being, at its core, is what it always was. But since that artificial secondary self took over the control of life around the age of eight, and relegated the real, vulnerable, supersensitive, suffering self back into its nursery, it has lacked training, this inner prisoner. And so, wherever life takes it by surprise, and suddenly the artificial self of adaptations proves inadequate, and fails to ward off the invasion of raw experience, that inner self is thrown into the front line — unprepared, with all its childhood terrors round its ears. And yet that’s the moment it wants. That’s where it comes alive — even if only to be overwhelmed and bewildered and hurt. And that’s where it calls up its own resources — not artificial aids, picked up outside, but real inner resources, real biological ability to cope, and to turn to account, and to enjoy. That’s the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when they’re suffering, when something overwhelms their ordinary, careful armour, and the naked child is flung out onto the world. That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember. But when that child gets buried away under their adaptive and protective shells—he becomes one of the walking dead, a monster. So when you realise you’ve gone a few weeks and haven’t felt that awful struggle of your childish self — struggling to lift itself out of its inadequacy and incompetence — you’ll know you’ve gone some weeks without meeting new challenge, and without growing, and that you’ve gone some weeks towards losing touch with yourself. The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.

In 2009, 47-year-old Nicholas hanged himself in his home in Alaska. His sister, Frieda, told the press upon news of his death: “Despite the vagaries that life threw at him, he maintained an almost childlike innocence and enthusiasm for the next project or plan.”

Letters of Note

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