There are many outstanding TED talks that discuss how our brain interprets the world - from our evolutionary roots, to our cultural in-group biases. This subject is fascinating to me and no doubt to you as well. Surely some of you can suggest a favorite TED talk on this subject.
Here is a TED Talk that is particularly relevant since we are all being impacted by stagnating political reforms that are polarized by the left/right debates going on in Washington as Obama struggles to implement his campaign promises without any bipartisan cooperation.
Jonathan Haidt On The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt studies the five moral values that form the basis of our political choices, whether we're left, right or center. In this eye-opening talk, he pinpoints the moral values that liberals and conservatives tend to honor most.
Jonathan Haidt studies how -- and why -- we evolved to be moral. By understanding more about our moral roots, his hope is that we can learn to be civil and understanding of those whose morals don't match ours, but who are equally good and moral people on their own terms.
Why you are should listen to him:
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt studies morality and emotion in the context of culture. He asks: Why did humans evolve to have morals -- and why did we all evolve to have such different morals, to the point that our moral differences may make us deadly enemies? It's a question with deep repercussions in war and peace -- and in modern politics, where reasoned discourse has been replaced by partisan anger and cries of "You just don't get it!"
Learn more about his drive for a more productive and civil politics -- and sign a pledge to engage in civil politics -- on his website CivilPolitics.org. And take an eye-opening quiz about your own morals at YourMorals.org.
In September 2009, Jonathan Haidt spoke to the TED Blog about the moral psychology behind the HEALTH-CARE debate in the United States.
The Healthcare Debate: Jonathan Haidt on How Our Moral Roots Skew Our Reasoning
In your talk at TED2008, you asked us all to "take the red pill" and step outside of our moral matrix. You said that moral psychology was the red pill, and that it could help people resolve many of the puzzles of politics. When emotions are running high in a debate such as we are seeing in the United States over healthcare, it's difficult to do this. What can moral psychology tell us about the healthcare debate?
Read Haidt's response to this perplexing question HERE:
The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom
Amazon Book Review:
Using the wisdom culled from the world's greatest civilizations as a foundation, social psychologist Haidt comes to terms with 10 Great Ideas, viewing them through a contemporary filter to learn which of their lessons may still apply to modern lives. He first discusses how the mind works and then examines the Golden Rule ("Reciprocity is the most important tool for getting along with people"). Next, he addresses the issue of happiness itself--where does it come from?--before exploring the conditions that allow growth and development. He also dares to answer the question that haunts most everyone--What is the meaning of life?--by again drawing on ancient ideas and incorporating recent research findings. He concludes with the question of meaning: Why do some find it? Balancing ancient wisdom and modern science, Haidt consults great minds of the past, from Buddha to Lao Tzu and from Plato to Freud, as well as some not-so-greats: even Dr. Phil is mentioned. Fascinating stuff, accessibly expressed. June Sawyers
Susan Blackmore studies memes: ideas that replicate themselves from brain to brain like a virus. She makes a bold new argument: Humanity has spawned a new kind of meme, the teme, which spreads itself via technology -- and invents ways to keep itself alive
Susan Blackmore is dedicated to understanding the scientific nature of consciousness. Her latest work centers on the existence of memes -- little bits of knowledge, lore, habit that seem to spread themselves using human brains as mere carriers. She's exploring the existence of a new class of meme, spread by human technology. It's temporarily named the "teme."
She has written about memes, consciousness, and near-death experiences; has appeared on the British Big Brother to discuss the psychology of the participants; and writes for the Guardian UK.
"She took Richard Dawkins' intuition about memes (ideas that, like genes, take a life of their own) and turned it into a fully fledged theory."
-Bruno Giussani, TED Blog
*Website: Susan Blackmore's homepage
Questions of good and evil, right and wrong are commonly thought unanswerable by science. But Sam Harris argues that science can -- and should -- be an authority on moral issues, shaping human values and setting out what constitutes a good life.
Adored by secularists, feared by the pious, Sam Harris' best-selling books argue that religion is ruinous and, worse, stupid -- and that questioning religious faith might just save civilization.
Why you should listen to him:
Sam Harris has been identified as one of the "Four Horsemen of Atheism" -- company he shares with Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett and Christopher Hitchens. An outspoken proponent of skepticism and science, his two books -- The End of Faith and its follow-up Letter to a Christian Nation -- have become best-sellers.
In The End of Faith, Harris showed "a harrowing glimpse of mankind’s willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs, even when these beliefs inspire the worst of human atrocities." After receiving thousands of angry letters in response, he wrote Letter to a Christian Nation, which centered on religious controversies in the United States: stem cell research, “intelligent design,” and links between religion and violence.
Harris received a degree in philosophy from Stanford and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA. He is the co-founder and CEO of Project Reason, a nonprofit devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society.
"Read Sam Harris and wake up."
In an exclusive preview of his book The Stuff of Thought, Steven Pinker looks at language and how it expresses what goes on in our minds -- and how the words we choose communicate much more than we realize.
Why you should listen to him:
Steven Pinker's books have been like bombs tossed into the eternal nature-versus-nurture debate. Pinker asserts that not only are human minds predisposed to certain kinds of learning, such as language, but that from birth our minds -- the patterns in which our brain cells fire -- predispose us each to think and behave differently.
His deep studies of language have led him to insights into the way that humans form thoughts and engage our world. He argues that humans have evolved to share a faculty for language, the same way a spider evolved to spin a web. We aren't born with “blank slates” to be shaped entirely by our parents and environment, he argues in books including The Language Instinct; How the Mind Works; and The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.
In 2003, Harvard recruited Pinker for its psychology department from MIT. Time magazine named Pinker one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2004. His latest book is The Stuff of Thought, previewed at TEDGlobal 2005. He is working on a new book that studies violence.
Steven Pinker charts the decline of violence from Biblical times to the present, and argues that, though it may seem illogical and even obscene, given Iraq and Darfur, we are living in the most peaceful time in our species' existence.
Vilayanur Ramachandran tells us what brain damage can reveal about the connection between celebral tissue and the mind, using three startling delusions as examples.
Why You Should Listen To Him:
V.S. Ramachandran is a mesmerizing speaker, able to concretely and simply describe the most complicated inner workings of the brain. His investigations into phantom limb pain, synesthesia and other brain disorders allow him to explore (and begin to answer) the most basic philosophical questions about the nature of self and human consciousness.
Ramachandran is the director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego, and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute. He is the author of Phantoms in the Brain (the basis for a Nova special), A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness and The Man with the Phantom Twin: Adventures in the Neuroscience of the Human Brain.
"Ramachandran is a latter-day Marco Polo, journeying the silk road of science to strange and exotic Cathays of the mind. He returns laden with phenomenological treasures...which, in his subtle and expert telling, yield more satisfying riches of scientific understanding."
A pioneer in research on play, Dr. Stuart Brown says humor, games, roughhousing, flirtation and fantasy are more than just fun. Plenty of play in childhood makes for happy, smart adults -- and keeping it up can make us smarter at any age.
Why you should listen to him:
Dr. Stuart Brown came to research play through research on murderers -- unlikely as that seems -- after he found a stunning common thread in killers' stories: lack of play in childhood. Since then, he's interviewed thousands of people to catalog their relationships with play, noting a strong correlation between success and playful activity.
With the support of the National Geographic Society and Jane Goodall, he has observed animal play in the wild, where he first concieved of play as an evolved behavior important for the well being -- and survival -- of animals, especially those of higher intelligence. Now, through his organization, the National Institute for Play, he hopes to expand the study of human play into a vital science -- and help people everywhere enjoy and participate in play throughout life.
"Finally, a good excuse to goof off … Brown builds a compelling case for the importance of recreation to success and creativity -- and insists that grown-ups need it too."
At TEDGlobal 2010, author Matt Ridley shows how, throughout history, the engine of human progress has been the meeting and mating of ideas to make new ideas. It's not important how clever individuals are, he says; what really matters is how smart the collective brain is.
Why you should listen to him:
British author Matt Ridley knows one thing: Through history, the engine of human progress and prosperity has been, and is, the mating of ideas. The sophistication of the modern world, says Ridley, lies not in individual intelligence or imagination; it is a collective enterprise. In his recent book The Rational Optimist, Ridley (whose previous works include Genome and Nature via Nurture) sweeps the entire arc of human history to powerfully argue that "prosperity comes from everybody working for everybody else."
It is our habit of trade, idea-sharing and specialization that has created the collective brain which set human living standards on a rising trend. This, he says, "holds out hope that the human race will prosper mightily in the years ahead -- because ideas are having sex with each other as never before."
"Ridley systematically builds a case through copious data and countless studies that “the vast majority of people are much better fed, much better sheltered, much better entertained, much better protected against disease and much more likely to live to old age than their ancestors have ever been.""
Laurie Santos looks for the roots of human irrationality by watching the way our primate relatives make decisions. A clever series of experiments in "monkeynomics" shows that some of the silly choices we make, monkeys make too.
Why you should listen to her:
Laurie Santos runs the Comparative Cognition Laboratory (CapLab) at Yale, where she and collaborators across departments (from psychology to primatology to neurobiology) explore the evolutionary origins of the human mind by studying lemurs, capuchin monkeys and other primates. The twist: Santos looks not only for positive humanlike traits, like tool-using and altruism, but irrational ones, like biased decisionmaking.
In elegant, carefully constructed experiments, Santos and CapLab have studied how primates understand and categorize objects in the physical world -- for instance, that monkeys understand an object is still whole even when part of it is obscured. Going deeper, their experiments also search for clues that primates possess a theory of mind -- an ability to think about what other people think.
Most recently, the lab has been looking at behaviors that were once the province mainly of novelists: jealousy, frustration, judgment of others' intentions, poor economic choices. In one experiment, Santos and her team taught monkeys to use a form of money, tradeable for food. When certain foods became cheaper, monkeys would, like humans, overbuy. As we humans search for clues to our own irrational behaviors, Santos' research suggests that the source of our genius for bad decisions might be our monkey brains.
"Through a series of groundbreaking experiments, Santos has seen in her primates a humanlike propensity for hoarding, larceny, and competitiveness. By exploring the inner lives of primates, she has offered persuasive evidence that monkeys are capable of sophisticated insight, complex reasoning, and calculated action."
~Linda Marsa, Discover
After hitting on a brilliant new life plan, our first instinct is to tell someone, but Derek Sivers says it's better to keep goals secret. He presents research stretching as far back as the 1920s to show why people who talk about their ambitions may be less likely to achieve them.
http://www.ted.com TED collaborates with animator Andrew Park to illustrate Denis Dutton's provocative theory on beauty -- that art, music and other beautiful things, far from being simply "in the eye of the beholder," are a core part of human nature with deep evolutionary origins.