Science of the SpiritS


Scientists revisit Solomon Asch's classic conformity experiments with surprising results

brain head
In a compelling revival of a classic social psychology experiment, a new study has found that group pressure significantly influences individual decisions, not just in simple tasks but also in expressing political opinions. This modern replication and extension of Solomon Asch's famed experiments of the 1950s provides new insights into human behavior. The findings appear in the journal PLOS One.

Over 70 years ago, Solomon Asch conducted a series of ground-breaking experiments that fundamentally changed our understanding of conformity. Asch's experiment was straightforward but powerful. He invited individuals to participate in a group task where they had to match line lengths.

Unbeknownst to the main participant, the rest of the group were confederates โ€” people in on the experiment. These confederates gave deliberately wrong answers to see if the participant would conform to the group's incorrect consensus or trust their own judgment. Astonishingly, Asch found that a significant number of people chose to conform to the obviously wrong group decision rather than rely on their own perceptions.

Fast forward to the present, and researchers at the University of Bern decided to revisit and expand upon Asch's seminal work. Their motivation was twofold. Firstly, they wanted to see if Asch's findings, primarily conducted with American students, still held true in a different cultural and temporal context. Secondly, they were curious to explore the impact of monetary incentives on decisions and how this dynamic plays out in more complex decision-making areas like political opinions.


The attack of the pseudo-men

man working out
I went to the local mall this weekend and seeing all the pseudo-men and pseudo-women walking around and seeing all the glittering products attempting to appeal to these people, I thought that I had to write an article about it.

I chose the pseudo-man to focus on because I am a man myself. (I have my man-faults, but attempting to be a pseudo-man I don't think is one of them.) I also am not convinced being a pseudo-woman is all that prevalent in the culture. Although girls that appear to be pseudo-girls are common, that, in my humble opinion, is an entirely different thing.

"Pseudo" in this context implies "trying to be something you should be, but aren't."

What I see going on with young pubescent girls shows no attempt to be something they should be, they don't seem to have any desire to be healthy, well integrated "girls." It is more like they are trying, and for the most part succeeding, to be something the culture is defining for them. Which isn't very pretty (literally and metaphorically).

I don't feel there are many pseudo-women because women who are trying to be mature women generally succeed. Some don't, I realize that, but I don't see it as being as major of a problem as what I see happening with men.

Comment: Don't miss: Tonic Masculinity


Best of the Web: The competency crisis is upon us

© Getty ImagesColliding Futures
The glue of expertise that held our complicated social machinery together is coming apart, yet we continue to shift more and more responsibility to failing institutions. The outcome won't be pretty.

Our current managerial elite predicates its rule on the notion of expertise. Americans once believed that "popular will" granted a ruling class legitimacy, but that story has been replaced with one of scientific knowledge and credentials.

The modern political formula frames the world as a complex series of interconnected scientific disciplines that, if managed with a high degree of proficiency, can yield incredible material abundance and miraculous technological innovations. Competency is the key to utopia. Those who are able to obtain prestigious credentials gain the right to rule due to their unparalleled ability to manage complex systems.

But a fundamental shift in our political formula has put the system on a collision course with disaster.

Comment: It was never a matter of 'if', but 'when'. That marker has passed.


On free will, ChatGPT4 blows away atheist Sam Harris

Sam Harris
Several months back, someone emailed me the following:
I nominate Sam Harris for YouTube's prize for "Person with the Best One-Liner Joke except for the fact that he was being serious," for his remark in a 2012 speech: "Tonight, I want to try to convince you that free will is an illusion." [The actual quote used the word "hope" in place of "want to try," but the gist is the same.]
Sam Harris made this remark a few minutes into the following YouTube video:

Yes, the irony here is palpable, and I've long been critical of Harris's view of free will as an illusion (see especially my book Being as Communion).

But rather than refute Harris by pointing out why his statement scores high on the irony meter, I thought I'd ask ChatGPT to do it for me. Here was my prompt to ChatGPT4:
Consider the following scenario: A well-known atheist, who has a doctorate in neuroscience, is about to present a lecture to a university audience on the connection between mind and brain, and in particular on the topic of free will. This atheist, whom we'll call Sam, begins his lecture with the following statement: "Tonight, I want to try to convince you that free will is an illusion." Please comment at length on the irony of this statement.

Comment: Using a language learning model to point out the irony of arguing against free will is quite apropo.

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SOTT Focus: MindMatters: Psychedelics, Sobriety, and Altered States: Processing Reality with John Buchanan

john buchanan
What do altered states tell us about the nature of consciousness? And what can philosophy tell us about altered states? John Buchanan has spent his life trying to find the answers. His book, Processing Reality: Finding Meaning in Death, Psychedelics, and Sobriety, details the story of his history of experimentation and addiction, his path to sobriety, and the insights he has gained into the nature of human experience and consciousness.

A synthesis of Whitehead's process philosophy and Grof's transpersonal psychology, Buchanan's ideas provide a framework for understanding not only the nature of the psychedelic experience and other altered states, but also the nature of consciousness itself and the structure of the cosmos.

See our previous interview with John here.

Running Time: 01:40:46

Download: MP3 โ€” 138 MB


Children may be 'evolutionarily primed' to need more than 2 parents

tribe forest
© Nikhil ChaudharyA Mbendjele camp in the Congo rainforest.
The childcare system of a contemporary hunter-gatherer community suggests a major pitfall of the nuclear family, and it could hint at why so many parents in wealthy, Western nations feel burned out.

A team of researchers, led by evolutionary anthropologist Nikhil Chaudhary from the University of Cambridge, argues that children may be "evolutionarily primed" to expect more attention and care than just two parents can provide.

Investigating the culture of Mbendjele hunter-gatherers, who live in the northern rainforests of the Republic of Congo and subsist on hunting, fishing, gathering, and honey collecting, researchers found a widespread caregiving network.

Comment: With collapsing birthrates, broken homes, and an atomised, disconnected population, one could say that there's aready sufficient evidence that WEIRD societies run contrary to the innate needs of human beings.

Black Magic

Best of the Web: An Initiation into the Reality of Evil

Clark Rockefeller  Christian Gerhartsreiter  psychopath murderer
© Mike Adaskaveg/APThe man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller at his arraignment on kidnapping charges on Sept. 29, 2008, in Boston.
How Walter Kirn's encounter with psychopathy changed his worldview

For twenty years German immigrant Christian Gerhartsreiter pretended to be a Rockefeller. He befriended novelist and essayist Walter Kirn, who ended up writing a memoir about their friendship, and how it all fell apart: Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade, published in 2014.

I hadn't heard of the story until watching this interview with Kirn.

When talking about Gerhartsreiter, he says something very revealing. It's an experience many have upon an encounter with evil. When the psychopathic mask falls, when you get a glimpse of the reality behind the carefully crafted PR image, it can change your worldview. Kirn shifted from what we might call a "common psychological worldview" into one more objective, more in line with reality in all its complexity โ€” and with hints of the "supernatural."

Comment: More background on Christian Gerhartsreiter :

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SOTT Focus: MindMatters: Five Myths about Evil: Setting the Record Straight with David Abramowitz

david abramowitz
Are all psychopaths serial killers? Is authoritarianism only found on the political right? Are we all equally capable of evil? Does power really corrupt absolutely? And is evil really "banal"?

Join us today as we discuss the biggest myths about evil with David Abramowitz, the nature of psychopaths and ponerology, and how McGilchrist's brain-hemisphere research fits into the picture.

David Abramowitz has a background in finance and accounting, but an experience with a psychopath set him on a path to research the topic for the next decade. He has read nearly everything there is to read on the subject, and describes a type which he has termed the "passive-parasitic" psychopath. These are the so-called successful psychopaths, the ones you'll find on Wall Street and in Washington. And they're the reason for much of today's pathological political climate.

Running Time: 01:30:06

Download: MP3 โ€” 124 MB

Eye 2

Evil only comes where it's invited: Tracking ponerogenesis in history and Israel-Palestine

jack nicholson the shining psychopath
Jack Nicholson in The Shining (1980).
When you act like a psychopath, you clear the way for actual psychopaths.

Too many people believe in a cookie-cutter account of human nature, that everyone is basically the same, basically good underneath it all, and that we all have an equal capacity for evil. While this is untrue, there is a decent percentage of the population that has the capacity to act like a psychopath, if only for brief moments, or in certain contexts. Unlike a psychopath, however, they may come to feel some degree of remorse about it.

If you open your newsfeed tomorrow to read some story about a murder in which the victim was found mutilated, castrated, his skin flayed and limbs dissected, your first thought might be that some new Jeffrey Dahmer or Richard Ramirez is on the loose. But it's also possible the murder victim is the new Dahmer/Ramirez, responsible for a string of child kidnappings, rapes, and mutilations, and a local posse of vengeful locals finally caught up with him. Cruel and unusual punishments are not always out of the norm when we think the person really deserved it. An eye for an eye, and all that.

But that's an extreme example. There are subtler ones. Public relations, for example, is an exercise in functional psychopathy. The goal of PR is literally to create a publicly acceptable persona or cover story, a mask of sanity for public consumption. The bigger the discrepancy between image and reality, the bigger the lie, and the closer one comes to psychopathic levels of manipulation and impression management.

Pumpkin 2

Halloween parable

© unknownThe Dead Rise on John Street
"We are at an inflection point, a threshold, where weak, brittle, effete personality structures are a threat to human civilization." โ€” JD Haltigan on X
You might have noticed that the massive investment in Halloween yard shrines by families growing broke in America reflects the ghoulish convergence of malevolent events undermining and overtaking what used to be normal life in this land. Nothing is normal anymore. The groaning mummies, howling werewolves, and shrieking skeletons are trying to tell us something.

The message might be: detach from reality long enough and death comes creeping 'round your door. You see where consensual madness has gotten us? Believe enough things that are not true and nemesis comes roaring in, all fangs and claws, to gleefully shred you. So. Maybe it's time to stop believing things that are not true.

Start with the first principle of US life in our time: that anything goes and nothing matters. This proposition has ruled for as long as most of us can remember. Consequence was exiled on Main Street so you can get away with anything now โ€” until you discover that, somehow, everything is broken. Your livelihood is broken. Your community is broken. Your household is broken. Your car is broken. Your children are broken. Your health is broken. Your faith is broken. Your country is broken.

Here's a first principle worth considering: court death and it will oblige you. Granted, there is a certain libido for nonexistence in the human psyche because life is so hard sometimes that you yearn to be relieved of it. But not everyone in America seeks to walk that way. Probably fewer than half of us. So why do we allow that other half to drag us to the bone orchard? Do you see what it means to get your mind right when times get hard and the path is uncertain?