Books that ask “what’s wrong with our brains?” are a current pop-psychology staple. Cordelia Fine’s A Mind of Its Own was ahead of this trend, as it was first published in 2005.
A Mind of Its Own explores ways in which our brains don’t make sense and cognitive biases that funnel us down faulty mental shortcuts. The book starts with the bias equivalent of little white lies, detailing how almost all of us are biased to see things as a little easier, happier, and less flawed than they really are. From this gentle introduction, Fine talks us through the progressively larger mental failings discovered through social psychology studies.
I first noticed Sapiens because of its polarising reviews; its readers seemed divided over whether it was one of the greatest books in existence or one of the most pretentious. With my curiosity piqued, Sapiens jumped to the top of my to-buy list.
As I haven’t studied much biology or early history, I expected that Sapiens might be a challenging read. However, I was surprised by Yuval Harari’s clear writing style – Harari generally limits jargon words, and he uses conversational language rather than unnecessarily academic sentence structures. The challenge in reading Sapiens comes from its ideas, not its style.
“imagined orders are not evil conspiracies or useless mirages. Rather, they are the only way large numbers of humans can cooperate effectively”
“This is why today monogamous relationships and nuclear familes are the norm in the vast majority of cultures, why men and women tend to be possessive of their partners and children, and why even in modern states such as North Korea and Syria political authority passes from father to son”.
This post was inspired by my earlier rambling on whether I’m enough of a scientist for sci-comm. After publishing that post, I decided to step back and look again at what factors decide who a scientist is, and why the question matters to me.
I’ll begin with a logical starting point, the dictionary. The word “science” comes from the Latin word “scientia” meaning “knowledge”. So if science is fundamentally knowledge, is a knowledgeable person a scientist? That’s an easy statement to reject, as people can be knowledgeable about many other topics without knowing much science. Also, although the word science dates back to roughly the 12th century, the word scientist was only coined in 1833; for roughly 600 years, science knowledge existed without people being called scientists.
Initially, The Disappearing Spoon was a more difficult read than Duelling Neurosurgeons, although that’s partly because I have less background knowledge about chemistry than I do about psychiatry or neurology. In comparison to Duelling Neurosurgeons, TDS is denser and more complex. While I could read a chapter of Neurosurgeons in one go and follow its major ideas and mechanics, I couldn’t do the same with TDS. Instead, I needed to stop and retrace my steps frequently to ensure I was keeping track of how new details related to previous information. (This applies most to the early chapters, which focused on the chemicial knowledge required to make sense of featured elements.)
News from the last three weeks has been bad, to say the least. Both Britain and America have seemingly been bent on destruction and bridge-burning. Yet despite being anxious about just what will happen next, I’m also a little bit curious as well.
One of the few good parts about the previous three weeks is how people have often responded to protect and support others. Social networks have shared resources for contacting politicians, lawyers and advocates, and advice on how best to do so. Widespread protests and calls for mobilisation have made some meaningful changes, called attention to the wrongs which would have remained away from the spotlights, and delayed political decisions. People aren’t taking the changes as quietly as either Trump and co. or May and co. had wanted. And I hope this atmosphere of fighting back will continue, and lead to bigger changes.
During my last block of Writing Science in February, where we all received the marks for our magazine project, my lecturer was really complimentary about my groups’ magazine. So much so, that he brought up the idea of showing our magazine to his contacts at BBC Focus magazine.
I was really happy with that offer, and last week I got to take the proffered opportunity: I was able to spend 5 days at BBC Focus learning more about science magazines and how they’re put together. So, here’s how my week went…
Heading into my first day, I was very nervous, mostly because I didn’t know what to expect or what they expected from me. I wasn’t sure whether they’d be expecting a complete beginner, or someone already knowledgeable. I was worried about being thrown in at the deep end, or doing tasks wrongly. However, I didn’t need to be too worried, as the team seemed friendly and the person in charge of keeping an eye on me was very nice- I was even ok asking him questions about the software by the end of the day.
My main task today was taking an essay written for next month’s issue, and laying it out as a set of pages for the print magazine. This was mostly placing and formatting the text, researching pictures and adding them, then putting them together into a readable page.
In the first year of undergraduate uni, most of us knew what psychology was, and knew what we were studying. If we didn’t, why would we have signed up to study it? Then the further we got through uni, the less sure we were about what psychology actually was, and what we were studying.
Now, the exact same thing is happening with sci-comm. Does this apply to lots of other subjects? Do geographers or chemists start uni and then discover they have no idea what geography or chemistry is?
The cause of this confusion was spending the last week reading up on “public engagement with science”, as it’s the topic for our first exam. So far, the more I read, the more frustrated I get. Everything seems like an infinite loop of dependent ideas. For one thing, even defining it is hard; “public”, “engagement”, and even “science” don’t have one clear meaning. Another is that public engagement with science is supposed to be a rejection of the “deficit model”- the idea that the public were empty containers, ignorant of science, who would understand science if teachers poured in the facts.