What Affective Neuroscience Tells Us About Emotions and How to Manage Them

You probably think you know a lot about emotions. You experience them directly on a daily basis, you can name most of them, and you see them expressed in others. You’ve likely been taught that emotions are discrete, universal, and that you’re better off suppressing them or otherwise overcoming them with reason. This is the conventional view of emotion, and it has been handed down to you through millennia of intellectual history. It’s also entirely misguided. 

In Emotional: How Feelings Shape Our Thinking, theoretical physicist and science popularizer Leonard Mlodinow shows us why the traditional view of emotion fails to hold up to scientific scrutiny—in particular to the latest findings of affective neuroscience—and how a new picture is emerging of emotion as a core component of cognition—integrated with and complementary to reason. 

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Embracing Meaninglessness: Wendy Syfret on Nihilism as a Way of Life

If you had to pick a single philosophical doctrine or movement that would be most difficult to defend today, nihilism would be a solid choice. Nihilism is associated with the worst parts of Nietzsche‘s teachings, the rise of Nazi and fascist ideology, the alt-right, and the tendency toward anarchy, chaos, immorality, despair, and destruction. Even the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines nihilism as “the belief that a society’s political and social institutions are so bad that they should be destroyed.”

So writing a book defending nihilism—no matter how many optimistic-sounding adjectives you place in front of it—is a tall order. In fact, it would probably be easier to ditch the term entirely and either invent a new one (like how some authors now use “progressive capitalism” in place of socialism) or, in this case, use a readily available close alternative: existentialism. 

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Does Power Corrupt or Are the Corruptible Attracted to Power? 

Corruptible Book Cover

It’s a familiar story: A corrupt leader rises to power, is often willingly allowed to do so, and proceeds to leave a trail of destruction in his wake (it’s usually, but not always, a male). We see this time and time again throughout history and across the globe. But we never seem to learn. How can we account for this? 

The conventional answer is to blame power itself, as in the proverbial saying “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But as political scientist Brian Klaas explains in his latest book, Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us, things are not so simple. While power can indeed corrupt, more often bad people are drawn to positions of power in the first place, and pursue these positions within systems that actually encourage bad behavior. To ensure that the right people are placed in power, we have to do more than focus only on individuals; we need to fix the underlying systems that allow them to thrive. As Klaas wrote:

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The Power of Rethinking: How to Beat the Overconfidence Effect in Yourself and Others

In 1933, the philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote that “the fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” While this is just as true today as it was in the early twentieth-century, the problem actually runs deeper; almost everyone recognizes arrogance and overconfidence in others—but never in themselves.

Since the time of Russell, what’s become known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect has been experimentally validated. Research shows—and personal experience confirms—that those who are the least knowledgeable in a subject tend to be the ones who overestimate their own knowledge and abilities, while those that are full of doubt know enough about the topic to better gauge the extent of their ignorance. 

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How to Manage Anxiety by Leveraging the Brain’s Natural Learning Process

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost one out of every three US adults will suffer from some form of anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. In addition, among US adults who have experienced an anxiety disorder, around 23 percent report serious impairment and 34 percent report moderate impairment in the normal activities of daily life, work, or school (based on data last updated in 2017). 

This makes anxiety disorders the most common group of mental disorders in the US, affecting tens of millions of individuals each year. But that’s not the worst of it; these numbers represent only the reported or documented disorders. Even if we cannot officially classify our anxiety as severe or chronic, most of us will nevertheless face anxiety in some capacity over the course of the year. In other words, virtually everyone can benefit from learning more about the causes and management of anxiety. 

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How Our Universal Love for Alcohol Led to the Rise of Civilization

People love to drink. More specifically, people love to drink or otherwise become intoxicated from all corners of the globe and in virtually every civilization throughout history. This underappreciated human universal—one that has surprisingly been ignored by most scholars—is practically begging for an evolutionary explanation. In philosopher Edward Slingerland’s latest book, Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization, we finally get one. 

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The Thousand Brains Theory of Intelligence and the Future of AI

When Charles Darwin worked out the theory of evolution in the nineteenth century, he didn’t have all the details in which the theory would ultimately depend. After all, On the Origin of Species was published in 1859—a full 49 years before the term genetics was introduced and 94 years before the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA.

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Why Fad Psychology Fails to Solve Our Social Problems

The self-improvement industry—with a projected 2022 market value of $13.2 billion—clearly has massive appeal and a wide readership. Self-help is consistently represented in the top five nonfiction genres sold on Amazon each year, and the latest self-help bestseller often maintains its position at the top of the charts for months at a time.  

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The Benefits of Limiting Your Options in an Age of Infinite Browsing

The late sociologist Zygmunt Bauman described life in the modern world as living in “liquid modernity,” or a state of constant change and uncertainty. Having liberated ourselves from traditional social structures and hierarchies—and with the rise of technology, cheap and efficient travel, and the internet—we now have infinitely more options available to us than at any time in history. Our religious beliefs, occupations, and social relationships are no longer pre-established at birth, freeing us to craft our own identities, careers, and lifestyles out of an endless variety of choices.

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