Monday, February 1, 2010

We know genocide is a greater tragedy than a lost dog. Or do we? This Book Review and transcrpited discussion about 'The Hidden Brain' by Shankar Vedantam explores the "telescope effect" and the manner in which our brains process tragedy and empathy. It is absurd that we spend two hundred dollars on a birthday party for our son or our daughter when we could send the same money to a charity and save the life of a child halfway around the world. When Put in terms like that, it makes us seem like terrible people. But without the unthinking telescope effect in the unconscious mind, parents would not devote the immense time and effort it takes to raise children; generations of our ancestors would not have braved danger and cold, predators and hunger, to protect their young. Vedantam argues that our existance testifies to the utility of having a telescope in the brain that caused our ancestors to care intensely about the good of the few rather than the good of the many. If we are predisposed to feel empathy toward others, why is this sense of empathy not amplified when those who need help, or those who have died, number in the millions? He brought up anhe old Stalin quote about one death being a tragedy and a million deaths being a statistic, which I found very interesting and appropriate to my current thoughts about recent disasters, like in Haiti.

Book Review

Transcript of Discussion

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