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Surprising Science

The Compassion of Cognitive Science

When we are confronted with data that contradicts our world view, our brains battle against the information just as they would an attacking predator. Can neuroscience save us?

What’s the Latest Development?

In a new book on “inexplicable” phenomena like U.F.O.s and ghosts, author Steve Volk records just how strong our mental defenses are against information that contradicts our preconceived notions of what the world is really like. “Our need for strict definitions prevents many of us from seeing anything as unknown at all. And this race to eliminate mystery seems simply part of what it means to be human—and perhaps neuroscientific in nature.” In creating solutions to mysteries, we form groups of like-minded people that oppose those who think differently. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Just as Ulysses knew his weakness while passing the seductive Sirens, ordering his crew to strap him to the ship’s mast, can knowing our own tendencies to oppose those who don’t think like us inspire compassion? Volk believes it can: “In admitting we don’t know the final answers, in admitting we’re prone to see the world as we’ve always seen it, and acting on this understanding, we open a door to conversation—as opposed to debate—and the exploration of new ideas, a good faith sifting through of the facts we have.”


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