Of Brains and Marches

I didn't march but I still care

I decided not to attend the Women’s March, although I am grateful for the huge turnout. Thank you, Marchers!

Why didn’t I go to Montpelier or Concord? I hate crowds, for a start. But there’s more to it. I had trouble coming up with the reason why I was going other than Trump’s deplorable language, attitudes, and documented actions during the campaign. Attacking him as unfit for the presidency backfired; it just egged his supporters on and escalated feelings on both sides.

What I really want is a way to reach those on the other side of the culture wars. It’s not easy, may be impossible to change some people’s minds, but those of us who oppose the current administration have to reach at least somebody on the other side to change the situation.

What I think is needed is a way to understand why so many vote against their own interests, and the way to do that is by understanding what science says about the human brain.

One read I found useful was by Berkeley professor and author George Lakoff: “A Minority President: Why the Polls Failed, And What the Majority Can Do.”

A new book is coming out in March that explains why believing is seeing. Here is my review:*

For a scientific explanation of why people are more swayed by feelings than by facts, see Lisa Feldman Barrett’s How Emotions Are Made. In her first book, academic psychologist Barrett presents an unintuitive theory that goes against not only popular understanding but that of traditional research: emotions don’t arise, we construct them on the fly. Furthermore, emotions are neither universal nor located in specific brain regions; they vary by culture and result from dynamic neuronal networks that run nonstop simulations, making predictions and correcting them based on the environment rather than reacting to it. Barrett progressively builds her case, writing in a conversational tone and using down-to-earth metaphors, relegating the heaviest neuroscience to an appendix to keep the book accessible. Although it can be a lot to take in, these ideas are revolutionary and have important implications for education, public policy, and human interaction.

*A version of this review was first published in Library Journal

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