urnal of Social Sciences March 2011
Mind Matters Understanding Aesthetic Preferences - Daphne V. Wiersema Phenomenology and Psychology - Martine Berenpas Sleeping & Learning - Sanna van Geldermalsen Work in Progress : Communication and Architecture - Philip Allin Biography : Philosopher & Egoist Jean-Paul Sartre Book & Author : Jesse Bering on 'The Belief Instinct' Â Â
Not just a matter of taste: Individual differences in aesthetic preferences Daphne V. Wiersema
The hermeneutical aspect of psychology: A plea for the reintroduction of phenomenological psychology Martine Berenpas
Sleeping & Learning
Sanna van Geldermalsen BIOGRAPHY
Jean-Paul Sartre: Genius, celebrity, egoist and a mommy's boy Elke Weesjes
WORK IN PROGRESS
Communication in Architecture: Word and Image Philip Allin
BOOK & AUTHOR
The Belief Instinct - Jesse Bering Anouk Vleugels
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Editorial Mind Matters People’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours have baffled yet fascinated academics throughout time. However, the mind can be an academic pitfall and analyzing the origins of thought and individualism within a historical, sociological or psychological framework can potentially result in more questions rather than answers. Psychology, like many other social sciences, is not considered to be an exact science, for the simple reason that its “raw material” is not exact. It will never yield natural laws or universal constants like in chemistry or physics. Humans tend to be opinionated or become self-conscious when observed and aren’t always particularly reliable as a subject of study. These traits make scientific research based on humans complicated and challenging. The debate whether psychology is a science or not will rage on, since those people involved feel so strongly about it, as highlighted by Martine Heikens-Berenpas in her article on phenomenological psychology. Interestingly this debate hasn’t prevented academics who work within exact sciences from using psychological theories. Behavioral neuroscientific research is a good example of this, since it combines neurobiology with psychology. Even within non-exact sciences, psychological theories have proven useful; psychoanalysis is often used in biographical and ‘oral history’ studies. In short, whether it is an exact science or not: psychology lends itself beautifully for interdisciplinary research. An increasing amount of academics are convinced that cross fertilization between disciplines leads to exciting new insights. In fact, many problems which researchers encounter can only be fully grasped by integrating the specializations of different disciplines. At the Journal of Social Sciences’, our main objective is encouraging this kind of research. With this month’s theme ‘Mind Matters’ we have stayed true to that goal. Contributors have all produced work which can be characterized as multi-disciplinary. Integrating research methods from psychology, philosophy, architecture, educational and communication sciences, and architecture, our contributors have explored how humans interpret, learn, believe and communicate.
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urnal of Social Sciences February 2011
United Academics Journal of Social Sciences is a refereed online journal which publishes new research by post-graduate and post-doctoral academics.
Antony Hegarty: A transgender voice - Kathleen A. Stephenson Biographical representations of Reagan's childhood - Roger Johnson Work in Progress: Explaining media personalization of politics - Lutz Hofer Biography: Anarchist theorist Gustav Landauer - Oscar Broughton Interview: Josje Damsma on Dutch National Socialism
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Daphne V. Wiersema University of Amsterdam
Individual differences in aesthetic preferences
lthough the existence of bestseller books, blockbuster movies, successful television series such as “Sex and the City” or “24” and artworks which are worth astronomical amounts of money all suggest that there is much agreement in our aesthetic preferences, daily experience shows that this is often not the case. As an example, I once recommended the movie “Gran Torino,” one of my favorites, to a friend. Much to my surprise my friend did not like it at all and ever since I have been wondering how this is possible. Such individual differences also come into play when we look at paintings, talk about books and listen to music. Psychologists have long sought to understand such individual differences in aesthetic preferences. This article aims to give an introduction to their findings and some potential practical applications of this knowledge. The main focus will be on liking of paintings, although some research focussing on other domains of art is discussed. But before going into the link between personality and aesthetic preferences, I will first briefly discuss some predictors of aesthetic activities to answer the question of what individual characteristics predict if people seek out aesthetic activities, such as going to a museum, or not.
Nature versus nurture Irrespective of their preference for specific forms of art and art styles, people differ in the amount of art they consume. Some people often go to museums and theatres, read lots of books or play musical instruments while others do not or do so to a lesser degree. In part, these differences are not related to personality, but rely on factors such as education and social class. For instance, parents of art consumers tend be of a higher social class compared to those who consume less art . Also, having an education in art or music is associated with more art consumption while people with a scientific education demonstrate lower levels of art consumption. This finding seems to indicate that having prior experience with art and music (in this case through one’s education) influences the appreciation of art in general. But what about personality? Five categories of personality traits With respect to personality, the strongest predictor of art consumption seems to be openness to experience. Openness to experience is one of the “big five” dimensions that psychologists use to describe personality . Openness to experience relates to having a general appreciation for 1 e.g., McManus & Furnham, 2006 2 Costa & McCrae, 1985, 1989, 1992
art and beauty, to intellectual curiosity, being imaginative, having unusual ideas or appreciating the unconventional. Furthermore, people who score high in openness to experience are more adventurous than those who score lower on this trait. Also, people high in openness tend to be more creative compared to people low in openness . More relevant to present purposes, individuals high in openness to experiences are more active consumers of art compared to low scoring individuals . Hence, being open to new and unconventional ideas relates to the appreciation of art. This seems logical, because art is often new and unconventional itself. Another big five dimension of personality, conscientiousness, also relates to art consumption. Conscientious people are those who are relatively conventional, orderly and self-disciplined. They also have the tendency to behave in a planned manner instead of a more impulsive manner and are oriented towards achievement . Although conscientious people would do a perfect job in planning and organising a visit to the theatre, the chances that one would actually find them at the theatre are relatively low. Indeed, conscientiousness shows a negative re3 George & Zhou, 2001 4 e.g., McManus & Furnham, 2006 5 Costa & McCrae, 1985, 1989, 1992
lationship with art consumption . According to researchers , these lower levels of art consumption found in conscientious people might be explained by the link between conscientiousness and conservatism. People who are highly conscientious also tend to have more narrow and restricted attitudes towards art. Yet again, it appears that the appreciation and consumption of art requires an open mind. However, this might well depend on the specific type of art or art style. For instance, watching an obscure cultmovie requires a different mind-set compared to watching a Hollywood blockbuster movie. Art consumption is a broad term that refers to a variety of activities such as going to modern art exhibitions or an archaeological museum, watching a science fiction movie or a romantic comedy, reading thrillers or poetry, seeing a classical ballet performance versus a modern dance performance et cetera. Therefore, besides knowledge about the amount of art people consume, it is interesting to know the content of their aesthetic activities and how this relates to consumer personality. This relationship is the focus of the next part of this article. Art and familiarity The bulk of research on aesthetic preferences and personality has focussed on preferences for specific styles of painting, such as abstract versus representational paintings or representational versus surrealistic paintings. Remarkably, representational or figurative paintings, i.e. paintings that portray objects that are easily recognisable, are generally liked best . Most likely, this is caused by the greater familiarity individuals experience with respect to representational paintings . This “greater familiarityenhanced liking” effect is a well-known effect in psychology . The liking of representational paintings is largely unaffected by individual differences.. 6 McManus & Furnham, 2006; Chamorro-Premuzic, Reimers, Hsu, & Ahmegotlu, 2009
7 McManus & Furnham, 2006
8 e.g., Feist & Brady, 2004; Furnham & Walker, 2001 9 Furnham & Walker, 2001 10 see for instance the literature on the mere exposure effect, e.g., Zajonc, 1968, 1980 ����������������������������������������������������� e.g., Mastandrea, Bartoli, & Bove, 2009; Rawlings, Vidal, & Furnham, 2000; Wiersema, Van der Schalk, &
Conservative individuals seem to be an exception to this, because they expressed enhanced liking for representational paintings relative to abstract paintings, Japanese paintings and popart paintings . The category of representational paintings is often used in research as a default against which liking for another category of painting such as abstract painting is contrasted .
When we take a look at other styles of paintings, openness to experience is again an important predictor of aesthetic preferences. For instance, openness to experience is associated with liing for representative, abstract and pop-art paintings, but also with liking for Japanese art, Renaissance art and cubism . Besides openness to experience, another important predictor of aesthetic preferences can be found in the personality dimension of sensation seeking Van Kleef, 2010 ������������������������ Furnham & Walker, 2001 ��������������������������������������������������� e.g., Wiersema, Van der Schalk, & Van Kleef, 2010 ������������������������ Furnham & Walker, 2001 15 Chamorro-Premuzic, Reimers, Hsu, & Ahmetoglu, 2009
. Sensation seekers are individuals who seek out novel, complex and intense experiences. Furthermore, sensation seekers tend to rely more on their feelings than on their thoughts. Just like individuals scoring high on openness to experience, sensation seekers like abstract paintings better than more traditional, representational paintings . Furthermore sensation seekers expressed relatively more liking for surreal paint-
ings, while expressing somewhat less liking for representational paintings . Personality traits are also linked to different motives for visiting specific museums and to different experiences during their visit. Mastandrea, Bartoli and Bove (2009) provided evidence for these relations by having visitors of two different museums in Rome fill out a personality questionnaire and list their reasons for visiting this particular museum. One museum, The National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Ar,t ����������������� Zuckerman, 1979 17 Furnham & Bunyan, 1988; Rawlings, BarrantesVidal, & Furnham, 2000 ������������������������ Furnham & Avison, 1997
was concerned with modern and contemporary art and the other, The Braschi Museum, exhibited paintings connected with the ancient history and Middle Ages in Rome. As expected, the two groups of visitors differed in a number of ways. First of all, not surprisingly, visitors of the modern art museum had more of a liking for modern and contemporary art compared to the visitors of the ancient art museum, although both groups equally liked representational art. When we look at their motives for visiting the museums, it becomes more interesting. Visitors of the modern art museum listed as their two most important motives the desire to see the original artwork and the pleasure felt during their visit. Visitors of the ancient art museum listed their interest for the artist(s) and their desire for cultural enrichment as their most important reasons. Although both groups expressed an interest in the artwork and artists, visitors of the modern art museum also sought the positive experience of pleasure related to feeling and sensing. This motive fits with the personality of the sensation seeker. In fact, modern art visitors scored higher on the sensation seeking questionnaire compared to the ancient art visitors. Thus, preference for different styles of art is also associated with the seeking of different experiences during the aesthetic activity. Closure and structure The research discussed so far has found evidence that particularly openness to experience and sensation seeking are related to aesthetic preferences for certain styles of paintings. Other big five traits such as extraversion and neuroticism (i.e., emotional stability) appear mostly unrelated to aesthetic preferences. However, besides the big five personality traits other personality traits have also been explored. Two traits that play an important role in more recent research on aesthetic preferences are need for closure and need for structure. The construct of need for closure was developed by Kruglanski, Webster and Klem (1993) and refers to an individual’s need for an environment that is clear, defined, structured and unambiguous compared to an environment that lacks these properties. The need for closure scale consists of five subscales: Preference for order, preference for predictability, decisiveness,
discomfort with ambiguity, and closed-minded- need for structure also influence liking for styles ness . The construct of need for closure is of painting. More specifically, individuals with strongly related to need for structure  : Both a high need for situations and environments that provide clarity and lack ambiguities causes them to dislike abstract paintings i.e., paintings that avoid a clear correspondence between reality for which it is more difficult to extract their meaning . For instance, the famous work “Victory Boogie Woogie” by Piet Mondriaan (18721942) consists of a series of blue, yellow, red, black and white squares and upon viewing this painting, its meaning is not instantly clear. In this respect abstract art is the opposite of representational or figurative art which depicts matters that are easily recognisable to the observer. For instance, a stilllife painting contains objects that are easily identifiable such as food or flowers. Interestingly, these kinds of effects of need for closure and need for structure also translate to other aesthetic dohigh need for closure and high need for structure mains. For instance, visitors of the Amsterdam individuals desire quick answers and are averse marionette theatre expressed less liking for the to ambiguities. open ending of a play if they were high in need These properties of need for closure and for closure . Also, when they had to judge dif-
���������������������������� Webster & Kruglanski, 1994 20 hompson, Naccarato, & Parker, 1989; Neuberg & Newsom, 1993
�������������������������������������������������� e.g., Landau, Greenberg, Solomon, Pyszcynski, & Martens, 2006 ��������������������������������������������� Wiersema, Van der Schalk, & Van Kleef, 2010
ferent types of gardens, individuals high in need for structure rated wild gardens as less beautiful, and manicured gardens as more beautiful compared to low need for structure individuals and were more likely to possess a garden that was either manicured or romantic instead of wild . Future research is needed to investigate if these needs also affect preferences for music, dance, and literature. But what is evident so far, is that works of art that lack meaning or structure are disliked by individuals that have a strong need for meaning and answers. This connection between art and meaning has proven to be an important step for understanding our evaluation of art. In the next part, this connection is discussed more thoroughly. A need for meaning Two different psychological theories have claimed that people have an innate need for meaning. In one of these theories, Terror Management Theory, meaning is conveyed by our cultural worldview that consists of norms and values, traditions and rituals that we deem important. Furthermore, investments in this cultural worldview are seen as means to cope with our fear of dying since adherence to the cultural worldview means that we are a part of a larger whole that will live on after our death and hence ensures us of a symbolic immortality. Furthermore, we can also contribute to this cultural worldview by the production of works that will literally outlive us, such as books, paintings, movies et cetera. Investing in art can thus also serve the function of coping with the fear of dying. Work on Terror Management Theory  has shown that when people are reminded of their own mortality, they react with enhanced defensiveness of their cultural worldview. For instance, Christian participants reacted more positively to an in-group member (Christian) while reacting more negatively to an out-group member (Jew) after their mortality was made salient
. Based upon this, one would also expect individuals whose mortality was made salient, to be more appreciative to works of art since, or as long as, they are part of their cultural worldview. In fact, participants that were reminded of their mortality expressed less liking for modern, abstract art . In this experiment half of the participants (the experimental group) were asked to briefly describe the emotions they felt when they thought of their own death and were asked to write down what they thought will happened to them when they were physically dead. The other half of the participants (the control group) answered the same open-ended questions but then pertaining to an upcoming exam. After a brief filler task, both groups rated abstract, modern paintings. Participants in the experimental group showed less liking for abstract paintings compared to participants in the control group. But why was this the case? According to the researchers, this ef-
���������������������������������������� Van den Berg & Van Winsum-Westra, 2010 ����������������������������������������� Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986
��������������������������������� Greenberg et al., 1990, Study 1 ����������������������������������������������������� Landau, Greenberg, Solomon, Pyszcynski, & Martens, 2006
fect is brought about because the mortality reminder triggered a need for meaning in participants which in turn caused them to dislike objects that apparently lack meaning i.e., the abstract paintings. As a further corroboration of this idea, they went on to show that this effect is restricted to those individuals who have an intrinsic need for structure . Furthermore, when the abstract paintings were accompanied with titles that imbued them with meaning, death reminders did not lead to lower liking for abstract paintings . To conclude, the lack of immediate meaning of abstract paintings poses a challenge to those individuals who have an intrinsic need for meaning and clarity resulting in less liking for these kinds of paintings, especially when need for meaning is temporarily enhanced by a mortality salience induction. Proulx and colleagues (2010) showed that it also works the other way around. When individuals are confronted with paintings or stories that lack immediate meaning or that challenge their sense of meaning, this leads to an enhanced need for meaning and efforts to restore a sense of meaning. In one example they had participants read either a story that violated their expectations or a story that did not violate expectations. The story that violated their expectations and hence challenged their sense of meaning, was a parable written by Kafka. Usually, parables are stories that contain a lesson via an analogy. Many folktales are parables. However, the parable participants read did not contain a lesson at all, although the author is playing with their belief that it will. After participants read this story, they filled in a short questionnaire that allowed them to reaffirm their sense of meaning in a different domain. In this questionnaire they rated the importance of their birth country, nationality, and first language to their identity. Participants, who read the absurd parable, gave higher ratings to these questions compared to the group of participants whose sense of meaning was not violated which can be seen as an effort to restore their sense of
��������� Study 2 ������������������������������ Landau et al., 2006, Study 3
meaning. This research is based upon the Meaning Maintenance Model . This model states that people have an inherent need for meaning. Violations of our sense of meaning are expected to lead to compensatory efforts to restore meaning triggered by a temporarily heightened need for meaning. Indeed, in a different experiment the researchers showed that meaning threats lead to a heightened need for meaning. In this experiment, participants saw either surreal, abstract or ������������������������������ Heine, Prouxl, & Vohs, 2006
representational paintings. The surreal paintings were included because - like abstract paintings surreal paintings show less convergence with reality compared to representational paintings. But surreal paintings also contain unusual and strange imagery and elements that violate expectations and challenge our sense of meaning. An example is the famous painting “The persistence of memory” (1931) by Salvador Dali (1904-1989) which portrays a clock (familiar element) that is melting (unfamiliar). According to the theory, particularly surreal paintings should lead to a heightened
need for meaning. Accordingly, participants who looked at surreal paintings reported higher levels of need for structure compared to individuals who saw abstract or representational paintings. Not only do personality and intrinsic needs and motives affect aesthetic preferences, the properties of the artworks themselves can also temporarily affect our personal needs and desires. Evidence for these flexible properties of personality is also found in the work of Wiersema et al (2010). Participants who rated abstract paintings under a time constraint – known to enhance need for closure  - expressed less liking for these paintings compared to those who rated the paintings at their own pace. Need for closure is also heightened by environmental noise , mental fatigue  and experiencing high (social) power .
��������������������������������������������������������� e.g., De Grada, Kruglanski, Mannetti, & Pierro, 1999; Van Kleef et al., 2004 ���������������������������� Kruglanski & Webster, 1991 ��������������������������������������� Webster, Richter, & Kruglanski, 1996 ����������������������������������������������� Fiske, 1993; Van Kleef, De Dreu, Pietroni, & Manstead, 2006
Conclusion To summarize, our personality not only predicts the amount of art we consume, but also the types of art we prefer. Both openness to experience and sensation seeking are important for understanding these preferences, but more recent research has demonstrated that the need for closure and need for structure also predict our preferences. The gist is that in order to appreciate works of art that lack clear structure, are novel, perhaps highly ambiguous or even absurd, one needs to have an open mind. The degree to which our mind is open or closed, could also depend on the situation. When we are tired, in a hurry, or when we are in a noisy environment, our mind closes up and we will prefer more “simple”, clear-cut and predictable artwork. The research presented in this article focused mainly on liking for different styles of paintings and it is not clear if these findings are applicable to other domains of art. Some of the research discussed that did focus on other domains of art seems to suggests that it can, but future research is needed to confirm this. Taken together, the findings discussed in this article point to several interesting practical applications. For instance, people that struggle with artwork that does not immediately satisfy their need for meaning and clarity, can be aided by having easy access to background information about the artist and the artworks that help them understand the artworks. Many museums already use this strategy by providing audio guides or by thematically arranging the artworks. Furthermore, to enhance liking for plays and dance performances whose story lines and plots are not easily understood, visitors could be provided with booklets containing an explanation. Another option is to give visitors the possibility to attend a short introduction. The findings discussed in this article could also suggest that people can be aided in choosing things likebooks to read, music to listen to, or movies to see based upon their scores on a
personality test. Several web stores such as the I Tunes music store or the Dutch bol.com bookstore, already use a strategy that resembles this.
For instance, when you select a specific book, you get to see what the other buyer’s of this bookalso bought. However, the strategy could be more refined when the personality of these other buyers matches with the target person. Furthermore, people’s preferences for specific types of books and movies could differ depending on the situation. A person that is tired is expected to be relatively more appreciative of a book or movie that is unambiguous and predictable. This is probably not the best moment to read a book such as “Kafka on the shore” (original title: Umibe no Kafuka) by Haruki Murakami (January 12th, 1949) containing talking cats and other weird elements. Note that the ideas suggested above are at this point mainly speculative and need to be confirmed by future research. However, it is clear that research on personality and the needs and motives triggered by our environment could provide interesting suggestions and ideas to those who are concerned with areas such as the marketing of artworks or the programming of exhibitions in museums.
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Daphne V. Wiersema received her PhD in psychology from the University of Amsterdam in 2009 with the thesis ‘Self-esteem and the protection of selfrelated attitudes’. She worked as an assistant professor at the UvA on a project which explored the influence of self image in people’s choices and how these choices are affected by external factors like advertisements. She is currently self employed as a pilates instructor and founder of ‘Self Service Coaching’.
Communism and Youth in the Twentieth Century One-day conference 5 April 2011 Old Whiteknights House, Seminar Room Graduate School in Arts and Humanities University of Reading Programme 9.30-10: Registration 10-11: Opening address: Kevin Morgan (University of Manchester): From Infantile Disorders to the Fathers of the People: Youth and Generation in the Study of International Communism. 11-11.15: Coffee break 11.15-13.15: Morning Session: Communist education (Chair: Matthew Worley, University of Reading) Guillaume Quashie-Vauclin (Université Paris-1 Panthéon-Sorbonne): Between Dance and Demonstration: the Union of the Republican Youth of France. 1945-1956; Elke Weesjes (University of Sussex – United Academics): Communist Identity: the Public vs. the Private Sphere; Leo Goretti (University of Reading): Irma Bandiera and Maria Goretti: Gender Role Models for Communist Girls in the Early Cold War Years (1945-1956). 13-15-14: Lunch 14-14.30: Screening of the trailer of the movie The Train to Moscow (Kiné-Vez Film); 14.30-17.00: Afternoon Session: Communism, Consumerism and Mass Culture (Chair: tba) Pia Koivunen (University of Tampere): A Dream Come True: Experiencing Socialism at the World Youth Festivals in the 1940s-1950s; Mark Fenemore (Manchester Metropolitan University): Glossy Socialism: the Youth Magazine Neues Leben, 1954-1969; Matthew Worley (University of Reading): Shot By Both Sides: Punk, Politics and the End of Consensus in Britain.
This event is funded by the Royal Historical Society and the Economic History Society. Attendance is free but registration is required. For any additional information please contact the organisers: Matthew Worley (firstname.lastname@example.org); Leo Goretti (email@example.com).
Martine Berenpas Leiden University
Psychology as the science that studies human behaviour is a relatively new academic discipline. While modern psychology is a science based on observations and theories which explain human behaviour by collecting facts and turning them into psychological theories, its roots actually lie in philosophy. The Greek philosopher Socrates was the first observer we know of who showed an interested in human behaviour. He tried to explain the intentions of human conduct and tried to unravel the deeper meaning of human behaviour. The human mind was an important topic in the philosophical enquiry, although knowledge of this topic was mainly acquired by reasoning and introspection. Descartes, for example, tried to locate the foundations of the human mind by meditating on his own experience. It was Descartes who introduced the dualistic approach; he stated that the human mind differed radically from the human body. Descartesâ€™ dualism was the incentive for psychology to become an independent enterprise. Under the influence of the industrial revolution, there was a desire to better control human behaviour. Factories benefitted from workers whose behaviour was predictable and controllable. Owners were particularly interested in theories that could stimulate the productivity of the workers. Consequently metaphysical theories became less popular, because these theories were not based on observation and had no practical value for ordinary life. Through new successful methods of observation and experiments used in physiology, it also became possible to study human be-
haviour in a more scientific way. By using the same methods of physiology, psychology was freed from its metaphysical nature and became a discipline from which results could be used for practical purposes. In the 20th century, the search for new methods that enabled the predictability and controllability of human behaviour led to the behaviouristic approach. Behaviourism strove to make psychology a more scientific discipline by focusing solely on observable behaviour. Behaviourism describes human behaviour in purely observational terms without recourse to hypothetical or metaphysical assumptions. Another approach that became popular in the 20th century was the psychoanalytic approach of Freud. His perspective on the unconscious and the conscious nature of the human mind was a direct outflow of Descartes’ popular dualism. While behaviourism deals with that which can be observed and proven, psychoanalysis seeks to explain human consciousness by relying on thoughts, feelings and dreams. However, psychoanalysis went quickly out of style when positivism became the leading paradigm for conducting science. Positivism holds that the scientific method is the best approach to acquire knowledge of both physical and human events. The philosopher Popper played a vital role in the rise of positivism in the 20th century. In ‘Science as Falsification’ (1963), he argues that research has to satisfy some criteria in order to be scientific. The most important criteria Popper introduced was that scientific hypotheses should be falsifiable. Falsi-
fication means that the hypothesis is proven to be wrong based on empirical evidence. Popper heavily criticized psychoanalysis, because its hypotheses are presented in an unfalsifiable form. The psychoanalytic method was labeled as unscientific and vanished from the academic field. Nowadays, the only accepted paradigm for conducting psychological research is empirical psychology. Research is conducted through observation and results are interpreted with the help of statistical methods. Psychology claims that it can obtain objective results and claims that its results are just as scientific as biology and physics. In this paper I argue that these claims are in fact wrong since very little of the theoretical content of psychology meets the criteria to qualify as a science. Research on humans is restricted in a way which makes pure scientific research impossible. After highlighting the problems of psychological research which will lead to the conclusion that psychologists tend to exaggerate the scientific nature of psychology, I argue that psychology is -at its core- a hermeneutical science, because it relies a great deal on interpretation. In order to be more in line with its nature, psychology needs to focus more on the hermeneutical aspect of experience. Psychology as a science In order to outline my argument, I will first discuss the method of empirical psychology. Subsequently, I will indicate why psychology lacks the characteristics which are essential for psychology to be a science. Founding father of empirical psychology is Wilhem Wundt (1832-1920). Wundt’s main research subject was human consciousness. He was convinced that consciousness could be explained by using scientific methods. Most scientists of Wundt’s time believed that consciousness could not be a proper subject of research because it could not be explained without recourse to subjective experiences. Wundt tried to disprove this assumption by discarding every subjective aspect of consciousness. Conscious experience became a stimulus response relationship. Since Wundt, psychology’s method for obtaining knowledge on human behaviour, is based on observation and statistics. The psychologist
investigates the appearances of consciousness such as feelings, desires, judgements and decisions and tries to isolate the aspects which are universally valid for human experience. Psychology wants to define laws which specify how human behaviour is determined and seeks to determine which environmental elements influence personal characteristics. Human psychology achieved its greatest popularity in the 1950’s, at which time psychology was perceived as a social science. There are however a few problems with psychological research which questions the scientific nature of psychology. Unlike the natural sciences, psychology’s main point of interest are living persons who have feelings, thoughts and needs. We attribute a special value to our specie, which is why humans have unalienable rights that guarantee that they are treated in a dignified way. Due to the these rights, psychological research is restricted in a way that makes pure scientific research impossible. Main problem is that psychological research is often not able to set up a formal laboratory experiment. Ethical considerations make it impossible to design research in a way that is strictly objective. It would for example imply that researchers deny certain aspects of human life which we find essential, such as good nutrition. Denying proper care in order to obtain pure results, is clearly unethical and not permitted in psychological research. When for example we want tot test whether breastfed babies are smarter than formula fed babies, participants cannot be forced to either breastfeed or bottle feed. A strict ad random study, which is the division of participants in two groups based on chance, is in most cases of human behaviour impossible, because the researcher is not able to force a decision on his respondents. Psychologists are not able to divide mothers based into a breastfeed-
Karl Popper Photo
ing group and a bottle feeding group by using a system of chance, but are dividing them into two groups because the mothers already made the decision themselves to breastfeed or the bottle feed. In order to determine a relationship between to aspects, psychologists have to rely on retrospective or cohort studies. A cohort study is a study of a group of people who share common characteristics over a period of time. This type of research suffer from several problems which interfere with the truthfulness of the results. First of all, results indicate that certain characteristics correlate, but correlation does not imply causation. It can for example be found that breastfed babies have higher IQ’s. It might be however that this higher IQ is not caused by breastfeeding but by other aspects such as body contact or attention given to the baby. Researchers cannot
ographer: Evelyn Hockstein , The New York Times
control how mothers treat their baby during the period of time and cannot take into account all aspects that influence a baby’s IQ. Results based on retrospective or cohort studies are not as trustworthy as psychologists would like them to be. A second problem with retrospective studies is that these studies often rely on memory and are dependent on the interpretation of the respondent. Most retrospective studies are conducted by questionnaires. Results from questionnaires suffer from what I would call ‘hermeneutical problems’. First of all, questionnaires need to be corrected for social desirable answers. Participants know most of the time what the research is about and try (unconsciously) to adapt their responses to the expectations that they feel are risen. Another problem of questionnaires is that respondents need to interpret a question in the way that the researcher has meant it. Last problem with questionnaires is that respondents fail to remember their exact behaviour at a certain time. Psychological research faces many problems which jeopardize the truthfulness of its results. Most problems that occur are hermeneutical; many aspects of psychological research are influenced by the interpretation of the researcher and the respondents. According to William James (1842-1910), all psychological research is based on the assumption that others have experiences just as me. James argues that psychological research has to deal with four aspects: the psychologist’s attitude, the thoughts which are studied, the content of the thoughts and the reality of the psychologist . The psychologist’ attitude influences for example the way that the research is designed. The reality of the psychologist is the way he thinks that human experience is affected. This will influence the questionnaire he chooses for his study and the hy-
potheses he wants to test. When we evaluate these four aspects, it is not surprising to claim that psychology is essentially a hermeneutical enterprise. Although psychology wants to be an objective science, it is hindered by the fact that its research object is essentially subjective. The hermeneutical aspect of psychological research is however hardly taken into account. Data which are gathered from respondents are treated as objective data that can lead to statistical valid results. Bias in research are discussed as limitations, but most of the time does not lead to a falsification of the hypothesis. To summarize, psychology has became under the spell of exact methods of research while its nature hinders appropriate application of these methods. Unlike biology or physics, psychology deals with humans who have special rights and who need consideration how to be treated. Ethical considerations make it impossible for psychology to conduct pure experimental research. Psychological research has to rely on retrospective or cohort studies, but these studies are often blurred due to hermeneutical problems. It is impossible for psychological research to obtain the same objective results as are obtained by physiology or biology. Due to its specific nature, psychology has to deal with the fact that it is essentially a hermeneutical science, which lacks the capacity to conduct pure experimental research. Phenomenological Psychology I have argued that psychology has to deal with different aspects which makes it impossible to conduct pure scientific research. Due to its nature, psychology has to deal with different subjective influences which cannot be controlled. Psychological research is in its core hermeneutical; it is driven by interpretations of the psychologists as well as the respondents. Although statistical methods are able to filter data and to control for aspects that unintentionally might affect the results, it is still not able to guarantee total objectivity. A further question is what objective results say about a subjective experience such as depressive feelings. Empirical psychology searches for cause and effect and
tries to isolate factors that contribute to certain types of behaviours. It searches for those aspects that are applicable for these types of experience. Empirical psychology does not want to say something about the specific experience of an individual. As discussed earlier, psychological research relies heavily on the assumption that we share the same kinds of subjective experience. This starting point is why psychology is essentially a hermeneutical enterprise; it has to interpret and evaluate at every turn subjective elements in order to obtain results. The starting point of psychological research and the different hermeneutical aspects of conducting research are however hardly considered in the academic field. Empirical psychology is the only paradigm that is accepted for conducting research. Universities demand of their students to conduct research based on questionnaires or laboratory experiments and students are forced to analyze their Edmund Husserl results with statistical programs such Photographer: Eve as SPSS. Other types of research such as psychoanalysis or historical research are not seen as trustworthy alternatives. These types of research are only discussed in the historical context of psychology. I think that psychology has become too dogmatic in its assumption that empirical psychology is the one and only method for conducting research. By being this dogmatic, it does not only exclude other viable alternatives, but it does also denies the fact that psychology is in its core a hermeneutical enterprise. In order to be in line with its hermeneutical nature, I argue that psychology needs to be empirical as well as hermeneutical. I plea therefore for a reintroduction of phenomenological psychology. The foundations of phenomenology were laid by Husserl (1913-1983). Husserl argued that we should go back to the things themselves. Each science must target the essential characteristics of its subject. Psychology needs for example be focused on the essential characteristics of human experience. Phenomenologists argue
that humans are radically different from physical and animal nature. They argue that treating humans according to the concepts and methods of natural science is doomed to fail. Human phenomena lack the exactness and the mechanical regularity of physical nature and cannot be properly understood in terms of cause and effect. Phenomenologists see psychology as a hermeneutical enterprise. Dilthey argues for example: ‘We explain nature; we understand psychic life’ . Nietzsche (18441900) goes even further and argues that human consciousness results from the linguistic character of elyn Hockstein, The New York Times mankind. Consciousness has developed as a form of communication of desires. Phenomenological psychology combines what individuals actually do with the projective structure of their world. More than empirical psychology, phenomenological psychology is concerned with cultural constraints and how these constraints determine an individual’s sphere of living. Phenomenology tries to make sense of the meaning of subjective experiences as a whole. It’s method is in its core hermeneutical, because it tries to interpret the meaning of human experiences, while empirical psychology focuses more on the cause and effect of experience. Phenomenology as a method of research In this paragraph I would like to set out how phenomenology can be a viable complement to psychological research. Phenomenological research consists of three phases: experimental contact with prescientific psychic life, reflective analysis and psychological description. I will briefly describe every step of the phenomenological re-
search process: • Contact with prescientific psychic life. Phenomenology starts from reflecting on inner experience. The phenomenological process begins by the researcher who reflects in detail on the experience he wants to investigate. If the researcher wants to investigate an experience he has never had, subjects may be invited to express an event that they have already lived through. A detailed descriptive account is taken of the experience. Experiences are described in their full context; the original experience is targeted. The descriptive account should renounce from any scientific classification or explanation. This step of phenomenological research needs to take into account the whole existential context in order to grasp the significance of the phenomenon. The phase ends with the researcher’s reading of the protocols. The researcher reads the descriptive accounts and tries to make sense of the whole. A good example of a descriptive account of an original (prescientific) experience is the experiences William James describes in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902). Mystical experiences are analyzed from their full context. • Reflective Analysis. The second phase of phenomenological research is the process of reflecting on the narratives of step one. Main goal of reflective analysis is to discern (but not to isolate) the specific moments within the subject’s experience. The phenomenological approach does not reduce the experience to elements, but tries to identify specific moments from the point of view of the whole. The researcher enters in this phase into the ‘hermeneutical circle’ wherein he goes back and forth from the first reading of the narratives gaining an intuition of the whole from the specific aspects of the experience and subsequently returns to the narratives and in order to comprehend the relationship between aspect and whole. • Psychological Description. The last phase of the phenomenological research process can be seen as the actual results of the enterprise. It expresses the understanding that has been achieved. The researcher formulates an integrative description that reveals the structure of the psychic life that has been investigated. The methodology of the phenomenological ap-
proach includes not only the subjective experience as a whole, but also takes into account the tentative reflections of the researcher. His perspective on the narratives is the main tool of the establishment of the integrative description. One might raise the objection that phenomenological psychology lacks verification. When the psychologist’s perspective and attitude plays such an important role in obtaining results, it is almost impossible that the same conclusions will be drawn by another person. Although phenomenological research is subjective, it can be verified. Verification depends in phenomenological research on whether another researcher assumes the perspective of the psychologist. The other researcher is able to review the descriptions which are gathered and can see whether the gained insights follow from the data. Phenomenological psychology isn’t empirical psychology, because it does not posit that there are mental structures or events. Phenomenological psychology also isn’t strictly observational, but does take the hermeneutical aspect of human life serious. It can therefore be a viable complement to empirical psychology. Conclusion In this paper, I’ve indicated the pitfalls of empirical psychology. Psychology deals with humans who have special rights. Due to these rights, psychology has to take into account ethical considerations which restricts pure scientific research. Psychological research has to rely on retrospective or cohort studies which face hermeneutical problems. I have outlined that psychology is in its core hermeneutical because not only the assumptions of the respondents, but also the reality of the researcher affects the outcome of psychological research. It is a shame that academic psychology only accepts empirical psychology as a research method, because by doing so it exaggerates its scientific nature and denies its specific
nature. I have plead for a reintroduction of phenomenological psychology, because phenomenology investigates an experience in its full context and can therefore grasp the hermeneutical aspects of human experience. I do not however claim that phenomenological psychology needs to replace empirical psychology. Empirical and phenomenological psychology differ radically from each other, but can coexist in the domain of psychology. They can complement each other because they are able to take in each other’s weaknesses. Psychology can grow as an academic discipline when it combines empirical with phenomenological psychology. Both methods cover different aspects of human experience while they are united by common interest concerning questions about human life. By using phenomenological as well as empirical methods, psychological research is in line with its nature by striving at the same time to become more scientific. Whether psychology can ever be a science is however doubtful; as William James would say: ‘There is no science. It is only the hope of a science’ . Biography James, William (1890). The Principles of Psychology. Volume One. New York: Dover Publications. 2003. Dilthey, W. Texte zur Kritik der historischen Vernunft. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 1983. Langdridge, D. (2007). Phenomenological Psychology: Theory, Research and Method. New York: Pearson Education. James, William (1895). Briefer Course. New York: Dover Publications. 2006. Popper. K. (1963). Science as Falsification. In: Conjectures and Refutations. London: Routledge. p. 33-39. (Endnotes) 1 James, William (1890). The Principles of Psychology. Volume One. New York: Dover Publications. 2003. p.184. 2 Dilthey, W. Texte zur Kritik der historischen Vernunft. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 1983. 3 James, William (1895). Briefer Course. New York: Dover Publications. 2006. p. 468.
Martine Berenpas studied psychology and philosophy at Leiden University (MA). Her interests lie in French philosophy. In 2008 she published an article the Levinas Studiekring journal. She followed a course on Levinas at DePaul University in Chicago and is currently working on a Phd proposal on continental philosophy and art.
__Sleeping_&_Learning__ Sanna van Geldermalsen completed her Master thesis in August 2010 at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam. Her thesis, entitled The benevolent effect of sleep on learning, won first place for ’Best thesis for the one-year masters’ at the Faculty of Psychology and Education. Enough reason for us to take a closer look at her research project. ‘When Richard Webber, Chief of Surgery at Seattle Grace, makes the rash and heated decision to fire one of his best and most loyal staff, Dr. Derek Shepherd, Derek responds coolly with a few simple words. “Go home. Sleep on it. We’ll talk more tomorrow.” Unknowingly, Derek has just summarised what sleep and unconscious thought research tries to prove; taking time off from making a difficult decision will improve your choice. When a person is stuck deciding whether to buy one house rather than another, which career path to pursue, how to resolve a conflict at work or when facing a writer’s block, “taking time off” seems both the easiest and oldest remedy. By engaging in a distracting activity, we usually arrive at new insights and solutions to difficult problems. The present work investigates whether “sleeping on a problem qualifies as “taking time off, and if so, whether sleep can be used to improve learning and performance of students in secondary education.’ (extract from introduction The benevolent effect of sleep on learning) Van Geldermalsen’s thesis resulted from her internship at Dijksterhuis & van Baaren, a market research and consultancy agency in Nijmegen. At this agency she worked on a project, supervised by Prof. Dr. Ap Dijksterhuis himself, which examined the effect of sleep on the learning process of third year high school students. The point of departure was the suggestion made by review
of Unconscious-Thought Theory (UTT) (Dijksterhuis & Nordgren, 2006) and sleep research that “sleeping on” a problem should equate to “taking time off” from the problem, so sleep should do for learning what distraction does for unconscious thought: improve cognitive functioning. Van Geldermalsen and Dijksterhuis sought to investigate this assumption by extending unconscious thought and sleep research in the field of education. Two consecutive days of testing at four Dutch high schools revealed that sleeping after learning improves performance. Van Geldermalsen used the data collected during this project for her thesis. She draws the conclusion that the benevolent effect of sleep was especially prevalent for tasks regarding insight and creativity; for example: interpreting satirical cartoons in a history class. Furthermore, testing in the morning versus the afternoon also had an effect on performance in tasks in English and Mathematics: regardless of sleep, students perform better in the morning hours than in the afternoon. Students that are well rested before class or that sleep after learning, will achieve maximum results from their learning experiences at school. “Sleeping on” difficult tasks may therefore be worthwhile for learning, but according to Van Geldermalsen, readers should remember that stimulation is key for reaping the fruits of unconscious thought and sleep.
“Go home. Sleep on it. We’ll talk more tomorrow.” (Nowalk & Wilson, 2009) 25
In the 1960s Jean-Paul Sartre, philosopher and best-selling author, enjoyed a celebrity status one usually associates with film or rock stars. He was adored by intellectuals, considered a guru to students all over the world and had a harem of groupies. His existentialism became a fad on college campuses; youth was attracted to his philosophy which rejected all absolutes and talked of freedom and authenticity. Sartre’s popularity continued even when the writer himself began to doubt his own views in the last decade of his life. In the 1960s Jean-Paul Sartre, philosopher and best-selling author, enjoyed a celebrity status one usually associates with film or rock stars. He was adored by intellectuals, considered a guru to students all over the world and had a harem of groupies. His existentialism became a fad on college campuses; youth was attracted to his philosophy which rejected all absolutes and talked of freedom and authenticity. Sartre’s popularity continued even when the writer himself began to doubt his own views in the last decade of his life.
Early childhood The French existentialist philosopher, novelist and political activist Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre was born in Paris on the 21st of June 1905. His mother, Anne-Marie Schweitzer, was the first
cousin of Albert Schweitzer, the philosopher, physician and Nobel Peace prize winner. Sartre’s father, Jean-Baptiste Sartre, who was a naval officer, contracted enterocolitis during a voyage to China and died of complications. After her husband’s death, Anne-Marie moved, together with her 15 month old son, back to her parent’s house in Meudon. Sartre’s grandfather, Karl Schweitzer was a professor of German who had published several texts on religion, philosophy and language. He introduced his grandson to classical literature at a very early age and in many ways it seems that Sartre was destined to become a writer. His grandfather doted on Sartre and let him use his library, whilst his mother, who he and the rest of the family treated as a doormat, spoiled him rotten. In his autobiography Les Mots (1964) he refers to his childhood as ‘paradise’;
‘my mother was this virgin, who lived with us, watched and dominated by everyone, was there to wait on me.’ He was told that he was beautiful, “and he believed it.”’ Although his mother was very upset after reading Les Mots, commenting that he had not understood his childhood, there is no doubt that Sartre was thoroughly spoiled in his youth . The unsightly jester Sartre’s idyllic upbringing was roughly disturbed when he started going to school. He wasn’t beautiful after all; he was actually rather unsightly and his mum had clearly lied about his appearance. Following a bout of influenza, a sty had developed in his right eye when he was four. His eye was permanently damaged and consequently Sartre had to wear thick glasses. On top of his faulty grotesque looking eye, he was also short and plain looking. Being bullied at school, he retaliated by being witty and clever. After attending the Lycée Henri Quatre in Paris, which was at the time considered the best high school in France, Sartre gained entrance 1 Paul M. Johnson., From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky (Harper Collins, 2007)
to the prestigious École Normale Supérieure in 1924. At this school he met his life partner Simone de Beauvoir; other contemporaries were Paul Nizan and Raymond Aron. He passed the Agrégation in 1929 on a second attempt, finishing at the top of his class and earned a doctorate in philosophy. Two years later he became a professor at Le Havre. Sartre moved to Germany in 1932, where he studied the philosophies of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. It was in Berlin at the French institute where Sartre discovered phenomenology . His early works, like L’Imagination (Paris Alcan 1936), were characterized by phenomenological analyses involving his own interpretation of Husserl’s method. Sartre’s take on existentialism Under the influence of Husserl’s idea of a free, fully intentional consciousness and Heidegger’s existentialism, Sartre formulated his own form of existentialism. His goal was to project a philo2 Phenomenology is a broad philosophical movement emphasizing the study of conscious experience; founded by Edmund Husserl in the early years of the 20th century. It is concerned with systematic reflection on and analysis of the structures of consciousness and the phenomena which appear in acts of consciousness.
sophical system through fiction and drama. He rejected the universal moral law and values imposed by society. Human existence according to Sartre, is always particular and individual. In his philosophy ‘my existence’ and ‘your existence’, are completely separate from each other and sealed in a moral bubble. Existence is a mode of being and the way one chooses to live is his or her particular mode of being. Choosing from a wide range of possibilities and sticking or committing to these choices defines an individual’s existence, according to Sartre. He wasn’t necessarily interested in the choices people make; what intrigued him was how these choices are made. Does one choose with absolute freedom and with commitment and sincerity? Asking himself this question, Sartre challenged the conformist opinions of others, values of society and moral law. On a personal level, Sartre together with Beauvoir, rejected the cultural and social assumptions and expectations of their bourgeois upbringing. Their relationship illustrates this rejection of bourgeois lifestyle and thought; rather than being married the two had an open relationship, which was considered scandalous and inappropriate in the 1930s.  A writer not a fighter After his short stint in Berlin and until the outbreak of World War II, Sartre spent most of his time teaching at Lycée Pasteur in Paris and at Le Havre. Meanwhile, he had evolved into more of a political thinker. An example of this evolution is his participation in a Popular Front demonstration from the Bastille to the Porte de Vincennes on July 14, 1935. Sartre, who had done military service between 1929 and 1931, was drafted into the French army again in 1939. He was captured by the Nazis in June 1940 and held as a prisoner of war until March 1941, surviving by jesting and writing camp entertainment. He was eventually classified as partially blind and released. During
3 Christian J. Onof, Sartre’s Existentialism (http://www. iep.utm.edu/sartre-ex/)
the months he spent in captivity, Sartre began to work on what would become his magnus opus and a classic of existentialism; Les chimins de la liberté. Upon his return Sartre yearned to join the national resistance, but his efforts didn’t really materialize. Sartre preferred writing over a physical fight. Paul Johnson notes that there is a curious irony here: ‘Sartre’s existentialism, was a philosophy of action, arguing that man’s character and significance are determined by his actions, not his views, by his deeds, not words. The Nazi occupation aroused all Sartre’s anti-authoritarian
instincts. He wanted to fight it. If he had followed his philosophical maxims, he would have done so by blowing up troop trains or shooting members of the SS. But that is not in fact what he did. He talked. He wrote. He was Resistance-minded in theory, mind and spirit, but not in fact . From this moment, albeit on a spiritual and theoretical level, Sartre participated actively in several revolutionary and social movements and befriended revolutionaries worldwide. A star is born After the war ended, Sartre established Les Temps Modernes. This quarterly was both a liter4 Paul Johnson, ‘Jean-Paul Sartre: A little Ball of Fur and Ink’, in: The Wilson Quarterly 1989, 65.
ary as well as a political review in which two aspects of Sartre’s life came together; writing and political activism. A lecture was organised to introduce the journal. It wasn’t widely advertised, but a huge number of people showed up to the lecture hall. The hall was so full, that only celebrities were allowed in, leaving a large crowed outside. Inside the gathering resembled a rock concert; people fainted, chairs were smashed, and a star was born. The media, who denounced his work, certainly contributed to Sartre’s stardom; the press coverage was astonishing. Despite
a post-war paper shortage, many newspapers wrote extensively about Sartre’s lecture. It went into the history books as the first great post-war media event. Besides the ever increasing popularity, the 1940’s were also characterized by Sartre’s difficulties in combining the life of a political activist and that of a writer. He found it difficult to be both. His struggle with being an intellectual writer and an activist was the topic of his work Les Mains Sales (1948). Nevertheless he continued being a ‘left’ intellectual for the rest of his life. Although he didn’t join the French Communist Party, Sartre did embrace Marxism and played a prominent role in the protest against French rule in Algeria . 5 David L. Schalk., War and the ivory tower: Algeria and Vietnam (First Nebraska paperback printing 2005) 106108.
1960s Sartre ‘craze’ Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in October 1964, which he declined. In an interview Sartre explained that he refused official distinctions and did not want to be “institutionalized”. He told the press he rejected the Nobel Prize for fear that it would limit the impact of his writing. A statement in the French newspaper Le Monde appeared in which he explained why he refused this official distinction: ‘The writer who accepts an honor of this kind involves as well as himself the association or institution which has honored him. My sympathies for the Venezuelan revolutionists commit only myself, while if Jean-Paul Sartre the Nobel laureate champions the Venezuelan resistance, he also commits the entire Nobel Prize as an institution. The writer must therefore refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honorable circumstances, as in the present case . Under the influence of the cultural changes inthe 1960s Sartre and the Beauvoir became a model couple, legendary creatures, rebels with a great many causes and leaders of a youth movement which was inspired by Sartre’s existentialism. The couple went on official visits to the Soviet Union and to communist China. In 1960 they accepted an invitation of Fidel Castro and made a trip to Cuba. Sartre supported the Vietnamese Communist Party and partook in both the Vietnam War protests as well as the revolutionary student strikes in Paris. Although involved, Sartre was never truly committed. Johnson notes that it was his young followers who pushed him into taking an active role. His popularity reached a zenith, but Sartre himself became increasingly confused and realized that he wasn’t the activist he 6 Statement made by Jean-Paul Sartre on 22 October 1964 which appeared in Le Monde. Translated by Richard Howard in: www.nybooks.com/articles/archives
always wanted to be ‘Sartre’s interest in student revolution lasted less than a year. It was succeeded by an equally brief, but more bizarre attempt to identify himself with “the workers”, those mysterious but idealized beings about whom he wrote so much but who had eluded him throughout his life’.
7 Paul Johnson, ‘Jean-Paul Sartre: A little Ball of Fur and Ink’, in: The Wilson Quarterly 1989 71.
Death of the jester After these unsuccessful attempts to join the student and working class struggle, Sartre spent the last decade of his life writing. He produced over 10,000 words a day and rated quantity of quality. The quality of his work deteriorated and his verbal diarrhea began to destroy his magic as a lecturer. His star had lost its shine; Sartre spent his last years in a drunken haze. He had become virtually blind, incontinent and alcohol dependant. He died on the 15th of April 1980 and left everything he had, money and literary property, to his mistress Arlette Elkaim rather than de Beauvoir. Elkaim was a Jewish musician who Sartre had adopted as his daughter in 1965. A bitter dispute between Beauvoir and Sartre’s ‘daughter’ ended only with Beauvoir’s death in 1986. She died of complications related to alcoholism and was laid to rest in the grave of Sartre in the Cimetiere du Montparnasse in Paris .
8 Carole Seymour-Jones., A dangerous liaison: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre (London Century 2008) 551-574
Since the middle of the 20th century, the field of architecture has largely separated itself from critical discussion. The role of architects in modern society is hard to define. Given that there are no stringent intellectual, philosophical or cultural laws to which to adhere, the architect is free to do as he pleases – within the constraints set by capital. The most successful architects are often those who can sell an idea convincingly to developers and other clients who provide budget but little or no restriction on the relevance of building as an object of research. As a result, architecture has largely become a solipsistic field in which ‘anything goes’ and ideas are built without being tested. This leads to a decreasing learning curve and a lack of verifiable/testable cases in buildings (which can be seen as full-scale models) as they are conceived outside of the critical discourse. Further, architects do not have a common ‘language’ with which to communicate with each other or with the outside world. While architects build they often make choices, without quite understanding why, while others (critics, historians, journalists, etc) discuss and interpret. This has led to a widening gap between what can be done, what is done, and what should be done. Project In the past quarter of a century, architecture in the Netherlands soared to new heights. Partly as a result of a flourishing economy, an enthusiastic political climate and the inherent sense (and sensibility) of the Dutch as nation-builders per se, a number of young offices established themselves as important players on the national and – especially since the early nineties – the international field of architecture. We can take OMA, Mecanoo, UNStudio, MVRDV, Erick van Egeraat, Neutelings Riedijk and perhaps SeARCH as significant examples, with their spread from the early eighties to the present. Both in the sense of the architect as visionary-designer-builder, and in
critical terms of the architect as an analyst-interpreter-educator, a system of reflective architecture practice was built, in no small part founded on the (post-)modernist (literary) theories of the mid-20th century. A well-known summary is given in the term ‘SuperDutch’, coined by Bart Lootsma in his eponymous book, A Revision of Contemporary Architecture From the Early 21st Century. Status Quo More recently, the reflective practice – i.e. the intelligent and constructive debate on what architecture should do, should be about, and should attempt to achieve – has stalled some-
what. There appear to be two main contributing reach a vast audience, most of whom have little factors at play here. or no professional education in whichever field the information deals with. 1. The first is the irony of over-reaching success. People are increasingly used to spending Taking ‘SuperDutch’ to include all the well-pub- less time on a particular subject, and some socilicised and lauded works of and by Dutch archi- ologists and psychologists have gone further in tects in the last 25 years, it can be noted that this stating that we are developing shorter attention boom has led to so-called ‘starchitects’ being spans. The simple truth is that images and sloreleased from the shackles of general building gans, icons and keywords, have become ubiquipractice, and turning towards flights of architec- tous both in their presence and in their commutural fancy that have little to do with a clear set of nicative power. This is seen clearly in the specific functional, sociological or intellectual goals, and field of architecture journals. The French critic more to do with an onanistic desire to incorpo- Françoise Fromonot put the case in an article rate wildly formalistic constructions and creative titled ‘Why memes from other fields of research. Renowned architects have been permitted (and, tellingly, have permitted themselves) to build almost without restrictions, other than the
base constraints of budget and gravity. 2. The other is the rise, since roughly the early 21st Century, of the networked profession – indeed, the networked generation – which is as undeniable as it is influential. The speedy growth of social media, and availability of rapid data-transfer have led to a number of effects. Communication in professional circles has become (even more) visually oriented, as well as more compact; focused on cursory glances rather than studious examination. Professionals increasingly generalise rather than specialise in their fields, yet strangely are used to bite-sized information (consider Twitter as a source of information and as a platform for information exchange) and coarse schematics. These are widely and easily dispersed on social media, and are popular in part because they
start an architecture journal in an age that is disgusted w i t h (most of) them?’: “You would be hard pressed to find [a professional journal] which would want to take on, say, a carefully written examination of a small unknown building, a lucid account of the political stakes of a recent competition, or a knowledgeable review of a given book or a decent analysis (or even just an independent assessment) of
some starchitects’ achievements.” Together, 1 and 2 have brought about the current state of affairs, a state in which some books and, importantly, websites no longer contain even the briefest of descriptive texts. As Tom Avermaete et al stated in OASE #81: “The apparent increase in popular demand for volumes presenting works of architecture as novelties has led to a large number of publications containing relatively short and exclusively descriptive texts – some have given up on words all together, publishing only the images.” Architecture is selling its values (and itself) to the layperson in much the same way that a success-
ful business is sold off for short-term financial gain, rather than floated for the freedom in which to further explore and develop the goals that it was set up to achieve. Critics, on the other hand, still rest on mid-to-late 20th century post-modernist collections of “-isms” and literary or social philosophy, rather than on a strict and stringent architecture critique. The body of architectural criticism has dried up, to some extent, and does not have the means to deal with the populist success of flashy news-stand architecture. In trying to accomplish more than it was designed for, the architectural debate, once anchored in the question of what architecture should deal with, has lost both focus and
strength. Generally stated, architecture needs a common ‘language’1 ;a unified means, or method, or platform, to present, criticise and educate itself. In Bosma’s words: “The architecture practice is missing a common language. The language architects use to present their work is often related to that of artists, poets and similar highly individualist expression. Thus, the architect becomes a spectator who is driven to a niche-role in the market.” The effect is in fact stronger still: architects have willingly sacrificed their intellectual autonomy -a result, no doubt, of their inability to generate a functioning intellectual language of their own. Poignantly, architecture must find one, as it will otherwise become stranded between the will of corporate building and the needs of
idealist society. History has taught us that, while buildings are fleeting, ideas and concepts are not.2 To take Bosma’s cue again: architecture that is iconic for a period of time, lives on in the collective memory (and this is why architects try to create icons). Still, not all socially, culturally or intellectually important buildings have been visually exciting.3 The problem is not only what the architect is trying to show us, it is equally the way it is presented and discussed. Severity of the problem In ‘De Nederlandse kennis-sector dreigt te verzwakken’, an article on the NWO website, chairman Jos Engelen is quoted as saying (18th Jan1 Bosma (2010): ‘Inventie en interventie’; the translation here is mine. 2 After Leitl (1956) 3 Bosma (2010): ‘Interpretatie van architectuur’.
uary 2011): “The [Knowledge and Innovation photo] shows that in a period of just one year, the number of researchers per thousand people in the working population has decreased by ten percent. The very low investments in research will almost certainly result in a continuation of this trend. That is definitely not good news for the knowledge sector ambitions of the Netherlands. ” It has now been almost 2,5 years since the economic crisis struck, and it shows little sign of abating, at least in the building industry in this country. This has two direct results, as echoed in history by previous crises. First, as many struggling professionals are painfully aware, most architecture is fated to deal with building for return on investment only – for all but the few so-called ‘starchitects’. Second, architecture criticism is restricted to best-selling books (i.e. safe investments for publishers) and are the coffee-table two-dimensional architectural hedonism that is without obvious analysis, stimulating content or long-term value. If we, as an architectural community, as a country, fail to deal with this situation, we run the risk of allowing the architectural practice to fall behind the global scene.. If architects chase short-term goals of monthly turnover and abandon all the intellectual and socio-cultural prin-
Philip Allin is an architect, a writer and an editor. After receiving his Master's degree in architecture, with honours, from Delft University of Technology, he practiced architecture before joining a renowned Dutch architecture journal. Before becoming its managing editor, he oversaw the production of its first English-language edition. His current research includes the setting-up of an independent research programme dealing with the intricate relationship between architects and critics (of architecture). He is also writing two books on architecture to be published in 2011.
ciples they once dreamed of improving, they become no more than well-dressed buildingcontractors. The result is a vicious cycle in which architects and critics grow less and less engaged with each other, moving further and further apart professionally, which leads to architects becoming less able to form and communicate their visions, goals, designs and design-processes. Worse, I foresee an impoverished architectural profession that would grapple blindly at the problems of the future, using the instruments of the past. Our society, an increasingly urban and dense whole, will suffer. Solution This schism between architects and critics needs to be resolved in order to regain the intelligent and constructive debate that we were used to (and that would help steer the construction of our built environment), and for this we need to return to a basic understanding of the way in which architects and critics communicate. Architects are (mostly) visual communicators; critics are (by and large) textual communicators. We need to compare and contrast, and find a common ground upon which we can all agree, and from which we can work. (i.e. a very elementary mode of communication, in archetypal images:sketches, icons, schematics and texts:keywords, synoptic descriptions). Also, the critic must acquire an adequate and accurate knowledge of the architectural process, in order to engage the architect in a sensible and directed debate on what architecture ought to do, mean and achieve. We should stimulate a design-mentality that is iterative and engaged as well as being responsive and responsible. We should, at the very least, ignore the eye-candy printed in magazines; instead replacing it with carefully structured, but also accessible, critique on what architecture does, and what it should do. My answer is not to ignore the status quo. Indeed, we cannot. We must learn from the current, impoverished state and combine the snappiness of the digital sphere of communication with the depth of considered critique by which we were formed. We need, essentially, both brains and brawn. Finding the common ground that bridges the schism between the ‘envisioner-
creator-producer’ and the ‘analyst-interpretereducator’ is the best way to engage both, as partners, in the intelligent, measured, responsive, sage and self-critical, rather than merely critical, process that architecture should be. Example By simplifying the role of the architect and the critic (as ‘designer-builder’ and ‘analyst-interpreter’ respectively), and assuming for the sake of argument that we are dealing with architects and critics as separate entities, rather than architectcritics, we can draw up a research plan for the investigation into the ways and means in which architects and critics communicate. If critics are going to be able to engage the architect in active discourse, they must themselves be well aware of the process of architectural design. Equally, if architects are going to explain themselves in logical, linear fashion, they must use the same tools of communication as critics do. At the most basic level, this is about the exchange of information. By studying how critics and architects do this (fundamentally in texts and in images respectively), we can determine to what extent the rules of information-exchange (one/two-way) and, later, communication (twoway, feedback) can be used to increase the critic’s use of the image and the architect’s use of the text. On a multi-media platform (a website is a good example as it is editable, as well as being text and image oriented), these elements can be easily presented side-by-side. As developed in earlier research by this author, a common element in text and image can be extracted through reductive structured analysis. Laying bare this common element allows both critic and architect to understand, interpret and react to some basic idea that is inherent in, say, a building or a text. In responding to each other at this fundamental level both architect and critic can construct understanding and commentary about an idea. While getting to the core of the issue at hand, this also results in clearing away the common enemy of a distracting, photogenic form that lacks significance. This opens the door to a substantive debate which can allay the fears of a Fromonot or an Avermaete. By doing this we can also achieve a critical, involved
discussion of architecture – one that is both deep and of broad interest – and open up new paths for the architecture of this country to re-establish itself at the forefront of 21st century practice. Conclusion By developing a recursive (iterative) model for research and analysis, I propose generating a set of analytical ‘elements of architecture’ – a kind of basic set of schemes, represented in simple images or with elementary text. These fundamental ‘units’ of architectural communication aid our understanding of the architectural-creative process and the critical analysis thereof. By drawing these two fields (creation and reflection) together, we can encourage the architect and the critic to join forces once more, opening the door for an idealised ‘creator-thinker’ to operate as a self-critical builder/analyst. This could lead to a brighter future for our architecture and, by extension, for our society.
Anouk Vleugels University of Amsterdam
The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life Ever yelled at your computer? In The Belief Instinct, cognitive psychologist Jesse Bering argues that because of a little evolutionary mistake called empathy, we humans have a tendency to attribute a conscience to non-living things. Bering came up with a scientific term for this way of thinking—the ‘theory of mind.’ According to Bering, having a theory of mind was so useful for our ancestors in explaining and predicting other people’s behaviours, that it has now made our brain hypersensitive to social cues. Therefore we sometimes can’t help but see intentions, desires, and beliefs in things that lack consciousness: animals, plants, and even our furniture. This idea isn’t totally new. In 1944, Austrian research psychologists Fritz Heider and Mary-Ann Simmel created a simple animated film, which showed three moving figures: a small triangle, a large triangle, and a small circle. Participants were asked to watch the film. When they were asked about what they had seen, most of them used a human social behavioural narrative to describe their observations. Generally, the participants perceived the large triangle as ‘bullying’ the ‘timid’ smaller triangle, both of whom
were seeking the ‘affections’ of the ‘female’ circle. So we humans tend to read into things, but that’s not all. Bering follows this thread further by showing how our overactive theory of mind sometimes causes us to see messages from the divine in natural occurrences. As a result, we created the illusion of God. “What if I were to tell you that God’s mental states, too, were all in your mind?,” Bering writes. “That God, like a tiny speck floating at the edge of your cornea producing the image of a hazy, out-ofreach orb accompanying your every turn, was in fact a psychological illusion, a sort of evolved blemish etched onto the core cognitive substrate of your brain?” God, Bering argues, is an adaptive illusion, which used to be a way for us to stay on the right moral track in order to protect ourselves and our future offspring. However, in today’s modern society we don’t need this supernatural-agent-as-watchdog function anymore. Which is good news. Since we are the first generation to realise this is the case, we are finally given the opportunity to find out where God came from, and furthermore, we can start looking for some alternatives.
Jesse Bering is the Director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture in the School of History and Anthropology at Queen’s University, Belfast. A research psychologist by training, he writes the popular weekly column ‘Bering in Mind,’ a featured blog for the Scientific American website. In addition to his popular writings, Bering has published over sixty professional scientific articles, nearly all in the area of human social evolution.
The trouble, of course, is that the human brain hasn’t evolved as rapidly as human technology, so we still suffer the same cognitive illusions that gave rise to supernatural beliefs all those eons ago. So long as we’ve got the brains we’ve been dealt by evolution, God isn’t going anywhere.”
You argue that God can be seen as an adaptive illusion. Can you elaborate on this? “The central adaptationist argument in the book is that, through various innate cognitive biases that are difficult to override, we easily fall under the impression that we are in a moralistic social relationship with God (or whatever ethereal watchdogs you please) who cares about our social behaviours. This illusion of a morally concerned force that ‘responds’ to our (mis)behaviours through natural events motivates people to inhibit behaviours that would harm their reputation. Although the parameters for good and bad behaviour are largely set by the culture at hand, a ruinous reputation translates directly to poor genetic fitness outcomes. So the bottom line is this: feeling watched keeps us from doing things that would only harm our own reproductive interests.” Why –from a evolutionary perspective- don’t we need this illusion anymore ? “Because, to a large extent, at least for complex societies, we have achieved a degree of technological sophistication that obviates the supernatural-agent-as-watchdog function. These include things like hidden cameras, social-security-number tracking, DNA analyses, and so on, all of which are designed for the same social behaviour-regulating functions. They were designed by human means, whereas God was designed by natural selection, but they both serve to keep the individuals’ selfish or impulsive desires in check.
Considering that we are hard wired to believe in some sort of supernatural agents; is it possible for us to be true atheists? “Yes, because atheism is simply a propositional stance about the reality-outside-our-heads. It’s like an optical illusion. No matter how much you know it’s an illusion, you’re still experience the sensation that, say, one line is longer than the others in the Müller-Lyer trick. Likewise, my position in the book is that atheists simply don’t trust their “gut” feelings--their intuitions--about their supernatural experiences the same way that fullfledged believers do. The latter buy into the great ruse of God, whereas the former reject their senses as being a reliable gauge of reality.” Don’t you think that religion -besides its moral watchdog function- serves other functions as well, like providing comfort in times of need? And if so, wouldn’t we miss those functions if we stopped believing? “Of course--and there’s certainly demonstrable empirical evidence showing that faith and religious convictions can lead to better, say, longterm health outcomes for people with various ailments. And there is good in God, to be sure. But my job as a psychological scientist is not to prescribe a comforting psychological worldview, but to show how our worldview rests on a fundamental set of curious cognitive illusions.”