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September 30, 2006

Alpha Psy

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Econ, philosophy, cog-sci, anthropology -- whee! Fans of the above combo will want to become regulars at Alpha-Psy, a smokin' and very civilized new interdisciplinary-brainiacs' blog that never forgets that culture is part of the human mix. (Found via GNXP.)

Aesthetics and taste: you can run from 'em, but try as you may you'll never manage to hide from 'em. Alpha Psy's Olivier points to this good Nova segment about "mirror neurons," for example. Science, eh? On the one hand: Scientists discover empathy -- as though no one else ever knew about it before. Yawn. On the other ...

Well, the implications for culturebuffs are pretty exciting. As V.S. Ramachandran, one of the segment's interviewees (and a fully-accredited 2Blowhards intellectual hero) says, "A lot of culture seems to have to do with imitation." After all, feeling what someone else is feeling is, to some extent, a matter of imitation. (I'd add that the imagination is probably involved here too.)

But here's the question that occurs to me: In the light of this statement, what remains of the modernist obsession with originality? Although the preoccupation with originality is these days commonly thought to have everything to do with creativity, perhaps it actually erodes the functions (empathy, imitation) upon which culture normally depends. So perhaps the originality-fixation is anything but creativity- and culture-promoting. Perhaps it's actually destructive.

Which reminds me of a wonderful quote from Leon Krier: "As is the case with all good things in life -- love, good manners, language, cooking -- personal creativity [by which Krier means self-expressive originality] is required only rarely."

I loved this book by V.S. Ramachandran. This one, too. This book by Leon Krier struck me as pure genius. Check out the excellent Amazon review of it by our pal Nikos Salingaros.



posted by Michael at September 30, 2006


You were Michael! This is an amazing site, not afraid to tackle received wisdom. Is it just a generation gap or are scientists educated differently than they used to be or were scientists always like this in private and we're finally being allowed to be present? They're funny and compassionate and able to be wrong or at least misinformed without getting mean.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on October 1, 2006 7:41 AM

Gee, I wish I had a name like V.S. Ramachandran, then I too could make a d'uh statement like, "A lot of culture seems to have to do with imitation," and still be called deep.

Posted by: ricpic on October 1, 2006 10:34 AM

Simplistic statements often reward contemplation, ricpic.

Anyway, Michael, I read a fascinating study somewhere (I should take better notes since I only remember stuff I don't much WANT to remember) about the felt phenomenon of a phantom shadow person, often bigger, just behind the perceiver. It is activated by brain stimulation in a particular spot. The shadow does what the perceiver does, just like a real shadow, except (this is the good part) when the guinea pig perceivers (co-eds) were asked to lean forward and clasp their knees, they freaked out because they felt that the phantom had put its arms around them. Great story gimmick!

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on October 1, 2006 11:17 PM

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