Category Archives: Theory

The death of the chaotic positivity ratio

A new online publication called Narratively has an excellent story about how a part-time student blew apart a long-standing theory in positive psychology. The article is the geeky yet compelling tale of how weekend student Nick Brown found something fishy about the ‘critical positivity ratio’ theory that says people flourish when they have between 2.9013 […]

Madness and hallucination in The Shining

Roger Ebert’s 2006 review of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining turns out to be a brilliant exploration of hallucination, madness and unreliable witnessing in a film he describes as “not about ghosts but about madness and the energies it sets loose”. Kubrick is telling a story with ghosts (the two girls, the former caretaker and a […]

Don’t panic but psychology isn’t always a science

Every so often, the ‘is psychology a science?’ debate sparks up again, at which point, I start to weep. It’s one of the most misplaced, misfiring scientific discussions you can have and probably not for the reasons you think. To understand why it keeps coming around you need to understand something about the politics of […]

A literary review of the DSM-5

Philosopher Ian Hacking, famous for analysing the effects of psychological and neuroscientific knowledge on how we understand ourselves, has reviewed the DSM-5 for the London Review of Books. It’s both an excellent look at what the whole DSM project has been designed to do and a cutting take on the checklist approach to diagnosis. It’s […]

Double matrix

This is quite possibly the least comprehensible abstract of a psychology article I have ever read. It starts off dense and wordy and ends up feeling like you’re huffing butane. The psychologization of humanitarian aid: skimming the battlefield and the disaster zone Hist Human Sci. 2011;24(3):103-22. De Vos J. Humanitarian aid’s psycho-therapeutic turn in the […]

Deeper into genetic challenges to psychiatric diagnosis

For my recent Observer article I discussed how genetic findings are providing some of the best evidence that psychiatric diagnoses do not represent discrete disorders. As part of that I spoke to Michael Owen, a psychiatrist and researcher based at Cardiff University, who has been leading lots of the rethink on the nature of psychiatric […]

The history of the birth of neuroculture

My recent Observer piece examined how neuroscience has saturated popular culture but the story of how we found ourselves living in a ‘neuroculture’ is itself quite fascinating. Everyday brain concepts have bubbled up from their scientific roots and integrated themselves into popular consciousness over several decades. Neuroscience itself is actually quite new. Although the brain, […]

The essence of intelligence is feedback

Here’s last week’s BBC Future column. The original is here, where it was called “Why our brains love feedback”. I  was inspired to write it by a meeting with artist Tim Lewis, which happened as part of a project I’m involved with : Furnace Park, which is seeing a piece of reclaimed land in an […]

The Master and His Emissary

I’ve been struggling to understand Iain McGilchrist’s argument about the two hemispheres of the brain, as presented in his book “The Master and His Emissary” [1]. It’s an argument that takes you from neuroanatomy, through behavioural science to cultural studies [2]. The book is crammed with fascinating evidential trees, but I left it without a […]

Emotions are included

New Republic has an interesting piece on how corporations enforce ‘emotional labour’ in their workforce – checking that they are being sufficiently passionate about their work and caring to their customers. It focuses on the UK sandwich chain Pret who send a mystery shopper to each outlet weekly and “If the employee who rings up […]

A brain of warring neurons

A fascinating talk from philosopher of mind Daniel Dennett where he refutes his earlier claims that neurons can be thought of like transistors in a computational machine that produces the mind. This section is particularly striking: The question is, what happens to your ideas about computational architecture when you think of individual neurons not as […]

Darwin’s asylum

Shrewsbury School is one of the oldest public schools in England and it makes much of being the institution that schooled Charles Darwin and introduced him to science. While the famous naturalist was certainly a pupil there he probably never set foot inside the building that the famous school now occupies because during Darwin’s time […]

BBC Column: political genes

Here’s my BBC Future column from last week. The original is here. The story here isn’t just about politics, although that’s an important example of capture by genetic reductionists. The real moral is about how the things that we measure are built into our brains by evolution: usually they aren’t written in directly, but as […]

The grief problem

I’ve got an article in The Observer about the sad history of how psychologists have misunderstood grief and why it turns out to be much more individual than traditional theories have suggested. As well as the individual variations, it also riffs on the massive diversity of cultural grief and mourning practices. At the beginning of […]

Advances in artificial intelligence: deep learning

If you want to keep up with advances in artificial intelligence, the New York Times has an essential article on a recent step forward called deep learning. There is a rule of thumb for following how AI is progressing: keep track of what Geoffrey Hinton is doing. Much of the current science of artificial neural […]

The psychology of everything in 48 minutes

Psychologist Paul Bloom has made a fantastic video for Big Think that introduces pretty much the whole of psychology in 48 minutes.     It’s a brilliant and engaging introduction to the science of mind. Highly recommended.   Link to ‘Paul Bloom: The Psychology of Everything’ on YouTube.

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