The Architecture of Happiness

de botton.jpgWe’re probably going to be seeing a lot of Alain de Botton in the coming months, as he’s out and about promoting his new book ‘The Architecture of Happiness’.

I’m a huge fan of de Botton, whose books such as ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’ have won widespread critical acclaim for making philosophy accessible and relevant to modern life.

But I felt he went off the boil with his last book Status Anxiety and after reading Jonathan Glancey’s review of his new book in The Guardian, I’m worried he may not have found a return to form.

However, I am going to read the new book (partly because I‚Äôm researching a feature on the role of psychology in Britain‚Äôs current building boom) so if there are any magazine or newspaper editors out there who‚Äôd like me to review it, please do get in touch 😉

Also, while we’re discussing de Botton, I should point you to his Times review of Cordelia Fine’s book ‘A mind of its own’, in which he discusses whether the experimental approach to understanding the human psyche – that is, psychology – really is the right one:

“Expecting to study the mysteries of the mind, [psychology] students soon realise that they have set off down a far less glamorous and unusual path, for their field requires them not so much to explore new insights as to test old and quite simple ones according to a rigorous and patient scientific method. Psychology emerges as, depending on your point of view, either a gloriously or horrifyingly pedantic discipline”.

PS. I virtually bumped into de Botton at Edinburgh airport once, but I’m (a) not that good with faces and (b) shy, so I persuaded my girlfriend to go and ask him if he was who I thought he was. Anyway, apparently he was utterly charming and self-effacing.

UPDATE: Alain de Botton appeared on Monday’s edition of Start the Week on BBC Radio 4. And he’s got his own TV series on Channel 4/ More 4.

Link to Alain de Botton’s website, which includes full details of all his books, plus reviews, audio clips and much more.
Link to Guardian review of his new book.
Link to article on Britain’s building boom.
Link to de Botton’s review of ‘A mind of its own’.

The Happiness Formula

the happiness formula.gif
There’s a new six-part series starting on BBC 2 this week called The Happiness Formula, and the companion website has all sorts of features including on-line video clips, happiness tests, and an article about the science of happiness.

Glancing through, it looks like among the key contributors are well-being psychologist Ed Diener, positive psychologist Martin Seligman, and Emeritus Professor of Economics Lord Layard, who’s been making a lot of noise recently in an effort to get the UK government to provide more therapists. Layard also wrote a book a few years ago called Happiness: Lessons from a new science.

The series comes at a time when there are increasing calls for the population’s happiness, rather than it’s prosperity, to be used as the main measure of the government’s success.

Link to The Happiness Formula Website.
Link to article on the science of happiness.
Link to happiness test.

Ethics of human enhancement

HETHRhead.jpgHuman Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights is a conference that kicks off next month to debate how the age-old practice of human modification should be handled in modern times and in the future.

Yet, what, if any, limits should be considered to human enhancement? On what grounds can citizens be prevented from modifying their own genes or brains? How far should reproductive rights be extended? Might enhancement reduce the diversity of humanity in the name of optimal health? Or, conversely, might enhancements inspire such an unprecedented diversity of human beings that they strain the limits of liberal tolerance and social solidarity? Can we exercise full freedom of thought if we can’t exercise control over our own brains using safe, available technologies? Can we ensure that enhancement technologies are safe and equitably distributed? When are regulatory efforts simply covert, illiberal value judgments?

The conference is being hosted at Stanford University Law School and runs from May 26-28.

Link to HETHR conference info (via BoingBoing).

Jury psychology

Christian’s posted a great summary on the BPS Research Digest of a recent study that examined factors in jury death penalty decisions, some of which are quite surprising.

It seems to reflect an increasing focus on the psychology of court room and jury interactions. It will be interesting to see these sort of findings will ever lead to additional rules in court room to try and eliminate the effects.

Think friend and enter

keys_white_bg.jpgWired has a short piece on researchers from Carleton University who are attempting to use EEG signals in place of a password – so you can think ‘pass thoughts’ to get to your data.

“It is known there are differences between people’s brains and their signals,” says Carleton researcher Julie Thorpe, who’s working on the project with Anil Somayaji and Adrian Chan. “Can we observe a user-controllable signal encoding hundreds or thousands of bits of information in a repeatable fashion? That’s the real question. We think it may be possible.”

The system has the potential to become a new kind of biometric security tool that — in contrast to fingerprint readers, iris scanners or facial recognition — would allow users to change their pass codes periodically.

Maybe this will lead to a new generation of hackers who train themselves to simulate others mental states in an attempt to forge ‘pass thoughts’?

Link to article ‘Your Thoughts Are Your Password’.