Culture and Neuroplasticity

Neuro Transformers (2)One of the themes I’ve been exploring in some of my Salvo articles is how our brains change based on interactions with our social environment.

In my Salvo article ‘The Neuro Transformers’ and also in ‘Sex & the Kiddies’ I explained just how flexible the human brain is and how the messages we are exposed to in our culture actually change the neuro-circuitry of our brains.

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Our Disembodied Selves

Brett and Kate McKay have suggested that the disembodied nature of online interaction could be one of the causes in the decline of empathy.

Brett and Kate McKay have suggested that the disembodied nature of online interaction could be one of the causes behind the decline of empathy.

Having written about the decline in social attentiveness and empathy that seems to be encouraged by our digital preoccupations, I was fascinated to read an article today by Brett and Kate McKay that has raised many of the same concerns.

Their article, titled ‘Our Disembodied Selves and the Decline of Empathy‘, shared some alarming research about a widespread decline in empathy that has corresponded to the rise of the internet.

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Sherry Turkle on Being Alone Together

alone-together-coverOne of the books I’m reading right now is Sherry Turkle’s 2012 book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

I wanted to read this book to help me better contextualize some of the ideas I began exploring in my Colson Center series on technology and attention. Turkle argues that even though our digital devices allow us to be more connected than ever before, in another sense our technology is alienating us from each other by destroying our ability for authentic communication.

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Why Household Appliances Haven’t Made Life Easier For Women

vacuum-cleaner-editedOne of the things I said I would do with this new blog is to give my readers regular updates on what I’m reading. I’ll start the ball rolling by sharing something I was reading last night.

Last night I was reading Nicholas Carr’s 2008 book The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google. Having enjoyed his earlier book The Shallows, I thought it would be fun to read one of his earlier works. The Big Switch is particularly enjoyable because of all the fascinating comparisons and contrasts he makes between the rise of electrification in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and computing in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

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Joseph Smith: Only in 19th Century America

Two weeks ago some Mormon missionaries came to visit. Because I was making dinner and cleaning up the kitchen, I wasn’t really in a frame of mind to talk. So I sat each of them down at my table and told them to read the chapter on Joseph Smith in my book Saints and Scoundrels. I added that it would be up to them to decide, after reading the chapter, whether he fell into the category of saint or scoundrel.

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Consumerism is Damaging Families, Christian Voice Researchers Discover

From Christian Voice:

460315046_divorce_a29nov09_xlargeGlobal consumer culture is destroying the family, Christian Voice researchers have discovered.

The net effect of a culture that prioritizes material prosperity above all else is that family relationships suffer, either directly through family breakdown, or indirectly from the array of pressures that prevent families from being properly ordered.

In the course of their investigation, Christian Voice researchers discovered seven primary areas where consumerism has been damaging families.

Robin Phillips, who oversaw the research, commented that he wanted to look beyond simple family breakdown to explore the more subtle ways consumerism is harming families. “Normally when we talk about threats against the family we have in mind things like divorce statistics” Phillips told the media in a statement this morning. “But we should also be attentive to the quality of family life. Our research suggests that the quality of family relationships has been a casualty of unrestrained consumerism. This runs against current thinking which tends to associate the good life with material prosperity.”

Phillips, whose book Saints and Scoundrels was published last year, added, “Although people have been warning about the effects of consumerism for years, what amazed us was the sheer scale of the problem. There are few areas of family life that have been left untouched by the ethic of unbridled consumerism. The impulses and metaphors of consumerism have exerted tentacles beyond the marketplace to affect nearly every area of life.”

Below are the seven areas Christian Voice identified where consumerism has wrought particular damage to the family. Click here to see these points fleshed out.

  1. Products Are Replacing Relationships
  2. Throw Away Culture
  3. Lifestyles For Sale
  4. Commodification of the Body
  5. Advertising Changes Identity Perception
  6. Consumerism Breeds Radical Autonomy
  7. Where Consumerism and Social Media Meet

When asked if the research yielded any surprises, Christian Voice researcher Robin Phillips replied: “the main effects of consumerism surprised us because they were not the areas that first come to mind. Greed, ambition and the accumulation of wealth do create great obstacles for healthy families. However, the primary harm consumerism does to families is more subtle, in so far as it orients family-members towards a false idea of what it means to be human. When joined with the powerful industry of advertising, the consumerist impulse underscores ideas of autonomy and self-definition that make it hard to accept the fixities of marriage and family life.”

Christian Voice, which has campaigned for many years against forces threatening to destroy the family, said it would be broadening its campaign to warn people against the temptations posed by unrestrained consumerism. The group is calling people to revaluate what truly matters in life based on Biblical teaching. They pointed out that although scripture teaches that wealth is a blessing (Proverbs 3:9-10), it also warns about the temptations that can arise when buying and selling are elevated above eternal verities like faith, hope and love (Mt. 6:24; 1 Tim. 6:9; 1 Cor. 13:13). A person’s true wealth is his family (Ps 127:4-5), and it is the wealth of family relationships that must be protected from the pervasive consumerism all around us.


Aquinas, Ockham and the Power of Ideas

Part 1 of a series on Nominalism originally posted at Chuck Colson’s Breakpoint website.

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Gentile_da_Fabriano_052“So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which lit is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.” Hebrews 6:17-18

Ideas have consequences

It is reported that William Temple, who became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1942, once asked his father, who was then the Archbishop, “Daddy, why don’t the philosophers rule the world?” His father looked down at the boy and replied, “Of course they do, silly—two hundred years after they’re dead!”

The more one studies history, the more apparent it becomes that William Temple’s father had a point.  In fact, we could state the matter in even stronger terms: there has never been a more powerful influence, a greater agency of change or a stronger force for good or ill in this world than that of human ideas.

Such a statement may seem out of place in a society that has long since relegated philosophy (the science of correct thinking) to a specialist discipline. Reflection on ideas has little or no relevance to the world of everyday affairs, many people think. We have come a long way from the time when philosophy was considered to be the backbone of all the disciplines, including the sciences (indeed, the early scientists called themselves “Natural Philosophers”).

One’s philosophy of the world, or worldview, is still the backbone for how we view everything else, whether we realize it or not.  This is even true for those who have never given much thought to questions of worldview. As John Byl puts it in his book The Divine Challenge, “Many people hold their worldviews implicitly, without having deeply reflected on what they believe and why they believe it. They may not even realize that they have a worldview. Consequently, they may unwittingly hold beliefs that are mutually contradictory.”

A person’s life, motivations, priorities, agendas, conversation, and assumptions are just some of the areas affected by our philosophy of the world, whether that philosophy is thought-out or merely implicit and unconscious.

 Read the rest.

Darwin was Wrong


From Salvo issue #21, “Culture & the Malleability of the Human Brain”:

“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason,” wrote Robert Jastrow in God and the Astronomers, “the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

Jastrow’s words come to mind whenever I hear about professional scientists being obliged to abandon, or at least to seriously modify, their Darwinian assumptions. From cutting-edge work in genetics to the latest discoveries in astrophysics, the evidence is increasingly pointing to one fact: Darwin was wrong.

This has been impressed upon me recently, as I have been studying the way culture affects the human brain. Contemporary neuroscientists have been making some fascinating discoveries about the way our cultural preoccupations and artifacts alter the physiological structure of our brains, and, once again, Darwinian orthodoxy is being compelled to yield to new findings.

Read the entire article at