Book Notes: Understanding & Growth (Part 2)

Round 2 for Understanding & Growth. There was less book appearances in this category, but longer sections for the books on here. This section has many notes on some of my the most interesting books out there. It seems strange to start out having so many notes from Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power, but I had a positive reaction while reading many phrases, or rules, from that book.

Books included in this section, in order of appearance;

  • Robert Greene, 48 Laws of Powers
  • Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
  • Brian Little, Who Are You, Really?
  • Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness
  • Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
  • Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind (Jordan’s Reviw of The Righteous Mind)
  • Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning

Other posts in Book Notes Series

48 Laws of Power

Robert Greene

Impatience makes you look weak

Impatience also makes me feel weak. My impatience is usually unfounded, but can also be the result of failure to plan.


I tend to talk more when I’m nervous or unsure. As the bottom paragraph says, in the picture, “The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.” It seems much easier to recall someone saying something foolish, than simple and intelligent.

A persons’ reputation can determine so much for their life. In jobs and relationships of any kind. These two laws are coupled because they both involve avoiding the negative. In both laws, the positives are important, but avoiding the negatives can be far more beneficial. The reputation law can be as simple as having to choose between a guy, “that I have never had a problem with” or a guy who, “is pretty good but this one time he did ________” It can be viewed very political, but even in the game of love and relationships, a reputation can be all you need, or everything you need people to look past.

Draw attention to yourself by creating an unforgettable, even controversial image. Court scandal. Notoriety of any sort will bring you power.

It is funny to have this note in the same book as the reputation law. However, there is some value to being able to get attention when you need it. Whose to say that we need attention at all, but how many times have you been O.K with being ignored?

The quality of the attention is irrelevant.

You have to learn to attract attention

At the start of your career you must attach your name and if you are able to be quality image that set you apart from other people this image can be something like a characteristic style of dress, personality quirk that amuses people and gets talked about once the images established you have an appearance in place in the sky for your star

Create an air of mystery

Mystery is something that can be deadly in the social sphere. Mystery can bring curiosity, attention follows curiosity, and attention will give you can opportunity.

Do not imagine that to create an air of mystery you have to be grand and awe inspiring. Mystery that is woven into your day-to-day and subtle is much more powerful

Unpredictable, do things that can’t be explained


Be weary of the affect unhappy people can have on your mood.

The shortest and best way to make your fortune is to let people see clearly it is in their interest to promote yours.

Use Absence to Increase Respect & Honor: The man said to dervish: “why do I not see you more often?” the dervish replied, “Because the words why have you not been to see me? Are sweeter to my ear than the words why have you come again?”

There is something about that story of the dervish that produces an emotional response in me.


Swallow the impulse to offend, even if the other person seems weak. The satisfaction is meager compared to the danger that someday he or she will be in a position to hurt you.

Stay free of commitments, they are the device of other men’s power

Power itself, always exists in concentrated forms . In any organization it is inevitable for a small group to hold the strings. And often it is not those with the titles



Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid.

Hesitation puts obstacles in your path, boldness eliminates them.

In seduction, hesitation is fatal-it makes your victim conscious of your intentions

Although we may disguise our timidity as a concern for others, a desire not to hurt or offend them, in fact it is the opposite-we are really self absorbed, worried about ourselves and how others will perceive us.

Few are born bold.

You must practice and develop your boldness.

To go through life armed only with boldness you would offend too many people

Emphasis on “You must practice and develop your boldness.”




Ignore the hearts and minds of others and they will grow to hate you

The higher your station the greater the need to remain attuned to the hearts and minds of those below you.

The advice above is a gem in this book. How many leaders could benefit from this advice? Are there people in your life that could benefit from this? Is it you?




In other words, check your greed, and be aware that the desire for more has ruined many a man before you.

War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle

Steven Pressfield

There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny

This is a paralleled idea that I discussed in Part 1 from Constructive Living. The future of any person also hinges on the ‘now’. Today could be the day that your entire life changes.

The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps. To the amateur the game is a avocation. To the pro it’s a vocation. The amateur plays part time, the professional full time. The amateur is a weekend warrior. Te professional is there seven days a week. The amateur comes from the Latin root meaning “to love” The conventional interpretation is that the amateur purses his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real vocation”. The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full time. That’s what I mean when I say turning pro. Resistance hates it when we turn pro.

A professional plays for keeps.

[The pro] He is prepared each day to confront his own self sabotage.

Who are You, Really?

Brian Little

Idiogenic, biogenic, socigenic.

Free traits

Three ‘-genics’ above are what make up the people we are, and the people we become. The idiogenic self is the individual. What are your thoughts about yourself? How are you unique compared to the people in your social environment? The biogenic self, is the one that comes from genes. This is not deterministic, but our genes make us more likely to favor or seek out certain experiences than others. In the world we can choose certain activities, or areas of interest, based on the our genes. This is backed up by research on identical twins separated at birth. Finally, our socigenic selves are the decisions and life circumstances that come from the culture and social sphere that we live in. The best way that these three aspects are described is in this analogy, also from the book;

The concept of personal projects allowed me to bring together both the inner maps that personal constricts provide and the outer ecology of possibilities, like the off-ramps, cul-de-sacs, and open highways that formed the route I was taking.

Your relative fixed traits set some limits on the destinations that your projects might explore. Your social and cultural environments will open up some paths and shut down others. And the way you construe the journey—the way you define, describe, and judge your own projects—will be central to whether you keep exploring, turn back or alas, crash and burn. In short, projects quests involve the interplay of all three aspects of our personality—the biogenic, sociogenic, and idiogenic—and their success is essential for flourishing.

Personal projects are what you choose to pursue in life. Free traits are ways of acting that fall outside our normal personality features. Introverts can have incredible moments of extroversion, but they need recovery time after the incident and the acts must be practiced.

Stumbling On Happiness

Daniel Gilbert

“One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions that will make Happiness; one only stumbles upon them by chance, in a lucky hour, at the worlds end somewhere, and holds fast to the days, as to fortune or fame.”

Willa Cather “Le Lavandou” 1902

Forestalling pleasure is an inventive technique to get double the juice from half the fruit

We are really bad about predicting how we will feel in the future. We are better off looking at how someone in a similar situation feels RIGHT NOW to predict how we will feel.

Whatever pursuit, career change, relationship jump, should be done with a little bit of research. Much can be learned about how you will feel in the future, if you choose to go down a certain path, by talking to someone that has already made the decision that you are contemplating.

Imagination has shortcomings that include filling in gaps without us knowing, imprinting too much of the present onto the future and rationalizing too much.

We predict we will feel really bad, we don’t feel bad, but someone misremember that we felt bad.

When big bad things happen to us we kick on our psychological immune system, but when small annoyances happen we really take it personally

We see ourselves as so unique because we only know our own minds and feelings and experiences. But the average person doesn’t think they are the average person.

We look back on the past and base an experience off a single frame, or symbol and misremember things in the past.

We stumble onto happiness because our big brains with our big imaginations mislead us into the future. However we usually feel better about an object once we possess it, and we usually feel fine about a situation when it is imminent. Sometimes not having a choice makes us happier than having a choice.

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Daniel Kahneman

Money primes individualism

Quick system 1 thinkers compared to system 2 self control thinkers and intelligence

System 1 is the fast mind that thinks without us knowing. System two takes input and a little more time to requisite the needed brain power. Our minds always try to use System 1 first, unless system 2 is required. People who use their system 2 mind score higher on intelligence tests.

Reminder of being watched = more honesty

Gilbert proposed that understanding a statement must begin with attempt to believe it: you must first know what the idea would mean if it were true. Only then can you decide whether or not to unbelieve it.

In one condition of the experiment subjects were required to hold digits in memory during the task.  the disruption of system 2 had a selective affect it, made it difficult for people to unbelieve false sentences. in a later test of memory depleted participants ended up thinking that many of the false sentences were true.

Todorov showed his students pictures of men’s faces sometimes for as little as 1/10 of a second and asked them to rate the faces on there is attributes including likability competence. observers agreed quite well on those ratings. The faces that Todorov showed we’re not a random set they were the campaign portrait of politicians competing for elective office. In about 70% of the races for senator, congressman, and governor the election winner was the candidate whose face had earned a higher rating of competence. This striking result was quickly confirmed in national elections in Finland, in zoning board elections in England, and in various electoral contests in Australia, Germany and Mexico. Ratings of competence were more predictive of voting outcomes than ratings of likability.

You will occasionally do more than your share but it is useful to know that you are likely to have that feeling even when each member of the team feels the same way.

New York University Helping Experiment; Students were being interviewed and heard someone call for help. They were being tested to see how many would check to see if they person needed help. Most did not because they thought others would have heard call for help as well and responded. 4 of 15 responded. 27%

At U of M professor did an experiment based on this one [helping experiment above] showing two people who are interviewed and look like good people. One group is exposed to the information about New York University (27% of respondents went to answer the call for help) and the other group was not exposed to this information. Both samples were psychology students, and they predicted the same thing. They predicted that both students had been quick to help stranger.


“This is a profoundly important conclusion. People who are taught surprising statistical facts about human behavior may be impressed to the point of telling their friends about what they have heard, but this does not mean that their understanding of the world has really changed. The test of learning psychology is whether your understanding of situations you encounter has changed, not whether you have learned a new fact. There is a deep gap between our thinking about statistics and our thinking about individual cases. Statistical results with a causal interpretation have a stronger effect on our thinking then non-causal information. But even compelling causal statistics will not change long held beliefs or beliefs rooted in personal experience. On the other hand, surprising individual cases have a powerful impact and are a more effective tool for teaching psychology because the incongruity must be resolved and embedded in a causal story. That is why this book contains questions that are addressed personally to the reader. You are more likely to learn something by finding surprises in your own behavior than by hearing surprising facts about people in general.”

Probably the most beneficial note I found in this book. Through all my reading, what have I retained and incorporated in my actions and world view?

Many predictions can be inaccurate because causation is seen where there is correlation but the two are not truly correlated. It can be explained by regression to the mean.

Be wary of situations where one type of error (based on prediction) is much more costly than the other

Prospect theory: The sure loss is very aversive, and this drives you to take the risk”

Remarkably, altruistic punishment is accompanied by increased activity in “the pleasure centers” of the brain. It appears that maintaining the social order and the rules of fairness in this fashion is its own reward. However, our brains are not designed to reward generosity as reliably as they punish meanness. Here again, we find a market asymmetry between loses and gains.

Incredibly interesting finding. Our brains feel better about altruistic punishment, but less good about generosity. What are the implications?

The probability of a rare event will often be overestimated because of the confirmatory bias of memory. Thinking about that event, try to make it true in your mind. A rare event will be overweighted if it specifically attracts attention. Obsessive concerns, vivid images, concrete representations and explicit reminders all contribute to overweighting. And where there is not overweighting there will be neglect.

Broader frames and inclusive accounts generally lead to more rational decisions

Sunk cost fallacy keeps people for too long in poor jobs, unhappy marriages, and unpromising research projects

Where in your life currently, are you falling victim to the sunk cost fallacy?

Speaking of two selves: “This is a bad case of duration neglect. You are giving the good and the bad part of your experience equal weight, although the good part lasted ten times as long as the other.”

“A story is about significant events and memorable moments, not about time passing.”

Remembering self vs experiencing self and how answers to how something was favors the remembering self, the ending of the experience, peak intensities.

Day Reconstruction Model: mood at work, for example, is largely unaffected by the factors that influence general job satisfaction, including benefits and status. More important are situational factors such as an opportunity to socialize with coworkers, exposure to loud noise, time pressure (a significant source of negative affect) and the immediate presence of a boss. […] and the second best predictor of the feelings of a day is whether a person did or did not have contacts with friends or relatives.

Gallup Poll: surprisingly however, religion provides no reduction of feelings of depression or worry.

the conclusion is that being poor makes one miserable, and that being rich may enhance ones life satisfaction but does not—on average—improve experienced well being.

The satisfaction level beyond which experienced wellbeing no longer increases was a household income of $75,000 in high cost areas.

the scores that you quickly assign to your life is based on a small sample of highly available ideas. Not by a careful weighting of the domains of your life.

Experience well being is on average unaffected by marriage, not because marriage makes no difference to happiness but because it changes some aspects of life for the better and others for the worse.

Organizations are better than individuals when it comes to avoiding errors

Decisions judged by how they are made. Not by how they turned out

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

Jonathan Haidt

The notes below, and quotes, were borrowed from my brother’s (Jordan Retz) book review on The Righteous Mind. I have listened to the book twice on Audible, but do not own a physical copy. You can read the entire book review here. I would recommend reading the whole thing too because the ideas and commentary are easier to understand. I picked out certain sections that I liked the most to form the current notes. I won’t provide much explanation or commentary because Jordan does a wonderful job of that already.

“[i]f you want to change people’s minds, you’ve got to talk to their elephants [intuitions].”

“Passions are and ought only to be the servants of reason.”

David Hume (1700s philosopher): “[R]eason is, and ought only to be the slave of passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”

the social intuitionist model starts with Hume’s model and makes it more social. Moral reasoning is part of our lifelong struggle to win friends and influence people. That’s why I say that ‘intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.’ You’ll misunderstand moral reasoning if you think about it as something people do by themselves in order to figure out the truth

We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reasons why we ourselves came to a judgement; we reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgement.

“Morality is so rich and complex, so multifaceted and internally contradictory […] Yet many authors reduce morality to a single principle, usually some variant of welfare maximization (basically, help people, don’t hurt them).” This chapter set the groundwork for the multiple manifestations of morality as they affect the individual person which therefore affects the group and the culture. The metaphor of this part of the book is that morality is like a tongue with six taste receptors. Haidt describes the error in attempting to describe morality only through reason or only through religion. Speaking about discovering the workings of our actual taste buds, he says, “[y]ou can’t possibly deduce the list of five taste receptors by pure reasoning, nor should you search for it in scripture. There’s nothing transcendental about them.

Care/Hare, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, Sanctity/Degradation, and Liberty/Oppression

These are the six moral foundations that Haidt discusses, described as the modules that are filled in, and will be briefly discussed in the next few notes.

evolutionary viewpoint is that the morality itself isn’t innate, but the “module” is innate and our culture and personal experiences will fill out the content of the module

“Behind every act of altruism, heroism, and human decency you’ll find either selfishness or stupidity.”Haidt then spends the next few sentences dismantling it, and even providing an example for how that is not true

“The Care/Harm Foundation”: care as a necessary reaction to the decidedly risky bet that raising children is for human beings. He leads us through reptiles essentially seeing their children born and then heading off, through the steadily increasing amount of time that mammals invested in their children up to primates and humans. As human babies are, “pushed through the birth canal a year before he or she can walk, [human bets are] so huge that a woman can’t even put her chips on the table by herself. She needs help in the last months of pregnancy, help to deliver the baby, and help to feed and care for the child for years after the birth.” He then states, “[i]t is just not conceivable that the chapter on mothering in the book of human nature is entirely blank […] Mothers who were innately sensitive to signs of suffering, distress, or neediness improved their odds, relative to their less sensitive sisters.” Thus, he says, the suffering of one’s own children is “the original trigger of one of the key modules of the Care foundation.”

The delineation between the right and left political mind that he makes is in that the left “rests more heavily on the Care foundation than do the matrices of conservatives […] conservative caring is somewhat different—it is aimed not at animals or at people in other countries but at those who’ve sacrificed for the group

The Fairness/Cheating Foundation”:This section deals with the evolutionary benefit of cooperation, specifically through cooperation mediated by reciprocity (this is an entire chapter in The Happiness Hypothesis). Haidt says, “[w]e’re usually nice to people when we first meet them. But after that we’re selective: we cooperate with those who have been nice to us, and we shun those who took advantage of us.”

“‘help anyone who needs it’ (which invites exploitation), or ‘take but don’t give’ (which can work just once with each person; pretty soon nobody’s willing to share pie with you).” Haidt closes with the application to politics as, “[e]veryone cares about fairness, but there are two major kinds. On the left, fairness often implies equality, but on the right it means proportionality—people should be rewarded in proportion to what they contribute, even if that guarantees unequal outcomes.”

“The Loyalty/Betrayal Foundation”: This foundation and the evolutionary evidence for its innateness within us is based on the proposition that, “[w]e are the descendants of successful tribalists, not their more individualistic cousin.” To make this point, Haidt brings up examples where retribution against betrayal is fierce (specifically the Koran’s commandment to kill apostates and Dante’s The Inferno where the deepest circle of hell is reserved for betrayers). Haidt definitely considers this a political strength (when it comes to securing voters) of the right, saying

“[l]iberal activists often make it easy for conservatives to connect liberalism to the Loyalty foundation— and not in a good way.”

“The Authority/Subversion Foundation”: He tells an Haidt says that, “[t]he urge to respect hierarchical relationships is so deep that many languages encode it directly.”

“if you have felt a pang of awkwardness when an older person you have long revered asked you to call him by first name, then you have experienced the activation of some of the modules that comprise the Authority/Subversion foundation.”

“[e]ven among chimpanzees, where dominance hierarchies are indeed about raw power and the ability to inflict violence, the alpha male performs some socially beneficial functions, such as taking on the ‘control role.’

He resolves some disputes and suppresses much of the violent conflict that erupts when there is no clear alpha male.”

“The Sanctity/Degradation Foundation”: Haidt cites Mark Schaller as showing that, “disgust is part of […] the ‘behavioral immune system’.” As a foundation for morality, the Sanctity foundation, “makes it easy for us to regard some things as untouchable,’ both in a bad way (because something is so dirty or polluted we want to stay away) and in a good way (because something is so hallowed, so sacred, that we want to protect it from desecration). If we had no sense of disgust, I believe we would have no sense of the sacred.”

The Conservative Advantage is one of numbers. The conservative morality contains reaction to all of the moral foundations. The liberal morality only contains strong reactions to two they considered the base unit of society. According to Haidt, Mill believed the individual was the base unit and therefore society, and specifically a governing group, cannot do anything to constrain individuals except to prevent them from causing harm to others. Durkheim, on the other hand believed that the basic social unity was, “the hierarchically structured family, which serves as a model for other institutions.”

Haidt quotes Durkheim as saying, “man can not become attached to higher aims and submit to a rule if he sees nothing above him to which he belongs. To free himself from all social pressure is to abandon himself and demoralize him.”

Therefore, they considered adding the Liberty/oppression foundation and redefined the Fairness foundation to focus more on proportionality than absolute equality. Haidt then goes in to the development of a sense for Liberty and Oppression in the human mind, pointing out the differences between agricultural (dominance hierarchies) and hunter-gatherer (egalitarian) societies. He states, through the recounting of an example of hunter-gatherer justice observed by Christopher Boehm, that: [i]t’s not that human nature suddenly changed and become egalitarian; men still tried to dominate others when they could get away with it. Rather, people armed with weapons and gossip created what Boehm calls ‘reverse dominance hierarchies’ in which the rank and file band together to dominate and restrain would-be alpha males. (It’s uncannily similar to Marx’s dream of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat.’)

Haidt claims: [t]he Liberty/oppression foundation […] evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of living in small groups with individuals who would, if given the chance, dominate, bully, and constrain others. The original triggers therefore include signs of attempted domination. Anything that suggests the aggressive, controlling behavior of an alpha male (or female) can trigger this form of righteous anger, which is sometimes called reactance.

semper tyrannis (“Thus always to tyrants”). He casually notes, “[m]urder often seems virtuous to revolutionaries. It just somehow feels like the right thing to do,”

“the urge to band together to oppose oppression and replace it with political equality seems to be at least as prevalent on the left.” And one of his liberal readers wrote to him saying, “The enemy of society to a Liberal is someone who abuses their power (Authority) and still demands, and in some cases forces, others to ‘respect’ them anyway.”

One of the things he points out is punishment via resentment. He talks about a study in which people could pay to take people’s money. That option was presented after a few rounds of money being put into a community fund which was then redistributed to all. You could make money doing that, but if you kept your money you’d make more in the end. And so in the later rounds people could pay to takemoney from others. “We hate to see people take without giving. We want to see cheaters and slackers ‘get what’s coming to them.’ We want the law of karma to run its course, and we’re willing to help enforce it.

[…] egalitarianism seems to be rooted more in the hatred of domination than in the love of equality per se.”

The key point is that morality binds and blinds (i.e., it is dual purpose and is both fundamentally good and fundamentally bad at the same time). The metaphor that this chapter employs is that “humans are 90% chimp and 10% bee”. That is, we are mostly individually (selfishly) driven (like chimps) but we are definitely intrinsically groupish (like bees).

Haidt goes on to lay out four reasons which group selection (as part of multi-level selection) is a valid lens for evaluating human nature (especially in the study of morality). I found the development of this thesis extremely well done. The four “reasons” (which he calls exhibits) construct a narrative that follows like this:

  • Life (starting as single-celled bacterium) literally came together to create (over billions of years) extremely complex life forms. These “major evolutionary transitions” lay a fundamentalgroundwork (on the microbial scale) for the potentiality of groupish evolutionary transitions

(i.e., species becoming something else entirely) at other levels of life.

  • Shared intentionality, or, the capacity to help other human beings with the exact same goal in mind and an expectation for the exact same benefits from achieving said goal, was the “Rubicon” of human group selection. Haidt argues that human beings facilitated their own hyper-sociality and groupishness through the evolved understanding that helping each other and sharing in the benefits makes everyone involved stronger. “When everyone in a group began to share a common understanding of how things were supposed to be done, and then felt a flash of negativity when any individual violated those expectations, the first moral matrix was born.”

Interestingly, Haidt points out: “[m]any people assume that language was our Rubicon, but language became possible only after our ancestors got shared intentionality. Tomasello notes that a word is not a relationship between a sound and an object. It is an agreement among people who share a joint representation of the things in their world […]”

We had to agree on specific terms socially before we could even utilize language.

  • Our genes and the cultures that we express them in, coevolve. Haidt points out, with some speculation, that it was around 1 million years ago that our ancestors started to live, “in an environment that was increasingly of their own making.” This isn’t climate change. This is that, “they changed the environment within which genetic evolution took place.” Haidt says, “Among the most important such innovations is the human love of using symbolic markers to show our group memberships […] We trust and cooperate more readily with people who look and sound like us. We expect them to share our values and norms.” This is the cultural change that humans developed. In support of the coevolution of our genes (alongside this culture)

Anthropologists Pete Richerson and Rob Boyd claimed that forming groups and succeeding within those cohesive social units: favored the evolution of a suite of new social instincts suited to life in such groups, including a psychology which ‘expects’ life to be structured by moral norms and is designed to learn and internalize such norms; new emotions such as shame and guilt, which increase the chance that the norms are followed. Thus the group-based selection and tribal preference of the human experience supports, and may even demand, the existence of the Moral Foundations that Haidt developed.

Up to this point, Haidt has masterfully walked the reader through an understanding that:

  1. Life takes major evolutionary leaps
  2. At some point we diverged from other, more selfish, primates and learned the ability to cooperate at a group-conscious level
  1. The value of group-level cooperation necessitated the development of biological mechanismsby which the group holds itself together.

And all of this is support for the previous two sections of the book (and especially part II). We are groupish because we evolved to be so and the social construction of morality fills in the mental formulas that result in shame, guilt, and embarrassment when we don’t fit in or when we step out of line. That psychological (and evolutionarily adapted) punishment, along with more tangible physical and social punishments, is referred to as “self-domestication.”

Lastly, Haidt notes that while group selection may evoke images of warring tribes and violent suppression of “out-group” societies, the concept of group selection is “in general, […] focused on improving the welfare of the in-group, not on harming an out-group.” He closes with: I can’t say for sure that human nature was shaped by group selection […] But as a psychologist studying morality, I can say that multilevel selection would go a long way toward explaining why people are simultaneously so selfish and so groupish […] We humans have a dual nature—we are selfish primates who long to be a part of something larger and nobler than ourselves.

The second biological sign of the Hive Switch is the “mirror neuron”. Mirror neurons are neurons that fire when an action is observed that aligns with the intention of self. They were accidentally discovered when scientists were literally listening to monkey neurons fire. When the monkeys picked up a fruit with their fingers they heard a sound. When the testers did the same thing, they heard the neurons fire as well. That is amazing. Haidt notes, “[t]he monkeys have neural systems that infer the intentions of others— which is clearly a prerequisite for Tomasello’s shared intentionality […]”

Haidt builds on that by saying, “[p]eople feel each other’s pain and joy to a much greater degree than do any other primates.” I noted that they may literally feel this pain biologically, as it is registered with mirror neurons firing.

In order to create a transformational environment in the work place, Haidt offers three tips:

  • Increase similarity (values), not diversity (physical)
  • Exploit synchrony
  • Create healthy competition among teams, not individuals form has: a “hypersensitive agency detection device.”

“The idea makes a lot of sense: we see faces in the clouds, but never clouds in faces, because we have special cognitive modules for face detection. The face detector is on a hair trigger and it makes almost all of its mistakes in one direction—false positives (seeing a face when no real face is present, e.g., 🙂 )

We did and do encounter strange phenomenon that we can’t explain and we did and do tell stories about powerful beings causing them. Undeniable. But, Haidt says (and I agree), that is not the entire story of human religiosity. It doesn’t just end there and get us here. “According to these theorists, the genes for constructing these various modules were all in place by the time modern humans left Africa, and the genes did not change in response to selection pressures either for or against religiosity during the 50,000 years since then.”

Atheists worship reasonand science, understandably, but in such a way that it almost becomes unscientific. If you only approach problems from one direction (reason can solve this!) you’ve closed off your mind to other possibilities and risk becoming… religious… in you’re devotion to your ideals.

Where the New Atheists see ignorance, malevolence, and downright evil in religion’s effect on humanity Haidt points out, via anthropologists Scott Atran and Joe Henrich, that “[c]reating gods who can see everything, and who hate cheaters and oath breakers, turns out to be a good way to reduce cheating and oath breaking […] Angry gods make shame [via collective punishment] more effective as a means of social control.” The lesson is that religions hold people in a society accountable for their individual actions because they can hurt the group via the wrath of their gods. I personally cringe at the idea of “public shame” as a social benefit, because we are falling more and more under the wrathful fist of the

New Pantheon: social media. In that construct, we are all godlike paragons of virtue and we must out all the demonic and impish people who displease our sensibilities

Richard Sosis, another anthropologist that Haidt evokes, studied communes in the 1800s in the United States. He found that after 20 years, 6 percent of secular communes were still around and 39 percent of religious communes were still around. When he began to figure out why, he found that, “[f]or religious communes, the effect [of demanding high levels of self-sacrifice] was perfectly linear; the more sacrifice a commune demanded, the longer it lasted. But Sosis was surprised to discover that demands for sacrifice did not help secular communes. Most of them failed within eight years, and there was no correlation between sacrifice and longevity.”

The conclusion, regarding the binding nature of religion and the acceptance of self sacrifice: rituals, laws, and other constraints work best when they are sacralized […] But when secular organizations demand sacrifice, every member has a right to ask for a costbenefit analysis, and many refuse to do things that don’t make logical sense. In other words, the very ritual practices that the New Atheists dismiss as costly, inefficient, and irrational turn out to be a solution to one of the hardest problems humans face: cooperation without kinship

[E]ven those who reject all religions cannot shake the basic religious psychology […] Asking people to give up all forms of sacralized belonging and live in a world of purely “rational” beliefs might be like asking people to give up the Earth and live in colonies orbiting the moon. It can be done, but it would take a great deal of careful engineering, and even after ten generations, the descendants of those colonists might find themselves with inchoate longings for gravity and greenery. Haidt then brings this around to address religion in the political world, addressing the nefarious nature of religious psychology. As religion is undoubtedly a unifying social fact, he states, “[r]eligion is therefore well suited to be the handmaiden of groupishness, tribalism, and nationalism […] Anything that binds He says, “Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible.”

But then came the the studies of the twins […] identical twins reared in separate households (because of adoption) usually turn out to be very similar, whereas unrelated children reared together (because of adoption) rarely turn out similar to each other […] Genes contribute, somehow, to just about every aspect of our personalities. The importance of all this is that we are born with genetic traits. Those traits make us more susceptible to certain experiences (via our perception and reaction to events and the way we are treated). For example, certain traits make us behave a certain way which causes people to react in somewhat predictable manners and then we perceive and react and construct a world around that. Haidt then begins citing a “useful theory” from psychologist Dan McAdams. McAdams studies “narrative psychology”, and his theory involves “three levels” of narrative. According to Haidt: McAdams’s greatest contribution to psychology has been his insistence that psychologists connect their quantitative data (about the two lower levels, which we assess with questionnaires and reaction-time measures) to a more qualitative understanding of the narratives people create to make sense of their lives.

If you want to understand another group, follow the sacredness. As a first step, think about the six moral foundations and try to figure out which one or two are carrying the most weight in a particular controversy. And if you really want to open your mind, open your heart first. If you can have at least one friendly interaction with a member of the ‘other’ group, you’ll find it far easier to listen to what they’re saying, and maybe even see a controversial issue in a new light. You may not agree, but you’ll probably shift from Manichaean disagreement [good vs. evil] to a more respectful and constructive yin-yang disagreement [benefit-fault vs. benefit-fault]. In order to disagree constructively, we have to try and understand each other. That understanding must focus on learning what a group holds as moral virtues “We may spend most of our waking hours advancing our own interests, but we all have the capacity to transcend self-interest and become simply a part of a whole. It’s not just a capacity;

it’s the portal to many of life’s most cherished experiences.”

“our minds were designed for groupish righteousness.”

Man’s Search For Meaning

Viktor Frankl

Live as if you were living for the second time, and had acted wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.

Slow down and consider the future. Acting impulsively will not serve you as well later as you may think.


The next note category lined up is Perspective..


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