Monday Miscellany: Morals, Molyneux, Maps

1. I think I’ve linked to research on this before, but the idea of ‘catharsis’ to handle anger (or punching pillows, etc) is not a good plan.

For more than 40 years, studies have revealed that encouraging the expression of anger directly toward another person or indirectly (such as toward an object) actually turns up the heat on aggression. In one of the earliest studies, people who pounded nails after someone insulted them were more, rather than less, critical of that person afterward. Moreover, playing aggressive sports like football, which are presumed to promote catharsis, boosts aggression. And playing violent video games like Manhunt, in which bloody assassinations are rated on a 5-point scale, is associated with increased aggression in the laboratory and everyday life.

So getting angry doesn’t ‘let off steam.’ It merely fans the flames of our anger. Research suggests that expressing anger is helpful only when it’s accompanied by constructive problem-solving designed to address the source of the anger. […]

Why is the myth of catharsis still popular despite compelling evidence that anger feeds aggression? Because people sometimes feel better for a short time after they blow off steam, it may reinforce the belief that catharsis works. Also, people often mistakenly attribute the fact that they feel better after they express anger to catharsis, rather than to the fact that anger usually subsides on its own after a while.

2. What do I do if I’m interested in sex, but also have fear well into the serious phobia level?

3. Sprouting new moral foundations.

4. Philosophical thought experiment becomes experiment.

In 2011, Dr. Pawan Sinha, a professor of vision and computational neuroscience at M.I.T., published his answer to an almost-four-hundred-year-old philosophical problem. The philosopher William Molyneux, whose wife was blind, had proposed a thought experiment in the seventeenth century about a person, blind from birth, who could tell apart a cube and a sphere by touch: If his vision were restored and he was presented with the same cube and sphere, would he be able to tell which was which by sight alone?


Since 2003, Sinha, through a non-profit that he founded called Project Prakash, has organized and supervised sight-restoration surgeries for more than two hundred blind children from some of the poorest regions in India. The surgeries were given to any child who medically qualified, a subset of whom had been blind since birth with cataracts. After sight had been restored, Sinha posed Molyneux’s question.

5. Map of the rationalist community.


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