Almost Contextless Links from Summer 2009

So many links saved up in bookmarks, so little time to synthesis them. So without further ado, these are some articles and essays and such that I found interesting during the summer of 2009.


Even Now, There’s Risk in ‘Driving While Black’, by Brent Staples, June 14, 2009, NYT:

“Being black in America today,” Ms. Pager writes, “is just about the same as having a felony conviction in terms of one’s chances of finding a job.'”



Would you pledge your soul as loan collateral?, Jul 3, 2009, Reuters:  The Kontora loan company in Latvia is offering loans with borrowers’ immortal souls as collateral, promising they will not sent debt collectors or use violence to retrieve unpaid loans.

“If they don’t give it back, what can you do? They won’t have a soul, that’s all.”


Most of us think we’re “less susceptible to cognitive biases than the average person.” at Mind Hacks, 14 July 2009.”


61 essential postmodern reads: an annotated list, LA Times, 16 July 2009. Annotated as to whether the book blurs reality and fiction, whether the author is a character, whether it has a self-contradicting plot, how ponderously long or snippetly short it is, etc.

I’ve read almost none of the books: Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Laurence Stern’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, and Steven Millhauser’s Edwin Mullhouse (one of my favourite books ever).


Seeking (and Wanting and Liking):

“It is an emotional state Panksepp tried many names for: curiosity, interest, foraging, anticipation, craving, expectancy. He finally settled on seeking.”

Seeking is ” the mammalian motivational engine that each day gets us out of the bed, or den, or hole to venture forth into the world. ”

“The mammalian brain has separate systems forwanting and liking. Wanting is Berridge’s equivalent for Panksepp’s seeking system. It is the liking system that Berridge believes is the brain’s reward center. When we experience pleasure, it is our own opioid system, rather than our dopamine system, that is being stimulated. … Wanting and liking are complementary. The former catalyzes us to action; the latter brings us to a satisfied pause. Seeking needs to be turned off, if even for a little while, so that the system does not run in an endless loop. …

“But our brains are designed to more easily be stimulated than satisfied. … Creatures that lack motivation, that find it easy to slip into oblivious rapture, are likely to lead short (if happy) lives. So nature imbued us with an unquenchable drive to discover, to explore.”

This and more about addiction, novelty, satiety, ADD, etc., from Seeking: How the brain hard-wires us to love Google, Twitter, and texting. And why that’s dangerous, by Emily Yoffe, in Slate, Aug. 12, 2009.


Hating the faceless other as a paranoid projection:

“There is something more dangerous about hating the government. The government is so distant, powerful and bureaucratically faceless that it can seem malevolent. Which pulls the paranoia out of us like a poison. All our wounds, failures, and frustrations are poured, in great buckets of bile, into our feelings about “the government.” And like with our sports teams, our anger and paranoia can personalize, turning political leaders into enemies and demons.

“In short, I think the poison of political discourse is due to this displaced anger and paranoia. When you see someone ranting about a political figure like the President what you are witnessing is an angry paranoid projection. A mind turned inside out by its own fears, frustrations and failures.”  Experimental Theology, 17 Aug. 2009


Two pieces on the intersection of Rene Girard and  Mimetic Theory with  pop culture:

The Mimetic Theory: Listening to Madonna with Girard at Bread and Circuits, 18 Aug. 2009, and

3 Article Reviews at the Media, Film, Music, Religion course blog for an Australian university class called Studies in Religion and Spirituality, in the first review, of U2 is their Religion, Bono is their God, 23 Aug 2009.


Holding heavy objects makes us see things as more important, at Not Exactly Rocket Science, 25 Aug. 2009. Four experiments show the link between physical and metaphorical weight.

The theory is that

“the link between weight and importance is rooted in our early childhood experiences, when we rapidly learn that heavy objects require more effort to deal with, not just in terms of strength but planning too. Our brain relies on these concrete physical experiences when it represents more abstract concepts, like importance.”

Also at Mind Hacks. where the sub-field of ‘embodied cognition‘ is invoked as a body of research demonstrating “that altering the physical condition of the body affects how we perceive and understand, even for concepts that we think are nothing but metaphors.”


Next week, I hope to post almost contextless links for September and October.


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