I just got back this afternoon from an overly long–and far too eventful–family vacation (should that last word be in quotation marks?) that consisted of spending almost a month driving back and forth across about a dozen-and-a-half states.* I hadn’t intended not to post to USIH during the trip, but life seemed to get in the way. Though I have neither the time nor the energy for a longer (or more polished) post today, I wanted to put up a little something to mark my return home. And for a variety of reasons I’ve been thinking a bit lately about whether and how social psychology and neuroscience might inform the practice of intellectual history.
I’ve begun reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, a fascinating book that raises a lot of important questions about how people think. What I particularly appreciate about Kahneman’s approach is that it seems more grounded in empirical research than a lot of “evolution psychology” that purports to explain social behavior, but often seems merely to affirm dominant cultural prejudices via a series of just-so stories. While reading Kahneman, I’ve repeatedly asked myself whether work like this might inform my understanding of intellectual history. While at some abstract level I think it might, I’m not entirely sure how it would do so.
Meanwhile, I find myself back in Oklahoma during yet another record heatwave. We’re apparently expecting 113º weather on Wednesday, with highs over 105º the rest of the week. Bearing in mind that hot weather no more proves global warming than mild weather disproves it, heat like this makes me wonder, yet again, why people (especially in Oklahoma) are so resistant to the idea of global warming, which has, in fact, been pretty conclusively proven via actual science. Obviously, (well-funded) ideology has a lot to do with it. But given the fact that, in a state like Oklahoma, things have become uncomfortably hotter, why do people believe ideology over what appears to be empirical evidence to the contrary?
I should point out in raising these questions that I don’t have any answers (I suspect that I wouldn’t on a day on which I hadn’t driven from Atoka, Tennessee to Norman, Oklahoma…I’m certainly not going to have them on a day on which I have). I should point out, however, that, about a year ago, Mike O’Connor raised some similar issues on this blog. I’ll add that I agree with those in comments on Mike’s post who caution against taking at face value many claims about extraordinary new discoveries in neuroscience and cognitive science. However, the existence of a lot of bad cog sci and, with it, bad social psychology, doesn’t mean that we intellectual historians might not still learn from good cog sci and good social psychology.
* The itinerary was: OK to NC, NC to OH, OH to VA, VA to MA, MA to NY, NY to MA, MA to NY, NY to VA, VA to NC, NC to OK. It should be stressed that each of these legs served a tangible family purpose (none was merely a matter of tourism), though some of them were caused by an utterly unexpected family emergency. But if that looks exhausting to you, I can only affirm that it was!