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Social Pseudosciences don't make me happy.
on October 1, 2006
I have read and listened to Mr. Gilbert several times in the past few years and I find that just as behavioral sciences tend to stumble through and oversimplify the complexity of the human psyche and human biology, so Mr. Gilbert tends does the same on the subject of happiness.
According to Mr. Gilbert, the research on happiness from cognitive studies, psychology, and economists tells us that wee are poor predictors of our future mental states. Sheesh! All of this data and research to remind us of the thing that many have already known for thousands of years: that what we imagine to be a tragedy is seldom as tragic as our imaginings just as what we imagine to be a gloriously happy experience is seldom as glorious as our imaginings...a state of mind most apparent for anyone who has ever spent a couple of hours among children at Christmas and Birthdays.
Among the questionable assertions from Mr. Gilbert is the claim that having children doesn't make parents more `happy'. When asked during a radio interview to explain why so many parents claim that they are much happier because of their children he claims that if we measure the amount of time parents are happy compared to when they are not, then we can claim that on the balance, children don't make parents happier. Of course, I don't believe any parent wouldn't agree that parenting is hard work... and parenting involves more moments of hard work than moments of fun and frolic with the kids. However, contrary to the old adage that hard work yields greater reward, Mr. Gilbert would have us believe that if we are finding the work hard, it must follow that we are not particularly happy with the work. In the end, one is left wondering just what Mr. Gilbert means by the word `Happiness' in the first place.
As a physicist and science educator, I don't place much scientific stock in the rather over-inflated claims of the `behavioral sciences'. More often than not the mental states that are being studied are subjective, ill-defined, and the variables are incalculably complex and difficult to control. To make matters worse, the scientists often simultaneously rely on human experience to collect data only to conclude that human experience is an unreliable apparatus for data collection. Not that you'd ever hear that from the behaviorists. I think Mr. Gilbert himself summed up the problems with this area of research himself when he was discussing the matter with the Dali Lama in response to the claim that Buddhism seeks to eliminate negative emotional states through meditation. `You know what we call a species with no negative emotions (fear, etc)?' asks Mr. Gilbert rhetorically... `Extinct'. `We have emotions for good reason', claims Mr. Gilbert, `you shouldn't be happy when you step in front of a [moving] bus.' One wonders how much more successful the amoeba, cockroach, and dandelion might have been today had they been blessed with the benefit of (what Mr. Gilbert also calls unreliable) human emotions? Such is the regular and usually circular rambling of the Church of Social Darwinism. I just hope no one mistakes it for science.
Mike Flynn - Ottawa