Thursday, August 11, 2011

Turning lemons into lemonade

Yesterday on Fresh Air there was an interview with Hugh Herr.  He has quite a remarkable story.  He is a double amputee below the knees of both legs.  How did he respond?  He went to MIT to study bioengineering, specializing in the design of prosthetics. 

He even designed himself a custom set of legs that are adjustable to make him anywhere from 5' to 7' tall.  He played a joke at the start of college, starting out at 5' and adding one inch every day until someone noticed.  He said it took about a week. Now, he keeps them at about 6'3" so that he is an imposing figure but not an oddity.

I hope that if I ever experience something as serious as a double leg amputation (or even half as serious) I can leverage it the way he did.


I  am reading a book called “The Science of Superstition” by Bruce Hood, which discusses the developmental psychology behind how superstition, religion, the supernatural etc become part of our beliefs whether we like it or not.  You may not be a Creationist (at least not since you were 8-years old and learned about evolution), but you probably have some beliefs that are not based on facts and that you know to be counter to what science would predict.  Do you have a lucky penny? Do you sometimes feel like a dead loved one is watching over you?  Do spiders make you squeamish?  These are all counter to science.

The book is not very well written, so I am not enjoying it as much as I had hoped.  As usual, I complain that it is written at too superficial a level.  But that is probably good for people who haven’t spent 20 years studying cognitive science, so I am sure others would like the book more than I have.  But even so, I agree with a lot of the science the author reviews and the conclusions he draws.  Creationism is more intuitive than evolution.  It’s safer to believe in a superstition than to be skeptical.  It doesn’t hurt to step over the cracks in the sidewalk or to throw some salt over your left shoulder.  So if it could help, and makes you feel better, why not? And once these schema become ingrained into our brains, they never really go away.  They just get overwritten by new thoughts like science.  But they can reappear when you least expect it.

I haven’t gotten to the chapters on ESP and some other common supernatural beliefs.  But so far, this book has added to my understanding of non-rational thought, which is the value-added I provide in my professional work.