The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds
by Michael Lewis
We are living in an age in which the behavioral sciences have become inescapable. The findings of social psychology and behavioral economics are being employed to determine the news we read, the products we buy, the cultural and intellectual spheres we inhabit, and the human networks, online and in real life, of which we are a part. Aspects of human societies that were formerly guided by habit and tradition, or spontaneity and whim, are now increasingly the intended or unintended consequences of decisions made on the basis of scientific theories of the human mind and human well-being.
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
by Jonathan Haidt
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
by Steven Pinker
It is only recently that the claims of psychologists to moral expertise have come to be taken seriously. Contributing to their new aura of authority has been their association with neuroscience, with its claims to illuminate the distinct neural pathways taken by our thoughts and judgments. Neuroscience, it is claimed, has revealed that our brains operate with a dual system for moral decision-making.
The gothic boxwood miniatures currently exhibited at the Cloisters—thought to be in large part the work of a single individual in the Netherlands in the sixteenth century—are so breathtakingly intricate, the minuscule scenes in prayer beads and altarpieces rendered so exquisitely, that any viewer should be prepared to gasp, “How did they do it?” These diminutive objects have an impact for which the viewer who expects merely to marvel at technical virtuosity will be unprepared.
In Sam Gold’s subtly intelligent new Othello at the New York Theatre Workshop we find a more disturbing interpretation of Iago, one that perhaps (and unfortunately) makes it the necessary production for our times. Daniel Craig’s Iago is not a psychopath, or a victim of trauma, or a man deluded about right and wrong—he makes a choice. It is the voluptuous enjoyment that Nietzsche described. It is the freedom and exhilaration of moral insensibility.
For the obsessive seeker of meaning, contemporary opera productions can make for some difficult evenings. Fidelio, Beethoven’s only opera, is always challenging. Watching the Salzburg production, directed by Claus Guth, I was not shocked, but a little perplexed. By the end, the audience can no longer be sure what is supposed to be real and what unreal, who is imprisoned and who is imprisoning.