Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Happiness Hypothesis

After reading The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt last year I've struggled with how to review it on this blog. It is one of the most interesting, wide-ranging and thought-provoking books I've read in a while. But I wanted to say more than just what the previous sentence does. I debated whether to break the review into pieces to cover the major themes or try to cover the book in one post. So time passed by with me getting no closer to posting something. Recently I came across a web page called The Edge in which Haidt does a nice job summarizing his book. Even so, this summary is 10 pages long! The link is provided here so you can read it yourself.

His essay comments on a group he calls the New Atheists: David Sloan Wilson, Michael Shermer, Sam Harris and others. They responded to Haidt's essay with Haidt getting the final word at the end.

Why do I have a post on Haidt's book? Because I believe Objectivists would benefit from his observations even if you ultimately disagree with him. The Objectivist literature is quiet on how our evolution as a species affects how we think and feel. Rand did say we are rational animals but I believe the animal part of this formulation was shed and/or buried in the emphasis on reason. Our brains evolved over millions of years with the rational portion being a fairly late development. Our emotional mechanism was in place long before our reasoning capabilities emerged. I believe we need to address this in our philosophy.

Below are a few selected quotes from Haidt's Edge essay.
I'll have more on this subject in the weeks ahead.

morality, and rationality itself, were crucially dependent on the proper functioning of emotional circuits in the prefrontal cortex.

If the building blocks of morality were shaped by natural selection long before language arose, and if those evolved structures work largely by giving us feelings that shape our behavior automatically, then why should we be focusing on the verbal reasons that people give to explain their judgments in hypothetical moral dilemmas?

Studies of everyday reasoning show that we usually use reason to search for evidence to support our initial judgment, which was made in milliseconds.

we did not evolve language and reasoning because they helped us to find truth; we evolved these skills because they were useful to their bearers, and among their greatest benefits were reputation management and manipulation.

1 comment:

Xtra Laj said...

For the record, David Sloan Wilson is actually an enemy of the New Atheists and not one of them. His views on religion etc. are more in line with Haidt.