E. Carriere: November 2011 Archives

em + pathos

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(Make-up for discussion group on Thursday, November 3rd)

To answer a central question of "Similarity, Attraction and the Art of Blushing," no, I do not really want to look like the object of my affection 25 years from now!

What an odd phenomenon, this facial similarity in longstanding couples. What purpose does it serve? A key phrase in the article was, "silent empathy." In elaboration on his speculative view involving gradual face-shaping via repetition of mimicry, Dr. Zajonc says, ''Facial mimicry allows a truer empathy because it triggers the same inner state. Couples can understand each other much better when this happens.'' It would be interesting to somehow look at oxytocin, the hormone most popular for bonding, in relation to the process.

I think a science fiction novel could utilize this idea in imaginings of how alien races formed. First bonding, then mimicry, then assimilation... and the production of a hormone resembling oxytocin?

the urge.png

But what about other hormones? I'd like to see a study on which partner changes more toward the other towards similarity. Does person A become more like person B, or vise versa? Why would this be? Sex differences seem like a good place to start; it has been suggested that testosterone reduces empathy.

If this is the case and if Zajonc's view is correct, in a heterosexual couple, would the woman's appearance change more dramatically? The changes may be too subtle to measure. I can't help but think of the famous "urge to merge," the popularized and stereotypical tendency of partners in a lesbian relationship to become quickly and drastically similar one another.

Health and Happiness

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According to a section of Chapter 11 of our text, the common sentiment "I wish you health and happiness" may be flirting with redundancy; it seems health and happiness are tied at the hip, correlation/causation kerfuffles aside. A package deal, perhaps?

One thing that has suggested some degree of causation between happiness and another facet of life--open mindedness--is an experiment undertaken by Isen, Rosenzweig, and Young: "Doctors who were given small bags of candy made more accurate diagnoses of liver disease than other doctors, apparently because being in a good mood allowed them to consider alternative diagnostic possibilities." This finding supports the broaden and build theory.

Why on earth does this happen? What is it about happiness that predicates broadening of our minds? Does happiness expand our vision? Does it increase feelings of self worth, helping us to abandon defensive, rigidified mindsets? Does it reduce the inherent fear we as humans often harbor for new thoughts and ideas? How big is the correlation between happiness and knowledge?

For some ancient philosophers, the answer to that question is a perfect 1.


  • My favorite post was "Nature vs. Nurture: Self-identity Questions" because it was thoughtful with many independent ideas, provided a unique perspective, and resonated with my previous liberal arts education.
  • My next favorite was "Homosexuality, Nature or Nurture?" because, due to its relevance to current debates, its inherently somewhat inflammatory nature, and the vast amounts of new research available to the topic at hand, it provided the opportunity for some good discussion.
  • My third favorite was "What's the underlying cause?" because both the subject matter and the way it was written seemed to beg for discussion seeking to clarify terms and expand hypotheses.

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