Small Bites

Highlights from my week on the interwebs

People who score lower on a measure of social class tend to score higher on a measure of ‘wise reasoning’ in situations of conflict (Science, 20 Dec 17)

“people who grow up in a working-class environment have to rely on shared, communal resources more than people in the middle class, and therefore hone social techniques that smooth out conflicts with their peers. Those in the middle class, in contrast, tend to focus on education, which improves their IQ scores, but they don’t put nearly as much effort into conflict resolution skills…”

These are provocative findings and I’m not 100% sold on the explanation offered for them — but I do wonder if they can be generalised to wise reasoning in policy-making!

There is no such thing as Western civilisation (The Guardian, 9 Nov 16)

Kwame Anthony Appiah’s second BBC Reith lecture confronts the ‘clash of civilisations’ narrative. (Hat tip Chris Lemoh for this.)

In the centuries that Petrarch called the Dark Ages, when Christian Europe made little contribution to the study of Greek classical philosophy, and many of the texts were lost, these works were preserved by Muslim scholars. Much of our modern understanding of classical philosophy among the ancient Greeks we have only because those texts were recovered by European scholars in the Renaissance from the Arabs. […] So the classical traditions that are meant to distinguish western civilisation from the inheritors of the caliphates are actually a point of kinship with them.

This is a nice piece in which empiricism confounds essentialising claims to continuity:

What was England like in the days of Chaucer, father of English literature, who died more than 600 years ago? Take whatever you think was distinctive of it, whatever combination of customs, ideas, and material things that made England characteristically English then. Whatever you choose to distinguish Englishness now, it isn’t going to be that.

Many different causes for and pathways through bipolar disorder 

Remember in the 1990s we used to talk about finding ‘the gene’ for _________? Autism, homosexuality, overweight, criminality, you name it. But hunting for single causes in a complex world is a fruitless game.

A review of findings from a large cohort study of people with bipolar disorders took a ‘causal pluralist’ approach, finding that no single gene predicts onset, causal pathways interweave genetics and lived experience, and the trajectory of the disorder is not bipolar but multidimensional. See: press release; published article [open access]

Listening to: Zola Blood, ‘Infinite Games’ album (2017)