- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004

Pop psych

“The intersection of pop psychology and talk radio is a study in inadequacy. For far too many of those lost and dejected souls who call radio programs hoping for some last desperate measure of solace, the sound bite offered by the counselor will come nowhere close to the amount of therapy, healing and understanding they most likely require. …

“Whether it’s Dr. Laura or Dr. Phil (when did we start calling doctors by their first names?), a 10-minute conversation will likely never get to the root of any serious problem. … Unfortunately, an easy answer is always more appealing than hard work. Whether it’s the latest miracle diet or the latest self-help fad, Americans want to erase their problems with a clever book or glamorous makeover when what they really need is the stamina and gumption to take on life in all its nuances and intricacies.

“After all, if an unexamined life is not worth living, then the examination ought to at least be thorough and meaningful.”

Sacha Zimmerman, writing on “This Woman’s Work,” Thursday in the New Republic Online at www.tnr.com

Math and miracles

“Because I am often introduced as a ‘professional skeptic,’ people feel compelled to challenge me with stories about highly improbable events. …

“I cannot always explain such specific incidents, but a principle of probability called the Law of Large Numbers shows that an event with a low probability of occurrence in a small number of trials has a high probability of occurrence in a large number of trials. Events with million-to-one odds happen 295 times a day in America. …

“In the case of death premonitions, suppose that you know of 10 people a year who die and that you think about each of those people once a year. One year contains 105,120 five-minute intervals during which you might think about each of the 10 people, a probability of one out of 10,512 — certainly an improbable event. Yet there are 295 million Americans. Assume, for the sake of our calculation, that they think like you. That makes … 77 people a day for whom this improbable premonition becomes probable.

“[I]f just a couple of these people recount their miraculous tales in a public forum (‘next on “Oprah”’), the paranormal seems vindicated. In fact, they are merely demonstrating the laws of probability writ large.”

Michael Shermer, writing on “Miracle on Probability Street,” in the July 26 issue of Scientific American

The shame of shame

“In Masaccio’s great fresco depicting the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the Angel of the Lord hovers, sword in hand, above and behind the First Couple. Adam strides forward, naked, his face buried in his hands. Eve, however, a look of wailing misery on her upturned face, covers her breasts and privates as she walks. She is ashamed of her nakedness and strives to conceal it.

“I thought of Masaccio when I stumbled upon Martha Nussbaum’s essay ‘Danger to Human Dignity: The Revival of Disgust and Shame in the Law.’ … How Nussbaum would disapprove of Eve, I thought. For Martha Nussbaum … does not approve of shame. She is not too keen about disgust, either. Both emotions, she thinks, impede ‘the moral progress of society.’ And here we have Eve, ashamed of her body, modestly shielding her sex from view: how very unprogressive.”

Roger Kimball, writing on “Does shame have a future?” in the September issue of the New Criterion

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