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Are We There Yet?  vol. 185 Thumbnail

Are We There Yet? vol. 185

We all know someone who has justified less than exemplary behavior. It might be cutting to the front of the line when in traffic or driving well above the speed limit. The rationalization is generally something like “everyone does it” or “it’s not hurting anyone." So why do well-meaning people feel the need to justify behavior that might not be in line with their values in general?

This justification typically happens at a subconscious level and is known as cognitive dissonance. Elliott Aronson is an American psychologist who was mentored by and worked with famous psychologists Abraham Maslow and Leon Festinger. In a recent Hidden Brain podcast, he described cognitive dissonance as the behavior that happens when a person has done something that doesn’t match their belief systems. That mismatch “acts as a negative drive state like extreme hunger or extreme thirst. You will do whatever you can to reduce that negative drive state . . .” including “finding a way to distort your own thinking” so that the behavior is less disparate from your internal values. Basically, you self-justify your behavior.

I always considered cognitive dissonance to be negative. But Dr. Aronson talked about some potential good impacts of cognitive dissonance. He noted that if you do a favor for someone you don’t like, you’ll naturally start to like that person more. His reasoning is that a rational person would not do a favor for a person they don’t like, so if you do a favor for a person and consider yourself rational, subconsciously, you’ll convince yourself that you must like that person.

I’m going to try it out. Unfortunately, I don’t tend to dislike many people, so my experiment may take some time. I also know that the next time someone does a favor for me, I’ll be wondering if they really like me or are just trying to like me. 

Take care and stay safe.


Infinite Power: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe by Steven Strogatz

Without calculus, we wouldn’t have cell phones, TV, GPS, or ultrasound. We wouldn’t have unraveled DNA or discovered Neptune or figured out how to put 5,000 songs in your pocket.

Though many of us were scared away from this essential, engrossing subject in high school and college, Steven Strogatz’s brilliantly creative, down-to-earth history shows that calculus is not about complexity; it’s about simplicity. It harnesses an unreal number—infinity—to tackle real-world problems, breaking them down into easier ones and then reassembling the answers into solutions that feel miraculous.

Infinite Powers recounts how calculus tantalized and thrilled its inventors, starting with its first glimmers in ancient Greece and bringing us right up to the discovery of gravitational waves (a phenomenon predicted by calculus). Strogatz reveals how this form of math rose to the challenges of each age: how to determine the area of a circle with only sand and a stick; how to explain why Mars goes “backwards” sometimes; how to make electricity with magnets; how to ensure your rocket doesn’t miss the moon; how to turn the tide in the fight against AIDS.

As Strogatz proves, calculus is truly the language of the universe.