Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dacher Keltner at the Mechanics' Institute

I was at the Mechanics' Institute this evening for Dacher Keltner's talk about his new book Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. I haven't read it yet, but it looks to me like it's using science to support new-age spiritualism. Professor Keltner's talk, however, was all science. He explained some of his research into the biological & evolutionary sources for "prosocial" emotions. These are the positive emotions that make social interactions rewarding, such as altruism, compassion & love.

Professor Keltner is a likable & funny speaker, projecting an image that is more surfer dude than academic. He's a good spokesman for his own work. Judging by the lively & assenting audience, he already had fans in the crowd. They had good questions for him about what studies have been done in this area, such as the possible use of oxytocin as a medical treatment. It feels like science has finally gotten around to studying emotions. Apparently the mammalian vagus nerve is going to figure importantly in future research.

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