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April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review March 23, 2006 / 23 Adar, 5766

Truth seekers and partisans

By Jonathan Rosenblum


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The feat of elevating reason over emotion


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta recently devised an interesting experiment to test the reasoning, or the lack thereof, of political partisans.


Prior to the 2004 American presidential election, a group of Kerry supporters and a group of Bush supporters were each given six statements by their candidate. Next they were given pieces of information that documented a blatant contradiction between their candidate's first statement and his subsequent words or deeds. At that point, the subjects were asked to consider the apparent discrepancy between their candidate's initial statement and the second statement or behavior and to rate the degree of contradiction involved. Finally, they were given a third statement that might reconcile the first and second piece of information, and asked to reconsider the degree of contradiction involved.


While being presented with these tasks, the subjects' brains were being monitored by magnetic resonance to determine what areas of the brain were most active. The investigators found that the presentation of the information raising questions about the honesty or consistency of the subject's favored candidate triggered no increased activity in the brain in areas normally associated with reasoning. Instead a network of emotional circuits lit up.


When the third statement offering a possible reconciliation of the first two was presented, the brain circuits that regulate negative emotions such as sadness and disgust shut down, while those involved in behavior reward were activated, in a manner comparable to that seen in drug addicts after receiving a dose.


Drew Westen, chairman of the clinical psychology department at Emory, described the findings: "It appears that the partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it."


Intelligence apparently had no impact on the subjects' responses. Stupid Bush supporters and intelligent Kerry supporters (just kidding) reacted in an identical fashion. As Westen summarized the results, "Everyone from executives and judges to scientists and politicians may reason to emotionally based judgments when they have a vested interest in how to interpret the 'facts.'" These findings, while admittedly only preliminary, are highly suggestive. For one thing, they provide experimental confirmation of a point emphasized by Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler already in the late 1920s, as he confronted the cult of science of his time. Rabbi Dessler taught his students to beware that the conclusions of supposedly objective scientists are often heavily tainted by their prior biases.


Suppose, for instance, a scientist writes that the world is the product of purely random events reflecting no guiding purpose, and claims that modern science supports his claim. Even if we grant that this person possesses a keen intellect and is well-educated, writes Rabbi Dessler, we must recognize that his moral character is likely no more than average, and that he has never seriously tackled his own moral failings.


When arguing a point upon which depends "whether he will be obliged to struggle constantly with his baser desires . . . or whether he will live with no restraints on those desires other than those he deigns to place on them," says Rabbi Dessler, no one can "seriously believe that he will arrive at a true conclusion merely by the exercise of his intellectual powers."


The Emory findings may also help explain a phenomenon that I have long noticed: the curious immunity of many intellectuals to empirical reality.


Intellectuals love theories. They become emotionally invested in those theories, and will defend them long after the contradictions have mounted, as Thomas Kuhn long ago pointed out in his classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. They would rather modify the theory to explain why the emperor appears naked than admit that he has no clothes. Freudianism, for instance, held sway over Western intellectuals for nearly a century, despite the lack of empirical support for either the theory or its efficacy as a therapeutic tool.


The Emory study also helps me better understand the awe I often feel in the presence of those who have had the fortitude to re-examine the emotional core of their lives and ask whether it is true — e.g., geirei tzedek, ba'alei teshuva, and even those neo-conservatives whom Irving Kristol famously described as "liberals mugged by reality." We should feel awe because, as the Emory study makes clear, the power of bias is very strong and receives powerful emotional reinforcement from our brains.


Wafa Sultan, is a Syrian-born Arabic-speaking psychologist, now living in the United States, who had the courage to say openly on Al Jazeera, "The Jews have come through the tragedy [of the Holocaust], and forced the world to respect them with their knowledge, not their terror, with their work, not their crying or yelling. . . . We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church." Apart from the pure physical bravery involved, it is truly wondrous to contemplate someone who has freed herself from the prejudices of the Moslem society in which she was born to such extent.


Finally, the Emory experiment provided me with a renewed appreciation of the "milchemes HaTorah" described by the Talmud in tractate Kiddushin. The chavrusah (study partner) system of learning that is practiced in yeshivas (Orthodox rabbinic schools) forces us to subject that which is dear to us — our chiddushim (novellae) — to continual scrutiny. Every time we offer a solution to a particular project, we find sitting across from us a study partner who has no ego invested in our chiddush and will do everything he can to refute it.


Those who are raised in this system of learning are constantly challenged to overcome the natural bias in favor of their own intellectual progeny, and to pursue truth instead. The training is far from fool-proof. As Rabbi Dessler noted, it can only work in conjunction with rigorous work on our characters as well. But work it does.


Every time a Torah scholar stops a public leture in the middle, in response to a student's question, even though he could have easily found numerous plausible ways to save his chiddush, we are witnessing a rare feat of elevating reason over emotion.


Just how rare, Dr. Westen has shown us.

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© 2006, Jonathan Rosenblum