Personal Blog of Joe Brewer

Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

Will Compassion Save Humanity?

In Human Behavior, Social Change, Wisdom of Crowds on June 29, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I have looked squarely at the most pressing problems confronting humanity — global climate change, mass extinctions, resource depletion, increasing toxicity of our soils, over population, and more — and still I am hopeful.  How can this be?

The answer is that human beings are incredibly resilient creatures.  We are capable of love and beauty unparalleled in the animal kingdom.  And we are wired for empathy.

While studying cognitive science, the cross-cutting field of research dedicated to understanding the human mind, I learned something that has inspired me greatly.  The human brain has within it a set of circuits called mirror neurons that enable us to simulate and re-enact the experiences of others.  I can watch someone eat chocolate and feel stirrings of desire for the subtle combination of bitter and sweet.  And I can also look upon the hungry and feel a grumble in my belly.  This foundational discovery was made by neuroscientists in Italy in the 1990’s.  And it offers the possibility for salvation in the midst of crisis. Continue reading “Will Compassion Save Humanity?” »

Want to Change The World? Study Cognitive Science!

In Human Behavior, Social Change on June 10, 2011 at 7:52 pm

For all you change makers, young and old, I offer this advice:

If you want to change the world, study more cognitive science.

When I left grad school almost a decade ago with a strong desire to address climate change and trained as a climate scientist, I knew that another physicist wasn’t going to make it or break it.  The fundamental challenge was and remains large-scale human behavior.  Human civilization is on a crash course with oblivion if we prove incapable of designing our urban landscapes, political systems, and market economies with foundational understandings of:

  • Evolutionary Psychology :: Our deep biological legacy of primal emotions, herding behaviors, brain structures, and more — all that makes us the kind of animal we are today;
  • Cognitive Semantics :: The human mind is fundamentally a “meaning-making machine”.  Changing our cultural narratives will require that we understand (a) how language is processed in the brain; (b) the role of frames and conceptual metaphors in constructing meaning from our bodily experience; and (c) why emotions shape how we reason through the coupling of neurological processes with language comprehension;
  • Cognitive Neuroscience :: To fully understand how human behavior works, we’ll have to familiarize ourselves with the different ways our brains process fear, disgust, hope, despair, and the stresses of personal change;
  • Cognitive Anthropology :: Grasping the universals of humanity across cultures will demand that we combine ethnographic research with experimental studies in psychology.  This is how we’ll finally understand the nature of belief in religious communities, the adaptive fit of various cultural ideals with sustainable living, how to collaborate across cultures, and much more. Continue reading “Want to Change The World? Study Cognitive Science!” »

Designer’s Manual for Large-Scale Change

In Collaboration, Human Behavior, Social Change, Wisdom of Crowds on June 7, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Last year I gave a workshop on How to Bring About Large-Scale Behavior Change that set out to accomplish an ambitious goal — to demonstrate that all of the essential knowledge for designing large-scale social change campaigns exists and can be taught to practitioners from many different backgrounds.

The workshop was such a success that I was asked to give it again, this time as a 3-Part Series breaking down the materials into a set of tools and activities that tailor the content to the particular challenges faced by attendees.  And I realized that this provides an excellent opportunity to share this knowledge more widely with change makers all over the world.  So I have partnered with Sustainable Seattle to launch a crowdfunding campaign to fund the creation of a Designer’s Manual for Large-Scale Change.

This video describes the basics of the project:

If you’d like to be part of this, you can register for the workshops (which will be in Seattle late August through mid-September) and contribute to the crowdfunding project.

I look forward to sharing my knowledge about the behavioral, cultural, political, and economic aspects of large-scale social change with you through this exciting process!