Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Two of my sons gave me Richard Wiseman's Quirkology for Christmas. I was all ready to tell you what a fascinating book it was until I read the 6th and 7th chapters. Those last two sections deal with (6) altruism and moral inconsistency and (7) pace of life and anxiety. Because I knew a bit about the research in those fields already, I was aware of what Wiseman was leaving out. I also know something of the controversies about that research, and know the weaknesses in those studies. For example, the research he cites about people's honesty and generosity in returning money, and the studies on TV influencing violence, measure only short-term effects. Interesting, perhaps - but not very illuminating about behavior over time. Other studies have actually shown neutral or opposite effects.

This caused me to wonder whether his engaging writing and leaping to conclusions about odd topics had blinded me to the weaknesses of his arguments. I scanned the entire book again and found this was so. There are interesting tidbits about detecting lies, infrasonic sound giving us odd sensations, subtle factors that influence our electoral choices, what different cultures find humorous, and the like. Many of these do indeed reveal interesting possibilities about human behavior. But upon review, I saw possible objections that had not occurred to me before.

A fun read, but insubstantial.

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