Throwing Light on the Dark Side
Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there may be someone who has not heard of “the dark side.” But I think that’s unlikely. Whether you are a Star Wars aficionado or not, there is no doubt that these hugely popular movies have saturated the culture and the common vocabulary. As Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi explained to the innocent young Luke Skywalker in the original 1977 film, the once virtuous Darth Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force, his destructive power fueled by rage and hate. The dark side is all the galaxy’s evils rolled together. Of course, Star Wars creator George Lucas did not invent the metaphor of the dark side. Not even remotely.
Where Does Self-Discipline Come From?
Willpower is the key to much that’s good in life. Willpower is what makes us save for the future rather than splurge now. It helps us to keep our heads down, studying and working when we really don’t feel like it, to earn that degree or promotion. Willpower allows us to say no to that tempting cigarette, extra dessert, or second glass of whiskey—and to hop on the treadmill. And, of course, failures of self-control can sabotage all those goals. So it’s no wonder that psychological scientists have been studying willpower for decades, trying to figure out who is disciplined under what circumstances—and why.
Old and on the Road: Can We Train Elderly Drivers To Be Safer?
Mr. Magoo, a cartoon regular of early TV, was notorious for his hazardous driving. He was a retiree, befuddled and extremely nearsighted, yet he continued to drive despite these obvious failings. In the opening sequence to his long-running show, he has run-ins with a railroad train, a haystack and several barn animals, a roller coaster, a fire hydrant, a mud hole and a high voltage line—all while honking his horn and shouting “Road hog!” Looking back, it seems like a cruel stereotype of the elderly, especially elderly drivers. But like all stereotypes, the Mr. Magoo caricature had a bit of truth to it.
How Do Placebos Relieve Pain?
Scientists and doctors have been studying placebos for more than half a century. These inert “sugar pills” remain highly controversial, yet they are widely used in clinical treatment today—especially in the area of pain management. So-called “placebo analgesia” has been observed again and again not only in the pain clinic, but also in the neuroscience lab, where scientists have documented a placebo response in the brain’s pain pathways. Despite this evidence, nobody really understands the psychological processes involved in placebo analgesia.
Fleeing the Brain’s Fear Center
Scientific “facts” often take on a life of their own. Scientists make legitimate and exciting new discoveries, with the best tools available to them in their time, and these findings get verified and modified and cited and, eventually, repeated without question. Over time, insights get simplified for non-scientists, and translated into the plain language of introductory textbooks. If they get repeated often enough, for long enough, some of these facts even seep into the popular culture.
Memories of the Future
I remember my retirement like it was yesterday. As I recall it, I am still working, though not as hard as I do now. My wife and I still live in the city, where we bicycle a fair amount, and stay fit. We have a favorite coffee shop where we read the morning papers and say hello to the other regulars. We don’t play golf. In reality, I’m not even close to retirement. This is just a scenario I must have spun out at some point in the past. There are other future scenarios, but the details aren’t all that important. What’s notable is that my futures all have a peaceful and contented feel to them. They don’t include any financial or health problems, and no boredom, not for me or anyone I know.