The rabbis who put the Talmud together used to say, when they mentioned something especially weird or counterintuitive, “If it were not written, it would be impossible to believe it.” I guess that’s Aramaic for “Honest! No kidding!”
Every now and then, we run into a whole bunch of counterintuitive stuff at once. This has been one of those weeks. For instance, a psychologist, at http://www.mendeley.com /research/proposal-classify-happiness-psychiatric-disorder/, is proposing to designate happiness as a mental disorder. Presumably it should turn up in DSM-X or whatever as Inappropriate Euphoric Disorder. This is not totally out of step with what we know about happiness and its opposite. Depressed people, we have known for a long time, have a more accurate perception of reality than non-depressed people (See http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/ Depressive_realism) This suggests that happiness causes a distorted view of reality. Surely that should qualify it as a mental disorder.
And then there’s the influence of mercury poisoning on avian sexual orientation. See http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2010/11/24//rspb.2010.2189.abstract?sid=4af1b3c8-d24a-4801-bba4-0e3860dae99a, for the original study. This one is interesting because it may provide an explanation for declining sperm counts in human males (see http://www.cqs.com/esperm.htm) and perhaps also for the increasing visibility of human homosexual behavior. In which case, no, people aren’t born with it, but they don’t choose it either.
And then there’s what I just heard on our local public radio station, on “To the Best of Our Knowledge”, which this week is discussing the human soul (or lack thereof.) In the course of this discussion, one of the interlocutors, Parker Palmer (I think), said that a more scientific society is likely to be more authoritarian because it leads us to be more dependent on “experts.” Once again I had to restrain myself from leaping up and shouting “This is bullsh*t.” The only difference between “scientifically advanced” cultures and “primitive” ones is that our “experts” are somewhat more likely to know what they are talking about than their “experts.” But humans, at any level of scientific advancement, will rely on the available “experts” to resolve uncertainties. In fact, a case can be made that human culture creates “experts” in order to be able to rely on them. And we make our “experts” out of the currently available material, regardless of its fallibility. The fallibility may vary; the reliance does not.
And then there’s the Unintended Consequences problem. For instance, Israel encourages some Palestinians to emigrate. Like migrant populations from anyplace, they are most likely to want to immigrate to the United States. Some of them succeed. A lot of them end up moving to the Detroit area. This creates at least one and probably a couple of congressional districts that take some hardline anti-Israel positions, and perhaps move the US Congress as a whole a squinch more in that direction. And, more recently (speaking of public radio), as public radio budgets get cut (even though they have not yet lost all federal funding, which hasn’t been a large part of their budgets in the last decade or so anyway), they find that one of the cheapest ways to get programming their audiences will enjoy is to buy them from the Brits and the Canadians. Which may encourage our “cultural elite” to adopt a more European, or leftist, or blue-state point of view.