Author: Adam Perkins

Science as Art

I earn my living by designing and running experiments that probe the biological basis of personality, so it might seem that I have more of a claim to the label of scientist than people with other professions. I’m not so sure: beneath its veneer of precision, science is a messy, wrong-turn-ridden journey of discovery that is little different from an artist’s struggle to capture, for example, the beauty of the Provençal countryside. Just like the artist never quite portrays the beauty of that landscape, the scientist never quite arrives at the truth as to how nature works — but, like the artist, he or she gets closer over time. Since each of our lives is a messy, wrong-turn-ridden journey of discovery, are we all scientists/artists? In Daniel Dennett’s book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking he wrote: Every organism, whether a bacterium or a member of Homo sapiens, has a set of things in the world that matter to it and which it (therefore) needs to discriminate and anticipate as best it can. So yes …

Elite Opinion vs the Wisdom of Crowds: The Intelligentsia’s Tendency to Get Things Wrong

The intelligentsia have a reputation for being out of touch and it’s easy to see why, given their stereotypical tendency to live in sheltered, affluent neighbourhoods. Therefore it should be no surprise if we turn on the TV news and see prominent, well-paid economists displaying a more relaxed attitude to uncontrolled, mass migration than those of us who live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods where the most dysfunctional migrants usually end up being accommodated. Likewise, it is only natural to expect heavily-guarded high court judges to have a more lenient attitude towards criminals than those of us who live in rougher, less protected localities. But the detachment of the urban elite is more than just a matter of living somewhere posh — it is also a matter of culture, as noted by George Orwell in 1941: ‘This is the really important fact about the English intelligentsia — their severance from the common culture of the country’. The cultural detachment of the metropolitan elite from the people was recently highlighted in the run up to the Brexit referendum, as a …

Authoritarianism is a Matter of Personality, Not Politics

There are people who are attracted to the prospect of oppressing others. Authoritarian personality characteristics form a continuum, from low to high, in the human population1. This discovery means that approximately 16% of the population possesses a personality profile that is significantly more authoritarian than average. As with so many breakthroughs in personality research, the person who initiated scientific explorations of this topic was Hans Eysenck. Eysenck’s interest in the personality predictors of political extremism was perhaps forged by his experience of growing up in pre-war Germany2. It was, therefore, a central irony of Eysenck’s life that he fled from Germany to escape fascism in the 1930’s, only to fall foul of communism once in Britain3. In a convergence of life and science, this irony did not escape Eysenck’s attention and he began researching the personality correlates of political extremism4.The crucial insight stemming from Eysenck’s work is that the specific flavour of extremism that people with highly authoritarian personalities support is immaterial. They merely gravitate towards whatever regime will give them a flag of convenience …