1. I can’t stop my leg! A fascinating post on Psychology Today about the groundbreaking research of neuroscientist Benjamin Libet into the area conscious choice/willpower, entitled “Free Won’t,” ht JD:
Given our common sense notion of how our actions work, we might expect that we first have a conscious awareness of an intention or urge to act, then the brain activates the motor area that sends a signal to the muscles of the wrist or fingers. The surprising thing is this is not what Libet found.
Surprisingly, the participants’ reports of their conscious awareness of the urge to move were only 200 ms prior to the electrical activity recorded in the muscle. Brain activity preceded conscious awareness by about a third of a second! What does this imply?
The brain unconsciously initiates the process of “voluntary” action. Subsequently we become aware of this. On the basis of these results, some researchers concluded that free will is an illusion.
Libet concluded that participants were using conscious choice to veto the muscle flex at the last moment… We have free will to abort an action. So, we may better think of volitional action in this case not as free will, but as “free won’t.” We can stop an action initiated by our brain nonconsciously.
Mr. Outlier himself, Malcom Gladwell, discusses the same topic here. It would appear that the wind is shifting in our direction…
2. Not being much of a soccer guy, I had not heard of Zlatan Ibrahimovic until Slate published its “The Winningest Loser” profile of him earlier this week. Widely acknowledged as one of the best soccer players in the world, Ibrahimovic’s confounding personality appears to be exposing, or at least complicating, the projection/worship/imputation dynamic that fuels so much fandom, sports or otherwise. The simul iustus et peccator-like charisma being described is almost enough to make one want to tune in. Almost, ht AZ:
One of the characteristic anxieties of sports culture is the tension between virtue and entertainment—a putatively old-fashioned ideal of discipline, moral instruction, and self-sacrifice against a narrative craving for theater, color, and flamboyant self-promotion… From the mid-60s on, on both sides of the Atlantic, the games we watched would be populated by charismatic bigmouths and noble warriors of duty, with nobody in between.
…the real trouble for Ibra is that his particular style of arrogance leaves him nowhere on the sliding scale that determines an athlete’s cultural identity. You know how this works. The media, which creates the appetite for big personalities, also punishes the players that feed it… The normal redemption narrative for a player who’s been villainized for his ego runs through “passion” and hard work.
Ibrahimović wins championships without exhibiting any of the virtues that we’ve collectively decided to believe championships exist to corroborate. And so he’s punished twice—first for not being stereotypically heroic, and second for not being stereotypically villainous… The irony is that Ibrahimović’s indifference to all this macronarrative folly is one of the qualities that make him so exciting to watch. It’s his audacity, finally, that makes his fans love him, no matter how absurd he becomes.
3. It has pained my heart to read all the drubbings Cars 2 has received this week from the critics. While Pixar has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt, still, with the notable exception of Andrew O’Hehir at Salon, the forecast does not look good. Dana Stevens at Slate calls it “confusing and loud,” while A.O Scott of the NY Times had this to say:
As if to prove that certain groups have escaped the protection of political correctness, the Southern-fried Mater is dumb, excitable and puppy-dog loyal, his idiot-savant automotive expertise grounded in humble, blue-collar simplicity. I doubt anyone will protest much, but Pixar has now found its redneck Jar-Jar Binks. Such a proud moment.
Perhaps after the exquisite silences in “Wall-E” and “Up,” the Pixar team wanted to open up the valves, kick up some dust and make some pop culture noise, leaving the poetry to someone else. Or maybe the company was tired of turning out one masterpiece after another and decided to coast for a while. “Cars 2” is certainly built to move merchandise — this series may surpass even the “Toy Story” films as an effective advertisement for licensed playthings — but it is notably lacking in soul or sublimity. [ed. note: Ouch!]
Terrence Malick’s new film is a form of prayer. It created within me a spiritual awareness, and made me more alert to the awe of existence. I believe it stands free from conventional theologies, although at its end it has images that will evoke them for some people. It functions to pull us back from the distractions of the moment, and focus us on mystery and gratitude.
5. Following up on our Super 8 piece, Charlie Rose sat down with J.J. Abrams last week and they hit on some of our favorite themes, e.g. the precarious process of identity formation, the mechanics of heroism (and love) and, um, David Brooks. If you can’t watch it all, fast forward to the 22 minute mark, ht NM.
6. Several must-read bits of theology hit the web this week. Tullian Tchividjian posted Elyse Fitzpatrick’s inspired Screwtape-like “An Open Letter to Mr. Grace-Loving Antinomian” over at the Gospel Coalition. Needless to say, folks are up in arms… Reboot Christianity has a marvelous article on Spiritual Entropy and Self-Help Christianity. And last but certainly not least, Chuck Collins came clean about his biggest regret.
7. In television, The Killing ended and boy do I feel like a fool for initially recommending it. Meredith Blake at the A/V Club points out the many, many reasons why the finale was so bad. Game of Thrones also concluded its first season, and if there’s any emotional depth to the series, they’re clearly saving it for season two… But I haven’t given up hope – all this set-up could really go somewhere. Finally, a great article entitled “Animated Intelligence” touches at length on the South Park Mormonism episode (which I prefer to the musical). For the religiously-themed Futurama episode they mention, “Godfellas,” look no further, ht CG: