Occupy the Future...Is there room for laughter?

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This week began with the news that for the next two weeks Stanford Professors will be writing daily articles for the Boston Review, in response to the Occupy movement’s call for social justice.  Getting out in front of the national debate, Occupy the Future will focus on the inequities that make it more difficult to provide equal opportunities for all.  For example, this Friday Dec. 2nd Paul and Anne Ehrlich ask how the short-term profits of corporations can continue to drive policy, when the scientific consensus is that environmental catastrophe is the likely outcome?

In my interview of Paul Ehrlich he focused on our failure to convince and persuade the public to act, where action is necessary to prevent such a catastrophe: "The problem the Human Biology Program faces, and that we all face, is that human behavior is not reacting to what science knows...So the issue is really fully in the realm of the social sciences and the humanities. How can the message be changed?  We have proven that telling people what the science tells us does not lead to behavioral change. That's why we need people in the humanities, for instance, to develop narratives that will help convince people. That's why we need artists involved.”

Climate Change epitomizes this problem, because the scientific consensus has already convinced both the public in many sectors and even politicians, at least in many other nations.  At the same time the actions required to mitigate climate change may be so painful in the short term to defeat our purpose.  This conflicted realm, where intentions and actions are at odds, can seem hopeless but artists, who use laughter to expose these contradictions, keep us thinking of solutions without depressing and defeating us. Is there any place for laughter in the Humbio message?

I’ll think about this question some more next week, but to end this week’s blog on a more positive note, I want to introduce my favorite program WNYC’s Radio Lab and my favorite hour-long podcast on Laughter.  If you have never heard Radio Lab before, you will be surprised at how many scientists are given a voice in these radio stories, alongside historians of science, science writers, and even a few of the subjects (human and other) of scientific experiments.  Nathan Wolfe was in the last show this month called Patient Zero, and Robert Sapolsky has been one of its most frequent contributors.  You can also find Anne Fernald, recent alum Tom McFadden, and other Stanford Faculty, including Lera Broditsky,  Deborah Gordon, and Allan Reiss among its guests.

Last modified Wed, 26 Jun, 2013 at 5:00