Why do we Procrastinate?

do it - procrastination concept

Emily Farrell

Everyone procrastinates. No one wants to write that essay, or clean the bathroom. If it’s not food, sex or sleep, your body is just not interested. Sure, in the long run you might need to write that essay, to get that degree, to get that job, to earn money to buy food to survive. But your body doesn’t understand, or care, about that. Your body is a thing made in simpler times. It is built for when survival entailed going off to pick some plants to eat, some reproducing and maybe a bit of sleep afterwards. But modern, western lifestyles are a horrible mismatch for this way of living. Imagine giving a caveman a long, boring, task to do such as moving numbers from one column to another (maybe with sticks, it could take a while to explain the concept of computers). Why should he do it? He gets no food from it. He gets no joy from it. Doing this task does not make him any more attractive to cavewomen who might then want to have his babies. It takes a reasonable amount of energy that is better spent in other labours. So why should he do it? To him, the answer is he shouldn’t. And this is the thought process your brain goes through when faced with a task. While the conscious parts of your brain know the real reason for the task, your ancient parts of the brain, which we share with our ancestors and other animals, do not.

Think about it. How do you procrastinate? Making a snack? (means you won’t starve to death) Taking a nap? (means you won’t be too tired to see the tiger of death headed your way) Talking to friends? (maintaining social bonds which one day might lead to you making tiny replicas of yourself vis someone else’s genitals) Watching cat videos? (evolution can’t explain the internet, but taking joy from something which takes away no resources you may have gained from the other tasks means your body agrees to it).

Cleaning your own room is therapeutic and has actually been shown to improve your mood while doing it and afterwards when you’re in your nice clean room. But when it comes to the gross shared bathroom every uni student has encountered, you put it off for longer. You procrastinate away from it. This is because you gain no real benefit from it. It’s not dirty enough to give you diseases (yet), and you don’t spend enough time in it for it to benefit your mental health. If you can’t see an immediate advantage, you won’t do it.

Procrastination is all about cost and benefit and finding the balance between the two. If the immediate payout does not equal or outweigh the energy expenditure required to perform the task, then the inclination to do it will disappear.

Think about this the next time you put something off and do something else instead. Would what you are putting off benefit a caveman? Would he benefit by doing what you are doing now? But don’t listen to your inner caveman. Listen to your inner modern human who wants that essay done, because they know that you really need to do it. Don’t let them in only at the last second to write it. Go and do something productive! Go!

UK Science After Brexit

Sophia Akiva

On the 23rd June 2016, the public voted for Brexit: Britain’s exit from the European Union, an event which will inevitably affect the careers of scientists both in the UK and the European Union. It is difficult to predict what the long-term outcome of Brexit will be and many of the arguments supporting Britain leaving the EU were based on speculation rather than fact.

Eight months on, what changes have already been made and what can we extrapolate to form a hypothesis for the future? There are many factors to be considered but today we focus purely on science.

Open communications and data sharing are vital to scientific progress. The European Union is currently working on a cloud network that aims to unite businesses and public services as part of a single data infrastructure. More specifically, it hopes to open the European Open Science Cloud specifically to benefit researchers and scientific professionals across all disciplines.

This enterprise requires an investment of 6.7 billion euros, and there are many who believe that these funds could be put to better use elsewhere, because cloud systems such as Dropbox and Google Drive are sufficient. Yet the greatest strides of discovery are often made through collaboration and exchange of knowledge so an investment in a shared cloud is bound to boost our progress.

The government’s attitude to the referendum result has been to seek out the best outcome for British researchers, but it is important to consider what we ourselves can offer in return. Many prominent scientists support us remaining in the EU because of our contribution to global progress. In a letter to the government signed by 13 Nobel Prize winners, they consider the EU to be the “biggest scientific powerhouse in the world,” stressing that losing EU funding would put British research in “jeopardy.”

Many of the promises made by the Leave campaign were based on the Swiss and Norwegian Models – countries that whilst not members of the EU, are still very prosperous. Switzerland has carried out a lot of ground-breaking scientific research and has become a hub for particle physics due to its hosting of CERN. Perhaps it is because of this that Switzerland is still a member of the European Horizon 2020 science and technology funding scheme?

However, the level of openness in data exchange between Switzerland and other countries in the scheme may be affected by a recent referendum in Switzerland regarding the free movement of people. There is hope that once Britain does leave, we too may still have access to research and information being shared across the European Union. Considering Theresa May’s Hard Brexit plan, though, we can’t be too sure.

The Prime Minister has said that we can achieve great things, and has promised that a further £2 billion is to be invested in scientific research every year until 2020. The funding aims to strengthen the UK’s position in leading fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. It is anticipated that by supporting research and development in Britain, we will be able to attract more innovators and investors in technology, providing a steady long term solution to scientific funding and securing Britain’s status as a powerhouse of its own.

Let us hope that the only market not affected by us leaving the EU is the one of information exchange.

On Good and Evil

Rowan Jaines

The concept of evil is often understood to be the polar opposite of being morally good. Marcus Singer referred to the term “evil” as the worst possible term of criticism imaginable. He argued that evil is a human phenomenon since evil deeds must flow from the will to do something evil. In other words, Singer claims that if only humans are moral agents, then it must follow that only humans can perform acts of evil.

Perhaps because of the way in which morality has been entwined with religion and superstition over history, there are branches of thought that state that concept of evil is problematic due to its association with dark spirits and its subsequent denial of explanatory and contextualising factors. Critics of the concept of evil see this denial as dangerous when used in moral, political and legal contexts.

Some, however, believe the term evil is very useful and important in understanding the human world. Back in 2006, Philip Zimbardo, of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, claimed that “it’s time we [psychologists] asked the big questions like the nature of evil.”. In his famous talk, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, he claimed that the right conditions, often conditions designed to elicit obedience as we see in military situations, can create the potential for evil actions in any and all human beings.

The debate over whether evil is something some are born with or a potential we all have within us has raged through the centuries, however, in the early 1990’s the murder of two-year-old James Bulger rendered that question newsworthy.

In 1993, two-year-old James Bulger was led away from a shopping centre by two ten-year-old boys Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, who proceeded to torture and murder him. Bulger suffered so many injuries that none could be isolated as the fatal blow. Terry Eagleton, critical theorist, uses the Bulger case as a way to illustrate our contradictory thinking with regards the nature of evil in his book On Evil.  Like Zimbardo, Eagleton is firm that evil does exist, following Augustine and Aquinas in seeing evil as an “absence” rather than any kind of object.

Both boys in the Bulger case came from difficult backgrounds. Thompson’s mother was an alcoholic who frequently left her seven children alone at home, whilst Venables’ mother suffered from severe depression and repeatedly hit him. Accounts state he was afraid of her, arranging his toys on his bed for protection. It’s very common for those who commit unspeakable crimes to have had abusive and neglectful childhoods, but how can we understand this when equally some who have had loving childhoods still commit unspeakable acts?

It may be a question of empathy. Although for most people the development of empathy is something that begins in infanthood, both developmental trauma and genetic abnormalities can mean that a person develops into adulthood with a lack of empathy. The ability to imagine another person’s experience is a cornerstone of what we imagine it is to be human and takes a central role in much of our moral coding. This makes more sense of Singer’s claim that evil is the worst insult one can level at another person, since the will to perform an evil act indicates a lack of humanity. This also dovetails with Zimbardo’s argument. His examples of conditions which are seen to encourage acts of evil are all conditions where people are stripped of their individuality and their humanity.

It makes sense to consider that although we all have the capability to make moral choices, making a socially responsible decision may be more difficult for people with genetic or developmental barriers to empathy. Considering the concept of evil in light of all we have learnt in modern neuroscience, more shades of grey appear and allow us to develop a more subtle and nuanced understanding of phenomena that previously we needed strong terms such as “evil” to describe. Here we have an excellent example of the power that modern science has in transforming age old moral debates and hopefully allowing us to develop more empathy even towards those who have performed “evil” atrocities in order to understand and grow as a species.