Cam’s Reads: Dismay, Courage, and Sensory Feasts

What helps you understand your experience of the world? The behavioral sciences are one great way, but they’re not the only way. In the second installment of “Cam’s Reads,” I selected several pieces from the past month to help complement and expand upon our usual behavioral-science buffet. (Read last month’s here).

Committing to Courage
By Eric Holthaus

As students of behavioral science, we know that climate change is perhaps the wicked problem of our time. The problem is psychologically distant, incomprehensibly huge, and cognitively dissonant. In the face of such a problem, it’s easy to feel despair.

But as students of behavioral science, we also know that despair may well compound the problem. Instead, commit to courage.

In the weeks since the IPCC report on global warming, the piece I’ve returned to most is a Twitter thread from Eric Holthaus, a journalist at Grist. It has reminded me that there’s opportunity for human greatness in such a moment, too.

“Why Two Chefs in Small-Town Utah Are Battling President Trump”
By Kathryn Schulz
The New Yorker

One model of environmental courage is this story about two chefs in middle-of-nowhere Utah who have improbably established a thriving gourmet restaurant.

The story holds a mirror to the natural world and finds that it reflects us: “It is terrifying how quickly something can be destroyed, how fragile a seemingly robust system can turn out to be. Institutions that appear solid can crack, protections can decay, democratic norms can erode faster than riverbanks. A nation can seem as durable yet be as vulnerable as its physical terrain. One of the most beautiful things about being in Grand Staircase is that, out in the deep middle of it, with all of prehistory underfoot and twelve-billion-year-old starlight overhead, the world feels enduring and eternal. But that is, of course, an illusion. All things change. The only question is whether they change for the better.”

“Treasures from the Color Archive”
By Simon Schama
The New Yorker

How vivid can blue be? “Klein International Blue, as he named the pigment—rolled out flat or pimpled, with saturated sponges embedded in the paint surface—turned my eyeballs inside out, rods and cones jiving with joy.”

I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced a color quite this strongly—the visual equivalent of biting into a lemon—but after reading this piece about a color archive in Boston, I now know that I want to. Even if you’ve never taken an art class or considered the mood of your wallpaper, this piece can help you appreciate the age-old drive to dazzle our eyes.

“A Blind Man’s Trip Will Change the Way You Think About Safaris”
By Ryan Knighton

If the previous piece paints the world in Technicolor, this one suggests how blinding that can be. Ryan Knighton, who is blind, takes a trip onto a safari and reveals a trip rich with other senses: the smell of an elephant scraping off a suit of mud, the steel-wool feel of rhino poo, the taste of a mopani leaf so high in tannins his tongue curdles. It’s a vibrant reminder of how many ways there are to attend to the world.