Ryan Nichols: The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake and Its Cultural Aftershocks

Lisbon is probably best known today as one of the cultural capitals of Europe, but it is also remembered as the victim of one of the deadliest and most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in European history. The disaster struck on 1st November 1755, registering an estimated 8.5-9.0 on the modern moment magnitude scale. It triggered fires and a tsunami, in the end claiming as many as 100,000 lives. The catastrophe was not just a literal earthquake, though; it was also a cultural earthquake, as it brought simmering religious tensions to the fore, threw Portugal’s imperial ambitions into disarray and even arguably changed the course of the Enlightenment in the latter half of the 18th century.

Today on The Provocateur I interview Ryan Nichols, associate professor of philosophy at California State University Fullerton, to discuss the cultural aftershocks of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. We explore the historical context of Lisbon and Portugal before the earthquake; the immediate effects of the disaster on Portuguese politics and society; discussions of the earthquake by 18th-century philosophers including Voltaire and Rousseau; how Ryan’s research in the cognitive science of religion can help explain the aftermath of the quake; and the wider cultural reverberations of this episode for the history and philosophy of science.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Araujo, A. C. (2006) ‘The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 – Public Distress and Political Propaganda’, E-journal of Portuguese History 4(1), article 3.

Braun, T. and J. Radner (eds.) (2005) The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755: Representations and Reactions. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation.

Chester, D. K. (2001) ‘The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake’, Progress in Physical Geography 25(3), pp. 363-383.

Dynes, R. R. (2000) ‘The Dialogue between Voltaire and Rousseau on the Lisbon Earthquake: The Emergence of a Social Science View’, International Journal of Emergencies and Disasters 18(1), pp. 97-115.

Festinger, L. et al. (1956) When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group That Predicted the End of the World. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Gutscher, M-A. (2004) ‘What Caused the Great Lisbon Earthquake?’ Science 305(5688), pp. 1247-1248.

Kelemen, D. (1999) ‘Why Are Rocks Pointy?: Children’s Preference for Teleological Explanations of the Natural World’, Developmental Psychology 35, pp. 1440-1453.

Marques, J. O. A. (2005) ‘The Paths of Providence: Voltaire and Rousseau on the Lisbon Earthquake’, Cadernos de Historia e Filosofia da Ciencia 3(15), pp. 33-57.

Neiman, S. (2004) Evil in Modern Thought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (For a critique see Nichols 2014, below.)

Nichols, R. (2014) ‘Re-evaluating the Effects of the Lisbon Earthquake on Eighteenth-Century Minds: How Cognitive Science of Religion Improves Intellectual History with Hypothesis Testing Methods’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 82(4), pp. 970-1009.

Pereira, A. S. (2009) ‘The Opportunity of a Disaster: The Economic Impact of the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake’, The Journal of Economic History 69(2), pp. 466-499.

Rousseau, J-J. (1967) ‘Letter to Voltaire, 18 August 1756’, in Correspondance Complète de Jean Jacques Rousseau, vol. 4, ed. J. A. Leigh, trans. R. Spang, 37–50. Geneva, Switzerland: Voltaire Foundation.

Voltaire (2000 [1759]) ‘Candide, or Optimism’, in Candide and Related Texts, ed. and trans. D.Wootton, 1–83. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing.

Chris Foye: Housing and Happiness

There is rarely a moment when house prices are not in the news and many working people can relate to the experience of buying that first house. Housing can be incredibly personal because it reflects to some extent your lifestyle and life choices, but it also serves as a marker of social status. The difference between living in a council flat and living in a semi-detached house with a garden and a garage tells you many things about differences in income, wealth and class. But the differences in size of living space between the council flat and the semi-detached could also be important because they impact on your sense of subjective happiness. This clearly has implications for urban planning but also for other areas of public policy such as health, education and social care.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Chris Foye, who has just completed his PhD in Real Estate and Planning at Henley Business School at the University of Reading, to explore the relationship between housing and happiness. Among other things, we discuss the reasons why it is important to examine the relationship in the first place, the difficulty of measuring people’s happiness or subjective well-being and why home ownership is so popular in the UK.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Foye, C. (2017) ‘The Relationship Between Size of Living Space and Subjective Well-Being‘, Journal of Happiness Studies 18(2), pp. 427-461.

Frank, R. H. (2007) Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Layard, R. (2011) Happiness: Lessons from a new science. London: Penguin.

Nakazato, N., U. Schimmack and S. Oishi (2011) ‘Effect of changes in living conditions on well-being: A prospective top–down bottom–up model’, Social Indicators Research 100(1), pp. 115-135.

Brian Earp: The Ethics of High-Tech Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy

While prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation is still widespread throughout the world, in recent decades laws have been enacted in various countries banning so-called conversion therapy: (typically) psychological attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to exclusively heterosexual. Advances in neuroscience in the not-too-distant future could mean that conversion therapy could be delivered in a ‘high-tech’ manner, for example by administering a drug that could rewire the neurochemical signals in our brains.

This possibility brings with it a raft of ethical issues and today on The Provocateur I talk to Brian Earp, Research Fellow at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at Oxford University, to broach these issues. We discuss the possible harms of conversion therapy and whether neuroenhancement-based conversion therapy in particular produces any distinctive harms, explore arguments in favour of the practice and touch on some policy implications.

You can listen to part one of the podcast here: 

Part two is here: 

Note: In the broadcast I mention a second episode with Brian (discussing female and male circumcision), but unfortunately this has been postponed to next month due to scheduling issues. Watch this space!

Further Reading:

Cruz, D. B. (1999) ‘Controlling Desires: Sexual Orientation Conversion and the Limits of Knowledge and Law‘, Southern California Law Review 72, pp. 1297-1400.

Earp, B. D., A. Sandberg and J. Savulescu (2014) ‘Brave New Love: The Threat of High-Tech “Conversion” Therapy and the Bio-Oppression of Sexual Minorities‘, AJOB Neuroscience 5(1), pp. 4-12.

Gupta, K. (2012) ‘Protecting Sexual Diversity: Rethinking the Use of Neurotechnological Interventions to Alter Sexuality’, AJOB Neuroscience 3(3), pp. 24-28.

Haldeman, D. C. (2002) ‘Gay Rights, Patient Rights: The Implications of Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy‘, Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 33(3), pp. 260-264.

Levy, J. T. (2005) ‘Sexual orientation, exit and refuge’, in Eisenberg, A. and J. Spinner-Halev (eds.) Minorities within Minorities: Equality, Rights and Diversity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Okin, S. M. (1999) ‘Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?’ in Cohen, J. et al. (eds.) Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Sandel, M. (2007) The Case Against Perfection. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Shidlo, A. et al. (eds.) (2001) Sexual Conversion Therapy: Ethical, Clinical and Research Perspectives. New York, London and Oxford: The Haworth Medical Press.

Tozer, E. E. and J. A. Hayes (2004) ‘Why Do Individuals Seek Conversion Therapy? The Role of Religiosity, Internalized Homonegativity, and Identity Development‘, The Counseling Psychologist 32, pp. 716-740.

Daniel Kharlas: The Power of Meditation

Many of you will probably have come across meditation and mindfulness programmes at some point in your careers, especially those of you who are (former) students. But one of the problems with modern meditative practices in the West, argues Daniel Kharlas, is the fact that they are mostly depersonalized and so lack the ability to give patients the individual empowerment they need to change their lives for the better.

In this episode, I talk to Daniel, a masters student in Psychology at the University of Western Ontario in Canada to discuss the power of meditation. We discuss the effects of meditation on social and psychological wellbeing and the ways in which the digital revolution is transforming meditation through the rise of personalized apps. Daniel also offers some personal tips on being a better meditator and even coaches me through a short mindfulness routine you can try at home.

You can listen to part one of the podcast here:

Part two is here:

Further Reading:

Goyal, M. et al. (2014) ‘Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis’, JAMA Internal Medicine 174(3), pp. 367-368.

Kharlas, D. A. and P. Frewen (2016) ‘Trait mindfulness correlates with individual differences in multisensory imagery vividness’, Personality and Individual Differences 93, pp. 44-50.

Tang, Y-Y., B. K. Hölzel and M. J. Posner (2015) ‘The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation’, Nature Reviews Neuroscience 16, pp. 213-225.