Fiction Reading Is Good For the Soul

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post over at Worlds Without End entitled “A Not-So-Novel Way to Read the Book of Mormon.” It reviewed the psychological benefits of reading fiction vs. non-fiction (i.e. narratives/stories vs. straight information) and applied it to reading the Book of Mormon, which Mormons are frequently encouraged to do by Church leaders. Research over the years has found those who read fiction compared to non-fiction tend to develop greater social abilities, changes in personality and emotions, and increased empathy. This is due to readers identifying and empathizing with characters in the novels. The novels act as a kind of social simulation for the mind.

A brand new article in Science continues the trend by demonstrating that reading literature helps readers understand the mental states of others. Such finds are very exciting, in my view. Makes me glad that I started reading fiction again (thanks, Nathaniel). Check out Reason‘s write-up on the article.

The History of the Nobel Prize


From The Washington Post:

• Nobel prizes have been awarded to people from 72 different countries. But more than half all Nobel laureates come from only three countries: the United States, Britain and Germany.

• More than one in every three Nobel laureates is from the United States. Put another way, the United States has 4 percent of the world’s population and 34 percent of its Nobel laureates.

• All of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East combined have only 104 Nobel laureates. These regions hold 81 percent of the world’s population but only 10 percent of its Nobel laureates.

• 82 percent of Nobel laureates are from Western countries (Western Europe, North America, Australia or New Zealand). If you add in Eastern Europe, it’s 90 percent.

• Just over half of all Nobel laureates are from Europe: 54 percent. Of those, most are from Western Europe, which has had 45 percent of all laureates. You can see this in the giant swathe of green in the circle chart above.

• About half of the world’s Nobel laureates are from the Anglosphere: Britain, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

• The second most common native language among Nobel laureates is German; 152 laureates are from German-speaking countries.

• The region with the fewest Nobel laureates per capita is Africa. There is one African Nobel prize per 62 million Africans alive today. By comparison, there is one American Nobel prize per 900,000 Americans alive today.

• The Middle East has had 20 Nobel laureates: 12 Israelis, four Egyptians, one Palestinian, one Iranian, one Turk and one Yemeni. Ironically, it also has the largest proportion of peace prize winners: eight of the 20 Middle Eastern laureates are peace-prize winners.

• The top 10 countries with the most Nobel laureates, in order. Pay attention to how top-heavy this list is; the numbers drop precipitously:

1. United States (347 Nobel laureates)
2. Britain (120)
3. Germany (104)
4. France (65)
5. Sweden (30)
6. Russia (27)
7. Switzerland (26)
8. Canada (23)
9. Austria (22)
10. Italy (20)

What isn’t mentioned is the amount of Jewish recipients: “At least 193 Jews and people of half- or three-quarters-Jewish ancestry have been awarded the Nobel Prize, accounting for 23% of all individual recipients worldwide between 1901 and 2013, and constituting 37% of all US recipients during the same period.”

This is pretty fascinating. Or should I be disturbed with the unequal distribution of Nobel Prizes?

The Homeric Values of “Breaking Bad”

“Now, say my name…You’re Heisenberg…You’re g-damn right.”

After the finale of Breaking Bad, I wrote a brief post at The Slow Hunch entitled “‘Pride Goeth Before Destruction’: Or, Why I Wouldn’t Hesitate to Use “Breaking Bad” in a Sacrament Talk.” I explained the role of pride in Mormon theology and how Walter White’s “spiritual and moral transformation should give us pause.” After reading from Christian author and historian John Dickson’s book Humilitas about Christianity’s influence on the West’s transformation from an honor-shame society to one that sees humility as a virtue, I was pleased to find Alex Knapp at Forbes writing on “The Epic of Heisenberg: Breaking Bad’s Homeric Values.” Definitely worth the read.

Warning: Spoilers.

New Same-Sex Marriage Study: Canada Data

The controversial social scientist Mark Regnerus has a recent post on a new study in the Review of Economics of the Household. The study “reveals that the children of gay and lesbian couples are only about 65 percent as likely to have graduated from high school as the children of married, opposite-sex couples. And gender matters, too: girls are more apt to struggle than boys, with daughters of gay parents displaying dramatically low graduation rates.

Unlike US-based studies, this one evaluates a 20 percent sample of the Canadian census, where same-sex couples have had access to all taxation and government benefits since 1997 and to marriage since 2005.”

Check out the full article. And, as was the case with Regnerus’ studies, let’s not be hasty. As one journalist wrote, “But before we all go get our stones, pitchforks, and kerosene, may I suggest an alternative? Trust science. Don’t bury this study. Embrace it. The evidence Regnerus collected can help all of us rethink our ideas about sexuality and marriage. It can enlighten the right as well as the left.”


Hebrew in the Book of Mormon

The European academic publisher E.J. Brill recently released the multivolume Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics. What’s interesting about this set is that it features two articles by Mormon scholar John Tvedtnes, both of which are about the Book of Mormon:

Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon

Hebrew Names in the Book of Mormon

The articles are brief and provide a reading list of entirely LDS resources, including BYU Studies, Ensign, and publications by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS).

Check them out.

The Importance of Economic Freedom in 6 Graphs

The Fraser Institute recently released its Economic Freedom of the World: 2013 Annual Report, which reveals the continual decline of the U.S. (#2 in 2000, now #17). Some may object to the term “economic freedom,” seeing it only as a pretty-sounding Trojan Horse for the evil bourgeois system of capitalism.

Guess what: it is.

But rhetoric is important (as economist Deirdre McCloskey has explained) and “economic freedom” is, in my view, a more accurate description. And far from living up to its caricature (i.e. a system of power and greed that exploits the poor), economic freedom–as shown by the graphs below–does more to raise the living standards of all involved, rich and poor alike, than any other economic system yet discovered. Descriptions are at the bottom of the graphs.

Read moreThe Importance of Economic Freedom in 6 Graphs