i'm headed to cali this weekend to do some events for the dickinson advancement office. i'll be talking about the film 'happy', which is about positive psychology (about which i am certainly skeptical). it's the item that's sort of supposed to draw the college together; the director is coming to campus etc. i will say that in my view the thing is profoundly wretched: superficial, boring, depressing, with completely incompetent or just non-existent intellectual underpinnings. amazingly, it is a series both of cliches and contradictions. one good indication of the intellectual level of this material: dan gilbert, the harvard prof who instructs you on your happiness in the film, now uses the same canned little raps to shill for prudential insurance. also, i really think that the existence of dan gilbert raises the question of what harvard university is for.
seriously, you'd think these psychheads just discovered happiness yesterday, and though they are good at data entry, they are terrible at defining terms, leaving their research without any actual subject-matter. (on the other hand, philosophy - with which no one in the film shows any acquaintance - has been grappling with the question for 2500 years.) the research is based on reports of 'subjective satisfaction', while every single characterization of happy people (in the film, e.g.) makes happiness a matter of external relations: families, communities, objects, and so on. of course the film just goes neuro in the most useless hackneyed way, shifting to cartoon neurons: happiness is dopamine bursts, which is completely incompatible with anything anyone says about what actually makes people happy, and which also makes these guys' account of happiness identical to their account of the effects of cocaine. well, that's partly because they have absolutely no notion of what they're looking for, which makes it ridiculous when they claim to have found it. as per usual in social and in other sciences, it's the initial set of terms and concepts that does all the work. but scientists are unbelievably bad at figuring out how to elucidate these words and concepts. if you fuck that up, everything you build on top of it will collapse if someone raises an eyebrow.