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Barbara Oakley

School of Engineering and Computer Science
Oakland University

Why People Behave Badly

Friday, September 5, 2009
Lecture Hall 8, 4:00 PM

Abstract

One of the most difficult problems in psychology, psychiatry, sociology, social work, philosophy, religious studies, criminology, and history, is understanding why some people intentionally inflect emotional and physical pain on others. Such intentional pain occurs not only on a local level–within families, with “friends,” or in work situations, but also on a national and international scale–witness Hitler’s Holocaust, Stalin’s notorious purges, and Chairman Mao’s knowing slaughter of tens of millions. Neuroscience is providing the potential for a revolution in our understanding of why “bad” people do what they do. Professor Barbara Oakley uses evolutionary theory–as well as an unusually adventurous background that has earned her the nickname of a “female Indiana Jones,” to knit together disparate pieces of research that point toward answers to some of the most compelling questions in the social sciences and humanities.

Militant Atheism as Fad: Is Religion Really a Source of Evil? (Noon Talk)

The latest trend in publishing involves books that promote atheism, such as Christopher Hitchens’ bestselling “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” and Richard Dawkins “The God Delusion.” These books are bestsellers in part because they support the “religion as poison” meme that is popular among some groups. But just how valid is this meme? This informal talk will explore the idea that organized religion simply provides a social hierarchy that both good and bad (i.e. self-serving and malevolent) people can rise in. And as with any social structure—politics, business, even academia—when a bad person rises to the top, troublesome results can occur.

Biography

Professor Barbara Oakley’s work at Oakland University involves bioengineering in many different contexts. As a recent Vice President of the IEEE-Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, as well as the co-editor of Careers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, to be published next month by Springer, Dr. Oakley has worked hard to help build a public understanding of the bioengineering profession. Her research work has involved the effects of electric fields on cells, and more recently, investigations of the complex relationship between neurocircuitry and social behavior. Dr. Oakley has an eclectic background. Among many adventures, she has worked for several years as a Russian translator on Soviet trawlers in the Bering Sea during the height of the Cold War; she met her husband while working as a radio operator at the South Pole station in Antarctica; and she has gone from private to regular Army Captain in the U.S. military. Dr. Oakley’s critically acclaimed, tongue-in-cheek titled book Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend takes readers on a witty, provocative exploration of the darkest recesses of the human personality.

Readings

  1. Introductory material and Chapter 8 of Evil Genes.

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