The Robin & Boom Show #12 – With Mark Weisman on Empathy, Technology, and EQ (Part 1)

Robin and Jason are joined by Mark Weisman to discuss some of the ways digital technology is eroding skills in empathy and emotional intelligence (EQ). Mark Weisman contributes to this discussion from his perspective working for years in the tech industry. In this podcast you will learn the difference between “emotional empathy” and “cognitive empathy”, and why EQ is central to human flourishing. You will also learn what the latest brain science shows about the corrosive effect of too much screen-time, particularly in brain regions associated with emotional maturity, introspection, expression recognition and emotional regulation. (For more on this topic, visit out emotional intelligence archives.)

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The Black Hole of Information

From Nicholas Carr’s, Utopia is Creepy and Other Provocations:

Wikipedia provides a good example of the self-reinforcing power of the web’s centripetal force. The popular online encyclopedia is less the sum of human knowledge than the black hole of human knowledge. A vast exercise in cut-and-past paraphrasing (it explicitly bans original thinking), Wikipedia first sucks in content from other sites, then it sucks in links, then it sucks in search results, then it sucks in readers. And because it prevents search engines from taking account of its outbound links to the sources of its articles, through the use of ‘no follow’ tags, it reinforces its hegemony over search results. Light comes in but doesn’t go out. One of the untold stories of Wikipedia is the way it has siphoned traffic from smaller specialized sites, like the excellent Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, even though those sites often have better information about the topics they cover. Wikipedia articles have become the default external link for many creators of web content, not because Wikipedia is the best source but because it’s the best-known source and, generally, it’s ‘good enough.’ Wikipedia is the lazy man’s link, and we’re all lazy men, except for those of us who are lazy women.

The Health Benefits of Wine

I recently discovered Gisela Kreglinger’s work through an interview that Ken Myers did with her for the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Most of Kreglinger’s scholarly work has been on wine and George MacDonald (a strange but appropriately fitting juxtaposition). In reading Kreglinger’s book The Spirituality of Wine, I was particularly fascinated by her discussion about the health benefits of having a daily glass of wine. In the quotation that follows I have had to remove the footnotes referencing peer-reviewed studies and medical research.

“Serge Renaud had studied the relationship between moderate wine-drinking and low-rate cardiovascular disease (diseases of the heart and blood vessel system). This study revealed that the French had a much lower rate of cardiovascular disease than that of other industrialized countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. In most countries the high consumption of saturated fats is positively related to an increased risk of heart disease. Paradoxically, this tendency is not true in France: though the French have a high intake of saturated fat (they love their cheeses) and smoke cigarettes, they nonetheless have a low mortality rate from heart disease. Today this finding is referred to as the “French paradox.” Renaud found that the French drink a moderate amount of wine with their meals daily (they also eat and drink more slowly). Scientific studies revealed that the consumption of alcohol at the level of consumption in France (approximately one to two glasses of wine a day) can reduce the risk of heart disease by at least 40 percent. Renaud suggests that wine drunk in moderation may be one of the most efficient “drugs” to prevent heart disease.

Since then, many scientific studies have confirmed Renaud’s findings and suggest that the moderate consumption of any kind of alcohol (1-2 drinks per day) can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by an average of 30-35 percent in comparison to nondrinkers. Given that cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in many industrialized countries, especially in the United States, this medical finding is exceedingly important. Strokes, which constitute one form of cardiovascular disease, are the third-leading cause of death and a major cause of disability in the United States. A daily glass of wine drunk in a leisurely way can significantly reduce the risk of stroke. This is good news indeed. Studies around the world have shown that moderate drinkers tend to have a lower mortality rate than either nondrinkers or heavy drinkers. Heavy drinkers and binge drinking, on the other hand, increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.


From Writer to Wayfarer: A Day in the Life of Robin

When people learn that I am a writer, the main question they ask me is, “Do you ever get writer’s block?”

Even though I have been asked this question dozens of times, it still always catches me off guard.

I would prefer to be able to answer questions like, “Have you ever had a book published?” or “how do you locate your clients?” These questions might lead to interesting conversations. But no, they always want to know what I do when I get writer’s block.

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Coming to Jesus in Utter Dearth of Feelings

The Victorian novelist, theologian and fantasy writer, George MacDonald (1824-1905), suffered much during his life. Providing for eleven children was always a great weight on his mind, even after his books began to sell. Witnessing the death of four of his children was even harder. MacDonald also experienced physical suffering, struggling all his life with eczema, asthma and bronchitis. Inclined towards a melancholy temperament, MacDonald often experienced periods of intense doubt, depression and dryness.

Throughout all these trials, MacDonald retained a childlike trust in God, believing that His Heavenly Father was using everything that happened to him—including the challenging circumstances—to make him more like Jesus. This perspective helped MacDonald to see his periods of spiritual dryness are actually gifts sent for the perfecting of his faith. “That man is perfect in faith” he once wrote, “who can come to God in the utter dearth of his feelings and desires, without a glow or an aspiration, with the weight of low thoughts, failures, neglects, and wandering forgetfulness, and say to Him, ‘Thou art my refuge.’”

Further Reading

Presentation at George MacDonald Gathering

My friend, Ollie Perry, recently uploaded a video he took from when I spoke at the George MacDonald Gold Country Gathering 2018. The purpose of this gathering was to launch my father’s new biography of MacDonald, A Writer’s Life, and to celebrate the release of The Cullen Collection. I spoke about my own experiences growing up with a writer as a father, and the important role that George MacDonald’s books have played in my own Christian life. I was joined by my friend Dave Hiatt who spoke about the spiritual potency of MacDonald’s imaginative vision, and MacDonald’s relationship with Charles Dodgson, the author of Alice in Wonderland.

Further Reading

Functional Nominalism and Contemporary Political Discourse

I wanted to expand on some themes that Jason and I talked explored (albeit tangentially) back in the second episode of our podcast.

In this show I observed that in America today we are involved in the futile act of attempting to construct various political philosophies without reference to more foundational philosophical and anthropological questions.

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Cholesterol and Patient Autonomy

Within contemporary medical discourse, the two most important ethical axioms are “choice” and “patient autonomy.” Even with issues that we might expect to be animated by broader ethical considerations–for example, life and death issues like abortion and euthanasia–there is a large body of thought which truncates discourse on these questions to “choice” and “patient autonomy.”

This being the case, I want to know why the principles of choice and patient autonomy are thrown out the window when it comes to needing to take statin drugs to lower cholesterol. In particular, when doctors tell their patients that they need to take statins to lower cholesterol, are they also letting their patients know that there is a vibrant medical debate about the health and efficacy of statins? Are doctors letting their patients know that not all practitioners consider high cholesterol to be bad, and that many consider cholesterol to be correlated with heart disease rather than causative of it? Do doctors give high-cholesterol patients all the information (both sides of the argument) so they can make informed decisions for themselves? We all know that the answer is no. When it comes to high cholesterol most doctors prefer to keep their patients in ignorance that there even is a vibrant debate within the medical community.

Further Reading


Don’t Take Short-Cuts With Your Teenagers

From “The Robin & Boom Show Episode 3

“…a lot of parents with traditional Christian values are increasingly unhopeful about being able to pass those values on to the next generation… And one of the things we’ve noticed is that when parents feel pessimistic about their chances of success, the temptation can be to take short-cuts and to settle for getting our children to assent to the beliefs and lifestyle choices that reflect our values without actually helping them to develop the type of critical thinking and thoughtful disposition that’s necessary for them to really make those values their own. It’s a lot easier to settle for the intermediate goal of just getting our children to tick the right box, to parrot back our traditional values, instead of actually inculcating within them the type of attentive and thoughtful and engaged and reflective disposition that’s necessary if those values are going to become part of who they are. And so essentially, we develop a kind of tribalism where we make the children feel that it’s not okay to question the tribe, or we may use control and manipulation to shut down critical discussion. And of course, then what happens is that the children go away to college and become exposed to another tribe – say, something like social Marxism – and because they haven’t been taught to ask questions, they just become like sheep to the slaughter.”

Further Reading

The Beauty of Critical Thinking Skills

In Episode 4 of “The Robin and Boom Show,” I observed that our goal as parents is not just to help our children develop critical thinking skills, but to help them grasp the beauty of critical thinking. Here’s what I said.

“…we can show the beauty of critical thinking to our children if critical thinking is seen and taught and lived out as a subset of wisdom. It’s very possible to, and indeed necessary, to show our children that wisdom is beautiful. This comes across in the wisdom tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures where wisdom is portrayed as a beautiful woman and with metaphors that show that wisdom is not just the right thing to do – it’s not just the right thing to do to go and get wisdom – but this is what a beautiful flourishing life looks like. If as parents we raise our children with a holistic lifestyle where we’re living out what we’re teaching them, where we’re showing them that wisdom and critical thinking are part of the good life, part of what human flourishing looks like, then critical thinking can be situated within this larger context where they see it as beautiful.”