Sunday, October 14, 2012

Repentance and forgiveness + two rising stars

Very encouraged to hear that the top-management team of a major bank recently had a training session in the new extension to our church.  Apparently the CEO said words to the effect that "we've had training sessions in top hotels, in skyscrapers around the world, but perhaps it is now appropriate that we are meeting in a church, because we need to repent."

It's great that bankers are now prepared to use that language, internally. Of course we all need to repent: I heard on the radio this morning that the Dean of Coventry Cathedral after it was bombed had "Father forgive" engraved on the ruins of the old cathedral, and when people said, "surely you mean: father forgive them" he replied "no, there are no innocents here, we are all in need of forgiveness".  Interestingly only Luke records this wonderful saying of Jesus - and the similar saying in Acts of Stephen, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."

It is of course a famous result of Martin Nowak's that forgiveness is good for society from a game-theoretical PoV. And although we don't remotely understand the neuroscience, it's clear that forgiveness is good for people as well. The neuroscience of forgiveness seems to be a very under-explored field.  The most cited recent paper seems to be "Innocent intentions: A correlation between forgiveness for accidental harm and neural activity" by Liane Young, and Rebecca Saxe Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, IT which was published in Neuropsychologia in 2009.  Interestingly it begins with a quotation "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Luke 23:34" 

Lianne Young now runs the intriguing  Morality Lab at Boston College. Rebecca Saxe did her BA in Psychology and Philosophy at Oriel (where she got a congratulatory first) and then earned a PhD at MIT. She was a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows 2003-2006 and is now an Associate Prof at MIT, running her lab on  Social Cognitive Neuroscience.  She co-authored a book in 2007 with Simon Baron-Cohen.  They are clearly both very interesting people to watch, and I hope their work goes well.

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