Numbers and Nerves: Information, Emotion, and Meaning in a World of Data

Edited by Scott Slovic and Paul Slovic

Available from Oregon State University Press

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We live in the age of Big Data, awash in a sea of ever-expanding information—a constant deluge of facts, statistics, models, and projections. The human mind is quickly desensitized by information presented in the form of numbers, and yet many important social and environmental phenomena, ranging from genocide to global climate change, require quantitative description.

The essays and interviews in Numbers and Nerves explore the quandary of our cognitive responses to quantitative information, while also offering compelling strategies for overcoming insensitivity to the meaning of such information. With contributions by journalists, literary critics, psychologists, naturalists, activists, and others, this book represents a unique convergence of psychological research, discourse analysis, and visual and narrative communication.

At a time of unprecedented access to information, our society is frequently stymied in its efforts to react to the world’s massive problems. Many of these problems are systemic, deeply rooted in seemingly intransigent cultural patterns and lifestyles. In order to sense the significance of these issues and begin to confront them, we must first understand the psychological tendencies that enable and restrict our processing of numerical information.

In the past two decades, cognitive science has increasingly come to understand that we, as a species, think best when we allow numbers and nerves, abstract information and experiential discourse, to work together. This book provides a roadmap to guide that collaboration. It will be invaluable to scholars, educators, professional communicators, and anyone who struggles to grasp the meaning behind the numbers.

Homero Aridjis
Betty Aridjis
Rick Bass
Annie Dillard
Paul Farmer
Kenneth Helphand
Chris Jordan
Nicholas Kristof
Robert J. Lifton
Marcus Mayorga
Bill McKibben
Greg Mitchell
Robert Michael Pyle
Vandana Shiva
Paul Slovic
Scott Slovic
Sandra Steingraber
Daniel Västfjäll
Terry Tempest Williams
Zbigniew Herbert