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How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
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Edouard Machery, Philosophy of Science


Philosophy of Science

Edouard Machery


Edouard Machery is Distinguished Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science and the Director of the Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh. He has received numerous awards for his work on the philosophical issues raised by psychology and cognitive neuroscience, has authored over 150 articles and chapters, and is currently leading a $3 Million grant.

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Which domain or aspect of social life will show the most significant positive societal and/or psychological change in response to the pandemic?

Some people will discover the pleasure, or maybe happiness of being with one another. So we’ve spent so much time alone, or maybe with a few people, a few relatives, that we are all craving for spending time with a larger group of relatives, with our friends, but also beyond friends and relatives, with people around us, people who happen to share the same community. We’re going to be rediscovering the fact that we are social animals or maybe political animals, as Aristotle once told us.


What kind of wisdom will people need to capitalize on the positive societal and/or psychological change after the pandemic?

At least in the United States of America, where I live right now, one of the main threats is the threat of fulfilling your potential of living together, of enjoying each other is really an intense political polarization. And it’s partly striking because it bears on the pandemic, and how to react to the pandemic has become a political matter and also in terms of other social issues. I think to address intense political polarization and to reap the benefits of living together, forming a social community, we need at least two components of wisdom. The first one is openness to others, as different as they may be. I think we should learn to open to others, even if they come from the other side, whatever the other side is. And the second one which is related, is what I like to call the sense of “social offset dissociation,” self-distancing. Not social distancing, as we’ve seen, but self-distancing, and I think that you must learn that some of the ideals or values that define us, maybe aren’t that essential to who we are. And once we’ve got to self-distancing, we may be better to interact with people on the other side, whatever the other side looks like.


Which domain or aspect of social life will show the most significant negative societal and/or psychological change in response to the pandemic?

I’m mostly worried about despair at a social and psychological level. Many people have lost friends, more than 100,000 people in the US only have died and much more, of course, all over the world, several lost relatives, and sometimes they’ve lost those people without being able to see them. Many people are without a job. And many people have had their dreams crushed, because they had to close their job, because they’ve been fired, and so on. Many people are on the brink of despair. That’s what worries me most for the months to come and maybe even years to come.


What kind of wisdom will people need to master to overcome major negative societal and/or psychological changes after the pandemic?

It’s difficult to be wise when you have excellent reasons to feel despair. Wisdom really requires not simply inherent strengths or inherent virtues but also a proper social network and proper external circumstances. It’s hard to be wise when you have good reasons to actually be despaired. But, I think it’s people who are going to be luckier, people who haven’t lost their job, people who haven’t lost relatives, people who haven’t lost friends, and what they must do is show compassion and empathy, as it’s time for those around us who haven’t been as lucky as the luckiest among us.


What piece of wisdom do people need to make it through the pandemic?

Patience and resilience. The pandemic, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, we have not seen the end of the pandemic, and history from past pandemics suggests that impatience is one of the main causes of second wave, third wave, and so on. Patience and resilience are the two core components of wisdom, which I think we should all try to rely on in the coming months.

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