Fluent illuminator of the mind’s myriad creative impulses, cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman keeps a careful eye on brains. At Scientific American, in his books and elsewhere, Kaufman takes hard data and figures out just how to “communicate the essence of the findings to a broad audience in a comprehensible, interesting, and relatable way without skimping on the science.” Getting the information into user-friendly form requires the ability to simulate the minds of others, which neuroscientists call “mentalizing.” Now add a “t” to simulate and you have stimulate–and that’s when things get interesting. Explaining recent results that suggest “successful propagation of ideas involves the anticipation of pleasure in sharing the idea,” Kaufman glides easily to Twitter to drive home the point. (Because if an idea falls in the woods and no one retweets it, was it really an idea?) Turns out that nearly everyone who experiences something simultaneously considers the shareability of their experience. So in the background of every thought is the refrain: will others care? This probably accounts for strange data showing that people actually tweet more articles than they finish reading. So eager are some people to share that they sometimes tweet having barely read past the title.
It’s a marvelous time for psychologists, quite literally. A profession that has relied on focus groups and organized behavioral experiments suddenly has a cornucopia of data to consider–and marvel at–thanks to the Internet. Kaufman is particularly reliable and consistent in his quest to, as he puts it, “communicate the essence.” His is a generous gift to people who recognize the unprecedented explosion of new information about how the brain works, but who can’t spend their time in the scientific trenches. A supporter of open-access scientific publishing, Kaufman does one better by serving as a trustworthy interlocutor on the layman’s behalf–an important role because you can permit all the access you want, but knowledge is harder to unlock. (Ask Ellen Collins.) Kaufman specializes in creativity–perhaps a redundancy in the brain business. And he’s funny, which is helpful on a journey through the cerebrum–because it’s a tricky SOB. You know this: yours is probably messing with you right now. Kaufman’s most recent article was about “introverted narcissism.” It appeared in the self-admittedly execrable form of a list and also mentioned Kanye West. Even these things get forgiven, since his business was exposing the large segment of society who “say they are introverted and sensitive when they really just can’t stand it that everyone doesn’t recognize their brilliance.” No kidding! I don’t like to be assertive, but I sure hope Kaufman enjoys this awesome profile.