GVU Center Brown Bag Distinguished Alum Speaker: Jim Davies, "The Science of Why We Find Things Compelling"


Why do some things pass under the radar of our attention, but other things capture our interest? Why do some religions catch on and others fade away? What makes a story, a movie, or a book riveting? Why do people rubberneck an accident on the I-75? The past twenty years have seen a remarkable flourishing of scientific research into exactly these kinds of questions. This talk describes the evolutionary underpinnings of why we find things compelling, from art to religion, from sports to superstition. Compelling things fit our minds like keys in the ignition, turning us on and keeping us running, and yet we are often unaware of what makes these “keys” fit. What we like and don’t like is almost always determined by subconscious forces, and when we try to consciously predict our own preferences we’re often wrong. Drawing on work from philosophy, anthropology, religious studies, psychology, economics, computer science, and biology, Davies offers a comprehensive explanation to show that in spite of the differences between the many things that we find compelling, they have similar effects on our minds and brains.

Speaker Bio:


Jim Davies is a full professor in the Institute of Cognitive Science at Carleton University, where he has won awards for his teaching and research. He has degrees in philosophy, computer science, and cognitive psychology. As director of the Science of Imagination Laboratory, he explores processes of imagination in humans and machines, and specializes in artificial intelligence, analogy, problem-solving, and the psychology of art, religion, and creativity. His work has shown how people use visual thinking to solve problems, and how they visualize imagined situations and worlds.

He is author of over 50 peer-reviewed publications in the fields of cognitive science, artificial intelligence, philosophy, and psychology. He wrote the popular science book Riveted: The Science of Why Jokes Make us Laugh, Movies Make us Cry, and Religion Makes us Feel One with the Universe. He has been asked to speak at three TEDx events, and is co-host of the Minding the Brain podcast.

In his spare time, he is a published poet, an internationally-produced playwright, and a professional painter and calligrapher.

Event Details


  • Thursday, October 11, 2018
    12:30 pm - 2:00 pm

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