Baumeister’s theory of willpower, and his clever means of testing it, have been borne out again and again in empirical studies. The effect has been recreated in hundreds of different ways, and the underlying concept has been verified via meta-analysis. It’s not some crazy new idea, wobbling on a pile of flimsy data; it’s a sturdy edifice of knowledge, built over many years from solid bricks.
And yet, it now appears that ego depletion could be completely bogus, that its foundation might be made of rotted-out materials. That means an entire field of study—and significant portions of certain scientists’ careers—could be resting on a false premise. If something this well-established could fall apart, then what’s next? That’s not just worrying. It’s terrifying.
More than 30 years ago, when he learned he was infected with the virus that causes AIDS, Peter was certain his life was over. Since then, he’d lost not just his lover and his friends, but his livelihood, his community, his home.
But on this Christmas Eve, on the cusp of another new year, Peter was still here: 61, his beard flecked with gray, his eyes still a striking, youthful blue. A survivor of a plague that killed tens of thousands just like him.
“I’m the luckiest unlucky person in the world,” he often said. “No one wants to be the last man standing.”
Not only do we want dead bodies to be in the right place, our collective response to decaying and dead bodies exposes fundamental truths about social conditions, and especially about the vulnerability of the poor.
The boxes at my door were plastered with red drawings of bugs and the blunt warning: “Live Insects.” I could hear audible scratching and shuffling—and even what I thought was an errant “chirp”—as I placed them on my kitchen counter.
I slowly opened the first lid. Out poked two antennae, followed by the head of a cricket. I lifted the lid higher and saw dozens of them hopping around. Inside the second box, a thousand mealworms wriggled over an egg crate.
The first ingredients for my dinner party had arrived.