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Enjoy Our Top Ten Strangest

PhD Titles

Dr. Z. Kubai

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1. A Theory of Goal Maintenance: A Distinct and Vivid Pre-Goal Self Predicts Post-Goal Maintenance Motivation

We may have just come across the next best-selling self-help author and motivational speaker. Recently defended at the Department of Management of UCLA, this PhD thesis explores the intricacies of goal setting and goal maintenance. The study posits that individuals who achieve a life-changing goal – which, in the cultural context of the author, amounts to getting out of debt, becoming sober or losing weight – are more likely to maintain the progress they achieve during goal pursuit if they psychologically distance themselves from their pre-goal selves.

2. Hawayo Takata and the Circulatory Development of Reiki in the Twentieth Century North Pacific

New Age has made its way into academia. This study on spirituality, spiritual networks, and spiritual healing explores the phenomenon and genealogy of Reiki, a form of spiritual healing related to Japanese religious practice and better known as a contemporary form of American unorthodox medicine. The work explores Reiki’s movement through transnational networks and traces the various transformations of the practice to propose the category of “spiritual medicine” for a kind of practice that goes beyond the differentiation between religious and medical domains. The Ph.D. dissertation was defended at the Department of Religion of the University of Toronto.

3. A Cross-sectional Analysis of the Relationship between Alcohol Availability, Neighbourhood Deprivation and Chronic Mental Health Disorder in Scotland

This PhD thesis defended at the Department of Geoscience of the University of Edinburgh in 2018, explores alcohol availability in Scotland with a particular focus on the relationship between alcohol availability, deprivation, and mental health. Specifically, the study aims to establish an association between the availability of alcohol outlets and chronic mental health disorder. According to the thesis, there is a strong positive association between exposure to off-license outlets and chronic mental illness. And while this PhD thesis title is rarely strange, it has shed light on a vulnerable population that seldom receives scholarly attention.

4. Overconfidence and Real Estate Research

This PhD thesis in the field of behavioural finance has been defended at the Department of Land Economy of the University of Cambridge. While other PhD titles may seem outlandish and strikingly counterintuitive, this research has embarked on the study of a commonplace observation: overconfidence plays a role in the behaviours of investors, managers, and homebuyers, making them more prone to risk-taking behaviour and less averse to political or economic uncertainty. According to the study, overconfident investors tend to attribute investment gains to their ability, which “leads to a strong trading volume response to market returns at the aggregate level”. Overconfident managers tend to invest in risky and long-term projects. Overconfident homebuyers, in turn, do not seem to be impressed by economic policy uncertainty so trading volumes remain high for that group.

5. The Association between Blood Pressure, Cerebral Perfusion and Late-Life Depression

Who would expect to see blood pressure and late-life depression in the same sentence, let alone glean a significant correlation between these two seemingly unrelated phenomena? This PhD thesis defended at the Center for Medical Gerontology of Trinity College Dublin’s School of Medicine in 2020, has uncovered that late-life depression is associated with structural changes in the frontal lobe cerebral blood due to impaired cerebral blood flow. According to the study, symptoms of depression in later life are related to significantly lower frontal lobe perfusion, which is blood pressure-dependent. The study hypothesises that cerebral hypoperfusion, which is the decrease in blood pressure or cardiac output results, maybe the mechanism by which hypotension, also known as low blood pressure, increases the risk of depression.

6. Borderline Consciousness, Phenomenal Consciousness, and Artificial Consciousness: A Unified Approach

This highly granular study on consciousness is an amalgam of theoretical neuroscience, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of science. The PhD thesis was defended at the University of Oxford in 2016 and constitutes a contribution to epistemology in that it introduces the little-studied and elusive phenomenon of borderline conscious creatures—these that are neither definitely conscious nor definitely not conscious. In looking into the status of borderline conscious creatures, the neural structure of phenomenal consciousness, and the possibility of artificial consciousness, the thesis contributes to our understanding of contested concepts such as the concepts of natural kinds and borderline cases.

7. Future-proofing the Digital World: Data Centre Security and the Threads of Electromagnetic Pulse and Space Weather

While we all have heard of cybersecurity threads and human-induced security breaches, few of us may be aware of the dangers of space weather or something as bizarre as an electromagnetic pulse when it comes to protecting the integrity of data in data centres. This PhD thesis defended at the Department of Social Anthropology of the University of Cambridge, paints an unusual picture of the threats looming over our digital worlds. Weaving a complex narrative of the recent trend towards cloud computing, technology-driven futures, digital cultures, and disaster capitalism, the study builds a compelling vision of a techno-apocalyptic world orchestrated by extra-human forces.

8. Alien Theory

This PhD thesis in Philosophy was defended at the University of Warwick in 2001. The full title of the piece is Alien Theory: The Decline of Materialism in the Name of Matter. The study constructs a ‘non-materialist’ alien theory that takes upon itself the task of mobilising the non-hybrid concepts of a ‘matter-without-concept’ and of a ‘phenomenon-without-logos’ in order to generate a unified theory of phenomenology and materialism. The end result, according to the study, is a materialisation of thinking that entails limitless phenomenological plasticity and begins to shift towards a transcendental theory of matter free of empirical perception and indifferent to phenomenological limitations.

9. Perceptions of Americans’ Beliefs about Global Warming: Forces That Shape Them and Their Consequences

Despite the recent explosion of hard evidence on climate change, some populations continue to hold beliefs that are vastly at odds with the scientific understanding of the issue. This strange phenomenon is explored in a PhD thesis recently defended at the Department of Communication of Stanford University. The research attempts to understand how the role perceptions of others play in climate change public opinion formation and the relation of these perceptions to individual beliefs on global warming. The study concludes that people align their beliefs with the perceived majority belief of a political ingroup even when that perceived majority belief is at odds with the science.

10. Feeding a Leviathan: The Growth of Massive Red Galaxies Through Minor Mergers

This could be a delightfully quaint art rock album from the early 1970s or a piece of space fiction. In fact, however, this is a PhD thesis defended at the Department of Astronomy of Yale University in 2012. The work is a rigorous study that involved observations of massive red galaxies. According to the study, minor mergers increase the size of massive red galaxies by the square of the growth in mass and are thus responsible for galaxy growth. As part of this research, more than 40,000 images of the faint outskirts of luminous red galaxies were stacked, which resulted in the finding that the colour gradients of red galaxies are consistent with minor mergers.

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