June 5th, 2014

Ray Kurzweil: Get ready for hybrid thinking


TED : http://on.ted.com/g0Ghi

May 25th, 2014

Beneficial brain activity during ‘non-directive’ meditation

Psyblog reports on an interesting study that suggests that non-directive meditation has more beneficial effects than focused meditation.

All the different types of meditation can be split into two main types:

In non-directive types of meditation, people focus on their breathing or a sound, but also allow their mind to wander where it will.
In concentrative types of meditation, people try to focus closely on their breath, or something else, in order to suppress other thoughts and feelings they experience.

“The study indicates that nondirective meditation allows for more room to process memories and emotions than during concentrated meditation.”

“This area of the brain has its highest activity when we rest.

“…types of meditation that allow spontaneous thoughts, images, sensations, memories, and emotions to emerge and pass freely without actively controlling or pursuing them, over time may reduce stress by increasing awareness and acceptance of emotionally charged experiences.

“…mind wandering and activation of the default mode network in general may serve introspective and adaptive functions beyond rumination and daydreaming.

Potentially useful functions would include mental simulations, using autobiographical memory retrieval to envision the future and conceiving the perspective of others.” (Xu et al., 2014).

Read more.

November 17th, 2013

beating the ghosts out

A young Alan Watts.

November 7th, 2013

I know I don’t need to believe, I know

October 27th, 2013

the temperament to which art appeals

The temperament to which Art appeals … is the temperament of receptivity. That is all.

If a man approaches a work of art with any desire to exercise authority over it and the artist, he approaches it in such a spirit that he cannot receive any artistic impression from it at all. The work of art is to dominate the spectator: the spectator is not to dominate the work of art. The spectator is to be receptive. He is to be the violin on which the master is to play. And the more completely he can suppress his own silly views, his own foolish prejudices, his own absurd ideas of what Art should be, or should not be, the more likely he is to understand and appreciate the work of art in question.

Oscar Wilde, via BrainPickings.

June 14th, 2013

story structures we enjoy

A charming Kurt Vonnegut visualises the story structures we enjoy. (via reddit)

April 18th, 2013

the uniting power of wonder

I was just reading the introduction to this book online, The Age of Wonder, because it sounded like an especially rewarding read. A nice quote I can take away from it already:

Romanticism as a cultural force is generally regarded as intensely hostile to science, its ideal of subjectivity eternally opposed to that of scientific objectivity. But I do not believe this was always the case, or that the terms are so mutually exclusive. The notion of wonder seems to be something that once united them, and can still do so.

That is the relationship of wonder to subjectivity and objectivity. It is the element that makes the two extremes compatible.

January 23rd, 2013

I am full of life, I will go to sea and find an Antarctic continent

Emerson on Shakespeare and genius.

The Genius of our life is jealous of individuals, and will not have any individual great, except through the general. There is no choice to genius. A great man does not wake up on some fine morning, and say, ‘I am full of life, I will go to sea, and find an Antarctic continent: to-day I will square the circle: I will ransack botany, and find a new food for man: I have a new architecture in my mind: I foresee a new mechanic power:’ no, but he finds himself in the river of the thoughts and events, forced onward by the ideas and necessities of his contemporaries. He stands where all the eyes of men look one way, and their hands all point in the direction in which he should go. The church has reared him amidst rites and pomps, and he carries out the advice which her music gave him, and builds a cathedral needed by her chants and processions. He finds a war raging: it educates him, by trumpet, in barracks, and he betters the instruction. He finds two counties groping to bring coal, or flour, or fish, from the place of production to the place of consumption, and he hits on a railroad. Every master has found his material collected, and his power lay in his sympathy with his people, and in his love of the materials he wrought in.

A gorgeous and insightful text unearthed by 3qd. Do read more here.

October 31st, 2012

forgetting in order to remember

This post from Psyblog is a list of psychological observations to do with memory. Some observations reveal unintuitive patterns in memory, like this one:

If you want to learn to play tennis, is it better to spend one week learning to serve, the next week the forehand, the week after the backhand, and so on? Or should you mix it all up with serves, forehands and backhands every day?

It turns out that for long-term retention, memories are more easily recalled if learning is mixed up. This is just as true for both motor learning, like tennis, as it is for declarative memory, like what’s the capital of Venezuela (to save you googling: it’s Caracas).

The trouble is that learning like this is worse to start off with. If you practice your serve then quickly switch to the forehand, you ‘forget’ how to serve. So you feel things are going worse than if you just practice your serve over-and-over again. But, in the long-run this kind of mix-and-match learning works best.

One explanation for why this works is called the ‘reloading hypothesis’. Each time we switch tasks we have to ‘reload’ the memory. This process of reloading strengthens the learning.

That does make sense, actually. I recall noticing on one occasion that it was quite effective to learn a language whilst doing another task (i.e. returning to the language exercise regularly).

More here.

October 17th, 2012

modernising a timeless game

A keen approach to designing a modern chess board, by Israeli designer Neora Zigler. From her website:

“Chess for the Mass” proposes an alternative design for the existing chess game pieces, fitting the current plastic injection manufacturing process, while preserving traditional identification symbols.

Back in the days chess pieces where manufactured using wood turning technology which had a direct influence on the
shape and design of the pieces. today, pieces are manufactured mostly by plastic injection, yet they still maintain the traditional shapes relevant to wood turning.

“Chess for the Mass” pieces are shaped in a shell-like form fitting the plastic injection manufacturing process and
allowing stackability of the pieces resulting in small compact packaging of the chess set.

More here. (via notcot)

October 9th, 2012

making time

A psychological tip for plucking extra time out of thin air (or at least, giving value to the time we have): give it away.

One new study claims that when we spend our time on other people we feel like we have done something valuable and our perspective on time changes. People think they are capable of more in the time they have.

The impact of giving time on feelings of time affluence is driven by a boosted sense of self-efficacy. Consequently, giving time makes people more willing to commit to future engagements despite their busy schedules.

Of course, people whose jobs it is to help others all day are not good examples of people who will benefit from this observation.

(via psyblog)

August 24th, 2012

the sky-as-limit exam

[Economy professor Tyler Cowen] once walked into class the day of the final exam and said, “Here is the exam. Write your own questions. Write your own answers. Harder questions and better answers get more points.” Then he walked out. The funniest thing was when a student came in late and I had to explain to him what the exam was and he didn’t believe me!

This sounds like an excellent way to challenge individuals and let them express their interests and potential, guiding education in a more healthy direction… Probably a little too challenging/individualistic to be used below university level.

Seth Roberts via kottke.org

August 3rd, 2012

doubting your doubt

Some interesting psychological observations around doubt and hestitation.

For their research Wichman et al. (2010) recruited people who were chronically uncertain. They were then given a test which unconsciously encouraged them to be uncertain about their uncertainty. This was done by getting them to unscramble sentences which were related to uncertainty, like: “her speaker doubt I explanations” (you’re allowed to drop one word, in this case ‘speaker’).

Ironically it didn’t increase their uncertainty further but reduced it. This suggests that doubting your doubt can be useful. Of course this wasn’t a permanent solution, but it did momentarily reduce their levels of uncertainty.

Just the same effect could be seen when participants in a second study shook, rather than nodded their heads. The physical action of shaking their head while thinking about their uncertainty caused one to cancel out the other. Through this they temporarily reduced their doubts.

The second study suggests to me that being made aware of your hesitation encourages you to consciously shake it off.

More at psyblog

July 16th, 2012

universal incompetence in measuring competence

Another insightful post from Psyblog explains the ‘worse-than-average effect’:

This means that when you’re good at something, you tend to assume that other people are good at it as well. So, when you’re faced with a difficult task that you are good at, you underestimate your own ability.

It doesn’t just kick in when we have special skills, but also when we think that the odds are long, say because the task is particularly difficult. For example Kruger (1999) found that people underestimate their ability at stereotypically difficult tasks like playing chess, telling jokes, juggling or computer programming.

On the other hand they overestimate their ability at stereotypically easy tasks like using a mouse, driving a car or riding a bicycle.

Read further here.

July 16th, 2012

Csikszentmihalyi knows flow

It seems unlikely that a person named ‘Csikszentmihalyi’ might know anything about anything flowing, but I like the summary of his research as posted on Psyblog:

What was this special state of mind that seemed to absorb the whole of your being? Csikszentmihalyi called it a ‘flow state’. It’s the experience of being fully engaged with what you’re currently doing.

When you’re in a flow state:

  • an hour can pass in the blink of an eye,
  • you feel what you are doing is important,
  • you’re not self-conscious,
  • action and awareness merges,
  • you feel in full control,
  • and the experience is intrinsically rewarding.

To create a flow experience, you need:

  • to be internally motivated, i.e. you are doing the activity mainly for its own sake,
  • the task should stretch your skills almost to the limits, but not so much that it makes you too anxious,
  • there should be clear short-term goals for what you are trying to achieve,
  • and you should get immediate feedback on how you are doing, i.e. you can see how the painting, photo, blog post etc. is turning out.
  • From: The Psychology of Flow

    June 30th, 2012

    the ritual of restaurant wine tasting

    Having worked as a waiter in a restaurant, I sometimes wondered what was the point of allowing the host to taste the wine before drinking even when the wine came from a bottle with a rubber cork or a screwtop (therefore making it impossible for the wine to be ‘corked’).

    Alex at Museum of Hoaxes points out that there is of course more to the tasting than the tasting itself. It is a ritual by which the experience of drinking wine is given more importance and meaning, and the host is honoured by being given the first taste. Alex refers the Encyclopedia of Esoteric Man:

    ‘Tasting’ used to be the common preliminary rite in ancient times. Generally the first drink was taken by the chief of a tribe because he had to be served first as the representative of the god. It also symbolically lifted the taboo that prohibited drinking on ordinary occasions, and neutralized the mana that inheres in sacramental drinks. It was also an assurance to guests that the drink was not poisoned.

    Even today in western society the man ordering a bottle of wine for his companions, or offering wine to guests, often has the first sip from his glass and then has the other glasses filled. This is a survival of the old ‘tasting’ custom, by which the host ‘approved’ the drink, and ensured that it was free from poison. In Moslem countries the ruler had an official taster, and only after he had tried the sultan’s food and drink in his presence without ill effects, did the latter partake of them himself.

    Encyclopedia of Esoteric Man

    June 28th, 2012

    would you like to come up and see my etchings?

    Steven Pinker explains the phenomenon whereby we speak indirectly at one level of conversation as a means of insurance protecting the status of the relationship in question while we are negotiating on another level.

    May 27th, 2012

    love involves work!

    Love, says France’s greatest living philosopher [Alain Baidiou], “is not a contract between two narcissists. It’s more than that. It’s a construction that compels the participants to go beyond narcissism. In order that love lasts one has to reinvent oneself.”

    Alain Badiou, venerable Maoist, 75-year-old soixante-huitard, vituperative excoriator of Sarkozy and Hollande and such a controversial figure in France that when he was profiled in Marianne magazine they used the headline “Badiou: is the star of philosophy a bastard?”, smiles at me sweetly across the living room of his Paris flat. “Everybody says love is about finding the person who is right for me and then everything will be fine. But it’s not like that. It involves work. An old man tells you this!”

    But, he argues, avoiding love’s problems is just what we do in our risk-averse, commitment-phobic society. Badiou was struck by publicity slogans for French online dating site Méetic such as “Get perfect love without suffering” or “Be in love without falling in love”. “For me these posters destroy the poetry of existence. They try to suppress the adventure of love. Their idea is you calculate who has the same tastes, the same fantasies, the same holidays, wants the same number of children. Méetic try to go back to organised marriages – not by parents but by the lovers themselves.” Aren’t they meeting a demand? “Sure. Everybody wants a contract that guarantees them against risk. Love isn’t like that. You can’t buy a lover. Sex, yes, but not a lover.”

    For Badiou, love is becoming a consumer product like everything else. The French anti-globalisation campaigner José Bové once wrote a book entitled Le Monde n’est pas une Marchandise (The World Isn’t a Commodity). Badiou’s book is, in a sense, its sequel and could have been entitled L’Amour n’est pas une Marchandise non plus (Love Isn’t a Commodity Either).

    It’s a shame a lot of what he argues here is not already commonly accepted wisdom.

    Read further at The Guardian






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