May 13th, 2012

SOLITUDE is out of fashion.

An interesting article from a few months ago on introversion in the (creative) workplace..

SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.

One explanation for these findings is that introverts are comfortable working alone — and solitude is a catalyst to innovation. As the influential psychologist Hans Eysenck observed, introversion fosters creativity by “concentrating the mind on the tasks in hand, and preventing the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to work.” In other words, a person sitting quietly under a tree in the backyard, while everyone else is clinking glasses on the patio, is more likely to have an apple land on his head. (Newton was one of the world’s great introverts: William Wordsworth described him as “A mind for ever/ Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.”)

Read further at NY Times

May 3rd, 2012

narrative drugs us

Interesting BBC Future article about DARPA research into the effect of narrative in delivering information, on how empathy works (including across in-group/out-group boundaries), and how to predict and prevent violence..

The idea is straightforward: scientists have long known that narratives exert a powerful force on the human mind, helping to shape people’s concept of individual and group identities, even motivating them to conduct violent acts. Some bloggers and people posting on Twitter have suggested the Pentagon is seeking to elevate brainwashing to a science. “Darpa looking to master propaganda via Narrative Networks,'” read the headline of a report on the science news website, for example, alongside countless similar blog posts and tweets.

Those involved in the research disagree. “None of the work we are doing, nor anyone else I know in the Narrative Networks group, is about increasing the ability of soldiers or sailors to kill people or to brainwash people,” says Paul Zak, a professor at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California, who specializes in neuroeconomics, and whose work has been funded by the Darpa program.

Zak and others see this type of research being used in the shaping of messages that shows the US military in the best possible light, such as by highlighting its humanitarian work abroad. “Is there a way to hold events that might publicise things like healthcare, public health factors, [or] tooth brushing for children and you could give away half a million toothbrushes,” he says. “There could be things that help countries understand that most of the time what we want to do is get along with everybody.”

Zak’s work involves trying to understand how listening to stories affects the brain’s natural release of oxytocin, sometimes called the trust hormone. “Why are we grabbed by some stories and not others?’ he says. “It just seems like a great question to ask.”

BBC Future: Building the Pentagon’s “like me” weapon.

May 1st, 2012

the bilingualists’ brainstem responses

Speaking two languages profoundly affects the brain and changes how the nervous system responds to sound, lab tests revealed.

Experts say the work in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides “biological” evidence of this.

For the study, the team monitored the brain responses of 48 healthy student volunteers – which included 23 who were bilingual – to different sounds.

They used scalp electrodes to trace the pattern of brainwaves.

Under quiet, laboratory conditions, both groups – the bilingual and the English-only-speaking students – responded similarly.

But against a backdrop of noisy chatter, the bilingual group were far superior at processing sounds.

They were better able to tune in to the important information – the speaker’s voice – and block out other distracting noises – the background chatter.

More at BBC

April 12th, 2012

interest driven learning

I have some amazing friends who tell me that when they were young, they read the dictionary from cover to cover. Other friends of mine have read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.

My sister calls me an “interest driven learner.” I think that’s code for “short attention span” or “not a good long term planner” or something like that. I can’t imagine being able to read the dictionary from cover to cover. In fact, I don’t think most people could sit down and read the dictionary from cover to cover.

Although reading the dictionary and the encyclopedia from cover to cover may seem a bit extreme, it often feels like that’s what we’re asking kids to do who go through formal education.

Courses are organized, sequenced in a very structured way as student scurry from class to class sitting through lectures and expected to pay attention as instructors go on and on about calculus, history and grammar.

Students with the ability to focus and motivate themselves either through the need to achieve good grades or through understanding the long term benefits of a good education are able to succeed.

Personally, I find the dictionary, the encyclopedia and videos online as excellent resources when I need to learn something. I find the need to learn things every day in the course of pursuing interests, preparing for meetings and interacting with exciting people. I’m extremely motivated to learn and I learn a lot.

I love the videos of professors, amateurs and instructors putting their courseware online. They are a great resource for interest driven learners like me. However, I wonder whether we should be structuring the future of learning as online universities where you are asked to do the equivalent of reading the encyclopedia from cover to cover online. Shouldn’t we be looking at the Internet as an amazing network enabling “The Power of Pull” and be empowering kids to learn through building things together rather than assessing their ability to complete courses and produce the right “answers”?

From Joi Ito.

April 5th, 2012

talking heads

Alain de Botton talks about the ideas in his book, religion for aetheists.

January 28th, 2012

endless memory

I can barely remember yesterday.

January 18th, 2012

google brain visualized

Search by Image, Recursively, Transparent PNG, #1 from kingcosmonaut3000 on Vimeo.

Very neat. Via kottke:

This is mesmerizing: using Google Image Search and starting with a transparent image, this video cycles through each subsequent related image, over 2900 in all.

It gets more interesting the longer it goes on. It’s like watching a visualisation of the neural connections of a cyborg. Or something.

December 4th, 2011

forgone chaos

An interview with Rem Koolhaas in De Standaard. Lots of interesting ideas about architecture, filmmaking, East/West philosophies and the individual, celebrity…

Dat alles zo geregeld is, dat geldt toch vooral voor het welvarende westerse deel van de wereld?

‘Dat is zo. Dat is het bijzondere van mijn vroege ervaringen in Indonesië. Je hebt al jong ervaren hoe er in andere delen van de wereld geleefd wordt. Het was een chaos en dat was vanzelfsprekend. Daar werd verder geen oordeel over geveld. Ik heb tot mijn twaalfde op zes verschillende scholen gezeten. Nu zou het bijna als een misdaad worden gezien, maar mij heeft het veel gebracht. Talent voor organisatie, openstaan voor mogelijkheden, gretigheid voor het nieuwe.’

Verlangt u terug naar die chaos?

‘Ik lijd niet aan nostalgie.’

Wat voor jongen was u op de middelbare school?

‘Een van de vreemde dingen is dat ik door mijn ervaring in Azië niet zo aan mezelf denk als een ik. Het is niet dat ik de vraag wil ontvluchten. Het is meer dat ik geen westers persoon ben met een duidelijk afgebakend ik.’

‘Toen ik op de middelbare school zat, las ik alles van Dostojevski. Ik begon in film geïnteresseerd te raken, in kunst. School was bijzaak.’

Het individuele is te belangrijk in dit deel van de wereld?

‘Het is niet productief. Het is een obstakel om, eh, de manier waarop ik architect ben en bouw… (Hij tekent met een blauwe balpen vierkantjes op een vel papier.) Het is niet mijn ik dat bouwt en waar anderen dan een relatie mee moeten hebben. Het is: een vormeloze massa die iets wil bereiken en waar ik een onderdeel van ben. Dat heb ik aan Indonesië overgehouden. Ik zag al snel dat die opstelling me grote vrijheden gaf. De openheid, het permanent rekening houden met de andere kant. Ik ben vroeg doordrongen geraakt van het feit dat het Westen niet alles is.’

Waarom ging u in 1972 naar New York?

Opeens monter: ‘Ik had het gevoel dat er met New York iets te doen viel. Ik was geïnteresseerd in moderne architectuur en in Europa waren er vooral manifesten, geen realiseringen. In de VS, of in elk geval in New York, was het andersom: geen manifesten, wel realiseringen. Maar zoals ik dat nu zeg, zo had ik het toen nog niet doorgrond. Er was alleen dat gevoel dat ik daar iets kon doen.’

Hoe is het om ‘stararchitect’ te zijn?

‘Mensen kunnen zich niet meer voorstellen dat een normaal persoon de rol van architect kan vervullen. Ze willen dat je een celebrity bent. Vervolgens is iedere poging tot echte communicatie gedoemd om te mislukken.’

Waarom willen mensen dat?

‘Het is een effect van de markteconomie. Belangstelling voor ideeën heeft plaatsgemaakt voor aanbidding van roem.’

Wilt u dat dan ook het liefst als architect: kunnen doen wat u wilt?

‘Nee. Ik geloof in de tegendruk van de opdrachtgever. Dat meen ik oprecht. Door tegenstand kom je tot betere dingen. Of door samenwerking. Je kunt dit vak niet doen zonder dat andere mensen willen wat jij wilt.’

More here. Thanks Arnaud for the heads-up. The last point reminds me of this quote from Panamarenko.

November 23rd, 2011

come off it

From a talk by Alan Watts. Shame about the strings added in the background.

November 11th, 2011

the importance of treehouses

More accurately, the importance of dens in general. From the Guardian (2006):

New research by academics in the US and Scandinavia is showing both that dens are crucial to children’s development – and that the opportunities for and inclination of children to make them are in danger of disappearing completely.

When Roger Hart, New York’s City University’s environmental psychologist, researched dens in Vermont in the 70s, he found that 86 children, aged three to 12 years in one town, had made at least one den. His follow-up research is showing that, today, hardly any of the children in that same town have dens at all and, those who do, have pre-manufactured ones. One child, when asked to name his “secret place”, called to his mother for help in identifying such a spot.

Hart believes a variety of factors are affecting children’s lives out of doors. Families are generally smaller in number and often both parents work, so scarcer time together means that fewer children get less attention, and when they get it, the parents tend to feel more anxious about their children’s welfare. Outdoor spaces are also becoming increasingly limited in what they offer because of fear of litigation, and the increased availability of electronic media lures children indoors. But, perhaps, above all, there is parents’ fear of letting children out alone.


November 11th, 2011

survival benefits of schizotypy

Researcher Dr Daniel Nettle explained: “Creative types lead a bohemian lifestyle and tend to act on more sexual impulses and opportunities, often purely for experience’s sake, than the average person would.

“It’s common to find that this sexual behaviour is tolerated. Partners, even long-term ones, are less likely to expect loyalty and fidelity from them.”

But he said these “schizotypal” personality traits could manifest themselves in negative ways.

“A person with them is likely to be prone to the shadows of full-blown mental illness such as depression and suicidal thoughts.”

He said there could be an underlying evolutionary survival benefit that would explain why creative people continued to display schizotypal character traits.

“There are positive reasons, such as their role in mate attraction and species survival, for why these characteristics are still around.”

His work in Proceedings of the Royal Society B focused on 425 men and women, including a sample of visual artists and poets and schizophrenic patients, and their history of sexual encounters since the age of 18.

BBC Health (Nov 2005)

October 30th, 2011

the most mysterious manuscript in the world

But the white whale of the code-breaking world is the Voynich manuscript. Comprising 240 lavishly illustrated vellum pages, it has defied the world’s best code breakers. Though cryptographers have long wondered if it is a hoax, it was recently dated to the early 1400s.

With a University of Chicago computer scientist, Dr. Knight this year published a detailed analysis of the manuscript that falls short of answering the hoax question, but does find some evidence that it contains patterns that match the structure of natural language.

“It’s been called the most mysterious manuscript in the world,” he said. “It’s super full of patterns, and so for somebody to have created something like that would have been a lot of work. So I feel that it’s probably a code.”

From NYtimes article about the Copiale cypher and its decryption.

From wikipedia:

The illustrations of the manuscript shed little light on the precise nature of its text but imply that the book consists of six “sections”, with different styles and subject matter. Except for the last section, which contains only text, almost every page contains at least one illustration.

The image above is fro the “biological” section of the book (“A dense continuous text interspersed with figures, mostly showing small naked women bathing in pools or tubs connected by an elaborate network of pipes, some of them clearly shaped like body organs. Some of the women wear crowns.”). The other presumed topics are herbal, astronomical, cosmological, pharmaceutical and recipes.

The manuscript has a nice wikipedia page devoted to it.

October 23rd, 2011

there is a time for the wind to break the loosened pane

We all build internal sea walls to keep at bay the sadnesses of life and the often overwhelming forces within our minds. In whatever way we do this-through love, work, family, faith, friends, denial, alcohol, drugs or medication-we build these walls, stone by stone, over a lifetime. One of the most difficult problems is to construct these barriers of such a height and strength that one has a true harbor, a sanctuary away from crippling turmoil and pain, yet low enough, and permeable enough, to let in fresh seawater that will fend off the inevitable inclination toward brackishness. For someone with my cast of mind and mood, medication is an integral element of this wall: Without it, I would be constantly beholden to the crushing movements of a mental sea; I would, unquestionably, be dead or insane.

But love is, to me, the ultimately more extraordinary part of the breakwater wall: It helps to shut out the terror and awfulness while, at the same time, allowing in life and beauty and vitality. When I first thought about writing this book, I conceived of it as a book about moods, and an illness of moods, in the context of an individual life. As I have written, however, it has somehow turned out to be very much a book about love as well: love as sustainer, as renewer and as protector. After each seeming death within my mind or heart, love has returned to re-create hope and to restore life. It has, at its best, made the inherent sadness of life bearable, and its beauty manifest. It has, inexplicably and savingly, provided not only cloak but lantern for the darker seasons and grimmer weather.

An excerpt from a beautiful text written by K. R. Jamison. It’s an extract from her book The Unquiet Mind (which I haven’t read).

And here’s a link to the T.S. Eliot poem referenced in Jamison’s text and in the title of this post.

October 3rd, 2011

the social life of urban spaces

An hour long documentary. via kottke

August 13th, 2011

we aren’t alone in the universe, we are the universe

From Alan Watts, Out of Your Mind:

We define manliness in terms of aggression, you see, because we’re a little bit frightened as to whether or not we’re really men. And so we put on this great show of being a tough guy. It’s completely unnecessary. If you have what it takes, you don’t need to put on that show. And you don’t need to beat nature into submission. Why be hostile to nature? Because after all, you ARE a symptom of nature. You, as a human being, you grow out of this physical universe in exactly the same way an apple grows off an apple tree.

So let’s say the tree which grows apples is a tree which apples, using ‘apple’ as a verb. And a world in which human beings arrive is a world that peoples. And so the existence of people is symptomatic of the kind of universe we live in. Just as spots on somebody’s skin is symptomatic of chicken pox. Just as hair on a head is symptomatic of what’s going on in the organism. But we have been brought up by reason of our two great myths–the ceramic and the automatic–not to feel that we belong in the world. So our popular speech reflects it. You say ‘I came into this world.’ You didn’t. You came out of it. You say ‘Face facts.’ We talk about ‘encounters’ with reality, as if it was a head-on meeting of completely alien agencies.

people say there was a primordial explosion, an enormous bang billions of years ago which flung all the galaxies into space. Well let’s take that just for the sake of argument and say that was the way it happened.

It’s like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle, it’s dense, isn’t it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see? So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. And you and I, sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it. Very interesting. But so we define ourselves as being only that. If you think that you are only inside your skin, you define yourself as one very complicated little curlicue, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time. Billions of years ago, you were a big bang, but now you’re a complicated human being. And then we cut ourselves off, and don’t feel that we’re still the big bang. But you are. Depends how you define yourself. You are actually–if this is the way things started, if there was a big bang in the beginning– you’re not something that’s a result of the big bang. You’re not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. When I meet you, I see not just what you define yourself as–Mr so-and- so, Ms so-and-so, Mrs so-and-so–I see every one of you as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I’m that, too. But we’ve learned to define ourselves as separate from it.

July 22nd, 2011

escaping the mundane

A comment on the Guardian book blog speaking out against the tendency in the information age towards a superficial experiencing of the world…

As a former journalist and the author of four narrative histories, I’ll tell you why I wanted to write a book. Journalism is “the first rough draft of history” but writing drafts soon seems as ephemeral as yesterday’s headlines. Writing and researching, especially if the topic is deeper than a memoir about one’s dog, allow a writer to escape the mundane, the puerile, the passing fancies that comprise the present day. To read a good book is to find the same escape. With the rise of Twitter, et al, and the steady decline of book sales, how sad that so many people are choosing to live solely on the surface. This shift will have deep consequences that we are only beginning to see.

Guardian | Books “Should we stop writing books?” Thanks to Alice for the heads up.


… we are a society of distraction, idle talk, and ambiguity. Everybody knows everything has happened, everything is automatically trivial, and, again, nothing means anything. This is the world of blogging, the fake world of Facebook, the world that compensates for an absent set of social experiences. There are virtues to social-networking sites, I’m sure, but you feel an awful vacuum at the heart of them. They compensate for something that is absent. It’s strange, one of the features of the contemporary world is a lack of attention. The world floats, it distracts us in endless ways, one is outside of oneself in a constantly divided attention, and you can multiply the force of distraction, which makes conversation harder and harder as an experience.

Simon Critchley in Vice Magazine — Thanks, Levi!

July 19th, 2011

look after this memory for me, would you?

The BBC has a story on ‘transactive memory’:

Computers and the internet are changing the nature of our memory, research in the journal Science suggests.

Psychology experiments showed that people presented with difficult questions began to think of computers.

When participants knew that facts would be available on a computer later, they had poor recall of answers but enhanced recall of where they were stored.

The researchers say the internet acts as a “transactive memory” that we depend upon to remember for us.

Lead author Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University said that transactive memory “is an idea that there are external memory sources – really storage places that exist in other people”.

“There are people who are experts in certain things and we allow them to be, [to] make them responsible for certain kinds of information,” she explained to BBC News.

Co-author of the paper Daniel Wegner, now at Harvard University, first proposed the transactive memory concept in a book chapter titled Cognitive Interdependence in Close Relationships, finding that long-term couples relied on each other to act as one another’s memory banks.

This entire blog is a sort of transactive memorybank for me. I post things I find interesting here so that I can refer back to them later.

Read more @ BBC

July 11th, 2011

ego states

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