Really Know Yourself

Really Know Yourself

“The enemies of liberal democracy, they have a method: They hack our feelings. Not our emails, not our bank accounts—they hack our feelings of fear and hate and vanity, and then use these feelings to polarize and destroy democracy from within.” 

~ Yuval Noah Harari

Short Circuit Your Reflexive Tendency to React

Short Circuit Your Reflexive Tendency to React

“If we don't become aware of our own reactions so that we can short-circuit precisely the kind of addictive and reflexive response that we have to these things, and if we're unwilling to turn them off, we will participate in the continuing debasement of our democracy.”

~ Brooke Gladstone

Left to Our Own Devices

Left to Our Own Devices

While I’m waiting impatiently for the rest of the world to calibrate to my ideal technology habits, I’ve started to watch myself watch other people peer into their devices as they walk down the street, sit in coffee shops, and stand at urinals.

This impulse has grown into a challenging, but fascinating attention exercise that has lead to some liberating insights that have shifted my reactions to other people’s observable tech habits.  

Stories about the End of Stories

Stories about the End of Stories

"The dominant story of modernity has been progress. Although still hardwired into our institutions, that story has lost most of its plausibility. new genres are taking its place: apocalypse and nihilism. Apocalypse is the imminent and triumphant conclusion of our most cherished stories. Nihilism is their collapse. Both are stories about the end of stories."

~ David R. Loy

Anderson Cooper Learns to Love Silence

Anderson Cooper Learns to Love Silence

On a mindfulness retreat, Anderson Cooper puts down the microphone and learns to love silence, as well as life without a cell phone.

Perfect Practice

"Perhaps we can even start to use these types of techniques to help people train, to provide this mental mirror so they can see what their brain is doing when they're trying to learn how to do techniques like meditation—which might be simple, but not particularly easy to do. As Vince Lombardi says, 'Practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.' Maybe we can use this neurofeedback as a way to help people practice perfectly."

~ Dr. Judson Brewer

Born from Within

Baroque Library Hall at the Klementinum in Prague"Wisdom does not loom large in the modern psyche. It has been replaced by knowledge, which does not pretend to emotive value; in its least appealing forms, it even eschews such associations. It is strictly about things and the manipulation of them; and, unsurprisingly, it’s directed outwardly, towards the technologies of life and not their meanings. So we have many people who, externally speaking, are able but not wise; active but not prudent.

And perhaps this defines our society and our age as much as any other set of words: activity without prudence, or, imprudent doing.

To have prudence is to have foresight, to attend to. But attention is born from within, not from outward circumstances; and in the great esoteric traditions, as well as the traditional religions, attention is of a divine origin, not a worldly one."

~ Lee van Laer, on "Inner Wisdom," from Parabola Magazine, Spring 2014

Read the full article... 

Embodying the Ineffable


Grant Health and Fitness Center, January 28, 2014

by Daron Larson 

An imaginary woman—
a voice that communicates
the impression of female
—invites me to enter my digits

She remains inordinately polite
in word choice and tone
regardless of my ability
to fulfill her desire for my data

I'm sorry
I didn't quite get that

I sense the presence
of a sophisticated algorithm  
calculating the odds of my legitimacy 

I am at her mercy

Please try again

But she can't know
I'm assessing her for fraud
even as I'm being monitored
for virtual trespasses against her

Please stay on the line
Your call is important to us

There is much talk on screens these days
about computer programs evolving
human-like consciousness

Some predict its inevitability
based on laws governing exponential increase

We forget how difficult it remains
for us to accurately convey
the direct experience of loneliness
     of connection
         of longing
             of grief
               given the constraints of language

This is not limited to storage bandwidth or process speed
but speaks of the capacity for embodying the ineffable

I'm sorry
Please stay
You're important to me
I'm so sorry

I'm not afraid of the machines
we create in our own image

I fear our shared tendency
to overlook the intangible
sparks that signal our humanity

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Excerpt from "The Joy of Math: Keith Devlin on Learning and What It Means To Be Human," On Being, September 19, 2013:

People get turned off mathematics in various ways. If you teach it as sort of just stuff you need to know to balance your checkbook — which is nonsense because none of us balance our checkbooks; computers do that for us. On the other hand, because language is so important to us as living creatures, everyone is interested in language one way or another, be we language mavens or just interested in listening to the radio or reading or novels. You know, language is a fundamental part of what we ask.

In fact, in a book I wrote in 2000, called The Math Gene, I actually made a case based on sort of rational reconstruction of human evolutionary development, that mathematics and language are actually two sides of the same coin in terms of evolutionary development. Human beings, when we developed the capacity for language — and nobody knows when that was; it might be as recent as 50,000 years ago — but when our ancestors developed language capacity, at that moment they developed the capacity for mathematics. It's the same capacity. It just plays out in different ways.


A lot of the problem in mathematics is that an awful lot of what goes on in the school system is basically trying to train the mind to do what a $10 calculator can do: follow rules and algorithms and procedures. And one thing that we do know is, that the human brain does not find that natural. The human brain is analogical, not logical. And so, when we try to force it to be procedural and exact, the brain simply doesn't like it.

It was important for many thousands of years to be able to do computation and calculation because that was the basis of commerce and trade and buying and selling. And you had to do it in your head or with an abacus board or something. So for hundreds of years, it was actually important to train the mind to follow rules to do computations and get the right answer. Well, now we've automated that. And we carry around devices in our pockets that can do that. Which means that we can spend more time letting the brain do things that the brain is really well suited for that computers can't do very well: making value judgments, making analogical leaps.

Quantum States of Time

Dawn of Midi live at Cafe 939 (Berklee School of Music) October 21st, 2013

Excerpt from "Dawn of Midi," Radiolab, August 29, 2013: 

"If you just let it do what it's doing and have none of the usual expectations of resolution—or of that usual arc—it's not going to tell you a story, it's going to keep you company. That's what's happening here. What it's trying to do is to get you into a different state of mind—like a different state of time—that experience of time that is non-narrative—where you're sort of existing in time, not is sort of a regular story way where everything leads to the next thing—beginning, middle, and end—something else.

What I often talk about is that you have quantum states of time. What I take it to mean is something very ancient in a way...What you have are these vertical stacks of rhythms, like almost multiple time flows existing simultaneously—in the same moment.

And if you listen in to this music...and try to pick out, Okay.What's the base doing? What's the drums doing? What's the piano doing? You will hear that they're actually almost not fitting together, like they're playing different beats, pulling at each other in some sense.

If I listen in and try to pick out all the lines, I get lost in the intricacies of their rhythms. If I listen out, I can just nod my head to it for forty-five minutes...And that's just interesting to me, the way the patterns on the interior just kind of mess with your ear because they all seem to be on their own cycle, but then when you pull out and just listen to the whole thing together, you're like, Oh yeah, I can nod my head to this. 

Go Outside

"Artist Felipe Luchi has created a unique advertising campaign for Go Outside Magazine that reimagines familiar gadgets like the iPhone, a mouse, and an alarm clock as jailhouses. Each image depicts an individual escaping from these prisons, and you can see the more detailed, full resolution images at the artist’s website."

~ Kimberly Streams, from "Ad Campaign Illustrates That We Are Prisoners Of Our Own Devices," Laughing Squid, April 24, 2013

Choice Bradbury-isms

From "Drunk on Writing: Ray Bradbury’s Gifts to Humanity," by Casey Rae, The Contrarian, June 6, 2012

Some choice Bradbury-isms:       

Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.

I’m not afraid of machines. I don’t think the robots are taking over. I think the men who play with toys have taken over. And if we don’t take the toys out of their hands, we’re fools.

I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.

I don’t believe in being serious about anything. I think life is too serious to be taken seriously.

The women in my life have all been librarians, English teachers, or booksellers… I have always longed for education, and pillow talk’s the best.

Don’t talk about it; write.

If you dream the proper dreams, and share the myths with people, they will want to grow up to be like you.

The best scientist is open to experience and begins with romance — the idea that anything is possible.

There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.

See also: "21 Ray Bradbury Quotes: Your Moment of Friday Writing Zen," by Zachary Petit, Writer's Digest, Feb. 17, 2012

There's an app for that!

"Marshall 'Soulful' Jones makes us rethink our digital culture through an engaging slam poetry performance."

TEDxMontreal, June 21, 2012.

See also:


Frequent Intermittent Rewards

Excerpt from "Fixated by Screens, but Seemingly Nothing Else," by Perri Klass, M.D., The New York Times, May 9, 2011:

Is a child’s fascination with the screen a cause or an effect of attention problems — or both? It’s a complicated question that researchers are still struggling to tease out.

The kind of concentration that children bring to video games and television is not the kind they need to thrive in school or elsewhere in real life, according to Dr. Christopher Lucas, associate professor of child psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine. “It’s not sustained attention in the absence of rewards,” he said. “It’s sustained attention with frequent intermittent rewards.”

The child may be playing for points accumulated, or levels achieved, but the brain’s reward may be the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Children with A.D.H.D. may find video games even more gratifying than other children do because their dopamine reward circuitry may be otherwise deficient.

Indeed, at least one study has found that when children with A.D.H.D. were treated with methylphenidate (Ritalin), which increases dopamine activity in the brain, they played video games less. The authors suggested that video games might serve as a kind of self-medication for these children.

So increased screen time may be a consequence of A.D.H.D., but some researchers fear it may be a cause, as well. Some studies have found that children who spend more time in front of the screen are more likely to develop attention problems later on.

In a 2010 study in the journal Pediatrics, viewing more television and playing more video games were associated with subsequent attention problems in both schoolchildren and college undergraduates.

The stimulation that video games provide “is really about the pacing, how fast the scene changes per minute,” said Dr. Dimitri Christakis , a pediatrician at the University of Washington School of Medicine who studies children and media. If a child’s brain gets habituated to that pace and to the extreme alertness needed to keep responding and winning, he said, the child ultimately may “find the realities of the world underwhelming, understimulating.”

Finding New Ways to Speak

"It is human nature to look at someone like me and assume I have lost some of my marbles. People talk loudly and slowly to me. Sometimes they assume I am deaf. There are people who don't want to make eye contact. It is human nature to look away from illness. We don't enjoy a reminder of our own fragile mortality.

That's why writing on the Internet has become a life-saver for me. My ability to think and write have not been affected. And on the Web, my real voice finds expression. I have also met many other disabled people who communicate this way. One of my Twitter friends can type only with his toes. One of the funniest blogs on the Web is written by a friend of mine named Smartass Cripple. Google him and he will make you laugh.

All of these people are saying, in one way or another, that what you see is not all you get."

~ Robert Ebert, from “Remaking My Voice,” TED Talks, April 2011