Friday, July 25, 2014

Ways to see your life

Meditation can improve your ability to be aware of what you have decided to think about.  We can't always control or predict what thoughts will arise.  But we can be aware that we have fallen into a rant about some habitual irritant or into worrying about a relative.  It can be a valuable change to ask Byron Katie's question (Is it true?) about the rant or to take a moment to remind ourselves that life unfolds in many ways and most of them are not under our control.  But running parallel to all our thoughts and issues, our lives continue on.  


Henry David Thoreau moved to the woods and wrote about his experience and ideas in "Walden" (free on Kindle).  One of the most famous passages in this 1854 account of a bachelor who purposely moved into the woods goes:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to "glorify God and enjoy him forever."


Thoreau, Henry David (2009-10-04). Walden (p. 66). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.


When you think about your life, you will find you have lived, no matter how you spent your time.  You may regret not weeding more or reading more but such regrets may well be wispy thoughts that omit the inclinations and reasons you had at the time.  You could have weeded more or written to your friend more, but you had other goals and demands at the time.  Writing about your life as it is lived, or photographing it or adding a new goal or activity you have been wanting to get to, may reveal some of the surprising complexity and beauty of the minutes and the years you have been in, are in, and are coming up.



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Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety


Thursday, July 24, 2014

various ideas

flipped classroom - often described as flipping the purpose of homework and class time, where basic learning takes place at home or outside of the classroom while activities inside class are designed to apply, explore and extend the basic learning


tension level - maybe the same as arousal level, when I am tense, elevated, excited, I am ready to fight, flee or freeze but I may not be ready to learn or to sense how I am feeling.  I was impressed by this table from Pennebaker's "Opening Up":

from "Opening Up" by J. Pennebaker p. 8



Topic

Heart Rate

Warren's comments

Girlfriend

77

Some disagreements about sex

College courses

71

Most are interesting

Failing exams

76

It's been hard on my ego

Parents

84

We were close until the divorce

Parents' divorce

103

It was no big deal

The future

79

I'm scared of failing again

best of all possible worlds, it is all for the best and bullshit - I didn't realize the other day when I wrote about optimism vs. accuracy that I was dealing with a theme that has preoccupied people for a long time, including minds of the level of Leibnitz and Voltaire.  There is good evidence that having a positive outlook is associated with being healthy and happy but nobody believes that smiling complacently in the face of a tornado and believing all will be well is a good strategy.


secure in the past as opposed to varying and slippery interpretations of the past - in America today, we have occupations and teams devoted for various financial, political and occupational reasons to more or less continuous examination and re-examination of the past. Many people are uncomfortable or take insult from revised interpretation of the past.  If I learn that President X or CEO Y was a hero, I may be hurt and upset to learn that evidence now indicates that she or he wasn't such a hero, after all.


distractions of words - Frans de Waal says that people in a ward for a certain sort of brain damage which prevents understanding of spoken language found a given televised political speech hilarious.  They detected big discrepancy between the speaker's tone, timing, facial expression and gestures and his words.  People who could understand spoken words found the speech perfectly normal but not at all funny.



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Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Frans de Waal, chimps, bonobos and humans

I have recently begun listening to "Our Inner Ape" by Frans de Waal, a primatologist, specializing in studying apes.  The chimpanzees are very close to us with 98% of their DNA identical to ours.  In the past 30 years or so, bonobos have been observed and they also have 98% of their DNA the same as ours.  The chimps are quite war-like and wage deadly battles between groups.  They also have a basically male-dominated society and the leaders are always fighting among themselves for the top position. 


The bonobos have a more female dominated society and use their sexual parts all the time to give each other and themselves pleasure.  A little difficulty, even such as wanting to pass each other on a narrow branch, can be an opportunity for a little sexual rubbing, caressing and stimulation. It doesn't matter whether it involves two members of the same sex or of opposite sex, making friends, getting into a blissful mood, settling an argument - all can be instances of using genitals to soothe and to create good feelings.


Some primatologists have felt that the chimps were a model of the inner, basic drives and habits that humans would show without culture, training and restraint.  But when the bonobos were recognized, scientists had two different models of humans.

 

When I first started reading "Our Inner Ape", I thought it was a little far-fetched to think that much insight into humans could come from the study of apes.  But I have recently finished "What Hath God Wrought?" by Howe, a history of the US from 1815 to 1848, a early time in our history when politicians were just getting a picture of how to conduct themselves and the government.  De Waal's discussions of chimp politics and political alliances and scheming to gain power sounds exactly like Howe's descriptions of political maneuverings among our parties, senators and presidents.



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Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

From "Redirect" by Timothy Wilson - writing to heal

The next day Gary Felice saw a picture of the victim in the paper and realized that, to his horror, he had known him—it was Tommy Schuppel, forty-two, a popular X-ray technician at a local hospital. The fact that Felice had seen his friend die haunted the officer, so much so that he had trouble eating and sleeping. His bosses sympathized and wanted to help, so they did what many police departments do: they scheduled a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) session for Felice.


The premise of CISD is that when people have experienced a traumatic event they should air their feelings as soon as possible, so that they don't bottle up these feelings and develop post-traumatic stress disorder. In a typical CISD session, which lasts three to four hours, participants are asked to describe the traumatic event from their own perspective, express their thoughts and feelings about the event, and relate any physical or psychological symptoms they are experiencing. A facilitator emphasizes that it is normal to have stressful reactions to traumatic events, gives stress management advice, answers questions, and assesses whether participants need any additional services. Numerous fire and police departments have made CISD the treatment of choice for officers who, like Gary Felice, witness horrific events—indeed, some departments require it.


It is also widely used with civilians who undergo traumatic experiences. Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, more than nine thousand counselors rushed to New York City to help survivors deal with the trauma and prevent post-traumatic stress disorder, and many of these counselors employed psychological debriefing techniques.2 Psychological debriefing sounds like an effective intervention, doesn't it? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and surely getting people to talk about their feelings, instead of bottling them up, is a good thing. Or is it?


Let's put CISD aside for a moment and consider another approach. Instead of asking Officer Felice to relive the trauma of Tommy Schuppel's death, suppose we let a few weeks go by and see if he is still traumatized by the tragic event. If so, we could ask him to complete, on four consecutive nights, a simple exercise in which he writes down his deepest thoughts and emotions about the experience and how it relates to the rest of his life. That's it—no meetings with trained facilitators, no stress management advice—just a writing exercise that Felice does on his own four nights in a row.


Which approach do you think would be more effective—CISD, in which people express their thoughts and feelings right after a traumatic event with the help of a trained facilitator, or the writing technique, which people do in private weeks after the event? If you are like me (and the hundreds of police and fire departments that use it), you would put your money on CISD. Surely early interventions are better than later ones, and offering people the services of a trained professional is better than asking them to sit and write by themselves.


But we would be wrong. It took research psychologists a while to test CISD properly, in part because it seemed so obvious that it was beneficial. When they did, they found something unexpected: not only is CISD ineffective, it may cause psychological problems. In one study, people who had been severely burned in a fire were randomly assigned either to receive CISD or not. Over the next several months, participants completed a battery of measures of psychological adjustment and were interviewed at home by a researcher who was unaware whether they had received CISD. Thirteen months after the intervention, people in the CISD group had a significantly higher incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder, were more anxious and depressed, and were less content with their lives. Similar results have been found in studies testing the effectiveness of CISD among emergency workers. It turns out that making people undergo CISD right after a trauma impedes the natural healing process and might even "freeze" memories of the event. (This may have been the case with Gary Felice—according to a journalist who interviewed him four years after the fire, Felice seemed unable to get rid of the mental image of Tommy Schuppel lying dead on the floor.)


In 2003, after reviewing all tests of the effectiveness of psychological debriefing techniques, Harvard psychologist Richard McNally and his colleagues recommended that "for scientific and ethical reasons, professionals should cease compulsory debriefing of trauma-exposed people." Unfortunately, this message has not been widely disseminated or heeded. In 2007, after a disturbed student at Virginia Tech University killed thirty-two students and faculty, students and emergency workers underwent stress-debriefing techniques similar to CISD.3


What about the writing exercise? This technique, pioneered by social psychologist James Pennebaker, has been tested in dozens of experiments in which people were randomly assigned to write about personal traumas or mundane topics such as what they did that day. In the short run, people typically find it painful to express their feelings about traumatic experiences. But as time goes by, those who do so are better off in a number of respects. They show improvements in immune-system functioning, are less likely to visit physicians, get better grades in college, and miss fewer days of work.4


Wilson, Timothy D. (2011-09-08). Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change (Kindle Locations 40-63). Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition.



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Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety



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Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety


Monday, July 21, 2014

Does he understand?

Teachers want to have students understand but how can they tell when their students do understand?  One way is to ask the student to explain what they have learned.  What criticisms did Andrew Jackson's political opponents say about his tendencies and abilities?  If the student has memorized the words of the teacher or the text, he is usually considered to have a lower sort of knowledge, a more limited and fragile kind than if he can explain what Jackson's critics said in his own words.  The phrase "in his own words" covers various difficulties.  Today, there are several different pieces of software that try to help the teacher verify that the student's explanation, if written, is his own choice of words and not memorized from another source.


In cooking, mathematical calculation, some aspects of science and other subjects, what is learned is a procedure that can be carried out.  So, instead of an explanation, a demonstration is a different indication that learning has taken place and mastery has been achieved. 


In some instances, the student accepts that the teacher is just doing her job when she uses one method or another to check for understanding.  In other instances, the student may lack confidence in his own learning and fear failure when trying to show that he has learned.  The teacher often has a pretty good idea before the checking whether or not the student understands.  She may have confidence herself in the honesty and self-knowledge of the student, and depending also on her estimate of his maturity level, she may just ask him if he understands.


Depending on the attitudes of both teacher and student about learning and its uses in life, she may ask if the student is interested in further learning about this topic.  Sometimes it is evident that the student is hungry for more knowledge on this subject and sometimes it is apparent that he is eager to stop working with it.  When I was a college student, I thought much of the US history I was being taught was about the best example of totally useless, inapplicable knowledge that existed.  At the same time, I could explain just how much fun and insight I gained about human life and social and political power from my other history teacher's lessons on the history of France and the French king.  Now, I feel differently about US history (in reasonably small doses).



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Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Prescriptions from Mom and others

Ever have a time when your mother or somebody offered advice that you really did not accept?  She thinks you should go out for football and you hate the idea.  Or, she thinks you should not go out for football and you hate that idea. I can think of advice my mother gave me that genuinely helped me and other advice that I refused.  So far as I can tell, I took the right path in both cases.  I wonder if she would agree.

Daniel Gilbert is a Harvard psychologist who specializes in people's predictions of their future happiness.  In books, TED talks, and articles, he explains that most people expect to be more affected by a given future gain or loss, positive or negative event, than they turn out to be.  He attributes this inaccuracy to our inability to experience a future event in the context of our whole, busy, active life.  When we think of the Packers winning or lightning striking the chicken coop, we can only think of that event.  We are not able mentally to think of the event embedded in the need to plan that wedding, attend a conference and do all the other things that will be on our minds and in our lives at that time. People tend to overestimate the mental acreage that a particular event will occupy in their lives.

It seems to relate to the matter of the happiness set point, again.  In their memorable book, "Healthy Pleasures", Robert Ornstein and David Sobel explain that people who became paraplegics and people who won a lottery both tended to return to their previous levels of happiness within six months to a year of the big event.


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Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety


Saturday, July 19, 2014

John Brockman, Edge.org and my brain

I have written about John Brockman before.  He is the founder and manager of Edge.org, which, by the way, is totally different from Edge.com.  Edge.org has earned the reputation of being the smartest web site there is.  Since there are millions of web sites, probably in many of the languages of the world, it would be an enormous research job to verify which one is "smartest".  Let's just agree that Brockman invites some truly excellent scientists, thinkers and writers to write for his site.  Each year he has a theme and he selects some of the articles written on that year's theme for inclusion in a book.  Some of his books don't appeal to me.  His volume "What Should We Be Worried About?" doesn't attract me.  I don't feel I need any help in better worrying.

However, his "Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction in Life and Markets" is pretty cool, to say the least.  Some of his collections seem to do a very good job of including many of the primary voices in a field and "Thinking" is one of them.  I was reading in chapter 5 this morning.  This chapter was written by the famous V.S. Ramachandran, the scientist who figured a way to help people who suffered from pain in a limb that had been amputated.  The problem has been reported for more than 400 years.  People who lost a limb still had pain in it!  Turned out to be a brain and brain map of the body problem.  

In his chapter, Ramachandran discusses a related problem, rare and perplexing. Otherwise normal people had a very strong urge to have an arm or leg amputated.  The limb works fine but it doesn't feel right and never has. The condition, called apotemnophilia, is not well understood but someday may be.  It too may well have more to do with the brain's map of the body and input and output from the body.



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Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety


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