Friday, April 28, 2017


A good friend advised me several years ago to "Think in different terms".  That is change the words and maybe the conception, the picture, the connotations associated with the words.  Poets know the power of a different way of thinking: Your cheeks are like roses.  No, your skin is cream.  Maybe, your face invades my thoughts.  

There are a few words that I think need some work.  As a general rule, if you saying the same thing over and over, you may want to think of a different way of putting the message. Take "Lifelong learner" for instance.  This term is overused in explaining and promoting activities associated with lectures and trips that are planned to be of interest to those who have retired or reached an older age, such as 65 or 70.  In most Learning in Retirement organizations, there are low fees and no tests or homework.  The activity might be better described as knowledge exploration or hearing about the world.  It is the sort of thing that attracts the curious but maybe it is not that much "learning".  On the other hand, maybe more is learned (whatever that means) in such more relaxed settings.  And there is always the possibility that older minds make more connections with new information and actually retain quite a lot.

"Political money" and "redistricting" could also use some work.  There may actually be such a thing as buying an election but generally decrying the influence of money is aimed at the greater publicity that more ads, more pamphlets and more "events" produce. It is the use of the money to spread a candidate's face and message that is mostly being talked about, I think.  So, I suggest less use of the word "money" and more use of "publicity."

"Redistricting" is also overused in my opinion and also lacks juice.  If we draw the voting districts so that all of our opponent's supporters are in one district and we create many districts of our guy's supporters, we might win.  To do that, we might have to create some funny looking districts, maybe one that looks like Donald Duck or something.  But the term "redistricting" and the slightly more colorful word Gerrymandering are both too obscure and too clinical to express the seriousness of the problem and the power to be had by district manipulation.

The Harvard psychologist Ellen J. Langer has shown the power of the words and accompanying images words and terms can have.  Her book "Counterclockwise" shows what can happen when elderly men are housed in surroundings highly reminiscent of their youth and hotel maids are persuaded to think of their daily routine as "exercise" instead of "work."

The background of a term can have a strong influence in the real world.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Fwd: 10 Ways That Running Changes Your Mind and Brain

What about those who can't run?  First, this blogger says be sure you really can't.  I know that some really definitely cannot.  But some, like me, can run in a fashion but it is slow enough to be hard to tell it is running. Still, it is an appropriate stress on the body and good for all systems in the body.  Second, if you can't run but you want to, IMAGINE running.  My "Outsmart Yourself" guy and many other sources, observers and scientists advise deliberately imagining as much of the running experience (or anything else you want to work on or do).  Many parts of your brain and body work in much the same way with imagining as with the "real" thing.
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Subject: 10 Ways That Running Changes Your Mind and Brain

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10 Ways That Running Changes Your Mind and Brain

"One 60-minute run can add 7 hours to your life" claimed The Times last week. The story was based on a new review in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases that concluded that runners live, on average, three years longer than non-runners and that running will do more for your longevity than any other form of exercise. But there's more to running than its health-enhancing effects. Research published in recent years has shown that donning your trainers and pounding the hills or pavements changes your brain and mind in some intriguing ways, from increasing connectivity between key functional hubs, to helping you regulate your emotions. The precise effects sometimes vary according to whether you engage in intense sprints or long-distance running. Here we provide a handy digest of the ways that running changes your mind and brain. Continue reading →

Introducing the Invisibility Cloak Illusion: We think we're more observant (and less observed) than everyone else

Most of us tend to think we're better than average: more competent, honest, talented and compassionate. The latest example of this kind of optimistic self-perception is the "invisibility cloak illusion". In research published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Erica Boothby and her colleagues show how we have a tendency to believe that we are incredibly socially observant ourselves, while those around us are less so. These assumptions combine to create the illusion that we observe others more than they observe us. Continue reading →

New meta-analysis undermines the myth that negative emotions can cause cancer

At least one in four readers of this post will die of cancer. This is a simple statistic that leads rationally thinking people to treat the possibility as very likely. And this is what many do: they try to adopt a lifestyle that minimises the risk to some degree. But how do we know what minimises and what increases this risk? Of course, by listening to experts, the best of whom are scientists who research these things. However, whenever there is disquiet brought about by uncertainty, self-titled experts come out of the woodwork. Discussion of factors increasing the risk of cancer is today not only the domain of medical doctors and psycho-oncologists, but is also engaged in by some alternative medicine proponents, pseudopsychologists, and fringe psychotherapists, whose opinions are disseminated by journalists, some more thorough than others. Continue reading →

How much are readers misled by headlines that imply correlational findings are causal?

What do you take from this hypothetical headline: "Reading the Research Digest blog is associated with higher intelligence"? How about this one: "Reading this blog might increase your intelligence"? According to science writing guides like, taking the first correlational finding from a peer-reviewed article and reporting it for the public using the second wording, implying causation, is a sin of exaggeration, making a relationship appear more causal than the evidence suggests. However, the authors of a new a paper in Journal of Experimental Psychology wondered whether readers interpret these kind of headlines literally, or whether they draw their own conclusions. Their findings suggest that while science writers need to pick up their game, science-writing guides also have some catching up to do.  Continue reading →

It can backfire when doctors make a show of their own healthy living

Doctors who want to avoid accusations of hypocrisy should keep themselves in reasonable shape if they intend to advise their patients to do the same. Indeed, some medical organisations explicitly encourage their physicians not only to stay fit, but to make sure that their patients know it, thereby role-modelling the recommended behaviours. However, new research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that doctors who promote their own fitness may actually scare away overweight patients who are most in need of help. Continue reading →

The Psychologist

The Psychologist is the monthly magazine of the British Psychological Society. Visit our website for the May issue, including our cover feature Minds Run Free: Psychologists, like much of the population, have been bitten by the running bug. Christian Jarrett and Ella Rhodes ask what do they get out of it, and does their experience chime with the science? Also check out all our latest reports and reviews and much more.
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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tears from Time

It is the issue that brings tears to my eyes.  Imagine you want someone to write a few words explaining how Viola Davis gets such high praise and positive reactions from her acting.  But you don't ask a journalist to write about her.  You ask Meryl Streep!!  Have you heard of that author, Meryl Streep?  Well, sure, there is only one Meryl Streep.  Or, take Riz Ahmed.  The guy is quite a performer.  Who knows performance?  Let's get Lin-Manuel Miranda, the author of "Hamilton", the show that more or less conquered Broadway.  

See the pattern: Time's annual issue of the 100 most influential people may include people that are very interesting but people you haven't heard of since your life doesn't include the field they star in.  They are the most influential people, not the best known.  But the emotional kicker is the people that Time gets to review one of the influential people's work and contribution.  Take the fighter Conor McGregor.  You haven't heard of him maybe.  I hadn't.  But who explains who the man is? Arnold Swarzenegger.  Now him I have heard of.  

Maybe you don't know Celina Turchi and her work against the horrible Zika virus and maybe you haven't heard of Tom Frieden but once you find out Frieden is the former director of the Center for Disease Control, you may be persuaded to stay alert.  

I think you can see all the names and find out who agreed to write about them here:

Pope Francis written up by the archbishop of Chicago.

Sandra Day O'Connor by Sonia Sotomayor

Vladimir Putin written up by Mikhail Gorbachev

Theresa May of Brexit by the Prime Minister of New Zealand

Jeff Bezos by Buzz Aldrin

LeBron James by Rita Dove, former US poet laureate

And many others of note written up by people it is fun to meet.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Richer past than I thought

I like to write about what's happening.  Sometimes, it helps to sit with a blank piece of scrap paper on a clipboard and a pencil.  To avoid too much dilly-dallying, I try for five themes, five notes about what just happened or what I just noticed or what I just thought of.  Once I get five themes, it is time to pick one and start exploring and explaining to make a blog post.  Today, the one that seemed richest was "not finding notes and posts all that inspiring."  


I often found that I failed to consult notes I had made for a lecture.  I often thought I could remember them and could avoid the embarrassing moment when I look at my notes.  Then, after the talk was done, I might find I had skipped a good idea from pride or laziness.  I know that I have more than 2700 posts stored in the archives (accessible from the main blog page) but as is typical for me, I don't look at them.  Without looking, I usually just assume they won't be relevant and that what I can think of today for today will be better and more inspiring to write about.  


Wrong!  Quite wrong!  When I take the time to look at previous writings, I find good stuff well written. As a rough guide, I looked at today, the 24th, in three previous years.  Take a look and don't tell me these aren't memorable and helpful and funny and all.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Gratitude for Stanislaw and Clare

A couple of my friends write poetry from time to time.  I have some poems of my own on my Kirbyvariety web site.  One of my lifelong favorite poets is Ogden Nash.  Another is Wislawa Szymborska, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996.  The weekly newsletter by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, mentions Szymborska today and got me thinking of her poem The Joy of Writing.  The first two stanzas of the poem go like this:

Radość pisania (Polish)

Dokąd biegnie ta napisana sarna przez napisany las?

Czy z napisanej wody pić,

która jej pyszczek odbije jak kalka?

Dlaczego łeb podnosi, czy coś słyszy?

Na pożyczonych z prawdy czterech nóżkach wsparta

spod moich palców uchem strzyże.

Cisza - ten wyraz tez szeleści po papierze i rozgarnia

spowodowane slowem "las" gałęzie.


Nad białą kartką czają się do skoku

litery, które mogą ułożyć się źle,

zdania osaczające,

przed którymi nie będzie ratunku.


The beauty, the arresting cleverness are hidden for those of us who can't read Polish so we need help from translators Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.  They give us this:


The Joy of Writing (English)

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?

For a drink of written water from a spring

whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?

Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?

Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,

she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.

Silence - this word also rustles across the page

and parts the boughs

that have sprouted from the word "woods."


Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,

are letters up to no good,

clutches of clauses so subordinate

they'll never let her get away.

I imagine the Poles, like the Americans and the Koreans and the Uruguayans, think that a person should learn their language.  Sure, they should but they can't learn them all and they won't.  So, deep thanks for those who can stand on the border between two of the world's languages and help us know what is on the other side.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Quick trip

We took a short trip, leaving Friday evening and returning at nearly the same hour Saturday evening.  We like the small towns in central southern Wisconsin.  We live in a very flat area so the rolling hills and the small glens tucked between them attract our eyes.  This is one third through spring and a very beautiful time in the state.  Bright, strong green everywhere with dots of blue lakes and ponds.  The rivers are full but not too full and flowers and flowering trees are lovely.

It was only one night so packing was quick.  We were finishing up "From Finland with Love" by Ellie Alanko and I read aloud while we drove to Baraboo for dinner and an overnight stay.  Lynn is half Finnish and that heritage has always struck me as attractive and magnetic.  Even more so when I discovered decades ago that the Finnish epic poem the Kalevala was translated into English by William Kirby.  Not me but still my name.  What are the odds?  I am free to read all sorts of meaning into that fact and I do.

Friday's dinner and Saturday's lunch were both in breweries.  

I meant to bring an HDMI cable along to enable us to watch tv in our room that continued our long, steady viewing of the series "Bones" on Netflix but I forgot it.  I thought my Paperwhite Kindle had enough charge to last 24 hours but it didn't.  I am reading "Don't Just Do Something, Sit There" by Sylvia Boorstein.  The book, the equipment I didn't bring and the occasion combined to give me a good hour or two having my own private retreat from electronics, screens and typical activities.  Boorstein has made it clear to me that I can do more with meditation than I have.  It feels like being a little more serious with my viewing of myself and reactions and feelings.  

Lynn always gets a strong and noticeable lift from nature.  So, we went to Devil's Lake, a Wisconsin State park nearby and famous for its views and setting.  We started on the trail around the lake but stopped when the trail got a little too sketchy and vague.  The incredible amounts of lake flies and the teams of college rowers practicing on the lake were distractions, one negative and one positive.

We drove to Mineral Point, a town with a Welsh and Cornish heritage for lunch and a little shopping/wandering.  Lynn's pottery camp, where she has taken instruction many times, is in the neighborhood so she has connections to the potteries and galleries.  We stopped in Jane Wilcoxson's studio and saw some very nice drawings and pottery.

This is Trivia weekend in our town.  It features one of the largest trivia contests in the world and runs continuously from 6 PM Friday until midnight Sunday.  Many questions get asked over broadcast media, such as "What was the first movie Frank Sinatra appeared in?"  For the first day or so of the following week, there are many trivia players trying to catch up on sleep.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Mouse in the house

We have lived in this house for more than 20 years and have not had trouble with mice.  We live on a wooded lot and we have prairie areas on it and plenty of trees.  


Yesterday, I opened the door from the kitchen to the garage but I remembered something so I closed it immediately.  Yikes, I thought I saw movement on the cement step just outside the door.  I opened the door again and there it was: a mouse sniffing around.  He was trying to get up the final step into the kitchen.  I don't want to share my place with him.  Ok, it could have been a girl mouse: I can't really tell the difference, especially when the animal is in motion.  My hands were full but I was yelling bad words at the mouse.  He/She/It turned and ran off.  


I went downstairs and opened a pack of mousetraps. Ours came in a cellophane package of four and they are supposed to be modern traps that don't need bait. But I don't trust a little piece of yellow plastic with holes in it to convince a cautious mouse it is Swiss cheese.  I put a small amount of peanut butter on the "cheese" and set the trap.  As usual, I had trouble and trapped a bit of my finger.  That part of that finger is bigger, thicker and stronger than a mouse's neckbones but it is still sensitive.  I put some ice on the owie and tried again.  Success in setting the trap.  


Out in the garage, the mouse had mounted Lynn's kiln, a substantial climb on a free-standing "barrel" of metal with a stone top.  It was intimidated but the height and the sheer drop off the sides.  I called to Lynn to look out.  The little thing was totally cute in its explorations.  I cautiously slid the trap onto the kiln and it went for the peanut butter instantly.  The sidedoor was open and I took a broom and swept Mousie and trap right out the door where they fell onto the grassy lawn.  Persistently, it recovered from its long arced fall and tried again.  I encouraged it to take a different route.  

I left the trap, re-set and still smeared with protein-rich peanut butter, outside but it was completely untouched today.  I just know it's lurking out there.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Avoidance by doing

Whatever physical fitness I have had during my life has been in large part due to reading.  Not that picking up a book is going to get me all that fit.  But various books and articles over the years have inspired or re-inspired me to jog, lift weights and get in some biking, walking and calisthenics.  My interest and resolve gets updated, gets a new coat of paint.  I get energized again.

It is a bit too ironic to read about exercise and not do any.  Words and pictures help me get going or point me toward something new.  For some reason, I don't need the same sort of booster for meditation.  In fact, over the years, sitting in a relaxed but upright way on the edge of a hard chair and simply being for 10 minutes has grown to be a welcome respite from reading, thinking, trying, or being guilty about whatever.  When I really stop and feel what I am feeling, all over repeatedly, many other activites take a back seat.  They have value but only faintly.

Through Eric Barker's blog post on mindfulness, I learned about the 10% Happier app launched by Dan Harris, Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzburg.  It is subtitled "Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics", an excellent explanation and challenge.  Harris and others say that meditation has been explained poorly.  I get their point and to some extent, I agree.  Pictures of a swami or guru sitting cross-legged in lotus position bring to mind flavors of exotic activities and influences.  But the app and the courses and the books can be used to avoid the real thing.

Sylvia Boorstein's title "Don't Just Do Something, Sit There!" ($7.49 to download) seems to point in a better and more helpful direction.  No screens, no fidgets, no diversions.  For just ten minutes, for goodness sake.  If you simply break out in itches for that length of time, use a timer for only 90 seconds.  That is the length of time the 10% Happier app starts off with.  Like writing in a diary or closing the day with three good things that happened, a short period every day when you deliberately pay attention to your breathing will pay off.  That time can develop into an ability to let your mind show its ideas and feelings without pulling you off into a story.  Good research shows that whatever you do deliberately matters to your whole mind and body.  It is like checking in with your entire self for a pleasant meeting.

Don't let the ease, simplicity and brevity of a little daily meditation trick you into living without this life-enhancing activity.  It is even more important that exercise, since it can be very helpful in tolerating sickness and aging or times when you can't exercise. Sylvia writes:

At some point or other, I took the instruction seriously and said to myself, "Go for it—just do it. Don't think about it, don't evaluate it, don't figure it out, just do it." When I did, everything changed.

Boorstein, Sylvia. Don't Just Do Something, Sit There: A Mindfulness Retreat with Sylvia Boorstein (pp. 76-77). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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