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Posts Tagged ‘Psychology

“All profound distraction opens certain doors”*…

 

We are used to hearing that attention is good for us, and that bad things happen when we are inattentive. On the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, Rebecca Solnit wrote of a hypercapitalist culture 
that had helped to create a “pandemic attention deficit disorder.” But the culture’s vocabularies for attentiveness are not exactly uncapitalist (we pay or invest attention, spend time, take stock). In The Attention Economy, Thomas Davenport and John Beck sought to counteract “organizational ADD” in corporations, and it seems reasonable to assume that the $100,000 advertising campaign that drew attention to their book was, as it were, “good for business.” This particular economy shows no signs of shrinking; last year MIT Press published The Distracted Mind, in which the coauthors (a psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist) offered strategies for changing our behavior so that we might function more successfully “in our personal lives, on the road, in classrooms, and” — last but not least — “in the workplace.” The book concluded with the hope that “a neuro cross-fit training” program might soon be developed to minimize distractions.

People have been in training for attention for some time. “Attend upon the Lord without distraction,” Paul advised in Corinthians. Darwin would later stress the importance of attendances less spiritual and altogether more adaptive. “Hardly any faculty is more important for the intellectual progress of man than the power of Attention,” he observed in The Descent of Man, “animals clearly manifest this power, as when a cat watches by a hole and prepares to spring on its prey.” This watchfulness is certainly useful, but it may need to be watched; Darwin adds that “wild animals sometimes become so absorbed when thus engaged, that they may be easily approached.” So perhaps it’s hazardous for me to pay too much attention; as an easily-approached attender, I may myself become prey. And there still appears to be some confusion about what kind of attention is the right kind; computer games have often been seen as lamentable distractions, and as contributing factors to poor attention levels, but that was before researchers began lauding the superior attentional capacity of those who played them.

These complications notwithstanding, distraction has tended to
 get bad press…

Matthew Bevis on the rewards of the tangential, the digressive, and the dreamy: “In Search of Distraction.”

* Julio Cortázar, Around the Day in Eighty Worlds

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As we let our minds wander, we might recall that it was on this date in 1855 that Ivan Tugenev and Leo Tolstoy first met.  Earlier that year, Turgenev had written to Tolstoy, who had already published Childhood and Boyhood, but was at the time fighting at the front in the Crimean War: “Enough! There’s a limit to everything!  You have proved that you are no coward, but your instrument is the pen and not the sabre!”

Tolstoy, who admired Turgenev immensely, took those words to heart.  On this day 162 years ago, he appeared on Turgenev’s doorstep in Saint Petersburg.  The writers embraced each other in Russian style and Tolstoy stayed for a month… the beginning of a tempestuous but loyal friendship that lasted until Turgenev’s death in 1883. [source]

left to right (seated), Goncharov, Turgenev, Druzhinin, Ostrovsky; standing, Tolstoy, Grigorovich (1856)

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Written by LW

November 21, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.”*…

 

Encyclopedia Grid (Acropolis), 2014, by Sara Cwynar. Courtesy Foxy Production, New York.

… Digital memory objects and digital reminiscence systems have left us in a catch–22: They are poor but convenient substitutes for the physical objects and mementos we have previously relied on as containers of memory. If we destroy the evocative electronic madeleine, we are left more and more floating in a self-replenishing sea of presentness and recency.

But if we don’t, if we leave the madeleine in safe stasis in memory storage, we may be accepting a different type of tyranny, of memories that refuse to be altered, of constant confrontation with all of you at once, everything algorithmically legible you’ve ever done, existing simultaneously, clamoring for influence and attention.

The redoubtable Molly Sauter on how we remember when apps never forget: “Instant Recall.”

Vaguely related (and in any case, fun): James Gleick’s “The physics of time travel isn’t just the stuff of science fiction.”

* Steven Wright

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As we say thanks for the memories, we might recall that one hundred years ago today, on this date in 1917, after a long, complicated battle, women won the right to vote in New York State.  While a major victory, this fight amplified rifts among equal rights constituents and advocates, primarily between African American women and white women.  Three years later the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting U.S. women suffrage nationwide.

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Written by LW

November 6, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you”*…

 

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Psychology once assumed that most human emotions fall within the universal categories of happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust. But a new study from Greater Good Science Center faculty director Dacher Keltner suggests that there are at least 27 distinct emotions—and they are intimately connected with each other.

Using novel statistical models to analyze the responses of more than 800 men and women to over 2,000 emotionally evocative video clips, Keltner and his colleagues at UC Berkeley created a multidimensional, interactive map to show how feelings like envy, joy, pride, and sadness relate to each other.

“We found that 27 distinct dimensions, not six, were necessary to account for the way hundreds of people reliably reported feeling in response to each video,” said study senior author Keltner, whose findings recently appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Explore the range at: “How Many Different Human Emotions Are There?

[TotH to @MartyKrasney]

* Roger Ebert

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As we speculate on the spectrum, we might spare a thought for John Broadus Watson; he died on this date in 1958.  A psychologist inspired by the (then recent) work of Ivan Pavlov, Watson established the psychological school of behaviorism, most dramatically through his address Psychology as the Behaviorist Views it, at Columbia University in 1913.  Watson studied the biology, physiology, and behavior of animals, viewing them as extremely complex machines that responded to situations according to their “wiring,” or nerve pathways, which were conditioned by experience.  When he continued with studies of the behavior of children, his conclusion was that humans, while more complicated than animals, operated on the same principles; he was particularly interested in the conditioning of emotions.  Watson’s behaviorism dominated psychology in the U.S. in the 1920s and ’30s (and got a second wind with the ascendence of B.F. Skinner).

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Written by LW

September 25, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead”*…

 

What kinds of secrets does the average person keep? In a new paper, Columbia University researchers Michael L. Slepian and colleagues carried out a survey of secrets…

Take a peek at (and find larger versions of this chart and others) at “A Survey of Our Secret Lives.”

* Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack

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As we keep it under our hats, we might send vocal birthday greetings to Melvin Jerome “Mel” Blanc; he was born on this date in 1908. A voice actor, actor, radio comedian, and recording artist, he began his 60-plus-year career performing in radio, but is best remembered for his work in animation– as the voices of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, Pepé Le Pew, Speedy Gonzales, Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, the Tasmanian Devil, and many of the other characters from the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies theatrical cartoons that helped define the golden age of American animation.  He was, in fact, the voice for all of the major male Warner Bros. cartoon characters except Elmer Fudd, whose voice was provided by fellow radio actor Arthur Q. Bryan (though Blanc later voiced Fudd as well after Bryan’s death).  Blanc died in 1989,  just a year after voicing Daffy Duck in his classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit duel with Donald.

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Written by LW

May 30, 2017 at 1:01 am

“We are homesick most for the places we have never known”*…

 

It is fascinating to note that from the early modern era to the twentieth century, the word nostalgia primarily indicated a disease, whose causes, symptoms and cures were debated. Nostalgia’s test-case was Swiss soldiers abroad who missed their home and were depressed. (It is not an ancient Greek term at all.) Immanuel Kant in particular was much vexed by the supposition that going home could somehow satisfy the longing for a lost past, which, he insisted, must remain unsatisfied by definition. Nostalgia in those days was a technical term used and discussed primarily by specialists. In the twentieth century, however, the word has become fully demedic­alized. It now means little more than a sentimental attachment to a lost or past era, a fuzzy feeling about a soft-focus earlier time, and is more often used of an advertising campaign, a film or a memory of childhood than with regard to any strong sense of its etymology, “pain about homecoming”. Victorians talked with passion about their feelings for the past, longed for lost ideals, and, as one would expect in an imperial age, often talked about travelling home, in overlapping physical and metaphorical senses. They also theorized such feelings and dramatized them in poetry, art, music and novels. But “nostalgia” is a major term for us, not them. In this sense at least, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

I can’t help wondering whether this shift in usage does not betoken a broader shift in politics too, or perhaps in cultural self-understanding…

Mosey (carefully) down memory lane at “Look back with danger.”

* Carson McCullers

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As we agree with Proust that “remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were,” we might send epigrammatic birthday greetings to Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra; he was born on this date in 1925.  Berra played almost his entire 19-year baseball career (1946–1965) for the New York Yankees. Berra is one of only four players to be named the Most Valuable Player of the American League three times; according to  sabermetrician Bill James, he is the greatest catcher of all time and the 52nd greatest non-pitching player in major-league history.  Berra went on to manage the dynasty of which he was a crucial part, the Yankees, and then the New York Mets; he is one of seven managers to lead both American and National League teams to the World Series (as a player, coach, or manager, Berra appeared in 21 Fall Classics). He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

Berra is also remembered for the “unique”  observations on baseball and life with which he graced reporters during interviews:  e.g., “Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical,” “It’s déjà vu all over again,” “You can observe a lot by watching,” and “The future ain’t what it used to be.”  In The Yogi Book, Berra explained, “I really didn’t say everything I said. […] Then again, I might have said ’em, but you never know.”

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Written by LW

May 12, 2017 at 1:01 am

“What a piece of work is a man!”*…

 

A two-minute look at demographics, habits, living conditions, and more if only 100 people lived on Earth in the same cultural and social patterns as the 7.4 billion who actually do:

[Happily, while most of the info here check out as solid, the poverty numbers in this video seem to be based on data from around 2012; things have got better since then: if 15 people in 100 spent $US1.90 a day or less in 2012, by 2015 that number was down to 10. Back in 1981, according to World Bank data, the corresponding number was over 40.]

* Shakespeare, Hamlet

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As we note that “it takes a village,” we might send carefully-observed birthday greetings to Gabriel Tarde; he was born on this date in 1843.  A French sociologist, criminologist, and social psychologist, he conceived society as based on small psychological interactions (“intermental activity”) among individuals (much as if it were chemistry), the fundamental forces being imitation and innovation.

While this theory of social interaction– which emphasized the individual in an aggregate of persons– brought Tarde into conflict with Émile Durkheim (who conceived of society as a collective unity), Tarde had an formative influence on the thinking of psychologists and social theorists from Sigmund Freud to Everett Rogers.  Now, for all his sins, Tarde seems to be in process of being re-discovered as a harbinger of postmodern French theory, particularly as influenced by the social philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

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Written by LW

March 12, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact.”*…

 

If all goes as NASA — and Elon Musk — have planned, at some point in the not-too-distant future, a group of astronauts will begin a years-long round trip to Mars. In NASA’s plan, during each six-month (or more) leg of the journey, the members of a small crew will strap themselves into a cramped spacecraft that offers limited opportunities for recreation, distraction or privacy. As they get farther from Earth, they’ll be increasingly isolated from everything they’ve ever known. Real-time communication with mission control or family members will become impossible.

All of that is a recipe for psychological stress, even above and beyond what astronauts have already experienced. So scientists are trying to identify the unique mental pressures that would accompany a trip to Mars so they can select crews who will cope the best, prepare them to handle the difficulties they will face, and learn how best to help them when they’re millions of miles away…

Preparing for a trip that will make a tourist seat on a United flight seem luxurious: “What Going To Mars Will Do To Our Minds.”

Pair with a packing list for Mars: “The Earth In A Suitcase.”

* Elon Musk

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As we buckle in, we might spare a thought for Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr., USN; he died on this date in 1957.  An explorer, aviator, and scientist, he was the first man to fly over both of the Earth’s poles.

From the age of 13, he showed an adventurous spirit, traveling alone around the world.  He joined the Navy, and by WW I was commander of U.S. Navy aviation forces in Canada.  To improve aerial navigation for occasions when no land or horizon would be visible, he developed a bubble sextant and a drift indicator.

On May 9, 1926, in order to demonstrate the practicability of aerial polar exploration, he and a copilot circled the North Pole.  During an Antarctic expedition, he organized scientific studies, surveying, and collection of meteorological and radio wave propagation data. Then, on November 28-29, 1929, with three crew, he made a flight to the South Pole.

By the time he died, Byrd had amassed twenty-two citations and special commendations, nine of which were for bravery and two for extraordinary heroism in saving the lives of others. In addition, he received the Medal of Honor, the Silver Lifesaving Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Navy Cross, and had three ticker-tape parades– the only individual to ever receive more than two.

Byrd was one of only four American military officers in history entitled to wear a medal with his own image on it. The others were Admiral George Dewey, General John J. Pershing and Admiral William T. Sampson.  As Byrd’s image is on both the first and second Byrd Antarctic Expedition medals, he was the only American entitled to wear two medals with his own image on them.

Byrd and his Vought VE-7 Bluebird seaplane

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Written by LW

March 11, 2017 at 1:01 am

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