How to Rewire Your Brain in 6 Weeks: A BBC Reporter Explores How Everyday Life Changes Can Alter Our Brains

If you sus­pect that your brain isn’t quite suit­ed for mod­ern life, you’re not alone. In fact, that state of mind has prob­a­bly been clos­er to the rule than the excep­tion through­out moder­ni­ty itself. It’s just that the mix of things we have to think about keeps chang­ing: “The school run. Work calls. Infla­tion. Remem­ber your lines,” says BBC sci­ence reporter Melis­sa Hogen­boom in the video above. “Our brain nev­er evolved for any of this, and yet here we are, get­ting on with it as best we can, and it’s all thanks to our brain’s incred­i­ble capac­i­ty to adapt, to learn, to grow” — the very sub­ject she inves­ti­gates in this series, Brain Hacks.

In search of neu­ro­sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly sound “hacks to help strength­en cru­cial con­nec­tions and keep our minds younger in the process,” Hogen­boom put her­self through a “a six-week brain-alter­ing course.” The first seg­ment of the series finds her enter­ing into a med­i­ta­tion pro­gram she describes in this arti­cle: “For 30 min­utes a day, either as one sin­gle ses­sion or two 15-minute ses­sions, I prac­ticed a guid­ed mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tion by lis­ten­ing to a record­ing.” In addi­tion, she had a week­ly ses­sion with Uni­ver­si­ty of Sur­rey pro­fes­sor of clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gy Thorsten Barn­hofer, who also appears in the video.

Can med­i­ta­tion, and the oft-dis­cussed “mind­ful­ness” it empha­sizes, keep our minds from wan­der­ing away from what we real­ly need to think about? “Mind-wan­der­ing is some­thing that, of course, might be help­ful in many ways,” says Barn­hofer, “but it’s also some­thing that can go awry. This is where repet­i­tive think­ing comes in, where rumi­na­tive think­ing comes in, where wor­ry comes in. Those are the fac­tors which increase stress,” increas­ing the pres­ence of hor­mones like cor­ti­sol. And “if lev­els of cor­ti­sol remain high, that can actu­al­ly become tox­ic for your brain, for regions of your brain which are very plas­tic.” Stress, as Hogen­boom sums it up, “is a direct inhibitor of neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty.”

“Research has found that after only a few months of mind­ful­ness train­ing, cer­tain depres­sion and anx­i­ety symp­toms can ease,” Hogen­boom writes, and her own expe­ri­ence seems also to point in that direc­tion. A brain scan per­formed after her med­i­ta­tion course found that “one half of my amyg­dala – an almond-shaped struc­ture impor­tant for emo­tion­al pro­cess­ing – had reduced in vol­ume,” pos­si­bly because the prac­tice “buffers stress seen in the amyg­dala.” It also revealed growth in her cin­gu­late cor­tex, “part of the lim­bic sys­tem that is involved in our behav­ioral and emo­tion­al respons­es,” which indi­cates “increased con­trol of that area.” Hogen­boom acknowl­edges that these changes “could also be ran­dom,” since “the brain is con­stant­ly chang­ing any­way”; the trick, how­ev­er and when­ev­er pos­si­ble, is to nudge it toward change for the bet­ter.

Bonus: Below, sci­ence jour­nal­ist Daniel Gole­man talks about mind­ful­ness and how you can change your brain in 10 min­utes with dai­ly med­i­ta­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Med­i­ta­tion 101: A Short, Ani­mat­ed Beginner’s Guide

How Med­i­ta­tion Can Change Your Brain: The Neu­ro­science of Bud­dhist Prac­tice

Alan Watts Presents a 15-Minute Guid­ed Med­i­ta­tion: A Time-Test­ed Way to Stop Think­ing About Think­ing

Dis­cov­er the Back­wards Brain Bicy­cle: What Rid­ing a Bike Says About the Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty of the Brain

How Yoga Changes the Brain and May Guard Against Alzheimer’s and Demen­tia

5 Ways to Build an Alzheimer’s‑Resistant Brain: Neu­ro­sci­en­tist Lisa Gen­o­va Explains

David Lynch Explains Why Depres­sion Is the Ene­my of Cre­ativ­i­ty — and Why Med­i­ta­tion Is the Solu­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

David Lynch Explains Why Depression Is the Enemy of Creativity–and Why Meditation Is the Solution

David Lynch has a vari­ety of notions about what it takes to make art, but suf­fer­ing is not among them. “This is part of the myth, I think,” he said in one inter­view. “Van Gogh did suf­fer. He suf­fered a lot. But I think he did­n’t suf­fer while he was paint­ing.” That is, “he did­n’t need to be suf­fer­ing to do those great paint­ings.” As Lynch sees it, “the more you suf­fer, the less you want to cre­ate. If you’re tru­ly depressed, they say, you can’t even get out of bed, let alone cre­ate.” This rela­tion­ship between men­tal state and cre­ativ­i­ty is a sub­ject he’s addressed over and over again, and the video above assem­bles sev­er­al of those instances from over the decades. It may come as a sur­prise that the auteur of Blue Vel­vetTwin Peaks, and Mul­hol­land Dri­ve, rec­om­mends med­i­ta­tion as the solu­tion.

That cer­tain­ly won’t come as a sur­prise, how­ev­er, to any­one famil­iar with Lynch’s world­view. Here on Open Cul­ture, we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Lynch’s expla­na­tion of how med­i­ta­tion boosts cre­ativ­i­ty, his draw­ing depict­ing how med­i­ta­tion works, his method of get­ting ideas through med­i­ta­tion, and his con­ver­sa­tions about med­i­ta­tion with the likes of Paul McCart­ney and Moby.

In the video below, he lays out how his favorite kind of med­i­ta­tion, the Tran­scen­den­tal vari­ety, has the poten­tial to dri­ve out not just depres­sion, but also neg­a­tiv­i­ty, ten­sion, stress, anx­i­ety, sor­row, anger, hate, and fear. These are grand promis­es, but not with­out inter­est to the non-med­i­tat­ing Lynch fan curi­ous about the mind behind his work, both of which were once wide­ly assumed to be deeply trou­bled indeed.

“Do you think you’re a genius, or a real­ly sick per­son?” CBC cor­re­spon­dent Valerie Pringle asks him in a Blue Vel­vet-era inter­view includ­ed in the com­pi­la­tion at the top of the post. “Well, Valerie,” he responds, “I don’t know.” He did not, at that time, speak pub­licly about his med­i­ta­tion prac­tice, but by the late nineties he’d begun to dis­cuss per­son­al mat­ters much more freely. In one Char­lie Rose inter­view, a clip from which appears in the video, he even tells of the time he went to ther­a­py. The begin­ning of this sto­ry makes it in, but not the end: Lynch asked his new ther­a­pist “straight out, right up front, ‘Could this process that we’re going to go through affect cre­ativ­i­ty?’ And he said, ‘David, I have to be hon­est with you, it could” — where­upon Lynch shook the man’s hand and walked right back out the door.

Relat­ed con­tent:

David Lynch Explains How Med­i­ta­tion Boosts Our Cre­ativ­i­ty (Plus Free Resources to Help You Start Med­i­tat­ing)

One Hour of David Lynch Lis­ten­ing to Rain, Smok­ing & Reflect­ing on Art

David Lynch Visu­al­izes How Tran­scen­den­tal Med­i­ta­tion Works, Using a Sharpie & Big Pad of Paper

Are We All Get­ting More Depressed?: A New Study Ana­lyz­ing 14 Mil­lion Books, Writ­ten Over 160 Years, Finds the Lan­guage of Depres­sion Steadi­ly Ris­ing

David Lynch Mus­es About the Mag­ic of Cin­e­ma & Med­i­ta­tion in a New Abstract Short Film

Charles Bukows­ki Explains How to Beat Depres­sion: Spend 3–4 Days in Bed and You’ll Get the Juices Flow­ing Again (NSFW)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Sun Ra Plays a Music Therapy Gig at a Psychiatric Hospital & Inspires a Patient to Talk for the First Time in Years

For some time now it has been fash­ion­able to diag­nose dead famous peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness­es we nev­er knew they had when they were alive. These post­mortem clin­i­cal inter­ven­tions can seem accu­rate or far-fetched, and most­ly harmless—unless we let them col­or our appre­ci­a­tion of an artist’s work, or neg­a­tive­ly influ­ence the way we treat eccen­tric liv­ing per­son­al­i­ties. Over­all, I tend to think the state of a cre­ative individual’s men­tal health is a top­ic best left between patient and doc­tor.

In the case of one Her­man Poole Blount, aka Sun Ra—com­pos­er, band­leader of free jazz ensem­ble the Arkestra, and “embod­i­ment of Afro­fu­tur­ism”—one finds it tempt­ing to spec­u­late about pos­si­ble diag­noses, of schiz­o­phre­nia or bipo­lar dis­or­der, for exam­ple. Plen­ty of peo­ple have done so. This makes sense, giv­en Blount’s claims to have vis­it­ed oth­er plan­ets through astral pro­jec­tion and to him­self be an alien from anoth­er dimen­sion. But ascrib­ing Sun Ra’s enlight­en­ing, enliven­ing mytho-theo-phi­los­o­phy to ill­ness or dys­func­tion tru­ly does his bril­liant mind a dis­ser­vice, and clouds our appre­ci­a­tion for his com­plete­ly orig­i­nal body of work.

In fact, Sun Ra him­self discovered—fairly ear­ly in his career when he went by the name “Sonny”—that his music could per­haps alle­vi­ate the suf­fer­ing of men­tal ill­ness and help bring patients back in touch with real­i­ty. In the late 50’s, the pianist and composer’s man­ag­er, Alton Abra­ham, booked his client at a Chica­go psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal. Sun Ra biog­ra­ph­er John Szwed tells the sto­ry:

Abra­ham had an ear­ly inter­est in alter­na­tive med­i­cine, hav­ing read about scalpel-free surgery in the Philip­pines and Brazil. The group of patients assem­bled for this ear­ly exper­i­ment in musi­cal ther­a­py includ­ed cata­ton­ics and severe schiz­o­phren­ics, but Son­ny approached the job like any oth­er, mak­ing no con­ces­sions in his music.

Sun Ra had his faith in this endeav­or reward­ed by the response of some of the patients. “While he was play­ing,” Szwed writes, “a woman who it was said had not moved or spo­ken for years got up from the floor, walked direct­ly to his piano, and cried out ‘Do you call that music?’” Blount—just com­ing into his own as an orig­i­nal artist—was “delight­ed with her response, and told the sto­ry for years after­ward as evi­dence of the heal­ing pow­ers of music.” He also com­posed the song above, “Advice for Medics,” which com­mem­o­rates the psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal gig.

It is sure­ly an event worth remem­ber­ing for how it encap­su­lates so many of the respons­es to Sun Ra’s music, which can—yes—confuse, irri­tate, and bewil­der unsus­pect­ing lis­ten­ers. Like­ly still inspired by the expe­ri­ence, Sun Ra record­ed an album in the ear­ly six­ties titled Cos­mic Tones for Men­tal Ther­a­py, a col­lec­tion of songs, writes All­mu­sic, that “out­raged those in the jazz com­mu­ni­ty who thought Eric Dol­phy and John Coltrane had already tak­en things too far.” (Hear the track “And Oth­er­ness” above.) But those will­ing to lis­ten to what Sun Ra was lay­ing down often found them­selves roused from a debil­i­tat­ing com­pla­cen­cy about what music can be and do.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Col­lec­tion of Sun Ra’s Busi­ness Cards from the 1950s: They’re Out of This World

Sun Ra’s Full Lec­ture & Read­ing List From His 1971 UC Berke­ley Course, “The Black Man in the Cos­mos”

When Sun Ra Went to Egypt in 1971: See Film & Hear Record­ings from the Leg­endary Afrofuturist’s First Vis­it to Cairo

Sun Ra Applies to NASA’s Art Pro­gram: When the Inven­tor of Space Jazz Applied to Make Space Art

Watch a 5‑Part Ani­mat­ed Primer on Afro­fu­tur­ism, the Black Sci-Fi Phe­nom­e­non Inspired by Sun Ra

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Why Incompetent People Think They’re Competent: The Dunning-Kruger Effect, Explained

When sur­veyed, eighty to nine­ty per­cent of Amer­i­cans con­sid­er them­selves pos­sessed of above-aver­age dri­ving skills. Most of them are, of course, wrong by sta­tis­ti­cal def­i­n­i­tion, but the result itself reveals some­thing impor­tant about human nature. So does anoth­er, less­er-known study that had two groups, one com­posed of pro­fes­sion­al come­di­ans and the oth­er com­posed of aver­age Cor­nell under­grad­u­ates, rank the fun­ni­ness of a set of jokes. It also asked those stu­dents to rank their own abil­i­ty to iden­ti­fy fun­ny jokes. Nat­u­ral­ly, the major­i­ty of them cred­it­ed them­selves with an above-aver­age sense of humor.

Not only that, explains the host of the After Skool video above, “those who did the worst placed them­selves in the 58th per­centile on aver­age. They believed that they were bet­ter than 57 oth­er peo­ple out of 100. Their real score? Twelfth per­centile.” Here we have an exam­ple of the cog­ni­tive bias where­by “peo­ple with a lit­tle bit of knowl­edge or skill in an area believe that they are bet­ter than they are,” now com­mon­ly known as the Dun­ning-Kruger effect. It’s named for social psy­chol­o­gists David Dun­ning and Justin Kruger, who con­duct­ed the afore­men­tioned joke-rank­ing study as well as oth­ers in var­i­ous domains that all sup­port the same basic find­ing: the incom­pe­tent don’t know how incom­pe­tent they are.

“When you’re incom­pe­tent, the skills you need to pro­duce a right answer are exact­ly the skills you need to rec­og­nize what a right answer is,” Dun­ning told Errol Mor­ris in a 2010 inter­view (the first of a five-part series on anosog­nosia, or the inabil­i­ty to rec­og­nize one’s own lack of abil­i­ty). “In log­i­cal rea­son­ing, in par­ent­ing, in man­age­ment, prob­lem solv­ing, the skills you use to pro­duce the right answer are exact­ly the same skills you use to eval­u­ate the answer.” What’s more, “even if you are just the most hon­est, impar­tial per­son that you could be, you would still have a prob­lem — name­ly, when your knowl­edge or exper­tise is imper­fect, you real­ly don’t know it. Left to your own devices, you just don’t know it. We’re not very good at know­ing what we don’t know.”

This brings to mind Don­ald Rums­feld’s much-mocked remark about “unknown unknowns,” which Dun­ning actu­al­ly con­sid­ered “the smartest and most mod­est thing I’ve heard in a year.” (Mor­ris, for his part, would go on to make a doc­u­men­tary about Rums­feld titled The Unknown Known.) But whether you’re the Sec­re­tary of Defense, a cel­e­brat­ed film­mak­er, a Youtu­ber, an essay­ist, or any­thing else, you’ve almost cer­tain­ly been afflict­ed with the Dun­ning-Kruger effect. But if we can make a habit of sub­ject­ing our­selves to brac­ing objec­tive assess­ment, we can — at least, at cer­tain times and cer­tain domains — break free of what T. S. Eliot called the end­less strug­gle to think well of our­selves.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Why Incom­pe­tent Peo­ple Think They’re Amaz­ing: An Ani­mat­ed Les­son from David Dun­ning (of the Famous “Dun­ning-Kruger Effect”)

Bertrand Rus­sell: The Every­day Ben­e­fit of Phi­los­o­phy Is That It Helps You Live with Uncer­tain­ty

John Cleese on How “Stu­pid Peo­ple Have No Idea How Stu­pid They Are” (Oth­er­wise Known as the Dun­ning-Kruger Effect)

24 Com­mon Cog­ni­tive Bias­es: A Visu­al List of the Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sys­tems Errors That Keep Us From Think­ing Ratio­nal­ly

Errol Mor­ris Makes His Ground­break­ing Series First Per­son Free to Watch Online: Binge Watch His Inter­views with Genius­es, Eccentrics, Obses­sives & Oth­er Unusu­al Types

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How Loneliness Is Killing Us: A Primer from Harvard Psychiatrist & Zen Priest Robert Waldinger

In 1966, Paul McCart­ney famous­ly sang of “all the lone­ly peo­ple,” won­der­ing aloud where they come from. Near­ly six decades lat­er, their num­bers seem only to have increased; as for their ori­gin, psy­chi­a­trist, psy­cho­an­a­lyst, and Zen priest Robert Waldinger has made it a long­time pro­fes­sion­al con­cern. “Start­ing in the nine­teen fifties, and going all the way through to today, we know that peo­ple have been less and less invest­ed in oth­er peo­ple,” he says in the Big Think video above. “In some stud­ies, as many as 60 per­cent of peo­ple will say that they feel lone­ly much of the time,” a feel­ing “per­va­sive across the world, across all age groups, all income groups, all demo­graph­ics.”

“Hav­ing an exten­sive net­work of friends is no guar­an­tee against lone­li­ness,” writes the late soci­ol­o­gist Ray Old­en­burg in The Great Good Place. “Nor does mem­ber­ship in vol­un­tary asso­ci­a­tions, the ‘instant com­mu­ni­ties’ of our mobile soci­ety, ensure against social iso­la­tion and atten­dant feel­ings of bore­dom and alien­ation. The net­work of friends has no uni­ty and no home base.” He names as a key fac­tor the dis­ap­pear­ance, espe­cial­ly in Amer­i­can life since World War II, of “con­ve­nient and open-end­ed social­iz­ing — places where indi­vid­u­als can go with­out aim or arrange­ment and be greet­ed by peo­ple who know them and know how to enjoy a lit­tle time off.”

Old­en­burg’s ele­gy for and defense of “cafés, cof­fee shops, com­mu­ni­ty cen­ters, gen­er­al stores, bars,” and oth­er engines of com­mu­ni­ty life, was pub­lished in 1989, well before the rise of social media — which Waldinger frames as the lat­est stage in a process that began with tele­vi­sion. As more Amer­i­can homes acquired sets of their own, “there was a decline in invest­ing in our com­mu­ni­ties. Peo­ple went out less, they joined clubs less often. They went to hous­es of wor­ship less often. They invit­ed peo­ple over less often.” Then, “the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion gave us more and more screens to look at, and soft­ware that was designed specif­i­cal­ly to grab our atten­tion, hold our atten­tion, and there­fore keep it away from the peo­ple we care about.”

We also know, he con­tin­ues, that “peo­ple with strong social bonds are much less like­ly to die in any giv­en year than peo­ple with­out strong social bonds.” This is a cred­i­ble claim, giv­en that he hap­pens to direct the now 85-year-long Har­vard Study of Adult Devel­op­ment. In 2016, we fea­tured Waldinger’s TED Talk on some of its find­ings here on Open Cul­ture. Before that, we post­ed a PBS Brain­Craft video that con­sid­ers the Har­vard Study of Adult Devel­op­ment along with oth­er research on the con­tribut­ing fac­tors to hap­pi­ness, a body of work that, tak­en togeth­er, points to the impor­tance of love — which, even if it isn’t all you need, is cer­tain­ly some­thing you need. And thus one more Bea­t­les lyric con­tin­ues to res­onate.

Relat­ed con­tent:

New Ani­ma­tion Explains Sher­ry Turkle’s The­o­ries on Why Social Media Makes Us Lone­ly

What Are the Keys to Hap­pi­ness? Lessons from a 75-Year-Long Har­vard Study

All You Need is Love: The Keys to Hap­pi­ness Revealed by a 75-Year Har­vard Study

A Guide to Hap­pi­ness: Alain de Bot­ton Shows How Six Great Philoso­phers Can Change Your Life

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

51 Propaganda Techniques Explained in 11 Minutes: From Cognitive Dissonance to Appeal to Fear

The con­cept of pro­pa­gan­da has a great deal of pow­er to fas­ci­nate. So does the very word pro­pa­gan­da, which to most of us today sounds faint­ly exot­ic, as if it referred main­ly to phe­nom­e­na from dis­tant places and times. But in truth, can any one of us here in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry go a day with­out being sub­ject­ed to the thing itself? Watch the video above, in which The Paint Explain­er lays out 51 dif­fer­ent pro­pa­gan­da tech­niques in 11 min­utes, and you’ll more than like­ly rec­og­nize many of the insid­i­ous­ly effec­tive rhetor­i­cal tricks labeled there­in from your recent every­day life.

You won’t be sur­prised to hear that these man­i­fest most clear­ly in the media, both offline and on. The list begins with “agen­da set­ting,” the “abil­i­ty of the news to influ­ence the impor­tance placed on cer­tain top­ics by pub­lic opin­ion, just by cov­er­ing them fre­quent­ly and promi­nent­ly.”

Scat­tered through­out the news, or through­out your social-media feed, adver­tise­ments bring out the “beau­ti­ful peo­ple,” which “sug­gests that if peo­ple buy a prod­uct or fol­low a cer­tain ide­ol­o­gy, they, too will be hap­py or suc­cess­ful” – or, in its basest forms, oper­ates through “clas­si­cal con­di­tion­ing,” in which “a nat­ur­al stim­u­lus is asso­ci­at­ed with a neu­tral stim­u­lus enough times to cre­ate the same response by using just the neu­tral one.”

In the even more shame­less realm of pol­i­tics, the com­mon “plain folk” strat­e­gy “attempts to con­vince the audi­ence that the pro­pa­gan­dis­t’s posi­tions reflect the com­mon sense of the peo­ple.” When “an indi­vid­ual uses mass media to cre­ate an ide­al­ized and hero­ic pub­lic image, often through unques­tion­ing flat­tery and praise,” a pow­er­ful “cult of per­son­al­i­ty” can arise. And in pro­pa­gan­da for every­thing from pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to fast-food chains, you’ll hear and read no end of “glit­ter­ing gen­er­al­i­ties,” or “emo­tion­al­ly appeal­ing words that are applied to a prod­uct idea, but present no con­crete argu­ment or analy­sis.” You can find many of these strate­gies explained at Wikipedi­a’s list of pro­pa­gan­da tech­niques, or this list from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia of “pro­pa­gan­da tech­niques to rec­og­nize” — and not just when the “oth­er side” uses them.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed con­tent:

Han­nah Arendt Explains How Pro­pa­gan­da Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Moral­i­ty: Insights from The Ori­gins of Total­i­tar­i­an­ism

A Field Guide to Fake News and Oth­er Infor­ma­tion Dis­or­ders: A Free Man­u­al to Down­load, Share & Re-Use

An Archive of 800+ Imag­i­na­tive Pro­pa­gan­da Maps Designed to Shape Opin­ions & Beliefs: Enter Cornell’s Per­sua­sive Maps Col­lec­tion

“Glo­ry to the Con­querors of the Uni­verse!”: Pro­pa­gan­da Posters from the Sovi­et Space Race (1958–1963)

The Red Men­ace: A Strik­ing Gallery of Anti-Com­mu­nist Posters, Ads, Com­ic Books, Mag­a­zines & Films

Sell & Spin: The His­to­ry of Adver­tis­ing, Nar­rat­ed by Dick Cavett (1999)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How Walking Fosters Creativity: Stanford Researchers Confirm What Philosophers & Writers Have Always Known

Image via Diego Sevil­la Ruiz

A cer­tain Zen proverb goes some­thing like this: “A five year old can under­stand it, but an 80 year old can­not do it.” The sub­ject of this rid­dle-like say­ing has been described as “mindfulness”—or being absorbed in the moment, free from rou­tine men­tal habits. In many East­ern med­i­ta­tive tra­di­tions, one can achieve such a state by walk­ing just as well as by sit­ting still—and many a poet and teacher has pre­ferred the ambu­la­to­ry method.

This is equal­ly so in the West, where we have an entire school of ancient philosophy—the “peri­patet­ic”—that derives from Aris­to­tle and his con­tem­po­raries’ pen­chant for doing their best work while in leisure­ly motion. Friedrich Niet­zsche, an almost fanat­i­cal walk­er, once wrote, “all tru­ly great thoughts are con­ceived by walk­ing.” Niet­zsche’s moun­tain walks were ath­let­ic, but walk­ing—Frédéric Gros main­tains in his A Phi­los­o­phy of Walk­ing—is not a sport; it is “the best way to go more slow­ly than any oth­er method that has ever been found.”

Gros dis­cuss­es the cen­tral­i­ty of walk­ing in the lives of Niet­zsche, Rim­baud, Kant, Rousseau, and Thore­au. Like­wise, Rebec­ca Sol­nit has pro­filed the essen­tial walks of lit­er­ary fig­ures such as William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, and Gary Sny­der in her book Wan­der­lust, which argues for the neces­si­ty of walk­ing in our own age, when doing so is almost entire­ly unnec­es­sary most of the time. As great walk­ers of the past and present have made abun­dant­ly clear—anecdotally at least—we see a sig­nif­i­cant link between walk­ing and cre­ative think­ing.

More gen­er­al­ly, writes Fer­ris Jabr in The New York­er, “the way we move our bod­ies fur­ther changes the nature of our thoughts, and vice ver­sa.” Apply­ing mod­ern research meth­ods to ancient wis­dom has allowed psy­chol­o­gists to quan­ti­fy the ways in which this hap­pens, and to begin to explain why. Jabr sum­ma­rizes the exper­i­ments of two Stan­ford walk­ing researchers, Mar­i­ly Oppez­zo and her men­tor Daniel Schwartz, who found that almost two hun­dred stu­dents test­ed showed marked­ly height­ened cre­ative abil­i­ties while walk­ing. Walk­ing, Jabr writes in poet­ic terms, works by “set­ting the mind adrift on a froth­ing sea of thought.”

Oppez­zo and Schwartz spec­u­late, “future stud­ies would like­ly deter­mine a com­plex path­way that extends from the phys­i­cal act of walk­ing to phys­i­o­log­i­cal changes to the cog­ni­tive con­trol of imag­i­na­tion.” They rec­og­nize that this dis­cov­ery must also account for such vari­ables as when one walks, and—as so many notable walk­ers have stressed—where. Researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan have tack­led the where ques­tion in a paper titled “The Cog­ni­tive Ben­e­fits of Inter­act­ing with Nature.” Their study, writes Jabr, showed that “stu­dents who ambled through an arbore­tum improved their per­for­mance on a mem­o­ry test more than stu­dents who walked along city streets.”

One won­ders what James Joyce—whose Ulysses is built almost entire­ly on a scaf­fold­ing of walks around Dublin—would make of this. Or Wal­ter Ben­jamin, whose con­cept of the flâneur, an arche­typ­al urban wan­der­er, derives direct­ly from the insights of that most imag­i­na­tive deca­dent poet, Charles Baude­laire. Clas­si­cal walk­ers, Roman­tic walk­ers, Mod­ernist walkers—all rec­og­nized the cre­ative impor­tance of this sim­ple move­ment in time and space, one we work so hard to mas­ter in our first years, and some­times lose in lat­er life if we acquire it. Going for a walk, con­tem­po­rary research confirms—a mun­dane activ­i­ty far too eas­i­ly tak­en for granted—may be one of the most salu­tary means of achiev­ing states of enlight­en­ment, lit­er­ary, philo­soph­i­cal, or oth­er­wise, whether we roam through ancient forests, over the Alps, or to the cor­ner store.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

via The New York­er/Stan­ford News

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Why You Do Your Best Think­ing In The Show­er: Cre­ativ­i­ty & the “Incu­ba­tion Peri­od”

The 10 Para­dox­i­cal Traits of Cre­ative Peo­ple, Accord­ing to Psy­chol­o­gist Mihaly Csik­szent­mi­ha­lyi (RIP)

Cre­ativ­i­ty, Not Mon­ey, is the Key to Hap­pi­ness: Dis­cov­er Psy­chol­o­gist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s The­o­ry of “Flow”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Behold LEGO Reenactments of Famous Psychology Experiments, as Imagined by Artificial Intelligence

Cog­ni­tive sci­en­tist Tomer Ull­man, head of Harvard’s Com­pu­ta­tion, Cog­ni­tion, and Devel­op­ment lab, may have inad­ver­tent­ly blun­dered into an untapped vein of LEGO Icon inspi­ra­tion when his inter­est in AI led him to stage recre­ations of famous psych exper­i­ments.

If you think Vin­cent Van Gogh’s Star­ry Night LEGO play­set is a chal­lenge, imag­ine putting togeth­er the AI-gen­er­at­ed play­set inspired by Yale psy­chol­o­gist Stan­ley Milgram’s 1961 obe­di­ence stud­ies, above.

Par­tic­i­pants in these stud­ies were assigned to play one of two parts — teacher or learn­er. Part­ner pairs were seat­ed in sep­a­rate rooms, acces­si­ble to each oth­er by micro­phones. The teacher read the learn­er a list of matched words they’d expect­ed to remem­ber short­ly there­after. If the learn­er flubbed up, the teacher was to admin­is­ter an elec­tric shock via a series of labelled switch­es, upping it by 15-volts for each suc­ces­sive error. The micro­phones ensured that the teacher was privy to the learner’s increas­ing­ly dis­tressed reac­tions — screams, des­per­ate protes­ta­tion, and — at the high­est volt­age — radio silence.

Should a teacher hes­i­tate, they’d be remind­ed that the para­me­ters of the exper­i­ment, for which they were earn­ing $4.50, required them to con­tin­ue. They also received reas­sur­ance that the painful shocks caused no per­ma­nent tis­sue dam­age.

Here’s the thing:

The teach­ers were inno­cent as to the experiment’s true nature. They thought the study’s focus was punishment’s effect on learn­ing abil­i­ty, but in fact, Mil­gram was study­ing the lim­its of obe­di­ence to author­i­ty.

The learn­ers were all in on the ruse. They received no shocks. Their respons­es were all feigned.

If our eyes don’t deceive us, the Mil­gram exper­i­ment that the AI imag­ines is even more extreme than the orig­i­nal. It appears all par­tic­i­pants, includ­ing those wait­ing for their turn, are in the same room.

As some­one com­ment­ed on Bluesky, the new social media plat­form on which Ull­man shared his hypo­thet­i­cal play­sets, “the sub­tle details the AI has got wrong here are the stuff of night­mares.”

AI’s take on the Stan­ford prison exper­i­ment seems more benign than the con­tro­ver­sial 1971 exper­i­ment that recruit­ed 24 stu­dent par­tic­i­pants for a filmed study of prison life to be staged in Stan­ford University’s psy­chol­o­gy depart­men­t’s base­ment, ran­dom­ly divid­ing them into pris­on­ers and guards.

AI’s faith­ful recre­ation of the LEGO fig­urines’ phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions can’t real­ly cap­ture the faux guards’ bru­tal­i­ty — mak­ing their pris­on­ers clean out toi­lets with their bare hands, strip­ping them naked, and depriv­ing them of food and beds. Their pow­er abus­es were so wan­ton, and the pris­on­ers’ dis­tress so extreme, that the planned dura­tion of two weeks was scrapped six days in.

It’s worth not­ing that all the stu­dent par­tic­i­pants came to the study with clean bills of phys­i­cal and men­tal health, and no his­to­ries of crim­i­nal arrest.

Far less upset­ting are the cog­ni­tive sci­ence exper­i­ment play­sets depict­ing the delayed grat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Stan­ford Marsh­mal­low Test and the selec­tive atten­tion of the Invis­i­ble Goril­la Test (both right above).

Ull­man also steered AI toward LEGO trib­utes to B.F. Skinner’s oper­ant con­di­tion­ing cham­ber and Mar­tin Seligman’s learned help­less­ness research (below).

No word on whether he has plans to con­tin­ue exper­i­ment­ing with AI-engi­neered LEGO play­set pro­pos­als fea­tur­ing his­toric exper­i­ments of psy­chol­o­gy and cog­ni­tive sci­ence.

Fol­low on Bluesky if you’re curi­ous. You’ll need to reg­is­ter for a free account and apply for an invite code, if you haven’t already… wait, are we set­ting our­selves up to be unwit­ting par­tic­i­pants in anoth­er psych exper­i­ment?


Via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Psy­chol­o­gy Exper­i­ment That Shocked the World: Milgram’s Obe­di­ence Study (1961)

The Lit­tle Albert Exper­i­ment: The Per­verse 1920 Study That Made a Baby Afraid of San­ta Claus & Bun­nies

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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