Archive for May 10th, 2010
At Salon, Margaret Eby discusses marriage with Tara Parker-Pope, who has written a new book, “For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage.” In one paragraph, Parker-Pope puts the myth of the 50% divorce rate to bed:
The 50 percent divorce rate is really a myth. The 20-year divorce rate for couples who got married in the 1980s is actually around 19 percent. Everyone thinks marriage is such a struggle and it’s shocking to hear that marriage is actually going strong today. It has to do with how you look at the statistic. If the variables were constant, then a simple equation might work to come up with the divorce rate. But a lot of things are changing. And it is true that there are groups of people who have a 50 percent divorce rate: college dropouts who marry under the age of 25, for example. Couples married in the 1970s have a 30-year divorce rate of about 47 percent. A person who got married in the 1970s had a completely different upbringing and experience in life from someone who got married in the 1990s. It’s been very clear that divorce rates peaked in the 1970s and has been going down ever since.
Have you been to the most spectacular tourist attractions in our solar system? If not, here’s your chance, compliments of artist Ron Miller and writer Ed Bell at Scientific American. Packing the right clothes for these warm and cold locations won’t be easy.
Here’s a big page-full of well-presented optical illusions and paradoxes. Many of these are oldies-but-goodies, but there are more than a few that were new to me. Many of these are startling. The site offers succinct explanations for many of the illusions.
And don’t forget that we are subject to mental illusions too.
According to new book by Nicolas Carr, the brain’s plasticity is a double-edge sword–to the extent that we make ourselves into Internet skimmers, we allow other cognitive abilities atrophy. Carr’s new book was reviewed at Salon.com by Laura Miller:
The more of your brain you allocate to browsing, skimming, surfing and the incessant, low-grade decision-making characteristic of using the Web, the more puny and flaccid become the sectors devoted to “deep” thought. Furthermore, as Carr recently explained in a talk at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, distractibility is part of our genetic inheritance, a survival trait in the wild: “It’s hard for us to pay attention,” he said. “It goes against the native orientation of our minds.”
Concentrated, linear thought doesn’t come naturally to us, and the Web, with its countless spinning, dancing, blinking, multicolored and goodie-filled margins, tempts us away from it. (E-mail, that constant influx of the social acknowledgment craved by our monkey brains, may pose an even more potent diversion.) “It’s possible to think deeply while surfing the Net,” Carr writes, “but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages or rewards.” Instead, it tends to transform us into “lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment.”
Rather than claim that the Internet makes us “stupid” (a term used in the title of an article on this topic that Carr published in The Atlantic, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”), it would be more accurate to suggest that constant skimming and clicking develop those particular skills at the expense of the ability to focus deeply. Thus, we trade-off one ability for another, it seems, an idea captured by Howard Gardner’s suggestion that it is misleading to speak of a unified version of intelligence–hence his concept of the multiple intelligences.
There is no doubt that the ability to quickly navigate the Internet and to multitask can be quite useful in many situations. The question is whether a long-term development of these skimming and clicking skills, to the extent that it diminishes traditional skills associated with “intelligence,” leads to the kinds of ideas and abilities that we need to solve modern day problems faced by society. This is an issue recently raised by Barack Obama:
With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.
I notice that I am often not focusing well when I read on a screen, especially after long hours of looking at the screen. I find that my focus improves dramatically when I switch to printed material, especially when I also use a pen to ink up the article with my own highlights and notes. Perhaps this is another illustration of the same problem noted by Carr. Perhaps I will need to actually buy and read the print version of Carr’s new book to fully appreciate his analysis!
To complicate matters, I caught the above-linked potentially important ideas and articles while surfing the Internet.