RSSCategory: Quality of Life

Mob behavior and threats to free speech described and discussed by Nicholas Christakis

October 11, 2017 | By | Reply More

I recommend this excellent discussion by Nicholas Christakis on the topics of mob behavior, moral panics, and current threats to free speech. Illiberal behavior is destroying our ability to talk with each other, notably on the places where we would most expect vigorous exchanges of ideas: college campuses. Christakis is a sociologist and physician who conducts research in the area of biosocial science, investigating the biological predicates and consequences of social phenomena. He directs the Human Nature Lab at Yale University. Sam Harris presents this discussion on his Waking Up podcast.

At the tail end of the podcast, Christakis and Harris mention the work of Greg Lukianoff, President of FIRE, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The mission of FIRE is to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience—the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity. FIRE’s core mission is to protect the unprotected and to educate the public and communities of concerned Americans about the threats to these rights on our campuses and about the means to preserve them.

FIRE has achieved long successful string of legal victories through its Speech Litigation Project. 

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Mr. Money Mustache: Dirty is the New Clean

September 14, 2017 | By | Reply More

I’m intrigued by the writings of Mr. Money Mustache. There are a lot of benefits to buying only what you really need and reveling in so many things in life that are free or nearly so. In this post, he points out the price many people pay for obsessing about cleanliness:

Dirty is the New Clean – Thus we have our counter-cultural lesson for the day. Rather than seeking to avoid germs and maximize your cleanliness, it is much more profitable to seek out Training for your Immune System, and optimize your life so that things get cleaned the minimum amount that allows you to maintain a functional and prosperous household. The reward is thousands of dollars and countless hours saved, and if you’re lucky, dozens of illnesses prevented.

By all means, keep things happily minimalist, decluttered, and organized – a simplified physical environment is good for the mind. You can also wash your hands with normal soap after a big day out and cook your food properly. But in your own home where no babies are delivered and no surgeries performed, you can safely let yourself off the hook when it comes to wiping, sterilizing, washing, drying, and polishing.

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Getting upset about the right things.

September 2, 2017 | By | Reply More

Here’s a post by Darrell Lackey, a pastor challenging Christians to get save their energy and frustration for the right kinds of things. He begins the post with this statement that Tony Campolo has been known to use when addressing Christian audiences:

I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact I just said “shit” than you are that 30,000 kids died last night.

There is some good food for thought for all of us in this post, whether or not we are religious (I am not).  For example, many of us often get much more upset about the minor irritations of our own local lives than the enormous suffering and stark injustices over the next hill or the next continent. For instance, our own country has been bombing many countries in the Middle East for many years.  We’ve been bombing Afghanistan since 2001, and according to reliable sources, we have been killing many innocent civilians in a “war” regarding which we are utterly unable to articulate any meaningful objective or metric of success. Therefore, that “war” goes on, largely unchallenged and unnoticed, our news media almost never mentioning that we are even at war.  Out of sight, out of mind for most of us.

If we want to be morally cohesive, we need to use unceasing effort to make certain we are focused on the things that matter.  That is often not easy to do.  Trying to stay focused on important things in a sustained way wears us down.  It’s not easy to be moral.  It’s much easier to complain about that the microwave burned the popcorn.

To live moral lives, we need to stay focused on important things, and focus is another word for attention, a psychological resource that humans have in short supply.  Attention is like a spotlight.  When we look at a thing, we often exclude attending to most other things.  that’s how we are wired; we are almost the opposite of omniscient, even though we want to believe that we are generally aware of most things that are important.

Because attention is so limited, our attentional decisions and habits (maybe we should call this our “attentional hygiene”) gives us great power to define our “world.”  Whether it’s conscious or unconscious, we are capable of manipulating what we pay attention to, and whatever we choose to ignore simply doesn’t exist for us; if we are not paying  attention to something, it holds no moral sway over us because our attentional choices turn it into nothing at all. Most of us aren’t at all bothered by world starvation most of the time because  we are not thinking about that horrific problem.  Further, human animals are capable of not paying attention to things that are right in front of us.  This is especially true when we are emotionally motivated to not see.   See no evil and hear no evil functionally means that there is no evil.

I have long been fascinated by this confluence of attention and morality and, in fact wrote a detailed paper on it, drawing from many domains of cognitive science:  Decision Making, the Failure of Principles, and the Seduction of Attention.”  Feel free to take a look, if you find this general topic compelling.

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What is a genius? Here is a short upbeat message coupled with beautiful animation

August 9, 2017 | By | Reply More
What is a genius?  Here is a short upbeat message coupled with beautiful animation

What is a genius? According to this short video, it is someone who is not afraid to pursue the ideas that most of us disregard out of fear of looking strange.

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“Ataraxia”: My Favorite New Word

May 18, 2017 | By | Reply More

Ataraxia:

For Epicureanism, ataraxia was synonymous with the only true happiness possible for a person. It signifies the state of robust tranquillity that derives from eschewing concerns about an afterlife, not fearing the gods (because they are distant and unconcerned with us), avoiding politics and vexatious people, surrounding oneself with trustworthy and affectionate friends, realizing that the physical things one needs to be happy are few and that pain seldom lasts long, and, most importantly, being an affectionate, virtuous person, worthy of trust.

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The cost of interruptions

April 23, 2017 | By | Reply More

When I’m trying to write, I really get frustrated with interruptions. That’s why I try to write at times when interruptions will be limited, and I turn off my phone and close my email while I write.

Today I discovered that the effects of interruptions have been measured. This stunning conclusion is complements of Gloria Mark, Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine:

How long does it take people to get back on task? We found about 82 percent of all interrupted work is resumed on the same day. But here’s the bad news — it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.

The article offers that not all interruptions are the same, and in fact, some interruptions are beneficial. However, the author of this article echoes my own general frustration:

Are we becoming more superficial thinkers? I argue that when people are switching contexts every 10 and half minutes they can’t possibly be thinking deeply. There’s no way people can achieve flow. When I write a research article, it takes me a couple of hours before I can even begin to think creatively. If I was switching every 10 and half minutes, there’s just no way I’d be able to think deeply about what I’m doing. This is really bad for innovation. When you’re on the treadmill like this, it’s just not possible to achieve flow.

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Three Important Questions to Ask

January 13, 2017 | By | Reply More

Michael Mulligan, head of Thatcher School, presents the three most important question we can ask teenagers. Excellent questions, and we should ask these to adults too:

Who tells us who we are?
Where do we want to go with our lives?
How do we want to get there?

Question one is important because forces are lined up (internet, television, movies, advertising, just for starters) that tell us who we are is not about how hard we work, how curious we are, or how much we are willing to make a positive difference to others and to our world in distress. No, these forces say: You are what you wear, what you buy, how thin or buff you are, how many like you (on Facebook or anything else) – or for the elite college bound crowd – where you go to college. When we focus on the wrong things, we create these conditions for monumental cynicism in our kids. Our children need to learn that they are important not for reasons of appearance but for reasons of substance.

Question two is important because if we believe that the only thing that matters is college and job status then how can we not end up frustrated, angry, and lonely? Where we want to go with our lives is intrinsically linked to the question of what leads us to fulfillment and happiness? For most of us the answer is passion. We all know we are in the right jobs when how long we work at something is driven by interest and not only about earning a paycheck. The truth is that we are all going to have to work hard to succeed in life, and if that is the case, let’s us at least try to work hard on things that matter and that we care about.

Question three may be the most important because how we get anywhere is as critical as where we end up. Kids cheat in school because they think grades are more important than what they learn. They take short-cuts because they believe the longer, harder path has no value or because they are afraid of stumbling or of being seen as someone who stumbles. They are mean or cruel or uncaring often because they do not like themselves; they feel they cannot make the grade that will earn them a spot at That College. They begin to see others as competitors for those spots – not as fellow-journeyers. Diminished self-respect skulks alongside little respect for others. No one wins.

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Election of Donald Trump will Expose our Empty Rhetoric

December 14, 2016 | By | Reply More

Donald Trump is surrounding himself with people who appear to be obsessed with short term profit taking, disregard for Constitutional principles, the trampling of the environment and military-minded xenophobia.

As this plays out for the next few years, we’ll be better positioned to see how much of the DNC governance of the past 8 years was empty rhetoric on these same issues. I’m not saying that there aren’t differences. In fact, I’m terrified that we are about travel backwards on many serious issues.

On the other hand, we’ve come from 8 years of an administration that was quite friendly to Wall Street, Health Insurers, Telecoms and other big industries that have essentially become consumer gouging monopolies or worse. Where was the DNC-led outcry as fracking became commonplace, as drones hit numerous innocents abroad, as we waged undeclared war on at least 6 Middle Eastern countries, and where government spying on U.S. citizens in the absence of probable cause continued to be business as usual? Did we cry out in protest as our state and federal governments approved budgets that crushed the abilities of schools to hire excellent teachers and provide them with necessary supplies. Did we speak out on the “war on drugs,” which destroys the lives of many non-violent users who crave street drugs that for the most part have legal equivalents peddled by Big Pharma?

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How to Deal With Social Anxiety

October 23, 2016 | By | Reply More

Eric Barker offer a well researched post on how to deal with social anxiety. Here’s an excerpt:

  1. Mindfulness recommends “noting” troublesome thoughts like fear. Recognize and accept them to let them go.
  2. Neuroscience advocates “labeling.” (Frankly, this is a lot like noting but backed by some PhDs and an fMRI.)
  3. Stoicism has “premeditation.” That’s when you ask, “What’s the worst that could happen?” and realize it’s not that bad.
  4. Neuroscience also recommends “reappraisal.” This is reinterpreting your feelings with a new story that makes them less scary.

A random bunch of tips? Nope. So what do they all have in common? You gotta use your brain. You gotta think. Some might reply, “I am thinking, I’m thinking about all the awful stuff that could happen if I embarrass myself. In fact, I can’t STOP thinking about it!” But you’re not thinking. You’re reacting. Fight or flight. Like an animal would.

Here’s something Barker’s article that I didn’t appreciate.  Intense mental focus “smothers” anxiety.

When your thinking brain — the prefrontal cortex — is highly engaged, it slams the brakes on feelings. And you can use this trick deliberately. Anything that gets you thinking actively can smother anxiety.

This makes perfect sense, given the limited scope of attention. If you fill your head with challenging problem solving, there simply isn’t room for anxiety.  Barker suggests that one thing to focus your mind on is your fears–face your fears, and it will keep anxiety at bay.  Barker reminds that we are not our thoughts.   Therefore, instead of saying, “I’m feeling anxious,” say say, “There is anxiety.”  Instead, note the existence of scary thoughts.

I’ll keep this advice in mind.

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