Phew – Finished the Biography

White’s awarding winning book, A. Lincoln (2009), is a good read, perhaps even a great one. BUT you have to REALLY like history. Truly for those who want to learn about the remarkably complex President Lincoln, this book is a must read.

For people with average interest, it’s way too long, too chronological, and dull.

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How Much is Too Much for the Brain ?

This morning, while cooking breakfast, I was listening to the radio. A great show from the “Science Lab” (NPR) came on talking about will power, or at least that’s what I thought it was about. The people in the experiment were asked to memorize a number. Participants did not know that there were actually two categories of numbers: two-digits and seven-digits.  They were given as much time as they felt they needed and told only that they would repeat the number when they got to another room down the hall.

BUT, as they would walk down the hallway a person would suddenly appear and give them the choice of a snack (as a kind of thank you for participating in the study). There were two choices: chocolate cake and a bowl of fruit salad.  At a rate of almost 3 to 1 the people with two-digit numbers selected fruit salad, while those with seven digits in their head chose chocolate cake.

The researchers concluded by saying that humans have two systems inside our brain constantly competing with each other for attention: the emotional system and the rational system (not to be confused with the left lobe and right lobe). Anyways, it turns out that keeping the rational brain busy with the task of remembering all seven digits prevents is from loudly overriding the emotional brain’s desire for the rich, gooey chocolate cake. While memorizing two-digits is “a piece of cake ” (just kidding – couldn’t resist).  It’s easy enough for the rational brain to remember the two digits AND enter  into the “cake or fruit” debate . Participants can hear the little voice in their heads saying “think about the calories…make the healthier choice…”

Interesting. I think I just learned a down side of multitasking!

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Friendship: Organic or Not

In a recent conversation, a long time friend and I argued about the nature of friendship. I was lobbying strongly for an organic metaphor, that relationships are like plants. One person provides the sunshine while the other provides the water. With both inputs, the plant will thrive, but without either one the plant will eventually die. The obvious analogy is that for a friendship to thrive BOTH people must pay attention to the relationship and put energy into it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I thought my analogy was tight. But my friend had a completely different metaphor.  He said, “This “balance” translates in … what should I call them? visible tokens? To me balance is a mirage. It’s an ideal, not a real place”, he continued, “relationships (and not only human ones) progress or exist in lots of noise and confusion, sometimes in silence, even.”

He went on to say that “relationships are a chaotic algorithm (which is not to say random); the peculiarities of a particular relationship appear at its strange attractors, recursively”.

When I tried to push the organic metaphor, he  said  “a relationship is a system (btw: “system” doesn’t necessarily imply soulless robots), even though you cannot synthesize it in a mathematical formula. I was trying to illustrate that I don’t need a “mathematical formalization” to accept a dynamical system (i.e. a relationship) and that “mathematical formalization” is what “visible tokens” are.

(NOTE : If you are wondering what happened to reading, I’m just finishing up the A. Lincoln book. To be honest, while I’ve enjoyed it, I can’t say that there’s a lot to write about.  I would truly only recommend this book for people REALLY interested in american history, and I’m not even sure I would put myself in this category.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad I read the book.  Not just sure how many people I would recommend it to.  -Dana)

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Guest Posting – New Book

As my friends read their Christmas presents, a few have sent me their synopsis of the books they’ve read. Here is the first guest blog of what I hope will be many more contributions to this year’s theme – Which ideas Change us and Why?

Entry from Professor Tom:

For Christmas I received Shadow Catcher, by Charles Fergus (1993).  Had never heard of it or him.  The book is a novel closely based on an obscure (nowadays) event in relations between white America and the original inhabitants of this land.  In 1913 a department store magnate bankrolled an “expedition” that encouraged reservation indians to seek US citizenship.  That was in the context of the magnate’s plan to build a huge statue of the “vanishing indian” in NY harbor; intentionally smaller than the statue of liberty (to symbolize the presumptive smallness of indians as a “race”).  Ground was actually broken on this project but it fell apart when WWI broke out – a rare positive effect of that conflagration.

Anyway, the book is about people on the expedition, which traveled the rails all over the west trying to get indians to kiss the US flag.  As if that weren’t enough, the book is also about photography and the nature of photography – what photographs mean, what they tell us about people, and so on.  This because a large part of the expedition was to photograph the “vanishing” indians.  A book of photographs was published, still highly regarded (for the photographs, not for the politics), called “the vanishing race”.

Not for everyone, but quite interesting if you’re into US history, or photography, or larger questions about representation and interpretation.  Quite a good book for thoughtful young adults.


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New Year’s: To Make or Not Make a Resolution? That is the Question!

I vote make one! It’s a new decade – think about it. Some day our grandchildren will be studying about the 2010’s, just like we studied about the “Roaring Twenties” or ” the Age of Enlightenment.,” and they’ll ask “What were you doing?” I for one hope to have something remarkable to say.

Ok, maybe that’s too much pressure. It’s much easier to take decades as they are made – one year at time. So this year, I asked  some of my friends how they go about doing resolutions. Here are some of the most interesting ideas I heard.

  • We sit down as a family and each person state the age s/he’ll be turning that year and makes the statement: “This is the kind of 15 year old (fill in your own age) I would like to be in 2010, …”
  • We all take a bath – not together, but dip into the same bath water on the first of each year with the notion that we are washing away the previous year.
  • We take a long walk as a family and each person thinks about how s/he could be a better person in 2010. After the walk we all write down our ideas in our journals.
  • We  take this as individual task. Each person gets some notecards and writes down very specific goals for the year and puts them inside pocket of his coat to periodically look at throughout the year.

How about you? Any cool ideas to share as we usher in this decade?

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What’s in a Chat?

Before we talk about the soul, I want to share this story about communication:
A colleague told me about this friend of hers, a man about 42, who had just figured out something really important about his wife. He said when they got married, he was really excited. She was perfect. Everything was exceeding his wildest expectations. Then she began wanting to have these conversations about their relationship. At first he was really concerned and listened closely. After all, maybe he had missed something. But pretty soon he realized that these conversations weren’t actually about a particular problem. It was highly annoying, but he tried to indulge her and be polite.

Over the years, these “conversations” persisted. He thought for while that if he could just endure a really big one, they would only have to talk about their relationship once a year or so. No such luck. His wife consistent need to chatter on about the state of their relationship persisted.

Then one day, he figured it out. All those talks about the relationship were the relationship.

Moral of the story: To have a relationship you need to talk. Talking, really discussing, takes two; listening, really hearing, takes two. It doesn’t have to be too often, but it’s important to check in verbally when things are good – because when they stop going well, you have more of a base to draw on. That foundation is the key to co-creating life rather than living comfortably on two separate tracks, toggling back an forth instead of journeying together.

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Friends and Change

...Old habits and routines push at the door and we think we lack strength to keep them blocked from entering this new space we’ve created. When this happens, friends are the key – lean where you feel strength pushing you up, toss the ones that will ruin what you’ve created.

Of course it’s easy to say “toss the friends who ruin us,” but anyone who has been around the block knows friends change us. Every close friend I have ever had has influenced me – helped create who I am today.

As a mother this has a lot to do with how I observe who my children pick as friends, as well as who pick them. Along with the thrill of having close friends comes the heartache of outgrowing them. Sometimes friendships are just not destined to be. I remember my aunt telling me that my cousin was developing an unhealthy friendship. Instead of forbidding it, my aunt simply made her unavailable for playdates until the fascination ran its course and both individuals stopped trying to become friends.

The question is: what is a friend?  Are there any universal truths to consider as we move into the next year? I think so.

  • A friend wants the best for us, nudging and encouraging us without attempting to change or fix us.
  • A friend is present, not to agree or disagree, condone or condemn, but to simply be there in laughter or silence.
  • A friend has patience. They allow us to be stupid and reckless up to a point; immature or silly; smart and innovative.

So with friends like these, can we move into the new year with slightly higher aspirations for ourselves? I think so! Next blog must be thoughts on the soul.

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