Writing, Reading, Life Narratives, and Life
Myers-Briggs offers a model for self-revelation that has endured for decades, thrilling boomers and delighting millennials even as it has perpetually disgusted frustrated psychologists. It helped spawn a booming industry of personality assessments, one that uses the internet and algorithms to hopscotch far beyond the original, hand-scored tests. It inspires an ardent fandom that borders on spiritual, and yet its primary use is decidedly tethered to the material world, as a way to shuffle workers into places where they won’t complain. Its paradoxical appeal, as a woo-woo tool to know the soul and as a convenient, prefab employee sorter for corporations, is both absurd and a little poetic.
This article looks at the new book The Personality Brokers by Merve Emre, which details the origin and persistence of the Myers-Briggs Test.
This article also looks at the new book The Personality Brokers by Merve Emre, with an emphasis on the conclusion that personality tests are more self-help than science.
That disease would be loneliness:
Experts agree that we’re facing a loneliness epidemic, one that has profound consequences for our physical health, our longevity and our overall well-being. But where others emphasize the scale and seriousness of this looming crisis, Murthy offers an encouraging message: Yes, loneliness is a pervasive problem worldwide, but there is a simple and actionable solution.
There are many studies about how we process tonal music and figurative painting, but philosophers are just beginning to understand how our brains react to more abstract work.
Usually, when we think about journaling, the old fashioned method of pen and paper comes to mind. But of course, there’s a digital version of every activity now, and there are a ton of great apps and software out there designed to keep your memories in a single place. There are nearly endless options to choose from, so we’ve rounded up the best that are currently available, depending on how you want to use them and what your goals are.
The recommendations here are good, but several links to articles about journal writing make this article even better.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
“The liberation of human attention may be the defining moral and political struggle of our time,” writes James Williams, a technologist turned philosopher and the author of a new book, “Stand Out of Our Light.”
A look at how social media and our obsession with it have created the new “attention economy.”
Road rage, a type of fight-or-flight response, “could actually trigger a heart attack or stroke in the hours afterward, according to a 2014 research review from the Harvard School of Public Health.”
For anyone who has ever been a reader, there’s much to sympathize with in Maryanne Wolf’s Reader, Come Home. The UCLA neuroscientist, a great lover of literature, tries to read Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game, an old favorite, only to realize that she finds him boring and too complex. She wonders why he ever won a Nobel. And Wolf, who previously wrote Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, is horrified that this is what has happened to her ability to concentrate.
Here’s an interview with Maryanne Wolf, who explains how technology is changing our brains by making us lose deep attention:
My biggest worry now is that a lot of what we’re seeing in society today — this vulnerability to demagoguery in all its forms — of one unanticipated and never intended consequence of a mode of reading that doesn’t allow critical analysis and empathy.
As a night owl myself, I was glad to read this in-depth look at the stereotypes (lazy, unproductive) commonly associated with those of us whose innate circadian rhythm doesn’t jibe with the rest of the world’s schedule:
Yes, I get it. I have heard this all my life: Society likes morning people. Loves them, actually. Early risers tend to be more punctual, get better grades in school and climb up the corporate ladder. These so-called larks are celebrated as the high achievers, the apple polishers, the C.E.O.s.
But according to Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Why We Sleep:
about 40 percent of the population are morning people, 30 percent are evening people, and the remainder land somewhere in between. “Night owls are not owls by choice,” he writes. “They are bound to a delayed schedule by unavoidable DNA hard wiring. It is not their conscious fault, but rather their genetic fate.”
Whether in the form of literature, rap or abstract oil painting, many of us know we can improve the tenor of our thoughts by contemplating art. The Germans have a lovely saying for the benefits of keeping an idle (or idling) mind: ‘die Seele baumeln lassen’, meaning ‘let the soul dangle’. Now, the emerging science of neuroaesthetics is beginning to reveal the biological processes that sit behind such ‘dangling’.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
“We have two ‘selves,’” explained Dr. Omar Sultan Haque, a Harvard University psychiatrist and social scientist. “The experiencing self and the remembered self. In the midst of vacation stresses, we may be stressed and annoyed by family and children and the indignities of bureaucratic travel, but the remembered self easily turns nausea into nostalgia.”
This article puts the specific twist of vacation memories onto the more general concept of how different individuals remember the same events and experiences differently. There are some reasonable suggestions on how to maximize vacation enjoyment with both younger (toddlers who need naps) and older (teenagers who won’t want to put down their phones) children.
Ben Yagoda discusses
the tendency people have, when considering a trade-off between two future moments, to more heavily weight the one closer to the present. A great many academic studies have shown this bias—also known as hyperbolic discounting—to be robust and persistent.
In this long but interesting article Yagoda examines the research into this phenomenon and how to counteract these cognitive biases in making decisions such as which job candidate to hire or which financial investments to make or avoid.
I’m not sure which fact is worse: that we’re all more susceptible to BS than me think, or that some academicians have actually made studying BS their life’s work.
This article focuses on one particular kind of BS:
what [Gordon Pennycook, a psychology professor at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan who has been researching BS for years] and other BS researchers call “pseudo-profound bullshit” — those “seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous.” Pennycook cites a tweet sent by the popular alternative medicine advocate Deepak Chopra as an example: “Attention and intention are the mechanics of manifestation.”
You’ve probably seen a lot of this. It’s those pithy sayings, often superimposed on a lovely photo, that fill up your Facebook feed.
The author of the article concludes, “Needless to say, as the BS piles up around us, there is more work to be done.” Unfortunately, he offers no explanations of what that work might be or what strategies we might all employ in our everyday lives to avoid being influenced by such BS.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is one of the most important skills candidates need when they’re looking to land a job. And it’s also a key factor to move up the ranks more quickly. We’ve also heard that EQ is a better predictor of success in the workplace than IQ, and that’s been backed by numerous studies in both academia and through data from companies on their employees.
Lydia Dishman traces the notion of emotional intelligence from its ancient Greek origins through its more recent application to success in life, for example by Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence. “Since then, numerous corporate and academic studies have tested the concept to prove that EQ does indeed surpass IQ when it comes to succeeding in the workplace.”
law enforcement figured out that they could team with up with forensic genealogists to create DNA profiles from decades’ old suspect DNA and upload those profiles into genealogy databases, following a gnarled family tree until it bears fruit.
This article from Rolling Stone looks at the rise of forensic genealogists and autosomal DNA testing to solve cold-case crimes.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
Lots of links about how the brain works recently.
Here’s information we can all use.
Wineburg’s [psychologist Sam Wineburg, head of the Stanford History Education Group] team has found that Americans of all ages, from digitally savvy tweens to high-IQ academics, fail to ask important questions about content they encounter on a browser, adding to research on our online gullibility. Other studies have shown that people retweet links without clicking on them and rely too much on search engines. A 2016 Pew poll found that nearly a quarter of Americans said they had shared a made-up news story. In his experiments, MIT cognitive scientist David Rand has found that, on average, people are inclined to believe false news at least 20% of the time.
Although some web sites are obviously biased, this article points how easy it is for organizations to produce sites that look authentic and authoritative. And those of us who grew up way before the internet probably learned how to evaluate only old-fashioned sources found in a library. Add to that the common human tendencies to believe or trust things we’ve been exposed to in the past and to accept material that reinforces what we already believe, and you get a propagandists’ dream.
Therefore, the article says, “we need to retrain our brains.” There’s a description here of some tactics that professional fact-checkers use to determine who is providing the information on a given web site. Another piece of advice is to stop and think before simply accepting web information, particularly that put forward through tweets or other social media: “Another [study] found that false stories travel six times as fast as true ones on Twitter.”
many advocates are suggesting that we reach for another powerful tool: shame… . Wineburg invokes the environmental movement, saying we need to cultivate an awareness of “digital pollution” on the Internet. “We have to get people to think that they are littering,” Wineburg says, “by forwarding stuff that isn’t true.” The idea is to make people see the aggregate effect of little actions, that one by one, ill-advised clicks contribute to the web’s being a toxic place. Having a well-informed citizenry may be, in the big picture, as important to survival as having clean air and water.
Neuroscientist Barbara Lipska has studied mental illness for much of her career. In 2015 she was diagnosed with brain cancer. After an experimental treatment, she began to exhibit bizarre behavior that alarmed loved ones and colleagues. Lipska was not aware of the change at the time. She recently published a book about her experience.
That book, The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind, co-written by Lipska and Elaine McArdle, was published in April 2018. “She’s made a pretty good recovery, as far as the doctors tell her, but there are still lingering problems in her brain, including occasional difficulty with her mental map.”
This is the story of Lipska, originally from Poland and now at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD, as she works at understanding her own brain.
The line between sanity and insanity may be perilously thin, but Barbara Lipska’s decision about how to respond to her own experience with insanity was unambiguous: She was determined to understand what had happened to her. The brain that had failed her would save her. As she calmly and clinically retraced for me the damage done to her brain, I couldn’t help but be in awe of its resilience.
In a world full of ambiguity, we see what we want to see.
Tom Vanderbilt examines the psychology of how focusing on one thing can keep us from seeing another.
“Combined with [talk therapy], some psychedelic drugs like MDMA [or ecstasy], psilocybin [the active ingredient in magic mushrooms] and ayahuasca may improve symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD],” Cristina Magalhaes, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Alliant International University in Los Angeles, said in a statement.
Life is a story that we write and while writing we rediscover our unique selves as well as the opportunity to newly discover the uniqueness and diversity in others.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
With little public scrutiny, the health insurance industry has joined forces with data brokers to vacuum up personal details about hundreds of millions of Americans, including, odds are, many readers of this story.
The companies are tracking your race, education level, TV habits, marital status, net worth. They’re collecting what you post on social media, whether you’re behind on your bills, what you order online. Then they feed this information into complicated computer algorithms that spit out predictions about how much your health care could cost them.
How concerned about this should we all be?
Patient advocates warn that using unverified, error-prone “lifestyle” data to make medical assumptions could lead insurers to improperly price plans — for instance, raising rates based on false information — or discriminate against anyone tagged as high cost. And, they say, the use of the data raises thorny questions that should be debated publicly, such as: Should a person’s rates be raised because algorithms say they are more likely to run up medical bills? Such questions would be moot in Europe, where a strict law took effect in May that bans trading in personal data.
If you’re concerned about all your personal data that’s being collected, here’s some advice on how to minimize exposure on Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple.
How severe does dehydration have to be to affect us?
A growing body of evidence finds that being just a little dehydrated is tied to a range of subtle effects — from mood changes to muddled thinking.
As we age, we’re not as good at recognizing thirst. And there’s evidence that older adults are prone to the same dips in mental sharpness as anyone else when mildly dehydrated.
So how much water do we need every day?
A panel of scholars convened several years ago by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded that women should consume, on average, about 91 ounces of total water per day. For men, the suggested level is even higher (125 ounces).
The phrase total water means that water from all sources counts: fruits, vegetables soup, smoothies, and, yes, even your morning cups of coffee or tea.
And remember that by the time you feel thirsty, you’re already beyond the point of mild dehydration. According to the article, an hour of hiking in the heat or a 30-minute run might be enough to cause mild dehydration.
Although this article is aimed at people in business, it can also prove useful for others.
most of us are completely unaware of why we are saying “yes” or “no.” For those who suffer from the disease to please, saying “yes” often comes from the fear of being disliked and the guilt for putting your own agenda ahead of someone else’s desire for your time and attention. Those who may be considered “no” people often say no out of fear of failure. What if I don’t like it? What if I’m not good at it? Others say “no” simply because they have set boundaries and haven’t left any room in their lives for spontaneity and unexpected growth.
The article offers advice for how to decide whether to say “yes” or “no.” Also included are links to several related articles.
Theory of mind is the psychological term for our belief that other people have emotions, beliefs, intentions, logic, and knowledge that may differ from our own.
That we have a folk psychology theory of other minds isn’t surprising. By nature, we are character analysts, behavioural policemen, admirers and haters. We embrace like minds, and go to war against contrarians. Mind-reading is our social glue, guiding virtually all of our daily interpersonal interactions. When trying to decide whether or not a potential gun owner is prone to violence, a mental patient is suicidal, or a presidential candidate is truthful, we are at the mercy of our thoughts about others.
But, argues neurologist Robert Burton, former associate director of the department of neurosciences at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center at Mount Zion, “Even experts can’t predict violence or suicide. Surely we’re kidding ourselves that we can see inside the minds of others.”
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
You’ve certainly seen the ads for genetic tests that will help you discover more leaves for your family tree. While many people are happy to discover far-flung relatives they never knew about, others are distraught to learn that their parents or grandparents aren’t who they thought they were.
This article from The Atlantic discusses a Facebook group founded by a woman whose DNA test delivered disturbing results. “The DNA test didn’t erase her happy childhood memories, but it recast her entire life up to now.”
In graduate school I took a course called something like Identity and Personal Mythology, which centered on the fact that we all create a personal mythology, or life story, to make sense of our experiences and to create our sense of self, our sense of identity. There’s a whole subgenre of psychology examining this field, which is known as narrative identity theory.
In this article self-described data nerd Angela Chen describes how, despite her preference for data over narrative, she came to realize that she, too, has a personal mythology that has shaped her life.
To resist narrative is to resist the brain itself. Sometimes we must do so, to avoid the clean, satisfying story that may be too simple. But I was wrong to think I could escape defining the narrative in my own life. We are always creating and searching for meaning, whether we recognize it or not.
Do psychedelics give access to a universal, mystical experience of reality, or is that just a culture-bound illusion?
Philosopher Jules Evans article begins with this assertion:
In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a psychedelic renaissance. Research into the healing potential of psychedelics has re-started at prestigious universities such as Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and Imperial College London, and is making rock stars out of the scientists carrying it out. Their findings are being reported with joy and exultation by mainstream media – on CNN, the BBC, even the Daily Mail. Respectable publishers such as Penguin are behind psychedelics bestsellers such as Michael Pollan’s book How To Change Your Mind (2018), which was reviewed enthusiastically across the political spectrum.
Evans is an academic, policy director at the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London. Here he explores, with an academic’s vigor and rigor, the history of the nature of psychedelic mystical experience, begun by Aldous Huxley’s 1954 book The Doors of Perception. He uses his own psychedelic experiences to examine the differences between science and theology to conclude:
To use the language of secular psychology, psychedelics seem to reliably take people briefly beyond their customary ego and to allow the contents of their subconscious to emerge. Even if you’re not mystically inclined, that process can still be very healing.
It’s common to hear Eastern and Western cultures contrasted in a way that goes something like this: Eastern cultures focus more on society collectively, while Western culture emphasizes the individual.
In this article Sean Illing interviews Will Storr, a British writer and author of the recent book _ Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us_. As Illing explains, Storr’s book is about a phenomenon psychologists call “collective narcissism”:
An individual narcissist is someone with a deep need for validation, someone who thinks they’re great and resents anyone who doesn’t recognize their greatness. Collective narcissists … are “a group of people who desperately need their group to be admired and validated by others.”
Collective narcissism is a fashionable idea these days in psychology, and it’s linked to psychologists’ larger concern about a “narcissism epidemic” — more and more individuals with an inflated sense of self.
Storr has some ideas about how a culture emphasizing self-esteem has gotten us into the self-absorbed position we’re in today. Read his advice on how to find happiness and fulfillment despite the way our culture has made us think about ourselves.
A Gallup poll in 2013 found that Americans sleep, on average, 6.8 hours a night, with 40 per cent getting less than the recommended minimum of seven hours. According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, teenagers get a little more than seven hours of sleep a night, while actually needing at least nine. Yet society continues to function … if only like a frail, untuned clock.
Joel Frohlich reports on the health drawbacks of chronic sleep deprivation.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
I’ve come across lots of interesting stuff lately.
I’m including this article on all my blogs this week because it’s important that everyone with any online presence, no matter how small, read it.
From Book Riot’s Liberty Hardy:
To prove that there are a zillion amazing essay collections out there, I compiled 50 great contemporary essay collections, just from the last 18 months alone. Ranging in topics from food, nature, politics, sex, celebrity, and more, there is something here for everyone!
I have written before about how I learned to trust my intuition, so this article naturally drew my attention. Judi Ketteler writes:
Suddenly at midlife, the gut instinct I had long relied on to make important life decisions left me. Here’s how I learned to get it back.
Through a combination of research and personal experience, she concludes that intuition depends on context, and she needs to let it catch up with her changed circumstances as she enters a new phase of her life. I find this an encouraging conclusion.
Because I love baseball, I was drawn to this article that uses the metaphor of three umpires to explain that “Many obstacles lie on the path to rational thought”:
Three baseball umpires are talking about how they play the game. The first says, “I call ’em as they are.” The second, “I call ’em as I see ’em.” And the third says, “They ain’t nothin’ till I call ’em.”
The first “umpire is what philosophers and social psychologists call a ‘naive realist,’” who “believes that the senses provide us with a direct, unmediated understanding of the world.”
But, like the second umpire, “We tend to think, ‘I’m seeing the world as it is, and your different view is due to poor eyesight, muddled thinking, or self-interested motives!’”
Or, like the third umpire, some think “All ‘reality’ is merely an arbitrary construal of the world.”
According to Richard E. Nisbett, author of the article (which is an excerpt from his book MINDWARE: Tools for Smart Thinking), “Among the three umpires, the second is closest to the truth.”
Read Nisbett’s analysis to discover the “unconscious processes [that] allow us to correctly interpret the physical world,” especially how stereotypes can lead us to draw false conclusions about particular people. He also includes suggestions for making fewer errors in judgment.
Hannah Upp disappears for weeks at a time, forgetting her sense of self. Can she still be found?
A frightening yet fascinating story about a young woman who has periodically experienced what scientists call a dissociative fugue state, a condition about which little is known.
“It’s terrifying to think that we are all vulnerable to a lapse in selfhood.”
An interview with Dr. Assal Habibi, a research scientist at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute, who studies how studying music affects brain development.
The idea behind the study was to see whether systematic music training has a measurable impact on the brains of children and the subsequent development of their cognitive skills and social skills.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
What I’ve been reading around the web recently.
Lightning can strike twice and people do call just when you’re thinking of them – but are such coincidences meaningful?
While many of us focus primarily on diet and exercise to achieve better health, science suggests that our well-being also is influenced by the company we keep. Researchers have found that certain health behaviors appear to be contagious and that our social networks — in person and online — can influence obesity, anxiety and overall happiness. A recent report found that a person’s exercise routine was strongly influenced by his or her social network.
A look at one of the oldest recorded human ailments.
Given the prevalence of migraines among women, this apparent neglect could be a result of how physicians tend to underrate pain in female patients. It may also reflect the historic – and similarly gendered – associations between migraines and mental illness.
Carola Lovering’s potent debut novel, Tell Me Lies, tells the story of the complicated relationship between college freshman Lucy Albright and charming sociopath Stephen DeMarco. While alternating Stephen and Lucy’s points of view, Lovering depicts how Lucy’s depression drives her codependency. Stephen’s sections show his remorseless Machiavellian sensibilities: unable to genuinely feel affection, he studies people in order to learn how to act normal and get what he wants. Lovering discusses the capability of inhabiting another person’s mind in fiction.
Clearly, all human beings are in many ways very similar—we share the same physiology and have the same basic needs, such as nourishment, shelter, safety, and sex. So what effect can culture really have on the fundamental aspects of our psyche, such as perception, cognition, and personality? The question is still under active investigation, but a considerable amount of evidence has accumulated so far.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown