Last Week’s Links

What I’ve been reading around the web recently.

On coincidence

Lightning can strike twice and people do call just when you’re thinking of them – but are such coincidences meaningful?

The Power of Positive People

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.

Why don’t we know more about migraines?

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.

In Order to Understand Sociopaths, I Got Inside One’s Head

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.

Many Cultures, One Psychology?

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

Last Week’s Links

The mind-bendy weirdness of the number zero, explained

Why zero is not at all a simple concept.

The computer you’re reading this article on right now runs on a binary — strings of zeros and ones. Without zero, modern electronics wouldn’t exist. Without zero, there’s no calculus, which means no modern engineering or automation. Without zero, much of our modern world literally falls apart.

Humanity’s discovery of zero was “a total game changer … equivalent to us learning language,” says Andreas Nieder, a cognitive scientist at the University of Tübingen in Germany.

How to Ask Great Questions

Much of an executive’s workday is spent asking others for information—requesting status updates from a team leader, for example, or questioning a counterpart in a tense negotiation. Yet unlike professionals such as litigators, journalists, and doctors, who are taught how to ask questions as an essential part of their training, few executives think of questioning as a skill that can be honed—or consider how their own answers to questions could make conversations more productive.

The fallacy of obviousness

A new interpretation of a classic psychology experiment will change your view of perception, judgment – even human nature

The deep roots of writing

Was writing invented for accounting and administration or did it evolve from religious movements, sorcery and dreams?

IS YOUR KID ‘GIFTED’? IT MIGHT DEPEND ON THEIR RACE

when it comes to a teacher’s referral of a student to educational programs, it’s not just learning abilities that play a role in the decision process. Recent research has found that

RACE CAN AFFECT WHO IS REFERRED TO GIFTED PROGRAMS — AND TO SPECIAL EDUCATION.

How to Conquer Writer’s Block

These days, writer’s block is often blamed on depression. Sometimes procrastination and perfectionism are considered the culprits. Whatever the cause, writer’s block has been around for a long time. Samuel Coleridge suffered from it, as did Joseph Conrad, Gustave Flaubert, Ernest Hemingway, Herman Melville, Leo Tolstoy, and Virginia Woolf. The big question is, regardless of where it came from, what can a writer do about it when it strikes?

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Last Week’s Links

Lots of good internet stuff last week.

“Find your passion” is bad advice, say Yale and Stanford psychologists

Instead of looking for a magic bullet, that one thing you must be meant to do even though you don’t know what it is yet, it can be more productive to perceive interests flexibly, as potentially endless. A growth mindset, rather than a fixed sense that there’s one interest you should pursue single-mindedly, improves the chances of finding your passion—and having the will to master it.

I Found My Birth Mother. It Didn’t Rock My Life — And That’s OK

NPR’s Ashley Westerman was born in the Philippines but raised by white Americans in rural Kentucky, with no one around who looked like her. This year, she tracked down the woman who gave her up for adoption three decades ago and writes about the hopes, trepidation and even disappointment of the journey and eventual meeting.

When It’s Good to Be Antisocial

Sociality is no pinnacle of evolution. It’s just another result of the process. Reclusive bees and other species are doing just fine—and sometimes, even better. Clearly social behavior has advantages, seeding the survival of species and communities. But being a good neighbor is not the only benefit to the hive. Sometimes everybody wins when you go it alone.

mHealth Brain Games Help Post-ICU Patients Recover Cognitive Skills

Vanderbilt University researchers said computer cognitive rehabilitation training using the BrainHQ online and mobile program helped patients discharged from an ICU improve cognitive function at home. The study, published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, involved 33 older patients who had been discharged from an ICU with post-intensive care syndrome.

Study: Sitting linked to increased death risk from 14 diseases

If you sit for six hours a day or more, your risk of dying early jumps 19 percent, compared with people who sit fewer than three hours, an American Cancer Society study suggests.

 

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Memoir Review: “Brain on Fire”

Cahalan, Susannah. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
Free Press, 2012
ISBN 978–1–4516–2137–2

Highly Recommended

One day in 2009 Susannah Cahalan woke up in a hospital room, strapped to her bed, unable to speak, move, or remember how she got there. As she stared at an orange band around her wrist, the words FLIGHT RISK came into focus.

Cahalan’s journey to that hospital room had begun weeks earlier. Out of nowhere she began having paranoid thoughts; for example, with no evidence she suddenly believed that her boyfriend was cheating on her, and the voice in her head nearly overpowered her: Read his e-mails. The paranoia was rapidly followed by other symptoms: slurred speech, over-reaction to colors and sounds, nausea, insomnia, wild mood swings, uncontrollable crying, lack of focus, inability to write, facial tics, drooling, involuntary muscle movements, and seizures.

Physical examinations and extensive medical tests revealed no discernible cause for her symptoms. Various doctors prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-seizure medications and used phrases ranging from all in her head to psychotic break as Calahan’s family and friends watched her condition continue to worsen. Finally, a new neurologist, Dr. Souhel Najjar, joined the medical team and did one more medical test that saved her life. Dr. Najjar tested Cahalan for a newly discovered, rare autoimmune disease that causes the body to react against the brain. The disease causes inflammation that Dr. Nijjar explained this way: “Her brain is on fire.”

This book differs from most memoirs in that Cahalan has almost no memories of what happened to her during the period she writes about. Her father, who spent most days in her hospital room, kept a personal diary of the ordeal (hers and his own). In addition, her father and mother left a notebook in her room in which both documented what had gone on during their visits; the purpose of this notebook was to keep both parents informed about their daughter’s condition. Cahalan used these two documents, her medical records, and interviews with family, friends, work colleagues, and medical personnel as the basis for the book. Her journalism background enabled her to do the extensive research necessary to supplement those sources.

Despite the absence of her own memories, Cahalan maintains the focus on personal experience that’s necessary in memoir. When she can’t focus on her own experiences, she frames the story with the experiences of the people close to her: her parents, her boyfriend, her friends, and her colleagues at the New York Post.

Cahalan excels at describing complex, arcane medical material for a general reader. Here, for example, is her description of how memory works:

My short-term memory had been obliterated, a problem usually rooted in the hippocampus, which is like a way station for new memories. The hippocampus briefly “stores” the patterns of neurons that make up a memory before passing them along to the parts of the brain responsible for preserving them long term. Memories are maintained by the areas of the brain responsible for the initial perception: a visual memory is saved by the visual cortex in the occipital lobe, an auditory memory by the auditory cortex of the temporal love, and so forth. (p. 101)

After Cahalan was successfully treated for her brain inflammation, there remained questions about how much of her former self, particularly her mental faculties, would return. This book, with its extensive research and clear writing, demonstrates that her brain is now back to functioning quite well.

Brain on Fire has been made into a movie that will come out on February 22, 2017. You can find information about the film, including a link to the official trailer, here.

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Writing Your Way to Happiness

Here’s a summary of scientific research suggesting that “the power of writing — and then rewriting — your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness.”

Special Report: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story? The Magic of Narrative Medicine in the ED

The special report discusses how the use of storytelling in medicine, known as narrative medicine, helps physicians better serve patients.

The Year of Conquering Negative Thinking

Here’s a New Year’s challenge for the mind: Make this the year that you quiet all those negative thoughts swirling around your brain… . constant negativity can also get in the way of happiness, add to our stress and worry level and ultimately damage our health.

This article offers not only scientific research to back up its premise but practical steps you can take to deal effectively with your own negative thoughts.

3 Reasons You Don’t Need Experience to Write a Damn Good Story

The most common advice aspiring writers hear is “write what you know.” I’ve always been suspicious of this admonition, since I believe in the power of research. Here thriller writer Brad Taylor explains how to use research to write convincingly about topics you have no personal experience with.

Infant Brains Reveal How the Mind Gets Built

This article reports on recently published research into how the human brain develops, It’s a long but fascinating read.

 

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

These are pieces from across the web that caught my eye this week.

How language is processed by your brain

An overview of how our brain processes language, with an emphasis on how learning a new language can help the brain grow.

Four Things To Do Outside The Office To Boost Your Creativity

Aimed at business professionals, this article explains why these four activities may boost creativity:

(1) taking a bath
(2) observing the details of the world around us
(3) working at a coffee shop (or in other surroundings with moderate background noise)
(4) walking

Syllabus: Using Poetry and Fiction to Encourage Experiments in Nonfiction

Writer Chelsea Hodson explains how books that blend or cross genre lines can help writers be more creative and experimental in their own writing. She discusses five books here.

The System I Used to Write 5 Books and Over 1,000 Blog Posts

journal_writingWell known writer Jeff Goins explains his three-step system for discovering ideas and developing them in writing:

(1) collect ideas
(2) write and save
(3) edit and publish

Experienced writers probably have their own ways of following these three steps, but Goins’s system may help beginning writers get a handle on the process.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

What I’ve Been Reading About Thinking & Knowing

Personality Can Change Over A Lifetime, And Usually For The Better

A good introduction to the concept of personality traits:

The world’s languages include many thousands of words for describing personality, but most of these can be organized in terms of the “Big Five” trait dimensions: extraversion (characterized by adjectives like outgoing, assertive and energetic vs. quiet and reserved); agreeableness (compassionate, respectful and trusting vs. uncaring and argumentative); conscientiousness (orderly, hard-working and responsible vs. disorganized and distractible); negative emotionality (prone to worry, sadness and mood swings vs. calm and emotionally resilient); and open-mindedness (intellectually curious, artistic and imaginative vs. disinterested in art, beauty and abstract ideas).

Christopher Soto, associate professor of psychology at Colby College and a member of the executive board of the Association for Research in Personality, reports on research suggesting that “personality traits are relatively stable over time, they can and often do gradually change across the life span. What’s more, those changes are usually for the better.”

Consciousness: The Mind Messing With the Mind

brain02If you’re ready for some heady reading, George Johnson looks at one of humankind’s age-old questions: How does the brain, a physical structure, give rise to consciousness, the sense of self that arises from our thoughts?

Monkeys know what they don’t know

Rhesus monkeys are aware of the limits of their knowledge, new research shows. According to scientists at Harvard and Yale, the monkeys realized when they didn’t know something and needed outside expertise.

An interesting look at metacognition, the ability to think about thinking.

Metaknowledge

Crowds aren’t as smart as we thought, since some people know more than others. A simple trick can find the ones you want.

George Musser writes, “In the 1990s, crowd wisdom became a pop-culture obsession, providing a rationale for wikis, crowdsourcing, prediction markets and popularity-based search algorithms.”

However, not every in a crowd has the same level of knowledge about a given subject. To find which of the individuals to rely on, Musser advocates applying metaknowledge, which he calls “a powerful bullshit detector”:

Metaknowledge means you are aware of what you know or don’t know, and of where your level of knowledge stands in relation to other people’s. That’s a useful measure of your value to the crowd, because knowledge and metaknowledge usually go together.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Articles That Caught My Eye Last Week

The Black Dog: 6 Books to Understand Depression

Jennie Yabroff acknowledges that “‘Depression’ remains a catch-all phrase to describe a variety of conditions ranging from the occasional bad day to paralyzing inertia”:

To truly understand the disease, and not just the treatment, you need to look to writers with sensitivity and compassion about the real nature of the self in despair, be they novelists or doctors, contemporary writers or playwrights dead for hundreds of years.

bell-jarShe recommends these books for help in understanding depression, a state commonly known as the black dog:

  • Ordinarily Well by Peter Kramer
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • Darkness Visible by William Styron
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon
  • An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison
These Instagrammers’ Bullet Journals are organizational masterpieces

The newest craze for keeping oneself organized is the Bullet Journal. Check out this article for examples of bullet journals as well as some links about how the system works.

Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age

Despite our current dependence on keyboards, there are some definite cognitive benefits to learning cursive writing.

‘Pronoia’ and other emotions you never knew you had

Here’s an article about Tiffany Watt Smith, a research fellow at the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University of London:

[It’s] the subjective experience of emotions — that Smith explores in her charming new book, The Book of Human Emotions. It’s a roundup of 154 words from around the world that you could call an exploration of “emotional granularity,” as it provides language for some very specific emotions you likely never knew you had. “It’s a long-held idea that if you put a name to a feeling, it can help that feeling become less overwhelming,” she said. “All sorts of stuff that’s swirling around and feeling painful can start to feel a bit more manageable,” once you’ve pinned the feeling down and named it.

Doctors Say Your Word Choice Can Hugely Change Your Brain

Every word counts:

Be careful because the next word you say could determine how your day is, or the rest of your life might pan out. Doctors at Thomas Jefferson University explained that the choice of our words could actually have more impact on our lives than we actually think.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Recent Articles on Sleep, Memory, Learning, Brain Function, and Mind Wandering

Examining Sleep’s Roles in Memory and Learning

Go ahead and take that nap. New research suggests that sleep can improve both memory and creativity.

Getting smarter

Brain-training games won’t boost your IQ, but a host of strategies can improve your cognitive abilities one piece at a time

brain02Psychologist Jeffrey M. Zacks of Washington University in St. Louis looks at various popular methods advertised to improve cognitive functioning, including brain-training games, drugs, subliminal training programs, electrical stimulation

His conclusion: “Sadly, most of the rapid cognitive enhancers currently being peddled are not very effective.” However, he adds, there are a few approaches that can make us better at performing specific functions, such as remembering people’s names: “we can all think better in specific domains if we engage in focused practice, and be smarter, happier and healthier if we take care of ourselves.”

Jerome S. Bruner, Who Shaped Understanding of the Young Mind, Dies at 100

Jerome S. Bruner, whose theories about perception, child development and learning informed education policy for generations and helped launch the modern study of creative problem solving, known as the cognitive revolution, died on Sunday [June 5, 2016] at his home in Manhattan. He was 100.

In his later work, Bruner applied ideas about thinking, culture, and storytelling to understanding legal and cultural issues.

Why Do Our Minds Wander?

sometimes, even without going to sleep, we turn away from the world. We turn inward. We are contemplative or detached. We decouple ourselves from the environment and we are set free, as it were, to let our minds play themselves.

Philosopher Alva Noë of the University of California, Berkeley, discusses the problems of studying when, why, and how our minds sometimes wander.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

I’m trying out something different this week. I have three blogs:

Because of these wide-ranging interests, I often end up with lots of open browser tabs containing quite a variety of materials.

Since sorting all these materials out for the individual blogs can be quite time-consuming, I’m going to try to streamline my blogging process by putting together a weekly list of all the interesting articles I come across and publishing the same post to all three of the blogs. Feel free to click on whichever links interest you and to ignore the rest.

Note: In compiling this initial list, I discovered that I’ve actually been holding many of these tabs open for two weeks. Therefore, this entry is longer than future ones will probably be.

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Taking On the Ph.D. Later in Life

While the overall age of Ph.D. candidates has dropped in the last decade, about 14 percent of all doctoral recipients are over age 40, according to the National Science Foundation. Relatively few students work on Ph.D.s [in their 60s], but educators are seeing increasing enrollment in doctoral programs by students in their 40s and 50s. Many candidates hope doctorates will help them advance careers in business, government and nonprofit organizations; some … are headed for academic research or teaching positions.

This article caught my eye because I started working on a doctorate at age 57 and finally received my degree on my 63rd birthday. About 30 years earlier I had completed the course work but not the dissertation for a doctorate in English and American literature. My main motivation for returning to school was to fulfill a life-long dream of earning a Ph.D., but I also benefitted from being able to focus my studies on the particular area I was interested in (life stories).

You Can Go Home Again: The Transformative Joy Of Rereading

Returning to a book you’ve read multiple times can feel like drinks with an old friend. There’s a welcome familiarity — but also sometimes a slight suspicion that time has changed you both, and thus the relationship. But books don’t change, people do. And that’s what makes the act of rereading so rich and transformative.

Juan Vidal explains why he rereads three books every year: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard, and Save Twilight: Selected Poems by Julio Cortázar.

Michael Kinsley’s ‘Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide’

Longevity breeds literature. As people (including writers) live longer thanks to medical advances, we can expect many more books contemplating the vicissitudes of aging, illness and dying. These topics, previously thought uncommercial, not to mention unsexy, have been eloquently explored recently by Diana Athill (“Somewhere Towards the End”), Roger Angell (“This Old Man”) and Christopher Hitchens (“Mortality”), among others. Now that the baby boom generation, defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, “enter life’s last chapter,” Michael Kinsley writes, “there is going to be a tsunami of books about health issues by every boomer journalist who has any, which ultimately will be all of them.” Hoping to scoop the others, he has written “Old Age,” a short, witty “beginner’s guide,” with an appropriate blend of sincerity and opportunism.

100 MUST-READ WORKS OF SOUTHERN LITERATURE

Literature of the American South comprises more than just Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and the works of William Faulkner. Here Emily Gatlin provides a class list of the full range of works that illustrate the Southern literary experience.

‘Literature about medicine may be all that can save us’

A new generation of doctor writers is investigating the mysteries of the medical profession, exploring the vital intersection between science and art

In telling the stories of illness, we need to tell the stories of the lives within which illness is embedded. Neither humanism nor medicine can explain much without the other, and so many people ricochet between two ways of describing their very being. This is in part because medicine has become so much harder to understand, with its designer molecules, bewildering toxins and digital cameras inserted into parts of ourselves we have never seen, nor wanted to see.

Telling the stories of illness has given rise to a movement known as “narrative medicine,” or, more broadly, “medical humanities.” We are seeing more and more memoirs by patients about their experiences of illness and by doctors about their attempts to understand their patients’ stories. Many of the books by physicians include their authors’ own experiences of being ill.

Books by physicians concerned about understanding patients’ stories of illness discussed here include the following:

Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh
What Doctors Feel by Danielle Ofri
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Adventures in Human Being by Gavin Francis

The Best Music for Staying Productive at Work, Backed by Science

I always used to want complete quiet when reading or concentrating, but when I went back to school I discovered that certain types of music could help me focus. This article summarizes the research demonstrating how music can increase concentration and discusses which types of music work best for this purpose.

The best part of this article is the links to examples of music for focus in these categories: classical, electronic, video game soundtracks, ambient noise, and “everything else.”

Neuroscientists create ‘atlas’ showing how words are organised in the brain

Scientists have created an “atlas of the brain” that reveals how the meanings of words are arranged across different regions of the organ.

Described as a “tour de force” by one researcher who was not involved in the study, the atlas demonstrates how modern imaging can transform our knowledge of how the brain performs some of its most important tasks. With further advances, the technology could have a profound impact on medicine and other fields.

Thinking Beyond Money in Retirement

After a career of working, scrimping and saving, many retirees are well prepared financially to stop earning a living. But how do you find meaning, identity and purpose in the remaining years of your life?

WOMEN DETECTIVES IN FACT AND FICTION

This excerpt from Pistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction by Erika Janik discusses the female detectives, real and literary, who preceded Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown