James Burke’s Knowledge Web is like six degrees of separation for the literati — okay, sometimes more like 10 degrees, and altogether fascinating:
- Cornflakes, invented in 1894 by…
- J. H. Kellogg, whose first job was as a typesetter for…
- Mrs Ellen White, “who opened a water-cure establishment” that was inspired by…
- Vincent Priessnitz, an advocate of “sleeping in wet sheets,” a prescription that was also administered by…
- James Gully at a Priessnitz-like spa in Western Egland, which was visited by…
- King Carlyle, whose official royal portrait was commissioned by…
- Whistler, the artist with an incredibly Rolodex of artsy friends, including…
- William Morris who was, among many other things, a socialist community organizer and whose meetings were attended by…
- Eleanor Marx, daughter of…
- Karl Marx, the intellectual forefather of…
Another fun tracing of people, places, and ideas is Frederick the Great to the Bottle Cap.
A video overview of k-web.org is found here.
Studying for orals usually means absorbing scraps of knowledge merely for the sake of having them available, reviewing old notes of readings mercifully forgotten, clawing fearfully through references one really “should” look at—all of this in order to be ready to answer a question that might be asked. One of my professors used to refer to Whitehead’s notion of “inert ideas” as “sodden baggage”; it struck me as a beautiful description, and just the sort of thing one lugs dutifully to an examination and deposits on the way out.
Related: The ProfHacker pens an open letter to new gradate students. There’s some sage advice in the comments section, as well.
Varsity cheerleading is not a sport. Or so says a federal judge in Connecticut, who today issued a 95-page opinion that “Quinnipiac University violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 by failing to provide equal opportunities for athletics participation to female students.” The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:
The ruling said that a varsity cheerleading team, which the university created this past year, may not be considered a varsity sport for purposes of complying with federal gender-equity law.
Members of the women’s volleyball team, along with their coach, had sued Quinnipiac last spring after the private university said it would cut the team—along with men’s golf and men’s outdoor track—to save money. District Judge [Stefan A.] Underhill later ordered the university to reinstate the volleyball team while the case was pending.
That a judge would deliberate about which activities are considered a sport reminds me of the Supreme Court case PGA Tour v. Martin. See the below TED talk by Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel — around the 5:15 mark, he engages the audience in a provocative exercise about justice by tracing the logic of Supreme Court Justices who wrestled with the question about whether walking is an essential, or simply an incidental, feature of golf.
Lapham’s Quarterly is among my favorite publications and the summer issue on Sports & Games deserves special mention. (I urge all those interested in either the history of games or ideas about human movement to invest $15 in this handsome magazine.) From Lewis Lapham’s introduction:
One not need be American to know that sport is play and play is freedom. It’s not a secret kept from children in Tahiti or Brazil. Dogs romp, whales leap, penguins dance. That play is older than the kingdoms of the Euphrates and the Nile is a truth told by the Dutch scholar, Johan Huizinga, in Homo Ludens, his study of history that discovers in the “primeval soil of play” the origin of “the great instinctive forces of civilized life,” of myth and ritual, law and order, poetry and science. “Play,” he said, “cannot be denied. You can deny, if you like, nearly all abstractions: justice, beauty, truth, goodness, mind, God. You can deny seriousness, but not play.” […]
The glory of [sports and games] isn’t the winning or losing, the bombastic Rooseveltian beating of the others; it is Einstein’s equation made flesh, the unity of energy and mass seen in a movement of light. Huizinga expresses something of the same thought. Play as the making of civilization, which becomes possible only when “an influx of mind breaks down the absolute determinism of the cosmos,” not serious and yet entirely serious, brimming with possibility and tending to become beautiful.
LQ’s literary treatment of sports makes for a nice segue to reference kottke’s post about the novelist Nic Brown, who challenged his friend and professional tennis player Tripp Phillips in a game to win a single point. Writes Brown:
What I can’t do, no matter how hard I try, is win a single point. Not one. “You have no weapons,” he tells me two days later, over a lunch of cheap tacos and cheese dip. He reviews the match in this specific analytical way I’ve experienced with other professional athletes. To them, match review is engineering, not personal nicety. The performance is fact, not opinion. “No matter what,” he says, “I was going to have you off balance. And no matter what you did, I was going to be perfectly balanced. I knew where you were going to hit it before you hit it. It’s the difference between me and you. But if I played Roger Federer right now, he’d do the exact same thing to me.”
Kottke observes, “That bit reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s article on tennis pro Michael Joyce (Esquire, July ’96). Specifically, how much of a skill difference there was between Joyce (the 79th best player in the world), the players he competed against in qualifiers, and the then-#1 ranked Andre Agassi.”
It’s currently popular to solemnly declare that a particular experience must be taken seriously because it ‘rewires the brain’ despite the fact that everything we experience ‘rewires the brain’.
It’s like a reporter from a crime scene saying there was ‘movement’ during the incident. We have learnt nothing we didn’t already know.
Neuroplasticity is common in popular culture at this point in time because mentioning the brain makes a claim about human nature seem more scientific, even if it is irrelevant (a tendency called ‘neuroessentialism’).
Clearly this is rubbish and every time you hear anyone, scientist or journalist, refer to neuroplasticity, ask yourself what specifically they are talking about. If they don’t specify or can’t tell you, they are blowing hot air. In fact, if we banned the word, we would be no worse off.
In his critical and necessary essay,Vaughn clearly explains the differences among a host of structural changes in the brain, including synaptogenesis, neuronal migration, and neurogenesis.
Below is an engrossing Discovery Channel production about the fascinating resilience and adaptability of the human brain.
[A more traditional presentation by Dan Pink that focuses on the role of autonomy can be found here.]
Around 9:40 in the above video, Pink notes that the most creative, successful, innovate companies “are animated by a purpose motive.”
“Our goal,” said the founder of Skype, “is to be disruptive, but in the cause of making the world a better place.”
Steve Jobs once explained that his ambition was, “To put a ding in the universe.”
Pink’s explanation of “the purpose motive” reminds me of Simon Senek’s TED talk on “How great leaders inspire action.”
People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it…
The goal is not just to sell to people who need what you have; the goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe. The goal is not just to hire people who need a job; it’s to hired people who believe what you believe. I always say that if you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money, but if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for your you with blood and sweat and tears…
The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.
The challenge for us, then, is “to write your own sentence”: