Posts filed under ‘think’
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”:
The cover story of this past Sunday’s New York Times magazine asks, “Are teachers’ unions the enemy of reform?“
What the reformers have come to believe matters most is good teachers. “It’s all about the talent,” [Education] Secretary Duncan told me. Thus, the highest number of points [on applications for a share of $4.35 billion promised to the most reform-minded districts and states in the country as part of the federal incentive program known as Race to the Top] would be awarded based on a commitment to eliminate what teachers’ union leaders consider the most important protections enjoyed by their members: seniority-based compensation and permanent job security. To win the contest, the states had to present new laws, contracts and data systems making teachers individually responsible for what their students achieve, and demonstrating, for example, that budget-forced teacher layoffs will be based on the quality of the teacher, not simply on seniority. (Fifteen states, including New York and California, now operate under union-backed state laws mandating that seniority, or “last in/first out,” determines layoffs. These quality-blind layoffs could force a new generation of teachers, like those recruited by Teach for America, out of classrooms in the coming months.)
If unions are the Democratic Party’s base, then teachers’ unions are the base of the base. The two national teachers’ unions — the American Federation of Teachers and the larger National Education Association — together have more than 4.6 million members. That is roughly a quarter of all the union members in the country. Teachers are the best field troops in local elections. Ten percent of the delegates to the 2008 Democratic National Convention were teachers’ union members. In the last 30 years, the teachers’ unions have contributed nearly $57.4 million to federal campaigns, an amount that is about 30 percent higher than any single corporation or other union. And they have typically contributed many times more to state and local candidates. About 95 percent of it has gone to Democrats.
A panel of educators at a recent Intelligence Squared forum debated the motion, “Don’t blame teachers unions’ for our failing schools.”(Click the link to watch or listen to the debate.)
Before the debate, 24% of the audience voted for the motion, 43% against and 33% were undecided. After the debate, 25% voted for the motion, 68% against and only 7% remained undecided. The “against the motion” team carried the day.
On a related note, a powerful forthcoming film illustrates the personal stories that are too-often drowned out by a frightening collection of dire education statistics.
A synopsis of the film Waiting for Superman, due in theaters this fall:
For a nation that proudly declared it would leave no child behind, America continues to do so at alarming rates. Despite increased spending and politicians’ promises, our buckling public–education system, once the best in the world, routinely forsakes the education of millions of children. Oscar®—winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH) reminds us that education “statistics” have names: Anthony, Francisco, Bianca, Daisy, and Emily, whose stories make up the engrossing foundation of WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN.” As he follows a handful of promising kids through a system that inhibits, rather than encourages, academic growth, Guggenheim undertakes an exhaustive review of public education, surveying “drop—out factories” and “academic sinkholes,” methodically dissecting the system and its seemingly intractable problems. However, embracing the belief that good teachers make good schools, Guggenheim offers hope by exploring innovative approaches taken by education reformers and charter schools that have—in reshaping the culture—refused to leave their students behind.
UPDATE: Click here for a video clip of Geoffrey Canada, visionary founder of the Harlem’s Children Zone, who explained at this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival that some teachers simply can’t teach — and offered an idea about what to do with them.
A recent ABC News story profiles an exercise-based learning readiness program at Naperville Central High School, near Chicago, that is credited for helping students to achieve “astounding” academic achievement — a doubling of reading scores and an “increase of math scores by a factor of 20.”
I’ve highlighted the action-based learning program at Naperville a number of time (here), but this provides an opportunity to again promote PE4Life (the developer Learning Readiness Physical Education) and John Ratey’s book Spark! (an explanation of “the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain”).
Below is a story that aired on CBS’ “The Early Show” in 2009 about the LRPE program at Naperville — with enough exposure to research about the relationship between body and cognitive development, programs like this might begin to take root at schools throughout the country.
Jure Robic is perhaps “the world’s best endurance athlete.”
Over the past two years, Robic, who is 40 years old, has won almost every race he has entered, including the last two editions of ultracycling’s biggest event, the 3,000-mile Insight Race Across America (RAAM). In 2004, Robic set a world record in the 24-hour time trial by covering 518.7 miles. Last year, he did himself one better, following up his RAAM victory with a victory six weeks later in Le Tour Direct, a 2,500-mile race on a course contrived from classic Tour de France routes. Robic finished in 7 days and 19 hours, and climbed some 140,000 feet, the equivalent of nearly five trips up Mount Everest.
To achieve such success, Robic trains 335 days each year, for five and a half hours per day, “logging some 28,000 miles, or roughly one trip around the planet.”
As explained in this NYT profile, however, it’s Robic’s insanity “that sets him apart from the rest of the world.”
The craziness is methodical and Robic and his crew know its pattern by heart. Around Day 2 of a typical weeklong race, his speech goes staccato. By Day 3, he is belligerent and sometimes paranoid. His short-term memory vanishes, and he weeps uncontrollably. The last days are marked by hallucinations: bears, wolves and aliens prowl the roadside; asphalt cracks rearrange themselves into coded messages. Occasionally, Robic leaps from his bike to square off with shadowy figures that turn out to be mailboxes. In a 2004 race, he turned to see himself pursued by a howling band of black-bearded men on horseback.
‘‘Mujahedeen, shooting at me,’’ he explains. ‘‘So I ride faster.’’
His wife, a nurse, interjects: ‘‘The first time I went to a race, I was not prepared to see what happens to his mind. We nearly split up.’’
Jad and Robert talk to two Ironman competitors, Julie Moss and Wendy Ingraham to find out how they do what they do. Physiologist Dr. David Jones tells us how to trick the voice in your head that tells you you’re exhausted. Then we follow two men, Patrick Autissier and Jure Robic, as they bike across the country as fast as they can in a crazy race called The Ride Across America. Producer Lulu Miller brings us their story and New York Times writer Daniel Coyle walks us through the process of physical and mental breakdown RAAM competitors face.
Also worth checking out—Discovery produces an interesting video series called “Human Body: Pushing the Limits.”
UPDATE: Here’s the clip of Julie Moss’ epic body breakdown in the 1982 Hawaii Ironman referenced on RadioLab:
Discover magazine explains “Why athletes are geniuses“:
This past January Claudio Del Percio of Sapienza University in Rome and his colleagues reported the results of a study in which they measured the brain waves of karate champions and ordinary people, at rest with their eyes closed, and compared them. The athletes, it turned out, emitted stronger alpha waves, which indicate a restful state. This finding suggests that an athlete’s brain is like a race car idling in neutral, ready to spring into action.
Del Percio’s team has also measured brain waves of athletes and nonathletes in action…. The athletes’ brains were quieter, which means they devoted less brain activity to these motor tasks than nonathletes did. The reason, Del Percio argues, is that the brains of athletes are more efficient, so they produce the desired result with the help of fewer neurons. Del Percio’s research suggests that the more efficient a brain, the better job it does in sports.
MindHacks explains the methods of the brain scanning research and concludes:
Rather than becoming ‘relaxed’ the brain seem to become more ‘finely tuned’ with practice. It’s not that the whole brain just becomes ‘quieter’ (although you could say this about some specific areas) but that it seems to reconfigure the distribution of work.
From a review of Melvin Konner’s The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind in this month’s The Atlantic:
Konner is especially interested in play, which is not unique to humans and, indeed, seems to have been present, like the mother-offspring bond, from the dawn of mammals. The smartest mammals are the most playful, so these traits have apparently evolved together. Play, Konner says, “combining as it does great energy expenditure and risk with apparent pointlessness, is a central paradox of evolutionary biology.” It seems to have multiple functions—exercise, learning, sharpening skills—and the positive emotions it invokes may be an adaptation that encourages us to try new things and learn with more flexibility. In fact, it may be the primary means nature has found to develop our brains.
Update: Andrew Sullivan explains why play matters:
Once one leaves the reductionism of evolutionary biology, can we not see play as also, well, play? And play is defined by its uselessness, its freedom, its ability to resist productivity. It is a form of ultimate freedom – in my view, the freest human beings can be. Because a game has no known winner in advance, if it has any winner at all. It is about being together and engaging together without an ulterior purpose.
That’s why I see play as something close to the divine. That’s why I believe Jesus loved children. Because, in play, they had found a way to be with each other without any other over-arching purpose.
In November 1936, the March of Time! newsreel introduced the progressive education movement championed by John Dewey as a series of “Strange and alarming teaching innovations which today threaten to change the entire method of public school education in the United States.”
HBO Archives has digitally restored the 8-minute film, which you can watch here.
(Note, free registration is required to access the HBO Archives.)
Dr. Harriet Hall has a fascinating article on the placebo effect over at eSkeptic:
We not only know placebos “work,” we know there is a hierarchy of effectiveness:
- Placebo surgery works better than placebo injections
- Placebo injections work better than placebo pills
- Sham acupuncture treatment works better than a placebo pill
- Capsules work better than tablets
- Big pills work better than small
- The more doses a day, the better
- The more expensive, the better
- The color of the pill makes a difference
- Telling the patient, “This will relieve your pain” works better than saying “This might help.”
Dr. Hall also discusses four factors that explain how the placebo effect works — expectancy, motivation, conditioning, and endogenous opiates. Also in the article, a section on whether animals respond to placebos, and a summary of the ethics of the matter.
In this great video, Dr. Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science, explains the role of the placebo effect in medical research.
It’s science’s dirtiest secret: The “scientific method” of testing hypotheses by statistical analysis stands on a flimsy foundation. Statistical tests are supposed to guide scientists in judging whether an experimental result reflects some real effect or is merely a random fluke, but the standard methods mix mutually inconsistent philosophies and offer no meaningful basis for making such decisions. Even when performed correctly, statistical tests are widely misunderstood and frequently misinterpreted. As a result, countless conclusions in the scientific literature are erroneous, and tests of medical dangers or treatments are often contradictory and confusing.