Joseph Campbell, the great scholar of religion, hit the core of our problem when he wrote, “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.”
Adam Frank has some advice for becoming more aware of the experience of living: take a walk in the woods, and look around like a scientist. And don’t retort that you’re not a scientist: “You already are a scientist. You have been since you were a kid playing with water in the tub, or screwing around in the backyard with dirt and sticks and stuff.”
Refining our capacity to notice is an act of reverence that we can bring to everywhere and everywhen. It’s an invitation, bringing the world’s most basic presence into view, opening our horizons and restoring our spirits. And that is what science is really there for.
Most teachers, when asked if they value creativity in their students, say that of course they do. But when asked, in a different context, what the characteristics are of students that they like best and least, characteristics of creative people fill their “least liked” list. This is because creative children are the least docile in the classroom. They tend to work better on their own than with others, they focus on what catches their interest to the exclusion of other things, and they see associations and relationships between objects and ideas that most other people do not see. In other words, creative children can be disruptive in the classroom, and they are often bored with the material being presented.
And that’s too bad, says Scott Barry Kaufman, author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, which will come out this summer:
Since so much is at stake for increasing creativity in society, it’s essential that we continually question and attempt to improve the methods by which we identify, mentor, and cultivate those who are ready and capable of becoming our next generation of innovators. Tragically, we are failing these students, often unknowingly letting them fall between the cracks in an education system that rewards characteristics that dampen creativity, such as conformity, standardization, and efficiency.
Read his research on alternative ways to identity and nurture creativity in children.
Here’s an interesting article on the study of prescriptive stereotypes—those stereotypes that specify how certain groups should be—of older adults. This research comes from two scientists at Princeton University, Susan Fiske and Michael North:
The research by North and Fiske homes in on the idea that understanding intergenerational tension is key to understanding ageism. Ageism is the one kind of discrimination, North noted, in which those who are generally doing the discriminating—younger generations—will eventually become part of the targeted demographic.
a few years back I became aware that I was living in a story that I hadn’t intentionally or consciously written for myself. It was a default story. I was living out the storyline of “abandoned girl” who believed she could not count on others and that she must do it all herself. She must be self-sufficient, strong, and prove herself capable in all matters. The main character in my story was controlling, driven, unintentionally selfish and dis-empowering to others. And boy, was this story laden with victim-mindset beliefs and self-limitation.
This was not the story I had imagined for my life! I wanted to be graceful and compassionate. I wanted to do work that I loved and that makes a difference in the world. I wanted to be a loving, calm parent and spouse.
De Yarrison explains how she changed her life by changing her life story. And she offers some tips on how other people can do the same.
The first piece of advice given to anyone working on a memoir is to be honest, to tell the truth about one’s own life. But is it possible to be TOO honest, Sarah Hampson asks. She thinks Jowita Bydlowska’s memoir Drunk Mom suggests a positive answer to that question:
She doesn’t want it to be about anything more than the words, the sentences, the writing, all of which are skillful, spare, lovely. But it is. Her memoir, Drunk Mom, is a terrifying journey about her relapse into alcohol abuse after her son was born. She had been sober for three and a half years. She started drinking again before he was born, then stopped during the pregnancy. To celebrate his birth, she had a glass of wine, and her addiction came back, full-grown and needy, like a long-lost, jealous child bent on taking her away from the innocent one, asleep in his crib.
This is a memoir that pushes at boundaries – what is private, what should perhaps be kept private, what we need to know, what we don’t, what is insightful or just exhibitionism. It is already one of the most talked about books of the season. Bydlowska is very honest in her writing. Let me be as well then. There’s self-harm in choosing to publish this memoir. It’s just like alcoholism: the recklessness of it; the abandonment of responsibility to her partner, to their relationship, to her child, now almost 4, and also, most painfully, to herself.
Yes, Facebook can be a time suck. But:
Researchers at the University of Arizona have found that the social media site isn’t just for uploading party photos and killing time. Facebook also boosts the cognitive abilities of older people and provides them with a stronger connection to their loved ones.
Using Facebook provided both social engagement and cognitive stimulation for study participants:
The adults who learned to use Facebook performed about 25 percent better on tasks that measured their cognitive abilities. They were also better able to do “updating,” a psychological term meaning that they could quickly add to or recall parts of their working memory as needed. Those who had used the private online diary site Penzu or who had not used Facebook at all saw no such cognitive gains.
The article provides tips on helping older relatives or friends learn how to use social media.
If you haven’t yet discovered Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings, here’s a start. In this entry she discusses The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning by Cambridge neuroscientist Daniel Bor. Bor’s book examines “how our species’ penchant for pattern-recognition is essential to consciousness and our entire experience of life.” The basis for the ability to recognize patterns is working memory, where the brain temporarily stores individual items for further processing. And working memory can be improved by “a concept called chunking, which allows us to hack the limits of our working memory — a kind of cognitive compression mechanism wherein we parse information into chunks that are more memorable and easier to process than the seemingly random bits of which they’re composed.”
Read on to find out how pattern recognition can be a hindrance as well as an advantage. But be warned: Popova’s site is so rich that, once you start reading, you won’t want to stop.
While it can be difficult for anyone to remember happier times, the task is especially difficult for people with depression. This article reports on a study of whether building a memory palace can help people conjure up happier times:
The method-of-loci technique, which relies on spatial memory, is remarkably simple to explain, but does require some mental effort to set up. What you do is think of a place that you know really well, like a house you lived in as a child or your route to work. Then you place all the things you want to remember around the house as you mentally move around it. Each stop on the journey should have one object relating to a memory. The more bizarre and surreal or vivid you can make these images, the better they will be remembered.
If you carried out this process for a series of good memories, you’d have what is called a ‘memory palace’ of happy times that you could return to in moments of stress.
The study found that people who had used the method-of-loci technique to construct their memory palace were later able to recall more happpy memories than people who had rehearsed memories without the organizing technique.
Our identities become shaped by our life stories as we gradually incorporate the memories of the events in our lives into our sense of self (Whitbourne, 1985). The most important of these, the “self-defining memories,” are the ones that we remember most vividly and that contribute most heavily to our overall sense of self. A self-defining memory is also easily remembered, and emotionally intense. In some cases, these memories represent ongoing themes that we play out over and over again in our lives.
Learning to recognize your own self-defining memories can help you gain important insights about your identity. The easiest way to find out your own self-defining memories is by thinking about the events in your life that you are most likely to tell people about when they say “Tell me a little about yourself.”
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., discusses how to identify your self-defining memories, those memories of events that have most contributed to shaping your life story and, therefore, your sense of personal identity.
Our self-defining memories may very well change over time, as we have more experiences to incorporate into our life story. For this reason, identifying which memories have become self-defining for us can be a valuable exercise as we grow older.
You’re walking down the street, just like any other day, when suddenly a memory pops into your head from years ago. It’s about a person you haven’t thought of for years.
Just for a moment you’re transported back to a time and place you thought was long-forgotten. In a flash, though, the memory has vanished as quickly as it appeared.
This experience has been dubbed a ‘mind-pop’ and sometimes it is prompted by nothing your conscious mind is aware of.
There is, perhaps, an even weirder type of ‘mind-pop’. This is when all you get is a word or an image which seems to have no connection to anything at all. Like suddenly thinking of the word ‘orange’ or getting the image of a cheese grater. They seem weirder because they feel unconnected to any past experience, place or person—a thought without any autobiographical context.
Have you ever had an experience like this? If you have, don’t worry. These experiences don’t mean you’re weird.
Researchers have discovered that many people have these experiences, which are most likely to occur during routine, habitual activities. And although some such experiences can be traced back to a triggering event, many cannot:
The fact that many mind-pops could not be traced back to their source is probably the result of how much of our processing is carried out unconsciously.
The fascinating thing was that many of these mind-pops occurred weeks or months after exposure to the original trigger. This suggests that these words, images and ideas can lie in wait for a considerable period. Some even think that experiencing mind-pops could be associated with creativity as these apparently random associations can help to solve creative problems.
The aftermath of the 2012 presidential election has generated a moment of myth creation about what happened on Nov. 6 — why President Obama won, why Mitt Romney lost, and what roles real human beings played in the result. These myths are not only being repeated and set in stone by the media and pundits, but also by the campaigns themselves. Democrats and the Obama campaign as well as Republicans and the Romney campaign are repeating the same myths to explain the outcome.
I have often talked about how myths arise in politics in the aftermath of the election, and how these myths move from fiction to nonfiction. And it is because folks buy into the myths that mistakes are made in future campaigns, and wrong lessons are learned along the way. The winning campaign operatives and consultants usually disseminate the myths to justify their work, but in this election both the winners and losers are creating the same mythic narrative.
Political strategist Matthew Dowd discusses how stories become narratives that in turn develop into national myths. He defines three myths about the 2012 U. S. Presidential election, then concludes:
All of this raises the question of whether campaigns and tactics matter. They do, but only in a very limited way, and they are insignificant compared with the overall political environment and the grand movements of the world and our country. The most successful people in life and in politics learn to recognize the big waves happening in the world and then surf them as best they can. President Obama, despite many flaws and vulnerabilities, had the traits and attributes that made him more able to surf the movements than Romney or the Republican Party.
Recommended Reading: Memoirs
The Minneapolis Star Tribune suggests five books. The page also includes a link to the newspapers complete annual holiday books roundup.
Book Riot has put together Behind-the-Scenes Memoirs: A Reading List from readers’ suggestions: “Here’s a list of books that satisfy your voyeuristic literary urges and provide a peek behind the curtain of an otherwise secretive culture or group.”
What I’m reading this week:
Since I’m fairly new to Twitter ( @MDBrownPhD ), I look for informative articles and blog posts about how to use Twitter effectively. Here are a couple of things I’ve looked at recently:
Writer and editor Meghan Ward has a good summary of both sides of this issue. There are also a lot of comments on her post that also contribute to the conversation.
Twitter’s research into how journalists can best grow their followings uses data to confirm what you’ve probably been told at a dozen social media seminars: Be a firehose of information about your beat, use hashtags and @ mentions as much as you can, and share what you’re reading.
The experience of meaningful coincidences is universal. They are reported by people of every culture, every belief system, and time period. Traditionally these synchronistic events are made acceptable by ascribing them to outside supernatural forces such as divinities, or in modern times, impersonal archetypal influences.
Dr. Kirby Surprise demonstrates that synchronistic events, based on the activity of the mind, are actually caused by the person who perceives them, and reflect many levels of their consciousness.
His research reveals that what we believe and the way we look for patterns in the world generates synchronistic events that mirror our own assumptions. By decoding the science of synchronicity, Dr. Kirby uncovered how we actually create events and how we co‐create our reality.
The term dementia is used broadly to describe a condition which is characterized by cognitive decline, but there are many different types of dementia. Although it is usually progressive, properly diagnosing dementia can reverse the effects and be treated and even cured completely by addressing the underlying cause. However, dementia caused by incurable conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, are irreversible.
In The American Scholar, Priscilla Long explains what happens when we drift off to dreamland.
If you were paying attention to news about successful treatments for opioid addiction you probably fell out of your chair when you saw a stream of headlines one mid-month morning proclaiming that a way to “block” addiction to heroin had been found. All of the articles were based on one of two press releases, both of which were issued by the institutions where the lead authors of an animal study work (University of Colorado and University of Adelaide). The study was published in the August 15 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
In fact, the study was about how a promising new immune system component can contribute to pain relief with lower amounts of opioids. It was not about addiction.
Thanks to SciCurious, a Scientific American blogger, the truth got out pretty fast. But it was too late for the hundreds of articles that have already been published—with no retractions or corrections that we can find.
This is a cautionary tale about journalists who, instead of going to the easily-findable study itself, rely on the press release.
We formulate stories about our own behavior and that of others all the time. If we’re not sure about the details, we make them up – or rather, our brain does, without so much as thinking about asking our permission.
Feminist author Naomi Wolf’s new book is Vagina: A New Biography. On Goodreads she lists her five favorite books on gender:
New research suggests that letting your mind wander can pay off in creativity:
Writer Geoffrey Gray explains why authors need to do more than work their fingers on the keyboard:
Ann Marie Rasmussen finds a multitude of female archetypes in Game of Thrones:
Shirley Hershey Showalter offers a well researched and well presented explanation of the popularity of memoir writing:
- “The hyenas that solved the puzzle tested more potential solutions — including biting, flipping or pushing the box — than the ones that failed, the researchers said.”
- “those that quickly approached the foreign object were more likely to get the box open than the hesitant hyenas, suggesting that risk-taking has some benefits, the researchers said.”
We are all the main character in our own life story, but many other characters appear in those stories, too. At what point does a particular episode in our life stop being just about us and become the other characters’ story as well? And when that happens, is the episode ours to tell? How will our revelation of the episode affect the other people involved?
At some point all writers of memoir intended for publication—or even for distribution within a limited group such as a family—have to ask themselves such questions. John Eakin, a professor at Indiana University and one of the foremost authorities on autobiography and memoir, recently addressed this issue in the final installment of a speaker series at the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University in Indiana on the ethics of life writing:
“Complicating my thinking about this question was my belief that our identities are relational, that is my sense of my self as an individual is a function in no small part in my understanding of my relationships to other people, particularly the near and dear siblings and friends,” Eakin said. “So if that’s the case, if our identities are relational and hence our privacies are shared, where does one life end and another begin?”
Despite such complexities, Eakin pointed out the value of life writing as a tool for self-discovery and identity formation:
“I can suggest three reasons why we engage in life writing. We are trained to do it, it answers a metaphysical need to know our place in the larger scheme of things, and self-narration promotes the well-being of the organisms that we are,” Eakin said.
He called life writing “a step towards preparing for the future, as people must ‘accept rather than disavow the lives that they’ve lived.’”
The Wall Street Journal recently published this adapted excerpt from Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine: How Creativity Works published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March.
The image of the ‘creative type’ is a myth. Jonah Lehrer on why anyone can innovate—and why a hot shower, a cold beer or a trip to your colleague’s desk might be the key to your next big idea.
Lehrer cites research from the relatively new science of the study of creativity:
But creativity is not magic, and there’s no such thing as a creative type. Creativity is not a trait that we inherit in our genes or a blessing bestowed by the angels. It’s a skill. Anyone can learn to be creative and to get better at it. New research is shedding light on what allows people to develop world-changing products and to solve the toughest problems. A surprisingly concrete set of lessons has emerged about what creativity is and how to spark it in ourselves and our work.
Read about how inventions like the Post-It Note often come about in the unlikeliest of places and when people aren’t concentrating on a problem that needs solving. Particularly intersting in the list “10 Quick Creativity Hacks” at the end of the article. Also interesting are the many comments from readers.
This isn’t an article. It’s a collection of quotations about and references (some with links) to resources about how and why our brain allows us to use memory to relive our experiences. If that topic interests you, this is a good place to start your research.
Are we governed by unconscious processes? Neuroscience believes so – but isn’t the human condition more complicated than that? Two experts offer different views.
What makes us the person we are? Does our sense of “my self” refer to our minds, our bodies, or some combination of the two? How does the mass of gray matter within our skulls determine or discover who we are and why we think, feel, and act they way we do?
David Eagleman, neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, and Raymond Tallis, former professor of geriatric medicine at Manchester University [U. K.], here debate questions such as these.
It is clear at this point that we are irrevocably tied to the 3 lb of strange computational material found within our skulls. The brain is utterly alien to us, and yet our personalities, hopes, fears and aspirations all depend on the integrity of this biological tissue. How do we know this? Because when the brain changes, we change. Our personality, decision-making, risk-aversion, the capacity to see colours or name animals – all these can change, in very specific ways, when the brain is altered by tumours, strokes, drugs, disease or trauma. As much as we like to think about the body and mind living separate existences, the mental is not separable from the physical.
This clarifies some aspects of our existence while deepening the mystery and the awe of others.
For example, take the vast, unconscious, automated processes that run under the hood of conscious awareness. We have discovered that the large majority of the brain’s activity takes place at this low level: the conscious part – the “me” that flickers to life when you wake up in the morning – is only a tiny bit of the operations. This understanding has given us a better understanding of the complex multiplicity that makes a person. A person is not a single entity of a single mind: a human is built of several parts, all of which compete to steer the ship of state. As a consequence, people are nuanced, complicated, contradictory. We act in ways that are sometimes difficult to detect by simple introspection. To know ourselves increasingly requires careful studies of the neural substrate of which we are composed.
Yes, of course, everything about us, from the simplest sensation to the most elaborately constructed sense of self, requires a brain in some kind of working order. Remove your brain and bang goes your IQ. It does not follow that our brains are pretty well the whole story of us, nor that the best way to understand ourselves is to stare at “the neural substrate of which we are composed”.
This is because we are not stand-alone brains. We are part of community of minds, a human world, that is remote in many respects from what can be observed in brains. Even if that community ultimately originated from brains, this was the work of trillions of brains over hundreds of thousands of years: individual, present-day brains are merely the entrance ticket to the drama of social life, not the drama itself. Trying to understand the community of minds in which we participate by imaging neural tissue is like trying to hear the whispering of woods by applying a stethoscope to an acorn.
Of course brain activity is automated and, as you say, runs “under the hood of conscious awareness”, but this doesn’t mean that we are automatons or that we are largely unconscious of the reasons we do things.
Read on to discover some of the newest hypotheses and discoveries from the burgeoning field of neuroscience. And take a look at all the comments this debate generated.
Since the 1960s, researchers have been scrutinizing a handful of patients who underwent a radical kind of brain surgery. The cohort has been a boon to neuroscience — but soon it will be gone.
We’re used to hearing about the specialization of each of the two halves of the brain: the left hemisphere is in charge of speech and language, while the right governs visual-spatial processing and facial recognition—or, put another way, logic (the left) vs. creativity (the right). Much of the knowledge about how parts of the brain work comes from research involving about a dozen patients who underwent a radical surgical treatment for epilepsy sometimes called split-brain treatment. Here’s a description of the treatment as performed on a patient named Vicki:
In June 1979, in a procedure that lasted nearly 10 hours, doctors created a firebreak to contain Vicki’s seizures by slicing through her corpus callosum, the bundle of neuronal fibres connecting the two sides of her brain. This drastic procedure, called a corpus callosotomy, disconnects the two sides of the neocortex, the home of language, conscious thought and movement control.
“Through studies of this group, neuroscientists now know that the healthy brain can look like two markedly different machines, cabled together and exchanging a torrent of data. But when the primary cable is severed, information — a word, an object, a picture — presented to one hemisphere goes unnoticed in the other.” But further studies over the years have revealed a more complex picture of how the brain works:
The brain isn’t like a computer, with specific sections of hardware charged with specific tasks. It’s more like a network of computers connected by very big, busy broadband cables. The connectivity between active brain regions is turning out to be just as important, if not more so, than the operation of the distinct parts. “With split-brain patients, you can see the impact of disconnecting a huge portion of that network, but without damage to any particular modules,” says Michael Miller, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The severing of the corpus callosum has now been replaced by drug treatments and less drastic surgical procedures. This article recounts the history of the procedure and its contribution to neuroscience.
Are you a morning person or an evening person? Morning people, as you would expect, do their most productive work early in the day, while evening people are more productive as the day winds down:
Numerous studies have demonstrated that our best performance on challenging, attention-demanding tasks – like studying in the midst of distraction – occurs at our peak time of day. When we operate at our optimal time of day, we filter out the distractions in our world and get down to business.
During our peak time we are better at working out analytic problems, which “generally require people to “grind out a solution” by systematically working through the problem utilizing a consistent strategy.”
However, a recent study suggests that innovation and creativity may actually be improved when we are not at our peak. Off-peak time can help when we work on insight problems:
Finding the right answer requires the solver to abandon the original interpretation and seek alternatives. Insight problems often involve an “Aha!” moment where the answer comes all at once, rather than via a systematic, incremental calculation.
Insight problems involve thinking outside the box. This is where susceptibility to “distraction” can be of benefit. At off-peak times we are less focused, and may consider a broader range of information. This wider scope gives us access to more alternatives and diverse interpretations, thus fostering innovation and insight.
Writers and Self-Publishing
Right now is a heady time to be a writer. With the publishing industry in upheaval, it’s possible for unknown writers to get their books out to the public through self-publishing, either in print-on-demand hard copy or ebook format. Here are a couple of articles that summarize the recent success of a few self-published writers:
- New in paperback: Stephanie McAfee’s ‘Diary of a Mad Fat Girl’
- Relationship Guru Charles Orlando Helps E-Book Self-Publishers Help Themselves
But, warns the article The self-epublishing bubble in the U. K.’s Guardian, this trend cannot continue:
In August 2011, Ewan Morrison published an article entitled Are Books Dead and Can Authors Survive?. Here, he tracks the self-epublishing euphoria of the last five months and argues that we are at the start of an epublishing bubble
Here’s what Morrison has to say about the current epublishing bubble:
All of this ebook talk is becoming a business in itself. Money is being made out of thin air in this strange new speculative meta-practice: there are seminars, conferences and courses springing up everywhere, even at the Society of Authors (a writers’ union which, until recently, was largely against epublication). Television and radio programmes are being made about self-epublishing (I’ve personally been asked to speak about it on 12 occasions since August). Everyone can be a writer now: it only takes 10 minutes to upload your own ebook, and according to the New York Times “81% of people feel they have a book in them … And should write it”
But all of this gives me an alarming sense of deja vu. There’s another name for what happens when people start to make money out of speculation and hype: it’s called a bubble. Like the dotcom bubble, the commercial real estate bubble, the subprime mortgage bubble, the credit bubble and the derivative trading bubble before it, the DIY epublishing bubble is inflating around us. Each of those other bubbles also saw, in their earliest stages, a great deal of fuss made over a “new” phenomenon, which was then over-hyped and over-leveraged. But speculation, as we’ve learned at our peril, is a very dangerous foundation for any business. And when the epub bubble bursts, as all previous bubbles have done, the fall-out for publishing and writing may be even harder to repair than it is proving to be in the fields of mortgages, derivatives and personal debt. Because this bubble is based on cultural, not purely economic, grounds.
He continues to explain the current bubble in economic terms and ends with a warning about what will happen when the bubble bursts: the publishing industry will find itself mired in a financial disaster, with no way to bail itself out.
But there are always at least two sides to every question. On the other side of this issue, James Altucher offers Why Every Entrepreneur Should Self-Publish a Book, which includes “three discussions: Why self-publish rather than use a traditional publisher, why entrepreneurs should self-publish, and finally, HOW does one go about self-publishing.”
And who is James Altucher? He’s a writer riding what Morrison calls the current publishing bubble:
I’ve published eight books in the past seven years, five with traditional publishers (Wiley, Penguin, HarperCollins), one comic book, and the last two I’ve self-published. In this post I give the specific details of all of my sales numbers and advances with the traditional publishers. Although the jury is still out on my self-published books, “How to be the Luckiest Man Alive” and ”I Was Blind But Now I See” I can tell you these two have already sold more than my five books with traditional publishers, combined.
While Morrison’s article pertains to both fiction and nonfiction, Altucher’s is mainly about nonfiction that businesspeople can create to promote themselves as experts. He offers specific advice, including how he created his print-on-demand books. Near the end of the article he offers this explanation of why other people should do the same thing:
Entrepreneurs are always looking for ways to stand out, promote their service, and get validation for their offerings. Writing a book makes you an expert in the field. At the very least, when you hand someone a book you wrote, it’s more impressive than handing a business card. It shows that you have enough expertise to write the book. It also shows you value the relationship with the potential customer enough that you are willing to give him something of value. Something you created.
For more information, you can visit Altucher’s web site and follow him on Twitter (see below).
With the publishing industry in turmoil, more and more authors are bypassing the traditional route to publication by publishing their books themselves. Yet, with no editorial staff to insist on writing standards, the quality of such books is often—though not always—quite low. And Melissa Foster and Amy Edelman know why:
- Big Reason #1: Bad Editing
- Big Reason #2: Quantity Over Quality
- Big Reason #3 – The Lack of Gatekeepers
- Big Reason #4 – Crappy Covers
They have a lot to say about each reason, so click through and read their explanations.
Personally, I’m not too concerned about the covers. But I am concerned about the lack of gatekeepers, or those editors who insist that authors write well and make sense. If you’re writing a book to promote yourself and your business, as James Altucher suggests above, don’t look at self-publishing as an easy way out. To look like you know what you’re talking about, your book has to be clear, to the point, and stylistically well written. No one will trust what you have to say if the book with your name on it is full of typos, poorly organized, or unclear. Even professional writers will tell you to hire an editor before you put your book into final form.
Everything about the way we start our day runs counter to the best conditions for thinking creatively
So what would our mornings look like if we re-engineered them in the interest of maximizing our creative-problem-solving capacities? We’d set the alarm a few minutes early and lie awake in bed, following our thoughts where they lead (with a pen and paper nearby to jot down any evanescent inspirations). We’d stand a little longer under the warm water of the shower, dismissing task-oriented thoughts (“What will I say at that 9 a.m. meeting?”) in favor of a few more minutes of mental dilation. We’d take some deep breaths during our commute instead of succumbing to road rage. And once in the office — after we get that cup of coffee — we’d direct our computer browser not to the news of the day but to the funniest videos the Web has to offer.
Whether you’re an aspiring writer or an already published author, you need to learn how to work social media, especially Twitter. I was initially quite intimidated by Twitter, with all its @usernames and #hashtags.
The best way to learn about using Twitter is to set up an account and begin observing what goes on. Choose a username that identifies you as you wish to be known in the writing universe, preferably one that reflects other aspects of your online identity, such as your web site or blog. If you want to experiment on Twitter first, set up separate professional and personal accounts and begin using your personal Twitter identity. If you choose this route, you should still lock in your professional account’s username to prevent someone else from getting it before you do.
Once you’ve set up your Twitter account, you can begin observing what goes on there. One way to sort out the millions of Twitter messages posted daily is through the use of hashtags, which identify topics with the pound sign, such as #amwriting. In this article Author Media provides a list of hashtags relevant to writing. Watching the activity of a couple of these hashtags will show you how Twitter works.
Then, don’t be afraid to jump in. And, of course, you can follow me on Twitter: @MDBrownPhD
Finally, if fiction is what you write, veteran author Warren Adler offers some encouragement for the rejection slips you will inevitably accumulate.
And yes, you can follow him on Twitter. Check the end of the article.
“Aging is not a mild form of dementia,” says cellular neurobiologist John Morrison, who specializes in aging. Until recently, many scientists thought brain cells died as we aged, shrinking our brains and shedding bits of information that were gone forever. Newer findings indicate that cells in disease-free brains stay put; it’s the connections between them that break. With this new perspective has come an explosion of research into how we can keep those connections, and our brain function, intact for longer.
The Washington Post presents a special section on the aging brain. This link will take you to an illustration of the areas of the brain and advice on how to slow the effects of aging. There are also links to three related articles:
- Jane Goodall on how chimps and humans age
- Tips on how to care for aging parents
- Five tips for navigating Medicare
Sleep is key to memory and to many other facets of good health. This resource, presented by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and WGBH Educational Foundation, presents sections on why sleep matters, the science of sleep, and how to get the sleep you need.
At Scientific American Christie Nicholson reports on some new research on sleep:
Sleep helps us consolidate our memories. Sleep also helps us learn. During REM sleep, which is the dreaming stage of sleep, the brain stops releasing stress chemicals. Now a new study finds that as we dream we can even soothe our stressful associations to certain experiences.
This page contains a podcast.
When children have been exposed to family violence, their brains become increasingly ”tuned” for processing possible sources of threat, a new study reports. The findings, reported in the December 6th issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, reveal the same pattern of brain activity in these children as seen previously in soldiers exposed to combat.
The study is the first to apply functional brain imaging to explore the impact of physical abuse or domestic violence on the emotional development of children, according to the researchers.
The finding that enhanced reactivity to domestic violence changes the way the brain responds to angry faces may explain why childhood abuse is such a potent environmental risk factors for anxiety and depression that can continue into adulthood. Such changes don’t reflect damage to the brain, but they do represent patterns that influence the brain’s way of adapting to a challenging or dangerous environment.
Maria Konnikova is a woman after my own heart. At Scientific American she has just introduced her new column, Literally Psyched, a “journey of interdisciplinary exploration”:
Here, I propose to use literature and creative inspiration to explore concepts in the psychology of the mind and human thought. To create a place that will blend the world of fiction and non-fiction, that of the literary and the psychological, of artistic inspiration and scientific exploration. To use whatever inspires me—a book, a character, a line, a moment—as a window of insight into the human mind. For who are creative writers but individuals who have dedicated their life and art to observing and chronicling humans as a whole: their interactions, their dreams, their hopes, their disappointments, the full complexity of their internal life?
And, as if her interdisciplinary approach to the areas in which literature (and other creative endeavors) and psychology intersect weren’t enough, she begins this introductory post with a personal story, a narrative anecdote from her own life that illustrates how she has become the person she is.
Literature, psychology, and life narrative all wrapped up together! This is good stuff. I think she’d probably be interested in Literature & Psychology.