Will Self has written a hilarious, snarky review: “Many self-help books have a blurb on them that says something of the form, "You Must Read This Book". Willpower should have the exact opposite.”
“Our emotions today are radically different from what 19th-century Americans felt. That’s partly due to technology.”
The headline makes it sound like another “turn off your facebooks” article, but it’s a fascinating interview with Susan J. Matt about how we’ve talked about and related to boredom over the last couple of centuries.
Unfilled moments, moments where you don’t have entertainment, or moments where you don’t have companionship, may actually spawn creativity. Certainly a lot of 19th-century romantics thought that.
Being still with yourself can give access to all sorts of ideas and musings that wouldn’t otherwise occur. So perhaps in our quest to end boredom our creativity is being stunted, and we’re actually becoming more boring.
We don’t merely develop new devices for expressing our emotions — our devices actually alter what emotions we express.
Interview with behavioral biologist Stephen Pratt about his paper “The Psychology of Superorganisms: Collective Decision Making by Insect Societies”.
I think the assumption of a high degree of common interest is important to this idea of a superorganism, the expectation that it acts as a unitary, cognitive entity. In other societies where the integration is not as tight, it might be less fruitful to treat them as a single mind.
Obviously, there are a lot of differences between insect societies and human societies. If we find commonalities in how they behave, maybe that’s revealing.
The Ezra Klein Show interviews Nicholas Carr about deep reading and digital thinking.
Can you give me an example from the pre-internet era? When you compare somebody living in an oral culture with somebody living in a written culture, what facilities would have strengthened and what would have weakened? What would have changed?
One thing that changed pretty dramatically is that the visual cortex, the part of our brain that processes our vision, became dedicated to deciphering text. [...]
As we practice that, more and more neurons get dedicated to reading. Eventually, you no longer have to decipher a particular letter or even a particular word because our brains represent those letters and words — it’s automatic. So we got all the benefits that come with being good readers, whether it’s the value of losing yourself in a novel or the value of gaining complex information from some sophisticated nonfiction book.
But we also lost something. One thing we lost is a lot of our visual acuity in reading nature and reading the world. If you look at older cultures that aren’t text-based, you see incredible abilities to, for instance, navigate by all sorts of natural signs. This acuity in reading the world, which also requires a lot of the visual cortex, we lost some of that simply because we had to reprogram our brain to become good readers.
(From “How technology literally changes our brains”, Vox.com, July 1st 2020)
Yet back [in 2010] the evidence already was strongly suggesting that the internet was a very powerful way to access lots of information very quickly. We were all concentrating on that great new bounty of information: the more information, the better — the faster it comes to me, the better.
What we lost sight of was how we actually take that information into our mind. There’s all sorts of very good evidence that if you’re distracted — if your attention is shifting very quickly — you can gather lots of information in a very swift fashion, but you’re not going to assemble it very well into knowledge. It’s going to just remain bits of information. You’re not going to develop a rich store of personal knowledge, which is all about connections and associations.
Axis Praxis on the importance of metaphor.
[...] metaphor is more than a classroom aid. It is a crucial element of discovery and invention. Scientists are not blessed with a magical ability to apprehend the world as a vortex of symbols and equations, as Neo appeared to do in the film The Matrix. Scientists, like everyone else, seek to cast what they see in terms of what they have already seen.
To fully appreciate the power of metaphor (and it’s more formal cousin, analogy), we must look to its oft-neglected role in science and technology. We speak of a genetic “code” or “blueprint”. We explain the structure of the atom to schoolchildren by analogy with the solar system. We think of the brain as a machine, or a computer, or a social network. These metaphors and analogies can help impart new ideas to the student and the layperson.