A charming 1972 BBC documentary piece on Welsh miners and factory workers competing in an annual leek growing competition. “You’ve got to know your leeks, grow your leeks, show your leeks. ” From an Adam Curtis post about vegetables, which contains a good many vegetable videos.
I came across this Steve Jobs quote in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s tremendously entertaining book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, and it struck a chord. I notice it’s a fairly popular quote on Goodreads too, as are quite a few from Taleb’s book.
People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.
A lovely bite-sized tour of Plato’s greatest hits from The School of Life.
Plato’s four big ideas for a more fulfilled life:
- Think more (and know yourself)
- Let your lover change you (love is based on admiration, we need to help each other)
- Decode the message of beauty (we sense in beauty qualities we need but don’t have)
- Reform society (a utopian thinker about government and society)
Plato wanted to end democracy in Athens because he observed that few people thought properly before they voted, which resulted in very sub-standard rulers. He wanted people to become rational thinkers, philosophers in fact, before they could vote. “The world will not be right until kings become philosophers or philosophers kings.”
Transcript from YouTube:
Besides neuroanatomical changes in flow there are neurochemical changes, right. The brain produces a giant cascade of neurochemistry. You get norepinephrine, dopamine, anandamide, serotonin and endorphins. All five of these are performance enhancing neurochemicals, right. So they make you faster, stronger, quicker and they do the same thing with your brain.
In the front end of a flow state you take in more information, you process it more deeply meaning you process it using more parts of your brain and you process it more quickly. There’s some debate about this but it does appear that you process it more quickly. This is norepinephrine and dopamine. So when people enter a flow state they talk about feeling like they’re senses are incredibly heightened. This is the performance enhancing aspect of norepinephrine and dopamine.
Where these chemicals really come in handy is how they affect motivation, creativity and learning. We’ll start with motivation. Besides being performance enhancing chemicals these are obviously all feel good drugs, right. These five chemicals are the most potent feel good drugs the brain can produce. As a result flow is considered the most addictive state on earth. Scientists don’t like the word addictive so instead they use autotelic. When something is autotelic it is an end in itself. What it means is that once an experience starts producing flow we will go extraordinarily far out of our way to get more of it which is why researchers now believe flow is the source code of intrinsic motivation.
Another thing that those neurochemicals do is they augment the creative process. So creativity is always recombinantory. It’s the product of novel information, bumping into old thoughts to create something startlingly new. So if you want to amplify creativity, you want to amplify every aspect of that process. Again, the neurochemicals help. So on the front end of the flow state when you get norepinephrine and dopamine they’re tightening focus so you are taking in more information per second. So you are boosting that part of the creative process. Norepinephrine and dopamine do something else in the brain which is they lower signal to noise ratio so you detect more patterns. They jack up pattern recognition so our ability to link ideas together is also an enhancer. Taking in more information we can link it together.
Anandamide which is another chemical that shows up in flow doesn’t just promote pattern recognition. It promotes lateral thinking. So pattern recognition is more or less the linking of familiar ideas together. Lateral thinking is the linking of very disparate ideas together, right. So more information per second, all kinds of pattern recognition, lateral thinking. All of it surrounds the creative process and amplifies all of it which is why, for example, studies run by my organization, the Flow Genome Project, we found creativity is increased 500 to 700 percent. To give you another example in a recent Australian study they took 42 people, gave them a very tricky brainteaser to solve, the kind that needs very creative problem solving.
Nobody could solve the problem. They induced flow artificially using transcranial magnetic stimulation to basically knock out the prefrontal cortex. They induced artificial transient hypofrontality technically.
As a result, 23 people solved the problem in record time. So massively amplified motivation, massively amplified creativity. The last thing flow does that’s really important is it jacks up learning.
Can’t believe I hadn’t seen this before this morning. It is the best video ever. Made in May 2014 by The Atlantic and The Really Big Questions, the video (3:57) features NASA astronomer Dr Michelle Thaller explaining, beautifully, how “the iron in our blood connects us to one of the most violent acts in the universe—a supernova explosion—and what the universe might look like when all the stars die out.”
I feel like I’ve always ‘known’ that it’s bad to drink seawater but I can’t remember ever learning why. This excerpt from Rose George’s excellent ‘90% of Everything: Inside Shipping‘ gives a fair idea.
In a lecture to the Royal College of Physicians in 1942, MacDonald Critchley, a physician who had studied survival at sea, said that “seawater poisoning must be accounted, after cold, the commonest cause of death in shipwrecked sailors.”
At first, it wouldn’t seem so: seawater is liquid and it quenches. The relief would be immediate. But seawater has an average salt content of 3 percent. This increases thirst dramatically so that more seawater is drunk, and more, and salt levels go ever more haywire, until the body tries to regulate it by urination, and you expel a quart of urine for every quart of seawater drunk, making matters worse. There are also complicated and intricate effects of seawater on cells, blood, and tissue, but in essence, too much seawater can fry your brain.
Then this happens, in the words of Critchley:
“The victim becomes silent and apathetic, with a peculiar fixed and glassy expression in the eyes. The condition of the lips, mouth, and tongue worsens, and a peculiarly offensive odor has been described in the breath. Within an hour or two, delirium sets in, quiet at first but later violent and unrestrained; consciousness is gradually lost; the color of the face changes and froth appears at the corners of the lips. Death may take place quietly: more often it is a noisy termination, and not infrequently the victim goes over the side in his delirium and is lost.”
Scott Adams, creator of the wonderful Dilbert cartoons, talks to the Wall Street Journal about his new book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.
He says forget about passion (you’ll be plenty passionate once your business is working well) and don’t worry about goals (they can be short-sighted). What you want is a system.
Just after college, I took my first airplane trip, destination California, in search of a job. I was seated next to a businessman who was probably in his early 60s. I suppose I looked like an odd duck with my serious demeanor, bad haircut and cheap suit, clearly out of my element. I asked what he did for a living, and he told me he was the CEO of a company that made screws. He offered me some career advice. He said that every time he got a new job, he immediately started looking for a better one. For him, job seeking was not something one did when necessary. It was a continuing process.
This makes perfect sense if you do the math. Chances are that the best job for you won’t become available at precisely the time you declare yourself ready. Your best bet, he explained, was to always be looking for a better deal. The better deal has its own schedule. I believe the way he explained it is that your job is not your job; your job is to find a better job.
This was my first exposure to the idea that one should have a system instead of a goal. The system was to continually look for better options.
‘I’m intrigued by this idea of complexity being something adversarial, that sneaks into your life like a cockroach’
I’m intrigued by this idea of complexity being something adversarial, that sneaks into your life, like a cockroach, and you have to fight to eradicate.
There’s a pernicious idea that comes out of startup culture called “fail fast”. I’ve always been a big believer in failing slowly. When you’re not in for the money, success doesn’t come to you pre-labeled. It can look just like failure. Chasing money makes it easier, because then you can quantify success unambiguously. Otherwise, you may have a hard time telling the two apart.
Writing a work diary is the only honest record of what you’re thinking at the time. Your memory will lie to you, almost immediately, about what you thought was going to happen on any given day. The only way you can trust it is to write down your state of mind – what you’re worried about, what you expect will happen. And then over time you can go back and look for patterns of thought that you might want to fix. Maybe you’re always too optimistic, or maybe you choose to work with toxic people, or chronically underestimate what things will cost. Writing it down will help you understand your mental habits, and correct for them.
It’s not our job, Thoreau argues, to fix the world. We may not have the time for that. But we can’t cooperate with injustice. If the law compels us to do something wrong, we have to break that law.
The reason I think it’s vital we act now is that this state of affairs is still shocking, still disturbing. Let it persist and it will become the new normal (in other words, the “old shitty”) and anyone trying to fight it is going to be branded a Utopian or hopelessly naive, unable to come to terms with modernity. We should commit to giving legal, financial and moral support to anyone who refuses to obey gag order, or publishes a National Security Letter. The secrecy exists because the programs it cloaks can’t withstand the light of day. One good, timely push will break them.
Read Mr Ceglowski’s talk here.
Busy people all make the same mistake: they assume they are short on time, which of course they are. But time is not their only scarce resource. They are also short on bandwidth. By bandwidth I mean basic cognitive resources — psychologists call them working memory and executive control — that we use in nearly every activity. Bandwidth is what allows us to reason, to focus, to learn new ideas, to make creative leaps and to resist our immediate impulses. We use bandwidth to be a good participant at an important meeting, to be a good boss to an employee who frustrates us and to be attentive parent or spouse.
When we schedule things, we don’t want to just show up, we want to be effective when we get there. This means we need to manage bandwidth and not just manage time… Picture yourself at dinner with a friend whose marriage is on the rocks and wants some advice. Now imagine her request comes at a time when you have a big-project deadline looming. You value her friendship so you make time for dinner, but once you’re there, you find your mind wandering back to that project… while you’ve made time for her, you didn’t make bandwidth for her.
The screengrabs above are from an introductory video on the World of Pounamu site. They explain that in 2013 New Zealand has five working-age people helping pay the costs of supporting every one person who’s over 65. By 2023, we’ll have three working-age people to pick up the tab per one over-65. Ouch.
The World of Pounamu ran an online game (until 12pm, August 30, 2013) which asked the following questions:
It’s 2023 and everyone in New Zealand can use science as easily as they can use a computer. What will you do? What will you create? Who will you work with? What problems will you solve?
How great would that be – if we could all use science as easily as we can use computers?
In the game, you play cards – to add ideas, extend others’ ideas, imagine potential downsides, and ask and answer questions (in 140 characters or less).
UK broadcaster Andrew Marr suggest some kind of ‘caring leave’ for people who are looking after loved ones.
Journalist Andrew Marr, 54, spent two months in hospital after suffering a stroke in January and his wife Jackie Ashley, a journalist, became his full–time carer during his recovery.
The couple criticised the lack of government support offered to more than three million carers in the UK who are trying to juggle their jobs with the physically draining task of looking after loved ones.
“These days, it’s taken for granted that pregnant women get maternity leave,” they said. “So why shouldn’t men and women keeping another person decently alive get similar guarantees?”
I spent time in the last five years helping out my parents (both now departed, sadly) and often had to reschedule meetings, change flights at the last minute or drop work altogether because of unscheduled hospital visits and general care-giving. It adds up.
In 2023 when we have three working-age people per one over-65, a good number of those working-age people are going to have to take time off to care for elderly parents. I’ll leave someone else to do the sums on the cost of working-age people taking time off unpaid (and therefore paying less tax and maybe struggling to find another job) vs forking out a sufficiently useful subsidy to support working-age people while they care for their parents.
Researching rest homes – before you need them
I’d say most of us don’t think about care homes until we’ve no choice but to.
One day everyone in your family is coping just fine at home, the next someone’s fallen or become ill and you’re scrambling to find a rest-home bed for them before they’re discharged from hospital.
My advice? Do some reading on in-home care and rest homes in your or your parents’ area before you need one. In the event, you may only have a few days to find one (and even then you’re at the mercy of availability).
You can also read the most recent audit report on rest homes on the Ministry of Health website.