Wired for InfoGraphics.
According to the ancient Greeks, humans can only acquire higher knowledge and insights
(make sense of the world),
when we have Self Knowledge.
And, in order to know oneself, one must
surely know what the self is all about.
Hopefully, sections (below) about happy brains,
semantic info in our heads and mind experiments brings us a little closer to knowing.
Indeed, despite overwhelming odds against it, we are wired to try to make sense of it all.
A Happy Brain.
Amazon review (4 stars out of 5)
of David DiSalvos book ''What makes your brain happy and why you should do the opposite''.
May 5th, 2013 by Simon Laub.
Sure, DiSalvos books is basicly a collection of anecdotes demonstrating the quirks and twists of the human mind.
And sure, to some that is just pop cognitive psychology. On Amazon, one reviewer wrote:
1) Author reads tons of studies revealing brain quirks, failures, and surprising behavior.
Obviously, that reviewer wasn't too impressed with the book.
2) Author attempts to tie some of these into related themes (Think Malcolm Gladwell's ''Blink'').
3) Author discusses the "lessons learned" from these studies.
Still, I kind of liked the DiSalvo book. IMHO, the various studies, anecdotes, and thought experiments presented in the book does make us a little wiser about
confirmation bias, framing, mental heuristics and many other interesting subjects.
According to DiSalvo, the brain is really a prediction machine:
The brain is a prediction machine - an amazingly complex organ that process information
to determine what is coming next. Specifically, the brain specializes in pattern
detection and recognition, anticipation of threats, narratives (storytelling). The brain lives
on a preferred diet of stability, certainty, and consistency, and perceives unpredictability,
uncertainty, and instability as threats to its survival, which is, in effect, our survival [p. 16].
With our minds we can both look ''out'' (into the world) and ''in'' (inside our own minds):
The latest consensus is that most of us are elsewhere between 30 and 50 percent of our waking hours...
According to DiSalvo, the default network is integral to our sense of self. Imagine
a world which your attention was always focused outward. Your mind would effectively be
''externalized'', as you would have no opportunity to explore
your internal landscape.
A web of neurons - dubbed the default network - spanning three brain regions (the medial prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex, and the parietal cortex) are active when our brain flips on autopilot.
When we are not focused on something capable of holding our interest, the network is triggered.
Or, in another view, it's always on in the background, but only takes first chair in our brains,
when we are not focused on anything in particular [p. 78].
You would never connect with the ''you'' within the ''you'' that interacts with the
external world. You would also be unable to process information without focusing on
The default network appears to allow us to digest data as we wander,
and quite possibly when we sleep [p. 79].
Overindulgence of our brain's tendency to wander is, however, a potentially debilitating problem.
Psychologist have even coined a phrase to describe it: Obsessive rumination.
The Social Brain.
Those of us who obsessively ruminate are prone to lose ourselves in otherworlds
of our creation [p. 81].
Sure, it comes as no surprise, when DiSalvo tell us that ''As a species we are social animals''.
Still, DiSalvo presents a number of interesting findings on how the brain
works within our social network.
Indeed we are wired to work within a group, and becomes lonely, when something
isn't right for us in the group.
Loneliness has nothing to do with how many people are physically around
us, but has everything to do with our failure to get what we need from our relationships.
We doesn't just perform or work - we speculate on how we perform and work within a group (Take the N-Effect):
(E.g.) Research tell us that virtual personalities online and characters on television
are surrogates for emotional need fulfillment, and hence occupy the
blurry margins in which our brains have difficulties distinguishing the
real from the unreal.
As need-driven animals, we seek out the path of least resistance to get what we
need, in whatever form we can find [p. 94].
We are certainly not independent thinkers:
The effect that occurs when the number of total competitors results in diminished
motivation for individual competitors.
What is the best way to keep the N-Effect from undermining your
motivation to compete?
As with many unconscious influences, the best solution is to identify it early, and critically dismantle
its effect before you succumb. In other words, force yourself to
exert more rational muscle than you would, if blind to the influence.
Awareness, that you are competing with a lot of others, should not
make you less competent, skilled or experienced [p. 106].
The truth is that our brains are not wired for complete independence.
We are instead an exceptionally social species wired for interdependence.
Ours is an existence of influence and of counterinfluence -
and none of us live on one-way streets [p. 150].
As well as being prediction machines, our minds are also problem solving machines.
Not completely rational machines though. Many things influence our thinking:
In a study entitled ''Weight as an Embodiment of Importance''
researchers investigated whether judgements of importance are tied to
an experience of weight...
And our judgements are influenced in many other subtle ways.
Which it is... Actually, in english, the term weighty is used to signify
something substantial and important. The term gravitas is
used to connote seriousness.
The more someone can lift, the more impressive... [p. 176].
According to one study, if people drink something bitter,
the bad taste will increase subjects moral disapproval
of certain acts [p. 177] etc.
See more at my Enaction page.
We can improve our thinking and problem solving abilities though.
In the book, DiSalvo walks us through: Immediate feedback, getting assistance, slow-down, breaking goals up into smaller goals and a finish what you start approach:
When you are about to take a test of performance (in any walk of life),
imagine that you will receive feedback right away and act accordingly.
The proximity of potential disappointment will keep you sharp and
focused, ready to perform [p. 109].
Students that saw disappointment as a more distant possibility were
consequently less prepared for the test. Even though they thought
they'd do just fine.
The happy brain is willing to work, but when we blow into a new
endeavor without a sense of direction and purpose in
our practice, negative results are sure to follow;
namely burnout, disillusionment, and eventually giving up.
Better to install focus early on and seek out whatever assistance
we need to make our practice purposeful and worthwhile [p. 207].
The happy brain tends to focus on the short term.
Many problems can be solved by slowing down and carefully
considering how to proceed in any given situation.
Slowing down provides time to consider how an issue
has been framed and whether we have really considered
all the relevant factors [p. 212].
That being the case, it makes sense to see what
short term goals can accomplish that will eventually lead to us accomplishing some
By breaking goals into smaller goals we can focus on
incremental accomplishments instead of being overwhelmed.
Finally, DiSalvo tells us to: Finish what you start. Incompleteness represents instability to our brain.
According to psychologist
people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks.
So, whenever a project is in front of us - just start anywhere.
Getting started anywhere will launch motivation to
finish what was started [p. 218].
Likewise, with this book, just start anywhere and soon you will have motivation
to read the whole book.
Must be a sign that the book is an interesting read!
Amazon: , .
Simon Laub (Let me Google that for you).
Infographic showing semantic info in our heads.
Great article in Wired, March 2013, about how our
brains sees words.
Jack Gallant, neuroscientist at the University of California, explains
in the Wired article:
''We took 1705 words and tested how our brain understand them in relation to each other.
Five volunteers were put into a fMRI scanner, whenever the volunteer saw a specific noun or verb, we recovered the brain location
that lit up at the same time.''
''The colours on the map (below) show categories represented similarly in all our subjects brains.
Gallants conclusion in the Wired article:
Animals are yellow, people are green, vehicles are purple and places such as buildings are dark blue.
The links between categories represent sub-categories and the size of each bubble indicates intensity - So, a big bubble means we recognise that object more clearly than one represented by a small bubble.''
Gallant says that this organisation of word categories is far richer than previous fMRI studies had suggested. ''This changes our understanding of how the brain interfaces between vision and language,'' he says. ''For example, there aren't individual brain locations to process each category, as people thought.''
Surely, to some, the graphics above is just Info Porn.
Still, for the non-purists, it is just a very cool Infographic.
For Infographics (about this site) goto my keywords page.
Simon Laub (Let me Google that for you).
Controlling the brain with Inner Speech and Brainwaves.
Brainwaves. What do brainwaves actually do?
Great article in NewScientist, by Helen Thomson, back in (10 July) 2010 about brainwaves,
a binding mechanism that helps control information processing in the brain:
The importance of signal synchronisation becomes clear, when you consider
that the different aspects of a sensation - colour and shape in vision,
for example - are processed in different parts of the brain before being sent
to another region that binds them back together.
When you look at an apple, the apples redness and roundness are picked up
by different cells in the brain, but you don't see a red thing and a round thing -
You see one thing, an apple:
The rhythmic activity of brainwaves ensures that all the relevant
signals relating to the sensation arrive at the binding region at exactly
the same time.
It follows, perhaps surprisingly, that brainwaves can be used to predict
what volunteers can actually see!
This allows the receiving neurons to process the signals together,
recombining them into a sigle sensation.
In a experiment by Niko Busch, 12 volunteers were exposed to rapid
flashes of light.
The volunteers brainwaves could then be used
to predict exactly what flashes they could see. If the
flash coincided with the peak of a wave in the alpha or theta frequencies,
they saw it, but if it occured when the waves was at its trough, they didn't.
This might also be relevant for consciousness:
Since consciousness needs the integration of multiple sources
of information into a single unified experience.
Brainwaves of people with schizophrenia differ from those
free of the disorder:
Reduced synchronization, and therefore communication,
between different parts of the brain involved in planning,
executing and then sensing speech could
mean that a person with schizophrenia fails to recognize
the words they have uttered as being their own, leading them
to attribute the voice to someone else instead.
Understanding more about synchronization in the brain gives almost endless perspectives:
In experiments by Andre Keizer, Leiden University,
volunteers have been able to boost the power of their
gamma waves. And thereby also their performance on
abstract reasoning tests (that act as
a marker of intelligence).
Probably, because it improved the transfer of information
across the brain.
Inner speech as a control mechanism.
Obviously, the brain uses (many) other mechanisms to control information processing.
Psychologist Charles Fernyhough explains Inner Speech (what it is, and how it shapes
our thoughts and decisions) in another great NewScientist article (June 1st 2013).
Inner Speech is important for understanding our own mental
processes, an aspect of what psychologists call meta-cognition.
Psychologist Alain Morin, Mount Royal, Canada has found that
people who use inner speech more often show better self-understanding:
''Inner speech allows us to verbally analyse our emotions, motives
and thoughts and behavioural patterns.''. I.e.
''It puts to the forefront of consciousness what would otherwise
remain mostly unconscious.''
Children typically do not become aware of their own inner speech until
around age 4, although it is uncertain whether that reflects their
inability to reflect on their own thought processes, or the
fact that inner speech is not yet fully internalised by
Interestingly, it has been found that deaf people that can communicate in sign language,
often talk to themselves in sign too (sic) !
Inner speech is not always (just) helpful though:
''When we worry and ruminate, we often do it in words, and our inner
speech may contribute to anxiety and depression by keeping thoughts
in the head that would be better off discarded.''
But, most of the time it is helpful. Inner speech might help us with self-regulation and motivation, or something else.
Understanding inner speech will help us be clearer what we
mean by that nebulous term thinking, and in this way
make progress with some long-standing philosophical problems
about how language, cognition and consciousness work together.
Obviously, controlling something as complex as the brain is not a simple thing.
Nevertheless, brainwaves and inner speech are two mechanisms
that might eventually help us understand a little more about what might be going on!
Simon Laub (Let me Google that for you).
20 Experiments in Psychology.
That changed our understanding of human psychology.
The book ''20 Psykologiske Eksperimenter'', edited by Henrik Hoegh-Olesen and Thomas Dalsgaard,
is a wonderdul collection of psychological experiments.
The experiments deals with many parts of the human psyche.
I particular enjoyed the experiments that helps us realize that
we humans really are social animals.
In Soloman Aschs experiments on conformity and dominance,
it turns out that we humans happily change our answers and respond in the same way as a group, despite it being the wrong answer (see video on my Invisible Gorilla page).
Sure, we need to have unity in society, but Aschs experiments seems to suggest that
rational people quickly give up their own convictions and rationality in order to fit in. Too quickly actually.
Milgrams experiments about the
willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure, who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience, doesn't improve the picture...
Again the human social animal doesn't come across as a particular likeable being.
As Hannah Arendt wrote about Adolf Eichman: People wanted to see a monster, but instead they
found a man who just did what he was told, out of obedience and social ambition, without asking why.
It is not a pretty picture.
Still, people wants to belong to a group. And we readily favor and overestimate our group. And by doing so - we actual favor ourselves (as being part of that particular wonderful group of people).
Such attitudes quickly turns into animosity (towards other groups), where conflict and hostility might follow.
Interestingly and luckily, research has shown that there is also a cure: Working together with members of other groups reduces tension between groups significantly.
It is all about groups dynamics.
In the workplace it is also a good thing to work together... :-) I.e. the workplace is as about two things - producing products and creating a good environment/life for the workers that belong to the organization.
Interestingly, experiments have shown that speeches, powerpoints or emails will not generate beneficial changes to the workplace, but letting workers be part of the process and letting them work together on changes might do the trick. Again, social beings like to do social things [p. 121].
I.e. Peoples behaviour are influenced by their own inner personality and their environment.
B = f(P,E), Behaviour can be understood by understanding motivation, thoughts and emotions (Person) and Environment.
And how we treat each other has huge consequences. Experiments on rats have shown that
when we have positive expectations on how rats will perform, the rats actually perform better...
With positive expectations comes added attention, and a more patient attitude.
What we see out there in the world is really a reflection of what we are thinking in the first place.
We are connected to our group in subtle ways indeed [p. 131].
Indeed we are wired to fit in. Only people with autism have serious problem understanding what goes on in other peoples minds (and fit in accordingly, using Theory of Mind) [p. 189].
Experiments (See wiki pages about Giacomo Rizzolatti and others from the University of Parma) have shown that mirror neurons lets us easily understand what goes on inside other peoples heads. How they are feeling, what inner states they might have [p. 305].
We are wired to be part of a group...
And these thoughts are not just thoughts - they decide who we really are.
Just as we are connected to our social world, we are connected to our bodies. And both connections are
Experiments have show that our brains can influence our immune system [p. 330]. And obviously, if our immune system is working overtime, fighting
an infection, it can tell our brain that the body hurts and is tired, so the brain must slow everything down in order to save resources and fight the infection [p. 331].
We live in a connected world. Great experiments tell us so!
Simon Laub (Let me Google that for you).
The Rise of Big Data.
Great article in Foreign Affairs, May/June 2013, about the rise of Big Data.
Big data is more than just communication; the idea is that we can learn from a
large body of information things that we could not comprehend when we
used only smaller amounts.
Big-Data techniques, using great volumes of information requires three profound changes in how we approach data:
1. The first is to collect and use a lot of data rather than settle for small amounts or samples,
as statisticians have done for well over a century.
(Machine) Language translation is one area that uses Big Data extensively these days (
E.g. see my Nasslli 2012 notes on Language Translation and Code Breaking).
2. The second is to shed our our preference for highly curated and pristine data and
instead accept messiness.
A bit of inaccuracy can be tolerated, because the benefits of using vastly more
data of variable quality outweigh the cost of using smaller amounts of very exact data.
3. Third, in many instances, we will need to give up our quest to discover the cause of things,
in return for accepting correlations.
Back in 1990 IBM used Canadian parliamentary transcripts - in both English and French -
to infer which word in one language is the best alternative for a word in the other.
Then Google came along. They used documents in every language in the European Union,
translations from its giant book scanning project etc. etc. Instead of millions of pages of text, Google analyzed billions. And results became quite good...
Large amounts of messy data trumped small amounts of cleaner data.
And Google has also spearheaded other uses of Big Data. In February 2009 researchers at Google published a paper in Nature that
it was possible to track outbreaks of flu using nothing more that
archived records of Google searches (location and search-word).
Google identified 45 terms - such as ''headache'' and ''runny nose'' that had
a strong correlation with known flu outbreaks...
And there is a lot to know about the world ...
IBM has recently been granted a patent for ''securing premises using surface
based computing theory'':
A technical way of describing a touch sensitive floor covering, somewhat like
a giant smartphone screen.
And that is just the beginning:
Datafying the floor can open up all kinds of possibilities.
The floor could be able to identify the objects on it,
so that it might know to turn on lights in the room
or open doors when a person person entered.
Moreover, it might identify individuals by their weights or by the
way they stand and walk. It could tell if someone fell
and did not get back up, an important feature for the elderly. Retailers could
track the flow of customers through their stores.
Once it becomes possible to turn activities of this kind into data
that can be stored and analyzed, we can learn more about the world -
things we could never know before, because we could not measure them easily and cheaply.
Police forces in many cities, including Los Angeles, have adopted ''predictive
policing'' software, which analyzes data on previous crimes
to identify where and when the next ones might be committed.
The possession of knowledge is coming to mean an ability to predict the future.
Perhaps suchs systems will eventually identify which young people are most likely to shoplift etc.
Ultimately, big-data marks the moment when the information society fulfils the promise implied by its name.
But it should be noted that big-data might not really help us invent new things.
If Henry Ford had queried big-data algorithms to discover what his customers
wanted, they might have returned with the answer: ''A faster horse''.
So, sure, big-data might only be a tool - that informs rathers than explains.
Still, surely, big-data will also affect and transform how humanity lives in society and in the world.
Simon Laub (Let me Google that for you).
Unleash the power within.
Free Tony Robbins UPW workshop with Harry Singha.
Went to this workshop to hear what it was all about.
April 24th 2013. Aarhus.
Prior to the workshop I had read the introduction on Speakers Club homepage.
Here it said that UPW (Unleash the Power Within) preview trainer Harry Singha
would tell us more about the 6 human needs that drives human behaviour:
Harry Singha started out the night by telling about himself.
Born in Jalandhar, Punjab and growing up in the East End of London, UK,
his childhood had been quite tough (domestic violence and alcoholism).
Probably, a childhood far worse that anything most people can imagine.
Luckily, he had escaped these bad childhood environments, and
learned some tools and some insights about other people that he wanted
to share with us during this workshop.
Self development, not shelf development.
One of his insights were that we humans don't really learn anything about
human growth (self development) unless we do the exercises.
Self development becomes Shelf development unless we learn
through immersive learning, do exercises, and try out some the things
we have heard about it.
Now, 3 million people have attended self development guru
Tony Robinsons UPW (Unleash the power within) seminars, where talk is
mixed with exercises.
Here, in this workshop, Harry Singha wanted to give us
a taste of this mix of talk and exercise.
Like all self development courses this was all about becoming
your personal best, and getting to ''that moment of
decision, where your destiny is shaped'' (in a positive way).
It is about being happy - but not too happy on the outside (then people will
move away, whereas prople moves towards depressed people...).
And the key in his presentation was obviously knowledge:
us as humans, and how can use that knowledge to our benefit?
Where the answer, according to Tony Robbins, is the 6 human needs,
and how knowing more about them can turn us into happier people.
The 6 human needs:
Is activity where you know what is going to happen.
It is our comfort zone, any activity that you do that gives pleasure and reduces stress
We were asked to make a mental note of the fact that when we
don't get a need met in a good way, we will go for the fastest
possible other way, which is often a vice. E.g. smoking - which gives pleasure and reduces stress (but is bad for us).
The opposite of certainty is uncertainty, which we also need in the form
of positive surprises, variety.
Variety keeps our minds sharp and at ease, out of bad
states. I.e. if we move to a grateful state of mind it is impossible for
us to be angry at the same time (and being angry is not good for us in the
We have a need to be great at something.
And if we can't be significant by doing good things, it is possible
to become significant by doing bad things. E.g. carry a knife, or a gun,
putting other people down (to feel significant), becoming very sick
(and getting a lot of attention that way) etc.
We have a need for love.
But we will settle for a connection, if we don't
get love (Joining a gang - for love or connection - would be the vice side of this).
Looking at these first 4 needs makes it possible to make a lot of conclusions (according to Singha).
I.e. When we are not doing something, it is typically because it is
not meeting our needs...
(As we understand them at the time).
It follows: Whether your kid takes drugs or not, comes down to
Who runs the best campaign - the parent or the drugdealer?
Sometimes, we might be too scared to go after our needs. The little voice inside our heads
that says ''you can't do it'', ''you are too young'', ''you are too old'',
''you don't have the experience... etc
In short: FEAR.
At the UPW, people might try out real firewalking, and
learn to move forward despite of fears.
It is all about ''Finding a big enough reason to go after the needs''...
Is also a human need.
Is about learning something new. Coming out of the comfort zone.
It is a human need to make a contribution (to society, to humanity).
It is about Making a difference.
Harry Singha recommended doing something for somebody, without even
letting them know that you did it...
Then the universe will know, and find a great way to pay you back beyond your dreams.
Simon Laub (Let me Google that for you).
Reality, June 2013.
- Shanghai, towards the Blade Runner year 2019 and beyond.
Simon Laub (Let me Google that for you).