Archive for September, 2009


One Important Point About Concentration


concentration1I am linking here to an article on concentration, mostly as an excuse to go off on my own thoughts. The article itself speaks to the neuroscience of concentration (which is interesting) and William James’ thoughts on the role of concentration in one’s experience (which is interesting but a little muddled).

The key line that sticks with me is this one: “Multitasking is a myth,” Ms. Gallagher said. “You cannot do two things at once. The mechanism of attention is selection: it’s either this or it’s that.”

I write this post in a cafe while listening to music. I’ve never put it into these terms, but I think that the main reason I so frequently listen to music while I’m working is to block out those other distractors. This is particularly important for me, since I like to work in cafes, outdoors, and any other public place I can find. The music comes from my standard iTunes collection, and I know it pretty well. At this point, the music can bring me on an emotional journey (typically either a pumped-up The Killers one or an epic, meaningful, John Williams one) without taking away from my concentration on the work.

That brings me to my main point. My current understanding, based on my studies and introspection, is that your conscious awareness of the world at any moment is made of two things.

The first is what is whatever you are concentrating on. For me, at this moment, that is this post, but I can easily shift it to the music I’m listening to (which I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, is “Holding Out for a Hero”) or to other objects around me or to the pressure of the chair against my body, etc.

The second is everything else that I am vaguely aware of. That includes, when I am not attending to it, the music, the environment, the pressure of the chair, my vague inclination of the time. The closest term in psychology that I currently have for that is “working memory.” But that doesn’t seem to name it. Working memory refers to the processes and structures in the mind that allow for short-term recall of telephone numbers, names, and the like. I think it might be the same thing, but I’m referring to something more like “working awareness.” Maybe someone’s researched this. Hm. To be continued.


Profile in Awesomeness: Neil Patrick Harris


2687697337_f04b07745cI am a big fan of Neil Patrick Harris. His witty delivery and controlled slapstick make “How I Met Your Mother.” He can sing and dance. And–I consider this cheating–he starred in Joss Whedon’s “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.” I would become a big fan of an umbrella if it starred in something by Whedon.

In anticipation of his (successful, IMO) Emmy hosting gig, New York magazine recently interviewed Harris for the cover. The story centered on Harris as a huge star whose fame was not affected by coming out. It’s an interesting story, but the one I really found inspiring was the story about his talent.

From the article: “Along with magic, he adores variety shows, Buster Keaton, slapstick and acrobatics, cryptography and treasure hunts [….] This is the stuff that most attracts him, he tells me–anything stylized, abstract, requiring skills and practice [….] He discusses his own performances this way, too, as a technical achievement. ‘For me, I’ve always had a desire to know how things were done. How things worked.'” Amen.

I feel lucky to be alive at a time when I have decades to anticipate what Neil Patrick Harris does next. Click here for the article.


Birthday of Awesomeness


I 7625_150919674082_700089082_3515345_5223407_nlive-blogged my birthday on Facebook (live-updated?) and needed to capture the posts and pics somewhere. I will also insert others’ updates as they fit into the story. It’s a long post, so I moved it to a separate page: Click here for the post.


Drive-By Posting


Tomorrow is my birthday, and I am taking a few days off from the blog. To make sure that I am filling my blogger’s sacred duty to supply new content regularly, see below a few interesting links.

Poor work ethic predicts burnout seventeen years later: click here.

I posted recently about an article suggesting that choking was caused by thinking too much during execution. Here’s one about the perils of rushing. Between the two, it seems like the key is calm both in mind and action. Click.

A research article claiming better recall for things people find humorous. My best guess about the real significance? We remember the things we find valuable. Click already!

And hello 30!


Hail the Fallen Hero: Norman Borlaug, God of Agriculture


Unfortunately, sometimes you find out about great people only through their obituaries.


Norman Borlaug was an agricultural scientist concerned with the problem of a growing population. The problem, dating back to Malthus to my knowledge, is that a growing population should eventually use up its resources. If there is a limited amount of farmable land, for example, then a growing population would logically use up that land and eventually need more food per year than can actually be created on that farmable land.

The solution, of course, is human ingenuity.

My favorite story in the obituary (click here: ) is Borlaug swooping into a starving Mexico of 1944. By 1948, Borlaug had doubled that capacity. A few years later he multiplied the capacity by another factor of five. Shortly after, researchers in another starving country, India, applied his work to rice and greatly improved food production there as well. Because of these advances, Borlaug is commonly known as the father of the Green Revolution (not to be confused with environmentalism, which Borlaug opposed). All together, Borlaug is estimated to have saved one billion lives.

If you want an example of the awe-inspiring power of science to improve lives, this is it.


Moment of Awesome: Federer’s Between the Legs Shot


US-Open-Tennis-Week-1_61I’d have to give up my blog if I didn’t post this:


Practicing Brain Fitness: The Interesting Tools of Posit Science


144240941_266bc05df2As you might know by now, I am very excited about the potential of education to improve one’s skills and ability to accomplish ambitious things. Last night, a friend told me about a company that deals with self-improvement on the most fundamental level possible.

Posit Science focuses on the most fundamental capacities of a human mind, namely one’s ability to take in sensory information and then process and store it. These are not the whole of ability, but they are the core skills out of which more complex skills can be formed. You need to be able to focus on one spot in order to learn to read.

The company has created a series of computer games that assess one’s abilities and gives you an opportunity to practice and improve them. I tried and enjoyed one on the size of one’s visual field (click here), and I am looking forward to trying more. I can’t speak to the quality of the products as a training tool yet, but the list of scientists creating and advising this company certainly seems credible, and the core claims make sense to me (click here for a summary). Why shouldn’t these capacities be improvable?

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