Recent quotes:

Notes to our future selves

In other words, the true purpose of note-taking is transporting states of mind (not just information) through time. This is why pictures, sketches, and diagrams often work better than text. We don’t usually think of them as notes, but songs, smells, and tastes work even better. As HBR puts it: “A visual model becomes one of the most effective tools for minimizing alignment-attrition; a visualization formalizes an emergent idea and solidifies it at a moment in time.” Or as Craig Mod more eloquently says, “To return to a book is to return not just to the text but also to a past self. We are embedded in our libraries. To reread is to remember who we once were, which can be equal parts scary and intoxicating.”

Humans rely more on 'inferred' visual objects than 'real' ones -- ScienceDaily

To make sense of the world, humans and animals need to combine information from multiple sources. This is usually done according to how reliable each piece of information is. For example, to know when to cross the street, we usually rely more on what we see than what we hear -- but this can change on a foggy day. "In such situations with the blind spot, the brain 'fills in' the missing information from its surroundings, resulting in no apparent difference in what we see," says senior author Professor Peter König, from the University of Osnabrück's Institute of Cognitive Science. "While this fill-in is normally accurate enough, it is mostly unreliable because no actual information from the real world ever reaches the brain. We wanted to find out if we typically handle this filled-in information differently to real, direct sensory information, or whether we treat it as equal." To do this, König and his team asked study participants to choose between two striped visual images, both of which were displayed to them using shutter glasses. Each image was displayed either partially inside or completely outside the visual blind spot. Both were perceived as identical and 'continuous' due to the filling-in effect, and participants were asked to select the image they thought represented the real, continuous stimulus. "We thought people would either make their choice without preference, or with a preference towards the real stimulus, but exactly the opposite happened -- there was in fact a strong bias towards the filled-in stimulus inside the blind spot," says first author Benedikt Ehinger, researcher at the University of Osnabrück. "Additionally, in an explorative analysis of how long the participants took to make their choice, we saw that they were slightly quicker to choose this stimulus than the one outside the blind spot." So, why are subjects so keen on the blind-spot information when it is essentially the least reliable? The team's interpretation is that subjects compare the internal representation (or 'template') of a continuous stimulus against the incoming sensory input, resulting in an error signal which represents the mismatch. In the absence of real information, no deviation and therefore no error or a smaller signal occurs, ultimately leading to a higher credibility at the decision-making stage. This indicates that perceptual decision-making can rely more on inferred rather than real information, even when there is some knowledge about the reduced reliability of the inferred image available in the brain. "In other words, the implicit knowledge that a filled-in stimulus is less reliable than an external one does not seem to be taken into account for perceptual decision-making," Ehinger explains.

Any story a plot

As the mantra of the secret police – “Give us a man and we’ll make a case” – was well known, normal communication between people ceased to be possible. No one knew to whom they spoke or what construction would be placed upon even the most innocuous conversation. Any form of social interaction as previously understood was now impossible.

“It gets people killed”: Osip Mandelstam and the perils of writing poetry under Stalin

Nadezhda Mandelstam – the poet’s wife and invaluable support throughout his, and their, many years of persecution and exile – wrote in her powerful memoir of both the poet and the era, Hope Against Hope, about the many instances when, confronted with the desperation of their situation, they had asked each other if this was the moment when they, too, could no longer bear to go forward. The final occasion was to be the last night they spent in their Moscow apartment before being banished, without means of providing for themselves, to a succession of rural towns situated beyond a hundred-kilometre perimeter of all major cities. She awoke to find Mandelstam standing at the open window. “Isn’t it time?” he said. “Let’s do it while we’re still together.” “Not yet,” she replied. Mandelstam didn’t argue but she later reflected, “If we had been able to foresee all the alternatives, we would not have missed that last chance of a ‘normal’ death offered by the open window of our apartment in Furmanov Street.” Opting, in that moment, for a little more life changed nothing and Mandelstam soon found himself being moved inexorably towards Stalin’s endgame in the camps.

Conspiracy Theorists May Really Just Be Lonely - Scientific American

In one experiment, people wrote about a recent unpleasant interaction with friends, then rated their feelings of exclusion, their search for purpose in life, their belief in two conspiracies (that the government uses subliminal messages and that drug companies withhold cures), and their faith in paranormal activity in the Bermuda Triangle. The more excluded people felt, the greater their desire for meaning and the more likely they were to harbor suspicions.

The narrative drive = human instinct

If a person goes from being a political martyr to a mental patient in just a few days—the sign of a successful hospital stay, by most standards—her life may begin to feel banal and useless. Insight is correlated with fewer hospital readmissions, better performance at work, and more social contacts, but it is also linked with lower self-esteem and depression. People recovering from psychotic episodes rarely receive extensive talk therapy, because insurance companies place strict limits on the number of sessions allowed and because for years psychiatrists have assumed that psychotic patients are unable to reflect meaningfully on their lives. (Eugen Bleuler, the psychiatrist who coined the term “schizophrenia,” said that after years of talking to his patients he found them stranger than the birds in his garden.)

How the brain maintains useful memories -- ScienceDaily

there are specific groups of neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) of a rat's brain -- the region most associated with long-term memory. These neurons develop codes to help store relevant, general information from multiple experiences while, over time, losing the more irrelevant, minor details unique to each experience. The findings provide new insight into how the brain collects and stores useful knowledge about the world that can be adapted and applied to new experiences. "Memories of recent experiences are rich in incidental detail but, with time, the brain is thought to extract important information that is common across various past experiences," says Kaori Takehara-Nishiuchi, senior author and Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. "We predicted that groups of neurons in the mPFC build representations of this information over the period when long-term memory consolidation is known to take place, and that this information has a larger representation in the brain than the smaller details."

To please your friends, tell them what they already know -- ScienceDaily

What makes stories about familiar experiences more enjoyable than either speakers or listeners expect? Is it that speakers are better at telling familiar stories, or is it that listeners' personal experience allows them to understand familiar stories more easily? In their third and fourth studies, the researchers found that the second explanation appears to be the right one. When listeners had already seen the video that the speaker was describing, they were able to "fill in the gaps" in the speaker's story, which made the story more enjoyable to hear. "People are fairly awful storytellers who leave out a lot of important information," says Gilbert. "Our friends probably would enjoy hearing us tell them about a painting they've never seen or a book they've never read if we could describe those things well. But most of us can't. As a result, our friends are actually a whole lot happier when we tell them what they already know because at least they understand what we're talking about. We worry too much about thrilling our listeners and not enough about confusing them."

How Exercise Shapes You, Far Beyond the Gym – Personal Growth – Medium

A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that college students who went from not exercising at all to even a modest program (just two to three gym visits per week) reported a decrease in stress, smoking, alcohol and caffeine consumption, an increase in healthy eating and maintenance of household chores, and better spending and study habits. In addition to these real-life improvements, after two months of regular exercise, the students also performed better on laboratory tests of self-control. This led the researchers to speculate that exercise had a powerful impact on the students’ “capacity for self-regulation.” In laypeople’s terms, pushing through the discomfort associated with exercise — saying “yes” when their bodies and minds were telling them to say “no” — taught the students to stay cool, calm, and collected in the face of difficulty, whether that meant better managing stress, drinking less, or studying more.

38,000-year-old carving includes enigmatic “punctuation” pattern | Ars Technica

There are punctuations, which form a clear pattern behind and beneath the animal. There are also "short, parallel marks" in front of the aurochs' chest. And there is a deep line that cuts straight through the center of the stone and the aurochs' body, as well as a "tunnel-like depression" right in the abdomen. Indeed this line was cut so deeply that the researchers believe it eventually caused the slab to split in two. Interestingly, analysis revealed that this deep cut was carved first, then the punctuations, followed by the aurochs. So the animal's body was drawn on top of these abstract dots and lines, and some of the dots were even joined to create the aurochs' legs, hindquarters, and abdomen. "The animal figure, executed after the creation of the deep depression, was constructed so as to integrate this feature, which seems to have an important role in the overall graphic construct," the research team wrote. Further Reading First discovery of 50,000-year-old human settlements in Australian interior Early archaeologists believed these punctuations, which are found throughout the region, were a way of tracking phases of the moon.

Whatever you think, you don’t necessarily know your own mind

Carruthers makes a powerful case for an interpretive view of self-knowledge, set out in his book The Opacity of Mind (2011). The case starts with the claim that humans (and other primates) have a dedicated mental subsystem for understanding other people’s minds, which swiftly and unconsciously generates beliefs about what others think and feel, based on observations of their behaviour. (Evidence for such a ‘mindreading’ system comes from a variety of sources, including the rapidity with which infants develop an understanding of people around them.) Carruthers argues that this same system is responsible for our knowledge of our own minds. Humans did not develop a second, inward-looking mindreading system (an inner sense); rather, they gained self-knowledge by directing the outward-looking system upon themselves. And because the system is outward-looking, it has access only to sensory inputs and must draw its conclusions from them alone. (Since it has direct access to sensory states, our knowledge of what we are experiencing is not interpretative.)

Why the lights don't dim when we blink: Blinking prompts eye muscles to keep our vision in line -- ScienceDaily

"Our eye muscles are quite sluggish and imprecise, so the brain needs to constantly adapt its motor signals to make sure our eyes are pointing where they're supposed to," Maus said. "Our findings suggest that the brain gauges the difference in what we see before and after a blink, and commands the eye muscles to make the needed corrections." From a big-picture perspective, if we didn't possess this powerful oculomotor mechanism, particularly when blinking, our surroundings would appear shadowy, erratic and jittery, researchers said. "We perceive coherence and not transient blindness because the brain connects the dots for us," said study co-author David Whitney, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley. "Our brains do a lot of prediction to compensate for how we move around in the world," said co-author Patrick Cavanagh, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth College. "It's like a steadicam of the mind." A dozen healthy young adults participated in what Maus jokingly called "the most boring experiment ever." Study participants sat in a dark room for long periods staring at a dot on a screen while infrared cameras tracked their eye movements and eye blinks in real time. Every time they blinked, the dot was moved one centimeter to the right. While participants failed to notice the subtle shift, the brain's oculomotor system registered the movement and learned to reposition the line of vision squarely on the dot. After 30 or so blink-synchronized dot movements, participants' eyes adjusted during each blink and shifted automatically to the spot where they predicted the dot to be. "Even though participants did not consciously register that the dot had moved, their brains did, and adjusted with the corrective eye movement," Maus said. "These findings add to our understanding of how the brain constantly adapts to changes, commanding our muscles to correct for errors in our bodies' own hardware."

Want to ace an exam? Tell a friend what you learned (and memories are a LOT bigger than we think)

"With a cue, suddenly, a lot of those details will come back," Sekeres said. "We don't permanently forget them, which would indicate lack of storage -- we just can't immediately access them. And that's good. That means our memories aren't as bad as we think." Much research on memory examines how brain damage or aging affects recall, but "we wanted to look at the normal course of forgetting in healthy brains -- and if anyone should have a good memory, it's healthy young adults," Sekeres said. "While the strategy of re-telling information -- known as 'the testing effect' -- has been shown to be a really effective study technique time and again, this study is novel in looking at how our memories change over time for a specialized group."

Whether our speech is fast or slow, we say about the same -- ScienceDaily

"It seems the constraints on how much information per second we should transmit are fairly strict, or stricter than we thought they were," Cohen Priva said. In information theory, rarer word choices convey greater "lexical information," while more complicated syntax, such as the passive voice, conveys greater "structural information." To stay within the channel, those who talk quickly speak with more common words and simpler syntax, while those with a slower pace tend to use rarer, more unexpected words and more complicated wordings, Cohen Priva found. The study provides only hints about why a constrained information rate might govern conversation, Cohen Priva said. It could derive from either a speaker's difficulty in formulating and uttering too much information too quickly or from a listener's difficulty in processing and comprehending speech delivered at too fast a pace.

Half of people believe fake facts, 'remember' events that never happened -- ScienceDaily

Over 400 participants in 'memory implantation' studies had fictitious autobiographical events suggested to them -- and it was found that around 50% of the participants believed, to some degree, that they had experienced those events. Participants in these studies came to remember a range of false events, such as taking a childhood hot air balloon ride, playing a prank on a teacher, or creating havoc at a family wedding. 30% of participants appeared to 'remember' the event -- they accepted the suggested event, elaborated on how the event occurred, and even described images of what the event was like. Another 23% showed signs that they accepted the suggested event to some degree and believed it really happened.

Use your words: Written prisoner interactions predict whether they’ll clean up their acts -- ScienceDaily

The first, called "pushups," are congratulatory notes to a peer -- something like, "Good job talking about your triggers in group today, man." The second, called "pull-ups," are meant to steer a fellow prisoner toward better choices -- something like, "Hey brother, next time try talking to me instead of getting into a fight." Once approved as appropriate for group consumption, the written notes are typically read aloud to the group during meal time or a meeting. Doogan and Warren examined how these communications changed for each of 2,342 men included in their study. They looked at pushups and pull-ups in each inmate's first two to three months in the program and held those up against the messages they sent fellow prisoners in the second two to three months. In all, the researchers analyzed about 267,000 messages. Only graduates of the program were included in the study. The more their word combinations shifted, the greater the chance the men didn't return to prison. In cases where the inmates did return, those who showed the least change in how they thought and wrote tended to return to prison most quickly. The study didn't focus on "positive" or "negative" word choice, but on change in general, with the goal of getting a handle on whether the program was reshaping the participant's way of thinking, Doogan said. "It wasn't so much sentiment, but whether we could measure some form of change in the individual," he said. The sheer number of interactions for an individual resident didn't seem to make a difference -- only the changing nature of those notes. That's important because it seems to mean that simply interacting isn't enough and that a person has to be engaged and evolve in his thinking, the researchers said. Shifts in how we put together our thoughts and express them in writing are a good indication of a true evolution in how we think, Warren said. "Learning is a change in connections between ideas," he said. "In a therapeutic community, you would hope that they are abandoning some old connections and developing some new ones." The researchers created a tool for analyzing word choices, identifying 500 words that could potentially be combined in a note to one participant from another. Doogan and Warren counted change when inmates added new word combinations or abandoned old ones. They attempted to control for variables outside of changed language including race, age and education level. Understanding -- and being able to measure -- changes linked to reduced rates of repeat incarceration could eventually help program directors refine how they approach different participants, the researchers said. For instance, if it was clear an addict's communications with others in the program were not changing in nature, it might be a clue that the individual needed more one-on-one attention, Doogan said.

What Is Fatigue? - The New Yorker

As the cyclists pedalled, a screen in front of them periodically flashed images of happy or sad faces in imperceptible sixteen-millisecond bursts, ten to twenty times shorter than a typical blink. The cyclists who were shown sad faces rode, on average, twenty-two minutes and twenty-two seconds. Those who were shown happy faces rode for three minutes longer and reported less of a sense of exertion. In a second experiment, the researchers demonstrated that subliminal action words (GO, LIVELY) could boost a subject’s cycling performance by seventeen per cent over inaction words (TOIL, SLEEP).

Persistence and communication skill drive hits

That is to say: keeping productivity equal, the scientists were as likely to score a hit at age 50 as at age 25. The distribution was random; choosing the right project to pursue at the right time was a matter of luck. Yet turning that fortuitous choice into an influential, widely recognized contribution depended on another element, one the researchers called Q. Q could be translated loosely as “skill,” and most likely includes a broad variety of factors, such as I.Q., drive, motivation, openness to new ideas and an ability to work well with others. Or, simply, an ability to make the most of the work at hand: to find some relevance in a humdrum experiment, and to make an elegant idea glow.

How long does it take to write a song?

Cohen went to see Dylan perform in Paris, and the next morning in a café they talked about their latest work. Dylan was especially interested in “Hallelujah.” Even before three hundred other performers made “Hallelujah” famous with their cover versions, long before the song was included on the soundtrack for “Shrek” and as a staple on “American Idol,” Dylan recognized the beauty of its marriage of the sacred and the profane. He asked Cohen how long it took him to write. “Two years,” Cohen lied. Actually, “Hallelujah” had taken him five years. He drafted dozens of verses and then it was years more before he settled on a final version. In several writing sessions, he found himself in his underwear, banging his head against a hotel-room floor. Cohen told Dylan, “I really like ‘I and I,’ ” a song that appeared on Dylan’s album “Infidels.” “How long did it take you to write that?” “About fifteen minutes,” Dylan said.

Placebo sleep affects cognitive functioning. - PubMed - NCBI

↓ Full text Placebo sleep affects cognitive functioning. Draganich C, et al. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2014. Show full citation Abstract The placebo effect is any outcome that is not attributed to a specific treatment but rather to an individual's mindset (Benson & Friedman, 1996). This phenomenon can extend beyond its typical use in pharmaceutical drugs to involve aspects of everyday life, such as the effect of sleep on cognitive functioning. In 2 studies examining whether perceived sleep quality affects cognitive functioning, 164 participants reported their previous night's sleep quality. They were then randomly assigned to 1 of 2 sleep quality conditions or 2 control conditions. Those in the "above average" sleep quality condition were informed that they had spent 28.7% of their total sleep time in REM, whereas those in the "below average" sleep quality condition were informed that they had only spent 16.2% of their time in REM sleep. Assigned sleep quality but not self-reported sleep quality significantly predicted participants' scores on the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test and Controlled Oral Word Association Task. Assigned sleep quality did not predict participants' scores on the Digit Span task, as expected, nor did it predict scores on the Symbol Digit Modalities Test, which was unexpected. The control conditions showed that the findings were not due to demand characteristics from the experimental protocol. These findings supported the hypothesis that mindset can influence cognitive states in both positive and negative directions, suggesting a means of controlling one's health and cognition.

Life begins and ends with music

He took some informal guitar lessons in his twenties from a Spaniard he met next to a local tennis court. After a few weeks, he picked up a flamenco chord progression. When the man failed to appear for their fourth lesson, Cohen called his landlady and learned that the man had killed himself. In a speech many years later, in Asturias, Cohen said, “I knew nothing about the man, why he came to Montreal . . . why he appeared at that tennis court, why he took his life. . . . It was those six chords, it was that guitar pattern, that has been the basis of all my songs, and all my music.”

My father’s death by suicide inspired me to learn how to just ‘be’ – The Washington Post – Medium

That “anxiety needs the future,” and “depression needs the past.” My dad suffered deeply from both of these things: his fear and lack of control over all that lay ahead, and his regret over the things he couldn’t go back and change. He suffered from an unhealthy relationship with time. He lost his footing in the here-and-now. And it made him struggle — as all too many of us do — with the age-old Shakespearean dilemma: “To be, or not to be.”

what makes for an effective mantra?

An effective mantra addresses what you want to feel, not the adversity you're trying to overcome, says Robert J. Bell, Ph.D., a certified consultant of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. In fact, when discomfort strikes, the worst thing you can do is embrace the pain, says Walker. "When you start thinking, Oh, this hurts, Oh, I have a side stitch, Oh, my legs are tired—those negative thoughts pile on," he says. A good mantra diverts your mind from thoughts that reinforce the pain to thoughts that help you transcend it.

Runner self-talk

The British author Alan Sillitoe got it right in his 1958 short story “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”: “They can spy on us all day to see if we’re … doing our ‘athletics,’ but they can’t make an X-ray of our guts to find out what we’re telling ourselves.”

What We Think About When We Run

The (notably tiny) group of runners spent most of their time thinking about pace and distance—translated cynically, about how hard it was to move at their desired speed (“Come on, keep the stride going, bro”) and about how soon they could stop (“Come on, you have enough energy for a mile and a half”). But, after that, the runners mostly thought about how miserable it was to run. “While all the participants had periods during their run where they appeared to be comfortable and thinking about other things,” the researchers wrote, “pain and discomfort were never far from their thoughts.” Feet went numb, stomachs ached, lungs heaved, exhaustion loomed, hills hurt, heat sapped, vomit threatened; all told, fully a third of runners’ thoughts concerned the downsides of running. The remaining thoughts pertained to the runners’ immediate environment, which the researchers further subdivided: runners had mostly pleasant thoughts about terrain and wildlife, and mostly unpleasant thoughts about weather, traffic, and the other people around them.

Speaking Up for Mental Illness – Running for Mental Health | Trail And Ultra Running | Community. Industry. Adventure.

After years of struggling, hitting rock bottom and not having the strength to get back up, I finally decided to get help. I moved back home with my parents. Away from temptation, away from people. Somewhere that I could start again. I slowly built my life back from there, I started a new career, I reduced my drinking, I met a lovely girl named Jess. And I started running. Running was my outlet and my therapy. That feeling while running is indescribable, and when I’ve finished a long run I’m exhausted and sore but feel 10 feet tall and the strongest I’ve ever been.  In the space of 2 years I went from an extremely depressed alcoholic, barely able to run 5km, to completing over 6 ultra marathons and running from Burnie to Hobart (340km). Things just kept escalating from there, but now in a good way. Jess and I have been engaged for over a year now and are blessed with a gorgeous 4 month old daughter named Poppy. I’m still terrified of things getting back to the way they once were, but i’m in an extremely good place right now with a huge amount of support at my side.