Hi, I'm Nick. I just graduated from college. I have a job in education for a year and then I will be going to Emerson for graduate education in publishing. Generally, my (largely reblogged) topics include marxist philosophy, feminism, semiotics, literary theory, quite a bit of humor, and anything else that comes along. I'm also trying to change my self-conception by blogging positively under the tag "positive identity."

Quote blog: The Neural Itch

This is my wonderful girlfriend.

Music and Emotion Through Time - Michael Tilson

"In this epic overview, Michael Tilson Thomas traces the development of classical music through the development of written notation, the record, and the re-mix."

Personal Notes:

-There are only two things that matter in music: what and how

-Classical music is an unbroken, living tradition 

-Classical music creates a new language by condensing the myriad experiences of everyday life. This ever evolving language is a way to communicate lovingly and unflinchingly the truths of life.

-Each person has inherited centuries worth of musical theory, thought, and tradition

-The ability to notate and encode music allowed musicians to be more ambitious as they could record their inspirations and construct something further

-Notation is a dialogue between the two sides of our nature: instinct and intelligence

  -The division between improviser and composer

-For a large portion of history, the big “what” in music was to celebrate God and the “how” involved the interlacing of harmonious vocals

-The birth of opera put music on a radical new path, where the “what” followed the struggles of man and the “how” involved the innovation of chords

-Until recently, when the musician stopped playing then the music stopped - What happens when the music stops? What stays with the audience?

-Technology brought with it methods of listening to music (though less personally) on one’s own. It also democratized music by making it much more widely available. It even allowed artists to fuel their even larger ambitions to create more complex and intricate music.

-“You don’t need to worry about knowing anything. If you’re curious, if you have the capacity for wonder, if you’re alive, you have all that you need to know.” “All that what, all that how, is just waiting out there for you to discover its why.”

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Origins of Pleasure - Paul Bloom

"Why do we like an original painting better than a forgery? Psychologist Paul Bloom argues that human beings are essentialists — that our beliefs about the history of an object change how we experience it, not simply as an illusion, but as a deep feature of what pleasure (and pain) is."

Personal Notes:

-Why do origins matter so much? (ex. an accurate forgery of a great painting becomes worthless once it is discovered to be fake)

-Humans are in some part essentialists, bestowing value upon something due to what we think it really is and where it really came from

-How food tastes can depend on what you think it is

-Our perceptions are changed by our beliefs about what we’re perceiving 

-A certain neurological disorder makes people believe that everyone has been replaced with perfect duplicates. Though the results are often tragic, this disorder has also given certain cases the chance to reevaluate their earlier judgments with new perceptions

-Even consumer products can have their perceived values transformed by their histories, e.g. being used by a celebrity or having taken part in a historical event

-A forgery does not have the same creative history as the original

-Our perception of the history behind a work of art changes how we appreciate it

-These ideas apply to pain as well as pleasure. In an experiment, college students were given a series of painful electric shocks but some of them were told it was done maliciously by someone who knew what they were doing and others were told it was done innocently by someone who didn’t know. In the first case, the pain was perceived as being really bad for every shock. In the second case, the pain dissipated with each shock.

-Like with hot chili peppers and roller coaster rides, people can transform pain into pleasure by shifting their perceptions

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why Are We Happy? - Dan Gilbert

"Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want. Our ‘psychological immune system’ lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned."

Personal Notes:

-In two million years, the human brain has tripled in size.

-One of the most important facets of our large brains and specifically of the pre-frontal cortex, is its ability to imagine and simulate the future.

-People fail to predict what will make them happy very often (specifically in relation to impact and duration of said happiness),

  -Impact bias: the tendency to overestimate the hedonic impact of future events

-“Happiness can be synthesized.” 

-Humans have a largely unconscious “psychological immune system” that maintains a balance of happiness despite unfortunate external events. Humans can synthesize happiness in order to counteract external unhappiness.

-People tend to view synthetic unhappiness as being lesser than “true” or “natural” happiness.

-Happiness is just as valid and just as enduring whether it’s natural or synthetic, whether it occurs because we got what we wanted or occurs after we didn’t get what we wanted.

-In an experiment, short term amnesiacs were asked to rank six Monet prints and choose to own from one of two of the prints. After they had forgotten this had happened, they were asked to rank them again. Healthy people will synthesize happiness and rank their choice better than they did before. Amnesiac patients do the same thing even though they can’t remember choosing the print originally.

  -Synthesized happiness can fundamentally alter our reactions to external things.

-The psycholigical immune system works best at synthesizing happines when we no longer have a choice and are stuck in our course. Expending energy deliberating over a choice dissipates happiness over that choice.

  -However, most people would choose to be in a reversible situation despite the great probability that this situation would incur doubt and eventual dissatisfaction. 

-Preferences for the future are healthy and good but the overrating of differences between possible futures risks unhappiness.

  -Ambition and fear both need to be responsibly restrained

-“Our longings and our worries are both to some degree overblown because we have within us the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing when we choose experience.”

Thursday, July 5, 2012

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Orgasm - Mary Roach

“‘Bonk’ author Mary Roach delves into obscure scientific research, some of it centuries old, to make 10 surprising claims about sexual climax, ranging from the bizarre to the hilarious. (This talk is aimed at adults. Viewer discretion advised.)”

Personal Notes (I only took notes on what I found interesting and could break down into bullet points. Most of the good stuff in this video is to be found in the anecdotes so I suggest watching it if you’re intrigued):

-Fetuses can be observed making motions similar to masturbation in utero.

-Orgasm does not need genital stimulation.

-The orgasm is a reflex.

-Orgasms are triggered by a spot along the spine. This spot can be stimulated into action even when the subject is brain dead.

-Spinal injuries can cause the orgasm triggering spot to appear in parts of the body other than in the genitals.

-Orgasms can cure hiccups.

-Men may have evolved to masturbate more often so that their sperm supply can be refreshed. 

Perspective Is Everything - Rory Sutherland

"The circumstances of our lives may matter less than how we see them, says Rory Sutherland. At TEDxAthens, he makes a compelling case for how reframing is the key to happiness."

Personal Notes:

-With a cigarette in hand, one can stare out of a window alone with one’s thoughts and not be judged harshly. 

-“The power of reframing cannot be overstated.”

-Old pensioners are much happier than the young unemployed despite similar economic situations. Pensioners feel they have made that choice but the unemployed feel that it has been thrust upon them.

-The circumstances of our life may matter less than the degree of control we feel we have over them.

-Small impressions have a massive impact on what we think and do.

-Psychologists do not have the same model or framework to apply that economists, engineers, and others may have.

-Mechanistic solutions are most often favorited over psychological ones.

-When solving problems, one should equally balance psychology, economics, and technology.

-Goal Dilution: People believe that something that only does one thing is better than something else which does multiple things (ex. Google vs. other search engines).

-Chunking: People are more likely to reach the end of a project if they have milestones along the way (ex. taking different colored antibiotics) .

-The attitude people have about losing money depends a lot on where it’s going and how much control they have over its destination (how could this consideration change tax policies?).

-Both the actual product and the context in which it is experienced is important in considerations of its true value.

  -Ex. Cleaning a store can add just as much value as improving the product line.

  -The true value of things is constructed by the reality and the perception of that reality.

-“Perception is leaky.” - Perceptions of reality and actual reality mix to have real consequences.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Supercomputing the Brain’s Secrets - Henry Markram

"Henry Markram says the mysteries of the mind can be solved — soon. Mental illness, memory, perception: they’re made of neurons and electric signals, and he plans to find them with a supercomputer that models all the brain’s 100,000,000,000,000 synapses."

Personal Notes:

-The brain creates a version of the universe and projects it around us.

-Decisions are key to perception.

-The majority of our perception is built from inferences. 

-The neo cortex is the pinnacle of evolution.

-No neuron is the same nor is any neuron positioned in the same way.

-The universe has evolved the brain to see itself.

-“We can build a brain in 10 years.” 

A Call to Reinvent Liberal Arts Education - Liz Coleman

"Bennington president Liz Coleman delivers a call-to-arms for radical reform in higher education. Bucking the trend to push students toward increasingly narrow areas of study, she proposes a truly cross-disciplinary education — one that dynamically combines all areas of study to address the great problems of our day."

Personal Notes:

-Liberal education no longer genuinely exists.

-Breadth of education has been sacrificed for the ever narrowing focus of one chosen subject - The idealization of the expert

-The flexibilities of mind, multiplicity of perspectives, capacities for collaboration and innovation are inadvertently sacrificed for the sake of mastery over a narrow range of focus.

-“We learn more and more about less and less.”

-Our education system, which used to be renowned across the world, has become more well known for its failures and cultural illiteracy. 

-Not enough people have been drawing connections between our political failings and our educational ones.

-The reality of education (and the world) is that no one has the answers but everyone has the responsibility of trying to find them.

-Choices less often lie between good and evil but between competing goods.

-“You have a mind and other people. Start with those and change the world.”

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Riddle of Experience vs. Memory - Daniel Kahneman

"Using examples from vacations to colonoscopies, Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman reveals how our "experiencing selves" and our "remembering selves" perceive happiness differently. This new insight has profound implications for economics, public policy — and our own self-awareness."

Personal Notes:

-“Happiness,” as a word, has had its specific meaning diluted by overuse.

-Being happy in your life (experience) vs. being happy about your life (memory).

-The “experiencing self” only lives in the present while the “remembering self” lives in the past and future.

-The remembering self is a storyteller. Our past lives inside us in our memories as a story of our self.

-The remembering self is the one that makes choices - “We do not choose between experiences. We choose between memories of experiences.”

-“We think of our future as anticipated memories.”

-If you couldn’t remember what you were about to do, would you act differently? Do you live in accordance with anticipated memories or with present experience?

-We choose to favor either self as we make choices on how to act in our lives. We may choose to live according to our present, experiencing self or act in a way that will create a memorable story to relive for our remembering self. 

-There is a low correlation between how happy someone remembers their life as being and how happy they experience that life.

-A survey found that people with incomes below $60,000 were definitively unhappier than those above that but that those above flatlined with none being especially happier than the others.

Listening to Shame - Brené Brown 

"Shame is an unspoken epidemic, the secret behind many forms of broken behavior. Brené Brown, whose earlier talk on vulnerability became a viral hit, explores what can happen when people confront their shame head-on. Her own humor, humanity and vulnerability shine through every word."

Personal Notes:

-Being vulnerable is key to being creative, adventurous, and productive

-One feels guilt about one’s actions; one feels shame about oneself

-Shame is universal but organized differently by gender. Women are expected to have everything up in the air without showing stress and men are expected to have complete emotional control while working extremely hard

-Shame can be doused and dissipated by empathy

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Optimism Bias - Tali Sharot

"Are we born to be optimistic, rather than realistic? Tali Sharot shares new research that suggests our brains are wired to look on the bright side — and how that can be both dangerous and beneficial."

Personal Notes:

-It is statistically impossible for everyone to be above average in everything and yet that is an exceedingly common assumption.

-People’s self-serving biases cause them to interpret events in ways that reinforce their self schemas. For people with high self expectations, failures are attributed to situational forces and successes as being caused by dispositional forces. For people with low self expectations, it’s the opposite.

-People with mild depression have a more accurate outlook of the future.

-Optimism, though inaccurate, can make us healthier by relieving stress.

-People learn positive information about their future more readily and remember it more strongly than negative information.

-Like optical illusions, the optimism bias is not shattered by having knowledge of it which means that with balance, we can retain the benefits of optimism and curb the consequences with careful planning and thoughtful foresight.

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