Tinkering

Another Rands In Repose gem.

Tinkering is a deceptively high-value activity. You don’t usually allocate much time to tinkering because the obvious value of tinkering is low. You don’t start tinkering with a goal in mind; you start with pure curiosity. I’ve heard about this thing, but I’ve never used it. How does this thing work? I’ve always wanted to know about more about X. Downtime is an easy time to tinker. Nothing is pressing, so these acts of mental wandering are acceptable.

This is how things get done. This is my life.

I think Dopamine is related to why I tinker. There is a definite expectation to getting something out of it. And that is all the motivation I need.

The dopamine from the ventral tegmental area… usually sends dopamine into the brain when animals (including people) expect or receive a reward. That reward might be a delicious slice of pizza or a favorite song. This dopamine release tells the brain that whatever it just experienced is worth getting more of. And that helps animals (including people) change their behaviors in ways that will help them attain more of the rewarding item or experience.

My reward is learning something about a gadget. Similar to how reading rewards me with learning about science, history, motivations, or behavior.

 

TED Talk: Trust, morality – and oxytocin

I heard about “eight hugs a day” months ago. I have brought it up in conversation a dozen times since. Glad the video is finally out.

Where does morality come from — physically, in the brain? In this talk neuroeconomist Paul Zak shows why he believes oxytocin (he calls it “the moral molecule”) is responsible for trust, empathy, and other feelings that help build a stable society.

Some interesting points:

    • Countries with high numbers of trustworthy people are more prosperous.
    • In an experiment, the more money a person received (trust), the more money they would voluntarily return (trustworthiness). Oxytocin increased with trust.
    • Massage, dancing, praying increase oxytocin.
    • A con works by schemer demonstrating he or she trusts the victim which produces trustworthiness.
    • Trust key to society and species survival.
    • Using social media produces increases in oxytocin.
    • Give eight hugs a day to make yourself happier.

If the below video does not work, then click Trust, morality – and oxytocin.

Is Tiger Blinking?

Watching The Brain. In talking about Tiger Woods’ putt, they guess that he really has consciously removed all anxiety by entering “The Zone”. (Must be old.) The physical manifestation of this is supposed to be his lack of blinking.

Now that Tiger is not doing so well, does this mean he is blinking a lot when he misses his puts? Just a teeny bit tempted to watch him play just to verify. Okay, not really.

UPDATE: Brain Science Podcast on Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To.

2010 Resolution Reading List

I recently completed my first resolution for the year 2009: Read 12,000 pages. pp

Check the Reading page for the master list.

Titles in bold are the ones I recommend. (They also are probably the ones I quote the most.)

  1. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in SpaceCarl Sagan – 368 pp (368 total)
  2. Deal with Your Debt: The Right Way to Manage Your Bills and Pay Off What You Owe Liz Pulliam Weston – 210 est pp (57324+8 total)
  3. Some Answered Questions – Abdu’l-Bahá – 314 pp (892 total)
  4. Promised Day is Come – Shoghí Effendí Rabbání – 208 pp (1,100 total)
  5. The Last Days of Socrates – PlatoHugh Tredennick (Translator), Harold Tarrant (Contributor) – 289 pp (1,389 total)
  6. The Trial of Socrates – Isidor F. Stone – 273 pp (1,662 total)
  7. The HistoriesHerodotus – 720 pp (2,382 total)
  8. Libraries in the Ancient World – Lionel Casson – 173 pp (2,555 total)
  9. Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common OriginsSteve Olson – 278 pp (2,833 total)
  10. Why Smart People Do Dumb Things – Mortimer FeinbergJohn Tarrant – 265 pp (3,098 total)
  11. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood Howard PyleScott McKowen (Illustrator) – 328 pp (3,426 total)
  12. The Seven Mysteries of Life Guy Murchie – est 661 pp (4,087 total)
  13. Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above AverageJoseph Hallinan – 304 pp (4,391 total)
  14. NextCrichton, Michael – 431 pp (4,822 total)
  15. The Ball is Round: A Global History of SoccerGoldblatt, David – 992 pp (5,814 total)
  16. A Wrinkle in Time (Time Series, #1)L’Engle, Madeleine – 224 pp (6,038 total) — for Not Your Oprah’s Book Club
  17. Ender’s GameCard, Orson Scott – 324 pp (6,362 total) — for Not Your Oprah’s Book Club
  18. Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the WorldAhamed, Liaquat – 576 pp (est 6,938 total)
  19. Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our LivesSpecter, Michael – 304 pp (est 7,242 total)
  20. Tribes: We Need You to Lead UsGodin, Seth – 160 pp (est 7,402 total)
  21. Foundation (Foundation, #1)Asimov, Isaac – 256 pp (est 7,658 total)
  22. First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do DifferentlyBuckingham, Marcus – 255 pp (est 7,913 total)
  23. Snow CrashStephenson, Neal – 470 pp (est 8,383 total)
  24. Ender’s Shadow (Shadow Series, #1)Card, Orson Scott – 469 pp (est 8,852 total)
  25. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our BrainsCarr, Nicholas G. – 256 pp (9,108 total)
  26. The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the NationWesten, Drew – 384 pp (9,492 total)
  27. Happiness: Lessons from a New ScienceLayard, Richard – 320 pp (9,812 total)
  28. Speaker for the Dead (Ender’s Saga, #2)Card, Orson Scott – 382 pp (10,194 total)
  29. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other StoriesStevenson, Robert Louis – 304 pp (10,498 total)for Not Your Oprah’s Book Club
  30. Hyperion (Hyperion, #1)Simmons, Dan – 482 pp (10,980 0total)
  31. Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger’sPage, Tim – 208 pp (11,188 total)
  32. Xenocide (Ender’s Saga, #3)Card, Orson Scott – 520 read of 592 pp (11,780 total)
  33. Something BorrowedEmily Giffin – 322 pp (12,102 total) — for Not Your Oprah’s Book Club
  34. Treasure IslandStevenson, Robert Louis – 352 pp (12,454 total)
  35. The Sunday Philosophy Club (Sunday Philosophy Club, #1)Alexander McCall Smith – 250 pp (12,704 total) — for Not Your Oprah’s Book Club
  36. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values – Pirsig, Robert M. – 560 pp (est 13,264 total)

Ashley Merryman: On Parenting

Cannot believe I have yet to read NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children! It looks to have all the things I love: scientific studies debunking common assumptions, policy, school programs, etc. At least it is already on the wishlist. Also, I follow NutureShock on Twitter. A list of articles on the topic.

The first part on praise is something I passed around to several people. My parents were pretty good about making me work hard on things I’d given up on doing because I didn’t succeed easily at first. Seems like it would difficult for a parent to be disciplined not to ever praise innate qualities, so maybe it is okay once in a while?

The latter part of this on kids and sleep deprivation is interesting. I knew sleep really helped the brain. More than just the capability of male fruit flies to breed. For example, very tired people have worse trouble driving than those who are intoxicated on alcohol. It hadn’t occurred to me sleep deprivation would have consequences to learning.

Ashley Merryman: On Parenting from PopTech on Vimeo.

TED Talk: Is Play More Than Fun?

In the Q&A, Stuart Brown, co-author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, rejects the idea play is a rehersal for adulthood. Stopping an animal from playing doesn’t prevent the animal from being a successful predator. REM sleep provides the rehearsal needed for learning. Play is the next evolutionary step. The video is a little too heavy on repeating the same generic idea over an over with different examples. However, they are amusing examples.

The types of play Brown references usually involves multiple individuals in a social interaction. This play teaches survival skills like socialization, adaptation, flexibility (our selfish genes at work).

The origin of this play research was in identifying the next Charles Whitmore, the University of Texas Tower sniper. In studying mass murderers, he found Charles and others like him consistently grew up in environments where play was not allowed. By not playing these children developed into dysfunctional adults.

I found a particular claim quite interesting. “The opposite of play is not work… It is depression.” That is almost word for word out of his book on page 126, which Google Books has a copy. Later he better explains the part about play and work are not in opposition:

The quality that work and play have in common is creativity. In both we are building our world, creating new relationships, neural connections, objects…. At their best, play and work, when integrated, make sense of our workd and ourselves. (Play, p.127)

This agrees with Adam and Jamie from the Mythbusters to Moira Gunn for the Commonwealth Cluf of California about their work. Just look at Adam’s face before triggering a test on any episode. The complete and total joy is a testament to the power of dopamine.

I think the opposition to depression involves movement which is exercise. Exercise produces serotonin which is crucial to fighting off depression. So my work, sitting in a cube all day long problem solving is good for dopamine but not a producer of serotonin. However, a good game of tag would produce both dopamine in anticipating tagging a playmate and serotonin from the movement. (Why can’t work be more like tag?)

If Dr. Brown is right, then suppressing the rough and tumble playing children enjoy is the best way to place in society malfunctioning adults who are more likely to be violent. Things like recess (just half an hour) during the day will keep our prisons less full 20 years later. <sarcasm>Maybe the No Child Left Behind meant all the children will end up in prison?</sarcasm> More likely children will fit their play in less supervised situations and get their fill.

Cognitive Load

My parents taught me as a child lying is harder than telling the truth. I am way too lazy to bother with anything other than using a tangent to change the subject. Simplicity also helps keep track of my life. I like understanding what is happening and why.

Skills involved in deception also teach problem-solving, project management, and social context management. My favorite friends were the brilliant liars. They always had a new entertaining story.

For a host of reasons, their theory goes, lying is more mentally taxing than telling the truth. Performing an extra task while lying or telling the truth should therefore affect the liars more. The Load of Lying: Testing for Truth

As evidenced by Dunbar’s Number, our brains are wired for both determining honesty in others and being the cheat.

TED Talk: Dangers of Serotonin

He’s associated damage to the temporal lobe with psychopathic killers. The epigenetic effects, brain damage, and environments appears to be an MAOA variant on the X chromosome with experiencing violence around 3 years old.

Males only get the X from their mother. Men are much more likely. Girls get one X from mother and one from father which dilutes. Bathing the brain in serotonin too early makes the brain insensitive to the calming serotonin later.

Interesting.

TED Jim Fallon: Exploring the mind of a killer

The Ares Imperative

The Ares ImperativeA friend of mine, Steve Ekstrom, is the writer of this comic which I enjoyed for the this first 8 pages. I’m looking forward to the next installments. Check out The Ares Imperative! (And vote for it if you like it. The winner gets published by DC Comics.)
Interview:

Synopsis:

It’s the early 21st Century and corporations continue to manipulate world governments as emerging quasi-religious science cults and techno-centric international terrorists are beginning to develop their own biological weapons mapped out in human genomes. Special Agent Adam Geist operates covertly within the framework of the ultra-classified PROJECT ARES division of the C.I.A. under the supervision of Deputy Director Ted Gerard and his assistant Maxwell Clearwater.

Geist does not fully comprehend the processes, which he has undergone as a part of PROJECT ARES but numerous studies have revealed that alien mitochondria have asserted control of his DNA—altering his higher intelligence functions and his nervous system receptor processing speed. He has become sensitive to electromagnetic fields and has developed heightened senses, which include something akin to Wi-Fi reception. His skin is capable of rapid, localized cellular density adaptation—making him virtually bulletproof.

Due to the secret nature of his existence and the fear that a “super-man” would create in light of the unstable relations between the U.S. and other world powers, Geist is under strict orders: he must eliminate anyone—friend or foe—who learns of his uncanny abilities. Sadly, as he grows in power, his own humanity diminishes from the actualization of his computer-like brain—and now, evidence is beginning to surface that his own strange biology may, in fact, be malevolent in nature…