Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

…In the 25 years since I graduated from college, such demands have relentlessly ratcheted up. The quantity and complexity of the mental work expected of successful students and professionals have mounted; we’ve responded by pushing ever harder on that lump of gray matter in our heads.

The result has not been a gratifying bulking up of our neural “muscle.” On the contrary, all the mental effort we’ve mustered over the past year has left many of us feeling depleted and distracted, unequal to the tasks that never stop arriving in our inboxes. When the work we’re putting in doesn’t produce the advertised rewards, we’re inclined to find fault with ourselves. Maybe we’re insufficiently gritty; maybe, we think, we’re just not smart enough. But this interpretation is incorrect. What we’re coming up against are universal limits, constraints on the biological brain that are shared by every human on the planet. Despite the hype, our mental endowment is not boundlessly powerful or endlessly plastic. The brain has firm limits — on its ability to remember, its capacity to pay attention, its facility with abstract and nonintuitive concepts — and the culture we have created for ourselves now regularly exceeds these limits.

The escalating mental demands of the past quarter-century represent the latest stage of a trend that has been picking up speed for more than 100 years. Starting in the early decades of the 20th century, school, work and even the routines of daily life became more cognitively complex: less grounded in the concrete and more bound up in the theoretical and abstract. For a time, humanity was able to with this development, resourcefully finding ways to use the brain better. As their everyday environments grew more intellectually demanding, people responded by upping their cognitive game. Continual engagement with the mental rigors of modern life coincided in many parts of the world with improving nutrition, rising living conditions and reduced exposure to pathogens. These factors produced a century-long climb in average I.Q. scores — a phenomenon known as the Flynn effect, after James Flynn, the political philosopher who identified it.

But this upward trajectory is now leveling off. In recent years, I.Q. scores have stopped rising or have even begun to drop…Some researchers suggest that we have pushed our mental equipment as far as it can go. It may be that “our brains are already working at near-optimal capacity,” write the neuroscientist Peter Reiner and his student Nicholas Fitz in the journal Nature. Efforts to wrest more intelligence from this organ, they add, “bump up against the hard limits of neurobiology.” This collision point — where the urgent imperatives of contemporary life confront the stubbornly intractable limits of the brain — is the place where we live at the moment, and rather unhappily. Our determination to drive the brain ever harder is the source of the agitation we feel as we attempt the impossible each day.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. It entails inducing the brain to play a different role: less workhorse, more orchestra conductor. Instead of doing so much in our heads, we can seek out ways to shift mental work onto the world around us and to supplement our limited neural resources with extraneural ones. These platforms for offloading, these resources for supplementation, are readily available and close at hand…

We, too, extend our minds, but not as well as we could. We do it haphazardly, without much intention or skill — and it’s no wonder this is the case. Our efforts at education and training, as well as management and leadership, are aimed principally at promoting brain-bound thinking. Beginning in elementary school, we are taught to sit still, work quietly, think hard — a model for mental activity that will dominate during the years that follow, through high school and college and into the workplace. The skills we develop and the techniques we are taught are mostly those that involve using our individual, unaided brains: committing information.

The limits of this approach have become painfully evident. The days when we could do it all in our heads are over. Our knowledge is too abundant, our expertise too specialized, our challenges too enormous. The best chance we have to thrive in the extraordinarily complex world we’ve created is to allow that world to assume some of our mental labor. Our brains can’t do it alone.

Annie Murphy Paul, from “How to Think Outside Your Brain (June 11, 2021)

All My Friends

This book is dedicated to the voices in my head, the most remarkable of my friends.

And to my wife, who lives with us.

Fredrik Backman, the opening dedication to his new book titled “Anxious People: A Novel” (Atria Books, September 8, 2020)


Notes:

Running. With Perforated Edges.

6:39:47 a.m. April 10th. The time stamp on photo.

I recall the moment. The end of my run, I’m rounding the last corner before home, breathing heavily.

Morning sun. A light warm hue painting the tips of trees and bushes. Beautiful.

I slip off my glove, the tip of my index finger is moist, trembling, and sticking to the screen. I wipe it dry and slide the menu bar from Pano, Portrait, Video, Slo-Mo, Portrait, and stop on Photo. Pleased, I pause for a moment longer, admiring the view, so glad I was able to catch the moment. 

I walk the rest of the way home, catching my breath.

I’m sitting in the backyard, 30° F, sweat drying, goosebumps form on skin. I shiver. Legs sore, but that good sore after finishing a run.

I open the camera app to check out the photo.

I tap the image, and it pops up. It stutters for a moment, then a series of frames, and it stops. Irritated.

I tap the image again. And there on the top of the image, a “Live” tag.  WTF is that?

I tap the image again. It stutters, pans through a series of frames, and then stutters to silence. Jesus. You can’t even get this right.

I grab the phone and slide my index finger along the menu options, and don’t see a “Live” option. Damn it!

Index finger. Dotted line. Bad outcome. Mind draws up the Moment.

35 years later, like yesterday. My hands trembling. The course of Life would change based on the GMAT test results in that ever so thin envelope. Before I tear it open, the tip of my index finger slides along the perforated edge, my skin tingling as it passes each tiny raised dot.  I don’t recall who was with me at the time: “How’d you do?” I walked away, needing to be alone, needing to be quiet, needing to be still.

I’ve been dragging that anvil around for 35 years.

I turn back to the photo. Love photos. But it’s clear, cameras, are not my thing.

The photo syncs on iCloud to my laptop. (Magic!)

I convert the Live Photo to a still image.  Upload it to the blog post.  And pause.  Didn’t notice my shadow in the photo until now.

I run my finger around the silhouette. There you are DK. 

You caught yourself in the shot.

Your legs look a bit long, but you turned out to be ok.

Sunday Morning

You are the doubter and the doubt,
worshipping a book you can’t read.

The awful quiet in your heart
is not the peace you were promised,

not the trembling hush before a revelation,
not a prelude to an earthquake,

not God’s silence, but his breathlessness.

~ Traci Brimhall, from “Gnostic Fugue,”  from Our Lady of the Ruins

 


Photo: Noell Oszvald.  Post inspired by quote from Mindfulbalance: “In our own lives the voice of God speaks slowly, a syllable at a time. Reaching the peak of years, dispelling some of our intimate illusions and learning how to spell the meaning of life-experiences backwards, some of us discover how the scattered syllables form a single phrase.” ~ Rabbi Joshua Herschel, Between God and Man.

 

Catholic, Non-Catholic. Believe. Don’t Believe. But Watch.

Of course I have sinned….
As a child, I have failed you first by not having the courage to taste of life itself.
Instead, I hid away in books, and then study.
I know now this left me empty and void of the world.

Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI in The Two Popes (Netflix, 2019)


If you’re going to make a movie about what’s holy, it had better be outstanding — and this drama rises to the occasion.” ~ Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call… I’m Up! Ta – Dah!


Photo: Bird is a Stilt. Stilt is a common name for several species of birds in the family Recurvirostridae, which also includes those known as avocets. They are found in brackish or saline wetlands in warm or hot climates. They have extremely long legs, hence the group name, and long thin bills (via Your Eyes Blaze Out)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

This is the time to be slow…
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.

~ John O’Donohue, in “To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings


Notes: Poem via MindfulBalance. Photo: “I am curious” by Olafur Eliasson (via thisisnthappiness)

T.G.I.F.: Current Threat Level


Threat Update @threat_update Monitoring trends and crunching key metrics to evaluate existential risk. Powered by science. Patents applied for.

Walking Cross Town. In the Big Apple.

Second train of the morning.

Arrive at Grand Central Station.

Traders, Bankers, Morning Hawks gather at the exit.

Car door slides open and the throng spills out.

I pick up the pace. Heart’s pumping. I’m passing Suits. And accelerating.

I Pass Harvard.

I Pass Yale.

I Pass MIT.

I Pass Lori’s Princeton.

I Pass Stanford.

I Pass Prep School boys from Choate, Exeter. Deerfield Academy.

I’m in front now, shoes tapping on the marble floors, Exit 500 feet ahead.

Boy from a 1 room, 3-grade public classroom in Ootischenia. Graduate of Northern Michigan University.

I step through the double doors to exit Grand Central onto Madison.

20° F wind gust roars down 47th street, eyes flood with water.

New York City! The Big Apple. You made it!

Cold bites, tears flow, and flow. And flow.

Cross walk sign turns.

I’m alone.

In front now.

Not done yet.

Not far enough ahead.

Not yet.


Photo: The city never sleeps, Atelier Olschinsky (via this isn’t happiness)

A Mind Divided

She’s a fellow blogger. She struggles with some ferocious demons. Here’s her story. I urge you to listen to the finish.

“A Reflection: Flickers in the Dark…How do you make a life out of ash? How do you move from the whole of the doily into the thread? For me, it started with flickers of light in my darkness…”

Moved…


Source: Sandy’s Blog @ A Mind Divided: “Flickers in the Dark” Reflection

 

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