Saturday, November 12, 2011

Maria Popova - The Anti-Gladwell: Kahneman's New Way to Think About Thinking

Nice article/review - I am really looking forward to getting to read Kahneman's new book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Maria Popova wrote this for her blog, Brain Pickings, and it is published here by The Atlantic.

The Anti-Gladwell: Kahneman's New Way to Think About Thinking

By Maria Popova
Nov 1 2011

Legendary Israeli-American psychologist Daniel Kahneman is one of the most influential thinkers of our time. A Nobel laureate and founding father of modern behavioral economics, his work has shaped how we think about human error, risk, judgement, decision-making, happiness, and more. For the past half-century, he has profoundly impacted the academy and the C-suite, but it wasn't until this month's highly anticipated release of his "intellectual memoir," Thinking, Fast and Slow, that Kahneman's extraordinary contribution to humanity's cerebral growth reached the mainstream -- in the best way possible.

Absorbingly articulate and infinitely intelligent, this "intellectual memoir" introduces what Kahneman calls the machinery of the mind -- the dual processor of the brain, divided into two distinct systems that dictate how we think and make decisions. One is fast, intuitive, reactive, and emotional. (If you've read Jonathan Haidt's excellent The Happiness Hypothesis, as you should have, this system maps roughly to the metaphor of the elephant.) The other is slow, deliberate, methodical, and rational. (That's Haidt's rider.)

The mind functions thanks to a delicate, intricate, sometimes difficult osmotic balance between the two systems, a push and pull responsible for both our most remarkable capabilities and our enduring flaws. From the role of optimism in entrepreneurship to the heuristics of happiness to our propensity for error, Kahneman covers an extraordinary scope of cognitive phenomena to reveal a complex and fallible yet, somehow comfortingly so, understandable machine we call consciousness.
Much of the discussion in this book is about biases of intuition. However, the focus on error does not denigrate human intelligence, any more than the attention to diseases in medical texts denies good health.... [My aim is to] improve the ability to identify and understand errors of judgment and choice, in others and eventually in ourselves, by providing a richer and more precise language to discuss them. --Daniel Kahneman
Among the book's most fascinating facets are the notions of the experiencing self and the remembering self, underpinning the fundamental duality of the human condition -- one voiceless and immersed in the moment, the other occupied with keeping score and learning from experience. Kahneman spoke of these two selves and the cognitive traps around them in his fantastic 2010 TED talk:

The word happiness is just not a useful word anymore because we apply it to too many different things.
What's most enjoyable and compelling about Thinking, Fast and Slow is that it's so utterly, refreshingly anti-Gladwellian. There is nothing pop about Kahneman's psychology, no formulaic story arc, no beating you over the head with an artificial, buzzword-encrusted Big Idea. It's just the wisdom that comes from five decades of honest, rigorous scientific work, delivered humbly yet brilliantly, in a way that will forever change the way you think about thinking.

This post also appears on Brain Pickings, an Atlantic partner site.

#OWS Teach-In with Douglas Rushkoff

Rushkoff seems to be transforming from a popular author to an activism leader - a Gen X Ralph Nader, only smarter and more aware. Glad to see it, we need someone like him.

OWS Teach-In with Douglas Rushkoff
by Douglas Rushkoff

OWS Teach-In with Douglas Rushkoff from Douglas Rushkoff on Vimeo.

Footage by the Life Inc. media crew.

The Dalai Lama - How to Become a Receptacle Suitable for Cultivating the Paths

Paths to Magical Feats

by H.H. the Dalai Lama,
Dzong-ka-ba and Jeffrey Hopkins,
translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

How to Become a Receptacle Suitable for Cultivating the Paths.
You are made into a vessel suitable for cultivating the path through entering a mandala such as that of the Vajra Element, receiving initiation, and receiving the pledges and vows.

Concerning this, there are two types: those who merely enter a mandala and those who enter and receive initiation, of which there are two types. The former are those who cannot hold the vows of the five lineages but who hold the Bodhisattva vows; only the initiation of a student is granted to them. However, to those who can hold both Bodhisattva and mantra vows the full initiation of a vajra master is granted.(p.78)

--from Yoga Tantra: Paths to Magical Feats by H.H. the Dalai Lama, Dzong-ka-ba and Jeffrey Hopkins, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins, published by Snow Lion Publications

Yoga Tantra • Now at 5O% off
(Good until November 18th).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Trusting your gut can actually get the best results

Here is some more support for trusting our enteric nervous system (our gut). It bothers me that when people write these articles that they do not give real credit to the brain in our guts. For example, the enteric nervous system contains 100 million neurons - more than the spinal cord. Most of the major neurotransmitters - serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, norephinephrine, and nitric oxide - can be found in the gut. There are also two dozen small brain proteins, called neuropeptides are there along with the major cells of the immune system. This literally is another brain.

Trusting your gut can actually get the best results

by Mark Fenske
From Thursday's Globe and Mail

How much trust do you put in hunches or intuition? Would you allow part of your liver to be removed, for example, if your surgeon mentioned having a “gut feeling” that this would be best? Or would you rather hear some concrete reasons outlining exactly why the procedure might be needed?

A growing body of research by experimental psychologists and neuroscientists alike has revealed that going with your gut can be surprisingly effective at getting the best out of your brain. But it also seems to critically depend on your level of expertise (if you're the surgeon making that call, you may want to have a few years under your belt) and on your ability to trust your feelings.
Experiencing a hunch can seem almost mystical. This may explain why such judgments are often described as arriving through inspiration or by way of a still small voice.

Recent research findings suggest that such feelings and impressions may actually arise through brain circuits that are optimized for fast, automatic evaluations of a situation, which take place without our awareness. Other findings suggest that such non-conscious appraisals may recruit memory-intensive regions of the brain that can access neural representations of our prior knowledge and experiences, such as midline areas of the parietal lobe and the front-most sections of the temporal lobes.

From this perspective, intuition can be seen as the brain acting as a master predictor – taking whatever information is available at a given moment and analyzing its similarity to prior experiences to allow us to anticipate what is most likely to happen next and which course of action might be best.

This suggests that the greater our expertise in an area, the better our hunches should be in that domain. Brain scans of individuals playing shogi – a chess-like game popular in Japan – support this notion. Shogi experts rely extensively on an intuitive sense of which of the possible next moves is best. When each game scenario was revealed, players showed increased activity in the precuneus – a memory-related structure in the medial parietal lobe. Furthermore, during quick, intuitive judgments, there was increased activation of the caudate nucleus, a region of the basal ganglia previously shown to be involved in other automatic, highly learned responses. And the strength of this caudate signal was directly associated with accuracy of the corresponding judgment.

But this pattern occurred only in expert shogi players. Game-related brain activity in amateur players appeared to rely far more exclusively on the top and outermost regions of the frontal and parietal lobe – areas typically closely associated with deliberate, conscious analysis.

Neuroimaging during jazz improvisation provides another illustration of how a reduction in conscious control can be a good thing. When compared to brain activity during rote repetition of a tune, brain scans of jazz musicians “in the groove”– composing on the fly – show a dramatic reduction of activity in those top and outermost regions of prefrontal cortex associated with deliberate control and self-conscious awareness, and a simultaneous increase in activation in lower and inner structures associated with more implicit expertise.

But here's where trust comes in. Another set of recent studies has revealed that the power of the brain in making intuitive predictions critically depends on the extent to which individuals trust in their feelings when making decisions. Those expressing higher levels of trust in their feelings were later up to 20-per-cent more accurate in predicting such things as the weather, the outcome of a college football match or who would win a popular televised talent show.

But, like the shogi players, expertise also mattered. Trusting in your feelings will contribute little toward your Fantasy-Football standing unless you have some knowledge about football and the teams and players involved. The same surely applies to success in the operating room.

Mark Fenske, co-author of The Winner's Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success, is a neuroscientist and associate professor at the University of Guelph