This is Your Brain On Awesome Thoughts on the world from a student of the mind

27May/10

indecisions indecisions…

"I believe in reincarnation only as we may experience it through our children; I hope my parents recognize themselves in me...and I hope that our old radio show lives on in the homes of a few people who recognized the people in the stories.  We had to stop short of the destination we dreamed of and we have to to look to others to cross those mountains that stopped us and make the home that we tried so hard to reach."

This is an excerpt from a letter written by Garrison Keillor, storyteller, singer, and midwesterner (you can tell why he's one of my favorites).   I wanted to post it because I think it's applicable to a choice that every person must face in their lives, especially as they're making the transition from lowly college student to the "real world."

One of the most common concerns that plague one's decision to remain at home or to move on to bigger and better things is the desire for success, to trod off the beaten path and make a name for yourself in the world, and the desire for community, to keep yourself surrounded by those you love and those you're closest to.

As my friends have gradually trickled out of the educational system and into the real world, it seems that there is roughly an even split between which the two choose to go with.  Half choose to stay, half choose to leave.

I, for one, have chosen the latter route, and am leaving the city within the next few weeks, but that doesn't mean that my decisions are easy or my pathway is clear.  I had a fantastic dinner with a close friend of mine the other day, and we talked a little bit about community and the incredibly important role that it plays in our society and our personal lives.

For her, the choice was easy: without community, we allow the social anxieties and pressures of life to weigh us down.  We fail to reach our true potential because we lack the support to deal with many unrelated things that our friends and family usually help us out with.  To leave this city would be to leave her community.

I'm not sure how I feel about her decision or my decision.  Either way, I've made a choice and I need to stick to that choice.  Right now, leaving home, saying goodbyes, and getting out the things that need to be said weigh heavily on my mind.  Once I can dispel those anxieties, I'll be able to focus on the future.

21May/10

Connecting the dots…

I recently read an article describing the nature of our reward system as it pertains to gambling and success.  Essentially, the article reported that, while winning at gambling activates many of the reward pathways that reinforce our behavior towards similar activities, nearly missing seems to do so as well.

Researchers hypothesized that being rewarded for near misses may be useful in a situation where skill is related with success, but in a completely chance-driven activity like gambling, it can result in near-pathological behavior: those with an addiction to gambling had a stronger reaction to near-wins compared with those that were casual gamblers.

This is an interesting finding, but more intriguing to me is the fact that the gambling industry has already known this for a long time.  When interviewed, representatives of casinos and game makers noted that many gambling devices have been created to have a large number of misses right next to the "big winner," and that this encouraged users to keep playing.  This makes no sense from a statistical or logical perspective, and yet the casino industry has been capitalizing on this fact for decades.

Which leads me to the question - what other knowledge about ourselves has already been discovered, just not made public?  The gambling industry presents one example, but certainly the experiences of the millions of people out there, while not strictly empirical in nature, have uncovered some very interesting quirks and truths about the human condition.  Not to mention the hundreds of academic fields which aren't strictly scientific, but which have much to say about ourselves and our brains.

How might our society encourage this kind of information to be spread?  How can we connect the seemingly disparate dots of our incredibly diverse and expansive set of experiences?  I'm not sure - maybe by encouraging cross-disciplinary research, by forcing students out of the pidgeonhole of their respective fields, by giving people the tools to communicate with one another more efficiently, or by fighting against the myriad forces that would encourage people to safeguard their knowledge in the name of furthering their own interests.

Each of these topics warrants an entire discussion in-and-of themselves, so maybe I'll get into it in the future.  Until then, I'll try and connect the dots as best I can.

Here's the article

18May/10

Blurring the focus

After many months of dedicated posting and valiant attempts at putting together the finest blog known to mankind (this is a complete lie), I've decided to take this blog in a slightly new direction.

Under the advice of many good friends, all of whom have apparently figured out this blogging thing much better than I have, I'm going to be working on cranking out more posts on a more consistent basis.  While writing about science all the time is certainly enjoyable, it also fails to convey the full extent of my interests and opinions (I have a lot of opinions).

So, expect to see a much more random assortment of posts in the coming months and days...I promise not to go Avant and speak gibberish for pages and pages, but who knows what may pop up.  In the meantime, my more scientific posts will be concentrated in another blog that I'm working on with some friends, eldopa.org

Stay tuned for more 🙂