The Future Belongs to the Creatives

October 2nd, 2010

Godin’s book, Linchpin, is an amazing read. The title does not fully encapsulate some of the visionary concepts that Godin describes in his book, so I wanted to recap some of the more groundbreaking points:

  1. Lets get to the point. A linchpin is someone who is irreplaceable in an organization. It is someone who makes the company what it is. If they left the company, it would not function as well.
  2. However, in order to be a linchpin, you must truly be unique. You can’t just get by or do the minimum amount of work. You must take risks. You must try different approaches. You will probably make mistakes and get into trouble for doing something, because the system itself does not accepting of linchpin-like deviations from the norm. Linchpins beat to a different drum.
  3. The linchpin shows all the characteristics of an artist. They are creative, think outside the box, take risks, confront the status quo, and are able to create a vision for what could be. An artist is anyone who can think creatively, not just painters and sculptors.
  4. Since the linchpin is like artist, there is something fundamentally meaningful about their work. They are really not in it for the money. When an artist creates, they are not thinking about getting paid. In fact, thinking like this prevents great creations from happening. An artist brings forth creations of beauty that have meaning behind them. The attitude that the true artist has is one of selfless devotion to the work of art itself, and its free expression thereof. Of course the artist needs to have money and make a living, but this is separate form the artworks themselves. Once artwork it done FOR the reward or money, it ceases to be art. All art is given as a gift from the artist, because art cannot have a real price. Money given to the artist is merely support to help the artist sustain the life of creating art.
  5. The future belongs to the artists. These are the linchpin thinkers, and they are going to be the most valuable assets to any organization. These people will do their work for a higher purpose, and will give the gifts of their talents sometimes for free. They will be happy with having enough. They will change the world, and truly make the world a better place.

Ironically, the title Linchpin seems to be a good title for the book, if you are not a linchpin yourself. In a way, it is a self-help book, for all those people out there who want to live an extraordinary life. I would have named the book, “Gift Givers” or “Unselfishonomics.” But I suppose fewer people would have picked it up.

The Power of Play: How teachers can improve achievement by transforming work into play

July 24th, 2010
"play" book

How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

Research shows that “play” is an irreplaceable part of adolescent development, because it helps children learn social boundaries, connect with their creative natures, develop intrinsically motivated mindsets, provide an avenue to engage in states of flow or peak performance, develop self regulation of emotions, develop the courage to take risks, increase memory, and increase the likelihood of developing a happy mindset.

Amazingly, middle-school-aged youth have twice the neuro-connective capacity that adults do.  This is necessary for them because they need to be aware of possibilities for their future,  and this is undoubtedly reflected in their struggle with choices and identity at that age.  Over time, however, there is a pruning effect, that limits the number of neuro connections as they choose to go down specific pathways of understanding, leaving other pathways unused to wither and die off.  While adults can be sure of themselves, adolescents are less sure because they have more neurons firing than adults, and so this can induce hypersensitivity and feelings of confusion when interpreting and misinterpreting even common things like a particular look given by a teacher or classmate.  Students will often make wrong inferences in this stage of their brain’s development.

During this time in their lives, it is crucial that youth “play” as much as possible, to help guide the formation and proper pruning of their brains.  Play can allows youth to engage in complex social situations, much like what adults experience, except in a safe, not-so-serious setting.  These experiences incorporated in play, actually help prepare youth for the more demanding challenges that lay ahead.

It is important that we do not teach our youth to “put away their childish ways.”  Although this is well meaning, childish ways of play can actually better prepare them for managing anger, fear, and other debilitating maldevelopments that can happen in childhood.  Sadly, in our society today, many parents and teachers want youth to be more serious, and seldom provide outlets for play.  Even the overabundance of homework can significantly reduce, or even eliminate playtime in a child’s life.  Students are often chided ” stop playing around”  as if play was a bad thing.

Although unstructured play has its merits, youth spent much of their time in structured environments.   Caretakers must figure out ways to incorporate play into that structured routine.  Often times teachers over lecture and kids attention wanes.  Then teachers punish kids for not paying attention.  The more we incorporate play into the curriculum, the more youth will develop an intrinsic desire for learning.

According to Stuart Brown, M.D., Author of Play, there are personalities of playfulness, that I have rewritten with strategies that can be used in the classroom or at home:

  1. Humor – The use of humor can set students at ease, increase motivation, and set the stage for creative work. Use cartoon strips, improvisation, or perhaps a random joke of the day.
  2. Kinesthetics- Move around.  Many students can’t think optimally unless they are moving around. Getting out of the seat for an activity is fun, and beats sitting around all day.  Movement increases circulation to the brain and promotes motivation, attention, and happiness.  Some strategies can be as simple as running in place, stretching, conducting a scavenger hunt, doing a 4-corners activity, teaching outside, going for a walk, role playing, or any activity requiring movement. Go outside and play kickball…but to kick, you must answer a question first…
  3. Exploring- Scientific Investigations, Google or textbook scavenger hunts, mindquests, and laboratory experiments, are good ways to motivate students, and increase memory retention.
  4. Competition- Competitive games are an excellent way to increase motivation for learning.  You can create Team games or game shows that help review content.   Students with the highest scores on tests,  the class with the highest average score, or the team with the highest average score in the class, can be used as ideas for a competition.  Just make sure the teams are put together fairly.   Doing this can increase engagement and motivation, however, you must be careful not to foster extrinsic motivation by providing too many material rewards. Sports are a great way to increase social competence, leadership, and teamwork.
  5. Leadership- Have students take turns being leaders for various functions.  You can have a director of room cleanliness, a director of birthday reminders, Organizers for classroom parties, or classroom technology, or even a classroom president. How about teacher for the day?  Kids would have a lot of fun, but would be developing  higher order thinking skills.
  6. Collecting- There is something fun about collecting things.  Collecting rocks, leaves, seeds, etc. for science, or buttons, stamps, or other antiques for history could be very fun and rewarding. Bring collections of your own to class about a particular topic, even if it is a collection of cuts outs, pictures, or articles.
  7. Art/Creation-Vocabulary pictures, posters, brochures, diaramas, role playing, building a model of something, or making a drawing of something, engages students in creative play.  These activities activate the brain fully, increasing memory retention.  It also helps students think visually and conceptually, as well as develop higher order thinking skills.
  8. Story Telling-Story telling helps make the material being learned more real, attaching the information to real experiences, thereby increasing memory retention and motivation.  Creating stories exercises your creative skills as well.  Weave a story into the lesson, add personal anecdotes, and talk about personal experiences.  Role playing can put students into a story.  Have students write about their own lives, in relation to the topic.  At the end of a vocabulary assignment, have students write a story using all of the words.
  9. Fantasy play- a creative visualization play, helped Einstein to develop the theory of relativity as he imagined himself on a train moving at the speed of light. Have students pretend that are a certain person that has been studied, etc.  then have a cocktail (soda) party, where students must mingle, taking on their given persona as if they are that person.  Fantasy play has few limits
  10. Choices- Students are more likely to view work as play when they are given choices.  Give a kid a book to read or allow her to choose a book to read?  When you give students choices, they will enjoy what they are doing more, and will more likely to develop intrinsic motivation.

Adults often feel like they will look silly, or feel like they are being immature, when thinking about transforming their classrooms into a more playful environment.  I often hear fears expressed such as, “I don’t have time, because I have a lot to cover.”   In my pre-algebra class, lectures have moments of exciting competitions to keep kids’ interests.  Challenge problems are posed to spark the creative mind.  Application activities involving movement and measurement can reinforce the learning.  I even created a popular game called mathaletics, which combines a relay race with solving equations.  Yes, I probably did spend a little less time lecturing, but I also spent less time reteaching, reviewing, and working on homework in class.  If students are motivated to do their work because they are having fun, then work has become more like play, and students will retain the information in the lessons better.  Not only that, but the more structured fun you have, the less discipline problems you will have, contrary to many fears that teachers might have.  Kids “play around” because they were meant to play.

Brains, UFO’s, Angels, and Containerships: The Power of Story & Anecdotal Evidence

July 23rd, 2010

So, are you living in the real world?  Do you believe things that are unexplainable? Do you believe in aliens, Atlantis, or Bigfoot?   Do you believe in God?  Many very intelligent people, who write the books that I like to read on the brain and mind, often give advice for how to live more true to reality.  They cite statistical analysis pointing out that 73% of Americans believe in something irrational, unexplainable, or transcendent.  I think they want to show that there is a big problem with the way we think, and this common error in thinking is the result of conflicts of interest between our reptilian brain, mammalian brain, and our very special, higher order neocortex brain.  It makes sense that my lower brains are in a survival focus, continually prodding me to eat, stay away from danger, and procreate.  While my higher brain has much loftier goals, like “make a difference in the world,” and “be the best I can be.”  These brain instructions often clash, and I become later dumbstricken by my choices when I am tired or hungry.  Why did I eat those Tortilla Chips last night in front of the TV, whilst supplanting my 1-hour bike ride?  I am guessing that much of our subconscious brain activities are very important, like breathing, keeping that heart going, telling us when we are hungry, and giving us a variety of urges that help encourage us to play the role as a functioning human organism.  If we consciously thought about all of the processes that are automatic, we would be overwhelmed with information and decisions.  It is good that we don’t have to decide when to be hungry, because we might starve if we simply didn’t think about it for a long while.   Okay, so there’s this advice that keeps popping up from experts on the mind and brain, and they might say that it is important to not rely on anecdotal accounts or stories of individuals as evidence, rather, you should always consult statistics and the law of averages.  The authors’ would give an example of a situation where you wanted to buy a car.  You have your eye on the Toyota Corolla, because of what you read in Consumer Reports Magazine, perhaps the top-rated car in its class.  However, upon hearing about your inclinations, a friend of yours tells you about his terrible experiences owning a Toyota Corolla, recounting the numerous recalls, and hassles with various problems.  Eventually, you decide to get a different car, because your friend’s account seems more real to you.  However, this would be the wrong choice, according to logical, higher order thinking, because one account is just that, while consumer reports does testing and research across all brands in multiple instances.  Chances are, you will not have the same experience as your friend, and might increase our troubles by picking a lower rated car.

The idea is that numbers matter, and stories are considerably less reliable.  But something about this notion does not sit well with me, because I believe that the experiences of the many do not necessarily reflect on average the objective reality that we are living in.  The brain is so powerful, that whatever a person believes, the brain filters the world, and colors it accordingly. So in a sense, reality is relative as a subjective observer.  But what if you really do experience an anomaly, which contradicts notions of the current prevailing scientific beliefs?   Theoretically, this could be an opportunity for growth and change in the perceptions of reality.  However, many of these anomalies do not have the sheer numbers of experiences needed to gain a critical mass of believers.  Seeing is believing, they say, but if you never see, how can you believe?

I remember the night when I was really little, when I was living in Honolulu, Hawaii, and my grandmother called us in the middle of the night all excited.  She was the night shift, in-home hospice nurse for a wealthy man who happened to be living in a tall condo on the Waikiki beach.  She told us to look out the window, to see if we could see the amazing specticle, but we were just too far away, and didn’t have the field of view.  She told us about an amazing parade of UFO lights that were in several “V” formations. “V” formation after “V” formation was coming inland from the ocean for over 20 minutes.  At the end of the so-called parade was a very large UFO.  As a registered nurse taking care of a dying patient, I am more inclined to believe that she saw something extraordinary, rather than think that my Gram is “off her rocker.”   In fact, my grandmother is still alive today, having lived over 30 years more of cogent life.  The only problem was, scientifically speaking, no effort was made to corroborate the findings with anyone else. So we can’t be 100% sure it happened. But, it probably did happen.

I try to look up in the sky from time to time, hoping to catch a glimpse of a UFO, so that at least I can have some personal knowledge, but I have not been so lucky.  However, something did happen to me that forever changed the way I view reality.  In college, I had a best friend who would sometimes invite me to her family parties, since I was far from home.  She had a very large and close-knit family, like most Filipino-Americans, they tryed to keep their family-oriented culture going in the states.  One day, my friend’s grandmother died, and she asked me if I would like to come along to the funeral, and subsequent family gathering, so I said I would.I really couldn’t remember if I had met her grandmother or not. There were always so may people at the family gatherings, that I couldn’t say.  After the funeral, we went to her sister’s house to drop off a few things before heading off to the reception.  On the wall was a portrait painting of her grandmother.  We stopped to take a look at it.  I wasn’t really emotional or anything at the time.  I was there for my friend, and she seemed okay, too.  My friend started speaking to the painting, “Don’t worry Apu [Grandma], we will be right back.” At that moment, I couldn’t believe my eyes! I looked at my friend, and she gave me this frozen, fearful look.  We both literally ran out of the house before we said anything, and got into the car. “You tell me first!” both of us puffed at each other.  Both of us had seen something.  I saw the fear in her eyes, and she saw mine.  We just had to do this right, so that we could be certain that we were not cross-pollinating the stories.  Eventually one of us said, ” I saw the painting smile,” “so did I!”  I was so shocked.   I was shocked because I was not even emotionally attached, and yet, I was along for a mystical ride.  Somehow, my mind “saw” the woman in the painting smile, and then it was corroborated by appropriate, non-verbal reactions in my friends expression and then finally verbal confirmation.  We experienced a phenomenon that was not tainted by each other’s input.  We independently “saw” the same thing.  Now, I know the painting didn’t actually smile.  Nor was I primed to believe that a painting could smile.  For all intents and purposes, I was unattached, and did not have any expectations.  It just happened. I really can’t explain it.  But I cherish the experience, because life has revealed at least one mystery to me that has not been satisfactorily explained away.

If you think that was crazy, I have an even more profound one.  During college, I was a self-described, “Jesus-Freak” destroyer.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t delight in bullying people, or get my kicks out of debasing others. I am no sociopath.  I am a truth-seeker.  I believe people should have at their core, an insatiable desire to believe in what is really true.  Getting to truth is another thing, but at least having the desire for truth is as all that is required for eventually finding it.  Most people, in my experience, both scientifically oriented, and religiously oriented,  first decide what they want to believe early in life, with little inquiry, and then spend a lifetime finding ways to defend it.  It is hard to not take sides, but it is imperative that you always be skeptical a little.  If you believe something 100%, there is no wiggle room to get out if you are wrong.   I would attack Christians in debate because I wanted to know the truth–who knows, maybe I could learn something.   I would always walk away the victor–except once, fortunately. Once I was truly beat. I pulled out all of the stops. She listened.  Then she prayed for me. Right there. I was blown away.  I found what I was looking for.  I realized at that point that information and logic are only tools good in the material domain.  There is another domain of the spirit that uses a different set of tools.  As a student of the California Maritime Academy, I went on a commercial cruise for training purposes. Since I had my own cabin, I spent much of my free time in isolation and prayer.  I really wanted to test out what I was learning in church…to have a deeper relationship with God.  What happened was nothing short of amazing.  After about a month of sincere prayer, the world around me began to change.  It had a different quality to it.  It was more colorful, and somewhat transparent, but not in a physical sense.  It was like I could see through the veil of reality, and I could see the energies that were hidden from me before.  I guess it must have been a spiritual looking-glass, except with x-ray vision.  I began to care less about ambitions, and more about people.  I swear, everyone was interesting to me. Everyone! And I don’t really understand this, but it seemed that everyone really cared about me, and looked forward to seeing me.  The Chief Engineer had a beautiful daughter that he wanted me to meet.  Outrageous!  The world began to wrap around me, and the more I loved it, the less I worried about myself, and yet the more opportunities came my way.  People began helping me without asking, and doing things for me that I had only a small concern for now.  It was like heaven, but on a container ship.

In our youth, my older brother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and as such, he is extremely anti-social.  I was thinking about him on the ship, how he is socially awkward, lonely, and very poor.  He doesn’t like to talk.  Trying to hug him is like invading a very tightly held and personal space.  So, in my wonderful, cloud-9 status, I prayed that my brother feel the love that I feel.  “Please Father, send my brother this Love you have given me.”  After my Cruise was over, I decided to visit my brother to see how he was doing, and to spend some time with him at his apartment. Upon arrival, I saw that he was outside waiting for me.  He came right up to me and gave me this big hug.  I was shocked.  I couldn’t believe what had just happened!  He saw my expression, and the first thing he said to me was “Have you been praying for me?” And that was the second shock.  I was in a state of pure and utter amazement.  Something had happened to him.  I asked him, “why do you ask?” and he said, “Well, I don’t believe in this sort of thing, but I think an angel came to me and made me feel Love.”   Bombshell!!!  What!?! Is this happening?!  “Wow, bother, it is true.  I did pray for you, and I asked the God to send you Love.”  An experience like this can’t be explained away.

Okay, so here we are, back at the statistics verses the anecdotal. How do you quantify these life experiences? Is statistics capable of dealing with the reality or non-reality of true experience?  Perhaps the reason why 73% of Americans believe in something that defies explanation, is simply because it happens, and we need a new paradigm of what reality is to help explain it.  Science is an excellent philosophy, and is useful in limited circumstances.   Statistics allows us to reduce instances to numbers that we can manipulate.  But not all things are reducible.  What I have shared with you in my stories is true, and those whom I share these experiences are believers too.  However, you may be reading this, and thinking, well, I don’t believe it.  There are only a few possibilities you can choose between to judge anecdotal evidence:

  • The experience is true (It happened, I told the story)
  • I believe that I experienced it, but it didn’t really happen that way (I hallucinated it, and so did my friend and brother)
  • I am a hoaxer, trying to add archaic misinformation into an otherwise enlightened and reasoned age (I made this all up because I am a sociopath)
  • I experienced something mundane, but misinterpreted it with fancifulness,  then forced my interpretations on others co-experiencers and adding to the memories (big Fish story)

Science has come up with a saying, “extraordinary evidence requires extraordinary proof.”  What I experienced was extraordinary.  Since it is highly subjective in nature, I can only share my story with you, in a form of anecdotal evidence.  But many brain experts believe that these extraordinary experiences cannot fit into the rigidly held belief framework of our scientific culture, and are therefore treated first as nonsense, then given cursory explanations that are grossly unsatisfactory.  It is as if each person has already made up his mind a long time ago, and is incapable of moving outside the box.

Anecdotal evidence can be real evidence.  There may be a degree of uncertainty, but this kind of evidence brings us closer to a variant of truth, and helps us assess over time the possibilities that make up our reality.  We often don’t realize that not believing something that is true, even if there is little hard evidence for it, is just as disconnecting from reality as believing something that is not true.  Anecdotal evidence helps us tap into the unique experiences of individuals in a social network, who are often experts of their own, misunderstood slice of true reality.

Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind

July 16th, 2010
"Kluge" Book

The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind

The book Kluge: the haphazard construction of the human mind, written by Gary Marcus, is an excellent book to read if you are interested in the human mind. It’s overall idea is that our brains have been evolving over time and as such, our more modern brain is actually a kluge of many lesser evolved parts. A kluge, (pronounced Klooge as in Stooge, and sometimes spelled Kludge)  is defined as a badly assembled collection of parts, hastily assembled to serve some purpose.   One real-life example to help illustrate a kluge was during the Apollo 13 mission.  The “Houston, we have a problem,” was fixed by an ingenious kluge design.  Because there was a limited amount of supplies on the space capsule,  a team of engineers got together on earth and came up with a kluge that would do the job that was necessary. This kluge was made up of a lot of random parts that were put together with duct tape or other types of materials that were available. Even though the creation did serve the function, the creation was a haphazard kluge. It was not perfect, and it could have been designed better, if given more time, thought, and materials. The Author, Gary Marcus shows us that different brains have been placed on top of one another over time, through the process of evolution. Because we have a kluge of these different minds piled up on top of each other, a slurry of difficulties arise in our day-to-day lives as human beings. The author cites many examples of how these different brains attempt to interact or work together to either accomplish a goal or to prove that regardless of our higher conscious brain rationality, many times our lower order brains may take charge and make decisions for us.  This is why we often times act differently than we consciously expect to. This is why diets fail, and we often times set goals we do not achieve.  Gary Marcus argues profoundly, that there is no God, because if there was a God, he would have designed the brain to function more rationally instead of having been a kluge, which is an idea that is generally looked at as a poorly designed or a makeshift machine. It is as if God just looked around for whatever parts he could find available to try to make something work.

But there are ways that we can elicit more from our higher brain, while  tricking our lower brains into submission:

  1. Consider Alternative Hypothesis–In any interpretive situation, consider alternative hypotheses.  Your single idea may be the product of gestalt, unconscious whims of a lower brain. Certainty is the enemy, because a single interpretation has no comparative choice analysis, which is a function of your higher conscious mind. In addition, by coming up with alternatives, you are creating more activity in the higher brain.
  2. Re-frame the Question– Ask questions in more than one way.   See both sides of an issue.  Be skeptical of your own viewpoint.  read between the lines.
  3. Correlation is not necessarily causation– Just because successful people often have a large vocabulary, studying works will not necessarily make you  success.  Look for other potential causes of success. Your lower brain will jump to conclusions. Avoid this through careful thinking.
  4. Look at the size of the sample before drawing conclusion–  Was it your best friends conclusion?  We often believe what people we care about believe, even if it is only one person.  The bigger the sample, larger the reliability.  The Law of larger numbers is often ignored.
  5. Anticipate your impulsivity and pre-commit–decide ahead of time what  you will do.  for example, if you see the TV, decide ahead of time to set out your homework on your desk. If you are on a diet, pre-commit to buying only healthy foods when at the store, and only shop when you are not hungry, or tired.
  6. Don’t make important decisions when tired or distracted– when tired, distracted, or hungry, your lower brain starts to take over, which makes it harder to make good decisions.
  7. Assume your claims will be spot checked–we think of ourselves a the higher order brain that we have.  If we knew that people were watching everything we did, how would we act differently?  Often, what we do behind closed doors and out of the public eye are actions initiated by our lower brains.
  8. Distance yourself.  avoid compulsion– what is your long-term goal? How will my future self appreciate this?
  9. Beware of the vivid, personal, and anecdotal– take time to reflect.  Just because it is cool, interesting, or beautiful, doesn’t necessarily make it better.  Even a good story we can relate to can fool us.
  10. Try to be rational– Use your higher brain to make the right choices

It is very important to teach the youth how their brains operate, so that they can understand all of the mixed signals that they are getting from their kluge brain.  Through time and patience, the youth can learn how to identify compulsory, low-order brain activity and distinguish it from higher order thinking.

Kluge was a really great read, however, I think that it is fairly safe to say that either God does not exist, or, more likely, we should take Gary Marcus’ advice and consider alternative ways of interpreting why we have a Kluged brain.


July 16th, 2010

Welcome to the BrainTorrent Blog, where Brain, Mind, and Education meet!  In this blog, I will be having fun figuring out ways to incorporate findings from the Brain Sciences and Cognitive Sciences into practical methods and strategies to maximize youth development.  Check back soon!