Wednesday, February 16, 2011

David Rock @ GoogleTechTalks on Your Brain at Work

I don't know how I came across this, but it proved very interesting, and it should prove very useful. In short, Mr. Rock talks about how our brain works and how we can use our knowledge about how it works to improve our lives. He talks about 4 primary topics:

1. The rational is overvalued. It's only a small part of our brain, it processes serially and rather slowly, and it uses a lot of energy. On the other hand, it's most important function may be to say "no" to motor or emotional impulses.

2. Emotions are misunderstood. We color everything in our world with either a positive or a negative valence. We can change our attitude toward the outside world to some extent.

3. The social world is our main concern. We are social animals through and through. We depend on each other for survival, not just our individual wits. We have the following concerns as social animals: SCARF
Status
Certainty
Autonomy
Relatedness
Fairness

4. Attention. As we learn to pay attention, as we learn mindfulness, we learn to change our brain. We can develop brain skills that enhance our lives.

This was quite an interesting talk. I've seen a couple of GoogleTechTalks, which are very much like TED Talks, in that they have excellent presenters. These talks are a bit longer and have less production glitz than many TED Talks, but the quality of the presentation and topics (well, the two that I've seen) have impressed me.

Rock also cited these two articles that further examine his thinking:
"Managing with the Brain in Mind" and "The Neuroscience of Mindfulness"

Good stuff!

Ferguson: Historian as Commentator

This long interview of Ferguson about his cover story in Newsweek about the Obama Administration's actions in Egypt raises a really interesting background question: does a deep knowledge of history give one a deeper insight into current events? Does Ferguson, who certainly is well versed in the history of the last couple of centuries, have greater insight into current events? Some random thoughts:
1. Ferguson loves controversy. I think this love of controversy may cloud his judgment.
2. As I mentioned in a comment to my last post (yes, I'm down to commenting on my own posts!), the author of Virtual History should know better than to criticize those who fail to forecast events.
3. I think that he is right in pushing the idea of scenarios. That is, consideration of multiple futures, not knowing which will prevail. Acknowledge the limitation of knowledge.
4. Is the Muslim Brotherhood so strong and so reactionary? I don't know. Does he, really?
5. He mocks Obama for calling Islam and religion of peace, and certainly a lot of evidence that it's not. But would he mock anyone if they said Christianity is a religion of peace? Certainly a lot of evidence that it's not. Religion, for a great many people, is considered no more seriously than their choice of language. They're born with it, enough said. This allows those who want to, to manipulate people rather easily toward violence. Violence and religion have an awfully long history. (See Rene Girard's works.)
6. I have some sympathy for Ferguson's argument that we need some greater sense of grand strategy.
7. One more interview on Parker-Spitzer: http://parkerspitzer.blogs.cnn.com/2011/02/14/niall-ferguson-obamas-handling-of-the-egyptian-crisis-was-a-foreign-policy-debacle/.
8. Perhaps U.S. policy was wise to play it both ways? Ferguson is quite critical of this, but I'm not convinced that it will necessarily prove so bad. You play both sides of the street, hedge your bets. If you don't screw the winner, the winner can forget easily enough if you offer the right attitude following. On the other hand: Iran 1979.