Archive for April 2012
Thinking about thinking in another language….
“So how does French or Japanese or Spanish help? One would think that having to puzzle out a question in a foreign language would make people more likely to foul up the answer. Not so, say Keysar and his co-authors. Cognitive biases such as loss aversion are deeply emotional responses, and understanding a second language requires conscious thought in a way that processing our native tongue doesn’t. Because we have to think more to make sense of the question when it’s in a foreign language, we automatically think carefully about the answer—we don’t just answer based on our cognitive biases. “A foreign language is like a distancing mechanism,” says Keysar. “It’s almost like you’re a slightly different person. You’re removed from yourself.” Interestingly, other researchers have found that you can get a similar effect by writing a question not in a different language but just in a difficult-to-read font.”
via To Avoid Stupid Mistakes, Think in French – Businessweek.
” “Jonah Lehrer, a regular contributor to Radiolab, is now on a book tour, touting his new best-seller Imagine. Its a book that explores creativity and the brain. The other day at a book signing, he bumped into a fourth-grader who asked him if theres such a thing as too much creativity. “Isnt it possible,” the 9-year-old asked, “that humans are too creative?”
(Jonah attracts worried 9-year-olds. Its his curse.)
Jonah says he mumbled something about brilliant minds creating terrible weapons, and the kid gave him a “thats all you got?” look, and they went their separate ways. But, Jonah being Jonah, he kept rolling the question around in his head until last week, he came up with a better answer, which hes just published on his blog, Frontal Cortex……
….New Ideas Create Scarcity
There is always a tension, says West, between what we want and the resources available. We want to move, see, explore, hunt. To do that, we need more food, more fire to cook food, more wood for those fires, more animals to ride. When trees got scarce, when horses clogged our streets, we invented engines — steam engines, then coal engines. Then oil, then gas. And when those fuels got scarce, we tried nuclear; and when nuclear got too dangerous, we invented hybrids. And soon we’ll have electric cars until we run out of lithium for the batteries. Human history, says Professor West, is the story of new ideas creating scarcity. We create, we build, then we run out of what we need. Then we invent something new.
Every time we come to the brink, when we run out of resources, we innovate. “The only solution to the problem of human innovation is more innovation,” says Jonah.
“These major innovations completely changed the way society operates,” West says. “It’s like we’re on the edge of a cliff, about to run out of something, and then we find a new way of creating wealth. That means we can start to climb again.”
But then the new solution creates yet another shortage, and we’ve got to innovate to keep from collapsing. “So here’s the paradox,” says Jonah. “Creativity is the only solution to the very real problem of creativity.” ”
At some point, this cycle of more-ness — our increasing whale-ness — is going to hit the wall.
“Because our lifestyle has become so expensive to maintain,” Jonah writes, “every new resource now becomes exhausted at a faster rate. This means that the cycle of innovations has to constantly accelerate, with each breakthrough providing a shorter reprieve. The end result is that our creativity isn’t just increasing the pace of life; it is also increasing the pace at which life changes.”
“It’s like being on a treadmill that keeps on getting faster,” West says. “We used to get a big revolution every few thousand years. And then it took us a century to go from the steam engine to the internal-combustion engine. Now we’re down to about 15 years between big innovations. What this means is that, for the first time ever, people are living through multiple revolutions.”
via Jonah And His Many, Many Whales : Krulwich Wonders… : NPR.
“The DirectedCreativity Cycle: A Synthesis Model of the Creative Process
The DirectedCreativity Cycle is a synthesis model of creative thinking that combines the concepts behind the various models proposed over the last 80+ years.
The DirectedCreativity Cycle
Let’s walk through it, beginning at the 9:00 position on the circle. We live everyday in the same world as everyone else, but creative thinking begins with careful observation of that world coupled with thoughtful analysis of how things work and fail. These mental processes create a store of concepts in our memories. Using this store, we generate novel ideas to meet specific needs by actively searching for associations among concepts. There are many specific techniques that we can use to make these association; for example, analogies, branching out from a given concept, using a random word, classic brainstorming, and so on. The choice of technique is not so important; making the effort to actively search for associations is what is key.
Seeking the balance between satisficing and premature judgment, we harvest and further enhance our ideas before we subject them to a final, practical evaluation. But, it is not enough just to have creative thoughts; ideas have no value until we put in the work to implement them. Every new idea that is put into practice changes the world we live in, which re-starts the cycle of observation and analysis.
Directed creativity simply means that we make purposeful mental movements to avoid the pitfalls associated with our cognitive mechanisms at each step of this process of searching for novel and useful ideas.
For purposes of explanation, we can further divide this model into four phases. We will use these four phases of Preparation, Imagination, Development, and Action to organize the tools of directed creativity in other working papers.
Note that this model continues in the tradition of others in asserting that creativity is a balance of imagination and analysis. The model also purposefully avoids taking a stand on the controversy of whether imagination is a conscious or subconscious mental ability. While I personally believe that imagination is a conscious, non-magical mental action, the activity of “generation” in the model welcomes creative ideas regardless of their source. Finally, notice that this model clearly supports the notion that innovation is a step beyond the simple generation of creative ideas. The Action phase of the model makes it clear that creative ideas have value only when they are implemented in the real world.”
via Working Paper: Creativity Models.
“Reuters – The Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana BAV said on Thursday they intended to digitize 1.5 million pages of ancient texts and make them freely available online.
The libraries said the digitized collections will centre on three subject areas: Greek manuscripts, 15th-century printed books and Hebrew manuscripts and early printed books.The areas have been chosen for the strength of the collections in both libraries and their importance for scholarship in their respective fields.With approximately two-thirds of the material coming from the BAV and the remainder from the Bodleian, the digitization effort will also benefit scholars by uniting virtually materials that have been dispersed between the collections for centuries.
“Transforming these ancient texts and images into digital form helps transcend the limitations of time and space which have in the past restricted access to knowledge,” Bodleys librarian Sarah Thomas said.”Scholars will be able to interrogate these documents in fresh approaches as a result of their online availability.
“The initiative has been made possible by a 2 million pound $3.17 million award from the Polonsky Foundation.”The service to humanity which the Vatican Library has accomplished over almost six centuries, by preserving its cultural treasures and making them available to readers, finds here a new avenue which confirms and amplifies its universal vocation through the use of new tools, thanks to the generosity of the Polonsky Foundation and to the sharing of expertise with the Bodleian Libraries,” Holy See Librarian Cardinal Raffaele Farina said.”
via Oxford University, Vatican libraries to digitize works | Reuters.
“3 Critical Insights Into Creativity From Jonah Lehrer’s “Imagine”
HERE’S WHY THE BOOK IS A MUST-READ FOR DESIGNERS SEARCHING FOR THE NEXT BREAKTHROUGH.
Designers spend a lot of time giving advice to each other. There has been a litany of books by designers for designers. There have been a few by business people on how design can benefit business. But there have not been many about the process of design and creativity at the most fundamental level of all–the human brain. Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine is that book. Released a few weeks ago, it’s the most important book to hit design in many years, because it goes to the heart of how the mind works and offers surprising and immediately useful ideas on the neurological origins of creative insight.
For an interview with Lehrer, click here.
Through a series of stories about some of history’s greatest creative breakthroughs, Lehrer takes the reader into how those “aha” moments happen. By starting at the level of the individual and scaling up to communities, corporations, and even cities, Lehrer presents a measured and invigorating view of how our brains imagine new things. The book contains an endless array of helpful ways to think about creativity, but here are a few that struck me as most relevant to designers.”…..
Continue to the full article and a second, longer video….
via 3 Critical Insights Into Creativity From Jonah Lehrer’s “Imagine” | Co.Design: business + innovation + design.
“Thinking Smarter About People Who Think Differently
One of the forthcoming books I’m most excited about is Steve Silberman’s NeuroTribes: A smarter way of thinking about people who think differently. Like Oliver Sacks (and Steve has written the definitive profile of the neurologist), Steve is an incredibly sensitive observer of others. (He’s also a gifted writer and absurdly nice guy.) Steve isn’t interested in mere description of a condition – he wants to understand how his subjects see the world, immersing himself in their pleasures, passions and struggles.
Last weekend in The Wall Street Journal, I wrote about a new study looking at the information processing advantages of those with autism: they seem to notice more, at least in the visual realm. Given Steve’s book-in-progress and the inherent complexity of the subject, I was eager to ask him some questions. He was gracious enough to send along a few answers.
Steve is a long time contributor to Wired Magazine and blogs about science, mind, and culture at NeuroTribes on the Public Library of Science. He lives with his husband Keith Karraker in San Francisco.
LEHRER: How should the public think about autism? Is it a disease? A disability? Should we be searching for a cure?
SILBERMAN: Autism is one way of being human. The quickest way to cure yourself of shallow assumptions and stereotypes is to talk to autistic adults, who are often marginalized and overlooked in the national conversation. In the course of doing research for my book, I’ve spent a lot of time with adults on the spectrum and their families. When you’re talking to a soulful, witty, complex man or woman — in spoken language, email, or using text-to-speech software — the endless debates about autism and its likely cause du jour fade into the background. What steps forth is a whole person who struggles with certain issues day to day, many of which are made worse by the truly shocking lack of societal resources committed to helping autistic adults live happier, more secure, and more independent lives.
Autistic people are routinely described as lacking empathy and a sense of humor, having basic emotional deficits, or being so obsessive about their special interests that they must make boring company. But nothing could be further from the truth. One of the great secrets of life on the spectrum is how witty and playful autistic adults can be. Hans Asperger, one of two researchers who independently discovered autism in the 1940s, noticed how autistic people love punning. And Gawker has nothing on autistic snark. Imagine Mr. Spock on Star Trek arching a Vulcan eyebrow in the face of McCoy’s “highly illogical” behavior, and you have a perfect visual representation of how the follies of neurotypical society look to many autistic adults.
That said, autistic people do face certain challenges that seem built-in to the condition. They struggle with things like scheduling, prioritizing, multitasking, and becoming overwhelmed in noisy, social environments. They need a lot of time and space alone, as well as time spent in the company of other autistic people. One of the most beautiful and meaningful weeks I’ve ever spent was at an annual event called Autreat, where a few dozen people on the spectrum hang out together in “autistic space.” There are scheduled presentations and group activities, but it’s a very relaxing, low-pressure environment; really, a culture of its own, with its own traditions. For example, instead of erupting into applause after a presentation, Autreat folks raise their hands in the air and flap them. It’s a wonderful way of expressing appreciation without creating a burst of noise, and also of destigmatizing behavior for which they were punished and bullied as kids. Returning to the neurotypical world after a few days at Autreat was like landing in Times Square after spending a couple of months in Japan. “Normal” behavior suddenly seemed so loud, in-your-face, full of vacuous social posturing and braggadocio.
Of course, some autistic people — particularly as kids — can’t use spoken language at all, or have problems with self-injurious behavior. This is understandably highly upsetting to parents. But I’ve met many autistic adults who were written off as non-verbal or profoundly intellectually disabled when they were young, who turned out to be hilariously verbal and creative, given the right kinds of support and assistive technology. That doesn’t always happen. But you never know what the limits of a human life are until it’s been lived.
These are the reasons why I think it’s much more helpful and accurate to think of autism as a disability. Society understands that disabled people deserve respect, support, and reasonable accommodations. Autistic people deserve those things too. But autism fundraising organizations devote millions and millions of dollars a year to genetic research, and only a tiny fraction of that on researching things that could vastly improve the quality of life for autistic people and their families, like developing new applications of assistive technology for affordable platforms like the iPad. Neurotypicals stereotype autistics as obsessed and perseverative, but neurotypical society is obsessed and perseverative when talking about causes and cures for autism. We just spent ten years of very expensive research hunting for autism genes, only to discover that autism genetics is much more complex than we thought. We’re investing all this money in trying to make autistic people go away, instead of helping the millions of autistic people who are already here lead happier, safer, and more productive lives. That’s a shameful squandering of human resources.
LEHRER: What do you think this new study can teach us about so-called autistic savants?
SILBERMAN: Savants like Raymond Babbitt – the central character played by Dustin Hoffman in the 1988 film “Rain Man” — are one way that society got interested in what was formerly considered a very rare, even obscure disorder. That’s natural. Savant talents can be very impressive, even mind-blowing.
I remember meeting a wonderful young jazz musician named Matt Savage — who I wrote about in Wired — when he was 11. The first thing he said to me, in classic autistic fashion, was “When were you born?” I said “December 23, 1957.” He replied instantly, “Aw, Monday’s child, fair of face.” Obviously, that’s fascinating. The reigning authority on savant syndrome, Darold Treffert, told me that Matt is the “rarest of the rare.”
But what’s he doing now, nine years later? He’s doing what any very committed young jazz musician should do: he’s playing gigs with his trio and studying at Berklee College of Music. The fact that he received a diagnosis of PDD-NOS when he was a baby seems less important now than the fact that he’s developing his creativity and honing his distinctive skills, which include the special gifts of his atypical brain.
The most provocative thing about Nilli Lavie’s new study is that it shows that one of these gifts — the ability to take in high amounts of visual information at any one time — is not limited to savants, but is a feature of the characteristic ways that autistic brains process information. The study suggests that we’re looking at autistic savants the wrong way — instead of being “the rarest of the rare,” they’re representative of an autistic cognitive style that can be superior to that of neurotypicals in some ways. It’s time to talk less about autistic deficits and extraordinary savants, and more about the strengths of atypical cognitive styles like autism.
I asked one of the researchers who worked on the study, Anna Remington, about its implications. She told me, “Sometimes this extra information can be a distraction, but in many situations, it will mean that autistics can perform at a higher level than typical adults. This knowledge could be used to create learning programs that harness these special abilities, and also highlights the fact that there are areas such as data analysis and IT where individuals with ASD could make an important contribution to society. We hope that understanding this increased ability to process information may enable people with the condition to capitalize on their unique strengths.”
LEHRER: How has researching your forthcoming book changed the way you think about the condition?
SILBERMAN: When I first started thinking about a book after writing “The Geek Syndrome” ten years ago, I was mostly interested in the science of causes and cures, like a typical neurotypical. Now I’m much more interested in addressing the social problems faced by autistic people and their families. By continuing to think about autism as a disease in search of a cure instead of a disability that deserves support, services, accomodations, and highly creative research into education and assistive technology, we’re a society in denial. The new CDC report saying that one in 88 children is autistic should be a wake-up call to the fact that we’re currently offering very few resources to these folks once they become adults. Instead of asking “How can we cure autism?” we should be asking, “How can we ensure that millions of autistic people lead happy and healthy lives?” “
via Frontal Cortex | Wired Science | Wired.com.
Visual fodder for the mind ” The Google Art Project ….
“Google has added a further 151 galleries and museums to its Art Project, which allows anyone with a computer to consider a virtual wander through the treasures of Versailles, the joys of the National Gallery in London or, if the mood takes them, Brazilian street graffiti in São Paulo.
The expansion of the project, which allows virtual access to artworks in 40 countries, means more than 30,000 objects are available to view, compared with 1,000 in the first version launched last year.
The head of the project, Amit Snood, said: “The Art Project is going global, thanks to our new partners from around the world. It’s no longer just about the Indian student wanting to visit Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It is also about the American student wanting to visit the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi.”
Ten more British galleries are joining the National Gallery and the Tate, which were already in the scheme. In London they include England’s first public gallery, the 201-year-old Dulwich Picture Gallery, the V&A, the Serpentine Gallery, the Royal Collection, the Imperial War Museum and the Jewish Museum. Also there are the National Galleries of Scotland and the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.
A total of 46 museums have been given the 360-degree Google Street View treatment, allowing visitors to wander through crowd-free galleries using only their mouse – from Tate Britain to the White House to the National Gallery of Australia.
For the others, users will be able to browse a vast array of treasures in high resolution, whether paintings, photographs, sculptures or decorative pieces.
The V&A’s director of programming and public affairs, Damien Whitmore, said he was delighted to be joining up. He said: “Some of the V&A’s greatest treasures will be able to view in extraordinary high resolution for the first time – from the famous Gloucester candlestick, a masterpiece of English metalwork, to the Ardabil carpet, one of the largest examples of Islamic carpets in existence, the wedding suit that the Duke of York wore to his wedding in 1673 to one of the finest examples of Donatello’s work in relief.”
Google also said it was adding new explore and discover tools allowing users to find artworks by period or type or artist.”
via Ten more UK galleries join Google Art Project’s virtual culture tours | Art and design | guardian.co.uk.