Archive for the ‘body’ Category

Larger than life with a small ‘l’ – ant colonies and the big mind

Friday, March 19, 2010

I don’t know how this can be explained purely by the neo-Darwinian idea that the purpose of life is to propagate one’s genes. (Could such architecture be programmed within the genes of a single ant???)  And I don’t know how this can be explained without some notion of supra-organism intelligence or mind. Watch and wonder at our world -

- and consider the supra-human mind of which we must be a part. Might there be a dimension to Life with a capital ‘L’ that we forget in our ‘own’, individual lives?

Cities rot the brain: why we need nature

Friday, January 9, 2009

Catananche caerulea by sftrajan.
Catananche caerulea, by sftrajan

Extract from an article in the Boston Globe that mostly makes sense (except where the author seems to suggest nature is an ‘all calming’ influence; he needs to get out more!) -

While the human brain possesses incredible computational powers, it’s surprisingly easy to short-circuit: all it takes is a hectic city street.

“I think cities reveal how fragile some of our ‘higher’ mental functions actually are,” Kuo says. “We take these talents for granted, but they really need to be protected.”

Related research has demonstrated that increased “cognitive load” — like the mental demands of being in a city — makes people more likely to choose chocolate cake instead of fruit salad, or indulge in a unhealthy snack. This is the one-two punch of city life: It subverts our ability to resist temptation even as it surrounds us with it, from fast-food outlets to fancy clothing stores. The end result is too many calories and too much credit card debt.

City life can also lead to loss of emotional control. Kuo and her colleagues found less domestic violence in the apartments with views of greenery. These data build on earlier work that demonstrated how aspects of the urban environment, such as crowding and unpredictable noise, can also lead to increased levels of aggression. A tired brain, run down by the stimuli of city life, is more likely to lose its temper.

Long before scientists warned about depleted prefrontal cortices, philosophers and landscape architects were warning about the effects of the undiluted city, and looking for ways to integrate nature into modern life. Ralph Waldo Emerson advised people to “adopt the pace of nature,” while the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted sought to create vibrant urban parks, such as Central Park in New York and the Emerald Necklace in Boston, that allowed the masses to escape the maelstrom of urban life.

Although Olmsted took pains to design parks with a variety of habitats and botanical settings, most urban greenspaces are much less diverse. This is due in part to the “savannah hypothesis,” which argues that people prefer wide-open landscapes that resemble the African landscape in which we evolved. Over time, this hypothesis has led to a proliferation of expansive civic lawns, punctuated by a few trees and playing fields.

However, these savannah-like parks are actually the least beneficial for the brain. In a recent paper, Richard Fuller, an ecologist at the University of Queensland, demonstrated that the psychological benefits of green space are closely linked to the diversity of its plant life. When a city park has a larger variety of trees, subjects that spend time in the park score higher on various measures of psychological well-being, at least when compared with less biodiverse parks.

“We worry a lot about the effects of urbanization on other species,” Fuller says. “But we’re also affected by it. That’s why it’s so important to invest in the spaces that provide us with some relief.”

When a park is properly designed, it can improve the function of the brain within minutes. As the Berman study demonstrates, just looking at a natural scene can lead to higher scores on tests of attention and memory. While people have searched high and low for ways to improve cognitive performance, from doping themselves with Red Bull to redesigning the layout of offices, it appears that few of these treatments are as effective as simply taking a walk in a natural place.

Given the myriad mental problems that are exacerbated by city life, from an inability to pay attention to a lack of self-control, the question remains: Why do cities continue to grow? And why, even in the electronic age, do they endure as wellsprings of intellectual life?

Recent research by scientists at the Santa Fe Institute used a set of complex mathematical algorithms to demonstrate that the very same urban features that trigger lapses in attention and memory — the crowded streets, the crushing density of people — also correlate with measures of innovation, as strangers interact with one another in unpredictable ways. It is the “concentration of social interactions” that is largely responsible for urban creativity, according to the scientists. The density of 18th-century London may have triggered outbreaks of disease, but it also led to intellectual breakthroughs, just as the density of Cambridge — one of the densest cities in America — contributes to its success as a creative center. One corollary of this research is that less dense urban areas, like Phoenix, may, over time, generate less innovation.

The key, then, is to find ways to mitigate the psychological damage of the metropolis while still preserving its unique benefits. Kuo, for instance, describes herself as “not a nature person,” but has learned to seek out more natural settings: The woods have become a kind of medicine. As a result, she’s better able to cope with the stresses of city life, while still enjoying its many pleasures and benefits.

Farce of the week: prison break out… by courier!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

From the BBC -

A manhunt is under way in western Germany for a convicted drug dealer who escaped by mailing himself out of jail.

The 42-year-old Turkish citizen – who was serving a seven-year sentence – had been making stationery with other prisoners destined for the shops.

At the end of his shift, the inmate climbed into a cardboard box and was taken out of prison by express courier. His whereabouts are still unknown.

The chief warden of the jail told the BBC this was an embarrassing incident.

To say the least.  Priceless.

Uphold democracy, prosecute Cheney and Bush

Thursday, November 13, 2008

If, like me, you appreciate the freedom that living in a democratic country affords, then you really should familiarise yourself with this well-crafted documentary: it clarifies why the Bush-Cheney administration should be prosecuted for war crimes. Via The Daily Dish.

The Restoration Begins

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

obama by kungfusoi.Uploaded to flickr by kingfusoi

From CNN’s political ticker -

During the long campaign, the timing of Obama’s entrances at rallies was meticulously coordinated – the preliminary orators (usually local government officials and candidates) spoke, the music and its pacing built up with the intention of quickening the pulses of the crowds, and then, at exactly the right moment, Obama, the candidate, would make his entrance.

But by late last night Obama was no longer a candidate, and there was no need to pump up the sense of anticipation, and the evening’s events – the concession call from John McCain, the congratulatory call from President Bush – were being dealt with as they rapidly occurred on a timetable Obama’s staff could not control. So there was some dead time in the park before Obama appeared on the stage.

And the crowd, for just those brief few moments, became all but mute. They weren’t certain what was going to happen next.

What happened next, in the crisp and clear night, was the Obama family suddenly coming into sight. Then, the cheers reached the sky. But in the quiet that preceded…

In that quiet there was the recognition:

Here comes the part of this drama that is unknown and unknowable.

Here – in the days and weeks and years ahead – comes life; here comes events that know no schedule, that can’t be planned, that will appear on no carefully constructed itinerary.

The silence from the crowd was like an intake of breath.

The silence said:

Here we are– we, the people in Grant Park; we, the people of the United States; we, the people of the world. Here we are, and none of us – not even and especially the man on the stage, the man just elected to be the 44th president – can be sure of what lies ahead.

If some in the audience – those of us in the park, and those watching around the world – sensed perhaps the slightest sliver of a subdued tone in Obama’s voice, a perceptible difference in his timbre, if not his words, from how he had sounded on the campaign trail, the shift was understandable.

It may have been his own version – intentional or involuntary – of that sudden silence that fell over the crowd. He can’t be silent, in any sense of that word – he is going to be the president. But during that same span late last night when the audience, in its brief hush, seemed to be acknowledging that everything – everything – had just changed, so, too, Obama appeared to be sending the signal, to the rest of us and maybe to himself, that he was well aware of the change, and was already beginning to deal with it.

He is no longer a candidate seeking something. Last night’s Chicago weather – so warm and inviting for November – was deceptive; it will not be warm here very much longer. Obama, of all people, knows that; he has lived in Chicago long enough to realize that balmy days with winter coming are the most predictable of teases.

The silence of the crowd ended and the roar greeted him, and as he, a man just hired for a new job, looked out at the people and at his city’s glorious skyline, you asked yourself if the thought may have been crossing his mind:

There will, in my life, be other good nights. But none of them will ever be as good as this one.

Shove a piece of the pipeline up your considerable a**, Palin

Thursday, October 30, 2008

- that from a new blog, Margaret and Helen, set up by two octogenarian friends living in different parts of the USA so they could stay in touch. (The pipeline referred to is a $40 billion, Alaskan natural-gas pipeline – about which, surprise surprise, Sarah Palin has been less than economical with the truth.)  The language may be a bit blue – and I may be a bit British for saying so. But this, Helen’s polite request, comes with feeling:

Please take your ridiculous hair, your over lipstick-smacking mouth, your Lenscrafter look smarter glasses and your poorly fitted designer jackets back to Alaska.   And when you get there, shove a piece of the pipeline up your considerable ass.  I’ll be damned if we’ll put our children’s future in your hands.

Helen was taught how to blog by her grandson, and met her friend Margaret sixty years ago in college.  That would have been 1948 – the year President Truman authorised the post-WWII Marshall Plan, the Berlin Blockade and the Cold War began, and the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sarah.

Via The Daily Dish.

‘Hot drinks all round!’ How to make friends and influence people

Friday, October 24, 2008

From today’s Guardian -

A steaming hot drink may be all it takes to see the world through rose-tinted glasses, psychologists have found.

Holding a warm cup of coffee was enough to make people think strangers were more welcoming and trustworthy, while a cold drink had the opposite effect, a study found.

The warmth of a drink also influenced whether people were more likely to be selfish or give to others, researchers report in the journal Science. A team led by John Bargh at the University of Colorado set about testing whether hot and iced drinks influenced perceptions of others after noting how frequently “warm” and “cold” are used to describe personalities.

In one test, 41 volunteers were asked to hold a cup of coffee while they took an escalator to a fourth-floor lab. Once there, they were asked to read about a fictional character and give their impression of them. The test was then repeated using an iced coffee drink.

The psychologists found the volunteers perceived the fictional strangers as significantly warmer characters after holding the hot drink.

Consuming for the economy or the future?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Alastair McIntosh was contributing BBC Radio 4′s Thought for the Day yesterday.  Here’s an excerpt -

Our conundrum is that we need more consumption to save the economy, but less to save the planet.

Spending our way out of a recession is therefore only a stop-gap measure. It’s methadone for our planetary heroin addiction.

We simply feed the habit if we think that today’s problems can be tackled at conventional political, technical or economic levels. If we’re redefining our “central mission”, we must press further.

Technical fixes are certainly part of the solution. But I’d put it to you that the deep work must be this: to learn to live more abundantly with less, to rekindle community, and to serve fundamental human need instead of worshiping at the altars of greed.

The crisis of these times is therefore spiritual. It calls for reconnecting our inner lives with the outer world – an expansion of consciousness. And that’s an opportunity that we neglect at our peril, for as I once heard an old Quaker woman say, “It is perilous, to neglect one’s spiritual life.

Living to see the day

Thursday, October 23, 2008

From an early voting line in Indiana, USA -

… the family in front of me, comprising probably 4 generations of voters (including an 18 year old girl voting for her first time and a 90-something hunched-over grandmother), got their turn to vote. When the old woman left the voting booth she made it about halfway to the door before collapsing in a nearby chair, where she began weeping uncontrollably. When we rushed over to help we realized that she wasn’t in trouble at all but she had not truly believed, until she left the booth, that she would ever live long enough to cast a vote for an African-American for president.


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