Monthly Archives: December 2012

Is Your Brain Your Friend?

no donut

Over the millenia our brains have gotten bigger and smarter, building on top of previous, less sophisticated layers.

The “lizard brain” is the base layer and can override our higher purposed, more human layers.

The lizard brain’s main concern is avoiding danger and figuring out if what’s in front of us can be eaten or mated with. I’ll call this the four F’s of the lizard brain : Flee it, fight it, fuck it, or feast on it. And don’t get hurt doing it.

Evolving in environments of scarcity resulted in our brains having a baked-in bias for conserving precious biological resources like our calories, water, body heat, etc. This bias creates a resistance to trying to become the risk taking, wide-ranging, remarkable geniuses we want to be because doing that will possibly use lots of resources our lizard brains want to protect or it feels dangerous.

Given that our brains are hardwired for conserving resources, which used to be hard to come by, we’re predisposed to taking the path of least resistance. Our brains encourage us to sit around, watch TV, and eat lots of sweet and salty food, often all three at once.

Our lizard brain can be tamed. If there’s lots of resistance to attempting something novel that seems ok, that’s probably the agitated lizard brain throwing on the brakes.  Knowing what’s happening, allows you to acknowledge it, and to go on and do what your higher human brain wants to try. Knowledge is power.





More Parties?

Liberty from aboveIt’s Christmas and I went to a party tonight with 19 other folks.

Part of the entertainment was a Yankee swap. Everyone brought one present and put it under the tree. Later, a number between 1 and 20 was randomly assigned to each person.

Starting with 1 and going one person at a time, a gift was selected and opened. When it’s your turn, you can trade for any gift that’s already open – from anyone who’s number is lower than yours and has an open gift.

It’s actually really fun once everyone understands and agrees to the rules. Getting everyone on board is surprisingly tough. There’s drinking, socializing, new people attending, along with different ages and agendas, and not all but mostly Americans I’d say.

Seeing the early stage of explaining the game, I started thinking that it sometimes seems weird that American politics has just two parties. But after seeing how complicated it was getting consensus from lots of parties on the mildly complex scheme of a Yankee swap, I think two parties is the maximum that can get something accomplished.


Resources for Today

the crowToday, Friday, the 21st of December, 2012 isn’t going to be the end of the world. The worldwide catastrophe predicted by some Mayan calendar interpreters won’t happen.

But if you think it might happen and haven’t made preparations yet, here’re some resources for you.

Survival Kits that are ready to buy and ready for most emergencies.

Survival Library can provide some guidance, but you’ll need to be a quick study if you wait until the day of.

Hunter/gathers videos showing how life was, and can still be, lived in a small bands without outside support, this is a video persistence hunting by San Bushmen.

General Emergency preparations, from the CDC, so you won’t need to wait around for help that might not be coming.

Survivorman” is a tv series showing a Canadian guy, with some skills, surviving all sorts of tough situations.

Huts from all over the world where you may be able to ride out a global calamity.

Even though worldwide disasters are very unlikely, local disasters are likely to happen so it’s a good idea to be prepared just in case because you’ll likely be without the internet.



The Long Thread

You’ll need to use your imagination for this.

Start with a postcard sized photo of your dad. Then one of his dad, and his dad, and keep going back for 185 million generations. How long would the shelf holding those millions of postcards be? It’d be about 40 miles long. Your picture would be at the 40 mile mark and your ancestor’s from 185 million generations ago is at the other end, at mile zero. That picture at mile zero would be of a fish!

There isn’t a distinct point when you could say a fish becomes a man. The natural selection process is slow, but steady, with lots of hard-to-notice small changes.

If you looked back 400 generations, about 10,000 years, your ancestor would look like we do now if you dressed them up. You could have kids with someone living around them. But go back 50,000 generations, about a million years, and your ancestor will be different enough to be called homo erectus, instead of sapien, and you wouldn’t be able have kids together, if you were even interested in trying to do that.

So, at what point could you call our ancestral fish’s offspring a man? That depends on how tightly you define man. Compare it to when you were growing up. When was the exact time when you the toddler, became you the child? The distinction is sort of subjective and hard to say exactly. But the thread of you is there. As time goes on you’ll look similar but just a little different, compared to pictures nearby. Each postcard picture will be the same species as relatives on the postcards on either side of the one you’re looking at.

So it’s hard to say when humans became humans. But it’s fun thinking about the long thread that is you and how long you’d be recognizable.

I need to give credit for this story idea to Richard Dawkin’s “The Magic of Reality.”



Smart Lights

Technology allows us a lifestyle different from the lives we’re hardwired for.

We’re hardwired for a world that, for most privileged people, no longer exists. Eating as often as we want to. Avoiding extreme temperatures. Managing pain and  illnesses. And staying up as late as we please, because now we have plenty of light at night.

Our natural schedule for going to sleep and waking early is still there, but electric lights blunt our baked-in tendency for early evening sleep.

As technology gets smarter maybe it’ll start to adjusting to us, because we can’t adjust fast enough to it. So, I’ve been wondering when we’ll start seeing smart lights in our built-up modern world. It shouldn’t be too long before lights will automatically dim gradually according to the time of night, the seasons of the year, and how far we are from the equator.

We’ll still stay up late, but maybe if lights dim more as the night progresses we’ll be able to go to sleep easier and to sleep better.



I’ve started teaching science twice a week to two home-schooled 13 year olds.

Before making a map of where you’d like to go, you need to know where you are; so we started out discussing what they already know about science. One of the kids thought “Pretty much everything’s been discovered by now.” The other one didn’t have too much to say about the subject.

Luckily, neither one knows a lot about science, or is religious, so they’re both blank slates when it comes to science. Maybe they’ll find science fun and interesting.

Science is about how stuff works; it’s really just finding a thing that you want to figure out, and coming up with a model of how you think it works. Next, test and record “experiments” using your model. And finally showing the results to your peers for comment; and hopefully they’ll also try to repeat what you did. And there’s still lots of stuff science doesn’t understand yet.

Most people find the story part of science more interesting than the spreadsheet part; people prefer words over numbers.

Fortunately, there’re lots of science stories to tell before you need to get into formulas and numbers. The story part of science provides the frame to hang the formula and numbers part on. Hopefully these two kids will like finding out how their world works. Who knows, maybe they’ll start asking about the formula and numbers part.

But if they only wind up understanding the story part, they’ll still be way ahead of most people in appreciating the world we live in.


A Hundred Dollar Guitar

Two guitarist chipped in 50 bucks each for a cheap electric guitar. They used it to create a recording project.

They shipped it around the world to other guitar players. Each guitarist had a week to compose and record some original music for the crappy guitar. That guitarist signed the guitar before sending it on to the next artist. So far, more than 60 guitarists, some well-known, have participated.

The crappy guitar encouraged players to try out ideas they wouldn’t ordinarily be doing on a high-end, fancy guitar.

I heard this story on NPR the same day I’d posted a blog called “Crappy Things.” It’s about attaching the adjective “crappy” to things you want to do and stick with, lessening the pressure you might feel about having to do something perfectly (and so maybe avoid doing it).

In the hierarchy of guitars, a hundred dollar guitar is a crappy guitar I guess.


Crappy Things

Tricking yourself into doing something you’re interested in and want to keep doing may not be so hard. Try attaching the adjective crappy to your activity that you want to do. I mean “crappy” in the sense of “not to be regarded in any special way,” allowing you to keep the spirit of your endeavor playful and less serious.

Just write two crappy pages a day. Just do ten crappy minutes of meditation a day. Just do ten crappy push ups a day. Just take a crappy twenty minute walk every day. Just post two crappy blogs a week.

You can apply it to almost anything. It encourages an approach of kindness to yourself.

The idea came to me after hearing a writer, with three published and successful books, say his goal is to write 2 crappy pages a day.

Two crappy pages a day is a low quota and not too daunting a task. It removes most of the pressure so it’s easier to get started; once you’re started you can always write more.

I heard an interview with a Navy SEAL who said he breaks up big, hard tasks into micro tasks. For example, to complete a long slog with a lot of gear on, he’d focus on making it to a small landmark maybe just twenty meters ahead, and when he got there he’d create another micro task.

Micro. Crappy. Same idea. As long as it encourages us to take small steps that’ll add up to something big.