The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.
I love reading but over years I haven’t been doing a great job at keeping my brain muscles in shape with books, so last year I started making concerted efforts to change that.
So far this year I’ve read 20 books and I use Goodreads to review and keep track of them all.
Eighth graders in Biloxi, Miss., will no longer be required to read “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about racial inequality and the civil rights movement that has been taught in countless classrooms and influenced generations of readers.
Kenny Holloway, the vice president of the Biloxi School Board, told The Sun Herald there had been complaints about the book.
“There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable, and we can teach the same lesson with other books,” he said. “It’s still in our library. But they’re going to use another book in the eighth-grade course.”
The book is supposed to make people feel uncomfortable.
Twitter is increasing their character limit from 140 to 280:
We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter, so we’re doing something new: we’re going to try out a longer limit, 280 characters, in languages impacted by cramming (which is all except Japanese, Chinese, and Korean).
Huh? The 140-character limit is what makes Twitter unique. What’s next, increasing the limit to 560 characters? Then 1120? Pretty soon Twitter will be able to pivot into a blogging platform like it was 2003 again. Yeah!
Forcing constraints on a situation can lead to more creative solutions.
I’ve heard many comedians say they love using Twitter as a “testing ground” for new material because a) they can get reactions from people immediately and b) it forces them to be economical with their choice of words.
I think this move will water down the Twitter experience.
The words from a collaborative poster project by illustrator Wendy MacNaughton and writer Courtney E. Martin:
This is your assignment.
Feel all the things. Feel the hard things. The inexplicable things, the things that make you disavow humanity’s capacity for redemption. Feel all the maddening paradoxes. Feel overwhelmed, crazy. Feel uncertain. Feel angry. Feel afraid. Feel powerless. Feel frozen. And then FOCUS.
Pick up your pen. Pick up your paintbrush. Pick up your damn chin. Put your two calloused hands on the turntables, in the clay, on the strings. Get behind the camera. Look for that pinprick of light. Look for the truth (yes, it is a thing—it still exists.)
Focus on that light. Enlarge it. Reveal the fierce urgency of now. Reveal how shattered we are, how capable of being repaired. But don’t lament the break. Nothing new would be built if things were never broken. A wise man once said: there’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. Get after that light.
This is your assignment.
As much as I dig the words on this poster, I much prefer McNaughton’s illustrative work.
Dr. Oakley is not the only person teaching students how to use tools drawn from neuroscience to enhance learning. But her popularity is a testament to her skill at presenting the material, and also to the course’s message of hope. Many of her online students are 25 to 44 years old, likely to be facing career changes in an unforgiving economy and seeking better ways to climb new learning curves.
Dr. Oakley’s lessons are rich in metaphor, which she knows helps get complex ideas across. The practice is rooted in the theory of neural reuse, which states that metaphors use the same neural circuits in the brain as the underlying concept does, so the metaphor brings difficult concepts “more rapidly on board,” as she puts it.
I live by metaphors. Metaphors are not only one of the best ways at conveying complex ideas, but sometimes they’re the only way.
Richard Feynman famously thought if you couldn’t explain it simply, then you didn’t understand it. Metaphors, analogies, and similies are the primary devices for this complex-to-simple idea conversion.
I love Mark Bao’s analogy for analogies:
Analogies are like lossy compression for complex ideas
I went down an even deeper rabbit hole a few years ago when I read ‘I is An Other’ and learned individual words themselves are metaphors for other things.
The New York Times has an interesting profile on writer Gabriel Tallent and his debut novel, “My Absolute Darling”:
He was more comfortable in the woods than in school. He struggled with reading and was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and dyslexia. When he finally started reading fluidly, he began binging on pulp science fiction novels.
In high school, Mr. Tallent started taking weeklong trips in the wilderness with friends and sometimes alone. He brought philosophy books and plays by Sophocles and Aeschylus with him. In college, he studied 18th-century literature, and began working on a sprawling novel set around Mendocino, which featured Turtle and Martin as part of a much larger cast of characters.
After graduating, he cycled through odd jobs, before moving to Salt Lake City, where his wife, Harriet Tallent, now works as a nurse in a thoracic intensive care unit. He got a job as a waiter at a ski lodge. On days he wasn’t working, he’d write for 12 to 14 hours.
Three years later, he had 800 pages of a sprawling novel about the Pacific Northwest and the strange characters who live there — hippies, survivalists, pot growers, anarchists. He realized the seed of a more arresting story was there, scrapped the draft and wrote a much different novel, one that focused on Turtle’s experience and the physical, psychological and sexual abuse she endures, and her fight to overcome it.
As an artist and designer, this description of his formative years in school sounds very familiar to me.
Tallent didn’t have attention deficit disorder (ADD). He was suffering from what artists suffer from when they’re not working on what they’re passionate about: boredom. Notice how he had ADD in school but could write for 12 to 14 hours on his own book.
As a kid I wasn’t diagnosed with ADD but I did have trouble focusing and had trouble keeping my grades up (I graduated high school with a 2.8 GPA). What I was able to figure out was if I could apply my drawing skills to assignments in my various classes — English, physiology, history — I could maintain an intense focus, learn, and subsequently get good grades on my projects. The problem was not every assignment could be translated into a drawing or comic book so I was limited to where I could use my talents.
ADD is an artificial construct used to describe what is many times a nonexistent handicap in an individual. I’m not suggesting every kid who has trouble focusing has the luxury of being able to focus on and make money from their passion later on in life. What I am suggesting is not to approach a lack of focus as a something wrong or broken with a kid.
The New York Times has an interesting look at how Trump used words to brand his opponents:
The word choice is memorable. But it’s also the repetition that’s important. In its simplicity and consistency, that message is textbook marketing, said William Cron, a professor of marketing at Texas Christian University. “This is what the product stands for,” he said (Mrs. Clinton being the product in this case). Marketing research also suggests that the more we’re exposed to a belief or a brand, the more likely we are to believe that others share or use it. And so by repeating the slogan, Mr. Trump also feeds the notion that Mrs. Clinton is widely believed to be crooked.
Psychologists have another term for what Mr. Trump does here that is so effective. He “essentializes” Mrs. Clinton and his other opponents, like Lyin’ Ted Cruz.
It’s unlikely to happen, but a great way to neuter our abusive president it to take away his platforms. As George Carlin said, “words are all we have.”
I’d love to see what would happen if Trump could no longer tweet.
Samsung’s new voice assistant Bixby has finally arrived, and unfortunately, it was accompanied by sexist descriptions for its male and female voice options.
Under “language and speaking style” in the Bixby menu, as several have pointed out on Twitter, the female voice was accompanied by descriptive tags such as “chipper, clear, and cheerful,” while the male voice was described as “assertive, confident, and clear.” After it was spotted and dissent circulated online, Samsung said it would remove the gendered hashtags, telling Gizmodo it is “working diligently to remove the hashtag descriptions from the Bixby service,” and it is “constantly learning from customer feedback.”
The subtitle to this article is “Why does this keep happening”.
I can’t tell you why this keeps happening but I’ll tell you this: the Korean-American women I know personally refuse to date Korean men from Korea because of their — pick your adjective — outdated, sexist, and/or backwards views on the roles of men and women.
via Daring Fireball
Over at The New York Times, Frank Bruni asks, What Happened to Who?:
I first noticed it during the 2016 Republican presidential debates, which were crazy-making for so many reasons that I’m not sure how I zeroed in on this one. “Who” was being exiled from its rightful habitat. It was a linguistic bonobo: endangered, possibly en route to extinction.
Instead of saying “people who,” Donald Trump said “people that.” Marco Rubio followed suit. Even Jeb Bush, putatively the brainy one, was “that”-ing when he should have been “who”-ing, so I was cringing when I should have been oohing.
It’s always a dangerous thing when politicians get near the English language: Run for the exits and cover the children’s ears. But this bit of wreckage particularly bothered me. This was who, a pronoun that acknowledges our humanity, our personhood, separating us from the flotsam and jetsam out there. We’re supposed to refer to “the trash that” we took out or “the table that” we discovered at a flea market. We’re not supposed to refer to “people that call my office” (Rubio) or “people that come with a legal visa and overstay” (Bush).
Bruni acknowledges the historical precedent of “that” in place of “who”, but I agree with him: using “who” when referring to a person is just more accurate.
There are many inconsistencies languages adopt through common usage, but that doesn’t make them ok, and it doesn’t mean should use them as the basis for how we write and speak.
I guess my question is: Once you explicitly see the options, “people who” and “people that,” what possible justification would you have to use “that“?
This is an actual headline at Gizmodo:
This is the problem with nerds: They can’t tell the difference between sex and an hour time-shift.
Many nerds are frail, weak, and the only light they ever see, ironically, comes from their computer screens. They need your help.
It seems I’m encountering people every other day who use ‘irony’ when they mean ‘coincidence.’
One of the best explanations of the distinction between these two words I ever read is by George Carlin in his 1998 book, Brain Droppings:
Irony deals with opposites; it has nothing to do with coincidence. If two baseball players from the same hometown, on different teams, receive the same uniform number, it is not ironic. It is a coincidence. If Barry Bonds attains lifetime statistics identical to his father’s it will not be ironic. It will be a coincidence. Irony is “a state of affairs that is the reverse of what was to be expected; a result opposite to and in mockery of the appropriate result.” For instance:
If a diabetic, on his way to buy insulin, is killed by a runaway truck, he is the victim of an accident. If the truck was delivering sugar, he is the victim of an oddly poetic coincidence. But if the truck was delivering insulin, ah! Then he is the victim of an irony. If a Kurd, after surviving bloody battle with Saddam Hussein’s army and a long, difficult escape through the mountains, is crushed and killed by a parachute drop of humanitarian aid, that, my friend, is irony writ large.
Darryl Stingley, the pro football player, was paralyzed after a brutal hit by Jack Tatum. Now Darryl Stingley’s son plays football, and if the son should become paralyzed while playing, it will not be ironic. It will be coincidental. If Darryl Stingley’s son paralyzes someone else, that will be closer to ironic. If he paralyzes Jack Tatum’s son that will be precisely ironic.
Are we all clear now? Cool.