Tag Archives: brain stuff

Would You Zap Your Brain to Live More “Sabbathly”?

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Yesterday I listened to a Radiolab podcast about trans-cranial direct current stimulation, tDCS. From the show’s description: 

Learn a new language faster than ever! Leave doubt in the dust! Be a better sniper! Could you do all that and more with just a zap to the noggin? Maybe.

In the last couple years, tDCS has been all over the news. Researchers claim that juicing the brain with just 2 milliamps (think 9-volt battery) can help with everything from learning languages, to quitting smoking, to overcoming depression. … [We] think through the consequences of a world where anyone with 20 dollars and access to Radioshack can make their own brain zapper. And finally, [we hear] about the unexpected after-effects of a day of super-charged sniper training and wonder about a world where you can order up a state of mind.

Access the entire twenty-five minute episode (called 9-Volt Nirvana) at the Radiolab website.

The show features science writer Sally Adee, who went through a sniper-training simulation, first without the benefit of tDCS, then with it (with an electrode attached to her temple and the other to her arm). The first time, she scored a paltry 15%. The second time? 100%.

Adee reported feeling relaxed, present and fully awake during the tDCS exercise. A twenty-minute training simulation seemed to take three minutes. She described her experience as one of “flow”—that state of mind in which things feel effortless, even graceful. And that feeling continued even after the tDCS was disconnected. (Others on the program cast doubt on this—the effects are usually short-lived, and there could have been a placebo effect.)

Many folks are interested in tDCS because of the potential for learning skills more easily. I’m more interested in the state of mind stuff. I talk a lot about flow in my Sabbath workshops, because that’s what living Sabbathly is all about. Jesus was a master of flow—the stories we have of him show a man who moved fluidly in time and space, who seemed to know what each moment required, whether it was contact with the crowd, healing someone in need, enjoying food and drink, or rest.

So I listened to the Radiolab episode with great interest, and great ambivalence. For me, living Sabbathly is a lifelong endeavor. I get it wrong all the time. Is it a cheat to zap our brains into a more balanced or receptive state? And if we do think it’s a cheat, how is that different from a person who takes anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications?

One might respond, “Well, those medications are for diagnosable mental illnesses.” Fair enough. Then how is tDCS different than aromatherapy, or massage? How are those things not “cheats”? (For the record, I think there is a difference between tDCS and massage. But what is it, exactly?)

It should be said (and was said in the podcast) that tDCS is waaaaaay in its infancy in terms of scientific study. People are experimenting on themselves with DIY kits and YouTube instructional videos. I’m not anywhere close to jumping on this bandwagon. But if we could live more Sabbathly with $20 of spare parts? Would we want to? What would be gained and lost?

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Image is from an Intro to tDCS website.

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Friday Link Love: Death with Dignity, a Real-Live Forrest Gump… and a Cross-Dressing Mayor

(Koshyk/flickr/CC-BY-2.0) — from the Radiolab page for the “New Normal” episode mentioned below

And they’re off! Lots of video today:

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Cross-Dressing for the Gospel — David Lose

I’m on a big David Lose kick right now. I posted this one last week to Twitter but saw it too late for last week’s Link Love. Stu Rasmussen is a man in Silverton, Oregon who is a cross-dresser. He was also elected mayor of the town:

Don’t get me wrong, not everyone was wild about this development. The election was very close and his doubters didn’t stop doubting. Some because of their religious convictions, some simply because cross-dressing just goes against their sensibilities.

But then something else amazing happened. After his election, and before his inauguration, a group from the Westbro Baptist Church came to town. (A quick side-note: this isn’t your typical Baptist church. In fact, this is an extremist group not affiliated with any major Christian tradition.) They came with signs – “God hates Silverton,” “God hates your mayor” (and these were the more polite signs!) – and with their slurs, determined to protest Stu as an abomination.

And although Stu encouraged people not to give them the time of day, folks in the town staged a counter-protest…where lots and lots of ordinary, everyday folks cross-dressed. Men dressed as women, grandmas dressed as men. Kids joined in. Liberals, conservatives, young, old, on this day in Silverton it just didn’t matter. They were determined to stand with Stu, to identify with him, to stand up for him.

That’ll preach.

BTW, the story originally aired on Radiolab, which is my favorite podcast bar none.

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I also got this video from David:

Bus Station Sonata — Arts Council of England (video)

From the site: “The work was created with commuters and passers-by from the Haymarket Bus Station in Newcastle UK. Most of the participants are non players, many had never touched a piano before, we just convinced them to donate a note or two.”

The delight on some of the faces is palpable… and I love the end.

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How Not to Spend Your Whole Day on Facebook — BigThink (video)

An important tip for procrastination:

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12 Guidelines for Deciding When to Persist, When to Quit — Harvard Business Review

When to hold ’em, when to fold ’em:

  1. Are the initial reasons for the effort still valid, with no consequential external changes?
  2. Do the needs for which this [is] a solution remain unmet, or are competing solutions still unproven or inadequate?
  3. Would the situation get worse if this effort stopped?

Etc.

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Massachusetts Vote May Change How the Nation Dies — Slate

Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act has been in effect for the past 14 years, and the state of Washington followed suit with a similar law in 2008. Despite concerns of skeptics, the sky has not fallen; civilization in the Northwest remains intact; the poor, disenfranchised, elderly, and vulnerable have not been victimized; and Oregon has become a leader in the provision of excellent palliative medicine services.

But the Massachusetts ballot question has the potential to turn death with dignity from a legislative experiment into the new national norm.

I support so-called Death with Dignity statutes. When properly defined and carried out, they are sane and compassionate.

This article profiles some of the physicians involved in this movement:

Perhaps it takes the dramatic actions of a flawed advocate like Dr. Jack Kevorkian to catalyze change that leads to the appearance of more reasonable and likable physician reformers. Physicians of this new generation do not seek out or necessarily welcome the role, but, having accepted it, they are irreversibly changed. Most are modest, highly intellectual, and intensely private professionals who are drawn to medicine because it offers a challenge and an opportunity to help relieve distress.

…After her patient’s death, Dr. Kate concluded, “I think Cody taught me that ‘first, do no harm,’ is different for every patient. Harm for her would have meant taking away the control and saying, ‘No, no, no! You have got to do this the way your body decides, as opposed to the way you as the person decides.’”

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Real-Life Forrest Gump Walks Across America in 178 Days — Oddity Central

A friend sent this to me and wondered: “Sabbathy? He talks about taking the trip because he had stopped appreciating things and wanted to slow down his life.” Could be…

He left only with the clothes on his back, a sleeping bag, his backpack and a few thing in it, determined to survive only on the goodness of the people he met on the road. He depended on them for the most basic needs, like food, water and a place to sleep, and whenever he got money and gift cards he didn’t actually need to survive, he just gave them away to the homeless. He said the point was always to give away more than he took, and added that the biggest takeaway from this epic experience is to have realized that “mankind is better than I ever dreamed.”

This is one of those “it takes all kinds” stories. And I don’t mean that disparagingly—it really does take all kinds.

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Does Brainstorming Work? — RSA (video)

No, but you should watch this anyway because it’s entertaining:

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Peace be with you…

Why We Need to Stop Requiring Churches to Interview a Woman

Really fun, interesting, passionate discussion going on, despite my not-very-thought-out post. You rise to the occasion, Blue Room readers.

So how do we solve the gender gap in ministry? With women outnumbering men in seminaries today, how we do break that stained glass ceiling?

Our current approach in the Presbyterian Church is to require churches, when looking for a pastor, to interview at least one female candidate. The thinking is, of the final three or four candidates, there would be a woman in the mix, and perhaps even churches with an unspoken default of pastor=male might be sufficiently moved to think outside the box. Not that every church will follow that up with a call to that woman, of course. This is mysterious Holy Spirit stuff, not to mention that there are women pastors who aren’t all that. But churches should at least look.

Do you think this helps? Have you seen this approach be helpful?

[Insert standard disclaimer about how people are complicated and are more than their gender.]

I was talking to some friends last week who were questioning this approach. And here’s the piece I found interesting. People have done studies about how we make decisions, and we do a much better job evaluating when we can compare two relatively similar things to one another. My friend told me about a study (I think I’ve got this right) in which they showed three pictures. Two pictures were of handsome/beautiful celebrities and the third was an image of one of those celebrities, but with the face badly distorted.

So for example, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and George Clooney with big jowls and an enlarged forehead.

Subjects were asked to choose the most handsome/beautiful face. The study showed that people overwhelmingly chose the face that had its own distorted image to compare it to. These images were so much better looking than their distorted image that they ended up coming out on top most of the time. So in the example, George Clooney over Brad Pitt.

OK that might be a bad example. The Clooney always beats Brad.

Anyway.

If this study is accurate, a lone woman among a final four of candidates will not get a fair look-see because there is no basis for good comparison. She becomes a non-sequitur.

So maybe we shouldn’t require churches to interview a woman candidate. Maybe we should require them to interview more than one!

What do you think?

Monday Miscellany: On Being Wrong

While I go a little kee-razy this week working on the book, enjoy this TED talk about Being Wrong.

Source

One of my favorite questions is, Would you rather be wrong or boring? That question has a little different spin than what Schultz is talking about. Still, figuring out how we know what we know is a subject that fascinates me.

By the way, I’d rather be wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Link Love and a Book

Just a few today—I’m not exactly doing a lot of outside reading this week…

We Are Just Not Digging the Whole Anymore

We just don’t do whole things anymore. We don’t read complete books — just excerpts. We don’t listen to whole CDs — just samplings. We don’t sit through whole baseball games — just a few innings. Don’t even write whole sentences. Or read whole stories like this one.

We care more about the parts and less about the entire. We are into snippets and smidgens and clips and tweets. We are not only a fragmented society, but a fragment society.

Do you agree?

I quibble with a thing or two. For example, the author cites the example of BusinessSummaries.com, which gives quick and precise summaries of business books. I don’t know. I’ve read a lot of books about business, leadership and administration, and many of them contain a few good ideas with 300 pages of padding. I just can’t see summaries of those books as a bad thing.

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The Medium Chill

This really resonates with me… and has been good discussion fodder for Robert and me this week:

“Medium chill” has become something of a slogan for my wife and me…

We now have a smallish house in a nondescript working class Seattle neighborhood with no sidewalks. We have one car, a battered old minivan with a large dent on one side where you have to bang it with your hip to make the door shut. Our boys go to public schools. Our jobs pay enough to support our lifestyle, mostly anyway. If we wanted, we could both do the “next thing” on our respective career paths. She could move to a bigger company. I could freelance more, angle to write for a bigger publications, write a book, hire a publicist, whatever. We could try to make more money. Then we could fix the water pressure in our shower, redo the back patio, get a second car, or hell, buy a bigger house closer in to town. Maybe get the kids in private schools. All that stuff people with more money than us do.

But … meh. It’s not that we don’t think about those things. The water pressure thing drives me batty. Fact is, we just don’t want to work that hard! We already work harder than we feel like working. We enjoy having time to lay around in the living room with the kids, reading. We like to watch a little TV after the kids are in bed. We like going to the park and visits with friends and low-key vacations and generally relaxing. Going further down our respective career paths would likely mean more work, greater responsibilities, higher stress, and less time to lay around the living room with the kids.

So why do it? There will always be a More and Better just beyond our reach, no matter how high we climb. We could always have a little more money and a few more choices. But as we see it, we don’t need to work harder to get more money to have more choices because we already made our choice. We chose our family and our friends and our place. Like any life ours comes with trade-offs, but on balance it’s a good life, we’ve already got it, and we’re damn well going to enjoy it.

That’s the best thing about the medium chill: unlike the big chill, you already have it. It’s available today, at affordable prices!

Related to this: I started reading a book called The Great Disruption about our current economic and environmental crisis. The author argues that both are related and stem from a myth of infinite growth, more, better, faster. That’s going to collapse soon, and we will be moved to adjust our ways in a manner that fosters simplicity and community. I hope he’s right—and it’s the first book I’ve read that’s fundamentally hopeful about our ability to respond to climate change and the disruption that will come with it.

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And a video that’s related to the ‘medium chill’ article…

Dan Gilbert asks, “Why Are We Happy?” (TED)

Shorter Dan Gilbert: we suck at being able to assess what makes us happy.

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L. Gregory Jones: Executing with Urgency (Faith and Leadership)

“We are looking for Christians who understand and practice leadership as an entrepreneur would,” the philanthropist told me. We had already talked about some key aspects of such leadership, such as developing vision, taking risks, being willing to fail and learn from failure, and tolerating ambiguity. But then he said that the heart of the issue was what another friend described as lacking among Christian leaders: people who could “execute with urgency.”

I heard those three simple words as a judgment, recalling too many Christian meetings I had sat through, and even convened, where we had confused having a meeting with taking action. We had acted as if we had all the time in the world, as if nothing really was very urgent. Indeed, we had often met as if we were a group gathered primarily for social purposes.

SO spot on about the way church committees often work. My current ministry obsession is thinking about agile software development as it relates to church work. One of the many great things about small churches is the ability to get to execution relatively quickly.

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And finally, a book:

I’ve had Kathleen Norris’s Dakota: A Spiritual Geography on my shelves for many years but had never finished it. Norris is one of those folks I’m proud to claim as Presbyterian, along with Anne Lamott and the Rev. Mister Rogers. Her meditation on life in the Dakotas is gorgeous, funny and wise. She really captures the feel of the place and its people.

The book got me thinking, too, about the terrain in which I’ve been placed—what I ruefully call “suburban sheol.” Yet every place has its beauty. And every place is its own wilderness. One of the women who’s here this week wrote a book about life in the South Bronx as a bit of a response to Norris’s book and others like it, that lift up rural locations as particularly spiritually rich. What an interesting challenge it would be to think about the suburbs of the nation’s capital in a similar way.