TEDFAV: Emotions are guesses

The brain is one big sense making, pattern recognition machine. We expect emotions to be different. That they “just come up” or are “real” or “just happen”. Yet the science tells us that emotions are just another case of the brain sensing certain things and matching those things to patterns I understands. Emotions are patterns also. Favorite quotes: “There is no emotion is a facial movement, it is our interpretation of that movement that creates the emotion.” This from a neuroscientist who has put sensors on people’s faces to try to detect emotions in facial movements. There are none. Your own emotions are guesses at the pattern you brain makes. “Emotions that seem to happen TO you are actually made BY you.” “If you change the ingredients that your brain uses to create emotions, you can transform your emotional life.” Basically neuroscientists confirming 2000 years of Stoic philosophy.

TEDFAV: Play through life

Ok, so this is not a TED talk, but it is an idea. An idea I have been circling from many different angles. Alan Watts challenges the “journey” metaphor for life here pointing out that a journey presumes a destination, a goal, a finish. I ofter remind myself that to travel is better than to arrive. While life can seem like a journey, what happens along the path IS life, not the destination. Watts encourages us to “Play through life” as if it were music. The point of music is not the end of the music, but the music itself. Feeling its effects and enjoying its melody as it plays. Very well said Alan.

TedFav:  The Pope’s TED talk last week 

I have got to admit I am a big fan of this Pope.  Very early in his papacy he was asked why he wasn’t talking about traditionally thorny issues like abortion, priest abuse and gays in the church. He replied ” who am I to judge?”  Many were stunned. Isn’t the Pope the one who judges us here on earth?  Actually no. Only god judges in the end.  This pope has really focused on being humble (very Jesuit trait) and helping others.  His talk focuses on reminding us all of our common humanity in a time of extreme divisions.  While spiritual it is not a “Catholic” ideological pitch. It is reminding us of universal truths and the value of kindness, humility and our common human journey.  Very timely and useful.  

TEDFAV: Are we really in charge of our decisions?

The Stoics say that the only thing that is truly ours is our agency to make a decision.  To decide how to react in a situation. We can’t control anything outside ourselves, but we can control our reactions and decisions.  That has been very important advice to me.

But what if our decisions are tainted?  Do we always have the right information to make the best decisions?  Dan Ariely has been studying how people make decisions, specifically in a commerce setting, and has found that how the options are presented has a profound impact on the decisions people make.  As a result of this talk, I have added a new guideline to my own “How I make decisions” list.  If you are making decisions and are presented by someone else with the options in that decision, always ask yourself “Is there a third way?”  or “Are there other choices for this decision which are not here?”.  Otherwise you are handing most of the agency for that decision over to the person who designed the question.  Don’t do that.

TED FAV: This is Water by David Foster Wallace

Ok, so this is not a TED talk. It is a commencement speech from Kenyon college.  And a very good one.  Since I am touring colleges with my junior now, I am considering what to say to her as she goes off to college.  It occurs to me that many of the commencement speech contents after the fact may be relevant prior to entry into college. This one is exceedingly appropriate.

TEDFAV: Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Mark Twain once said “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

My oldest, Finn is a Junior in highschool this year.  Yea, the worst year in highschool.  You have to do all your normal school work AND buff up the extra curricular activities AND do well on the SAT test AND figure out what colleges to apply to.  The pressure is intense.  And the only thing that seems to matter in Junior year are the results.  Grades.  Test Scores. College acceptance letters.  The focus is 100% on Outcomes.  No process.  No creativity.  No talk about the purpose or meaning behind all these outcomes.  No deviation from the objective measures of “success” as defined by our western academic system.

But does this model of education produce the best possible humans? Does it work for the wide variety of personality types out there?  Where does creative thinking come in?  America prides itself on innovation. But the educational system doesn’t teach innovation. By definition, any standardized system kills the outliers.  Yet the outliers is where the creativity and innovation comes from.

Leave it to a Brit (lovers of organization, conformity, empires) to ask the right question.  Are we teaching the skills we really want in our kids?  Or just stamping degrees on them?