Posts concerning consciousness

The Rorschach Riots

23:28 14 Aug 2011. Updated: 18:19 17 Sep 2011

I mean the various incidents of unrest in England earlier this week. The reference is not to the Watchmen character, but to the blots, because from what I can tell every commentator (I include myself here) is seeing in the events a confirmation of their already-existing political beliefs. That’s not unique to this particular issue, but it strikes me as a particularly egregious example of the phenomenon.

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Happiness Progress

21:06 14 Feb 2011

Long-time readers of this blog will know that happiness is a recurring concern of my posts. Recently, I seem to have made some kind of significant step, or crossed some important line, towards happiness.

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The Stories We Carry

23:48 20 Jan 2011. Updated: 01:10 21 Jan 2011

I don’t mean our personal narratives, the “stories of our lives”, but rather the stories we know, whether our own or others’. We all know many—probably more than we can recall at any given moment.

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Lifehacker Meditation Guide

23:16 20 Jul 2010

I haven’t tried it out, but this Lifehacker guide to meditation looks good. I’m interested in trying it, but have some resistance because I’ve never gotten anywhere with meditation in the past.

Entirely by coincidence (or at least that’s how it appears to me) the Deutsche Nepal track “The Hierophants of Light”, which I’ve never heard before, starting playing as I wrote this post (I bought the album it’s on, Deflagration of Hell, last night)—and it begins with this looped many times: “You shall hear nothing, you shall see nothing, you shall think nothing, you shall be nothing”.

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iPad First Impressions: Consumption Machine

18:52 23 May 2010

I got an iPad for work on Friday, and have been playing around with it. I would not have bought one for myself, and have grave misgivings about the device, primarily due to its highly proprietary, locked-down, walled-garden approach.

That being said, I think it’s an extremely slick, well-designed device, and may represent the first steps towards a new phase in accessing computer and/or internet artifacts.

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Height and Negotiation

12:41 16 Mar 2010

Taller people seem to have a number of social advantages, from increased earnings to (for men) increased desirability. It’s also an advantage in negotiations.

Various explanations for this have been posited, for example the fairly plausible idea that height correlates greater physical development earlier in life and hence to greater self-esteem.

A study cited in The Body has a Mind of its Own, however, suggests that we deal with height in a way that is both more ingrained and more shallow than that.

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Internet Illiteracy

12:40 11 Feb 2010

Rather widespread, apparently. When a ReadWriteWeb article on Facebook’s collaboration with AOL became a highly-ranked Google search result for “facebook login”, hundreds of Facebook users descended on that article and used the Facebook Connect button on that screen—which ReadWriteWeb provides so that people can leave comments using their Facebook account—and then became extremely confused, not understanding why they weren’t being brought to their usual Facebook home screen.

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Boredom Kills

10:57 09 Feb 2010

According to a University College London study which monitored the boredom levels of civil servants in the late eighties and then checked in on them last year:

Those who reported feeling a great deal of boredom were 37 per cent more likely to have died by the end of the study, the researchers found.

—Asian News International. “Boredom can kill you”. Yahoo! News India, 8 February 2010.

So boredom isn’t just a waste of time, it can be lethal. I’m not sure what advice is appropriate here, other than: find things you’re into and do them!

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“Easy Equals True”

17:40 05 Feb 2010

Or so our brains are trained to believe, apparently:

[S]tudies have shown that when presenting people with a factual statement, manipulations that make the statement easier to mentally process—even totally nonsubstantive changes like writing it in a cleaner font or making it rhyme or simply repeating it—can alter people’s judgment of the truth of the statement, along with their evaluation of the intelligence of the statement’s author and their confidence in their own judgments and abilities.

If it’s easier to read and easier to remember, we think it’s more likely to be true.

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Cycling: Not Strange, Not Unsafe

21:52 06 Oct 2009

But rather, a very safe and rather normal, indeed innocuous and beneficial, activity. Via MetaFilter I came across a series of sociological essays on attitudes towards cycling, most of them concerned with the idea that cycling is a dangerous activity. The series, by Dave Horton, is titled “Fear of Cycling”:


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Crows Are Smart—Aesop Edition

16:46 07 Aug 2009

Apparently the story about the crow using stones to raise the water level in a pitcher was no fable. I already knew about crow tool usage being pretty impressive, and this just reinforces that notion.

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Crows Are Smart—And Hold Grudges

22:50 27 Jul 2009

This was on BoingBoing, but I can’t resist posting about it: NPR have a story about crows recognizing human faces, holding grudges, and passing related information to other crows.

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Some Tips on Email Management

22:52 23 Jul 2009

I can be a terrible correspondent. I go through patches, some of them years long, where, unless I respond to an email immediately (which is essentially a function of chance), I might not respond ever. This becomes cumulatively worse very quickly, because I become more and more overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff in my inbox, and this makes me less willing to engage with older emails.

Recently, I’ve figured out some methods for dealing with it better.

(To those of you who are owed email from me who are still reading this: you might receive long-overdue replies in the near future, even if they’re to messages that could be classified as “ancient”.)

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I Think I Think, Therefore I Think I Am

13:59 10 May 2009. Updated: 23:45 01 Dec 2009

The title of this post is hardly original, but it’s been a favorite of mine for many years. Underneath the smartass exterior, however, the aphorism packs a fairly significant punch that’s not necessarily merely a variant on solipsism.

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Morford on Meditation

16:04 26 May 2008. Updated: 02:12 27 May 2008

I’m pretty tired at the moment, so this is going to be a short post, mainly a reference to this Mark Morford column about meditation.

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Jonathan Hickman’s 10 Steps to Being a Professional

17:28 15 May 2008

I recently read the graphic novel The Nightly News (thanks Dave!), and while there’s plenty of interest in it, what I feel like posting about comes from the author’s comments at the end, about how he succeeded as a comics creator.

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How Many Wikipedias?

23:55 28 Apr 2008. Updated: 01:07 29 Apr 2008

I was going to post a link to this Clay Shirky article yesterday, but then saw that it had made it to BoingBoing and decided not to bother.

However, I think it’s worth posting even if most readers do check BoingBoing. It’s rather interesting, and worth calling out.

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Cognitive Enhancement Drugs

23:57 09 Mar 2008. Updated: 11:44 10 Mar 2008

The New York Times writes about the rising wave of cognitive enhancement pharmaceutical use, bringing to mind Alan Glynn’s novel The Dark Fields, which explores the territory in an interesting and disturbing way.

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Crows Are Smart

18:52 03 Mar 2008

Researcher Joshua Klein created a vending machine for crows.

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Taleb Seminar

20:11 10 Feb 2008

Last Monday I went to a Long Now Foundation seminar by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Fooled By Randomness and The Black Swan—both books I would recommend to just about everyone. The title of the talk was “The Future Has Always Been Crazier Than We Thought”, and while Taleb did talk about our historic inability to predict what was going to happen in the future, I didn’t feel that ‘future craziness’ was actually a major theme. (If you change “Crazier” to “More Unpredictable” you get a more accurate title.)

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Elites, History, Progress

23:51 28 Jan 2008. Updated: 02:04 29 Jan 2008

This is a fourth-order post, a post about a post about a review of a book. Such are the times we live in. Which times, according to the book, are not necessarily cut off from much of human existence by the division of the past into history and ‘prehistory’. The blog post is Internal Affairs: Biochemistry and the Body Politic, the review is Steve Mithen in the London Review of Books on Daniel Lord Smail’s Deep History and the Brain.

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Magical Conspiracy Thinking

23:58 15 Nov 2007

By which I do not mean magickal thinking… I mean thinking that tremendous change can be effected through events, speech or revelations that are talismanic in nature. The idea that if the correct words could just be spoken, or if the truth revealed, that “the people” would rise up/awaken/revolt/vote differently/stop watching television/reject their role as imperialist enablers/cast off their self-accepted shackles/achieve enlightenment/achieve whatever your particular goal for them is. A certain brand of tax evader in the US falls into this category.

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Ramblings about Self and Emotion

18:41 12 Nov 2007

At any given moment, while thinking (or thinking about thinking), we appear to ourselves to be somewhat rational, free-willed beings. We’re able to think (I think), and to control what we think about to some extent. We conceive of ourselves, mostly, as discrete and singular “I”s who are conscious and whose selves somehow belong to us.

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