Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dunbar Was Wrong!

In Catch 22, Dunbar was Yossarian’s closest friend.  Dunbar shared with Yossarian an aversion to death, but he has his own plan.   He is “working hard at increasing his life span . . . by cultivating boredom.”  As Heller writes:
Dunbar loved shooting skeet because he hated every minute of it and the time passed so slowly. He had figured out that a single hour on the skeet-shooting range with people like Havermeyer and Appleby could be worth as much as eleven-times-seventeen years.
Dunbar’s theory was that the more he more boring and unpleasant he could make his life, the longer it would seem.

The slowest I ever experienced time was when, not a block from our old home, I was broadsided by a car running a red light. In the split second it took my car to be spun around 180 degrees, it seemed as if my senses had become incredibly focused. 

At first, I had no idea what had happened. Then it dawned on me that we had been struck by a car in the intersection.  I becames aware of a what seemed a tremendous force trying to push me to the right side of the car as we spun left.  And, in that same split second, it struck me that maybe I had run the red light and I had time to actually think about this. Incredibly enough, I had the presence of mind to look up as the intersection we had just gone through came into view and I saw that the light from the direction I had come was indeed green.

Everything seemed to go in slow motion. The instant seemed to take at least 10 seconds.

As violent as the crash was, and even though John and Tom were in the car – we were on our way to preschool – nobody was hurt and, because he just hit the front corner of the car, even the car wasn’t damaged too badly.

The other circumstance where time seemed to move more slowly was childhood. Here’s a poem that suggests that life mercifully speeds up as it gets more miserable:

The River of Life

The more we live, more brief appear
Our life's succeeding stages;
A day to childhood seems a year,
And years like passing ages.

The gladsome current of our youth,
Ere passion yet disorders,
Steals lingering like a river smooth
Along its grassy borders.

But as the careworn cheek grows wan,
And sorrow's shafts fly thicker,
Ye stars, that measure life to man,
Why seem your courses quicker?

When joys have lost their bloom and breath,
And life itself is vapid,
Why, as we reach the Falls of Death
Feel we its tide more rapid?

It may be strange—yet who would change
Time's course to slower speeding,
When one by one our friends have gone,
And left our bosoms bleeding?

Heaven gives our years of fading strength
Indemnifying fleetness;
And those of youth, a seeming length,
Proportioned to their sweetness.

-- Thomas Campbell

Neuroscientist David Eagleman has an explanation for both these time slow-downs. Eagleman says:
When our brains receive new information, it doesn’t necessarily come in the proper order. This information needs to be reorganized and presented to us in a form we understand. When familiar information is processed, this doesn’t take much time at all. New information, however, is a bit slower and makes time feel elongated.
When we receive lots of new information, it takes our brains a while to process it all. The longer this processing takes, the longer that period of time feels. When we’re in life-threatening situations, for instance, “we remember the time as longer because we record more of the experience. Life-threatening experiences make us really pay attention, but we don’t gain superhuman powers of perception.”

For similar reasons, this is why are childhoods seem to stretch forever:
[T]his is why childhood summers seem to last so much longer than adult summers: when you’re a child, everything is novel, and so more dense memories are written down. By the time you’re older, you’ve seen most patterns before, and so at the end of the summer very little new has been encoded.
So, how do you make time seem to go more slowly? In a word: novelty. If we feed our brains more new information, the extra processing time required will make us feel like time is moving more slowly. This is the opposite of what Dunbar was trying to do. As has been noted elsewhere, here, are five specific suggestions to slow down time and essentially re-create those endless days of childhood:

1. Keep learning.  Learning new things is a pretty obvious way to pass your brain new information on a regular basis. If you’re constantly reading, trying new activities or taking courses to learn new skills, you’ll have a wealth of ‘newness’ at your fingertips to help you slow down time.

2. Visit new places.  A new environment can send a mass of information rushing to your brain—smells, sounds, people, colors, textures. Your brain has to interpret all of this. Exposing your brain to new environments regularly will give it plenty of work to do, letting you enjoy longer-seeming days.

This doesn’t necessarily mean world travels, though. Working from a cafe or a new office could do the trick. As could trying a new restaurant for dinner or visiting a friend’s house you haven’t been to.

3. Meet new people.  We all know how much energy we put into interactions with other people. Unlike objects, people are complex and take more effort to ‘process’ and understand.

Meeting new people, then, is a good workout for our brains. That kind of interaction offers us lots of new information to make sense of, like names, voices, accents, facial features and body language.

4. Try new activities.  Have you ever played dodgeball on trampolines? How about jumped from a plane or raced cheese down a hill?

Doing new stuff means you have to pay attention. Your brain is on high alert and your senses are heightened, because you’re taking in new sensations and feelings at a rapid rate. As your brain takes in and notices every little detail, that period of time seems to stretch out longer and longer in your mind.

5. Be spontaneous. Surprises are like new activities: they make us pay attention and heighten our senses. Anyone who hates surprises can attest to that.

By overwhelming your brain with new information you’ll make it process time more slowly and it will slow time down for you. If only Dunbar had spent less time skeet-shooting range with Havermeyer and Appleby.

The following video about 20 minutes but worth it. And, at one point, the sound goes bad for a few moments. Be patient, it will return.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Friday Evening in Bethel Park

Since the wedding website is non-existant to most of this family I will be using multiple methods of social networking to spread the word on wedding news.

First of all, Friday night AUGUST 2nd we are having people over to our house: 2315 Cassidy Drive, Bethel Park PA 15102 (for those using GPS). There will be food and drinks, the volleyball net it set up in the back yard, the pool table and piano are downstairs in the basement. Come over get the party started and we will join you after the rehearsal dinner.

Second thing, so people have mentioned they are sticking around for a day or so. There is a Pirate game Sunday August 4th at 1:35pm. We(Me, Kevin, Olivia, Dave, Cara, Steve, Steph) are planning on going to the game. Anyone else want to go? I want to have an idea of how many tickets to get. Reply on the blog or you can email me at kathrynharv@gmail.com.

Excited to see everyone who can make it this weekend. And for those of you that can't make it, you will be missed.

Friday, July 26, 2013

More on the Benefits of Marriage

Back in 2010, in anticipation of James and Ali's wedding, I  made an entry on this blog,  Marriage, Health and Milton, which discussed the health benefits of marriage.  As the post points out, studies have confirmed what Old Fezziwig said about marriage in the TV movie version of "A Christmas Carol":

“What a difference it makes, Ebenezer, to travel the rough road of life with the right female to help bear the burden, eh?”

Now, with Dave and Cara's wedding approaching, it may be a good time to take another look at these benefits.  

It turns out that the health benefits are only the beginning of the advantages of marriage.  There's also a sizeable marriage economic dividend.  Unfortunately, because only wealthy people are getting and staying married these days, this adds to income inequality. “The people who need to stick together for economic reasons don’t,” says Christopher Jencks, a Harvard sociologist. “And the people who least need to stick together do.”  For a discussion of this issue see,  Two Classes, Divided by ‘I Do’.  Meanwhile, married men make between 10 and 50 per cent higher wages than their unmarrried counterparts.  A study of married and unmarried twins showed that the married twin made 26% more than the unmarried twin.  See Ask not what you can do for marriage; ask what marriage can do for your bottom line.  So if you want to climb the economic ladder, get thee to the alter, not a nunnery.

Finally, marriage makes you a better person.  To be honest, it's not just marriage that makes you a better person, it's the presence of a female in the household that does this.  Apparently, any female will do in a pinch.  In one study that tracked the chief executives for 10,000 Danish companies, researchers discovered that, as a way of securing resources for their own growing family, executives frequently lowered wages of workers upon becoming the father of a son, but they did not do so if they became the father of a daughter.  Studies have also shown that both American and British legislators vote more liberally after having daughters.  In a game that tested generosity, researchers discovered that men who had grown up with sisters were more generous than those who had grown up with brothers, or had no siblings.  The studies suggest that women in a household evoke caretaking tendencies and cause men to become gentler, more empathetic and more other-oriented.  For more on all these studies, see Why Men Need Women.

Anyway, to help you remember the benefits of getting married, here's a simple child's nursery rhyme:

Taking a wife -- as clearly one should --  
Makes a man healthy, wealthy and good.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Economics of War

There is an old saying, "God was in every foxhole." Brother Bob, who knows something about war and God, said the opposite, "There is no God in war." I'll stick with Bob on this one. The problem today is that people often think of God as something. Bob, I'm sure, never thought that. (He also said the best thing you can say about God is that God doesn't exist.) So for today's society, Bob's pronouncement about war may be best translated as, "There is no humanity in war." And that is what is so frightening about both the specifics and the overreaching generality of war: it is the loss of humanity.

Things like the Geneva Conventions are our attempts to mitigate the total lack of humanity. The results, of course, have limited success. Often the victors can pick and choose what part of inhumanity they wish to publish about their enemy. But these attempts to re-instill a bit of humanity into war often result in philosophical conundrums or even black comedy.

Afghanistan officials understand the philosophical quandary of war and are doing their best to make lemonade out of it. From the Washington Post:

An escalating dispute between the Afghan government and the United States over customs procedures has halted the flow of U.S. military equipment across Afghanistan’s borders....The Afghan government is demanding that the U.S. military pay $1,000 for each shipping container leaving the country that does not have a corresponding, validated customs form. The country’s customs agency says the American military has racked up $70 million in fines.

They couldn't stop us from going in (without obtaining valid custom forms)—that was war—but perhaps the inhumanity of war has reached a civilized point now that they can evoke legislative tariffs. I would advise, however, that Afghan custom officials stay close to the shipping containers. We still have drones.

In Memoriam of Last Year's Bastille Day Celebration

Peter, Lisa and family's significantly memorable Bastille Day Celebration last year inspired the Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed to erect a 16 foot version of the event at the Pompidou Center in Paris. It was installed only a month after the party last year. Unlike most statues, this one, in the words of exhibition organizer Alain Michaud, "goes against the tradition of making statues in honor of certain victories. It is an ode to defeat."

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Just a reminder to anyone attending my (Dave & Cara's wedding) Last date to book a hotel in the block at the Hampton Inn downtown is tomorrow Friday July 12th. The address of the hotel, along with additional infirmation, is on the wedding website.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Feel Inside

It is said that we can “change the world through music, one song at a time.”  Here is the latest mega-star fundraising hit.  It's got a lot of good suggestions for how to raise money, even if the object of all this rundraising is a little unclear.

(By the way, if the lyrics seem a little strange, they are  based on input from children.)

Friday, July 5, 2013

That which we call a rose… — W. Shakespeare

We're on a video roll (real). I found EVERYTHING about this video unimaginable, from the fact that it is not supposed to be humor, to the fact that I'm posting it.

Full disclosure: I got this video referenced from the excellent site of Marginal Revolution which was recommended by the other James long ago. If you pay very close attention you will actually find Tyler Cowen, who authors the site, mentioned in the discussion. The whole thing is surreal.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

I'm back and I made a short film

Hey all! This is Harrisburg John. I know it's been a while, but I thought I would return and try to be better about following the family blog. I've remembered what my login was, so here I am. As the title suggests, I have made a short film with my friend, Tory. We worked with his sister-in-law and made a Bela Lugosi inspired mad science movie. Enjoy and I hope to add more to the conversation in the future. It Came From Apt. 32!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Two Great Political Lies

In the past I have questioned the seemingly universal (at least in this country) appeal of democracy as the most effective form of government when the reality seemed lacking. Strangely, in polls we typically have low satisfaction ratings for our actual government, but perfect satisfaction with the idea of our government system. This should raise doubts for any scientist or empirical thinker.

Not being a political scientist nor very knowledgeable on the whole topic, I can never offer alternatives. Typically, when the question is raised, the response is the old canard from Winston Churchill, "Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst from of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." However Churchill also said, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

In any case, it's nice to learn something about alternative forms of government.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Nobody Ever Told Me Zoltan Was Back

Out in the Pirate hinterlands, news of the Buccos is sporadic and often unreliable.  But, I was still surprised to hear recently that early on in the season, McCutchen had announced that Zoltan was back.

One might think that Zoltan would be an unreliable source of power after the Pirates' epic collapse last year.  But the forces of the supernatural are niether predictable nor fully capable of human understanding.  Maybe, like heroes of old, the Pirates had to undergo trials before Zoltan would grant them a boon.  If nothing else, Zoltan explains the Pirates' still soaring Luck Rating as generated by teamrankings.com.  It has now risen to an unprecedented 9.0, while number 2 Baltimore scores only a 4.1.  Let's just hope that the power of Zoltan can ward off end of season fatigue.

Travis Snider flashes the Zoltan salute after his RBI triple in the second inning against the Cubs on May 23rd. As Snider slid safely into third, he didn’t bother to get up or even look up before putting on the Zoltan sign.

Of course, Snider is capable of generating magic of his own, like when he climbed the chain link fence in Citi Field and robbed Mets' Mike Baxter of a home run last year.