Our Collective Memory Lasts Thousands of Years

forest and river

When European explorers made first contact with peoples around the world both cultures changed. Unfortunately for those being contacted they were changed by a lot of diseases and exploitation (sadly the exploitation continues to this day). Europeans also ignored the long history of the peoples they met and devalued their oral traditions. A recent example of this in Canada is around the discovery of the HMS Terror.

Globally there are many stories that can be traced back to events thousands of years ago. It’s only now that the traditional sciences are listening to these stories because physical evidence can be found using modern techniques.

The extraordinary antiquity of such stories, which represent knowledge passed on largely orally, was not demonstrable until recently. This has allowed the full extent and implications of the longevity of the memories on which these stories are based to be appreciated. Another such oral history surrounds the Klamath people of Oregon, in the western U.S., who tell of a time when there was no Crater Lake, only a giant volcano towering over the landscape where the lake is today. As the story goes, the fractious volcano god, besotted with a local beauty, threatened the Klamath with fury and fire unless the woman acquiesced. But her people called upon their protector—a rival deity—who fought the volcano god, eventually causing his mountain home to collapse in on him and fill with water. For the next approximately 7,600 years, the Klamath taught each new generation the importance of avoiding Crater Lake lest they disturb the evil god within. With remarkable precision, geologists have determined that this is the time of the terminal eruption of the former volcano, Mount Mazama, and the creation of the landscape that exists today. The Klamath were there all along, and their memories of that ancient cataclysmic event have passed into global knowledge today.

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Create Good Thought Loops for Critical Thinking

hands

How we engage the world around literally shapes how our brains work; therefore changing how we interact with reality can alter how we think. As humans we create pathways in our brains both physically and mentally which gives us our heuristic approach to the world around us. We can alter our heuristics by exposing ourselves to new and unexpected situations. The more unique experiences we have the more connected our brains are; which means that we can process information in more interesting ways.

Right now, I need to put some coffee into my brain to get it working 😉

At its core, a thinking pattern is an implicit rule of thumb for the way we connect aspects of our reality. Given the complexity of this reality, the more diverse our trained thinking patterns are — and the better refined the associated triggers are — the more accurately we will be able to interact with information around us.

Because thinking patterns emerge from the mental habit loops we form as a response to experience, the only way to diversify them is to seek out new and conflicting encounters. We can do this through books, unfamiliar environments, or even hypothetical thought games.

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Have Problem? Sleep on it

desert and stars

When confronting a problem, or looking for creative inspiration, people get told “to sleep on it”. This turns out to be useful advice not just because it’s based on years of smart people saying that, but also because modern neuroscience research is proving it to be true. We can benefit a lot from sleeping more (on average people don’t get enough sleep) and dealing with complex issues is one more thing that sleep is good for.

Sleep, Walker suggests, is crucial to problem solving. When my students are stuck on a math problem, sleep on it is often the only wisdom I have to offer. This adage has served me well in the past and now, thanks to Walker’s research, it enjoys a strong neurological basis. Walker demonstrates that problem solving can seamlessly occur in the REM phase of sleep. It is in this critical stage of unconsciousness that we form novel connections between individual chunks of knowledge. In a REM sleep is where our ideas crystalize and recombine into new, creative thoughts. The link between sleep and inspiration is so pervasive that the phrase sleep on it exists in most languages.

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Don’t Disregard Kierkegaard’s Advice on Busyness

conversation

The popular way of thinking is that your work life needs to always be busy. We all know at least one person who is always busy and looking productive. You might be one of those individuals who pride themselves on always working. Let’s rethink that.

A long dead Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, can help us rethink the value of always being busy.

How then might people escape busyness? Kierkegaard’s discussion of busyness in Works of Love may provide a clue. By contrast with the busy people who harvest repeatedly, the person who wills the good has no immediate gains to rest on. Their action—unlike that of the busy people—is in pursuit of something meaningful, even though they receive no apparent reward for it. However, there may be other benefits.  As recent psychological research also suggests, helping others can result in helping oneself. Pursuing particular goods—like striving to help the particular people you see, as Kierkegaard recommends elsewhere in Works of Love—might thus provide us with the specificity we need to escape indeterminacy and the phenomena like anxiety, boredom, and busyness that accompany it. 

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Start School Later so Students can Sleep in

books

Sleep and teenagers go together better than slicing and bread. Every teenager already knows that school starts early and it’s rather cruel to make them learn before they brains are ready to do so. Yet, former teenagers force teens out of bed and kick them out the door too early. Finally, schools are starting to learn that teenagers should sleep in and school should start later in the day.

Whenever schools have managed the transition to a later start time, students get more sleep, attendance goes up, grades improve and there is a significant reduction in car accidents. The RAND Corporation estimated that opening school doors after 8:30 a.m. would contribute at least $83 billion to the national economy within a decade through improved educational outcomes and reduced car crash rates. The Brookings Institution calculates that later school start times would lead to an average increase in lifetime earnings of $17,500.
Since 2014, several states have passed legislation related to school start times. In August, California lawmakers passed a bill that would have gone further. By 2021, most middle and high schools across the state would have had to start at 8:30 a.m. or later.

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