Thinker Thoughts: Articles that Made us Think

Thinker Thoughts is evolving! Every Friday, we’re sharing our favorite reads of the week and what they encouraged us to think about. Give them a think and let us know your thinker thoughts!

What We’ve Been Thinking About This Week

1. How our brains react when we experience a beautiful masterpiece…

how our brain responds to balletA fascinating, animated feature in The Washington Post, “This is Your Brain on Art” (9/18), stimulates our brain by examining the science behind our brain’s response to seeing and experiencing art (i.e. ballets, theater shows, etc.).

The quote:

“Our brains like to share emotions with others. This is just one reason that seeing a live performance — a concert, play, opera, etc. — is a neural rush. With our brain’s capacity for emotion and empathy, even in the wordless art of dance we can begin to discover meaning — and a story…
When we watch a dancer spring across the stage, we may experience a little internal hippity-hop, too. According to the mirror system theory, our brain automatically mimics other people’s actions through its motor system…”

2. How we are, according to some, “already living inside a computer”…

how technology rules our livesAn article in The Atlantic, “You are Already Living Inside a Computer” (9/14), encourages us to think about just how much computers govern our daily lives and routines.

The quote:

“…the computational aspects of ordinary things have become goals unto themselves, rather than just a means to an end. As it spreads from desktops and back-offices to pockets, cameras, cars, and door locks, the affection people have with computers transfers onto other, even more ordinary objects. And the more people love using computers for everything, the more life feels incomplete unless it takes place inside them…
People choose computers as intermediaries for the sensual delight of using computers, not just as practical, efficient means for solving problems.
That’s how to understand the purpose of all those seemingly purposeless or broken services, apps, and internet-of-things devices: They place a computer where one was previously missing. They transform worldly experiences into experiences of computing. Instead of machines trying to convince humans that they are people, machines now hope to convince humans that they are really computers. It’s the Turing test flipped on its head.”

3. How we can become more adept at small talk…

French conversational skillsAn article in Quartz, “One of the most common questions in American small talk is considered rude in much of the world“, challenges us to resist asking a *certain* question upon meeting someone, and offers tips for small talk from Daniel Post Senning, Emily Post’s great-great-grandson and a co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th edition.

The quote:

“In their new book, The Bonjour Effect: The Secret Codes of French Conversation Revealedauthors Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoît Nadeau elaborate on why you should never ask a French person about their work. The reaction is not just about the conversation starter’s affront to egalitarianism (a concept the French value dearly, even if they don’t live it, Barlow says). Rather, the French frequently enjoy pretending that they don’t like their jobs. So, just like money, work is a boring topic.
To the French, she explains, conversations are for exchanging points of view, not finding things in common, the goal of conversation for North Americans.”

Phrase of the week: “Change becomes you.”

A beautifully written article in Aeon, “Change Becomes You” (9/17), encourages us to see that “being the same person over time is not about holding on to every aspect of your current self but about changing purposefully.”

Thinker Thoughts is an initiative intended to help us THINK more deeply and deliberately amid the hurried pace of life’s existence.

Falling into a New Beginning

Falling into a New Beginning
“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Having come across these words in a recent piece in The Atlantic, “Why Back-to-School Season Feels Like the New Year – Even for Adults” (Sept. 17), I was reminded of the strange grasp that both nostalgia and hope often have on us this time of year; of our heart’s aching for past joys and memories, gently soothed by the hopeful anticipation of things to come.

Perhaps it’s because, as the article notes, roughly half of one’s lifespan is tied to an academic calendar – from being in school through young adolescence to becoming the parents of children – or because we long for one last chance to make “all things right” before the year’s end, but Fall does seem to signal the start of a new “life,” a new beginning, a new opportunity to usher in change alongside the changing color of leaves. Read more

All Things Corn: Sweet September and the Ebbing of Summer

All Things Corn: Sweet September and the Ebbing of Summer
“Biting into summer. Sitting on the lawn, feet bare eating hot buttered corn. Just picked. So good.” –Ruth Reichl, My Kitchen Year (2015)

September is a month of abundance to savor. From the heavenly days of blue skies and just-right temperatures, to the dreamy cool-night-open-window-sleeping, there is an abundance of all things good that infuses the September air.

You can hear the abundance in bites of crisp apples just picked from a local orchard; you can see the abundance in the roadside farm stands along country roads; you can feel the abundance in the buzz of city farmer markets; and you can smell the abundance in blueberry muffins, apple pies and apple cider donuts baking in ovens – and in the vegetable soups and chowders simmering on stoves.

So in these last days of sweet September, gather some of this month’s abundance and simmer it on the stove, taking one last bite into summer with the “All Things Corn” recipes below. Read more

Thinker Thoughts: Articles that Made us Think

Thinker Thoughts is evolving! Every Friday, we’re sharing our favorite reads of the week and what they encouraged us to think about. Give them a think and let us know your thinker thoughts!

What We’ve Been Thinking About This Week

1. How technology and automated algorithms are robbing us of our humanity…

An essay for The Washington Post, “How Silicon Valley is Erasing Your Individuality” (9/8), forces us to confront the perils and consequences of a world governed by the tech giants (i.e. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple).

Franklin Foer, author of World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech (Sept. 2017), warns that they are stripping us of our individuality in an attempt to “mold humanity into their desired image of it.”

The quote:

“Along with Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, these companies [Google and Amazon] are in a race to become our ‘personal assistant.’ They want to wake us in the morning, have their artificial intelligence software guide us through our days and never quite leave our sides. They aspire to become the repository for precious and private items, our calendars and contacts, our photos and documents. They intend for us to turn unthinkingly to them for information and entertainment while they catalogue our intentions and aversions…
It’s hard not to marvel at these companies and their inventions, which often make life infinitely easier. But we’ve spent too long marveling. The time has arrived to consider the consequences of these monopolies, to reassert our role in determining the human path. Once we cross certain thresholds — once we remake institutions such as media and publishing, once we abandon privacy — there’s no turning back, no restoring our lost individuality.”

Note: A similar piece was penned this week by Chelsea Manning in the New York Times, “The Dystopia We Signed Up For.” 


2. How we can have conversations with difficult people…

how to have a conversation with difficult peopleA commentary in the Wall Street Journal, “The Right Way to Have Difficult Conversations” (9/8), challenges us to dismiss the notion that there are certain people “we just can’t talk to.”

Celeste Headlee, author of We Need to Talk (Sept. 2017), journalist and public radio host of 20 years makes a compelling case for talking to others we don’t agree with – and truly listening to them, without judgment. Offering guidelines for engaging in difficult conversations, she says we first must be curious and have a genuine willingness to learn something from someone else.

The quote:

“These days, it seems that there are more and more deal breakers when it comes to deciding whom we’re willing to talk to. But in our tense era of deep divisions, talking to each other—and having difficult conversations—is more important than ever before…
The purpose of listening is to understand, not to determine whether someone else is right or wrong, an ally or an opponent…
Most of us acknowledge the existence and pervasiveness of such biases, but we tend to think that it’s just a problem for others. We aren’t conscious of our own blinders. The bald truth is that we’re all biased…”

3. How we can change our cultural perception of old age…

old age misconceptionsAn article in the New Republic, “What Happens When a Science Fiction Genius Starts Blogging?” (9/7), takes us into the world of acclaimed novelist Ursula K. Le Guin, who encourages us to dispel the negative connotation associated with old age.

At 87 years old, the retired science fiction novelist has turned to blogging, learning “to write from the perspective on old age in the youth-worshipping medium of the internet.”

The quote:

“’A lot of younger people, seeing the reality of old age as entirely negative, see acceptance of age as negative,’ she writes. ‘Wanting to deal with old people in a positive spirit, they’re led to deny old people their reality. … ‘You’re only as old as you think you are!’ She scoffs at this attitude and points out its logical and moral problems. Unlike capitalism and patriarchy, the illusion surrounding old age is that it is an illusion: ‘Encouragement by denial, however well-meaning, backfires. Fear is seldom wise and never kind. Who is it you’re cheering up, anyhow? Is it really the geezer? To tell me my old age doesn’t exist is to tell me I don’t exist. Erase my age, you erase my life—me.’”

4. How we can learn from others…

why the Chinese educational system is better than america'sAn essay in the Wall Street Journal, “Why American Students Need Chinese Schools” (9/8), leaves us wondering whether we couldn’t learn a thing or two from the “Chinese way” of schooling, modeled on a “teacher knows best” mentality and the elevation of “the group” over the needs of an individual child.

The quote:

“The Chinese parent knows that her kid deserves whatever the teacher metes out, no questions asked. In other words, let the teacher do his or her job. As a result, educators in China enjoy an esteem that’s tops in the world: Half of Chinese would encourage their kids to become teachers, while less than a third of Americans and Brits would do the same, according to a 2013 study by the Varkey Foundation. Chinese society grants teachers a social status on par with doctors…
China’s school system breeds a Chinese-style grit, which delivers the daily message that perseverance—not intelligence or ability—is key to success…
Educational progress in the U.S. is hobbled by parental entitlement and by attitudes that detract from learning: We demand privileges for our children that have little to do with education and ask for report-card mercy when they can’t make the grade. As a society, we’re expecting more from our teachers while shouldering less responsibility at home.”

5. How we can become…well…less “stupid”…

why the humanities are importantA piece in TIME magazine, “How to Fix American Stupidity” (9/12), encourages us to…THINK! Defining stupidity as “intellectual stubbornness,” Steven Nadler – professor of philosophy and the humanities at the University of Wisconsin–Madison – thinks that our nation is suffering from a stupidity epidemic, whereby we have “access to all the information necessary to make an appropriate judgment, to come up with a set of reasonable and justified beliefs”, but fail to do so.

The cure, he believes, lies in exposing young people to philosophy and returning to the critical thinking and reasoning skills taught by the humanities.

The quote:

“…while other nations seem to be tackling the local and global problems we face head on, relying not so much on passion but on science and common sense, we seem as a nation to be acting stupidly. And in this regard we fail to live up to, and even betray, just those values that have informed our republic from its founding and to which we now so often merely pay lip service…
[W]hat the American public really needs are lessons in how to be rational, how to assess that information — distinguishing between real evidence and fake evidence — and end up believing only what one is justified in believing. We could use more lessons on what it means to be rational and how to be epistemologically responsible citizens who are familiar with the difference between a valid and invalid argument, and who know an unjustified belief when they see one.”

Phrase of the week: “Do what you can to help.”

Sister Margaret Ann, principal of Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School, southwest of downtown Miami, made headlines this week as the “chainsaw-wielding nun” in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. After seeing that their road was blocked, Sister Margaret Ann took a chainsaw sitting in a closet in her school and started sawing trees to clear the way. As NPR reports, “By using the chainsaw, the nun said, she was trying to live up to something her school teaches its students: ‘Do what you can to help.'”

Watch the video below:

Thinker Thoughts is an initiative intended to help us THINK more deeply and deliberately amid the hurried pace of life’s existence.

Thinker Thoughts: Storm Surge

Given the calamity of last week’s Hurricane Harvey in Houston and this week’s Hurricane Irma pummeling the Southeast, our Thinker Thoughts comes from a commentary in the New York Times (September 3, 2017) entitled,

Climate Science’s View of the Hurricane“, written by Katharine Mach and Miyuki Hino:

The answer, for scientists and everyone else who has been watching, is not to say definitively and dismissively, ‘This is the result of climate change’ or ‘There’s nothing we can do.’ It’s a chance to understand what is actually happening to the climate and all the ways human behavior leads to – and can mitigate – future disaster…

On the human side of risk, we should as a society embrace the fact that how and where we build our homes, plant our crops, construct our roads and bridges, and locate our schools and industries can provide resilience and safety rather than invite calamity…

We can take actions today that will make us more prepared, no matter what tomorrow holds. People can elevate power outlets in their homes, know their evacuation zone and have an emergency plan. Buildings can be raised and designed to resist hurricane-force winds. Such methods are tested and known to save lives and money

Long-term climate change will necessitate more creative solutions…[w]e are not completely at the whims of the weather. With available tools and an eye toward the future, we can limit the amount of climate change that occurs, minimize the risks that remain and build a resilient future.”

Keep thinking with our previous Thinker Thoughts on:
millennial wellness
iGen
ethical principles
social media behavior
likability vs. status
civil discourse
homo prospectus
names and identities
lifelong learners
star sanctuaries
artificial intelligence
the intellectual life
learning from early humans
and the importance of generosity of spirit
“Thinker Thoughts” is an initiative intended to help us THINK more deeply and deliberately amid the hurried pace of life’s existence. Every Friday, we’re posting our “Thinker Thoughts”, a short quote to reflect on from a recent commentary. Give it a think and let us know your thinker thoughts!

A Seeing Eye, a Listening Ear: In Honor of Usher Syndrome Awareness Day

The beloved children’s television host Mister Rogers once said,

“The gifts we treasure most over the years are often small and simple. In easy times and tough times, what seems to matter most is the way we show those nearest us that we’ve been listening to their needs, to their joys, and to their challenges.”

Indeed, the essence of life seems always to come down to the small and simple things, to the things we often don’t think about, the things we take for granted, the things we forget are gifted to us as human beings: our ability to see and hear, taste and smell, walk and breathe.

I am gently reminded of such gifts each time I play hide-and-seek with my three-year-old niece, Emma, who was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome (type 2A) – the most common genetic cause of combined deafness and blindness – two years ago. Hiding together while her older sister counts to ten, she mimics my “shhh”, only to let out a squeal, revealing our location and screaming in delight at the sight of her sister. Equally delighted by the sound of music, Emma is a natural entertainer, grabbing her microphone and eliciting howls of laughter with her wild dance moves. How precious the gifts of sight and sound truly are. Read more

Thinker Thoughts: Millennial Wellness

It’s been a busy summer, but we’re excited to be back and grateful for all your support and emails as ATG continues to evolve! 
This week’s Thinker Thoughts comes from an article in the August 2017 issue of Allure magazine entitled, “Millennials Are Obsessed With Health, Which May Have a Downside“, written by Molly Young:

 

“’The millennial personality is centered around individualism, high expectations, self-confidence, burnishing an image,’ says Jean M. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me, a scholarly look at the 23- to 37-year-old set. Sounds good on the surface, right? But a total lack of irresponsibility may not be the straight path to success that it sounds like. For all of modern history, youth has been a time period designated specifically for screwing up. We have a whole vocabulary of phrases devoted to the concept: ‘youthful indiscretions,’ ‘growing pains,’ ‘sowing wild oats.’ Today we’re more likely to soak our wild oats overnight and sprinkle them with goji berries than to sow them…

This risk aversion leads to unquestionably good behaviors, yes, but also to ones that older generations might see as oddly conservative or limiting. The point of making mistakes, after all, is that you learn from them. You become a more complicated and empathetic person, a person whose imperfections and blunders give way to a nuanced perspective on all the facets of living.”

Keep thinking with our previous Thinker Thoughts on:
iGen
ethical principles
social media behavior
likability vs. status
civil discourse
homo prospectus
names and identities
lifelong learners
star sanctuaries
artificial intelligence
the intellectual life
learning from early humans
and the importance of generosity of spirit
“Thinker Thoughts” is an initiative intended to help us THINK more deeply and deliberately amid the hurried pace of life’s existence. Every Friday, we’re posting our “Thinker Thoughts”, a short quote to reflect on from a recent commentary. Give it a think and let us know your thinker thoughts!