Creative Thinking

•November 13, 2009 • 1 Comment

In a recent workshop that I attended, Ayd Instone spoke about how to be a creative thinker. Most often we equate creative thinking with new workable ideas. Before I present Ayd’s formula on coming up with such ideas, I need to classify how the two halves of our brains interact to come up with these ideas.

  • Left Brain is associated with Critical Thinking: Facts, Judgments, Logic, Vocabulary, Time
  • Right Brain is associated with Creative Thinking: Relationships, Pattern Recognition, Images, Emotions

For us to come up with new ideas there are seven stages that need to be completed and different stages require the use of different half of your brain. The stages are:

  1. Intuition (Right) – Some sort of an idea
  2. Saturation (Left) – Information gathering
  3. Incubation (Right) – Letting the information cook
  4. Inspiration (Right) – Result of filtering the information
  5. Evaluation (Left) – Critical thought
  6. Elaboration (Right) – Deeper thought
  7. Action (Left) – Result of all of the above if the idea survives all these stages!

I find this a valuable classification and believe that most of my ideas are at the saturation stage. It also shows that to come up with creative thoughts you use more right brain than left brain. The way to develop your right brain? Do creative things like painting, listening to music, and watching movies! So the moral of the story is that unless you have a fairly balanced life it will be hard to come up with great new ideas, or at least that is Ayd’s conclusion.

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The Transhumanist Declaration

•November 12, 2009 • 3 Comments

As written by an international group of authors for the World Transhumanist Association. This version was published by Nick Bostrom in the Journal of Evolution and Technology in March 2009.

  1. Humanity stands to be profoundly affected by science and technology in the future. We envision the possibility of broadening human potential by overcoming aging, cognitive shortcomings, involuntary suffering and our confinement to planet Earth.
  2. We believe that humanity’s potential is still mostly unrealised. There are possible scenarios that lead to wonderful and exceedingly worthwhile enhanced human conditions.
  3. We recognise  that humanity faces serious risks, especially from the misuse of new technologies. There are possible realistic scenarios that lead to the loss of most, or even all, of what we hold valuable. Some of these scenarios are drastic, others are subtle. Although all progress is change, not all change is progress.
  4. Research effort needs to be invested into understanding these prospects. We need to carefully deliberate how best to reduce risks and expedite beneficial applications. We also need forums where people can constructively discuss what should be done, and a social order where responsible decisions can be implemented.
  5. Reduction of existential risks, and development of means for the preservation of life and health, the alleviation of grave suffering, and the improvement of human foresight and wisdom should be pursued as urgent priorities, and heavily funded.
  6. Policymaking ought to be guided by responsible and inclusive moral vision, taking seriously both opportunities and risks, respecting autonomy and individual rights, and showing solidarity with and concern for the interests and dignity of all people around the globe. We must also consider our moral responsibilities towards generations that will exist in the future.
  7. We advocate the well-being of all sentience, including humans, non-humans animals, and future artificial intellects, modified life forms or other intelligences to which technological and scientific advance may give rise.
  8. We favour allowing individuals wide personal choice over how they enable their lives. This includes use of techniques that may be developed to assist memory, concentration and mental energy; life extension therapies; reproductive choice technologists; cryonic procedures; and many other possible human modification and enhancement technologies.

Decision Making

•November 6, 2009 • Leave a Comment

As part of the Peer Support training that I am undergoing with the University Counselling Services, we are given different activities to help develop the skill-set needed to be an effective Peer Supporter. I found one such task on decision making worth mentioning on this blog. I recommend you to try it out for yourself.

Scenario 1: There is a decision making queen in town and she will take 3 decisions for you. These decisions will be taken by her on hearing from you about the problem. The decision she takes will be in your best interest.

Your task is to write down which 3 decisions will you ask her to take for you and to describe all the factors surrounding that decision. During the process record how you feel.

Scenario 2: Now the decision making queen will make all your decisions except 3. Again, all decisions taken would be in your best interest.

Your task is to write down which 3 decisions you will not let her make. No need to describe any details here.

Conclusion: Many people end up having the same decision in both cases. This shows how torn they are over that particular decision. Some people find that when they write down all the pros & cons of a decision, they are often able to make a decision themselves and don’t need that queen. Also, if this is done as a group activity, you will realise how different the definition of ‘best interest’ is for different people. Which shows that when they respond to a certain thing their actions, most of the times, will have a rational explanation. Thus, this is one more reason to be a non-judgmental person and that, my friends, was the point of the exercise.

Why is “now” so normal?

•November 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

It’s easy to think of anything other than now as intensely weird and fundamentally abnormal.

My life has changed a great deal over the past little while. I’ve learned lots of new things and changed a lot of habbits. For example, one thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve become ever-increasingly dependent on my diary. It tells me where I have to be, what I have to do, and what I have to take with me when I go. I plan things months into the future will full confidence that I will remember to turn up because each morning I when I wake up I inspect my diary to find out what I’m doing today. It’s very reassuring to know that everything I have to remember today is recorded within nine lines, because I’m normally a very forgetful person. It’s amazing how quickly we come to know, love and rely up on the small systems and routines we develop for ourselves, and I don’t regret it one bit. I’m sure there are routines in your life that you feel equally aquainted with.

If I had started keeping a diary when I first came to Oxford then I may have today believed that it was a great advance in my personal development, signifying some deeper change in my attitude to personal organisation. But that is quite impossible and here’s why I’m writing this post: I only began keeping a diary 16 days ago when my phone broke! Today my phone arrived back from the repair centre, shiny and new, and I quickly restored all calendary items to its memory. I stand looking at it today, though, wondering how I will ever adjust to such a foreign method of time organisation.

It is certainly tempting to think of each little change we make to our habbits as representative of some deep attitude shift. If we could actually meet ourselves from “the time before X” we would probably find our past selves more familiar than we expect. The phone example takes this to extremes: 16 days is impossible to forget, but had I made the same change over a longer period, say a couple of years, then I might be fooled into overestimating just how significant this habbit change has been.

Another experience I bring to bear on this phenomenon is one I encountered when I stumbled upon an email I sent a year ago with regard to planning a ski trip. My intuition would have me believe that over the past year my organisational skills have developed from ad-hoc-at-best to thorough-and-systematic. However, this email shows otherwise. Reading my own email gave me a certain degree of pride: I wrote to a group of friends with whom I had casually agreed to organise a ski trip, succinctly covering the important organisational aspects of the trip, delegating tasks, and specifying deadlines where necessary. The plans were laid out clearly and concisely, while remaining friendly and motivating. Though I’ve certainly learned a very great deal over the past year, there is again a tendency to overestimate just how deep my attitude shift has been.

I have previously found the same thing looking over essays I wrote at high school or even primary school. Though I spot many shortcomings I am often pleasantly surprised to find that I was not quite as immature and idiotic as my memory might have me believe (though there certainly was an element there!)

The point of this is not for us to revel in our underappreciated childhood genius but rather to recognise our tendency to bias our concept of normality in the present and exaggerate the abnormality of all other times, past and future, with respect to this. In a future post I will discuss this concept with regard to our perception of the future.

Music: A remote control for my moods

•October 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Music has been one of the biggest influences in my life. It has become more than a pleasurable activity but one of the most useful tools in my self-manipulation toolbox. I can use it to control my mood, change it or enhance it. I have a certain type of music for almost every mood I am in or I desire to be in. Just turn it on and within minutes I can control my mood. I even have music that I can fall asleep to instantly. But it’s not that simple. I’ve spent years experimenting and finding the right kind of music, also after a certain time listening to it repeatedly makes me lose interest in it and then I have to search for something to do the same job. All this is on the assumption that you are open to experiencing the emotions that music has to offer. It is easy to close yourself and not allow it to affect you.

This TED talk by Julian Treasure on 4 ways sound affects us, could not have come at a better time. I had been struggling to make a friend of mine understand what power music holds over me. Incidentally, it has that power on everyone of us. They are listed below:

1. Physiological: Can causes release of harmones, fluctuation in heart-rate/breathing.

2. Psychological: Can affects ur mood. Music is the biggest influence. Natural sounds

3. Cognitively: Open plan office leads to lower productive.

4. Behaviourly: People listening to fast techno music will not drive at 20 mph.

Making Public Commitments

•October 27, 2009 • 3 Comments

How often do you set a goal only to let it slip by because it seems less important as time goes on? How often do you look back and wish you’d persisted in your pursuit of some end? Think of the goal that seems most important to you right now, today, in this place and time. If you could press a button that would guarantee your continued motivation to achieve that goal, would you press it? If you’re anything like me, the answer is a resounding YES!

Well, such a button is actually not as far-fetched as it sounds. No, I’m not talking about actually altering your brain or mood alteration through technology, though those are interesting topics for future posts. I’m talking about the psychology of making public commitments. It turns out that claiming to your friends, colleagues, parents, and teachers that you will achieve a particular goal can increase your ongoing motivation to achieve that goal because you have the desire to live up to your word or risk losing respect in the eyes of those whose respect you value. The original desire to achieve the stated goal is still there, but now you have added further independent motivations in a form that will persist over time.

Make no mistake, however: there is no free lunch here. By leveraging the psychology of public commitments you expose yourself to additional risk; namely, that there are now even worse consequences of not achieving what you set out to achieve. You must choose this approach for goals that are so important that they are worth this additional exposure.

I experimented with this approach when I was planning a cycling trip from Oxford to Amsterdam over the summer. This was my first experience planning an international cycling trip, and there was no short supply of organisational difficulties: preparing the bicycles, planning the routes, booking accommodation, learning to navigate the Dutch cycle network, and recruiting others to join me. But this was something I was determined to achieve so starting in March I began spreading the word as widely as possible that I would absolutely positively be undertaking this trip. Though internally I was somewhat less confident of following through than I acted, I recognised that it was the very act of making this public commitment that would help me maintain the motivation to follow through.

The trip was planned for early September, but, sure enough, come August I was engaged with a plethora of seemingly more pressing concerns. Finding time to organise the trip seemed impossible since at every moment there was something in the much more immediate future that threatened to monopolize my attention. Every so often I would spare just a moment to consider the possibility of not going on the trip, so had I not had the synthetic-but-real motivation of living up to the plan that I had proudly declared over the past months, I do not think I would have ended up following through with the trip.

You have already guessed the end to this story. The public commitment I made did give me that in-the-instant motivation and I did follow through with the trip and it was a wonderful experience that I will treasure forever. It was the perfect storm of blissful cycling: beautiful countryside, wonderful company (my good friend Christo), perfect weather, and the exhilaration of a physical feat.

In retrospect, of course, it was obviously a good idea to do the trip despite the pressing deadlines of my PhD transfer of status. As it happened, the transfer went smoothly regardless, but the point is that the cycling trip is something I will look back on with pride and happiness, whereas the transfer of status will fade into all the obscurity of distant memories. In March, when I started planning the trip, I knew that; and now, looking back, I can see the same truth. In the middle, though, there was always going to be a point of teetering motivation and that is the part where manipulating one’s own set of motivations through public commitments can work wonders.

I recommend this technique as one tool your self-manipulation toolbox, to use if and when appropriate for achieving your goals.

Further reading: How The Mind Works by Steven Pinker, and Doctor Strangelove,a 1964 film by Stanley Kubrik.

David Logan on tribal leadership

•October 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment

David Logan is Associate Dean and Executive Director of Executive Development, and Associate Professor of Clinical, at USC’s Marshall School of Business. He talks about how we human beings have always form tribes. These tribes differ most significantly in culture and he classifies them in 5 stages. (Figures in brackets are approximate statistical occurrence of such tribes)

  1. Life sucks (2%)
  2. My life sucks (25%)
  3. I’m great, you suck (48%)
  4. We’re great (22%)
  5. Life is great (2%)

He quotes his book (the three laws of performance),  “As people see the world so they behave”. Thus, the tribe you are in affects you and you affect the tribe. These tribes are dynamic, they can change stages with the right kind of leadership (positive or negative).  In a tribe if individuals think about themselves more than about others then they will remain or go into a lower stage. He quotes an example from a company where employees are asked to be a little bit weird. They decorate their office, they have a tap-tap dance machine in their corridor, they clap when they have visitors, in short they enjoy themselves. He concludes from this example that if people think beyond themselves towards something greater than their own individual competence then they can move a stage higher. He defined the office to be a Stage 4 tribe. For stage 5, he takes the example of Desmond Tutu and his work in South Africa, bringing together millions of tribes for one cause. Doing something extraordinary, that’s what tribes in stage 5 can achieve. He stresses that Leaders need to talk all the levels as tribes can hear only one level above and below where they are. He also points out that the toughest move is from stage 3 to stage 4 and that TED represents values which help such tribes movements.

All in all, a fairly good talk. Studying human crowd is a challenging task but Logan’s tribal classification makes quite a lot of sense. The only thing that made me uncomfortable as the talk progressed was Logan seemed to be a strong example of Ayn Rand’s description of Ellsworth Toohey in the Fountainhead, a person who tries to shun away Individualism. It was one of the few TED talks where I disagreed strongly to a certain point-of-view, specially the mention of how things would always be better if one thinks beyond individual competence.