Robots

Standard

I love knowing stuff. Maybe that’s why I’ve been glued to the TV during the run of Jeopardy champ, James Holzhauer, who has a system – he goes big right away in the categories so he buys himself some cash to lose if he needs to – but who also has an astounding array of facts inside his head.

It’s amazing to watch.

I’m really good at memorizing. Being able to memorize helped me in school. Ask me those same things the day after the test, and I’d look at you blankly. I hadn’t really learned anything, I’d just memorized.

I  was having lunch with some friends recently and they all have school-aged children. They were talking about what a struggle school is for their highly creative children because they are being taught facts in order to spit those facts out on standardized tests that will make them – and their schools – look good. It’s important to look good. Funding for the schools depends on it.

But, of course, what’s happening is that the kids are learning information and not how to think. They aren’t learning that the nifty thing they learned in history class is the reason the other nifty thing they learned in science class matters. They aren’t learning with heart. In fact, I would argue, they aren’t even learning.

Ask them after those standardized tests if they remember anything. I’ll bet their minds purged the facts just as thoroughly as mine used to.

You know what stuck with me, through all of my school years and even now?

Stories.

Stories that took those disparate facts and shaped them with context and emotion and memory. Stories may or may not do it for you. But they probably do. There is nothing so comforting as the “once upon a time…” You just sink into it, don’t you? It’s how we humans keep the dark away.

Some of the news I watch is all worried that robots are going to take over our jobs. But robots can’t yet mimic the nuance that is story. I was reading a story about robots writing news – they can gather appropriate facts, but journalists don’t have to worry yet, because they can’t arrange the facts into the kind of flow that is almost intuitive with humans. It’s the way we communicate. It’s full of nuance and sometimes full of contradictions. Robots don’t handle nuance or contradiction as well as we do.

Even outside of writing, decisions get made based on intuition and experience and just that indefinable “something” – robots don’t have our bias, but they don’t have our gut either.

Robots can analyze data at breath-taking speed, but I can’t see them making that dazzling leap that we humans do when we jump into innovation because something that has nothing to do with what we’re working on, just might work for what we’re working on.

I’m not worried about robots taking over our jobs. I’m worried about humans being turned into robots because they are being fed facts – information and not knowledge.

Artificial Intelligence Brain

 

Listen to the companion podcast. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Pretend

Standard

Have you recovered from losing that hour yet? Daylight savings time. I love farmers, but I hate the time change that’s based on an agrarian society.

It got me thinking…I’m not the only one who hates daylight savings time, so why do we put up with it? It’s basically a mass hallucination, right? We all agree to pretend that it’s an hour later, or earlier, depending on the season.

I guess I was thinking about how easy it is to convince people of something, whether it’s true or not. It’s not REALLY an hour later, we’re just pretending it is.

In an era where politicians swear to the truth of invisible crowds or invisible walls, and people spread fake news on social media, I guess the truth is no longer an objective fact, it’s just what we all say it is.

I read an interesting article about the so-called brain attacks on our emissaries in Cuba. Remember that? People were showing up with weird brain symptoms and anti-Cuba politicians were calling for retribution. Except…if you read the follow-ups from actual scientists rather than jingoistic politicians, the truth is stranger than some secret super-weapon. There was actual physical evidence of damage. But… Physics shows that no weapon that could cause that kind of damage could also target so precisely. Spoiler alert? Scientists are concluding that it’s a giant case of mass hysteria. Now, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t actual physical damage. It means that we can convince ourselves of something enough to cause our own bodies to damage themselves.

Like daylight savings time, it’s a case of everyone acting as though something that doesn’t exist…does.

I wonder what it would be like if we could all pretend something really cool instead.

If we can pretend that time has changed or that brain damage has been caused, can’t we pretend that illness can be stopped?

There is such good evidence about the connection between the mind and the body. If you are depressed, you are much more likely to have physical symptoms, from the loss of appetite and the inability to sleep, to inflammation, chronic aches and pains, and even heart disease.

And it works the other way around, too. People who are more resilient emotionally tend to be more resilient physically.

Some people believe in prayer. They think that, if enough people pray, their loved one will live or get better.

What I’m suggesting isn’t all that different. It’s just not appealing to a higher power, it’s taking the human ability to fool ourselves and using it for good.

What if we all pretended that everyone had good intentions, for example? Anyone who showed symptoms of hatred without cause would be regarded with puzzlement. We’re all pretending bigotry doesn’t exist, so how can you be saying these things? Are you sick? Ignorant?

I know, it’s kind of naive of me.

And, back to daylight savings time.

My dogs used to wake me up at 8 am on the dot. They aren’t part of this great pretend game we all play, so now they wake me up at 9. And, for anyone who wants me? I’m still waking up at 8 – it’s just an hour later, and you call it 9.

Listen to the podcast! 

DON’T Follow Your Passion!

Standard

I always thought you were supposed to follow your passion…follow your bliss. But what if that’s wrong?

I was reading an article the other day that says that people who follow their passion are too passive. The article cites a study done by Stanford University and a collaboration between Yale and the University of Singapore. The study looks at whether your interests – in other words, your passions – are inside of you, just waiting for you to follow them, or whether you need to really work and develop those passions. Turns out, they say, that the people who are waiting for their passion to magically unveil itself… aren’t working hard enough to develop those passions, and they are less curious and motivated overall. And, I’ve done enough reading to know that people who lose their curiosity and motivation are pretty flat and, a lot of times, pretty depressed.

One of the things the scientists did was they asked college kids whether they identified as science/tech types or more artistic. About a month later, they showed them articles related to the stuff from the type they were not. The ones who had more of a growth perspective were more likely to find the articles interesting. In other words, the ones who thought they were what they were and that was that? Eh, why bother to look at an article about something they were not.

As a lifelong learner, I can tell you that it’s when I’m reading the articles about stuff that has zero relevance to what I do, that I get that little shiver of ah-ha…you know, that zing of finding a connection between things that you never knew was there?

The psychologists behind the study say you should look at your interests like seeds that take a bit of cultivation. Sure, you can just wait and hope for them to bloom, but maybe adding some water or fertilizer or something and you’ll certainly be more invested when something pops out of the ground. Maybe an even better metaphor is that you should water the ground all around your seed too because then something really cool could grow that you never even knew was lying dormant underground!

The flip side of that is that if you think your passion is just lying inside of you, waiting to be discovered, then you think that what you were born with is what you’ve got. Good and bad. So why try?

The psychologists said their study can even apply to love.

People who believe that there is one true love out there and that they just have to find it? They’re wrong.

Finding your person, like finding your passion, is something that takes work. And keeping that love alive takes work, too. Try and learn and make mistakes and maybe then you’ll have true love.

 

LISTEN TO THE COMPANION PODCAST

 

LISTEN TO OTHER KEEP IT JUICY! PODCASTS

FOGS

Standard

Confession time. I am reading six books at the same time.

Last time, I talked about how I have FOMO – or the fear of missing out. So, you might think that I’m greedily reading all of these books because I’m afraid of missing out on something.

But, the truth is, the books are all for different reasons.

There’s the book that I’m reading for sheer pleasure; for a book club (the book When that I mentioned is for the book club) ; the autobiography that takes forever to finish; the one that’s going to be a movie soon; the book about the craft of writing; the one that’s teaching me about Ayurvedic health; and sometimes, there’s even a seventh book if a podcast guest is also an author, so I can bone up before I interview them.

And, that doesn’t even count the two daily newspapers, and the countless magazines that I’ve learned to get digital subscriptions for so I don’t kill more trees.

So why do I read so much stuff?

First of all, I love to read. I’ve always loved to read. I don’t read because of FOMO – the fear of missing out. It’s more like FOGS – the Fear of Getting Stupid.

The older I get, the more I worry that my knowledge will decrease. Or get out of date.

I can handle if my body changes with age. Well, I’m not thrilled about it, but I can handle it. But the thing that scares me the most is losing mental agility.

So I try to keep learning things. And I read. A lot.

What is it you do to keep your mind sharp? I can’t be the only one. Anyone else out there facing FOGS – the fear of getting stupid?

dunce_hat_diy_custom_party_hats-rc433b54dacfd4e1f964ca6e27f002be3_6w0a4_630Check out the companion podcast!

Keeping It Juicy

Standard

I’ve always wanted to start a salon. Not the place you get your hair cut, but the old-fashioned salon in which rich women (because it was usually women, and they were usually rich enough to have leisure) invited the cultural luminaries of the day to eat, drink and discuss.

When I was in college, I read the biography of Misia Sert, who had such a salon in Paris. She hosted Renoir, Monet, Debussy, and Toulouse-Lautrec. She became the muse for artists Vuillard and Bonnard.

I wanted to grow up to be Misia Sert. But my husband’s anti-social tendencies and my own hosting anxieties meant smaller and more infrequent gatherings than Misia Sert practiced.

Still, I wanted to be able to talk to smart, funny people even beyond my own smart, funny social circle.

And, so I’ve started a podcast.

I call it Keep It Juicy! because my ideal is to take great, ripping bites out of life and let the juices run down my arms like a ripe peach. I decided to target it at over-50s because, not only am I there myself, but it seems a bit too easy to keep it juicy when you are young and ripe yourself. And I started cold-calling people I’d only read about.

And they’ve said yes.

These are people who stare down fear or grief or anxiety, and step right through. They don’t back down or, if they do, they get right back up and take a different path. I call them “Juicys.”

And, somehow, in interviewing them and in stumbling through sound editing and recording and audio publishing, I’ve found my own “juicy” in life. And I’m going to keep on taking big bites.

Check out the podcast over on my Keep It Juicy! website.

071817_KIJ_iTunesREVISED

Catching Creativity

Standard

(Editor’s Note: This appeared initially as a blog for SKIRT Magazine)

I was never much good at catching fireflies.

In my youth, fireflies would twinkle in the soft light, creating magic on the back lawn.

My cousins would burst out into the twilight, armed with glass baby food jars, their legs streaked with the blood of the last swatted mosquito like some kind of warpaint. The evening would be filled with the fwop-fwop sound of their palms slapping to seal the fireflies inside the jars. They compared who would have the brightest firefly nightlight at their bedside.

I would wander much more slowly through the dew-slick grass, an ambler where my cousins were marching warriors. The fairy lights attracted me but once I captured a firefly, it looked puny in its glass prison, its magic diminished with captivity.

Eventually, I let the fireflies be.

As an adult and a writer, I found that the bright sparkle of creativity too would diminish the harder I tried to tame it. Grabbing onto a muse was like trying to pick up a raw egg yolk with your fingers – it slipped and slid just out of your grasp.

Creativity is supposed to be a spark, implying that you can just strike two blunt things together repeatedly until it happens.

It doesn’t work that way for me. I can’t force creativity directly. I can’t even sneak up on it. If I stare at it directly, it wisps away. I can only catch it out of the corner of my eye and let it sneak up on me.

Creativity sparks when I shamelessly eavesdrop on other people’s dramas, the tears of an overwrought stranger watering my creativity. It sparks when two disparate things suddenly seem related, like butterflies and physics. And it sparks when it is most inconvenient – nudging me awake at 3 am to get up and capture a scene or a dream.

But, the times I sit alone before dawn at my keyboard, hammering out the words that seem to come at the speed of light?

Creativity hovers like a bright cloud of fireflies.

fireflies-long-exposure-photography-2016-japan-19