Archives for category: Senses

Does I.Q. matter when looking at the super-successful in our world?

The recent New York Times article on natural skill, or I.Q., and practice suggests that I.Q. is the determinate factor in success, not practice. i.e. it doesn’t matter how long you keep trying, you’re more unlikely to get there unless you have a high I.Q. to begin with.

The initial evidence from Florida State University found that excellent violin players, by age 20, had slogged at it for over 10,000 hours, compared with just under 8,000 hours for the “good” players and not even 5,000 hours for the least skilled.

However, the working memory capacity (that is, the capacity of your brain to work on various items simultaneously – think of it as a computer “desktop”), which is a key part of intellectual ability, made a statistically significant contribution, i.e. if you took two pianists with the same amount of practice, but different levels of working memory capacity, it’s likely that the one higher with working memory capacity would have performed considerably better.

Michigan State University researchers recently found that compared with participants in the 99.1 percentile for intellectual ability at age 12, those who were in the 99.9 percentile (the profoundly gifted) were between three and five times more likely to go on to earn a doctorate, secure a patent, publish an article in a scientific journal or publish a literary work.

Don’t stop tinkling the ivories though… it may not lead to super-stardom, but it will lead to a lot of fulfilment. 🙂

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La Douleur Exquise (French): The heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can’t have.

A great post by Big Think today about 10 relationship words that the English language does not provide for… i.e. they’re not translateable into a similar English word.

Funny part is, if you are an English speaker reading this,  you will read the below words and likely know the emotions probably behind them very well, even though you haven’t got the exact words to express them.

There is a lot of debate in psychology about the importance of language and thought. Some argue that language determines thought (ie you can’t think of something if you don’t know its name). Others argue thought comes before language (ie you can feel something but not have the words to express it)… this article fits into that category whereby these concepts will be very familiar to you (as English speakers) but not registered in your vocab.

Your amygdala (the part of your brain that stores for emotional memory) and your Wernicke’s area (the part of your brain that comprehends language) should be buzzing as you read this… but your Broca’s area (the part that produces speech) might feel a bit left out…

Enjoy the list of words below courtesy of Pamela Haag on Big Think.

Mamihlapinatapei (Yagan, an indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego): The wordless yet meaningful look shared by two people who desire to initiate something, but are both reluctant to start. 

Oh yes, this is an exquisite word, compressing a thrilling and scary relationship moment. It’s that delicious, cusp-y moment of imminent seduction. Neither of you has mustered the courage to make a move, yet. Hands haven’t been placed on knees; you’ve not kissed. But you’ve both conveyed enough to know that it will happen soon… very soon. 

Yuanfen (Chinese): A relationship by fate or destiny. This is a complex concept. It draws on principles of predetermination in Chinese culture, which dictate relationships, encounters and affinities, mostly among lovers and friends.

From what I glean, in common usage yuanfen means the “binding force” that links two people together in any relationship. 

But interestingly, “fate” isn’t the same thing as “destiny.” Even if lovers are fated to find each other they may not end up together. The proverb, “have fate without destiny,” describes couples who meet, but who don’t stay together, for whatever reason. It’s interesting, to distinguish in love between the fated and the destined. Romantic comedies, of course, confound the two.

Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese): The act of tenderly running your fingers through someone’s hair.

Retrouvailles (French):  The happiness of meeting again after a long time. 

This is such a basic concept, and so familiar to the growing ranks of commuter relationships, or to a relationship of lovers, who see each other only periodically for intense bursts of pleasure. I’m surprised we don’t have any equivalent word for this subset of relationship bliss. It’s a handy one for modern life.

Ilunga (Bantu): A person who is willing to forgive abuse the first time; tolerate it the second time, but never a third time.

Apparently, in 2004, this word won the award as the world’s most difficult to translate. Although at first, I thought it did have a clear phrase equivalent in English: It’s the “three strikes and you’re out” policy. But ilunga conveys a subtler concept, because the feelings are different with each “strike.” The word elegantly conveys the progression toward intolerance, and the different shades of emotion that we feel at each stop along the way.

Ilunga captures what I’ve described as the shade of gray complexity in marriages—Not abusive marriages, but marriages that involve infidelity, for example.  We’ve got tolerance, within reason, and we’ve got gradations of tolerance, and for different reasons. And then, we have our limit. The English language to describe this state of limits and tolerance flattens out the complexity into black and white, or binary code. You put up with it, or you don’t.  You “stick it out,” or not.

La Douleur Exquise (French): The heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can’t have.

When I came across this word I thought of “unrequited” love. It’s not quite the same, though. “Unrequited love” describes a relationship state, but not a state of mind. Unrequited love encompasses the lover who isn’t reciprocating, as well as the lover who desires. La douleur exquisegets at the emotional heartache, specifically, of being the one whose love is unreciprocated.

 Koi No Yokan (Japanese): The sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall into love. 

This is different than “love at first sight,” since it implies that you might have a sense of imminent love, somewhere down the road, without yet feeling it. The term captures the intimation of inevitable love in the future, rather than the instant attraction implied by love at first sight.

Ya’aburnee (Arabic): “You bury me.” It’s a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person, because of how difficult it would be to live without them.

The online dictionary that lists this word calls it “morbid and beautiful.” It’s the “How Could I Live Without You?” slickly insincere cliché of dating, polished into a more earnest, poetic term.  

Forelsket: (Norwegian):  The euphoria you experience when you’re first falling in love.

This is a wonderful term for that blissful state, when all your senses are acute for the beloved, the pins and needles thrill of the novelty. There’s a phrase in English for this, but it’s clunky. It’s “New Relationship Energy,” or NRE.

Saudade (Portuguese): The feeling of longing for someone that you love and is lost. Another linguist describes it as a “vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist.”

It’s interesting that saudade accommodates in one word the haunting desire for a lost love, or for an imaginary, impossible, never-to-be-experienced love. Whether the object has been lost or will never exist, it feels the same to the seeker, and leaves her in the same place:  She has a desire with no future. Saudade doesn’t distinguish between a ghost, and a fantasy. Nor do our broken hearts, much of the time.

World War 1 Soldiers. This picture is available under the Creative Commons License.

North-west France is peaceful, green, cheese producing countryside, with cave-curated sausages, duck confit, locally-produced cidre, and wines.

On July 1, 1916 it became the bloodbath of the WW1 Allied attack which saw 1.2 million Allied lives lost over a nasty five year battle with flame-throwing tanks, bayonets, chlorine gas, mines, bombs, and machine guns firing 4000 rounds per minute, each containing 2000 shrapnel balls. On June 6, 1944 it became the landing ground for Allied forces for D-Day, which again saw thousands murdered in the name of freedom and democracy.

Today, the wide expanses of quiet countryside belie this horror and the thousands buried there. The quiet is eery and the expanses still too empty even more than 90 years on. Still each year, the local potato farmers collect 500,0oo kilograms of shrapnel and war remnants from their fields.

It is hard to imagine the psyche of murder that sent young men up over the trenches in their thousands. It’s harder still to imagine the psyche of men behind machine guns who had deadly aim.

In 1914, the values of the Allied countries that sent their young to war in 1914 prided themselves on the “gentlemanly” values of chivalry, and the outbreak of war allowed the best proof of this by protecting woman, king and country. While comforting to a point, come the day of duty and the barrage of gunfire, the mental leap from civilian to soldier must have been great – too great, in the cases of many post-traumatic stress sufferers.

The propaganda of the Allied countries helped to get in the right mindset for battle; brochures and posters screamed the evil of the Hun. Leaflets air-dropped into German lines simply said: “you’re surrounded – give up now!”  The effects of these on the attitude and bravery to do what was necessary and “right” must have helped.  But it’s hard to believe that it made it any easier to point your bayonet directly at a fellow 21-year-old and pull the trigger.

Whether fighting to defend, or invade, the realities of wartime remain the same: you are a soldier and you will need to kill. Or be killed.

When looking at the mentality of war, it’s a basic “fight or flight” chemical reaction:

  • Sensory nerve cells pass the perception of a threat, or stress, from the environment to the hypothalamus in the brain.
  • The hypothalamus transmits a signal to the pituitary gland resulting in the production of cortisol. Cortisol is released into the blood stream, resulting in an increase in blood pressure, increase in blood sugar levels, and suppression of the immune system.
  • Simultaneously, the hypothalamus transmits a nerve signal down the spinal cord to the adrenal glands which receive nerve and chemical signals initiated by cells in the hypothalamus.
  • Nerve signals activate the release of epinephrine or adrenaline into the bloodstream which is important in the fight or flight response and activates the lungs to breathe more deeply, heart to beat faster, and your muscle cells to react, causing beads of perspiration and raised hairs at the surface.*
So that’s how the your brain helps you override the fear of attacking and being attacked – and survive!
*Taken from ‘How Cells Communicate During The Fight or Flight Response’ http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/begin/cells/fight_flight/

My first class at The School Of Life in Bloomsbury, London, explored ‘The Art of Conversation’.

Presenter John Paul Flintoff, columnist for the Sunday Times, delved into the history of conversation and discovered Irish novelist Johnathan Swift was in fact shy as a mouse and hated conversation. However, he was determined to have a good one, so he persevered…
If a man of his verbosity was felt like he had nothing great worth saying to people, then surely there’s hope for us all.

It’s been proven that conversation is a currenecy as important as money; psychological studies have shown that those who have deeper conversations rate themselves as happier than those who regard their conversations as largely superficial.

So here are six ways to have better conversations, courtesy of Mr Flintoff and The School of Life.

Six ways to have better conversations:

1/ Have curiosity about strangers – everyone is different but similar to you. Find out how much so.

2/ Take off your mask – everyone has one. See what changes when you make space for others to do the same.

3/ Empathy + lack of assumptions – we all know how to be kind but we forget. We also tend to box each other before we know them from a bar of soap. Remember your kindness (and how much you dislike being labelled), and you’ll find you have more connections with people.

4/ Get behind the job title – we are all more than our current job title. NEVER ask what people do! The curiosity might kill you for the entire length of the conversation, but it’s much more fun.

5/ Adventurous openings – try to avoid the formulaic. Ultimately people will thank you for it. We had some interesting ideas come up which revolved around asking people ‘the craziest things they’d ever done’ and ‘what is your biggest secret’. But if you think that’s off your richter scale of comfort, just aim to ask something about people’s appearance eg ‘where did you get your shoes’. People love that shit.

6/ Courage – it’s scary striking up conversations with strangers. After all, we’ve all been told not to do that from a young age. But with a spirit of adventure, great conversation can pull you apart, refresh you and make way for a new you. Don’t be shy…
Thanks to The School of Life and John Paul Flintoff for a wonderful evening. Book in, if you can, for more classes at www.theschooloflife.com.

Imagine hearing colours, feeling sounds or tasting shapes.

If you look at the letter ‘4’ and see the colour “green” or have a relationship between the sound of a car horn and feel a pain in your right leg, or smell jasmine when you see a triangle, you could be a part of the less than 1% population who experience Synaesthesia.

Synaesthesia is basically a mash up of senses. A synaesthete receives the same sensory information as you or I, but somewhere in their somatosensory cortex (the parts of your brain that receive sensory information from your body parts) and association areas (the part that is involved in complex mental processes eg forming perceptions), they process the information differently and thus they experience an altered perception – or an altered state of consciousness.

Parts of a synaesthete’s brain when looking at a letter register a letter and a colour at once.

Neuroimaging studies using PET and fMRI demonstrate significant differences between the brains of synaesthetes and non-synesthetes. The degree of white matter connectivity (white matter being the fat that coats the grey nerve cells) in the fusiform gyrus correlates with the intensity of the synaesthetic experience. There is some dispute over the functionalities of the fusiform gyrus, but it is generally accepted that it is involved in:

  1. processing color information
  2. face and body recognition (see Fusiform face area)
  3. word recognition
  4. number recognition [questionable: may only be as a result of a global response of any generic recognition tasks, further statistical evidence needed]
  5. within-category identification

Some famous synaesthetes you might know include French poet Baudelaire, Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt and Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, who was said to hear tones and chords as he painted; for example yellow was the colour of middle-C on a piano or a brassy trumpet blast. For him, the combinations and associations of colours produced vibrational frequencies akin to chords played on a piano.

Famous novelist Vladimir Nobokov wrote that he associated the letter ‘r’ with a senstion of ‘a sooty rag being ripped’, while the letter ‘a’ he associated with weathered wood.

Needless to say, it helps in the creative process!

For more information on the sensory clashes go to http://www.uksynaesthesia.com/.

Thank you to Wikipedia, and ‘Psychology 2’ by Burton, Westen and Kowalski.

As well as exploring many other patient’s stories, Sacks’ own anecdote in his latest novel ‘The Mind’s Eye” (Picador, 2010) candidly talks about his experiences with an ocular melanoma in his right eye. The treatment required cutting the eye muscle to insert a radioactive plate for 72 hours, zapping the malignant cells. When unsuccessful, this is eventually followed by laser treatment which damages the fouvea – the part of your eye which delivers your central vision.

In the following weeks of recovery he experiences is extraordinary explosions of vision, with the brain suddenly spurting blowouts of bright light and colour as it tries to heal its burned, charred parts and reconnect tissues and messages between optical nerves and occipital lobe.

Colour becomes a riddle for him. Holding up a green apple in his peripheral vision, it is green, but when moved in front of his body (and thus it is viewed by the fouvea) it becomes black; same for bluebells in a meadow – with the untreated eye they remained blue but seen with the damaged eye the flowers became green with the grass.

Similarly, the scotoma or black hole in his central vision behaves as if a sci-fi beast, changing its pattern and colour to suit his surrounds; black when he opens his eyes, if looking at a white wall, the shape would suddenly change to white to match it, or to match the pattern when looking at brick walls, or chess boards.

The colour soon returns to the apples, and he experiences a heightened sense of vision whereby he sees images in his memory long after the event; a kind of heightened visual memory.

It’s an incredible cerebral experience told by such an eloquent physician.

Among his many books, Oliver Sacks has also written ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat’, ‘Awakenings’, and ‘Musicophilia’.
www.oliversacks.com

Oliver Sacks’ most recent book ‘The Mind’s Eye’ looks at the curious relationship between your brain and your eyes.

He follows the patient Sue, who was born stereo-blind (that is, without binocular vision which is necessary to construct a sense of depth). Born cross-eyed she had surgery at ages 2 and 7 buy was told there were no corrective exercises that would be done to help her gain a 3D vision of the world. In her 40’s, with the help of a developmental optometrist,  she decided to try corrective exercises anyway and realised her 3D vision was able to be activated, suddenly seeing the steering wheel and doors “popping out” into the world once the binocular cells in her brain were activated to see the world this way. Without exercises however, this ability faded and she lost her 3D vision, demonstrating the incredible elasticity of the brain’s capacities.

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