Tag Archives: Belief

They Limped in and Danced Out: Choices and Illusions, Part 1

A few of my posts recently have been about the importance that our thoughts and beliefs can have on how we function. Coincidentally, I was asked to write a review of a book that is right in line with this thinking. The book: Choices and Illusions: How Did I Get Where I Am, and How Do I Get Where I Want to Be? by Eldon Taylor. I enjoyed reading it and if you’re unfamiliar with the idea that our thoughts can have a tangible impact on us, this book is certainly a great introduction. Over the next few days, I’ll take a closer look at some of the sections of the book. In today’s post, I’ll look at the first 6 chapters.

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Chapter 1 was a great introduction to this idea that our thoughts can have a tangible effect on our lives. Taylor tells a clever story about an eagle that was raised as a chicken. The eagle, all its life, assumes it’s a chicken, even when an eagle comes to tell it that it’s an eagle. This chapter reminds me of many of the posts I’ve written about perspective. If you don’t know what other possibilities there are out there, it’s hard to choose something different.

In chapter 2, I was surprised to hear about someone who can draw fractals freehand! I remember a few years ago being really enthralled by fractals. In fact, there were times when I’d just watch YouTube videos of fractals for in 15-30 minute increments. If you’re interested, Jason Padgett is the fellow who can draw fractals freehand. He’s quite good! And if you don’t believe me that fractals can be encapsulating, watch this: Fractal Zoom Mandelbrot Corner.

Chapter 3 had a really fun story about a high school reunion. There were a number of people who had reached the age where they weren’t as mobile as they used to be. The DJ, not accounting for this in creating the playlist, became worried when people weren’t moving so well on the way into the event. Figuring that there wasn’t enough time to change the playlist, the DJ played it as it was. The DJ later told Taylor: “Eldon, they limped in and danced out!” How is this possible? Well, as Taylor emphasizes, our thoughts can have a powerful effect on our abilities. Many of these people were transported to their youthful days upon hearing the popular music during the time they were in high school.

Chapters 4 through 6 reminded me of the importance of the documentary Miss Representation (and it’s soon to be released companion: The Mask You Live In). The media can have such a powerful impact on the way we think about ourselves and it can often be overlooked. In particular, chapter 6 reminds us that advertising is not always the most ethical profession. With that being said, it’s important to say that not all advertisers behave in this way.

In tomorrow’s post, we’ll look at chapters 7 through 12.

(Disclosure: I was given a free copy of the book.)

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More Scientific Evidence That Beliefs Affect Biology

If you’ve been following me since I started writing on the internet a couple of years ago, you know that I have a certain soft spot for the power of belief (sampling: here, here, here, and here). I understand that many folks are still leery of that phrase, but when you couch it in the context of the “placebo effect,” it’s amazing how many people begin to accept it as a thing.

Depending upon your philosophical bent, you may believe that willpower is a depletable resource. You certainly wouldn’t be alone in that thought, as President Obama seems to subscribe to this point of view. There are also those who believe that willpower is not a limited resource. So, which one is it? A simple question without a simple answer. It’s important to remember that depending upon from which point we begin, we may be less inclined to believe the other side of the story (remember the confirmation bias?) As much as possible, it’s important to try to take in new information with an open mind. With that being said, (regardless of where you stand), try to examine the following study with an objective and critical eye.

…following a demanding task, only people who view willpower as limited and easily depleted (a limited resource theory) exhibited improved self-control after sugar consumption. In contrast, people who view willpower as plentiful (a nonlimited resource theory) showed no benefits from glucose—they exhibited high levels of self-control performance with or without sugar boosts. Additionally, creating beliefs about glucose ingestion (experiment 3) did not have the same effect as ingesting glucose for those with a limited resource theory.

When I read this, my first thought was, as the title suggests, more evidence that our beliefs can affect our biology (see: Biology of Belief). Of course, I understand if some folks have a hard time jumping on board with this, so, like I said, couching it in the language of the “placebo effect” seems to make it more palatable.

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After reading this, I’d encourage you to follow-through with application. That is, now that you have this knowledge, apply it to your own life. Test it out. See what works for you. Maybe you used to believe that willpower was a limited resource, but after reading this, think the opposite. It’s certainly worth taking a chance, right?

Chapter 4 – Corporate-Owned Life Insurance and Placebos: What Money Can[‘t] Buy, Part 4

It’s been more than a month since I last completed a post in this series. To refresh your memory: we were looking at the chapters in Michael Sandel‘s book, What Money Can’t Buy. In the first chapter, we looked at things like when it’s okay to jump the line. In the second chapter, we looked at the difference between fines and fees. In the third chapter, we looked at fairness and inequality. In today’s post, the fourth chapter, we’ll look at the markets in life and death.

As with previous chapters, I’ve learned something that I didn’t even know existed. In this chapter, I learned about something called “janitors insurance.” This is another way of saying corporate-owned life insurance. Meaning, a company takes out a life insurance policy on its workers. Now, you may have already assumed (or thought) that companies might take out a life insurance policy on the CEO, as the time and energy that would need to go into finding a new CEO should the current one die suddenly, but would you have considered that some companies take out life insurance policies on workers much lower on the organizational chart?

I’m a little uneasy with this idea and I’m not sure which side I’d come down on if forced to choose. It’s certainly a delicate subject.

This chapter also talked about people being able to sell their life insurance policies. Let’s say a man (or woman) is the breadwinner in the family and takes out life insurance when he’s (or she’s) in his (or her) early 30s. The life insurance is really *only* important to the family through the breadwinner’s working years. So, when the person turns 65 (or when they retire), they feel that they no longer need that insurance — and sell it. Do you think that’s ethical? Is it unethical to prevent someone from selling it?

Again, I’m really not sure what’s right in this situation. For some reason, it feels a little more ethical that the people are willingly selling the life insurance that they had previously bought rather than if someone took out life insurance without their knowledge. Though, I’m aware that this may just be the contrast effect at play.

There were other variations on this theme throughout the chapter, but the one thing that I kept thinking about in response to this idea is the variations on the placebo effect that I’ve written about before. We know how powerful our own thoughts can be for ourselves (example) and how powerful our thoughts can be for others (example) — don’t you think that someone buying life insurance (i.e. buying stock in our eventual death) is a bit like sending negative thoughts to a person? Maybe that’s a little extreme.

Belief Matters More Than You Think

I came across an article in Scientific American last week that reminded me of a story of mine that I haven’t yet told. When I was a PhD candidate at Sofia University, one of the classes that we were required to take was aikido. I really enjoyed learning this martial art having had past experiences with taekwondo and karate — specifically, Gōjū-ryū. (In fact, I did some googling and even found the dojo where I spent a great deal of my youth!)

Anyway, while at Sofia University and learning  aikido, I remember one of the classes quite vividly. In this class, we were learning about the five elements, as they related to aikido. In particular, we were learning about earth. The Sensei (teacher) asked one of the smallest women in the class to come to the front and then he asked me to come to the front, too. He asked her to stand normally and then asked me to lift her off the ground from under her arms. I did it easily. Next, he asked her to imagine that she was the earth element — planting roots deep into the ground. After a few dozen seconds, he then asked me to try lifting her again (in the same way I lifted her before) — nothing. I bent my knees a bit more and put some more force behind my lift — nothing.

I was amazed.

It was quite clear from the first half of this exercise that I could lift her off of the ground, but when she was imagining that she was the earth element, I was — so it seems — helpless. I’ve written before about the importance that our words/thoughts can have on ourselves (and on each other!), but this is a tangible example of how someone’s beliefs are actually effecting reality in a very tangible way. Is there something you’re believing about yourself that may be limiting your ability to lift yourself off of the ground?

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I realize that my story is anecdotal, so I thought I’d also include one of the many examples from the Scientific American article:

Psychologists Ulrich Weger and Stephen Loughnan recently asked two groups of people to answer questions. People in one group were told that before each question, the answer would be briefly flashed on their screens — too quickly to consciously perceive, but slow enough for their unconscious to take it in. The other group was told that the flashes simply signaled the next question. In fact, for both groups, a random string of letters, not the answers, was flashed. But, remarkably, the people who thought the answers were flashed did better on the test. Expecting to know the answers made people more likely to get the answers right.

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Editor’s Note: As an aside, I’m in the process of moving from Washington, DC, to Ottawa, Canada (the Glebe!), so my posts may become a bit sparser over the next few weeks. I’ll still do my best, but if you don’t see anything for a couple of days, it’s probably because I’m busy with planning/arranging the move.

Do You Know Where Your Filters Are?

It’s been a couple of days since I last published a post. I’ll try to make sure that I have something published everyday for the next couple of days, but it is near the end of the semester and I have more exams (3) than I’m accustomed to.

I’ve had this link on my list of things to write about, so I thought I’d put something together really quickly this afternoon and clear it off the list. I’ve written before about the importance of cleaning off the list to allow for new ideas to come in.

The title of the post at the link I’ve had on my list to talk about is: “6 surprising facts about how we see the world.” I want to be encourage you to go and read the post on the other site because there are lots of good graphics/picture/videos that help to reinforce points. That being said, there are a two things that I’ll share.

Before sharing a couple of things, I do want to mention something I remember learning during my first Master’s (that’s reinforced in this link I’ll be talking about): we don’t see the world in the present. Pardon? That’s right. We don’t see the world as it’s happening — instead — we see it as it happened. That must sound a bit strange, but it makes sense after I add some more context to it. Think about how we see the world — through our eyes. When light enters our eyes, our lens focuses the light on the retina. The retina then carries signals of light to a somewhere in the brain by way of the optic nerve. While this happens fast, it still takes time. As a result, there is a delay (albeit a small one) between when light hits your retina and your brain processing what you see. Therefore, we don’t see the world in the present. Okay, now back to that link:

According to Dr. Mark Changizi, what is also common to trichromat primates is exposed facial skin (ie. faces not covered with fur). When the skin is exposed, these primates can communicate their emotional state based on the level of hemoglobin and oxygen in the blood. A green hue of the skin usually indicates sickness (low hemoglobin, oxygen), redindicates blushing or excitement (high hemoglobin, oxygen), blue – cold, lethargy(high hemoglobin concentration), and yellow – fear or bloodless (low hemoglobin concentration).

In other words, we see color not because color exists in the physical world but because color vision is useful for communication.

It never occurred to me (though, I never sat down to consider it) that seeing color was evolutionary. There’s a great picture of what we as (trichromats) vs. other mammals.

The other thing I wanted to share:

Now let’s go a step further. We’ll show how people’s need to find answers to the most important questions of life has less to do with some spiritual search for meaning and more with the fact that we evolved a mechanism which actively interprets the phenomena we experience. In other words, we form beliefs about ourselves and the world around us because these beliefs are useful for our survival.

So what exactly is this mechanism? Dr. Michael S. Gazzaniga, in his article The Interpreter Within: The Glue of Conscious Experience, explains:

The answer appears to be that we have a specialized left-hemisphere system that my colleagues and I call the “interpreter.” This Interpreter is a device (or system or mechanism) that seeks explanations for why events occur. The advantage of having such a system is obvious. By going beyond simply observing contiguous events to asking why they happened, a brain can cope with such events more effectively should they happen again.

Yet, the answers we seek do not have to be based in reality. They merely have to be consistent with our experiences and perception

Beliefs can be very powerful. They can cause us to war with each other or they can simply cause us to believe something that might not be based in fact. If you’ve never heard of Byron Katie or The Work and you’re interested in learning about some of the ‘filters’ you might use to see the world, I strongly urge you to check it out.

 

Do You Know Your Biases?

“You will learn from others around you being skeptical more than you will learn by becoming skeptical.” –

This past October, a world-renowned psychologist () published his latest book, . I’ve read a lot of reviews of the book and seen many of the interviews of him about this book and one of my favorite quotes (above) comes from the video (below). Take a few minutes and watch:

Kahneman, along with have done so much for the fields of psychology and economics. Some say that this book is the culmination of their work. I have enjoyed reading Kahneman and Tversky’s work through the years and think that their contribution on the subject of is monumental.

The quote I started this post with (…learn more from others around you being skeptical…) is worth talking about for a little bit. When I first heard him say that, I must have replayed it at least a dozen times. I heard the words he was saying, but it took some time for the wisdom to sink in. So what is it that Kahneman was saying?

Have you ever heard of an ? It’s the idea that your ideas and beliefs are reinforced (or amplified) because those that you tell them to share said beliefs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you’re familiar with and some of the , you know how hard it is to break from the group’s opinion on a topic. I don’t think that Kahneman was referring to this phenomenon in particular, but if you think about how hard it is to break from the group’s dominant viewpoint, it would make some sense that being “skeptical” yourself is not as easy as it sounds. However, if those around you are skeptical, it will be easier to learn from their skepticism about a given topic.

So, as you think about assembling your next business team or you’re just talking with your friends, remember how important and valuable the dissenting voice can be. Remember that having a  might not be the best idea. Remember how hard it is to be the singular dissenting voice. Remember to encourage healthy disagreement and an analysis from all sides. You’ll be much better off.

Expect Great Things

Sunrise, sunset, beautiful picture, beauty, sky, It’s New Year’s Eve (2011), so I won’t write a very long post. But there are a few things I wanted to say before we ceremonially say goodbye to 2011 and hello to 2012. So, without further adieu…

Most people in North America will likely be ringing in this evening with some kind of a party. A celebration of the year that was and an eye full of hope to the possibility of the year that can be. I’m sure you’ve read or will read a litany of articles about the “best” things of 2011 or the “worst” things of 2011. A number of “top 10” lists, or “top 5” lists, or top (fill in the blank with an odd number) list. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading some of these and think it is important to reflect on the past.

However, I would hazard a guess that the majority of what is retold at the end of the year are not necessarily the “best” things of the year. They are usually the kinds of things that will attract the most readers. And I understand, there are people whose livelihoods depend on their publishing columns and articles that keep readers coming back. I don’t mean to sound cynical, but I wonder how many lists there are out there where a story like would make the top 5.

While there are so many things that happened in the year 2011 that were tragic or catastrophic, I’d like to think that there is an innumerable amount of stories that could just as easily warm our hearts. For every Tsunami that leads to a potential nuclear disaster, there are 20 instances of people doing the ‘right’ thing (like the money in the bag story from above).

It’s stories like these that give me hope for the future of our civilization and in particular, the western world. We mostly hear about the shortcomings of each other and that can lead to a predisposition of expecting the worst in each other. I don’t expect the worst out of you and neither should you. I expect great things.

Expect great things from each other and you just might be surprised at the outcome.