Tag Archives: Scientific American

To Tech or Not To Tech: Hiking the Appalachian Trail

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been 1 month since my last post. It feels like the last time I wrote something was ages ago. In March, I said that I intended on writing something once a week, but I suppose having an infant, moving, and preparing to start a new job have made that a little harder than I imagined. Nonetheless, I stole away some time today to write about technology and the Appalachian Trail (AT).

A few summers ago (actually, now that I think about it, it was 6 years ago), I had the good fortune to spend some time hiking on the Appalachian Trail. It was my first time on an extended hike and I really enjoyed it. While on the hike, I learned that the trail spans 14 states including the beginning/end in Maine/Georgia. Many folks try to hike the whole thing in a summer. Lots succeed, but many more give up. When I hiked part of the AT in 2008, technology wasn’t as advanced as it is today (obviously), but I was wondering how I might want to approach this subject when I decide to hike the AT again.

This thought was sparked by a post in Scientific American bemoaning the use of technology on the trail. I can see where she’s coming from — for sure. Most people decide to go into nature to get away from technology. She also makes some good points as to how technology can help in an emergency (read: bear eats pack).

I think if I were to hike the AT tomorrow, I might bring along a MacBook Air — for the sole purpose of writing. That is, I’d intend to do like David Roberts did and take a hiatus from social media (which for me, mainly means Twitter). I say intend because I’ve learned that making hard-and-fast rules can sometimes make things more difficult to uphold. I suppose I could not get some sort of data plan and therefore it would be quite difficult to check things like Twitter.

When I do decide to hike the whole of the AT (sometime in the next 30 years), our relationship to technology may be very different. Maybe Google Glass (or an iteration thereof) might be more user-friendly. Maybe it’ll be ingrained in the way we live our days like smartphones have become. Maybe there’ll be something after Google Glass and something beyond the impending smartwatches. Regardless of how technology evolves, we’ll always be left with the choice: to tech or not to tech.

Your Beliefs Matter for Others, Too

In reflecting on yesterday’s post, I remembered another anecdote that you may find quite powerful. This comes from a story that a friend of mine who taught high school (not sure if she still does). And the more that I think about yesterday’s post and the post I’m about to write now, yesterday’s matches really well with the the first post I wrote about words being important and today’s matches really well with the second post I wrote about words being important to others.

The story begins with the teacher, let’s call her Laura to make this easier, asking the class to stand in a circle. After the class is standing in the circle, she asks for one volunteer to step into the center of the circle with her. Someone enters the center of the circle — let’s call him John. Now, before I go on, I should say that John was one of the taller people in the class (taller than Laura). These were high school students and some of them had surpassed Laura’s height, which is natural because Laura wasn’t very tall. Alright, so Laura pushes down on John’s arm and nothing happens — obviously. He’s much stronger than her.

Then, Laura asks John to go out into the hallway for a few minutes. After the door is closed, Laura then tells the class what she’s about to do. She also explains that she wants everyone to send/think negative thoughts to John. Thoughts like, “I hate you,” and “You suck,” and lots of other negative things that they can probably imagine because they’re in high school. They’re not to say any of these out loud, though. Once she’s certain everyone gets it, she goes out into the hall to get John.

After John’s back in the circle, she explains to everyone (and John, this time) that she’s going to have John extend his right arm out in front of him. Next, she’s going to ask him to hold it steady (i.e. resist) as she begins to push down on it. What John doesn’t know is that when his arm is extended, the rest of the class will be sending/thinking negative thoughts.

John extends his right arm. The class starts sending negative thoughts. Laura pushes down on John’s arm… it falls like limp spaghetti. The look on John’s face, Laura tells me, is remarkable. He’s astounded that Laura can simply push his arm down with ease. He asks her to do it again — and he tries harder to hold his arm up. The same thing happens.

She thanks John and asks him to go out into the hallway one more time. When he gets there, she then tells the class that she wants everyone to do the opposite this time. She’s going to have John repeat the process, but she wants the class to send/think positive thoughts of John. Things like, “I love you,” and “You’re awesome.”

When John comes back into the circle this time, he’s expecting that Laura will, again, be able to easily push down on his arm. However, when she pushes down — nothing happens. So, Laura then tries using both of her hands to push down. Nothing. John’s arm wouldn’t budge. Again, Laura tells me, John’s reaction is priceless. She thanks John and explains to the class what’s just happened, who by the way, are also pretty shocked to see John’s arm collapse for negative thoughts and hold steady for positive thoughts.

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The thoughts we think are powerful. This used to be something that was “fringe,” and relegated to certain aisles in the bookstores. When you see publications like Scientific American reviewing studies that confirm things like this, you know that it’s striking a mainstream cord.

If you’re looking for more information about topics like this, I suggest looking for academic studies on the Placebo Effect. It’s quite amazing the kinds of effects that can occur that are attributable simply to the person believing that they’re going to be better.

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.