The placebo effect is real


Did you know that putting a pinch of sea salt in water will help curb your appetite?

More often than not, such hacks work because of the placebo effect, the oldest medicine in the world.

More often than not, such hacks work because of the placebo effect, the oldest medicine in the world.

Placebo tricks you into thinking something works when it’s really your belief at play. The mind willfully dictates the body.

Placebo also demonstrates the power of using our inner narrative to manipulate real world results. It is fictional confidence at play. But it also means we can control our feelings with a little bit of storytelling.

The mind has the capacity to influence the future by changing your current thoughts and actions. The placebo effect is, therefore, a choice; it one hell of a drug!

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“Stare at the world, not at your model.”

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Photo by José Martín

Continually learning, constantly changing. The human mind is as fickle as the seasons. It is not mathematical models that predict the future but the law of nature.

Writes Richard Bookstaber in his book The End of Theory“The world could be changing right now in ways that will blindside you down the road.”

Nothing is linear and predictable; rather, everything emerges from its highest, heuristic probability — the upshot of the freedom of trial and error.

“Humans are not ergodic, however. We move through the world along a single path, and we get only that one path. Where we are on that path, our experiences, our interactions, the view we have of the world at that moment all determine the context for our actions. That path is not repeatable; we are not taking draws from a distribution.”

Even the rare anomaly becomes the impetus for our actions. People try stuff on a whim to check their pulse.

It is futile to aggregate behavior so we can algorithmicize systems. The world is unpredictable, especially the economic one.

“Chaos is the law of nature; order is the dream of man.”

— Henry Adams

Read The Practitioner’s Challenge
 

 

We’re all weird

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We’re All Weird by Seth Godin

Inspired by Alain de Button’s tweet, below is a collection of highlights of the word weird from Seth Godin’s 2011 book, We’re All Weird.

Weird by choice, on the other hand, flies in the face of the culture of mass and the checklist of normal.

The epic battle of our generation is between the status quo of mass and the never-ceasing tide of weird.

It’s human nature to be weird, but also human to be lonely. This conflict between fitting in and standing out is at the core of who we are.

The way of the world is now more information, more choice, more freedom, and more interaction. And yes, more weird.

The weird are weird because they’ve foregone the comfort and efficiency of mass and instead they’re forming smaller groups, groups where their weirdness is actually expected.

The next breakthroughs in our productivity and growth aren’t going to be about fueling mass. They’re going to be relentlessly focused on amplifying the weird.

Pre-historic cultures, not nearly as productive as ours, show little evidence of the weirdness our culture has recently developed.

When you don’t feel alone, it’s easier to be weird, which sort of flies in the face of our expectation that the weird individual is also a loner.

We don’t care so much about everyone; we care about us—where us is our people, our tribe, our interest group, our weirdness—not the anonymous masses.

The weird are now more important than the many, because the weird are the many.

There’s a long tail of channels, and at least one matches every person’s precise definition of weirdness (if there’s no match, go ahead and start another channel).

My proposed solution is simple: don’t waste a lot of time and money pushing kids in directions they don’t want to go. Instead, find out what weirdness they excel at and encourage them to do that. Then get out of the way.

It’s human nature to be weird, but also human to be lonely. This conflict between fitting in and standing out is at the core of who we are.

On criticism

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via giphy

The doer wants acknowledgement for their work. They want people to scream their hosannas. But criticism is democratic.

Not everyone likes Radiohead’s last album. Every Trump tweet draws liberal contestants. Where you fall in the Messi versus Ronaldo or Jordan versus Lebron debate could be a preference based on your birth date. Opines literary critic and poet Adam Kirsch:

“Everyone brings his or her own values and standards to the work of judging. This means that it is also, essentially, democratic. No canon of taste or critical authority can compel people to like what they don’t like.”

As an artist, athlete, CEO, US president, some criticism is better than none at all. My newest book Train of Thought has zero reviews. I’d rather have one star and a bad review just to confirm that someone had a look.

Criticism is integral to an informed democracy. Even the maker is a critic. Their rebuttals are neither valid nor invalid but mere reason. Conversely, the reviewer is also a professional; even a stream of invective is a manifestation of analysis and interpretation.

Perhaps it is the inner-critic that is the most annoying of all. It’s the one that wants both artist and analyst to say and do nothing but remain in a state of paralysis.

What’s most important therefore is the opinion itself. Consent is an illusion reserved for lemmings. Now feel free to criticize this post in the comments below.

Ludic loop

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via Reddit
In his blog post on breaking phone addictionErik Barker uses a quote from NYU marketing and psychology professor Adam Antler to explain why we keep checking our phones again and again. The process is called a “ludic loop.”

The “ludic loop” is this idea that when you’re engaged in an addictive experience, like playing slot machines, you get into this lulled state of tranquility where you just keep doing the thing over and over again. It just becomes the comfortable state for you. You don’t stop until you’re shaken out of that state by something.

So how we do we keep ourselves from going down the Facebook and Instagram rabbit hole? We employ a “stopping rule.”

t’s a rule that says at this point it’s time for me to stop. It breaks the reverie and makes you think of something else; it gets you outside of the space you’ve been in. The best thing to do is to use a declarative statement like, “I don’t watch more than two episodes of a show in a row, that’s just not who I am.”

As Barker points, you can also remove the dopamine hitting apps from your phone and replace them with something useful like the Kindle app to encourage more reading. And in the worst case scenario, you can throw your phone into the ocean, or just leave it in an inconvenient place to prevent the urge to take another futile gamble.

Rediscover this day: The Grand Central Astronaut

Photo by Wells Baum

One of my favorite features on Google Photos is ‘Rediscover This Day.’ It’ll crawl through your image library and collate a series of images from the same day years ago.

The feature isn’t new; Timehop popularized the retrospective social media feature years ago. However, Facebook and Google Photos were able to scale it.

So what does this have to do with the astronaut?

I snapped this image two years ago but forgot about it. Remember what Om Malik said: “We take too many photos and little time looking at them.” Two years in the smartphone era is like a decade!

What I enjoy about this picture other than the rarity of seeing an astronaut in Grand Central Station is the black and white contrast which makes the spaceman the center of attention. The crowd is noticeable but almost out of focus. The original color version doesn’t have the same noticeable impact.

“Nothing is my last word on anything.”

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In an interview with The Paris Review, Susan Sontag revealed what helped her get motivated to write:

Getting started is partly stalling, stalling by way of reading and of listening to music, which energizes me and also makes me restless. Feeling guilty about not writing. There’s a wonderful remark of Henry James: “Nothing is my last word on anything.” There’s always more to be said, more to be felt.

We’re never finished, only stalling. Postponement, aka the Zeigarnik Effect is a catalyst for productivity.

A professional author may complete books but the act of writing resumes.

Newsletter: The History of Nostalgia, The Advantage Of Being A Little Underemployed, new tunes from Yasmine Hamdan and more

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Schreiber’s Hummingbird, from Birds of the Tropics series (N38) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes (1889) : The MET

Arts and Culture

Maria Loh On Lives Of Artists

We may live in the age of selfie but we’ve always been self-absorbed. Maria Loh, author of Still Lives: Death, Desire, and the Portrait of the Old Masteroutlines five books which address the history of the curated self with an emphasis on artists who painted their own portraits to cement their legacy.

“Art was a form of visual philosophy written with brushes and chisels rather than with pen and ink”

fivebooks.com

+ Before the self-portrait, the rise of ownership of mirrors in the 15th century gave people their first feeling of individuality.

Look back with danger

Nostalgia didn’t always have a positive tone. In fact, before the 20th century, the word was used in the pejorative sense.

Nostalgia in those days was a technical term used and discussed primarily by specialists. In the twentieth century, however, the word has become fully demedic­alized. It now means little more than a sentimental attachment to a lost or past era, a fuzzy feeling about a soft-focus earlier time, and is more often used of an advertising campaign, a film or a memory of childhood than with regard to any strong sense of its etymology, “pain about homecoming”.

the_tls.co

Philosophy & Productivity

The Advantage Of Being A Little Underemployed

It’s crazy to think that a hundred years after the Adamson Act passed, we’re still working the same eight-hour shifts designed for railroad workers. Given that most of us work in front of computers and our best ideas come when we step outside it, how can we free up more time to think? Writes Morgan Housel:

“Tell your boss you found a trick that will make you more creative and productive, and they ask what you’re waiting for. Tell them that your trick is taking a 90-minute walk in the middle of the day, and they says no, you need to work.”

collaborativefund.com

Platonically irrational

We think modernity is superior to the past. But we too can be intellectually overconfident. “When Kahneman writes that we are ‘blind to our blindness’, he is reviving the Socratic idea that wisdom consists in seeing one’s blindness: knowing what you do not know.” Within all facts and reasoning, there’s still a little room for doubt.

This is only a preliminary step in Plato’s dialogues – a (good-natured) reaching after fact and reason should and does occur – but an initial tolerance of uncertainty is a capacity without which individuals and societies cannot adequately self-correct and improve. 

aeon.com

Social Media & Technology

Notes From An Emergency

The internet companies are not only American-based, but their manifest destiny also makes them look like hegemonic colonizers.

“This is a dilemma of the feudal internet. We seek protection from these companies because they can offer us security. But their business model is to make us more vulnerable, by getting us to surrender more of the details of our lives to their servers, and to put more faith in the algorithms they train on our observed behavior.”

idlewords.com

The Library of Congress Wants to Destroy Your Old CDs (for Science)

CDs were once expensive, plastic things. But they were built really cheap. I just tried popping on an old Chemical Brothers mix, and it didn’t even play. Blame the sharpie.

It’s also better not to muck up the top of your CDs with labels—the adhesive creates chemical reactions that quickly eat up data—or even permanent markers. “The moment you start to write on that top layer, you’re setting yourself up for degradation.”

theatlantic.com

Digging in the Crates

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Shanti Celeste is an up and coming house producer from Bristol, England. Her latest 2-track EP features the jungle healer ‘Make Time,’ combining a rich collection of synths and electronic breaks. A real treat.

Listen

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Yasmine Hamdan is a Parisian-based electronic musician who grew up in war-torn Lebanon. While’s she gained a reputation in the Middle East as an underground artist, her latest solo record Al Jamilat plans to unleash her to a broader audience. The track ‘La Ba’den’ offers dreamy electronic Arab vibes. Compelling stuff.

Listen

Thought of the Week

“Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”

Martin Luther King Jr.


For more interesting reads and new music, follow along on Instagram, Facebook, or the Twitter feed. You can also subscribe to the blogs: wellsbaum.blog and bombtune.comIf you dig the blogs and want to support them, make a donation, buy a book, or email this post to a friend.

Storytelling released humans from the prison of biology

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We control the world basically because we are the only animals that can cooperate flexibly in very large numbers. And if you examine any large-scale human cooperation, you will always find that it is based on some fiction like the nation, like money, like human rights. These are all things that do not exist objectively, but they exist only in the stories that we tell and that we spread around. This is something very unique to us, perhaps the most unique feature of our species.

You can never, for example, convince a chimpanzee to do something for you by promising that, “Look, after you die, you will go to chimpanzee heaven and there you will receive lots and lots of bananas for your good deeds here on earth, so now do what I tell you to do.”

But humans do believe such stories and this is the basic reason why we control the world whereas chimpanzees are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.

— Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

The mind helped humans escape the prison of biology but not all of its fabrications; some of us still think a map represents the territory and that the Earth is flat.

Stimulation to zero

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What’s new isn’t always better. Sometimes it’s simply an adaption of something old. Facebook is the modern newspaper. Google is the modern phone book. Wikipedia is the newest encyclopedia. Spotify is the record store. Netflix is Blockbuster, etc.

Digital technology is constantly reformatting experiences from the real world. But occasionally something completely new emerges and transforms society forever. The first transformative innovation was the railroad. The second was the Internet. These discoveries changed society and culture in every way. We still ride trains. And we’ll be using some iteration of the Internet 100 years from now.

But unlike the old days, all this technology provides too much choice. All you can eat subscriptions and ubiquitous connectivity create a constant need for discovery. There’s zero scarcity. Files are in infinite inventory and the web is the biggest copy-paste machine.

People crave newness today faster and more than ever. We expect the likes to come in the second after we share something on Instagram. Newton laid the groundwork: for every action, there’s a reaction, but I don’t think he imagined a world where the return would be so instant.

Newness fulfills nowness. Stimulation is the newest obsession.

via Daily Prompt: None

Think about what you want to do, not be

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Nothing goes to waste. It all cross-pollinates.

Picasso’s sculpture work bled into his paintings, as did his work in theater.

What we want to pursue are our interests, not what they should amount to. Seek a lifestyle rather than a categorization.

“Work as hard as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do!”

Richard Feynman

via Daily Prompt: Lifestyle

Deep state

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The power of continuous small actions from a plurality of groups can, when added up, deconstruct a traditional organized system.

You don’t have to be an elected official or celebrity artist to influence the outcome of larger events. Like a swarm of bees, a group or groups of groups can suffocate the whole.

But it’s not quite clear who exactly, professionals, lobbyists, or the collaborative stealth is playing the most rational actor. Such is a deep state.

via Daily Prompt: Control