Top shelf

As Fleur gets both taller and better at climbing, things seem to migrate to higher places on the shelves. This of course, makes them top heavy. Obey gravity: It’s the law!

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The wife and I are not in total mutual understanding of what should be up there. For instance, I put the coffee creamer with fake sugars up there. The normal creamer I didn’t as there wasn’t room in the spot, so all five containers were opened as she didn’t find them in the lower spot.

Really, that just encourages her to try to climb to get things put out of reach. Better, is for things to disappear. Out of sight, out of mind, out of screaming at not being allowed to have it.

The same trick works with toys. Things she has not played with can disappear. When they reappear, they are new and fresh and must be constantly played with.

Flow

Flow happens when you do something that completely captures your attention. A lot of people would call this “being in the zone,” in other words: full absorption in something and complete happiness while you’re doing it.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

For me, this has always occurred while writing / editing, playing video games, or solving a computer problem. I also find it while driving, which is why I always enjoyed going places far away. A crutch I use is familiar music to drown out sounds that might distract me.

But, yeah, achieving the happiness of being in Flow is as worthy as the product that might be produced. I can say that I work in IT in part because I enjoy the feeling of being in Flow and having some skill in the work allows me opportunities for doing work that gets me there.

Working from the office has numerous distractions from flow because of emails, instant messages, people stopping by, phone calls. They all interrupt flow and it takes around 15 minutes to get back into it. People try to be respectful of others.

Working from home is worse:

Flow, unfortunately, is rare in family life. The father of flow research, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, told me so point-blank when I wrote my book. (All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood) When kids are small, their developing brains actually conspire against flow, because they’re wired to sweep in as much stimuli as possible, rather than to focus; even when they’re older, they’re still churning windmills of need.

Camp Is Canceled. Three More Months of Family Time. Help. Jennifer Senior. NY Times

The toddler needs what she needs RIGHT NOW! Some times it is funny. Like, there is an obsession with trucks, especially the garbage trucks. (One comes through the neighborhood every week day. She comes flying to a window to see it stop or pass by.) Other times she is just cranky and infecting the rest of us with it.

Shortcuts (Repost)

These are reposts of a series I did years ago on mental shortcuts.

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We humans laud our superiority over the rest of the world. We even claim to be better than other humans. The chief attribute we compare is intelligence.

An interest of mine regarding Psychology in college was failures of the mind. Phineas Gage suffered a brain injury that drastically changed his behavior. That was really cool! Yet, that and other cases are relatively rare. More universally, the brain works much more nuanced than most people give credit. I think much of the problems of society tie back to how the brain works and maybe even societal attempts at glossing over the limitations.

Rather than one really long post, I am going to break these up into several. And much of this has been bumping around in my head for months, but I took a few hours to lay it all down.

  1. Illusions
  2. Labeling
  3. Math
  4. Multitasking
  5. Rules

For going on a decade, I have called these Cheating. Rather than taking in all the information, completely processing it, and strategically acting upon it, our brains selectively attend to a small portion, throws out even more, and acts upon incomplete information. Most of the time it works. Much of the time it doesn’t and we have no idea so we just think it works. Every once in a while we get burned by our brains not following the rules we expect them to follow. So to make this more palatable, I am going to try calling these Shortcuts.

Shortcuts: Rules (repost)

These are reposts of a series I did years ago on mental shortcuts.

After some debating with the toddler about whales vs sharks, I started down a thought experiment that Dunbar’s Number might not be about seeking justice and instead be about winning arguments.

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking > 5. Rules)

adult american football athlete audience
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Rules exist to help reduce the friction of society so that we can more easily work with strangers. Without rules, we need to have potentially damaging interactions with individuals, establish a series of data points about them to decide what kind of person they are to know how to handle them in the future. Instead, we create laws, policies, and traditions to define how we interact with each other. This frees our brains from Dunbar’s Number such that we can have larger social groups over that about 150 person limit.

We also have an instinctive bias to when others break the rules. People who severely or habitually do so need to be punished. We will claim it to be that others see that society will not tolerate the behavior, but really it is so we feel better that a rule breaker did not get away with it this time.

I started thinking about this because I had a conversation with a coworker about an odd claim about a rule. One problem with rules is there are too many for any individual to understand them all. We have specializations, so experts in an area are expected to know the rules for that knowledge domain.

People are human and may inform us about things that are less true and more desires of the way things ought to be. Traditions can sometimes fall into the latter. Sometimes when properly challenged, traditions find their way into being codified as laws or policies so that people properly behave.

Hammurabi almost 4,000 years ago solved this misunderstanding about what the rules are by writing them down. It really is a good way to handle it. One can read the rules oneself to check to see if how it was explained is correct or missing an important distinction.

And then, there is intentional rule breaking. Do you drive faster than the speed limit? Read all the terms for using a website? Criminals are deemed people who break the rules intentionally. Most of us are breaking some rules several times a day. Some intentionally, some by ignorance. Some because we were set up for failure. Some because the likelihood of being caught and punished are so low the wasted effort at complying is not worth it.

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking > 5. Rules)

Shortcuts: Multitasking (repost)

These are reposts of a series I did years ago on mental shortcuts.

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking > 5. Rules)

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This one combines the worst of Illusions and Math. We trust our senses and inadequately assess risk.

We have limited capacities for attending to what happens around us. Two or more objects are not being held at the same time in memory. We switch between them. Once we have copied them from long term or permanent memory into working memory then short term, we can find those copies pretty quickly again. The more complicated the behavior and the more dissimilar the two or more tasks, the worse we multitask. By worse, I mean we are more prone to error and take longer time.

Given all the research and media coverage on how bad we are at multitasking and risks associated of texting and driving, I see people doing it daily. A law here allows police to write tickets to people who do it for the past few years. Texting is also pretty bad even on hands-free devices. Like other risky behaviors, these approaches are unlikely to stop humans from putting themselves in dangerous situations.

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking > 5. Rules)

Shortcuts: Illusions (repost)

These are reposts of a series I did years ago on mental shortcuts.

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking > 5. Rules)

Photo by Michel Berube on Pexels.com

We like to think only those things we experience exist. Or even can experience. What about those things we can experience that do not or never did exist? That is what illusions are. They are cases where we trick the brain into believing something happened that did not. Or tricking the brain into thinking is experiencing reality when it is missing crucially important.

Michael Bach has a nice optical illusions page to demonstrate how easily our eyes are tricked. Every sense we have can be tricked. The food industry has worked wonders in devising how to trick our senses of smell and taste. When you feel something crawling on you and look to see nothing, that is your sense of touch going haywire.

Illusions can also be dangerous. Eyewitness testimony is the worst evidence we use in the legal system. Witnesses rarely capture and retain all the details. And how they are interviewed can allow them to fill in these gaps with other evidence and skew their results to confirm that same evidence. Say the police pick up a suspect and present that photo with others to a witness. The witness picks the photo of the suspect and later out of a line up. If the suspect actually only resembles the culprit, then these two steps confirm for the witness (and the police) the suspect’s guilt even though the witness saw someone else. We attend to similarities when searching and ignore the differences. And we will go with the closest option given choices.

Inattentional blindness also falls into my illusions category. Paying too much attention to something means we have no idea about what else is happening. The train operator on his cell phone not noticing the curve for which he needed to slow down and derailed. Multitasking while operating a vehicle is dangerous because of this.

Of course, everything we experience is really the interpretation of signals to the brain. One of my favorite experiments was people wore goggles that inverted the image so everything appeared upside down. The brain just adapts to the error and interprets the picture to the desired orientation. Do not like what you see? The brain can solve that problem. Another favorite experiment was ending phantom pain in missing limbs by using mirrors to make the limb appear to exist again.

My favorite metaphor for how the brain works is Object-Oriented Programming. Different parts of the brain perform different functions. The functions adapt (are reprogrammed or reconfigured) based on the needed interpretation of the data. Of course, the adaptations are not always 100% correct. Nor do they always adapt in time not to avoid errors.

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking > 5. Rules)

Daddy’s Little Helper

dad with kid dishwashing at kitchen

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The other day we went out to play. I grabbed a towel to dry off the slide, swings, and chairs. After watching me dry the slide and finding there was still some water, Fleur walked over to the towel, grabbed it, and dried the slide more. 

The blatant imitation had me tempted to roll around in the wet grass laughing. But, I was proud of the problem solving at play here. She totally assessed the problem, decided on the solution, and took care of it. It makes me excited and terrified for the future.

  1. She is developing the capability to do things we want her to all by herself.
  2. She is developing the capability to do things we don’t want her to all by herself.

Chimes

Last summer we spent a week at the house of my aunt and uncle. They have three chiming clocks. A grandfather clock and two small ones.

We have something similar. Auditory reminders at 9, 10, 3, 4, 5, 6 that announce: Check diaper. This is essentially our chimes. I find I don’t really need a clock during this period.

We don’t need the automated system when we get up from sleeping and prepare for it at naptime and bedtime. It is the in between that we need brought to our attention. In the focused zone, it can be easy to assume the other parent is going to take care of it. The chime brings back to our attention that maybe we should. We have saved on diaper cream since setting these up as we are better at making sure to address the diaper before the acidic defecation causes a rash.

On the plus side, Fleur loves the announcements. She runs around repeating it. If I am in the middle of work, then her running around letting us know keeps it on the brain.

Reminders are my main way of remembering to do things. The strange thing to me is this working from home means I am on my phone less. So, I miss more of the ones through it.

Paternal oxytocin

The one good thing about the shelter-in-place is the opportunity to be more engaged with my daughter. Before, I got her fed, dressed, and transported to daycare. Now, I still generally get her fed then periodically engage her in conversations, reading, and play. I can say that I do feel more connected to her.

Thus, the below makes sense to me:

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Oxytocin increases in mothers, who provide a lot of affectionate contact and in fathers, who have a lot of stimulatory contact. Studies show that fathers highly involved in playing with their children have a higher level of oxytocin, compared with fathers, who show less stimulating activities. Moreover, brains of fathers involved in caregiving activities show an increase in grey matter volume.

Parenting is a choice” on SciComm for everyone

Executive Function

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Teenagers have an under developed prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that interrupts emotional responses and considers the potential effects before acting. Teenagers look enough adult-like we want to treat them as adults, but they also have yet to grow the brain into their bodies.

Toddlers DGAF. Stimulus-response. Galahad is having to deal with the consequences of lack of planning, thinking three moves ahead, and a toddler who makes him pay the consequences.

He was in a bad mood, but he came upstairs to make a showing of his displeasure. Fleur who adores him now has made him sit and watch the same annoying video (we all hate) over and over.

She sounds so happy.

He sounds grumpier. Well, until she has worn him down.

My hope is that experiences like this will help him grow into being more mindful.