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Resources on the ability to Learn

Note – this post is currently a work-in-progress. Once it’s stabilized, I’ll remove this note.

Probably the most accessible overview at the level of the brain is “The Brain that Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge. It’s really inspiring. But, I always caution people not to get seduced by the seemingly “scientific” nature of brain-based research - research at the psychological or social level is just as valid!

That said, continuing with a more cognitive neuroscience approach, Sylvia Bunge (also at Berkeley) has a great program on helping low-economic-staus / low-performing kids boost their cognitive abilities. Read more at her public Nora the Brain Explorer site. She has a nice metaphor - if you have plants with a certain potential, but don’t water them, they will be stunted. But happilly, it seems that kids can return closer to their potential even if they get “water” late. She’s also written a nice review of Paul Tough’s book, which provides a nice connection between Tough’s more social description, and a cognitive/neural level of description – including some clarification and critique.

Adele Diamond is another reesarcher I respect very much, and she emphasizes the importance of exercise and play on her public site.

Both Silvia and Adele focus on “executive function” - which is a cognitive-level description of some of the core features that I think are relative to “Grit” (though I still need to read up on that).

In terms of my own work, the best, most accessible summary is not actually published, so for now I must direct you to my thesis. (In the meantime, there’s other stuff I can point you to if you need a published reference.) But the basic idea is that you can indeed change people’s minds about climate change with education (even though some say it’s “culturally determined”).

Lastly, I also love Ellen Langer’s work (hmm… all female scientists). She has a very accessible book called “Mindfulness” that talks about changing people’s mindsets in a variety of ways. In some cases, adding years to life! But more relevant to education or tutoring, improving a child’s ability to reason effectively in more academic settings. To be clear, her notion of mindfulness is a little more general than meditative notions - and is better thought of (I think) as “not mindlessness.”

Practicing Inhibition and Selection

A perception, a thought, an action...

Thanks for taking an interest in the materials I presented at ISCS 2014. I’m excited to collaborate with you!

The plan

I’ll be producing a recorded intervention in the coming week or so, but I still need to square things aware with our IRB! In the meantime, please leave a comment on the Open Science Framework (OSF) project (you’ll need to make an account, then after you log in and visit my project, there’ll be a blue speech bubble icon on the right), or just email me at to be kept in the loop.

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Empowering Victims

In the early 70’s, Steve Paxton’s embarked on an series of experiments with physicality that he said was missing from dance at the time. He was inspired in particular by the martial arts. Steve submitted a grant proposal to the NEA, who proceeded to fund these experiments – initially a small group of athletic men literally throwing themselves at each other to see what could happen. If you manage to see some footage of these first experiments, it looks pretty nuts, and it was – the first participants couldn’t keep up this level of intensity, and they toned things down rapidly after the first couple of weeks! This video shows some of the preparation for their first performance. You can see there that women had already been included, and – while it may be much harder to see – there’s a clear focus on safety.

From those initial experiments, Contact Improv has become a true folk art, and it’s now under continuing development (somewhat anarchically) by the community that practices it. There is no appreciable culture of critics, and no real audience to speak of (though some claim it is the “largest” influence on where contemporary dance has gone in recent times). One particular point of contention is embodied by Steve Paxton’s assertion that “If you’re dancing physics, you’re dancing contact. if you’re dancing chemistry, you’re doing something else.” But this debate is an aspirational one at best – any interaction between two human bodies will involve both physics and the emotional stuff that comes up.

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About This Site

What’s this about?

This post is largely my own “kicking the tires” onNikola. The important information from this post should make its way to an about page or a sidebar.

I currently work in the D-Lab, with a strong focus on public-facing science. Notably, I’m working with Oroeco and others on climate and behavior, and generally interested in science with social impacts, currently focused on Stats for Change (a Bay Area hub) and the Data Science for Social Good Fellows Program. I’m also interested in the role of personal development, ranging from education to “mindful practice” (like meditation, taiji, the Feldenkrais Method®, and Contact Improv).

This design of this site is meant to support & cross-reference that work!

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