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Distracted in the Workplace? Meet Maggie Jackson’s Book

Today we’ll dis­cuss some of the cog­ni­tive impli­ca­tions of “always on” work­places and lifestyles via a fas­ci­nat­ing inter­view with Mag­gie Jack­son, an award-win­ning author and jour­nal­ist. Her lat­est book, Dis­tract­ed: The Ero­sion of Atten­tion and the Com­ing Dark Age, describes Distracted by Maggie Jacksonthe impli­ca­tions of our busy work and life envi­ron­ments and offers impor­tant reflec­tions to help us thrive in them.

This is a 2-part inter­view con­duct­ed via e-mail: we will pub­lish the con­tin­u­a­tion on Thurs­day March 12th.

Alvaro Fer­nan­dez: New York Times colum­nist David Brooks said last year that we live in a Cog­ni­tive Age, and encour­aged read­ers to be aware of this change and try and adapt to the new real­i­ty. Can you explain the cog­ni­tive demands of today’s work­places that weren’t there 30–40 years ago?

Mag­gie Jack­son: Our work­places have changed enor­mous­ly in recent decades, and it’s easy to point to the Black­ber­ry or the lap­top as the sources of our cul­ture of speed and over­load and dis­trac­tion. But it’s impor­tant to note first that our 24/7, frag­ment­ed work cul­ture has deep­er roots. With the first high-tech inven­tions, such as the cin­e­ma, phono­graph, tele­graph, rail, and car, came rad­i­cal changes in human expe­ri­ence of time and space. Dis­tance was shat­tered  long before email and red-eye flights. Tele­graph oper­a­tors  not online daters  expe­ri­enced the first vir­tu­al love affairs, as evi­denced by the 1890s nov­el Wired Love. Now, we wres­tle with the effects of changes seed­ed long ago.

Today, the cog­ni­tive and phys­i­cal demands on work­ers are steep. Con­sid­er 24/7 liv­ing. At great cost to our health, we oper­ate in a sleep­less, hur­ried world, ignor­ing cues of sun and sea­son, the Indus­tri­al Age inven­tions of the week­end and vaca­tion, and the rhythms of biol­o­gy. We try to break the fet­ters of time and live like per­pet­u­al motion machines. That’s one rea­son why we feel over­loaded and stressed con­di­tions that are cor­ro­sive to prob­lem-solv­ing and clear think­ing.

At the same time, our tech­nolo­gies allow us access to mil­lions of infor­ma­tion bites pro­duc­ing an abun­dance of data that is both won­drous and dan­ger­ous. Unless we have the will, dis­ci­pline and frame­works for turn­ing this infor­ma­tion into wis­dom, we remain stuck on the sur­face of Read the rest of this entry »

Meditation on the Brain: a Conversation with Andrew Newberg

Dr_Andrew_NewbergDr. Andrew New­berg is an Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Radi­ol­o­gy and Psy­chi­a­try and Adjunct Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Reli­gious Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia. He has pub­lished a vari­ety of neu­roimag­ing stud­ies relat­ed to aging and demen­tia. He has also researched the neu­ro­phys­i­o­log­i­cal cor­re­lates of med­i­ta­tion, prayer, and how brain func­tion is asso­ci­at­ed with mys­ti­cal and reli­gious expe­ri­ences. Alvaro Fer­nan­dez inter­views him here as part of our research for the book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness: How to Opti­mize Brain Health and Per­for­mance at Any Age.

Dr. New­berg, thank you for being with us today. Can you please explain the source of your inter­ests at the inter­sec­tion of brain research and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty?

Since I was a kid, I had a keen inter­est in spir­i­tu­al prac­tice. I always won­dered how spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and reli­gion affect us, and over time I came to appre­ci­ate how sci­ence can help us explore and under­stand the world around us, includ­ing why we humans care about spir­i­tu­al prac­tices. This, of course, led me to be par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in brain research.

Dur­ing med­ical school I was par­tic­u­lar­ly attract­ed by the prob­lem of con­scious­ness. I was for­tu­nate to meet researcher Dr. Eugene D’Aquili in the ear­ly 1990s, who had been doing much research on reli­gious prac­tices effect on brain since the 1970s. Through him I came to see that brain imag­ing can pro­vide a fas­ci­nat­ing win­dow into the brain.

Can we define reli­gion and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty -which sound to me as very dif­fer­ent brain process­es-, and why learn­ing about them may be help­ful from a pure­ly sec­u­lar, sci­en­tif­ic point of view?

Good point, def­i­n­i­tions mat­ter, since dif­fer­ent peo­ple may be search­ing for God in dif­fer­ent ways. I view being reli­gious as par­tic­i­pat­ing in orga­nized rit­u­als and shared beliefs, such as going to church. Being spir­i­tu­al, on the oth­er hand, is more of an indi­vid­ual prac­tice, whether we call it med­i­ta­tion, or relax­ation, or prayer, aimed at expand­ing the self, devel­op­ing a sense of one­ness with the uni­verse.

What is hap­pen­ing is that spe­cif­ic prac­tices that have tra­di­tion­al­ly been asso­ci­at­ed with reli­gious and spir­i­tu­al con­texts may also be very use­ful from a main­stream, sec­u­lar, health point of view, beyond those con­texts. Sci­en­tists are research­ing, for exam­ple, what Read the rest of this entry »

Can Google Kill Neurons and Rewire Your Whole Brain?

A few col­leagues and I just had an inter­est­ing exchange on the recent arti­cle at The Atlantic, Is Google Mak­ing Us Stu­pid?, which basi­cal­ly blamed Google for lit­er­al­ly rewiring our brains into more stu­pid brains (not being able to pay atten­tion, read deep books…) based on a num­ber of per­son­al anec­dotes and a lit­tle research. Is Google Making Us Stupid

My 2 cents: this is a com­plex top­ic and we’d first need to clar­i­fy the ques­tion, before look­ing for answers to sup­port or refute it. I found the Atlantic arti­cle super­fi­cial for a mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tion, with its title and main premise mak­ing lit­tle sense: Google can not makes us stu­pid, in the same way that guns don’t make us vio­lent or pens don’t make us good writ­ers.

The author of the arti­cle com­plains about hav­ing less of a num­ber of cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties than he once had. Now, what is the case to make Google the main sus­pect?
Before we judge some­thing as “good” or “bad” or “stu­pid” we need to estab­lish: Read the rest of this entry »

Exercise your brain in the Cognitive Age

In the past two days, The New York Times has pub­lished two excel­lent arti­cles on brain and cog­ni­tive fit­ness. Despite appear­ing in sep­a­rate sec­tions (tech­nol­o­gy and editorial), the two have more in com­mon than imme­di­ate­ly meets the eye. Both raise key ques­tions that politi­cians, health pol­i­cy mak­ers, busi­ness leaders, educators and consumers should pay atten­tion to.

1) First, Exer­cise Your Brain, or Else You’ll … Uh …, by Katie Hafn­er (5/3/08). Some quotes:

- “At the same time, boomers are seiz­ing on a mount­ing body of evi­dence that sug­gests that brains con­tain more plas­tic­i­ty than pre­vi­ous­ly thought, and many peo­ple are tak­ing mat­ters into their own hands, doing brain fit­ness exer­cis­es with the same inten­si­ty with which they attack a tread­mill.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Jack and Elaine LaLanne and Brain Health

Very fun inter­view with Jack and Elaine LaLanne by Dave Bun­nell: read it at Meet Fit­ness Leg­ends Jack and Elaine LaLanne | ELDR.com. See some quotes:

  • In 1936, Jack opened America’s first health club in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, called the “Jack LaLanne Phys­i­cal Cul­ture Stu­dio.”
  • Through tele­vi­sion shows, pub­lic appear­ances, and books—and by sell­ing health-relat­ed products—they have been the most vocal and effec­tive evan­ge­lists for pre­ven­tive health the world has ever known.
  • Elaine works out,” Jack replies, “but I work out eight days a week. I spend an hour and a half in the gym, and then a half hour in the pool, and I change my rou­tine every 30 days com­plete­ly.”
  • You’ve got to go at it hard and work on dif­fer­ent mus­cles,” he con­tin­ues. “You know how you stay young, don’t you? You work your butt off. Any­thing you do in life that’s worth­while, there’s a price to pay.”

Jack recent­ly cel­e­brat­ed his 92nd birth­day!

We all have to be very thank­ful for their life mis­sion: a recent arti­cle from the Soci­ety for Neu­ro­science quotes:

Every­body knows that exer­cise is good for your heart, but in recent years we’ve gath­ered com­pelling evi­dence that exer­cise is also good for your brain,” says Fred Gage, PhD, of the Salk Insti­tute for Bio­log­i­cal Stud­ies. “We now know that exer­cise helps gen­er­ate new brain cells, even in the aging brain.”

You can check oth­er tips in Read the rest of this entry »

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