Saturday, 29 March 2008

The effort of will...it depends on purpose

The brilliant Oliver Burkeman points out the effort of willpower is one that faces us every day, across lots of different situations. Worryingly, it is a finite resource which we can waste on resisting a donut, whilst we fail to veto another slice of jam on toast.

He mentions Baumeister's experiments that showed that exerting self-control uses up real energy. So no wonder we break diets or need food to keep us at our desks.

For once, I think this tells only part of the story.

Willpower is finite depending on how you picture it. If resisting the donut is just one part of a larger, unifying purpose, my bet is that it is much easier to picture oneself also resisting the toast. And if your image includes a new, harder, sportier you, you'll probably then take yourself off for a run and make do with a banana. Purpose unifies goals, so that the drain on resources is lessened. If you can find ways of rewarding yourself in the meantime - this is still important - then your purpose will protect you from being drained.

I will be testing a very similar proposition in my upcoming dissertation which I think is very exciting. More on this later - I'm off for some jam on toast.

The language of...Microsoft?

For reasons I won't go into, I'm reviewing lots of presentations (in Powerpoint) at the moment. And I've had to create a few too.

What struck me is how easy it is to fall into the way of thinking that the templates encourage. In other words, title, big heading, the host of supporting bullets. Maybe some clip art. Even a photo if one is feeling really dangerous.

Foucault argued that language structures thought, and that therefore language structures and limits thinking.

Could the same be true of Powerpoint? Or is this just a cultural problem; a user error?

Phi - a number to remember for all your presentations

This number phi makes pi look like an unemployed layabout from Wrexham!

I read this here and it should interest all photographers, designers, mathematicians, and probably Dan:

Phi is the ratio underpinning a division that has become known by various names: golden rectangle, golden ratio and golden mean among them.

If line A is divided into two sections, one larger than the other (B and C), the golden ratio is achieved where A/B = B/C.

This ratio is 1.6180339887

The golden ratio features in nature and the dimensions of the human body, from DNA right up to the solar system and has been used by man throughout architecture, art and music. The Egyptians understood it when erecting the great Pyramids and the Ancient Greek buildings are full of these golden ratios.

Although this ratio has been rediscovered throughout time, one undisputed milestone in its history was the Fibonacci number series. In the 12th century Fibonacci produced a series of numbers by adding together pairs of numbers.

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144,

(0+1=1, 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8É)

The ratio between each successive pair gets closer and closer to Phi as you progress through the series.

Once you start splitting a golden rectangle by the ratio, you can keep sub-splitting it down forever. The spiral this produces exactly matches the growth of the Nautilus shell in nature. Yes, it's all getting a little freaky now.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

The curse of powerpoint

For years I've railed against Powerpoint - I was doing it when it wasn't even trendy, like it is now. But this slide pack on the brilliant Presentation Zen blog does the job so much better than me. Hilarious.



Now here's the real thing. Enjoy.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Happiness and meaning

When talking about happiness, psychologists distinguish between hedonic pleasure and eudaimonic pleasure. Hedonic pleasures might be what we understand by being 'happy' and eudaimonia might be what we understand by 'content' or 'satisfied'. One is charatcerised as pleasure (eating, sex, laughing) the other achievement (satisfaction of a job well done, overcoming difficulties to succeed, experiencing 'flow').

We often look down on hedonic pleasures, as though they are somehow less rarefied or worthy than eudaimonia. But psychologists have shown that the two are in fact interrelated. Eudaimonia is consistently accompanied by feelings of happiness. Enjoyment is routinely paired with eudaimonia. Indeed, 'flow' (the feeling of being completely absorbed in a task) is more likely to occur if one is in a happy mood. Happiness appears to heighten an individual’s capacity to discriminate between meaningful and meaningless experiences.

Why is this?

Nature rewards us for activities that are essential to survival. Those activities tend to be hedonic: eating, drinking, sex. Happiness in this form is often sneered at, perhaps because there are characterised as lower or vulgar pleasures.

But happiness is also linked to meaningful activities. Being absorbed in a task, trying, winning from a difficult situation, achieving something - these are all activities which have an evolutionary cost in terms of energy and time. Yet nature rewards us for doing them.

Happiness may play a role in enhancing the experience of meaning .... lending hedonic reinforcement to these eudaimonic endeavors
Professor Laura King, 2007.

In other words, nature rewards activities that it favours. By rewarding meaningful activities, it reinforces them. Truly, humans are unique in this respect. Nature rewards survival and procreation. But it also rewards effort and being exceptional.

To be truly human, we must strive to achieve.