Month: August 2017

Ep 35: How to make a mind—part1

Ep 35: How to make a mind—part1

Ep 35: How to make a mind—part1

How could you make a mind—a mind at least as good as ours are. Here’s one approach that has already worked. The details are a bit hazy, and I’m rather certain it’s outside of my budget; but it’s a place to start.

The sound of the big bang (c) John G. Cramer – 2003 used by permission.

Ep 33: Just dumb enough to work

Ep 33: Just dumb enough to work

Just dumb enough to work

It’s called, “open label placebo,” and it seems to work by all reports. You take a sugar pill or other placebo, you know it is just a placebo, and yet sometimes, you still get some benefits.

Here’s a short NPR segment when an author is interviewed about his experiences using a placebo that he knew was a placebo to help with writer’s block.

Can Placebos Work If You Know They’re Placebos?

Ep 32: I’m superstitious about placebos

Ep 32: I’m superstitious about placebos

I’m superstitious about placebos

I was chatting with Antony, (@AntonyTheReal_) about the show and the recent episodes about the placebo effect. He wondered if you could take a placebo, know it’s a placebo, and still get some benefit from doing so. It turns out that you can.

It happens to be Antony’s birthday, and he happened to be interviewed in episode 2 of “The Lobby.” Happy birthday!

Here’s an article where the placebo effect and a labeled placebo was used to help suffers of IBS.

Placebo effect works even if patients know they’re getting a sham drug

Here’s another article where the results were replicated for suffers of lower back pain.

Placebos Can Work Even If You Know They’re Placebos

And here’s an article wherein a study found that a placebo that is known to be a placebo can help reduce the pain of migraine headaches. And the study wasn’t even trying to study that.

What’s in a Sugar Pill? Maybe More Than You Think

Ep 31: This is my lucky rabbit; I named him Placebo

Ep 31: This is my lucky rabbit; I named him Placebo

This is my lucky rabbit; I named him Placebo

In episode 27 and episode 28, we had a look at the placebo effect and found that it can improve performance on both physical and mental activities. But how do you give yourself a placebo?

Here’s one of many articles that referenced a 2010 study that showed some improved performance associated with superstitions presented as part of the study.

Superstition proved to improve performance

Identifying objects with the vOICe

Identifying objects with the vOICe

As I said in the previous post, trying to figure out which object was which by tossing them wasn’t quite working out. Later that day, I had my assistant assist. He’d flip a coin, and then set one or the other of the two clay shapes in front of me, and I would say which one it was. It was either a small cube, or a small tetrahedron. I made some mistakes at first, but by the time the session was done, the difference between the way one sounded and the other was obvious. The tetrahedron has a sound that almost comes in two parts, as I hear it angle up and back down. I could hear the sharp peak, the roughly 60-degree angle at the top.

I’m told by @seeingwithsound, that a tetrahedron and cube are possible for this exercise, but difficult, and that a cube and sphere would be easier. I might squish the tetrahedron into a sphere and give that a try. It’s easy now when it’s one object at a time, but it might become more confusing when I’m trying to figure out which one is which and they are side by side. Maybe I’ll try a sphere today, and go back to the tetrahedron the next.

After another couple of days, using sphere or tetrahedron with the cube, one object at a time, we’ll try having them next to one another. I’ll have him flip a coin to decide which shape goes on the left and which one on the right. After that, I’ll have to try having them in line, so that one is behind and a bit further away than the other one. Note that I’ll have to stand up for that part—otherwise, the object that’s further away can be blocked from view by the object in the foreground. Sighted readers and those who lost their vision later in life, like me, might find that obvious, but those who have never seen may not know that can happen.

It’s 3:13 in the morning, so it won’t happen until considerably later in the day.

First shot sorting with the vOICe

First shot sorting with the vOICe

My clay is setting. It’s a polymer clay, so first you squish it without mercy until it gets soft enough to work. Next you squish it carefully and oh so gently into the shape you want. Then you give it a while until it gets a bit harder. After that, you can toss it around without it quickly turning into a featureless blob.

Today, to change it up a bit, I’m going to do the sorting exercise. I made a little cube, and a tetrahedron—a four-sided figure like a pyramid with a three-side base, or a four-side die. That gives me two differently shaped, light-colored targets to set against a nice dark background, and take a gander at.

The goal is to learn to tell which one is which by listening to the vOICe instead of feeling them. You can checkout episode 19, if you want more info on the vOICe; or you can visit their website to dig a bit deeper, and even download a copy for free for your very own.

Well, that’s interesting. The tetrahedron sounds swoopier. Still, I’m having trouble when they happen to land next to one another. I think I’ll start by trying to figure out which shape I’m looking at, when it’s one shape at a time. Unfortunately, if I pick one, I know which one it is before I look at it. Well, this is the sort of thing I pay my assistant for.

My sister’s wedding, problem solving, and the Rubik’s cube

My sister’s wedding, problem solving, and the Rubik’s cube

In episode 13 of “The Lobby,” I interviewed Chris Marr, of The Content Marketing Academy. Recently, I caught an episode of his podcast. He was talking about the Rubik’s cube, and how he decided to give himself a challenge and learn to solve it. He asked for folk to share their own experiences with this cultural icon of extreme cleverness. Once I’d finished writing my answer out, it felt like a blog post. So, here’s a blog post.

It was my sister’s wedding, and on every table was a small, pastel shaded Rubik’s cube. In a way, I knew how to solve them, but right then, right there, I wasn’t sure whether or not I could. Still, it was an interesting extra layer of challenge. I picked up the little cube, nudged my brother, tapped one of the squares and asked, what color is that?

It took a while to figure out what color went where. My brother had never learned to solve one of these things, so it took us a while to work out a system that would allow him to tell me what I needed to know, without having to hear what every last square was. But eventually, roughly 20 minutes later, we’d solved it.

Imagine trying to solve the cube when you’ve been blindfolded, without a chance to look at it ahead of time, or at all. That’s me, only there’s no blindfold needed; I’m already blind.

I recall seeing a Rubik’s cube when I was a child. I could see better at the time, better but not well—I still used Braille and walked with a white cane. In fact, I didn’t realize how much I was using the sight I had left until it was gone. The cube is a good example. When I was younger, I could have looked at the colors; but by the time I was old enough to have a clue of how to solve it, I couldn’t see the cube at all, and some other solution was needed. There are “tactile Rubik’s cubes” on the market, but they cost more than I was willing to spend on a toy.

Then, one day, a friend who had become interested in the cube showed up at my apartment, and handed me one he’d modified. He had removed the stickers, drilled holes, and glued large metal staples in different patterns a different pattern on each side. I finally had a chance to play with the thing and see if I could figure out how to solve it, without looking it up and using someone else’s solution.

To use a cube solving as music metaphor—looking up the answer and perfecting it is like learning to play a difficult song; figuring out how to solve it on your own is like learning how to write that song.

I already knew that ways of solving the Rubik’s cube were on the internet for anyone with a browser, internet connection, and the will to use. It’s a test of memory and coordination, especially if you go for speed. However, I wanted to treat it as a puzzle, to find my own way of doing it.

It took me eight months. When I started, I had already heard that it cannot be solved one side at a time; it’s better solved one layer at a time instead. That saved me from going down that blind alley. Still, day after day, given a free moment, I was moving the cube around; observing the effects; Trying and mostly failing to find some interlocking set of moves that would lead to solving the damn thing already!

Then, one day I noticed that I had enough tricks to manage the overall trick. I could solve the first layer, no problem. The second layer just required one of the corner pieces of the first to go on a 7-move trip, landing where it started, wreaking havoc on the other layers along the way. That last layer was the real challenge. I actually had enough tricks to solve it for some time before I noticed how they could work together.

Let’s see, I can move these pieces in relation to one another, but they rotate. Um, oh, I can rotate them without moving them. What about the corners now. Hmm… I can move three of the corners without moving this one. Actually, that means I can move the corners until they’re in the right spot; I just have to start from different places. Rotating the corners? Easy! I found that trick by accident in the first week! Hey, I think I can…


Why would I bother to do it the hard way? Because, like everything else, problem solving is a skill that improves with practice.

In “The Lobby” I’ve been using my guests as part of some ongoing research. What is it that allows some people to set and reach their goals, while others give up so quickly. One of the skills that is important to cultivate is problem solving. Even more important, is your attitude toward problems and challenges.

As my friend who modified the cube put it:

step one: want to try!

Ep 30: The amazing monkey manages to muster more memory than the miserable mind of man

Ep 30: The amazing monkey manages to muster more memory than the miserable mind of man

The amazing monkey manages to muster more memory than the miserable mind of man

For certain tasks involving short term and working memory, our nearest relatives do better than we do.

Check out this YouTube video to watch the chimps make us look like chumps.

Chimp vs human! – Working Memory test

Ep 29: a fun feathered fact

Ep 29: a fun feathered fact

a fun feathered fact

Did you know that birds can be superstitious? No, really, I’m not making it up. In the episode, I said I’d provide one link, but I decided to give you two instead.

Here’s a short YouTube video about the experiment.

Pigeon Superstition Experiment

And here’s an approximately 13-minute lecture on the effect and its implications.

The Superstitious Pigeon: B. F. Skinner 1948 Keon West