Berry vs. The Geekosphere

“The most radical influence of reductive science has been the virtually universal adoption of the idea that the world, its creatures, and all the parts of its creatures are machines—that is, that there is no difference between creature and artifice, birth and manufacture, thought and computation. Our language, wherever it is used, is now almost invariably conditioned by the assumption that fleshly bodies are machines full of mechanisms, fully compatible with the mechanisms of medicine, industry, and commerce; and that minds are computers fully compatible with electronic technology.”This may have begun as a metaphor, but in the language as it is used (and as it affects industrial practice) it has evolved from metaphor through equation to identification. And this usage institutionalizes the human wish, or the sin of wishing, that life might be, or might be made to be, predictable.”

Wendell Berry

Mind Performance Hacks provides real-life tips and tools for overclocking your brain and becoming a better thinker. In the increasingly frenetic pace of today’s information economy, managing your life requires hacking your brain. With this book, you’ll cut through the clutter and tune up your brain intentionally, safely, and productively.

The O’Reilly & Associates book catalog.

Thank You, Marshall.

Non-violent Communication,” a theory/technique/philosophy of communication (and of life) created by Marshall Rosenberg, has changed my life in really positive ways in the past year. It’s given me ways of looking at myself and others and my relationships that I don’t know if I’d ever have discovered on my own. It’s helped me as a parent. It’s shown me a way out of the pain of constant anger over the nation’s political system.

And now it’s time for me to say goodbye.

Well, not really. I don’t think I’ll ever leave behind the lessons I’ve learned trying to practice NVC. I don’t want to stop learning more about this way of relating to people. It’s done good things for me and I’m sure it’s got more to teach me.

But it’s hurting my effort at living mindfully.

Yep, this is another post about mindfulness — see my first and second. It more relates to the second — the “map is not the territory” phenomenon.

You see, for all it bills itself as a technique of communication, NVC is also a worldview, a way of understanding human life. It’s a picture of the world. And I’m a sucker, as I’ve said, for worldviews, theories, that claim to be “the real truth,” the little-known inside scoop on reality which if you know it makes everything easier. And accepting a particular model of reality, a particular way of understanding the world, as *the* way of understanding the world, is a mindfulness-killer.

Here’s the tip-off: you’re following instructions and you don’t get the results they promised. You don’t question the value of these instructions for you, you question your own value, ability, competence, worthiness. That’s a dead giveaway.

So I’m gonna back off. I’m going to stop making a conscious effort to use NVC in my parenting and other parts of my life, at least for a while. I’m going to open my mind to other ways of thinking about things. I’ve got it there as a way of looking at things but I’m not going to make it *the* way of looking at things.

I think even Marshall would approve. After all, he called his book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, not Nonviolent Communication, The Language Of Life.



Psychologist “Ellen Langer”: has been studying something she calls “mindfulness” for a couple decades now. She’s written a lot of technical work on it and three popular books, ??Mindfulness??, ??The Power of Mindful Learning,?? and ??On Becoming an Artist??.

??The Power of Mindful Learning??, in particular, turned my head inside out when I read it. It questions a series of “myths” about learning (and by implication, knowledge and skill), which I had never in my life questioned. And the vision of “mindfulness” in it is a powerful one.

It goes something like this. When one does something according to routine, without consciousness of it — by rote, without awareness of other options — as if a computer was doing it — that is _mindless_ action. What you’re doing when you’re not being mindless, is being _mindful_. Mindfulness involves looking at something from different perspectives, questioning received knowledge, considering other options, creating new categories of thought rather than relying on old ones, things like that.

What was new for me here is that, growing up with a lot of “the mind is the brain” and “the brain is a biological computer” metaphors around me, I had always thought of mind as a sufficiently complex agglutination and organization of routines, rules, and categories, not as something which transcends (I can’t think of a better word) the rules, routines, symbols, and categories, which creates and uses them but cannot be reduced to them.

This turned my whole concept of mind inside out.

Before, I’d thought of rules and procedures as the building blocks of mind; now I saw the violation, transformation, and recreation of rules and procedures as the locus of the activity of mind.

Suddenly computers seemed like a lot less useful metaphors for the mind.

In my reading and life since then I’ve come across many places where people talk about mindfulness or share mindful assumptions — many times they were people I’d read before and never quite understood; or I hadn’t understood their significance.

To rhapsodize a bit it becomes a matter of thinking of the world and life as a mystery that we can only provisionally and incompletely understand, and which we are constantly re-encountering, and thinking of the world and life as systems which can eventually be completely comprehended, and where existing knowledge is relatively solid, and can only be built on.

Anyway, it all sounds very idealistic, but it’s not philosophy, it’s empirical science. Langer has been doing experiments on mindfulness for years, and for the purpose of the experiments she’s found simple ways to induce a state of relative mindfulness.

One way to induce mindfulness, for example, is to pay attention to the unique context of the moment. Consider the ways in which the situation you are observing in the present moment is unlike any other in your life. Mindlessness comes from ignoring uniqueness and context-situatedness and classifying things in preexisting categories, so a way to elicit mindfulness is to consider how things fail to fit preexisting categories.

I’ve posted many a blog post before, but I haven’t made very many from the D&W cafeteria in Cascade, MI. When I have been in that cafeteria, it hasn’t usually been on days where I was inentionally taking a personal day to help myself rest and relax. Nor when I’d been happy with the response to a fairly personal post of a few days ago, and determined to write more things that really mattered to me.

Langer’s work on mindfulness really matters to me. Her books are one of several groups of books which have really challenged and expanded my thinking lately, and which interrelate in ways I don’t entirely understand.

Speaking of interrelation… Mindfulness is also very important in Buddhism. Langer has said that people often remark on the relevance of her work for Buddhism, and vice versa, but she has never intentionally drawn on such sources for her work and she is not expert in them at all. To her, mindfulness is simply the opposite of mindfulness, not part of a Dharma or anything. She’s interested to see the connections but is a Western scientist, not a Buddhist.

So are they the same thing — Langer’s “mindfulness” and Buddhist “mindfulness”? There is certainly a lot of overlap. Both eschew judgment in favor of simple observation. Both involve escaping the stranglehold of existing categories. Both involve engagement in the present moment.

However there seem to be important differences: Langer sees mindfulness as involving the constant _creation of new categories_, and _drawing of new distinctions_, while Buddhist mindfulness seems to be about escaping categorization altogether. Langerian mindfulness asks you to see a Y or a Z where you once saw an X, while Buddhist mindfulness asks you to just _see_.

Buddhist mindfulness is also assumed to be a quality that one pursues through years of meditation, whereas Langer assumes that anyone can be mindful at any time, by choice or through an appropriate outside stimulus.

The similarities are too great to say they’re talking about different things, and the differences too great to say they’re talking about exactly the same thing.

Creativity & Mindfulness research

Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. – Creativity Research Journal – 16(2&3):261 – Abstract

Two hundred eight adults participated in 2 field experiments that investigated the effect of drawing as a mindfulness treatment. Novelty provokes mindfulness, and it was hypothesized that drawing is a method for introducing novelty. Experiment 1 showed that in novel settings, participants who drew the stimuli that they observed felt significantly more competent than those who simply observed. Experiment 2 demonstrated that in a familiar setting, instructions to engage in this task were not enough to overcome perceived incompetence. A mindfulness treatment, however, was effective in enabling participants overcome perceived incompetence. Taken together, the results demonstrate a relationship between mindful creativity and perceived competence.

Pity the article is $24. :(