Perception

Stress Response

Terri the relentless tortoise

Stress is an actor in all our lives. As we grow up, our stress grows too. We perceive that stress as a sign that we are coping with more than our historical share. Every generation believes that their stress surpasses that of the generation before. So it is probably just an illusion — or delusion. What’s most important is how we cope with stress. Not all stress coping mechanisms are learned. Some are probably encoded — they come for free with our genetics. It can be easier to see these mechanisms in action by observing animals — particularly pets, whose behaviors we know intimately. Take, for example, two very different species that we have had as pets over the years — Terri the tortoise and Kushy the ferret. Terri comes from an ancient lineage of chelonians (Greek word for tortoise), who have walked and swam upon the Earth for hundreds of millions of years. Kushy the ferret is of the Mustelidae family — weasels and skunks. Kushy was a descendant of a domesticated breed of ferrets that first became pets about four thousand years ago. We bought Kushy at a pet store; Terri was a rescue. Terri’s natural habitat is…

The Music of Language

Old World Language Families

The illustration above is created by Minna Sundberg. Unlike pictorial art, music is perceived and processed in time. Complex music — consisting of more than one melody woven together — is even more difficult to process than a single stream. It requires focused attention. It’s more akin to listening to several conversations at once even if they are speaking on the same topic. If attention strays for just a moment, vital data can be lost. Thus music comprehension improves over several listenings. Things like nuance in performance, which ride on top of the basic syntax and message, are easy to miss for novice listeners. Listening, like performing, requires the development of skills. Humans are poor at splitting their attention and multitasking, and thus are prone to missing a lot of details. Language is also much more than a ruled-based string of words. There is a melody to each that varies from language to language. The melody provides the underpinning of emotion to the informational content that words carry. It’s easy to create cognitive dissonance by using the wrong emotional music while delivering a message. People who are good at this are good at manipulation. This is because we listen to…

Living with Anxiety

Gigs canceled

We are week two into isolation, living in a social distancing dystopia. Everything is strange. Our eating and sleeping habits, our daily routines, our physical workouts, and our work and school schedules and setups are all completely disrupted. It feels like we are living in wartime, and yet it’s Spring outside. The bombs are not dropping on our heads. The flowers are blooming… This disconnect between what we experienced based on our higher-function reasoning (as presented by newsmedia, social media, crazy conversations with friends and family) and what we sense directly through our eyes and ears is very difficult to reconcile. People are dying (they really are) and yet you can take an evening stroll outside and smell the flowers. Doctors are sharing horrific tales of shortages and insanity in their hospitals, and yet the birds are singing and the sun warms our skin. It feels crazy! This is emotional dissonance. Mammals like us humans are not built for prolonged stress — it destroys our systems. We are “designed” for short bursts of adrenaline as a lion stalks us down the savanna. Worrying day after day is very destructive to our health. For those who would like to read more…

A Path in Life

mind

There is a general recognition that time perception speeds up as we get older. As kids, we felt our summers lasted a lifetime; as adults, summertime slithers out of our hands before we even get a chance to pull our sun hats from storage. With each year, time shortens and compresses to practically nothing. But is that all? Are there other changes that we are simply less aware of that transform our psyche as we age? And is this adult feeling for temporal foreshortening uniformly distributed throughout human cultures (historically and geographically)? Since I’ve just published two books this year (“Harvest” and “God of Small Affairs”) that considered human development on cosmological scales of existence, there was something in those stories that tickled my brain — what else changes so dramatically over our lifetimes? And I think the answer might be our goals and expectations. As a kid, I played at how long I could hold my breath, how long could I hang from a pole, how many times I could jump the rope before getting tangled up… How many grapes could fit into my mouth? (It was really gooseberries, but who knows what they are on this side of…

Summer Writing and Reading and Editing

Girl Reading

Writing In July, I finally finished editing my latest book: God of Small Affairs (first three chapters are available here). It will be a while before it gets published, but it is nice to move into the next stage of this story’s life. I have a cover that I like…I have several! Here are two: Here is a book description that will definitely NOT appear on the cover of this book: Time is made out of threads. Pull one and someplace somewhere things unravel. We know how to pull on the right thread because we see the whole tapestry of life’s possibilities. That’s why we are so good at finding a good path into the future. I say a future because there is no such thing as the future. We are made of time threads — thick bundles of knots that can pull and twist and change the course of history. It’s all about connections — pull one strand, and the others twist with it. Like Newton’s second law, for every action, there is an equal an opposite reaction. But humans are small in relation to civilized time, planetary time, cosmological time. To make a big change requires a course…

What’s in the Cover Art?

Coding Peter Suddenly Paris 2 Covers

This month we have released a sequel to Suddenly, Paris — Coding Peter — AND changed the covers of both books! Above is photo of before and after for the cover art of both books. Can a cover make a difference in the sales of these books? These products? Yes! Cover art makes a huge impact on how a book is perceived by its audience. Or to put it even stronger, the art on the cover of the book helps the potential reader recognize the book as something that they would like to read. Personally, I thought the original covers with strong black, red, and white design were striking. But that design didn’t communicate the genre of the books to its audience. We needed to come up with illustrations that made it clear that these stories were science fiction, and action adventure, and aimed at a new adult readers. We needed to covey a sense of mystery and danger. We wanted people to stop and notice the books based on their covers. And so we made it change. The new covers are a lot more narrative. And hopefully it would make a difference as the potential readers browse pages of…

We Are the Magicians

Maximilien Luce, Morning, Interior, 1890, using pointillist technique

We all make magic every day. Don’t think so? Then consider this, we conjure up complete worlds of information with a mere suggestion, just a bit of outline, a stroke or two, a few words, a spatter of color, a dash of melody. We literally make grand visions from just a trickle of data. This is true for those who design and those who consume information. Let’s first explore our ability to comprehend very incomplete information. Take pointillism — an art movement (technique) that required artists to create images using points of pure color — why are we able to “see” the complete image from a mere collection of dots? With just a collection of colored dots, we are all able to imagine the mood, understand the story, visualize the universe behind this painting. You can say: “well, the artist was great at using dots.” But it is not just dots that we are good at. We reconstruct our reality from little bits of incomplete data all day every day of our lives. Consider the tone of voice of the person who answered the phone — you can easily tell the mood and even guess at the personality of that…