Friday, November 17, 2017

Iroquois False Face Society Mask

The False Face Society is probably the best known of the medicinal societies among the Iroquois, especially for its dramatic wooden masks. The masks are used in healing rituals which invoke the spirit of an old hunch-backed man. Those cured by the society become members. Also, echoing the significance of dreams to the Iroquois, anyone who dreams that they should be a member of the society may join.

Iroquois oral history tells the beginning of the False Face tradition. According to the accounts, the Creator Shöñgwaia'dihsa'ih ('our creator' in Onondaga), blessed with healing powers in response to his love of living things, encountered a stranger, referred to in Onondaga as Ethiso:da' ('our grandfather') or Hado'ih (IPA: [haduʔiʔ]), and challenged him in a competition to see who could move a mountain. 

Ethiso:da' managed to make the mountain quake and move but a small amount. Shöñgwaia'dihsa'ih declared that Ethiso:da' had power but not enough to move the mountain significantly. He proceeded to move the mountain, telling Ethiso:da' not to look behind him. Turning his head quickly out of curiosity, the mountain struck the stranger in the face and left his face disfigured. Shöñgwaia'dihsa'ih then employed Ethiso:da' to protect his children from disease and sickness. But knowing the sight of Ethiso:da' was not suitable for his children's eyes, Shöñgwaia'dihsa'ih banished him to live in underground caves and great wooded forests, only to leave when called upon to cure or interact through dreams. Hado'ih then became a great healer, also known as "Old Broken Nose."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Rolf Dobelli: No News is Good News

An Opinion by Rolf Dobelli, 2013

In the past few decades, the fortunate among us have recognised the hazards of living with an overabundance of food (obesity, diabetes) and have started to change our diets. But most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don't really concern our lives and don't require thinking. That's why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books and long magazine articles (which require thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, which are bright-coloured candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to information that we faced 20 years ago in regard to food. We are beginning to recognize how toxic news can be.

News misleads. 

Take the following event (borrowed from Nassim Taleb). A car drives over a bridge, and the bridge collapses. What does the news media focus on? The car. The person in the car. Where he came from. Where he planned to go. How he experienced the crash (if he survived). But that is all irrelevant. What's relevant? The structural stability of the bridge. That's the underlying risk that has been lurking, and could lurk in other bridges. But the car is flashy, it's dramatic, it's a person (non-abstract), and it's news that's cheap to produce. News leads us to walk around with the completely wrong risk map in our heads. So terrorism is over-rated. Chronic stress is under-rated. The collapse of Lehman Brothers is overrated. Fiscal irresponsibility is under-rated. Astronauts are over-rated. Nurses are under-rated.

We are not rational enough to be exposed to the press. Watching an airplane crash on television is going to change your attitude toward that risk, regardless of its real probability. If you think you can compensate with the strength of your own inner contemplation, you are wrong. Bankers and economists – who have powerful incentives to compensate for news-borne hazards – have shown that they cannot. The only solution -- cut yourself off from news consumption entirely.

News is irrelevant. 

Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of news is irrelevant to you. But people find it very difficult to recognise what's relevant. It's much easier to recognise what's new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organisations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive advantage. Many fall for that. We get anxious when we're cut off from the flow of news. In reality, news consumption is a competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger the advantage you have.

News has no explanatory power. 

News items are bubbles popping on the surface of a deeper world. Will accumulating facts help you understand the world? Sadly, no. The relationship is inverted. The important stories are non-stories: slow, powerful movements that develop below journalists' radar but have a transforming effect. The more "news factoids" you digest, the less of the big picture you will understand. If more information leads to higher economic success, we'd expect journalists to be at the top of the pyramid. That's not the case.

News is toxic to your body. 

It constantly triggers the limbic system. Panicky stories spur the release of cascades of glucocorticoid (cortisol). This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High glucocorticoid levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections. The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision and desensitisation.

News increases cognitive errors. 

News feeds the mother of all cognitive errors: confirmation bias. In the words of Warren Buffett: "What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact." News exacerbates this flaw. We become prone to overconfidence, take stupid risks and misjudge opportunities. It also exacerbates another cognitive error: the story bias. Our brains crave stories that "make sense" – even if they don't correspond to reality. Any journalist who writes, "The market moved because of X" or "the company went bankrupt because of Y" is an idiot. I am fed up with this cheap way of "explaining" the world.

News inhibits thinking. 

Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. News makes us shallow thinkers. But it's worse than that. News severely affects memory. There are two types of memory. Long-range memory's capacity is nearly infinite, but working memory is limited to a certain amount of slippery data. The path from short-term to long-term memory is a choke-point in the brain, but anything you want to understand must pass through it. If this passageway is disrupted, nothing gets through. Because news disrupts concentration, it weakens comprehension. Online news has an even worse impact. In a 2001 study two scholars in Canadashowed that comprehension declines as the number of hyperlinks in a document increases. Why? Because whenever a link appears, your brain has to at least make the choice not to click, which in itself is distracting. News is an intentional interruption system.

News works like a drug. 

As stories develop, we want to know how they continue. With hundreds of arbitrary storylines in our heads, this craving is increasingly compelling and hard to ignore. Scientists used to think that the dense connections formed among the 100 billion neurons inside our skulls were largely fixed by the time we reached adulthood. Today we know that this is not the case. Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. The more news we consume, the more we exercise the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading deeply and thinking with profound focus. Most news consumers – even if they used to be avid book readers – have lost the ability to absorb lengthy articles or books. After four, five pages they get tired, their concentration vanishes, they become restless. It's not because they got older or their schedules became more onerous. It's because the physical structure of their brains has changed.

News wastes time. 

If you read the newspaper for 15 minutes each morning, then check the news for 15 minutes during lunch and 15 minutes before you go to bed, then add five minutes here and there when you're at work, then count distraction and refocusing time, you will lose at least half a day every week. Information is no longer a scarce commodity. But attention is. You are not that irresponsible with your money, reputation or health. Why give away your mind?

News makes us passive. 

News stories are overwhelmingly about things you cannot influence. The daily repetition of news about things we can't act upon makes us passive. It grinds us down until we adopt a worldview that is pessimistic, desensitised, sarcastic and fatalistic. The scientific term is "learned helplessness". It's a bit of a stretch, but I would not be surprised if news consumption, at least partially contributes to the widespread disease of depression.

News kills creativity. 

Finally, things we already know limit our creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age. Their brains enjoy a wide, uninhabited space that emboldens them to come up with and pursue novel ideas. I don't know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. On the other hand, I know a bunch of viciously uncreative minds who consume news like drugs. If you want to come up with old solutions, read news. If you are looking for new solutions, don't.

Society needs journalism – but in a different way. Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth. But important findings don't have to arrive in the form of news. Long journal articles and in-depth books are good, too.

I have now gone without news for four years, so I can see, feel and report the effects of this freedom first-hand: less disruption, less anxiety, deeper thinking, more time, more insights. It's not easy, but it's worth it.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Nellie Bly: Pioneering Investigative Journalist

In 1887, Nellie Bly arrived in New York City hoping to land a job at a major newspaper, but none was offered. After four months of rejection, and near penniless, she talked her way into the office of John Cockerill, managing editor of the Joseph Pulitzer newspaper "The New York World."

Determined not to leave without work, Nellie was eventually assigned to go under-cover as a patient in the notorious asylum on Blackwell's Island and report first-hand on her experience.

Nellie convinced both doctors and judges that she was insane, and was committed to the asylum. She endured filthy conditions, rotten food and physical abuse from doctors and nurses for ten days before a "World" agent rescued her. Nellie's articles "Behind Asylum Bars" and "Inside The Mad-House" created an uproar in New York. After further investigations were launched, New York officials provided more money and a change in care for the people at the asylum. Nellie Bly had arrived.

Nellie would spend the next several years writing articles for "The World." She pioneered the field of investigative journalism. Often going under-cover, she exposed crooked lobbyists in government, tracked the plight of unwanted babies, reported on the conditions for poor workers in box-making factories and much more. Nellie was becoming so popular, "The World" would often use her name in the story's headline. People couldn't wait to see what Nellie Bly was up to next.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Andrew Oenga: Baleen Basket, 1981

The first baleen (suqqaq, qupitalik, savigaaq in Iñupiaq) basket (aguummak, aguummaq in Iñupiaq) was made at Barrow after the termination of commercial whaling. The exact date is still in doubt, but the preponderance of available evidence suggests the event took place sometime between 1914 and 1918, after whaling ended and before the intensification of the North American fur trade. This is one of the youngest basketry traditions in North America.

Kinguktuk (1871–1941, also spelled Kiŋaqtaq in Iñupiaq; and his wife: Qusraaq) is recognized as the first baleen basketmaker with his first pieces made between 1914 and 1918 in Barrow. He was perhaps the only baleen basketmaker as late as 1931.

Today, most baleen basketmakers live in Point Hope, Alaska. Kinguktuk's early baskets were woven in the single-rod coiling of their willow-root prototypes, and already had starter pieces, the perforated ivory discs used to attach beginning stitches, at the center of their lids and bases.

Friday, November 10, 2017


Visualize letting go of pains held from remembering hurts, disappointments, slights, losses, and insults -- watch them flutter away, one by-one...

Thursday, November 9, 2017

OCD: Sitting with the Imps

Many people don’t get just how strong the urge to do an OCD compulsion is. They might say, “Just don’t do it -- simple.” If only using simple logic to override a feeling was that easy -- if it was, there wouldn’t be a disorder.

OCD is an anxiety disorder. A sufferer gets obsessions and feels anxiety about them. In order to relieve that anxiety -- they bow to "irrational" compulsions. The reason it's so hard to resist compulsions is that they hold out the hope that they will make you feel better -- temporarily. No one likes feeling anxious. If you do the compulsions, you don’t need to feel anxious -- temporarily. But you can’t keep just doing the compulsions. If you want to recover from OCD -- you need to keep resisting them.

You know when you have a really bad itch you have to scratch? Or there’s a chocolate cake in front of you and you really want to eat a piece? Resisting a compulsion is like resisting those, but much worse -- with the added complications of bucketloads of anxiety, and intrusive thoughts about what will happen if you don’t. 

You just know, if you give in to the compulsion, a bit of relief might come. And who doesn’t want relief? Who would choose to do something that makes them anxious? 

But when you have OCD and want to recover -- you have to actually learn to sit with the anxiety and uncertainty and deny the compulsion. Eventually, it will get easier and you won’t feel as strong a need to do the compulsions -- but for now, you must actually suffer the anxiety.

Medication combined with therapy is effective in most cases of OCD. Try not to suffer, or feel like you're crazy. Reach out for help from professionals. Much has learned about the neuroscience of this troublesome disorder since the 1980s. It was estimated in days past, that it took, on average, 17 years to get a correct diagnosis and/or help. This is no longer the case.