This journal entry contains all three parts of my final project for Carnegie Mellon University’s “Designing Narratives Across Media” course, taught by Professor Ahmed Ansari. Sharing it here because I like it and because it could serve as an entry point to anyone interested in world-building or the Alexander Technique.Continue Reading
How fully I recommend this book: 6.5/10
Lesson 1: Ideas, products, messages, and behaviors are like viruses.
This may be the origin of the usage of “viral” to describe something that becomes very popular. Gladwell uses the virus analogy throughout the book to explore the “tipping point,” the point at which something begins to spread exponentially.
Lesson 2: The three elements of an epidemic.
- The Law of the Few: This is about who spreads the virus. Three types of people are crucial to any epidemic: Connectors (people who are connected to lots of people in different groups), Mavens (people who are experts and are passionate about sharing their expertise), and Salesmen (charismatic people who can affect those around them).
- Stickiness Factor: This is about the virus itself. How “sticky” is it? Can it be made stickier?
- Power of Context: This is about the context inhabited by the virus. Certain contexts are more conducive than others to the spread of a virus. Tiny contextual adjustments can make a huge difference in something reaching a tipping point.
Lesson 3: In relationships, proximity often trumps similarity.
“We’re friends with people we do things with.”
Lesson 4: What word of mouth actually is.
Word of mouth is not everyone telling everyone about something.
What word of mouth actually is: someone telling a Connector.
Then, the Connector tells all the people they know!
So, word of mouth is mostly accelerated by a few key Connectors, rather than by many people.
Lesson 5: Context can trump convictions.
“It’s possible to be a better person on a clean street than in one littered with trash.”
Gladwell’s research shows this, which surprised me!
Behavior and character are often times a function more of context than of convictions.
E.g.; Removing graffiti from the NYC subway system accelerated the precipitous drop in criminality in the city.
Lesson 6: Social channel capacity
Also known as Dunbar’s number, 150 seems to be the maximum number of genuine social relationships our human brains can maintain.
Military subgroups aim to remain smaller than 150. Same with hunter-gatherer villages.
Even a wildly successful corporation found that exceeding 150 people in a division or production plant often led to disorder and friction, so they now cap their groups at 150 and when the number of employees gets close to exceeding, a new group is created, and so on.
Lesson 7: Communication immunity.
The network effect would suggest that the more people participate in a network (social media, email, etc.), the more valuable the network becomes.
This, however, has a limit.
The more frequent the communication in a network, the more likely it is to create “communication immunity,” meaning that the messages in the network begin to lose importance, and traditional forms of communication, like a face-to-face conversation with a friend, gain more value.
E.g.; Email can texting can be overwhelming, so I have become more immune to those communication networks than to phone calls, which are more scarce and usually more important.
Lesson 7: How gossip is born.
Gossip is the result of a three-step distortion of reality:
- Reality is leveled, a process by which all kinds of details that are essential to understanding reality are left out.
- Leveled reality is sharpened, a process by which remaining details are made more specific.
- Leveled and sharpened reality is assimilated, a process by which the new constructed reality is changed so it can make more “sense” to those spreading the rumor.
Next time I hear any gossip, I will be sure to yell out, “Hey, stop spreading that nasty result of a three-step distortion of reality!”
How fully I recommend this film: 10/10
For years, my favorite film about film has been The Purple Rose of Cairo, written and directed by Woody Allen. No contest.
Now, however, another film about film has tied it: The Fabelmans, directed and co-written by Steven Spielberg.
What a film!
It’s a realistic coming-of-age story that focuses on Sammy Fabelman as he grows into himself as a person and filmmaker.
We follow Sammy as he navigates his complicated but loving family, his out-of-the-ordinary passion for film and the arts, his family’s moves to different cities, bullying, antisemitism, romantic love, vocational love, the transformative power of film, and more.
The story is completely original, which I found to be oh so refreshing.
It has some great comedy, too. The opening sequence is very funny. But the praying-to-Jesus scene? I won’t spoil it, but I was crying tears of laughter. Brilliant and hilarious.
I highly recommend watching The Fabelmans! Grateful to all who were involved in its creation. Beautiful movie.
They say that the left side of the brain controls the right.
They say that the right side has to work hard all night.
It is with these two lines of lyric that Paul Simon kicks off his 1983 song “Think Too Much (a)”. Three questions occurred to me after first hearing Simon sing those lines, questions that ultimately went beyond the scope of Simon’s song and into the territory of a well known theory about the human brain.
And so, because of these two lines of lyric, I began a process of thought, research, and experimentation that culminated with all three questions being tackled in this article. So what do “they” mean, who exactly is “they”, and are “they” correct in their affirmations?
What do “they” mean?
In other words, what are “they” talking about? Well, “they” are talking about the Left Brain – Right Brain dominance theory. The Indiana Wesleyan University’s Center for Learning and Innovation wrote the following to describe the left brain-right brain dominance theory:
The left brain vs. right brain theory suggests that people have a dominant brain hemisphere, and that the dominant hemisphere influences one’s learning and personality. Specifically, left brain dominant people are more logical and right brain dominant people are more creative.
In essence, this theory claims that every human being has one side of the brain that’s more dominant than the other, either the left side or the right side.
Furthermore, it claims that if someone’s a “left-brain person” (meaning his or her left side of the brain is more “developed”), then he or she is more likely to think logically and mechanically, but if someone’s a “right-brain person” (meaning his or her right side of the brain is more “developed”), then he or she is more likely to think more creatively and freely.
Both sides of the brain are, to some extent, mutually exclusive under this theory, as it is often implied that “left-brained” people do not tend to fair well in “right-brain” tasks and vice versa.
But who spreads this theory around and who came up with it?
Who exactly is “they”?
“They”, as in the people who stand by and spread the left brain-right brain dominance theory, is a difficult concept to define.
Most of my family members, most of my professors, and some of my friends (I didn’t want to expose them by name in this article so I stuck with non-specifics, but they’re out there!), all stand by and spread the Left Brain – Right Brain dominance theory.
So it’s nearly impossible to narrow “they” down to a single category of people, considering that the theory seems to be well widespread by now.
But who is “they” as in whoever came up with the theory? “They” represents a combination of the media and a Nobel Laureate neuropsychologist, Roger Sperry.
In the 1960’s, Roger Sperry conducted the split-brain experiments, a set of brain experiments that would years later earn him the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Without delving too deeply into Sperry’s work (see here for more on Sperry’s experiments), the split-brain experiments basically demonstrated that when split, the left and right hemispheres of the brain specialize in different tasks.
However, the media wasn’t satisfied.
After being released to the public, Sperry’s findings were over-interpreted and played up by the media to the point where “when split, the left and right hemispheres of the brain specialize in different tasks” became:
“We Are Left-Brained or Right-Brained; Two Astonishingly Different Persons Inhabit Our Heads.”
Quite a difference between the two right? That last quote is actually the title of a 1973 article published by The New York Times. In the end, it was the media’s flashy, sexy take on the brain research of a Nobel Laureate that gave birth to the now popular Left Brain – Right Brain dominance theory.
So, is this theory even valid?
Are “they” correct in their affirmations?
This was the $1,500 question (I don’t need much).
Are “they” correct in their affirmations? Is the Left Brain-Right Brain dominance theory valid or isn’t it? Personally, I’ve always had my doubts about this theory. Categorizing people (and tasks) as either “left-brained” or “right-brained” feels to me like categorizing people as either purely good or purely evil; it’s just a bit too easy, a bit too convenient; it doesn’t account for all the gray areas.
So I decided to actively question it by conducting an experiment.
In the video below, I recorded myself playing the guitar. More specifically, I recorded myself playing a piece of music I love (the Coda from the classic song “Layla”) with the help of a loop pedal.
With this loop pedal, I was able to add one layer of music at a time until I had a complete backing arrangement, over which I then composed an original guitar solo.
Surely, this would qualify as a “right-brain” task. Or would it? First, here’s the video:
Under the Left Brain-Right Brain dominance theory, this would surely be considered a “right-brain” task, given that music is often categorized as a purely creative endeavor.
Sure, coming up with the arrangement and the solo was a creative task (to a certain extent). It was not until I was done recording the video that the real experiment began.
I decided to analyze all the work that I had put in to create this video to see if it in fact was a pure “right-brain” task.
After careful analysis, I found that the “right-brain” sub-tasks that went into the making of the video were as dependent on themselves as they were dependent on the “left-brain” sub-tasks that went into the making of the video, and vice versa.
In other words, in order to complete the task at hand, in this case, a video recording of my interpretation of “Layla (Coda)”, the “right brain” needed the “left brain”, and the “left brain” needed the “right brain”.
So, what were some of those “left-brain” subtasks that were vital to the making of this seemingly pure “right-brain” task?
Before recording the video, I had no idea how to record a guitar performance for YouTube. I had to mechanically read and learn about things like which type of microphone to use, how to position it against the amp, and how to sync the mic with my webcam.
In order for me to be as creative as I could be with a loop pedal, I had to first become familiar with how it worked, from how to plug it in, to how to operate it while playing. I accomplished this by googling “Ditto Looper tips and tricks”, and of course, reading through its user manual, which hardly qualifies as artistic work.
Before sitting down to create my arrangement and my original solo, I drew a chord chart outlining the chords that are present in the piece with the duration of each chord.
I also jotted down the notes that make up each chord, and some scales that I could use to improvise over each chord. I am absolutely certain that without this chord chart and without the technical knowledge of music theory that’s behind it, both my arrangement and my original solo would have been completely different from what they are. And I’m pretty happy with what they are.
So while the left brain-right brain dominance theory is, as Paul Simon would agree, undoubtedly interesting, I do not think it is valid.
But nobody should take my word for it. All anyone has to do is try and find a task, any task, in which only “one side of the brain” is at work. I do not think it is possible.
That person will most likely succeed in proving that there’s more to the brain than either left or right.
There cannot be poetry without structure. There cannot be physics without imagination. There cannot be one without the other.
Like the left hand and the right hand of a guitar player, logic and creativity feed off one another in order to achieve the task at hand.
Context is at all times a combination of Agents and Situation; i.e., who’s involved and under what conditions. For example:
- If your co-worker calls you at 2 a.m. to ask you for a favor, the Agents are you and your co-worker, and the Situation is the call.
- If you get in an argument with your parents over who was supposed to feed the dog, even though it was 100% on them, the Agents would be your parents and yourself, and the Situation would be the argument.
- If you go on a karaoke date, the Agents are you and your date, and the Situation is the karaoke date you thought of to impress your date with your musical skills, failing to remember the fact that you’re mainly an instrumentalist, not a rock singer, and proceeding to butcher “Don’t Stop Believing”.
You get the point. The issue is that in any context, Agents and Situation can often become so intertwined that it can be difficult to be objective about either element separately; hence, about the context as a whole. There are two things you can do to counteract this, depending on which element you want to focus on:
1. If you want to see an Agent or Agents with objectivity, leave the Agent(s) constant and switch out the Situation.
If you’re grabbing lunch at a great restaurant with your potential roommate, you might think “Hey, we get along great; surely we could share the rent!”
But if you switch out the Situation and instead spend a workweek living with your potential roommate, you might find that you’re annoyed by the strawberry jelly they eat with their bare hands and leave traces of on every doorknob, and all of a sudden you’re not so excited about sharing the rent with this person.
When you’re not sure how you feel about an Agent or Agents, leave the Agent(s) constant and switch out the Situation. Now, take another look.
2. If you want to see a Situation with objectivity, leave the Situation constant and switch out the Agents.
If your significant other always says this one thing that makes you feel terrible about yourself, then that’s okay because no partner is perfect and all relationships have their problems, right?
But if you switch out the Agent, your significant other, and instead it’s your co-worker who says that same thing, over and over again, you would probably say something, because why would you have to deal with that? By switching out the Agents, you can clearly see that you’re not in a good Situation.
When you’re not sure how you feel about a Situation, leave the Situation constant and switch out the Agents. Now, take another look.
So, how can you be objective in any context? Separate Agents and Situation, move them around, and see each objectively. Now, take another look at the whole context. Even if it’s still the same, your perception of it might not be.