The energy of happiness.

March 25th, 2011

On my way to the UPS Store Tuesday morning, I found myself hopeful that Tamarra would be behind the counter. Even though shipping a package may be considered a mundane task, interactions with Tamarra are always a joy. No matter what time of day or how many customers are waiting in line, her cheerfulness and positive attitude can ignite a smile on even the sourest face.

So on this visit I told Tamarra what a pleasure it was doing business with her. How her happiness and enthusiasm always made my day brighter. She thanked me, and told me how nice I was to say that. And then, with a smile, she said, “It takes less energy.” We agreed: it does take less energy to feel good and go with the flow than it does to exert any type of resistance.

Online the next day, a Harvard Business Review blog headline “Are Happy People Dumb?” caught my attention. It’s a provocative and seriously worthwhile post by Shawn Achor, founder of Good Think Inc. and author of “The Happiness Advantage.” While I haven’t read the book yet, I think Mr. Achor, Tamarra and I share a common perspective.

Here’s an excerpt, links and all, from Achor’s post:

“…happiness is the single greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy. Only 25% of your job successes are predicted based upon intelligence and technical skills, though we spend most of our education and most companies hire based upon this category. The “silent 75%” of long-term job success is based upon your ability to positively adapt to the world: optimism, social support creation, and viewing stress as a challenge instead of as a threat.”

So I wonder: How ready for success are you? How happy are you?

If you believe you’ll be happy only when you’re successful, here’s an idea for you. Shift your thinking to turn that around: I’ll be successful when I’m happy. And if that’s something you just can’t bring yourself to believe, then tell me this: Why you would argue for your limitations?








March 18th, 2011

Procrastination is a word that’s come up in conversation a few times recently. And I think you’ll agree it’s not a feel-good word. If someone is postponing, putting off or just not getting around to something, chances are there’s a certain amount of anxiety associated with that. So to get something done – to take action – all one has to do is make a decision. And that should be easy, right?!

So what holds us back from making the decision to just do it? Well, chances are it’s because something doesn’t “feel right.” And that’s okay. Because if something doesn’t feel right, it means that our energy – our thoughts – aren’t lined up with it yet. And if actions are really just thoughts in motion, I think we need to lighten up a bit and take time to examine our thoughts about the task at hand and our beliefs about ourselves. Here are some simple steps to try if you feel stuck in procrastination limbo:

·      Revisit your goals and your plan for accomplishing them;

·      Focus on where you’re going and what you want the outcome to be;

·      Be open to knowing what you’re capable of achieving.

Then ask yourself two questions: Does this task get me closer to my goal? And, will I feel better when it’s done? If your answers are yes, congratulations. You have energized yourself. Feel the relief of making a decision. You’re moving forward.

Theories of everything are everywhere.

March 11th, 2011

I didn’t find out about the 2011 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate on Theories of Everything at the Museum of Natural History in New York City until two days after the annual event when John Matson’s article, “String Query,” appeared in Scientific American online. Yesterday afternoon a Podcast of the entire discussion became available on the Museum’s web site.

Participants included:

Dr. Katherine Freese, professor of physics at the University of Michigan
Dr. Jim Gates, professor of physics at the University of Maryland-College Park
Dr. Janna Levin, professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College
Dr. Marcello Gleiser, professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College
Dr. Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University
Dr. Lee Smolin, theoretical physicist at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

It was Brian Greene who first introduced me to the theories of quantum physics in his three-part PBS NOVA series titled, “The Elegant Universe.” And Marcello Gleiser is someone I follow for his outspoken views on the subject of a single unifying theory that explains the nature of the physical universe. (see Brain Food Blog post dated 11/12/10)

I expect to satisfy my craving for controversial debate on the mysteries of physical existence tomorrow when my Brainiac friends and I attend a “Theories of Everything” roundtable and discussion at The Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination. This panel will address the arguments of the differing existing theories and in the process clarify the problems inherent in forming such a single, unifying theory.

The roundtable participants will include:

David Albert, Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. His research has centered on the foundations of quantum mechanics and the nature of time. He has published two books, Quantum Mechanics and Experience and Time and Chance, both published by Harvard University Press. He is currently at work on a book entitled After Physics.

Glennys Farrar, Collegiate Professor of Physics at New York University. She has made seminal contributions to particle physics, demonstrating that quarks are not just mathematical constructs but are actually physically present in protons, and pioneering the search for supersymmetry, now a primary goal of the Large Hadron Collider. The first woman to get a Ph. D. in Physics from Princeton University, Farrar served as Chair of the Physics Department and was Founder of the Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics at NYU; she has been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, on the faculty of Caltech, and spent sabbatical years at CERN, Princeton and Harvard among other appointments.

Charles Liu, Professor of Astrophysics at the City University of New York, College of Staten Island, and Associate in Astrophysics at the Hayden Planetarium and the American Museum of Natural History. His research focuses on the star formation history of the universe. He is the author of Black Holes, Quasars, Time Warps and The Handy Astronomy Answer Book, and co-author of One Universe: At Home In The Cosmos.

Herman Verlinde, Professor of Physics at Princeton University. He has made influential contributions to string theory, which unifies the general theory of relativity with quantum mechanics.  From 1994 to 1998, Verlinde was Professor of Physics at the University of Amsterdam, where he was one of the founders of the Center for Mathematical Physics. Last year, he was a member at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton.

I’ll keep you posted on what stands out among the intriguing, work-in-progress ideas of these experts. And I want you to know that while there, in the back of my mind, I’ll be remembering that the images of everything we see in the physical world around us is formed in the complete darkness of our brains.

The limitless future.

March 4th, 2011

The promotional flyer had me with the first three lines:

“Scientists and scholars do not understand all the laws of nature, and have so far been unable to explain consciousness.

Many problems remain in physics, and some mathematical assumptions are still open to debate.

There are even questions about the accuracy of human perception.”

So on Saturday I attended “The Limitations of Mental and Physical Reality,” a free roundtable discussion at The Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination in New York City. The esteemed panelists were to address whether limitations of understanding derive from inherent limitations of the human mind, or from a failure of our physics and mathematics. If innovations in physics and mathematics will reveal further mysteries. And if metaphysics, which accounts for the unseen and imperceptible, will be incorporated into an empirical theory of knowledge. I was intrigued at the provocative agenda. And after about 90 minutes of discussion and a Q&A with the audience, I left both fascinated and excited – eager for all the knowledge and understanding that most surely is continuing to unfold. And without limits.

The perfect storm of roundtable participants included:

Gregory Chaitin discoverer of the Omega number who is now trying to create a general mathematical theory of biological evolution;

Moderator Joseph J. Kohn, a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Princeton University who has written numerous research articles and has been involved in various mathematical projects in the Czech Republic, Italy, Mexico, and the United States;

Tim Maudlin, a Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University whose work centers on the interpretation of physical theory;

Edward Nelson, a Professor of Mathematics at Princeton University and winner of the American Mathematical Society Steele Prize for seminal contribution to research; and

Carol Rovane is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University and author of “The Bounds of Agency: An Essay in Revisionary Metaphysics.”

There’s a full video here.

I thought some of the most stimulating discussion was the result of comments or questions from the audience. For example, Stuart Dambrot noted a project at the Cornell Computational Synthesis Laboratory whereby a robot embedded with a microprocessor was capable of observing its self-model. (The project was also the subject of an article published online last week in Scientific American magazine.)

Points I’ve spent the most time thinking about came in response to the question posed by Josh Armstrong, a graduate student in philosophy.  At 86:10 in the video, he asks what the idea of limitations suggests about the nature of physics. That is, if the goal of physics is to describe physical reality in the most fundamental terms, he wonders whether an acceptance of limitations should cause us to revise this notion of the goal or makes us realize it’s a goal we’re aiming for but will never reach.

Chaitin responded first with a comment that really caught my attention. “Physics says, ‘While your back was turned, physics just turned into metaphysics,’ because of lack of ideas and experimental evidence.”

What? Metaphysics!? I thought metaphysics had a bad name among scientists. But according to Chaitin it’s very much alive in the fundamental physics community.  And Maudlin concurred it’s made a comeback in the philosophical community as well. He said “It’s simply a study of what exists, and science, to that extent, is doing metaphysics: It’s trying to figure out what there is in the world.”

And Chaitin reminds us not to forget the “hot topic” of Multiverse theory – the idea of being in a universe that is part of a multi-verse of all possible universes – now being discussed by physicists, cosmologists and string theorists alike.

I was most inspired by Maudlin’s summation to Armstrong’s question. That while there may be some limitations that will keep us from completing physics, he doesn’t see any proof of such limitations. “The enterprise will always be to go as far as you can.”

It’s my belief there are no limitations to thought and its discovery. I think of it this way: the self is not limited. I have no doubt it’s our purpose to expand our consciousness, to create through conscious thought. So tell me, what are you thinking about? What are you creating for yourself?

What a day for a daydream.

February 25th, 2011

Where does your mind do its best wandering? In the shower? In the car? In your favorite chair? Or maybe it’s simply when you take a break to stare out the window in your office.

If you’re thinking that “best wandering” is an oxymoron, consider the following seven scientific and literary achievements that grew out of such “mental meandering”, as Ingrid Wickelgren so succinctly put it in her introduction to the Delivered in a Daydream slide show for last week’s online edition of Scientific American magazine.

1. Albert Einstein homed in on the gist of his special theory of relativity while taking a break from his work.

2. Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard came up with one of the core ideas behind nuclear fission while crossing the street.

3. August Kekulé von Stradonitz, who helped found structural organic chemistry in the mid-1800s, is known for a famous reverie that revealed the arrangement of atoms in a molecule and later coalesced into his theory of molecular structure.

4. It was after settling into the bathtub that the Greek mathematician Archimedes solved a complex problem he’d been studying and unable to solve.

5. Kary Mullis received a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1993 for his invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), an idea he conceptualized while driving on a California highway.

6. The two fantasy lands that the novelists Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë created as children in the 1820s became the mental seeds for the novels the sisters would write as adults.

7. Turkish novelist and 2006 Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk found inspiration from daydreams for works such as Snow (2004, Knopf).

I think your own energy is usually your best ally when it comes to ideas. In other words, it’s your own thoughts and emotions – focused in concentration or oftentimes free to wander – that lead to inspired action.

Try clearing your mind now and then. Free it to think about possibilities, ideas, solutions. Trust yourself to have the answer. The Lovin’ Spoonful might not have agreed with me, but, when it comes to thinking, time is usually on your side.