Archive for April, 2009

Carrying a camera

I’ve posted before about the value of carrying a camera everywhere. I’ve got two cameras (well, three if you count my mobile phone), a Nikon D70 which takes wonderful high quality photos, and a Nikon Coolpix S10. The D70 is BIG. It’s a conscious decision to take it with me, and, usually, I do that when I’m heading out on a photo trip. The little S10 with it’s amazing swivelling zoom lens is in my jacket pocket all the time (just have to remember to move it when I change my jacket!). I find even having the camera in my pocket makes me look at the world differently. I’ve hardly ever taken photos with my mobile phone (probably haven’t rated it as a “real” camera!) but this site by Chase Jarvis has just changed my mind about that!

Take a look for yourself – go to this link here. I find this totally inspirational! I’m amazed that he takes between one and a thousand photos daily with his iphone and I’m even more amazed by the quality of the photography.

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I came across an excellent article about epilepsy recently. There’s a common belief that a seizure is a kind of chaos of the brain. In fact, it’s the opposite. A seizure is where the complex patterns of electrical activity in the brain break down and are replaced temporarily with a single big co-ordinated pattern.

A normal brain is governed by chaos; neurons fire unpredictably, following laws no computer, let alone neurologist, could hope to understand, even if they can recognize it on an EEG. It is what we call consciousness, perhaps the most mathematically complex phenomenon in the universe. The definition of a seizure is the absence of chaos, supplanted by a simple rhythmic pattern that carries almost no information.

I was especially struck by that last phrase – “a simple rhythmic pattern that carries almost no information”. We have a strong tendency to think it’s the ordered, clear patterns which convey information, and that when there is no clear pattern, that there’s no clear information. Interesting how it’s the opposite!

I then came across this interesting study of the zone between order and chaos. There’s a place between order and chaos which scientists describe as “edge of chaos” (otherwise known as “far from equilibrium”). It’s a difficult place to hold, easily tipping into some form of order, or some form of chaos, but it’s found everywhere in complex systems.

Self-organized criticality (where systems spontaneously organize themselves to operate at a critical point between order and randomness), can emerge from complex interactions in many different physical systems, including avalanches, forest fires, earthquakes, and heartbeat rhythms.

Well it turns out this is exactly how the brain performs best – and here’s why –

Due to these characteristics, self-organized criticality is intuitively attractive as a model for brain functions such as perception and action, because it would allow us to switch quickly between mental states in order to respond to changing environmental conditions

If you are too structured, too ordered, too stuck in your ways, it’s harder to adapt when things change.

Interesting……complexity means it’s hard to predict what will happen, but this fine balance between order and chaos turns out to not only Nature’s favourite, it’s a great survival strategy. I suspect one of our biggest challenges in the world now is to learn how to be more adaptable and not so reliant on rigid structures and patterns.

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delicate plant ghosts

This tiny little plant is only about the size of my little finger. It’s so small, it would’ve been easy to miss it, but I’m glad I didn’t.

It inspires me for so many reasons.

I love the fact that what catches the attention is the spaces. They’re the first thing you notice. Almost as if when looking at a net you’d see the holes first, then the thread. And what was in those spaces? Some kind of seed I expect. This framework was most likely the structure that held the seeds in place, raised them up to the sky and waited till the wind blew and took them away to settle somewhere else. That got me thinking about seeds, and how many amazing ways plants have to spread their seeds around the world, how they’ll use the wind, insects, birds, really pretty much any way they can to hitch lifts, travel far and wide without any power to move in the seed itself. This set me thinking about the interconnectedness of everything, of how the world is a vast interconnected network, how really you can’t understand anything or anybody without knowing something of the world they live in and some of their vast web of connections, influences, links and bonds.

Then I got to thinking about how this little group of circles held up the past for inspection. Look, said the plant, here is where my sons and daughters were, and now they’ve all flown and I’ve only the spaces now in my life, where they used to be. And that’s just how it should be.

I had other thoughts too, but I’d be interested to hear if this little plant inspires any thoughts of your own!

delicate plant ghosts

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tree monster

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Here’s an interesting piece of research.

Psychologists decided to study how mood affected a sense of identity. The first thing they did was split the volunteer subjects into two groups – European and Asian. They claim that Europeans culturally value individuality and independence most highly, whilst Asians rate community and harmony most highly. I can see where that comes from but it’s one of those rather sweeping generalisations, isn’t it? However, let’s assume they actually checked out to see if their particular volunteers rated those characteristics in those ways.

They conducted two studies. In one, each group had to first list to Mozart (described as uplifting) and then Rachmaninov (described as mood lowering) [yet another BIG generalisation, huh? Again, let’s presume they had some way of checking that out on their subjects]. In the second, they had to hold a pen in their mouth, first between their teeth (forcing a smile), and second between their lips (forcing a frown)!

The groups were then tested in a variety of ways to see how strongly they expressed either individualistic or group values.

What they found was interesting – the mood elevated groups expressed more highly divergent values, and the mood lowered groups reverted much more to cultural stereotype, as if good moods lead to a freedom to explore a wider sense of self, and low moods did the opposite.

As is often the case with these reports, I particularly liked the conclusion –

They conclude that the findings also suggest that the “self” may not be as robust and static as we like to believe and that the self may be dynamic, constructed again and again from one’s situation, heritage and mood.

It’s just that……are there still people around who think the “self” is a static entity?

Isn’t it now widely understood that the sense of self is an act of continuous creation?

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I stopped at a junction in Aix en Provence. The traffic lights in France include a set fixed at car level, as well as a set higher up. This particular set has been enhanced by someone with a sense of humour.
Emoticons on the traffic signals, huh?
Nice idea!

traffic lights

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