‘At the end of all our searching’

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“At the end of all our searching we will arrive at the place we began and know it for the first time.” — T.S. Eliot from “Little Gidding

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‘Self-mastery requires self-awareness plus self-regulation’

Some interesting reading from one of my favorite subjects, emotional intelligence and brain states:

From: The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights (Amazon)

“Self-mastery requires self-awareness plus self-regulation, key components of emotional intelligence. One value of self-mastery is being in the right brain state for the job.

When it comes to personal effectiveness, we need to be in the best internal state for the task at hand, and every internal state has its advantages and downsides. For instance, research shows that the plusses of being in a positive mood are that we’re more creative, we’re better at problem solving, we have better mental flexibility, and we can be more efficient in decision making in many ways.

The negatives, though, include a tendency to be less discriminating in distinguishing weak from strong arguments, or making a decision too quickly, or paying too little attention to detail on a task that demands it.

On the other hand, there are some plusses to being in a sour mood – or at least more somber. These include a greater capacity to pay attention to detail, even in boring tasks – which suggests it’s best to get serious before reading a contract. In a negative mood we’re more skeptical, so, for example, we are less likely to simply rely on the opinions of experts, we ask searching questions, and come to our own conclusions. One theory about the utility of anger is that it mobilizes energy and focuses our attention on removing obstacles that thwart a goal – which can fuel, say, a drive to beat a competitor on the next round who has just won a victory over us (whether that competitor is a school team or another business).

The prime negative of being in a bad mood is, of course, that it’s unpleasant for us and those around us. But there are more subtle costs: At the cognitive level, we’re more pessimistic, and therefore more likely to give up more quickly when things go wrong than if we were in an optimistic state. Bad moods give us a negative bias toward whatever we might be considering, and so put a negative skew on our judgments. And because we’re less pleasant to be around we can be disruptive to the harmony of a team – a cranky team member can lower effectiveness for everyone.”

— Daniel Goleman (The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights (Amazon))

‘Experience informs intuition’

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Experience informs intuition. But it does more than that: Experience sets the frame within which we analyze and interpret what we perceive.

You would no doubt expect, for instance, that the “wild child” raised by a pack of wolves would interpret the world from a perspective that differs substantially from your own. Even less extreme comparisons, such as those between people raised in very different cultural traditions, serve to underscore the degree to which our experiences determine our interpretive mindset.

Yet there are certain things that we all experience. And it is often the beliefs and expectations that follow from these universal experiences that can be the hardest to identify and the most difficult to challenge. A simple but profound example is the following. If you were to get up from reading this book, you could move in three independent directions—that is, through three independent, spatial dimensions. Absolutely any path you follow—regardless of how complicated—results from some combination of motion through what we might call the “left-right dimension,” the “back-forth dimension,” and the “up-down dimension.” Every time you take a step you implicitly make three separate choices that determine how you move through these three dimensions.

An equivalent statement, as encountered in our discussion of special relativity, is that any location in the universe can be fully specified by giving three pieces of data: where it is relative to these three spatial dimensions. In familiar language, you can specify a city address, say, by giving a street (location in the “left-right dimension”), a cross street or an avenue (location in the “back-forth dimension”), and a floor number (location in the “up-down dimension”). And from a more modern perspective, we have seen that Einstein’s work encourages us to think about time as another dimension (the “future-past dimension”), giving us a total of four dimensions (three space dimensions and one time dimension). You specify events in the universe by telling where and when they occur.

This feature of the universe is so basic, so consistent, and so thoroughly pervasive that it really does seem beyond questioning. In 1919, however, a little-known Polish mathematician named Theodor Kaluza from the University of Königsberg had the temerity to challenge the obvious—he suggested that the universe might not actually have three spatial dimensions; it might have more.

Sometimes silly-sounding suggestions are plain silly. Sometimes they rock the foundations of physics. Although it took quite some time to percolate, Kaluza’s suggestion has revolutionized our formulation of physical law. We are still feeling the aftershocks of his astonishingly prescient insight.”

Brian Greene (The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory)

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