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Tag Archive 'neurophysiology'

Close, Closer, Closest to the Screen

Everybody can remember when, as a child, our parents told us not to get too close to the TV. That was “close.” Then the personal computer came and we got closer. Even closer with laptops. Then we went closest with smartphones.

The information which appears on a screen almost compels us in following it with our eyes. Giving attention to visual novelties activates the ancient neurophysiological system which rewards us with a pleasurable dopamine release. In ancient times, paying attention to a visual stimulus gave more chances for survival, so it was rewarded in pleasurable ways. Since any visual novelty was potentially a predator or a prey, our neurophysiological system developed reward systems to give us more chances of survival.

One of the causes of the Internet, videogames and in general addiction to electronic gadgets, could be this need to follow the many external visual stimuli. What happens on the screen brings our attention to what’s going on, thus activating our reward system based on dopamine.

Even though we look at many inputs in fast sequence, our field of vision and the movements of the eyes are very limited, and in many cases we end up staring blankly at the screen. Many years ago, an artist friend of mine, knowing I was spending much time on a computer, gave me a small painting depicting a landscape where the eye could relax in an unfocused way. Very kind and useful, but I didn’t really use it since the pressures of the external inputs were stronger.

This act of staring brings both a limited eye movement and the slowing down of the frequency of blinking. When we spend many hours every day staring at a screen, something is probably going to change on a neurophysiological level.

We know that moving the eyes in different directions can improve memory and the communications between the brain hemispheres. The article of the British Psychological Society says:

One hundred and two participants listened to 150 words, organized into 10 themes (e.g. types of vehicle), read by a male voice. Next, 34 of these participants moved their eyes left and right in time with a horizontal target for 30 seconds (saccadic eye movements); 34 participants moved their eyes up and down in time with a vertical target; the remaining participants stared straight ahead, focussed on a stationary target.
After the eye movements, all the participants listened to a mixture of words: 40 they’d heard before, 40 completely unrelated new words, and 10 words that were new but which matched one of the original themes. In each case the participants had to say which words they’d heard before, and which were new.
The participants who’d performed sideways eye movements performed better in all respects than the others: they correctly recognised more of the old words as old, and more of the new words as new. Crucially, they were fooled less often by the new words whose meaning matched one of the original themes – that is they correctly recognised more of them as new. This is important because mistakenly identifying one of these ‘lures’ as an old word is taken as a laboratory measure of false memory.

Eye movements improve creativity as well as the resolution of problems. Science Blogs describe eye-tracking research by Grant and Spivey (2003). They showed that people solved a medical problem spontaneously without any hints when they looked at a picture depicting a human body through moving the eyes in and out of the pictured body. This is called “embodied cognition,” meaning that some parts of the body reflect an internal mental process externally.

There are also hypotheses which say that the communication between the cerebral hemispheres is improved by moving the eyes in different directions and that could be a support to psychological therapy.
So we know that rotating the eyes leads to an improvement of memory, an increase of creativity, and a greater exchange of information between the brain hemispheres. Information overload, little movement of the eyes, and decreased creative and memory capacities join in mutual feedback. In this respect, I sometimes practice a light neurophysiological exercise by rotating the ocular globes in each direction for several minutes.

I also noted that maintaining the gaze on a near object for a long period of time decreased my ability to see things in a wide perspective and to observe the correlation between information distant from each other. I tend to see details but less the broader perspective. I find it fundamental to take the gaze to a distance in moments of reflection, in a relaxed and unfocused mode. Everywhere I am I tend to stay on high floors with a wide view. Further, keeping the visual focus always at the same distance and at the same angle diminishes the blinking, symbolically bringing fixation of even a thought.

If this fixation is bad enough for adults, it can be even worse for children. There’s strong pressure in prematurely developing the intellectual aspects of children, but much research has demonstrated that children learn mainly through their bodies and how that will give them academic success later. So give your child an early exposure to computers and you’ll most probably make him dumber instead of more intelligent and creative.

Furthermore, close contact with a screen at an early age could even interfere with some neurophysiological development. Alliance for Childhood published Fool’s Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood (College Park, 2001). On page 22, they write:

Infants and toddlers develop their visual-spatial awareness first through cross-movements in space, such as crawling, and then by gradually fine-tuning their hand-eye coordinations, until their eyes become adept not only at following their hands, but at leading their hands in finer and finer motions. Finally, after many integrated experiences of seeing, touching, and moving their hands and the rest of their bodies in three-dimensional space, young children develop an appreciation of visual forms as real objects, and the capacity to visualize objects without actually seeing them. Too much time spent in passively looking at two-dimensional representations of objects on a computer screen – or a television set – may interfere with this developing capacity.

Then, at page 23:

Grade school children need even more frequent breaks from close computer work than adults do. That’s because their muscular and nervous systems are still developing. It’s not until about the age of 11 or 12 that their capacity to balance and coordinate the movement and the focusing of both eyes together is fully mature.

At that age most kids in Western countries were already familiar with screens for years through videogames, gadgets and computers. First, we give them screens to “enhance” their minds, then we give them Ritalin to “fix” them neurophysiologically.

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Writer’s block

thinking-man[en]

This is an expanded version of an older post.

Many writers and probably many bloggers are faced with the typical writer’s block. While this block doesn’t affect many writers who operate in a productivity setting, it does afflict those who need the spark of creativity to express something bright and new.

True creative expression goes through cycles; the similarity between creativity and procreativity is not just linguistic. Both follow cycles and peaks like the female reproductive cycle.

Parecchi scrittori e probabilmente diversi blogger affrontano il tipico blocco dello scrittore. Mentre questo blocco colpisce pochi scrittori che operano in un ambiente produttivo, tipicamente coinvolge invece coloro che necessitano di un lampo creativo per esprimere qualcosa di fresco e innovativo.

L’autentica espressione creativa passa attraverso dei cicli; le somiglianze tra la creatività e la procreatività non sono solo linguistiche. Entrambe seguono cicli e vette come il ciclo riproduttivo femminile.

In the astrological tradition, both the creative and sexual expressions are at home in the fifth house, telling us that symbolically the creative forces in the universe derive from the same archetype. People who have high libidos often have some kind of artistic or creative quality as well.

The Latin word oestrus was used to mean “frenzy, driven by desire, mad impulse.” There’s a compulsive quality in this, a drive to act, just as compulsive as sex can be, being the most (pro)creative energy in the world.

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Questa è una versione espansa di un post che avevo pubblicato in precedenza.

Parecchi scrittori e probabilmente diversi blogger affrontano il tipico blocco dello scrittore. Mentre questo blocco colpisce pochi scrittori che operano in un ambiente produttivo, tipicamente coinvolge invece coloro che necessitano di un lampo creativo per esprimere qualcosa di fresco e innovativo.

L’autentica espressione creativa passa attraverso dei cicli; le somiglianze tra la creatività e la procreatività non sono solo linguistiche. Entrambe seguono cicli e vette come il ciclo riproduttivo femminile.

Nella tradizione astrologica, entrambe le espressioni creative e sessuali si trovano nella quinta casa. La simbologia ci suggerisce che le forze creative dell’universo derivano dallo stesso archetipo. Le persone con una forte libido spesso possiedono anche delle capacità creative o artistiche.

In the astrological tradition, both the creative and sexual expressions are at home in the fifth house, telling us that symbolically the creative forces in the universe derive from the same archetype. People who have high libidos often have some kind of artistic or creative quality as well.

The latin word oestrus was used to mean frenzy, driven by desire, mad impulse. There’s a compulsive quality in this, a drive to act, just as compulsive as sex can be, being the most (pro)creative energy in the world.

The process of creative revelation and the eureka effect has been documented by neurophysiological researches. Joseph Chilton Pearce in The Biology of Transcendence (Inner Traditions International. Rochester. 2002), referring to Margharita Laski’s work on Ecstasy, illustrates the six stages of the discovery process: 1. Asking the question. 2. Looking for the answer. 3. Hitting the plateau period. 4. Giving up the search for a solution. 5. The answer comes as the eureka effect. 6. Translating the discovery in a way that can be understood and shared by others.

This six stage process involves different parts of the brain. Both brain hemispheres are involved, as well as the emotional-limbic brain, which is itself the connection to the heart. Without the passion of the heart, the creative discovery seems difficult to reach. It reminds me of a book by Almaas saying that “Love of truth for its own sake is actually the expression of essential heart.”

What is usually not accepted in our hyper-productive culture that fears silence and the void is that fourth stage of giving up the search for a solution. Even though everybody has the experience of finding a solution or an insight when the mind wasn’t actively searching for it, the general attitude is to push for a solution, not accepting that empty stage. Quoting Joseph Chilton Pearce, “The corpus callosum can complete the circuitry only when the left hemisphere is inactive, when the analytical and critical processes of mind are suspended.” Without knowing anything about neurophysiology, most of the spiritual teachers say that there is a stage of giving up the search and that the condition of not-knowing is necessary for any true insight on ourselves. So the eureka effect path seems to apply both to personal insights and to scientific or artistic works. Given this vision, the writer’s block is not just natural, is even needed for every important creative outcome.

La parola latina oestrus veniva usata per significare frenesia, essere guidati dal desiderio, impulso folle. C’è una qualità compulsiva in ciò, una spinta all’azione, quanto può essere compulsiva la sessualità, come l’energia più fortemente (pro)creativa.

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Mechanisms, mysticism and Amazon Mechanical Turk

<h1><a xhref="http://www.indranet.org/?attachment_id=66">Bureaucrat and Sewing Machine</a></h1>

[en]

Human beings have always felt the need to give themselves to something bigger than their individualities: to art, to love, to a cause, to truth, to a guru, to God. When we devote ourselves to something bigger, we transcend ourselves, we go beyond our little narcissistic ego who would always like to be the center of attention. Dedication annihilates a part of ourselves and at the same time it lifts us up to another state of being.

We give ourselves, we trust and we nullify ourselves into technology. We are religiously devoted to the objects of technology, which absorb most of the time of an increasing number of people. As McLuhan wrote, “By continuously embracing technologies, we relate ourselves to them as servomechanisms.”

[/en][it]

Gli essere umani hanno sempre sentito il bisogno di darsi a qualcosa di più grande della propria individualità: all'arte, a un amore, ad una causa, alla verità, a un guru, a Dio. Quando ci dedichiamo a qualcosa di più grande trascendiamo noi stessi, oltrepassiamo il nostro piccolo ego narcisista che vorrebbe sempre stare al centro delle attenzioni. La dedizione ci annienta da una parte e allo stesso tempo ci eleva da un'altra.

Ci diamo, ci affidiamo e ci annulliamo nella tecnologia. Siamo religiosamente devoti agli oggetti della tecnologia, che assorbe la maggior parte del tempo di un numero crescente di persone. Come scrisse McLuhan, “Ricevendo continuamente tecnologie ci poniamo nei loro confronti come altrettanti servomeccanismi.”

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Welcome writer’s block

Writer[en]

Many writers and probably many bloggers are faced with the typical writer’s block. While this block doesn’t affect many writers that operate in a productivity setting, it does afflict writers who need the spark of creativity to express something bright and new.

True creative expression goes through cycles; the similarity between creativity and procreativity is not just linguistic. Both follow cycles and peaks like the female reproductive cycle.
[/en][it]

Parecchi scrittori e probabilmente diversi blogger affrontano il tipico blocco dello scrittore. Mentre questo blocco colpisce pochi scrittori che operano in un ambiente produttivo, tipicamente coinvolge invece coloro che necessitano di un lampo creativo per esprimere qualcosa di fresco e innovativo.

L’autentica espressione creativa passa attraverso dei cicli; le somiglianze tra la creatività e la procreatività non sono solo linguistiche. Entrambe seguono cicli e vette come il ciclo riproduttivo femminile.[/it] (more…)

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