How the city hurts your brain

Sex and the City in Serbian.

“Sex and the City” in Serbian.

I am a bit late posting this one, but it is a fascinating article about the effect that Urban environments have on the brain:

“Scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it’s long been recognized that city life is exhausting — that’s why Picasso left Paris — this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.

“The mind is a limited machine,”says Marc Berman, a psychologist at the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study that measured the cognitive deficits caused by a short urban walk. “And we’re beginning to understand the different ways that a city can exceed those limitations.”

One of the main forces at work is a stark lack of nature, which is surprisingly beneficial for the brain. Studies have demonstrated, for instance, that hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows, and that women living in public housing are better able to focus when their apartment overlooks a grassy courtyard. Even these fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance, it seems, because they provide a mental break from the urban roil.

This research arrives just as humans cross an important milestone: For the first time in history, the majority of people reside in cities. For a species that evolved to live in small, primate tribes on the African savannah, such a migration marks a dramatic shift. Instead of inhabiting wide-open spaces, we’re crowded into concrete jungles, surrounded by taxis, traffic, and millions of strangers. In recent years, it’s become clear that such unnatural surroundings have important implications for our mental and physical health, and can powerfully alter how we think.” –  How the city hurts your brain – Boston.com.

Also see the recent “All in the Mind” episode “Greening the Psyche”  in which the same topic is explored from the discipline of Environmental Psychology:

Intuitively we sense that nature relaxes us — even small pockets of green in the concrete urban jungle seem to make a difference. But finding good scientific evidence for how and why has been more difficult — until now. Crime rates, academic performance, aggression and even ADHD. Could a bit of greening make all the difference? And, ecology on the couch — a self described ‘ecotherapist’ with novel techniques.

An Excerpt From ‘The Symposium’ ~ By Plato

This was my reading that I gave at my friend Jason’s wedding last year. I recently found it again and thought it would make a lovely post

“Humans have never understood the power of Love, for if they had they would surely have built noble temples and altars and offered solemn sacrifices; but this is not done, and most certainly ought to be done, since Love is our best friend, our helper, and the healer of the ills which prevent us from being happy.

To understand the power of Love, we must understand that our original nature was not like it is now, but different. Human beings each had two sets of arms, two sets of legs, and two faces looking in opposite directions.

Now these creatures were so powerful and lofty in their notions that they even conspired against the gods. Thereat Zeus and the other gods were perplexed; for they felt they could not slay them, nor could they endure such sinful rioting. So Finally Zeus in all of his wisdom said “Methinks I can contrive that men shall give over their iniquity through a lessening of their strength.” and so saying, he sliced each human being in two.

Now when our first form had been cut in two, each half longed for its fellow to come to it again; to fling their arms about each other and in mutual embrace yearn to be grafted together as once they were. Thus anciently is mutual love ingrained in mankind.

Well, when one happens on their own particular half, the two of them are wondrously thrilled with affection, intimacy, and love, and are hardly to be induced to leave each other’s side for a single moment. These are they who continue together throughout life. No one could imagine this to be the mere amorous connection: obviously the soul of each is wishing for something else that it cannot express. Suppose that Hephaestus should ask “Do you desire to be joined in the closest possible union, that so long as you live, the pair of you, being as one, may share a single life?” Each would unreservedly deem that he had been offered just what he was yearning for all the time.

The craving and pursuit of that entirety is called Love. If we make friends with the gods and are reconciled, we shall have the fortune that falls to few in our day of discovering our proper favorites. Love brings this about; it restores us to our ancient life, and heals and helps us into the happiness of the blessed.”

Dental Care in Belgrade

Here are the tools of lifelong dental health: Soft bristled toothbrush (Curaprox), toothpaste, floss and mouthwash. Daily dental care will save you trouble later.

Here are the tools of lifelong dental health: Soft bristled toothbrush (Curaprox), toothpaste, floss and mouthwash. Daily dental care will save you trouble later.

One of the good things about Belgrade is that there are loads of superb dentists, operating with state of the art equipment and to the highest clinical standards, but they cost about 75% less than their Western European colleagues.

There is pretty much nothing hat modern dentistry cannot fix these days. Missing teeth can be replaced by implants or crowns, teeth that used to be extracted are now saved by root canal therapy, gum recession can be fixed by gum transplants  and periodontal disease can be controlled by regular dental cleaning and bone transplants. All of it is pretty much painless (and in Serbia, inexpensive).

If you have been posted to Belgrade, stationed here on a project or are living here now, then give yourself the gift of total dental care.

Keeping your teeth for life is actually quite easy. Assuming you do not have a physical trauma (teeth knocked out) all you have to do is make sure you get routine professional care and practise daily self care, which means in essence, dental hygiene:

Professional Care

Professional care means regular dental check-up and seeking  professional help as soon as dental symptoms arise.

Here is how to organise Professional care in Belgrade:

  1. Find yourself a local dentist and go and see them for a check up. If you have a clinical problem they will fix it for you, if you have a cosmetic one, they can usually fix that too. Here are some recommended dentists in Belgrade.
  2. Your dentist may recommend that you get a mouth x-ray. They will give you a prescription for that and you go to the drop in centre.It takes 15 minutes.
  3. If you have no problems, they may recommend just a cleaning and check-up in 6 months. If you do, they will schedule you for the procedure.
  4. Many dentists give you their mobile phones and e-mail addresses. You can call them out of hours if you have pain, or you can e-mail them questions about your health. My dentist saw me  immediately when I had a tooth break after biting an olive stone, even tough I had no pain.
  5. Make sure you do not miss your appointment and go at least every 6 months.

Self-Care

The more important element of life long dental health is routine dental hygiene.

This is much easier than it may seem. Here is the formula, the holy trinity of lifelong dental health:

1. Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft toothbrush.

2. Floss all your teeth properly at least once a day, preferably before bed.

3. OPTIONAL: Use a good mouth rinse (mouthwash) for 30 seconds, also before bed

That is it!

The whole deal takes under a minute and if it becomes a habit, you will have healthy teeth and gums for a lifetime.

Some gotchas…

  • It is super important to use a very high quality soft-bristled toothbrush. Many people damage their teeth and gums with over brushing or using a hard toothbrush that wears away enamel and gums.My dentist recommends (and uses) Curaprox toothbrushes. Look for model 3969 (Supersoft) or 5460 (Ultrasoft). They are available in most Belgrade pharmacies for about 350 dinars.
  • Mouthwash is only to be used in conjunction with brushing and flossing, not as a replacement.
  • Chewing gum is also never a replacement for brushing and flossing.
  • Do not use cheap mouthwash. Bad mouthwash (mouth rinse) may actually hasten tooth decay if it contains too much alcohol or sugar.
  • Do not brush your teeth for 1 hour after eating acidic food.
  • It is best to brush and floss in the morning after breakfast. This way t=you do not ruin the taste of your food and you get the debris off your teeth for the start of the day,

Also see our discussion on dentists that broke out on the forums here.

Fried Pictures

Came across a great Serbian design company recently after it was suggested that two newcomers to Belgrade should see if they had any work on.

Fried Pictures || Creative production

Fried pictures was founded in 2005 by two entrepreneurs and award winning artists/ animators:

Vuk Tatalovic and Sinisa Sumina.

We produce memorable characters, great stories and above all high quality animation for long and short form projects.

We pride ourselves in mixing design and animation with 2d/3d graphics, live action and sound design through various broadcast, film and commercial projects.

Just check out some of their work…superb!

 

 

 

 

Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S.

The map above represents the wish fulfilment fantasy of a Kremlin analysts called Igor Panarin. For years he was considered a crank and ignored. Now he is the toast of the Kremiln and the darling of the Russian state media.

He says that there is a 45-55% chance that:

…mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces — with Alaska reverting to Russian control.

In addition to increasing coverage in state media, which are tightly controlled by the Kremlin, Mr. Panarin’s ideas are now being widely discussed among local experts. He presented his theory at a recent roundtable discussion at the Foreign Ministry. The country’s top international relations school has hosted him as a keynote speaker. During an appearance on the state TV channel Rossiya, the station cut between his comments and TV footage of lines at soup kitchens and crowds of homeless people in the U.S. The professor has also been featured on the Kremlin’s English-language propaganda channel, Russia Today.

Thankfully sane Russians know exactly what is behind these collapse fantasies:

Mr. Panarin’s apocalyptic vision “reflects a very pronounced degree of anti-Americanism in Russia today,” says Vladimir Pozner, a prominent TV journalist in Russia. “It’s much stronger than it was in the Soviet Union.”

I wish there was a database of all these predictions so we could go back to these quacks when their predictions expire and confront them with their own stupidity.

The problem is that even when people are confronted with being utterly wrong, cognitive dissonance will make them account for it, often bizarrely. The best known example of this Leo Festinger’s famous study “When Prophesy Fails” in which he studied an American UFO cult that predicted the mothership was about to arrive and destroy the earth.

When the deadline came and went, the group did not implode with its memebers fleeing in shame, instead they convinced themselves – via a message delivered through automatic writting to the cult leader- that:

the God of Earth has decided to spare the planet from destruction. The cataclysm has been called off: “The little group, sitting all night long, had spread so much light that God had saved the world from destruction.”

Now who can argue with that?

As if Things Weren’t Bad Enough, Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S. – WSJ.com

See also:

Leon Festinger – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Festinger
Cognitive Dissonance – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance
When Prophesy Fails – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_Prophecy_Fails
The Great Disappointment – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Disappointment

Honesty Signals

A new book from MIT Press is a major contribution to “Signalling Theory“. It is called Honest Signals by Alex (Sandy) Pentland.

From the press release for the book:

“How can you know when someone is bluffing? Paying attention? Genuinely interested? The answer, writes Sandy Pentland in Honest Signals, is that subtle patterns in how we interact with other people reveal our attitudes toward them. These unconscious social signals are not just a back channel or a complement to our conscious language; they form a separate communication network. Biologically based “honest signaling,” evolved from ancient primate signaling mechanisms, offers an unmatched window into our intentions, goals, and values. If we understand this ancient channel of communication, Pentland claims, we can accurately predict the outcomes of situations ranging from job interviews to first dates.

Pentland, an MIT professor, has used a specially designed digital sensor worn like an ID badge–a “sociometer”–to monitor and analyze the back-and-forth patterns of signalling among groups of people. He and his researchers found that this second channel of communication, revolving not around words but around social relations, profoundly influences major decisions in our lives–even though we are largely unaware of it. Pentland presents the scientific background necessary for understanding this form of communication, applies it to examples of group behavior in real organizations, and shows how by “reading” our social networks we can become more successful at pitching an idea, getting a job, or closing a deal. Using this “network intelligence” theory of social signaling, Pentland describes how we can harness the intelligence of our social network to become better managers, workers, and communicators.”

Tuning in to unconscious communication” (MIT)

The power of unconscious signalling continues to amaze me. For years hypnotists and Influence experts have claimed (or warned) that very subtle factors influence decision making and judgements.

For a superb overview of the subject of decision making and choice, I strongly recommend an episode of the new series of Radio Lab devoted to the subject called “Choice“.

Look out for part 3 “Is Free Will Really Free?” where professor John Bargh describes a stunning experiment where the temperature of a drink has a powerful effect on judgement:

“Judgment of character can be influenced by something as simple as the temperature of a drink held in our hands, according to a US study published today.

Researchers from Yale University conducted experiments that showed that people perceive others as more generous and more attentive if they have just been holding a hot cup of coffee, and that the inverse is true for cold drinks.

A second study found that people are more likely to give something to others if they held something warm, and more likely take something for themselves if they held something cold.”

Judgement of character affected by hot cup of coffee: study – Sydney Morning Herald

Here author Alex (Sandy) Pentland explains the book:

Also see:

Honest Signals – How They Shape Our World