Brit on the Backroads

“Snarfflewood Meadow” by David Yapp

I just learned that my friend, David Yapp, has been writing a column for a California newspaper about his experiences painting in the Sierra foothills. Today while I was at work I got my phone to “read” me his various articles, and found them truly a delight. My only disappointment was when I exhausted all his articles and didn’t have any more left to read.

David’s writing, like his paintings, have a way of drawing the reader into a world that is both ordinary and wonderful. Moreover, his articles give a transparent, if sometimes unflattering, glimpse into the quirks and oddities of California people and animals, from a mysterious killer goose to a Merlot-loving bear.

Check it out David’s column at The Mountain Democrat, as well as his beautiful array of oil paintings.

Posted in Art

2-Part Podcast Series on EQ

Last month, my friend Mark Weisman came over to my office to discuss empathy, emotional intelligence and technology. We looped Jason Boom into the conversation through Skype. It was a fascinating conversation about some of the ways digital technology is eroding skills in empathy and emotional intelligence (EQ). In a follow-up conversation, we discussed specific techniques people can practice for increasing their EQ skills.

During these discussions, Mark Weisman was able to contribute valuable insights from his perspective working for years in the tech industry, as well as from his experience as a husband. We explored what the latest brain science is showing about the corrosive effect of too much screen-time, particularly in brain regions associated with emotional maturity, introspection, expression recognition and emotional regulation. 

We syndicated these two conversations to The Robin & Boom Show  which you can listen to below.


The Robin & Boom Show #13 – Attentiveness, Technology, Empathy and Stillness (Part 2 of series with Mark Weisman)

Mark Weisman

Robin Phillips and Jason Van Boom continue the discussion with Mark Weisman on technology, empathy, attention and EQ. In this podcast you will learn what Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica and the Great Tradition tell us about bringing attentiveness into our relationships. You will also learn the importance of slowing down to take a reflective turn, how to leverage neuroplasticity for good, and the relationship between the brain, body and emotions. Questions discussed include:
  • What tools and  best practices are available for families who want to push back against the culture of distraction?
  • Is empathetic listening an ability that some people simply have while others do not, or is it a skill that can be developed with practice?
  • How does awareness of one’s own feelings relate to sensitivity towards the emotions of others?
  • How can we develop the intellectual virtue of contemplation, and how does this affect our relationships?
  • How does the Sabbath commandment reflect natural law?
From the podcast:
“…be aware of what other people are feeling, and listen to the emotions behind what they are saying rather than just being quick to respond to surface issues. Go deeper and really try to listen with your heart and with empathy. Often we get into fights and arguments about issues that are really just proxies for deeper emotional issues, and these deeper emotional issues, when they’re not being adequately addressed or listened to, can cause problems abort issues that are not really the issue.”

How Video Games are Bad for Your Brain

Beware of the what video games are doing to your brain, or to the brain of your child!

In Nicholas Carr’s book Utopia is Creepy, he has a chapter called ‘Grand Theft Attention’, where he reviews the latest research on video games and the brain. The chapter is a reprint of his 2011 blog post ‘Grand Theft Attention: video games and the brain.’

A 2009 study by a different group of Iowa State researchers, published in Psychophysiology, investigated the effects of video-gaming on cognitive control, through experiments with 51 young men, both heavy gamers and light gamers. The study indicated that video-gaming has little effect on “reactive” cognitive control – the ability to respond to some event after it happens. But when it comes to “proactive” cognitive control – the ability to plan and adjust one’s behavior in advance of an event or stimulus – video-gaming has a significant negative effect. “The negative association between video game experience and proactive cognitive control,” the researchers write, “is interesting in the context of recent evidence demonstrating a similar correlation between video game experience and self-reported measures of attention deficits and hyperactivity. Together, these data may indicate that the video game experience is associated with a decrease in the efficiency of proactive cognitive control that supports one’s ability to maintain goal-directed action when the environment is not intrinsically engaging.” Video gamers, in other words, seem to have a difficult time staying focused on a task that doesn’t involve constant incoming stimuli. Their attention wavers.

Further Reading

Good Habits and Emotion

In his book Good News For Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do, the Christian philosopher Phillip Carry gives some examples of how our choices and habits affect our emotions.

“There is indeed a sense in which we are responsible for our emotions, though in a different way from our choices, because of course we don’t control our feelings in the direct way we control our choices. You can’t just choose not to be angry the way you choose not to raise your hand. Yet we are responsible for the virtues and vices we develop, which are what tend to produce various kinds of feelings. If we make a habit of gossiping, for instance, we will feed our resentment of other people, which will bear fruit in anger and ill will and eventually cruelty. Whereas if we practice moral disciplines like speaking courteously with people we dislike or being kind to people who annoy us, the emotional shape of our hearts will also change for the better. It takes time, but we can train our hearts to leave their resentments behind, to starve the poisonous feelings in them, while practicing and nurturing the better feelings–even if that practice begins with outward actions like speaking a kind word when we don’t really feel like it.”

Elsewhere he explains how good habits are a composite of emotions, perceptions, choices and thoughts.

“A virtue is a habit that includes all of these things: actions (you take care of your child even when you don’t feel like it), emotions (you are often overtaken by feelings of tenderness and delight), perceptions (you understand your little children better than they understand themselves), choices (you choose to get out of bed and go to the children’s room even when you’d much rather not), and thoughts (you think differently, more thoroughly and carefully, about your children than about anyone else in the world).”

Further Reading

The Robin & Boom Show #12 – With Mark Weisman on Empathy, Technology, and EQ (Part 1)

Robin and Jason are joined by Mark Weisman to discuss some of the ways digital technology is eroding skills in empathy and emotional intelligence (EQ). Mark Weisman contributes to this discussion from his perspective working for years in the tech industry. In this podcast you will learn the difference between “emotional empathy” and “cognitive empathy”, and why EQ is central to human flourishing. You will also learn what the latest brain science shows about the corrosive effect of too much screen-time, particularly in brain regions associated with emotional maturity, introspection, expression recognition and emotional regulation. (For more on this topic, visit out emotional intelligence archives.)

View all Episodes of The Robin & Boom Show

The Black Hole of Information

From Nicholas Carr’s, Utopia is Creepy and Other Provocations:

Wikipedia provides a good example of the self-reinforcing power of the web’s centripetal force. The popular online encyclopedia is less the sum of human knowledge than the black hole of human knowledge. A vast exercise in cut-and-past paraphrasing (it explicitly bans original thinking), Wikipedia first sucks in content from other sites, then it sucks in links, then it sucks in search results, then it sucks in readers. And because it prevents search engines from taking account of its outbound links to the sources of its articles, through the use of ‘no follow’ tags, it reinforces its hegemony over search results. Light comes in but doesn’t go out. One of the untold stories of Wikipedia is the way it has siphoned traffic from smaller specialized sites, like the excellent Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, even though those sites often have better information about the topics they cover. Wikipedia articles have become the default external link for many creators of web content, not because Wikipedia is the best source but because it’s the best-known source and, generally, it’s ‘good enough.’ Wikipedia is the lazy man’s link, and we’re all lazy men, except for those of us who are lazy women.

The Health Benefits of Wine

I recently discovered Gisela Kreglinger’s work through an interview that Ken Myers did with her for the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Most of Kreglinger’s scholarly work has been on wine and George MacDonald (a strange but appropriately fitting juxtaposition). In reading Kreglinger’s book The Spirituality of Wine, I was particularly fascinated by her discussion about the health benefits of having a daily glass of wine. In the quotation that follows I have had to remove the footnotes referencing peer-reviewed studies and medical research.

“Serge Renaud had studied the relationship between moderate wine-drinking and low-rate cardiovascular disease (diseases of the heart and blood vessel system). This study revealed that the French had a much lower rate of cardiovascular disease than that of other industrialized countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. In most countries the high consumption of saturated fats is positively related to an increased risk of heart disease. Paradoxically, this tendency is not true in France: though the French have a high intake of saturated fat (they love their cheeses) and smoke cigarettes, they nonetheless have a low mortality rate from heart disease. Today this finding is referred to as the “French paradox.” Renaud found that the French drink a moderate amount of wine with their meals daily (they also eat and drink more slowly). Scientific studies revealed that the consumption of alcohol at the level of consumption in France (approximately one to two glasses of wine a day) can reduce the risk of heart disease by at least 40 percent. Renaud suggests that wine drunk in moderation may be one of the most efficient “drugs” to prevent heart disease.

Since then, many scientific studies have confirmed Renaud’s findings and suggest that the moderate consumption of any kind of alcohol (1-2 drinks per day) can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by an average of 30-35 percent in comparison to nondrinkers. Given that cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in many industrialized countries, especially in the United States, this medical finding is exceedingly important. Strokes, which constitute one form of cardiovascular disease, are the third-leading cause of death and a major cause of disability in the United States. A daily glass of wine drunk in a leisurely way can significantly reduce the risk of stroke. This is good news indeed. Studies around the world have shown that moderate drinkers tend to have a lower mortality rate than either nondrinkers or heavy drinkers. Heavy drinkers and binge drinking, on the other hand, increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.