For Your Consideration: Brain/Body Exercise, Stop Trying To Be Happy, LEGO turnaround, A/B Illusion

1. High Intensity (Functional) Exercise and Neurogenesis
“The typical CrossFit box is a defoliated orangutang habitat.”

The modern gym has been deliberately designed to not require any coordination, accuracy, agility, or balance. The attributes of fitness that bind the body and brain together have become the exclusive province of athletes, dancers, and the few lucky children who still climb trees, pop bicycle wheelies, and hang upside down from monkey bars. The stripping-away of coordination, accuracy agility and balance from physical culture – from our modern notion of fitness – has made us weaker, because power, the ability to apply maximum force, requires neural circuitry that’s impossible to develop on a pulley cable.

But it’s worse than that. If all we lost in the transition from functional fitness to circuit-trained muscle development was power, we’d be losing something the modern world doesn’t demand. Most of us can live pretty well, in a physical sense, without building huge amounts of physical power.

The problem is, the area of our brain that’s responsible for full-body movement…that’s not all it does. The brain controls movement in three areas, depending on the complexity of the movement. The primary motor cortex, the lowest-level switch box, is responsible for simple movements like shifting the position of your head. Slightly in front of this area is a more sophisticated set of controls for integrated movements, like reaching for an object. In front of this is a third, even more intricate control center called the attention association area. The attention association area is the part of the brain that controls complex movements that involve the entire body. This is where coordination, accuracy, agility, and balance live. That’s what it evolved to do. That’s what it does in animals. When a predator leaps to latch onto a piece of prey and snap its neck, that complex coordinated pounce comes from the attention association area of the predator’s brain. The neural “go signal” to pounce comes from the same place in the animal’s brain that controls the physical execution of the movement.

In human beings, the attention association area, like many parts of the brain, has evolved in a way that transcends its original function. This area that controls complex movements, that generates the “go signal” to execute them, is also the source of human will, goal-setting behavior, and purposeful organization of thought. “To put it bluntly,” writes Andrew Newberg, a neuroscience professor who researches the neural mechanisms of consciousness, “a great part of what one sees with injury to the attention association area is a loss of will and an inability to form intention. If any part of the brain can be said to be the seat of the will or of intentionality, it is certainly the attention association area.”

2. Stop Trying To Be Happy
You have to do the work yourself. Nobody can do it for you.

Happiness is the process of becoming your ideal self

Completing a marathon makes us happier than eating a chocolate cake. Raising a child makes us happier than beating a video game. Starting a small business with friends and struggling to make money makes us happier than buying a new computer.

And the funny thing is that all three of the activities above are exceedingly unpleasant and require setting high expectations and potentially failing to always meet them. Yet, they are some of the most meaningful moments and activities of our lives. They involve pain, struggle, even anger and despair, yet once we’ve done them we look back and get misty-eyed about them.

Because it’s these sort of activities which allow us to become our ideal selves. It’s the perpetual pursuit of fulfilling our ideal selves which grants us happiness, regardless of superficial pleasures or pain, regardless of positive or negative emotions. This is why some people are happy in war and others are sad at weddings. It’s why some are excited to work and others hate parties. The traits they’re inhabiting don’t align with their ideal selves.

The end results don’t define our ideal selves. It’s not finishing the marathon that makes us happy, it’s achieving a difficult long-term goal that does. It’s not having an awesome kid to show off that makes us happy, but knowing that you gave yourself up to the growth of another human being that is special. It’s not the prestige and money from the new business that makes you happy, it’s the process of overcoming all odds with people you care about.

3. LEGO turned itself around by analyzing overbearing parents
Also, buy the LEGOs, burn the instructions.

During a session with the photo diaries, for example, the researchers noted that the children’s bedrooms in New Jersey tended to be meticulously designed by the mothers. “They look like they’re from the pages of Elle Décor,” noted one participant. Another child’s bedroom in Los Angeles was suspiciously tidy with a stylish airplane mobile hanging down. “That looks staged,” an anthropologist observed, and the team discussed what that might mean. These were children who were driven everywhere in SUVs with carefully managed after-school activities. The researchers noted that the moms were also “staging” their children’s development. They were trying to shape children who were creative, fun, outgoing, humorous, intelligent, and quiet all at the same time. Throughout the conversation, critical theory from the human sciences provided a framework for the observations. The researchers discussed how these “staged” childhoods resembled Foucault’s “panopticon,” where activities were under surveillance and subject to disciplinary measures. One of the analysts drew a picture with a large circle and a very tiny circle. “This is the space we used to have for playing,” he said, pointing to the large circle, “and this ever-diminishing circle is the space these kids have right now.”

“These kids were bubble-wrapped,” one team member recalled. “Every physical space in their life was curated, managed, or staged by an adult. Whereas children in the past used to find freedom and an appropriate level of danger on the streets, playing on sidewalks throughout the neighborhood or roaming free in the country, these children needed to find their freedom in virtual spaces through online gaming or in imaginary zones (like the box of magic mushrooms).”

An important insight came to the group through the discussion of all of these observations. One role of play for these children was to find pockets of oxygen, away from adult supervision. The group realized that kids were desperate to sneak some element of danger into their lives. If the researchers had used a more linear process—one focused on the properties of the children’s play—the team would never have thought to put poisonous mushrooms and booby traps in the same category. But the nonlinear act of connecting the dots revealed that the underlying phenomenon of both behaviors was the same.

These and other findings led the researchers to identify the key patterns: children play to get oxygen, to understand hierarchy, to achieve mastery at a skill, and to socialize. The patterns were simplified into four categories: under the radar, hierarchy, mastery, and social play.

4. The ethics and morality of the A/B illusion
For more, the authors respond to some questions.

CAN it ever be ethical for companies or governments to experiment on their employees, customers or citizens without their consent?

The conventional answer — of course not! — animated public outrage last year after Facebook published a study in which it manipulated how much emotional content more than half a million of its users saw. Similar indignation followed the revelation by the dating site OkCupid that, as an experiment, it briefly told some pairs of users that they were good matches when its algorithm had predicted otherwise.

But this outrage is misguided. Indeed, we believe that it is based on a kind of moral illusion.

Companies — and other powerful actors, including lawmakers, educators and doctors — “experiment” on us without our consent every time they implement a new policy, practice or product without knowing its consequences. When Facebook started, it created a radical new way for people to share emotionally laden information, with unknown effects on their moods. And when OkCupid started, it advised users to go on dates based on an algorithm without knowing whether it worked.

Why does one “experiment” (i.e., introducing a new product) fail to raise ethical concerns, whereas a true scientific experiment (i.e., introducing a variation of the product to determine the comparative safety or efficacy of the original) sets off ethical alarms?

In a forthcoming article in the Colorado Technology Law Journal, one of us (Professor Meyer) calls this the “A/B illusion” — the human tendency to focus on the risk, uncertainty and power asymmetries of running a test that compares A to B, while ignoring those factors when A is simply imposed by itself.

“In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” (Warren Buffet)

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