Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman

Feynman is one of the brightest physicists of the 20th century who also happened to be a talented lecturer and an author of a book which is fun to read. Here are some excerpts from “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” that I found interesting:

Surely, You're Joking, Mr. Feynman - book review & quotes

On freedom:

So I have just one wish for you–the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel heed by a need to maintain your position In the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.

Isn’t it a modern luxury that very few of us can afford?

 

On pointless communication

When it came time to evaluate the conference at the end, the others told how much they got out of it, how successful it was, and so on. When they asked me, I said, “This conference was worse than a Rorschach test: There’s a meaningless inkblot, and the others ask you what you think you see, but when you tell them, they start arguing with you!

 

On mindfulness and watching your thoughts become dreams:

I also noticed that as you go to sleep the ideas continue, but they become less and less logically interconnected. You don’t notice that they’re not logically connected until you ask yourself, “What made me think of that?” and you try to work your way back, and often you can’t remember what the hell did make you think of that!

So you get every illusion of logical connection, but the actual fact is that the thoughts become more and more cockeyed until they’re completely disjointed, and beyond that, you fall asleep.

After four weeks of sleeping all the time, I wrote my theme, and explained the observations I had made. At the end of the theme I pointed out that all of these observations were made while I was watching myself fall asleep, and I don’t really know what it’s like to fall asleep when I’m not watching myself. I concluded the theme with a little verse I made up, which pointed out this problem of introspection:

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Geniuses, savants and gifted children

For a long time I wanted to write about savants, people whose intellectual capacities significantly exceed what we consider to be normal. Usually, they have one or two fields where they really shine, but more often than not other abilities, usually social skills are sacrificed. You all remember Rain Man, right?

For example, Matt Savage learned to play piano at the age of 7, gave his first concert at 9 and recorded his album later on. You see him playing here:

 

What I find interesting and amusing about these people is how vividly they show the the real width of our own abilities and how inefficiently we use our own brain. Of course, personal traits, genetics and sometimes even injuries all play role here. But still all these amazing abilities are somewhere in our heads… And I like to believe that we can find a key to unlock them.

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How to win any negotiation: summary of “Getting to Yes” by William Ury

I listened to Getting to Yes by William Ury who is probably the most recognized negotiations expert few months ago.

If you never heard about William Ury, short TED talk might be the best way to get to know about his impressive career:

And here are the notes that I wrote down while reading it. Probably they will be of some use for you as well:

1. Always set a goal of negotiation form the very beginning: “You want to sell at the higher price and I want to buy at the lower price. Let’s find the fair price that can both agree upon.”
2. Always try to understand interests behind a position. How did you arrive at that price? Why do you consider it just?
3. Always repeat the position of another side: “Correct me if I’m wrong. Do I understand correctly that you consider this price to be just because…”
4. Always set a principle, external standard to judge the agreement. E.g. fair solution.
5. Separate a person from a problem. “We are very grateful for everything you did for us but it’s very important for us to arrive at the fair solution.”
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2 books about brain: What best neuroscientists can teach us about memory, creativity, society, productivity, work & leadership

Not a long time ago I wrote a post about My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. And during last couple of months I listened to and read 2 more: Brain Rules by John Medina and Your Brain at Work by David Rock. Unlike Jill, they don’t tell their own stories but try to give real life recommendations based on neuroscience research.

John focuses on general principles rules of brain functioning which he covers relatively briefly. David on the other hand provides more of a deep dive in various situations that we face daily, mostly at work but views them through the prism of our brain and its biochemistry. Social concepts, such as status, reward and others are explained through things like oxitocin, dopamin & epinephrin.

Those who find such topics interesting can find my notes below. Plus, a couple of great videos of authors’ talks and one fun Slideshare presentation.

1. Brain Rules by John Medina

I used the actual “brain rules” by John from his website as the basis for my notes and briefly tried to explain main idea of each one.

John Medina

EXERCISE | Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power.

John recommends various kind of physical activity, especially aerobic one, including long walks. He states that if participants of business meetings walked on treadmills with 1.8 mile/hr speed, they would come up with much more creative ideas, not to mention increased memory and overall well-being. By the way, John takes his own medicine. It took him 15 minutes to adapt to replying to emails while walking.

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Superfreakonomics review

Book with a stupid name Superfreakonomics by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner appeared to be quite surprisingly interesting and was listened on my way to work and back home in a week or so. I would probably even say that the sequel is better than the first book – Freakonomics.

Authors position themselves as economists doing research into non-conventional topics. However, I feel that it would be more appropriate to say that book is in the sociology field. Yes, individual & group level economics is often discussed, usually through the prism of decision-making. But in overall it’s more about psychology.

Topics covered are global warming (or cooling?) & ecology, technological & scientific breakthroughs, economics of prostitution, algorithmic search for potential terrorists based on banking activity and human altruism which is covered in more details in video below. In other words, as authors confess themselves, there is no uniting topic.

Superfreakonomics

Superfreakonomics is full of curious facts. For instance, you have statistically higher chances to get into trouble if you walk home drunk then if you drive home drunk.

All topics are presented as stories revolving around particular characters and therefore easily digested. One of the main lessons sounds quite banal and generic: “people respond to incentives, sometimes unpredictably”. However, we forget about it more often than we’d like to think.

You might use this RSA video made from co-author’s speech as a trailer of some sort:

Update 2010.09.22: It turns out they make a movie based on the first book! Trailer is below:

Review of awesome My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor

Finished listening to My Stroke of Insight by neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor today. It appeared to be as interesting as I expected, so I’d like to share it with you.

Jill is a Harvard PhD who built a highly successful career in science. Everything went just perfect till the moment when she got a stroke on one of her mornings. As a result, she lost almost all of her cognitive and physical skills, but survived. Moreover, eventually she finally recovered which took more than 8 years. Step be step she learned everything: from speech recognition, to walking and reading.

Jill Bolte Taylor

The Book tells her personal story and gives a basic understanding of our brain. According to author our brain functions can be separated by hemispheres: left and right. Right one lives in a present moment and is responsible for our sensory feelings, intuition, and perception of universe as a whole. Left one in turn is our rational mind, future planning, past evaluation, speech, critical thinking, etc.

After the stroke Jill lost functions of left hemisphere. The most interesting part is that despite the loss of cognitive functions, she describes her experience with sincere rapture. She emotionally tells us about feeling of “deep inner piece and bliss” and expresses ideas that I highly connected with a topic of mindful meditation that kind of follows me last month. BTW, here are two awesome Google Talks about it: first, second. I even decided to listen to book of the latter one, but that’s a separate story.

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What Would Google Do by Jeff Jarvis, personal & business lessons

Recently I finished reading What Would Google Do by Jeff Jarvis. Judging by title I didn’t really expect lots of insights from the book but it appeared to be truly visionary and smart. It even made me kind of regret choosing Economics&Business major over Computer Science 7 years ago…

WWGD appeared not to be about Google itself but about the way business, economics, relationships and world in whole change as the result of technologies wide spread and simplification. So, in fact the book covers quite wide range of topics. From Google’s PageRank, to Facebook, new media, customized solutions, customer relations, blogging, Twitter, context advertising, search engine optimization, online communities management, government policies and many other.

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