Reading: “Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You”

Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About YouSnoop: What Your Stuff Says About You by Sam Gosling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is meant to teach you how to learn about people from snooping through their rooms, but it’s also a bounty for social media marketers or writers.

If your job is in social media, in reading the tea leaves of activity people leave on their profiles, this will give you a handy framework for knowing what’s relevant and how to place a particular piece of detail you learn about someone.

Fiction writers can use the book in reverse — learning how to apply the psychological principles presented to craft an interesting, realistic character. The proof is in the details, and this book will help you understand how to create the layers of detail and description that make up a real person.

View all my reviews

Reading: How We Decide

It’s that inevitable moment in the car, again. My wife and I are sitting there, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, just a little past the peak of hunger, and I am about to turn the key. We both know what’s going to happen, but the question is who is going to ask it first.

“Where shall we have lunch?”

Why is that question so vexing? A million thoughts come to mind, and some are even delicious. But…I can’t settle on one. This one is a little expensive. That one’s a little too far. Do we have coupons for that other place?

How We DecideHow We Decide may very well help me with my dilemma. The author, Jonah Lehrer, provides vivid examples of the decision-making process, from why people take out a sub-prime loan to how airline pilots land a plane they can no longer steer, and explains the neuroscience behind good decisions and bad ones. I feel more capable of investing in the stock market thanks to this book, which is more than I can say for most finance books I’ve read. The book makes me think about thinking, and that can be a very good thing.

I most enjoyed reading about the rational brain versus the emotional brain. I tend to try to be a rational decider. Before I bought a dishwasher, I spent hours poring over the interactive charts on consumer sites. I read endless reviews. I compared prices. This had to be the best way to make a decision. And yet, in the end, I still struggled with which dishwasher to buy.

How We Decide points out something I had missed. We humans are emotional deciders. The grandest circuitry in our brain is tied tightly with our emotional state. I should have learned this from years of watching Star Trek certainly — Kirk would get the technobabble details from Spock, but in the end, he’d go with his gut. That’s not to put down the value of the rational mind, the scientific approach; it’s a necessary and powerful tool in the decision-making process, especially when you’re making an emotion-wrought decision.¬†As Lehrer says,“The rational brain can’t silence emotions, but it can help figure out which ones should be followed.”

Best of all, there’s a final chapter that outlines how to use the tools at your disposal to make decisions, a fantastic guide to what you should take from the book.

So, if you find yourself sitting in the driveway, trying to decide where to have lunch, go to the bookstore instead.


Reading: This Is Your Brain On Music

Did music ever stir your emotions? Make you cry? Laugh? Feel afraid? Feel like getting out of your seat and moving?

Yeah, you macho guys are sitting there, going, “No way…music only makes me want to rawk!” Well, maybe so. But what about the stirring, high-pitched violin string as the stalker sneaks up on the helpless, giggling co-ed, rusty hatchet drawn back over one shoulder? Yeah, that got you. Imagine watching that scene without that gut-wrenching music in it. Watch that scene with the sound turned down. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Something was missing, wasn’t it. It almost seemed kind of funny. It defnitely wasn’t the same emotional state without the music.

What about, did you ever have an ear worm? You know one of those songs you can’t get our of your head?

Did you ever wonder why you rock at Guitar Hero or Rock Band, but you never became a great piano player?

This Is Your Brain On Music book cover
This Is Your Brain On Music book cover

This Is Your Brain On Music is about that, and a whole lot more. It’s a study of how the human brain and music are wrapped up and entwined in an amazing way. How music is so much a part of being human that it’s easy to see why many of us experience it as often as we can. Our very nature is musical.

Daniel J. Levitin carefully constructs both a course in music and in neuroscience in this book. Early chapters explain music theory in a way the accordion lessons I took as a kid never could. (I actually think if someone had explained music to me the way Levitin does in this book, I would have actually learned how to play something more than scales.) He goes on to relate this to how the brain works to perceive things, but rather than just writing a remarkable book about the science of music, he begins to talk about how perception affects emotion, and how when that happens…you get Art. (Yes, with a captial A.)

“The appreciation we have for music is intimately related to our ability to learn the underlying structure of the music we like — the equivalent to grammar in spoken or signed languages — and to be able to make predictions about what will come next. Composers imbue music with emotion by knowing what our expectations are and then very deliberately controlling when those expectations will be met, and when they won’t.”

I can think of how many ways that statement applies to art of all kinds — if you’re a writer, you keep the lovers in your latest novel apart for as long as you can to make their final moment of joining ecstasy. If you’re a comedian, you time your punch line perfectly for the biggest laugh. How fascinating it is that all of this relates back to the same brain adaptations that make humans musical.

Before he was a brain scientist, Levitin was both a performer and a producer, and most of all, he’s a lover of music, and this comes across in his style — he has a passion for music that makes him easy to relate to. Check out the book’s web site, for more info.

More On The New Hitchhiker’s Book

Some interesting notes on the new Hitchhiker’s book from The Guardian.

  • It’s being published by Penguin, not Hyperion as I reported earlier. (I thought the NPR thing mentioned Hyperion.)
  • It’s sanctioned by Adams’ wife.
  • It’s plotted as a way of bringing Douglas Adams’ work to the next generation of readers.

Um…on that last point, wouldn’t it make more sense to allow Douglas Adams’ work to bring new readers to Douglas Adams’ work?

Still seems greedy to me. And artistically void, since Adams’ books are so unique that even the people involved in this new book admit no one can write like him. And really, they weren’t about plot or character, they were about style. (I remember once having an argument with my cousin about who was a better writer — Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett. I still hold that Pratchett is the better writer, because his books actually follow narrative structure, and have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and a theme, and all that general mishmash of novel stuff. And, oh yes, Pratchett generally tends to finish books, which is why he has turned out so many more than Adams. Errr, well, that and he is still alive and all….)

Why Are They Jumping Up And Down On Douglas Adams’ Grave?

Eoin Colfer, who wrote the popular childrens book series Artemis Fowl has been tapped to write a sequel to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Now, I like Mr. Colfer okay. I understand his reasoning for not turning down the offer out of hand. And I hope he does a decent job. I read the first Artemis Fowl book, and thought it was okay, but it didn’t make me really want to read another one. I’m probably not his audience anyway.

But I’m really pissed at the greedy book publishers over at Hyperion (a book company owned by Disney, the company I work for) Penguin, who just won’t let that series sit. It’s over. No one else can write it. For goodness sake, do something original, and don’t sully up the brand trying to continue to make money on it.

Reading: Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

If you’re not familiar with Oliver Sacks, he’s a neurologist who has sort of popularized the field of brain science in much the same way that Carl Sagan has popularized the field of astronomy. He’s written a tall stack of books detailing the unique cases he has come across in his profession, and providing a unique insight into what it is to be human.

Musicophilia Cover
Musicophilia Cover

His latest book, Musicophilia, is a look at the relationship between the human brain and music — an a unique relationship it turns out to be. For instance, you know how you occasionally get one of those obnoxious jingles stuck in the musical part of your brain. “Have it yooooour way, have it your way…” all day long? Now imagine the same thing, only not in that slightly muffled music area of your brain, but concious, as if a radio was playing, but only you could hear it. Sacks details people who live with this issue everyday — music playing in their head that only they can hear, and that in some cases is impossible to disregard. And in many cases, it’s not even music the person particularly likes! ACK! Contiunuously tuned into the Brittney Spears station on ethereal radion would surely drive me mad.

And yet, for every tale of something that seems a malady, Sacks tells a story of something unique and sublime about the human relationship with music. Alzheimer’s patients who can still perform beautiful, passionate music, or can at least sing their favorite songs. Children with Williams Syndrome, who almost seem, from Sack’s description to be elvish — another species, tremendously friendly and likeable, with a love of the melodies and rhythms of music.

I have to say I really found the book both frightening and fascinating. I’ve read bits about Buddhist wisdom where they basically describe the world as an illusion created by the self. I’m sure at first glance, most people dismiss that as being kind of self-centered philosophy. “Oh, there’s just me and everything else is my imagination.” But the brain science in Sack’s book makes it a lot easier to understand what’s being said there. Everything we see, or hear, or sense in any way is the result of our brain intepreting changes in the environment around us through our senses and our preconceptions. When Sacks talks in his book about the people who are hearing music in their heads as if it were real and present, you begin to realize that the sensory system we depend on to show us “truth” cannot always be depended upon. It’s a scary notion, but manageable, when you wrap yourself around the idea. Everyone really is an individual that sees the world in a unique way depending on their basic physical hardware and their personality or self. It becomes a more challenging thought to walk in someone else’s shoes then, since, because they have had a whole different set of experiences during their lifetime, and their senses might work a little differently, there are differences between us (even if we are all human).

It’s not all sort of confusing and dark, though, as music really is a transcendent force as portrayed in the book. It’s amazing that the fact that music develops sort of separately from things like speech and memory, makes it something that can be helpful in the rehabilitation of stroke victims, or can make the life of those with dementia happier. It can even make it easier to connect with a loved one with those challenges by providing a common ground.

I’ve been trying to make music a bigger part of my life, since it does seem to bring a shared happiness to people. Musicophilia confirmed for me that I should continue in this path as musical skills are something one can share long into your life. Music brings hope, and hope is often what life is made from.