Παρασκευή 28 Μαρτίου 2014

Time goes by. But how fast?

“I could be off. Time gets distorted when you’re caught up in these things. At the time, everything went by in a blur and that’s why I missed the plate number. I was so astonished at what happened I didn’t register much else.”
  “I know the feeling. On the one hand you’re hyperaware and at the same time you blank out the details.”
  “Amen. I couldn’t for the life of me go back and reconstruct the incident.”
  “Don’t I know,” she said. “A foot chase you swear took fifteen minutes turns out to be half that. Sometimes it works the other way.”

   Kinsey Millhone, a private investigator in Sue Grafton’s ‘V for Vengeance has stumbled upon mind jumbling time distortions. And her remarks are correct.  

  In his book, ‘On Combat’, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, says this actually happens in high-stress situations.

  “A bizarre set of perceptual distortions can occur in combat that alter the way the warrior views the world and perceives reality,” he points out.

   A study based on officers officers who were involved in deadly encounters revealed that the majority of them experienced perceptional distortions like the following:

  -85% Diminished Sound
  -80% Tunnel Vision
  -74% Automatic Pilot
  -72% Heightened Visual Clarity
  -65% Slow Motion Time
  -  7% Temporary Paralysis
  -51% Memory Loss for Parts of the Event
  -47% Memory Loss for Some of Your Actions
  -40% Dissociation (Detachment)
  -26% Intrusive Distracting Thoughts
  -16% Fast Motion Time

 If you want to get yourself as quick as possible out of this jumble of distortions, Dave Grossman has the solution for you: Tactical Breathing. It is a simple and straightforward technique to pull yourself together when in an extreme situation and it’s comprised of 4 steps:
1)   Breathe in from your nose counting to four. Let the air expand your belly.
2)   Hold your breath for the same amount of time.
3)   Let the air out from your mouth counting to four.
4)   Hold empty for the same amount of time.

 And remember to repeat the whole process until you get your pulse down to comfortable levels. 
 Had Kinsey Millhone been aware of this technique, she might have caught sight of the abovementioned plate numbers.  

Τετάρτη 12 Φεβρουαρίου 2014

One Girl Gone, and what you should expect from your marriage

  Amy and Nick. Just another couple? I don’t think so. If you get Gillian Flynn's book "Gone Girl" into your hands, just read it. Then you will know what I mean. 

  Gillian Flynn poses a question millions of people ask themselves. Can marriage be a real killer? The only difference is that in the case of Nick and Amy, Gillian Flynn’s protagonists, this isn’t meant only metaphorically.
  After being hit, like so many others, by the financial crisis of 2008, the couple moves out from New York to North Cartage, Missouri, which happens to be Nick’s hometown. Their perfect world, or this was what everyone else thought about them (isn’t it always so, until we learn the truth that lurked behind the hermetically shut doors?), is shuttered one warm summer morning, when Amy is gone missing. Signs of a struggle, an evasive husband and a plethora of clues drive the police closer to Nick.

  There’s yet another question that emerges naturally when you finish ‘Gone Girl’. How well do you know the person you’re married to? And perhaps another one: How well do you know yourself?
  You should not despair. Gillian Flynn (whom I’m wondering why she couldn’t fit somehow into the cinematic rendition of her book, since she’s got the looks, with the shot below being the evidence for that

has a remarkable ingenuity in drawing articulate profiles of disturbed characters, more than often to the extreme. Not everyone is like that. The majority, to be precise, is in the boundaries of what we call normal.            
  Fortunately, there’s John Gottman, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington, renowed for his breakthrough insights on relationships. 

There are thousands of articles and hundreds of books out there on relations. However, Gottman was the first to launch a project in his Family Research Lab, aka ‘Love Lab’, where he observed more than 650 couples over a 14-year span before writing his book ‘The seven principles for making marriage work. Thus, the advice gleaned from it does not reside on mere generalities but on concrete data collected from filming and recording conversations, arguments, and body language of couples living together.

  So what does professor Gottman have to say? First off, what are the signs that you’re on the bumpy road heading for a divorce (and Gottman’s hit rate for correctly assessing such an outcome is more than 90%)? The kernel of Gottman’s approach is that it is not the argument per se that leads to a divorce, but the way the couples argue. The don’ts list includes:
- Criticism (there’s a difference between a complaint and a personal criticism),  - Contempt (expressed with sneering, eye-rolling, name-calling, mockery and belligerence),
- Defensiveness (‘’it’s not my fault, it’s yours’’),
- Stonewalling (in 85% of marriages the man ‘’tunes out’’ refusing to continue with the argument),
Professor Gottman refers to these first four as the ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’ (you can imagine how bad they are for a relationship). Next are:
- Flooding (an avalanche of verbal attacks that leads to emotional disengagement)  
- Failure of repair attempts (happy couples have the ability to say ‘Wait, I have to stop here and calm down’, whereas unhappy ones won’t stop a heated argument from escalating) and     
- Harsh startups (‘what begins badly, ends badly’).
  If Amy and Nick had read ‘The seven principles for making marriage work’, or had paid a visit to Gottman’s Institute, life would be easier for them. On the downside, we probably wouldn’t be reading about them.
  All in all, I suggest you read first Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’ and then John Gottman’s seven principles book to find out what went wrong with them and get an interesting insight into relationships from both the narratives of a novelist and a psychologist.  

Τετάρτη 1 Ιανουαρίου 2014

The Swedish Tax Authority, a Prodigy, the Tipping Point and your friends on Facebook

  Number 150 is not just a number. It’s a tipping point for our brain. This tipping point hasn’t gone unnoticed by neither the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket), nor Malcolm Gladwell (author of ‘The Tipping Point’) or Edward Mullen (writer of ‘Prodigy’). This fascinating peculiarity of our brain hasn’t left unaffected not even the biggest online social network, Facebook.
  So what’s it all about?

It’s the year 2117. Society has come out of WWIII and the few remaining survivors have vowed to never do the same mistakes again. Reaping the effects of advanced technology, civilization has reached an unprecedented level of well-being. This is the setting of ‘Prodigy’, a book written by the Canadian-based Edward Mullen, who is not satisfied with the initial serene beginning of the story and throws his heroine, Alexandra into a world she hadn’t imagined exists.  

  As the story unfolds, the reader comes across number 150. In the words of one of the story’s characters, their community has figured out that they’ll be better off by adhering to this rule and dividing up and moving on when the number of their members reaches this specific amount. The result is separate communities with 150 members each, with loose ties between them and a common goal. 
  In his book ‘The Tipping Point’, Malcolm Gladwell, writes about the Hutterites, self-sufficient agricultural colonies of religious groups dispersed mainly in Northern America.

 “Keeping things under 150 just seems to be the best and most efficient way to manage a group of people. When things get larger than that, people become stranger to one another,” told him Bill Gross, one of the leaders of a Hutterite colony outside Spokane.


  This is where our brain reaches its upper limit capacity: 148 (to be precise). It’s only that much of acquaintances our brain can keep track of. The Swedish Tax Agency took this seriously and in 2007, decided to reorganize placing an upper limit of 150 employees per office.     
  Number 148, or Dunbar’s Number, named after the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who proposed this under the Social Brain Hypothesis (a much debated issue among anthropologists), keeps popping up constantly. More than 21 different hunter-gatherer societies across the globe live in villages where the average number of people is 148.4.

In the field of combat during the centuries, fighting units were usually maintained around this number as well. You only have to bring to your mind the invincible Sacred Band of Thebes, 150 pairs of friends, an elite force of the ancient Greek city of Thebes, that was defeated only by the might of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great.
 Even if we leave behind us the battlefields and the past and explore the digital era of online social networks like Facebook, we see that the same is true with the average number of Facebook-friends being about 120.
  In conclusion, you have some options there. You can go read Robert Dunbar’s book “How many friends does one person need?: Dunbar’s number and other evolutionary quirks” which is the source, or you can opt for Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” to read about it in the context of a study of trends and ideas sweeping a society only after a tipping point has been surpassed. Lastly, there’s always the choice of a nice story, like that of ‘Prodigy’ by Edward Mullen, where you’ll find out how number 150 still survives in 2117. 

Chris Dellian is the author of The Analysts, the adventure of an empirical psychologist and a computer enthusiast, that spans across the States, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Iraq and the Netherlands. In addition, Chris Dellian has authored two short stories The Halo Trap and The Summer Experiment.