Tag: Metacognition

Where You Are is What You Are

World\’s largest drawing used GPS

I stumbled across a provocative label on Mark Bernstein’s site, coupling the phrase “Where you are is WHAT you are” with the caption “Weber’s Qualitatvie Analysis Tools.” As best I can tell, Weber refers to sociologist Max Weber and “Where you are is WHAT you are” is a quote from Constantin Stanislavski related to his affective memory system of acting. The notion is that if you want to act the part of a jealous prince you use your imagination to return to a set of circumstances where you felt jealousy. The feelings were not the key, it is your response to the circumstances that is the key.

Environmental psychologists call this “place identity.” A person’s memories and sense of self are attached to particular places. This is one reason why going “home for the holidays” is filled with emotion for so many people.

If we are the sum of our memories, and if our memories are rooted in a particular place then, yes, where we are is who we are. And if we want to better know ourselves, then one way to start would be with understanding our own particular place.

Originally posted April 2, 2010

Assignments from the Subconscious: Project Dreamboat

Gestalt dreamwork presumes that dreams are a message from the subconscious and that every element in the dream is a projection is an aspect of the person’s self. The dreamwork involves identifying these various elements and opening channels of communication between them. The course of therapy simply involves the facilitation of the conversation. The conversation itself serves to reintegrate disowned parts of one’s psyche.

But is conversation enough? Some researchers are working on the idea that dreams are a built-in simulation game, teaching us ways to avoid danger. If that’s true, or even partly true, then dreams contain actionable information about things that we need to be working on in real life.

A couple of weeks ago I had a dream about a Chris Craft runabout, similar to the one pictured above. The boat was moored under the Ventura pier and it had quite a bit of rot and damage. For a moment I contemplated getting ahold of this boat and restoring it. But as I thought about it, it seemed like the project would be too expensive…it could easily end up costing more than a boat in restored condition was worth. Essentially the boat was beyond repair. In Gestalt-speak this suggests that there’s a part of me that feels rotten and beyond repair.

For some reason I feel compelled to go a little further with this discovery than acknowledging this hithertofore unknown part of myself. What if I actually did the work of restoring my subconscious “dream boat?” Or to put it differently, what if I was to take specific actions on the dilemmas and choices that my subconscious coughs up?

Maybe I’ll travel a little way down this road and see what turns up.

[Photo from Antique and Classic Boat Society, classifieds]

Tinderbox: Mapping the Interior

Chart your entire mind

In his book The Size of Thoughts, Nicholson Baker talks about some of the unexpected advantages of library card catalogs over databases: fingerprints for instance. Dark smudges of body oil can tell you at a glance which topics in the catalog are the most popular, something that would take a complex structured query to achieve in today’s online systems. If you could get at the data.

Baker proposed a digital equivalent of fingerprints. “The accumulation of random ‘grime pixels’ in the top margin – though never so dark that they would interfere with legibility, of course, and every tenth retrieval might remove one grime dot rather than add one, since handling wears away previous deposits too.”

When I discovered that Tinderbox notes yellow with age, I decided then and there that this was the personal information manager I had been seeking for many years. In particular I wanted an application that would help me see who I should be talking to as much as what I should be doing next. I demo’d every Contact Manager app I could get my hands on and was quickly reaching the point of settling for an old-fashioned paper Rolodex file.

Virtually all Contact Managers follow an address-book, calendar, task list metaphor. I liked Market Circle’s Daylite and felt that it almost met my needs, but still found myself working against the structure built into the app. Tinderbox, on the other hand, has virtually no structure to start off with. You begin by creating notes and defining relationships.

At the moment I have a hodge-podge of ideas, structured personal narratives and future scenarios. But every day it is shaping up into a map that reflects my own unique way of thinking.

I’ll keep you posted as I go.

For “Mind Like Water” Use a GPS

Garmin Nuvi Frees the Mind

Last week’s trip to Seattle and Portland was the most enjoyable time I’ve ever spent driving in two unfamiliar cities. Nevermind the list of crazy place names: Tukwila, Puyallup, Newaukum, Tigard, Tualatin to name just a few. I was at peace. I had achieved mind like water.

Apparently I use a lot more brainpower than I ever realized by trying to reconcile a mental picture of the highway map with the geography that I see as I drive. Keeping all those Tukwila’s and Tualatin’s straight, along with North, South, East and West is a real pain in the brain.

The Garmin nüvi GPS that I picked up on Amazon – at a heck of a good price by the way, keeps all that information straight and feeds to the driver on a need-to-know basis. One of the most useful features is the little arrow in the upper left corner showing the direction of the upcoming turn, along with a mileage countdown ticker. This way I could plan ahead which lane to be in.

Driving with a GPS isn’t entirely new to me. I’ve got a Garmin StreetPilot on my motorcycle. But this is the first time I fully appreciated how much freedom and peace of mind a person gets by not trying to mentally juggle an agenda.

Keeping need-to-know information outside of your brain is called metamemory. It’s what productivity experts like Mark Forster and David Allen specialize in. The idea is that everything you need to think about goes into a trusted system and the system feeds you the information exactly when you need it.

A GPS, with an up-to-date city map, is a trusted system and on this trip it worked great. It makes me wonder how much brain-strain a person could eliminate in a familiar setting. Programming shopping stops into your GPS might just give you peace of mind doing the weekend errands.