You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2018.

Why Do Writers Write? Where Do Their Ideas Come From?
By Shlomo Maital
 
Amos Oz
   What’s in an Apple?  Six Conversations about Writing and about Love, about Guilt and Other Pleasures.  Amos Oz with Shira Hadad   (Keter – Hebrew, May 2018).

 I write and teach about  creativity.  The key question, where do ideas come from?, has always fascinated me.  This book (so far, only in Hebrew),  answers that question for one especially talented writer, Israel’s greatest novelist Amos Oz.  His editor Shira Hadad, who knows his books better than Amos himself, asked him hard questions and recorded the answers. 
   Amos Oz  is 79.  His work has been published in 45 languages in 47 countries.   He was short listed for the Mann Booker Prize and is purported to be a candidate for a Nobel Prize.   His latest work is Judas (2014).  His book A Tale of Love and Darkness was made into a movie.
Here are a few quotes, that I have translated…:
  Oz recounts that he was an only child, and his parents would bring him to a Jerusalem coffee shop, swearing him to silence, promising him that if he did not bother their conversation with friends, he would get a rare treat, ice cream.  So Oz recounts, he became a ‘spy’,  listening to conversations, and weaving stories based on them.   “My first motivation was to think, what would I feel, if I were they, If I were he, If I were she…  I was an only child, did not have friends…I simply began to ‘spy’ on the people sitting at nearby tables….”
    “[famous Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua] –  I have an issue with him.  He places the moral question, crime and punishment, at the center of his works.  I think about the moral issue in a different way —  I put myself in others’ shoes, for a few hours, or inside their skin… I believe that a curious person is even a better [marriage] partner than  a non-curious one…and even a better driver! (you are always thinking what the other guy will do!).   ..There is also ‘dark curiosity’.  About those who injure others, to see them suffer….”
“Usually I write out of anger.  I get angry about something. And curiosity is not only a necessary condition for intellectual endeavors, it also has moral virtue.”
    Oz recounts that he rises at 4 a.m.,  and even before coffee,  goes out into the dark streets of Jerusalem for a walk.  He returns at 4:45, has coffee, and then begins to write, for 3-4 hours.  Every single day.  Not a miss..  Sometimes he sees lights on in windows, and wonders about those inside…  He writes endless drafts, sometimes 10 or even 15 of them, by hand  …discards the bad ones, picks the best…and tears the rest into tiny pieces and flushes them down the toilet, lest someone discover them. (Kafka, he observes, ordered his executor and friend Max Brod to burn ALL his manuscripts. Brod, luckily, refused.  Oz says, if you want to destroy your work, do it yourself. If you ask someone else to do it, they won’t…). 
  Oz says that he writes about the past.. this is the natural time to write about, not the present, or the future.  “Story” he says, is part of the word “history”.  He does not like to read his own books.. because he always knows he could have done better. 
   One of his earliest books was My Michael (1968).  So Oz has been writing productively for over 50 years, and is still writing, at age 79. 

   How does he know if his work of fiction is ready to publish?   If, he says, his characters argue with him, dispute him, take on their own lives.  If I tell them what to do too easily, he says, it doesn’t work.  I refuse to write a certain scene. My character says, write it!  I say, No!  My character says, don’t tell me what to do!   This is when I know the work is going well, he recounts. 
     Oz is politically left.  So are David Grossman, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman, the other great Israeli writers.
      Why, I wonder, are great authors almost always liberal and left politically?  I guess the answer is simple.  Great writers have incredibly sensitive empathy for other people and for their suffering.  So they feel the suffering of their ‘foes’ and want to reduce or eliminate it. 

     Those on the right seem rather inured to this suffering.  Too bad.  

 

 

 

 

Who Are You?

By Shlomo Maital

William Revelle, Northwestern University

For years, psychologist William Revelle battled the idea that you can pigeon-hole people into “personality types” or traits. With colleagues, he did a very large study, believing he would find evidence contradicting the five-personality-trait idea. To his surprise, he found the opposite.  

   Martin Gerlach, Beatrice Farb, William Revelle & Luís A. Nunes Amaral   “A robust data-driven approach identifies four personality types across four large data sets”.   Nature –   Human Behaviour (2018)

   Here is a part of the abstract of this article,  published in the leading scientific journal Nature:

   Here we develop an alternative approach to the identification of personality types, which we apply to four large data sets comprising more than 1.5 million participants. We find robust evidence for at least four distinct personality types, extending and refining previously suggested typologies. We show that these types appear as a small subset of a much more numerous set of spurious solutions in typical clustering approaches, highlighting principal limitations in the blind application of unsupervised machine learning methods to the analysis of big data.  

And – here are the four types.

 Average

Average people are high in neuroticism and extraversion, while low in openness. This is the most common personality type.

Reserved

The Reserved type is emotionally stable but not open or neurotic. They are not particularly extraverted but are somewhat agreeable and conscientious.

 Role models

Role models score low in neuroticism and high in all the other traits. They are good leaders, dependable and open to new ideas.

Self-centered

Self-Centered people score very high in extraversion and below average in openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

   Hand on your heart – which are you?   Or do you think this is just spurious research?

 

Yuval Noah Harari: 21 lessons for the 21st C

By Shlomo Maital

Yuval Noah Harari

   Historian Yuval Noah Harari has written two smash hit books: Sapiens (about the past – a huge bestseller, a vest pocket overview of human history and progress) and Homo Deus (about mankind’s future ). Now comes his third – about the present.

The book was reviewed by none other than Bill Gates, in The New York Times (Sept. 1-2).

   The structure of the book is very well organized: Part I. The Technological Challenge (disillusionment, work, liberty, equality), Part II. The Political Challenge (community, civilization, nationalism, religion, immigration), Part III. Despair and Hope. (Terrorism, war, humility, God, secularism)   Part IV   Truth. (ignorance, justice, post-truth, science fiction) and Part V. Resilience (education, meaning meditation).

   Harari writes in his introduction: What are today’s greatest challenges and most important changes? What should we pay attention to? What should we teach our kids?

     As Bill Gates notes, Harari does not really offer ‘lessons’, prescriptions or solutions in depth, but instead, helps formulate the key questions – far more valuable, I believe. And he is basically optimistic. True, globalization (the amazing system of cooperation among nations, in which goods, services, ideas, technology, money and people flow freely among countries, driven by opportunity) is under assault. But it is irreversible and Gates notes, “though we took two steps backward in the past two years [since Trump’s election in 2016] before that we took a thousand steps forward.”

     So why does it seem that the world is in decline? Because, Gates rightly observes, “we are much less willing to tolerate misfortune and misery”. And, he might have added, because the enormous resonating sound board of the media obsessively harps on the bad news, because it seems that is what brings them eyes and ears and ratings (and ad money).

   One prediction of Harari that I think is correct:  In the past, land was the source of wealth, then, machinery, then, technology and creativity – and today? It is, he says, data. It is as if social media mine our data (gold) for free, collect it (for free), then sell it directly and indirectly for a high price.

   Harari thinks social media create political polarization, because they help people build cocoons, interacting only with ‘friends’ who share their views and consume only information they like and agree with, even if false.

   Gates, still a hard worker, wants Harari to address THE fundamental question – when machine learning, artificial intelligence and other technologies give us longer, happier, wealthier lives, with little or no human labor – where will we find meaning in our lives? Why get up in the morning?  

     Perhaps that world is hard for us to imagine today. Perhaps we will have to deal with it in real time – if and when it happens.           

Walter Mischel: Marshmallow Man

By Shlomo Maital

Walter Mischel…

..and the marshmallow

 

On Sept. 12, psychologist Walter Mischel passed away, in New York City. He was 88.

Mischel became famous for what was known as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. He designed a series of studies, on “ability (or willingness) to defer gratification”.   In them, a child was offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately (a marshmallow) or two small rewards (two marshmallows) if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned.  

   Mischel and colleagues, in follow-up studies, found that children who were able to wait longer for the delayed rewards tended to have better life outcomes – better SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI) and other life measures. The logic here is simple. Achieving good results later in life demands investing effort, sacrifice and pleasure now, today. Those good at this will excel.  It is a skill imparted, in part, by parents, and improves with practice.

     Mischel fled with his family from Austria, with the rise of the Nazis, at age 6. He taught at Stanford for years, and later at Columbia.   He joined the legions of scholars who came to America as immigrants and made huge contributions to America’s scientific research and academic excellence.

       Mischel’s research is hugely relevant for today’s society. Western nations have as a whole become unable and unwilling to defer gratification. Gas lines explode in Massachusetts; bridges collapse in Genoa, Italy. Western countries seem unable to save and invest in the future, preferring present gratification.   A majority of Americans could not scrape together $400 in cash, in an emergency. The Great Divide between have-nots and millionaire/billionaires is spurring a rise of anti-democratic extreme right-wing political parties and leaders. It is ironic that the forces that led Mischel to America, have in part followed him there.

        

Free Range Parenting: The Opposite of Helicopter Parenting
By Shlomo Maital   


   
  So, I guess I am more or less a dinosaur.  I was born in November 1942, grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan, in a quiet neighborhood, and I spent hours and hours outside, playing with friends and looking at bugs and frogs in the creek that ran through the neighborhood, a couple of hundred yards from my home.  I came home only toward dark, and in the long summer days   twilight lasted for hours.   
   My mother and father were concerned parents, and made me wear long scratchy wool underwear in the winter.  But guess what.  They let me play outside, unsupervised.  And that’s what all the kids did.   And it made childhood delightful.
    Today, this behavior is regarded as an aberration, and in some cases, illegal. On WBUR public radio, a mother reported being accosted by a police officer, for leaving her small boy in the car for a few moments while buying something in a store.  
    The approved parenting model is in many cases that of a helicopter parent, who hovers over children and protects them from any possible risk, injury, scrape or problem.    Children have arranged structured play-dates and activity circles.  
    A decade ago,  Lenore Skenazy wrote a  book,  Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry.   An organization by that name today helps parents fight back against helicopter parenting, and make their children sturdy and independent.   One simple approach:  Give kids assignments or projects, and turn them loose to tackle them, after teaching them safety rules for using tools.  
    The world today is dangerous – probably more dangerous than in prehistoric times when I was a kid.  It is natural to react to it by trying much harder to protect our children. But in doing so, we are taking away a vital crucial life skill – independence, self-confidence, self-assurance. 
    There must be a way to keep kids safe, without robbing them of this skill.  And there must be a way of avoiding having police arrest parents who do this.   

 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
September 2018
M T W T F S S
« Aug   Oct »
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Pages

Archives