Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jonah Lehrer’s Guide to Life

I recently discovered author Jonah Lehrer by reading his book Proust Was a Neuroscientist. Based on that book I recently bought his latest, How We Decide.

How We Decide looks at human decision-making, based on insights from current neuroscience research.

As a mediator and negotiator, I have long been interested about our decision-making process. Lehrer is a brilliant science writer looking at interesting scientific research, writing about it in an understandable way and connecting it to real life.

He recently spoke at Stonehill College about college education; something in which I have an interest as the parent of two college graduates and one college sophomore.

Lehrer’s perspective can be found on Metacognitive Guide to College from the Stonehill college web site:

"College isn't about learning new facts or filling your head with new thoughts. It's about learning how to think in the first place," said Jonah Lehrer to Stonehill students…

Lehrer told the students they will discover new ideas throughout their college experience. "These ideas will become the most important things anyone has ever told you. This is what makes college exciting." What's the dirty secret about these ideas though?" You will forget nearly all of them," said Lehrer, who believes the real value of a college education is learning how to think.

Made up of five strategies and tips for undergraduate students, his guide aims to make students successful thinkers.

#1 Be an Outsider

"Every semester take at least one class you know very little about...Force yourself to experiment with new ways of looking at the world."

#2 Learn to Relax

"I'm talking about a very specific kind of relaxation, which is useful when you're stuck on a really hard problem."

#3 Don't Push the Fat Man Off The Bridge

Using the popular hypothetical scenario first developed by Philippa Foot, the philosopher (Her obituary has a good explanation of this famous mind experiment). Lehrer said people should listen to their moral feelings.

#4 Make Friends with Lots of Different People

"This might seem pretty easy to most of you but it turns out to be really hard," said Lehrer. He described the self-similarity principle as a natural tendency to associate with people who are like themselves and avoid people who are not them.

#5 Don't Eat the Marshmallow

In the 1970s, Stanford psychology professor Walter Mischel conducted experiments with four-year-olds at a nursery school to explore delayed gratification. The children were told they could have two marshmallows if they could wait 15 minutes to eat them. If not, they would only be given the one marshmallow placed in front of them. Mischel's results were that only 20% of the children, unsurprisingly, waited the full 15 minutes. In examining video of the children as they waited, Mischel realized that the children who could wait were able to distract themselves.

Interesting stuff and useful advice to everyone, not just college students.

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