Posts Tagged ‘arts’

This is a review of The Organized Mind, by Daniel J. Levitin.

The problem with this book is that the author has an extremely limited and mechanistic notion of how our minds work.

You assume that this book will help you to deal with the complexity and volume of information, stimuli, expectations, tasks that can feel overwhelming, but it is actually more like a collection of magazine articles on how to organize information, and not how to “organize” your mind in any way to limit, or set priorities on the amount of “information” you should be organizing in the first place.

The problem is that our minds do not simply process information, like computers. We are social creatures, we are cultural creatures, we have highly sensitive psychological and emotional processing, and this book leaves all that out.

If we are feeling overwhelmed by information, the solution is not more information, on how to categorize it.

The only useful thing in this book are his tips (which are straight from airport how-to-organize books), which boil down to, write things down and organize your home and office so you can find things easily. The one thing I found useful is how switching from one task to another, or making decisions on what to keep and what to throw away, takes a lot of mental effort, so it’s better to keep on one task at at time.

Some of his tips are goofy – like, in the last chapter, the numbering system for interstate highways, such as “One- and two-digit highway numbers less than 100 identify major routes that cross state lines,” that will supposedly help you navigate (p 371).

He also devotes quite a bit of space to reasoning errors, where we make decisions that seem rational but are actually based on a misperception of the facts, all of which I’ve read elsewhere. He also has a lot of household organizing tips that are not going to be worthwhile for most people, and are found in books on organizing your home or office, if that’s what you want.

Because this book was written when it was, the issue of electronic information is huge. There is no way to deal with all the information we are confronted with now. You have to step back and think about how to limit it, without letting others limit it for you – as he does, when he enthuses about Reddit.

His understanding is demonstrated in his description of the rise of civilization, stating that all humans did was “procreate and survive” until 10,000 years ago, and that literature arose from accounting (p 13), because writing did. Literature is much older, from ancient oral traditions that are essential to our humanity. To me, this is the interesting question: before writing, for most of human time, we kept all we needed in our minds. So, why not look to art, to literature, to non-literate cultures? To truly “organize our minds.”

Another mistake is when he states that new knowledge can stave off Alzheimer’s disease (p 19). No, not new information – new ways of thinking, new kinds of activities. Learning more facts in some area you are already familiar with does nothing, you have to learn a whole new thing, like ping pong or music or social dancing.

He does touch on the human element in how we think, but barely, and it is not coherent. We function well when we feel like we matter, that we have some control over our lives, that others think highly of us. So human relationships and leadership that empowers members of the group are more critical than your filing system, but he calls this “communications (and) competent and ethically-based authority,” as if it’s one more system for organizing a company or the Army; even though his examples of success actually involve giving authority and autonomy to those at lower levels.

I compulsively read this entire book, because it was intriguing to me how he talks about “the organized mind” as if it is simply information management. This is not the only author I’ve read with this limited approach to success. It’s been helpful to me to define what it is that’s missing in this approach, to define what it is that really is at play, in people or organizations that function well. I believe those elements are going to be defined through the exposition of more and more subtle and sophisticated cognitive science, coming full circle to what great artists and leaders have understood and communicated since humans became human.

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Live performance of A Fairy Tale

Live performance of A Fairy Tale, November 2015

Here is the script for A Fairy Tale, which I wrote and directed in November, 2015. The longer you’ve lived in Sitka, and the more visioning sessions you have attended, the more it will speak to you. But I imagine there are other arty towns with similar experiences.

And here is a link to a recording, by our own local KCAW Raven Radio.

A Fairy Tale


SAM, a resident of an island town in southeastern Alaska

DR. SMITH, a consultant

SAM’s wife or husband (SAM and DR. SMITH characters could be male or female)

(Airport noise of jets landing and taking off, flight announcement, etc.)

SAM: Dr. Smith? Hello! I’m Sam. Glad you could make it. Did you have a nice flight?

DR. SMITH: Oh, yes! great flight. . . Who are all these people on the plane with me? They seem like a happy bunch.

SAM: Oh, consultants. Those are all consultants. In hospital management, community development, city planning, garbage disposal, you know. But yeah, we have a lot of consultants coming in now.

DR. SMITH: Oh right, related to your – problem.

SAM: Well actually, they come here to learn from us, instead of coming to help. – and (in a confidential voice) none of them are experts in fairy magic.

DR. SMITH: Well you can’t blame them. Very few of us have what it takes to become a Fairy Magic Consultant.

SAM: Of course! Well, I’ll fill you in on our pedi-bus ride into town. (They go outside)

Ok just hop in on the seat, you pedal, right, like that. (bike chain noises)

DR. SMITH: Thanks – I think I have it – (They pedal)

(panting) . . . . What’s that palace, on the mountainside? The one that looks like a Disney castle?

SAM: Oh, that would be our public library. (seagull noises)

DR. SMITH: And my gosh, you have some kind of docks here! And the tall ships!

SAM: Uh huh – we can dock nine cruise ships at a time. Although now, we use them for the tall ships and cedar canoes the kids build. (sound of sea chanteys)

DR. SMITH: Ok now maybe you had better fill me in, on the nature of your problem, and why you’ve called me.

SAM: Right. So, you know all the community visioning, and nonprofit planning, strategic planning, and master plans that nonprofits and communities write, that end up gathering dust?

DR. SMITH: Yes –

SAM: Well – the Visioning Fairy got mad, and made a whole bunch of them – come true. (ominous music) Let’s get off the bus here.

DR. SMITH: So this must be your downtown! (noise of boots and voices) Uh – what is that large group of young people coming toward us, all wearing Xtra Tuff boots?

SAM: Oh shoot – the Interns – we’d better go down this alley – They’re nice and all, but – there’s just so many of them, and they all want to help! We actually have to lock our doors now, or they get in, and alphabetize your books, or clean the litterbox, or – throw away the trans-fat-containing food in your fridge –

DR. SMITH: Ok, so that’s your problem.

SAM: Actually – I guess I leave my door open. It’s actually kind of nice. Some of them do windows.

DR. SMITH: Well ok. . . What an – interesting – lamp post –

SAM: That’s actually an artist. These piles of free cupcakes, and the people talking to themselves, (sound of person talking to him/herself) are also artist installations.

DR. SMITH: (mouth full of cupcake) Hmph good cupcakes . ..

SAM: And the writers! – so many writers – there’s a novel out every month! and books of personal essays every other day. So the bookstore had to expand to take up the whole side of the street. And on the other side, all these cafes (sound of cafe as they enter) because of the writers taking up space. That was why they had to establish the colony. They have a writers’ colony on Mt. Verstovia. They live on tea, hummus and whiskey, all locally produced, of course. Lowers voice: they may be reproducing. (cafe sounds fade as they leave) (sound of banjo playing old timey)

DR. SMITH: That was one fine cupcake. . . Is that coming from that bar?

SAM: Well it’s kind of a bar, but people are mostly getting high on old timey music and rap. (someone is rapping to the banjo music) The one down the street is a little more hard core – they have pool tables and Sacred Harp on Friday nights.

DR. SMITH: Ok now I get it. With all this arts and culture and multiplying writers, your economy must be terrible.

SAM: – Actually, with the tidal-energy-powered kale greenhouses, and of course the sustainable widget factory, oh and the state Legislature, at the other end of the tunnel at Baranof, the economy is great – (sound of kids chatting)

DR. SMITH: So are the schools the problem? I see an awful lot of kids who aren’t in school.

SAM: Well, they are in school. All they have is arts, culture, math and science, and boatbuilding, English, fishing, hunting, computer science, and – well I guess it’s a lot of stuff! (sound of kids talking in Tlingit and Tagalog) And they are all bilingual. Plus Saxon is trending at the moment. (sound of child reciting Beowulf)

oh and they all go to Yale, and major in Music Performance.

DR. SMITH: So, that must be the problem! How do you get a job with that!

SAM: Well – it turns out that’s what’s in demand in high tech. And the kids built us a tram, and a zipline, too, that’s fun. And everybody lives in tiny houses. They’re so cute.

DR. SMITH: So – what’s the problem?

SAM: That’s the problem. There is no problem!


SAM: We’re so hard up for problems, the elementary school has taken on World Peace! And they are close to solving it! Do you know the last time I smelled cigarette smoke? Or had somebody’s dog poop in my yard, Or – made myself sick eating junk food! The stores stopped carrying it because it wasn’t selling. Or, I just get nostalgic for an ill-tempered, ignorant rant, once in a while.

DR. SMITH: Ok, now I think I get it. So when you are dealing with fairies, the first recourse is usually to your state fairies.

SAM: You mean the Marine Highway System? Which now runs on solar, by the way.

DR. SMITH: No, State Fairies. Like in Canada you have the Provincial Fairies. But because of budget cuts, they are in Passive Management now. But – as you may know, with the rise of social media, most of our work in the Fairy field is now in Troll Management.

SAM: Troll Management? You mean fisheries?

DR. SMITH: Very funny. So I think I may be able to call – Donald Trump. But I think we can get you back so you’re comfortable again – get people to stop talking to each other, to stop listening, to forget about all this healthy stuff, arts, culture. Back to stink! Back to greed! To polarized discourse!

SAM: Fantastic! But just for a while, right?

(sound of phone being dialed)

DR. SMITH: Seriously? I’ve already got him on the phone: Donald? Hey, yeah! Smith here! I’ve got a great deal for you! – You’re on your way?

SAM: No – no – wait! Wait! Stop!!! (fades out)

(sound effect – a pop, or harp arpeggio, something like that)

SAM: (wakes up) What a crazy dream!

WIFE/HUSBAND: Oh good honey you’re awake. There’s just time to have a little kale before we go to the community composting and arts festival planning meeting!

SAM: Yeeeeeees!!

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