Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

23 OCTOBER, 2012

Susan Cain on the Power of Introverts, Live-Illustrated by Molly Crabapple

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A necessary antidote to our culture’s extreme bias for extraversion.

In this short animated excerpt from Susan Cain’s RSA talk, based on her fantastic book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (public library) and illustrated by the darkly delightful Molly Crabapple, Cain explores how modern society evolved to glorify the qualities associated with extraversion. And yet, rather than being a social handicap, introversion isn’t just enormously widespread but also socially advantageous and necessary. She gives the example of Apple, which we’ve come to associate with the very vocal Steve Jobs — but Steve Wozniak, a sworn champion of the creative value of working alone, was just as indispensable in building the iconic company. The two complemented one another, just like extroverts and introverts would in an ideal world.

For a richer taste of Quiet, which was one of 7 great books by this year’s TED speakers, see Cain’s recent TED talk on the power of introverts:

Our most important institutions, our schools and our workplaces, they are designed mostly for extroverts and for extroverts’ need for lots of stimulation. And also we have this belief system right now that I call the new groupthink, which holds that all creativity and all productivity comes from a very oddly gregarious place.

[…]

There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.

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22 OCTOBER, 2012

Dance Is Like Thought: Helen Keller Visits Martha Graham’s Studio

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“Oh, how wonderful! How like the mind it is!” A stirring encounter at the pinnacle of the human spirit.

From Craig Brown’s Hello Goodbye Hello: A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings (public library), which gave us that wonderful daisy chain of encounters between Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, and Helen Keller, comes another moving meeting of great spirits, this time between Helen Keller, iconic choreographer Martha Graham, and legendary dancer Merce Cunningham (whom you might recall as the love of John Cage’s life).

At seventy-two, already admired far and wide for her extraordinary story of unhinging disability from destiny, Keller meets the Grand Dame of modern dance. Brown writes:

Graham is immediately taken by what she calls Helen’s ‘gracious embrace of life’, and is impressed by what appears to be her photographic memory. They become friends. Before long, Helen starts paying regular visits to the dance studio. She seems to focus on the dancers’ feet, and can somehow tell the direction in which they are moving. Martha Graham is intrigued. ‘She could not see the dance but was able to allow its vibrations to leave the floor and enter her body.’

On one of her visits, Helen says, ‘Martha, what is jumping? I don’t understand.’

Graham is touched by this simple question. She asks a member of her company, Merce Cunningham, to stand at the barre. She approaches him from behind, says, ‘Merce, be very careful, I’m putting Helen’s hands on your body,’ and places Helen Keller’s hands on his waist.

Cunningham cannot see Keller, but feels her two hands around his waist, ‘like bird wings, so soft’. Everyone in the studio stands quite still, focusing on what is happening. Cunningham jumps in the air while Keller’s hands rise up with his body. ‘Her hands rose and fell as Merce did,’ recalls Martha Graham, in extreme old age.

‘Her expression changed from curiosity to one of joy. You could see the enthusiasm rise in her face as she threw her arms in the air.’

Cunningham continues to perform small leaps, with very straight legs. He suddenly feels Keller’s fingers, still touching his waist, begin to move slightly, ‘as though fluttering’. For the first time in her life, she is experiencing dance. ‘Oh, how wonderful! How like thought! How like the mind it is!’ she exclaims when he stops.

Helen Keller visits Martha Graham's studio. (1954)

Image: Perkins School for the Blind Archive

Helen waits while Martha Graham positions her hands. A male and female dancer look on. (1954)

Image: Perkins School for the Blind Archive

Helen Keller surrounded by a group of young dancers at Martha Graham's studio, including Graham herself. (1954)

Image: Perkins School for the Blind Archive

In this short excerpt from the 1954 documentary The Unconquered: Helen Keller in Her Story, Keller pays a visit to Graham’s dance studio — to watch this is to witness a true triumph of the human spirit:

The rest of Hello Goodbye Hello, a kind of real-life Circles of Influence culled from diaries, personal correspondence, and various other historical ephemera, strings together similar vignettes of little-known true encounters between cultural icons — from Freud to Tchaikovsky to Hitchcock to Hitchens — spanning science, literature, art, music, film, politics, and more.

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22 OCTOBER, 2012

David DeSteno on the Psychology of Compassion and Resilience

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How to use the intricate balance of altruism and self-interest to our collective advantage.

Last week, I journeyed to this year’s PopTech conference, where one of the most compelling talks came from psychologist David DeSteno, director of Northeastern University’s Social Emotions Lab and author of the fascinating Out of Character: Surprising Truths About the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us, one of last year’s 11 finest psychology books. DeSteno examines the science of compassion and resilience, and explores emerging ideas for leveraging the mechanisms of the mind that enable them:

The distress we see someone experiencing — the compassion we feel for them — isn’t determined by the objective facts on the ground; it’s determined by who’s looking. … It’s not the severity or the objective facts of a disaster that motivate us to feel compassion and to help — it’s whether or not we see ourselves in the victims.

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