Fate and Fortune?

This week has thrown up a number of opportunities for me to contemplate fate and fortune.

In my synchronous life I have attended a selection event for a national team, engaged in discussions about organisational change, worked with colleagues to explore learning opportunities in open spaces and have contributed to an open tender to write a wiki history of paralympic sport in Australia.

My asynchronous life has prompted me to reflect on how I get involved in such events.

Last Saturday (19 February) Radio National broadcast a Radiolab program, Fate and Fortune, about life trajectories.  The program explored the genetic links to destiny:

If destiny isn’t written in the stars, could it be written in our genes? Kids struggle to resist marshmallows, and their ability to holdout at age 4 turns out to predict how successful they’re likely to be the rest of their lives. And an unexpected find in a convent archive uncovers early warning signs for dementia in the writings of 18-year-olds.

The hour-long program includes:

  • Paul Auster talking about rhyming events.
  • Walter Mischel’s marshmallow experiment.
  • Malcolm Gladwell’s discussion of talent.
  • Ian Lancashire, Kelvin Lim and Serguei Pakhomov sharing their work on textual analysis.

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the ideas in Radiolab format.  Each of these topics is a journey of discovery.

Whilst pondering some of these ideas I received a link a few days later to Patricia Kuhl’s TEDxRainer talk on the linguistic genius of babies.

The link from Stephen Downes that took me to the talk directed me to a post about Gary Small’s work too.

Patricia and Gary have a great deal to share about plasticity, fate and destiny. As I was contemplating their work I recalled reports of a study I had seen late last year. The study by Geraint Rees and Ryota Kanai discussed political affiliation.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, Professor Rees and his colleague Dr Ryota Kanai at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL (University College London) analysed the brain structures of ninety young adults who had reported their political attitudes on a scale from ‘very conservative’ to ‘very liberal’. They found a strong correlation between an individual’s view and the structure of the brain, particularly two regions.

People with liberal views tended to have increased grey matter in the anterior cingulated cortex, a region of the brain linked to decision-making, in particular when conflicting information is being presented. Previous research showed that electrical potentials recorded from this region during a task that involves responding to conflicting information were bigger in people who were more liberal or left wing than people who were more conservative.

Conservatives, meanwhile, found increased grey matter in the amygdala, an area of the brain associated with processing emotion. This difference is consistent with studies which show that people who consider themselves to be conservative respond to threatening situations with more aggression than do liberals and are more sensitive to threatening facial expressions.

I enjoyed reading a critique of the left wing, right wing brain in this post. I liked in particular the suggestion that:

The brain is a powerful organ designed to help you deal with reality in all its complexity. For a lot of people, politics doesn’t take place there, it happens in fairytale kingdoms populated by evil monsters, foolish jesters, and brave knights.

A link to Ravi Iyer et al (2010) in the post has left me with some more reading to do with regard to psychological predispositions in the organisation of political attitudes.

All in all it has been a great time to contemplate plasticity, rigidity, free will, determinism, genetic endowment and cultural empowerment! Next stop … following up on Kent Anderson’s post about Margaret Atwood and cheese sandwiches. Kent quotes Margaret to end his post:

The book is not dead. Reading is not dead. The human interest in stories is not dead. But we are in the midst of a sea change in transmission tools, the likes of which we have not seen since the Gutenberg print revolution. As with that historical moment, there was a lot of turmoil, and nobody could foresee all the consequences.

Photo Credits

Where do we go from here?

I came when the sun o’er that beach was declining

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