Find common ground. It's the natural thing to do!

I enjoyed a recent episode of the "This American Life" podcast, about who is in the tribe and who isn't Here's a bit of the transcript, where the author of The World Until Yesterday describes how meeting new people is a new phenomenon created by modern societies. Jared Diamond: "The idea that you could just wander around and meet someone is utterly impossible in New Guinea. If you ran across a strange person on your land, that could only mean that they were there for some bad reason. They were there to scout out your land for a raid, or to steal a woman, or to steal a pig.

And so if you ran into a strange person in the forest and you couldn't run away from him, you came around a corner and there he was, then the two of you would sit down. And you'd have a long conversation in which each of you names all your relatives, trying to find some relative in common which gives you a reason not to kill each other. And if after two hours you haven't found any relative in common, then one of you starts running or you try to kill the other person."

So next time you meet someone, realize it's in your genes to find common ground with them. Sit down and find out what you have in common before you go any further. If that fails, I suggest that you take off running before they try to kill you!

Dead bodies attacking the living

Authorities are investigating an apparent hacking of the Emergency Broadcast System. Those watching Public TV 13 Monday afternoon or the Bachelor on ABC Monday night may have seen a message come across the screen saying "Local authorities in your area have reported the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living," the message warned. "Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous."

Murphy Was Wrong

You know Murphy's Law and may enjoy lists of its many corollaries. Basically it's the idea that "If anything can go wrong it will", and even more ominously, "If more than one thing can go wrong it will be the worst one", etc. I haven't quite worked my response out, but I think I'm far enough along that there may be something to share. Too bad I didn't put two and two together before Oprah went off the air. I slip into seeing traces of the truth of Murphy's Law in situations like being in a hurry and getting stuck at red lights. "It's always that way. When you're in a hurry you get red lights, when you have plenty of time you get green." It hit me a couple of weeks ago that Murphy's Law may be connected more to the effects of human perception and memory than it is to thermodynamics ("the universe is headed towards disorganization"). You just notice things going wrong more, and remember them better. You don't remember all the times you were in a hurry and got lucky with green lights, or when you were not in a hurry and hit red lights. Murphy's Law is a reflection of the way the human brain processes experience.

Maybe if we had a name for the opposite effect it would be easier to grab ahold of and see pleasant patterns. It's worth a try. How about "Willey's Law"? "If anything can go right it will, and if more than one thing can go right the best one will." Then when you're in a hurry and you hit a green light it won't just slip by unnoticed, you'll say "There it goes again—Willey's Lawwhen I really needed it something good happened."

Let yourself be lucky. It's not something magical, like a shimmering glow you get from being tapped by a fairy's wand. If you don't believe it, check out Richard Wiseman's article ("The Luck Factor") on a ten-year scientific study into the nature of luck.

Anyway, back to my debunking of Murphy's Law. If everything that could go wrong, and the worst of all possible ones being most likely, you would never get anything accomplished. You definitely wouldn't make it to work, what with the accidents that could have happened and all the mechanical problems your vehicle could have developed.

While this may perk you up a little and give you a bit more bounce in your step, I think the most productive application of this awareness could be in your relationship with your partner. We often develop resentments about the way people who are close to us are, seeing patterns and believing that we have figured them out. "You are always doing X."  It is another result of the sort of perception we have that makes us imagine Murphy's Law in effect. You just don't notice all the times that they are doing YZ, or J. If you think that someone is a certain way, try remaining especially attentive to times  they are not that way, and be willing to revise your estimation of them. Resentments are often hardened by believing in patterns that may not be there.

How to watch TV, without increasing your risk of developing diabetes

Junk food TVPeople who log more hours in front of the television are at greater risk of dying, or developing diabetes and heart disease, a new study suggests. "The message is simple," says study author Dr. Frank Hu. "Cutting back on TV watching is an important way to reduce sedentary behaviors and decrease risk of diabetes and heart disease."

Here are my two suggestions to address this problem:

1) The combination of TV's image and sound creates a hypnotic brew that few can resist. My brother turned me on to this—turn the sound down (and perhaps play music of your choice) and just watch the picture. Your brain will have a chance of remaining alert, and you'll avoid being sucked in, and if you're paying attention you'll be delighted by occasional synchronicities between what's on the screen and what the music's doing. You don't have to sit there and stare, it will just become part of the ambience, in the way most people have music on without sitting down and really listening.

2) Watch TV standing up, preferably while doing some sort of movement or stretching instead of eating unhealthy foods. Not only will you be less sedentary, but you'll get tired and decide, no doubt before you've hit the two hour danger mark, to go and do something else.

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Dancing Birds

Scientists have believed that only humans can synchronize their movements with the beats in music, and follow the tempo when it slows down and speeds up. After seeing a YouTube video of Snowball, a cockatoo, strutting his stuff to his favorite Backstreet Boys song, psychologist Aniruddh Patel visited the bird and determined that he able to follow the beat, and reported his findings in Current Biology (video). Others have followed up reviewing 5000 YouTube videos of other species and found that 17% of the animals can follow the beat. Evidently those that imitate sounds are better able to dance. The ability to dance in time to music is called "entrainment".