Tag play

On Emotions, Cognition, and Comedy: An Introduction

Hello everyone! My name is Melissa Cesarano, and I am a new member of the rethinkED team for the 2015-2016 school year. To introduce myself, I’d like to begin by stating that I’m quite an eccentric human with eclectic tastes and talents. I’m a yogi, actress, comedian/improviser, poet, and cognitive scientist! I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania (Quakersssss!!!) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Cognitive Studies and Philosophy of Mind, and a minor in Poetics. Currently, I’m a PhD student at Columbia University in Cognitive Studies in Education. I also work at a biotech company, Evoke Neuroscience, where I serve as the company’s science writer, lecturer, and research associate. At Evoke, I’m also training to receive a certification in biofeedback and neurofeedback, which will help me acquire a more holistic approach to emotional and psychological wellness, in addition to my more academic brain expertise. Additionally, I’m attending comedy school at The Peoples Improv Theater and The Upright Citizens Brigade. I’ve co-founded my own NYC sketch comedy group, Laundry Day Comedy, and believe strongly that humor, play, and creativity are essential to our epistemic growth and self-realization as life long students; as Ludwig Wittgenstein so elegantly stated, “If people never did silly things nothing intelligent would ever get done.”

My research as a Doctoral Candidate focuses on emotions. In undergrad, I felt that the cognitive realm was academically interesting, yet lacked the poetry, color, and humanity that I yearned for as an artist and creative. Admittedly, there seemed to be a lack of understanding as to where/how to fit emotions into a cognitive framework. Therefore, about two years into graduate school education, I resolved to undertake the task of understanding emotions from a cognitive perspective.

Emotions are difficult to comprehend intellectually even though they’re an integral part of our everyday lives. Nevertheless, they certainly color our interactions with others, motivate our behaviors, elucidate our passions, and are essential to our experience as humans. To clarify, they are a phenomenological manifestation of the things that matter to us. For a brief introduction to emotions (What Emotions Are (and Aren’t)) I recommend reading this riveting article in The New York Times by Lisa Feldman Barrett, the head honcho in Emotion Research (I like to call her ‘The Big LFB’):

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/02/opinion/sunday/what-emotions-are-and-arent.html?_r=0

Specifically, the research that I’ve been conducting at Columbia, along with my research partner Ilya, relates to teaching people abstract models of the Human Emotion System (HES). Creating accurate mental models of our own emotional functioning and grounding these principles in tangible real-life emotional situations, seems to increase self-regulation through increased self-awareness of emotional functioning in a variety of different experiential contexts. The topic of my dissertation, however, deals with the ‘naïve’ mental models that people acquire intuitively through everyday life experience prior to explicit learning of the HES. Arriving at a deeper understanding of people’s HES intuitions and misconceptions (and the cognitive processes that underlie them) through careful epistemological inquiry, should thus allow for a more effective teaching of the HES model and other social-emotional learning (SEL) concepts.

Basically, I think it’s really insane that students are taught things like ‘the laws of physics’ in school, but are never taught the ‘laws of emotions’, the causal relations and principles of our own emotional functioning. Instead, we are left with the difficult and daunting task of pretty blindly dealing with these powerful and mysterious forces. Interestingly, emotionality is delegated to ‘higher learning’, a Psych 101 lecture in the hallowed spaces of America’s college halls.

Finally, I would like to join Ali in saying that it is an absolute privilege to be a part of such an inspiring community here at Riverdale. We hope to enlighten you and to contribute to the ever-evolving educational landscape at this prestigious school. Keep a lookout for upcoming posts from the rethinkED team!

With gratitude and an abundance of smiles,

Mel

“I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open” – Our Interview With RAE, Artist …*

"I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open" - Our Interview With RAE, Artist ...*| rethinked.org

Art & Photograph by RAE

 

Chances are you’ve likely come across prolific Brooklyn based artist RAE‘s work before. If you’ve spent any time in NYC, it is almost a certainty that you’ve seen some of his stickers, installations or murals. RAE’s art is vibrant, colorful, dynamic and enigmatic and never fails to make me stop and smile when I chance upon it. I have often wondered about the person behind the art and reached out to RAE to ask him my nine questions about his heart, his fears and his notion of the good life. I am delighted that he agreed to participate in our interview series. His responses, as you’ll see below, are full of the same poetic whimsy, depth and energy as his artwork. You can connect with RAE on Twitter @RAE_BK or follow him on Instagram @rae_bk.

WHAT WAS THE LAST EXPERIMENT YOU RAN?

I have a cat that speaks to me. She told me she doesn’t want to lead such a nocturnal, lazy and mundane existence. So I made a hole in the bottom of my fence so she can go out and explore the neighborhood. I may take her to see Europe one of these days. In the beginning she was just going out for short trips but now she’s gone for days. I am about to outfit her with a small camera to see where she winds up and what she does in a day. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU FEAR AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR FEAR?

I fear that more and more people will make decisions on social and/or political issues based on what their group or party affiliation supports rather than look at issues on a case by case basis.

"I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open" - Our Interview With RAE, Artist ...*| rethinked.org

Talk Talk Mural & Photograph by RAE

WHAT BREAKS AND DELIGHTS YOUR HEART? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN AND SURRENDER TO?

I was in Ethiopia in 2014 and noticed there was pretty much no public spaces for kids to play. In Addis, the capital city, I finally spotted a playground but only one kid was inside playing while others watched from behind a small fence. The fence was one they could have easily climbed over and joined in but they chose not to. Instead they stared longingly at the one kid inside who was laughing and enjoying the zip-line ride and swings all to herself. Next to the entrance of the park was a security guard who told me that the playground belonged to the large hotel behind it and they only allowed guests staying there to use it. It was bitter sweet to see one child enjoying themselves so much while the others couldn’t even get a sniff of what it felt like to soar through the air just for the fun of it.

"I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open" - Our Interview With RAE, Artist ...*| rethinked.org

Art & Photograph by RAE

WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?

Allow yourself extra time and you can do the work of many alone.

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

In high school I was a delivery boy at a butcher shop in Brooklyn then later became a deli counter person and then sort of an unofficial manager. I worked there for about 5 years. One day a lady who often shopped there asked me for help and after I assisted her she turned to me and said, “You’re really good at your job. Keep going the way you are and one day you’ll be manager of this place.” For the rest of the work day I kept staring through this large glass window into the back of the store where all the older butchers and meat packers worked. I kept thinking about how each one told me at one time or another of the big dreams they had. Some claimed they still planned on following through with them. I quit the next day.

"I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open" - Our Interview With RAE, Artist ...*| rethinked.org

Art & Photograph by RAE

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

When I was younger I used to think a “good life” meant having what “you,” as an individual, wanted. Money, success, fame, etc, but as soon as I got a small taste of that I realized it feels very hollow if the people around you don’t have the means to at least make ends meet. So many hardworking people can’t pay the bills no matter how many hours they work in a week. Having the good life means being able to uplift others that want to do for themselves. I like it when someone gets an opportunity and makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there and pry that shit open.

COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN? 

Never hold people to the high standards you set for yourself. You’ll be disappointed more often than not. And when you do find those that operate on the same level take note and appreciate rather than be jealous.

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

I have several….

How big is the universe?
Will time travel ever be possible?
Will I ever get out of this life alive?
Would I trade in my life up to this point to start over again?

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND? 

Books: “The Measure of a Man” by Martin Luther King Jr.
            “On Bullshit” by Harry G. Frankfurt
Movies: Amores Perros, Dead Man, Little Odessa, Rocks With Wings (the documentary film)

. . . *

THANK YOU, RAE!

"I like it when someone gets an opportunity & makes the most of it. Could be the smallest of openings but they squeeze in there & pry that shit open" - Our Interview With RAE, Artist ...*| rethinked.org

Subway Sculpture & Photograph by RAE

 

“Play is a way of being that resists the instrumental, expedient mode of existence” …*

 

"Play is a way of being that resists the instrumental, expedient mode of existence" ...* | rethinked.org -Photo: Elsa Fridman

Right in time for the weekend here is a lovely meditation on the intrinsic power of active play from an opinion piece published last month on the New York Times by professor of philosophy and fellow of the Research Group in Mind, Science and Culture at Columbia College Chicago, Stephen T. Asthma. Asthma divides play into two categories: amusements and active play, which are very much aligned with Martin Seligman’s categories of the pleasures–fast, cheap and ephermeral joys–and the gratifications, which are activities that fulfill us and build a sort of positive emotional capital. A welcome reminder that play is its own reward and a critical component of a full, engaging and meaningful human life.

p l a y   f o r   p l a y ‘ s   s a k e   &   r e t h i n k   . . .

Usually, if we see an appreciation of play, it’s an attempt to show its secret utility value — “See, it’s pragmatic after all!” See how playing music makes you smarter at other, more valued forms of thinking, like math, logic or even business strategy? See how play is adaptive for social evolution? All this is true of course, but one also wonders about the uniquely human meaning of play and leisure. Can we consider play and leisure as something with inherent value, independent of their accidental usefulness?

[ … ]

I want to suggest that we divide play into two major categories; active and passive. The passive forms — let’s call them amusements — are indeed suspicious, as they seem to anesthetize the agent and reduce creative engagement. From our “bread and circuses” television culture to Aldous Huxley’s soma culture in “Brave New World,” the passive forms of leisure are cheap pleasures that come at no effort, skill or struggle. On the other hand, active play — everything from sport to music to chess, and even some video games — energizes the agent and costs practice, skill, effort and calories. Even the exploration of conscious inner-space, through artificial or natural means, can be very active. The true cultures of meditation, for example, evidence the rigors of inner-space play.

[ … ]

The stakes for play are higher than we think. Play is a way of being that resists the instrumental, expedient mode of existence. In play, we do not measure ourselves in terms of tangible productivity (extrinsic value), but instead, our physical and mental lives have intrinsic value of their own. It provides the source from which other extrinsic goods flow and eventually return.

When we see an activity like music as merely a “key to success,” we shortchange it and ourselves. Playing a musical instrument is both the pursuit of fulfillment and the very thing itself (the actualizing of potential). Playing, or even listening, in this case, is a kind of unique, embodied contemplation that can feed both the mind and the body.

When we truly engage in such “impractical” leisure activities — with our physical and mental selves — we do so for the pleasure they bring us and others, for the inherent good that arises from that engagement, and nothing else.

Source: Reclaiming the Power of Play

{ Playwork & Adventure Playgrounds } Places of Psychological Safety & Calculated Risk That Empower Children Through Play …*

{ Playwork & Adventure Playgrounds } Places of Psychological Safety & Calculated Risk That Empower Children Through Play ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

 

“Think of an adventure playground as an urban countryside, where children can experience all sorts of play that they might have only with great difficulty in the city. Its adult designers should examine the environment around it and compensate for the deficits. If children have no access to trees, then work with them to build something they can climb. (When asked what the big structures were for on his adventure playground, Bob Hughes said, “They are for trees.”) 
An adventure playground should be in a constant process of change, directed, informed, and executed by the children and their playing and supported by the play workers. It is a space that allows for all the different types of play to be discovered by children. It is a place of psychological safety and calculated risk. 
It may be helpful to think of an adventure playground as a Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total artwork,” a space and time where all one’s senses are engaged.  – Penny Wilson, The Playwork Primer 

 

We are in the midst of a play crisis. Recess keeps getting shorter if it’s not cut out all together in schools across the country, while children’s free time outside of school is increasingly scheduled and managed around various ‘enrichment’ programs and activities. Yet, years of psychology and cognition research as well as personal experience from our own lives and childhoods, make clear the importance of unstructured free time and scaffolded risk-taking for children’s growth, confidence-building and cultivating grit to name just a few of the vast emotional, physical and mental benefits of free play. Which makes the The Land, a new documentary by Erin Davis on “an endengered human behavior: risky play” all the more relevant. The Land, which recently premiered at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, explores a Welsh adventure playground where children are allowed and encouraged to play with fire, build and break things, get their hands dirty and maybe skin their knees…you know, be kids.

The Land (2015) is a short documentary film about the nature of play, risk and hazard set in The Land, a Welsh “adventure” playground.  At The Land children climb trees, light fires and use hammers and nails in a play-space rooted in the belief that kids are empowered when they learn to manage risks on their own.

The documentary highights a growing movement, Playwork, which aims to create a paradigm shift and turn play into something that we take more seriously.

Playwork is a practice and a profession that removes barriers to children’s play.  It has a decades long history in Europe and a hearty library of fascinating theory. Playworkers make adventure play possible.

To create an adventure playground in your own community and learn more about the theory and history and the playwork movement, check out Penny Wilson’s The Playwork Primer and Pop-Up Adventure‘s Pop-Up Play Shop Toolkit –  a workbook designed to help you transform an empty storefront into a thriving community play space.

play & rethink …*

The Importance of Playing With Fire (Literally) from Play Free Movie on Vimeo.

When asked what she hopes people will take away from the documentary, director Erin Davis answers:

Landscape matters. Access to the elements matters: trees, water, fire. Agency and empowerment matter. Variety and change in a playspace matters. The Land, and places like it, push the envelope of what is possible. 

I also simply hope people leave the film excited to interact with the children in their lives in a new way. A way that is bold, compassionate and enriching for both the child and the adult. 

Source: Inside a European Adventure Playground

What Might It Mean To Live and Learn To Change and For Change?

What Might It Mean To Live and Learn To Change and For Change? | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

{ FINAL ROUND OF THE RETHINKED*ANNEX PROJECT – APTITUDES FOR THE CONCEPTUAL AGE } 

It’s time to kick off the last stage of rethinked*annex: Aptitudes For the Conceptual Age. For those new to rethinked, rethinked*annex is a personal side project which I started two and a half years ago (already!) to see how some of the disciplines we have been focusing on in our team work could apply to the individual. The ultimate goal of our team is to rethink and engage with what it means to flourish as a human being in the twenty-first century—a modern take on an ancient question, what is the good life for man? We live in exciting times, a lot of the models and assumptions that upheld the status quo of old are crumbling in the face of accelerating change on all fronts–technological, medical, economic, etc. What does it mean to live and learn to change and for change? Our team has been exploring the possibilities of Design Thinking, Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology to help us formulate some avenues into this but I felt strongly that the tools we used for our professional aims should also be useful in enhancing our personal every day lives.

And so the idea for rethinked*annex was born– a sort of experiment on living, learning and becoming, which I’ve documented on the blog. I’ve been following a pretty simple format: pick out a few books on the subject; play around with some of the big ideas; find ways to apply them to my every day life and then report back on the experiments.

I am now ready to think about the convergences between these three fields (Design Thinking, Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology) and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. What skills, strengths and mindsets have come up in all three cycles of my experiment? I’ve narrowed it down to five core capacities, which kept coming up over and over: empathy, creativity, making the ordinary unknown (and the willingness to navigate and embrace it), play and courage (to own and deploy one’s voice). So for this last phase, I’ve (very unscientifically) picked out a few books that deal with these various dimensions.

{ BOOKLIST } 

{ BEYOND ME, MYSELF & I – NEW INTERVIEW SERIES }

One nagging insecurity I’ve had throughout this project has been how self-centered it ultimately is. I’ve been exploring what Design Thinking, Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology might contribute to my every day life. Of course, the goal is that some of the insights and lessons I’ve learned along the way will transfer outside of my particular circumstances and be of some use to you, but at the end of the day, it’s my thoughts, my feelings, my life, my observations…me, me, me. I’m getting sick and tired of thinking and writing about myself.

I’ve decided it was time to find out how other individuals are grappling with the question(s) of what it means to live a good life. I recently made a list of people I admire–people whose work and ideas have moved me, disrupted my beliefs and assumptions, provoked me to think more deeply and awed me in some form or other. Some of them are friends and some are total strangers, they come from everywhere in terms of geography and fields of inquiry—artists, designers, philosophers, writers, even a midwife. I’ve started reaching out to see if they would be willing to answer a set of questions that touch upon some of the themes that have obsessed me for most of my life and crystalized during the rethinked*annex project. I am floored by the responses. I assumed I wouldn’t hear back from a lot of these people I was ‘cold-emailing,’ but right away, I received enthusiastic answers from total strangers whose work I have admired for years. I am filled with gratitude and excitement for this new phase of the project. You can look forward to seeing their answers published on rethinked over the course of the next few months, starting next week.

There’s a Martin Amis quote from his book Time’s Arrow, which I’ve probably shared about five times over the past three years. I’m sorry if you’re sick of seeing it but every few months, I have an experience that reminds me that these simple words ooze with truth when it comes to framing the “others:”

Mmm—people! It seems to me that you need a lot of courage, or a lot of something, to enter into others, into other people. We all think that everyone else lives in fortresses in fastnesses: behind moats, behind sheer walls studded with spikes and broken glass. But in fact we inhabit much punier structures. We are, it turns out, all jerry-built. Or not even. You can just stick your head under the flap of the tent and crawl right in. If you get the okay.

question & rethink …*

THE { } AND – A Human Relationships Genome Project Explores What Connects Us …*

THE {   } AND - A Human Relationships Genome Project Explores What Connects Us ...* | rethinked.org

Just last week I was writing about the really exciting trend amongst filmmakers who are pushing the boundaries of their craft and medium to enhance and rethink human connections. Here is a new project from director Topaz Adizes, THE {  } AND which is a bit reminiscent of Tiffany Shlain’s Cloudfilmaking in form. THE {  } AND is a human relationships genome project that explores all kinds of relationships in the modern world–think StoryCorps but with a visual component.

Basically, how this started is someone came to me and said, “Topaz,” a year and a half ago, “let’s make a documentary about why better looking people these days get farther ahead.” Alright, let me think about that, that’s not really interesting. What’s really happening is that because of technology–I mean there’s more cell phones in the world now than there are toothbrushes—and that didn’t exist seven years ago. I mean, all of a sudden we have the smartphone and it’s giving us access, it’s changing the way we’re relating, stigmas are changing, economics are changing, the way we relate is totally changing—that’s what’s interesting. And I’m thinking, now, do I make a doc about that or do I create an entity that creates experiences that explores that. What’s the best way to tell this story and it was not for me to make a classic 90 minute feature documentary. No, no, no, let’s just create a bunch of interactive experiences that discuss this subject. 

THE {  } AND lets you browse the couples’s interviews or you can answer four questions about your relationships and they create a customized short doc suited to your answers created to spark your interest and direct your browsing. You can also play a short version of the game on the website or order the set of question cards to play it at home.

199 questions to explore your connections with your partner and loved ones. Deepen your relationship by asking the questions you’re dying to know but are afraid to ask. This is a ride worth sharing.

THE {   } AND - A Human Relationships Genome Project Explores What Connects Us ...* | rethinked.org

© The Skin Deep Media

In the interview below, watch Adizes talk about the project and discuss his plans to create a whole ecology of tools to help all of us explore modern day relationships—from further interactive interviews, apps, to the analogue card game.

THE {  } AND is a relationship genome project that we’re making, which is already growing beyond romantic couples; it’s growing between mothers and sons; daughters and fathers; siblings; coworkers; collaborator; we’re doing deaf couples, blind couples—really jumping into relationships. And we’re going to make this that human relationships genome project that explores all kinds of relationships in the modern day and it’s all feeding from a content collective called The Skin Deep and we’re creating a bunch of experiences like this. This is the first one, it’s called THE {  } AND, it’s exploring intimate relationships, 

The content is addictive, the conversations between the couples are honest, vulnerable and touching. On a final note, of special interest to NYC rethinkers:

THE {  } AND invites parent/child duos to come in for 1 hour and use a deck of question cards we provide to interview each other. It’s like the best therapeutic conversation you can have – done in a creative interactive filmmaking twist!

You keep the footage of your entire session as a home video and we create a 4-5 min video to include within our interactive documentary. Reconnect with a loved ones and share your story on our relationship genome documentary.

Filming in NYC this weekend –May 2nd to 3. Go to The Skin Deep Tumblr for more info.

{ whimsical urban spaces } for fostering play

live from AERA…*

I am currently attending the 2015 AERA (American Educational Research Association) conference in Chicago, and I have been attending and participating in a variety of exciting presentations, roundtables, and poster sessions about the many types of interesting research around education and its unique challenges. I am still making sense out of all I learned, and I hope to share some of the interesting talks with you in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, today I want to talk about this amazing playground I spotted here in downtown Chicago.

Fostering Play…*

Last week Elsa wrote about the importance of play in our ever-changing world, reminding us of the essential nature of play. Perhaps this was on my mind because during my free afternoon this weekend I was walking near Millennium Park and couldn’t help but stop to admire this incredible play space.

maggie-daley-2

Photo Eric X. via Yelp

Maggie Daley park is a $60 million, newly opened 20 acre recreational space, opened in 2014. It was designed by architect Michael Van Valkenburgh as “a counterpoint to the symmetry and formality of Grant Park… with..  curvilinear forms, dramatic topography, and many whimsical elements.” As described in this article, there is a 3-acre play garden designed in the spirit of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which is the piece of the park I stumbled upon . I was immediately enchanted by the surrealist, cartoon-like environment. Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated that the play garden “will allow kids to challenge themselves and do things they didn’t know they could do“.

In a world where I worry about childhoods lived behind a screen and enacted through highly constrained, scripted environments, I am so excited by this notion of fostering unstructured play. The rich narrative and creative potential of places like this is endless, and I find myself envious of the young children who will be enjoying the play garden this spring.

More pictures of this play space below. I will report back on my more academic experience at this conference next Monday!

IMG_5726

Children loved running up and down the rubbery foam hills, rather than using the stairs.

IMG_5728

A giant bridge connecting two towers. When I crossed, three young boys were working together to shake the bridge, excited at the prospect of making me fall (I remained upright, to their extreme disapointment).

IMG_5727

My colleague from Teachers College taking a turn on one of the slides.

IMG_5729

A web made of wires and ropes, where young boys created a clubhouse to call home.

{ Play Is Our Adaptive Wild Card } In Order to Adapt Successfully to a Changing World, We Need to Play …*

Bonobos, like humans, love to play throughout their entire lives. Play is not just child’s games. For us and them, play is foundational for bonding relationships and fostering tolerance. It’s where we learn to trust and where we learn about the rules of the game. Play increases creativity and resilience and it’s all about the generation of diversity —diversity of interactions, diversity of behaviors and diversity of connections. And when you watch Bonobos play you’re seeing the very evolutionary roots of human laughter, dance and ritual. Play is the glue that binds us together.” – Isabel Behncke Izquierdo

In this short and delightful TED talk, primatologist Isabel Behncke Izquierdo highlights some of the ways in which the highly playful Bonobos can teach us about successfully naviating “a future where we need to adapt to an increasingly challenging world through greater creativity and greater cooperation. The secret is that play is the key to these capacities. In other words, play is our adaptive wild card. In order to adapt successfully to a changing world, we need to play.” As you kick off the weekend, remember , “Play is not frivolous. Play is essential.”

{ Yes, And…* } Applied Improvisation, Role-Playing Games & the Importance of Retaining A Childlike Capacity for Wonder …*

{ Yes, And...*  } Applied Improvisation, Role-Playing Games & the Importance of Retaining A Childlike Capacity for Wonder ...* | rethinked.org -Photo: Elsa Fridman

A new study on the beneficial effects of positive emotion on physical health has been popping up all over my newsfeed this week. On the Greater Good Science Center blog, Yasmin Anwar writes;

“Researchers have linked positive emotions—especially the awe we feel when touched by the beauty of nature, art, and spirituality—with lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are proteins that signal the immune system to work harder.

While cytokines are necessary to fighting off disease and infection, continuously elevated levels have been linked with chronic inflammation and a whole host of attending disorders such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes, clinical depression and Alzheimer’s disease to name few.

In two separate experiments, more than 200 young adults reported on a given day the extent to which they had experienced such positive emotions as amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love and pride. Samples of gum and cheek tissue, known as oral mucosal transudate, taken that same day showed that those who experienced more of these positive emotions, especially awe, wonder and amazement, had the lowest levels of the cytokine, Interleukin 6, a marker of inflammation.” (Can Awe Boost Health?)

While the exact relationship between levels of cytokines and the frequency at which individuals are able to experience awe remains unclear, on the Science of Us blog, Melissa Dahl quotes the study’s lead authorJennifer Stellar explaining why cytokine levels function as good predictors of one’s ability to experience positive emotion:

“One reason is that proinflammatory cytokines encourage social withdrawal and reduce exploration, which would serve the adaptive purpose of helping an individual recover from injury or sickness. … [A]we is associated with curiosity and a desire to explore, suggesting antithetical behavioral responses to those found during inflammation.”

One prompt for cultivating more awe in one’s life then, would be to be more intentional about fostering our desire to explore and connect with those around us and our environments. One of the best ways to do just that, which we are all naturally very good at, (or at least were at some point in our lives) is through play. Sadly, for many of us, play is something that gets pushed to the background as we age and we wake up one day worrying we’d look silly or be wasting our time should we engage in play activities. I was happy to come across two resources this week that each addressed this point and showed the importance and benefits of engaging in play as adults. So if better health isn’t motivation enough, check out the two resources below to learn about how play and more generally, being open to the moment, the environment and those around you, comes with a host of social, professional and cognitive benefits.

Patrick Allan details The Surprising Benefits of Role-Playing Games (and How to Get Started) over on Lifehacker. Meanwhile, in the TEDx talk below, Paul Jackson, founder of the Applied Improvisation Network looks at how improvisation skills are in fact life skills which are relevant to everyone– individuals and organizations alike:

“One of the areas that they’re taking [applied improvisation] into now is in business schools. Improvisation is on the agenda of more than half of the top twenty business schools around the world. Leaders are coming to learn skills for the future to build and create new types of organizations in which “yes…and” can be a core part. They learn for example the importance of collaborating with each other and with their colleagues and how to deal with uncertainty and being more confident in a world of complexity and constant change; and these are skills that are available and useful to us all.”


Applying Improvisation: The Power of ‘Yes…And’: Paul Z Jackson at TEDxLSE

“You have two choices in life: you can say no and be rewarded with safety; or you can say yes and be rewarded with adventure.”

A Whimsical Video Game That Boosts Your Creative Confidence By {re}Framing Writing As A Problem-Solving Puzzle …*

A Whimsical Video Game That Boosts Your Creative Confidence By {re}Framing Writing As A Problem-Solving Puzzle ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

I’ve previously featured an intriguing take on a “chance meeting” between video games and philosophy —Greg Edward’s 8-Bit Philosophy series--but today’s project, Dejobaan Games‘s Elegy For A Dead World, looks specifically at what might result from combining writing with video games. Elegy is an experimental online game in which, “you explore long dead civilizations inspired by British Romance-Era poems, and write about them.”

In Elegy for a Dead World, you travel to distant planets and create stories about the people who once lived there.

Three portals have opened to uncharted worlds. Earth has sent a team of explorers to investigate them, but after an accident, you are the sole survivor. Your mission remains the same: survey these worlds and write the only accounts of them that outsiders will ever know.

The game is out now on Windows, Mac, and Linux on Steam.

What I particularly love about this game is its mission to help everyone write –

“We created Elegy so that everyone can write. As you explore, the game helps you create the narrative.”

All too often, people shy away from creative pursuits because of the skewed beliefs they hold about their own creativity. They’ve been told in school, by peers or adults that they are not creative, that they’re not good writers, painters or photographers. This fixed mindset take on creative pursuits is terribly limiting and is based on a core belief that creativity is a set, static and predetermined capacity that only some possess. Yet, writing, like all creative pursuits, is not about waiting to be struck by the muse. Sure, inspiration is important in the creative process but even that is something that can be cultivated. What Elegy does is reframe the act of writing from being accessible only to the very few who experience bouts of seemingly inexplicable inspiration, to a form of problem-solving game.

Each world offers multiple sets of prompts, each intended to inspire you to write a different story about it. Elegy might ask you to write a short story about an individual’s final days, a song about resignation, or a poem about war. In the more advanced levels, you’ll sometimes get new information halfway through your story which casts a new light on things and forces you to take your story in a different direction. We like to think of those as puzzles — writing yourself out of a corner, so to speak.

play, write & rethink . . . * 

 Hat tip: Experimental Game Turns Players into Poets and Writers

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