“Good Stress” Causes “a Burst of Energy That Focuses the Mind”

(p. A27) It was a staple of medical thinking dating to the 1910s that stress was the body’s alarm system, switching on only when terrible things happened, often leaving a person with an either-or choice: fight or flight.

The neuroscientist Bruce S. McEwen trailblazed a new way of thinking about stress. Beginning in the 1960s, he redefined it as the body’s way of constantly monitoring daily challenges and adapting to them.

Dr. McEwen, who died on Jan. 2 [2020] at 81, described three forms of stress: good stress — a response to an immediate challenge with a burst of energy that focuses the mind; transient stress — a response to daily frustrations that resolve quickly; and chronic stress — a response to a toxic, unrelenting barrage of challenges that eventually breaks down the body.

For the full obituary, see:

Randi Hutter Epstein. “Bruce McEwen, Who Discovered That Stress Can Alter the Brain, Dies at 81.” The New York Times (Tuesday, February 11, 2020): A27.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Feb. 10, 2020, and has the title “Bruce McEwen, 81, Is Dead; Found Stress Can Alter the Brain.”)

To Be Happy, “We Need to Have Goals”

(p. B8) A little over a year ago, I drove home from the airport with the windows down and the radio on full blast after filming the last scenes for the Netflix docu-series “The Innocent Man.” I was so proud of the work I’d done investigating two wrongful murder convictions in a small city in Oklahoma in the 1980s. This was work that mattered, and I was thrilled to be a part of it.

A few days later, I sat in my truck and cried. An empty work schedule yawned before me, and I was sure that my most meaningful achievement was in my rearview mirror.

This wave of hopelessness has a name: I was experiencing arrival fallacy.

“Arrival fallacy is this illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness,” said Tal Ben-Shahar, the Harvard-trained positive psychology expert who is credited with coining the term.

. . .

To be clear, acknowledging the power of arrival fallacy does not mean we should settle for a life of mediocrity.

“We need to have goals,” Dr. Ben-Shahar said. “We need to think about the future.” And, he noted, we are also a “future-oriented” species. In fact, studies have shown that the mortality rate rises by 2 percent among men who retire right when they become eligible to collect Social Security, and that retiring early may lead to early death, even among those who are healthy when they do so. Purpose and meaning can generate satisfaction, which is part of the happiness equation, Dr. Gruman said.

So wait. Reaching a goal can make us unhappy, but setting goals makes us happy? It sounds like a conundrum, but it’s not if you plan correctly, Dr. Ben-Shahar said. His advice is to lay out multiple concurrent goals, both in and out of your work life.

For the full commentary, see:

A.C. Shilton. “Success Doesn’t Always Bring Happiness.” The New York Times (Monday, June 3, 2019): B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 28, 2019, and has the title “You Accomplished Something Great. So Now What?”)

No Evidence Base that Smartphones Cause Anxiety and Depression in Teens

(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO — It has become common wisdom that too much time spent on smartphones and social media is responsible for a recent spike in anxiety, depression and other mental health problems, especially among teenagers.

But a growing number of academic researchers have produced studies that suggest the common wisdom is wrong.

The latest research, published on Friday [January 17, 2020] by two psychology professors, combs through about 40 studies that have examined the link between social media use and both depression and anxiety among adolescents. That link, according to the professors, is small and inconsistent.

“There doesn’t seem to be an evidence base that would explain the level of panic and consternation around these issues,” said Candice L. Odgers, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and the lead author of the paper, which was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

For the full story, see:

Nathaniel Popper. “The Menace of Screen Time Could Be More of a Mirage.” The New York Times (Saturday, January 18, 2020): B1 & B6.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 17, 2020, and has the title “Panicking About Your Kids’ Phones? New Research Says Don’t.”)

The Odgers paper, mentioned in the passage quoted above, is:

Odgers, Candice L., and Michaeline R. Jensen. “Annual Research Review: Adolescent Mental Health in the Digital Age: Facts, Fears, and Future Directions.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (published first online Jan. 17, 2020).

Clint Eastwood’s “Stubborn Libertarian Streak”

(p. C6) Though he acts bravely and responsibly at a moment of crisis, Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) isn’t entirely a hero, and “Richard Jewell” doesn’t quite belong in the gallery with “Sully” and “American Sniper,” Eastwood’s other recent portraits of exceptional Americans in trying circumstances.

. . .

Eastwood, Ray and Hauser (who is nothing short of brilliant) cleverly invite the audience to judge Jewell the way his tormentors eventually will: on the basis of prejudices we might not even admit to ourselves. He’s overweight. He lives with his mother, Bobi (Kathy Bates). He has a habit of taking things too seriously — like his job as a campus police officer at a small liberal-arts college — and of trying a little too hard to fit in. He treats members of the Atlanta Police Department and the F.B.I. like his professional peers, and seems blind to their condescension. “I’m law enforcement too” he says to the agents who are investigating him as a potential terrorist, with an earnestness that is both comical and pathetic.

Most movies, if they bothered with someone like Jewell at all, would make fun of him or relegate him to a sidekick role. Eastwood, instead, makes the radical decision to respect him as he is, and to show how easily both his everyday shortcomings and his honesty and decency are distorted and exploited by the predators who descend on him at what should be his moment of glory.

. . .

Eastwood has always had a stubborn libertarian streak, and a fascination with law enforcement that, like Jewell’s, is shadowed by ambivalence and outright disillusionment.

. . .

“Richard Jewell” is a rebuke to institutional arrogance and a defense of individual dignity, sometimes clumsy in its finger-pointing but mostly shrewd and sensitive in its effort to understand its protagonist and what happened to him. The political implications of his ordeal are interesting to contemplate, but its essential nature is clear enough. He was bullied.

For the full film review, see:

A.O. Scott. “The Jagged Shrapnel Still Flies Years Later.” The New York Times (Friday, December 13, 2019): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the film review was last updated December 23 [sic], 2019, and has the title “‘Richard Jewell’ Review: The Wrong Man.”)

Does Musk Want to Reach Mars or Conspicuously Consume Real Estate?

In my book Openness to Creative Destruction, I describe and praise those who I call “project entrepreneurs.” These are innovative entrepreneurs, like Walt Disney and Cyrus Field, who are motivated primarily by a desire to bring their project into the world, rather than a desire for conspicuous personal consumption. I have been unsure whether to count Elon Musk as a project entrepreneur. The evidence quoted below suggests the answer is “no.”

(p. M1) Over the last seven years, Mr. Musk and limited-liability companies tied to him have amassed a cluster of six houses on two streets in the “lower” and “mid” areas of the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, a celebrity-filled, leafy enclave near the Hotel Bel-Air.

Those buys—plus a grand, 100-year-old estate in Northern California near the headquarters of Tesla, the electric car concern he heads—means Mr. Musk or LLCs with ties to him have spent around $100 million on seven properties.

For the full story, see:

Nancy Keates. “Elon Musk’s Big Buyout.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, December 6, 2019): M1 & M6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 5, 2019, and has the title “Elon Musk Buys Out the Neighbors.”)

My book, mentioned at the top, is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

A.I. Needs People to Set the Objectives

(p. A2) Although Deep Mind’s Alpha Zero can beat a grand master at computer chess, it would still bomb at Attie Chess—the version of the game played by my 3-year-old grandson Atticus. In Attie Chess, you throw all of the pieces into the wastebasket, pick each one up, try to put them on the board and then throw them all in the wastebasket again. This apparently simple physical task is remarkably challenging even for the most sophisticated robots.

But . . . there’s a more profound way in which human intelligence is different from artificial intelligence, and there’s another reason why Attie Chess may be important.

. . .

The basic technique is to give the computer millions of examples of games, images or previous judgments and to provide feedback. Which moves led to a high score? Which pictures did people label as dogs?

. . .

But people also can decide to change their objectives. A great judge can argue that slavery should be outlawed or that homosexuality should no longer be illegal. A great curator can make the case for an unprecedented new kind of art, like Cubism or Abstract Expressionism, that is very different from anything in the past. We invent brand new games and play them in new ways.

. . .

Indeed, the point of each new generation is to create new objectives—new games, new categories and new judgments. And yet, somehow, in a way that we don’t understand at all, we don’t merely slide into relativism. We can decide what is worth doing in a way that AI can’t.

. . .

. . . , we are the only creatures who can decide not only what we want but whether we should want it.

For the full commentary, see:

Alison Gopnik. “MIND & MATTER; What A.I. Is Still Far From Figuring Out.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 23, 2019): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 20, 2019, and has the same title as the print version.)

Alison Gopnik’s comments, that are quoted above, are related to her paper:

Gopnik, Alison. “AIs Versus Four-Year-Olds.” In Possible Minds: Twenty-Five Ways of Looking at AI, edited by John Brockman. New York: Penguin Press, 2019, pp. 219-30.

“Our Creative Yield Increases with Age”

(p. C1) . . . precocious achievement is the exception, not the norm. The fact is, we mature and develop at different rates. All of us will have multiple cognitive peaks throughout our lives, and the talents and passions that we have to offer can emerge across a range of personal circumstances, not just in formal educational settings focused on a few narrow criteria of achievement. Late bloomers are everywhere once you know to look for them.

. . .

What about creativity and innovation? That realm must belong to the young, with their exuberance and fresh ideas, right? Not necessarily. For instance, the average age of scientists when they are doing work that eventually leads to a Nobel Prize is 39, according to a 2008 Northwestern University study. The average age of U.S. patent applicants is 47.

Our creative yield increases with age, says Elkhonon Goldberg, a clinical professor of neurology at New York University. Dr. Goldberg thinks that the brain’s right and left hemispheres are connected by a “salience network” that helps us to evaluate novel perceptions from the right side by comparing them to the stored images and patterns on our left side. Thus a child will have greater novel perceptions than a middle-aged adult but will lack the context to turn them into creative insights.

Take Ken Fisher, who today runs Fisher Investments, a stock fund with $100 billion under management and 50,000 customers. After graduating from high school, he flunked out of a junior college. “I had no particular direction,” he said. He went back to school to study forestry, hoping for a career outdoors, but switched to economics and got his degree in 1972. In his early 20s, he hung out his shingle as a financial adviser, following his father’s career. To bring in extra money, he took construction jobs, and he played slide guitar in a bar. But he also read and read: “Books about management and business—and maybe thirty trade magazines a month for years,” he says. By the time he reached his 30s, an idea had gelled that would make him his fortune. As he puts it, during that period of reflection, “I developed a theory about valuing companies that was a bit unconventional.”

For the full commentary, see:

Rich Karlgaard. “It’s Never Too Late to Start a Brilliant Career; Our obsession with early achievement shortchanges people of all ages. Research shows that our brains keep developing deep into adulthood and so do our capabilities.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 4, 2019): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 3, 2019, and has the same title as the print version.)

The the passages quoted above, are from a commentary that is adapted from:

Karlgaard, Rich. Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement. New York: Currency, 2019.

The research by Elkhonon Goldberg, mentioned above, is described in:

Goldberg, Elkhonon. Creativity: The Human Brain in the Age of Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.