Free Will: Is It Real Life? Is It Just Fantasy?

It’s been in the back of my mind to write this post for a while, but I had been putting it off. But as I was walking out of the gym the other day thinking about my class choreography, I realized how relevant this topic is to so many things, so it’s time for it. I was thinking about the strength training class I teach and how much I love the section where we work back (deadlifts, rows, flyes, etc.). It has become my favorite section of that class, in large part because I always play a Journey song. Then I began to realize how that has helped me—no, caused me—to enjoy Journey more (not that I didn’t enjoy them before, but I’ve been getting into them much more since I started teaching this format), and also how I really started to enjoy the back section more once I began to make a big deal about making it my thing to always use Journey. In short, I had profound yet mundane epiphany: did I choose to start liking back moves (or Journey) more? Or was this increased fondness somehow destined by my previous actions and decisions? Continue reading


Physical Fitness for Psychical Fitness: The Mental Benefits of Exercise

Age-related cognitive decline is pretty much inevitable, especially now that people are generally living longer. While this decline in fluid intelligence (e.g., reasoning abilities) is complemented by an increase in crystallized intelligence (e.g., factual knowledge) (see figure below), fluid intelligence helps us deal with many aspects of our daily lives (such as processing new information and solving problems), so it’s worth preventing its decline as much as possible. Thankfully, there are ways to do this. Continual learning and mental engagement (i.e., effortful mental engagement, not simple passive learning) is an excellent way to keep one’s mind sharp. But, perhaps one of the best ways is by doing something that also benefits us in other ways: exercise. Continue reading

Tiny yet Titanic: The Butterfly Effect in Psychological Well-Being

You’ve likely heard of the Butterfly Effect. It’s the notion that, because of how everything in the natural world is interconnected and deterministic (as some would like to argue), a butterfly’s flapping its wings in, say, Sydney, could ultimately result in a hurricane in, say, the Gulf of Mexico. Sure, that flap of its wings is an infinitesimally miniscule act on the grand scheme of the global climate; but, because of how those few atoms are shifted by the flap of a pair of wings, those atoms then shift other atoms, which shift other atoms, and so on and so forth, until just enough of the right atoms have been shifted in order to tip the meteorological conditions over then edge into producing a hurricane. Small act; big consequences. And rather negative ones at that. But who’s to say that the consequences couldn’t have been positive instead (e.g., preventing a hurricane)? And who says that such grand effects from small actions must be limited to the deterministic, natural world? In other words, can we get similarly great outcomes from small initial acts in the realms of the intangible and indeterministic (or at least less well understood so we don’t know how it’s deterministic), such as psychology, relationships, and the spiritual? Continue reading

Easy Come, Easy Go: The Surprising Paradox of Task-Switching

What do pit orchestra and my dissertation have in common? Well, aside from the fact that I maybe read some relevant articles during the occasional rehearsal and/or show (or, more often the case, discovered that articles weren’t as relevant as I thought they might be), almost nothing…aside from one thing: task-switching. As a reed player, I have doubled for most of the shows I’ve done, meaning I play multiple instruments, usually in the clarinet and/or saxophone families, though I have done some flute (not my forte—not my piano either, for that matter). Though still playing music, when switching between instruments, I’m essentially switching between tasks (at least as psychologists would define task-switching), because I’m alternatingly applying different sets of rules (i.e., fingerings). When doing this, rules will inevitably be misapplied (i.e., I play the wrong fingering). Or at least it’s thus far been consistent for me. 😉 Continue reading

What Giving Thanks Gives You

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words; watch your words, for they become actions; watch your actions, for they become habits; watch your habits, for they become your character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Apparently, versions of this quote have been attributed to people from Lao Tzu to Buddha to Emerson, but that’s beside the point; I share it not to start a debate over who said it first, but to highlight the power of thought. As psychological research (particularly the field of positive psychology) shows us, our thoughts can exert a noticeable—even a substantial or powerful—effect on our lives, for better or worse, depending on the nature of the thought pattern: more negative thoughts are associated with more negative effects; more positive thoughts are associated with more positive effects. So, in the spirit of positivity, let’s focus on the positive and how to improve overall feelings of well-being. And since we just had Thanksgiving, I want to focus on a specific kind of positive thought, one that Cicero once called the parent of all virtues: gratitude. Let’s explore what makes it so virtuous—and powerful. Continue reading

Shower Power: Demystifying the Experience of Shower Thoughts

Ironically, I did not think of the idea for this post in the shower. Instead, it happened during a conversation I had a few weeks ago. I was talking with a woman, and near the end of the conversation, I mentioned how I process and think through things really well in the shower. She mentioned that she was the same way, and I think we were both delighted to hear that we weren’t alone in that. And, more than that, I’d wager that it’s actually a pretty common—and, let’s be honest, it’s a pretty delightful—experience. And I think there are some valid psychological reasons for why. Here goes. Continue reading

Reading with Your Mind in Mind: The Cognitive and Social Benefits of Literary Fiction

I recently read this article and it both aggravated and encouraged me. Overall, it was a very encouraging article, touting the importance of a liberal arts education. But, several parts aggravated me, namely, the reported views of tech company founders/executives regarding the humanities—specifically, how some of these higher-ups think the humanities to be lesser disciplines than the STEM disciplines and, therefore, not worth a student’s while, such as this quoted view of Vinod Khosla: “If subjects like history and literature are focused on too early, it is easy for someone not to learn to think for themselves and not to question assumptions, conclusions, and expert philosophies.” While I respect Khosla’s innovativeness and success, I must wholeheartedly disagree with this assertion. It is in the humanities where we are uniquely taught to think for ourselves (at least in certain ways) and to tackle unique problems. No, the humanities don’t teach all types of thinking (e.g., research via the scientific method), but how often do the sciences educate us in asking and answering important existential, ethical, or metaphysical questions? And indeed, because of these unique mindsets that are developed in the humanities, as the author goes on to say, these individuals are able to solve otherwise seemingly intractable problems…even in a STEM discipline like computer programming. Continue reading