Monday, February 08, 2010

The 4th anniversary of Deric's MindBlog

As year five of this blog starts, I find it hard to believe that I have banged out over 2,000 postings, that the blog has ~1,500 RSS feed subscribers, and is seriously engaged by 300-400 people on an average day.
(The figure is a Feedburner report, starting in July 2006.  The green line is the number of RSS subscribers, the blue indicates significant engagement, the amplitude being the weekday (new posts) - weekend (no new posts) difference).

About this time of year I usually cycle through an identity crisis regarding what kind of thinking and writing I want to do, how much energy to put into MindBlog.  Sometimes external forces nudge my efforts.  I recently got a curious invitation to an international Cognitive Neuroscience meeting in Istanbul next May 18-20.  The request was that I both present a piano recital and also give a talk on the mind.  I'm now working on the talk ("Who wants to know? - the nature of our subjective "I"), deciding on the music, and will eventually put the talk on my website, with a podcast version on this blog.  I've done a few previous podcasts (see left column of blog), but haven't really gotten into it.  I don't listen to podcasts, they seem so much less efficient than just reading.  I started to play with Twitter (left column), but aside from a few spurts of activity, I also haven't gotten into it.

Ever since the 1999 publication of my book, The Biology of Mind, I have puttered with the idea of another book. This first book had been a 'crossover' effort, written to be useful both for college course instruction and also for the educated layperson. It was reasonably successful, got some good reviews, and by now has sold ~ 9,000 copies. For the first year or two after its publication both I and the reviewers assumed that there would be a second revised edition.

But as I began to organize an updated version over the next several years, I became tempted by the prospect of doing a pure trade book, not a textbook. I got as far as a fairly complete book outline and design. Then I toyed with the idea of a short paragraph-a-day popular book, a bit of test writing being Mindstuff: bon-bons for the curious user posted on my website in 2002. Then in 2005 I attempted a still short but more continuous text: Mindstuff: a guide for the curious user. (On re-reading, it comes off as ponderous and impenetrable.) None of these efforts got to the level of seriously writing for publication - mainly because I was observing an exponential increase in the number of popular books on the mind, and thought it very likely that my effort would be lost in the noise.

I started Deric's MindBlog in early 2006, after reading a New York Times article on the blog phenomenon, and found myself reaching a larger audience than the previous writing efforts had generated, with much more feedback and interaction. Generating this blog provided a very useful excuse for doing all the reading I was doing anyway, for my own pleasure and stimulation - I could feel less self-indulgent if I was passing some of the material on. 

The problem with the blog gig, which I have mentioned before, is that it is a very episodic, present-centered, non-cumulative activity - a very different mindset from the deeper and more continuous thinking that goes into doing a book. I don't think I have the time, motivation, or energy to do both kinds of activities.

This thinking-out-loud gets me to the point of rambling further about a book title that has been popping into my head for at least the last ten years: "The 100 Millisecond Manager." (a riff on the title the popular book of the early 1980's by Blanchard and Johnson, "The One Minute Manager.") The gist of the argument would be that given in the "Guide" section of the 2005 writing I mentioned above, and actually in Chapter 12 of my book, Figure 12-7.

It might make the strident assertion that the most important thing that matters in regulating our thoughts, feelings, and actions is their first 100-200 msec in the brain, which is when the levers and pulleys are actually doing their thing. It would be a nuts and bolts approach to altering - or at least inhibiting - self limiting behaviors. It would suggest that a central trick is to avoid taking on on the ‘enormity of it all,’ and instead use a variety of techniques to get our awareness down to the normally invisible 100-200 msec time interval in which our actions are being programmed. Here we are talking mechanical, not ideological; this is where all the limbic routines that result from life script, self image, temperament, etc., actually get their start-up. The suggestion is that you can short circuit the whole process if you simply bring awareness to the level of observing the moments during which a behavior switches on, and can sometimes say “I don’t think so.”

"The 100 msec Manager" has gone through the ‘this could be a book’  cycle several times over the past ten years, the actual execution then bogging down as I actually got into description of the underlying science and techniques for expanding awareness. I keep searching for keys to making it feisty, punchy, accessible, and attractive to readers. I note the enormous number of books out there on meditation, relaxation, etc. that are all really addressing the same core processes in different ways. How attractive or effective would be an approach that didn't have the slightest whiff of 'spirituality' or 'purpose' be? (I think that spirituality and purpose are human inventions, culturally evolved psychologies, not shared with other animals, that help humans pass on their genes.)

So.... for the moment all this waffling brings me back to thinking that just doing this blog isn't such a bad deal after all.


  1. Deric,

    My own work is now centered on remodeling our sense of what it is to be religious. And though my interest in your work is not that of a practicing scientist, I have always considered you and your blog an important presence on the web and in my own thinking. So congratulations! And Thankyou.

  2. Congratulations on your fourth anniversary. And, Thanks!

  3. Good luck with your new book. Looking forward to read it!

  4. Anonymous3:18 PM

    I really enjoy your blog and read it daily. Many thanks for your work!

  5. Deric, just wanted to say I really enjoy reading your blog. Thanks and please keep up the great work.

  6. Anonymous4:44 PM

    I leave an anonymous note to say that I, too, have been enriched by your work. Thank you, and be really glad that you are not in winter's grip -- you snowbird, you!