Listen to my recent interview with Dr. Foojan Zeine on KMET radio concerning my book Intelligence in the Digital Age: How the Search for Something Larger May Be Imperiled.
Listen to my recent interview concerning my book Intelligence in the Digital Age: How the Search for Something Larger May Be Imperiled with Ric Bratton on This Week in America.
The Tudors on Showtime is an immensely popular series focusing on the reign of Henry VIII in sixteenth-century England — and its characters often face typical problems of the day. But in one episode, they discuss a problem that could just as well be happening now: the search for a quiet mind. Charles Brandon, the king’s great friend, commiserates with Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, on the fruitless effort to find peace and quiet. It’s an eternal human complaint, they both realize. Flash forward to the twenty-first century and they’re still right.
But the bombardment of information and noise we experience today would have been unimaginable in Tudor England. We live in the era of the Internet and digital devices; a cyber world that comes at us in a relentless stream on our phones and our PCs. It’s not just an inconvenience. There’s literally too much information to assimilate. Our ability to process and absorb the information we’ve just come in contact with is being hampered by this endless onslaught. As we lose our capacity to keep our thoughts organized, we also lose our access to true peace of mind. But there are simple strategies to develop a quiet mind, including these three:
A recent study by professors at Drexel and Northwestern universities found that students could better solve a series of anagrams if they went into a resting state beforehand. By settling into a state of rest instead of information loading, their right brain activity — associated with creativity — increased. You can better control your own thought process and achieve more mental creativity when you disengage from the stream of information coming your way in the digital world.
Today’s status quo is to allow ourselves to remain receptive — and therefore subservient — to the perpetual flow of scattered information on the Web. This also puts us in a position where we’re at the mercy of algorithms and coding — and trapped in the cycle of digital delivery. The more we receive, the less control we have of our own thought processes, the more fragmented our attention span and the more fragmented our focus.
To disengage, take a moment to sit quietly after you’ve just been online, and consider whatever knowledge and information you have just assimilated. Go over it in your mind. Reviewing it will bring a greater feeling of control over your thoughts. It may also better focus your ability to access relevant and related information when you go back online. Recent studies have shown that people actually need to rest their minds in order to effectively make the creative connections between different areas of knowledge and information. This increased focus will invariably lead to less mental chaos, and the more you practice, the more skilled you’ll become at the process.
Follow your own thoughts.
Too often, the chaotic stream of information encountered on the Internet hijacks our own thought stream. Either after being absorbed by the digital world, or during any other part of your day, find somewhere quiet to sit, and simply follow the stream of your own thoughts, no matter where they lead.
Psychologists who have studied human consciousness have known for some time that in order to awaken creative energy, we must erect barriers against distraction, dig mental channels so that mental energy can flow more freely, and find ways to escape interruptions. Following your own train of thought allows you to experience it more fully as your own. When you return to your smartphone or PC, you’ll have a heightened awareness of the difference between your thoughts and the chaotic stream of information coming from the Web.
Pick up a book and read.
In a 2015 report from CBS News, “Books vs. e-books: The science behind the best way to read,” Anne Mangen, lead researcher at Norway’s Stavanger University, told the Guardian that reading on paper provides a tactile sense of progress and a better connection to the story or text. If you genuinely want to maintain peace of mind and settle your thoughts in this digital age, one of the best things you can do is simply read a book — a real, physical book. Holding a bound book in your hand lets you dive into the writing more deeply as you experience the text in a fully embodied, physical state. There’s a vast difference between type on paper and on a digital screen. While text scrolling has been found to make remembering information more difficult, paper pages give spatio-temporal markers while you read. Touching paper and turning pages aids the memory, making it easier to remember where you read something.
Sinking more fully into the content you’re reading will result in a far clearer focus on the material. Then, when you return to accessing information on a digital device, you should be able to retain a similar level of absorption. After significant experience accessing information in such a fully embodied manner, the information coming from the digital world may be easier to assimilate in a less fragmented way. Instead of disruption, you experience absorption, leading toward a mind that is growing quieter.
There’s a profound connection between limiting how the Web’s chaotic stream of information infuses and controls our thoughts, and developing a quiet mind — and it has far greater implications than just being able to focus. A truly quiet mind allows for self-reflection, and more. It allows for a far more expansive awareness — one that rises far above the digital noise. This is the mind that can, on occasion, peek over the edge of our own mental processes toward a larger consciousness that exists beyond the often illusory bounds of thought and memory, and enables us to perceive a larger sense of meaning.
By Lyn Lesch
The coronavirus is now a concern to us all. We’re facing the possibility of diminished health and possibly mortality on our front door. It’s understandable to want to take stock of the meaning of what is occurring in relation to our own lives.
Yet this health crisis is happening in the digital age, when the Internet and our obsessive use of digital devices may be not only shrinking our attention spans but also negatively affecting our long and short-term memories. And they may impede our capacity to conceptualize important knowledge and information. As a consequence, we begin to lose our perspective on what the world may be teaching us, assimilating these lessons only through isolated, atomized facts with little or no relation to one another. With much of the information we experience being transmitted visually on the Internet — from youtube videos to photos on social media — we don’t have the chance to consider words, language, and complex ideas in depth.
These dynamics mean that at a time many of us are seeking a greater sense of meaning and purpose, we’re less capable of doing so. A search for meaning requires a capacity to dive into thoughts and words, not simply pictorial representations. But there are three approaches that can help us circumvent the visual overload, and find the information we need to truly think:
Focus on written information, not the photographs.
Visual illustrations can skew our interpretation as well as our understanding of information. For example, you’re reading an article about the current coronavirus that is discussing progress being made on reducing contact and discovering a vaccine. But the accompanying photograph shows somebody riding in a subway car with a worried look on her face, standing a foot away from someone wearing a mask. The impression of the image is far more cynical than the article itself — and as you process the photo you’ll be reading with a far more jaundiced eye. But the article has been carefully written and researched — presenting a valuable and thoughtful discussion. Best to overlook the tone of the photo, and focus on the article.
Read my recent article on Elephant Journal about how we can avoid the conflicted, accusatory discourse on social media that has been part of our culture after the coronavirus is over.
3 Ways to Improve Social Discourse After Coronavirus
James Baldwin’s brilliant long essay on racial disharmony, The Fire Next Time (1962), proposes that if relatively conscious whites and Blacks insisted on creating the right sort of consciousness in others, it might end America’s racial nightmare. In other words, things could be genuinely changed if people of both races worked to meet each other halfway, and better understand the personal dynamics and history that has led to so much hatred.
Beyond race relations, this country and the world are dealing with the current Coronavirus, and as we do, there appears to be a certain amount of unity happening. The question is, after the virus has been at least temporarily abated through the discovery of a vaccine, or through some other measure, will that sense of unity continue? Can we increase our sense of connection? Or will we revert to the endless conflicts, division, fragmentation, and recrimination that have been part of our social/political discourse lately, particularly on social media? And will we refuse to meet others halfway whom we consider to be adversaries?
Seek out other perspectives on social media. Our addiction to social media has greatly narrowed our perspectives: we often seek out only those with whom we agree to get immediate confirmation from the “like” icon, or simply because it is a much quicker digital fix to find those who are like-minded.
Attempting to walk in the shoes of those whom you oppose in the digital world, even if only temporarily, can have a curative effect. You can see more clearly how their thoughts on certain matters may have evolved, even if you don’t agree with them. You can potentially introduce yourself to others whose ideas you may not have considered. Following someone with whom you don’t agree may even force you to look more clearly at your own ideas and beliefs.
Avoid the blame game. Social media has made it all too easy to blame other people, particularly those with contradictory values, for one’s own troubles — and with increased animosity. Likewise, it’s also thus made it easier for people to avoid taking responsibility for their own difficulties if instead they can view these as the inevitable result of someone else’s actions.
But social media wasn’t set up to facilitate the blame game. In fact Twitter was originally developed as a microblogging platform to enable people to share information, while Facebook was originally developed so college students could more easily connect. Through no fault of Twitter’s creators, the platform has often descended into being the perfect environment for blaming one’s troubles on someone else. So take another approach, make the effort to understand just how contentious exchanges on social media have become, and work to avoid them. Tap into the original intent and practice sharing information, rather than pointing fingers.
Look for those who think outside the box. If you want to keep your thinking limited to the same box it’s already in,then simply look for people online who you know will likely agree with you — and feed you information that just confirms what you already know.
Read my interview at the Magic Pen, a site for readers and writers (“ctrl c” and then the link which follows)
Listen to my interview with James Taylor on Creative Life Network, where we discuss a different approach to education, the potentially negative effects of the Internet, and other related matters. (“ctrl c” and then the link which follows)
Lyn Lesch, who founded and directed his own democratically run school for children ages six to fourteen for 12 years and the author of Intelligence in the Digital Age: How the Search for Something Larger May Be Imperiled joins Enterprise Radio.
Read my article in Medium about how to manage anxiety in the age of coronavirus.3 Ways to Manage Anxiety in the Age of Coronavirus
Read my article from Kivo Daily concerning a holistic intelligence that might take place on the other side of thought, memory, and knowledge.More than Knowledge: An Argument for Holistic Intelligence