The Passionate Brain

What do “usability’ “passion” and “brains” have to do with each other? That answer and more are explored in a great post on Creating Passionate Users blog post “Angry/Negative People Can be Bad for Your Brain.

The trio who write this blog introduce so many concepts (in the post above and the majority of their posts) that my head is SPINNING. Among these: the “kool aid point”; the “asymptotic twitter curve”; the “high res user experience” and more.

Could be I’m finally losing my edge in the knowledge base of psychology research, but this blog gives me hope that I can catch up. The “Passionate Users” blog is focusing on Usability, Marketing and the effects of Passion on such; but my take on the topics are more like: “psychology, brain science, research, cutting edge marketing theory” etc. etc.

Love it!


These are the Good Old Days


At what age does thinking become “painful”? I don’t remember the experience of pain when learning new things as a child, but it sure is harder now. The metaphor typically used to describe this is that patterns are literally carved in our brains, like channels that grow ever deep, until it is too late to go a different route. “Stuck in our ways” is the expression we use.

An article published in Psychology Today in 2003 stated that according to Berkeley Professors Srivastava and John, “Personality is not set in stone by age 30…but continues to change throughout one’s lifetime. Five major personality traits — conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness and extraversion — continue to evolve as people age.”
This would appear to be hopeful news, however, note they said “continues to change” not “continues to improve”. Specifically, the change in the trait of openness is for the worse, finding “a gradual decline in openness as subjects aged”.
This metaphor (of channels carved into the brain) surfaces again in discussions about depression. In Listening to Prozac I was frightened into believing that every bout of depression made the channel deeper and that taking an anti-depressant would actually prevent this from happening. It was over a year later that I learned this was a metaphor not based on biology or brain research.

Yet we all know (without reading a psychology article) that older people seem to get set in their ways, more resistant to change, aren’t exactly open to learning about “new-fangled” things.

TANGENT: I find it ever fascinating that there is this human tendency to believe the music they loved as an adolescent was the only good true music and that contemporary music is crap.

TANGENT: Anyone who uses a word to mean “the latest” takes a risk that that word will expire when a new “latest” comes out. Thus phrases like “the new-new thing” which is apparently newer than just plain old “new”. Music history of this century falls into this trap, where “classic rock” was used to mean enduring, at one moment mapping to the music of the 50’s but then switching to the 60’s, the 50’s became “Oldies”, The 70’s were “today’s music” which now are “classics”. Making the 50’s “Nostalgia” and the 60’s & 70’s “classics”, but now the 00’s are “today’s music” and now what? And how did “Adult Contemporary” come to be synonymous with “not rap music”? and “Modern Adult Contemporary” to mean “regular adult contemporary plus “alternative” rock”. What will be the alternative of alternative? New alternative?

TANGENT: This brings me back to Tom Wolffe’s “The Painted Word” discussion of the art world again. Modern (late 1900’s to the 1970’s), Post Modern (presumably after the 70’s), and the art of today “Contemporary”. I don’t think anybody had the nerve to risk “Post-Contemporary”


Don’t it always seem to go/You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone — Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell

No time? Jump straight to the adventure window! Or follow me along on my journey….

I feel worn out a lot lately. Words to the effect of “my soul is dying” come to mind. Of course I mainly have these feelings in the context of work, the daily grind, etc. “Don’t want to work for the man!” my soul cries. In answer I just offer it platitudes. “Who ever said you get to be happy”? I tell myself. Or variations: “Nobody’s really happy anyway” “You should try life in the 15th Century before you complain”. Blah Blah Blah.

I could stay stuck in that place for quite a while. But sometimes, something comes along and SNAPS me out of it. I stopped posting on the “El Loro” blog for a few months. And I stopped because…basically…I couldn’t remember why I launched it. I remembered that it was “an inspiration”. But somehow, the muse was gone. And when she’s gone, who ya gonna call? And so I waited.

Somethings comin’ something good…who knows? — Westside Story

A muse works in mysterious ways. There she was on my friend Tarpy’s blog: in a post about a hilarious med-parody page for a new prank drug, Panexa. On the fake med site was a fake corporation, the merd pharmaceutical corporation and that logo linked to the mother ship: stayfreemag. When I got to “Stay Free” (no it’s not a minipad!), something amazing happened–I started breathing.

Now, why did the moral equivalent of an April Fools Day joke, have this profound effect upon me? Why did it seem to tear a hole in the social fabric…just for one second? And how did that tiny affirmation give my soul all the oxygen it needed? Did just knowing that someone else views the world askance or also notices that the emperor has no clothes makes me feel like I’m not crazy or feel like I’m not alone? As per usual, the answer(s) came to me via my spiritual advisor (let’s call her “NPR”) in a broadcast called “Does Age Quash Our Spirit of Adventure?” by Robert Krulwich.

The author interviewed Robert Sapolsky (now my favorite neuroscientist).


Robert seemed to be going thru the same thing I was, but unlike me (sticking to bitching and moaning), he decided to do a study. What age do we pass from the “adventure/novelty” stage to the routine/comfort state. Here are the results

Music – Known in the industry as “Breakthru minus 20”, this is where the 14-21 yrs are Most Open, but by age 35 “window for musical adventure is closed”

Food – 95% likelihood that after 39 your adventure window for new food is closed.

Body Piercing – 16-23 yr olds will try it; but after 23 your piercing window? Slammed shut.

Is it just that we’re loosing brain cells? Robert replied: ““That is pure, pure urban myth”

Avoiding a “Horrible Debilitating State”

But instead of settling for these depressing facts, Robert turned the question on its head (and this is why I love him!). He noticed that some people do retain their sense of adventure, and some don’t. The group that do not have share two common qualities: 1) they spend a long at the same job and 2) they are good at it, they succeed (they become eminent). Therefore if you want to stay open to novelty, don’t stay in the same job too long and don’t become eminent” Because IF you do, “You wind up suffering from this horrible debilitating state”. So “find the “whatever” to pick up and walk away from it”.

Good causes all.

SIDEBAR: The Work of Robert Sabolsky

His bio [2] says his lab “focuses on three issues: a) how a ‘Neuron’ dies during aging; b) how such neuron death can be accelerated by stress; and c) the design of gene therapy strategies to protect endangered neurons from neurological disease.


Last January, I was ruminating in my post These Are the Good Old Days about how we think the music we listened to in high school was the best. In the NPR story, the writer cites a quote I was I’d thought of first: “Music achieved perfection in 1974” Homer Simpson

Special Thanks to Trucha and JB for their invaluable editorial clarity.

[1] What follows is cribbed (I mean “summarized” from the NPR story “Does Age Quash Our Spirit of Adventure”. Must have been a great story since I found a half a dozen other bloggers doing the same summary (wish I found one before I worked so hard on mine)[2] Posted on


In January of 2006, in the wake of the Abramoff lobbying scandal, the War in Iraq, and the Enron convictions, I had the following dream:

I was given custody of a beautiful pet . I set up his cage, but something told me I could trust the parrot and trust myself. The parrot needed to be let out to fly free and I knew that it was a crazy risk, but I also knew somehow, that he would be back, so I opened and cage and the parrot flew out through a window into the sky. He flew and flew and then circled back. I talked to the Parrot, and said “come on now, time to come back” and he understood me and came right back. I felt that the love and care of this parrot was my grave responsibility and I understood that with the long life span of a parrot, this was a lifetime responsibility.

Luckily I wasn’t in a Monty Python episode, and when I looked up “parrots” on the web, I found the birds used as a symbol of the soul in India, and stumbled across this poem:

‘The parrot, who is yearning to see you, is in my prison by the decree of the heavens. “She sends you greetings of peace and wants justice, and desires a remedy and the path of right guidance.

Apparently a parrot has come to me to steer me on the right path. Sounds good. Whether the parrot helps me transcend being dragged down into the muck of moral indignation remains to be seen.

I remember a wonderful fictional parrot from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (and also made an appearance in Love in the Time of Cholera). This parrot had lived more than a century and still spoke “pirate” at the most inopportune times. My memory is fuzzy on these points, but that parrot touched something in me because by virtue of his long life span he connected us to times long past. He was, in essence, living history, an animate continuity.


Those crazy boids!

Parrot Helps Catch Robbers

Parrot Dating Service

Parrot jumps ship

What the parrot said to the vicar


Found my way upstairs and had a smoke,
Somebody spoke and I went into a dream
A Day In the Life – Beatles

What do superhero comic books, debaters of creationism and the constitution have in common? All are fighting for truth and justice and the American way. Gary Trudeau has devoted many a comic strip to pointing out the logical fallacies of creationism (see David Creemers amusing Blog entry in sixtyPercent).

You can tell it really bothers him. I read Doonesbury this morning and despite the fact that he has given up on subtlety and dumbed down his strip for the 5th grade reading level of his audience, he is still very satisfying.

Why does NOT having your experience validated makes you feel crazy? Why does it make you feel crazy when you already know you are right? Here’s the question: Why don’t all the stupid people think they are crazy when faced with the evidence that they are wrong? Whatever the reason, hearing the truth is cathartic.

This brings me to the other dilemma – talk about it and you are deemed arrogant. Witness the folly that followed when the Brights formed. These doomed dudes were trying to address the negative associations with words like “atheist” and came up with a new name “brights“, never dreaming the reception they would receive would not be positive.

Speaking of defenders of truth and justice, check out the hot new (funny!) blog on Brain chemistry: BrainTangents.

References: Doonesbury Strip on Creationism Doonesbury Strip on Science