Joe Breskin Presents:

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Blink is about how we think and how we manage to make snap jusdgements - it's about how we think when we doun't have time to weigh all the evidence, and yet, it gives us a chance to look at how much we are really weighing all the time. There is this amazing book called Blink that I read Monday, instead of working. And since then I can't stop noticing stuff that it has illuminated. It just keeps unfolding! 

The book led me to a fascinating website at Harvard called Project Implicit. The research they are doing on this IAT project is about what goes on inside what Gladwell calls "the locked room" where your mind/heart makes snap judgments and unconscious decisions. The IAT test that forms the basis of their research projects allows you to map your reactions and your prejudices. The mechanism is really simple: their computer runs a script that measures your reaction time on simple tasks - how long it takes you to sort images into either one pile or another. It starts by assessing your baseline performance and then then with subsequent tests, it adds layers of emotional content on top of the images - making the sort slightly more complex, and retests. And then it adds contradictions, etc. and thus, by simply measuring differences in your response time, it can draw repeatable inferences about the factors that interfere with your ability to perform the task at hand.  I found it frustrating and fascinating and revealing and disturbing. But that is just what happened when I followed one of the threads he handed me.

The book reviews readers have posted on Amazon give you some hints of what it is about, as does the list of other books purchased by his target audience. And I already own most of the other books that people who bought this book also bought. Malcolm Gladwell is a great tie-er-together of disparate threads ... he is a connector who can weave a wide range disparate research findings from widely separated knowledge guilds into what amounts to a non-ambiguous tapestry. He may well be the best writer of his kind who is writing today. 

An important book for planners, bureaucrats, decison-maker wannbees, ecotopians and other folks who think that it is easy to make lasting changes in human societyJust saying the words "Logic of Failure" has turned into the kind of shorthand that serves as a metaphor around these parts - since my dad gave me a copy and before I had even finished readinbg it, I bought a bunch more copies and gave them away. The description of the last few hours at Chernoble sets the stage for a fascinating study of the way humans make decisions.
This is the first piece of social psychology literature I have admitted to taking seriously since Lionel Tiger in the '70's. Dorner took an empirical approach - he put people on simulators of different scales - a country, a city, a business (each computer model had lots of variables to adjust) and monitored how and where and when they made decisions, hoping to learn how people could learn to run the models and why most people crashed them.

Herbert Kohl is a popular writer in the general area of education reform. He wrote this book to provide basic vocabulary for college students so that they could begin to discuss the world using concepts bigger than ... that's cool! and ... that sucks!This book attempts to provide a tool to help the reader develop a functional vocabulary of ideas - the author took a select list of words and developed capsule explanations for each - typically about half-a-page long. His explanation for the book was that his college students (in America in 1992) lacked the vocabulary to participate in the discussion of the issues and concepts he wanted to teach. So he built them a dictionary.

Years ago Ande Grahn tried a related experiment in an all-ages club in Port Townsend - She called it "Letters to the Editor". She took out an ad in the paper that invited people who felt strongly enough about issues to write letters to the editor to come to the "Boiler Room", sit around a table and discuss them. The underlying intent of the experiment was that through these discussions, we, the grown-ups, would transfer the vocabulary of the debate to the teen-agers at the club. Mitch found us a podium, so that people could present from the pulpit.

This is another amazing book that I found in someone's throwaway pile. Naturally, it's out of print. I assume I am sending it to someone who teaches English in central Russia, because I have never seen a more concise tool for coming to grips with the deeper aspects of the American language.

An important book by R. Buckminster Fuller Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. An amazing, must-read essay that I recently re-encountered after finding it in the dumpster at Blue Heron Middle School when I was visiting to help a friend teach a class..

On page 11 Fuller notes: "People used to say to me 'Very amusing -- you are 1000 years ahead of your time.' I was amazed with the ease with which they were able to see a thousand years ahead when I struggled to see only a fortieth of that distance."

When I found the book, I was horrified to discover that it was out of print (no longer the case). Friends and I began to collect them and give them away. And I began to read the book aloud into my hard drive. Some of the recorded material is available on my website in RealAudio format. One of the metaphors he offers us in this book - the saga of the chick in the egg - is the most profound story I have ever heard told. There is simply nothing covered in this book that you should not already understand well enough to argue.

Biopiracy - The plunder of nature and Knowledge"Biopiracy - The plunder of nature and Knowledge. An important book that should be read by anyone wanting to understand the global threat posed by the technological transformations of organisms, cells, and molecules and by their exploitation for profit" - Ruth Hubbard, Professor Emerita of Biology, Harvard University
This book prepares you for the detailed discussions of the unfolding catastrophe of the commons created in corporate and university labs that can be found on RAFI and other sites I have linked.

Astounding Illustrations by Brian CaponBotany for Gardeners - a Guide and Handbook. This is the book I used to use as the textbook for my "Plants Have Sex" crash-course in the architecture of natural systems at Oregon Country Fair. Astounding Illustrations by Brian Capon that might show you what to look at and how to understand what you are seeing. The man is truly a brilliant illustrator and his drawings are both models of clarity and clearly models - meaning that the unnecessary details have been removed to allow the artist to expose the structure and reveal the function under discussion.
Photographs and micrographs can never point you to the point like a brilliant line drawing.

I wish I could draw this clearly.

Ecological Imperialism:The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900Ecological Imperialism:The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900.

This rambling study reveals how Europeans were able to conquer the people of temperate lands through the successful environmental adaptation of the plants, animals and germs that they brought with them.

I have found this book to be the one I keep returning to, rather than "Guns Germs and Steel", but I have taken to quoting and paraphrasing Jared Diamond more and more as his writing gradually becomes a part of the foundation of the consensus understanding of the world that I share with people around me. And I truly love and applaud his premise that plants disperse longitudinally more readily than they do latitudinally. And his postulate that the diaspora of Clovis period hunter-gatherers deleted all the domesticatable large animals in North America is also fascinating.

But Alfred Crosby is still the guy who wrote the book on Ecological Imperialism and the images he paints are really vivid and visceral and the seeds he plants in your head will grow roots and then extend like a beanstalk that you can climb for a better view of where we are and how we got here. This climb provides a critically important historical perspective that we all need to attain ASAP, now that transgenic materials are getting released into the environment


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