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The Music of the Spheres is Jazz

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, May 18, 2017

Hearing the Cosmic Chords

When the discovery of TRAPPIST-1, a system of seven earth sized planets orbiting around a sun 39 light years from our sun, was announced earlier this year, astronomers were excited by the possibility of life in these distant worlds. It appeared there might be lakes and oceans on the surfaces of three or more of these planets.

Daniel Tamayo, an astrophysicist at the University of Toronto at Scarborough's Center for Planetary Sciences and the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, had a different focus. A Quanta magazine article by Joshua Sokol explains TRAPPIST-1 has the most complex orbiting system yet known in the universe. All seven of the planets are locked in what astrophysicists call orbital resonance.  

Each planet takes a certain amount of time to orbit around its sun-that's its year. Sarah Kaplan, writing in the Washington Post, explains the length of the planets' years are related to one another in whole number ratios. In the amount of time it takes the outermost planet to complete two or its orbits, she writes, the next planet has completed three orbits, the next one four, the next one six, then nine, 15, and 24.

The Quanta article notes that while the TRAPPIST system formed billions of years ago, astrophysicists who have studied the orbital dynamics believe gravity could pull these orbits askew in as little as a million years. So why haven't the planets crashed and blown up the system? It turns out orbital resonance can be both the seed of chaos and a source of stability. Kaplan writes, for instance, that Pluto and Neptune have orbits that cross, but orbital resonance keeps them at different places long their paths so that they don't crash.

In a new paper in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Tamayo and colleagues suggest the possibility that orbits of the planets might link up and slowly migrate inward, keeping the system stable for about 50 million years. That helps, but doesn't explain the whole question.

While Tamayo was working on computer simulation to address this challenge, Matt Russo, a fellow post doc scholar and jazz musician, looked at the TRAPPIST-1 resonance chain and thought he saw music. So Russo, Tamayo and musician Andrew Santaguida have teamed up to translate the intricate arrangement of these orbits into a musical composition.

They sped up the orbital route of the outer planet 200 million times to reach the range of human hearing. Expressed in sound waves, its frequency is a C note. They used the known ratios between the rest of the planets to determine each planet's signature note. The notes formed major 9th chord. Then they added drum beats for whenever an inner planet overtakes an outer neighbor. "It's a super creative drummer," compared with human percussionists, Russo told Quanta. "It's doing something nobody else would think of."

Listen to the music here.

Read the Quanta story, the Washington Post story, and a New York Times story by Kenneth Chang.


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From Blight and Tragedy, a New Narrative of Civility

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Tuesday, May 2, 2017


'We can disagree without being disagreeable'

The yearning for better human behavior and a more optimistic narrative sometimes emerges from tragedy, sometimes from relentless struggle with a grim reality.

Gary, Indiana, has suffered years of blight—high unemployment, abandoned buildings, a fading downtown, outward migration of its residents, and crime. In the 1990s it was called the murder capital of America, and in 2013 Gary  made Forbes list of “America’s most miserable cities.”  A Christian Science Monitor story by Jeremy Borden says many in Gary are now trying to foster a new narrative of progress through tackling a history of deep segregation, stagnant politics and a negative public image. The Gary Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Times of Northwest Indiana newspaper, last year launched the Community Civility Counts (CCC) initiative to promote civility in society.  

This year, the Monitor reports, a diverse crowd from nine states as well as Canada, Ghana, Haiti, Nigeria, Gambia, and Kenya came to Gary April 13 for World Civility Day, and the CCC has prompted eight local governments and the state legislature to pass resolutions upholding civil discourse.   

The National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD), headquartered at the University of Arizona, was established in May 2011 in response to the tragic shooting at the Congress on Your Corner event in Tucson in which six people were killed and 13 wounded.  One of the seriously injured was former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who before the shooting had begun conversations about setting up a center to study improving the quality of civic conversation. The NICD website says it is building an interdisciplinary community of scholars who are developing an integrated research agenda on civil discourse. NICD leaders hope their research will be integrated into practice and lead toward a stronger democracy capable of tackling tough issues. NICD asserts “We believe we can disagree without being disagreeable, and we can respectfully share different opinions.”

What Is Civility?

Most would agree violence is extreme incivility. But people differ on what civility is, and even whether civility by itself ought to be a goal. Summer Moore, audience engagement editor at The Times of Northwest Indiana, which co-sponsored the civility initiative with Gary, found the word had connotations she hadn’t expected. When she presented the program at a conference, some activists thought a civility initiative looked like white do-gooders telling young black people how to behave. It hadn’t occurred to her that civility would be considered an oppressive term. She describes the experience as humbling. Now when she presents the program, she emphasizes the NICD focus on respect and seeking common ground as a starting point for discussing differences. 

The Monitor reports that civility initiatives in Gary schools helped students discuss difficult issues and gain better understanding of themselves and others.  

Hua Hsu, writing in The New Yorker, observers our political debate has never been all that delicate, and that calls for genteel discourse strike him as nostalgic fantasy. Kindness and good manners are virtues, he writes, but civility as a type of discourse is a “high road that nobody ever actually walks.”

Civility and the Founding Fathers

NECD scholars would beg to differ. Derek A.Webb of Stanford Law School, pored over records of the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention looking for insights on the level of civility among the founders as they went through grueling months of often contentious deliberations. He thinks they did pretty well.  In an article in the South Carolina Law Review he argues representatives at the Constitutional Convention maintained a surprising degree of civic friendship across party and sectional lines. He says daily interaction, dinner parties, and parliamentary procedures designed to encourage open-mindedness and reasonable deliberation helped.  This rich, but often overlooked, story of our nation’s founding deserves a telling for lawyers and politicians alike,” Webb wrote, “particularly given the quality and tenor of deliberations in legislative assemblies today.  Read the paper here.

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Courting Danger to Conquer Fear

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, April 24, 2017

Fire, Swords and the Art of Escape

During the week, Dr. Michelle Carnes is a public health anthropologist in American Indian and LGBTQ youth suicide prevention, cultural preservation and restoration.  All her work involves helping communities confront taboo topics that can lead to health disparities and life and death situations. 

On the weekends, she eats fire.  And escapes rope ties. And swallows swords. Michelle Carnes’ evolution to professional sideshow stuntress is rooted in her own resolve to conquer fear. At first, it’s hard to get past the fear, she said. “When the fire is coming at your face, a part of you says this is a bad idea,” she said. “Fire is hot (about 400 degrees) …But once you learn how fire works, it’s less scary and you discover what you can do.”

People ask her all the time, “How did you get into this stuff?” It’s a personal journey with an unlikely and frightening start. In 2001 Michelle was living in Chicago. One night as she walked home from class a violent assailant attacked her from behind, threw her to the ground, beat her, and stole her book bag. She ended up with a bloody nose, two black eyes, broken glasses, and vertigo, probably from a head injury suffered when she hit the ground.  She had no health insurance for her physical injuries but it was the harmful emotional and mental dislocations that took longest to heal. 

“I was terrified to leave the house,” she recalled. “It was very hard. People don’t know what to say to you, and they try to talk you out of your fear.  They don’t understand the way it affects you. PTSD was not part of the cultural language at that time.   It was very isolating, and I feared I would feel like this for the rest of my life.”

Two years later, she was still feeling the physiological symptoms of the attack, disproportionate responses to stimuli, anxiety, panic attacks and sudden anger. Then she started teaching as part of her graduate program. It helped. “I realized being in front of a class was a kind of performance.  I felt competent. I knew the material, and how to present it in a way that that was meaningful to people in the class,” she said. “I became focused on them, and began to forget about what was going with me. That was my first clue that getting up in front of a group was helpful and powerful.”

Several years later, she went back to the scene of her attack and used film to tell the story of what had happened there in a documentary she made. “Digital storytelling is a therapeutic technique used commonly in my work with tribal communities,” she said. “Getting a video camera and telling a hard story using documentary filmmaking techniques lessens the burden of what you carry around and help other people understand. When I made my film, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted – and now, in my work, we put video cameras in the hands of youth with tough stories to tell. Art and creativity are deeply healing ways to approach trauma. It’s not just my job; it’s something I know personally and intimately.”

After she moved to Washington DC to complete her PhD at American University, she began taking improv classes in 2013 on a whim. It felt fun and therapeutic and reduced her panic attacks significantly. Next, she learned stand-up comedy. She enjoyed performing. The panic attacks became infrequent and then disappeared. Michelle discovered she delighted in audience reactions to her taboo-shattering humor. Sideshow stunt performing was a natural next step.

Fire eating is an old American show business circus act with a long spiritual history in India and elsewhere. Many modern day fire-eaters are women; some are drawn to the personal liberation and power that fire offers.  Michelle found that by choosing to expose herself to danger, she was the hero, the survivor – and no longer felt like a victim. She says how powerful it is to hear from people who knew her as a timid soul years ago tell her how much she has changed and grown.  

Michelle reports a sharp recent insight on the relationship between emotional issues and physical performance. She recently learned sword swallowing, one of the most highly prized, difficult and dangerous sideshow acts.  In early attempts, she felt as though the sword was hitting “a closed fist” in her throat. Her teacher, Harley Newman, whom she calls the “Zen master of sideshow,” reminded her of a recent personal loss (a friendship she ended) and suggested this loss may be “stuck” in her throat. Harley told her she had to leave behind who she had been and become the person she would be now: a sword swallower. She tried again, and the sword went 15 inches down her esophagus, literally past her heart. She cried when she took the sword out, fully grieving the loss of her friend but grateful for her ability to stand her ground and trust her instincts – exactly what she needed to learn this difficult skill.

She is committed to the months of practice it will take before she will be able to swallow swords on stage.  “It’s about getting the mind ready, and disciplining myself to do it,” she said.  “Finding ways to express myself creatively isn’t just fun and extra income for me; it’s been my makeshift method to heal and grow into someone I never imagined I could become.”

Michelle takes comfort in the way she has learned to be calm in the face of many dangers – whether environmental, internal or self-imposed.  Now the producer of the longest-running Washington DC variety show, the DC Weirdo Show, she prepares to share her story (and some of those fire talents) at the next Plexus Institute conference at her session, entitled, “It’s Only Weird the first Time: How Curiosity and Courage Expand Possibility!” on Monday, May 8! Register now at

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Biology and Education Out of Sync for Many Teens

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, April 17, 2017

'Their Body Clocks are in Some Time Zone West of Us'

When children enter puberty, their circadian rhythms change, which means early school start times maybe turning many of them into sleep-deprived zombies prone to moodiness and sub-par academic performance.

As long schools start when kids need to be asleep, says sleep researcher Mary Carskadon, teenagers on average may be consigned to “social jet lag” in which the timing of life is not the timing of their bodies.

Carskadon is a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, who has studied teen health and sleep patterns for decades.  She has found that while teens still need the same amount of sleep as younger children, 9 to 10 hours a night, society make it harder for them to get it. She explains that the two systems that regulate sleep- circadian rhythms and sleep pressure—the biological need to sleep—change with age.  Adolescents fall asleep later, and Carskadon says that’s not just a behavioral choice, it’s also a physiological imperative.

A Brown University press release explains that in her sleep lab at Butler Hospital in Rhode Island, Carskadon studied biomarkers in adolescents such as saliva levels of melatonin, a natural hormone driven by circadian rhythms that cues the onset of sleepiness. She found that teens produce melatonin later than younger kids, indicating fundamental changes in circadian rhythms in adolescence. In the late 1990s, Carskadon studied 10th graders who had to start school at 7:20 AM.  Wrist monitors showed they were averaging about seven hours of sleep.  In the sleep lab, she’d wake them in time for their school start, and let them go back to sleep at 8:30, the time they’d be expected to pay attention and take exams if they were in school.


“About half of them looked like they had a major sleep disorder—narcolepsy,” she said. They “fell asleep in under a minute and went directly into REM sleep, which means their brains were set up in a very strong way to be asleep.  When you are trying to teach and learn, it’ a non-starter.” In a PBS interview, Carskadon observed that when you see a classroom of sleepy kids, you know they aren’t learning.

She also studied brain waves and light sensitivity, and discovered that young teens are more sensitive to light than older teens, suggesting late night use of electronic gadgets is particularly disruptive in early adolescence. 

According to, a coalition of health professionals, educators and parents who advocate school hours compatible with health, safety and learning, 40 percent of U.S. high schools start before 8 AM, and another 10 percent start before 7:30 AM.  Only 15 percent start after 8:30 AM.  More than 20 percent of middle schools start classes at 7:45 AM or earlier.  In many districts, bus pick-ups start as early as 5:30 AM. The organization’s website emphasizes that sleep-deprived teens face less than optimum performance in schoolwork and sports and their behavior also may be impacted.   

For many teens, the school day ends around 2 PM or earlier, and that brings its own set of problems.  It leaves several unsupervised hours before working parents return home.  For some kids, those unstructured after school hours lead to drug use and other kinds of trouble. Government statistics show that mid afternoon-the hours between school dismissal and dinner—are peak times for violent juvenile crime.

In his 2003 book Sync, How Order Emerges from Choas in the Universe, Nature and Daily Life, mathematician Steven Strogatz devotes a chapter to “Sleep and the Daily Struggle for Sync.”  He likens the human body to an enormous orchestra, in which musicians are individual cells, all born with a 24 hour rhythm.  He notes that teenagers who struggle to get up in the morning have “internal body clocks that are set differently, somewhere in a time zone to the west of us.”   Strogatz also describes the experiment of Michel Siffre, a French geologist who isolated himself in a cave to  document his own circadian rhythms. Read an interview with Siffre here.  

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Neuroplasticity in the Kitchen

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, April 17, 2017


Listen to the cake, hear the heart beat of the pie

Christine Ha is a blind cook who won the third season of the frenetic TV cooking competition “Master Chef.”

She says her fingertips “became her eyes.”   A New York Times story by Julia Moskin explains her cooking expertise began when she used touch, hearing, smell and taste to reverse-engineer her late mother’s deep fried spring rolls.  Her fingertips tell her the pliability of the wrappers. She learned the sound the bubbling oil makes when she tosses in a bit of filling to identify the right temperature. She can tap the frying rolls with tongs to tell if the shells are crisp and blistered.

David Linden, a neurobiologist at Johns Hopkins University, explains that when people can’t see, their senses of hearing and touch are intensified.  In fact, the parts of the brain dedicated to visual data shrink and the parts that receive information from the ear and touch sensitive nerve endings grow larger.  Linden is the author of Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind.

Kate McDermott, who was a professional musician before she began leading intensive professional baking seminars, has always experienced the world through sound. Moskin quotes her as saying the “heartbeat of the pie” is the “whump” sound it makes when the thickened filling bumps steadily against the top crust.   She’s been listening to pies for years and her book is The Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings and Life.

Edna Lewis, described by The Times as the doyenne of American southern cooking, advises bakers to listen to their cake: when those little bubbling and ticking sounds stop it’s done.

Baking isn’t the only specialty that benefits from the heightened sensory information that most recipes don’t mention. Moskin’s story describes how a multi-sensory approach also helps produce delicious main dishes and meats with the most sought after “mouthfeel.”  Linden, the neurobiologist, reports that the mouthfeel most universally appreciated across all human cultures is a crispy crust around a soft interior, as exemplified by the Middle Eastern falafel, Japanese tempura, Indian Samosas, and French fries.

Several studies show that when people are blind or deaf, their other senses become more highly developed.  However, Linden says no similar adaptation seems to happen when people lose their sense of taste and smell.  He says people who lose those two senses, a condition called anosmia, tend to lose interest in cooking and eating and are at increased risk for depression and suicide.  “The shared interest in food seems to one of the things that makes us human,” he said. 



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Is Leadership Losing Its Luster?

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Wednesday, April 5, 2017

We Need Leaders 'Called to Service, Not Status'

Harvard, Yale and Princeton all cite leadership as a quality they want in their students. In fact, most competitive educational institutions tout their ability to attract young people who will wield business and political power in the future.

Susan Cain, the author of the best selling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, suggests in a New York Times essay that the "outsized glorification of 'leadership skills' " damages the practice of leadership itself -"it hollows it out, empties it of its meaning."  

She describes students vying to become president of every possible club and organization just to burnish their resumes. She recounts conversations with students who think leadership means authority, dominance and the ability to boss people around. She asserts a well-balanced student body -and a healthy society- needs followers and team players as well as people who go it alone.

"It needs leaders who are called to service rather than to status," she writes, and she thinks people who have influence in education should re-focus their recruitment drives.

Book about leadership proliferate almost daily. Joe Iarocci, who was CEO of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership before founding Cairnway, a consulting organization that promotes servant leadership in organizations, noted in his blog that 1,246 paperbacks on leadership were published in the first 10 months of 2015 alone, and that Amazon then had more than 57,000 books with "leadership" in the title. Amazon recently listed 191,770 "leadership books." Plexus Institute, which features complexity-informed resources, lists dozens of books and articles examining multiple aspects of leadership viewed through a complexity lens.  Prominent among those elements are how to recognize patterns, foster networks, practice adaptive leadership, create conditions where work and those who do it can flourish, and how to achieve all that in the face of uncertainty.  

Many scholars and theoreticians approach the topic in a deeply philosophical way. For instance, Peter Block has written extensively and insightfully about stewardship, servant leadership, culture and community. He calls stewardship a choice to "act in service of the long run" and to "act in service of those with little power." Ronald Heifetz, in his book Leadership Without Easy Answers presents a nuanced examination of the roots of authority, how to lead when situations require it be done without the trappings of power, and the qualities leaders need to develop. Both are scholars of leadership in the realms of business and government and private and public organizations, and both stress the value and vitality of citizenship.

Susan Cain has her own consultancy, the Quiet Revolution, and her own ideas about leadership in the world of work. She notes that Adam Grant, who has written books on what drives people to succeed, has said the most frequent question he gets from readers is how to contribute when you're not in charge, and how to get a hearing for your suggestions. Those, he says, "are the fundamental questions of followership."

Rather than focusing on leadership skills, Cain suggests colleges would serve students and society better if they recruited applicants who value excellence, passion for a field, and a desire to contribute beyond the self. That framework, she says, would attract future artists, poets, scientists and mathematicians who will contribute without wanting to be in charge, as well as those who are leaders already. She also thinks we need to look closely at what we value.

"If we're looking for the students and citizens most likely to attain wealth and power, let's admit it," she writes. "Then we can have a frank debate about whether that's a good idea. "




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Human Rights for Rivers

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Wednesday, April 5, 2017
A New Framework for Fighting Pollution
The Ganges and Yamina Rivers are living entities, an Indian court has ruled, and that means these ancient waterways have the same legal status as humans.
Polluting them would be the same as physically harming a person, and top officials have been appointed the rivers' guardians to represent them and protect their rights. The BBC , the Guardian and other news outlets report that the high court in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand has awarded the new legal status to both rivers, which have become heavily polluted by industrial waste, sewage and the results of rapid urbanization. 

Ganges River, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India.
 The Ganges, which flows nearly 1,600 miles through India and Bangladesh, is considered sacred by Hindus and worshiped as a goddess. In 2007  it was ranked the world's fifth most polluted river, and environmentalists have said in some places it is so stagnant that it cannot support life. The Yamuna River is the longest and second largest tributary of the Ganges.

The River Goddess Ganga

Activists hope the new legal status will speed clean-up and preservation efforts. The change is not unprecedented. In New Zealand, a former national park on North Island was granted he rights of personhood when the government gave up formal ownership of the land after an agreement with Maori groups. The Whanganui River, which is important to Maori culture and tradition, received recognition a living entity with the rights of a person this March.

Chris Finlayson, New Zealand's attorney general and associate minister of Maori development, said the issue was resolved by taking the Maori mind-set into account. "In their worldview, 'I am the river and the river is me,'" he said. "Their geographic region is part and parcel of who they are."

Images from Wikipedia


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We Can ‘Rewire’ Our Brains for Creative Thinking

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Tuesday, March 14, 2017

More Neuroplasticity Means More Creativity

Erik Weihenmayer, who is totally blind, belongs to an elite group of mountain climbers who have scaled the “seven summits,” the tallest peaks on all seven continents.  That includes Mount Everest in Napal and Mount Vinson in Antarctica.

Weihenmayer learned to “see,” with his tongue, using a device called BrainPort. That is just one of the extraordinary stories in The Net and the Butterfly: The Art and Practice of Breakthrough Thinking, by Olivia Fox Cabane and Judah Pollack. 

Before he lost his vision to a rare disease at the age of 13, Weihenmayer interpreted visual data conventionally through his eyes. Using BrainPort, he learned to distinguish patterns of electrical impulses on his tongue and interpret them as representing shapes, sizes and motions of things in his environment. In effect, his brain was rewired to get visual information in a new way. The authors also cite studies showing deaf people can rewire their brains to get auditory information from sight and touch.

Rewiring isn’t just a metaphor, they explain, because our brains are actually changing throughout our lives, creating new physical connections among neurons.  That’s neuroplasticity. “Our experiences, the things we pay attention to, and our behaviors,” they write, “are constant feedback loops changing the structure of our brains.”  That means we have some control over our own neuroplasticity. Even if we’re not compelled to overcome disabilities, we can choose not to be neural couch potatoes.

The more new neural connections we build, the more neuroplasticity we have, the more creative we can be, and the more likely we are to experience breakthrough thinking of the type that solves problems and fosters innovation.  With 100 billion neurons, each with the possibility of making thousands of connections, Cabane and Pollack write, “there are more potential connections inside your brain than there are stars in the sky.”

 The authors provide examples of different kinds of breakthroughs.  Inspirations can come from dreams, and nature, among other sources. After the inventor Elias Howe dreamed he was captured by a primitive tribe wielding spears that had holes in the tip, he had a waking inspiration for the lock-stitch sewing machine, which revolutionized the clothing industry.  Velcro imitates sticky burrs, and the water-tight glue that keeps barnacles clinging to rocks has inspired surgeons to close wounds in new ways. Sometimes an odd intuitive hunch turns out to be right when it’s tried. And sometimes accumulated years of thought and study produce the kinds of major paradigm changes wrought by Einstein, Newton and Darwin.  But all breakthroughs are valuable, and often cumulative.

The authors present fascinating stories on original thinking.  They also explain tools and exercises to increase neuroplasticity, think in new ways, observe things once unnoticed, and find connections among ideas and events that had seemed unrelated.  

Here are some simple suggested plasticity exercises: Use your non-dominant hand to write, eat, and use a key. Taste and cook something you’ve never eaten before. Watch a foreign movie without subtitles and try to understand the plot from action and facial expressions.  Listen to music from an unfamiliar culture. Experiment with thoughts: What would happen if gravity stopped nightly at 10 PM? Would we sleep on the ceiling? Have nets in trees?  Float away toward a new landings when gravity resumed at dawn? Suppose everyone lived to be 130? Suppose you lived in a city where memories were currency, and you could only buy thing by sharing recollections?

There are more tools, practices, and insights about how we can learn more, try more, do more and develop the habits that promote all those sparkling new neural connections that may just outnumber the stars.   

Want to learn more? Join Judah Pollack on the March 24 PlexusCall  when he and Barrett Horne discuss Judah’s new book.


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'Works of Bricolage,' Sideshows, and Survival

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Strange Road from Innovation to Acceptance 


When Lucille Conlin Horn was born in 1920, a fragile infant weighing only two pounds, she was not expected to live. Her twin sister died. But Lucille Horn did live for nearly a century, with a career, marriage and five children.

Her survival is part of an extraordinary story of the wonderful, surprising and sometimes wrenching ways that innovations are introduced, resisted, and travel in unexpectedly circuitous routes before eventual adoption.

In the late 1870s, a French obstetrician named Stephane Tarnier visited a Paris zoo and noticed chicken hatchlings wobbling about in a box warmed by containers of hot water. He thought about the horrifying infant mortality rate at his hospital, and wondered if a warm temperature controlled enclosure might save premature human babies. Tarnier had similar box built for his tiny patients. Steven Johnson, writes about Tarnier's achievement in his book Where Good Ideas Come From. While 66 percent of low weight babies were dying in the weeks after birth, 72 percent of low weight babies in the mew warming box survived.   Johnson writes that good ideas are "works of bricolage," in which existing notions and practices are cobbled together for new purposes. He calls it the adjacent possible, an idea he adapted from theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman. After a few years, all Parisian hospitals had infant incubators.

But most of the medical establishment in Europe and the U.S. resisted the idea and incubators were not allowed in most hospitals. Incubators were not common is U.S. hospitals until after World War II.

In 1888 another French physician, Pierre-Constant Budin, now considered the father of modern neonatology, began publishing results of Tarnier 's work. The medical community remained dubious. Budin and colleagues, trying to spread the life-saving methods, arranged exhibits of infant incubators in Berlin and London, and at the World's Fair in Paris in 1900, and the World's Fair in Buffalo New York in 1901.    

Martin Arthur Couney, who was born March 1, 1870 came to the U.S. in the 1890s, claimed to be a physician and a student of Budin. Neither may have been true, though he apparently did help with some of the successful early exhibits of live babies in incubators. Whatever his credentials, he is credited with saving the lives of thousands of premature babies through a side-show exhibition at Cony Island, N.Y. that opened in 1903 and continued for four decades. Couney charged people 25 cents for admission to see the babies in his exhibit, and used the money to cover the cost of the equipment and a team of skilled nurse to care for the babies. Hundreds of thousands of curious visitors came. Carnival barkers, including a young Cary Grant, urged the crowds to come look.   Parents did not have to pay.

Coney Island was famous for its side shows-it featured bizarre displays such as the limbless lady, the man three legs, the man with the face of a lion and other oddities. Showing live premature babies was controversial, and so was Couney. Many considered him more charlatan or showman than life-saver, though he did have highly credentialed friends, and was gratified to know hospitals began using incubators shortly before he died in 1950. His own daughter was premature, and survived in one of his incubators. He also had appreciation of thousands of survivors, many of whom attended his graduate reunions.   The amusement park atmosphere may have both hindered and helped mainstream medical acceptance. In the Horn obituary, the AP reported Couney had said more than 8,000 infants were placed in his incubators, and more than 7,000 survived.

Lucille Horn, who died February 10 at he age of 96, was buried next to her premature twin who could not be saved. She told her story to NPR and others. In the early 20th century, hospitals couldn't do much for tiny premature babies so they were sent home with little chance of living. Lucile Horn says her father, having been told his surviving twin baby faced death, begged Couney to accept her in his exhibit. After a six-month stay, she says, she was returned to her family and went on to live a long full life. She worked as a crossing guard and a legal secretary for her husband in addition to having five children.


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Stories Have Shapes and Basic Emotional Arcs

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Emotional Shape of Stories Emerges in Math

Andrew J. Reagan, an applied mathematician at the University of Vermont, thought about all the extraordinary new the knowledge about genes that has been generated by data from the Human Genome Project.  And that made him wonder what data could teach us about stories.

Dr. Reagan and his team analyzed more than 1,300 works of fiction in the digitized Project Gutenberg collection.  They traced the “emotional arc” of the stories by graphing the happiness and sadness of the words as they appeared in the text.  The emotion arc of a story doesn’t provide direct information about plot or characters, they explain in a recently published paper.  It reflects changes in sentiment as the story progresses.  They discovered that about 85 percent of the stories they analyzed—across different cultures and time periods—fall into one of six emotional patterns.  The team notes that Kurt Vonnegut observed years ago that stories have the shapes, and the shape of the Cinderella story was similar to the Biblical description of the origins of Christianity as well as the creation story of nearly every human society.    

The six emotional trajectories illustrated in the different story arcs are:

Rags to riches – Rise

Tragedy, or riches to rags – Fall

Man in a hole – Fall, rise

Icarus – Rise, fall

Cinderella – Rise, fall, rise

Oedipus – Fall, rise, fall

The researchers believe these arcs are the building locks of stories. They created mathematical graphs, depicting the shapes of the six patterns as exemplified in classic and popular literature based on their computational analysis. The graphs are shown in a Scientific American story by  Mark Fischetti. This story also describes a study by Poland’s Institute of Nuclear Physics showing that the lengths of sentences in books often form a fractal pattern—one in which shapes are replicated in small and large scale, similar to tree branches.   Scientific American asked the Vermont team to analyze two of the books in the fractal study, Fischetti writes, and the mathematicians found those books did have two of the common emotional arcs. Do books with the same emotional arcs have the same fractal patterns? No one knows, though further investigation might answer that. Read more about the research in Reagan’s University of Vermont Story Lab blog.   

Why analyze the mathematics of literature?  Dr. Reagan and his colleagues write that we are driven to find and tell stories to communicate our ideas, needs and beliefs and describe our observations of the world.

“In science, we formalize the ideas that best describe our experience with principles such as Occam'sRazor: The simplest story is the one we should trust,” the authors write. “We tend to prefer stories that fit into the molds which are familiar, and reject narratives that do not align with our experience.” Advances in computing, natural language processing and digitization of text are providing quantities of data that can be mined for new insights on the evolution of culture and communication.

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