Cumberland Times-News

Bob Doyle - Astronomy

May 25, 2014

Think a little more and be less frazzled

Last Sunday’s column dealt with using technology carefully in education. What about technology in everyday life? There is a marvelous book “The Thinking Life,” by P.M. Forni, of The Johns Hopkins University which addresses this issue as well as timeless suggestions for living by Greek and Roman thinkers. “The Thinking Life: How To Thrive in the Age of Distraction” was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2011 with ISBN 978-0-312-62571-9. Dr. Forni also wrote “Choosing Civility” and “The Civility Solution”.



“The Thinking Life” opens with a fictional report by an alien (E.T.) visitor after observing humans for a week. The alien notes that humans have an ability to silently converse with themselves, known as thinking.



Happiness is built on a foundation based on the use of thinking. But humans spend much more time and energy in mindless entertainment and the exchange of trivial information.



Instead of planning on how to deal with the crossroads of their lives and decision making, they practice thought avoidance, sometimes leading to grief and sorrow.



What is the evidence for such a judgment? Nicholas Carr reports that the average number of text messages received or sent by American cell phone users was 400 texts per month in 2009. The average American teen cell phone user received or sent 2,272 texts a month. Worldwide, over two trillion text messages are sent each year.



This number dwarfs the number of voice calls (where people talk to each other).



Most uses of the internet are to retrieve information. With a few clicks and motion of the cursor, one can quickly tap into a vast number of words and images. But how
much is retained?



Without making an effort to grasp and reflect on its content, our mind’s cognitive pathways are unused. Being able to generalize and come up with a hypothesis or rule is the kind of thinking done by doctors making a diagnosis, biologists finding how one species escaped extinction (that’s us!), archeologists understanding of how a long established village was suddenly abandoned.



The ability to engage in critical thinking is less likely in a person whose main mode is multitasking (choosing to be attentive to several inputs at once). The multi-taskers are used to continual shifts of attention, not prolonged thought over a difficult problem. The ancient Greeks and Romans regarded leisure as freedom from work to pursue knowledge and wisdom. This was their greatest value. Forni turns to the ancient Stoics for guidance in the 21st century. Learn to say No — reduce your obligations to essentials. Do things right the first time by being careful — being inattentive will result in a shoddy result.



Eat your lunch alone and have some time by yourself to think. Turn waiting time into thinking time. These are a few of the gems in this book.



Reading “The Thinking Life” made me feel as if a kindly philosopher came into my space and gave me his best and most practical advice.

Text Only
Bob Doyle - Astronomy
  • It’s hotter here than in D.C. or Baltimore

    At this time of the year, the weather is a frequent subject of conversation, particularly the temperatures. We are now in the “Dog Days,” usually the hottest days of the year. The term comes from our sun appearing to be near the “Dog Star” (Sirius) and the “Little Dog Star” (Procyon). In reality, the sun is now about 94.5 million miles away while Sirius is 8.6 light years away with Procyon at 11 light years distance. Sunlight takes only 507 seconds to reach us, while the two dog stars’ light takes about a decade to travel to our eyes. So our sun is in the same direction (but not distance) as these two bright winter evening stars.

    July 20, 2014

  • Fronts, highs, lows determine weather

    Weather news on television and internet focus on violent weather, extreme temperatures and flooding.

    July 13, 2014

  • A long and winding road faces our food

    Last week’s column dealt with organs you can do without, our DNA (molecular blueprint for our bodies) and hair. My reference is “Body: Discover What’s Beneath Your Skin,” a Miles Kelly Book, written by John Farndon and Nicki Lampon and published in 2010. This column will consider finger and toe nails, breathing and coughing, saliva, mucus and your food’s long and torturous journey. Most cities and mid sized towns have nail shops where you can have your finger nails and toe nails adorned. Nail painting can be traced back 5,000 years.

    July 6, 2014

  • Here’s a look at what goes on inside you

    In high school, my favorite science course was biology. I can remember Mr. Munley in his wheelchair. Our class went on a field trip to the University of Miami Medical School where we saw the cadavers used by the medical students.

    June 28, 2014

  • Moon-watching easy when you know how

    Long before the first writing (scratches on clay tablets) appeared, our early ancestors noticed that the moon went through a regular cycle of shapes in about 30 days.

    June 21, 2014

  • Here’s how you can tell the stars, planets

    How can one tell one star from another at night? It’s a matter of knowing the sky areas (constellations).

    June 15, 2014

  • Smithsonian guide to stars is a good one

    At a local book store, I yielded to temptation and bought “Stars and Planets,” a Smithsonian Nature Guide written by four authors. Dinwoodie, Gater, Sparrow and Stott. It’s another Dorling Kindersley product with ISBN 978-0-7566-9040-3 and a 2012 copyright. “Stars and Planets” is a trade size paperback that is beautifully illustrated with appealing diagrams. “Stars and Planets” begins with the biggest topic, the Universe. There is a striking visual showing the known universe on the hugest scale, a delicate lacework of superclusters of galaxies with large voids. It resembles a bubble bath!

    June 8, 2014

  • Think a little more and be less frazzled

    Last Sunday’s column dealt with using technology carefully in education. What about technology in everyday life? There is a marvelous book “The Thinking Life,” by P.M. Forni, of The Johns Hopkins University which addresses this issue as well as timeless suggestions for living by Greek and Roman thinkers. “The Thinking Life: How To Thrive in the Age of Distraction” was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2011 with ISBN 978-0-312-62571-9. Dr. Forni also wrote “Choosing Civility” and “The Civility Solution”.

    May 25, 2014

  • Technology helps with learning, but take care

    Since I have been involved in teaching, two different technologies have been applied to learning at the secondary and collegiate level. The first was video (from videocassettes to DVDs) where a student or class might watch a presentation of some historical event, or a set of scientific principles or even a simulated exploration of the human body.

    May 18, 2014

  • Here are numbers that apply in our lives

    One of the best exercises is walking. Cardiologists suggest that each of us walk 10,000 steps per day. Assume each step is 0.5 meters or 19.7 inches. Then 10,000 steps would cover 5,000 meters or 3.11 miles. But studies find that the average American (from age 4 and up) takes only 2,000 steps/day or 1 kilometer.

    May 11, 2014

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