Friday, August 7, 2015

Health, Longevity, and Finger Pointing

Merchant - Lyme Regis Low Tide

The photograph is from Lyme Bay at low tide, taken by Richard Marchant for the Dorset Landscapes group.  the jumble of boats is evocative of my week: Mind cluttered during  travel, driving up and down England to get business matters settled ahead of a week’s vacation. 

Three ideas in particular stayed with me, the topic of todays essays.


DSC02954 (1400x894)Jeff Gordinier offered 12 Tips for Living a Longer Life in the NYTimes this week.  It centers on healthy eating habits, ranging from Drink more coffee (Yay!) to Hold the butter (Boo!).  My favorite, though, is the last suggestion:

Eat in good company. It’s not just about what you eat, but how you eat, and how much you and your friends enjoy a meal together.

It has taken me a long time to appreciate a meal taken at leisure, interspersed with conversation, wine, and trips outdoors for a breath between courses.  A break for lunch and a talk is normal now; a three hour dinner is no big stretch, it’s a leisurely and thoughtfully fun evening to savor.

And, if you haven’t explored your probability of living five more years, check out the UbbLE Risk Calculator.


DSC03033 (904x1400)The Shrink and Sage tackled How do we live with our mistakes? last weekend. 

The Shrink counseled Recognize that we all make a mess of things sometimes. Make sure you do this with kindness and compassion towards yourself. Then carry on living.

The Sage suggested (paraphrasing)  Often we can’t know what the ‘right’ choice is, and, in hindsight, we will often get it wrong.  Still, we must suspend judgment and commit, simply putting aside doubt and acknowledging the possibility that we might have chosen badly.

Along the way, the Shrink commented An approach I find helpful and refreshing is acceptance and commitment therapy, which is part of the “third wave” cognitive-behaviour-therapy stable. 

“Third Wave” is an agreeably modern dialectic, perhaps first popularized by Futurist Alvin Toffler as the Third Wave of Economic Development (Agrarian, Industrial, Information), separately adopted by Third Wave Feminists (Legal rights, Institutional rights, Identity rights). 

In Cognitive Therapies, it is the third step in progression from operant behavioral conditioning (desensitization) through rational ’talking’ therapies, to building healthier behavioral skills.  Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), for example, preaches Accept your reactions and be present, Choose a valued direction, and Take action. 

I like the mindfulness aspect of suspending context and focusing on the present, but dislike the accompanying suspension of judgment.  I’m somewhat more attracted to the related approach of Morita Therapy:

One of the primary goals in Morita therapy is to reach the state of arugamama (acceptance of reality as it is). This state includes accepting one’s feelings and thoughts without trying to change them. Morita therapy encourages people to focus their efforts toward living life well rather than to direct attention and energy to changing emotions, accomplishing what is important in life even as unpleasant feelings coexist.

The similarities with many of the ACT techniques, including mindfulness, acceptance of emotions, committed action, value-based behaviors, and the use of metaphors, are striking.  Hoffman, 2008


finger textWhile driving up to Oxford, I chanced to see a woman arrive at the bus stop,  running her finger over the schedule as she looked for the next bus.

Why do we do that?  The finger itself doesn’t read the words, and there was no companion present that she might be pointing something out.   My guess is that the finger must help in directing visual focus and acquisition of sequential text?

Reflecting, I usually point at text when finding something in an ordered list (as opposed to a searching for a word in free text).  I also do it when tracing information in a picture, as a route across a map.  Speed readers use a finger to pull the eye along text, and maybe this is the point in all cases. 

Researchers note that finger pointing is a human universal; it transcends culture and invariably is associated with the index finger.   While apes also do it, it is thought to be a gesture of language, variously and innate component of language acquisition, a basic component of non-verbal communication, and the ‘royal road to language for babies’ (Wilkins 2003).

It would be interesting to see whether people locate information more quickly when allowed to use their finger, vs. not.  I’m sure someone must have done the experiment, but I’m still looking for a reference (some day when I have time, it would be easy to try….)

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