Young Leonardo: The Evolution of a Revolutionary Artist, 1472–1499

Here is my review of ” Young Leonardo: The Evolution of a Revolutionary Artist, 1472–1499 ” at the New York Journal of Books:

Young Leonardo: The Evolution of a Revolutionary Artist, 1472–1499

“A corrective look at Leonardo’s first 27 professional years when he was snubbed, struggled, and departed Florence thwarted and penniless.”

Modern minds think of Leonardo da Vinci as a fully formed genius, in the same way they might imagine Mozart, Einstein, or Shakespeare. But this satisfying book upends that cozy claim. It takes a corrective look at Leonardo’s first 27 years during which he was snubbed, struggled, and departed Florence thwarted and penniless. Duke Ludovico Sforza’s reception in Milan was disappointingly tepid, and major commissions went to artists whose names are now forgotten.

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How Music Works

Here is my review of David Byrne’s “How Music Works” at the New York Journal of Books:

How Music Works

“Byrne touches on a broad array of forces that influence and shape the musical experience—from how it is created, performed, recorded, and distributed to more personally meaningful aspects . . .”

Should we consider a musician an artist, or is an artist a musician? That is the central question in David Byrne’s newly revised How Music Works. It is at once a combination of Music 101 and a revealing autobiography by the famous member of the Talking Heads. In this engaging tome, Byrne endeavors to explain how music broke free from elite circles to become the popular commodity it is today.

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Why Brains Won’t Be Beaten by Supercomputers, or Terminators

To outmatch human smarts requires more than speed and power.

 

Cross posted at The Fallible Mind, my Psychology Today blog.

The key to human consciousness? A chess problem that computers can’t solve.

What makes humans human? Is it our skill at building things? Certainly not. Even ants design and build complex architectures. Perhaps it is language or culture? But then again, birdsong is language, and the so-called sacred rituals of chimpanzees, or elephant burials aren’t so different from our own. If we ever succeed at creating artificial intelligence in the way that popular culture imagines, should we worry that human cognition will no longer stand at the top? Continue reading

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Keynote at the COLORI exhibit in Turin

In January, I gave the keynote lecture opening “The Color of Emotion in Art,” or COLORI, at Turin’s Civic Gallery of Modern Art, GAM, and Castello di Rivoli museum. I also have a catalogue essay on “Thinking in Metaphor: Color & the Creative Spark,” that accompanies the exhibit. See the cover art by Damien Hirst and watch my summary interview here: Continue reading

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The Shadow Doctor

Here is my review of “The Shadow Doctor” at the New York Journal of Books:

The Shadow Doctor

“We are only charged with loving people. The rest is not our responsibility. I would rather work with a fountain pen than be supplied with a nice, safe crayon in an institution.”

Jack Merton’s beloved grandmother left him a letter before she died. On the night she intended to kill herself she had met a stranger, alone, during a violent storm. The letter urged Jack to call her mysterious acquaintance, “if you ever think it might be a good idea to get in touch.” An enclosed olive–colored business card bore a printed phone number along with three words all in capitals: THE SHADOW DOCTOR. Gran’s letter spoke about his ability “to create community with very few words.”

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Is Organic Food a Scam?

Whole Paycheck Pauper? You’re Paying 47% More For Psychology.

 

Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today

organic purple grapes

Source: Pixabay

Here’s food for thought: Taste happens in your head, not your mouth. Color, for instance, is a strong influence on how we perceive flavor. Purple grapes don’t look quite right when served on a blue plate. Similar color contrast impressions operate at multiple levels both psychologically and in the brain. It may be that the term “blue plate special” became popular during the 1930s Depression when cooks noticed that customers were satisfied with smaller portions when meals were served on a blue plate. Shape affects gustatory judgments, too. An angular plate emphasizes the sharpness of a dish. Weight also matters: the more heft a bowl has the more satiated you’ll feel no matter how much or little you eat [1]. Continue reading

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Heart of the Machine: Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence

Here is my review of “Heart of the Machine: Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence” at the New York Journal of Books:

Heart of the Machine: Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence

“Why are futurists so often wrong, and why do we even listen to them given their poor track record?”

Entertainments such as Her, Westworld, and Ex Machina have perhaps softened us to the notion that we will one day live among emotionally aware machines. Or rather, artificial intelligences.

Self–described futurist Richard Yonck wants to persuade us that the next step in human evolution is “the ability of computers to recognize, respond to, and even replicate emotions.” And yet the first two items on his list are old hat and the third, at least in terms of computerized speech, are fairly well along.

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Why Carl Sagan’s 1995 Prediction Seems So Prescient

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

We read into matters what we are primed to believe.

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Imagine yourself standing on a street corner choking on smoke and soot while fires leap from buildings overhead. Everyone panics, while someone asks you, “What does the future hold?”

“Better than this,” you say.

Seem unlikely? It’s a fact that human brains are predisposed to such sunny outlooks.

Psychology calls our skewed vision of the future “optimism bias.” It describes our innate propensity to see things in a positive light. Our hard–wired cognitive bias draws us toward information and beliefs that importantly keep us moving forward no matter how bleak our current situation. Optimism bias is an evolutionary survival tactic. Continue reading

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Another Limitless Pill Hits the Market. Does It Deliver?

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

Will brain-power in a bottle ever unlock your inner genius?

Source: Anya Vanece, with permission

News of a brand–new “Limitless pill” is making its way around the Internet. Claiming to “safely improve memory, focus, and mental performance,” the Neuro XR brain–booster has been garnering accolades from intrigued journalists.

It might be unwise to join in the excitement, however. First off, journalists are notoriously poor at weighing evidence and numerical data. But there are additional reasons to be skeptical of claims that promise cognitive enhancement. Continue reading

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The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing

Here is my review of “The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing” at the New York Journal of Books:

The Inkblots

“What might this be?” Such an innocuous question—such profound results. No psychological concept has penetrated culture as much as “the Inkblot test” has.

“What might this be?” That such an innocuous question should tap our collective imagination, reveal the power of perception to both shape and reveal one’s character, and to prove a resilient tool for interpreting the human psyche is nothing short of astounding.

And yet Hermann Rorschach’s ambiguous yet carefully planned inkblot drawings, begun in 1917 and published in 1921, did exactly that. But not without enduring controversy.

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The Pit In Your Stomach is Actually Your Second Brain

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

Gut feelings influence your mood and well-being.

The world is so much bigger and more interesting than we can see with our naked eyes. If we could, we could watch cells grow, morph, and split again over and over again on the backs of our own wrists–or the billions of foreign cells living in and among our own, forming what scientists are beginning to call our “second brain.

Second BrainAs researchers turn their microscopes to these hidden environments, they have discovered something remarkable: There’s an entire ecosystem of bacteria and a vast neural network operating in our guts. This ecosystem is our second brain, and comprises some 100 million neurons, more than the spinal cord. This is not a thinking brain–it does not reason, write poetry, or solve multi-linear regressions–but mounting evidence suggests that your gut’s health strongly influences your mood. Continue reading

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Behind Her Eyes: A Novel

Here is my review of Sarah Pinborough’s “Behind Her Eyes: A Novel” at the New York Journal of Books:

ehind Her Eyes: A Novel

“An engaging suspense thriller despite its major gaffe in the ending’s twist. Novel in its concept and construction, this is one unsettling book.”

Art is taking something ordinary and making it extraordinary. This Sarah Pinborough does with style in Behind Her Eyes, an odd title whose meaning didn’t fall in to place until days after I had read the book.

The book opens with multiple secrets: Beautiful Adele, new to town, cleans up broken glass, mud under her fingernails, and “all evidence of earlier rage.” Dinner is ruined. “We’re ruined,” she tells herself, meaning the husband she clings to, David.

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Kill the Next One

Here is my review of Federico Axat’s “Kill the Next One” at the New York Journal of Books:

Kill the Next One

“Move over Hitchcock, P. D. James, Ruth Rendell, and more. Here is a thriller to make others fade. Well-drawn characters, a devilish plot, and first-rate storytelling make this an emotional mystery that resonates and disturbs.”

In this superb translation of Kill the Next One, Argentinian author Federico Axat invites the reader to solve a most original and convoluted tale of suspense.

Ted McKay has an enviable family and every trapping of success. Yet the book opens with him holding a gun to his temple. The doorbell rings. A stranger has a proposition: Why not kill two deserving individuals before offing himself? The first would be a murderer who had mistakenly escaped justice, the second a terminally ill individual like himself. Continue reading

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Big Mistake: Small Kids Left to Their Own Devices

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

Relaxing rules for kids and screen tech is probably a mistake.

screens and babies

Source: Pixbay.com

Remember Baby Einstein? About a decade ago so–called educational DVDs for infants and toddlers made for a $500 million business. Plunk your little darling in front of a screen, press play, and soon enough your young one could explain the theory of relativity. Purchase Baby Mozart, and a full–blown symphony might emerge from the crib. Or how about a ‘lil playwright to dramatize the trials and adventures of being only 2? Why, buy Baby Shakespeare of course. Continue reading

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At Danceteria and Other Stories

Here is my review of Philip Dean Walker’s “At Danceteria and Other Stories” at the New York Journal of Books:

At Danceteria and Other Stories

“Walker’s stories intersect the tipping point when big city gay life went from carefree hedonism and glitzy self–indulgence to the moment when self–satisfied habitués of the demi–monde began to witness the wide scale decimation of their generation.”

“Men, women, children, dogs—they all stopped what they were doing in order to look at him.”

This is how Philip Dean Walker describes an arresting beauty in “The Boy Who Lived Next to The Boy Next Door,” one of seven stories in this slim volume of highly imagined tales that bring dead celebrities back to life, place them in unexpected settings, and time warp the reader back to 1980, a time of high camp and existential danger. Continue reading

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