Offloading Memory

Louis Black does a funny bit about the elderly and “senior moments.” The elderly don’t talk, he says, they engage in verbal charades. Something like:

“Hey, you remember that guy, you know, in that movie?”

“What guy?”

“You know he was in a movie with that other guy.”

“What other guy?”

“The one who was in that movie with that woman.”

“What damn woman?”

“The one with lots of hair.”

“Lots of hair?”

“Yeah, she was like famous for all that hair.”

And so on, as the elderly attempt in vain to remember who the hell that guy was with the other guy who was in another movie with the woman who had lots of hair.

But, nowadays, what with the internet and with just a little bit more than “that guy” to type in, one can google it and eventually, and usually pretty quickly, come up with the name of “that guy.” I went through something like that–I can’t remember though what exactly–recently and I was able to google up the name of “that guy.” I remarked to somebody, “It’s like we our outsourcing our memory to the web.” He said, “Maybe that’s better.”

I don’t know, but apparently the elderly are not the only ones outsourcing their memories. According to the L.A. Times, Chinese young people in their twenties, previously drilled for hours and hours in the memorization of the approximately 3,000 characters necessary to communicate intelligently in Chinese are forgetting how to do it. Not because of the web, precisely but because of the new communication technologies.

According to the Times:

The more gadgets people own — cellphones, smart phones, computers — the less often they go through the elaborate sequence of strokes that make up Chinese characters. Whether on their computers or texting on phones, most Chinese use a system where they type out the sound of the word in Pinyin,the most commonly used Romanization system — and presto, they are given a choice of characters to use.

As a result of their reliance on these gadgets, younger Chinese people no longer write out long hand as it were their characters and as a consequence forget them. No problem, though, says one young Chinese person, who believes she has forgotten about 20% of the characters she once knew, “If I don’t know a character, I take out my cellphone to check.”

OK. I don’t know what this means. But it means something.

chinese tree.gifThe character for “tree.”

The Very Thought

I have been making use of this blog lately a) as a way of remembering what I have been trying to read and b) in the pure act of doing it as a way to convince myself, though the production of organized words, that my brain has not been paralyzed by the longueurs of withdrawal, or, as if, adrift in a windless Sargasso Sea. Water! Water! Everywhere, and not a drop to drink!

I think that for me at least the blows of age to my brain will be worse than the limitations it imposes on the body. Well, maybe that’s a toss up, and it’s a toss up too, in any case, as to whether or not the withdrawal has beaten my brain down to nothing (aside from these self imposed moments of making an appointment with it).

Yesterday I was trying to read something and found myself on the verge of tears at not being able to make heads or tails of it. I would look at the chain of words, try to concentrate, and then I would lose it. But I was reading words like this:

To bind education to its own unthought, to make a case for the idea that something within education resists thinking, that there is something about education that one knows nothing about, may seem counter intuitive to the project of education since ostensibly education is a deliberation, a judgment, and oddly a result of itself. Yet as both experience and institution, as training ground and as learning life, and as natality and its repression, people who are undergoing education as they are directing others in their learning rarely think the thought of education. (Britzman, The Very Thought of Education)

Maybe something as prolix as this is reason enough to be on the verge of tears both for what I don’t and do understand of it.

Brain Science 3, Or: Fear

Noting that brain scientists have long ignored the feelings and emotions, the emotion that figures most prominently in Huther’s discussion of the brain is the one that lies at the root of the fight/flight response: fear. Fear, for Huther, can produce a disequilibrium in the brain; it is a state of extreme stress. The ability of the individual to deal with this feeling is determined primarily in the first year of life:

There are children who enter this world with much more fear than others. And there are children, who following their birth, encounter conditions that are not conducive to developing a sense of security. These children have less confidence than others about their ability to eliminate a a disturbance to their inner balance through their own efforts and with the help of their mother–and less confident that they can share their joy over this successful enterprise with her. There are psychologically disturbed mothers, immature mothers, unhappy and discontented mothers, insecure and fearful mothers who are plagued with self-doubt, moody and fickle mothers, overly self-centered mothers or mothers who are overly controlled by others.

Children who enter the world with an excess of fear or children whose nurturing (environment) is inadequate can and do develop what Huther calls “Defective Installations,” brain networks that allow the child to deal with the fear but in ways that make their responses to the world “one-sided.” Once a child has developed such a one sided coping strategy there is little hope that he or she will abandon it in later life with the consequence that he or she will cease in large part to be capable of continued development. He or she is stuck.

I don’t know that Huther has read any psychoanalysis but the conclusions he reaches remarkably resemble those psychoanalysts reached some 80 years ago by means other than cutting up the brains of rats.

In her “Our Inner Conflicts,” Karen Horney, for examples, writes of the “basic conflict” and those environment factors that can produce a “defective” response to that conflict:

A wide range of adverse factors in the environment can produce this insecurity [basic anxiety] in a child: direct or indirect domination, indifference, erratic behavior, lack of respect for the child’s individual needs, lack of real guidance, disparaging attitudes, too much admiration or the absence of it, lack of reliable warmth, having to take sides in parental disagreements, too much or too little responsibility, overprotection, isolation from other children, injustice, discrimination, upkept promises, hostile environment and so on and so on.

Horney continues:

Harassed by these daunting conditions, the child gropes for ways to keep going, ways to cope with this menacing world…. In doing so, he develops not only ad hoc strategies but last character trends which become part of his personality. I have called these “neurotic trends.”

One sided development or neurotic trends. Take your pick. In either case, the child becomes stuck and doomed to follow in the same rut for the rest of its life.

Brain Science 2; Or, What Is Huther onto?

So what is Huther onto (see previous entry)?

In summary:

For decades the presumption was that the neuronal pathways and synaptic connections established during the brain’s initial development were immutable. Today we know that the brain is capable throughout our lifetimes of adaptively modifying and reorganizing the connective pathways that it has laid down, and that the development and consolidation of these pathways depends in quite a major way on how we use our brain and what for.

So what does this mean in some larger sense. Well, it means the structure of any particular brain….and one can only study particular brains…may well not be the structure of any other brain with the consequence that locating an immutable DNA conditioned structure is difficult, if not down right impossible. Certainly down there somewhere is a structure determined by DNA but “overlaying” that structure are all the structures or networks that arise from the inter-relation of the organism with its environment.

Huther writes:

A few years ago, no researcher in the field of brain science could have conceived the possibility that what we experience could be capable of changing the structure of the brain in any way. Today most scientists who study the brain are convinced that the experiences of our lives do become structurally anchored in the brain.

This notion that experiences themselves can “program” the brain or create structures provides some “scientific” proof for the process of socialization…that sociologists talk so much about. We learn, it might be said, from experience when those experiences create a new structure or reprogram the brain in some way.

Consequently, Huther argues that human beings did not develop big brains so that they might think or reason but so that they might become socialized. He writes: “Our brain is thus much more a social organ than it is a thinking organ.”

The brain of course is not equally open at all stages of development to being reprogrammed through experience (as the interaction of the organism with it environment). Rather, more like Freud than not, Huther suggests that the most profound and possibly unalterable experiential reprogramming occurs during the first year of life. Reprogramming or possibly first programming at this level is so profound, so obdurate that structures produce by it may appear DNA determined. They are not however and possibly because they are not Huther proposes as a kind of ideal brain one that is not boxed in by its early experiences but capable across the whole life cycle of learning (being reprogrammed by experience).

Very few and relatively rare individuals however achieve this brain ideal. Rather, to use Huther’s phrase, most of us develop brains that are in one way or another “one-sided” and relatively unopen to alteration. To address this problem he suggests scientists should expend less energy on asking how the brain is structure and more on how the brain is used, for how we use the brain is what determines whether “…the potentialities built into it can really be fully actualized.”

Those Students Again

I got a book in the mail yesterday. I couldn’t remember why I ordered it. From Amazon. I guess it was delayed or something. The title was, “The Compassionate Brain: How Empathy Creates Intelligence,” by some guy named Gerald Huther.

Then I remembered. The word “empathy” cued me.

A while back an article appeared in the L.A. Times reporting the results of a study at the University of Wisconsin indicating that today’s students are more lacking in empathy than ever. Or more precisely: the results of this thirty year study indicate and I quote:

From 1979 to 2009, college students’ scores on empathic concern and perspective taking declined overall. There were no substantial changes in fantasy or personal distress.

Converting the changes in scores to percentiles, researchers found a 48% decrease in empathic concern and a 34% decrease in perspective taking through the years.

Ok, this does not sound so good, but I don’t really trust this kind of study. So I decided to take the test, if that’s what it’s called, given to students, something called the“Interpersonal Reactivity Index.” It has 28 questions. You can take it if you want to find out how empathic you are (as if you didn’t already know).

I found questions like:

Other people’s misfortunes do not usually disturb me a great deal. (on a scale from 0: does not describe me very well to 4: describes me very well).

Give me a break. Sure I was a pretty upset kid, but as a college student I might have marked this zero just to be perverse. I mean I would have known that I was supposed to feel from the misfortune of others and just because I was supposed to I would have said I didn’t feel anything for the misfortune of others. I mean, screw the unfortunate. I am tired of hearing about those kids in China.

I am not a scientist so maybe the test has checks on this sort of perversity that I don’t know about.

Or maybe, kids growing up today have not been told they are supposed to feel something for the misery of others. In which case, no perversity at all was involved in their marking this question zero. If so, then the kids were not being perverse. And that’s a bit scary.

Writing It Up; Writing It Down

This is a facile distinction. But I intend it playfully.

In my reading around in various documents and in listening to colleagues, I have heard frequently: “Then I wrote it up.”

I think there may be a good deal of difference between the concept of writing implied in “writing it up” and that other concept of writing called “writing it down.”

The writing it up conception of writing seems to be shorthand for something like: “Well, now I have done my research, be it empirical or book research, made my calculations, defined my methodology limitations, reached my conclusions, and now I am going to write it up.” I am not saying writing it up is the easy part; the rules governing writing in the sciences, in areas especially like physics, are incredibly complicated. One must know and follow the appropriate forms for writing it up; still these forms are given. One doesn’t, in writing it up, make up the rules for doing that.

The writing it down conception of writing would seem to be something else entirely…almost. I think it shorthand for the saying: “How do I know what I think till I see what I say.” When one is writing something down one does not necessarily know before hand one’s conclusions or even the general point that one might wise to make. When one is writing it down, one is attempting by the word (social in its very nature) to externalize some internal confusion, perplexity or even irritation and though that gain some insight or hold upon that very confusion, perplexity or irritation.

Henry James or Hegel–they wrote it down. They did not have thoughts or perceptions and then write them up. In fact, in the case of writing it down the distinction between thoughts (as something inside the head) and words (as necessarily outside the head because social) is tenuous indeed. When one writes it down one is trying to say what one thinks, and what one thinks is no more or less than what one has written down.

I guess I am old school (if there ever was an old school); the world is not heading my way. I believe fairly resolutely in the idea of writing as writing it down. But then I am not a scientist or empiricist. I have never been research oriented, though I recognize the value of it. In my particular educational experience, what proved of most value to my understanding of the world and of myself in relation to that came from writing it down. This was never easy, always a struggle. And unlike writing it up, there is no end really to writing it down.

I can’t say now and probably never will be able to say, “There! There! I have written it down.” 

I Am Officially Distinguished

The Thursday before last I attended a meeting of the UCSB Academic Senate. There I stood, feeling rather stupid, in front of the assembly while the President of the Academic Senate read from a prepared text about my ability as a teacher pretty much roughly as follows:

Dr. Nicholas Tingle is a continuing lecturer in the Writing Program, and he has taught writing since 1980, before the Writing Program was even established. One of his supporters describes Nick as “a reflective teaching practitioner, as a gifted and supportive colleague, and as a wise, fair, and dedicated administrator.” Another states simply, “Nick is a supremely gifted teacher.”

A co-director of his program comments that “Nick has far exceeded expectations of lecturers whose primary duties are to teach nine courses per year,” noting that he “has regularly presented at all of the major conferences in our discipline, has published in the most important journals, and has published a number of important texts…”

Nonetheless, he adds, “it is in the area of teaching where Nick truly shines. Going into his fourth decade of service at UCSB, Nick has not merely rested on his well-deserved laurels as an excellent teacher; rather, he continues to think deeply about the interface between pedagogy, psychology and learning theory, in order to understand his role as a writing teacher, and to grow and evolve as a teacher”

One former student asserts the following of Dr. Tingle: “While being creative and entertaining, he was simultaneously the most efficient, organized, and effective teacher I have ever had.”

Finally, a letter from one of his former students speaks to Dr. Tingle’s impact in the classroom. The student writes, “the work that I completed in that course is the work I am most proud of from my years in college, as Nick encouraged us to explore and research a topic that we were passionate about. I think many of Nick’s students would agree that we got a better sense of who we are because of what Nick challenged us to do.”

For his dedication to teaching excellence Dr. Nicholas Tingle is awarded a Distinguished Teaching Award. Congratulations, Dr. Tingle!

Then Chancellor Yang, the head of UCSB, jumped up from his seat and insisted on posing next to me with the certificate awarded to A Distinguished Teacher, at which moment they following rather ridiculous picture (I look like Stan Laurel) was taken.


After Carol took another picture that I like better.
Then yesterday I was told that the picture with Yang is now featured on the UCSB Writing Program website. That’s pretty cool.


That’s about that for the DTY stuff, though I will get my 1000 dollar stipend May 7. I wonder what will be left after taxes.

Imagine My Surprise

I hadn’t thought about it in some time. But my little book, Self-Development and College Writing, came out in 2004. Hard to believe it’s been that long. Perhaps two years after it came out, I was sort of pissed. I mean it sold, I guess, but not very well. It got two reviews–one negative, suggesting it was part of the end of composition studies, and the other very positive. At this juncture, I think it has sold around 500 copies, not like the good old days when you sold at least a 1000 just to libraries, but now libraries are investing in databases.

I was pissed–to repeat myself–because I put a good deal of work into that thing. Lots and lots of writing and rewriting over a four year period. The editor always backed it, but the editorial board had to change nearly completely before it was approved. But it was, and I am glad I wrote it. But still for all the effort I put into it not much seemed to come back. Admittedly, it’s an odd little book. I understand now really, really “old school,”not so much about something called composition studies as about the potential role of writing instruction for the purposes of a liberal education. So it didn’t really fill a niche, least of all a fashionable one, though it did serve the purpose of explicating a relationship between writing and psychoanalysis. Mark Bracher sited it a great deal in his book, “Radical Pedagogy: Identity, Generativity, and Social Transformation.” A good book, also very, very much in the psychoanalytic vein.

As I said I had not thought about it in some time, so imagine my surprise when I tumbled to the fact that it is now on Google Books. Aw, the digital river. Way, way back in 2004 Google Books didn’t exist. But now behold.
Now anybody can punch in and read parts of the book. It’s not all there. It’s a kind of teaser, like those snippets of Mp3 you can hear to see if you want to buy the whole thing.

I recommend it without reservation, though of course I am biased.

No More Office

Yesterday, I got up early, because I had a meeting at nine, and drove down to get blood drawn for the blood test for the yearly physical. Friday seems to be a good day to go because very few people were there. The lady drawing my blood asked me how I was, and I said, OK, I guess. And she said, At least you are still here (having perhaps picked up on a negative tone in my voice and the fact that I now look old), and I said, This getting old stuff is the pits. Then she started talking about how old she was–I swear she didn’t look more than 45–and how she was a grandmother, and how tired she got after a day at work and then going to baby sit her daughters’ children until her daughter’s husband got home from work. Boy, people lead hectic lives.

She gave me the package of stuff to test your own stool. I hate that and last year I just didn’t do it. She said the tests were better now and I said, yea, but they were so complicated that, well, I just tended to forget it. And she laughed really hard. I didn’t think it was that funny. Maybe it was unusual for a patient just to admit well, yea, I decided to shine it on rather than come up with heaps of excuses for not having done it. Beats me.

Then I went to the meeting at nine.

Then I went to a meeting at ten. I learned there (I had some hints of this previously but hadn’t paid much attention) that an “administrative reconfiguration” is going on that would mean that the Writing Program would no longer have its own office. That freaked me. I can’t imagine the Writing Program without its own office. As long as the Writing Program has been the Writing Program it has had its own office. True, the turn over of staff in the WP has been enormous; still you get to know people after a while, and if you have a problem, you can go over and get some help getting it fixed, and when you walk in the office door people know who you are.

Soon we will have no office and therefore no office door to walk into and no faces on the other side that know you. Well, they may know you–but whoever they are they will be very, very busy. Because the plan is to consolidate the “administrative” aspects of the English Department (which is huge), and the Linguistics Department, and the Philosophy Department, and the lowly Writing Program in ONE office.

I wonder what the hell they will call this office; maybe the HUGE office. Sure as heck one will not get that little bit of personal touch one got in the Writing Program Office. Because sure as heck there will be fewer people in that one Huge Office than there were distributed among those four smaller offices. After all, this consolidation of offices is aimed at saving money–and would not have occurred had it not been for the ongoing financial crunch.

So some staff will be fired.

And the Writing Program will not have its own office, or dedicated administrative staff, or mail room.

This is set to happen next fall.

I left that meeting feel a little strange and light headed, perhaps from having my blood drawn.

Trial and Error

When I shifted this blog to a new site, I also upgraded the blog platform Movable Type.

This shift brought with it a whole bunch of stuff I don’t understand. Things with potential I suppose for something, but not if you don’t understand them.

So I have been futzing around.

In the course of doing so I seriously disabled the blog on two occasions. I noticed that the “archieve path” for the category “entry” was blank. This didn’t seem right since all the other categories under that particular heading had an archive path. So in an attempt to fix the situation I pushed the “refresh templates” button. That had the effect of replacing my newer templates with older ones and wiping out entirely the changes I had made to the blog in the prior three or four days.

I almost gave up at that point and said so be it. But I found the energy and the memory, surprisingly, to rebuild what I had previously created.

Then, while attempting to make a URL or link between my main blog, this one, and something called an action stream, I noticed that none of the links on the page were working. None of the entry links I mean. Like those you can see to the right. Click on a recent entry and it comes up in its own page. But none of that was working. Though the links to external blogs (Dan’s or Steve’s) were working. But effectively the page was dead.

This lead me to my original concern. Why wasn’t there and should there be an “archive path” for the entry category. I went to the entry template and screwed around. Then down below the code itself I something called template options and one of those options had to do with establishing an archive path. I clicked that and bingo the archive path was restored and all the links went back to working.


Whatever little I have learned about the more technical (albeit superficially technical) aspects of making web pages or working with a blog I have learned in this way.

Old and familiar trial and error. The problem with learning via trial and error is the error part. Errors take up time and on top of that as you try to correct the errors via trial, you can compound the error.

But I wonder if that isn’t how most people learn whatever the really learn. But there just isn’t enough time in life to make all the errors.