This past weekend, my wife Jennifer and I paid a visit to our daughter, Meghan, an incoming freshman at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Since accommodations in Danville are slim pickings, we stayed in Lexington, 40 miles away. This made for significant time spent driving through the rolling hills of Kentucky. I used the time to get reacquainted with Shankar Vedantam’s podcast, “The Hidden Brain,” which had been recommended to me by a client and friend, Dr. Shaminder Gupta.
Shankar, as he calls himself, has had an extensive career in journalism, specializing in human behavioral topics, and has written books both fictional and non-fictional. The latter works include “The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars and Save Our Lives.”
Every Hidden Brain podcast addresses a different subject, with different guests to discuss the topic at hand with the host.
One episode, which I attempted to persuade my daughter to listen to along with us, was called “Eyes Wide Open.” The guest was Randy Gardner who, at 17, broke the world record for sleeplessness, going eleven days; the topic was what sleeplessness does to the human body and the human mind, and the benefits of getting a full night’s sleep. Mr. Gardner cautioned against foolhardy experiments like his own.
I was concerned that Meghan was forgoing too much of her needed sleep as she acclimated to her new environment at college. When we lose sleep, it’s truly lost – we can sleep extra, but we do not catch up.
Glancing in the rear-view mirror toward her as I replayed the podcast, I saw she was fast asleep in the back seat of our rental car.
Another episode of particular interest to me, from this past August, was “You 2.0: When Did Marriage Become So Hard?” Shankar’s guests were Eli Finkel, a social psychologist at Northwestern University and author of “The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work,” and historian Stephanie Coontz. This mini-panel discussed why some marriages thrive while others fail; I found their insights fascinating.
A third, “Our Better Nature: How the Great Outdoors Can Improve Your Life,” discussed the modern tendency toward big-city-small-space living. And what we sacrifice when we lose touch with nature. Psychologist Ming Kuo was this episode’s guest; Kuo has studied the effects of urban living and different behavioral patterns exhibited by those with more access to nature, and those with less, for three decades. Are we truly meant to live in small-box quarters?
As I’ve written in the past, I am a firm believer in slowing down, and in being a life-long learner. I try not to get my information via small bits, piecemeal, from the rapidly-changing newsfeed. I believe it is better to “eat” information slowly and chew it thoroughly. This only works well, though, when the information itself is good.
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Until next Wednesday –