Divergent Versus Convergent Thinking

Designed graphic of a quote by Alan Lightman. 
“The number of neurons in our brain is about equal to the number of stars in a galaxy: one hundred billion.”

Creativity is usually associated with the fine arts, not the sciences. That’s a dichotomy Alan Lightman explodes in his latest book given how mysterious, vast and everexpanding the universe is. Case in point: who can truly comprehend the one hundred billion neurons that exist in our 3.5 pound brains, or that one hundred billion also happens to describe the number of stars in the sky and the number of signals our eyes convey to our brain every second? What does consciousness even mean in relation to such a flood of information coming our way? No wonder Lightman celebrates the role of divergent thinking: exploring many tangents at once. After all, the orderly, logical, step-by-step process of convergent thinking isn’t always up to the task in a world where novelty, surprise—amazement—all inevitably play a role in scientific inquiry.

Released today: episode #42 of “Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight,” featuring Alan Lightman, the author of Probable Impossibilities: Musings on Beginnings and EndingsListen to the clip below and click on the image to get to the new episode.

Photo of Alan LIghtman and the cover of his book, Probable Impossibilities: Musings on Beginnings and Endings, for Dan Hill's EQ Spotlight podcast Episode 42. Click the image to get to the episode.

Alan Lightman is a writer, physicist, and social entrepreneur. He’s served on the faculties of both Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and was the first person at MIT to receive dual faculty appointments in science and the humanities. Alan’s many nonfiction and fiction books include the international best seller Einstein’s Dreams and The Diagnosis, which was a finalist for the National Book Award.

This episode most notably serves notice that the sun is slowly going to engulf the earth and then burn out, ending life as we know it. With the expansion of knowledge about how the universe formed and how it operates today comes a host of philosophical and religious questions that Lightman doesn’t shy away from addressing. What does it mean to live a meaningful life in a world where as Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, “there is no end to illusion”? Lightman ponders that and many additional issues during this 30-minute conversation.

Dan Hill, PhD, is the president of Sensory Logic, Inc.

What It Takes to Sustain a Group

what’s the key to stability and success when teamwork is involved? The answer is having a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions

This week’s podcast is about a bluegrass band that bucked the odds. While the average band is lucky to last 10 years together, with 2-3 years the average, the McClain family band sustained itself for 18 years and toured 62 countries. What was the key to their group chemistry? Mutual respect, and the right ratio of positive to negative interactions. Drawing on a half-century of analyzing the characteristics of loving, stable marriages, John Gottmann and his colleagues at the Love Lab have concluded that a 5:1 ratio of positive/negative interactions is the key to a good marriage. And an in-depth study of work teams at EDS (Ross Perot’s old company) took that ratio even higher. That study found that high-performance teams had a 5.6 positive/negative ratio versus a 0.4 ratio for low-performance teams. 

Released today: episode #41 of “Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight,” featuring Paul Jenkins, the author of Bluegrass Ambassadors: The McLain Family Band in Appalachia and the World. Listen to the clip below and click on the image to get to the new episode.

Image of Author, Paul D. Jenkin and his book cover "Bluegrass Ambassadors" on Dan Hill's EQ Spotlight podcast #41.

Paul O. Jenkins is the university librarian at Franklin Pierce University and also the author of Richard Dyer-Bennet: The Last Minstrel and Teaching the Beatles

This episode covers a band that defies expectations. Formed in 1968, this band ran counter to the era twice over. First, they were intergenerational with their dad a key figure despite the slogan “don’t trust anybody over 30” being common then. Second, while the then two-year-old National Organization for Women (NOW) could only boast of 1,035 members across America, the McClain family band had two women playing prominent roles. The episode explores how bluegrass music varies from country music, and how musically inventive the group was. Finally, comparisons to the Beatles close out the episode.

Dan Hill, PhD, is the president of Sensory Logic, Inc.

Episode 4 of Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight

There are two currencies in life: dollars and emotions. For the past 20 years in running my EQ-oriented market research firm Sensory Logic, Inc, I’ve tried to help clients achieve more “bang for their buck” by ensuring they create the greatest degree of emotional connection possible with prospects and existing loyal customers.

Every Thursday we will be dropping new episodes (including the first four, released last week), highlighting my conversations with prominent authors across a wealth of topics that include all aspects of business – from the marketplace to the workplace – as well as conversations about world events, culture, sports, psychology, and more. I’m hoping you’ll listen in, and if you like what you hear consider subscribing to my series as well as giving it positive ratings and reviews. Every little bit helps in launching an enterprise or project, as I’m sure all of you know well!

Here is a short excerpt featuring Susie Hodge, author of The Short Story of Architecture: A Pocket Guide to Key Styles, Buildings, Elements & Materials

For Portraits and Selfies: A Case of Monkey See, Monkey Not-Quite-Do

Portraits and Selfies Re-enactment of famous Art

Emotions can be as contagious as Covid-19, but that doesn’t mean the facial expressions are easy to capture when art devotees around the world use their imaginations in wonderful ways to recreate famous works of art at home. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles have gotten into the act, encouraging art lovers to re-stage famous art works. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/museum-asking-people-remake-famous-artworks-with-household-items-180974546/  But no entity has surpassed a Facebook group, started in Russia, that boasts over half a million art re-enactors. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/25/world/europe/russia-Facebook-art-parodies.html  If you’re a painter or photographer who does portrait work – or somebody who likes to pose for selfies and are interested in what your expressions reveal about your mood that day or your personality, over time – listen in. Here’s an opportunity to sharpen your skills or pose. For my book Famous Faces Decoded: A Guidebook for Reading Others, I surveyed participants on what they viewed as the signature, characteristic emotions of 173 celebrities. On average, they were right only about 35% of the time – meaning there’s no shame in failing to detect emotions well. Join the crowd. We’re all more likely to be Watson rather than Sherlock Holmes!

In terms of life imitating art, just how good are the re-enactors at capturing correct facial expressions? In truth pretty good, but not great. Above on the left side is “Salome” with the head of John the Baptist by the 17th-century Bolognese painter Guido Reni. On the right is that same painting’s recent staging by Aglaya Nikonorova and her husband, Alexander. What’s faithful to the original, in terms of the couple’s facial expressions? Both women have wide open eyes (anger, fear and surprise), pursed lips (anger) and a smirk on the left side of their mouths (contempt). So far, so good. But the original Salome also has a pouty, raised chin (indicating anger, sadness and disgust), whereas the imitation includes a raised left eyebrow, indicating an extra dose of fear and surprise. That difference is trifling, however, compared to John the Baptist’s head. In the original, the eyes are sunken in grief with a pool of wrinkles above them, and the eyebrows are raised, pushed out and pinched together above the nose. In the re-enactment John the Baptist appears to be taking a nap, with his face relaxed. Further reinforcing the difference, in the original John’s lips are slightly apart and pulled down, triggering the viewer to feel the horror of getting beheaded, and perhaps inducing a contagious tremble. In contrast, in the re-enactment John’s lips appear just as peaceful as his eyes. In short, it’s a matter of being close – but no cigar.

In simple terms, these are important take-aways about where and how people express their emotions on their faces whenever contemplating a portrait or selfie:

  • The upper face is the place for surprise and fear. When the eyes go wide and the eyebrows lift, we’re increasing our field of vision.
  • The area around the mouth reveals the like/dislike reactions best. Look for anger (tightening), disgust (contortions) or sadness (wincing especially).
  • The chin area never reveals any happiness. It’s best for wide-mouth surprise and fear, or a jutting chin for anger.

More re-enactments will be included in my virtual talk, sponsored by the Duluth Art Institute on Thursday, May 28that 3 p.m. The heart of the presentation, however, will be highlights from my recent art book First Blush: People’s Intuitive Reactions to Famous Art. It’s the biggest study ever done involving eye-tracking and art – plus facial coding of participants’ responses, in order to also know how they feel about what they’re specifically seeing. The event is free but you must register. Please go to https://www.duluthartinstitute.org/event-3843385/Registration