exclusives | August 26, 2016

Lavin Weekly #51: Levitin, Konnikova, Sax, & Frazier

1. Daniel Levitin: This Is Sting’s Brain (on Music)


Back in 2007, when 80s hitmakers The Police were on their globetrotting, box-office-smashing reunion tour, they made three(!) appearances at Montreal’s Bell Centre. It was during one of these visits that lead singer Sting, having read Daniel Levitin’s bestselling book This Is Your Brain on Music, reached out to the popular neuroscientist and dropped by his McGill University lab for a casual, pre-show brain scan. 


Levitin played a variety of songs for the bass-wielding frontman, monitoring “the brain activity that processes unexpected connections that may not be heard by the average listener.” And when the lab suffered a power outage—MRI machines take over an hour to reboot—Sting sacrificed his soundcheck to complete the scan (sorry, Montreal). Results of the scan (an fMRI, for those scientifically inclined) were published last week in Neurocase. For more Daniel Levitin, be sure to check out his upcoming book A Field Guide to Lies, which hits stores September 6. 


2. Dodging the Con, Debunking Personality & Politics: The New Yorker’s Maria Konnikova


Think you’re immune to the con? Think again. New Yorker psychology blogger Maria Konnikova recently joined CBC’s The Current to discuss her newest book, The Confidence Game, and to remind us that no one is impervious to the deceptions of con artists. According to Konnikova’s research, three characteristics typify these tricksters: psychopathy (the inability to experience empathy), narcissism, and Machiavellian levels of persuasion. How do you avoid becoming a mark? Read The Confidence Game to find out.


Konnikova also authored a new piece for The New Yorker that examines the correlation between personality and politics. Sure, we love to pigeonhole people by their political alignment, but is there truth behind stereotyping? Since “many aspects of personality develop quite early in life and have a genetic component, but we don’t become actively political until we are older,” says Konnikova, “it’s sensible to assume” that personality might have some bearing on whether you lean left or right. But in fact, it’s not so simple. A study that analyzed nearly 30,000 people from the Mid-Atlantic Twin Registry found no causal link, but instead suggested that “some earlier genetic and environmental factors” may influence both. To get Konnikova’s full take on the subject, stop by her New Yorker blog.


3. To Catch a Troll: David Sax on Trumping Trump


In The Guardian, author David Sax likens Donald Trump to the ultimate Internet troll. Trolling, for the uninitiated, is an online practice of harassment, argument-provoking, and general hell-raising—and Donald Trump, Sax argues, does all the above with aplomb. And although we’ve developed strategies to combat trolls in our virtual spaces—blocking, deleting accounts, and other means of censoring—Trump, as the Republican presidential nominee, exists in the flesh. So, how do we hamstring real-life trolls? Sax offers three strategies:


1) “Do not engage” – attention is a troll’s lifeblood, after all,
2) “Keep it factual, not personal” – zero in on policy and facts, where Trump is demonstrably weak, and
3) “Defuse the anger” – diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy …


As Sax notes, “Donald Trump’s candidacy may be unprecedented, but he is unlikely to be the last candidate to employ a troll’s tactics in the pursuit of power.” In other words, politicians, keep your troll-kits handy.


4. Fifty Years After: LaToya Ruby Frazier on Display at James Barron Art


With three prestigious fellowships to her name—MacArthur, Guggenheim, and TED—and a feature in Aperture magazine’s sold-out “Vision & Justice” issue, visual artist LaToya Ruby Frazier is quickly winning acclaim. Her standout works, The Notion of Family and Flint Is Family, document a post-industrial rustbelt stricken by poverty, racism, and environmental toxicity; her ability to portray intimate family narratives alongside larger, systemic problems is remarkable. At Connecticut’s James Barron Art, reports The Creators Project, Frazier is part of an all-new exhibition called Fifty Years After, which chronicles black life in the half-century since the Civil Rights Movement, and features work by Gordon Parks, Carrie Mae Weems, and Mickalene Thomas. Twelve images are on display from Frazier, culled from The Notion of Family. The exhibit runs until October 16. 


To book a keynote from neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, psychology blogger Maria Konnikova, The Revenge of Analog author David Sax, or visual artist LaToya Ruby Frazier, contact The Lavin Agency, their exclusive speakers bureau.

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diversity & race | August 25, 2016