Archive for July, 2010
Dr Steve Ilardi is slim and enthusiastic, with intense eyes. The clinical psychologist is 4,400 miles away, in Kansas, and we are chatting about his new book via Skype, the online videophone service. “I’ve spent a lot of time pondering Skype,” he says. “On the one hand it provides a degree of social connectedness. On the other, you’re still essentially by yourself.” But, he concludes, “a large part of the human cortex is devoted to the processing of visual information, so I guess Skype is less alienating than voice calls.”
Social connectedness is important to Ilardi. In The Depression Cure, he argues that the brain mistakenly interprets the pain of depression as an infection. Thinking that isolation is needed, it sends messages to the sufferer to “crawl into a hole and wait for it all to go away”. This can be disastrous because what depressed people really need is the opposite: more human contact.
Which is why social connectedness forms one-sixth of his “lifestyle based” cure for depression. The other five elements are meaningful activity (to prevent “ruminating” on negative thoughts); regular exercise; a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids; daily exposure to sunlight; and good quality, restorative sleep. Read the rest of this entry »
Question: what’s a million times five? No, it’s not a trick. The answer is the amount of dollars you could win if you solved all five mathematical conundrums in The Num8er My5teries, a new book by the iconic popular mathematician Marcus du Sautoy. The book is based on a competition set up in 2000 by an American businessman called Landon Clay. Five puzzles, $1 million each.
It could be you.
Or at least that was true until last March, when the reclusive Russian maths genius Grigoriy Perelman solved one of the conundrums — known as the “Poincaré conjecture” — in resounding fashion. “Last week there was a glitzy award ceremony to present the first million dollars to Perelman,” du Sautoy tells me, his voice brimming with customary enthusiasm. “But he didn’t turn up.”
Didn’t turn up? “Mathematicians are rather quirky. We don’t tend to be interested in money,” du Sautoy says. “It’s the glory of eternity that motivates us.” In the eyes of du Sautoy and his colleagues, the Russian has achieved something that has no earthly price. “Personally,” he says candidly, “I’d pay a million dollars to solve one of these problems. It’s a small price to pay to become immortal.”
In The Num8er My5teries, these problems are presented with the flair and vim that has made du Sautoy into something of a national treasure. “I build up to each conundrum with some unexpected questions,” he tells me. “Why did Beckham choose the 23 shirt? Why do cicadas love the number 17? And how can you win the lottery?” (This final question, I suspect, may appeal to gold diggers who see the book as an investment.) “What’s more,” the mathematician continues, “I’ve made the problems into games like Minesweeper and Su Doku. It’s wide open for everyone.”
I am almost inclined to have a crack myself. But then I recall that my last experience with mathematics was at GCSE, 16 years ago (I got a C). If so many extraordinary mathematical brains have tried and failed, what chance could I possibly have?
“Every chance,” du Sautoy says. And I think he means it. “Non-mathematicians sometimes approach things from a whole new angle. The next winner might well be a reader of my book, who became inspired while sitting on the loo.” He notices my sudden amplification of interest. “Though of course,” he reminds me, “if you’re doing it for the money, you’ll never be a real mathematician.”
Sha’anan Streett, the frontman of Hadag Nahash – the biggest hip-hop band in Israel – is hung over. And the waitress in the Jerusalem cafe clearly knows it. “Black coffee followed by a big green salad?” she suggests. He gives her a wry smile. “You know me too well,” he replies.
Then he turns to me, sotto voce. “Last night,” he murmurs, “too many substances.” He motions to his “f*** the police” T-shirt. “This is my own design,” he tells me.
It is all very hip-hop. But there is more to Sha’anan Streett than meets the eye. For one thing, he is a devoted family man, in a stable marriage with three small children. For another, he still lives in Jerusalem; all the other members of the band moved to the bright lights of Tel Aviv. And most strikingly of all, he is the brains behind the One Shekel Festival – so called because it only costs a shekel to attend – which takes place every year in the most disadvantaged areas of Israel.
From the very beginning, Streett has been a politically motivated musician. His first song, which he wrote after completing his army service, was a droll, laid-back acid-jazz tune called Shalom Salaam Peace. Read the rest of this entry »
Hello, Jake, how are you?”
“How was your day at school?”
“Have you got much homework?”
“What is it?”
“Darling, is everything OK? You’re very quiet.”
“Can you at least look at me when I’m talking to you? I’m asking if you’re OK.”
“I just told you, I’m fine. Stop going on at me.”
“I don’t think checking you’re OK is going on at you. I am your mother, you know.”
“OK, OK, I’m fine, everything’s OK, please can you give me some peace?”
“How dare you . . .”
Before you ask, this is not a memoir from my adolescence. It is an extract from Divas & Door Slammers: the secrets to having a better behaved teenager, a new book by the behavioural expert and inner-city headmaster Charlie Taylor. This dialogue is part of a case study, illustrating how easy it is for parents to alienate their teenagers.
“Teenagers have an inbuilt capacity to annoy their parents,” says the author when we meet at a café in Notting Hill, West London. “The sight of a pair of low-slung trousers, or a great spotty oaf slouched across the sofa, is enough to make any parent’s blood boil.” But, according to Taylor, teenagers can’t always help it. “Their brains are developing at a tremendous rate,” he says. “There is a huge amount of activity flaring in different directions. Neurones are sparking all over the place, making them go haywire.”
This means that if a cycle of bad behaviour is to end, it must be the parents who end it. “Your teenager is not going to change unless you change,” says Taylor. “If you do what you have always done, you will get what you always get.” Read the rest of this entry »