Archive for the 'Science of Happiness' Category

Mar 24 2012

My Adventures with the Scream Machine Booth at the San Diego Science Festival

Tom Munnecke, Jun Axup, and Ernesto Ramerez at the Quantified Self Booth at the San DIego Science FestivalI had a great time at the San Diego Science Festival today at Petco Park.  This is my fourth year participating with them.  It is a great opportunity for kids to get out and experience science in a festive environment, and for the San Diego Science community to support the younger generation.

This year, I teamed up with the San Diego Quantified Self Meetup Group.  Our booth featured a Scream Machine… a booth that kids could go in to scream into an iPad, which would measure the volume of their scream.  This is what I call “Drive By Science” – with a steady stream of kids going by, with only a short attention span, how do we give kids a valuable science experience they can remember?  Having adults ask kids to go into a booth to scream is certainly a unique experience for a kid, and having a scientific instrument to measure it and show how science can make observations, I think fills the bill.  We had 750 screamers come through the booth.  I only needed a little Advil to make it through the day 🙂

I’m shown here in my official Lab Coat as Executive Director of the Galactic Headquarters of the Cosmos Research Center, whose headquarters happens to be in my back yard. I’m standing next to Quantified Self Meetup Organizers Jun Axup, and Ernesto Ramirez, two very enthusiastic UCSD grad students.  Cece O’Connor, Dana Fell,  John Amschler, Gabriel Schuyler and Mike Eddy also helped build the booth.  (Mike produces the TEDx Del Mar event, where I spoke a while back).

Jun has a very succesful Kickstarter project to make Biochemies – DNA Plush Dolls, for which I’m anxiously awaiting my shipment.

We’ll be posting our design for the booth shortly, in case anyone else wants to replicate it for their own use.

There is something special about screaming, I think.  Everyone of our screamers, (and the audience watching it), broke out into big smiles after their scream.



And here is a movie showing the operation of the scream machine:



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Mar 29 2010

Congratulations Francisco Ayala on Winning the Templeton Award

Congratulations to Dr. Francisco Ayala, professor at the University of California, Irvine for winning the 2010 Templeton Award.  One of the highlights of my year has been attending the In Light of Evolution conferences that he co-sponsors at the National Academy of Sciences’ Beckman Center. I grew up as the son of a UC professor, so I have known a gamut of many professorial types.  Some have embodied the finest traditions of scholarship and intellectual curiousity.  Others have treated the university as personal playground for activities that would have made P.T. Barnum blush.

Dr. Ayala struck me from the beginning to be a wonderful example of the finest traditions in science.  He is a scholar’s scholar, with a solid history in his field, and an obvious love of being a professor.  He has a focused, compassionate demeanor that more of the younger generation should experience.  In their world of continuous partial attention, it’s probably hard for them to understand the effects of a life-long intellectual focus such as Ayala’s.

I have also found his lectures and writings on Evolution to be the most respectable and scientifically responsible writings on the subject.  He is one of the leaders at the National Academy of Science’s response to the Intelligent Design/Creationism controversy.  He communicates the science of evolution in the mature, engaging manner of a great scientist who is also aware of limits to the scientific method.  Unlike others who seek to win the argument by spreading self righteous indignation, he is able to present the science of evolution in a convincing manner.

The Templeton Award has aroused some controversy:  Richard Dawkins, another great biologist but who is a little closer to the PT Barnum end of the professorial scale, had this to say about the award:

“The US National Academy of Sciences has brought ignominy on itself by agreeing to host the announcement of the 2010 Templeton Prize. This is exactly the kind of thing Templeton is ceaselessly angling for — recognition among real scientists — and they use their money shamelessly to satisfy their doomed craving for scientific respectability.”

I disagree that Templeton Foundation is “craving for scientific respectability.”  I have had numerous interactions with Templeton Foundation, and think that they are providing an extremely valuable service in the advancement of science.  Their particular choice of language makes me a little uncomfortable at times, but I agree with their intent.  I have worked with them as a Sr. Fellow at Civic Ventures, who sponsor the Purpose Prize and the notion of “Encore Careers.”   These $100,000 awards are given to folks over the age of 60 who have started a new pro-social enterprise after the age of 50 – a most remarkable (and growing) segment of our society.  I have seen no trace of “religious” influence on these prizes.  Here is my conversation with Jon Haidt, a self-confessed Jewish Liberal Atheist who won the Templeton Positive Psychology Award.  And here is a video interview of Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi (a bit conflated with my interest in Positive Genomics) who is also active in the Templeton orbit.  I’ve had zero sense of any religious interference in their scientific or philanthropic activities.

I invite a broad range of thinkers to my workshops, looking for a “grounded eclectic” perspective of people who are able to delve deeply in one subject as well as think laterally.  I’ve had pretty hard core atheists as well as dedicated spiritual leaders – an Iraqi-American Imam and and an enthusiast supporter of the US Marines at the same workshop right after the invasion of Iraq, doing an Appreciative Inquiry into positive responses to the war in Iraq.

I frequently end up with groups containing atheists as well as believers in some religion or those who want to talk about spirituality.  I generally find that I can find a middle ground of conversation by substituting “emergence” for “spirituality” in the discussion.   Both will agree that a whole, live cat has emergent properties that are not discernable by looking at the parts of the dissected cat.  We can accept that the emergent properties of the live cat – the whole that is greater than the sum of the parts, and then get on with herding cats rather than getting stuck on what makes a cat live.  This “what is life?” question is indeed a very important question, receiving too little attention, but it can get in the way of other topics.

So congratulations, Francisco Ayala, for your contributions to the science of evolution, its a well-deserved award.

And, congratulations, Templeton Foundation for recognizing it.  I think you are performing a great value to the advancement of science.


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Mar 10 2009

I Want To Learn

This is a short movie produced for the San Diego Science Festival “Sell your science” competition  It was shot at Torrey Del Mar Park, San Diego. Music by Kevin MacLeod. Produced by Tom Munnecke

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Feb 17 2009

The Science of Happiness

Barbara Frederickson I’m supporting the San Diego Science Festival, organized by my neighbor Larry Bock and the Biobridge program at UCSD.  Larry noticed that they had huge science festivals in England, and in typical entrepreneurial style, started one here in San Diego.  Balboa Park is one of the premier public spaces in the US, I think, so its wonderful to see the festival pretty much take over all the available open air space for over 300 booths and activities on April 4.  They are projecting 30,000 people, but I suspect the tally will go much higher.Sonja Lyubomirsky

I’ve reserved a booth at the Expo for the Cosmos Research Center to do an experiment on the “Science of Happiness.”  In true Appreciative Inquiry style, we will be asking, “How can we make San Diego the Happiest Place on the planet?”   Just asking this question is a powerful, and I think very timely. James Fowler I’ve talked about this a bit in my conversations with James Fowler about infectious happiness, and Jonathan Haidt about Positive Psychology, author of the The Happiness Hypothesis I’ve also been in contact with Sonja Lyubomirsky at UCR (my alma mater), author of The How of Happiness as well as Barbara Frederickson, author of Positivity.

If we look a scale of human (or societal) functioning from -10 (really bad) to zero (normal) to +10
Jonathan Haidt (really good), we find that most of our thinking is focused on moving things from the -10 to 0.  The range from 0 to +10 is often ignored, or at least drowned out by all the mediagenic misery is so prevalent in the headlines.  This is a deep subject that I’ve been concerned about for some time (I named the two ways of looking at things “benegnosis” – a way of knowing by what is positive and flourishing, and “malgnosis” – a way of knowing by what is failing.)

For the booth activities at the festival April 4, I’ll be arranging an experiment to look at whether happy people are more creative.  I’m looking for volunteers for the event… see the Cosmos Research Center site for more information.


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Jan 07 2009

James Fowler in Conversation with Tom

This is conversation between UC San Diego Political Scientist James Fowler with Tom Munnecke and Heather Wood Ion on James’ research of happiness, obesity, drinking, and more based on the Framingham Heart Study data. He provides some provocative evidence that social networks might propagate happiness in a contagious fashion, more powerfully than unhappiness. We also talk about the spread of loneliness, ways of researching empathy, centralized “smart center” networks vs. smart edges, group selection, the work of happiness and elevation by Jonathan Haidt, and ways we might construct networks of uplift. Videography by Robert Foxworth, music by Kevin MacLeod. Taped Jan 6, 2009 at the UC San Diego Faculty Club. This video is also archived at the Internet Archives.
See also James’ paper on genetic basis of Social Networks

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