Thursday, August 30, 2007

367 Communicating Environments

Message no. 367 Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Thursday, February 15, 2007 6:47am Subject: Communicating Environments

Pat sent me an email telling me that she was enjoying listening to the audio version of Chapter 14 that I posted in the Course Materials/Course Content area as she read the chapter. She also asked about the music that accompanies the text reading. This stimulated me to write the following answer, which should be of general interest to all of you! (Thanks for the prompt Pat!)

My hope was that by reading with excitement and using music we could begin to "bring the textbook to life!"

I believe that the problem with text environments is that they are "highly compressed" -- kind of like a picture or video on the computer that you compress (zip) to send to somebody, and when they open it and try to view it large on the screen it looks all pixilated and unclear -- they call this "lossy decompression" because the image loses quality. Similarly when an author writes a book he or she usually sees great images and hears great sounds in their imagine and feels great excitement, but the act of "compressing" the ideas into words on paper loses the richness of information the author intended. When we read the text we "decompress" or "unzip" the words back into images and sounds and feelings (in our own mental environment), but it is often very hard to recover the excitement the author may have felt or intended. This is particularly true for textbooks where the style of writing doesn't include alot of DESCRIPTIVE terms (what we call in journalism "PURPLE PROSE") that bring the richness out. Textbooks thus are often "boring". By reading them with excitement and added emotional music the intent is to replace some of the lost richness.

In computer-speak we often talk of CODECS, which means "COmpression- DECompression" programs. a CODEC, like WinZip or Stuffit or any of these programs that make .zip files or .sit files (or .jpeg or .gif for pictures) takes information and compresses it so we can send it over the internet and then decompresses it on the other end. It is like squeezing your clothes into a suitcase by stuffing them in and rolling them up, and then unpacking when you get to your destination. But you suffer losses -- the clothes can get wrinkled or torn, and sometimes are permanently damaged. Sometimes, in order to pack DVDs for example, I have to throw away the plastic jackets and put all my DVDs into a DVD envelope. When I get to Egypt, I can't put my DVD's up on my bookshelf anymore. To get them back to the original way they were before I compressed them and packed, I have to go out and buy new plastic jackets and put them in. It takes time and labor to get things back to their original condition after you have unpacked right?

Books are "packed" or compressed environments. Alot of information was thrown away in order to condense thought into text. Reconstructing or reconstituting text back into thought is a difficult job.

If we have a collection of images and sounds and ideas that relate to the words in the textbook stored in our brains already, as our brain "unpacks" the book we begin to see and hear what the author intended. But very often, particularly in a new field, we don't have those materials available in our heads. So as we unpack the text it comes out dry and boring and full of holes. What I would like to do is help fill the holes by filling your heads with what I think are the kind of images, sounds, ideas and feelings that environmental psychology demands and the author intends.

This is one reason I ask you to link quotes from the book not only to your own experiences, but to images, maps, and ideas of your environment and to those of other peoples environments and to websites that contain this extra information. The internet makes this more possible than ever!

I wish I had more time to do it right --I was only able to do a little this time:

The music for the introduction I composed myself, using a program that comes free with the mac computer called "Garage Band", so it is a little more in sync with the ideas in the book, but for the rest of the chapter I just took music from my Ipod (my friend BT's album "Ima" and the soundtracks to the James Bond movies "You only live Twice" and "Moonraker") and put them underneath my reading without working hard to make them match up. If I ever get time I will compose my own music to the whole thing so it can bring out the ideas. I would even add soundeffects if I had time!

Perhaps you and the other students could try to do similar things for a midterm project. This would depend on what programs and technology you have; back in my college days I simply put a vinyl record of my favorite moody symphony (remember vinyl?) on the record player, and read what I wrote or what my book said into a cassette tape recorder (remember those!? :)) Regardless of the technology we use, the idea is to enrich our communication environments so that they affect the psychology of behavior of our recipients in the intended way.

Ultimately I would say that all environments are mediums of communication between entitites in the universe. Every rock and tree and building and car and road and table communicates something to us, and we to it. This is true on both a metaphorical and physical level -- even the law of gravity is a form of communication between the mass of an object and the mass of another object. The earth, which is huge, tells us, who are small, "I am far far bigger and more powerful than you". Because of this truth, we fall down. But the moon is also fairly large, so it can move entire oceans (the tides) telling them "even though the earth is bigger, you will pay attention to me as I circle. I will drag you with me all month long, and you will feel my pull!".

The reason most people do not enjoy science and math is because they are expressed in highly compressed symbolic languages. The scientists who wrote down their observations, like Newton's understanding of gravity A = m1 + m2/D^2 (or whatever it is -- I may be getting it wrong!) saw the relationship between objects and how they communicate and got very excited -- even poetic - about it! But when we go to read what they wrote we feel alienated and bored. What is needed is a way to decompress the formulae into the poetry of communication that the scientist felt and that the moon and the earth and other bodies express by being what they are!

The universe is alive with "talking environments" but we have to speak for them by using the tools that make sense to our nervous systems! Music and other elements of the acoustic environment are one way of doing this!

Hope that makes sense. Thanks for your kind words!


356-360 Acoustic Environments, Learned Helplessness and Pet Therapy

Message no. 356[Branch from no. 347] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Tuesday, February 13, 2007 3:33pm Subject: Re: Relational Summary from Varshawn!!

Varshawn, this is a start, but please read the other relational summaries for models of how to complete yours. Remember, the summaries need at least three quotes from the book and at least three links to outside readings. We very much do want to relate the theories and methods of the book to our own lives, but we want to demonstrate that the field of environmental psychology has relevance to our lives by explicitly stating how each idea from the book links to how we feel and behave. That will do the trick!

Message no. 357[Branch from no. 350] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Tuesday, February 13, 2007 3:48pm Subject: Re: The acoustic environment

Thanks for the feedback and for putting all that effort in Adrienne! Aren't kids great? To them the "briar patch" of technology is a bed of roses without thorns!

Thanks for giving us a visceral feel for how the information about available technological options affected you! Isn't it interesting that even describing new affordances in an unfamiliar environment makes our palms sweat, even when we are not forced to engage with those affordances? What does this tell us about language environments and self-expectations? The unknown is most scary when we start to get to know it, isn't it? When it is truly unknown it is "out of sight out of mind." Unfortunately sometimes just being made aware of what is going on "out there" is enough to freak us out. Read Varshawn's post about the book making her aware of the dangers from the hole in the ozone layer and global warming.

I think one of the reasons the environmental movement fails is because it is very threatening to be made aware of things that can make us uncomfortable or can hurt or challenge us but over which we don't feel we can ever have much control. Our book talks about LEARNED HELPLESSNESS. Some things, like new technologies, we feel a bit helpless about, but when our family, particularly our kids, guide us through how to deal with them, we lose our panic, as you have, and decide to give mastering these new affordances a try (bravo!). Environmental changes, however, rarely come with guides who can help us feel a sense of control. So they make us panic and, because they don't go away (as Varshawn pointed out about environmental problems that we have had since the 60's!) we develop a sense of "learned helplessness" don't we?

What Chapter 14 talks about (which you guys may listen to long before we get around to reading it) and why it is so important, is how to change ours and others' psychology so that we CAN feel we can help improve our environments. Environmental psychology, in effect, offers us hope.

Let us hope nothing in either this course or in "the real world" ever "puts us over the edge"! And if it does, this is a good forum for us to discuss how and why it did so, and what we can do to get ourselves back into a state of calm and control! That is what this field of study is really all about!

Cheers, and thanks for giving the acoustic environment a go!


P.S. I will tell you more about Cairo soon as I am preparing a video about it for you guys. Will get you more info about Arifah soon! Many salaams to your daughter.

Message no. 358[Branch from no. 340] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Tuesday, February 13, 2007 3:53pm Subject: Pet therapy

So true, Dawn -- my wife and I have two cats here in Cairo that we rescued when they were abandoned by their mother at only a few days old. We nursed them to health (bottle feeding and all) and they provide great comfort now that they are almost a year old. The question is WHY? What is it about interspecies interaction that comforts us? What do you guys think happened in our evolutionary history to make the mere act of petting another living creature have a calming effect on us? Would it work if it was a lizard? (I used to have two pet iguanas and enjoyed petting them; a friend of mine took baths and slept with his pythons and boa constrictors. They were fun to pet too -- no, as you know, snakes are not slimey at all, but have soft suede like leathery skin.).

Is it about control? Where does the calming come from? Why don't other animals pet us? Or do they?

Message no. 359[Branch from no. 338] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Tuesday, February 13, 2007 4:09pm Subject: Re: Chap 2 Relative Summary

This is an exemplary relational summary Dawn! Good job! It would be great if you would lead a discussion about the BIOPHILIA hypothesis -- there must be, as you say, some reason why you have chosen to work with other animals (remember that we humans are also in the Kingdom animalia) as your livelihood.

Is it about power? (Most animals can't talk back or fight back or take advantage of us and we can feel good about helping the helpless). Or is there something deeper than our personal psychologies operating here? How can we test this? That is always the crucial issue in this course: HOW DO WE TEST OUR HYPOTHESES?

Class, this is the crux of environmental psychology -- we all have opinions and ideas about why certain environments and affordances affect us, but HOW DO WE PROVE our hypotheses? What methods or tests can we use?

The book is full of examples. How would you set up a test to prove that for some people being around other animals actually makes them feel good INDEPENDENT OF ANY FEELINGS OF CONTROL or superiority?


Message no. 360[Branch from no. 349] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Tuesday, February 13, 2007 4:12pm Subject: Re: Relational Summary

Thanks Dana, this is much improved! Hope you enjoyed getting thus deeper into it as we did reading your new thoughts!

355 Affordances in the Texas and New York Environments and Apocalypto

Message no. 355[Branch from no. 351] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Tuesday, February 13, 2007 3:26pm Subject: Affordances in the Texas and New York Environments

Good comments you guys; what you are seeing is that naturally each environment has different affordances (see chapter 1) and these affordances create a gestalt impression about how it is appropriate to behave. Guns are available affordances in Texas and public transit available affordances in New York and they affect the way we SEE and experience where we live.

Have you seen the new film "APOCALYPTO", directed by Mel Gibson? It is a fascinating portrayal of pre-columbian Guatemala, when the Maya civilization was falling into decadence, on the eve of the arrival of the Spaniards. It shows how, to maintain their power at Tikal, the priests sent war parties into the rain forests to capture the more peaceful hunters and gatherers from their idyllic villages and drag them as slaves and sacrifice captives. They dragged them into the city and then cut out their hearts to "appease the gods" (and to demonstrate their mathematical powers in predicting solar eclipses to make themselves seem closer to the gods.)

The Maya were well aware of the astronomical motion of bodies in space and used the moon and the sun and the stars as affordances to get power over their own people. By keeping their knowledge of math and science secret from the general population, the priests were able to make it look as though they had special gifts.

In the city the rain forest tribespeople felt as lost and bewildered as Pat's husband feels in New York, or as Daniela's Mom felt leaving Italy (hope I got that right!); but when they escape from the city and are pursued into the forest, they know that their Maya captors will face the same confusion. There is a great scene in the movie when the hero finally reaches the edge of the jungle and heaves a sigh of relief. He says, "ah, I am home, home in the forest of my ancestors, and the forest will protect me!"

Indeed, when pursued, the hero uses everything from poisonous frogs and thorns to bee hives and jaguars to get rid of his pursuers. What seems like a threatening environment to us is the most wonderful and comfortable place for him, because he grew up in it and knows how to take advantage of all the affordances, which are written in his cognitive map.

You may also know the Disney movie "The Song of the South" in which Bre'er Rabbit outwits Bre'er Bear and Bre'er Fox by appealing to their fear of the briar patch. He says, "you can do anything to me you want, but PLEASE don't throw me in that Briar patch!" Of course the Fox and the Bear are sadistic, so they throw him in. But the rabbit grew up in the Briar Patch, so while it is a scary place to his enemies, he laughs and says, "fooled you -- this thorny place is my home, and you can't get me here."

The big question, though, and the one you must medidate on and study and try to answer is: What is the natural environment that is most comfortable for ALL of us, regardless of where or how we grew up? " ARE THERE COMMONALITIES in environments that APPEAL to ALL of us? Are there environments that THREATEN ALL of us?

What do you guys make of the BIOPHILIA hypothesis? What about the BIOPHOBIA hypothesis (see chapter 2). Do they make sense to you?


This gets us into the "nature" vs. "nurture" debate!

Think and discuss!


336 Reading from Right to Left!

Message no. 336 Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Monday, February 12, 2007 3:23pm Subject: Reading from Right to Left!

Who determines what is "right"? Did you know that the word for "right" comes from the German "recht" which doesn't mean right at all, but "straight"? Straight meant "correct" (from co-recht!) and it was assumed that things that were not bent or crooked or broken were good. So "right" started out as meaning "good". How then did it become associated with a direction?

Turns out the majority of human beings are "right handed" so they decided to make the dominant kind of person (who dominated all the others!) the "right" or "good" person. All others were "bad" or "evil". They were "SINISTER". Sinister comes from "sinestre" in Latin (Italian and Spanish too) and means "Left". Left handed people were generally creative types (using the right side of their brain, ironically, but nobody knew about cross wiring or hemispheres at the time!) and creative types threaten the dominant order. So creativity and left handed people were consider sinister or evil.

Similarly, if you don't fit in to the environment, we say you are "gauche" which means awkward, but comes from the french word "gauche" which means.... LEFT.

Why do we write from left to right (and why is the word "write" symphonic with "right"?) Originally, when we were chiseling our words into stone, right handed people held their hammers in their strong right hands and their chisels in their weak left ones. So chiselling letters was easier from right to left. The ancient cultures (Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic) simply adopted the stone tablet convention and wrote from right to left.

But when we started using ink to write with, and used short brushes or pens, the palm of our right hands would smear the ink writing from right to left, so later, younger cultures switched to writing from left to right (try it yourself and see!). Thus our physical environments, biological environments and the media we chose for expressing ourselves all affected the development of our behavior and culture.

In England, for example (as in Australia) cars drive on the left side of the road, and the drivers seat is on the right side of the vehicle. This makes sense if you want to control vehicles on narrow roads where a head on collision could kill you (you are closer to the center divider by sitting on the right side of the vehicle, so you can judge oncoming traffic easier, and it approaches you on the side of your "good" arm, or right hand, which assumedly has more control over the vehicle. This would be true when controlling the reigns of a horse drawn carriage and would then carry over to an automobile car.

When you travel the world you see many different ways that environments and behavior affect each other.

Since I am in a "backwards country" here in the Middle East (in many senses: underdeveloped, often plagued by a "backwards" mentality, and they write from right to left, so all the books ARE backward!) I have decided to read Chapter 14 into my computer. I then added a little music for spice, and broken it up into sections. Arabs always pick up books and open them from what we call " the back" first, so why not!

So, if you go to "Course Materials" and "Course Content" you will now see a bunch of .mp4 audio files. They are all here for you to download and listen to! Save them to your mp3 players and listen to them on the bus or in the car! Play them off of your computer and read along to help prevent fatigue and keep you focussed. Or use them to keep the fireplace going! Either way, you may find them an interesting extension of the usual study aide concept!

And by the way , as I've said previously, YOU DO NOT NEED TO READ THE TEXTBOOK IN ORDER OR DO THE ASSIGNMENTS IN ORDER! Try shaking up your world, turn your environment upside down. It will do you all some good. Try reading the book from the last chapter to the first. See how it feels! Go on, don't be afraid, listen to Chapter 14 this week and do that assignment instead of Chapter 3!! Give it a try!

Cheers, T.H. Culhane

320 The Acoustic Environment

Message no. 320 Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Sunday, February 11, 2007 10:23am Subject: The acoustic environment

Hello class! As you know, we navigate through and interpret our environments via at least five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Some people (the Aleiser Crawley crowd for example believe we also use a "sixth sense" but it has so far proved unverifiable with any statistical rigor so we don't treat it in this class.

So far, because of the technological limitations of most of our personal computing and telecommunications environments, we have been limiting ourselves primarily to the sight medium. We are unlikely to incorporate taste and smell, and the only way we can use touch that I can think of is to find some way of using a "dual shock" game pad controller (in some environment like second life?) to transmit forces across time and space. While that is technically possible I don't think we will get to it in this course.

That leaves us with two media, sight and sound. In the videos I have posted for the class (both under the course content area and on my blogs that I link you to) we have both sight and sound represented. In the next few weeks I may experiment with uploading audio files (like radio broadcasts) and will provide links to radio discussions on topics related to our class. I also encourage you to try working with this medium.

Many of you have talked about telephony as a medium and its benefits and limitations.

Question: How many of you have SKYPE - the free internet telephone service that lets people talk from their computers? Right now my wife is sitting next to me in this cafe in Cairo and is talking to a childhood friend of hers, Arifah Gebhardt, who is currently in Dubai (Adrienne, perhaps your daughter can meet her!). My wife is using my computer while I type to you. She has her headphones with built in microphone (they cost us about 10 dollars) plugged into the computer and we downloaded the program, SKYPE from here:

It was really easy to set up, and now we can talk to anybody in the world for free (well, we have to pay for the cinammon roll and mozarella sandwhich in the cafe to use the free internet!) . Skype allows us to conference call too, so at times we have called my wife's mother in Germany and my mother in New York and had a three way conference call. The latest version of skype also permits video conferencing, so with a usb internet camera (or the built in camera of the macbook pro) we can also see who we are talking to in real time . True audio video.

IF you guys are interested, and you download skype and get internet headphones with microphone (see here: we can arrange "OFFICE HOURS" and real time discussions. Let me know!

Also: Many of you have written and complained about being stuck in traffic. Our book suggests (on page 341, Figure 10-3) that "commuting can be a source of urban stress. Road rage seems to be at least partly triggered by cues in the environment". However, while "conditions that interfere with a commuters movement (e.g. congestion) elicit stress reactions such as physiological arousal, negative mood, and performence deficits" one can utilize a technique known as "cognitive reappraisal" (see page 329) to compensate and cope. One way to make commuting stress diminish is to establish a sense of control over your commuting environment. And one way to do that is to reappraise the situation as being an asset rather than a liability.


By looking at every traffic jam as a chance to study for this class!

Look at it this way ("look at it this way" is a technique of cognitive reappraisal!):

When you are "stuck" in traffic, people rarely bother you with demands on your attention. The slowness of the traffic means that you don't have to be particularly alert -- accidents in dense traffic usually amount to little more than fender benders and are rarely life threatening, so they don't fatigue you with survival arousal. Traffic is usually stressful because you can't move fast and you feel UNDERSTIMULATED.

solution: use the time to engage in deep thinking and cognitive stimulation. Since you need your sense of sight and touch to pay attention to the road, this leaves your sense of hearing.

Everybody who has utilized books on tape (or CD) to get through long boring drives has already experienced this. You feel a sense of relief because you are a captive audience while in traffic. Nobody can interrupt you.

What I used to do to get through Harvard was to tape record myself reading the chapters of my textbooks aloud. Usually I would put on my favorite symphony or movie soundtrack music (the James Bond film scores were some of my favorites -- they made everything exciting!) and read the chapter into the tape recorder. Then, while commuting (by car or subway or bus or even walking) I would listen to the chapters. that way I was always studying. For foreign languages I would buy language tapes. And one summer when my grandfather Jiddo was visiting from Baghdad I got him to read Arabic childrens stories into a tape recorder that I could practice with.

Recently I had my mother who was visiting Cairo do the same thing with comic books.

Now I don't expect that any of you have the time to read the chapters of the book twice, once into the tape recorder and once while you travel through listening. However -- you could HELP EACH OTHER.

Here is how: Each person in the class could agree to read one chapter of the book into the computer and save it as an .mp3 file (or an .aiff or .wav, but .mp3 is the most compact). then we could post the chapters in our course content area for the others to download. You just then save it to your ipod or mp3 player and get one of those little adaptors that let you play the .mp3 through your car stereo. All of a sudden you don't have to worry about sitting down to read. You can study the textbook while commuting.

Sure, it doesn't help in taking notes, and you will have to look at the textbook before writing your relational chapter summaries, but using the acoustic environment may help you to manage your time better, and who know, it may cause a cognitive reappraisal of traffic jams that may surprise you: You might end up looking forward to them!


299 "Real Life" vs. a Book

Message no. 299[Branch from no. 292] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Saturday, February 10, 2007 12:16pm Subject: Re: Real life vs. a book

How many of you, as kids, hunkered under the covers with a flashlight at night reading, afraid your parents would burst into the room and discover you hadn't really gone to bed after all? I remember being told "I said lights out, and I was serious!! Now go to sleep!".

I bring this up because it seems to me that the "crisis" we are now facing in society concerning "kids who are lost in virtual reality" is actually as old as language.

I suspect that it predates writing by several millenia. Can you imagine our cavemen forebears? Try this thought on and see how it wears:


ARNO and his brothers GUNTER, HANS, GIPFEL and YURGE have built a tent out of sticks and bearskins and have shoveled some charcoals into a pit they have carved into the earth. ARNO, the eldest, is telling stories to his younger siblings about a giant white fur covered snow man he calls a YETI and which he claims wanders the glaciers.

ARNO: "And then, all of a sudden the YETI grabbed me by the foot and lifted me up to his one good eye and started sniffing me. He was taller than a bear and his breath stank of rotted flesh. He said to me: I'm going to eat you and use your bones to finish building a giant sled that I will use to journey across the ice bridges to the world of the Gods!"

GUNTER: You can't get to the world of the Gods on a sled!

ARNO: Can too!


FATHER: "Kids, how many times do I have to tell you to stop telling fantasy stories and go to sleep. We have to hunt mammoth tomorrow and you need to be well rested."

YURGE: But dad, Arno hasn't finished telling us about the Yeti!!

FATHER: Arno!!! I told you to stop scaring the children. There is no such thing as a YETI in our environment. You fill their heads with nonesense and lies. I've told you you should only talk about things you can see with your own eyes. Yeti's come from our dreams, but no man has ever seen one. You must never confuse children with images from dreams and images from eyes. There is only one reality that affects us outside and it is what we can see and touch. The land of the Gods and demons is for after our death and we want to postpone that as long as possible. Stop using the magic of words and language to bring the dreamtime and the realtime environments into confusion! I forbid it! Now go to sleep, and may each of you be able to distinguish between your nightmare fantasies and the real threats we have to face each day on the hunt!!

KIDS: Yes Dad!

ARNO: Sorry Dad, I just thought it was more fun to create a world in which I was a hero and make them believe it then to always be just the son who has to shlepp carcasses back to the cave every day!


Now imagine a different scenario, updated to 5,000 BC. We are now in Ancient Egypt and people have invented writing in Hieroglyphics. One child sits at the foot of an unfinished pyramid engrossed in reading a papyrus scroll...

"Akhnakhatun, my son", moans the mother, "would you PLEASE roll that blasted thing up and get back to work? You are supposed to be carrying lime up to the workers in the tomb so they can plaster the walls and all you do is sit and read those comic books!"

"But Mom, they are so cool... just wait until I finish this last scroll!"

"No dear... these scrolls are bad for your health. They will ruin your eyes and the stories they tell are not for children.They are violent and talk only of armies butchering other armies for control of the dynasty. I'm afraid you will grow up and become a warrior!"

"But what is wrong with wanting to be a warrior? It is so cool!"

"In the scrolls and on the wall paintings they always make it seem cool, and children get caught up in the fantasy. But real war is terrible. You have to learn to separate fantasy from reality. Scrolls and paintings make things seem real when they are not because they leave out important parts of reality. Scrolls are a dangerous invention. And for the MILLIONTH TIME THERE ARE NO SUCH THINGS AS PEOPLE WITH DOGS HEADS AND BIRDS HEADS. Get a grip on reality!"


Do you guys get my point? Language.... whether encoded in speech, in storytelling, or in pictures on cave walls or in paintings or Hieroglyphics or text... creates a VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT that is ADDICTIVE. It enables people to experience alternate realities in which there are different roles. There are heroes and villains and options that don't exist in real life. Stories fill psychological needs for all of us who are dissatisfied with certain elements of our environments. Every society has undoubtedly had to grapple with the consequences of encoded fantasies that spring from our imagination as we reorder the images and sounds our senses pick up from reality and merge them with our dream realities.

I have no doubt that there was a time when parents were as worried about the influence of books on children as they now worry about the influence of video games. In fact we still worry when a child becomes “a book worm”. If you watch the Disney film “Alice in Wonderland” based on the fantasy by Lewis Carroll, you see that it starts with Alice’s parent worried that she never plays with the normal children or pays any attention to her environment, but is always lost in a book. Because of her worrisome addiction to the virtual realities she immerses herself in through the dangerous magic of books, Alice starts seeing things – white rabbits with pocket watches for example! The entire Alice in Wonderland scenario is a cautionary tale about somebody lost in virtual reality. Similarly, Belle in “Beauty in the Beast” has marginalized herself from the rest of society by her addiction to books, which she reads even when she is walking. She pays no attention to “reality”, preferring to live in her head. To the rest of the villagers this is very threatening. It is particularly threatening when it is a girl who is lost in the virtual reality of books because society when these fairy tales were written couldn’t understand why reading books would be productive for women. Think about the admonishment that Wendy’s parents give her in turn of the century England in PETER PAN! Wendy’s abnormal obsession with the fantasies in books is considered unladylike by her overly concerned parents who want her to leave the childish dreams of youth behind and prepare to be a good wife and mother. This is considered “growing up” – facing the “reality” of her socially prescribed role as a woman during a time when women were slaves to certain social norms. This is why she dreams of Never Never Land and the fantasy of “never growing up”. The sad thing about the end of Peter Pan is how Wendy decides to capitulate and give up her fantasies and conform to society.

The only reason we now encourage children to read all the time is because “first world” society shifted from a utilitarian group of producers to a privileged group of information processors. We have left the manufacturing and “reality” based burdens of dealing with the nuts and bolts of producing to third world countries. In countries like Egypt where child labor is the norm children are not encouraged to read unless they are in the upper class (there is not a very substantial middle class here).

Reading would be considered “escapist” and kids have “better things to do” (another “unfortunate side effect” of reading would be that the children might get fantasy ideas that they can be heroes and can rebel against the dire conditions of their exploited reality!) .

How many of you know that during slave times in America any African American caught reading a book would be killed? The whites were terrified that blacks would get ideas from books that would encourage them to revolt. To this day the trauma of centuries of being killed or beaten or threatened for reading have taken their toll on many of our still impoverished African American communities where literacy rates are low. And what is worse, now we make it worse by trying to FORCE kids to read so that reading has all the appeal of eating your vegetables! In inner city school such as the ones I worked in for a decade (south central Los Angeles) a predominance of white teachers are hired to go into black neighborhoods to stand like slave masters with verbal whips in front of a classroom environment where children are chained to desks in neat rows as if they were on a slave ship. Then the teachers bark in harsh tones “you must read! Why aren’t you reading?” while offering the absolutely most incomprehensible badly written boring books you could imagine. The textbooks in our inner city schools are so bad that most adults couldn’t stand reading them. When the children bring in comic books or fun books that they enjoy they are yelled at and the good material that they might enjoy is confiscated. It is as if we gave children horrible food to eat then yelled at them for not wanting to eat it, and then claimed they weren’t hungry!

What I am trying to get at here is that language (by which I mean a symbolic medium capable of transmitting sensory information across time and space) creates environments and these environments can affect the psychology of behavior in strong strong ways. Because of this people have always wanted to control what kinds of virtual environments their children and other peoples children were exposed to.

Montesque, at the time of the French Revolution, wrote, “THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD”.

I am challenging you now to consider that all forms of symbolic expression, whether coming out of some storyteller’s mouth, or out of a book or out of a computer screen or television, are powerful forces of social change.

Armed with this insight, the debate of virtual vs. real environments may appear somewhat different to you.

Your thoughts?

287, 297, 298 Map of Germany, meaning of Environment

Message no. 287 Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Thursday, February 8, 2007 4:36am Subject: map of germany

Here is the map of Germany. Essen is in the northwest (upper left) part of the country, Munich in the central south. f=q&hl=de&q=essen+to+munich&ie=UTF8&z=6&ll=50.443513,10.129395&spn=6.802461, 14.80957&t=h&om=1

Message no. 297[Branch from no. 293] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Saturday, February 10, 2007 10:59am Subject: Re: Professor's Discussion Questions Pat Friedirhs

Pat, I agree with Michelle -- you have really set the standard and raised the bar for all of us with your detailed and intensely personal perspective on the questions I posed. Very nicely done! I hope others will look to you as a standard bearer and inspiration and use the energy and effort you put in as a model to follow. Reading your work should also make it easier for those who may still be confused about how to interact with the subject material to go about it. And Michelle, your interaction with Pat's post is the perfect way to go about engaging in a discussion. Well done.

What I like best is that you are each beginning to appreciate the complexity of the notion of an "environment". You are gaining the most important insight that this class can deliver -- that "environment" is really what the word says it is: That which environs us. Environ means to surround. So "saving the environment" is a very complex notion because it merely means "saving what is around us." If we don't like what is around us, then saving it may not make sense! If we do, then it might very well be a top priority.

Environmentalism is a strange term. It, and the word "environmentalist", refer to people who are concerned with their environment. But that would include everybody. So everybody is some kind of an environmentalist. The conflict is that we all live in and enjoy different environments. We all care about different environments. And we have to learn to compromise.

The question of "what is nature" is even tougher. Many of you will fall back into a bias that Nature means trees and rivers and rocks and animals. It does, but it also means buildings and plastics and trash. Everything is nature. In this course I would like you all to try out the idea that when WE talk about Nature, we mean everything that exists. When we want to talk about birds and lizards and grizzly bears and rain forests and oceans, we will have to specify. In this course we can't use the word nature and assume it means the same thing to everyone. In fact, as Pat pointed out about the textbook, we can't use ANY words and assume they mean the same thing. As scientists (or students of a science) we have to specify EVERYTHING. A bit of a pain, I know, but that is our task.

More on that in future posts. For now, well done! Keep probing and thinking and describing!

Message no. 298[Branch from no. 288] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Saturday, February 10, 2007 11:09am Subject: Re: map of germany

Hi Michelle, As usual this silly discussion area won't let us make a long url link. what you clicked on was just what is in blue, and that just took you to the google site, without including the rest of the info. What you have to do is cut and paste the entire address into your browser unfortunately. It is a pain. It might be easier just to go to google maps and type in "Essen Germany" and then "Munich, Germany" and create your own maps if you want to see where we were. But don't sweat it. Now we are in Cairo, Egypt.

The nicest thing we saw from the beautiful train ride through the snowy forests was a huge solar electric field between Augsberg and Munich. There the farmers make extra money "growing" electricity. Over acres and acres they have solar panels on poles. In the summer their sheep rest in the shade of the clean quiet solar panels so they never overheat (this also saves on the amount of water the farmer must provide his animals). In the winter and spring the sheep can hide under the panels to get away from rain and wind. In between the panels the sheep can graze on the grass and farmers can grow crops. In other parts of Germany and Switzerland the farmers plant wind generators. They grow crops between the windmills. When the price of a crop goes down in the market they sell electricity. When the price of electricity falls, they sell crops. In this way farmers never have to worry about being put out of business by the uncertainties of price fluctuations in the volatile global market. Combined energy and food farming is the answer to revitalizing the farming sector.

Do you guys know of any examples of this in the U.S.? Have you seen it occurring?

From the area where the solar farm was toward the town we started then to pass barns, farmhouses and then villas and apartments covered with solar electric and solar thermal (water heating) panels. It seems that the people in this part of Germany have realized that not only is this a great way to farm, but that their houses can benefit from these things too. Any energy they don't use spins their meters backward and they sell it to the city and make profits.

It was neat to see this out of the window of the silent high speed train for miles and miles!

I will try to show you what it looks like from a google map if I can find it.


286 Epistemological Questions: Is the Textbook and Environment?

Message no. 286 Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Thursday, February 8, 2007 4:35am Subject: Professor in transit

Hi class, I am about to go to the train station to grab a train from Essen to Munich (see map), spend the night in Munich and then fly to Cairo in the morning. Don't know if I will be able to get on line again until Friday night or Saturday morning, and don't have time to post anything now, so please forgive me.

Get all your Chapter 1 relational summaries finished and read chapter 2 so we can post relational chapter summaries for that by Monday and get into the deep discussion that matters most to this course and our current environmental crises: What is nature? what is natural? What is good? What is healthy? What makes a bad environment? How can we improve our environments? Is there a such thing as "the environment"? What distinguishes "your environment" from "my environment" from " our environment". Is there a "his environment" and a "her environment"? Are there age specific environments? Are there culture specific environments? Religion specific environments? Belief specific environments?.

These are the big questions that lead us into the EPISTEMOLOGY of environmental behavior. (look that word up!)

A thought for the next two days : In what sense is the textbook an environment? Is it the same environment for all of us? Why or why not?

When we sit down to read the textbook (or do you stand or lie down to read it!?), are we all sort of entering the same "room", or does it appear differently to each of us? Why would that be so? And how does the environment of a book differ from so called "real life"? This might be a topic for our discussion of virtual vs. real environments, so I will post there.

Anyway, keep up the great work (and those of you who aren't posting, try to explain, in our learning environment discussion area, what in the learning environment and your social and work and physical and emotional and mental environments is affecting the psychology of your behavior so that you aren't engaging effectively with the material! That is a study in and of itself. Try to suggest ways that the learning environment could be improved so that it would make it more beneficial for you (or less costly in an emotional or time or physical or mental sense) to participate more.)

Okay, got to run! I'll look forward to reading your posts when I touch down!


279 ENvironment vs. INvironment

Message no. 279[Branch from no. 271] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Wednesday, February 7, 2007 4:30pm Subject: Re: Relational Summary

Hi Dana! This relational summary is almost there. It starts out absolutely great, relating the quotes from the book to your own childhood environment, which is really neat to see. Then it is technically good in terms of quoting and linking to outside readings, but it loses its personal touch so we go from a warm and personal environment into a cold technical one. But it is a great effort, and everybody is warming to the assignments. Class: If we think of reading text as a journey through a virtual environment that influences our behavior, think of what the reader is experiencing as she visits the virtual world we paint with our words. We want to set a tone that invites as much as informs. Re-read the beginning of Dana's summary. As you read, observe how your internal environment changes (I will refer to our internal environment from now own as our INVIRONMENT to distinguish it from our ENVIRONMENT, which means "that which envelopes or surrounds us". Our IN-vironment would be "that which we surround or contain within us." As far as I know I have made this term up, so you won´t find it in the book, but who knows, maybe others have come up with it too!)

We want to see how environments affect our psychology of behavior which, to me, means how our environments affect our invironments.

When we write, we are creating a mental room and inviting people into it. So Feng Shui applies here too.

So if, throughout the journey, we pepper the technical information with personal touches, it becomes a different experience, doesn´t it?

I'll write more about this later!

Keep up the good work!

250, 253, 267, 278 Links to enviro videos

Message no. 250 Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Tuesday, February 6, 2007 12:54pm Subject: Where are my relational chapter summaries??

Hullo group! Hate to be a pest, but at least half of you still havent posted chapter 1 relational chapter summaries. I travel to Munich day after tomorrow and then to Cairo the next day, and so I need to read them before I get on the road. So come on, cough 'em up! If we fall behind now, catching up gets tough as the chapters get longer and more informative!


Meanwhile, check out this video from Australia and tell me what you think

T Message no. 253 Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Tuesday, February 6, 2007 4:23pm Subject: New Video Posted!

Hello class,

My wife and I went over to the UNESCO World Heritage Site called "Zeche Zollverein", a defunct coal mine in the town of Essen Germany, and filmed a little environmental psychology mini lecture video for you today. It is posted here:

The message of the video, in which I do my best to put on the kind of false Hollywood German accent that will annoy Germans and Americans alike, is that the choice of a fuel source a country uses has profound effects on the local environment, in everything from mood and health to the color of the houses. We ad libbed it off the cuff while trying to see if our solar powered battery would work, so dont expect anything professional, but we did manage to incorporate a google map of the area into the video!

As you will see on the blog, because Sony wants you to buy only its overpriced accessories, the Energizer battery we bought for 90 bucks might as well have been a lump of coal!


Message no. 267[Branch from no. 257] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Wednesday, February 7, 2007 7:26am Subject: Re: Relational summary

This is a superb relational summary Dawn -- great use of quotes to reinforce personal insights with lots of self probing based on the theoretical perspectives offered by the book. It really shows HOW the readings made YOU think, and that is what we want. It is great when you say "an old boyfriend came to mind as I read the chapter..." and when you say, "further into the chapter I couldn't help but feeling...." What you have done is created for us a cognitive map of the chapter AS YOU SAW IT and taken us all on a journey through the chapter with you as our guide, peppered with important psychological reflections such as HOW did I end up like this and WHY....

The improvement I would suggest (aw, who are we fooling, I don't suggest it, I require it!) is at least three links to outside supportive material so we use the text not only to relate to our lives but to outside material. This way the text serves as an anchor linking our personal lives which bob up and down on the waves of reality to the endless depths of a limitless sea of information on the rock of theory. How is that for a metaphor!

And again, everything is conveniently in threes -- personal experiences, textbook knowledge, outside linkages.

Good writing!

Message no. 278[Branch from no. 270] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Wednesday, February 7, 2007 4:15pm Subject: Re: Fake Blog

Yes, Adrienne, this was a great and creative approach! it looks like this will be a great blog, only the pictures did not come through. If you can attach each of the pictures as a separate file, I will take them and what you have written and try to construct a document we can all see here. Or, even better, if you like, I will set up a blog for you and post the text and the pictures. Then you can change the password and work on it yourself. I think you may have been having trouble uploading pictures to blogspot, is that the problem? If so we can try to walk you through it. It was fun reading about your travels from the "hippy era" to the present!



245, 246: Quotes on Fostering Innovation and Subsidies

Message no. 245 Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Tuesday, February 6, 2007 7:17am Subject: Fostering innovation

"Poor infrastructure services can threaten health and safety, and the regulation of their quality is an important policy concern. Regulators in rich countries tend to set quality standards at high levels, reflecting a tradeoff between quality and affordability that is, more or less, appropriate in these countries. Historically, they have also relied extensively on the regulation of inputs, controlling the means by which quality standards are achieved, rather than defining acceptable outputs and allowing experimentation and innovation in ways of acheiving these outputs... focussing regulation on outputs allows providers to innovate and to offer less expensive ways of delivering service of a given quality..." (Infrastructure for Poor People: Public Policy for Private Provision, Brook and Irwin, eds. World Bank press 2003, p. 13)

Message no. 246 Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Tuesday, February 6, 2007 7:24am Subject: Subsidies

"Before advocating a subsidy for infrastructure services, policy analysts need to compare its likely effectiveness with subsidies for other goods and services and with a subsidy provided in cash... the most effective such subsidies will probably be output rather than input based; that is they will be linked not to the use of certain inputs, such as the construction of a dam (OR POWERLINES -- T.H.) but to the achievement of certain outputs, such as the provision of electricity or water. In some circumstances subsidies may be efficiently provided through a dominant main utility, but especially when the utility doesn't serve many of the poor, a better option may be to design the subsidies so that different firms can compete to provide the subsidized services. Often governments have a choice between subsidizing consumption and subsidizing access... one scheme that allows competition and promotes access is to auction the obligation to provide services to new areas, with the winner being the firm that demands the lowest subsidy." (Brook and Irwin, 2003 pp. 14-16)

244 The Movie "Stealth"

Message no. 244[Branch from no. 240] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Tuesday, February 6, 2007 7:00am Subject: The Movie STEALTH

Wow. Hey Dawn, it is interesting you mention the movie Stealth. Did you know that I worked on music for that movie, or did it just come up? Here are the posts that describe my work on it with the great composer BT.

I have to say that I am not at all frightened of artificial intelligence as I see robotic and other non-carbon-based or "artificial" life forms as being part of a continuum of behavioral complex and intentional beings that tend to evolve in the right environments. In chapter 2 of our text we are asked to ponder the prime question : WHAT IS NATURE? To me Nature is merely a word describing "that which is", and so must encompass everything that exists. By this definition everything is natural.

The question isn't one of "natural vs. artificial" but "life enhancing vs. life detracting". Shakespeare wrote "There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so" and our conflation of "good" with "natural" and "bad" with "artificial" defies logic -- death is natural, but we deem it bad, shelter is artificial but we deem it good. Malaria is natural, malaria medicine is artificial, deserts are natural, many oases are artificial.

I suspect that so called artificial intelligences, like the airplane in our movie, Stealth, which have genetic algorithms (and so are capable of learning) will behave very much as we see children (human and non-human) behave. Human intelligence is special, but not remarkable given the laws of the universe, and as Darwin said, "The Difference between Man and the Other Animals is one of Degree and Not Kind." This will hold true of robotic intelligences too.

We are correct to worry about intelligences that are socialized (programmed) to do us harm, but this can be human as well as non-human. Just because something is made of steel or silicon doesn't make it a greater or lesser threat to us than flesh and blood. We are now talking about "Environmental Psychology" (so it is great that you brought up the movie Stealth!), in that every psychology and the behavior it engenders will be influenced by the environment in which it develops.

If -- no, WHEN we develop airplanes like the one in Stealth, we will have to be careful to educate (program) the young mind properly. as you say, the kinks will need serious ironing out. But I think we need to lose our fear of life forms simply because they are not "natural" (i.e. carbon based or evolved without human intervention). To fear "a-life" is to be prejudiced in my opinion (Have you seen I ROBOT with Will Smith or Millenium Man with Robin Williams yet?).

This is a great topic you have raised, as we definitely need to consider robots and other machine intelligences in our disucssions of Real vs. Virtual Life.

Next step is to really dig into this debate of WHAT IS NATURE?

233 - 236 Road Rage

Message no. 233[Branch from no. 72] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Monday, February 5, 2007 1:43pm Subject: Re: PC users

Thanks for sharing these instructions, Kenisha! This is wonderful to have peer to peer facilitation!

Message no. 234[Branch from no. 230] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Monday, February 5, 2007 2:08pm Subject: Road Rage

Thanks for posting these great reactions Pat -- it begins to feel more like an authentic class discussion when you guys do that, and I appreciate it. Speaking of Road Rage, Bell et al. discuss the topic on page 342 in the text in a box, and distinguish it from "aggressive driving". Have you seen the Michale Douglas film "Falling Down"?

(You can read about it in Wikipedia here

It is the ultimate road rage picture! When I showed it to friends in Indonesia they said they were scared of visiting Los Angeles if everybody was like they see in the film. Fortunately, we aren't. But the problem is huge.

Our text asks, "What causes aggressive driving? Are we dealing with a generation of distrubed personalities on our freeways?". Forttunately, the study by Ellison-Potter et al. (2000) showed that "the culprit (may be) more our environment than our innate dispositions"... they used a simulator (virtual reality again!) to test this hypothesis and found that when drivers know who the other driver is (as would be the case if they are in a convertible or if the car is known) they become less aggressive. It seems anonymity encourages violence (no consequences!). Also, the study quoted by Parsons et. al (1988) says that natural scenery around the road decreases stress and mitigates violent behavior. It is a shame that the developers of the new shopping mall cut down the big beautiful trees that you used to use as a landmark. Perhaps the community can use the Parsons study to encourage them to landscape the new mall so that people stuck in traffic are less aggressive!

Again, thanks for sharing your environment and reacting to each others sharing.

By the way, the way I post pictures in these discussions is to go to the website where a picture is and click on the picture so it alone is on the screen. I then copy the URL, like this:

I note that the url ends with .jpg, meaning what I am looking at is a picture file address, not a web page adress (which would end in .html or .htm).

Then I write in my discussion area '<' then 'img src=" ', and I paste the url after the quote. Then I close it with another quote "
I then end the url with '>' and this puts the picture in my discussion. The code means

Try it! You can stick in pictures from any website!


Message no. 235[Branch from no. 234] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Monday, February 5, 2007 2:11pm Subject: Re: Road Rage

Oops, it seems the browser doesnt want to display the code. Here is another try...

USE THE < src="and" style=""> Type the URL inside the quotes and close the quotes ". Then end with >.

It should look like this < -- comment >

Message no. 236[Branch from no. 228] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Monday, February 5, 2007 2:15pm Subject: It is never too late

Hi Daniela, It is never too late to improve our work! When I taught at UCLA I told my students they could rewrite and improve papers as many times as they liked, just as you would if you were publishing something. And you are publishing! Eventually you might turn what you write here into a book. So I encourage you to write and rewrite, and help each other and edit and comment as if we were a team of writers and editors for a magazine. At the end of the year we can publish and wont Mercy be pleased!

So yes, always feel free to improve things! As my Dad, who is the author of many books, says, "The secret to writing is rewriting."