In praise of crazy.

Apple_Think_Different_vectorized.svgHere’s to the crazy ones.

The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.

The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo.

You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things.

They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.

Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

I love this advertising copy. It has stuck with me since it was first broadcast in 1997, not because it sold truckloads of Apple computers
(it did), but because it reminds me that we need to be a little (or a lot) crazy to make a difference in the world.

The copy was written by Apple’s Steve Jobs and Lee Clow, along with Clow’s team at TBWA/Chiat/Day. If the grammar bugs you, here’s the rationale, according to Jobs: If “different” was supposed to modify the verb “think,” it should be an adverb, as in “think differently.” But Jobs insisted that he wanted “different” to be used as a noun, as in “think victory” or “think beauty.” Also, it echoed colloquial use, as in “think big.” Jobs later explained, “We discussed whether it was correct before we ran it. It’s grammatical, if you think about what we’re trying to say. It’s not think the same, it’s think different. Think a little different, think a lot different, think different.”

What does “think different” mean to you? I use it as my reason to blog, write books, perform magic, speak to strangers and generally be silly and in awe of the miraculous world around me. On my best days I do these things without guilt or apology because I believe that’s what the Einsteins, Campbells, Gandhis, and Jobss of the world did. My email signature includes my absurdly audacious promise to “Change the world, one mind at a time.” Ballsy? You bet? Irreverent? Maybe. Necessary? Yes (for me, anyway). I get up every day with the intention of delivering on that promise. When was the last time you did something that was courageous, inspiring and a little crazy? Did it make a difference?

Even if our actions didn’t knock the world off its axis, isn’t it important that we tried, and that we’ll try again? Here’s to the crazy ones.

Aliens stole my car keys!!!

Ok, they probably didn’t.
It was most likely my cats, who are also secretly building a mind control device in my basement

Often we silly humans find that it’s more convenient to make outlandish claims and concoct absurd conspiracy theories than to look for rational, balanced answers and (maybe) accept personal responsibility for our actions. As human beings, we have the remarkable ability to seek out opinions and half truths that support our personal belief systems and allow us to create an “alternate reality.” It’s enough to give me pause.

Below are excerpts from an April 2013 article written for Scientific American by Sander van der Linden, a visiting research scholar with the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication at Yale University. The entire article can be read at

As for me, I think global warming and my missing car keys are linked to a sinister plot to control the world. I’ll let you know when I figure out who or what, is behind it…

Excerpted from the April 30, 2013  Scientific American article “Moon Landing Faked!!! – Why people believe in conspiracy theories” by Sander van der Linden:

In the book “The Empire of Conspiracy,” Timothy Melley explains that conspiracy theories have traditionally been regarded by many social scientists as “the implausible visions of a lunatic fringe,” often inspired by what the late historian Richard Hofstadter described as “the paranoid style of American politics.” Influenced by this view, many scholars have come to think of conspiracy theories as paranoid and delusional, and for a long time psychologists have had little to contribute other than to affirm the psychopathological nature of conspiracy thinking, given that conspiricist delusions are commonly associated with (schizotype) paranoia.

Yet, such pathological explanations have proven to be widely insufficient because conspiracy theories are not just the implausible visions of a paranoid minority. For example, a national poll released just this month reports that 37 percent of Americans believe that global warming is a hoax, 21 percent think that the US government is covering up evidence of alien existence and 28 percent believe a secret elite power with a globalist agenda is conspiring to rule the world. Only hours after the recent Boston marathon bombing, numerous conspiracy theories were floated ranging from a possible ‘inside job’ to YouTube videos claiming that the entire event was a hoax.

So why is it that so many people come to believe in conspiracy theories? They can’t all be paranoid schizophrenics. New studies are providing some eye-opening insights and potential explanations.

Interestingly, belief in conspiracy theories has recently been linked to the rejection of science. In a paper published in Psychological Science, Stephen Lewandowsky and colleagues investigated the relation between acceptance of science and conspiricist thinking patterns. While the authors’ survey was not representative of the general population, results suggest that (controlling for other important factors) belief in multiple conspiracy theories significantly predicted the rejection of important scientific conclusions, such as climate science or the fact that smoking causes lung cancer. Yet, rejection of scientific principles is not the only possible consequence of widespread belief in conspiracy theories.  Another recent study indicates that receiving positive information about or even being merely exposed to conspiracy theories can lead people to become disengaged from important political and societal topics. For example, in their study, Daniel Jolley and Karen Douglas clearly show that participants who received information that supported the idea that global warming is a hoax were less willing to engage politically and also less willing to implement individual behavioral changes such as reducing their carbon footprint.

Since a number of studies have shown that belief in conspiracy theories is associated with feelings of powerlessness, uncertainty and a general lack of agency and control, a likely purpose of this bias is to help people “make sense of the world” by providing simple explanations for complex societal events — restoring a sense of control and predictability. A good example is that of climate change: while the most recent international scientific assessment report (receiving input from over 2500 independent scientists from more than a 100 countries) concluded with 90 percent certainty that human-induced global warming is occurring, the severe consequences and implications of climate change are often too distressing and overwhelming for people to deal with, both cognitively as well as emotionally. Resorting to easier explanations that simply discount global warming as a hoax is then of course much more comforting and convenient psychologically. Yet, as Al Gore famously pointed out, unfortunately, the truth is not always convenient.

Clap On, Clap Off

ApplauseAs social creatures, we are easily influenced by others, even when we express our appreciation or dissatisfaction through applause.

In fact, it’s amazing how easily a group of strangers can be swayed. I’ve tried the following informal experiment at five different movie theaters. At the end of each movie, I paused for five seconds, then began clapping loudly and continuously. Invariably, others joined in the applause, which swelled to include at least half of the audience. At five other movie screenings, I waited five seconds, then five more. In fact, I never began clapping, even though at three movies, I really wanted to. The result? No one clapped.

Was my little experiment just a fluke or are we more susceptible to “group think”, I mean, “group clapping” than we care to admit? Here’s what reporter Amy Kraft for Scientific American discovered about the phenomenon:

Applause is a sign of appreciation after a good performance. Right? Actually, a new study finds that how enthusiastically you clap can be strongly influenced by the volume and frequency of the audience clapping around you.

To test how applauding behavior spreads in groups, researchers filmed six different sets of university students who were told to clap after listening to an academic lecture.

The videos showed that people were strongly swayed by other audience members, or even by just one particularly influential clapper. Applause incidents averaged 9-15 claps per person, but would swell to as many as 30 claps solely based on an individual applause leader. The spasm stopped in much the same way: when one person ceased clapping it triggered a larger group dynamic.

The study is in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface and is part of a larger effort to understand social behavior and how it can spread within a group. [Richard P. Mann et al., The dynamics of audience applause]

So the next time you see a dull performance, remember, the desire to hold back on clapping might be out of your hands.

Well put, Amy. That deserves a round of…. oops! I’ll just sit on my hands.


Feeling Super at 50 (+)

AmazingSpiderMan1Look! Up in the sky! It’s 50-something man!

Ok, so my 57th birthday on July 1 didn’t elicit exclamations from swooning women or awestruck kids.
Holy lowered expectations, Batman! Since it isn’t always easy feeling super in our youth-obsessed culture, it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only guy reflecting on his age. Peter Parker, the socially challenged science nerd who just happened to get in the way of a radioactive spider and absorbed its powers turns 50 this year. Happy birthday, Spidey!

Although I haven’t read a “funny book” in ages (today’s term is “graphic novel” – Bazinga!), as a birthday treat I dipped into my modest collection of comix and pulled out Amazing Spiderman #3 from 1964. Take that, evil Gen-Xers and Millennials!  Thumbing through my retirement hedge, er, comic books, fills me with the exuberance of ten mortals. Go ahead, unleash your worst, Green Goblin, I’m feeling invincible. Ok, maybe not invincible, but at this moment I barely notice my swollen joints and expanding waistline (sigh).

I prefer to think of myself as someone who understands the mid-life angst of the “younger” superheroes. Not that age is slowing down any of my favorite costumed crusaders. Heck, Superman just turned 75 and he’s starring in his own summer blockbuster. Oh, and let’s not forget the original Avengers who turned 50 this year and are going strong. Iron Man, the Hulk and Thor have all gotten their mojo back and are thrilling a new generation of movie goers. That said, I’m not sure what happened to Ant-Man, one of the original members. Hope he has a decent pension. Even several mutants hit the big 5-0 this year and I’m happy to report that it’s done nothing to slow down the burgeoning X-Men franchise.

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s a stupendous, colossal, action-packed privilege to put another notch in my utility belt and celebrate 2013 on planet earth. After all, 60 is still a long way off, isn’t it?