Posted by: Nancy | November 20, 2015


Gloria1The Sunday afternoon crowd was mostly women — I’d guess fewer than 20 percent men. That’s unusual in itself, but even more unusual was the warmth of the crowd.

I don’t know when I’ve seen so many hugs, warm greetings, tender and gentle expressions happening spontaneously all around. Friends were calling out to each other, waving across the auditorium. There were grins and laughter, and even for those women alone, it was easy to strike up a conversation.

With so many people surging into the facility, there’s a level of management required. We were instructed to move into the interior, leaving room at the aisles so the people still coming could slip in quickly. We did. We were asked to help others find seats, and immediately hands went up, signaling open seats available.

Others chatted and helped each other remove coats, or offered to turn in tickets for the prize drawing, saving steps for others and easing the congestion at the drawing boxes.

I was there early, partly because I knew it would be full and could be difficult. It was fun to observe the solidarity and affection of so many women. I felt that old sense of sisterhood, a belonging with these beautiful creatures.

The affection was directed at the guest of honor, Gloria Steinem, but it radiated throughout the room. We spontaneously stood in welcome when she walked onto the stage, and we continued clapping our appreciation. She looked happily surprised and sat with the host, my friend Vivien Jennings, who talked with her about her new book (My Life on the Road).

steinembookIt was as though we were all eavesdropping on an intimate conversation, and yet all were participants in the moment, bound in the stories she shared.

Sisterhood. Despite vast differences, we are bound by common experiences. She encouraged celebration at our victories and stirred passion at the wrongs that still bind women — and men. Feminism is all about equality, she reminded us. It was not a lecture or sermon; it was a perspective that resonated in the truth of individual experiences. Individual experiences gave way to common, shared experiences.

Two favorite moments:

  • Listen to the turtle. In college, she took a geology course, expecting it to be least difficult of the options to get her science credits. The professor took them on a field trip, where she found a big turtle struggling on an incline toward the road. She held her arms out in front of her, as though carrying a beach ball, describing how she picked up the angry snapping turtle and deposited it back at the river’s edge, safely away from the danger of the road. The professor told her that it had likely taken that old turtle three or four months to get that close to the sandy soil by the road, where she would have deposited her eggs. The turtle would have to start over somewhere else now. Gloria was horrified at what she had done, but absorbed the lesson: Always ask the turtle. She explained: the people who bear a problem usually know what they need, what the right solution is. We must listen to them. We are the turtles who know what needs to be done.
  • Can you imagine? She gave us a thought experiment. What would happen if we could raise one entire generation without violence or shaming, with only a focus on developing the full circle of human capabilities? She challenged that it might be enough to break the cycle of violence and discrimination, to give new hope to the human race.  Years from now, she said, people will be amazed that we had such ridiculous conformist ideas of beauty, that skin color, gender, age, etc., had any bearing on the value of each individual human. We are still working our way out of this injustice and ignorance.

An afternoon full of those old feelings — solidarity, friendship, being on the right side of a just cause, a sense of power and, yes, sisterhood. The afternoon was all too short, but full of promise still. A reminder that we are still working toward our goals.

Posted by: Nancy | October 29, 2015

Lessons from Ned Yost

YostNYTNed Yost is the manager of the Kansas City Royals, currently leading 2-0 over the New York Me
ts in the 2015 World Series.

I’ve never met him. I’m not a baseball expert; I’m just a fan of my town’s team. I like the game, but even more, I like the way this team plays. Key word is “play.”

They have fun! There’s joy in this team, a genuine enjoyment and excitement in what they do. Certainly it comes from the players themselves, but I think part of it also comes from the leadership.

I found some evidence of this in a recent New York Times Magazine article on Yost (“How Ned Yost Made the Kansas City Royals Unstoppable”, Oct. 1, 2015). The article calls Yost “the most criticized manager in baseball” and its least respected. The author attempts to explain the Royals’ success.

From the article:

‘‘This is a very culturally diverse team,’’ says Ben Zobrist, a utility player who was traded to Kansas City from Oakland in July. ‘‘But these guys for sure feel comfortable with each other. When a clubhouse is that comfortable, it has started with the manager.’’

‘‘He allows us to be ourselves, on and off the field,’’ says Lorenzo Cain, the center fielder. ‘‘And we have a blast doing it. We laugh together, have a great time. The chemistry on this team is amazing. That reflects on a manager. And it matters.’’

So what is Ned’s secret? The article subhead pointedly notes what is NOT the answer: “The most criticized manager in the major leagues dismissed metrics and embraced failure — and broke his team’s three decade slump.”

It’s not the data or the analytics, then. It’s not the adherence to a long view, following a strategy that sometimes backfires in the short-term. It’s not just a drive to be the best. Here’s what I think is the real key, again quoting from the article:

‘‘I love these guys,’’ Yost told me. ‘‘I really love them. You have to, in order to understand them. And you have to understand them in order to manage them. If you understand their backgrounds, why they are the way they are, you can understand what motivates them.’’

A lesson not just for management or baseball. For living every day.

Start with love.

Posted by: Nancy | October 25, 2015

The Engagement Dilemma

Everywhere I turn, there seems to be an industry crisis in connecting, truly connecting, with a desired audience.

The buzzword for this is “engagement.”

As in: civic engagement, donor engagement, board engagement, patient engagement, client engagement, reader engagement, employee engagement, stakeholder engagement … you get the idea. natura di autunno

The prevailing best practices on engagement issues typically call for a task force between IT and marketing to figure out a way to hook the preferred audience digitally, via smart device or laptop. There are weighty discussions about the merits of text, video, email, calendar alerts and sensing devices. There are promises of always-on connections, giving ubiquitous access to everyone and everything else with just-in-time info.

But I can’t help wonder if we’re going about this engagement crisis the right way.

Perhaps it takes a human touch first. Someone who will take time to listen to the desired audience. Someone who will capture attention with an irresistible story that’s meaningful to the individuals who make up the audience.

I was in a busy physicians’ office this week. There was a line at the reception desk, staffers were processing each person and diligently following a new script: Would you like to sign up for our new portal? 

One older woman didn’t understand the question. “What does that mean?” she asked. The receptionist tried again: Do you have a computer? You can connect with us online. 

“Oh, no I don’t have a computer — what would I do with a computer,” the woman said, shaking her head at the idea. Then, brightening, she added:  “Now my daughter, she has a computer and you should see the things she knows how…”

The receptionist interrupted her with the next question: Have you been to West Africa recently? The woman looked at her utterly confused.

Engagement? A man and woman are holding hands and comforting each other in a park

She may not have been eligible to “engage” online, but she certainly was willing to engage on a human level. She was ready to tell a little story about her amazing daughter who uses a computer. It clearly made her happy to think of her daughter. I wondered if she might have asked if she could use this “portal” with her daughter.

We don’t know.

I’m pretty certain she will be logged in a database somewhere with a negative score on engagement. The physicians’ office and the hospital administrators will look sourly on that and try to figure out why they can’t reach this patient.

What’s missing?

Engagement, like communication, is a two-way street. Success requires a transmitter and a receiver, as well as a compelling connection between the two. And it takes time, a commitment on both sides.

How can we ever expect to solve the engagement crisis (let alone the next crisis— empowerment) without listening to each other? Caring for each other? Taking time for each other?

Now, I’m no Luddite. I’m an amateur futurist, a fan of technology and a student of how it intersects with humanity. I believe big changes are near and I want to make sense of them now. I play in Big Data, and I love being able to make meaningful decisions with information never-before available. And I can’t wait for the Internet of Things (believing we can overcome the privacy and security issues). The idea of having everything interconnected, accessible is fantastic because it will prompt new knowledge.

We’ll develop new ways to analyze and process all this this information; we’ll need new ways as humans to absorb the data. (See the umwelt story.) I imagine that “data empathy” will become a desired skill; we’ll study how some people just “know” things from looking at data.

But to build true engagement, let’s keep a priority on the old-fashioned, ordinary kind of empathy — caring for other people, understanding their feelings and state of being. Let’s use that to build connections between people first, and then let the high tech interfaces supplement the human ones.

Successful engagement has to start with a one-to-one connection that has meaning and value to both parties. Then add the technology — sensors, social media, texting, alerts, alarms, natural language processing, telepresence and all the rest of it. An ongoing engagement has to bring value to each of the engaged individuals, and that human connection might end up being the most valuable bit in the equation.

Posted by: Nancy | August 29, 2015

She is here.

My beautiful sister-in-law Phyllis passed on Monday.what are you looking at owl

We’d been fortunate to have been with her just a week earlier. She was weak but radiant, laughing and fighting with the most intense courage I have ever seen. We found reasons to giggle and cry together. I felt so close to her.
I still feel her close to me. I still feel her love.

She is here.

On Tuesday morning, I’m in my usual ritual, walking outside to pick up the newspapers, cat strolling with me. A sudden flurry of wings nearby and a massive creature lands above me.

It’s our owl. It’s only the second time the owl has shown himself, although we regularly hear him outside our window. I sat on the front porch and we watched each other for several minutes until something beckoned him to float away on great silent wings.

A bit later, I’m at my desk on a call. I have a window in front of my desk, usually an uneventful view — a bit of brick wall, vines, juniper trees. A small movement in the vines and I see a mother cardinal, carefully feeding a young hatchling. Cardinals, I know, are often thought to be a representation of loved ones who have passed. It’s a nice thought, but even nicer to see that this cardinal is a mother gently tending her young.


Later still, I stroll the garden as I love to do. I take note of the progress — bunnies continue to feast on my scaviola and sweet potato vines, but sun coleus are competing for showiest colors while canna lilies stretch skyward.  And then a surprising new bloom — a white iris. In late August.

A tiny bit beyond, and another surprise. My trumpet vine, with its exuberant green growth, has at last produced a bud.

I felt love in every one of these moments. Every one made me think of her. She is here. She is loved.


I know, this sounds deranged, goofy.  There is nothing so out of the ordinary of any of these things.

The owl lives here too, why shouldn’t I see him occasionally? And while most cardinals have young in spring and early summer, an August hatch is not unheard of. I know that some irises will re-bloom (they are described as remontant);  I know that trumpet vines can take years to mature to bloom — mine just finally reached its time.

But does it matter either way?

I see love in these small things, and I feel love with each one — for Phyllis, for my dear friend Nancy, for those around me, for the universe. And it is real.

Posted by: Nancy | August 2, 2015

Summer Zen Moment

IMG_2357The afternoon appointment was cancelled and rescheduled. An open spot appeared on my mid-week calendar.

Summer in full glory, beckoning. I closed the computer and left the smartphone on my desk to go outside into the back yard. I wanted a new full focus, if even for a few minutes, unpolluted by my guilt and undisturbed by my devices — I know I should be working; I could be researching, planning, targeting, analyzing, being productive.

Outside won.

I sat, stretched, and didn’t move, impersonating my favorite tree in the back yard. It is serene and stable, unmoving yet barely swaying, like the act of breathing. I am calm. Watchful.

Reward comes in a first small jump of action, a blur of movement from an invisible spot on the trunk to a branch. Then another, and another. Suddenly attuned, I saw the tree was alive with small finches flitting methodically from cone to cone, tiny beaks reaching into cones crevasses.

I’d already noted the common mourning dove sitting on a lone branch. But I had not seen the others. I sharpened my focus and saw what I was missing — a tree full of life.

There was a small flicker, a black and white spotted downy woodpecker with tiny red hat, bobbing up the trunk. I saw it disturb a butterfly that had been invisible and motionless until it softly fluttered away. A screeching blue jay whirled through and left in a harrumph. I watched a grey squirrel nearly camouflaged as it stretched lazily on a branch. A raft of finches and sparrows flew a chirpy and choppy circuit from feeder to birdbath to various hiding spots in bushes and branches.

IMG_2361Unmoving, focused, there is even more. I become aware of the melody of cicadas, the changing pitch, the rise and fall no longer just a background hum. The wind is gentle, caressing the leaves each in its own way — the bristles of needles bounce, the willow sways, the pin oak leaves shimmy and the walnut branches slide vertically creating a shadow mosaic below. A chipmunk with racing stripes zips by.

I’m entranced and can’t stop watching the tree. Another mourning dove arrives and pesters the first, attempting to mount. The chase is on, they jump from branch to branch until first dove moves to another tree, outside my gaze.

Suddenly a flurry. A big muscular sharp-shinned hawk zooms from nowhere to the pin oak to the pine, pauses for just a moment then takes off, soon is soaring and wheeling in the endless blue above. Calm returns, it feels like the smaller birds have sighed in relief as they resume their patterns.

A tiny burst of energy appears, little more than a punctuation mark in a poem. It is a ruby-throated hummingbird, a sharp needle beak on a teardrop body zigging between the bristles. Until it stops. It rests. I hold my breath, and time stands still for a moment.

Posted by: Nancy | July 15, 2015

Why I Love New York

Spent a week in NYC recently, came home with a string of pearls — lovely, charming, fun momentary encounters:

Azi on the plane: Azi is 18 months old, traveling with his father. He was quite possibly the most well-behaved child I’ve ever seen on a plane, and I had the pleasure of sitting next to him from Kansas City to LaGuardia on a full flight.

Azi has chocolate brown eyes and the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen. He had a great smile, and that look of wonder in his face. I got to hold him for about 40 minutes, giving his dad a little break.

He giggled when I cooed in his ear. He squirmed and laughed, squeezed my hand, played peek-a-boo and methodically shredded a couple of pages from the in-flight magazine. I just purred with delight. The flight went by entirely too fast.

Taxi man at sunset: We settled into a cab, small conversation with the driver, who wasn’t entirely chatty. Until suddenly he exclaims: “It’s sunset!” He’s grinning and looking around, relieved.

He explains: This is Ramadan; I have been fasting all day. Just now, it is sunset and I can now eat. We ask what he will eat, how will he celebrate. Watermelon comes first, he says.

How sweet that watermelon will taste! We wish him a happy Ramadan when we leave.

On the streets: I always make a point to visit Patience and Fortitude; this time was no exception. I love the library for its beauty and sturdy adherence to honor the value of books, learning, knowledge.

IMG_2306Not just within the granite walls. On the front patio, there’s a lesson underway in fly fishing. Yes! Earnest students are practicing throwing their lines, trying to get the snap just right, watching the arc of the line before it hits the pavement.

After a while, their instructors place cardboard fishes on the ground, adding to the challenge. I imagine the fish swimming in the dappled sunlight under the great plane trees.

Behind the library, in Bryant Park there are juggling lessons underway, open to all. The instructors warm up, some in teams, tossing pins back and forth.

IMG_2311The students share a look of extreme concentration while around them, the park buzzes with activity — friends having picnics, young lovers kissing (and passerbys snaking photos of them), the carousel spinning IMG_2314with Edith Piaf music, chess matches, runners, dog walkers, and on and on. A glorious pageant unfolding on a beautiful morning.

I felt like the entire population of people that I encountered were insiders, like they were all sharing some amusement. They were friendly, none of the old stereotype of mean and impatient New Yorkers. They were quick to laugh, a trait I love and share, and as a result, I had a lot of smiles with strangers.

Sure, some of it might have been spawned by corporate policy encouraged by hotels and restaurants, but it worked. These were human-to-human encounters, and while they were brief and of little matter, they were real.

Like the solemn young Greek bartender named Lazarus, who told us that he is serious about his craft of service. He proved it with his attention to detail; in conversation, with his thoughtful comments. A rare smile felt like a reward.

Like the doorman on the day we were leaving — he asks how was our stay, and then interrupts us, a careful look. Hey! he says, I recognize you. You were here last year!

I confirm that we had been here last year, but he’s already convinced. I remember you, he says, because you guys make such a great couple. With that, we’re on our way. I admit that we wondered if it was a gimmick, but it made us feel good and it was a nice experience. It worked.

New York, New York — what a wonderful town.

Posted by: Nancy | July 4, 2015

Powerful words

Not once, but twice, in the same day — June 26, 2015.eulogy

Remarkable in their source and reach. Both from branches of government, both achieving a level of eloquence and a depth of passion that we rarely hear.

Both provide brilliant examples of expression, persuasion, and ultimately, humanity. Both gave me a feeling of being a witness to history, both brought me to tears.

Powerful words always touch the emotion. As a communicator, I learn from the powerful words of others. These two examples hold spots in history and will long be examined and reviewed for the source of their power.

Some of my favorite passages from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision authorizing same-sex marriage:

“The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.”

“The nature of injustice is that we may not see it in our own times.”

“The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.”

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

And some of my favorite passages from President Obama’s eulogy for the Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney:

“Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group — the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle.  The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court — in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness.  He couldn’t imagine that.”

“For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present.  Perhaps we see that now.  Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.”

“Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other.  That my liberty depends on you being free, too.”

“He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind — but, more importantly, an open heart.”

See the video at The New York Times.

Posted by: Nancy | May 23, 2015

Falcon spying

Thanks to a video cam feed of a nesting box on the 14th floor of a nearby office tower, I have become a spy in the home of a falcon family. falcon feeding sideview

Surveillance has not entirely taken over my life, but I do check in on the family in between tasks, a bit of a treat or reward after completing a task.

I am intensely curious and filled with anticipation when I click over to the site. I’m often startled when immediately the adult falcon sharply turns to the camera. Her gaze is direct and piercing.

Can she see me? 

Of course not; but then again, is there a falcon sense of knowing when it is being watched, even through an electronic device? Could this be part of the falcon umwelt?

I will confess to being a bit obsessed with understanding other umwelts. For example, I found this beautiful description of a goshawk umwelt in the wonderful book H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald: IMG_2033

“The world she lives in is not mine. Life is faster for her; time runs slower. Her eyes can follow the wingbeats of a bee as easily as ours follow the wingbeats of a bird. What is she seeing? I wonder, and my brain does backflips trying to imagine it, because I can’t. I have three different receptor-sensitivities in my eyes: red, green and blue. Hawks, like other birds, have four. This hawk can see colours I cannot, right into the ultraviolet spectrum. She can see polarised light, too, watch thermals of warm air rise, roil, and spill into clouds, and trace, too, the magnetic lines of force that stretch across the earth. The light falling into her deep black pupils is registered with such frightening precisions that she can see with fierce clarity things I can’t possibly resolve from the generalised blur. The claws on the toes of the housemartins overhead. The veins on the wings of the white butterfly hunting its wavering course over the mustards at the end of the garden. I’m standing there, my sorry human eyes overwhelmed by light and detail, while the hawk watches everything with the greedy intensity of child filling in a colouring book, scribbling joyously, blocking in colour, making the pages its own.”

Macdonald brilliantly explains the challenge of trying to understand what another creature experiences — seeing things humans cannot, comprehending the world in ways we cannot.

So I imagine that my falcon family, or at least the adults, can sense when they are being seen and not just that they are being videoed and streamed into the worldwide web. If she can sense me, perhaps she can also sense my admiration and goodwill — love — for her and the family.

I have watched the chicks —called eyas — from hatching, tiny white fluffs kept warm under her. Grooming, feeding; and now, the fledglings beginning to stretch and flap with more control and confidence, starting their own preening. (I loved reading Wikipedia’s explanation of that word eyas — from the mistaken division of old French en niais meaning of nestling, from Latin nidus for nest.)

I check in on them during storms, relaxing to see a parent standing guard through thunder, lighting and fierce winds. I’m anxious during feeding — are all four getting enough? I am calmed and contented afterwards when I see the four nestled together in deep sleep with their bellies full.

I gasp when they bumble toward the edge of the nest, fearing for their safety when a parent is not in the box. I see them changing, day by day growing stronger, more defined as falcons. Someday soon — likely within two weeks, according to other watchers — I hope to see how they will learn to fly. I will be watching for the day when the young falcons sense me in the month old falcon

Meanwhile, I continue to work with awe and fascination on understanding the umwelt of these amazing creatures through the experiences of others close to them, like Helen McDonald and Mongolia’s Kazakhs with their golden eagles, and through my own limited spying. (You can join me here.)

(Left: Falcon at one month old, just banded.) 

Posted by: Nancy | May 7, 2015

Seeking and Telling the Truth

I got to shake hands with Jack and Suzy Welch last week. It was part of an event in Kansas City that gave the two of them a chance to share their perspectives on a number of business topics while promoting their new book, The Real-Life MBA.

Jack Welch is best knjack welchown as the former chairman and CEO of General Electric; he was once named “Manager of the Century” by Fortune magazine for his innovative management techniques and GE’s epic revenue growth. His current passion is to change the model for business education — he is operating the Jack Welch Management Institute, an accredited online MBA with 900 students.

He and Suzy gave lively responses to questions posed by my friend Vivien Jennings of Rainy Day Books. Jack spoke in a scruffy, cracking voice, often chuckling, and speeding up as he got excited. He’s frequently described as passionate, competitive, fiery — and all that was apparent in his comments.

I took notes during the talk and later realized that nearly all of Jack and Suzy’s key messages come down to seeking and telling the truth:

On employees: Do you know what your boss thinks of you? Most don’t, and as a result, employees will agonize over a head fake from the boss. One day the employee thinks “He likes me, I’m OK in my job,” and the next day, after the boss scowls, it’s “He hates me, what am I doing wrong?”

Welch says its the responsibility of the boss — and the moral obligation — to be truthful with employees. You have no right to call yourself a manager if your employees are wondering where they stand with you.

Characteristics of a leader: Welch says the best leaders think of themselves as the Chief Meaning Officer, the guy who talks relentlessly about meaning, giving the employees something bigger than themselves.

He ranted a little about the budgeting process in most corporations, “a conjure” that’s mostly meaningless and leads to bad behaviors — lowering expectations so that it will be easier to exceed them.

He calls for transparency and candor, in part because everyone already knows most of what’s happening behind the scenes anyway. Just drop the spin, give truth only. IMG_2018

On speed: Create an atmosphere of truth and trust, he said, and that will lead to speed. “In today’s world, speed is everything. Everything is exponentially faster and if you’re carrying baggage you’re not going to win.”

I haven’t finished the book, but I can tell you it reads like he talks: directly, openly, with real-life stories that everyone can recognize from dysfunctional organizations or situations poisoned by bad behaviors. I’m giving it two thumbs up its emphasis placing TRUTH at the center of its guidance on how to succeed in the business world.

Thanks to Country Club Bank and Rainy Day Books for the event and the opportunity to participate. 


Posted by: Nancy | April 9, 2015

A more colorful world

Ever since David Eagleman made me aware of my umwelt, I wanted to expand it.

“Umwelt” is one of those strange and appealing words that sounds slightly unsavory, a bit dangerous. It describes the surrounding world, or as Dr. Eagleman explains it, the bubble of the world that each of us is capable of sensing.

Our umwelts vary. bloodhoundFor example, humans and animals have different experiences of the world. He notes that bloodhounds have a superior sense of smell; the bloodhound umwelt is much richer in its olfactory experience than the human umwelt.  The bloodhounds might feel sorry for us with our inferior sense of smell; but as humans, we don’t know what we are missing. It’s not an absence we notice.

In the same way, Eagleman explains, humans can only perceive a small fragment of the energy spectrum. We can see a rainbow of colors, but we don’t perceive ultraviolet light or x-rays or other wavelengths. We don’t even know what all is out there because we don’t have senses to detect it. Our umwelt is limited to what we can experience; we don’t miss these other experiences because we don’t even know that they are there.

But maybe not for long.

Eagleman and others are now experimenting with ways to expand our senses. The work is fascinating and a bit mind-blowing, pulling on new monitoring devices, data feeds, and wearable sensor technology. Eagleman’s work involves using wearable sensors as a new interface — electromagnetic sensors on human skin. The skin feels the impulse and relays the sense — data — to the brain, which learns how to process it.

An unrelated study in Japan, researchers gave blind rats a neuroprosthesis that fed geomagnetic data into the rats’ brains. Within three days, the blind rats were able to navigate mazes as well as normal sighted rats. “We were surprised that rats can comprehend a new sense that had never been experienced or ‘explained by anybody’ and can learn to use it in behavioral tasks within only two to three days,” the researcher said.

expanded umweltEagleman postulates that interfaces could take vast data feeds — like from the cockpit of jet or from a systems operations center. One could learn to discern abnormalities and detect issues that arise from the patterns in the data flow. It could be that you hear the data, or you feel it on your skin, or you taste it… you sense the health of the operation.

Bring it on! I want to try this. What are the other colors? What are the other feelings? What are the other dimensions? Will this lead us to understanding the spiritual world better? Will we experience the multitude of parallel worlds postulated in string theory? What are the other experiences that are just waiting for us?

Sadly, like the human who can’t conceive of the richness of the bloodhound’s olfactory senses, I can’t imagine what I’m missing.

Sum cover

Thanks to TEDxKC for the simulcast from Vancouver. I first encountered Eagleman through his book, Sum, Forty Tales from the Afterlives

More on Eagleman at his website:

More of his discussion of the Umwelt in an earlier piece on The Edge

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