Tickled PINC

What a great conference!!! PINC (People, Ideas, Nature, Creativity) is like a Dutchified version of TED, and the main theme seems to be creativity — that’s what the “C” stands for — and what creativity looks like across disciplines including: science and its societal relevance, art and design, food, philosophy, and a few others. It was beautifully executed, as would be expected given the price tag of  €900/seat for non-speakers — the timing and lights, stage design, headphones with spontaneous translation of the Dutch talks (about half), sound quality, music…yes music!…and dance! The day opened with a pair of tap-dancers who were just excellent, and it ended with a 13-year old boy playing Brahms and something else on piano, at a level that easily matched adult solo concert performers. He was shockingly good. And in between, all these 20-minute talks…

The talks were so good that I felt quite insecure about mine. So I snuck out during coffee breaks and lunch to revise and upgrade my slides. Then, at the end of each break, they played a recording of an oom-pah-pah band..which actually got louder by the minute, in order to herd people back in. Pretty progressive, don’t you think? Rather than flashing the lights and hollering. Boisterous happy music at swelling volume to get people to stop chatting and sit down. That’s the sort of creativity that characterized the whole thing.

PINCstagesetHow do I give a sense of the diversity of the talks? Well, one was by an American living in Antartica to study penguins and another was by a Swiss biologist who had camped out with bears for 3 months in Alaska. Then there was the harder science stuff — but mixed with liveliness and humor and surprises. For example, a pair of guys who came on like comedians — Mikael from Finland and Roman from Switzerland — Laurel and Mikael&RomanHardy? They stood on either side of a tippy blackboard, took turns with the chalk, and showed how the curve describing the success and failure of political figures (high rise, low dip, then slow rise and plateau, or not) was mathematically identical to that describing the rise and fall (and hopefully rise again) of marriages. (By the way, that corresponds perfectly to a neurochemical model, by which the first year of a romantic relationship is all about the rise and then fall of dopamine, as the “reward” gets more “predictable” — to be followed by an attachment relationship based on endogenous opioids. Must publish that some day, though it’s probably been done.) Then, my favourite, a condensed history of the Corduroy Appreciation Club in NYC.  The speaker was dry and pedantic (a spoof, as it turned out)  and revealed many interesting factoids, including the significance of meeting dates. The annual meeting is always held on November 11, as the date so nicely symbolizes the very essence of corduroy (11.11). Of course the big one was held in 2011. The secret handshake, that involves interlacing but parallel fingers. There was even video footage of one member being dragged out by (hooded) security guards for a major infringement of the paperstairssociety’s policies: he was only wearing two pieces of corduroy — not three, as required for the annual meeting. The silly bugger: I mean, adding a corduroy tie would have been sufficient. Other talks included one session on baking bread in Africa and one on how to fold paper so as to create amazingly detailed works of art, such as the Escher-like staircase you see here. The angle of the light turns out to be all important.

oldbeerdrunkThen there was me, talking about addiction, self-destruction, ego fatigue, and the absence of self-trust. I felt like a bit of a downer, but I tried (and got away with) a few jokes. Examples?  One about my ambivalence about the publicity I’ve gotten here in Holland — like bringing the boys to school and having the other parents smile and nod at me: Oh, you’re the drug addict! Saw you on TV last night. Chuckle. People seemed to appreciate the talk. Lots of nice compliments afterward. The Dutch really like honesty — one reason why I really like the Dutch. I’ll see if I can figure out how to post the talk. But maybe TED will be more polished. I can only hope.

14 thoughts on “Tickled PINC

  1. gywn May 20, 2013 at 5:47 am #


    When the “creativity” commences in America, the “truth” shall set U.S. all FREE!

  2. Shaun Shelly May 20, 2013 at 6:38 am #

    “By the way, that corresponds perfectly to a neurochemical model, by which the first year of a romantic relationship is all about the rise and then fall of dopamine, as the “reward” gets more “predictable” — to be followed by an attachment relationship based on endogenous opioids.”

    I am writing a brief blog post on the relationships of addiction – how the relationship with the drug mimics a love relationship, and instead of slowing or settling down becomes more intense. Fascinating stuff.

    Sounds like the conference was fantastic! I look forward to seeing your talk on line soon.

    • Marc May 20, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

      Well, does a relationship get more intense, or do we just become more dependent on it? It surely gets more habitual — which corresponds to the compulsivity phase of drug addiction. But in other ways they’re different. A relationship, at its best, offers you real freedom. Sort of like what Winnicott said about children’s (healthy) attachment relationships to their mothers: alone in the presence of the other.

      • Shaun Shelly May 23, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

        “the relationship with the drug mimics a love relationship, and instead of slowing or settling down becomes more intense” should read:

        “the relationship with the drug mimics a love relationship, BUT instead of slowing or settling down becomes more intense”

  3. Elizabeth May 20, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    @Shaun: Please post the new blog entry! It sounds fascinating.

    Also IRT the dopamine-opioid thing: I’m not sure if I’ve seen anything about opioids coming in at a later time point to perpetuate the addiction either. I CAN say that there is plenty out there on how “habitual” drug-seeking, and conditioned responding to reward-predictive cues of all sorts, stops being associated with increased dopamine release in the Nucleus Accumbens after multiple, repeated pairings of the drug/reward and the cue that is associated with it. In other words, there is definitely evidence to support the first part of your two-part hypothesis: “the first year of a romantic relationship is all about the rise and then fall of dopamine”.

    Just had to complete my oral exam on the cue-reward learning stuff, so I’ve got plenty of papers on that :), if needed.

    • Marc May 20, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

      Well it was Shaun who mentioned the parallels with romance, not me. The opioid phase of relationships….no, it doesn’t seem to parallel addiction. I just got that from Panksepp, who convinces me that the warm, soothing, security we get from parents and from partners is based on endogenous opioids. Apparently breast-milk is full of opioids. (let that not be a call for addicts in withdrawal to go attaching themselves to women’s breasts! — what an image)

      • Shaun Shelly May 20, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

        I noted the similarity in the neurochemistry of addiction and relationships after reading some work by Fischer. Both appear to be “motivated” behaviours. Still looking into it, but hope to have the piece done over the weekend sometime, so would welcome your comments both, Marc and Elizabeth. As you say Marc, the opioid phase does not come with addiction – maybe that is why almost all addictions eventually lead to opioids? (Tongue half inserted in cheek!)

        While we seem to mellow in person-to-person relationships, drug relationships become pathological. Anyway, will see where the research leads!

        Thanks for that image Marc! Reminds me of the end of Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath”!

        • Marc May 26, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

          Addictions can take you to the exact same place as really bad marriages — maybe that’s the parallel we’re after. Koob’s term “anti-reward” seems to capture both. Lots of CRF and norepinephrine, the neuromodulators that basically make you feel stressed, and maybe, in relationships, that’s the rebound from a short-lived opioid phase of being comfortably numb. PINC FLOYD?

          Remind me of the last scene in Grapes…

          • Shaun Shelly May 27, 2013 at 2:15 am #

            Comfortably Numb – the version on Pulse has one of the greatest guitar solos ever! Last scene in Grapes of Wrath is of a young woman who has just lost her baby breast-feeding an old man dying of starvation.

  4. Carolyn Kay May 20, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    Ah, if only more Americans could handle the truth.

    • gywn May 21, 2013 at 6:11 am #

      Amen! …And when “truth” is presented, even to the educated, the “truth-sayer” shall be attacked and cast aside! My prayer every day, at this point in my life, is that I may say the right words, in the right order, to the right people, at the right time! So…

      The creative use of symbolism in “The Grapes of Wrath” indicates the magnitude of mental saturation ingrained in more than three generations of Americans by recorded imagery. Read the proof at: SparkNotes.com on the biblical symbolism in that last scene! Quite an image, ‘aye?

      As to the comparison of relationships to addictions, I am brought to the book that became my “bible” many years ago when nothing else made any sense… “Women Who Run with the Wolves” by Klarissa Pinkola Estes. On her website is a wonderful male-written review that speaks to the “recovering”…

      “This volume reminds us that we are nature for all our sophistication, that we are still wild, and the ‘recovery’ of that vitality will itself set us right in the world.”
      –Thomas Moore, author of ‘Care of the Soul’.”

      Estes describes the relationship, any relationship, as a “Life/Death/Life” cycle and offers suggestion and courage, through story, on what to do when we get to that decisive point in the relationship. It was profound for me when I found it in the early 1990’s and was instrumental in my decision to not participate in my friend’s activities. She enlightens us on the sequestered “creative” spirit of women but also highlights the loss of that “spirit” in abused (the ones who turn into addicts) men.

      I must leave it here as the family rouses or I will lose focus. I will come back to self trust thing in the … … …! But let me leave you with this…

      I believe the opposite of Creativity is Suicide!

      • Marc May 26, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

        You two, Carolyn and gywn, strike me as some crazy tag team. Carolyn shoots a clay pigeon in the air, and gywn takes a bunch of shots at it before it hits the ground. And doesn’t miss one. Strange metaphor maybe, but it’s late.

        The thing I hated most about my addiction was the utter, dumb, predictable, repetition of it. Each time the same. That’s the opposite of creativity, and it was indeed getting close to suicide.

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