Why is the human brain so big?

January 9, 2011

Why is the human brain so big? Biologists are struggling with this question for ages. Darwin’s theory shows evolution happens gradually. However, a sudden disruption in the brain size appeared about 200.000 years ago. Recently a new theory emerged: A mutation of the brain could have doubled the brain size. This could be the explanation why everyone’s genes are pointing to one ‘earth mother’.

I see design as a process that enables humans and other animals to change their behaviour without having to change their genes. Without design we need to become new species (and evolve) to do new things.
I think the current “genes” of the man made systems are facing a giant mutation. We are facing global warming, a massive decline in biodiversity, massive changes in demographics, digitalisation of the way we think,…

But is this mutation a threat, or does it provide opportunities for humankind to make a giant leap towards something beautiful? Please don’t understand me wrong, I want to point out that the mutation itself is not beautiful, but the reaction could be.

What if the earth was is the middle of its life, are we humans at the top of our capabilities?

YES, we do live in times of prosperity, but NO, this does not mean everything is perfect, far from I would rather say! Why is it so difficult to make plans two years ahead? What if we want to design the society in 10.000 years? How would this look like? Impossible you would say? Look at the start of agriculture. Even though these first farmers were just experimenting, their results defined how our ancestors, we and our children live.

Indeed, this is an impossible question, but what I want to point out is that we need to redistribute our capabilities and be more flexible to change even if the change does not seem to be beneficial at first sight. What is our non-biological evolution? Or do you think evolution does not exist?


China visit (annexes)

December 12, 2010

China visit (part 2)

October 2, 2010


Building Views on Sustainable Development in Innovation and Design Education

October 2, 2010

Last week I presented and facilitated a short discussion on a paper I wrote for a RCUK funded summer school at Harbin Engineering University in China. It would be great to keep the discussion going. Here is the paper. Leave a comment bellow or email me!

China visit (part 1)

September 21, 2010

Hi everybody,

This post comes straight from Harbin in China! You probably never heard about this city, however, some facts are impressive! With almost 10 million people it’s bigger than any European city. Taking a taxi at night brings you straight into a Chinese version of Las Vegas. It’s covered with skyscrapers and a kind of Eiffel tower, which is taller than the original one. There is no tube nor is there proper traffic control, here the car with the loudest horn is road lord!

Harbin skyline

Situated in northeast China, at the edge of Siberia, the temperature ranges from +40C in summer to -40C in winter. Visited Beijing last week, I could say China has already an incredible public infrastructure. However, the extreme conditions in Harbin create massive challenges for establishing and maintaining these infrastructures. You can see the imperfectness of the city everywhere, but I think this is a small price to pay and to be fair, I don’t see any western country establishing a mega city as this in similar conditions.

Beijing infrastructure ready to take more cars

Harbin Engineering University central heating system

The only problems I face here with fulfilling my needs are; publicly available toilet paper, having access to drinking water (no fizzy drinks) at the right moments and having decent internet access. The first two are easy to overcome by good forward planning. I could say internet access is a fundamental need for me. I am here for a summer school in sustainable design and the internet facilitates me in providing understanding and creation of own knowledge. Besides the great Chinese firewall, which blocks or seriously slows down all social networking sites, I experience resistance for a visitor to accessing the internet where it is available. Despite there is internet in my room and wireless on campus, the only place I can access internet is in the coffee bar. Luckily, Google translate is widely implemented and utilised.

green milk coffee

the joys of goolge translate (thanks to Hugh McCann for pictures)

Hey DJ

September 10, 2010

Last night a question kept me awake. But first I should explain how that question came to my mind. I like to cook because this activity relaxes my brain. It’s even more relaxing when I’m listening to instrumental music.

I’m wondering if instrumental music improves the capacity for abstract thinking?

I think this question is relevant because I notice that British culture is rooted with vocal music. For example last weekend I watched on the BBC an enjoyable summary of the headlights of 40 years Glastonbury. Almost every song was vocal (and from a British band), the only exception was the Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela.

To me, vocal songs create a quick release of energy or emotion, while instrumental music either totally relaxes my brain or sparks future thinking.

Why is instrumental music lacking in Britain? Do the Brits pay more attention to the text than the music? Maybe the reason for this could be that they have never been exposed to foreign music.

If these assumptions would be right, can we change the British society (and others as well) to be more future, less short term pleasure oriented, by playing more instrumental music on the radio, bars, clubs and other public places. And than maybe a DJ can save some lives.

Conference poster

June 4, 2010

A poster explaining a research I did during my masters in Cranfield University was displayed at the University of Limerick (Ireland) last week. The poster showcase was part of the conference Regen 2010 with theme “Education as a Catalyst for Regeneration”. You can find a Copy of the poster below (click on it to enlarge).

Fight the power!

May 5, 2010

Last weekend, I went up to Nottingham to visit a good friend who recently moved there. Like it fits in British culture, we went out to get some beers. But you may know that this culture is getting infamous for violence, vandalism, sexual abuse and other anti social behaviour. This is especially a problem in mid sized cities.
Being misled before, we decided to go dancing in a club that offered four rooms with “different music styles”. Once inside, soon we were dissatisfied with the cheesy one-size-fits-all music style, so we decided to make our way out to get some fresh air and “food”, and return later. We asked the bouncer if we could get back in later that night. He refused and some kind of tens fuss emerged in the hallway. The bouncer gave the impression to be aggressive and wanted to go outside with us. Being a pacifist myself, I argued we paid for a service, giving us access the whole night. The bounces got angrier and guided us to the exit. But ones he passed the counter, he gave back the money we paid to get in and told us “not to come back”. To our surprise, the entrance price was raised at that moment and the bouncer gave us back the actual price. For once “fighting the power” paid off!

But what does this anecdote learns us? It is often argued that the social problems are caused by alcohol abuse of the party people. I agree that this is the direct cause, however I think party people have genially intentions. Moreover, by going out, they strive to fulfil deeper needs of affection, leisure and identity. The strategy to fulfil these needs can be seen as being in a collective and celebrate this by chatting and dancing. So basically I don’t see anything wrong with that, it seems to work in other places and cultures. Of course there will always be conflicts emerging, but why is it a bigger problem in British mid sized towns?
I think the main cause have to be found in the business model the party industry follows. A bar, pub or club perceives every other bar, pub or club in town as a major competitor. So a bar, pub or club feels threatened and this causes multiple problems:

  • They get scared of people not liking the music, so they can’t play new or unknown music any more. The only music you hear are Kylie Minogue look alikes.
  • They get so confused where to innovate, they try to create a place which seems to have everything. Cheap drinks, food available, long opening times, even possibilities to have breakfast at Sunday morning or business meetings during the week, including wifi and other amenities.
  • They get so scared of you leaving, they will intimidate you for staying inside.
  • They also don’t understand they are actually offering a service and not a product. Even a high quality product like a luxurious cocktail is mainly a service, more specific its creation and consumption creates an “atmosphere” in the room. This misperception causes their competition is product (price) and not service (quality) driven.

Going back to what goes wrong in the mind of the party people. It is not only the alcohol that causes the problems, to my belief it is the whole atmosphere that is not fulfilling peoples needs. Monoculture and fake scarcity creates a feeling that is not satisfying identity and is pleasing affection and leisure in an unhealthy way. Maybe alcohol can be seen as triggering dissatisfaction?
Why isn’t the party industry following a business model based on a diverse ecosystem as opposed to only predators? Every place should foster a unique culture and be beneficial to other places. It seems to work in bigger cities and other countries.

To all the party people: Fight the power, not your friends!

If sustainability is your religion, what would you pray for?

April 28, 2010

First of all, sustainability is not a religion because it doesn’t focus on a past life of an individual, but on the future of all people to draw norms and values upon. But in both cases there are believers and non-believers. But what if sustainability would be your religion, how would it “dictate” to live your life?

  • Do you want everyone to pursue strict rules to avoid catastrophe and pray every night the end of days wouldn’t come soon?
  • Do you just want to wait for the prophet to come in the form of a magic technology, whilst keeping business as usual?
  • Do you want to fight against everyone who doesn’t totally follow your ideals?
  • Do you want to isolate yourself from the global society and go and live within an ancient tribe?
  • Do you want do live a good life so a next life can be lived better?

I don’t want to “pray for sustainability” because than you’re approaching life very passively. Buckminster Fuller once said “Faith is much better than belief. Belief is when someone else does the thinking.” But if we have to put sustainability in a religious kind of context, I would like to preach, preach there are opportunities that everyone can live a good life as long as we actively reincarnate our stuff and good moods, over and over again.