Own the lectern
July 26, 2012
I had asthma as a kid. And a lazy eye. And a glorious lack of speed, strength and dexterity. I could never climb a rope, or do the flexed-arm hang, although I did have an above-average knack for getting smacked in the face by assorted pucks, balls, rackets and other team-sport weapons.
“Nurse, come quick! Get this boy an extra-large roll of gauze and a membership card for the chess club.”
That was me.
It wasn’t merely that I was terrible at playing sports – I never even managed the art of watching them. Even the basics of sports viewership eluded me.
For instance, I’d be flummoxed when the home team would be victorious, and people would shout, “We won! We won!”
My response was always, “Really? ‘We’ won? Were you personally responsible for putting the little whatzit in the net-type area more times than the opposing team? Because my distinct impression was that there were a bunch of highly trained, highly paid professional athletes who actually won, while your contribution was to watch the game on TV, drink beer, and periodically utter the nonsensical syllable ‘Woo!’ So, you know, congratulations on that.”
(To clarify: this response was in my head only. I may not know sports, but I am a champion at minimizing the odds of physical violence being inflicted upon my person.)
There was always one exception, though. One sporting event that transcended my athletic incompatibilities, drew me in, and kept me riveted day after day: The Olympics.
On one level, Olympic competition seems every bit as compromised by doping scandals, injuries, excess and ridiculous levels of testosterone-fueled aggression that help turn me off most sports. But the weird variety of sports, the global nature of the competition, and the outlandish pomp and ceremony create a product that is both quirky and awe inspiring.
The Olympics are about much more than sports. They are about international cultural exchange, urban infrastructure megaprojects, performance psychology, sponsorship and branding, citizenship, gender issues, local politics and international peace.
And this is where the worlds of academia and athletics meet.
It’s curious. I’ve been looking into who does research related to the Olympics, and it turns out there’s a lot happening in Ontario. A Carleton prof is studying the games’ effect on low-income youth. A U of T Law prof studies the politics of how some countries provide elite athletes with citizenship just so they can compete. Meanwhile, a sports psychologist at Laurentian has a SSHRC Insight Grant to study the acculturation of elite athletes who immigrate to Canada. Western is home to the International Centre for Olympic Studies, and a kinesiology grad student at Brock is actually competing at the games.
I’ll be following up on some of these stories and others throughout the Olympics. But my one point today is that, when I talk about these researchers I find myself saying, “We do some interesting Olympics-related branding research in Ontario,” or “We’ve got some great kinesiology work happening at several universities in the province that’s making a difference to Canada’s showing at the London Olympics.” I say “we” even though I am no more responsible for these researchers’ theories and insights than I am for a sports team getting the puck-ball in the goal zone.
In the end, that feeling of “we” comes from a sense of community. Sports fans and journalists might think one player is a great and another is a bum, but in general, they’re interested in the game, excited by the pursuit of excellence, and while they’re not athletes themselves, they are part of the culture. This is exactly how I see the academic world – the passion, the competition and the aspiration are all there. “Go team!” I say.
I’m not anticipating there being university researcher trading cards or fan clubs any time soon, but I do believe that Ontarians can take some justifiable pride in the research that happens in their province.
So, as the Olympics begin, I think of all those university researchers who have helped improve athletes’ performance, who have provided such fascinating insight into ancillary Olympic issues, and who, in their own way have become world champions.
I would like to say to those researchers, “Woo!”
You deserve it.
From manuscript to search ...
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Lucid dreaming depends on ...
Trent University Staff | October 21, 2014New research by Trent University Oshawa Anthropology professor Roger Lohmann and graduate student Shayne Dahl indicates that cultural learning shapes the kind of awareness and control people can experience while dreaming. “Scouring the ethnographic record on dreaming for hints of lucidity under Professor Lohmann’s guidance, I found something surprising: that lucid dreaming is widely thought to have serious consequences,” said Dahl, who completed his M.A. thesis, “Knowing Means Connecting with the Source of Life: Knowledge and Ethics among Blackfoot Traditionalists” at Trent in 2012. (He is now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto.) “As one of my Blackfoot informants put it, ‘You could die in your dream.’” Lohmann and Dahl’s findings were published in the 2014 collection, Lucid Dreaming: New Perspectives on Consciousness in Sleep. Lucid dreaming – waking consciousness arising during a dream – has been a hot topic of scientific research in recent years. According to Lohmann and Dahl, the common assumption that dreams are products of isolated imaginations has distorted our understanding of lucidity’s variation in form, function, and real-world outcomes. Pop culture portrayals in films such as Avatar and Inception present fantasies where lucid dreaming enables marvelous real-world powers. Many traditional and religious cultural worldviews take the relationship between waking and dream worlds as reality rather than fantasy. Lohmann’s fieldwork in Papua New Guinea among the Asabano people explored how they used dreaming as evidence for and contact with supernatural beings. “Asabano converts often told me that seeing dreams of Jesus or Heaven convinced them that what the missionary told them was true,” said Lohmann. “It struck me that they had to believe their dreams were more than figments of their own imaginations to reach that conclusion, and that I, for example, would not be convinced by the same experience because of my different cultural background.” Similarly, Dahl’s fieldwork in Alberta included encounters with Aboriginal medicine men who practiced lucid dreaming. “Shayne’s field experiences and his search of ethnographic literature brought home to us that lucid dreaming has profound potential for people who think it’s more than just a fantasy. We found that descriptions of lucid dreams are radically different in form, function, and outcome depending on the cultural assumptions of the dreamer,” said Lohmann. Their research revealed evidence that in some cultures, lucid dreaming is unknown, while in others it is a commonly taught skill. In some, lucidity is tacit rather than acknowledged, but people nevertheless believe that they actively undertake goals in their dreams. Lohmann and Dahl found that this implicitly lucid “volitional dreaming” commonly appears in ethnographic accounts of dreaming. In cultures where “generative” theory holds sway, dreaming of something is understood to cause it to happen in the waking world. This leads people to experience lucid dreams as opportunities to create or do magic. By contrast, people who believe dreams are what one sees during “soul travel” use lucid dreams as an opportunity to spiritually visit real places. “Even when we consciously disbelieve our dreams,” Dahl said, “They still affect us at a deeper, emotional level that we can’t easily control with reason.” “All of this shows that cultural dream theories are multiple, that people invoke them in complex ways, and that they are at the very core of what lucid dreaming is and what it makes possible,” said Lohmann. This story was originally published by Trent University on, July 15, 2014. Is has been edited for style, brevity and clarity and appears here with permission.
In money we trust
U of T Staff (With introduction by Patchen Barss) | October 20, 2014A few years ago, late, late at night, I was tooling around the streets of Ottawa in the back seat of a Jeep being driven by former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge. American economist and Nobel Laureate George Akerlof was riding shotgun. read more »