Print vs. Screen or Digital Media

October 20, 2018

What is most bothersome about “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf is the way she contrasts print media versus the new screen or digital media. Readers might mistakenly think that the solution to this problem is to use print media and eschew screen or digital media. The reality is that in the future this might be impossible as conventional print media might be found only in museums or special libraries. But what is key to understanding is that unfortunate habits tend to develop when using screen/digital media. Moreover, the unfortunate habits are the result of a feeling of needing to be plugged in with digital media. It is these habits, skimming, superficial processing, and multi-tasking that are the true culprits here.

These same practices can be found using print matter and they are not always bad. Reading the newspaper, in either print or digital form, HM’s attention is dictated by his interests. Initially he is skimming, but when he finds something interesting he focuses his attention and reads deeply. If it turns out that he already knows the material, or that the material is a bunch of crap. He resumes skimming. This is the reason he does not like televised news since it includes material he would like to ignore or skip over. HM finds it annoying that the phrase “Breaking News” is frequently heard. Frankly, he would prefer “Already considered and processed news.” Unless there is a natural catastrophe or some imminent danger, there is no reason the news can’t wait for further context under which it can be processed.

Frankly, HM would never have been able to complete his Ph.D, had he not developed this ability. His work is interdisciplinary, so he must read in different areas. He skims until he finds relevant material. Then he focuses and quizzes himself to assure he is acquiring the relevant material. Sometimes this might be a matter of bookmarking it with the goal of returning when there would be sufficient time to process the material. Even if the topic is one with which he is familiar, he will assess whether there is anything new that requires his attention. There is simply too much material and too little time. Strategies need to be employed. The risk from current technology is that the technology is driving the process rather than the individual using the technology effectively.

We are not victims of technology unless we passively allow ourselves to become victims of technology. Students need to be taught how to use the technology and what practices need to be abandoned. One of these is being continually plugged in, but there are also social issues that need to be addressed.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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A View of the Reading Brain

October 19, 2018

This post is taken from “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf. Please excuse the detail, but it is important to gain an appreciation of what is involved in reading. The brain’s design is with the principle of “plasticity within limits.” The brain is able to go beyond its original biological functions—like vision and language—to develop biologically unknown capacities such as reading and numeracy. To do so, it forms a new set of pathways by connecting and sometimes repurposing its older and more basic structures. Faced with something new to learn, the human brain not only rearranges its original parts, but is also able to refit some of its existing neuronal groups in those same areas to accommodate the particular needs of the new function. The brain recycles and even repurposes neuronal networks for skills that are cognitive or perceptually related to the new one, Wolf writes, “This ability to form newly recycled circuits enables us to learn all manner of genetically unplanned-for activities—from making the first wheel, to learning the alphabet, to surfing the net while listening to Coldplay and sending tweets. None of the activities is hardwired or has genes specifically dedicated to its development; they are cultural inventions that involved cortical takeovers.” As there is no genetic blueprint for reading, there is no one ideal reading circuit. There can be different ones.

In addition to neuroplasticity, there is the concept of cell assemblies formulated by the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb. The concept is that cells that fire together wire together. These specialist groups build the networks that allow us to see the smallest features of a letter or hear the tiniest elements in the sounds of language, literally in milliseconds. Cell specialization enables each working group of neurons to become automatic in its specific region and to become virtually automatic in its connections to the other groups or networks in the reading circuit. For reading to occur, there must be sonic-speed automaticity for neuronal networks at a local level, which, in turn, allows for equally rapid connections across entire structural expanses of the brain. So, whenever we name even a single letter, we are activating entire networks of specific neuronal groups in the visual cortex, which correspond to entire networks of equally specific language-based cell groups, which correspond to networks of specific articulatory-motor cell groups—all with millisecond precision. Multiply this scenario a hundredfold when the task is to depict what you are doing when reading with complete (or even incomplete) attention and comprehension of the meanings involved.

“In essence, the combination of these principles forms the basis of what few of us would ever suspect: a reading circuit that incorporates input from the two hemispheres, four lobes in each hemisphere (frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital) and all five layers of the brain (from the uppermost telencephalon and adjacent diencephalon below it; to the middle layers of the mesencephalon; to the lower levels of the mesencephalon and myelencephalon).” So anyone who still believes that we use only a tiny portion of our brains hasn’t yet become aware of what we do when we read.

READER COME HOME

October 18, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title of an important book by Maryanne Wolf. The subtitle is “The Reading Brain in the Digital World.” Any new technology offers benefits, but it may also contain dangers. There definitely are benefits from moving the printed world into the digital world. But there are also dangers, some of which are already quite evident. One danger is the feeling that one always needs to be plugged in. There is even an acronym for this FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). But there are costs to being continually plugged in. One is superficial processing. One of the best examples of this is of the plugged-in woman who was asked what she thought of OBAMACARE. She said that she thought it was terrible and was definitely against it. However, when she was asked what she thought of the Affordable Care Act, she said that she liked it and was definitely in favor of it. Of course, the two are the same.

This lady was exhibiting an effect that has a name, the Dunning-Krueger effect. Practically all of us think we know more than we do. Ironically, people who are quite knowledgeable about a topic are aware of their limitations and frequently qualify their responses. So, in brief, the less you know the more you think you know, but the more you know, the less you think you know. Moreover, this effect is greatly amplified in the digital age.

There is a distinction between what is available in our memories and what is accessible in our memories. Very often we are unable to remember something, but we do know that it is present in memory. So this information is available, but not accessible. There is an analogous effect in the cyber world. We can find information on the internet, but we need to look it up. It is not available in our personal memory. Unfortunately, being able to look something up on the internet is not identical to having the information available in our personal memories so that we can extemporaneously talk about the topic. We daily encounter the problem of whether we need to remember some information or whether it would be sufficient to look it up. We do not truly seriously understand something until it is available in our personal memories. The engineer Kurtzweil is planning on extending his life long enough so the he can be uploaded to a computer, thus achieving a singularity with technology. Although he is a brilliant engineer, he is woefully ignorant of psychology and neuroscience. Digital and neural codes differ and the processing systems differ, so the conversion is impossible. However, even if it were understanding requires deep cognitive and biological processing. True understanding does not come cheaply.

Technology can be misused and it can be very tempting to misuse technology. However, there are serious costs. Maryanne Wolf discusses the pitfalls and the benefits of technology. It should be understood that we are not victims of technology. Rather we need to use technology not only so that we are not victims, but also so we use technology synergistically.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Elusive Experience as Intuition

October 14, 2018

This post is based, in part, on the work by Boyer Pascal titled “Minds Make Societies.” Pascal writes, “To understand modern forms of religious activity, we must consider another recent invention—the connection between religious beliefs and personal experience. In many modern movements, participants assume that religious activity should trigger a special kind of experience, entirely distinct from ordinary conscious activity, that these experiences carry important meaning, that they are crucial for a proper understanding of religious doctrines. Long before these recent developments, scholars in the the study of religions, mostly in the West, for a long time argued that religious experience was quite special. William James, the founder of modern psychology, also assumed that the nature of these exceptional experiences would be fundamental to understanding the emergence and development of doctrines and cults.”

Anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann did a thorough study of a group of American evangelical Christians in an attempt to study these elusive experiences. These evangelicals practice a specific version of mainstream Christianity with a clearly articulated belief that God can talk to them.

Luhrmann found that the definite intuition that an agent is around, that this agent really is God, that God is talking, is a rare occurrence and a frustratingly elusive one. She found that even among the most accomplished of believers a few islands of experience are surrounded by oceans of doubt and disbelief. Although Christian beliefs are held with fervor, the crucial elements, the presence and communication from a superhuman agent, are described as goals to achieve rather than a starting point. Many evangelicals readily admit they have not (or not yet) reached that point—it will take them more work. These evangelicals are to be commended for their honesty.

One of the reasons these Evangelicals are having so much difficult is by spurning all the devices that people the world over have used. They do not want to open their minds to the deity though the medium of drugs, starvation, meditation, hyperventilation, or the hypnotic repetition of mantras. So the experience desired turns out to be so infrequent, ambiguous, and elusive. As you should note from previous posts, HM believes that meditation is perhaps the best means of establishing a relationship with God.

Although these evangelicals are honest in their beliefs, they have strayed from they key concept in effective religions, the soul. As a result they are unknowingly causing unnecessary pain and suffering in the world. Perhaps the least of which is contributing to the election of the antithesis of a Christian, Donald Trump. These evangelicals want to make abortion illegal, so Trump, who likely has financed abortions, promised to propose judges for the Supreme Court to bring this about.

Their argument is that biological life is being destroyed and lives are lost. But biological life is irrelevant. The soul is not destroyed, and that is what is key. Previous healthymemory blog posts have shown that what is essential for a healthy and happy child is for the mother to want and to love her child. [See the Healthymemory Blog Posts “The Damage Done by Forcibly Separating Children from Parents,” and “Turning on Genes in the Brain’[ When this requirement is not satisfied, developmental problems result. It is reasonable to think that many, if not most, of the disturbing events one reads about every day are the result of an unloved child. This is damaging not only to the mother and the child, but also to the community. A just and merciful God does not want this to happen. Consequently, this God would save the soul of the future child until a more loving mother became available. So rather than outlaw abortion, abortion should be encouraged unless the prospective mother wants to love and nurture the child.

There is nothing in scriptures to justify this belief of the evangelicals. But rather than pursue the work of Christ, helping the sick and the impoverished, they engage in these self-righteous political crusades. Every other advanced country in the world provides government paid health insurance to all its citizens. But evangelicals along with other nonbearing citizens do not tend to support this type of political activity. Consequently, the United States suffers from both extravagant medical costs producing results characteristic of third world countries.

In addition to being ignorant of the importance of souls, these Evangelicals do not understand the concept of religious freedom embedded in the Constitution. One can follow any religion, including atheism, in the United Stated. Unfortunately, some evangelicals and other religious groups are trying to enforce their religious beliefs on others. Abortion provides a good example. So if one thinks that abortion is immoral and should not be allowed, they are free to not practice abortion. But it is unconstitutional for them to impose that belief on others.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Organized Religions

October 13, 2018

This post is based largely on the work by Boyer Pascal titled “Minds Make Societies.” As was noted an earlie post, “God & Homo Sapiens” the earliest humans had the notion of a soul from which the notion of God emerged. Formal religions appeared only with the development of large-scale state societies. Pascal writes, “Notions of souls and salvation are a hallmark of what the philosopher Karl Jaspers called the Axial Age, the period between 600 BCE and 100 CE when rather similar forms of religious doctrine appeared in China, India, and the Mediterranean. These new movements emphasized cosmic justice, the notion that the world overall should be fair.” These religions were interested in human morality, and these ideas came with all sorts of personal techniques or disciplines to do with moderation, self-discipline, and withdrawal from excessive greed and competitiveness. Pascal writes, “That is the case, despite obvious differences, with Buddhism, Jainism, and various forms of reformed Hinduism in northern India; of Taoism and Confucianism in China; and of Orphism, Second Temple Judaism, Christianity, and Stoicism in the Mediterranean.

Pascal continues, “The cultivation of the soul is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of these movements, which in very different cultures seemed to recommend very similar attitudes, notably moderate consumption, restraint from sexual excess, and the pursuit of a ‘good life’ characterized by self-discipline and respect for others. The ‘Meditations’ of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, inspired by the Stoic writings, provide a good example of that particular wisdom, which echoes in the Analects of Confucius, most Buddhist texts, and many other writings of the time.”

Pascal continuing on, “To many people in modern societies, this view of the soul as the core of the person, in need of grace or redemption, would seem to be the core of religions. Even people who are otherwise indifferent to religious doctrines see the notion of the soul as crucial to spiritual life. So the Axial Age matters because the movements that appeared at that point in history had a considerable influence on subsequent religions. Indeed, the so-called world religions of today are all descendants of these movements.”

What is difficult to understand is that these religions appear to provide the basis for leading moral lives and caring about one another. That being the case, reality has been harsh, with all types of evil doing up to the point of warfare. Religions ended up fighting each other to the point that within Christianity, different sects fought and killed each other as they did in Islam.

There will be more about this in the following post. However, the reality is that religions, although claiming to speak with the authority of God, are really temporal political entities interested in pursuing power, influence, and wealth. True, there are exceptions. After all, the Salvation Army does not fight anyone, but ministers to the needy and downtrodden of the community.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

A Thought Experiment About Pantheism

October 12, 2018

Pantheism might be both the simplest notion of God, and the most sophisticated conceptualization of God. So called primitive peoples, long before the development of organized religions, saw God in nature. So perhaps it is time to abandon this notion. But consider this thought experiment.

Suppose you were an entity that could create matter and energy at will, understood everything, and could perfectly predict the future. And you were faced with eternity. From the human perspective, and perhaps also from the perspective of this all knowing and all powerful entity, this likelihood was frighteningly boring. So the entity decided to be part of his creation with the limited knowledge and capabilities of these creatures. Become fallible so challenges would emerge. Death would provide the time to review how the entity fared in these innumerable states. This is truly imponderable for us, but perhaps a way for an all-powerful, all-knowing entity to deal with eternity.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the statement is that God created man in his own image. This statement has bothered HM since he developed an initial facility in critical thinking. There have been many wise people who have said, that God did not create man in his image, but rather that man created God in his image. This statement seems more likely to HM. And, in truth, the statement insults God. Moreover, when we consider that given the enormity of the universe, and the possibility of their being, perhaps, an infinity of universes, there are likely to be some truly intelligent species that bear little of no likeness to ourselves.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

God & Homo Sapiens

October 11, 2018

This post is based largely on the outstanding book by Reza Azlan titled “God: A Human History.” This book provides an exhaustive review of evidence for religions from, at least, the earliest humans, through the development of the large religious organizations that exist today. Azlan makes a compelling argument that the belief in the soul as separate from the body is universal. Moreover, he argues that it is our first belief, far older than our belief in God, and that it is this belief in the soul that begat our belief in God.

Azlan says that there are numerous studies on the cognition of children that have shown an instinctual propensity for “substance dualism”—the belief that the body and mind/soul are distinct in form and nature. This means that we enter the world with an innate sense—untaught, unforced, unprompted—that we are more than just our physical bodies. Azlan writes, “There are certain cognitive processes that can lead us to apply this inborn belief in the soul to others—human and nonhuman alike. But when it comes to belief in the soul, we are, to put it simply, born believers.

Azlan is a pantheist. He writes, “I worship God not through fear and trembling but through the awe and wonder at the workings of the universe—for the universe is God. I recognize that the knowledge of good and evil that the God of Genesis so feared humans might attain begins with the knowledge that good and evil are not metaphysical things but moral choices, I root my moral choices neither in the fear of eternal punishment nor in the hope of eternal reward. I recognize the divinity of the world and every being in it and respond to everyone and everything as though they were God—because they are . And I understand that the only way I can truly know God is by relying on the only thing I can truly know: myself. As Ibn al-Arabi said, “He who knows his soul knows the Lord.”

“God: A Human History” ends with the disturbing sentence, “You Are God.” This statement derives from the pantheistic belief that God is omnipresent, but HM would have been more comfortable with the statement, “God is within us.” When meditating, HM does definitely feel he is communicating with God.

This is radical thinking for most, but exercising our minds is important for a healthy memory. So do not just reject it out of hand, but rather think about it on occasions.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Going on Hiatus

September 24, 2018

Consider the following website https://centerhealthyminds.org
Also consider the following search terms”
growth mindsets
relaxation response
loving kindness meditation
myth of Alzheimer’s
use the website search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com

HM shall return

More Love, Less Greed

September 22, 2018

The title of this post summarizes the problem of our times. The immediately preceding post discussed Bezos and other billionaires giving away large sums, even a majority of their wealth. They appear to regard philanthropy as both a duty and a joy. Unfortunately, there are many other billionaires who live in the nature of Donald Trump. Trump values people solely in terms of their wealth. There are some exceptions such as those in the military who command power. At some point, additional wealth can add nothing to one’s pleasure. All humans are biological beings with biological constraints. Yet for many billionaires, such as Trump, money is regarded as a score with the goal being to have as many billions as they can. This is greed at its very worse.

Although money is a means of keeping score for these billionaires, money is a means of survival for many, and to achieving a modest middle class lifestyle for others. Here is a breakdown of wealth in the United States:

Population    % of Wealth
Top 1%            40%
Next 4%           27%
Next 5%           12%
Next 10%         11%
Second 20%      8%
Middle 20%      2%
Fourth 20%       0%
Bottom 20%     -1% (negative net worth)

Clearly there is a gross maldistribution here, and many wealthy could give away more of their wealth without feeling any pain. Moreover, the majority of this wealth is inherited wealth, so for them this wealth has not been earned. It is interesting that neither the Gates, nor Warren Buffet believe in inherited wealth. They think that inherited wealth is not good for their children. If only more of the wealthy shared this belief.

The Trump tax cut increased the wealth of the top 1% people, leaving just crumbs for the rest. And this tax cut irresponsibly increases the debt burden on future generations.

Trump himself gives nothing to charity. Moreover, his Trump Charity is being investigated by the State of New York for fraud.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Bezos Pledges $2 Billion to Aid Homeless Families

September 21, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the first part of a title of an article by Abha Bhattarai and Christian Davenport in the 14 Sep 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The remainder of the title is “launch preschool network.” Bezos is the world’s richest man and the founder of amazon.com and also the owner of the Washington Post. He is beginning an initial commitment of $2 billion to create what he is calling the Day One Fund. Bezos said, “We know for a fact that if a kid falls behind it’s really, really hard to catch up. If you can find somebody a leg up when they’re 2, 3 or 4 years old, by the time they get to kindergarten or first grade, they’re much less likely to fall behind. You’re really improving their lives.”

This announcement comes a few weeks after the first major political contribution from Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie—a $10 million gift to a super PAC focused on electing veterans to public office. In January, he said he would donate $33 million to a scholarship fund for young “dreamers,” immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.

Kyle Caldwell, executive director of the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, MI., said “As an individual commitment, $2 billion is pretty high, but it’s not in the league of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which last year had a $50.7 billion endowment. But this is part of a wave we’re seeing within Silicon Valley, where a number of successful entrepreneurs are looking at philanthropy to have a greater impact.

In 2010, Warren Buffet along with Bill & Melinda Gates created the Giving Pledge, which calls on billionaires to pledge the majority of their wealth to charity. Nearly 200 people from 22 countries have signed on, including Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Carl Icahn, T. Boone Pickens, and Ted Turner.

Controlling Our Minds

September 20, 2018

Perhaps the most significant obstacle to living a fulfilling life is learning to control our minds. If we are pessimists and think depressing thoughts we are unnecessarily depressing ourselves and shutting ourselves off from potential opportunities. This can be thwarted by not thinking depressing thoughts and thinking pleasant thoughts. This is captured in the phrase, “let your smile be your umbrella.”

When we encounter failures and disappointments we should not keep dwelling on them. Although it is good to review them to understand what we might have done differently, once these lessons have been learned we need to move on.

Kahneman’s Two process view of cognition is again relevant here. System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. Learning is associative and slow. For something to become a System 1 process requires much repetition and practice. Activities such as walking, driving, and conversation are primarily System 1 processes. They occur rapidly and with little apparent effort. We would not have survived if we could not do these types of processes rapidly. But this speed of processing is purchased at a cost, the possibility of errors, biases, and illusions.

System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors do slip through.

Most of the time we are engaged in System 1 processing. However, when we are learning mental skills and information we need to engage System 2. System 2 requires cognitive effort and for many people this is painful and something to be avoided. When HM taught in college he usually was disappointed when he asked students why they were attending college. The typical answers were to get a job, or if they weren’t attending college they would need to be working. It seemed that many students were engaged in trying to get that college degree with a minimum of effort. They still used System 2 processes when absolutely necessary, but otherwise they were in cruise control System 1 processing.

These are the same people who buy the Sunday paper for the coupons and rarely read any content in the paper with the possible exception of the sports pages and TV and movie listings.

But there are those of us who continue learning throughout our lives. We are much less likely to suffer from the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s even if we should develop the defining neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque.

As the preceding blog posts on Daimaisio indicated, emotions are intimately tied up with thinking. Although System 1 processing is primarily about one’s standing beliefs and emotions, System 2 processing is still tied up with emotions. When someone encounters beliefs or stated facts which one believes to be wrong, responses tend to be emotional and on the angry side. This is one of the causes of polarization.

One of the best ways of gaining control of our minds is through meditation. The relaxation response involves focusing on one’s breath and, perhaps, a meditation word or phrase and shutting off one’s mind. This is the difficult part of meditation, as the mind has a mind of its own and is always trying to inform us about it. But we need to shut off these thoughts. This is the difficult part of meditation as these thoughts keep evading our space and we need to flick them gently away and not become frustrated. People beginning meditation tend to ask if they doing it properly. If you are doing it properly, you will know. There is a feeling of calm and bliss that is quite rewarding.

When HM started meditating he wondered how there were priests and gurus who meditated for many, many hours. However, having experienced the calmness and bliss of meditation, HM can envision a time in the future when he might go to a retreat and remain their indefinitely.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Is There a Biology Behind the Cultural Crisis?

September 19, 2018

The title of this post is the title of a section in an insightful book by Antonio Damaisio titled “The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures. The title of this chapter is “On the Human Condition Now.”
The answer to the title is “yes,” so if that satisfies your curiosity you can stop reading now.

The physiological rationale and primary content of basic homeostasis is the life of an individual organism within its borders. Basic homeostasis is a somewhat parochial affair, focused on the temple that human subjectivity has designed and erected—the self. It can be extended to the family and the small group. It can be extended further out to larger groups on the basis of circumstances and negotiations in which prospects of general benefits and power are well balanced. But homeostasis, as found in each of our individual organisms is not spontaneously concerned with very large groups, especially heterogeneous groups, let alone with cultures or civilizations as a whole. Conflicts and struggles for power among social groups are integral components of cultures. Sometimes the conflict may even result from the application of an affect-motivated solution to a prior problem. There are blatant exceptions to the rules that govern homeostasis of a natural, individual organism such as malignant conceit and autoimmune diseases; unchecked, they not only fight other parts of the organism to which they belong, but can actually achieve organism destruction.

In the last years of his life, Sigmund Freud saw the bestiality of Nazism as confirming his doubts that culture could ever tame the nefarious death wish that he believed was present in each of us. Earlier Freud had begun to articulate his reasons in the collection of texts known as “Civilization and Its Discontents,” but nowhere are his arguments better expressed than in his correspondence with Albert Einstein. Einstein wrote to Freud in 1932 seeking his advice on how to prevent the deadly conflagration he saw coming, following on the heels of World War I. In his reply Freud described the human forces at play. He had no good advice to offer, no help, no solution. I’m so sorry. The main reason for his pessimism, it should be noted, was the flawed condition of the human. He blamed human beings.

And Damaisio concludes, “The protracted negotiating process required for governance efforts is necessarily embedded in the biology of affect and its accommodations with reason. There is no exit from that condition.”

Here is the conclusion to this chapter. “The strategic pursuit of happiness, just like the spontaneous variety, is predicated on feelings. The motives behind the pursuit—the maladies of life and their pleasurable counterweights—could not have been envisioned without feelings. Thanks to the confrontation with pain and the recognition of desire, it came to be that feelings good and bad, focused on the intellect, gave it purpose, and helped create new ways of regulating life. Feelings and expanded intellect made a powerful alchemy. They freed humans to attempt homeostasis by cultural means, instead of remaining captive to their basic biological devices. Humans were well into this new effort when, in humble caves, they sang and invented flutes and, I imagine, seduced and consoled others as needed. Likewise when they incarnated Moses taking God’s commandments on a mountain; when, in the name of Buddha, they conceived Nirvana; when under the guise of Confucius, they came up with ethics percepts; and when in the roles of Plato and Aristotle and Epicurus, they began explaining to fellow Athenians within earshot how good life could be lived. Their job was never finished.

A life not felt would have needed no cure. A life felt but not examined would not have been curable. Feelings launched and have helped navigate a thousand intellectual ships.”

An Ambiguous State of Affairs

September 18, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section of a chapter in an insightful book by Antonio Damaisio titled “The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures. The title of this chapter is “On the Human Condition Now.”

Damaisio writes, “This could be the best of times to be alive because we are awash in spectacular scientific discoveries and in technical brilliance that make life even more comfortable and convenient; because the amount of available knowledge and the ease of access to that knowledge are at an all-time high and so is human interconnectedness at a planetary scale, as measured by actual travel, electronic communication, and international agreements for all sorts of cooperation, in science, the arts, and trade; because the ability to diagnose, manage, and even cure diseases continues to expand and longevity continues to extend so remarkably that human beings born after the year 2000 are likely to live, hopefully well, to an average of at least a hundred. Soon we will be driven around by robotic cars, saving us effort and lives because, at some point, we should have few fatal accidents.”

Unfortunately for the past four or five decades, Damaisio notes that the general public of the most advanced societies has accepted with little or no resistance a gradually deformed treatment of news and public affairs designed to fit the entertainment model of commercial television and radio. Damaisio writes, “Although a viable society must care for the way its governance promotes the welfare of citizens, the notion that one should pass four some minutes of each day and make an effort to learn about the difficulties and successes of governments and citizenry is not just old-fashioned; it has nearly vanished. As for the notion that we should learn about such matters seriously and with respect, is by now an alien concept,. Radio and television transform every governance issue into “a story,” and it is the “form” and entertainment value of the story that count, more than its factual content.”

The internet provides a means that provides large amounts of information readily available to the public. It also provides means for deliberation and discussion. Unfortunately it also provides for the generation of false news, creates alternative realities, and builds conspiracy theories. This blog has repeatedly invoked Daniel Kahneman’s Two Process View of cognition to assist in understanding the problem.
System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. Learning is associative and slow. For something to become a System 1 process requires much repetition and practice. Activities such as walking, driving, and conversation are primarily System 1 processes. They occur rapidly and with little apparent effort. We would not have survived if we could not do these types of processes rapidly. But this speed of processing is purchased at a cost, the possibility of errors, biases, and illusions.
System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through.

To achieve coherent understanding, System 2 processing is required. However, System 1 processing is common on the internet. The content is primarily emotional. Facts are irrelevant and the concept of objective truth is becoming irrelevant. The Russians were able to use the internet to enable their choice for US President, Trump, to win.

Due to System 2 processing being more effortful, no matter how smart and well informed one is, we naturally tend to resist changing our beliefs, in spite of the availability of contrary evidence. Research done at Damaisio’s institute shows the resistance to change is associated with a conflicting relationship of brain systems related to emotivity and reason. The resistance to change is associated with the engagement of systems responsible for producing anger. We construct some sort of natural refuge to defend ourselves against contradictory information.

Damaisio writes, “The new world of communication is a blessing for the citizens of the world trained to think critically and knowledgeable about history. But what about citizens who have been seduced by the world of life as entertainment and commerce? They have been educated, in good part, by a world in which negative emotional provocation is the rule rather than the exception and where the best solutions for a problem have to do primarily with short-term interests.”

Subjectivity, Feeling, and Consciousness

September 17, 2018

This is another post based on an insightful book by Antonio Damaisio titled “The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures.” By now the reader should be presuming that subjectivity, feeling, and consciousness emerging with our species is wrong. The emergence of feeling and subjectivity is not exclusively human, and is not recent at all. It is likely to have happened in the Cambrian period. Not only are all vertebrates likely to be conscious experiencers with a variety of feelings, but so are a number of invertebrates whose central nervous system design resembles that of humans as far as spinal cord and brain stem are concerned. Social insects are likely to qualify, and so do charming octopuses with a very different brain design.

The assembly of what became feelings and consciousness was made gradually, incrementally, but irregularly along separate lines of evolutionary history. The fact that we can find so much in common in the social and affective behaviors of single-celled organisms, sponges, hydras, cephalopods, and mammals suggests a common root for the problems of life regulation in different creatures and a shared solution: obeying the homeostatic imperative.

Damaisio writes, “Looming large in the history of homeostatically satisfying accretion is the emergence of nervous systems, Nervous systems opened the way for maps and images, for configurational ‘resemblative’ representations, and that was, in the deepest of senses, transformative. Nervous systems were transformative . Nervous systems were transformative even if they did not and do not work alone, even if they are primarily servants of a larger calling: maintaining productive, homeostasis-abiding lives in complicated organisms .”

Another important part of the strangely ordered emergence of mind, feeling and consciousness, is one that is subtle and easy to miss. Neither parts of the nervous systems nor whole brains are the sole manufacturers and providers of mental phenomena, It is unlikely that neural phenomena alone could produce the functional background required for so many aspects of minds, but it is certainly the case that they could not do so in regard to feelings. A close two-way interaction between nervous systems and the non-nervous structure of organisms is a requirement. Neural and non-neural structures and processes are not just contiguous but continuous partners, interactively. They are not aloof entities signaling each other like chips in a cell phone. In plain talk brains and bodies are in the same mind-enabling soup. To put this in the vernacular, thinking and feeling occur together. Unfortunately, there are times when we are governed primarily by our emotions with little thinking involved. But special abstract procedures like mathematics and logic need to be employed in an attempt to remove feelings from thinking.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Strange Order of Things

September 16, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title to an insightful book by Antonio Damaisio. The subtitle is “Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures.” The author writes, “The title of this book was suggested by two facts. The first is that as early as 100 million years ago some species of insects developed a collection of social behaviors, practices, and instruments that can appropriately be called cultural when we compare them with human and social counterparts. The second fact is that even further back in time, in all likelihood several billion years ago, unicellular organisms also exhibited social behaviors whose schematics conform to aspects of human sociocultural behaviors.”

The conventional view is that something as complex as social behaviors capable of improving life management could only have come from the minds of evolved organisms, not necessarily human, but complex enough and close enough to humans to engender the requisite sophistication. Clearly, this conventional notion is wrong. The social features that emerged early in the history of life are abundant in the biosphere, and did not have to wait for anything humanlike to show up on Earth. Indeed this order is strange, and to say the least, unexpected.

Cooperative strategies did not have to wait for wise and mature minds to appear. Damaisio writes that such strategies are possibly as old as life itself and were never more brilliantly displayed than in the convenient treaty between two bacteria: a pushy, upstart bacterium wanted to take over a bigger and more established one. The battle resulted in a draw, and the pushy bacterium became a cooperative satellite of the established one. Eukaryotes, cells with a nucleus and complicated organelles such as mitochondria, were probably born this way, over the negotiating table of life.

Thanks to the chemical probes installed in their membranes, bacteria are able to sense the presence of others. This is a modest forerunner of our sensory perceptions, closer to taste and smell than to the image-based hearing or seeing.

Damaisio writes, “These strangely ordered emergences reveal the deep power of homeostasis. The indomitable imperative of homeostasis operated by trial and error to select naturally available behavioral solutions to a number of problems of life management. The organisms searched and screened, unwittingly, the physics of their environments and the chemistry within their walls and came up, unwittingly, with at least adequate but often good solutions for the maintenance and flourishing of life. The marvel is that when comparable problem configurations were encountered on other occasions, at other points in the messy evolution of life-forms, the same solutions were found. The tendency toward particular solutions, toward similar schemes, toward some degree of inevitability, results from the structure and circumstances of living organisms and their relation to the environment and depends on homeostasis writ large.
Damaisio writes that cooperation evolved as a twin to competition, which helped select the organisms that exhibited the most productive strategies. He continues,” as a consequence, when we behave cooperatively today, at some personal sacrifice, and when we call that behavior altruistic, it is not the case that we humans have invented the cooperative strategy out of the kindness of our hearts. The strategy emerged strangely early and is now old hat. What is certainly different and ‘modern’ is the fact that when we encounter a problem the can be resolved with or without an altruistic response we now can think and feel through the process in our minds and can, at least in part, deliberately select the approach we will deploy. We have options. We can affirm altruism and suffer the attending losses or withhold altruism and not lose anything, or even gain, at least for a while.”

Damaisio writes that the issue of altruism provides a good means of distinguishing between early “cultures” and the full-fledged variety. The origin of altruism is blind cooperation, but can be deconstructed and taught in families and schools as a deliberate human strategy. Damaisio uses the notion of profit as a means of finding fully developed cultures. Cells have literally been looking for profit for a very long time, by which he means governing their metabolisms so that it yields positive energy balances. Cells that really succeed in life are good at generating positive energy balances, “profits.” But the fact that profit is natural and generally beneficial does not make it necessarily good. Cultures can decide when natural things are good—and determine the degree of goodness—and when they are not.

Consciousness is an Instinct

September 15, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title of the last chapter in Michael Gazzaniga’s outstanding book, “The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind.” This is the conclusion to Gazziniga’s book. It might sound strange because of how most of us think about instincts. So this post should enlarge upon the concept of instinct that most of us have.

Gazziniga goes back to what the father of American psychology, William James wrote more than 125 years ago:

‘Instinct is usually defined as the faculty of acting in such a way as to produce certain ends, without foresight of the ends, and without previous education in the performance…. [Instincts] are the functional correlatives of structure. With the presence of a certain organ goes, one may say, almost a native aptitude for its use. ‘Has the bird a gland for the secretion of oil? She know instinctively how to press the oil for the gland, and apply it to the feather.’”

Bird behavior is one thing, but does it really apply to human cognition and consciousness? James provides the following rationale for how it might all work:

“A single complex instinctive action may involve successively the awakening of impulses….Thus a hungry lion starts to seek prey by the awakening in him of imagination coupled with the desire; he begins to stalk it when, on eye, ear, or nostril he gets an impression of its presence at a certain distance; he springs upon it, either when the booty takes alarm and flees, or when the distance is sufficiently reduced; he proceeds to tear and devour it the moment he gets a sensation of its contact with his claws and fangs. Seeing, stalking, springing, and devouring are just so many different kinds of muscular contraction, and neither kind is called forth by the stimulus appropriate for the other.”

Gazzaniga writes, “Individual instincts can be sequenced in a coordinated fashions for more complex actions that make them look an awful lot like higher-order instincts. The avalanche of sequences is what we call consciousness. James argued that the competitive dynamics that go into the sequencing of basic instincts can produce what appears to be a more complex behavior manifested from a complex internal state. He even adds a description of the animal’s experience of obeying an instinct: ‘Every impulse and every step of every instinct shines with its own sufficient light, and seems at the moment the only eternally right and proper thing to do. It is done for its own sake exclusively.’ It sound like a lot of bubbles are conjoined by the arrow of time and produce something like what we call conscious experience.”

When acting together in a coordinated way, even simple systems can make observers believe other forces exist. James states: “My first act of free will is to believe in free will.” This proclamation is consistent with the idea that beliefs, ideas, and thought can be part of the mental system. The symbolic representations within this system, with all their flexibility and arbitrariness, are very much tied to the physical mechanisms of the brain. Ideas do have consequences, even in the physically constrained brain. No despair called for: mental states can influence physical action in the top-down way.

It should be clear that there is an enormous amount of research on the brain that needs to be done. But Gazzaniga has captured consciousness. He writes, “In the end, we must realize that consciousness is an instinct. Consciousness is part of organismic life.

We have free will and we exercise it via our consciousness. Many will dispute this, argue against free will and look for the locus of consciousness in the brain. But they all will fail. Gazzaniga has concluded an important chapter on neuroscience, cognitive science, and philosophy. He should be awarded for this. But he might have arrived before his time.

The Ubiquity of Consciousness

September 14, 2018

This post is taken from Michael Gazzaniga’s outstanding book, “The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind.” It should be clear that severe brain damage across various locations of the brain cannot stamp out consciousness. Although certain contents of conscious experience may be lost, consciousness itself will not be lost. This fact suggests that there is not a specific “Grand Central” cortical circuit that produces consciousness, but that any part of the cortex can produce it when supported by subcortical processes, and that subcortical processing can support a limited type of conscious experience. So it appears that it is the processing of local modular circuits that provides the contents of conscious experience.

The need for the preceding paragraph might be puzzling for some healthymemory blog readers, because it seems that this is patently obvious. However, there are researchers, some who are highly esteemed, who are trying to find the locus of consciousness in the brain (See the healthy memory blog post “A Needed Post on Consciousness”).

The incessant interplay between cognition and feelings, which is to say between cortical and subcortical modules, produces what we call consciousness. There is obviously a different feel to a wave of intense emotion versus an abstract thought, but each conscious form is an experience that gives us a unique perception of reality. The vast variety of conscious forms and the ubiquity of consciousness in the brain is best explained by a modular architecture of the brain. The conceptual challenge now is to understand how hundreds, if not thousands, of modules, embedded in a layered architecture—each layer of which can produce a form of consciousness—gives us a single, unified life experience at any given moment that seems to flow flawless into the next across time. The key idea is time. It is the unending sequences of modules having their moment.

Conscious vs. Unconscious States

September 13, 2018

This post is taken from Michael Gazzaniga’s outstanding book, “The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind.” The distinction between conscious and unconscious states become urgent once one steps into the clinic. Denying pain medication to a seemingly unconscious patient, who is truly conscious is torture. There is compelling evidence that the cerebral cortex is not necessary to evoke some forms of consciousness. The capabilities of subcortical systems appear competent enough on their own to provide a subjective feeling.

Unfortunately, some children are born with anencephaly (without a cerebral cortex due to genetic or developmental cases) or hydranencephaly (very minimal cerebral cortex, often the result of fetal trauma or disease). The neuroscientist Bjorn Merker became interested in the subcortex early in his career. Frustrated by the limited information on and few case studies of children with hydranencephaly, he joined a worldwide Internet group of parents and caretakers of these children to learn more about them and their condition. He came to know several families and spent a week with them at Disney World. During that week he observed that the children “are not only awake and often alert, but show responsiveness to their surroundings in the form of emotional or orienting reactions to environment events….They express pleasure by smiling and laughing , and aversion by ‘fussing,’ arching of the back and crying (in many gradations), their faces being animated by these emotional states. A familiar adult can employ this responsiveness to build up play sequences predictably progressing from smiling, through giggling, to laughter and great excitement on the part of the child.”

Without a cerebral cortex or the cognition it supplies, these children were feeling emotions, having a subjective experience, and were conscious. No one would mistake them for a child with a cerebral cortex, but they are aware and their emotional response to stimuli is appropriate.

Merker has reached the conclusion that it is the midbrain that a supports the basic capacity for conscious subjective experience. To be sure, the cortex elaborates on the contents of the experience, but the capacity itself arises from the midbrain structures. The ethical implications of this are obvious. Mercer notes that parents often encounter medical professionals who are surprised when asked for pain medication for these children when they are to undergo invasive procedures.

Although the cortex is not necessary for consciousness, it is certainly true that consciousness is enhanced by the cortex.

Neurons to Mind

September 12, 2018

This post is taken from Michael Gazzaniga’s outstanding book, “The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind.” So how to characterize the transition of neurons to mind? Gazzaniga uses the metaphor of bubbling water as a way to conceptualize how our consciousness unfolds. Consciousness is not the product of a special network that enables all of our mental events to be conscious. Instead each mental event is managed by brain modules that possess the capacity to make us conscious of the results of their processing. The results bubble up from various modules like bubbles in a boiling pot of water. Bubble after bubble, each the end result of a module’s to a group of modules’ processing, pops up and bursts forth for a moment, only to be replaced by others in a constant dynamic motion. Those single bursts of process parade one after another, seamlessly linked by time. (This metaphor is limited to bubbles roiling up at a rate of twelve frames a second or faster; or consider a cartoon flip book, where the faster we snap the pages, the more continuous the movements of the characters appear).

Sir Charles Sherrington had a related notion when he observed: “How far is the mind a collection of quasi-independent perceptual minds integrated psychically in large measure by temporal concurred experience? Its separate reserves of sub-perceptual and perceptual brain, if we may so speak, could account for the slightness of the mental impairment following some brain injuries…Simple contemporaneity can conjoin much.”

Gazzaniga writes, “It’s difficult to get our heads around the idea that each bubble has its own capacity to evoke that feeling of being conscious; it rubs up against our own intuitions about the holistic nature of our personal consciousness. What are we and our intuitions missing? We’re missing the illusion part, the part we humans (with our powerful left hemisphere inference mechanism) is so good at missing. We aren’t actually missing the illusion; rather, we are missing the fact that our smoothly flowing consciousness is itself an illusion. In reality it is made up of cognitive bubbles linked with subcortical “feeling” bubbles, placed together by our brain in time.”

Non-living to Living

September 11, 2018

The title of this post is the first part of a chapter titled Non-living to Living and Neurons to mind in Michael Gazzaniga’s outstanding book, “The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind.” Before going further we need to discuss some physics. Quantum physics was created when it was discovered that electromagnetic radiation and matter can be conceived in two states: particle or waves. Quantum mechanics refers to very small matter. These two levels of description are needed to capture physical matter. Quantum mechanics requires probabilities.

These two levels of physics are difficult for many physicists to accept. Einstein said, “God does not play dice with the universe.” To which another physicist responded, “Stop telling God what to think!” Einstein spent the remainder of his career trying to develop a grand unifying theory and failed. There still are physicists trying to develop a unifying theory. However, at this point it is increasingly becoming obvious that two levels of explanation are required. The idea of complementarity, that the two levels of explanation complement each other, captures this reality nicely.

Howard Pattee is a Stanford-educated physicist who moved into theoretical biology during his career at SUNY Binghamton. Patee feels that philosophers have approached the mind/brain divide from the wrong end of evolution. Over the course of his life, Pattee has come to the startling conclusion: duality is a necessary and inherent property of any entity capable of evolving.

Upon reflection, one realizes that the origins of life are typically glossed over. True this was an important event, but how could inanimate matter become animate matter capable of reproducing and evolving? Patee asked this question that motivated his thinking for decades. He asked “How is it possible for us to distinguish the living from the lifeless if we can describe both conceptually by the motion of inorganic corpuscles?” Gazzaniga writes, “Patee saw the logic of the question, but he also saw that evoking the same laws to describe both animate and inanimate matter was not a good enough explanation. In fact, it was no explanation at all. There had to be more to the story.” So, just as in physics, two levels of explanation are required. Patty proposes that the gap between quantum and classical physical behavior is inherent in the distinction between inanimate and living matter.

Gazziniga writes, “There you have it. Pattee proposes that the gap resulted from a process equivalent to quantum measurement that began with self-replication at the origin of life with the cell as the simplest agent…The gap between subjective feeling and objective neural beings didn’t come about with the appearance of brains. It was already there when the first cell started living. Two complementary modes of behavior, two levels of description are inherent in life itself, were present at the origin of life, have been conserved by evolution, and continue to be necessary for differentiating subjective experience from the event itself. This is a mind-boggling idea.”

Where is Consciousness?

September 10, 2018

This post is based on Michael Gazzaniga’s outstanding book, “The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind.” Gazzaniga writes, “We have to think about the aggregate of largely independent modules and how their organization gives rise to the ever-present sense of conscious experience.” We need to think of consciousness as an intrinsic part of many of our cognitive functions. If we lose a particular function, we lose the consciousness that accompanies it, but we don’t los consciousness altogether.

When the connections between the two hemisphere are cut it does little to one’s sense of conscious experience. The left hemisphere keeps on talking and thinking as if nothing had happened even though it no longer has access to half of the human cortex. What is even more important is that disconnecting the two half brains instantly creates a second, also independent conscious system. The right brain now continues carefree from the left, with its own goals, insights, and feelings. One network, split into two, becomes two conscious systems. How could one possibly think that consciousness arises from a particular specific network?

Also consider what the conscious experience is like for the split-brain patient who wakes up from surgery, and each hemisphere now doesn’t know about the other hemisphere’s visual field. The left brain doesn’t see the left side of space, and the right brain doesn’t see the right side. But the patient’s speaking left hemisphere does not complain of any vision loss. The patient tells you he doesn’t notice any difference after the surgery. How can this be when half the visual field is gone? Like a patient with spatial heme-neglect, the speaking left hemisphere neither misses them nor is aware that they were ever there. The memories of having had that visual field are also gone from the left hemisphere. The whole conscious experience of the left visual field is not enjoyed only by the right hemisphere and has completely disappeared from the left hemisphere’s experience. So what does this tell us about consciousness?

We know that local brain lesions can produce various specific cognitive disabilities. But such patients are still aware of the world around them. The patient with severe spatial neglect is not aware of the left half of space, but is still aware of the world around him. The patient with a severe special neglect is not aware of the left half of space, but is still aware of the right.

Gazzaniga writes, “This idea that consciousness is a property of individual modules, not a single network a species might have, could explain the different types of consciousness that exist across species. Animals are not unconsciousness zombies, but what each is conscious of differs depending on the modules it has and how those modules are connected. Humans have a rich conscious experience because of the many kinds of modules we possess. Indeed, humans might well possess highly developed integrative modules, which allow us to combine information from various modules into abstract thoughts. It is difficult to decipher how consciousness arises in humans. but thinking about consciousness as an aspect of multiple functioning modules may guide us to the answer.”

Modules vary in the amount of electrical activity they possess moment to moment, with the result that their contributions to our conscious experiences vary. Here the idea is that the most “active” module wins the consciousness competition and its processing becomes the life experience, the “state” of the individual at a particular moment in time.

Gazzaniga concludes, “We are on the road to realizing that consciousness is not a “thing.” It is the result of a process embedded in an architecture, just as a democracy is not a thing but the result of a process.

Walking But Unconscious; Unmoving but Conscious

September 9, 2018

This post is taken from Michael Gazzaniga’s outstanding book, “The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind.” Strange behaviors can also arise from a fully intact and functioning brain if only part of it is awake. In a layered brain, lots of activities are happening simultaneously and coordinated synchronously. Here is what can happen when things get out of sync.

Mr. A was described by family and friends as a loving family man. He was awakened in his bed by his dogs’ barking and strange voices. Racing downstairs, he was met by several police officers with their guns drawn. Dazed and confused, he was cuffed and locked in the back of a squad car trembling in fear as he tried to assess the situation by listening to the conversation of emergency personnel through the window. He gathered that his wife had been badly hurt and thought that the cops were on the hunt for the person responsible. He didn’t know until later that they had already found their man, and it was he.

The police summarized the incident. Mr. A brutally murdered his wife during what was later determined to be a sleepwalking episode. During this episode, he had gotten up from bed and gone out to fix the pool’s filter, which his wife had asked him to do at dinner. She most have awoken and gone down to coax him back to bed. His concentration on the motor interrupted, he had turned violent and stabbed her 45 times, put his tools away in the garage, returned to find her still alive, and rolled her into the pool where she drowned. He then returned to bed. His neighbor hearing screaming and barking, looked over the fence to see a “bewildered”- appearing Mr. A roll the body into the pool. The neighbor then called the police.

He was tried and found innocent. The jury found that since no identifiable motive, no attempt to hide the body or weapon, and no memory of the event, the jury was convinced that his actions occurred unintentionally and out of Mr. A’s awareness. So, what went on in Mr. A’s mind and brain during this atrocity?

Sleepwalking is a parasomnia, strange behavior that occurs during sleep. Sleep experts have identified two main stages of sleep by recording brain waves—rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep. Sleeping walking usually occurs after abrupt and incomplete spontaneous arousal from non-REM sleep that occurs during the first couple of hours of the night, turning one into a mobile sleeper. Trying to waken sleepwalkers is fruitless and can be dangerous, since the sleepwalker may feel threatened by physical contact and respond violently.

Neuroimaging and EEG has provided a clearer picture of what is happening in the brain during non-REM sleep. The brain appears to be half awake and half asleep: the cerebellum and brainstem are active, while the cerebrum and cerebral cortex have minimal activity. The pathways involved with the control of complex motor behavior and emotion generation are buzzing, while those pathways projecting to the frontal lobe, involved in planning, attention, judgment, emotional face recognition, and emotional regulation are zoned out. Sleepwalkers don’t remember their escapades, nor can they be awakened by noise or shouts, because the parts of the cortex that contribute to sensory processing and formation of new memories are snoozing, temporarily turned off, disconnected, and not contributing any input to the flow of consciousness.

One of the worst brain injuries is a lesion to the ventral part of the pons in the brainstem. The loss of these neurons, which connect the cerebellum with the cortex, leave one unable to move but fully conscious. This happened to Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor in chief of the French “Elle” magazine when he suffered a stroke at the age of 43. Waking up several weeks later from a coma, fully conscious and with no cognitive loss, he was unable to move anything except his left eyelid. He could not talk so he could not tell anyone he was conscious. He had to wait until someone noticed that he appeared to voluntarily move his eyelid. This is called the “locked-in” syndrome. The so-called lucky ones who voluntarily blink or move their eyes, though the movement is small and tiring. This is how they communicate. The unlucky ones cannot.

Bauby was able to blink and he took advantage of his ability to blink his eye to write a book. He described his conscious experience as he lay paralyzed. He would construct and memorize sentences as he lay there. Then for four hours a day, a secretary patiently sat at his bedside going through a frequency-ordered French alphabet so he could blink when the correct letter was spoken. Two hundred thousand blinks later “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” was done. A movie was made based on the book. Both the book and the movie are highly recommended.

Bauby is an example of the endless capacity of human adaptability. Adaptability appears to be the norm for such patients. 75% have rarely or never had suicidal thoughts. Gazziniga writes, “Even with this devastating injury to part of the brainstem, consciousness remains, accompanied b the full range of feelings about both present and past experiences.

Visiting the Clinic

September 8, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title of a section in Michael Gazzaniga’s outstanding book, “The Consciousness Instinct: The first patient suffers from the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease. When Dr. Gazzaniga shakes his hand, the patient returns the shake in acknowledgment, but is confused as to who he is. He doesn’t remember meeting him a couple of days before. The disease results in the slow destruction of the brain, commencing with the loss of neurons in the entorhinal cortex and the hippocampus resulting in the failure to store new memories. The disease can become so debilitating that it can completely reshape personality, transforming from a lively and caring person into a listless shell of his former self. Although he does not recognize Dr. Gazzaniga, he is still cognizant of social niceties and shakes his hand. He may wander off, but he will still feel fear when confused and lost, and anger when frustrated. His conscious experience of the world is brought to him through whatever operational neural circuitry continues to function, and as he loses function, it becomes more restricted. The contents of that conscious experience most likely are odd, very different from those of the normal brain or his past self. As a result, odd behavior follows. For example, the listless version of the formerly jovial grandfather, may still describe himself as his earlier “life of the party” version. Caretakers and family members often attribute a patient’s incongruent self-identify to the disorienting nature of the disease. Still, when friends and family describe the premorbid personality of a loved one, it is strikingly similar to the self-description provided by the individual in the disease state. This suggests that his false beliefs about his current personality traits are likely due to an inability to update those beliefs. A functioning hippocampus is required to update those beliefs. So dementia has left him with an outdated self-image. As long as his heart continues to beat, consciousness, albeit with a checkerboard of altered contents, will survive the carnage of his degenerating brain.

The next patient is known as Mr. B. He has a different kind of problem. He believes he is of special interest to the FBI, which monitors him every single moment of the day. Not only that, the FBI agents film and broadcast his life to the public as “The Mr. B Show.” Disturbed by this, Mr. B. attempts to avoid embarrassing situations by adjusting his behavior, He wears a bathing suit every time he showers, and he changes his clothes under the cover of bed sheets. He avoids social situations, knowing that everyone he encounters is an actor trying to elicit drama to make “The Mr. B Show” more intriguing. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to live in Mr. B’s world. Yet, when carefully analyzed, Mr. B’s case may reveal that a totally rational and normal cortex is trying to make sense out of some abnormalities going on in another region of the brain, the sub cortex.

Mr. B suffers from chronic schizophrenia. His factors for the disease include a genetic vulnerability and gene-environmental interactions. Environmental factors that increase the risk include growing up in urbanized areas, being an immigrant, especially when socially isolated—such as living in an area with few others of the same group—and exposure to cannabis. No matter what evidence is provided to combat Mr. B’s false beliefs, he is profoundly convinced that he is constantly being viewed by millions of people. A first-rank symptom of schizophrenia is the perception that particular stimuli, ranked unimportant when in a non-delusional state, are extremely and personally significant: the guy who glances up from his newspaper is deliberately looking at you; the rock on the road was deliberately placed to harm you. This alteration in salience, who is important and draws one’s attention, is such a classic feature of schizophrenia spectrum disorders that there is a growing movement pushing for the tag “schizophrenia” be abandoned and the disorder reclassified as a “salience syndrome.”

A sensory input becomes more salient when the neural signal that it elicits is enhanced over others, which draws attention to it. Shitij Kapur, a psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and professor at King’s College London, distinguishes for us the difference between hallucinations and delusions: “hallucinations reflect a direct experience of the aberrant salience of internal representations,” whereas delusions (false beliefs) are the result of “a cognitive effort by the patient to make sense of these aberrantly salient experiences. In the brain, the amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine affects the process of salience acquisition and expression. During an acute psychotic episode, schizophrenia is associated with an increase in dopamine synthesis, dopamine release, causing abnormal firing of the dopamine system, leading to the aberrant levels of the neurotransmitter and, thus, aberrant assignment of motivational salience to objects, people, and actions. With this in mind, the behavior that results from his cognitive conclusion seems somewhat more rational. Despite suffering the altered brain function, Mr. B continues to be conscious and aware of his existence.

The Beginnings of Understanding Brain Architecture

September 7, 2018

The title of this is the same as the title of a chapter in Michael Gazzaniga’s outstanding book, “The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind.” The problem here is determining how 89 billion neurons connect to one another that allow us to strut our cognitive stuff. This problem is not fully understood. And there is disagreement about some points. This post can only sample from this lack of understanding.

In the mid-twentieth century the theoretical biologist Robert Rosen suggested to his daughter one possible dilemma: “The human body completely changes the matter it is made of roughly every eight weeks, through metabolism, replication, and repair. Yet you’re still you—with all your memories, your personality…”

Gazzaniga writes, “Rosen’s comments hint that organization must be independent of the material particles that make up a living system. Indeed, the structural components and the function of a brain are only part of the story. A third, often overlooked, component is necessary to relate the structure of a system to its function. Missing is how the parts are organized, the effects of any interactions between the parts, and the relations with time and environment. This was dubbed “relational biology” by Rosen’s professor Nicolas Rashevsky, a theoretical physicist and mathematician at the University of Chicago. These ideas have filtered down to researchers in electrical engineering and systems biology, but are generally unknown or ignored by molecular biologists and neuroscientists, even fifty years after Rosen’s warning.”

Gazziniga goes into a lengthy discussion about the brain’s layered architecture. Here is the summary paragraph at the end of the chapter: “Bringing the idea of layers to a wildly complex biological thing like you and me is really bringing a viewpoint, a stance on how to think about the gooey biological thing may be working. Breaking matters down into interacting layers gives the engineer a framework for thinking about how to build a brain. While no one is even close to doing so, the perspective does guide a brain. While no one is even close to doing so, the perspective does guide the neurobiologists toiling at their benches, studying individual neurons or small circuits of neurons, in how to think about their findings. It suggest how a complex system full of local parts can be organized to get a very large task done, like designing a opera house.”

The purpose of this post was to provide some understanding or feeling how complex the brain is and how far along science is in understanding that brain. The next post will discuss empirical findings which are not only understandable, but the ramifications of these findings are also understandable.

The Consciousness Instinct

September 6, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an important book by Michael S. Gazzaniga. The subtitle is “Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind. The author is Michael S. Gazzaniga of split brain frame. Much more on that will come in future posts. The book begins with a superb scholarly historical review on this topic. This post will pick up the history with the German Arthur Schopenhauer. In his 1818 publication, “The World as Will and Representation,” he came to the conclusion that “man can indeed do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants.” So what he was writing is not only is the will (which he regarded as our subconscious motivations) in charge, but the conscious intellect does not realize it. Schopenhauer made this clear when describing the will as blind and strong and the intellect as sighted but lame: “The most striking figure for the relation of the two is that of the strong blind man carrying the sighted lame man on his shoulders.”

The mind, with all its rational processes is all very well but the “will,” the thing that gives us our “oomph,” is the key: “The will…again fills the consciousness through wishes, emotions, and cares.” Gazzaniga writes, “Today, the subconscious rumblings of the “will” are still unplumbed; only a few inroads have been made.”

Gazzaniga continues, “”The will, according to Schopenhauer, is the will to live, a drive that wheedles humans and all animals to reproduce. For him, the most important purpose of human life is the ultimate end product of a love affair, offspring, because it determines who makes up the next generation. Schopenhauer puts the intellect in the backseat. It isn’t the driver of behavior and also isn’t privy to the will’s decisions; it’s just an after-hours spokesperson, making up stories as it goes along to explain ex post facto what the will has wrought.

Continuing on, Gazzaniga writes, “Schopenhauer, in reposting conscious intellect, also opened up a Pandora’s box of the unconscious, He described conscious ideas as merely like the surface of a pool of water, while the depths are made up of distinct feelings, perceptions, intuitions, and experiences mingled with out personal will: ‘Consciousness is the mere surface of our mind, and of this, as of the globe, we do not know the interior, but only the crust.’ He said that our real thinking seldom takes place on the surface, and thus can rarely be described as a sequence of ‘clearly conceived judgments.’”

It appears to HM that Schopenhauer accurately captured many members of our species, but not all. For all of us the unconscious mind is largely unknown, yet exerts a large effect on cognition. The remainder of these posts should provide a more complete and better nuanced understanding of the unconscious and the conscious mind.

Enhanced Meditation

September 5, 2018

Recently HM has added loving kindness meditation to his relaxation response. This increases his normal 20 minutes meditation to close to an hour. He has found this to be more fulfilling. As was mentioned in the preceding post, one of the pillars of mind training is kind intention. Kind Intention is the ability to have a state of mind with positive regard, compassion, and love internally. As was also mentioned in the previous post, medical benefits result from the basic relaxation response. And although it is hoped that loving kindness meditation will have some small impact on the world, that is just a hope. However, personally, HM has found it to be quite fulfilling.

So HM’s new meditation practice is to begin with the relaxation response. The post “An Update of the Relaxation Response Update” provides a description of the method and a listing of the potential benefits. The post “Loving Kindness Meditation” provides a description of the method. There are different versions of loving kindness meditation. It typically begins with those most close to you, then expands to a larger group. The difficult part is that it closes with those you strongly dislike. HM has a long way to go to reach this point. HM has modified his meditation to something he can feel comfortable with, and you should do the same. There is no need to adhere strictly to a particular formulation. Go to another source and you’ll likely find another formulation.

HM begins with the relaxation response. When he is well into the meditative state, he will start his loving kindness meditation. His loving kindness meditation begins and ends with the most important person in his life, his wife. The following topics are not in order.

There are short individual meditations for close relatives.

There are also short meditations for friends who are in serious trouble.

There is a meditation for children who have been separated from their parents by the heinous policy of the Trump administration. This meditation will continue for a long time into the future because the damage caused to these children will continue into adulthood.

There is also a meditation for unloved children. Research has been presented in this blog about the damage done to unwanted and unloved children. It is quite similar to the damage done to children who are being forcibly separated from their parents. The healthy memory blog is pro quality life instead of pro life. Unfortunately, too many religious people confuse biological life with the soul. Biological life is temporal, but the soul is immortal. If a potential mother does not feel as if she can provide the needed love for her child, she should have an abortion. A loving God will save the soul until a better potential mother is found. But due to irresponsible adults and false beliefs, there is a plague of maladjusted children and adults who are likely criminals and substance abusers. This meditation is aimed at then.

Continuing with other topics.
refugees
homeless people
poor people
(it should be noted that redundancies are intended. some people need to be included multiple times)
sick people
handicapped, or more correctly, physically or mentally challenged people
drug addicts
prisoners
criminals
Trump supporters
fellow human beings
This last topic should merit long meditation. This is also a good topic when unnecessary delays or aggravations are occurring, as is the relaxation response.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

AWARE

September 4, 2018

“AWARE” is the title of a new book by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. The subtitle is “The Science and Practice of Awareness.” Dr. Siegel’s work has been in previous healthy memory blog posts (Just enter “Siegel in the search block of the healthy memory blog). There is a previous post titled “Wheel of Awareness.” This new book develops those
concepts much further.

This is a difficult book. One that is good for growth mindsets, but it might not be relevant to all healthy memory blog readers. The benefits he offers include the following:
Improve immune function
Optimize the level of the enzyme telomerase
Enhance epigenetic regulation
Modify cardiovascular factors
Increase neural integration

These benefits can also be obtained by the relaxation response, which is highly touted in this blog. Enter “relaxation response” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to find relevant blog posts. The post “An Update of the Relaxation Response Update” provides a description of the method and a listing of the potential benefits.

The post “The Genetic Breakthrough—Your Ultimate Mind Body Connection” describes the epigenetic benefits from the relaxation response.

There is a large cost versus time benefit to the relaxation response. Most other techniques, including the Wheel of Awareness, require much more time. However, these other techniques might offer other benefits; it is for the individual to decide.

Dr.Siegel’s research includes mindfulness awareness practice, which science has revealed promotes well-being in body, mind, and relationships. He writes the “Wheel of Awareness gives you but one of many methods to cultivate access to the plane of possibility. Centering prayer in the Christian tradition, versions of mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, compassion practices, and other ways of training the mind may give access to this generator of diversity, the sea of potential that the Wheel of Awareness offers.”

Reading this book reminded HM that one of the pillars of mind training is kind intention. Kind Intention is the ability to have a state of mind with positive regard, compassion, and love internally (what is sometimes called “self compassion” which we are calling “inner compassion”) and interpersonal (that is sometime termed “other”-directed compassion which we are calling “inter compassion”). HM fears that this topic has been neglected. And that topic can be addressed with Loving Kindness Meditation. In the next post HM will describe how he has combined the relaxation response with loving kindness meditation. To review or learn about Loving Kindness meditation enter “Loving Kindness” in to the search blog of the healthy memory blog.

If you can’t find the search block go to healthymemory.wordpress.com.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Kahneman and Identity Based Politics

September 3, 2018

This post was a motivated by an article titled “People Don’t Vote on the Issues. They vote on their identifies” by Kwame Anthony Appiah in the Outlook section of the 2 Sep 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The electronic version has a picture of two men at a Trump rally wearing t-shirts that read “I’d rather be Russian than a Democrat.” As the article points out, these t-shirts at a rally for a Republican president are truly remarkable. Historically, the Republican Party has been pointedly anti-Russian. But Trump is now the Republican nominee and he is changing the Republican party in a frightening manner.

It is easy to see why Trump is pro-Russian. He has been doing business with the Russians since the 1970s. Today, most, if not all, of his financing comes from Russia. So it is easy to understand why he is so pro-Russian. What is difficult to understand is why Republicans are supporting him and his pro-Russian views. And one should wonder, regardless of the results of the Mueller investigation, whether an American President should be financially dependent on the Russians.

Russia might no longer be a Communist country, but it is a de facto dictatorship led by Putin that can most accurately be described as a kleptocracy. Putin used the Russian mafia and fears of terrorism into creating this kleptocracy. Given the support provided Trump by certain multi-billionaires in the United States, one wonders whether there is an effort to turn the United States into a kleptocracy.

It is, however, easy to see how Trump garnered popularity and eventually the nomination of the Republican Party. Although he did not win the popular vote, the distorted vote that determined his electoral college win was apparently due to the areas of the country more governed by identity based politics than by issue based politics. Trump used identity based politics, the identity being white people. After all, his core base constitutes of nazis and white-supremacists. Trump has created fears of Mexicans and other latinos and of moslems that have no basis in fact. But they constitute clear identities against which to fight. Hitler used this tactic successfully.

So where does Kahneman come in here? Understand that HM is using Kahneman’s two process view of cognition to make this argument. In Nobel Lauerate Daniel Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition. System 1, intuition, is our normal mode of processing and requires little or no attention. System 2, commonly referred to as thinking, requires our attention. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1. When we encounter something contradictory to what we believe, the brain sets off a distinct signal. It is easier to ignore this signal and to continue System 1 processing. To engage System 2 requires attentional resources to attempt to resolve the discrepancy and to seek further understanding.

To put Kahneman’s ideas into the vernacular, System 2 involves thinking. System 1 is automatic and requires virtually no cognitive effort. Emotions are a System 1 process, as are identity based politics. Politics based on going with people who look like you requires no thinking yet provides social support.

Much research has shown that the majority of voters know little substantively about whom and what they are voting on. Try asking typical males who their representatives are. The results are likely to be depressing. But ask him about sports and he is likely to go on and on. He’ll tell your what trades his teams should make and what prospects they should draft. The reality is that he is better prepared to be the general manager of one of his teams than to be a citizen in the United States.

The problem is that good political decisions require System 2 processing, something that most are not wont to do. So voters need to be asked, perhaps prompted, about their needs, and then to explain what needs to be done politically to address these needs. There are code words, like “socialism” to immediately cut off debate. In these cases, the response should be that I have no beliefs, but rather I am searching for policies that are likely to effectively address problems. Evidence should be used, such as every other advanced country provides health care for all its citizens. These are single payer systems. Their health care costs are much less than the United States, but the results of their programs are vastly superior to those in the United States. And they do not have people declaring bankruptcy because of health care costs.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Research Takes Honest Look at Why People Lie

September 2, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by William Wan and Sarah Kaplan in the 27 August 2018 issue of the Washington Post. Dan Ariely, a psychologist at Duke, says, “The dangerous thing about lying is people don’t understand how the act changes us.”

A 2010 study of the prevalence of lying in America found that in a given 24-hour period, most adults reported not telling any lies. About half the lies recorded in the study could be attributed to just 5% of the participants. Most people avoided lying when they could, turning to deception only when the truth was troublesome.

For most us, lying takes work says Harvard cognitive psychologist Joshua Green. In his research he presented the research participants with a chance to deceive for monetary gain while examining their brains in a functional MRI machine, which maps blood flow to active parts of the brain. Some people told the truth instantly and instinctively. Others opted to lie, and they showed increased activity in their frontal parietal control network, which is involved in difficult or complex thinking, suggesting that they were deciding between truth and dishonesty—ultimately opting for the latter.

In a follow-up analysis he found that people whose neural reward centers were more active when they won money were also more likely to be among the group of liars—suggesting that lying may have to do with the inability to resist temptation.

Scientists don’t really know what prevents all of us from lying all the time. Some believe-truth-telling is a social norm we internalize, or a result of conflict in our brains between the things we want and the positive vision of ourselves we strive to maintain. The curious thing about this preventive mechanism is that it comes from within. Ariel said, “We are our own judges about our own honesty. And that internal judge is what differentiates psychopaths and non-psychopaths.

External conditions also matter in terms of when and how often we lie. We are more likely to lie when we are able to rationalize it, when we are stressed and fatigued, or when we see others being dishonest. And we are less likely to lie when we have moral reminders or when we think others are watching. Ariel said, “We as a society need to understand that when we don’t punish lying, we increase the probability it will happen again.”

Ariely and his colleagues in a 2016 study in the journal Nature Neuroscience showed how dishonesty alters people’s brains, making it easier to tell lies in the future. When people uttered a falsehood, there was a burst of activity in their amygdala. The amygdala is a crucial part of the brain that produces fear, anxiety and emotional responses, which include that sinking, guilty feeling we get when we lie.

But when scientists had their subjects play a game in which they won money by deceiving their partner, they noticed the negative signals from the amygdala began to decrease. Worse yet, when people faced no consequences for dishonesty, their falsehoods tended to get even more sensational.

Ali Sharot, a cognitive neuroscientist at University College London the research leader said, “If you give people multiple opportunities to lie for their own benefit they start with little lies and get bigger and bigger over time.”

It is good to know that most people do not lie. However, it is hard to understand how these people could vote for Donald Trump. Donald Trump’s lying is well documented. It appears to be large enough to classify him as a psychopath. Donald Trump’s lying creates his own reality, and he likely does not know he is lying.

Trump has broken many norms. Let us hope that lying is not one of them.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Science of Voodoo

September 1, 2018

This post is taken from Feature article by David Robson in the 25 August 2018 issue of the New Scientist.

When anthropologists first heard reports of witch doctors killing people with a curse, they looked for rational explanations. These were undermined, however, by the discovery that Western doctors have similar powers. In the 1970s, for example, a man dies just months after doctors told him he had end-stage liver cancer—despite the autopsy revealing that the diagnosis had been mistaken. He hadn’t died from cancer, but from believing he had cancer.

We now know what lies behind these strange goings: the nocebo effect. The “evil” twin of the placebo effect of he placebo effect, it is when putting someone in a negative frame of mind has adverse consequences for their health or well being. Tell people that a medical procedure will be extremely painful, for example, and they will experience more pain than they would otherwise. Similarly warning about the possible side effects of a drug makes it more likely that patients will report experiencing those effects.

The nocebo effect is widespread: about a quarter of participants in clinical trials experience side effects even when they have been given a placebo, a sugar pill. Recent research indicates that it can be even stronger than the placebo effect, particularly when people are anxious or feel that their doctor doesn’t understand or believe them. And the nocebo effect is not just a problem in healthcare. It could also be undermining your efforts to lose weight, shape, cope with stress, and more.

Everyday Placebos

August 31, 2018

This post is taken from Feature article by David Robson in the 25 August 2018 issue of the New Scientist.

Caffeine: If a strong espresso sets your nerves jangling, that may be large to your expectations. Even pure water increased alertness and raised blood pressure in volunteers who were told it contained caffeine. As for those withdrawal symptoms when you can’t get your morning cup of Joe, they might be all in your head, too.

Sports supplements: There is little scientific backing for many of these products, but studies show that people only have to believe they are taking performance enhancers or energy drinks to show greater stamina and strength. Even the effects of steroids may be boosted by a placebo response.

Designer brands: Are they really better than generics? Not necessarily. People tricked into thinking they were wearing designer sunglasses could more easily decipher small writing through the glare of a bright light than those who thought they were wearing less prestigious brands.

Booze: Drinking culture is full of urban myths, including the idea that adding Red Bull to vodka “gives you wings.” Studies reveal that the power of expectation is what really increased feelings of drunkenness.

Lucky charms: They work because we believe they will. Golfers who thought they were using a professional’s putter perceived the hole to be larger and easier to putt—and were more accurate as a result.

Mind Over Matter

August 30, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title of a Feature article by David Robson in the 25 August 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The subtitle is: “You really can think yourself healthier and happier.” The article begins, “A positive mindset isn’t just mental—it can trigger physical changes making you fitter, slimmer, more energetic and less stressed. It will even help you live longer.”

Dr. Alia Crum told the global movers and shakers at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, “Our minds aren’t passive observers simply observing reality as it is; our minds actually change reality. The reality we experience tomorrow is partly the product of the mindsets we hold today.” Dr. Crum heads the Mind & Body lab at Stanford University.

When she read about the placebo effect as a psychology student she had the following eureka moment: if our expectations can influence the effectiveness of a drug, perhaps something similar can happen in other situations also.

In the course of her research she and her fellow researchers have discovered that our mindset affects everything from our weight and fitness to the physical toll of insomnia and stress, even how well we age. Two people could have identical genes and lifestyles, but one can end up healthier than the other, thanks solely to their different thoughts.

There have been many healthy memory blog posts on placebos, so readers should know that placebos are inert pills used in most clinical drug trials. Participants are randomly divided into two groups: half taking the drug being tested, the control group taking an identical looking sugar pill. With no active ingredient, the placebo shouldn’t have any effects. Yet it typically results in measurable changes triggering the release of natural painkillers and lowering blood pressure, for example—all due to people’s expectations. Patients can even show these benefits when they know they are taking a placebo. There is also a nocebo effect. Expectations of a pill can also produce side effects such as nausea and skin rashes.

Crum was surprised that relatively little has been done to understand and harness the facts to improve health and well-being. Governments spend large amounts of money encouraging us to adopt healthier lifestyles. Crum wondered what if our efforts could be boosted or undermined by the very psychological processes that influence a drug’s efficacy through placebo and nocebo effects. She has spent the past decade investigating this possibility.

In one of her first experiments she examined the fitness of 84 hotel cleaners. She suspected that few of them would be aware of the sheer amount of exercise their job entails, and that this might prevent them from gaining the full benefits of that workout. To manipulate their mindsets, she gave half of them detailed information about the physical demands of their work—that their work hoovering burns 200 calories an hour—and told them that their activity met the US surgeon general’s exercise recommendations. One month later, despite reporting no change to their diet or activity outside work, the cleaners who received the information had lost about a kilogram each, and their average blood pressure had dropped from elevated to normal. The others showed no difference. This was a small study and Crum didn’t record actual behavior. She concedes, “It could be that they were putting slightly more oomph into making the beds.”

A follow-up study with a colleague, Octavia Zahrt, bolstered the idea that people’s expectations directly influence their body’s response to exercise. That study used data from health surveys monitoring more than 60,000 people. Zahrt found that the “perceived fitness” of the participants—how they felt compared to the average person—was a better predictor of their risk of mortality than the amount of time they said they spent exercising. Some of them wore accelerometers for part of the survey period. Still, after taking their actual physical activity into account, the influence of how they perceived fitness remained. Overall, people who took a more pessimistic view of their fitness were up to 71% more likely to die during the survey, compared with those who thought they were more active than average—regardless of their exercise routine.

The brain can directly control blood pressure through the autonomic nervous system. Crum suspects that a poor perception of your fitness could be triggering inflammation and the release of hormones such as cortisol, which might help determine how the body responds to stress. Her team is investigating possible mechanisms but, she says, it’s not too early to take advantage of these effects. Cruz’s advice is not to deceive yourself about your fitness, but to make sure that you don’t undervalue the exercise you do, either. Also avoid comparing yourself critically with your peers particularly if they are exceptionally sporty.

Crum has also documented other ways in which our mindset could be harming our health. A nocebo effect could undermine efforts to lose weight by dieting. In 2011, Crum offered volunteers a milkshake at her lab, then measured their levels of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin, which normally drops after a meal. Although everyone received the same shake, some were told it was healthy while others were led to believe they were having an indulgent treat. Those who thought they had drunk a low-calorie shake showed markedly higher levels of ghrelin afterwards, which left them feeling less full.

Ghrelin doesn’t affect appetite alone. By signaling food deprivation, the hormone also slows down metabolism, tipping the body towards storing fat rather than burning it. It makes evolutionary sense to reduce energy consumption when resources are scarce, but it is bad news when we are trying to lose weight. Crum says, “When people think they are eating healthily, that is associated with the sense of deprivation. And that mindset matters in shaping our physiological response. Instead, she suggest, dieters should cultivate a “mindset of indulgence,” savoring the texture and flavors of whatever they are eating.

Non dieters could also fall prey to this effect. When drinking a sugary beverage the brain doesn’t seem to recognize the liquid as a source of energy, and fails to adjust digestion accordingly so that we tend to eat more afterwords than if we have eaten solid food containing the same number of calories. We can subvert this effect by changing our expectation. Richard Mattes at Purdue University primed people to believe that the energy drink would solidify once it reached their stomach. As well as lowering gherkin levels, this increased the insulating response after consumption, leaving them feeling fuller. That was followed by a decrease in the daily energy they consumed.

It should not be forgotten that mind over matter is also important for aging. As has been reported in previous healthymemory posts; people who view aging positively live 7.5 years longer than those who associate it with frailty and senility. Negative perceptions are not merely the result of poor health; they can foreshadow symptoms by as much as 38 years.

House of TRUMP House of PUTIN

August 27, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an important book by Craig Unser. The subtitle is “The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia.” The book begins, “This book tells the story of one of the greatest intelligence operations in history, an undertaking decades in the making, through which the Russian Mafia and Russian intelligence operatives successfully targeted, compromised, and implemented either a willfully ignorant or an inexplicably unaware Russian asset in the White House as the most powerful man on earth. In doing so, without firing a shot the Russians helped put in power a man who would immediately begin to undermine the Western Alliance, which has been the foundation of American national security for more than seventy years; who would start massive trade wars with America’s longtime allies; fuel right-wing anti-immigrant populism; and assault the rule of law in the United States.”

“In short, at a time at which the United States was confronted with a new form of warfare—hybrid war consisting of cyber warfare, hacking, disinformation, and the like—the United States would have at its a helm a man who would leave the country all but defenseless, and otherwise inadvertently do the bidding of the Kremlin.”

“It is a story that is difficult to tell even though, in many ways, Donald Trump’s ties to Russia over the last four decades have been an open secret, hiding in plain sight. One reason they went largely unnoticed for so long may be that aspects of them are so unsettling, so transgressive, that Americans are loath to acknowledge the dark realities staring them in the face.”

The Russian victory is even more remarkable when it is considered from whence it came. The disintegration of the Soviet Union left it without many of its constituent republics and the task of coming up with a new type of economy to replace Communism. Putin was depressed. He wanted to bring Russia back to the international power it once was. He worked in various jobs, currying favor, and learning along the way. His KGB skills proved invaluable.

Russia was in chaos, crying for disorder. The Russian Mafia knew how to capitalize on this disorder. The American Mafia is a bunch of pantywaists compared to the Russian Mafia. The ruthlessness of the Russian Mafia is well captured in this book. It engages in all the crimes gangsters typically do, drugs, prostitution (including children) gambling, protection rackets, virtually every type of illegal activity. Putin was able to organize and control these gangsters to establish order in Russia, something that was sorely wanted.

He warned of the dangers of terrorism, committed a terrorist act, but then blamed it on Chechnya. Thus he made himself a Russian hero and the protector of Russia against terrorism. He ran for President of Russia and might have won legitimately, but Putin is careful not to leave anything to chance. He stepped down and had one of his lackeys serve as president for one term. But now he is back as president and is likely to stay.

Many have pondered the apparent control the Russians have over Trump. This control has been manifest many times, most apparently in Helsinki. It is quite clear what that control is. Trump has been doing business with Russia since the seventies. It began with the purchase of five condos in Trump Tower. The many Trump properties have served effectively as laundromats for Russian illicit activity. Donald Jr. has said that Trump gets all the money he needs from Russian banks. And Putin and the Russian Mafia run and control these banks.

Trump has expressed many times his affinity for Putin and the Russians. He wants to be best friends with Putin and the Russians and screw our traditional allies.

Another troublesome question is why are Republicans, once the foremost bulwark against the Soviet Union and communism, following Trump . Technically, Russia may no longer be a communist nation, but it is no democracy in the western sense. It is a kleptocracy in which the rich exploit the poor. Life might be more peaceful for typical Russians now, and their standard of living improved, but they are nowhere near western democracy.

Unser’s book provides some insights as to why Republicans are behaving as they are. In 2005, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska hired Bob Dole as a lobbyist in 2005. He also tried to hire John McCain, but it should be no surprised that he declined (HM’s guess is that he told Deripaska to stuff himself). Russian conglomerate Alfa paid nearly 2$ million in lobbying fees to Barbour Griffith & Rogers, the lobbying firm cofounded by former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour.

In 2016 millions of dollars in Russian money was funneled to Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and other high-profile Republicans to finance GOP senatorial candidates. McConnell took $2.5 million dollars for his GOP Senator Leadership Fund from two of Blatavatnik’s companies. Others included political action committees for Senator Marco Rubio, and Senator Lindsay Graham.

An earlier healthy memory blog post explained that when the intelligence agencies had confirmed that Russia was interfering in the presidential election, President Obama arranged a meeting between the leaders of the intelligence agencies and the Democratic majority leader in the Senate, McConnell. McConnell refused to believe the intelligence he was receiving claiming that this was a political act by the Democrats (even though the leaders were not Democrats, and some were Republican). So it appears clear that McConnell was bought by the Russians and had, in effect, sold out his country.

This was a new kind of warfare being waged by Russia. It was the first non-linear war. A previous healthy memory blog post about Valery Gerasimov, the chief of he General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, who published a paper in 2013 that became known, appropriately enough as the Gerasimov Doctrine. It concluded that costly armed invasions often fail to advance strategic goals. “In the 21st century we have seen a tendency toward blurring the lines between the states of war and peace. Wars are no longer declared and, having begun, proceed according to an unfamiliar template..The very ‘rules of war’ have changed. The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of the force of weapons in their effectiveness.”

There is much more interesting information that leads one to believe that Trump’s complaints that there has been no evidence of collusion will be answered. There will be loads of evidence supporting collusion. But that needs to await Mueller’s report.

However, this hypothetical needs to be asked. Suppose that Mueller’s report not find any violations of any standing laws. Do we still want to have Trump as President? We would be losing many of our freedoms and likely becoming a kleptocracy like Russia.

This country will not be safe until Trump leaves office. We also need for true Republicans to return to the traditional Republican party. Currently the Republican party belongs to those motivated by gaining power and money by any ends and with anybody.

The book includes an annotated list of Trump’s Fifty-Nine Russia Connections
And the book is well-documented with an extensive list of notes.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Fundamental Attribution Error

August 26, 2018

For many years, HM thought that psychology was best taught at colleges and universities. He has since come to the opinion that it needs to be taught in the schools. Topics should be introduced as soon as students are old enough to learn about them. One topic that can and should be taught in elementary school is the fundamental attribution error.

The fundamental attribution error refers to whom or what, the error should be attributed. So when we make a mistake the initial inclination is to blame it on circumstances. For example, I was tired, there was insufficient information, it was out of my skill area, and so forth. However, when another party makes an error, the tendency is to blame it on them. They were careless, stupid, of too low an IQ, and so forth.

For example, conservatives tend to be critical of welfare. There are “welfare queens,” loafers, liars, and so forth. Although there is some truth to this, the vast majority of people on welfare are people in need.

Consider the white man who feels victimized, and discriminated against. To many, this appears to be a ridiculous claim, but their feelings are genuine. And the reason why they are real is the fundamental attribution error. For these white men it is much easier to blame immigrants than to blame themselves. They do not ask themselves, why did I not go back to school, why did I not try to learn needed skills, or why did I not try to start my own business. No, it is these lousy immigrants, these foreigners, that are to blame. Worse yet, these people are of different colors and different religions. It can be argued that Trump owes his presidency to the fundamental attribution error, or more accurately, in how to exploit the fundamental attribution error.

This discrimination against immigrants is not new. Immigrants have always been regarded as a threat to jobs. But immigrants are always the source of needed skills, new ideas and businesses. Immigration has always been the main source of U.S. strength, and immigration needs to continue and to grow.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

On the Internet, Americans are Far More Interested in Neo-Nazis than Islamists

August 25, 2018

On the Internet, Americans are Far More Interested in Neo-Nazis than Islamists

This post is based on an article by Joby Warrick titled “ISIS proves more resilient online than on the ground” in the 20 August 2018 issue of the Washington Post. During a three-month test period last year, Americans were roughly 10 times more likely to search for information related to joining or supporting violent groups on the far right than about the Islamic State and other jihadist groups. In Arkansas, it was 14.98 more likely for people to search for violent far-right content. Alaska had the lowest likelihood, 3.82 times, of people searching for violent, far-right content.

These results make sense as Trump’s base consists of Nazis and White Supremacists, so these neo-Nazis sites are of more interest than Islamist sites. Think of the irony of this. Trump’s base consists of people with interests inimical to the cited States.

The Special Counsel Investigation

August 24, 2018

The Special Council Investigation led by Robert Mueller who was praised, and justifiably so, when he was appointed. This investigation has been going along smoothly and has made much progress. Trump initially told his lawyer that he was innocent and that they were going to co-operate with Mueller. Were this the case, this was the path for Trump to pursue.

However, as the investigation continued, Trump’s innocence came increasingly in question. So a new strategy was developed. Attack the Mueller investigation as a conspiracy. Attack both the Justice Department and the Intelligence Communities. Books have been written trying to justify this conspiracy and are being read. This is remarkable. This is preposterous. The reason for these attacks is obvious. Trump is guilty as sin. Yet these conspiracy theories are being believed. This manufactured paranoid delusion is contagious and is spreading. This will be a hot topic in psychology, sociology, and political science in the very near future.

Should the investigation be stopped, a constitutional crisis would develop, with a possible outcome of Trump becoming president for life. This is one of his ambitions to become like Putin, ruling a kleptocracy.

Mueller needs to operate within the framework of the law; a constraint that Trump and his supporters don’t have. It is possible that it will not be possible to convict Trump of any law. But it is well known that Trump has been working with the Russian mafia, the kleptocracy supported by Putin. in 1984 Russian David Bogatin spent $6 million (the equivalent of approximated $14.5 in 2018) on five luxury condos in Trump Tower. Thus began the money laundering and other activities with the Russian mob. More will be written on this in a subsequent post.

So it might be that Putin owns Trump, but there is nothing legally to be done about it. There is an emoluments clause that is currently being pursued, but the emoluments clause is small potatoes. This is many orders of magnitude larger.

Putin has accomplished this by information warfare. Information warfare raised doubts and made Hillary Clinton evil. It divided the United States and set it at war with itself and with institutions such as the justice department and the intelligence agencies.

Trump has no objection to this as Putin is one of his sponsors. So consider the outcome in which the Mueller investigation comes up with nought, but the President is owned and controlled by Putin. Apparently our Founding Fathers overlooked this possibility.

So what will Americans do? It appears that this possibility would be welcomed by Trump and his party. One wonders about the considerable expenses incurred by the Defense Department, just to be defeated by the Russians’ sophisticated and highly effective information warfare that moves the United States from NATO and into the Russian kleptocratic orbit.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Why Do People Support Trump?

August 23, 2018

The immediately preceding post, “Science Explains the World of Manafort and Gates,” provides part of an answer to this question to which we shall return later. But many wonder how people can support someone who conducts himself as a thug, and makes playground insults and nicknames. Such behavior is not acceptable for an adult, much less the President of the United States.

First of all, there is Trump’s base, which consists of nazis and white supremacists. Fortunately this base is a minority, although a disturbingly large minority. It is difficult to understand why Republicans are supporting Trump, as Trump is no Republican in many ways. Perhaps the most conspicuous difference is his friendly relationship with Putin, which became quite embarrassing at Helsinki. But Trump has expressed his wish that we become allied with the Russians. Nothing could be more unRepublican than this.

But the article about the world of Manafort and Gates made this apparently contradictory behavior understandable. These Republicans are in politics for power and financial gain, which are the same reasons for Trump, although for Trump the need for popularity and marketing his brand should be added. True Republicans have left the party. The one exception that comes to mind is John McCain, but he is severely ill with a brain tumor. Were he well, if he did not leave the party, he would have fought Trump regarding every unRepublican action he took.

The ultimate goal is to create a kleptocracy, where the rich rule. This goal is being pursued by the rich by providing financial support to venues which provide support to Trump like Fox. It does not appear that Trump supporters have any interest in saving democracy, otherwise they would not be kicking back on the Mueller probe. Mueller is an outstanding American, who fought bravely in the Viet Nam war (while Trump found doctors that provided the basis for his draft deferment). Mueller could easily have avoided combat but he fought as a platoon commander, perhaps the most dangerous job in a war. Then he devoted his life to justice working in both the Justice Department and the FBI. And he is very efficiently conducting the probe of Russian involvement. It is much further along than other investigations that have taken place.

There are at least two groups that one could argue are not motivated by greed, but perhaps power. One is the military, who might be seduced by Trump’s budget. However, they should realize that under the continued leadership of Trump they might be participating in war games in which the United States and Russia were allies. But perhaps that would not matter. As long as they get to play soldier, they might not have any ideological commitment.

The second group are some evangelicals. They are against abortion because they believe that it kills babies, and that Trump will nominate Supreme Court justices that are against abortion. Readers should be aware that not all Christians, not even all Evangelicals support their view. Here is an alternative view.

Biological life is not important. Any notion of biological life being required for immortal life is a sham. Biological life is temporal and ends. Here is where the concept of a soul enters. Souls exist in another dimension and are immortal. Remember the child’s prayer:

Now I lay be down to sleep
I pray the lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take

It is the soul that is immortal.

With the exception of some Trump supporters, most American were outraged about children being torn from their parents while trying to immigrate. There were many reports about the serious damage that was being done to these children. What many know, and what healthy memory blog readers should know, is that similar effects can be found with unloving mothers and mothers who do not want their children (see the healthy memory blog post “Memories from Infancy and Early Childhood”).

Under these circumstances, an abortion could be recommended. Souls are no lost. God is merciful. So the goal should not be Pro-life, but Pro-quality life.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Science Explains the World of Manafort and Gates

August 22, 2018

This post is based on an article by William Wan in 18 August 2018 its of the Washington Post. The article asks the question are rich people more likely to lie, cheat, and steal?

This is a timely question as Paul Manafort’s trial has revealed details of his alleged crimes: defrauding banks out of tens of millions of dollars, evading taxes by stashing huge sums in offshore accounts and using riches earned through unregistered word for governments to buy $15,000 ostrich and python jackets. Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy testified about the small fortune he spent on globe-trotting infidelities. And last week, Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) was charged with insider trading. Scandals have shown Trump’s Cabinet members flouting government rules and ethics for private jet rides $31,000 dining table sets, $43,000 soundproof booths and questionable business trips abroad.

Dasher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkely has spent decades studying wealth, power, and privilege. He said, “To researchers who study wealth and power, it’s dismaying but not surprising, because it tracks so closely with our findings. The effect of power is sadly one of the most reliable laws of human behavior.” Six years ago, Keltner and a then graduate student in his lab, Paul Piff, published influential innovative research that confirmed many of our worst assumption about the rich and the corrupting power of wealth.

In one study, the researchers stationed themselves at a busy intersection with four-way stop signs and tracked the model of every car whose driver cut off others instead of waiting their turn. People driving expensive cars—like a brand-new Mercedes—were four times more likely to ignore right-of-way laws than those in cheap cars like an old beat-up Honda. Keltner said, “ It told us that there’s something about wealth and privilege that makes you feel like you’re above the law, that allows you to treat others like they don’t exist.”

Next, they had a researcher play a pedestrian trying to cross at a crosswalk and tracked which cars stopped as the law requires and which blew right past him. Every one of the cheapest cars stopped, while half of the expensive cars ignored the pedestrian in the crosswalk, many even making eye contact. Pedestrians need to be aware of this study. It could save their lives.

Religious leaders have been issuing warnings throughout the ages about the corrupting effects of wealth and power. Buddha gave up the rich life of a prince for enlightenment (and found it!). Jesus warned his disciples a camel would have an easier time squeezing through the eye of a needle than a rich man trying to get into God’s kingdom.

In the past few decades, a growing body of psychology research has tried to capture and measure the exact effect of wealth and behavior and morality. This research has shown the rich cheat more on their taxes. They cheat more on their romantic partners. The wealthy and better-educated are more likely to shoplift (HM finds this quite surprising). They are more likely to cheat on games of chance. They are often less empathetic. In studies of charitable giving, it is often the lower-income households that donate higher proportions of their income than middle-class and many upper-income folk.

Keltner and Piff in their 2015 paper found the rich are more likely to literally take candy from children. In that experiment, they first asked 129 subjects to compare their finances with people who had either more or less money. Then they give their subjects a jar of candy and told them the sweets were intended for children in a nearby lab but they could take some if they wanted. Those who felt richer after comparing their finances to poorer people took significantly more candy for themselves.

The findings build on similar research in recent years that suggest wealth and power strip people of their inhibitions, increase risk taking and feelings of entitlement and invulnerability. At the same time, power makes people less empathetic and able to see others’ perspectives.

Adam Galinsky of the Columbia Business School says, “Wealth is basically a mechanism for power and power has a freeing effect on people. It takes away the constraints of society and frees people to act according to their dominant desires.” His experiments have explored how power often propels people’s actions. In some cases, those desires may be altruistic or helpful to society, so power heightened those goals and can give rise to effective philanthropies. Often, however, power leads to self-serving behaviors unrestrained by the usual concerns over rules or the consequences for others.

Because much of the psychological research into wealth and power is relatively new, many of the findings are still being tested and need to be confirmed by replication, researchers say. Michael Kraus, a social psychologist at Yale’s School of Management says, “I wouldn’t say these questions are settled. There are disagreements about the exact effect of wealth on ethics and how large the effect is.” But the research has never seen such booming interest and momentum, with the growing inequality in America and a multimillionaire born into wealth in the White House.

Kraus said, “There’s a lot of reasons we should care about the ethics of wealthy people. Even if research found that they were no more unethical as anyone else, their influence on the world is so much greater. If someone like me steals something, it only affects a handful of people. But if someone like Manafort steals or lies or cheats it affects so many more people. There are foreign governments and banks involved. You start getting into that area where it can affect the whole country and the course of democracy.”

HM thinks that this discussion ignored an extremely important variable, and that is differences in individuals. There are billionaires like Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda Gates who are giving away their fortunes. They do not believe in inherited wealth, which is particularly pernicious. And the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is using the tools of operations research to maximized the benefits of their giving. We need to learn how to produce more rich people to pursue the paths of these three outstanding individuals.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Future

August 21, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of Part IV of “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” by David Christian.” Christian has a quote attributed to Yogi Berra at the beginning of the section, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” So HM is going to write nothing about the future.

However, it is clear that the Good Anthropecene has a large challenge ahead. Unfortunately the United States currently has a Bad Anthropocene as its president. He was elected on the basis of lies. American is great, it does not need to be made great again. He has given invalid statistics about immigration and crime. His campaign began with the lie that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. However, Trump is a genius and he needs to be given credit for his genius. He is in touch with the biases of many residents of the United States and he knows how to exploit them. He uses the techniques developed by the nazi Joseph Goebbels by telling big lies over and over and over again. These techniques worked with enough Germans that Hitler was able to become a dictator, murder millions of innocent people, and start a world war.

Many Americans bought into this because he was speaking to their biases and false beliefs. This is all pure system 1 processing in Kahneman’s two process theory of cognition. System 2, is never evoked. Just emotions and false beliefs.

The Dunning-Krueger effect is also in evidence here. This effect states that people tend to think they know much more than they actually know. Ironically, people with much true knowledge about a topic tend to be guarded in their statements. But the unknowing and ill-informed are convinced that what they believe along with the crap Trump feeds them is the truth.

Trump is truly a genius. He has taken over the Republican party. It is no longer recognizable. They are pursuing policies anathema to true Republicans. It is clear that Trump supporters have no political beliefs and are interested only in power and in the pursuit of ill-gotten gains.

Many Republicans are ignoring the oaths they swore when the took office to defend the constitution. Instead they are threatening the Justice Department and the Mueller investigation. The Mueller investigation would clear Trump if he was innocent. But the actions of Trump and his supporters indicate that he is guilty and attacking the justice system and the investigation is the only way he can survive. The notion that the investigation is a biased conspiracy is absurd, yet it is being embraced by many.

Initially, it was believed that new technology with its increased access to information and the ability to send information would be a boon to democracy. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened. Lies and misinformation seem to predominant. And too many accept these lies and misinformation and fail to invoke the their System 2 processes, more commonly known as thinking.

Unfortunately, backwards right wing forces appear to be advancing in many parts of the world. There appears to be an epidemic of “Bad Anthropocenes.” However a reading of “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” documented the many factors that could have impeded or stopped the advancement to today. Indeed, the chances of Anthropocenes, good or bad, being here today were extremely small. Perhaps we shall be able to muddle successfully into the future.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Good vs. The Bad Anthropocene

August 20, 2018

This post is taken from “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” by David Christian. The “good” here is from a human perspective. The increase in energy and wealth has, for the first time in human history, resulted in consumption levels rising for a growing middle class of billions of people, far more people than the entire population of the world at the end of the agrarian era. Thomas Piety estimates that in modern European countries, 40% of the population control between 45% and 25% of the national wealth. The appearance of a middle class of this size was a new phenomenon in human history. More and more people are joining the new middle class as the numbers living in extreme poverty fall. Unfortunately and paradoxically, increasing wealth also meant increasing inequality, and even as the numbers living above subsistence are rising, the numbers living in extreme poverty remain higher than ever before in human history. Thomas Piety estimates that in most modern countries, the wealthiest 10% of the population controls between 25% and 60% of national wealth, while the bottom 50% controls no more than 15% to 30%. The huge number of people living in extreme poverty today are than there were in the past. In 2005, more than three billion people (more people that the total population of the world in 1900) lived on less than $2.50 a day. Most people in this group have seen few benefits from the fossil-fuels revolution and suffer from the unhealthy, unsanitary, and precarious living conditions of the early industrial revolution that were described by Dickens and Engels.

Still a growing proportion of the human population has benefited from increasing energy and wealth flows and is living well above subsistence. These flows have raised consumption levels and also levels of nutrition and health for billions of people. These changes are reflected in changes in life expectancy. For most of human history, life expectancies at birth were less than thirty years. This was because so many children died young and so many adults died of traumas and infections that would not have killed them today. Life expectancies barely changed for one hundred thousand years. Then in the past one hundred years, average life spans have almost doubled throughout the world because humans have acquired the information and resources needed to care for the young and old much better, to feed more people, and to improve the treatment and care of the sick and injured.

The energy bonanza from fossil fuels was so vast that, in addition to expenditures on reproduction, elite wealth, waste, and the infrastructure for complexity, there was enough left over to raise the consumption levels and living standards of an increasing proportion of humanity. This revolution transformation occurred mostly in just the past 100 years and primarily during the Great Acceleration of the second half of the 20th century.

Now let us consider the Bad Anthropocene. Christian notes that the Bad Anthropocene consist of the many changes that threaten the achievements of the Good Anthropocene. The Bad Anthropocene has generated huge inequalities. In spite of colossal increases in wealth, millions continue to live in dire poverty. And the modern world has not abolished slavery. The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimated that more than 45 million humans today are living as slaves. Christian writes, “The Bad Anthropocene is not just morally unacceptable. It is also dangerous because it guarantees conflict, and in a world with nuclear weapons, any major conflict could prove catastrophic for most of humanity.”

The Bad Anthropocene also undermines the stable climate system of the past ten thousand years and reduces biodiversity. The flows of energy and resources supporting increasing human consumption are now so large that they are impoverishing other species and endangering the ecological foundations on which modern society was built. Rising carbon dioxide levels, declining biodiversity, and melting glaciers are telling us something dangerous is happening, and we should take notice.

Christian concludes, “The challenge we face as a species is pretty clear. Can we preserve the best of the Good Anthropocene and avoid the dangers of the Bad Anthropocene? Can we distribute the Anthropocene bonanza of energy and resources more equitably to avoid catastrophic conflicts? And can we, like the first living organisms, learn how to use gentler and smaller flows of resources to do so? Can we find global equivalents of the delicate proton pumps used to power all living cells today? Or will we keep depending on flow of energy and resources so huge that they will eventually shake apart the fantastically complex societies we have built in the past two hundred years?”

Industrialization and the Anthropocene

August 19, 2018

Before proceeding further mention must be made of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. Somehow Christian makes no mention of this invention. Nevertheless, it was central to the advancement of mankind. The remainder of this post is taken from “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” by David Christian.” Christian writes, “Pressure to find new sources of energy would eventually conjure up the mega-innovations that we describe today as the fossil-fuels revolution. These gave humans access to flows of energy much greater than those provided by farming—the energy locked up in fossil fuels, energy that had accumulated not over a few decades, but since the Carboniferous period, more than 360 million years earlier. In seams of coal, oil, and gas lay several hundred million years’ worth of buried sunlight in solid, liquid, and gaseous forms. To get a sense of the energies locked up in fossil fuels, imagine carrying a car full of passengers over your head and running very, very fast for several hours, then remind yourself that a few gallons of gasoline pack that much energy and more (because a lot of energy is wasted). Like a gold strike, this energy bonanza created frenzied and often chaotic new forms of change and created and destroyed the fortunes of individuals, counties, and entire regions. Charles Dickens, Frederich Engels, and others saw the terrible price that many paid for these changes. But from the frenzy would emerge an entirely new world.”

James Watt’s steam engine gave a first taste of energy flows so vast that they would transform human societies in just two centuries. Energy from fossil fuels provided a pulse of energy that started the technological equivalent of a global chain reaction. Within 25 years, f500 of he new machines were at work in England, and by the 1830s, coal-fired steam engines were the main source of power in British industry. By 1850, England and Wales were consuming nine times as much energy as Italy, and English entrepreneurs and factories had access to prime movers of colossal power.

England was the first country to benefit from the energy bonanza of fossil fuels. By the middle of the nineteenth century, England produced a fifth of global GDP and about half of global fossil-fuel emissions. Global levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide began to rise from about the middle of the nineteenth century. As early as 1896, the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius recognized both that carbon dioxide was a greenhouse gas and that it was being generated in large enough amounts to start changing global climates. But such fears belonged to the future (Arrhenius actually thought that global warming was a positive development because it might stave off a new ice age), and the use of technology grew and spread.

Edwin Drake made the first serious attempt to drill for oil in the Pennsylvania town of Titusville, beginning in 1857. On August 27, 1859, just before funds ran out, Drake’s drill team struck oil. In 1861, drillers struck the first gusher—an oil well that pumped oil under its own pressure, even producing a fatal explosion when the natural gas pumped up with the oil was ignited. Production increased to three thousand barrels a day. Unfortunately, Edwin Drake died in poverty in 1880 despite the fact that he had helped launch the next chapter of he fossil-fuels revolution.

Christian writes, “In the 20th century, we humans began to transform our surroundings, our societies, and even ourselves. Without really intending to, we have introduced changes so rapid and so massive that our species has become the equivalent of a new geological force. That is why many scholars have begun to argue that planet Earth has entered a new geological age, the Anthropocene epoch, or ‘the era of humans.” This is the first time in the four-billion-year history of the biosphere that a single biological species has become the dominant force for change. In just a century or two, building on the energy flows and the remarkable innovations of the fossil fuels revolution, we humans have stumbled into the role of planetary pilots without really knowing what instruments we should be looking at, what buttons we should be pressing, or where we are trying to land. This is new territory for humans, and for the entire biosphere.”

Christian writes the Ahthropocene epoch looks like a drama with three main acts so far and a lot more change in the works. Act 1 began in the mid-nineteenth century as fossil-fuels technologies began to transform the entire world. A few countries in the Atlantic regions gained colossal wealth and power and terrifying new weapons of war.

Act 2 of the Anthropocene was exceptionally violent. It began in the late nineteenth century and lasted until the middle of the twentieth century. During this act, the first fossil-fuel powers turned on one another. In the late nineteenth century, the United States, France, Germany, Russia, and Japan began to challenge Britain’s industrial leadership. As rivalries intensified, the major powers tried to protect their markets and sources of supply and keep out competitors. International trade declined. In 1914 rivalry turned into outright war. For thirty years, destructive global wars mobilized the new technologies and the growing wealth and populations of the modern era.

Act 3 included the second half of the 20th century and the early 21st century. From the bloodbaths of the world wars, the United States emerged as the first global superpower. There were no more major international wars during the era of the Cold War. All parties understood that there would be no victors in a nuclear war. The Soviet Union disbanded and lost its puppet regimes and some of its republics. The new Russia has reorganized and is challenging the United States and its allies. It has developed new techniques of warfare, including cyberwarfare. They are conducting cyberwarfare against the United States including interfering in elections and were a major factor in placing Trump in the office of the President of the United States.

Farming and the First Nation State

August 18, 2018

This post is taken from “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” by David Christian. For the first two hundred thousand years or more of our history our ancestors lived as foragers and hunters. There was a constant trickle of innovations that ensured they would forage with increasing efficiency and in an increasing diversity of environments, until, about ten thousand years ago, at the end of the last ice age, humans were living in most parts of the world. Christian writes, “In the past ten thousand years, human lifeways were transformed by a cascade of innovation that we describe as farming or agriculture.”

Christian continues, “Farming was a mega-innovation, a bit like photosynthesis or multicellularity. It set human history off on new and more dynamic pathways by helping our ancestors tap into larger flows of resources and energy that allowed them to do more things and create new forms of wealth. Like a gold rush, the bonanza of energy would generate a frenzy of change. Eventually it would transform the human relationship to the biosphere because as farming societies grew, they supported much larger populations and evolved many more moving parts than foraging societies. More energy, resources, and people and more links between communities generated positive feedback cycles that accelerated change. For all these reasons, farming resulted in increasing complexity. “

Continuing on, “The potential for transformative innovations had existed since collective learning first took off, but now the potential beginning to be realized as a result of three main Goldilocks conditions: new technologies (and increasing understanding of environments generated through collective learning), increasing population pressure, and the warmer climates of the Holocene epoch.”

Farming is hard grueling work. And farmers needed to develop new tools and technologies and learn about which crops were best, what could harm them, and how best to protect they crops. However, when successful, farming was quite rewarding. Stores of food could be built up. And these stores constituted wealth which could be used for trading other goods. Of course, farmers were vulnerable to the environment. Bad weather and droughts could result in more than poverty, but to starvation and death.

Communities developed around farms. These communities could provide goods and services to the farmers. Over time the size of these communities grew. The grew from villages to cities to larger states and countries. Christian writes that an elite population emerged with one person at the very top, while most people lived close to subsistence.

The notion of an entitled noble class emerged with a hierarchy of titles with a king or some equivalent at the top. These were agrarian civilizations because it was agriculture on which the civilization emerged. Bureaucracies including soldiers and governing entities arose with agriculture at the bottom.

By 1400 a concentrated band of people, cities, and farmlands stretched from the Atlantic Ocean, along both sides of the Mediterranean, through Persia and parts of Central Asia, and into India, Southeast Asia, and China. The riches and most populous empire was ruled by the Ming dynasty in China. In the early fifteenth, the Ming emperor Yongle sent out vast fleets, captained by a Muslim eunuch, Zhen He, to travel through the Indian Ocean to India, Persia, and the rich ports of East Africa. When He’s ships were some of the larges and most sophisticated that had ever been built, and their many voyages provide an interesting foretaste of the globalization that was just around the corner.

Christian writes, “But after 1433, under a new emperor, Hongxi, the Ming abandoned these expeditions. China was wealthy and pretty self-sufficient, so Zhen He’s expeditions had little commercial value. Besides, they were extremely expensive. The new emperor and his advisors decided the the money spent on them could be put to better uses, such as defending the empire’s northern borders from pastoral nomadic invaders.

Clearly, China was way ahead of western civilizations. And it is curious as to why they did not consider colonizing and exploiting these lands as the west would do. Some have argued that the Chinese regarded these people as barbarians and not worthy of their attention. Of course, it is not known whether this is true. But it is clear that China was ahead in technology. Unfortunately, there is little historical record to be analyzed. Apparently dynasties had the unfortunate practice of destroying virtually everything that had been accomplished by the preceding dynasty.

How Our Early Ancestors Lived

August 17, 2018

This post is taken from “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” by David Christian.” Like all large animals, our early ancestors collected or hunted resources and game from their surroundings. But there was a critical difference between those animals and early humans. Although other species hunted and gathered using a repertoire of skills and information that had barely changed over the generations, humans did so with an increasing understanding of their environments, as they shared and accumulated information about plants, animals, seasons and landscapes. Due to collective learning over the generations human communities hunted and gathered with growing skill and efficiency.

At Blombos Cave, on the Indian Ocean shores of South Africa, archaeologist Christopher Henshilwood and his colleagues have excavated sites dating from ninety thousand years ago. The inhabitants of Blombos Cave ate shellfish, fish, marine animals as well as land mammals and reptiles. They cooked in well-tended hearths. They made delicate stone blades and bone points were probably hafted to wooden handles with specially prepared glues. And they were also artists. Archaeologists found ocher stones with geometrical scratch marks on them that look like symbols or even writing. They also made different-colored pigments and ostrich-shell beads. Christian writes, “It is also tempting to see this evidence as a sign that the Blombos communities valued collective learning and the preservation and transmission of information, and that surely means that they preserved and told stories that summed up their community knowledge.

At the Lake Mungo site in Australia, there is compelling evidence for religion. A cremation and burial site from about forty thousand years ago and a scattering of other human remains are evidence of ritual traditions. Other evidence from the site reminds us that Paleolithic societies, like modern human societies, underwent profound upheavals, many were caused by unpredictable climate changes of the most recent ice age. There were regular periods of aridity from the moment humans first arrived in the Willandra Lakes Region, perhaps fifty thousand years ago. About forty thousand years ago, aridity increased and the lake system began to shrink.

Christian writes, “Twenty thousand years later, at the coldest phase of the ice age, there were communities living in tundra-like environments on the steppes of modern Ukraine. At sites like Mezhirich, people built huge marquee-like tents, using skins stretched over a scaffolding of mammoth bones, and warmed them with internal hearths. They hunted mammoths and other large animals and stored meat in refrigerated pits for recovery during the long cold winters. They hunted fur-bearing animals and used needle-like objects with ornamental heads carved from bone to sew warm clothing. As many as thirty people may have lived together at Mezhirich during the long ice-age winters. There are similar sites near Mezhirich. This suggests there were regular contacts between neighboring groups, the sort of networks through which information about new technologies, changing climates, animal movements, and other resources would have been changed, as well as stories.” People would also have moved between neighboring groups.

Christian continues, “The remains left behind the Paleolithic communities offer grainy snapshots of their societies. But each snapshot represents an entire cultural world, with stories, legends, heroes, and villains, scientific and geographical knowledge, and traditions and rituals that preserved and passed on ancient skills. This accumulation of ideas, traditions, and information was what allowed our Paleolithic ancestors to find the energy and resources they needed to survive and flourish and migrate farther and farther in a harsh, ice-aged world.”

Humans Arrive

August 16, 2018

We shall pick up the “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” by David Christian with the arrival of humans. However, to keep matters in perspective it should be realized that 90% of our DNA is identical with the other mammals. Something in the remaining 10% is what makes us different. Christian writes, “The tiny change that allowed humans to share and accumulate so much information was linguistic.”

Michael Tomasello writes, “only one known biological mechanism that could bring about these kinds of changes in behavior and cognition in so short a time…The biological mechanism is social or cultural transmission, which works on time scales many orders of magnitude faster than those of organic evolution. Tomasello calls this process “cumulative cultural evolution” and says that it is unique to our species.

Christian writes, “human languages let us share information about abstract entities or about things or possibilities that are not immediately present and may not even exist outside of our imagination. And they let us do this fast and efficiently.”

Christian continues, “Human language is powerful enough to act like a cultural ratchet, locking in the ideas of one generation and preserving them for the next generation, which can add to them in turn. I call this mechanism collective learning. Collective learning is a new driver of change, and it can drive change as powerfully as natural selection. But because it allows instantaneous exchanges of information, it works much faster.”

The following is by a pioneer memory researcher, Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel: “Althought the size and structure of the human brain have not changed since Homo Sapiens first appeared in East Africa…the learning capability of individual human beings and their historical memory have grown over the centuries through shared learning—that is, through the transmission of culture. Cultural evolution, a nonbiological mode of adaption, acts in parallel with biological evolution as the means of transmitting knowledge of the past and adaptive behavior across generations. All human accomplishments, from antiquity to modern times,are products of a shared memory accumulated over centuries.”

The great world historian W.H. McNeill constructed his classic world history “The Rise of the West” around the same idea: “The principal factor promoting historically significant social change is contact with strangers processing new and unfamiliar skills.”

Timeline

August 15, 2018

The timeline for “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” by David Christian follows:

EVENT: Big Bang: origin of our universe
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 13.8 billion years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 13 years , 8 months ago

EVENT: The first stars begin to glow
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 13.2 (?) billion years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 13 years, 2 months ago

EVENT: New elements are forged in dying large stars
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: Continuously from threshold 2 to the present day
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: Continuously from when the stars began to glow to the present day.

EVENT: Our sun and solar system form
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 4.5 billion years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 4 years, 6 months ago

EVENT: Earliest life on earth
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 3.8 billion years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 3 years, 9 months ago

EVENT: The first large organisms on earth
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 600 million years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 7 months ago

EVENT: An asteroid wipes out the dinosaurs
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 65 million years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 24 days ago

EVENT: The hominid lineage splits from the chemo lineage
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 7 million years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 2.5 days ago

EVENT: Homo erectus
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 2 million years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 17 hours ago

EVENT: First evidence of our species, Homo Sapiens
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 200,000 years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 100 minutes ago

EVENT: End of last ice age, beginnings of Holocene, earliest signs of farming
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 10,000 years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 5 minutes ago

EVENT: First evidence of cities, states, agrarian civilizations
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 5,000 years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 2.5 minutes ago

EVENT: Roman and Han Empires flourish
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 2,000 years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 1 minute ago

EVENT: World zones begin to be linked together
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 500 years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 15 seconds ago

EVENT: Fossil-fuels revolution begins
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 200 years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 6 seconds ago

EVENT: The Great Acceleration: humans land on the moon.
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 50 years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 1.5 seconds ago

EVENT: (?) A sustainable world order?
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 100 years in the future?
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 3 seconds to go

EVENT: The sun dies
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 4.5 billion years in the future
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 4 years, 6 months to go

EVENT: The universe fades to darkness; entropy wins
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: Gazillions and gazillions of years in the future
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: Billions and billions of years from now

Origin Story: A Big History of Everything

August 14, 2018

The title of this post is the title of an impressive book by David Christian. It begins with the big bang and ends with the hope for a new universe after this one ends. Christian writes, “To understand the history of humanity, you have to understand how such a strange species evolved, which means learning about the evolution of life on planet Earth, which means learning about the evolution of stars and planets, which means knowing about the universe.”

Later, he writes, “Within the creative hurricane of modernity, there is emerging a new, global origin story that is as full of meaning, awe and mystery as any traditional origin story, but is based on modern scientific scholarship across many disciplines. There are two problems with this statement. One problem is that it is unrealistic to think that many people will be able to read this entire tome, although HM has a high opinion of his readers and hopes that many of them will read this book for reasons provided later. The second problem regards the criticism that Michael Gerson offered in his review of the book: epistemological imperialism. HM likes this term and it is right on the mark. Science is extremely valuable and is largely, if not exclusively, responsible for the standard of living that most of us enjoy. But science is not the only means of knowing. No effort will be made to outline the many different ways we humans have of knowing. People can come to know God through many contemplative practices. However, a distinction needs to be made between religions and a belief in God. HM could never bring himself to affiliate with any particular religion because he was being told to believe. He reasoned that God had given him a brain and that he was given that brain for thinking, not believing. And the law of parsimony precluded belief in any specific religion. They all had problems, primary among them being that they claimed they were speaking for God. Well, God can be contacted directly through prayer, meditation, and contemplative practices. So religions are not necessary and can be bypassed entirely, perhaps for the good.

When what you encounter directly conflicts with scientific findings, such as the world was created in seven days, go with the scientific finding rather than a religious book written by men that purports to be the word of God. Previous healthy memory blog posts have argued for teaching both creationism and evolution in the schools, as this provides a good means for contrasting scientific understanding with religious belief. Science can be proven wrong and the theory of evolution undergoes continuous updates. There a loads of data indicating that creationism is wrong, yet that belief persists. Schools should teach the scientific method not just conclusions from scientific research and the contrast between creationism and evolution provides a good subject area to teach a scientific method.

There is so much interesting information in “Origin Story” that posts will of necessity be forthcoming. However, HM hopes that for the purpose of a growth mindset and the engagement of system 2 processes, that readers will read this book itself. And the entire book needs to be read. One can devote different amounts of attention depending on one’s interests, and can skim. But reading the whole book will provide an appreciation for the methods of science and for what is involved in acquiring scientific knowledge. It will also provide an appreciation for physical processes, biological processes, economic forces, plus an appreciation of how humanity developed and the dangers we face in the future.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ivan Pavlov: Socialism

August 13, 2018

Ivan Pavlov was the Russian physiologist who discovered classical conditioning. Pair a bell with the presentation of food to a dog and after a few trials the dog will start drooling at the sound of the bell.

So how does that relate to socialism? To way too many Americans, the response to socialism is evil, no way. For these people, this is a classically conditioned response to the word/idea socialism. Consider in the context of Nobel Winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s two process theory of cognition. System 1 refers to our normal mode of cognition.  It is very fast and allows for fluent conversations and skilled performance.  It is the default mode of cognition.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds to what we colloquially call thinking.  System 2 requires attention and mental effort.  One of the jobs of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors.  However, this requires mental effort and thinking.

System 1 is emotional and it is an emotional response that too many people have to the term socialism. It would be interesting to ask these people to define socialism. Actually the definition would need to be very long. There are many different types and flavors of socialism. Indeed, since we have Social Security and Medicare, some would argue that we have a socialist system. And indeed, there are individual who would like to get rid of both Social Security and Medicare for this reason.

A major problem with political discourse is that it is emotional and almost always a System 1 process. Politicians are asked, “are you a socialist?’ with the implication that if the answer is “Yes”, then they can go to hell.

A good example of the ramifications of this problem is medical care in the United States. The United States has, by far, the most expensive medical system in the world. Unfortunately, in terms of the results of this system, the United States falls to a third level country. Now every other advanced country has solved this problem. And they all have variants of everyone being covered and a single payer, the government. Sure call all these countries socialist. But to use this label to preclude the obvious solution to the health care problem is ridiculous. The excuse provided for not doing the obvious is to say that the United States is an exception. HM would agree and flesh that out by saying the United States is exceptionally stupid.

Labels should be eschewed in politics. Rather needs should be identified and discussed. What are different policies for addressing these needs and what are the costs?

Another statement, which is on the same level as exceptionalism, and that is ‘big government.” Big government is bad and needs to be avoided. The size of government is irrelevant. The question is whether the government, private industry, or some combination could better address the problem. If someone is against big government, then the quickest way to make government smaller would be to eliminate the defense department, veterans affairs, and social security, and to hell with social welfare in general.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What Makes a White Nationalist?

August 12, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature article by Peter Byrne in the 9 June 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The most important point in the entire article is a statement by Errol Southers, a terrorism expert at the University of Southern California and a retired FBI agent who wrote on opinion article for “USA Today” linking the violence in the Unite the Rite rally in Charlottesville to Trump’s radicalized rhetoric. The statement to remember is “White nationalists are a greater threat to Americans than jihadists.” Bear in mind that Trump’s base consists of nazis and white supremacists. This leads to the realization that the major terrorist threat exists within Trump’s base.

“The Anti Defamation League reports that in the US, white supremacists were responsible for 18 of 34 terrorist murders in 2017. Seven of the remaining 16 were anti-government extremists, leaving nine tied to Islamist terrorism. Since 2002 there have been three times as many deadly far-right terrorist attacks as jihadist attacks in the US, although the jihadist attacks have claimed more victims overall, reports the New American Federation.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center has catalogued more than 600 active neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups and hundreds of anti-government militias that either have the stated intention to overthrown liberal democracy or historically engaged in armed struggle in the US.

Southers sees similarities between the white extremist and Islamist terrorists: both fit the prevailing notion among researchers that most terrorists are not psychopaths, but relatively typical people motivated by circumstance to protect their “in-group” from dangers, real or imagined. He says, “Given their belief systems, both types of terrorists are acting rationally. Most terrorists are ‘altruists’ who view themselves as soldiers fighting for a noble cause.” The calling to enact political change precedes the calling to violence: the ends justify the means.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and ResponseS to Terrorism (START) produced a paper principally authored by Pete Simi titled “Recruitment and Radicalization among US Far-Right Terrorists.” The paper revealed that white extremists, although not necessarily psychopathic, are often violent before they join extremist groups. Only after joining are they generally schooled in ideologies that justify channeling pre-existing urges into violence towards Jewish people, non-white people and anti-racist groups {The healthy memory blog post “Hating is Belonging: The Ex-White Supremacist” indicated that the indoctrination occurs after they join these groups}. The ideology is the excuse for ultra-violence, not the reason. Ethnographer Kathleen Blee at the University of Pittsburgh notes that this insight challenges thinking on the origins of extremism. She says, “It shows that the embrace of those really terrible ideas could be a consequence of an immersion in the culture, rather than the cause of an attraction to the culture.

Simi’s analysis of his interviews of 103 former white supremacists have found the following answers to What makes a racist?
*Half report witnessing serious acts of violence growing up.
*Half report experiencing physical abuse during childhood.
*One-quarter report being sexually abused during childhood.
*Half report being expelled or dropping out of school
*Three-quarters report a history of physical aggression before they got involved in far-right politics.
*Half report exposure to parental racism
*More than three-quarters report parental divorce
*Half ran away from home during childhood or adolescence
*Half were shoplifters or petty criminals
*Slightly less than half report a family history of mental health problems
*Two-thirds report substance abuse issues
*Two-thirds report attempting suicide.

Here are some verbatim quotes from Pete Simi’s interview with current and former white supremacists,

“I believe I was doing something noble, altruistic, that I was dedicating my life to my people to my race…It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, I’m a hater and I’m proud of it.”” (Donald, White Aryan Resistance)

“We’re here to defend God and defend the people…not oppressing or taking over.” (Callie, American Front)

“Fighting is a lot like a hug. It makes you feel good…It’s always been that way. Ever since I got the s*** beat out of me as a teenager. (Stanley, United Society of Aryan Skinheads).

“It wasn’t about the racism…I knew the whole time that it wasn’t right…But to be accepted, to feel like I belonged… (Kevin, Blood and Honor).

It was more fashion that politics by a huge factor.” (Jacqueline, Society Skin Nation)

“You’re running by yourself in the streets. It’s the camaraderie that draws you in, at first. And then once you see what is really going on in the world politically…you’re like, well, now, I’ve got something to believe in, something to defend, the white race. You feel invincible even when you are getting all beat to s*** by cops or anti-racist skins (Logan, Public Enemy No 1)

The reader will note that not all white nationalists are men. Kathleen Blee of the University of Pittsburgh has written a book in 1991 “Women of the Klan: Racism and genre in the 1920s. Blue found that millions of middle-class white women, including suffragettes, joined the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan supported voting rights for white women to diminish the electoral power of non-white people.

Male leadership in white nationalist organizations is often dependent on the adoration of followers. Blue writes, “Female influence is more informal, indirect, and personal—and so potentially more effective.”

Fascism in on the March Again: Blame the Internet

August 11, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Timothy Snyder in the Outlook Section of the 27 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The hope was that the internet would connect people and spread liberty around the world. The opposite appears to have happened. According to Freedom House, ever year since 2005 has seen a retreat in democracy and an advance of authoritarianism. The year 2017, when the Internet reached more than half the world’s population, was marked by Freedom House as particularly disastrous. Young people who came of age with the Internet care less about democracy and are more sympathetic to authoritarianism that any other generation.

Moreover, the Internet has become a weapon of choice for those who wish to spread authoritarianism. Russia’s president and its leading propagandism both cite a fascist philosopher, Ivan Ilyin, who believed that factuality was meaningless. In 2016 Russian Twitter bots spread messages designed to discourage some Americans from voting and encourage others to vote for Russia’s preferred presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Britain was substantially influenced by bots from beyond its borders. In contrast, Germany’s democratic parties have agreed not to use bots during political campaigns. The only party to resist the idea was the extreme right Alternative fur Deutschland, which was helped by Russia’s bots in last year’s elections.

Mr. Snyder writes, “Modern democracy relies upon the notion of a “public space” where, even if we can no longer see all our fellow citizens and verify facts together, we have institutions such as science and journalism that can provide going references for discussion and policy. The Internet breaks the line between the public and private by encouraging us to confuse our private desires with the actual state of affairs. This is a constant human tendency. But in assuming that the Internet would make us more rather than less rational, we have missed the obvious danger: that we can now allow our brokers to lead us into a world where everything we would like to believe is true.

The explanation that the healthy memory blog makes is Nobel Lauerate Daniel Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition. System 1, intuition, is our normal mode of processing and requires little or no attention. System 2, commonly referred to as thinking, requires our attention. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1. When we encounter something contradictory to what we believe, the brain set off a distinct signal. It is easiest to ignore this signal and to continue our System 1 processing. To engage System 2 requires our attentional resources to attempt to resolve the discrepancy and to seek further understanding. The Internet is a superhighway for System 1 processing, with few willing to take the off ramps to System 2 to learn new or different ways of thinking.

Mr. Snyder writes, “Democracy depends upon a certain idea of truth: not the babel of our impulses, but an independent reality visible to all citizens. This must be a goal; it can never be fully achieved. Authoritarianism arises when this goal is openly abandoned, and people conflate the truth with what they want to hear. Then begins a politics of spectacle, where the best liars with the biggest megaphones win. Trump understands this very well. As a businessman he failed, but as a politician he succeeded because he understood how to beckon desire. By deliberately speaking unreality with modern technology, the daily tweet, he outrages some and elates others, eroding the very notion of a common world of facts.

“To be sure Fascism 2.0 differs from the original. Traditional facts want to conquer both territories and selves; the Internet will settle for your soul. The racist oligarchies that are emerging behind the Internet today want you on the couch, outraged or elated, it doesn’t matter which, so long as you are dissipated at the end of the day. They want society to be polarized, believing in virtual enemies that are inside the gate, rather than actually marching or acting in the physical world. Polarization directs Americans at other Americans, or rather at the Internet caricatures of other Americans, rather than at fundamental problems such as wealth inequality or foreign interference in democratic elections. The Internet creates a sense of “us and them” inside the country and an experience that feels like politics but involves no actual policy.”

To be sure, Trump is a Fascist. His so-called “base” consists of nazis and white supremacists. His playbook is straight from Joseph Goebbels with the “big lie” and the repetition of that “big lie.”

One Drink a Day Might Be Enough to Stop Dementia by Flushing the Brain

August 10, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Clare Wilson in the News section of the 4 August 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The article begins, “Light drinking helps prevent dementia, and now we may know why it revs up the brain’s waste disposal system. Brain cells are surrounded by a network of ultra-thin tubes that flush toxins and cell waste products away. Work in mice shows that low levels of alcohol stimulate this system, while higher amounts hinder it.

If the findings apply to people, the low levels would be equivalent to about two units of alcohol, which is about a pint of beer or a medium glass of beer. This study still needs to be replicated in people, but it is still clear that large levels of alcohol are unhealthy. In the UK, the recommendation is that both men and women are advised to stick to 14 units or fewer a week.

Total abstention from alcohol carries a slightly higher risk than low to moderate drinking. This is the finding, but it had been unclear as to why. According to the article the reason may be the brain’s waste disposal system, known as the glymphatic system. The glymphatic system ramps up its activity during sleep. Among the toxins it clears is a protein called beta-amyloid, which makes up the sticky plaques found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Some studies have suggested that long-term sleep disruption may contribute to Alzheimer’s by causing amyloid build up.

Iben Lundgaard and her colleagues at the University of Rochester looked at the effects of alcohol on this network by injecting alcohol into mouse brains then removing them half an hour later to see how much had got into the tubes. Low doses of alcohol boosted the amount cleared by 40% compared with mice that had no alcohol. Intermediate and high doses had the opposite effect, cutting it by about 30%.

Roxanna Carare of the University of Southhmpton, UK says that the reason a low doses of alcohol have this effect may be because they raised the heart rate, and the pumping of blood helps drive fluid through the glymphatic system.

Readers of the healthy memory should be aware that many people have died with their brains filled with neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque, yet who never had any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The reason given for this is that these individuals, through cognitive activities had built up a cognitive reserve.

To build up this cognitive reserve, the healthy memory blog recommends growth mindsets and meditation along with a healthy lifestyle that includes sleep, a healthy diet, and physical exercise.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

VR Headset Helps People Who Are Legally Blind to See

August 9, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Catherine de Lange in the News section of the 4 August 2018 issue of the New Scientist. Although this virtual reality headset does not cure the physical cause of blindness, the device does let people with severe macular degeneration resume activities like reading and gardening—tasks they previously found impossible.

Macular degeneration is a common, age-related condition. It affects about 11 million people in the US and around 600,000 people in the UK. Damage to blood vessels causes the central part of the eye, the macula, to degrade. This leaves people with a blind spot in the center of their vision, and can make those with the condition legally blind. Bob Massof at Johns Hopkins University says, “You can still see with your periphery, but it is difficult or impossible to recognize people, to read, to perform everyday activities.”

This new system is called IrisVision. It uses virtual reality (VR) to make the most of peripheral vision. The user puts on a VR headset that holds a Samsung Galaxy phone. It records the person’s surrounding and displays them in real time, so that the user can magnify the image as many times as they need for their peripheral vision to become clear. Doing so also helps to reduce or eliminate their blind spot.

Tomi Perski at Iris Vision, who also has severe macular degeneration, says “Everything around the blind spot looks, say, 10 times bigger, so the relative size of the blind spot looks so much smaller that the brain can’t perceive it anymore. When he first started using the device it was an emotional experience. He says, “I sensed that I could see again and the tears started coming.”

Perski says, “If I were to look at my wife—and I’m standing 4 or 5 feet away—my blind spot is so large I couldn’t see her head at all.” But when he uses IrisVision the magnification causes the blind spot to be relatively much smaller, so that it no longer covers his wife’s whole head, just a small part of her face. He says, “If I just move that blind spot I can see her whole face and her expression and everything.”

The software automatically focuses on what the person is looking at, enabling them to go from reading a book on their lap to looking at the distance without adjusting the magnification or zoom manually. Colors are given a boost because many people with macular generation have trouble distinguishing them (the cones are largely in the macular region), and users can place the magnification bubble over anything they want to see in even more detail, for example to read small print.

In a trial, 30 people used the system for two weeks, filling out questionnaires on their ability to complete daily activities before and after the period. David Rhew at Samsung Electronics Americas says, “They can now read, they can watch TV, they can interact with people, they can do gardening, They can can stuff that for years was not even a consideration.”
According to Rhew, the vision of participants was all but restored with the headset. Whew says, “The baseline rate of vision in the individuals came in at 20/400, which is legally blind, and with the use of this technology it improved to 20/30, which is pretty close to 20/20 vision.” 20/40 is usually the standard that lets people drive without glasses. 20/30 is even better. This is not to say they can drive with this device, but rather to indicate the quality of the vision.

The results have been presented at the Association for Research in Vision and Opthalmology annual meeting.

The headset is now being used in 80 ophthalmology centers around the US, and the next step is to adapt the software to work of other vision disorders.

The system costs $2500, which includes a Samsung Gear VR headset and a Galaxy S7 or S8 smartphone customized with the software.

Self Talk for Growth Mindsets and a Healthy Memory

August 8, 2018

This post is inspired by a book by British psychologist Charles Fernyhough titled “The Voices Within.” Self talk can be used as a technique for fostering growth mindsets. It would feature System 2 processing in Kahneman’s two system view of cognition.
Consider a topic of interest. Are there at least two points of view regarding this topic? Perhaps one point of view is one you espouse and the other point of view is one which you hold in low regard. Use two different personas or voices to have a conversation on this topic. One voice would present the one point of view. Another voice would be critical of this point of view. This can be difficult if you hold one point of view strongly, but the other point of view with disdain. But this is what is done by debating teams. One of the best means of learning how to present and defend your point of view, is to argue the opposing point of view. The ideal here is to reconcile or synthesize the two points of view. This is the thesis, antithesis, synthesis paradigm. But this is hard to achieve. Even so, new knowledge will be acquired.

It is likely that this conversation will not be concluded on its first go around. You’ll likely find a need to go to the computer and look for more information, or to correct some misinformation. Later you can return to this conversation and continue having already added an increment to your growth mindset. If people comment that you appear to be arguing with yourself, an explanation of what you are doing and why might be in order.

These conversations need not be dialectical. You can be querying yourself about what you know about various topics. Later, you can return to your computer and fill in the holes in in the gaps in your knowledge that you located.

There are also walking contemplative meditations, where you meditate while walking. This combines physical exercise with mental exercise and mental peace. This is best done in a park. Walking contemplative meditations can be dangerous if traffic is around.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What is Thought?

August 7, 2018

The question in the title is motivated by a book by British psychologist Charles Fernyhough titled “The Voices Within.” There have been psychologists who have argued that thought, solely or largely, consists of these voices within. This cannot be true because the frequencies of these voices varies largely amount individuals. We cannot readily argue that these people are not thinking. It can be argued that these voices within are tools for thinking as are images and symbols we mentally imagine. However, thought is something deeper, something that emerges from our unconscious minds.

HM has had the experience of being unable to recall the name of a friend, although he can recall related reams of information about this friend. How can this be? Later, the friend’s name pops into mind. How did this happen? And how did he know that what popped into his mind was the friend’s name? Psychology has very little to say about this, but knowledge ultimately resides in neural codes in our unconscious minds. When the name matched this neural code, it was recognized. But all this knowledge, all this information is stored in neural codes. When they are retrieved into consciousness is when the words become available and can be used for thinking.

When HM is writing a blog post, he has something he wants to say, but he is not yet able to articulate it. Gradually he retrieves information from memory, thinks about it, puts it into his computer, examines it, and massages it. He evaluates it, elaborates it, and makes changes. At some point he gets to the point where he either likes it or decides it is good enough given the time and the resources available. Essentially what he is evaluating is the correspondence between these external words and the neural codes in his unconscious mind.

Cognitive psychologists have increasingly realized the importance of the unconscious mind, and have developed sophisticated techniques for understanding the unconscious mind. But the major body of work needs to be done by neuroscientists, and that body of work is truly enormous.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Voices Within

August 6, 2018

The title of this post is the title of a book by British psychologist Charles Fernyhough. The subtitle is “The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves. Research suggests that inner speech is a significant part of our mental lives. A quarter to a fifth of our waking moments is a lot of waking moments, a lot of self-talk. It is important to realize that the amount of self talk varies across individuals. However, the question remains, “What is all this language doing in our heads?” By asking when and how people dip into this internal stream of chatter, we might be able to start to clarity what we gain from getting wordy with our thoughts.

Self-talk typically involves two speakers. So the self makes a separation between myself as speaker and myself as listener. When we really to talk within ourselves, the language that ensues has some of the properties of a conversation between different parts of who we are.

Plato wrote in “Theaetetus,” I mean the conversation which the soul holds with herself in consider of anything. I speak of what I scarcely understand, but the soul when thinking appears to me to be just talking—asking questions of herself and answering them, affirming and denying.”

For the father of American psychology William James, writing at the end of the nineteenth century, listening to a verbal thought as it unwinds was a critical part of our being able to “feel its meaning as it passes.” The self speaks, and the self listens, and in doing so comprehends was is being thought.

The American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce, writing around the same time as James, conceived of thinking as a dialogue between different aspects of the self, including a “critical self” or “Me” that questions the “present self” or “I” about what it is doing.

For the philosopher and psychologist George Herbert Mead, thinking involved a conversation between a socially constructed self and an internalized “other,” an abstract internal interlocutor who can adopt different attitudes on what the self is doing.

Self-talk is an important feature of sporting performances. Tennis coaching writer W. Timothy Gallwey in his classic study of tennis in 1974 wrote the following:

“Most players are talking to themselves on the court all the time. “Get up to the ball.” “Keep it to his backhand.” “Keep your eyes on the ball.” “Bend your knees.” The commands are endless. For some, it’s like hearing a tape recording of the last lesson playing inside their head. Then, after the shot is made, another thought flashes through the mind and might be expressed as follows. “You clumsy ox, your grandmother could play better.”

Gallwey analyzed these common kinds of self-talk in terms of a relationship between two selves, the “teller and the “doer.” You speak and the body listens.

Two main kinds of self-talk are in evidence in Gallwey’s reports from the tennis court. One seems to have a cognitive function: exhortation to the self to watch the ball and keep it to the opponent’s backhand—utterances that seem to be about using words to regulate one’s own actions. The second function is motivational, typically with players ticking themselves off after a lousy shot. “That was rubbish,” we might hear them tell themselves. “Pull yourself together.”

Dr. Fernyhough relates the following story about Wimbledon champion Andy Murray. He claimed that he never talked to himself out loud, on the court or off. “That all changed, though, after he let slip a two-sets lead in a final at Flushing Meadows against Novak Djokovic, the then world Number One. Murray took himself off for a toilet break and gave himself a pep talk in front of the mirror. ‘I knew I had to change what was going on inside,’ he told the London Times. So I started talking. Out loud. ‘You are not losing this match,’ I said to myself. ‘You are NOT losing this match.’ I started out a little tentative but my voice got louder. ‘You are not going to let this one slip…Give it everything you’ve got. Leave nothing out there.’ At first it felt a bit weird, but I felt something change inside, I was surprised by my response. I knew I could win.’ Murray carried on talking to himself when he got back on the court, broke Djokovic’s serve, and moved into a three-game lead in the fifth set. He went on to win the US Open, becoming Britain’s first male Grand Slam singles champion in seventy-six years.”

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Boost Your Memory and Learn Better

August 5, 2018

This post is based on a feature article with the same title as this post by Emma Young in the 28 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist. Much of the learning process goes on deep in the mind. If you could improve the unconscious processing and retrieval of memories, you could game the system. Here are the top tips to improve how you recall facts.

If you’re learning facts such as foreign phrases or historical dates, giving our study a boost could be as simple as taking a break. Lila Davachi of New York University found that breaks help to consolidate memories, improving recall later. But for a time out to work, brain cells different to those used during the learning period need to be activated. So, try not to think about what you have just been working on.

It is even better to sleep on it. It is well established that the brain processes memories during sleep, but it will do this more effectively if you leave the optimum time between learning and sleeping. Christoph Nissen at the University of Bern found that a group of 16 and 17 year olds performed best on tests of factual memory if they studied the material mid-afternoon, but they acquired skills involving movements faster if they practiced in the evening. So it appears that the “critical window” between learning and sleep is shorter for movement-related learning that for other types of memory. It isn’t clear whether adults can benefit as much as teenagers from these windows. Nissan says, “There is evidence that adolescents have a higher capacity to learn—and they sleep better.” Moreover, after about age 60 adults generally learn better in the morning.

Bjorn Rasch of the University of Fribourg, Switzerland is investigating another way to boost learning during sleep. He has conducted studies showing that adult language learners remember more when played recordings of foreign words while sleeping. He says, “The literature on targeted memory reactivation is growing rapidly. Most findings are positive.” But it is important that the words are played during non-REM, slow-wave sleep, when factual memories are consolidated. And the volume of the recordings should not be so loud that it disrupts. You could also try using scents to cue learning in sleeping brain. Rasch has found a boost to memory in people who smelled roses while learning a task and then again during slow wave sleep.

Perhaps the most surprising effect is the placebo effect. Yes, there is a placebo effect in memory. In this study volunteers who had to answer multiple-choice questions did significantly better if told that the correct answer would be flashed subliminally just before the question. They were not. The improved performance was all the result of the placebo effect. The researchers think it worked by reducing performance anxiety and priming people for success. However, HM still wants to find successful replications of this experiment.

HM would be remiss if he did not mention that there is an entire category of posts titled Mnemonic Techniques. Included here are classical techniques and techniques develop for remembering numbers. There are also posts here titled “Moonwalking with Einstein,” and “How to Become a Memory Grandmaster’ that describe what can be done with these techniques as well as professional memory competitions.

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Take Control of Pain

August 4, 2018

This post is based on a feature article with the same title as this post by Emma Young in the 28 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist.  Many, if not most, people think that the amount of pain they feel is beyond conscious control. This is not true. Although you can’t influence your physiological pain response to things like an injury or illness, there are ways to reduce the amount of pain you perceive.

Goldstein, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Colorado conducted a series of studies in his lab. After he inflicted pain by heating volunteers’ forearms, they reported being touched by a stranger did nothing to reduce the discomfort, whereas being touched by their romantic partner did. The more empathic the partner, the bigger the effect. Goldstein says,”We already know that touch can communicate different emotions, for example, sadness and happiness. Perhaps we can also transfer our empathy through touch, resulting in analgesia.

We have ways to modulate pain, such as by the release of the body’s own painkillers. Sensory neuroscientist Giandomenico Iannetti of University College, London, says, “Generally you feel what is useful to feel.” But it is also possible to trick the brain into feeling less.

Maria Sanchez-Vives of the Cortical Networks and Virtual Environments in Neuroscience Research Lab in Barcelona, Spain and her colleagues have found another way to do this. Their studies show that if people can take “ownership” of a virtual reality (VR) arm and feel that it is their own, their ability to tolerate painful stimuli applied to their real arm improves. Maria Sanchez-Vives says “VR can be highly immersive, interactive and engaging.”

VR simulations of natural environments and other scenes are currently used in some hospitals to reduce pain, or doses of painkilling medication, when treating burns patients or even during surgery. If you don’t have a VR arm available, you can create a similar effect by moving you body into unfamiliar positions. Ianentti’s team found that getting volunteers to cross one arm over the other was enough to reduce the pain caused b a laser heating the back of one hand. This seems to work by confusing the brain, which normally maps signals from your right hand to the right side of your body and vice versa.

There are other pain-busting strategies, Distraction is effective, as anyone who has ever watched a TV mounted above a dentist’s chair knows. Pleasant smells seem to reduce the intensity of a painful stimulus, as does looking at pictures you find beautiful. Swearing can also work, perhaps by triggering a hormonal response that reduces pain. However, this tends not to work if you usually swear a lot.

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Conquer Your Fears

August 3, 2018

This post is based on a feature article with the same title as this post by Emma Young in the 28 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist. Fear is good. It plays an important role in our survival. Too much fear is a problem. Today, the treatment for a phobia—such as an irrational fear of spiders or dogs—is likely to involve gradually increasing an individual’s exposure to the feared object, while they learn techniques to reduce their anxiety.

In the future, psychologists may directly tap into the unconscious mind to treat phobias without traumatizing people. That is the hope of a team of researchers in Japan and the US. They identified a distinctive pattern of brain activity associated with a fear they had induced in volunteers, and found that it could be reduced simply by rewarding them when their brains displayed it—all the while the subjects were not conscious of this brain activity.

Fear, like any emotion, is underpinned by physical signals in the body. These include a stronger and more rapid heartbeat as well as changes in patterns of blood flow. Such bodily signals are critical to the experience of fear, even though they are usually registered unconsciously.

Lowering their intensity reduces the intensity of the emotion. When we are stressed, we can do this by slowing our breathing rate. This sends a powerful signal that you are not feeling anxious to the part of your brain involved in processing emotion, which then helps regulate your heart rate. For the best results, breathe in for a count of four and out for eiight, and within 5 minutes you should notice a significant reduction in anxiety. Music can have a similar effect, although there’s no one type that works for everyone. Maria-Sanchez-Vives at the Cortical Networks and Virtual Environments in Neuroscience Research in Barcelona, Spain says, “Generally, slower music, of moderate volume, can help to slow down respiration and help us to relax.”

Remember that your unconscious mind can trick you into feeling afraid when you have nothing to fear. In a phenomenon called emotion contagion, we consciously “catch” emotions via other people’s non-verbal signals, such as their tone of voice, posture and even body odor. Empathy specialist Christian Keysers at the University of Amsterdam thinks that when we detect the signals of an emotion like fear in others, our bodies reproduce the relevant physical signals, which our brains interpret as our own. This is hard to consciously safeguard against, except by avoiding people who are fearful—whether that’s face-to-face, on social media or even reading about them. The flip side of this is that you can cultivate positive motions simply by spending more time in the company of happy people.

Lifting the Lid on the Unconscious

August 2, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a feature article by Emma Young in the 28 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist. About 95% of thought happens in our unconscious minds. By understanding how the unconscious mind works, you can game the system to beat your bad habits and unconscious biases.

Emma Young writes, “Your unconscious has many vital functions—from controlling breathing to processing incoming information—but there are also a few glitches. Tweak these and you can make the system work better for you.”

She discusses bad habits and how to break them. Perhaps as much as 40% of our daily behavior is habitual. A good example is when our unconscious is busy driving to work, our conscious mind is free to think about something else.

Ms. Young writes, “Automated behaviors are grouped into distinct routines, or “chunks”—having a cigarette when drinking coffee, perhaps—making bad habits hard to break. To reprogram our unconscious, we must first derail the existing problematic habit. If we always reach for a snack when we walk into the kitchen, for example, move the snacks so that they are out of easy reach.

Use prominent cues to promote more desirable habits. To replace snacking with fruit eating, buy a fruit bowl and put it in a new, easily accessible position in the kitchen.

Repetition is key and it can take anywhere between 15 and 254 days, and perhaps even more, to form a new habit.

Contexts also trigger habitual behaviors, so try breaking a bad habit while away from our normal environment. For example, quit smoking while on a holiday.

A host of unconscious cognitive biases influence much of our thinking and decision-making. They evolved to help our ancestors act fast and effectively, but these days they often trip us up. Knowing how cognitive biases shape our thinking is the first step to consciously controlling them. Here are some common biases.

Anchoring — Focusing on one factor, often the first encountered, when making a decision.

Clustering illusion — Seeing phantom patterns in random events.

Confirmation bias — Preferentially seeking and recalling information that confirms our preconceptions.

Congruence bias — Testing ideas by seeking evidence that a supports rather than refutes them.

Endowment effect — Valuing things more highly simply because they belong to you.

Fundamental attribution error — Attributing people’s behaviors to their personality, not the situation.

Gambler’s fallacy —Believing that past random events alter the likelihood of future ones.

Hyperbolic discounting — Overvaluing what’s available now relative to what you can have later.

In-group bias — Overestimating the abilities and values of your own group relative to others.

Negativity bias — Paying more attention to bad news and feedback than good.

Projection bias — Assuming that most people think like you and hold the same bias.

Status quo bias — Favoring decisions that will leave things just as they are.

In addition, we all have our own implicit biases: prejudices about things like race and gender that affect our judgments of others. Discover yours at implicit.harvard.edu/implicit

Ms. Young offers these five ways to game your unconscious

Take a hot bath. If you’re feeling lonely, a hot bath may make you feel better. Why? Research reveals that we unconsciously associate physical warmth and social warmth. Conversely, holding an ice pack can make you feel lonelier.

2. Think yourself full. Looking at pictures of particular foods decreases your appetite for that type of food. Similarly, spending just a minute imagining that you are full will help you choose a small portion.

3. Smell something fishy. It “smells fishy” is a metaphor for distrust in more than 20 languages. Intriguingly, fishy smells make us more alert to misleading information, perhaps because unconscious vigilance for rotten fish makes us more wary in general.

4. Get you house in order. Crime rates are famously linked with broken windows, litter and graffiti. But even asymmetry and wonky edges promote bad behavior. Such visual disorder may activate mean metaphors such as ‘crooked politician,’ which affect behavior.

5. Don’t be deceived. We are surprisingly bad at consciously spotting liars, possibly because we look for behaviors, such as fidgeting and averted eyes, which don’t actually signal deception. To avoid being duped, it is better to trust your intuition, since we do have an unconscious sense of who is lying to us.

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Find Your Inner Creativity

August 1, 2018

This post is based on a feature article with the same title as this post by Emma Young in the 28 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The article begins “Everyone is familiar with ‘aha’ moments, when the solution a problem suddenly pops into conscious awareness as if from nowhere. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those moments of creative insight came a little more easily, a little more often? It turns out there are ways you can help your unconscious do its work.”

Research by Michael Shadlen at Columbia University revealed that aha moments occur when enough relevant information has accumulated in the unconscious to trigger conscious awareness of a decision. The point when this is reached will vary depending on the task. Moreover, some people seem better at achieving it than others. So how do they differ? There are a variety of possibilities. Studies suggest that creative insight is driven by one of two very different states of mind: concentrated focus and daydreaming. Intrigued by the contradiction, Jonathan Schooler at the University of California, Santa Barbara decided to test them. He found that focused thinking actually undermines inspiration unless you are using an overtly analytical approach to solve a problem. By contrast, letting one’s mind wander, after taking in information, cultivates insight.

He suggests if you want more aha moments, you must first scout some relevant material to give your unconscious something to work on. Then find time for unfocused thinking, This is best done while you’re engaging in an activity that’s not too mentally taxing such as walking or gardening. He says, “Try to disengage from spontaneous thoughts that are mundane, like thought about current concerns or plans for upcoming tasks, or thoughts merely replaying familiar scenes. Engage with thoughts that are a bit more unusual or fantastical. Follow those thoughts to the end or extend them by asking playful, imaginative questions, such as ‘what if x was different?’ or ‘what if x was reversed.?’

Prof. Shadlen seems to think that there are two categories of problems, one that requires analytic thinking and one that doesn’t. However, other researchers have found that many creative solutions involve both focused attention and daydreaming, sometimes referred to as the default mode network. These researchers suggest alternating between these two modes of thinking as the situation dictates.

Prof. Shadlen also suggests modifying one’s emotional state such as listening to positive background music. Researchers think this might be because it triggers the release of dopamine, which is associated with creative thinking.

Christina Fong of Carnegie Mellon University has found that simultaneously experiencing two emotions that aren’t typically felt together, such as frustration and excitement also encourages creative insight. She says that that might be because it signals that you are in an unusual environment, making you alert to the possibility of other unusual relationships, suggesting that life will be more inspiring if we embrace change and novelty.

The article ends with a word of caution that creative insight doesn’t hold the answer to all your problems. Earlier research had suggested that really complicated decisions with lots of variables are better solved by going with our gut rather than “overthinking.” Subsequent research has failed to replicate this finding. Psychologist Magda Osman at Queen May University in London looked at the evidence and found that when it comes to making choices to achieve a goal, conscious thinking works best.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Hacking Our Unconscious

July 31, 2018

A few years ago HM posted a piece titled “Strangers to Ourselves.” That post reviewed a book by Timothy Wilson titled “Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious.” The post describes some techniques for coming into contact with our unconscious minds. Of course Wilson’s book discusses more techniques in much more detail.

Most of our processing is unconscious. Our unconscious mind keeps operating below our awareness. We can try to remember someone’s name and fail. If we continue for a while, still fail and give up trying, it is not uncommon for the name to pop into our conscious minds much later. Apparently, the unconscious mind continued the search even though we had consciously given up. There are also accounts of scientific theories and mathematical proofs suddenly popping into consciousness. The unconscious mind had been at work. The 28 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist has a series of feature articles on hacking our unconscious minds. This current post and the following posts will be reviewing these feature articles.

The lead New Scientist article by Emma Young writes, “Far from being a malign adjunct to the conscious mind, the unconscious is responsible for all sorts of important stuff. It is smart and it is often running the show.” Neuroscientist Michael Shadlen of Columbia University says, “The vast majority of thoughts circling in our brains happen below the radar of conscious awareness.” That’s too much to miss out on.

Research into this topic is still in its early days, but already our growing understand of the human mind means we can begin to hack our unconscious powers of inspiration, pain relief, emotional control, memory, and more. The following posts will address these topics.

Daniel Kahneman and Originalism

July 30, 2018

HM does not know if Nobel Winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman had any opinion on the judicial philosophy of originalism, which states that judicial opinions should rely substantially on the text of the statute or constitutional clause under construction as well as the original public meaning of the statue or clause.

What Daniel Kahneman did was to develop his two process theory of cognition. This theory can be found in many places, but perhaps the best source is his best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.” System 1 is fast and allows us to cope with high rates of information in a dynamic environment. Without System 1, we would not have survived as a species. But this fast processing speed has its costs, which sometimes lead to errors. System 2 is slow, and is what can be thought of as thinking. If you know your multiplication tables, if I ask you what is 6 time 7, you’ll respond 42 without really thinking about it. But if I ask you to multiply 67 times 42 you would find it difficult to compute in your head, and would most likely use a calculator or use paper and pencil (which are examples of transactive memory). This multiplication requires System 2 processing without technological aids.

System 1 requires little or no effort. System 2 requires effort. It is not only faster, but also less demanding to rely on System 1 processes. Consider the following question.
A bat and a ball cost $1.10
The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost?
The number that quickly comes to mind is 10 cents. But if you take the time and exert the mental effort you will note that the cost would be $1.20 (10 cents for the ball and $1.10 for the bat). If you do the math, which takes a little algebra, you will find that the ball costs 5 cents (the bat costing a $1.00 more than the ball would be $1.05 and $1.05 plus $0.05 is $1.10). System 2 must be engaged to get the correct answer. This question has been asked of several thousand college students. More that 50% of the students at Harvard, MIT, and Princeton gave the wrong, System 1, answer. At less selective universities more than 80% of the students gave the wrong answer.

Now consider the judicial philosophy of originalism, which states that judicial opinions should rely substantially on the text of the statute or Constitutional clause under Construction as well as the original public meaning of the statute or clause. What could possibly be wrong here? These are the Founding Fathers who wrote the constitution. These are the conclusions which System 1 processing quickly reach.

Now invoke System 2 processing and consider the following.

The fundamental premise of the Constitution is that all men are created equal. Note that the mention of women was omitted and women needed a special constitutional amendment to be granted the right to vote. So it appears that the Founding Fathers were misogynistic.

According to the Constitution blacks were regarded as three-fifths of a human being, and the vast majority of blacks were slaves. So it appears that the Founding Fathers were blatant racists.

Fortunately, the Constitution was eventually amended to correct for these errors. One can infer that these changes were the result of System 2 processing and not strict adherence to originalism.

Knowledge grows and the world changes radically. Today a high school science student knows more about science that Benjamin Franklin ever did.

It is clear that the legal system needs to evolve to accommodate the rapidly changing world, and to remove injustices from older thinking.

Originalism is invoked by people who do not want change; fortunately, or unfortunately, change is needed.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Healthier Heart and a Sharper Mind

July 29, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Tara Bahrampour in the 23 July 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The article begins, “Research presented Wednesday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Chicago found that at-risk people whose blood pressure was kept lower than the recommended level had a significant reduction in mild cognitive impair (MCI), the precursor to dementia/

The trial compared two strategies for maintaining blood pressure for people with an average age of around 68 with increased cardiovascular risk. One group received the standard care strategy at the time targeting systolic blood pressure (taken when the heart beats) to below 140 millimeters of mercury. The other group received the same medication, but in higher doses, with a target blood pressure of 120 mm or less.

Memory tests were also administered to assess participants for probable dementia and early memory loss. The group receiving the intensive approach had a 19% lower rate of new cases of MCI.

A subgroup was also assessed through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), for white matter brain lesions that are associated with a higher risk of stroke, dementia and higher mortality. While both groups showed an increase in white matter lesions, the increase was significantly less in the intensive treatment group.

In the United States the rate of Alzheimer’s dementia is 10% for people 65 and older.

The researchers were excited with the results showing that the lowering of blood pressure with medication could also reduce the probability of dementia.

What the article does not mention is that blood pressure can be reduced without medication. Meditation can reduce blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen consumption. Research has also shown how meditation affected the body’s 40,000 genes and found that those who regularly meditated induced anti-oxidation and anti-inflammatory changes that counteracted the effects of stress on the body. There have been many healthymemory posts on meditation, the first being “The Relaxation Response.” The post provides instruction for getting the relaxation response, and benefits can be realized by doing this for 10 to 20 minutes once or twice a day.

Nor does the article mention that many have died with their brains full of the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles that are the defining characteristic of Alzheimer’s, but who never exhibited any behavioral or cognitive symptoms while they were living.

The reason offered for this fact is that these people had built up a cognitive reserve, presumably through certain types of cognitive activity. The healthy memory blog argues that growth mindsets, which by definition include Kahneman’s Type 2 processing, along with a healthy lifestyle and meditation, provide a means of building a cognitive reserve. These practices can lead to a more fulfilling life free of dementia. There are many, many healthymemoy blog posts on these topics.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Are We Living in 1984?

July 28, 2018

The “1984” in the title of this post refers to George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.” In the country depicted in this novel, truth was whatever the leader told you it was. If you have five fingers on one hand, and the leader told you had three, then truth was that you had three.

Recently Trump told people that the only information people should believe was whatever he told them. So he is going way beyond charging the justice department and the press for providing faux news about his investigation. He is saying that everything should be regarded as false unless it comes from him.

Actually this can be more demanding than it seems, as what Trump says is true is also volatile and can change.

This is not the first time that Trump has issued this order. He issued this same command when he was running for president.

Unfortunately, too many people did not see this red light and voted for this xxx authoritarian anyway.

In the event anyone is wondering what all this has to do with a healthy memory, for a healthy memory, objective truth should always be sought and critically evaluated.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Trump and the 2018 Election

July 27, 2018

At the joint press conference with Trump and Putin, Putin said that he wanted Trump to win and that he helped Trump win. The record (both video and print) of this conference the White House has published, which is supposed to be an accurate public record, has omitted these comments by Putin. And Trump is arguing that Russia is going to help the Democrats in 2018.

In case you’re wondering how Trump manages to do this, you must realize that Trump lives in a self-created reality that changes as a function of what he wants and what is convenient at the moment. Objective reality does not exist for Trump.

The obvious question is, how can Trump’s base not notice that Trump is not in touch with reality. The answer is that they are exclusive System 1 processors (see the many posts on Kahneman) who believe everything he says.

The immediately preceding post predicted a possible Constitutional Crisis resulting from disputed election results. The situation reminds HM of the response Benjamin Franklin gave to someone who asked what the outcome of the Constitutional Convention was. Franklin answered, “a republic, if you can keep it.” HM is becoming increasingly doubtful that we shall be able to keep it. What is needed is for Republicans return to Republican values rather then serving as Trump’s unthinking lackeys.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Surprise, Maryland

July 26, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article in the 23 July 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The subtitle is “Your election contractor has ties to Russia. And other states also remain vulnerable to vote tampering.” Senior officials have revealed that an Internet technology company with which the state contracts to hold electronic voting information is connected to a Russia oligarch who is “very close’ to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Maryland leaders did not know about the connection until the FBI told them.

Maryland is not a slacker on election security; it is regarded as being ahead of the curve relative to other states. So if even motivated states can be surprised, what about the real laggards?

Maryland’s exposure began when it chose a company to keep electronic information on voter registration, election results and other extremely sensitive data. Later this company was purchased by a firm run by a Russian millionaire and heavily invested in by a Kremlin-connected Russian billionaire. Currently the state does not have any sense that this Russia links have had any impact on the conduct of its elections, and it is scrambling to shore up its data handling before November’s voting. But the fact that the ownership change’s implications could have gone unnoticed by state officials is cause enough for concern. The quality of contractors that states employ to handle a variety of election-related tasks is just one of may concerns election-security experts have identified since Russia’s manipulation in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Maryland has pushed to upgrade its election infrastructure. It rented new voting machines in advance of the 2016 vote to ensure that they have left a paper trail. State election officials note that they hire an independent auditor to conduct a parallel count based on those paper records, with automatic recounts if there is a substantial discrepancy between the two tallies. Observers note that the state could still do better, for example by conducting manual post-election audits as well as electronic ones. But Maryland is still far more responsible than many others.

Recently Politico’s Eric Geller surveyed 40 states about how they would spend new federal election-security funding Congress recently approved. Here are some depressing results: “only 13 states said they intend to use the federal dollars to buy new voting machines. At least 22 said they have no plans to replace their machines before election—including all five states that rely solely on electronic voting devices, which cybersecurity experts consider a top vulnerability. In addition almost no states conduct robust statistic-based post-election audits to look for evidence of tampering after the fact. And fewer than one-third of states and territories have requested a key type of security review from the Department of Homeland Security.”

Moreover, Congress seems uninterested in offering any more financial help, despite states’ glaring needs. Federal lawmakers, who are Republican, last week nixed a $380 million election-security measure.
So do not waste your time watching voter predictions and wonder whether there will be a “blue wave” to save the country from Trump. Russian election interference is guaranteed, and Trump, understandably is taking no action. So if there is no blue wave, Democrats will cry interference. If there is a “blue wave” Trump would claim interference even though such interference by Russia would make no sense, although Trump has already made this assertion. Mixed results and widespread dissatisfaction are the likely result. And perhaps a Constitutional Crisis.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wait, There’s More

July 25, 2018

More information on Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election. This post is based on an article titled, “Burst of tweets from Russian operatives in October 2016 generates suspicion” by Craig Timberg and Shane Harris in the 21 July 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The article begins, “On the eve of one of the newsiest days of the 2016 presidential election, Russian operatives sent off tweets at a rate of about a dozen each minute. By the time they finished, more than 18,000 had been sent through cyberspace toward unwitting American voters, making it the busiest day by far in a disinformation operation whose aftermath is still roiling U.S. politics.

Clemson University researchers have collected 3 million Russian tweets. The reason for this burst of activity on 6 Oct. 2016 is a mystery that has generated intriguing theories but no definitive explanation. The theories attempt to make sense of how such a heavy flow of Russian disinformation might be related to what came immediately after on Oct. 7. This was the day when Wikileaks began releasing embarrassing emails that Russian intelligence operatives had stolen from the campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton, revealing sensitive internal conversations that would stir controversy.

Complicating this analysis is the number of other noteworthy events on that day. That day is best remembered for the Washington Post’s publication of a recording of Donald Trump speaking crudely about women. Also on that day U.S. intelligence officials first made public their growing concerns about Russian meddling in the presidential election, following reports about the hacking of prominent Americans and intrusions into election systems in several U.S. states.

Two questions are: Could the Russian disinformation teams have gotten advanced notice of the Wikileaks release, sending the operatives into overdrive to shape public reactions to the news? And what do the operatives’ actions that day reveal about Russia’s strategy and tactics that Americans are heading into another crucial election in just a few months?

The Clemson University researchers have assembled the largest trove of Russian disinformation tweets available so far. The database includes tweets between February 2014 and May 2018, all from accounts that Twitter has identified as part of the disinformation campaign waged by the Internet Research Agency, based in St. Petersburg, Russia and owned by a Putin associate.

The new data offer still more evidence of the coordinated nature of Russia’s attempt to manipulate the American election. The Clemson researchers dubbed it “state-sponsored agenda building.”

Overall the tweets reveal a highly adaptive operation that interacted tens of millions of times with authentic Twitter users—many of whom retweeted the Russian accounts—and frequently shifted tactics in response to public events, such as Hillary Clinton’s stumble at a Sept. 11 memorial.

The Russians working for the Internet Research Agency are often called “trolls” for their efforts to secretly manipulate online conversations. These trolls picked up their average pace of tweeting after Trump’s election. This was especially true for the more than 600 accounts targeting the conservative voters who were part of his electoral base, a surge the researchers suspect was an effort to shape the political agenda during the transition period by energizing core supporters.

For sheer curiosity, nothing in the Clemson dataset rivals Oct. 6. The remarkable combination of news events the following day has several analysts, including the Clemson researchers, suspect there likely was a connection to the coming Wikileaks release. Other researchers dispute the conclusion that there was a connection.

However, last week’s indictment of Russian intelligence officers by Special Counsel Robert Mueller III made clear that the hack of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails and their distribution through Wikileaks was a meticulous operation. Tipping off the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg troll factory owned by an associate of President Vladimir Putin, might have been part of an overarching plan of execution, said several people familiar with the Clemson findings about the activity of the Russian trolls.

Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and an expert on the Russian troll armies and how they respond to new as well as upcoming events, like debates of candidate appearances ,says that they tend to ramp up when they know something’s coming.

Although Watts did not participate in the Clemson research, his instincts fit with those of researchers Darren L. Linvill and Patrick L. Warren, who point to the odd consistency of the storm of tweets. More than on any other day, the trolls on Oct 6 focused their energies on a left leaning audience, with more than 70% of the tweets targeting Clinton’s natural constituency of liberals, environmentalists and African Americans. Livill and Warren, have written a paper on their research now undergoing peer review, identifying 230 accounts they categorized as “Left Trolls” because they sought to infiltrate left-wing conversation on Twitter.

These Left Trolls did so in a way designed to damage Clinton, who is portrayed as corrupt, in poor health, dishonest and insensitive to the needs of working-class voters and various minority groups. In contrast, the Left Trolls celebrated Sen. Bernie Sasnders and his insurgent primary campaign against Clinton and, in the general election, Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

For example, less than two weeks before election day, the Left Troll account @Blactivisits tweeted, “NO LIVES MATTER TO HILLARY CLINTON. ONLY VOTES MATTER TO HILLARY CLINTON.”

Ninety-three of the Left Troll accounts were active on Oct. 6 and 7, each with an average following of 1760 other Twitter accounts. Taken together, their messages could have directly reached Twitter accounts 20 million times on those two days, and reached millions of others though retweets, according to the Clemson researchers.

Podesta’s emails made public candid, unflattering comments about Sanders and fueled allegations that Clinton had triumphed over him because of her connection to the Democratic party establishment. The Left Trolls on Oct. 6 appeared to be stirring up conversation among Twitter users potentially interested in such arguments, according to the Clemson researchers.

Warren, an associate professor of economics, said, “We think that they were trying to activate and energize the left wing of the Democratic Party, the Bernie wing basically, before the Wikileaks release that implicated Hillary in stealing the Democratic primary.”

U.S. officials with knowledge of information that the government has gathered on the Russian operation said they had yet to establish a clear connection between Wikileaks and the troll account that would prove they were coordinating around the release of campaign emails. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to share assessments not approved for official release.

But some clues have emerged that may point to coordination. It now appears that WikiLeaks intended to publish the Podesta emails closer to the election, and that some external event compelled the group to publish sooner than planned, the officials said.

One U.S. official said, “There is definitely a command and control structure behind the IRA’s use of statistical media, pushing narratives and leading people towards certain conclusions.”

Warren and Linvill found that Russian disinformation tweets generated significant conversation among other Twitter users. Between September and November 2016, references to the Internet Research Agency accounts showed up in the tweets of others 4.7 million times.

The patterns of tweets also shows how single team trolls worked on different types of accounts depending on shifting priorities, one hour playing the part of an immigrant-bashing conservative, the next an African American concerned about police brutality and on their avid participant in “hashtag games” in which Twitter users riff on particular questions such as “#WasteAMillionIn3Words.” The answer on 11 July 2015 from IRA account @LoraGreen was, “Donate to #Hillary.”

Linvill said, “Day to day they seem to be operating as a business just allocating resources. It’s definitely one organization. It’s not one fat guy sitting in his house.”

Warren and LInvill collected their set of Internet Research Agency tweets using a social media analysis tool called Social Studio that catalogs tweets in a searchable format. The researchers collected all of the available tweets from 3,841 accounts that Twitter has identified as having been controlled by the Internet Research Agency, whose officials and affiliated companies have been charged with several crimes related to the 2016 election.

The Clemson researchers sorted the Internet Research Agency accounts into five categories, the largest two being “Right Troll” and Left Troll.” The others focused on retweeting news stories from around the country, participating in hashtag games or spreading a false news story about salmonella outbreak in turkeys around the Thanksgiving season of 2015.

The latest and most active group overall were the Right Trolls, which typically had little profile information but features photos the researchers described as “young, attractive women.” They collectively had nearly a million followers, the researchers said.

The Right Trolls pounced on the Sept. 11 stumble by Clinton to tweet at a frenetic pace for several days. They experimented with a variety of related hashtags such as #HillarSickAtGroundZero, #ClintonCollapse and #ZombieHillary before eventually focusing on #HillarysHealth and #SickHillary, tweeting these hundreds of times.

This theme flowed into several more days of intensive tweeting about a series of bombings in the New York area that injured dozens of people, stoking fears of terrorism.

When one group of accounts was tweeting at a rapid pace, others often slacked off or stopped entirely, underscoring the Clemson researchers’ conclusion that a single team was taking turns operating various accounts. The trolls also likely used some forms of automation to manage multiple accounts simultaneously and tweet with a speed impractical for humans, according to the researchers.

What Should Be Done

July 24, 2018

The first part of this post is taken from the Afterword of “THE PERFECT WEAPON: War, Sabotage, & Fear in the Cyber Age,” by David E. Sanger.

“The first is that our cyber capabilities are no longer unique. Russia and China have nearly matched America’s cyber skills; Iran and North Korea will likely do so soon, if they haven’t already. We have to adjust to that reality. Those countries will no sooner abandon their cyber arsenals than they will abandon their nuclear arsenals or ambitions. The clock cannot be turned back. So it is time for arms control.”

“Second, we need a playbook for responding to attacks, and we need to demonstrate a willingness to use it. It is one thing to convene a ‘Cyber Action Group’ as Obama did fairly often, and have them debate when there is enough evidence and enough concert to recommend to the president a ‘proportional response.’ It is another thing to respond quickly and effectively when such an attack occurs.”

“Third, we must develop our abilities to attribute attacks and make calling out any adversary the standard response to cyber aggression. The Trump administration, in its first eighteenth months, began doing just this: it named North Korea as the culprit in WannaCry and Russia as the creators of NotPetya. It needs to do that more often, and faster. “

“Fourth, we need to rethink the wisdom of reflexive secrecy around our cyber capabilities. Certainly, some secrecy about how our cyberweapons work is necessary—though by now, after Snowdon and Shadow Brokers, there is not much mystery left. America’s adversaries have a pretty complete picture of how the United States breaks into the darkest of cyberspace. “

“Fifth, the world tends to move ahead with setting these norms of behavior even if governments are not yet ready. Classic arms-control treaties won’t work: they take years to negotiate and more to ratify. With the blistering pace of technological change in cyber, they would be outdated before they ever went into effect. The best hope is to reach a consensus on principles that begins with minimizing the danger to ordinary civilians, the fundamental political goal of most rules of warfare. There are several ways to accomplish that goal, all of them with significant drawbacks. But the most intriguing, to my mind, has emerged under the rubric of a “Digital Geneva Convention,” in which companies—not countries—take the lead in the short term. But countries must then step up their games too.”

There is much more in this book than could be covered in these healthymemory posts. The primary objective was to raise awareness of this new threat, this new type of warfare, and how ill-prepared we are to respond to it and to fight it. You are encouraged to buy this book and read it for yourself. If this book is relevant to your employment, have your employer buy this book.
It is important to understand that Russia made war on us by attacking our election, and that they shall continue to do so. Currently we have a president who refuses to believe that we have been attacked. Moreover, it is possible that this president colluded with the enemy in this attack. Were he innocent, he would simply let the investigation take its course. Through his continuing denials, cries of witch hunt, and his attacks on the intelligence agencies and justice department are unconscionable. This has been further exacerbated by Republicans aiding in this effort to undermine our democracy.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Ironic But Illuminating Fiasco

July 23, 2018

The most disgusting political event HM has ever seen was the public hearing in which FBI agent Peter Strzok was grilled by Republicans before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committee. Mr. Strzok is a dedicated FBI official with a distinguished background. Unfortunately, he had emails of his saying uncomplimentary comments about Trump. Although when he explained the context in which he made these comments, they certainly seemed justified. Yet the Republicans went at him full bore. Their basic thesis is that Strzok provides evidence that the Mueller investigation is biased. Well, first of all, for there to be an investigation there needs to be a reason for the investigation. This investigation was agreed to along with the personnel involved by both parties. But Trump Republicans continued along with Trump that this is a “witch hunt.” “Witch Hunt” is the go to term for leaders defending their indefensible actions.

The very notion that one individual in a large organization like the FBI with rigorous methods and defined procedures could bias the investigation is ludicrous. This notion reflects the incompetence of the Trump supporters more than anything. But now let’s get to the ironic part.

In the summer of 2016 Strzok was one of a handful of people who knew the details of the Russian election interference and its possible connections with members of the Trump campaign. This information had the potential to derail, and quite possibly, defeat Trump. So HM hopes the irony is apparent here. Strzok could have derailed Trump then, but Strzok is a professional who believes in the rule of law.

However, in retrospect, it is clear that the US had clear evidence of Russian meddling in the election. If the FBI is to be criticized for anything, it is for not calling into question the election results at that time. The election could have been delayed, but still completed in time for the change of administrations in the following year. Would Trump still have been elected if the voting public was made aware of the Russian meddling? That question could have and should have been answered.

At the time few thought that Trump’s election was possible. This included both Putin and Trump. So no one had prepared for the outcome. Moreover, few realized how bad a Trump administration would be. Reasonable people feared in addition to his Narcissistic personality, his policies on trade and attitudes to our allies. Yet hope remained that when Trump assumed office he would be transformed into an adult.

And if worse came to worst, he could be removed through impeachment. The Constitution was structured so that the legislative and executive branches were to serve as checks on each other. Unfortunately, the Republican congress has not performed this well. The judicial branch is supposed to provide another check, but Trump’s nominee is, no surprise, the one justice most likely to prevent Trump from being removed from office.

Given that McConnell and his Republicans care only about politically expedience, and nothing regarding the rule of law or evidence, Trump has the prospect of becoming President for life just as his personal exemplars Putin and Kim Jong-un.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The 2016 Election—Part Three

July 22, 2018

This post is based on David E Sanger’s, “THE PERFECT WEAPON: War, Sabotage, & Fear in the Cyber Age.” Once the GRU via Gucci 2.0, DCLeaks, and WikiLeaks, began distributing the hacked emails, each revelation of the DNC’s infighting or Hillary Clinton’s talks at fund raisers became big news. The content of the leaks overwhelmed the bigger, more important questions of whether everyone—staring with the news organizations reporting the contents of the emails—was doing Putin’s bidding. When in early August John Brennan, the CIA Director, began sending intelligence reports over to the White House in sealed envelopes, the administration was preoccupied with the possibility that a far larger plot was under way. The officials feared that the DNC was only an opening shot, or a distraction. Reports were trickling in about constant “probes” of election systems in Arizona and Illinois were traced back to Russian hackers. Two questions were: Was Putin’s bigger plan to hack the votes on November 8? and how easy would that be to pull off?

Brennan’s intelligence reports of Putin’s intentions and orders made the CIA declare with “high confidence” that the DNC hack was the work of he Russian government at a time when the NSA and other intelligence agencies still harbored doubts. The sources described a coordinated campaign ordered by Putin himself, the ultimate modern-day cyber assault—subtle, deniable, launched on many fronts-incongruously directed from behind the six-hundred walls of the Kremlin. The CIA concluded that Putin didn’t think Trump could win the election. Putin, like everyone else, was betting that his nemesis Clinton would prevail. He was hoping to weaken her by fueling a post-election-day narrative, that she had stolen the election by vote tampering.

Brennan argued that Putin and his aides had two goals: “Their first objective was to undermine the credibility and integrity of the US electoral process. They were trying to damage Hillary Clinton. They thought she would be elected and they wanted her bloodied by the time she was going to be inaugurated;” but Putin was hedging his bets by also trying to promote the prospects of Mr. Trump.

[Excuse the interruption of this discussion to consider where we stand today. Both Putin and Trump want to undermine the credibility and integrity of the US electoral process. Trump has been added because he is doing nothing to keep the Russians from interfering again. Much is written about the possibility of a “Blue Wave” being swept into power in the mid-term elections. Hacking into the electoral process again with no preventive measures would impede any such Blue Wave. Trump fears a Blue Wave as it might lead to his impeachment. This is one of his “Remain President and Keep Out of Jail Cards. Others will be discussed in later posts. ]

Returning to the blog, at this time Trump began warning about election machine tampering. He appeared with Sean Hannity on Fox News promoting his claim of fraudulent voting. He also complained about needing to scrub the voting rolls and make it as difficult as possible for non-Trump voters to vote. Moreover, he used this as his excuse for losing the popular election.

At this time Russian propaganda was in full force via the Russian TV network and Breitbart News, Steve Bannion’s mouthpiece.

A member of Obama’s team, Haines said he didn’t realized that two-thirds of American adults get their news through social media. He said, “So while we knew somethig about Russian efforts to manipulate social media, I think it is fair to say that we did not recognize the extent of the vulnerability.

Brennan was alarmed at the election risk from the Russians. He assembled a task force of CIA, NSA, and FBI experts to sort through the evidnce. And as his sense of alarm increased, he decided that he needed to personally brief the Senate and House leadership about the Russian infiltrations. One by one he got to these leaders and they had security clearances so he could paint a clear picture of Russia’s efforts.

As soon as the session with twelve congressional leaders led by Mitch McConnell began it went bad. It devolved into a partisan debate. McConnell did not believe what he was being told. He chastised the intelligence officials for buying into what he claimed was Obama administration spin. Comey tried to make the point that Russian had engaged in this kind of activity before, but this time it was on a far broader scale. The argument made no difference, It became clear that McConnell would not sign on to any statement blaming the Russians.

It should be remembered that when Obama was elected, McConnell swore he would do everything in his power to keep Obama from being reelected. McConnell is a blatant racist and 100% politician. The country is much worse for it. For McConnell professionals interested in determining the truth do not exist. All that exists is what is politically expedient for him.

There was much discussion regarding what to do about Russia. DNI Clapper warned that if the Russians truly wanted to escalate, the had an easy path. Their implants were already deep inside the American electric grid. The most efficient for turning Election Day into a chaotic finger-pointing mess would be to plunge key cities into darkness, even for just a few hours.

Another issue was that NSA’s tools had been compromised. Their implants in foreign systems exposed, the NSA temporarily went dark. At a time when the White House and Pentagon were demanding more options on Russia and a stepped-up campaign against ISIS, the NSA was building new tools because their old ones had been blown.

The 2016 Election—Part Two

July 21, 2018

This post is based on David E Sanger’s, “THE PERFECT WEAPON: War, Sabotage, & Fear in the Cyber Age.” In March 2016 “Fancy Bear,” a Russian group associated with the GRU (Russian military intelligence) broke into the computers of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee before moving into the DNC networks as well. “Fancy Bear” was busy sorting through Podesta’s email trove. The mystery was what the Russians planned to do with the information they had stolen. The entire computer infrastructure at the DNC needed to be replaced. Otherwise it would not be known for sure where the Russians had buried implants in the system.

The DNC leadership began meeting with senior FBI officials in mid-June. In mid-June, the DNC leadership decided to give the story of the hack to the Washington Post. Both the Washington Post snd the New York Times ran it, but it was buried in the political back pages. Unlike the physical Watergate break-in, the significance of a cyber break in had yet to be appreciated.

The day after the Post and the Times ran they stories a persona with the screen name Guccifer 2.0 burst onto the web, claiming that he—not some Russian group—had hacked the DNC. His awkward English, a hallmark of the Russian effort made it clear he was not a native speaker. He contended he was just a very talented hacker, writing:

Worldwide known cyber security company CrowdStrike announced that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) servers had been hacked by “sophisticated” hacker groups.

I’m very please the company appreciated mu skills so highly)))
But in fact, it was easy, very easy.

Guccifer may have been the first one who penetrated Hillary Clinton’s and other Democrats’ mail servers. But he certainly wasn’t the last. No wonder any other hacker could easily get access to the DNC’s servers.

Shame on CrowdStrike: Do you think I’ve been in the DNC’s networks for almost a year and saved only 2 documents? Do you really believe it?

He wrote that thousands of files and emails were now in the hands of WikiLeaks. He predicted that they would publish them soon.

Sanger writes, “There was only one explanation for the purpose of releasing the DNC documents: to accelerate the discord between the Clinton camp and the Bernie Sanders camp, and to embarrass the Democratic leadership. That was when the phrase “weaponizing” information began to take off. It was hardly a new idea. The web just allowed it to spread faster than past generations had ever known.”

Sanger continues, “The digital break-in at the DNC was strange enough, but Trump’s insistence that there was no way it could be definitively traced to the Russians was even stranger, Yet Trump kept declaring he admired Putin’s “strength,” as if strength was the sole qualifying characteristic of a good national leader…He never criticized Putin’s moves against Ukraine, his annexation of Crimea, or his support of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.”

The GRU-linked emails weren’t producing as much news as they had hoped, so the next level of the plan kicked in: activating WikiLeaks. The first WikiLeaks dump was massive: 44,000 emails, more than 17,000 attachments. The deluge started right before the Democratic National Convention .

Many of these documents created discord in the convention. The party’s chair, Wasserman Schultz had to resign just ahead of the convention over which she was to preside. In the midst of the convention Sanger and his colleague Nicole Perlroth wrote: “An unusual question is capturing the attention of cyber specialists, Russia experts and Democratic Party leaders in Philadelphia: Is Vladimir V. Putin trying to meddle in the American Presidential Election?”

A preliminary highly classified CIA assessment circulating in the White House concluded with “high confidence” the the Russian government was behind the theft of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee. This was the first time the government began to signal that a larger plot was under way.

Still the White House remained silent. Eric Schmitt and Sanger wrote,” The CIA evidence leaves President Obama and his national security aides with a difficult diplomatic decision: whether to publicly accuse the government of Vladimir V. Putin of engineering the hacking.”

Trump wrote on Twitter, “The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC emails, which never should have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me.”

Sanger writes, “Soon it would not be a joke.

The 2016 Election—Part One

July 20, 2018

This post is based on David E Sanger’s, “THE PERFECT WEAPON: War, Sabotage, & Fear in the Cyber Age.” In the middle of 2015 the Democratic National Committee asked Richard Clarke to assess the political organization’s digital vulnerabilities. He was amazed at what his team discovered. The DNC—despite its Watergate History, despite the well-publicized Chinese and Russian intrusion into the Obama campaign computers in 2008 and 2012—was securing its data with the kind of minimal techniques one would expect to find at a chain of dry cleaners. The way spam was filtered wasn’t even as sophisticated as what Google’s Gmail provides; it certainly wasn’t prepared for a sophisticated attack. And the DNC barely trained its employees to spot a “spear phishing” of the kind that fooled the Ukrainian power operators into clicking on a link, only to steal whatever passwords are entered. It lacked any capability for detecting suspicious activity in the network such as the dumping of data to a distant server. Sanger writes, “It was 2015, and the committee was still thinking like it was 1792.”

So Clarke’s team came up with a list of urgent steps the DNC needed to take to protect itself. The DNC said they were too expensive. Clarke recalled “They said all their money had to go into the presidential race.” Sanger writes, “Of the many disastrous misjudgments the Democrats made in the 2016 elections, this one may rank as the worst.” A senior FBI official told Sanger, “These DNC guys were like Bambi walking in the woods, surrounded by hunters. They had zero chance of surviving an attack. Zero.”

When an intelligence report from the National Security Agency about a suspicious Russian intrusion into the computer networks at the DNC was tossed onto Special Agent Adrian Hawkin’s desk at the end of the summer of 2015, it did not strike him or his superiors at the FBI as a four-alarm fire. When Hawkins eventually called the DNC switchboard, hoping to alert its computer-security team to the FBI’s evidence of Russian hacking he discovered that they didn’t have a computer-security team. In November 2015 Hawkins contacted the DNC again and explained that the situation was worsening. This second warning still did not set off alarms.

Anyone looking for a motive for Putin to poke into the election machinery of the United States does not have to look far: revenge. Putin had won his election, but had essentially assured the outcome. This evidence was on video that went viral.
Clinton, who was Secretary of State, called out Russia for its antidemocratic behavior. Putin took the declaration personally. The sign of actual protesters, shouting his name, seemed to shake the man known for his unchanging countenance. He saw this as an opportunity. He declared that the protests were foreign-inspired. At a large meeting he was hosting, he accused Clinton of being behind “foreign money” aimed at undercutting the Russian state. Putin quickly put down the 2011 protests and made sure that there was no repetition in the aftermath of later elections. His mix of personal grievance at Clinton and general grievance at what he viewed as American hypocrisy never went away. It festered.

Yevgeny Prigozhin developed a large project for Putin: A propaganda center called the Internet Research Agency (IRA). It was housed in a squat four-story building in Saint Petersburg. From that building, tens of thousands of tweets, Facebook posts, and advertisements were generated in hopes of triggering chaos in the United States, and, at the end of the processing, helping Donald Trump, a man who liked oligarchs, enter the Oval Office.

This creation of the IRA marked a profound transition in how the Internet could be put to use. Sanger writes, “For a decade it was regarded as a great force for democracy: as people of different cultures communicated, the best ideas would rise to the top and autocrats would be undercut. The IRA was based on the opposite thought: social media could just as easily incite disagreements, fray social bonds, and drive people apart. While the first great blush of attention garnered by the IRA would come because of its work surrounding the 2016 election, its real impact went deeper—in pulling at the threads that bound together a society that lived more and more of its daily life the the digital space. Its ultimate effect was mostly psychological.”

Sanger continues, “There was an added benefit: The IRA could actually degrade social media’s organizational power through weaponizing it. The ease with which its “news writers” impersonated real Americans—or real Europeans, or anyone else—meant that over time, people would lose trust in the entire platform. For Putin, who looked at social media’s role in fomenting rebellion in the Middle East and organizing opposition to Russia in Ukraine, the notion of calling into question just who was on the other end of a Tweet or Facebook post—of making revolutionaries think twice before reaching for their smartphones to organize—would be a delightful by-product. It gave him two ways to undermine his adversaries for the price of one.”

The IRA moved on to advertising. Between June 2015 and August 2017 the agency and groups linked to it spent thousands of dollars on Facebook as each month, at a fraction of the cost for an evening of television advertising on a local American television stations. In this period Putin’s trolls reached up to 126 million Facebook users, while on Twitter they made 288 million impressions. Bear in mind that there are about 200 million registered voters in the US and only 139 million voted in 2016.

Here are some examples of the Facebook posts. A doctored picture of Clinton shaking hands with Osama bin Laden or a comic depicting Satan arm-wrestling Jesus. The Satan figures says “If I win, Clinton wins.” The Jesus figure responds, “Not if I can help it.”

The IRA dispatched two of their experts, a data analyst and a high-ranking member of the troll farm. They spent three weeks touring purple states. They did rudimentary research and developed an understanding of swing states (something that doesn’t exist in Russia). This allows the Russians to develop an election-meddling strategy, which allows the IRA to target specific populations within these states that might be vulnerable to influence by social media campaigns operated by trolls across the Atlantic.

Russian hackers also broke into the State Department’s unclassified email system, and they might also have gotten into some “classified” systems. They also managed to break into the White House system. In the end, the Americans won the cyber battle in the State and White House systems, though they did not fully understand how it was part of an escalation of a very long war.

The Russians also broke into Clinton’s election office in Brooklyn. Podesta fell prey to a phishing attempt. When he changed his password the Russians obtained access to sixty thousand emails going back a decade.

WannaCry & NotPetya

July 19, 2018

This post is based on “THE PERFECT WEAPON: War, Sabotage, & Fear in the Cyber Age,” by David E. Sanger. The North Koreans got software stolen from the NSA by the Shadow Brokers group. So, the NSA lost its weapons and the North Koreans shot them back.

The North Korean hackers married NSA’s tool to a new form of ransomware, which locks computers and makes their data inaccessible—unless the user pays for an electronic key. The attack was spread via a phishing email similar to the one used by Russian hackers in the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and other targets in 2016. It contained an encrypted, compressed file that evaded most virus-detection software. Once it burst alive inside a computer or network, users received a demand for $300 to unlock their data. It is not known how many paid, but those who did never got the key, if there ever was one—to unlock their documents and databases.

WannaCry, like the Russian attackers on the Ukraine power grid, was among a new generation of attacks that put civilians in the crosshairs. Jared Cohen, a former State Department official said, “If you’re wondering why you’re getting hacked—or attempted hacked—with greater frequency, it is because you are getting hit with the digital equivalent of shrapnel in an escalating state-against-state war, way out there in cyberspace.”

WannaCry shut down the computer systems of several major British hospital systems, diverting ambulances and delaying non-emergency surgeries. Banks and transportation systems across dozens of counties were affected. WannaCry hit seventy-four countries. After Britain, the hardest hit was Russia (Russia’s Interior Ministry was among the most prominent victims). The Ukraine and Taiwan were also hit.

It was not until December 2017, three years to the day after Obama accused North Korea of the Sony attacks, for the United States and Britain to formally declare that Kim Jong-un’s government was responsible for WannaCry. President Trump’s homeland security adviser Thomas Bossert said he was “comfortable” asserting that the hackers were “directed by the government of North Korea,” but said that conclusion came from looking at “not only the operational infrastructure, but also the tradecraft and the routine and the behaviors that we’ve seen demonstrated in past attacks. And so you have to apply some gumshoe work here, and not just some code analysis.”

“The gumshoe work stopped short of reporting about how Shadow Brokers allowed the North Koreans to get their hands on tools developed for the American cyber arsenal. Describing how the NSA enabled North Korean hackers was either too sensitive, too embarrassing or both. Bossert was honest about the fact that having identified the North Koreans, he couldn’t do much else to them. “President Trump has used just about every level you can use, short of starving the people of North Korea to death, to change their behavior,” Bossert acknowledged. “And so we don’t have a lot of room left here.”
The Ukraine was victim to multiple cyberattacks. One of the worst was NotPetya. NotPetya was nicknamed by the Kaspersky Lab, which is itself suspected by the US government of providing back doors to the Russian government via its profitable security products. This cyberattack on the Ukrainians seemed targeted at virtually every business in the country, both large and small—from the television stations to the software houses to any mom-and-pop shops that used credit cards. Throughout the country computer users saw the same broken-English message pop onto their screens. It announced that everything on the hard drives of their computers had been encrypted: “Oops, your important files have been encrypted…Perhaps you are busy looking to recover your files, but don’t waste your time.” Then the false claim was made that if $300 was paid in bitcoin the files would be restored.

NotPetya was similar to WannaCry. In early 2017 the Trump administration said that NotPetya was the work of the Russians. It was clear that the Russians had learned from the North Koreans. They made sure that no patch of Microsoft software would slow the spread of their code, and no “kill switch’ could be activated. NotPetya struck two thousand targets around the world, in more than 65 countries. Maersk, the Danish shipping company, was among the worst hit. They reported losing $300 million in revenues and had to replace four thousand servers and thousands of computers.

The Shadow Brokers

July 18, 2018

This is the fourth post based on David E Sanger’s, “THE PERFECT WEAPON: War, Sabotage, & Fear in the Cyber Age.” Within the NSA a group developed special tools for Tailored Access Operations (TAO). These tools were used to break into the computer networks of Russia, China, and Iran, among others. These tools were posted by a group that called itself the Shadow Brokers. NSA’s cyber warriors knew that the code being posted was malware they had written. It was the code that allowed the NSA to place implants in foreign systems, where they could lurk unseen for years—unless the target knew what the malware looked like. The Shadow Brokers were offering a product catalog.

Inside the NSA, this breach was regarded as being much more damaging than what Snowdon had done. The Shadow Brokers had their hands on the actual code, the cyberweapons themselves. These had cost tens of millions of dollars to create, implant, and exploit. Now they were posted for all to see—and for every other cyber player, from North Korea to Iran, to turn to their own uses.

“The initial dump was followed by many more, wrapped in taunts, broken English, a good deal of profanity, and a lot of references to the chaos of American politics.” The Shadow Brokers promised a ‘monthly dump service’ of stolen tools and left hints, perhaps misdirection, that Russian hackers were behind it all. One missive read, “Russian security peoples is becoming Russian hackers at nights, but only full moons.”

This post raised the following questions. Was this the work of the Russians, and if so was it the GRU trolling the NSA the way it was trolling the Democrats”? Did the GRU’s hackers break into the TAO’s digital safe, or did they turn an insider maybe several. And was this hack related to another loss of cyber trolls from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence which had been appearing for several months on the WikiLeaks site under the name “Vault 7?” Most importantly, was there an Implicit message in the publication of these tools, the threat that if Obama came after the Russians too hard for the election hack, more of the NSA’s code would become public?

The FBI and Brennan reported a continued decrease in Russian “probes” of the state election system. No one knew how to interpret the fact. It was possible that the Russians already had their implants in the systems they had targeted. One senior aide said, “It wouldn’t have made sense to begin sanctions” just when the Russians were backing away.

Michael Hayden, formerly of the CIA and NSA said that this was “the most successful covert operation in history.

From Russia, With Love

July 17, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of the Prologue from “The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, & Fear in the Cyber Age.” Andy Ozment was in charge of the National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center, located in Arlington, VA. He had a queasy feeling as the lights went out the day before Christmas Eve, 2015. The screens at his center indicated that something more nefarious than a winter storm or a blown-up substation had triggered the sudden darkness across a remote corner of the embattled former Soviet republic. The event had the marking of a sophisticated cyberattack, remote-controlled from someplace far from Ukraine.

This was less than two years since Putin had annexed Crimea and declared it would once again be part of Mother Russia. Putin had his troops trade in their uniforms for civilian clothing and became known as the “little green men.” These men with their tanks were sowing chaos in the Russian-speaking southeast of Ukraine and doing what they could to destabilize a new, pro-Western government in Kiev, the capital.

Ozment realized that this was the ideal time for a Russian cyberattack against the Ukrainians in the middle of the holidays. The electric utility providers were operating with skeleton crews. To Putin’s patriotic hackers, Ukraine was a playground and testing ground. Ozment told his staff that this was a prelude to what might well happen in the United States. He regularly reminded his staff, that the world of cyber conflict, attackers came in five distinct varieties: “vandals, burglars, thugs, spies, and saboteurs. He said he was not worried about the thugs, vandals, and burglars. It was the spies, and particularly the saboteurs who keep him up at night.

In the old days, they could know who launched the missiles, where they came from and how to retaliate. This clarity created a framework for deterrence. Unfortunately, in the digital age, deterrence stops at the keyboard. The chaos of the modern Internet plays out in an incomprehensible jumble. There are innocent service outages and outrageous attacks, but it is almost impossible to see where any given attack came from. Spoofing the system comes naturally to hackers, and masking their location was pretty simple. Even in the case of a big attack, it would take weeks, or months, before a formal intelligence “attribution” would emerge from American intelligence agencies and even then there might be no certainty about who instigated the attack. So this is nothing like the nuclear age. Analysts can warn the president about what was happening, but they could not specify, in real time and with certainty, where an attack was coming from or against whom to retaliate.

In the Ukraine the attackers systematically disconnected circuits, deleted backup systems, and shut down substations, all by remote control. The hackers planted a cheap program—malware named “KillDisk”—to wipe out the systems that would otherwise allow the operators to regain control. Then the hackers delivered the finishing touch: they disconnected the backup electrical system in the control room, so that not only were the operators now helpless, but they were sitting in darkness.

For two decades experts had warned the hackers might switch off a nation’s power grid, the first step in taking down an entire country.

Sanger writes, “while Ozment struggled to understand the implications of the cyber attack unfolding half a world away in Ukraine, the Russians were already deep into a three-pronged cyberattack on the very ground beneath his feet. The first phase had targeted American nuclear power plants as well as water and electric systems, with the insertion of malicious code that would give Russia the opportunity to sabotage the plants or shut them off at will. The second was focused on the Democratic National Committee, an early victim of a series of escalating attacks ordered, American intelligence agencies later concluded, by Vladimir V. Putin himself. And the third was aimed at the heart of American innovation, Silicon Valley. For a decade the executives of Facebook, Apple and Google were convinced that the technology that made them billions of dollars would hasten the spread of democracy around the world. Putin was out to disprove that thesis and show that he could use the same tools to break democracy and enhance his own power.”

Trump and North Korea

July 16, 2018

The situation between Trump and North Korea provides a salient, if not the most salient, example of the issues explored in THE PERFECT WEAPON. Trump has mistakenly declared that the threat of a nuclear armed North Korea is over.

Trump has met with Kim Jong-un. This was a major victory for Kim in that North Korea has desired a face to face meeting with the American President for a long time. The meeting was one of personal pleasure for Trump. His profuse praise of Kim Jong-un was honest as Kim is one of the most ruthless, if not the hands-down most ruthless, dictators. Clearly Kim is someone that Trump personally admires and would like to emulate.

The earlier name calling was just a ploy to provoke Kim. It’s a good thing that he did not provoke Kim as Kim has a large portion of Seoul that can be fired upon and destroyed by a simple command. This is the dilemma that has precluded taking any military action against North Korea. Actually the capability of hitting the United States with missiles armed with nuclear warheads has virtually no effect on the situation before Kim developed this capability. It’s primary role is that of prestige. North Korea is now in the nuclear club.

Kim realizes that if he ever hit the United States with nuclear weapons, there would be a massive nuclear retaliation by the United States against North Korea.

Regardless of what it says, North Korea is not going to relinquish its nuclear arsenal. They’ve played this negotiation game in the past, and they never follow through on their promises. The danger is that when Trump realizes that he has been played, he will threaten the “bloody nose” that he has threatened North Korea with in the past. Should he do this, Kim would likely use his cyberwarfare options. He could disrupt financial operations, the electrical grid, communications and effectively bring the United States to its knees. Even if Trump exercised his nuclear option that would likely not deter the North Koreans. Many of its servers and its operators reside outside North Korea. Moreover, it is likely that the Chinese would come to North Korea’s aide as they did during the Korean war. America would be living for a substantial amount of time in the dark ages.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

THE PERFECT WEAPON

July 15, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by David E. Sanger. The subtitle is “War, Sabotage, & Fear in the Cyber Age.” The following is from the Preface:

“Cyberweapons are so cheap to develop and so easy to hide that they have proven irresistible. And American officials are discovering that in a world in which almost everything is connected—phones, cars, electrical grids, and satellites—everything can be disrupted, if not destroyed. For seventy years, the thinking inside the Pentagon was that only nations with nuclear weapons could threaten America’s existence. Now that assumptions is in doubt.

In almost every classified Pentagon scenario for how a future confrontation with Russia and China, even Iran and North Korea, might play out, the adversary’s first strike against the United States would include a cyber barrage aimed at civilians. It would fry power grids, stop trains, silence cell phones, and overwhelm the Internet. In the worst case scenarios, food and water would begin to run out; hospitals would turn people away. Separated from their electronics, and thus their connections, Americans would panic, or turn against one another.

General Valery Gerasimov, an armor officer who after combat in the Second Chechen War, served as the commander of the Leningrad and then Moscow military districts. Writing in 2013 Gerasimov pointed to the “blurring [of] the lines between the state of war and the state of peace” and—after noting the Arab Awakening—observed that “a perfectly thriving state can, in a matter of months and even days, be transformed into an arena of fierce armed conflict…and sink into a web of chaos.” Gerasimov continued, “The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown,” and the trend now was “the broad use of political, economic, informational humanitarian, and other nonmilitary measures—applied in coordination with the protest potential of the population.” He said seeing large clashes of men and metal as a “thing” of the past.” He called for “long distance, contactless actions against the enemy” and included in his arsenal “informational actions, devices, and means.” He concluded, “The information space opens wide asymmetrical possibilities for reducing the fighting potential of the enemy,” and so new “models of operations and military conduct” were needed.

Putin appointed Gerasimov chief of the general staff in late 2012. Fifteen months later there was evidence of his doctrine in action with the Russian annexation of Crimea and occupation of parts of the Donbas in eastern Ukraine. It should be clear from General Gerasimov and Putin appointing him as chief of the general staff, that the nature of warfare has radically

changed. This needs to be kept in mind when there is talk of modernizing our strategic nuclear weapons. Mutual Assured Destruction, with the appropriate acronym MAD, was never a viable means of traditional warfare. It was and still is a viable means of psychological warfare, but it needs to remain at the psychological level.

Returning to the preface, “After a decade of hearings in Congress, there is still little agreement on whether and when cyberstrikes constitute an act of war, an act of terrorism, mere espionage, or cyber-enabled vandalism.” Here HM recommends adopting Gerasimov and Putin’s new definition of warfare.

Returning to the preface, “But figuring out a proportionate yet effective response has now stymied three American presidents. The problem is made harder by the fact that America’s offensive cyber prowess has so outpaced our defense that officials hesitate to strike back.”

James A. Clapper, a former director of national intelligence said that was our problem with the Russians. There were plenty of ideas about how to get back at Putin: unplug Russia from the world’s financial system; reveal Putin’s links to the oligarchs; make some of his own money—and there was plenty hidden around the world—disappear. The question Clapper was asking was, “What happens next (after a cyber attack)? And the United States can’t figure out how to counter Russian attacks without incurring a great risk of escalation.

Sanger writes, “As of this writing, in early 2018, the best estimates suggest there have been upward of two hundred known state-on-state cyber atacks—a figure that describes only those made public.”

This is the first of many posts on this book.

Microsoft Calls for Regulation of Facial Recognition

July 14, 2018

The title of this post is that same as the title of an article by Drew Harwell in 12 July 2018 issue of the Washington Post. Readers of the healthy memory blog should know that there have been many posts demanding data on the accuracy of facial recognition software to include a party responsible for assessing its accuracy. As has been mentioned in many posts, the accuracy of facial recognition software on television, especially on police shows, is misleading. And the ramifications of erroneous classifications can be serious.

The article begins, “Microsoft is calling for government regulation on facial-recognition software, one of its key technologies, saying such artificial intelligence is too important and potentially dangerous for tech giants to police themselves. This technology can catalog your photos, help reunite families or potentially be misused and abused by private companies and public authorities alike. The only way to regulate this broad use is for the government to do so.”

There’s been a torrent of public criticism aimed at Microsoft, Amazon and other tech giants over their development and distribution of the powerful identification and surveillance technology—including their own employees.

Last month Microsoft faced widespread calls to cancel its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which uses a set of Microsoft cloud-computing tools that also include facial recognition. In a letter to chief executive Satya Nadella, Microsoft workers said they “refuse to be complicit” and called on the company to “put children and families about profits.” The company said its work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement is limited to mail, messaging and office work.

This a rare call for greater regulation from a tech industry that has often bristled at Washington involvement in its work. The expressed fear is that government rules could hamper new technologies of destroy their competitive edge. The expressed fear is not real if the government does the testing of new technologies. This does no hamper new technologies, rather it protects the public from using inappropriate products.

Face recognition is used extensively in China for government surveillance. The technology needs to be open to greater public scrutiny and oversight. Allowing tech companies to set their own rules is an inadequate substitute for decision making by the public and its representatives.

Microsoft is moving more deliberately with facial recognition consulting and contracting work and has turned down customers calling for deployment of facial-recognition technology in areas where we’ve concluded that there are greater human rights and risks.

Regulators also should consider whether police or government use of face recognition should require independent oversight; what legal measures could prevent AI from being used for racial profiling; and whether companies should be forced to post noticed that facial-recognition technology is being used in public places.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My Problem was that I was Too Nice

July 13, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the first part of a title in an article by Jamil Zaki in the Health and Science Section of the 20 March 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The second part of the title is “Now I realize the downside of being polite.”

The author is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Stanford University. He asked the question he poses to everyone who graduates from his lab: “What could I have done better?” The departing student replied, “You’re too nice.” When asked to elaborate he said, “you’re so nice to everyone here that we don’t really know what you think about anyone. Some people end up assuming the worst.”

The author concluded that he was addicted to niceness. He wrote, “Not everyone shares my addiction. In fact, our culture is in the middle of a politeness shortage. Imagine a reader from five years ago leafing through today’s Washington Post. She’d probably be shocked at the vulgarity of our national conversation. Social media is overrun with bullying. CNN warns parents they might want to clear the room of small children before the president’s remarks are broadcast. Norms are steadily shredded. The psychologist Steven Pinker claims that modern society is built on a foundation of ‘civilizing’: people’s adherence to common decency. If he’s right, our house is teetering.”

The author has been studying empathy for the past dozen years, the ability to share and understand each others feelings. Empathy comes in different flavors, including distress, an aversion to seeing others in pain. And concern, a desire to improve their well-being. He notes that the pieces of empathy often split apart. He says to imagine a friend about to launch an ill-advised business adventure or to marry someone you know to be unfaithful. If you tell him the bad news, he’ll feel hurt, but he’ll also have information to make wiser choices. Empathetic distress motivates us to avoid causing suffering at all costs, but it can also encourage comforting lies over difficult truths. This is polite, but not kind. If we truly care for people, we often must steer them into hard feelings.

The author writes, “If there is one place that politeness seems useful, it’s the gulf between Us and Them into which our country has fallen. Political discourse increasingly resembles a live-action YouTube comment section; to claw our way back toward stability, niceness seems like a crucial starting point. In the fall Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch preached the importance of politeness, joining a chorus of similar voices from across the political spectrum.”

The author concludes, “I now realized my politeness stemmed from a shallow empathy. I strove to guard others—and probably myself—from pain rather than to enrich us. My question for this year: Instead of doing no harm, how can I do the most good?

Rudeness is as Contagious as a Bad Cold

July 12, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the second half of the title of an article by William Wan in the 27 June 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The first half of the title of the article is “Study’s finding for an age of rage:

Trevor Foulk, who studies organizational behavior at the University of Maryland, likens rudeness to the common cold: It’s contagious. He said, “When it comes to incivility, there’s often a snowballing effect. The more you see rudeness, the more likely you are to perceive it from others and the more likely you are to be rude yourself to others.”

A 2016 study by Christopher Rosen, an organizational scientist at the University of Arkansas, tracked employees over the course of their work days. He and fellow researchers found that individuals who experienced a perceived insult earlier in the day would later strike back at coworkers. Using psychological tests, the researchers linked that reaction to lowered levels of self-control. Rosen said, “When someone is uncivil to you, it forces you to spend a lot of mental energy trying to figure out what.s going on, what caused the rudeness, what it means. All that thinking lessens your capacity for impulse control. So you become more prone to be rude to others…People, in a way, ‘pay it forward.’”

Foulk and others in a series of experiments showed that the more people witness and experiences rudeness, the more they are predisposed to interpret an action as rude and then act toward others in rude ways. Foulk said, “Rudeness is interesting in that it’s often ambiguous and open to interpretation. If someone punches you, we would all agree that it’s abusive. But if someone comes up to you and says in a neutral voice ‘nice shoes,’ is that an insult? Is it sarcasm or something else?’ The more someone has witnessed rudeness, the more likely you are to interpret ‘nice shoes’ as deliberately rude.’

In one study, workers were shown videos every morning before work. On the mornings when those videos included an uncivil interaction, the workers were more likely to interpret subsequent interactions throughout their day as rude.

Foulk found in another study on negotiations that if someone experiences rudeness from a person on the opposing side, the next person they negotiate with is highly likely to perceive them as rude also. Even when the two negotiations took place seven days apart, the contagion effect was just as strong.

In a summary of his findings Foulk wrote, “What is so scary about this effect is that it’s an automatic process—it takes place in a part of your brain that you are not aware of, can’t stop, and can’t control.”

The article continues “But perhaps most worrisome is the effect of all this growing incivility. Mounting research shows rudeness can cause employees to be chronically distracted, less productive, and less creative. Researchers have shown how incivility can lower trust, spark feelings of anger, fear, and sadness, and cause depression. One study found increased incivility at work had personal-life implications, such as a drop in marital satisfaction.”

In 2016 and 2017 two studies found that doctors and nurses in neonatal intensive care units who were scolded by an actress playing the mother of a sick infant performed much more poorly than those who did not—even misdiagnosing the infant’s condition.
One of the authors of this study told the Wall Street Journal, “The results were scary. The teams exposed to rudeness gave the wrong diagnosis, didn’t resuscitate or ventilate appropriately, didn’t communicate well, gave the wrong medications and made other serious mistakes.”

Rosen made the following suggestion. “When you experience incivility, it’s important to take a step back and not act on your impulses. Do things that help you recover your ability to self-regulate, like exercise or taking a break. Our research shows people are often not even aware of their reactions and the way they spread negativity. Some of these recommendation for how to stop it are easier said than done.”

It is our misfortune that President Trump is notorious for his uncivil behavior, and it seems that this uncivil behavior has become an epidemic.

The Inequality Delusion: Why We’ve Got the Wealth Gap All Wrong

July 11, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a feature article by Mark Sheepskin in the 31 March 2018 issue of the “New Scientist.” The article notes that we are unlikely to appreciate just how unequal things are and provides the following means of visualizing it: Take the wealth of the eight richest people on the planet and combine it. Now do the same for the poorest 3.5 billion. The two sums are the same 350 billion Euros. So just eight people own as much wealth as half of the world’s population.

In the United States almost 85% of the wealth is owned by just 20% of the population. The bottom 40% own just 0.3% of it. In 1960, a chief executive in the US typically earned 20 times as much as an average worker. Today it is more like 354 times. When the Pew research center asked people in 44 countries whether they thought the gap between the rich and poor was a “big problem”, a majority in all 44 said it was. A majority in 28 said it was a very big problem. The article does not indicate whether the respondents were aware of the stark statistics at the beginning of the article. It is unlikely that they were, as the question is usually posed so that no additional information is given. The objective of most of these surveys is whether they think this is a problem without biasing them with actual statistics of the state of the world.

Laboratory studies indicate that inequality aversion is a strong motivator of behavior. When people are asked to divide money among themselves and fellow subjects in experiments, there is a clear preference for equal distribution. This desire is so powerful that people often choose to receive smaller but more equal rewards over larger but more unequal ones. In other cases they prefer surplus resources to be be thrown away rather than distributed unequally. It is reasonable to think that the participants in these experiments regard each other as peers.

Researchers asked a representative sample of 5500 Americans about their ideal distribution of wealth in the U.S. On average, people said that the richest 20% should hold 30% of the wealth, and the bottom 20% just 10%. When forced to choose between high levels of inequality and complete equality, most choose the former.

Apparently, people are more concerned with fairness than equality. They recognize that different people make different contributions to society and should be rewarded proportionately. But it does appear that what is generally regarded as fair does not correspond to reality.

A factor not mentioned in this article is that most wealth is inherited wealth. By birth some individuals are much wealthier than others with all its accompanying advantages. It would have been helpful to have survey data on how people felt about inherited wealth.

The article does not raise the question if in the future our economy can produce abundant wealth with machines rather than people doing most of the work, what will be the fair way to distribute the wealth they create. One point is clear. There is more than enough pie to go around. The question is how this pie is distributed. Although people will accept income inequality, they will object to being treated unfairly. If conditions become bad enough, violence will result and place all, even people in gated communities, at risk.

Automation should result in fewer work hours, and more free hours where people could relax, engage in hobbies, and in additional educational and cultural activities. It is likely that some people will engage in substance abuse, but perhaps by that time more will be known regarding how to treat and prevent drug abuse.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wearable Scanner Can Image Your Brain While You’re on the Move

July 10, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article in the News & Technology section of the 31 March 2018 issue of the “New Scientist.” Now, for the first time, babies and young children will be able to have their brain activity scanned, thanks to a portable scanner. The device was made portable by replacing traditional sensors, which require a heavy and bulky calling system, with miniature ones that detect the brain’s magnetic field in a different way. These sensors can be attached directly to the scalp using a 3D-printed helmet that can be personalize to any size of head.

However, the wearer can’t wander too far though; the scanner only works inside a special room that helps counteract Earth’s natural magnetic field. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of possible applications. It could be used to analyze brain activity while people navigate. You can also have more natural interactions between people—two people each wearing a scanner and speaking face-to-face. It is also possible to scan toddlers and babies as well, to study their development. This technology is also useful for imaging the brains of people with movement disorders and other conditions that mean they can’t undergo traditional scans.

Richard Bowtell at the University of Nottingham and his colleagues have designed this magnetoencephalography (MEG) device that is worn like a helmet, allowing people to move freely during scanning. They tested the device on four people while they they moved their fingers and got results similar to those achieved using a standard MEG scanner (Nature, doi.org/cmrw).

HM is looking forward to the future when perhaps devices such as these can be used to record brain activity while people are engaged in daily activities. Perhaps they could distinguish between Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of Human Cognition. System 1 refers to our normal mode of cognition.  It is very fast and allows for fluent conversations and skilled performance.  It is the default mode of cognition.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds to what we colloquially call thinking.  System 2 requires attention and mental effort.  One of the jobs of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors.  However, this requires mental effort and thinking. Then it might be possible to test HM’s notion that it is System 2 processing that builds the cognitive reserve to ward of Alzheimer’s. See the healthy memory blog “Daniel Kahneman and the Stupidity Pandemic.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Needed Post on Consciousness

July 9, 2018

This post is inspired by an article in the 23 June 2018 issue of the New Scientist by Per Snaprud titled “Consciousness: How We’re Solving a Mystery Bigger than Our Minds.” The truth is that they are not solving a mystery. Unfortunately there are scientists who regard themselves as being rigorous who are strict determinists and who cannot abide the notion of free will. They are trying to solve consciousness as something that we do not control and in which we view our lives in a deterministic manner.

First of all, they need to accept the concept of free will. Entering “free will” into the search block of the healthymemory blog will yield many previous posts on this topic. The post titled “Free Will” is a review of a book by the same title by the philosopher Mark Ballagher. The book is in MIT’s Essential Knowledge Series, and HM would certainly agree that this knowledge is essential.

Consciousness is something we all experience, and we can experience consciousness in a passive mode. As long as we’re awake, we have a conscious experience. And even during sleep we dream. The Global Workspace Theory states that specialized modules send messages into a vast network where they compete for dominance. The winner is broadcast globally and enters consciousness. This is an accurate description of consciousness in its passive mode. What it does not explain is consciousness in the active mode

We can focus consciousness on particular topics. A failure to do so would lead to incoherent, disastrous lives. One of the goals of meditation is to focus and control our consciousness. There are many benefits to meditation. Accordingly, there are many posts on meditation and mindfulness. Undoubtedly our ability to focus and to meditate is one of our executive functions that is found in the prefrontal cortex.

Please review the numerous posts on meditation and mindfulness to review the many benefits of gaining control of our conscious minds. One post of special importance is titled “The Genetic Breakthrough—Your Ultimate Mind Body Connection.” Enter [Mind Body Connection] in the healthymemory blog search block to access this post.

The Brain’s Secret Powerhouse That Makes Us Who We Are

July 7, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Caroline Williams in the Features section of the 7 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The cerebellum is tucked beneath the rest of the brain and only a tenth of its size. In the 19th century phrenologists, who examined the shape of the skull to determine a person’s character, declared the cerebellum to be the root of sexual desire. They thought, the larger the cerebellum, the greater the likelihood of sexual desire.

During World War 1, the British neurologist Gordon Holmes noticed that the main problems for men whose cerebellum had been damaged by gunshot wounds had nothing to do with their sex lives and everything to do with the fine control of movements, ranging from a lack of balance to difficulties with walking, speech, and eye movements. From then on, the cerebellum was considered the mastermind of our smooth and effortless motions, with no role in thinking.

In the mid 1980s when brain imaging came along researchers noted activity in the cerebellum while people were lying still in a brain scanner and thinking. Unsure as to why this was occurring it was explained away as the neural signature of eye movements.

It took until the 1990s that it became undeniable that something else was occurring. Reports emerged describing people who had clear damage to their cerebellums but no trouble with movement. They experienced a host of emotional and cognitive issues, from depression to attention problems and an inability to navigate.

By this time, advances in neuroscience made it possible to trace long-range connections to and from the cerebellum. It was found that only a small proportion of the cerebellum was wired to the motor cortex, which is the brain region involved in making deliberate movements, explaining why movement was unaffected for some people with a damaged cerebellum. The vast majority of the cerebellum connects to regions of the cortex that are involved in cognition, perception, language and emotional processing.

A review of maps of the cerebellum built from functional MRI brain scans confirmed that all major cortical regions have loops of connections running to and from the cerebellum. The cerebellum has conversations with different areas of the cortex: taking information from them, transforming it and sending it back to where it came from.

One of the more unexpected connections was with the prefrontal cortex, which lies far from the cerebellum at the front of the brain and has long been considered the most advanced part of the brain. This region is in charge of abilities such as planning, impulse control, and emotional intelligence. It is disproportionately large and complex in humans compared with our closest species.

Robert Barton, an evolutionary neuroscientist at Durham in the UK says that when compared to primate brains, he found there is something special about the ape cerebellum, particularly our own. Throughout most of mammal evolution, the cerebellum increased in size at the same rate as the rest of the brain. But when apes split off from other primates, something strange began to happen. The ape cerebellum had a runaway growth spurt, becoming disproportionately larger than it evolved in the lesser apes. In our own brains the cerebellum is 31% larger than you would expect scaling up the brain of a non-ape primate. And it is jam-packed with brain cells, containing 16 billion more than you would anticipate finding if a monkey brain were enlarged to the size of ours. By strange coincidence, there are 16 billion neurons in the entire cortex. Neurons are particularly energy hungry cells, so this represents a huge investment of resources of the kind the brain wouldn’t both with without good reason.

Barton suspects that what started this unlikely growth spurt was the challenge of moving a much larger body through the trees. While small primates can run along the branches even gibbon-sized apes are too heavy to do the same, at least without holding on to branches above. This led apes to switch to swinging through the branches, known as brachiation, which in turn made the ability to plan ahead a distinct advantage. Barton says, “Brachiation is a relatively complex locomotor strategy. It involves fine sensory motor control, but it also involved a need to plan your route so that you can avoid accidents.”

To be able to plan a route, it helps to be be able to predict what is likely to happen next. To do that, you need to make unconscious adjustments to the speed, strength and direction of your movements on the fly.

Neuroscientists believe that the cerebellum achieves this by computing the most likely outcome based on previous experience using so-called forward models. Once it has these models in place through learning, it can then update and amend them depending on what is happening now. Narebder Ramnani, a neuroscientist at Royal Holloway University in London says, “Forward models respond very quickly because they allow the brain to generate what are likely to be the correct movements without waiting around for feedback.”

The leap in motor skills that came with brachiation and forward planning doesn’t completely explain the vast increased in the size of the cerebellum. Vineyard-like rows of bushy neurons called purkinje cells are linked by parallel fibers coming from the senses and vertical climbing fibers, which are thought to carry error messenger with which to update the internal model.

This structure is copied and pasted across the entire cerebellum with processing units set up like banks of computers, spitting out predictions all day long. Unlike the cortex, the structure of the cerebellum looks exactly the same regardless of where you look or which part of the cortex it is connected to. The only distinction is that different “modules” connect to different parts of the cortex.

Ramona says, “This suggests that whatever kind of computation that the cerebellum is carrying out for the motor regions of the brain, it is likely to be doing much the same for the cognitive and emotional regions too. And if the cerebellum is learning to automate rules for movements, it is probably doing likewise for social and emotional interactions, which it can call up, adapt and use at lightning speed.

Barton believes that having the ability to learn, plan, predict and updates was a key movement in our evolution, opening up a whole new world of complex behaviors. At first, these behaviors revolved around planning sequential movements to reach a goal, such as adapting twigs as a tool for termite fishing. But eventually thinking unhooked from movement, allowing us to plan our behaviors without moving a muscle. Barton thinks that being able to understand sequences could have allowed our ancestors to decode the gestures of others, setting the stage for the development of language.

The idea that the cerebellum makes and updates forward models contribute to the understanding of how the brain builds a picture of the word around us. The brain makes sense of the cacophony of sensory information with which it is bombarded by using past experience to make predictions that it updates as it goes along. With its forward planning capabilities, the cerebellum plays a more important role in the general working of the brain than we thought.

This new thinking strongly suggests that the cerebellum is involved in everything from planning to social interactions, and has a role in a range of conditions. For example, differences in how the cerebellum and the prefrontal cortex are connected are thought to affects the ability of people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to focus.

Schizophrenia is commonly linked with cerebellum changes, which could result in an inability to balance internally generated models of reality with sensory information entering the brain.

There is some hope that giving the cerebellum a boost using a type of brain stimulation called transcranial magnetic stimulation could help. A clinical trial is under way for schizophrenia.

This stimulation could even do us all some good; a recent study found that applying it to the cerebellum of healthy volunteers improved their ability to sustain attention.

A Few Words on the Fading American Dream

July 5, 2018

A few posts back there was a healthy memory blog post titled “The Fading American Dream May Be Behind the Rise in US Suicides.” The first point is that the American Dream is real. Many have immigrated into the United States in the hope of a better life. This American Dream has been important not only to the immigrants, but also to the United States, because it is these immigrants who have made America great. For America’s greatness to continue it is important that this flow of diverse immigrants not only continue, but also increase.

Unfortunately, many are told that you can be whatever you want to be. Anyone who believes this risks the very real likelihood that they will be disappointed. Although it is true that most of us can accomplish more than we think we can, there are still certain limitations for success. Here is what I believe is Nobel Winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s formula for success:

success = talent + luck
great success = a little more talent + a lot of luck

Here talent should not be interpreted as inborn skill, but rather as how much we develop whatever talents we have. But a very large player in success, both great and moderate, is pure luck.

Successful people should always be aware of this fact that a lot of luck has played in to their success. And people who feel that they have been cheated from the American Dream, the truth is that they have been short on good fortune.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Happy Fourth of July!

July 4, 2018

Many will say that we are proud to be Americans. However, when one thinks about this, it is a strange assertion. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, wrath, and sloth). Also consider the immediately preceding post, “Remember This Post on July 4.” There is little basis on which to be proud.

So we should celebrate the Fourth of July by setting aspirational goals regarding what American should be. At the time it was written, the Declaration of Independence was literally revolutionary. All men were created equal and were going to be guaranteed rights in the future Constitution. But at that time, although all men were created equal, women could not vote. And blacks were regarded as three-fifths of a human being and most blacks were slaves. We have been advancing from that point and have achieved moderate success. The goals we should be pursuing have been discussed in posts based on Steven Pinker’s book, “Enlightenment Now,” and on Jon Meecham’s book “The Soul of America.” Consider the following:
Those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of humankind.
——-Baruch Spinoza
and
Everything that is not forbidden by the laws of nature is achievable, given the right knowledge.
——-David Deutsch

Consider how far we have fallen under the current president, who does not believe in objective truth. This is quite evident with his voluminous lies that have been counted and documented. For Trump, what be believes at the moment and what benefits him constitutes truth.

He has no interest in the welfare of mankind and uses lies to foster hate against people of certain religious faiths and people who want to immigrate to thus country. Consider Reagan’s City on the Hill Speech from his Farewell address:
“But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still…And she’s still a beacon and a magnet for all who must find freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

How far we have fallen.

It is amazing that there are Christians who are Trump supporters. Trump is the antithesis of a Christian.

How can this be? A clear distinction needs to be made between religions and churches. Churches function as businesses that are tax exempt. Unfortunately some churches participate in political activities and most definitely shouldn’t be tax exempt. But it should not be forgotten that churches are in the religion business. They need parishioners for both monetary and personal support. Many churches modify their religions to conform with the biases and beliefs of their parishioners to be successful. For most members belonging to and attending a church checks the box that will either insure or increase the likelihood of eternal life. During the services parishioners think they feel the presence of God. HM understands this from both a personal and a psychological perspective. And parishioners receive personal support from their fellow parishioners.

However, parishioners should understand that it is not their religious leaders who will make judgments about eternal life. Those judgments will be made by a true deity. For Christians, the judgment will be regarding how well Christ’s teachings were followed. The love of one’s fellow humans, caring for the sick, and the “turning” of the cheek when struck are Christ’s teachings. An important Christian belief that seems to have been forgotten is the tolerance of other religious beliefs. We need to love and respect all our fellow humans and feel responsible for fostering their well being. It appears likely that many will be surprised on judgment day.

If Christians followed the actual teachings of Christ, the United States would be well on its way to achieving its ideals. This is also true of most other religious beliefs. Unfortunately, many religious leaders have lost touch with what should be their true religions beliefs. It should be mentioned that religions go way beyond the teachings of Christ. Only the actual teachings of Christ are authoritative. Beliefs specific to particular religions can be regarded as arbitrary, at best, and even contrary to the teachings of Christ, at worst.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Remember This Post on July 4

July 3, 2018

This post is inspired by an article in the 7 June 2008 issue of the Washington Post by Jeff Stein titled “U.N. study: Safety net was failing before Trump’s election.” The subtitle is “About 40 million Americans live in poverty, report finds.” This report is a product of the United Nations. The report says that among countries in the developed world, America already has the highest rates of youth poverty, infant mortality, incarceration, income inequality and obesity. The reports says Americans “live shorter and sicker lives compare to those living in all other rich democracies.”

About 40 million Americans live in poverty, and 18.5 million live in “extreme poverty.” And that 5 million Americans live “in Third World conditions of absolute poverty.”

Every year about 11 million Americans cycle through a jail or prison every year, with at least 730,000 people incarcerated “on any given day.”

In 2016, a “schockingly high” number of children were living in poverty, about 13.3 million, or 18% of them, with government spending on children near the bottom of the international pack.

Philip Alston blames the American political system for these failings, arguing it deprives African Americans of voting rights, unfairly sends the homeless to jail, and has failed to provide health care and housing programs for its citizens. He writes, “The persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power. With political will, it could be readily eliminated.”

Obviously, Trump is not entirely responsible for all these conditions. Some of the statistics in the early stages of his administration looked good. But it needs to be remembered, that there is a time lag in economic effects. So it is likely that Trump benefited from some of Obama’s policies. But it is also clear that Obama and a non-cooperating Congress were responsible for the general conditions that existed when Trump took over. It is also clear that Trump’s policies will further worsen these already deplorable statistics.

The statement we hear on the Fourth is that the United States is the freest and and best country in the world. The truth is that we are not. We lag far behind other free countries in terms of human welfare. Alston predicts that Trump’s policies will weaken a safety net that has already made America among the stingiest in the world.

Jamila Michener of Cornell University says “my expectation is most if not all these outcomes will look worse post-Trump than they did pre-Trump.

HM has heard Christians say that we are an Christian country. How can such conditions exist in a truly Christian country?

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Fading American Dream My Be Behind the Rise in US Suicides

July 2, 2018

The title of the post is identical to the title of an article by Andy Coghlan in the News section of the 30 June 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The article begins, “Shrinking life chances plus the lack of a social safety net may have left middle-aged Americans more vulnerable to suicide than peers in the rich nations.” The annual rate of suicide in the US has risen by almost 28% between 1999 and 2016.

A number of explanations have been advanced for this fact, including the 2008 economic crash, the upsurge in addiction to opiod painkillers and the migration of manufacturing jobs to other countries. But this does not explain why the suicide rate is rising so fast in the US as it falls in other rich countries.

Figures from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that the country’s rate of suicide was 15.6 per 100,000 population in 2016, up from 12.2 in 1999. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the global average rate is 10.6. The rate for the UK in 2016 was 8.9 per 100,000, down from 9.1 in 2000, according to the latest WHO data.

Although globalization and automation are driving job losses in the US, the same pressures have affected all Western economies without a similar increase in the suicide rate. People who work in mental health and suicide contacted by the New Scientist argued that some distinctive elements of US Culture may help explain the rise, Julie Phillips of Rutgers University says ,”I think the US is unique in a few respects. One of the key drivers could be the American dream itself—the idea that you can work hard and climb out of poverty. A growing mismatch between life expectations this brings and the increasingly bleak reality for many US citizens could lead to hardship.”

“This may be particularly felt by middle-aged white Americans, who have the highest suicide rates and the steepest rises. The American dream is deeply ingrained, but it no longer seems to be true for working class, middle-aged people. I think this disjuncture between norms, expectations and reality is one important factor behind the increase.”

“This group is also more likely to be negatively affected by divorce, lower education levels and economic inequality. Among US adults over 50, the divorce rate has doubled since the 1990s. In 1999 suicide rates for middle-aged people with a high school diploma or less were 1.7 times greater than those with a college degree. By 2013, this difference in risk had risen to 2.4 times greater.”

Deborah Stone of the CDC and lead author of this report said, “It is also likely that recent events such as the 2008 financial crash and the current opiod painkiller crisis, are contributing to the rise in the suicide rate. We know that suicides increase in times of economic turmoil. Data also indicate that opiod prescribing rates are higher in countries where there are higher rates of suicide.”

Coghlan writes, “Strong individuals in the US and the lack of social welfare schemes found in many other rich countries may also play a role.” Evidence for this comes from a 2013 report that showed people in the US die earlier than those in comparable nations, though not necessarily from suicide. The joint report by the US National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine revealed that by almost every measure, people in the US were unhealthier and more likely to die prematurely than those in 16 other rich nations.

Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, who headed up the report said, “This problem has deep roots. We believe living conditions are producing a growing sense of desperation that’s causing people to turn to drugs and alcohol and, when all hope is lost, suicide.”

The report also highlights the fact that, unlike the US, governments of rich nations such as Finland, France, and Belgium promote healthcare through non-medical support, including housing, education, and social insurance. “The US spends plenty, but we spend differently,” says Laudan Aron at the Urban Institute in Washington DC.

This rejection of the state and the prioritizing of individual rights, no matter what the potential costs, runs throughout US culture. It explains why people in the US are more likely to indulge in risky behaviors such as overeating and gun-related activity, and tend to defy safety-based but restrictive norms such as wearing seat belts. So, the author asks, “could this attitude also be behind the US suicide rates?

Stone agrees it may have played a part. “but it is possible that the culture around individualism and stigma around seeking help does leave people vulnerable, perhaps more so than in other Western countries, but that needs additional study.”

Others are more convinced. Phillips says says, “The group most affected—less educated, white, middle-aged males—grew up with certain norms surrounding masculinity and self-reliance, and this group doesn’t seem to be seeking help.”

Stone says, “to redress the increasing rates, the CDC issued guidance on preventing suicide. It has recommended social and economic support measures such as providing financial help with paying rent, teaching skills for coping with stressful events and relationship problems, and encouraging a sense of belonging and social connectedness among vulnerable people.”

But Woolf says more radical interventions are needed. “Policymakers need to address widening social inequalities that are placing a vice on the middle class, and releave the distressful living conditions that are driving people to their deaths. Instead they are doing the opposite. Current elected officials are pulling funding out of such programs and enacting new policies which, if anything, will tighten the vice.”

Conclusions

July 1, 2018

This is the sixth post based on Margaret E. Roberts’ “Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall.” Although this is an outstanding work by Dr. Roberts, the conclusions could have been better. Consequently, HM is providing his conclusions from this work. It is divided into two parts. The first part deals with implications for authoritarian governments. The second part deals with implications for democracies.

Authoritarian Governments

Mao Tse Tung initially used a heavy handed approach to the control of information. Although he managed to maintain control of the regime, it was an economic and social disaster. Beginning with Den Xiapong policies of reform and opening were begun. This evolved slowly and serially. The dictator’s dilemmas were discussed in the first post, “Censored.” One dilemma is when the government would like to enforce constraints on public speech, but repression could backfire against government. Censorship could be seen as a signal that the authority is trying to conceal something and is not in fact acting as an agent for citizens. Another dilemma is that even if the dictator would like to censor, by censoring the autocrat has more difficulty collecting precious information about the public’s view of government. The third dilemma is that censorship can have economic consequences that are costly for authoritarian governments that retain legitimacy from economic growth.

China has apparently handled these three dilemmas via porous censorship. As China has a highly effective authoritarian government it appears that porous censorship is highly effective. One could argue that China has provided a handbook for authoritarian governments, explaining how to maintain power, have a growing economy, and have a fairly satisfied public. It still is an open question for how long this authoritarian government can maintain. Although many Chinese are wealthy, and some are extremely wealthy, the majority of the country is poor. Although, in general, the standard of living has improved for virtually everyone, the amount of improvement largely differs. China has emerged as one of the leading powers in the world.

The question is whether they are satisfied being an economic power, or does it also want to be a military power? It is devoting a serious amount of money to its military forces and has built its first aircraft carrier. Other countries in the area, along with the United States, are justly concerned with China’s growing military power, especially its navy and air force. China has made it clear that they want to dominate the South China Sea. There is also the possibility that when they think the time is right, they will invade Taiwan. It is clear that the United States does not want another land war in Asia. But US Naval forces would be stretched very thin. And the loss of a couple of super carriers could result in a very short war.

Democracies

One can argue that democracy is already plagued with flooding. There is just way too much stuff on the internet. One could also argue that this is just too much of a good thing, but one would be wrong. Placing good information on the internet requires effort. Apart from entertainment, objective truth needs to be a requirement for the internet. Unfortunately, there are entities and individuals such as the current president of the United States, such as the alt-right that do not care about objective truth. So it is easy to post stuff on the internet that has no basis in objective reality. It is easy to spin conspiracy theories and all sorts of nonsense. So there is a problem on the production side. Information based on objective-truth takes time to produce. Eliminate this goal of objective truth and letting the mind run wild provides the means of producing virtually endless amounts of nonsense, at least some of which is harmful.

But there is also effort on the receiving side. Concern with the objective truth requires the use of what Kahneman terms, System 2 processing, which is more commonly know as thinking. This requires both time and mental effort. However, a disregard for objective truth such as what is produced by the alt-right, requires only believing, not thinking. It involves System 1 processing which is also where our emotions sit.

Given that objective truth requires System 2 processing both for its production and its reception, and that a disregard for objective truth such as illustrated in alt-right products and conspiracy theories, requires only System 1 processing with emotional and gut feelings, the latter will likely overwhelm the former. This could spell the death of democracy. If so, the Chinese have provided an effective handbook for managing authoritarian governments.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Information Flooding

June 30, 2018

This is the fifth post based on Margaret E. Roberts’ “Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall.” Dr. Roberts writes, “information flooding is the least identifiable form of censorship of all the mechanisms described in this book. Particularly with the expansion of the Internet, the government can hide its identify and post online propaganda pretending to be unrelated to the government. Coordinate efforts to spread information online reverberate throughout social media because citizens are more likely to come across them and share them. Such coordinate efforts can distract from ongoing events that might be unfavorable to the government and can de-prioritize other news and perspectives.

We might expect that coordinated government propaganda efforts would be meant to persuade or cajole support from citizens on topics that criticize the government about. However, the evidence presented in this chapter indicates that governments would rather not use propaganda to draw attention to any information that could shed a negative light on their performance. Instead, governments use coordinated information to draw attention away from negative events toward more positive news for their own overarching narrative, or to create positive feelings about the government among citizens. This type of flooding is even more difficult to detect, and dilutes the information environment to decrease the proportion of information that reflects badly on the government.

Information flooding can be subtle. In other cases it can be quite glaring. On August 3, 2014 a 6.5 magnitude earthquake hit Yunnan province in China. The earthquake killed hundreds and injured thousands of people, destroying thousands of homes in the process, School buildings toppled and trapped children, reminiscent of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which killed 70,000 people. The government was heavily criticized for shoddy construction of government buildings. Emergency workers rushed to the scene to try to rescue survivors.

Eight hours after the earthquake struck, the Chinese official media began posting coordinated stories. These stories were not about the earthquake , but about controversial Internet personality Guo Meimei. Guo had reached Internet celebrity status three years earlier, in 2011 when she repeatedly posted posted pictures of herself dressed in expensive clothing and in front of expensive cars on Sina Weibo, attributing her lavish lifestyle to her job at the Red Cross in China. Although Guo did not work at the Red Cross, her boyfriend, Wang Jun, was on the board of the Red Cross Bo-ai Asset Management Ltd., a company that coordinated charity events for the Red Cross. The expensive items that Guo had posed with on social media in 2011 were allegedly gifts from Wang. This attracted millions of commentators on social media. This scandal highlighted issues with corruption of charities in China, and donations to the Red Cross plummeted.

By 2014, when the earthquake hit, the Guo Meimei scandal was old news, long forgotten by the fast pace of the Internet. On July 10, 2014, Chinese officials had arrested Guo on allegations of gambling on the World Cup. On midnight August 4, 2014 Xinhua out of the blue posted a long, detailed account of a confession made by Guo Memei that included admissions of gambling and engaging in prostitution. On the same day, many other major media outlets followed suit, inducing coverage by major media outlets such as CCTV, the Global Times, Caijing, Southern Weekend, Beijing Daily, and Nanjing Daily. Obviously this was not an enormous coincidence. Rather, it was well coordinated information flooding.

Coordination of information to produce such flooding is central to the information strategies of the Chinese propaganda system. The Chinese government is in the perfect position to coordinate because it has the resources and infrastructure to do so. The institution of propaganda in China is built in a way that makes coordination easy. The Propaganda Department is one of the most extensive bureaucracies within the Chinese Communist Party, infiltrating every level of government. It is managed and led directly from the top levels of the CCP.

China has a Fifty Cent Party that provides highly coordinated cheerleading. Current conceptions of online propaganda in China posit that the Fifty Cent Party is primarily tasked with countering anti-government rhetoric online. Social media users are accused of being Fifty Cent Party members when they defend government positions in heated online debates about policy or when they attack those with anti-government views. Scholars and pundits have viewed Fifty Cent Party members as attackers aimed at denouncing or undermining pro-West, anti-China opinion. For the most part, Fifty Cent Party members have been seen in the same light as traditional propaganda. They intend to persuade rather than to censor.

Instead of attacking, the largest portion of Fifty Cent Party posts in the leaked email archive were aimed at cheerleading for citizens and China—patriotism, encouragement or motivation of citizens, inspirational quotes or slogans, gratefulness, or celebrations of historical figures, China or cultural events. Most of the posts seem to be intended to make people feel good about their lives, and not to draw attention to anti-government threads on the Internet, is consistent with recent indication from Chinese propaganda officials that propagandists attempt to promote “positivity.” The Chinese Communist Party has recently focused on encouraging art, TV shows, social media posts, and music to focus on creating “positive energy” to distract from increasingly negative commercial news.

The Powerful Influence of Information Friction

June 29, 2018

This is the fourth post based on Margaret E. Roberts’ “Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall.” Dr. Roberts related that in May 2011 she had been following news about a local protest in Inner Mongolia in which an ethnic Mongol herdsmen had been killed by a Han Chinese truck driver. In the following days increasingly large numbers of local Mongols began protesting outside of government buildings, culminating in sufficiently large-scale protests that the Chinese government imposed martial law. These were the largest protests that Inner Mongolia had experienced in twenty years. A few months later Dr. Roberts arrived in Beijing for summer. During discussions with a friend she brought up the Inner Mongolia protest. Her friend could not recollect the event, saying that she had not heard of it. A few minutes later, she remembered that a friend of hers had mentioned something about it. but when she looked for information online, she could not find any, so she assumed that the protest itself could not have been that important.

This is what happened. Bloggers who posted information about the protest online had their posts quickly removed from the Internet by censors. As local media were not reporting on the event, any news of the protest was reported mainly by foreign sources, many of which had been blocked by the Great Firewall. Even for the media, information was difficult to come by, as reporting on the protests on the ground had been banned, and the local Internet had been shut off by the government.

Dr. Roberts noted that information about the protest was not impossible to find on the Internet. She had been following news from Boston and even in China. The simple use of a Virtual Private Network and some knowledge of which keywords to search for had uncovered hundreds of news stories about the protests. But her friend, a well-to-do, politically interested, tech-savvy woman, was busy and Inner Mongolia is several hundred miles away. So after a cursory search that turned up nothing, she concluded that the news was either unimportant or non-existent.

Another of her friends was very interested in politics and followed political events closely. She was involved in multiple organizations that advocated for genuine equality and was an opinionated feminist. Because of her feminist activist, Dr. Roberts asked her whether she had heard of the five female activists who had been arrested earlier that year in China, including in Beijing, for their involvement in organizing a series of events meant to combat sexual harassment. The arrests of these five women had been covered extensively in the foreign press and had drawn an international outcry. Articles about the activists had appeared in the New York Times and on the BBC. Multiple foreign governments had called for their release. But posts about their detention were highly censored and the Chinese news media were prohibited from reporting on it. Her friend, who participated in multiple feminist social media groups, and had made an effort to read Western news, still had not heard about their imprisonment.

Dr. Roberts kept encountering examples like these, where people living in China exhibited surprising ignorance about Chinese domestic events that had made headlines in the international press. They had not heard that the imprisoned Chinese activist Liu Xiao had won the Nobel Peace Prize. They had not heard about major labor protests that had shut down factories or bombings of local government offices. Despite the possibility of of accessing this information without newspapers, television, and social media blaring these headlines, they were much less likely to come across these stories.

Content filtering is one of the Chinese censorship methods. This involves the selective removal of social media posts in China that are written on the platforms of Chinese owned internet service providers. The government does not target criticism of government policies, but instead removes all posts related to collective action events, activists, criticism of censorship, and pornography. Censorship focuses on social media posts that are geo-located in more restive areas, like Tibet. The primary goal of government censorship seems to be to stop information flow from protest areas to other areas of China. Since large-scale protest is known to be one of the main threats to the Chinese regime, the Chinese censorship program is preventing the spread of information about protests in order to reduce their scale.

Despite extensive content filtering, if users were motivated and willing to invest time in finding information about protests, they could overcome information friction to find such information. Information is often published online before it is removed by Internet Companies. There usually is a lag of several hours to a day before content is removed from the Internet.

Even with automated and manual methods of removing content, some content is missed. And if the event is reported in the foreign press, Internet users could access information by jumping the Great Firewall using a VPN.

The structural frictions of the Great Firewall are largely effective. Only the most dedicated “jump” the Great Firewall. Those who jump the Great Firewall are younger and have more education and resources. VPN users are more knowledgeable about politics and have less trust in government. Controlling for age, having a college degree means that a user is 10 percentage points more likely to jump the Great Firewall. Having money is another factor that increases the likelihood of jumping the Great Firewall. 25% of those who jump the Great Firewall say they can understand English, as compared with only 6% of all survey respondents. 12% of those who jump work for a for a foreign-based venture compared to only 2% of all survey respondents. 48% of the jumpers have been abroad compared with 17% of all respondents.

The government has cracked down on some notable websites. Google began having conflicts with the Chinese government in 2010. Finally, in June 2014, the Chinese government blocked Google outright.

The Wikipedia was first blocked in 2004. Particular protests have long been blocked . but the entire Wikipedia website has occasionally been made unaccessible to Chinese IP addresses.

Instagram was blocked on September 29, 2014 from mainland Chinese IP addresses due to increase popularity among Hong Kong protestors.

Censorship of the Chinese Internet

June 28, 2018

This is the third post based on Margaret E. Roberts’ “Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall.” The arrival of the web in 1995 following the Tiananmen crackdown complicated the government’s ability to control the gatekeepers of information as channels of information transitioned from a “one to many” model, where a few media companies transferred information to many people, to a “many to many” model where everyday people could contribute to media online and easily share news and opinions with each other. If the government had been worried about complete control over the information environment, one would expect it to try to slow the expansion of the Internet within the country. Instead the government actively pursued it. The Chinese government aggressively expanded Internet access throughout the country and encouraged online enterprises as the CCP saw these as linked to economic growth and development.

As it pursued greater connectivity, the government simultaneously developed methods of online information control that allowed it to channel information online. The government issued regulations for the Internet in 1994, stipulating that the Internet could not be used to hurt the interest of the state. Immediately, the state began developing laws and technology that allowed it more control over information online, including filtering, registration of online websites, and capabilities for government surveillance.

The institutions that now implement information control in China for both news media and the Internet are aimed at targeting large-scale media platforms and important producers of information in both traditional and online media make it more difficult for the average consumer to come across information that the Chinese government finds objectionable. The CCP also maintains control over key information channels to be able to generate and spread favorable content to citizens. The CCP’s control over these information providers allows them the flexibility to make censorship restriction more difficult to penetrate during particular periods and to loosen constraints during others. This censorship system is a taxation system of information on the Internet, allowing the government to have it two ways: by making information possible to access, those who care enough (such as entrepreneurs, academics, those with international business connections) will bypass control and find the information they need. For the masses the impatience that accompanies surfing the web makes the control effective even though it is porous.

In 2013 President Xi Jinping upgraded the State Internet Information Office to create a new, separate administration for regulating Internet content and cyberspace. This office was called the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), which was run by the Central Cybersecurity and Informatization Leading Small Group and personally chaired by Xi Jinping. Xi was worried that there were too many bureaucracies in control of regulating the Internet, so he formed the CAC to streamline Internet control. The CAC sought to more strictly enforce censorship online. This included shutting down websites that did not comply with censorship regulations and increasing the prevalence of the government’s perspective online by digitizing propaganda. This showed the importance the Xi administration placed on managing content on the internet.

These institutions use a variety of laws and regulations to control information in their perspective purviews. These laws tend to be relatively ambiguous giving the state maximal flexibility in their enforcement. Censorship disallows a wide range of political discourse, including anything that “harms the interests of the nation,” “spreads rumors or disturbs social order,” “insults or defames third parties,” or “jeopardizes the nation’s unity.” Due to widespread discussion of protest events and criticism of the government online, the government cannot possibly arrest all those who violate a generous interpretation of this law. These institutions keep a close watch particularly on high-profile journalists, activists, and bloggers, developing relationships with these key players to control content and arresting those they view as dangerous. These activities are facilitated by surveillance tools that require users to register for social media with their real names and require Internet providers to keep records of users’ activities. Since Xi Jinping became president in 2012, additional laws and regulations have been written to prevent “hacking and Internet-based terrorism.”

The government cannot only order traditional media to print particular articles and stories, it also retains flooding power on the Internet. The Chines government hires thousands of online commentators to write pseudonymously at its direction. This is called the Fifty Cent Party, which is an army off Internet commentators who work at the instruction of the government to influence public opinion during sensitive periods. These propagandists are largely instructed to promote positive feelings, patriotism, and a positive outlook on governance. They are unleashed during particularly sensitive periods as a form of distraction. This is in line with President Xi’s own statements that public opinion guidance should promote positive thinking and “positive energy.” They also sometime defame activists or counter government criticism.

Since the government focus control on gatekeepers of information, rather than individuals, from the perspective of an ordinary citizen in China the information control system poses few explicit constraints. For those who are aware of censorship and are motivated to circumvent it, censorship poses an inconvenience rather than a complete constraint on their freedom. While minimizing the perception of control, the government is able to wield significant influence over which information citizens will come across.

Modern History of Information Control in China

June 27, 2018

This is the second post based on Margaret E. Roberts’ “Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall.”

Censorship under Mao (1949-1976)
Under Mao the Chinese government exercised authority in all areas of citizens’ lives. The Party regarded information control as a central component of political control, and Party dogma, ideology, and doctrine pervaded every part of daily routine. Propaganda teams were placed in workplaces and schools to carry out work and education in the spirit of party ideology and to implement mass mobilization campaigns. Ordinary citizens were encouraged to engage in self-criticism—publicly admitting and promising to rectify “backward” thoughts.

Under Mao the introduction of “thought work” into everyday life meant that fear played a primary role in controlling information, and each citizen was aware of political control over speech and fearful of the consequences of stepping over the line. Everyday speech could land citizens in jail or worse.

During this period China was closed off from the Western world in an information environment completely controlled by the state, had among the most “complete” control of information a country could muster, akin to today’s North Korea.

Even with ideological uniformity and totalitarian control based on repression, both the Communist Party and the Chinese people paid a high price for highly observable forms of censorship that control citizens through brainwashing and deterrence. Citizens’ and officials’ awareness of political control stifled the government’s ability to gather information on the performance of policies, contributing to severe problems of economic planning and governance. The Great Leap Forward, in which about thirty million people died of starvation in the late 1950s, has been partially attributed to local officials’ fear of reporting actual levels of grain production to the center, which led them to report inflated numbers. Even after the Great leap Forward, the inability of the Chinese bureaucracy to extract true economic reports from local officials and citizens led to greater economic instability and failed economic policies and plans.

This extensive control also imposed explicit constraints on economic growth. Large amounts of trade with other countries were not possible without loosening restriction on the exchange of information with foreigners. Innovation and entrepreneurship require risk-taking, creativity, and access to the latest technology, which are all difficult under high levels of fear that encourage risk-aversion. Millions of people were given class levels that made them second-class citizens or were imprisoned in Chinese gulags that prevented them from participating in the economy. Frequently, those who were persecuted had high levels of education and skills that the Chinese economy desperately needed. The planned economy in concert with high levels of fear stifled economic productivity and keep the vast majority of Chinese citizens in poverty.

Even in a totalitarian society with little contact with the outside world, government ideological control over the everyday lives of citizens decrease the government’s legitimacy and sowed seeds of popular discontent. Mao’s goal of ideological purity led him to encourage the Cultural Revolution, which was a decade-long period of chaos in China based on the premise of weeding out ideological incorrect portions of society. In the process this killed millions of people and completely disrupted social order. The chaos of the Cultural Revolution combined with resentment toward the extreme ideological left in the Chinese political system that had spawned it created openings for dissent. In 1974, a poster written in Guangzhou under a pseudonym called explicitly for reform. Similar protests followed. During the first Tiananmen incident in 1976, thousands of people turned out to protest the ideological left. Several years later, in the Democracy movement in 1978 and 1979, protesters explicitly called for democracy and human rights, including free speech.

Censorship Reform Before 1989
In 1978 when Deng Xiapong gained power, he initiated policies of reform and opening that were in part a reaction to the intense dissatisfaction of Chinese citizens with the Cultural Revolution and the prying hand of the government in their personal affairs. A hallmark of Deng’s transition to a market economy, which began in 1978, was the government’s retreat from the private lives of citizens and from the control of the media. Leaders within Deng’s government realized the trade-offs between individual control and entrepreneurship, creativity, and competition required by the market and decreased government emphasis on ideological correctness of typical citizens in China. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rehabilitated those who had been political victims during the Cultural Revolution. Class labels were removed and political prisoners were released, thus enabling more than twenty million additional people to participate in the economy, many of whom had high levels of education. It has been noted that the “omnipresent fear” that had been common in the Mao era lessened and personal relationships again became primarily private and economic. At first citizens began to criticize the government and express dissatisfaction privately, but later more publicly.

Not only did the government retreat from the private lives of individuals to stimulate the economy and address dissatisfaction, but also loosened its control over the media in order to reduce its own economic burden in the information industry. As other aspects of the Chinese economy privatized, the government began to commercialize the news media to respond to citizens’ demands for entertainment and economic, international, and political news. This proved to be extremely lucrative for Chinese media companies. This lessened control also allowed Chinese media to compete with the new onslaught of international information that began to pour in as international trade and interactions increased, and Chinese media companies were able to innovate to retain market share in an increasingly competitive information environment.

In the 1980s there was an increasing decentralization of the economy from the central Party planning system to the localities. As the government began to decentralize its control, it began to rely on the media to ensure that local officials were acting in the interest of the Party. Watchdog media could help keep local businesses, officials, and local courts in check. Investigative journalism serves citizens by exposing the defective aspects of its own system. Freer media in a decentralized state can serve the government’s own interest as much as it can serve the interests of citizens.

The CCP did take significant steps toward relaxing control over the flow of information in the 1980s to loosen enforcement over speech, particularly with respect to the Maoist era. By 1982, the Chinese constitution began to guarantee free speech and expression for all Chinese citizens, including freedom of the press, assembly and demonstrations. Commercialization of Chinese newspapers began in 1979 with the the first advertisement and gradually the press began making more profit from the sales of advertising and less from government subsidies. Radio and television, which had previously been controlled by the central and provincial levels of government, expanded rapidly to local levels of government and was also commercialized.

In April 1989 the death of Hu Yaobang sparked the pro-democracy protests centered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. These protests spread all over China, culminating in an internal CCP crisis and a large-scale violent crackdown on protesters on June 4, 1989, that was condemned internationally.

Not surprisingly, this June 4 crisis marked a turning point in government strategy with respect to the media and the press. There was widespread consensus among the Party elites after the crackdown that the loosening of media restrictions had aggravated the student demonstrations. During the months of protests reformers within the Party had allowed and even encouraged newspapers to discuss the protests. In the immediate aftermath of the crackdown on the protesters and clearing of the square on June 4, 1989, censorship ramped up quickly. This large-scale crackdown on journalists, activists, an academics reintroduced widespread fear into the private lives of influential individuals, particularly among those who had been involved in the protest events. China was returning to the model of media serving the Party and expressing enthusiasm for government policies.

Post-Tiananmen: Control Minimizing the Perception of Control

Although the belief among government officials that free media had contributed to unrest prevented the CCP from returning to the extent of press freedom before Tiananmen Square, Deng did not return to the version of pre-reform information control that relied on fear-based control of individuals’ everyday lives and instead quickly reversed the post -Tiananmen crackdown on speech. Instead, government policy evolved toward a censorship strategy that attempted to minimize the perception of information control among ordinary citizens while still playing a central role in prioritizing information for the public. The government strengthend mechanisms of friction and flooding while for the most past staying out of the private lives of citizens. A few years after Tiananmen Square, the CCP returned to an apparent loosening of control, and commercialization of the media resumed in the mid-1990s. After Deng’s “Southern Tour” in 1992, meant to reemphasize the economy, broader discussions and criticisms of the state were again allowed, even publicly and even about democracy.

Even though the government did not return to Maoist-era censorship, the government tightened its grip on the media, officials, journalists, and technology in a way that allowed targeted control: by managing the gatekeepers of information, the government could de-prioritize information unfavorable to itself and expand its own production of information to compete with independent sources. The government strengthened institutional control over the media. The CCP created stricter licensing requirement to control the types of organizations that could report news. They also required that journalists apply for press cards, which required training in government ideology. In spite of extensive commercialization that created the perception among readers that news was driven by demand rather than supply, the government retained control over the existence, content, and personnel decisions of newspapers throughout the country allowing the government to effectively, if not always explicitly, control publishing.

The government proactively changed its propaganda and strategies after Tiananmen Square, adapting Western theories of advertising and persuasion, and linking thought work with entertainment to make it more easily understood by the public. The CCP decided to instruct newspapers to follow Xinhua’s lead on important events and international news, much as the had done with the People’s Daily doing the 1960s. In the 1990s, the party also renewed its emphasis on “patriotic education” in schools around the country, ensuring that the government’s interpretations of events were the first interpretations of politics that students learned.

Censored

June 26, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an important and highly relevant book by Margaret E. Roberts. The subtitle is “Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall.” This book is of special interest to HM. A number of summers back HM was privileged to participate in a month long workshop on the effect of new technology on two countries: China and Iraq. The workshop included intelligence professionals, technology professionals, linguists, and experts on these specific topics. Why they were interested in a psychologist like HM was not clear to him, although it was a most stimulating month, and HM hopes he was able to make some contributions.

This book makes clear the sophisticated means that China uses to control information in the country. These were vaguely understood from the workshop, but Dr. Roberts brings them into clear view.

“China has four million websites, with nearly 700 million Internet users, 1.2 mobile phone users, 600 million WeChat and Weibo users, and generates 30 billion pieces of information every day. It is not possible to apply censorship to this enormous amount of data. Thus censorship is not the correct word choice. But no censorship does not mean no management.” Lu Wei was the Director, State Internet Information Office, China, in December 2015. As the former “gatekeeper of the Chinese Internet” Lu Wei stresses in his epigraph that the thirty billion pieces information generated each day by Chinese citizens quite simply cannot be censored.

So China as developed what is termed “porous” censorship. Dr. Roberts writes, “…most censorship methods implemented by the Chinese government act not as a ban but as a tax on information, forcing users to pay money or spend more time if they want to access the censored material. For example, when the government ‘kicked out’ Google from China in 2010, it did so simply by throttling the search engine so it loaded only 75% of the time.” So if you want to use Google, you just needed to be more patient. China’s most notorious censorship intervention that blocked a variety of foreign websites from Chinese users could be circumvented by downloading a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Chinese social media users circumvent keyword censoring of social media posts by substituting similar words that go undetected for the words that the government blocks. This makes content accessible as long as you spend more time searching. Newspapers are often instructed by censors to put stories on the back pages of the newspaper, where access is just a few more slips of the page away. This technique is termed “friction” for creating friction that seriously slows, but does not eliminate, access to the information. Porous censorship is neither unique to China nor the modern time period. Iran has been known simply to throttle information accessibility and make it slower during elections.

The Russian government also uses armies of online bots and commentators to flood opposition hashtags, and make it more difficult, but not impossible, for people to find information on protests or opposition leaders. This technique is termed “flooding.” Essentially users are flooded and drown in information.

Conventional wisdom is that these porous censorship strategies are futile for governments as citizens learn quickly to circumvent censorship that is not complete or enforced. Conventional wisdom is wrong. Many governments that have the capacity to enforce censorship more forcefully choose not to do so. Using censorship that taxes, rather than prohibits, information in China and in other countries around world is done as a design choice and is not an operational flaw.

The trade-offs between the benefits and costs of repression and censorship are often referred to as “the dictator’s dilemma.” One form of the dictator’s dilemma is when the government would like to enforce constraints on public speech, but repression could backfire against the government. Censorship could be seen as a signal that the authority is trying to conceal something and is not in fact acting as an agent for citizens.

Another form of the “dictator’s dilemma” is that even if the dictator would like to censor, by censoring the autocrat has more difficulty collecting precious information about the public’s view of the government. Fear of punishment scares the public into silence and this creates long-term information collection problems for governments, which have interest in identifying and solving problems of governance that could undermine their legitimacy. Greater transparency facilitates central government monitoring of local officials, ensuring that localities are carrying out central directives and not mistreating citizens. Allowing citizens to express grievances online also allows government to predict and prevent the organization of protests.

What could perhaps be considered a third “dictator’s dilemma” is that censorship can have economic consequences that are costly for authoritarian governments that retain legitimacy from economic growth. Communications technologies facilitate markets, create greater efficiencies, lead to innovation, and attract foreign direct investment. Censorship is expensive—government enforcement or oversight of the media can be a drag on firms and requires government infrastructure. Economic stagnation and crises can contribute to the instability of governments. Censorship can exacerbate crises by slowing the spread of information that protects citizens. When censorship contributes to crises and economic stagnation, it can have disastrous long-term political costs for governments.

So “porous” censorship is much more efficient than heavy handed control of virtually all information by inducing fear in users.

Putin’s Peaks

June 25, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Dmitry Kobak, Sergey Shpilkin, and Maxim S. Pshenichnikov in the June 2018 issue of “Significance.” “Significance” is a joint publication of the Royal Statistical Society and the American Statistical Association. The subtitle of the article is “Russian election data revisited.”

The article states that the Kremlin wants a golden 70-70 win, meaning a win of 70% of the vote with a turnout of 70% to give it a clear mandate and provide it with a riposte to Western leaders who criticize Russia as an autocracy. What was actually achieved was a seemingly respectable 67.5%, with Putin securing 76.7% of the vote. But there have been criticisms of the election process, and doubts have been cast over the validity of the outcome. For instance, Golos, an election monitoring organization, has documented incidents of ballot stuffing at various polling stations, and multiple other violations both before and during the election (bit.ly/2HawRD3). At least since the mid-2000s Presidential and parliamentary elections in Russia have been accused of being fraudulent. From the Russian perspective, the two most important numbers that describe an election outcome are turnout percentage and leader’s result percentage. Although these percentages are not reported in the data sets from individual polling stations, they can be calculated from the information provided officially.

The authors (and others including HM) have argued that due to human attraction to round numbers, large-scale attempts to manipulate reported turnout or leader’s results would likely show up as frequent whole (integer) percentages in the election data. A previous “Significance” article gave the hypothetical example of a polling station with 1577 registered voters. Here election officials decide to forge the results and report a turnout of 85%. 85% was chosen as it is a round number which is more appealing than say 83.27%. To achieve a falsified turnout of 85%, this polling station needs to report 1755 x 0.85 = 1492 ballots cast. Other polling stations making similar attempts at fraud may also choose 85% as their target value, so that when we look at the turnout percentages for all polling stations, we see a noticeable split in the number of stations with turnout of 85%. In a previous article these integer peaks were found in elections from 2004 to 2012.

Since then two new elections were held in Russia, the 2016 parliamentary and the 2018 presidential elections. As with previous elections, sharp periodic peaks are clearly visible at integer values (91%, 92%, and 93%) and at round integer values (80%. 85%, and 90%) rather than fractional values (such as 91.3%).

The authors did Monte Carlo simulations of election results using the binomial distribution of ballots at every polling station. It strongly confirmed the hypothesis that results were being rounded to the benefit of the government. The authors note that integer peaks in the election data do not originate uniformly across all parts of Russia; they are mostly localized in the same administrative regions, providing additional evidence supporting that these are not natural phenomena Specific peaks can sometimes be traced to a particular city, or even an electoral constituency within a city, where turnout and/or leader’s results are nearly identical at a large number of polling stations. The most prominent example from the last two elections was the city of Saratov in 2016. Its plotting stations are the sole contributor to the sharp turnout peak at 64.3% and the leader’s result peak at 62.2%. These peaks are not integer and so are not counted towards the anomalies. Curiously, their product—showing the fraction of leader’s votes with respect to the total number of registered voters is a perfectly round 40%: 0.643 x 0.622 = 0.400.

One could regard these discrepancies, assuming that they do accurately reflect the underlying true vote as relatively innocuous. But the suspicion is that the results are significantly modified to get close to the Golden 70-70.

In the future it will be interesting to see if this integer bias persists in future voting summaries. It is disappointing to see this “rookie” flaw in a country noted for phony elections.

Russia’s newly developed strength is in influencing elections via technology. It has been discussed in previous healthy memory blog posts how Russian developed this new type of warfare. It began in homeland Russia. It was developed further in Russian speaking countries and in the Ukraine. And it has now been exported to Europe, where is it credited by some for the Brexit result, and to the United States were it is credited for Trump’s victory at least by some (Former DNI Director Clapper and HM at least).

Moreover, Russia is perfecting this new form of warfare and is promising its continuance. There is much talk of the upcoming midterm elections in the United States, yet nary a word about Russian interference. Trump is not taking any actions to safeguard these elections, which is perfectly understandable as Russian interference benefits the invertebrates supporting him. Even if the Russians are not entirely successful in benefitting Trump, just a small amount of interference could call into question the validity of the elections.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Some Hopefully Useful Information

June 24, 2018

To be able to access all the benefits of the healthymemory blog you need to enter

https://healthymemory.wordpress.com/

There are more than a thousand posts there sorted by the year and the month they were posted. If you know the title of a specific post, just enter it into the search block. If you are interested in a specific topic, enter the topic into the search block.

You will also find categories of the posts.

Overview is obvious,

Human Memory Theory and Data is the largest and has posts pertaining primarily to human memory.

Mnemonic Techniques refer specifically to memory techniques, but also include (some, but not all) posts on meditation and mindfulness.

Transactive memory refers to posts pertaining specifically to technology.

If you get emails of the posts when they are posted you receive a copy of the post and links to just the immediately preceding and immediately following posts.

And searches can lead to some posts, but do not take you to the page with the useful functions and information.

Final Reflections

June 24, 2018

Here’s how Dr. McGonigal ends her important book “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It: “A while back, one of my close friends shared with me that instead of New Year’s resolutions, her family had started to set annual stress goals. Each year, she, her husband, and their teenage son decide how they want to grow in the coming year. Then they choose a personal goal that will be both meaningful and difficult. They talk about what their stress edge will be—what they expect to be challenging, what they might feel anxious about, and the strengths that they want to develop

I fell in love with this idea and immediately began using it myself. Not just for New Year’s resolution but as an orientation to life. In fact, writing this book was one of my big stress goals for the past two years. I knew it would be hard to do justice to the breadth of scientific research, and I was most worried about my ability to honor the incredible range of what people mean when they talk about stress. The strength I needed to develop was my willingness to keep asking people to tell me the truth about their experience of stress—even when it made writing the book more complicated, or forced me to live with questions I knew I couldn’t neatly answer.

Now because this book is a mindset intervention, you’ve probably already recognized that this story is also an invitation to set your own stress goal. Any new beginning or transition is an opportunity to think about how you want to challenge yourself. Birthdays, the start of a new calendar or school year, Sunday evenings, or each morning as you think about the day ahead. Even right now, you could ask yourself, ‘How do I want to grow from stress?’ If there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that any moment can become a turning point in how you experience stress, if you choose to make it one.”

This is the last healthy memory blog post on “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It” Despite the large number of posts, HM has not been able to do justice to this book. You are strongly encouraged to read the entire book on your own.

This is the fourteenth and final post on this book.

How Adversity Makes Us Stronger

June 23, 2018

This post is based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the thirteenth post on this book. People who are less satisfied with their current lives and more anxious about the future are more likely to become depressed. However, the attitudes don’t seem to be the direct result of a person’s painful experiences, but rather the result of their attitude toward them. It is important to understand that it is possible to learn to think about our struggles in a different way. Studies show that when people adopt a more accepting attitude toward their past hardships, they become happier, less depressed, and more resilient.

Choosing to see the upside of our most painful experiences is part of how we can change our relationships with stress. Accepting past adversity is part of how we find the courage to grow from present struggles. It is the attitude that allows us to embrace and transform stress. Although Dr.McGonigal has shared some of the science that supports a growth mindset toward adversity, the evidence for this point of view is already all around us. If we look, we will see the signs of it in our own lives, in the lives of those we admire, and even in the stories of strangers.

How Caring Creates Resilience

June 22, 2018

This post is based Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the twelfth post on this book. Dr. McGonigal received an email that demonstrates how powerful embracing your body’s response to stress can be. This woman was sitting on her back porch listening to Dr. McGonigal’s TED talk on embracing stress. She had just finished explaining how the stress response can provide energy and courage. She had described how a pounding heart was a sign that your body was rising to the challenge. At this moment the woman listening to her TED talk heard a dispute in the house next door. She realized that a father was physically abusing his child. This was not the first time it had happened. Every time before, she had frozen. She had been abused herself as a child, and witnessing this abuse brought her back to her response to that trauma.

In the past she had prayed for the child next door, but had felt too paralyzed to act. However, this time she took the TED talk mindset intervention to heart. She thought, “My body can give me the courage to act.” She called the police. She marshaled her own inner resources and found the strength to call on outside resources for support. The police interviewed her and intervened to protect the child. In addition to helping a vulnerable child, she experienced her own capacity to break the cycle of fear and paralysis. And she shared the story allowing her act to inspire others.

Viewing your stress response as a resource works because it helps you believe. Dr. McGonigal concludes: “Embracing stress is a radical act of self-trust: View yourself as capable and your body as a resource. You don’t have to wait until you no longer have fear, stress, or anxiety to do what matters most. Stress doesn’t have to be a sign to stop and give up on yourself. This kind of mind shift shift is a catalyst, not a cure. It doesn’t erase your suffering or make your problems disappear. But if you are willing to rethink your stress response, it may help you recognize you strength and access your courage.

A Meaningful Life is a Stressful Life

June 21, 2018

This post is based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the eleventh post on this book. She writes that everyone has a Mt Everest to climb. It could be a climb you choose, or a circumstance you find yourself in, you’re in the middle of an important journey. The climber knows the context of his stress. It has personal meaning to him. We are most liable to feel like a victim of the stress in our lives when we forget the context the stress is unfolding in. She writes “Just another cold, dark night on the side of Everest” is a way to remember the paradox of stress. She writes that the most meaningful challenges in our lives will come with a few cold nights.

She writes, “The biggest problem with trying to avoid stress is how it changes the way we view our lives, and ourselves. Anything in life that causes stress starts to look like a problem. If you experience stress at work, you think that there’s something wrong with your job. If you experience stress in your marriage, you think there is something wrong with your relationship. If you experience stress as a parent, you think there’s something wrong with your parenting (or your kids). If trying to make a change is stressful, you think there’s something wrong with your goal.”

She continues, “ When you think life should be less stressful, feeling stressed can also seem like a sign you are inadequate. If you were strong enough, smart enough, or good enough, you wouldn’t be stressed. Stress becomes a sign of personal failure rather than evidence that you are human. This kind of thinking explains, in part, why viewing stress as harmful increases the risk of depression. When you’re in this mindset, you’re more likely to feel overwhelmed and hopeless.”

Continuing further, “Choosing to see the connection between stress and meaning can free you from the nagging sense that there is something wrong with your life or that you are inadequate to the challenges you face. Even if not every frustrating moment feels full of purpose, stress and meaning are inextricably connected in the larger context of your life. When you take this view, life doesn’t become less stressful, but it can become more meaningful.”

The Damage Done by Forcibly Separating Children from Parents

June 19, 2018

Please excuse this interruption in the series of the posts on “The Upside of Stress” (between the 11th and 10th Posts), but current events justify this interruption. There have been a number of healthy memory posts stressing the importance of mothers loving their children and the damage done by indifferent mothers. The notion advanced by HM is that that most of the negative incidents typically reported in the news probably are the result of children who lacked a loving mother. The forceful separation of children that is now occurring at our current borders is even worse. This current post is based primarily on an article by William Wan in the 19 June 2018 issue of the Washington Post titled “When children are forcibly separated from parents, ‘‘The effect is catastrophic.’”

Here is what happens inside children when they are forcibly separated from their parents. Their heart rate goes up. Their body releases a flood of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These stress hormones can start killing off dendrites, which are the little branches in brain cells that transmit messages. Eventually this stress can start killing off neurons and, especially in young children, wreaking dramatic and long-term damage, both psychological and to the physical structure to the brain.

A pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School said, “The effect is catastrophic, There’s so much research on this that if people paid attention at all to the science they would never do this.”

This is why pediatricians, psychologists, other health experts, as well as other caring human beings, have been led to vehemently oppose the Trump administration’s new border crossing policy, which has separated more than 2,000 immigrant children from their parents in recent weeks.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, and the American Psychiatric Association have all issued statements representing more than 250,000 doctors in the United States against this new, intolerable policy. Nearly 7,700 mental health professionals and 142 organizations have also signed a petition urging Trump to end the policy. The petition reads, “To pretend that separated children do not grow up with the shrapnel of this traumatic experience embedded in their minds is to disregard everything we know about child development, the brain, and trauma,” the petition reads.

Nelson has studied the neurological damage from child-parent separation, work which he has said has reduced him to tears. In 2000 the Romanian government invited Nelson and a team of researchers into its state orphanages to advise them on a humanitarian crisis created by dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s policies.

At these orphanages, Nelson said, “we saw kids rocking uncontrollably and hitting themselves, hitting their heads against walls. They had to make up a rule as researchers that they would never cry in front of children. As the children grew older Nelson and his colleagues began finding disturbing differences in their brains. Those separated from their parents at a young age had much less white matter, which is largely made up of fibers that transmit information throughout the brain, as well as much less gray matter, which contains the brain-cell bodies that process information and solve problems. The activity in the children’s brains was much lower than expected. Nelson said, “it’s as though here was a dimmer than had reduced them from a 100-watt bulb to 30 watts.”

The children, who had been separated from their parents in their first two years of life, scored significantly lower on IQ tests later in life. Their fight-or-flight response system appeared permanently broken. Stressful situations that would usually prompt physiological responses in other people, increased heart rate, sweaty palms, would provoke nothing in the children.

What alarmed the researchers most was the duration of the damage. Unlike other parts of the body, most cells in the brain cannot renew or repair themselves.

“The reason child-parent separation has such devastating effects is because it attacks one of the most fundamental and critical bonds in human biology.

From the time they are born, children emotionally attach to their caregiver and vice versa, said Lisa Fortuna, medical director for child and adolescent psychiatry at Boston Medical Center. Skin-to-skin contact for newborns, for example, is critical to their development, research shows. ‘Our bodies secrete hormones like oxytocin on contact that reinforces the bond, to help us attach and connect,’ Fortuna said.

A child’s sense of what safety means depends on that relationship. And, without it, the parts of the brain that deal with attachment and fear, the amygdala and hippocampus, develop differently. The reason such children often develop PTSD later in life is that these neurons start firing irregularly. ‘The part of their brain that sorts things into safe or dangerous doesn’t work like it’s supposed to. Things that are not threatening, seem threatening.’

Research on Aboriginal children in Australia who were removed from their families also showed long-lasting effects. They were nearly twice as likely to be arrested or criminally charged as adults, 60% more likely to have alcohol abuse problems and more than twice as likely to struggle with gambling.

In China, where 1 in 5 children live in villages without their parents, who migrate for work, studies have shown that those ‘left behind’ children have markedly higher rates of anxiety and depression later in life.

Other studies have shown separation leading to increased aggression, withdrawal and cognitive difficulties.

Luis H. Mayas, a psychiatry professor at the University of Texas said “if you take the moral, spiritual, even political aspect out of it, from a strictly medical and scientific point of view what we as a country are doing to these children at the border is unconscionable . The harm our government is now causing will take a lifetime to undo.’”

The justification provided by several in the Trump administration was that they were enforcing the law. This is reminiscent of Nazis running the concentration camps killing jews claiming that they were only following orders.

Remember that at Charlottesville Trump was given several opportunities to denounce the nazi demonstrators. HIs lack of response was understandable when one considers that nazis are part of Trump’s base.

Realistic Views About Stress

June 19, 2018

This post is based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This the 10th post on this book. After Dr. McGonigal had publicly renounced a stress-is-harmful mindset she still caught herself complaining, “I’m so stressed!” or “This is So Stressful!.” When she confessed this to Dr. Crum, Dr. Crum responded, “Yes, I do sometimes still say, ‘I’m so stressed,’ but then I hear myself, and I take a moment to think about why I’m stressed. Then I say, “Ahhh, I’m so stressed.” When she said this three words, she sounded uplifted.

Dr. Crum went on to say that the most helpful mindset toward stress is one that is flexible, not black or white: to be able to see both sides of stress and yet also decide to focus on how the stress connects to what you care about. Her notion is that making a deliberate shift in mindset when you’re feeling stressed is even more empowering than having an automatically positive view.

Dr. McGonigal writes, “To this end, it’s important to note that in all the stress mindset interventions, including my course at Stanford, people don’t report a completely overhauled view of stress. The benefits of mindset shift appear as soon as people been to see the upside of stress. It’s not clear whether there is some kind of critical threshold or whether a bigger mindset shift always comes with bigger benefits. The most important takeaway, to me, is that seeing the good in stress doesn’t require abandoning the awareness that, in some cases, stress is harmful. The mindset shift that matters is the one that allows you to hold a more balanced view of stress—to fear it less, to trust yourself to handle it, and to use it as a resource for engaging with life.

Beyond Fight or Flight

June 18, 2018

This post comes from Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the ninth post on this book. The common but erroneous idea that the body’s response to stress is an outdated survival instinct and that you should not have a stress response to anything that isn’t a life-threatening emergency. Getting distressed here is seen as a psychological flaw, a weakness to be corrected. Dr. McGonigal writes “This stems from the mistaken belief that every stress response is a full-throttle fight or flight response. A more complete picture of the biology of stress helps us understand why we have these responses throughout the day, and why they are not signs of a flaw at all. Rushing to get your kids ready for school, dealing with a difficult coworker, thinking about criticism you received, worrying about a friend’s health—we have stress responses to all these things because we get stressed when something important to us is at stake. And most important, we have stress responses to help us do something about it.”

She continues, “We get stressed when our goals are on the line, so we take action. We get stressed when our values are threatened, so we defend them. We get stressed when we need courage. We get stressed so we can connect with others. We get stressed so that we will learn from our mistakes.”

And she concludes, “The stress response is more than a basic survival instinct. It is built into how humans operate, how we relate to one another, and how we navigate our place in the world. When you understand this, the stress response is no longer something to be feared. It is something to be appreciated, harassed, and even trusted.”

New Science of Stress Course

June 17, 2018

This course is described in Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the eighth post on this book. Dr. McGonigal teaches this six week course at Stanford. The course follows the following three step process:
Learning the new point of view,
doing an exercise that encourages the adoption and application of the new mindset,
providing an opportunity to share the idea with others.

Each week she gives a lecture on the science included in her book, “The Upside of Stress,” and suggests specific strategies for cultivating a new stress mindset. The next week in the class meeting that follows, she asks students to report back on the ideas that were discussed the previous week. Were they able to use any of the strategies? Did rethinking stress help them handle a difficult situation? She also asks them to pay special attention to any opportunities to share what they are learning with others. Their last assignment is to report back on what they found most helpful and how they shared that idea or practice to someone they care about.

“Anonymous class surveys before and after the course show that, on average, student’s stress mindsets become more positive by the end of the course. In the follow-up survey, students are also less likely to agree with statements such as “My problems make it difficult for me to live a life that I value,” and “If I could magically remove all the painful experiences I’ve had in my life I would do so.” Students are feeling more confident in their ability to handle the stress in their lives and feeling less overwhelmed by the problems they face. They are all more likely to say that they are energetically pursuing the goals that are important to them. All these change occurred despite the fact that many of the students are horrified when they realize, in the first class session, that the course they signed up fr is about embracing stress not reducing it. “
Dr. McGonigal also relates specific success stories in anonymous post-course evaluations.

She writes that in her experience, when people are willing to contemplate a new way of thinking about stress, the benefits can extend to just about any scenario you can imagine. But she continues “that willingness isn’t always there. As she knows all too well, it can be incredibly difficult, and even threatening, to rethink a belief important enough to earn the status of mindset.”

How to Change Your Mindset

June 16, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Dr. McGonigal’s book, “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the seventh post on this book. The question raised in this section is whether a mind shift will still work if you try to change your own mind about stress, or do you have to be tricked into it?

The placebo effect has been extensively covered in previous healthy memory posts. Included there was the information that placebo effects occur even when the individual knows she is either taking or being given a placebo. So it is reasonable to expect that the same will be true in mindset intervention when people have to choose a new mindset. Dr. Crum thinks that the ideal mindset intervention is less about manipulation and more about choice. Interventions now teach participants about the power of mindsets and invites them to adopt a more positive view of stress.

The first test of this “open-label” mindset interventions took place at a Fortune 500 firm. Employees were invited to participate in stress-management training. 229 mostly middle-aged employees signed up. About half were randomly assigned to a two-hour stress mindset intervention, while the others were put on a wait list.

The training began with research on both the harms and benefits of stress. They they employees learned about the power of mindset, which included the results of Dr. Crum’s previous studies.. The employees were explicitly told that the aim of the training was to help them choose a more positive stress mindset.

“To help them cultivate this new mindset, the employees were asked to reflect on their own experiences with stress, including times when stress had been helpful. They were also taught a three-step processing for practicing the new mindset whenever they felt stressed. The first step is to acknowledge stress when you experience it. Simply allow yourself to notice the stress, including how it affects your body. The second step is to welcome stress by recognizing that it’s a response to something you care about. Can you connect to the positive motivation behind the stress? What is at stake here, and why does it matter to you? The third step is to make use of the energy that stress gives you, instead of wasting energy trying to manage your stress. What can you do right now that reflects your goals and values? The employees were encouraged to remember this three-step process when they experienced stress and to try to practice it at least once a day.

Three weeks later, the researchers checked in with the participants. Those who had gone through the training showed a shift in stress mindset. Before the training, the employees had generally endorsed a stress-is-harmful mindset, but now they are more likely to recognize its upside. They were also better at dealing with stress. The employees reported less anxiety and depression and better physical health. At work, they felt more focused, creative and engaged. The employees whose mindset changed the most—from negative to more positive—showed the biggest improvements. At a final follow-up six weeks after the intervention, these benefits were maintained.

The First Stress Mindset Intervention

June 15, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the sixth post on her book. This intervention took place at the global financial firm UBS during the height of the 2008 economic collapse. Not surprisingly, in the financial places of work as evidenced in a study found that within ten years of entering the industry, 100% of investment bankers developed at least one condition associated with burnout, such as insomnia, alcoholism, or depression. The 2008 economic collapse amplified this pressure. There were widespread reports of increased anxiety, depression, and suicide.

UBS instituted major layoffs and cut employee compensation by 36%. In the middle of this, employees at UBS received an email from human resources inviting them to participate in a stress-management program. A total of 388, half men and half women, with an average age of 38, signed up.

The employees were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group of 164 employees received online training that delivered the typical stress-management message, which reinforces the view that stress is inherently negative. A second group of 163 employees received online training designed to give them a more positive view stress, that was the mindset intervention. A smaller control group of 61 employees received no training at all.

Employees receiving online training received emails with links to three videos that were each three minutes long. Those in the first group were provided statistics like “Stress is America’s number one health issue’, and “Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death.” The videos warned that stress can lead to mood swings, emotional exhaustion, and memory loss. The videos also featured examples of leaders who failed to perform well under stress.

Employees in the mindset intervention group received three very different videos. These videos explained how stress can increase physical resilience, enhance focus, deepen relationships, and strengthen personal values. The videos shared examples of companies that thrived under difficult circumstances, as well as individuals who performed heroically in the face of great stress.

All employees completed surveys before and after the online training. The answer to the research team’s first question—Can you change a person’s mind about stress?—was yes. Employees who watched the negative videos became even more convinced that stress was harmful. However, employees in the mindset intervention group developed a more positive view of stress.

The size of the mind shift was not large. But they did endorse a view of stress that was more balanced than the one they’d had before the intervention. The change was statistically significant, but not a complete reversal. Instead of viewing stress as predominantly harmful, they now saw both the good and the bad in stress.
The second important question was whether this mindset shift was associated with any other changes. The answer was yes. Employees who received the mindset intervention were less anxious and depressed. They reported fewer health problems, like back pain and insomnia. They also reported greater focus, engagement, collaboration, and productivity at work. Note that these improvements took place in the midst of extreme stress. Employees who viewed negative videos, as well as those who received no training, showed no change in these outcomes.

Dr. Crum has gone on to conduct stress mindset interventions and workshops in a variety of settings, including health care professionals, college students, executives, and Navy SEALs. Her work shows that very brief interventions can lead to changes in how people think about and experience stress. Adopting a more positive view of stress reduces what we usually think of as stress-related problems and helps people thrive even under high levels of stress.

What Is Your Stress Mindset?

June 14, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Dr. McGonigal’s book, “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the fifth post on her book. You should look at the two following mindsets below and consider which set of statements you agree with more strongly—or, at least would have agreed with before you read the immediately preceding posts:

Mindset 1: Stress is Harmful.
Experiencing stress depletes my health and vitality.
Experiencing stress debilitates my performance and productivity.
Experiencing stress inhibits my learning and growth.
The effects of stress are negative and should be avoided.

Mindset 2: Stress is Enhancing.
Experiencing stress enhances my performance and productivity.
Experiencing stress improves my health and vitality.
Experiencing stress facilitates my learning and growth.
The effects of stress are positive and should be utilized.

The first mindset is by far the most common. Dr. Crum and her colleagues have found that while most people can see some truth in both mindsets, they still view stress as more harmful than helpful. Men and women do not differ, and age does not predict mindset. A 2014 survey conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health found that 85% of Americans agreed that stress has a negative effect on health, family, and work. The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey found that most people perceived their own stress as unhealthy. Even people who report relatively little stress believe that the ideal level of stress is below whatever they are currently experiencing. People’s perceptions of a healthy level of stress have actually gone down; when the American Psychological Association started its annual stress survey in 2007, people perceived a moderate level of stress as ideal. Now, survey participants perceived the same moderate level of stress as unhealthy.

However, Dr. McGonigal has evidence that people can see some good in stress. In 2013 she conducted a survey of CEO’s, vice presidents, and general managers who were participating in Stanford University’s Executive Leadership Development Program. 51 % said they did their best work while under stress. In the 2014 Harvard School of Public Health survey, 67% of those who reported the highest levels of stress also said they had experienced at least one benefit from their stress. However, participants in both surveys were also convinced that they should be doing more to reduce stress. This attitude is not peculiar to America. Dr. McGonigal has encountered similar views about stress in Canada, Europe, and Asia. Even when people can recognized some benefits of stress, their overall perception of it is negative.

Dr. Crum considered the possibility that a positive view of stress might be the result of an easier life. But when she looked at the data, she found only a weak link between how people thought about stress and the severity of the stress. There was also a very small correlation between the number of stressful events (such as divorce, changing jobs) that people experienced in the past year and how negative their views of stress were. So it is not the case that people with a positive attitude toward stress have a life free of suffering. Dr. Crum also found that a positive view of stress was beneficial to people whether they were currently under a little or a lot of stress, and no matter how stressful of stress-free the past year had been.

It is true that optimists live longer than pessimists. In addition to optimism, two other personality traits seem to be associated with a more positive view of stress: mindfulness, and the ability to tolerate uncertainty. But Dr. Crum’s analysis showed that none of these personality traits could account for the effects of stress mindsets on health, happiness, or work productivity. Although how a person thinks about stress might be influenced by certain personality traits or experiences, a stress mindset’s effects on health and happiness cannot be explained by either.

Dr. Crum’s research points to the likely possibility that: Stress mindsets are powerful because they affect not just how you think, but also how you act. When you view stress as harmful, it is something to be avoided. Feeling stressed becomes a signal to try to escape or reduce the stress. They are more likely to:
*Try to distract themselves from the cause of the stress instead of dealing with it.
*Focus on getting rid of their feelings of stress instead of taking steps to decrease its source.

People who believe that stress can be helpful are more likely to say the they cope with stress proactively. They are more likely to:
*Accept the fact that the stressful event has occurred and is real.
*Plan a strategy for dealing with the source of the stress.
*Seek information, help, or advice.
*Take steps to overcome, remove, or change the source of the stress.
*Try to make the best of the situation by viewing it in a more positive way or by using it as an opportunity to grow.

Beliefs that Become Mindsets

June 13, 2018

This is the fourth post based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” Dr. McGonigal writes, “The beliefs that become mindsets transcend preferences, learned facts, or intellectual opinions. They are core beliefs that reflect your philosophy of life. When a mindset gets activated—by a memory, a situation you find yourself in, or a remark that someone makes—it sets off a cascade of thoughts, emotions, and goals that shape how you respond to life. This, in turn, can influence long-term outcomes, including health, happiness, and even longevity.”

For example, having a positive view of aging adds an average of almost eight years to one’s life, and it predicts other important health outcomes. The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging tracked adults ages eighteen to forty-nine for thirty-eight years found that those with the most positive views of aging had an 80% lower risk of heart attack. Adults who associated growing older with positive stereotypes such as “wise” and “capable” recovered from a heart attack more quickly than those who endorsed negative stereotypes such as “useless” and “stuck in their ways.” A positive view of aging predicted faster and more complete physical recovery from a debilitating illness or accident. Both studies measure recovery in objective outcomes such as walking speed, balance, and ability to perform daily activities. All these studies controlled for important factors, such as initial health status, depression, and socioeconomic status.

It is likely that health behaviors are the underlying factor in these studies. Those with a negative view of aging are likely to view poor health as inevitable. As they feel less capable of maintaining or improving their health as they age, they invest less time and energy in their future well-being. But people with a positive attitude toward growing older engage in more health-promoting behaviors, such as exercising regularly and following their doctor’s advice. An intervention designed to increase positive views of aging also increased participants’ physical activity. When you have a positive view of growing older, you’re more apt to do things that will benefit your future self. And there are good reasons for having a positive view of aging. Although some find it difficult to believe, studies have consistently shown that people get happier as they get older.

Research at the German Centre of Gerontology in Berlin studied adults over time to examine the impact a serious illness or accident, such as a broken hip, lung disease, or cancer. Those with a positive view of aging responded to the crisis by increasing their commitment to their health. They were more proactive and dedicated to their recovery. In contrast, older adults who had a more negative view of aging were less likely to take actions to improve their health. Consequently those with more positive view of aging ended up report great life satisfaction better health and physical function after their illness or accident.

So these findings about how we think about aging affects health and recovery not through mystical positive thinking, but by influencing goals and choices. This is an ideal example of a mindset effect.

Dr. McGonigal concludes, “It turns out how you think about stress is also one of those core beliefs that can affect your health, happiness, and success. As we’ll see, our stress mindset shapes everything from the emotions we feel during a stressful situation to the way you cope with stressful events. That, in turn, can determine whether we thrive under stress or end up burned out and depressed. The good news is even if you are firmly convinced that stress is harmful, you can still cultivate a mindset that helps us thrive.”

How Our Bodies Respond to Stress

June 12, 2018

This post is based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the third post in the series on this book. Dr. McGonigal participated in the following experiment done by Dr. Crum. Participants were hooked up to a variety of devices to record physiological responses that included heart activity, blood flow, sweat, and body temperature. Saliva was also collected to measure stress hormones. Next she participated in a mock job interview that was structured to be highly stressful. Before the mock job interview, study participants were randomly assigned to view one of two videos about stress. One three minute video began by saying that most people think stress is negative, but actually research shows that stress is enhancing. The video went on to describe how stress can improve performance, enhance well-being, and help one grow. The other video, which the other half of the participants saw, starts with the ominous announcement, “Most people know that stress is negative…but research shows that stress is even more debilitating than you expect. It went on to describe how stress can harm your health, happiness, and performance at work.

Saliva was collected to measure two stress hormones: cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). These two hormones are released by our adrenal glands during times of stress, but they serve different roles. Cortisol helps turn sugar and fat into energy and improves the ability of the body and brain to use that energy. Cortisol also surpresses some biological functions that are less important during stress, such as digestion, reproduction, and growth. On the other hand, DHEA is a neurosteroid, which is a hormone that helps the brain to grow. Just as testosterone helps the body grow stronger from physical exercise, DHEA helps the brain grown stronger from stressful experiences. DHEA also counters some of the effects of cortisol. For example, DHEA speeds up wound repair and enhances immune function.

We need both these hormones. Neither is a “good” or “bad” stress hormone. But the ratio of these two hormones can influence the long-term consequences of stress, especially when stress is chronic. Higher levels of cortisol can be associated with worse outcomes, such as impaired immune function and depression. In contrast, higher levels of DHEA have been linked to a reduced risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease neurodegeneration, and other diseases we typically think of as stress-related.

The ratio of DHEA to cortisol is called the growth index of a stress response. A higher growth index helps people thrive under stress. It predicts academic persistence and resilience in college students, as well as higher GPAs. A higher growth index was associated with greater focus, less dissociation, and superior problem-solving skills, and fewer post-traumatic stress symptoms during and after military survival training. The growth index also predicts resilience in extreme circumstances, such as recovering from child abuse.

The key question for the experiment explained earlier in this post was whether a three-minute video about stress could alter this key ratio of stress hormones. The answer was yes. Participants who had watched the stress-is-enhancing video before the interview released more DHEA and had a higher growth index than participants who had watched the stress-is-debilitating video. Dr. Crum concludes, “Viewing stress as enhancing made it so—not in some subjective, self-reported way, but in the ratio of stress hormones produced by the participants adrenal glands. Viewing stress as helpful created a different biological reality.

Mindsets

June 11, 2018

Dr. McGonigal relates what she experienced at the Behaviorlal Research Lab at Columbia University. She was holding her right arm out at shoulder length while psychologist Alia Crum was trying to push it down. They struggled for a few seconds. Despite being quite petite, Dr. Alia Crum was quite strong (a former hockey player and an internationally ranked ironman triathlete in fact). So it was not surprising that Dr. McGonigal’s arm gave out.

Dr. Crum instructed Dr. McGonigal, “Instead of resisting me, I want you to imagine that you are reaching your arm toward someone or something you care about.” She asked her to imagine that when she pushed on her arm, she should channel her energy into what she was reaching toward. This exercise was inspired by Dr. Crum’s father, who is a sensei in aikido, a martial art based on the principle of transforming harmful energy. Dr. McGonigal visualized what Dr. Crum had instructed, and then tried again. This time Dr. McGonigal was much stronger, and Dr. Crum wasn’t able to push Dr. McGonigal’s arm down. The more she pushed, the stronger Dr. McGonigal felt.

This single idea motivates all Dr. Crum’s research: How you think about something can transform its effect on you. Crum’s work gets attention because it shows that our physical reality is more subjective than we believe. By changing how people think about an experience, they can change what’s happening in their bodies. Her findings are so surprising that they make a lot of people scratch their heads and say, “Huh? Is that even possible?”

“Mindsets are beliefs that shape our reality, including objective physical reactions, and even long-term health, happiness, and success. More important, the new field of mindset science shows that a single brief intervention, designed to change how we think about something, can improve our health, happiness, and success, even years into the future. The field is full of remarkable findings that will make us think about our own beliefs. From placebos to self-fulfilling prophecies, perception matters. After a crash course in the science of mindsets, you’ll understand why our beliefs about stress matter—and how we can start to change our own minds about stress.

Both the topics of mindsets and placebos have warranted many health memory blog posts in the past. Just enter “placebo” or “mindset” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to find relevant posts.

This blog post is the second post based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.”

The Upside of Stress

June 10, 2018

HM is surprised that he is writing this title. As a person and as a psychologist, he has thought that stress is harmful and something to be avoided. The author of the book, “The Upside of Stress” is also a psychologist, a health psychologist at Stanford University to be specific, who also thought that stress was harmful and something that should be avoided. But we psychologists change our minds, when data indicate that we should change our minds. The data so indicated and we changed our minds. The subtitle of Dr. McGonigal’s book is “Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.”

In 1998, thirty thousand adults in the United States were asked how much stress they had experienced in the past year. They were also asked, “Do you believe stress is harmful to your health. Eight years later the researchers examined the public records to find out who among the thirty thousand participants had died. High levels of stress increased the risk of dying by 43%, but this increased risk applied only to people who also believed that stress was harmful to their health. People who reported high levels of stress but who did not view they stress as harmful were not more likely to die. Moreover, they had the lowest risk of death of anyone in the study, even lower than those who reported experiencing very little stress.

So it doesn’t appear that stress alone is harmful. Rather, it is the combination of stress and the belief that stress is harmful. The researchers estimated that over the eight years they conducted the study, 182,000 Americans may have died prematurely because they believed that stress was harming their health. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that makes “believing stress is bad for you” the fifteenth-leading cause of death in the United States, killing more people than skin cancer, HIV/AIDS, and homicide. The researchers had looked at a wide range of factors that might explain the finding to include gender, race, ethnicity, age, education, income, work status, marital status, smoking, physical activity, chronic health condition, and health insurance. None of these facts explained why stress beliefs interacted with stress levels to predict mortality.

It is known that beliefs and attitudes are important. One example is that people with a positive attitude about aging live longer than those who hold negative stereotypes about getting oder. A classic study by researchers at Yale University followed middle-aged adults for 20 years. Those who had a positive view of aging in midlife lived an average of 7.6 years longer than those who had a negative view. To put this finding in perspective, many factors we regard as obvious and important, such as exercising regularly, not smoking, and maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, have been shown, on average, to add less than four years to one’s life span.

After learning of these findings, Dr. McGonigal had to face the fact that by teaching the dangers of stress, she was actually damaging the health of students, not helping them. Dr. McGonigal learned from these studies and from talking to scientists, who are part of a new generation of stress researchers, whose work is redefining our understanding of stress by illuminating its upside. “The latest science reveals that stress can make you smarter, stronger, and more successful. It helps us learn and grow, and it can even inspire courage and compassion. The best way to manage stress is not to reduce or avoid it, but rather to rethink and even embrace it.

The next thirteen healthy memory blog posts will be based on Dr. McGonigal’s book to help you rethink and embrace it.

Key to the development of an effective response to stress involves the concept of mindsets. The healthy memory blog has been a strong advocate of growth mindsets in which we embrace continual new learning. Learning about stress is just another topic to add to our growth mindsets.

When is the best time to take a test or think creatively?

June 9, 2018

The answers can be found in an article titled “Good Timing” by Kirsten Weir in June 2018 issue of “Monitor on Psychology.” Research is finding that one’s cognitive performance fluctuates in predictable patterns throughout the course of a day. And the performance of different tasks can differ as a function of the task and the time of day.

Madhusudan Sanaka, MD, at the Cleveland Clinic and his colleagues studied colonoscopy data from more than 3,600 people and found that physicians identified significantly more abnormalities during morning colonoscopies than during those performed in the afternoon (“The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 104, 7, 2009).

Moods also rise and fall predictably throughout the day. Ph.Ds Scott Golder and Michael Macy at Cornell University studied language from millions of public Twitter posts from around the globe. They found the average Twitter users had a happiness spike around breakfast, hit a grimy slump in late afternoon, and perked up again after dinner (“Science” 333, 6051, 2011). Macy said,“We found an incredibly robust pattern across diverse cultures all over the world.”

The time-sensitive nature of moods can have surprising ripple effects. Jing Chen, Ph.D., at the University of Buffalo School of Management, and colleagues analyzed earnings conference calls and found that financial executives and analysts were upbeat in the morning and became more negative as the day wore on. Those mood changes led the analysts to make more errors related to stock pricing in the afternoon (‘Management Science,” online first publication, 2018).

Given these results, should we schedule important tasks for the morning and give afternoons over to an extended siesta? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. People’s cognitive abilities fluctuate throughout the day in accordance with their personal circadian patterns, or chronotypes.

We tend to fall into different chronotypes, defined by the window of time we feel most alert and energetic. There are strong morning types, moderate morning types, strong evening types, moderate evening types, and those who are neutral, who peak at midday.

Dorothee Fischer, Ph.D., a research fellow at Harvard Medical School/Brigham and Women’s Hospital says “Chronotype isn’t a personality trait, but a biological characteristic.” Our sleep-wake cycles are governed by a master clock known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a cluster of neurons located within the hypothalamus. The SCN does its job with input from environmental factors, largely light exposure. But sunshine is only part of the story. Our underlying rhythms are rooted in our genes.

As we age our circadian rhythmicity shifts. On the whole, young children are more often morning types, but by their teens and early 20s a majority have shifted to favoring evenings, or being neutral, leaning toward evening. In older age, we slide back toward favoring the morning hours. Still, there’s considerable variation among individuals, and that variation translates to differences in our peak times for maximum brainpower.

Lynn Hasher, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Toronto says, “You are way better off doing difficult mental chores at a time consistent with your chronotype. Research has shown that these synchrony effects hold for people of all ages, from adolescent to older adults. One study had adolescents who identified as morning or evening types perform a suite of executive function tasks. The participants took the tests in the morning or afternoon. Lark or owl, students tested during their peak times scored higher on working memory, decision-making and overall executive functioning that a tested at off-peak times (“Developmental Science”, 15, 3, 2102).

In another study older and younger adults were tested at their peak and non peak times. The tests evaluated implicit memory (recall of well-known information) as well as explicit memory (the conscious deliberate effort to process and retrieve information). In both groups, participants had better explicit memory during their peak times during the day. However, for implicit memory the results were flipped: Morning types had better implicit memory in the afternoon, while evening types scored higher in the morning (“Psychological Science”, 16, 2, 2005). These results make sense when you think of daily peaks in terms of distractions. Inhibition is an important part of executive function, allowing us to focus unimportant tasks by filtering out the unimportant details. During off-peak times of day, inhibition wavers and we have a harder time tuning out the irrelevant information. That’s why tasks that require focus and analytic thought are best tackled at peak times.

On the other hand, creative endeavors might best be undertaken at off-peak times. Psychologists Marieke Wieth and Rose Zacks found that people were better able to solve problems requiring a flash of insight during their off-peak times of day (“Thinking & Reasoning,” 17, 4, 2011). May says, “If you’re doing a task when you want to entertain lots of different possibilities and think creatively, then operating at your non optimal time is to your advantage.”

As for people without a strong preference for early mornings or late nights, Hasher and May gave a battery of cognitive tests to two groups of neutral-type adults, ages 17 to 21 and ages 70 to 74. The older adults performed best at midday, with notable timing effects for inhibition, executive function, long-term memory and forgetting. The younger adults showed no differences in peformance when tested in early morning, midday, or evening (“Timing & Time Perception, 5, 2, 2017).

Timing effects might become more important with age. Hasher and her colleagues compared cognitive control between morning-type elderly adults and young adults who trended toward evening type. The participants completed a series of tasks to measure attention and distraction while inside an fMRI scanner. When older adults were tested in the morning, at their peak time, they were more likely to ignore distracting information, performing more similarly to young adults tested in the afternoons. When tested at their peak time, the older participants showed activation in the same brain regions as their younger counterparts. But when tested at non optimal times, older adults were more easily distracted and recruited different neural networks to do the work (“Psychology and Aging”, 29, 3, 2014).

Unfortunately, these time of day effects can adversely affect results on important tests. Hasher and her colleagues gave intelligence tests to 11- to 14-year-olds testing both morning and evening types at optimal and non optimal times of day. IQ estimates were an average of 6 points lower when children tested at their non-peak rather than peak times (“Personality and Individual Differences,” 42, 3, 2007).

Fischer and colleagues conducted an experiment in which they matched shift workers” schedules to their chronotypes. Fischer says, “The earliest group of chronotypes didn’t work the night shift and the later group didn’t work the morning shift. By this simple tweak, we could improve sleep duration, circadian disruption and well being (“Current Biology,” 25, 7, 2015).

Most people can find small ways to tweak their daily schedules for maximum benefit. If you’re a morning person, resist the temptation to go through emails first thing in the morning and try diving into your deep work right away. May says, “You should save the mundane administrative stuff until the afternoon and spend the morning on more difficult tasks like writing manuscripts, analyzing data or planning experiments.”

If you’re meeting with a financial planner to discuss complicated investment options, schedule the appointment at a time when you’re at your cognitive peak. If you’re trying to interpret some puzzling research data, revisit it during your off-peak coffee break.

You can still shift your rhythm a little, says Fischer. Being exposed to bright lights at night can push circadian patterns later into the evening. That’s especially true of the blue light common in electronic devices. But lights are easy to adjust. Fischer says, “Reducing evening light exposure has an advancing effect on your circadian clock.” By dimming lights when it gets dark outside and using light-filtering software on their devices, evening types can shift their biology to a (slightly) earlier rhythm.

So What Can Be Done?

June 8, 2018

This is the third post based on THE SOUL OF AMERICA: The Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meecham. So what can be done? How can we win the battle for our better angels? Jon Meecham suggests:

Enter the Arena:
Meecham writes, “The battle begins with political engagement itself. Theodore Roosevelt said, “The first duty of any American citizen, then, is that he shall work in politics; his second duty is that he shall do that work in a practical manner; and his third is that it shall be done in accord with the highest principles of honor and justice. …To believe something creates an obligation to make that belief known and to act upon it within the arena. Politicians are far more often mirrors of public sentiment than they are molders; the is the nature of things in a popular government and should be a source of hope for those who long for a change of presidents or of policy.”

Resist Tribalism:
The country works best when we resist tribal inclinations. Jane Adams wrote, “We know instinctively that if we grown contemptuous of our fellows and consciously limit our intercourse to certain kinds of people whom we have previously decided to respect, we not only tremendously circumscribe our range of life, but limit the scope of our ethics.”

Eleanor Roosevelt offered this prescription to guard against self-certitude: “It is not only important but mentally invigorating to discuss political matters with people whose opinions differ radically from our own. For the same reason, I believe it is a sound idea to attend not only the meetings of one’s own party but of the opposition. Find out what people are saying, what they are thinking, what they believe. This is an invaluable check on one’s own ideas…If we are to cope intelligently with a changing world, we must be flexible and willing to relinquish opinions that no longer have any bearing on existing conditions. Meecham adds, “If Mrs. Roosevelt were writing today, she might put it this way: Don’t let ay single cable network or Twitter feed tell you what to think.”

Respect Facts and Deploy Reason
This is the primary problem with Trump. He does not respect facts. He does not believe in objective reality. All his reasoning is self-serving. So the requirement is to issue reality checks. Challenge beliefs that are not supported by facts. This is an extremely difficult and challenging task. Raise the possibility of a delusional disorder. Point to the motivation for the delusions and false claims. And point to the dangers continuing to follow these false claims will lead.

Find a Critical Balance
And find that balance in a free press. Keep this injunction of Theodore Roosevelt in mind; “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” So resist any and all attacks on the Free Press. And resist any and all attacks on the judiciary.
Keep History in Mind
Remember that we are on a path of progress and improvement from our beginnings as an incipient democracy. This path is not always one of improvement. There have been regressions from which we had to recover (the Civil War being the most blatant). Keep in mind the McCarthy era and the similarity of its problems to our Trump problems. Remember this book, consider purchasing this book, and use it as a resource to win the battle for our better angels.

Trump and McCarthy

June 7, 2018

This is the second post based on “THE SOUL OF AMERICA: The Battle for Our Better Angels” by Jon Meecham. In looking for somehow who once endangered American democracy as much as Trump does today, HM found Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Before getting to McCarthy, conservative Robert Welch thought that Dwight Eisenhower was guilty of treason. Along with Eisenhower was President Truman’s secretary of defense and of state George Marshall, whom Welch said was “a conscious, deliberate, dedicated agent of the Soviet conspiracy. Eisenhower’s secretary of state was yet another “Communist agent.”

Robert Welch founded the John Birch Society. Welch thought that there was a struggle from which either communism or Christian-style civilization mush emerge with one completely triumphant and the other completely destroyed.

Senator Joseph R. McCarthy picked up on this and told the Ohio County Republican Women’s Club, “Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity. The modern champions of communism have selected this as the time. And, ladies and gentlemen, the chips are down—they are truly down.”

“McCarthy was something new in political life at the time: a freelance performer who grasped what many ordinary Americans feared and who had direct access to the media of the day. He exploited the privileges of power and prominence without regard to its responsibilities; to him politics were not about the substantive but the sensational. The country feared Communism, and McCarthy knew it, and he fed those fears with years of headlines and hearings. A master of false charges, of conspiracy-tonged heroic, and of calculated disrespect for conventional figures (from Truman and Eisenhower, to Marshall), McCarthy could distract the public, play the press, and change the subject—all while keeping himself at center stage.”

Meecham writes that McCarthy was an opportunist, uncommitted to much beyond his own fame and influence. HIs own lawyer, Roy M. Cohn, could not discern any great ideological conviction. Cohn, who later worked for Trump said, ”Joe McCarthy bought Communism in much the same way as other people purchase a new automobile. The salesman showed him the model; he looked at it with interest, examined it more closely, kicked the tires, sat at the whereat, squiggled in the seat, asked some questions, and bought. It was must as cold as that.”

Eleanor Roosevelt remarked, “McCarthy’s methods, to me, look like HItler’s.” President Truman agreed with a correspondent who posited that “there is no difference in kind between Hitlerism and McCarthyism, both being the same form of bacteriological warfare against the minds and souls of men.” Truman said that the net effect of the McCarthyite campaign was to undermine confidence in the country in a time of cold war. He said, “To try to sabotage the foreign policy of the United Staes is just as bad in this cold war as it would be to shoot our soldiers in the back in a hot war.”
Richard H. Rovere wrote that he was the first American ever to be actively hated and feared by foreigners in large numbers.” In 1953, Eleanor Roosevelt, on a trip to Japan, found herself facing question about McCarthyism. “Will you please explain these attitudes?” A Japanese businessman asked the former First Lady, “We are unable to understand why things happen in a great democratic nation like the United States.” Meecham writes, “Part of the answer lies in the nature of democracy itself: Millions of Americans approved of McCarthy no matter what the elites might say or do.” Does this not sound reminiscent of the current suspicion of expertise and the “deep state?”

The Columbia University history professor Richard Hofstadter, wrote at the time, the “growth of mass media in communication and their use in politics have brought politics closer to the people than ever before and have made politics a form of entertainment in which the spectators feel themselves involved. Thus, it becomes more than ever before an arena into which private emotions and personal problems can be readily projected. Communications have made it possible to keep the mass man in an almost constant of political mobilization.”

McCarthy understood the media’s ways and means. He knew that every wire serviceman had to have a lead by eleven’o’clock [for the afternoon newspapers]. There just wasn’t any question about it; you had to have a lead. The senator learned to make sensational charges at just the right moment, forcing reporters to write quick stories that surged across the country by wire, reaching millions of readers before sundown.

When he read coverage he disliked, McCarthy did not keep quiet—he went on the offensive, singling out specific publications and particular journalists. Sound familiar? He said, “if you can show a newspaper as unfriendly and having a reason to be antagonistic, you can take the sting out of what it ways about you. I think I can convince a lot of people that they can’t believe what they read in that newspaper.”

The similarities to Trump should be obvious. For both individuals, objective truth and reality were irrelevant. Supporters believed their obvious lies and the emotional support these lies brought.

All this went on for a long time from around 1950 into 1954. It is difficult to believe that his lies and foolishness lasted for such a long time. But eventually, he was seriously challenged. Edward R. Murrow said, “We will not walk in fear of one another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we did dip in our history and doctrine and remember the we are not descended from fearful men.”

Eventually there were hearings into McCarthy and the U.S. Army in the Senate. Roy Cohn and McCarthy had exerted pressure on the Army to secure favors for David Schine, an intimate of Cohn’s who had been drafted. McCarthy’s ugliness and lack of fidelity to the truth became evident in these hearings.

The counsel for the Army, Joseph N. Welch, attacked McCarthy who attempted impugn the loyalty of a young lawyer on Welch’s team. When McCarthy blundered forward and took up the theme again, Welch was ready and stuck with force. “Let’s not assassinate this lad further, Senator, Welch said. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?”

If only Trump could be reprimanded like this public for his lack of decency for his fellow human beings.

McCarthy faded from public view after this, and drank himself to death.

THE SOUL OF AMERICA

June 6, 2018

The title of this post is the title of a book by Jon Meecham. The subtitle is “The Battle for our Better Angels.” Given the current state of our country, it is a most timely volume. Meecham writes, “To know what has come before us is to be armed against despair. If the men and women of the past, with all their flaws and limitations and ambitions and appetites, could press on through ignorance and superstition, racism and sexism, selfishness and greed, to create a freer stronger nation, then perhaps we, too, can right wrongs and take another step toward that most enchanting and elusive of destinations: a more perfect union.”

Consider from where we started. Although the Declaration of Independence said that all men are created equal, women could not vote. Slavery existed and these blacks were counted as three-fifths of a human being. So the Constitution gave us a starting point from which we were to advance and develop. It is interesting that the founding fathers decided against a parliamentary system of government in which the parliament would choose the executive for the country. Instead, they decided upon a government with three branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial, that were supposed to be independent and to serve as checks and balances on each other. During Watergate this system worked well. Republicans in the legislative branch had no problem holding the Republican president’s feet to the fire for wrongdoing, so he resigned rather than face impeachment.

Unfortunately today Republicans in the legislative branch are waging war against the Judicial Branch to discredit its investigation of the president. The reason they are trying to discredit this investigation is that it appears serious crimes against the American people have been committed by the president. Were the president innocent, the obvious course would be to assist the judicial branch. What is especially discrediting to these attacks is that outstanding Republicans are leading the investigation. Yet terms such as “witch hunt” are repeatedly heard. Such terms make our country sound like some African dictatorship. If the investigation is ended by Trump, it is quite possible that Trump would declare himself, as the leaders he clearly admires, Putin and Xi, effectively did, dictator for life.

Consider Reagan’s City on the Hill speech during his Farewell Address:

“But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still…And she’s still a beacon and a magnet for all who must find freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

HM has heard Trump supporters say they are Reagan Republicans. How can this be? Trump is the antithesis of Reagan.

HM found the most inspirational part of the book to be Lyndon B. Johnson managing to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act was long overdue. Parts of the United States effectively had the apartheid of South Africa. Johnson persisted in convincing enough southerners, against all their lifelong prejudices, that segregation was morally wrong, and put the United States in the same class as South Africa. It took a southerner to be able to convince other southerners of the need for this bill. And it took a super salesman who would not take “no” for an answer, and persisted until he got his way.

But there were repercussions from the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At the time the southern states were, and had been for a long time, strongly Democratic. Typically Republicans did not even bother to run candidates in these states. So these Democrats eventually (some became Dixiecrats first) became Republicans and took their racism with them to the Republican party. This provided the seeds for Trump’s eventual success.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

It’s True, Trump Doesn’t Lie

June 5, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a column by Dana Milbank in the 30 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The column begins with examples of lies told by Donald Trump. They will not be repeated because everyone has heard these lies many, many times. Milbank writes, “Calling him a liar lets him off easy. A liar, by definition, knows he’s not telling the truth. Trump’s behavior is worse: With each day it becomes more obvious he can’t distinguish between fact and fantasy. It’s an illness, and it’s spreading.

There is a name of the illness that Trump is experiencing and that is the delusional disorder. The test that would confirm this disorder involves hooking him up to a polygraph (lie detector). If documented lies were not detected, that would confirm that he has the delusion disorder. This means that Trump has lost touch with reality. And this is truly frightening with the President who is supposed to have control of the nuclear football (let’s hope that that is wrong). Milbank writes, “Trump’s not a liar. He’s a madman.” Frankly, it does not matter whether Trump has this disease or not. Trump does not care about objective truth, and in his version of reality, what is true is whatever benefits him at the moment.

What is also of concern is what neuroscientist Tali Sharot noted that people “may sensitize to the president’s falsehoods in the same way that they do to overused perfume, making them less likely to act to correct this pattern of behavior.” This might account for why people who carry water for the president, many Republicans, Rudy Giulani, newscasters, and columnists continue to carry water rather than denounce the president.

It is quite apparent that Trump feels he will be found guilty on a number of counts. However, if he can discredit the Justice Department, that might not matter. Giuliani has already announced that this is the strategy. One can gauge the degree of Trump’s guilt by the number and intensity of his attacks on Mueller and the Justice Department. He might even fire Mueller. This would create a Constitutional Crisis from which the worst result would be Trump declaring himself president for life.

Although we all wish for successful negotiations with North Korea, the outcome of these negotiations are irrelevant to Trump’s guilt. Even if he should be successful and win the Nobel Prize, that should not exonerate him from whatever crimes he might have committed.

Remember that Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Prize for negotiations he brought about with North Korea. However, it turned out that North Korea had cheated on the treaty that had been negotiated. So even given ostensibly successful negotiations, it will be some time before it can be accurately assessed whether they had been successful.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

HM’s Experience in Segregated Schools

June 4, 2018

HM attended segregated schools for the first ten years of his education. HM’s family came from the north and thought segregation was wrong. They told him that Southerner’s were strange and had outdated beliefs. HM attended schools in Virginia, Tennessee, and Florida. Here are some of the things he heard his teachers say.

It’s hard to believe but ignorant colored men were able to vote before decent white women.

Ni——s will not fight. They turn and run away. (HM hopes that all readers have seen the movie “Glory”).

Here’s a riddle What is a co-c—n? Answer a n-nig—-r.

Slavery was a good thing. It is in the Holy Bible. And these coloreds were taught Christianity and were promised eternal life. So what were they and still are complaining about?
The irony of this last assertion strikes HM. Apparently they were regarded as people for the purposes of heaven, but as slaves they were treated like farm animals. And some were treated worse than farm animals.

Understand, that this was not formal education and was not required teaching by the respective states. But it reflects the seething racism among even educated whites.

In 1958, some Virginia schools were ordered to integrate. Consequently, the schools were closed. HM was furious at this, and he thought the President should have sent troops to Virginia to remind Virginians who won the Civil war. HM was alone in his anger. His former friends refused to integrate. HM says former, because he now regarded this individuals with hatred and hoped they would all end up in hell. He now realizes that this was wrong. Hatred is wrong and does damage to the hater. But what started out as slavery, turned into a segregated system that held blacks down and still exploited them. Civil rights have done much to alleviate this problem, but racism remains as a cancer in the United States.

Fortunately HM’s family moved to Ohio and HM had the privilege of attending integrated schools. However, when HM saw the movie about Jessie Owens (Race), he was appalled to see the racism present at Ohio State University when Jessie Owens attended. Racism is not confined to the southern states. In the 1936 Olympics Owens won four gold medals: 100 and 200 meter dashes; 400 meter relay; and the broad jump. As astounding as that was his achievement of setting three world records and tying another in less than an hour at the 1935 Big Ten track meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been called “the greatest 45 minutes ever in sport”[4] and has never been equalled. There are plaques at the site of these feats in Ann Arbor, and HM visited them and marveled at his achievements.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attended segregated schools, just as HM did. But it had a different effect on him. After Obama won the election in 2008, he swore that Obama would never be re-elected. It was clear that this was primary racial, and not political. Yet people, say that polarization is due to both parties, to show that they are broad minded. But the polarization is more pronounced on the Republican than the Democratic side.

Many Americans were proud that we had finally elected a black president. Unfortunately, there were too many others who were offended by the outcome. Racism, along with strong assistance from Russia, resulted in Trump winning the electoral college. Polls show that many white men feel that they have been victimized by blacks and civil rights. When you hear of Trump’s base, it is good to appreciate the composition of Trump’s base: nazis and white supremacists.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Conclusion

June 3, 2018

 

bell hooks: How do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?

This is the final post in the series of posts based on the book by Sally Kohn, “THE OPPOSITE OF HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our Humanity.

Kohn reminds us of George Orwell’s novel “1984,” which he published in 1949. The dystopian novel imagines Orwell’s native Britain as the fictional Oceana, which has been taken over by a tyrannical regime that governs with emotional manipulation. Individual thinking is outlawed, and citizens are under constant surveillance, just in case. Most people go along with the regime willingly—in large part because of propaganda of misinformation, fear-mongering, and hate against a mysterious “other.”

Every day in Oceania, all citizens are required to take part in Two Minutes of Hate, when they would watch a film that demeans and demonizes Oceania’s enemies. The Two Minutes Hate shows “row after row of solid-looking men with expressionless Asiatic faces, who swarm up to the surface of the screen and vanished, to be replaced by others exactly similar.” Orwell continues, “Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room…A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like flame of a blowlamp.”

Case Sunstein in 2013 described Glen Beck’s show on Fox News as comparable to Orwell’s Two Minutes of Hate. In 2016, the alt-right publication “Breitbart” said that journalists and celebrities attacking Donald Trump amounted to a daily Two Minutes of Hate. And Trump’s Twitter feed has also been equated to a regular Two Minutes of Hate.

Sally Kohn writes, “The point of Two Minutes of Hate in “1984” was to distract people from the real problems that were affecting them—their own government and its oppressive actions—by directing their attention and anger elsewhere. Reflecting on the lessons of Orwell’s book, a student in Georgia told her teacher, ‘We do need a public enemy, but not like that. Crime or poverty should be more of the public enemy that the world works to fight against.’ What if our hate is not only causing violence and pain and division but getting in the way of us solving the real problems that hurt us all.”

The writer David Foster Wallace told a parable about two young fish who were swimming along when they came across an older fish swimming in the opposite direction. As he swam past, the older fish said to the younger fish, “Morning, boys. How’s the water? The two young fish kept swimming along for some time until finally one fish turns to the other fish and asks, “What the hell is water?” We are swimming in a world full of hate and biases and we become oblivious to them. And many of these reside in our nonconscious minds such that we remain oblivious of them.

Ms. Kohn writes, “What I’ve learned is that all hate is premised on a mind-set of otherizing. The sanctimonious pedestal of superiority on which we all put ourselves while we systematically dehumanize others is the essential root of hate. In big and small ways, consciously and unconsciously, we constantly filter the world around us through the lens of our explicit and implicit biases. This abets rationalization and looking the other way about widespread injustices such as dismissing entire communities that don’t have access to health care, or entire nations blocked in civil war because they fall outside the sphere of moral concern.”

And she continues, “We think we’re good people, but we don’t see how the sphere of moral concern is constricted by hate, by the history and habits and culture of who matters and who doesn’t in our society, which we have all bought into, whether we mean to or not. So we shake our fists against neo-Nazis marching in the streets, but not enough of us admit that they’re reflections of the society we’ve all created, let alone acknowledge that they’re reflections of ourselves.”

Still continuing, “We have a crisis of hate in the United States and around the world, and we can’t begin to address it if we don’t first learn to see it—making the invisible visible—uncovering the inadvertent, implicit, deliberate and conscious forms of hate all around us and in ourselves. ‘Real change is systemic and self-implicating, urging us to see our role in vast complex problems,’ Anand Giridharadas said in a speech at the first Obama Foundation Summit in October 2017. Leo Tolstoy wrote, ‘Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.’ We have to do both. Before it’s too late.”

Surprisingly, Ms. Kohn is optimistic. She writes, “Yes, hate is profound—complicated and vexing as well as ugly and sad. But it is not inevitable, in any given individual or community or institution or system. Alongside the hateful history of the world are stories of transcending that hate: finding peace after genocide, granting liberty after oppression, even just inching toward equality in the wake of horrific injustice. Hate is no more hardwired into our world than it is into our brains. Change is possible.”

She writes that she knows this not only because she reads the psychology and biology and neuroscience research, but because she has met people like Arno, Bassam, Marie-Jeanne and so many others—people who plumbed the greatest depths of hatred in our world and nonetheless managed to find a way out.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Ms Kohn writes that the opposite of hate is not love. You don’t have to love people to stop hating them. You don’t even have to like them. You don’t have to concede the validity of their views. Assam was very clear that he still sees the Israelis in general as his enemies, but at the same time he no longer hates them.
Ms. Kohn concludes, “The opposite of hate also isn’t some mushy middle zone of dispassionate centrism. You can still have strongly held beliefs, beliefs that are in strong opposition to the beliefs of other people, and still treat those others with civility and respect. Ultimately, the opposite of hate is the beautiful and powerful reality of how we are all fundamentally linked and equal as human beings. The opposite of hate is connection.”

Systems of Hate: The Big Picture

June 2, 2018

Martin Luther KIng, Jr. : The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged in the dark abyss of annihilation.

This is the sixth chapter in “The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our Humanity” by Sally Kohn.

It wasn’t until 1920 that all women, including black women, could vote. Although the Fifteenth Amendment passed in 1870 granted voting rights to African American men, ingenious obstacles were developed, and continue to be developed, to discourage or prevent blacks from voting. Even when blacks managed to vote, they were likely to find their names published in the newspaper, which would alert the local KKK gangs to then show up at their homes and threaten them with violence. In 1922 members of the KKK flew over Topeka, Kansas, dropping postcards in black neighborhoods warning against voting. If black people still managed to try to vote, they often found that the KKK would make good on their threats.

In the 1980s the Republican National Committee created the Nation Ballot Security Task Force, in which off-duty police officers armed with their loaded service revolvers patrolled polling stations in black communities. In 1982 the party was sued for violating the Voting Rights Act that had been passed in 1965. But just four years later, a leaked memo from the Republican National Committee detailed how a new “ballot security” program in Louisiana would “keep the black vote down.” Of course the Republicans had a partisan motivation in suppressing Democratic vote, but they could have also tried to suppress the white Democratic vote.

In 2014 Alabama passed a strict requirement that all voters show ID, and then shut down DMV offices in 80% of the state’s blackest counties. Republicans persist in this type of effort. The objective data are that voting fraud rarely occurs, and certainly never affects the outcomes of elections. Trump turned this on its head when he claimed that his failure to win the popular vote had to be due to large scale voter fraud.

Ms. Kohn writes, “Efforts to disenfranchise black voters today are inextricably linked to the past—to slavery and the fact that for centuries black people weren’t recognized as full human beings (they were three quarters of a human being in the original US Constitution), let alone citizens with equal civil rights. And then, amidst whatever the other excuses or explanations may be, that systematic marginalization plays out in other forms, from who gets threatened with violence to whose legitimate right to vote is questioned at all.”

Ms. Kohn continues, “We see the same embedded history of hate in everything from schools to health care to criminal justice and more, and not only in terms of discriminating against black people or women. For instance, as we’ll see, systemic hate in our institutions and norms in the United States also perpetuates bias agains poor and working-class white folks in rural communities.”

Ms. Kohn continues, “ In 2015, Chris Janson—the white southern country singer who wrote the pro-Trump theme song for the 2016 Republican National Convention—penned a song called “White Trash.” One of the lines is, ‘Well if they’d had their way / They’d thrown us away.’ Which J.D. Vance recounts in his memoir, ‘Hillybilly Elegy,’ is what many rural white folks believe liberal elites think about them.”

And Ms. Kohn continues, “ But it’s not just liberals. In 2016, ‘National Review’s Kevin Williamson, writing about the opioid crisis in rural white America, said, ‘The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die.’ It’s arguable that this cultural disdain contributes to the systemic opioid crisis. The United States hates poor black folks and poor white folks, although indifferent degrees and in different forms.”

Consider the systemic problem of school segregation and inequity. What was the result of the Supreme Court decision on “Brown vs. the Board of Education.” White folks segregated themselves. This happened not only in the South, but also in the North. Whites did not want to live next to black families and they didn’t want their kids in school with black kids.

The result is that today in the United States, more than one out of every ten black and Latino students attend so-called “apartheid schools,” in which whites make up less than 1% of enrollment. And apartheid schools are in disproportionately poor communities and because should funding is apportioned mostly through local property taxes, apartheid schools receive less funding than wealthy white schools.

And it’s not just income inequality that black families are forced into poor neighborhoods, but because property taxes are determined by home values, and those values have been affected by decades of redlining policies in the United States, through which banks and government colluded to relegate black families to certain neighborhoods and then devalue the property in those neighborhoods.

It is ironic and surprising that research has found that racial and ethnic diversity is great for communities. One study found that ethnic diversity in a community increases home values and lowers crime. Another study found that as US cities have become more diverse, they have become safer. In the biggest cities in the US, crime “fell as the percentage of the population that is non-white and the percentage that is gay increased.” The same has been found in suburbs. “As suburb diversified, crime rates fell,” another scholar wrote. Plus nationwide polling data show that people who live in racially inclusive communities are happier, more optimistic, and less stressed—all of which corresponds to living healthier and more productive lives. Ms. Kohn concludes, “It’s sort of like the fleeing white folks are just shooting themselves in the foot, along with their children and the rest of us. It’s by demanding integrated schools both racially and socioeconomically, that parents can help to improve the system ‘for all kids.’”

The Omaha Public Schools (OPS) became disturbed by this and redrew school districts to increase equality. It also provided the opportunity for students to choose a school in a different district. One white girl decided to attend a different school because she realized going to school with all white kids wouldn’t prepare her for life in the 21st century. The OPS high school she chose had “students from over 40 different countries. This student ended up winning a $10,000 college scholarship from Coca-Cola because of an essay she wrote “about tutoring her peers from Asia., Mexico, and Sudan.”

At this point, please excuse a digression from HM regarding home schooling. The main concern of these parents seems to be that they don’t want their children attending schools with diverse student populations, and the risk that their children will be exposed to loathsome liberal ideas. HM would argue that a highly important function of public schools is to provide an environment where students learn to interact with different children and do learn that there are a variety of viewpoints. HM feels that home-schooled children are severely handicapped and that there might be a backlash from these students when they appreciate what their parents have done to them.

By definition collective action requires a group, but one person can definitely get the ball rolling. Ms. Kohn cites the example of Nahed Artful Zehr, a Palestinian Christian who emigrated to the United States when she was six and now leads a Muslim rights organization in Nashville, Tennessee. Nahed has a Ph.D. in religious studies and her academic career included teaching Islam and the Quran at the US Naval War College. After running a four-week workshop on “understanding Islam” in her own Presbyterian congregation, she quit academia and became executive director of the Faith and Culture Center, an organization that promotes understand about Muslims and the Islamic faith.

To help more Muslims and non-Muslims share their experiences, Nahed created a series of dinner programs where people could literally break bread together and talk. Just through meeting one another and talking as human beings, people have had completely transformative experiences.

One day a group of Evangelical Christian pastors came to Nahed and asked for her help. They’d been hearing their congregants say some hateful things about Muslims, but the pastors didn’t really know enough about Islam to respond effectively, and what they knew was often rumor and not fact. Meeting and sharing meals together had outstanding results.

Ms. Kohn concludes, “Faith institutions have the capacity to either foster beliefs that fuel hate—or serve as spaces of cultural transformation that pursue hate’s opposite. Just like businesses have an amazing capacity to foster connection—because the places we work are often more diverse than our neighborhoods and schools and congregations, and because the advertisements and products and services businesses help define so much of our culture. All institutions have the opportunity to be part of the problem or part of the solution.”

Ms. Kohn provides examples of how faith institutions serve as spaces of cultural transformation that pursue hate’s opposite. Unfortunately, there are examples of faith institutions that not only foster beliefs that fuel hate, but also are in opposition to democracy. Consider the former terrorist Bassam Aramin. He is a Palestinian fighting with Israeli’s for a space, which they regard as their country. Assam disaggregates the concept of enemy from the feeling of hate. He does not hate them. Even though he regards them as his enemy he still has compassion for them.

Religious freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. Included here is the right not to believe. But there are certain Christian groups who try to impose their religious beliefs on others. There is no need to do this. Their right is guaranteed. Why do they think they have the right to impose their religious beliefs on others? They complain about sharia in Islam, and fail to see that what they are doing is analogous to sharia. There are segments of the Republican party that are preoccupied with imposing their religious beliefs on others through legislation. It seems like they want to have something like the moral police they have in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, they seem to neglect the love, compassion, and forgiveness that Christ taught. They counter efficient means of providing health care, favor harsh punishments, and show a pronounced lack of compassion towards their fellow man. And some of the beliefs they want to impose on others are regarded as insipid by other Christians. They seem to foster hate, rather than the love that Christ taught. They need to concentrate on reading the gospels and ignoring what is being preached from their religious leaders (See the healthy memory blog post “Beliefs vs. Deeds,” and consider joining a different church.)

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

When Hate Becomes Pandemic: The Genocide

June 1, 2018

Valarie Kaur: Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness is freedom from hate.

This is the fifth chapter in The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our humanity by Sally Kohn. The Rwandan genocide is often described as the fastest genocide in world history—a breathtaking average of eight thousand people were murdered every day, many by their own friends and neighbors. Thousands and thousands of ordinary people participated in the genocide. At least two hundred thousand Hutus participated in the genocide. Ms. Kohn writes, “This is what happens when hate, like wildfire, is deliberately spread nationwide.”

For many years, Hutus and Tutsis lived relatively peaceably. Tutsis tended to raise cattle and Hutus tended to farm. Colonial powers changed this by making the Tutsis the dominant power. Gourrevitch writes “Hutus in Rwanda had been massacring Tutsis on and off since the waning days of Belgian colonial rule in the late fifties.” During Rwanda’s struggle for independence in the 1960s, tens of thousands of Tutsis were killed and an estimated 40% to 70 % of the remaining Tutsi population fled the country.

Rwanda’s Hutu president, Juvenal Habyarimana and his wife Agathe had been plotting annihilation of the Tutsis since Habyarimana seized power in a 1973 coup. Agatha Habyarimana coordinated the group of Hutu extremists who meticulously planned the genocide, including recruiting and training the interahahmwe militias. In 1992 Hutu extremists conduct a dry run of their genocidal plans. They killed several hundred Tutsis around the country.

On August 6, 1994 President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down and Habyarimana died. Attacks were planned and the genocide commenced. HM will not recount the atrocities that occurred, but they were many and brutal. And many were done by neighbors against neighbors and friends against friends. As of 2016, there were less than fifty confirmed examples of rescuers during the genocide. They constituted a tiny fraction of Rwanda’s overall population of 5.95 millions. Similarly, during the Holocaust, active resisters of Nazi atrocities against Jews are estimated to have made up just half of 1% of the entire civilian population.

The common response to these atrocities is what kind of monsters were these people? Difficult as it may be to believe, they were normal, not monsters. These Rwandans lived together and made friends with each other. It should be remembered that only a very small percentage of the Germans were punished for war crimes. The vast majority returned to normal lives. Some still have pictures of these atrocities in their photograph collections.

Here it is appropriate to review the work of Stanley Milgram, that has been previously reported in healthy memory posts. Milligram conducted an experiment in which two experimental participants apparently showed up at the same time. One of these individuals was a confederate of the experimenter. He became the apparent subject, the learner in the experiment in which the true subject was to serve as the teacher. The teacher was supposed to administer an electric shock when the faux learner made an error. The shock machine had switches marked from 15 volts (Slight Shock) to 375 volts (Severe Shock) to 450 volts (XXX). Of course, the machine was fake; It didn’t really do anything, but the “teachers” thought it was real. Understand that the teacher could have left any time they wanted, although they were given verbal prompts like “The experiment requires you to continue,” and even “You have no other choice but to continue.” But 65% continued until they administered the supposedly lethal shock of 450 volts. Every single one of the teachers went to at least 300 volts.

This important research was not allowed to continue. But in 2017, a group of researchers basically replicated Milgram’s experiment in Poland. In that experiment 90% of “teachers” were willing to apply the highest voltage shock.

Professor Zimbardo at Stanford University conducted a famous “Prison Experiment” in which participants in the study were randomly assigned as prisoners or guards. Here abuses became so severe that the experiment had to be terminated. Zimbardo had a contract to write a book about the experiment, but Zimbardo had been so disturbed about the results that he was unable to finish the book. What motivated him to finish the book, “The Lucifer Effect,” were the atrocities being committed at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. It is Zimbardo’s strongly held view that this potential for abuse and torture exists within most of us. In his retirement Zimbardo has started “The Heroic Imagination Project” to foster coming to the aid of others during times of trouble. Both these experiments are reported in the healthy memory blog post,”Good Vs. Evil.”

Peer pressure experiments promoting compliance have been conducted in more benign environments. Solomon Asch conducted an experiment in which a subject was brought into a room with people whom they thought were other subjects, but who were actually part of the research team. Asch showed the all three lines of clearly different lengths and then a fourth line that was obviously the same as one, and only one of the first three. Everyone was supposed to say which it matched, which was a simple task, stupidly simple. The correct answer was really obvious. But when the confederates in the room deliberately gave the wrong answer, the subjects would also answer incorrectly 32% of the time. Across twelve similar experiments, 25% of the subject never conformed, but 75% of subjects gave the wrong answer at least once.

A question here is whether the subjects were conforming to the norm, that is going along to get along, or did they honestly think they were giving the correct answer? Gregory Berns and a team at Emory University replicated Asch’s study while subjects had their brains scanned with an fMRI Machine. In this case, the were comparing what looked like Tetris pieces—drawings of two different 3-D objects. The subjects were told to mentally rotate the objects to determine if they were same or different. Again, when the correct answer was super clear. But when accomplices in the room gave the wrong answer, the subjects also answered incorrectly 41% of the time. Berns reasoned that if the subjects were lying, the part of the brain associated with conscious deception would light up. But it didn’t. Instead the parts of the brain associated with visual perception and spatial awareness lit up. So, the subjects weren’t lying. The data suggest their minds were genuinely modifying their actual perceptions to conform with the group: if the rest of the group insisted that they saw a triangle, the subjects who went along with the group literally “saw” a triangle too. Meanwhile, the subjects who went against the group showed brain activity in the right amygdala—suggesting that there’s an emotional toll, potentially even fear, associated with standing up for one’s beliefs.

When Berns and his team performed a version of this experiment in which subjects were tested against computers instead of human researchers, the amygdala didn’t light up. It was concluded that it’s not taking a stand in general but going against one’s peers that caused emotional distress. Christian Crandall and Amy Eshelman studied 105 different kinds of prejudice as they played out in different scenarios— like job discrimination of laughing at hateful jokes—finding that prejudice was highly correlated with the need for social approval from the dominant group. Apparently, this occurs subconsciously.

Aurelia Mok and Michael Morris presented Asian American subjects with pairs of 3-D objects like those in the Berns fMRI study—two shapes that were clearly exactly the same or different. As in the Berns, Asch, and Milgram studies Mok and Morris had researchers pretending to be subjects—who would then give wrong answers. Remember that in Asch’s study 75% of the subjects went along with the obviously wrong answer at least once.

But Mok and Morris got different results. They found that Asian American subjects who demonstrated “low bicultural identity integration”—meaning that they don’t see their Asian and American identities as fully compatible and integrated into one social identity—were more likely to resist peer pressure and give the correct answer, no matter what the confederates did. Ms. Kohn writes, “This makes the case that the way to stop us from discriminating against or hating various identity groups isn’t actually to pretend that those differences don’t exist. The lesson is not that we need some people who feel like outsiders or who haven’t fully integrated their sense of cultural affiliation into a seamless whole—indeed, having low bicultural identity integration is associated with greater rates of anxiety and depression. The lesson is that we need to combat negative otherizing without assimilation or conformity. We can still have groups—the problem is when they are pitted against one another as dominant versus inferior.

John, a Tutsi, fell for a Hutu lady, Marie-Jeanne, and decided to court her. Three days later he proposed (romance moves quickly in Rwanda). Marie-Jeanne’s father had led the Hutu militia that slaughtered John’s family, and John knew it Marie-Jeanne also knew the father had something to do with the murder of John’s family, but she didn’t know the details. When he came to propose, she accepted, but said she still had to talk with her family.

When she shared the idea with her family members, they could not believe their ears. Her mother and sister told her exactly what her father had done. They told her everything. She remained undeterred. Her family pleaded with her that she shouldn’t marry John, that he was only proposing to her for revenge and would mistreat her in retaliation.

She told her family that if my father wronged John’s family, she was the one to blame, She came to the conclusion that this had been her father’s business, not hers.

The American feminist Robin Morgan writes,”Hate generalizes, love specifies.” Through love, we challenge and let go of all kinds of assumptions. John and Marie-Jeanne’s marriage has flourished.

Unconscious Hate

May 31, 2018

Mahatma Gandhi: If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

This is the fourth chapter in The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our humanity by Sally Kohn. HM has come to the firm conclusion that human cognition needs to be taught in the public schools, continuing in elementary school through high school. The reason we do and believe things, unconscious hate among them, is that we are unaware of our nonconscious processing. That is thoughts of which we are unaware but influence what we think and how we act. Moreover, most people think that bias is bad, something to be avoided. The reality is that we receive much more information than we can process. So to select the information that we can process we need to be biased. Heuristics are beneficial biases we employ to process information.

Ms. Kohn writes, “..I don’t think that the vast majority of Americans—right, left, and center—are deliberate explicit bigots. But I do think all of us need to come to terms with the fact that we all hold unconscious ideas about the superiority of some groups and the interiority of others—ideas that may not be expressed like they were in 1950s Virginia but that come from the same history and hateful legacy. And when I say all of us, I really do mean everyone. Myself included. And you, too. “

Research in both neuroscience and psychology can explain why. A professor of neuroscience at the University of Chicago, Jennifer Kubota, has focused her research on implicit bias and the brain. Her research explains how stereotypes are recorded in the brain. It involves a structure in the brain with which healthy memory blog readers should be familiar. There is an amygdala on each side of the center of the brain. The amygdala is involved in the processing of emotions including fear. There is no one “center’ of emotion. The amygdala is involved “in learning about important or threatening or novel things in our environment. When we need it, the amygdala quickly recalls what’s been learned so we can just as quickly evaluate whatever situation we’re in and respond accordingly. The amygdala can be thought of as an efficient filing cabinet for everything society has taught that our brains have absorbed. The amygdala takes in whatever messages that are around it—including the endemic racial stereotypes—that percolate through the media and our education practices and our families and every other single aspect of our existence. In other words, biases are stuck in society’s system and, in turn, get stuck in all of our brains—particularly in our amygdalae. The amygdala doesn’t mean to be hateful. It learns to hate from a hateful society.

john a. powell, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley has extensively studied the research on implicit bias. He says the nonconscious “makes associations based on frequency.” So, for instance, because the news overreport black crime, at an nonconscious level we’ll create a neural linkage between crime and black—whether or not we even personally, consciously believe blacks are more or less likely to commit crime. Implicit biases are like projections of society’s biases etched into our unconscious. It happens to all of us. “It’s the air we breathe,” says powell. “You breathe that until you’re an adult, you’re going to have those associations. Whites will have them. Blacks will have them. Latinos will have them.”

New York University neuroscientist Elizabeth Phelps and her research team conducted a study in 2000 that identified the neural signature of negative stereotypes. The amygdala is activated more when subjects are shown photos of people with fearful facial expressions than when they are presented with photos of people with neutral expressions. This detection of danger, which in turn helps trigger fear, is one of the most well-established functions of the amygdala, and neuroscientists have long believed that greater amygdala activation is due to a greater perceived threat. Phelp’s research team hooked subjects up to an fMRI machine and then flashed random yearbook photos of white people and black people, all of whom had neutral facial expressions; none were fearful. The majority of white subjects showed greater amygdala activation when viewing unfamiliar black compared to familiar white faces. In other words, seeing unfamiliar black faces triggered fear. Phelps and her team then compared the same people’s amygdala activation to their scores on an implicit bias assessment, which they’d taken before the fMRI study. They found that the more implicit bias people had, the more their amygdala lit up.

This implicit associative test, developed by Dr. Anthony Greenwald, has been discussed in previous healthy memory blog posts. You can take this test yourself. Go to
https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

A great deal of research has revealed the pernicious effects of implicit bias in people’s lives. As john a. powell along with a group of other researchers wrote in a comprehensive report that summarized this work, titled “The Science of Equality”, “studies have shown that bias is operating in our schools, our business offices, our medical institutions, and in our criminal justice system.” This research is too voluminous to review and do justice to in this blog post.

One can argue that explicit bias, bias which is intended, is worse than implicit bias. But what matters most is impact—which can be just as pernicious whether rooted in implicit bias or explicit hate. Undetected hate hiding in our brains is still hate. Ms. Kohn writes, “Just like a little cancer is still cancer. You don’t want even a smidgen inside you.”

Fortunately, there is increasing evidence that interventions work. Ms. Kohn calls this “connection-thinking”— the conscious effort to neutralize the stereotypes embedded in our amygdalae. This is generally called “debiasing” and it is getting promising results.

Susan Fiske conducted an experiment that tried a simple strategy to erase people’s bias. When Fiske showed pictures of unknown black faces to white participants, their amygdala activity predictably spiked. But when Fiske instructed the research subjects to guess the favorite vegetable of the people in the pictures, their amygdala activation remained the same, whether they were shown pictures of white people or black people. So just thinking about what vegetable these unknown folks might enjoy, and having to engage in the process of trying to take the perspective of the other, was enough to break down bias.

Phelps and her team did another experiment in which they showed white subjects the faces of well-liked famous people, both white and black. This time their amygdala activation was significantly lower. In other words, just knowing people, just having more real-life exposure to “others” changes the way our brains activate in response. Ms. Kohn concludes, “That’s more great support for the importance of creating more connection-spaces that then help foster connection-thinking.”

Here’s another study that shows promising signs that if we will acknowledge that we have implicit bias, we can consciously train our minds to disregard it. Salma Handler and other neuroscientists at Tel Aviv University hooked subjects up to a fancy computer that allowed them to monitor their fMRI results themselves, watching in real time as their amygdala activation rates were being tested. With a little bit of coaching and a lot of encouragement, when they were shown stimuli that were meant to trigger their fear mechanisms and at the same time were shown a screen where their amygdalae were lighting up, people could deliberately lower their amygdalae stimulation. Just getting that feedback helped people regulate their own unconscious mental processes.

According to Yudkin and Van Bavel, “Acknowledging the truth about ourselves—that we see and think about the world through the lens of group affiliations—is the first step to making things better.” Ms. Kohn concludes, “So the answer isn’t to ignore biases, as with arguments about “colorblindness” or attacks on identity politics, but rather to acknowledge them and keep working at consciously countering them. We’re not going to change our stereotyped thinking overnight, and we certainly won’t change it longterm simply because we imagine someone’s favorite vegetable. But with concerted effort over time, we can make great headway.”