Gone to the Association for Psychological Science (APS)

May 22, 2019

That is, to the annual meeting of APS. There will be a hiatus in further blog posts. HM will not only be attending, but will also be meeting, assimilating and writing. So there will be a delay in new web posts.

In the interim
Go to https://healthymemory.wordpress.com and use the search block to look for articles of interest.
Here are some suggestions:
The Myth of Cognitive Decline
fulfilling life
relaxation response
loving kindness
behavioral economics
growth mindset
system 2
cognitive reserve
and go to https://centerhealthyminds.org/about/founder-richard-davidson
The healthy memory blog will return.

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Stanford Helped Pioneer Artificial Intelligence

May 21, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the first half of a title by Elizabeth Dworkin in the 19 March 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The second half of the title is “Now it wants humans at the core.” A Stanford University scientist coined the term artificial intelligence (AI) and advancements have continued at the university including the first autonomous vehicle.

Silicon Valley is facing a reckoning over how technology is changing society. Stanford wants to be at the forefront of a different type of innovation, one that puts humans and ethics at the center of the booming field of AI. The university is launching the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI). It is intended as a think tank that will be an interdisciplinary hub for policymakers, researchers and students who will go on to build the technologies of the future. The goal is to inculcate in the next generation a more worldly and humane set of values than those that have characterized it so far—and guide politicians to make more sophisticated decisions about the challenging social questions wrought by technology.

Fei-Fei-Li, an AI pioneer and former Google vice president who is one of the two directors of the new institute said, I could not have envisaged that the discipline I was so interested in would, a decade and a half later, become one of the driving forces of the changes that humanity will undergo. That realization became a tremendous sense of responsibility.”

The goal is to raise more than $1billion. It’s advisory panel is a who’s who of Silicon Valley titans, that includes former Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, former Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer and co-founder Jerry Yang, and the prominent investor Jim Breyer. Bill Gates will keynote its inaugural symposium.

The ills and dangers of AI have become apparent. New statistics emerge about the tide of job loss wrought by the technology, from long-haul truckers to farmer workers to dermatologists. Elon Musk called AI “humanity’s existential threat” and compared it to “summoning the demon.”

Serious problems were raised in the series of healthy memory posts based on the book, “Zuck.” The healthy memory posts based on the book “LikeWar” raised additional problems. Both these problems could be addressed with IA. Actually IA is being used to address the issues in “LIkeWar.” Regarding the problems raised in the book “Zuck”, rather than hoping that Facebook will self-police or trying to legislate against Facebook’s problematic practices, AI could police online all these social networks and flag problematic practices.

It is the position of this blog to advocate AI be used to enhance human intelligence. This is especially important in areas where human intelligence is woeful lacking, that is intelligent augmentation (IA). Unfortunately, humans, who are regarded as social animals, have difficulties reconciling conflicting political and religious beliefs. Artificial intelligence could be used here in an intelligence augmented (IA) role. Given polarized beliefs dead ends are reached. IA could suggest different ways of framing problematic issues. Lakoff’s ideas that were promoted in the series of healthy memory blog posts under the rubric “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse” could provide the initial point of departure. Learning would take place and these ideas would be refined further to result in disagreeing parties being surprised about their ultimate agreement.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Alternative Futures 3

May 20, 2019

This is another post motivated by “Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground” by John Markoff. Both AI (Artificial Intelligence) and IA (Intelliigent Augmentation) should be used where they are most needed. One of the negative effects of technology has been to increase polarization. It is even being used in warfare and in altering elections which are ostensibly free.

So AI and IA both should be placed to work on these problems. HM is only aware of some very limited work in this area. He remembers one project addressing collaboration within the military. Unlike most other occupations, the military wear their rank on their uniforms. So this experiment involved collaboration in which the participants were anonymous. There was no means of assessing relative rank. The project seemed to be going quite well. Then one of the participants started using all caps in his entries. This was the ranking officer who felt he was being ignored.

One would begin using IA to address this problem. This should be used to the extent possible. However, at some point there might be a need to let AI take over. Perhaps as in the case of the Forbin Project’s Colossus, it would succeed.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Alternative Futures 2

May 19, 2019

This is another post motivated by “Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground” by John Markoff. In this future AI, including robots and cyborgs, take over all labor. This technology is held by its few owners. So wealth is even more grossly distorted than it is today, and there are effectively no jobs for individual people to do.

To prevent violent uprisings guaranteed incomes would need to be provided to all. So people’s basic needs would be provided for, but what would provide meaning to their lives? They could have children who would have similarly bleak futures. There would likely be problems with drug and substance abuse.

Of course, there could be online games to play and, perhaps, opportunities to gamble. There could be supports for growth mindsets. There could be educational opportunities to pursue online and opportunities for athletic and artistic pursuits.  IA (intelligent augmentaion) could be life enriching for those who wanted to pursue such lives. It might also be possible to create unneeded jobs where people would pursue activities using IA, that they thought were meaningful. Even today, many work in research jobs that are designed to address problems, but who never see any of these projects implemented. HM knows of this from his own personal experience.

The preceding paragraph applies to the advanced world. What about the undeveloped or under developed worlds? Would they be ignored and allowed to suffer and die out? There could be an effort to attempt to bring these people up to the level of the developed worlds, and until this was accomplished it would likely provide additional jobs.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Alternative Futures

May 18, 2019

“Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground” by John Markoff provides an excellent review of the development of artificial intelligence including the researchers and the funding agencies. And he does examine the differences between AI (Artificial Intelligence) and IA (Intelligent Augmentation). For those interested in technology and of the developing and funding of both AI and IA, HM strongly recommends reading Markoff’s book. However, this post and the immediately following posts will examine the ramifications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Intelligence Augmented (IA) in alternative futures.

The most nightmarish future is one in which AI becomes so powerful that it takes over. It either eliminates humanity or preserves humans as pets. However, it should be realized that it is possible that a benign future would result from a powerful AI. At the height of the Cold War a movie was released titled “Collosus: the Forbin Project.” The movie takes place during the height of the cold war when there was a realistic fear that a nuclear war would begin that would destroy all life on earth. Consequently, the United States created the Forbin Project to create Colossus. The purpose of Colossus was to prevent a nuclear war before it began or to conduct a war once it had begun. Shortly after they turn on Colossus, the find it acting strangely. They discover that it is interacting with the Soviet version of Colossus. The Soviets had found a similar need to develop such a system. The two systems communicated with each other and came to the conclusion that these humans are not capable of safely conducting their own affairs. In the movie the Soviets capitulate to the computers and the Americans try to resist but ultimately fail. So the human species is saved by AI.

Currently there are more countries with missiles and nuclear weapons than there were at the time of this movie. So one might argue that there is even more of a need for such AI today than at the time of the movie. When one considers that the leader of one of these countries lives in his own reality and is prone to strike out whenever he feels threatened or provoked, there is even more of a need for such AI today.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Cyborgs

May 17, 2019

This post is motivated by material in an excellent book by John Markoff titled “Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground.” Cyborg stands for “cybernetic Organism,” a term formulated by medical researchers in 1969 who were thinking about intentionally enhancing humans to prepare them for the exploration of space. They foresaw a new kind of creature—half human, half mechanism—capable of surviving in harsh environments.

It seems even if Kurzweil is capable of uploading his mind into a computer, it would be a frustrating experience unless it was a cyborg. It is clear that the brain can issue motor movements to machines. So output issues would not be a problem. And suppose that Kurzweil successfully uploads his mind to this cyborg. The question remains what would the phenomenal experience be for Kurzweil or any human. Kurzweil’s fundamental concept is that his mind in the computer would give him extraordinary mental powers. He probably could do amazing computational exercises. But would he understand, in a phenomenal sense, what he was doing? He might even be able to write poetry, but would he understand the poetry. And what about his personality. Would he become more humanistic, or would he become mechanical. What about a soul and a sense of morality? What about one’s humanity? Would it be lost?

Would cyborgs be able to breed and produce new cyborgs? Presumably they would be immortal.

This seems like a great topic for science fiction. Unfortunately, HM does not read science fiction. Do any science fiction readers who also read this blog have any recommendations? If so, please supply them in the comments section.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Singulataritarians

May 16, 2019

This is another post using “Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground” by John Markoff as a point of departure. Perhaps the logical result of combining Artificial Intelligence (AI) with Intelligent Augmentation (IA) is a singularity, the combining of the two. Kurzweil has written a book “How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed.” HM would like to see a review of this book by a psychologist. As a psychologist he thinks we have much more to learn before we can even consider to attempt building a mind. Yet apparently Kurzweil, an engineer, is convinced that he can. Moreover, he thinks he can upload his brain/mind into this machine. The following is taken from the Wikipedia:

• The Singularity is an extremely disruptive, world-altering event that forever changes the course of human history. The extermination of humanity by violent machines is unlikely (though not impossible) because sharp distinctions between man and machine will no longer exist thanks to the existence of cybernetically enhanced humans and uploaded humans.

Kurzweil is taking means (diets, drugs, etc.) to assure that he shall be able to upload himself into the machine and achieve eternal life.

Presumably, his intention is to upload his brain into the machine. What he forgets is that he is a biological organism. His memory is biologically based on chemical changes that take time to implement. In other words, his mind uploaded to a computer would be nothing but buzzing noise. Consider how fast a computer printout occurs. Then consider how long it takes not just to read, but to assimilate the meaning of the information. Consider the paltry few seconds it takes to download a book to an iPad. Then consider not just how long it takes to read the book, but to assimilate the material in the book and related it to old knowledge and to update current knowledge.

Kurzweil presents the best case for a liberal education, one that includes courses in psychology, biology, and neurochemistry.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Licklider

May 15, 2019

J.C.R Licklider is a personal hero of HM. He has appeared in previous healthy memory blog posts. When HM was a student and read Licklider’s article, “Man-Machine Symbiosis.” HM thought that this was the role computers should play in technology wherein the combination would be greater than the sum of its parts. Licklider also wrote, along with Taylor, in 1968, “The Computer as a Communication Device” that pointed to the existence of a future internet.

Unfortunately, the notion of Man-Machine symbiosis did not catch on. HM was frustrated with using computers to replace humans. True, there are jobs in which it is desirable to have computers play a solo role, but the real potential seemed to be in creating a symbiotic relationship with computers. Unfortunately, the focus has been on having computers replace humans. Late in his career HM wrote and co-authored articles on what he termed neo-symbiosis in an effort to resurrect the idea. Although he failed, he shall keep on trying.

HM was disappointed to learn while reading Markoff’s “Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground” that Licklider, like McCarthy, was confident that the advent of “Strong” artificial intelligence in which a machine capable of at least matching wits with a human, was likely to arrive relatively soon. He wrote that the period of man-machine “symbiosis” might only last less than two decades, although he allowed that the arrival of truly smart machines that capable of rivaling humans thinking might not happened for a decade, perhaps fifty years.

Humans must stay involved. Otherwise machines will take over and create knowledge that is inaccessible to humans. As was mentioned in a previous post, developers understand how they develop a neural net, but they are unable to understand how the net solves a given problem. Humans always need to maintain a supervisory role and regard computers as tools for them to use. Remember that Minsky once responded to a question about the significance of the arrival of artificial intelligence by saying, “If we’re lucky, maybe they’ll keep us as pets.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Douglas Engelbart

May 14, 2019

This post was motivated by an excellent book by John Markoff titled “Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground.” The Wikipedia credits Doug Engelbart with creating the field of human-computer interaction. Doug ran the Augmentation Research Lab at SRI International. He also created the computer mouse, the development of hypertext, networked computers, and precursors to graphical user interfaces. NLS, the oN-Line system developed by the Augmentation Research Center under Engelbart’s guidance with funding primarily from DARPA, demonstrated numerous technologies, most of which are now in widespread use; it included the computer mouse, bitmapped screens, and hypertext. Engelbart is credited with a law, appropriately named after him, that the intrinsic rate of human performance is exponential.

The following is taken from the Wikipedia article on Doug, “He reasoned that because the complexity of the world’s problems was increasing, and because any effort to improve the world would require the coordination of groups of people, the most effective way to solve problems was to augment human intelligence and develop ways of building collective intelligence.[6] He believed that the computer, which was at the time thought of only as a tool for automation, would be an essential tool for future knowledge workers to solve such problems. He was a committed, vocal proponent of the development and use of computers and computer networks to help cope with the world’s increasingly urgent and complex problems. Engelbart embedded a set of organizing principles in his lab, which he termed “bootstrapping”. His belief was that when human systems and tool systems were aligned, such that workers spent time “improving their tools for improving their tools” it would lead to an accelerating rate of progress.”

Returning to Markoff’s book, Doug stumbled across an article by Vannevar Bush, who proposed a microfiche-based information retrieval system called Memex to manage all the world’s knowledge. Later Doug deduced that such a system could be assembled based on the then newly available computers. He concluded that the time was right to build an interactive system to capture knowledge and organize information in a way that would now be possible for a small group of people to create and collaborate more effectively. So he was thinking of the world-wide web. It took time and resources and source code from Tim Berners-Lee to see the full scale implementation.

According to the Wikipedia article he retired in 1988 because of a lack of interest in his ideas and the funding to pursue them. One wonders what he could had achieved if others had understood his ideas and provided funding to support him.

Machines of Loving Grace

May 13, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of an excellent book by John Markoff. The subtitle is “The Quest for Common Ground.” The common ground referred to is that between humans and robots. The book covers, in excruciating detail, the development of artificial intelligence from the days of J.C.R. Licklider to 2015.

The book covers two lines of development. One from John McCarthy, which Markoff terms Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the other by Douglas Englebart, which Markoff terms Intelligence Augmented (IA). The former is concerned with making computers as smart as they can be, and the latter is concerned with using computers to augment human intelligence.

Markoff does not break down AI any further, but it needs to be. AI has been used by psychologists to model human cognition. So the ultimate goal here is to develop an understanding of human cognitive processes. AI has been quite informative. In attempting to model problems such as human vision, psychologists realized that they had overlooked some critical processes that were needed to explain perception. One should also regard AI as being a tool needed to develop theories of psychological processes.

There are also two types of AI. One is known as GOFIA, “Good Old Fashioned Artificial Intelligence” where computer code is developed to accomplish the task. GOFIA was stymied for a while due to the computational complexity it faced. Judea Pearl, the father of decapitated journalist Daniel, is a superb mathematician and logician. He developed Bayesian networks that successfully dealt with this problem and GOFIA proceeded further on with this expedited approach (enter “Pearl” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to learn more about this genius).

The other type is, or are neural nets. Here neural nets are designed to learn how to to accomplish a task. The problem with neural nets is that the programmers do not know how to solve the problem, rather they know how to design a neural net that solves the problem. Nightmare scenarios where computers take over the world would be the product of neural nets. With GOFAI problems could be solved by deleting lines of code.

Augmenting intelligence IA is what HM promotes. Here computer code serves as a mental prosthetic to enhance human knowledge and understanding. IA, unless it was the intelligence of a mad scientist, would not constitute a threat to humanity.

It is true that AI is required for robots to perform tasks that are difficult, boring, or dangerous. But the goal of an AI system must be understood or undesired consequences might result.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Reactive and Proactive Aggression

May 11, 2019

A distinction between these two types of aggression is made in a book by Richard Wrangham titled “The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution.” This is a recent, 2019, publication. For most of his career Wrangham has been intrigued by the relation between virtue and violence. Wrangham worked with Jane Goodall when she discovered war breaking out between two groups of chimpanzees in which they were killing, trying to destroy each other.

Wrangham defines reactive aggression as aggression that is fairly spontaneous in which something happens and the victim of the aggression quickly responds. In contrast, proactive violence is violence that is planned in advance for retribution or for some type of gain. Many other species are characterized by reactive violence. Something happens to one individual and that individual quickly responds with some sort of reciprocal violence.

Wrangham argues that the emergence of civilization was critically dependent upon a reduction in reactive violence. Although Wrangham does not seem to mention the difference between physical and nonphysical reactive violence, human language does provide the means of nonphysical violence and, fortunately, daily human violence tends to be of the verbal type.

Proactive violence is a matter of planning a violent response. So revenge killings, battles, and pogroms and wars are examples of proactive violence. Some non-human species engage in proactive violence, but lack the technology that humans have. While it is a reduction and changes in types of reactive violence by the human species that assisted in their success, it is proactive violence that brings out the worst in humans and presents a potential existential risk.

The holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis is an example of one of the worst types of proactive violence. The detailed planning entailed in this holocaust required the sophisticated planning only we humans can perform. A nuclear holocaust could potentially eliminate our species. Such a holocaust requires a high degree of scientific and engineering abilities as well as a lack of emotional control that allows true reasoning being overcome to achieve a pyrrhic victory.

The Second Mountain

May 10, 2019

The “Second Mountain” is a book by David Brooks: The subtitle is “The Quest for a Moral Life.” The first mountain referred to in the title is Hyper-Individualism. The second mountain is Relationalism. The first phase of his life was characterized by his hyper-individualism. This phase of his life ended in divorce and unhappiness. He moved on to Relationalism, concern for his fellow humans, and is now happy. He argues that Relationalism is the way to go. Although HM agrees, Brooks falls short on his Relationalism.

Before HM explains how Brooks falls short, he would like to underscore two parts of his book that HM finds praiseworthy. Brooks writes, “In eighteenth-century America, Colonial society and Native American society sat, unhappily, side by side. As time went by, settlers from Europe began defecting to live with the natives. No natives defected to live with the colonials. This bothered the Europeans. They had, they assumed, the superior civilization, and yet people were voting with their feet to live in the other way. The colonials occasionally persuaded natives to come with them, and taught them English, but very quickly the natives returned home. During the war with the Indians, many European settlers were taken prisoner and lived in Indian tribes. They had plenty of chances to escaped and return, but did not. When Europeans came to “rescue’ them, they fled into the woods to hide from their ‘rescuers.’

The difference was that people in Indian villages had a communal culture and close attachments. They lived in a spiritual culture that saw all creations as a single unity. The Europeans had an individualistic culture and were more separable. When actually given the choice, a lot of people preferred community over self. The story made HM think that it’s possible for a whole society to get itself into a place where it’s fundamentally disordered.”

The second praiseworthy point is his calling out the soul specifically. Too many religions are preoccupied with biological life. Biological life should be irrelevant to religions and spiritual beliefs. It is the soul that is of central concern.

Here are two paragraphs from the Conclusion with which HM strongly agrees.

“The world is in the midst of one of those transition moments. The individualistic moral ecology is crumbling around us. It has left people naked and alone. For many, the first instinctive reaction is to the evolutionary one: Revert to tribe. If we as a society respond to the excesses of “I’m Free to Be Myself” with an era of “Revert to Tribe,” then the twenty-first century will be a time of conflict and violence that will make the twentieth look like child’s play,

There is another way to find belonging. There is another way to find meaning and purpose. There is another vision of a healthy society. It is through relations. It is by going deep into ourselves and finding there our illimitable ability to care, and then spreading outward in commitment to others.”
The examples he provides of building relations are definitely commendable. But these alone will fall short. Government programs and government assistance are also needed and often provide the most efficient means of dealing with problems. Brooks is blinded because he looks at the world through Republican lenses. Unfortunately, in the United States too many Democrats are also suffering from faulty lenses. All other advanced countries have government supplied medical care. The data show that not only are these programs more effective with respect to medical care, they are also cost effective. Political propaganda and lies in the United States blind people to these results replicated in every other advanced country.

The preceding paragraph provides a good example of how beliefs and compartmentalization preclude or hinder critical thinking. Brooks identifies himself as a conservative. There is nothing wrong with that in itself. Politics needs both liberal and conservative approaches. Unfortunately, his conservatism leads him to compartmentalize. He has beliefs as to what functions government should perform and which functions they should not. Unfortunately, this compartmentalization puts medical care as something government should not do. So even in spite of the voluminous data that government supplied health care is both more economical and provides better medical care, he remains blind to that evidence. And it is quite likely he never looked for it. But good critical thinking requires examining how to justify the data in support one’s political decision and not just by blind belief.

College educations in these countries are also more affordable. It is not surprising that the United States always finished behind these countries when the survey is on happiness.

Brooks also makes derogatory comments on meditation. Meditation and contemplative prayer are central to finding meaning and purpose. But Brooks is entirely focused on western civilization and apparently is oblivious of the wisdom of the east.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Default Network, System 1 Processing, and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

May 8, 2019

An earlier healthy memory blog post promised more about the default mode network. That post identified similarities between the default mode network and Kahneman’s System 1 Processing. Kahneman’s System 1 processing is important in that HM thinks that too heavy a use of System 1 processing at the expense of System 2 processing, which is active thinking, increases the risk for AD.

The simplest distinction between the two terms is that Kahneman is a cognitive psychologist and his two process view of of cognitive processes comes from cognitive psychology. The default mode network comes from cognitive neuroscience. Default mode activity is identified via brain imaging. Although they might not be identical, that distinction awaits further research, it is clear that there is considerable overlap between the two.

In addition to brain atrophy, AD patients have abnormal high levels of proteins in different brain regions. In the medial temporal lobe, the accumulation of tau protein leads to neurofibrillary tangles. In cortical regions, such as the parietal cortex in early AD, the accumulation of amyloid-B protein leads to amyloid plaques. The neurofibrillary tangles in the medial temporal lobe and amyloid plaques in cortical regions can be assumed to disrupt neural processing in these regions.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “There is an influential hypothesis that were is a causal relationship between default network activity that leads to deposition of amyloid that results in atrophy and disrupted metabolic activity, which impairs long-term memory in AD patients. The regions in the default network are active when participants are not engaged in a task and include the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the medial prefrontal cortex, the inferior prefrontal cortex and the medial parietal cortex. In AD patients, amyloid deposition occurs in the same regions, which suggests the default network activity may lead to amyloid deposition. Dr. Slotnick suggests that perhaps higher level of amyloid deposition, which occurs in late AD patients, is necessary to produce atrophy in the frontal cortex.

Dr. Slotnick continues, “If high amyloid deposition is a causal factor in developing AD, older adults with low levels of amyloid should be at decreased risk for developing this disease. There is some evidence that cognitive engagement and exercise engagement throughout life may reduce the amyloid level in the brains of healthy older adults as a function of cognitive engagement, and this was compared to the cortical amyloid levels . Participants rated the frequency which they engaged in cognitively demanding tasks such as reading, writing, going to the library, or playing games at five different ages (6, 12, 18, 40, and their current age). Healthy older adults with greater cognitive engagement throughout their lifetime, as measured by the average cognitive activity at the five ages, had lower levels of amyloid in default network regions. Moreover, the healthy older adults in the lowest one-third of lifetime engagement had amyloid levels that were equivalent to AD patients, and the healthy older adults in the highest one-third of lifetime cognitive engagement had amyloid levels that were equivalent to young adults.

So maintaining a growth mindset, thinking critically, and learning new information provide double protection against AD. First, the reduction of troublesome amyloid levels. Second is the building of a cognitive reserve so that even if you develop amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles you may not have the cognitive and behavior symptoms of AD.

Dr. Slotnick’s work is reported in an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” The report on which Dr. Slotnick’s statements are based comes from
Buckner, R.L., Snyder, A.Z., Shannon, B.J., LaRossa, G. Sachs, R. Fotenos, A.F., Sheline, Y.I., Klunk, W.E., Mathis, C.A., Morris, J.C. & Mintun, M.A. (2005). Molecular, structural, and functional characterization of Alzheimer’s disease: Evidence for a relationship between default activity, amyloid, and memory. The Journal of Neuroscience, 25, 7709-7717.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Passing 73

May 6, 2019

Meaning that today HM is entering his 74th year. He engages in ikigai, the Japanese term referring to living a life with purpose, a meaningful life. His purpose, in addition to living a fulfilling life with his wife, is to learn and share his thoughts and knowledge with others. HM does this primarily through his blog healthymemory, which focuses on memory health and technology.

HM’s Ph.D is in cognitive psychology. That field has transitioned to cognitive neuroscience, a field of research and a term that did not exist when HM was awarded his Ph.D. HM is envious of today’s students. However, he is still fortunate enough to be able to keep abreast of current research and to relay relevant and meaningful research from this field to his readers.

What is most disturbing is the atmosphere of fear and hate that prevails today. It is ironic that technology, which had, and still has, a tremendous potential for spreading knowledge, now largely spreads disinformation, hatred, and fear.

HM understands why this is the case, but, unfortunately, he does not know how to counter it.

The problem can best be understood in terms of Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of cognition. 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. Unfortunately System 1 is largely governed by emotions. Fear and hate are System 1 processes. 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.

Trump’s lying is ubiquitous. Odds are that anything he says is a lie. His entire candidacy was based on lies. So why is he popular? Identifying lies and correcting misinformation requires mental effort, System 2 processing. It is easier to be guided by emotions than to expend mental effort. The product of this cognitive miserliness is a stupidity pandemic.

Previous healthy memory posts have emphasized the enormous potential of technology. Today people, especially young people, are plugged in to their iPhones. Unfortunately, the end result is superficial processing. They get information expeditiously, but they are so consumed with staying in touch with updated information, that they have neither time nor attention left for meaningful System 2 processing. Unfortunately, technology, specifically social media, amplifies these bad effects, thus increasing misinformation, hatred and fear. Countering these bad effects requires implementing System 2 processes, that is thinking. A massive failure to do this enables Trump to build his politics on lies spreading hatred and fear.

As has been written in many previous healthy memory posts, System 2 processing will not only benefit politics, but will also decrease the probability of suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Personally, all this is upsetting. But HM believes it is essential to love one’s fellow humans. He tries to deal with this via meditation. Progress is both difficult and slow but it needs to be done. Hatred destroys the one who hates. So HM continues a daily struggle to be a better human being.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Unhealthful Memories Can Lead to Alzheimer’s and the Loss of Democracy

May 3, 2019

This post is motivated by an article by Greg Miller titled “With Mueller silent, Barr speaks for him—and defends the president” in the 2 May 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The article is about how Barr has gotten ahead of Mueller and completely misrepresented the report of the special council. Mueller has remained silent trying to observe the normal protocols. Barr has completely misrepresented Mueller’s report and continues to lie and misrepresent his characterization of the report when questioned by Democratic members of the Senate. Most Republicans seem to be complicit in Barr’s lies and misrepresentation.

Mueller will eventually testify, but much damage has been done by Trump’s puppet Barr. However, it is more than time that truth will need to overcome. The failure of too many Americans to use their critical thinking processes also hinders their reaching truth.

A brief review of Kahneman’s two process theory of cognition is appropriate here. System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes.

The default mode network will be mentioned in future posts. Basically it corresponds to System 1 processing. What is important is the word “default.” Once misinformation has gotten into memory it takes cognitive effort to remove and correct it.

Without knowing it, Trump is a genius at exploiting the default mode network. The default mode network is also responsive to emotion. Emotion comes first. That’s why it is important to stop and think, when you become angry, so you do not respond foolishly. But by exploiting pre-existing biases and out and out lying, misinformation gets into memory. And it will remain there until the individual thinks, discovers the information is wrong, and corrects this memory.

This problem is exacerbated by social media. As has been shown in previous posts, social media reinforces this disinformation. Much of this misinformation is emotional. Hate spreads easily, unfortunately, much faster than does love and caring.

There have been many previous posts on how cognitive activity, system 2 processing, getting free of the default mode network decreases the likelihood of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Moreover, there are many cases of individuals whose brains have the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s, the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, who die never knowing that they had Alzheimer’s because they had none of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms.

Effective democracy also depends on healthy memories. It requires that citizens know how democracy works and seek and evaluate information as to how the democracy should proceed. There is ample evidence that few citizens know how the government is supposed to work as outlined in the U.S. Constitution. And there is ample evidence that most voting citizens have little understanding of the issues and candidates on which they are voting.

If Russia waged a conventional military attack on the United States, citizens would be outraged and demand that we fight back. But the Russians are smart, and too many Americans are stupid. The Russians used cyberattacks. These cyberattacks have been described in previous healthy memory posts. These cyberattacks promoted Trump for president and created disruption and polarization among the American public. Remember that Trump was not elected in the popular vote. He lost that by three million votes. He won due to an irresponsible electoral college.

Trump built his campaign on lies, and continues to support himself on lies. Obviously it requires too much mental effort for too many citizens to recognize this individual as the fraud and obscenity he actually is.

Regardless of the Mueller report, there is ample evidence that Trump needs to be impeached. And reading the Mueller report one quickly realizes that if Trump did not commit any crimes of which he could be convicted, his behavior still puts democracy at risk. Should he not be impeached and should he lose a reelection, he will claim fraud and refuse to leave the office. Our democracy is at risk of becoming a de facto totalitarian dictatorship. Obviously that is something that Barr would prefer, as he thinks there are no limits on presidential power.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

STOP: Avoid Amygdala Hijackings!

May 2, 2019

Previous healthy memory blog posts have explained how the amygdala is a brain structure that responds to emotions. So when we’re upset our amygdala becomes active. This is true even when one reads or hears something that is disagreeable or upsetting. An amygdala hijacking occurs when the amygdala causes you to respond disagreeably to the statement, explain why, and either say or imply that the originator is an idiot. Also, when we learn of violent crimes, they are in all likelihood the result of an amygdala hijacking.

Fortunately, most of us are unlikely to become violent, but some of us can let our amygdala hijack our behavior so that we make asses of ourselves. Unfortunately, HM has suffered many amygdala hijackings, is still suffering from them, and must remain constantly vigilant to prevent their reoccurrence.

One technique can be remembered by the acronym STOP. Which stands for

S Stop
T Take a few deep breaths
O Observe, and, more importantly, think about what is happening and explicitly about how one should not respond.
P If you have decided on an appropriate response, respond. If no appropriate response has been found, excuse yourself and exit the situation.

Thanks to Kathleen Parker

May 1, 2019

Whose column titled “Easter, and this ungodly episode” in the 21 April 2019 issue of the Washington Post expressed some sentiments similar to HM’s post “Trump vs. a Buddhist Monk’” where HM argued that the Buddhist Monk, in his poverty, lives a happier life than Donald Trump, with all his worldly riches.

The following are excerpts from Ms. Parkers column:

“Trump…is a villain but also a tragic figure. For him there is never enough of anything—riches, possessions, attention and adulation.

At times I feel sorry for him, because he has invited the wrath of millions, and it can’t be easy to shoulder so much disapproval. When I said this recently to a friend, she replied: ‘It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who has no empathy.’ True, but a person without empathy—the ability to feel what others do—walks a lonely path. Driven by lust for the material, such a person doesn’t know the company of what ancient philosophers called transcendentals—truth, goodness, and beauty, which correspond sequentially to the mind, the will and the heart, and which according to Christian theology, lead to God’s infinite love.

Trump wages daily war against truth. Examples of his falsehoods and outright lies could fill a doorstop volume.

Goodness is missing everywhere. Trump may have some good qualities, though it is hard to discern them given his propensity for hurtful, divisive rhetoric. To him, goodness is what he wills it to be, that which nourishes his narcissism and appetites, whether the compliance of women or the loyalty of comrades. Ironically, disloyalty may have saved him when aides refused to carry out orders to obstruct the Mueller investigation.

One needn’t be a theologian, philosopher, or Christian to recognize that Trump, defiant before truth and lacking goodwill, knows beauty only as a standard for useful women or towers bearing his name.”

She includes in her column Trump’s own statement when Attorney Jeff Sessions told him about the Mueller appointment. “Oh, my God. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f—-ed.”

Kathleen Parker ends her column, “Would this prophecy come to pass and this ungodly epodes in American history be finished.”

Are We Getting Dumber?

April 30, 2019

This post is based on statistics from a column by Max Boot in the 18 April 2019 issue of the Washington Post. His column begins, “Only 36% of Americans could pass a multiple-choice civics test of the kind that is administered to immigrants seeking to become citizens. 60% don’t know which countries the United States fought with in World War II. 57% don’t know how many justices serve on the Supreme Court. Only 24% know what Benjamin Franklin was famous for? Some respondents thought he had invented the light bulb.

The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship foundation conducted a survey confirming that there is a national emergency of civics illiteracy and it is getting worse. 74% of those over age 65 could pass the citizenship exam (which requires correctly just 6 out of 10 questions), but only 19% of those under 45 could do so. And a college degree does not guarantee a minimal knowledge of U.S. history. In surveys of college graduates commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, fewer than 20% could identify the Emancipation Proclamation, only 42% knew that the Battle of the Bulge occurred during World War II (this is spite of the many movies made about this battle), and one-third were unaware that Franklin D. Roosevelt had introduced the New Deal.

Boot concludes “We are a democracy at risk of being too ignorant to govern ourselves.” HM would argue that we have already demonstrated that we are too ignorant to govern ourselves. The election of Trump as President and a Republican Party that continues to support him make this point. HM would like to know how Trump would do on this citizenship exam. Trump only recently learned, and was surprised to learn, that Lincoln was a Republican!

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

2019 NFL Draft

April 29, 2019

This post is based on an article by Sally Jenkins titled, “Smart teams trade down, but most teams just aren’t smart,” in the 27 April 2019 issue of the Washington Post. There have been previous posts on this topic. Behavioral economics which grew from Prospect Theory by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, for which Kahneman won a Nobel Prize (unfortunately Amos Tversky had passed on and was ineligible for the prize when it was awarded) can be used to guide NFL Draft Picks. The basic strategy is to trade down rather than trade up. Cade Massey of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton school and Nobel Prize winner produced papers in 2005 and 2012 that showed that teams profoundly overvalue first-round picks and simply don’t have the ability they think they do to discern between a great player and a good one.

Jenkins writes, “How often is a team right in picking a high-first rounder” What will be the quantifiable difference between the top choice at a position in the 2019 draft and the next available player, or even the third or fourth, in terms of games started and potential Pro Bowl success? The difference would need to be large given the amount of their investments. But their expenditures prove right only 52% of the time, which is effectively a coin toss.

Massey who does consulting for NFL teams says, “History suggests you do better by trading down from the top, using multiple lesser picks than one high pick.” The Patriots have done this with obvious success. From the article, “As of 2018, Bill Belichick had traded down fully 21 times on draft day to acquire more picks. Over the past 15 years, the Patriots have chosen 39 players in the second and third rounds, the highest number of any team in the AFC. And they won Super Bowls with them.”

Massey says, “If you recognize the uncertainty rather than throwing up your hands, you say, ‘We want as many draws as possible from the lottery. We can’t influence one ticket, but we can get as many tickets as possible.”

Andrew Brandt, a sports business analyst and former vice-president of the Green Bay Packers says, “It take a lot of willpower to trade out of that first-round pick, because there’s a lot of pressure. A lot of gravitas goes with that.”

Teams often do the dead opposite of what they should: give away fistfuls of picks to move up and grab a single star prospect. According to Massey overconfidence in their own judgment clouds their thinking. Brandt says, “Or sometimes it’s just a simple case of seeing a player ‘you lust after.’”

There is also extreme pressure coming from fans. There are many males who might not be about to tell you who their representatives to Congress or their senators are, who have definite strong picks for the NFL draft.

Massey says, “The quants are wrong to think you can quantify every single player. But you also can’t be right without the quantifications.”

The Random Act of Choosing a College Major

April 28, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Andrew Van Dam in the 30 March 2019 issue of the Washington Post. This post provides a neat follow up to the immediately preceding post “Missing Healthymemory Themes.” The article begins by stating that this potentially life altering decision is often made based on something as trivial as what time of day you took a particular class, or what you happened to be studying when the deadline for picking a major arrived. Even when students are doing well in a course, perhaps even in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematic (STEM) discipline, they will switch majors to be with others who share genre or background. This has been suggested as a possible explanation for lower participation of females in these disciplines.

Economists like to study U.S. Military Academy Cadets because they are assigned schedules, and some classes at random creating a data set that allows them to answer questions such as what’s causing a student to pick one major over another. The author writes, “The answer, it turns out, is dumb luck. Students who happen to be assigned classes in one of four required subjects during the semester when they’re supposed to pick a major are twice as likely to major in the assigned subject, according to University of Maryland economist Nolan Pope, and Richard Patterson and Aaron Feudo of the U.S. Military Academy. This held true regardless of how well a student performed or how much they liked the course according to the analysis of class data from 2001 to 2015. Their database included grades, class times and students opinion about the course. Pope said, “Small and seemingly unimportant things can really have a large impact. Often students cite a specific class or teacher for a choice of major.”

Carnegie Mellon University professor Karem Haggag, showed students are about 10% less likely to major in a subject if they took a class at 7:30 a.m. Likewise. as students grown more fatigued during the day they grow about 10% less likely to major in the subject covered by each successive class.

Given these data it is not surprising that 37% of students eventually switch according to a paper from University of Memphis economists Carmen Astorne-Fiagari and Jamin D. Speer. These economists conducted a long-running survey of almost 9,000 students born between 1980 and 1984. Not surprisingly, students with lower GPAs are more likely to leave their major. But women of all ability levels are likely to change majors. However, men are more likely to drop out instead of trying a different major according to a study by Astorne-Figari and Speer.

Students doing poorly tend to switch majors, which makes perfect sense. Business, social sciences and economics tend to gain the most from students major switching, while biology, computer science and medicine (medical and health services) lost the most.

About a third of the men and a fifth of the women start out in STEM, and about 30% of those men and 43% of those women switch out of the subject area. Women who leave STEM tend to go to majors that cover similar subjects but are less competitive and less male, such as nursing. Speer said, “There are a lot of women who are very competent in math and science. They typically go to other fields that use science or other fields that use science but are less dominated by men.

Just because one has difficulty with a subject, does not necessarily mean that one cannot be successful in that area. The case of Barbara Oakley is instructive here.
Her father was in the military and she moved constantly doing her childhood. Her father wanted her to attend college and study math and science. Unfortunately, the only thing she was certain about was that she did not like math and science and did not think that she had any aptitude in math and science. However, she did like studying languages so she began studying French and German. At the time there were no available college loans so she enlisted in the military where she could get paid to study a language. So she studied Russian and learned the language.
When she got out of the army, she could not find any interest in her Russian skills. The jobs were in engineering and science and required advanced mathematical skills. So she moved into a new area for which she thought she had no aptitude. However, she found through diligent work that she was able to learn these subjects, and as she became proficient in these subjects, she found that she enjoyed them. So today she is a professor of engineering, firmly planted in the world of math and science. Along with Terrence Sejnowski, the Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute, she teaches the most popular online course in the world—“Learning How to Learn”—for Coursera/UC San Diego.

There are several posts on Dr. Oakley. She has also written a book “MIndshift.”
She writes that a “mindshift” is a deep change in life that occurs thanks to learning, and that is what this book is about. She relates true and inspirational stories of how people change themselves through learning—and who bring seemingly obsolete extraneous knowledge with them that has enabled our world to grow in fantastically creative and uplifting ways.

Missing Healthymemory Themes

April 26, 2019

HM was disappointed that Dr. Twenge did not at least touch upon healthy memory themes in “iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.” One of these themes was alluded to in the posts about spirituality and religion. There seems to have been a loss in empathy among iGen-ers. Given the exorbitant college costs along with other economic demands, the iGen-ers are living in a dog eat dog world. Spiritual activities including meditation can increase sensitivity to and caring for our fellow human beings.

There was no evidence of passion, grit, or growth mindsets. People go to college to get a job. Education is an instrumental act, not a goal in itself. Of course, they are not unusual in this respect. This certainly is nothing new. When HM taught in college, that certainly was the most common response. But students who actually had an intellectual interest in a subject were dearly appreciated. This blog has advocated growth mindsets and lifelong learning as primary goals not only for a fulfilling life, but also as a means of decreasing the likelihood of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Even if they develop the defining neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque, they might well die with these defining symptoms without ever evidencing the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

The key here is the System 2 processes engaged during learning or critical thinking. Unfortunately, too many people manage to minimize use of System 2 processes even during college. The hope is that at least they engage in activities such as Bridge or Chess, read some books, and stay off Facebook and similar online activities.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Missing Data

April 25, 2019

There are many changes in the behavior and thinking of iGen’ers. The question is which changes are due to the iPhone and which to general changes in society. Dr. Twenge has offered her opinions in “iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.” Unfortunately, all her data comes from the United States. If she had included data from other advanced countries, then one would have a better idea regarding the effects from specific cultural contributions.

Income insecurity is a key problem for iGen-ers, and it is obvious why. Just consider the ridiculous college costs. They also need to be concerned about medical costs and the costs of medical insurance. The United States is unique in being the only advanced country that does not supply government funded health insurance. Specific forms may differ, but the bottom line is that medical costs are not a concern to residents of these countries. Moreover, not only are medical costs lower in these countries than in the United States, but the results, the overall health of these countries is better. It is also the case that colleges costs are much, much lower, and free in some cases. It should also be noted that in worldwide surveys of happiness, the United States does not fare that well. Not surprisingly, they fall behind the other advanced countries in these surveys.

There is a chapter on politics in the book, but HM did not bother to review it because it seemed that both Dr. Twenge and the iGen-ers were completely oblivious to the problem. Free medical and free or low cost college educations should be the primary concerns for them. But they were not mentioned. iGen-ers are not unique to being oblivious what is happening in the rest of the world, this seems to be the problem with the vast majority of Americans.

There is a word that is uttered and once uttered, closes down discussion. That word is “socialism.” It is generally ignored that there is no precise definition for socialism. Communist countries called themselves socialists, but by having a Social Security System, the United States could also be called a socialist country.

The term is used to elicit fear and to shut down further consideration. It’s goal is to shut down further discussion and thinking. But you need to consider what conditions are like in these advanced counties with free medical care and low cost college educations. One will likely find that many of these countries have more freedom that the United States. That is not to say that these countries are problem free, although many might appear to be. But they do have the priorities correct, with education and health at the top.

So realize what the cry “socialism” is intended to engender fear and to shut down further discussion. Basically, they are trying to screw you. Don’t accept it and demand that the United States needs to be comparable on these issues with the remainder of the advanced world. This will be difficult, It will likely require tax increases, but tax increases with cost effective benefits, and massive reallocation of government expenditures. But the United States needs to have its priorities ordered correctly. Ask why we are treated differently from citizens of the other advanced countries.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Understanding—and—Saving—iGen

April 24, 2019

The final chapter of iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. offers some suggestions for saving iGen.

Not surprisingly, the first is to put down the phone. She recommends parents putting off giving their children a cell phone as long as possible. There really is no reason for an elementary school child to have a cell phone. By middle school, with kids in more activities and more likely to ride a bus, many parents buy phones for their kids convenience and safety. Here she recommends providing the child with a phone with limited functions such as an old-school flip phone without Internet access or a touch screen.

She reminds readers that many tech CEOs strictly regulate their own children’s technology use. Steve Jobs’ children didn’t use the iPad. He limits how much technology their children use as home. This restriction was common around tech CEOs from the cofounder of Twitter to a former editor of Wired magazine. So the people who love technology and made a living of it are cautious about their children using it too much. Adam Alter wrote in his book “Irrestible,” “It seemed as if the people producing tech products were following the cardinal rule of drug dealing: Never get high on your own supply.”

The same goes for social media and electronic device use. They are linked to higher rates of loneliness, unhappiness, depression, and suicide risk, in both correlational and experimental data. Any readers of the healthy memory blog should be well aware of the dangers of social media.

A key rule she provides is that no one, adults included, should sleep within ten feet of a phone.

Dr, Twenge also argues that given the benefits of in-person social interaction, parents should stop thinking that teens hanging out together are wasting their time. Electronic communications are a poor substitute for the emotional connections and social skills gained in face-to-face communication.

Physical exercise is a natural antidepressant.

In the conclusion she writes, “The devices they hold in their hands have both extended their childhoods and isolated them from true human interaction. As a result, they re both the physically safest generation and the most mentally fragile. They are more focused on work and more realistic than Millenials, grasping the certainty that they’ll need to fight hard to make it. They’re exquisitely tolerant and have brought a new awareness of equality, mental health, and LGBT rights, leaving behind traditional structures such as religion. iGEN’ers have a solid basis for success, with their practical nature and they inherent caution. It they can shake themselves out of the constant clutch of their phone and shrug off the heavy cloak of their fear, they can still fly. And the rest of us will be there, cheering them on.”

Inclusive: LGBT, Gender, and Race Issues in the New Age

April 23, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. Dr. Twenge writes, “From LGBT identities to genre to race, iGen’ers expect equality and are often surprised, even shocked, to still encounter prejudice. At the same time, equality issues are far from resolved, creating divisions within iGen as well as generation gaps that can seem like unbridgeable gulfs. The equality revolution has been breathtaking but incomplete, leaving iGen to come of age after 2017, when issues around LGBT rights, genre, and race were suddenly back in contention.

Television might have had some effect on iGen’ers’ attitudes on these topics. The oldest iGeners were starting preschool when “Will & Grace” (the first sitcom with a gay man as a central character) premiered in 1998 and in elementary school when shows such as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” made being gay not just mainstream but fashionable. iGen teems grew up watching “Glee,” which featured several gay, lesbian, and transgender teen characters, and they saw numerous celebrities come out.

Dr Twenge writes, “The 2000s and 2010s ushered in a sea change in attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. These are some of the largest and most rapid generational and time-period differences in existence. Even many conservative Republican iGen’ers now support same-sex marriage. Anthony Liveris, the vice-president of the University of Pennsylvania College Republicans said in 2013, ‘A true conservative should endorse empower American to marry whom they love, not limit them.’ The vast majority of iGen’ers see no reason why two people of the same sex can’t get married.”

One iGen’er said, “My view of LGBT is the same as on other people having sex before marriage: I don’t particularly care. I wouldn’t do it, but it has nothing to do with me, it doesn’t affect me in the slightest, and I have no right to tell other people what to believe…I wouldn’t go to a protest for it or anything, but they can do what they want.”

In spite of these large changes in attitudes, a third of iGen’ers still have issues with same-sex sexuality. One in four questions same-sex marriage. These young people often struggle to reconcile their iguana upbringing with their religion’s viewpoint that homosexuality is wrong.

Not only attitudes, but actual behavior has changed. The number of young women who have had sex with at least one other woman has nearly tripled since the early 1990s. More men now report having had a male sexual partner as well.

Olympic marathon champion Caitlyn Jenner’s transition from male to female in 2015 likely made iGen the first generation to understand what the term transgender means. Transgender is a new term for popular understanding. Perhaps, the simplest means of describing iGen’ers’ attitudes towards transgender people is confused.
Dr.Twenge writes, “Issues around race are particularly salient for iGen’ers, who have been surrounded by racial diversity their entire lives. In 2015, most 12h graders said their high school was at least half another race, double the number in 1980. Three times more said their close friends were of other races.”

So although there has been a vast improvement in attitudes toward race and sexual orientation, there remain problems. Particularly in the awarding of scholarships in this time of enormous costs, white students can feel than they lost possible support because it has gone to a minority student instead. There are still racial incidents on campus, although some of these originate off campus.

There are also microaggressions. Dr. Twenge writes that these are usually defined as unintentionally hurtful things said to people of color. But she notes that aggression is intentional, so the label is a misnomer. Nevertheless, it is possible to commit a microagression unintentionally. Actually, a microagression is defined by the receiver.

Moreover, microaggessions are not restricted to race. Telling a female that she is doing well for a girl is a clear microaggression. But again, it is possible for someone to do this with good intentions.

Unfortunately, racial and cultural sensitivities can impinge upon the free speech, which is assumed to be guaranteed in the constitution. The Pew Research Center found that 40% of Millennials and iGen’ers agreed that the government should be able to prevent people from making offensive statements about minority groups, compared to only 12% of the Silent generation, 24% of Boomers, and 27% of GenX’ers. Of course, the limits of free speech can be broached, but Dr. Twenge notes that more and more statements are deemed racist or sexist and more and more speakers are deemed “extreme.”

Some speakers are being disinvited from speaking. This is especially bad on college campuses. President Obama offered the following statement on the disinvitation issue by saying, “I think it’s a healthy thing for young people to be engaged and to question authority and to ask why this instead of that, to ask tough questions about social justice…Feel free to disagree with somebody, but don’t try to just to shut them up…What I don’t want is a situation in which particular points of view that are presented respectfully and reasonably are shut down.”

As was mentioned in a previous post, this proclivity to avoid disagreement or alternative arguments does not augur well for either education or democracy.

Income Insecurity

April 21, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the first part of a title in iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. The remainder of the title of Chapter 7 is “Working to Earn—but Not to Shop.”

Dr. Twenge writes, “iGen’ers are practical, forward looking, and safe, a far cry from the ‘You can be anything’ and ‘Follow your dreams” Millenials.” iGen’ers make up the majority of traditional-age college graduates and will soon dominate the pool of entry-level talent. Dr. Twenge writes, “Given the key differences between iGen’ers and Millenials, the strategies that recruiters have been using to recruit and retain young employees may no longer work. The same is true for marketing to iGen’ers, with a decidedly different psychological profile selling to iGen’ers varies considerably from selling to Millenials. Businesses and managers need to take note: a new generation is arriving on your doorstep, and its members might not be what you expect.”

Interesting work and friends, the things that many Boomers and GenX’ers like the most about their jobs are not as important iGen’ers. They just want a job. An iGen’er wrote, “We should all be less interested in jobs that are interesting or encourage creativity because they don’t pay anything. That’s why you see so many people my age 100k in debt working at a Starbucks.”

iGen’ers also think that work should not crowd out the rest of life. There is a declining belief that work will be central to their lives. They do not want to have jobs that “take over my life.” Still 55% of 2015 high school seniors agree that they are willing to work overtime, up from 22% in 2004. And fewer iGen’ers said they would want to stop working if they had enough money. But iGen’ers have continued the Millenials ‘trend toward saying they don’t want to work hard. So, iGen’ers know that they may have to work overtime, but they believe that many of the jobs they’d want would require too much effort. They seem to be saying, it’s just too hard to succeed today.

The iGen’ers feel pressure to get a college degree. When Dr. Twenge asked her students at San Diego State University how their lives differed from their parent’s, most mentioned the necessity of a college degree. Many of their parents were immigrants who had worked at low-level jobs, but still had been able to buy houses and provide for their families. Her students tell her that they have to get a college education to get the same things that their parents got with a high school diploma or less. One iGen’er said, “My generation is stressed beyond belief because of college. When you graduate from high school, you are pushed to then go into a college, get your masters then have this awesome job. My father’s generation was different. He was born in the 70’s and despite never going to college he has a great paying job. That is not a reality for my generation. You are not even guaranteed a job after going to college. And once we graduate we are in deb to up to our ears.”

The wages of Americans with just a high school education declined by 13% between 1990 and 2013, making a college education more crucial for staying middle class. At the same time, college has become more expensive. Due to cutbacks in state funds for education and other factors college tuition has skyrocketed, forcing many students to take out loans. The average student graduating in 2016 carried $37,173 in debt upon graduation, up from $22, 575 in 2005 and $9,727 in 1993.

The escalation, this unbelievable increase in college costs present a clearly understandable obstacle to iGen’ers, but there are alternatives that are not mentioned.
These alternative are discussed in the healthy memory blog post “Mindshift Resources’. Universities and colleges offer Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCS). These offer an alternative that has certain advantages over typical coursework. Often these courses are free. Usually to get college credits payments are required. However, autodidacts do not necessarily want or desire college credits. There is a website nopaymba.com by Laura Pickard who writes, “I started the No-Pay MBA website as a way of documenting my studies, keeping myself accountable, and providing a resource for other aspiring business students. The resources on this site are for anyone seeking a world-class business education using the free and low-cost tools of the internet.  I hope you find them useful!” She explains how she got an business education equivalent to an MBA for less than1/100th the cost of a traditional MBA. Even without a degree HM would be impressed by a student who had acquired course knowledge in this manner. Autodidacts are devoted to their area of expertise. The have a true interest, they are probably not doing this as an instrumental act just to get a job.

Many young men apparently have a strong aversion to work. So what are they doing? They are playing video games. 25% played video games three or more hours a day, and 10% played at least six hours a day. Video games take up an increasing amount of young men’s time, about eleven hours a week on average in 2015. So the question is are young men playing video games because they are not working or are they not working because they are playing video games? The latter might well be the case. Why work when you can live at home and play video games. Technological innovations have made leisure time more enjoyable. For lower skilled workers, with low market wages, it is now more attractive to take leisure.

Dr. Twenge writes, “Some iGen’ers might be staying away from work because they are convinced that what they do matters little in a rigged system. One iGen-er writes “If we want to have a successful life, we have to go to college, but college is really expensive and we need to either take out loans, that is just going to make our future more complicated and stressful so we try to get a job, but most well paying jobs you want need experience or an educational background, so we are often stuck in a minimum wage position, with part time hours because our employers don’t want to give us benefits, which means we still have to take out loans.”

Dr. Twenge writes that even with their doubts about themselves and their prospects, iGen’ers are still fairly confident about their eventual standard of living.

60% of 2015 high school seniors expected to earn more than their parents. Somehow, most iGen’ers think they will make it. HM was also please to learn that iGen’ers were less impressed by consumer goods, and were less prone to buy consumer goods to impress their neighbors.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

More Safety and Less Community

April 20, 2019

We now return to iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. The title of this post is the second part of the title of Chapter 6.

The chapter begins with a discussion about a student who has just finished her first year of community college that she attended from home living with her parents. She has a part time job and isn’t taking any classes over the summer. She says,”I need my summer. If I didn’t have it, I’d go crazy. Just as many of her fellow iGen-ers she doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, and has had limited experience with romantic relationships. She doesn’t think these things are safe. She says, “Going out and partying when you’re drunk, you’re in such an altered state of mind, you behave in ways that you never would when sober. There’s drunk driving—and people take advantage of you when you’re drunk. It’s not safe. You’re going to hurt yourself, or someone’s going to hurt you. It’s not my thing.”

Dr. Twenge notes that this iGener’s interest in safety extends beyond physical safety to a term she only recently learned from iGen: emotional safety. For example some iGen-ers believe that high school is too young to have a romantic relationship, especially a sexual one. This iGen-er points to scientific research to back up her conclusions. With the release of oxytocin (during sex), you form emotional connections to someone whether you like it or not. She thinks it dangerous to become emotionally reliant on someone, but especially at that age, when your brain is still developing. She is correct in that the prefrontal lobe, which is responsive for reasoning and executing control, continues to mature until the mid-twenties. There are probably people from earlier generations who might wish they had this knowledge that this iGen-er has at this age.

Statistics bear out this point. iGen teens are safer drivers. Fewer high school seniors get into car accidents, and fewer get tickets. This is a recent trend, beginning only in the early 2000s for tickets and in the mid-2000s for accidents. As recently as 2002, more than one out of three 12th graders had already gotten a ticket. By 2015 only one in five had.

A 2016 survey asked iGen teens what they wanted most out of a car, comparing them to Millennial young adults who recalled their preferences as teens. The feature iGen wanted much more than Millennials is safety.

iGen teens are also less likely to get into a car driven by some who’s been drinking; the number who did so was cut in half from 40% in 1991 to 20% in 2015.

Although iGen-ers tend to eschew alcohol, they are just as likely to use marijuana as Millennials were. The reason is that they tend to believe that marijuana is safe. Some iGen-ers believe that marijuana is not just safe, but beneficial. One iGen-er wrote, “Weed has been proven to provide many health benefits. It helps with pain, cancer, and many other illnesses. It can prevent people from getting addicted to other drugs that are way more harmful.” Nevertheless, iGen’ers remain cautious. Even though they are more likely to see marijuana as safe, use hasn’t gone up.

There has also been a decline in fighting and a waning of sexual assault. In 1991, half of 9th graders had been in a physical fight in the last twelve months, but by 2015 only one in four had. The homicide rate among teens and young adults reached a forty-year low in 2014. The number of teens who carry a weapon to school is now only a third of what it was in the early 1990s. From 1992 to 2015 the rate of rape was nearly cut in half in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports.

iGen’ers’ risk aversion goes beyond their behaviors toward a general attitude of avoiding risk and danger. Eighth and tenth graders are now less likely to answer positively to “I like to test myself every now and then by doing something a little risky.” Nearly half of teens found that appealing in the early 1990s, but by 2015 less than 40% did. They are also less likely to agree that “I get a real kick out of doing things that are a little dangerous.” In 2011, the majority of teens agreed that they got a jolt out of danger, but within a few years only a minority shared this view.

For the most part these changes can be regarded as improvements in attitudes and behavior. But Dr. Twenge notes that the flip side of iGen’s interest in safety is the idea that one should be safe not just from car accidents and sexual assaults, but from people who disagree with you. She provides as an example the most recent version of the “safe space” now known as a place where people can go to protect themselves from ideas they find offensive. She writes, “In recent years, safe spaces have become popular on college campuses as responses to visits by controversial speakers: if students are upset by a speakers message, they can come together in a separate location to console one another.

A 2015 “Atlantic” piece by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s on safe spaces and other campus controversies was titled “The Coddling of the American Mind” and was illustrated with a picture of a confused-looking toddler wearing a shirt that said “College.” Josh Zeits wrote in “Poilitico Magazine,” “Yesterday’s student activists wanted to be treated like adults. Today’s want to be cheated like children.”

Such an attitude precludes a full education. It also precludes an effective democracy.

The trend in iGen’ers is not to take an interest in education. They attend college because they feel they have to to get a better job. Dr. Twenge writes, “Teen’s interest in school took a sudden plunge beginning around 2012, with fewer students saying they found school interesting, enjoyable, or meaningful. The strong push for technology in the classroom seems to have assuaged students’ boredom during the 2000s, but by the 2010s little in the classroom could compete with the allure of the ever-tempting smartphone.

Arguments for a Belief in God

April 19, 2019

Given a decrease in religious beliefs and a decline in spirituality, please excuse a brief indulgence into arguments for a belief in God. This decline in spirituality has an adverse effect on iGen’ers empathy for their fellow humans. As will be seen in subsequent posts, this lack of empathy and caring has a negative effect on iGen’ers.

For many years, HM thought that the only accurate philosophical position on God was one of agnosticism. The question is what is the benefit in being an atheist, besides intellectual snobbery. Belief is a matter of faith, and one should not deny the faith of another. HM has also observed that the problem many, if not most, have with a belief in God really stems from their contempt of religion. Justified or not, there is a tendency to regard religions as hypocritical entities that trample on the beliefs of others.

Fairly recently HM has come to an argument that he finds compelling. Understand, there can be no logical proofs regarding the existence of God. Only closed mathematical or logical systems can produce proofs.

HM’s argument is based on a philosophical argument and a psychological effect.
The philosophical argument comes from the famed mathematician, Blaise Pascal. It is called Pascal’s wager. It is a philosophical argument based on cost/benefit analysis. Bear in mind that his words were different because he live in a different time. However, his fundamental argument is based on cost benefit analysis.

So what are the costs of believing in God? If he exists, then one is correct and might have taken some preparation for an afterlife. And should God not exist, one would never know that her belief was wrong as dead people are absent this capacity. However, even if wrong, one would have had the comfort of life continuing and of the possibility of finding people who had previously deceased.

But if one does not believe in God, she lives with no such comforts, and should she be wrong, perhaps some unpleasant surprises.

The psychological phenomenon is the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning-Kruger Effect appears in fifteen previous healthy memory blog posts. The Dunning part of the effect comes from studies documenting that the more people think they know, the less the actually know. An example of this Dunning part of the effect can be found among physicists as the entered the twentieth century. Many thought that they knew practically all that could be known about physics. Perhaps computations could be done with some more precision, but on the whole, major matters had been figured out. But in 1905 Einstein published his special theory of relativity. And in 1915 he published his general theory of relativity. Both of these theories constituted giant advances in physics. But quantum physics had yet to appear in the twenties and with probabilistic effects and entanglement (remote effects), physics was truly revolutionized.

The Kruger part of the Dunning-Kruger effect refers to the tendency of true experts, to be aware of possible problems and tend to hedge their answers. Hence Truman’s fatal quest for a one-handed economist. When he asked an economist a question, they would typically respond on the one hand this, but on the other hand that.

And personally, HM thought he knew much more than he did when he was young. Getting a Ph.D. and a lifelong pursuit of learning has only convinced him of his own ignorance and of how much he does not know.

So as a species, we must be aware of this effect before making any unqualified statements about the existence of God.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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 & Religion

April 18, 2019

It is important to maintain a distinction between religion and God. Typically, the two concepts are conflated. A previous healthy memory post, God & Homo Sapiens, drew from a 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.

It is reasonable to assume that there were humans who believed in God that predated religions. There are even data that support the notion that neanderthals had religious beliefs. It is likely that the earliest groups of humans had religious leaders. HM has wondered about the souls of people who existed before organized religions. What happens to them? HM is impressed that the Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) has its members try to find their ancestors before the Church was founded so that they can be married and brought into the church in the temple. Unlike the tabernacle only Mormons can enter the temple.

Given that the size of our universe is still unknown as we are still waiting for light to reach us, it is likely that there are other species in this universe who are more intelligent than homo sapiens. It is unlikely that man has been made in God’s image. God is a spiritual entity of unknown form. Indeed, in pantheism God is omnipresent throughout the universe.

HM always wanted to believe in God, but he could never join a church because his thinking is governed by the law of Parsimony, and that law says to take the simplest explanation that explains the phenomena. What he disliked was that religions required one to believe. HM thinks that God gave us brains for thinking. not believing. It is men who tell us to believe so that they can govern us.

HM finds the Dalai Lama as the most impressive religious individual alive on earth. He is a Buddhist, but like other religions, there are different sects. The Buddhists who are attacking the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar living in Bangladesh are the antithesis of Buddhism. Although reincarnation is a central tenet in Buddhism, when asked if one needed to believe in reincarnation to be a Buddhist, the Dalai Lama answered “no.” All that was required is that one should love fellow humans and provide service to them. The Dalai Lama sends his priests to study science. He uses science to inform his religion. Unfortunately, too many religions are at war with science and fight science.

HM believes that we can communicate directly with God. During meditation there is a blissful state where one feels that he is in contact with his creator. So via meditation and contemplative prayer religions can be circumvented.

Understand that HM is not arguing against religions. If one has comfort in a religion that person should follow that religion, but not uncritically. Christians need to see if the preachings are in accordance with the gospels, rather than the old testament or parts of the new testament that are not gospels.

To learn more about meditation, begin with the relaxation response. You need to go to the main page of the healthy memory blog (by entering
https://healthymemory.wordpress.com into your browser.) Search for “relaxation response”. The next topic to search for is “loving kindness meditation”.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Irreligious

April 17, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the fifth chapter in iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. The remainder of the title is “Losing My Religion (and Spirituality).

In the early 1980s, more than 90% of high school seniors identified as part of one religious group or another. Only one out of ten chose “none” for religious affiliation. Beginning in the 1990s and accelerating in the 2000s, fewer and fewer people affiliated with a religion. The shift was largest for young adults, with religiously affiliations dipping to 66% by 2016. So a full third of young adults did not affiliate with any organized religion.

Of course, there is no need to affiliate with a religion to attend religious services. Dr. Twenge writes that attendance at services declined slowly until around 1997 and then began to plummet. In 2015, 22% of 12th graders said they “never” attended religious services. This is a pretty low bar; going to a service even once a year would still count as going. She continues, “iGen’ers and the Millennials are less religious than Boomers and GenX’ers were at the same age. The recent data on Millennials, who are now in their family-building years, indicate that they’re less likely to attend services than Boomers and GenX’ers were at that age, in fact, the decline in attending religious services for this group in their prime family-building years indicates that they are less likely to attend services than Boomers and GenX’ers were at that age. In fact, the decline in attending religious services for this group in their prime family-building years has been just as steep as that for young adults ages 18 to 24. Millennials have not been returning to religious institutions during their twenties and thirties, making it unlikely that iGen’ers will, either.”

“For twenty years, headlines and academic articles declared that yes, fewer Americans affiliated with a religion, but just as many were praying and just as many believed in God. Americans weren’t less religious, they said, just less likely to practice religion publicly. That was true for several decades: the percentage of young adults who believed in God changed little between 1989 and 2000. Then it fell of a cliff. By 2016, one out of three 18- 24-year olds said that they did not believe in God. Prayer followed a similar steep downward trajectory. In 2004, 84% of young adults prayed at least sometimes, but by 2016 more than one out of four said they “never” prayed.”

Note that the numbers do not indicate by any means that religions are disappearing. Rather they indicate that religious beliefs have been declining rapidly.

A common narrative about trends in religious belief says that spirituality has replaced religion. In 2001 Robert Fuller published a book titled “Spiritual but Not Religious” arguing that most Americans who eschew organized religion still have deep dynamic spiritual lives. This led the assumption that young people who are distrustful of traditional religion are still willing to explore spiritual questions. Data do not seem to support this narrative. In 2014 to 2016 slightly fewer 18- to 24-year-olds (48%) described themselves as moderately or very spiritual than in 2006 to 2008 (56%).

The reasons iGen-ers are leaving religions is in some part due to anti-science attitudes and anti-gay attitudes. A 2012 survey of 18- to 24-year olds found that most believed that Christianity was antigay (64%), judgmental (62%), and hypocritical (58%). Of course there are Christian churches who are not guilty of these criticisms. Moreover, one can find no basis for these criticisms in the gospels about Jesus. Jesus loved all, was nonviolent and forgiving. So these criticisms are deserved criticisms of too many ostensible Christian churches who are not only promoting grossly incorrect religious beliefs, and who are also trying to impose their beliefs on others through the process of legislation. Given the freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution, these churches are not only hypocritical, but also unAmerican. Unfortunately, this glaring hypocrisy is widely ignored.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Insecure: The New Mental Health Crisis

April 16, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the fourth chapter in iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. The problems discussed in previous posts are important. The critical question is whether this use increases feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety also been accompanied by changes in diagnosable depression and its most extreme outcome, suicide?

Since 2004 the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which is conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services has screened US teens for clinical-level depression. The project uses trained interviewers to assess a nationally representative sample of more than 17,000 teens (ages 10 to 17) across the country every year. Participants hear questions through headphones and enter their answers directly into a laptop computer, ensuring privacy and confidentiality. The questions rely on the criteria for major depressive disorders documented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) or the American Psychiatric Association. It is the gold standard for diagnosing mental health issues. The criteria include experiencing depressed mood, insomnia, fatigue, or markedly diminished pleasure in life every day for at least two weeks. This study is specifically designed to provide a benchmark for rates of mental illness among Americans, regardless of whether they’ve ever sought treatment.

The screening test showed a shocking rise in depression between 2010 and 2015 in which 56% of teens experienced a major depressive episode and 60% more experienced severe impairment.

So more people are expressing more than just symptoms and depression, and feelings of anxiety, but clinically diagnosable major depression. This is not a small issue with more than one in nine teens and one in eleven young adults suffering from major depression. This strongly suggests that something is seriously wrong in the lives of American teens.

This increase in major depressive episodes is far steeper among girls, which is the gender more likely to overuse social media. By 2015, one in five teen girls had experienced a major depressive episode in the last year.

Major depression, especially if its severe, is the primary risk factor for suicide. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of high school girls who seriously considered suicide increased 43%. The number of college students who seriously considered suicide jumped 60% between 2011 and 2016.

Dr Twenge mentions that a contributing factor is a shortfall in needed sleep. Many iGen’ers are so addicted to social media that they find it difficult to put down their phones and go to sleep when they should. More teens now sleep less than seven hours most nights. Sleep experts say that teens should get about nine hours of sleep a night, so a teen who is getting less than seven hours a night is significantly sleep deprived. 57% more teens were sleep deprived in 2015 than in 1991. In just the three years between 2012 and 2016, 22% more teens failed to get seven hours sleep.

So one way of improving mental health is to get more sleep. Dr. Twenge concludes the chapter as follows: “In other words, there is a simple, free way, to improve mental health: put down the phone and do something else.

In Person No More

April 15, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the third chapter in iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. There is a second part to this title which is “I’m with You, but Only Virtually.

When Dr. Twenge asked one of her iGen teens what makes his generation different, he doesn’t hesitate to answer: I feel like we don’t party as much. People stay in more often. My generation lost interest in socializing in person—they don’t have physical get-togethers, they just text together, and they can just stay at home.”

College students were asked how many hours a week they spend at parties during their senior year in high school. In 2016, they said two hours a week, which is only a third of the time GenX students spent at parties in 1987. Perhaps iGen-ers just don’t like partying; perhaps they just like to hang out. This is not the case. The number of teens who get together with their friends every day has been cut in half in just fifteen years, with especially steep declines recently.

College students in 2016 when compared against college students in the late 1980s spent four fewer hours a week socializing with their friends and three fewer hours a week partying. So seven hours a week less on in-person social interaction. This severe drop in getting out and getting together with friends occurred right when smartphones became popular and social media use really took off. Time spent with friends in person has been replaced by time spent with friends (and virtual friends) online.

Many malls across the country have closed. In activity after activity, iGen-ers are less social than Millenials, GenX’ers, and Boomers at the same age. This change in activities outside the home doesn’t mean teens are always staying at home having wholesome family time. So iGen’ers spend more leisure time alone. Dr. Twenge writes “Although we can’t say for sure, it’s a good guess that this alone time is being spend online, on social media, streaming video, and texting. In short, iGen teens are less likely to take part in every singe face-to-face social activity measured across four data sets of three different age groups. These fading interactions include everything from small-group or one-on-one activities, such as getting together with friends to larger group activities such as partying. “

Instead, they are communicating electronically. The internet has taken over. Teens are Instagramming, Snapchatting, and texting with friends more, and seeing them in person less. She concludes, “For IGen’ers, online friendship has replaced offline friendship.”

Unfortunately, these trends are leading to decreases in mental health and happiness. Among 8th graders here are the activities that decrease happiness among 8th graders (according to Monitoring the Future, 2013 to 2015). Video chat, computer games, texting, Social networking websites, and Internet. But there has been a decrease in the following activities that increase happiness: Sports or exercise, religious services, print media, and in-person social interaction.

One study with college students asked students with Facebook pages to complete short surveys on their phone over the course of two weeks—they’d get a text message with a link five times a day and report on their mood and how much they’d used Facebook. The more they used Facebook, the unhappier they later felt. Dr. Twenge concludes, “feeling unhappy did not not lead to more Facebook use. Facebook use caused unhappiness, but unhappiness did not cause Facebook use.

She reports that another study of adults fond the same thing: the more people used Facebook, the lower their mental health and life satisfaction on the next assessment. But after they interacted with their friends in person, their mental health and life satisfaction improved.

In a third study that randomly assigned 1,095 Danish adults to stop using Facebook for a week or to continue to use Facebook. At the end of the week, those who had taken a break from Facebook were happier, less lonely, and less depressed than those who had used Facebook as usual. These differences were sizable. 36% fewer were lonely, 33% fewer were depressed, and 9% more were happy. Those who stayed off Facebook were also less likely to feel sad, angry, or worried.

The risk of unhappiness due to social media is the highest for the youngest teens. Eighth graders who spent ten or more hours a week on social networking sites were 56% more likely to be unhappy, compared to 39% for 10th graders and 14% for 12th graders.

A commercial for Facebook suggests that social media will help you feel less alone and surround you with friends every moment. Unfortunately, this is not true for the always online iGEN. Teens who visit social networking sites every day are actually more likely to agree “I often feel lonely,” “I often feel left out of things,” and “I often wish I had more good friends.”

Research has also revealed that teens who spend a lot of time looking at their phones aren’t just at a higher risk of depression, they re also at an alarmingly higher risk for suicide. This is not to suggest that there is an alarming suicide epidemic, but there will likely be increasing in suicide rates.

Internet: Online Time—Oh, and Other Media, Too

April 14, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the second chapter in iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D.

iGen-ers sleep with their phones. They put them under their pillows, on the mattress, or at least within arm’s reach of the bed. They check social media websites and watch videos right before they go to bed, and reach for their phones again as soon as they wake up in the morning. So their phone is the last thing they see before they go to sleep, and the first thing they see when they wake up. If they wake up in the middle of the night, they usually look at their phones.

Dr. Twenge notes, “Smartphones are unlike any other previous form of media, infiltrating nearly every minute of our lives, even when we are unconscious with sleep. While we are awake, the phone entertains, communicates, and glamorizes. She writes, “It seems that teens (and the rest of us) spend a lot of time on phones—not talking but texting, on social media, online, and gaming (togther, these are labeled ‘new media’). Sometime around 2011, we arrived at the day when we looked up, maybe from our own phones, and realized that everyone around us had a phone in his or her hands.”

Dr, Twenge reports, “iGen high school seniors spent an average of 2.25 hours a day texting on their cell phone, about 2 hours a day on the Internet, 1.5 hours a day on electronic gaming , and about a half hour on video chat. This sums to a total of 5 hours a day with new media, This varies little based on family background; disadvantaged teens spent just as much or more time online as those with more resources. The smartphone era has meant the effective end of the Internet access gap.

Here’s a breakdown of how 12th graders are spending their screen time from Monitoring the Future, 2013-2015:
Texting 28%
Internet 24%
Gaming 18%
TV 24%
Video Chat 5%

Dr. Twenge reports that in seven years (2008 to 2015) social media sites went from being a daily activity for half of teens, to almost all of them. In 2015 87% of 12th grade girls used social media sites almost every day in 2015 compared to 77% of boys.
HM was happy to see that eventually many iGen’ers see through the veneer of chasing likes—but usually only once they are past their teen years.

She writes that “social media sites go into and out of fashion, and by the time you read this book several new ones will probably be on the scene. Among 14 year olds Instagram and Snapchat are much more popular than Facebook.“ She notes that recently group video chat apps such as Houseparty were catching on with iGEN, allowing them to do what they call ‘live chilling.”

Unfortunately, it appears that books are dead. In the late 1970s, a clear majority of teens read a book or a magazine nearly every day, but by 2015, only 16% did. e-book readers briefly seemed to rescue books: the number who said they read two or more books for pleasure bounced back in the late 2000s, but they sank again as iGEN (and smartphones) entered the scene in the 2010. By 2015, one out of three high school seniors admitted they had not read any books for pleasure in the past year, three times as many as in 1976.

iGEN teens are much less likely to read books than their Millennial, GenX, and Boomer predecessors. Dr. Twenge speculates that a reason for this is because books aren’t fast enough. For a generation raised to click on the next link or scroll to the next page within seconds, books just don’t hold their attention. There are also declines for iGen-ers with respect to magazines and newspapers.

SAT scores have declined since the mid-2000s, especially in writing (a 13-point decline since 2006) and critical reading ( a 13-point decline since 2005).

Dr, Twenge raises the fear that with iGen and the next generations never learning the patience necessary to delve deeply into a topic, and the US economy falling behind as a result.

In No Hurry: Growing Up Slowly

April 13, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of the first chapter in iGEN: “Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood” by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. Excerpts from this chapter follow.

iGEN teens are less likely to go out without their parents. Dr. Twenge writes that this trend began with Millennials and then accelerated at a rapid clip with iGen’ers. 12th graders in 2015 are going out less often than 8th graders did as recently as 2009. 18-year-olds are now going out less often than 14-year-olds did just six years prior.

Dr. Twenge writes that iGEN’ers are less likely to do adult things such as going out without their parents and having sex, and whether this trend of growing up more slowly is a good thing or a bad thing. She uses the approach called life history theory to provide insights. Life history theory states that how fast teens grow up depends on where and when they are raised. So developmental speed is an adaptation to a cultural context.

She writes, “Today’s teens follow a slow life strategy, common in times and places where families have fewer children and cultivate each child longer and more intensely. “ Life history theory explicitly notes that slow or fast life strategies are not necessarily good or bad; they just are. Nearly all of the generational shifts in this chapter and the rest appear across different demographic groups. The studies we’re drawing from here are nationally representative, meaning the teens reflect the demographics of the United States. Every group is included. Even within specific groups, the trends consistently appear; they are present in working-class homes as well as upper-middle-class ones, among minorities as well as whites, among girls as well as boys, in big cities, suburbs, and small towns, and all across the country. That means they are not isolated to the white, upper-middle-class teens whom journalists often wring heir hands over. Youths of every racial group, region, and class are growing up more slowly.”

When HM was a teen, one of the major milestones on the way to adulthood was getting a driver’s license. All boomer high school students had their driver’s license by spring of their senior year, by 2015 only 72% did. So more than one out of four iGen’ers did not have a driver’s license by the time they graduated from high school.

Another GenX memory is being a latchkey kid. They walked home from school and used their key to enter an empty house, because parents were still at work.

iGen’ers are also less likely to have jobs. In the late 1970s only 22% of high school seniors didn’t work for pay at all during the school year. By the early 2010s, twice as many (44%) didn’t. The number of 8th graders who work for pay has been cut in half.

With fewer teens one might think that more would get an allowance to buy the things they want. However, fewer iGen’ers get an allowance. When they need money, they just ask for it from their parents. It’s another example of 18-year-olds being like 15-year-olds: just like children and young adolescents, one out of five iGen high school seniors ask they parents for what they want instead of managing their own cash flow.

A positive fact about the iGen’ers is that they are much less likely to drink. This is especially true of binge drinking. However, iGen’ers smoke pot more often than the Millenials that preceded them.

Some have concluded that iGen’ers are more responsible. A 2016 Post article trumpeted that “Today’s Teens are Way Better Behaved than You Were.” Dr. Twenge thinks that it’s more informative to employ the terms of life history theory: ‘teens have adopted a slow life strategy, perhaps due to smaller families and the demands wrought by increasing income inequality. Parents have the time to cultivate each child to succeed in the newly competitive economic environment which might take twenty-one years when it once took sixteen. The cultural shift toward individualism may also play a role: childhood and adolescence are uniquely self-focused stages, so staying in them longer allows more cultivation of he individual self. With fewer children and more time spent with each, each child is noticed and celebrated. Cultural individualism is connected to slower developmental speeds.”

Perhaps this slower pace of development results in the 2014 emergence of he neologism “adulting”, which means taking care of one’s responsibilities. An Adulting School in Maine offers classes for young adults teaching the how to perform tasks such as managing finances and folding laundry.

Dr. Twenge ends this chapter as follows: “No matter what the reason. teens are growing up more slowly, eschewing adult activities until they are older. This creates a logical question” If teens are working less, spending less time on homework, going out less, and drinking less, what are they doing? For a generation called iGen, the answer is obvious: look no further than the smartphones in their hands.”

To which we turn in the next post.

Regardless of your age, how iGEN are you?

April 12, 2019

This post is taken from iGEN: “Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood” by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D.

Take this `15-item quiz to find out how “iGEN” you are. Answer each question with a “yes” or “no.”

_____1. In the past 24 hours, did you spend at least an hour total texting on a cell phone?
_____2. Do you have a Snapchat account?
_____3. Do you consider yourself a religious person?
_____4. Did you get your driver’s license by the time you turned 17?
_____5. Do you think same-sex marriage should be legal?
_____6. Did you ever drink alcohol (more than a few sips) by the time you turned 16?
_____7. Did you fight with your parents a lot when you were a teen?
_____8. Were more than one-third of the other students at your high school a different race than you?
_____9. When you were in high school, did you spend nearly every weekend night out with your friends?
_____10. Did you have a job during the school year when you were in high school?
_____11. Do you agree that safe spaces and trigger warnings are good ideas and that efforts should be made to reduce microaggression?
_____12. Are you a political independent?
_____13. Do you support the legalization of marijuana?
_____14. Is having sex without much emotion involved desirable?
_____15. When you were in high schoool, did you feel left out ad lonely fairly often?

SCORING: Give yourself 1 point answering “yes” to questions 1,2,5,8,11,12,13,14.
and 15. Give yourself 1 point for answering “no” to questions 3,4,6,7,9, and 10. The higher your score, the more iGEN you are in your behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs.

iGEN

April 11, 2019

iGEN is the title of a new book by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. The subtitle is “Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. iGEN is the smartphone generation. HM is a member of the Boomer generation. Generation X followed the Boomers around 1964. The Millenials were the generation born in the 1980s and early 1990s, Dr. Twenge noted around 2012 seeing large abrupt shifts in teens behavior and emotional states.

This iGEN generation was born in 1995 and later. They grew up with cell phones, had an Instagram page before they started high school, and could not remember a time before the internet. The oldest member of iGEN were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced in 2007 and high school students when the iPad was introduced in 2010. The i in the names of these devices stands for Internet. The internet was commercialized in 1995. So this generation is named after the iPhone. According to a fall 2015 marketing survey, two out of three US teens owned an iPhone. A 17-year old interviewed in American Girls said, “You have to have an iPhone. It’s like Apple has a monopoly on adolescence.

The iGEN is the first generation for whom internet access has been constantly available, right there in their hands. Whether their smartphone is a Samsung and their tablet a Kindle, these young people are all iGen’ers. Even lower income teens from disadvantaged backgrounds spend just as much time online as those with more resources. The average teen checks her phone more than eighty times a day.

Dr. Twenge writes, “technology is not the only change shaping this generation. The i in iGEN represents the individualism its members take for granted, a broad trend that grounds their bedrock sense of equality as well as their reaction to traditional social rules. It captures the income inequality that is creating a deep insecurity among iGEN’ers, who worry about doing the right things, to become financially successful, to become a “have” rather than a “have not.” Due to these influences and many others, iGEN is distinct from every previous generation in how its members spend their time, how they behave, and their attitudes toward religion, sexuality, and politics. They socialize in completely new ways, reject once sacred social taboos, and want different things from their lives and careers. They are obsessed with safety and fearful of their economic futures, and they have no patience for inequality based on gender, race or sexual orientation, They are at the forefront of the worst mental health crisis in decades, with rates of teen depression and suicide skyrocketing since 2011. Contrary to the prevalent idea that children are growing up faster than previous generations did, iGENers are growing up more slowly: 18-year olds now act like 15-year-olds used to, and 13-year-olds like 10-year olds. Teens are physically safer than ever, yet they are more mentally vulnerable.”

Dr Twenge draws from four large, nationally representative surveys of 11 million Americans since the 1960s and identifies ten important trends shaping iGEN’ers:

The extension of childhood into adolescence.

The amount of time they are really spending on their phones—and what that has replaced.

The decline in in-person social interaction.

The sharp rise in mental health issues.

The decline in religion.

The interest in safety and the decline in civic involvement

New attitudes towards work.

New attitudes toward sex, relationships, and children.

Acceptance, equality and free speech debates.

Independent political views.

Not all these changes are the result of the new technology. It is interesting to look at which changes and to what extent they are the result of new technology, and what is responsible for other changes.

Future posts on these issues will follow.

Get A Life!

April 9, 2019

This is the final post of a series of posts based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled: “Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Perhaps the best way of thinking about Facebook and related problems is via Nobel Winning Lauerate Daniel Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition. System 1 is fast and emotional. Beliefs are usually the result of System 1 processing. System 2 is slow, and what we commonly regard as thinking.

The typical Facebook user is using System 1 processing almost exclusively. He is handing his life over to Facebook. The solution is to Get a Life and take your life back from Facebook.

The easiest way to do this is to get off from Facebook cold turkey. However, many users have personal reasons for using Facebook. They should take back their lives by minimizing their use of Facebook.

First of all, ignore individual users unless you know who they are. Ignore likes and individual opinions unless you know and can evaluate the individual. Remember what they say about opinions, “they’e like a—h—-s, everybody has one.” The only opinions you should care about are from responsible polls done by well known pollsters.

You should be able to find useful sources on your own without Facebook. Similarly you can find journalists and authors on your own without Facebook. Spend time and think about what you read. Is the article emotional? Is the author knowledgeable?

If you take a suggestion from Facebook, regard that source skeptically.

Try to communicate primarily via email and avoid Facebook as much as possible.

When possible, in person meetings are to be preferred.

In closing, it needs to be said that Facebook use leads to unhealthy memories. And perhaps, just as in the case of Trump voters, HM predicts an increased incidence of Alzheimer’s and dementia among heavy Facebook users.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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’s Being Done

April 8, 2019

This is the twelfth post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled: “Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” The remainder of the book, and that remainder is large, discusses what is being done to remedy these problems. So people are concerned. One approach is to break up monopolies. But that approach ignores the basic problem. Facebook is taking certain actions, one of which is encryption is definitely bad Encryption would simply allow Facebook to hide its crimes.

One idea, which is not likely but has received undeserved attention, is to monetize users’ data so the Facebook would have to pay for its use. Unfortunately, this has likely provided users with hopes of future riches for their Facebook use. Although this is indeed how Facebook makes it money, it is unlikely to want to share it with users. Advertisements are pervasive in the world. Although we can try to ignore them in print media, advertisements need to be sat through on television unless one wants to record everything and fast forward through the ads later.

Moreover, there are users, and HM is one of them, who want ads presented on the basis of online behavior. Shopping online is much more efficient than conventional shopping, and ads taken from interests users shown online, provide more useful information. Amazon’s suggestions are frequently very helpful.

The central problem with Facebook is the artificial intelligence and algorithms that bring users of like mind together, and foster hate and negative emotions. This increases polarization and hatred that accompanies polarization.

Does Facebook need to be transparent and ask if users want to be sent off to these destinations the algorithms and AI have chosen? Even when explanations are provided polarization might still be enhanced as birds of a feather do tend to flock together on their own, but perhaps with less hate and extremism. There are serious legal and freedom of speech problems that need to be addressed.

Tomorrow’s post provides a definitive answer to this problem.

Damaging Effects on Public Discourse

April 7, 2019

This is the eleventh post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled: “Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” In the MIT Technology Review professor Zeynep Tufekci explained why the impact on internet platforms is so damaging and hard to fix. “The problem is that when we encounter opposing views in the age and context of social media, it’s not like reading them in a newspaper while sitting alone. It’s like hearing them from the opposing team while sitting with our fellow fans in a football stadium. Online, we’re connected with our communities and we seek approval from our like-minded peers. We bond with our team by yelling at the fans on the other one. In sociology terms, we strengthen our feeling of ‘in-group’ belonging by increasing our distance from and tension with the ‘out-group’—us versus them. Our cognitive universe isn’t an echo chamber, but our social one is. That is why the various projects for fact-checking claims in the news, while valuable, don’t convince people. Belonging is stronger than facts.” To this HM would add “beliefs are stronger than facts.” Belonging leads to believing what the group believes. As has been written in previous healthymemory blog posts, believing is a System One Process in Kahneman’s Two-process view of cognition. And System One processing is largely emotional. It shuts out System Two thinking and promotes stupidity.

Facebook’s scale presents unique threats for democracy. These threats are both internal and external. Although Zuck’s vision of connecting the world and bringing it together may be laudable in intent, the company’s execution has had much the opposite effect. Facebook needs to learn how to identify emotional contagion and contain it before there is significant harm. If it wants to be viewed as a socially responsible company, it may have to abandon its current policy of openness to all voices, no matter how damaging. Being socially responsible may also require the company to compromise its growth targets. In other words, being socially responsible will adversely affect the bottom line.

Are you in Control?

April 6, 2019

This is the tenth post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Facebook wants you to believe that you are in control. But this control is an illusion. Maintaining this illusion is central to every platform’s success, but with Facebook, it is especially disingenuous. Menu choices limit user actions to things that serve Facebook’s interest. Facebook’s design teams exploit what are known as “dark patterns” in order to produce desired outcomes. Wikipedia defines a dark pattern as “a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things.” Facebook tests every pixel to ensure it produces the desired response. For example: which shade of red best leads people to check their notifications? for how many milliseconds should notifications bubbles appear in the bottom left before fading away to most effectively keep users on site? what measures of closeness should we recommend new friends of you to “add”?

With two billion users the cost for testing every possible configuration is small. And Facebook has taken care to make its terms of service and privacy headings hard to find and nearly impossible to understand. Facebook does place a button on the landing page to provide access to the terms of service, but few people click on it. The button is positioned so that hardly anyone even sees it. And those who do see it have learned since the early days of the internet to believe that terms or service are long and incomprehensible, so they don’t press it either.

They also use bottomless bowls. News Feeds are endless. In movies and television, scrolling credits signal to the audience that it is time to move on. They provide a “stopping cue.” Platforms with endless news feeds and autoplay remove that signal to ensure that users maximize their time on site for every visit. They also use autoplay on their videos. Consequently, millions of people are sleep deprived from binging on videos, checking Instagram, or browsing on Facebook.

Notifications exploit one of the weaker elements of human psychology. They exploit an old sales technique, called the “foot in the door” strategy,” that lures the prospect with an action that appears to be low cost, but sets in motion a process leading to bigger costs. We are not good at forecasting the true cost of engaging with a foot-in-door strategy. We behave as though notifications are personal to us, completely missing that they are automatically generated, often by an algorithm tied to an artificial intelligence that has concluded that the notification is just the thing to provoke an action that will serve Facebook’s economic interests.

We humans have a need for approval. Everyone wants to feel approved of by others. We want our posts to be liked. We want people to respond to our texts, emails, tags, and shares. This need for social approval is what what made Facebook’s Like button so powerful. By controlling how often an entry experiences social approval, as evaluated by others, Facebook can get that user to do things that generate billions of dollars in economic value. This makes sense because the currency of Facebook is attention.

Social reciprocity is a twin of social approval. When we do something for someone else, we expect them to respond in kind. Similarly, when when a person does something for us, we feel obligated to reciprocate. So when someone follows us, we feel obligated to follow them. If w receive an invitation to connect from a friend we may feel guilty it we do not reciprocate the gesture and accept it.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is another emotional trigger. This is why people check their smart phone every free moment, perhaps even when they are driving. FOMO also prevents users from deactivating their accounts. And when users do come to the decision to deactivate, the process is difficult with frequent attempts to keep the user from deactivating.

Facebook along with other platforms work very hard to grow their user count but operate with little, if any, regard for users as individuals. The customer service department is reserved for advertisers. Users are the product, at best, so there is no one for them to call.

It Gets Even Worse

April 5, 2019

This is the ninth post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” This post picks up where the immediately preceding post, “Amplifying the Worse Social Behavior” stopped. Users sometimes adopt an idea suggested by Facebook or by others on Facebook as their own. For example, if someone is active in a Facebook Group associated with a conspiracy theory and then stop using the platform for a time, Facebook will do something surprising when they return. It might suggest other conspiracy theory Groups to join because they share members with the first conspiracy Group. Because conspiracy theory Groups are highly engaging, they are likely to encourage reengagement with the platform. If you join the Group, the choice appears to be yours, but the reality is that Facebook planted the seed. This is because conspiracy theories are good for them, not for you.

Research indicates that people who accept one conspiracy theory have a high likelihood of accepting a second one. The same is true of inflammatory disinformation. Roger accepts the fact that Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have created systems that modify user behavior. Roger writes, “They should have realized that global scale would have an impact on the way people use their products and would raise the stakes for society. They should have anticipated violations of their terms of service and taken steps to prevent them. Once made aware of the interference, they should have cooperated with investigators. I could no longer pretend that Facebook was a victim. I cannot overstate my disappointment. The situation was much worse than I realized.”

Apparently, the people at Facebook live in their own preference bubble. Roger writes, “Convinced of the nobility of their mission, Zuck and his employees reject criticism. They respond to every problem with the same approach that created the problem in the first place: more AI, more code, more short-term fixes. They do not do this because they are bad people. They do this because success has warped their perception of reality. To them, connecting 2.2 billion people is so obviously a good thing, and continued growth so important, that they cannot imagine that the problems that have resulted could be in any way linked to their designs or business decisions. As a result, when confronted with evidence that disinformation and fake news spread over Facebook influenced the Brexit referendum and the election of Putin’s choice in the United States, Facebook took steps that spoke volumes about the company’s world view. They demoted publishers in favor of family, friends, and Groups on the theory that information from those sources would be more trustworthy. The problem is that family, friends, and Groups are the foundational elements of filter and preference bubbles. Whether by design or by accident, they share the very disinformation and fake news that Facebook should suppress.

Amplifying the Worst Social Behavior

April 4, 2019

This is the eighth post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Roger writes, “The competition for attention across the media and technology spectrum rewards the worst social behavior. Extreme views attract more attention, so platforms recommend them. News Feeds with filter bubbles do better at holding attention than News Feeds that don’t have them. If the worst thing that happened with filter bubbles was that they reinforced preexisting beliefs, they would be no worse than many other things in society. Unfortunately, people in a filter bubble become increasingly tribal, isolated, and extreme. They seek out people and ideas that make them comfortable.”

Roger continues, “Social media has enabled personal views that had previously been kept in check by social pressure—white nationalism is an example- to find an outlet.” This leads one to ask the question whether Trump would have been elected via the Electoral College if it weren’t for social media. Trump’s base consists of Nazis and white supremacists and constitutes more than a third of the citizens. Prior to the election, HM would never have believed that this was the case. Now he believes and is close to being clinically depressed.

Continuing on, “Before the platforms arrived, extreme views were often moderated because it was hard for adherents to find one another. Expressing extreme views in the real world can lead to social stigma, which also keeps them in check. By enabling anonymity and/or private Groups, the platforms removed the stigma, enabling like-minded people, including extremists, to find one another, communicate, and, eventually, to lose the fear of social stigma.”

Once a person identifies with an extreme position on an internet platform, that person will be subject to both filter bubbles and human nature. There are two types of bubbles. Filter bubbles are imposed by others, whereas a preference bubble is a choice, although the user might be unaware of this choice. By definition, a preference bubble takes users to a bad place, and they may not even be conscious of the change. Both filter bubbles and preference bubbles increase time on site, which is a driver of revenue. Roger notes that in a preference bubble, users create an alternative reality, built around values shared with a tribe, which can focus on politics, religion, or something else. “They stop interacting with people with whom they disagree, reinforcing the power of the bubble. They go to war against any threat to their bubble, which for some users means going to war against democracy and legal norms, They disregard expertise in favor of voices from their tribe. They refuse to accept uncomfortable facts, even ones that are incontrovertible. This is how a large minority of Americans abandoned newspapers in favor of talk radio and websites that peddle conspiracy theories. Filter bubbles and preference bubbles undermine democracy by eliminating the last vestiges of common ground among a huge percentage of Americans. The tribe is all that matters, and anything that advances the tribe is legitimate. You see this effect today among people whose embrace of Donald Trump has required them to abandon beliefs they held deeply only a few years earlier. Once again, this is a problem that internet platforms did not invent. Existing issues in society created a business opportunity that platforms exploited. They created a feedback loop that reinforces and amplifies ideas with a speed and at a scale that are unprecedented.”

Clint Watts in his book, “Messing with the Enemy” makes the case that in a preference bubble, facts and expertise can be the core of a hostile system, an enemy that must be defeated. “Whoever gets the most likes is in charge; whoever gets the most shares is an expert. Preference bubbles, once they’ve destroyed the core, seek to use their preference to create a core more to their liking, specially selecting information, sources, and experts that support their alternative reality rather than the real physical world.” Roger writes, “The shared values that form the foundation of our democracy proved to be powerless against the preference bubbles that have evolved over the past decade. Facebook does not create preference bubbles, but it is the ideal incubator for them. The algorithms that users who like one piece of disinformation will be fed more disinformation. Fed enough disinformation, users will eventually wind up first in a filter bubble and then in a preference bubble. if you are a bad actor and you want to manipulate people in a preference bubble, all you have to do is infiltrate the tribe, deploy the appropriate dog whistles, and you are good to go. That is what the Russians did in 2016 and what many are doing now.

The Effects Facebook Has on Users

April 3, 2019

This is the seventh post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Roger writes, “It turns out that connecting 2.2 billion people on a single network does not naturally produce happiness at all. It puts pressure on users, first to present a desirable image, then to command attention in the form of Likes or shares from others. In such an environment, the loudest voices dominate.” This can be intimidating. Consequently, we follow the human tendency to organize into clusters and tribes. This begins with people who share our beliefs. Most often this consists of family, friends, and Facebook Groups to which we belong. Facebook’s news feed encourages every user to surround him- or herself with like-minded people. Notionally, Facebook allows us to extend our friends network to include a highly diverse community, but many users stop following people with whom they disagree. Usually it feels good when we cut off someone who provokes us and lots of people do so. Consequently friends lists become more homogeneous over time. Facebook amplifies this effect with its approach to curating the News Feed. Roger writes, “When content is coming from like-minded family, friends, or Groups, we tend to relax our vigilance, which is one of the reasons why disinformation spreads so effectively on Facebook.

An unfortunate by-product of giving users what they want are filter bubbles. And unfortunately, there is a high correlation between the presence of filter bubbles and polarization. Roger writes, “I am not suggesting that filter bubbles create polarization, but I believe they have a negative impact on public discourse and political because filter bubbles isolate the people stuck in them. Filter bubbles exist outside Facebook and Google, but gains in attention for Facebook and Google are increasing the influence of their filter bubbles relative to others.”

Although practically everyone on Facebook has friends and family, many also are members of Groups. Facebook allows Groups on just about anything, including hobbies, entertainment, teams, communities, churches, and celebrities. Many groups are devoted to politics and they cross the full spectrum. Groups enables easy targeting by advertisers so Facebook loves them. And bad actors like them for the same reason. Case Sunstein, who was the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for the first Obama administration conducted research indicating that when like-minded people discuss issues, their views tend to get more extreme over time. Jonathan Morgan of Data for Democracy has found that as few as 1 to 2 percent of a group can steer the conversation if they are well-coordinated. Roger writes, “That means a human troll with a small army of digital bots—software robots—can control a large, emotional Group, which is what the Russians did when they persuaded Groups on opposite sides of the same issue—like pro-Muslim groups and anti-Muslim groups—to simultaneously host Facebook events in the same place at the same time hoping for a confrontation.

Roger notes that Facebook asserts that users control their experience by picking the friends and sources that populate their News Feed when in reality an artificial intelligence, algorithms, and menus created by Facebook engineers control every aspect of that experience. Roger continues, “With nearly as many monthly users are there are notional Christians in the world, and nearly as many daily users as there are notional Muslims, Facebook cannot pretend its business model does not have a profound effect. Facebook’s notion that a platform with more than two billion users can and should police itself also seems both naive and self-serving, especially given the now plentiful evidence to the contrary. Even if it were “just a platform,” Facebook has a responsibility for protecting users from harm. Deflection of responsibility has serious consequences.”

Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks

April 2, 2019

This is the sixth post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” In 2014, Facebook published a study called “Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks.” “This experiment entailed manipulating the balance of positive and negative messages in News Feeds of nearly seven hundred thousand users to measure the influence of social networks on mood. The internal report claimed the experiment provided evidence that emotions can spread over its platform. Facebook did not get prior informed consent or provide any warning. Facebook made people sad just to see if it could be done. Facebook was faced with strong criticism for this experiment. Zack’s right hand lady, Sheryl Sandberg said: “This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated. And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you.”

Note that she did not apologize for running a giant psychological experiment on users. Rather, she claimed that experiments like this are normal “for companies.” So she apologized only for the communication. Apparently running experiments on users without prior consent is a standard practice at Facebook.

Filter Bubbles

April 1, 2019

This is the fiftth post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Adults get locked into filter bubbles. Wikipedia defines filter bubbles as “a state of intellectual isolation that can result from personalized searches when a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the users, such as location, past click-behavior and search history.

Filter bubbles are not unique to internet platforms. They can also be found on any journalistic medium that reinforces preexisting beliefs of its audience, while surprising any stories that might contradict them, such as Fox News, In the context of Facebook, filter bubbles have several elements. In Facebook’s endless pursuit of engagement, Facebook’s AI and algorithms feed users a steady diet of content similar to what has engaged us most in the past. Usually that is content that we “like.” Each click, share, and comment helps Facebook refine its AI. With 2.2 billion people clicking, sharing, and commenting every month—1.47 billion every day—Facebook’s AI knows more about users than the users can possibly imagine. All that data in one place is a target for bad actors, even if it were well-protected. But Roger writes that Facebook’s business model is to give the opportunity to exploit that data to just about anyone who is willing to pay for the privilege.

One can make the case that these platforms compete in a race to the bottom of the brain stem—where AIs present content that appeals to the low-level emotions of the lizard brain, such things as immediate rewards, outrage, and fear. Roger writes, “Short videos perform better than longer ones. Animated GIFs work better than static photos. Sensational headlines work better than calm descriptions of events. Although the space of true things is fixed, the space of falsehoods can expand freely in any direction. False outcompetes true. Inflammatory posts work better at reaching large audiences within Facebook and other platforms.”

Roger continues, “Getting a user outraged, anxious, or afraid is a powerful way to increase engagement. Anxious and fearful users check the site more frequently. Outraged users start more content to let other people know what they should also be outraged about. Best of all from Facebook’s perspective, outraged or fearful users in an emotionally hijacked state become more reactive to further emotionally charge content. It is easy to imagine how inflammatory content would accelerate the heart rate and trigger dopamine hits. Facebook knows so much about each user that they can often tune News Feed to promote emotional responses. They cannot do this all the time for every user, but they do it far more than users realize. And they do it subtly in very small increments. On a platform like Facebook, where most users check the site every day small nudges over long periods of time can eventually produce big changes.”

The Role of Artificial Intelligence

March 31, 2019

This is the fourth post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Companies like Facebook and Google use artificial intelligence (AI) to build behavioral prediction engines that anticipate our thoughts and emotions based on patterns found in the vast amount of data they have accumulated about users. Users of likes, posts, shares, comments, and Groups have taught Facebook’s AI how to monopolize our attention. As a result, Facebook can offer advertisers exceptionally high-quality targeting.

This battle for attention requires constant innovation. In the early days of the internet the industry learned that a user adapts to predictable ad layouts, skipping over them without registering any of the content. There’s a tradeoff when it comes to online ads. Although it is easy to see that the right person is seeing the ad, it is much harder to make sure that the person is paying attention to the ad. The solution to the latter problem is to maximize the time users spend on the platform. If users devote only a small percentage of attention to the ads they see, then they try to monopolize as much of the users’ attention as possible. So Facebook as well as other platforms add new content formats and products to stimulate more engagement. Text was enough at the outset. Next came photos, then mobile. Video is the current frontier. Facebook also introduces new products such as Messenger and, soon, dating. To maximize profits, Facebook and other platforms hide the data on the effectiveness of ads.

Platforms prevent traditional auditing practices by providing less-than-industry-standard visibility. Consequently advertisers say, “I know half my ad spending is wasted; I just don’t know which half. Nevertheless, platform ads work well enough that advertisers generally spend more every year. Search ads on Google offer the clearest payback, but brand ads on other platforms are much harder to measure. But advertisers need to put their message in front of prospective customers, regardless of where they are. When user gravitate from traditional media to the internet, the ad dollars follow them. Platforms do whatever they can to maximize daily users’ time on site.

As is known from psychology and persuasive technology, unpredictable, variable rewards stimulate behavioral addiction. Like buttons, tagging, and notifications trigger social validation loops. So users do not stand a chance. We humans have evolved a common set of responses to certain stimuli that can be exploited by technology. “Flight or fight” is one example. When presented with visual stimuli, such as vivid colors, red is a trigger color—or a vibration agains the skin near our pocket that signals a possible enticing reward, the body responds in predictable ways, such as a faster heartbeat and the release of dopamine are meant to be momentary responses that increase the odds of survival in a life-or-death situation. Too much of this kind of stimulation is bad for all humans, but these effects are especially dangerous in children and adolescents. The first consequences include lower sleep quality, an increase in stress, anxiety, depression, and inability to concentrate, irritability, and insomnia. Some develop a fear of being separated from their phone.
Many users develop problems relating to and interacting with people. Children get hooked on games, texting, Instagram, and Snapchat that change the nature of human experience. Cyberbullying becomes easy over social media because when technology mediates human relationships, the social cues and feedback loops that might normally cause a bully to experience shunning or disgust by their peers are not present.

Adults get locked into filter bubbles. Wikipedia defines filter bubbles as “a state of intellectual isolation that can result from personalized searches when a website algorithms selectively guesses what information a user would like to see.

Brexit

March 30, 2019

This is the third post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” The United Kingdom voted to exit the European Union in June 2016. Many posts have been written regarding how Russia used social media, including Facebook, to push Trump in the voting so that he won the Electoral College (but not the popular vote which was won by his opponent by more than 3 million votes).

The Brexit vote came as a total shock. Polling data had suggested that “Remain” would win over “Leave” by about four points. Precisely the opposite happened, and no one could explain the huge swing. A possible explanation occurred to Roger. “What if Leave had benefited from Facebook’s architecture? The Remain campaign was expected to win because the UK had a sweet deal with the European Union: it enjoyed all the benefits of membership, while retaining its own currency. London was Europe’s undisputed financial hub, and UK citizens could trade and travel freely across the open borders of the continent. Remain’s “stay the course” message was based on smart economics but lacked emotion. Leave based its campaign on two intensely emotional appeals. It appealed to ethnic nationalism by blaming immigrants for the country’s problems, both real and imaginary. It also promised that Brexit would generate huge savings that would be used to improve the National Health Service, an idea that allowed voters to put an altruistic shine on an otherwise xenophobic proposal.” So here is an example of Facebook exploiting System 1 processes that was explained in the immediately preceding post.

Roger writes, “The stunning outcome of Brexit triggered a hypothesis: in an election context, Facebook may confer advantages to campaign messages based on fear or anger over those based on neutral or positive emotions. It does this because Facebook’s advertising business model depends on engagement, which can best be triggered through appeals to our most basic emotions. What I did not know at the time is that while joy also works which is why puppy and cat videos and photos of babies are so popular, not everyone reacts the same way to happy content. Some people get jealous, for example. ‘Lizard brain’ emotions such as fear and anger produce a more uniform reaction and are more viral in a mass audience. When users are riled up, they consume and share more content. Dispassionate users have relatively little value to Facebook, which does everything in its power to activate the lizard brain. Facebook has used surveillance to build giant profiles on every user.”

The objective is to give users what they want, but the algorithms are trained to nudge user attention in directions that Facebook wants. These algorithms choose posts calculated to press emotional buttons because scaring users or pissing them off increases time on site. Facebook calls it engagement when users pay attention, but the goal is behavior modification that makes advertising more valuable. At the time the book was written, Facebook is the fourth most valuable company in America, despite being only fifteen years old, and its value stems from its mastery of surveillance and behavioral modification.
So who was using Facebook to manipulate the vote? The answer is Russia. Just as they wanted to elect Trump president. Russia used the Ukraine as a proving ground for their disruptive technology on Facebook. Russia wanted to breakup the EU, of which Great Britain was a prominent part. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs has found that Russia is responsible for 80% of disinformation activity in Europe. One of Russia’s central goals is to break up alliances.

Zucking

March 29, 2019

This is the second post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Roger writes, “Zuck created Facebook to bring the world together.’ What he did not know when he met Zuck, but that he eventually discovered was that Zuck’s idealism was unbuffered by realism or empathy. Zuck seems to have assumed that everyone would view and use Facebook the way he did, not imagining how easily the platform could be exploited to cause harm. He did not believe in data privacy and did everything he could to maximize disclosure and sharing. Roger writes that Zuck operated the company as if every problem could be solved with more or better code. “He embraced invasive surveillance, careless sharing of private data, and behavior modification in pursuit of unprecedented scale and influence. Surveillance, the sharing of user data, and behavioral modification are the foundation of Facebook’s success. Users are fuel for Facebook’s growth and, in some cases, the victims of it.”

The term “behavioral modification” is used here in a different sense than how it is usually meant. Typically behavioral modification is used to modify or eliminate undesirable behaviors, such as smoking. Although sometimes this involves the use of painful stimuli, there are effective techniques that avoid aversive stimuli.

The behavioral modification involved in Zucking can best be understood in terms of Kahneman’s two process view of cognition. The two process view of cognition provides a means of understanding both how we can process information so quickly and why cognition fails and is subject to error. There are several two systems views of cognition, all of which share the same basic ideas. Perhaps the most noteworthy two system view is that of Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahenman.

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 typically 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.

Zuck’s behavioral modification involves System 1 processing almost exclusively. System 1 is largely emotional and involves little, if any thinking. “Likes” are largely emotional responses. People like something because it is something they agree with and invokes a favorable emotional response. Similarly, when someone accesses a site, it is most likely a site that they like and have a favorable response.

Facebook collects the data to send users to sites that they like and are interested in. Most of this processing occurs at a non conscious level so users are not conscious that they are being manipulated. But they are being manipulated which can lead to poor decisions. Moreover, they are directed to like-minded individuals, so there is minimal chance that they will know about different opinions and different ideas.

This behavior that is being modified is all beneficial to Facebook. Facebook wants to keep users on Facebook as long as possible. This results in increased ad revenues for Facebook. The critical resource here is attention. And Facebook’s procedures are extremely effective at capturing and keeping attention.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Zucked

March 28, 2019

The title of this post is the first part of a title of an important book by Roger McNamee. The remainder of the title is “Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Roger McNamee is a longtime tech investor and tech evangelist. He was an early advisor to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. To his friends Zuckerberg is known as “Zuck.” McNamee was an early investor in Facebook and he still owns shares.

The prologue begins with a statement made by Roger to Dan Rose, the head of media partnerships at Facebook on November 9, 2016, “The Russians used Facebook to tip the election!” One day early in 2016 he started to see things happening on Facebook that did not look right. He started pulling on that thread and uncovered a catastrophe. In the beginning, he assumed that Facebook was a victim and he just wanted to warn friends. What he learned in the months that followed shocked and disappointed him. He learned that his faith in Facebook had been misplaced.

This book is about how Roger became convinced that even though Facebook provided a compelling experience for most of its users, it was terrible for America and needed to change or be changed, and what Roger tried to do about it. This book will cover what Roger knows about the technology that enables internet platforms like Facebook to manipulate attention. He explains how bad actors exploit the design of Facebook and other platforms to harm and even kill innocent people. He explains how democracy has been undermined because of the design choices and business decisions by controllers of internet platforms that deny responsibility for the consequences of their actions. He explains how the culture of these companies cause employees to be indifferent to the negative side effects of their success. At the time the book was written, there was nothing to prevent more of the same.

Roger writes that this is a story about trust. Facebook and Google as well as other technology platforms are the beneficiaries of trust and goodwill accumulated over fifty years of earlier generations of technology companies. But they have taken advantage of this trust, using sophisticated techniques to prey on the weakest aspects of human psychology, to gather and exploit private data, and to craft business models that do not protect users from harm. Now users must learn to be skeptical about the products they love, to change their online behavior, insist that platforms accept responsibility for the impact of their choices, and push policy makers to regulate the platforms to protect the public interest.

Roger writes, “It is possible that the worst damage from Facebook and the other internet platforms is behind us, but that is not where the smart money will place its bet. The most likely case is that technology and the business model of Facebook and others will continue to undermine democracy, public health, privacy, and innovations until a countervailing power, in the form of government intervention or user protest, forces change.

Free Exchange | Replacebook

March 27, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a piece in the Finance & Economics section of the 16 February 2019 issue of “The Economist.” The article notes, “There has never been such an agglomeration of humanity as Facebook. Some 2.3bn people, 30% of the world’s population engage with the network each month.” It describes an experiment in which researchers kicked a sample of people off Facebook and observed the results.

In January, Hunt Allcott, of New York University, and Luca Braghiere, Sarah Eichmeyer and and Matthew Gentzkow, of Stanford University, published results of the largest such experiment yet. They recruited several thousand Facebookers and sorted them into control and treatment groups. Members of the treatment group were asked to deactivate their Facebook profiles for four weeks in late 2018. The researchers checked up on their volunteers to make sure they stayed off the social network, and then studied the results.

On average, those booted off enjoyed an additional hour of free time. They tended not to redistribute their liberated minutes to other websites and social networks, but instead watched more television and spent time with friends and family. They consumed much less news, and were consequently less aware of events but also less polarized in their views about them than those still on the network. Leaving Facebook boosted self-reported happiness and reduced feelings of depression and anxiety.

Several weeks after the deactivation period, those who had been off Facebook spent 23% less time on it than those who never left, and 5% of the forced leavers had yet to turn their accounts back on. And the amount of money subjects were willing to accept to shut off their accounts for another four weeks was 13% lower after the month off than it had been before.

In previous posts HM has made the point that our attentional resources are limited, and that they should not be wasted. HM has also recommended quitting Facebook and similar accounts. Of course, this is a personal question regarding how each of us uses πour attentional resources. They key point is to be cognizant that our precious attentional resources are limited and to spend them wisely and not waste them.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

We Need to Take Tech Addiction Seriously

March 26, 2019

The title of this post is the same as an article by psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee in the 19 March 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The World Health Organization has recognized Internet gaming as a diagnosable addiction. Dr. Dodgen-Magee argues that psychologists and other mental-health professionals must begin to acknowledge that technology use has the potential to become addictive and impact individuals and communities. Sometime the consequences are dire.

She writes that the research is clear, that Americans spend most of their waking hours interacting with screens. Studies from a nonprofit group Common Sense Media indicate that U.S. teens average approximately nine hours per day with digital media, tweens spend six hours and our youngest, ages zero to 8, spend 2.5 hours daily in front of a screen. According to research by the Nielsen Company, the average adult in the United States spends more than 11 hours a day in the digital world. Dr. Dodgen-Magee claims that when people invest this kind of time in any activity, we must at least start to ask what it means for their mental health.

Both correlational and causal relationships have been established between tech use and various mental-health conditions. Research at the University of Pittsburgh found higher rates of depression and anxiety among young adults who engage many social media platforms than those who engage only two. Jean Twenge found that the psychological development of adolescents is slowing down and depression, anxiety and loneliness, which she attributes to tech engagement are on the rise. Multitasking, a behavior that technology encourages and reinforces is consistently correlated with poor cognitive and mental-health outcomes. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have published the first experimental data linking decreased well-being to Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram use in young adults. Dr. Dodgen-Magee concludes that our technology use is affecting our psychological functioning.

The author has been examining the interplay between technology and mental health for close to two decades. She finds that while technology can do incredible things for us in nearly every area of life, it is neither all good nor benign.

The author writes that when the mental-health community resists fully exploring the costs associated with constant tech interaction, it leaves those struggling with compulsive or potentially harmful use of their devices few places to turn. She continues that recently a woman scheduled a consultation with her because she was concerned about her inability to focus. She was a self-described Type A personality who found herself simultaneously interacting with three or four screens for nearly 20 hours a day, determined to stay on top of every demand. When it came time for her biannual revision of an important procedural manual, she couldn’t focus on the single tasks for the time to do it effectively. She is not the only individual with this problem.

She writes that consequently our attention spans are short. Our ability to focus on one task at a time is impaired. And our boredom tolerance is nil. People now rely on the same devices that drive so much of our anxiety and alienation for both stimulation and soothing. While, for many people, these changes will never move into the domain of addiction, for others they already have. In a recent Common Sense Media poll, 50% of adolescents reported already feeling that their use had become addictive and 27% of parents reported the same.

She writes, “If Americans were interacting with anything else for 11-plus hours a day, I feel confident we’d be talking more about how that interaction shapes us. Mental-health professionals must begin to educate themselves about the digital pools in which their clients swim and learn about the impact of excessive technology use on human development and functioning. It is too easy for therapists to assume that everyone’s engagement with the digital domain looks just their own and to go merrily from there. We would serve our client well by understanding the unique way in which many platforms encourage addictive pattens and behaviors. We should also create non-shaming environments in which they can candidly explore how their tech use impacts them.

It’s time to put our phones down and begin an informed conversation about how technology is impacting our mental health. Our clients’ health and the well-being of our communities may depend on it.”

Trump vs. a Buddhist Monk

March 25, 2019

What does this title mean? What are the criteria for comparing Donald Trump to a Buddhist Monk? In terms of financial wealth there is certainly no comparison. In terms of power there is no comparison. But what about happiness and personal satisfaction?

Previous posts have suggested that Trump suffers from the psychotic condition known as delusional order. In other words, he lives in his own reality and ignores objective truth. And whenever he confronts objective reality that he does not like, he lashes out. So if someone does something that displeases him, he lashes out with personal insults. Whenever he encounters news or someone says something that threatens his personal reality, he denies it. So he claims that there is false news and that the investigations involving him are witch hunts.

Now consider the Buddhist monk. He lives humbly and eats a small, healthy diet. He spends his time meditating, praying, and providing helpful services to his fellow humans. He tries to love all his fellow humans, even those who are obvious enemies who would want to hurt him. He works to control his thoughts and emotions. Through this he achieves peace within himself and good feelings towards his fellow humans.

Although it might not be immediately apparent, the Buddhist Monk is living a happier and more fulfilling life than Trump. Trump’s objectives are to keep acquiring personal wealth, which is a matter of ego satisfaction. This a never ending quest to win every encounter, which is impossible. Trump has no empathy towards his fellow humans. Even his charity was a scam to benefit him.

It is almost a virtual certainty that physical examinations would reveal that the monk is healthier than Trump, and that a psychological examination would reveal that the monk is happier and leads a more fulfilling life than Trump (Trump being the nominal leader of the United States notwithstanding).

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Living with the Modes

March 24, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of the final chapter in book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller titled “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.” This chapter contains some key points.

You might notice that you typically operate in one mode for short-term interactions and another for long-term interactions. It might make sense to operate in Adaptor Mode for immediate problems or social interactions, and in Mover Mode, when dealing with long-term problems or social interactions. Or one might find that different circumstances indicate different modes. For example, a person comfortable with Mover Mode at work may be most comfortable in Adaptor Mode at home, and a person who typically operates in Stimulator Mode with friends may find that Perceiver Mode works better with a mate.

It is also important to realize that the fact of operating in a particular mode does not guarantee that you will be effective in it. Effectiveness depends, in part, on how much you know about the relevant material (and hence how well you can classify and interpret the situation using your bottom brain) and how well you can formulate and carry out plans (and hence how well you can respond to an anticipate unfolding events, using your top brain—relying in part on information from your bottom brain).

At a minimum it is hoped that these Top Brain, Bottom Brain posts will provide some personal insights, and that it will help in interacting with others in different situations and in forming groups and teams. Of course, these posts cannot do justice to the book that they are drawn from, so please read the book by Kosslyn and Miller should this topic peak your interests.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

March 23, 2019

This is the seventh post in series of post based on a book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller titled “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.” The MBTI is the bane of most psychologists. Once people know that you are a psychologist, it is not unlikely that they will expound on the marvels of the MBTI. Moreover, it is used in some Intelligence Agencies. According to one estimate, about 2.5 million people a year take the test. So HM never resists the opportunity to set people straight on the MBTI.

The MBTI is scored on four dichotomous dimensions:

Extraversion vs. Introversion, which focuses on what sort of activities energize a person: Extraverts draw energy from interacting with others and are dampened down when they spend a lot of time alone; the opposite is true for introverts.

Sensing versus Intuition, which focuses on what a person prefers to pay attention to: Sensing types are very concrete, preferring factual material that is predigested and handed to them instead of material that requires them to abstract and organize meaning to distill underlying principles; the opposite is true for intuitive types.

Thinking versus Feeling, which focuses on decision-making preferences: Thinking types are logical, systematic and relatively detached when making decisions; feeling types are more inclined to rely on emotional considerations and to strive for overall “harmony.”

Judging versus Perception, which focuses on preferences for how to act in the world at large: Judging types like to plan and organize; perceiving types prefer to be open to new possibilities as they arise.

On the face of it these dimensions seem reasonable, and it is clear why this test has intuitive appeal.

But

The test was not developed by psychologists, statisticians, or any type of professional. Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myer Briggs began to develop this test during WW2 as a tool to help women discover which wartime jobs would be most comfortable and appropriate for them. The test MBTI was the tool. Here are the problems:

It is not based on science; instead, it largely grew out of Jung’s theory of psychoanalysis, which he formulated on the basis of intuition and clinical observations.

Some of the assumptions that underlie the test appear to be contradicted by scientific findings. For example, the MBTI is scored as if “intuition” is distinct from “feeling”—but much evidence now indicates that emotion often underlies hunches.

When items are analyzed so that the underlying factors can be discovered, the results do not correspond to the four dimensions posited by the theory.

When scores are analyzed, they do not cluster around the middle of the dimensions.

in spite of the fact that the test developers stressed that their test is designed to assess preference and not abilities, researchers have examined whether scores predict performance—and they do not consistently do so. Moreover, when they do predict performance, this may be a consequence of the correlation between the MBTI scores and other measures.

Numerous researchers have found that the test has poor reliability. Test takers often get a different score when they take the test a second time.

In addition to the MBTI the authors of “Top Brain, Bottom Brain” also debunk a view of personality that focuses on the anatomical distinctions between the left and right halves of the brain. Although there are differences, under normal circumstance the two halves do interact, and way too much has be made of this theory.

Social Prosthetic Systems

March 22, 2019

This is the sixth post in series of posts based on a book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller titled “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.” When we don’t have the ability or skill to do something we need to do, we should turn to someone (or something) else for help. Sometimes there is a reluctance to ask for help. The authors recommendation is to overcome a reluctance to ask for help. Then the question is to whom, exactly, should we reach out to. The answers can be found in the principles of what the authors call social prosthetic systems, a name coined by drawing an analogy to physical prosthetic systems. Should we lose a leg, we would rely on a prosthesis to walk. The prosthesis makes up for shortcomings allowing one either to accomplish a task or to better accomplish a task or achieve an objective. Whenever we use a calculator we are using a cognitive prosthesis.

The authors note that the Internet has evolved into what can be called the mother of all cognitive prosthesis—the place many of us turn, typically via Google and other search engines to find facts, directions, images, translations, calendars, and more. We store personal data and cherished memories in the cloud, from which they can easily be retrieved. James Gleick, author of “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood”, calls the many billions of pages that constitute the Internet “the global prosthetic brain.”

The authors note that this statement is not quite correct. The Internet is a vast memory, but less useful as a tool of reasoning—especially when emotion is involved. Despite its informational power, the Internet is of limited use when we need wise advice to help us navigate a thorny situation. The main cognitive prosthesis we rely on for such help is not software or machines, but other people: individuals who can help us extend our intelligence and discover and regulate our emotions. In the lingo of the healthy memory blog, these social prosthetic systems are part of Transactive Memory. There is an entire category of posts labeled Transactive Memory. Transactive Memory is memory that cannot be accessed directly from our brains. Paper, technology, and our fellow humans constitute Transactive Memory. So these Social Prosthetic Systems are part of Transactive Memory.

As the senior author defined it in his first paper on the idea, social prosthetic systems are “human relationships that extend one’s emotional or cognitive capacities. In such systems, other people serve as prosthetic devices, filling in shortcomings in an individual’s cognitive or emotional abilities.” The authors note that with the possible exception of a committed hermit, every person belongs to one or more of these systems.

The authors present an example of our being in an emotionally fraught situation—on the verge of breaking up with a spouse or partner. “Your partner complains that you work too much, and you feel trapped between the requirements of your job and your desire to maintain the relationship. You would probably not want to seek the counsel of someone who typically operates in Stimulator or Adaptor mode. A person operating in Stimulator Mode might simply offer a knee-jerk reaction, perhaps giving you the first idea that springs to mind (“Maybe you just need to explain why your job is so important to you”) and a person operating in Adaptor Mode might try to minimize the issue (“Life has its ups and downs—if you wait awhile this will probably get better”). So that would leave you with the choice of counsel from someone who typically operates in Mover Move or Perceiver Mode. And that choice would depend in part on your goals for the outcome. If you wanted strategic help on how to handle the situation, the theory suggests the person in Mover Mode would be the most appropriate (perhaps suggesting ways to achieve more work/life balance by avoiding work on weekends). But if you wanted reflection on how you were actually feeling, and on what you wanted and needed, the person who typically operates in Perceiver Mode might be more helpful (listening as you try to sort out why you feel so torn). Putting this together, you might want to seek counsel from two separate people to garner the benefits of both kinds of input. Thus informed, you could more wisely make decisions.

Personal Examples of the Adaptor Mode

March 21, 2019

This is the fifth post in series of post based on a book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller titled “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.” Elizabeth Taylor was a consummate actress who was highly successful as an actress. But when it came to personal relationships, she behaved as if she regularly operated in the Adaptor Mode.

When Taylor was eighteen, she married Conrad Hilton, Jr. He had a reputation as an obnoxious and abusive drunk. He was given to extreme mood shifts and was a notorious womanizer. Taylor married Hilton in 1950 and in January 1951, less than one year later, he became Taylor’s ex-husband number one.

After dating several men, in 1952 Taylor married Michael Wilding, an English actor who had been married before and was subject to dramatic shifts of mood. They had two children, but she quickly grew dissatisfied with him and began seeing other men, one of whom was Michael Todd, who had been married twice and whose volatile temper was legendary. He was killed in a plane crash before they had a chance to marry. Eddie Fisher was her next husband whom she married in 1959. On the set of the movie Cleopatra, released in 1963, Taylor became involved with Richard Burton. Burton was an alcoholic, philanderer, and abuser—the worst qualities of Taylor’s previous husbands. They married in 1964. By 1973, Taylor had had enough. She separated from Burton and they divorced the next year. In October 1975 they got back together and walked down the aisle again. In 1976 Taylor left Burton for the last time. She had two more marriages. both of which ended in divorce, and what the authors say was a degree of happiness—though not necessarily late-life wisdom.
One can regard Taylor as an excessive adaptor.

Thus far all personal examples of the modes are of famous people. In the absence of further examples of adaptors the authors created a character named Nick: a man in his late twenties they designed to illustrate what it means to think and act in the Adaptor Mode.

On the way to work,when he becomes stuck in traffic he relaxes and listens to his iPod. He doesn’t think to call his foreman to let him know that he’s stuck in traffic. His bottom brain does not lead him to see the broader implications of his current situation (its effects on other people such as his foreman), nor does he take advantage of the time to use his top brain to make plans about things that really matter to him. The authors write, “Instead the immediate situation is driving his agenda, as we expect is typical of people who are operating in Adaptor Mode. His top brain is not formulating complex or detailed plans that would guide his thought or behavior; instead, he waits for external guidance about what to do next.”

At work his foreman gives him a special assignment, he wants him to take a new apprentice under his wing. Nick knows what this will entail babysitting. There are plenty of other electricians with more experience who could handle the job. The authors note that the foreman has not asked Nick; he’s ordered him, and although Nick might win the battle if he pushed back hard (the foreman values him as one of the best workers), he decides it’s not worth it. He reasons that the order is not totally unreasonable, good relations with the boss count for a lot.

Nick is agreeable and usually does what the other person wants rather than what he would like to do. His childhood dream was to become a firefighter. He could enroll in an EMT course, join a volunteer fire company, or apply for the fire academy. This would be difficult, but he could probably manage while still keeping his day job and remaining a good dad.

But pursuing his old dream required detailed, long-range planning. Right now, it seems too much to undertake. Overall, life is pretty good as it is. Why rock the boat?

This section ends as follows: “Being in Adaptor Mode has some clear advantages. When you relax, you really relax—you don’t fret about the future or obsess about the past. Moreover, because you very likely are easy to get along with in this mode, other people often enjoy your company. The downside, according to our theory, is that you can be buffeted by the world around you—and that can be detrimental. As psychologists showed long ago, animals that have some control over their environment experience less stress (and fewer ulcers) than animals that are always on the receiving end, having no such control.”

If you have not tested yourself to see if you are classified in the Adapter Mode, go to the the first post in this series “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.”

Personal Examples of Stimulator Mode

March 20, 2019

This is the fourth post in the series of posts based on a book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller titled “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.” During the Vietnam War Abbie Hoffman was the Cofounder of the Youth International Party (Yippies). Hoffman organized marches, sit-ins, and demonstrations and by October 1967 was deeply involved in planning two days of actions at the Lincoln Memorial and outside the Pentagon. Preparations included obtaining a permit, which set a limit of 32 hours for the demonstrations. By the time that deadline arrived, organizers had achieved their primary objective, national coverage of their cause. Many began to leave, but Hoffman and others stayed on into a second morning—and were arrested. The authors note that this was pointless as the protest had already succeeded, and counterproductive for Hoffman, whose time would have been better spent planning the next action, not trying to free himself from the criminal justice system. The authors write, “With his long and intensive involvement in protests, Hoffman had repeatedly experienced the potential consequences—but he behaved like someone who did not engage in bottom-brain thinking as deeply as he should have.”

In 1968 Hoffman played a major role in planning demonstrations using his top brain. In the weeks leading up to the Democratic national convention Hoffman oversaw production of tens of thousands of leaflets, posters, and buttons urging antiwar protestors to join him in Chicago for the convention. He helped coordinate news coverage. He reached out to speakers and musicians and he presided over weekly meetings.

His work paid off: Thousands were on hand that August 28, when the Democrats nominated Hubert Humphrey as their presidential candidate. With the world’s journalists present, Hoffman had his biggest platform yet and a chance to make a powerful statement. But he did not think of the consequences for writing the F-word in lipstick on his forehead when he dressed that morning. But the consequence was one that many would predict. Police arrested him for thirteen hours. Hoffman missed the demonstration that would become one of the iconic protests of the 1960s, and he stood trial as one of the Chicago Seven, which was a long court ordeal that effectively removed him from the leadership of the movement.

When he emerged from hiding as a fugitive he wrote, “It’s mind boggling, but being a fugitive I’ve seen the way normal people live and it’s made me realize just how wrong I was in the past. I’ve grown up too. You know how it is when you’re young and not in control. I’d like to go back to school and learn how to be a credit to the community…Age takes its toll but it teaches wisdom.” The authors conclude, “In his later years, Hoffman showed signs of having developed the ability to think in Perceiver Mode at least some of the time.”

The authors write, “What better contemporary example could we use to illustrate the characteristics of operating in the Stimulator mode than Sarah Palin, onetime vice presidential candidate, former governor of Alaska, and continuing presence in American culture?” Palin moves through life, formulating and carrying out plans. But it appears that, like Hoffman, she often does not adequately register the consequences and adjust her plans accordingly. As a vice-presidential candidate she presented a folksy, budget-cutting fiscal conservative and demanded instant attention. Voters who were wary of politicians who waste taxpayer dollars applauded this governor who had pared Alaskan state construction spending, sold the the gubernatorial debt, and refused to be reimbursed for her hotel stays.

However during the campaign, she and her family accepted $150,00 worth of designer outfits and accessories from Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bloomingdale’s. She indulged in an expensive makeup consultation—a spending spree that stood in stark contrast to her image as a Kmart-shopping mom.

In March 2010 she posted on her Facebook page pictures of gun crosshairs that “targeted” Democratic members of Congress for defeat. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was one on whom she had place gun crosshairs. On 8 January Rep. Giffords was tragically shot and seriously injured. She is still recovering from her injuries. Palin is one of the favorite targets for the satire of the Capitol Steps.

If you have not tested yourself to see if you are classified in the Stimulator Mode, go to the the first post in this series “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.”

Personal Examples of Perceiver Mode

March 19, 2019

This is the third post in series of posts based on a book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller titled “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.” The chapter begins, “The nineteenth century poet Emily Dickinson illustrates well the characteristics of operating in Perceiver Mode—the mode of thinking and behaving in which people deeply engage in observing and analyzing their surroundings and circumstances (using the bottom brain) but tend not implement complex or detailed plans (using the top brain). She lived day to day with no career ambitions, sometime entertaining friends, but mostly reading and writing poems that she made little effort to have published.

She was a devoted gardener, and she loved her time with flowers, bees, and butterflies, from which she drew insights that informed her poetry. She wrote poems about the brain. This is poem number 632, she did not title her works.

The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—

The Brain is deeper than the sea—
For—hold them—Blue to Blue—
The one the other will absorb—
As Sponges—Buckets—do—

Science was not Dickinson’s abiding passion. She found her greatest themes observing nature, in the changes of season and day, in the cycles of life and death. This would characterize someone for whom the Perceiver Mode was the typical way of thinking and behaving. Of the hundreds of poems Dickinson wrote about the natural world, the authors found the following poem one that nicely captures both her talent and her wisdom, presumably gleaned through deep utilization of her bottom brain.

Nay—Nature is heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Seas—
Thunder—the Cricket—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is—
To her simplicity.

The authors write, “If the Theory of Cognitive Modes is correct, then people who typically think and behave in Perceiver Mode will not ordinarily seek publicity. Still, some have achieved prominence without aggressively seeking it. History has shown that spiritual and religious figures who have helped make sense of human existence can attract large followings. Although they do not engage in self-serving campaigns, their ideas compel others.

The Dalai Lama fits that description (There are thirty-one healthy memory posts on the Dalai Lama).

The authors write, “One could argue that a person who typically thinks in Perceiver Mode is better suited to bringing a deeper perspective to human existence than is usually offered by someone who generally thinks in one of the other three modes.”

The Dalai Lama writes in “Compassion and the Individual”:
“It is possible to divide every kind of happiness and suffering into two main categories: mental and physical. Of the two, it is the mind that exerts the greatest influence on most of us. Unless we are either gravely ill or deprived of basic necessities, our physical condition plays a secondary role in life. If the body is content, we virtually ignore it, The mind, however, registers every event, no matter how small. Hence we should devote most of out serious efforts to bringing about mental peace.

From my own limited experience, I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes.”

If you have not tested yourself to see if you are classified in the Perceiver Mode, go to the the first post in this series “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.”

Personal Examples of the Mover Mode

March 18, 2019

This is the second post in series of posts based on a book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller titled “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.”

On June 6, 2001 Michael Bloomberg announced the he would run for Mayor of New York city. He had no political pedigree. He had built Bloomberg LP, a media and financial giant, and was a billionaire. He had a comfortable life, prestige, and was well situated. Why would he run for mayor with all the attendant problems that go with public office? It appears that he was disposed in this context to think in Mover Mode. Given his business success, this certainly was nothing new for him. Remember that the mover mode is the mode of thinking and behaving in which people formulate and implement plans (using the top brain) and note the consequences of doing so (using the bottom brain), and adjust their plans accordingly. The authors write, “From his modest childhood in a suburb off Boston, Bloomberg consistently demonstrated such behavior: achieving Eagle Scout status as a young teen; excelling as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University; performing well as a student at Harvard Business School; and standing out during his early years in business, as a trader at Solomon Brothers.”

The authors continue, “We can conjecture that Bloomberg learned not just from his successes but also from his setbacks. Caught in the brutal cross fire of a leadership war inside Solomon Brothers, he was demoted after thirteen years to the tech support department—a humiliating fall from grace. But Bloomberg did not withdraw into self-pity (people in Mover Mode typically are not easily discouraged). Instead, he dedicated himself to a new challenge, the then frontier of financial computing. It was that experience that led him in 1981, to found Bloomberg LP—the company that revolutionized the delivery of financial information.

His next challenge was to consider running for the Presidency of the United States.

The Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville, provide additional examples of people operating in the mover mode. Almost everyone knows that they developed and flew the first powered controlled heavier than air flight. What is less known is that these two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, achieved their breakthrough without benefit of a high school education or formal training of any kind.

Their father stimulated their fascination with flight when he gave them a toy helicopter, based on a design by a French aeronautical pioneer. It was constructed of cork, bamboo, and paper and was powered by a twisted rubber band. They played with it until it broke, but were unfazed when it did. They began building their own helicopters, improving each successive model with the knowledge gleaned from the previous ones. Although they were still in grammar school, the boys already exhibited behaviors characteristic of Mover Mode thinking. They embraced challenges and were not deterred by failure. Failures were not ends but valuable lessons in the progression to success.
After stints as self-taught printers, newspapermen, and repairers and builders of bicycles, they took on the challenge of powered flight. They believed, along with the German inventor Otto Lilienthal that the monumental hurdle was control, and not power. So their early work focused on gliders, specifically how to steer and bank them.

So the Wright brothers initially flew unmanned gliders. They continued their work with gliders. When 1902 drew to a close, the were ready to add a motor. The authors write, “You can see a pattern here: The brothers consistently devised and implemented plans (top brain), adjusting those plans on perceived outcomes (bottom brain)—these are typical Mover Mode behaviors.

Orville wrote, “The first flight lasted only about 12 seconds, but it was nevertheless the first in the history of the world in which a machine carrying a man had raised itself by it own power into the air in full flight, had sailed forward with a reduction of speed, and had finally landed at a point as high as that from which it had started” This was the humble beginning of aviation. We can all see how far we have gone.

If you have not tested yourself to see if you are classified in the Mover Mode, go to the immediately preceding post “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.”

Top Brain, Bottom Brain

March 17, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller. The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.” This book presents a new and useful way of thinking about our brains, that can not only increase how effectively we use our brains, but can also help us get along better with others.

The Theory of Cognitive Modes is built on conclusions arising from decades of research that have remained inside scientific circles. To the knowledge of the authors this book is the first time that these findings have been systematically brought to a mainstream audience.

The theory is built on three fundamental ideas:

The first is that the top part and the bottom part of the brain do different jobs. The top brain formulates plans and puts them into motion, and the bottom brain classifies and interprets incoming information about the world. For example, the bottom brain allows you to recognize a friend you see across the room and realize that she might be able to give you good advice about a problem at work; the top brain formulates one plan to walk over and another plan about how to broach the topic.

The second fundamental idea is that the two parts of the brain always work together; the top brain uses information from the bottom brain to formulate its plans (and to reformulate them as they unfold over time). The two parts of the brain are a single system.

The third idea is that different people may rely to greater or lesser extents on the two parts of the brain. Some tend to use both parts deeply, some favor the bottom brain, some favor the top brain, and some don’t typically lean too hard on either part.

The different ways that people rely on the two parts of the brain define four basic cognitive modes: general ways of thinking that underlie how a person approaches the world and interacts with other people. Each of us has a typical cognitive mode, which affects how we relate to others and how we deal with situations we encounter.

The theory has four cognitive modes:
The mover mode has a deeply utilized bottom and a deeply utilized top.
The perceiver mode has a deeply utilized bottom and a minimally utilized top.
The stimulator mode has a deeply utilized top and a minimally utilized bottom.
The adaptor mode has a minimally utilized bottom and a minimally utilized top.

A test follows that allows you to understand where you fall on these dimensions.

Twenty statements will follow which you use to rate yourself on a 5 point scale where 1 is disagree and 5 is agree.

When I look at a garden, I usually notice the patterns of plantings.
If I like a piece of furniture, I want to know exactly where it will fit in my home before I buy it.
I prefer to make plans about what to do before I jump into a situation.
In a museum, I like to classify paintings according to their style.
I try to examine items in a store very carefully.
I like to assemble all the necessary tools before I begin a project.
I prefer to call ahead to a hotel if I may not get there until late in the day.
As a rule, I try to react appropriately to my environment.
I like to examine the surfaces of objects in detail.
When I first turn on the TV, I like to identify specific people on the screen
I effortlessly note the types of dogs that I see.
I like to think about what to expect after I make a decision.
I like to look at people’s faces and try to classify where their ancestors came from.
I think of myself as someone who plans ahead.
Before I buy a new shirt, I think about whether it will go with my other clothes.
When I hear music, I like to identify different instruments.
I take the time to appreciate paintings when I go to an art exhibition.
I enjoy making plans.
In the morning, I often think hard about what I’ll need to do that day.
I prefer to examine objects closely enough to see how color changes on their surfaces.

To get your score:
Add up your ratings for items 2,3,6,7,8,12,14,15,18, and 19.
This is your top brain score.
Then add your ratings for items 1,4,5,9,10,11,13,16,17, and 20. This is your bottom brain score.

Summary of top brain scores
47 or higher Very strong tendency to use top-brain processing deeply.
38-46 Tendency to use top-brain processing deeply
Ave 37.5
28-37 Tendency not to use top-brain processing deeply
27 or less Very strong tendency not to use top-brain processing deeply

Summary of bottom brain processing

43 or higher Very strong tendency to use bottom-brain processing deeply
34-42 Tendency to use bottom-brain processing deeply
Ave 33.5
24-43 Tendency not to use bottom-brain processing deeply
23 or less Very strong tendency not to se bottom-brain processing deeply

Summary of the Four Processing Modes

Mover Mode. According to the theory, you often operate in Mover Mode if you scored over the average for both top and bottom-brain processing.

Perceiver Mode. You often operate in Perceiver Mode if you scored over the mean for bottom-brain processing, but at or below the mean for top-brain processing

Stimulator Mode. You often rely on Stimulator Mode if you scored over the mean for top-brain processing, but at or below the mean for bottom-brain processing.

Adaptor Mode. You often operate in Adaptor Mode if you scored at or below the mean for both top-brain and bottom-brain processing.

Specific examples will be provided for each mode in the following four posts. Then the concluding posts will elaborate further on this concept.

Good Advice from the Danes

March 15, 2019

This post is based on an article in the Washington Post by Marie Helweg-Larsen titled (in the electronic version) “Angry? Worried? Stressed Out? Just say ‘pyt” Danes are regarded as being among the happiest people in the world. The article notes that they also happen to have a lot of cool words for ways to be happy.

One is “hygge,” which is often mistranslated to mean “cozy,” but it really describes the process of creating intimacy. But the word “pyt” was recently voted the most popular word by the Danes. Pyt does not have an exact English translation. It’s more a cultural concept about cultivating healthy thoughts to deal with stress.

Pyt sounds something like “pid.” It is usually expressed as an interaction in reaction to a daily hassle, frustration, or mistake. It most closely translates to the English sayings, “Don’t worry about it,” “stuff happens” or “oh, well.”

If you break a glass in the kitchen, you would just shrug and say, “pyt.” If you see a parking ticket lodged under your windshield wiper and, as you become hot with anger, just shake your head and murmur, “pyt.”

It’s benefit comes from accepting and resettling. It provides a reminder to step back and refocus rather than overreact. Instead of assigning blame, it’s a way to let go and move on.

The author, who is a Danish psychologist writes, “ You might say “pyt” in response to something your did—“pyt, that was a dumb thing to say”—or to support another person—“pyt with that, don’t fret about your co-worker’s insensitivity.”

Pyt can reduce stress because it is a sincere attempt to encourage yourself and others to not get bogged down by minor daily frustrations. One Danish business leader has suggested that knowing when to say “pyt” at work can lead to more job satisfaction.”

The author notes that there’s a rich strain of psychological research devoted to understanding how we interpret and react to other people’s actions.

Study after study show that we are happier and live longer when we have fewer daily hassles. And in some cases, what constitutes a hassle might be tied to how we interpret what’s happening around us.

Pyt can also help people avoid the tendency to blame others. Say you’re late to an appointment and there’s a person in front of you who’s driving slowly. This can feel irrationally personal.

However, research shows that we get angrier when we explain someone’s behavior by pointing to their incompetence, intentionality, or poor character.

If you say “pyt,” you’re deducing that it’s not worth letting someone else’s actions, which are out of your control, bother you; It’s “water off a duck’s back.” You can also see other strategies, such as thinking about situational constraints—maybe the driver was ill—or considering whether this will be an issue in two hours, two days, or two weeks.

Of course, ‘pyt’ should not be said in response to being seriously wrong. Nor should it be used when you ought to take responsibility, nor should it be used as an excuse for inaction.

Danes who teach positive psychology have also written about how applying pyt to too many aspects of our life isn’t healthy, especially if they concern your core needs or values.

Other activities, such as walking in nature, doing yoga or meditation, exercising, keeping a journal, or engaging in creative work, can also facilitate letting go

And you can also get a pyt button. Danish teachers use pyt buttons to teach students how to let go. Teachers find that it can help children cope with smaller frustrations such as losing a game, or losing a pencil. It teaches children that everything can’t be perfect.

These are important skills. Research shows that perfectionism is related to worry and depression, whereas self-compassion and social support can help prevent perfectionism from leading to negative outcomes.

The pyt button has become popular recently among Danish adults. They can either make one at home or buy one that, when pressed, says “pyt pyt pyt” and “breathe deeply, it will all be okay” in Danish.

Enter “pyt button” in your browser search block to find where to get your own pet button.

Another factor contributing to the Danes being among the happiest people of the world is that they have government provided healthcare. Moreover, the costs of this healthcare is less than US costs, and the care that the Danes receive is better than the US. Of course, this is true of every advanced country other than the US. It is like these other countries are wearing shoes and the US is still barefoot.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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 Thoughts About Donald Trump

March 14, 2019

If you’ve read the preceding posts about emotional intelligence based on Daniel Goleman’s book, you’ve already read some hints that Trump’s behavior might be governed in some part by deficiencies in his brain. Trump does not behave like a president, and he is an embarrassment to the United States. When HM and his wife go on a cruise, they try to pass as Canadians. Trump behaves like a schoolyard bully. He uses degrading nicknames and fires back at whatever he regards as an insult or a failure to pay him proper respect. He does not speak the truth because he lives in his own reality that determines what he regards, at the moment, as the truth. He has no regard for facts, because what is true already exists in his mind. He disregards science and ignores the best intelligence system in the world.

If Trump’s actions are, at least in part, due to deficiencies in his brain, then he warrants sympathy, or maybe even pity. Unfortunately, he also warrants fear for a variety of reasons. Foremost is his control over nuclear weapons. He also is destroying international relations. He has already caused an enormous deficit and knowledgeable economists predict economic failures due to his policies.

Although Trump might warrant sympathy, the same cannot be said of the Republican Party, where the Republican Congress has ignored their constitutional responsibility to keep watch on the President. Instead, they have protected him and lied about the effectiveness of his policies. All genuine Republicans have left the party. Those who remain are either members of Trump’s base, viz., Nazis or White Supremacists, or want to maintain positions of power so they can enrich themselves.

It has been noted that Trump is likely to try to stay in power even if he loses the next election. He constitutes a genuine threat to the rule of law and our democracy.

The Republican Party died, a causality of the stupidity pandemic. What a shame. The loss of the GOP. The loss of the party of Lincoln.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Social Emotional Learning

March 12, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Goleman is a strong advocate of the movement in social/emotional learning (SEL), school-based programs that teach the whole spectrum of emotional intelligence abilities. This topic has been addressed in a previous healthy memory blog post (see “Schooling the Emotions”). The best programs run from kindergarten through high school, and teach these abilities at every age in a developmentally appropriate way.

All the emotional intelligence skills develop in the curriculum of life, from childhood on—but SEL gives every child an equal opportunity to master them. That’s why Goleman co-founded the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning at Yale (CASEL) (Now at the University of Illinois at Chicago).

The brain is the last organ in the body to become anatomically mature. When you see the changes from year to year in how a child thinks, behaves, and reacts, what you’re really looking at is how their brain is developing. For example, when it comes to creativity, children are fabulously open and imaginative, especially young children. But there are two stages of brain growth that change this. The first is called the five-to-seven shifts, where the emotional circuitry comes under stronger prefrontal control. So children are better able to control their impulses, and to coordinate their imaginative efforts, to say nothing of them being better behaved.

At puberty there’s what is called a sculpting of the brain, a huge loss of under-used neurons. We are born with many more neurons that we use later in life, and the principal is use-it-or-lose-it (this is not the same as a steady deterioration. This occurs during puberty. This is not the same as a steady deterioration throughout life. Neurogenesis still creates new neurons daily, throughout our lives).

Social Emotional Learning programs are designed to give children the near lessons they need as their brain grows. This is what developmentally appropriate means.

On the wall in every SEL program there’s picture of a stoplight with its red, yellow, and green lights. It says, “When you’re getting upset, remember the stop light, stop! Calm down ad think before you act.” Stop is behavioral inhibition: activate the left prefrontal circuitry that can manage your amygdala impulses. Calm down shows that you can change your state to a better one. Think before you act teaches a critical lesson: you can’t control what you’re going to feel, but you can decide what you do next. Then, yellow light—think of a range of things you might do and what the consequences would be, and pick the best alternative. And green light: try it out and see what happens. This is drilled into kids. And this kind of lesson, along with all the others in the SEL program actually works.

Roger Weissberg, the psychologist who directs CASE analyzed data at over 200 SEL programs that were compared to schools without them, involving a total of 270,000 students. He found that , on average, SEL programs reduce anti-social behavior like misbehaving in class, fights, or substance abuse by about ten percent. The biggest gains are seen in the schools that need it the most.

Moreover, academic scores went up by eleven percent. Goleman suspects that this has to do with a large part of how the hypothalamic pituitary, amygdala (HPA) axis arousal interferes with cognitive efficiency and learning. If you’re a kid who’s preoccupied by worry, anger, distress, anxiety, or whatever stress causes in you, you’re going to have a diminished capacity to pay attention to what the teacher is telling you. But if you can manage those emotional upsets, your working memory, the capacity of attention to take in information increases. SEL teaches you how to manage these disruptive feelings—not just through lessons like the stop light, but through learning how to get along better with others kids (a major source of turbulent feelings). This lets you be a better learner.

For us adults at work, this identical skill set will make us better performers. And it’s never to late to develop further strengths in emotional intelligence.

Developing Emotional Intelligence

March 10, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Every day the brain generates 10,000 stem cells that split into two. One becomes a daughter line that continues making stem cells, and the other migrates to wherever it’s needed in the brain and becomes that kind of cell. That destination is often where the cell is needed for new learning. Over the next four months, that new cell forms about 10,000 to created new neural circuitry.

The state of the art in mapping this neural circuitry coming out of labs like Richard Davidson’s have massive computing power. Innovative software tools for brain imaging can track and show this new connectivity at the single-cell level. Neurogenesis adds power to our understanding of neuroplasticity, that the brain continually reshapes itself according to the experiences we have. If we are changing a habit like trying to get better at listening, then that circuitry grows accordingly. However, when we are trying to overcome a bad habit, we’re up against the thickness of the circuitry for something we’ve practiced and repeated thousands of times. Goleman asks, “So what are the brain lessons for coaching or for working on our own to enhance an emotional intelligence skill?”

Number one, is to get committed. Mobilize the motivating power in the left prefrontal areas. If you’re a coach, you’ve got to engage the person, get them enthused about achieving the goal of change. Here it helps to draw on their dreams, their vision for themselves, where they want to be in the future. Then work from where they are to what they might improve to help them get where they want to go in life. Change this section from the third person to the second person for self instruction.

Be very practical. Don’t take on trying to learn too much all at once. Operationalize your goal at the level of a specific behavior. Make it practical, so you can know exactly what to do and when. For example, say someone has a bad habit of multi-tasking and essentially ignoring others, which undermines the full attention that can lead to rapport and good chemistry. You have to break the habit of multitasking. So the person might make up an intentional learning plan that says something like: at every naturally occurring opportunity-when a person walks into your office, stand, or you come up to a person—you turn off your cell phone and your beeper, turn away from your computer, turn off your daydream or your preoccupation and pay full attention. That gives you a precise piece of behavior to try to change. Goleman continues, “So what will help you with that? Noticing when a moment like that is about to come and doing the right thing. Doing the wrong thing is a bit that you have become an Olympic level master at—your neural working has made it a default option, what you do automatically. The neural connectivity for that is strong. When you start to form the new better habit, you’re essentially creating new circuitry that competes with your old habit in a kind of neural Darwinism. To make the new habit strong enough, you’ve got to use the power of neuroplasticity—you have to do it over and over again.

If you persist in the better habit, that new circuitry will connect and become more and more powerful, until one day you’ll do the right thing in the right way without a second thought. That means the circuitry has become so connected and thick that this is the brain’s new default option. With that change in the brain, the better habit will become your automatic choice.

For how long and how many times does an action have to be repeated until it’s hard-wired? A habit begins to be hard-wired the first time you practice it. How often you have to repeat so that it becomes the new default of the brain depends in part on how strong the old habit is that it will replace. It usually takes three to six months of using all naturally occurring practice opportunities before the new habit becomes more natural than the old.”

Mental rehearsal is another practice opportunity that can occur whenever you have a little free time. Mental rehearsal activates the same neural circuitry as does the real activity. Olympic athletes spend off-season running through the moves in their brain. This counts as practice time. It increase their ability to perform when the real time comes.

Goleman writes that Richard Boyatwzis has used this method with his MBA students at the Weatherhead School of management at Case Western University. He’s followed these students into their jobs as much as seven years later and found the competencies they had enhanced in his class were still rated as strong by their co-workers.

The Dark Side

March 9, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Goleman begins, “Psychologists use the phrase the dark triad to refer to narcissists, Machiavellians and sociopaths.” As for examples, look no further than President Trump. He has hit the trifecta here. Goleman continues, “These types represent the dark side of emotional intelligence: such people can be very good at cognitive empathy, but lack emotional empathy—not to mention empathic concern. For instance, by definition the sociopath does not care at all about human consequences of their manipulation, and has no regrets about inflicting cruelty. Their feelings of any kind are very shallow; brain imaging reveals a thinning of the areas that connect the emotional centers to the prefrontal cortex.”

Goleman outlines deficits in emotional intelligence. Sociopaths have deficits in several areas key to emotional intelligence: the anterior cingulate, the orbitofrontal cortex, the amygdala, and insula, and in the connectivity of these regions to other parts of the brain. It is possible that deficits such as these can account for much of Trump’s behavior.

Gender Differences

March 8, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” On average, women have better emotional intelligence than men. However, this is on average. Think of two bell curves. The curves for men and women would overlap but they would be displaced and the averages would differ. There are many men with higher emotional intelligence than women, but there are more women with higher emotional intelligence than men.

The neuroscientist Tania Singer has brain data that relates to these trends. She was looking at two emotional systems, one for cognitive empathy and another for emotional empathy. Singer has found that women tend to be more highly developed in the mirror neuron system, and so rely on it more than men do for signals of empathy. In contrast, men tend to have a burst of the mirror neuron system and then go into a problem-solving mode.

Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University provides another way of looking at male-female differences in EI. She says that there’s an extreme female brain which has lots of mirror neuron activity and is high in emotional empathy. In contrast, the extreme male brain excels in systems thinking and is poor at emotional empathy. These brain types are at the far extremes of a bell curve, with most of us somewhere in the middle. However, he does not mean that all men have the male brain, nor all women the female brain. Many women are adept at systems thinking, and many men excel at emotional empathy.

Ruth Mallow of the Hay Group in Boston has looked at gender differences on the “Emotional and Social Competence Inventory.” Her analysis found that while, in general, you find gender differences among the various competencies, when you only look at the pool of star performers (people in the top ten percent of business performance) those differences wash out. Across the board, the men are as good as the women are as good as the men.

Franz de Waal, the famed researcher on primate behavior at the Yerkes National Primate Center in Atlanta has made many interesting observations. Among them is the following: When a chimp sees another chimp in distress—either from an injury or a loss of social status—the first chimp mimics the behavior of the distressed chimp, which is a primal form of empathy. Many chimps will then go over and give some solace to the upset chimp such as stroking it to help it calm down. Female chimps offer this kind of solace more often than male chimps do—with one interesting exception. The alpha males, who are the troupe leaders, give solace more often than do female chimps. It seems that one of the basic functions of a leader is to offer appropriate emotional support.

The Varieties of Empathy

March 7, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Goleman notes that there are three kinds of empathy. One is cognitive empathy. I know how you see things. I can take your perspective. Managers high in this kind of empathy are able to get better than expected performance from employees because they put things in terms that people can understand. Executives higher in cognitive empathy do better in foreign postings, because they pick up the unspoken norms of different cultures more quickly.

Emotional empathy is a second kind of empathy: I feel with you. This is the basis for rapport and chemistry. People who excel in emotional empathy make good counselors, teachers, client managers, and group leaders because of the ability to sense in the moment how others are reacting.

Empathic concern is the third kind of empathy: I sense you need some help and I spontaneously am ready to give it. Those with empathic concern are good citizens in a group, organization, or community, who voluntarily help out as needed.

Empathy is the essential building block for compassion. We have to sense what another person is going through, what they’re feeling, in order to spark compassion in us. A spectrum runs from total self-absorption (where we don’t notice other people) to noticing them and beginning to tune in, to empathizing, to understanding their needs and having empathic concern. Next comes compassionate action, where we help them out.

Distinct brain circuitry seems be involved in different varieties of empathy. Tania Singer, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany studies emotional empathy. Singer sees the role of the insula as key to empathy (this is one of the neural areas that is crucial to emotional intelligence) The insula senses signals from our whole body. When we’re empathizing with someone, our mirror neurons mimic within us that person’s state of mind. The anterior area of the insula reads that pattern and tells us what that state is.

Singer has found that reading emotions in others means, at the brain level, first reading those emotions in ourselves; the insula lights up when we tune into our own sensations. She’s done fMRI studies of couples where one partner is getting a brain scan while seeing that theater partner is about to get a shock. At the moment the partner sees this the part of his or her brain lights up that would do so if he or sh were actually getting the shock, rather then just seeing the partner get it.

The recommended route to developing greater empathy abilities, involves getting feedback on what the other person actually is thinking—to verify or correct our hunches. Another means for boosting empathy has people watch a video or film without the sound and guess the emotions being depicted onscreen, checking their guesses against the actuality. Giving the neural circuits for empathy feedback on how the other person actually feels or thinks helps this circuitry learn.

The Social Brain Online

March 5, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Here the question is how do social brains interact when we’re sitting looking at a video monitor instead of directly at another person? There was a major clue about the problems ever since the beginning of the internet, when it was just scientists emailing on what was called ARPAnet. The problem was, and still is, flaming. Goleman writes, “Flaming happens when someone is a little upset—or very upset—and with their amygdala in firm control, furiously types out a message and hits “send” before thinking about it—and that hijack hits the other person in their inbox. Now the more technical term for flaming is cyber-disinhibition, because we realize that the disconnect between the social brain and the video monitor releases the amygdala from the usual management by the more reasonable prefrontal areas.”

Online the social brain has no feedback loop: unless you are in a live, face-to-face teleconference, the social circuitry has no input. It doesn’t know how the other person is reacting so it can’t guide our response—do this, don’t do that—as it does automatically and instantly in face-to-face interactions. Instead of acting as a social radar, the social brain says nothing—and that unleashes the amygdala to flame and cause a hijack.

A phone call gives these circuits ample emotional cues from tone of voice to understand the emotional nuance of what you say. But email lacks all these inputs.

One reason personal connection is so important for online communication has to do with the social brain/video monitor interface. When we’re at our keyboard and we think a message is positive, and we hit send, what we don’t realized at the neural level is that all the nonverbal cues, facial expression, tone of voice, gesture and so on, stay with us. There’s a negativity bias to email: when the sender thinks the email was positive, the receiver tends to see it as neutral. When the sender thinks it’s neutral, the receiver tends to interpret it as somewhat negative. The big exception is when you know the person well; that bond overcomes the negativity bias.

Clay Shirky, who studies social networks and the web at New York University, tells an example of a local bank security team that had to operate 24 hours a day. In order for them to operate well, it was critical that they use what he calls a banyan tree model, where key members of each group get together and meet key members of every other group, so that in an emergency they can contact each other and get a clear sense of how to evaluate the message the group was sending. If someone in the receiving group knows that person well, or has a contact there whom he can ask about the person who sent the message, then the receiving group can better gauge how much to rely on it.

Goleman says that one enormous upside of the web is what you might call brain 2.0. Shirky points our, the potential for social networking to multiply our intellectual capital is enormous. It’s sort of a super-brain, the extended brain on the web. In the healthy memory blog, this is termed transactive memory.

Goleman writes that the term group IQ refers to the sum total of the best talents of each person on a team, or in a group, contributed at full force. What Goleman does not say is that the group can be more than the sum of its parts due to beneficial interactions within the group. He does note that one factor that makes the actual group IQ less than its potential is a lack of interpersonal harmony in the group. Vanessa Druskat of the University of New Hampshire has studied was she calls group EQ—things like being able to surface and resolve conflicts among the group, high levels of trust and mutual understanding. Not surprisingly, her research show that groups with the highest collective emotional intelligence outperform the others. Goleman notes the when you apply this to groups working together online, one core operating principle is that the more channels that come into the social brain, the more easily attuned you can be. So, when you video-conference, you have visual, body and voice cues. Even if it’s a conference call, the voice is extraordinarily rich in emotional cues. In any case, if you’e working together just through text, it’s best when you know the other person well, or at least have some sense of them in order to have a context for reading their messages, so you can overcome the negativity bias. Best of all is leaving your office or cubicle and getting together to talk with the person.

The Social Brain

March 4, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Dr. Daniel Siegel is the Director of the MIndSight Institute at UCLA. Mindsight is the term he uses for the mind’s ability to see itself. His research makes a strong case that the brain circuity we use for self-mastery and to know ourselves is largely identical with that for knowing another person. In other words, our awareness of another person’s inner reality and of our own, are in a sense both acts of empathy. Dr. Siegal is a founder of the field of interpersonal neurobiology, which emerged only as science discovered the social brain. (Enter “Siegel” into the search block of the healthymemory blog https://healthymemory.wordpress.com/

The social brain includes a multitude of circuitry, all designed to attune to and interact with another person’s brain. When researchers started to study two brains in two people while they interacted open a wealth of discoveries.

One of the discoveries was mirror neurons that activate in us exactly what we see in the other person: Their emotions, their movements, and even their intentions. This discovery likely explains why emotions are contagious. Psychologists had known about this contagion for decades because of experiments in which two strangers come into a lab and fill out a mood checklist. They then sit in silence, looking at each other for two minutes. Afterward, they fill out the same checklist. The person in that pair who’s most expressive emotionally will transmit his or her emotions to the other person in two silent minutes. This is done via mirror neurons (and other areas like the insula, which maps sensations throughout the body), via what amounts to a brain-to-brain connection. This subterranean channel means there is an emotional subtext in every one of our interactions that is extremely important to whatever else goes on.

Consider the study where people were given performance feedback—some negative, some positive. If they were given negative performance feedback in a very warm, positive, and upbeat tone, they came out of there feeling pretty good about the interaction. If they were given positive feedback in a very cold, judgmental tone, they came out feeling negative, even about the positive feedback. So the emotional subtext is more powerful that the overt, ostensible interaction that we’re having.

This means that we are constantly impacting the brain states in other people. In Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence Model, managing relationships means, that we’re responsible for how we shape the feelings of those we interact with—for better or for worse. So relationship skills have to do with managing brain states in other people.

So, who sends the emotions that pass between people, and who receives them? For groups of peers, the sender tends to be the most emotionally expressive person in the group. But in groups where there are power differences, in the classroom, at work, in organization’s generally, it is the most powerful person who is the emotional sender, setting the emotional state for the rest of the group.

In any human group, people pay the most attention to, and put the most importance on, what the most powerful person in that group says or does. There are many studies that show if the leader of a team is in a positive mood, that spreads an upbeat mood to the others and that collective positivity enhances the group’s performance. Should the leader project a negative mood, that spreads in the same way and the group’s performance suffers. This result has been fun for groups making business decisions, seeking creative solutions, and even erecting a tent together.

The emotional contagion happens whenever people interact, whether in a pair, a group, or an organization. It’s most obvious at sporting events or theatrical performances, where the entire crowd goes through the identical emotion at the same time. This contagion can happen because of our social brain, through circuitry like the mirror neuron system. Person-To-Person emotional contagion operates automatically, instantly, unconsciously, and out of our intentional control.

“There was a study done of doctors and patients during a psychotherapy session. The interaction was videotaped and physiology monitored. The patients reviewed the tape, identifying moments when the doctor empathized with them—when they felt heard and understood, in rapport with the doctor, versus feeling really disconnected, thinking “My doctor doesn’t get me, doesn’t care about me.” In those moments when patients felt disconnected there was no connection in their physiology either. But at those moments when the patient said, “Yes, I felt a real connection with the doctor,” their physiologies moved in tandem. There was also physiological entrapment, with the doctor and patient’s heart rates moving in tandem.

That study reflects the physiology of rapport. There are three ingredients to rapport. The first is paying full attention. Both people need to tune in fully to the other, putting aside distractions. The second is being in synch non-verbally. This synchrony is orchestrated by another set of neurons, called oscillators, which regulate how our body moves in relationship to another body. The third ingredient of rapport is positive feeling. It’s a kind of micro flow, an interpersonal high. Goleman would expect you’re seeing prefrontal arousal for both people. These moments of interpersonal chemistry, or simpatico, are when things happen at their best, no matter the specifics of what we’re doing together.

An article in the Harvard Business Review calls this kind of interaction a “human moment.” How do you have a human moment at work? You have to put aside whatever else you’re doing and pay full attention to the person who’s with you. That opens the way to rapport, where emotional flow is in tandem. When your physiology is in synchrony with someone else you feel connected, close, and warm, You can read this human moment in terms of physiology, but you can also read it experientially, because during those moments of chemistry we feel good about being with the other person. And that person is feeling good about being with us.”

Optimal Performance

March 3, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Goleman writes that “the relationship between stress and performance has been known for a century in psychology. It’s called the Yerkes-Dodson Law.” It’s likely that Yerkes and Dodson were unaware of this relationship. They were describing the relationship between motivation and performance. The relationship is an inverted U. Performance is poor at low levels of motivation and at very high levels of motivation. It is at moderate levels where performance is best.

At this point it would be good to review a previous healthy memory blog post, titled “How Our Bodies Respond to Stress.” Two stress hormones are 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, superior problem-solving skills, and fewer post-traumatic stress symptoms during and after military survival training.

It is also useful to remember the posts based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” The key to good stress is that it is interpreted as being beneficial rather than harmful.

The goal is to be at the peak of the Yerkes-Dodson arc. This is the zone of optimal performance. Ideally one wants to experience what Mihaly Csikszenmentmihalyi terms “flow.” Flow represents a peak of self-regulation, the maximal harnessing of emotions in the service of performance or learning. During flow we channel positive emotions in an energized pursuit of the task at hand. Our focus is undistracted, and we feel a spontaneous joy, even rapture.

The flow concept was developed from research where people were asked to describe a time they outdid themselves and achieved their personal best. People described moments from a wide range of domains of expertise, from basketball and ballet to chess and brain surgery. No matter what the activity, the underlying state they described was one and the same.

Goleman continues, “the chief characteristics of flow include fast unbreakable concentration: a nimble flexibility in responding to changing challenges; executing at the top of your skill level; and taking pleasure in what you’re doing— joy. That last hallmark strongly suggests that if brain scans were done of people while in flow we might expect to see notable left prefrontal activation; if brain chemistry were assayed, we would likely find higher levels of mood and performance enhancing compounds like dopamine.

This optimal performance zone has been called a state of neural harmony where the disparate areas of the brain are in synch, working together. This is also seen as a state of maximum cognitive efficiency. Getting into flow lets you use whatever talent you may have at peak levels.”

At this point HM needs to intercede and provide a reality check. Although flow is a desired state, it is rarely reached. Consider that people who have mastered a domain of expertise and who operate at the top of their game typically have practiced a minimum of 10,000 hours and are often world class in their performance. Tellingly, when such experts are engaged in their skill, whatever it may be, their overall levels of brain arousal tend to become lower, suggesting that for them this particularly activity has become relatively effortless, even at its peak.

We have ample opportunity to observe these experts at athletic events. There might be rare occasions where an individual might appear to be in flow, but they are indeed rare. Professional athletes repeatedly fail and make errors. HM does not play golf and has difficulty understanding why others play golf. He does enjoy watching professionals play golf. But it seems like they are constantly making errors and ending up in undesirable areas. If HM could make the money successful professional golfers make, he would play golf. But as a normal hacker, he cannot understand where the pleasure is in the game.

There are times that one sees a skier skiing down the slopes in what appears to be a state of flow. But then he falls and the medics show up to take him off the course.

Goleman does discuss the benefits of regularly practicing methods that enhance concentration and relax us physiologically. There are voluminous healthymemory blog posts on the relaxation response, meditation, and mindfulness techniques. Use the search block on the healthy memory blog to find this posts.

He gets back on track by writing, “Anything that truly relaxes you helps, like playing with kids or taking the dog for a walk, or whatever is going to get you in a relaxed state. The more you can break the cycle of the right prefrontal capture by the amygdala, the more you’ll be to activate the beneficial circuitry of the left prefrontal cortex.

Managing Stress

March 1, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” The stress manager can be found in the prefrontal cortex, which holds circuitry that can inhibit amygdala-driven impulses that help us maintain emotional balance. The left prefrontal area also contains circuits active during positive states like enthusiasm, energy, and engagement.

Richard Davidson, the director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin has done research on the left versus right prefrontal areas. His research group has found that when we’re in the grip of a hijack or under the sway of distressing emotions, there are relatively high levels of activity in the right prefrontal cortex. When we’re feeling great the left prefrontal area lights up. People who have more activity on the left than right are more lively to have more positive emotions. Those with more activity on the right are prone to having more negative emotions.

Davidson has also done research on what he calls emotional styles, which are really brain styles One motional style tracks how readily we become upset: where we are on the spectrum for a hair-trigger amygdala—people who easily become upset, frustrated, or angered—versus people who are unflappable.

A second style looks at how quickly we move from our distress. Some people recover quickly once they get upset, while others are very slow. At the extreme of slowness to recover are people who continually ruminate or worry about things. They are suffering, in effect, from ongoing, low-grade amygdala hijacks. Chronic worry keeps the amygdala primed, so you remain in a distress state as long as you ruminate. To learn more about emotional styles, and there are six of them enter “emotional style” into the search block of the healthy memory blog. There is also information on how emotional styles can be changed.

Goleman offers a few strategies to cultivate greater strength of activity in the left prefrontal areas that generate positive emotions. One is to take regular time off from a hectic, hassled routine to rest and restore. Schedule time to do nothing: walk your dog, take a long shower, whatever allows you to let go of leaning forward into the next thing in your on-the-go state.

Daniel Siegel has an elegant analysis of the brain area involved in mindfulness. In the most popular form of mindfulness you can cultivate an ever-hovering presence in you experience and in the moment, and awareness that is non-judgmental and non-reactive to whatever thoughts or feelings arise in the mind. It’s a very effective method for decompressing and getting into a relaxed and balanced state. To learn more about Daniel Siegel and his work, enter Daniel Siegel into the search block of the healthy memory blog.

Mindfulness-Based Stress /reduction has been developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Enter Jon Kabat-Zinn or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction into the search block of the healthy memory blog to learn more about Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Davidson has done brain studies before and after the mindfulness program. Before, most people’s emotional set point was tipped to the right, indicating they were hassled. After eight weeks of mindfulness, they had begun to tip back to the left. Their own reports made clear that with this shift toward the more positive zone of emotions their enthusiasm, energy, and joy in their work surfaced. Davidson concluded that mindfulness seems a good choice for strengthening the dominance of critical zones in the prefrontal cortex, and the biggest bang for the buck from mindfulness in terms of shifting the brain’s emotional set point comes at the beginning of the practice. Although you don’t have to wait for years to feel the improvement, you probably need to continue practicing daily to maintain the shift.

Traditionally ,people end their daily mindfulness session with a period of loving thoughts toward other people. This is the practice of lovingkindness. This intentional generation of a positive mood enhances vagal nerve tone, the body’s ability to mobilize to met a challenge and then to recover quickly. The vagus nerve regulates the heartbeat and other organ functions, and plays a major role in calming down the body when we get distressed. Better vagal tone enhances our ability to arouse ourselves to meet a challenge and then to cool down rather than staying in high gear. To learn more about loving kindness meditation go to
https://healthymemory.wordpress.com and enter “loving kindness” into the search block.

Having good vagal tone helps us not just to recover from stress, but also to sleep better and guard against the negative health impacts of chronic stress in life. The key to building better vagal tone is to find a method we enjoy, and practice it daily like a workout for the vagus nerve. The methods include everything from simply remembering to count slowly to ten when you are starting to get ticked off at some, to systematic muscle relaxation, to meditation.

It should also be mentioned here that there is an upside to stress. In fact that is the title of a book by Dr. Mcgonigal, who is a health psychologist at Stanford University. The subtitle of the book is “Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” (Enter “Mcgonigal” in the search block of the healthy memory blog (https://healthymemory.wordpress.com)

Goleman writes, “There are many kids of meditation each using a different mental strategy: concentration, mindfulness, and visualization to name a few. Each meditation method has specific impacts on our mental states. For example, visualization activates centers in the spatial visual cortex, while concentration involves the attention circuitry in the prefrontal cortes but not the visual area. A new scientific field, contemplative neuroscience, has begun mapping exactly how meditation A versus meditation B engages the brain, which brain center it activates, and what the specific benefits might be. An early book in this area is Goleman and Davidson’s “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” There are many healthy memory blog posts on this book.

Self-Mastery

February 27, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” Self-awareness and self-management provide the basis for self-mastery. Competencies like managing emotions. focused drive to achieve goals, adaptability, and initiative are based on emotional self-management. These domains of skill are what make someone an outstanding individual performer in any domain of performance—and in business an outstanding individual contributor, or lone star.

Self-regulation of emotion and impulse relies on the interaction between the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s executive center, and the emotional center in the midbrain, particularly circuitry converging on the amygdala.

The prefrontal cortex is the key neural area for self-emulation. This area is guiding us when we are at our best. The dorsolateral zone of the prefrontal area is the seat of cognitive control, regulating attention, decision-making, voluntary action, reasoning, and flexibility in response.

The amygdala is a trigger point for emotional distress, anger, impulse, and fear. When this circuitry takes over, it leads us to take a actions we might regret later.

Dr. Goleman writes, “The interaction between these two neural areas creates a neural highway that, when in balance, is the basis for self-mastery. For the most part, we cannot dictate what emotions we are going to feel, when we’re going to feel them, not how strongly we feel them. They come unbidden from the amygdala and other subcortical areas. Our choice comes once we feel a certain way. What do we do then? How do we express it? If the our prefrontal cortex has its inhibitory circuits going full blast, we’ll be able to have a decision point that will make us more artful in guiding how we respond, and in turn how you drive other people’s emotions, for better or worse, in that situation. At the neural level, this is what ‘self-regulation’ means.

The amygdala is the brain’s radar for threat. Our brain was designed as a tool for survival. In the brain’s blueprint the amygdala holds a privileged position. If the amygdala detects a threat, in an instant it can take over the rest of the brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex, and we have what is called an amygdala hijack.”

The hijack captures our attention and focuses it on the that at hand. If an amygdala hijack occurs at work, we can’t focus on what our job demands. We can only think about what’s troubling us. We remember most readily what’s relevant to the threat, and can’t remember other things well. We can’t learn during a hijack and we rely on over-learned habits, ways we’ve behaved time and time again. Innovation flexibility are not available during a hijack.

Neural imaging has shown that when someone is really upset the right amygdala is highly active, along with the right prefrontal cortex. The amygdala has captured the prefrontal cortex, hence amygdala hijack, driving it in terms of the imperatives of dealing with the perceived danger at hand. We get the classic fight-flight-or-freeze response when this alarm system triggers. From a brain point of view this means that the amygdala has set off the HPA axis (hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis) releasing a flood of stress hormones, mainly cortisol and adrenaline.

Unfortunately, the amygdala often makes mistakes. While the amygdala gets its data on what we see and hear in a single neuron from the eye and ear, that’s super-fast in brain time, it only receives a small fraction of the signals those senses receive. The majority goes to other parts of the brain that take longer to analyzedthe inputs and get a more accurate reading. In contrast, the amygdala gets a sloppy picture and has to react instantly. Coleman writes, “It often makes mistakes, particularly in modern life, where the “dangers” are symbolic, not physical threats. So we overreact in ways we often regret later.”

Coleman identifies the five top amygdala triggers in the workplace:

Condescension and lack of respect.
Being treated unfairly.
Being underappreciated.
Feeling that you’re not being listened to or heard.
Being held to unrealistic deadlines.

Here are Goleman’s suggestions for minimizing hijacks. Pay attention. If you don’t notice that you’re in the midst of an amygdala hijack and stay carried by it, you have no chance of getting back to emotional equilibrium and left prefrontal dominance until you let the hijack run its course. It is better to realize what is going on and to disengage. The steps to ending or short-circuiting a hijack start with monitoring what’s going on in you own mind and brain, and noticing, “I’m really over-reacting,” or “I’m really upset now,” or “I’m starting to get upset.” It’s much better if you can notice familiar feelings tat a hijack is beginning—such as butterflies in your stomach, or whatever signals that might reveal you are in the cycle of a hijack. It is best to had it off to the bare beginning of a coming hijack.

And here is what Goleman recommends if we are caught in the grip of an amygdala hijack. First, you have to realize that you’re in one. Hijacks can last for seconds or minutes, or hours, or days or weeks. There are are lots of ways to get out of a hijack, if we can realize we’re caught and also have the intention to cool down. A cognitive approach is to talk yourself out of the hijack. Reason with our self, and challenge what you are telling your self in the highjack. For example, “This guy isn’t always an S.O.B. I can remember times when he was actually very thoughtful and even kind, so maybe I should give him another chance. Or you can apply some empathy and imagine yourself in that person’s position. This might work in those very common instances where the hijack trigger was something someone else did or said to us. You might have an empathic thought: Maybe he treated me that the way because he is under such great pressure.
There are also biological interventions. We can use a method like meditation or relaxation to calm down our body. But a relaxation or meditation technique works best during the hijack when you have practiced it regularly, at best daily. Unless these methods have become a strong habit of mind, you can’t just invoke them out of the blue. But a strong habit of calming the body with a well-practiced method can make a huge difference when you’er hijacked and need it most.

As readers should be aware that the healthymemory blog is a strong advocate of meditation and mindfulness, and there are many healthy memory blog posts on meditation and mindfulness.

The Creative Brain

February 26, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” The chapter begins,
“‘Right brain good, left brain bad.’ That belief about creativity and the right and left hemispheres of the brain dates back to the Seventies, and reflects a very outdated bit of neuromythology. The new understanding about left and right hemispheres is more specific to the topography of the brain: when it comes to left versus right, do you mean left front, left middle, left rear?”

The right hemisphere has more neural connections both within itself and through the brain. It has strong connections to emotional centers like the amygdala and to subcortical regions throughout the lower parts of the brain. The left side has far fewer connections with itself and beyond to the rest of the brain. The left hemisphere is made of neatly stacked vertical columns, which allow the clear differentiation of separate mental functions, but less integration of those functions. The right hemisphere is more of a mix structurally.

Brain studies on creativity reveal what goes on that “Aha!” moment, when we get a sudden insight. When EEG brain waves are measured during a creative moment, it turns out there is a very high gamma activity that spikes 300 milliseconds before the answer comes to us. This gamma activity indicates the acting together of neurons, as far-found brain cells connect in a new neural network as when a new association emerges. Immediately after that gamma spike, the new idea enters consciousness.

This heightened activity focuses on the temporal area, a center on the side of the right neocortex. This is the same brain area that interprets metaphor and gets jokes. This high gamma spike signals that the brain has a new insight. At that moment, right hemisphere cells are using these longer branches and connections to other parts of the brain. They’ve collected more information and put it together in a novel organization.

In spite of what you might have read or heard, there are two primary modes of creative thinking. The first is to concentrate intently on the goal or problem. The next stage is to let go. During this stage you are relaxing and letting your non conscious brain do its creative thing. This stage is characterized by a high alpha rhythm, which signals mental relaxation, a state of openness, or daydreaming and drifting, where we’re more receptive to new ideas. This sets the stage for novel connections that occur during the gamma spike. Of course, after that “aha moment” you need to return to concentration to evaluate the creative idea and asses how adequately it addresses the problem.

In all but rare cases, this is an iterative process. And this iterative process can occur over the course of years. There are documented cases of mathematicians trying to solve a problem. The problem appears to be intractable, because the “aha” moment never seems to come. But, sometimes it eventually appears seemingly from nowhere.
The name of this process is incubation, because you are not consciously trying to solve the problem. However, your non conscious mind has been working on this problem, perhaps even when you thought you were sleeping.

Goleman concludes the chapter with a final state, implementation. Here’s where a good idea will sink or swim. He remembers talking to the director of a huge research lab. He had about 4,000 scientists and engineers working for him. He told Goleman,”We have a rule about a creative insight: if somebody offers a novel idea, instead of the next person who speaks shooting it down—which happens all to often in organizational life—the next person who speaks must be an angel’s advocate someone who says, ‘that’s a good idea and here’s why.” Goleman writes, “Creative ideas are like a fragile bud—they’ve got to be nurtured so that they can blossom.”

Different creative people use different processes, so there is no optimal way of being creative. Each creative person creates her own creative process, which might even vary from problem to problem.

Self Awareness

February 25, 2019

This title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.” There was a corporate lawyer who had a brain tumor. Fortunately, that tumor was diagnosed early and operated on successfully. But during the operation the surgeon had to cut circuits that connects key areas of the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s executive center, and the amygdala in the midbrain’s area for emotions.

After the surgery on every test of IQ memory and attention, the lawyer was as smart as he had been before the surgery. But he couldn’t do his job anymore. He lost his job and found that he couldn’t keep any job. He ended up living in his brother’s spare bedroom and, in desperation, he went to the neuroscientist Damasio to find out what was wrong.

The lawyer was fine on every neurological test. The clue to the problem became clear when Damaisio asked the lawyer, “When shall we have out next appointment?” Although the lawyer could provide rational pros and cons of every hour for the next two weeks, he could not decide which was best. Damaisio concluded that in order to make a good decision, we need to have feelings about our thoughts— and the lesion created during surgery meant he could no longer connect his thought with the emotional pros and cons.

These feelings come from the emotional centers in the midbrain, interacting with a specific area in the prefrontal cortex. When we have a thought its valences either positive or negative are evaluated by these brain centers. This helps us shuffle our thoughts into priorities, like when would be the best time for an appointment. Lacking that input, we don’t know what to feel about our thoughts, so we can’t make good decisions.

Our basal ganglia extracts decision rules as we go through every situation in life. Our accumulated life wisdom is stored in this primitive circuitry. However, when we face a decision, it’s our verbal cortex that generates our thoughts about it. But to more fully access our life experience on the matter at hand, we need to access further inputs from that subcortical circuitry. Although the basal ganglia have some direct connection to the verbal areas, it turns out also to have very rich connections to the gastrointestinal tract—the gut. So when making a decision, a gut sense of it being right or wrong is important information, also. It’s not that you should ignore the data, but if it doesn’t fit what you’re feeling, maybe you should think twice about it.

Coleman writes, “That rule-of-thumb seems to be at play in a study of highly successful California entrepreneurs who were asked how they made crucial business decisions. They all reported more or less, the same strategy. First, they were voracious consumers of any data or information that might bear on their decision, casting a wide net. But second, they all tested their rational decisions against their gut feeling—if a deal didn’t feel right they might not go ahead, even if it looked good on paper.”

The answer to the question,’Is what I’m about to do in keeping with my sense of purpose, meaning, or ethics?’ doesn’t come to us in words; it comes to us via this gut sense. Then we put it into words.”

Readers might remember that Trump says he thinks with his gut. However, unlike the entrepreneurs mentioned above, he is not a voracious consumer of data. In fact, he ignores data and depends on his gut. In this case what he gets from his gut is similar to what we find in our toilets.

A review of cortical and subcortical functions taken from Goleman follows:

The neocortex contains centers for cognition and other complex mental operations. The subcortex is where more basic mental processes occur. Just below the thinking brain, and projecting into the cortex, is the limbic center, the brain’s main areas for emotion. These areas are also found in the brains of other mammals. The more ancient parts of the subcortex extend down to the brainstem, known as the reptilian brain because we share this basic architecture with reptiles.

The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights

February 24, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of another book by Daniel Goleman. The previous book on which many healthy memory blog posts were based was “Emotional Intelligence.” Emotional intelligence is by far our most important intelligence. Dr. Goleman writes, “In this book I want to provide new updates, sharing with you some key findings that further inform our understanding of emotional intelligence and how to apply this skill set.”

There is a brain basis for emotional intelligence. This comes from neural imaging and lesion studies. Neural imaging allows the identification of where the activity in the brain is occurring. Lesion studies are from injuries or surgeries done on parts of the brain to see what functions are lost.

The right amygdala (there are two, one in each brain hemisphere) is a neural hub for emotion located in the midbrain. Patients with lesions or other injuries to the right amygdala showed a loss of emotional self-awareness—the ability to be aware of an understand our own feelings.

Another area crucial for emotional intelligence is also in the right side of the brain. It’s the right somatosensory cortex; injury here also creates a deficiency in self awareness, as well as empathy, the awareness of emotion in other people. The ability to understand and feel our emotion is critical for understanding and empathizing with the emotions of others. Empathy also depends on another structure in the right hemisphere, the insula, that senses our entire bodily state and tells us how we’re feeling. Tuning in to how we’re feeling ourselves plays a central role in how sense and understand what some else is feeling.

Another critical area is the anterior cingulate, which is located at the front of a band of nerve fibers that surround the corpus callosum, which ties together the two halves of the brain. The anterior cingulate is an area that manages impulse control, which is the ability to handle to handle our emotions, particularly distressing emotions and strong feelings.

Finally, there is the ventral medial strip of the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is just behind the forehead, and is the last part of the brain to become fully grown. This is the brain’s executive center; the abilities of solve personal and interpersonal problems, to manage our impulses, to express our feelings effectively and to relate well to others resides here.

When writing this HM wondered if deficiencies in these areas might, in part, explain Trump’s bullying, callous, and impulsive behavior. Perhaps such deficiencies might also explain his difficulties in keeping and recruiting staff.

Goleman’s Model of Emotional Intelligence has the following four generic domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Self awareness plays into both social awareness and self management. Social awareness and self management play into relationship management. And it is relationship management that has a positive impact on others.

Mindlessness in Korea

February 22, 2019

HM has a strong attachment with South Korea. He served in the Republic of Korea when he was in the army. Of all the Asian countries he found the Koreans most admirable. This small country was bounded by the giants of China and Japan. Nevertheless, Korean maintained pride in their country. They have a high degree of literacy, intelligence, along with a strong work ethic. When HM was stationed there, the per capita GDP was lower in South Korea than in North Korea, which received support from the Soviet Union and Communist China. Nevertheless, HM was virtually certain that South Korea would eventually grow into an economic power, and it did.

Japan occupied Korea early in the 20th century and ruled it harshly. The Soviet Union had done nothing to assist the United States in defeating Japan. Yet a decision made by Dean Rusk to divide the Korean peninsula at the 38th parallel sent half of Korea to a literal hell for no good reason, and gave a new Communist state to the Soviet Union. US and Soviet troops withdrew from the peninsula. Kim Il-Sung ruled the Communist North and Syngman Rhee was President of South Korea.

Michael Beschloss in his book “Presidents of War” writes that Kim Il-sung was eager to invade the South, but when he went to Moscow in March 1949 to make his case, Stalin, not wanting to risk a shooting war with the United States, would not grant his consent. But Stalin noticed when President Truman declined to employ the US military in an effort to keep China from falling to Mao Zedong’s Communists. Stalin was also told by some Soviet intelligence officials that Truman did not consider it crucial enough to defend South Korea by military force.

In January 1950, Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, appeared before the National Press Club in Washington. He accidentally signaled Kim-Il-sung that America might not respond with military action should his armies invade the South. His speech described the American “defense perimeter” in East Asia, but did not include Taiwan or South Korea. Cold War scholar John Lewis Gaddis wrote that Acheson’s speech “significantly reshaped Stalin’s thinking on the risks of war with the United States in east Asia.”

After Acheson’s address, Kim Il-sung secretly told Moscow that it was time to “liberate” South Korea. Not surprisingly Kim believed that if he acted, South Korea should have “little hope of American assistance.” Stalin gave Kim a green light with the proviso that he would not provide support and that Kim needed to ask Mao for support.

And so the war started. Although the domino theory had probably yet be formulated, Truman was seized by the fear that Korea would be the first state that the Communists would attack.

The war went up and down the peninsula, killing many civilians and South Korean and American soldiers. Eventually, the war became deadlocked around the 38th parallel. Although deadlocked, many more needless deaths occurred there. Eventually a truce was proposed and a cessation of activities was agreed to. There was no peace agreement. Technically the two sides are still at war. HM is always disturbed to hear that the country is still divided at the 38th parallel. Actually, the country is divided around the 38th parallel with portions above and portions below the 38th parallel. This is where the forces were when the truce was signed. HM frequently rode buses that crossed above the 38th parallel.

The mindlessness referred to in the title should be readily apparent. How could a country, a single culture, be arbitrarily divided at the 38th parallel with half the country being consigned to hell. Apparently, this country was not populated by white people. These were gooks and dinks; so they were inconsequential. To hell with them.

If anything good came from Korea, it was a fortuitous experiment between a communist North and a capitalist south. Eventually South Korea, which is just half a country, became an economic power. Although North Korea remains poor and hungry, it became an effective totalitarian state and a nuclear power.

So the mindlessness came back to bite us Americans. There is another nuclear power to contend with. And North Korea presents more than just a nuclear threat; it also presents a cyber threat. Effective cyber warfare does not require a large state. Cyber warfare is something at which North Korea excels. It could turn out the lights in the United States or wreak havoc with the financial system.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Mindlessness in Vietnam

February 20, 2019

This post is based primarily on an excellent book by Max Hastings, or, more formally, Sir Max Hastings, titled “Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945 to 1975.” France effectively colonized Vietnam in 1883. Beginning in 1940 the Japanese effectively controlled Vietnam. Initially, the Vietnamese were pleased to see an asian country drive the French out of Vietnam. Unfortunately, the Japanese were just as brutal as the French, perhaps even more so, in controlling the area. With the defeat of Japan, the Vietnamese were looking forward to becoming an independent country, but the French were hell bent on keeping control of the country.

The Wikipedia entry lists the Vietnam war as lasting from 1 November 1955 to 30 April 1975. As will become apparent, the preceding ten years are key to understanding a possible solution to the Vietnam problem. American involvement ran until 27 January 1973. American involvement ended with a sham peace treaty that left the North Vietnamese in place to just wait a decent interval so that the United States could claim that there had been peace with honor. It should be noted that Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the peace treaty. His North Vietnamese counterpart recognizing the peace treaty as being a sham, although offered, refused to except the prize. After the presumed decent interval, North Vietnam concluded its conquest on 30 April 1975. In fact, the United States was defeated by North Vietnam, but maintained this sham of “peace with honor.”

Walt Boomer, a Marine captain in the infantry who weighted 185 entering the war and 155 getting out of the war later remarked, “It bothers me that we didn’t learn a lot. If we had, we would not have invaded Iraq.”

Hastings does a masterful job, not just of covering the Vietnam War, but covering it down not only to the level of individual combatants, but also to the civilians’ suffering during the war. Vietnam and its culture were effectively destroyed. Only a distinct minority were Communists, and being a Communist did not provide security from the Communists, because Communists killed other communists. It was apparent the North Vietnamese tended to be better soldiers as they did have an ideology and a desire for independence from western countries. But many Vietnamese were loyal to the Americans and very much wanted to live in a free country. This loyalty put these Vietnamese at risk. What is especially bad is that when Americans hastily exited the country, they left behind their records indicating which Vietnamese had been helpful. The Communists found these people and either executed them or sent them to re-education camps.

So the only victors in the war were the Communists who were a minority. The United States was not the only loser, but also the French and a majority of the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese culture was effectively destroyed.

So what does the title of this post, “Mindlessness in Vietnam” Imply?
Remember what mindfulness means. Unfortunately, many dictionaries define mindfulness as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. Mindfulness also means being aware of the minds of others, and being respectful of their thoughts and feelings. So the title implies that the interests of the Vietnamese themselves, and their culture were ignored. HM contends that it was this lack of mindfulness of the Vietnamese that made the loss of Vietnam inevitable. Kinetic effects can accomplish only so much. And there was no shortage of kinetic effects in Vietnam. Even the ultimate kinetic effects, nuclear bombs would not have worked.

So, was it possible that Vietnam could have been saved? Hastings writes, “It seems narrowly possible that Vietnam’s subjection to communism could have been averted if France in 1945 had announced its intention to quit the country and embarked upon a crash transition process to identify credibly indigenous leaders and prepare them to govern, as did the British before quitting Malaya. Instead, however, the French decided to draft a long suicide note, declaring their ironclad opposition to independence. The colonialists’ intransigence conceded to Ho Chi Min the moral high ground in the struggle that now began to unfold.”

The following is from HM and not Sir Hastings. Remember that by this time Great Britain recognized that colonialism had ended and had given independence to India. The United States a former British colony, had fought for its independence from England. Rather than providing support to France’s effort to maintain its colony, the United States should have informed the French that the age of colonialism was over and that they should give Vietnam its freedom. And it should have informed the Vietnamese, that they too had been a colony of a European country and that we were on the their side in advocating for their freedom.

Actually U.S. members of the Office of Strategic Services—US sponsor of guerrilla war, in July of 1945 dispatched to China a team of paramilitary agents led by Maj. Archimedes Patti, who pitched camp with Ho Chi Min. Although a staunch communist, Ho Chi Min was foremost interested in independence for his country. Although, the possibility of getting Ho Chi Min to flip was remote, it would have provided a solution to the Vietnamese problem.

Even sans Ho Chi Min, the United States could have aligned itself with the Vietnamese in their quest for independence. Although the Communists would present a considerable obstacle, they still represented a minority of the Vietnamese. Getting on the right side of this conflict was essential to achieving victory.

Not to be overlooked is the blatant racism of the French and in America’s support of the French. The Vietnamese were regarded as gooks, dinks. They were not white people, and it was the right of white people to govern.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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 Invisible Hand

February 18, 2019

It is likely that this title appears strange to the reader. It is hoped that it will become clear later in the post. HM has become quite depressed due to not only Trump and his followers, but also the lack of caring that many conservatives show for their fellow humans. As has been mentioned in many previous posts, the United States is the only advanced country that does not have single payer government health insurance for all its people. In polls of general welfare and happiness the United States does not fare especially well. Michael Moore produced a valuable film titled “Where to Invade Next” that summarized the different ways that countries deal with their problems. They are definitely superior to the United States where a large tax cut is given the rich, increasing the national debt, and then used as an excuse to cut the few benefits American citizens have.

Actually this post is a follow up to the post titled “Would Adam Smith Be a Conservative Today?” in the series of posts on Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse. Another relevant post is “The Strict Father Model.” This model was developed by George Lakoff, assisted by two conservative Christian linguists in the formulation of a model to facilitate an understanding of how conservatives think. They are strongly influenced by the concept of an invisible hand developed by Adam Smith, the author of “The Wealth of Nations,” the full title being ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776).” This is one of the most influential books every written as it formulated the ideas of capitalism and free trade. This book was a major contributor to economics and, indeed, the wealth of nations. If someone remembers anything from this book or anything about Adam Smith it is most likely “invisible hand.” The basic concept here is that there is something that works like an invisible hand that guides the flow of money to where it is most needed. And this definitely does seem to be the case. Unfortunately, some conservatives take this to mean that this invisible hand will address the needs of the people. Some even come to the conclusion that the poor and needy have not exerted enough effort or this invisible hand would have worked for them. So it is their problem, not a social problem.

Although “The Wealth of Nations” is Adam Smith’s most famous and influential work, he did not regard it as his best work. He had published “Theory of Moral Sentiments” in 1759, which he regarded as his most important work. “The Wealth of Nations” was published in 1776. Smith returned to working on “ The Theory of Moral Sentiments” until his death in 1790. It appears that he thought that he still needed to finish.The term “invisible hand” appears only once in each of these books. Clearly Smith did not overwork this term, although scholars and his followers have.

It is also quite obvious that Smith did not think that “invisible hand” would meet many needs of the people. Smith thought that empathy, understanding, and the well-being of our fellow humans is paramount. Although the term likely did not exist in Smith’s day, HM thinks that he was advocating mindfulness, meaning that humans needed to relate to their fellow humans in terms of their emotions and needs. There is a need to be mindful of our fellow humans. It is also clear that were Smith alive today, he would most certainly be a progressive and not a conservative.

Much more information can be found on both Adam Smith and his books on the Wikipedia. Kindle versions of each book for less than $1 are available from amazon.com.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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 Relationship Among Key Healthy Memory Themes

February 17, 2019

The immediately preceding post was on the role of mindsets in supporting resettling refugees. Specifically, people with growth mindsets tended to support resettling refugees. Resettling refugees is a progressive topic; it is likely that people with growth mindsets will tend to support progressive ideas.

Readers of the healthymemory blog should know that growth mindsets are important to healthy memories. There is also a relationship between growth mindsets and Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition. System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes.  System 2 is central in learning, so it is also key to effective growth mindsets. Both growth mindsets and System 2 processing are central to building a cognitive reserve which serves to thwart Alzheimer’s and dementia.

To elaborate a tad further System 2 processing and growth mindsets also leads to a more fulfilling life, and in advocating progressive ideas, a better country and a better world.

Previous posts have written of a stupidity pandemic. Perhaps it has always been existent, but Trump’s presidency makes it apparent in its glaring stupidity. This makes growth mindsets, System 2 processing, and compassion for our fellow humans all the more critical.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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 Role of Mind-sets in Support for Resettling Refugees

February 16, 2019

This post is motivated by an article titled “Support for Resettling Refugees: The Role of Fixed versus Growth Mind-Sets by Shilpa Madan, Shankha Basu, Aceta Rattan, and Krishna Savani in “Psychological Science” 1-12, 2019.

There have been many healthymemory blog posts on the topic of mindsets. Fixed mindsets believe that intelligence is fixed and cannot be changed or only slightly changed. Growth mindsets mean that intelligence can improve or grow, if the individuals believe that their intelligence or knowledge can grow. The healthy memory blog is a strong proponent of growth mindsets. Not only is there strong evidence in support of growth mindsets, but growth mindsets also are central to a healthy memory and the avoidance of dementia.

The first two studies, one conducted in the U.S. and the other conducted in the U.K. found that people with growth mindsets were more likely to support resettling refugees in their own country.

The third study identified a causal relationship between the type of mindset people hold and their support for resettling refugees.

Studies 4-6 found that people with a growth mindset were more likely to believe that refugees can assimilate in the host country, but not that they should be forced to assimilate. These beliefs that refugees can assimilate but should not be forced to assimilate mediated the relationship between peoples’ growth mind-sets and their support for resettling refugees. People with fixed mindsets tended not to support these beliefs.

Another Hiatus

February 1, 2019

There will be a hiatus in new Healthymemory blogs. That should not be a problem as there are already well over a thousand articles posted.

Go to https://healthymemory.wordpress.com and use the search block to look for articles of interest.

Here are some suggestions:

The Myth of Cognitive Decline
fulfilling life
relaxation response
loving kindness
behavioral economics
growth mindset
system 2
cognitive reserve

and go to https://centerhealthyminds.org/about/founder-richard-davidson

The healthy memory blog will return.

A Wealth Tax is Imperative

January 31, 2019

This post is inspired by an article by Jeff Stein and Christopher Ingraham titled “Elizabeth Warren to Propose new ‘wealth tax’ on very Rich Americans, economists say” in the 20 Jan 2019 issue of the Washington Post. In 1960, the top 1% of families owned about as much as the bottom 43% of families. In 2015, the top 1% of families owned as much has the bottom 95%. Two economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California have been advising Warren on a proposal to levy a 2% wealth tax on Americans with assists about $50 million, and a 3% wealth tax on those who have more than 1$ billion.

To understand why it is important to tax wealth and not just income read the healthy memory blog post “The Piketty Insight on the Accelerating Wealth Gap.” Piketty makes the following distinction between Productive Wealth and Reinvestment Wealth.

Productive wealth. This is the wealth generated by work, by producing and selling things or services, and the kind of wealth Adam Smith talked about. The prototypical case concerns individuals, for example a baker and a furniture maker. Each makes and sells things, and each needs and buys what the other sells. The baker’s income pays the furniture maker, and the furniture maker’s income pays the baker. Each works for himself, produces things, gets paid for it, and in a much oversimplified market, each produces wealth for himself and for the other. This is the kind of wealth, productive wealth, measured by the GDP. Piketty calls it “G.”

*Reinvestment wealth. This is wealth generated by receiving returns on investments and then reinvesting the returns over and over. This kind of wealth grows exponentially, like compound interest. The more you have, the more you invest, and the more you invest, the more you have. Piketty calls it “R.”

He computes a ratio between productive wealth and reinvestment wealth. Prior to the Reagan era in the United States productive wealth predominated. Now reinvestment wealth predominates

Note that most reinvestment wealth is inherited wealth. In other words the majority of it was inherited rather than earned. Here are some of the pernicious effects when inherited wealth predominates.

*Greater political leverage. Wealthy people and corporations have great lobbying power with public officials, and it is getting greater all the time.

*Greater control over public discourse. Wealthy people and corporations can control public discourse in many ways—by owning media outlets, sponsoring shows, massive advertising, and so on. This control works via the brain. Language and imagery that activate conservative frames (see the healthy memory blog post “Different Ways of Framing”) will also activate conservative morality—strict father morality (see the healthy memory blog post “The Strict Father Model”) in. As conservative morality gets stronger, progressive morality gets weaker in the brains of the public. This affects what people believe unconsciously as well as consciously, and therefore affects how people vote.

*Greater control over the rights of others. Through state control of legislatures, the wealthy can control the voting rights of poorer populations, and state control is cheaper than national control.

Whenever there is a claim that something cannot be done, do not be fooled.
After Republicans once again promoted their false trickle down tax cut that grossly benefited the rich, they warned that there might be needed cuts in social security and medicare.

One can make an argument that taxes on wealth are more justified than taxes on income. There is no reason why free healthcare and free higher education cannot be free for everyone. There is enormous potential funding by taxing wealth. Remember that most of this wealth was inherited and not earned.

It should be remembered that the belief in the United States is that all humans are created equal. Equal in what respect? Certainly not with respect to opportunity. Greater wealth leads to greater opportunity. The greater the discrepancy of wealth in the United States, the lower the opportunity. The point here is not to advocate equal wealth for all people, but rather to illustrate the obstacles created by largely discrepant wealth, some of which were outlined in preceding paragraphs.

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Coping with Blindspots

January 30, 2019

This is the concluding post in the series of posts based on the book Blindsight: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mazarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald. So what can be done to help us dealing with implicit bias? One action to consider is to go to https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ and take selected IATs offered there. This would alert you to your implicit biases and being aware of one’s implicit biases is the first step in dealing with them. Besides these tests are fun and the results are interesting.

One way of dealing with blindspots is blinding. The blinding method used by symphony orchestras simply involved concealing the players as they played their pieces for their audition. This has dramatically increased women’s success in symphony orchestra auditions. Unfortunately, it is an underutilized strategy in many circumstances in which it can work.

Another underutilized strategy is the “no-brainer” solution of developing evidenced-based guidelines to enhance discretion in judgments that might otherwise afford opportunity for hidden-bias mindbugs to operate. When faithfully applied, intelligently developed guidelines will leave little room for hidden biases.

The authors write “We expect the next several years to produce a steady accumulation of research on methods to eradicate or outsmart mindbugs. Although we (presently) lack optimism about fully eradicating mindbugs, we are not similarly pessimistic about prospects for research to develop and refine methods for outsmarting mindbugs.”

Two Facets of Mind: Reflective and Automatic

January 29, 2019

This is the fifth post based on the book Blindsight: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mazarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald. We know our reflective preferences quite well, especially when they concern matters important to us. We can voice our political beliefs. We can articulate why a particular candidate for political office is the right choice.

In contrast, the automatic side of our mind is a stranger to us. We implicitly know something or feel a certain way. Often these thoughts and feelings are reflected in our actions too, The difference is that we can’t always explain these actions, and they are at times completely at odds with our conscious intentions. Tony writes about a business school professor, a teacher of negotiation no less, who went to a dealership to purchase a new car. He had a growing family and left the house intending to buy a sensible family car, good for transporting the dog, the groceries, and the children—a Volvo station wagon, perhaps? A few hours later he found himself pulling into his driveway with a sporty red Porsche!

Tony writes, “We regularly find ourselves attracted to things on the basis of color and shape and still there are features that appeal to preferences that lie below the surface, while we are indifferent to the more sensible features that are clearly more rational. A colleague of Tony’s, Phoebe Ellsworth, once said about making a balance sheet to help her decide which of two jobs to take: “I got halfway through my balance sheet and say, ‘Oh, hell, it’s not coming out right! Have to find a way to get some pluses over on the other side.” This is an example of the convoluted motions of rational debate that we go through, only to subvert it by allowing impulse and intuition rather than reason to make our choice for us.

Tony’s co-author Mazarin routinely describes her Race IAT result as representing a “failing” score. She gives herself a failing grade because the test’s characterization of her as showing automatic White preference is sharply inconsistent with the egalitarian race attitude that she holds in her own reflective mind. So, “failing the test” is her way of reporting her dissatisfaction with the state of her mind revealed by the test.

When the race IAT reveals that they are themselves members of the group they are implicitly biased against is an example of dissociation. Dissociation is the occurrence, in one and the same mind, of mutually inconsistent ideas that remain isolated from one another. The mutually inconsistent that are of interest here are those that are the product of our reflective or rational mind, on one hand, and our automatic or intuitive mind on the other. Tony writes, “It is this barrier between conscious and unconscious, reflective and automatic, that the IAT was designed to reveal, and it has held up its end of the bargain effectively.

Good evidence we have of the impact of unconscious mental content on our judgments and opinions comes from patients with disorders in their ability to remember. In one such study Marcia Johnson and her associates gathered a group of amnesic patients, who suffered from a particular kind of failure of memory. These patients had normal memories of their experiences prior to the time of the onset of their amnesia, but very limited memory of anything that took place in their lives after that time. Johnson asked a group of these patients to look at photos of two men, and then she gave them information about each. They were told that one of them was a good guy—helped his father, received a military commendation for saving a life, and so forth. They were told the the other had stolen things, broken someone’s arm in a fight, and so on. Having learned biographical data about these two people, the patients later took a simple memory test. They were shown the same photos they had seen before and asked to recount all they could remember about the people depicted. As expected, the patients had virtually no recollection of having learned anything about them. However, when the patients were asked whether the person in the photo was a good guy or bad guy, their responses were strikingly accurate. 89% of the time they were able to correctly assess whether the person was good or bad. It seems that the information the had been given about the person had been turned into an impression that was lodged in their minds in the same way as it would be in an intact person. The experiment reveals something similar to the split between automatic and reflective kinds of mental processing.

Most Americans have a strong automatic preference for the young over the old. 80% of Americans have a stronger young = good than old = good association. Only 6% show the reverse preference. Ageism is one of the strongest implicit biases detected across dozens of studies over fifteen years, and it seems to be visible in every country in which we’ve tested it, including countries in Asia.

And this is one implicit bias everyone who lives long enough will suffer.

Does Automatic White Preference Mean Prejudice?

January 28, 2019

This is the fourth post based on the book Blindsight: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mazarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald. Prior to reading this book, HM’s answer to this question would have been “no.” Moreover, if one had implicit bias, but never showed any explicit bias, then one was to be commended for overcoming his implicit bias. However, this book has changed HM’s opinion on this topic.

Because of the large amount of research on this topic two important findings are now established. First we know that automatic White preference is pervasive in American society—almost 75% of those who take the Race IAT on the Internet or in laboratory studies reveal automatic White preference.

Second, the automatic White preference expressed on the Race IAT is now established as signaling discriminatory behavior. ”It predicts discriminatory behavior even among research participants who earnestly (and we believe, honestly) espouse egalitarian beliefs.” Among research participants who describe themselves as racially egalitarian, the Race IAT has been shown, reliably and predictably, to predict discriminatory behavior that was observed in research.

The first experiment to test whether scores on the Race IAT were related to discriminatory behavior was reported in 2001 by Allen McConnell and Jill Leibold of Michigan State University. Without initially informing their research participants that the researchers videotaped these participants during two brief interviews, one conducted by a White woman, the other by a Black woman. During the interviews the participants were asked a series of innocuous preplanned questions such as “What would you change to improve psychology classes? and “What did you think about the difficulty level of the computer task? (The computer task was the Race IAT, which had been presented as if it were part of a separate experiment.)

The purpose of the videotaping was to assess whether strong automatic White preference shown on the Race IAT would predict acting in a friendlier fashion to the White interviewer than to the Black one. After completing both interviews, the experimenters explained the purposes of the videotaping and asked the students to give their permission to analyze the videotapes. Only one did not give permission.

The videotapes of the interviews were scored by counting occurrences of nonverbal behaviors that had been found, in many previous studies, to indicate friendliness or coolness. Indicators of comfort or friendliness including smiling, speaking at greater length, laughing at a joke told by the interviewer, and making spontaneous social comments. Discomfort indicators included speech errors and speech hesitations. Another measure of comfort or discomfort was how closely the subjects positioned their rolling desk chair to each of the interviewers. Immediately after each interview, both of the interviewers also made personal assessments of how friendly and comfortable they thought the subject had seemed during the interaction.

McConnell and Leibold found that subjects with higher levels of automatic White preference on the IAT showed less comfort and less friendliness when talking with the Black interviewer than with the White interviewer.

This was just the first study on the topic. By early 2007, 32 studies had been done in which the Race IAT was administered together with one or more measures of racially discriminatory behavior. These studies were among 184 in a collection that was published in 2009, using the statistical method of meta-analysis to combine all of these results for the purpose of evaluating the IATs success predicting a wide variety of judgments and behaviors.

The authors write, “The meta-analysis answered the most important question about which we had been uncertain in the first several years of the IAT’s existence. It clearly showed that the Race IAT predicted racial discriminatory behavior. A continuing reading of additional studies that have been completed since publication of the meta-analysis likewise supports the conclusion. Here are a few examples of race-relevant behaviors that were predicted by automatic White preference in these more recent studies: voting for John McCain rather than Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election; laughing at anti-Black racial humor and rating it as funny; and doctors providing medical care that we was deemed less satisfactory by their Black patients than by their White patients.”

“The meta-analysis’s findings can be summarized as saying that the IAT scores correlated moderately with discriminatory judgments and behavior. “ But it is important to realize that the forms of discrimination investigated in this research studied involved no overtly racially hostile actions—no racial slurs, no statements of disrespect, and certainly no aggressive or violent actions. The examples of research behavior that were studied—social behaviors in interracial interviews, doctors’ treatment recommendations for a cordial patient, and evaluation of job applications in a hiring situation. These are not the types of negativity or hostility that are generally taken to be characteristic of “prejudice.”

The Race Implicit Association Test (IAT)

January 27, 2019

This is the third post based on the book Blindsight: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mazarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald. A second type of IAT soon followed—-the first Race IAT. The change of procedure was small, replacing names of flowers and insects with the names of famous African Americans and European Americans. The new IAT was expected to reveal whether the method could measure one of our society’s most significant and emotion-laden types of attitudes—the attitude toward a racial group. It might help reveal a type of mental content that Tony and other social psychologists at the time were just beginning to understand—hidden biases that could not possibly be tapped by asking questions because their possessors were unaware of having them. If you would like to try the Race IAT before reading about what results to expect, you can find the Race IAT at implicit.Harvard.edu.

If you prefer not to risk discovering a result different from the one you predicted, you might want to avoid this IAT. About half of those who take this test—Tony and Mazarin among them—obtain a result that deviates from their initial expectation.

The following relates Tony’s feelings taking the test: “It was a rare moment of scientific joy to discover—in midperformance—that the new method could be important. It was also a moment of jarring self-insight. I immediately saw that I was very much faster in sorting names of famous White people together with pleasant words than in sorting names of famous Black people together with pleasant words. I can’t say if I was more personally distressed or scientifically elated to discover something inside my head that I had no previous knowledge of. But there it was—it was as hard for me to link names of Black people and pleasant words as it had been a few months earlier to link insect names and pleasant words.”

After taking that first Race IAT and repeating it several times to see if the first result would be repeated (it was), I did not see how I could avoid concluding that I had a strong automatic preference for White relative to black—just as I had a strong automatic preference for flowers relative to insects.

I then asked myself what any social psychologist would: Is this something that affects my behavior in relation to African Americans whom I regularly encounter—especially students in my classes? Do I act as if I feel less positive toward them than toward White students?”

Precursors to the Implicit Association Test (IAT)

January 26, 2019

This is the second post based on the book Blindsight: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mazarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald. The authors recommend, “To give you a feeling for how the new method works, we ask you to try a hands-on demonstration—quite literally hands-on because you will need to have a deck of playing cards on hand. If at all possible, please find two things—a standard deck of fifty-two playing cards and a watch of clock that displays time in seconds.

Once you have the cards and the timer, first shuffle the deck a few times and hold the cards face up. You will be timing yourself as you perform two slightly different sorting tasks.

First you will sort the cards into two piles, with hearts and diamonds to the left and spades and clubs to the right. The second task is to sort them by putting diamonds and spades to the left, clubs and hearts to the right. Before you begin, think about these two sorting tasks and ask yourself which will be easier.

If you’ve got the cards and the timer you’re ready to start. As fast as you can, first sort the cards into the two piles, hearts and diamonds to your left and spades and clubs to your right. Make a note of the number of seconds you took to do that. Next, reshuffle the deck a few times and repeat the process, but this time diamonds and spades to the left, clubs and hearts to the right.” Make a note of the number of seconds taken to do this second task.

You were most likely faster at the first task, which allowed you to use a simple rule for the sorting—red suits left, black suits right. The second task didn’t offer any such simple rule. Mazarin and Tony (the authors) averaged 24 seconds for the first task and 37 seconds for the second task. Taking about 50% longer to do the second task is a big difference, big enough that they could feel it as they did the sorting.

Another hands-on demonstration follows with the same requirements. This demonstration involves four sets of words:

Flower names: orchid, daffodil, lilac, rose, tulip, daisy, lily.
Insect names: flea, centipede, gnat, wasp, roach, moth, weevil
Pleasant-meaning words: gentle, heaven, cheer, love, enjoy, happy, friend
Unpleasant-meaning words: damage, vomit, hurt, poison, evil, gloom ugly

Your brain has stored years of past experience that you cannot set aside when you do the IAT’s sorting tasks. For flowers and insects, the stored mental content is most likely to help you put flowers together with pleasant words while interfering with your pairing flowers with unpleasant words. Similarly, it will likely be easier for you to connect insects with unpleasant words and harder to connect them with pleasant words.

When categories can be linked to each other via shared goodness or badness, the shared property is what psychologists call valence, or emotional value. Positive valence attracts and negative balance repels. Positive valence, which is shared by flower names and pleasant words, can function as a mental glue that bonds these two categories into one. When there is no shared valence, which is expected for most people when they try to put flower names together with unpleasant words, it is harder to find a connection between the two categories. “

Now go to bit.ly/T8h6uD.

When you have completed this test you will have completed the first version of what we now call an Implicit Association Test (IAT) for short.

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People

January 25, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the title to an informative and important book by Mazarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald. Dr. Banaji was a doctoral student to Dr. Greenwald when he was at Ohio State University. Dr. Greenwald has since moved on to Washington University in Seattle.

Blindspot refers to something we cannot see. We all have a blind spot in each of our eyes. The blind spot occurs where the optic nerve enters the retina. We are unaware of this blind spot because our mind fills in this gap for us. A demonstration of this blind spot can be found by going to the wikipedia. There are blind spots on each side of our cars. Fortunately, technology is available to help us fill in these blind spots.

The authors use the term mindbugs to explain mental blind spots. Mindbugs are ingrained habits of thought that lead to errors in how we perceive, remember, reason, and make decisions. Two famous mindbugs, identified by the psychologists Kahneman and Tversky are availability and anchoring. Examples of the availability heuristic follow.
Consider the following the question: Each year do more people in the United States die from cause (a) or cause (b)?

1, (a) murder (b) diabetes
2. (a) murder (b) suicide
3. (a) car accidents (b) abdominal cancer

When instances of one type of event come more easily to mind than those of another type, we tend to assume that the first event must also occur more frequently in the world. Murder is more likely to receive media attention than both suicide and diabetes, so it is more likely to be judged as more frequently occurring. Similarly car accidents receive more attention that deaths from abdominal cancer, a common cause of death

A behavioral economist at MIT, Dan Ariely, asked students to write down the last two digits of their Social Security number on a piece of paper. Then he asked them to estimate the price of a keyboard, a trackball, or a design book, items easily familiar to MIT students. Then he computed a correlation between their numbers and their price estimates. There was a significant correlation between their numbers and their estimates, a correlation that did not exist in objective reality. This is an example of anchoring. In the absence of anything better, these students were using their digits to make their estimates. The lower their numbers the lower the estimates for each object.

There are also social mindbugs, to which the remainder of the book is devoted. Other members of our species are significant to us in ways that little else in the physical world can compete with. And the primate brain has evolved to pay special attention to others of its kind, and one way in which we do this is to routinely try to predict what might go on in the minds of others.

New research suggests that selective brain regions appear to be active when we imagine the thoughts of another person (Does she believe in Christ the Savior?) and when we try to predict the actions of others (Will he allow our temple to be safe?). These same brain regions do not seem to care when we contemplate the physical aspects of others, such as their height, weight, or eye color. This suggests that the brain has evolved specific regions to help with the tasks of social thinking and feeling. In other words, minds matter to us enough that regions of neural real estate are uniquely engaged for the purpose of making social meaning.

Here’s an experiment you might do with six friends. Ask a group of three of these friends (randomly chosen from the six) to give three reasons why they love their romantic partners, and ask the other three friends to give nine reasons why they love their romantic partners. Then ask both groups of friends this single question: “How satisfied are you with your relationship” Research suggests the those asked to write only three reasons report greater happiness with their partner and their relationship than hose asked to write nine reasons. On second thought, since the result is already known, and you should not want to interfere in the relationships of your friends, do not do this experiment.

The explanation for this result is counterintuitive but simple: Which of us can easily come up with nine good qualities of a partner? The authors write, “Even canonization requires only two miracles!” Those asked to come up with nine reasons have to work harder to come up with them, and it prompts this thought: “Hmm, that was hard! Is it possible my partner isn’t as wonderful as I’d managed?” The researcher that actually conducted this experiment, Norbert Schwarz at the University of Michigan—found that even important and familiar affections are susceptible to the availability bias.

We constantly need to make such judgments such as is this person trustworthy? Will this person be competent for the job? Could this person be difficult to get along with? Using whatever we can to eke out from even the most trivial information, we make assessments within a few seconds or even fractions of a second, and without any visible discomfort at having to do so. We’re able to make these assessments because of social mindbugs.

Social mindbugs can give us both false feelings of faith in people we perhaps shouldn’t trust and the opposite—feelings of distrust towards those who we should trust.

Social mindbugs affect decisions not only about others but also about ourselves. Becca Levy conducted a study at Yale’s School of Public Health and found a stunning correlation. The negative beliefs about the elderly that elderly people themselves held when they were young predicted their vulnerability to heart disease than they became older. The authors write, “This result emerged even after controlling for other factors such as depression, smoking, and family history. We take such evidence as suggestive that stereotypes can be harmful not just to others we assess and evaluated, but also to ourselves.

What Do We Know, What Can We Do?

January 24, 2019

This is the twelfth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” Having raised an enormous number of problems, it is fortunate that the authors also proposed possible solutions.

The military is already training and experimenting for the new environment. The Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana is a continuously operating field laboratory. The laboratory is good not only for training, but also for simulations to respond to different situations, so that possible solutions can be evaluated in a simulation prior to actual conflict. The Army needs to understand how to train for this war. Fort Polk has a brand-new simulation for this task: the SMEIR (Social Media Environment and Internet Replication). SMEIR simulates the blogs, news outlets, and social media accounts that intertwine to form a virtual battlefield.

The authors have also claimed that LikeWar has rules, and has tried to articulate them:

“First for all the sense of flux, the modern information environment is becoming stable. The internet is now the preeminent communications medium in the world; it will remain so for the foreseeable future. Through social media the web will grow bigger in size, scope, and membership, but its essential form and centrality to the information ecosystem will not change.”

“Second, the internet is a battlefield. It is a platform for achieving the goals of whichever actor manipulates it most effectively. Its weaponization, and the conflicts that erupt on it, define both what happens on the internet and what we take away from it.”

“Third, this battlefield changes how we must think about information itself. If something happens, we must assume that there’s likely a digital record of it that will surface seconds or years from now. But an event only carries power if people also believe that it happened. So a manufactured event can have real power, while a demonstrably true event can be rendered irrelevant. What determines the outcome isn’t mastery of the “facts,” but rather a back-and-forth battle of psychological, political, and algorithmic manipulation.”

“Fourth, war and politics have never been so intertwined. In cyberspace, the means by which the political or military aspects of this competition are won are essentially identical. Consequently, politics has taken on elements of information warfare, while violent conflict is increasingly influenced by the tug-of-war for online opinion. This also means that the engineers of Silicon Valley, quite unintentionally, have turned into global power brokers, Their most minute decisions shape the battlefield on which both war and politics are increasingly decided.”

“Fifth, we’re all part of the battle. We are surrounded by countless information struggles—some apparent, some invisible-all of which seek to alter out perceptions of the world. Whatever we notice whatever we “like,” whatever we share, become the next salvo. In this new war of wars, taking place on the network of networks, there is no neutral ground.”

“For governments, the first and most important step is to take this new battleground seriously. The authors write, “Today, a significant part of the American political culture is willfully denying the new threats to its cohesion. In some cases, it is colluding with them.”

“Too often, efforts to battle back against online dangers emanating from actors and home and abroad have been stymied by elements within the U.S. government, Indeed, at the time we write this in 2018, the Trump White House has not held a single cabinet-level meeting on how to address the challenges outlined in this book, while its State Department refused to increase efforts to counter online terrorist propaganda and Russian disinformation, even as Congress allocated nearly $80 million for the purpose.”

“Similarly, the American election system remains remarkably vulnerable, not merely to hacking of the voting booth, but also to the foreign manipulation of U.S. voters political dialogue and beliefs. Ironically, although the United States has contributed millions of dollars to help nations like Ukraine safeguard their citizens against these new threats, political paralysis has prevented the U.S. government from taking meaningful steps to inoculate its own population. Until this is reframed as a nonpartisan issue—akin to something as basic as health education—the United States will remain at grave risk.”

The Conflicts That Drive the Web and the World

January 23, 2019

This is the eleventh post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” The title to this post is identical to the subtitle of the chapter titled “Likewar.” In 1990 two political scientists with the Pentagon’s think tank at the RAND Corporation started to explore the security implications of the internet. John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt made their findings public in a revolutionary article titled “Cyberwar Is Coming!” in a 1993 article. They wrote that “information is becoming a strategic resource that may prove as valuable in the post-industrial era as capital and labor have been in the industrial age.” They argued that future conflicts would not be won by physical forces, but by the availability and manipulation of information. They warned of “cyberwar,” battles in which computer hackers might remotely target economies and disable military capabilities.

They went further and predicted that cyberwar would be accompanied by netwar. They explained: It means trying to disrupt, damage, or modify what a target population “knows” or thinks it knows about itself and the world around it. A network may focus on public or elite opinion, or both. It may involve public diplomacy, measures, propaganda and psychological campaigns, political and cultural subversion, deception of or interference with the local media…In other words, netwar represents a new entry on the spectrum of conflict that spans economic, political, and social as well as military forms of ‘war.’

Early netwar became the province of far-left activists undemocratic protesters, beginning with the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Mexico and culminating in the 2011 Arab Spring. In time, terrorists and far-right extremists also began to gravitate toward net war tactics. The balance shifted for disenchanted activists when dictators learned to use the internet to strengthen their regimes. For us, the moment came when we saw how ISIS militants used the internet not just to sow terror across the globe, but to win its battles in the field. For Putin’s government it came when the Russian military reorganized itself to strike back what it perceived as a Western information offensive. For many in American politics and Silicon Valley, it came when the Russian effort poisoned the networks with a flood of disinformation, bots, and hate.

In 2011, DARPA’s research division launched the new Social Media in Strategic Communications program to study online sentiment analysis and manipulation. About the same time, the U.S. military’s Central Command began overseeing Operation Earnest Voice to fight jihadists across the Middle East by distorting Arabic social media conversations. One part of this initiative was the development of an “online persona management service,” which is essentially sockpuppet software, “to allow one U.S. serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world.” Beginning in 2014, the U.S. State Department poured vast amounts of resources into countering violent extremism (CVE) efforts, building an array of online organizations that sought to counter ISIS by launching information offensives of their own.

The authors say national militaries have reoriented themselves to fight global information conflicts, the domestic politics of these countries have also morphed to resemble netwars. The authors write, “Online, there’s little difference in the information tactics required to “win” either a violent conflict or a peaceful campaign. Often, their battles are not just indistinguishable but also directly linked in their activities (such as the alignment of Russian sockpuppets and alt-right activists). The realms of war and politics have begun to merge.”

Memes and memetic warfare also emerged. Pepe the Frog was green and a dumb internet meme. In 2015, Pepe was adopted as the banner of Trump’s vociferous online army. By 2016, he’d also become a symbol of a resurgent timed of white nationalism, declared a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League. Trump tweeted a picture of himself as an anthropomorphized Pepe. Pepe was ascendant by 2017. Trump supporters launched a crowdfunding campaign to elect a Pepe billboard “somewhere in the American Midwest.” On Twitter, Russia’s UK embassy used a smug Pepe to taunt the British government in the midst of a diplomatic argument.

Pepe formed an ideological bridge between trolling and the next-generation white nationalist, alt-right movement that had lined up behind Trump. The authors note that Third Reich phrases like “blood and soil” filtered through Pepe memes, fit surprisingly well with Trump’s America First, anti-immigration, anti-Islamic campaign platform. The wink and note of a cartoon frog allowed a rich, but easily deniable, symbolism.

Pepe transformed again when Trump won. Pepe became representative of a successful, hard-fought campaign—one that now controlled all the levers of government. On Inauguration Day in Washington, DC, buttons and printouts of Pepe were visible in the crowd. Online vendors began selling a hat printed in the same style as those worn by military veterans of Vietnam, Korea, and WW II. It proudly pronounced its wearer as a “Meme War Veteran.”

The problem with memes is that by highjacking or chance, a meme can come to contain vastly different ideas than those that inspired it, even as it retains all its old reach and influence. And once a meme has been so redefined, it becomes nearly impossible to reclaim. Making something go viral is hard; co-opting or poisoning something that’s already viral can be remarkable. U.S Marine Corps Major Michael Prosser published a thesis titled: “Memetics—a Growth industry in US Military Operations.. Prosser’s work kicked off a tiny DARPA-Funded industry devoted to “military memetics.”

The New Wars for Attention and Power

January 22, 2019

This is the tenth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” The title of this post is identical to the subtitle of the title “Win the Net, Win the Day” of a chapter in the book.

Brian Jenkins declared in a 1974 RAND Corporation report, “Terrorism is theater,” that became one of terrorism’s foundational studies. The difference between the effectiveness of the Islamic State and that of terror groups in the past was not the brains of the ISIS; it was the medium they were using. Mobile internet access could be found everywhere; smartphones were available in any bazaar. Advanced video and image editing tools were just one illegal download away, and an entire generation was well acquainted with their use. For those who weren’t, there were free online classes offered by a group called Jihadi Design. It promised to take ISIS supporters ‘from zero to professionalism’ in just a few sessions. The most dramatic change from terrorism was that distributing a global message was as easy as pressing ”send,” with the dispersal facilitated by a network of super-spreaders beyond any one state’s control.

ISIS networked its propaganda pushing out a staggering volume of online messages. In 2016 Charlie Winter counted nearly fifty different ISIS media hubs, each based in different regions with different target audiences, but all threaded through the internet. These hubs were able to generate over a thousand “official” ISIS releases, ranging from statements to online videos, in just a one-month period.

They spun a tale in narratives. Human minds are wired to seek and create narratives. Every moment of the day, our brains are analyzing new events and finding them in thousand of different narratives already stowed in our memories. In 1944 psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel produced a short film that showed three geometric figures (two triangles and a circle) bouncing off each other at random. They screened the film to a group of research subjects and asked them to interpret the shapes’ actions. All but one of the subjects described these abstract objects as living beings; most saw them as representations of humans. In the shapes’ random movements they expressed motives, emotions, and complex personal histories such as: the circle was “worried,” one triangle was “innocent” and the other was “blinded by rage.” Even in crude animation all but one observer saw a story of high drama.

The first rule in building effective narratives is simplicity. In 2000, the average attention span of an internet user was measured at twelve seconds. By 2015 it had shrunk to eight seconds. During the 2016 election Carnegie Mellon University researchers studied and ranked the complexity of the candidates language (using the Flesch-Kincaid score). They found that Trump’s vocabulary measured at the lowest level of all the candidates, comprehensible to someone with a fifth-grade education. This phenomenon is consistent with a larger historic pattern. Starting with George Washington’s first inaugural address, which was one of the most complex overall, American presidents communicated at a college level only when newspapers dominated mass communication. But each time a new technology took hold, complexity dropped. The authors write, “To put it another way: the more accessible the technology, the simpler a winning voice becomes. It may be Sad! But it is True!

The second rule of narrative is resonance. Nearly all effective narratives conform to what social scientists call “frames.” Frames are proud of specific languages and cultures that feel instantly and deeply familiar. To learn more about frames enter “frames” into the search block of the healthy memory blog.

The third and final rule of narrative is novelty. Just as narrative frames help build resonance, they also serve to make things predictable. However, too much predictability can be boring, especially in an age of microscopic attention spans and unlimited entertainment. Moreover, there seems to be no limit on the quality of narrative. Some messages far exceed the limits of credibility, yet they are believed and spread.

Additional guidelines are pull the heartstrings and feed the fury. Final guidance would be inundation: drown the web, run the world.

The Unreality Machine

January 21, 2019

This is the ninth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” There was a gold rush in Veles, Macedonia. Teenage boys there worked in “media.” More specifically, American social media. The average U.S. internet is virtually a walking bag of cash, with four times the advertising dollars of anyone else in the world. And the U.S. internet user is very gullible. The following is from the book: “In a town with 25% unemployment and an annual income of under $5,000, these young men had discovered a way to monetize their boredom and decent English-language skills. They set up catch websites, peddling fad diets and weird health tips.” They relied on Facebook “shares” to drive traffic. Each click gave them a small slice of the pie from ads running along the side. Some of the best of them were pulling in tens of thousands of dollars a month.

Competition swelled, but fortunately the American political scene soon brought them a virtually inexhaustible source of clicks and resulting fast cash. This was the 2016 presidential election. Now back to the text “The Macedonians were awed by Americans’ insatiable thirst for political stories, Even a sloppy, clearly plagiarized jumble of text and ads could rack up hundreds of thousands of “shares.” The number of U.S. politics-related websites operated out of Veles swelled into the hundreds.

One of the successful entrepreneurs estimated that in six month, his network of fifty websites attracted some 40 million page views driven there by social media. This made him about $60,000. This 18-year-old then expanded his media empire. He outsourced the writing to three 15-year-olds, paying each $10 a day. He was far from the most successful of the Veles entrepreneurs. Some became millionaires, One rebranded himself as as “clickbait coach,” running a school where he taught dozens of others how to copy his success.

These viral news stories weren’t just exaggerations or products of political spin; they were flat-out lies. Sometimes the topic was the proof that Obama had been born in Kenya or that he was planning a military coup. Another report warned that Oprah Winfrey had told her audience that “some white people have to die.”

The following is from the book: “Of the top twenty best-performing fake stories spread during the election, seventeen were unrepentantly pro Trump. Indeed, the single most popular news story of the entire election—“Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President.” Social media provided an environment in which lies created by anyone, from anywhere, could spread everywhere, making the liars plenty of cash along the way”

In 1995 MIT media professor Nicholas Negroponte prophesied that there would be an interface agent that read every newswire and newspaper and catch every TV and radio broadcast on the planet, and then construct a personalized summary. He called this the “Daily Me.”

Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein argues that the opposite might actually be true. Rather than expanding their horizons, people were just using the endless web to seek out information with which they already agree. He called this the “Daily We.”

A few years later the creation of Facebook, the “Daily We,” an algorithmically created newsfeed became a fully functioning reality.

For example, flat-earthers had little hope of gaining traction in a post-Christopher Columbus, pre-internet world. This wasn’t just because of the silliness of their views, but they couldn’t easily find others who shared them. But the world wide web has given the flat-earth belief a dramatic comeback. Proponents now have an active community and aggressive marketing scheme.

This phenomenon is called ‘homophily,” meaning “love of the same.” Homophily is what makes us humans social creatures able to congregate in such like-minded groups. It explains the growth of civilization and cultures, It is also the reason an internet falsehood, once it begins to spread, can rarely be stopped.

Unfortunately falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth. It becomes a deluge. The authors write, “Ground zero for the deluge, however, was in politics. The 2016 U.S. presidential election released a flood of falsehoods that dwarfed all previous hoaxes and lies in history. It was an online ecosystem so vast that the nightclubbing, moneymaking, lie-spinning Macedonians occupied only one tiny corner. There were thousands of fake website, populated by millions of baldly false stories, each then shared across people’s personal networks. In the final three months of the 2016 election, more of these fake political headlines were shared on Facebook than real ones. Meanwhile, in study of 22 million tweets, the Oxford Internet Institute concluded that Twitter users, too, and shared more disinformation, polarizing and conspiratorial content’ than actual news. The Oxford team called this problem “junk news.”

Censorship, Disinformation, and the Burial of Truth

January 20, 2019

This is the eighth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media. Initially, the notion that the internet would provide the basis for truth and independence was supported. The Arab Spring was promoted on the internet. The authors write, “Social media had illuminated the shadows crimes through which dictators had long clung to power, and offered up a powerful new means of grassroots mobilization.

Unfortunately, this did not last. Not only did the activists fail to sustain their movement, but they noticed that the government began to catch up. Tech-illiterate bureaucrats were replaced by a new generation of enforcers who understood the internet almost as well as the protestors. They invaded online sanctuaries and used the very same channels to spread propaganda. And these tactics worked. The much-celebrated revolutions fizzled. In Libya and Syria, digital activists turned their talents to waging internecine civil wars. In Egypt, the baby named Facebook would grow up in a country that quickly turned back to authoritarian government.

The internet remains under the control of only a few thousand internet service providers (ISPs). These firms run the backbone, or “pipes,” of the internet. Only a few ISPs supply almost all of he world’s mobile data. Because two-thirds of all ISPs reside in the United States, the average number across the rest of the world is relatively small. The authors note that, “Many of these ISPs hardly qualify as “businesses” at all. Rather, they are state-sanctioned monopolies or crony sanctuaries directed by the whim of local officials. Although the internet cannot be destroyed, regimes can control when the internet goes on or off and what goes on it.

Governments can control internet access and target particular areas of the country. India, the world’s largest democracy had the mobile connections in an area where violent protests had started out for a week. Bahrain instituted an internet curfew that affected only a handful of villages where antigovernment protests were brewing. When Bahrainis began to speak out against the shutdown, authorities narrowed their focus further, cutting access all the way down to specific internet users and IP addresses.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has poured billions of dollars into its National Internet Project. It is intended as a web replacement, leaving only a few closely monitored connections between Iran and the outside world. Italian officials describe it as creating a “clean” internet for its citizens, insulated from the “unclean” web that the rest of us use.

Outside the absolute-authoritarian state of North Korea (whose entire internet is a closed network of about 30 websites), the goal isn’t so much to stop the signal as it is to weaken it. Although extensive research and special equipment can circumvent government controls, the empower parts of the internet are no longer for the masses.

Although the book discusses China, that discussion will not be included here as there are separate posts on the book “Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall” by Margaret E. Roberts.

The Russian government hires people to create chaos on the internet. They are tempted by easy work and good money for work such as writing more than 200 blog posts and comments a day, assuming fake identities, hijacking conversations, and spreading lies. This is an ongoing war of global censorship by means of disinformation.

Russia’s large media networks are in the hands of oligarchs, whose finances are deeply intertwined with those of the state. The Kremlin makes its positions known through press releases and private conversations, the contents of which are then dutifully reported to the Russian people, no matter how much spin it takes to make them credible.

Valery Gerasimov has been mentioned in previous healthy memory blog posts. He channeled Clausewitz in speech reprinted in the Russian military newspaper that “the role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown. In many cases, they have exceeded the power of the force of weapons in their effectiveness.” This is known as the Gerasimov Doctrine that has been enshrined in the nation’s military strategy.

Individuals working at the Internet Research Agency assume a series of fake identities known as “sockpuppets.” The authors write, The job was writing hundreds of social media posts per day, with the goal of hijacking conversations and spreading lies, all to the benefit of the Russian government. For this work people are paid the equivalent of $1500 per month. (Those who worked on the “Facebook desk” targeting foreign audience received double the pay of those targeting domestic audiences).

The following is taken directly from the text:

“The hard work of a sockpuppet takes three forms, best illustrated by how they operated during the 2016 U.S. election. One is to pose as the organizer of a trusted group. @Ten_GOP called itself the “unofficial Twitter account of Tennessee Republicans” and was followed by over 136,000 people (ten times as many as the official Tennessee Republican Party Account). It’s 3,107 messages were retweeted 1,213,506 times. Each retweet then spread to millions more users especially when it was retweeted by prominent Trump campaign figures like Donald Trump Jr., Kellyanne Conway, and Michael Flynn. On Election Day 2016, it was the seventh most retweeted account across all of Twitter. Indeed, Flynn followed at least five such documented accounts, sharing Russian propaganda with his 1000,000 followers at least twenty-five times.

The second sockpuppet tactic is to pose as a trusted news source. With a cover photo image of the U.S. Constitution, @partynews presented itself as hub for conservative fans of the Tea Party to track the latest headlines. For months , the Russian front pushed out anti-immigrant and pro-Trump messages and was followed and echoed out by some 22,000 people, including Trump’s controversial advisor Sebastian Gorka.

Finally, sockpuppets pass as seemingly trustworthy individuals: a grandmother, a blue-collar worker from the midwest,a decorated veteran, providing their own heartfelt take on current events (and who to vote for). Another former employee of the Internet
Research Agency, Alan Baskayev, admitted that it could be exhausting to manage so many identities. “First you had to be a redneck from Kentucky, then you had to be some white guy from Minnesota who worked all his life, paid taxes and now lives in poverty; and in 15 minutes you have to write something in the slang of [African] Americans from New York.”

There have been many other posts about Russian interference in Trump’s election. Trump lost the popular vote, and it is clear that he would not have won the Electoral College had it not been for Russia. Clearly, Putin owns Trump.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Flynn

January 19, 2019

This is the seventh post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media. A former director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said,”The exponential explosion of publicly available information is changing the global intelligence system…It’s changing how we tool, how we organize, how we institutionalize—everything we do.” This is how he explained to the authors how the people who once owned and collected secrets—professional spies—were adjusting to this world without secrets.

U.S. intelligence agencies collected open source intelligence (OSINT) on a massive scale through much of the Cold War. The U.S. embassy in Moscow collected OSINT on a massive scale. The U.S. embassy in Moscow maintained subscriptions to over a thousand Soviet journals and magazines, while the Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service (FBIS) stretched across 19 regional bureaus, monitoring more than 3,500 publications in 55 languages, as well as nearly a thousand hours of television each week. Eventually FBIS was undone by the sheer volume of OSINT the internet produced. In 1993, FBIS was creating 17,000 reports a month; by 2004 that number had risen to 50,000. In 2005 FBIS was shuttered. The former director of DIA said, Publicly available information is now probably the greatest means of intelligence that we could bring to bear. Whether you’re a CEO, a commander in chief, or a military commander, if you don’t have a social media component…you’re going to fail.”

Michael Thomas Flynn was made the director of intelligence for the task force that deployed to Afghanistan. Then he assumed the same role for the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the secretive organization of elite units like the bin Laden-killing navy SEAL team. He made the commandos into “net fishermen” who eschewed individual nodes and focused instead on taking down he entire network, hitting it before it could react and reconstitute itself. JSOC got better as Flynn’s methods evolved capturing or killing dozens of terrorists in a single operation, gathering up intelligence, and then blasting off to hit another target before the night was done. The authors write, “Eventually, the shattered remnants of AQI would flee Iraq for Syria, where they would ironically later reorganize themselves as the core of ISIS.

Eventually the Peter Principle prevailed. The Peter Principle is that people rise in an organization until they reach their level of incompetence. The directorship of DIA was that level for Flynn. Flynn was forced to retire after 33 years of service. Flynn didn’t take his dismissal well . He became a professional critic of the Obama administration, which brought him to the attention of Donald Trump. He used his personal Twitter account to push out messages of hate (Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL). He put out one wild conspiracy theory after another. His postings alleged that Obam wasn’t just a secret Muslim, but a “jihadi” who “laundered” money for terrorists, and that if Hillary Clinton won the election she would help erect a one-world government to outlaw Christianity (notwithstanding that Hillary Clinton was and is a Christian). He also claimed that Hillary was involved in “Sex Crimes w Children. This resulted in someone going into a Pizzeria, the supposed locus of these sex crimes with children, and shooting it up. He was charged by the FBI for lying about his contact with a Russian official. This was based on a recorded phone conversation. This was a singularly dumb mistake for a former intelligence officer

Crowdsourcing

January 18, 2019

This is the sixth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media. The terrorist attack on Mumbai opened up all the resources of the internet using Twitter to defend against the attack. When the smoke cleared, the Mumbai attack left several legacies. It was a searing tragedy visited upon hundreds of families. It brought two nuclear powers to the brink of war. It foreshadowed a major technological shift. Hundreds of witnesses—some on-site, some from afar—had generated a volume of information that previously would have taken months of diligent reporting to assemble. By stitching these individual accounts together, the online community had woven seemingly disparate bits of data into a cohesive whole. The authors write, “It was like watching the growing synaptic connections of a giant electric brain.”

This Mumbai operation was a realization of “crowdsourcing,” an idea that had been on the lips of Silicon Valley evangelists for years. It had originally been conceived as a new way to outsource programming jobs, the internet bringing people together to work collectively, more quickly and cheaply than ever before. As social media use had sky rocketed, the promise of had extended a space beyond business.

Crowdsourcing is about redistributing power-vesting the many with a degree of influence once reserved for the few. Crowdsourcing might be about raising awareness, or about money (also known as “crowdfunding.”) It can kick-start a new business or throw support to people who might have remained little known. It was through crowdsourcing that Bernie Sanders became a fundraising juggernaut in the 2016 presidential election, raking in $218 million online.

For the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS, the internet was the “preferred arena for fundraising.” Besides allowing wide geographic reach, it expands the circle of fundraisers, seemingly linking even the smallest donor with their gift on a personal level. The “Economist” explained, this was, in fact, one of the key factors that fueled the years-long Syrian civil war. Fighters sourced needed funds by learning “to crowd fund their war by using Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. In exchange for a sense of what the war was really like, the fighters asked for donations via PayPal. In effect, they sold their war online.”

In 2016 a hard-line Iraqi militia took to Instagram to brag about capturing a suspected ISIS fighter. The militia then invited its 75,000 online fans to vote on whether to kill or release him. Eager, violent comments rolled in from around the world, including many from the United States. Two hours later, a member of the militia posted a follow-up selfie; the body of the prisoner lay in a pool of blood behind him. The caption read, “Thanks for the vote.” In the words of Adam Lineman, a blogger and U.S. Army veteran, this represented a bizarre evolution in warfare: “A guy on the toilet in Omaha, Nebraska could emerge from the bathroom with the blood of some 18-year-old Syrian on his hands.”

Of course, crowdsourcing can be used for good as well as for evil.

Sharing

January 17, 2019

This is the fifth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” The authors blame sharing on Facebook rolling out a design update that included a small text box that asked the simple question: “What’s on your mind?” Since then, the “status update” has allowed people to use social media to share anything and everything about their lives they want to, from musings and geotagged photos to live video and augmented-reality stickers.

The authors continue, “The result is that we are now our own worst mythological monster—not just watchers but chronic over-sharers. We post on everything from events small (your grocery list) to momentous (the birth of a child, which one of us actually live-tweeted). The exemplar of this is the “selfie,” a picture taken of yourself and shared as widely as possible online. At the current pace, the average American millennial will take around 26,000 selfies in their lifetime. Fighter pilots take selfies during combat missions. Refugees take selfies to celebrate making it to safety. In 2016, one victim of an airplane hijacking scored the ultimate millennial coup: taking a selfie with his hijacker.”

Not only are these postings revelatory of our personal experiences, but they also convey the weightiest issues of public policy. The first sitting world leader to use social media was Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper in 2008, followed by U.S. President Barack Obama. A decade later, the leaders of 178 countries had joined in, including former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who banned Twitter during a brutal crackdown, has changed his mind on the morality—and utility—of social media. He debuted online with a friendly English-language video as he stood next to the Iranian flag. He tweeted, “Let’s all love each other.”

Not just world leaders, but agencies at every level and in every type of government now share their own news, from some 4,000 national embassies to the fifth-grade student council of the Upper Greenwood Lake Elementary school. When the U.S. military’s Central Command expanded Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS in 2016, Twitter users could follow along directly via the hashtag #TALKOIR.

Nothing actually disappears online. The data builds and builds and could reemerge at any moment. Law professor Jeffrey Rosen said that the social media revolution has essentially marked “the end of forgetting.”

The massive accumulation of all this information leads to revelations of its own. Perhaps the clearest example of this phenomenon is the first president to have used social media before running for office. Being both a television celebrity and a social media addict, Donald Trump entered politics with a vast digital trail behind him. The Internet Archive has a fully perusable, downloadable collection of more than a thousand hours of Trump-related video, and his Twitter account has generated around 40,000 messages. Never has a president shared so much of himself—not just words but even neuroses and particular psychological tics—for all the world to see. Trump is a man—the most powerful in the world—whose very essence has been imprinted on the internet. Know this one wonders how such a man could be elected President by the Electoral College.

Tom Nichols is a professor at the U.S. Naval War College who worked with the intelligence community during the Cold War explained the unprecedented value of this vault of information: “It’s something you never want the enemy to know. And yet it’s all out there…It’s also a window into how the President processes information—or how he doesn’t process information he doesn’t like. Solid gold info.” Reportedly Russian intelligence services came to the same conclusion, using Trump’s Twitter account as the basis on which to build a psychological profile of Trump.

The World Wide Web Goes Mobile

January 16, 2019

This is the fourth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” On January 9, 2007, Apple cofounder and CEO Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPhone. Its list of features: a touchscreen; handheld integration of movies, television, and music; a high quality camera; plus major advances in call reception and voicemail. The most radical innovation was a speedy, next-generation browser that could shrink and reshuffle websites, making the entire internet mobile-friendly.

The next year Apple officially opened its App Store. Now anything was possible as long as it was channeled through a central marketplace. Developers eagerly launched their own internet-enabled games and utilities, built atop the iPhone’s sturdy hardware (There are about 2.5 million such apps today). The underlying business of the internet soon changed with the launch of Google’s Android operating system and competing Google Play Store that same year, smartphones ceased to be the niche of tech enthusiast, and the underlying business of the internet soon changed.

There were some 2 billion mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide by 2013. By 2020, that number is expected to reach 8 billion. In the United States, where three-quarters of Americans own a smartphone, these devises have long since replaced televisions as the most commonly used piece of technology.

The following is taken directly from the text: “The smartphone combined with social media to clear the last major hurdle in the race started thousands of years ago. Previously, even if internet services worked perfectly, users faced a choice. They could be in real life but away from the internet. Or they could tend to their digital lives in quiet isolation, with only a computer screen to keep them company. Now, with an internet-capable device in their pocket, it became possible for people to maintain both identities simultaneously. Any thought spoken aloud could be just as easily shared in a quick post. A snapshot of a breathtaking sunset or plate of food (especially food) could fly thousands of miles away before darkness had fallen or the meal was over. With the advent of mobile livestreaming, online and offline observers could watch the same even unfold in parallel.”

Twitter was one of the earliest beneficiaries of the smartphone. Silicon Valley veterans who were hardcore free speech advocates founded the companion 2006. The envisioned a platform with millions of public voices spinning the story of their lives in 140-character bursts. This reflected the new sense that it was the network, rather than the content on it, that mattered.

Twitter grew along with smartphone use. In 2007, its users were sending 5,000 tweets per day. By 2010, that number was up to 50 million; by 2015, 500 million. The better web technology offered users the chance to embed hyperlinks, images, and video in their updates.

The most prominent Twitter user is Donald Trump, who likened it to “owning your own newspaper.” What he liked most about it was that it featured one perfect voice: his own.
It appears that it is his primary means of communications. It also highlights the risks inherent in using Twitter impulsively.

An Early Example of the Weaponization of the Internet

January 15, 2019

This is the third post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” In early 1994 a force of 4,000 disenfranchised workers and farmers rose up in Mexico’s poor southern state of Chiapas. They called themselves the Zapista National Liberation Army (EZLN). They occupied a few towns and vowed to march on Mexico City. This did not impress the government. Twelve thousand soldiers were deployed, backed by tanks and air strikes, in a swift and merciless offensive. The EZLN quickly retreated to the jungle. The rebellion teetered on the brink of destruction. But twelve days after it began the government declared a sudden halt to combat. This was a real head-scratcher, particularly for students of war.

But there was nothing conventional about this conflict. Members of the EZLN had been talking online. They spread their manifesto to like-minded leftists in other countries, declared solidarity with international labor movements protesting free trade (their revolution had begun the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, established contact with organizations like the Red Cross, and urged every journalist they could find to come and observe the cruelty of the Mexican military firsthand. They turned en masse to the new and largely untested power of the internet.

It worked. Their revolution was joined in solidarity by tens of thousands of liberal activists in more than 130 countries, organizing in 15 different languages. Global pressure to end the small war in Chiapas built quickly on the Mexican government. And it seemed to come from every direction, all at once. Mexico relented.

But this new offensive did not stop after the shooting had ceased. The war became a bloodless political struggle, sustained by the support of a global network of enthusiasts and admirers, most of whom had never heard of Chiapas before the call to action went out. In the years that followed, this network would push and cajole the Mexican government into reforms the local fighters had been unable to obtain on their own. The Mexican foreign minister, Jose Angel Gurria lamented in 1995, “The shots lasted ten days, but ever since the war has been a war of ink, of written word, a war on the internet.”

There were signs everywhere that the internet’s relentless pace of innovation was changing the social and political fabric of the real world. The webcam was invented and the launch of eBay and Amazon; the birth of online dating; even the first internet-abetted scandals and crimes, one of which resulted in a presidential impeachment, stemming from a rumor first reported online. In 1996, Manual Castells, one of the world’s foremost sociologists, made a bold prediction: “The internet’s integration of print, radio, and audiovisual modalities into a single system promise an impact on society comparable to that of the alphabet.”

The authors note that most forward-thinking of these internet visionaries was not an academic. In 1999, musician David Bowie sat for an interview with the BBC. Instead of promoting his albums, he waxed philosophical about technology’s future. He explained that the internet would not just bring people together; it would also tear them apart. When asked by the interviewer about his surety about the internet’s powers, Bowie said that he didn’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg. “I think the potential of what the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable. I think we’re actually on the cusp of something, exhilarating and terrifying…It’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about.”

Could Sputnik be Responsible for the Internet?

January 14, 2019

This is the second post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” Probably most readers are wondering what is or was Sputnik? Sputnik was the first space satellite to orbit the earth. It was launched by the Soviet Union. The United States was desperately trying to launch such a satellite, but was yet to do so. A young HM appeared as part of a team of elementary school presenters on educational TV that made a presentation on Sputnik and on the plans of the United States to launch such a satellite. The young version of HM explained the plans for the rocket to launch a satellite. Unfortunately, the model briefed by HM failed repeatedly, and a different rocket was needed for the successful launch.

The successful launch of Sputnik created panic in the United States about how far we were behind the Russians. Money was poured into scientific and engineering research and into the education of young scientists and engineers. HM personally benefited from this generosity as it furthered his undergraduate and graduate education.

Licklider and Taylor the authors of the seminal paper, “The Computer as a Communication Device” were employees of the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). An internetted communications system was important for the U.S. military was that it would banish its greatest nightmare: the prospect of the Soviet Union being able to decapitate U.S. command and control with a single nuclear strike. But the selling point for the scientists working for DARPA was that linking up computers would be a useful way to share what was at the time incredibly rare and costly computer time. A network could spread the load and make it easier on everyone. So a project was funded to transform the Intergalactic Computer Network into reality. It was called ARPANET.

It is interesting to speculate what would have been developed in the absence of the Soviet threat. It is difficult to think that this would have been done by private industry.
Perhaps it is a poor commentary on homo sapiens, but it seems that many, if not most, technological advances have been developed primarily for warfare and defense.

It is also ironic to think that technology developed to thwart the Soviet Union would be used by Russia to interfere in American elections to insure that their chosen candidate for President was elected.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media

January 13, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking. Many of the immediately following posts will be based on or motivated by this book. The authors have been both exhaustive and creative in their offering. Since it is exhaustive only a sampling of the many important points can be included. Emphasis will be placed on the creative parts.

The very concept that led to the development of the internet was a paper written by two psychologists J.C.R Licklider and Robert W. Taylor titled “The Computer as a Communication Device.” Back in those days computers were large mainframes used for data processing. Licklider wrote another paper titled “Man Computer Symbiosis.” The idea here was that both computers and humans could benefit from the interaction between the two, a true symbiotic interaction. Unfortunately, this concept has been largely overlooked. Concentration was on replacing humans, who were regarded as slow and error prone, with computers. Today the fear is of the jobs lost by artificial intelligence. Attention needs to be focused on the interaction between humans and computers as advocated by Licklider.

But the notion of the computer as a communication device did catch on. More will be written on that in the following post.

The authors also bring Clausewitz into the discussion. Clausewitz was a military strategist famous for his saying, war is politics pursued in other means. More specifically he wrote, “the continuation of political intercourse with the addition of other means.” The two are intertwined, he explained. “War in itself does not suspend political intercourse or change it into something entirely different. In essentials that intercourse continues, irrespective of the means it employs.” War is political. And politics will always be at the heart of human conflict, the two inherently mixed. “The main lines along which military events progress, and to which they are restricted, are political lines that continue throughout the war into the subsequent peace.”

If only we could learn of what Clausewitz would think of today. Nuclear warfare was never realistic. Mutual Assured Destruction with the meaningful acronym (MAD) was never feasible. Conflicts need to be resolved, not the dissolution of the disagreeing parties. Today’s technology allows for the disruptions of financial systems, power grids, the very foundations of modern society. Would Clausewitz think that conventional warfare has become obsolete? There might be small skirmishes, but would standing militaries go all out to destroy each other. Having a technological interface rather than face to face human interactions seems to allow for more hostile and disruptive
interactions. Have politics become weaponized? Is that what the title of Singer and Brooking’s book implies?

The authors write that their research has taken them around the world and into the infinite reaches of the internet. Yet they continually found themselves circling back to five core principles, which form the foundation of the book.
First, the internet has left adolescence.

Second, the internet has become a battlefield.

Third, this battlefield changes how conflicts are fought.

Fourth, this battle changes what “war” means.

Fifth, and finally, we’re all part of this war.

Here are the final two paragraphs of the first chapter.

“The modern internet is not just a network but an ecosystem of nearly 4 billion souls, each with their own thoughts and aspirations, each capable of imprinting a tiny piece of themselves on the vast digital commons. They are the targets not of a single information war but of thousands and potentially millions of them. Those who can manipulate this swirling tide, to steer its direction and flow, can accomplish incredible good. They can free people, expose crimes, save lives, and seed far-reaching reforms. But they can also accomplish astonishing evil. They can foment violence, stoke hate, sow falsehoods, incite wars, and even erode the pillar of democracy itself.

Which side succeeds depends, in large part, on how much the rest of us learn to recognize this new warfare for what it is. Our goal in “LikeWar” is to explain exactly what’s going on and to prepare us all for what comes next.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Donald Trump and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

January 11, 2019

There have been fourteen prior healthy memory blog posts on the Dunning-Kruger effect. Angela Fritz in the 8 Jan 2019 issued of the Washington Post wrote a timely article titled “Psychological phenomenon helps explain the confidence of the incompetent.” The subtitle is “Dunning-Kruger effect drawing a surge of interest during the Trump years.” She writes, “In their 1999 paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Dunning and Justin Kruger put data to what has been known by philosophers since Socrates, who supposedly said something along the lines of “the only true wisdom is knowing when you know nothing.” Charles Darwin followed that up in 1871 with “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Dunning and Kruger quizzed people on several topics, such as grammar, logical reasoning, and humor. After each test, they asked the participants how they thought the did. Specifically, participants were asked how many other quiz-takers they beat. Even though the results confirmed their hypothesis, the researchers were still shocked by the results. No matter, the subject, people who did poorly on the test ranked their competence much higher. On average, test takers who scored as low as the 10th percentile ranked themselves near the 70th percentile. Those least likely to know what they were talking about believed they knew as much as the experts. These results have been replicated in at least a dozen different domains including: math skills, wine tasting, chess, medical knowledge among surgeons, and firearm safety among hunters.

The author notes that during the election and in the months after the presidential inauguration, interest in the Dunning-Kruger effect surged. Google searches for “dunning-kruger” peaked in May 2017, according to Google Trends, and has remained high. Time spent on the Dunning-Kruger Effect Wikipedia entry skyrocketed since late 2015.

The immediately preceding post, “A President Divorced from Reality” documents the enormous knowledge that Trump says he has to accompany his highest IQ. If anything, his delusional disorder only amplifies this effect.

Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at the University of Michigan said, “Donald Trump has been overestimating his knowledge for decades. It’s not surprising that he would continue that pattern into the White House.”

Steven Sloman, a cognitive psychologist at Brown University said, Dunning-Kruger “offers an explanation for a kind of hubris. The fact is, that’s Trump in a nutshell. He’s a man with zero political skill who has no idea he has zero political skill. And it’s given him extreme confidence.”

Sloman thinks that Dunning-Kruger effect has become popular outside of the research world because it is a simple phenomenon that could apply to all of us, as people are desperate to understand what’s going on in the world. Many people “cannot wrap their minds around the rise of Trump,” Sloman said. “He’s exactly the opposite of everything we value in a politician, and he’s the exact opposite of what we thought Americans valued.” It’s clear that this view was not reflective of what too many Americans actually thought.

Additional research by Dunning shows the poorest performers are also the least likely to accept criticism or show interest in self improvement.

Some might argue, what then about Trump’s success as a businessman and celebrity. His celebrity was based on the false belief that Trump was a successful businessman. The truth is that Trump is a failed businessman, who has declared bankruptcy numerous times. According to Donald Trump Jr., his father’s financing comes from the Russians. The Russians have recruited him and are using him for their purposes.

According to Dunning, the effect is particularly dangerous when someone with influence or the means to do harm doesn’t have anyone who can speak honestly about their mistakes. He notes several plane crashes that could have been avoided if the crew had spoken up to an overconfident pilot.

Dunning explained, “You get into a situation where people can be to deferential to the people in charge. You have to have people around you that are willing to tell you you’re willing to make an error.”

HM is more upset about Trump supporters than by Trump himself. Eventually the country should be rid of Trump, but his supporters will remain. How to explain them? Perhaps the Dunning-Kruger effect can be extended to them. These people eschew expertise ascribing expertise to the deep state. And they are highly confident in their contempt for expertise.

HM’s fear is that there is a stupidity pandemic that can be understood by the Dunning-Kruger effect. Research needs to be done on how to overcome this pandemic.

A President Divorced from Reality

January 9, 2019

And who has a sick, unhealthy memory. Trump’s mental issues were discussed in the post “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President” edited by Bandy Lee, M.D., M. Div. It is obvious that Trump is a narcissist. And it also has become obvious that Trump has a delusional disorder. There was a previous post on this topic appropriately titled “Delusional Disorder.”

People with this disorder have lost contact with reality and live in their own world of delusions. Moreover, it appears that this disorder is chronic. And no psychiatric or psychological training is needed to come to the conclusion that his disorder is chronic.

One key indicator is that his lying is ubiquitous, and this is well documented. Moreover, his lies frequently contradict each other. Whatever he believes at the moment, which is also what is convenient at the moment, is what he says.

Hayden, formerly the head of the NSA and CIA, has noted that Trump has no interest in objective truth. Truth for Trump resides in his delusional mind. He refuses to accept the briefings he gets from the intelligence community. It is well documented that Russia did work to get him elected. Yet Putin tells hims that this is false news. Trump says that he believes Putin because Putin told him very strongly that they did not. Trump has recently presented Putin’s own revision of history to fit the new Russian agenda. According to this, Russia invaded Afghanistan to stop terrorism. This is brand new, recently formulated Russian propaganda.

Trump says that he is the greatest (fill in the blank) everything he can think of. He knows more than his generals, more than (fill in the blank). He is not just bragging, he appears to believe what he is saying. He also says he thinks with his gut. One can easily believe this is as it seems that his brain plays a minimal role in his thinking, if any.

Perhaps, the most telling instance was Trump’s presentation before the United Nations. He began by telling the assembly of his successes as President, and the assembly broke out in laughter. He was surprised, because he regards himself as a success.

What is worrying is that although Trump is regarded as a norm breaking President, it is not recognized that he is mentally ill. Actually, impeachment is not appropriate for Trump. Rather the 25th Amendment provides the ability for the removal of the President when he is not longer fit to govern. Being divorced from reality and living in his own world of delusions provide the basis for removal. Here is Section 4 of the Amendment:
“Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President. “

So Republicans are needed to do this. Unfortunately, most true Republicans have left the party, and the remainder remain for the power of their positions and the ability their positions allow them to enrich themselves.

But for the good of the country, and to try to rehabilitate that Grand Old Party and make it grand again, they should invoke the amendment.

© 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.

Hallucinations

January 8, 2019

Part of this post is taken from Helen Thomson’s book, “Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey the World’s Strangest Brains.”

Hearing voices that are not there is often considered a sign of mental illness. In 1973, David Rosenhan, a professor emeritus at Stanford, got himself and seven other completely healthy friends admitted to the mental wards of hospitals across the United States. The point of this experiment was to question the validity of psychiatric diagnosis, but they were surprised to find that it was so easy to be admitted as a mental patient. Each participant phoned a hospital complaining of hearing voices. The rest of their medical history and other life stories were true. All eight were admitted. Seven were diagnosed with schizophrenia, and one with manic-depressive disorder. As soon as they entered the hospital they said their hallucinations had disappeared. Then it was up to each individual to convince the staff to discharge them. This task took between seven and fifty-two days.

Most hallucinations are not associated with schizophrenia. John McGrath, a professor at the Queensland Brain Institute interviewed 31,000 people from eighteen different countries. When participants were asked whether they had ever experienced a hallucination, such as hearing voices that other people said did not exist, 5% of men and 6.6% of women responded yes.

Oliver Sacks said, “The brain doesn’t tolerate inactivity. It seems to respond to diminished sensory input by creating autonomous sensations of its own choosing.” It was noted soon after WW2 that high-flying aviators in featureless skies and truck drivers on long, empty roads were prone to hallucinations.

Psychologists believe that these unreal experiences provide a glimpse into the way our brains stitch together our perception of reality. Our brains are bombarded with thousands of sensations every second of the day. Our brains rarely stop providing us with a steady stream of consciousness. Processing everything that we experience in the world all of the time would be a very inefficient way to run a brain. Instead it takes a few shortcuts. However when this input is low or absent, it creates sensations, that is, hallucinations.

You can create your own hallucinations safely at home. All you need is a table-tennis ball, some headphones and a bit of tape. Cut the ball in half and tape each segment over your eyes, Sit in a room that is evenly lit, find some white noise to play over your headphones, sit back and relax. This is called the ganzfield technique, this technique has been used to investigate the appearance of hallucinations for decades.

Should you not want to bother with this technique you can read the following descriptions that were reported in a paper published in the journal Cortex by Jiri Wackermann at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health.

“For quite a long time were was nothing except a green-grayish fog. It was really boring. I thought, ‘Ah, what a nonsense experiment!’ Then for an indefinite period of time, I was ‘off,’ like completely absent-minded. Then, all of a sudden, I saw a hand holding a piece of chalk and writing on a blackboard something like a mathematical formula. The vision was very clear, but it stayed only for a few seconds and disappeared again…it was like a window into that foggy stuff.’ Later, she saw a clearing in a forest and a woman who passed by on a bike, her long blond hair waving in the wind.”

Another participant felt like she and a friend were inside a cave, ‘We made a fire. There was a creek flowing under our feet, and we were on a stone. She had fallen into the creek, and she had to wait to have her things dried. Then she said to me: ‘Hey, move on, we should go now.’

Here is what the author, Helen Wilson, writes of her own experience with the ganzfield technique. “Nothing happened for at least 30 minutes, other than a myriad of random thoughts and waves of sleep. Just as I was wondering whether I should give up, I saw an image coming out from what seemed like a window full of smoke. It was of a man lying curled up next to me. It appeared for a few seconds, then disappeared. It certainly differed from a dream, or from a random image plucked from my imagination. It was an intriguing demonstration of what can occur when our senses are impaired.”

Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM)

January 7, 2019

This post is based partly on Helen Thomson’s ‘Unthinkable: “An Extraordinary Journey Through the World’s Strangest Brains.” There have been previous healthy memory posts on this topic. HSAMers are people who can recall the events by date (say 12 October 1999) for most of the days of their lives. McGaugh is the psychologist who first identified this and he has made a study of more than fifty people with this condition.

The most famous HSAMer is the actress Marilu Henner who most people should remember from the TV show Taxi. There is a healthy memory post devoted almost exclusively to Marilu (“Who Has a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and What Might She Tell Us?”). She has written a book, “Total Memory Makeover.”

For the most part, these individuals live normal lives. But it has been difficult finding a reason or reasons for these HSAMers. McGaugh did brain scans of these individuals and found some subtle differences in the structure of nine regions. Unfortunately Ms. Thomson only included two of these regions in her write up, an enlarged caudate nucleus and putamen McGaugh seized upon this finding because both of these areas have also been implicated in obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). McGaugh conjectures that these extraordinary powers of memory are rooted in an unconscious rehearsal of their pasts.

Although unconscious rehearsal might provide an explanation in the absence of others, HM takes strong exception to McGaugh using the term OCD. OCD is only a problem, or a disorder as McGaugh so cavalierly claims, if it is regarded by the individual as a disorder or something the individual would like to be rid of. There may be some whose HSAM is causing them difficulties, but they are a distinct minority. Marilu Henner regards her ability as assisting her in being a better actress.

Here is a quote from one of these HSAMers. “You know, one of the best things about having a perfect memory is the ability remember those I have lost. I make sure I think a lot of people I love when they’re alive so that I can go back to any time in their life that was with them and remember it like it was yesterday. Then if they’re no longer with me, it’s like I can still spend time with them. The people I’ve lost don’t feel like they’re truly gone because my memories of them are so clear. I can go back to my younger years of my life and not have to mourn like others do, because I can remember our times together so well. I think about people a lot and appreciate my time with them because once they’ve gone, they won’t be here, but my memories always will be.”

HM does not have HSAM, but he does use his mental ability to time travel and visit past times. He does not remember precise dates, but he can return to his fifth birthday, return to his grades 1- 12, to his undergraduate education, his time in the military, and graduate school. He can recall the time he worked as a musician and taught drum lessons, as well as his professional career. He passed on attending his 50th high school reunion because his best four friends had passed. He can revisit them any time via his memory. Memory is for time travel, into the past, and into the future. It is most precious.

© 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.

Navigation

January 6, 2019

A large part of this post is based on Helen Thomson’s book, “Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey Through the World’s Strangest Brains.” We have two basic means of navigation. One is to have specific landmarks that tell us what to do at that landmark. And the other is to have a map of the area of interest in our mind, a mental map. Although GPS’s might have an analogue of a mental map in the database they are interrogating, the instructions they provide to the user is a series of instructions as what to do when you arrive at what point. Point to point instructions are fine until you get lost or redirected and need to find an alternative route.

At one time cab drivers in London were tested on whether they had stored a mental map of London in the brains. It took years of study to pass this test, but to get the desired license they needed to memorize twenty-five thousand roads within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross station. An interesting and important question was if this knowledge affected their brains, and if so, which part of their brain. To answer this question, Eleanor Maguire scanned the brains of 79 trainee taxi drivers several times over four years as they began to learn what is called the Knowledge. Those who passed the test had a bigger posterior hippocampus than when they started, whereas there were no changes in trainee taxi drivers who had failed their exams or in 31 people whose age, education and intelligence were similar to the taxi drivers’, but who had never attempted to learn the Knowledge. Clearly, the hipppocampi were growing alongside navigational abilities.

How the hippocampus learns to navigate was done buy using rats as subjects. O’Keene placed a set of thin electrodes into their hippocampi, which could record the little spike of electricity that occurs when an individual neuron is communicating with its neighbors. O’keene discovered a type of cell that fired only when the animal was in a specific location. Each time the rat passed through this location—pop!—that cell would fire. A nearby cell seemed to care only about a different location. Pop! It would fire whenever the rat walked through that location. The next cell would respond only to another location, and so on. The combination of activity of many of these cells could tell you exactly where that rat was to within five square cm. O’keene named them place cells and showed how together they told the rest of the brain.

Place cells don’t do this job alone. They receive input from three other kinds of cells in a nearby region called the entorhinal cortex. One type of cell is called a grid cell, and was discovered by May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser. The Mosers realized that our ability to navigate relies on us being able to think about how we are moving and where we have come from. Consider the way you head to the ticket machine in a parking lot and then reverse the movements of your body to return to your car. The Mosers discovered that grid cells were the neurons responsible for integrating this information into our cognitive map.

Our ability to recognize familiar landmarks is so important that there’s a part of the brain that is dedicated to the task.. This is the retrosplenial cortex and when it’s damaged it leads to severe problems in navigating.

Here is something we can do to improve our navigational skills. If you’re in a new area you should return to one point—your home base—often this will help you build a better mental map. You should also pay much more attention to your surroundings, take note of specific landmarks and think about their orientation to one another. And don’t forget to turn around or look backwards from time to time: it’s a trick that animals do to make it easier to recognize their way home.

It is also good to have a fold out map of the area of interest. This is a literal map than can inform your mental map.

Two impressive Memories

January 5, 2019

This post is based on the book written by Helen Thomson titled “Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey Through the World’s Strangest Brains.” One of these impressive memories was that of Solomon Shereshevsky, a Russian journalist. His editor was annoyed with him. He had just come out of a news meeting in which he had given Shereshevsky a list of instructions—people he needed to interview, information about a breaking story, addresses of places he had to visit. Shereshevsky had not taken a single note. The editor called him into his office and told him off for being inattentive. Sherevshevsky did not apologize. He hadn’t needed to take any notes, he said, and proceeded to repeat back his editor’s complicated instructions word for word.

Being quite impressed, his editor persuaded him to pay a visit to Alexander Luria, a Russian psychologist. Luria discovered that the secret to Shershevsky’s performance recall was a condition called synesthesia. Synesthesia is when a person experience the joining of senses that are normally experience apart. For instance, they might taste lemon when they hear the sound of a bell, or see red when they think of a number. Shereshevsky’s linked senses meant that if asked to memorize a word, he would also taste and hear the word simultaneously. This meant that when recalling the word at a later date, he had several triggers to remind him of it. His imagination was so vivid that in one experiment he was able to raise the temperature of one hand while lowering the temperature of the other, merely by imagining one on a stove and one on a block of ice.

Shereshevesky’s talent was natural, but there are many who have learned to perform extraordinary feats of memory. George Koltanowski took up chess at the age of fourteen, and three years later was Belgian champion. He was able to play blindfolded by memorizing his opponents moves after being told them by a referee. In 1937, he set a world record by playing 34 simultaneous games of chess blindfolded. His opponents were sighted, yet he won 24 games and drew ten. That record remains unbeaten today.

There is an entire category in the healthy memory blog about mnemonics and mnemotechnics, which are techniques for memorizing different type of material. Use the search block on the healthy memory blog web page and enter “Moonwalking with Einstein” and learn how these techniques are used in memory competitions.

UNTHINKABLE

January 4, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Helen Thomson. The subtitle is “An Extraordinary Journey Through the World’s Strangest Brains.” In the opening chapter Ms. Thomson provides an overview of the brain. The most recognizable region of the human brain is the cerebral cortex. It forms the outside shell and is divided into two almost identical hemispheres. Each side of the cortex is divided into four lobes, which together are responsible for all our most impressive mental functions. If you touch your forehead, the lobe closest to your finger is called the frontal cortex and it allows us to make decisions, controls our emotions and helps us understand the actions of others. It gives us all sorts of aspects of our personality; our ambition, our foresight and our moral standards.

If you were to trace your finger around either side of your head toward your ear, you would find the temporal lobe, which helps us understand the meaning of words and speech and gives us the ability to recognize people’s faces.

Run you finger up toward the crown of your ear and you’ll reach the parietal lobe, which is involved in many of our senses, as well as certain aspects of language.

Low down toward the nape of the neck is the occipital lobe, whose primary concern is vision.

Hanging of the back of the brain we have a second “little brain,” a distinctive cauliflower-shaped mass. This is the cerebellum and it is vital for our balance, movement and posture. 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. To learn more about the cerebellum see the healthy memory blog post “The Brain’s Secret Powerhouse That Makes Us Who We Are.”

If you were to pry open the two hemispheres, you would find the brain stem, the area that controls each breath and every heartbeat, as well as the thalamus, which acts as a grand central station, relaying information back and forth between all the other regions.
The brain is full of cells called neurons which are too small to be see with the naked eye. These cells pass messages from one side of the brain to the other in the form of electrical impulses. Neurons branch out forming connections with its neighbors. If you were to count one of these connections every second, it would take you three million years to finish.

Ms. Thomson writes, “We now know the mind arises from the precise physical state of these neurons at any one moment. It is from this chaotic activity that our emotions appear, our personalities are formed. and our imaginations are stirred. It is arguably one of the most impressive and complex phenomena known to man.

So it’s not surprising that sometimes it al goes wrong.”

The Internet is the Best Answer

January 3, 2019

The title of this post is the second part of the title of an article by MeGan McArdle in the 2 Jan ’19 issue of the Washington Post. The first part of the title is “What connects Trumpish figures around the world?” The author notes that in the two years since Donald Trump’s unexpected victory, everyone seems to have developed a strong theory about what’s wrong with modern politics. She writes, “It could be the economic decline of the white working class—or maybe, less charitably, the problem is the white working class’s incorrigible racism. Others prefer to blame immigration, political correctness or simply the overweening arrogance of America’s self-appointed mandarin class.”

She continues, “Proponents of these explanations can point to compelling evidence. But that evidence has the same fatal flaw in each story: the attempt to explain a novel phenomenon by way of some long term factor that hasn’t changed, or else to explain a global phenomenon in terms of some local peeve.”

Columbia University sociologist Musa Al-Gharbi has pointed out some of the flaws in the racism thesis. The most glaring of these is that the United States has been racist for a long time and much more racist in the past than now-but now is when American elected Trump.

One might argue that it took a novel event to fan the embers of the nation’s latent racism, and that the presidency of Barack Obama might have been such a novel event. But Trumpish leaders seem increasingly popular through the world, Rodrigo Détente in the Philippines, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Viktor Orban in the Hungary. So the problem goes beyond latent racism.

MeGan suggests that the most compelling answer is the Internet, and particularly social media, is disrupting politics the way it has disrupted everything else—nearly everywhere, and all at once.

HM suggests that the Internet and social media are the not problem, but rather the way that humans use the internet and social media that is the problem. The internet provides the means of access to a tremendous amount of knowledge, and a means of communicating this knowledge to other human beings. Unfortunately, most who use the internet use it superficially. The stay plugged in, although it is impossible to keep abreast of everything. Their processing of this information is superficial. Moreover, they let themselves be led by the media to find not just superficial information, but disinformation. People need to unplug and use the internet more critically. They need to think, engage in Kahneman’s System 2 processing. This not only reduces one’s being manipulated by external agencies, but it also provides more accurate information in one’s memories, provides for the development of a cognitive reserve and greatly reduces risks of dementia of Alzheimer’s.

© 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

There’s a Deep Neural Connection Between Gratitude, Giving and Values

January 2, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the titled of an article by Christina Karns in the Health & Science Section in the 25 December 2018 issue of the Washington Post.

Psychological research has found that taking time to be thankful has benefits for well-being. Not only does gratitude go along with more optimism, less anxiety and depression, and create goal attainment, but also is associated with fewer symptoms of illness and other physical benefits. Researchers have also found that making connections between the internal experience of gratitude and the external practice of altruism.

The author is a neuroscientist particularly interested in the brain regions and connections that support gratitude and altruism. To study the relationship between gratitude and altruism in the brain, the author and his colleagues first ask volunteers questions meant to test how frequently they feel thankful, and the degree to which they tend to care about the well-being of others. They used statistical analyses to assess the extent to which someone’s gratitude could predict their altruism. As has been previously found, the more grateful people tended to be more altruistic.

Being neuroscientists the next step was to explore about how these tendencies are reflected in the brain. Study participants performed a giving activity in an MRI scanner. They watched as the computer transferred real money to their own account or to the account of a local food bank. Sometimes they could choose whether to give or receive, but other times the transfers were like a mandatory tax, outside their control. They especially wanted to compare what happened in the brain when a participant received money as opposed to seeing money given to the charity instead.

The result was that the neural connection between gratitude and giving is very deep, both literally and figuratively. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a region deep in the frontal love of the brain, is key to supporting both. This regions is wired up to be a hub for processing the value of risk and reward; it’s richly connected to even deeper brain regions that provide a kick of pleasurable neurochemicals in the right circumstances. It does abstract representations of the inner and outer world that help with complex reasoning, one’s representation of oneself and social processing. They also saw how differences in just how active this region was in various individuals.

They calculated a “pure altruism response” by comparing how active the reward regions of the brain were during “charity-gain” vs. “self-gain” situations. The participants identified as more grateful and more altruistic via the questionnaire had higher “pure altruism” scores. That is a stronger response in these reward regions of the brain when they saw the charity gaining money. It felt good for them to see the food bank do well.

Other studies have zeroed in on this same brain region and found that individual differences in self-reported “benevolence” were mirrored by participants’ brains’ response to charitable donations, including the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. So is this brain reward region the key to kindness?

To address this question the author randomly assigned study participants to one of two groups. For three weeks, one group wrote in their journals about gratitude, keeping track of the things they were thankful for The other group wrote about engaging topics from their lives that weren’t specific to gratitude.

Gratitude journaling seemed to work. Keeping a written account about gratitude led people to report experiencing more of the emotion. Other research also indicates that gratitude practice make people more supportive of others and improves relationships.

Study participants also exhibited a change in how their brains responded to giving. In the MRI scanner the group that practiced gratitude by journaling increased the “pure altruism” measure in the reward regions of the brain. Response to charity-gain increase more than those to self-gain.

Practicing gratitude shifted the value of giving in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. It changed the exchange rate in the brain. Giving to charity become more valuable than receiving money oneself. After the brain calculated the exchange rate, you get paid in the neural currency of the reward, the delivery of neurotransmitters that signal pleasure and goal attainment.

So, in terms of the brain’s reward response, it really can be true that giving is better than receiving.

Meditation is another technique to enhance altruism. In particular, loving kindness meditation done by experienced Buddhist monks revealed impressive brain activity.
To learn more about loving kindness meditation enter “loving kindness meditation” into the search block of the healthy memory blog.

Freed from the Feed

January 1, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the titled of a piece by Elise Viebeck in the 25 December ’18 issue of the Washington Post. The piece follows the development of an early Facebook enthusiast.

In 2005 Michael Lampert, a student at the University of Arizona, joined an early version of Facebook. He wrote, “It felt very cool, very hip, very exclusive.” He writes silly anecdotes and ridiculous things about college life.

In MId-2008 he is a recent graduate in the middle of the Great Recession trying to find work. Although Facebook did not help him find work, it did provide a distraction and a connection to far-off-friends. He says, “There was still this sense of happiness that I could go and log on and reignite old memories.”

In Spring 2012 he is a newcomer in fast-changing San Francisco. He endures rising rents and a difficult job in advertising. Unknown to him, a layoff loomed. Facebook became a way to keep track of new friends amid the upheaval. He says, “it helped me build the social circle I have now.”

In Summer 2018 he is thriving in Oakland engaged to be married. He receives congratulations on Facebook. The platform feels different since the 2016 edition. A friend’s decision to delete his account has made him think: “The people I had this artificial sense of relationship with online—how important is it that I maintain that? If I actively care about them, do they actively care about me?”

In late November he is about to be an ex-user of Facebook. He publishes his last post, urging friends to stay in touch by phone and email. He says, “Most people were like, ‘Oh, that’s too cool, good for you.” But weeks later, few of his old contacts have reached out. He says, “I feel like my perspective on social media is very much in the minority.”

Now he is not interested in returning to Facebook. He is pursuing a career in human resources, hoping to make corporate workplaces more humane. He doesn’t think social media is evil, but its ubiquity still has him thinking. He says, “I’m moving more toward a sense of being in the moment.”

May this post assist you in making a New Year’s resolution to break from social media.

Happy New Year 2019!

December 31, 2018

So it’s time for those new year’s resolutions. HM encourages you to consider marshaling your precious attentional resources. Unfortunately, it seems like the majority of people are unknowingly squandering their attentional resources. Our attentional resources are limited, so we need to try to use them to best advantage. This is key to the development and maintenance of a healthy memory.

The first issue regards the amount of time you are plugged in. Being plugged in subjects you to interruptions that can be harmful. Being plugged in results in superficial processing, which is not good for memory health. There are social issues here, so there is a need to consult with one’s true friends and explain what you are trying to do and why. You might also want to encourage them to join you in this effort.

The next issue, which is clearly related to the first issue, is to restrict use of social media. Do not get news from social media. It can literally lead you down paths to disinformation. There are respected news sources in traditional newspapers and magazines as well as online sources. Evaluate them for their credibility. Previous healthy memory posts have documented the problems resulting from social media news sources, Facebook being the prime example.

Active cognitive processing, System 2 processes in Kahneman’s terminology, contribute to memory health and are likely the best protection against Alzheimer’s and dementia. They also lead to more fulfilling lives and to being better citizens. Learning new skills and subjects require System 2 processing.

System 2 processes along with willpower are limited resources that can be exhausted. If your resolutions are unrealistic and exhaust your willpower, they will not be fulfilled.
Actually, if you are continually hooked in and a social media addict, just getting these problems remedied might be demanding enough. And the reward in memory health would be commensurate.

Previous New Year’s Healthymemory posts have recommended having two resolutions. One which is challenging, and one for which you have a high probability of such seeding. You do not want to go through the new year with an 0fer.

A piece in the 30 December 2018 issue of the Washington Post in the Outlook section by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie disabuses us of the myth that New Year’s Resolutions are useless because they are not kept. A frequently cited statistic is that only 8% of us manage to keep our resolutions. But according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in 2002 found that 46% of resolvers were successful six months later, compared with just 4% of the non resolvers just interested in changing something about their lives. A 2017 Statistic Brain Survey found that 44.8% of participants kept up their resolutions for at least six months, adding, “People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.

© 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 Trump Cult

December 25, 2018

Regarding this post as a Christmas gift from HM. Actually this is actually a regift from a very good friend who sent me the link to this article by Alexander Hurst in the New Republic
https://newrepublic.com/article/152638/escape-trump-cult. If you are a regular reader of the healthy memory blog you should know that HM has long been concerned about Donald Trump and his threat to American democracy. This article by Alexander Hurst in the New Republic presents a good frame for understanding Trump and his success, and also contains suggestions for dealing with this threat.

Although HM is grateful to his friend, he is also ashamed of himself as he has long known of the cited research, but failed to recognize its relevance to the Trump phenomenon.

The research in question began in 1954. Dorothy Martin and dozens of her followers crowded into her home in Chicago to await the apocalypse. They believed that Martin, a housewife, had received a message from a planet named Clarion that the world would end in a great flood beginning at midnight, and that they, the faithful, would be rescued by an alien spacecraft. Three of the group, Leon Festinger, Henry Reckon, and Stanley Schacter, were not there to be saved. The three had infiltrated the pseudo-cult to study Festinger’s recently elaborated theory of “cognitive dissonance.” The theory predicted that when people with strongly held beliefs were presented with contrary evidence, rather than change their minds they would seek comfort and “cognitive consonance” by convincing others to support their erroneous views.

Festinger’s prediction was correct. When neither the apocalypse nor the UFO arrived, the group began proselytizing about how God had rewarded the Earth with salvation because of their vigil. Festinger’s subsequent book, “When Prophecy Fails,” became a standard sociology reference for examining cognitive dissonance. Hurst notes that it is unlikely that the researchers would have predicted that over a half century later Festinger’s theory would be applicable to roughly 25% of the population of the United States and one of its two major political parties. But the theory was timely as it provides an understanding for deprogramming the Trump cult’s acolytes. This effort would require a level of sympathetic engagement on the part of nonbelievers that they have yet to display.

Hurst writes, “Trump, like the populist authoritarians before and around him, has also understood (or, at least, instinctually grasped) how indispensable his own individual persona is to his ultimate goal of grasping and maintaining power. Amidst his string of business failures, Trump’s singular talent has been that of any con man: the incredible ability to cultivate public image. Of course, Trump did not build his cult of followers—his in-group—ex nihilo; in many ways, the stage was set for his entrance. America had already split into two political identities by the time he announced his campaign for president in 2015, not just in terms of the information we consume, but down to the brands we prefer and the penchant for manipulating the media, Trump tore pages from the us-against-them playbook of the European [and Russian] far right and presented them to a segment of the American public already primed to receive it with religious further.”

Jana Lalich, a sociologist who specializes in cults, identified four characteristics of a totalistic cult and applied them to Trumpism: “an all-encompassing belief system, extreme devotion to the leader, reluctance to acknowledge criticism of the group or its leader, and a disdain for nonmembers.” Another sociologist of cults, Eileen Barker, has written that, “together, cult leaders and followers created and maintain their movement by proclaiming shared beliefs and identifying themselves as a distinguishable unit; behaving in ways that reinforce the group as a social entity, live closing themselves off to conflicting information; and stoking division and fear of enemies, real or perceived.”

Hurst notes that his nearly 90% approval rating among Republicans is the more remarkable for his having shifted Republican views on a range of issued from trade, to NATO, and to Putin. His endless rallies small of a noxious sort of revivalism, complete with a loyalty “pledge” curing the 2016 campaign. What is most worrisome is an almost universal unwillingness by Republican congressional leadership to check or thwart Trump’s worst instincts in ay substantive way.

Disdain for nonmembers, the ‘gobalists,” immigrants, urbanites, Muslims, Jews , and people of color. Hurst notes that Woody Guthrie sang in 1950 about his father Fred Trump’s discriminatory policies housing policies. Donald continues in his father’s way about birthirism, that dark-skinned immigrants come from “shithole countries,” his frequent classification of black people as uppity and ungrateful, his denigration of Native Americans, his incorporation of white nationalist thought into his administration, and his equivocation over neo-Nazis.

Hurst writes, “Trump sold his believers an engrossing tale of “American carnage” that he alone could fix, then isolated them in a media universe where reality exists only through Trump-tinted glasses, attacking all other sources of information as “fake news.” In the most polarized media landscape in the wealthy world, Republicans place their trust almost exclusively in Fox News, seeing nearly all other outlets as biased. In that context, the effect of a president who lie an average of ten times a day is the total blurring of fact and fiction, reality and myth, trust and cynicism. It is a world where, in the words of Rudy Giuliani, “truth is no longer truth”. “Who could really know?” Trump said of claims that Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “It is what it is.”

Trump supporters have time and time again displayed either indifference or disbelief when presented with Trump’s actual record, which has fallen short of what he promised on the campaign trail. With respect to his many, many lies, a Trump supporter said “I don’t care if he sprouts a third dick up there.” What actually is is irrelevant; what does matter is that Trump reflects back to his supporters a general feeling of what ought to be and a generation of in their guts. Hurst concludes, “Those caught in the web of Trumpism do not see the deception that surrounds them.
So when confronted with the 17, and still growing charges being levied against Trump and his group, it is unrealistic to think that many will say that the scales have fallen from their eyes and they at last see the danger that Trump presents not just to the nation, but to the entire world.

There are known ways of converting cult followers. A 2011 study by the RAND Corporation concluded that, “Factors associated with leaving street gangs, religious, right-wing extremist groups, and organized crime groups include positive social ties and an organic disillusionment with the group’s beliefs or ideology. Psychologists Rod and Linda Dubrow-Marshall write in “The Conversation,” it’s extremely difficult for people to admit they are wrong, and it’s crucial for them to arrive at that realization on their own.

Hurst writes, “The very things responsible for the success of democratic transition are under near constant assault from Trump and his Republican abettors. Democracy, especially liberal democracy, has always been dependent on the trust and belief of the self-governed. It is one thing to implement tangible measures to prevent the decay of bedrock institutions when we know what these measures should look like. It’s another, far tougher thing, to figure out how to maintain the legacy of the these same institutions—and how to restore it once lost.”

Sociologists and psychologists are agreed that when it comes to helping individuals leave cult-like groups positive social factors are more effective than negative sanctions. It is better to use dialogue to ask questions and reinforce doubts thatcher then to criticize. Testimonials from former cult members can be especially helpful in fueling disillusionment.

Northern Ireland likely most approximates the United States, in that it was part of a wealthy nation with a democratic tradition (though in the 1980s, Northern Ireland was in a far worse situation of political division and communitarion violence).

Maria Power, a researcher in conflict transformation studies at Oxford, sees strategies from Northern Ireland that could be deployed on the other side of the Atlantic. She cited dialogue-building between Unionist and Republican women, who faced much thought obstacles to reconciliation since they were “risking their lives” even time they met in East Belfast during the Troubles. She said that the peace effort in Northern Ireland hinged on incredibly tough person-to-person groundwork carried out by dozens of organizations and ecumenical groups. She emphasized above all the importance of investing time and effort into building trust, first within, and then later between, identity groups.”

Power also said “that conflict transformation in the United States would likely involve local grassroots community development in the areas that Trump lies to hold rallied. “I don’t meat that progressives should go to these communities and start knocking on doors, tat would be the worst thing that could happen exacerbate tensions. I mean that there should be a focus on real comment development in these areas.”

Although Hurst does not mention the outbreak of violence, that should not be overlooked. Why was Russia pouring money into the NRA? Why is their such reluctance against banning assault class weapons?

We all should be cognizant of the Trump problem. All too often people seem to think that this is politics as normal. True norms are being broken, but it must be realized that Trump seeks to emulate Putin and Kim Jong Un.

Merry Christmas 2018

December 25, 2018

Christmas is the time where we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Christ taught us to love our fellow humans, to turn the other cheek and not strike back if we were struck. Compassion and loving our fellow humans are paramount. If we all lived by the teachings of Christ this would be a wonderful world.

So what went wrong? The ironic answer is religion. It is important to remember that religions are human institutions that claim to present the word of God. Many people attend church in the hope that they are checking a box for eternal life. Unfortunately, following what comes from the pulpit will not necessarily lead to eternal life as the messages from the pulpit are frequently contrary to the teachings of Christ.

A primary example is the support that many who profess to be Christians have for Donald Trump. It is difficult to find someone who is any less of a Christian than Donald Trump. He is the very antithesis of a Christian. There are people who call themselves Christians fighting to remove any government support for medical aid to the unfortunate. This at a time when every other advanced nation provides medical care for all its citizens. People who call themselves Christians care not for the well being of their fellow citizens and show hatred and fear of immigrants, forgetting that immigrants have made and should be continuing to make the United States great. Yet the Fraud who claims to make America great again, is making outlandish claims that immigrants present a threat to the United States.

Moreover, these same Christians (be clear not all Christians, many are doing good), instead of doing the work of Christ are trying to force their insipid beliefs, and they are indeed insipid as they do not withstand critical thought, on their fellow citizens. Apparently they have forgotten that the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States guarantees the Freedom of Expression. Each citizen is entitled to her own belief or lack of belief. People can practice any religion they want, but they are forbidden to impose their beliefs 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.

Scale of Russian Operation Detailed

December 23, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Craig Timberg and Tony Romm in the 17 Dec ’18 issue of the Washington Post. Subtitles are: EVERY MAJOR SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM USED and Report finds Trump support before and after election. This post is the first to analyze the millions of posts provided by major technology firms to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The research was done by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and Graphic, a network analysis firm. It provides new details on how Russians worked at the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which U.S. officials have charged with criminal offenses for interring in the 2016 campaign. The IRA divided Americans into key interest groups for targeted messaging. The report found that these efforts shifted over time, peaking at key political moments, such as presidential debates or party conventions. This report substantiates facts presented in prior healthy memory blog posts.

The data sets used by the researchers were provided by Facebook, Twitter, and Google and covered several years up to mid-2017, when the social media companies cracked down on the known Russian accounts. The report also analyzed data separately provided to House Intelligence Committee members.

The report says, “What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party and specifically Donald Trump. Trump is mentioned most in campaigns targeting conservatives and right-wing voters, where the messaging encouraged these groups to support his campaign. The main groups that could challenge Trump were then provided messaging that sought to confuse, distract and ultimately discourage members from voting.”

The report provides the latest evidence that Russian agents sought to help Trump win the White House. Democrats and Republicans on the panel previously studied the U.S. intelligence community’s 2017 finding that Moscow aimed to assist Trump, and in July, said the investigators had come to the correct conclusion. Nevertheless, some Republicans on Capitol Hill continue to doubt the nature of Russia’s interference in the election.

The Russians aimed energy at activating conservatives on issues such as gun rights and immigration, while sapping the political clout of left-leaning African American voters by undermining their faith in elections and spreading misleading information about how to vote. Many other groups such as Latinos, Muslims, Christians, gay men and women received at least some attention from Russians operating thousands of social media accounts.

The report offered some of the first detailed analyses of the role played by Youtube and Instagram in the Russian campaign as well as anecdotes about how Russians used other social media platforms—Google+, Tumblr and Pinterest—that had received relatively little scrutiny. That also used email accounts from Yahoo, Microsoft’s Hotmail service, and Google’s Gmail.

While reliant on data provided by technology companies the authors also highlighted the companies’ “belated and uncoordinated response” to the disinformation campaign and, once it was discovered, their failure to share more with investigators. The authors urged that in the future they provide data in “meaningful and constructive “ ways.

Facebook provided the Senate with copies of posts from 81 Facebook pages and information on 76 accounts used to purchase ads, but it did not share posts from other accounts run by the IRA. Twitter has made it challenging for outside researchers to collect and analyze data on its platform through its public feed.

Google submitted information in an especially difficult way for researchers to handle, providing content such as YouTube videos but not the related data that would have allowed a full analysis. They wrote that the YouTube information was so hard to study, that they instead tracked the links to its videos from other sites in hopes of better understand YouTube’s role in the Russian effort.

The report expressed concern about the overall threat social media poses to political discourse within and among nations, warning them that companies once viewed as tools for liberation in the Arab world and elsewhere are now a threat to democracy.

The report also said, “Social media have gone from being the natural infrastructure for sharing collective grievances and coordinating civic engagement to being a computational tool for social control, manipulated by canny political consultants and available to politicians in democracies and dictatorships alike.”

The report traces the origins of Russian online influence operations to Russian domestic politics in 2009 and says that ambitions shifted to include U.S. politics as early as 2013. The efforts to manipulate Americans grew sharply in 2014 and every year after, as teams of operatives spread their work across more platforms and accounts to target larger swaths of U.S. voters by geography, political interests, race, religion and other factors.

The report found that Facebook was particularly effective at targeting conservatives and African Americans. More than 99% of all engagements—meaning likes, shares and other reactions—came from 20 Facebook pages controlled by the IRA including “Being Patriotic,” “Heart of Texas,” “Blacktivist” and “Army of Jesus.”

Having lost the popular vote, it is difficult to believe that Trump could have carried the Electoral College given this impressive support by the Russians. One can also envisage Ronald Reagan thrashing about in his grave knowing that the Republican Presidential candidate was heavily indebted to Russia and that so many Republicans still support Trump.
© 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 Problem Within the Genius Within

December 22, 2018

David Adam is an entertaining writer has written an entertaining book “The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential.” The primary problem is his preoccupation with IQ. He has written responsibly about how the IQ has been misused and has resulted in gross injustices to entire groups of people. What he does not recognize are the individuals who conclude they are dumb because they have low IQs.

Adam has qualified for and joined Mensa, an organization that requires at IQ of at least 130 to join. But he has met with these people and not found anything outstanding about them. There likely are some members of Mensa who have made significant accomplishments in various field. But the vast majority of successful people do not belong to Mensa and see no point to belonging in Mensa.

HM encourages all readers and anyone who’ll listen to him or read what he writes. Do not let anyone define you. Define yourself and work to your definition. The seminal work by Carol Dweck on growth mindsets is critical here. People with growth mindsets refuse to believe that intelligence is fixed, but can and should grow with lifelong learning. Many healthy memory posts have argued that growth mindsets provide perhaps the best means of building a cognitive reserve and warding off dementia. This is true even if one’s brain becomes infected with the neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque, which are the defining features of Alzheimer’s.

Moreover constant learning also leads to a more fulfilling and meaningful like. Never stop until you breathe your last breath.

As for electronic and other enhancements, it is hoped that they can be used to relieve or remediate pathological conditions. They also might assist in performing specific tasks or learning specific materials. These enhancements need to be tested for any unintended consequences, but if they are safe they can be used for the ends of personal fulfillment.

© 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 Genius Within

December 21, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in “The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential” by David Allen. There are two general categories of savants. You have born savants, like the character portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the Rain Man. Although these individuals have what appear to be superhuman abilities, they are severely deficient in other areas. Acquired savants are those who acquire impressive capabilities as the result of some accident. It appears that an accident released some extraordinary capability(ies) from within. Brain scans of acquired savants seem to confirm that no idle regions of their brain springs into life. No part of that apocryphal unused 90% of the brain holds their secret. We all have the same equipment; it’s just that some people use it differently. Many different savant skills have been released by a bang on the head.

Orlando Serrell was ten years old and playing baseball with friends when, racing towards first base, he felt a flash of pain and fell to the ground. Flung by a playmate, the solid ball had struck him high on the left side of his head. Life changed for Orlando that day. It became a lot more memorable. He developed a powerful memory and could recall with remarkable detail the events and weather of every single day since his accident. He found that he could identify the day of the week given any date (so if asked what day 12 September 2018 occurred he would respond Wednesday). He could also tell you what day 6 October 1492 fell on.

Louise, an American woman fell heavily while skiing on a slope and broke her collarbone and banged her head. Over the following weeks she found that she could remember too much. She could recall and recreate with extraordinary deal the floor-plan of every building she had ever been through.

These cases seem to suggest that this information was always resident in memory, and a severe blow somehow gave them access to this information. This is similar to John Elder Robison who was autistic and could not read or feel emotion. After being treated with a magnetic field this capacity seemed to be reawakened in him. It seemed like he might always have had this capability, but there seemed to be something keeping him from gaining access to this capability.

Fortunately, suffering a head injury is not necessary to having an extraordinary memory.
There are people with highly superior autobiographical memories (HSAM), who are able to recall what happened in extraordinary detail on any given day. HM was unaware of these people until he viewed a piece on the TV Program Sixty Minutes. Dr. James McGaugh, a Research Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and a Fellow in the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California-Irvine, became aware of and started studying these extraordinary people. To the best of HM’s knowledge only about 34 such individuals had been identified and studied at that time. The nature of this recall ability as shown on Sixty Minutes was the ability to recall what happened on a specific day in the past. So if you asked one of them what happened on 6 August 1999, they would be able to tell you what day of the week that was, and what they did. They might even be able to tell you what they wore and what they ate. If they had watched a sporting event, they could tell the score and the particulars of the event. Marilu Henner, who most of us know from the TV show Taxi and who has had a very successful acting career, was one of the people on the show. When HM later learned that she had written a book, Total Memory Makeover, he was tempted to buy but was a little put off by the hype in the title. As HM looked further into it he learned that Marilu had a self-improvement business. So his initial decision was not to purchase the book. As time passed, he realized that he could not pass up the opportunity to learn what someone who had such a remarkable memory had to offer. It was a good decision. Here’s what Professor McGaugh wrote in the Foreword to the book. “This book is like no other book about memory, and the insights offered are unique. In these pages we learn from Marilu what it is like to have such a memory, why it is important to her, and why she thinks we can all benefit by taking steps to improve our own remembering. Readers will learn that Marilu is as well organized as she is thoughtful, insightful, enthusiastic, and, well, delightfully humorous. The advice she offers us may not turn all of us (or any of us) into HSAMers, but every reader will learn much about the importance of memory, as well as things we might do to help us maintain memories of our own personal experiences.”

Brain scans of Marilu have shown that certain brain structures important to memory, such as the hippocampus, are larger than normal. But it is important not to confuse cause and effect here. London cab drivers have also been found to have hippocampi larger than normal, but this has been attributed to them having to memorize the entire map of London. So it is likely that Marilu’s larger than normal memory structures are the result of her use of them rather than having been born with them.

HM found her home life significant. Her father emphasized anticipating an event, participating in the event, and then recollecting the event (her book is organized into three sections of anticipating, participating, and recollection). They liked to have parties and enjoyed the anticipation and the recollection of the parties, not just the participation in the parties. As a small child she would not only pay attention to the day, date, and month, but would also remember what happened during the day. Then she would periodically review what happened during a past day, week, or month. HM was gratified to learn this as HM suspected this is what these HSAMers had been doing. Most often, HM does not even know what day it is now and needs to consult a calendar. So HM pays little attention to when something is happening, and he does not systematically review what has happened during these dates. This is something that is entirely feasible, if one has the discipline. Recall actually increases as the time between recall attempts increases. So one might review what happened during the preceding week. Then not review it again until the next month. Then two months, four months, six months, one year, two years, four years. So systematic review is feasible and such review could result in becoming a blossoming HSAMer.

Marilu developed a variety of techniques throughout her life and shares them with you. She also discusses uses of technology and our fellow humans to enhance memory. This is termed transactive memory in the lingo of the healthymemory blog. She discusses memory games for friends, family, and for the development of the memories of children.

The book delivers what the title promises, a Total Memory Makeover. However, there is no requirement that the makeover be total. You can devote as much time as your interest and schedule permits. HM thinks whatever time you devote to this effort will foster a healthy memory. Virtually everything offered in the book will foster a healthy memory.

If you are a parent or grandparent, HM would strongly recommend that you get the book and use some of the games and exercises with your children. Perhaps the best gift you can give them is a healthy, well functioning memory. This is even more important with the temptation to rely increasingly on technology instead of our biological memories.

To learn more about HSAM enter “HSAM” into the search block of the healthy memory blog. For the most part HSAMers appear to be fairly normal, and they did not need to suffer head trauma to develop their impressive abilities.

© 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.

Magnetic Fields

December 20, 2018

This post is based primarily on content in “The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential” by David Allen. The physicist Michael Faraday discovered that waving a bit of metal around inside a magnetic field can induce electronic current. He used this discovery to invent the electronic motor. There was a physician, Franz Anton Mesmer, who claimed human disease was caused by the movements of the sun and moon, which disturbed tides of invisible fluids in the atmosphere and inside the human body. He claimed that the nervous fluid inside people was magnetic, and the imbalance in this animal magnetism cause by the motions of the heavenly bodies could be fixed by applying magnets to the body of the patient.

Mesmer was quite a showman and achieved notable success. This was all quackery, and perhaps Mesmer actually believed his quackery, but if you’re wondering why this was effective consider placebo effects. In his practice he developed what he called mesmerism, but what is called hypnotism today.

There was a previous blog post on John Elder Robison (enter “Robison” into the healthy memory blog search box to find the post). John suffered from the autism spectrum. Specifically John could not feel or read emotions. Otherwise he was highly intelligent and normal as one could be with this disorder. Perhaps it is ironic, but he made his living for some time doing the electronics for rock groups. He understood what they did and how to produce the effects they wanted solely via his understanding of electronics. He had no emotional responses to the music.

John took part in a research study at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston on how people with autism process language. He had 30 minutes of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Because the focus of their research was language, the researchers targeted Broca’s area, part of the frontal lobe. They told him any effect would probably be mild and short-lived. Fortunately for John, they were wrong.

For the first time in his life, he felt emotions. He could now feel a response to music in additional to the intellectual understanding he had had. John revisited past experience and reassessed relationships. He realized that one of his friends was not what he seemed. What he had once thought was friendly chit-chat with him he now identified as ridicule and belittlement intended to single him out as different. John never spoke to him again. John’s wife suffered from serious depression. When he was autistic, this did not present a serious problem. Although he understood her depression, he did not feel her depression. After the treatment, he could feel her depression, and it became unbearable. Read the healthy memory post to learn more about his experiences. Better yet, read his book, “Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening.”

John communicated with a woman called Kim, who had undergone the same treatment and experienced a recovery similar to John’s. Unfortunately, her new ability quickly faded away. Her multicolor life snapped to monochrome. Kim said, “What am I going to do now? It’s like I’m haunted. I got a glimpse of those emotions but now it’s gone. So now I know what life is like for other people but it’s not that way for me.”

HM would very much like to see the results from this study. Were there any other successes? Did they last?

There is no true understanding how or why it worked for John. It’s almost like John’s brain had been making these emotional computations his whole life, but he could never read them out. The next post will contain reports of how some type of blow awakened unknown abilities. Perhaps it was not the specific treatment, but just some new shock to John’s brain that produced the change. Fortunately, this change has maintained.

Current Thinking

December 19, 2018

The title of this post is the same as a chapter title in “The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential” by David Allen. The use of electricity to alter the functioning of the brain and body has a long past. When George Orwell was shot in the throat during the Spanish Civil War in 1937, the medical treatment used to save and restore his voice included a routine blast of direct current, then known as electrotherapy.

While Tom Edison’s team was building the first electric chair, medics at Guy’s Hospital in London had established an Electrical Room to treat both physical and mental disorders. Electrical therapy was given to promote wound healing and to relieve pain and to try to treat various diseases including tuberculosis.

The results of these efforts were mixed, and the theoretical basis offered to support claimed clinical improvements was fuzzy. Some scientists said electricity acted as a fluid passed to the brain through the blood vessels. It was thought to both increase and reduce blood flow; it was described as both a sedative and a stimulant.

Mainstream science rediscovered these techniques in 1999. Psychologists in Germany interested in finding new ways to treat epilepsy used electrical brain stimulation to probe working memory and motor learning. This tinkering with electric current and the brain was not popular with colleagues. Allen writes that due to a shortage of volunteers they were forced to experiment on themselves and their families.

Although consistent definitive results have yet to be achieved, the potential pay-off for research on brain stimulation is extraordinary. Allen included these statement written about the possible applications of brain stimulation by proper scientists in professional academic books and journal, to be read by their equally proper peers:

“Contrary to the popular belief of “no pain, no gain” [brain stimulation] has been shown to accelerate learning and skill acquisition in complex learning tasks that normally take a long time to master and in a range of fundamental human capacities from motor and sensorimotor skills to mathematical cognition, with minimal discomfort or adverse side effects.

And:

Improved attention, perception, memory and other forms of cognition may lead to better performance at work, school,and in other aspects of everyday life. It may also reduce the cost, duration and overall impact of illness.

Still more:

A future with people wearing portable devices helping them stay awake during nightshifts or while driving a car, or improving their motor coordination during an intense track and field training session is becoming a more and more plausible and socially accepted scenario.

The potential, and limited research in this area, which is surprising when the potential big bucks are considered, is the reason there are do it yourselfers (DIYs) who build and purchase equipment to try this out for themselves. Enter ‘electronic brain stimulation’ into Google and you’ll find both equipment and doctors using electronic brain stimulation in their practices. There is also a Scientific American article on this subject.

The skull presents an obstacle to stimulating the brain directly with electricity. Most of the current from electrodes pressed to the outside of the head doesn’t pass through through into the brain. Upping the amount of current and the itchy tickling on the scalp worsens to an unpleasant burning sensation. Up it still further and the burning is not just a sensation.

Some neuroscientists have used lasers for better penetration. Researchers at the University of Texas took a low-level CG-5000 medical laser, approved to improve circulation and relieve muscle pain, and pointed it instead at people’s foreheads. They were trying to activate an enzyme in the frontal cortex called cytochrome oxidase, to help brain cells produce more energy and so work harder. It seemed to work.  Volunteers given the laser treatment performed better on tests of memory and attention.

Another approach is to use magnets, which is the topic of the next post.

So, What Makes a Brain Smart?

December 18, 2018

This post is based on “The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential” by David Allen. He writes, “Rather than being product of a specific brain region, general intelligence seems to come from how effectively various brain regions can work together. To solve a problem, parts of the temporal and occipital lobes, at the base and back of the brain, first take the raw signals that flood in from the eyes and ears and process them. This information is fed into the parietal cortex, a broad arch of brain tissue just under the crown, where it is annotated and labelled with meaning. It then goes forward to regions of the prefrontal cortex, sitting behind the forehead, which manipulates it, packages it into possible ideas or solutions, and tests them. As one solution emerges as preferred, another part of this prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate, is recruited to block the other, incorrect, responses. This model of intelligence is called the Pareto-Frontal Integration Theory (P-FIT). The better this P-FIT circuit works, then the more general intelligence a person will have.

A visible difference is in the way clever people fuel their brain activity. Brain scans of the way glucose is used to release energy, another proxy of mental activity, show that energy demand increases when the brain is put to work. In people who score high on intelligence tests the required increase is smaller. High intelligence is linked to efficient glucose consumption. Those with less effective brains need to burn more glucose to fire more neurons to solve the same problem. This could indicate more intelligent people need to recruit fewer neurons and set into action a smaller number of brain circuits. Understand, that this is not biologically or genetically determined. When we learn, these circuits become more efficient. One way of looking at learning is that it exercises these brain circuits making them more efficient.

Analysis of brain circuitry is a new focus for neuroscience. Intelligence circuits, like all those in the brain, rely on two types of communication: chemical and electrical.

Neuroscientists have shown the way these brain circuits activate is highly personal. Although we all use the brain’s P—FIT system to reason and problem-solve, we each do it in a slightly different way, recruiting a different number of neurons in a different order. Neuroscientists from Yale University found patterns of brain activity so personal that they served as a kind of neuronal fingerprint. The scientists could pick out and identify people from a large group of volunteers by mapping and then looking for their tell-tale patterns of brain connections as they performed cognitive exercises.