Before Science, Meditation

February 26, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Hannah Natanson in the Metro Section of the 23 Feb 2020 issue of the Washington Post. The benefits of meditation and mindfulness are a common theme in the healthy memory blog. And, as the title indicates, meditation and mindfulness is highly beneficial in the schools. Self-reflective exercises such as meditation give students tools to handle stressful situations. If children can expend less energy to stay calm, they’ll have more gusto for learning.

Teachers report, “You can see the change in kids: They cool down, they relax, and they’re just a little bit more open to learning. Meditation and especially mindfulness exercises reduce behavioral problems in the classroom. Kids become kinder. After meditation students offer to help one another with assignments unprompted, tease their peers less and say “please” and “thank you” more often. Some even request good-morning hugs.

Other research has found that sometimes these meditation and mindfulness exercises in the classroom find their way back into their homes and interactions at home are less-stressed, happier and more beneficial.

There is also rigorous research showing that these activities are effective and beneficial to learning. Brain imaging research has found evidence for this in changes in the brains. So the evidence comes not only from behavioral science, but also from neuroscience.

Unfortunately, over the past five years some Christian conservative groups have begun speaking out against practices such as meditation in the schools. These activists argue mindfulness programs violate the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state because they expose students to Buddhists or Hindu ideologies.

This assertion is blatantly false. Although these practices emerged from Buddhist and Hindu ideologies, none of the teachings or beliefs of these ideologies are involved. The benefits of these practices are briefly outlined above. If these Christian groups have any practices that might have beneficial effects to education that have been documented in science, then they should offer them for evaluation.

It is useful to consider Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition here. This was reviewed in the immediately preceding post and has been reviewed many times in previous healthy memory blog posts. System 1 is fast and involves little, if any, mental effort. System 2 is slow, requires mental effort, and is commonly referred to as thinking. Thinking requires mental effort and many people, and these protesting conservative Christians in particular, do not like thinking. Believing is much easier. Unfortunately, these conservative Christians prefer believing, as it requires virtually no mental effort. They do not appreciate that God gave them brains for thinking and that he wants them to use them. Unfortunately, too many religious leaders do not like their members thinking. They want them to believe what they tell them to believe.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. 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 Cult of Trump

February 24, 2020

The Cult of Trump is the first part of a title of a highly pertinent book by Steven Hassan. The remainder of the title is A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control. He has written three previous books on cults: Combating Cult Mind Control, Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leaving Controlling People, Cults and Beliefs.

What makes Hassan’s book especially compelling is that he is a former Moonie in Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. So he is a former true believer, one who is intimately knowledgeable and proficient in the mind control techniques expounded by the Reverend Moon and other cults. He managed to free himself from Reverend Moon’s mind control, and, as his books indicate, works in freeing others from these cults.

Before proceeding further, there is a need to justify the title of this post. Justification can be found in the followers of Trump, the most dangerous being the Republican Party, who refused to recognize the overwhelming evidence made in support of the impeachment amendments, and convict the worst president this country has ever suffered. It is a president who places the future of this constitutional democracy at risk.

The most obvious point is that Trump is no Republican in the traditional sense. Indeed, his candidacy has transformed the Grand Old Party into a monstrosity that ignores the Constitution and could well lead to a free country becoming a de facto authoritarian dictatorship.

What makes Hassan’s thesis so compelling is that Trump, and the Russians, are employing the same techniques used by the Reverend Moon and other cult leaders. Assertions are made, regardless of the truth, by Trump and blindly followed. His record of lies is truly astounding, but what is even more astounding is that people believe these lies.

“Thinking Fast and Slow” is a best selling book by Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman makes an important distinction between two types of mental processing. Not surprisingly, he names them System 1 and System 2. System 1 is our default mode of processing. It is the fast system we use for conversation and for mastered activities. This speed of processing comes at a cost. That cost is the thinking that is necessary to ascertain if a message is true or makes any sense. System 2 is what we commonly mean when we say, “let me think about that.”

Cults basically force their adherents not to think, to believe, and believe the assertions approved by the cult. Thinking is hard; believing is much easier. There is also a certainty in these beliefs so no thinking is necessary. Should there be any questions about what is true, it is what the cult leader, Trump, tells them to believe. Trump has repeatedly asserted that he is the source of truth and the only one to be believed.

Hassan goes into detail explaining how the same techniques are used by Trump that were used by the Moonies. He goes into detail about how Trump’s rallies follow the book of the Reverend Moon.

Hassan works to free cult followers from their cults and to think independently and critically. He explains how he broke himself from the Moonies. His technique was critical thinking. He was able to think of inconsistencies and how they indicated that the Moonie doctrine was a fraud. This took time and critical thinking.

Today he works deprogramming cult followers. This is slow painful work. Telling them that they are wrong does not work. First he needs to develop feelings of empathy with those he is trying to convert. He listens quietly as they expound upon their beliefs. Once empathy is established, he can raise points that are inconsistent with these beliefs. If the subject does not perceive the inconsistency, Hassan lets it go, until later another question can be raised.

Hassan argues that the cult member must convince himself that these inconsistencies are problematic. Only when he convinces himself, will he be able to leave the cult and transition back of a normal life.

Conclusion of The Plot to Betray America

February 23, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the first part of a title of a book by Malcom Nance. The remainder of the title is How Team Trump Embraced Our Enemies, Compromised Our Security, and How we Can Fix It. This is his third book on how Trump is destroying democracy. Nance writes, “I have written numerous books on intelligence tradecraft, counterterrorism, the rise and fall of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, and the fundamentals of the Russian plot to hack the American elections. However, nothing done by the worst terrorists filled me with more horror than realizing that Alexander Hamilton’s “unprincipled man”—the American-grown autocrat that the founding fathers had warned the nation about some two hundred years earlier—had finally cheated his way into the Oval Office with the assistance of an ex-KGB officer. This was not only an insult to all Americans living in a democracy but to all of us who have served in America’s military and public service to defend her.” Nance continues, “The worst part of the story is how easily one-third of the nation has been brainwashed into backing a man who thought the pinnacle achievement of his life would be to construct a building emblazoned with the word Trump in Moscow, the capital of our enemy. This American story is a shameful, sorrowful tale the likes of which we should be seriously embarrassed about.”

It also appears that General Ulysses S. Grant had a certain prescience regarding the future of the United States: “If we are to have a contest in the near future of our natural existence, I predict that the dividing line will not be Mason and Dixon’s but between patriotism and intelligence on one side and superstition, ambition and ignorance on the other.”

Being less prescient than Grant, George Washington wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette about the separation of powers under the Constitution: “The general Government is arranged that it can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an Aristocracy, or any other despotic or oppressive form so long as there shall remain any virtue in the body of the People.” It is clear that there is no virtue in Trump or the Republican Party. How much virtue remains in the body of the people awaits judgment.

Nance notes that Trump has seemed hell-bent on destroying the pillars of national security while acting as if he was increasing them. Russia has been so pleased with Trump’s work that Alexander Dugin, Vladimir Putin’s extremist philosopher, claimed that “the peak of American dominance is behind us.” Nance writes, that “it would appear that Trump sought to ensure that this was made a reality.

In Helsinki Trump forbade the presence of any staff and once again met Putin for two hours privately with only their interpreters present. Trump took the notes of the interpreter and forbid her to reveal what was discussed.

Trump attacked and continues to attack the FBI and the world’s best intelligence agencies that have documented the support Russia provided to Trump. The Russians not only supported Trump but also fomented discontent among different groups in the United States. When not only the size, but also the sophistication of their campaigns is considered, it is clear that Trump would not have won (and remember he did not win the popular vote) without their aid. It is also clear that he is shutting down our intelligence agencies so that the Russians will have a free hand in his re-election.

Even if the Democrats manage to overcome this interference and manage to win the election, Trump will likely declare fraud and refuse to leave the White House. Shortly thereafter he will likely declare himself president for life. Remember all the charges and lawsuits he is subject to if he does leave office. Perhaps there will be negotiations for the dropping of all pending and future charges, so he will leave the White House for his own dacha in Russia.

So what measures might be deployed to prevent this disaster? Russian disinformation expert Nina Jankowicz wrote in her article The Disinformation Vaccination, “What we need is something familiar to many who have worked in foreign assistance: capacity building. But rather than mounting such an effort abroad, we should pursue it for our own people. It’s a harder, longer process, but one that seeks to move beyond band-aids and vaccinate against the virus, prioritizing the citizens who fall victim to disinformation.”

Finland has successfully deployed the following digital literacy solutions:
*Equip every citizen with digital skills and educate them in digital literacy.
*Strengthen and support an independent media and fact checkers.
*Adapt electoral laws that are sensitive and adaptive to the digital era.

Nance writes, “There can be only one solution when a tyrant like Trump raises his hand: Impeachment.” Unfortunately impeachment is insufficient. The Republican Senate, in spite of overwhelming evidence, refused to convict.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Going On A Cruise

February 7, 2020

HM is going on a cruise with his wife. Consequently, there will be a hiatus in blog posts until he returns and recovers from the cruise. But there is more than enough content to engage readers in his absence. Go to healthymemory.wordpress.com to see what is available. Use the search blog to find posts of interest.

Here are some suggestions:
Myth of Alzheimer’s
Myth of Cognitive Decline
cognitive reserve
growth mindsets
Kahneman
relaxation response
meditation
mindfulness

The website https://centerhealthyminds.org is strongly recommended

The healthy memory blog will return!

True Human Machine Symbiosis

February 6, 2020

A mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups: a perfect mother and daughter symbiosis. This is a definition of symbiosis plus an example. The concept of symbiosis and a slight enhancement of symbiosis, neo-symbiosis has occurred in previous healthymemory posts. This particular post was inspired by the Conclusions chapter in a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity.

Hooper writes that in 2016 and 2017 there were unprecedented breakthroughs in the understanding of the ancient game of Go. An artificial intelligence (AI) called AlphaGo competed against the world’s top human players, and crushed them. It played moves that had never been seen before in the game’s three-thousand-year history. The best humans in the world at this game upped their game. Lee Sodol of South Korea, and Ke Jie of China changed and improved the way they played because of what they had learned from AlphaGo. Jie said, ”After my match against AlphaGo, I fundamentally reconsidered the game, and now can see that this reflection has helped me greatly. Although I lost, I discovered that the possibilities of Go are immense and that the game has continued to progress.” Jie then went on a twenty-two-game winning streak.”

Dennis Hassabas the cofounder of Google DeepMind, the London-based lab that developed AlphaGo, and its even more impressive successor AlphaZero said that the response of Jie and Sodol shows want AI can do for humanity. We fear that AI will take our jobs, but this is misplaced. AI show us who we can be.  Hassabas says that human ingenuity augmented by AI will unlock our true potential.

We should examine what AI can tell us about other realms of endeavor besides games like this.

New York has the Nation’s Lowest Suicide Rate

February 5, 2020

This post is based on an article by Michelle Andrews in the Health & Science section of the 4 February 2020 issue of the Washington Post. To be more precise, it is the entire state of New York, not just New York City.

Compared with the national rate of 14 suicides per 100,000 people in 2017, New York’s was just 8.1, the lowest suicide rate in the nation. Many are surprised that New York has the lowest suicide rate. New York City is all hustle and stress, tiny apartments and crowds of strangers. Upstate New York is often portrayed as bleak and cold.

Although there are a number of factors contributing to this result, the most conspicuous being access to guns. Low rates of gun ownership are likely key. According to the Annals of Internal Medicine guns are used in about half of suicide deaths, and having access to a gun triples the risk that someone will die by suicide . Someone who attempts suicide with a gun will succeed about 85% of the time, compared with a 2% fatality rated if some opt for pills, according to a study by researchers at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. Catherine Barber who co-wrote the study and is a senior researcher at the Harvard Center wrote, “The scientific evidence is pretty darn good that having easy access to guns makes the difference whether a suicidal crisis ends up being a fatal or nonfatal event.” New York as some of the strongest gun control laws in the country.

People who own guns to protect themselves should consider the reality of the situation. Unfortunately, their reality is colored by what they see on television. There is a virtual guarantee that someone killed by gun violence will make the news. Add to this all the police shows and all the shooting that occurs on these police shows.

The reality is that the majority of police retire without ever having fired their weapons in the course of their duty. There are more suicides by guns than murders. As for intruders, it is likely that some innocent party or family member is being shot.

So except for a few extreme, unfortunate cases, personal safety does not provide justification for owning a gun. So people who own guns for this reason are not just fools, they are damn fools.

It is possible that people own guns and like hunting and shooting competitions. The United States is a free county so why should there be prohibitions against owning guns?

One argument is personal safety. Guns are lethal weapons. HM has previously related this incident which occurred in a friend’s family. On New Year’s Eve his son and a friend were playing around with a gun in the house. The friend of his son accidentally shot his son and killed him. My friend, who was a politician, said he was sure that justice would be done. HM asks, what justice? His son was dead and his son’s friend has to live the remainder of his life knowing that he killed his friend. There was no justice here, only stupidity. HM is sure that his friend instructed his progeny on gun safety and kept guns locked up.

Should HM ever decide that it was time to cast off his mortal coil, he will use a gun, as that is by far the most effective means of committing suicide. He will write a letter to the NRA thanking them for their efforts that allowed him to destroy himself. He will also send copies of this letter to the Washington Post and post this letter on his blog.

Evaluating the Evidence

February 4, 2020

The evidence being evaluated is the evidence found in the War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki. Saki writes, “At various times scientific texts confirmed that the sun revolved around the earth, atoms were the smallest particles in the universe, and the human soul could be located in the pineal gland. The scientific method allowed all of these “facts” to be overwritten as the truth came to light. It’s this dynamism, and the humility that must accompany it, that gives science its power. Science is not a set of facts, but a process of predicting, testing, and rethinking. It is alive.

Zaki continues, “In this book, I review scientific evidence about the forces that strengthen and weaken human empathy and kindness. Most of this evidence comes from the field of psychology. Over the past several years, some high-profile psychological findings have proven less robust than they had seemed. Similar doubts have arisen in political science, economics, biology, and medical research. We psychologists have used this as an opportunity to strengthen our methods, be more transparent about our research process, and clarify exactly what we do and do not know.”

So Zaki and his associates have rated their confidence in the findings presented i this book. They used a 1 to 5 scale where 1 is the weakest and 5 is the strongest. HM is presents all the findings rated 4 or 5, and occasionally findings rated 3 for which HM feels he can add in his opinion.

Claim 0.1: Empathy is related to kindness and prosociality. 5
Sometimes it might appear that science is documenting the obvious. Nevertheless this is necessary, as there frequently are times where the obvious is wrong.

Claim 0.2.: Evolution favors empathy, through selective advantages for prosocial organisms. 5

Claim 0.3: Empathic individuals excel professionally. 4

Claim 0.4: Empathic individuals experience greater subjective well-being. 4

Claim 0.5: It is easier to empathize with one person than many people. 4

Claim 0.6: “Mirroring” in the brain is associated with empathy. 5

Claim 1.1: IQ/intelligence can change with experience. 5

Claim 1.2: Empathy is, in part, genetically determined. 5 (Put emphasis on “in part.” Virtually everyone can increase their empathy)

Claim 1.3: Children’s environments impact their levels of empathy. 4

Claim 1.4: People who carry out necessary evils (such as giving bad news) experience reduced empathy. 4

Claim 2.1: We have the ability to control and regulate our emotions. 5

Claim 2.3: People empathize to help bolster their moral self-image. 4

Claim 2.4: When people think emphasizing will be painful, they avoid it. 4

Claim 2.6 When people believe empathy is a valued norm, they empathize more. 4

Claim 2.7: Purposely cultivating empathy alters the brain. 3
Zaki writes “Several well-conducted studies indicate that empathy and compassion training lead to corresponding changes in the brain. However, almost all of this work focuses on brain changes resulting from contemplative practice, such as loving-kindness meditation. (There are many healthy memory blog post on loving-kindness meditation). These studies should be augmented by additional research examining the neural effects of other empathy-building practices.

Claim 3.1: People naturally empathize more with member of their in-groups , as compared with outsiders. 5

Claim 3.2: We fail to empathize—and often experience antipathy—in competitive contexts. 5

Claim 3.3: Contact generally increases empathy for outsiders. 5

Claim 3.4: Contact can bolster empathy for outsiders amid conflict or competition. 5

Claim 4.1: Theater grows empathy. 3
Depending upon the nature of the play, theater provides a good opportunity to understand the feeling and thinking of others.

Claim 4.2: Literature grows empathy. 4

Claim 4.4 Narrative art can reduce intergroup conflict 4

Claim 5.1 Compassion fatigue is prevalent among caring professionals and detrimental to them. 5

Claim 5.2 Provider empathy has salutary consequences for patient outcomes. 5

Claim 5.4 Social support buffers against burnout. 5

Claim 5.5 Mindfulness reduces burnout for caregivers. 5

Claim 5.6 Mindfulness increases caregiver empathy. 4
(There are many healthy memory blog posts on both mindfulness and meditation)

Claim 6.1 Social norms influence our thoughts and actions. 5

Claim 6.2. People conform to perceived norms and often overestimate the prevalence of extreme positions. 5

Claim 6.3 Empathy begets empathy: Positive and empathic norms spread. 4

Claim 6.6 Social and Emotional Learning programs lead to many benefits (particularly for young children). 5
(There are healthy memory blog posts on social and emotional learning.)

Claim 7.2 Internet anonymity encourages cyberbullying. 4

Claim 7.3 Internet echo chambers encourage and reward extreme and emotional views. 4

Claim 7.4 Virtual reality experiences can decrease stereotyping and discrimination. 4

Claim 7.5: Virtual reality can build empathy. 4

Claim 7.6: Online communities can provide meaningful and helpful support to their members. 4

Claim 7.7: Giving to others helps the helper, making them happier or more fulfilled. 5

Zaki writes that if you want more information, you can find a spreadsheet containing the research that went into vetting each claim at http://www.warforkindness.com/data

Working at Empathy, One Piece at a Time

February 3, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in the War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki. Zaki writes that this book focuses on rebuilding empathy when it’s eroded. By pinpointing different pieces of empathy researchers are able to diagnose what has gone wrong and helps them find the most effective solutions.

Callousness can come from thoughtlessness: we discount the suffering of a homeless person because we don’t consider their experiences. In this case, interventions might focus on mentalizing through perspective-taking exercises on virtual reality.

When faced with conflict, we might think a great deal about our enemies, but not care about their well-being. We might even hope for them to suffer. Contact, and especially friendships across group lines, can change that. For instance, burnout among medical professionals—often is the result of too much experience sharing. Contemplative techniques can help people shift themselves toward concern instead. Zaki concludes that in all these cases, understanding what to do with empathy requires first understanding exactly what it is.

Splits and Connections

February 2, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in the War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki. Zaki writes, “Experience sharing, mentalizing, and concern split apart in all sorts of interesting ways. For instance, mentalizing is most useful when we don’t share another’s experiences. To know why a fan of a team you don’t follow just climbed up a signpost, you must understand differences between their emotional landscape and yours. When we fail to understand each other, it’s often because we falsely assume our own knowledge or priorities will map onto someone else’s.”

Zaki continues, Empathic processes activate different brain systems and are useful at different moments. Poker and boxing require keen mentalizing—What does your opponent do? What is his next move?—but are ill-served by concern.” Saki notes that parenting can be the opposite. You might never understand why your toddler is upset, but you can still do what you can to help her. Zaki notes that people can also differ in their empathic landscapes. An emergency room physician probably feels great concern for her patients, but she cannot do her job if she is also taking on their pain. Although individuals with autism spectrum disorder sometimes struggle at mentalizing, they still share and care about others’ feelings. Psychopaths are just the opposite. They are perfectly able to tell what others feel but are unaffected by their pain.

Empathic pieces are also deeply intertwined. Sharing someone else’s emotion draws our attention to what they feel, and thinking about them reliably increases our concern for their well-being. All three empathic processes promote kindness, but in distinct ways. The primatologist Frans de Waal developed what he terms his “Russian Doll Model” of empathy. The primitive process of experience sharing is at the core—turning someone else’s pain into our own creates an impulse to stop it. Newer, more complex forms of empathy are layered on top of that, generating broader sorts of kindness. Through mentalizing, we develop a fine-grained picture of not just what someone else feels, but why they feel it, and—more important—what might make them feel better. This spurs a deeper concern, a response focused not only on our own discomfort but truly on someone else. The global kindness Peter Singer describes in The Expanding Circle is a further extension of concern—pointed not at any one individual, but at people as a whole.

Thinking

February 1, 2020

This post is based on the War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki. Thinking is one of the three components of empathy, the other two being sharing and caring. Thinking is the active part of the theory of mind. We need to try to figure out what another person, or even species, is thinking about and planning to do. To answer these questions we need to think like a detective, gathering evidence from the behavior and situation to deduce how that individual feels. This cognitive piece of empathy is referred to as “mentalizing,” or explicitly considering someone else’s perspective. Mentalizing is like an everyday form of mind reading and it’s more sophisticated than experience sharing. It requires cognitive firepower that most, but not all, animals don’t have. So mentalizing arrived later in evolution. Though children pick up experience sharing early, it takes them a long time to sharpen their mentalizing skills.

Mentalizing is an extremely important skill, one that good salespeople need. And mentalizing is a skill, like many skills, that can be used for good or evil. Effective confidence men need to be highly skilled at mentalizing, so that they can con and defraud people.

HM saw a documentary film about Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple computer. When Jobs was in high school he made many visits to a Zen Buddhist Priest. Mindfulness, which obviously involves mentalizing, is an important part of Buddhism and their meditations. According to the documentary, Jobs was considering becoming a Buddhist priest. This priest wisely discouraged Jobs from pursuing this career.

HM thinks that Jobs was good at mentalizing, and that this might account for part of his success. Jobs was good at manipulating people to his own ends. His mentalizing skills helped him do this, but the result was that the lives and marriages of these people were ruined so that Jobs could pursue his ends. Jobs would travel to Japan to meditate in Buddhist monasteries, but he stayed at five star hotels during these visits.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. 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.

Sharing

January 31, 2020

This post is based on the War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki. Empathy can be broken down into three components: sharing, thinking about, and caring about. Sharing involves sharing experiences, emotional feelings, and personal distress. Zaki elaborates using this anecdote. He asks us to imagine we’re a senior in college, walking with a close friend to his apartment. On our way in he checks his mailbox, then freezes. He says, “Holy shit. This is it.” You know what he means. You’ve seen him work relentlessly for three years in hope of getting into medical school, and into one program in particular. He’s talked with you maybe thirty times since applying, alternately anxious, helpful, or both. You rush upstairs, and he opens the envelope. His face contorts, and you lean forward, for a moment not knowing whether he’s ecstatic or upset. It becomes apparent that he is not crying happy tears.

Zaki continues, “As your friend collapses into a heap, you might frown, slum, and even tear up yourself. Your mood will probably plummet. This is what empathy researchers call experience sharing: vicariously taking on the emotions we observe in others. Experience sharing is widespread—people “catch” one another’s facial expressions, bodily stress, and moods, both negative and positive. Our brains respond to each other’s experiences and thoughts as if we were experiencing those states ourselves.

Experience sharing is the closest we come to dissolving the boundary between self and other. It is empathy’s leading edge. It is evolutionary ancient, occurring in monkeys, mice, and even geese. It comes online early in life: Infants mimic each other’s cries and take on their mothers’ distress. And it occurs at lightning speed. Seeing your friend grimace, you might mimic his face in a fraction of a second.”

Experience sharing provided the foundation of empathy science. Before the word “empathy” existed philosophers such as Adam Smith described “sympathy,” or “fellow feeling” in ways that tightly match experience sharing. For instance Smith writes that “by changing places in fancy with the sufferer…we come to either conceive or to be affected by what he feels.” Zaki summarizes, “From ‘emotion contagion’ in psychology to mirroring in neuroscience, experience sharing has long been the most famous piece of empathy.”

Caring

January 30, 2020

This post is based on the War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki. Empathy can be broken down into three components: sharing, thinking about, and caring about. If your friend is in trouble and all you do is sit back, feel bad, and think about him, you are falling short as a friend. What you should be doing is wishing for him to feel better and come up with a plan for how you can get him there. Researchers call this “empathic concern,” or a motivation to improve someone else’s kind feelings. Saki writes that concern has received less attention from Western researchers than mentalizing or experience sharing, though that is changing now. Concern also hews tightly to centuries-old formulations of “compassion” in the Buddhist tradition. For instance koruna, or the desire to free others from suffering.

But Buddhists do not have a monopoly on caring. Christianity and other religions stress caring for the ill and those who are less fortunate. This is true even for agnostics and atheists. The notion is that there is a “commons.” According to the Wikipedia, “The commons is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately. Commons can also be understood as natural resources that groups of people (communities, user groups) manage for individual and collective benefit. Characteristically, this involves a variety of informal norms and values (social practices) employed for a governance mechanism.[1] Commons can be also defined as a social practice of governing a resource not by state or market but by a community of users that self-governs the resource through institutions that it creates.”

This notion also goes beyond physical resources, and also needs to encompass the welfare of all human beings as well as other species. This is a pretty tall order. In fact, it is overwhelming. But it is important not to dismiss these problems, as they need to be addressed as well as they can be addressed. Some people devote their lives to this pursuit, but there is a need for most humans to pursue more or less normal lives, making donations, and making political considerations to address these needs.

© 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 War for Kindness

January 29, 2020

The War for Kindness is the title of a new book by Jamil Zaki. The subtitle is Building Empathy in a Fractured World. Saki is a professor of psychology at Stanford University and the director of the Stanford Social Neurosciences Lab. Using tools from psychology and neuroscience, he and his colleagues examine how empathy works and how people can learn to empathize more effectively.

Zaki writes, “Most people understand empathy as more or less a feeling in itself—I feel your pain—but it’s more complicated than that. “Empathy” actually refers to several different ways we respond to each other. These include identifying what others feel (cognitive empathy), sharing their experiences (emotionally empathy), and wishing to improve their experiences (empathic concern).

Empathy’s most important role is to inspire kindness, which is our tendency to help each other, even at a cost to ourselves. Actually, kindness is one of the animal kingdom’s most vital survival skills. Newborns are little bundles of need, and remain mostly helpless for days (geese), months (kangaroos), or decades (us). If parents do not sacrifice to help them survive, they risk leaving no offspring to inherit their selfish nature.
When one creature shares another’s emotions, seeing pain feels like being in pain, and helping feels like being helped.

Zaki writes, “Empathic experience undergirds kind action; it’s a relationship far older than our species. A rat will freeze—a sign of anxiety—when its cage-mate is zapped with electric shocks. Thanks to that response, they also help each other, even giving up bits of chocolate to relieve the casemate’s distress. Mice, elephants, monkeys, and ravens all exhibit both empathy and kind behavior.”

Empathy took an evolutionary quantum leap in humans. Saki notes, “That’s a good thing for us, because physically we’re unremarkable. At the dawn of our species, we huddled together in groups of a few families. We had neither sharp teeth, nor wings, nor the strength of our ape cousins. Moreover, thirty thousand years ago, at least five other large-brained species shared the planet with us. But over millennia, we sapiens changed to make connecting easier. Our testerone levels dropped, our faces softened, and we became less aggressive. We developed larger eye whites than other primates, so we could easily better express emotion. Our brains developed to give us a more precise understanding of each other’s thoughts and feelings.”

We developed vast empathetic abilities as a result of this. We travel into the minds of not just friends and neighbors, but also enemies, strangers, and even imaginary people in films or novels. This helped us become the kindest species on Earth. Humans are world class collaborators helping each other far more than any other species. This has been, and still is, our secret weapon. We are not much to behold as individuals, but together we’re magnificent—the unbeatable super organisms who hunted wooly mammoths, built suspension bridges and took over the planet.

Peter Singer writes in his book The Expanding Circle that though we once cared for a narrow group of people—our kin, perhaps a few friends—over time, the diameter of our concern has expanded beyond tribe, town, and even nation. Singer continues, “The food we eat, the medicine we take, and the technology we use are sourced globally; our survival depends on countless people we will never meet. And we help people we will never know—through donations, votes, and the culture we create. We can learn intimate details about the lives of people half a world away and respond with compassion.”

Singer writes, “WE CAN, but we often don’t, and this raises an important truth about empathy. Our instincts evolved in a world where most of out encounters were, in every sense familiar. Small, tightly knit communities were empathy’s primordial soup, packed with ingredients that made caring easy.”

The modern world has made kindness harder. For the first time in 2007 more people lived in cities than outside of them. By 2050, two-thirds of our species will be urban, but we are increasingly isolated. In 1911, about 5% of British citizens lived alone; a century later that number was 31%. In the United States, ten times as many eighteen-to-thirty-four-year olds live alone now than in 1950—and in urban centers. In parts of Manhattan and Los Angeles, more than 90% live alone.

For the past four decades, psychologists have measured empathy using questionnaires. Empathy has dwindled steadily. The average person in 2009 was less empathic than 75% of people in 1979.

Decreases in empathy foster tribalism and tribalism creates still deeper problems. Look at the political wreckage that has occurred in America. Fifty years ago, Republicans and Democrats disagreed on policy over dinner, but still ate together. Now each side sees the other as stupid, evil, and dangerous. Trolls work tirelessly to provoke as much suffering on the other side as they can. Zaki concludes, “In this bizarre ecosystem, care doesn’t merely evaporate; it reverses.

The philosopher Jeremy Rifkin writes, “The most important question facing humanity is this: Can we reach global empathy in time to avoid the collapse of civilization and save the Earth?”

Whether this has to be is the question Zaki explores in this book.

Zaki believes that we can grow our empathy and become kinder as a result. He notes that there are decades of research suggesting that empathy is less like a fixed trait and more like a skill—something we can sharpen over time and adapt to the modern world. Saki explores this research in his book.

A Career Built on Distortion, Exaggeration

January 28, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Will Hobson on the front page of The Washington Post, 26 Jan ‘20. The article was on the science and selling of CTE. The subtitle was, “Omalu, of ‘Concussion’ fame, has claimed he discovered the disease, He didn’t.

There have been many healthy memory posts on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and on the extreme damages that can occur to the brain in playing contact sports. In the case of soccer the contact is not between individuals but of the ball contacting the head.

The article makes a very good argument that Omalu did not discover the disease and some of his diagnoses of CTE were questionable. It is important to understand that this criticism is technical and is being made by neurosurgeons and other neuroscientists. So they are arguing that some of his diagnosis of CTE were incorrect, not that serious brain damage had occurred that was at best lowering the quality of life or at worst risking life.

These criticisms of Omalu are valid and should be made. He is an absolute genius at self promotion. Yet he still deserves both attention and praise for drawing attention to the damage that can occur to the brain from contact sports. So previous warnings in the blog on CTE should be extended to brain images in general that occur during contact sports. Injuries that are below the concussion level can still cause damage due to cumulative effects of these insults. And research needs to continue on not only active athletes, but also on the effects during childhood that may manifest themselves during adulthood.

So no previous warnings or claims made on this blog, with the distinction of misclassifications at the technical level, are withdrawn. And HM still finds it ironic that educational institutions promote sports that risk injury to the brain.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. 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.

How Can We Keep Technology from Rotting Our Brains

January 27, 2020

First of all it is important to understand that it is not technology that is rotting out brains, it is the way we are using technology that is rotting our brains. If used properly technology provides an ideal means of enhancing our brains and building healthy memories.

The first action should be to get off social media, in general, and Facebook, in particular. The dangers of Facebook are well documented in this blog. Entering “Facebook” into healthymemory.wordpress.com will yield pages of posts about Facebook. The dangers of social media are also well documented in this blog. Besides, Facebook should be paying to use your data. So in addition to the other evils one might also add theft.

We all got along before Facebook and we will find that our lives are better after Facebook. HM certainly did.

One can develop one’s own interest groups on various topics. Go to the healthy memory blog post “Mindshift Resources.” Unfortunately, usually fees are involved in actually getting a degree. Go to
nopaymba.com to learn how to get an MBA-level business education at a fraction of the cost. Laura Pickard explains how to get an MBA for less than1/100th the cost of a traditional MBA.

Go to Wikipedia and search for topics of interest or to just browse. When you find topics worth pursuing, pursue them. This will involve System 2 processing at least.

You can learn juggling on YouTube. Juggling is one of many activities that is good for developing a healthy memory.

As for the GPS, it is recommended to try navigating without GPS. Go to a new, safe, area, traverse it and build a mental topographic map. Two activities that benefit a healthy memory can be engaged here, walking and mental navigating building a mental topographic map.

Visiting museums is another means of developing mental spatial maps. Museums provide another opportunity for engaging in two activities that build healthy memories. Building mental spatial maps, and learning the content present in the museum.

© 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.

Are Satellite Navigation Devices Rotting Our Brains?

January 26, 2020

They are a major convenience. Once you’ve entered the needed data, all one needs is to follow the directions of the device. This would seem to require minimal, if any, hippocampal processing, and even less processing by the caudate nucleus.

So even if these devices are not rotting our brains, they seem to be making us more stupid, or less intelligent, if you prefer. Given the current situation in the United States, it appears that we are suffering from a stupidity pandemic.

When the Affordable Care Act was being debated, a young lady who was highly plugged in was asked what she thought of Obama Care. She said that she was strongly against it. But when she was asked about the Affordable Care Act, she said that she was strongly in favor. Now the two were one and the same. Opponents called it Obama Care and their commentary was highly negative. Clearly the processing of this plugged in young lady was stuck in superficial System 1 processing, and did little, if any, critical thinking (System 2).

Today virtually all knowledge is available on the world wide web. Unfortunately, there is also a large amount of misinformation and disinformation available. So one needs to be careful about information sources and needs to think critically.

Unfortunately, one can easily look up a topic on the Wikipedia and mistakenly think that they know the information. Learning and knowing involve System 2 processing and critical thinking. Too many people think that because they are using technology they’re plugged in and up to date. Sans System 2 critical thinking their information could be wrong.

Moreover, learning involves deep processing, System 2 and possibly above. Enter “Deep Processing: into the search block of the healthy memory blog,
healthymemory.wordpress.com.

So, in answer to the title of this post, it is not only satellite technology, but technology in general that could be rotting our brains, resulting in higher incidences of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Why Less Processing By the Hippocampus is Harmful to a Healthy Memory

January 25, 2020

 

Processing by the caudate nucleus is faster due to the processing of less information than the spatial information processing that occurs in the hippocampus. So there is a cost benefit trade here, speed and ease at the expense of much richer spatial information.

This is a good place to relate this information to Kahnehan’s System 1 versus System 2 Processing. It is the thesis of this blog that it is System 2 processing that builds cognitive reserve that greatly decreases, if not eliminates, the cognitive decline found in dementia and Alzheimer’s. The defining characteristics needed for the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is the formation of amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles. But many autopsies have found these defining characteristics in the brains of people who never exhibited any behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The explanation provided for these individuals is that they had built up a cognitive reserve as a result of the mental activity they had pursued during their lifetimes. The position of this blog is that mental activity was System 2 processing.

Remember this distinction: System 1 is fast and makes minimal use of cognitive resources.
System 2 is much slower, is what is commonly referred to as thinking (pardon me while I stop to think), and makes demands on cognitive resources.

To simplify regarding navigation.
Caudate processing is a System 1 process
Spatial processing is much richer and primarily involves System 2 processing.

Remember the previous post titled “Wayfinding.”

It discussed the remarkable navigation feats that enabled, what in popular parlance might be regarded as primitive people, to navigate thousands of miles of ocean to discover and populate islands.

It also discussed aborigines in Australia. Here there are vast landscapes, which are barren to the uninitiated, but which provide information to those who know how to read it. They have developed what the authors names dreamtime cartography. They form stories, dreams if you will, that describe the paths on voyages to different locations.

It discussed people in the Arctic and on how natives are able to read the subtle cues in the ice to navigate. Even today with GPSs being able to read these cues can reveal signs that there may be trouble ahead regarding, for example unsafe ice, which are not available from the GPS.

This so-called “primitive” people were using deep System 2 processing heavily involving the hippocampus. They were not just identifying visual cues, they were integrating this information with other information. This processing was quite sophisticated and involved processing beyond System 2 (See the healthy memory blog posts “Stanovich and the Rational Quotient, and “The Two Causal Reasoners Inside”) that involved large amounts of critical thinking.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. 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.

Less Hippocampus, More Caudate Nucleus

January 24, 2020

This post is based on text from Wayfinding, a book by M.R. O’Connor.
Bohbot is concerned that the conditions of modern Life are leading us to flex the hippocampus less while spurring us to rely on the caudate nucleus. She says, “Maybe in the past we never had to go on autopilot. Having jobs in one location and lives being more habitual is new. Industrialization learned to capitalize on the habit-memory-learning system.” HM is in strong agreement with Dr. Bohbot.

Chronic stress, untreated depression, insomnia, and alcohol abuse all can shrink hippocampal volume. Anxiety alone has been shown to impact the spatial learning and memory of rats. Stress and depression seem to affect neurogenesis in the hippocampus, whereas exercise seems to improve learning, memory and resistance to depression, which spurs a proliferation of new neurons. Patients with PTSD have been shown to have lower hippocampal volume. One of the consequences of effective treatment for this disorder such as the use of antidepressants and changes in environment, is increased hippocampal volume.

Bohbot has been led by the widespread prevalence of these conditions to be concerned that by the time children enter young adulthood, they might already have relatively shrunken hippocampal volume that makes them susceptible to cognitive and emotional impairments and behavioral problems. An over reliance on stimulus-response navigation strategies seems connected to a host of destructive yet seemingly unrelated behaviors. Because the circuit is located in the striatum, a brain area involved in addiction, Bohbot started to wonder: Would people who rely on a response strategy to navigate show any difference in substance abuse from those who relied on spatial strategies? In 2013 she published a study of 55 young adults that showed those who relied on response strategies in navigating had double the amount of lifetime alcohol consumption, in addition to more use of cigarettes and marijuana. In a different study of 255 children, she found that those with ADHD symptoms primarily rely on caudate nucleus stimulus strategies. Recently, Bohbot and Greg West showed that ninety hours of in-lab action video games will shrink the hippocampus of young adults who used their caudate nucleus. This is the first clear evidence that the activities we engage in can have negative impact on the hippocampus.

In 2017, Bohbot along with ten researchers published a report called, “Global Determinants of Navigational Ability,’ in which they looked at the performance of 2.5 million people globally on a virtual spatial navigation task. Then they broke the data down to understand whether there were similar profiles in cognitive abilities among countries. The data are that spatial navigation ability starts declining in early adulthood, around nineteen years of age, and steadily slips in old age. People from rural ares were significantly better at the game. When it came to countries themselves, Australians, South Africans, and North American showed generally good spatial orientation skills, but the real outliers were Nordic countries.

The Hippocampus and the Caudate Nucleus

January 23, 2020

This post is based on text from Wayfinding, a book by M.R. O’Connor. When Bohbot did her doctoral research with Lynn Nades, coauthor of The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map, the hippocampus was a fascinating brain structure to study, and it was the only structure known to be involved in spatial memory. But it was conjectured that there were other brain structures involved in different ways to navigate in the environment. At McGill in the mid 1990s fellow researchers Normal White and Mark Packard discovered one other brain circuit. That circuit was the caudate nucleus.

Bohbat wondered if it was possible that people use very different brain structures for different strategies in navigation. So she began to conduct experiments in humans designed to distinguish which strategies were dependent on the hippocampus and which involved the caudate nucleus. She found that there were different circuits with corresponding differences in strategy.

Bohbat explained that the hippocampus is involved in learning to navigate using the relationships between landmarks. Once one has learned the relationship between landmarks, she can derive a novel route to any destination from any starting position in the environment. Spatial memory is allocentric in that it’s independent of one’s starting position. We use spatial memory when we can picture the environment in our mind’s eye. That’s when we are using our internal map to find our way. The caudate nucleus is not involved in creating maps; it’s a structure of directional cues such as “turn right at the corner with the grocery, and turn left at the tall white building”. This creates what are called stimulus-response memories. Bohbot notes if every day we use the same route, at some point it becomes automatic. We don’t think about it anymore. We don’t ask, where do I have to turn? Autopilot takes over. We see the white building, it acts as a stimulus that triggers a response to turn left at the bakery.

Bohbot states that there are three types of stimulus-response strategies. The egocentric strategy involves a series of right and left turns that begin with the starting point. When one leaves home (the stimulus), one turns right (the response). There is also a beacon strategy where one can reach a target location from many different starting positions: the beacon, say a tall white building, is the stimulus and one heads toward it, turning at every corner in its direction (the response). The most common form of stimulus-response: a series of turns in response to various landmarks in the environment.

Even though the caudate nucleus uses repetition to navigate successfully, it’s actually not a spatial strategy. The key difference being that the response strategy does not involve learning the relationships between landmarks, so it becomes impossible to generate a novel trajectory in the environment. All the caudate does is signal—left or right—in response to a cue without engaging one’s active attention.

There is an evolutionary explanation for why nature invented this other circuit; it means we don’t have to retrieve a memory of a route or make spatial inferences every time we need to go home. It gives us the advantage of not needing to make calculations or decisions—or pay very much attention—to where we are going and how we are getting there. Autopilot is fast and efficient, and we don’t have to think.

Bohbot discovered a negative correlation between the two strategies: the human brain is using either the hippocampus or the caudate nucleus to get somewhere, but it never engages the two brain areas at the same time. So, the more we use one, the less we use the other, and the weaker it becomes.

Bohbot conducted a study of 599 children and adults and compared the hippocampal spatial strategies to increased automation. Each of our life histories traces this trajectory: we go from using hippocampal spatial strategies to increased automatization. Bohbot and her researchers compared the spatial strategies preferred to solve tasks. They found that children rely on hippocampal spatial strategies some 85% of the time, but adults over the age of sixty used this strategy just under 40% of the time. The critical question is whether the preferences of one strategy over the other led to physiological differences in gray matter density and volume in the hippocampus.

Bohbot and several researchers published two studies focused on measuring activity and gray matter in both the hippocampus and the caudate nucleus. They mimicked the classical spatial test for routes and applied it to humans by creating a radial maze in a virtual setting and asking participants to navigate it while they tracked their brain activity with fMRI. As expected, individuals who used spatial memory strategies shows increased activity in the hippocampus. Those who used the stimulus response strategy had increased activity in the caudate nucleus.

Then they measured the morphological differences in the two brain regions in each individual. They found a high probability that people who used a spatial strategy had more gray matter density in the hippocampus, and the inverse was also true: those who used a response strategy had more gray matter in the caudate nucleus.

So the big questions are what if we persistently prioritize the caudate nucleus over a hippocampal strategy? And what if this prioritization is happening at an endemic scale?

HM navigates with a response strategy. It is efficient as advertised. There are shortcomings with this strategy that are not made explicit in the text. What happens if there is an accident or heavy traffic that makes one want to alter the route? That can’t be done. HM not only uses a response strategy, he uses a lazy version of the response strategy. He just uses the visual references and pays no attention to street names. This make HM appear to be an idiot (and this might be more than an appearance) because he cannot very readily explain the directions to others.

But these dangers are relatively minor given the weaknesses that develop in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is one of the most important, if not the most important, organ relevant to a healthy memory. One both wants and needs a very healthy or extremely healthy hippocampus.

The Hippocampus

January 22, 2020

This post is based on text from Wayfinding, a book by M.R. O’Connor. The hippocampus was discovered by mistake. In the early 1970s John O’Keefe, a young American scientist, used the wrong coordinates and instead of placing micro electrodes in a rat’s somatosensory thalamus, he inserted the micro electrodes into the rat’s hippocampus. As the single cell O’Keefe was recording began to fire, its pattern struck him as unusual. The cell’s activity was strongly correlated with the rat’s locomotion. O’Keefe began recording single hippocampal cells of rats while they were eating, grooming, and exploring.

After months of recording, O’Keefe began to suspect that the activity of these cells didn’t depend so much on what the animal was doing or why it was doing it, but had something to do with where it was doing it. It didn’t matter which direction the rat was facing, or whether rewards were taken away or changed. The only stimulus that seemed to matter to these cells was the rat’s location. Instead of responding to the changes in stimuli, the cells were signaling the abstract concept of space. O’Keefe called them place cells.

The psychologist Tolman published a paper in 1948 in Psychological Review titled “Cognitive Maps in Rats and Men.” At the end of the paper he made the following conjectures. Was it possible that many people’s social maladjustments could be interpreted as the result of having too narrow and limited cognitive maps? In one example Tolman wrote about the tendency for individuals to focus their aggression on outside groups. He wrote that poor southern whites displace they frustrations with landlords, the economy, and northerners onto black American. Americans as a whole displace their aggression into Russians and vice versa. He wrote,

“My only answer is to preach again the virtues of reason—of, that is, broad cognitive maps…Only then can have children learn to look before and after, to see that there are often round-about and safer paths to their quite proper goals—learn that is, to realize that the well-beings of White and Negro, of Catholic and Protestant, of Christian and of Jew, of American and Russian (and even of males and females) are mutually interdependent. We dare not let ourselves or others become so over-emotional, so hungry, so ill-clad, and so over motivated that only narrow strip-maps will be developed.”

Remember that this was published in 1948.

Research has shown that the richness and complexity of an environment influences the quantity of neurons in the hippocampus. In 1997, researchers at the Salk Institute found that mice exploring enriched environments—paper tubes, nesting material, running wheels, and rearrangeable plastic tubes—had forty thousand more neurons than a control group. These additional neurons resulted in an increase in hippocamplal volume of 15% in the mice and significant improvements on spatial learning tests. The researchers concluded that a combination of increased neurons, synapses, vasculature, and dendrites led to the animals’ enhanced performance.

Eichenbaum believed that the hippocampus is capable not only of organizing physical space, but of creating “temporally structured experiences” into representations of moments in time. Eichenbaum has come to understand the hippocampus as the “grand organizer” of the brain. “It’s organizing and integrating all these bits and pieces of information in a contextual framework. It does create a map, I’m all for the cognitive map in the original sense that it’s a map where you put the stuff to remember where they are in relationship to each other. That is a specific, limited, concise sense of moving in geographic space . The other sense is this abstract term, how did I navigate to graduate school? What’s the path to the presidency?”

The most famous case of amnesia in the scientific literature is H.M., an epileptic who in the 1950s at the age of 27 had part of his temporal lobes removed, which included the hippocampus (actually we have two of these, one in each hemisphere of the brain). This caused him to lose his ability to acquire and recollect memories. Although he could recall the past, he could not store the present so he could recall any new information.

HM, not be be confused with H.M. had similar experiences with his mother when she was suffering from dementia. She reached a point when he visited her, and she needed to be taken to the restroom, when she returned she would not remember my visit and would think that I had just arrived. At this point HM realized that the dementia had destroyed her two hippocampi. This was a very sad time.

WAYFINDING

January 21, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a new book by M.R. O’Connor. The subtitle is “The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World.” HM and his spouse enjoy cruising. One looks out at the vast ocean with nothing else in sight. With today’s geopositioning systems it is obvious how ships navigate these waters, even at night and in bad weather. For a long time sextants were needed for navigation. The primary use of a sextant is to measure the angle between an astronomical object and the horizon for the purposes of celestial navigation.

We enjoy cruising the Caribbean islands and visiting these islands, which are populated and have been populated for many hundreds of years. HM’s question is how did people in primitive boats manage to navigate to these islands, and for entire groups of people to relocate. There is nothing special about the Caribbean here. There are islands all over the Earth to which people managed to navigate and resettle. Wayfinding explains how they managed to do so. It turns out that people use not only the stars, but the movement of the sun through the day, sea currents, and the wind to navigate. These signs are very subtle and Wayfinding does not provide a guide as to how to do this. Rather it documents that humans did indeed learn to read and understand these subtle cues.

It is not only on the seas and oceans have humans been able to learn subtle environmental cues to navigate. There is a chapter on the Arctic and on how natives are able to read the subtle cues in the ice to navigate. Even today with GPS’s being able to provide directions, expert wayfarers can see signs that there may be trouble ahead regarding unsafe ice, which are not available from the GPS.

There also is a section on the aborigines in Australia. Here there are vast landscapes, which are barren to the uninitiated, but which provide information to those who know how to read it. They have developed what the author names dreamtime cartography. They form stories, dreams if you will, that describe the paths on trips to different locations.

Ms. O’Connor makes the argument that it is navigation that made us human and gave us the ability to develop advanced civilizations. She cites a portion from Carlo Ginzburg’s book Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method: Man has been a hunter for thousands of years. In the course of countless chases he learned to reconstruct the shapes and movements of his invisible prey from tracks on the ground, broken branches, excrement, tufts of hair, entailed feather, stagnating odors. He learned to sniff out, record, interpret, and classify such infinitesimal traces as tails of spittle, He learned how to execute complex mental operations with lightning speed, in the depth of a forest or in a prairie with its hidden dangers.”

To be sure, these are humble beginnings. But they are the beginnings of advanced thinking that continue to advance to where we are today. But there have been casualties. If any of us who are not hunters were left to survive for ourselves in the woods, most of us would likely fail.

What the Goal of Psychology Should Be

January 20, 2020

The development of Intelligence Quotients was one of the first utilized psychological topics. Unfortunately, it led to placing individuals in groups that indicated they were smart, average, or stupid. And, unfortunately, most accepted these labels as fact. They were attributed to genetic factors and the results were regarded as fixed. Worse yet, these results reinforced and exacerbated already existing social bias.

Further research indicated that there were mitigating factors. And research reported in this blog done by Carol Dweck and others made the important distinction between fixed and growth mindsets. People who believe that their intelligence and other abilities are fixed risk falling short of their true potentials. They tend to quit when they confront frustrations or obstacles. However, people with growth mindsets do not believe that their intelligence and abilities are fixed. When they confront obstacles or frustrations, they continue to grow their personal capabilities.

The same problem has confronted studies of gender. There were cultural beliefs, that initially were supported by psychological research. Further research indicated that these beliefs were in error and are slowly being repealed.

The goal of psychology should be to maximize each human’s potential. Cognitive science will facilitate this goal. Moreover, human potential includes more than cognitive skills. It also includes empathy and the care of our fellow human beings.

© 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 Future

January 19, 2020

This post is based on content in Gender and Our Brains by Gina Rippon. She writes, “Early forms of data and data analysis were too crude to offer any insights into individual differences, but we have moved on from them. It is now possible to generate functional connectivity profiles, patterns of task- or rest-related synchronized activity in the brain which, it is claimed, are like a fingerprint, unique to each individual sufficiently distinct that they could be linked to their owners with up to ninety-nine percent accuracy.” This allows us and should compel us to look at brains at the individual level. Evidence about what can affect brains, and when, further indicates that we should do so.

Rippon writes, “We need to really understand the external factors that shape individual differences, with social variables such as level of engagement in social networks and self-esteem, and opportunity variables such as sport, hobbies or video game experience alongside more standard measures such as education and occupation. Each of these can alter the brain—sometimes independently of sex and sometimes very much entangled with it, but they will contribute to the almost unique mosaic that we now know characterize each and every brain.

Individual differences, such as sex, have been studied via statistical approaches. But each human is an individual and there are risks categorizing people via statistical approaches. Intelligence was one example, and sex differences is another. In fairness, statistical approaches were the only techniques available. But brain science is developing, and will further develop, approaches for studying individual differences on an individual basis rather than being lumped into a category.

Ambiguous Anatomical Differences

January 18, 2020

This post is based on content in Gender and Our Brains by Gina Rippon, At first glance, nothing could be a clearer way of distinguishing the sexes than by anatomical differences. All one would need to do was to determine how the person urinated. Standing up, male, squatting or sitting down, female. An XX individual will have ovaries and a vagina; an XY individual will have testes and a penis. But there are individuals born with ambiguous gentalia or who later develop secondary sexual characteristics at odds with their assigned gender. These individuals were viewed as intersex anomalies or disorders of sex development (DSDs) requiring medical management, possibly including very early surgical interventions.

In a 2105 article in Nature by Claire Ainsworth called attention to the fact that sex can be more complicated than it at first seems. She found that individuals could have mixed sets of chromosomes (some cells XY, some XX). It was found that this was not a rare occurrence. The evidence that expression of the gonad-determining genes could continue postnatally undermined the concept of core physical sex differences being hardwired. This suggests that manifestations of biological sex occur on a spectrum, which would include both subtle and moderate variations, rather that as a binary divide.

In a 1993 article titled The Five Sexes Anne Faust-Sterling suggested that we need at least five categories of sex to cover intersex occurrences. She felt that this grouping should include males with testes and some female characteristics, and females with ovaries and some male characteristics, as well as “true” hermaphrodites, with one testes and one ovary. Some suggested that gender should not be determined by genitals, but certainly the existence of more than two categories (however defined) should be acknowledged.

Apart from ambiguous anatomical differences, there are behavioral and preference differences in homosexuality. Homosexuality is found across all cultures. What differs is the degree to which it is tolerated, persecuted, or accepted.

At one time it was thought that the hippocampus and the amygdala were larger in males than in females. Subsequent research has encouraged the revision of this position to one of there being no substantial differences when other factors are considered.

These comparisons occurred in a variety of areas and it became clear that there were neither black and white differences nor shades of gray. With further research the difference diminished and the dichotomies disappeared.

Gender and Our Brains

January 17, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book published in 2019 by Gina Rippon. Gina Rippon (born 1950) is professor of cognitive neuroimaging at the Aston Brain Centre, Aston University, Birmingham, England. The subtitle is How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of the Male and Female Minds. The following quote by Stephen Jay Gould from The Mismeasurement of Man is offered: “Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.

The penultimate chapter of the book has the title: “Mars, Venus or Earth? Have We Been Wrong About Sex All Along?” The chapter begins with a quote by Amanda Montanez, “The more we learn about sex and gender, the more the attributes appear to exist on a spectrum.”

Here is the first paragraph in the chapter: “As we have seen, the hunt for differences between the brains of men and women has been vigorously pursued down the ages with all the techniques that science could muster. It has been a certainty as old as life itself that men and women are different. The empathic, emotionally and verbal fluent females (brilliant at remembering birthdays) could almost belong to a different tribe from the systematizing, rational, spatial skillful males (great with a map).”

Rippon reviews the claim that there are two distinct groups of people, who think, behave and achieve differently. She asks where might these differences come from. She has reviewed old arguments about the “essence” of males and females and the biologically determined, innate, fixed, hardwired processes that underpin their evolutionarily adaptive differences. And she has reviewed more recent claims that these differences are socially constructed, that men and women learn to be different, shaped from birth by the specific gendered attitudes, expectations and role-determining opportunities on offer in their environment. She mused on even more recent versions that acknowledge the entangled nature of the relationship between brain and culture in which they function, an understanding that our brain characteristics can be just as much a social construction as the printout of a genetic blueprint.

Regardless of the cause, the fundamental premise is that there are differences that need explaining. Whether we are filling empty skulls with birdseed, or tracking the passage of radioactive isotopes through the pathways of the brain, or testing empathy or spatial cognition we will find these differences. Both separately and together, through the centuries, psychologists and neuroscientists have pursued the question what makes men and women different? The answers have been extensively researched, widely reported, and either enthusiastically believed or heavily criticized.

However, in the twenty-first century, psychologists and neuroscientists are beginning to question the question. Exactly how different are men and women, not only at the behavioral level but at the fundamental brain level? Have we spent all this effort looking at two separate groups who aren’t actually that different, and might not even be distinct groups.

The Life Effects of Volunteering

January 15, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Jami Zaki in the Health & Science section of the 14 January, 2020 Washington Post. Saki begins by quoting Martin Luther King Jr.”

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

Dr. King also described a mistake that wastes many lives. He called it the drum major instinct, “a desire to be out front to lead the parade, a desire to be first.”

Human children remain helpless for years. They crave attention; without it they would die. Zaki writes,”But instead of subsiding with age, the drum major instinct spreads across our lives. We’ve even elevated it into an ideology, defining success as the ability to beat our enemies and outshine our peers—as though self-obsessed competition will make us thrive.

This notion is both comically and tragically backward. Decades of evidence demonstrate that social connections sustain us. Chronic loneliness increases mortality risk about as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. We flourish not by besting others, but by being part of something greater than ourselves. By clamoring for status, we deprive ourselves of one thing that would actually help us—each other.”

Psychologist Jennifer Crocker and her colleagues asked freshman college students about their social goals. Some cared most about making a good impression: showcasing their strengths and hiding their weaknesses. Although this might appear to be a wise strategy among young adults sizing one another up, it wasn’t.

The more students focused on themselves, the more lonely, depressed and anxious they became, and anxiety, in turn, made students worry even more about their image.

Zaki writes, “Scratching the itch of their drum major instinct, they made it worse.”

The drum major instinct is poison, but there is an antidote. Zaki calls it the drummer’s instinct: an urge not to lead the parade, but to be part of it—in rhythm with others, creating something together that no one could alone. The drum major instinct zooms us in on ourselves, but the drummer’s instinct drives us to care for our bandmates, and it runs deep. HM, being a former drummer who marched in bands with a drum major, really appreciates this analogy. Zaki continues, “young children crave attention, but they also prefer kindness over cruelty, and spontaneously help others in need.”

Crocker measured not just the college students’ desire to stand out but also to be kind. Students who held these “compassionate goals” suffered less depression and loneliness. They received more support from their peers, but that is not what predicted their well-being. Those who helped others were more likely to thrive.

Zaki reports, “Children and adults draw joy from helping others. Doctors who feel compassion for their patients burn out less often. Colleagues who support one another perform more effectively and are more fulfilled at work. And older adults who volunteer live longer and remain healthier than those who don’t.

Given this uncontroversial evidence, why do we still want to be drum majors”? Zaki gives two reasons.

“Individualistic cultures like ours valorize selfish pursuits, and then teach us—wrongly—that whether we like it or not, selfishness is at our core. This turns up the volume on our desire for attention, making the drummer’s instinct harder to hear.”

“”People often help others to help themselves. We give to charity for that rush of “warm glow,” or to confirm our character in moments of doubt. We advertise our virtues by changing our profile picture, or donating just enough to get our names on the opera house wall. These acts are generous on the surface, but hide the drum major instinct underneath.”

There is a healthy memory blog post titled “Trump vs. a Buddhist Monk” that argues that the Buddhist Monk lives a happier and more fulfilling life than Donald Trump. Should you not agree with this title, please read this post.

“Eudaimonic” means conducive to happiness. There will be many future posts on this topic.

Coffee Actually Can Be Good to the Last Drop

January 14, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article from Consumers Reports published in the Health and Science Section of the 5 November, 2019 Washington Post. Edward Giovannucci, professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says, “The most important thing we’ve learned about coffee in the past 20 years is that there’s very little indication that it’s bad for you. If anything, there’s more evidence that it might be healthy to drink.”

These benefits are likely because of anti-inflammatories and antioxidants found naturally in coffee: polyphenols (such as chlorogenic and quince acids) and diterpenes (such as cafestol and kahweol). These health perks probably extend to decaf, too, because with decaf only the caffeine, not these other compounds are removed.

Giovannucci states where the current research is solid and where more investigation is needed.

*Strongest evidence: Coffee lowers the risk of endometrial cancer, gallstones, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, liver fibrosis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer, oral cancers and Type 2 diabetes.

*Moderate evidence: Coffee lowers the risk of colorectal cancer, coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers, Parkinson’s disease and respiratory disease; and it improves alertness, concentration, focus, energy level, and mood.

*Some evidence: Coffee lowers the risk of age-related cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer, depression, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer; and it increases the variety of healthy bacteria in the gut.

*Limited evidence: Coffee lowers the risk of weight gain and falls by the elderly, possibly because caffeine increases alertness or reaction time.

There are some people for whom too much coffee irritates the stomach, causes anxiety or the jitters, disrupts sleep and increases the frequency of heart palpitations. In some people prone to migraines three or more cups can trigger them. Pregnant women, people who are at risk of osteoporosis, and those taking certain drugs (including some antibiotics, antidepressants and antipsychotics) should limit their intake of caffeinated coffee.

The Evangelist

January 11, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the cover article of the Washington Post Magazine, 12 Jan, 2020. This article by Nick Tabor motivated this post. The subtitle of this article is “Can Shane Claiborne’s Progressive Version of Evangelical Christianity Catch On With a New Generation?” HM hopes that Claiborne’s version of evangelical christianity also catches on with the old generation.

It appears that Claiborne’s current focus is on gun violence. One can argue that violence was the tool of the first large scale Christian activity, the crusades. Christianity is the religion of love and of turning the cheek when one is struck. It stands in marked contrast to the Old Testament where it was a matter of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The most violent act Christ ever did was to drive the moneychangers out of the temple.

But what were the Crusades? They were attacks against Muslims where they murdered, robbed, and raped them. It was not a religious crusade of conversions. Subsequently, Christianity was advanced primarily by the sword conquering other countries. After Martin Luther there were violent wars between the protestants and catholics to determine who prevailed.

Claiborne is not the only person trying to persuade Christians to follow the teachings of Christ rather than the preaching that comes from certain evangelical pulpits. There have also been healthymemory posts on the Rev. Jim Wallis. He has written an important book Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus. He is exalting these evangelicals to do the work of Christ. Unfortunately, too many evangelicals have formed a moral police working through government and the courts to force other people to behave according the Evangelicals’ beliefs. Apparently they see their role much as the moral police in Saudi Arabia. But Saudi Arabia is an authoritarian country, not a supposedly free country like the United States.

It is remarkable how many evangelicals are supporting perhaps the most immoral President the United States has ever had. Apparently the largest reason for supporting this aberration is to make abortion illegal. They regard the killing of unborn children as something that should be illegal. And this is what is taught from their pulpits. There are a number of issues here, one is that the United States is a free country, and one of those freedoms is religious freedom. So the religious beliefs of certain religions should not be forced on the religious beliefs of other religions. Too many people say that this is a free country, but then go to reduce the freedoms of others. This is the height of hypocrisy.

Biological life should be irrelevant to religion. Souls are what is relevant to religion. Without going beyond biological life, all hopes of eternity go down the crapper. So the question is what happens to the soul when an abortion is performed.

Here is HM’s belief based on his thinking, meditation, and prayer. Each of us has the ability to meditate and pray to a spiritual entity, which is God. HM is well aware of the miserable lives lived by unloved children. And just loving a child is insufficient, the child must be attended to and cared for, and this has large costs in time and attention.

In about the middle of the 20th century a large uptick in violent crime was anticipated due to the large number of children being born. Surprisingly, that uptick did not occur. When searching for reasons, some seized upon Roe v. Wade and the legalization of abortion.

HM’s God is a merciful God. HM’s God would prefer for a potentially unloved fetus to be destroyed. He would save the soul until parents became available that offered a moving and caring upbringing. Only the sole is immortal.

So how does HM know this? It is via prayer and meditation. Each of us can communicate directly with God. In pantheism, God is present in all living beings. So it follows that God is in each of us. So one can pray up, or one can pray within oneself.

It should also be noted that abortions were commonly performed in Christ’s time, but nothing is written condemning abortions in the four gospels that are readily available.

HM also believes in a judgment day. Consider how you might feel if you found one of your religious leaders burning in hell, or a reasonable facsimile. It would be too late to file a malpractice legal suit.

© 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.

Our Dangerous Fear of Pain

January 10, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by James D. Hudson in the Outlook section of the 1 December 2019 issue of the Washington Post. He writes, “It’s good to have a healthy fear of pain. It protects us from injury and reminds us to allow time for healing. Acute pain can be made more tolerable by a short course of opioid medication (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends only three to seven days, even after surgery or injury). And there is a good case for opioids over longer periods to treat end-stage cancer and other terminal ailments that can bring unbearable suffering. Palliative care in those situations is almost always necessary and compassionate.”

Dr, Hudson continues, but otherwise, the fear of pain, and the belief that a pain-free existence is optimal or even possible, has been a catastrophe for patients. Before the opioid revolution, doctors understood that pain was important to keeping us safe, to be lived with and managed. Even if this meant we bore frequent episodes of discomfort, that was better than the nationwide crisis America faces today. “Life isn’t ‘pain free.’ If we want to end the epidemic of addiction, we need to relearn that lesson.”

The opioid industry bears the ultimate responsibility for this epidemic. It did heavy lobbying of legislatures and of physicians. According to a study in the journal JAMA Network Open, this marketing correlated with overdose deaths. The CDC has thoroughly-documented the rapid rise in opioid prescriptions and deaths since 1999.

Dr. Hudson writes, “many doctors listened to the marketing campaign. In our hubris, we began to think we had the capacity to banish chronic pain. Pharmaceutical companies were developing ever stronger and longer-lasting opioids, and surgeons were replacing more and more worn-out joints. New techniques meant the pain anesthesiologists could block nerves, sever the signals to the brain, and insert catheters or electrodes into spinal columns and brains. Pain was to become a thing of the past, conquered by modern medicine.” This could have been true, but they ignored the addiction problem.

Obviously patients did not benefit. So who benefited besides the drug companies? “Physician experts” compensated by drugmakers hawked these medications at conferences, telling doctors that new and more potent analgesics were not addictive when prescribed for pain. They said that there was no upper limit on dosing, that patients would develop tolerance to medication and that some would need extremely high doses for their pain. But they said that physicians were not to worry, that this was normal. A new unsubstantiated ailment called “pseudo addiction” was offered as an explanation for patients who ran out of pills early and borrowed more from friends and family or got their drugs on the street. There is no such thing as pseudo addiction, only real addiction.

In addition to the drug companies, many got rich. There were new business opportunities. Physicians and health systems benefited from an explosion of diagnostic testing with CT and MRI scans. Unethical medical practioners were opening “pill mills,” often taking only cash for almost unlimited amounts of addictive medications with no real attempt to make a diagnosis or assess the need for such prescriptions.

The Medical Group Management Association, reported that anesthesiologists who specialize in pain management earn almost $530,000 on average annually, making this a lucrative speciality. By comparison, primary-care providers make less than half this (while the average physician makes $300,000).

Fortunately, the medical profession is maturing in educating patients about pain management However, the article makes no mention of hypnotism or meditation.

One of the most impressive surgeries HM has read about is the surgical removal of a scrotal tumor while the patient was under hypnotism.

Some research on pain perception has used buckets of ice water. This is called the cold presser task. It becomes extremely painful fairly quickly, and participants feel a need to pull their arm out of the ice water. During these experiments the participants make ratings of their pain. While hypnotized, participants were able to provide consistent ratings of their pain perception and they were able to keep their hands in the ice water at ratings they would have felt forced to pull their arms out. In fact, the experimenter had to tell them to remove their arms before tissue damage occurred.

Highly skilled meditators actually focus on the pain, but reinterpret it. Most of us deal with pain by trying to ignore it and think of something else. But if one is an experienced meditator they are likely to focus on the pain and reinterpret their perception as not being of pain.

© 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.

When tiredness, sleepiness can be warning signs

January 9, 2020

The title of this post is the same as the title of an article by Emily Sohn in the Health and Science section of the 17 December 2019 issue of the Washington Post. In conversation, people use the terms sleepiness, fatigue, and tiredness interchangeably. But their definitions do differ medically. Sleepiness is a need of sleep that makes it difficult to stay awake, even while driving, working, or watching a movie, and even after ingesting caffeine.

On the other hand, fatigue is a deeper sort of an inability, either physical or mental, to do what you want to do, such as get to the grocery store. In the middle is tiredness, a desire to rest that is less debilitative than fatigue and less dramatic than sleepiness. One can still be productive while tired.

In a 2014 survey by the nonprofit National Sleep Foundation, 45% of adults said they had been affected by poor sleep or not enough sleep in the previous week. As many as 20% of people report excessives sleepiness on a regular basis. A National Safety Council survey reported in 2017 that 76% of people felt tired at work. If you’re bothered by how tired you feel, there might be some simple explanations. The most basic is not enough sleep. A third of Americans don’t get the recommended seven or more hours a night, according toe the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And as needs very widely, even seven hours isn’t enough sleep for many people. And one should not set their alarm for exactly seven hours of sleep, because nobody sleeps 100% of the time that they’re in bed. So it might take eight hours of pillow time to get seven hours of sleep.

Should tiredness be making it hard for you to get through most days or otherwise getting in your way, experts recommend visiting a primary-care clinic first to be evaluated for common causes of fatigue or tiredness, including depression, autoimmune diseases, vitamin levels, and thyroid issues. The article warns that this appointment might be frustrating because many doctors lack training in sleep medicine. Primary-care physicians don’t routinely ask patients about sleep. They also often miss the signs of insomnia, or they suggest ineffective treatments for it, a 2017 study found. Insomnia affects up to 15% of adults and studies show that behavioral therapies work better than medication. Primary-care physicians can identify problems such as iron deficiency, fibromyalgia, celiac disease, encephalitis, plus others.

If none of these causes turn up in the regular clinic, the article recommends seeing a sleep specialist, whose evaluation is likely to include screening for sleep apnea. This disorder, which causes people to periodically stop breathing in their sleep, affects up to 10% of adults. The rates are higher for people who are overweight. About 85% of people who have sleep apnea are undiagnosed and untreated.

Prestigious Universities

January 8, 2020

Given the news on prestigious universities and on the rich providing bribes to get their children into prestigious universities, HM feels obliged to relate his experience as an employer and manager of students from prestigious universities. Graduates from prestigious universities did not perform better than graduates from public universities. In rare incidents, some graduates might act as if they were a gift and that we were lucky to get them. These incidents were rare. Although attending a prestigious university might be helpful in providing useful connections, they do not provide better educations.

What is especially bothersome is that one cannot even count on basic skills from graduates of prestigious universities. HM has had experience with such graduates, from graduate programs even, who could not write adequately.

Moreover, the requirements prestigious universities apparently desire might preclude their acceptance of certain exceptional students. When students are prepping for entrance tests, participating in sports and social activities, they might be taking time better spent in developing their skills in actual educational pursuits. Consider a student absorbed in a science project. Of course, if that project wins an award that would be helpful. But what if the student just has strong interests in an academic subject? Do these universities actually request papers and work documenting their knowledge and accomplishments? Or is it easier to check for test scores and lists of activities?

Then also, there are the exorbitant costs of education. There needs to be public education available at affordable prices. But too few realize that they can get an entire college education online.

Go to the healthy memory blog post “Mindshift Resources.” Unfortunately, usually fees are involved in actually getting a degree. Go to
nopaymba.com to learn how to get an MBA-level business education at a fraction of the course. Laura Pickard explains how to get an MBA for less than1/100th the cost of a traditional MBA.

Quite frankly, HM would value an autodidact higher than a graduate of any prestigious or conventional university. This would indicate a genuine love of the subject and the initiative to pursue that love with passion.

The Man Who Sold America

January 7, 2020

The title of this book is identical to the title of a book by Joy-Ann Reid. The subtitle is “Trump and the Unravelling of the American Story.” It provides an excellent summary and a superb analysis of what Trump has done to the Republican Party, and, more importantly, to the United States. Regarding the goals of the healthy memory blog, it provides an ideal subject for growth mindsets. For American citizens it summarizes the damage that Trump has done to the United States and democracy and a summary of the risks Trump presents to the future of this democracy.

There is an excellent chapter for white people who are afraid of becoming a minority. It is a chapter titled “What America Can Learn from South Africa.” It will make clear that there is nothing to fear and that such a development will be beneficial to the United States. As expected, there is disinformation that contests this point. But HM has a professional colleague who is a citizen of South Africa, who is doing well, and will attest to a good and fulfilling life as a minority white person.

Regarding Russia, it notes that Donald Trump’s attraction to Russia has been on display since at least 1987, when he and his first wife, Ivana, traveled to Moscow to inquire about a potential real estate deal. It is widely believed to have been arranged by Soviet Intelligence services. The Soviets were reportedly alarmed by Ronald Reagan’s hawkishness and were looking to develop contacts with an American they might turn toward their point of view. Experts suggest the Soviet Union’s interest in Trump and his family likely stretches back much further. A November 2017 article for Politico Magazine by Harding, noted that the KGB may have opened a file on Trump as early as 1977, when he married Czech-born Ivana. Harding notes that Ivana, as a citizen of a communist country, would have been of interest both to the Czech intelligence service, the StB, and to the FBI and CIA. Craig Unser’s book, House of Trump, House of Putin: The Unfolding Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia was reviewed in an earlier healthy memory blog post.

Given this information, and given the evidence reported in this blog on how Russia helped Trump become president, it is surprising that people have difficulty understanding Putin’s influence on Trump. A question that needs to be asked here is where did Trump’s money come from for his developments and projects since no U.S. banks would provide funding given that he has had serial bankruptcies. His son has provided the answer to this question and the answer is Russia. It is obvious that Trump will not reveal his taxes or finances because they would indicate that Putin owns him. Democrats behave as lawyers rather than politicians by continuing to pursue this question in the courts. True politicians would make it incumbent for him to reveal his sources of finances to prove that he is not owned by Putin.

The Closing of the Newseum

January 6, 2020

Most people reading this post will wonder what was the Newseum and why is its closing significant. The Newseum opened 22 years ago in Rosslyn, Va. HM’s office was in the same building as the Newseum. It is convenient to have a museum in your building for two reasons. One reason should be obvious. And it was also convenient when you had give people directions to your office, all one had to do was to tell visitors to follow the signs to the Newseum.

The information in the newseum was priceless. And there were many interesting objects:

the twisted antenna from the World Trade Center North Tower

the door that was jimmied during the Watergate burglary

hunks of the Berlin Wall from when it was torn down

a copy of the Washington Post front page from 9 Aug 1974 with the headline “Nixon Resigns” this sat in a display case near a political bumper sticker reading, “Support Nixon, Impeach the Nation

Miscues in the form of poorly worded headlines decorated the walls of the restrooms such as

“Genetically Modified Crops Talk of Meeting” & “Panda lectures this week at National Zoo.”

There was a gallery of Pulitzer Prizewinning photographs

There was a memorial for journalists who had been killed working on their articles.

These artifacts, and they are just some of the artifacts, are nice, but the real importance of the Newseum was to have all our First Amendment’s rights displayed in one place. One of the people said about the Newseum, “Anybody can see one exhibit, but you don’t get the big picture of how important that is.” Indeed the Newseum provided that big picture.

After eleven years in Rosslyn, the Newseum was moved to an impressive building in DC on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Although the Newseum was not part of the museums owned by the Smithsonian Institution, it certainly held its own with these other museums, and exceeded several of them.

It was the lack of financing that caused its closing. Unfortunately, it needed an entrance fee to survive, and that fee kept increasing.

The real tragedy is that its closing reflects the general decline in newspapers, which have played a critical role in the development and survival of our democracy. It is not only the technical revolution that is the problem here. The larger problem is the decline in critical thinking that has been replaced by alternative facts and believing in alternative realities. Critical thinking is being replace by magical thinking according to Kurt Andersen.

© 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.

FANTASYLAND: HOW AMERICA WENT HAYWIRE: A 500-YEAR HISTORY

January 4, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Kurt Andersen. The title encompasses the nature of the book. It offers an explanation of how the United States ended up in this current crisis. The first English colony established in the United States was at Jamestown in what was to be Virginia (Virginia for the Virgin Queen of England). These settlers were bent on finding gold and becoming rich. But Andersen would explain the making the perilous passage to an unknown country to become rich was an example of magical thinking.

However, the colonists settling in New England were idealistic, not mercenary. They were in quest of religious freedom, but the freedom they sought was for their religion. They had low tolerance, if any, for other religions. Now all of these religions were Christian religions, dedicated to following the teachings of Christ. Religious differences were not due to differences in the teachings of Christ, but rather how men interpreted these teachings. Previous healthy memory blog posts have emphasized the difference between a belief in God, and a belief in a particular religion. Individual humans believed in God or some godlike sprit long before the creation of religions by religious leaders emerging who professed to be providing teaching and guidance from God. This conundrum exists today. The Constitution guarantees religious freedom as one of its freedoms. It does not specify any given religion even though there are Christian churches saying that the religion is Christianity, when it is definitely not. So here we have religious people violating one of the ten commandments.

It is both ironic and a conundrum. Apparently some evangelicals, rather than following the obvious teachings of Christ, are trying to impose their religious beliefs and laws that stem from their religious beliefs, via government. So most of their effort has been in the political arena, promoting politicians who advocate their beliefs, which obviously impose on the freedoms of others. These people would deny any resemblance between what they are doing and the religious police found in Saudi Arabia.

The new religion of Mormonism, founded by Joseph Smith, emerged in the 1800s. A new testament of the bible was promoted that described the religious activities in a much earlier time period. Religions and religious practices have emerged and are still emerging, but they differ primarily in religious dogma. Medical quacks became prominent and another Gold Rush in California occurred and quickly exhausted itself.

In the era between 1900 and 1960 , Andersen writes that there was Brand-New Old-Time religion. He also writes that the business of America became show business.

In the 1960s and ‘70s there were the hippies, the intellectuals, the Christians, politics and conspiracies, and Living in a Land of Entertainment.

Here are the chapter headings from the section ”1980s through the turn of the century”

Making Make-believe More Realistic and Real Life More Make-Believe

Foreover Young: Kids “R” Us Syndrome

The Reagan Era and the Start of the Digital Age

American Religion from the Turn of the Millennium

Our Wilder Christianities: Belief and Practice

America Versus the Godless Civilized World: Why Are We so Exceptional?

Magical but Not Necessarily Christian, Spiritual but Not Religious

Blue-Chip Witch Doctors: The Reenchantment of Medicine

How the Mainstream Enabled Fantasyland: Squishes, Cynics, and Believers

Anything Goes—Unless It Picks My Pocket or Breaks My Leg

The final section is titled : “The Problem with Fantasyland: From the 1980s to the Present and Beyond”
Here are the chapter headings:

The Inmates Running the Asylum Decide Monsters are Everywhere

Reality is a Conspiracy: The X-Filing of America

Mad as Hell, the New Voice of the People

When the GOP Went Off the Rails

Liberals Denying Science

Gun Crazy

Final Fantasy-Industrial Complex

Our Inner Children? They’re Going to Disney World!

The Economic Dreamtime

As Fantasyland Goes, So Goes the Nation

HM’s view, one that, in fairness, oversimplifies Anderson, is that he argues that our problems are due to magical thinking, and he implies that our situation in the U.S. is unique.

HM is skeptical about his claim that our problem is unique to us. And rather than use the term magical thinking, HM prefers to use psychological processes, such as lack of Kahneman’s System Two Processing, and the failure to think critically. These, in turn, can be explained in terms of serious shortcomings in mental effort or mental laziness.

Homo Sapiens

January 3, 2020

As the immediately preceding post said “Too many humans are not living up to the name of their species” readers might have drawn the conclusion that these humans are all Republicans. The objective of this post is to correct this possible misconception. First of all, not all Republicans are guilty, there remain a few Republicans who hold fast to their true Republican beliefs. The husband, if he is still the husband, of Kellyanne Conway is one of these individuals, who is both extremely intelligent and extremely articulate.

There are many Democrats and liberals who also do not live up to the name of their species. One concerns GMOs (genetically modified organisms). GMOs have been developed by scientists to solve the hunger problem in the world. Farmers are provided the information and technology needed to promote crop growth. Entirely new crops, that are not only safe, but also more healthy, have been developed. Many hundreds of studies have resulted in the consensus that GMOs are safe to eat. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine commissioned a comprehensive study of the science, and in 2016 their report declared GMOs both safe to eat and environmentally benign. Of the scientists in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 88% think it’s safe to eat GMO foods. This is almost exactly the same percentage of those scientists who say climate change is real and man-made, the latter a data point regularly used to demonstrate right-wing anti-science craziness. So people on the left also choose to ignore evidence and disbelieve important science they find upsetting. It is also the case, that there will never be 100% agreement on any topic. Rather one uses a measure of the strength of consensus.

Another example is the false belief that vaccines cause autism and other terrible illnesses derives from an excessive mistrust of experts, and the conviction that some vicious conspiracy is behind everything. The study that ignited the hysteria appeared in 1998, when diagnoses of autism had been increasing. A doctor studied ten children who showed autistic behavior after they were vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella, published research in a medical journal, and became the guiding light of a new movement.

Replication is the sine qua non of science. This research could not be replicated by other doctors and scientists. Nor could another article of faith, that a mercury-based preservative was the autism trigger, be substantiated. Major study after major study ever since has found stronger and stronger evidence that vaccines do not cause autism. Not until a dozen years after publishing the original paper—after the doctor was stripped of his medial license and found to have acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” did The Lancet finally retract his study calling it “utterly false.” The other major British journal called it an “elaborate fraud.”

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., had been the movement’s big star, repeating the argument that the U.S. government scientists were “involved in a massive fraud.” So even prominent liberals and Democrats provide doubts about belonging to Homo sapiens.

Other examples could be cited, but the basic point is that all of us can reason in a manner counter to Homo sapiens.

An Extremely Important New Year’s Resolution

December 31, 2019

One being to build a healthy memory through healthy practices, but most importantly growth mindsets. Growth mindsets require new learning and the development of critical thinking. Both of these involve Kahneman’s System 2 processing, more commonly known as thinking. However, it has become apparent this year that the development of healthy memories is essential to the maintenance of a healthy country.

Consider the following message from Karl Rove, senior advisor to George W. Bush in 2004:
“[You] in what we call the reality-based community…believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We create our own reality.”

and the following message from Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump in 2017:
“You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving…our press secretary gave alternative facts.”

So, what is a good path to a healthy memory? Perhaps the best place to start is the Constitution of the United States. It appears that too few citizens are familiar with the Constitution. But what is more frightening is that many people in the Congress either do not know or disbelieve the Constitution and are behaving in a manner contrary to the Constitution that puts our democracy at risk. The name of our species is Homo sapiens, which means wise man. Too many humans are not living up to the name of their species.

Even for those who have read the Constitution, we should remember that people make it their life’s work to study the Constitution. Still, even being expert in the Constitution is insufficient. Critical thinking is also needed.

The following aphorism is attributable to, at least Daniel Moynihan and Thomas Jefferson: You’re entitled to your own opinions and your own fantasies but not your own facts—especially if your fantastical facts hurt people.

Understand that Kellyanne Conway was not offering alternative facts. There was no evidence underlying her facts. This is a further way that the water has been poisoned. Facts are being offered as facts for which there is no evidence. And all too often what is offered as evidence is in truth a fabrication.

Very often it is difficult determining what to believe. This is certainly true in scientific investigations where research may go on for decades or even centuries, before a consensus is achieved. Even after a consensus is accepted, scientists still should be open to a new theory if more evidence or a more comprehensive theory is offered.

Critical thinking is hard. Believing is much, much easier. The advance of mankind was very slow until the scientific method was developed that challenged beliefs and offered empirical evidence as an alternative. Technology is the result of this science. Perhaps it is a tad ironic that a product of the scientific method, the internet, is a tool for promoting disinformation and false beliefs.

There are a few keys that one can employ to facilitate critical thinking. Certain behaviors indicate which sources, be it individuals or publications, should be completely ignored. One is the claiming that information is false without offering alternative explanations supported by facts. Claiming conspiracies or witch hunts is another tool used by totalitarian dictators. Similarly, failing to allow access to individuals or documents indicates underlying guilt. Personal insults do not disguise the fact that a legitimate factual response is impossible.

The following passage comes from Hannah Arendt’s book, The Origins of Totalitarianism:
“A mixture of gullibility and cynicism have been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became an everyday phenomenon of masses. In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true…Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable evidence of their falsehood, they would take refuge in their cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”
Arendt published Origins of Totalitarianism when Stalin was in power and Hitler only six years gone.

The following is taken from FANTASYLAND: HOW AMERICAN WENT HAYWIRE: A 500-YEAR A 500-YEAR HISTORY by Kurt Andersen:
“The seven centuries of Greek civilization are divided into three eras—the Archaic, then the Classical, then the Hellenistic. During the first, the one depicted by Homer, Greeks’ understanding of existence defaulted to supernaturalism and the irrational. Then suddenly science and literature and all the superstar geniuses emerged—Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle—in the period we canonize as “ancient Greece.” But that astonishing era lasted less than two centuries, after which Athens returned to astrology and magical cures and alchemy, the end. Why? According to The Greeks and the Irrational, by the Oxford classicist Eric Dodd, it was because they finally found freedom too scary, frightened by the new idea that their lives and fates weren’t predestined or managed by gods and they really were on their own. Maybe America’s Classical period also lasted two centuries, 1800 to 2000, give or take a few decades on each end.”

So, for all who care about the United States, please engage your critical thought processes and build a growth mindset. This will benefit not only your memory, but also the survival of democracy in the United States.

© 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 Healthymemory Blog is Going on a Hiatus

December 21, 2019

Happy Holidays!

The Healthymemory Blog is Going on a Hiatus

If you have not read the immediately preceding posts on Clint Watts excellent book, Messing with the Enemy, it is strongly recommended that you do so. The book is highly relevant to the crisis in which the United States finds itself. Or you can look for topics in the search box at healthymemory.wordpress.com. Or go to the following website
centerhealthyminds.org.

The healthymemory blog shall return in time for New Year’s Eve.

Surviving in a Social Media World

December 20, 2019

The title of this post is the title of the final chapter in Messing with the Enemy an excellent book by Clint Watts. Go to Starbucks or any public space. The customers heads are down, peering at smartphones; rarely do eyes meet. Customers might stand in the same line with the same people hundreds of times each year and never utter a word or even remember each other’s faces.

HM attends professional conferences on psychonomics (cognitive psychology), the America Psychological Association, the American Psychological Society, and Human Factors and Ergonomics. Professionals come from all over the world to attend these conferences and to learn from other professionals with shared interests. HM sees groups of people, sitting together peering down at their smartphones. During talks, many are not looking at the speaker or the slides but are peering down at their smartphones.

Robert Putnam, in his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, further defined the social capital concept pioneered by Tocqueville, dividing it into two types: bonding and bridging. Bonding capital involves Americans associating with people similar to themselves. Bridging capital comes when we make friendships and associations with people unlike ourselves. Putnam argued that these two types of capital, when combined together, power American democracy. The decline of bridging capital that is occurring signals an ominous future for the United States.

After publication of this book, Putnam not only defended his thesis, but worked to identify solutions for increasing American social capital. In 2001 his Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey sought to discover approaches for increasing social capital but instead revealed more troubling indicators for American society. The study noted: “Our survey results makes clear the serious challenges of building social capital in a large, ethnically diverse community. The more diverse a community in our study, the less likely its residents are: to trust other people…to connect with other people, even informally…to participate in politics…to connect across class lines.”

Watts writes, “Democracy dies in preference bubbles. That’s it, there’s no way for Americans to communicate, debate, compromise, and thrives as these bubbles diverge and insulate themselves from challengers. The United States, if it stays on this trajectory, ultimately may not endure. I’ve explored social media preference bubbles in great detail, but they drive physical-world preference bubbles as well. We all increasingly live in places where we walk like, talk like and look like one another. Members of the same social media preference bubbles move to places where they can reside with like-minded people who share the values, ethnicity, identity, and lifestyle of their social media nationalism. The Islamic State, while seen as extreme in the West, provides an early example of this phenomenon. Social-media-induced fantasies led young Muslims, entire families of women and children, to voluntarily move to a war zone in Syria and Iraq—the digital tail wagged the physical dog.”

Watts writes,”I’ve offered some thoughts on how the U.S. government can protect American against Russian interference, but the threat to democracy comes not from Russia but from America. The U.S. government will not save Americans from their preference bubbles, and since the election we’ve seen not just Russian active measures attempting to destroy our democracy, but American active measures tearing down our institutions. It will take Americans fighting for their own democracy to fend off the social media manipulators, the hidden core, who seek to hear them and coalesce them into a movement outside of their control and only partly of their own design. Public and civil society must come together, leaders must emerge, and civil society must be rebuilt—on the ground, not online”

Watts says the retired General Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation of a national service, beyond the military, would be an excellent way to bring citizens together through common cause and shared values. Here HM strongly concurs. HM was drafted and served two years. Initially this was regarded as a burdensome obligation. But it turned out to be, perhaps, the most rewarding two years of his life. HM worked for NCOs, who were black. One of his best friends was a poor white from Louisiana. He was so poor that he had plates of artificial teeth. When inducted his teeth were so rotten that they all needed to be removed. This was not an uncommon experience for new draftees. Absent the draft, HM’s chances of meeting, much less befriending, such individuals were virtually nil. Watts writes, “Ultimately real-world physical relationships will be the only way to defeat the online troll armies tearing democracies apart.

Watts and his colleagues have proposed the equivalent of Consumer Reports should be created for social media feeds. Information Consumer Reports would be an independent, nongovernmental rating agency that evaluated news outlets across all types of media during a rating period. Outlets would receive marks based on their performance as assessed on two principal axes: fact versus fiction in the content it produces, and subjective opinion versus objective reporting.

Watts notes that Finland fought Soviet disinformation for years, and Russian resurgence in this space led the Finns to develop a coordinated plan and trained personnel to deflect propaganda. They’ve also invested heavily in good public education, equipping their citizens not only to assess incoming information, but also to recognize falsehoods because they understand how their own government institutions and processes work. Americans enraged by WikiLeaks dumps, shouting claims of corruption or collusion, actually know little about the operation of the branches and the electoral process. Civic classes alone could enable Americans to better spot falsehoods.”

Watts also writes, Social media users can take several steps to survive in the modern social media world. First, and above all, ask whether the benefits of using social media outweigh the costs, and even if the answer to that question is yes, try to use social media less.”

HM blog readers should recognize this as a recommendation repeatedly offered in this blog.

From Preference Bubbles to Social Inception:

December 18, 2019

The title of this post is identical to half of a title in Messing with the Enemy an excellent book by Clint Watts. The second half of the title is “The Future of Influence.” In previous posts HM has mentioned the tremendous optimism regarding the internet that was written in this blog when it began in 2009. Physical boundaries no longer mattered. People passionate about chess, cancer research, or their favorite television shows could find like-known enthusiasts around the world wanting to share their thoughts and experiences. Those under oppressive regimes, denied access to information and the outside world, could leverage the web’s anonymity to build connections, share their experiences, and hope for a better world, either at home or elsewhere. All these sources of knowledge became widely available for those with growth mindsets.

Unfortunately, hackers and cybercriminals were some of the first actors to exploit the internet in pursuit of money and fame. Hate groups and terrorists found the internet an anonymous playground for connecting with like-minded people. Even though there were only a handful, or possibly only one, extremists in any given town, but with the internet, there were now hundreds and even thousands of extremists who used only internet connections to facilitate physical massing of terrorists in global safe havens or remote compounds.

The internet provided a virtual safe haven for bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, allowing a small minority of Muslims inclined to jihadi extremism to connect with like-minded supporters. As counter terrorists searched the earth for al-Qaeda’s head shed, the internet provided enough cover, capacity and space for the terror group to survive physically by thriving virtually. Watts writes, “This made al-Qaeda bigger, but not necessarily better—more diffuse and elusive, but vulnerable to fissures and difficult to manage.

Watts writes, “My experiences with the crowd—watching the mobs that toppled dictators during the Arab Spring, the hordes that joined ISIS, the counterterrorism punditry that missed the rise of ISIS, and the political swarms duped by Russia in the 2016 presidential election—led me to believe that crowds are increasingly dumb, driven by ideology, desire, ambition, fear, and hatred, or what might collectively be referred to as “preferences.”

Social media amplifies confirmation bias through the sheer volume of content provided, assessed, and shared. And this is further amplified by interactions with their friends, family, and neighbors—people who more often than not, think like they do, speak like they do, and look like they do.

Watts writes, “Confirmation bias and implicit bias working together pull social media users into digital tribes. Individuals sacrifice their individual responsibility and initiative to the strongest voices in their preferred crowd. The digital tribe makes collective decisions based on groupthink, blocking out alternative viewpoints, new information, and ideas. Digital tribes stratify over time into political, social, religious, ethnic,and economic enclaves. Status quo bias, a preference for the current state of affairs over a change, sets into these digital tribes, such that members must mute dissent or face expulsion from the group. Confirmation, implicit, and status quo bias, on a grand social media scale, harden preference bubbles. These three world-changing phenomena build upon one another to power the disruptive content bringing about the Islamic State and now shaking Western Democracies.

Watts continues, “Clickbait populism—the promotion of popular content, opinions, and the personas that voice them—now sets the agenda and establishes the parameters for terrorism, governance, policy direction, and our future. Audiences collectively like and retweet that which conforms to their preferences. To win the crowd, leaders, candidates, and companies must play to test collective preferences.”

This clickbait populism drives another critical emerging current: social media nationalism. Each year, social media access increases and virtual bonds accelerate, digital nations increasingly form around online communities where individual users have shared preferences.

Watts writes, “Social media nationalism and clickbait populism have led to a third phenomenon that undermines the intelligence of crowds, threatening the advancement of humanity and the unity of democracies, the death of expertise. Expertise is undermined by those on the internet who ignore facts and construct alternative realities.

Consider two preference bubbles, the ISIS boys, and Trump supporters. For the ISIS boys it was more important to have a caliphate than to do it right. It was more essential to pursue extreme violence than to effectively govern.

For Trump supporters, it is more important to win than be correct, more important to be tough than compromise and move forward. They appear to be living in an alternative reality that disdains factual information. The Republican Party can be regarded as one big preference bubble. To be fair, one might argue that the Democratic Party should also be regarded as a preference bubble, but one does not find the unanimity created in a true preference bubble.

Postmortem

December 18, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a post in Messing with the Enemy an excellent book by Clint Watts. The postmortem on Russia’s influence and meddling in the presidential election of 2016 may never end. Trump was completely unconventional, uninformed, unlikable in so many ways, and yet had become the leader of the free world. Fake news entered the American lexicon, and Watts pre-election detailing of Russian active measures on the internet became the subject of hot debate. Had fake news swayed the U.S. presidential election?

Social media companies began digging into the data. What they found spelled dangerous trends for democracy. Americans were increasingly getting their news and information from social media instead of mainstream media. Users were not consuming factual content. Fake news, false or misleading series from outlets of uncertain credibility was being read far more than that from traditional newsrooms. EndTheFed.com and Political Insider produced four of the five most read false news stories in the three months leading up to the election. One story falsely claimed that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump and another story falsely claimed that Hillary Clinton’s emails hosted on WikiLeaks certified her as an ISIS supporter. Throughout December, fears of Russian election manipulations grew, and each day brought more inquiries into how Russia had trolled for Trump.

The American electorate remains divided, government operations are severely disrupted, and faith in elected leaders continues to fall. Apparently, the objectives of Russia’s active measures have been achieved. Watts concludes that Americans still don’t grasp the information war Russia perpetrated against the West, why it works, and why it continues.

Watts writes, “The Russians didn’t have to hack election machines; they hacked American minds. The Kremlin didn’t change votes; it won them, helping tear down its less-preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton, to promote one who shares their worldviews, Donald Trump.

Watts continues, “Americans’ rapid social media consumption of news creates a national vulnerability for foreign influence. Even further, the percentage of American adults fifty and older utilizing social media sites is one of the highest in the world, at 50%. Younger Americans, aged eighteen to thirty-four, sustain a utilization rate about 80%. Deeper analysis by the Pew Research Center shows that U.S. online news consumers still get their information from news organizations more than from their friends, but they believe the friends they stay in touch with on social media applications provide information that is just as relevant.

A look at the Columbia Journalism Review’s media map demonstrates how social media encouraged information bubbles for each political leaning. Conservatives strongly entered their consumption around Breitbart and Fox News, while liberals relied on a more diverse spread of left-leaning outlets. For a foreign influence operation like the one the Russians ran against the United States, the highly concentrated right-wing social media landscape is an immediate, ripe target for injecting themes and messages. The American-left is diversely spread making targeting messages more difficult.

The Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Russia bought $4,700 in advertising and through eighteen channels, hosted more than 1,000 videos that received more than 300,000 views.

The Russians created a YouTube page called Williams and Kalvin. The page’s videos showcase two black video bloggers, with African accents, appearing to read script that Barack Obama created police brutality and calling Hillary Clinton an “old racist bitch.” The Williams and Calvin page garnered 48,000 fans. Watts writes,”Russian influence operators employed most every platform—Instagram, Tumblr, even PokemonGo—but it was the Kremlin’s manipulation via Twitter that proved the most troubling.”

Watts concludes that U.S. government resources are needed to find a truly effective effort. Intelligence agencies, Homeland Security, and the State Department need to rally and coordinate. Rex Tillerson was late in using the $80 million Congress had set aside for counterpropaganda resources, and then used only half of the appropriated amount. This is just a start, and a small one at that, of what America needs to do against Russian influence. The last sentence in this chapter reads, “Kislyak was right, and Putin must still wonder, “Why hasn’t America punched back.”

Putin’s Plan

December 17, 2019

The title of this book is identical to the title of a chapter in Messing with the Enemy an excellent book by Clint Watts. In the fall of 2015 Russia’s dedicated hacking campaign proved to be unique in history. Unlike the hacking of criminals, Russia didn’t pursue indiscriminate breaches for financial gain. It sought information from politicians, government officials, journalists, media personalities, and foreign policy experts numbering in the thousands, according to government and media estimates.

The Russians had perpetrated cyberattacks as part of its military campaigns prior to invading Georgia in 2008, when it defaced and disabled Georgian government websites as part of a psychological warfare campaign. In 2014, a pro-Russian group called CyberBerkut surfaced alongside Kremlin hackers and penetrated Ukraine’s Central Election Commission, altering the nation-wide presidential vote in favor of Russia’s preferred candidate, Dmytro Yarosh. Fortnately, the Ukrainian caught the manipulation before the results were aired. Throughout 2015 and 2016, Ukrainian businesses and government agencies suffered endless cyber assaults. The Blackenergy attack struck power grids of the Ivano-Frankivsk region of Ukraine, disabling electricity during one of the country’s coldest periods. Watts writes, “These attacks, though, sought to damage infrastructure and undermine Eastern European countries through humiliation and confusion. The Russian-connected breaches surfacing in America, though, sought something different.

Beginning in the late summer of 2015 and extending through the fall, Russia undertook the largest, most sophisticated, most targeted hacking campaign in world history, breaking into the email accounts of thousands of American citizens and institutions. Analysts believe that the cyber offensive was perpetrated by two of Russia’s intelligence agencies: The Main Intelligence Directorate, known as GRU, and the Federal Security Service, known as FSB, which is primarily an internal intelligence arm, but is particularly sophisticated in cyber operations.

The GRU and FSB operatives act as Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs), a reference to their dedicated targeting and a wide array of cyber-hacking techniques. APTs have sufficient resourcing to stay on their targets until they penetrate the systems they want to access. They use a range of techniques, from the simple to the complex, employing all forms of social engineering and specifically tailored malware known as “zero days.”

These Russian APTs were known as APT28 (Fancy Bear) and APT29 (Cozy Bear). They represented competing Russian hacker groups seeking access and compromising information from democratically elected officials adversarial to Russia, media personalities (particularly reporters who interfaced with anonymous sources), military leaders, academic researches, and policy think tanks studying Russia. In other words, anyone and everyone opposing Russia was targeted in hopes that their private communications, if revealed, would undermine the credibility of a Russian adversary and/or sow divisions and mistrust between the targeted individuala and those they maligned in private.

“Spearphishing” is the most useful and common technique for gaining access to users’ accounts. Messages made to appear legitimate would tell them they needed to sign in to change their username, and users often complied.

In the fall of 2015 the Kremlin election hacking wave began. In September 2015, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was breached. Both Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear breached the DNC in separate attacks. Separately, hackers penetrated the Democratic Congressional Campaign sometime around March or April 2016.

By 2016, Russia had advanced from spearphising of political parties to “whalephishing” of key political operatives and government officials. Whalephishing targets prominent individuals within organizations or governments whose private communications likely provide a wealth of insight and troves of secrets to propel conspiracies. The campaign manager of Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, proved to be the biggest whale hacked in 2016.

The troll army’s interest in the U.S. presidential collection gained steam toward the end of 2015. The following article in Sputnik caught Watt’s eye, “Is Donald Trump a Man to Mend US Relations with Russia?” At the time Trump’s campaign seemed more a celebrity stunt than a deliberate effort to lead the nation, but the post was curious, given that Russian disdain for both parties and their leaders had historically been a constant.

Watts writes, “From then on, the social media war in America surrounding the election prove unprecedented, and the Russians were there laying the groundwork for their information nuclear strike. Russian state-sponsored media, the English-speaking type, was quite clear: Putin did not want Hillary Clinton to become president. Aggressive anti-Clinton rhetoric from state-sponsored outlets, amplified by their social media trolls, framed Clinton as a globalist, pushing democratic agendas against Russia—an aggressor who could possibly bring about war between the two countries. The trolls anti-Clinton drumbeat increased each month toward the end of 2015 and going into 2016.”

Continuing, “Trump’s brash barbs against his opponents were working unexpectedly well. Kicking off 2016, the troll army began promoting candidate Donald Trump with increasing intensity, so much so that their computational propaganda began to distort organic support for Trump, making his social media appeal appear larger than it truly was.”

Wikileaks released Clinton’s emails. Five days after the WikiLeaks’ dump of DNC emails, Trump announced, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the thirty thousand emails that are missing…I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” Watts writes, “I watched the clip several times, and a sick feeling settled in my stomach. I’d watched the Russian system push for Trump and tear down Clinton, but up to that point, I hadn’t believed the Trump campaign might be working with the Russians to win the presidency. I’d given briefs on the Russian active measure system in many government briefings, academic conferences and think tank sessions for more than a year. But nothing seemed to register. Americans just weren’t interested; all national security discussions focused narrowly on the Islamic State’s recent wave of terrorism in Europe. I did what most Americans do when frustrated by politics. I suffered a Facebook meltdown, noting my disbelief that a U.S. presidential candidate would call on a foreign country one already pushing for his victory, to target and discredit a former first lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of state.”

Watts writes, “By Election Day, allegations of voter fraud and the election being rigged created such anxiety that I worried that some antigovernment and domestic extremists might undertake violence.” But there was no need to worry. Putin’s candidate had won.

Harmony, Disharmony, and the Power of Secrets

December 15, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Messing with the Enemy, an excellent book by Clint Watts. In 2002, CIA director George Tenet created the Harmony data base as the intelligence community’s central repository for all information gathered during counterterrorism operations. This data base served as a single place for bringing together information of the conduct of the emerging field of DOMINEX (document and media exploitation). At first , the Harmony database assisted soldiers picking up clues about enemy whereabouts and communications from many different babble fields and helped support the prosecution of alleged terrorists.

A Major Steve saw al-Qaeda’s secrets from a different perspective. He focused on the strategic deliberations of terrorists, their biases and preference, expense reports, likes and dislikes, and successes and failures, as well as what they thought of one another. In sum these documents yielded insights into the group’s strategic weakness and internal fractures.

Major Steve moved to the Combat Terrorism Center at West Point, which offered an interface for the military and government to connect with top experts in new cultures, regions, languages, and politics challenging effective counters operations. Major Steve could unlock the Harmony database’s secrets, create am open-source repository for the public, and enlist highly educated military officers stationed at West Point to study and collaborate with top professors around the world. In 2005, the CTC launched the Harmony Program “to contextualize the inner-functioning of al-Qaeda, its associated movement, and other security threats through primary source documents. In addition to conducting initial research on the materials, the program aimed “to make these sources, which are captured in the course of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other theaters, available to other scholars for further study.

The first study was tiled Harmony and Disharmony: Exploiting al-Qaeda’s Organizational Vulnerabilities. The study reviewed the employee contracts which showed that Arab recruits were paid more than African recruits, and married volunteers with children received more benefits and vacation than single members. The report noted that ineffective terrorists, instead of being plucked off the battlefield, should not be removed from the network if they can be reliably be observed, even if they present easy targets. The report’s justifications for this recommendation were pulled from a 1999 email sent by Ayman al-Zawahiri to a Yemeni cell leader in which he scolded a subordinate, saying, “With all due respect, this is not an accounting. It’s a summary accounting. For example, you didn’t write any date, and many of the items are vague. Watts writes, “Nearly twenty years later, Zawahiri’s letter offers some insights into why terrorists in the ranks sought to defect to ISIS after bin Laden’s death: he was a stickler of a boss.”

The key recommendation from the report follows: “increase internal dissension within al-Qaeda’s leadership.” Communique’s between al-Qaeda subordinates challenged the direction put out by the group’s leaders and questioned whether orders should be obeyed. One member said that faulty leadership held the group back, asserting that bin Laden had rushed “to move without visions,” and asked Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, to reject bin Laden’s orders.

Another study using the Harmony Database found that al-Qaeda, as a military organization, had never been particularly strong, and its success as a media organization masked deep internal divides between its leaders over strategic direction.

The Russians recognized that transparency movements relied on content, and compromising information seeded to WikiLeaks provided a new method for character assassination.The Russian intelligence services forged ahead compromising adversaries in cyber through the late 1990s and early 2000s. They secretly placed child pornography on the computers of defectors and intelligence officers and leaked sex videos of political opponents on the internet, creating a media feeding frenzy. Outlets like Wikileaks were a perfect vehicle for widespread character assassination of enemies worldwide, an open-source vehicle for planting information that allowed for plausible deniability.

Watts concludes this chapter as follows: “Many of the great chess masters have been Russian, and their leader, Vladimir Putin, is a lover of judo. Both require strategy, and victory routinely goes to those who employ their adversary’s strengths against them. As Putin famously demonstrated his judo skills on Youtube, Edward Snowden settled into a Kremlin-provided safe house. Julian Assange stowed away in the Ecuadorian embassy. The Kremlin trolls practiced on audiences in Ukraine and Syria, and occasionally heckled me. As for the hackers swirling around the Syrian Electronic Army, some of them went offline, busy working on a new project. And Russia’s cyber team came together for a new mission, with some new methods the world had yet to see and still doesn’t quite comprehend.”

Rise of the Trolls

December 15, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Messing with the Enemy, an excellent book, by Clint Watts. Watts writes that Andrew Weisburd was a natural social media savant. He could examine an online persona, spot it as friend or foe, and trace its connections to a host of bad act,ors online. In the 2000s, as a hobby, Weisburd began tracking al-Qaeda online from his couch. He identified and outed terrorists lurking on the internet so well that al-Qaeda fanatics mailed a white powder package to his house along with this death threat: “To the jewish asshole Aaron [sic] Weisburd, This is our donation to you. Either you close the website called Internet Haganah by next week or you will [be] beheaded. No anthrax was found and the website continued as usual.

Weisburd connected some of the trolls to a recent internet nemesis: The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA). The SEA presented itself as a new hybrid threat of the online world, embodying the spirit of more popular activist collectives such as Anonymous and LulzSec, but clearly in the bag for President Assad and the Syrian regime. Thus, the SEA effectively became the first nation-state cyber proxy force on the internet. Since 2011 the SEA had undertaken a string of targets by taking aim at many mainstream media outlets that were revealing the horrors of the Syrian civil war.

Effective troll armies consist of three types of accounts: hecklers, honeypots, and hackers. Hecklers lead the propaganda army, winning audiences through their derisive banter and content-fueled feeds. Hecklers identify and drive wedge issues into their target audiences by talking up online allies and arming them with their preferred news consisting of both true and false information, loaded with opinion, that confirms audience member beliefs. Hecklers also target social media adversaries and focus the angst of their cultivated supporters against opposing messages and their messages. For example, in the case of Syria anyone pointing out President Assad’s human rights violations might immediately be called a terrorist sympathizer and subjected to endless 140-character and taunts.

When hecklers alone can’t stop the challenges of the opposition, honeypots sweep in to compromise adversaries. In the traditional espionage sense, honeypots are attractive women who seduce men into compromising sexual situations. Females remain the predominant form on Twitter, but they can also assume the persona of an allied political partisan. Among the SEA, attractive females—or what appear to be women—performed the traditional mission befriending men in the target audience or sidling up to adversary accounts hoping to compromise personas or publicly embarrass them. “Can you follow me so I can DM you something important?” might be the siren song of one of these e-ladies. Lady honeypots in 2014 were seeking follower relationships with men, which would lead to privileged insights, but often contained a malware payload allowing them to gain entry to a target’s computer.

Behind the scenes, but still observable in the SEA social media storm, were hacker accounts. Examination of their follower and following relationships showed that they were highly networked with honeypot accounts, likely controlling the conversation between the loverly lady personas and their unwitting accounts. The message that honeypots delivered to unsuspecting men opened doorways to their phones and computers, causing them to give up their personal emails, corporate communications, and, in some cases, their contact lists allowing for malicious spam distribution.

In 2013 and 2014, honeypots and the hackers behind them waged a highly successful campaign across a swath of companies and Western personalities. Corporate America suffered as unwitting employees clicked onto malicious links and, in turn, coughed up access to private databases of subscribers and workers.

CRIME

December 14, 2019

This post is based on Messing with the Enemy an excellent book by Clint Watts. CRIME is an acronym used by Watts to describe the motivations and enticements an intelligence officer or law enforcement investigator uses to recruit an agent overseas or a street informant in America (Watts notes that the CIA uses the acronym MICE). They’re the reasons why people turn, or flip, when they begin reporting on a group they once declared allegiance to or betray an ally on behalf of their foe. C stands for compromise. Compromised people can be coerced into doing something they might not normally consider. A criminal charge, an outstanding arrest warrant, unpaid debts, a sick loved one who needs surgery—all provide avenues for convincing a person to provide assistance. He adds R for revenge. Watts writes, “Think Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride”: ‘My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.’ There may not be any other motivation that makes people as relentless in its pursuit. The unjust murder of a loved one, wrongful treatment of others, perceived injustice by a rival: revenge once pursued, usually can be countered only by death. Ideology constitutes the I and represents the purest motivation for any action. Those driven by ideology always prove the hardest to flip and most difficult to stop. M should indeed be bold: money. It’s the most common reason for betrayal and the flimsiest. Those incentivized by cash prove to be the easiest to recruit, and most likely to deceive or switch teams. Finally, the E is for ego. Fame and glory, the desire to be a hero, makes men do strange things, Empower and embrace the ego of a narcissist and he’ll be a cost-effective asset, a turncoat for good or evil, depending on the suitor.”

Not all terrorists communicate in Arabic. English is also used, which is useful for recruiting in the United States and other English speaking countries. Omar Hammami is an interesting terrorist. He was born and lived in the United States. But he moved to the Arab world and set himself up to be not only a terrorist, but also a leader of terrorists. Watts engaged Hammami. He did a quick assessment of Hammami’s motivations that were revealed so much on twitter. “The most obvious motivation for his endless disclosures was compromise. The more Omar got his story into the public regarding al-Shabaab (another terrorist) hunting him, the more likely he’d be able to survive, gain protectors, and push Shabaab into a no-win situation. If the terrorists killed Hammami, they’d hurt their brand in the eyes of future recruits and international supporters. Furthermore, each Shabaab attempt to hunt Hammami and quell his supporters increased Omar’s revenge response. A war inside was what I (Watts) wanted. I’d (Watts) amplify any of Omar’s resentments and accentuate his quest for revenge.”

Watts continues,”More subtle but still immediately apparent were Omar’s egoistical motivations. Hammami loved attention—loved it. He thought of himself as a future jihadi visionary and consistently sought to showcase his theological expertise, and pined for the attention of senior jihidas and well-known terrorist experts. Omar wanted to be famous, and I’d (Watts) help him do that. In so doing, I’d (Watts) undermine motivations others might have for heading of to Somalia and joining al-Shabaab.”

Continuing further, “There were also topics I wanted to avoid when chatting with Omar. Hammami wanted to be an ideological expert, and he’d spent time studying and pontificating, developing his own vision for the future of global jihad. As a non-Muslim lacking any theological expertise, I (Watts) risked empowering Omar by engaging in his religious rants and raising his profile among his supporters. I (Watts) wouldn’t be able to convince him that he was wrong about his religion, and I (Watts) stood to look quite stupid if I (Watts) tried and failed. A second area I (Watts) sought was to avoid was money, specifically his financial situation. He had left America to join terrorists in one of the most impoverished countries in the world. Sitting in prosperous America, I (Watts) didn’t want to glorify his financial sacrifice.”

Continuing still further, “I (Watts) took the three motivations I (Watts) wanted to amplify and then identified common ground I could make with Hammami for rapport building, He wanted to talk with me (Watts)—that was obvious—but I (Watts) didn’t want to speak with him strictly regarding terrorism. One heated debate would end our engagements. Persuading him to divulge more information or discuss his positions would mean first getting him to feel a deeper connection.”

“RPMs” is a discussion technique used to nudge guilty people toward a confession. R stands for rationalize so Watts would justify some of Hammami’s actions. P stands for projection in which he would saddle up to Omar’s position and take his side. M stands for minimize, minimize his actions which was difficult as he had killed people.

To cut to the end of this story, Omar Hammami never returned to the United States. Twelve years and a day after the September 11 terrorist attacks, al-Shabbab hunted him down in the forests of Somalia and killed him.

Messing with the Enemy

December 13, 2019

Messing with the Enemy is an excellent book by Clint Watts. He is a Robert A. Fox Fellow in the Foreign Research Institute’s Program on the Middle East as well as a senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at the George Washington University. He is graduate of the U.S Military Academy and in addition to his work as an Army officer, he also served in the F.B.I. He founded the Combating Terrorism Center at the Military academy.

He used the internet to study, or as he writes, mess with extremists half a world away. He observed their debates, gauged their commitment to terrorist principles, and poked them with queries from a laptop at home. He was also able to pose as a fellow terrorist.

The internet provided assistance to al-Qaeda operatives when Osama bin Laden was forced out of Tora Bora, Afghanistan. Hunted by the entire international community, his aides and deputies were constantly on the run. The internet allowed for communication between and control of these aides and deputies. Throughout the mid-to late nineties, websites and email chains provided a communications leap forward to terrorists (and the rest of the world), but they had a major limitation: they were one-way modes of information sharing. Bin Laden could only broadcast to audiences. They could not easily follow up with those inclined to join the ranks. All that changed with the dawn of the new millennium. With the emergence of vBulletin, commercially available software allowing group discussions and Yahoo groups, audiences now had a direct window to communicate with Islamist webmasters, clerics, and leaders. In 2001, the Global Islamic Media Front started a Yahoo Group and a related website. They required users to acquire a password to access the discussion page. Many others featuring general Islamist discussions with a sprinkling of jihadi messaging popped up and down toward the end of the decade. Watts writes that none endured for long before rumors of intelligence operatives penetrating them squelched their dialogue and counterterrorism arrests of forum administrators led to their closure. Two-way communication between al-Qaeda leaders and hopeful jihadis increased, but more content needed to follow to sustain audience engagement.

al-Qaeda created an official media group, al-Sahab, to fill the void and gain greater control of jihadi discussions. Bin Laden recognized the value of jihadi websites and began sending audio and written statements from top al-Qaeda leaders directly to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s leader, Yusuf al-Uyayri, and his site Al Neda. Websites and forums served as principal communication points for those around the world inspired by the incredible success of the 9/11 attacks and seeking to join bin Laden’s ranks.

Replication of sites and duplication of content became key features of online survival for al-Qaeda supporters. Openly available software and hosting services meant websites and forums could be created by anyone in minutes, and accessed by anyone around the world with an Internet connection. This lowered technical boundary for mainstream internet users meant relatively novice jihadis now had the power to create their own safe havens online.

In his book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki describes how the internet provided a vehicle for crowds to make smarter decisions than even the smartest person in the crowd, working alone, could make. On-line Watts made the prediction on January 2, 2011 that Osama bin Laden would be killed that year. He made this prediction to work as a vehicle for crowdsourcing an important question. What would al-Qaeda and the world of terrorism be if bin Laden were no more? He used this New Year’s prediction to provoke the audience to answer this question. Watts was disappointed to find that rather than yielding great wisdom of important insight from experts, the results instead returned a pattern of answers of no consequence, “Nothing will change,” and “It doesn’t matter” became patent answers from the best thinkers in the field, regardless of the question.

So Watts took recourse in research that has been reported in previous healthymemory posts on Philip Tetlock. In his 2005 book, Expert Political Judgment he reported the survey of hundreds of experts in political thought over two decades. He determined that, en masse, experts were no more successful at predicting future events than a simple coin toss. He identified two kinds of forecasters. He borrowed from a Greek saying, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows but one big thing.” He classified those good predictors as “foxes” and poorer performers as “hedgehogs.” What differentiated the two groups’ success was how they thought, not what they thought. Tetlock’s foxes were self-critical, used no template, and acknowledged their misses. By contrast, hedgehogs sought to reduce every problem to a single theory, were not comfortable with complexity, we’re overconfident in their assessments, and placed their faith in one big idea, pushing aside alternative explanations. He saw a lot of hedgehogs in his online surveys,and occasional foxes to get insights. He developed a techniques to identify, in advance, foxes.

At this point, there will be a break in this narrative to mention that Tetlock has conducted additional research into intelligence analysis using a very large sample of analysts. There he was able to identify analysts who performed better than chance, and these analysts were, of course, foxes. These posts can be found by entering “Tetlock” into the search box at healthymemory.wordpress.com.

Returning to the current post on Alan Watts, he used the research of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (two authors oft cited in this blog) Their research identified a series of heuristics and noted the circumstances where biases emerged to make incorrect judgments. Long ago they identified the predictive missteps Watts had observed in his polls. Status quo bias, a belief that tomorrow will most likely look like today, ruled the responses. Loss aversion, a tendency to avoid anticipated losses rather than pursue equally likely gains, filled the results of counterterrorism policy questions. Herding, the tendency of large groups of people to behave the same way and pursue groupthink, drove Watt’s social media recruits to the same set of answers.

Watts changed his approach using Tetlock’s insigts and Kahneman and Tversky’s heuristics and biases. Instead of asking simple yes-no questions, he flooded respondents with as many potential outcomes as he could think of, making it challenging for non experts to wade though the responses. He identified novices and less innovative thinkers by playing to the status quo bias. Every question had a “no change” response option, surrounded by responses imitating common thinking stripped from Google searches, newspaper headlines, and cable news pundits. With every question he offered survey takers a comment box or allowed them to craft an “other”response.

The prediction he made was confirmed when on May 2, 2012, U.S. Navy SEALS killed Osama in Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The result was that his Twitter feed of only a couple hundred followers suddenly became more active than usual. For a brief Google search period, news of bin Laden’s death brought a world of visitors to his New Year’s prediction. His small blog suddenly had an audience, and he had a new opportunity for rater perspectives from a larger crowd.

Hypnotherapy Can Aid Some With Surgery

December 12, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Debra Bruno in the Health & Science Section to the 12 November 2019 issue of the Washington Post. Some U.S. hospitals are offering hypnosis to patients to lessen preoperative anxiety, to manage postoperative pain, and even to substitute for general anesthesia for partial mastectomies in breast cancer. The article notes that hypnosis has been used of years to help people quit smoking, lose weight, get to sleep, and control stress.

Staff anesthesiologist Elizabeth Rebello of Houston MD Anderson Cancer Center uses hypnotherapy for segmental (partial) mastectomies and sentinel node biopsies, in which doctors identify and remove a lymph node in the underarm area as well as cancerous tumors in the breast.

Although there have been no published results yet of the hospital’s ongoing randomized control study comparing surgical patients who get either general anesthesia or hypnosis with local anesthesia, the feedback from the 60 hypnotized patients in the study has been positive. Before the surgery, patients have a 15 to 20 minute practice session with a hypnotherapist. During the breast surgery itself, the patients are awake and EEG monitoring of brain electric impulses show many patients responding to the hypnotherapy as if they were under sedation. When asked if whether they would undergo hypnotherapy again, the overwhelming response is “yes.”

The definition for hypnotherapy is “focused attention that allows a patient to enhance control over mind and body.” It can work for minor surgeries. It also could be an option for older patients who are more susceptible to delirium after general anesthesia.

Patients need to be able to expect that their pain can be controlled by a combination of local anesthesia and hypnosis. Anesthesiologists don’t want to compromise the procedure because the patient is suffering and in pain.

It is not surprising that hypnotherapy works with pain management. Pain perception, because it originates in the brain, can be different for every person. Hypnotherapy can alter how much pain a person feels. Stanford medical school offers patients classes in self-hypnosis to deal with a variety of medical issues, including pain, stress-related neurological problems, phobias, and side effects from medical treatments, such as nausea, vomiting, and cancer.

Dr. Elizabeth Rebello, an associate professor in anesthesiology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, notes that using hypnotherapy in place of sedating and pain medications in some breast cancer surgeries has resulted in less reliance on opioids for relief during and after the procedure. She says, “Hypnosedation will not completely replace general anesthesia, but in some cases when the standard of care is general anesthesia, hypnosedation might be a better plan. If this is the case we owe it to our patients to explore this option.”

the evolving self

December 11, 2019

the evolving self is a new book by mihaly csikszentmihalyi. He’ll be referred to in this post as mc. The subtitle is “a psychology for the new millennium.” mc sets a high goal for himself. He sees it critical for the evolving self to evolve to overcome the forces of entropy. Indeed this is an extraordinary objective to achieve.

As a scholarly work, the evolving self is impressive. He reviews the worlds of genes, culture, and the self. He discusses predators and parasites, and the competition between memes and genes. HM learned much in reading this book. While reading he was thinking that an enormous number of posts would be required to capture the meaning of this book. But he came to the conclusion that this work is seriously flawed, and that it would be a mistake to have readers reading these posts. Still, if you find this topic interesting, read the book.

Key to everything mc writes is the concept of flow. Flow is what one experiences when a skill or train of thought is proceeding well. Indeed, flow is a most enjoyable experience. The problem is that mc seems to regard flow as an end in itself. To the best of HM’s experience, mc never discusses what happens when flow ceases or is disrupted. Presumably this is something that most of us have experienced. And it is an experience that can readily be viewed on television. Watch the performance of a figure skater who is obviously experiencing flow in a beautiful, flawless experience. Then she suddenly falls splat onto the ice. Or the professional golfer who is hitting birdies and eagles on consecutive holes. Then suddenly, his game deteriorates. Double bogies and sand traps become the rule. These sudden cessations in flow are most unpleasant.

mc sets the seeking of flow as goal in itself. But this could be quite harmful. The easier the task, the easier it is to achieve flow. Seeking flow itself could lead one to become addicted to such tasks, in effect becoming addicted to flow.

More difficult tasks and bodies of knowledge require extensive periods of learning which can be quite frustrating. Using the lingo of this blog, flow is a System 1 process. System 2 processing, more commonly known as thinking, requires the expenditure of mental effort.

Our personal development requires extensive System 2 processing. There are times when this becomes easy and flow is achieved. But this is not the end in itself. Indeed, it signals that the time has come to advance and to take on more difficulty.

This is what is advocated by this blog. Growth mindsets and continuous growth of these mindsets throughout one’s life. This results in a more fulfilling life and in the decrease in the likelihood of falling prey to Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Growth mindsets benefit not only the individual, but society as a whole. The advancements of science and technology require growth mindsets.

Moreover, one’s goals should not be on the acquisition of wealth and possessions. We must all feel responsible for all our fellow humans and for the development and advancement of society as a whole.

It is astonishing that despite all mc’s knowledge, there remains an enormous lacuna This gap is meditation. There have been many posts about meditation in the HM blog. There are more than 100 posts on this topic (search for meditation in the blog’s search box which is found at https://healthymemory.wordpress.com/?s=meditation.

Meditation is central because it helps us develop our powers of attention, which are central to cognitive achievement. Meditation can also lead to appreciation for and love of our fellow humans.

© 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.

Gravity and the Dunning-Krueger Effect

December 10, 2019

Ask someone what they think gravity is and they will remember Sir Isaac Newton and the falling apple. And they will think that gravity is something that keeps us attached to the earth. But it is unlikely that they understand the truly remarkable contribution of Newton. Newton realized that gravity was operating in space and in the interactions of objects in space. He studied the data and over many years of data collection and mathematical developments he described how gravity affected the entire universe. And these descriptions were precise enough so that predictions could be made.

Most people think of gravity as a force of nature, but it is not necessarily a force. Newton thought of gravity less as a force than as something mysterious that acts across space. Einstein also thought of gravity less as a force than as something mysterious that acts across space. Quantum physicists agree with both Newton and Einstein: Gravity is something.

The author of Gravity said we he initiated conversations on the subject of gravity, the conversations tended to fall into one of two categories.

Category One:

Author: Nobody knows what gravity is.
Civilian: (Pause). What do you mean, nobody knows what gravity is?
Author: I mean nobody knows what gravity actually is.
Civilian: (Pause.) Isn’t it a force of nature?
Author: Okay, fine—but what does that even mean?
Civilian: (Silence.)

Category Two:

Author: Nobody know what gravity is.
Scientist: That’s right.

The author concludes, Nobody knows what gravity is, and almost nobody knows that nobody knows what gravity is. The exception is scientists. They know that nobody knows what gravity is, because they know that they don’t know what gravity is.

The author continues. “We know what gravity does, of course. In the heavens, gravity tethers the Moon to Earth, other moons to other planets, moons and planets to the Sun, the Sun to the stars, stars to stars, galaxies to galaxies. On our own planet, we know that gravity is what planes have to overcome. We all know what gravity does.”

The author is Richard Panek and the title of the book is The Trouble with Gravity: Solving the Mystery Beneath Our Feet.

Readers of the healthymemory blog should know that the Dunning-Krueger Effect consists to two components. We humans tend to think we know much more than we know. However, true experts in a field are painfully aware of how much they don’t know.
The understanding of gravitation provides an ideal example of this effect.

Physicists have estimate how much they know. The estimate is that about 4% of the universe is understood. The remaining 96% is referred to as Dark Matter and Dark energy.

Think of this estimate as an accomplishment, not as a shortcoming. It is important in every endeavor to have some grasp of what is known and what still needs to be learned. And consider what has been accomplished with the 4% that is understood. Also consider what will be accomplished as more and more of the Universe is understood. Research continues. Notions and theories are being advanced, and some highly sophisticated experiments are being designed and conducted.

This blog recommends growth mindsets. Lifelong learning encompassing new topics. HM recommends Panek’s book as a vehicle for cognitive growth. Fear not. There is no math in this book. Still it is quite challenging. One might want to skim the earlier chapters and start concentrating when Newton arrives on the scene.

Misinformation and Morality

December 9, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the title of an article by Daniel A. Effron and Medha Raj in the journal Psychological Science (2019). The subtitle of the article is Encountering Fake-News Headlines Makes Them Seem Less Unethical to Publish and Share.

The rapid spread of “fake news” has some of us worried that misinformation has become the major moral crisis of out times. When people find misinformation permissible, they should be less inclined to take action to stop it, less likely to hold its purveyors accountable, and more likely to spread it themselves. 14% of U.S. adults and 17% of UK adults admitted to sharing news that they thought was fake at the time.

The present research investigated what shapes moral judgment of fake news, “articles that are intentionally and verifiably false, and could mislead readers.” Among fact-checked news fake articles were more likely than real articles to “go viral” on social media. When a fake news article goes viral, people may encounter it multiple times. Previous research raised the concern that people are more likely to believe a fake news headline if they have seen it before. The authors of the research write. “regardless of whether one believes a piece of fake news, prior encounter with it can reduce how unethical one thinks spreading it would be. This prediction is based on the idea that previously encountered information makes it feel more fluent. People also judge repeated statements as more accurate. This is called the “illusory-truth effect.”

Four experiments were conducted. Experiment 1 tested whether four previous encounters with a fake-news headline would make the headline seem less unethical to publish. Experiment 2 tested whether a single encounter would suffice. Experiment 3 tested the following boundary condition: If previously encountered (vs. new) misinformation seems less unethical to spread because it felt more intuitively true, then encouraging people to think deliberatively instead of intuitively should attenuate he effect. Experiment 4 addressed whether repeatedly encountering the same headlines could affect moral judgments above and beyond judgments of their accuracy, likability, and popularity. These experiments examined whether prior encounters with headlines would increase people’s intentions to share and “like” them, reduce their inclination to censor the people who posted them, and increase actual sharing behavior.

Experiment 1 found that repeatedly encountering a fake news headline can reduce people’s moral condemnation for publishing it, increase their inclination to promote it on social media, and decrease their inclination to block or unfollow someone who posted it.

Experiment 2 found that encountering a fake news article once is sufficient to reduce people’s moral condemnation of publishing this information when it is encountered again.

Experiment 3 found that among participants instructed to think intuitively, previous encounters with fake-news headlines made those headlines seem less unethical to publish, which correlated in a mediation analysis with a stronger inclination to ‘like” and share those headlines and a weaker inclination to block or unfollow someone who shared them, which is consistent with the results of prior experiments, And the authors concluded that the evidence was not sufficient to conclude that instructing people to think deliberatively attenuated these effects.

Experiment 4 extended the generalizability of the previous three experiments. It showed that repeated encounters with a fake news headline can reduce moral condemnation of sharing it when people are not informed that the headline is fake. The effect was robust when analyses controlled for known consequences of repetition (judgments of accuracy, liking, and popularity), casting doubts on alternative explanations. This suggests that a relationship exists between moral judgments and social-media behaviors, a mediation analysis again showed that reduced moral condemnation of previously seen vs. new headlines correlated with stronger intentions to share the headlines. Beyond intentions, people were more likely to actually share repeated headlines than new headlines.

The authors conclude that efforts to curb misinformation are difficult to achieve. Future research is needed to understand whether moral intuitions causally affect sharing behavior in real social-media environments. The authors conclude, “The wider misinformation spreads the more likely individuals will be to encounter it multiple times. And encountering it multiple times could reduce the moral condemnation of it, and license them to spread it further.

Advertising

December 8, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of one of the fixes needed for the internet proposed in Richard Stengel’s informative work, Information Wars. This is last fix he provides.

He writes, “Advertisers use ad mediation software provided by the platforms to find the most relevant audiences for their ads. These ad platforms take into account a user’s region, device, likes, searches, and purchasing history. Something called dynamic creative optimization, a tool that uses artificial intelligence, allows advertisers to optimize their content for the user and find the most receptive audience. Targeted ads are dispatched automatically across thousands of websites and social media feeds. Engagement statistics are logged instantaneously to tell the advertiser and the platform what is working and what is not. The system tailors the ads for the audiences likely to be most receptive.”

Of course, the bad guys use all these tools to find the audiences they want as well. The Russians became experts at using two parts of Facebook’s advertising infrastructure: the ads auction and something called Custom Audiences. In the ads auction, potential advertisers submit a bid for a piece of advertising real estate. Facebook not only awards the space to the highest bidder, but also evaluates how clickbaitish the copy is. The more eyeballs the ad will get the more likely it is to get the ad space, even if the bidder is offering a lower price. Since the Russians did not care about the accuracy of the content they were creating, they’re willing to create sensational false stories that become viral. Hence, more ad space.

The Russians efforts in the 2016 election have been reviewed in previous healthy memory blog posts. The Trump organization itself used the same techniques and spent exponentially more on these Facebook ads than the Russians did.

Stengel concludes this section on techniques for reducing the amount of disinformation in our culture would reduce, but not eliminate, disinformation. He writes that disinformation will always be with us, because the problem is not facts, or the lack of them, or misleading stories filled with conjecture; the problem is us (homo sapiens) .  There are all kind of cognitive biases and psychological states, but the truth is that people are gong to believe what they want to believe. It would be wonderful if the human brain came with a lie detector, but it doesn’t.

HM urges the reader not to take this conclusion offered by Stengel too seriously. It is true that human information processing is biased, because it needs to be. Our attention is quite limited. But rather than throwing in the towel, we need to deal with our biases as best we can. The suggestions offered by Stengel are useful to this end.

© 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 Media

December 7, 2019

The title of this post is identical to he title of one of the fixes needed for the internet proposed in Richard Stengel’s informative work, Information Wars. Stengel writes, “American doesn’t have a “fake news” problem—it has a media literacy problem.”

He continues, “Millions of American aren’t able to tell a made-up story from a factual one. Few Americans examine the provenance of the information they get, and many will trust a story from an unknown source as much as one from the New York Times. Moreover, disinformtionists have gotten better and better at creating stories and websites that appear legitimate. During the presidential campaign the Russians created sites with names like Denver Guardian, which appeared to be genuine news sites.”

Schools don’t teach media literacy, and they need to. Students need to learn how news organizations work, and how they identify the provenance of information. Stengel notes, “Making journalism a staple of secondary education would go a long way toward solving the “fake news” problem.

Stengel makes some recommendations that would radically improve online news by using the very technology on which this news is presented. He suggests that online the story should essentially deconstruct itself. Next to the text there should be links to the full transcripts of interviews the reporter did. Those links would also include the URLs of biographies of those in the story. Writers and editors should include links to the primary and secondary sources for the story—all the research—including other news stories, books, video, and scholarly articles. There should be links to other photos or videos that were considered for the story. He would even have a link to the original outline of the story so that the reader could see how it was conceived. The top of each story should feature a digital table of contents that shows each of these aspects of the story. This is a technologically modern and even more open version of what scholars do with footnotes and bibliographies. The basic idea is to show the reader every step of the story and to show how it turned out the way it did.

Stengel concludes this section by arguing that news organizations must get rid of online clickbait and so-called content recommendation networks and “Sponsored Stories” that Taboola and Outbrain perch at the bottom of the screen and pretend to be news. He states that their presence at the bottom of the page weakens and undermines the credible journalism above it.

Algorithms, Rating Systems, and Artificial Intelligence

December 6, 2019

The title of this post is identical to he title of one of the fixes needed for the internet proposed in Richard Stengel’s informative work, Information Wars. Currently, the algorithms that decide what story goes to the top of Google’s search results or Facebook’s newsfeed rely in large part on how viral a story is, meaning how often it was linked to or shared by other users. It correlates popularity with value. Here the working assumption is that the more popular a story is the more valuable it is. So stories about a Kardashian quarrel might likely outrank one about nuclear weapons in Pakistan being insecure. Research shows that stories that are emotional or sensational, which also are stories that are more likely to be filled with misinformation, are shared much more widely than stories less emotional, less sensational. Consequently, these algorithms are boosting deceptive stories over factual ones. This also incentivizes people to create stories that are emotional and misleading because such stories produce more advertising revenue.

Currently, the algorithms that do this are black boxes that no one can see into. Platform companies should be compelled to be more transparent about their algorithms. If people had to publicly explain their formulas for relevance and importance, people would be able to make intelligent choices about the search engines they use. Wouldn’t you like to know the priorities of the search engine(s) you use?

Stengel notes that there has been a valuable movement toward offering ratings systems for news. These systems allow users to evaluate the trustworthiness of individual stories and the news organizations themselves. A study by the Knight Foundation found that when a news rating tool marked a site as reliable, readers’ belief in its accuracy went up. A negative rating for a story or brand made users less likely to use the information.

The Trust Project posts “Trust Indicators” for news sites, providing details of an organization’s ethics and standards. Slate has a Chrome extension called “This is Fake,” which puts a red banner over content that has been debunked, as well as on sites that are recognized as “serial fabricators.” Factmata is a start-up that is attempting to build a community-driven fact-checking system in which people can correct news articles. Stengel is on the board of advisors of NewsGuard, which labels news sites as trustworthy or not as determined by extensive research and a rigorous set of criteria.

Stengel writes that the greatest potential for detecting and deleting disinformation and “junk news” online is through artificial intelligence and machine learning. This involves using computer systems to perform human tasks such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and reasoning to detect and then delete false and misleading content.  Pattern recognition finds collections of groupings of dubious content. Data-based network analysis can distinguish between online networks that are formed by actual human beings and those that are artificially constructed by bots. Companies can adjust their algorithms to favor human-created networks over artificial ones. The platforms can even offer a predictor, based on sourcing, data. and precedent, as to whether a certain piece of content is likely to be false.

Of course, the bad guys can use it too. Stengel writes, “they are bleary developing their own systems to understand how their target audiences behave online and how to tailor disinformation for them so that they will share it. Platforms can help advertisers and companies find and reach their best audiences, and this works for bad guys as well as good. Platforms have to work to stay one step ahead of the disinformationist by developing more nuanced AI systems to protect their users from disinformation and information they do not want.

Privacy and Elections

December 5, 2019

The title of this post is identical to he title of one of the fixes needed for the internet proposed in Richard Stengel’s informative work, Information Wars. If your privacy information is protected, you are less likely to be targeted by deceptive information and disinformation.

Stengel thinks that an online privacy bill of rights is a good idea. One thing that needs to be mandatory in any digital bill of rights: the requirement that platforms obtain consent from users to share or sell their information and notify users about the collection of their data. This is the absolute minimum.

Regarding elections, platforms need to alert people when a third party uses their private information for online advertising. Political campaigns are highly sophisticated in their ability to use your consumer information to target you with advertising. If they know what movies you like, what shoes you by, and what books you read, they know what kind of campaign advertising you will be receptive to. At the same time, advertisers must give users the ability to output any content they receive.

The following fix could happen quickly: treat digital and online campaign advertising with the same strictness and rigor as television, radio, and print advertising. Currently, the Federal Election Commission does not do this. Television and radio stations, as well as newspapers, must disclose the source of all political advertising and who is paying for it. This is not true for digital advertising. The Honest Ads Act, which was introduced by the late Senator John McCain, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Senator Mark Warner, is an attempt to solve the problem of hidden disinformation campaigns by creating a disclosure system for online political advertising. It would require online platforms to obtain and disclose information on who is buying political advertising, as well as who the targeted audience is for the ads. It requires that platform companies disclose if foreign agents are paying for the ads. Platform companies would also be responsible for identifying bots so that voters know whether they are being targeted by machines or actual human beings. Stengel writes that all of this is both necessary and the absolute minimum.

For this regulation to be effective, it must also be done in real time during campaigns. Currently, according to the Federal Election Commission, political campaigns do not have to disclose their ad buys until a year after the fact. This is absurd. People need to know if they are being fed disinformation and falsehoods, and to know this in a timely way so they can factor it in their decision-making. Immediacy is more important during political campaigns than at any other time. Finding out a year later that you were targeted with a false ad by a bot that influenced your vote is worse than useless.

Congress also needs to designate state and local election systems to be national critical infrastructure. This would the federal government broader posers to intervene in a crisis. The Obama administration tried to do this, but the Republican majority in Congress voted it down. Stengel writes, “This is an essential change, and should be a bi-partisan issue.

Section 230

December 4, 2019

The title of this post is identical to he title of one of the fixes needed for the internet proposed in Richard Stengel’s informative work, Information Wars. New legislation is needed to create an information environment that is more transparent, more consumer-focused, and makes the creators and purveyors of disinformation more accountable. Stengel calls this section legislations’s original sin, the Communicates Decency Act (CDA) of 1996. The CDA was one of the first attempts by Congress to regulate the internet. Section 230 of this act says that online platforms and their users are not considered publishers and have immunity from being sued for the content they post. It reads No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider. Congress’s motivation back in 1996 was not so much to shield these new platforms as to protect free speech. Congress didn’t want the government to police these platforms and thereby potentially restrict freedom of speech—it wanted the platforms to police themselves. Congress worried that if the platforms were considered publishers, they would be too draconian in policing their content and put a chill on the creation of content by third parties. The courts had suggested that if a platform exercised editorial control by removing offensive language, that made it a publisher and therefore liable for the content on its site. The idea of Section 230 was to give these companies a “safe harbor” to screen harmful content. The reasoning was that if they received a general immunity, they would be freer to remove antisocial content that violated their terms of service without violating constitutional free speech provisions.

Focus on the year this act was passed. This was the era of America Online, CompuServe, Netscape, Yahoo and Prodigy. That was a different world and there was no way to anticipate the problems brought by Facebook. Stengel notes that Facebook is not like the old AT&T. Facebook makes money off the content it hosts and distributes,. They just call it “sharing.” Facebook makes the same amount off ad revenue from shared content that is false as from shared content that is true. Note that this problem is not unique to Facebook, but perhaps Facebook is the most prominent example.

Stengel continues, “If Section 230 was meant to encourage platforms to limit content that is false or misleading, it’s failed. No traditional publisher could survive if it put out the false and untrue content that these platforms do. It would be constantly sued. The law must incentivize the platform companies to be proactive and accountable to fighting disinformation. Demonstrable false information needs to be removed from the platforms. And that’s just the beginning.”

Stengel concludes this section as follows: “But let’s be realistic. The companies will fight tooth and nail to keep their immunity. So, revising Section 230 must encourage them to make good-faith efforts to police their content, without making them responsible for every phrase or sentence on their services. It’s unrealistic to expect these platforms to vet every tweet or post. One way to do this is to revise the language of the CDA to say that no platforms that make a good faith effort to fulfill its responsibility to delete harmful content and provide information to users about that content can be liable for the damage that it does start. It’s a start.”

What to Do About Disinformation

December 3, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Richard Stengel’s informative work, Information Wars. This book is highly informative and provides information not only about the State Department, but also about the actions Rick Stengel took performing his job. But the most useful part of the book is this section, What to Do About Disinformation. Several posts are needed here, and even then, they cannot do justice to the information provided in the book.

When the Library of Congress was created in 1800 it had 39 million books. Today the internet generates 100 times that much data every second. Information definitely is the most important asset of the 21st Century. Polls show that people feel bewildered by the proliferation of online news and data. Mixed in with this daily tsunami there is a lot of information that is false as well as true.

Disinformation undermines democracy because democracy depends on the free flow of information. That’s how we make decisions. Disinformation undermines the integrity of our choices. According to the Declaration of Independence “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” If that consent is acquired through deception, the powers from it are not just. Stengel states that it is an attack on the very heart of our democracy.

Disinformation is not news that is simply wrong or incorrect. It is information that is deliberately false in order to manipulate and mislead people.

Definitions of important terms follow:
Disinformation: The deliberate creation and distribution of information that is false and deceptive in order to mislead an audience.
Misinformation: Information that is false, though not deliberately; that is created inadvertently or by mistake.
Propaganda: Information that may or may not be true that is designed to engender support for a political view or ideology.

“Fake news” is a term Donald Trump uses to describe any content he does not like. But Trump did not originate the term. The term was familiar to Lenin and Stalin and almost every other dictator of the last century. Russians were calling Western media fake news before Trump, and Trump in his admiration of Russia followed suit. Stengel prefers the term “junk news” to describe information that is false, cheap, and misleading that has been created without regard for its truthfulness.

Most people regard “propaganda” as pejorative, but Stengel believes that it is—or should be—morally neutral. Propaganda can be used for good or ill. Advertising is a form of propaganda. What the United States Information Agency did during the Cold War was a form of propaganda. Advocating for something you believe in can be defined as propaganda. Stengel writes that while propaganda is a misdemeanor, disinformation is a felony.
Disinformation is often a mixture of truth and falsity. Disinformation doesn’t necessarily have to be 100% false to be disinformation. Stengel writes that the most effective forms of disinformation are a mixture of information that is both true and false.

Stengel writes that when he was a journalist he was close to being a First Amendment absolutist. But he has changed his mind. He writes that in America the standard for protected speech has evolved since Holme’s line about “falsely shouting fire in a theater.” In Brandenburg v. Ohio, the court ruled that speech that led to or directly caused violence was not protected by the First Amendment.

Stengel writes that even outlawing hate speech will not solve the problem of disinformation. He writes that government may not be the answer, but it has a role. He thinks that stricter government regulation of social media can incentivize the creation of fact-based content and discentivize the creation of disinformation. Currently big social media platforms optimize content that has greater engagement and vitality, and such content can sometimes be disinformation or misinformation. Stengel thinks the these incentives can be changed in part through regulation and in part through more informed user choices.

What Stengel finds most disturbing is that disinformation is being spread in a way and through means that erode trust in public discourses and democratic processes. This is precisely what these bad actors want to accomplish. They don’t necessarily want you to believe them—they don’t want you to believe anybody.

As has been described in previous healthy memory blog posts, the creators of disinformation use all the legal tools on social media platforms that are designed to deliver targeted messages to specific audiences. These are the same tools—behavioral data analysis, audience segmentation, programmatic ad buying—that make advertising campaigns effective. The Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Russia uses the same behavioral data and machine-learning algorithms that Coca-Cola and Nike use.

All the big platforms depend on the harvesting and use of personal information. Our data is the currency of the digital economy. The business model of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple, among others, depends on the collection and use of personal information. They use this information to show targeted advertising. They collect information on where you go, what you do, whom you know, and what your want to know about, so they can sell that information to advertisers.

The important question is, who owns this information? These businesses argue that because they collect, aggregate, and analyze our data, they own it. The law agrees in the U.S. But in Europe, according to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, people own their own information. Stengel and HM agree that this is the correct model. America needs a digital bill of rights that protects everyone’s information as a new social contract.

Stengel’s concluding paragraph is “I’m advocating a mixture of remedies that optimize transparency, accountability, privacy, self-regulation, data protection, and information literacy. That can collectively reduce the creation, dissemination, and consumption of false information. I believe that artificial intelligence and machine learning can be enormously effective in combating falsehood and disinformation. They are necessary but insufficient. All three efforts should be—to use one of the military’s favorite terms—mutually reinforcing.”

What Has Happened to the Global Engagement Center?

December 2, 2019

This post is a follow up to the post titled “Information Wars.” A few weeks before the end of the Obama administration Congress codified the Global Engagement Center (GEC) into law in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. It’s mission was to “lead synchronize, and coordinate efforts of the Federal Government to recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining the United States national security interests.”

When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson finally requested the money, it was not for more than a year. When Tillerson finally did make the request, a year and a half into the administration, he asked for half of the $80 million that Congress had authorized. The sponsors of the legislation, Senators Portman and Murphy said this delay was “indefensible” at a time when “ISIS is spreading terrorist propaganda and Russia is implementing a sophisticated disinformation campaign to undermine the United States and our allies.”

The GEC is no longer in the business of creating content to counter disinformation. It has become an entity that uses data science and analytics to measure and better understand disinformation. Over the past two years, a steady stream of people has quit or retired and the GEC has had a hard time hiring replacements.

What is especially worrisome is when one hears Republicans arguing the points of Russian disinformation, for example, that the Ukraine was involved in disrupting the 2016 election in debating the Democrats. One has to think that true Republicans like Ronald Reagan and John McCain are thrashing about in their graves.

© 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.

Information Wars

December 1, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of an informative book by Richard Stengel, a former editor of Time magazine. During the second term of the Obama administration he was appointed and confirmed as the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy. The book provides a detailed and interesting description of the State Department and the organization and workings of the State Department.

Stengel was appointed to lead the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication. It was integral to the Global Engagement Center. This is important because information warfare is the primary means terrorist organizations fought. It was punctuated by despicable terrorist acts, but the primary messaging was done using the internet. Effective counter-messaging needed to be developed to counter the messaging of the terrorists.

Although ISIS and al-Qaeda are currently recognized as the primary terrorist organizations, it is important not to overlook the largest and most threatening terrorist organization, Russia. Our term “disinformation” is in fact an adaptation of the Russian word dezinformatsiya, which was the KGB term for black propaganda. The modern Russian notion of hybrid warfare comes from what is called the Gerasimov model. Gerasimov has appeared in previous healthy memory blog posts. He is the father of the idea that in the 21st century only a small part of war is kinetic. He has written that modern warfare is nonlinear with no clear boundary between military and nonmilitary campaigns. The Russians, like ISIS, merged their military lines of effort with their information and messaging line of effort.

In the old days, disinformation involved placing a false story (often involving forged documents) in a fairly obscure left-leaning newspaper in a country like India or Brazil; then the story was picked up and echoed in Russian state media. A more modern version of dezinformatsiya is the campaign in the 1990s that suggested that the U.S. had invented the AIDS virus as a kind of “ethnic bomb” to wipe out people of color.

Two other theorists of Russian information warfare are Igor Panarin, an academic, and a former KGB officer; and Alexander Dugin, a philosopher whom he called “Putin’s Rasputin.” Panarin sees Russia as the victim of information aggression by the United States. He believes there is a global information war between what he calls the Atlantic world, led by the U.S. and Europe; and the Eurasian world, led by Russia.

Alexander Dugan has a particularly Russian version of history. He says that the 20th century was a titanic struggle among fascism, communism, and liberalism, in which liberalism won out. He thinks that in the 21st century there will be a fourth way. Western liberalism will be replaced by a conservative superstate like Russia leading a multipolar world and defending tradition and conservative values. He predicts that the rise of conservative strongmen in the West will embrace these values. Dugan supports the rise of conservative right-wing groups all across Europe. He has formed relationships with white nationalists’ groups in America. Dugan believes immigration and racial mixing are polluting the Caucasian world. He regards rolling back immigration as one of the key tasks for conservative states. Dugan says that all truth is relative and a question of belief; that freedom and democracy are not universal values but peculiarly Western ones; and that the U.S. must be dislodged as a hyper power through the destabilization of American democracy and the encouragement of American isolationism.

Dugan says that the Russians are better at messaging than anyone, and that they’ve been working on it as a part of conventional warfare since Lenin. So the Russians have been thinking and writing about information war for decades. It is embedded in their military doctrines.

Perhaps one of the best examples of Russia’s prowess at information warfare is Russia Today, (RT). During HM’s working days his job provided the opportunity to view RT over an extensive period of time. What is most remarkable about RT is that it appears to bear no resemblance of information warfare or propaganda. It appears to be as innocuous as CNN. However, after long viewing one realizes that one is being drawn to accept the objectives of Russian information warfare.

Stengel notes that Russian propaganda taps into all the modern cognitive biases that social scientists write about: projection, mirroring, anchoring, confirmation bias. Stengel and his staff put together their own guide to Russian propaganda and disinformation, with examples.

*Accuse your adversary of exactly what you’re doing.
*Plant false flags.
*Use your adversary’s accusations against him.
*Blame America for everything!
*America blames Russia for everything!
*Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Stengel writes that what is interesting about this list is that it also seems to describe Donald Trump’s messaging tactics. He asks whether this is a coincidence, or some kind of mirroring?

Recent events have answered this question. The acceptance of the alternative reality that the Ukraine has a secret server and was the source of the 2016 election interference is Putin’s narrative developed by Russian propaganda. Remember that Putin was once a KGB agent. His ultimate success here is the acceptance of this propaganda by the Republican Party. There is an information war within the US that the US is losing.

© 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 Use of Unproven Supplements

November 30, 2019

This post is based on an article titled “Study shows half of middle-aged Americans fear they’ll get dementia, use unproven supplements, in the Health & Science section of the 26 November 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The article begins, “About half of middle-aged Americans believe that they’re “very likely” to develop dementia a survey suggests, and many try to beat the odds with supplements such as ginkgo biloba and vitamins that aren’t proven to help.”

Data from the University of Michigan’s 2018 National Poll on Healthy Aging consists of a nationally representative survey of adults 50 to 80. 44.3% of the respondents said they were at lease somewhat likely to develop dementia, and 4.2% said they were very likely to develop dementia. Just 5.2% of the respondents said they had discussed dementia prevention with their doctors.

Regardless, 31.6% said they took fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids hoping that it would help lower the risk, and 39.2% took other vitamins or supplements. More than half of participants also believe doing crossword puzzles could help stave off dementia.

Study leader Donovan Maust of the University of Michigan wrote in the journal JAMA Neurology, “Given repeated failures of disease-preventing or disease modifying treatments for dementia, interest to treatment and prevention have shifted earlier in the disease process.”

These unproven supplements don’t work. Those who are solving crossword puzzles are on the right track, but more, prolonged cognitive effort is needed to stave off the disease. Similarly, certain computer games might be helpful, but playing them alone is insufficient.

The Alzheimer’s Association and drug developers are working on drugs to stop or eliminate the neurofibrally tangles and amyloid plaque, which are the defining characteristics of the disease. A former researcher into these drugs has argued that such drugs will never be discovered or developed. His arguments can be found in the healthy memory blog post titled The Myth of Alzheimer’s as well as in a book by the same title authored by Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D, and and Daniel George, M.Sc.

Moreover, many people have died and their autopsies have shown that their brains with these defining characteristics of the disease, but who never realized they had the disease, because they never had any of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms.

The reason offered for this result is that these individuals had built up a cognitive reserve. Cognitive activity had built up their brains so that, when they had these physical manifestations, their brains were able to work around them.

This is why the healthy memory blog strongly recommends growth mindsets where active reading and learning is maintained throughout one’s lifetime. This must also be supplemented by a healthy lifestyle. The practice of meditation and mindfulness can facilitate this healthy lifestyle.

© 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 Importance of How We Speak

November 29, 2019

The founder of American Psychology, William James, said the voice may drive, or at least be an equal partner, in the production of the speaker’s emotions. Recent research by Aron Sigma and his colleagues has demonstrated powerful psychological and physiological effects of how we say something. In research on cardiovascular risk factors, they found that talking in a loud, rapid voice like an angry person increases blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of anger in the speaker, especially when matters of an emotional nature are being discussed. They note that the experience of anger, by itself, did not drive cardiovascular activity.

Our own anger builds when we describe loudly an anger-producing event. Recounting anger-producing past events in a soft and slow (anger-inconsistent) voice produces lower speaker blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of anger than when describing events in a loud and fast (anger-consistent) voice. It is noted that applications of this research to mood control are easily implemented and require little, if any, training. To moderate the escalation of blood pressure, heart rate, and anger in emotionally turbulent situations, we should speak softly and slowly, avoiding the bellicose vocal style that is by itself sufficient to drive blood pressure and aggression.

Although this research has not been extended to include the speaker’s audience, the results can be anticipated. The speaker and audience are engaged in an emotional conflict modulated by the tone of the speaker’s voice. So far, only the matching (congruence) of speaker and audience speech rate and loudness, but not physiology, has been measured. However, our experience suggests that we respond to a loud, aggressive voice with cardiovascular and emotional reactions of our own, perhaps barking back an angry rejoinder that further increases the arousal of everyone. So, speaker and audience can become locked in an explosive, mutually reinforced escalation of physiology and emotions having unpleasant and perhaps grave consequences, including cardiovascular incident and violence. We need to control our voices at these critical times, so our physiology and behaviors will follow. If we lack this vocal control we should simply keep our mouths shut!

HM hopes that one’s speech did no adversely affect the holiday gathering. Although this post was too late for Thanksgiving, it should be remembered for Christmas and for New Year’s resolutions.

Happy Thanksgiving 2019

November 27, 2019

This is the day to be truly thankful for our memory. As readers of this blog should know, our memory is our vehicle for time travel. It stores information as a result of what is experienced. Then it takes this knowledge and projects it into the future for planning and deciding how to respond to various events. It is the source of our creativity. It is also the place where our emotions are found along with our relations to our fellow human beings.

This is why it is important to use and treat our memories properly. We need to adopt growth mindsets where we continue to learn throughout our lifetimes. This provides not only for a fulfilling and rewarding life, but it also decreases the risks of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Meditation is also important for learning how to control and use our precious attention. Our effective use of attention is critical for cognitive growth. Mindfulness is important for effective relationships with our fellow human beings.

All these topics are continuing themes in the healthymemory blog along with articles on important topics on which we need to be informed.
healthymemory.wordpress.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.

Mister Rogers

November 26, 2019

A new movie has put Fred Rogers back into the news, along with an article by D.L. Mayfield titled Mister Rogers wasn’t just nice: He also wanted to take down consumerism, in the Metro Section of the 23 November 2019 issue of the Washington Post. According to Rogers’ biography, The Good Neighbor, by Maxwell King, Hallmark asked Rogers to collaborate in decorating their flagship store in midtown Manhattan for Christmastime. Rogers and a friend traveled to New York to check out the scene. Other celebrities and influencers had created garishly festive and over-the-top displays that Rogers found offensive. He wanted to go a different route.

Rogers returned home and developed his design plan. The result was this: a Norfolk Island pine tree, the height of a 3- or 4-foot-tall child. There were no ornaments or decorations, just a simple green tree, planted in a clear Lucite cube so that onlookers could see the roots of the tree. In front of it there was a plaque that simply said, “I like you just the way you are.”

Mayfield writes, “I think about that little tree,and how differently the mind of a pastor and educator and psychologist (for Rogers was all three) works from those of marketeers. At first blush it seems beautiful, because it is: centered on a child, tree just their height, reinforcing the message Rogers most desperately wanted his young neighbors to hear. Working to combat shame, isolation, trauma; working to help build resilience in the lives of kids he could never hope to reach one by one. By creating a tree reminiscent of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” he reminds us that what is small is good, recognizing that even little trees need good roots to grow tall and strong.”

Rogers wrote, “Until television became such a tool for selling, it was such a fabulous medium for educating. That’s what I had always hoped it would be.” Mayfield continues, “I believe he was angry at how most television companies sponsored the shows treated children, how it dehumanized them, pandered to them and ultimately trained them to become consumers of products they did not need.”

HM remembers how optimistic he was about the potential of the internet when the blog began in October 2009. He saw the potential for building healthy memories through cognitive growth and healthy interactions among internet users. That theme has changed to how the internet has developed to boost consumerism, create divisions among different groups of people, and its use in warfare.

© 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.

Flexible Optimism

November 24, 2019

This the tenth post in the series of posts based on Dr. Martin Seligman’s important book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. This is also the last post planned for this book. Seligman waxes philosophically in this final chapter titled “Flexible Optimism.”

As was mentioned previously in this book, depression has been on the rise since World War II. Today young people are ten times likelier to suffer severe depression than their grandparents were, and depression takes a particularly heavy toll among women and the young. There is no sign that this epidemic of depression is decreasing.

One of the reasons Seligman offers for this problem he terms the waxing of the self. He writes that the society we live in exalts the self. It takes the pleasures and pains, the successes and failures of the individual with unprecedented seriousness. Our wealth and our technology have culminated in a self that chooses, that feels pleasure and pain, that dictates action, that optimizes or satisfices. He writes that we are now a culture of maximal selves. We freely choose among an abundance of customized goods and services and reach beyond them to grasp more exquisite freedoms.

The second reason Seligman offers for this problem is what he terms “The Waning of the Commons.” He writes that the life committed to nothing larger than itself is a meager life. Human beings require a context of meaning and hope. We once had ample context, and when we encountered failure, we could could pause and take our rest in that setting—our spiritual furniture—and revived our sense of who were were. He calls this larger setting the commons.

HM shares Seligman’s concerns. However, he makes no mention of the means of addressing both these concerns. There is no mention of meditation or mindfulness anywhere in the book. And they provide the best means of addressing these concerns. There are many healthy memory posts on these topics. Use the search block at
healthymemory.wordpress.com to find them.

There are ample data indicating how meditation aids individual health. HM would like to see data comparing any differences in pessimism between people who meditate daily and a comparable sample that does not meditate. And the practice of mindfulness is one of the best, if not the best of facilitation positive interactions and concerns among individuals.

© 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.

Learning to Argue with Yourself

November 23, 2019

This the ninth post in the series of posts based on Dr. Martin Seligman’s important book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. As we all likely have argued with others, to be optimistic we also need to argue with ourselves. There are four important ways to make disputations convincing:

*Evidence?
*Alternatives?
*Implications?
*Usefulness?

The best way of disputing a negative belief is to show that it is factually incorrect. Fortunately, much of the time we will have facts on our side, since pessimistic reactions to adversity are typically overreactions. So we adopt the role of detective and ask, “What is the evidence for this belief?”

Seligman notes that it is important to see the difference between this approach and the so-called “power of positive thinking.” Positive thinking often involved trying to believe upbeat statements such as “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better” in the absence of evidence, or even in the face of contrary evidence. Many educated people, trained in skeptical thinking, cannot abide this kind of boosterism. In contrast, learned optimism is about accuracy.

Research has shown that merely repeating positive statements to yourself does not raise mood or achievement very much, if at all. It is how you cope with negative statements that has an effect. Usually negative beliefs that follow adversity are inaccurate. Most people catastrophize: From all the potential causes, they select the one with the direct implications. One of your most effective techniques in disputation will be to search for evidence pointing to the distortions in you catastrophic explanations. Most of the time you will have reality on your side. Seligman writes, “Learned optimism works not through an unjustifiable positivity about the world but through the power of ‘non-negative’ thinking.”

Rarely nothing that happens to you has just one cause; most events have many causes. Should you do poorly on a test, all of the following might have contributed: how hard the test was, how much you studied, how fair the professor is, how the other students did, how tired you were and so forth. Pessimists typically latch onto the worst of all the possible causes—the most permanent, pervasive, and personal ones.

Disputation usually has reality on its side. Since there are multiple causes, why latch onto the most insidious one? Rather, latch onto the most innocuous one. Focus on the changeable (not enough time spent studying), the specific (this particular exam was uncharacteristically hard), and the non-personal (the professor graded unfairly) causes. You may have to push hard at generating alternative beliefs, latching onto possibilities you are not fully convinced are true. Remember that much pessimistic thinking consists of just the reverse.

Of course, facts won’t always be on your side. The negative belief you hold about yourself may be correct. In this situation, the technique to use is decatastrophizing. You ask yourself, even if this belief is correct, what are its implications? How likely, you should ask yourself are the awful implications? Once you ask if the implications are really that awful, repeat the search for evidence.

Sometimes the consequence of holding a belief matter more than the truth of the belief. Is the belief destructive? Some people get very upset when the world shows itself not to be fair. We can all sympathize with that sentiment, but the belief that the world should be fair may cause more grief than it’s worth. Sometimes it is very useful to get on with your day, without taking the time to examine the accuracy of your beliefs and then disputing them. Here the example Seligman provides is a technician doing bomb demolition. He might think, “This could go off and I might be killed”—with the result that his hands shake. In this case Seligman recommends distraction over disputation. Whenever you have to perform now, you will find distraction the tool of choice.

Another tactic is to detail all the ways you can change the situation in the future. Even if the belief is true now, is the situation changeable? If so, how can you go about changing it?

How to Be Optimistic

November 22, 2019

This the eighth post in the series of posts based on Dr. Martin Seligman’s important book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. This post is taken from the chapter titled “The Optimistic Life.” The first question is when to deploy optimism? There are times not to use the techniques that are about to be discussed.
Consider
*If your goal is to plan for a risky and uncertain future, do not use optimism
*If your goal is to counsel others whose future is dim, do not use optimism initially.
*If you want to appear sympathetic to the troubles of others, do not begin with optimism, although using it later, once confidence and empathy are established, may help

The model developed for being optimistic is known as the ABC model as was developed by the pioneering psychologist, Albert Ellis. ABC is an acronym for
Adversity
Belief
Consequences

Consider the following examples:

Adversity: My husband was supposed to give the kids they bath and put them to bed, but when I got home from my meeting they were all glued to the TV.

Belief: Why can’t he do what I ask him? is it such a hard thing to given them their bath and put them to bed? Now I’m going to look like the heavy when I break up their little party.

Consequences: I was really angry with Jack and started yelling without first giving him a chance to explain. I walked into the room and snapped off the set without even a “hello” first. I looked like the heavy.

Adversity: I decided to join a gym, and when I walked into the place I saw nothing but firm, toned bodies all around me.

Belief: What am I doing here? I look like a beached whale compared to these people! I should get out of here while I still have some dignity,

Consequences: I felt totally self-conscious and ended up leaving after fifteen minutes.

Adversity: After being on a diet for a couple of weeks she goes out for drinks with some friends and starts wolfing down snacks. Immediately afterward she feels she has “ruined” her diet.

Consequences: She decides to really make a pig of herself and eats a cake in the freezer.

Once you are aware of your pessimistic beliefs there are two general ways to deal with them. The first is simply to distract yourself when they occur—try to think of something else. The second is to dispute them. Disputing is more effective in the long run, because successfully disputed beliefs are less likely to recur when the same situation presents itself again.

Here is an example Seligman provides regarding distraction. “..,think about a piece of apple pie with vanilla ice cream. The pie is heated and the ice cream forms a delightful contrast in taste and temperature. You probably find that you have almost no capacity to refrain from thinking about the pie. But you do have the capacity to redeploy your attention. Think about this one again. Got it. Mouth-watering? Now stand up and slam the palm of your hand against the wall and shout “STOP!” The image of the pie disappeared, didn’t it? This is one of several simple but highly effective thought-stopping techniques used by people who are trying to interrupt habitual thought patterns. Some people ring a loud bell, others carry a three-by-five card with the word STOP in enormous red letters. Many people find it works well to wear a rubber band around their wrists and snap it hard to stop their ruminating. It is good to combine one of these physical techniques with a technique called attention shifting. To keep your thoughts from returning to a negative belief after interruption, direct your attention elsewhere. Actors do this when they must suddenly switch from one emotion to another. When something disturbing happens and you find thoughts hard to stop, say to yourself, ‘Stop. I’ll think this over later.’ Writing troublesome thoughts down the moment they occur and setting a later time to think about them works well; it takes advantage of the reason ruminations exist—to remind you of themselves—and so undercuts them. If you write them down and set a time to think about them, they no longer have any purpose, and purposelessness lessens their strength.”

Although ducking our disturbing beliefs can be good first aid, a deeper more lasting remedy is to dispute them: Give them an argument. Go on the attack. By effectively disputing the beliefs that follow adversity, you can change your customary reaction from dejection and giving up to activity and good cheer. Consider the following:

Adversity: i recently started taking night classes after work for a master’s degree. I got my first set of exams back and I didn’t do nearly as well as I wanted.

Belief: What awful grades. I no doubt did the word in the class. I’m just stupid and I’m to to be competing with young kids.

Consequences: I felt totally dejected and useless. I was embarrassed I even gave it a try, and decided to withdraw from my courses and be satisfied with the job I have.

Disputation: I’m blowing things out of proportion. I hoped to get all As, but I got a B, a B+, and a B-. Those aren’t awful grades. I may not have done the best in the class, but I didn’t do the worst either. The guy next to me had two Ds and a D+. The fact that I’m forty doesn’t make me any less intelligent than anyone else in the class. I have a full time job and a family. I think that given my situation I did a good job on my exams.

Consequently, he does not withdraw from the class and feels better about himself.

Optimism and Good Health

November 21, 2019

This post is the seventh in a series of posts based on Dr. Martin Seligman’s important book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. There are four ways the theory of learned helplessness strongly suggests that optimism should benefit health.

The first follows from the research of Madelon Visintainer’s findings that learned helplessness in rats made them more susceptible to tumor growth. This research was bolstered by more detailed work on the immune systems of helpless rats. The immune system provides the cellular defense agains illness. It contains different kinds of cells whose job is to identify and then kill foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and tumor cells. T-cells recognize specific invaders such as measles, then greatly multiply and kill invaders. Another kind, natural killer cells (NK cells), kill anything foreign they happen across. Researchers looking at the immune systems of helpless rats found that the experience of inescapable shock weakens the immune system. T-cells from the blood of rats that become helpless no longer multiply rapidly when they come across the specific invaders they are supposed to destroy. NK cells from the spleens of helpless rats lose their ability to kill foreign invaders.

A second way in which optimism should produce good health concerns sticking to her regimens and seeking medical advice. Consider a pessimistic person who believes that sickness is permanent, pervasive, and personal. She is not likely to give up unhealthy habits nor to pursue a healthy lifestyle.

A third way in which optimism should matter for health concerns the sheer number of bad life events encountered. It has been shown statistically that the more bad events a person encounters in any given time period, the more illness she will have. People who in the same six months move, get fired, and divorced are at a greater risk for infectious illness—and even for heart attacks and cancer—than are people who lead uneventful lives. Pessimists encounter more bad events and are less likely to take steps to avoid bad events and less likely to do anything to stop them once they start. So putting two and two together, if pessimists have more bad events and if more bad events lead to more illness, pessimists should have more illness.

The fourth reason that optimists should have better health concerns social support. The capacity to sustain deep friendships and love seems to be important for physical health. Middle-aged people who have at least one person whom they can call in the middle of the night to tell their troubles to, go on to have better physical health than friendless people. Unmarried people are at a higher risk for depression than couples. Even ordinary social contact is a buffer against illness. People who isolate themselves when they are sick tend to get sicker. Pessimists become passive more easily when trouble stikes, and they take fewer steps to get and sustain social support. This connection between lack of social support and illness provides the fourth reason to believe that an optimistic explanatory style is likely to produce good health.

The brain and the immune system are connected not through nerves but through hormones, the chemical messengers that flow through the blood can transmit emotional states from one part of the body to another. It is well documented that when a person is depressed the brain changes. Neurotransmitters, hormones that relay messages from one nerve to another, can become depleted. One set of transmitters called, catecholamines, become depleted during depression. If your level of pessimism can deplete your immune system, it seems likely that pessimism can impair your physical health over your whole life span.

Content Analysis for Verbal Explanations (CAVE)

November 20, 2019

This is the sixth post based on a book by Martin Seligman, Ph.D., titled Learned Optimism The subtitle is How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. The problem was how to characterize individual players in sports and their teams with respect to the optimism dimension. To do so they developed the CAVE technique. CAVE is an acronym for content analysis of verbatim explanations. This can be done by reading the sports pages. Causal statements made by a player can be evaluated on a 1 to 7 scale with respect to its permanent, pervasive, and personal qualities. This enables getting a player’s explanatory style without using a questionnaire. They found that such a profile roughly matches what would have happened if the questionnaire had been taken by the player. By doing this they created a technique that is a virtual time machine.

This virtual time machine provided an extremely powerful tool. This enabled the study of optimism of people who either could not (e.g., deceased individuals) or would not take the ASQ as long as there were verbatim quotes from these individuals. They could “CAVE” an enormous range of material for explanatory style: press conferences, diaries, therapy transcripts, letters from home, and so forth.

The CAVE method provided evidence that we learn our explanatory style from our mothers. In 1970 grandmothers were interviewed. Their children, now mothers themselves were also interviewed. They CAVEd these interviews and found that there was a marked resemblance between the level of pessimism of the mothers and their daughters. This is one of the ways we learn optimism, by listening to our mothers explain the everyday events that happen to them.

This time machine provided the first evidence that the reality of the crises we go through as children shapes our optimism: Girls who went through economic crises that were resolved came to look at bad events as temporary and changeable. But children who experienced the privations of the Great Depression and remained poor afterward came to look at bad events as fixed and immutable. Seligman writes, “So our major childhood crises may give us a pattern, like a cookie cutter, with which, for the rest of or lives, we produce explanations of new crises.

British professor George Brown spent ten years walking around the most poverty-stricken areas of South London, interviewing housewives at great length. He interviewed more than four hundred, looking for the key to the prevention of depression. Over 20% of the housewives were depressed, half of them psychotically. He was determined to find out what separated those women who got severely depressed in that trying environment from those who were apparently invulnerable.

He isolated three protective factors. If any one of them were present, depression would not occur, even in the face of severe loss and privation. The first protective factor was an intimate relationship with a spouse or lover. Such women could fight depression off well. The second was a job outside the home. The third was not having three or more children under the age of fourteen at home to take care of.
In addition to invulnerability factors, Brown isolated two major risk factors for depression: recent loss (husband dying, or emigrating) and, more important, death of their own mothers before the women had reached their teens.

Seligman concludes with three kinds of influences on a child’s explanatory style. “First, the form of the everyday causal analyses he hears from you—especially if you are his mother: If your are optimistic, he will be too. Second, the form of criticism he hears when he fails: If they are permanent and pervasive, his view of himself will turn toward pessimism. Third, the reality of his early losses and traumas: If they remit, he will develop the theory that bad events can be changed and conquered. But if they are, in fact, permanent and pervasive, the seeds of hopelessness have been deeply planted.”

The CAVE methodology has proved informative for a wide range of research issues. There is a chapter titled “Politics, Religion, and Culture: A New Psychohistory.” The interested reader is encouraged to read Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Brain and Your Life.” These blog posts just capture a few major ideas from this book. In the book you can find questionnaires for assessing the optimism of you and your children.

Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ)

November 19, 2019

This is the fifth post based on a book by Martin Seligman, Ph.D. titled Learned Optimism. The subtitle is How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. The ASQ was developed to have a survey instrument for assessing attributional style. The ASQ is open-ended and consists of twelve little scenarios. Half are about bad events (e.g.,”You go out on a date and it goes badly….”, and half are about good events (e.g., “You suddenly become rich….”). You are asked to imagine the event happening to you and to fill in the most likely cause. So, to explain the first scenario you might say, “I have bad breath,” and for the second, “I’m a brilliant investor.”

Then, you are asked to rate the cause you suppled, on a one-to-seven scale, for personalization. (“Is this cause something about other people or circumstances [external], or is it something about you [internal]?). Then you are asked to rate it for permanence. (“Will this cause never again be present when looking for a job [temporary] or always be present [permanent]?”). Finally, you rate it for pervasiveness (“Does this cause affect only looking for a job [specific] or all other areas of your life [pervasive]?”)

For the first try to validate the questionnaire it was given to two hundred experienced sales agents, half of whom were eagles (very productive) and half turkeys (unproductive). The eagles scored much more optimistically on the questionnaire than the turkeys did. When these test scores were matched to actual sales records the agents who scored in the most optimistic half of the ASQ had sold 37% more insurance on average in their first two years of work than agents who scored in the pessimistic half. Agents who scored in the top 10% sold 88 % more than the most pessimistic tenth.

Seligman writes that the ASQ is a theory-based test, but it is based on a theory very different from the traditional wisdom about success. Traditional wisdom holds that there are two ingredients of success, and you need both to succeed. The first is ability or aptitude and IQ tests and the SAT are supposed to measure it. The second is desire or motivation. Traditional wisdom says that if you lack desire you will fail. Enough desire can make up for meager talent.

Seligman believes that the traditional wisdom is incomplete. He writes, “A composer can have all the talent of a Mozart and passionate desire to succeed, but if he believes he cannot compose music, he will come to nothing. He will not try hard enough. He will give up too soon when the elusive right melody takes too long to materialize. Success requires persistence, the ability to not give up in the face of failure.” He believes that the optimistic explanatory style is the key to persistence.
The explanatory-style theory of success says that in order to choose people for success in a challenging job, you need to select for three characteristics:
1. aptitude
2. motivation
3. optimism
All three determine success.

Work with the Met Life sales force found that the ASQ greatly increased productivity. They also found that optimists kept improving over pessimists over time. The theory had been that optimism matters because it produces persistence. At first it was expected that talent and motivation for selling should be at least as important as persistence. As research continued it was found that persistence became decisive.

How You Think, How You Feel

November 18, 2019

This title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in a book by Martin Seligman, Ph.D., titled Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. This is the fourth post on this book. By the late 1960s Joseph Wolpe and Tim Beck had drawn the same conclusion about depression. The conclusion was that depression is nothing more than its symptoms. It is caused by conscious negative thoughts. There is no deep underlying disorder to be rooted out: not unresolved childhood conflicts, not unconscious anger. Emotion comes directly from what we think: Think “I am in danger” and you feel anxiety. Think “I am being trespassed against” and you feel anger. Think “Loss” and you feel sadness. HM would like to note that biological causes of depression should not be ruled out, but most psychological processes, with the exception of thinking, should be ruled out.

Rumination is having the same depressing thoughts over and over. It is called rumination because people are chewing over and over the same thoughts. Seligman writes that rumination combined with a pessimistic explanatory style is the recipe for severe depression. Seligman continues, “The difference between people whose learned helplessness disappears swiftly and people who suffer their symptoms for two weeks or more is usually simple: Members of the latter group have a pessimistic explanatory style, and a pessimistic explanatory style changes learned helplessness from brief and local to long-lasting and general. Learned helplessness becomes full-blown depression when the person who fails is a pessimist. In optimists, failure produces only brief demoralization.”

Seligman continues, “The key to this process is hope over hopelessness. Pessimistic explanatory style consists of certain kinds of explanations for bad events: personal (“It’s my fault”), permanent (It’s always going to be like this”), and pervasive (It’s going to undermine every aspect of my life.)

Seligman’s theory follows: “there is one particularly self-defeating way to think: making personal, permanent, and pervasive explanations for bad events.” People who have this most pessimistic of all styes are likely, once they fail, to have he symptoms of learned helplessness for a long time and across many endeavors, and to lose self-esteem. Such protracted learned helplessness amounts to depression. People who have a pessimistic explanatory style and suffer bad events will probably become depressed, whereas people who have an optimistic explanatory style and suffer bad events tend to resist depression.” Consequently, pessimism is a risk factor for depression in the same sense as smoking is a risk factor for lung cancer or being a hostile, hard-driving man is a risk factor for a heart attack.

Cognitive Therapy is an effective therapy for depression for the following reasons:

First, you learn to recognize the automatic thoughts flitting through your consciousness at the time you feel worst.

Second, you learn to dispute the automatic thoughts by marshaling contrary evidence.

Third, you learn to make different explanations, called reattributions, and use them to dispute your automatic thoughts.

Fourth, you learn how to distract yourself from depressing thoughts.

Fifth, you learn to recognize and question the depression-sowing assumptions governing so much of what you do.

The concluding section to this chapter is titled “Why Does Cognitive Therapy work? This section is presented in its entirety.

“There are two kinds of answers to this question. On a mechanical level, cognitive therapy works because it changes explanatory style from pessimistic to optimistic, and the change is permanent. It gives you a set of cognitive skills for talking to yourself when you fail. You can use these skills to stop depression from taking hold when failure strikes.

At a philosophical level, cognitive therapy works because it takes advantage of newly epitomized powers of the self. In an era when we believe the self can change itself, we will try to change habits of thought which used to seem as inevitable as sunrise. Cognitive therapy works in our era because it gives the self a set of techniques for changing itself. The self chooses to do this work out of self-interest, to make itself feel better.

Ultimate Pessimism

November 17, 2019

This title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in a book by Martin Seligman, Ph.D., titled Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. This is the third post on this book. Ultimate pessimism is depression, which comes in three kinds. The first is called normal depression. It is the type each of us knows well. Seligman writes, “It springs from the pained losses that are inevitable parts of being members of a sapient species, creatures who think about the future. We don’t get the jobs we want, we get rejected by people we love, or our loved ones die. It is predictable when such things happen that we feel sad and helpless. We become passive and lethargic. We can believe that our prospects are bleak and that we lack the talent to make them brighter. We don’t do our work well, and might avoid work. Zest goes out of activities we used to enjoy, and we lose our interest in food, company, and sex. We can’t sleep.

But most of the time, by one of nature’s benevolent mysteries, we start to get better. Normal depression is the common cold of mental illness. Seligman writes that he has repeatedly found that at any given moment approximately 23% of us are going through an episode of normal depression, at least in mild form.

The two other kinds of depression are called depressive disorders: unipolar and bipolar depression. What determines the difference between unipolar and bipolar depression is whether or not mania is involved. Mania is a psychological conjoint with a set of symptoms that look like the opposite of depression: unwarranted euphoria, grandiosity, frenetic talk and action, and inflated self-esteem.

Bipolar depression always includes manic episodes, and is also called manic-depression (with mania at one pole and depression at the other). Unipolar depressives never have manic episodes. Another difference between the two is that bipolar depression is much more heritable. If one of two identical twins has bipolar depression, there is a 72% chance the other also has it. This is only 14% true of fraternal twins who are no more closely related than any other full siblings. Bipolar depression is treated with a “wonder drug, “lithium carbonate.” Seligman writes that in more than 80% of cases of bipolar depression, lithium will relieve the mania to a marked degree and, to a lesser extent, the depression. Unlike normal and unipolar depression, manic-depression is an illness, appropriately viewed as a disorder of the body and treated medically.

Seligman’s view differs radically from the prevailing medical opinion, which holds that unipolar depression is an illness and normal depression is just a passing demoralization of no clinical interest. He writes, “This view is the dominant one in spite of a complete absence of evidence that unipolar depression is anything more than just severe normal depression. No one has established the kind of distinction between them that has been established between dwarfs, for instance, and short normal people—a qualitative distinction.” Both normal and unipolar depression involve the same four types of negative change: in thought, mood, behavior, and physical responses.

The way you think when you are depressed differs from the way you think when you are not depressed. When you are depressed you have a dour picture of yourself, the world, and the future. When you’re depressed, small obstacles seem like insurmountable barriers. You believe everything you touch turns to ashes. You have an endless supply of reasons why each of your successes is really a failure.

The second way both unipolar and normal depression is recognized is a negative change in mood. When you’re depressed, you feel awful: sad, discouraged, sunk in a pit of despair. Jokes are no longer funny, but unbearably ironic.

The third symptom of depression concerns behavior. There are three behavioral symptoms: passivity, indecisiveness, and suicidal action.

Many depressed people think about and attempt suicide. They generally have one or both of two motives. The first is surcease: The prospect of going on as they are is intolerable, and they want to end it all. The other is manipulation: They want to get love back, or get revenge, or have the last word in an argument.

The final symptom of depression concerns the physical self. Depression is frequently accompanied by undesirable physical symptoms; the more severe the depression, the more symptoms. The appetites diminish. You can’t eat. You can’t make love. Sleeping becomes difficult.

Unfortunately, depression is increasing. Research has shown that there has been greater than a tenfold increase in depression over the course of the century.

Seligman concludes this chapter as follows: “When we now look at the upsurge of depression, we could view it as an epidemic of learned helplessness. We know the cause of learned helplessness, and now we can see it as the cause of depression: the belief that your actions will be futile. This belief was engineered by defeat and failure as well as uncontrollable situations. Depression could be caused by defeat, failure, and loss of the consequent belief that any actions taken will be futile.

I think this belief is at the heart of our national epidemic of depression. The modern self must be more susceptible to learned helplessness, to an ever-growing conviction that nothing one does matters. I think I know why, and I’ll discuss it in the final chapter.

This all sounds pretty bleak. Yet there is also a hopeful side, and this is where explanatory style becomes important.”

Three Types of Explanatory Style

November 16, 2019

This is the second post in a series of posts on Dr. Martin Seligman’s important book “Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life.” The preceding post stated that it is the explanation that individuals have for their failure to achieve a particular goal. This post explains the dimensions of explanatory style.

One dimension of explanatory style is permanence. People who give up easily believe the causes of bad events that happen to them are permanent: Bad events will happen, and will always be there to affect their lives. People who resist helplessness believe the causes of bad events are temporary.

Here are some comparisons of pessimistic and optimistic explanations:

People who give up easily believe the causes of bad events that happen to them are permanent.

PERMANENT (Pessimistic): TEMPORARY (Optimistic)

“I’m all washed up” “I’m exhausted.”
“Diets never work.” “Diets don’t work when you eat out.”
“You always nag.” “You nag when I don’t clean up my room.”
“The boss is a bastard.” “The boss is in a bad mood.”
“You never talk to me.” “You haven’t talked to me lately.”

The optimistic style of explaining good events is just the opposite of the optimistic style of explaining bad events. People who believe good events have permanents causes are more optimistic than people who believe they have temporary causes.

TEMPORARY (Pessmistic) PERMANENT (Optimistic)
“It’s my lucky day.” I’m always lucky
“I try hard.” I’m talented
“My rival got tired.” My rival is no good.

This permanence dimension determines how long a person gives up for. Permanent explanations for bad events produce long-lasting helplessness and temporary explanations produce resilience.

Permanence is about time. Pervasiveness is about space. People who make universal explanations for their failures give up on everything when a failure strikes in one area. People who make specific explanations may become helpless in that one part of their lives yet march bravely on in the others.

UNIVERSAL (Pessimistic) SPECIFIC (Optimistic)
“All teachers are unfair.” “Professor Seligman is unfair.”
“I’m repulsive.” “I’m repulsive to him.”
“Books are useless.” “This book is useless.”

The optimistic explanatory style for good events is opposite that for bad events. The optimist believes that bad events have specific causes, while good events will enhance everything he does; the pessimist believes the bad events have universal causes and that good events are cause by specific factors.

SPECIFIC (Pessimistic) UNIVERSAL (Optimistic)
“I’m smart at math.” “I’m smart.”
“My broker knows oil stocks” “My broker knows Wall Street.”
“ I was charming to her.” “I was charming.”

Whether or not we have hope depends on two dimensions of our explanatory style: pervasiveness and permanence. Finding temporary and specific causes for misfortune is the art of hope: Temporary causes limit helplessness in time, and specific causes limit helplessness to the original situation. On the other hand, permanent causes produce helplessness far into the future, and universal causes spread helplessness through all our endeavors. Finding permanent and universal causes for misfortune is the practice of despair.

HOPELESS HOPEFUL
“I’m stupid.” “I’m hung over.”
“Men are tyrants.” “My husband was in a bad mood.”
“It’s five in ten this lump is cancer.” “It’s five in ten this lump is nothing.”

According to Seligman, the final aspect of explanatory style is personalization. When bad things happen, we can blame ourselves (internalize) or we can blame other people or circumstances (externalize). People who blame themselves when they fail have low self-esteem as a consequence. They think they are worthless, talentless, and unlovable. People who blame external events do not lose self-esteem when bad events strike. Not surprisingly, they like themselves better than people who blame themselves do.

Low self-esteem usually comes from an internal style for bad events.

INTERNAL (Low self-esteem) EXTERNAL (High self-esteem)

“I’m stupid.” “You’re stupid.”
“I have no talent at poker.” “I have no luck at poker.”
“I’m insecure.’ “I grew up in poverty.”

The optimistic style for explaining good events is the opposite of that used for bad events: It’s internal rather than external. Seligman writes that people who believe they cause good things tend to like themselves better than people who believe good things come from other people or circumstances.

EXTERNAL (Pessimistic) INTERNAL (Optimistic)

“A stroke of luck…” “I can take advantage of luck.”
“My teammates’ skill… “My skill…”

Seligman notes that although there are clear benefits to learning optimism—there are also dangers. “Temporary? Local? That’s fine. I want my depressions to be short and limited. I want to bounce back quickly. But external? Is it right that I should blame others for my failures.?”

Learned Optimism

November 15, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Martin Seligman, Ph.D. The subtitle is How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Professor Seligman is the father of positive psychology. He felt that psychology had been focused almost exclusively on illness and problems. He thought that more emphasis should be placed on making people feel happy and fulfilled. You should note that there is a relatively new category of healthy memory blogs labeled ‘Positivity.”

Initially, Seligman’s renown was for documenting the finding of learned helplessness. Research with animals discovered that many of these subjects, if offered no way to free themselves from painful stimuli, would conclude that there was nothing to learn other than that they were helpless. So when given an opportunity to avoid or escape from painful stimuli, these animals would fail to do so.

Similar findings resulted with research on human subjects. Fortunately, humans can be asked about why they felt helpless. They explained that they thought that there was no way to avoid the painful or adverse situation. Even when there was a means of avoiding or stopping the situation, they still believed that that there was nothing they could do. So they had in effect learned to be helpless.

It is easy to think of people who live in poor environments with few opportunities for success. They, too, can readily conclude that there is nothing that they can do that they are victims of their environments.

This feeling that there is nothing that can be done to improve the situation provides the foundation for pessimism. On the other hand, optimists regard failures or disappointments as obstacles that they think that they can overcome. In other words, they are highly resilient.,

So what determines whether we are optimists or pessimists depends on how we think.

Seligman writes, “One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think. Research has shown that what distinguishes optimists from pessimists is their explanatory style. That is how they explain the failure they are experiencing. In other words, how they think about or explain the failure is in control of the individual.

The notion that we can control our minds and on how we think and feel has long been a theme of the healthy memory blog. Blog posts on meditation and mindfulness are devoted to teaching us how to have greater control of our minds.

The subsequent posts on “Learned Optimism” will discuss research on this topic and will provide strategies for being optimistic and overcoming negative thinking.

The Single Most Important Activity

November 14, 2019

This is the final post based on the book by doreen dodgen-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World. HM fears he has not done justice to this volume, so if your interests warrant please read the book.

The reader is likely overwhelmed by all the suggestions and recommendations made in these posts. According to one’s predilections, pursue what seems warranted. However, there is a single activity that both HM and the author agree upon, and that activity is meditation. The author titles this activity TEN (RICH) MINUTES A DAY and writes, “Researchers at Stanford, Massachusetts General and UCLA have found that ten minutes a day of mindfulness meditation for six months doubles the gray matter in the regions of the brain related to emotional well-being and executive. This means that our brains can heal themselves; and on the way to doing this, we can learn to be still and get grounded and can strengthen our internal locus of control.”

However, one should not stop after six months, nor limit this activity to ten minutes. If done properly, you should find this a very rewarding and lifelong activity.

Here are the instructions the author provides in the text:

Assume a posture of Alert restfulness. For many people, this is seated in a chair with both feet firmly on the floor. For others, it might be sitting on the floor or on a prayer or meditation cushion. Lying on your back is fine (this is HM’s practice). The goal, however, is restful alertness, not sleep (HM has never fallen asleep and emerges with increased alertness).

Breathe. Try focusing on how it feels when breath enters and exists your body. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth (“smelling the roses and blowing out the candles”) allowing your diaphragm to expand on the inhale and fall on the exhale. You can add words to your breathing if it helps. Try “releasing stress” on the exhale and “taking in space” on the inhale. You can also imagine your body as a closed system. Any time your take something new into an already-filled closed system, something must be removed to make space for the new. As you breathe in spaciousness, you must release tension. Use your imagination to try to fill more than 50% of the closed system of your body with spaciousness.

Create space in your mind for simply being. As you focus on your breath, remind yourself that this ten minutes is simply for you to be within. There is nothing that needs your attention for the next ten minutes (ten minutes should be regarded as the minimum time for the meditation. One can extend well beyond ten minutes).

Direct distractions and Draw attention back to being. When you are beset with distractions, as we all constantly are, simply notice them, name them, and then do what you can to draw your attention back to your breathing.

This same basic technique can be found in the healthy memory blog by searching for “relaxation response.” HM also uses “loving kindness meditation.” Typically, he begins with the relaxation response and then transitions to a much longer loving kindness meditation. Together this usually exceeds one hour in length. Use the search block in the healthy memory blog (healthymemory.wordpress.com) to find these topics.) There is a book by Kathleen McDonald titled “How to Meditate: A Practical Guide”). This is a practical guide to many different types of meditation, and Ms. McDonald is a true expert. Some meditations are Buddhist and they provide interesting insights to the Buddhist religion.

Summary of Tips for Establishing Norms and Eliminating Habits

November 13, 2019

This is the penultimate post based on the book by doreen dodgen-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World.

Here are some tips for evaluating any digital media or platform. Ask the following questions:

*What is the developer’s goal?
*Does engagement with this space teach me something?
*What does it teach me?
*Is this a value, skill, or informational domain that improves my life?
*Is this purely frivolous fun or is there any negative impact I should aware of as I engage with it?
*Do the developers of this content benefit directly and monetarily from my repeated or prolonged engagement with it? Am I encouraged to make frequent in-app purchases? Am I required to pay for frequent upgrades?
*Am I required to watch ads repeatedly during engagement” If so, what are the ads for?
*How does the flow of offerings in the digital places change after I’ve interacted with this platform? Basically we’re asking “How does my engagement here in this space impact the algorithm that determines what is offered to me online?

Here are some activities that encourage FOCUS:

*Mindfulness meditation
*Yoga (including “Jedi training’)
*Listening tasks/challenges
*Plays/live theater
*Solo imaginative play
*Puzzles
*Contemplative prayer
*Reading a paper book
*Classical music concerts
*Chess and strategy games
*Memorizaton tasks
*Balance games and tasks

The following activities build DELAY skills:

*Making a phone call, leaving a voicemail, and waiting for a response
*Watching a television series in weekly episodes rather than binge-watching it all at once
*Waiting in line, doing the shopping, completing a drive from one location to another, or eating a meal—without interacting with a phone, laptop, television, or electronic tablet
*Waiting a preset amount of time between the urge to impulse buy an object and actually purchasing it
*Writing back and forth through “regular” mail with a pen pal or friend
*Shopping in-person rather than online
*Forcing a waiting period between screen times (e.g., thirty minutes without before screens can be engaged again)

The following activities build SELF-REGULATION skills:
*Deep-breathing exercises
*Progressive relaxation
*Mindfulness meditation
*Yoga
*Psychotherapy
*Spiritual direction
*Contemplative prayer
*Self-help or human development books
*Self-discovery classes
*Use of prayer beads, labyrinths and mandalas
*Coloring/sketching
*Physical exertion in the form of exercise that is pleasurable and releases tension

Here are some creative ideas for increasing ATTACHMENT BALANCE
*Use online sources to find individuals with similar interests with whom to spend time in the physical world. Meetup.com is great resource for this.
*Attend lectures and participate in community talks.
*Practice making conversation with people in your natural surroundings.
*Make at least one phone call for every ten texts your send. Better yet, stop texting.
*Learn and teach digital citizenship.
*Practice eye contact.
*Talk with those closest to you about why they prefer the methods of communication they do, and work diligently to understand them.

Habits and Norms

November 12, 2019

This is the eleventh post in the book by doreen dodgen-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World. The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in the book. The author begins this chapter with the following three statements.

It is easier to establish healthy norms than to break unhealthy habits.
It is easy to establish habits.
It is not easy to establish healthy norms.
This entire book could be summed up by these three sentences.

This is certainly true, so the reader might wonder why so many posts. The reason is that this is a long book, and HM needed to pass on as much knowledge and advice in the book that could be done in a series of blog posts. Essentially, it is difficult breaking unhealthy habits and in establishing healthy norms. It is possible that there are habits that correspond to norms, but in most cases knowledge and tips are required.

Habits feel almost instinctual and we enact them with little or no thought. Repeated actions the seem to happen almost outside our awareness become the habits that shape our lives. Examples of habituated behaviors are automatically reaching for something in the refrigerator when we’re bored, the feeling that comes over us when we make a mistake, or our emotional and behavioral reactions to an ideology that differs from our own.

The alternative to living habitually is living from intentionally chosen and established norms. “Norms” is a shortened reference to the phrase “normative behaviors/patterns” and refers to intentionally chosen behaviors and thought/feeling responses that both result and emerge from the conscious creation of healthy patterns. Norms often form the beginning of many of our habits, especially habits we develop by acts of our will.

The final paragraph of the chapter follows: “Unless a person has an iron-strong will, an incredibly sturdy sense of self, and an ability to be persistent about healthy norm maintenance, the shiny, hyper stimulating, constantly moving world of digital engagement is perfect for pulling us off true north and creating habits that distract, detract, and diminish our volitional way of being in the world. Because technology is here to stay and our engagement with it is almost always a must, the establishment of norms that enable health living, a balance of experiences and relationships in both our digital and embodied spaces, and the development of skills related to focus, delay of gratification, and regulation are key.”

Cultivating an Internal Locus of Control

November 11, 2019

This is the tenth post in the book by doreen dodgen-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World. The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in the book. Here are three lessons about cultivating an internal locus of control.
Know your stuff.
Start non-shaming conversations about your own and other’s technology use.
Live wild, fiery embodied lives and invite others to do the same.

Here are three ways for a caregiver to respond to a child who falls in a park and an injury results.

The caregiver reacts strongly on one end of a “this is a huge deal” to “this is not a big deal at all” continuum. Both ends of this continuum are the wrong way to respond.
2. The caregiver, whether physically present or not responds with complacency or absence’
Wrong.
3. The caregiver responds to the child’s inquisitive glance with an empathic and connected reply calling for an assessment. “How are you? Are you okay? How can I help?

Let’s figure out what is happening here. This response communicates both the child’s own assessment of and communication about the situation. The response puts the child in the driver’s seat by enabling him or her to slow down and consider what he or she needs and then allows for a partnership in addressing the need.

Self-promotion can serve as a precursor to an external locus of control. Initially this might appear to be ironic, because self-promotion might initially appear to be an internal locus of control. But if the concern is with external approval, then the locus of control is actually external.

Self-knowing awareness is a precursor for an internal locus of control. Here self-loving awareness, or self love provides an alternative to self-promotion.

The objective is to move from an external to an internal locus of control. Here are the traits, actions, and capacities that are induced in the healthy relationship with one’s self.

*Capacity for honest awareness of strengths and weaknesses.
*Knowledge of one’s emotional range and an ability to moderate and regulate affect emotions.
*Flexibility in relation to the knowledge and recognition as well as the importance of one’s personal needs versus the needs of the communities in which someone lives.
*Ability to function independently and interdependently and to post intimate relationships with others without compromising or disowning important parts of the self.
*General awareness of one’s physiological being and ability to be comfortable in one’s skin.

Here are the ideas provided for Establishing and Maintaining a Healthy Relationship with the Self.

LEARN TO BE ALONE.

USE AT LEAST A SMALL AMOUNT OF ALONE TIME TO CONSIDER YOUR PREFERENCES, STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES, AND BIASES.

TALK TO YOURSELF OR JOURNAL.

SEEK OUT WISE OTHERS WHO CAN HELP YOU KNOW YOURSELF MORE DEEPLY.

The Fertile Ground of Idle Time

November 10, 2019

This is the ninth post in the book by doreen dodgen-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World. The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in the book. The author writes, “Idling actually has immense potential to command our attention. When we are in constant intellectual, emotional, or physical motion, we lack the spaciousness needed to come to understand and make sense of the full richness of our humanity. We are all familiar with the experience of feeling hungry or tired and not paying attention. Our stomachs growl or we yawn, yet we mindlessly push forward. We might drink coffee or eat something out of the vending machine, whatever is needed to keep moving through our very full day instead of taking the hunger pains or feelings of fatigue under real and rationed consideration. Our cultural norms reinforce this compensatory pattern by rewarding constant productivity, action, and advancement. As such, we are most commonly validated for having our attention focused outside ourself. Not only are we rewarded for being available to our employers, educators, and social connections twenty-four hours a day, but we are also privy to a never-ending stream of entertainment, education, and information that feels as though it builds, soothes, or stimulates us. Little reason (let alone demand) exists anymore for using our idle time to turn our attention inward.

The intolerance of stillness results in a deficit of self-soothing abilities. We cannot be still because we can’t soothe ourselves, quiet our thoughts, or regulate our emotions. Rather we stimulate ourselves, distracting ourselves or denying our need for comfort. Self-soothing skills, emotional regulation, critical-thinking capabilities, boredom tolerance, and creativity might all be enhanced by putting ourselves in the uncomfortable new space of stillness.

The author suggests that there is merit in learning to be calmly and fully present in any given moment. Experienced meditators tell us that this type of stillness comes only with great practice, and that a lack of practice leads to feelings of anxiety and agitation when distractions are unavailable. The author writes, “Self-soothing skills, emotional regulation, and critical thinking capabilities might all be enhanced by simply putting ourselves in the uncomfortable new space of stillness. Without doing the intentional work of saving some of our idle time to develop such skills, the opportunities for practice elude us and the malicious cycle of stimulation-distraction-information sets in. Not only does this rob of us our ability to practice tolerating stillness, it also keeps us valuing being informed over learning to be.

Boredom tolerance correlates positively with measures of creativity and experiencing intentional boredom paves the way for learning to function in “being” states as opposed to “doing” states. When we are bored, we find out how to stimulate or soothe ourselves. We learn to determine and meet our needs from this place. If we just meet boredom with an impulsive action to distract or engage the self in pursuits outside the self, we will never be fully capable functioning from a space of purely being who we are. Boredom tolerance and anxiety tolerance are twin requirements for learning to tolerate stillness. To be our healthiest and sturdiest selves requires an ability to be with ourselves in all our states of being; this enables the cultivation of imagination, engagement with complexities of thought, and a familiarity with our feelings. Often this externally looks like standing still and might look or feel like laziness, it is in reality much more of an idling where much internal activity is going on, even if the body is still.

There is a distinction between having time versus making it. Stop using the phrase “I don’t have time to…” and replace it with “I choose not to make time for…”

Technology and the Self

November 9, 2019

This is the eighth post in the book by doreen dodgem-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World.” The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in the book. The author begins “The ‘self’ is an expansive topic that has been considered throughout history and referred to by names such as ‘soul,’ ‘psyche,’ and ‘essential identity’.” Despite conflicting theories regarding the development of this foundational element of our humanity, some generally held ideas about it mean to live with a cohesive and stable sense of self do exist. At least, people with such an identity are able to:

*Experience their self as distinct from others.
*Connect to and separate from others in healthy ways (being neither overly dependent nor overly independent).
*Have a general sense of more values and worldview.
*Perform general processes related to being active participants in the world.
*Handle consequences related to their actions in the world.

Dr. doreen dodgen-magee writes of the importance of science and technology as a usurper of the sense of self. She offers the following ideas for creating and using silence.

SET SOME TIMES OF THE DAY FOR TURNING OFF ALL ELECTRONIC SOUNDS

PRACTICE A GUIDED MEDITATION, THEN TRY IT ON YOUR OWN
Here you can read the posts on the relaxation response. There is a guided meditation at MARC.UCLA.edu. It counts even if you try to sit in one place and breath in silence for just three minutes. Dr. doreen dodgen-magee and HM encourage you to do this frequently.

USE A SINGING BOWL (of the Tibetan variety. HM has one).

Here are some ideas for fighting Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
TAKE BREAKS FROM THE NEWS AND SOCIAL MEDIA AND COMMIT TO NOT “CATCH UP”

CONSCIOUSLY WORK THROUGH FEELINGS OF BEING LEFT OUT

AFFIRM THE PLACES AND PEOPLE TO WHOM YOU ARE MEANINGFULLY ATTACHED AND INVESTED IN

She encourages the abandonment of a Fixed Mind-set for a Growth Mind-set. There have been numerous healthy memory blog posts on this topic. She provides the following ideas for Enhancing a Growth Mind-set.

TRY NEW THINGS WITHOUT OVEREMPHASIS ON MASTERY
MASTER A USELESS SKILL THAT TAKES TIME TO LEARN

INSTEAD OF JOURNALING, TRY A BRAIN DUMP (STREAM OF CONSCIOUS WRITING).
Write down your thoughts on a piece of paper for five to ten minutes straight. Don’t try to construct sentences or bold ideas. Simply write whatever comes to mind. When you are done, rip up the piece of paper or burn it. The process, not the outcome, is the goal.

Here are some ideas she offers for BOREDOM INTOLERANCE

TURN OFF NOTIFICATIONS

SET A PASSWORD to decrease the likelihood of being overly attentive to one’s phone.

LEAVE YOUR PHONE IN THE TRUNK OF YOUR CAR

HOST A BOREDOM PARTY

Here are suggestions she offers for underdeveloped resilience, which is the ability to handle difficulties and hardships facing psychological symptoms.

DO AN INVENTORY OF THE FEELINGS YOU ARE COMFORTABLE WITH AND THOSE THAT MAKE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE

DO A DAILY EXAMEN (a practice found in many religious traditions. Some people call it a “Rose, Bud, Thorn” exercise; others call it the Crappy/Happy exercises. She suggest keeping a small notebook next to the bed. Each night before going to sleep, record what gave you life during that day (“happy”) and what took life away (“crapppy’).

Here are suggestions she offer for learning to self-soothe

LEARN TO PRACTICE MINDFUL BREATHING
There are many healthy memory blog posts on mindfulness

FIND “ESCAPE ROUTES”. These are routes to which you can escape an catch your breath and tap into your grounded self.

MAKE A “SELF-SOOTHING” LIST AND REFER TO IT

GO TO A CORNER OR APPLY SOME GENTLE WEIGHT
Heavy or weighted blankets that can be heated and placed on sore muscles are also helpful in communicating to the body that there is space for nothing and stillness.

Here are some additional ideas she offers for nurturing a more grounded sense of self

CONSIDER A SOCIAL MEDIA FAST
BUILD A VOCABULARY FILLED WITH NONEVALUATIVE, NONCOPERPATIVE LANGUAGE AND EMPATHIC, ENCOURAGING, AND LIFE AFFIRMING SENTIMENTS.

TRY THE HALT SCAN. This involves stopping throughout the day or when one feels particularly dysregulated and asking oneself if one is hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. These four states of being leave us particularly prone to distracting ourselves or using things other than what we really long for to satiate us. Once identified, we can choose a better action or feeling rather than simply acting unconsciously.

Technology and Relationships

November 8, 2019

This is the seventh post in the book by doreen dodgen-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World. The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in the book. The first relationship to be discussed is the relationship with oneself. Technology has a profound effect on how we relate to ourselves. If we have been able to develop a stable internal locus of control alongside our tech engagement, then we will be able to build an authentic, deep relationship with others. However, if the prevailing nature of technology’s impact on our relationship with ourselves has been to make us into self-promoting, self-centric, lacking in empathy, limited in communication skills, and sans an accompanying sense of self-knowing awareness of our limitations as well as our strengths, then our relationship with others will be built on a fragile foundation. We need to keep this foundational dynamic in mind as we discuss our relationships with others.

Given the amount of time we spend with screens, it seems plausible to posit that some of our most meaningful relationships exist with our devices (if meaningfulness is, at least in part, determined by investment of time and resources). Over time we develop response patterns to devices that look much like our response patterns to humans. Research has show that interaction with our devices can stimulate the release of oxytocin, initiating feelings similar to love. Oxytocin is considered the “cuddle hormone.” It is released when a new mother fazes at her nursing baby. Our physiological responses to devices suggest an emotional connection to them not unlike what we experience as physiological responses to connection between humans.

There is a distinction that needs to be made between our social lives and our relational lives. The former refers to the relative amount of time we spend in companionable connection with others, whereas the latter refers to the part of our being we invest in knowing others and being known by them. To be healthy and reliable, these relational forms of knowing need to be predicated on communication that is honest and authentic, happens in a variety of contexts, and occurs over time. Consider what you believe to be the differences and similarities between social networks and relational connections.
*Track the number of responses to social media posts you make in a day and compare that to the number of texts of phone calls you make.
*Consider who you might call if you had an amazing piece of news to share or if you needed help in an emergency.
*Let the difference between the types of connections and relationships you enjoy sink in, and determine where you might make some investments to deepen those that have real potential.

The author writes, “If our relationship with our own self and the authenticity of communication regarding that self is the foundation upon which our relationships are built, then the nature and quality of our communication creates that building blocks of our relationships with others. Research conducted with pairs of close friends found that communication via instant messaging results in significantly lower levels of bonding than face-to-face communication, video chatting, and audio chatting. If this is true for existing close friends, how might it impact the many relationships begun and maintained solely through typed digital messages?”

“Disinhibition” is one of the potential issues with the digital world that diminishes our communication skills. As we spend less time practicing the art of communication, with its subtleties of give and take, we are shifting toward disinhibition, a lack of restraint that manifests in impulsivity, poor risk assessment, and a disregard for social conventions. This shift is most apparent in typed communiques. In his article “online disinhibition effect,” Rider University communications professor John Suler describes how digital communication can train us to be less “other aware.” He writes: “In text communication such as email, chat, blogs, and instant messaging, others may know a great deal about who you are. However, they still can’t see or hear you—and you can’t see or hear them. Even with everyone’s identity visible, the opportunity to be physically invisible amplifies the ‘disinhibition effect.’”

Research evaluated whether people preferred to answer questions posed by humans or by “embodied conversational agents” (ECAs), which are virtual people. The results revealed that the research participants preferred speaking with ECAs if the answers might be of a highly sensitive nature or likely to involve negative self-admissions. If the answers were considered less sensitive or more likely to include positive self-admissions, the participants preferred human interviewers. Research participants reportedly appreciated the lack of judgment an ECA would afford.

The need to stand out alongside the constant comparison and competition for attention in our socially networked spaces has the power to subtly impact the way we think about ourselves and others. Excessive exposure to a world with constant judgment, evaluation, commentary, and comparison can make any of us lean toward relationally aggressive ways of encountering others and ourselves.

The author encourages the reader to align one’s social networks with our embodied, relational ones.
*Do an inventory of our social networks (whether they are via video games, on platforms like Facebook, etc.)
*Consider whether we are engaging with people on our social networks who are there only for you to show off to, or others who lead you to feel “less than.”
*Assess the newsletters and online subscriptions you receive.
Then carefully consider who and what are positive influences in our lives that we want to continue connecting with, and who and what might be best to part ways with. This need not be a harsh rejection session but rather a realignment of sorts,

More ideas for creating healthier relationships off-and online

TAKE A TEN-MINUTE PAUSE BEFORE POSTING OR RESPONDING TO POTENTIALLY PROVOCATIVE INFORMATION.

PRACTICE NONJUDGMENTAL AWARENESS AND RESPONSIVENESS
Consider living by the motto, “Be kind to everyone, for theirs is a difficult journey.” See how leading with empathy and openheartedness changes the tendency toward judgment and categorization.

PICK UP THE PHONE OR INITIATE A VIDEO CHAT

LEAVE YOUR PHONE IN THE CAR WHEN MEETING WITH OTHERS, AND DON’T WEAR EARBUDS WHEN OTHERS ARE PRESENT (AT LEAST SOME OF THE TIME).

WAIT IN LINE, AT A MEETING, OR ELSEWHERE WITHOUT INTERACTING WITH YOUR PHONE.

PRACTICE EYE CONTACT.

HANDWRITE A LETTER OR NOTE.

PRACTICE FINDING THE GOOD IN OTHERS, AND PERIODICALLY AFFIRM SOMEONE IN PERSON.

Our Bodies and Brains on Tech

November 7, 2019

This is the sixth post in the book by doreen dodgen-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World.” The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in that book. The title is accurate. Technology affects both our bodies and our brains. Unfortunately, many of these effects are bad.

Fortunately, the author offers tips for decreasing these bad effects. Here are some suggestions for taking action to decrease some bad physical effects:
*Take breaks from screens for movement through the day to help you stay not only healthy, but engaged.
*Get into the habit of walking away from your devices at least every hour to ge fresh air and move both your legs and small muscle groups. Just stepping outside for three deep breaths can be helpful.
*Try many different types of physical movement. Doing so will help you stay flexible both in your physiology as well as in your beliefs about your body’s capabilities.
*Associate one of your tech hobbies with a set of basic and easy-to-do-wherever-you-are stretches. Do these stretches every time you engage that tech habit. For example, do a sun salutation or two every time you pick up your game controller or log on to social media.

Negative postural effects are also a problem. The author offers these suggestions:
*Remember to step away from your devices regularly.
*Practice good ergonomics.
*Stretch regularly.
*Engage in flexibility exercises.
*Make sure your screens are level with your eyes when looking straight ahead.
*When using a keyboard, keep your back straight and your arms parallel to the floor and close in at your sides. Also, rotate your wrists occasionally.
*When using small devices, be sure to stand and stretch, shift your weight, and rotate your thumbs and wrists occasionally. Look up and around and intentionally stretch the top of your head toward the sky.
*When using any device, be careful not to round your shoulders or lean your head excessively forward.
*Practice mindful, thoughtful device engagement.

Blue light related to screen use also has negative effects. Here are some tips offered by the author to minimize this negative impact.
*Take breaks from screens throughout the day.
*Make sure screens are not placed in front of windows, forcing your eyes to adjust to both light sources.
*Use lighting at eye level rather than overhead when working with screens indoors.

Technology use also affects the brain. And these effects are large enough such that neuromarketing has emerged as a field of study. Neuromarketers use brain-imaging technology along with biometric measures (heart rate, respiration) to determine why consumers make the decisions they do. By studying fMRI scans and other physiological data while individuals interact with technology, the researchers see how activation of particular areas of the brain due to specific technological content exposure can result in specific behaviors, ideas, or feelings in people. By changing the way content is delivered within the digital framework, the researchers can change the way the brain is activated, hence changing the lived experience of the subject. This effort is predicated on the knowledge that activation of certain brain regions will bring about certain responses. As the brain wires together where it fires together, repetitive exposure and responses to technology must be having some impact on the way our brains are wired.

In a 1969 episode of Sesame Street the images were black and white and each sustained camera shot lasted somewhere between six and fifteen seconds. It is reasonable to assume that individuals who are exposed to this kind of pacing in the presentation of screen imagery will develop circuitry used to waiting for up to fifteen seconds for a new stimulus. Doing this over and over would force the brain to develop the ability to focus attention without becoming bored or distracted.

In a 1984 Sesame Street episode the sustained camera shots lasted between three to six seconds, with a few lasting only one and a half seconds. The author notes that the brain exposed to this rapid cycling of stimulation and images doesn’t wire with the same tendency toward focus and boredom tolerance that we explored earlier. Instead, it will anticipate a change of scenery every three to five seconds, wiring for efficiency in handling multiple images in fast succession.

The author finds no sustained unmoving camera shots on Sesame Street. She concludes the brain is trained to expect constantly, changing stimulation. If things don’t change on the screen immediately our brain is trained to look away to find something novel to attend to. When the preponderance of visual stimuli presented to us follows this pattern over time, we no longer have the neurologically practiced skills of waiting and focus. It is not every day that one can find such a condemning indictment of Sesame Street.

Dopamine is released during video game use and game developers work to exploit tis. When dopamine levels are high, we feel a sense of pleasure, Once we’ve experienced these feelings, it’s hard not to want to live with less.

Developers are trying to increase users’ screen time. And this can most definitely be harmful. Here are telltales signs that the author offers:
*Moving from incidental use to nearly constant use.
*Needing increasing levels of tech time of stimulation for satisfaction.
*Being jittery or anxious in response to stepping away from technology.
*Lying in order to garner more time/specific content/etc. or to cover up certain forms of use.
*Isolating in order to engage technology.

Here are tips offered by the author for preventing tech addiction and getting help.

Set clear boundaries, communicate them, and enforce them .

Think ahead before adding a technology.

Make sure technology is not your only “sweet spot.”

Introduce high quality, slow moving technologies first, and stick with them as long as possible.

If you feel you’ve moved into use patterns that are hurting you or keeping you from your embodied life, get help.

There is so much information on the dangers of multitasking in the healthy memory blog that anything the author offers on this topic would be repetitive.

She does note the good news of neuroplasticity and doing “deep work.” One of the principle goals of the healthy memory blog is to move past superficial system one processing, which is very fast and avoids deep thinking, and to engage in system 2 processing which is deep thinking. So much learning can be enhanced via technology. There is a virtual infinity of useful knowledge on the web. But people become preoccupied with games, staying in touch, being liked and other superficial activities. In terms of memory health, it is deeper system 2 processing which provides for a more fulfilling and meaningful life. It also decreases the probability of suffering from dementia. Autopsies have found many cases of people who died with the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary ranges, which are the defining features Alzheimer’s, but who never exhibited any behavioral or cognitive symptoms. The explanation for this is that these people had developed a cognitive reserve during their lives through continual learning and critical use of their brains.

Practicing Living an Embodied Life (Cont.)

November 6, 2019

This is the fifth post in the book by doreen dodgen-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World.” This is a continuation of the points being advanced for living an embodied life.

Smell

*Pay attention to scents. Notice how naturally occurring smells in your daily life impact your sense of awareness and attention. Are there fragrances in your home/office/classroom that distract you or overly direct your attention? Are there any that enhance? Try plugging your nose when you take a bite of food. How does the lack of olfactory stimulation affect your awareness of the texture and taste of your food?

*Try essential oils. Olfactory stimulation is often encountered by chance rather than by attention. We tend to notice smells when they occur naturally, and we encode them with emotion in our memories. It can be powerful to use olfactory stimulation by design—engaging fragrances to stimulate or soothe, to heighten awareness or to set a mood. To do so, use them on pulse points on the body in essential oil form or throughout your living/work/learning spaces with infusers or candles. As a very general rule, citrus scents (lemon, lime, orange) invigorate and stimulate, while plant-based scents (rosemary, clary, sage, eucalyptus) soothe and relax.

*Go international. Go to an international market or restaurant. When and as you can, close your eyes and focus only on the smells. How do these new smells make you feel? What do you become aware of?

*Grow fragrant plants. Experiment with growing a fragrant plant where it can be easily accessed. Rosemary and lavender are relatively easy to grow. Once the plant is mature enough, break off a small piece and rub it between your fingers. Take the smell in as you breath deeply to create a sense of calm. Work to actively link the fragrance with the embodied experience of feeling calm.

Taste

*Spice it up. We often gravitate toward cases we know and with which we are comfortable. Periodically stretch yourself to try new flavors and textures. Do this in small and manageable ways. Try a new spice. Buy a small bag of uniquely flavored potato chips or an unusual (to you) piece of candy at an international market. If you naturally gravitate towards toward sweets, try something savory or vice versa. This can be done with drinks such as tea as well as with food. If you have access to a good tea shop, stop in and try a smokey blend. Notice how you anticipate and then taste the flavor.

*Go bland. Try food that has not been flavored or seasoned. If you drink coffee or tea with sweeteners, try the drink without. If you are use to processed foods, seek out a meal or food experience that is preservative and enhanced-flavor free. Notice the differences, even if you don’t prefer them.

Touch

*Mix it up. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, our skin is constantly perceiving what it touches or is touched by. “Waking up” this perception can lead to greater sensory awareness. Provide yourself opportunities to feel things that are rough, smooth, wet, dry, hot, cold, and more. Pay real and focused attention on how they feel and what kinds of sensation you experience as a result.

*Add touch to learning. Some individuals can increase their focus and attention in life simply having something to touch or play with during learning experiences. For these people, knitting or crocheting, a handful of Silly Putty, a bowl of Kinetic Sand, a small scrap of carpet or AstroTurf, or a rock might become important tools for maintaining focus and attention. Individuals who are kinesthetically/body smart benefit immensely from attending to the body in this way. When they do not actively work at getting the kinesthetic/physiological stimulation they need, they are at risk of using substances and people outside themselves to stimulate them. Drug and alcohol use, sexual acting out, and self-injury can become serious issues for these individuals.

*Experiment with weight and swaddling. Sometimes our bodies can benefit from feeling “contained.” If we don’t have others to hug or hold us, we can wrap a blanket around ourselves and pull it snugly. Warmed, rice-filled compresses also can be used over closed eyes or the chest to create a sensation of calming. Therapeutic weighted lap pads and blankets are also available for sale in a variety of stores and can be found online through a Google search.

Practice Living an Embodied Life

November 5, 2019

 

This is the fourth post in the book by doreen dodgen-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World.” These are the points the author advances to practice living an embodied life:

*Work to love your body with all its imperfections. Identify things about your body that you appreciate or enjoy. Practice viewing your shortcomings with graciousness and then redirecting your attention to a trait you appreciate. Thank your body for the things it does well.

*Learn to listen to, soothe, and—with warmth and gentleness—care for your body.

*Experience your sexuality and desires in safe ways that are respectful of yourself and others.

Cultivate you intuitive intra-and interpersonal senses.

*Cultivate your physical senses as discussed in the following section>

Sound

*Cherish Silence. Maintain an ability to be in and with silence by creating it. Leave the television off for a while. Choose specific times to drive with no radio/digital content. Walk/run/work without earbuds. Let a podcast or two go unheard. Visit places such as libraries and empty places of worship, where silence is the norm. Sit for at leas ten minutes and pay attention to the sound of silence. What do you hear? What do you feel? What happens with your other senses as the need for active listening falls away?

*Turn down the volume. Set the volume of your laptop/television/phone a bit lower than normal. Notice how this feels. How does working at listening feel?

*Take earbud breaks. Set aside times when everyone in your home or work setting is earbud free—and maybe even device free for a while. This lets everyone in on what everyone else is doing and makes you aware of how much stimulation is influencing each person in your environment.

*Vary your playlist. Listen to a variety of genres of music/content. Challenge yourself to stretch into new styles. To find compelling elements in what you hear, listen past the point when the newness bothers you. Listen to an entire recording as presented. The artist ordered for a reason. Notice how this feels.

*Try going lyric free. If you must keep your earbuds employed, listen to the lyric-free music when trying to study or work. Experiment with genres such as baroque, jazz, or electronic. What do you notice as different themes within the music emerge?

Which forms increase your attention to the tasks you are working on? Which distract you?

Vision/Sight

*Declutter. Pay attention to “visual clutter” in your home, work, or school environment. Notice how it feels to look at the cluttered spaces versus spaces of visual stimulation or clutter. Regardless of your style or temperament, we all need quiet places for your eyes to rest. Ensure that you have places in your homework/space/classroom for your eyes to land with little stimulation. Practice drawing your attention to these spaces when you are overwhelmed or need a break. Notice how it feels for your eyes to have a place to rest.

*Renew your view. Give yourself new things to look at periodically. Take a new way home, visit a place you’ve never been (even if it’s just a new neighborhood in your city), or take a hike in an unfamiliar setting. Switch out or rearrange that art in your home or office. Pick up a children’s picture book or a photographic illustrated coffee-table book, and set aside time to take it in at a slow pace. Notice what draws your eye and what repels it.

*Find eye feasts and indulge. Provide our self with visual complexity. Art museums, image-rich magazines and journals, pattern-based coloring books, and natural settings with a variety of foliage. Artificial illumination stimulates the visual field in important ways. Make sure that screens aren’t your only source of visual stimulation.

*Think about lighting. Light impacts our sense of visual comfort versus discomfort. As a general principle overhead lighting (that is not highly designed or managed) is hard on the eye and creates shadows on the faces of those with whom we interact. Lighting at face level (e.g., table lamps that are right at face level) is easier on the eye and provides a more comforting environment. Make some changes according to these guidelines and see how the changes make you feel. Notice how the light changes in your environment as the sun goes down, and try to make the change from natural light to artificial forms of light more seamless.

*Power down prior to bedtime. Digital devices emit powerful doses of light that stimulate neurotransmitters and hormones related to wakefulness and stimulation. Try powering down all electronics at least thirty minutes before trying to sleep. Increase this to sixty or ninety minutes over time. Over the course of a two-week trial, notice how your sense of restfulness waxes and wanes as you eliminate screens closer to bedtime and when you are in bed.

Living Outside Our Skin

November 4, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in he book by doreen dodgen-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World.” This is the third post on this book. The chapter begins, “Humans are sensual animals.” We touch, taste, smell, hear, and see our way through our days. We pay attention to both the message indicators that direct us to stimuli and the physical experiences of these stimuli. Our stomachs rumble, so we look for food. We yawn, realize we’re tired, lie down to go to sleep, or go outside for a renewing breath of fresh air. We smell something out of the ordinary and search for its source. If we are especially mindful and aware, we might realize that we yearn for a vision of beauty or to be touched in a meaningful way. Each of our senses serves a unique function of keeping us healthy and content. Should one or more senses become compromised, we often find the others become heightened to compensate and keep us aware and in tune with ourselves and our surroundings.

As our technology use increases we should be aware of the risk of falling out of touch with the potency of our senses. We might begin the day by rolling over to grab our phone to catch up on the news or on our social feeds. We might connect with our device before we get out of bed and truly wake up to our embodied self! We surf the web during the day to tell us what to buy. We might use digital monitors to tell us our child’s or pet’s body temperature and heart rate. And we might use wearable technology to track our exercise and heart rate; and stave off boredom by tackling another level of a favorite game while waiting. At days end we plop down on the couch and play a video game, or we crawl into bed and watch a movie on our tablet or laptop. The author writes, “As we engage these platforms, we send our minds and bodies the not-so-subtle message that our technologies can entertain, comfort, and know us better that we can entertain, comfort, and know ourselves. This tendency to rely on devices, apps, and technology more consistently than on our own sense of our mental, emotional, and physiological states has far-reaching consequences.”

The author writes, “Our sense of place in the world is similarly impacted. At the core of our consciousness, we no longer truly need to know where we are, as long as we have a device and an internet connection. Directed by our GPS and Google Maps, we go directly from where we are to where we want to go without having to think or wonder. We visit a new part of town or a new state altogether, but have no sense of our larger environs. We don’t notice the landscape because we’re busy following our turn-by-turn directions. We don’t interact with the ‘natives’ of these places, and we find our favorite ‘local’ chain restaurants and stores in every place we visit, so we can frequent the familiar rather than brave the unknown. We rarely stop to attend to what it feels like to be an embodied person in a new space, and we don’t travel consciously into new spaces. Instead we move through them, looking down at our phones the entire time. When do look up, we snap photos on our phones, relieving our minds from the need to hold the memories.”

There is such a thing as “self-knowing awareness.” If we have developed the ability to scan our physical bodies—paying attention to what our sensory awareness can tell us about what we need and prefer in the way of stimulation, testing, learning, and more, then we can trust our own internal “gut” to inform us how to live most healthfully. However, if we have relied in such a way that a bulk of our stimulation, smoothing, learning, and information gathering has come from outside our body, we will feel bereft of knowledge regarding how to live in healthful ways in and out of ourselves. This requires the kind of living we have actively and passively practiced. To inventory and assess what our body might want or need, however, required a practice pattern of checking with ourselves, often in quiet and stilled ways. When we outsource this process to external devices, we miss out on the opportunity to know ourselves deeply and to practice self-regulation.

There is also good reason to be concerned with both the accuracy and validity of these devices. Analysis of clinical sleep studies done at the same time as sleep monitoring with fitness trackers reveals a great degree of variance in the accuracy of sleep assessment via wearable devices. Sleep is a complex activity with various stages and cycles. While movement is one indicator of depth of sleep stage, many other variables contribute to its nature and quality. Unfortunately, with growing frequency, wearers of tracking technologies are relying heavily on nightly generated data to evaluate the quantity and quality of their sleep, and to make adjustments based on the data. Instead of waking and taking time to consider how we feel and how long we slept, we are making assumptions based on data that may not be reliable. The author concludes, ”while the tracking is not, in and of itself, bad or negative, if it is used outside of self-assessment or real-time monitoring of actual experienced levels of tiredness or restfulness, we forgo a strong and developed sense of really knowing ourselves. Consider, for example, research reported in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Subjects were found to make inferences based upon fitness tracker data that caused them to self-diagnose sleep disturbances that wee not clinically founded. In other words, our relying on data can sometimes get us in trouble!”

Overreliance on Technology

November 3, 2019

This is the second post based on the book by doreen dodgen-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World.” Dr. dodgen-magee writes of physicians during their residencies having to be with a patient while at the same time fulfilling the medical system’s need for a thorough and hyper-timely digital record for each appointment. The residents say that computers—installed in such a way as to hover almost directly between the physician and the patient—felt like a constant, tangible presence in the room that demanded the kind of attention that had previously been dedicated solely to the patient. Although providing access to increased helpful data, they also impacted the fulness of the personal encounter. The author concludes, “When a digital device is engaged during an embodied human encounter, what is each party’s relationship to the device, and how its the intimacy of the encounter affected? If it is affected, what are we doing to address or control for this? The reality into which we are evolving in many settings is one wherein determining how to handle the potentially disruptive powers of technology is a complex and ever-moving task, often largely outside our personal control.

The author writes about a dynamic at play with technology. We use it a little bit and find it to be “tasty” in ways our embodied lives aren’t. We begin using it to save time here and there and suddenly we’re investing the moments we’ve saved back into our technology engagement. Getting comfortable with their use, we think that more use might offer us increasing amounts of free time, social connection, learning, and entertainment. Before we know it we are spending large amounts of our lives in digital spaces. Instead of being a side dish or accompaniment to our embodied life they have taken center stage. Although engagement with technology has the capacity to result in increases in creativity, collaboration, socialization, visual reaction time, and visual spatial awareness, there is plenty of potential for less than ideal consequences as well. Disruptions to our physical bodies as well as to our inter-and interpersonal lives are well documented.

She writes that throughout our lifespan, we move across a developmental continuum. We are faced with experiences and opportunities the move us forward, push us backward, or interrupt our journey. Both “positive” (mastering the ability to functions as an autonomous self, committing to relationships with both people and communities, finding one’s passion) and “negative” (significant loss or rejection, failures, discovery of limitations) life events hold opportunities for forward or reverse movement. Usually, we move in adaptive ways, making steps forward and backward and rolling with the challenges and obstacles.

The author includes a chart titled “Potential Disrupter + Character/Personality/Developmental Milestones Reached to this point = Either:
*Confrontation of the disrupter/working through, allowing for forward movement
*Mindlessness in light of the disrupter, causing a sort of spinning of the wheels
*Fight/flight/freeze causing a developmental arrest

The author, who remember is a clinical psychologist, writes, “The constant presence of digital devices introduces a third party into human relationships with our most basic selves and the “selves” of others.

The author concludes this chapter as follows:
“If the goal of living is to continually grow and mature, we must take a long look at our own development and how it is helped or hindered, The very core of ourselves to engage. Our minds, guts, and bodies are shaped by the narrow or broad realities to which we expose them. More than ever, we must do this work with the intention and by our act of will, or our trajectory will be narrow or limited. To avoid complacency, work through developmental arrests, and become healthy and whole, we must examine the nature of our journey, the ways in which we invest ourselves and our time, and the disrupters that influence both.

Remember that this author is a clinical psychologist. If you were in counseling or therapy, this is likely the manner in which she would explain the problem to you.

DEVICED!

November 2, 2019

This post is the first in a series of posts based on the book by doreen dodgen-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World.” More properly she is Dr. doreen dodgen-magee. She has a PsyD. and is a psychologist with a private practice in Portland, Oregon. The first part of the book is titled “How Devices are Impacting Us.” Dr. dodgen-magee begins, “In the recent past, the acronym ‘IRL’ has come to stand for the phrase ‘in real life.’ It refers to a person’s non-digitally based, fully analog, three dimensional, in-one’s own-and-actual self.’ Although the acronym isn’t that old, I think it’s time for retirement.” The reason being that the reality is that our digital and embodied lives come together to create one real, whole life—a real life that includes both. Friends exist in both embodied and digital spaces; they indulge our clans, classmates, and support groups—even though we may never meet in what used to be called our ‘real lives.’ She writes, “We buy physical items in virtual shops, we learn important lessons and gain actual skills in digital spaces, and we carry in our pockets virtual assistants that often know us better than our embodied friends; when these assistants fail, we feel real frustration. All of life, included that lived in the digital domain, is real.

Technology provides the ambient background noise of everyday life. For most people, regardless of personal choice, technology has come to create an ambient background noise that is inescapable, or escapable only with great effort. By using technology we are investing a part of our physical lives in digital spaces and making it such that, regardless of within which one an action happens, all our experiences are part of our “real lives.”

Dr. dodgen-magee writes, “I frequently think of the psychological concept of ‘leaking,’ when I consider these realities. Leaking, as I use it here, involves syphoning off just enough internal psychic pressure to make us comfortable staying exactly where we are instead of moving toward newness and growth.”

The goal of the tech industry in most things digital is to offer us both convenience and comfort. In optimal doses they help us and allow us to be productive, content, and available to life. However, if we exist in exclusively convenient and comfortable spaces, we lose appropriate motivation to undertake the kinds of risks and experiences that keep us growing and maturing. Too much of convenience and comfort cause us to lose our edge. We stop feeling the nudge to persist and engage meaningfully. We begin to feel entitled and bored in the worst ways, pursuing hedonistic and narcissistic pleasure and validation. But when these conveniences are engaged to allow ourselves time to pursue experiences that will help us grow, benefit person-kind, and expand our horizons, this is good. We need to find the fine-line balance where we feel convenience and comfortable enough without becoming too much so.

So that is the objective of this book to find the balance between life and technology in a digital world.

This blog will resume shortly after it returns from a cruise

October 26, 2019

The Problem with Some Religions

October 24, 2019

The preceding post raised the question as to why some Christians are not following the teachings of Christ. For if they were, Trump would not be president, there would be much less hatred and animosity, and the needs of all citizens, especially health care, would be addressed. The answer is that some Christian churches ignore many of the teachings of Christ and pander their messages to keep their parishioners happy.

HM remembers receiving a solicitation from one of his mother’s Christian charities that was soliciting contributions to support the contention that the United States is a Christian country. Now any competent historian and any well read citizen will know that our founders were strict about guaranteeing religious freedom to all and not adopting any religion. They did not want to repeat the mistakes made in Europe.

So here we have a charity claiming to be Christian breaking one of the ten commandments, lying or bearing false witness. Such hypocrisy! That’s when HM realized that these so called churches were, in truth, businesses. And religion is a good business, indeed. They are tax free. They collect money from their parishioners from whom they also garner political power as they instruct their people how to vote.

Being a true Christian is hard work and is personally challenging. But rather than reminding their followers of Christ’s teaching, these churches take another role. They develop political policies that are contrary to Christ’s teachings and that also endanger American freedoms. They become a moral police for the country, somewhat analogous to what occurs in Saudi Arabia. So they work to make what they regard as improper sexual practices illegal. They work to make abortion illegal, not realizing that forcing a woman to bring a child into the world who is unloved and cannot be supported puts that child in jeopardy. This ignores the fact that biological life should be irrelevant, that it is the soul that is immortal. There is no reason to assume that killing a fetus would also endanger the soul. HM believes that a merciful God would want a prospective mother to be ready and able to be a loving mother, and if she were not, an abortion could be in order.

Moreover, at the time of Christ both abortion and homosexuality were practiced and Christ never mentioned these as problems. It is the gospels of Christ that should be of primary concern to Christians. HM has never bought the justifications for the Old Testament being included in the Christian bible, and he still has reservations about some parts of the New Testament. And he is furious that there are other gospels of Christ that have not been widely disseminated.

So rather than doing the actual difficult work of Christ, these churches give their parishioners the role of being the country’s moral police. They forget that the United States is supposed to be a free country. That is, people can do anything they want as long as it does not do harm to others. Working to make abortions, sexual practices that do not harm others, and other activities that some regard as unacceptable is un-American. Such people are not only un-American, they are hypocritical Christians, who prefer having a feeling of moral superiority to doing the hard work of Christ.

Christ in Crisis

October 23, 2019

The title of this post is the title of an extremely important and relevant book by Jim Wallis. The subtitle is “Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus.” All who are interested in Christianity will find this book enlightening. People who claim to be Christians but who support Donald Trump need to read this book.

Many people wonder how someone can claim to be a Christian yet still support Donald Trump, who is evil incarnate. This issue will be addressed in two posts. This post focuses on Jim Wallis’s outstanding book. Wallis writes, “If we are truly followers of Jesus, then our identity as Jesus followers is first before any other identity—racial, ethnic, cultural, national, class, or gender. It means belonging to his “body,” a beloved multiracial and international community—with everything else put down the line. It means that “America First, or any other arrogated version of the phrase, is literally a heresy. For example, when the operative in the phrase “white Christian” is “white” instead of “Christian,” the gospel message of Jesus Christ that reconciles us to God and to each other is in great jeopardy.”

Virtually Trump’s entire message is based on lies. During his first 993 days he made 13,435 misleading claims. That’s an average of 13.53 false or misleading claims a day.
His presidential campaign was based on illegal immigrants entering the country to sell drugs and other illegal crimes. He led people to believe that they were not safe. He has continued his message justifying his pledge to build a wall. Even if there were a true problem here, a wall is an ineffective way of addressing it.

The vast majority of these illegal immigrants are coming to this country either to avoid violence in their homeland, or to earn a living and a better life for themselves and their families. Trump has addressed this problem by separating children from their families and placing them in cages with inadequate food and blankets.

The true solution to the illegal immigrant problem is to hold the people and companies hiring these poor people responsible. Heavy fines and imprisonment of these employers would resolve this problem. Trump himself is one of these employers. He prefers to hire illegals because he can underpay and exploit them. So Trump himself is one of those causing this problem.

Jesus ministered to the sick and those regarded as undesirable. The Parable of the Good Samaritan epitomizes this.

The problems in the United States cannot be addressed by charities alone. It needs to be understood that budgets are moral documents in that many of these problems need to be addressed through budgets by the government. A good example is health insurance. Many previous healthy memory posts have stated that every advanced county besides the United States has government provided health insurance. The health statistics in these countries are quite good and much better than those of the United States. Moreover, medical costs in these countries are much less in the United States. The United States has pulled off the astonishing feat of having the largest medical expenditures with the health results of a third rate country. Moreover, many of the religious followers of Trump would regard these foreigners in contempt as being secular humanists. Here the irony is that these secular humanists are better at Christian practices that these people who regard themselves as Christians.

If only Americans followed the teachings of Christ we would live in a much better country. Not only would health statistics be better, but our interpersonal relations would be governed by caring for one another.

Many believe in the following paragraph:

We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe that the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake. This paragraph is taken from The “Reclaiming Jesus” Declaration which can be found at http://reclaimingjesus.org/. Readers are encourage to read and reflect upon this declaration.

Healthy Memory’s Response to Deep Work

October 22, 2019

And that response is disappointment. The first problem is with the title, Deep Work. Deep Processing, or Deep Thinking would have been both more appealing and more accurate.

Professor Newport uses the word “Work” because work can lead to both professional success and many dollars. This is especially disappointing because he is a university professor, but a book focusing on professional and monetary success is more likely to sell books. Many factors affect both professional and financial success, so deep work cannot guarantee success.

However, in the context of a healthy memory deep processing leads to both a healthy memory and a fulfilling life. Deep processing involves sustained System 2 processing and even higher. It fosters growth mindsets, which lead to personal fulfillment and a healthy mind.

Moreover, deep processing is the best activity to engage to drastically decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Previous posts have explained how many have died with the defining features of Alzheimer’s, the neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque, without ever being aware of their having Alzheimer’s because they never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Deep processing, along with a healthy lifestyle, not only makes for a healthy memory, but along with growth mindsets provides the route to a fulfilling life.

© 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 conte

Drain the Shallows

October 22, 2019

This is the ninth post in a series of posts on a book by Cal Newport titled “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” The fourth rule can best be captured by the following tip: Become Hard to Reach.

As for emails.

Make people who send you e-mail do more work. Have them elaborate on their request or refer them to another source.

Don’t respond. Newport provides the following examples
*It’s ambiguous or otherwise makes it hard for you to generate a reasonable response.
*It’s not a question or proposal that interests you.
*Nothing really good would happen if you did respond and nothing really bad would happen if you didn’t.

So it’s quite simple, and this is why this post is so brief.

Quit Social Media

October 21, 2019

This is the eighth post in a series of posts on book by Cal Newport titled “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” His third rule is Quit Social Media. The reason for this should be obvious by now. Social media rob people of their valuable attentional resources and increase the difficulty of trying to focus, and effectively preclude deep thinking.

Abruptly quitting social media might offend some friends and acquaintances. So it is wise to inform them you are quitting and provide your reasons for doing so.

One reason would be “The Any Benefit Approach to Network Tool Selection.” This states that you are justified in using a network tool if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything you might possibly miss out on if you don’t use it.

You replace this with “The Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection: Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.

Replace the superficial friends on social networks with close and rewarding friendships with a group of people who are important to you
Regularly take the time for meaningful connection with those who are most important to you (a long talk, a meal, joint activity).
Give of yourself to those who are most important to you (making nontrivial sacrifices that improve their lives).

When you quit, explain your reasons for quitting. Some might find your reasons compelling, In this case propose a support group for quitting. Ironically, it might be impossible to do this without technology, but if possible, try do to so.

Embrace Boredom

October 21, 2019

This is the seventh post in a series of posts on a book by Cal Newport titled “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” His second rule, which is perhaps surprising, is to embrace boredom. He writes “Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.

Clifford Nass, the late Stanford communications professor conducted research revealing that constant attention switching online has a lasting negative effect on the brain. Here is Nass summarizing these findings. “So we have scales that allow us to divide up people into people who multitask all the time and people who rarely do, and the differences are remarkable. People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage working memory. They’re chronically distracted. The use much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to to the task at hand…they’re pretty much mental wrecks.”

When asked whether the chronically distracted recognize the rewiring of their brain, Nass responded, “The people we talk with continually said, ‘look, when I really have to concentrate, I turn off everything and I am laser focused.’ And, unfortunately, they’ve developed habits of mind that make it impossible for them to be laser-focused. They’re suckers for irrelevancy. They just can’t keep on task.”

Author Newport advises, don’t take breaks from distraction, instead take breaks from focus. He continues, if you’ve scheduled your next Internet break thirty minutes from the current moment, and you’re beginning to feel bored and crave distraction, the next thirty minutes of resistance becomes a session of concentration calisthenics. A full day of scheduled distraction becomes a full day of mental training. Scheduling Internet use at home can further improve your concentration training.

And don’t forget meditation. Newport calls productive meditation in which you’re occupied physically but not mentally—walking, jogging, driving, showering, and focusing one’s attention on a single well-defined problem. One must continue to bring your attention back to the problem at hand when it wanders or stalls. The healthymemory blog has many posts on meditation. Use the search block at
healthymemory.wordpress.com and enter “meditation” and the “relaxation response” to find relevant posts.

Newport also recommends mnemonic techniques. The healthy memory blog has a whole category of posts on mnemonic techniques. The category can be found at
the URL previously listed.

There is also an interesting post about memory competitions titled “Moonwalking with Einstein” which can be found by entering this title into the search block.

Work Deeply

October 20, 2019

This is the sixth post in a series of posts on book by Cal Newport titled “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” It is not surprising that the first rule is to work deeply. He writes that you need your own philosophy for integrating deep work into your professional life. Newport feels strongly that attempting to schedule deep work in an ad hoc fashion is not an effective way to manage your limited willpower. He warns us to be careful to choose a philosophy that fits one’s specific circumstances, since a mismatch here can derail one’s deep work habit before it has a chance to solidify. He presents four different depth philosophies he’s seen work exceptionally well in practice for our consideration.

One is the monastic philosophy of deep work scheduling. This philosophy attempts to maximize depth efforts by eliminating radically minimizing shallow obligations. Practitioners of the monastic philosophy tend to have well-defined and highly valued professional goals that they’re pursuing, and the bulk of their professional success comes from doing this one thing exceptionally well. This clarity helps them eliminate the thicket of shallow concerns that tend to trip up the whose value proposition in the working world is more varied. Science fiction writer Neal Stepheson who follows this philosophy summarizes his communication policy as follows: Persons who wish to interfere with my concentration are politely requested not to do so, and warned that I don’t answer e-mail…lest [my communication policy’s] key message gets lost in the verbiage, I will put it here succinctly. All of my time and attention are spoken for—-several times over. Please do not ask for them.

To justify this philosophy, Stephenson wrote an essay titled “Why I am a Bad Correspondent.” At the core of his explanation for his inaccessibility is the following decision: The productivity equation is a non-linear one, in other words. This accounts for why I am a bad correspondent and why I very rarely accept speaking engagements. If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time -chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly.

Author Newport writes regarding this philosophy, “…the pool of individuals to whom the monastic philosophy applies is limited—and that’s okay. If you’re outside this pool, its radical simplicity shouldn’t evince too much envy. On the other hand, if you’re inside this pool—someone whose contribution to the world is discrete, clear,and individualized”—-then you should give this philosophy serious consideration, as it might be the deciding factor between an average career and one that will be remembered.

It is useful to ritualize practices for deep work. Consider the following:
*Where you’ll work and for how long.
*How you’ll work once you start to work.
*How you’ll support your work. Your ritual should ensure your brain gets the support it needs to keep operating at a high level of depth. For example, the ritual might specify that you start with a cup of good coffee, or make sure you have access to enough food of the right type to maintain energy, and integrate light exercise such as walking to keep the mind clear.

Keep in mind the importance of downtime.
Downtime aids insights
Downtime helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply

Ericsson’s paper, “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance reviewed research about an individual’s capacity for cognitive demanding work. For a novice, somewhere around an hour a day of intense concentration seems to be a limit. For experts this number can expand to as many as four hours, but rarely more.

A Neurological Argument for Depth

October 19, 2019

This is the fifth post in a series of posts on book by Cal Newport titled “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in this book. The science writer Winfred Gallagher stumbled onto a connection between attention and happiness after an unexpected and terrifying event. The event was a cancer diagnosis and Gallagher noted, “not just cancer, but a particularly nasty, fairly advanced kind.” In her book “Rapt” (there are many healthy memory blog posts on this book and on this topic) she recalls as she walked away from the hospital after the diagnosis she formed a sudden and strong intuition: “This disease wanted to monopolize my attention, but as much as possible, I would focus on my life instead.” She focused on what was good in her life, “movies, walks, and a 6:30 martini” and it worked surprisingly well. Instead of being mired in fear and pity during this period, she was instead often quite pleasant.

After five years of science reporting she came away convinced that she was witness to a “grand unified theory” of the mind:

“Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse disciplines from anthropology to education, behavioral economics, and family counseling similarly suggest that the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.”

Newport writes, “This concept upends the way most people think about their subjective experience of life. We tend to place a lot of emphasis on our circumstances, assuming that what happens to us (or fails to happen) determines how we feel. From this perspective, the small-scale details of how you spend your day aren’t that important, because what matters are the large-scale outcomes, such as whether or not you get a promotion or move to that nicer apartment. According to Gallagher, decades of research contradict this misunderstanding. Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to. If you focus on a cancer diagnosis, you and your life become unhappy and dark, but if you focus instead on an evening martini, you and your life become more pleasant—even though the circumstances in both scenarios are the same. As Gallagher summarizes: “What you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.’”

Research has shown that the elderly tend to be happier than their younger brethren. This seems paradoxical as the elderly are closer to their final exit; But Stanford psychologist Laura Carstensen used an FMRI scanner to study the brain behavior of participants presented with both positive and negative imagery. She found that for young people, their amygdala, important for emotion, fired with activity at both types of imagery. But when she scanned the elderly, the amygdala fired only for the positive images. Carstensen conjectured that the elderly participants had trained their prefrontal cortex to inhibit the amygdala in the presence of negative stimuli. So these elderly participants were not happier because their life circumstances were better than those of the young subjects; instead they were happier because they had rewired their brains to ignore the negative and savor the positive. By skillfully managing their attention, they improved their world without changing anything concrete about it.

Author Newport picks up on Gallanger’s grand theory. “This theory states that your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to, so consider for a moment the type of mental world constructed when you dedicate significant time to deep endeavors. There’s a gravity and sense of importance inherent in deep work.” Gallagher’s theory predicts that if you spend enough time in this state, your mind will understand your world as rich in meaning and importance. Newport adds a hidden but equally important benefit to cultivating rapt attention. Such concentration hijacks your attention apparatus, preventing you from noticing the many smaller and less pleasant things that unavoidably and persistently populate our lives.

Bad for Business, Good for You

October 18, 2019

This is the fourth post in a series of posts on book by Cal Newport titled “Deep Work:  Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.”  The title of this section is identical to the title of a section in “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World” by Cal Newport. He writes that deep work should be a priority in today’s business climate. And here are the reasons for this paradox: deep work is hard and shallow work is easier, in the absence of clear goals for your job, the visible busyness that surrounds shallow work becomes self-preserving, and that our culture has developed a belief that if a behavior is related to “the Internet,” then it’s good-regardless of its impact on our ability to produce valuable things. All of these trends are enabled by the difficulty of directly measuring the value of depth or the cost of ignoring it.

Newport continues, “If you believe in the value of depth, this reality spells bad new for business in general, as it’s leading them to miss out on potentially massive increases in value production. But for you, as an individual, good news lurks. The myopia of your peers and employees uncovers a great personal advantage. Assuming the trends outlined here continue, depth will become increasingly rare and therefore increasingly valuable. Having just established that there’s noting fundamentally flawed about deep work and nothing fundamentally necessary about the distracting behaviors that displace it, you can therefore continue with confidence with the ultimate goal of this book: to systematically develop your personal ability to go deep—and by doing so, reap great rewards.”

The problem here is whether your employers will allow your to go deep. A subsequent post will provide some tips for coping with your employer. But regardless of your job going deep leads to a healthy memory. It involves heavy amounts of System 2 processing. This builds a cognitive reserve that greatly reduces the problem of suffering the behavioral or cognitive indications of Alzheimer’s or dementia. It should also lead you to a more satisfying personal life.

Obstacles to Deep Thinking

October 17, 2019

This is the third post in a series of posts on book by Cal Newport titled “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” There is a curse called the culture of connectivity in both our work and so-called leisure worlds. This culture of connectivity is where one is expected to read and respond to e-mails (and related communications) quickly. One’s workplace plays a role in this expectation, but in one’s personal life, this expectation is self-imposed.

In the business setting the principle of least resistance is without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend to reward behaviors that are easiest in the moment.

Unfortunately, this principle can also apply in our personal life. Rather than pursuing an activity that is self-enhancing, there is a strong temptation to do something easier, like answering emails or participating in social media.

It is also possible, in both our work and personal lives, to mistake busyness as a proxy for productivity.

This is how Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman explained what work habits a professor adopts or abandons: “To do real good physics work, you do need absolute solid lengths of time…it needs a lot of concentration…if you have a job administering anything, you don’t have the time. So I have invented another myth for myself: that I’m irresponsible. I’m actively irresponsible. I tell everyone I don’t do anything. If anyone asks me to be on a committee for admissions, “no,” I tell them. I’m irresponsible.

The author, Newport, writes, “many knowledge workers want to prove that they’re a productive member of the team and are earning their keep, but they’re not entirely clear what this goal constitutes….many seem to be turning back to the last time when productivity was more universally observable: the industrial age.”

Newport writes, “In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity : doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.” In other words, they are using busyness as a proxy for productivity.

Newport writes about the warning provided by the late communications theorist at New York University Neil Postman. In the early 1990s, as the personal computer revolution first accelerated, Postman argued that our society was sliding into a troubling relationship with technology. He noted that we were no longer discussing the trade-offs surrounding new technologies, balancing the new efficiency against the new problems introduced. If it’s high tech, we begin to instead assume, then it’s good. Case closed.

Postman’s argument has appeared in prior HM posts. His argument is greatly amplified with the explosion in technology that has occurred. People want to get the latest smartphone because it is the latest, without considering whether the new functionality will be worthwhile. Social media is aggressively engaged without considering what the actual value in being liked is worth the time being invested. True friends require time and commitment. Are superficial “likes” worth the lost of true friends?

Evgeny Morozov in his book “To Save Everything, Click Here” writes, “It’s this propensity to view ‘the internet’ as a source of wisdom and policy advice that transforms it from a fairly uninteresting set of cables and network routers into a seductive and exciting ideology—perhaps today’s uber-ideology.” In his critique, we’ve made “the internet” synonymous with the revolutionary future of business and government. To make your company more like “the Internet” is to be with the times, and to ignore these trends is to be the proverbial buggy-whip maker in an automative age. We no longer see Internet tools as products released by for-profit companies, funded by investors hoping to make a return, and run by twenty somethings who are often making things up as they go along. Instead we’re quick to idolize these digital doodads as a signifier of progress and a harbinger of (dare I say it) a brave new world.

Understand that HM is not denigrating the new technology. Many of the posts under the category of Transactive Memory (go to healthymemory.wordpress.com to find it) express the tremendous potential the technology offers for cognitive growth and for collaboration among our fellow humans. Unfortunately, it appears that this potential has in large part been hijacked and used to nefarious ends.

© 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.

Learning How to Think and Process is Deeply

October 16, 2019

This post is the second in a series of posts on a book by Cal Newport. The title of this book is “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” “Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attention; let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea,: is advice from Antonin-Dalmace Sertillanges, a Dominican friar and professor of moral philosophy. He argues that to advance your understanding of your field you must tackle the relevant topics systematically, allowing your “converging rays of attention” to uncover the truth latent in each. In other words, “To learn requires intense concentration.”

In the early 1990s, a psychologist K. Anders Ericsson conducted research on the difference between expert performers and normal adults. He denied that the difference in the two groups was immutable. He argued, with data to support him, that the differences between expert performance and normal adults was the result of a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.

So what does deliberate practice actually require. Its core components follow:
your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to master;
you receive feedback so you can correct your approach, to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.
So deliberate attention cannot exist alongside distraction; instead it requires uninterrupted concentration.

Ericsson emphasizes, “Diffused attention is almost antithetical to the focused attention required by deliberate practice.”

Since Ericsson’s first major papers on this topic, neuroscientists have been researching the physical mechanisms. These researchers believe that part of the answer includes myelin—a layer of fatty tissue that grows around neurons. The myelin acts like an insulator that allows the cells to fire faster and cleaner. Keep, in mind that skills, be they intellectual or physical, eventually reduce down to brain circuits.

Of course, more than myelin is involved, especially for cognitive tasks. In additional to strengthening brain circuits, learning involves establishing new brain circuits. Learning new information and cogitating about this information establishes an increasingly new number of brain circuits.

Concentration is focused. Say you are trying to learn a new skill such as SQL database management. In a state of low concentration or while you are doing any additional tasks, you’re firing too many circuits simultaneously and haphazardly to isolate the group of neurons you actually want to strengthen. To learn things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction.

The following formula law of productivity has been offered:
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

HM again stresses that this formula is not restricted to work. It is good for any type of physical or cognitive enhancement. It applies also to hobbies and recreational activities. Perhaps it is unfortunate that it is defined in terms of work, as work itself can become more palatable or enjoyable if is not regarded as work, but rather as furthering a worthwhile goal, hobby, or intellectual achievement.

© 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.

Deep Work

October 15, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Cal Newport. The subtitle is “Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.’” There have been many previous HM posts on the distracted world in which we live and how this distraction is extremely harmful. This book provides strategies for coping effectively with this distracted world. Here is the definition of Deep Work provided by the author: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

HM finds this definition and the book title to be inadequate. What is being addressed is deep cognitive processing. So although work is important, it would be a mistake to restrict this activity to work. A better definition for the activity is deep cognitive processing. It is important also to engage in deep processing that is not restricted to work. Indeed one of the important activities encouraged in this blog is to have growth mindsets and growth mindsets need to include deep cognitive processing. It is likely that the book wanted to aim at professional development and restricts its recommendation and guidance to professional work.

In contrast to Deep Work, the definition for Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Here is a definition of Shallow Free Activities: Activities that are not cognitively challenging and do not result in cognitive growth.

It should be understood that there is a need for shallow free activities as it would be cognitively exhausting, indeed impossible, to always engage in cognitively challenging activities. These cognitively challenging activities are critical for a health memory and involve the engagement of System 2 processing, more commonly known as thinking and reasoning as opposed to daydreaming and System 1 processing. Note that most activity on social networks is not cognitively challenging and primarily involves System 1 processing.

The author offers this Deep Working Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it a core of their working life, will thrive.

HM heartily endorses this hypothesis, but he also contends that engaging in cognitively challenging activities also leads to healthy memories. Moreover, there should be transfer between work related challenging cognitive activities and leisure time challenging activities. So leisure activities can be beneficial to the effectiveness of one’s professional work.

The author ends his introduction to his book with the statement: A deep life is a good life.

© 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.

Adaptive Genius

October 14, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. Ted Anderson in his book Biology of the Ubiquitous House Sparrow writes that the sparrow came into its own as a species only since the advent of agriculture in the Middle East, approximately ten thousand yeas ago. Other theories place its origin yet earlier. In any case, so highly skilled has the house sparrow become at adapting to any environment occupied by humans that it has been called the ultimate opportunist, our avian shadow.

The first sixteen sparrows are said to have been introduced to Brooklyn in 1851 to control a plague of moths may not have taken immediately to the New World, but another bigger shipment imported from England the following year did, and in big way. The birds did get some help from individuals and naturalization societies ban on populating their gardens and parks with plants and animals from the Old World, which accelerated their expansion. Ms. Ackerman writes, “the success of their spread is staggering.” She continues, “The transplants found a land much to their liking, rich in grain and horse droppings. They multiplied and dispersed rapidly, spilling into farming districts, where they exploited every source they could find—grains, small fruits, and succulent garden plants, such as young peas, turnips, cabbage, apples, peaches, plums, pears, and strawberries. Soon they were considered a serious pest. In 1889, just a few decades after the house sparrow’s introduction sparrow clubs were formed with the sole objective of destroying the birds, and county and state officials were offering two cents a head for each sparrow killed.

Before long, the birds had spread across the United States and Canada, adapting to environments as extreme as Death Valley, California at 280 feet below sea level, and the Colorado Rockies at more than10,000 feet above sea level. They moved southward into Mexico through Central and South America as far as Tierra del Fuego, and along the Trans-Amazonial Highway deep into the rainforests of Brazil. In Europe, Africa, and Asia, they dispersed to northern Finland, the Arctic, South Africa, and clear across Siberia.”

The house sparrow is the world’s most widely distributed wild bird, with a global breeding population of about 540 million. It’s on every continent except Antarctica and on islands everywhere, from Cuba and the West Indies to the Hawaiian Islands, the Azores, Cape Verde and New Caledonia.

So what accounts for the success of the House Sparrow? Daniel Sol and Louis Lefebvre decided to see if brain size and intelligence might have anything to do with its success. When they studied the characteristics of the nineteen introduced species that “took” and those that failed to establish, two pronounced differences emerged, The more successful invaders have larger brains. They also had more innovative, flexible behavior of the kind Lefebvre documented in his avian IQ scale.

The pattern held when Sol later looked at 428 bird species that invaded areas around the world. Successful colonizers were brainy and inventive. Well represented among the intruders were the corvids; the house crow in Africa, Singapore, and the Arabian Peninsula; the jungle crow in Japan; the common raven in the American Southwest. All are big brained and considered pests in the regions they have invaded.

According to Ms. Ackerman here is a recipe for the house sparrow’s success:
*A taste for novelty
*A pinch of the innovative
*A dash of daring
*And, perhaps, a penchant for hanging out in mixed gangs

One wonders whether these traits will help the house sparrow cope with global warming. The 2014 Christmas Bird Count in Seattle totaled just 225 house sparrows within the city limits. Freeman says, “That’s the lowest total ever, and one piece of evidence that house sparrows may be declining. Around the globe, the bird is experiencing rapid and massive declines—in North America, Australia, and India, but especially in some towns and cities across Europe.

According to Vladimir Pravosudov, if the weather is warmer, winter will provide less selection pressure, so the birds may lose their edge, in both hippocampus size and intelligence. “If maintaining better memory has costs,” he argues, “smarter” birds will be at a disadvantage. Also, these populations will be quickly invaded by more southern, not-so-smart birds, which will lead to overall reduction in cognitive ability.”

A Mapping Mind

October 13, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds”, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. The Arctic tern, a bird who lives by his love of long daylight and bent for high mileage, circles the world in orbit with the seasons. It flies from its nesting grounds in Greenland and Iceland to its wintering grounds off the coast of Antartica. This is a round-trip of almost 44 thousand miles. So in an average 30 year lifetime a tern may fly the equivalent of 3 trips to the moon and back.

Pigeons are famous for their ability to navigate. Homing pigeons can be taken far distances from their homes and still find their way back. Indeed there are competitions among pigeons, or rather pigeon owners, to see how quickly and well their birds manage to return.

In a variety of areas, nest building for example, pigeons do not do well and may even appear dim-witted. But they are handy with numbers, capable not only of counting but also of grasping the arithmetic loss and gain and learning abstract rules about number, abilities Ms. Ackerman notes, on a par with primates. They can put images picturing to nine objects in proper order from lowest to highest number. They can also determine relative probability.

Pigeons are better than most people—and even better than some mathematicians—at solving certain statistical problems. One example is their ability to solve the Monty Hall Dilemma. Monty was the host of the televised game show Let’s Make a Deal. In the show a contestant would be asked to guess which of three doors concealed a grand prize, such as a car. The other two doors harbored a booby prize, such as a goat. After the player chose a door, one of the remaining doors was opened, revealing no prize. The contestants are then given the option of staying with the initial choice or switching to the other unopened door. The correct choice here is to switch. This very point has been argued among statisticians, but switching the choice doubles the chances of winning. An explanation of why this is so can be found online, as well as simulations that will demonstrate that this is so. Just enter Monty Hall Dilemma into the search box of your browser. Better yet, go to the Wikipedia.

During both world wars, pigeons were used for the quick conveyance of intelligence. Pigeons were suited up with ciphered papers and sent across enemy lines to relay news of troop movements or to communicate with resistance workers in occupied countries. At its peak in WW II, the U.S. Pigeon service possessed 54,000 birds. The most celebrated of these messengers was called G.I. Joe. Dispatched by the British to abort a scheduled bombing of a German-held town because a brigade of a thousand or more British troops was already occupying it, Joe made the 20 mile flight in 20 minutes, halting the bombers just as they were warming up for takeoff. Jungle Joe, a gallant four-month old bronze cock flew 225 miles against strong wind currents and over some of the highest mountains in Asia to deliver a message that led to the capture of large parts of Burma by Allied troops.

Officials in Cuba still use birds to transmit election results from remote mountainous areas, and the Chinese have recently built a force of 10,000 messenger pigeons to deliver military communications between troops stationed along their borders, in case of “electromagnetic interference or a collapse in our signals,” as explained by the officer in charge of the pigeon army.

In the 1940 the psychologist Edward proposed that mammals might possess a “cognitive map” of their spatial environment. Humans, being mammals, are also included here. Birds can also be included as it is clear that they are using a complex of cues, some of which we can imagine with the addition of electromagnetic fields to accomplish astonishing feats of navigation.

What structure in a bird brain could be critical to navigation? The same one that humans use, the hippocampus. This has been discussed in previous healthy memory blog posts including the anatomist John O’Keefe who won the 2014 Nobel Prized for demonstrating how this structure is used to navigate.

Not surprisingly, homing pigeons have a heftier hippocampus than other pigeon strains bred for their fancy features, such as fantails, pouters,, and strafers. This hippocampus prowess is not genetic, it is developed through learning. This has also been confirmed in humans with studies done of London cab drivers with The Knowledge, the memorization of all streets and notable places in London.

Aesthetic Aptitude

October 12, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds”, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. When early European naturalists found beautiful creations deep in the Australian forest they thought they had stumbled on fanciful dollhouses made by aboriginal children or their mothers. Actually these artistic creations where the product of birds designing their homes and enhancing their beauty with artistic creations.

Birds are visual creatures. They make quick decisions based on visual information from heights at great speed. Pigeons shown a series of landscape photographs taken successively can detect slight visual differences that are hard for humans to pick up. They can also recognize other pigeons by sight alone. So can chickens. Just because the powerful small central nervous systems of these birds are organized very differently from our own does not mean that they are less capable of exceptional visual perception and fine discriminations.

Shigeru Watanabe of Keio Univereity in Japan studies how other creatures may experience aesthetics. He has tested the ability of birds to discriminate between human paintings of different styles. For example, the ability to discriminate cubist paintings from impressionistic paintings. In an early study he trained eight pigeons to distinguish between the works of Picasso and Monet. The pigeons came from the Japanese Society for Racing Pigeons. The paintings came from reproductions in an art book. The experimenters trained the pigeons to spot ten different Picassos and ten different Monets by rewarding them when they correctly pecked at the pictures. Then they tested the birds with new paintings by the artists, never seen during training as well as paintings by different artists in the same style. Not only could the pigeons pick out a new Monet or Picasso, they could also tell other impressionists (Renoir, for example) from other cubists (such as Braque).

Vocal Virtuosity

October 11, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds”, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. The vocal virtuosity of birds is evident. What was only discovered fairly recently was special organ birds have that enables this virtuosity. This unique instrument is called a syrinx. It took a long time for scientists to learn its details because the syrinx is buried in the bird’s chest, where the trachea splits in two to send air to the bronchi. Only recently did a researcher produce a stunning high-resolution three dimensional image of the organ in action, using magnetic resonance imaging and microcomputer tomography.

The syrinx is made of delicate cartilage and two membranes that vibrate with airflow at super fast speeds—one on each side of the syrinx—to created two independent sources of sounds. Gifted songbirds such as the mockingbird and canary can vibrate each of their two membranes independently, producing two different, harmonically unrelated notes at the same time—a low-frequency sound on the left, a high-frequency sound on the right. These birds can shift the volume and frequency of each with breathtaking speed to produce some of the most acoustically complex and varied vocal sounds in nature. In contrast, when humans talk, all of our pitch, all the harmonics of our vocalizations, move in the same direction.

Songbirds such as European starlings and zebra finches can contract and relax these tiny vocal muscles with sub millisecond precision at more than a hundred times faster than the blink of an eye. The winter wren is a bird known for its swift song delivery. It sings as many as 36 notes per second, which is much too fast for our ears or brain to perceive or absorb. Some birds can manipulate their syrinx to mimic human speech.

Not surprisingly, birds with a more elaborate set of syringe muscles can produce more elaborate songs. The mockingbird has seven pairs that allow him to perform his vocal gymnastics over and over with little effort. This can be 17, 18, 19 songs per minute. Between the notes, he takes tiny breaths to replenish his air supply.

Of course, more than the syrinx is involved. Songs must be initiated and coordinated with the bird’s brain. Nerve signals from an elaborate network of brain areas control each of the muscles, coordinating nerve impulses from his left and right brain hemispheres to the muscles of the two halves of his syrinx, creating just the right airflow in each necessary to produce the hundreds of different imitated phrases he sings.

Scientists use sonograms or spectrograms to assess the accuracy of this sounds. These are visual printouts of sound (with frequency or pitch on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal axis) that scientists use to detect subtle differences in birdsong. Sonograms comparing a prototype song and the mockingbird’s copy show that the imitator sings nuthatch and thrush and whip-poor-will with almost perfect fidelity. When a mockingbird sings a cardinal’s song, it actually mimics the muscular patters of the cardinal. If the notes of his model fall outside his normal frequency range, he substitutes a note or omits it, lengthening other notes to match the song in duration. If he’s facing a too-rapid-fire delivery of notes such as a canary’s, he clusters the notes and pauses to breathe while maintaining identical song length.

The mockingbird is not the only mimic. A cousin Mimidae, the brown thrasher, can mimic ten times the number of songs a mockingbird sings, thought not with as much accuracy. European starlings are also accomplished mimics, as are nightingales, which can imitate some 60 different songs after hearing each only a few times. Marsh warblers sing a wild, urgent, international pastiche of a song peppered with the tunes of more than one hundred other species.

Some birds, the African grey parrot, the mynah, and the cockatoo excel at imitating human speech. There are a few others in the corvid and parrot families, parakeets being one example.

It’s quite an accomplishment for birds to imitate human sounds. Humans form vowels and consonants with their lips and tongue, which are among the most supple, flexible, and indefatigable parts of the human body. For birds, with no lips and with tongues that generally aren’t used for making sounds, it is a tall order indeed to take on the nuances of human speech. Parrots are unusual in that they use their tongues while calling and can manipulate them to articulate vowel sounds.

Parrots have been known to teach other parrots to talk smack. People have reported wild cockatoos swearing in the outback. An ornithologist speculated that the wild birds had learned from once-domesticated cockatoos and other parrots that had escaped and survived long enough to join a flock and share words they have picked up in captivity. Ms. Ackerman comments, “if true, a fine example of cultural transmission.”

Social Savvy

October 10, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds”, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. Ms. Ackerman writes, “Many bird species are highly social. They breed in colonies, bathe in groups, roost in congregations, forage in flocks. They eavesdrop. They argue. They cheat. They deceive and manipulate. They kidnap. They divorce. They display a strong sense of fairness. They give gifts. They play keep-away and tug-of-war with twigs, strands of Spanish moss, bits of gauze. They pilfer from their neighbors. They warn their young away from strangers. They tease. They share. They cultivate social relationships. They vie for status. They kiss to console one another. They teach their young. They blackmail their parents. They summon witnesses to the death of a peer. They may even grieve.

The expression “pecking order” comes from studies of the social relations among chickens by the Norwegian zoologist Thorlief Schjelderup-Ebbe, who found that a pecking order are ladder like, with the top rung conferring great privilege in the form of food and safety, and the bottom rung fraught with vulnerability and risk.

In 1976, Nichols Humphrey, a psychologist at the London School of Economics developed the idea that a demanding social life might drive the evolution of brainpower. Humphrey was working with monkeys, but now scientists believe that many bird species are not so different. Birds living in social groups have to sort out social contacts, smooth ruffled feathers, and avoid squabbles. They need to monitor the behavior of others to make decisions about whether to cooperate or compete, whom to communicate with, and whom to learn from. They have to recognize many individuals, keep track of them, remember what this or that confederate did the last time—and predict what he or she will do now. Since many species of birds share the same kind of social challenges that may have fueled intelligence in primates, their brains, like ours, may be “designed’ to manage relationships.

Reciprocity in the form of gift giving is another kind of social behavior unusual in nonhumans but fairly common among certain birds, including crows. Tales have one in of crows offering gifts of jewelry, hardware, shards of glass, a Santa figurine, a foam dart from a toy gun, and a Donald Duck Pez dispenser.

Crows and ravens balk at doing work for less reward than a peer is getting. This sensitivity to inequity had previously been thought to exist only in primates and dogs and is considered a crucial cognitive tool in the evolution of human cooperation.

Corvids and cockatoos will delay gratification if they think a reward is worth waiting for. This is a form of emotional intelligence involving self-control, persistence and the ability to motivate oneself. It is an important skill for human success. Consider the famous marshmallow test. The first studies were done by psychologist Walter Mischel during the 1960s at a preschool on the Stanford University campus. The test involve placing a marshmallow before a four year old. The child was told that the researcher was going to leave for 15 to 20 minutes, but if they child could save the marshmallow until he retired, she would be rewarded with another marshmallow. Some children managed to resist and got the second marshmallow reward, and some didn’t. The ramifications of this study did not become clear until 12 to 14 years later. Those who had resisted temptation at 4 were now, as adolescents, more socially competent: personally effective, self-assertive, and better able to cope with the frustrations of life. They were less likely to go to pieces, freeze, or regress under stress, or become rattled and disorganized when pressured; they embraced challenges and pursued them instead of giving up even in the face of difficulties. The children who had grabbed the marshmallow were just the opposite. The children who were able to delay gratification were also much better students. But, perhaps what was most astonishing were SAT scores. The third of the children who at four grabbed for the marshmallow most eagerly had an average verbal score of 524 and a quantitative scorer of 528. The third who waited the longest had average scores of 610 and 652, respectively—a 210 difference in total score.

Some birds species have remarkable memories for social relationships. Thomas Bugnyar, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Vienna found that ravens remember their valued friends even after a separation of as long as three years. Corvids recognize and recall not only fellow corvids, but humans too. They can pick out familiar human faces from a crowd, particularly those that represent a threat and remember them for long periods of time.

There is also much evidence that there are birds that have a theory of mind, that is they can think like another bird or animal is thinking. Two scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, Robert Seyfarth and Dorothy Chey argue that even the most complex human forms of theory of mind have their foots in what they call a subconscious appreciation of others’ intentions and perspectives.

Birds are Technical Wizards

October 9, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds”, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. There are many accounts of birds using found objects as tools—to contain water water or scratch their backs, wipe themselves down or lure prey. For example, white storks bring water to their chicks in a clump of damp moss and then wring it out to fill their beaks. African greys arrest bail water from their dish with a tobacco pipe or bottle cap. American crows ferry water in a Frisbee to dampen its dried mash, and another one secured a plastic Slinky toy onto its perch and used the free end to scratch its head. A Gila woodpecker fashioned a wooden scoop out of tree bark to carry honey home to its young. A blue jay used its own body as a napkin to rid ants of their noxious formic acid spray, making them fit for eating.

Birds also use objects as weapons. An American crow lobbed three pinecones at a scientist’s head as he climbed up to its nest. A pair of ravens defending their nestlings from two intruding researchers used similar tactics but harder weaponry. A raven took a rock in its beak and with a quick flip of its head tossed the rock down to the target. It was followed by six more one after another, assaulting the scientists who were trying to study them.

Several kinds of birds use objects as lures to draw fish. Green herons are expert bait fishers, drawn to entice their prey with bread, popcorn, seeds, flowers, live insets, spiders, feathers, and pellets of fish food.

For the burrowing owl, dung is the decoy of choice. These owls scatter clumps of animal feces near the mouth of their nest chambers and wait motionless like muggers for unsuspecting dung beetles to scuttle toward their trap.

Nuthatches hold bark flakes or scales in their bills to level the bark from trees, exposing the bugs beneath.

Black palm cockatoos regularly use sticks, twigs, and branches as drumsticks to thrum a hollow tree for territorial display or to direct a female’s attention to a possible breeding holes. These items are used as back scratchers (as well as head, neck, and throat scratchers by yellow-crested cockatoos and African grey parrots. Bald eagles used a stick to bludgeon a turtle with a stick held in its bill.

Behavioral biologist Sabine Tebbich did a detailed study of a woodpecker finch to see how birds acquire their use of tools. At first the finch showed little interest in objects. When he was almost two months old, he began to play with flower stems and small twigs, twiddling them in his beak and holding them at right angles to his bill. He soon was investigating everything around him with great curiosity, tweaking buttons, nibbling pencils, yanking hair through the small ventilation holes in a slouch hat, prying apart toes with his beak and tools inspecting ears and earrings. Within three months, he was an accomplished tool user and had broadened his toolkit, probing cracks with twigs, a feather, fragments of water-worn glass, wool slivers, shell pieces, and the hind leg of a large tree grasshopper. He also inserted a twig between a sock and a boot.

The New Caledonian crow leads in terms of artful toolmaking and tool use in the wild. Ms. Ackerman writes, “when it comes to the nuts and bolts of too crafting, only chimps and orangutans match or exceed the sophistication of the New Caledonian crow, and not even these hotshot primates can make hook tools, These crows make not one but two kinds of hook tools—one from live twigs and the other from the barbed edges of leaves of pandas trees, or screw pines.

One wonders whether birds play? Do they do things just for fun? Nathan Emery and Nicola Clayton suggest that larger-brained, altricial species of birds do play as do many mammals. It does seem to be relatively uncommon in birds, seen in only 1% of the approximately 10,000 species and is largely restricted to species with an extended developmental period, such as crows and parrots. Emery and Clayton say that play may reduce stress, aid social bonding and induce pleasure. They explain “Birds, like us, may also play because it is fun; it produces a pleasurable experience—releasing endogenous opioids.”

Bird Minds

October 8, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds,” a book by Jennifer Ackerman. Like humans, birds are kingdom Animalia; phylum Chordata; subphylum Vertebrata. There the common descent ends. Birds are class Aves; humans are Mammalia. Aristotle wrote in his History of Animals that animals carry elements of our “human qualities and attitudes,” such as “fierceness, mildness or cross-temper, courage or timidity, fear or confidence, high spirits or low cunning, and with regard to intelligence, something akin to sagacity.”

When HM was a graduate student anthropomorphizing, claiming that an animal had anything like human intelligence, consciousness, or subjective feeling was a mortal sin. But if HM imposed this standard on his fellow humans he would have been unable to communicate or interact with them effectively. Although one needs to tread carefully in this area, wouldn’t it be a mistake to assume that because bird brains are fundamentally different from us and ours, that there is nothing in common between our mental abilities and theirs? Darwin in his book The Descent of Man argued that animals and humans differ in their mental powers only in degree, not in kind. As was discussed in previous posts, many have strong feelings regarding the possibility of kinship. Primatologist Frans de Waal calls this “anthropodenial,” blindness to the humanlike characteristics of other species. He says, “Those who are in anthropodenial try to build a brick wall to separate humans from the rest of the animal kingdom.”

There are many ways of measuring birds’ intelligence And there is a very wide range of intelligence across the species. It ranges from the extremely slow, to some that appear to verge on genius. Lefebvre thought that a good way of estimating bird intelligence would be to look at occurrences of birds doing unusual new things in the wild. This notion had been proposed three decades earlier by Jane Goodall and her colleague Hans Kummer. They made a plea for measuring a wild animal’s intelligence by looking at its ability to find solutions to problems in its natural setting. This can be found in an animal’s ability to innovate in its own environment, “to find solutions to a novel problem, or a novel solution to an old one.”

So the task becomes finding which kinds of birds are the most innovative in the wild. Lefebvre said, “Experimental and observational studies of cognition are important, but a taxonomic count like this would provide a unique opportunity and would avoid some of the pitfalls of animal intelligence studies,” such as using testing devices that are far removed from what an animal does in its natural environment.

Lefebvre reviewed seventy-five years worth of bird journals for reports featuring key words like “unusual,” “novel,” or “first reported instance,” and came up with more than 2300 examples from hundreds of different species. Some of these were discoveries of strange new finds such as a roadrunner sitting on a roof next to a hummingbird feeder and picking off the hummers; a great skua in Antartica snuggling in among newborn seal pups and sipping milk from their lactating mother; herons holding down a rabbit or a muskrat; a pelican in London swallowing pigeon; a gull ingesting a blue jay; or a normally insectivorous yellowhead in New Zealand seen for the first time time eating bush lily fruits.

Taken from “The Genius of Birds:” Other examples involved ingenious new ways of getting at food. There was the cowbird in South Africa using a twig to pick through cow dung. Several observers noted instances of green herons using insects as bait, placing them delicately on the surface of the water to lure fish. A herring gull adapted its normal shell-dropping technique to nail a rabbit. Bald eagles ice fishing in northern Arizona discovered a cache of dead fathead minnow forces under the surface of an ice-covered lake. They were seen chipping holes in the ice, then jumping up and down on the surface, using their body weight to push the minnows up through the holes. There was a report of vultures in Zimbabwe that perched on barbed-wire fences near minefields during the wars of liberation, waiting for gazelles and other grazers to wander and detonate the explosives providing a pulverized ready-made meal.

The smartest birds according Lefevbre’s scale.
Corvids with ravens and crows as the clear outliers along with parrots. Then came grackles, raptors (especially falcons and hawks, woodpeckers, hornbills, gulls, kingfishers, roadrunners and herons. Also high on this totem pole were birds in the sparrow and tit families. Owls were excluded because they are nocturnal and their innovations are rarely observed directly. Among those at the low end were quails, ostriches, bustards, turkeys, and nightjars.

Lefebvre examined if families of birds that show a lot of innovation behaviors in the wild have bigger brains. In most cases, there was a correlation. Two birds weighing 320 grams: the American crow, with an innovation count of sixteen has a brain of 7 grams, while a partridge , with one innovation, has a brain of only 1.9 grams. Two smaller birds weighing 85 grams: the great spotted woodpecker, with an innovation rate of nine has a braining weighing 2.7 grams, and the quail with one innovation, only 0.73 gram.

The Avian Brain

October 7, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds,” a book by Jennifer Ackerman. The chickadee is more than just a bird of verve and agility. It’s also acrobatic in its aptitudes, curious intelligent, and opportunistic with a prodigious memory. It is a bird masterpiece beyond in the words of Forbush. The chickadee family rates right up there with woodpeckers on Lefevbre’s IQ scale. Chickadees stash seeds and other food in thousands of different hiding places to eat later. They can remember where they put a single food item for up to six months. And they do this with a brain roughly twice the size of a garden pea. The chickadee has double the brain size of birds in the same body-weight range, such as a flycatcher or swallow. Many bird species have surprisingly large brains for their body size. Scientists call them hyper inflated, much like our brains.

Birds have condensed genomes, which may be an adaptation to powered flight. Birds have the smallest genomes of any amniote, the group of animals, including reptiles and mammals, that lay their eggs on land. The typical mammal has a genome ranging from 1 billion to 8 billion base pairs, whereas in birds it hovers at around 1 billion. This is the result of fewer repeat elements and a large number of so-called deletion events, in which DNA has been expunged over evolutionary time. This more compressed genome might allow a bird to regulate its genes more rapidly to meet the requirements of flight.

Birds evolved from dinosaurs during the Jurassic period, 150 million to 160 million years ago. Paleontologist Stephen Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh says that we find that there is no clear distinction between ‘dinosaur’ and bird.’ A dinosaur didn’t just change into a bird one day. The bird body plan began early and was assembled gradually, piece by piece over 100 million years of steady evolution.

Birds have their eggheads and their pinheads. Not all birds have big brains for their body size. For example, birds of a similar size, a crow (with a brain of 7 to 10 grams) and a partridge (only 1.9 grams) have different sized brains. But two smaller birds, the great spotted woodpecker (with a brain of 2.7 grams) and the quail (0.73 gram) have different sized brains.

Reproductive strategy plays a role in brain size. The 20% of bird species that are precocial—born with their eyes open and able to leave the nest within a day or two—have larger brains at birth than altricial birds. These are born, naked, blind, and helpless and remain in the nest unit they’re as big as their parents, and only then do they fully fledge. Precocial birds, such as shorebirds, typically take to life straightaway. Though their brains are relatively large at hatching—allowing them to catch and eat an insect or run short distances when only days old—they don’t grow much after birth, so they end up smaller than the brains of altricial birds. So, nest sitters end up with bigger brains than nest quitters.

Brain size is also correlated with how long a bird stays in its nest to apprentice with its parents after fledging. The longer the juvenile period, the bigger the brain, perhaps so that a bird can store all it learns. Long childhoods are characteristic of most intelligent animal species.

Birds experience the same cycles of slow-wave sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) that humans do. Scientists believe that these patterns of brain activity play a crucial role in the growth of big brains. Birds rarely have REM sleep longer than 10 seconds, packaged into hundreds of episodes per sleep period, while humans have several bouts of REM sleep per night, each lasting ten minutes to an hour. For both mammals and birds, REM sleep might be especially needed for the early development of the brain. Newborn mammals such as kittens have much more REM sleep than adult cats. Human babies may spend up to half their sleep in the REM stage, whereas for adults, it’s about 20%. Similarly young owlets have more REM sleep that older owlets.

Both birds and humans have periods of deep, slow-wave sleep in direct proportion to how long they’ve been awake. And in both birds and humans, the brain regions used more extensively in waking hours sleep more deeply during subsequent sleep.

A research team headed by Niels Rattenborg at the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology made use of a bird’s ability humans do not have. Birds can modulate their deep sleep by opening one eye, limiting the slow-wave sleep to only one half of the brain while keeping the other half alert. It takes very little thought to understand how such a capability is beneficial to birds. The team built a little movie theater for several pigeons, blocked one eye in each of them. and showed them David Attenborough’s The Life of Birds. After staying awake watching the film for eight hours with a single eye, the birds were allowed to sleep. Studies of their brain activity showed deeper slow-wave sleep in the visual processing region of the brain connected to the stimulated eye.

Rattenborg says that both humans and birds showing this kind of localized brain effect suggest that slow-wave sleep may play a role in maintaining optimal brain functioning. “overall, the parallels between mammalian and avian sleep raise the intriguing possibility that their independent evolution may be related to the function served by the pattern of sleep: the evolution of large, complex brains in both birds and mammals.”

Erich Jarvis says, “About 75% of our forebrain is cortex and the same is true for birds, particularly species of songbirds and parrots. They have as much ‘cortex’, relatively speaking, as we do. It’s just not organized the way ours is.” The author continues, “Whereas the nerve cells in a mammal’s neocortex are stacked in six distinct layers like plywood, those in the bird’s cortex like structure cluster like cloves in a garlic bulb. But the cells themselves are basically the same, capable of rapid and repetitive firing, and the way they function is equally sophisticated, flexible, and inventive. Moreover, they use the same chemical neurotransmitters to signal between them. And perhaps most important, bird and mammal brains share similar nerve circuits, or pathways between brain regions—which turns out to be vital for complex behavior. It’s the connections, the links between brain cells, that matter in the matter of intelligence. And in this regard, bird brains are not so different from our own.

Irene Pepperberg offers this computer analogy. Mammalian brains are like PCs, she says, while bird brains are like Apples. The processing is different, but the output is similar.

The Genius of Birds

October 6, 2019

“The Genius of Birds” is a book by Jennifer Ackerman. There will be many posts based on this book. Readers may well ask why is the Healthymemory Blog devoting so many posts to this topic The answer is learning new topics helps build a healthymemory and there are many useful concepts to be learned. Unfortunately, most of what has been learned about birds is relatively new, and the rest has been buried in academic tomes. And, unfortunately, birds have a bad press and many misconceptions to overcome, bird brain being the first. This slur came from the belief that birds had brains so diminutive they had to be devoted only to instinctual behavior. Ms. Ackerman notes, “the avian brain had no cortex like ours, where all the “smart” stuff happens.” We thought that birds had minimal noggins for good reason: to allow for airborne ways; to defy gravity, to hover, arabesque, dive, soar for days on end, migrate thousands of miles, and maneuver in tight spaces.

Research, however, has taught us otherwise, Bird brains are very different from our own. This is not surprising as humans and birds have been evolving independently for a very long time, since our last common ancestor more than 300 million years ago. However, some birds have relatively large brains for their size, as do we. And when it comes to brainpower, size seems to matter less than the number of neurons, where they’re located, and how they’re connected. And some bird brains pack very high numbers of neurons where it counts, with densities akin to those found in primates, and links and connections similar to ours. As will be seen in subsequent posts, certain birds have sophisticated cognitive abilities.

Ms. Ackerman writes, “In judging the overall intelligence of animals, scientists may look at how successful they are at surviving and reproducing in many different environments. By this measure, birds trump nearly all vertebrates, including fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. They live in every part of the globe, from the equator to the poles, from the lowest deserts to the highest peaks, in virtually every habitat, on land, sea, and in bodies of freshwater.

As a class, birds have been around more than 100 million years. They are one of nature’s great success stories, inventing new strategies for survival, their own distinctive brands of ingenuity that, in some respects at least, seem to far outpace our own.”

Birds possess ways of knowing that are hard to understand, which we can’t easily dismiss as merely instinctual or hardwired. Ms. Ackerman writes, “What kind of intelligence allows a bird to anticipate the arrival of a distant storm? Or find its way to a place it has never been to before though it may be thousands of miles away? Or precisely imitate the complex songs of hundreds of other species? Or hide tens of thousands of seeds over hundreds of square miles and remember where to put them six months later?

Taking a Brief Break

September 30, 2019

And there is plenty to read. Go to healthymemory.wordpress.com

You can review the categories to find articles of interest or use the search block to search for posts on interesting topics.

Also go to https://centerhealthyminds.org

It is very interesting.

HM shall return.

Anthropic Principle vs. Creationism vs. Intelligent Design

September 29, 2019

The anthropic principle is a philosophical consideration that observations of the universe must be compatible with the conscious and sapient life that observes the universe. The physical conditions that enabled the creation of the universe are very precise. Absent these conditions there would be no universe for humans to observe much less live in.

The strong anthropic principle (SAP) states that this is the case because the universe is in some sense compelled to eventually have conscious and sapient life emerge within it.

The weak anthropic principle (WAP) states that the universe’s fine tuning is the result of selection bias (survivor bias) in that only in a universe capable of eventually supporting life will there be living beings capable of observing and reflecting on the matter. Most often these arguments draw upon some notion of the multiverse for there to be a statistical population of universes to select from and from which selection (our observation of only this universe, compatible with our life) could occur.

Understand that what is being presented in this post is an enormous simplification of this issue. If interested, go to the Wikipedia and proceed from there.

However, it is hoped that enough has been written to compare the strong anthropic principle (SAP) with creationism and intelligent design.

It seems that creationists could adopt the SAP arguing that God is necessary for these conditions to occur, hence God is the creator of the universe. Although it is unlikely that most physicists would agree with this argument, creationists might argue that the law of parsimony (the simplest explanation is the best) argues for the SAP.

However, proponents of intelligent design could not employ this argument. Previous healthy memory blog posts have pointed to the flaw in intelligent design. Although one can find specific examples of intelligent design within nature, there are many more examples of failed species who died out and did not survive. So to argue for intelligent design one needs to accept a flawed entity or one who needs to learn by doing.

It would be good to teach the two anthropic principles along with creationism and intelligent design. The goal would not be to force students regarding what to believe, but rather to provide information on how science proceeds.

Unfortunately, there are many times when religions make war upon science. This is unfortunate. A religious leader who has an enlightened view of science is the Dalai Lama. He uses science to inform his religion. He sends his priests to seminars and schools to become well versed in science.

The problem with wars between science and religion is that science ultimately wins. The reason for this is that science changes as data and logic indicate. Unfortunately, dogmatic religions ultimately lose and humanity and civilization suffer.

© 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.

Truth-Default Theory (TDT)

September 28, 2019

This post is based on content in Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcom Gladwell. It has been noted in previous posts that we all have an initial default to believe what we read or are told. If we questioned everything our process through life, particularly at the beginning, would be enormously slow. Truth-Default Theory, by psychologist Tim Levine, capitalizes on this tendency to explain why we are vulnerable to lies. According to Levine we are normally in the truth-default mode. To snap out of this mode requires a trigger. “A trigger is not the same as a suspicion, or the first sliver of doubt. We fall out of the truth-default mode only when the case against our initial assumption becomes definitive. We do not behave, in other words, like sober-minded scientists, slowly gathering evidence of the truth or falsity of something before reaching a conclusion. We do the opposite. We start by believing. And we stop believing only when our doubts and misgivings rise to the point where we can no longer explain them away.”

A Harvard Economist, Sendhil Mullainathan, three elite computer scientists and a bail expert conducted an interesting experiment in the courts of New York City. They gathered up the records of 554, 689 defendants brought before arraignment hearings in New York from 2008 to 2013. This involved 554,689 defendants. The same information the prosecutors had given judges in these arraignment case was fed into a computer and analyzed with a program developed by these three elite computer scientists. It is presumed that these judges know how to evaluate this information. The judges decided to release just over 400,000 of the 554,689 defendants. The computer program made its own decisions regarding whom to release. So who made the best decisions? Whose list committed the fewest crimes while out on bail and was most likely to show up for their trial date? The people on the computer’s list were 25% less likely to commit crimes than the 400,000 people released by the judges of New York City. So in this contest of man versus machine, man clearly lost.

The main shortcoming of these judges was that they were human beings. Humans do not do that good a job of integrating numerical information without the aid of machines. And humans are strongly influenced by the behavior and status of the subjects they are evaluating. Gladwell reviews the case of Amanda Cox.

Amanda Cox was an American living in Italy who was falsely accused of murdering Meredith Kercher. In hindsight, it is completely inexplicable how she was convicted. There was never any physical evidence linking either Cox or her boyfriend to the crime. Nor was there ever a plausible explanation for why Cox—an immature, sheltered, middle-class girl from Seattle—would be interested in engaging in a murderous sex game with a troubled drifter she barely knew. Gladwell’s explanation is that Amanda’s behavior and the things she said convinced some people of her guilt, in spite of the hard evidence that she was innocent. So appearances, can get you in trouble, but they also provide the basis for successful lying.

The opposite case is Bernie Madoff. Bernie Madoff was the hedge-fund manager who ran a pyramid scheme that ended up defrauding many wealthy and prestigious clients. In addition to his status as the leader of a large fund, he was a genius at convincing people that all was above board. Gladwell analyzes many other interesting cases.

So what is to be learned from this book? A default mode of belief is practical, but be aware that appearances can be deceiving. So be careful about new interactions. Also be careful regarding established relationships if something questionable develops.

There are good tips on how to deceive. Simply act like you are telling the truth and stick with it.

Although Gladwell does not mention this in his book, we have an example of an extraordinary liar. He is the President of the United States, Donald Trump. And his many, many lies have been documented. He lies just as often as he tells the truth. And when caught in a lie, he doubles down. He never admits that he was wrong. This provides quite a challenge to government officials who he tries to force to back up his lies. Of course, he has no credibility with foreign leaders. How American citizens can still support him is mind boggling. And he is planning to run for re-election!

Suicide and Coupling

September 27, 2019

Part Five of “Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know” by Malcom Gladwell is titled Coupling. Coupling theory argues that there are certain places or conditions that increase the likelihood of committing suicide. Many think that people who commit suicide are so depressed that they will eventually commit suicide, even if it takes multiple attempts. John Bateson has written a book titled, The Final Leap, which makes the argument, and provides data, to indicate that the effect of the Golden Gate Bridge on some people is to tempt them to commit suicide.

Psychologist Richard Seiden followed up on 515 people who had tried to jump from the bridge between 1937 and 1971, but had been unexpectedly restrained. Just 25 of those 515 persisted in killing themselves some other way. Overwhelmingly, the people who want to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge at a given moment, want to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge at that given moment.

But when did the municipal authority that runs the bridge finally decide to install a suicide barrier? In 2018, more than eighty years after the bridge opened. John Bateson points out that in the intervening period the bridge authority spent millions of dollars building a traffic barrier to protect cyclists crossing the bridge, even though no cyclist has ever been killed by a motorist on the Golden Gate Bridge. It spent millions building a media to separate north- and south-bound traffic, on the grounds of “public safety.” On the southern end of the bridge, the authority put up an eight-foot cyclone fence to prevent garbage from being thrown onto Fort Baker. A protective net was even reinstalled during the initial construction of the bridge—at enormous cost—to prevent workers from falling their deaths. This net saved nineteen lives, then it was taken down. But it took eighty years to provide the means of preventing suicides from the bridge.

Having a gun in the household is another example of suicide and coupling. If someone is depressed and considering suicide, a gun provides the best means. It’s fast and efficient. Other means of suicide, such as taking pills or slashing one’s wrists often fail. But only rarely do guns fail. It is ironic. Presumably, people keep a gun in their homes for protection, to protect themselves. But it is more likely to result in a mistaken killing or in a suicide. There are many more suicides that murders.

One of HM’s best friends was affected by this coupling. One New Year’s Eve, when HM’s friend was away from home, his son and a friend of his son were playing with a gun in the house. His friend’s son accidentally shot and killed his son. HM’s friend, who was a politician, said justice would be done. What justice could be done? His son was dead and his son’s friend had to live with this killing for the rest of his life. Justice, no. Stupidity, yes.

The Effects of Alcohol

September 26, 2019

This post is based on content in Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcom Gladwell. Psychologists Claude Steele and Robert Josephs developed the myopia theory to explain the psychological effects of alcohol. What they mean by myopia is that alcohol’s principal effect is to narrow our emotional and mental fields of vision. In other words, “it creates a state of shortsightedness in which superficially understood, immediate aspects of experience have a disproportionate influence on behavior and emotion. Alcohol makes the thing in the foreground even more salient and the thing in the background less significant. It makes short-term considerations loom large, and more cognitively demanding, longer-term considerations fade away.”

When we get drunk what happens to us is a function of the particular path the alcohol takes as it seeps through our brain tissue. The effects being in the frontal lobes that govern attention, motivation, planning, and learning. The first drink “dampens” activity in that region. We become a little dumber, and are less capable of handling competing complicated considerations. It hits the reward centers in the brain, the areas that produce euphoria, and gives them a little jolt. It affects the amygdala. One of the amygdala’s jobs is to tell us how to react to the world around us. Are we being threatened? Should we be afraid? Alcohol turns the amygdala down a notch. These effects are what produce myopia. We don’t have the brainpower to deal with more complex, long-term considerations. The pleasure of alcohol distracts us. Our neurological burglar alarm turns off. Alcohol finds its way to our cerebellum, at the very back of the brain, which is involved in balance and coordination.

Under certain very particular circumstances—if we drink a lot of alcohol very quickly—something else happens. Alcohol hits our hippocampi that are responsible for forming memories. At a blood-alcohol level of 0.08—the level threshold for intoxication—the hippocampi begin to struggle. When you wake up the morning after and remember meeting someone but cannot remember their name or the story they told you, that’s because the two shots of whiskey you drank in quick succession reached your hippocampi. The gaps get larger when you drink a little more and the gaps get larger to the point where you remember pieces of the evening but other details can be summoned only with great difficulty.

Aaron White of the National Institutes of Health is one of the world’s leading experts on blackouts. He says that there is no particular logic to what gets remembered and what doesn’t. He says, “Emotional salience doesn’t seem to have an impact on the likelihood that your hippocampus records something. What that means is you might, as a female, go to a party and might remember having a drink downstairs, but you don’t remember getting raped. But then you do remember getting the taxi.” At the next level—roughly around a blood-alcohol level of 0.15, the hippocampus simply shuts down entirely. White said, “In the true, pre blackout, there’s just nothing. Nothing to recall.”

Unfortunately, heavy drinkers today are drinking much more than heavy drinkers fifty years ago. Alcohol researcher Kim Fromme says “When you talk to today’s students they think that four or five drinks is just getting started. She says that the heavy binge-drinking category now routinely includes people who have had twenty drinks in a setting. Blackouts have become common. Aaron White surveyed a group of more than 700 students at Duke University. Over half the drinkers in this group had suffered a blackout at some point in their lives. 40% had a blackout in the previous year, and almost one in ten had had a blackout in the previous two weeks.

Unfortunately, white women, particularly, are also drinking heavily. For physiological reasons, this trend puts women at a greatly increased risk for blackouts. If an average male of average weight has eight drinks over four hours, he would end up with a blood alcohol level of 0.107. Although that’s too drunk to drive, it is still below the 0.15 level typically associated with blackouts. If a woman of average weight has eight drinks over four hours, she’s as a blood-alcohol level of 0.173. So she’s blacked out.

Date Rape

September 25, 2019

 

This post is based on content in Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcom Gladwell. Of course, whether it is rape or consensual sex depends upon what the participating parties think. The following 2015 poll of one thousand college students taken by the Washington Post/ Kaiser Family Foundations reveals the problem. Students were asked whether they thought that any of the following behaviors “establishes consent for more sexual activity”

Takes off their own clothes
Men Women
Yes 50 44
No 45 52
Depends 3 3
No Opinion 2 1

Gets a Condom
Men Women
Yes 43 38
No 51 58
Depends 4 4
No Opinion 4 1

Nods in Agreement
Men Women
Yes 58 51
No 36 44
Depends 3 3
No Opinion 3 3

Engages in foreplay such as kissing or touching
Men Women
Yes 30 15
No 66 82
Depends 3 3
No Opinion * *

Does not say “No”
Men Women
Yes 20 16
No 75 80
Depends 4 2
No Opinion 1 1

A final question was ,Please tell me if you think the situation IS sex assault, IS NOT sexual assault, or is unclear. The situation is when when both people have not given clear agreement.

Men Women
Is 42 52
Is not 7 6
Unclear 50 42
No Opinion 1 0

Apparently, what is required is a consent form signed by both parties.
Alcohol makes the problem even murkier.
The following post will discuss alcohol.

My sincere apology for the pathetic formatting. They say a poor craftsman blames his tools. Obviously, HM is the poorest of craftsmen.

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

September 24, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

As AD progresses from earlier to later stages, atrophy starts in the medial temporal lobe, extends to the parietal lobe, and finally includes the frontal lobe. The long-term memory impairment in early AD patients can be attributed to the disrupted processing in the hippocampus and parietal cortex, to regions that have been associated with this cognitive process. As the disease progresses, other cognitive processes are disrupted such as attention and language, which both depend on the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

In early AD patients, as atrophy begins in the parietal cortex and the frontal cortex, there have also been reports of increases in fMRI activity within cortical regions. It is unknown whether these increases in cortical fMRI activity reflect a compensatory mechanism, which is often assumed to be the case, or reflect non-compensatory hyperactivity due to neural disruption.

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 there 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 suggest 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.

Healthy memory readers should recognize the similarity between the default network and Kahneman’s System 1 processing. System 1 processing is the default network that needs to be disrupted to engage in System 2 processing, better known as thinking.

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 throughout life may reduce the amyloid level in the brains of healthy older adults as a function of cognitive engagement (System 2 processing), 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.

It should also be noted that many have died who upon autopsy had levels of amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles definitive of AD, but who never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms characteristics of the disease. The explanation typically offered for these individuals is that they had built a cognitive reserve as a result of the mental activities they had engaged in during their lifetimes.

There is a wide variety of products sold to prevent AD, such as computer games and pills that increase short-term memory. But it should be clear from the posts on cognitive science that the entire brain is involved. That is why the healthy memory blog strongly recommends growth mindsets with continual learning throughout the lifespan. These make heavy use of System 2 processing. Of course, a healthy lifestyle that includes physical exercise must also be part of the mix.

Transient Global Amnesia (TGA)

September 23, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

The criteria used to diagnose follow:
There is clear anterograde amnesia.
The attack must last no longer than 24 hours.
The individual must not have clouding of consciousness (drowsiness) and they must know their personal identity.
The attack must be witnessed by another person.
There should be no other neurological symptoms during or after the attack (problems speaking or partial paralysis).
There should be no recent history of head injury or epilepsy.

TGA patients often have retrograde amnesia for hours before the attack and have anterograde amnesia for 1 to 10 hours. They usually repeat the same questions, such as “where am I?” and “why am I here?” because they forget that they had already asked a question and received an answer. The most common events that precipitate an attack are emotional stress, physical effort, contact with hot or cold water, or sexual intercourse. TGA patients are usually middle-aged or elderly adults. Accompanying symptoms can include headache, nausea, and dizziness. After diagnosis, the course of treatment is to wait for the amnesia to resolve on its own.

Research provides compelling evidence that TGA is caused by a temporary lesion in the CA1 region of the hippocampus. This is consistent with the important role of the hippocampus in long term memory. The mechanism underlying hippocampal lesions in TGA patients remains unknown. One hypothesis is that TGA patients have blood flow problems due to vascular blockage, but TGA patients do not have greater vascular risk
factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, than healthy control participants.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “The only identified risk factor is a history of migraine headaches. As emotional or physical stress almost always triggers TGA attacks and stress can produce changes in blood flow, it may be that hippocampal CA2 lesions are due to stress-induced decreases in blood flow to this sub-region. The hippocampal CA1 sub-region may be particularly susceptible to reductions in blood flow because it is supplied by one large artery, while the other hippocampal sub-regions are supplied by one large artery and many small arteries. The temporary focal lesions in the hipocampas CA1 sub-region of TGA patients provide a unique opportunity for future collaborations between cognitive neuroscientists and neurologists to investigate the specific role of this region in long-term memory.

Mild Traumatic Brain Imagery (mTBI)

September 22, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Patients with mTBI do not have any brain abnormalities, as measured using structural neuroimaging methods such as anatomic MRI. The diagnosis of mTBI includes loss of consciousness for less than 30 minutes and post-traumatic amnesia for less than 24 hours. Patients with mTBI can have attention and memory deficits, but these typically resolve within a few weeks.

The performance between mTBI patients and control participants did not differ on the memory task they were performing, but the mTBI patients had a greater extent and magnitude of fMRI activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the parietal cortex than control participants.

Fifteen mTBI patients with concussions due to sports-related injuries were tested 2 days, 2 weeks, and 2 months after the injury. Only one of the 15 patients still had symptoms 2 months after the injury. Consistent with the previous research, there were no differences in the performance of the memory task between the patients and the control participants, but there was greater fMRI activity in the mTBI patients than the control participants within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex at all three time points and within the parietal cortex at the first two time points. This greater fMRI activity 2 months after injury is concerning because they indicate there are differences in brain processing even after behavioral symptoms have been resolved. So there can be persistent brain disruptions even though there are no behavioral symptoms or brain abnormalities observable with anatomic neuroimaging methods.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “As mTBI patients may be more sensitive to repeated head trauma, it is arguable that they should not be allowed to continue participating in impact sports until their fMRI activity returns to normal.

There is also evidence that the magnitude of fMRI activity decreases in mTBI imagery with more severe or repeated head injuries. One working memory fMRI study had mTBI patients with more severe sports-related head injuries. These not-so-mild mTBI patients were tested 1 to 14 months after the most recent head injury. The large majority of participants had multiple previous concussions, and 15 of the 16 participants had persistent symptoms. As before, behavioral measures did not differ on the memory tasks between the mTBI patients and the control subjects. There was greater activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex for the control participants than in mTBI patients, in direct opposition to the previous findings for less severe mTBI patients. Additionally, participants with greater post-concussive symptoms had a smaller magnitude and extent of firm activity within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during visual working memory blocks. The same pattern of fMRI results was obtained in a subsequent study that employed the identical visual working memory task and a similar group of not-so-mild mTBI participants. It is important to realized that repeated mTBI and sub-concussive head injuries ( due to boxing or football, for example) can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

There are eleven previous posts addressing chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment

September 21, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) occurs in a small but significant percentage of adults who are older than 60 years of age, with incidence increasing as a function of age. Approximately 50% of these cases will become Alzheimer’s sufferers. Individuals with aMCI have a selective impairment in long-term memory as compared to healthy age-matched control participants, and are unimpaired in other cognitive domains. There is an increasing body of evidence indicating that the long-term memory impairment in aMCI patients is due to atrophy of medial temporal lobe sub regions that is increased by a paradoxical increase in fMRI activity within the medial temporal lobe.

Structural MRI was used to compare the size of the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex in aMCI patients and control participants. aMCI patients had a smaller hippocampal value and a smaller entorhinal cortex volume in both hemispheres as compared to age-matched control participants, indicating atrophy of these regions. In addition, the white matter pathway between the entorhinal cortex and the hippocampus had a smaller volume in aMCI patients than control participants, and this was the only white matter region in the entire brain that differed in volume. These results indicate that the long-term memory impairments in aMCI patients are due to isolated atrophy in the entorhinal cortex and the hippocampus.

A relatively higher magnitude of fMRI activity within the CA3/DG sub-region during a pattern separation task reflects a non-compensatory change in processing related to neural disruption in aMCI patients.

Memory and Other Cognitive Processes

September 20, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Memory is involved in all cognitive processes. Neuroscience is a new emerging, field and the research into other cognitive processes is just beginning. Much further research is needed before it is ready for public consumption.

The few definitive facts on this topic appear in the Chapter Summary, which follow:

“*Visual attention increases activity in visual sensory regions and is also associated with activity in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and parietal cortex control regions.

Visual working memory is associated with the same sensory regions and control regions associated with attention, which likely reflects attention to the contents of working memory.

*Visual long-term memory is associated with the same regions associated with visual attention in addition to the medial temporal lobe, which indicates this cognitive priocess is distinct from attention.

*Imagery and working memory share the same cognitive operations and are associated with the same brain regions (i.e., the sensory cortex, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (i.e., Broca’s area) and the left posterior superior temporal cortex (i.e., Wernicke’s area).

*Memory for emotional information is thought to be enhanced through the interaction of the amygdala and the hippocampus.”

False Memories

September 19, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

False memories often stem from memory for the general theme of previous events, called gist. The Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm is commonly used to study false memory. In the DRM paradigm, lists of associated words are presented during the study phase (e.g.,”web’, ‘insect’, ‘fly’,) and then during the test phase old words, new related words (e.g., ‘spider’), and new unrelated words are presented and participants make “old” — “new” recognition judgments. Not surprisingly, participants have very high levels of false memories for new related words in these paradigms (they usually respond “old” to “spider” in the example above). It is thought that when the associated words are presented during the study phase in such paradigms, participants learn the gist of the list, and this leads to a false memory for the related item. Schacter and others have argued that remembering gist is an important feature of our memory system. Memory for gist is useful as it allows us to remember general information without getting bogged down by useless details. For example, when a person sees a friend (or an enemy) it makes more sense for them to remember the gist of that person rather than retrieve all of their previous interactions. The brain regions associated with true memory and gist-based false memories are very similar.

There are differences in brain activity between true memory and false memory. There was greater activity for true memory than false memory in more posterior early visual processing regions, including V1. These findings indicate that activity in early sensory regions can distinguish between true memory and false memory. The same pattern of visual area activity was reported in a subsequent study that used words as stimuli. So the question is if early visual regions can distinguish between true memory and false memory, why don’t participants use this information to respond “new” to related items? Slotnick and Schacter reasoned that if participants had conscious access to this information they would have used it to correctly reject new related items and, therefore, activity in early visual processing regions may reflect non consciousness. So our conscious mind remains ignorant of what our brain could tell us.

This research is important for neuroscience. However, the research on false memories in the cognitive literature is highly relevant to the law and legal issues. False memories have lead to the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of too many individuals. And there is ample research showing how false memories can be implanted into our brains. The leading researcher in this area is Elizabeth Loftus. Entering “Loftus” into the search box of the healthy memory blog will locate ten posts describing her research.
This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

False memories often stem from memory for the general theme of previous events, called gist. The Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm is commonly used to study false memory. In the DRM paradigm, lists of associated words are presented during the study phase (e.g.,”web’, ‘insect’, ‘fly’,) and then during the test phase old words, new related words (e.g., ‘spider’), and new unrelated words are presented and participants make “old” — “new” recognition judgments. Not surprisingly, participants have very high levels of false memories for new related words in these paradigms (they usually respond “old” to “spider” in the example above). It is thought that when the associated words are presented during the study phase in such paradigms, participants learn the gist of the list, and this leads to a false memory for the related item. Schacter and others have argued that remembering gist is an important feature of our memory system. Memory for gist is useful as it allows us to remember general information without getting bogged down by useless details. For example, when a person sees a friend (or an enemy) it makes more sense for them to remember the gist of that person rather than retrieve all of their previous interactions. The brain regions associated with true memory and gist-based false memories are very similar.

There are differences in brain activity between true memory and false memory. There was greater activity for true memory than false memory in more posterior early visual processing regions, including V1. These findings indicate that activity in early sensory regions can distinguish between true memory and false memory. The same pattern of visual area activity was reported in a subsequent study that used words as stimuli. So the question is if early visual regions can distinguish between true memory and false memory, why don’t participants use this information to respond “new” to related items? Slotnick and Schacter reasoned that if participants had conscious access to this information they would have used it to correctly reject new related items and, therefore, activity in early visual processing regions may reflect non consciousness. So our conscious mind remains ignorant of what our brain could tell us.

This research is important for neuroscience. However, the research on false memories in the cognitive literature is highly relevant to the law and legal issues. False memories have lead to the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of too many individuals. And there is ample research showing how false memories can be implanted into our brains. The leading researcher in this area is Elizabeth Loftus. Entering “Loftus” into the search box of the healthy memory blog will locate ten posts describing her research.

Motivated Forgetting

September 18, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Like retrieval-induced forgetting, motivated forgetting refers to an active process where retrieval of an item from memory is suppressed. Unlike retrieval-induced forgetting process, motivated forgetting is an intentional process.

So the research paradigm is obvious, present lists of words where words are designated to be remembered or forgotten. But the behavioral results of such an experiment would be obvious, and many would wonder why the study was done. Participants simply ignored the words designated to be forgotten and would study the words to be remembered.

Although a simple behavioral experiment would be silly, the same experiment measuring brain regions would be informative. The first study that investigated the brain regions associated with motivated forgetting employed fMRI. During the study phase, pairs of words were presented. During the think/no think phase, the initial words of some pairs were shown in red, which meant the associated word should not be thought about. The initial words of some pairs were shown in green, which meant that the associated word should be rehearsed. The initial words of some pairs were not shown, which served as a baseline measure of memory performance. During the final recall phase, all of the initial words pairs were shown.

The percentage of associated words recalled in the no-think condition was lower than the percentage of associated words recalled in the baseline condition, which reflected motivated forgetting. The percentage of associate words recalled in the think condition was higher than baseline performance, which was expected due to additional rehearsal.

Brain activity associated with motivated forgetting was identified by contrasting non-think trials (which were assisted with subsequent forgetting) and think trials (which were not associated with subsequent forgetting). Motivated forgetting was associated with an increase in activity within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and a decrease of activity in the hippocampus.

A literature review has shown that motivated forgetting consistently produces an increase in activity within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and a decrease of activity within the hippocampus. In addition, motivated forgetting of visual information produces a decrease in activity within the visual sensory regions. This overall pattern of brain activity during motivated forgetting is identical to that of retrieval-induced forgetting. These findings provide convergent evidence that active forgetting, whether retrieval-based or motivated, is cause by a top-down signal within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex that inhibits the hippocampus and sensory cortical regions.

Retrieval-Induced Forgetting

September 17, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Retrieval-induced is an active process where retrieval of an item from memory inhibits the retrieval of related words. For example, if the word “banana” is recalled, the memory representation of the related word “orange,” which is also a fruit, will be inhibited to some degree. Presumably such inhibition occurs to reduce the likelihood that a similar but incorrect item will be retrieved (to avoid mistakenly saying “orange” when one intends to say “banana.”)

The paradigm used to study retrieval-induced forgetting includes an initial study phase, an intermediate retrieval practice, and a final recall phase. In one fMRI experiment, participants were presented with word pairs consisting of a category and an example of the category in the study phase. During the intermediate retrieval practice phase, participants were presented with a subset of the categories along with a two-letter word cue and were asked to mentally complete each word (during this phase, non-presented words from the same categories were inhibited). In the final recall phase, participants were presented with all of the categories and word cues corresponding to the word pairs from the study phase. Categories/words that were presented in the study phase but were not presented in the retrieval practice served as a baseline level of performance (since these words were not inhibited.) Retrieval-induced forgetting was revealed as a lower percentage of recall for words that were from the same category than the percentage of recall for words that were from a different category that were not presented during retrieval practice.

To identify brain regions associated with retrieval-induced forgetting during the final recall phase, non-presented words from the same category as those presented during retrieval practice (which were inhibited) were compared with practice words (which were not inhibited). This contrast produced activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The larger the magnitude of activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the higher the percentage of retrieval-induced forgetting. This suggests that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex actively inhibits non-presented words from the same category as words presented during retrieval practice.

Another retrieval-induced forgetting study used transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to disrupt activity in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during the practice phase. This completely eliminated the retrieval-induced forgetting effect, indicating that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is necessary to produce this type of forgetting.