Humans Arrive

August 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Timeline

August 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Origin Story: A Big History of Everything

August 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Ivan Pavlov: Socialism

August 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes a White Nationalist?

August 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fascism in on the March Again: Blame the Internet

August 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VR Headset Helps People Who Are Legally Blind to See

August 9, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self Talk for Growth Mindsets and a Healthy Memory

August 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

What is Thought?

August 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

The Voices Within

August 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Take Control of Pain

August 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Conquer Your Fears

August 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Lifting the Lid on the Unconscious

August 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clustering illusion — Seeing phantom patterns in random events.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ms. Young offers these five ways to game your unconscious

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

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

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

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

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

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Find Your Inner Creativity

August 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hacking Our Unconscious

July 31, 2018

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

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

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

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

Daniel Kahneman and Originalism

July 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

Now invoke System 2 processing and consider the following.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Healthier Heart and a Sharper Mind

July 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are We Living in 1984?

July 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump and the 2018 Election

July 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise, Maryland

July 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait, There’s More

July 25, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Should Be Done

July 24, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Ironic But Illuminating Fiasco

July 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2016 Election—Part Three

July 22, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2016 Election—Part Two

July 21, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2016 Election—Part One

July 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WannaCry & NotPetya

July 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shadow Brokers

July 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Russia, With Love

July 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump and North Korea

July 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE PERFECT WEAPON

July 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the first of many posts on this book.

Microsoft Calls for Regulation of Facial Recognition

July 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Problem was that I was Too Nice

July 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rudeness is as Contagious as a Bad Cold

July 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

A Needed Post on Consciousness

July 9, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Few Words on the Fading American Dream

July 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Fourth of July!

July 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

How far we have fallen.

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

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

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

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

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

Remember This Post on July 4

July 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

July 1, 2018

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

Authoritarian Governments

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

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

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

Democracies

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

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

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

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

Information Flooding

June 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Powerful Influence of Information Friction

June 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Censorship of the Chinese Internet

June 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern History of Information Control in China

June 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-Tiananmen: Control Minimizing the Perception of Control

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

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

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

Censored

June 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putin’s Peaks

June 25, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Hopefully Useful Information

June 24, 2018

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

https://healthymemory.wordpress.com/

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

You will also find categories of the posts.

Overview is obvious,

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

Mnemonic Techniques refer specifically to memory techniques, but also include (some, but not all) posts on meditation and mindfulness.

Transactive memory refers to posts pertaining specifically to technology.

If you get emails of the posts when they are posted you receive a copy of the post and links to just the immediately preceding and immediately following posts.

And searches can lead to some posts, but do not take you to the page with the useful functions and information.

Final Reflections

June 24, 2018

Here’s how Dr. McGonigal ends her important book “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It: “A while back, one of my close friends shared with me that instead of New Year’s resolutions, her family had started to set annual stress goals. Each year, she, her husband, and their teenage son decide how they want to grow in the coming year. Then they choose a personal goal that will be both meaningful and difficult. They talk about what their stress edge will be—what they expect to be challenging, what they might feel anxious about, and the strengths that they want to develop

I fell in love with this idea and immediately began using it myself. Not just for New Year’s resolution but as an orientation to life. In fact, writing this book was one of my big stress goals for the past two years. I knew it would be hard to do justice to the breadth of scientific research, and I was most worried about my ability to honor the incredible range of what people mean when they talk about stress. The strength I needed to develop was my willingness to keep asking people to tell me the truth about their experience of stress—even when it made writing the book more complicated, or forced me to live with questions I knew I couldn’t neatly answer.

Now because this book is a mindset intervention, you’ve probably already recognized that this story is also an invitation to set your own stress goal. Any new beginning or transition is an opportunity to think about how you want to challenge yourself. Birthdays, the start of a new calendar or school year, Sunday evenings, or each morning as you think about the day ahead. Even right now, you could ask yourself, ‘How do I want to grow from stress?’ If there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that any moment can become a turning point in how you experience stress, if you choose to make it one.”

This is the last healthy memory blog post on “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It” Despite the large number of posts, HM has not been able to do justice to this book. You are strongly encouraged to read the entire book on your own.

This is the fourteenth and final post on this book.

How Adversity Makes Us Stronger

June 23, 2018

This post is based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the thirteenth post on this book. People who are less satisfied with their current lives and more anxious about the future are more likely to become depressed. However, the attitudes don’t seem to be the direct result of a person’s painful experiences, but rather the result of their attitude toward them. It is important to understand that it is possible to learn to think about our struggles in a different way. Studies show that when people adopt a more accepting attitude toward their past hardships, they become happier, less depressed, and more resilient.

Choosing to see the upside of our most painful experiences is part of how we can change our relationships with stress. Accepting past adversity is part of how we find the courage to grow from present struggles. It is the attitude that allows us to embrace and transform stress. Although Dr.McGonigal has shared some of the science that supports a growth mindset toward adversity, the evidence for this point of view is already all around us. If we look, we will see the signs of it in our own lives, in the lives of those we admire, and even in the stories of strangers.

How Caring Creates Resilience

June 22, 2018

This post is based Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the twelfth post on this book. Dr. McGonigal received an email that demonstrates how powerful embracing your body’s response to stress can be. This woman was sitting on her back porch listening to Dr. McGonigal’s TED talk on embracing stress. She had just finished explaining how the stress response can provide energy and courage. She had described how a pounding heart was a sign that your body was rising to the challenge. At this moment the woman listening to her TED talk heard a dispute in the house next door. She realized that a father was physically abusing his child. This was not the first time it had happened. Every time before, she had frozen. She had been abused herself as a child, and witnessing this abuse brought her back to her response to that trauma.

In the past she had prayed for the child next door, but had felt too paralyzed to act. However, this time she took the TED talk mindset intervention to heart. She thought, “My body can give me the courage to act.” She called the police. She marshaled her own inner resources and found the strength to call on outside resources for support. The police interviewed her and intervened to protect the child. In addition to helping a vulnerable child, she experienced her own capacity to break the cycle of fear and paralysis. And she shared the story allowing her act to inspire others.

Viewing your stress response as a resource works because it helps you believe. Dr. McGonigal concludes: “Embracing stress is a radical act of self-trust: View yourself as capable and your body as a resource. You don’t have to wait until you no longer have fear, stress, or anxiety to do what matters most. Stress doesn’t have to be a sign to stop and give up on yourself. This kind of mind shift shift is a catalyst, not a cure. It doesn’t erase your suffering or make your problems disappear. But if you are willing to rethink your stress response, it may help you recognize you strength and access your courage.

A Meaningful Life is a Stressful Life

June 21, 2018

This post is based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the eleventh post on this book. She writes that everyone has a Mt Everest to climb. It could be a climb you choose, or a circumstance you find yourself in, you’re in the middle of an important journey. The climber knows the context of his stress. It has personal meaning to him. We are most liable to feel like a victim of the stress in our lives when we forget the context the stress is unfolding in. She writes “Just another cold, dark night on the side of Everest” is a way to remember the paradox of stress. She writes that the most meaningful challenges in our lives will come with a few cold nights.

She writes, “The biggest problem with trying to avoid stress is how it changes the way we view our lives, and ourselves. Anything in life that causes stress starts to look like a problem. If you experience stress at work, you think that there’s something wrong with your job. If you experience stress in your marriage, you think there is something wrong with your relationship. If you experience stress as a parent, you think there’s something wrong with your parenting (or your kids). If trying to make a change is stressful, you think there’s something wrong with your goal.”

She continues, “ When you think life should be less stressful, feeling stressed can also seem like a sign you are inadequate. If you were strong enough, smart enough, or good enough, you wouldn’t be stressed. Stress becomes a sign of personal failure rather than evidence that you are human. This kind of thinking explains, in part, why viewing stress as harmful increases the risk of depression. When you’re in this mindset, you’re more likely to feel overwhelmed and hopeless.”

Continuing further, “Choosing to see the connection between stress and meaning can free you from the nagging sense that there is something wrong with your life or that you are inadequate to the challenges you face. Even if not every frustrating moment feels full of purpose, stress and meaning are inextricably connected in the larger context of your life. When you take this view, life doesn’t become less stressful, but it can become more meaningful.”

The Damage Done by Forcibly Separating Children from Parents

June 19, 2018

Please excuse this interruption in the series of the posts on “The Upside of Stress” (between the 11th and 10th Posts), but current events justify this interruption. There have been a number of healthy memory posts stressing the importance of mothers loving their children and the damage done by indifferent mothers. The notion advanced by HM is that that most of the negative incidents typically reported in the news probably are the result of children who lacked a loving mother. The forceful separation of children that is now occurring at our current borders is even worse. This current post is based primarily on an article by William Wan in the 19 June 2018 issue of the Washington Post titled “When children are forcibly separated from parents, ‘‘The effect is catastrophic.’”

Here is what happens inside children when they are forcibly separated from their parents. Their heart rate goes up. Their body releases a flood of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These stress hormones can start killing off dendrites, which are the little branches in brain cells that transmit messages. Eventually this stress can start killing off neurons and, especially in young children, wreaking dramatic and long-term damage, both psychological and to the physical structure to the brain.

A pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School said, “The effect is catastrophic, There’s so much research on this that if people paid attention at all to the science they would never do this.”

This is why pediatricians, psychologists, other health experts, as well as other caring human beings, have been led to vehemently oppose the Trump administration’s new border crossing policy, which has separated more than 2,000 immigrant children from their parents in recent weeks.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, and the American Psychiatric Association have all issued statements representing more than 250,000 doctors in the United States against this new, intolerable policy. Nearly 7,700 mental health professionals and 142 organizations have also signed a petition urging Trump to end the policy. The petition reads, “To pretend that separated children do not grow up with the shrapnel of this traumatic experience embedded in their minds is to disregard everything we know about child development, the brain, and trauma,” the petition reads.

Nelson has studied the neurological damage from child-parent separation, work which he has said has reduced him to tears. In 2000 the Romanian government invited Nelson and a team of researchers into its state orphanages to advise them on a humanitarian crisis created by dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s policies.

At these orphanages, Nelson said, “we saw kids rocking uncontrollably and hitting themselves, hitting their heads against walls. They had to make up a rule as researchers that they would never cry in front of children. As the children grew older Nelson and his colleagues began finding disturbing differences in their brains. Those separated from their parents at a young age had much less white matter, which is largely made up of fibers that transmit information throughout the brain, as well as much less gray matter, which contains the brain-cell bodies that process information and solve problems. The activity in the children’s brains was much lower than expected. Nelson said, “it’s as though here was a dimmer than had reduced them from a 100-watt bulb to 30 watts.”

The children, who had been separated from their parents in their first two years of life, scored significantly lower on IQ tests later in life. Their fight-or-flight response system appeared permanently broken. Stressful situations that would usually prompt physiological responses in other people, increased heart rate, sweaty palms, would provoke nothing in the children.

What alarmed the researchers most was the duration of the damage. Unlike other parts of the body, most cells in the brain cannot renew or repair themselves.

“The reason child-parent separation has such devastating effects is because it attacks one of the most fundamental and critical bonds in human biology.

From the time they are born, children emotionally attach to their caregiver and vice versa, said Lisa Fortuna, medical director for child and adolescent psychiatry at Boston Medical Center. Skin-to-skin contact for newborns, for example, is critical to their development, research shows. ‘Our bodies secrete hormones like oxytocin on contact that reinforces the bond, to help us attach and connect,’ Fortuna said.

A child’s sense of what safety means depends on that relationship. And, without it, the parts of the brain that deal with attachment and fear, the amygdala and hippocampus, develop differently. The reason such children often develop PTSD later in life is that these neurons start firing irregularly. ‘The part of their brain that sorts things into safe or dangerous doesn’t work like it’s supposed to. Things that are not threatening, seem threatening.’

Research on Aboriginal children in Australia who were removed from their families also showed long-lasting effects. They were nearly twice as likely to be arrested or criminally charged as adults, 60% more likely to have alcohol abuse problems and more than twice as likely to struggle with gambling.

In China, where 1 in 5 children live in villages without their parents, who migrate for work, studies have shown that those ‘left behind’ children have markedly higher rates of anxiety and depression later in life.

Other studies have shown separation leading to increased aggression, withdrawal and cognitive difficulties.

Luis H. Mayas, a psychiatry professor at the University of Texas said “if you take the moral, spiritual, even political aspect out of it, from a strictly medical and scientific point of view what we as a country are doing to these children at the border is unconscionable . The harm our government is now causing will take a lifetime to undo.’”

The justification provided by several in the Trump administration was that they were enforcing the law. This is reminiscent of Nazis running the concentration camps killing jews claiming that they were only following orders.

Remember that at Charlottesville Trump was given several opportunities to denounce the nazi demonstrators. HIs lack of response was understandable when one considers that nazis are part of Trump’s base.

Realistic Views About Stress

June 19, 2018

This post is based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This the 10th post on this book. After Dr. McGonigal had publicly renounced a stress-is-harmful mindset she still caught herself complaining, “I’m so stressed!” or “This is So Stressful!.” When she confessed this to Dr. Crum, Dr. Crum responded, “Yes, I do sometimes still say, ‘I’m so stressed,’ but then I hear myself, and I take a moment to think about why I’m stressed. Then I say, “Ahhh, I’m so stressed.” When she said this three words, she sounded uplifted.

Dr. Crum went on to say that the most helpful mindset toward stress is one that is flexible, not black or white: to be able to see both sides of stress and yet also decide to focus on how the stress connects to what you care about. Her notion is that making a deliberate shift in mindset when you’re feeling stressed is even more empowering than having an automatically positive view.

Dr. McGonigal writes, “To this end, it’s important to note that in all the stress mindset interventions, including my course at Stanford, people don’t report a completely overhauled view of stress. The benefits of mindset shift appear as soon as people been to see the upside of stress. It’s not clear whether there is some kind of critical threshold or whether a bigger mindset shift always comes with bigger benefits. The most important takeaway, to me, is that seeing the good in stress doesn’t require abandoning the awareness that, in some cases, stress is harmful. The mindset shift that matters is the one that allows you to hold a more balanced view of stress—to fear it less, to trust yourself to handle it, and to use it as a resource for engaging with life.

Beyond Fight or Flight

June 18, 2018

This post comes from Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the ninth post on this book. The common but erroneous idea that the body’s response to stress is an outdated survival instinct and that you should not have a stress response to anything that isn’t a life-threatening emergency. Getting distressed here is seen as a psychological flaw, a weakness to be corrected. Dr. McGonigal writes “This stems from the mistaken belief that every stress response is a full-throttle fight or flight response. A more complete picture of the biology of stress helps us understand why we have these responses throughout the day, and why they are not signs of a flaw at all. Rushing to get your kids ready for school, dealing with a difficult coworker, thinking about criticism you received, worrying about a friend’s health—we have stress responses to all these things because we get stressed when something important to us is at stake. And most important, we have stress responses to help us do something about it.”

She continues, “We get stressed when our goals are on the line, so we take action. We get stressed when our values are threatened, so we defend them. We get stressed when we need courage. We get stressed so we can connect with others. We get stressed so that we will learn from our mistakes.”

And she concludes, “The stress response is more than a basic survival instinct. It is built into how humans operate, how we relate to one another, and how we navigate our place in the world. When you understand this, the stress response is no longer something to be feared. It is something to be appreciated, harassed, and even trusted.”

New Science of Stress Course

June 17, 2018

This course is described in Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the eighth post on this book. Dr. McGonigal teaches this six week course at Stanford. The course follows the following three step process:
Learning the new point of view,
doing an exercise that encourages the adoption and application of the new mindset,
providing an opportunity to share the idea with others.

Each week she gives a lecture on the science included in her book, “The Upside of Stress,” and suggests specific strategies for cultivating a new stress mindset. The next week in the class meeting that follows, she asks students to report back on the ideas that were discussed the previous week. Were they able to use any of the strategies? Did rethinking stress help them handle a difficult situation? She also asks them to pay special attention to any opportunities to share what they are learning with others. Their last assignment is to report back on what they found most helpful and how they shared that idea or practice to someone they care about.

“Anonymous class surveys before and after the course show that, on average, student’s stress mindsets become more positive by the end of the course. In the follow-up survey, students are also less likely to agree with statements such as “My problems make it difficult for me to live a life that I value,” and “If I could magically remove all the painful experiences I’ve had in my life I would do so.” Students are feeling more confident in their ability to handle the stress in their lives and feeling less overwhelmed by the problems they face. They are all more likely to say that they are energetically pursuing the goals that are important to them. All these change occurred despite the fact that many of the students are horrified when they realize, in the first class session, that the course they signed up fr is about embracing stress not reducing it. “
Dr. McGonigal also relates specific success stories in anonymous post-course evaluations.

She writes that in her experience, when people are willing to contemplate a new way of thinking about stress, the benefits can extend to just about any scenario you can imagine. But she continues “that willingness isn’t always there. As she knows all too well, it can be incredibly difficult, and even threatening, to rethink a belief important enough to earn the status of mindset.”

How to Change Your Mindset

June 16, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Dr. McGonigal’s book, “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the seventh post on this book. The question raised in this section is whether a mind shift will still work if you try to change your own mind about stress, or do you have to be tricked into it?

The placebo effect has been extensively covered in previous healthy memory posts. Included there was the information that placebo effects occur even when the individual knows she is either taking or being given a placebo. So it is reasonable to expect that the same will be true in mindset intervention when people have to choose a new mindset. Dr. Crum thinks that the ideal mindset intervention is less about manipulation and more about choice. Interventions now teach participants about the power of mindsets and invites them to adopt a more positive view of stress.

The first test of this “open-label” mindset interventions took place at a Fortune 500 firm. Employees were invited to participate in stress-management training. 229 mostly middle-aged employees signed up. About half were randomly assigned to a two-hour stress mindset intervention, while the others were put on a wait list.

The training began with research on both the harms and benefits of stress. They they employees learned about the power of mindset, which included the results of Dr. Crum’s previous studies.. The employees were explicitly told that the aim of the training was to help them choose a more positive stress mindset.

“To help them cultivate this new mindset, the employees were asked to reflect on their own experiences with stress, including times when stress had been helpful. They were also taught a three-step processing for practicing the new mindset whenever they felt stressed. The first step is to acknowledge stress when you experience it. Simply allow yourself to notice the stress, including how it affects your body. The second step is to welcome stress by recognizing that it’s a response to something you care about. Can you connect to the positive motivation behind the stress? What is at stake here, and why does it matter to you? The third step is to make use of the energy that stress gives you, instead of wasting energy trying to manage your stress. What can you do right now that reflects your goals and values? The employees were encouraged to remember this three-step process when they experienced stress and to try to practice it at least once a day.

Three weeks later, the researchers checked in with the participants. Those who had gone through the training showed a shift in stress mindset. Before the training, the employees had generally endorsed a stress-is-harmful mindset, but now they are more likely to recognize its upside. They were also better at dealing with stress. The employees reported less anxiety and depression and better physical health. At work, they felt more focused, creative and engaged. The employees whose mindset changed the most—from negative to more positive—showed the biggest improvements. At a final follow-up six weeks after the intervention, these benefits were maintained.

The First Stress Mindset Intervention

June 15, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the sixth post on her book. This intervention took place at the global financial firm UBS during the height of the 2008 economic collapse. Not surprisingly, in the financial places of work as evidenced in a study found that within ten years of entering the industry, 100% of investment bankers developed at least one condition associated with burnout, such as insomnia, alcoholism, or depression. The 2008 economic collapse amplified this pressure. There were widespread reports of increased anxiety, depression, and suicide.

UBS instituted major layoffs and cut employee compensation by 36%. In the middle of this, employees at UBS received an email from human resources inviting them to participate in a stress-management program. A total of 388, half men and half women, with an average age of 38, signed up.

The employees were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group of 164 employees received online training that delivered the typical stress-management message, which reinforces the view that stress is inherently negative. A second group of 163 employees received online training designed to give them a more positive view stress, that was the mindset intervention. A smaller control group of 61 employees received no training at all.

Employees receiving online training received emails with links to three videos that were each three minutes long. Those in the first group were provided statistics like “Stress is America’s number one health issue’, and “Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death.” The videos warned that stress can lead to mood swings, emotional exhaustion, and memory loss. The videos also featured examples of leaders who failed to perform well under stress.

Employees in the mindset intervention group received three very different videos. These videos explained how stress can increase physical resilience, enhance focus, deepen relationships, and strengthen personal values. The videos shared examples of companies that thrived under difficult circumstances, as well as individuals who performed heroically in the face of great stress.

All employees completed surveys before and after the online training. The answer to the research team’s first question—Can you change a person’s mind about stress?—was yes. Employees who watched the negative videos became even more convinced that stress was harmful. However, employees in the mindset intervention group developed a more positive view of stress.

The size of the mind shift was not large. But they did endorse a view of stress that was more balanced than the one they’d had before the intervention. The change was statistically significant, but not a complete reversal. Instead of viewing stress as predominantly harmful, they now saw both the good and the bad in stress.
The second important question was whether this mindset shift was associated with any other changes. The answer was yes. Employees who received the mindset intervention were less anxious and depressed. They reported fewer health problems, like back pain and insomnia. They also reported greater focus, engagement, collaboration, and productivity at work. Note that these improvements took place in the midst of extreme stress. Employees who viewed negative videos, as well as those who received no training, showed no change in these outcomes.

Dr. Crum has gone on to conduct stress mindset interventions and workshops in a variety of settings, including health care professionals, college students, executives, and Navy SEALs. Her work shows that very brief interventions can lead to changes in how people think about and experience stress. Adopting a more positive view of stress reduces what we usually think of as stress-related problems and helps people thrive even under high levels of stress.

What Is Your Stress Mindset?

June 14, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Dr. McGonigal’s book, “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the fifth post on her book. You should look at the two following mindsets below and consider which set of statements you agree with more strongly—or, at least would have agreed with before you read the immediately preceding posts:

Mindset 1: Stress is Harmful.
Experiencing stress depletes my health and vitality.
Experiencing stress debilitates my performance and productivity.
Experiencing stress inhibits my learning and growth.
The effects of stress are negative and should be avoided.

Mindset 2: Stress is Enhancing.
Experiencing stress enhances my performance and productivity.
Experiencing stress improves my health and vitality.
Experiencing stress facilitates my learning and growth.
The effects of stress are positive and should be utilized.

The first mindset is by far the most common. Dr. Crum and her colleagues have found that while most people can see some truth in both mindsets, they still view stress as more harmful than helpful. Men and women do not differ, and age does not predict mindset. A 2014 survey conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health found that 85% of Americans agreed that stress has a negative effect on health, family, and work. The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey found that most people perceived their own stress as unhealthy. Even people who report relatively little stress believe that the ideal level of stress is below whatever they are currently experiencing. People’s perceptions of a healthy level of stress have actually gone down; when the American Psychological Association started its annual stress survey in 2007, people perceived a moderate level of stress as ideal. Now, survey participants perceived the same moderate level of stress as unhealthy.

However, Dr. McGonigal has evidence that people can see some good in stress. In 2013 she conducted a survey of CEO’s, vice presidents, and general managers who were participating in Stanford University’s Executive Leadership Development Program. 51 % said they did their best work while under stress. In the 2014 Harvard School of Public Health survey, 67% of those who reported the highest levels of stress also said they had experienced at least one benefit from their stress. However, participants in both surveys were also convinced that they should be doing more to reduce stress. This attitude is not peculiar to America. Dr. McGonigal has encountered similar views about stress in Canada, Europe, and Asia. Even when people can recognized some benefits of stress, their overall perception of it is negative.

Dr. Crum considered the possibility that a positive view of stress might be the result of an easier life. But when she looked at the data, she found only a weak link between how people thought about stress and the severity of the stress. There was also a very small correlation between the number of stressful events (such as divorce, changing jobs) that people experienced in the past year and how negative their views of stress were. So it is not the case that people with a positive attitude toward stress have a life free of suffering. Dr. Crum also found that a positive view of stress was beneficial to people whether they were currently under a little or a lot of stress, and no matter how stressful of stress-free the past year had been.

It is true that optimists live longer than pessimists. In addition to optimism, two other personality traits seem to be associated with a more positive view of stress: mindfulness, and the ability to tolerate uncertainty. But Dr. Crum’s analysis showed that none of these personality traits could account for the effects of stress mindsets on health, happiness, or work productivity. Although how a person thinks about stress might be influenced by certain personality traits or experiences, a stress mindset’s effects on health and happiness cannot be explained by either.

Dr. Crum’s research points to the likely possibility that: Stress mindsets are powerful because they affect not just how you think, but also how you act. When you view stress as harmful, it is something to be avoided. Feeling stressed becomes a signal to try to escape or reduce the stress. They are more likely to:
*Try to distract themselves from the cause of the stress instead of dealing with it.
*Focus on getting rid of their feelings of stress instead of taking steps to decrease its source.

People who believe that stress can be helpful are more likely to say the they cope with stress proactively. They are more likely to:
*Accept the fact that the stressful event has occurred and is real.
*Plan a strategy for dealing with the source of the stress.
*Seek information, help, or advice.
*Take steps to overcome, remove, or change the source of the stress.
*Try to make the best of the situation by viewing it in a more positive way or by using it as an opportunity to grow.

Beliefs that Become Mindsets

June 13, 2018

This is the fourth post based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” Dr. McGonigal writes, “The beliefs that become mindsets transcend preferences, learned facts, or intellectual opinions. They are core beliefs that reflect your philosophy of life. When a mindset gets activated—by a memory, a situation you find yourself in, or a remark that someone makes—it sets off a cascade of thoughts, emotions, and goals that shape how you respond to life. This, in turn, can influence long-term outcomes, including health, happiness, and even longevity.”

For example, having a positive view of aging adds an average of almost eight years to one’s life, and it predicts other important health outcomes. The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging tracked adults ages eighteen to forty-nine for thirty-eight years found that those with the most positive views of aging had an 80% lower risk of heart attack. Adults who associated growing older with positive stereotypes such as “wise” and “capable” recovered from a heart attack more quickly than those who endorsed negative stereotypes such as “useless” and “stuck in their ways.” A positive view of aging predicted faster and more complete physical recovery from a debilitating illness or accident. Both studies measure recovery in objective outcomes such as walking speed, balance, and ability to perform daily activities. All these studies controlled for important factors, such as initial health status, depression, and socioeconomic status.

It is likely that health behaviors are the underlying factor in these studies. Those with a negative view of aging are likely to view poor health as inevitable. As they feel less capable of maintaining or improving their health as they age, they invest less time and energy in their future well-being. But people with a positive attitude toward growing older engage in more health-promoting behaviors, such as exercising regularly and following their doctor’s advice. An intervention designed to increase positive views of aging also increased participants’ physical activity. When you have a positive view of growing older, you’re more apt to do things that will benefit your future self. And there are good reasons for having a positive view of aging. Although some find it difficult to believe, studies have consistently shown that people get happier as they get older.

Research at the German Centre of Gerontology in Berlin studied adults over time to examine the impact a serious illness or accident, such as a broken hip, lung disease, or cancer. Those with a positive view of aging responded to the crisis by increasing their commitment to their health. They were more proactive and dedicated to their recovery. In contrast, older adults who had a more negative view of aging were less likely to take actions to improve their health. Consequently those with more positive view of aging ended up report great life satisfaction better health and physical function after their illness or accident.

So these findings about how we think about aging affects health and recovery not through mystical positive thinking, but by influencing goals and choices. This is an ideal example of a mindset effect.

Dr. McGonigal concludes, “It turns out how you think about stress is also one of those core beliefs that can affect your health, happiness, and success. As we’ll see, our stress mindset shapes everything from the emotions we feel during a stressful situation to the way you cope with stressful events. That, in turn, can determine whether we thrive under stress or end up burned out and depressed. The good news is even if you are firmly convinced that stress is harmful, you can still cultivate a mindset that helps us thrive.”

How Our Bodies Respond to Stress

June 12, 2018

This post is based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the third post in the series on this book. Dr. McGonigal participated in the following experiment done by Dr. Crum. Participants were hooked up to a variety of devices to record physiological responses that included heart activity, blood flow, sweat, and body temperature. Saliva was also collected to measure stress hormones. Next she participated in a mock job interview that was structured to be highly stressful. Before the mock job interview, study participants were randomly assigned to view one of two videos about stress. One three minute video began by saying that most people think stress is negative, but actually research shows that stress is enhancing. The video went on to describe how stress can improve performance, enhance well-being, and help one grow. The other video, which the other half of the participants saw, starts with the ominous announcement, “Most people know that stress is negative…but research shows that stress is even more debilitating than you expect. It went on to describe how stress can harm your health, happiness, and performance at work.

Saliva was collected to measure two stress hormones: cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). These two hormones are released by our adrenal glands during times of stress, but they serve different roles. Cortisol helps turn sugar and fat into energy and improves the ability of the body and brain to use that energy. Cortisol also surpresses some biological functions that are less important during stress, such as digestion, reproduction, and growth. On the other hand, DHEA is a neurosteroid, which is a hormone that helps the brain to grow. Just as testosterone helps the body grow stronger from physical exercise, DHEA helps the brain grown stronger from stressful experiences. DHEA also counters some of the effects of cortisol. For example, DHEA speeds up wound repair and enhances immune function.

We need both these hormones. Neither is a “good” or “bad” stress hormone. But the ratio of these two hormones can influence the long-term consequences of stress, especially when stress is chronic. Higher levels of cortisol can be associated with worse outcomes, such as impaired immune function and depression. In contrast, higher levels of DHEA have been linked to a reduced risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease neurodegeneration, and other diseases we typically think of as stress-related.

The ratio of DHEA to cortisol is called the growth index of a stress response. A higher growth index helps people thrive under stress. It predicts academic persistence and resilience in college students, as well as higher GPAs. A higher growth index was associated with greater focus, less dissociation, and superior problem-solving skills, and fewer post-traumatic stress symptoms during and after military survival training. The growth index also predicts resilience in extreme circumstances, such as recovering from child abuse.

The key question for the experiment explained earlier in this post was whether a three-minute video about stress could alter this key ratio of stress hormones. The answer was yes. Participants who had watched the stress-is-enhancing video before the interview released more DHEA and had a higher growth index than participants who had watched the stress-is-debilitating video. Dr. Crum concludes, “Viewing stress as enhancing made it so—not in some subjective, self-reported way, but in the ratio of stress hormones produced by the participants adrenal glands. Viewing stress as helpful created a different biological reality.

Mindsets

June 11, 2018

Dr. McGonigal relates what she experienced at the Behaviorlal Research Lab at Columbia University. She was holding her right arm out at shoulder length while psychologist Alia Crum was trying to push it down. They struggled for a few seconds. Despite being quite petite, Dr. Alia Crum was quite strong (a former hockey player and an internationally ranked ironman triathlete in fact). So it was not surprising that Dr. McGonigal’s arm gave out.

Dr. Crum instructed Dr. McGonigal, “Instead of resisting me, I want you to imagine that you are reaching your arm toward someone or something you care about.” She asked her to imagine that when she pushed on her arm, she should channel her energy into what she was reaching toward. This exercise was inspired by Dr. Crum’s father, who is a sensei in aikido, a martial art based on the principle of transforming harmful energy. Dr. McGonigal visualized what Dr. Crum had instructed, and then tried again. This time Dr. McGonigal was much stronger, and Dr. Crum wasn’t able to push Dr. McGonigal’s arm down. The more she pushed, the stronger Dr. McGonigal felt.

This single idea motivates all Dr. Crum’s research: How you think about something can transform its effect on you. Crum’s work gets attention because it shows that our physical reality is more subjective than we believe. By changing how people think about an experience, they can change what’s happening in their bodies. Her findings are so surprising that they make a lot of people scratch their heads and say, “Huh? Is that even possible?”

“Mindsets are beliefs that shape our reality, including objective physical reactions, and even long-term health, happiness, and success. More important, the new field of mindset science shows that a single brief intervention, designed to change how we think about something, can improve our health, happiness, and success, even years into the future. The field is full of remarkable findings that will make us think about our own beliefs. From placebos to self-fulfilling prophecies, perception matters. After a crash course in the science of mindsets, you’ll understand why our beliefs about stress matter—and how we can start to change our own minds about stress.

Both the topics of mindsets and placebos have warranted many health memory blog posts in the past. Just enter “placebo” or “mindset” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to find relevant posts.

This blog post is the second post based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.”

The Upside of Stress

June 10, 2018

HM is surprised that he is writing this title. As a person and as a psychologist, he has thought that stress is harmful and something to be avoided. The author of the book, “The Upside of Stress” is also a psychologist, a health psychologist at Stanford University to be specific, who also thought that stress was harmful and something that should be avoided. But we psychologists change our minds, when data indicate that we should change our minds. The data so indicated and we changed our minds. The subtitle of Dr. McGonigal’s book is “Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.”

In 1998, thirty thousand adults in the United States were asked how much stress they had experienced in the past year. They were also asked, “Do you believe stress is harmful to your health. Eight years later the researchers examined the public records to find out who among the thirty thousand participants had died. High levels of stress increased the risk of dying by 43%, but this increased risk applied only to people who also believed that stress was harmful to their health. People who reported high levels of stress but who did not view they stress as harmful were not more likely to die. Moreover, they had the lowest risk of death of anyone in the study, even lower than those who reported experiencing very little stress.

So it doesn’t appear that stress alone is harmful. Rather, it is the combination of stress and the belief that stress is harmful. The researchers estimated that over the eight years they conducted the study, 182,000 Americans may have died prematurely because they believed that stress was harming their health. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that makes “believing stress is bad for you” the fifteenth-leading cause of death in the United States, killing more people than skin cancer, HIV/AIDS, and homicide. The researchers had looked at a wide range of factors that might explain the finding to include gender, race, ethnicity, age, education, income, work status, marital status, smoking, physical activity, chronic health condition, and health insurance. None of these facts explained why stress beliefs interacted with stress levels to predict mortality.

It is known that beliefs and attitudes are important. One example is that people with a positive attitude about aging live longer than those who hold negative stereotypes about getting oder. A classic study by researchers at Yale University followed middle-aged adults for 20 years. Those who had a positive view of aging in midlife lived an average of 7.6 years longer than those who had a negative view. To put this finding in perspective, many factors we regard as obvious and important, such as exercising regularly, not smoking, and maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, have been shown, on average, to add less than four years to one’s life span.

After learning of these findings, Dr. McGonigal had to face the fact that by teaching the dangers of stress, she was actually damaging the health of students, not helping them. Dr. McGonigal learned from these studies and from talking to scientists, who are part of a new generation of stress researchers, whose work is redefining our understanding of stress by illuminating its upside. “The latest science reveals that stress can make you smarter, stronger, and more successful. It helps us learn and grow, and it can even inspire courage and compassion. The best way to manage stress is not to reduce or avoid it, but rather to rethink and even embrace it.

The next thirteen healthy memory blog posts will be based on Dr. McGonigal’s book to help you rethink and embrace it.

Key to the development of an effective response to stress involves the concept of mindsets. The healthy memory blog has been a strong advocate of growth mindsets in which we embrace continual new learning. Learning about stress is just another topic to add to our growth mindsets.

When is the best time to take a test or think creatively?

June 9, 2018

The answers can be found in an article titled “Good Timing” by Kirsten Weir in June 2018 issue of “Monitor on Psychology.” Research is finding that one’s cognitive performance fluctuates in predictable patterns throughout the course of a day. And the performance of different tasks can differ as a function of the task and the time of day.

Madhusudan Sanaka, MD, at the Cleveland Clinic and his colleagues studied colonoscopy data from more than 3,600 people and found that physicians identified significantly more abnormalities during morning colonoscopies than during those performed in the afternoon (“The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 104, 7, 2009).

Moods also rise and fall predictably throughout the day. Ph.Ds Scott Golder and Michael Macy at Cornell University studied language from millions of public Twitter posts from around the globe. They found the average Twitter users had a happiness spike around breakfast, hit a grimy slump in late afternoon, and perked up again after dinner (“Science” 333, 6051, 2011). Macy said,“We found an incredibly robust pattern across diverse cultures all over the world.”

The time-sensitive nature of moods can have surprising ripple effects. Jing Chen, Ph.D., at the University of Buffalo School of Management, and colleagues analyzed earnings conference calls and found that financial executives and analysts were upbeat in the morning and became more negative as the day wore on. Those mood changes led the analysts to make more errors related to stock pricing in the afternoon (‘Management Science,” online first publication, 2018).

Given these results, should we schedule important tasks for the morning and give afternoons over to an extended siesta? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. People’s cognitive abilities fluctuate throughout the day in accordance with their personal circadian patterns, or chronotypes.

We tend to fall into different chronotypes, defined by the window of time we feel most alert and energetic. There are strong morning types, moderate morning types, strong evening types, moderate evening types, and those who are neutral, who peak at midday.

Dorothee Fischer, Ph.D., a research fellow at Harvard Medical School/Brigham and Women’s Hospital says “Chronotype isn’t a personality trait, but a biological characteristic.” Our sleep-wake cycles are governed by a master clock known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a cluster of neurons located within the hypothalamus. The SCN does its job with input from environmental factors, largely light exposure. But sunshine is only part of the story. Our underlying rhythms are rooted in our genes.

As we age our circadian rhythmicity shifts. On the whole, young children are more often morning types, but by their teens and early 20s a majority have shifted to favoring evenings, or being neutral, leaning toward evening. In older age, we slide back toward favoring the morning hours. Still, there’s considerable variation among individuals, and that variation translates to differences in our peak times for maximum brainpower.

Lynn Hasher, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Toronto says, “You are way better off doing difficult mental chores at a time consistent with your chronotype. Research has shown that these synchrony effects hold for people of all ages, from adolescent to older adults. One study had adolescents who identified as morning or evening types perform a suite of executive function tasks. The participants took the tests in the morning or afternoon. Lark or owl, students tested during their peak times scored higher on working memory, decision-making and overall executive functioning that a tested at off-peak times (“Developmental Science”, 15, 3, 2102).

In another study older and younger adults were tested at their peak and non peak times. The tests evaluated implicit memory (recall of well-known information) as well as explicit memory (the conscious deliberate effort to process and retrieve information). In both groups, participants had better explicit memory during their peak times during the day. However, for implicit memory the results were flipped: Morning types had better implicit memory in the afternoon, while evening types scored higher in the morning (“Psychological Science”, 16, 2, 2005). These results make sense when you think of daily peaks in terms of distractions. Inhibition is an important part of executive function, allowing us to focus unimportant tasks by filtering out the unimportant details. During off-peak times of day, inhibition wavers and we have a harder time tuning out the irrelevant information. That’s why tasks that require focus and analytic thought are best tackled at peak times.

On the other hand, creative endeavors might best be undertaken at off-peak times. Psychologists Marieke Wieth and Rose Zacks found that people were better able to solve problems requiring a flash of insight during their off-peak times of day (“Thinking & Reasoning,” 17, 4, 2011). May says, “If you’re doing a task when you want to entertain lots of different possibilities and think creatively, then operating at your non optimal time is to your advantage.”

As for people without a strong preference for early mornings or late nights, Hasher and May gave a battery of cognitive tests to two groups of neutral-type adults, ages 17 to 21 and ages 70 to 74. The older adults performed best at midday, with notable timing effects for inhibition, executive function, long-term memory and forgetting. The younger adults showed no differences in peformance when tested in early morning, midday, or evening (“Timing & Time Perception, 5, 2, 2017).

Timing effects might become more important with age. Hasher and her colleagues compared cognitive control between morning-type elderly adults and young adults who trended toward evening type. The participants completed a series of tasks to measure attention and distraction while inside an fMRI scanner. When older adults were tested in the morning, at their peak time, they were more likely to ignore distracting information, performing more similarly to young adults tested in the afternoons. When tested at their peak time, the older participants showed activation in the same brain regions as their younger counterparts. But when tested at non optimal times, older adults were more easily distracted and recruited different neural networks to do the work (“Psychology and Aging”, 29, 3, 2014).

Unfortunately, these time of day effects can adversely affect results on important tests. Hasher and her colleagues gave intelligence tests to 11- to 14-year-olds testing both morning and evening types at optimal and non optimal times of day. IQ estimates were an average of 6 points lower when children tested at their non-peak rather than peak times (“Personality and Individual Differences,” 42, 3, 2007).

Fischer and colleagues conducted an experiment in which they matched shift workers” schedules to their chronotypes. Fischer says, “The earliest group of chronotypes didn’t work the night shift and the later group didn’t work the morning shift. By this simple tweak, we could improve sleep duration, circadian disruption and well being (“Current Biology,” 25, 7, 2015).

Most people can find small ways to tweak their daily schedules for maximum benefit. If you’re a morning person, resist the temptation to go through emails first thing in the morning and try diving into your deep work right away. May says, “You should save the mundane administrative stuff until the afternoon and spend the morning on more difficult tasks like writing manuscripts, analyzing data or planning experiments.”

If you’re meeting with a financial planner to discuss complicated investment options, schedule the appointment at a time when you’re at your cognitive peak. If you’re trying to interpret some puzzling research data, revisit it during your off-peak coffee break.

You can still shift your rhythm a little, says Fischer. Being exposed to bright lights at night can push circadian patterns later into the evening. That’s especially true of the blue light common in electronic devices. But lights are easy to adjust. Fischer says, “Reducing evening light exposure has an advancing effect on your circadian clock.” By dimming lights when it gets dark outside and using light-filtering software on their devices, evening types can shift their biology to a (slightly) earlier rhythm.

So What Can Be Done?

June 8, 2018

This is the third post based on THE SOUL OF AMERICA: The Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meecham. So what can be done? How can we win the battle for our better angels? Jon Meecham suggests:

Enter the Arena:
Meecham writes, “The battle begins with political engagement itself. Theodore Roosevelt said, “The first duty of any American citizen, then, is that he shall work in politics; his second duty is that he shall do that work in a practical manner; and his third is that it shall be done in accord with the highest principles of honor and justice. …To believe something creates an obligation to make that belief known and to act upon it within the arena. Politicians are far more often mirrors of public sentiment than they are molders; the is the nature of things in a popular government and should be a source of hope for those who long for a change of presidents or of policy.”

Resist Tribalism:
The country works best when we resist tribal inclinations. Jane Adams wrote, “We know instinctively that if we grown contemptuous of our fellows and consciously limit our intercourse to certain kinds of people whom we have previously decided to respect, we not only tremendously circumscribe our range of life, but limit the scope of our ethics.”

Eleanor Roosevelt offered this prescription to guard against self-certitude: “It is not only important but mentally invigorating to discuss political matters with people whose opinions differ radically from our own. For the same reason, I believe it is a sound idea to attend not only the meetings of one’s own party but of the opposition. Find out what people are saying, what they are thinking, what they believe. This is an invaluable check on one’s own ideas…If we are to cope intelligently with a changing world, we must be flexible and willing to relinquish opinions that no longer have any bearing on existing conditions. Meecham adds, “If Mrs. Roosevelt were writing today, she might put it this way: Don’t let ay single cable network or Twitter feed tell you what to think.”

Respect Facts and Deploy Reason
This is the primary problem with Trump. He does not respect facts. He does not believe in objective reality. All his reasoning is self-serving. So the requirement is to issue reality checks. Challenge beliefs that are not supported by facts. This is an extremely difficult and challenging task. Raise the possibility of a delusional disorder. Point to the motivation for the delusions and false claims. And point to the dangers continuing to follow these false claims will lead.

Find a Critical Balance
And find that balance in a free press. Keep this injunction of Theodore Roosevelt in mind; “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” So resist any and all attacks on the Free Press. And resist any and all attacks on the judiciary.
Keep History in Mind
Remember that we are on a path of progress and improvement from our beginnings as an incipient democracy. This path is not always one of improvement. There have been regressions from which we had to recover (the Civil War being the most blatant). Keep in mind the McCarthy era and the similarity of its problems to our Trump problems. Remember this book, consider purchasing this book, and use it as a resource to win the battle for our better angels.

Trump and McCarthy

June 7, 2018

This is the second post based on “THE SOUL OF AMERICA: The Battle for Our Better Angels” by Jon Meecham. In looking for somehow who once endangered American democracy as much as Trump does today, HM found Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Before getting to McCarthy, conservative Robert Welch thought that Dwight Eisenhower was guilty of treason. Along with Eisenhower was President Truman’s secretary of defense and of state George Marshall, whom Welch said was “a conscious, deliberate, dedicated agent of the Soviet conspiracy. Eisenhower’s secretary of state was yet another “Communist agent.”

Robert Welch founded the John Birch Society. Welch thought that there was a struggle from which either communism or Christian-style civilization mush emerge with one completely triumphant and the other completely destroyed.

Senator Joseph R. McCarthy picked up on this and told the Ohio County Republican Women’s Club, “Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity. The modern champions of communism have selected this as the time. And, ladies and gentlemen, the chips are down—they are truly down.”

“McCarthy was something new in political life at the time: a freelance performer who grasped what many ordinary Americans feared and who had direct access to the media of the day. He exploited the privileges of power and prominence without regard to its responsibilities; to him politics were not about the substantive but the sensational. The country feared Communism, and McCarthy knew it, and he fed those fears with years of headlines and hearings. A master of false charges, of conspiracy-tonged heroic, and of calculated disrespect for conventional figures (from Truman and Eisenhower, to Marshall), McCarthy could distract the public, play the press, and change the subject—all while keeping himself at center stage.”

Meecham writes that McCarthy was an opportunist, uncommitted to much beyond his own fame and influence. HIs own lawyer, Roy M. Cohn, could not discern any great ideological conviction. Cohn, who later worked for Trump said, ”Joe McCarthy bought Communism in much the same way as other people purchase a new automobile. The salesman showed him the model; he looked at it with interest, examined it more closely, kicked the tires, sat at the whereat, squiggled in the seat, asked some questions, and bought. It was must as cold as that.”

Eleanor Roosevelt remarked, “McCarthy’s methods, to me, look like HItler’s.” President Truman agreed with a correspondent who posited that “there is no difference in kind between Hitlerism and McCarthyism, both being the same form of bacteriological warfare against the minds and souls of men.” Truman said that the net effect of the McCarthyite campaign was to undermine confidence in the country in a time of cold war. He said, “To try to sabotage the foreign policy of the United Staes is just as bad in this cold war as it would be to shoot our soldiers in the back in a hot war.”
Richard H. Rovere wrote that he was the first American ever to be actively hated and feared by foreigners in large numbers.” In 1953, Eleanor Roosevelt, on a trip to Japan, found herself facing question about McCarthyism. “Will you please explain these attitudes?” A Japanese businessman asked the former First Lady, “We are unable to understand why things happen in a great democratic nation like the United States.” Meecham writes, “Part of the answer lies in the nature of democracy itself: Millions of Americans approved of McCarthy no matter what the elites might say or do.” Does this not sound reminiscent of the current suspicion of expertise and the “deep state?”

The Columbia University history professor Richard Hofstadter, wrote at the time, the “growth of mass media in communication and their use in politics have brought politics closer to the people than ever before and have made politics a form of entertainment in which the spectators feel themselves involved. Thus, it becomes more than ever before an arena into which private emotions and personal problems can be readily projected. Communications have made it possible to keep the mass man in an almost constant of political mobilization.”

McCarthy understood the media’s ways and means. He knew that every wire serviceman had to have a lead by eleven’o’clock [for the afternoon newspapers]. There just wasn’t any question about it; you had to have a lead. The senator learned to make sensational charges at just the right moment, forcing reporters to write quick stories that surged across the country by wire, reaching millions of readers before sundown.

When he read coverage he disliked, McCarthy did not keep quiet—he went on the offensive, singling out specific publications and particular journalists. Sound familiar? He said, “if you can show a newspaper as unfriendly and having a reason to be antagonistic, you can take the sting out of what it ways about you. I think I can convince a lot of people that they can’t believe what they read in that newspaper.”

The similarities to Trump should be obvious. For both individuals, objective truth and reality were irrelevant. Supporters believed their obvious lies and the emotional support these lies brought.

All this went on for a long time from around 1950 into 1954. It is difficult to believe that his lies and foolishness lasted for such a long time. But eventually, he was seriously challenged. Edward R. Murrow said, “We will not walk in fear of one another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we did dip in our history and doctrine and remember the we are not descended from fearful men.”

Eventually there were hearings into McCarthy and the U.S. Army in the Senate. Roy Cohn and McCarthy had exerted pressure on the Army to secure favors for David Schine, an intimate of Cohn’s who had been drafted. McCarthy’s ugliness and lack of fidelity to the truth became evident in these hearings.

The counsel for the Army, Joseph N. Welch, attacked McCarthy who attempted impugn the loyalty of a young lawyer on Welch’s team. When McCarthy blundered forward and took up the theme again, Welch was ready and stuck with force. “Let’s not assassinate this lad further, Senator, Welch said. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?”

If only Trump could be reprimanded like this public for his lack of decency for his fellow human beings.

McCarthy faded from public view after this, and drank himself to death.

THE SOUL OF AMERICA

June 6, 2018

The title of this post is the title of a book by Jon Meecham. The subtitle is “The Battle for our Better Angels.” Given the current state of our country, it is a most timely volume. Meecham writes, “To know what has come before us is to be armed against despair. If the men and women of the past, with all their flaws and limitations and ambitions and appetites, could press on through ignorance and superstition, racism and sexism, selfishness and greed, to create a freer stronger nation, then perhaps we, too, can right wrongs and take another step toward that most enchanting and elusive of destinations: a more perfect union.”

Consider from where we started. Although the Declaration of Independence said that all men are created equal, women could not vote. Slavery existed and these blacks were counted as three-fifths of a human being. So the Constitution gave us a starting point from which we were to advance and develop. It is interesting that the founding fathers decided against a parliamentary system of government in which the parliament would choose the executive for the country. Instead, they decided upon a government with three branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial, that were supposed to be independent and to serve as checks and balances on each other. During Watergate this system worked well. Republicans in the legislative branch had no problem holding the Republican president’s feet to the fire for wrongdoing, so he resigned rather than face impeachment.

Unfortunately today Republicans in the legislative branch are waging war against the Judicial Branch to discredit its investigation of the president. The reason they are trying to discredit this investigation is that it appears serious crimes against the American people have been committed by the president. Were the president innocent, the obvious course would be to assist the judicial branch. What is especially discrediting to these attacks is that outstanding Republicans are leading the investigation. Yet terms such as “witch hunt” are repeatedly heard. Such terms make our country sound like some African dictatorship. If the investigation is ended by Trump, it is quite possible that Trump would declare himself, as the leaders he clearly admires, Putin and Xi, effectively did, dictator for life.

Consider Reagan’s City on the Hill speech during his Farewell Address:

“But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still…And she’s still a beacon and a magnet for all who must find freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

HM has heard Trump supporters say they are Reagan Republicans. How can this be? Trump is the antithesis of Reagan.

HM found the most inspirational part of the book to be Lyndon B. Johnson managing to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act was long overdue. Parts of the United States effectively had the apartheid of South Africa. Johnson persisted in convincing enough southerners, against all their lifelong prejudices, that segregation was morally wrong, and put the United States in the same class as South Africa. It took a southerner to be able to convince other southerners of the need for this bill. And it took a super salesman who would not take “no” for an answer, and persisted until he got his way.

But there were repercussions from the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At the time the southern states were, and had been for a long time, strongly Democratic. Typically Republicans did not even bother to run candidates in these states. So these Democrats eventually (some became Dixiecrats first) became Republicans and took their racism with them to the Republican party. This provided the seeds for Trump’s eventual success.

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

It’s True, Trump Doesn’t Lie

June 5, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a column by Dana Milbank in the 30 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The column begins with examples of lies told by Donald Trump. They will not be repeated because everyone has heard these lies many, many times. Milbank writes, “Calling him a liar lets him off easy. A liar, by definition, knows he’s not telling the truth. Trump’s behavior is worse: With each day it becomes more obvious he can’t distinguish between fact and fantasy. It’s an illness, and it’s spreading.

There is a name of the illness that Trump is experiencing and that is the delusional disorder. The test that would confirm this disorder involves hooking him up to a polygraph (lie detector). If documented lies were not detected, that would confirm that he has the delusion disorder. This means that Trump has lost touch with reality. And this is truly frightening with the President who is supposed to have control of the nuclear football (let’s hope that that is wrong). Milbank writes, “Trump’s not a liar. He’s a madman.” Frankly, it does not matter whether Trump has this disease or not. Trump does not care about objective truth, and in his version of reality, what is true is whatever benefits him at the moment.

What is also of concern is what neuroscientist Tali Sharot noted that people “may sensitize to the president’s falsehoods in the same way that they do to overused perfume, making them less likely to act to correct this pattern of behavior.” This might account for why people who carry water for the president, many Republicans, Rudy Giulani, newscasters, and columnists continue to carry water rather than denounce the president.

It is quite apparent that Trump feels he will be found guilty on a number of counts. However, if he can discredit the Justice Department, that might not matter. Giuliani has already announced that this is the strategy. One can gauge the degree of Trump’s guilt by the number and intensity of his attacks on Mueller and the Justice Department. He might even fire Mueller. This would create a Constitutional Crisis from which the worst result would be Trump declaring himself president for life.

Although we all wish for successful negotiations with North Korea, the outcome of these negotiations are irrelevant to Trump’s guilt. Even if he should be successful and win the Nobel Prize, that should not exonerate him from whatever crimes he might have committed.

Remember that Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Prize for negotiations he brought about with North Korea. However, it turned out that North Korea had cheated on the treaty that had been negotiated. So even given ostensibly successful negotiations, it will be some time before it can be accurately assessed whether they had been successful.

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

HM’s Experience in Segregated Schools

June 4, 2018

HM attended segregated schools for the first ten years of his education. HM’s family came from the north and thought segregation was wrong. They told him that Southerner’s were strange and had outdated beliefs. HM attended schools in Virginia, Tennessee, and Florida. Here are some of the things he heard his teachers say.

It’s hard to believe but ignorant colored men were able to vote before decent white women.

Ni——s will not fight. They turn and run away. (HM hopes that all readers have seen the movie “Glory”).

Here’s a riddle What is a co-c—n? Answer a n-nig—-r.

Slavery was a good thing. It is in the Holy Bible. And these coloreds were taught Christianity and were promised eternal life. So what were they and still are complaining about?
The irony of this last assertion strikes HM. Apparently they were regarded as people for the purposes of heaven, but as slaves they were treated like farm animals. And some were treated worse than farm animals.

Understand, that this was not formal education and was not required teaching by the respective states. But it reflects the seething racism among even educated whites.

In 1958, some Virginia schools were ordered to integrate. Consequently, the schools were closed. HM was furious at this, and he thought the President should have sent troops to Virginia to remind Virginians who won the Civil war. HM was alone in his anger. His former friends refused to integrate. HM says former, because he now regarded this individuals with hatred and hoped they would all end up in hell. He now realizes that this was wrong. Hatred is wrong and does damage to the hater. But what started out as slavery, turned into a segregated system that held blacks down and still exploited them. Civil rights have done much to alleviate this problem, but racism remains as a cancer in the United States.

Fortunately HM’s family moved to Ohio and HM had the privilege of attending integrated schools. However, when HM saw the movie about Jessie Owens (Race), he was appalled to see the racism present at Ohio State University when Jessie Owens attended. Racism is not confined to the southern states. In the 1936 Olympics Owens won four gold medals: 100 and 200 meter dashes; 400 meter relay; and the broad jump. As astounding as that was his achievement of setting three world records and tying another in less than an hour at the 1935 Big Ten track meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been called “the greatest 45 minutes ever in sport”[4] and has never been equalled. There are plaques at the site of these feats in Ann Arbor, and HM visited them and marveled at his achievements.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attended segregated schools, just as HM did. But it had a different effect on him. After Obama won the election in 2008, he swore that Obama would never be re-elected. It was clear that this was primary racial, and not political. Yet people, say that polarization is due to both parties, to show that they are broad minded. But the polarization is more pronounced on the Republican than the Democratic side.

Many Americans were proud that we had finally elected a black president. Unfortunately, there were too many others who were offended by the outcome. Racism, along with strong assistance from Russia, resulted in Trump winning the electoral college. Polls show that many white men feel that they have been victimized by blacks and civil rights. When you hear of Trump’s base, it is good to appreciate the composition of Trump’s base: nazis and white supremacists.

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

Conclusion

June 3, 2018

 

bell hooks: How do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?

This is the final post in the series of posts based on the book by Sally Kohn, “THE OPPOSITE OF HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our Humanity.

Kohn reminds us of George Orwell’s novel “1984,” which he published in 1949. The dystopian novel imagines Orwell’s native Britain as the fictional Oceana, which has been taken over by a tyrannical regime that governs with emotional manipulation. Individual thinking is outlawed, and citizens are under constant surveillance, just in case. Most people go along with the regime willingly—in large part because of propaganda of misinformation, fear-mongering, and hate against a mysterious “other.”

Every day in Oceania, all citizens are required to take part in Two Minutes of Hate, when they would watch a film that demeans and demonizes Oceania’s enemies. The Two Minutes Hate shows “row after row of solid-looking men with expressionless Asiatic faces, who swarm up to the surface of the screen and vanished, to be replaced by others exactly similar.” Orwell continues, “Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room…A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like flame of a blowlamp.”

Case Sunstein in 2013 described Glen Beck’s show on Fox News as comparable to Orwell’s Two Minutes of Hate. In 2016, the alt-right publication “Breitbart” said that journalists and celebrities attacking Donald Trump amounted to a daily Two Minutes of Hate. And Trump’s Twitter feed has also been equated to a regular Two Minutes of Hate.

Sally Kohn writes, “The point of Two Minutes of Hate in “1984” was to distract people from the real problems that were affecting them—their own government and its oppressive actions—by directing their attention and anger elsewhere. Reflecting on the lessons of Orwell’s book, a student in Georgia told her teacher, ‘We do need a public enemy, but not like that. Crime or poverty should be more of the public enemy that the world works to fight against.’ What if our hate is not only causing violence and pain and division but getting in the way of us solving the real problems that hurt us all.”

The writer David Foster Wallace told a parable about two young fish who were swimming along when they came across an older fish swimming in the opposite direction. As he swam past, the older fish said to the younger fish, “Morning, boys. How’s the water? The two young fish kept swimming along for some time until finally one fish turns to the other fish and asks, “What the hell is water?” We are swimming in a world full of hate and biases and we become oblivious to them. And many of these reside in our nonconscious minds such that we remain oblivious of them.

Ms. Kohn writes, “What I’ve learned is that all hate is premised on a mind-set of otherizing. The sanctimonious pedestal of superiority on which we all put ourselves while we systematically dehumanize others is the essential root of hate. In big and small ways, consciously and unconsciously, we constantly filter the world around us through the lens of our explicit and implicit biases. This abets rationalization and looking the other way about widespread injustices such as dismissing entire communities that don’t have access to health care, or entire nations blocked in civil war because they fall outside the sphere of moral concern.”

And she continues, “We think we’re good people, but we don’t see how the sphere of moral concern is constricted by hate, by the history and habits and culture of who matters and who doesn’t in our society, which we have all bought into, whether we mean to or not. So we shake our fists against neo-Nazis marching in the streets, but not enough of us admit that they’re reflections of the society we’ve all created, let alone acknowledge that they’re reflections of ourselves.”

Still continuing, “We have a crisis of hate in the United States and around the world, and we can’t begin to address it if we don’t first learn to see it—making the invisible visible—uncovering the inadvertent, implicit, deliberate and conscious forms of hate all around us and in ourselves. ‘Real change is systemic and self-implicating, urging us to see our role in vast complex problems,’ Anand Giridharadas said in a speech at the first Obama Foundation Summit in October 2017. Leo Tolstoy wrote, ‘Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.’ We have to do both. Before it’s too late.”

Surprisingly, Ms. Kohn is optimistic. She writes, “Yes, hate is profound—complicated and vexing as well as ugly and sad. But it is not inevitable, in any given individual or community or institution or system. Alongside the hateful history of the world are stories of transcending that hate: finding peace after genocide, granting liberty after oppression, even just inching toward equality in the wake of horrific injustice. Hate is no more hardwired into our world than it is into our brains. Change is possible.”

She writes that she knows this not only because she reads the psychology and biology and neuroscience research, but because she has met people like Arno, Bassam, Marie-Jeanne and so many others—people who plumbed the greatest depths of hatred in our world and nonetheless managed to find a way out.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Ms Kohn writes that the opposite of hate is not love. You don’t have to love people to stop hating them. You don’t even have to like them. You don’t have to concede the validity of their views. Assam was very clear that he still sees the Israelis in general as his enemies, but at the same time he no longer hates them.
Ms. Kohn concludes, “The opposite of hate also isn’t some mushy middle zone of dispassionate centrism. You can still have strongly held beliefs, beliefs that are in strong opposition to the beliefs of other people, and still treat those others with civility and respect. Ultimately, the opposite of hate is the beautiful and powerful reality of how we are all fundamentally linked and equal as human beings. The opposite of hate is connection.”

Systems of Hate: The Big Picture

June 2, 2018

Martin Luther KIng, Jr. : The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged in the dark abyss of annihilation.

This is the sixth chapter in “The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our Humanity” by Sally Kohn.

It wasn’t until 1920 that all women, including black women, could vote. Although the Fifteenth Amendment passed in 1870 granted voting rights to African American men, ingenious obstacles were developed, and continue to be developed, to discourage or prevent blacks from voting. Even when blacks managed to vote, they were likely to find their names published in the newspaper, which would alert the local KKK gangs to then show up at their homes and threaten them with violence. In 1922 members of the KKK flew over Topeka, Kansas, dropping postcards in black neighborhoods warning against voting. If black people still managed to try to vote, they often found that the KKK would make good on their threats.

In the 1980s the Republican National Committee created the Nation Ballot Security Task Force, in which off-duty police officers armed with their loaded service revolvers patrolled polling stations in black communities. In 1982 the party was sued for violating the Voting Rights Act that had been passed in 1965. But just four years later, a leaked memo from the Republican National Committee detailed how a new “ballot security” program in Louisiana would “keep the black vote down.” Of course the Republicans had a partisan motivation in suppressing Democratic vote, but they could have also tried to suppress the white Democratic vote.

In 2014 Alabama passed a strict requirement that all voters show ID, and then shut down DMV offices in 80% of the state’s blackest counties. Republicans persist in this type of effort. The objective data are that voting fraud rarely occurs, and certainly never affects the outcomes of elections. Trump turned this on its head when he claimed that his failure to win the popular vote had to be due to large scale voter fraud.

Ms. Kohn writes, “Efforts to disenfranchise black voters today are inextricably linked to the past—to slavery and the fact that for centuries black people weren’t recognized as full human beings (they were three quarters of a human being in the original US Constitution), let alone citizens with equal civil rights. And then, amidst whatever the other excuses or explanations may be, that systematic marginalization plays out in other forms, from who gets threatened with violence to whose legitimate right to vote is questioned at all.”

Ms. Kohn continues, “We see the same embedded history of hate in everything from schools to health care to criminal justice and more, and not only in terms of discriminating against black people or women. For instance, as we’ll see, systemic hate in our institutions and norms in the United States also perpetuates bias agains poor and working-class white folks in rural communities.”

Ms. Kohn continues, “ In 2015, Chris Janson—the white southern country singer who wrote the pro-Trump theme song for the 2016 Republican National Convention—penned a song called “White Trash.” One of the lines is, ‘Well if they’d had their way / They’d thrown us away.’ Which J.D. Vance recounts in his memoir, ‘Hillybilly Elegy,’ is what many rural white folks believe liberal elites think about them.”

And Ms. Kohn continues, “ But it’s not just liberals. In 2016, ‘National Review’s Kevin Williamson, writing about the opioid crisis in rural white America, said, ‘The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die.’ It’s arguable that this cultural disdain contributes to the systemic opioid crisis. The United States hates poor black folks and poor white folks, although indifferent degrees and in different forms.”

Consider the systemic problem of school segregation and inequity. What was the result of the Supreme Court decision on “Brown vs. the Board of Education.” White folks segregated themselves. This happened not only in the South, but also in the North. Whites did not want to live next to black families and they didn’t want their kids in school with black kids.

The result is that today in the United States, more than one out of every ten black and Latino students attend so-called “apartheid schools,” in which whites make up less than 1% of enrollment. And apartheid schools are in disproportionately poor communities and because should funding is apportioned mostly through local property taxes, apartheid schools receive less funding than wealthy white schools.

And it’s not just income inequality that black families are forced into poor neighborhoods, but because property taxes are determined by home values, and those values have been affected by decades of redlining policies in the United States, through which banks and government colluded to relegate black families to certain neighborhoods and then devalue the property in those neighborhoods.

It is ironic and surprising that research has found that racial and ethnic diversity is great for communities. One study found that ethnic diversity in a community increases home values and lowers crime. Another study found that as US cities have become more diverse, they have become safer. In the biggest cities in the US, crime “fell as the percentage of the population that is non-white and the percentage that is gay increased.” The same has been found in suburbs. “As suburb diversified, crime rates fell,” another scholar wrote. Plus nationwide polling data show that people who live in racially inclusive communities are happier, more optimistic, and less stressed—all of which corresponds to living healthier and more productive lives. Ms. Kohn concludes, “It’s sort of like the fleeing white folks are just shooting themselves in the foot, along with their children and the rest of us. It’s by demanding integrated schools both racially and socioeconomically, that parents can help to improve the system ‘for all kids.’”

The Omaha Public Schools (OPS) became disturbed by this and redrew school districts to increase equality. It also provided the opportunity for students to choose a school in a different district. One white girl decided to attend a different school because she realized going to school with all white kids wouldn’t prepare her for life in the 21st century. The OPS high school she chose had “students from over 40 different countries. This student ended up winning a $10,000 college scholarship from Coca-Cola because of an essay she wrote “about tutoring her peers from Asia., Mexico, and Sudan.”

At this point, please excuse a digression from HM regarding home schooling. The main concern of these parents seems to be that they don’t want their children attending schools with diverse student populations, and the risk that their children will be exposed to loathsome liberal ideas. HM would argue that a highly important function of public schools is to provide an environment where students learn to interact with different children and do learn that there are a variety of viewpoints. HM feels that home-schooled children are severely handicapped and that there might be a backlash from these students when they appreciate what their parents have done to them.

By definition collective action requires a group, but one person can definitely get the ball rolling. Ms. Kohn cites the example of Nahed Artful Zehr, a Palestinian Christian who emigrated to the United States when she was six and now leads a Muslim rights organization in Nashville, Tennessee. Nahed has a Ph.D. in religious studies and her academic career included teaching Islam and the Quran at the US Naval War College. After running a four-week workshop on “understanding Islam” in her own Presbyterian congregation, she quit academia and became executive director of the Faith and Culture Center, an organization that promotes understand about Muslims and the Islamic faith.

To help more Muslims and non-Muslims share their experiences, Nahed created a series of dinner programs where people could literally break bread together and talk. Just through meeting one another and talking as human beings, people have had completely transformative experiences.

One day a group of Evangelical Christian pastors came to Nahed and asked for her help. They’d been hearing their congregants say some hateful things about Muslims, but the pastors didn’t really know enough about Islam to respond effectively, and what they knew was often rumor and not fact. Meeting and sharing meals together had outstanding results.

Ms. Kohn concludes, “Faith institutions have the capacity to either foster beliefs that fuel hate—or serve as spaces of cultural transformation that pursue hate’s opposite. Just like businesses have an amazing capacity to foster connection—because the places we work are often more diverse than our neighborhoods and schools and congregations, and because the advertisements and products and services businesses help define so much of our culture. All institutions have the opportunity to be part of the problem or part of the solution.”

Ms. Kohn provides examples of how faith institutions serve as spaces of cultural transformation that pursue hate’s opposite. Unfortunately, there are examples of faith institutions that not only foster beliefs that fuel hate, but also are in opposition to democracy. Consider the former terrorist Bassam Aramin. He is a Palestinian fighting with Israeli’s for a space, which they regard as their country. Assam disaggregates the concept of enemy from the feeling of hate. He does not hate them. Even though he regards them as his enemy he still has compassion for them.

Religious freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. Included here is the right not to believe. But there are certain Christian groups who try to impose their religious beliefs on others. There is no need to do this. Their right is guaranteed. Why do they think they have the right to impose their religious beliefs on others? They complain about sharia in Islam, and fail to see that what they are doing is analogous to sharia. There are segments of the Republican party that are preoccupied with imposing their religious beliefs on others through legislation. It seems like they want to have something like the moral police they have in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, they seem to neglect the love, compassion, and forgiveness that Christ taught. They counter efficient means of providing health care, favor harsh punishments, and show a pronounced lack of compassion towards their fellow man. And some of the beliefs they want to impose on others are regarded as insipid by other Christians. They seem to foster hate, rather than the love that Christ taught. They need to concentrate on reading the gospels and ignoring what is being preached from their religious leaders (See the healthy memory blog post “Beliefs vs. Deeds,” and consider joining a different church.)

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

When Hate Becomes Pandemic: The Genocide

June 1, 2018

Valarie Kaur: Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness is freedom from hate.

This is the fifth chapter in The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our humanity by Sally Kohn. The Rwandan genocide is often described as the fastest genocide in world history—a breathtaking average of eight thousand people were murdered every day, many by their own friends and neighbors. Thousands and thousands of ordinary people participated in the genocide. At least two hundred thousand Hutus participated in the genocide. Ms. Kohn writes, “This is what happens when hate, like wildfire, is deliberately spread nationwide.”

For many years, Hutus and Tutsis lived relatively peaceably. Tutsis tended to raise cattle and Hutus tended to farm. Colonial powers changed this by making the Tutsis the dominant power. Gourrevitch writes “Hutus in Rwanda had been massacring Tutsis on and off since the waning days of Belgian colonial rule in the late fifties.” During Rwanda’s struggle for independence in the 1960s, tens of thousands of Tutsis were killed and an estimated 40% to 70 % of the remaining Tutsi population fled the country.

Rwanda’s Hutu president, Juvenal Habyarimana and his wife Agathe had been plotting annihilation of the Tutsis since Habyarimana seized power in a 1973 coup. Agatha Habyarimana coordinated the group of Hutu extremists who meticulously planned the genocide, including recruiting and training the interahahmwe militias. In 1992 Hutu extremists conduct a dry run of their genocidal plans. They killed several hundred Tutsis around the country.

On August 6, 1994 President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down and Habyarimana died. Attacks were planned and the genocide commenced. HM will not recount the atrocities that occurred, but they were many and brutal. And many were done by neighbors against neighbors and friends against friends. As of 2016, there were less than fifty confirmed examples of rescuers during the genocide. They constituted a tiny fraction of Rwanda’s overall population of 5.95 millions. Similarly, during the Holocaust, active resisters of Nazi atrocities against Jews are estimated to have made up just half of 1% of the entire civilian population.

The common response to these atrocities is what kind of monsters were these people? Difficult as it may be to believe, they were normal, not monsters. These Rwandans lived together and made friends with each other. It should be remembered that only a very small percentage of the Germans were punished for war crimes. The vast majority returned to normal lives. Some still have pictures of these atrocities in their photograph collections.

Here it is appropriate to review the work of Stanley Milgram, that has been previously reported in healthy memory posts. Milligram conducted an experiment in which two experimental participants apparently showed up at the same time. One of these individuals was a confederate of the experimenter. He became the apparent subject, the learner in the experiment in which the true subject was to serve as the teacher. The teacher was supposed to administer an electric shock when the faux learner made an error. The shock machine had switches marked from 15 volts (Slight Shock) to 375 volts (Severe Shock) to 450 volts (XXX). Of course, the machine was fake; It didn’t really do anything, but the “teachers” thought it was real. Understand that the teacher could have left any time they wanted, although they were given verbal prompts like “The experiment requires you to continue,” and even “You have no other choice but to continue.” But 65% continued until they administered the supposedly lethal shock of 450 volts. Every single one of the teachers went to at least 300 volts.

This important research was not allowed to continue. But in 2017, a group of researchers basically replicated Milgram’s experiment in Poland. In that experiment 90% of “teachers” were willing to apply the highest voltage shock.

Professor Zimbardo at Stanford University conducted a famous “Prison Experiment” in which participants in the study were randomly assigned as prisoners or guards. Here abuses became so severe that the experiment had to be terminated. Zimbardo had a contract to write a book about the experiment, but Zimbardo had been so disturbed about the results that he was unable to finish the book. What motivated him to finish the book, “The Lucifer Effect,” were the atrocities being committed at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. It is Zimbardo’s strongly held view that this potential for abuse and torture exists within most of us. In his retirement Zimbardo has started “The Heroic Imagination Project” to foster coming to the aid of others during times of trouble. Both these experiments are reported in the healthy memory blog post,”Good Vs. Evil.”

Peer pressure experiments promoting compliance have been conducted in more benign environments. Solomon Asch conducted an experiment in which a subject was brought into a room with people whom they thought were other subjects, but who were actually part of the research team. Asch showed the all three lines of clearly different lengths and then a fourth line that was obviously the same as one, and only one of the first three. Everyone was supposed to say which it matched, which was a simple task, stupidly simple. The correct answer was really obvious. But when the confederates in the room deliberately gave the wrong answer, the subjects would also answer incorrectly 32% of the time. Across twelve similar experiments, 25% of the subject never conformed, but 75% of subjects gave the wrong answer at least once.

A question here is whether the subjects were conforming to the norm, that is going along to get along, or did they honestly think they were giving the correct answer? Gregory Berns and a team at Emory University replicated Asch’s study while subjects had their brains scanned with an fMRI Machine. In this case, the were comparing what looked like Tetris pieces—drawings of two different 3-D objects. The subjects were told to mentally rotate the objects to determine if they were same or different. Again, when the correct answer was super clear. But when accomplices in the room gave the wrong answer, the subjects also answered incorrectly 41% of the time. Berns reasoned that if the subjects were lying, the part of the brain associated with conscious deception would light up. But it didn’t. Instead the parts of the brain associated with visual perception and spatial awareness lit up. So, the subjects weren’t lying. The data suggest their minds were genuinely modifying their actual perceptions to conform with the group: if the rest of the group insisted that they saw a triangle, the subjects who went along with the group literally “saw” a triangle too. Meanwhile, the subjects who went against the group showed brain activity in the right amygdala—suggesting that there’s an emotional toll, potentially even fear, associated with standing up for one’s beliefs.

When Berns and his team performed a version of this experiment in which subjects were tested against computers instead of human researchers, the amygdala didn’t light up. It was concluded that it’s not taking a stand in general but going against one’s peers that caused emotional distress. Christian Crandall and Amy Eshelman studied 105 different kinds of prejudice as they played out in different scenarios— like job discrimination of laughing at hateful jokes—finding that prejudice was highly correlated with the need for social approval from the dominant group. Apparently, this occurs subconsciously.

Aurelia Mok and Michael Morris presented Asian American subjects with pairs of 3-D objects like those in the Berns fMRI study—two shapes that were clearly exactly the same or different. As in the Berns, Asch, and Milgram studies Mok and Morris had researchers pretending to be subjects—who would then give wrong answers. Remember that in Asch’s study 75% of the subjects went along with the obviously wrong answer at least once.

But Mok and Morris got different results. They found that Asian American subjects who demonstrated “low bicultural identity integration”—meaning that they don’t see their Asian and American identities as fully compatible and integrated into one social identity—were more likely to resist peer pressure and give the correct answer, no matter what the confederates did. Ms. Kohn writes, “This makes the case that the way to stop us from discriminating against or hating various identity groups isn’t actually to pretend that those differences don’t exist. The lesson is not that we need some people who feel like outsiders or who haven’t fully integrated their sense of cultural affiliation into a seamless whole—indeed, having low bicultural identity integration is associated with greater rates of anxiety and depression. The lesson is that we need to combat negative otherizing without assimilation or conformity. We can still have groups—the problem is when they are pitted against one another as dominant versus inferior.

John, a Tutsi, fell for a Hutu lady, Marie-Jeanne, and decided to court her. Three days later he proposed (romance moves quickly in Rwanda). Marie-Jeanne’s father had led the Hutu militia that slaughtered John’s family, and John knew it Marie-Jeanne also knew the father had something to do with the murder of John’s family, but she didn’t know the details. When he came to propose, she accepted, but said she still had to talk with her family.

When she shared the idea with her family members, they could not believe their ears. Her mother and sister told her exactly what her father had done. They told her everything. She remained undeterred. Her family pleaded with her that she shouldn’t marry John, that he was only proposing to her for revenge and would mistreat her in retaliation.

She told her family that if my father wronged John’s family, she was the one to blame, She came to the conclusion that this had been her father’s business, not hers.

The American feminist Robin Morgan writes,”Hate generalizes, love specifies.” Through love, we challenge and let go of all kinds of assumptions. John and Marie-Jeanne’s marriage has flourished.

Unconscious Hate

May 31, 2018

Mahatma Gandhi: If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

This is the fourth chapter in The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our humanity by Sally Kohn. HM has come to the firm conclusion that human cognition needs to be taught in the public schools, continuing in elementary school through high school. The reason we do and believe things, unconscious hate among them, is that we are unaware of our nonconscious processing. That is thoughts of which we are unaware but influence what we think and how we act. Moreover, most people think that bias is bad, something to be avoided. The reality is that we receive much more information than we can process. So to select the information that we can process we need to be biased. Heuristics are beneficial biases we employ to process information.

Ms. Kohn writes, “..I don’t think that the vast majority of Americans—right, left, and center—are deliberate explicit bigots. But I do think all of us need to come to terms with the fact that we all hold unconscious ideas about the superiority of some groups and the interiority of others—ideas that may not be expressed like they were in 1950s Virginia but that come from the same history and hateful legacy. And when I say all of us, I really do mean everyone. Myself included. And you, too. “

Research in both neuroscience and psychology can explain why. A professor of neuroscience at the University of Chicago, Jennifer Kubota, has focused her research on implicit bias and the brain. Her research explains how stereotypes are recorded in the brain. It involves a structure in the brain with which healthy memory blog readers should be familiar. There is an amygdala on each side of the center of the brain. The amygdala is involved in the processing of emotions including fear. There is no one “center’ of emotion. The amygdala is involved “in learning about important or threatening or novel things in our environment. When we need it, the amygdala quickly recalls what’s been learned so we can just as quickly evaluate whatever situation we’re in and respond accordingly. The amygdala can be thought of as an efficient filing cabinet for everything society has taught that our brains have absorbed. The amygdala takes in whatever messages that are around it—including the endemic racial stereotypes—that percolate through the media and our education practices and our families and every other single aspect of our existence. In other words, biases are stuck in society’s system and, in turn, get stuck in all of our brains—particularly in our amygdalae. The amygdala doesn’t mean to be hateful. It learns to hate from a hateful society.

john a. powell, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley has extensively studied the research on implicit bias. He says the nonconscious “makes associations based on frequency.” So, for instance, because the news overreport black crime, at an nonconscious level we’ll create a neural linkage between crime and black—whether or not we even personally, consciously believe blacks are more or less likely to commit crime. Implicit biases are like projections of society’s biases etched into our unconscious. It happens to all of us. “It’s the air we breathe,” says powell. “You breathe that until you’re an adult, you’re going to have those associations. Whites will have them. Blacks will have them. Latinos will have them.”

New York University neuroscientist Elizabeth Phelps and her research team conducted a study in 2000 that identified the neural signature of negative stereotypes. The amygdala is activated more when subjects are shown photos of people with fearful facial expressions than when they are presented with photos of people with neutral expressions. This detection of danger, which in turn helps trigger fear, is one of the most well-established functions of the amygdala, and neuroscientists have long believed that greater amygdala activation is due to a greater perceived threat. Phelp’s research team hooked subjects up to an fMRI machine and then flashed random yearbook photos of white people and black people, all of whom had neutral facial expressions; none were fearful. The majority of white subjects showed greater amygdala activation when viewing unfamiliar black compared to familiar white faces. In other words, seeing unfamiliar black faces triggered fear. Phelps and her team then compared the same people’s amygdala activation to their scores on an implicit bias assessment, which they’d taken before the fMRI study. They found that the more implicit bias people had, the more their amygdala lit up.

This implicit associative test, developed by Dr. Anthony Greenwald, has been discussed in previous healthy memory blog posts. You can take this test yourself. Go to
https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

A great deal of research has revealed the pernicious effects of implicit bias in people’s lives. As john a. powell along with a group of other researchers wrote in a comprehensive report that summarized this work, titled “The Science of Equality”, “studies have shown that bias is operating in our schools, our business offices, our medical institutions, and in our criminal justice system.” This research is too voluminous to review and do justice to in this blog post.

One can argue that explicit bias, bias which is intended, is worse than implicit bias. But what matters most is impact—which can be just as pernicious whether rooted in implicit bias or explicit hate. Undetected hate hiding in our brains is still hate. Ms. Kohn writes, “Just like a little cancer is still cancer. You don’t want even a smidgen inside you.”

Fortunately, there is increasing evidence that interventions work. Ms. Kohn calls this “connection-thinking”— the conscious effort to neutralize the stereotypes embedded in our amygdalae. This is generally called “debiasing” and it is getting promising results.

Susan Fiske conducted an experiment that tried a simple strategy to erase people’s bias. When Fiske showed pictures of unknown black faces to white participants, their amygdala activity predictably spiked. But when Fiske instructed the research subjects to guess the favorite vegetable of the people in the pictures, their amygdala activation remained the same, whether they were shown pictures of white people or black people. So just thinking about what vegetable these unknown folks might enjoy, and having to engage in the process of trying to take the perspective of the other, was enough to break down bias.

Phelps and her team did another experiment in which they showed white subjects the faces of well-liked famous people, both white and black. This time their amygdala activation was significantly lower. In other words, just knowing people, just having more real-life exposure to “others” changes the way our brains activate in response. Ms. Kohn concludes, “That’s more great support for the importance of creating more connection-spaces that then help foster connection-thinking.”

Here’s another study that shows promising signs that if we will acknowledge that we have implicit bias, we can consciously train our minds to disregard it. Salma Handler and other neuroscientists at Tel Aviv University hooked subjects up to a fancy computer that allowed them to monitor their fMRI results themselves, watching in real time as their amygdala activation rates were being tested. With a little bit of coaching and a lot of encouragement, when they were shown stimuli that were meant to trigger their fear mechanisms and at the same time were shown a screen where their amygdalae were lighting up, people could deliberately lower their amygdalae stimulation. Just getting that feedback helped people regulate their own unconscious mental processes.

According to Yudkin and Van Bavel, “Acknowledging the truth about ourselves—that we see and think about the world through the lens of group affiliations—is the first step to making things better.” Ms. Kohn concludes, “So the answer isn’t to ignore biases, as with arguments about “colorblindness” or attacks on identity politics, but rather to acknowledge them and keep working at consciously countering them. We’re not going to change our stereotyped thinking overnight, and we certainly won’t change it longterm simply because we imagine someone’s favorite vegetable. But with concerted effort over time, we can make great headway.”

Hating Is Belonging: The Ex-White Supremacist

May 30, 2018

Jhumpa Lahiri: The essential dilemma of my life is between my deep desire to belong and my suspicion of belonging.

This is the third chapter in The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our Humanity by Sally Kohn. Brent Brown writes, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart, We numb. We ache. We hurt others.”

Kohn writes, “The problem starts when our desire to belong leads to identify so strongly with a particular social group that we become fierce in or belonging—to the point of engaging in, or at least condoning, harmful otherizing. This capacity to otherize lies deep within us, bred into us through the long course human evolution.” Evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson writes, “The tendency to form groups, and then to favor in-group members, has the earmarks of instinct.”

Kohn writes, “SOCIAL GROUP IDENTITY was a reality in North America from the moment European colonialists arrived. The fact that they even claimed they ‘discovered’ the ‘New World’ was already indicative of hierarchical us/them thinking—to them, the people already there plainly didn’t matter. Thus, it wasn’t just white people who ‘founded’ the United States but white supremacy—the fundamental idea that the white people of the planet are inherently superior to everyone else and deserve to take whatever they want and do whatever they want. Of course, the very idea of ‘whiteness’ is a social construct; as columnist Michael Harriot puts it, it’s “‘just some dumb shit people made up a long time ago to build a fence around their idea of self-supremacy.’”

Thomas Jefferson who wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” owned more that six hundred black men, women, and children as slaves, apparently not seeing a contradiction between what he wrote and what he did because as Jefferson once said free blacks were “pests in society…as incapable as children of taking care of themselves.” This is just the tip of some of the most vicious racist writings that have ever been written. Moreover, Jefferson bred with these blacks. This should be written on his monument and at his residence, “America’s foremost hypocrite.”

Arno Michaelis was not only a member of a white-supremacist neo-Nazi group; he was also one of the most prominent white-power leaders in North America. In 1987, he became a founding member of the Northern Hammerskins in Milwaukee, which evolved into Hammerskin Nation—the largest white-power skinhead group in the world. Arno was also the lead singer for Centurion, one of the top white-power bands worldwide. Kohn writes, “the thing that surprised me the most about Arno was that he didn’t think of himself as especially hateful toward others, even when he was the leader of a bona fide hate group. He just thought that he was benevolently, even heroically, looking out for his ‘own kind.’ What I ended up learning is that a lot of people who join extremist hate groups don’t even really hate the maligned out-group as much as they crave approval from the in-group they’ve embraced. They’re just looking for belonging. The hate comes later.”

One day Arno went to buy his Big Mac at a McDonald’s filled with a cross-section of MIlwaukee’s black and white and Latina residents, and an older black woman was working the cash register. Arno had seen her there before. Arno ordered his burger and then reached in his pocket and handed the woman his sloppy pile of dimes and pennies and nickels. Which is when she noticed the new swastika tattoo on his finger. “What’s that?” she slowly, even carefully asked.

‘It’s nothing,” Arno whispered, shoving his hand back in his pocket.

Which is when the black woman looked the white supremacist in the eyes and, with a kind voice and even a hint of a smile, said to Arno, “You’re a better person than that. I know that’s not who you are.”

Kohn writes, “Arno grabbed his sandwich, turned on his heel, and fled. He never went back. But he also never saw his life quite the same way again. His views didn’t exactly change overnight, but almost. In fact, one of the most jarring things about Arno’s story is not only how relatively casually he left the white-supremacist movement but also how relatively accidentally he joined it in the first place.” To describe briefly how he joined it: He was a rock singer who fell into a white supremacist band.

In 1994 Dan Koren published a study showing that the surge in violent gang membership in the late 1980s in the US and Europe was driven by kids from “affluent, upscale communities.” Pete Simi, a sociologist at Chapman University who is one of the foremost scholars on domestic right-wing hate groups, found that members of right-wing hate groups come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Another study found that expressions of overt racism by whites were not motivated by fears around economic competition, but by anger about “race mixing”—in other words, not economic anxieties, but cultural supremacy. Contrary to popular belief, hate and violence are not necessarily a recourse of the poor, but are sometimes a luxury of the rich. Hate doesn’t fall in one income bracket.

Pete Simi, who has interviewed more than a hundred former neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members, explains that most white supremacists don’t primarily seek to join a hate group; they’re just looking for belonging. He says they “slide in” from the side more due to camaraderie than doctrine, and they don’t fully confront the racist beliefs until they’re already bonded with the group. “Ideology is important, but it’s not necessarily the initial attraction that draws the person to the group,’ Simi writes. “The ideology is often there early on but it’s not crystallized—it’s like there may be bits and pieces of the ideology that are attractive early on, but rarely do you have someone who has a full appreciation for the ideology and then seeks out the group. Over time, ideology becomes more important as the person becomes more familiar with the ideas.”

Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker has concluded that “Human nature may embrace motives that lead to aggression, but it also embraces motives like empathy, self, control and reason, which, under the right circumstances can outweigh aggressive impulses.

Frans de Waal, who has spent his career studying primates and comparing their behavior to human nature, argues that compassion and kindness traces back through ancient evolution—“probably as old as mammals and birds.” Kohn writes, “So while the desire for belonging may be part of what draws people into hate groups, that innate pull toward empathy turns out to be a powerful antidote to extremist hate. Just as the search for belonging brought Arno into white supremacy, finding that sense of belonging elsewhere was what helped him escape.

How We Hate: The Former Terrorist

May 29, 2018

James Baldwin: I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

This is the second chapter in The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our Humanity by Sally Kohn. The former terrorist is Bassam Aramin. In 2005 he founded Combatants for Peace, a group made up of Palestinians who had engaged in violence against Israelis plus former Israeli soldiers, all now working together to promote understanding between the two sides.

And these two sides have different versions of history. Ms. Kohn describes the Israeli-Palestine conflict is a textbook case of competitive victimhood. She writes, “Palestinians generally think they suffer the most because of the Israelis, and the Israelis think hey suffer the most because of Palestinians. In fact, I’ve talked to people on both sides who think the idea that the other side suffers at all is preposterous. For instance, Palestinians generally articulate a version of history in which they were a peaceful people until they were invaded by Zionists, who resorted to terrorism in their colonial conquest, including the bombing of Palestinian Arab civilians in 1938, the car bomb detonated by Zionists inside Jerusalem in 1947, and the Zionist slaughtering of the people of the Palestinian village of Deir Yasmin in 1948. At the same time, many Israelis dwell on a version of history in which Jews are a constantly persecuted people who merely sought solace from repeated and extended acts of world terrorism only to be victimized by Palestinians, for instance in The Arab riots during the 1920s, the Palestinian Arab revolt in the 1930s, and the Palestinian riots in Jerusalem in 1947.”

Bassam regarded himself as a terrorist and committed what he regarded as terrorist acts. He ended up being sentenced to seven years in prison for acts committed against Israeli military. But the law under which he was convicted applied to terrorist acts against civilians, not the military. Nevertheless, Bassam does not feel as if he was unjustly convicted.

Bassam regards himself as a freedom fighter and among the most humane freedom fighters on earth. His justification is that they are against militants who try to kill us and occupy our land and our people, and we need to kill them for humanity, not for ourselves. He adds that “It’s justified.”

Ms Kohn asks, “It’s justified?” “You know it’s wrong.”

He responds, “No, its not wrong.”

Around the middle of his prison term, the Israeli guards showed a movie about the Holocaust. Assam decided to go watch, because, frankly, he wanted to see Jews being killed—he was sort of trolling the prison and the guards for even showing the film. “I wanted to enjoy to see someone killing and torturing them.”

But somehow, witnessing the brutality of the Holocaust shocked Bassam and tore open a seam in the story of hate h’d believed up until then. The film made him weep, opening his eyes—and mind and heart—to the suffering of his enemy> Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

When Bassam got out of prison, he enrolled in graduate school and got a master’s degree in Holocaust studies. The reason for deciding to get a master’s degree in Holocaust studies was to know his enemy. When you know your enemy, you can defeat them. He still calls Israelis his enemy. They occupy his land, so they are enemies. They are not friends, then are not brothers.

But he still has compassion for his enemy; he does not hate them.

Bassam is disaggregating the concept of enemy from the feeling of hate. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “enemy” describes a “person who is actively opposed to or hostile to someone or something.” In other words, by definition, it’s not that you hate them, but that they hate you. So even if hate is something our enemies do and cherish, something that may literally define them—it doesn’t have to define us.

Why We Hate

May 28, 2018

Why we hate is the topic of the first chapter in The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our humanity by Sally Kohn. The chapter begins with a quote from Booker T. Washington: “I would permit no man…to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.”

In 1977, Lee Ross and some colleagues conducted a study in which Stanford University students were randomly assigned to participate in a fake quiz show, either as questioners, contestants, or audience members. The questioners were asked to come up with ten questions based on their own knowledge, and the contestants had to try to answer those questions. Everyone, including the audience, was well aware that this was the setup—in other words, they knew that by design the people who came up with the questions knew the answers far better than those supposed to answer them. Yet afterwards, the students participating as audience members said they thought the questioners were inherently smarter than the contestants. They discounted the very obvious staged context. What is even more surprising, the contestants themselves rated the questioners as more knowledgeable. These results are truly mind boggling, and these were Stanford University students. When he wrote up this experiment, Lee Ross coined the phrase “fundamental attribution error.”

Two years later, psychologist Thomas Pettigrew took matters one step further by introducing what he called the “ultimate attribution error.” Pettigrew reasoned that if we assume that the negative behaviors of other individuals are attributable to their inherent, internal disposition, the same effect would be magnified in our prejudices against other groups. We are all members of in-groups and out-groups. Our family is an in-group and it is likely that our neighborhood is an in-group also. But the family in the neighborhood on the other side of town is an out-group. Membership in these groups is relative. If you’re primed to think about your entire town versus another town—for example, during a sporting match—suddenly the other neighborhood in your town becomes part of your out-group.

Some demarcations between in-groups and out-groups have become cemented in our society’s collective psyche. In the United States today, race, gender. immigration status, and economic class are categories of identity we’re accustomed to defining ourselves in relation to, and thinking of the people in “our group” as somewhat distinct from “others.” Ms. Kohn continues, “On top of this, like a giant living being, society has its own historical and collective perceptions about which of these groups usually fall in the in-group and which fall out. This is where the very meaningful, albeit complicated and sometimes even annoying, concept of ‘privilege’ comes in—the idea that certain identities and thus certain groups are inherently favored and advantaged in the broader norms and systems of our society, That’s how you end up with a dynamic where, in spite of the fact that women make up more than half the US population and more than half of US voters, more than 80% of those elected Congress are men. We all ingest and imitate society’s in-group and out-group biases.”

The ultimate attribution error gets a powerful assist from another of the fundamental psychological habits of hate: essentialism, which is the tendency to generalize wildly about people, especially those we lump into out-groups. Essentialism is the belief that everyone within a group shares the same characteristics or qualities, generalizations we’re especially likely to make—and assumed are fixed—about out groups. David Livingstone Smith in his book “Less Than Human” writes, “Essences are imagined to be shared by members of natural kinds, kinds that are discovered rather then invented, real rather than merely imagined and rooted in nature.” To which Ms. Kohn responds, “But that’s a myth. The distinctions between us are largely not ‘natural’ but created. We define and demand ‘others’ in large part because of society’s biases, all of which harden into negative and unyielding judgments about others that shape the rest of our perceptions. And this, I learned, is the core of prejudice and discrimination.”

The big question is how to converse with people of differing beliefs or political persuasions. Ms. Kohn has a handy tool taught to her by Matt Kohut and John Neffinger, authors of the book “Compelling People.” The problem that many of us have, HM included, is that we are tempted to respond to something someone says is wrong, by arguing, “No, you’re wrong, and let me explain the three reasons why!” Ms. Kohn used neuroscience to explain why this is not going to be productive. We know from neuroscience that while we need to use our frontal lobes to engage in a reasoned discussion—and to be open to persuasion—when we perceive an argument coming, our frontal lobes shut down and the fight-or-flight part of our brain turns on (the part of the brain that also holds our biases and stereotypes). To keep the possibility of persuasion open, we have to stay conversational.

We need to remember the acronym ABC, which stands for:

Affirm. First you find a feeling that you can genuinely affirm. So if the person said they are afraid of “x” say that you also agree with “x”. You have to mean this, that you authentically agree on this point.

Bridge. This does not stand for “but” or “however”. A bridge is a way of saying “and.” We can just say “and” or “that’s why” or “actually” or “the thing is” or even “the good news is”. You are trying to build means of getting to …

Convince. This is where you say whatever you were inclined to say in the first place.

It is clear that in many, if not most, situations, it will be impossible to do this. In that case, just let the point go. Arguing your point is highly unlikely to be successful, and the risk of a heated argument developing that increases enmity is high. If prevailed upon to give our opinions, it is important to be polite and respective. In other words to be the antithesis of Donald Trump.

The Heresy of Trumpism

May 25, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a column by E.J. Dionne Jr. in the 24 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The substance of this column is the motivation for this post. Dionne writes, “Maybe it takes one of the world’s most elitist institutions—a monarch for goodness sake—to provide a view of Christianity rooted rooted not in conservative cultural warfare (or unrelenting support for President Trump) but in and egalitarian love that will ‘let justice roll down like a mighty stream.’”

Dionne continues, “And the Most Rev. Michael Curry, who preached for a royal couple and the world last Saturday, isn’t finished with us yet. On Thursday, a group of Christians will march to the White House for a candle-light vigil inspired by a declaration titled ‘Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.’ The presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, Curry is a prime mover of a statement suffused with a sense of urgency about ‘a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government.’ While Trump lurks behind almost every paragraph of this passionate assertion of faith, he is never mentioned. This reflects the desire of the endorsers to focus on what it means to proclaim that ‘Jesus is Lord.’ The opening paragraph makes this clear: ‘We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.’”

Dionne continuing further, “At a time when social media and email inboxes bulge with manifestos about the danger posed by Trump, ‘Reclaiming Jesus’ is distinctive; Its vision contrasts sharply with the approach taken by Christians who are invoking religions in apologetics for a president whose actions and policies seem antithetical to almost everything Jesus taught. The Rev. Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical Christian leader and the declaration’s main drafter, credited Curry for encouraging his colleagues to speak out. ‘The two of us talked and prayed about this for months before inviting a group of elders to join us for a retreat on Ash Wednesday to discuss a theological and biblical statement.’”

and further, “Even if its implications about you-know who are unmistakable, the call—issued by 23 prominent Christians with long experience in social struggles—‘wants to be about Jesus, not Trump,’ Wallis said in an interview. The hope is to challenge Christians to reach their political conclusions only after pondering what Jesus and his disciples said. ‘What we believe leads us to what we must reject,’ the signers assert, laying out six core propositions and the conclusions that follow. If ‘ each human being is made in God’s image and likeness,’ then Christians have a duty to repudiate ‘the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership.’ A belief that ‘we are one body’ requires opposition to ‘misogyny’ and ‘the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women.’ Because ‘how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ,’ Christians must oppose ‘attacks on immigrants and refugees’ and ‘cutting services and programs for the poor’ accompanied by tax cuts ‘for the rich.”

The final three assertions were especially pointed about the unnamed president. Because ‘truth-telling is central to the prophetic biblical tradition.’ Christians should stand against ‘the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life.’ It notes that ‘Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood not domination.’ This means resisting ‘any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule.’

The declaration’s most barbed conclusion from Christ’s injunction to ‘go into all nations making disciples.’ This, the signatories say, demands a rebuke to ‘American First’ as a theological heresy.’

‘While we share a patriotic love for our country, they add, ‘we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others as a political goal.’ This is a testing time for the country as a whole, but the moment presents a particular challenge to the Christian churches.

Trump, after all, won a substantial majority of the vote among white Christians. The battle within Christianity (and not just in the United States) can be defined in many ways. It is at least in part between those who would use faith as a means of excluding others on the basis of nation, culture and, to often, race and those who see it as an appeal to conscience, a prod to social decency—and, yes, as an invitation to love.

The question ‘Who is Jesus?’ has been debated for two millennia. It is starkly relevant now.”

Thus ends, E. J. Dionne’s outstanding column. HM has been waiting for a column such as Dionne’s for quite some time.

To understand this problem, it is important to make a clear distinction between religions and God. Religions are human institutions. To believers, God is a true deity. Religions tend to be catered to particular types of believers. And most promise a quality eternal life. But people should realize that it is God who determines who shall enjoy a quality eternal life. And when one looks at Trump supporters, one wonders how they could possibly be following the dictates of Christ? Dionne’s column makes that pretty clear. People need to read the teachings of Christ rather than listening to certain preachers.

Some churches have told their congregants to vote for Trump so that he would appoint a conservative justice who would be in favor of overturning Roe v Wade. One can by sympathetic for people who fear that lives are being lost. But are lives really being lost?

The first point is that lives are not relevant. The issue is the soul. Any hope that eternal life is dependent on biological life is solely mistaken. A suitable means of eternal life is provided by the soul. When HM was a child he would pray,

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I ‘wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

As the Korean War was taking place at this time, he would add
“and bless all the little children in Korea.”

HM did not know this at the time, but he was praying for his future wife.

So it is the soul, not biological life, that it is key.

At this point HM thinks that he is praying to a different God than others who oppose abortion pray to. HM knows that what is essential for the healthy development of a child is a loving and attentive mother. HM also knows the consequences of a child being unloved. The child grows up emotionally and cognitively handicapped. When you read in the paper of the crimes and tragedies that are being committed, the underlying cause is likely to be an unloved child. And to think that there are even those who believe that a woman who is pregnant because she has been raped should be compelled to deliver the child.

HM’s loving and merciful God, being omniscient, knows these facts. HM believes that if a pregnant woman does not think she can be a loving a caring mother, she should get an abortion. He is confident that God is merciful, that the soul will not be lost, and that the soul should find a loving and caring mother.

What is the Key to LeBron James Phenomenal Performance?

May 24, 2018

And the answer is his superior memory. Sally Jenkins captured this in her article, “How is LeBron James always one move ahead? Let’s ask the scientists” in the 18 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. She begins, “Much as his brute-strength shoulders and legs define LeBron James, it’s the stuff in his head that elevates him.”

Ms. Jenkins continues, “Much has been made of James show-offy display of memory in his postgame analysis of Game 1. Replay it and notice not just the accuracy but the detail: in narrating six sequences in proper order, he noted the time on the shot clock, who took each shot and missed what, where the ball was inbounded from, and Jayson Tatum’s use of a Euro-step and right hand on a layup. When he was done, listeners broke into applause.

Zach Hambrick, a cognition-performance expert at Michigan State said, “It’s remarkable, but not surprising.” It is not surprising because there is a strong connection between cognitive science and human performance. Hambrick said, “This is one of the bedrock findings in research on human expertise: that experts have superior memory for information within their domain.”

Research has shown what seems to be “photographic memory” is really extrapolation based on habit-worn paths of knowledge, the vestiges and traces left in the brain by experience.

Adriaan de Groot conducted a famous study of chess players in the 1960s. Pieces were shown on a board for five seconds and then removed. The players were asked to recall what they had seen. Novices remembered poorly. The more expert the players, the more pieces they could recall, and the locations of the pieces. An important point in this study, which is frequently not mentioned, is that the superior recall of the experts only occurred when they pieces on the board were placed in a meaningful manner as would be found in a game between experts. If pieces were arranged in a random, nonsensical manner, the masters’ performance differed little from the novices. If so arranged in a meaningful manner, grandmasters could recall virtually everything.

Masters of games don’t just build static memories, but have a remarkable ability to intuit. Ms. Jenkins writes, “James’s anticipation is inseparable from his memory. Ericsson cited a study of elite soccer players where they were shown a game and the screen was halted at an unpredictable point. The best players remembered not only who was where but also predicted where they would go next.

Ms. Jenkins writes, “Think about the processes involved as James scans the court while moving down the floor. The optic nerves absorb and transmit small peripheral details, then shift to a sudden zoom focus as he throws a glancing no-look bounce pass that hits Kevin Love in the hands mid-stride. Then his attention broadens again stereoscopically to capture the whole floor. The cognitive flexibility to go in and out of those states fluidly is highly learned. And yet little short of magic.”

In 2014 researchers John O’Keefe, Maybritt Moser, and Edvard Moser won the Nobel Prize for explaining how the brain navigates. They answered the questions: How do we perceive position, know where we are, find the way home? O’Keefe found a specific cell in the hippocampus that throws off a signal to mark a specific place. The Mosers found that neurons in the entorhinal cortex fire in fields with regularity. When they drew lines corresponding to the neuronal activity they saw a grid. So LeBron James has a geometric projection in his brain that acts as a computation coordinate system. And so do we, but LeBron makes a much more effective use of this system.

There still is the question as to how James’s brain discriminates among multiple similar memories. Andre Fenton has published a possible answer to this question in the journal “Neuron.” The answer is that the “place” signaling is not so much a constant remapping. Actually it is highly synchronized. Think of the neurons in James’s head as birds. Starlings, “Like a flock of starling that takes on different formations while still maintaining cohesion as a flock,” Fenton said. “He’s not recording like a videotape. He’s not rebuilding. He doesn’t rebuild a picture of what is going on. He watches it evolve continuously and fluidly. There is a flock, and it’s moving down the court, and everybody has a place. All these birds form a structure, and the structure is important. We call it a flock. He calls it a play.”

Fenton says that this is actually what all human beings do. HM would add that this is also what many infra human species do. Our brains learn a series of models over our lives and is constantly making predictions.

Phenoms like James are masters of assessing the likelihoods of things. With an amazingly good set of models and expectations—of opponents, of teammates and of how the ball will move, it can look like total omniscience.

Possible Outcomes

May 22, 2018

This is the final post in this series. Unfortunately, Hayden does not come to any real conclusions at the end of “The Assault on Intelligence: American Security in an Age of Lies.” He just rambles on and on. As a career intelligence professional, one could expect better. He has made a career of dealing with large amounts of data of varying amounts of credibility, and has come to conclusions, or at least different possible outcomes weighted differently. But he didn’t. So please tolerate HM’s offerings.

The president has already tweeted that the entire Department of Justice is the deep state. He has also told a New York Times reporter, “I have an absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department. Two conclusions can be drawn here.
Trump is woefully ignorant of the Constitution and what he can do.
The Russian new way of conducting warfare has been highly successfully.

Should the Democrats win back the House and the Senate, Trump can be impeached and removed from office.
However, this is a goal that it is difficult to achieve. And likely impossible given Russian interference, which has been promised, but for which Trump is going to do nothing to prevent.

Mueller can finish his report and provide it to Congress. It is likely that Republicans would not be impressed by compelling evidence of obstruction of justice.

But what about conspiring with Russia to win the election? The United States has spent large amounts on defense. But to what end if the Russians have effectively captured the White House? Trump worships Putin and would gladly serve as his lap dog.

And suppose it is discovered that Trump owes large amounts of money to Russia and that Putin effectively owns him?

What happens in these latter two cases rests solely with the Republicans. Too many Republicans have been influenced by Russia’s new form of warfare and are doing everything they can to subvert Mueller’s work. They have already produced a biased report that excludes Democratic input and exonerates the president.

Similarly, if Trump fires Mueller and tries to close down the investigation, the question is how will Republicans respond to this constitutional crisis? If they’re complacent and do nothing, our democracy effectively goes down the drain. Trump is likely to declare himself President for life, and Russia would effectively occupy the oval office.

The Russians are generations ahead of the United States in warfare. If this were an old-fashioned shooting war, all Americans would be enraged and the country would be up in arms. But the type of highly effective warfare to which the Russians have advanced involves the human mind. Some US Citizens are loosing interest in Mueller’s investigation and are tired of it lasting so long. They seem to care not that they would be losing the White House to the Russians. All this requires thinking, that is System 2 processing. System 1 processing, feeling, believing, not thinking and being oblivious of the truth is so much easier.

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

Trump, Russia, and Truth (Cont.)

May 21, 2018

This post is a continuation of the post of the same title taken from the book by Michael Hayden titled “The Assault on Intelligence: American Security in the Age of Lies.” This is the third post in the series.

Gary Kasparov, Soviet chess champion turned Russian dissident outlined the progression of Putin’s attacks. They were developed and honed first in Russia and then with Russian-speaking people nearby before expanding to Europe and the U.S. These same Russian information operations have been used to undercut democratic processes in the United States and Europe, and to erode confidence in institutions like NATO and the European Union.

Hayden notes, “Committed to the path of cyber dominance for ourselves, we seemed to lack the doctrinal vision to fully understand that the Russians were up to with their more full-spectrum information dominance. Even now, many commentators refer to what the Russians did to the American electoral process as a cyber attack, but the actual cyber portion of that was fairly straightforward.”

Hayden writes, “Evidence mounted. The faux personae created at the Russian bot farm—the Saint Petersburg—based Internet Research Agency—were routinely represented by stock photos taken from the internet, and the themes they pushed were consistently pro-Russian. There was occasional truth to their posting, but clear manipulation as well, and they all seemed to push in unison.

The Russians knew their demographic. The most common English words in their faux twitter profiles were “God,” “military,” “Trump,” “family,” “country,” “conservative,” “Christian,” “America,” and “Constitution,” The most commonly used hashtags were #nuclear, #media, #Trump, and #Benghazi…all surefire dog whistles certain to create trending.”

It was easy for analysts to use smart algorithms to determine whether something was trending because of genuine human interaction or simply because it was being pushed by the Russian botnet. Analysts could see that the bots ebbed and flowed based upon the needs of the moment. Analysts tried to call attention to this, but American intelligence did not seem to be interested.

Analyst Clint Watts characterized 2014 as year of capability development for the Russians and pointed to a bot-generated petition movement calling for the return of Alaska to Russia that got more than forty thousand supporters while helping the Russians build their cadre and perfect their tactics. With that success in hand in 2015 the Russians started a real push toward the American audience, by grabbing any divisive social issue they could identify. They were particularly attracted to issues generated from organic American content, issues that had their origin in the American community. Almost by definition, issues with a U.S. provenance could be portrayed as genuine concerns to America, and they were already preloaded in the patois of the American political dialogue, which included U.S. based conspiracy theorists.

Hayden writes, “And Twitter as a gateway is easier to manipulate than other platforms since in the twitterers we voluntarily break down into like-minded tribes, easily identified by or likes and by whom we follow. Watts says that the Russians don’t have to “bubble” us—that is, create a monolithic information space friendly for their messaging, We have already done that to ourselves since, he says, social media is as gerrymandered as any set of state electoral districts in the country. Targeting can become so precise that he considers social media “a smart bomb delivery system.” In Senate testimony, Watts noted that with tailored news feeds, a feature rather than a bug for those getting their news online, voters see “only stories and opinions suiting their preferences and biases—ripe condition for Russian disinformation campaigns.”

Charlie Sykes believes “many Trump voters get virtually all their information from inside the bubble…Conservative media has become a safe space for people who want to be told they don’t have to believe anything that is uncomfortable or negative…The details are less important than the fact that you’re being persecuted, you’re being victimized by people you loathe.”

What we have here is an ideal environment for System 1 processors. They can feed their emotions and beliefs without ever seeing any contradicting information that would cause them to think and invoke System 2 processing.

Republican Max Boot railed against the Fox network as “Trump TV,” Trump’s own version of RT,” and its prime-time ratings czar Sean Hannity as “the president’s de facto minister of information. Hayden says that there are what he calls genuine heroes on the Fox Network, like Shepard Smith, Chris Wallace, Charles Krauthammer, Bret Baier, Dana Perino and Steve Hayes, but for the most part he agrees with Boot. Hannity gave a platform to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange shortly before Trump’s inauguration, traveling to London to interview him at the Ecuadorian embassy, where Assange had taken refuge from authorities following a Swedish rape allegation.

Hayden writes, “When the institutions of the American government refuse to kowtow to the president’s transient whim, he sets out to devalue and delegitimize them in a way rarely, if ever, seen before in our history. A free (but admittedly imperfect) press is “fake news,” unless, of course, it is Fox; the FBI is in “tatters,” led by a”nut job” director and conducting a “witch hunt”; the Department of Justice, and particularly the attorney general, is weak, and so forth.”

It is clear that Trump has experience only with “family” business, where personal loyalty reigns supreme. He has no experience with government and is apparently ignorant of the separation of the three branches of govern, legislative, judicial, and executive. The judicial and legislative branches are to be independent of the executive.

Apparently the White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, asked Trump whether he was guilty. Obviously, Trump said he was innocent, so Cobb told Trump to cooperate with Mueller and that would establish his innocence quickly and he could devote full time to his presidential duties.

Obviously, he is not innocent. On television he told Lester Holt that the reason he fired Comey was that he would not back off the Russia investigation. In other words, he has already been caught obstructing Justice.

During the campaign he requested Hillary’s emails from the Russians. So he was conspiring with the Russians and this conspiracy was successful as he did indeed get the emails.

There are also questions regarding why is he so reluctant to take any actions against Russia? One answer is that it is clearly in Trumps’ interest for the Russians interfering in the mid term election as he is concerned that the Democrats could regain control of both the House and the Senate, which would virtually guarantee that he would be impeached.

A related question regards his finances. Why has he never released his tax forms? There are outstanding debts that are not accounted for, and he seems to be flush with cash, but from where? The most parsimonious answer to this question is that he is in debt to Putin. In other words, Putin owns him.

We do not know what evidence Mueller has, but it appears that it is very large.

And Trump is behaving like a guilty person. Of course he denies his guilt and proclaims his innocence vehemently, but this only makes him appear guilty. He is viciously attacking the government and the constitution to discredit them, since he will not be able to prove his innocence. And the Russians have and will continue to provide the means for helping him try to discredit the justice system, the intelligence community, and the press.

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

Trump, Russia, and Truth

May 20, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in “The Assault on Intelligence: American Security in an Age of Lies.” This book is by Michael V. Hayden who has served as the directors of both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This is the second post in the series.

in 2017 a detailed story in “Wired” magazine revealed how Russia was subverting U.S. democracy cited a European study that found that rather than trying to change minds, the Russian goal was simply “to destroy and undermine confidence in Western media.” The Russians found a powerful ally in Trump, who attacked American institutions with as much ferocity as did Russian propaganda, as when he identified the press as the “enemy of the American people.” The attack on the media rarely argued facts. James Poniewozik of the New York Times wrote in a 2017 tweet that Trump didn’t try to argue the facts of a case—“just that there is no truth, so you should just follow your gut & your tribe.”

Wired also pointed out the convergence between the themes of Russian media/web blitz and the Trump campaign: Clinton’s emails, Clinton’s health, rigged elections, Bernie Sanders, and so forth. And then there was an echo chamber between Russian news and American right-wing outlets, epitomized by Clinton staffer Seth Rich was somehow related to the theft of DNC emails, and the dumping of them on Wikileaks—that it was an inside job and not connected to Russia at all.

Hayden writes, “Trump seemed the perfect candidate for the Russians’ purpose, and that was ultimately our choice not theirs. But the central fact to be faced and understood here is that Russians have gotten very good indeed at invading and often dominating the American information space. For me, that story goes back twenty years. I arrived in San Antonia, TX, in January 1996 to take command of what was then called the Air Intelligence Agency. As I’ve written elsewhere, Air Force Intelligence was on the cutting edge of thinking about the new cyber warfare, and I owed special thanks to my staff there for teaching me so much about this new battle space.”

“The initial question they asked was whether we were in the cyber business or the information dominance business? Did we want to master cyber networks as a tool of war or influence or were we more ambitious, with an intent to shape how adversaries or even societies received and processed all information? As we now have a Cyber Command and not an information dominance command, you can figure how all this turned out. We opted for cyber; Russia opted for information dominance.”

The Russian most interested in that capacity was General Valery Gerasimov, an armor officer who after combat in the Second Chechen War, served as the commander of the Leningrad and then Moscow military districts. Writing in 2013 Gerasimov pointed to the “blurring [of] the lines between the state of war and the state of peace” and—after noting the Arab Awakening—observed that “a perfectly thriving state can, in a matter of months and even days, be transformed into an arena of fierce armed conflict…and sink into a web of chaos.”

Gerasimov continued, “The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown,” and the trend now was “the broad use of political, economic, informational humanitarian, and other nonmilitary measures—applied in coordination with the protest potential of the population.” He said seeing large clashes of men and metal as a “thing” of the past.” He called for “long distance, contactless actions against the enemy” and included in his arsenal “informational actions, devices, and means.” He concluded, “The information space opens wide asymmetrical possibilities for reducing the fighting potential of the enemy,” and so new “models of operations and military conduct” were needed.

Putin appointed Gerasimov chief of the general staff in late 2012. Fifteen months later there was evidence of his doctrine in action with the Russian annexation of Crimea and occupation of parts of the Donbas in eastern Ukraine.

Hayden writes, “In eastern Ukraine, Russia promoted the fiction of a spontaneous rebellion by local Russian speakers against a neofascist regime in Kiev, aided only by Russian volunteers, a story line played out in clever high quality broadcasts from news services like RT and Sputnik coupled with relentless trolling on social media. [At this time HM was able to view these RT telecasts at work. They were the best done propaganda pieces he’s ever seen, because they did not appear to be propaganda, but rather, high quality, objective newscasts.]

Hayden concludes, “With no bands, banners, or insignia, Russia had altered borders within Europe—by force—but with an informational canopy so dense as to make the aggression opaque.”

The Assault on Intelligence

May 19, 2018

Michael V. Hayden has served as the director of both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). His latest book is “The Assault on Intelligence: American Security in an Age of Lies.” Actually this title is modest. The underlying reality is that this is an attack on American Democracy.

In 2016 the Oxford’s English Dictionary’s word of the year was “post truth,” a condition where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. A. C. Grayling characterized the emerging post-truth world as “over-valuing opinion and preference at the expense of proof and data.” Oxford Dictionaries president Casper Grathwohl predicted that the term could become “one of the defining words of our time.” Change “could” to ‘has,” and change one to “is,” and, unfortunately, you have an accurate characterization of today’s reality.

Kahneman’s two-system view of cognition is fitting here. This is a concept that should be familiar to healthy memory blog readers. System 1, is called, intuition, and refers to the most common mode of our cognitive processing. Normal conversation, or the performance of skilled tasks are System 1 processes. Emotional processing is also done in System 1. System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors do slip through.

Post truth processing is exclusively System 1. It involves neither proof nor accurate data, and is frequently emotional. That is the post truth world. One of the most disturbing facts in Hayden’s book, is that Trump does not care about objective truth. Truth is whatever he feels at a particular time. The possibility that Trump might have a delusional disorder, in which he is incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction has been mentioned in previous health memory blog posts. That was proposed as a possible reason for the enormous number of lies he tells. But it is equally possible that he has no interest in objective truth. As far as he is concerned, objective truth does not exist.

Tom Nichols writes in his 2017 book “The Death of Expertise” “The United States is now a country obsessed with the worship of its own ignorance…Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog sodden…[with] an insistence that strongly held opinions are indistinguishable from facts.” Nichols also writes about the Dunning-Kruger effect, which should also be familiar to healthy memory blog readers. The Dunning-Kruger Effect describes the phenomenon of people thinking they know much more about a topic than they actually know, compared to the knowledgeable individual who is painfully aware of how much he still doesn’t know about the topic in question.

Trump is an ideal example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Mention any topic and Trump will claim that he knows more about the topic than anyone else. He knows more about fighting wars than his generals, He knows more about debt than anyone else (from a personal experience this might be true). He told potential voters that he was the only one who knew how to solve all their problems, without explaining how he knew or what his approach was. In point of fact, the only things he knows, and is unfortunately an expert at, are how to con and cheat people.

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

What Can Be Done?

May 18, 2018

Many problems have been discussed in Dr. Cathy O’Neil’s book “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy”. First of all, people need to be made aware of these problems. Businesses, companies, and agencies should be willing, to the extent possible, to unweaponize these weapons of math destruction. If they are unwilling, laws should be enacted.

Dr. O’Neill thinks that data scientists should pledge a Hippocratic Oath, one that focuses on the possible misuses and misinterpretations of their models. Following the market crash of 2008, two financial engineers, Emanuel Derman and Paul Wilmots, drew up such an oath:

I will remember that I didn’t make the world, and it doesn’t satisfy my equations.

Though I will use models boldly to estimate value, I will not be overly impressed by mathematics.

I will never sacrifice reality for elegance without explaining why I have done so.

Nor will I give the people who use my model false comfort about its accuracy. Instead, I will make explicit its assumptions and oversights.

I understand that my work may have enormous effects on society and the economy, many of them beyond my comprehension.

The Electoral College Needs to Go

May 17, 2018

This post is based on Cathy O’Neil’s informative book, “Weapons of Math Destruction.” The penultimate chapter in the book shows how weapons of math destruction are ruining our elections. It is only recently that Facebook and Cambridge Analytics have be found to employ users data for nefarious purposes. Nevertheless Dr. O’Neil’s book was published in 2016. To summarize the chapter, weapons of math destruction are distorting if not destroying our elections. Actually the most informative and most important part of the chapter is found in a footnote at the end:

“At the federal level, this problem could be greatly alleviated by abolishing the Electoral College system. It’s the winner-take-all mathematics from state to state that delivers so much power to a relative handful of voters. It’s as if in politics, as in economics, we have a privileged 1 percent. And the money from the financial 1 percent underwrites the micro targeting to secure the votes of the political 1 percent. Without the Electoral College, by contrast, every vote would be worth exactly the same. That would be a step toward democracy. “

Readers of the healthy memory blog should realize that the Electoral College is an injustice that has been addressed in previous healthy memory blog posts (13 to be exact). Just recently, the Electoral College, not the popular vote, produced Presidents with adverse effects. One resulted in a war in Iraq that was justified by nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. And most recently, the most ill-suited person for the presidency became president, contrary to the popular vote.

The justification for the Electoral College was the fear that ill-informed voters might elect someone who was unsuitable for the office. If there ever was a candidate unsuitable for the office, that candidate was Donald Trump. It was the duty of the Electoral College to deny him the presidency, a duty they failed. So, the Electoral College needs to be disbanded and never reassembled.

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

Broken Windows Policing

May 16, 2018

This post is based on Cathy O’Neil’s informative book, “Weapons of Math Destruction.” The title of this post should be familiar to anyone who has viewed the Blue Bloods television series. It advanced Broken Windows Policing as justification for the policies they pursued to prevent serious crimes. The justification of this policy has been an article of faith since 1982, when a criminologist named George Kelling teamed up with a public policy expert, James Q. Wilson to write an article in the “Atlantic Monthly” on so-called broken-windows policing. According to Dr. O’Neil, “The idea was that low-level crimes and misdemeanors created an atmosphere of disorder in a neighborhood. This scared law-abiding citizens aware. The dark and empty streets they left behind were breeding grounds for serious crimes. The antidote was for society to resist the spread of disorder. This included fixing broken windows cleaning up graffiti-covered subway cars, and taking steps to discourage nuisance crimes. This thinking led in the 1990s to zero-tolerance campaigns most famously in New York City. Cops would arrest people for jumping subway turnstiles. They’d apprehend people caught sharing a single joint and rumble them around the city in a paddy wagon for hours before eventually booking them.”

There were dramatic campaigns for violent crimes. The zero-tolerance campaign was credited for reducing violent crime. Others disagreed citing the fallacy of “post hoc, propter hoc” (after this, therefore because of this) and other possibilities, ranging from the falling rates of crack cocaine addiction to the booming 1990s economy. Regardless, the zero-tolerance movement gained broad support, and the criminal justice system sent millions of mostly young minority males meant to prison, many of them for minor offenses.

Dr. O’Neil continues, “But zero tolerance actually had very little to do with Kelling and Wilson’s “broken-windows” thesis. Their case focused on what appeared to be a successful policing initiative in Newark, New Jersey. Cops who walked the beat there, according to the program, were supposed to be highly tolerant. Their job was to adjust to the neighborhood’s own standards of order and to help uphold them. Standards varied from one part of the city to another. In one neighborhood it might mean that drunks had to keep their bottles in bags and avoid major streets but that side streets were okay. Addicts could sit on stoops but not lie down. The idea was only to make sure the standards didn’t fall. The cops, in this scheme, were helping a neighborhood maintain its own order but not imposing their own.”

On the basis of this and other data, Dr. O’Neil comes to the conclusion, “that we criminalize poverty, believing all the while that our tools are not only scientific, but fair.” Dr. O’Neil asks, “What if police looked for different kinds of crimes?” That may sound counterintuitive, because most of us, including the police, view crime as a pyramid. At the top is homicide. It’s followed by rape and assault, which are more common, then shoplifting, petty fraud, and even parking violations, which happen all the time. Minimizing violent crime, most would agree, is and should be a central part of a police force’s mission.”

Dr. O’Neil asks an interesting question. What if we looked at the crimes carried out by the rich? “In the 2000s, the kings of finance threw themselves a lavish party. They lied, they bet billions against their own customers, they committed fraud and paid off rating agencies. Enormous crimes were committed there, and the result devastated the global economy for the best part of five years. Millions of people lost their homes, jobs, and health care.”

She continues,”We have every reason to believe that more such crimes are reoccurring in finance right now. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that the driving goal of the finance world is to make a huge profit, the bigger the better, and that anything resembling self-regulation is worthless. Thanks largely to the industry’s wealth and powerful lobbies, finance is underpoliced.”

Two Especially Troubling Problems

May 15, 2018

One of these problems is found in the Chapter “Propaganda Machine: Online Advertising in Dr. Cathy O’Neil’s book “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy”. Advertising is legitimate, but predatory advertising is certainly not. In predatory advertising weapons of math destruction are used to identify likely subjects to be exploited. Not all, but some for-profit colleges were built and grew through weapons of math destruction. People who were identified as being in need of education or training were preyed upon and sold expensive on-line courses, that were not likely to pay off in jobs or any sort of advancement.

HM learned a new word reading Dr. Kathy O’Neil’s book “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy”. That word was clopening. This is when an employee works late one night to close the store or cafe and then returns a few hours later, before dawn, to open it. Having the same employee closing and opening, or clopening, can make logistical sense for a company, but it leads to sleep-deprived workers and crazy schedules. Weapons of math destruction can identify optimal schedules for the company, but they also need to take into account the welfare of the employee. Scheduling can place the employee’s health in jeopardy along with the employee’s family life.

Laws are clearly needed here. As for the predatory advertisers marketing on-line courses, they should be closed down and fined. Unfortunately, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was policing this problem has been shut down. Companies and businesses need to be held responsible for the health and welfare of their employees.

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

The General Problem of Proxies

May 14, 2018

This general problem of proxies is fairly ubiquitous as outlined in Dr. Cathy O’Neil’s book “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy”. Remember that proxies are variables used to compensate for the actual variables for which data are unavailable. The Chapter “Ineligible to Serve” addresses problems proxies can create in getting a job. Once on the job proxies can make it more difficult to hold the job. This is described in the chapter, “Sweating Bullets: on the Job.” Proxies also cause problems in getting credit, which is described in the chapter “Collateral Damage: Landing Credit.” Similarly proxies present problems in getting insurance described in the chapter, “No Safe Zone: Getting Insurance.”

So the effects of Weapons of Math Destruction are ubiquitous. People need to be aware of when they might be being screwed by these weapons. So “Weapons of Math Destruction” needs to be generally read.

Indeed, there are reasons why these weapons are being used, but care must be taken to reduce or eliminate the destruction. It is not only the individuals being evaluated who need to be aware, but also the businesses and agencies using them. They should be aware of their shortcomings and the need for eliminating these shortcomings when possible. These models need to be made transparent, so the proxies can be identified, and the possibility of misclassifications can be addressed.

There is also a chapter titled “The Targeted Citizen,” but since that topic is so much in the news about Facebook and the interference of Russia in the presidential election, that will not be addressed here.

Ranking Colleges

May 13, 2018

This post is based on Dr. Cathy O’Neil’s book “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy”.

In 1983 the newsmagazine “U.S. News & World Report” decided it would evaluate 1,800 colleges and universities throughout the United States and rank them for excellence. Had they honestly considered if they could accurately do this they could have saved the country and the countries’ colleges and universities from anxiety and confusion. But they were not honest and proceeded to build the magazine’s reputation and fortune.

How could one do this? One could conduct a national survey and have individuals rate the schools in terms of prestige. This could be done validly. But to rate them in terms of excellence? How is excellence defined? Would it be the satisfaction of recent graduates? Would it be the satisfaction of graduates further down the course of life?

The healthy memory blog has made the point in previous posts that depending on what a student wants to learn and what career the student wants to pursue should be primary factors in choosing a college. All colleges, even the most prestigious ones, differ in what they have to offer. And what about the cost-effectiveness of colleges? This is probably the most important factor for the majority of students. One can pay through the nose to attend a prestigious college, but what is the benefit for the cost incurred?

The magazine picked proxies that seemed to correlate with success. They looked at SAT scores, student-teacher ratios, and acceptance rates. They analyzed the percentage of incoming freshmen who made it to the sophomore year and the percentage of those who graduated. They calculated the percentage of living alumni who contributed money to their alma mater, surmising that if they gave a college money there was a good chance they appreciated the education there. Three-quarters of the ranking would be produced by an algorithm, an opinion formalized in code, that incorporated these proxies. In the other quarter they would factor in the subjective views of college officials throughout the country.

HM regards this procedure pretty much as ad hoc selection with no external validation. However, Dr. O’Neil is more charitable writing, “U.S. News first data-driven ranking came out in 1988, and the results seemed sensible. However, as the rankings grew into a national standard, a vicious feedback loop materialized. The trouble was that the rankings were self-reinforcing.” So if a college was rated poorly in “U.S. News,” its reputation would suffer, and conditions would deteriorate. Top students would avoid it, as would top professors. Alumni would howl and cut back on contributions. The ranking would go down further. Dr. O’Neil concludes that the ranking was destiny.

Everyone was acting foolishly. In fact, this was a jury-rigged methodology that provided a proxy estimate of a school’s prestige. ‘U.S. News” should have discontinued the survey. Universities should have disclaimed the methodology and the ratings. Instead, they played the game and took actions just to improve their ratings. Read the book to learn the gory details.

Dr. O’Neil notes that when you create a model from proxies, it is far simpler to game it. This is because proxies are easier to manipulate than the complicated reality they represent. This is a common problem with big data and weapons of math destruction.

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

Finance and Big Data

May 12, 2018

This post is based on Dr. Cathy O’Neil’s book “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy”. Dr. O’Neil was originally applying her mathematical knowledge and skills in finance. In 2008 there was a catastrophic market crash. Although weapons of math destruction did not solely cause the financial crash, they definitely contributed to it. So Dr. O’Neil moved from finance to Big Data where her skills were readily transferable.

She writes, “In fact, I saw all kinds of parallels between finance and Big Data. Both industries gobble up the same pool of talent, much of it from elite universities like MIT, Princeton, or Stanford. These new hires are ravenous for success and have been focused on external metrics—like SAT scores and college admissions—their entire lives. Whether in finance or tech, the message they’ve received is that a they will be rich, that they will run the world. Their productivity indicates that they’re on the right track, and it translates into dollars. This leads to the fallacious conclusion that whatever they’re doing to bring in more money is good. It ‘adds value.’ Otherwise, why would the market reward it?”

She continues, “In both of these industries, the real world, with all of its messiness sits apart. The inclination is to replace people with data trails, turning them into more effective shoppers, voters, or workers to optimize some objective. This is easy to do, and to justify, when success comes back as an anonymous score and when the people affected remain ever bit as abstract as the numbers dancing across the screen.”

She worried about the separation between technical models and real people and about the moral repercussions of the separation. She saw the same pattern emerging in Big Data that she’d witnessed in finance: a false sense of security was leading to widespread use of imperfect models, self-serving definitions of success, and the growing feedback loops.

She continued working in Big Data. She writes that the her journey to disillusionment was more or less complete, and the misuse of mathematics was accelerating. She started a blog on this problem and in spite of almost daily blogging she barely kept up with all the ways she was hearing of people being manipulated, controlled, and intimidated by algorithms. It began with teachers working under inappropriate value-added models (read the book to learn about this), then the LSI-R risk model, and and continued from there. She quit her job to investigate full time the issue leading to this book.

Three Kinds of Models

May 11, 2018

This post is based on Dr. Cathy O’Neil’s book “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy”. Many of us likely develop predictive models, but remain unaware what we are doing. So Dr. O’Neil describes an internal intuitive model she uses in planning family meals. She has a model of everyone’s appetite. She knows that one of her sons loves chicken (but hates hamburgers), while another will eat only pasta (with extra grated parmesan cheese). She also has to take into account that people’s appetites vary from day to day, so a change can catch her internal model by surprise. In addition to the information she has about her family, she knows the ingredients she has on hand or knows are available, plus her own energy, time, and ambition. The output is how and what she decides to cook. She evaluated the success of a meal by how satisfied her family seems at the end of it, how much they’ve eaten, and how healthy the food was. Seeing how well it is received and how much of it is enjoyed allows her to update her model for the next time she cooks. These updates and adjustments make it what is called a “dynamic model.”
Her model is a good model as long as she restricts it to her family. The technical term for this limitation is that it doesn’t scale. It will not work with larger or different families.

Examples of the best models are those used by professional baseball teams. There are an enormous number of variables that can be used to predict a teams performance. Moreover, these models allow the prediction of the performance of the team when different players are added or subtracted. The measure this model is designed to predict is the number of wins. Wins provides the variable that it used to predict and improve the models.

Recidivism models are used to predict the likelihood that a prisoner, after being released from prison will return to criminal behavior and end up back in jail. One of the more popular models is the Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R). It includes a lengthy questionnaire for the prisoner to fill out. One of the questions—“How many prior convictions have you had?” is highly relevant to the risk of recidivism. Others are also clearly related. For example “What part did others play in the offense? What part did drugs and alcohol play?”

Other questions are more problematic. For example a question about the first time they ever were involved with the police. For a white subject the only incident to report might be the one that brought him to prison. However, young black males are likely to have been stopped by police dozens of times, even when they’ve done nothing wrong. A 2013 study by the New York Civil Liberties Union found the while black and Latino males between the ages of fourteen and twenty-four make up only on 4.7% of the cities population, but accounted for 40.6% of the stop-and-frisk checks by police. More than 90% of those stopped were innocent. Some of the others might have been drinking underage or carrying a joint. And unlike most rich kids, they got in trouble for it. So if early “involvement” with police signals recidivism, poor people and racial minorities look far riskier.

Although statistical systems like the LSI-R are effective in gauging recidivism risk, or at least more accurate than a judge’s random guess, we find ourselves descending into a pernicious WMD feedback loop. A person who scores as “high risk” is likely to be unemployed and to come from a neighborhood where many of his friends and family have had run-ins with the law. Dr. O’Neil writes, “Thanks in part to the resulting high score on the evaluation, he gets a longer sentence, locking him away for more years in a prison where he’s surrounded by criminals, which raises the likelihood that he’ll return to prison. If he commits another crime, the recidivism model can claim another success. But in fact the model contributes to a toxic situation and helps to sustain it. That’s a signature quality of a WMD.

This risk and the value of the LSR-R could be tested. There could be two groups. A control group would be administered the questionnaire. Another group would be administered a modified version of the questionnaire that did not include responses that would tip the race of the individual. The participants could be tracked over time. If the modified version of the questionnaire actually resulted in the a lower rate of recidivism, then the original questionnaire could be identified as harmful, not only to the respondent, but also to society that was increasing recidivism rather than reducing it.

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

Weapons of Math Destruction

May 10, 2018

The title of this book is identical to the title of a book by Dr. Cathy O’Neil. The subtitle is “How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy.” Dr. O’Neil is a mathematician. She left her academic position to work as a quant (a quantitative expert) for D. E. Shaw, a leading hedge fund. Initially she was excited by working in the global academy. But the economy crashing in the autumn of 2008 caused her to reevaluate what she was doing.

She writes, “The crash made it all too clear that mathematics, once my refuge, was not only deeply entailed in the world’s problems, but also fueling many of them. The housing crisis, the collapse of major financial institutions, the rise of unemployment—all had been aided and abetted by mathematicians wielding magic formulas. What’s more, thanks to the extraordinary powers that I love so much, math was able to combine with technology to multiply the chaos and misfortune, adding efficiency and scale to a system that I now recognized as flawed.”

She writes that the crisis should have caused all to take a step back and try to figure out how math had been misused and how a similar catastrophe in the future could be prevented. She writes, “But instead, in the wake of the crisis, new mathematical techniques were hotter than ever and expanding into still more domains. They churned 24/7 through petabytes of information, much of it scraped from social media, or e-commerce websites. And increasingly they focused not on the movements of global financial markets but on human beings, on us. Mathematicians and statisticians were studying our desires, movements, and spending power. They were predicting our trustworthiness and calculating our potential as students, workers, lovers, criminals.”

These math-powered applications were based on choices made by fallible human beings. Although some choices were made with the best intentions, many of the models encoded human prejudice, misunderstanding, and bias into the software systems that increasingly managed our lives. Dr. O’Neil came up with a name for these harmful kinds of models: Weapons of Math Destruction, or WMDs for short.

She notes that statistical systems require feedback—something to tell them when they’re off track. The example she provides is that if amazon.com, through a faulty correlation, started recommended lawn care books to teenage girls, the click would plummet, and the algorithm would be tweaked until it got it right. However, without feedback, a statistical engine can continue spinning out faulty and damaging analysis while never learning from its mistakes. These models end up defining their own reality and use it to justify its results. She writes that this type of model is self-perpetuating highly destructive—and very common.

This book focuses on the damage inflicted by WMDs and the injustice they perpetuate. It discusses harmful examples that affect people at critical life moments: going to college, borrowing money, getting sentenced to prison, or finding and holding a job.

Responsible Tech is Google’s Likely Update

May 9, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Elizabeth Dworkin and Haley Tsukayama in the 8 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. At its annual developer conference scheduled to kick off today in its hometown of Mountain View, CA, Google is set to announce a new set of controls to its Android operating system, oriented around helping individuals and families manage the time they spend on mobile devices. Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai is expected to emphasize the theme of responsibility in his keynote address.

Pichai is trying to address the increased public skepticism and scrutiny of the technology regarding the negative consequences of how its products are used by billions of people. Some of this criticism concerns the addictive nature of many devices and programs. In January two groups of Apple shareholders asked the company to design products to combat phone addiction in children. Apple chief executive Tim Cook has said he would keep the children in his life away from social networks, and Steve Jobs placed strict limitation on his children’s screen time. Even Facebook admitted that consuming Facebook passively tends to put people in a worse mood according to both its internal research as well as academic reports. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has said that his company didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility to society, in areas such as Russian interference and the protection of people’s data. HM thinks that this statement should qualify as the understatement of the year.

Google appears to be ahead of its competitors with respect to family controls. Google offers Family Link, which is a suite of tools that allows parents to regulate how much time their children can spend on apps and remotely lock their child’s device. FamilyLink gives parents weekly reports on children’s app usage and offers controls to approve the apps kids download.

Google has also overhauled Google news. The new layout show how several outlets are covering the same story from different angles. It will also make it easier to subscribe to news organizations directly from its app store.

HM visited Google’s campus at Mountain View, which was one of the trips of a month long workshop he attended provided. It looks more like a university campus than a technology business. Different people explained what they were working on, and we ate at the Google cafeteria. This cafeteria is large, offers a wide variety of delicious food, and is open 24 hours so staff can snack or dine for free any time they want.

The most talented programmer with whom HM was privileged to work with, left us for an offer at Google. She felt that this was a needed move for her to develop further her already excellent programming skills.

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

Data is Needed on Facial Recognition Accuracy

May 8, 2018

This post is inspired by an article titled “Over fakes, Facebook’s still seeing double” by Drew Harrell in the 5 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. In December Facebook offered a solution of its worsening coverage of fake accounts: new facial-recognition technology to spot when a phony profile tries to use someone else’s photo. The company is now encouraging its users to agree to expand use of their facial data, saying they won’t be protected from imposters without it. The Post article notes that Katie Greenmail and other Facebook users who consented to that technology in recent months have been plagued by a horde of identity thieves.

After the Post presented Facebook with a list of numerous fake accounts, the company revealed that its system is much less effective than previously advertised: The tool looks only for imposters within a user’s circle of friends and friends of friend’s of friend;s—not the site’s 2 billion-user network, where the vast majority of doppelgänger accounts are probably born.

Before any entity uses facial recognition software, they should be compelled to test the software and describe in detail the sample it was developed on including the size and composition of that sample, and the performance of the software with respect to correct identifications, incorrect identifications, and no classifications. Facebook needed to do this testing and present the results. And Facebook users needed to demand these results from testing before using face recognition. How many time do users need to be burned by Facebook before they terminate interactions with the application?

The way facial recognition is used on police shows on television seems like magic. A photo is taken at night with a cellphone and is tested against a data base that yields the identity of the individual and his criminal record. These systems seem to act with perfection. HM has yet to see a show in which someone in a database is incorrectly identified, and that individual arrested by the police, interrogated and charged. That must happen. But how often and under what circumstances? It seems likely that someone with a criminal record is likely to be in the database and it is possible that the individual whose photo was taken is not in the database. If there is no match will the system make the best match that it can and make a person who is in the database a suspect in the crime?

The public, and especially defense lawyers, need to have quality data on how well these recognition systems perform.

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

What a 72-Year Old Remembers About Technology

May 7, 2018

When HM was in college, there were only mainframe computers that used tape drives. He took a course in computer programming. Fortran was the primary language for science and engineering, but the mathematicians at Ohio State developed and used Scatran instead. At that time there were no computer science departments. Computer science was divided between the mathematics department and the electrical engineering department. I would write my programs hand them off to the keypunch operators who always complained, and unfortunately justly so, about the illegibility of my printing. Then I would submit my punched cards to the mainframe. They would give an estimate regarding the waiting time, but typically it took several hours.

When you learned the program had been run, you returned and asked for your output. Usually, you could determine from the nature of your output, what had happened. If the output was only several pages, then it was likely that there was a formatting or logical error in your program. If the output was quite thick, then it was likely that you read in the data improperly. If there was a mistake, then you had to debug the program and make your own manual corrections. There were assistants available who provided advice.

HM worked as a clerk-typist in the Army for a while. When mistakes were made, you tried to correct them with white out. If there were too many mistakes, or if a rewrite was needed, then the entire document had to be retyped. As a graduate student HM paid typists to type his Master’s Thesis and doctoral dissertation. As a professional psychologist there were typists on staff. When documents were long, HM made rewrites and corrections and gave the document back to the typist. It was not unusual for the entire document to be retyped. However, when the entire document was retyped there usually were mistakes. Sometimes a point of diminishing returns was reached in which a retyping would result in more errors than were in the document that needed to be retyped.

The first computers usually had the Basic programing language installed and nothing else. These were primarily for hobbyists. When the first word processing programs appeared, they were like a godsend as they made the labor intensive typing task orders of magnitude easier. They eventually resulted in reductions in the secretarial staff, as professionals could do their own typing. However, at this time, most statistical analyses were done on mainframes. This involved having data and programs keypunched, submitted to the mainframe, waiting for processing, and picking up the results.

When statistical programs were developed for personal computers, this all could be done by the statistician. In contrast to the old days when there would typically be a break of several hours waiting for the results, the PCs spit the results back within seconds. If there were problems, they needed to be addressed directly. The old break waiting for the results was missed.

When HM took physics in high school, the teacher would have one student design a circuit and provide it to the rest of the class. The students would then need to manually compute the electrical values at different points in the circuit. When HM was assigned this task he designed a circuit where all these values could be computed in one’s head. At this time there were no pocket calculators. Only one student had a slide rule, so the rest of us needed to do the calculations manually. So when no manual calculations had to be made for my circuit, everyone got a perfect score. HM made his point. We all understood electrical circuits, but even after 12 years of education we still made arithmetical errors.

It is difficult for HM to identify what he likes most about the new technology. Of course, word processing is highly appreciated. But the computational aids are especially appreciated. HM worked with MathCad and really appreciated the ease with which complex mathematical equations could be manipulated. HM is sorry he did not have such tools when he was studying these subjects. Doing arithmetic for eight years was tedious and a waste of time. Arithmetic provides little understanding of or appreciation for mathematics.

So although HM is envious of the developments in technology, he is disturbed about how it is used. He fears that the benefits of technology are not being truly exploited and technology is being used in a superficial manner that can be unhealthy. It is unhealthy to be constantly plugged in. But everywhere you go you see people with their faces glued to their smartphones. When they are walking through a park, they are apparently oblivious to nature with their preoccupation with their smartphones. Even at professional conventions, where professionals have traveled to interact personally with other professionals, you see them sitting together, not conversing, but with their faces glued to their smartphones.

People are preoccupied with whether or not they are liked, and count the number of friends they have. But the number of true friends one can have is quite small. Read the healthy memory blog post “How Many Friends are Too Many?” Robin Dunbar concludes that the maximum number of people we can call friends is 150. And the number of true friends is much lower than that. True friends consume both time and effort.

Technology also seems to have exacerbated the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The Dunning-Kruger Effect describes the phenomenon of people thinking they know much more about a topic than they actually know, compared to the knowledgeable individual who is painfully aware of how much he still doesn’t know about the topic in question. The Wikipedia is a tremendous source of knowledge. Unfortunately, people think that since they have accessed a topic in the Wikipedia that they have acquired that knowledge, when what they have done is learned how to access the information. Understanding this knowledge requires time and effort.

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

Passing 72

May 6, 2018

Meaning that today I am entering my 73rd year. Time appears to be flying by at an increasingly faster rate. I sleep until I wake up and find that my time is my own. If I did not have growth activities, along with meditation, exercise, and a healthy diet, dementia might be setting in. But I stay cognitively active. I do a great deal of reading and some writing. Unfortunately, there is not enough time to read all the interesting and important things to read. I do, indeed, have a growth mindset. I also do a great deal of walking, much of it with my wife. And at times I do engage in the walking meditation in nature, which I have written about in previous posts. I stay in touch with friends. I meditate daily, sometimes several times a day. And I tend to slip into a meditative state whenever I am forced to wait. I try to spend as much time as I can fostering a healthy memory.

This past year I attended a professional convention, took a tour of the national parks with my wife, and took a cruise out of Amsterdam with port calls in Scotland, Norway, and Iceland. This was an Insight Cruise with lectures in physics and anthropology.

This current year, I plan to attend the convention of the Psychonomic Society in New Orleans, and to take two cruises, one later this year, and one during the winter.

I engage in ikigai, the Japanese term for the activities in Victor Stretcher’s book, “Life on Purpose.” My purpose, in addition to living a fulfilling life with my wife, is to learn and share my thoughts and knowledge with others.

Unfortunately, there is a big negative cloud lying over the heads of us Americans, in particular, and all earthlings, in general. And that is the current President of the United States. He is destroying the United States along with the world. He has destroyed what once was the Grand Old Party (GOP), and is threatening our democracy by attacking our justice system and news media. The hope is this might be stopped with the upcoming midterm elections, but Trump has made no effort to protect those elections. It is clear why he is taking no actions. He is counting on help from the Russians again. They assisted in his election, and they will make efforts to destroy the credibility of the upcoming election.

The hope is that this dark age will end, and that we can begin repairing the damage.

However, there is one action that can be taken now. And that is to test Trump to see if he has a delusional disorder. Trump is a compulsive liar. The question is whether he knows he is lying. He continues to lie even when confronted with objective evidence. He has already passed 3,000 false or misleading claims since becoming president. People with the delusional disorder do not know when they are lying. There is a test that can determine if this diagnosis is accurate. That test involves connecting Trump to a lie detector. Then have him speak. There will be objective data, data which Trump should know. If the polygraph finds no evidence he is lying, that would indicate that Trump does have the delusional disorder. This would mean that Trump is out of touch with reality. In his version of reality, he is indeed the greatest, the most intelligent, and so forth. But this goes beyond ego. It indicates that Trump’s mind has slipped the surly bonds of earth into psychosis. Here the 25th Amendment would offer an easy and efficient way of removing him from office. He would be replaced by Vice-President Pence.

A previous post, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” included writings by psychiatrists, psychologists, a lawyer and other experts. One of the chapters presented a methodology whereby both the Vice-President and President would be examined by a panel of experts annually to asses the mental status of these individuals. This panel would issue an analyses and recommendations that would be presented to Congress. HM thinks that this examination is much more important than the physical examination the President undergoes annually.

Other actions need to be taken to preclude future problematic individuals from occupying the highest office. One is to eliminate the electoral college. This is the second time in recent history in which the electoral college overturned the popular vote. Not only should one person, one vote be the rule, but the current arrangement gives the votes of people with lower educational levels much greater weight than the votes of people with higher educational levels.

It is also the case that the President needs to handle what is called Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). To be awarded clearance for this material, individuals need to undergo a thorough background investigation to assure that they are capable of handling SCI information. Trump provided SCI information to the Russians shortly after he became President. And that is Trump’s first problem. He should not be handling SCI information, something the President needs to be able to do.

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

Getting Just 6 Hours of Sleep is Linked to Mental Health Issues

May 5, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article in the In Brief Section of the 28 April 2018 issue of the New Scientist. Kelly Sullivan and Collins Ordiah at Georgia Southern University conducted a survey of more than 20,000 people in the US. The respondents were asked about their sleep habits and mood over the past 30 days.

The recommended amount of sleep is 7 to 9 hours. Around a quarter of the respondents said they got between 6 and 7 hours. This group was around 70% more likely to report signs of mental health problems—including nervousness and feeling hopeless—compared to those who got more sleep (“Neurology, Psychiatry and Brain Research”,
doi.org/cnm3).

Sullivan does say that it is unclear whether lack of sleep causes mental health problems or if it is the other way around. But Steven Lockley at Harvard Medical School isn’t surprised that a small lack of sleep may have an effect. He says, “The hour we lose to daylight savings time causes a 17% increase in car crashes on the Monday morning after the switch.”

More Education Is What Makes People Live Longer, Not More Money

May 4, 2018

The title of this post is identical the title of an article by Debora MacKenzie in the News & Technology section of the 28 April 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The latest research suggests that education, not money, plays a bigger role in extending lifespan.

In 1975, economists plotted life expectancies agains countries’ wealth, and concluded that wealth increases longevity. This appeared to be self-evident as everything people need to be healthy, from food to medical care, costs money.

However, subsequent research found data that didn’t always fit that theory. Economics upturns didn’t always mean longer lives. However, in the 1980s research found that gains in literacy were associated with greater increases in life expectancy than those related to gains in wealth. Moreover, the more-educated people in any country tend to live longer than their less-educated compatriots. But since such people also tend to be wealthier, it as been difficult to figure out which factor is increasing lifespan.

Wolfgang Lutz and Endale Kebede of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria have managed to untangle the pieces of the puzzle by compiling average data on GDP per person, lifespans, and years of education from 174 countries, dating from 1970 to 2010. They did find that wealth correlated with longevity. But the correlation between longevity and years of schooling was closer, with a direct relationship that didn’t change over time.

When Lutz and Kebede put both factors into the same mathematical model, they found that differences in education closely predicted differences in life expectancy, whereas changes in wealth barely mattered (“Population and Development Review”,
doi.org/cnm6).

Education also tends to lead to more wealth, which is why wealth and longevity are also correlated. But what Lutz says is important is that wealth doesn’t seen to be driving longevity, both are driven by education.

Lutz argues that extreme examples are telling. “Cuba is dead poor, but has a higher life expectancy than the United States because it is well-educated. Meanwhile, in oil rich, but poorly educated Equatorial Guinea, people rarely reach 60.

Some People Do Better Exercising at a Slow-Intensity Pace

May 3, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Amanda Loudin in the Health & Science Section of the 1 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The article begins by relating the story of Liz Wolfert who rode her bike to work, climbed “14ers”, which are mountains that rise more than 14,000 above seal level, took kung fu lessons and swam. But at the age of 32 she learned that she had elevated blood glucose levels, which is a possible sign of pre-diabetes. Her first instinct was to work out harder and faster, but she soon learned that she needed to do the opposite: slow down and exercise at a much easier pace.

Inigo San Millan is the director of the Sports Performance Program at the University of Colorado Sports Medicine Center in Boulder. He’s an exercise physiologist who works with elite athletes who defines metabolic flexibility as the body’s ability to quickly switch between fat and carbohydrates to fuel exercise. He says that individuals with Type 2 diabetes are metabolically inflexible. They have a poor ability to switch back and forth. On the other hand, endurance athletes have an amazing capacity to do so. Fats and carbohydrates are metabolized in the mitochondria, so mitochondrial function is the key element behind metabolic flexibility.

Elite athletes are incredibly efficient at this task because they have a high level of mitochondrial health. He says, “Mitochondria have the job of metabolizing carbohydrates and fats in order to generate energy. As a result, elite athletes are a population practically devoid of Type 2 diabetes. However, the average person may have a metabolism that is less agile, If you are not metabolically flexible, you have a tough time accessing and burning fat for fuel.”

It turns out that the title of this article is inaccurate. Millan notes that “if you look at the exercise workloads of top athletes, they do 70% to 80% of their training at a low intensity. But out on the streets, we often see the opposite: an out-of-shape population jumping in at high intensity.

After taking her test with San Millan, Liz Wolfert began taking 30-to-60-minute walks several times per week. She said, “After several months of this, I climbed a 14er and realized that it was much easier for me. My body began working more efficiently.

HM is reminded of the famous baseball pitcher, Satchel Paige, who was not only likely the best pitcher in baseball, he certainly was the oldest living pitcher baseball ever had. His attitude toward’s exercising was “to get the juices jangling.”

Walking and meditating are two of HM’s favorite activities. He likes to combine them with meditative walking.

There was another article in the same Health & Science Section by Joel Achenbach titled “Big brains are fine, but upright walking was the key. This article reviewed research supporting the nation that upright walking, not just walking, was the key to the development of a larger brain and the success our species has achieved so far. Walking upright provided us with greater use of our hands and easier face to face communication. These activities led, in turn, to the development of a larger brain.

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

Beliefs vs. Deeds

May 2, 2018

This is another healthy memory blog post aimed at spiritual growth, which is part of the growth mindsets advocated by this blog. An argument HM has heard at different times is the debate of whether deeds or beliefs are more important for entering heaven or having a quality afterlife. HM will settle this issue and the reader can accept or reject his resolution.

Here’s the resolution. The answer is deeds. Beliefs are specific to religions which are temporal entities. HM remembers reading about a physician who spent his entire career going to trouble spots where his medical skills were needed. This physician was an atheist. HM believes that the atheistic physician will be surprised upon his death that there is an afterlife and he is being rewarded with a quality spot in that afterlife.

Beliefs are specific to religions. It is difficult to understand that in the 21st century that there are some people who believe there are true religions and that all the others are wrong. The only religion that HM would reject would be one in which caring for one’s fellow humans was not a primary consideration. That there are missionaries who feel compelled to go to other lands and preach the “secret handshake” that they believe is a primary requirement for entering a quality afterlife HM finds amazing. They are good people who are well-intentioned, but whose beliefs preclude their using their System 2 processes. All religions have a begin date and usually begin in a specific part of the world. What about all the humans born prior to that date or in a different part of the world?

It also appears that religions are marketed like cornflakes. One of HM’s friends was a missionary to a foreign country. He was instructed to play down beliefs that would be difficult for potential converts to accommodate. The priority was to sell the convert.

Another example is Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University. This is an evangelical Christian university with a shooting range. One asks, why would any Christian college have a shooting range? Jesus told us to love one another and when struck, to turn the other cheek. The most violent thing Christ ever did was to chase the moneychangers out of the Temple.

So why is the shooting range at Liberty University? Well most of its congregants and potential converts live in a part of the country where guns are highly valued. It is simply a matter of making the product more appealing. Understand that this is no criticism of gun owners, nor does it intend to imply that gun owners are not good Christians. Rather it is intended to show how religions are marketed.

It is important for all to remember that it is God and his designated surrogates that decide who will enter heaven or the quality afterlife. Part of the package offered by most religious leaders is a way to eternal life. So congregants should not blindly believe their leaders, but make their independent assessment of whether all their personal behaviors would pass muster with God. Otherwise, one could end up following their religious leader into hell or a low quality afterlife.

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

God: A Human History

May 1, 2018

This post is another in a series on spiritual growth. The post, “The Dunning-Kruger Effect Writ Large” was the first. Should you wonder what posts on spiritual growth are doing in the healthy memory blog, the answer is that this blog advocates growth mindsets, and spiritual growth is one component. The title of this post is identical to the title of an excellent book by Reza Aslan. Reza Aslan is a superb scholar. Anyone who appreciates scholarship should be attracted to the book for that reason alone. He provides evidence that a belief in something akin to a soul begins with the first humans from which the notion of a god or gods develops, and documents the development of the concept in different religions as the religions advanced in sophistication.

HM will jump to the conclusions at the end of the book. “It is no coincidence that this book ends where it began, with the soul. Call it what you want: whether “psyche”, per the Greeks; or “nefesh”, as the Hebrews preferred;, or “chi”, as in China; or “brahman” in India. Call it Buddha Nature or “purusa”. Consider it comaterial with the mind, or coexistent with the universe. Imagine it reuniting with God after death, or transmigrating from body to body. Experience it as the seat of your personal essence or as an impersonal force underlying all creation. However you define it, belief in the soul as separate from the body is universal. It is our first belief, far older than our belief in God. It is the belief that begat our belief in God.”

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

Dr. Aslan continues, “Whether we remain believers is, once again, nothing more or less than a choice. One can choose to view humanity’s universal belief in the soul as born of confusion or faulty reasoning: a trick of the mind or an accident of evolution.”

Dr. Aslan is a pantheist. In pantheism, God is omnipresent. This can lead to the conclusion that God is within each of us. Perhaps when we meditate we can feel and communicate with the God within us. At times, it certainly does feel like that.

Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine

April 30, 2018

This post is the second in a series on spiritual growth, which is part of the growth mindsets advocated in this blog. The title of this post is identical to the title of an interesting book by Alan Lightman. Dr. Lightman is a physicist, but a physicist with a large conceptual outlook. This book is a collection of his musings.

His musings about the physical world are both interesting and informing. Many are about matters with which HM was already familiar, but there was also much new information. And much of HM’s knowledge needed brushing up.

Scale can be very difficult to understand. For example, there are several billion stars in our galaxy alone, and a hundred billion galaxies just with the observable universe. Now this is just the observable universe. There are likely stars and galaxies so distant that their light has yet to arrive. The speed of light provides a severe constraint on how much we can learn about the universe. The notion of traveling just to other stars within our own galaxy is severely constrained. Given the large numbers involved, it seems that it is also likely that not only is there other life in the universe, but truly intelligent life. So it is unlikely that any contact will be made with intelligent life.

At the small end of the scale we have atoms. We know that everything consists of atoms. But atoms themselves consist of even smaller particles. And what is even more difficult to understand is that atoms consist largely of empty space. It is difficult to reconcile our apparently solid world with these empty atoms, but this was done and this scientific knowledge developed over several hundred years (and is still developing) due to our use of our System 2 processing and higher (enter “Tri-process Model of Cognition” into the search block of the healthy memory blog). Our minds are truly marvelous instruments provided that we use them.

Fortunately Dr. Lightman is unlike the scientists whose thinking is so constrained that they cannot believe in God. He not only believes in transcendence but picks a relevant passage from the psychologist William James’ book, “Varieties of Religious Experience:”
“I remember the night and almost the very spot on the hilltop, where my soul opened out, as it were, into the Infinite, and there was a rushing together of two worlds, the inner and the outer. It was deep calling unto deep—the deep that my own struggle had opened up within being answered by the unfathomable deep without, reaching beyond the stars. I stood alone with Him who made me, and all the beauty of the world, and love, and sorrow, and even temptation. I did not seek him, but felt the perfect union of my spirit with His…Since that time no discussion that I have heard of the proofs of God’s existence has been able to shake my faith. Having once felt the presence of God’s spirit, I have never lost it again for long, My most assuring evidence of his existence is deeply rooted in that hour of vision in the memory of that supreme experience.” Obviously this was a very vivid religious experience. Such a vivid experience is not necessary. Reassurance can be found in moments of reverie, meditation, or prayer.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect Writ Large

April 29, 2018

Readers of the Healthymemory blog should be familiar with the Dunning-Kruger Effect from previous posts. The Dunning-Kruger Effect describes the phenomenon of people thinking they know much more about a topic than they actually know, compared to the knowledgeable individual who is painfully aware of how much he still doesn’t know about the topic in question.

In the blog post “The Antithesis of the Enlightenment” HM wondered how people would rate the following statement by David Deutsch,
“Everything that is not forbidden by the laws of nature is achievable, given the right knowledge.”
HM’s own response was, “HM would say that this is an empirical question so we don’t know yet.”

HM was answering on two levels. The Dunning-Kruger Effect states that the more knowledgeable one is, the more uncertain one is of his knowledge. This is certainly true for HM. Since graduating from high school, his learning has informed him of how much more he does not know. He expects this to continue to the end of his lifetime. Moreover, even within his supposed areas of expertise, there is a limit to what he can know and grasp. Much of what HM knows and believes is based on what true experts know. Moreover, HM thinks one should never be certain. Any belief can be overturned with better data or better arguments.

Homo sapiens is constrained by limitations in attentional processing in short term memory. Long-term memory is malleable, and changes over time. So human physiology constrains cognitive abilities. As Daniel Goleman described in his book, Emotional Intelligence, we have a nervous system adapted to performance to the world of early humans were dangers were omnipresent. This can still be seen in the daily violence reported in the news, and in our propensity for warfare, even when it is realized that todays weapons could make homo sapiens extinct.

In the general area of science, there seems to be overconfidence in how much we know. At the turn of the 19th century, some prominent physical scientists apparently thought that virtually everything was known. By 1905 Einstein published his special theory of relativity, to be followed ten years later by his general theory of relativity. And by the mid-twenties quantum physics came on the horizon. We can never know what might be just around the corner.

Unfortunately, science is often viewed as competing with the concept of God, without appreciating how limited current science is. Specific religious beliefs are not required for a belief in God. There are more parsimonious accounts available for all religions, and one of the tenets of science is to accept the most parsimonious explanation. Nevertheless, if someone finds comfort in a religion, that person should not be denied that comfort. The exception to this is when the individual tries to impose his religious beliefs or laws that come from those religious beliefs onto others.  Judge not, that ye be not judged should always be remembered. Live your religious beliefs, but let others live their own beliefs whether they are religious or not. Unfortunately some churches are heavily involved in politics, and wield an unhealthy political influence. Moreover, they are tax-exempt. Any church that is engaged in or that encourages their congregations to vote or work in a political area, should have their tax-exemptions revoked.

The mathematician Blaise Pascal made what HM regards as a compelling justification for a belief in God. Although he made his justification in a different context, the basic form of the argument holds. His argument was in terms of a cost-benefit analysis. He argued that the benefits of believing needed to be weighed against the costs of not- believing. If someone does not believe, and God does exist, then the consequences could be frightening. However, if you believe, and God does not exist, you would never know. And during one’s lifetime one would have the comfort in believing in a just and merciful God. As HM never is certain about anything, this logic compels him to believe in God. And that belief is comforting, even should it be wrong.

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

Building a Firewall Against Folly

April 28, 2018

This post has the same title as a section of the book “Belief: What It Means to Believe and Why Our Convictions are So Compelling” by psychologist James E. Alcock. Dr. Alcock suggests that short of undertaking formal training in critical thinking skills, we can help ourselves think more critically by keeping the following points in mind. Although they clearly are not enough on their own to turn us into great critical thinkers, they can help us all to become better critical thinkers.

“Beware: We can all be fooled. Possibly the most common pitfall with regard to critical thinking is the belief that one is already a good critical thinker. The next step toward building a firewall against folly is to recognize that we can be deceived and that we can frequently deceive ourselves. No matter how good we are at critical analysis, every one of us is likely at times to depart significantly from rationality, especially in situations when emotion or intuition confronts reason. The corollary is that we all probably have pockets of irrationality where erroneous beliefs take shelter.
Be wary of your intuitions: Pay attention to them, but do not trust them. As the products of nonconscious information processing, intuitions can offer important guidance to decision-making when based on considerable past experience. On the other hand, they can also gravely mislead, especially when there has been little experience to back them up. To ignore intuition completely is unwise, but to accept it uncritically is even more so.
3. Be wary of the Fundamental Attribution Error, the tendency that we all have to attribute people’s behaviors to their characters and intentions while overlooking or minimizing the power of the situation, which often plays the greater role in determining people’s actions. It is easy to assume that suicide terrorists are deranged and merciless while ignoring the situation factors that render their actions altruistic in the eyes of their communities, just as it is easy to believe that all homeless people are lazy, or that a student who does poorly lacks intelligence.
4. Be wary of personal validation. While personal experience can be a great teacher, personal validation—judging a claim based only on personal experience—is often a poor guide to its validity. You may have had a powerful dream that seemed precognitive, or the psychic’s palm reading may have been impressive, or the yellow pill may seem to have cured you laryngitis, or your interaction with a memory of a minority group may have been less than pleasant, but this in no way demonstrates the reality of precognition, the psychic powers of the palm reader, the remedial qualities of the yellow pill, or that “those people” are difficult.
5. Beware of reliance on a single source of information. This should be obvious, but it is all too easy to ignore this caveat, especially with regard to the news. We naturally gravitate toward sources that are in line with our beliefs, and this risks sheltering us from information that might challenge what we erroneously take to be fact.
6. Beware of mistaking coincidence for causation. As we have seen, we are born magical thinkers, and magical thinking continues to lurk beneath the surface in wait for reason to falter. It is often difficult to resist the idea of causation when two meaningful events occur one after the other. Challenging automatic assumptions about causality is a key aspect of critical thinking.
7. Be wary of over-interpreting correlations. Just as with coincidence, we can all too readily mistake correlations for cause and effect. Observing that were seems to be more and more petty crime, while at the same time noting that the immigrant population is increasing, does not mean that there is a connection between the two. Moreover, some of the ‘correlations” that we observe may not actually be correlations at all. They may be illusory. For example, many emergency ward physicians and nurses are convinced that admissions jump whenever there is a full moon. Forty % of medical staff surveyed in a 2011 study expressed that belief, while 80% of the nurses and 60% of the physicians who responded to another survey were convinced that here were more mental health admissions during a full moon than at any other time. Such beliefs are in error, for many investigations have all found no evidenced of increased admissions, for either physical of psychiatric reasons, during a full moon. Again, experience can be a poor guide to reality.
8. Compared to what? The question of “compared to what” is vital to critical thinking. A sort of parable: Before the carcinogenic properties of asbestos were understood, some winemakers removed impurities by filtering their wines through asbestos. A 1977 test found asbestos fibers in every one of the fifteen wines tested, and a particular Hungarian wine was withdrawn from liquor store shelves after being measured for having almost two million asbestos fibers per liter. Not long after, a psychologist friend came to dinner bearing a bottle of that very wine. When I informed him of its high asbestos content, he replied—as any good experimental psychologist might—“compared to what?” and jokingly suggested that the city’s water supply might have an even higher asbestos count. The irony was that a newspaper reported a week later that city water at that time was also being filtered through asbestos and its fiber count did indeed exceed that of the wine. Avoid the water too! Asking “compared to what” is also an essential component of scientific inquiry, where it is typically addressed through the use of control groups, a practice that took root only in the early twentieth century but has ultimately become a mainstay of medical and psychological research. Though individuals can hardly be expected to set up control groups, we should all endeavor, as my friend was doing, albeit in humor, to engage in a control-group style of thinking. This comes naturally in some situations but rarely occurs in others.
9. Keep the Scottish verdict in mind and suspend judgment. Juries in criminal trials in Scotland are not forced to choose between guilty and innocent; they can also opt for not proven. It is often tempting to jump to conclusions: “They didn’t invite us because they don’t like us”; “Last night’s dream about today’s fire must have been paranormal.” Such quick conjectures are often wrong. If more information is to be had, then by all means we should seek it out, but in the meantime, rather than rely on whatever explanation comes readily to mind, the wiser strategy is to adopt the equivalent of the Scots’ “Not proven”; suspend judgment about how or why something happened and conclude simply that “I don’t know.”

Disturbing Data on What We Believe and Trust

April 27, 2018

This post is based on information in the book “Belief: What It Means to Believe and Why Our Convictions are So Compelling” by psychologist James E. Alcock. A 2017 Pew Research Poll carried out in the United States reported that 85% of Republicans and Republican leaners, compared to 46% of Democrats, believe that the reports of the traditional news media are having a negative effect on the country. The same research poll found that while 72% of Democrats in their sample consider colleges and universities to be an “overwhelming positive force,” only 36 % of Republicans share that belief, and more than half of Republicans view colleges and universities as having a negative effect on the nation. It is frightening to think that more than half of the people in a major political party regard higher education as having a negative effect.

Dr. Alcock writes, “The core beliefs of dogmatic political or religious fundamentalists are unlikely to change no matter what we do, for those beliefs are well entrenched. Even Marcel Proust observed about the facts of life, “do not penetrate to the sphere in which our beliefs are cherished; they did not engender those beliefs, and they are powerless to change them.”

In terms of Nobel Winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of Cognition, these people are for all intents and purposes System 1 processors. System 1 is termed intuition and refers to our usual mode of thinking fast based on our learning and emotional feelings. To question and reevaluate thoughts, System 2 processing, called reasoning, or more commonly thinking, requires us to use attention. Virtually all learning involves System 2 processing, and System 2 processing is essential for critical thinking.

Republicans having negative views about the news and higher education characterized them as primarily System 1 processors. The world is changing rapidly and the news reports the changes. To understand the news requires System 2 processing, something these Republicans do not want to do. Similarly colleges, at least good colleges, need to advance with the thinking of the times. They need to be critical, but nevertheless there are topics that need to be studied and evaluated. One of the worst deeds these parents can do is to not send their children to college or to send them to colleges with a parochial (in the narrow sense, not necessarily the religious sense view). It is also harmful to the country.

It is important that not all Republicans be painted with the same brush. Republicans who have recognized that Trump is no Republican and have either left the party, as George Will did, or have refused to support Trump are clearly System 2 processors Their System 2 processing clearly indicated that not only is Trump not a true Republican, but that he also is a risk to the country and the world.

However, Dr. Alcock has some hope for people whose beliefs are not so dogmatically anchored that they are beyond influence. Even so, this is an arduous process. University courses that encourage critical thinking to help students distinguish science from pseudoscience have had mixed results. Psychologist Tom Gray assessed the effects of a one-semester university course that both emphasized critical thinking in the evaluation of evidence and offered natural explanations for various supposed paranormal phenomena. He found that, while belief in ESP, alien spacecraft, and reincarnation fell from 85% to 50%, over the course of the term many students simply did not change their beliefs at all. In other research, he found that university-level research methods and statistics courses, which might be expected to stimulate critical acumen, do not on their own enhance general critical thinking ability.

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

The Questionable Virtue of Hard Work

April 26, 2018

Hard work is regarded as virtuous. Tell someone that you are working hard and they will congratulate you. In the United States we already work more hours per year than our English-speaking counterparts in Britain, Canada, and Australia. But is it not better to work smart than to work hard? Do you enjoy your work? How are the benefits? Is there a better or more efficient way to do your job? Are there other jobs that are preferable? If so, why are they not pursued?

Have you read the Healthymemory blog post “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less”. Even if you have read it, you might want to reread. The post reviews the lives of accomplished people and the importance of rest to their success. So just working hard can be counterproductive.

Athletic success seems to be highly dependent on deliberate practice. That means more practice time is devoted to weak skills. Similarly in nonathletic pursuits, are their certain skills or areas of knowledge that would make work more efficient or profitable?

So do not just work hard. Let your thinking guide your work.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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 Facebook Let A Friend Pass My Data to Cambridge Analytica

April 24, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a News & Technology piece by Timothy Revell in the 21 April 2018 issue of the New Scientist. This Is Your Digital Life (TIYDL) is the name of the Facebook App whose data ended up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica. Presumably only 270,000 people used the TIYDL app, but Facebook estimates that Cambridge Analytica ended up with data from 87 million people. These data were used by Cambridge Analytica to perform election shenanigans. The United Kingdom (UK) is gathering claimants to take Facebook to court for mishandling their data.

People who used the TIYDL app gave it permission to access the Facebook public profile page, date of birth and current city for each of their friends, along with the pages they liked. Facebook also says that “ a small number of people gave access to their own timeline and private messages, meaning that posts or messages from their friends would have been scooped up as well.

The TIDYL app was created by University of Cambridge professor Aleksandr Kogan to research how someone’s online presence corresponds to their personality traits. Kogan gave data from the app to Cambridge Analytics, which Facebook says was a violation of its terms of service. The UK’s information commissioner is also investigating whether it broke UK data protection laws. Data collected for research purposes can’t be given to a private company for a different use without consent. Kogan says that Facebook knew his intention was to pass it on and that it was written in the TIDYL app’s terms and conditions.

When reporters told Facebook about the situation in 2015, the firm said Cambridge Analytica had to delete the data. Cambridge Analytica said it did this, but whistle-blower Christopher Wylie said it didn’t.

Now Facebook is informing the people involved. It has released a tool that lets people check if their data were involved (bit.ly/2uXuHOY). The author used the tool and found, to his surprise, that a friend had used the app.

The problem is that to use virtually any software you need to agree to the terms of agreement, which include the privacy policies. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found in 2012 that it would take the average person 76 days to read all the privacy policies that they see each year. Clearly this is unreasonable.

Requirements should be made that these agreements be of reasonable length and understandable to the layperson. Moreover the default options should be “out” and action should be taken by the user to “opt in” This is necessary to be sure that people understand what they are doing.

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

Old People Can Produce as Many New Brain Cells as Teenagers

April 23, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a news piece by Helen Thomson in the 14 April 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The article begins, “People in their 70’s seem to produce just as many new neurons as teenagers. When HM was a graduate student it was dogma that new neurons could not be produced. It is only fairly recently that it was found that the human hippocampus, central to learning and memory, produces new neurons throughout life.

Maura Boldrini of Columbia University and her colleagues have analyzed the hippocampi from 28 people, aged between 14 and 79. These were examined soon after each person’s death to check for the number of new neurons they contained as well as other signs of neuron function and activity. Similar numbers of new neurons were found throughout each hippocampus, regardless of a person’s age. The team estimates that each person was making about 700 neurons a day when they died (Cell Stem Cell, doi.org/cm4z).

Jeff Davies at Swansea University, UK says he would be interested to see the study repeated in people who do and don’t exercise because this would provide some insight into whether the production of new neurons can be modified by environmental factors in humans to promote healthy brain aging. To this HM adds comparing people with high levels of brain activity against people with low levels of brain activity. This is likely one of the factors involved in developing a cognitive reserve and avoiding the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s even if the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles develop.

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

Two Disturbing Articles About Cognitive Decline

April 22, 2018

There were two disturbing articles about cognitive decline in the Aging Issue in the Health & Science section of the 17 April 2018 issue of the Washington Post. To be fair, two were positive articles. One positive article was by Marlene Cimons titled “Many seniors don’t accept stereotypes about aging.” Becca Levy, a professor of Psychology at Yale did a study that found that older adults with positive beliefs about old age were less likely to develop dementia, including those who are genetically disposed. She writes that negative age stereotypes are communicated to children through many sources, ranging from stories to social media. Individuals of all ages can benefit from bolstering their positive images of aging.

Another positive article was by Debra Bruno titled “Even in their 80s, these seniors set a very active pace.” She lists the following eight lessons:
Have a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. Healthy memory blog readers should recognize this as “ikigai.”
Celebrate and cultivate the social connections.
Do not be defined by your obstacles.
Money isn’t as important as you think.
Acknowledge that aging can be lonely.
Have a routine.
Location is important.
Death has no dominion

By far the worst article is by Kirk R. Daffner and is titled “How will I know when it’s time to retire?” This fellow is a neurologist and clinical director of an Alzheimer Center. His advice is to have a “Living Will for his Cognitive Skills” Basically he is conceding defeat and writing an article of surrender. I find it both disturbing and frightening that he is both a neurologist and clinical director of an Alzheimer center. He is woefully ignorant of relevant key research on the topic, and this ignorance does not bode well for patients at his center.

Another article, which is somewhat positive, but still disturbing, is by Lauren Neergaard and is titled, “Scientists study brains of “superagers’ to study their unusual memory. His definition of a superego is a useful brain in the body of someone 80 or older. Rogalski’s team has tested more than 1,000 people who thought they’d qualify, and only about 5% pass. Here is the test:listen to 15 unrelated words, and a half-hour later recall at least nine of them. Neergaard says, “That’s the norm for 50-year olds, but on average an 80-year old recalls five. Some superagers remember them all.

Now when HM was in graduate school, he would not have been able to recall the 5 words that Rogalski says is the norm for an 80 year old. To be sure, his superagers, are truly super, but the problem involves people who read this, do poorly, and conclude that they are in the process of cognitive decline. It is ridiculous to write something like this, and for an editor to publish it. It is a damaging statement. First of all, people should never self-test. And even if they did publish the test, the specific protocol for the test needs to be published (how the words are selected, the method of presentation, the study time, and what is done in the inter-test interval).

The following healthy memory blog posts need to be read: The Myth of Cognitive Decline and More on the Myth of Cognitive Decline (Use the healthymemory blog search block). Research has shown through simulations (which is the only way this issue can be practically studied), is that memory processes become slower as we age because those of us who are active learners acquire magnitudes of order more information across time. HM has a colleague in his nineties who appears to be slow and apologizes for “senior moments”. HM cautioned him never to apologize because his apparent slowness was due to the enormous amounts of information he has acquired over his active learning lifetime.

One of the superagers who will be 87 next month and who joined Rogalski’s study two years ago is interesting. His father developed Alzheimer’s in his 50s. He thinks his own stellar memory is bolstered by keeping busy. He bikes, and he plays tennis and water volleyball. He stays social through regular lunches and meetings wit a men’s group he co-founded. Rogalski’s research is interesting and he is finding anatomical information about the brain that is important.

The article also mentions the research that Claudia Kawas is doing at the University of California at Irvine. She studies the oldest old, people 90 and older. Some have Alzheimer’s. Some have maintained excellent memory, and some are in between. She’s found that about 40% of the oldest-old who show no symptoms of dementia during life nonetheless have full-fledged signs of Alzheimer’s disease in their brains at death, Kawas told the AAAS meeting. The common explanation for this finding is that these individuals had built up a cognitive reserve, presumably due to learning during their lifetimes. Rogalski has also found varying amounts of amyloid and tau, hallmark Alzheimer’s proteins in the brains of some superagers.

Rogalski asks, “Are there modifiable things we can think about today, in our lives to live long and live well.

HM is glad he asked. First of all, live a healthy lifestyle. Then focus on the primary organ, the brain, and how you use it. HM advises to have a growth mindset throughout one’s lifetime. That is to keep learning throughout one’s entire life. HM also has the conjecture, a strongly felt conjecture, that a specific type of processing is important. Nobel prize winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman presented his two process model of cognition in his best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.” System 1, called intuition, is our normal mode of processing. System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds to what we call thinking. Most learning has a heavy involvement of System 2 processing.

HM also thinks that meditation, in general, and the relaxation response, in particular, is beneficial to both personal and cognitive health. Enter “relaxation response” into the search of the healthy memory block to learn more. Meditation and mindfulness develop the ability to focus one’s attention, which is critically important to effective cognition.

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

Bursting Your Twitter Bubble Actually Makes You More Extreme

April 21, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title in a News Piece by Marie LeConte in the 7 April 2018 Issue of the New Scientist. How can people’s minds be altered is the question asked by teams from Duke University, New York University, and Princeton University. More than 1,000 people participated in this research.

Before and after the trial the team measured the political leanings of participants by asking them to rate how much they agreed with such statements as “government is almost always wasteful and inefficient” and “homosexuality should be accepted by society.” These questions were used to identify Republican and Democratic Twitter users. Over the course of a month, Republican Twitter users followed a bot that automatically retweeted posts from Democrat politicians, pundits, and journalists, and vice versa for Democrat Twitter users.

Rather than becoming sympathetic to ideas retweeted by the bots, participants views became more entrenched. After leaving their echo chambers, Republicans became substantially more conservative and Democrats slightly more liberal.

This study does not offer hope to those who want to reduce polarized views. The team concluded, “Well-intentioned attempts to introduce people to opposing political views on social media might not only be ineffective, but counter-productive.”
(SocArXiv, doi.org/cmwx)

Attempts to change people’s views are not only likely to fail, but actually harden those political views. When people think that their beliefs are under attack, they not only put up their defensive shields, but also fire back. This called the Boomerang Effect.

The only known way to affect opposing views is to try to find a point or two of agreement and then work from there. Expressing the same idea or problem differently to attain some degree of agreement can work. If it does, then try to build on this to find other areas potential agreement and then work from there. This is painstaking work.

This article reminds HM of a Prickly City cartoon in the 19 April 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The cat, Winslow asks the human, Carmen, “Why can’t we agree on the truth?”
To which Carmen answers,”Big question”, and continues, “maybe it’s because truth can challenge our deeply held beliefs, making us cling to them harder in the face of reality.”
To which Winslow responds, with the query,”So people would rather feel right than be right?”
and Carmen responds, “That’s about right.”
To which Winslow responds, “Your species is crackers, you know that?”
and Carmen responds, “I’ve often felt that way.”

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

The Antithesis of the Enlightenment

April 19, 2018

We Americans are living in the antithesis of the Enlightenment discussed in Steven Pinker’s “ENLIGHTENMENT NOW: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.” Consider the two quotes at the beginning of the book

Those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of humankind.
——-Baruch Spinoza

Everything that is not forbidden by the laws of nature is achievable, given the right knowledge.
——-David Deutsch

HM would like to see a poll asking Americans to rate their degree of agreement or disagreement with the two statements.

Consider Spinoza’s statement. One would expect a fairly high degree of agreement for those who espouse the “Golden Rule,” “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” One could regard Spinoza’s statement as being a paraphrase of the Golden Rule. However, many would probably disagree because this is clearly the dreaded socialism.

It would be interesting to see the response to Deutsch’s statement broken down by people with different educational backgrounds. It would not be surprising that there might be some scientists who would strongly agree with this statement. HM would say that this is an empirical question so we don’t know yet.

Now let us consider Donald Trump and his followers, not with respect to how they would rate these statements, but what they reflect in their own statements and behavior.

Donald Trump has one metric, personal wealth. That is how he evaluates himself and his fellow human beings. Service to the country or to fellow human beings matters not. True, he does admire generals for the stars on their shoulders and the power they control, but not John McCain, because he does not value POWs. HIs personal charity has been identified as a sham and what little he does in the way of giving is essentially regifting what has been given to him. He is an extremely shallow and thin-skinned individual. He is constantly harshly responding to what he regards as slights. It is hard to believe that he is an unhappen individual, but he is. Whatever little intellectual capacity he might have is limited by the length of a tweet. So he has no appreciation for science or the arts. He is provided the best intelligence available in the world, but chooses to get his information from Fox news, which supports the alternative reality in which Trump resides.

It is interesting to contrast Donald Trump with the Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller. Both were born rich. Trump’s life goal was to become richer. Robert Mueller devoted himself to public service. Although he could have avoided military service, as Trump did, Mueller volunteered for the Marines during the Viet Nam War. Here is his service record taken from the Wikipedia:
For his service in and during the Vietnam War, his military decorations and awards include: the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V”, Purple Heart Medal, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals with Combat “V”, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with three service stars, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and Parachutist Badge.
He continued his life devoted to public service after he left the Marine Corps. Eventually he was appointed head of the FBI and served his full 10 year term. He is a Republican and he is dedicated to the law.

Trump has had six bankruptcies, where good working people were stiffed due to overly lenient bankruptcy laws. He created and ran Trump University, which was a scam. He has had transactions with organized crime including the Russian Mafia.

It is both infuriating and absurd that Trump can attack and denigrate Robert Miller. And it is hard to believe that the Grand Old Party (GOP) is also attacking fellow Republican Mueller and the Department of Justice. Trump and the GOP continue to deny any collusion with the Russians, although it is a certainty that Putin approves of what is happening while Ronald Reagan is raging in his grave.

Whether Trump is a true billionaire or someone who is in debt for billions of dollars remains an open question as he keeps his finances and tax returns concealed. But he has the attitude of many billionaires that they never have enough, as this is the only way they have for evaluating their success. Their question is where do I stand on the list that Forbes publishes. These billionaires are shallow individuals. They have no intellectual depth. They cannot appreciate the possible satisfaction of giving to charities. The Gates and America’s foremost capitalist, Warren Buffet, plan to effectively give their fortunes away. Moreover, they are against inherited wealth. They do not think it is good for either their children or the country.

Most of the large extant wealth is inherited wealth. So these are people lucky by birth. Donald Trump himself did not start from scratch. He began with money from his father. Some, perhaps many, of these wealthy parties use their wealth to sponsor activities that further their personal wealth. They reason that the system must be good because it has benefitted them. All of this has produced a gross maldistribution of wealth that does not bode well for the country.

Science is regarded by many of these people as something that gets in the way of increasing their wealth. So it is not something to be appreciated, but rather ignored and even destroyed. The United States is currently being raped by Trump appointees who are not only disregarding scientific information, but also destroying scientific information. The next administration will be preoccupied with the task of undoing the considerable damage that is being done to the United States by the Trump administration.

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

Science

April 18, 2018

Dr. Pinker argues in “Enlightenment Now” that the greatest accomplishment of our species is science. HM strongly agrees with this statement. It is certainly responsible for our standard of living. Most of the progress documented by Dr. Pinker would not have occurred without science. This being the case, what could possibly be the problem.

One problem comes from religions who believe scriptures that are clearly wrong and deny Science. The Amish do this, but HM admires the Amish in that they adopt, for the most part, a standard of living commensurate to their ignorance of science. However, most accept the fruits of science while denying scientific findings.

Perhaps the best example of this is their denial of evolution and their embracement of intelligent design. Unfortunately, too many people argue against teaching intelligent design in schools, and for the teaching of evolutionary theory. HM dislikes this because science should not be taught as dogma. Moreover, comparing intelligent design with evolutionary design provides a good means of illustrating the essence of science.

Intelligent design cherry picks species that they argue could only be done by the hand of God. One can easily find living species that make one wonder why they were created, but it is the dead and extinct species that are most informative. What are they? Failures of God? Did God screw up millions to times trying develop the remaining species? What explains them? Don’t they point to an evolutionary process? And what about geological data? Those data, that came to us through many years of research by the more intelligent of our species is to be ignored because of what is said in the bible?

The conflict between science and religion is unnecessary. HM believes in God and there are many religions that do not claim for the literal interpretation of the bible. When there is good scientific data, that should be believed rather than some religious scripture. The Dalai Lama provides a good example. He uses science to inform his religion. And he sends his followers to learn science.

The disrespect of science among American right-wing politicians has led even stalwarts (such as Bobby Jindal) to disparage their own Republican party as the “party of the stupid.” This reputation grew out of policies set in motion during George W. Bush’s administration including the encouragement of the teaching of intelligent design in lieu of evolution, and a shift from the longstanding practice of seeking advice from disinterested scientific panels to stacking the panels with congenial ideologues, may of whom promoted flaky ideas (such as that abortion causes breast cancer) while denying well-supported ones (such as condoms preventing sexually transmitted diseases).

The highest point of this stupidity has been reached with the Incompetent who is currently serving as the President of the United States. Not only is he not using science and denying science, but he is both making scientific information difficult to access and even destroying scientific information.

Dr. Pinker makes every effort to be fair. He notes that there are those on the left of the political spectrum who have stoked panics about overpopulation, nuclear power, and genetically modified organisms. It is important that these potential problems be brought to public attention, but people must do their own reading to get a more balanced understanding of the issues.

There are many criticisms of science that are just irrelevant. One is reductionism. Reductionism is not the aim of all science. Some areas of research employ reductionism. But at different levels, new processes emerge. And research areas are designed for particular areas that emerge at different levels. So one can study neuroscience, but then others study the processes that emerge from neuroscience, such as cognition.

There are also criticisms of science by intellectuals. Frankly, HM attributes most of these criticisms as intellectual jealousy. Although their studies might be interesting, they are not that relevant to the rest of society, and do not contribute much to public welfare.

Regarding public welfare and political disagreements, a scientific approach should be embraced. When a problem is identified and there is disagreement about how to deal with the problem a scientific approach is recommended. Design a study to evaluate the alternative approaches. This could also provide the data for the possible quantification of the magnitude of the benefit or problem, depending on what is being studied. Do not argue “I believe.” Beliefs should be left at home. Points should be argued with logic and data.

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

Reason

April 17, 2018

Steven Pinker has a chapter called Reason in his outstanding book, “Enlightenment Now.” Part of the problem with reason or reasoning are beliefs, as was expounded in a previous healthy memory blog post, “Beliefs: Necessary, but Dangerous.” The legal scholar Dan Kahan has argued that certain beliefs become symbols of cultural allegiance protected by identity-protective connection. People affirm or deny these beliefs to express not what they know but who they are. Endorsing a belief that hasn’t passed muster with science and fact-checking isn’t so irrational. At least not by the criterion of the immediate effects on the believer. The effects on the society and planet are another matter. The atmosphere doesn’t care what people think about it, and if it in fact warms by 4 degrees Celsius, billions of people will suffer, no matter how many of them had been esteemed in their peer groups for holding a locally fashionable opinion on climate change along the way. Kahn concluded that we are all actors in a Tragedy of Belief Commons: what’s rational for every individual to believe (based on esteem) can be irrational for the society as a whole to act upon (based on reality). Technology has the effect of magnifying differences that result in polarization in political and social domains.

A fundamental problem is that accurate knowledge can be effortful and time consuming to obtain. Predictions are very difficulty as some have noted especially when they are about the future. Psychologist Philip Tetlock has studied the accuracy of forecasters. He recruited hundreds of analysts, columnists, academics, and interested laypeople to compete in forecasting tournaments in which they were presented with possible events and asked to assess their likelihood. This research was conducted over 20 years during which 28,000 predictions were made. So, how well did the experts do? On average, about as well as a chimpanzee throwing darts. In other words, not better than chance.

Tetlock and fellow psychologists Mellers and Gardner held another competition between 2011 and 2015 in which they recruited several thousand contestants to take part in a forecasting tournament held by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA). Again the average performance was at chance levels, but in both tournaments the researchers could pick out “superforecasters,” who performed not just better than chimps and pundits, but better than professional intelligence officers with access to classified information, better than prediction markets, and not too far from the theoretical maximum. The accurate predictions last for about a year. Accuracy declines into the future, and falls to the level of chance around 5 years out.

The forecasters who did the worst, were also the most confident, were the ones with Big Ideas, be they left- or right wing, optimistic or pessimistic. Here is the summary by Tetlock & Gardner:

“As ideologically diverse as they were, they were united by the fact that their thinking was so ideological. They sought to squeeze complex problems into the preferred cause-effect templates and treated what did not fit as irrelevant distractions. Allergic to wishy-washy answers, they kept pushing their analyses to the limit (and then some), using terms like “furthermore” and “moreover” while piling up reasons why they were right and others wrong. As a result they were unusually confident and likelier to declare things as “impossible” or “certain.” Committed to their conclusions, they were reluctant to change their minds even when their predictions clearly failed.”

Tetlock described the super forecasters as follows:

“pragmatic experts who drew on many analytical tools, with the choice of tool hinging on the particular problem they faced. These experts gathered as much information from as many sources as they could. When thinking, they often shifted mental gears, sprinkling their speech with transition markers such as “however,” “but,” “although,” and “on the other hand.” They talked about possibilities and probabilities, not certainties. And while no one likes to say, “I was wrong,” these experts more readily admitted it and changed their minds.”

The superforecasters displayed what psychologist Jonathan Baron calls “active open-mindedness” with opinions such as these:

People should take into consideration evidence that goes against they beliefs. [Agree]
It is more useful to pay attention to those who disagree with you than to pay attention to those who agree. [Agree]
Changing your mind is a sign of weakness. [Disagree]
Intuition is the best guide in making decisions. [Disagree]
It is important to persevere in your beliefs even went evidence is brought to bear against them. [Disagree]

The manner of the Superforecasters’ reasoning is Bayesian. They tacitly use the rule from the Reverend Bayes on how to update one’s degree of credence in a proposition in light of evidence. It should be noted that Nate Silver (fivethirtyeight.com) is also a Bayesian.

Steven Pinker notes that psychologists have recently devised debiasing programs that fortify logical and critical thinking criteria. They encourage students to spot, name, and correct fallacies across a wide range of contexts. Some use computer games that provide students with practice, and with feedback that allows them to see the absurd consequences of their errors. Other curricula translate abstruse mathematical statements into concrete, imaginable scenarios. Tetlock has compiled the practices of successful forecasters into a set of guidelines for good judgment (for example, start with the base rate; seek out evidence and don’t overreact or under react to it; don’t try to explain away your own errors but instead use them as a source of calibration). These and other programs are provably effective: students’ newfound wisdom outlasts the training session and transfers to new subjects.

Dr. Pinker concludes,”Despite these successes, and despite the fact that the ability to engage in unbiased, critical reasoning is a prerequisite to thinking about anything else, few educational institutions have set themselves the goal of enhancing rationality (This includes my own university, where my suggestion during a curriculum review that all students should learn about cognitive biases fell deadborn from my lips.) Many psychologists have called on their field to “give debiasing away” as one of its greatest potential contributions to human welfare.”

It seems appropriate to end this post on reason with the Spinoza quote from the beginning of the book:

“Those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of humankind.”

Unfortunately, Now We’re Off the Tracks

April 16, 2018

And that is because of Donald Trump. Most of the following is taken directly from Steven Pinker’s ENLIGHTENMENT NOW:

“Life and Health have been expanded in large part by vaccination and other well-vetted interventions, and among the conspiracy theories that Trump has endorsed is the long-debunked claim that preservatives in vaccines cause autism. The gains have also been secured by broad access to medical care, and he has pushed for legislation that would withdraw health insurance from tens of millions of American, a reversal of the trend toward beneficial spending.

Worldwide improvements in wealth have come from a globalized economy, powered in large part by international trade. Trump is a protectionist who sees international trade as a zero-sum contest between countries, and is committed to tearing up international trade agreements.

Growth in wealth will also be driven by technological innovation, education, infrastructure, an increase in the spending power of the lower and middle classes, constraints on cronyism and plutocracy that distort market competition, and regulations on finance that reduce the likelihood of bubbles and crashes. In addition to being hostile to trade, Trump is indifferent to technology and education and an advocate of regressive tax cuts on the wealthy, while appointing corporate and financial tycoons to his cabinet who are indiscriminately hostile to regulation.

In capitalizing on concerns about inequality, Trump has demonized immigrants and trade partners while ignoring the major disrupter of lower-middle-class jobs, technological change. He has also opposed the measures that most successfully mitigate its harms, namely progressive taxation and social spending.

The environment has benefited from regulations on air and water pollution that have coexisted with growth in population, GDP, and travel. Trump believes that environmental regulation is economically destructive; worst of all, he has called climate change a hoax and announced a withdrawal from the historic Paris agreement.

Safety, too, has been dramatically improved by federal regulations, toward which Trump and his allies are contemptuous. While Trump has cultivated a reputation for law and order, he is viscerally uninterested in evidence-based policy that would distinguish effective crime-prevention measures from useless tough talk.”

“Postwar Peace has been cemented by trade, democracy, international agreements and organizations and norms against conquest. Trump has vilified international trade and has threatened to defy international agreements and weaken international organizations.” He is an admirer of Vladimir Putin. Enough said.

“Democracy depends both on explicit constitutional protections such as freedom of the press and on shared norms, in particular that political leadership is determined by the rule of law and nonviolent political competition rather than a charismatic leader’s will to power.” Trump has exhibited contempt for these norms.

“The ideals of tolerance, equality, and Equal Rights took big symbolic hits during his campaign and early administration. Trump demonized Hispanic immigrants, proposed banning Muslim immigration altogether (and tried to impose a partial ban once elected), repeatedly demeaned women, tolerated vulgar expressions of racism and sexism at his rallies, accepted support from white supremacist groups and equated them with their opponents, and appointed a strategist and an attorney general who are hostile to the civil rights movement.”

“The ideal of Knowledge—that opinions should be based on justified true beliefs—has been mocked by Trump’s repetition of ludicrous conspiracy theories: that Obama was born in Kenya, Senator Ted Cruz’s father was involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination, thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrated 9/11, Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered, Obama had his phones tapped millions of illegal voters cost him the popular vote, and literally dozens of others.” Need more be written?

“Most frighteningly Trump has pushed back against the norms that have protected the world against the possible existential threat of nuclear war.” “Worst of all, the chain of command gives an American president enormous discretion over the use of nuclear weapons in a crisis, on the tacit assumption that no president would act rashly on such a grave matter. Yet Trump has a temperament that is notoriously impulsive and vindictive.”

Steven Pinker ENLIGHTENMENT NOW

April 15, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title of a new and important book by Steven Pinker. The subtitle of the book is “The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Two quotes capture the central message of the book:

Those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of humankind.
——-Baruch Spinoza

Everything that is not forbidden by the laws of nature is achievable, given the right knowledge.
——-David Deutsch

One can ask, is there a need for the Enlightenment Now? Who would argue against reason, science, humanism, or progress?
To which Dr. Pinker answers: “Since the 1960s, trust in the institutions of modernity has sunk, and the second decade of the 21st century saw the rise of populist movements that blatantly repudiate the ideals of the Enlightenment. They are tribalism rather than cosmopolitan, authoritarian rather than democratic, contemptuous of experts rather than respectful of knowledge, and nostalgic for an idyllic past rather than hopeful for a better future.”

Dr. Pinker writes about the future of progress. “Since the Enlightenment unfolded in the late 18th century, life expectancy across the world has risen from 30 to 71, and in the more fortunate countries to 81. When the enlightenment began, a third of the children born in the richest parts of the world died before their fifth birthday; today, that fate befalls 6% of the children in the poorest parts. When the enlightenment began, one % of the mothers in the richest countries did not live to see their newborns, a rate triple that of the poorest countries today, and this continues to fall.”

The world is about a hundred times wealthier today than it was two centuries ago, and the prosperity is becoming more evenly distributed across the world’s countries and people. The proportion of humanity living in extreme poverty has fallen from almost 90% to less than 10%. Catastrophic famine, never far away in most of human history, has vanished from most of the world, and undernourishment and stunting are in steady decline. A century ago, richer countries devoted one% of their wealth to supporting children, the poor, and the aged; today they spend almost a quarter of it. Most of the poor today are fed, clothed, and sheltered, and have luxuries like smartphones and air-conditioning that use to be unavailable to anyone, rich or poor.

The proportion of people killed annually in wars is less than a quarter of what it was in the 1980s, a seventh of what it was in the early 1970s and an eighteenth of what it was in the early 1950s, and a half a % of what it was during WW II. People are also becoming more literate, knowledgeable and smarter. Early in the 19th century, 12% could read and write; today 83% can. The schooling, together with health and wealth, are literally making use smarter—by 30 IQ points, or two standard deviations above our ancestors.

Dr. Pinker details the progress that has been made in life, health, sustenance, wealth, inequality, the environment, peace, safety, terrorism, democracy, equal rights, knowledge, quality of life, and happiness. To be sure, much still remains to be done, but pessimists should not be so pessimistic. The problem is that what is in the news and what is being written about are typically the problems that need to be addressed. Naturally this leads to pessimism. But Dr. Pinker does a reality reset. Much has been done and optimism is justified.

Finland is Up, U.S. Down on the Happiest-country List

April 14, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article in the Health & Science section of the 20 March 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The 2018 World Happiness Report of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) ranked 156 countries according to factors such as GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity, and absence of corruption.

Finland was ranked as the world’s happiest country. In spite of their harsh, dark winters, Finns said access to nature, safety, child care, good schools, and free health care were among the best things about their country. Finland rose from fifth place last year to oust Norway from the top spot. The 2018 top 10 are Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, and Australia. The United States came in at 18th, down from 14th place last year.

All countries in the top ten provide universal health paid for by the government. Moreover, all advanced countries with the exception of the U.S. provide universal health care courtesy of the government. In addition to having poorer health in the United States, people end up in bankruptcy trying to pay for health care. The following two paragraphs are taken directly from the Post article:

“One chapter of the 170-page report is dedicated to emerging health problems such as obesity, depression and the opioid crisis, particularly in the United States, where the prevalence of all three has grown faster than in most other countries.

While U.S. income per capita has increased markedly over the past half-century, happiness has been hit by weakened social support networks, a perceived rise in corruption in government and business, and declining confidence in public institutions.”

Jeffrey Sachs, the head of the SDSN says, “We obviously have a social crisis in the United States: more inequality, less trust, less confidence in government. It’s pretty stark right now. The signs are not good for the U.S. It is getting richer and richer but not getting happier.”

For the first time since the report was started in 2012, the report ranked the happiness of foreign-born immigrants in the 117 countries. Finland also took top honors in this category also. John Halliwell of the University of British Columbia said, “The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born.”