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.

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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.”

Too Many People Unnecessarily Die of Stroke

April 13, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Kevin Sheth in the Health and Science Section of the 10 April 2018 issue of the Washington Post. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strokes strike nearly 800,00 Americans each year, killing 140,000.

The author of the article is a neurologist who writes, “every single day I am left unable to help victims of stroke, despite an effective treatment in hand, simply because they arrive too late. The blood clots in the brain that cause strokes irreversibly change who we are and burden our families.” As if this personal cost were not enough, the annual cost to society is $34 billion.

For more than two decades, neurologist and emergency providers had a drug available that can restore blood flow to the brain, limiting damage, but only 4% of stroke patients receive the medication. The drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), is a potent blood thinner and was approved as an effective clot-busting treatment by the Food and Drug Administration in1996. However, patients must receive the medication in the first few hours after experiencing a stroke for it to work. So if you have the slightest feeling that you’re having a stroke, quickly go to an emergency room and quickly notify them that you’re having a stroke. Remember that patients with stroke usually don’t have pain, but remember that it is difficult to call 911 if you are alone, paralyzed and unable to speak.

Since 2015, at least eight international trials have shown the efficacy of a mechanical clot-removal procedure that can restore blood flow. The possible window for this treatment can be as long as 24 hours in some patients, but as with tPA, earlier is always better. With 2 million brain cells dying every minute without blood flow, time is brain.

Remember that pain is not usually a symptom of stroke. Here are stroke symptoms taken from the Wikipedia

• hemiplegia and muscle weakness of the face
• numbness
• reduction in sensory or vibratory sensation
• initial flaccidity (reduced muscle tone), replaced by spasticity (increased muscle tone), excessive reflexes, and obligatory synergies.[34]
• altered smell, taste, hearing, or vision (total or partial)
• drooping of eyelid (ptosis) and weakness of ocular muscles
• decreased reflexes: gag, swallow, pupil reactivity to light
• decreased sensation and muscle weakness of the face
• balance problems and nystagmus
• altered breathing and heart rate
• weakness in sternocleidomastoid muscle with inability to turn head to one side
• weakness in tongue (inability to stick out the tongue or move it from side to side)
• aphasia (difficulty with verbal expression, auditory comprehension, reading and writing; Broca’s or Wernicke’s area typically involved)
• dysarthria (motor speech disorder resulting from neurological injury)
• apraxia (altered voluntary movements)
• visual field defect
• memory deficits (involvement of temporal lobe)
• hemineglect (involvement of parietal lobe)
• disorganized thinking, confusion, hypersexual gestures (with involvement of frontal lobe)
• lack of insight of his or her, usually stroke-related, disability
• altered walking gait
• altered movement coordination
• vertigo and or disequilibrium

Remember, not to delay and to seek attention immediately.

How Medicine Got Too Good for It’s Own Good

April 12, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature Article by Wendy Glauser in the Feature section in the 7 April 2018 Issue of the New Scientist. H. Gilbert Welch is both a physician and an academic researcher. He has spend the last 25 years warning of the dangers of overzealous medicine. He fears that doctors are detecting problems too early convincing healthy people they are sick, and treating them too aggressively.

His latest research was published in December in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He found that in US hospital regions with high rates of CT scans, which are typically ordered to check the lungs and abdomen, many more kidneys are removed. Apparently when doctors look at the images they see the kidneys too, and often stumble on innocuous cancers. Welch said, “It’s leading some people to be treated for disease that was never going to bother them. Moreover, there is significant risk. 1 in 50 of those who underwent surgery died within a month.

Welch is a professor at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, He has written three books highlighting unnecessary medical care, as well as dozens of journal articles and call-to-arms pieces in newspapers such as The New York Times. With biomedical companies designing ever more tests, such as breath-tests for cancer, the problem seems poised to worsen. Welch says, “It’s a very frothy industry right now.”

Welch says, “I was taught in medical school that once a cancer was formed, it was going to relentlessly progress to metastatic cancer. We now know it’s a whole lot more complex than that.” Cancers can grow quickly and slowly; some even vanish on their own.

A new test the worries Welch is liquid biopsy, which identifies pieces of “cell-free DNA” in the blood to determine whether someone has cancer and how bad that cancer is. Welch says, “You think, how could you possibly argue with that, until you look under the hood.” We all have cell-free DNA in our blood, and liquid biopsy analyzes about 2000 different mutations in this DNA. An algorithm then determines what thresholds and combinations of mutation equal cancer. Welch worries about a future in which people are told: “You have a positive liquid biopsy, but we don’t know where the tumor is, so we’re gonna have to start looking.”

Richard Baker a radiologist and colleague of Welch’s says the he often dissuades his patients from a biopsy on their thyroids after imaging has found a nodule, even though that is why they’re seeing him. Baker says, “Thyroid biopsies are skyrocketing in this country, yet deaths from thyroid cancer have always been rare in the US and treatment carries risks of its own. These are difficult ideas for both patients and physicians to accept.

Regarding mammography he found that looking at women who were screened every year for a decade from the age of 50, he found that for every 1000 of these women, roughly one will avoid death through breast cancer, more than 500 will have at least one false alarm and 10 will be treated needlessly.

Welch asks if people want medical care as a way to deal with acute problems for things that are bothering them? Or do they want to take the power of medicine to look hard to try to find things wrong with them? In this age of super-sensitive diagnostics, seek and ye shall find.

For more information on this topic go to the healthy memory blog post, “Less Medicine, More Health.” Better yet, read the book by Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, “Less Medicine, More Health.”

Victims of the Dunning-Kruger Effect

April 11, 2018

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.

Donald Trump provides an interesting case of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Many times he has expounded on how much he knows. He knows more than the generals about the military, he knows more than John McCain about being a prisoner of war, in fact he does not like prisoners who were captured, and on and on and on. It is clear that he thinks he knows more about the law than his lawyers do. He has also claimed to be the only one who knows how to solve our problems.

But in fact, he is woefully ignorant. He publicly asked the Russians for Hillary’s emails to aid his campaign. Apparently, he did not know that foreign powers were to play no role in American elections. He keeps claiming that there was no collusion. But here he was in public asking for collusion and the Russians obviously complied.

It is also clear that he could not pass an 8th grade civics test. He did not, or probably still does no know, that the three branches of government, Executive, Legislative, and Judicial are independent. He said on television that he wanted to get rid of Comey as the FBI Director because he was afraid of what he might do. Moreover, he boasted about getting rid of Comey to the Russians. Yet he continues to regard himself and describe himself as a genius.

Then you have Trump’s supporters. They do not like knowledgeable individuals, which they contemptuously call they elite. They are fearful of these individuals as being some conspiratorial dark force (the deep state). And many, if not most, of these people embrace Trump as their savior. In fact they are colluding entities in a very large Dunning-Kruger Effect.

So who are the victims? All Americans, but only some are deserving victims. The rest of us are collateral damage. Another victim, not to be overlooked, is 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.

How Wikipedia Became the Internet’s Good Cop

April 10, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Noam Cohen in the Outlook Section of the 8 April 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The subtitle is “To combat fake news, tech companies want the wisdom of the crowd.”

Actually it is not only tech companies, but it is everyone who should want the wisdom of the crowd. Moreover, the contributors to the Wikipedia constitute a very smart and intelligent crowd. There is a standard that needs to be reached to remain published in Wikipedia.

Wikipedia has sworn off advertising completely. Cohen writes, “When Tim Berners-Lee conceived the web, he imagined that it would look a lot like Wikipedia; that is, “ system in which sharing what you know or thought should be as easy as learning what somewhat else-knew.”

Wikipedia serves as a remedy to the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Previous healthy memory posts have written about the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The 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. HM experiences this effect practically every time he consults the Wikipedia. He fairly soon becomes somewhat familiar with how much he does not know about the topic, and becomes engaged to remedy this shortcoming. But as the effect describes, the more you learn, typically the more you become aware of how much more there is still to learn.

It is not enough just learning the news of the day. Ultimately, this just results in superficial knowledge. In the Wikipedia, one can read meaningful integrated presentations on different topics. Infrequent trips to the Wikipedia are insufficient. The Wikipedia should become, at least, a daily habit.

The Wikipedia is also an outstanding tool for fostering growth mindsets. The practice of the daily learning of new information is emphasized in the healthy memory blog as being one of the primary means for fostering a healthy memory.

It appears that the Wikipedia has replaced the encyclopedia. In the traditional encyclopedia experts were hired to write about topics. The crowd-sourced Wikipedia provides a more diverse coverage of most 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 andhealthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ditch and Switch

April 9, 2018

This post is taken directly from the article titled, “Our Obsession with a ‘free’ internet led to Facebook data row, by Jacob Aron in the 7 April 2018 Issue of the New Scientist. This list offers privacy-respecting alternatives to online services:

Ditch: FACEBOOK
Facebook’s data-slurping habits are legendary, with many users choosing to delete the app from their phone in the wake of recent revelations.

Switch: DIASPORA
Diaspora decentralizes social networks by letting people set up their own servers to host content. Users retain ownership off their data and aren’t required to use their real name.

Ditch: GOOGLE
Google stores your entire search history and uses it to make website and video suggestions, profiles you and sell adverts.

Switch: DUCKDUCKGO
Search engine DuckDuckGo doesn’t store any information. All users see the same search results, so they aren’t tailored to your particular interests.

Ditch: TWITTER
Twitter uses the information it knows about you to sell ads—things like your age, gender or location.

Switch: MASTODON
Mastodon offers similar features to Twitter but is decentralized, meaning that anyone can set up a Mastodon server that is independently owned. Users on one server act as a single community, but can also communicate with people on other servers.

Ditch: GMAIL
Gmail use to make money by scanning your inbox for keywords, then showing you adverts based on your interests. Last year, Google announced it would no longer sell ads in this way—but emails are still scanned to power flight reminders, calendar updates and other Google features

Switch: PROTONMAIL
Protonmail encrypts all of its users’ emails, meaning it has no access to your inbox. A basic account is free, while extra features like folders require a subscription. The service is so secure that Cambridge Analytic reportedly used it.

The New Lesson Plan for Elementary School: Surviving the Internet

April 8, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the digital title of an article by Drew Harwell in the 7 April 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The article describe Yolanda Bromfield’s fifth grade digital-privacy class. The lesson was on online-offline balance, so she asked how would they act when they left school and reentered a world of prying websites, addictive phones and online scams. One student answered, “I will make sure that I don’t tell nobody my personal stuff, and be offline for at least two hours every night.”

Author Harwell writes, “Between their math and literacy classes, these elementary school kids were studying up on perhaps one of the most important and least understood school subjects in American—how to protect their brains and survive the big, bad Web.

This course is part of an experimental curriculum designed by Seton Hall University Law School professors and taught by a legal fellow such as Bromfield. This class has been rolled out in recent months to hundreds of children in a dozen classrooms across New York and New Jersey. These classes are free and are folded into kids’ daily schedules and taught in the classrooms where fifth- and sixth-graders typically learn about the scientific method and the food chain. The director of Seton Hall Law’s Institute for Privacy Protection, Gaia Bernstein, who designed the program, said each class included about a half-dozen lessons taught to kids over several weeks, as well as a separate set of leeches of parents concerned about how “their children are disappearing into their screens.”

The program is funded by a $1.7 million grant that was awarded by a federal judge as part of a class-action consumer-protection settlement pending over junk faxes—to teach students about privacy, reputation, online advertising and overuse at the age when their research found that many American kids get their first cell phones when they are 10 years old.

The Seton Hall instructors said they had no interest in teaching kids digital abstinence or in instructing parents how to be the computer police. They conceded that the internet is a fact of life and children always find ways around their parents’ barriers.

The students’ parents are offered separate classes that focus largely on how parents should deal with kid’s overuse. Of course in a world where much of their homework and friendships play out online, it needs to be defined what normal use even looks like. Bernstein said, “What really bothers parents is how they are losing their children, and how family life is changing.

In February the advocacy group Common Sense Media said it would expand a “digital citizenship” curriculum now offered free at tens of thousands of nationwide public schools. This program addresses the topics of self-image, relationships, information literacy and mental well-being. Lesson plans for the program range from kindergarten (“Going Place Safely,” Screen Out the Mean”) to high school (“Taking Perspectives on Cyberbullying,” “Oops! I Broadcast It on the Internet”).

Let us hope that these activities grow and become standards.

The Shocking Truth of Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiments

April 7, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature article by Gina Perry in the 17 March 2018 issue of the New Scientist. Before discussing the article, Milgram’s research must first be described. The following is taken from a previous healthy memory blog post, “Good vs. Evil:”

Another relevant line of research was conducted earlier by a fellow professor who had grown up in the South Bronx, Stanley Milgram. Milgram was Jewish and wondered how the Germans could commit the atrocities the Nazis committed. And he wondered whether this was a uniquely German affliction. Milgram was at Yale, but he conducted his research at other settings in addition to Yale, Milgram’s experiment was framed as a learning experiment. Two participants arrived at the experiment, although one of the participants was a confidant of the experimenter. There was a pseudo random assignment to the conditions (the experimenter’s confederate was always the student). The student went into an adjacent room. It was set up as a learning experiment, and when the student made a mistake, the other participant, the “teacher,” was told to administer an electric shock. These shocks were (apparently to the trainer) on a panel indicating that the shocks were increasing in intensity. As the trainer progressed up the panel, the “student” indicated increasing amounts of pain. Close to the end, he was shrieking, and at the very end, there was complete silence. Now there were a few “trainers”, perhaps 10% who left at the beginning of the experiment. However, about 65% went all the way to the top. HM has viewed videos of some of these experiments. The trainers were showing obvious signs of distress as they thought they were increasing in intensity, but when the experimenter told them to continue, they continued. In fact, when there were two trainers, the second one being a confederate of the experimenter, 91% of the trainers, influenced by peer pressure, went to the top. Over the many iterations of this experiment there were about 1,000 experimental subjects (the “trainers”). And these research participants could have left the experiment at any time. A more detailed account of this experiment can be found in the Wikipedia.

Dr. Perry, who is a psychologist, has reviewed Milgram’s research materials and accused him of not reporting all his results, and that if all his results had been dutifully reported, the results would not have been so dramatic.

It should be understood that Milgram’s results and his conclusions are extremely important. When he reported his results there were those who said that not only should he not have reported the results, he should not even have done the research.

Milgram was Jewish who was trying to understand how a civilized country like Germany could have committed the holocaust. His going in hypothesis was that this was a character trait specific to Germany. His initial expectations were to demonstrate that such dispositions were not present in Americans. Having proven that, he was going to attempt a replication of the study with Germans. His results amazed him. There was no need to replicate the results in Germany. He found that a large majority of people would be willing to commit similar atrocities in America. Not surprisingly many people do not want to accept results that paint our species in a unfavorable light. Apparently, they would prefer to remain in their ignorance.

Although all research participants were debriefed on the experiment, the research was criticized by some because they thought it gave the majority of the participants an unfavorable opinion of themselves. These criticisms were raised at a time when self-esteem was in vogue. An individual’s self esteem should not be injured, and these results injured people’s self esteem. Arguments were made against competitive sports and activities were arranged where everyone could emerge a winner. However, it was also found that people with high self-esteem were reluctant to participate in new activities where they might fail and injure their self-esteem.

The current view in psychology is that we all should have growth mindsets, where we seek out new activities and subjects to learn. If we fail, we know that we likely will eventually prevail as long as we keep trying. [Enter “growth mindsets” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to learn more about growth mindsets]. High self-esteem discourages growth mindsets.

HM has long thought that the experiences from Milgram’s experiments were valuable to all participants. Even though self-esteem was initially lowered, that lowering of self-esteem was a good experience. The participants were awarded with self-knowledge that might prove to be extremely valuable in the future. They would be much more likely to refuse when told to engage in questionable activity. Moreover, surveys revealed that 84% of the former participants where either very glad or glad that they had participated in the experiment. 15% chose neutral responses. Some correspondence from one of the participants follows:
While I was a subject in 1964, though I believed that I was hurting someone, I was totally unaware of why I was doing so. Few people ever realize when they are acting according to their own beliefs and when they are meekly submitting to authority … To permit myself to be drafted with the understanding that I am submitting to authority’s demand to do something very wrong would make me frightened of myself … I am fully prepared to go to jail if I am not granted Conscientious Objector status. Indeed, it is the only course I could take to be faithful to what I believe. My only hope is that members of my board act equally according to their conscience …[

Another unfortunate outcome of MIlgram’s experiments was the development of institutional review boards (IRBs). Fortunately, these did not exist when HM was a student. Unfortunately, today they are hindering necessary research. Of course, nothing harmful should be done to research participants. But injuring their self-esteem is beneficial, not detrimental.

Replication is the sine qua non of scientific research, but IRBs have precluded the replication of MIlgram’s important research.

© 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 Unhealthy Memory

April 6, 2018

This post is motivated by an article sponsored by The Marshall Project and published in the FiveThirtyEight Newsletter, Significant Digits for Thursday April 5, 2018. The title of the article is “The Myth of the Criminal Immigrant.”

The article begins “The Trump administration’s first year of immigration policy has relied on claims that immigrants bring crime into America. President Trump’s latest target is sanctuary cities.” Trump said las week, “Every day sanctuary cities release illegal immigrants, drug dealers, traffickers, gang members back into our communities. They’re safe havens for just some terrible people.”

Unfortunately according to Gallup polls, almost half of Americans agreed that immigrants make crime worse. But do these beliefs correspond to reality? The percent change in immigrant population in American from 1980 to 2016 was an increase of 118%. The percent change in violent crime in American since 1980 is a decrease of 36%.

In a large-scale collaboration by four universities, led by Robert Edelman, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, researchers compared the immigration rates with crime rates for 200 metropolitan areas over the last several decades. The selected areas included huge urban hubs like New York and smaller manufacturing centers less than a hundredth that size, like Muncie, Ind., and were dispersed geographically across the country. Crime fell more often that it rose even as immigrant populations grew almost across the board.

In 136 metro areas, almost 70% of those studied, the immigrant population increased between 1980 and 2016 while crime stayed stable or fell. The number of areas where crime and immigration both increased was much lower—54 areas, which is slightly more than a quarter of the total. The 10 places with the largest increase in immigrants all had lower levels of crime in 2016 than in 1980.

In Orange County, California where the immigrant population in the county has more than doubled since 1980, overall violent crime has decreased by more than 50%.

Previous healthy memory posts have argued that Trumps’s entire campaign is built on lies. Lies make for an unhealthy memory. Trump does not seem to know that he is lying. He could be tested for having a delusional disorder. The test for this disorder is to attach the individual to a polygraph. If he lies and the polygraph fails to detect, it may be concluded that he, and the rest of the country with him, is suffering the adverse effects of a delusional disorder.

Moreover, Trump does not seem to care whether he is lying. This was most evident in his recent debate with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau.

The truth appears to be that the President of the United States is not in touch with reality. It is obvious that he is not doing, and is perhaps incapable of, Kahneman’s System 2 processing. That there are people who still support him leads one to believe that there is an epidemic of unhealthy memories in the United States. These people also are not engaging System 2 processing. Much higher rates of Alzheimer’s and dementia can be anticipated for 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.

Nice Prize for Alzheimer’s Work

April 5, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the first half of a title of an article by Jacqui Wise in the news section of the 17 March 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The second half if the title is “shame about the lack of a cure.” The following is directly from the article, “In giving the 1 million Euro prize to four researchers in the UK, Germany, and Belgium, Denmark’s Lundbeck Foundation is likely to rekindle hopes of a cure being within reach. However, translating the work—much of it in animals—into drugs remains as frustratingly out of reach as ever.”

There was a healthy memory post on August 20, 2011 titled “The Myth of Alzheimer’s.” That post was on a book by Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D., and Daniel George, M.Sc.. Dr. Whitehouse had been conducting research on destroying or preventing the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that are the defining characteristics of the disease. His research was quite profitable and would have been continuing today, had he not come to the firm conclusion that this research would never pay off. He switched to conducting research on humans suffering from the disease.

The following is taken from that 20 August 2011 healthy memory blog post:
“The thesis of the book is best captured from the following excerpt from page 220, …”It is unlikely that there will ever be a panacea for brain aging and baby boomers should not rely on extraordinary advancements being made in their lifetimes besides the promises of the Alzheimer’s disease empire that make their way into our headlines. Our attention must begin shifting from mythical cure to hard-earned prevention, from expecting a symptomatic treatment for Alzheimer’s disease to choosing behaviors that may delay the effects “of cognitive decline over the course of our lives.” Many, if not most, of the behaviors he discusses have been mentioned and advocated in the Healthymemory Blog.

The book provides a superb tutorial on the history of Alzheimer’s disease from its unassuming beginnings to the development of an Alzheimer’s disease empire. It reviews the science underlying Alzheimer’s disease and the role of genetics in Alzheimer’s disease. It discusses past and present treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. It explains how to identify someone who might need a prescription for memory loss, and how to prepare for a doctor’s visit. It presents a new model for living with brain aging as well as a prescription for successful aging across the life span. An epilogue is titled ‘Thinking Like a Mountain: The Future of Aging.’”

The key behavior for minimizing the risk of suffering the symptoms of Alzheimer’s is living a healthy lifestyle that includes cognitive activity, that builds a cognitive reserve. This blog has many posts on both how to have a growth mindset and the benefits of a healthy mindset. Many people have died with amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s. Yet these people never knew they had Alzheimer’s as they exhibited none of the behavioral and cognitive symptoms. The reason given for these individuals is that they had a cognitive reserve. Recent research is finding evidence of how the brain changes as the result of cognitive reserve.

HM has a further conjecture that it is a specific type of processing that is beneficial. This is Kahnemans’s Type 2 processing, commonly referred to as thinking. Type 1 processing, our normal mode, called intuition, occurs quickly and with little attentional demands. As we age we tend to slip into more and more Type 1 processing. Entering “Kahneman” into the search block of the healthy memory blog will yield many posts on Kahneman and his Two Process Theory of 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.

Data Lacking for Memory Supplements

April 4, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article from Consumer Reports in the Health and Science Section in the 3 Apr 2018 issue of the Washington Post. According to the Nutrition Business Journal, sales of supplements touted as memory boosters nearly doubled between 2006 and 2015. Unfortunately, according to a review of studies published in December, there’s virtually no good evidence that such products can prevent or delay memory lapses, mild cognitive impairment or dementia in older adults. Moreover, Pieter Cohen, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School says, “some may do more harm than good.”

Fish oils (omega-3 fatty acids); B vitamins such as folate B6 and B12; and ginkgo biloba extract, made from the dried leaves of a ginkgo tree, none of which have demonstrated their benefits. For example, one study published in Lancet Neurology in 2012 found that among 2,854 older adults with memory complaints, those who took ginkgo biloba extract twice a day for five years had no fewer cases of Alzheimer’s than those who took a placebo.

Regarding fish oil, some studies have found that people with diets high in omega-3s—which are found in fatty fish such as salmon—may have a lower risk of dementia. But similar benefits have not been found with supplements. A 2012 review of data on thousands of older adults found that those who took omega—3 fatty acid supplements had no fewer dementia diagnoses or better scores on tests of short-term memory than those who took a placebo.

Nor have B vitamins fared any better. A 2015 review of studies found that supplementation with B6, B12 and/or folic acid failed to slow or reduce the risk of cognitive decline in healthy older adults and did not improve brain function in those with cognitive decline or dementia.

The article states, “Our experts also recommend avoiding branded “memory boosting” blends.”

The article notes that a 2017 Government Accountability Office report analyzed hundreds of ads promoting memory-enhancing supplements and identified 27 making what seemed to be illegal claims about treating or preventing disease such as dementia.

Lon Schneider, professor of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California says, “even legal claims that suggest supplements will improve, boost or enhance your memory don’t have to have any data to justify them.” A statement from the Council on Responsible Nutrition, an industry group responded to the GAO report reads, “Dietary supplements cannot cure, treat or prevent Alzheimer’s, dementia, or any disease.”

Supplements are loosely regulated and some may contain undisclosed ingredients or prescription drugs. Some dangerously interact with medication: For example, ginkgo biloba should never be paired with blood thinners, blood pressure meds, or SSRI antidepressants.

Marvin M. Lipman, Consumer Reports medical adviser says, “Don’t be misled by hype. They are not only a waste of money, but some can also be harmful.”

The article offers three strategies to try instead (which should be familiar to healthy memory blog readers).
“*Do a brain workout. Enhancing reasoning and memory abilities—learning a new language, for instance—might help delay or slow decline. A 10-year trial found that such training (though not computerized “brain games’) can help increase cognitive processing speed an sharpen reasoning skills.

*Exercise your body. In 2011, one study estimated that a million cases of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States were caused by a sedentary lifestyle. Several studies have found that physical activities—walking, weightlifting, yoga, or tai chi, for example—may delay or slow cognitive decline but not prevent it.

*Manage blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure dramatically reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are risk factors for memory loss.”

Psychology to the Rescue

April 3, 2018

Psychologists’ goal is to understand the mind. Psychologist Brendan Lake says,”I really see twin goals here: understanding the human mind better and also developing machines learning in more humanlike ways. I believe that if we can’t program a computer to explain human behavior, then we don’t fully understand it.” Noah Goodman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and computer science at Stanford University says, “Humans are the most intelligent system we know.” (Knowing the intimate failures of HM’s own mind, he finds this hard to believe, but he defers to the expert) Alexa will respond to hundreds of voice commands, but can’t hold a real conversation. Similarly, IBM’s Watson can win at Jeopardy, but still is unable to accomplish some tasks that any one of us could do.

Watson and Google-affiliated Deep Mind are deep neural networks. These networks are inspired by the way that neurons connect in the brain and are related to the “connectionist” way of thinking about human intelligence. In AI, the idea works like this: instead of physical neurons, deep neural networks have neuron-like computational units, stacked together in dozens of connection layers. If you want to create a neural network that can tell the difference between apples and bananas for a visual learning system, then you present it with thousands of pictures of apples and bananas, Each image excites the “neurons” in the input layer. Those “neurons” pass on some information to the next layer, then the next layer and so on. As the training progresses, different layers start to identify patterns at increasing levels of abstraction, like color, texture, or shape. When the information system spits out a guess: apple or banana, if the system’s guess is wrong, then it can adjust the connections among the neurons accordingly. By processing thousands and thousands of training images, the system eventually becomes extremely good at the task at hand—figuring out the patterns that make an apple an apple and a banana a banana. This is a simple task, and the concept of neural networks has existed since the 1940s. Neural networks have increased enormously in complexity. The complexity of Watson truly boggles the human mind.

Unfortunately, neural networks do not provide an understanding into how we humans process information other than to state it is networks of neurons that do it. We humans cannot provide this understanding because we also do not understand how our neurons do this. Although we have access to our conscious processes, the vast majority of our processing is not accessible by our conscious processes. Connectionist-oriented AI researchers believe that if we want to build truly flexible, humanlike intelligence, we will need to not only write algorithms that reflect human reasoning, but also understand how the brain develops those algorithms to begin with. This is a job for psychology, and we psychologists have been working on these problems for close to a century.

Some researchers believe that studying how babies learn can provide insights that help build machines with flexible and humanlike intelligence. Dr. Linda Smith a psychologist and AI researcher at Indiana University, believes that answers to the problem of writing algorithms that a reflect human reasoning and also how the brain develops the algorithms begins with research using human babies.

Dr. Smith said, “My personal view is that babies are the smartest things on earth in terms of learning; they can learn anything and they can do it from scratch. And what babies do that machines don’t do is to generate their own data.”

In one of a series of studies, Dr. Smith and her colleagues are outfitting babies and preschoolers with head-mounted video cameras to closely analyze how they see the world. In one study they found that during mealtimes, 8 to 10-month-old babies looked preferentially at a limited number of scenes and objects—their chair, utensils, food and more—in a way that may later help them learn their first words. They also found that the scenes and objects the babies choose to look at differ from the types of “training images” often seen in computational models for AI visual learning systems (Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. Vol 372, No.1711, 2017).

This is just one example of research being done that provides information to AI researchers. It appears that there is a need for a marriage between code developed from psychological research and connectionist code. This should achieve a true symbiosis benefitting both psychology and computer science.

This post is based on an article by Lea Winerman titled “Making a Thinking Machine” in the April 2018 issue of the “Monitor on Psychology.”

Many thanks to my colleague russvane3 for providing comments on this post.

The Brain and Mindfulness Meditation

April 2, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Bruce Lieberman in the Health & Science section of the 27 March 2018 issue of the Washington Post. His article was based on a recent article in the APS journal Perspectives on Psychological Science (Jan 2018) titled “Mind the Hype: A Critical Evaluation and Prescriptive Agenda for Research and Mindfulness and Meditation.” The title should tip off the reader that this article has a bias and it does. Healthymemory blog readers should be aware that there have been many posts on this topic.

The references include only three citations of Davidson, the most prolific and qualified researcher in the area, and only one for Goleman, who provided the incentive for research in this area. There is no reference to Dr. Benson, a physician and researcher at Harvard medical school who documented the benefits of the relaxation response. He also provided guidance and benefits of the relaxation response on Angina Pectoris, Anxiety, Depression, Hypertension, Stress-related infertility, insomnia, Menopausal, Perimenopausal, and Breast Cancer Hot Flashes, Nausea, Pain-General, Pain-Variations, Parkinson’s Disease, Phobias, Premature Aging, Premature Ventricular Contractions and Palpitations, and premenstrual syndrome. He does advise for treatment with a physician, but if the physician is hostile to meditation, then to look for a more accommodating physician. He also documents epigenetic effects in which meditation fosters healthy readouts from one’s genes. These effects are described in the healthy memory blog post “The Genetic Breakthrough—Your Ultimate Mind-Body Connection.”

HM was amazed by the kind and generous response by Dr. Davidson to the “Mind the Hype” article in his following paper in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, (Jan 2018) “Outstanding Challenges in Scientific Research on Mindfulness and Meditation.” Dr. Davidson is one of the most conscientious and demanding scientists HM knows.

The “Mind the Hype” article does not cite the book by Goleman and Davidson titled, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.”
This is the most exhaustive review of the literature currently available, and it does indicate how much is known about each topic. Dr. Davidson is his own most severe critic. So the best way to learn about the benefits and current limitations of mindfulness and meditation is to read this book. Short of that, read the numerous healthymemory posts that have been based on this book, along with the other healthy memory blog posts on this topic. Just use the search block for this blog. You can also go to Dr. Davidson’s website, https://centerhealthyminds.org/about/founder-richard-davidson

HM’s concern is that this article in the Washington Post based on this “Mind the Hype” review in the Washington Post will discourage people from meditating, in general, and from trying the relaxation response, in particular. There is much to be gained here and it is difficult imaging any risk.

Go to the healthy memory blog “An Update of the Relaxation Response Update” for guidance on how to do the relaxation response.

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

School Shootings Are Rare. We’re Still Terrified

April 1, 2018

The title of this article is identical to the title of an article by David Ropek in the Outlook Section of the 11 March 2018 Washington Post. Mr. Ropek writes, “the murder of children in their classrooms has come to seem common a regular feature of modern American life, and our fears so strong that we are certain the next horror is sure to come not long after the last.

According to the Education Report approximately 50 million children attend public schools for around 180 days per year . Since Columbine, approximately 200 public school students have been shot to death while school was in session, including the recent slaughter at Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, and a more recent shooting in Birmingham, AL. This means that the statistical likelihood of any given public school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 is about 1 in 614,000,000.

Although the article’s author does not mention Kahneman’s Availability, heuristic, this is what underlies the fear. According to Kahneman, it is information that is available and accessible in memory that guides our judgments. Moreover, this is reasonable, given that objective facts are not readily available, and considerable effort is involved in gathering the data Mr. Ropek did to write this article.

Nevertheless, HM is grateful that the students and the public are reacting in this way. The Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School students have been highly articulate and active. May they continue their effort and be joined by the entire country.

The exact wording of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution is
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
This amendment makes sense. Note that the justification for this is to maintain a well regulated militia. The NRA always omits this justification for the amendment. Today’s NRA is not the same our grandfathers’ NRA. In those days the NRA focused on gun safety. Today’s NRA seems to be focused on making every weapon available to everyone. It appears to be motivated by the fear that their guns might be taken away. As the prospect of their losing their guns is not on the horizon, this seems to be institutional paranoia. Unfortunately, a retired Supreme Court Justice appeared to be arguing for the repeal of the 2nd Amendment. This argument did nothing constructive and merely provided justification for the NRA’s paranoia.

Unfortunately, HM suffers from his own paranoia about the NRA. He asks why do they argue for weapons designed for combat? He remembers Charlton Heston, the actor, and HM believes a former president of the NRA, said that his rifle would need to be pried from his cold, dead hand. This leaves the impression that once some fear threshold is reached, the NRA will effectively declare war on the United States and need to be defeated militarily.

Clearly it is time for a sanity check. HM thinks that the majority of families do not have a gun in their homes. This would make gun owners a minority, and should be given the respect all minorities should be given. They have feelings, desires, and beliefs. This is not the time to think that it is morally superior to be anti-gun.

HM has also seen surveys of actual NRA members who seem to have moderate views on gun ownership. It seems that working with NRA members, reasonable gun laws could be passed. But it seems like the NRA is managed by paranoid lunatics. Moreover, they are heavily funded by gun manufacturers and perhaps by the Mercers, the Koch’s, and perhaps even the Russians. This group has essential bought the United States Congress. We can truthfully say that we have the best congress money can buy.

These students are trying to get Congress to pay attention not just to them, but to citizens at large. We all need to work with these students, including sane NRA members, uphold the 2nd Amendment, and assure the safety of all our citizens.

Please submit comments to correct any factual errors in this post.

© 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

 

How to Deactivate Facebook

March 31, 2018

Healthy memory blog readers should be aware of HM’s contempt for Facebook. The two immediately preceding posts offered alternatives. It appears that some younger users are eschewing Facebook. The research firm eMarketer found that the number of 12- to -17-year-old American users of Facebook declined 9.9% in 2017, which was part of a drop of 2.8 million U.S. users of Facebook under age 25. The firm expects Facebook to shed another 2.1 million this year, as young people switch to other platforms.

Here’s how to rid this pestilence from you computer:

Go to general account settings.

Select edit under manage account.

Select deactivate.

Overlook the continuing hard sell to keep you.

Be persistent.

Note that this only deactivates your account.
Removing your account is so complicated you need to go to the Facebook help center.

#deletefacebook? Nah, just get even

March 30, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Christine Emba in the 24 Mar ’18 issue of the Washington Post. Ms Emba suggests that rather than just staying mad, you should try to get even. You can do plenty to protect yourself.

The first is to stop sharing.

The second is to log off.
Remember that Facebook is trying to consume as much of your time as possible and as much of your conscious attention as possible. Both your time and your conscious attention are too precious to squander on Facebook.

And, finally.
Trust no one.

The New Technology That Aspires to #DeleteFacebook for Good

March 29, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Brian Fung in the 24 March 2018 issue of the Washington Post. That new technology can be found at
http://joinmastodon.org . What makes Mastodon increasingly attractive, especially in a post-#Delete-Facebook world, is its attitude toward data and control. Mastodon’s code is open-source, so anybody can inspect its design. It’s distributed so that it doesn’t run in some data center controlled by corporate executives but instead is run by its own users who set up independent servers. Its development costs are paid for by online donations, rather than through the marketing of users’ personal information.

It is rooted in the idea that it doesn’t benefit consumers to depend on centralized commercial platforms sucking up users’ personal information. The developers believe they can restore some of the magic from the internet’s earlier days, when everything was open and interoperable, not soloed and commercialized.

From a business perspective, Facebook’s most important innovation was its aggressive collection and use of customer data for advertising purposes. Facebook not only gathers the information that we volunteer about ourselves, but also data that we generate by using the platform such as likes, friend connections, and so forth. As we learned from Cambridge Analytica’s whistleblower, this information can be extremely powerful in the wrong hands.

Mastodon is an open source social network. It is decentralized. Anyone can create their own server on Mastadon with it’s own rules. It can communicate with instances of other networks given that the other network agrees. Users are free to join whatever network they want.

For more information go to http://joinmastodon.org

Global Warming

March 27, 2018

There have been many previous healthy memory blog posts on global warming. The question is whether this global warming is anthropogenic. Although one can try to reason this out oneself, there have been reams of research done on this by professional scientists. So, why not just read what these professional scientists have written? The problem is that some of these professional scientists are not genuine scientists but, rather, hired guns paid to provide the results that industries want. These are industries that are adversely affected by efforts to slow down, stop, or reverse global warming. The problem here is analogous to the efforts made by tobacco companies to mislead and provide lies about the dangers of smoking. The misinformation industry is quite profitable. That being the case it is ironic that these companies argue that global warming is a myth promulgated by scientists who want to continue their research and win research grants on the topic.

Actually the earnings of honest scientists are fairly modest. The big bucks are found in the companies who have a vested interest in arguing that global warming is either not happening or not anthropogenic (caused by humans). Then there are news organizations who feel compelled to present both sides of an issue. Unfortunately, when this is done, the viewer is not clear what the preponderant view is.

The best way to get to the preponderant view of quality research on a topic is by reviewing the refereed research. Refereed research is research that has been reviewed by multiple reviewers with expertise in the topic. Fortunately, a review of the refereed research on the topic of anthropogenic global warming literature is available.

Powell and Stern have published a paper in the refereed and prestigious Science Journal published 25 Nov 2015. According to that article a recent survey found that exactly four out of 69,406 authors of peer-reviewed articles in the scientific literature rejected the hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming. That is a ridiculously small number, 005763190502% to be exact that rejected the hypothesis of human caused global warming.

So it is safe to close the issue of anthropogenic global warming. Anything you read that was published in 2017 that rejects anthropogenic global warming (not caused by humans) is the work of a hired gun working for industry. So you still will find people arguing against human caused global warming, but they are either woefully lacking in knowledge or, most likely, hired guns.

Go to climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus
for more information.

© 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.

Fear

March 25, 2018

In addition to posts on Emotional Intelligence, there have been many healthy memory blog posts that discussed fear. A common tactic that is used to make us behave in certain ways is to create fear in us. For a healthy memory it is important to review available information to see if that fear is justified.

Fear is used to convince us to arm ourselves. So a reasonable question is to ask if having a personal gun or guns will make us safer. This might seem like a reasonable thing to do. If someone threatens us with a gun, should we not be able to defend ourselves? Here are some facts along with personal (HM) anecdotes to consider.

Police shows are popular and guns frequently play a role. On the basis of television one might well conclude that it is a dangerous world for police and ourselves. But…
the majority of peace officers retire without ever firing a weapon in the course of their duties.

Guns are used more often in suicides than in homicides. Moreover, a gun is the best tool to use for suicide. It is quicker and more effective. This has been used as an argument against having a gun.

Now for a couple of personal anecdotes. When HM was a child, he slept through this incident. This is how it was related to him by his parents. They heard someone in our backyard. They shouted, “Who is out there?” Someone answered back, “Who do you think it is?” This response frightened my parents. They told me that if they had had a gun, they would have probably shot the intruder. The intruder turned out to be HM’s brother. In retrospect, my parents said that they shouldn’t have been frightened as our dog was in the yard, and he was a very good watchdog. But he recognized HM’s brother and didn’t bark. In retrospect, HM’s brother’s response was reasonable. But when the emotion of fear comes, reason and logic can fly out the window. HM’s mom used this story to make the point that we think that people keeping guns at home were fools.

On New Year’s Eve, the eldest son of one of HM’s close high school friends was fooling around with a rifle along with his best friend. Accidentally he shot and killed my friend’s eldest son. My friend, who was a politician, said that justice would be done. The question here is what justice? His son is dead, and his son’s friend needs to live with the memory that he killed his best friend. I’m sure that my friend took the precaution of keeping the guns locked up and instructed his children in gun safety. But HM’s question to his friend, which he had the sense never to ask, was why did you think you needed a gun in the house? What was it protecting you from?

Many bad things can happen when a firearm is in the house. Accidents are one. Accidental shootings are another. Suicides yet another. What is the real risk that a gun can prevent? Then rate that risk against the risk of these other unfortunate possible outcomes.
The insurance industry runs on fear. And you can buy insurance for practically everything. Just keep in mind that insurance companies make their profit by taking in more money from insurance sales than they lay out in claims. So as a general rule, insurance is a bad bet. The reason for insurance is if the cost of what the insurance is protecting against is large enough so that it would be disruptive to your personal finances. If you can observe the cost with little or no pain, don’t buy insurance.

Medical insurance is something almost everyone should have as medical costs can and do result in personal bankruptcies. Even if you have medicare, medicare does not cover everything, and what it doesn’t cover could be large enough to cause a personal bankruptcy.

Dental insurance is backwards. Typically they pay fully for inexpensive charges, and pay only partially for expensive charges. Unless the dental insurance provides better rates, don’t buy it.

In cases where insurance is required by law, definitely buy it.

Beware of the politics of fear. Trump ran on the politics of fear. The premise was to make America great again. But the reality was that America was still great. In terms of its economic performance agains other countries, American was at or near the top. Clearly, there were individuals who were not well off, but that’s the nature of capitalism. Trump said he felt their pain, and that he would fix things, without any plausible explanations as to how. People just believed in him.

Then Trump engaged in the politics of fear against Mexicans and Moslems. If one bothered to examine the relevant statistics rather than the claim, one would have concluded that they were bogus.

Trump lies. He’s very good at it because there is every reason to believe that he is suffering from delusional disorder. He could be tested for this by hooking him up to a polygraph (lie detector). There would be no indications that he was lying. It appears that he exists in his own reality where he is always telling the truth. Apparently Trump supporters are also living in their own realities, or they should be noting the lying and the inconsistencies.

A good rule is never to believe any politician. Check what they say and whether they contradict themselves. Let them change their minds, because they should be changing their minds on the basis of new information. Increase your degree of belief as warranted by additional information.

© 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

Schooling the Emotions

March 24, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of the last chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” The chapter begins with calling the roll for a class in Self Science at the Nueva School. Each student responds not with “here” or “present” but with a number from 1 to 10. 1 means low spirits and 10 high spirits. They explain their ratings and low numbers can warrant considerable discussion.

The subject in Self Science is feelings—your own and those that erupt in relationships. The nature of the topic demands that teachers and students focus on the emotional fabric of a child’s life—a focus that is determinedly ignored in almost every other classroom in America. The strategy includes using the tensions and traumas of children’s lives as the topic of the day. Teachers speak to real issues—hurt over being left out, envy, disagreements that could escalate into a schoolyard battle. As Karen Stone McOwen, the developer of the Self Science Curriculum and founder of Nueva, put it, “Learning doesn’t take place in isolation from kid’s feelings. Being emotionally literate is as important as instruction in math and reading.”

The chapter includes a discussion of the Cooperation Squares game, in which students team up to put together a series of square-shaped jigsaw puzzles. The catch: their teamwork is all in silence, with no gesturing allowed. The class is divided into three groups, each assigned to a different table. Three observers, each familiar with the game, get an evaluation sheet to assess, for example, who in the group takes the lead in organizing, who is a clown, who disrupts.

One group finishes quickly; a second group starts slowly at first, but then finishes; the third group struggles. The teacher offers some encouragement: “Those of you who have finished can give one specific hint to those who are still working. A suggestion is made and the puzzle is solved.

During a discussion mulling over the object lessons in teamwork that were learned an argument breaks out as to what gesturing is and whether it is allowed. The argument begins to get somewhat loud and the teacher says “This isn’t a criticism—you cooperated very well, but Tucker, try to say what you mean in a tone of voice that doesn’t sound so critical. The discussion as to how best to be positive in making a point and in providing advice.

Students in Self Science learn that the point is not to avoid conflict completely, but to resolve disagreement and resentment before it spirals in and out-and-out fight. Assertiveness as distinct from aggression or passivity is taught at Nueva from third grade on. It emphasizes expressing feelings forthrightly, but in a way that will not spiral into aggression. Writing this, HM had the thought that, perhaps, Self Science should be taught in the US Congress. Self Science has been effective in the inner city. On second thought, yes, perhaps in the inner city, but not in the US Congress.

Dr. David Hamburg, a psychiatrist and president of the Carnegie Corporation, which has evaluated some pioneering emotional-education programs, sees the years of transition into grade school and then again into junior high or middle school as marking two crucial points in a child’s development. From ages 6 to 11 school is a crucible and a defining experience that will heavily influence children’s adolescence and beyond. A child’s sense of self-worth depends substantially on his or her ability to achieve in school. A child who failed in school sets in motion the self-defeating attitudes that can dim prospects for an entire lifespan. Among the essentials for profiting from school are an ability to postpone gratification, to be socially responsible in appropriate ways, to maintain control over their emotions, and to have have an optimistic outlook—in other words, emotional intelligence.

Puberty, because it is a time of extraordinary change in the child’s biology, thinking capacities, and brain functioning, is also a crucial time for emotional and social lessons. As for the teen years Hamburg observes that “most adolescents are 10 to 15 years old when they are exposed to sexuality, alcohol and drugs, smoking and other temptations.”

Hamburg notes that as students are entering middle school just on the cusp of adolescence, there is something different about those who have had emotional intelligence classes: they find the new pressures of peer politics, the upping of academic demands, and the temptations to smoke and use drugs less troubling than do their peers. They have mastered emotional abilities that, at least for the short term, inoculate them against the turmoil and pressures they are about to face.

The following stop light is used in self science for impulse control:
Red light 1. Stop, calm down, and think before you act.
Yellow light 2. Say the problem and how you feel.
3. Set a positive goal.
4. Think of posts of solutions.
5. Think ahead of the consequences.
Green Light 6. Go ahead and try the best plan.

SELF SCIENCE OBJECTIVES

EMOTIONAL SELF-AWARENESS
* Improvement in recognizing and naming own emotions.
* Better able to understand the causes of feelings
* Recognizing the difference between feelings and actions

MANAGING EMOTIONS

* Better frustration tolerance and anger management
* Fewer verbal put-downs, fights, and classroom disruptions
* Better able to express anger appropriately, without fighting
* Fewer suspensions and expulsions
* Less aggressive or self-destructive behavior
* More positive feelings about self, school, and family
* Better at handling stress
* Less loneliness and social anxiety

HARNESSING EMOTIONS PRODUCTIVELY

* More responsible
* Better able to focus on the task at hand and pay attention
* Less impulsive; more self-control
* Improved scores on achievement tests

EMPATHY: READING EMOTIONS

* Better able to take another person’s perspective
* improve empathy and sensitivity to other’s feelings
* Better at listening to others

HANDLING RELATIONSHIPS

* Increased ability to analyze and understand relationships
* Better at resolving conflicts and negotiating disagreements
* Better at solving problems in relationships
* More assertive and skilled in communicating
* More popular and outgoing friendly and involved with peers
* More sought out by peers
* More concerned and considerate
* More “pro-social” and harmonious in groups
* More sharing, cooperation, and helpfulness
* More democratic in dealing with others

Some might argue that teachers are already overloaded. How can more demands be place upon them? The answer is that increasing emotional intelligence will not only make them better and more effective students, but is also likely that these lessons will also have beneficial effect for many families.

The Cost of Emotional Illiteracy

March 23, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” To get a sense of the cost of emotional illiteracy just watch the news or read the newspaper, and ask yourself, how many incidents were the result of a lack of emotional intelligence?

We have been, and we still are suffering from an emotional malaise. Consider children. Too many children are plagued by the following problems:

*Withdrawal or social problems: preferring to be alone; being secretive; sulking a lot; lacking energy; feeling unhappy; being overly dependent.

*Anxious and depressed: being lonely; having many fears and worries; needing to be perfect; feeling unloved; feeling nervous or sad and depressed.

*Attention or thinking problems: unable to pay attention or still daydreaming; acting without thinking; being too nervous to concentrate; doing poorly on schoolwork; unable to get mind off thoughts. Perhaps it is ironic that the new technology has contributed to thinking problems. Plugged in children are checking to see if they’re liked. They’re flitting from topic to topic; superficially processing and rarely engaging in detailed thinking.

*Delinquent or aggressive: hanging around kids who get in trouble; lying and cheating; arguing a lot; being mean to other people; demanding attention; destroying other people’s things; disobeying at home and at school; being stubborn and moody; talking too much; teasing a lot; having a hot temper.

Goleman writes, While any of these problems in isolation raises no eyebrows, taken as a group they are barometers of a sea change, a new kind of toxicity seeping into and poisoning the very experience of childhood, signifying sweeping deficits in emotion competencies. The emotional malaise seems to be a universal price of modern life for children.

Urie Bronfenbfrenner, the eminent Cornell University developmental psychologist who did an international comparison of children’s well being said: “In the absence of good support systems, external stresses have become so great that even strong families are falling apart. The hecticness, instability, and inconsistency of daily family life are rampant in all segments of our society, including the well-educated and well-to-do. What is at stake is nothing less than the next generation, particularly males, who in growing up are especially vulnerable to such disruptive forces as the devastating effects of divorce poverty and unemployment.

Bullying is a recognized problem. Moreover, technology has provided yet another means of bullying. This bullying has resulted in suicides of the bullied parties. Not all angry children are bullies; some are social outcasts who overreact to being teased or to what they perceive as slights or unfairness. The one perceptual flaw that unites such children is that they perceive slights where none were intended, imagining their peers to be more hostile toward them than they really are.

Depression should not just be treated, but prevented in children. Even mild episodes of depression in children augur more severe episodes later in life. Of course, every child gets sad from time to time; childhood and adolescence are like adulthood, time of occasional disappointments and losses large and small with attendant grief. The need for prevention is not for these times, but for those children for whom sadness spirals downward into a gloom that leave them despairing, irritable, and withdrawn—a far more severe melancholy.

The cost to children goes beyond the suffering caused by depression itself Kids learn social skills in their peer relations such as what to do if you want something and aren’t getting it, seeing how other children handle the situation and then trying it yourself. But depressed kinds are likely to be among the neglected children in a school, the ones other kids don’t play with much.

Depression can be short -circuited by stopping depressionogenric ways of thought. Just as with adults, pessimistic ways of interpreting life’s defeats seem to feed the sense of helplessness and hopelessness at the heart of children’s depression. Research has found that children are more prone to melancholy toward this pessimistic outlook before they become depressed. This provides a window of opportunity for inoculating them against depression before it strikes.

There was a study of low-level depression, which is depression not severe enough to say it was beyond ordinary unhappiness, at a high school in Oregon. Seventy-five of the mildly depressed students learned to challenge the thinking patters associated with depression, to become more adept at making friends, to get along better with their parents, and to engage in more social activities they found pleasant. By the end of the eight-week program, 55% of the students had recovered from their mild depression, while only about a quarter of equally depressed students not in the program had begun to pull out of their depression. A year later a quarter of those in the comparison group had gone on to fall into a major depression as opposed to only 14% of students in the depression-prevention program. The eight session program seemed to have cut the risk of depression in half.

Steven Asher, a University of Illinois psychologist has designed a series of “friendship coaching” sessions for unpopular children. He identified third and fourth graders who were least liked in their classes. Asher gave them six sessions in how to “make playing games more fun” through being friendly, fun, and nice.” To avoid stigma, the children were told that they were acting as “consultants” to the coach, who was trying to learn what kinds of things make it more enjoyable to play games. This mini course in getting along had a remarkable effect: a year later the children who’re coached—all of whom were selected because they were the least liked in class—were now solidly in the middle of classroom popularity.

Problems such as eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse need to have special programs.

Goleman argues for no more wars on such problems. Rather a final common preventive pathway to prevention is needed. In a five-year project sponsored by the W.T. Grant Foundation, a consortium of researchers studied the research and distilled the active ingredients that seemed crucial to successful programs. The emotional skills include self-awareness, identifying, expressing, and managing feelings; impulse control and delaying gratification; and handling stress and anxiety. A key ability in impulse control is knowing the difference between feelings and actions, and learning to make better emotional decisions by first controlling the impulse to act, then identifying alternative actions and their consequences before acting. Many competencies are interpersonal: reading social and emotional cues, listening, being able to resist negative influences, taking others’ perspectives, and understanding what behavior is acceptable in a situation.

The next post will provide an answer to the question, “What would an education in emotions look like?”

Temperament Is Not Destiny

March 22, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Goleman writes, “The clearest answer to this question comes from the work of Jerome Kagan, the eminent psychologist at Harvard University.” For those who do not want to continue reading this post, the answer is that temperament is most definitely not destiny. For those who want to understand why this is the case, please continue reading.

Kagan posits that there are at least four temperamental types—timid, bold, upbeat, and melancholy—and that each is due to a different pattern of brain activity. There are likely innumerable differences in patterns of brain activity, each based on innate differences in temperamental endowment, each based on innate differences in emotional circuitry; for any given emotion people can differ in how easily it triggers, how long it lasts, and how intense it becomes. Kagan’s work concentrates on the dimension of temperament that runs from boldness to timidity.

Mothers have been bringing their infants and toddlers to Kagan’s Laboratory for Child Development for decades. Kagan and his coresearchers noticed early signs of shyness in a group of twenty-one-month old toddlers brought in for experimental observations. In free play with other toddlers, some were bubbly and spontaneous, playing with other babies without the least hesitation. However, others were uncertain and hesitant, hanging back, clinging to their mothers, quietly watching the others at play. Almost four years later, when these same children were in kindergarten, Kagan’s group observed them again. Over the intervening years none of the outgoing children had become timid, while two thirds of the timid ones were still reticent.

Kagan believes that the difference between the timid and the bold lies in the excitability of a neural circuit centered in the amygdala. Kagan proposes that people who are prone to fearfulness are born with a neurochemistry that makes this circuit easily aroused, so they avoid the unfamiliar, shy away from uncertainty, and suffer anxiety. Those who have a nervous system calibrated with a much higher threshold for amygdala arousal, are less easily frightened, more naturally outgoing, and eager to explore new places and meet new people.

When young men and women who were quite shy in childhood are measured in a laboratory while exposed to stresses such as harsh smells, their heart rate stays elevated much longer than for their outgoing peers. This is a sign that surging norepinephrine is keeping their amygdala excited and, through connected neural circuits, their sympathetic nervous system aroused. Kagan found that timid children levels of reactivity across the range of sympathetic nervous system indices, from higher resting blood pressure and greater dilation of the pupils, to higher levels of norepinephrine markers in their urine.

Moving to the upbeat-melancholy continuum, some people’s emotions seem to gravitate toward the positive pole. These people are naturally upbeat and easygoing, while others are dour and melancholy. This dimension of temperament—ebullience at one end, melancholy at the other—seems linked to the relative activity of the right and left prefrontal areas. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, someone who has appeared in many previous healthymemory blog posts, discovered that people who have greater activity in the left frontal lobe compared to the right, are by temperament cheerful; they typically take delight in people and in what life presents them with.

The encouraging news from Kagan’s studies is that not all fearful infants grow up hanging back from life—temperament is not destiny, Kagan’s research team found that some of the mothers held to the philosophy that they should protect their timid toddlers from whatever was upsetting; others felt it was more important to help their children learn how to cope with these upsetting moments, and so adapt to life’s small struggles. The protective belief seems to have abetted fearfulness, probably by depriving the youngsters of opportunities for learning how to overcome their fears: The “learn to adapt” philosophy of childrearing seems to have helped fearful children become braver.

Kagan’s conclusion: “It appears that mothers who protect their highly reactive infants from frustration and anxiety in the hope of effecting a benevolent outcome seem to exacerbate the infant’s uncertainty and produce the opposite effect.

Some children, though shy by temperament, who were more emotionally competent, spontaneously outgrew their timidity. Being more socially skilled, they were far more likely to have a succession of positive experiences with other children. For example, even if they were tentative about speaking to a new playmate, once the ice was broken they were able to shine socially.

Even innate emotional patterns can change to some degree. A child who comes into the world easily frightened can learn to be calmer, or even outgoing, in the face of the familiar. Fearfulness—or any other temperament—may be part of the biological givens of our emotional lives, but we are not necessarily limited to a specific emotional menu by our inherited traits. Our emotional capacities are not a given; with the right learning, they can be improved. The reasons for this lie in how the human brain matures.

Psychotherapy can be systematic emotional relearning. It stands as a case in point of the way experience can both change emotional patterns and shape the brain. One of the most dramatic demonstrations of this point comes from a study of people being treated for obsessive-compulsive disorders. Hand washing is one of the more common compulsions which can be done so often, even hundreds of times a day, that the person’s skin cracks. PET scan studies show that obsessive-compulsives have greater than normal activity in their prefrontal lobes. Half of the patients in the study received the standard drug treatment, fluoxetine (better known by the brand name Prozac), and half behavior therapy. During the therapy they were systematically exposed to the object of their obsession or compulsion without performing it; patients with hand-washing compulsions were put at a sink, but not allowed to wash. At the same time they learned to question the fears and dreads that spurned them on—for example the failure to wash would mean that they would get a disease and die. Gradually, through months of such training, the compulsions faded, just as they did with the medications. A PET scan test showed that the behavior therapy patients had as significant a decrease in the activity of a key part of the emotional brain, the caudate nucleus as did the patients successfully treated with the drug fluoxetine.

Several brain areas critical for emotional life are among the slowest to mature. The sensory areas mature during early childhood, and the limbic system by puberty, the frontal lobes—seat of emotional self-control, understanding, and artful response, do not fully mature until the mid twenties.

One of the most essential emotional lessons, first learned in infancy and refined throughout childhood, is how to soothe oneself when upset. This art of soothing oneself is mastered over many years and with new means, as brain maturation offers a child progressively more sophisticated emotional tools. The frontal lobes, so important for regulating limbic pulse mature into the mid-twenties. Another key circuit that continues to shape itself through childhood centers on the vagus nerve, which at one end regulates the heart and other parts of the body, and at the other sends signals to the amygdala via other circuits, prompting to secrete the catecholamines, which is the prime fight-or-flight response. A University of Washington team that assessed the impact of childrearing discovered that emotionally adept parenting led to a change for the better in vagus-nerve function. John Gotten, the psychologist who led the research explained, “Parents modify their children’s vagal tone”—a measure of how easily triggered the vagus nerve is—“by coaching them emotionally: talking to children about their feelings and how to understand them, not being critical and judgmental, problem-solving about emotional predicaments, coaching them on what to do like alternatives to hitting, or were better able to suppress the vagal activity that keep the amygdala priming the body with fight-or-flight hormones—and so were better behaved.

© 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.

Trauma and Emotional Relearning

March 21, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” The primary topic of this chapter is the frequently discussed and written about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a disorder of the limbic system. The main symptoms of such learned fearfulness, including the most intense kind, can be accounted for by changes in the limbic circuitry focusing on the amygdala. Some key changes are in the locus ceruleus, a structure that regulates the brain’s secretion of two substances called catecholamines: adrenaline and noradrenaline. The neurochemicals mobilize the body for any emergency; the same catecholamine surge stamps memories with special strength. This system becomes hyperactive in PTSD, secreting extra-large doses of these brain chemicals in response to situations that hold little or no threats, but somehow are reminders of the original trauma.

The locus ceruleus and the amygdala are closely linked, along with other limbic structures such as the hippocampus and hypothalamus; the circuitry for the catecholamines extends into the cortex. Changes in the circuits are thought to underlie PTSD symptoms, which include anxiety, fear, hyper vigilance, being easily upset and aroused, readiness for fight or flight, and the indelible encoding of intense emotional memories. One study found that Vietnam vets with PTSD had 40% fewer catecholamine-stopping receptors than did men without the symptoms, suggesting that their brains had undergone a lasting change, with their catecholamine secretion poorly controlled.

Other changes occur in the circuit linking the limbic brain with the pituitary gland, which regulates the release of CRF, the main stress hormone the body secretes to mobilize the emergency fight-or-flight response. The changes lead this hormone to be overselected—particularly in the amygdala, hippocampus and locus ceruleus—alerting the body for an emergency that is not there in reality.

A third set of changes occurs in the brain’s opiod system, which secretes endorphins to blunt the feeling of pain. It also becomes hyperactive. This neural circuit again involves the amygdala, this time in concert with a region in the cerebral cortex. The opioids are powerful numbing agents, like opium and other narcotics that are chemical cousins. When experiencing high levels of opioids, people have a heightened tolerance for pain.

Something similar seems to occur in PTSD. Endorphin changes add a new dimension to the neural mix triggered by preexposure to trauma: a numbing of certain feelings. This seems to explain a set of “negative” psychological symptoms long noted in PTSD: anhedonia and a general emotional numbness, a sense of being cut off from life or from concern about others’ feelings. Those close to such people may experience this indifference as a lack of empathy. Another possible effect may be dissociation, which includes the inability to remember crucial minutes, hours, or even days of the traumatic event.

The neural changes of PTSD also seem to make a person more susceptible to further traumatizing. A number of studies with animals have found that when they were exposed even to mild stress when young, they were far more vulnerable than unstressed animals to trauma -induced brain changes later in life. This seems to be a reason that, exposed to the same catastrophe, one person goes on to develop PTSD, and another does not: the amygdala is primed to find danger, and when life presents it once again wth real danger, the alarm rises to a higher pitch.

All these neural changes offer short-term advantages for dealing with the the grim and dire angers that prompt them. However, these short-term advantages become a lasting problem when the brain changes so that they become predispositions, like a car stuck in high gear. The amygdala and its connected brain regions take on a new set point during a moment of intense trauma.

Dr. Judith Lewis Herman is a Harvard psychiatrist whose groundbreaking work outlines the steps to recovery from trauma. The first step is regaining a sense of safety, presumably translates to finding ways to calm the too-fearful, too easily triggered emotions circuits enough to allow relearning. Typically this begins with helping parties understand that their jumpiness and nightmares, hyper vigilance and panics, are part of the symptoms of PTSD. The understanding makes the symptoms themselves less frightening.

The sense in which PTSD patients feel “unsafe” goes beyond fears that dangers lurk all around them: their insecurity begins more intimately in the feeling that they have no control over what is happening in their body and to their emotions. This is understandable, given the hair-trigger for emotional hijacking that PTSD creates by hyper sensitizing the amygdala circuitry.

Medication offers some way to restore patients’ sense that they need not be so at the mercy of the emotional alarms that flood them with anxiety, keep them sleepless, or pepper their sleep with nightmares. Unfortunately, today’s medications preclude doing exactly what they would like to achieve. For now, there are medications that counter only some of the needed changes, notably the antidepressants that act on the serotonin system and beta-blockers like propanol, which block the activation of the sympathetic nervous system.

Patients also may learn relaxation techniques that give them the ability to counter their edginess and nervousness. A physiological calm opens a window for helping the brutalized emotional circuitry rediscover that life is not a threat and for giving back to patients some of the sense of security they had in their lives before the trauma occurred.

Another step in healing involves retelling and reconstructing the story of the trauma in the harbor of that safety, allowing the emotional circuitry to acquire a new, more realistic understanding of and response to the traumatic memory and its triggers. As patients retell the horrific details of the trauma, the memory starts to be transformed, both in its emotional meaning and in its effects on the emotional brain. The pace of this retelling is delicate; ideally it mimics the pace that occurs naturally in those people who are able to recover from trauma without suffering PTSD. In these cases there often seems to be an inner close that “doses” people with intrusive memories that relive the trauma, intercut with weeks or months when they remember hardly anything of the horrible events.

To summarize, psychotherapy serves as an emotion tutorial.

The Family Crucible

March 20, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Goleman writes that research has shown that the three most common emotionally inept parenting styles are:

*Ignoring feelings altogether. Such parents treat a child’s emotional upset as trivial or a bother, something they should wait to blow over. They fail to use emotional moments as a chance to get closer to the child or to help the child learn lessons in emotional competence.

*Being too “laissez-faire.” These parents notice how a child feels, but hold that however a child handles the emotional storm is fine—even, say, hitting. Like those who ignore a child’s feelings, these parents rarely step in to try to show they child an alternative emotional response. They try to smooth all upsets, and will, for instance, use bargaining and bribes to get their child to stop being sad or angry.

*Being contemptuous showing no respect for how the child feels. Such parents are typically disapprovingly harsh in both their criticisms and their punishments. They might for instance, forbid any display of the child’s anger at all, and become punitive as the least sign of irritability. These are parents who angrily yell at a child who is trying to to tell his side of the story, “Don’t you talk back to me!”

The default method of parenting most parents adopt is how they were raised. Unfortunately this propagates many poor parenting methods yielding low emotional intelligence. Effective parenting requires a fairly good grasp of the rudiments of emotional intelligence. Reading Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence” provides the base knowledge, but being emotionally intelligent also requires substantial practice. As will be come apparent, even if parents know what to do, it can be quite demanding.

A child’s readiness for school depends on the most basic of all knowledge, how to learn. A report from the National Center for Clinical Infant Programs makes the point that school success is not predicted by a child’s fund of facts or precocious ability to read so much as by emotions and social measures. The report lists seven key ingredients of this crucial capacity—all related to emotional intelligence.

Confidence. A sense of control and mastery of one’s body, behavior, and world; the child’s sense that he is more likely than not to succeed at what he undertakes, and that adults will be helpful.
Curiosity. The sense that finding out about things is positive and leads to pleasure.
Intentionality. The wish and capacity to have an impact, and to act upon that with persistence. This is related to a sense of competence, of being effective.
Self-control. The ability to modulate and control one’s own actions in age-appropriate ways; a sense of inner control.
Relatedness. The ability to engage with others based on the sense of being understood by and understanding others.
Capacity to communicate. The wish and ability to verbally exchange ideas, feelings, and concepts with others. This is related to a sense of trust in others and of pleasure in engaging with others, including adults.
Cooperativeness. The ability to balance one’s own needs with those of others in group activity.

Two examples of getting the emotional basics follow: one is how to and one is how not to:
“Say a two-month-old baby was up at 3 A.M. and starts crying. Her mother comes in and, for the next half hour, the baby contentedly nurses in her mother’s arms while her mother gazes at her affectionately, telling her that she’s happy to see her, even in the middle of the night. The baby, content in her mother’s love, drifts back to sleep.”
“Now a comparable baby, who also awoke crying in the wee hours, is met instead by a mother who is tense and irritable, having fallen asleep just an hour before after a fight with her husband. The baby starts to tense up the moment his mother abruptly picks him up, telling him, “Just be quiet—I can’t stand one more thing! Come on, let’s get it over with.” As the baby nurses his mother stares stonily ahead, not looking at him, reviewing her fight with his father, getting more agitated herself as she mulls it over. The baby, sensing her tension, squirms, stiffens, and stops nursing. “That’s all you want?” his mother asks. “Then don’t eat.” With the same abruptness she puts him back in his crib and stalks out, letting him cry until he falls back to sleep exhausted.” Goleman notes, “Of course, most babies get a least a taste of both kinds of interaction. But to the degree that one or the other is typical of how parents treat a child over the years, basic emotional lessons will be imparted about how secure a child is in the world, how effective he feels, and how dependable others are. Erik Erikson put in terms of whether a child comes to feel a “basic trust” or a “basic mistrust.”

All the small exchanges between parent and child have an emotional subtext, and in the repetition of these message over the years children form the core of their emotional outlook and capabilities. A little girl who finds a puzzle frustrating and asks her busy mother to help gets one message if the reply is the mother’s clear pleasure at the request and another if it’s a curt “Don’t bother me—I’ve got important work to do.” When such encounters become typical of child and parent, they modify the child’s emotional expectations about relationships. They mold the child’s emotional expectations about the relationships, outlooks that will flavor her functioning in all realms of life for better or worse.

It is clear that a mother loving and wanting a child is key to developing an emotionally intelligent child. This is also true for the father. The absence of this love and desire to have a child, and the absence of a father make this difficult. It is one matter to be pro life, but perhaps more important to be pro quality life.

During the first three or four years of life are a period when the toddler’s brain grows to about two thirds its full size, and evolves in complexity at a greater rate than it ever will again. During this period key kinds of learning take place more readily than later in life—emotional learning foremost among them. During this time severe stress can impair the brain’s learning centers, damaging the intellect.

Child abuse results in the extinction of empathy. Goleman writes that what is perhaps most troubling about abused toddlers is how early they seem to have learned to respond like miniature versions of their own abusive parents. The next post will discuss Trauma and Emotional Relearning.

Mind and Medicine

March 19, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” There are two extreme views regarding the mind and medicine. One view, and it is unfortunate that there are physicians who hold this view, is that there is no relationship between the mind and medicine. The other extreme is that the mind controls all and medicine is unnecessary. Actually, this extreme view is the view adopted by some religions such as Christian Scientists, that prayer and meditation, not the mind, provides the basis for treating all illnesses. As the reader will see, the truth lies somewhere in between.

The truth is that there are links between the immune system and the central nervous system, and the field that studies this, psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is a leading-edge medical science. It’s name acknowledges the links: psycho, or mind; neuro, for the neuroendocrine system (which subsumes the nervous system and hormone systems); and immunology, for the immune system.

Some surgeons will cancel scheduled surgeries for people who are panicked by the prospect of surgery. Every surgeon knows that people who are extremely scared do terribly in surgery. They bleed too much, they have more infections and complications, and they have a harder time recovering. Patients do much better if they are calm.

A study of anger in heart patients was done at Stanford University Medical School. All the patients in the study had suffered a first heart attack, and the question was whether anger might have a significant impact of some kind on their heart function. While the patients recounted incidents that made them mad, the pumping efficiency of their hearts dropped by 5 percentage points. Some patients showed a drop in pumping efficiency of 7% or greater. This is a range that cardiologists regard as a sign of myocardial ischemia, a dangerous drop in blood to the heart itself.

Another study by Dr. Redford Williams of Duke University found that those physicians who had had the highest scores on a test of hostility while still in medical school were seven times as likely to have died by the age of fifty as were those with low hostility scores. This is a stronger predictor of dying your than were other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Anxiety, the distress evoked by life’s pressures, is perhaps the emotion with the greatest weight of scientific evidence connecting it to the onset of sickness and course of recovery. Yale psychologist Bruce McEwen noted a broad spectrum of effects: compromising immune functions to the point that it can speed the metastasis of cancer; increasing vulnerability to viral infections; exacerbating plaque formation leading to atherosclerosis and blood clotting leading to myocardial infarction; accelerating the onset of Type 1 diabetes and the course of Type II diabetes; and worsening or triggering an asthma attack. Stress can also lead to ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract, triggering symptoms in ulcerative colitis and in inflammatory bowel disease. The brain itself is susceptible to the long-term effects of sustained stress, including damage to the hippocampus, and so to memory.

There are also medical costs of depression. In patients with chronic kidney failures who were receiving dialysis, those who were diagnosed with major depression were most likely to die within the following two years; depression was a stronger predictor of death than any medical sign.

Heart disease is also exacerbated by depression. A study of 2832 middle-aged men and women tracked for twelve years, those who felt a sense of nagging despair and hopelessness had a heightened rate of death from heart disease. For the 3% who were most severely depressed, the death rate from heart disease compared to those with no feelings of depression was four times greater.

As there are medical costs to pessimism, there are medical advantages to optimism. For example, 122 men who had their first heart attack were evaluated on their degree of optimism or pessimism. Eight years later, of the 25 most pessimistic men, 21 had died; of the 25 most optimistic, just 6 had died.

There is medical value from relationships. Two decades of research involving more than 37,000 people show that social isolation, the sense that you have nobody with whom you can share your private feelings or have close contact—doubles the chance of sickness or death. A 1987 report in “Science” concluded that isolation is as significant to mortality rates as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and and lack of physical exercise. Goleman takes care to note that solitude is not the same as isolation; many people who live on their own or see few friends are content and healthy. Rather, it is the subjective sense of being cut of from people and having no one to turn to that is a medical risk.

Goleman argues that for medicine to enlarge its vision to embrace the impact of emotions, two large implications of the scientific findings must be taken to heart:

HELPING PEOPLE BETTER MANAGE THEIR UPSETTING FEELINGS—ANGER, ANXIETY, DEPRESSION, PESSIMISM, AND LONELINESS IS A FORM OF DISEASE PREVENTION. The data show that the toxicity of these emotions, when chronic, is on a par with smoking cigarettes, helping people handle them better could potentially have a medical payoff as great as getting heavy smokers to quit. One way to do this that could have broad public-health effects would be to impart most basic emotional intelligence skills to children, so that they become lifelong habits. Another high-payoff preventive strategy would be to teach emotion management to people reaching retirement age, since emotional well-being is one factor that determines whether an older person declines rapidly or thrives. A third target group might be so-called at-risk populations—the very poor, single working mothers, residents of high-crime neighborhoods, and the like—who live under extraordinary pressure day in and day out, and so might do better medically with help in handing the emotional toll of these stresses.
MANY PATIENTS CAN BENEFIT MEASURABLY WHEN THEIR PSYCHOLOGICAL NEEDS ARE ATTENDED TO ALONG WITH THEIR PURELY MEDICAL ONES. While it is a step toward more humane care when a physician or nurse offers a distressed patient comfort and consolation, more can be done. But emotional care is an opportunity too often out of the way medicine is practiced today; it is a blind spot for medicine. Despite mounting data on the medical usefulness of attending to emotional needs, as well as supporting evidence for connecting between the brain’s emotional center and the immune system, many physicians remain skeptical that their patients’ emotions matter clinically, dismissing the evidence of this as trivial and anecdotal, as “fringe, or worse as the exaggerations of a self-promoting few.

Managing with Heart

March 18, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” A new competitive reality is putting intelligence at a premium in the workplace and in the marketplace. Shoshone Zuboff, a psychologist at Harvard Business School pointed out to Goleman, “corporations have gone though a radical revolution within the 20th century, and with this has come a corresponding transformation of the emotional landscape. There was a long period of managerial domination of the corporate hierarchy when the manipulative, jungle-fighter boss was rewarded. But that rigid hierarchy started breaking down in the 1980s under the twin pressures of globalization and information technology. The jungle fighter symbolizes where the corporation has been; the virtuosic in interpersonal skills is the corporate future.”

All the deleterious effects of agitation on thinking discussed in previous healthy memory blog posts operate in the workplace too: When emotionally upset, people cannot remember, attend, learn, or make decisions clearly. One management consultant, likely many management consultants, have said, “Stress makes people stupid.”

A discussion of the importance of emotional intelligence to three issues of the workplace will be presented: being able to air grievances as helpful critiques, creating an atmosphere in which diversity is valued, and networking effectively.

The worst way to motivate someone is through personal attacks rather then complaints that can be acted upon. One of the more common forms of destructive criticism is a generalized statement like “You’re screwing up,” delivered in a harsh, sarcastic, angry tone that provides neither a chance to respond nor any suggestion of how to do things better. The person receiving it feels helpless and angry. From the point of emotional intelligence, such criticism displays an ignorance of feelings it triggers in those who receive it, along with the devastating effect these feelings will have on their motivation, energy, and confidence in doing their work.

This destructive dynamic was found in a survey of managers who were asked to think back to times they blew up at employees and, in the heat of the moment, made a personal attack. The angry attacks had effects much like they would in a married couple: the employees who received them reacted most often by becoming defensive, making excuses, or evading responsibility. Sometimes they stonewalled in that they tried to avoid all contact with the manager who blew up at them. If these employees had been subjected to the emotional microscope of John Gottman used with married couples that was described in the blog post “Intimate Enemies,” they would no doubt have been shown to be thinking the thoughts of innocent victimhood or righteous indignation typical of husbands or wives who feel unfairly attacked. If their physiology were measured, they would probably also display the flooding that reinforces such thoughts. Yet these managers were only further annoyed and provoked by these responses. Goleman suggests that this would be the beginning of a cycle in the business world that ends in the employee quitting or being fired. This is the business equivalent of a divorce.

J.R. Larson, a psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana, notes that “most problems in an employee’s performance are not sudden. They develop slowly over time. When the boss fails to let his feelings be known promptly, it leads to his frustration building up slowly. Then, one day, he blows up about it. If the criticism had been given earlier on, the employee would have been able to correct the problem. Too often people criticize only when things boil over, when they get too angry to contain themselves. And that’s when they give the criticism in the worst way, in a tone of biting sarcasm, calling to mind a long list of grievances they have kept to themselves, or making threats. Such attacks backfire. They are received as an affront, so the recipient becomes angry in return. It’s the worst way to motivate someone.”

Harry Levinson, who is a psychoanalyst turned corporate consultant, gives the following advice on a critique, which is intricately entwined with the art of praise:

“*Be specific. Pick a significant incident, an event that illustrates a key problem that needs changing or a pattern of deficiency, such as the inability to do certain parts of a job well. It demoralizes people just to hear that they are doing “something” wrong, without knowing what the specifics are so they can change. Focus on the specifics, saying what the person did well, what was done poorly, and how it could be changed. Don’t beat about the bush or be oblique or evasive; it will muddy the real message. This, of course, is akin to the advice to couples about they “XYZ” statement of a grievance: say exactly what the problem is, what’s wrong with it, or how it makes you feel, and what could be changed.”

Levinson points out, “Specificity is just as important for praise as for criticism. I won’t say the vague praise has no effect at all, but it doesn’t have much, and you can’t learn from it.”

“* Offer a solution. The critique, like all useful feedback, should point a way to fix the problem. Otherwise it leaves the recipient frustrated, demoralized, or unmotivated. The critique may open the door to possibilities and alternatives that the person did not realize were there, or simply sensitize her to deficiencies that need attention—but should include suggestions about how to take care of the problem.”

“*Be present. Critiques, like praise, are most effective face to face and in private. People who are uncomfortable giving a criticism—or offering praise—are likely to ease the burden on themselves by doing it as a distance, such as a memo. But this makes communication too impersonal, and robs the person receiving it of an opportunity for a response or clarification.

“* Be sensitive. This is a call for empathy, for being attuned to the impact of what you say and how you say it on the person at the receiving end, Managers who have little empathy are most prone to giving feedback in a hurtful fashion, such as the withering putdown. The net effect of such criticism is destructive: instead of opening the way for a corrective, it creates an emotional backlash of resentment, bitterness, defensiveness, and distance.”

The key to dealing with diversity is to see value in diversity. Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the United States, if not is greatest strength, is the diversity of its population. It is a country of immigrants coming from many different cultures. Unfortunately, too many people see diversity as a problem or a challenge rather than an opportunity. Efforts to restrict immigration are not only hypocritical, as with the exception of the first Americans, the native Americans, we are all immigrants, but also harmful to our continued growth and productivity. Such people are selfish with the attitude of we’ve got ours, so screw you. They are likely highly prejudiced against people who do not look like them or worship as they do.

Prejudices are a kind of emotional leaning that occurs early in life, making these reactions especially hard to eradicate entirely, even in people who as adults feel it is wrong to hold them. There is a healthy memory blog post, “Implicit versus Explicit Prejudice” which discusses implicit biases. There is also a website
https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ that provides tests for implicit biases. There are tests you can take to measure your implicit bias. Do not be discouraged if you score high on certain biases. These are implicit biases that might well be the result of your experiences and learning when you were young. If your explicit behavior does not reflect any biases, then you can reward yourself for overcoming your biases. However, be very careful. We humans are very good at fooling ourselves, and we have many subterfuges for hiding biases. Moreover, it is irrelevant whether we regard ourselves as being bias free. This judgment is better made by other people, preferably people who are the source of your biases. The bottom line here is to work to rid ourselves of all bias. Bias is bad personally and to our country, and the world. We need to work toward zero tolerance for intolerance.

There is a relationship between diversity and networkingy effectively. Networking effectively entails being knowledgeable about the skills and areas of expertise of your coworkers. Clearly any racial, ethnic,or religious biases will degrade or destroy networking effectively. Peter Drucker, the business maven who coined the term “knowledge worker” noted that with knowledge work, “teams become the work unit rather than the individual himself.” This implies that emotional intelligence, the skills that help people harmonize, are central to networking effectively.

Group intelligence has been discussed in previous healthy memory posts. This idea of a group intelligence comes from the Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg and his graduate student Wendy Williams. They developed this concept when they were seeking to understand why some groups are far more effective than others. When people come together to work as a group, each brings different talents. Goleman writes that “while a group can be no “smarter” than the sum total of all these specific strengths, it can be much dumber if its internal workings don’t allow all of these specific strengths, it can be much dumber if its internal workings don’t allow people to share their strengths.” Although HM certainly agrees with the second part of this statement, he strongly disagrees with the first part. The group can be smarter than the sum of its parts. Synergy is the term to describe this.

The first step in networking effectively is to find as much as you can about potential collaborators. Try to develop personal relationships to learn what they know, what they can do, and what they can contribute. Even if the individual or group does not seem to have relevance, one can invite individuals or groups to meetings to see if they have any ideas as to what they can contribute.

© 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

Intimate Enemies

March 17, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Intimate enemies refers to married couples having marital problems. Marital therapists have long noted that by the time a couple finds their way to a therapy office they are in this pattern of engage-withdraw with the husband complaining about her “unreasonable “ demands and outbursts, and the wife lamenting his indifference to what she is saying. In effect, there are two emotional realities in a couple, his and hers. The roots of these emotional differences, although they may be partly biological, can also be traced back to childhood, and to the separate emotional worlds boys and girls inhabit while growing up. One study of children’s friendships found that three-year olds say about half their friends are of the opposite sex; for five-year-olds it’s about 20%, and by age seven almost no boys or girls say they have a best friend of the opposite sex. Until teenagers start dating, these separate universes intersect little.

Boys and girls are taught very different lessons about handling emotions. In general, parents discuss emotions—with the exception of anger—more with their daughters than with their sons. Girls are exposed to more information about emotions than are boys; when parents make up stories to tell their preschool children, they use more emotion words when talking to daughters than to sons. When mothers play with their infants, they display a wider range of emotions to daughters than to their sons; when mothers talk to daughters about feelings, they discuss in more detail the emotional state itself than they do with their sons—though with the sons they go into more detail about the causes and consequences of emotions like anger.

Two researchers who have summarized the research on differences in emotions between the sexes, Leslie Brody and Judith Hall, propose that because girls develop facility with language more quickly than do boys, this leads them to be more experienced at articulating their feelings and more skilled than boys at using words to explore and substitute for emotional reactions such as physical fights. They note “boys, for whom the verbalization of affects is de-emphasized, may become largely unconscious of their emotional states, both in themselves and in others.

At age ten, roughly the same % of girls and boys are overtly aggressive, given to open confrontation when angered. However, by age 13, a telling difference between the sexes emerges: girls become more adept than boys at artful aggressive tactics like ostracism, vicious gossip, and indirect vendettas. By and large, boys simply continue being confrontational when angered, oblivious to these covert strategies. This is just one of the many ways the boys, and later men, are less sophisticated than the opposite sex in emotional skills.

Harvard’s Carol Gilligan notes that differences between boys and girls at play point to a key disparity between the sexes: boys take pride in a lone, tough-minded independence and autonomy, while girls see themselves as part of a web of connectedness. So boys are threatened by anything that might challenge their independence, while girls are more threatened by a rupture in their relationships. Deborah Tannen pointed out in her book “You Just Don’t Understand,” these differing perspectives mean that men and women want and expect very different things out of a conversation, with men content to talk about “things,” while women seek emotional connection.

A psychologist at the University of Texas, Ted Huston, who has studied couples in depth, observes, “To the wives, intimacy means talking things over, especially talking about the relationship itself. By and large, the men don’t understand what their wives want from them. Huston found that during courtship men were much more willing to spend time talking in ways that suited the wish for intimacy of their wives-to-be. But once married, as time went on the men—especially more traditional couples, spent less and less time talking in this way with their wives, finding a sense of closeness simply in doing things like gardening together rather than talking things over. Men tend to be somewhat Pollyannaish about the state of they marriage, while their wives are attuned to the trouble spots.

There are implications of this emotional gender gap for how couples handle the grievances and disagreements that any intimate relationship inevitably spawns. Specific issues such as how often a couple has sex, how to discipline children, or how much debt and savings a couple feels comfortable with are not what makes or breaks a marriage. Rather, it is how a couple discusses such sore points that matter for the fate of their marriage. Simply having reached an agreement about how to disagree is key to marital survival; men and women have to overcome the innate genre differences in approaching rocky emotions. Failing this, couples are vulnerable to emotional rifts that eventually can tear their relationship apart. These rifts are far more likely to develop if one or both partners have certain deficits in emotional intelligence.

John Gottman,a University of Washington psychologist, runs a laboratory that analyses the emotional glue that binds couples together, and the corrosive feelings that can destroy marriages. Couples conversations are videotaped in his laboratory and then subjected to hours of microanalysis designed to reveal the emotional currents at play. This mapping of the faults lines that may lead a couple to divorce makes a convincing case for the crucial role of emotional intelligence in the survival of a marriage. While couples talk sensors record the slightest flux in their physiology, a second-by-second analysis of their facial expressions detects the most fleeting and subtle nuance of feeling. After the session each partner comes separately to the lab and watches a video tape of the conversation, and narrates his or her secret thoughts during the heated moments of the exchange. Dr. Gotten is able to predict which couples will divorce within three years with 94% accuracy.

There are important differences between complaints and personal criticisms. In a complaint, one person states specifically what is upsetting, and criticizes the other’s action, not the person, about how it made the person feel. “When you forgot to pick up my clothes at the cleaner’s it made me feel like you don’t care about me.” This is an expression of basic emotional intelligence: assertive, not belligerent or passive. But in a personal criticism the grievance is used to launch a global attack on the person. For example, “You’re always so selfish and uncaring. It just proves I can’t trust you to do anything right.” This kind of criticism leaves the person on the receiving end feeling ashamed, disliked, blamed, and defective—all of which are more likely to lead to a defensive response than to steps to improve things.

The two arms of the fight-or-flight response each represents ways a spouse can respond to an attack. The most obvious is to fight back, lashing out in anger. That route typically ends in a fruitless shouting match. But the alternative response, fleeing, can be more pernicious, particularly when the “flight” is a retreat into stony silence. Stonewalling is the ultimate defense. The stonewaller just goes blank, in effect withdrawing from the conversation by responding with a stony expression and silence. Stonewalling showed up mainly in marriages that were heading for trouble; in 85% of these cases it was the husband who stonewalled in response to a wife who attacked with criticism and contempt. As a habitual response stonewalling is devastating to the health of a relationship: it cuts off all possibility of working out disagreements.

Gotten uses the term “flooding’ for the susceptibility to frequent emotional distress: Flooded husbands or wives are so overwhelmed by their partner’s negativity and their own reaction to it that they are swamped by dreadful, out-of-control feelings. People who are flooded cannot hear without distortion or respond with clear-headedness; they find it hard to organize their thinking and fall back on primitive reactions. They want things to stop, or to run or, sometimes to strike back. Flooding is a self-perpetuating emotional highjacking.

The technical description of flooding is in terms of heart rate rise from calm levels. At rest, the women’s heart rates are about 82 beats per minute, men’s about 72. Flooding begins at about 10 beats per minute above a person’s resting rate; if the heart reaches 100 beats per minute (as it can easily do during moments of rage or tears), then the body is pumping adrenaline and other hormones that keep distress high for some time. The moment of emotional highjacking is apparent from the heart rate: it can jump 10, 20, or even as many as 30 beats per minute within the space of a single heartbeat. Muscles tense; it can seem hard to breathe. There is a swamp of toxic feelings, an unpleasant wash of fear and anger that seems inescapable. This is clearly a dangerous point for a marriage.

Men are the vulnerable sex. Women, on average, do not mind plunging into the unpleasantness of a marital squabble nearly so much as do the men in their lives. Husbands are prone to flooding at a lower intensity of negativity than are their wives. More men than women react to they spouse’s criticism with flooding. Once flooding, husbands secrete more adrenaline into their bloodstream, and their adrenaline flow is triggered by lower levels of negativity on their wife’s part; it takes husbands longer to recover from flooding.

Men are more likely to be stonewallers and women are more likely to criticize their husbands in their assumed roles as emotional managers. There seems to be a fundamental incapability here. So what can be done?

In general, men and women need different emotional fine-tuning. For men, the advice is not to sidestep conflict, but to realize that when their wife brings up some grievance or disagreement, she may be doing it as an act of love trying to keep the relationship healthy and on course (but there may be other motives here). When grievances simmer, they build and build in intensity until there’s an explosion: when they are aired and worked out, it takes the pressure off. But husbands need to realize that anger or discontent is not synonymous with personal attack—their wives emotions are often simply underlines, emphasizing the strength of feelings about the matter.

Men also need to be on guard again short-circuiting the discussion by offering a practical solution too early on—it’s typically more important to a wife that she feel her husband hears her complaining and empathizes with her feelings. Neither party should make personal attacks.

When discussions or arguments become heated, it might be wise to agree to break off the discussion or argument now, and to resume it at a later time.

The Social Arts

March 16, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Before developing interpersonal skills, toddlers must first reach a benchmark of self-control, the beginnings of the capacity to damp down their own anger and distress, their impulses and excitement—even if that ability usually falters. Attunement to others demands a modicum of calm in oneself. Tentative signs of the ability to manage their emotions emerge around this same time: toddlers begin to be able to wait without wailing, to argue or cajole to get their way rather than using brute force—even if they don’t always choose to use this ability. At least occasionally, patience emerges as an alternative to tantrums. Signs of empathy emerge by age two. Handling emotion in someone else, the fine art of relationships, requires the ripeness of two other emotional skills, self-management and empathy.

People skills are the social competences that make for effectiveness in dealings with others. Deficits lead to ineptness in the social world or repeated interpersonal disasters. It is precisely the lack of these skills that can cause even the brightest to founder in their relationships. They come off as arrogant, obnoxious, or insensitive. Goleman concludes, “These social abilities allow one to shape an encounter, to mobilize and inspire others, to thrive in intimate relationships, to persuade and influence, to put others at ease.”

Emotions are contagious. Goleman writes, “We transmit and catch moods from each other in what amounts to a subterranean economy of the psyche in which some encounters are toxic, some nourishing. This emotional exchange is typically at a subtle almost imperceptible level; the way a salesperson says thank you can leave us feeling ignored, resented, or genuinely welcome and appreciated. We catch feelings from one another as though they were some kind of social virus.”

Goleman continues, “We send emotional signals in every encounter, and those signals affect whom we are with. The more adroit we are socially, the better we control the signals we send; the reserve of polite society is, after all simply means to ensure that no disturbing emotional leakage will unsettle the encounter (a social rule that, when brought into the domain of intimate relationships, is stifling). Emotional intelligence includes managing this exchange; ‘popular’ and ‘charming’ are terms we use for people whom we like to be with because their emotional skills make us feel good. People who are able to help others soothe their feelings have an especially valued social commodity; they are the souls others turn to when in greatest emotional need. We are all part of each other’s tool kit for emotional change, for better or worse.”

In a simple experiment two volunteers filled out a check list about their moods of the moment, then simply sat facing each other quietly while waiting for an experimenter to return to the room. Two minutes later the experimenter came back and asked them to fill out a mood checklist again. The pairs were purposely composed of one partner who was highly expressive of emotion and one who was deadpan. Invariably the mood of one who was more expressive of emotions had been transferred to the more passive partner.

Here’s how Goleman explains this transmission. “The most likely answer is that we unconsciously imitate the emotions we see displayed by someone else, through an out-of-awareness motor mimicry of their facial expression, gestures, tone of voice, and other nonverbal markers of emotion. Through this imitation people re-create in themselves the mood of the other person—a low -key version of the Stanislavsky method, in which actors recall gestures, movements, and other expressions of an emotion they have felt strongly in the past in order to evoke those feelings again.”

The degree of emotional rapport people feel in an encounter is mirrored by how tightly coordinated their physical movements are as the talk. This index of closeness it typically out of awareness. One person nods as the other makes a point. Or they both shift their chairs at the same moment, or one leans forward as the other moves back. This synchrony seems to facilitate the sending and receiving of moods, even when the moods are negative. In one study of physical synchrony, women who were depressed came to a laboratory with their romantic partners and discussed a problem in their relationship. The more synchrony between the partners at the nonverbal level, the worse the depressed women’s partners felt after the discussion. They had caught their girlfriend’s bad moods. So, whether people feel upbeat or down, the more physically attuned their encounter, the more similar their moods will become.

Psychologists Hatch and Gardner have identified the following four separate abilities as components of interpersonal intelligence:

*Organizing groups—the essential skill of the leader, this involves initiating and coordinating the efforts of a network of people. This is the talent seen in theater directors or producers, in military officers, and in effective heads of organizations and units of all kinds. On the playground, this is the child who takes the lead in deciding what everyone will play, or becomes team captain.

*Negotiating solutions—the talent of the mediator, presenting conflicts or resolving those that flare up. People who have this ability excel in deal-making, in arbitrating or mediating disputes; they might have a career in diplomacy, in arbitration or law, or as middlemen of managers of takeovers. These are the kids who settle arguments on the playing field.

*Personnel connection—the talent of empathy and connecting. This makes it easy to enter into an encounter or to recognize and respond fittingly to people’s feelings and concerns—the art of relationship. Such people make good “team players,” dependable spouses, good friends or business partners; in the business world they do well as salespeople or managers, or can be excellent teachers. Children get along well with virtually everyone else, easily enter into playing with them, and are happy doing so. These children tend to be best art reading emotions from facial expression and are most liked by their classmates.

*Social analysis—being able to detect and have insights about people’s feelings, motives, and concerns. This knowledge of how others feel can lead to an easy intimacy or sense of rapport. At its best, this ability makes one a competent therapist or counselor—or if combined with some literary talent, a gifted novelist or dramatist.

The Roots of Empathy

March 15, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Empathy builds on self-awareness. The more open we are to our own emotions, the more skilled we will be in reading feelings. Empathy comes into play in a vast array of life arenas, from sales and management, to romance and parenting, to compassion and political action. Its lack is seen in criminal psychopaths, rapists, and child molesters.

Robert Rosenthal, a Harvard psychologist, and his students devised a test of empathy, the PONS (Profile of Nonverbal Sensitivity), a series of videotapes of a young woman expressing feelings ranging from loathing to motherly love. The scenes range from a jealous rage to asking forgiveness, from a show of gratitude to seduction. The video has been edited so that in each portrayal one or more channels of nonverbal communication are systematically blanked out; in addition to having the words muffled, in some scenes all other cues but the facial expression are blocked. In others, only the body movements are shown, and so on, through the main nonverbal channels of communication, so the viewers have to detect emotion from one or another specific nonverbal cue.

The tests of over seven thousand people in the United States and eighteen other countries, the benefits of being able to read feelings from nonverbal cues included being better adjusted emotionally, more popular, more outgoing, and—perhaps not surprisingly—more sensitive. Generally speaking women are better than men at this kind of empathy. People whose performance improved over the course of the 45 minute test—a sign that they have a talent for picking up empathy skills—had better relationships with the opposite sex. It should be no surprise that empathy helps with romantic life.

Empathy is independent from academic intelligence. In tests with 1,011 children, those who showed an aptitude for reading feelings nonverbally were among the most popular in their schools, and the most emotionally stable. They also did better in school even though on average their IQs were not higher than other students. Apparently high empathic ability smooths the way for classroom (or simply makes teachers like them more).

Developmental psychologists have found that infants feel sympathetic distress even before they fully realize that they exist apart from other people. Just a few months after birth, infants react to disturbances in those around them as though they were their own, crying when they see another child’s tears. After one year or so, they start to realize the misery is not their own, but someone else’s.

Eventually toddlers begin to diverge from one another in their overall sensitivity to other people’s emotional upsets. Research has shown that a large part of the difference in empathic concern had to do with how parents disciplined their children. Children were more empathetic when the discipline included calling strong attention to the distress their misbehaving caused someone else. They also found that children’s empathy is also shaped by seeing how others react when someone else is distressed; by imitating what they see, children develop a repertoire of empathic response, especially in helping other people who are distressed.

Psychiatrist Daniel Stern is fascinated by the small repeated exchanges that take place between parent and child. He believes that the most basic lessons of emotional life are laid down in these intimate moments. Of all such moments, the most critical are those that let the child know her emotions are met with empathy, accepted, and reciprocated, in a process Stern calls attunement.

Prolonged absence of attunement between parent and child takes a tremendous emotional toll on the child. When a parent consistently fails to show any empathy with a particular range of emotions in the child—joys, tears, needing to cuddle—the child begins to avoid expressing, and perhaps even feeling, the same emotions.

The lifetime emotional costs of a lack of attunement in childhood can be great—and not just for the child. A study of criminals who committed the cruelest and most violent crimes found that the one characteristic of their early lives that sent them apart from other criminals was that they had been shuttled from foster home to foster home or raised in orphanages. These life histories suggest emotional neglect and little opportunity for attunement.

The following comes from a section in the chapter titled ‘LIFE WITHOUT EMPATHY:THE MIND OF THE MOLESTER, THE MORALS OF THE SOCIOPATH
“A psychological fault line is common to rapists, child molesters, and many perpetrators of family violence alike; they are incapable of empathy. This inability to feel their victim’s pain allows them to tell themselves lies that encourage their crime. For rapists, the lieu include “Women really want to get raped” or “If she resists, she’s just playing hard to get;” for molesters, “I’m not hurting the child, just showing love” or “This is just another form of affection;” for physically abusive parents, “This is just good discipline.”

On the other hand, empathy provides the roots for altruism and ethics. This underscores research showing that the most important relationship for a child is its relationship with its mother. The mother needs to want and love the child. The absence of this desire and love bodes ill for the future of the child. Delinquency, criminal behavior, drug abuse, and children who live purposeless live are the result. These are lost lives. Rather than pro-life, the goal should be pro-quality life. Unless a loving substitute is found, an abortion is likely beneficial for the child. A merciful God would save the soul of the child for a loving and caring mother.

© 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 Master Aptitude

March 14, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” When emotions overwhelm concentration working memory is swamped. Working memory is where all information relevant to the task at hand is held. This information can be as mundane as the digits that comprise a telephone number, or as complicated as the intricate plot lines a novelist is trying to weave together. Working memory is the executive function that makes possible all other intellectual efforts, from speaking a sentence to tackling difficult logical propositions. The prefrontal cortex executes working memory and that is where feeling and emotion meet. When the limbic circuitry that converges on the prefrontal cortex is in emotional distress, one casualty is the effectiveness of working memory. We can’t think straight.

Here the role of positive motivation needs to be considered. The marshaling of feelings like enthusiasm and confidence enhance achievement. Studies of Olympic athletes, world-class musicians, and chess grand masters find their unifying trait is the ability to motivate themselves to pursue relentless training routines.

The added payoff for life success from motivation, apart from other innate abilities, is seen in the remarkable performance of Asian students in American schools and professions. A review of the evidence suggests that Asian-American children may have an average IQ Advantage over whites of just two or three points. Yet on the basis of the professions, such as law and medicine, where many Asian-Americans end up, as a group they behave as though their IQ were much higher—the equivalent of an IQ of 110 Japanese-Americans and of 120 for Chinese-Americans. It seems that for the earliest years of school, Asian children work harder than whites. Sanford Dorenbusch, a Stanford sociologist who studies more than ten thousand high school students, found that Asian-Americans spend 40% more time doing homework than did other students. Dorenbusch writes, “While most American parents are willing to accept a child’s weak areas and emphasize his strengths, for Asians, the attitude is that if you’re not doing well, the answer is to study later at night, and if you still don’t do well, to get up and study earlier in the morning.”

Goleman concludes, “To the way that our emotions get in the way of or enhance our ability to think and plan, to pursue training for a distant goal, to solve problems and the like, they define the limits of our capacity to use our innate mental abilities, and so determine what we do in life. And to the degree to which we are motivated by feelings of enthusiasm and pleasure in what we do—or even by an optimal degree of anxiety—they propel us to accomplishment. It is in this sense that emotional intelligence is a master aptitude, a capacity that profoundly affects all other abilities, either facilitating or interfering with them.

Although it is likely that most healthy memory blog readers are aware of the Marshmallow Test, its implications are important enough for it to be mentioned now. The first studies were done by psychologist Walter Mischel during the 1960s at a preschool on the Stanford University campus. The test involve placing a marshmallow before a four year old. The child was told that the researcher was going to leave for 15 to 20 minutes, but if they child could save the marshmallow until he retired, she would be rewarded with another marshmallow. Some children managed to resist and got the second marshmallow reward, and some didn’t. The ramifications of this study did not become clear until 12 to 14 years later. Those who had resisted temptation at 4 were now, as adolescents, more socially competent: personally effective, self-assertive, and better able to cope with the frustrations of life. They were less likely to go to pieces, freeze, or regress under stress, or become rattled and disorganized when pressured; they embraced challenges and pursued them instead of giving up even in the face of difficulties. The children who had grabbed the marshmallow were just the opposite.

The children who were able to delay gratification were also much better students. But, perhaps what was most astonishing were SAT scores. The third of the children who at four grabbed for the marshmallow most eagerly had an average verbal score of 524 and a quantitative scorer of 528. The third who waited the longest had average scores of 610 and 652, respectively—a 210 difference in total score.

Foul moods foul thinking. Being anxious about a test degrades both study and performance on the test. People who are adept at harnessing their emotions use anticipatory anxiety about an upcoming test to motivate themselves to prepare well for it, thereby doing well.

A mildly elated state called hypomania seems optimal for writers and others in creative callings that demand fluidity and imaginative diversity of thought. Here it is important to remember the inverted U shape relationship between motivation and performance. One wants to get to the peak of the inverted U. If euphoria gets out of control to become outright mania (not hypomania) as in the mood swings of manic-depressives, the agitation undermines the ability to think cohesively.

Good moods enhance the ability to think flexibly and with more complexity. One was to help someone think through a problem is to tell them a joke. Laughing, like elation, seems to help people think more broadly and associate more freely, noticing relationships that might have eluded them otherwise—a mental skill important not just in creativity, but in recognizing complex relationships and foreseeing the consequences of a given decision.

A great motivator is optimism. Optimism means having a strong expectation that, in general, things will turn out all right in life, despite setbacks and frustrations. Seligman defines optimism in terms of how people explain to themselves their successes and failures. People who are optimistic see a failure as due to something than can be changed so that they can succeed next time around, while pessimists take the blame for failure, ascribing it to some lasting characteristic they are helpless to change.

Optimism is central to growth mindsets, which are much advocated in this blog. Enter “growth mindsets” into the search block of the healthy memory blog for relevant posts.

Goleman terms Flow as the neurobiology of excellence. Flow is the state defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi known to athletes as the zone where excellence becomes effortless, crowd and competitors disappearing into a blissful, steady absorption in the moment. Goleman writes “flow represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing emotions in the service of performance and learning. In flow the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. Yet flow (or a milder micro flow) is an experience almost everyone enters from time to time, particularly when performing at their peak or stretching beyond their former limits. It is perhaps best captured by ecstatic lovemaking, the merging of two into fluidly harmonious state.”

Goleman writes that “there are several ways to enter flow. One is to intentionally focus a sharp attention on the task at hand; a highly concentrated state is the essence of flow. There seems to be a feedback loop at the gateway to this zone: it can require considerable effort to get calm and focused enough to begin the task—this first step takes some discipline. But once focus starts to lock in, it takes on a force of its own, both offering relief from emotional turbulence and making the task effortless.”

Entry to this zone can also occur when people find a task they are skilled at, and engage in it at a level than slightly taxes their ability. Csikszentmihali told Goleman, “People seem to concentrate best when the demands on them are a bit greater than usual, and when they are able to give more than usual. If there is too little demand on them, people are bored. If there is too much for them to handle, they get anxious. Flow occurs in that delicate cone between boredom and anxiety.”

Flow is a desirable state to achieve. However, the master aptitude is optimism. With optimism one proceeds to develop growth mindsets. This leads to successful lives and healthy memories.

Passion’s Slaves

March 13, 2018

Passion’s Slaves is the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Since the time of Plato a sense of self-mastery, of being able to withstand the emotional storms that the buffeting of Fortune brings rather than being “passion’s slave,” has been praised as a virtue. The ancient Greek word for it was “sophrosyne.” Page DuBois, a Greek scholar translates it as “care and intelligence in conducting one’s life; a tempered balance and wisdom.” The Romans and the early Christian church called it “temperantia”, temperance, the restraining of emotional excess. The goal is balance, not emotional suppression. Aristotle observed, what is wanted is appropriate emotion, feeling proportionate to circumstance. The passions discussed in this post are anger and rage, worry and anxiety, and depression and melancholy.

Anger and Rage

The design of the brain means that we very often have little or no control over when we are swept by emotion, nor over what emotion it will be. However, we can have some say on how long an emotion will last. Consider the anatomy of rage. Say you are cut off in traffic by a driver. You think, “He could have hit me! That bastard—I can’t let him get away with that!” Your knuckles whiten as you tighten your hold on the steering wheel, which you regard as a surrogate for strangling his throat. You body mobilizes to fight not run—leaving you trembling, beads of sweat on your forehead, your heart pounding, the muscles in your face locked in a scowl.”

Compare that sequence of building rage with a more charitable line of thought toward the driver who cut you off. “Maybe he didn’t see me, or maybe he had some good reason for driving so carelessly, such as a medical emergency.” Such thoughts tempers anger with mercy or at least an open mind, short-circuiting the buildup of rage. Aristotle’s challenge is to have only appropriate anger reminds us, is that more often than not, our anger surges out of control. Benjamin Franklin put it well: “Anger is never without a reason, but seldom a good one.” There are different kinds of anger. The amygdala is a main source of the sudden spark of rage we feel at the driver whose carelessness endangers us. On the other end of emotional circuitry, the neocortex, most likely foments more calculated angers, such as cool-headed revenge or outrange at unfairness or injustice.

Rage seems to be the most intransigent of al the moods. Researcher Diana Tice found that anger is the mood people are worst at controlling. Anger is the most seductive of the negative emotions; the self-righteous inner monologue that propels it along fills the mind with the most convincing arguments for venting range. Unlike sadness, anger is energizing, even exhilarating. Anger’s persuasive power might explain why some views about it are so common: that anger is uncontrollable, or that it should not be controlled, and venting anger in “catharsis” is to the good. A contrasting view holds that anger can be prevented entirely. However, a careful reading of research findings suggests that all these common attitudes toward anger are misguided if not outright myths.

The train of angry thoughts that stokes anger is also potentially the key to one of the most powerful ways to defuse anger: undermining the convictions that are fueling the anger in the first case. The longer we ruminate about what has made us angry, the more “good reasons” and self-justification for being angry we can event. Brooding just fuels anger’s flames. Seeing things differently douses those flames. Tice found that reframing a situation more positively was one of the most potent ways to put anger to rest. Timing matters. The earlier in the anger cycle, the more effective. Anger can be completely short-circuited if the mitigating information comes before the anger is acted on.

The second way of de-escalating anger is cooling off physiologically by waiting out the adrenal surge in a setting where there are not likely to be further triggers for rage. This is a common way of dealing with anger according to Tice’s research. One such fairly effective strategy is going off to be alone while cooling down. People go for a drive or a walk. Of these two, the second is preferable. Exercise also works. Relaxation methods such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation, perhaps because they change the body’s physiology from the high arousal of anger to a low-arousal state, and perhaps too because they distract from whatever triggered the anger. [enter “Relaxation Response” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to find relevant posts].

However, a cooling-down period will not work if that time is used to pursue the train of anger-inducing thought, since each such though will trigger more cascades of anger.

Distractions like TV, movies, reading and the like work, but not shopping or eating.

Ventilation does not work. In fact there is a ventilation fallacy. Ventilation may feel satisfying, but it is counterproductive. Tice found that ventilating anger is one of the worst ways to cool down: outbursts of rage typically pump up the emotional brain’s arousal, leaving people feeling more angry not less.

Worry and Anxiety

Worrying is at the heart of all anxiety. The reaction that underlies worry is the vigilance for potential for potential danger that has, no doubt been essential for survival over the course of evolution. When fear triggers the emotional brain, part of the resulting anxiety fixates attention on the threat at hand, thus forcing the mind to obsess about how to handle it and ignore anything else. Worry is a rehearsal of what might go wrong and how to deal with it. The purpose of worrying is to come up with positive solutions for life’s perils by anticipating dangers before they arise.

Worrying becomes a problem with chronic repetitive worries that go on and on never getting nearer to a positive solution. Goleman writes that a “close analysis of chronic worry suggests that it has all the attributes of a low-grade emotional hijacking. Worries that seem to come from nowhere and are uncontrollable generate a study hum of anxiety, are impervious to reason and lock the worrier into a single, inflexible view of the topic of worry. When this cycle of worry intensifies and persists, it crosses over the line into a full-blown neural hijacking, the anxiety disorders: phobias, obsessions and compulsions, panic attacks.

For each disorder worry fixates in a distinct fashion: phobic anxieties rivet on the feared situation; obsessive disorders fixate on preventing some feared calamity; panic attacks can focus on fear of dying or on the prospect of having the anxiety attack itself.

Researchers have observed that anxiety comes in two forms: cognitive, or worrisome thoughts, and somatic, the physiological symptoms of anxiety, like sweating, a racing heart, or muscle tension. Insomniacs are suffering from anxiety attacks. Their main problem preventing them from sleeping were intrusive thoughts. No matter how sleepy they were, they could not stop worrying. The one technique that worked in helping them get to sleep was getting their minds off their worries, focusing instead on the sensations produced by a relaxation method. In summary, the worries could be stopped by shifting attention away.

Unfortunately, most worriers seem unable to do this. These worriers get a partial payoff from worrying that reinforces the habit. It seems that there is something positive in worries: worries are ways to deal with potential threats. When the work of worrying succeeds, it is to rehearse what those dangers are, and to reflect on ways to deal with them. But Goleman writes that worry doesn’t work that well. “New solutions and fresh ways of seeing a problem do not typically come from worrying, especially chronic worry. Instead of coming up with solutions to these potential problems, worriers typically simply ruminate on the danger itself, immersing themselves in a low-key way in the dread associated with it while staying in the same run of thought. Chronic worriers worry about a wide range of things, most of which have almost no chance of happening; they read dangers into life’s journey that others never notice.”

Still chronic worriers report that worrying helps them, and that their worries are self-perpetuating. So why should worry become what seems to amount to a mental addiction? Borkovec notes that the worry habit is reinforcing in the same sense that superstitions are. Since people worry about many things that have a very low probability of actually occurring, to the primitive limbic brain there appears to be something magical about it. “Like an amulet that wards off some anticipated evil, the worry psychologically gets the credit for preventing the danger it obsesses about.”

Borkovic discovered simple steps the can help even the most chronic worrier control the habit.

The first step is self-awareness, catching the worrisome episodes as near their beginning as possible. Borkovec trains people in this approach by first teaching them to monitor cues for anxiety, especially learning to identify situations that trigger worry, or the fleeting thoughts and images that initiate the worry, as well as the accompanying sensation of anxiety in the body. With practice people can identify the worries at an earlier and earlier point in the anxiety spiral. People also learn relaxation methods that they can apply at the moment they recognize the worry beginning, and practice the relaxation method daily so they will be able to use it on the spot. [Much has been written about relaxation in the healthy memory blog. Enter ‘relaxation’ into search block of the healthy memory blog.]

Goleman offers the following precaution: “for people with worries so severe they have flowered into phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or paid disorder, it may be prudent—indeed a sign of self-awareness—to turn to medication to interrupt the cycle A retraining of the emotional circuitry through therapy is still called for, however, in order to lessen the likelihood that anxiety disorders will recur when medication is stopped.

Melancholy and Depression

The single mood people put most effort into shaking is sadness: Tice found that people are most inventive when it comes to trying to escape the blues. Melancholy like every other mood has its benefits. The sadness that a loss brings has certain effects: it closes down our interest in divisions and pleasures, focuses attention on what’s been lost, and saps our energy for starting new endeavors, hopefully for the time being. It causes a reflective retreat from life’s pursuits, and leaves us in a state to mourn the loss, mull over its meaning, and make the psychological adjustments and new plans to continue with out lives.

Although bereavement is useful, a full-blown depression is not. In a major depression, love is paralyzed: no new beginnings emerge. The very symptoms of severe depression place a life on hold. For most people psychotherapy can help as can medication.

The far more common sadness that at its upper limits becomes a “subclinical depression” is sometimes referred to as melancholy. This is a range of despondency that people can handle on their own, if they have the internal resources. Unfortunately, some of the strategies most often resorted to can backfire, leaving people feeling worse than before. One such strategy is staying alone. However, more often than not this only adds a sense of loneliness and isolation to the sadness.

Tice found the most popular tactic for battling depression is socializing. Going out to eat, to a ball game or movie. Doing something with friends or family. This works well if the effect is to get the person’s mind off his sadness.

One of the main determinants of whether a depressed mood will persist or lift is the degree to which people ruminate. Worrying about what’s depressing us seems to make the depression all the more intense and prolonged. In depression, worry takes several forms, all focusing on some aspect of the depression itself, such as how tired we feel, how little energy or motivation we have, or how little work we’re getting done. Typically this reflection is not accompanied by any concrete course of action that might alleviate the problem.

Cognitive therapy aimed at changing these thought patterns has been found in some studies to be on a pair with medication for treating mild clinical depression, and superior to medication in preventing the return of mild depression. Two strategies are particularly effective. One is to learn to challenge the thoughts at the center of rumination. The other is to purposely schedule pleasant, distracting events.

Tice found that aerobic exercise is one of the more effective tactics for lifting mild depression, as well as other bad moods. A caveat here is that the mood-lifting benefits of exercise work best for the lazy, those who don’t work out very much. For those with a daily exercise routine there is a reverse effect on mood: they start to feel bad on those days when they skip their workout. Exercise seems to work well because it changes the physiological state the mood evolves: depression is a low-arousal state, and aerobics pitches the body into high arousal. Relaxation techniques, which put the body into a low-arousal state work for anxiety, a high-arousal state, but not so well for depression.

Tice reports that a more constructive approach to mood-lifting is engineering a small triumph or easy success: tackling some long-delayed chore around the house of getting to some other duty they’ve been wanting to clear up. Lifts to self-image were also cheering, even if only in the form of getting dressed up or putting makeup.

One of the most potent antidotes is cognitive reframing. For example, stepping back and thinking about the ways a relationship wasn’t so great, and ways you and your partner were mismatched, seeing the loss in a more positive light is an antidote to sadness.

This post offers some tips for dealing with emotional problems. Should problems persist and become chronic, please see professional help. Should you ever fear that you are a danger to yourself or others, SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP IMMEDIATELY. If necessary, go to an emergency room.

Know Thyself

March 12, 2018

Know Thyself is the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Since that chapter was written, there have been significant advances in the study of the emotions, some of which have been reported in this blog. Lisa Feldman Barrett’s book “How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain” was revolutionary. Relevant blog posts can be found by entering “Lisa Feldman Barrett” into the search box of the healthy memory blog. The following is taken directly from the post “How Emotions Are Made”:

Dr. Barrett calls this view the theory of constructed emotions.  These emotions are constructed on the basis of our interoceptive environments.  She presents a convincing argument that our emotions are built upon our interpretation of our internal environments, that is analogous to the manner in which we develop an understanding of the external world.

Readers of the healthy memory blog should be aware that we do not experience the external world directly.  Rather we develop concepts and models on the basis of what our senses receive from the external world.  In other words, emotions are based on what we feel, that is how we interpret what we receive from our interoceptive environment.  Emotions are interpretations of our interoceptive conditions.  In other words we learn our emotional concepts in an analogous manner to how we learn about the external world.  We have an energy budget and this budget affects feelings of hunger and other bodily conditions.

Dr. Barrett provides a personal anecdote to illustrate how constructed emotions work.  When she was a graduate student a fellow male graduate student asked her out at the end of the day.  Although she had no feelings for this guy, she was tired and thought it would be a good way to kill the evening.  While they were dining, she thought she was beginning to fall for him.  Nothing further happened and she went home and fell asleep exhausted.  The next morning she woke up with the flu and remained in bed for several more days.  Apparently she had misinterpreted her interoceptive environment.  What she had originally interpreted as incipient feelings of love, were really incipient feelings of the flue virus.

After that relevant digression, we return to Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence.”

Metamood is a term psychologists use to refer to awareness of one’s emotions, and metacognition refers refers to an awareness of thought process. Self-awareness is not an attention that gets carried away by emotions, overreacting and amplifying what is perceived. Instead, it is a neutral mode that maintains self-reflectiveness even amidst turbulent emotions. The awareness of emotions is the fundamental emotional competence on which others, such as emotional self-control. build. Self-awareness means being “aware of both our mood and our thoughts about the mood.” Self-awareness can be nonjudgmental or judgmental to include, “I shouldn’t feel this way,” “I’m thinking good things to cheer up,” or “Don’t think about it.”

The psychologist John Mayer describes three distinctive styles for attending to and dealing with their emotions.

*Self-aware. Aware of their moods as they are having them, these people understandably have some sophistication about their emotional lives. Their clarity about emotions may undergird other personality traits: they are autonomous and sure of their own boundaries, are in good psychological health, and tend to have a positive outlook on life. When they get into a bad mood, they don’t ruminate and obsess about it, and are able to get out of it sooner. In short, their mindfulness helps them manage their emotions.

*Engulfed. These are people who often feel swamped by their emotions and helpless to escape them, as though their moods have taken charge. They are mercurial and not very aware of their feelings, so that they are lost in them rather than having some perspective. As a result, they do little to try to escape bad moods, feeling that they have no control over their emotional life. They feel overwhelmed and emotionally out of control. Such people definitely need to practice mindfulness and meditation, and perhaps consider seeking professional help.

*Accepting. While these people are often clear about what they are feeling, they also tend to be accepting of their moods, and so don’t try to change them. There seem to be two branches of the accepting type: those who are usually in good moods and so have little motivation to change them, and people who, despite the clarity about their moods, are susceptible to bad ones but accept them with a laissez-faire attitude, doing nothing to change them despite their distress—a pattern found among, say, depressed people who are resigned to despair. This latter group should be aware that there are techniques for changing and controlling their moods, should they want to.

It is possible not to have feelings. Psychiatrists call it alexithymia. These people lack words for their feelings. They seem to lack feelings altogether, although this may actually be because of they inability to express emotion rather than from an absence of emotion altogether.

Although no one can as yet say for sure what causes alexithymia, Dr. Sifneos, who coined the term, proposes a disconnection between the limbic system and the neocortex, particularly its verbal centers, which fits well with what we are learning about the emotional 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.

Emotional Intelligence and Destiny

March 11, 2018

The title of this section is identical to the title of a section in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Goleman notes that when a study of 95 Harvard students from the classes of the 1940s was done, the men with the highest test scores in college were not particularly successful compared to their lower-scoring peers in terms of salary, productivity, or status in their field. Neither did they have the greatest life satisfaction, nor the most happiness with friendship, family, and romantic relationships.

A similar study was done with 450 boys, most of whom were sons of immigrants; two thirds from families on welfare who grew up in Somerville, Massachusetts. At that time this was a “blighted slum” a few blocks from Harvard. A third of the boys had IQs below 90. But IQ had little relationship with how well they had done at work or in the rest of their lives. Although 7% of men with IQs under 80 were unemployed for ten or more years, so were 7% of men with IQs over 100. As there always is, there was a general link between IQ and socioeconomic status at age 47. But what made the greater difference were childhood abilities such as being able to handle frustrations, control emotions, and get along with other people.

A different study was done of 81 valedictorians and salutatorians from the 1981 class in Illinois high schools. Although this group continued to achieve well in college receiving excellent grades, by their late twenties they had climbed to only average levels of success. Ten years after graduating from high school only one in four were at the highest level of young people of comparable age in their chosen professions, and many were doing much less well.

So what is the difference? What is missing from these people with high IQs. Goleman writes, “People with well-developed emotions skills are also more likely to be content and effective in their lives, mastering the habits of mind that foster their own productivity; people who cannot marshal some control over their emotional life fight inner battles that sabotage their ability for focused work and clear thought.”

Howard Gardener, a psychologist at the Harvard School of Education has developed the concept of multiple intelligences. Gardner told Goleman, “The time has come to broaden our notion of the spectrum of talents. The single most important contribution education can make to a child’s development is to help him toward a field where his talents best suit him, where he will be satisfied and competent. We’ve completely lost sight of that. Instead we subject everyone to an education where, if you succeed, you will be best suited to be a college professor. And we evaluate everyone along the way according to whether they meet that narrow standard of success. We should spend less time ranking children and more time helping them to identify their natural competencies and gifts, and cultivate those. There are hundreds and hundreds to succeed, and many, many different abilities that will help you get there.”

Gardner’s model pushes way beyond the concept of IQ as a single, immutable factor. IQ is a limited notion of intelligence that is out of touch with the true range of skills and abilities that matter for life over and beyond IQ.

The number of different intelligences varies, the more research that is done. So if you read a particular number of intelligences, remember that number is pending further research. One of these types of intelligence is interpersonal intelligence which he writes, “is the ability to understand other people: what motivates them, how they work, how to work cooperatively with them. Successful salespeople, politicians, teachers, clinicians, and religious leaders are all likely to be individuals with high degrees of interpersonal intelligence, a correlative ability, turned inward. It is the capacity to form an accurate, veridical model of oneself and to be able to use that model to operate effectively in life.”

Prior to Gardner, E.I. Thorndike, an eminent psychologist who was also influential in popularizing the notion of IQ in the 1920s and 1930s, proposed in a “Harper’s Magazine” article that one aspect of emotional intelligence, “social intelligence—the ability to understand others and “act wisely in human relations”—was itself an aspect of a person’s IQ. Apparently Thorndike was not sufficiently eminent, as this view did not prevail. The research of Robert Sternberg led him back to Thorndike’s conclusion: that social intelligence is both distinct from academic abilities and a key part of what makes people do well in the practicalities of life,

Psychologists Salvoes and Mayer elaborated the definition of emotional intelligence into five main domains:
Knowing one’s emotions—self-awareness.
Managing emotions
Motivating oneself
Recognizing emotions in others
Handling relationships.

Harmonizing Emotions and Thought

March 10, 2018

The title of this section is identical to the title of a section in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” The hub of the battles or cooperative treaties struck between head and heart, thought and feeling are the connections between the amygdala (and related limbic structures) and the neocortex. This circuitry explains why emotion is so crucial to effective thought, both with respect to thinking clearly and in making wise decisions.

Working memory is the memory we hold in conscious thought. The prefrontal cortex is the brain region responsible for working memory. However, circuits from the limbic brain to the prefrontal lobes mean that the signals of strong emotion—anxiety, anger, and the like—can create neural static, sabotaging the ability of the prefrontal lobe to maintain working memory. This is why we say we “can’t think straight” when we are emotionally upset. Continual emotional distress can create deficits in a child’s intellectual abilities, and cripple the capacity to learn.

If subtle, these deficits are not always tapped by IQ testing. However, they do show up through more targeted neuropsychological measures, as well as in the child’s continual agitation and impulsivity. In one study, primary school boys with above-average IQ scores we still doing poorly in school. Neuropsychological tests found that they had impaired frontal cortex functioning. They were impulsive and anxious, often disruptive and in trouble. This suggested faulty prefrontal control over their limbic urges. In spite of their intellectual potential, they were at highest risk for problems like academic failure, alcoholism, and criminality—not because their intellect is deficient, but because their control over their emotional life is impaired. The emotional brain controls rage and compassion alike. These emotional circuits are sculpted by experience throughout childhood. We leave those experience utterly to chance at our peril.

Dr. Antonia Damaiso, a neurologist at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, has made careful studies of just what is impaired in patients with damage to the prefrontal-amygdala circuit. Their decision-making ability is terribly flawed. Still they show no deterioration at all in IQ or in cognitive ability. In spite of their intact intelligence, they make disastrous choices in business and their personal lives. They can even obsess endlessly over a decision so simple as when to make an appointment.

Dr. Damaiso argues that their decisions are bad because they have lost access to their emotional learning. The prefrontal-amygdala circuit is a crucial doorway to the repository of the likes and dislikes we acquire over the course of a lifetime. Cut off from emotional memory in the amygdala, whatever the neocortex mulls over no longer triggers the emotional reactions that have been associated with it in the past. Be it a favorite pet or a detested acquaintance, the stimulus no longer triggers either attraction or aversion. These patients have “forgotten” all such emotional lessons because they no longer have access to where they are stored in the amygdala.

This research has lead Dr. Damasio to the counter-intuitive position that feelings are typically indispensable for rational decisions; they point us in the proper direction, where dry logic can then be of best use.

So it is a mistake to do away with emotion and put reason in its place, as Erasmus recommended. We need to find the intelligent balance between the two. The old paradigm held an ideal of reason freed from the pull of emotion. The new paradigm urges us to harmonize head and heart. And to do that well in our lives means we must first understand what it means to use emotion intelligently.

The Seat of all Passions

March 9, 2018

The title of this post is the title of a section in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” In humans the amygdala (from the Greek word for “almond’) is an almond -shaped cluster of interconnected clusters perched above the brainstem, near the bottom of the limbic ring. There are two amygdalae, one on each side of the brain nested toward the side of the head. Our amygdalae are relatively large compared to that of any of our closest evolutionary cousins, the primates.

The amygdalae and the hippocampi (there is also a hippocampus on each side of our brains) were the two key parts of the primitive “nose brain” that gave rise to the cortex and the neocortex. These limbic structures do much or most of the brain’s learning and remembering; the amygdalae is the specialist for emotional matters. If the amygdalae is severed from the rest of the brain, the result is a striking inability to gauge the emotional significance of events; this condition is sometimes called “affective blindness.”

Here please indulge a digression by HM to one of the projects he did as a graduate student. It involved conducting surgeries and implanting electrodes into the amygdalae of rats. These rats were deprived of water for 24 hours and then given an opportunity to drink. An electric current was applied to the amygdalae of some rats when they drank the water. The control rats were not shocked. The following day, the rats that had been shocked refused to drink, whereas the control rats, of course, drank. If you find this study troublesome, so does HM. But it did provide definitive evidence regarding the role of the amygdalae.

A fellow human had his amygdalae surgically removed to control severe seizures. He became completely uninterested in people, preferring to sit in isolation with no human contact. Although perfectly capable of conversation, he no longer recognized close friends, relatives, or even his mother, and remained impassive in the face of their anguish at his indifference. Absent the amygdalae, all recognition of feeling as well as any feeling about feelings is lost. Life without the amygdalae is life stripped of personal meanings.

All passion depends on the amygdalae. Animals that have their amygdalae removed or severed lack fear and rage, lose the urge to compete or cooperate, and no longer have any sense of their place in their kind’s social order; emotion is blunted or absent. As the amygdalae were not destroyed in HM’s rats, the stimulated rats returned to normal.

Tears, an emotional signal unique to humans, are triggered by the amygdala and a nearby structure, the cingulate gyrus. Being held, stroked, or otherwise comforted soothes these same brain regions, and stops the sobbing. Absent amygdalae, there are no tears of sorrow to soothe.

Goleman writes, “the workings of the amygdala and its interplay with the neocortex are at the heart of emotional intelligence. When impulsive feeling overrides the rational—the newly discovered role for the amygdala is pivotal. Incoming signals from the senses let the amygdala scan every experience for trouble. This puts the amygdala in a powerful position in mental life, something like a psychological sentinel, challenging every situation, every perception, with but one question in mind, the most primitive: “Is this something I hate? That hurts me? Something I fear?” If so—if the moment at hand somehow draws a “Yes”—the amygdala reacts instantaneously, line a neural tripwire, telegraphing a message of crisis to all parts of the brain.”

“When it sounds an alarm, it sends urgent messages to every major part of the brain: it triggers the secretion of the body’s fight-or-flight hormones, mobilizes the centers for movement and activates the cardiovascular system, the muscles, and the gut. Other circuits from the amygdala signal the secretion of emergency dollops of the hormone norepinephrine to heighten the reactivity of key brain areas, including those that made the senses more alert, in effect setting the brain on edge. Additional signals from the amygdala tell the brainstem to fix the face in a fearful expression, freeze unrelated movements the muscles had underway, raise heart rate and blood pressure, slow breathing. Others rivet attention on the source of the fear, and prepare the muscles to react accordingly. Simultaneously, cortical memory systems are shuffled to retrieve any knowledge relevant to the emergency at hand, taking precedence over other strands of thought.”

The extensive web of neural connections of the amygdalae allows them, during an emotional emergency, to capture and drive much of the rest of the brain—including the rational mind.

Research by LeDoux showed that sensory signals from the eye or ear travel first in the brain to the thalamus, and then—across a single synapse—to the amygdala; a second signal from the thalamus is routed to the neocortex—the thinking brain. So the amygdala can respond before the neocortex, which mulls information though several levels of brain circuits before it fully perceives and finally initiates its more finely tailored response.

LeDoux concluded, “Anatomically the emotional system can act independently of the neocortex. Some emotional reactions and emotional memories can be formed without any conscious cognitive participation at all.” LeDoux conducted an experiment in which people acquired a preference for oddly shaped geometric figures that had been flashed at them so quickly that they had no conscious awareness of having seen them at all. Nevertheless, our cognitive unconscious will still have formed an opinion as to whether we like it or not, not just the identity of what we’ve seen. Goleman notes that “our emotions have a mind of their own, one which can hold view quite independently of our rational mind.”

© 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.

Our Two Minds

March 8, 2018

There are two fundamentally different ways of knowing to construct our mental life. The rational mind is the mode of comprehension of which we are typically conscious. It is more prominent in awareness, thoughtful, able to ponder and reflect. There is another system of knowing which is alongside it. It is the emotional mind. The emotional mind is impulsive and powerful, if sometime illogical. This emotional/rational dichotomy resembles the folk distinction between “heart” and “head.” Knowing something “in your heart” is a different order of conviction that is somehow a deeper kind of certainty than thinking with your rational mind. In “Emotional Intelligence” Goleman writes, “There is a steady gradient in the ratio of rational-to-emotional control over the mind; the more intense the feeling, the more dominant the emotional mind becomes and the more ineffectual the rational. This is an arrangement that seems to stem from eons of evolutionary advantage to having emotions and intuitions guide our instantaneous response in situations where our lives are in peril—and where pausing to think over what to do could cost us our lives.”

Goleman continues, “These two minds, the emotional and the rational, operate in tight harmony for the most part, intertwining their very different ways of knowing to guide us through the world. Ordinarily there is a balance between emotional and rational minds, with emotions feeding into and informing the operations of the rational mind, and the rational mind refining and sometimes vetoing the inputs of the emotions. Still, the emotional and rational minds are semi-independent faculties, each, as we shall see, reflecting the operation of distinct, but interconnected, circuitry in the brain.”

Most of the time these minds are well coordinated with feelings being essential to thought, and thoughts to feelings. However, when passions surge the balance tips: it is the emotional mind that captures the upper hand, swamping the rational mind.

To understand the potent hold of emotions on the thinking mind it is useful to understand how the brain evolved. Human brains, with their three pounds or so of cells and neural juices, are about triple the size of those in our nearest cousins in evolution, the nonhuman primates. Over millions of years of evolution, the brain has grown from the bottom up, with its higher centers developing as elaboration of lower, more ancient parts. The growth of the brain in the human embryo roughly retraces this evolutionary course.

The most primitive part of the brain for all species that have more than a minimal nervous system is the brainstem surrounding the top of the spinal cord. This root brain regulates basic life functions like breathing and the metabolism of the body’s other organs, as well as controlling stereotyped reactions and movements.

The emotional centers emerged from the brainstem. Millions of years later in evolution, from these emotional areas the thinking brain or “neocortex” evolved. The fact that the thinking brain grew from the emotional reveals much about the relationship of thought and feeling: there was an emotional brain long before there was a rational one.

New, key layers of the emotional brain came with the arrival of the first mammals. Because this part of the brain rings and borders the brainstem, it was called the ‘limbic’ system, from “limbus,” the Latin word for “ring.” This new neural territory added emotions proper to the brain’s repertoire. When we are in the grip of craving or fury, head-over-heels in love or recoiling in dread, it is the limbic system that has us in its grip.

The limbic system refined two powerful tools, learning and memory, as it evolved. These advances allows an animal to be much smarter in its choices for survival, and to fine-tune its responses to adapt to changing demands rather than having invariable and automatic reactions.

About 100 million years ago, the mammalian brain took a great growth spurt. Piled on top of the thin two-layered cortex-the regions that plan, comprehend what is sensed, coordinate movement—several new layers of brain cells were added to form the neocortex. In contrast to the ancient brain’s two-layered cortex, the neocortex offered an extraordinary intellectual edge.

Our neocortex, so much larger than in any other species, has added all that is distinctly human. It is the seat of thought; it contains the centers that put together and comprehend what the senses perceive. It adds to a feeling what we think about it—and allows us to have feelings about ideas, art, symbols, imaginings.

This new addition to the brain allowed the addition of nuance to emotional life. Limbic structures generate feelings of please and sexual desire. The addition of the neocortex and its connections to the limbic system allowed for the mother-child bond that is the basis of the family unit.

So the neocortex provided the basis for sophisticated interactions among humans.
However, problems can emerge when the neocortex loses the upper hand. Consider a nuclear war. Here it would be clear that the neocortex had lost the upper hand to the emotional mind. And it is possible that the neocortex justified the launching of a nuclear war and the extinction of homo sapiens. Such irony!

© 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.

If Emotion is so Central to Human Nature, Why Can it Be Harmful?

March 7, 2018

The answer is the same as why some of us tend to be overweight. In earlier stages of human development when starvation was commonplace, it was advantageous to eat foods that would load the body with fat. That time has passed and there is no longer a need to load the body with fat.

So in spite of social constraints, passions overwhelm time and time again. This is due to the basic architecture of mental life. The basic neural circuitry of emotion that we are born with is what worked best for the last 50,000 human generations not the last 500 generations. Goleman writes in his book “Emotional Intelligence,” “The slow deliberate forces of evolution that have shaped our emotions have done their work over the course of a million years; the last 10,000 years—despite having witnessed the rapid rise of human civilization and the explosion of the human population from five million to five billion—have left little imprint on our biological template for emotional life.” Given this explosive increase in population, the need for emotional intelligence has greatly increased. Unfortunately, our appraisal of every personal encounter and our responses to it are shaped not just by our rational judgments or our personal history, but also by our distant ancestral past. “In short, we too often confront postmodern dilemmas with an emotional repertoire tailored to the urgencies of the Pleistocene.”

Goleman continues, “All emotions are, in essence, impulses to act, the instant plans for handling life that evolution has instilled in us. The very root of the word emotion is “motere”, the Latin verb “to move,” plus the prefix “e-“ to connote “move away,” suggesting that a tendency to act is implicit in every emotion. That emotions lead to actions is most obvious in watching animals or children; it is only in “civilized” adults that we often find the great anomaly in the animal kingdom, emotions—root impulses to act—divorced from obvious action.”

Emotions have distinctive biological signatures:

*Anger— blood flows to the hands. This makes it easier to grasp a weapon or strike at a foe. Heart rate increases and crush of hormones such as adrenaline generates a pulse of energy strong enough for vigorous action.

*Fear—Blood goes to the large skeletal muscles, like the legs, making it easier to flee. This makes the face blanch as blood is shunted away from it (creating the feeling that blood “runs cold”). Simultaneously, the body freezes, if only for a moment, perhaps allowing time to gauge whether hiding might be a better reaction. Circuits in the brain’s emotional center trigger a flood of hormones that put the body on general alert. This makes it edgy and ready for action. Attention fixates on the threat at hand to better evaluate what response to make.

*Happiness—Here the main biological change is an increased activity in a brain center that inhibits negative feelings and fosters an increase in available energy, and a quieting of those that generate worrisome thoughts. There is no particular shift in physiology but a quiescence, which makes the body recover more quickly from the biological arousal of upsetting emotions. This configuration offers the body a general rest, as well as readiness and enthusiasm for whatever task is at hand and for striving toward a great variety of goals.

*Love—Tender feelings and sexual satisfaction entail parasympathetic arousal, which is the physiological opposite of the “fight or flight” mobilization shared by fear and anger. The parasympathetic pattern dubbed the “relaxation response,” is a bodywide set of reactions that generates a general state of calm and contentment, facilitating cooperation. [Entering “relaxation response” into the search block for the healthy memory blog will produce many posts on the relaxation response, to include how to induce the relaxation response, and the many benefits of the relaxation response]

*Surprise—The lifting of eyebrows in surprise allows the taking in of a larger visual sweep and also permits more light to strike the retina, allowing more information about the unexpected event, making it easier to figure out what is going on and concoct the best plan for action.

*Disgust—An expression of disgust looks the same around the world and sends the identical message: something is offensive in taste or smell, or metaphorically so. The facial expression of disgust—the upper lip curled to the side as the nose wrinkles slightly—suggests a primordial attempt, as Darwin observed, to close the nostril against a noxious odor to to spit out a poisonous food.

*Sadness—A main function of sadness is to help adjust to a significant loss, such as the death of someone close or a major disappointment . It brings a drop in energy and enthusiasm for life’s activities, particularly diversions and pleasures, and, as it portends an approaching depression, slows the body’s metabolism. This withdrawal creates the opportunity to mourn a loss or frustrated hope, grasp its consequences for one’s life, and, as energy returns, plan new beginnings. This loss of energy might have been kept saddened and vulnerable early humans close to home, where they were safer.

IQ versus Emotional Intelligence

March 6, 2018

Obvious questions here are what does the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) lack and what does Emotional Intelligence include. In his book “Emotional Intelligence” Goleman asks, “What factors are at play, for example, when people of high IQ flounder and those of modest IQ do surprisingly well?” He argues that “the difference quite often lies in the abilities called here emotional intelligence, which include self-control, zeal, and persistence, and the ability to motivate oneself. And these skills, as we shall see, can be taught to children, given them a better chance to use whatever intellectual potential the genetic lottery may have given them.”

Goleman goes on to argue that a pressing moral imperative lies beyond this possibility, noting that there are times when the fabric of society seems to unravel at ever-greater speed, when selfishness, violence, and meanness of spirit seem to be rotting the goodness of our communal lives. The importance of emotional intelligence hinges upon the link between sentiment, character and moral instincts. Goleman argues that there is growing evidence that fundamental ethical stances in life stem from underlying emotional capacities. Impulse, for one, is the medium of emotion; the seed of all impulses is a feeling bursting to express itself in action. Those at the mercy of impulse, lacking self-control, suffer a moral deficiency. “The ability to control impulse is the base of will and character. By the same token, the root of altruism lies in empathy, the ability to read emotions in others; lacking a sense of another’s need or despair, there is no caring. And if there are any two moral stances that our times call for, they are precisely these, self-restraint and compassion.”

So what are emotions for? Sociobiologists point to the preeminence of heart over head when they conjecture why evolution has given emotion such a central role in the human psyche. They say that our emotions guide us in facing predicaments and tasks too important to leave to intellect alone such as danger, painful loss, persisting toward a goal despite frustrations, bonding with a mate, building a family. Sociobiologists say that each emotion offers a distinctive readiness to act; each points us in a direction that has worked well to handle the recurring challenges of human life. These eternal situations were repeated and repeated over our evolutionary history. The survival value of our emotional repertoire was attested to by its becoming imprinted in our nerves as innate, automatic tendencies of the human heart.

Goleman writes, “A view of human nature that ignores the power of emotions is sadly shortsighted. The very name “Homo sapiens,” the thinking species, is misleading in light of the new appreciation and visit the place of emotions in our lives that science now offers. As we all know from experience, when it comes to shaping our decisions and actions, feeling counts every bit as much—and often more—than thought. We have gone too far in emphasizing the value and import of the purely rational—of what IQ measures—in human life. For better or worse, intelligence can come to nothing when the emotions hold sway.”

Emotional Intelligence

March 5, 2018

HM needs to apologize to his readers. “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ” by Daniel Goleman was published more than 20 years ago. HM did not read it because he was already convinced of the title that emotional intelligence can matter more than IQ. Moreover, HM would have gone further and argued that in most cases emotional intelligence matters more than IQ. A tenth anniversary edition was published in 2005, but HM still didn’t read it.

HM has finally read it and has discovered that the research on emotional intelligence is very rich, and that he was not adequately familiar with it. Moreover, there is much information and many tips as to how one can improve emotional intelligence. The healthy memory blog has many posts on mindfulness and meditation. These are essential for gaining control of one’s attention and emotions. However, these are general exercises. Emotional intelligence has much information as to how one can improve one’s own emotional intelligence, and how emotional intelligence can be fostered among fellow humans.

HM will do his very best to disseminate as much useful information as he can in his posts. However, he realizes that he is not up to this, and although he will do his best, he will still fall short of the mark. So he strongly recommends that you get this book and read it for yourself. Moreover, this is not a book to read and then set aside. It needs to be studied continuously throughout one’s life.

These frequently repeating shooting incidents that are occur throughout the United States and its schools are very worrisome. Coverage of these events is extensive, and solutions have been offered, but HM has yet to hear emotional intelligence in these discussions. This is unfortunate as emotional intelligence is of special importance.

To make this point, please indulge HM in relating a bit of personal history. In the fourth grade, he had many friends, but one was quite special and he spent many free hours together and with others. However, when they moved into the fifth grade they somehow became estranged. Two former close friends became enemies. Enemies to the extent that HM engaged in one of only a few fights. This occurred on the school ground after school. HM was winning at the beginning of the fight, but his former friend eventually achieved the advantage. Fortunately for HM, at this point a teacher intervened and stopped the fight. They remained estranged. It was not until many, many years later that HM asked himself why his friend had changed. HM started to think that perhaps his friend’s family was having problems such as his parents breaking up that caused the change in his personality, and that he had failed to realize this and had failed to come to his assistance. Rather than offering help, he became an enemy and ended up fighting.

At these shooting incidents the mental status of the shooter is at issue. The lack of emotional intelligence is never mentioned. There are likely many others at school, who are short on emotional intelligence and who are leading destructive lives. Then there are the remaining students, faculty, and staff who should witness events and note how certain students are being excluded. So it is not just one individual, but an entire school system that could do with some training and instruction in emotional intelligence. Increases in emotional intelligence will also benefit individuals in helping them live more enjoyable productive lives.

So many posts will follow, but it is still strongly recommended that you purchase, read, and continue to study Goleman’s outstanding work on emotional intelligence.

© 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.

Rape Conviction Vacated Four Decades After Plea

March 4, 2018

This post is based on an article by the same title by Justin Juvenal in the Metro Section of the 2 March 2018 issue of the Washington Post. On the advice of his grandfather Roy L. Watford, then 18, pleaded guilty to the rape of a 12 year old girl. Having a weak case the prosecutors offered a plea deal that spared him prison time. Watford said he was innocent, but his grandfather worried about him not taking the deal, because he faced the possibility of a life sentence if convicted at trial. Watford said he was innocent, but took the plea deal on the advice of his grandfather.

Although Watford was spared prison, the conviction dogged him for the past four decades, making it difficult for him to find steady work and limiting his ambitions. He said he has gone from job to job and has trouble earning more than the minimum wage.

The victim testified she set out on her bike in Portsmouth on 14 Sep 1977, to find Watford, whom she knew from the neighborhood. She said she knocked on the door of an abandoned home and when it opened, she saw one of Watford’s two brothers inside. Then someone threw a blanket over her head. She testified that the blanket remained over her head as three men raped and sodomized her on a bare mattress inside the home. The woman said she did not see Roy Watford that day and could not say whether she heard his voice during the assault.

Detectives collected a vaginal swab from the victim that contained sperm, and pieces of the mattress and her jeans that appeared to contain biological material. All three Watford brothers were eventually charged in the assault. One of the brothers was found “not innocent” in juvenile court, and the charges were dropped against the other brother.

DNA testing did not exist at the time of the crime. The first conviction based on DNA profiling happened in 1986. In 2005, then-Gov Mark R. Warner ordered fresh DNA tests in thousands of Virginia criminal cases from 1973 to 1988, including Watford’s, after a bevy of biological samples was discovered in the case files of a deceased former analyst for the state’s department of Forensic Science. The DNA samples associated with the crime did not include Watford’s DNA. If it were not for Governor Warner, Watford will likely still have been labeled with the “Guilty” conviction. On the other hand, had his DNA been tested shortly after DNA profiling was accepted, the correction in the justice system could have been done much earlier.

The court wrote in its opinion that Watford “has proved by clear and convincing evidence.” his petition for what is known as a writ of actual innocence, which requires a high bar of evidence in Virginia.

The state opposed the motion, saying the evidence was not strong enough to exonerate Watford.

Not strong enough? The victim knew Watford and neither saw nor heard his voice at the crime. And Watford’s DNA was not among the globs of DNA taken from the crime scene.

HM finds it infuriating how reluctant the state is to recognize and correct its errors. It appears that the state is interested in “wins,” doing anything they can get away with, and fights to have any of its “wins” taken off the score board.

© 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.

Being Married Seems to Reduce the Risk of Developing Dementia

March 3, 2018

This post is based on an article in the Health & Science Section of the 5 November 2017 issue of the Washington Post. The article begins, “Your spouse may drive you crazy at times, but new research suggests that your marriage may keep you from losing your mind.”

According to a report in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, the risk of dementia was significantly lower for married people than for adults who remained single their entire lives. Researchers also found that husbands and wives fared better than widowers and widows.

The analysis included over 800,000 people who had participated in 15 previously published studies. Most of the volunteers came from Sweden, with the rest living elsewhere in Europe, the United States, Asia or Brazil. Nearly 30,000 of them had some form of dementia.

The report authors offered several reasons to suspect that marriage might help keep the brain in good working order.

As social engagement is associated with a reduced risk of dementia, people who are married spend more time in the company of another person. So it is likely that years of interacting with a husband builds up a cognitive reserve. A cognitive reserve has been proposed for the many individuals who die with their brains full of the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, which are the defining characteristics of Alzheimers, who never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Married people also tend to be healthier. The report authors think that this might be because their spouses nag them to eat their vegetables, quit smoking and take prescribed blood pressure medications. They also surmised that better physical health could translate into better brain health by reducing the risk of factors such as heart disease and stroke.

Nine of the studies compared dementia risk in married people and those whose spouses had died. Here the risk of dementia was 2% to 41% higher for widows and widowers. Overall, the added risk associated with being widowed was 20%.

Six of the studies compared the dementia risk in people who were married and in people who were lifelong singles. Singles consistently faced a higher risk ranging from 7% to 90% more. Overall, the added risk for those who had never married was 42%.

These results can be compared with other risk factors. People who are sedentary are about 40% more likely to develop dementia than people who are physically active. Smokers and people with high blood pressure are about 60% more likely to develop dementia than people who don’t smoke or don’t have hypertension.

Seven studies compared dementia risk in those who were married and those who were divorced. There was no difference between these two groups.

The healthy memory blog recommends maintaining growth mindsets, mindfulness and meditation, exercise, a healthy diet and lifestyle, and a happy marriage. These factors should not only reduce, if not eliminate the risk of dementia, but they will provide for a more satisfying live.

© 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.

Certain Books May Boost Baby’s Brain

March 2, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Lisa S. Scott in the Health Section of the 2 January 2108 issue of the Washington Post. The author is Dr. Scott an associate professor of psychology at the University of Florida.

Researchers see clear benefits of shared book-reading for child development. It is good for language and cognitive development, increasing vocabulary and pre-reading skills and honing conceptual development.

Shared book-reading also probably enhances the quality of the parent-infant relationship. It encourages reciprocal interactions between parents and infants. Not least of all, it gives infants and parent a consistent daily time to cuddle.

Research has found that both the quality and quantity of shared book-reading in infancy predicted later childhood vocabulary, reading skills and name-writing ability. So the more books parents read, and the more time they spend reading, the greater the developmental benefits in their 4-year-old children. But Dr. Scott writes that there’s still more to figure out about whether some books might naturally lead to higher-quality interactions and increased learning.

Dr Scott and her colleagues followed infants across the second month of life. They found that when parents showed babies books with faces or objects that were individually named, they learn more, generalize what they learn to new situations and show more specialized brain responses. This is in contrast to books with no labels or books with the same generic label under each image in the book. Early learning in infancy was also associated with benefits four years later.

The books that parents should read to 6- and 9-month-olds will probably be different from those they read to 2-year olds, which will probably be different from those they read to 4-year olds who are getting to read on their own.

HM would urge parents to continue reading to their children. HM’s wonderful mother read him “Peter Pan”, “Tom Sawyer’, and a Clair Bee book “Touchdown Pass.” This was when HM was four and five years old. She read many other books to him, but these three are his strongest memories. HM was impressed how these inkblots could contain such stories. Those experiences awoken a strong enthusiasm for reading which has continued his entire life and which shall continue until he passes on.

© 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 Active Social Life May Be a Secret to Brain Health

March 1, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Judith Graham in the Health Section of the 2 January 2108 issue of the Washington Post. This title should not be news to readers of the healthy memory blog post, but this article provides additional evidence to buttress further this already established fact. Ms. Graham begins by telling a story about her 103-year-old friend Edith Smith who talks about her friends. One is Katie who is 93 and whom Smith met during a long teaching career with the Chicago Public Schools. She said that every day they have a good conversation and that Katie is still driving and lives in her own house.

Then there’s Rhea, 90, whom Smith visits regularly at a retirement facility, and Mary, 95, who doesn’t leave her house anymore so Smith fixes her a basket of jelly and little things she makes and sends it over by cab about once a month. And there are Smith’s fellow residents at a Chicago senior home she recognizes with a card and a treat on their birthdays. When asked to describe herself Smith says that she is a very friendly person. This is likely one reason this 103-year-old has an extraordinary memory for someone her age.

The article goes on to report a recent study highlighting a notable link between brain health and positive relationships. Emily Rogalski at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine has been examining “Superagers” for nine years. Superagers are men and women older than 80 whose memories are as good or better than people 20 to 30 years younger. Every couple in the group fills out surveys about their lives and gets a battery of neuropsychological tests, brain scans, and neurological examination, along with other evaluations.

Thirty-one older men and women with exceptional memories, mostly from Illinois and surrounding states are participating in the project. Previous research showed that a SuperAgers have distinctive brain features: thicker cortexes, a resistance to age-related atrophy. and a larger left anterior cingulate (a part of the brain important to attention and working memory).

Rogalski thinks that brain structure alone doesn’t fully account for Superagers’ unusual mental acuity. She said, “It’s likely there are a number of critical factors that are implicated.

In a new study, researchers asked 31 SuperAgers and 19 cognitively normal older adults to fill out a 42-item questionnaire about their psychological well-being. The SuperAgers stood out in one area: the degree to which they reported having satisfying, warm, trusting relationships.

This finding is consistent with other research linking positive relationships to a reduced risk of cognitive decline, mild cognitive impairment,and dementia. These researchers still haven’t examined how SuperAgers sustain these relationships and whether their experiences might include lessons for others.

Smith is one of nine people who welcome new residents to her retirement community and make them feel at home. She said “Many older people tell you the same story over and over. And sometime all they do is complain and not show any interest in what your have to say. That’s terrible. You have to listen to what people have to say.”

The administrator of the Bethany Retirement Community, where Smith lives, calls Smith a “leader in the community. She’s very involved, She keeps us in line. She notices what’s going on and isn’t afraid to speak out.

William “Bill” Gurolnick, 86, another SuperAger, realized the value of becoming more demonstrative after he retired from a sales and marketing position in 1999. He explained, “Men aren’t usually inclined to talk about their feelings, and I was a keep-things-inside kind of person. But opening up to other people is one of the things that I learned to do.”

Gurolnick helped found a men’s group, Men Enjoying Leisure, which now has nearly 150 members and has spawned four similar groups in the Chicago suburbs. Every month, the group meets for two hours, including one hour they spend discussing personal issues—divorce, illness, children who can’t find jobs and more.

These stories are both informative and inspirational.

DeepMind’s Virtual Psychology Lab Seeks Flaws in Digital Minds

February 28, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Chris Baraniuk in the News Section of the 10 February 2018 issue of the New Scientist. A team at Google’s DeepMind has developed a virtual 3D laboratory called Psychlab in which both humans and machines can take a range of simple tests and compare their cognitive abilities.

The tests were originally designed by psychologists to isolate and evaluate specific mental faculties in people, such as the ability to detect a change in an object that disappears and reappears. Now DeepMind is taking the same tests.

It is not surprising that DeepMInd’s software was better at some tasks. For example, it excelled at visual search—finding a given symbol in a group of others. But it failed miserably when asked to track the position of multiple symbols on a screen, a task that people can do fairly well.

One point of the project is to expose weaknesses in AIs that might otherwise go unnoticed. This should help developers improve their own systems. Accordingly, DeepMind has released Psychlab as an open-source project so anyone can use and adapt it to their needs.

Walter Boot at Florida State University says “there may be few similarities between how an AI tackles a test and the way we do. Even if the AI performance matches the human performance, it could be doing task in a completely different to a human.”

Deepmind’s co-founder Dennis Hassabsbis, has a neuroscience background. Miles Brundage at the University of Oxford says, “Comparing AI cognition with human cognition is still tantalising. Psychlab is in this spirit.”

Olympics and the Brain

February 27, 2018

This post is motivated by an article by Susan Svrluga titled “How gray matter helps Olympians go for gold” in the Metro Section of the 26 Feb 2018 issue of the Washington Post. This article addresses the question “What do neurologists and others who study the brain see when they watch the world’s best athletes in this Winter Olympics? And the answer is “many see brains propelling people to extraordinary things, allowing them to spin and flip without dizziness, to adapt quickly, to anticipant challenges—or, sometimes, to choke.”

Kathleen Cullen, a professor of biomedical engineering and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Hearing and Balance said, “Iike watching really talented, amazing athletes. It’s beautiful to see what the body can accomplish…particularly beautiful. I’m thinking about the computations required to do it.” She explained that a snowboarder flying through a double McTwist or a skater spinning out a triple Lutz or Axel possesses a brain that built models for those intricate maneuvers. What makes Olympic athletes unique is the ability to create really complex models of self-motions and movement they expect as they complete these very sophisticated routines. Moreover, they can recalibrate on the fly. Their ability to adapt to the unexpected during the routine is not something the average person can do.

Professor Cullen studies the neural mechanisms that encode motion. She studies the ways the brain uses information from the vestibular in the inner ear—the “sixth sense” that gives people a sense of where they are, how they’re moving through space, and other sensory mechanisms to help navigate the world.

She said that the sense of vision is very slow. If your slipping on ice and waited for the visual system to tell you you’re slipping, it would be game over. But if the incoming sensory information from the inner ear is different than what the brain expects, that a can be sensed within milliseconds. This helps snowboarders when they’re flying through the air; the brain received moment-to-moment updates about where the head is and from the muscles about where arms and legs are relative to the rest of the body, all of it arriving within milliseconds. Then the brain compares the information it has learned to expect with the snowboarder’s actual motion, so that it can send an appropriate signal to the spinal cord to rapidly adjust balance within milliseconds.

HM has long wondered how these figure skaters can spin without getting dizzy. He feels dizzy after he spins because fluid in the inner ear continues to move, giving the sensation of continued motion. Figure skaters who twirl on the ice teach themselves to counter that natural sensation. She can train herself to use an object after spinning as an anchor to let herself know how she is moving. But after years of repetition in practice the brain learns to better interpret the information coming from the inner ear; it recognizes, in effect, that a sensation of spinning is false when when the body has actually stopped spinning. Professor Cullen says that the abilities to build and recalibrate these models is really impressive.

Nathaniel Sawmill, a neuroscience at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute said the a figure skater who is pitching backward intentionally during his routine, the challenge is resisting the reflex that normally prevents a skater from falling over. Those reflexes are hard-wired in the spinal cord and the brain stem, and trying to override them doesn’t happen perfectly at first. But over time, with repetition they are able to do it.

Dr. Sawmill continued, “Motor skills might seem relatively basic, but there are amazing feats of learning that are really a great scientific puzzle, and a challenge to understand how we do these incredible things. Even the most amazing robot is nothing compared to humans playing sports.”

Jam Ghajar, director of the Stanford Concussion and Brain Performance Center, where they train athletes to improve performance, said “Great athletes brains need to be able to predict what is going to happen and adapt quickly. With Olympic athletes, it’s incredibly important to get their timing, and react to a bump in the snow or a patch of ice at high speed.

Christopher Fetsch, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins says, “That’s what really sets Olympic athletes apart, not their bodies so much as their brains’s speed and flexibility in taking sensory information and translating it into muscle movements. In our day-to-day lives, we make countless small conscious decisions like this. But in the Olympics the stakes are much higher, the world is watching, but the processing going on in the brain is very similar. In these athletes, it has been honed to perfection to perform a particular skill.

Vikram Chib, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins, studies how our brains process incentives and how that influences performance, sees potential parallels between the lab and the Olympics. In his research, when people are paid to do certain tasks, performance increases along with incentive—until the reward gets too big. Then the researchers see the opposite effect. When the subjects see a potential $100 reward, a scan shows “their brain lights up: I have $100 to gain. But when subjects actually do the task, researchers see activity in another part of the brain.”The brain activity looks like they are thinking they have $100 to lose, and performance deteriorates. So when a gold medal is at stake, Chib said, athletes who can keep their minds off the possibility of losing are those more likely to perform well and win.

Ghajar said there’s another thing than can help give athlete an edge that has nothing to do with training in the gym. It’s simple: rest. “A major part of brain performance is getting enough sleep.”

This information led HM to think of another athletic activity that requires complex computations by the brain and the coordination with motor movements. That activity is done by the batter in baseball. The computations done to place a small bat on a small ball that need to be done in an extremely small amount of time are most impressive. Moreover, pitchers change the speed and directions of the ball. Nevertheless, batters mange to accomplish this feat sufficiently often that an interesting game results. HM remember a major league player describing his eye exercises he was doing to improve his hitting. But if the exercises affected only the eyes, and not the brain and subsequent motor activity, then it is doubtful that they would be helpful.

All these activités promote healthy brains and memories. But there is one popular sport that damages brains. Does this make sense? The purpose of athletics is to promote health and teamwork. If the reader wonders what this is all about, the reader should enter CTE into the search block of the healthy memory blog. CTE stands for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. HM is an alumnus of Ohio State University. Nevertheless, he thinks they should close down football. For an educational institution to promote an activity that damages the brain is unconscionable.

To be fair, we should also consider injuries that occur at the Winter Olympics. Broken limbs can be tolerated, by what about paraplegia and quadriplegia. Olympic athletes are highly skilled and appear to be able to protect themselves doing acrobatics. But what about people who are learning? It is difficult to believe that severe injuries do not occur. HM would like to see statistics on this. HM would also like to see how these skills are taught, and if there are any protective measures taken during training.

© 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.

Love at First Sight is Really Just Lust or Even a False Memory

February 26, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title and an article by Jessica Hamzelou in the News section of the 6 January 2018 issue of the New Scientist. One in three people say they have fallen in love as soon as they laid eyes on someone. A study, however, suggesst that the phenomenon does not exist.

Florian Zsok and his colleagues at the University of Zurich conducted a series of experiments in which volunteers saw new people for the first time. Each volunteer filled in a survey and was asked how they felt about the people they saw or met.

The first experiment was designed to mimic online dating. 282 volunteers were shown pictures on the internet of six people of the gender they found attractive, and then were surveyed on their feelings about them. About half the volunteers were in relationships. They were also asked about the early days of those relationships. A similar experiment involved showing 50 volunteers nine pictures.

Zsok and his team also studied the reactions of 64 people who met each other face-to-face, either at a bar, doing speed dating, or at a food-based event designed to allow people to meet in groups of four.

Of the 396 volunteers across all parts of the study, 32 reported experiencing love at first sight (“Personal Relationships,” doi.org/chkg). However, none of these people matched. Zsok says, “There was no reciprocated love.”

The analyses of the surveys showed that people are most likely to report love at first sight when they find someone physically attractive. We tend to associate a range of positive attributes to good-looking people. This phenomenon is called the halo effect. Zsok says, “This might help explain why people think they are falling love with someone at first sight.

Anna Machin, of the University of Oxford says, “What you feel is lust at first sight and is largely subconscious. Love is an attachment that comes later. It is more complex and involves conscious reflection on a relationship.”

Zsok says, “ In reality, it is unlikely that people ever form this kind of connection upon meeting one another. People like this romantic idea, but you have to read between the lines.”

Then the question is why do so many people feel like it has happened to them? Machin says, “People often misremember the early sates of what is now a successful relationship. It’s an unconscious attempt to underpin a relationship. Telling someone 20 years down the line that you loved them at first sight is a loverly thing to say to maintain a relationship.”

Facebook May Guess Millions of People’s Sexuality to Sell Adds

February 25, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article in the News Section of the 24 Feb 2018 Issue of the New Scientist. Last year Spain fined Facebook 1.2 million Euros for targeting adverts based on sensitive information without first obtaining explicit consent. In May, new EU-wide legislation called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which states that users must be specifically asked before companies collect and use their sensitive information.

Angel Cuevas Rumin at Charles III University of Madrid and his colleagues have been conducting research on how Facebook uses its users’ information to target its adverts. The research team purchased three Facebook ad campaigns. One targeted users interested in various religions, another was aimed at people based on their political opinions, and a third targeted those interested in “transsexualism” or “homosexuality.” For 35 Euros, they reached more than 25,000 people.

Remember that in Europe it is against the law for companies like Facebook to use sensitive information without first obtaining explicit consent from its users. So it would appear that Facebook has broken the law. However, Facebook argues that interests are not the same as sensitive information, so they claim that they are in compliance with the law.

To assess how often sensitive interests are used to target adverts on Facebook, Cuevas and his team created an internet browser extension that analyses how you interact with adverts. Moreover, it also records why you were shown a specific advert. Between October 2016 and October 2017, more than 3000 people from EU countries used the tool, corresponding to 5.5 million adverts. The team found more than 2000 reasons that Facebook had for showing someone an advert that related to sensitive interests, including politics, religion, health, sexuality, and ethnicity. About 905 of the people who used the extension were targeted with ads based on these categories.

Extrapolating from the demographics of the people using the browser extension, the team estimated that about 40% of all EU citizens, some 200 million people, may have been targeted using sensitive interests. (arxiv.org/abs/1802.05030).

Europeans do not like this state of affairs. A survey in 2015 found that 63% of EU citizens don’t trust online firms, and more than half don’t like providing personal information in return for free services.

Neither does HM who no longer uses Facebook.

© 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.

Social Media Putting Democracy at Risk

February 24, 2018

This blog post is based on an article titled, “”YouTube excels at recommending videos—but not at deeming hoaxes” by Craig Timberg, Drew Harrell, and Tony Romm in 23 Feb 2018
issue of the Washington Post. The article begins, “YouTube’s failure to stop the spread of conspiracy theories related to last week’s school shooting in Florida highlights a problem that has long plagued the platform: It is far better at recommending videos that appeal to users than at stanching the flow of lies.”

To be fair, YouTube’s fortunes are based on how well its recommendation algorithm is tuned to the tastes of individual viewers. Consequently, the recommendation algorithm is its major strength. YouTube’s weakness in detecting misinformation was on stark display this week as demonstrably false videos rose to the top of YouTube’s rankings. The article notes that one clip that mixed authentic news images with misleading context earned more than 200,000 views before YouTube yanked it Wednesday for breaching its rules on harassment.

The article writes, “These failures this past week, which also happened on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites—make it clear that some of the richest, most technically sophisticated companies in the world are losing against people pushing content rife with untruth.”

YouTube apologized for the prominence of these misleading videos, which claimed that survivors featured in news reports were “crisis actors” appearing to grieve for political gain. YouTube removed these videos and said the people who posted them outsmarted the platform’s safeguards by using portions of real news reports about the Parkland, Fla, shooting as the basis for their conspiracy videos and memes that repurpose authentic content.

YouTube made a statement that its algorithm looks at a wide variety of factors when deciding a video’s placement and promotion. The statement said, “While we sometimes make mistakes with what appears in the Trending Tab, we actively work to filter out videos that are misleading, clickbait or sensational.”

It is believed that YouTube is expanding the fields its algorithm scans, including a video’s description, to ensure that clips alleging hoaxes do not appear in the trending tab. HM recommends that humans be involved with the algorithm scans to achieve man-machine symbiosis. [to learn more about symbiosis, enter “symbiosis” into the search block of the Healthymemory blog.] The company has pledged on several occasions to hire thousands more humans to monitor trending videos for deception. It is not known whether this has been done or if humans are being used in a symbiotic manner.

Google also seems to have fallen victim to falsehoods, as it did after previous mass shootings, via its auto-complete feature. When users type the name of a prominent Parkland student, David Hogg, the word “actor” often appears in the field, a feature that drives traffic to a subject.

 

© 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.

Higher Education, Status, and Costs

February 23, 2018

This blog post is motivated by an article by Jay Mathews titled “Franchising the Ivy League: How About Yale at Yreka,” in the Metro Section of the 8 January 2018 issue of the Washington Post. It cited a study by Alan Krueger, former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and Mathematica Policy Research expert Stacy Berg Dale that found that students accepted by selective colleges who chose not to attend these colleges had incomes just as high 20 years later as those who did attend. Only students from low-income families did better after attending selective colleges. This is strong evidence that, unless you are from a low-income family, it is foolish to bother applying to selective colleges, and that you are insane to attend a selective college if you are assuming uncomfortable levels of debt for student loans.

Moreover, the best college to attend depends upon the particular subject matter in which you are interested. If you know your topics of interest you should apply to schools whose scholars interest you. Your hope is to attend a school where you can find an appropriate scholar with whom you can take independent study and perhaps participate in her research. Succeed, and this is the best route to a graduate programs that will further your interests.

If HM remembers correctly, Robert Frost said that attending college was just a second chance to read books you should have read in high school. Robert Frost’s statement is even more true today, given all the additional sources of knowledge that are readily available. Go the the healthy memory blog titled “Mindshift Resources” to find (MOOCS) Massively Online Open Courses. Many of these courses are free. Laura Pickard has a site, nopaymba.com, who writes, “I started the No-Pay MBA website as a way of documenting my studies, keeping myself accountable, and providing a resource for other aspiring business students. The resources on this site are for anyone seeking a world-class business education using the free and low-cost tools of the internet.  I hope you find them useful!” She explains how she got an business education equivalent to an MBA for less than1/100th the cost of a traditional MBA.

Frankly, were HM an employer he would prefer to hire an autodidact who had completed this free online MBA than someone who had paid for and completed a conventional degree. He would do this on the basis of the autodidact who had the interest and the motivation to complete the course. There are many free online courses. The cost usually comes when one wants to get credit towards a degree.

So HM encourages high school students, just as he encourages everyone else, to find their passion and to develop a growth mindset to pursue that passion.

© 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.

I Know How Hard It Can Be to Bounce Back When Everyday Things Fall Apart

February 22, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Andrew Reiner in the Health Section of the 6 February 2018 issue of the Washington Post. This article is about resilience, which is the ability to bounce back from obstacles that hinder one from doing what he wants to do. Although this article offers some useful tips, it makes no mention of the best technique for improving resilience, mindfulness meditation. It is amazing not only because the author is missing the main method of improving resilience, but also that the editor of the health section did not call attention to this glaring omission. Obviously these are two people who should be reading the healthymemory blog.

Go to https://centerhealthyminds.org/about/founder-richard-davidson and you will find a researcher, Richie Davidson, who has devoted his career trying to understand why some people have difficulty overcoming the slings and arrows of adverse fortune and in helping them becoming resilient and overcoming adversity. The central technique is mindfulness meditation.

There are many healthy memory blog post on resilience (enter “resilience” into the search block of the healthy memory blog). One blog post, “Resilience”, discusses resilience as one of the six dimensions of Davidson’s Emotional Style. Another blog post, Improving Resilience, presents a specific technique for improving resilience.

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

Why Do 95% of Defendants Accept Plea Offers?

February 21, 2018

This article is based on an article in by Jeffrey D. Stein titled, “Why an innocent person would accept a plea deal” in the Outlook section of the 14 April 2017 issue of the Washington Post. Jeffrey Stein is a public defender. He writes that his conversation with his clients almost always begins in jail. Usually the prosecution extends a plea offer within a few days and tells the suspect that the offer will expire in a week. A week is rarely a sufficient amount of time to conduct the necessary research about the crime.

He writes that he lays out options for the client. He could go to trial, but that might mean waiting in jail for months, if not years, before a jury hears the case. Of course, if the client can post bail, then he would not need to wait in jail. The other option is to accept the plea offer. Stein notes that in some cases the sentencing difference between accepting and losing at trial can be a matter of decades. This reality answers the question in the title of this post.

But does plea bargaining affect the correct administration? According Registry of Exonerations, 15% of all exonerates, people convicted of crimes later proved to be innocent—originally pleaded guilty. That share rises to 49% for people exonerated for manslaughter, and 66% for those exonerated of drug crimes.

He writes, “The final stage happens in court. Your client has signed the paperwork admitting to something you believe in your gut that he did not do. Maybe he acted in self-defense. Maybe he was standing near the actual perpetrator and were presumed guilty by association because of the color of his skin. Maybe he was the victim of an honest misidentification.”

“The judge turns to you and asks, ‘Does either counsel know of any reason that I should not accept the defendant’s guilty plea?” You hesitate. You want to shout:’Yes, your honor! This plea is the product of an extortive system system of devastating mandatory minimums and lopsided access to evidence. My client faced an impossible choice and is just trying to avoid losing his life in prison.”

“But you stand by your client’s decision, which was made based on experiences and emotions only they can know: You reply: ’No’ your honor.’”

Obviously, the author of this article is a conscientious public defender who has adequate time to work for the client. However, even conscientious public defenders are usually overworked and have neither the time nor the resources to provide the defense they would like to provide.

So, it is usually better to provide your own attorney even if it forces you into debt and perhaps even bankruptcy. That is the price of justice.

Frequently during the police interrogation innocent defendants will confess their guilt. Interrogations can go on for extremely long periods of time even if they are not physically abusive. To get out of the interrogation, the person confesses guilt, knowing he is not guilty and assuming this will come out during the investigation. This is not very likely to happen.

So, as has been frequently mentioned in this blog, the primary problem with the legal system, is that it provides little justice.

© 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.

End of Days: Is Western Civilization on the Brink of Collapse?

February 20, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Laura Spinney in the Features section of the 20 January 2018 issue of the New Scientist. This post will feature the role of cognitive science in answering this question. The article notes that cognitive scientists recognize two broad modes of thought— a fast, automatic, relatively inflexible mode, and a slower, more analytical, flexible one. Healthy memory blog readers should recognize Kahneman’s System 1 System 2 model of cognition. System 1 is fast. Most of our normal discourse is System 1. System 1 comes natural to us. It is also the seat of our emotions. System 2 corresponds to what we normally regard as thinking. System 2 is conscious and makes demands on our attentional resources. An important role of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors.

According to the article David Rand, a psychologist at Yale University, argues that populations might actually cycle between the two over time. HM believes, or hopes, that Dr. Rand is being misconstrued. Were either mode of processing to become exclusive, our species would quickly vanish. However, one mode of processing might dominate. A good example of this is occurring in the Trump administration. Not only is science not being used, it is being ignored, or being made difficult to access, or even destroyed. So much damage is being done to the United States that if it is not soon stopped, democracy is seriously threatened.

The problem in the United States has been the ascendancy of the dominance of System 1 processing. System 2 processors are attempting to fight this ignorance and reset System 2 processing into its appropriate role. The problem with Trump was evident before he was elected. See the healthy memory blog post, “Donald J. Trump, Alleged Incapacitated Person.” A lawyer James A. Herb, Esq. filed a lawsuit that strongly supported that Trump should not be allowed to be President. After Clinton won the popular vote, he refiled the lawsuit for the Electoral College. The justification for the Electoral College is to prevent someone who is clearly incapable for the office becoming President. Obviously, the Electoral College failed to perform its function. He filed it again after Trump became President documenting that Trump was indeed unfit. Again his lawsuit fell on deaf ears.

Jonathan Cohen, David Rand’s fellow collaborator, said that a long-standing puzzle regarding societies heading for ruin is: “why did they keep up their self-destructive behavior even though the more analytical people must have seen the danger ahead.” The answer is that the forward thinking System 2 processors were not steering the train.
Let us hope that the System 2 processors regain control of the US train.

© 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.

How Good is Face Recognition Software?

February 19, 2018

From what we see on police shows on TV it is truly amazing. But how good is it? An article titled, “Face-recognition software is perfect— if you’re a white man” by Timothy Revell in the This Week Section of 17 the Feb 2018 issue of the New Scientist.

Three commercially available face-recognition systems created by Microsoft, IBM and a Chinese company Megvii were tested by Joy Buolamwini of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The systems correctly identified the gender of white men 99% of the time. Identifying the gender does not seem to be particularly useful. However, the error rate rose for people with darker skin, reaching nearly 35% for women. So less than half of women had their gender identified correctly? These results will be presented at the Conference of Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency in New York later this month.

Presumably face-recognition software is already being used in many different situations. HM has been led to believe that police use it to identify suspects in a crowd and to automatically tag photos. Unfortunately, inaccuracies can have consequences, such as systematically ingraining biases in police stop and searches.

Artificial intelligence systems are dependent on the data on which they are trained. According to one study, a widely used data set is around 75% male and more than 80% white.

Organizations using face-recognition software need to test its accuracy for correctly identifying individuals for the subject populations of interest, and the results of these tests need to be published. Before selling face-recognition software, organizations need to describe the population on which it was developed and tested, and its accuracy for correctly identifying individuals. The performance of the software tested in this article is highly questionable. It is hard to envision for what applications it might be useful.

© 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.

You Think You’re Clairvoyant?

February 18, 2018

The title of this post is the first part of the title by Adam Bear, Rebecca Fortgang, & Michael Bronstein in the Health Section of the 16 January 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The last part of the title is “but your brain is just tricking you.” The three authors are Ph.D. candidates at Yale University.

The article begins, “Have you ever felt as thought you predicted exactly when the light was going to turn green or sensed that the doorbell was about to ring? Imagine the possibility that these moments of clairvoyance occur simply because of a glitch in your mind’s time logs. What happened first—your thought about the doorbell or its actual ringing. It may have felt as if the thought came first, but when the two events (ringing of doorbell, thought about doorbell) occur close together, we can mistake their order. This leads to the sense that we accurately predicted the future when, in fact, all we did is notice the past.

They developed a scale that measures delusion-like ideas. The scale asked participants in this study question such as: “Do you believe in the power of the occult?” Do you ever feel as if you could read other people’s minds?” and “Do you ever feel that you are a very special or unusual person?”

To measure the kind of timing errors that might lead people to mistakenly think they predicted an event that they had already observed, they had participants play a game in which they were asked to quickly predict which of five white squares were about to turn red. Research participants could either indicate that they didn’t have time to finish making a prediction before the red square was revealed, or claim that they did complete their prediction before this event occurred.

The square that turned red from trial to trial was selected randomly. So the researchers knew and the participants could not, that it was impossible to correctly predict the red state with better than 1-in-5 odds. The participants who were more likely to report an implausibly high number of accurate predictions were also more likely to endorse delusion-like ideas in broader contexts. The researchers took measures to ensure that the participants weren’t simply lying to them about their accuracy in the game.

There has been other research where people recalled what they had previously predicted about real events that occur in the world. Their previous predictions were known, so lies could be checked. Nevertheless, it was not uncommon for people to remember that they had correctly predicted, when the had predicted erroneously. It appears that our minds try to protect our egos by informing us we had predicted events, when we have not. So be careful to not let your mind fool you, and at the same time keep your ego intact. You’ll be a better person for 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.

How Google and Facebook Hooked Us—and How to Break the Habit

February 17, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a post by Douglas Heaven in the Features section of the 10 February 2018 issue of the New Scientist.

In 2009 Justin Rosenstein created Facebook’s “Like” Button. Now he has dedicated himself to atoning for it. Martin Moore of King’s College London said, “Just a few years ago, no one could say a bad word about the tech giants. Now no one can say a good word.” The author writes, “Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon variously avoid tax, crush competition, and violate privacy, the complaints go. Their inscrutable algorithms determine what we see and what we know, shape opinions, narrow world views and even subvert the democratic order that spawned them.”

“Facebook knew right from the start it was making something that would exploit vulnerabilities in our psychology. Behavior design for persuasive tech, a discipline found at Stanford University in California in the 1990s, is baked into much of big tech’s hardware and software. Whether it is Amazon’s “customers who bought this also bought function”, or the eye-catching red or orange “something new” dots on you smartphone app icons, but tech’s products are not just good, but subtly designed to control us, even to addict us — to grab us by the eyeballs and hold us there.”

The article goes on and develops this theme further. Here are data points offered in the article. There are 2 billion Active Facebook Users. 88% of Google’s 2017 income came from advertising. 20% of global spending on advertising goes to Facebook and Google.

And these products have been used to interfere with democracy and to subvert elections.

The article goes on and discusses various regulatory approaches for dealing with these problems, but warns about unintended consequences.

The most telling point follows: “But if big tech’s power is based entirely on our behavior, the most effective brake on their influence is to change our own bad habits.” This point has long been advocated in the healthy memory blog. The web is filled with tips for tuning out as is the healthy memory blog. Entering “technology addiction” will lead you to ways to free yourself from this addiction. Entering “Mary Aiken” will lead you to many posts based on her book “The Cyber Effect,” which you might find are well worth your time.

© 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.