So, What Makes a Brain Smart?

December 18, 2018

This post is based on “The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential” by David Allen. He writes, “Rather than being product of a specific brain region, general intelligence seems to come from how effectively various brain regions can work together. To solve a problem, parts of the temporal and occipital lobes, at the base and back of the brain, first take the raw signals that flood in from the eyes and ears and process them. This information is fed into the parietal cortex, a broad arch of brain tissue just under the crown, where it is annotated and labelled with meaning. It then goes forward to regions of the prefrontal cortex, sitting behind the forehead, which manipulates it, packages it into possible ideas or solutions, and tests them. As one solution emerges as preferred, another part of this prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate, is recruited to block the other, incorrect, responses. This model of intelligence is called the Pareto-Frontal Integration Theory (P-FIT). The better this P-FIT circuit works, then the more general intelligence a person will have.

A visible difference is in the way clever people fuel their brain activity. Brain scans of the way glucose is used to release energy, another proxy of mental activity, show that energy demand increases when the brain is put to work. In people who score high on intelligence tests the required increase is smaller. High intelligence is linked to efficient glucose consumption. Those with less effective brains need to burn more glucose to fire more neurons to solve the same problem. This could indicate more intelligent people need to recruit fewer neurons and set into action a smaller number of brain circuits. Understand, that this is not biologically or genetically determined. When we learn, these circuits become more efficient. One way of looking at learning is that it exercises these brain circuits making them more efficient.

Analysis of brain circuitry is a new focus for neuroscience. Intelligence circuits, like all those in the brain, rely on two types of communication: chemical and electrical.

Neuroscientists have shown the way these brain circuits activate is highly personal. Although we all use the brain’s P—FIT system to reason and problem-solve, we each do it in a slightly different way, recruiting a different number of neurons in a different order. Neuroscientists from Yale University found patterns of brain activity so personal that they served as a kind of neuronal fingerprint. The scientists could pick out and identify people from a large group of volunteers by mapping and then looking for their tell-tale patterns of brain connections as they performed cognitive exercises.

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The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential

December 17, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a new book by David Allen. David Allen is a British journalist with a highly entertaining writing style. HM is envious of his writing style. So for a more enjoyable presentation of this material read the book. Much of the book will be ignored. Although it is both interesting and scholarly, it contains many red herrings with respect to genius. Foremost among them is the intelligence quotient (IQ). Mr. Allen is so captivated by IQ that he applied for the high IQ group Mensa. To join Mensa you need to have an IQ of at least 130. About 2% of the population would be eligible. Mr. Adam passed and in an effort to raise his IQ after different training attempts he managed to raise it by one point. This is well within the margin of error of IQ tests. He used the drug modafil, but it didn’t seem to help.

Mr. Allen did not find anything exceptional about members of Mensa. They were doing all right in life, but nothing exceptional. Much research has been done on the size and structure of the brain, but this research has not revealed anything substantive.

Mr. Allen does devote space to the evils of IQ testing. It has been used to disqualify large groups and races as being intellectually inferior. It has been used to justify sterilization and even the killing of what was regarded as inferior populations. To learn more about IQ tests enter “Flynn” into the search block of the healthy memory blog. To learn more about the inadequacy of intelligence tests enter “Stanovich” into the search block of the healthy memory blog.

Perhaps the worse effect of IQ is that it has led people to believe that they are not smart and are unlikely to succeed at anything difficult. What has found to be important for IQ is mindset.[enter “mindset” into the search block of the healthy memory blog] The psychologist Carol Dweck has identified two kinds of mindsets: fixed and growth.  People with a fixed mindset believe that we are who we are, and abilities can only be revealed, not created and developed.  They say things like “I’m bad in math” and see that as a fixed feature like being female or left-handed.  The problem with this mindset is that it has serious consequences because a person who thinks they are poor at math will remain poor at math and won’t try hard to improve; they believe this would be pointless.  Whatever potential these people have will not be realized if they think that these skills are immutable.

However, people with growth mindsets believe that skills can be developed if they are worked at. The growth mindset is the true mindset that allows for personal development.  Fixed mindsets are erroneous mindsets that preclude further development. Dweck has conducted experiments that illustrate and provide insight into this difference.  In one experiment she gave relatively easy puzzles to fifth graders, which they enjoyed. Then she gave the children harder puzzles. Some children suddenly lost interest and declined an offer to take the puzzles home.  Other children loved the harder puzzles more than the easy ones and wanted to know how they could get more of these puzzles.  Dweck noted that the difference between the two groups was not “puzzle-solving talent.”  Among the equally adept children, some were turned off by the tougher challenge while others were intrigued.  They key factor was mindset. In another experiment Dweck found that even when people with the fixed-mindset try, they don’t get as much from the experience as those who believe they can grow.  She scanned the brains of volunteers as they answered hard questions, then were told whether  their answers were right or wrong and given information that could help them improve.  The scans showed that volunteers with a fixed mindset were fully engaged when they were told whether their answers were right or wrong, but that’s all they apparently cared about.  Information that could help them improve their answers didn’t engage them.  Even when they’d  gotten an answer wrong, they were not interested in what the right answer was.  Only people with a growth mindset paid close attention  to information that could stretch their knowledge.  For them, learning was a top priority.

Too many people try something, have difficulty doing it, and then abandon it thinking that pursuing it will be a waste of time. However, there are many people who were not discouraged by their initial failures. Rather they regarded these failures as motivation to succeed and became very successful in their pursuits. Barbara Oakley is a prime example. [Enter “Oakley” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to find relevant posts.] Barbara Oakley is someone who despised mathematics, but who eventually decided that mathematics would be critical to her success. She began work slowly but diligently. And she discovered as her skills improved, she began to increasingly like mathematics, which ultimately led her to becoming a highly successful engineer.

The take away lesson here is not to let any one or any test define you. Define yourself and then work diligently to succeed.

Perhaps more important than professional success is personal success and personal fulfillment. Rather than a number, you want to have personal knowledge and skills that result from growth mindsets.

© 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 Disoriented Ape

December 15, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the first part of a title by Emma Young in the Features section of the 15 Dec. 18 issue of the New Scientist. The second half of the title is “Why clever people can be terrible navigators.” Apart from technology, which does little, if anything, to develop an individual’s ability to navigate. It is likely that a heavy reliance on these devices could reduce or destroy any abilities we might have.

There are two main approaches we use to navigate. Route-based navigation involves remembering landmarks on a particular journey: turn left at the church and then right at the park, and so on. This works pretty well in familiar towns or on regular journey, but what do you do if you are forced to take another route?

Mental mapping involves creating, consciously or unconsciously, a mental map of the environment. This approach is sometimes considered superior because it is more flexible and allows one to take shortcuts when appropriate. But it is more cognitively demanding.

Mary Hegarty of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) Spatial Thinking Lab says that most of us use both strategies, the trick being to get the balance right. “Good navigators probably select the best strategy for the job automatically.

Hegarty and colleagues put 140 UCSB students in a virtual reality maze. The maze contained 12 objects, including a chair and a duck, placed at various junctions. After being taught a route through the maze, the volunteers were started off at one object and asked to navigate to another. Sometimes the learned route was the shortest path and at other times it was quicker to take a novel route. Women were more likely to follow learned routes and to wander. Men showed a greater preference for trying to work out shortcuts, which call for mental mapping. On average, males were faster and covered less ground in reaching their target.

Hugo Spiers of University College London conducted a massive study that surveyed people’s navigational abilities using a mobile-phone-based game called Sea Hero Quest. In an analysis of more than 500,000 people from 57 countries, the best performers were living in nations with greater gender equality and greater economic wealth, which is associated with higher levels of education, which improves abstract problem solving. The presence of four Nordic countries in the top 10 has led Spiers to speculate that there may have been selection for good navigational abilities in their Viking and seafaring past. It might also help to have a culture of participating sports requiring navigation, such as orienteering,

Half of the Nobel Prize in 2014 went to John O’Keefe at University College London for discovering place cells in the hippocampus of rats. Each of these cells fired in a specific location at the animal moved around its enclosure. So by remembering patterns of place cell activity, a rat could effectively map its environment. The other half of the prize went to May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology for their discover of grid cells. Located near the hippocampus, they fire in groups, each making a discrete hexagonal region of ground as an animal moves across it. It is though that, by essentially unfurling a grid map over a two-dimensional space as it goes, the rat gets precise information about the distance between objects within it, including itself.

Place cells and grid cells have been found in human brains, as have a variety of other neurons specialized for navigation. Head direction cells encode the orientation of your head, providing a reference point for grid and place cells. Border cells fire when you get close to a boundary, such as a wall. Spatial view cells become active when you look at a place, even if you don’t actually go there.

Speaking Two Languages May Help the Aging Brain

December 13, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Ramin Skibba in the Health and Science Section of the 11Dec 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The article notes that the first main advantage involves what is referred to as executive function. This includes skills that allow us to control, direct and manage our attention, as well as our ability to plan. It also helps us to ignore irrelevant information and focus on what’s important. Having two languages and the languages being activated automatically and subconsciously, the bilingual person is constantly managing the interference of the languages so that the wrong word in the wrong language at the wrong time isn’t said. These same brain areas are also used when trying to complete a task while there are distractions. This task might have nothing to do with language; it could be trying to listen to something in a noisy environment or doing some visual task. The muscle memory developed from using two languages can apply to different skills.

Executive functions are the most complex brain functions that separate us from apes and other animals. They’re often observed in parts of the brain that are the newest in evolutionary terms: the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for advanced processing; the bilateral supra marginal gyro, which plays a role in linking words and meanings; and the anterior cingulate. Studies show that the bilingual experience alters the structure of these areas.

There are increases in gray matter volume. Gray matter refers to how many cell bodies and dendrites there are. Bilingual experience makes gray matter denser, so there are more cells. This is an indication of a healthier brain. Bilingualism also affects white matter, a fatty substance that covers axons, which are the main projections coming out from neurons to connect them to other neurons. White matter allows messages to travel fast and efficiently across networks of nerves and to the brain. Bilingualism promotes the integrity of white matter as we age. It gives us more neurons to use, and it strengthens or maintains the connections between them so that communication can happen optimally.

When the brains of bilingual individuals who have suffered neurodegeneration are examined, their brains look damaged. From their brain scans one might think these people should be more forgetful, or they should’t be coping as well as they are. But this is not the case. A bilingual brain can compensate for brain deterioration by using alternative brain networks and connections when original pathways have been destroyed. Researchers call this theory “cognitive compensation” and conclude that it occurs because bilingualism promotes the health of both gray and white matter.

A continuing theme of the healthy memory blog is that memory health is dependent on staying cognitively active. We need to be continually learning throughout our lifetimes. This provides not only for memory health, but also for a more fulfilling life. As was described in the preceding paragraph, the brain can compensate for brain deterioration by using alternative brain networks and connections when original pathways have been destroyed. As has been described in many previous healthy memory blog posts that autopsies have been done of people whose brains were full of the neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque, which are the defining features for a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, but who never had any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of the disease.

Why Don’t Our Brains Get Bigger?

December 12, 2018

This post is based on an article by David Robson titled “A Brief History of the Brain” in the New Scientist Collection titled “Becoming Human.”

The question raised in the title seems to be reasonable. Most developments are based on our brains aided by technology. Some even raise the fear that technology will outsmart us and take control.

Here is the answer provided in Robson’s article. Perhaps the most obvious answer is that we reached a point at which the advantages of bigger brains started to be outweighed by the dangers of giving birth to children with big heads. Another possibility is that it might have been a case of diminishing returns.

Our brains burn 20% of our food at a rate of about 15 watts, and any further improvements would be increasingly demanding. Simon Laughlin at the University of Cambridge compares the brain to a sports car, which burns ever more fuel the faster it goes.

For example, one way to speed up our brain would be to evolve neurons that can fire more times per second. However, to support a 10-fold increase in the “clock speed” of our neurons, our brain would need to burn energy at the same rate as Usain Bolt’s legs during a 100 meter sprint. The 10,000 calorie a day diet of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps would pale in comparison.

The size of our brains ceased increasing around 200,000 years ago. In the past 10,000 to 15,000 years the average size of the human brain compared with our body has shrunk by 3 to 4 percent. However, size is not everything, and it’s possible that the brain has simply evolved to make better use of less grey and white matter. That seems to fit with some genetic studies, which suggest that our brain’s wiring is more efficient now than it was in the past.

It appears that further development depends on humans developing a neo-symbiotic relationship with technology. See the Healthymemory blogpost, “Neo-Symbiosis and Transactive Memory.”

The Final Post (for the time being)

December 11, 2018

In the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse.” The title of this series promises civil discourse. So here are the guidelines:

Show respect
Respond by reframing
Think and talk at the level of values
Say what you believe

These points are not just a matter of being civil and polite. Ignoring these points would also be nonproductive. When there is disagreement, nothing is to be gained by informing the other party that they are wrong. Rather, propose by reframing another point of view. If the other party is not willing, then just agree to disagree, perhaps to address the topic at another time. It is unlikely that the other party will change views immediately, but it may start them rethinking, perhaps at an unconscious level.

HM agrees with Lakoff that values are important, but at some point facts, data, or possible research should be discussed. Truly advanced democracies would give data and research primary importance. Moreover, a democracy can see what other democracies are doing to see what is working. A good example is medical care. The United States is the only advanced country that does not use the government to provide medical care to everyone. In addition to lower medical costs, all these countries have much better medical statistics and healthcare results than the United States. One would think that the United States would avail themselves of these results and use them to develop their own healthcare.

But the United States continues to ignore the obvious. This is reflected in surveys of country’s welfare. The United States rarely fares well in these surveys and some citizens delude themselves by thinking that they live in the best country in the world.

© 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.

Would Adam Smith Be a Conservative Today?

December 10, 2018

This is the tenth post in the series Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse. Conservatives seem to regard Adam Smith as an excuse for not caring about their fellow humans. That invisible hand takes care of everything. By focusing exclusively on one’s own self interest, everything works out for the best.

Indeed Adam Smith’s capitalism was a gigantic advancement in thinking at that time and did increase the welfare of many. However, Adam Smith was a social philosopher preoccupied with the welfare of humanity. Although he is famed for his “Wealth of Nations,” Smith believed his book “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” to be the superior work. He continued making extensive revisions until his death.

There are many reasons to believe that were Adam Smith alive today he would be painfully aware of the problems of capitalism and would be proposing ideas to make corrections to benefit the public welfare. He would be interested in neuroscience to see what potential benefits it held for public welfare. And he might well have read Lakoff and be using frames in his arguments.

There is every reason that he would be a progressive developing and actively pursing progressive goals.

© 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 Piketty Insight on the Accelerating Wealth Gap

December 9, 2018

This is the ninth post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse, and the title of this post is the title of a chapter in Lakoff’s book. Lakoff notes that this insight of economist Thomas Piketty and his colleagues is an insight that has not yet become framed in public discourse. Here is Piketty’s basic insight. He studied the history, not just of income but of wealth. He observed that there are two fundamentally different kinds of wealth.

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

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

Piketty looks at the proportion of the kinds of wealth, that is, the ratio between R and G over a population. Then he asks, how does it change and why?

He studied tax records in many countries dating back to the eighteenth century. He discovered that up until 1913, most wealth was reinvestment wealth. Even during the period of the industrial revolution, which is usually thought of in terms of productive wealth, R was much greater than G, thus showing that the common wisdom is false. Even in capitalist democracies where individual liberty and the market were supposed to allow for productive wealth through work, it turns out that reinvestment wealth was overwhelming. France, a capitalist democracy concerned with egalite, in 1910, 70% of the wealth was reinvestment wealth, held by the very wealthy—not productive wealth distributed over most of the population.

Because of World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, a significant portion of reinvestment wealth was destroyed. Productive wealth became greater, more G than R. Between 1913 and 1980, most of modern economic theory was developed, whether liberal or conservative. It was primarily based on GDP—on G, not R.

In 1980, during the Reagan era in America something changed. Reagan greatly cut taxes on the wealthy, started a major attack on unions and the wages of ordinary workers, cut regulations on business and so on. Margaret Thatcher did the same in England. These economic ideas spread. There was a historic shift around 1980. R became greater than G again. Reinvestment wealth took over the reins or modern economics. Being exponential, reinvestment wealth grew exponentially—like compound interest.

In 1976 in the United States the top 1% had 19.9% of the wealth. In 2010, the top % had 35.4% of the wealth, the top 5% had 63% of the wealth, and the top 20% had 88.9% of the wealth. That left 11.1% for the bottom 80%.

So why should this be a concern? As the share of the nation’s wealth going to the wealthy rises, the share going to everyone else falls. What else falls? The freedom that wealth can buy, the power that wealth can buy. Technically, we may still have one person, one vote (but given the menacing Electoral College, not for Presidential elections). But the effect of one person on elections has gone way down.

Piketty says that this trend is reversible, but it takes political change. But what is the likelihood for political change given the systemic effect of Piketty’s insight:

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

*Greater control over public discourse. Wealthy people and corporations can control public discourse in many ways—by owning media outlets, sponsoring shows, massive advertising, and so on. This control works via the brain. Language and imagery that activate conservative frames will also activate conservative morality—strict father morality in general. As conservative morality gets stronger, progressive morality gets weaker in the brains of the public. This effects what people believe unconsciously as well as consciously, and therefore affects how people vote.

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

The Science Behind Empathy and Morality

December 8, 2018

This is the eighth post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse. Our mirror neuron systems operate in our brains and gives us the capacity to connect with others, to know and even feel what they feel, and to connect with the natural world. It provides the basis of our capacity for empathy.

Certain emotions correlate with certain actions in our own bodies—in facial muscles, in posture, and so forth. When we feel happy our facial muscles are prompted to produce a smile, as opposed to a frown or a baring of the teeth. We also know that the physical cues that broadcast emotion in others will usually trigger in an observer the same brain response that would accompany those physical cues of the same emotion in ourselves. This is why we can usually tell if someone else is happy or sad, or angry or bored—and why a smile is often unconsciously greeted with a smile or a yawn with a yawn.

There is also a brain overlap between imagining and doing. Many of the same neural regions are activated when we form mental images as when we actually see. The same holds true for whether we imagine moving or are actually moving. So we have the capacity to empathize not only with someone present, but also with someone we can imagine, remember, read about, dream about, and so on. Neuroscientists have also found that, when someone is in love and they see their loved one in pain, the pain center in their own brain is activated. So emotional pain is real.

There are some neural complications that affect how we ultimately respond to what we see, hear, and imagine. The regions of the prefrontal cortex are particularly active during the exercise of judgment. These regions contain neurons that are active when we are performing some particular action and less active when we see someone else performing the same action. It is conjectured that this give us the capacity to modulate our empathy—to lessen it or turn it off in certain cases. So the mirror neuron system connects us emotionally to others, but can in certain cases also distance us emotionally for others.

Lakoff writes, “The prefrontal cortex is active in another neural system, too—one that I’ll call the well-being/ill-being system. This is the system that releases certain hormones in your brain when you have experiences that make you feel good, and releases others when experiences make you feel bad. In essence, this system regulates where you have a sense of well-being or ill-being at any given time on the basis of your imagination of what will or won’t bring you well-being.”

Lakoff continues, “The well-being system and the empathy system can interact in different ways. Some people feel satisfaction both when they are personally satisfied and when those they empathize with feel a sense of well-being. Other people do not have the two systems connected in that way. (1) They may have the well-being system overriding the empathy system—with their interests overriding the cares and interests of others. Or (2) they can have a complex interaction in which they maintain their own well-being and balance it with contributing to the well-being of others. Or (3) they may be self-sacrificing, always placing the well-being of others ahead of their own well being. Or (4) they may be part of an in-group, and may place their well-being and that of in-group members first, without empathizing at all with out-group members. This can vary depending on what counts as a given person’s in-group. Since morality is about well-being, your own and that of others, these four alternatives define different moral attitudes.”

Systemic Causation

December 7, 2018

This is the seventh post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse. Lakoff writes “Studying cognitive linguistics has its uses. Every language in the world has in its grammar a way to express direct causation. No language in the world has in its grammar a way to express systemic causation.”

There is a structure to systemic causation—four possible elements that can exist alone or in combination. Driving a complex, systemic problem, there can be one, two, three, or all four of these elements in play. Here is how they might apply to global warming.

A network of direct causes. (1) Global warming heats the Pacific Ocean. That means that the water molecules in the ocean get more active, move with more energy, evaporate more, and move in the air with more energy. (2) Winds in the high atmosphere over the ocean blow from southwest to northeast, blowing the larger amount of high-energy moisture over the pole. (3) In winter, the moisture turns to snow and comes down over the East Coast as a huge blizzard. Thus, global warming can systemically cause major blizzards.

Feedback loops. (1) The arctic ice pack reflects light and heat. (2) As the earth’s atmosphere heats up, the arctic ice pack melts and gets smaller. (3) The smaller amount of arctic ice reflects less light and heat, and more heat stays in the atmosphere. (4) The atmosphere gets warmer. (5) The feedback loop: Even more ice melts, even less ice is reflected, even more heat stays, even more ice melts, and on and on.

Multiple causes. Because of the interaction between the polar vortex and the jet stream, parts of the vortex move south into central North America causing abnormal freezing temperatures as far south as Oklahoma and Georgia.

Probabilistic causation. Many weather phenomena are probabilistic. What is caused is a probability distribution. Although you can’t predict whether a flipped coin will come down heads or tails, you can predict that over the course of a large number of flips, almost exactly 50% will come down heads and another 50% tails.

Systemic causation is common. Smoking is a systemic cause of lung cancer. HIV is a systemic cause of AIDS. Working in coal mines is a systemic cause of black lung disease. Driving while drunk is a systemic cause of auto accidents. Sex without contraception is a systemic cause of unwanted pregnancies, which are a systemic cause of abortions.

Because it is less obvious than direct causation, systemic causation is more important to understand. A systemic cause may be one of a number of multiple causes. It may require special conditions. It may be indirect, working through a network of more direct causes. It may be probabilistic, occurring with a significantly high probability. It may require a feedback mechanism. In general, causation in ecosystems, biological systems, economic systems, and social systems tend not to be direct, but is no less causal. And because it is not direct causation, it requires all the greater attention if it is to be understood and its negative effects controlled. It also requires a name: systemic causation. And systemic causation can be developed to serve as a frame.

Consider how the scientists James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Reto Ruedy authors of “Perception of Climate Change” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences write, “…we can state, with a high degree of confidence, that extreme anomalies such as those in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010 were a consequence of global warming because their likelihood in the absence warming was exceedingly small.”

Scientists have been trained to be guarded in their writing and to caveat any conclusions. You hear conservative politicians say they are not scientists but they do not believe in global warming because they have read studies on both sides. As has been explained in previous healthy memory blog posts, there is a highly paid industry of scientists and writers posing as scientists to make the arguments that industry wants to make. Politicians need to restrict their reading to the refereed scientific literature in reaching their conclusions. To avoid actually having to read the research, they can rely upon established reputable scientists in the field. For their part scientists should use the frame “systemic causation” and proceed from there.

Hypocognition

December 6, 2018

This is the sixth post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse.” Lakoff writes,”When you think you just lack words, what you really lack are ideas. Ideas come in the form of frames. When the frames are there, the words come readily. There’s a way you can tell that you lack the right frames. There’s a phenomenon you have probably noticed. A conservative on TV uses two words, like “tax relief.” And the progressive has to go into a paragraph-long discussion of his own view. The conservative can appeal to an established frame, that taxation is a burden, which allows for the two-word phrase “tax relief.” But there is no established frame on the other side. You can talk about it, but it takes some doing because there is no established frame, no fixed idea already out there.”

The name for this in cognitive science is hypocognition—the lack of ideas you need. The lack of a relatively simple fixed frame that can be evoked by a word or two. The idea of hypocognition came from the late anthropologist Bob Levy who was doing a study in Tahiti. He was also a therapist who addressed the question of why there were so many suicides in Tahiti. He discovered that Tahitians did not have a concept of grief. They felt grief. They experienced it, but they did not have a concept for it or a name for it. They did not see it as a normal emotion. There were no rituals around it, no grief counseling, nothing like it. Since they lacked a concept they needed, they wound up committing suicide all too often.

Lakoff writes that progressives are suffering from massive hypocognition. Conservatives had very few of the concepts that they have today when Goldwater lost in 1964.. In the intervening fifty years conservative have filled in their conceptual gaps, but the conceptual gaps of progressives are still there. Tax relief was provided as an example in the second post in this series.

Lakoff provides the following suggestions for progressives:

First, note what conservatives have done right and where progressives have missed the boat.

Second, remember “Don’t think like an elephant.” If this suggestion does not make sense to you, go back and read or reread the first post in this series.

Third, the truth alone will not set you free.

Fourth, you need to speak from your moral perspective at all times.

Fifth, understand where conservatives are coming from.

Sixth, think strategically, across issue areas.

Seventh, think about the consequences of proposals.
Eighth, remember that voters vote their identity and their values, which need not coincide with their self-interest.

Ninth, unite! And cooperate.

Tenth, be proactive, not reactive.

Eleventh, speak to the progressive base in or to activate the nurturant model of biconceptual voters.

Some Observations on the Two Models

December 5, 2018

This is the fifth post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse.”

Lakoff estimates that probably 35% to 40% of people have a strict father model governing their politics. And about 35% to 40% of people have a nurturant parent view governing their politics. Biconceptuals are people who are conservative on some issues and progressive on others.

Here HM disagrees with Lakoff on this breakdown. He thinks that perhaps a majority of people are biconceptuals. This provides for a somewhat more optimistic view.

Having read the Bible, he thinks that whereas the Old Testament corresponds more with the strict father model, the New Testament corresponds more with the nurturant parent view.

Lakoff writes nothing about gender differences. HM thinks that men tend to lean to the strict father model, and women tend to lean to the nurturant parent view. So individual families likely contain both views.

Lakoff never discusses age. But HM thinks that the strict father model is most heavily represented in aging males. HM predicts that over time the nurturant parent view will grow and eventually prevail. Of course, this assumes that the current president and Republican Party will not abandon democratic values and move into an authoritarian mode of governing.

© 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 Nurturant Parent Model

December 4, 2018

This is the fourth post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse.”

Lakoff begins, “Now let me talk a bit about how progressives understand their morality and what their moral system is. It too comes out of a family model, what I call the nurturant parent model. The strict father worldview is so named because according to its own beliefs, the father is head of the family. The nurturant parent model is gender neutral. Both parents are equally responsible for raising the children. The assumption is that children are born good and can be made better. The world can be made a better place, and our job is to work on that. The parent’s job is to nurture their children and to raise their children to be nurturers of others.”

According to Lakoff nurturance means three things: empathy, responsibility for yourself and for others, and a commitment to do you best not just for yourself, but for your family, your community, your country, and the world. Lakoff continues, “If you have a child, you have to know what every cry means. You have to know when the child is hungry, when she needs a diaper change, and when she is having nightmares. And you have a responsibility—you have to take care of the child. Since you cannot take care of someone else if you are not taking care of yourself, you have to take care of yourself enough to be able to take of the child.”

If you empathize with your child, you want your child to be fulfilled in life, to be a happy person. And if you are unhappy, unfulfilled person yourself, you are not going to want other people to be happier than you are. The Dalai Lama teaches us that. Therefore it is our moral responsibility to be a happy, fulfilled person. This is our moral responsibility. Moreover, it is our moral responsibility to teach our children to be happy, fulfilled persons who want others to be happy and fulfilled. That is part of what nurturing family life is about. It is a common precondition for caring about others.

Lakoff lists some additional nurturant values.

*If you want your child to be fulfilled in life, the child has to be free enough to seek and possibly find fulfillment. Therefore freedom is a value.
*You do not have very much freedom if there is no opportunity or prosperity. Therefore opportunity and prosperity are progressive values.
*If you really care about your child, you want your child to be treated fairly by you and by others. Therefor fairness is a value.
*If you are connecting with your child and empathize with that child, you have to have open two-way communication. Honest, open communication. That becomes a value.
*You live in a community, and that community will affect how your child grows up. Therefore community-building, service to the community, and cooperation in a community become values.
*To have cooperation, you must have trust, and to have trust, you must have honesty and open two-way communication. Trust, honesty and open communication are fundamental progressive values—in a community as in a family.”

The Strict Father Model

December 3, 2018

This is the third post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse.”

Lakoff took the various positions on the conservative side and on the progressive side and came up with two different models of the family: a strict father family and a nurturant parent family. He presented his views at a linguistic convention. At the convention there were two members of the Christian Coalition who were linguists and good friends of his. He thought they were excellent linguists, but did not agree with their politics. They took Lakoff aside at a party afterward and said, “Well this strict father model of the family, it’s close, but not quire right. We’ll help you get the details .” They referred Lakoff to James Dobson and his book, regarded by many conservatives as a classic, “Dare to Discipline.” After reading this book he refined his model as follows:

“The strict father model begins with a set of assumptions: The world is a dangerous place, and it always will be, because there is evil out there in the world. The world is also difficult because it is competitive. There will always be winners and losers. There is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. Children are born bad, in the sense that they just want to do what feels good, not what is right. Therefore they have to be made good.

What is needed in this kind of a world is a strong, strict father who can

*protect the family in the dangerous world.
*support the family in the difficult world, and
*teach his children right from wrong. “

There is an emphasis on physical punishment. The rationale behind physical punishment is they learn not to do it again. That means that they will develop internal discipline to keep themselves from doing wrong, so that in the future they will be obedient and act morally. Without such punishment, the world will go to hell. There will be no morality.”

“Such internal discipline has a secondary effect. It is what is required for success in the difficult, competitive world. That is, if people are disciplined and pursue their self-interest in this land of opportunity, they will become prosperous and self-reliant. Thus, the strict father model links morality with prosperity. The same discipline you need to be moral is what allows you to prosper. The link is individual responsibility and the pursuit of self-interest. Given opportunity, individual responsibility and discipline, pursuing your self-interest should you enable you to prosper.”

“Dobson was very clear about the connection between the strict father worldview and free market capitalism. The link is the morality of self-interest, which is the conservative version of Adam Smith’s view of capitalism. Adam Smith said that if everyone pursues their own profit, then the profit of all will be maximized by the invisible hand—that is, by nature, just naturally. Go about pursuing your own profit, and you are helping everyone. This is linked to a general metaphor that views well-being as wealth.”

Different Ways of Framing

December 2, 2018

This is the second post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse”

Here are two different ways of framing taxes:

tax relief. For there to be relief, there must be an afflicted party, and a reliever who removes the affliction and is therefore a hero. If anyone tries to stop the hero, those people are villains for trying to prevent relief.

Republicans are much better at framing than Democrats. Democrats responded by offering “tax relief for the middle class,” thus strengthening the Republican frame.

So how should the Democrats have responded? One way would be to frame taxation as an investment. Consider:
“Our parents invested in the future, ours as well as theirs, through taxes. They invested their tax money in the interstate highway system, the Internet, the scientific and medical establishments, our communications system, our airline system, the space program. They invested in the future and we are reaping the tax benefits, the benefits from the taxes they paid. Today we have assets—highways, schools and colleges, the Internet, airlines—that come from the wise investments they made.”

or

“Taxation is paying your dues, paying your membership fee in America. If you join a country club or community center, you pay fees. Why? You did not build the swimming pool. You have to maintain it. You did not build the basketball court. Someone has to clean it. You may not use the squash court, but you still have to pay your dues. Otherwise it won’t be maintained and will fall apart. People who avoid taxes, like corporations that move to Bermuda, are not paying their dues to their country. It is patriotic to be a taxpayer. It is traitorous to desert our country and not pay your dues.”

Lakoff writes, “Perhaps Bill Gates Sr. said it best. In arguing to keep the inheritance tax, he pointed out that he and Bill Jr. did not invent the Internet. They just used it—to make billions. There is no such thing as a self-made man. Every businessman has used the vast American infrastructure, which the taxpayers paid for, to make his money. He did not make his money alone. He used taxpayer infrastructure, He got rich on what other taxpayers had paid for: the banking system, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury and Commerce Departments, and the judicial system, where nine-tenths of cases involve corporate law. These taxpayer investments support companies and wealthy investors. There are no self-made men! The wealthy have gotten rich using what previous taxpayers have paid for. They owe the taxpayers of this country a great deal and should be paying it back.”

Another example is the abortion issue. Republicans framed it as “The Right to Life.”
Democrats framed it in terms of women’s rights, failing to consider that their response implied that they did not feel strongly about something as fundamental as the right to life.

The Democrats should have responded that they were “Pro Quality Life.’ This implies that the Republicans did not care about quality. Moreover, the “Pro Quality Life” term allows one to review all the adverse effects of unloved or unwanted children. This impacts not only the children but the costs to the medical and legal systems resulting from maladjusted children. Moreover, would a loving God favor bringing unloved children into the world?

© 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.

Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse

December 1, 2018

In the arena of politics civil debates are becoming exceedingly rare if not extinct. The reason for this is if someone makes a political statement to which one disagrees, one responds as if attacked and launches an offensive. In Kahneman’s Two Process view of cognition, this is a System One process called intuition. It is largely an emotional response, void of deep thinking. Both parties continue in this System One mode with the only result being ill feeling.

George Lakoff has written two books addressing this problem: “Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate”, and “The All New Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate.” Lakoff was strongly influenced by the great linguist Charles J. Fillmore, the father of frame semantics.

Lakoff begins, “We think with our brains. We have no choice. It may seem that certain politicians think with other parts of their anatomy. But they too think with their brains.”

Why does this matter for politics? Because all thought is physical. Thought is carried out by neural circuits in the brain. We can only understand what our brains allow us to understand.

The deepest of those neural structures are relatively fixed. They don’t change readily or easily. And we are mostly unconscious of their activity and impact.

In fact, about 98% of what our brains are doing is below the level of consciousness. As a result, we many not know all, or even most, of what in our brains determines our deepest moral, social, and political beliefs. And yet we act on the basis of those largely unconscious beliefs.”

Frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world. We can’t see or hear frames. They are part of our cognitive unconscious, structures in our brains that we cannot consciously access. What we call “common sense” is made up of unconsciousness, automatic, effortless inferences that follow from our unconscious frames.

All the words we have are defined relative to conceptual frames. Even when you negate a frame, you activate the frame. So if we’re told, “Don’t think of an elephant!,” we can’t avoid thinking of an elephant. Lakoff continues “Not only does negating a frame activate that frame, but the more it is activated, the stronger it gets. The moral for political discourse is clear: When you argue against someone on the other side using their language and their frames, you are activating their frames, strengthening their frames in those who hear us, and undermining our own views.”

Lakoff warns that reframing is not easy or simple. Frames are ideas, not slogans. Reframing is more a matter accessing what we and like-minded others already believe unconsciously, making it conscious and repeating it till it enters normal public discourse. It is an ongoing process. It requires repetition and focus and dedication. Reframing is about learning to express what we really believe in a way that will allow those who share our beliefs to understand what they most deeply believe and to act on those beliefs.

What HM has found most valuable is that framing is also about understanding those we disagree with most. Lakoff writes, “ Tens of millions of Americans vote conservative, For the most part they are not bad people or stupid people. They are people who understand the world differently and have a different view of what is right.”

For most readers, this is novel material that will take some time to digest. And it will take many posts to do justice to this topic. These posts will follow directly.

Memory Special: How Can Two People Recall an Event So Differently?

November 30, 2018

This post has the same title as a Feature article by Catherine de Lange in 27 Oct ’18 issue of the “New Scientist.” The article begins, “ We each have a personal memory style determined by the brain, so next time you argue with someone about what really happened, remember that you may both be right.”

Signy Sheldon of McGill University notes that memories are only built when we retrieve them. And if they are retrieved a second time, they are built again. So if we’ve had an argument with someone it would be when you called the event to mind that you created a mental representation of what happened. And of all the details you could have picked out, you can bet you didn’t focus on the same ones as your sparring partner.

Sheldon says, “We are now understanding that there are strong individual differences in how people remember. And these differences are etched in our brain. This can be seen in people who have aphantasia, the inability to form mental images in the minds eye. It is not surprising that such people’s memories also lack a visual component, even though they can recall facts.

To study this further Sheldon and her colleagues asked people to complete a questionnaire about how they tend to remember, before having their brain scanned. The researchers found that people’s memory style was reflected in their brain connectivity. Those who were better remembering facts had more physical links between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in reasoning. Those with richly detailed “autobiographical memories”, by contrast, had more connectivity between the hippocampus and areas involved in visual processing. Sheldon says, “People’s brains are wired differently depending on how they naturally approach the act of retrieval.

In addition to individual brain differences, there are other reasons why two people might have conflicting memories of the same event. Their emotional response is one. Sheldon says, “Emotional events can be recalled much more naturally, almost like they are stamped in out minds.” It is as if we shine a spotlight on the things that really matter to us. What we remember will also be affected by whether we consider it useful. This is beneficial as it helps us learn lessons and bond with others. Sheldon notes, “The malleability of memory is often seen as something that’s broken, “but it’s really very adaptive.”

Memory Special: Can You Trust Your Memories?

November 29, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title of a Feature article by Clare Wilson. in the 27 October 2018 issue of the “New Scientist.” There have been many previous healthy memory blog posts on the research of Elizabeth Loftus. Wilson writes, “NO ONE has done more than Elizabeth Loftus to expose the fallibility of human memory. In the 1990s, amid growing panic over claims of satanic child sex abuse rings, the psychologist showed how easy it is for people to develop false memories of events that never happened. All it took was repeatedly being asked to imagine them. At the time, this was a common psychotherapy technique to recover supposed repressed memories.”

Over the last three decades, Loftus, now at the University of California, Irvine has become well known for her work as an expert witness in legal cases. Her continuing research on the fallibility of eyewitness testimony has taken fresh importance in the era of fake news, the Me Too movement and digital image manipulation.

Clare Wilson asks, “The Me Too movement has led to a surge in historic claims of sexual assaults. Do you think some of these could be based on false memories?

Dr. Loftus responded, “It is possible, We have to accept that when there are two people whose versions of an event are different, the man’s version may not be the truth or, alternatively maybe the woman’s version is not the truth. We have to look for other sources of evidence to corroborate either person. But right now, at the height of “Me Too”, people are not as interested in hearing you talk about false accusations as they might have been a year ago. The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of automatically believing the accuser. It used to be too far the other way.

Clare Wilson, “But we know most abuse cases are not successfully brought to trial…

Dr. Loftus responds, “I absolutely see what you’re saying. But as an expert witness on memory, I see a different subset of cases to the ones that most people see. I see the most contentious ones. I hate the idea people will try to point to all the false memory work and use it to deny guilt when they’re truly guilty. I think that probably sometimes happens and it’s just going to be a cost. I don’t know what we can do to stop that.”

Clare Wilson, “What other memory problems has your research shed light on?”

Dr. Loftus responds, “We have been doing some work on the phenomenon called memory blindness. Say that someone is being interviewed after witnessing a crime. They tell you that person was wearing a green jacket. Later on you tell them they told you the jacket was brown. We’re exploring the extent to which people even notice you fed back a different answer from the one you actually gave. Often they don’t. We think this can be a problem in cases where the police are writing out a statement. They say, ‘Here’s what you told me.’ What if there are errors contained in it? It can happen. We are showing that people can fail to detect them and be influenced by them.”

Clare Wilson, Can we misremember our feelings as well as facts?

Dr. Loftus responds, The evidence would suggest so. Another study we’re doing is we take you through a difficult task and ask you to rate your anxiety. I tell you that I rated it at 40 when you really rated it at 60. People often don’t detect you gave them the wrong rating and they start to feel less anxious about the task. When they look back, it was less awful for them. You could do this with kids when they go to the dentist. A former student of mine did some research with kids at a dental clinic, and she got them to remember less fear and pain, and they also behaved better at the next visit.

Clare Wilson, So there could be benefits to fallible memories?

Dr. Loftus responds, “If your kid had a traumatic but minor experience, rather than dwelling on the negatives, it might be better instead to talk them up. To say: “You were so brave, you hardly cried.” It is generally a little easier to plant a positive memory than a negative one. We don’t know why, it just empirically seems to be the case.”

Clare Wilson, Is there any evolutionary reason why memory is so unreliable?

Dr. Loftus responds, “One benefit is that when errors creep in, you can fix them and update memories with true information. Another is that some errors make you feel bette about yourself. These are called prestige-enhancing distortions. A common example is people remembering voting in elections they didn’t vote in, because they like to think of themselves as civic-minded. Sometimes it gets people into trouble, like in “stolen valor cases”, when someone famous says they were a brave soldier on the battlefield and it turns out they were really behind a desk on that day.”

Clare Wilson, So most of the time it is a harmless delusion?

Dr. Loftus responds, “If these kinds of prestige-enhancing distortions aren’t caught, it does allow people to feel better about themselves. People with depression don’t have them as much as everyone else. Such people are sadder but wiser. This is just a correlation, so we don’t know if the lack of prestige-enhancing memory distortions is causing the depression. But it does suggest another possible upside to the untenability of our memories. If there are costs, there have got to be some benefits.”

Memory Special: Is Technology Making Your Memory Worse?

November 28, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature article by Helen Thomson in the 27 Oct 2018 issue of the “New Scientist.” Previous healthymemory blog posts have implied that the answer to this question is worse. Thomson writes, “Outsourcing memories, for instance to pad and paper is nothing new, but it has become easier than ever to do using external devices, leading some to wonder whether our memories are suffering as a result.”

Taking pictures has become more of an obsession given the capabilities of smart phones to take and store high quality photos. Although you might think that taking pictures and sharing stories helps you to preserve memories of events, but the opposite is true. When Diana Tamir and her colleagues at Princeton University sent people out on tours, those encouraged to take pictures actually had a poorer memory of the tour at a later date. Prof. Tamir said, “Creating a hard copy of an experience through media leaves only a diminished copy in our own heads.” People who rely on a satellite navigation system to get around are also worse at working out where they have been than those who use maps.

The expectation of information being at our fingertips seems to have an effect. When we think of something that can be accessed later, regardless of whether we will be tested on it, we have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it. Sam Gilbert of University College, London says, “These kinds of studies suggest that technology is changing our memories. We increasingly don’t need to remember content, but instead, where to find it.”

Unfortunately relying too heavily on devices can mess with our appreciation of how good our memory actually is. We are constantly making judgements about whether something is worth storing in mind. Will I remember this tomorrow? Does it need to be written down? Should I set a reminder? Meta-memory refers to our ability to understand and use our memory. Technology seems to screw it up.

People who can access the internet to help them answer general knowledge questions, such as “How does a zip work?” overestimate how much information they think they have remembered, as well as their knowledge of unrelated topics after the test,compared with people who answered questions without gong online. You lose touch with what you came from you and what came from the machine. This exacerbates the part of the Dunning-Krueger phenomena in which we think we know much more than we actually know. Gilbert says, “These are subtle biases that may not matter too much if you continue to have access to external resources. But if those resources disappear—in an exam, in an emergency, in a technological catastrophe—we may underestimate how much we would struggle without them. Having an accurate insight into how good your memory actually is, is just as important as having a good memory in the first place.”

Memory Special: Can You Choose What to Forget?

November 27, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a feature article by Penny Sarchet in the 27 Oct 2018 issue of the “New Scientist.” Here’s how to choose what memories to forget. It is commonly thought that we can actively strengthen memories, whereas forgetting is a passive process. We now have discovered that forgetting can be intentional.

Jeremy Manning of Dartmouth College has found that just telling people to “push thought out of their head” is enough to make them forget lists of words they have learned to associate with particular cues. He says, “We don’t know how, but some people seem to know how to do it. Justin Hulbert at Bard College says that suppression has been linked to decreased activity in the hippocampus, so we may be unknowingly reducing our hippocampal activity by focusing on the present.

Of course, he is speaking of words learned in an experiment. Memories from private lives can be an entirely different matter. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves intrusive memories that keep coming back—often suddenly and unexpectedly. Studies have found that people with this condition are less able to suppress memories, even those unrelated to traumatic incidents.

There are other approaches to forgetting, including what are known as cognitive vaccines: interventions that can “inoculate” the brain agains the onset of PTSD symptoms if administered soon after trauma.

Some computer games can induce forgetting. Playing Tetris after watching an upsetting film has been found to reduce flashbacks of that film, possibly because thinking about a visual task stopped the brain from processing the visual images of death and injury from the ilm. However, doing a non-visual task, such as playing a general knowledge game, actually increases flashbacks.

Katherine Simon at the University of Arizona and her colleagues found the they could train people to associate a particular sound with the instruction to forget something. Then they taught the volunteers to associate other sounds with specific words. As the volunteers slept, the team reactivated the memories of some of these words using their associated sounds, while also playing the “forget” sound. A week later, the volunteers were worse at remembering these words than words that hadn’t been targeted. Hulbert says being able to exert some control over what you remember probably helps to bolster you resilience in the fact of adversity.

There are downsides, however. Hulbert’s team found that when you try to suppress a memory, you are later less likely to remember things that happened around the time you attempted suppression. Apparently quieting you hippocampus to block a memory causes an “amnesic shadow” that more generally impairs memory function.

Hulbert says that good can come from holding on to even the most awkward of memories. “For sure, bringing one to mind can be cringe-inducing, but it’s important to reflect on the good that certain embarrassing memories can bring, as learning experience that teach us what not to do again.”

Memory Special: What Happens to Your Memories While You Sleep?

November 26, 2018

The title of this post is identical to a feature article by Catherine de Lange in the 27 Oct ’18 issue of the New Scientist.” We don’t need sleep to create a memory, but Bob Stickgold at Harvard Medical School says, “Sleep plays a critical role in determining what happens to newly formed memories.” Sleep determines what goes into long-term storage. It can also select which parts of a memory to retain. It also links new memories with established networks of remembrances. It discovers patterns and rules, and it is doing this every night all night long.

Somehow the sleeping brain chooses which memories to strengthen and which to ignore. Sleep is special. Anna Schipiro, also at the Harvard school says, “During slow-wave sleep, there is this release, a kind of beautiful set of interactions between different brain areas, that is specialized, and it looks different than what we see during awake periods. There is conversation between regions key to memory, including the hippocampus, where memories are processed into the cortex where long-term memories end up. This chatter might be allowing the cortex to pull out and see important information from new memories.

There is no need to recall everything, and sleep favors certain types of memory. It homes in on information that might be useful at a later date, and puts it into longer-term storage. Shapiro has found that merely telling people they will be tested on certain material helps them remember more of it after sleep.

Memories with an emotional component also get preferential treatment—especially negative emotions. Schipiro says, “If you have a memory that was really intense, sleep will help to preserve the memory, but decrease the emotionality. Obviously this could be crucial for our mental health. Stickgold says, “Post traumatic stress disorder might actually be a direct consequence of failure of those sleep-dependent processes that waken the intensity of emotional responses to memories.” And it could also help explain why getting too little sleep is bad for you. Negative memories become dominant over neutral and positive ones, for a start. Stickgold says, “We remember facts and events, but don’t manage to figure out what they really mean for us and our future.”

Here is Schipiro’s advice on studying for exams: “It’s much better to go to sleep between studying and taking a test than to stay awake all night studying.”

Memory FAQ: Answers to the Common Questions That Baffle Us All

November 25, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature Article by Yvaine Ye & Tiffany O’Callaghan in the 21 Oct 18 Issue of the New Scientist.

Why can’t I remember what I did 5 seconds ago?
A good example of this is trying to remember if you locked the door on the way to the car. The answer is that you did not pay attention. Habitual behaviors can occur without conscious thought,. The brain no longer encodes the details of a repeated behavior, so while you remember to lock the door, there’s no specific memory of it. Being on autopilot can be beneficial as it frees up attention for more important things. Unfortunately, this habitual memory can take over when it’s not supposed to, which can lead to mistakes like forgetting to drop a child off and leaving her in the car instead.

Why can’t we remember being babies?
Although babies are constantly learning, only a handful of people have memories before the age of 2. That’s due to the parts of the brain critical for long term memory being immature. Babies can form some memories—a 6-month old can recall how to do certain tasks for up to three weeks-but holding onto them can be tricky. As the brain begins to mature, the neural machinery gets more efficient and memories start to stick—until the age of 7, when there’s a sudden dip. Children recall far more about earlier events in their lives when asked before they are 7 just a year later. This sudden erasure is known as childhood amnesia and may be due to pruning, the brain’s process of snipping lesser-used connections to strengthen those that remain. Although slightly older children remember fewer things, their recollections are more detailed. “The ability to tell a good story is developing,” says Patricia Bauer of Emory University. “You place it in context, you tell me what you did, highlight certain events and activity.” All of those things are part of what we mean by autobiographical memory. This points to a possible strategy for hanging onto more of those early memories, or at least attempting to influence which ones stick. In cultures where family storytelling is a cherished pasttime, people are more likely to retain early childhood memories. Summoning and reviewing these memories, a process known as reconsolidation, can fortify them. So, if you want your child to remember a special trip to the beach, indulge in a little reminiscing, and get them to tell you the story.

Why does being stressed affect your memory?
We secrete stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, when we are emotionally aroused, whether the result of a trauma or a fantastic concert. These hormones trigger the firing of signals in the brain, which improve memory function. However, when trying to retrieve memories, stress can hamper our efforts. It can also prevent us from updating existing memories with new information. This can explain why, despite our best efforts, it is all too easy for the mind to go blank in a stressful setting such as a presentation or the exam hall.

Does closing your eyes truly help you remember?
Yes, as vision is our dominant sense and an important source of new information. Seeing the world in front of you is a major distraction when you try to think of something. Closing your eyes helps limit the distraction. This is especially true when trying to retrieve a highly visual piece of information. Still not everyone finds this beneficial.

Why is it that you only remember some things when other people trigger your memory?
We store much more information than we can intentionally recall. What we retrieve depends largely on the cues given, either from other people or from the environment. An analogy is that memories are like a pile of jigsaw puzzles. Cues are the pictures on the box that activate the connections that memory fragments are attached to. But sometimes a friendly prompt can mess with your memory. Suppose you went to a concert with a friend who later asked: “Remember they sang such-and-such song?” Each time you recall a memory it is vulnerable to change. Even though you don’t actually remember that you’ve heard of this song, your friend looked very confident and you may end up convincing yourself about this experience, and this becomes a new memory.”

What is photographic memory?
Photographic memory is the ability to recall a past scene with great accuracy. Some people have better visual memory than others, especially those with highly superior autobiographic memory (HSAM). Although it is not entirely understand why, but their memory seems to work the same way, yet is somehow better recognized so that it can be recalled more readily and more accurately. Nevertheless, their memory isn’t perfect. Flashbacks as real and precise as photos are a myth.

Memory Special: Do We Even Know What Memory is For?

November 24, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature Article by Alison George in the 27 October 2018 issue of the New Scientist. Readers of the healthy memory blog should know the answer, and that is for time travel. It allows us to recall what has happened or what we have learned to help us deal with the future. We can recall this information and run mental simulations of what would work in the future. Memories enable us to plan for the future.

Imaging studies of the brain show that similar patterns of brain activity underlie both remembering the past and planning for the future. We are able to generate images of scenes in our mind’s eye. Eleanor Maguire at University College London says,” If you think about it, recalling the past, imaging the future, and even spatial navigation, typically involve us constructing scene imagery. Being able to picture the past enabled us to imagine the future, and therefore plan.

If we can’t recall past events and preferences, our ability to make good decisions deteriorates. This is because during the decision-making process, the brain uses previous choices and existing knowledge to assess options and imagine how they might turn out.

Memory is also provides the basis for our relationships with others. When memory is lost in the late stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s, we no longer know who we are.

This is why the healthy memory blog is dedicated to now only maintaining memories, but to building and growing memories.

© 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 is Good for You to Spend Time in Natural Environments

November 23, 2018

This post is based on a presentation titled “Modulation of Cognitive Restoration Dependent on Time Spent in Natural Environments” by Rachel J. Hopman, Sarah B. Lotemplio, Emily Scott, and David L. Strayer at the 2018 Meeting of the Psychonomic Society.

Attention Restoration Theory says that spending time in natural environments can restore cognitive functioning, decrease stress, and improve cognitive performance. EEG research shows that those who have spent prolonged time in natural environments have decreased theta power (4-8Hz) in the mid frontal regions due to down regulation of the attentional control network, thus restoring neural regions associated with attentional processing. However, research has yet to determine the time course of the restorative experience.

In a series of studies EEG recordings were collected during a resting baseline period from 104 participants before, during, and after a nature trip to determine amount of change in neural activity associated with attentional fatigue. Midfrontal theta power significantly decreased from pre-trip testing each day during the nature exposure and increased each week after the trip. These results show that exposure to natural environments influences attentional processing and that these effects are additive over time.

Happy Thanksgiving 2018!

November 21, 2018

This is the time of year not only to celebrate but also remember our blessings. One of the most precious blessing is our own personal mind. It allows us to time travel from the past into the future and back again. It is also the seat of our most pleasant memories.

There have been many posts on aging and how the active use of our minds can allow us to thwart dementia and Alzheimer’s even with the defining neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques.

The common phrase is to use it or lose it, but HM thinks we should all do one step better, and that is to grow it and develop it. One can do this regardless of age. Mental processes can slow down, but that is largely due to the greater amount of information stored in our brains. But we can continue to learn new subjects and skills. We can learn to dance or learn new dances. We can take up new skills such as painting or acting.

Such activities provide for a more enjoyable and fulfilling life. Don’t be a cognitive miser.

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

Going on Hiatus

November 8, 2018

HM will be doing some traveling and burying himself in basic research reported at the Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society.

There is more than a thousand blog posts, so HM should not be missed.

The following website is also strongly recommended

https://centerhealthyminds.org

This blog should resume on Thanksgiving day unless technical problems delay its return.

Are the Republicans Complicit with the Russians?

November 2, 2018

The big question seems to be whether the Trump campaign conspired with the Russians. Conspiracy would be the crime, not collusion. Actually there is a more relevant question, and that is the question posed in the title to this post. Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives was discussing Russia with his fellow Republican congressmen. The Republican majority leader Kevin McCarthy expressed the belief that Donald Trump was paid by Russia. Ryan reacted by asking that such suspicions be kept “in the family.” Apparently he thought that an embarrassment within the party was more important than the violation of the sovereignty of the country.

The meeting the heads of the American Intelligence agencies had with Senate majority leader McConnell was reported in a previous healthy memory blog post. McConnell refused to accept what the intelligence agencies were telling him that we were under cyberattack by the Russians. He argued that this was a lie he was being told, that it was entirely political even though these agencies are not political See the Healthymemory blog post “House of TRUMP House of PUTIN” to see the money that McConnell had accepted from the Russians. Republicans have been thwarting the investigations being done by relevant committees in the House and the Senate. Moreover, they are attacking the Department of Justice in exercising its responsibilities as their interest clearly is not in justice, but in protecting Trump.

There is already evidence that Russia is again at work interfering in the mid-term election. And it is also clear that any positive results the Democrats have in the elections will be called fraudulent by Trump. He will charge more false news, a charge he learned from the Russians. So will these charges be resolved and how will they be resolved?

Then there is the Mueller investigation. Will it be stopped by Trump? And even if Mueller has compelling legal charges, will the Republicans still protect Trump?

A previous healthy memory post, the same one cited above based on a book by Craig Unser titled “House of TRUMP House of PUTIN” detailed the large financial dealings of Trump with the Russians. It is clear that both his current wealth and his future wealth is dependent on Russia. How can such a man serve as President? Trump’s interests are in his wealth, not in the country.

Parts based on “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” by Timothy Snyder

© 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.

Will the United States Become a Kleptocracy?

November 1, 2018

“During the Presidential campaign, Trump asked Americans to remember when America was great: what his supporters had in mind were the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s, decades when the gap between the wealthiest and the rest was shrinking. Between 1940 and 1980, the bottom 90% of American earners gained more wealth than the top 1% did. This condition of growing equality was what Americans remember with warmth as the time of American greatness. The welfare state was expanding in the 1950s and the 1960s. Wealth was more evenly distributed, thanks in large part to government policy.”

“Inequality of income and wealth grew drastically from the 1980s through the 2010s. In 1978, the top 0.1% of the population, about 160,00 families, controlled 7% of American wealth. By 2012, the position of this tiny elite was even stronger: it controlled about 22% of American wealth. At the very top the total wealth of the top 0.01%, about 16,000 families, increased by a factor of six over the same period. In 1978 a family in the top 0.01% was about 222 times as rich as the average American family. By 2012, such a family was about 1,120 times richer. Since 1980, 90% of the American population has gained essentially nothing, either in wealth or income, All gains have gone to the top 10%—and within the top 10%, most to top 1%, most to the top 0.1%, and within the top 0.1% most to the top 0.01%.”

“in the 2010s, the United States approached the Russian standard of inequality. Although no American oligarchical clan has yet captured the state, the emergence of such groups in the 2010s (Kochs, Mercers, Trumps, Murdochs) was hard to miss. Just as Russians used American capitalism to consolidate their own power, Americans cooperated with the Russian oligarchy with same purpose—the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, for example. Most likely Trump’s preference for Putin over Obama, was not just a matter of racism or rivalry: it was also an aspiration to be more like Putin, to be in his good graces, to have access to greater wealth. Oligarchy works as a patronage system that dissolves democracy, law, and patriotism, American and Russian oligarchs have far more in common with one another that they do with their own populations. At the top of the wealth ladder, the temptations of the politics of eternity will be much the same in America as in Russia. There is little reason to expect that Americans would behavior better than Russians when place in similar situation.”

HM thinks it would be more accurate to call these oligarchs kleptocrats. Kleptocracy is more accurate than oligarchy since most of this money has been stolen, stolen from the people and given the the precious few. The first post mentioned that the Soviet Union was communistic and regarded as leftist. Indeed, one of the former Kochs founded the John Birch Society to fight communism. The wealthy did not like communism because it took away their wealth. But Russia’s kleptocracy allows them not only to build their wealth, but also to build their influence and power.

Quotes are taken directly from “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” by Timothy Snyder

Cyberwar

October 31, 2018

“Kiselev called information war the most important kind of war. At the receiving end, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party wrote of ‘a war, clearly, but edged on a different kind of battlefield.’ The term was to be taken literally. Carl von Clausewitz, the most famous student of war, defined it as ‘an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.’ What if, as the Russian military doctrine of the 2010s posited, technology made it possible to engage the enemy’s will directly, without the medium of violence? It should be possible as a Russian military planning document of 2013 proposed, to mobilize the ‘protest potential of the population’ against its own interests, or, as the Izborsk Club specified in 2014, to generate in the United States a ‘destructive paranoid reflection. Those are concise and precise descriptions of Trump’s candidacy. The fictional character won, thanks to votes meant as a protest against the system, and thanks to voters who believed paranoid fantasies that simply were not true… The aim of Russian cyberwar was to bring Trump to the Oval Office through what seemed to be normal procedures. Trump did not need need to understand this, any more than an electrical grid has to know when it is disconnected. All that matters is that the lights go out.”

“The Russian FSB and Russian military intelligence (the GRU) both took part in the cyberwar against the United States. The dedicated Russian cyberwar center known as the Internet Research Agency was expanded to include an American Department when in June 2015 Trump announced his candidacy. About ninety new employees went to work on-site in St. Petersburg. The Internet Research Agency also engaged about a hundred American political activists who did not know for whom they were working. The Internet Research Agency worked alongside Russian secret services to move Trump into the Oval Office.”

“It was clear in 2016 that Russians were excited about these new possibilities. That February, Putin’s cyber advisor Andrey Krutskikh boasted: ‘We are on the verge of having something in the information arena that will allow us to talk to the Americans as equals.’ In May, an officer of the GRU bragged that his organization was going to take revenge on Hillary Clinton on behalf of Vladimir Putin. In October, a month before the elections, Pervyi Kanal published a long and interesting meditation on the forthcoming collapse of the United States. In June 2017, after Russia’s victory, Putin spoke for himself, saying that he had never denied that Russian volunteers had made cyber war against the United States.”

“In a cyberwar, an ‘attack surface’ is the set of points in a computer program that allow hackers access. If the target of a cyberwar is not a computer program but a society, then the attack surface is something broader: software that allows the attacker contact with the mind of the enemy. For Russian in 2015 and 2016, the American attack surface was the entirety of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google.”

“In all likelihood, most American voters were exposed to Russian Propaganda. It is telling that Facebook shut down 5.8 million fake accounts right before the election of November 2016. These had been used to promote political messages. In 2016, about a million sites on Facebook were using a tool that allowed them to artificially generate tens of millions of ‘likes,’ thereby pushing certain items, often fictions, into the newsfeed of unwitting Americans. One of the most obvious Russian interventions was the 470 Facebook sites placed by Russia’s Internet Research Agency, but purported to be those of American political organizations or movements. Six of these had 340 million shares each of content on Facebook, which would suggest that all of them taken together had billions of shares. The Russian campaign also included at least 129 event pages, which reached at least 336,300 people. Right before the election, Russia placed three thousand advertisements on Facebook, and promoted them as memes across at least 180 accounts on Instagram. Russia could do so without including any disclaimers about who had paid for the ads, leaving Americans with the impression that foreign propaganda was an American discussion. As researchers began to calculate the extent of American exposure to Russian propaganda, Facebook deleted more data. This suggests that the Russian campaign was embarrassingly effective. Later, the company told investors that as many as sixty million accounts were fake.”

“Americans were not exposed to Russian propaganda randomly, but in accordance with their own susceptibility, as revealed by their practices on the internet. People trust what sounds right, and trust permits manipulation. In one variation, people are led towards even more intense outrage about what they already fear or hate. The theme of Muslim terrorism, which Russia had already exploited in France and Germany, was also developed in the United States. In crucial states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, Russia’s ads were targeted at people who could be aroused by anti-Muslim messages. Throughout the United States, likely Trump voters were exposed to pro-Clinton messages on what purported to be American Muslim sites. Russian pro-Trump propaganda associated refugees with rapists. Trump had done the same when announcing his candidacy.”

“Russian attackers used Twitter’s capacity for massive retransmission. Even in normal times on routine subjects, perhaps 10% of Twitter accounts (a conservative estimate) are bots rather than human beings: that is computer programs of greater or lesser sophistication, designed to spread certain messages to a target audience. Though bots are less numerous that humans on Twitter, they are more efficient than humans in sending messages. In the weeks before the election, bots accounted for about 20% of the American conversation about politics. An important scholarly study published the day before the polls opened warned that bots could ‘endanger the integrity of the presidential election.’ It cited three main problems: ‘first, influence can be redistributed across suspicious accounts that may be operated with malicious purposes; second, the political conversation can be further polarized; third, spreading misinformation and unverified information can be enhanced.’ After the election, Twitter identified 2,752 accounts as instruments of Russian political influence. Once Twitter started looking it was able to identify about a million suspicious accounts per day.”

“Bots were initially used for commercial purposes. Twitter has an impressive capacity to influence human behavior by offering deals that seem cheaper or easier than alternatives. Russia took advantage of this. Russian Twitter accounts suppressed the vote by encouraging Americans to ‘text-to-vote,’ which is impossible. The practice was so massive that Twitter, which is very reluctant to intervene in discussions over its platform, finally had to admit its existence in a statement. It seems possible that Russia also digitally suppressed the vote in another way: by making voting impossible in crucial places and times. North Carolina, for example, is a state with a very small Democratic majority, where most Democratic voters are in cities. On Election Day, voting machines in cities ceased to function, thereby reducing the number of votes recorded. The company that produced the machines in question had been hacked by Russian military intelligence, Russia also scanned the electoral websites of at least twenty-one American states, perhaps looking for vulnerabilities, perhaps seeking voter data for influence campaigns. According to the Department of Homeland Security, “Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards.

“Having used its Twitter bots to encourage a Leave vote in the Brexit referendum, Russia now turned them loose in the United States. In several hundred cases (at least), the very same bots that worked against the European Union attacked Hillary Clinton. Most of the foreign bot traffic was negative publicity about her. When she fell ill on September 11, 2016, Russian bots massively amplified the case of the event, creating a trend on Twitter under the hashtag #Hillary Down. Russian trolls and bots also moved to support Donald Trump directly at crucial points. Russian trolls and bots praised Donald Trump and the Republican National Convention over Twitter. When Trump had to debate Clinton, which was a difficult moment for him, Russian trolls and bots filled the ether with claims that he had won or that the debate was somehow rigged against him. In crucial swing states that Trump had won, bot activity intensified in the days before the election. On Election Day Itself, bots were firing with the hashtag #WarAgainstDemocrats. After Trump’s victory, at least 1,600 of the same bots that had been working on his behalf went to work agains Macron and for Le Pen in FRance, and against Merkel and for the AfD in Germany. Even at this most basic technical level, the war against the United States was also the war against the European Union.”

“In the United States in 2016, Russia also penetrated email accounts, and then used proxies on Facebook and Twitter to distribute selection that were deemed useful. The hack began when people were sent an email message that asked them to enter their passwords on a linked website. Hackers then used security credentials to access that person’s email account and steal its contents. Someone with knowledge of the American political system then chose what portions of this material the American public should see, and when.”

The hackings of the Democratic convention and wikileaks are well known. The emails that were made public were carefully selected to ensure strife between supporters of Clinton and her rival for the nomination, Bernie Sanders. Their release created division at the moment when the campaign was meant to coalesce. With his millions of Twitter followers, Trump was among the most important distribution channels of the Russian hacking operation. Trump also aided the Russian endeavor by shielding it from scrutiny, denying repeatedly that Russia was intervening in the campaign.
Since Democratic congressional committees lost control of private data, Democratic candidates for Congress were molested as they ran for Congress. After their private data were released, American citizens who had given money to he Democratic Party were also exposed to harassment and threats. All this mattered at the highest levels of politics, since it affected one major political party and not the other. “More fundamentally, it was a foretaste of modern totalitarianism is like: no one can act in politics without fear, since anything done now can be revealed later, with personal consequences.”

None who released emails over the internet has anything say about the relationship of the Trump campaign to Russia. “This was a telling omission, since no American presidential campaign was ever so closely bound to a foreign power. The connections were perfectly clear from the open sources. One success of Russia’s cyberwar was the seductiveness of the secret and the trivial drew America away from the obvious and the important: that the sovereignty of the United States was under attack.”

Quotes are taken directly from “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” by Timothy Snyder

Trump’s Money Laundry

October 30, 2018

Russia was an unruly country with lots of crime and violence. Putin brought peace to Russia essentially identifying people with power and buying them off with properties, which actually belonged to the citizens of Russia, and parceling them out to these powerful people, most of whom were gangsters. So Putin bought his power by selling public properties to gangsters creating a kleptocracy. The problem with dirty money is that it needs to be cleansed by laundering it. This is effectively done by buying and selling apartment units.

“Russian gangsters began to launder money by buying and selling apartment units in Trump Tower in the 1990s. The most notorious Russian hit man, long sought by the FBI, resided in Trump Tower. Russians were arrested for running a gambling ring from the apartment beneath Trump’s own. In Trump World Tower, constructed between 1999 and 2001 on the east side of Manhattan near the United Nations, a third of the luxury units were bought by people or entities from the former Soviet Union. A man investigated by the Treasury Department for money laundering lived in the Trump World Tower directly beneath Kellyanne Conway, who became the press spokeswoman for the Trump campaign. Seven hundred units of Trump properties in South Florida were purchased by shell companies. Two men associated with those shell companies were convicted of running a gambling and laundering scheme from Trump Tower. Perhaps Trump was entirely unaware of what was happening on his properties.”

“A Russian oligarch bought a house from Trump for $55 million more than Trump had paid for it. The buyer, Dmitry Rybolovlev, never showed any interest in the property and never lived there—but later, when Trump ran for president, “Rybolovlev appeared in places where Trump was campaigning. Trump’s apparent business, real estate development, had become a Russian charge. Having realized that apartment complexes could be used to launder money, Russians used Trump’s name to build more buildings. As Donald Trump said in 2008. ‘Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.’”

“The Russian offers were hard to refuse: millions of dollars up-front for Trump, a share of the profits for Trump, Trumps’s name on a building—but no investment required from Trump. These terms suited both sides. In 2006, citizens of the former Soviet Union financed the construction of Trump SoHo, and gave Trump 18% of the profits—although he put up no money himself. In the case of Felix Sater, the apartments were currency laundromats. A Russian American, Sater worked as senior advisor of the Trump Organization from an office in Trump Tower two floors below Trump’s own. Trump depended upon the Russian money. Sater bought through an entity known as the Bayrock Group. Sater arranged for people from the post-Soviet world to buy apartments using shell companies. From 2007, Sater and Bayrock were helping Trump around the world, cooperating on at least four projects. Some of these failed, but Trump made money regardless.”

“Russia is not a wealthy country, but its wealth is highly concentrated. It is thus common practice for Russians to place someone in their debt by providing easy money and naming the price later. As a candidate for the office of President, Trump broke with decades of tradition by not releasing his tax returns, presumably because they would reveal his profound dependence on Russian capital. Even after he announced his candidacy for the office of president, in June 2015, Trump was pursuing risk-free deals with the Russians. In October 2015, near the time of a Republican presidential debate, he signed a letter of intent to have Russians build a tower in Moscow and put his name on it. He took to Twitter to announce that ‘Putin loves Donald Trump.’”

“The final deal never went through, perhaps because it would have made the Russian sources of Trump’s apparent success just a bit too obvious at the moment when his presidential campaign was gaining momentum. The fictional character ‘Donald Trump, successful businessman’ had more important things to do. In the words of Felix Sater writing in November 2015, ‘Our boy can become president of the United States and we can engineer.’ In 2016, just when Trump needed money to run a campaign, his properties became extremely popular for shell companies. In the half year between his nomination as the Republican candidate and his victory in the general election, some 70% of the units sold in his buildings were purchased not by human beings, but by limited liability companies.”

Quotes are taken directly from “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” by Timothy Snyder

The Realization of Alexander Hamilton’s Fear

October 29, 2018

“Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?
—ALEXANDER HAMILTON, 1788”

By the late 1990s, Trump was clearly uncreditworthy and bankrupt. “He owed about four billion dollars to more than seventy banks, of which some $800 million was personally guaranteed. He never showed any inclination or capacity to pay back this debt. After his 2004 bankruptcy, no American bank would lend him money. The only bank that did so was Deutsche Bank, whose colorful history of scandal belied its staid name. Interestingly, Deutsche Bank also laundered about $10 billion for Russian clients between 2011 and 2015. Interestingly, Trump declined to pay back his debts to Deutsche Bank.”

“Trump’s advance to the Oval Office had three stages, each of which depended upon American vulnerability and required American cooperation. First, Russians had to transform a failed real estate developer into a recipient of their capital. Second this failed real estate developer had to portray, on American television, a successful businessman. Finally, Russia intervened with purpose and success to support the fictional character ‘Donald Trump, successful businessman’ in the 2016 presidential election.”

Putin’s grandest campaign was a cyberwar to destroy the United States of America. “For reasons having to do with American inequality, Russian oligarchy won an extraordinary victory in 2016. Because it did, inequality became a still greater America problem.”

“The rise of Donald Trump was the attack by ‘these most deadly adversaries of republican government that Alexander Hamilton had feared. Russian leaders openly and exuberantly backed Trump’s candidacy. Throughout 2016, Russian elites said with a smile that ‘Trump is our president.’ Dmitry Kislev, the leading man of the Russian media, rejoiced that ‘a new star is rising—Trump!’ Alexei Sushkov, the chair of the foreign relations committee of the lower house of the Russian parliament, expressed the general hope that ‘Trump can lead the Western locomotive right off the rails.’ Some Russians tried to alert Americans: Andrei Kozyrev, a former foreign minister, explained that Putin ‘realizes that Trump will trample democracy and damage if not destroy America as a pillar of stability and major force able to contain him.’”

“The Russian media machine was at work on Trump’s behalf. As a Russian journalist explained: ‘we were given very clear instructions: to show Donald Trump in a positive way, and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in a negative way.’ The Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik used the #crookedhillary hashtag on Twitter—a gesture of respect and support for Trump, since the phrase was his—and also associated Clinton with nuclear war. Trump appeared on RT to complain that the U.S. media was untruthful, which for RT was the perfect performance: its (RT) entire reason for being was to expose the single truth that everyone lied, and here was an American saying the same thing.”

“When Trump won the presidential election that November, he was applauded in the Russian parliament. Trump quickly telephone Putin to be congratulated. Kislev, the leading man of the Russian media, celebrated Trump as the return of manhood to politics on his Sunday evening program, ‘Vesti Nedeli.’ He was pleased that ‘the words democracy and human rights are not in the vocabulary of Trump.’ Describing a meeting of Trump and Obama, KIselev claimed that Obama was ‘waving his arms, as if he were in the jungle.’ In his commentary on Trump’s inauguration, Kislev said that Michelle Obama looked like the hoVesti Nedeli

usekeeper.”

“‘Donald Trump, successful businessman, was not a person. It was a fantasy born in the strange climate where the downdraft of the American politics of eternity, its fettered capitalism, met the rising hydrocarbon fumes of the Russian politics of eternity, its kleptocratic authoritarianism. Russians raised ‘a creature of their own’ to the presidency of the United States. Trump was the payload of a cyberweapon, meant to create chaos and weakness, as in fact he has done.”

Quotes are taken directly from “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” by Timothy Snyder

Fascism

October 28, 2018

This post is based on Timothy Snyder’s book, “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America.” When the Soviet Union existed it was a Communist nation and was regarded as being on the extreme liberal left. Under Putin, Russia has become a Fascist nation on the extreme right. So it is ironic that the Republican Party that once was strongly anti-communist, has nominated a presidential candidate who was chosen by Putin as the best person to lead the United States. Now this presidential candidate, who was clearly aided by Russia in his campaign, is joined in a mutual admiration union with Putin. And many Republicans are trying to frustrate, if not end, the investigation into Trump and Russia. This is an age of toxic irony.

Fascism is a troubling phenomenon. Germany and Italy were Fascist countries the allies fought and defeated during WW2. Fascism is a strongly authoritarian ideology. As a result of the Nazis an F (for Fascism) Scale was developed, that essentially measured the strength of an authoritarian personality. Two characteristics of Fascism are anti-semitism and a hatred of homosexuality. HM has difficulty understanding the basis of anti-semitism. The justifications for it are clearly fabricated done just to provide the basis for hatred. Actually, HM is grateful to Jews for their many contributions to the arts, science, and humor, just to mention a few. However, HM does think he understands, at least partly, the basis for the hatred of homosexuals. This hatred is found in both the religious right and Fascists. Being a cynical psychologist, who is not a clinician, HM suspects that latent homosexuality is the basis for most of this hatred. Unknowingly, they fear their latent homosexuality and project this on others. The stronger the fear, the greater the hatred. This conjecture occurs to HM whenever he sees Putin without his shirt.

Readers are encouraged to read Snyder’s “The Road to Unfreedom: Russian, Europe, and America. It outlines Putin’s goals to break up Europe into a Russian state Europa. Brexit was a successful effort to this end. He is encouraging right wing parties in the Europe and these parties are gaining increasing strength. Similarly, he is trying to break up the United States into vassal states that will support Russia. He does this by sowing dissension in these countries by various means, but primarily by social media.

Putin was extremely upset when the Ukraine, that was part of the Soviet Union, wanted to join the European Union. He invaded militarily the eastern part of the Ukraine that was largely Russian. However, the remainder of the Ukraine resisted his military efforts so that roughly two-thirds of the Ukraine remained free. During this time HM was able to view RT and saw the splendid propaganda Russian produced. It is so slick that it appears to be news, although the central message was propaganda. At the point of this writing, the situation remains a stalemate. So it appears that Putin can be contained, but Putin’s motives and means must clearly be recognized. All of this is described in Snyder’s book as well as Putin’s other efforts in Europe.

Even Putin’s efforts in the United States can only be touched on in the future posts. Much more of the text of “The Road to Unfreedom: will be copied directly. These portions will be indicated in quotes. Trying to paraphrase would only dilute the message Snyder is excellently communicating.

The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America

October 27, 2018

There is an earlier healthy memory blog post titled, “Fascism in on the March Again: Blame the Internet.’ It was based on an Outlook article in the Washington Post by Timothy Snyder. The article motivated HM to get the book by Timothy Snyder with the title of the current post. However, HM became bogged down in the communist philosophy of the former Soviet Union and now of Russia. These ideological readings do not cite data, but rather state causes of different political conditions and propose ad hoc and convoluted ideological arguments. It was like reading page after page of ideological nonsense.

Fortunately, the passage of time gave HM a second wind and he reengaged. And he is glad he did. He now has a very good understanding of the world we are in that is extremely relevant. There has also been a polar shift in ideologies.

The Soviet Union was a communist country. Americans and others in the free world who gravitated towards communism were regarded as fellow travelers, and if they went the entire way they were communists. These people were on the political left.

The new Russia is technically not a communist country. Although it might have the outward appearance of a democracy, Putin has turned it into a fascist kleptocracy.
The left no longer supports Russia. Western supporters of Russia are from the political right. As the title of the book implies the goal of Putin is to lead Europe and the United States down the road to unfreedom. The goal is to break up Europe into a Russian state Europa. And goal is to break up the United States and make it a fascist client state of Russia.

And it is clear that Putin is achieving his goals. He tried to influence the vote in which Scotland would become free of England and failed, but he was successful in influencing Brexit breaking England from continental Europe. The political right is exercising its strength against central governments in Europe. It uses information warfare as it has and is still doing in the United States. A major objective is to increase internal dissension by exacerbating identity politics and political beliefs. It also promotes its candidates as it successfully did in the United States. And it is successfully influencing one political party to go against the rule of law and attack its own government institutions such as the Department of Justice.

Donald Trump is working directly from the Russian fascist playbook. The charge of false news is one technique. Russia was also first to claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and could not legally become President of the United States. Six more posts on this topic will follow directly.

Growing Pains for a New Democracy

October 26, 2018

That new democracy is Bhutan and it’s wedged between India and China. Bhutan is famed for its stunning scenery and devotion to the principle of Gross National Happiness. There have been many previous Healthymemory blog posts on Gross National Happiness.

Bhutan had a rather unique path to democracy. Instead of voters rising up to fight for the right to elect their leaders, the country’s revered king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, initiated the process of drafting a democratic constitution. This constitution has some atypical features. Buddhist monks, nuns and other clergy are not allowed to vote on the logic that they should remain outside politics. No campaigning is allowed after 6 p.m. Candidates found “defaming” their opponents or straying into certain sensitive topics—such as Bhutan’s oppressively close relationship with India—face fines or reprimands.

Sounds wonderful. So what could possibly go wrong? Dorji Penjore, of the Center for Bhutan, noted that the last survey of the nation in 2015, showed a decrease in two of the nine indicators used to measure Gross National Happiness—psychological well-being and community vitality.

Two reasons have been provided for these problems. Both of which should be familiar to those of us in the US. One problem is social media. Apparently, the election rules were violated over social media and became pretty ugly. The second was party politics.

These two problems are plaguing us in the US. Much has been written about social media, and efforts are being attempted to try to reign in that problem. The second problem, which is not mentioned as much as it should be, is party politics.

According to the US Constitution each of the three branches of government, executive, judicial, and legislative are to provide checks on each other. Unfortunately, all three branches are under the control of the same party. Rather than checking the executive branch, the legislative branch is not only protecting an ill-behaved executive branch, but it is also attacking standing government institutions such as the Department of Justice.

The US Constitution is regarded by many as being sacrosanct. Indeed, one of the qualifying beliefs many have for Supreme Court Justices is that they be Originalists, meaning that they interpret the Constitution as it was understood when it was written. Previous healthy memory blog posts have pointed out that the Constitution as written is both misogynistic and racist. Attempts have been made to eliminate or mitigate these problems, but the fact that party politics could corrupt the vigilance each branch of government was to have on the other was not anticipated.

HM remembers reading that there were founding fathers who feared party politics. HM’s memory informs him that two of these were George Washington and John Adams. It is hard to see how politics would operate without political parties. But there appears to be a need to either eliminate or to mitigate the effectiveness of political parties, or to modify the US Constitution to protect its vulnerability from political parties.

Part of this post was base on the article by Joanna Slatter, “In tiny Bhutan, known for its pursuit of happiness, democracy brings discontent” in the 19 October 2018 issue of the Washington 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.

Hypertext

October 25, 2018

HM was disappointed in Wolf’s “READER COME HOME” as hypertext was not addressed except in passing in a note to a journal article titled, “Why Don’t We Read Hypertext Novels?” HM sees enormous potential in hypertext. In scientific reading links can be provided to the references and notes in the text. Unfortunately, the financing of academic and professional texts and journals makes the seamless operation of this capability difficult. Professional organizations and publishers need to recognize that their primary job, and this is certainly true of professional organizations, is to disseminate information about their disciplines. There is a demand for hypertext here and the free moving to different texts. It is hope that in the future this demand will eventually be realized once means of remuneration and compensation are identified.

HM would be interested to read “Why Don’t We Read Hypertext Novels?” One reason might be that there are so few, if any, of them. But there is a need here, unless authors feel compelled to shove everything they’ve written down the throats of their readers. There could be links providing more information on characters and background. There could be digressive passages that a reader might want to have the option of reading or skipping. If passages are not interesting to certain readers, they either skim them or give up on the book.

From an author’s perspective hypertext offers the option to expand views and to write one document to different levels of readers. One text could be written for beginning, intermediate, and advanced learners that would provide a coherent path through one’s learning.

© 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.

Concluding Letters

October 24, 2018

What struck HM about the concluding letters (chapters in Wolf’s parlance) in “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf was that they were not especially unique to digital media. They applied generally to reading and education.

One letter was titled “Between Two and Five Years: When Language and Thought Take Flight Together.” The most important point in this chapter is to read to your children. This goes beyond reading to the building of intimacy and rapport with your children. And it will fill them with the wonder of books, be that in print or digital. Some of HM’s favorite childhood memories are of his mother reading to him. She read many items some of which were “Peter Pan,” “Tom Sawyer,” and sports books by Claire Bee featuring Chip Hilton. The wonder that these abstract characters on a background yielded such interesting and entertaining stories that stimulated the mind to create images of the stories. So when reading was the subject at school, HM was a highly motivated student.

Another letter is titled “The Science and Poetry in Learning (and teaching to Read). True there are necessary adaptions for digital material, some yet to be identified, and these are important subjects. Moreover, science is involved in addressing the questions raised by digital media. Relevant sections titles are ‘Investment in Early, Ongoing Assessment of Students,” “Investment in Our Teachers,” and “Investment in the Teaching of Reading Across the School Years.”

Another letter is titled “Building a Biliterate Brain.” “Biliterate” here refers to being literate in both conventional and digital media. But this is what the entire text addresses, and it should not be thought that everything is known about conventional media. True, the ignorance is greater on the digital side, and the genius is combining so there is a synergy between the two. Research is needed. There needs to be professional training and development, and it is important that there be equal access regardless of the financial resources of the schools.

The final letter is titled “Reader, Come Home,” which again extols the virtues of reading and thinking.

The Raising of Children in a Digital Age

October 23, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a letter in “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf. Wolf refers to her chapters as letters. Wolf writes: “The tough questions raised in the previous letters come to roost like chickens on a fence in the raising of our children. They require of us a developmental version of the issues summarized to this point: Will time-consuming, cognitively demanding deep-reading processes atrophy or be gradually lost within a culture whose principle mediums advantage speed, immediacy, high levels of stimulation, multitasking and large amount of information?”

She continues, “Loss, however, in this question implies the existence of a well-formed, fully elaborated circuitry. The reality is that each new reader—that is, each child—must build a wholly new reading circuit. Our children can form a very simple circuit for learning to read and acquire a basic level of decoding, or they can go on to develop highly elaborated reading circuits that add more and more sophisticated intellectual processes over time.”

These not-yet-formed reading circuits present unique challenges and a complex set of questions: First, will the early-developing cognitive components of the reading circuit be altered by digital media before, while, and after children learn to read. What will happen to the development of their attention, memory, and background knowledge—processes known to be be affected in adults by multitasking, rapidity, and distraction? Second, if they are affected, will such changes alter the makeup of the resulting expert reading circuit and/or the motivation to form and sustain deep reading capacities? Finally, what can we do to address the potential negative effects of varied digital media on reading without losing their immensely positive contributions to children and to society?

The digital world grabs children. A 2015 RAND study reported the average amount of time spent by three-to-five year old children on digital devices was four hours a day, with 75% of children from zero to eight years old having access to digital devices. This figure is up from 52% only two years earlier. The use of digital devices increased by 117% in just one year. Our evolutionary reflex, the lovely bias pulls our attention immediately toward anything new. The neuroscientist Daniel Levitin says, “Humans will work just as hard to obtain a novel experience as we will to get a meal or a mate…In multitasking, we unknowingly enter an addiction loop as the brain’s novelty centers become rewarded for processing tiny new stimuli, to the detriment of our prefrontal cortex, which wants to stay on task and gain the rewards of sustained effort attention. We need to train ourselves to go for the long reward and forgo the short one.”

Levitin claims that children can become so accustomed to a continuous stream of competitors for their attention that their brains are for all purposes being bathed in hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, the hormones more commonly associated with fight, flight, and stress. Children three, or four, or sometimes even two and younger—but they are first passively receiving and then, ever so gradually requiring the levels of stimulation of much older children on a regular basis.

The Stanford University neuroscientist Poldrack and his team has found that some digitally raised youth can multitask if they have been trained sufficiently on one of the tasks. Unfortunately, not enough information is reported to evaluate this claim, other than to leave it open and look to further research to see how these skills can develop.

Wolfe raises legitimate concerns. Much research is needed. But the hope is that damaging effects can be eliminated or minimized. Perhaps even certain types of training with certain types of individuals can be done to minimize the costs of multitasking.

Digital Media and the Loss of Quality Information

October 22, 2018

To put matters in perspective before proceeding it is useful to remember that Socrates saw dangers in the printed word. He believed that knowledge needed to be resident in the brain and not on physical matter. He thought that the printed word would result in going to hell in a hand basket (Be clear that he did not say this, but he did see it as a definite potential danger). So this new digital world has much to offer, but also has dangers, and we need to avoid these dangers.

Frank Schirrmacher placed the origins of the conflict without our species’ need to be instantly aware of every new stimulus, what some call our novelty bias. Hyper vigilance toward the environment has definite survival value. It is virtually certain that this reflect saved many of our prehistoric ancestors from threats signaled by the barely visible tracks of deadly tigers or the soft susurrus of venomous snakes in the underbrush. Unfortunately experts in”persuasion design” principles know very well how to exploit these tendencies.

Wolf writes, “As Schirrmacher described it, the problem is that contemporary environments bombard us constantly with new sensory stimuli, as we split our attention across multiple digital devices most of our days, as often as not, nights shortened by our attention to them. A recent study by Time, Inc. of the media habits of people in their twenties indicated that they switched media sources twenty-seven times an hour. On average they now check their cell phones between 150 and 190 times a day, As a society we’re continuously distracted by our environment, and our very wiring as ominous aids and abets this. We do not see or hear the same quality of attention, because we see and hear too much, become habituated, and then seek still more.

Enter “The Distracted Mind” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to find many more relevant posts on this topic. There are clearly two distinct components to this problem: Staying plugged in and the volume and quality of information.

Unfortunately, Wolf does not directly address the topic of being plugged in, but this problem needs to be addressed first before significant progress can be made on the second. Being constantly plugged in precludes one from making any progress on this problem. There are simply too many disruptions and distractions. So one either unplugs cold turkey and remains that way, either only plugging in to communicate or strictly limiting the time one is plugged in. Clearly there are social implications here, so one needs to explain to one’s friends and acquaintances why one is doing this and try to persuade them to join you for their own benefit.

Next one can deal with the volume of communications. Wolf notes that the average amount of communication consumed by us is 34 gigabytes. Moreover, this is characterized by one spasmodic burst after another. Barack Obama has said he is worried that for many of our young, information has become “a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather a tool of empowerment, rather than a means of emancipation.”

The literature professor Mark Edmundson writes, “Swimming in entertainment, my students have been sealed off from the chance to call everything they’ve valued into question, to look at new ways of life…For them, education is knowing and lordly spectatorship, never the Socratic dialogue about how one ought to live one’s life.”

Wolf writes, “What do we do with the cognitive overload from multiple gigabytes of information from multiple devices? First, we simplify. Second we process the information as rapidly as possible: more precise, we read more in briefer bursts. Third, we triage. We stealthily begin the insidious trade-off between our need to know with our need to save and gain time. Sometimes we outsource our intelligence to the information outlets that offer the fastest, simplest most digestible distillations of information we no longer want to think about ourselves.”

This post is based in part on “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf. She does discuss how she managed to discipline herself and break these bad habits, although she doesn’t mention the importance of the first necessary act to unplug oneself.

Then one needs to decide that technology is a tool one should use to benefit oneself rather than letting technology drives one life. Realize that we humans have finite attentional resources and prioritize what sources and types of technology should be used to pursue specific goals. These will change over time as will goals, but one should always have goals, perhaps as simple as learning something about x. If that is rewarding, one can pursue it further, move off to related areas, or to completely new areas. The objective should always be to use technology, not be used by technology, for personal fulfillment.

This post will close with a quote from Susan Sontag:
“To be a moral human being is to pay, be obliged to pay, certain kinds of attention…The nature of moral judgments depends on our capacity for paying attention, has its limits, but whose limits can be stressed.”

And one from Herman Hesse’s essay “The Magic of the Book:’
“Among the many worlds which man did not receive as a gift of nature, but which he created with his own spirit, the world of books is the greatest. Every child, scrawling his first letters on his slate and attempting to read for the first time, in so doing, enters an artificial and most complicated world: to know the laws and rules of this world completely and to practice them perfectly, no single human life is long enough. Without words, without writing, and without books thee would be no history, there could be no concept of humanity.”

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

Is Deep Reading Endangered by Technology?

October 21, 2018

This post is based on “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf. MIT scholar Sherry Turkle described a study by Sara Konrath and her research group at Stanford University that showed a 40% decline in empathy in young people over the last two decades. The most precipitous decline occurred in the last ten years. Turkle attributes the loss of empathy largely to their inability to navigate the online world without losing track of their real-time, face-to-face relationships. Turkle thinks that our technologies place us at a remove, which changes not only who we are as individuals but also who we are with one another. Wolf writes, “The act of taking on the perspective and feelings of others is one of the most profound, insufficiently heralded contributions of the deep-reading process.”

Barack Obama described novelist Marilynne Robinson as a “specialist in empathy.” Obama visited Robinson during his presidency. During their wide-ranging discussion, Robinson lamented what she saw as a political drift among many people in the United States toward seeing those different from themselves as the “sinister other.” She characterized this as “dangerous a development as there could be in terms of whether we continue to be a democracy.” Whether writing about humanism’s decline or fear’s capacity to diminish the very values its proponents purport to defend, Ms Robinson conceptualized the power of books to help us understand the perspective of others as an antidote to the fears and prejudices many people harbor, often unknowingly. Within this context Obama told Robinson that the most important things he had learned about being a citizen came from novels. “It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And that it’s possible to connect with someone else even thought they’re very different from you.”

It is most insightful that the polarization that is being experienced, is due in large part to missing empathy, which to some degree, perhaps large is due to digital screen technology. Although technology has been blamed for much, part of the problem here is not just the display mode of information, but also the type of content of the information. Quality fiction builds empathy. Even technical reading can build empathy provided the content can be related to the feelings and thinking of others. And some social research does summarize the feelings and thinking of others.

Wolf writes, “There are many things that would be lost if we slowly lose the cognitive patience to immerse ourselves in the worlds created by books and the lives and feelings of the “friends” who inhabit them. And although it is a wonderful thing that movies and film can do some of this, too, there is a difference in the quality of immersion that is made possible by entering the articulated thoughts of others. What will happen to young readers who never meet and begin to understand the thought and feelings of someone totally different? What will happen to older readers who begin to lose touch with that feeling of empathy for people outside their ken or kin? It is a formula for unwitting ignorance, fear and misunderstanding, that can lead to the belligerent forms of intolerance that are the opposite of America’s original goals for its citizens of many cultures.”

Deep reading involves more than empathy. Wolf writes, “The consistent strengthening of the connections among our analogical, inferential, empathic, and background knowledge processes generalize well beyond reading. When we learn to connect these processes over and over in our reading, it becomes easier to apply them to our own lives, teasing apart our motives and intentions and understanding with ever perspicacity and, perhaps, wisdom, why others think and feel the way they do. Not only is it the basis for the compassionate side of empathy, but it also contributes to strategic thinking.

Just as Obama noted, however, these strengthened processes do not come without work and practice, nor do they remain static if unused. From start to finish, the basic neurological principle—“Use it or lost it”— is true for each deep-reading process. More important still, this principle holds for the whole plastic reading-brain circuit. Only if we continuously work to develop and use our complex analogical and inferential skills will the neural networks underlying them sustain our capacity to be thoughtful, critical analysts of knowledge, rather than passive consumers of information.”

Mark Edmunson asks in his book “Why Read,” “What exactly is critical thinking?” He explains that it includes the power to examine and potentially debunk personal beliefs and convictions. Then he asks, “What good is this power of critical thought if you do not yourself believe something and are not open to having this belief modified? What’s called critical thought generally takes place from no set position at all.”

Edmonson articulates two connected, insufficiently discussed threats to critical thinking. The first threat comes when any powerful framework for understanding our world (such as a political or religious view) becomes so impenetrable to change and so rigidly adhered to that it obfuscates any divergent type of thought, even when the latter is evidence-based or morally based.

The second effect that Edmunson observes is the total absence of any developed personal belief system in many of our young people, who either do not know enough about past systems of thought (for example, Freud, Darwin, or Chomsky) or who are too impatient to examine and learn from them. As a result, their ability to learn the kind of critical thinking necessary for deeper understanding can become stunted, Intellectual rudderlessness and adherence to a way of thought that allows no question are threats to critical thinking in us all.

It is also important to be aware that Deep Reading has a generative process. Here is a quote from Jonah Lehrer—“An insight is a fleeting glimpse of the brain’s huge store of unknown knowledge. The cortex is sharing one of its secrets.”

Wolf writes, “Insight is the culmination of the multiple modes of exploration we have brought to bear on what we have read thus far: the information harvested from the text; the connections to our best thoughts and feelings; the critical conclusions gained; and then the uncharted leap into a cognitive space where we may upon occasion glimpse whole new thoughts. The formation of the reading-brain circuit is a unique epigenetic achievement in the intellectual history of our species. Within this circuit, deep reading significantly changes what we perceive, what we feel, and what we know and in so doing alters, informs, and elaborates the circuit itself.”

Neuroscience informs us that creativity is everywhere based on brain imaging and recording. There is no neat map of what occurs when we have our most creative bursts of thinking. Instead, it appears that we activate multiple regions of the brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate gyrus.

Print vs. Screen or Digital Media

October 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

A View of the Reading Brain

October 19, 2018

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

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

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

READER COME HOME

October 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Elusive Experience as Intuition

October 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organized Religions

October 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Thought Experiment About Pantheism

October 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

God & Homo Sapiens

October 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going on Hiatus

September 24, 2018

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

HM shall return

More Love, Less Greed

September 22, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bezos Pledges $2 Billion to Aid Homeless Families

September 21, 2018

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

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

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

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

Controlling Our Minds

September 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is There a Biology Behind the Cultural Crisis?

September 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Ambiguous State of Affairs

September 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subjectivity, Feeling, and Consciousness

September 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

The Strange Order of Things

September 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consciousness is an Instinct

September 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ubiquity of Consciousness

September 14, 2018

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

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

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

Conscious vs. Unconscious States

September 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Neurons to Mind

September 12, 2018

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

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

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

Non-living to Living

September 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Where is Consciousness?

September 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking But Unconscious; Unmoving but Conscious

September 9, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visiting the Clinic

September 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

The Beginnings of Understanding Brain Architecture

September 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

The Consciousness Instinct

September 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Enhanced Meditation

September 5, 2018

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

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

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

There are short individual meditations for close relatives.

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

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

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

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

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

AWARE

September 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kahneman and Identity Based Politics

September 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research Takes Honest Look at Why People Lie

September 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Science of Voodoo

September 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

Everyday Placebos

August 31, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind Over Matter

August 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House of TRUMP House of PUTIN

August 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fundamental Attribution Error

August 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 25, 2018

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

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

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

The Special Counsel Investigation

August 24, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do People Support Trump?

August 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is the soul that is immortal.

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

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

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

Science Explains the World of Manafort and Gates

August 22, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future

August 21, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good vs. The Bad Anthropocene

August 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Industrialization and the Anthropocene

August 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farming and the First Nation State

August 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Our Early Ancestors Lived

August 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Humans Arrive

August 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timeline

August 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Origin Story: A Big History of Everything

August 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Ivan Pavlov: Socialism

August 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes a White Nationalist?

August 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fascism in on the March Again: Blame the Internet

August 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VR Headset Helps People Who Are Legally Blind to See

August 9, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self Talk for Growth Mindsets and a Healthy Memory

August 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

What is Thought?

August 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

The Voices Within

August 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Take Control of Pain

August 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Conquer Your Fears

August 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Lifting the Lid on the Unconscious

August 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clustering illusion — Seeing phantom patterns in random events.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ms. Young offers these five ways to game your unconscious

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

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

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

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

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

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Find Your Inner Creativity

August 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hacking Our Unconscious

July 31, 2018

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

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

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

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

Daniel Kahneman and Originalism

July 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

Now invoke System 2 processing and consider the following.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Healthier Heart and a Sharper Mind

July 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are We Living in 1984?

July 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump and the 2018 Election

July 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise, Maryland

July 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait, There’s More

July 25, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Should Be Done

July 24, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Ironic But Illuminating Fiasco

July 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2016 Election—Part Three

July 22, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2016 Election—Part Two

July 21, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2016 Election—Part One

July 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WannaCry & NotPetya

July 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shadow Brokers

July 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Russia, With Love

July 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump and North Korea

July 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE PERFECT WEAPON

July 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the first of many posts on this book.

Microsoft Calls for Regulation of Facial Recognition

July 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Problem was that I was Too Nice

July 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rudeness is as Contagious as a Bad Cold

July 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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