Archive for November, 2013

An Important Part of the Brain Unknown to Most

November 30, 2013

That would be the precuneus. The precuneus is located on the inside of the brain between the two cerebral hemispheres in the rear region between the somatosensory cortex and forward of the visual cortex, which contains the cuneus. One of the reasons so few people are aware of the precuneus is that it has been difficult to study because it is difficult to access. Moreover, it is rarely subject to isolated injury due to strokes or trauma, such as gunshot wounds.

The precuneus appears to be a recently expanded part of the brain. It is poorly developed in the less developed primates such as New World monkeys. The human precuneus comprises a larger portion of the brain than in non-human primates or other animals. It has the most complex columnar organization and is among the last regions to myelinate.

Mental imagery regarding the self has been located in the forward part of the precuneus with the poster areas being involved in episodic memory. Episodic memory refers to events in our own personal lives. Another area of the precuneus has been linked to visuospatial imagery. Visuospatial imagery is central to many mnemonic techniques.

Functional imaging has linked the precuneus to processes involved in self-consciousness. This includes the important function of reflective self-awareness. For example, it would be involved in comparing ones own personality traits to those of other people.

Not surprisingly the precuneus is involved in many memory tasks, for example when people look at images and try to respond based on what they have remembered in regard to verbal questions about spatial details. It is also involved in source memories such as when you try to remember where you read a particular article or where you saw a particular person. It is believed that the precuneus is involved in a variety of processes in addition to episodic memory retrieval such as attention, working memory, and conscious attention.

One idea is that the precuneus, together with the posterior cingulate is pivotal for conscious information processing. The evidence for this idea comes from the effects of its disruption in epilepsy, brain lesions, and vegetative state. It is also thought that the ventral precuneus is involved with the default mode network, and that this involvement might underlie its role in self-consciousness.

As this research is fairly new some of these ideas should be regarded with caution. But even at this early state of research it is clear that the precuneus is important and and deserves to be more widely known.

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Happy Thanksgiving 2013!

November 27, 2013

This is the time of the year when every healthy member of homo sapiens should give thanks for our cognitive resources. The best way of giving thanks is to keep our memories healthy and to continue to develop and grown our cognitive resources throughout our lives. The healthymemory blog is devoted to developing and growing our cognitive resources. There are well over 400 posts devoted to this end.

Perhaps the first step here is to understand our memories and how we process information. The first category of posts, “Human Memory: Theory and Data,” includes posts on theories of memory, how memories work, and how our memory impacts our lives.

The second category of posts, “Mnemonic Techniques” does include specific techniques for improving memory. But it also includes topics that will enhance our memories and our lives. Included here are topics on meditation and mindfulness.

The third category of posts, “Transactive Memory” contains posts on how to use technology and interact with our fellow human beings to enhance our memories and our lives. There is a series of posts on contemplative computing.

Please use the healthymemory blog search block. Enter topics of interests in the block to find posts on these interests. You might be surprised what you find.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. 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.

Sleep, the Brain, and Alzheimer’s

November 24, 2013

Sleep has always presented a problem for science. It is an activity in which we humans spend approximately one-third of our lives. So there must be some justification, but what is it? Dreaming is an important area of study. The healthymemory blog has a substantial number of posts on dreaming, which will not be reviewed here (to find them, enter “dreaming” into the search block of the healthymemory blog). Recent research has identified how waste materials are removed from the brain, and how this removal increases when we sleep. A healthymemory blog reader has led me to some of this research and I do thank him for his assistance.

For most of the body there is a complex system of lymphatic vessels that cleanse tissues of potentially harmful metabolic waste products, accumulations of soluble proteins and excess interstitial fluid. Unfortunately, the central nervous system lacks a lymphatic vasculature, so the problem was to identify how waste products are removed from the brain. Research by Maiken Nedergaard and her research group at the University of Rochester has appeared to have solved this problem.1 This finding is especially important as the breakdown of the brain’s innate clearance system might underlie the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease, as well as ALS and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

The research team injected fluorescent tracers into the brains of living mice, and then imaged the movement of the tracers using two-photon microscopy in real time. They were able to identify a complete anatomical pathway, which they dubbed the “glymphatic system” due to its dependence on glial cells performing a “lymphatic” cleansing of the brain interstitial fluid. (enter “glial” into the healthymemory blog search block to learn more about glial cells).

“During sleep, the cerbrospinal fluid flushed through the brain very quickly and broadly,” said Rochester neuropharmacologist Lulu Xi/”2. Another experiment revealed that sleep causes the space between cells to increase by 60%, allowing the flow to increase. When the mouse was awakened, the flow in the brain was greatly constrained.

“Brain cells shrink when we sleep, allowing fluid to enter and flush out the brain,” Nedergaard said. “It’s like opening and closing a faucet.”3 The research also found that beta-amyloid protein cleans out of the brain twice as fast in a sleeping rodent as in one who is awake.

This research once again underscores the importance of getting enough sleep. It also suggests that failures in this cleansing system might contribute to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease, as well as ALS and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. So this research opens up new research avenues for studying and, possibly curing or remediating these diseases.

2Kim, M. (2013). During sleep, the brain clears up. The Washington Post, October 20, p. A5.

3ibid.

What Einstein’s Brain Tells Us

November 19, 2013

Fortunately Einstein’s heirs allowed for the removal of his brain for study after his demise. As the title of the Washington Post Article indicates “Einstein’s brain was more connected than most. His large corpus callosum, which helps the left and right hemispheres work together, is part of what made the physicist so creative, researchers say.”1 The corpus callosum runs nearly the full length of the brain from behind the forehead to the nape of the neck. Its dense network of neural fibers carries electrical signals between the two hemispheres that make brain regions with very different functions work together.

Peter U. Tse is a neuroscientist at Dartmouth College who studies the underpinnings of artistic, scientific, and mathematical creativity. He argues that “the ways in which we use our brains – and the consistency with which we do so – may matter more as we age.” “He noted that, while Einstein’s brain was much better connected than those of similarly aged men, it was not so different than those of young and healthy controls.”

“That might reflect the fact that Einstein continue to exercise his brain strenuously, forestalling much of the atrophy that comes with age.”

Although we are not Einsteins, it is the continuing theme of the healthmemory blog that we need to continue to exercise our brains strenuously.

1(2013) Healy, M. The Washingtonpost, 13 October, A4.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. 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.

Abduction and the Tri-Process Model of Cognition

November 17, 2013

 

The Tri-Process Model of Cognition has been discussed in the immediately preceding healthymemory blog posts. It provides an elaboration of Kahneman’s System 2, which Kahneman calls Reasoning. Stanovich breaks down System 2 into two components: an Algorithmic Mind and a Reflective Mind. The Reflective Mind monitors both System 1, which Stanovich calls the Autonomous Mind, and the Algorithmic Mind. Now suppose you are planning a trip downtown. You need to pick up items at a bicycle shop, a health store, and a photography shop. Initially, you want to get these errands out of the way, so you plan to leave early in the morning. However, when you use your Algorithmic Mind to run mental simulations of your trip, your Reflective Mind reminds you that the bicycle shop is next to a sandwich shop that makes delicious sandwiches. So you use your Reflective Mind and decide to leave later so you can add a delicious sandwich to your trip. You use your Algorithmic Mind and run some more mental simulations in planning your trip and your Reflective Mind reminds you that there is a parade downtown and streets will be closed. One of these streets is a street that you would normally take home. So you go back to your Algorithmic Mind and run additional simulations to choose an alternate route home.

 

Stanovich is developing this Tri-Process Model to deal more adequately with rationality, a component he has compelling argued is lacking from conventional IQ tests. There are cognitive biases that can serve as valuable heuristics, but can also lead to erroneous conclusions. This is the role of the Reflective Mind, to reflect on mental processes to eliminate or reduce rational errors.

 

I believe that Stanovich has made a substantial contribution to the understanding of human cognition with his Tri-Process Model. Nevertheless, and I could be wrong, but it appears to me that he is missing an important component, abduction. The concept of abduction was formulated by the American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce. It is a third type of logic.

 

Induction goes from observations to a conclusions, from the specific to the general.

 

Deduction goes from premises to a conclusion that is guaranteed to be correct.

 

Abduction does not guarantee a correct conclusion. One can understand abductive reasoning as “inference to the best explanation.” Abduction implies creativity. It is a new explanation.

 

So to address novel thought or creativity, some type of abduction is needed. The fields of computer science and artificial intelligence employ abduction. Diagnostic expert systems frequently employ abduction.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. 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 Tri-Process Model of Cognition and Cognitive Miserliness

November 13, 2013

The Tri-Process Model of Cognition (Stanovich, 2011) offers a more complete model of cognition and a better prescriptive model of how to think. All System Two processes, including both the Algorithmic Mind and the Rational Mind require attention. In other words, they require thinking and mental effort. It’s a model of how to think thoroughly. Try to recall all relevant information. Run mental simulations regarding how different courses of action might result. The failure to use adequate mental resources (the failure to think) is what is termed cognitive miserliness. We are cognitive misers when we don’t use the cognitive resources we have. And most of the time this is due to an unwillingness to exert adequate mental effort.

Now for our minds to work effectively we need to have stored relevant information. Our Rational Mind should inform us when we need to look for more information. Mindware is also needed. Mindware needs to include methods for critical thinking. All of this should be part of our formal education, but the majority of what we need to do is a matter of self-education. We need to be auto-didacts throughout the entire course of our lives. It is true that our thinking is often time constrained. In those situations all we can do is to expend as much mental effort as time affords.

So especially for the important decisions we need to make in our lives, we cannot afford to be cognitive misers. It is unfortunate that the prefrontal cortex does not fully develop until our mid-twenties. By this time we have had the opportunity to make serious erroneous decisions. But this is all the more reason to think for as long and as much as possible so that we are making maximum use of whatever prefrontal cortex we have.

We also need to avoid being cognitive misers as citizens. Considering the problems the U.S. Government is having, it appears that the country is filled with cognitive misers. People blame the government, but it is the people who elect the government.

The idea that people do not vote in their own interests is not new. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence to support this view. Income equality has grown for the past thirty years. How can this be possible if voters are voting in their own interests? How can 1% of the population garner so much of the wealth? Mitt Romney called 47% of the U.S. Population deadbeats, or something of the sort. He also was against in supporting funds for college educations, in spite of the fact that the G.I. Bill was largely responsible the subsequent economic growth of the country. Romney’s argument was that if parents had the funds to send their children to college, that was their privilege, otherwise students needed to fund for themselves. Now how does this square with the ideal of equality? Yet 48% of the vote went to this man. How can this be?

This answer is that there is an epidemic of cognitive misers. Ideologies provide a handy vehicle for avoiding thinking. The ideologies, beliefs, hold the answer. There is no need to think. Contrary evidence is disregarded as being biased, being from a liberal press, for example. Now ideologies are even more pernicious when they are held by those in legislative bodies. Effective legislative bodies require negotiation and compromise, something that ideologues are not wont to do.

Beliefs need to be justified with logic and evidence. It is not a matter of believing in big government or small government, whatever those terms might mean. Regardless if someone tells me they are against, or for, big government, I regard them to be cognitive misers of the highest magnitude. Rather it is a matter of the honest examination of data and reflection that should be the means of determining what government should and should not do.

If this epidemic of cognitive miserliness continues, too many voters will be manipulated by skilled politicians and their advisors into voting against their own interests.

But by far, the worst and most dangerous ideologues are those who on the grounds of their religious beliefs, perform acts of terrorism. Religious ideologues can pervert religious beliefs into acts that are contrary to their religions. This is certainly the worst consequence of cognitive miserliness.

Reference

Stanovich, K.E. (2011). Rationality & the Reflective Mind. New York: The Oxford University Press..

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. 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 Tri-Process Model of Cognition and Critical Thinking

November 10, 2013

The Tri-Process Model of Cognition has been developed to elaborate on how rational thought, and, hence, critical thinking is accomplished. Critical thinking should be a goal for all of us. One of the first steps is making a commitment to fair-mindedness. A primary obstacle to fair-mindedness is our egocenticity. What follows is a set of questions we need to ask to ascertain the role our egocentricity is playing on our “fair-mindedness.”
“It’s true because I believe it.” (Paul & Elder, 2002)
“It’s true because we believe it.” (Paul & Elder, 2002)
“It’s true because I want to believe it.”(Paul & Elder, 2002)
“It’s true because I have always believed it.”(Paul & Elder, 2002)
“It’s true because it is in my selfish interest to believe it.”(Paul & Elder, 2002)

The key word in this last item is “selfish.” It is not meant to imply that you never do anything or believe anything in your self interest. But when your self interest breaks legal or moral grounds, then it needs to be questioned.
These are all examples of what is called my sidedness or we sidedness.Another term that has been used is “hardening of the categories.”

Most likely these processes occur during System 1 (Kahneman) or the Autonomous Mind (Stanovich). In other words, these processes typically occur below our level of conscious awareness. Consequently we must invoke System 2 (Kaheman) or the Reflective Mind (Stanovich). We need to examine our thought process and ask why. What is the evidence and logic that leads us to these beliefs and how sound is the evidence and the logic.
This is one of the reasons that politics and religion are often topics to avoid in social situations. They can lead to arguments, and these arguments rarely yield insight into the others’ position, and almost never result in changing the others’ position. Many beliefs appear to be hard wired. They should be inspected to see if they should be tweaked or changed.
One of the problems in examining these beliefs is that it requires attention and extensive thought. In other words, cognitive effort. There is a reluctance to expend this cognitive effort that leads to what is called cognitive miserliness.

Reference

Paul, R.W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking. Pearson Education, Inc., p.39.

Paul, R.W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking. Pearson Education, Inc., p.40.

Paul, R.W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking. Pearson Education, Inc., p.40.

Paul, R.W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking. Pearson Education, Inc., p.40.

Paul, R.W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking. Pearson Education, Inc., p.40.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. 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 Tri-Process Model of Cognition and the Mind’s Three Distinctive Functions

November 6, 2013

To flesh out the Tri-Process Model of Cognition (see the immediately preceding post) it is helpful to discuss it in terms of the Mind’s Three Distinctive Functions (2002). These three basic functions are thinking, feeling, and wanting. Thinking creates meaning, makes sense of our lives, and of specific subjects and interests. Judging, perceiving, analyzing, clarifying, determining, comparing, and synthesizing are all acts of thinking. Feeling tells us not only how we are feeling, but how we are doing. We can be happy, sad, depressed, anxious, stressed, calm, worried, excited, and so forth. Wanting is what motivates us and drives us to act as we do. Goals, desires, purposes, agendas, values, and motives are all components of wanting. And wanting leads to our doing. All four of these functions interact with each other.

What is important is that feelings and desires (wanting) do not correct themselves. They can be changed only through our thinking. Thinking is key to controlling feeling and wanting, and by taking command of our thinking we can take command of all three functions of the mind and our lives. So we need to control our thinking.

Now how do the three distinctive functions of the mind map on to the Tri-Process Model of Cognition? Emotions (feelings) are clearly a System 1 process for Kahneman, and what Stanovich calls the autonomous mind. I would also argue that wanting is also primarily a System 1 or autonomous function. Remember that according to Kahneman, one of the roles of System 2 is to monitor and correct the output of System 1. For Stanovich, it is the role of both the algorithmic and the reflective mind to monitor and correct the output of the autonomous mind. Both Kahneman and Stanovich are saying that thinking needs to control out emotions and wants.

Often it is not clear how to control our emotions. We cannot let them take control us, we need to control them. We need to invoke mindfulness (enter “mindfulness” into the healthymemory blog search block). Here is an excerpt from the healthymemory blog post, “A Simple Tip to Spark Mindfulness”: “An easy way to remember how to be mindful in the course of a busy day, or when you are overwhelmed, preoccupied, worried, angry, or uncomfortable, is the acronym mnemonic STOP”

S – Stop. Simply pause from what you are doing.
T -Take a few slow, deep breaths with awareness and tune in.
O – Observe and curiously notice your thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
P – Proceed with whatever you were doing with awareness and kindness.”

It is also important to invoke the reflective mind. “Reflective” refers to the purpose of the reflective mind and that is to reflect upon our own thinking. It is essential to how effectively we control our wants, govern our own lives, and interact with others. It is essential for effective critical thinking.

Reference
Paul. R.W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking. Pearson Education, Inc.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. 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.

Intelligence and the Tri-Process Model of Cognition

November 3, 2013

The immediately preceding post was on the Flynn Effect, which referred to a 3-point increase in IQ scores over the course of each decade since 1930. However, Flynn himself did not think that there had been an actual increase in intelligence over time, but rather an increase in IQ scores. Criticisms of the IQ test are nothing new. Stanovich has been criticizing the IQ test for years and has started research to address this shortcoming (enter “Stanovich” into the healthymemory blog search box to find more posts on Stanovich).

Stanovich (2011) is doing this by building on Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition (See the healthymemory blog post “The Two System View of Cognition”). 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.

It is clear that System 2 is very important and covers a lot of territory, but there remains much to be done to develop System 2. This is precisely what Stanovich is doing. He calls System 1 the Autonomous Mind. System 2 is divided into what Stanovich terms the Algorithmic Mind and the Reflective Mind. It is the Reflective Mind that catches errors in System 1 processing. However, the Algorithmic Mind can still commit errors and terminate processing prematurely. The algorithmic mind engages in serial associative cognition. Consider the now famous bat and ball problem. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 total. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? The mind tends to offer the answer $0.10 because the answer seems simple, just the parsing of the $1 from the $0.10 In fact, 50% of Princeton students and 56% of the students at the University of Michigan came up with this answer. But this answer is wrong. If the bat costs $1 more than the ball and the ball costs $0.10, then the bat would cost $1.10, which when added to the ball cost would reach $1.20. The correct answer is $0.05. That would mean that the bat costs $1.05, and the two added together would yield the desired $1.10. Now if the Reflective Mind is on the job, the Algorithmic Mind will run a check and discover that the ball costing $0.10 would yield an erroneous total of $1.20, conduct some mental arithmetic and arrive at the correct answer of $0.05.

Wason’s four card selection task provides another example of how the Tri-Process Model works. A research participant is presented four cards: K, A, 8, and 5. She is told that there is a letter or number on the opposite side of the card. The rule is that if a card has a vowel on its letter side, then it has an even number on its opposite side. The task is to decide which card or cards must be turned over to determine if the rule is true or false. The correct answer is A and 5, the only two cards that could show that the rule is false. However, the majority of research participants typically respond A and 8. So presumably they are engaging the Algorithmic Mind and making choices that would confirm the hypothesis. If the Reflective Mind is doing its job, it will catch this error and engage in simulations of all the possibilities and discover that there could be an even number on the other side of the K. The Reflective Mind might also be aware that a confirmation bias pervades most of our thinking and that we typically look for confirming, not disconfirming information. But it is disconfirmation information that refutes rules or hypothesis.

There is no way I can do justice to the Tri-Process Model of Cognition, but it is fleshing out the Two System View and addressing serious problems in intelligence tests. Perhaps Stanovich can develop a Rational Quotient (RQ) in addition to the IQ, or perhaps a more comprehensive intelligence test can be developed.

Reference
Stanovich, K.E. (2011). Rationality & the Reflective Mind. New York: The Oxford University Press..

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Flynn on the Flynn Effect

November 1, 2013

The Flynn effect refers to the gain in IQs over time.1 IQs seem to have risen about 3 points per decade since about 1930. Gains have been larger for fluid than for crystallized intelligence. A wide range of reasons for this increase have been offered to include nutrition, schooling, urbanization, technology, television, the preschool home environment, and so forth.
However, Flynn himself did not endorse any of these causes.2 He believes that, in some sense, these gains in intelligence are not “real.” Although there were IQ gains, there might not have been intelligence gains. He felt that cultural flowering would have been evident from true increases in intelligence. He noted that “the number of inventions patented in fact showed a sharp decline over the last generation and the Who’s Who books of eminent scientists were not bursting at the seems.
So although IQ tests are measuring something and can predict fairly accurately success in school, they are missing some factor that makes for great science and innovation.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. 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.