Archive for January, 2016

The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking

January 30, 2016

As I mentioned in the post “We’re Back”, there were many interesting symposia presented during our Scientific American Insight Cruise, and it would take some mulling in deciding which ones to write healthy memory blogs.  The very first presentation was by Dr MIchael Starboard is a University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas in Austin, whose presentation was one of the highlights of the entire cruise.  As his talk was on the five elements of effective thinking, and given that this is the healthy memory blog and that one of our mantras is growth mindsets, this talk is of special relevance.    However, I wanted to read his book “The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking,” which he co-authored with Dr. Edward B. Burger before drafting a blog post.  Now having read the book, I think that multiple posts will be necessary.  Even then, I’ll only be scratching the surface.  I strongly recommend that you read the entire book.  It is available on Amazon, including a Kindle version.  This first post provides a general overview of the book.  The book begins with the following quote from Albert Einstein:

“I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent.  Curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism, have brought me to my ideas.”

The first element is to ground our thoughts by understanding deeply.  One of the examples he provided regarded a workshop he attended for virtuoso trumpeters.  The workshop was led by a world famous trumpeter.  He invited the participants to play a virtuoso  piece, which they did. He completed them all, but then asked them to play some basic exercises.  Then he played the basic exercises.  There was a clear difference in the quality he played these exercises as compared to the participants.  Then he played a virtuoso piece, which was clearly well beyond anything played by the participants.  The workshop participants admitted that they devoted little time to playing basic exercises, and they saw that the continuing practice of these exercises was reflected not only in the quality with which the exercises were played, but more importantly were evident in virtue performances.  This example was particularly informative for me.  My wife  has a Master of Fine Arts degree, and is a superb artist.  I had been puzzled as to why she continued to practice her drawing.  Now I understand why she is such a superb artist.   This particular example deals with performance.  Drs. Burger and  Starbird go into much detail as how this is done and is important in any knowledge domain.

The second element involves igniting insights through mistakes, what he calls falling to succeed.  He provided an example from a class he conducts on effective thinking.  He asked the class to prove a theorem regarding infinity.  He informed them that this was well beyond their abilities, but to try anyone, even though he knew what they did would be wrong.  He asked them to work in groups and after three minutes he called upon a woman to show what her group had produced.  She was reluctant and embarrassed, but eventually did so.  Dr. Starbird said to find just one think wrong and to fix it.  She did and the process was repeated nine more times.  Dr. Starbird was amazed to find that after ten interactions a new, ingenious proof had been produced.  His warning is never to stare at a blank screen.  Produce something even if you know it is wrong.  Consider that you are 10% done and continue to iterate.  Continue chipping away at the problem until you have produced a satisfactory answer.

His third element involves creating answers out of thin air.  This is what he calls being our own Socrates.  Creating questions enlivens our curiosity.  Answers to these questions can lead to new questions.  Very often the problem involves no formulating the correct question.  This element leads to our addressing the correct question.

The fourth element involves seeing the flow of ideas, by looking backward to understand how the current idea developed, and by looking forward to try to predict where the current idea will go.   At one time in human history, this flow of ideas was excruciatingly slow.  But in our current age of rapidly developing ideas advance quickly.  Consider the flow of ideas from the first personal computer to where we are today and try to predict where these ideas will go in the future.

The fifth element is to engage change and transform  yourself.  Ready about these ideas is a stimulating academic exercise, but the objective should be to transform ourselves by engaging personal change by using these ideas to transform ourselves.

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Technology and Poverty

January 28, 2016

The October 2, 2015 edition of the New Scientist had two interesting articles in the Comments section.  The first by Federico Pistero is titled “As tech threatens jobs, we must test a universal basic income.”  An earlier healthy memory blog post, “The Second Machine Age,” reviewed a book by Erik Brunjolfsson & Andrew McAfee titled, “The Second Machine Age:  Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies”l  predicted that many jobs, jobs that would be regarded as advanced, will disappear during this second machine age.  Other healthy memory blog posts reviewed books whose authors argued that humanity’s “unique” capacity for empathy would still keep people employed.  I wrote that there would not be enough jobs requiring this “unique” capacity to keep everyone employed, even if these skills could not be implemented with technology.

The comment piece by Pistero  stated that it is possible that within 20 years almost half of all jobs will be lost to machines, and nobody really knows how we are going to cope with that.  Pistero writes “One of the most interesting proposals, that doesn’t rely on the fanciful idea that the market will figure it out, is an unconditional basic income (UBI).

A UBI would provide a monthly stipend to every citizen, regardless of income or employment status.  A key criticism of the UBI is that it would kill the incentive to work.  However, research cited by Pistero involving a whole town in Canada and 20 villages in India found that not only did people continue working, but they were more likely to start businesses or perform socially beneficial activities compared with controls.  Moreover, thee was an increase in general well-being , and no increase in alcohol, drug use, or gambling.

Of course, this research needs to be replicated, but it is good to know that this problem is being researched.  The poverty resulting from large scale unemployment would be devastating.

A second article in the same Comment section by Laura Smith is titled “Pay people a living wage and watch them get healthier.”   Paying the lowest earners less than a living wage, which occurs in both the US and the UK, leaves full-time workers unable to lift their families our of poverty.   The problem goes far beyond unpaid bills.

Poverty keeps people from resources such as healthcare and safe housing.  People in poverty experience more wear and tear from stress than the rest of us, they are sicker, and they die earlier.  Children living in poverty are more likely to be depressed and to have trouble in school.  Newborns are more likely to die in infancy.  Poor people are marginalized.  They often live outside the scope of therapeutic, vocational, social, civic, and cultural resources.  This experience of “outsiderness” reduces cognitive and emotional function.  Brain activity associated with social exclusion has been shown to parallel that of bodily pain.

Research addressing the question of whether raising people’s incomes would improve their health looked at the impact of a community-wide income rise when a casino was built on a Cherokee reservation in North Carolina.  The research compared psychiatric assessments of children before and after this even.  Children’s symptom rates began to decline.  By the fourth year out of poverty, the symptom rates could not be distinguished from children who had never been poor.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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.

World Economic Forum (WEF) Projects that 5 Million Jobs Will Be Lost to New Technologies by 2020

January 26, 2016

The Washington Post article on which this blog post is based can be found in the 20th January  2016  edition on page A13 in the article written by Jena McGregor.  The theme of the 2016 gathering is the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  This is the term it uses to describe the accelerating pace of technological changes.  It emphasizes changes that are “blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres,” which is the combination of things such as artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, and 3-D printing.  It projects that by 2020, 7.1 million jobs are expected to be lost vs. only 2 million jobs gained.   The WEF study predicts different magnitudes of effects depending on gender.  The repot estimates that in absolute terms, men will face about three jobs lost for every job gained, whereas women will face more than five jobs lost for every job gained.  Now the astute reader will realized that this breakdown does not square with the overall number of jobs lost even given the difference in gender losses.  Whether this is due to the WEF report or the report on the WEF report is unknown.  My queries to the author were not answered.  Another study by Oxford University researchers estimated that 47 percent of U.S. jobs could be taken by robots in the next two decades.

The good news is that about a third of the skills that will be most desirable in 2020 aren’t even considered important today.  Social skills such as persuasion and emotional intelligence are expected to be more in demand that limited technical skills.  so are creativity, active listening, and critical thinking.

So the good news means that the new jobs are likely to be more desirable that the old jobs that are being lost.  There still will likely be an increase in unemployment unless other measures are taken, such as shorter work days, many more vacation days, and opportunities for personal development.  I’ve written in previous healtymemory blog posts that when I was in elementary school in the fifties, the prediction was that there would be much more leisure today as the result of technology.  That has not materialized.  Moreover back then it was unusually for mothers to work.  And the technology that emerged is well beyond the technology that was envisioned.  So why are we working so hard.   A priority needs to be given to quality of life rather than gross domestic product (GDP) (see the healthy memory blog post, “The Well-Being of Nations:  Meaning, Motive, and Measurement”).

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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 It is Foolish to Cram for Exams

January 24, 2016

In “The Future of the Mind:  The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind” Dr Kaku presents some results that might provide the answer.   When fruit flies were administered an extra CREB suppressor gene, they could not learn all.  However, if administered an extra CREB activator gene, learning became almost automatic.  The scientists involved in these studies theorize that we have a fixed amount of CREB activator in the brain that can limit the amount we can learn in any specific time.  Students who try to cram before a test quickly exhaust the amount of these CREB activators.  Sufficient time must be provided so these CREB activators can be replenished.  The likely purpose of the CREB suppressor gene is to serve as a filter cleaning out useless information.

Should you not believe that research done on fruit flies is relevant for you, there are other reasons not to cram.  There is plenty of evidence that spaced learning is better than massed learning.  One of the reasons for this is that the context changes each time  you study., which enhances recall.  As other posts have indicated, studying alone is insufficient, effective learning requires the recall of the relevant material.

Of course, these two explanations are not mutually exclusive.  It is likely that both are operative.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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.

Interesting Split Brain Phenomena

January 23, 2016

Dr. Kaku reports the interesting Split Brain research Dr. Roger Perry of the California Institute of Technology did at the California Institute of Technology, for which Perry received the Nobel Prize in 1981.  Dr. Michael Gazzanigia has continued this research and produced some amazing and enlightening results.  Normally our two hemispheres communicate with each other continually on a regular basis.  However, sometimes the pathways between the two hemispheres need to be severed to eliminate certain debilitating conditions.  Under normal circumstances this operation does not produce abnormalities and individuals continue as they always have.  However, this is done because the information from each eye goes to both hemispheres.

Now there is a technique for presenting information to these individuals so that the information goes to separate hemispheres.  Under these circumstances neither hemisphere know what the other is thinking.  Many interesting results have been found.  For myself, the most amazing result was one split-brain patient who, when his left hemisphere was asked if he was a believer or not, said he was an atheist.  But when his right hemisphere was asked, he declared he was a believer.

We are all well aware of the many differences among ourselves, but it is surprising that there are differences of opinion within our brains.  Kaku writes, “it is conceivable that a person with a split-brain personality might be both a Republican and a Democrat at the same time.  If you ask him whom he will vote for, he will give you the candidate of the left brain, since the right brain cannot speak. But can you imagine the chaos in the voting booth when he has to pull the level with one hand.”

The 10,000 Hour Rule and the Growth Mindset

January 21, 2016

In “The Future of the Mind:  The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind” Dr Kaku reviews the vast amount of research regarding what makes a person a genius or an expert.  He quotes the neurologist Daniel Levitin, “The emerging picture from these studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything…In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction  writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again.” Malcom Gladwell called this the “10,000” hour rule in his book, “Outliers.”  I need to add that this number of hours alone will not guarantee expertise.  Practice needs to be what is called deliberate practice, which is aimed at improving performance.

So what is meant by 10,000 hours?  Dividing  10,000 hours by the 24 hour day rounds to 417 days.  Of course, no one can study/practice for 24 hours.  An 8 hour day would be about 1250 days or about 3.4 years.  A more likely 4 hour day would yield about 2500 days  or about 6.8 years.

Anyone willing to expend this amount effort needs to enjoy doing whatever it is, and also obviously has a growth mindset.  Charles Darwin once wrote, “I have always maintained that, excepting fools, men did not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work.”

Although a growth mindset is key to a healthy memory,  this growth need not be targeted at a single area.  The growth can be dispersed over many interests.  However, becoming expert at a particular skill or in a particular area does require sacrifices.  We mere mortals are limited in terms of both time and energy.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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.

Space-Time Theory of Consciousness

January 19, 2016

Back in March of last year in my blog post “The Future of the Mind:  The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind”  I promised a future post on Dr Kaku’s viewpoint on consciousness.   Somehow I became distracted and did not produce that post, so here it is.

Dr. Kaku’s definition of consciousness is as follows:  “Consciousness is the process of creating model of the world using multiple feedback loops in various parameters (e.g., in temperature, space, time, and in relation to others), in order to accomplish a goal (e.g., find mates, food shelter).

The lowest level of consciousness is Level 0 where an organism is stationary or has limited  mobility and creates feedback loops in a few parameters (temperature, for example).  Each feedback loop registers “one unit of consciousness,” so an organism  with a single unit of Level 0 consciousness would be at Level 0:1.

Organisms that are mobile and have a central nervous system have Level 1 consciousness, which includes a new set of parameters to measure their changing location.  An example of Level I consciousness would be reptiles.  They have so many feedback loops that they have developed a central nervous system to handle them.  A reptilian brain would have perhaps one hundred or more feedback loops governing their sense of smell, balance, touch, sound, sight, blood pressure, and so forth.  Each of these contains yet more feedback loops.  Eyesight alone involves a large number of feedback loops as the eye can recognize color, movement, shapes, light intensity, and shadows.  Of course the reptile’s other senses, such as hearing and taste, require additional feedback loops.  The totality of these feedback loops creates a mental picture of where the reptile is located and where other animals are located as well.  Level I consciousness is governed mainly by the reptilian brains, which can also be found in the back and center of the human head.

Level II consciousness involves social animals with emotions.  These organisms must create a model not only of where they are in space but also with respect to others.  As  the number of feedback loops explodes exponentially it moves to the next numerical ranking.  Level II consciousness  coincides with the formation of new structures in the brain in the form of the limbic system.  .  The limbic system includes the hippocampus (for memories), amygdala (for emotions), and the thalamus (for sensory information), all of which provide new parameters for creating models in relation to others.  Consequently, the number and type of feedback loops change.

The degree of Level II consciousness is defined as the number of distinct feedback loops required for an animal to interact socially with  members of its grouping.  For a crude approximation, Level II consciousness can be estimated by counting the number of fellow animals in its pack or tribe and then listing the total number of ways in which the animal interacts emotionally with each one.  This includes recognizing rivals and friends, forming bonds with others, reciprocating favors, building coalitions, understanding your status and the social ranking of others, plotting to rise on the social order, and so forth.  So if a wolf pack  consists of ten wolves, and each wolf interacts with all the others with fifteen different emotions and gestures, then a first approximation is given by the product of the two,. or 150, so it would have Level II consciousness.

Level III Consciousness, our level of consciousness, involves simulating the future.  Dr.Kaku contends that humans are alone in the animal kingdom in understanding the concept of tomorrow.  “Human consciousness is a specific form of consciousness that creates a model of the world and then simulates it in time, by evaluating the past to simulate the future.  This requires mediating, and evaluating, many feedback loops in order to make a decision to achieve a goal.”

As the healthy memory blog contends, memory is a machine for time travel where we can travel back in time to travel forward and predict possible future outcomes.  In terms of species, plants are at level 0, reptiles are at level I, Mammals are at Level II, and humans at level III.  With respect to relevant parameters, temperature and sunshine are key for Level 0, space for level I, social relations for level II, and time (especially the future for level III.  The primary brain structure is none for level 0, the Brain stem for level I, the Limbic System for level II, and the Prefrontal cortex, for level III.

Dr.Kaku states that self-awareness involves crewing a model of the world and simulating the future in which you appear.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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.

We’re Back

January 17, 2016

We’re returned from the Scientific American Bright Horizons cruise to the Western Caribbean and the Panama Canal.  We disembarked from Fort Lauderdale.  The first port call, more accurately a tendering call, to Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas.  Next port was Oranjestad, Aruba.  Then Cartagena, Columbia before entering the Panama Canal, Gatun Lake, and exiting the Panama Canal, which was a truly memorable experience.  Next came Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.  We were especially impressed by Costa Rica, the country and its fruits.  My wife was overwhelmed by the healthy fruits she found.  We stopped at Georgetown in the Cayman Islands before returning to Fort Lauderdale.

However, the highly of the cruise were the speakers.  All speakers made multiple presentations.   Dr MIchael Starboard is a University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas in Austin.  His opening talk was on the five elements of effective thinking, which was truly impressive.  All his lectures concerned effective thinking and were addressed at specific topics in mathematics.

Dr. Monisha Pasupathi is a professor of psychology at the University of Utah.  She made interesting presentations on important topics including memory, rationality, emotion,  emotion regulation, and personality.

Dr. Glenn Starkman is a professor of physics and astronomy and director toe the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics at Case Western University.  His presentations were definitely mind expanding, and he made difficult material accessible and understandable.

Dr. Chris Stringer is the Research Leader in Human Origins and a Fellow of the Royal Society.  His presentations on human revolution were enlightening.  There have been many crooked roads on the way to human revolution.

Our group attending these presentations was equally impressive.  They were knowledgeable and highly intelligent.  When asked how many invested in the stock market, a fair number of hands were raised.  But when asked whether they played in the ship’s casino, not a single had was raised.  These were people with growth mindsets who were enjoying the process of growing their minds.

There is much material to ponder here regarding future healthy memory blog posts.  What is of both obvious and immediate interests are Dr.Stringer’s statements about what led to homo sapiens and why it succeeded.  The development of large enough groups was important, but the key to success was what we term in the healthy memory blog as transactive memory.   Transactive memory is the information shared among different memories.  Many minds are needed and there needs to be sharing of information among these minds.  Once spoken language was developed, written language increased the storing power of transactive memory, and the development of the printing press greatly expanded the access to transactive memory.  Today we have the net (see the healthy memory blog post, “Why the Net Matters” which is on the book of the same title by David Eagleman).  Note also the remainder of the title is “Six Easy Ways to Avert the Collapse of Civilization.”  Please reread and assess on your own whether these easy ways to avert the collapse of civilization are easy, and to reassess the risk.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Healthymemory Blog is Going on a Brief Hiatus

January 3, 2016

But as there are well over 600 posts, there is a plentiful supply,  I suggest that you use the healthymemory blog search block to search for posts of interest.  Should you be looking for recommendations I would suggest:

myth
Davidson
Kahneman
Stanovich
economics
mindfulness

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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.