Archive for May, 2016


May 31, 2016

HSAM stands for Highly Superior Autobiographic Memory (You can learn more about HSAM by entering HSAM into the search block of the healthy memory blog).  There have been several television shows regarding HSAMers, which you might have seen.  If you ask these folks what they were doing on a particularly day they can provide a remarkably accurate summary  OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  A piece in the April 9, 2016 New Scientist titled “People who never forget their past could have unique kind of OCD).

The article summarized a couple of studies trying to determine what makes a person a HSAMer.  The research indicated that no particular ability underlies HSAM.  HSAMers  scored only slightly better, and only on certain tests, than a comparable control group.  The HSAMers and the comparable control group had comparable recall of events from the preceding week.  HSAMers,. however, had a far superior memory of the more distant past.  The conclusion was that HSAMers are no better at acquiring memories, but are much better at retaining memories.

The researchers did note that HSAMers often show obsessive compulsive behaviors.  The researchers do not believe that HSAMers do not actively try to memorize the past.  Rather they might accidentally strengthen their memories by habitually recalling and reflecting upon their own lives.

I was extremely gratified to read this explanation.  After reading Marilu Henners’ book “Total Memory Makeover” I had come to a similar conclusion.  Although Marilu Henner did not describe this as a technique she used, her past life was important to her and she had a tendency to review it.  She did find that being a HSAMer helped her as an actress.

Healthymemory is the polar opposite of an HSAMer.  If you asked him what today is, he would need to consult a calendar, so it is highly unlikely he would be able to tell you much about today ten years from now.

Be aware that very few people with OCD are HSAMers.  And Healthymemory would not regard habitually recalling and reflecting about one’s life to be a disorder.  Healthy memory thinks it is beneficial and knows of no negative side effects.   Some obsessive. behaviors can be beneficial.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


May 29, 2016

The Cover Page of the 28 May 2016 New Scientist has SLEEP THE GOOD SLEEP as the title.  According to Matt Walker of he University of California, Berkeley, “sleep has been labelled he this pillar of good health, along with diet, exercise.  But that’s underselling it:  sleep is the foundation on which these other two pillars rest.  There is no tissue within the body and no process within the brain that is not enhanced by sleep, or demonstrably impaired when you don’t get enough.”

Besides the well recognized benefits for memory consolidation, repair and growth sleep—or the lack of it— is now though to have a host of other ill effects.  Too little sleep messes with our emotions and our ability to make sound decisions.  It affects our immune systems and appetites, and has been linked to metabolic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.  Increasingly, a lack of sleep is implicated in mental health problems to include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.  One of the articles even makes the claim that too much sleep can be harmful, but other articles raise issues that seem to contradict this claim.  One of the reasons for this might be due to genetics and individual differences.

To account for these differences, the best rule of thumb is that we should not need an alarm clock to wake up in the morning.  In other words, we should wake up naturally.

Shift work has bad effects on health.  Unfortunately,  the jobs of many people require shift work.  Quantitative estimates of the damage caused by shift work would be useful for these people in determining whether they should seek different types of employment.  Catching up during weekends for lost sleep, although necessary, does not appear to make up for adverse healthy effects.  The thinking is that the dangers here might be comparable to those incurred via shift work.

Here are the phases of sleep.


REM — 25% of sleep at night.  First occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep, then every 90 minutes.  These phases get longer later in the night.

STAGE 1 — light sleep.  Happens when we first doze off and just before waking.  Typically lasts for up to 7 minutes.  During this phase we’re prone to twitches, or hypnagogic  jerks.

STAGE 2 — deeper sleep.  Lasts up to about 25 minutes.  Brainwaves become slower and researchers can pick up “sleep spindles,” distinct patterns of brainwaves associated with memory consolidation.

STAGE 3 + 4 — final and deepest stages of non-REM sleep.  heart rate slows.  Lasts up to about 40 minutes.  Brain activity switches to “slow waves.”  Less aware of external noises.  If you’re aroused  from this stage of sleep, it can take up to an hour to become fully alert.

One might conclude from these stages of sleep that napping will not be beneficial.  This is not so.  According to a piece by Catherine de Lange a “nano-nap” lasting just 10 minutes can boost alertness, concentration, and attention for as much as 4 hours.  A “nano-nap”  takes 20 minutes and you increase your powers of memory and recall, too.  We are unlikely  to enter deeper stages of sleep, so we’ll avoid the phenomenon known as sleep inertia, which is the groggy feeling that can occur when waking from deep sleep.

Deep sleep does provide the biggest boost to learning.  Opt for a nap between 60 and 90 minutes, says Walker.  His research shows this aids learning by shifting memories from short-term storage in the brain’s hippocampi to lockdown in the prefrontal cortex, like clearing space on a USB memory stick.   In addition to aiding the retention of factual information, longer naps can increase motor memory, which is useful for training skills such as sport or playing a musical instrument.

A longer nap can also improve equanimity.  When we’re feeling emotional, we should try snoozing for 45 minutes or more.  This should take us through a stage of REM sleep, and brain scans of people following a REM sleep nap showed more positive responses to images and to pleasant experiences.

This post will conclude with statistics that can come in handy when conversations lull.

29 % of people in the US take their cellphones into the bedroom and use it when trying to get sleep (this is not a good idea).

34 minutes is the average extra sleep people get per night after drinking sour cherry juice before bed for 7 days.

67% of the time when men dream about people it’s about other men.  Women dream equally about men and women.

1.2  minutes of sleep is lost per night for each cigarette smoked during the day.

5 is the number of minutes it takes us to fall asleep if were sleep deprived.  The ideal is 10-15 minutes.

100 times an hour:  how often someone with sleep apnea might stop breathing in the night.

The Risks of Acetaminophen

May 27, 2016

Acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient in the United States.  It is an ingredient in more then 600 medicines.  About a quarter of all Americans take acetaminophen every week.  However, there are risks to acetaminophen according to an article by Amy Ellis Nutt  in the Health Section of the May 17 2016 edition of the Washington Post, titled, “You don’t feel my pain? Blame acetaminophen.”

The article report research published online  in the journal Social  Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience conducted  by scientists from the National Institutes of Health and Ohio State University.  The results come from two experiments involving more than 200 college students.

In one experiment 80 participants were asked to drink a liquid.  Half the participants received something containing 1,000 milligrams of acetaminopheh.  The other half constituted the control group that drank something without the drug.  An hour later all were asked  to rate the pain experienced by characteristics in eight different fictional scenarios.  In some of the stories, the characters went through a physical trauma, whereas in others an emotional trauma.  In general, those who had taken the acetaminophen rated the pain of the characters as less severe than those who had taken the placebo.

The second experiment exposed participants to brief blasts of white noise.  As one who has experienced brief blasts of white noise, these are extremely discomforting.  They were then asked to rate the pain of another (anonymous) study participant who had also been subjected to the blasts of white noise.  Research participants who had received acetaminophen rated the pain of this anonymous individual as being less severe than those who had taken the placebo.

In another test in which participants had to judge online skits involving social rejection, they showed the same effects as in the noise experiments.  “In this case, the participants had the chance to empathize with the suffering of someone who they thought was going through a socially painful experience.  Still those who took the acetaminophen  showed a reduction in empathy.  They weren’t as concerned about the rejected person’s hurt feelings.

This research built on previous studies identifying a brain region that appears to be key to a person’s empathic response.  The anterior insula, located deep in the folds between the front and side of the brain, is a place where mind and body are integrated.  It also plays a key role in awareness, including emotional awareness.  The less pain a person feels, the less able he or she is to empathize with someone else’s pain.

The researchers note, “Because empathy regulates prosocial and antisocial behavior, this drug-induced reduction in empathy raise concerns about the broader social side effects of acetaminophen.”

Empathy vs. Compassion

May 25, 2016

This post is based on an article by Emma Young titled “How sharing other people’s feelings can make you sick,” in the May 14, 2016 issue of the New Scientist.  As this article notes empathy is undeniably a good thing.  The primatologist Frans de Waal has suggested that being affected by another’s emotional state was the earliest step in our evolution as a collaborative species.

The distinction between what we and others feel isn’t terribly clear to our brains.  Tania Singer and her colleagues demonstrated this in 2004 when they put 16 romantic couples into an MRI scanner.  When they gave these volunteers a painful electric shock,this elicited activity in brain regions known to respond to physical pain and also in regions tuned to emotional pain.  However, when volunteers saw their loved partners  get a shock, no activity registered in their physical pain center, but their emotion regions lit up like fireworks.  Subsequently many other studies have confirmed that this “empathy for pain” network exists, and that it does not distinguish whether the pain we’re observing is physical or psychological.

Moreover, we don’t just catch pain from those we are intimate with.  People in the care giving professions  such as hospice staff, nurses, psychotherapists, and pediatricians often see and feel the stress and pain of others, which leads to a kind empathy burnout.  This empathy burnout has be given names such as “secondary traumatic stress” and vicarious  traumatization.”  Symptoms include lowered ability to feel empathy and sympathy, increased anger and anxiety, and more absenteeism.  Studies have linked these symptoms with an indifferent attitude to patients, depersonalization and poorer care.  Apparently anyone can catch stress any time they understand someone else’s pain and share in it.  This activate empathy for the individual’s pain network.  Singer’s research ha shown that for some people the physical effects of emotional contagion apply even when they observe a person they don’t know suffering distress.  Experiments have shown that people who watched a 15-minute newscast reported increased anxiety afterwards, with their anxiety decreasing only after an extended relaxation exercise.

Other research has shown that empathy can be regulated, just as emotions can be regulated.  Christian Keysers and his colleagues have looked at how people diagnosed with psychopathy, who are commonly thought to lack all capacity for empathy, react when the see images of people in pain.  Initially the team presented images without any instructions as to what to feel.  Predictably, the psychopaths showed less activity in areas association with areas associated with empathy for sensations, and in the insult, than the brains of healthy people.  When Keysers asked these psychopaths to consciously empathize, something very different happened;  their brain responses were identical to healthy people.

Research has shown that the training Buddhist monks undergo give them a heightened ability to manipulate their neural circuitry for empathy.  Richard Davidson  asked these monks to engage in a form of compassion meditation known as loving kindness meditation, in which one is encouraged to gradually extend warmth and care from your self and others.  Davidson found that this process changed the firing of the monks’ neural circuitry.  It suppressed activity  in the anterior insult and in the amygdala a regions involved in threat detection but recruited during empathic responses.  But when one monk was asked to empathize with suffering instead of engaging in compassion, his empathy for pain network lit up, and almost immediately, he begged the proctor to stop the experiment, calling the feeling unbearable.  The subtle distinction is that compassion is feeling for and not with the other.

Research is being done on training people this distinction between compassion and empathy.  The initial results are promising. Let us hope that such training will be readily available to caretakers and others in need of this training.

Ten Brain and Brain Health Myths

May 22, 2016

These myths are copied directly from the SharpBrains website because these are common myths that need to be corrected.  This is an extremely good website with much information on brain and brain health

Top 10 brain and brain health myths, debunked:

Myth 1. Genes deter­mine the fate of our brains.
Fact: Life­long brain plas­tic­ity means that our lifestyles and behaviors play a significant role in how our brains (and therefore our minds) evolve physically and functionally as we get older.

Myth 2. We are what we eat.
Fact: We are what we do, think, and feel, much more than what we eat. (Even if, yes, nutrition plays a role)

Myth 3. Med­ica­tion is the main hope for brain health and enhance­ment.
Fact: Non-invasive inter­ven­tions such as aerobic exercise and meditation can have com­pa­ra­ble and more durable benefits, and free of side effects.

Myth 4. There’s nothing we can do to beat Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline.
Fact: While nothing has been proven to prevent the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, there is abundant research showing we can delay the onset of symptoms for years.

Myth 5. There is only one “it” in “Use it or Lose it”.
Fact: The brain presents many neural circuits supporting a variety of important cognitive, emotional, and executive functions. Not just one. (Which is one of the reasons we should stop thinking about magic pills and silver bullets)

Myth 6. Intervention XYZ can help reverse your brain age 10, 20, or 30 years.
Fact: The concept of “brain age” is a fic­tion. Some brain functions tend to improve, and some to decline, as we get older. Nothing can be said to “reverse brain age” in a general sense.

Myth 7. There is a scientific consensus that brain training doesn’t work.
Fact: A group of scientists did issue such a statement, which was promptly contradicted by a larger group of scientists. Consensus…that is certainly not. Brain training, when it meets certain conditions, has been shown to transfer into real-world outcomes.

Myth 8. Brain training is primarily about videogames.
Fact: Evidence-based brain training includes some forms of med­i­ta­tion, cog­ni­tive ther­apy, cog­ni­tive training, and bio/neurofeedback. Interactive media such as videogames can make those interventions more engaging and scalable, but it is important to distinguish the means from the end, as obviously not all videogames are the same.

Myth 9. Heart health equals brain health.
Fact: While heart health contributes significantly to brain health, and vice versa, the heart and the brain are separate organs, with their respective functions and relevant interventions. What we need is to pay much more systematic attention to brain health, so it can advance as much as cardiovascular health already has.

Myth 10. As long as my brain is working fine, why should I even pay attention to it?
Fact: For the same reasons you add gas to your car, and change the oil regularly– so that it works well, and for a long period of time.

The only response Healthymemory would quibble with concerns Myth 4.
Myth 4. There’s nothing we can do to beat Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline.
Fact: While nothing has been proven to prevent the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, there is abundant research showing we can delay the onset of symptoms for years.
Although it is true that nothing has been proven that the pathology of Alzheimer’s Disease can be prevented, proof is a very high standard.  And it would be very difficult if not impossible to present an iron clad proof.  Nevertheless, Alzheimer’s is by no means inevitable and there have been many people whose brains were wracked with the amyloid plaque and neurofibril tangles that constitute the definitive diagnosis who never exhibited any of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms.  It is said that these people had built up a cognitive reserve.  So the advice of the healthy memory blog is to strive to build this cognitive reserve.  Moreover, it is quite possible that although the physical indicators of Alzheimer’s cannot be prevented, the neuroplasticity off the brain might preclude any cognitive or behavioral symptoms.  It is these symptoms that are of primarily importance.  Neuroplasticity is likely the result of maintaining a healthy and active mind along with physical health and mindfulness.

There is also a myth that there are drugs that slow Alzheimer’s.  This myth was debunked by Thomas E. Finucane, a professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in a note in the April 30, 2016 Washington Post titled “Drugs don’t (yet) slow Alzheimer’s.”  To quote from this note, “The Food and Drug Administration required package insert for cholinesterase inhibitors comes to a different conclusion: “There is no evidence that donepezil (Aricept) alters the course of the underlying dementing process.”

The National Institutes of Health conference on Minimal Cognitive Impairment came to the same conclusion.

Belief that drugs can slow the progression of dementia is carefully cultivated by Big Pharma, but scientists do not believe that currently available drugs have any effect on the underlying brain disease.”

If you read the healthy memory blog post “The Myth of Alzheimer’s” you will find that Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D. does not believe that either a medical cure or a medical vaccination will be developed.  Dr. Whitehouse worked for many years  to find such a drug.  Moreover, research in this field is quite lucrative.  Nevertheless, Dr. Whitehouse believes that this is a dead end.  His currently research involves working with people who have Alzheimers’s.  Given neuroplasticity and some remarkable treatments for some severely debilitating conditions.  See the healthy memory blog post, “The Latest Discoveries in Neuroplasticity.”  For more details see the books by Dr. Norman Doidge, “The Brain’s Way of Healing:  Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity.  This is the sequel to his earlier book, The Brain That Changes Itself.  In the view of Healthymemory, this approach is more likely to yield results that looking for the silver bullet.  Of course, the best means of maintaining a healthy memory  is to have a growth mindset and meditation.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Domains of Knowledge

May 20, 2016

Healthymemory has used this phrase in at least one prior blog post and feels it incumbent upon him to elaborate.  Healthyemory has argued that it is science or rather the scientific method that is responsible for the rapid advancement of the species.  However, Healthymemory has also argued that there are other domains of knowledge and that to be stuck in one level of knowledge is to be an intellectual runt.

Perhaps this can best be illustrated by healthymemory’s  academic discipline, psychology.  This is scientific psychology as opposed to clinical or counseling psychology, although those disciplines can and do make use of the scientific method.  Psychological science is practiced in a wide variety of areas.  Let us start at the bottom and work our way up.  At the most molecular level are psychologists who do studies with animals, then take biological assays of the brains to see how the brains changed as the result of learning.  Then there are studies in which electrodes are placed in the brains of animals and research is done to determine which structures accomplish what.  Human brains are studied using EEGs and a variety of brain imaging techniques to examine how the brain functions.  As a result many cognitive psychology programs are renaming themselves as cognitive neuroscience programs.  Then there are studies of human learning, memory, language processing, concept formation, problem solving and so forth.  At the group  level studies are done regarding the interactions among individuals and team performance.  There are also industrial and organizational programs, which study psychological processes in business and industry.  Moreover this listing is not exhaustive.

Each of these areas use scientific methods, but the scientific method needs to be applied differently depending upon the specific area of investigation.  Studying these different areas provides a wide understanding of the scientific method.  Healthy memory’s personal experience working with many scientists and engineers, is that they understand how to do good science in their specific areas, but that this knowledge often does not transfer to other areas of investigation.  This is why healthy memory argues  that scientific psychology is a good major if the goal is to develop a thorough knowledge of the scientific method.

However, Healthymemory argues that if you want to understand people, then literature would be a better method.  Literature increases empathy, the ability to think and feel as others think and feel.  As everyone is different it is best to read literature dealing with as many different people as possible.  This constitutes an important domain of knowledge that is important for interacting with our fellow human beings.

Theater is a related discipline that develops the same strengths.  This is particularly true if one actually gets into acting where the requirement is to be, to think and act like a specific individual.

Then there is music, which involves the sense of hearing.  And music provides enjoyment and access to a wide range of emotional feelings.
Then there is dancing and learning to express oneself through movements of the body.

And there are athletics each with its own domain of athletic skills.

This list could go on and on, and we could discuss and argue as to what activities, areas of knowledge should qualify as domains of knowledge.

Perhaps the simplest cut is between science and the humanities.  Much has been discussed and argued about these two cultures.  The important point is that they exist and they both need to be appreciated. Another domain, which needs to be included, is the spiritual domain.  Religions and beliefs are present in all cultures, and they provide another needed domain of knowledge.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Consciousness as an Emergent Phenomenon

May 19, 2016

Healthy memory has a great deal of difficulty trying to prove the obvious.  It is obvious to healtymemory that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon.  It is an output that emerges from the complex neuronal activity of the brain.  Moreover, this emergent phenomenon has a function.  And that is to use experience and information stored in the brain to make decisions and to decide on courses of action.  These conscious decisions imply a necessity for free will. Neuroscientists have concluded that all mammals and some invertebrates such as the octopus and many birds are conscious.  And presumably the reason for this is so that these creatures can decide among different courses of action.

As the vast majority of the activity of the brain is below the level of awareness actions can be taken on cognitive automatic pilot and errors can be made.  Consider how many times we need to say we’re sorry for saying or doing something.  This is due to a lack of conscious involvement.  One of the goals of the conscious mind is to monitor and make the best use of the nonconscious mind.  One can use Kahneman’s System One System Two distinction.  System One operates nonconsciously. System Two operates consciously and one of its responsibilities is to monitor outputs from the nonconscious mind.

It appears that many psychologists feel their status as scientists is questionable.  Consequently they see a need to appear to be rigorous.  The first example of this was behaviorism, where cognitive processes could not be included.  When it became quite obvious that this exclusion was severely hampering the progress of psychology, the cognitive revolution occurred.  Nevertheless, the question of whether humans could control their autonomic nervous systems ramained.  At the time there was plenty to data in the affirmative to indicate that humans could control their autonomic nervous systems.  Many Buddhist priests and monks, along with meditators of a variety of ilks.  These rigorous scientists regarded rigorous science as being an activity taken using college studies.  When students were unable to learn to monitor their autonomic nervous systems because they were unable to do so in the several hours that could be devoted to these rigorous experiments, these rigorous scientists concluded that humans could not control their autonomic systems.  As for these successful meditators, they were using some type of trick.  This trick was meditating for many hours.

Using the mind to change both the brain and the body will constitute the next stage of advancement in both psychology and medicine.  Using the mind implies free will.
Many psychologists and physicians are having difficulty accepting this and will need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future.  But that is where the future lies.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Self

May 18, 2016

The final cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is “The Self.”  It does make the important point that we do not entirely know ourselves.  Our conscious mind represents an infinitesimal part of our selves.  Only a limited amount of our mind is even accessible.  Very often we do not understand what we do or why we did it (See the healthy memory blog post, “Strangers to Ourselves”).  “Strangers to Ourselves:  Discovering  the Adaptive Unconscious” explains how we can use self-narratives and introspection to understand ourselves.  Note that Wilson is one of they key researchers documenting the errors of introspection.  Nevertheless he explains to us how we can learn to use our introspections to help ourselves.  I did not find any indication of his work in this chapter on “The Self.”

This entire chapter makes no reference to Kahneman, Tversky, or Stanovich.  These authors are discussed in healthy memory blog posts.  They, along with Wilson provide a meaningful conceptual structure for understanding the self.  This chapter rambles on and on to no good effect.

The worst part of this chapter is that it condemns free will.  Moreover, it uses Libet’s experiment (go to the Wikipedia to learn about this experiment) to condemn free will.  To quote, “Libet revealed that Free Will is an illusion.”  However, Libet himself did not conclude that Free Will is an illusion.  In fairness to the authors, many do cite Libet to support this conclusion. But this is a matter of sloppy scholarship.  The authors cherry pick the literature.

See the healhymemory blog post “Free Will.  This post reviews a book that provides an authoritative review of the issue.  Healthymemoy finds the philosophical arguments for Free Will compelling.  If one is not persuaded by the philosophical arguments consider the empirical data.  What is happening during meditation?  What is producing changes in the physical brain during meditation?  Placebo effects are based on the mind’s belief  can be seen in specific activities of the brain”

If philosophical arguments and empirical data are not sufficient, then do a cost/benefit analysis.
Who do you think will be healthier and more successful,
A believer in free will who believes the mind affects the brain and the body or
someone who believes that everything is determined and that they are only along for the ride.
The mind is going to be a central concept in all human endeavors.

Please consider reading or rereading the healthy memory Post “The Relevance of Consciousness and the Brain to a Healthy Memory.”

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


May 17, 2016

The penultimate cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is “God.” The authors’ begin with Pascal’s Wager, which is a compelling argument for believing in God.  It is presented in terms of Cost Benefit analysis.  The authors’ argue that people do not form their belief in God in terms of cost/benefit analysis and continue the chapter with explanations as to why people believe in God, but that these beliefs do not constitute a proof of God’s existence.  After all these years of philosophical debate, it should be conceded that  proofs are not possible, and that belief is basically a matter of faith.

Healthymemory’s argument is that a cost/benefit analysis of the belief provides a rational basis for believing in God.  Pascal was arguing in terms of the century in which hie lived.  Healthy memory is taking the liberty of phrasing his analysis in contemporary terms.

Suppose that God does not exist and that you do not believe in God.  Although you might be proud of your hard-nosed belief, you cannot know that you are correct.  The only prospect is a possibly unpleasant surprise awaiting you after you die.

Suppose that you do believe in God and that God exists.  if you believe and you have lived in accordance with your beliefs, then death should have a pleasant outcome.  However, suppose that God does not exist.  Well you will never know because you will not exist after death to learn that you belief was incorrect.  However, during your life you will have lived with all the comforts your belief affords you.

Healthy memory is strongly of the belief that one should never be certain about anything.  All beliefs and models of the external world are probabilistic.  But even if one thinks that the probability of God existing is infinitesimally small.  You should still believe because you will enjoy the comforts of believing and will never learn that you were wrong (dead men tell no tales—even to themselves).

You might argue that this argument is specious, and that one is only fooling oneself.
Healthy memory would argue that when we are living we are constantly fooling ourselves.  There is an enormous amount of research indicating that we are more optimistic than justified by objective reality.  But this optimism is adaptive.  It causes us to persevere and to keep on trying.

Healthymemory has found that many of the difficulties people have with God are really difficulties they have with religions.   Religions are created and operated by humans.  If all religious people behaved according to the dictates of their faiths, the world would be a much better place.  But religions have been and continue to be the basis of innumerable wars.  It is quite possible, and perhaps even desirable, to believe in God and not to affiliate with any religious faith.

Healthy memory extols science and accords science for being responsible for the advancement of humankind.  Yet science provides one kind of knowledge.  There are other domains of knowledge and one is deficient if one is restricted to scientific knowledge.  That individual, in effect, becomes an intellectual runt.

The Dalai Lama has literally had a lifelong interest in science as this interest began in childhood.  He has said that were it not for his responsibilities as a religious leader, he would have been an engineer.  He has worked with a wide variety of scientists and has established a Mind and Life Institute.  Psychologist Richard Davidson has worked closely with the Dali Lama, who has provided Buddhist monks and priests in Davidson’s research on meditation.  This research has revealed notable changes in the brain during and after meditation.  Both basic and applied research  will show large advances from this research.  The emphasis is on the mind and how it can enhance lives.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Dead

May 16, 2016

The seventh cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is The Dead.  The stated purpose of this chapter is “”Why—and how—humans perceive the minds of the deceased so vividly is the subject of this chapter.”  There is no need for this explanation.  One would expect that the explanation of the living mind would be extended to individuals after they died.  Even people who do not believe in life after death would likely use expressions based on knowledge of the living individuals mind.  The real purpose of this chapter is to lay the groundwork for the final two seriously flawed chapters.

Much of the chapter discusses philosophy and the differences between monist and dualist philosophers.  This discussion is irrelevant as psychology and cognitive science are empirical enterprises.  The authors note, “Modern psychology generally refutes dualism as the mind can be measured though electoral and magnetic activity and relies heavily on physical brain structures.”  Unfortunately this statement ignores the research on how the mind influences the brain.  When I was a graduate student I was frustrated by the question of whether the autonomic nervous system could be controlled.  Experimental psychologists would run experiments in which psychology students participated in experiments in which attempts were made to control some part of the autonomous nervous system, such as the heart.  As these experiments only lasted several hours, it is not surprising that students were unable to do this.  These psychologists ignored the Buddhists monks who were able to slow their heart rates to frightingly low rates.  Psychologists said ignored this saying that it was done with some trick.  True science consisted of using college students in limited experimental studies.  Psychologist found that  the “trick” involved many hours of meditation.  Recent brain imaging studies have illustrated striking effects of meditation on the brain.  The title of Sharon Begley’s new book, “Train Your Mind Change Your Brain” reflects the real truth (this book will eventually be reviewed in the healthy memory blog).

It should also be realized that for about half o the twentieth century American experimental psychologists could not speak of thinking.  This was not rigorous enough.  Finally, in the second half of the century the necessity of using cognitive activity was realized and the cognitive revolution began.  Psychologists seem to be self conscious about not being regarded as true scientists and feel a need to stress the rigor of their thinking.  Rigor is good, but not when it ignores relevant empirical evidence.  And there is more than ample evidence that the mind does act upon the brain.  Indeed that is where the future of cognitive psychology lies.

There its another problem that I shall term intellectual arrogance.  This was exhibited on the eve of the twentieth century when some physicists had concluded that just about all of physics had been developed, and that all that was need was some work to refine decimal points.  In just a few years Einstein formulated his special theory of relativity which revolutionized physics.  Ten years later the general theory of relativity further revolutionizing the discipline.  Then came quantum mechanics that operated under different rules than Einstein’s physics.  The advances in physics both astronomical and sub-atomical have been, to repeat the term, astronomical.  Modern Physics is producing theories that would new-ager Shirley Maclaine to shame.

Compared to physics, psychology has taken just a few baby steps.  Moreover, I think psychology will prove to be more complicated than physics, so the relative distance that psychology as to go is likely more than astronomical.

So psychologists need to be guarded in their statements.  The Healthymemory Blog will try to disabuse some of the ideas advanced in the final two chapters of “The Mind Game.”

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Group

May 15, 2016

The sixth cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is “The Group.”   The first question the authors raise is whether groups have a mind.  The mind is intimately related to brains, and groups certainly do not have brains.  Then they note that brains themselves are merely groups of neurons, which themselves are merely groups of neurons.  The authors raise the idea that the group mind might be created by emergence.  So individuals in a group might be unaware of the mind entity just as individuals neurons are unaware of a group mind.  Although individuals in a group might be unaware of an entity such as the group mind, they are aware of many of the beliefs of the other members in the group.

A question that can be difficult is how to define a group.  The authors choose to use Gestalt psychology’s five principles of groupiness:  proximity, similarity, closure, continuation, and common fate.  Combining these principles yields a measure of groupies  that is typically given the more scientific name of “entitivity”—how much something is an entity.

Research suggests that anyone seems dumber in a group to include teenagers, college students, and even the elderly.  Note that this list should not be considered exhaustive.  Psychologists Adam Waltz and Liane Young investigated this notion with the hypothesis that the strength of this effect hinged upon the entitivity of the group, the less mind that individual members should be perceived to possess.  To test this hypothesis, participants rated the minds of individuals  belonging to low-entitivity group like Facebook  users or golf players and high-entitivity groups like the U.S. Martine Corps or the New York Yankees.  It  is unclear how these researchers defined this classification.  It appears that they did an ad hoc definition.

The finding was that the more entitlve group members were stripped of their individual minds.  Unfortunately, this result can be easily misinterpreted.  It is not saying that the individuals of these groups did not have individual minds, but rather that the perception of others were that they did not have individual minds.  One can argue that mission-oriented entities such as the Marine Corps and the Yankees need high entitivity as compared against other groups.

There are two reasons for reporting this study.  One is that psychologists are capable of conducting poorly conceived, executed, and reported research.  The second reason is that research in this area is fairly loose.

This is unfortunate as an understanding of groups is important.  There are dangerous groups such as the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.  A particularly unfortunate characteristics is that they make the individual anonymous and more likely to commit harmful, destructive, and discriminatory acts.

Conspiracy theories are a product of the group mind and provide a depressing view of the stupidity in our species.
Unfortunately, the author used histograms to report the results I want to present.  Had they used a table rather than histograms to report these data I could provide accurate numbers rather than having to glance over to the ordinate and try to infer the value.  This is due to the misconception that graphical presentations are preferable to numerical presentations.  The primary consideration for the presentation of results concerns the accuracy and speed by which the information can be interpreted. So I am going to do the best I can given the shortcomings of the presentation format chosen by the authors.

Moon landing hoax                            5%
CIA introduced crack cocaine        12%
Vaccines and autism                       20%
UFO Crash Coverup                        21%
New World Order                            25%
Global Warming Hoax                   35%
JFK Conspiracy                               50%

These results make one question the accuracy of naming our species Homo Sapiens,

The Silent

May 14, 2016

The fifth cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is The Silent.  This chapter is about those we cannot communicate with who, because of trauma to the brain, cannot communicate with us.  The EEG can be used to take measurements.  Disordered conscious states can be diagnosed by the EEG patterns.  An ordering of conscious states follows:

Locked in syndrome
Minimally conscious
Vegetative State
Brain Death

It is unfortunate that unless EEG measurements are done along with further diagnosis the Locked in syndrome can be mistaken for a lower level of consciousness.

The term locked-in syndrome was coined by Fred Plume and Jerome Posner.  For many years it was not realized that someone was actually locked-in.  Healthy memory remembers watching a movie when someone asked suppose some is locked inside the unconscious state.  The reply was that that was something too horrible to imagine.  But there are real people who can accomplish some impressive feats.  Jean-Dominique Bauby was an editor who suffered a stroke and found himself locked-in.  But he was able to communicate by blinking his one eye that was functioning.  It took him 200,000 blinks to write the Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  He lived to see the book published, but he died before he saw the enormous success of the book and the beautiful movie  with the same title that was based on the book.

People react and adapt to this locked-in state differently.  Bauby could have continued a productive career had he not died.  But an Englishman, Tony Nicklinson, did not and wanted to commit suicide.  However, being locked-in he could not commit suicide.  He petitioned the court to allow doctors to provide an assisted suicide.  After much deliberation, the courts decline.  However, he did manage to commit suicide by refusing to swallow.

In addition to EEGs, fMRIs can provide very useful information.  The primary problem with fMRI’s is that they are expensive.

To read more about current research on this topic, see some of the healthy memory blog posts by Dehaene (see the Healthymemory blog post titled, “The Ultimate Test”).

The authors of  “The Mind Club” also examine the other end of life.  That is, when does life begin.  This is a large religious issue that can impact people of different religious beliefs.  A symposium organized in 1968 by the Christian Medical Society affirmed that “the preservation of fetal life…may have to be abandoned to maintain full and secure family life, as well as in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and threat to the mother’s well-being, whether physical or emotional.  However, evangelical opinion swung after church leaders such as the eminent Jerry Falwell reacted to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and advocate a “life at conception” interpretation of the Bible.   As the Catholic Church claims that life begins at conception certain Protestant sects did not want to appear remiss.

However, if memory serves healthy memory correctly, at one time there were arguments among Catholic philosophers as to when the soul entered the body.  Furthermore, healthy memory believes that there were different times depending upon whether a male of female was involved.  If any readers can help me out on this particular point, it would be much appreciated.

Nevertheless, it is healthymemory’s belief that the soul is the issue.  The soul is a religious entity and the argument should be argued in theological terms.  Biological terms are irrelevant.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Enemy

May 13, 2016

The fourth cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is the Enemy.  The most conspicuous example of the enemy is in warfare when there is an explicit enemy to be fought.  Enemies are usually demonized.   However, there are more subtle examples of the enemy.  When cheap labor was needed during the colonization of North American, Africans were regarded as being sub-human.  Consequently, they could be captured sold into slavery and treated as farm animals. Frequently, they were treated worse than farm animals.  Then, there were the native americans who already occupied North America.  They were the unfortunate occupants of the land these Europeans wanted.  Consequently, they were dehumanized and regarded as the enemy.

How could the holocaust happen?  Through an extensive and elaborate propaganda program conducted by the Nazis, Jews were dehumanized.  There were side benefits of this dehumanization.  Jewish property was confiscated and the Jews provided a cheap source of labor.  However, Nazi ideology required that Jews be exterminated.  This extermination was so important to the Nazis that when they were losing the war, they devoted sources needed to fund the war effort to the extermination of the Jews instead.

Actually it is easier to understand what the Nazis did that what the remainder of the free world did not, with a few notable exceptions, do.  And that was to offer refuge to the refugees.  While Jews were not explicitly the enemy, they still had a lower status that allowed them to be ignored.

The response to the holocaust was “Never Again.”  But it has occurred “again” and several times already, and it will continue to occur.

Research has indicated that it is remarkably easy to create enemy groups.  The authors state that three elements are required to form these enemy groups.  The first is the opportunity for kindness or cruelth, situations in which people can interact either nicely or nastily.  The second element is reciprocity.  Reciprocity is when you are friendly to people who treat you nicely and unfriendly to people who treat you nastily.  Healthy memory feels compelled to state that while these elements might be required in research designed to study artificially created enemy groups, this certainly was not true of the Jews in Germany.  Utilitarian need is more likely the requirement in the real world.  The third element is transitivity.  Transitivity means sharing your group’s opinion of others—liking the group’s friends and disliking the group’s enemies.

Research has indicated how easy it is to form us versus them groups.  To do this, social psychologists have created the “minimal-groups paradigm.”  In one experiment participants were shown hundreds of dots and asked them to guess the number.   The researchers knew the exact average of the number of dots and divided the participants into two groups, “Underestimators” and Overestimators.”  People in each group were kind to those in their group, but cruel to people in the other group.

A creative third-grade teacher, Mrs. Jane Elliot, in rural Iowa as a result of the assassination of the Rev Martin Luther King, Jr., wanted her students to learn firsthand about the pernicious effects of prejudice.  She made a new racial distinction proclaiming that children with brown eyes were inferior to children with blue eyes.  In no time the blue-eye children grew smug and powerful and treated their brown-eye classmates with condescension and cruelty, seeing them as less than human.

The social psychologist Muzafer Sherif conducted the classic “Robbers Cave” experiment at a boys’ summer camp.  The camp had two cluster of cabins dividd by a small forest, and boys randomly assigned to one side, “the Eagles,” or the other, “the Rattlers.”  In short order the boys had bonded strongly with their own groups and held nothing but contempt toward the other group., in spite of them all being fundamentally the same.  The authors note that in real life boys no older than those in this Robber’s Cave Study are told that they are a Crip( blue) or a Blood (red) and are expected to show unwavering allegiance to their brothers and ruthless cruelty to their rivals.  In these gangs handguns are used to claim and hold drug-distribution territory.

Another group that is technically not the enemy, but which is regarded as being unworthy are the homeless.  These people are regarded as psychotic, substance abusers, or bums, and not worthy of our consideration.  This provides a means of avoiding the problem rather than feeling empathy towards these people and working to solve the problem.

Can anything be done about this problem?  One approach is to get people in the different groups to work together to solve a problem  During wartime in the military it has been found that different racial groups need to depend upon each other in combat.  Consequently, they bond and there are few interracial problems.  There was a very good documentary on this topic during the Viet Nam war titled “same mud, same blood.”
Racial problems are more likely in support units who are more likely fighting boredom than the enemy.

One group doing yeoman’s work to address this issue is the Southern Poverty Law Centers  .In addition to programs on teaching tolerance they have worked with individual members of hate groups to remove the source of their hate.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Patient

May 12, 2016

The third cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is the Patient.  The authors expand the concept of patient well beyond the medical context.  “Patients are perceived to have experiences and to be sensitive and susceptible to the actions of others.  Whereas agents are the thinking doers of the world, patients are the vulnerable feelers.  The word patient is likely to bring to mind the concept of pain.  The experience of pain  forces to focus on the present and how to deal with it.”

The authors wrote “Pain may have overwhelming psychological power, but the physical reality is comparatively unsubstantial.  Pain is a mental construction resulting from a handful of nerve signals.  The intensity of pain  stems only from the microscopic electrical pulses of neurons.  Moreover, pain can be triggered by nothing at all as in the case of people with neuropathic pain who live in constant agony due to a few rogue neurons.

Phantom limb pain, although quite real, indicates the fickleness.  This pain is the pain amputees feel in their amputated limb.  Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachanadran developed a special box with a mirror and two holes into which the patients place each of their arms.  The mirror faced the still-presents right hand and its reflection provided he patient with what appeared to be an intact missing limb.  Seeing this illusion significantly reduced the patient’s pain.

The placebo effect provides strong evidence on the mind’s power to influence pain.  Studies of popular drugs such as Tylenol or paracetamol for back pain, and Prozac, Effexor, or Paxil of mild depression suggest that they are no more effective than the combination of sugar pills and optimism.  Previous healthy memory blog posts have reported research in which placebos are effective even when the patients know they are placebos.

As you should know from previous healthy memory blog posts there is also a nocebo effect.  One study  found that people felt real pain after researchers put sham electrodes onto their heads  and pretended to send electric current through them.

Neuroimaging studies suggest that there is both a sensory component and an affective component to pain.  The sensory component represents actual tissue damage.  The affective component is its felt badness, its aversiveness and unpleasantness.  These components can be dissociated.  For example, morphine eliminates the aversive affect while keeping the sensory experience.    A car-accident victim treated with morphine described his experience of traumatic injury as “Pain…but not painful.”  That is the unpleasantness was dulled, but specific sensations remained intact.

In some circumstances tissue damage does not automatically translate to pain even without drugs as has been found in combat situations where soldiers carry on the battle even after having suffered grievous injuries.

Empathy is an important concept and an important skill.  Proximity is an important factor affecting empathy.   The philosopher Peter Singer formulated this thought experiment.  Imagine you are walking by a pond, wearing a new three-hundred dollar suit, when you see a drowning child.  Should you save the child even if doing so would ruin the suit?  You likely wouldn’t hesitate  to dive in.  Now consider a different scenario.  You are walking down he street after payday when a charity canvasser tells you that twenty dollars will save the life of a starving child.  Chances are you would keep your money and let the child die, even though saving the child costs a fraction of the cost of the suit.  Of course, there are factors in the comparison other than proximity.  You can actually see the drowning child, but you might have questions about the honesty of the solicitor.  But you should get the general point.

Our capacity for empathy is limited.  Although some empathy is helpful, too much can be counterproductive causing our empathy to shut down.  Psychologists Daryl Cameron and Keith Payne did an experiment illustrating the “collapse of compassion.”  They presented participants with pleas from either one or eight suffering victims.  In spite of the objectively greater total suffering of eight victims, the participants were overwhelmed by it and demonstrated less compassion.

The authors note how the Patient Mind can be mistreated as the Machine Mind.  Recent advances in neurobiology have focused attention away from human suffering and feelings and toward drugs that influence brain circuits and neurotransmitters..  Thomas Szasz has described this new psychiatry as mechanomorphic, treating patients like “defective machines” rather than fellow human beings.  The authors note “Paradoxically, physicians of the mind may fail to see their patients as members of the mind club.”

Research by Stephanie Brown of the University of Michigan has revealed that helping others can add years to your life.  She examined the mortality of older people who were the pimrary caregivers of their ill spouses.  This is a highly stressful role as caregiver must manage every aspect of their spouses’s treatment and take ultimate responsibility for the spouse’s life.  In spite of stress being linked to early death, these caregivers lived significantly longer, presumably because of increased feelings of agency.

Some time will be given to plants before ending this post.  Taking care of plants can increase longevity.  In one study,m nursing home residents given responsibility  for a houseplant outlived those who had plants that were looked after by nursing home staff.

The Machine

May 11, 2016

The second cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is the Machine.  The authors ask us to think of when we are confronted with a malfunctioning piece of technology like a laptop.  They note that our first impulse isn’t to think , “It gets angry when too many programs are open.”  Similarly when we are hoping that our car will start on a cold winter morning, we don’t think about complex interactions of carburetor and temperature but instead think of our car as stubborn or unhappy in the cold—and beg it to not make us late for work.  The authors note that the tendency to see mind in technology occurs primarily when it disobeys our desires.  When machines function smoothly we feel in control.  When they don’t we turn to mind to help us understand.

Psychologist Carey Morewedge has termed his phenomenon a negative bias in mind perception.  Negative events prompt mind perception more than positive events.  She illustrated this phenomenon in an experiment in which participants played the ultimatum game.  In the ultimatum one participant is given a sum of money, say $10.  She then meets a second participant with the requirement that she offer her a cut of this money.  If she accepts the cut, they both leave with their respective amounts of money.  However, if the second participant refuses the offer, then they both forfeit the money.  According to classical economic theory, the second participant should accept the offer, no matter how small.  So even if the offer were $1, one should take it because otherwise she would leave with nothing.  In reality, if people are not offered some reasonable amount, they will refuse the offer.

In Morewidge’s experiment, study participants played three ultimatum games with three different partners, who (the participants were told), could be all people, all computers, or some combination of the two.    After the participants were presented with the proposed split from their partner, Morewedge asked them to guess whether heir partner was a computer or a person.  The partner was always a computer.  When the offer was fair or generous, they were more than happy to think it was a mindless machine, but when the offer was unfair, they ascribed intention behind it, believing it to result from the cruel calculations o another person.  This phenomenon where bad outcomes lead people to search of an agent to blame for mistreatment is called dyadic completion.

People often perceive mind in machines because of anthropomorphism.  We are generally anthropomorphic, seeing everything from the perspective of ourselves.  We have schemas, scripts or outlines for how things should go, for many things in life.  These schemas are unconscious, so we usually don’t realize when we are anthropomorphizing..  Clifford Nass and Young Moon found that participants treated computers as if they had gender and ethnicity.  Polite people were polite to test computers.  When the computer asked how it was performing, people were consistently nice, even when it was actually performing poorly.  However, just as with humans, this politeness held only when participants were dealing with the computer “face to face.”  They would bad-mouth one computer to a different computer!

The concept of transactive memory is key to the machine mind, as indeed the machine is mind.  As was noted in the introductory blog post to “The Mind Game” Wegner articulated the concept of transactive memory.  Transactive memory refers to memories held by fellow humans and by memories held in technology.  Conventional technology involved paper, but digital technology is electronic.  We can ask our spouse or someone else we know well, to remind us of something, or to tell us something about a topic of interest.  However, most of our memory is distributed among a wide variety of digital machines.

Healthy memory distinguishes among three types of memory.  Accessible memory are those memories that are either internal or can be readily accused externally.  Some memories are available, in that a we know how to find them, but are not immediately accessible to recall.  Potential memory is all the data, information, knowledge, that can be found in our fellow human beings or in technology.  It is through technological artifacts that we are able to access all recorded knowledge that predates us.

There are two senses to the machine mind.  One is how it the machine works, which can be difficult and consists of problems that usability research is supposed to address.  However, in another sense, the machine mind consists of the totality of recorded human data, information, and knowledge.  The machine mind will increasingly become part of our daily lives.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Animal

May 10, 2016

The first cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is the animal.  Some brief discussion is done regarding whether plants have minds.  In addition to responding to environmental events recent research has found that there is also communication among plants.  As more is learned about plants perhaps they will be attributed to have cryptominds, but the authors conclude that this communication is so slow that plants should be excluded.  Anthropocentrism is an important factor in considering whether an entity has mind.  That is, the more an entity is like ourselves, the more likely it is to have a mind.  So animals who move much slower than we do or much faster than we do are  likely to be thought of as having minds.  We expect members of the mind club to be approximately human size, have a humanlike number of limbs and a similar amount of hair.

Eyes are  another feature that is important.  Eyes can convey the focus of attention, which suggests intention and the next likely cause of action.  The authors note, “It’s no accident that we see minds in our pets when we stare into their eyes—and ignore the potential mind of creatures without obvious humanlike eyes, such as plants and insects.”   Complex movement  is another train that implies mind.  Something that follows and chases, hides and sees, darts and weaves implies mind more than something that just sits there.

Another key factor is how much interaction we humans have with particular species.  We see more mind in cats and dogs than in sheep and crows, because we have more experience with them.  Cats and dogs tend to be pets, whereas sheep are a farm animal, and crows are wild.  However, research experience has shown that crows are intelligent and most certainly have mind.

Crows have shown that they can match the knowledge of some young children.  In one experiment researchers presented crows with a narrow vase half filled with water with a treat floating in it.  The water level was too low for the crow to reach the treat floating in it, but there was a pile of little rocks nearby.  Crows had no problem figuring out that by moving the rocks into the vase raised the water level so that the treat could be reached.  Some children could not figure this out.

Research with birds has demonstrated that some birds actually dance to a beat.  Only  animals that engage in vocal mimicry, such as songbirds, parrots, hummingbirds, elephants, and bats can do so.

Chimps are also able to read the minds of other chimps.  Two caches of food were set up  in a courtyard:  one in plain sight of a high-ranking chimp, the other hidden from his view by a wooden screen.  Then a hungry junior chimp was released into the courtyard.  The question was whether the junior chimp would realize that the high-ranking chimp could not see the hidden cache of food.  The junior chimp took the food from the hidden cache that the high-ranking chimp could not see, rather than being severely beaten if he took the cache the high-ranking chimp could see.

However, the real champions of understanding mental states, at least our mental states, are dogs.  Dogs are not only social animals, but they coevolved with us.  The authors wrote,”Over millennia we fed, petted, and sheltered the dos that knew what we were thinking, and we killed, beat, and exiled the dogs that were oblivious to our desires.  This gives modern-day dogs an amazing ability to read human thoughts, although not in the mysterious telepathic sense.  Instead they read our nonverbal cues such as gaze and pointing.”  Healthy memory believes that dogs also read the sound and intonation of our voices and do have a limited vocabulary of words that they understand.

Researchers have put in front of a dog two smell-proof boxes, only one of which contained food.   When the dog’s owner pointed to the correct box, dogs almost always go to it.  If this same exercise is done with chimpanzees, they never pick up the cues.  As the authors wrote, “you can point and dance and pelvic thrust at the correct box on hundreds of trials and chimps will never get it right.  Cats, on the other hand, when observing a human pointing to the correct box, will look at the human derisively and then vigorously lick their own crotch.”

Many species of animals show compassion and seem to have an instinctive sense of fairness.  These characteristics go a long way to convincing us that these species definitely do have minds.

A reasonable question is how can we eat meat when we know these creatures have minds.  Fortunately, we have eliminated plants from the Mind Club, or we could not take recourse to vegetarianism.  Healthymemory will share how he does it.  He reasons that farm animals never would have been born otherwise.  So by eating meat, they do have a shot at life.  However, when how these animals are mistreated  is considered, the question deserves consideration.  As well be seen in subsequent posts, personal comfort has a large bearing on which and what kinds of minds are developed.

Sometimes, for very good reasons, animals need to be released into the wild.  Some orphaned animals whose parents were killed by poachers need to be nurtured back to health and rehabilitated before they can be released into the wild.

What concerns healthy memory are animals that are presumably released back into the wild because they think that these animals will prefer living in the wild.  These people are well intentioned, but perhaps it is a tad arrogant of them to think that they know the animal’s minds.  Healthy memory is writing specifically here about cetaceans— dolphins, porpoises, and whales who live in Sea World and similar aquaria  and perform in shows for audiences.  Having existed like this for years, ostensibly good thinking people have them forcefully put out to sea.  How do they know that these creatures do not prefer their current home, like interacting with humans, and perhaps like being in show business?  It seems like these creatures need to be given the option of leaving or staying, and that after leaving, they would still have the option of returning.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Mind Club

May 9, 2016

The title of this post is the title of an interesting and provocative book by Daniel M. Wegner and Kurt Gray.  The subtitle of the book is “Who Thinks, What Feels, and Why It Matters.”  Dr.Wegner is the creator of the concept of Transactive Memory, which is one of the categories of the Healthymemory Blog.  Transactive memory refers to memories of our fellow human beings and to information held in technology.  This information can be stored in paper or digitally.  I have been an admirer of most of Dr. Wegner’s work, so news of his death was quite disturbing.  He died of ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  This degenerative disease slowly destroyed his ability to walk, to stand, to move, to talk, to eat, and eventually to breathe.  Dr. Wegner had only begun writing this book when he was diagnosed.  He asked his graduate student, Kurt Gray, to finish the work.  Fortunately he did a highly credible job.  Should you find these topics to be especially interesting, it is strongly recommended that you read the original book.

The mind is a difficult concept.  We only have direct access to our own minds, and even then only a small percentage of our mind (see the healthy memory blog post “Strangers to Ourselves”) So we need to develop models of the minds of our fellow humans.  And as there are different types of humans we need to develop models of these different types.  Then there are animals, and many different species of animals.  There are machines.  The different types of minds were developed on the basis of a large scale survey regarding how people thought about other minds.   Analyses of these data found that people see minds in terms of two fundamentally factors, sets of mental abilities that were labeled experience and agency.  Quotes from “The Mind Club” follow:

“The experience factors captures the ability to have an inner life, to have feeling experiences.  It includes the capacities for hunger, fear, pain, pleasure, rage, and desire, as well as personal consciousness, pride, embarrassment, and  joy.  These facets of mind seemed to capture “what it is like” to have a mind—what psychologists and philosophers often talk about when they discuss the puzzle of consciousness.”

“The agency factor is composed of a different set of mental abilities:  self-control, morality, memory, emotion recognition, planning, communication and thought.  The theme for these capacities is not sensing and feeling, but rather thinking and doing.  The agency factor is made up of the mental abilities that underlie our competence, intelligence, and action.  Minds show their agency when they act and accomplish goals.”

Healthy memory apologizes for being so cryptic.  The meaning should emerges as each type of mind is discussed.  Nine types of mind will be discussed.  The first six types of minds are well discussed.  The last three are seriously flawed.  All this follows in the subsequent healthy memory blogs.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Increasing Failure to Use Technology to Foster Cognitive Growth

May 7, 2016

Two concepts are central to the healthy memory blog.  One is cognitive growth, which stresses the importance of cognitive growth for healthy memories and a fulfilling life.  The other is transactive memory, which is the use of technology and our fellow human beings to foster cognitive growth.  Consequently I found an article by Brian Fung in the April 25 edition of the Washington Post titled “New data:  American are abandoning wired home Internet” distressing.

According to the article in 2013, 1 in 10 U.S.  households were mobile-only.  Now 1 in 5 U.S. households are mobile-only. There is also a relationship between household income and mobile only use, with poorer households being more likely to be mobile only.  So the problem of income divide and the effective use of technology is still prevalent.

Regular readers of the healthy memory blog should already understand my discontent. but I shall elaborate for those who are not regular readers.  Mobile computing can be extremely helpful when people are mobile.  However, use of mobile devices do have some serious shortcomings.

Previous posts have argued that exclusive or excessive mobile computing results in superficial interpersonal relationships (enter “Sherry Turkle” into the healthy memory blog search block).  To do “deep processing” that produces cognitive growth requires at least a notebook and preferably a laptop computer.  This is best done in a quiet location with minimal distractions.  The multitasking that is frequently done with mobile devices results in deficient cognitive processing and can result in possible danger to others in addition to oneself (enter, “multitasking” into the healthy memory search block).

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Passing 70

May 6, 2016

Today I enter my 71st year.  My 70th year was noteworthy in that I retired from formal employment.  I could have continued in my job, but I found my work to be meaningless, as my knowledge and talents were not being used.  So I retired from formal employment.

You might ask about ikigai.  Ikigai is a Japanese word, which roughly translated means “the reason to get up in the morning.”  In other words, have reasons for living.   Formal employment was not ikigai.  Actually it was hindering my ikigai.

My ikigai is to continue to grow cognitively, to build a cognitive reserve, to avoid dementia, and to share what I learn with others.  “Others” is not restricted to the elderly.  “Others” refers to everyone.  The fields of cognitive psychology and cognitive science are rapidly developing.  One of the goals of this blog is to share the excitement of these fields with my readers as well as point to their relevance to a healthy memory.  Other topics related to effective thinking, decision making, and health are also covered.  These topics help us grown cognitively.

Since retiring from formal employment, I have more time to meditate and to think.  I also have the opportunity to read more, to grow cognitively and, I hope, personally.  However, even  though I have more time, I still cannot come close to covering all the exciting research and Ideas that are being produced.  Even in retirement, there are still not enough hours in a day.  Nevertheless, I am enjoying life with my wife immensely.

I received more congratulations on my retirement than I had received for my marriage or for completing my doctorate.  I found that strange, but in some sense accurate.  This is the best time of my life.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Curiosity and a Healthy Memory

May 5, 2016

This post is based on and inspired by a piece by the excellent science writer Sharon Begley in the June 2016 issue of Mindful titled “Why So Curious?”  Albert Einstein wrote, “curiosity has its own reason for existing.”  Samuel Johnson called curiosity “the first passion and the last.”  Thomas Hobbes called curiosity the lust of the mind.”  The founder of American Psychology, William James proposed in1899 that curiosity is “the impulse towards better cognition.  And better cognition implies a better mind and a healthy memory.

Cognitive scientists believe that the best way to understand curiosity is that it is the mental analogue of physical hunger.  The feeling that there is a growling hole in our store of knowledge drives the search for information.  This urge  to sate cognitive hunger  is associated with persistence and solving problems German and American researchers reported in a 2013 study in the Journal of Individual Differences.

A 2011 review of 200 individual studies concluded that “although intelligence is the strongest predictor of academic success, curiosity plus effort rival the influence of intelligence” scientists wrote  in Perspectives on Psychology Science.  They concluded that “a hungry mind is a core determinant of individual differences in academic achievement.”  There is much similarity here between curiosity and Carol Dweck’s concept of a growth mindset.

The health memory blog post “Finally, Hope on the Prediction Front” provides a brief summary to Tetlock’s book “Superforecasting:  The Art and Science of Prediction.”   This was a very large study done for IARPA on research as to what makes for a good intelligence analyst.  Curiosity was a key factor.

This link between curiosity and learning might become even more important as we age.  In one recent study scientists had younger adults (average age 20) and older adults (average age 73)  read 60 trivia questions such was “what product is second, only to oil, in terms of the largest trade volumes in the world?” and “what was the first nation  go give women the right to vote?”  Everyone  rated how curious they were  about the answer.  Curiosity had a substantial effect on how likely the older (but not the younger) adults were to recall the answers a week later.  This was a 2015 study by Alan Castel and colleagues reported in “Psychology and Aging.”

A  1996 study of 2,153 70-ish men and women found that the more curious they were, in general, as well as when presented with questions, the more likely they were to be alive in five years.

So curiosity is central to a healthy memory and has a wide variety of benefits.

How Science Reveals that “Well-Being” Is a Skill

May 3, 2016

The title of this post is the title of an article by the eminent psychologist Richard Davidson that was published in the e-letter by Mindful Magazine (you can subscribe to the e-letter by going to www,  Dr. Davidson identifies four components of well-being.  They are resilience, outlook, attention, and generosity.

Resilience refers to how well someone recovers from adversity.  People differ on this dimension, with some recovering quickly and others taking a long time to recover.  Obviously, the ability to recover quickly is a definite plus, and it is good to rate high on this resilience dimension.  Remember that well-being is a skill, so resilience can be developed.  Research indicates that this cannot be done quickly, but with dedicated practice one can gradually progress on this dimension.

Outlook is the ability to savor  positive experience such as  enjoying a coffee break to seeing kindness in every person.  Research has shown that modest amounts of loving-kindness and compassion meditation can positively impact outlook.  Davidson cites a study  in which individuals who had never meditated before received 30 minutes of compassion training over two weeks.  Davidson said, “Not only did we see changes in the brain, but these changes in the brain actually predicted pro-social behavior.”

Attention refers the ability to control attention.  Davidson said, “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” which is a paraphrase of the subtitle of an article published by a group of social psychologists at Harvard.  These researchers found that almost half the time, we’re not actually paying attention to the present moment.  Davidson asks us to envision a world where distractibility goes down a little.   He said that if we could turn down distractibility by just 5% it would positively impact productivity by being present, showing up for others, listening deeply, and so forth.

Davidson says that when individuals engage in generous and altruistic behavior, they activate circuits in the brain that are key to fostering well-being..  Moreover, these circuits get activated in a way that shows more enduring activation than other kinds of positive incentives.  Research research also suggests that compassion training can positively alter  our own response to suffering.

There have been many previous healthy memory blog posts on the research of Davidson that can be found by entering “Davidson” in the healthymemoy blog search block.  He defines six dimensions of emotional style.  He also provides exercises for improving one’s performance on each of these dimensions of emotional style.

Web of Lies

May 1, 2016

“Web of lies:  Is the Internet making a world without truth” is an article by Chris Baranluk in the Feb 20-26, 2016 edition of the New Scientist.  The World Economic Forum ranks massive digital misinformation as a geopolitical risk alongside terrorism.  This problem is especially pernicious as misinformation is very difficult to correct (enter “misinformation” into the healthy memory search block to see relevant posts).  Bruce Schneider, a director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says that we’re entering an era of unprecedented psychological manipulation.

Walter Quattrociocchi at the IMT Institute for Advanced Studies in Lucca, Italy, along with his colleagues looked at how different types of information are spread on Facebook by different communities.  They analyzed two groups:  those who shared conspiracy theories and those who shared science news articles.  They found that science stories received an initial spike of interest and were shared or “liked” frequently.  Conspiracy theories started with a low level of interest, but sometimes grew to be even more important than the science stories overall.  Both groups tended to ignore information that challenged they views.  Confirmation bias leads to an echo chamber.  Information that does not fit with an individual’s world view does not get passed on.  On social networks, people true their peers and use them as their primary information sources.   Quattrociocchi  says “The role of the expert is going to disappear.”

DARPA, a research agency for the U.S. Military,  is funding a Social Media in Strategic Communication Program, which funds dozens of studies looking at everything from subtle linguistic cues in specific posts to how information flows across large networks.
DARPA has also sponsored a challenge to design bots that can sniff out misinformation deliberately planted on Twitter.

Ultimately the aim of this research is to find ways to identify misinformation and effectively counter it, reducing the ability of groups like ISIS to manipulate events.  Jonathan Russell, head of policy at counter-terrorism think tank Quilliam in London says, “They have managed to digitize propaganda in a way that is completely understanding of social media and how it’s used.  Russell says that a lack of other voices also gives the impression that they are winning.  There’s no other  effective media coming out of Iraq and Syria.  Think tank Quilliam has attempted to counter such narratives with videos like “Not Another Brother,” which depicts a jihadist recruit in desperate circumstances.  It aims to show how easily people can be seduced by exposure to a narrow view of the world.

This research is key.  Information warfare will play an increasingly larger percentage of warfare than kinetic effects.

Pangiotis Metasxes of Wellsley College believes that we have entered a new ea in which the definition of literacy needs to be updated.  “In the past to be literate you needed to know reading and writing.  Today, these two are not enough.  Information reaches us from a vast number of sources.  We need to learn what to read, as well as how.”