Archive for August, 2016

Cognitive Science Should Be Taught in Elementary School

August 30, 2016

For a long time, HM thought that the study of psychology should be put off until college.  However, he has recently come to the opinion that certain parts of human cognition should be taught as soon as possible.  This would provide some insight for the students in to how they think and learn.  The importance of focus and attention, and the fact that bias is inherent to our thinking.

Students likely think of their memory as something they need to use to past tests.  What they need to understand is that their memory is a machine for time travel.  They use it not just to remember stuff for tests, but as a means of searching what they have learned and experience in the past, to decide what to do in the future.  In other words, it goes far beyond remembering stuff for tests.

Information gets into our memories from our senses.  What we perceive  is limited by what we can sense.  Color, for example, does not exist in the external world.  Color is created by what our eyes can sense.  People who have different kinds of color blindness are limited by the absence of specific color sensing sensors (cones).

Our brains process these inputs and create internal models of what exists in the world.  Optical illusions provide good examples of what we think we see may not be accurate.  There are also cognitive illusions when what we think does not correspond to reality.  Essentially learning is a process of building better and better cognitive models.  As the result of learning we are able to refine and correct our cognitive models.  But this requires thinking and thinking requires attention.  Usually when we do not remember, it is due to our not paying attention in the first place.  So, paying attention in class is important for effective learning.  Students would learn not only how we make decisions and solve problems, but also better ways to make decisions and solve problems.

They would also learn about Daniel Kahneman’s Two Process View of Cognition.  System 1 is called is called intuition and is very fast.  This speed is the product of learning and is bought at the price of biases used in System 1 Processing.  System 2 is called reasoning and is what we commonly think of as thinking.  One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors

Our default bias is to believe new information.  This is called the confirmation bias.  If we did not have this as a default bias, we would probably never have survived as a species.  But it does create problems.  We tend to look for information that confirms what we believe.  Unfortunately, this carries the risk of failing to correct our biases.  Science is structured to look for information to disconfirm current theories or beliefs.
One of the biggest problems is correcting disinformation.  This is why the big lie is so successful.  If something is heard frequently enough, the tendency is to believe it, regardless of whether it is true or not.

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

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Mindfulness Needs to Be Taught in the Public Schools

August 28, 2016

And at least by the fourth grade according an article in the Washington Post that was reviewed in the healthy memory blog post, “A New School of Thoughtfulness.”  The article notes that the idea of getting squirmy kids to sit still or angst-ridden teens to meditate might seem far fetched, but it works.  It finds that kids often to take to it, readily turning the practice as a way to self-soothe, and they take these techniques home with them.

One fourth grade student said, “When I’m mad and get into a fight with my brother or anyone in the family, I go up to my room, and I start breathing and doing mindfulness. It calms me down a little so things get back to normal.”

A classmate says that when she has trouble sleeping, she’ll count her breaths and listen to the ticking of her watch to relax.

It appears that mindfulness is being learned by the parents from their children, which they are finding is improving them as parents.

Another student said, “I thought it was totally weird at first., then I realized that it totally helped…with everything in my life.”  The “everything in my life” quote is especially important.  Mindfulness will not only benefit their behavior, but should also benefit their schoolwork.  Usually the failure to learn is due to a failure to attend.  These students are learning how to focus their attention on what hey need to learn.

Yet another student was playing volleyball and getting angry at her losing team.  She said that she was about to yell at them them for not doing the right thing, but then she recalibrated, did not yell, and made positive suggestions.  Mindfulness is teaching them to consider the situation from perspectives different from their own.  This will increase the effectiveness of group and team work.  It should also significantly decrease the incidence or arguments and fights.  Many of the problems stem from a lack of discipline and mindfulness is a positive strategy that increase discipline.

HM does not know how widely spread mindfulness is in the public schools.  But it needs to be spread universally in all schools.  Mindfulness provides the key to successful learning and living.

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

The Need for Mathematics, Probability, and Statistics

August 26, 2016

It strains credulity that some people are actually arguing about teaching mathematics.  Mathematics is certainly one of the most supreme accomplishments of the human mind.  People need to both appreciate that and to be able to do some mathematics.  What is needed is more research on fostering mathematical thinking.

Unfortunately, probability and statistics are two subjects missing from most high school curricula.  This is a glaring lacuna as we have to deal with probabilities throughout our lives.  Consequently, we need to have some facility in understanding probabilities and in making computations.  Statistics is another topic we all need.  Public policies, health, and scientific topics that lay people should understand require some knowledge of statistics.  Trigonometry and calculus are subjects that are taught in high school, yet these topics are needed only  in specific areas of study and professions.  However, statistics needs to be understood by everyone.

Unfortunately, to understand statistics, one needs to understand algebra at least through quadratic equations.  So any students who do complete introductory algebra should be required to take a course in statistics.

So what about students who do not take algebra?  Research is required here to provide some rudimentary understanding of both probabilities and statistics without a facility in algebra.  Perhaps this can be done through graphics and pictorial representations. Specific applications can be developed to this end.  Perhaps students can be fooled into learning statistics via games.

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

Computers in Our Brains

August 25, 2016

This post is based primarily on an article by Elizabeth Dworkin in the 17 April 2106 issue of the Washington Post titled “Putting a computer in your brain is no longer science fiction.”  It describe the research done by Silicon technology entrepreneur Bryan Johnson at his company Kernel, website is kernel.com.  It does not appear that Johnson has already put a computer into the brain, but rather is in the process of designing a computer to put into the brain.  The article also cites work by biomedical researcher Theodore Berger who has worked on a chip-assisted hippocampus for rats.  This work has yet to advance to humans.  And it probably will be many years before any fruits from this research will be realized.

This post is filed under transactive memory, which included posts on using external technology to build a healthy memory.  Now work is progressing on moving computer technology inside the brain.  Of course, anything that assists memory health will be welcomed.

An interesting conjecture is how this new technology would be used.  The statistics reported in the immediately preceding post made HM wonder to what extent people were making use of the biological memory they had.  It may be that when some people age their cognitive activity decreases.  And it may be that this failure to use it that is the primary cause of dementia.  This appears to be even more likely when there is evidence that people who have the defining physical features of Alzheimer’s never show any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms.

So a reasonable question is how many people would benefit from computer implants?  It would be surprising if no one benefited, but it is not a forgone conclusion that everyone would benefit.  Some people might shut down cognitively even given a computer enhancements.  Of course, this is just a conjecture by HM.

HM would hope that people would still engage in the activities advocated by HM, to include growth mindsets, meditation, and mindfulness, in addition to general practices for personal health.

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

Social Activities May Help Protect Memory

August 24, 2016

The title of this blog is identical to a title of an article by Elizabeth Agnvall in the April21, 2016 online AARP.  HM has a number of comments on this article the first of which is that this title is way, way too cautious.  There is no question that social activities help protect memory.  Although there is no claim that social activities prevent dementia, there is no doubt that they help reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment, a condition that is often—but not always — a  precursor to Alzheimers.

The article reports results of a study of about 2000 men and women age 70 and older participating in the long-running Mayo Clinic Study of Aging.  Two numbers are reported regarding the reduced risk  of people who used the computer at least once a week.  In the article proper the number provided is 42%, but in a table summarizing the studies results it is 44 %.

Those who read magazines at least once a week had a 30% reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment

Those who had engaged in crafts (for example, knitting) at least once a week had a 16% reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment.

Those who engaged in playing games at least once a week had a reduced risk of 14% or mild cognitive impairment.

These are reduced risks from what?  Is the original risk 100%? 75%? 50%? 25%?

Apart from the risk of mild cognitive impairment HM wonders what are these people doing with the rest of their time?  Watching television?    Watching Lucy reruns? Presumably the reciprocals of these values are the percentages of people who are at risk?  This is my peer group and HM is astounded at the low level of these activities and the finding that such low levels resulted in reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment.  It appears that my peers are largely cognitively disengaged.  This is difficult to believe.

As readers of the healthy memory blog should know, our recommendation is to remain cognitively engaged through growth mindsets on a daily basis, along with daily physical activity, daily meditation, and daily social activity.  Such a regimen should yield much larger reduced risks of mild cognitive impairment.  It is quite possible that you will be one of those whose brain has the defining symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but who never experiences any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  In other words, you may never have known that you had Alzheimer’s.

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

Why When Matters are Objectively Good Do We Feel So Bad? Part Two

August 21, 2016

HM had heard commentators raise the question of why when matters are objectively good, do people feel so bad.  These two posts are an effort to provide explanations.  Part One of this article was basically an explanation of how the news can make us feel bad contrary to the objective situation.   Part Two explains how a particular type of news network can dissociate your feelings from objective reality.  Specifically this is Fox News (which bears no relationship to the Fox in the immediately preceding post).   Fox advertises fair and balanced news, which it is true if you are a right wing conservative.  Conservatives were prone to complain of a bias in the news, almost to the point that there was a conspiracy to conceal the truth.  HM needs to be cautious here and not claim that only conservatives see biases in the news.  Any of us can have a feeling of bias when the presentation is not in accordance with out beliefs, HM knows that he does.  But then he kicks in his higher order thinking processes and realizes that others have different views from his, and that tthere might be some value in this other view.  But this requires him to move from System 1 intuitive information processing to System 2 reasoning.  In laymen terms, he has to think.  This can be time consuming and, for some, painful.

Roger Ailes is given the credit for creating Fox news.  Everyone believes that his motives are political.  However, even if the goal were profit, this would still be a good format.  And in fact, it is profitable, as HM thinks that Fox is the most profitable news network.  First of all, the default position for most people is conservative, particularly if they belong to a racial or socioeconomic group that is benefiting under the present system.  And news consistent with their views that will not cause them to think is highly palatable.

The problem is that the world is dynamic.  It changes and there is a necessity for governments to adapt to these changes.  But this requires people to think, and they find this uncomfortable.  Moreover, they double down on not thinking and become dogmatic.  Dogmatism is anathema to any democracy as democracies require not only changes, but also give and take.

But the motives of Fox News are indeed political.  It plays the same role for conservatives that Pravda played for the former Soviet Union.  When not in power, the message is that the situation is bad.  The best example here is what Trump says and objective reality.  Obama took the United States from the verge of a worldwide economic collapse to one of the leading economies today, but Fox viewers tend to be oblivious to these facts.

Another example is Hillary Clinton and her negatives.  Admittedly, she contributed to some of these negatives, but they are largely the result of being consistently hammered for many years by Fox news.  If Fox  news did to Mother Teresa what they have done to Hillary Clinton, Mother Teresa would also have high negatives.

Fox news has become a running joke.  The satirical review group, The Capitol Steps, featured Hillary Bashing multiple times in their latest CD, “What  to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

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

Why When Matters are Objectively Good Do We Feel So Bad? Part One

August 19, 2016

By any objective standard, matters are quite good in the United States.  Just eight years ago, the world was on the verge of an economic collapse.  That collapse did not materialize,and today unemployment is low and the economy in the United States is among the best in the world.  So why are people saying that this country is on the wrong track?  Why are some people willing to vote for an emotionally unstable individual with none of the skills for the job for President of the United States?  There are a number of reasons for this, but this current post will focus on the following article in the Insight section of the 6 August 2016 issued of the New Scientist, titled “July was bad news but I’m fine—so why do I feel so terrible?”  The author notes that July brought an unusual dump of bad headlines including the televised deaths of Philander Castile and Alton Sterling, police being killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge, terror attacks in Istanbul, Baghad, Nice and Saint-Etieene-du-Rouvray, plus other acts of violence in Germany and Japan.

Peter Ayton who studies decision-making at City University in London says that we should be wary of the idea that there’s something in the water.  “This is an attempt at induction: grouping events on the idea of some force or influence may be engineering the shape of the days.”  Even if news stories are random, statistically we should still expect to see runs of more upsetting headlines.

Elaine Fox of the University of Oxford notes that we are predisposed to focus on bad stuff.  “Threat information activates the fear system, while positive news activates the reward system.  The fear system is stronger, and works to shut down the rational part of our brain.  Once we are in a fearful state, we’re conditioned to see out more bad news.

Fox continues, “The sense of immediacy provided by 24-hour rolling news means the brain is saying, “this is a real threat to me.”  This explains why we feel so personally affected even though chances of being caught up in a shooting or terrorist attack are vanishingly small.  The vividness of images may also skew our sense of risk.  In October 2014 after several months of disturbing TV reports from West Africa, a Gallup Poll found that 22 % of people in the US were worried about contracting Ebola, despite only six people in the country being infected and none picking it up on home soil.

Ayton notes that we underestimate our ability to adapt to huge changes.  A 1978 study showed that after two years, people paralyzed in accidents and lottery winners showed little change in overall happiness, instead habituating to their new state.  This finding has been replicated many times.

How to Debunk Misinformation

August 17, 2016

The immediately preceding healthy memory post described how difficult it is to correct misinformation, and promised that this post would provide some helpful information.  This post is taken from “The Debunking Handbook” by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky.  The authors begin by debunking the information deficit model, which says that if only people had the correct information, they would know better.  Moreover, attempts to correct the misinformation can have a backfire effect.  For those who are strongly fixed in their views, encountering counter-arguments can even cause them to strengthen their views.

Cook and Lewandowsky argue that an effective debunking requires:
Core-facts—a refutation should emphasize the facts and not the myth.  Only key facts should be presented to avoid an Overkill Backfire Effect.
Explicit warnings—before any mention of a myth, text or visual cues should warn that a the upcoming information is false.
Alternative explanation—any gaps left by debunking need to be filled.  This can be achieved by providing an alternative causal explanation for why the myth is wrong or, optionally, why he misinformers promoted the myth in the first place.
Graphics—if possible, core facts should be displayed graphically.

The authors note that a simple myth is more cognitively attractive than an overcomplicated correction.  Unfortunately writing at a simple level runs the risk of sacrificing the complexities and nuances you wish to communicate.  At Skeptical Science, where the authors work, they publish rebuttals at several levels.  Basic versions are written using short, plan English text and simplified graphics.  More technical Intermediate and Advanced versions are also available with more technical language and detailed explanations.

You can download “The Debunking Handbook” as a pdf file from
skeptical science.com/docs/Debunking_Handbook.pdf

This is the best information available of which HM knows.  Still  this debunking is a difficult task.  Once the ego feels threatened, a defensive mechanism is elicited that exerts large mental efforts in defending the misbelief or misinformation.

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

Why Facts Don’t Matter

August 15, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of a column written by David Ignatius in the 5 August edition of the Washington Post.  Ignatius began his column by asking, “How did Donald Trump win the Republican nomination despite clear evidence that he had misrepresented or falsified key issues throughout his campaign?”  Also read or reread the healthy memory blog posts “Donald Trump is Bending Reality to Get Into the American Psyche” and “Trick or Tweet or Both?  How Social Media is Messing Up Politics.”  Trump makes outrageous statements, contradicts himself, and betrays a woeful ignorance about government and international relations, and makes claims that he is going to fix problems without providing any plans as to how he is going to fix them.  Nevertheless, people say that they are going to vote for him.  When pressed they say that are unhappy with current politics and the country is going in the wrong direction.  To this HM asks, so the bridge is crowded and slow moving, does that mean you are going to jump off the bridge, even though you don’t know that you’ll survive the jump or that you might be eaten by the crocodiles in the water?

There have been prior posts about the confirmation bias and the backfire effect.  The confirmation bias refers to our bias to believe statements or facts that are in consonance with our beliefs.  The backfire effect refers to the effect when efforts to correct misinformation actually strengthen beliefs in the misinformation.  Ignatius is referencing an article by Christopher Graves in the February 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review.  Research by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifer showed the persistence of the belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in 2005 and 2006 after the United States had publicly admitted that they didn’t exist.  They concluded “The results show that direct factual contradictions can actually strengthen ideologically founded factual belief.

Graves also examined how attempts of debunk myths can reinforce them, simply by repeating the untruth.  This study in the Journal of Consumer Research is titled “How Warnings About False Claims Become Recommendations.  It seems that people remember the assertion and forget whether it’s a lie.  The authors wrote, “The more often older adults were told that a given claim was false, the more likely they were to accept it as true after several days have passed.”

Graves noted that when critics challenge false assertions, say, Trump’s claim that thousands of Muslims cheered in New Jersey when the twin towers fell—their refutations can threaten people rather than convince them. And when people feel threatened, they round up their wagons and defend their beliefs.  Ego involvement generates large mental efforts to defend their erroneous beliefs.    Not only does the Big Lie Work, but small lies also work

Social scientists understand  why the buttons that Trump’s campaign pushes are so effective.  “When the GOP nominee paints a dark picture of a violent, frightening American, he triggers the “fight or flight’ response that is hard-wired in or brains.  For the body politic, it can produce a kind of panic attack.

So attempts to correct misinformation can backfire and have the opposite effect.  So what can be done?  Some possible approaches will be found in the next HM post.

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

How to Improve Your Mind: Twenty Keys to Unlock the Modern World

August 14, 2016

The title of this post is the title of a book by Prof. James R. Flynn.  There have been three posts that have been motivated by this book, “A Major Reason for the Ridiculously Increasing Costs of a College Education,”How Healthy Memory Differs from the Post Modernists or Radical Constructivists,” and “Intelligent Design.”  Perhaps you have already been able to infer from these posts that this is not you typical mind improvement book.   The title is a tad overstated.  Reading and understanding this book should definitely improve your mind and provide insights on the complexities of the modern world.  However, it is left to you should you read the book to decide how much your understanding of the modern world has been unlocked.

The essence of this work is critical thinking, a skill that is woefully absent from our present world.  Critical thinking needs to be considered in terms of Stanovich’s Three Process View of cognition (See the healthy memory blog post, “The Tri-Pricess Model of Cognition and Critical Thinking).  System 1 is called the autonomous mind by Stanovich and intuition by Kahneman.  This our default mode of cognitive processing and is very fast and efficient.  System 2 is called the algorithmic mind by Stanovtich and Reasoning by Kahneman . System 2 is what is commonly thought of as thinking.  One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 2.  Stanovich has also added the reflective mind, System3, as his work on the development of a Rational Quotient has led him to believe that the reflective mind needed to be added. The reflective mind, when invoked, ponders the output of System 2.  If you are to benefit from this outstanding work, you need to put your beliefs and principles where the sun does not shine and read with an open mind.  Then you can decide what to accept, what to reject, and what requires a great deal more pondering and reflection.

“How to Improve Your Mind”  is divided into five Parts.
Part 1 is titled Arguing About Right and Wrong divided into the following sections
Logic and Moral Debate
Getting Rid of Tautologies
The Naturalistic Fallacy and Its Consequences —be Judgmental
But that is Unnatural—Words Best Never Said

Part 2 is titled The Truth About People divided into the following sections
Random Sample—Quality Not Size
Intelligence Quotient—Hanging the Intellectually Disabled
Intelligence Quotient
Control Group—How Studying People Changes Them
The Sociologist’s Fallacy—Ignoring the Real World

Part 3 is titled The Market and its Church divided into the following sections
Creating a Market—Not a Frankenstein
Market Forces—How they Take Their Revenge
Market Worship—No Ritual Sacrifices
The Economic Collapse of 2008
What is to be Done?

Part 4 is titled Enemies of Science
Reality—What Scientists Really Say About Science
History, Science, and Evolution—Only One Kind of Each

Part 5 is titled Nations and their Goals divided into the following sections
Understanding Nations—Understanding Anyone
Four Cases—Making Sense Out of Nonsense
Conclusion

It should be obvious from the preceding text that this is written at college level, and not an the dumbed down college level that HM has found some current texts to be.
In case you do not read the book, here are two take aways from Dr. Flynn worth considering:
The world is still vulnerable to another possible financial crisis.
How long before American finds that economic interdependence with China will force her to coordinate her policies with China as an equal?

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

Intelligent Design

August 12, 2016

Intelligent Design provides an excellent example of what defines science and the importance of different domains of knowledge staying within their domain of knowledge (see the healthymemory blog posts “Domains of Knowledge,” and “A Longstanding heated Debate That Can Easily Be Resolved”).  Advocates of intelligent design point to all the wonders of nature and conclude, how could such things emerge without an intelligent designer, who is God.  What they fail to acknowledge are all the extinct species that didn’t survive.  When they are considered, some sort of random selection process is needed. Or, as the humorist Tony Kornheiser noted when he was simultaneously suffering from nausea and diarrhea, “what a perverse sense of humor God had when he designed the human body.”  For intelligent design to be a science, there must be a means of disproving intelligent design.  Absent that, it is no science.

Actually religious people would be better off arguing the anthropic principle.  The conditions under which the universe was created were quite specific and absent these specific values of critical factors, it could not be created.  Apparently few religious people have the knowledge of physics or cosmology to make this argument.

Intelligent Design provides a good example of why different domains of knowledge need to stay in their appropriate domains.   People are entitled to whatever  beliefs they may hold, except when their beliefs have adverse effects on other domains of knowledge and on their fellow human beings.  Actually HM is in favor of teaching both intelligent design and evolution in the public schools, as that shows, unless improperly taught, the essence of science.  Evolution should not be taught as a dogma, but as a finding from science and an example of how science is done.  Students should be taught how to think rather than what to believe. Absent evolution, biology and medicine, at the very least, would be severely constrained.

James Flynn, the author of “How to Improve Your Mind:  Twenty Keys to Unlock the Modern World,”makes the following interesting observation, “Obscurantist churches talk about “intelligent design” as an alternative science, and some university lecturers say, “reality is a text.”  The latter have less excuse for talking nonsense.  The universities are fields on which a great battle rages.  It is a contest pitting those who attempt to help students understand science, and how to use reason to debate  moral and social issues, against those of whom it might be said that every student who comes within range of their voices is a bit worse off for the experience.  It is up to the rest of us to point out the error of their ways, so that students can think clearly enough to filter their words and distal something of value.”

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

How Healthy Memory Differs from the Post Modernists or Radical Constructivists

August 11, 2016

HM did not think this would be necessary, but if James Flynn  the author of “How to Improve Your Mind:  Twenty Keys to Unlock the Modern World,” thought this topic worthy  of the attention he gave it, then HM also needs to clarify his position so he will not be confused as a post modernist.  According to Flynn these folks believe that everyone constructs their own version of reality.  HM is still not sure whether these folks think that there is no external reality, or that this external reality is unknowable.  So please comment should you be informed on these topics.

HM has stressed that we do not have direct knowledge of the external world.  We build models of the real world on the basis of our experience.  This is essentially what science does, although science uses and develops defined methods for both developing and evaluating these models of the external world.   But HM and scientists certainly believe that a there is a real external world for which we are developing models.  HM further conjectures that due to limitations in  the nervous systems of homo sapiens we might be incapable of ever truly understanding this external world, although our approximations might get fairly close.

However, Prof. Flynn is not entirely dismissive of these Post Modernists or Radical Constructivists.  He writes the following in a section titled, “Even Muddled Minds can Teach us Something:”
“”If you are stuck with a post-modernist as a Ph.D supervisor, do not despair.  Once you reject his or her confusions, you may salvage something from what he or she says.  Sadly, when you write your dissertation you may have to preface the important stuff with some gibberish about texts, narratives, and so forth.  But remember, after you get your degree you can stop that and get on with what makes sense:  using science to understand the real world without any apology.”

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

 

Healthy Memory (HM) Sincerely Apologizes

August 7, 2016

For not strongly recommending  “The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness:  How to Optimize Brain Health and Performance at Any Age” by Alvaro Fernandez, Elkhonon Goldberg, Ph.D., and Pascale Michelon, Ph.D.  The healthy memory blog reviews many books and bases posts on excerpts from many books, but HM does not believe that he has ever written that it is imperative to have a book.  The apology is for not recommending this book earlier as the second edition was published in 2015.

It is imperative because every human being has a brain.  And for most of us, it is our most important organ.  Even if you are like Woody Allen, it should be at least your second most important organ.  Perhaps you are young and think that you can put off your concern about your brain until later in life. Yet a poll asking respondents to rank the brain functions that are important for thriving personally and professionally in the 21st Century found the top three to be
Ability to handle stressful situations
Concentration power to avoid distractions
Being able to recognize and manage one’s emotions

All of the above are brain functions and are extensively treated in the Guide.   Moreover, as you will find out, everything in the Guide is important to building a cognitive reserve. The following paragraph explains what is meant by a cognitive reserve.

The common caveat is that there is no cure for Alzheimer’s.  This is true with regarding to the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s, the amyloid plaque and the neurofibril tangles.  But in 1989 Robert Katzmann and his colleagues described 10 cases of cognitively normal older adults who, at death, were found to have advanced Alzheimer’s disease pathology in their brains.  The researchers hypothesized that the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s did not manifest themselves because they had more neurons, more connections between them,   The notion is that by having this “reserve” of neurons and abilities can offset the losses caused by Alzheimer’s and other dementias so that the brain can tolerate progressive brain pathology without demonstrating failure.

Another possible explanation that is rarely, if ever, offered is that neuroplasticity enables the brain to withstand serious insult and damage by rewiring and relearning.  There is ample evidence that the brain does so to heal itself against other insults and injuries.  It should also be noted that these hypotheses are not mutually exclusive.

Nevertheless, there is reason to think that many people have had the defining features of Alzheimer’s, but died never knowing that they had the disease.  See the healthy memory blog post “Alzheimer’s and a Cognitive Reserve” to learn about the research that Dr. Bennet has been conducting and the database he has been keeping on this topic.

The Guide begins by describing the brain, its organization, how it changes throughout life and lifelong neuroplasticity.  It encourages the reader to be a coach and not a patient, and not to outsource one’s brain.  The role of physical exercise and the kinds of exercise that are most beneficial are reviewed.  The roles of food and drink are discussed.  It discusses the benefits of mental challenge, investing in your cognitive or brain reserve, the lifelong effects of cognitive exercise, the roles of education and occupation as well as leisure activities to build a brain reserve.  The importance of social engagement is discussed as well as the types of social engagement that are most beneficial.   A chapter is devoted to managing stress and building resilience.  Meditation is discussed under this topic.  Brain cross-training is discussed and the final chapter is titled “How to Be Your Own Brain Fitness Coach.”

This entire area of research is advancing very quickly, so I encourage you go to
sharpbrains.com to get the latest news and findings.  There is a free newsletter to which you can subscribe.  You can also purchase the Guide to Brain Fitness at this website.

But please do no forget HM.  He shall continue to do his best at writing posts relevant to memory health and closely related topics that open minds.  Open minds are healthy minds.

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

A Major Reason for the Ridiculously Increasing Costs of a College Education

August 5, 2016

There have been previous healthy memory blog posts about the inexcusable increases in the costs of a college education.  Instead technology should be seriously reducing these costs.  With respect to public institutions, significant decreases in support from states provides a partial reason, but no justification.  University presidents once were supplied with a house on the campus and a reasonable stipend.  But today at the prestigious universities presidents expect mega millions. Even at non-prestigious universities, not just six figures, but well up into six figures seems to be the norm.

A book by James R. Flynn, the James Flynn who identified IQ inflation and a continuing need to recalibrate the IQ quotient, has written a book, “How to Improve Your Mind:  Twenty Keys to Unlock the Modern World,” that offers some profound insights into this problem. He has identified a flow of power from the academics, who do the actual teaching and research, toward he administrative center.  Flynn laments that gone are the days when Deans were elected by academics from their number who, if they wanted a second term, had to stand for re-election.  So the salaries of both presidents and deans are grossly inflated.  The fundamental problem is that the administration controls basically all the power, which, of course, includes funding.

C. Northcotte Parkinson, the author of the famous Parkinson’s Law, “Work expands as to fill time available for its completion” made a highly insightful study of bureaucracies.   Bureaucracies grow and feed upon themselves without providing benefit to the organizations they are supposed to be supporting.  Indeed, they can be decreasing the effectiveness of the organizations they are supporting.  At the last place I worked, I estimated that the efficiency of the organization would be increased if the correct percentage of the staff were eliminated.

The same is true of colleges and universities.  Administrations have been growing at the expense of working academics and students.  Moreover, as it is the administrations who have the power and control the pursestrings, if budget cuts are required, they are made at the expense of the academics and the students.  They will reduce research support fire faculty and make higher reliances on graduate students and adjunct faculty.

The problem with providing student financial aid is that colleges and universities simply adjust tuition and their various special fees, and likely expand the bureaucracy.  The only agency here that can effect the situation is the government.  The government can tie increased funding to cuts specifically in the administration.  If this is done, then it is likely that not only costs will go down, but the administrations will become more effective as they will have reduced themselves from unnecessary burdensome bureaucracy.

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

There have been previous healthy memory blog posts about the inexcusable increases in the costs of a college education.  Instead technology should be seriously reducing these costs.  With respect to public institutions, significant decreases in support from states provides a partial reason, but no justification.  University presidents once were supplied with a house on the campus and a reasonable stipend.  But today at the prestigious universities presidents expect mega millions. Even at non-prestigious universities, not just six figures, but well up into six figures seems to be the norm.

A book by James R. Flynn, the James Flynn who identified IQ inflation and a continuing need to recalibrate the IQ quotient, has written a book, “How to Improve Your Mind:  Twenty Keys to Unlock the Modern World,” that offers some profound insights into this problem. He has identified a flow of power from the academics, who do the actual teaching and research, toward he administrative center.  Flynn laments that gone are the days when Deans were elected by academics from their number who, if they wanted a second term, had to stand for re-election.  So the salaries of both presidents and deans are grossly inflated.  The fundamental problem is that the administration controls basically all the power, which, of course, includes funding.

C. Northcotte Parkinson, the author of the famous Parkinson’s Law, “Work expands as to fill time available for its completion” made a highly insightful study of bureaucracies.   Bureaucracies grow and feed upon themselves without providing benefit to the organizations they are supposed to be supporting.  Indeed, they can be decreasing the effectiveness of the organizations they are supporting.  At the last place I worked, I estimated that the efficiency of the organization would be increased if the correct percentage of the staff were eliminated.

The same is true of colleges and universities.  Administrations have been growing at the expense of working academics and students.  Moreover, as it is the administrations who have the power and control the pursestrings, if budget cuts are required, they are made at the expense of the academics and the students.  They will reduce research support fire faculty and make higher reliances on graduate students and adjunct faculty.

The problem with providing student financial aid is that colleges and universities simply adjust tuition and their various special fees, and likely expand the bureaucracy.  The only agency here that can effect the situation is the government.  The government can tie increased funding to cuts specifically in the administration.  If this is done, then it is likely that not only costs will go down, but the administrations will become more effective as they will have reduced themselves from unnecessary burdensome bureaucracy.

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

Ten Fundamentals of Brain Plasticity

August 3, 2016

These ten fundamentals come from Dr. Merzenich’s book, “Soft-Wired” with elaboration and comments by Healthy Memory (HM).

1. Change is mostly limited to those situations in which the brain is in the mood for it.
If you force it the learning will be inefficient and of poor quality.  I find it surprising that Dr. Merzenich, in spite of his participation in the conferences at Mind and Life Institute in Dharmsala, India  with the Dalai Lama that have demonstrated the pronounced effects of meditation, he makes no mention of meditation.  Meditation is one of the best, if not the best, means of restoring the mind.

2.  The harder we try, the more we are motivated, the more alert we are, and the better (or worse) the outcome, the bigger the brain change.
Once again HM marvels that Dr. Merzenich, in spite of his participation in the conferences at Mind and Life Institute in Dharmsala, India  with the Dalai Lama that have demonstrated the pronounced effects of meditation.  Meditation provides an ideal means of gaining control of one’s attention, and an ideal means of focusing attention.

3.  What actually changes in the brain are the strength of the connections that are engage together, moment by moment, in time.
Both neurorgenesis, the forming of new neurons, and synaptogenesis, the forming of new connections among neurons are involved.  It is also important to realize that these neurons are not necessarily adjacent to each other.  Neurons transmit signals through axons that can be quite long.  So a single neuron in the prefrontal cortex can be sending a signal to another neuron in a distant part of the brain.  These connections can be quite long and complicated.  Their interactions have been described as being conversations within the brain.

4.  Learning-driven changes in connections increase cell-to-cell cooperation, which is crucial for increasing reliability.
So the process of learning involves increasing this cell-to-cell cooperation, cells which can be quite far apart depending upon the type of learning, and the reliability of the learning.

5.  The brain also strengthens the connections between those teams of neurons representing separate moments of activity that represent each little part of an action or thought.
So these signals need to be strengthened in terms of the time sequence of the actions or thoughts.

6  Initial changes are just temporary.
So with the exception of certain extraordinary conditions, these changes will be lost unless they are strengthened by further activity.

7.  The brain is changed by internal mental rehearsal in the same ways, and involving precisely the same processes, that construct changes with the external world
So thinking alone will strengthens these processes.  Thinking and mental rehearsal are very important.

8.  Memory guides and controls most learning.
Indeed, memory is key.  Memory is a device for time travel.  It reviews what it can find in memory and then uses it to solve problems, to consider alternative courses of action, to make a joke, or for pleasure.

9.  Every moment of learning provides a moment of opportunity for the brain to stabilize and to reduce the disruptive power of—potentially interfering and background or “noise.
This is all good.

10.  Brain plasticity is a two-way street; it is just as easy to generate negative changes as it is to produce positive ones.
So brain activity can be destructive.  Thinking negative thoughts and having a fixed mindset are damaging and do not allow us to fulfill our potential.  HM is reminded of an incident that took place in his last place of employment.  He was riding down in an elevator and one of the fellow passengers in the elevator remarked to his friend, that when he retired he was going to do absolutely nothing.  If all he could find on television were Luci reruns,, he would just watch “I Love Lucy.”  HM would place a large wager that serious dementia was not too far in this individual’s future.

HM would like to add a couple of more comments.
Please read the healthy memory blog post “The Myth of Cognitive Decline”, and “More on the Myth of Cognitive Decline.”  The longer we live, the more we have in memory, and if we have growth mindsets we have even more in memory.  This might appear to slow us down, but in reality we have rich mindsets with brains with many long interconnections within them.  In addition to adding to these mindsets it is healthy to review old memories.  Writing a biography or a family history can be enriching.

It is also important to realize that our brains continue to work even when you stop thinking about something.  My wife and I are frustrated when we know something, the name of an actress,for example, but can’t remember it.  We become frustrated, but find that the name comes into consciousness, unsolicited at some later time.  HM thinks this is very healthy, so he resists trying to google something that he is sure he knows.  He will try for a while to remember it.  He knows that when he stops consciously thinking about it, his brain will continue searching and will probably eventually find it.  HM believes that this unconscious bran activity is reactivating memory circuits and providing for memory health.

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

Dr. Michael Merzenich’s Soft-Wired

August 1, 2016

Dr. Michael Merzenich is one of the key players in research into neuroplasticity.  “Soft-Wired” is the title of his book, with the sub-title “How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life.  Dr. Merzenich has appeared in previous healtymemory blog posts.  Soft-wired implies that the brain can change for the better, but he also notes that it can change of the worse.

Dr. Merzenich writes well and presents good explanations of how the brain works, how it creates “you,”  and how the brain changes throughout one’s lifetime.   Included there are not only descriptions of normal aging, but also of injuries and diseases that cause problems.  However, the section on normal aging is quite depressing.  One is likely to give up and quit reading without the promise that this can be mitigated or corrected via neuroplasticity.

He does offer a description of daily activities that contribute to the Maintenance of a Healthy Brain.  He has a chapter devoted to how he has organized his life  so he can continue to thrive and grow.  He discusses navigating the modern world and taking a holistic approach to improving our lives.  The final chapter is titled, “Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life—Begin the Transformation to a New, Better Life Right Now.”

What I found to most most disappointing was his failure to discuss what was discussed in the healthymemoy blog post “Alzheimer’s and a Cognitive Reserve.”  Even if he was not aware of the research of Dr. David A. Bennet, and there is little excuse for his lack of awareness, he makes no mention of the fact frequently mentioned in the healthy memory blog that there have been many people whose brains were wreaked with the defining neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque of Alzheimers, yet who never evidenced any behavioral or cognitive symptoms.

He does have a chapter titled, “Programs for Brain Rejuvenation and Brain Recovery—Features of Effective, Internet-Delivered, Neuroscience-Based Programs Designed to Grow, Rejuvenate, and Recover—Then Sustain—Brain Health.  Dr. Merzenich does have a company, Posit Science that develops and administers these programs.  HM believes in the claims he makes for these programs, and Dr. Merzenich does note that these programs are not mandatory for brain health.  There are many, centenarians included, who have died without exhibiting any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s (even though they could have had the defining clinical symptoms of Alzheimer’s).

Dr Merzenich does neglect the wisdom coming from the East.  Even though he offers perfuse complements about the Dalai Lama and has participated in the conferences at Mind and Life Institute in Dharmsala, India that have demonstrated the pronounced effects of meditation, he makes no mention of meditation.  Although he does not explicitly invoke mindfulness, some of his exercises are of the “being in the moment” type.  He does have a complementary single sentence on Tai Chi, but that’s it (Healthymemory readers should be expecting some health memory blog posts on Tai Chi later this year).

HM reiterates the importance of meditation and the fostering of growth mindsets for a healthy memory.  The extra ingredients of  GRIT including passion can be added. But it needs to be understood that these are a matter of lifestyle rather than taking specific training.  Even if one avails oneself of this online training, one must continue the training.  There are no short-term fixes for memory health.  Memory health is dependent on brain health and brain health is like body health, sometime that needs to be maintained throughout ones’ lifetime.

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