Archive for October, 2016

Anything But a Healthy Memory

October 31, 2016

Paul McDevit, who edits Feedback Column of the New Scientist noted in the 13 August 2016 edition of the New Scientist that Donald Trump is a man who doesn’t lie so much as see the truth as a bad investment.  The following quotes are taken verbatim from his Twitter feed.

“I predicted the 9/11 attack on American in my book “The America We Deserve”” (29 December 2011).

“Not only are wind farms disgusting looking, but even worse they are bad for people’s health” (23 April 2012).

“An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud” (6 August 2012).

“Remember, hew “Environmental friendly” lightbulbs can cause cancer.  Be careful—the idiots who came up with this stuff don’t care.”  (17 October 2012).

“If we didn’t remove incredibly powerful fire retardant asbestos & replace it with junk that doesn’t work, the World Trade Center would never have burned down.” (17 October 2012).

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”  (6 November 2012).

“How amazing, the State Health Director who verified copies of Obama’s ‘birth certificate’ died in a plane crash today.  All others lived”  (12 December 2013)

“Snowing in Texas and Louisiana, record setting freezing temperatures throughout the country and beyond.  Global warming is an expensive hoax!”  (29 Januaty 2014)

“Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes—AUTISM.  Many such cases.” (28 March 2014).

“The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back.  People that go to far away places to help out are great—but must suffer the consequences!”  (2 August 2014).

“I am being proven right about massive vaccinations—the doctors lied.  Save our children and their future.”  (3 September 2014).

“Ebola is much easier to transmit that the CDC government representatives are admitting.   Spreading all over Africa—and fast.  Stop flights”  (2 October 2014)

“We must suspend immigration from regions linked with terrorism until a proven vetting method is in place.”  (26 June 2016)
McDevit concludes with “Feedback can at least are with one bombastic pronouncement from the ornery demagogue:  “The global warming we should be worried about is the global warming caused by NUCLEAR WEAPONS in the hands of crazy or incompetent leaders!”

Wealth and Empathy

October 30, 2016

This post is motivated by an Opinion piece in the Outlook Section of the 23 October issue of the Washington Post by Karen Weese.  The title of the piece is “How can you tell if someone is kind?  Ask how rich they are.”

Past healthy memory blog posts have reported arguments by some who say that humans have the quality of empathy, which computers can never have.  HM has never bought these arguments.  One might argue that computers might not be able to feel empathy, computers can, and perhaps already have, shown the capacity to show empathy.  Moreover, this facility will increase over time.  If you read some of the healthymemory blog posts based on the book “Progress,” one finds scant historical evidence for empathy. Current events lead to the belief that perhaps most of the world’s problems can be attributed to a famine of empathy.

Ms. Weese begins with an anecdote about the tips she and a friend left at a Denny’s restaurant.  The bill was $11 and her friend tossed a $5 tip on the table.  Ms Weese was amazed.  Her friend worked as a caregiver and was raising two children on less than $19k a year.  Her friend explained, cocking her head at their waitress, who was visibly pregnant and speed-walking from table to table with laden platters in the busy restaurant.  “She’s been on her feet for probably six hours already and has three more to go, she has a baby on the way, you know she’s exhausted, and somehow she still took great care of us like she’s supposed to.  She needs it more than I do.”

Reese writes that “There’s little question that people find it easier to give when they see something of themselves in the recipient.”  She notes that families of cancer survivors participate eagerly in fundraising walks.  She also argues that it is also why hedge fund manager John Paulson gave $400 million last year to endowment rich Harvard University, and not to, say, Habitat for Humanity.

A study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that affluent people in homogeneously wealthy zip codes are less generous than equally affluent people in mixed-income communities.  People in homogeneous rich communities are less likely to see homeless people.

A study by Yale professor Michael Kraus found that when shown human faces with different expressions, lower-income participants are better than their more affluent counterparts at identifying the emotions correctly.

University of California psychology professors Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner recorded video at four way stop signs.  They found that the drivers of Toyotas and other inexpensive cars were four times less likely to cut off other drivers than the people steering BMWs and other high-end cars.  In a related experiment, drivers of more modest cars were more likely to respect the right-of-way of pedestrians in a cross-walk, while half the drivers of high-end cars motored right past them.  Other experiments have shown that lower income subjects were less likely than high income subjects to cheat, lie, and help themselves to a jar of candy meant for kids.

Other research has shown that just thinking about money can make people act more selfishly.  An experiment by University of Minnesota professor Kathleen Vohs primed some study participants with images of money or asked them to unscramble lists of words than included terms like “cash” and “bill”.  They were less likely than the unprimed participants to give money to a hypothetical charity.  And when a research assistant appeared to accidentally drop a box of pencils on the floor right beside the participants, money-primed subjects were less willing to help pick them up.

Of course, the question is why does this difference occur.  Initial evidence indicates that the difference can be found in brain activity.  When Keely Muscatell of the University of North Carolina Keely Muscatell showed high and low income subjects photos of human faces with accompanying human stories, the brains of the low-income subjects demonstrated much more activity in the areas associated with empathy than the rich subjects’ brains.

When Jennifer Stellar of the University of Toronto showed videos of children at St. Jude’s hospital undergoing medical procedures, lower-income viewers exhibited more heart-rate deceleration than their higher-income counterparts.  Scientists use heart-rate deceleration as a measure of compassion.

So, how can rich people become more empathetic?  Other research has found that rich subjects began to act more empathetically toward others when shown a vivid, emotional video about kids in poverty.

Regardless of wealth, it is well known that people respond better to the plight of a single case than that of a whole group.  This has been termed the “identifiable victim bias.”

Reese ends her piece as follows: “Perhaps all of us who do not worry about where our next meal is coming from could stand to widen our lens.”

HM believes that meditation will increase empathy.  Should it not increase empathy, then it is not being done properly.

© 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.

Are Video Games Luring Men From the Workforce?

October 29, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Ana Swanson in the 24 September issue of the Washington Post.  It begins with the story of a high school graduate who has dropped out of the workforce because he finds little satisfaction in the part-time, low wage jobs he’s had since graduating from high school.  Instead he plays video games, including FIFA 16 and Rocket League on Xbox One and Pokemon Go on his smartphone.

The article notes that of last year 22% of the men between the ages of 21 and  30 with less than a bachelor’s degree reported not working at all in the previous year.  This is up from 9.5% in 2000.  These young men have replaced 75% of the time they used to spend working with time on the computer mostly playing video games.

From 2004 to 2007, before the recession, unemployed men averaged 5.7 hours on he computer, whereas employed men average 3.4 hours. This included video game time.  After the recession, between 2011 to 2014 unemployed men average 12.2 hours per week, whereas employed men averaged 4.7 hours.  With respect to video games from 2004-07 unemployed men averaged 3.4 hours per week versus 2.1 hours fro employed men.  During the period from 2011-2014 unemployed men average 8.6 hours playing video games verses 3.2 hours for employed men.

Researchers are arguing that these increases in game playing are partially  due to the games appeal having been increased. The estimate runs from one-fifth to one-third of the decreased work is attributable to the rising appeal of video games.  HM believes that prior to these games most unemployed were confronted primarily to daytime television, which provided a strong inducement to seek work.  Today video games provide an entertaining alternative to seeking work.  As the games improve and become more sophisticated, the argument is that they have become even more appealing.

The article notes that the extremely low cost makes these games even more accessible.  It states that recent research has found that households making $25K to $35K a year spent 92 more minutes a week online that households making $100K or more per year.

The article also notes that for the first time since the 1930s more U.S. men ages 18 to 34 are living with their parents than with romantic partners according to the Pew Research center.

The article argues that these men are happy.  HM feels that this happiness is likely to be short-lived, and that there is a serious risk that these men will end up as adults who are stunted intellectually and emotionally.

© 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.

Understanding Anxiety and How to Control It

October 27, 2016

This post is based largely on an article by Linda Geddes in the Feature Section of the 8 October 2016 issue of the “New Scientist” titled “Why we worry:  Understanding anxiety and how to control it”.  The reason why we worry is because we have brains to protect us from danger.  The prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex amplify negative information and makes us pay attention to it.  Emotional memories and our learned reactions to them are stored in the amygdala.  When active, it triggers the release of hormones responsible for the fight-or-flight response.

In 1980 the American Psychological Association estimated that between 2% and 4%of people in the US had anxiety disorder.  Of course, that was before wired technology and smart phones.  Today, some studies suggest it’s more like 18% in the US and 14% in Europe.

It is normal to be anxious when confronted by threats.  It is the frequency and severity of anxiety that makes it maladapting.  Moreover, people can be anxious to specific events.  The most common type of anxiety disorder is social anxiety disorder, where you might believe the blushing will result in people laughing or shunning you.  This type of disorder  is persistent and overwhelming fear before, during and after social events.

If you have panic disorder you might think you are having a heart attack if your heart starts to race.  Then the physical symptoms of anxiety—a pounding heart, difficulty breathing, feeling dizzy or flushed come on in a rush.  From time to time everyone can experience such panic attacks, but in panic disorder the attacks are regular and become a source of anxiety themselves.

Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by worrying about a range of different events or activities for at least six months.  Should you have this condition, the belief driving your anxiety, or that you have responsibilities that you must meet at all costs.

According to the article, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is likely to be the gold standard in treatment that addresses the maladaptive  beliefs that drive your anxiety.  Once they have been identified, CBT helps you address them.  Although there is a shortage of therapists, this shortage has spurred the development of online delivery of CBT.  Try searching for online CBT.

Frankly, HM would recommend Cognitive Based Mindfulness Therapy.  HM would also say you should consider just trying meditation and mindfulness.  This should not be surprising given all the HM posts on mindfulness and meditation.  Mindfulness meditation should serve as a preventive in the first place.  And it is never too late to try to regain control of your mind and emotions via mindfulness and meditation.

Physical exercise is another remedy for anxiety.  It triggers the release of mood-boosting endorphins, and forces you to concentrate on something other than your own thoughts.

Try medications only as the last resort and only under the treatment of a physician.

© 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.

Tired All the Time?

October 25, 2016

Tired all the time is the title of a feature piece by Emma Young in the 15 October 2015 New Scientist.  The subtitle of the piece is “Why fatigue  isn’t just about sleep.”  Perhaps the most obvious answer is that life is more exhausting than it has ever been.  There are the many competing demands of work and family together with the ever-present smartphone notifications.  Today’s omnipresent technology is a likely reason that we feel as if we’re running on empty.  There is a book titled “Exhaustion:  A history” written by Anna Katharina Schaffner, who is a historian at the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK.  She has documented that “people through the ages have consistently complained of being worn out, and harked back to the relative calm of simpler times.”  Throughout the centuries fatigue has been blamed on the alignment of the planets, a lack of godliness, and even an unconscious desire to die.  Schaffer says that “Freud argued that a very strong part of ourselves longs for a state of permanent  physical and mental rest.”

In the 19th century the American physician George M. Beard claimed that neurasthenia was caused by exhaustion of the nervous system and was responsible for physical and mental fatigue as well as irritability, hopelessness, bad teeth, cold feet, and dry hair.  Beard blamed neurasthenia on the advent of steam power and newfangled inventions such as the telegraph.  Schaffer says that “Beard feared that the modern subject was unable to cope with such chronic sensory overload.”

A lack of sleep is another apparent cause of fatigue.  Researchers are able to distinguish between the need for sleep and fatigue, considering them to be closely related but subtly different.  The sleep latency allows the subtle distinction between sleep and fatigue.  It is widely used in sleep clinics and is based on the idea that if you lie down somewhere quiet during the day and fall asleep within a few minutes, you are either lacking sleep or potentially suffering from a sleep disorder.  If you don’t drop off within 15 minutes or so, yet still feel tired, fatigue might be the problem.

Mary Harrington is one of the researchers looking for a tell tale biological signal.  One possibility is that daytime fatigue stems from a problem with the circadian clock, which regulates periods of mental alertness through the day and night.  This regulation is done by the brain’s suprachiasmastic nucleus (SCN), which coordinates hormones and brain activity to ensure that we feel generally alert during the day.  Normally, the SCN orchestrates a peak in alertness at the start of the day, a dip in the early afternoon, and a shift to sleepiness in the evening.   The amount of sleep you get at night has little impact on this cycle.  How alert you feel depends on the quality of the hormonal and electrical output signals from the SCN.  The SCN uses the amount of light hitting the retina to set its clock, so that it keeps in line with the solar day.  Too little light in the mornings, or too much at night, can disrupt SCN signals, and either can lead to a lethargic day.  Harrington says  “I think circadian rhythm disruption is quite common in our society and is getting worse with increased use of light at night.”  She says the if you spend the day feeling as if you have never quite woken up properly, but are not sleepy at bedtime, a poorly calibrated SCN might be to blame.  She recommends spending at least 20 minutes outside every morning and turning off screens by 10 pm to avoid tricking the SCN into staying in daytime mode.   Another way to reset the SCN is through exercise.  Studies have linked exercise to reduced fatigue.  Harrington says that exercise can make a big difference.  People who start exercising regularly often report sleeping better when some studies show that they don’t actually sleep any longer.  Quality of sleep appears to be more important than quantity.

Reducing fat levels can also be helpful.  Body fat not only takes more energy to carry around, but also releases leptin, a hormone that signals to the brain that the body has adequate energy stores. People who carry excess fat also show higher levels of inflammation.  Body fat stores large levels of cytokine, which are released into the bloodstream.  In addition to stimulating the immune system, cytokines also make you feel drained of energy.

Even if you are not overweight, inflammation could still be running you down.  A sedentary lifestyle, regular stress, and poor diet have all been lined to chronic lower-level inflammation.  There is also preliminary evidence that disruption of circadian rhythms can increase inflammation.

Low dopamine is also implicated in depression as it reduces availability of serotonin.  Since the vast majority of people with major depression report severe fatigue, it’s not surprising that depression is also a potential common in fatigue.

Harrington’s advice is not to let fatigue stop you doing something you enjoy.  Force yourself to keep at it because a potent reward could trigger the release of dopamine in brain areas linked to motivation and alertness.  Or do something stressful:  the release of adrenaline could help you overcome lethargy.  Ideally put stress and enjoyment together.

Evolution Evolves: Beyond the Selfish Gene

October 23, 2016

The title of this post is identical to title of a short piece written by Kevin LeLand and and published in the 24 September 2016 issue of the “New Scientist.”   The cover of the issue notes that the theory of life needs an update.  The changes in the theory of evolution have been monumental.  In HM’s humble opinion, they are comparable to the changes between Newton and Einstein in physics.  Kevin Leland has provided a precise summary.

Gone is the radical notion of the selfish gene, which argues the goal of genes is to propagate themselves, and we are merely vehicles for that propagation.  Gone also is the nature vs. nurture issue.  Genes interact with the world.  They provide inputs, but perhaps for some exceptionally rare occasions, they are not deterministic.

Natural selection is not solely in charge as the way that an organism develops can influence the direction and rate of its own evolution and its fit to the environment.

Inheritance goes beyond genes and includes epigenetic, ecological, behavioral, and cultural inheritance.  Similar to, but different from, Lamarkian transmission, acquired characteristics can be passed to offspring and play diverse roles in evolution.

Phenotypic variation is not random.  Individuals develop in response to local conditions such that novel features they possess are typically well suited to their environment.

Evolution is much more rapid than previously viewed.  Developmental processes allow individuals to respond to environmental changes and mutations with coordinate changes in suites of traits.  The new view is organism-centered, with broader conceptions of evolutionary processes.  Individuals adjust to their environment as they develop and modify selection processes.  Additional phenomena explain macroevolutionary changes by increasing evolvability,  the ability to generate adaptive diversity.  They include plasticity and niche construction.

© 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.

Another Quote Worth Pondering

October 21, 2016

This is from Chapter 12, “All in the Mind” in “The Epigenetics Revolution” by Nessa Carey. The quote is from John Milton.
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”
We should use this quote as a reminder to ourselves substituting “My” for “The”.
We are the ones who determine our own happiness.  This is one of the reasons that HM recommends meditation.

A similar quote comes from Victor Frankl; a survivor of Auschwitz (and a neurologist and psychologist):  “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:  the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance, to choose one’s own way.”

What makes Dr. Frankl’s statement so remarkable is that it was made under the most adverse of circumstances.

Siddhartha, who became the first Buddha was a wealthy man who left his wealth in his quest to remove misery from the world.  His solution was found in the mind in mindfulness and meditation.
Should you want to see the first healthymemory blog post worth pondering enter  “A Quote Worth Pondering” into the healthy memory search block.  It will be worth your while.

The Epigenetics Revolution

October 20, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title  of a book by Nessa Carey.  The Subtitle is How Modern Biology is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance.  The research has shown how naive the nature nurture distinction was and how wrong headed was IQ research that estimated numerical contributions of genes and environment to IQ.  Presumably the immediately preceding post has disabused you of those issues.  But Flynn does not specifically mention how epigenetics further muddies any distinction.

Epigenetics refers to how information is read out of our genes.  Carey tries to make the topic easy, but it is a very complicated topic.  It is better to have the modest goal of understanding the ramifications of the topic.

Even identical (monozygotic) twins can vary.  A television program presented the case of two identical twin sisters.  One was quite successful both academically and socially.  The other was autistic.  To be sure, such extreme cases are exceedingly rare, but the differences between identical twins increase as they age.  Much of this can be attributed to errors in the readout from the genes.  But childhood experiences can affect this readout.

Go to the healthy memory blog post “Turning on Genes in the Brain” to learn how adverse childhood experiences can cripple a child psychologically for life and lead to drug addiction and criminal behavior.  Moreover, the negative changes in the DNA of the child can be passed on to her children.

However, good habits and good experiences can lead to beneficial epigenetic experiences.  There is a series of healthy memory blog posts on how meditation can produce these changes.  First go to the post “An Update of the Relaxation Response Update. Then ago to the next in the series, “The Genetic Breakthrough—Your Ultimate Mind-Body Connection.”  Then go to “Cancer and the Genetic Horizons on the Mind
Body Treatment.”  Then go to “Cognitive Benefits of the Relaxation Response and Mindfulness.”  You might also want to review “The Two Step Process,” and for some personal tips on meditation, “Personal Tips on Meditation Techniques In General and the Relaxation Response in Particular.”

© 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.

Does Your Family Make You Smarter?

October 18, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of a very important book by Professor James R. Flynn.  The subtitle is ”Nature, Nurture, and Human Autonomy.”  Flynn is the founder of the “Flynn Effect,” which describes the inflation of the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) over time.  This effect has been so large and consistent that the IQ has to have been periodically updated and recalibrate so that the mean would be 100.  Flynn had argued that this must be an artifact as we apparently had not become as smarter as the recalibration of the test indicated.  However, further research and collaboration with his colleague W. T. Dickens led to the conclusion that we were becoming smarter, and an explanation of how we were becoming smarter.

“Does Your Family Make You Smarter” is highly technical.  For those whose area of interest is this topic, then reading is mandatory.  However, this book should be of interest to everyone, so HM shall try to summarize the salient points that are of general interest.

Historically, IQ has been a hot topic with respect to the distinction between genetic and environmental effects.  Although we can distinguish between the two factors with mathematics, it is important to realize that in the real world we cannot view genetic as distinct from environment effects.  HM is reminded of a story, perhaps apocryphal, of an experiment that was done to determine what was the true language for humans.  So the plan was not to interact or speak with a newborn baby.  They thought that when the baby did speak, they would know what the true human language was.  Of course, in this environment the baby would never learn a language and would be severely handicapped.

The truth is that the effects of genes and environment are inextricably intertwined.   Flynn does not even touch the topic of epigenetics, which refers to the information that is read out from the genes.  Recent research has found that the nature of this readout can be beneficial or detrimental depending on the nature of the environment.

Flynn’s colleague Dickens posited that genes and environment become more highly correlated as we age, meaning that their influence was additive.  The potency of the environment was based by combining the two, which erroneously had been ascribed to genes alone in the twin studies.  By the time we reach maturity, current environment has only a feeble memory of past environments except under unusual  circumstances such as brain trauma.

What has been happening is that modernity is causing our habits of processing information to adapt so that we can more readily handle abstract concepts. So most of us have become more intelligent.  There is a social multiplier effect, which is aided and abetted by technology.  The example provided is basketball.  The televising of basketball games enabled everyone to see how the game was played by experts.  Young players try to model on the playground what they saw on television.

There are adverse effects of new technology, such as the spread of misinformation.  But there are also good effects as better ways of thinking and doing things can be readily communicated.

Flynn speaks of family effects.  Family effects include genes and the environment provided by the family.  A family of professionals will have a higher level of communication and will follow more media with better quality information.  These effects continue until the young adult leaves home.  Intelligence should continue to develop depending upon the environments in which she works and plays.  In good environments intelligence should continue to grow.  This growth can stop when people retire unless they continue to foster their cognitive development with mental and social activities that promote continued growth.

Healthy memory readers should immediately recognize that this is in consonance with the message that is repeated over and over in this blog.  Should you not have recognized this consonance, then you have a lot of remedial reading to do.  Start by entering “growth mindsets” into the search block of the healthy memory blog.

Dr. Flynn is 82 years old and provides an ideal individual to try to emulate.

© 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.

Pain and the Second Dart

October 16, 2016

This post is taken in part from “Siddhartha’s Brain”  by James Kingsland.   The Buddha used two darts as a metaphor to understand how to deal with pain.  “It is if a man were pierced by a dart and, following the first piercing, he is hit by a second dart.  He worries and grieves, he laments, beats his breast and is distraught.  So he experiences two kinds of feeling: a bodily and a mental feeling.  Someone who has not been taught how to cope with painful sensations resists and resents them.  The only way he knows to escape the suffering is by distracting himself with sensory pleasures, which come with dangers of their own attached.”  On the other hand, he said, “ a well-taught, noble disciple, O monks, when he is touched by a painful feeling he will not worry nor grieve and lament, he will not beat his breast and wail, nor will he be distraught.”  So even if the first dart had found its mark, the second one could no longer hurt him.

The developer of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Kabat Zin, learned as a young man enduring grueling Zen meditation sessions is that if you can turn your full attention on pain without pursuing the emotional narratives that usually accompany it, you suffer much less as a consequence.  He teaches this skill to patients with chronic pain.  He says, “We don’t just tell people, ‘accept it and it will be okay.  But paradoxically when you begin to befriend your pain—move into it, embrace it, hold it in awareness—you begin to see that the suffering lies in thinking ‘this is going to last forever’ and ‘it’s destroyed my life, I’m never going to be better again.’  That’s not actual pain, those are just thoughts.” He admits that this change in perspective is a challenging thing to ask of someone experiencing debilitating pain, but he says the key to reducing suffering associated with an intense sensation is to turn toward it rather than try to run away from it.  “That’s where the rubber meets the road.”

In 1982 Kabat-Zinn published the results of the first clinical investigation into the efficacy of mindfulness meditation for easing chronic.  The 51 patients who participated in this study were experiencing various types of pain, mostly lower back, neck and shoulder pain, and headache.  After completing a ten week course, 65% saw their pain reduced by more than a third when scored on a standard index the combines pain intensity and unpleasantness.  For half of these patients pain ratings had fallen by more than 50%.  The changes in the patients’ ability to cope with their pain were accompanied by significant improvements in mood and psychiatric symptoms.

Since then there have been thousands more studies with clear benefits established for pain, stress, and anxiety.  The program has also been successfully adapted to prevent relapse in depression and to treat addiction.

These findings reminded HM of similar finding in hypnosis research.  In the cold pressor task, a participant’s hand is immersed in ice water.  This quickly becomes very painful and participants have difficulty keeping their hands in the ice water.  The participants are also asked to provide ratings of the pain.  However, when given hypnotic suggestions, participants are able to keep their hands immersed, while also providing the pain ratings that were comparable to what they were when they were not given hypnotic suggestions.  Apparently, they were able to reinterpret the pain so it was much less distressing just as in the situations described above.  Some people have even undergone surgery while under hypnotic suggestion.  In the most impressive example of which HM is aware, a patient had a tumor removed from his scrotum while hypnotized.

The following are instructions for Open-Minded Guided Meditation that were provided at the end of the Second Dart Chapter.

“A great way to return your mind to its “ground state,” neither overexcited nor torpid, simply alert and open, is to become aware of the natural rhythm of the breath as you inhale and exhale.  This is focused attention, prerequisite for the second state of mindfulness meditation:  insight.

Start by focusing on the sensation of the breath entering and leaving you body at the nostrils.  Remember, you are observing your breathing rather than controlling it.  Follow each inhalation and exhalation from the start to the finish.  Notice any slight gap between the in-breath and out-breath.

Don’t be hard on yourself if your mind wanders or you get distracted by a noise.  This is all perfectly normal.  Just remind yourself:  “That’s how the mind works,” and return to the breath.  With repetition, you will get better at noticing when you have lost focus and develop greater mindfulness of the present moment.

Now that you have quieted your mind, allow your attention to broaden.  Whenever a positive or negative feeling arises, make it the focus of your meditation, noticing the bodily sensations associated with it:  perhaps a tightness, the heart beating faster or slower, butterflies in the stomach, relaxed or tensed muscles.  Whatever it is, address the feeling with friendly, objective curiosity.  You could silently label whatever arises in the mind, for example:  “There is anxiety,” “There is calm,: There is joy,” “There is boredom.”   Remember, everything is on the table, nothing is beneath your attention.

If you experience an ache or a pain, snitch or any other kind of discomfort, treat it in exactly the same way.  Turn the spotlight of your attention on the sensation but don’t allow yourself to get caught up in it.  Imagine that on the in-breath you are gently breathing air into the location where the sensation is strongest, then expelling it on the out-breath.  You may notice that when you explore the sensation with friendly curiosity—not trying to change it in any way, neither clinging to it or repressing it—the feeling will start to fade of its own accord.  When it has gone, return your full attention to your breath.

Mindfulness instructors will sometimes talk about “surfing” the wave of an unpleasant sensation such as pain, anxiety, or craving.  Instead of allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by the wave of feeling, you get up on your mental surfboard and ride it.  You experience it fully, but your mind remains detached, dignified, and balanced.  Knowing that the power of even the most fearsome wave eventually dissipates, you ride it out.

If a thought, emotion, or feeling becomes too strong or intrusive, you can always use the breath as a calm refuge, returning you whole attention to the breathing sensations at your nostrils.  Similarly if you feel you can’t cope with a pain such as stiffness in your legs, neck, or back, shift your posture accordingly.  But make your attention move to a mindful close rather than a reflex, and make the movement itself slow and deliberate.”

A previous healthy memory blog post, “Controlling Pain in Our Minds” explores this topic further and discusses the possibility of there being two different neural pathways processing the “two darts.”

Mindfulness and Alzheimer’s

October 15, 2016

This post is taken in part from “Siddhartha’s Brain”  by James Kingsland.  There is evidence that one of the benefits of mindfulness is to slow age-related cognitive decline and perhaps even protect against Alzheimer’s Disease.  Deposits of beta-amyloid, the protein plaques that are characteristic of the disease are concentrated in the default mode network.  This includes its principal hub, the posterior cingulate cortex, and the medial temporal lobe, where structures such as the hippocampus create and store long-term memories.  When people are not focused but performing an externally directed task, the parts of the brain that become active closely match the areas most vulnerable to the damage associated with Alzheimer’s.  Animal research, using mice genetically engineer to develop amyloid plaques, built up exclusively in areas of high nerve activity.

So, in theory, not just mindfulness but any pastime that hold’s the mind’s eye steady and stops attention from wondering, whether it’s a sport  solving puzzles, math, reading, studying, or the mindfulness awareness of everyday activities cultivated by meditation, will give the brain’s default mode network a break and make it less likely that amyloid plaque will accumulate.

Although this is good news, readers of the healthy memory blog should be aware that people have died with the defining physical symptoms, the neurofibril tangles and amyloid plaque, without knowing that they have had the disease.  That is they never evidenced any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of he disease.  The explanation for these people is that through the way they used their brains during their lifetimes they built up a cognitive reserve.  The healthy memory blog promotes activities that should build up a cognitive reserve.

Kingsland notes that there is preliminary evidence that meditation can slow or even reverse age-related brain degeneration, helping to maintain the thickness of the cortex and prevent loss of gray matter (nerve cell bodies) and white mater (merve fibers or “axons”.  The reference for this is
Luders, E.  (2014) “Exploring Age-Related Brain Degeneration in Meditation Practioners,”  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1307:82-88.

© 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.

Siddhartha’s Brain

October 14, 2016

“Siddhartha’s Brain” is a book by the veteran science writer James Kingsland.  The subtitle of the book  is “Unlocking the Ancient Science of Enlightenment.”  Should you not know, Siddhartha, a well off noble who became a pauper to learn about suffering and, more importantly, how to deal with it, became known as the Buddha.  If people think they know one thing about Buddhism, it is probably that Buddhists believe in repeated rebirths after death.  However, when the Dalai Lama  was asked whether it is necessary to believe in rebirth to be a Buddhist, he emphatically replied:  “It doesn’t matter!   The most important thing was to practice the essence of the Buddha’s teaching—impermanence, selflessness, and compassion.”  He went on to say that with increasingly refined states of meditation, one would invariably  gain the insight that rebirth was real and that to escape from the cycle of suffering, one must attain nibbana. The Dalai Lama does not proselytize Buddhism.  What he does strongly advocate is secular humanism.  Even Buddhists in traditional schools dismiss any speculation about rebirth as a waste of time.  They believe instead that we  should focus on the karma that determines out psychological well being in this life.   It is important to realize that Buddhism is not a belief system.  Rather it is a religious approach based on experience.

Nor is it claimed that Buddhists developed meditation.  Rather it is believed that individual humans stumbled upon the meditative experience.  Moreover, meditation has been practiced by contemplatives in virtually every substantive religion.  Meditation can and should be expanded into mindfulness.  One is tempted to attribute the current state of the world, as well as the historical record, to a famine of mindfulness.  It is hoped that some day there will be a feast of mindfulness,  The practice of mindfulness involves regarding oneself in the third person and trying to understand others from their perspectives, and to be concerned about their well-being.

One learns much about Siddhartha and Buddhism in this volume to include practices of meditation and mindfulness. But it does not cover all the different branches  of Buddhism.  They range from the extremely ascetic Zen Buddhism to highly commercial versions.  There are Buddhist priests who marry and have families.  HM has been to Japan several times and has marveled at the selling of fortunes by some versions.

There are Buddhists who strongly object to the way the private companies have adopted mindfulness and meditation practices.  Philosophically, they are far from the Dalai Lama who presses for secular humanism.  Regardless, HM predicts that in the future it will be commonplace for businesses and agencies to have dedicated spaces for meditation and mindfulness.  Dedicated facilities for physical exercise have become commonplace, but dedicated facilities for meditation and mindfulness will not only promote physical health, they will also promote psychological health and beneficial interactions among personnel.

© 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.


October 12, 2016

Epilogue is, appropriately enough, the final chapter of “Progress:  Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future”  by Johan Norbert.  Readers should be aware that we do not have direct contact with reality, but that we build mental models on the basis of our interactions with the external world.  This book, and it is hoped that the posts based on this book, provided ample data that contemporary people believe that things are bad and are getting worse.  The reason why people think this is based on the availability heuristic formulated by Kahneman and Tversky.  People base their estimates on information that is available.  The media focuses on what goes wrong and what is being done wrong.  This is the cause of the pessimistic assessments.  This is not a matter of a conspiracy by the media.  This is the type of news that sells.  A headline that there were no significant data comprises would be boring, unless the headline came after  serious data comprises.

The final chapter begins with the following Inscription on a stone from Chaldea in 2800 bce :
We have fallen upon evil times
and the world has waxed very old and wicked.
Politics are very corrupt.
Children are no longer respectful to their parents.

So it appears that pessimism and alarm might be the defaults for our species.  The subtitle is “SO WHY ARE YOU STILL NOT CONVINCED?
Frankly if you are not already convinced on the basis of these blog posts, HM would say that it would be pointless to read the book.  But this would be because HM has concluded you are intellectually compromised.  But the truth might be that HM failed to communicate effectively and perhaps you should read the book.  Even if you are already convinced, HM touched only barely on the books content, so it would be worthwhile for you to read it.

HM must confess to have been already convinced of the book’s thesis before reading.  He has long thought that he would rather be a person of modest means living in the present than a rich, influential individual living in the past.  This book has strongly justified this sentiment.  Moreover, HM would likely bet on a better life in the future.

Of course, this better life is not given.  Matters could go wrong.  We must to continue to grow our minds, think critically, and work for a better future.  The risk here is that there are indications that too many people do not use their minds much, and do not think critically.  Unfortunately there is a tendency for too many not to think critically and to fall under the influence of demagogues.  Demagogues succeed by inducing fear via big lies about the present and what they will do in the future.  It is remarkable, but people are convinced by promises absent any plans as to how this will be done.  Moreover, they exhibit an ignorance of government and a rejection of science.  Unfortunately, if the President of the United States thinks that global warming is a hoax, this places not just
the United States in jeopardy, but the entire world.  And, unfortunately, at present this appears to be a risk.

If you have yet to do so, go to   It is a very interesting website.  You might find the documentary “Don’t Panic End Poverty” well worth viewing.  This is the last call for this important and informative website.

© 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.

Equality and the Next Generation

October 11, 2016

Equality and the Next Generation are chapters 9 and 10, respectively, of “Progress:  Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future”  by Johan Norbert.  As the purpose of these blog posts is to update our mental models regarding how much change there has been between now and the past, only the nature of the improvements will be presented, and not the innovations that underlay the improvements.  As it is only a fraction of the improvements that are in the book can be related, so this is a matter of necessity or convenience, depending on your perspective.  If you are interested in the technology and practices that underlay these improvements, please read the book.  Indeed, everyone should benefit from reading this book.

The chapter Equality begins with the following quote from Charles Darwin:  “As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would teach each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him.  This point once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extend to all men of all nations and races.”

Norbert writes, “The fact that a country is a democracy does not guarantee that it is a liberal democracy that gives individual rights to all its citizens regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual orientation.  After winning the Second World War against the Nazis’ brutal form of racism, the Allied democracies showed how many problems still remained among themselves.  When General de Gaulle wanted French troops to lead the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944, American and British commanders accepted it on the condition that no black colonial forces were included, even though they made up two-thirds of the Free French forces.”

Norbert notes that racism has been a natural part of most people’s mindset since ancient times.  The hostility towards (and even enslavement of) other ethnic groups was a regular occurrence.  There is one long historical record of hatred agains peoples that were considered inferior.  Anti-semitic programs continue for centuries in Europe.  Jews were blamed for the plague, and were frequently slaughtered wholesale.  1492 was not only the year that Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but when Spain emerged as a unified Christian country.  Its rulers expelled all Jews who refused to convert.  Shortly thereafter, Spanish Muslims were forced to choose between conversions and exile.  Conversion proved fruitless as a hundred years later those who did convert were expelled.

Europe was plagued by religious wars in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  The irony here is that these religions preached love, tolerance, forgiveness, and non-violence, yet fought vicious wars and committed atrocities in the names of their respective religions.

There were no religious wars in the United States so they had do make due with deadly riots against almost every ethnic and religious minority, including Catholics, Jews and Protestant sects, and Germans, Italian and Irish.  In the late nineteenth century there were more than 150 lynchings of African American per year.

Eventually more humanitarian attitudes began to take root and ethnic violence was reduced.  In the mid-nineteenth century deadly riots began to decline in Europe and lynchings in the United States begin to decline in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  With the exception of isolated case, they ended in the 1940s and 1950s.  Legal racism continued until the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968.  Although racial discrimination continues in the United States, it is illegal.

One could argue that our genes predispose us to racism, although modern views of genetics would reject that view.  The opening quote from Charles Darwin provides a more progressive and positive view.    The nineteenth century Irish historian William E. H. Lecky suggested that the advance of civilization and education makes us expand the circle of those whose interest we take into consideration:  “At one time the benevolent affections embraced merely the family, soon the circle, then a nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity, and finally, its influence is felt in the dealing of man with the animal world.”

The ability to empathize and to consider oneself in the position of others is key to defeating racism.  Michal Sheerer talk about the principle of interchangeable perspectives.  To change position and put ourselves in someone else’s shows is a complex mental abstraction,  Empathy requires contemplation.  The first arguments for tolerance came from Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, who wrote in 1689 that “neither Pagan nor Mahometan, nor Jew, outgo to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion.  Norbert does not mention that these concepts have long been part of Buddhism.

Norbert does mention the Flynn Effect, but he does not mention how the Flynn’s concept of the Flynn Effect has changed.  Initially, Flynn was skeptical of IQ tests and argued that IQ increases across generations that required the renorming of the test were bogus.  However, subsequent research lead him to conclude that these increases were real.  Steven Pinker has talked about a “moral Flynn Effect,” where our increased ability to abstract from concrete particulars of our immediate experience makes it possible to take in the perspective of others.  Flynn and his brother tried to get their father to give up racial prejudices by using a thought-experiment.  They asked him, “What if you woke up one morning and discovered your skin had turned black?  Would that make you less of a human being?”  Their father answered:  “Now , that’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever said.  Who ever hear of a man’s skin turning black overnight?’  Unfortunately, it is HM’s observation that the “moral Flynn Effect” is not as widespread as one might hope, and that too many are stuck in the thought process of Flynn’s father.

Norbert also covers the Global Gender Gap Index.  Globally, almost 96% of the gap in health outcomes between men and women has closed, and 95% of the gap in educational attainment.  But only 59% of the economic outcomes gap and 23% of the political outcomes gap has closed.

The chapter The Next Generation begins with this quote from Julian Simon:  “The main fuel to spark the world’s progress is our stock of knowledge;  the brakes are our lack of imagination and unsound social regulations of these activities.  The ultimate resource is people—especially skilled, spirited, and hopeful young people endowed with liberty—who will exert their will and imaginations for their own benefits, and so inevitably they will benefit the rest of us as well.”

Norbert begins with a discussion of child labor. He notes that the common impression that child labor was a result of the Industrial Revolution, but rather this was the first time when people began to react to child labour, write about it and demand an end to it.  In 1851 28% of  children aged between 10 and 14 were recorded was working.  Although this is a high number and it did not include the numerous girls who were working unpaid at home looking after younger siblings or generally helping out.  Still, it is much lower that it was in non-industrialized countries even 100 years later.  In 1950 the child labour rate in China had been estimated at 48%, in India 35%, and in Africa 38%.  Even in Italy the child labor rate was 29% in 1950.

The rate of child labor in England and Wales went from 28% in 1851 to 21% in 1891 and to 14% in 1911.  Soon it disappeared altogether.  This is what happened in every industrialized country.  The same change is now taking place in low- and middle-income countries.

It would be a mistake to conclude that the problem of child labor has disappeared.  It is still with us.  The International Labour Organization estimates the number of children between 5 and 17 years old and working.  In 2012 there were 168 million child laborers in that age group globally, down from 245 million in 2000, a reduction from 16% to 10.6% of all children.

The proportion of children between 5 and 11 years old in hazardous work—work in dangerous or unhealthy conditions has been reduced even faster, by two-thirds between 2000 and 2012 from 9.3% to 3.1%.

It is clear that more needs to be done, but it is also clear that progress has been extraordinary.  The next generation should be even better, but there is always the prospect of our fouling up.  This can come about in democracies by electing leaders who do not follow or believe in scientific findings.  Or by leaders either in democratic or authoritarian countries who engage in pointless conflicts.  In short, overconfidence is dangerous.  Not thinking critically and following demagogues rather than competent leaders can risk not just the failure to improve, but also to losing some of the significant advancements that have already been achieved.

If you have yet to do so, go to   It is a very interesting website.  You might find the documentary “Don’t Panic End Poverty” well worth viewing.

© 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.

Literacy and Freedom

October 10, 2016

Literacy and Freedom are Chapters 7 and 8 of “Progress:  Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future”  by Johan Norbert.  As the purpose of these blog posts is to update our mental models regarding how much change there has been between now and the past, only the nature of the improvements will be presented, and not the innovations that underlay the improvements.  As it is only a fraction of the improvements that are in the book can be related, so this is a matter of necessity or convenience, depending on your perspective.  If you are interested in the technology and practices that underlay these improvements, please read the book.  Indeed, everyone should benefit from reading this book.

One could make a good argument that a literate society is a prerequisite for a truly free society.  The chapter on literacy begins with the following quotation from Plutarch:  “The Mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.  Literacy is one of the most important skills as it is the capacity to acquire even more capacity.  It makes it possible to make much greater use of knowledge that others, even others who long ago have passed away.  Literacy makes it possible to pick up skills and ideas that make us more productive and able to use technology better.  It is also required to be an active an informed citizen and to follow and participate in the world of knowledge.  It has a very strong influence on our health and the health of our children.

According to the OECD’s best estimate two hundred years ago 12% of the world’s population could read and write.  Until then, literacy was mostly a tool for the bureaucracy, the Church and the merchant class.  Many of the elite and slaveowner’s should they be considered elite thought it dangerous for the poor to become literate.  The fear was that they would become unhappy with their lives and stop accepting their lot in life.

Initially charity groups and philanthropists started schools for the poor.  Then, as governments realized that educating the poor would increase their productivity and, perhaps, participate in government began funding schools.  There was immediate feedback here in that economic benefits were clearly recognized.  Even when public schools were very few, there were literate people who instructed the illiterate.  One Swede noted that in the sparsely populate northern part of Sweden, “that, although public schools are very few, nevertheless the literate instruct the others with such enthusiasm and the greater part of the common people and even the peasants are literate.”

Progress in literacy followed economic development quite closely.  In western Europe, the United States and Canada around 90% of children attended school in the late nineteenth century.  In 1900 less than 10% of the population in South Asia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa had received basic education.  By the 1900s around half had.  Today it is around 75%.  In Latin America, the proportion increased from 23% in 1900 to 94% in 2010
The global literacy rate increased from around 21% in 1900 to almost 40% in 1950, and in 2015 it was 86%.

The chapter  Freedom begins with a discussion of slavery.  Norbert notes that slavery is the most brutal form of oppression the world has known.  Chattel slaves were the property of someone else, who could order them around, beat them at will, give them away or rent them. Moreover, slavery once existed everywhere.  Slavery once was so common that even the few vocal opponents owned slaves.  They were forced to perform chores and crafts, to work in the fields or down mines, and even into prostitution.

According to the Greek historian Herodotus, slaves in Ancient Sparta outnumbered free individuals by seven to one.  Even in democratic Athens there were likely more slaves than free men.  It was a sign of utmost poverty not to own at least one slave and the literation is filled with scenes  of slaves being flogged for disobeying their masters.

Julius Caesar brought slave traders with him on his campaigns and sold prisoners directly to them.  When he defeated a Germanic drive he sold all 53,000 survivors as slaves on the spot.  These slaves lived extraordinarily difficult lives in brutal circumstances.

As Spain and Portugal took control of America in the 1500s, the indigenous people were oppressed and enslaved.  There were a few brave opponents to this practice, the most prominent of whom was the Spanish Dominican friar, Bartolome de las Casas.  He argued that indigenous people had the right to their own persons, beliefs and properties.  Las Calas was an early, and perhaps the first proponent of human rights theory.

Nevertheless, slavery became a, if not the, central feature of the settlement of the new world.  Even European economies benefited. Even states in the northern United States where slavery was not practiced benefitted from the economy that was based on slavery.  England took the courageous act of banning slavery.  It took a Civil War in the United States to end legal slavery.

The abolishment of slavery was indeed an important step in the advancement of freedom.  Yet in the year 1900, exactly  zero % of the world population lived in a real democracy in which each man or woman had one vote.  Even the most modern and democratic countries excluded women, the poor or ethnic minorities from elections.By 1950, the share of the world population living in democracies had increased from zero to 31%, and by 2000 increased to 58% according to Freedom House, the civil liberties watchdog.  Norbert notes that today even dictators have to pay lip service to democracy and hold staged elections.

Communism in the west was abolished peacefully.  It still exists in Asia, most notably in China and most notoriously in North Korea.  Norbert notes that peaceful mass movements against dictatorships stand a better chance of successful democratic than violent revolutions.  Unfortunately neither peaceful nor democratic movements are presently succeeding.  And if a regime is ruthless enough, consider Assad in Syria, it is difficult to depose given an alliance from another authoritarian regime.  HM would argue that  peaceful demonstrations work when there is some predisposition on the part of the existing regime to concede.

In 1991 Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman mentioned that a London Newspaper          200 years earlier explained that 742 million people were led by arbitrary government and only 33.5 million people live in reasonably free countries.  That meant that freedom deprived people outnumbered free people by 22 to 1.  When Friedman spoke, he updated those numbers using Freedom House’s estimates and said that the ratio had fallen to about 3 to 1.  Friedman concluded that “We are still very far from our goal of a completely free world, but on the scale of historical time, that is amazing progress.  More in the past two centuries than in the prior two millennia.”

According to Freedom House 40% of the world population now lives in free countries, while another 24% live in partly free countries.  Norbert notes that this is more progress in two decades than in two millennia.

If you have yet to do so, go to   It is a very interesting website.  You might find the documentary “Don’t Panic End Poverty” well worth viewing.

© 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.

Violence and the Environment

October 9, 2016

Violence and The Environment are Chapters 5 and 6 of “Progress:  Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future”  by Johan Norbert.  As the purpose of these blog posts is to update our mental models regarding how much change there has been between now and the past, only the nature of the improvements will be presented, and not the innovations that underlay the improvements.  As it is only a fraction of the improvements that are in the book can be related, so this is a matter of necessity or convenience, depending on your perspective.  If you are interested in the technology and practices that underlay these improvements, please read the book.  Indeed, everyone should benefit from reading this book.

HM had been extremely skeptical of Stephen Pinker’s argument that the present is the most peaceful time in the history of humanity.  Although I definitely dispute beliefs that terrorism makes this the most terrible time of all.  Terrorism is not new, but people of my age lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I remember when we left high school one afternoon not knowing whether we would see each other again.  This was during the prolonged period when nuclear annihilation was a real possibility under the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction, which had the appropriate acronym (MAD).  Today’s terrorism is a definite problem, but the probability of any individual being harmed by a terrorist act is extremely small.

Norbert’s arguments have brought me in compliance with Pinker’s views, a scholar for whom I have the utmost respect.  Pinker stated that the dramatic drop in violence that has occurred “may be the most important thing that has ever happened in human history.”  Norbert cites a study that compared violence on British television before 9 p.m. and in nursery rhymes, and came to the conclusion that the frequency of violence in nursery rhymes is around eleven times that feature in television considered safe in children.”  So violence has been a longstanding component of culture.

Norbert reviews the Ancient Greek epics with they catalogues of killing.  And he also reviews the Good Book, the Holy Bible, and its brutal violence, perpetuated by the good guys.  In the Old Testament people casually kill, enslave and rape even family members.  When Moses discovered that some of his people worshipped a golden calf he executes 3,000 of them, and goes on a merciless ethnic cleansing spree, which he claims is ordered by God: ‘ do not leave alive anything that breathes.  Completely destroy them — the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizites, Hives, and Jebusites —as the Lord thy God has commanded you’ (Deuteronomy 20:16—17).  At one point Moses scolds his men for letting women and children survive, so he orders them to go back: ‘Now kill all the boys.  And kill every woman who as slept with a man, but save for yourself every girl who has never slept with a man’ (Numbers 31:17-18).  Presumably, God even gives advice on rape itself:  “if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife’ (Deuteronomy 21:11).  Reading this reminded HM of some of the atrocities committed by ISIS.

Everyone knows the Gladiators fought to the death and that naked women were tied to stakes and raped or torn apart by animals.  At the higher rungs of Roman society, 39 of the 49 Roman Emperors who ruled before the empire was divided were murdered.

Torture and mutilation were regularly applied in all great civilizations, from the Assyrians, Persians, and Chinese to the African kingdoms, and the the Native American tribes.  But Norbert notes that ‘the medieval Christian culture was more creative than most, and some of the era’s best minds were occupied with coming with ways of inflicting as much pain as possible on people before they confessed and died.  Medieval torture was not even a primitive and brutal way of trying to keep public violence at bay.  Most the the crimes that sent people to the rack or stake were non-violent offenses, sins rather than crimes that we would recognize, like blasphemy, apostasy, gossip, scolding, unconventional sexual acts, and, not surprisingly, criticism of the government.  “The Spanish Inquisition probably killed something like 350,000 people and tortured countless others, sometimes on suspicion of having clean underwear on a Sunday or being known to take baths.

HM wonders where was empathy, the trait that some use to distinguish us from computers.  Empathy does appear in the New Testament of the Bible, but it does appear that it had an immediate effect.

Matters gradually changed.  Eventually human sacrifice was abolished in all cultures, often at first replaced by animal sacrifice.  According to Steven Pinker’s sources, the average annual death rate for non-state societies, and this includes everything from hunter-gatherer tribes to gold rush societies in California, is 524 per 100,000.  If we add all the deaths from wars, genocide, purges and man-made famines in the 20th Century, we still don’t get a rate higher than 60 per 100,000 annually.

The chapter on the environment begins with the following quote from Indira Gandhi:  “Are poverty and need the greatest polluters?…How can we speak to those who live in villages and in slums about keeping the oceans, the rivers and air clean when their own lives are contaminated at the source?  The environment cannot be improved in conditions of poverty.”  Then it discuses the Great Smog that settled over London near the end of 1952.  It stayed for four horrible days.  Cold weather had made Londoners burn more coal, and the smoke, combined with pollutants from industrial processes, from vehicles and from across the English Channel, formed a thick layer over the city.  Cars were abandoned..  People felt their way home along railings.  The smog penetrated clothes and blackened undergarments.   This was the most lethal instance of smog, but London often suffered from it by different degrees as do many big cities in developing countries today.

This pollution of the environment was  a product of the affluence and development that saved humanity from poverty and early death.  Now the future looked nightmarish unless something was done.  People envisioned a world without forests, with acid rain, and where people had to wear surgical masks to protect themselves from emission.  Most species were extinct and humanity suffered from an explosion in cancer because of all the chemicals being used in nature.  The conclusion seemed to be that wealth and technology were not compatible with a green breathing planet.

To prevent this conclusion from becoming a reality a green movement picked up speed in the West, led by intellectuals and activists.  These concerns were taken seriously and policies and technological solutions were developed and large parts of today’s world are avoiding these crisis scenarios.  But the dangers still exist and the battle needs to continue to be fought.

In 1972 the Club of Rome warned:  “Virtually every pollutant that has been measured as a function of time appears to be increasing exponentially.”  However pollution did not just stop increasing, it began to decrease dramatically.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, total emission of six leading air pollutants were reduced by more than two-thirds- from 1980 to 2014.  Volatile organic compounds were reduced by 53%, nitrogen dioxide by 55%. direct particulate matter by 58%, carbon dioxide by 81% and lead by 99%.

In the 1980s the international community recognized that a huge hole in the ozone layer over Antartica was expanding and could expose life on earth to damaging ultraviolet light.  Countries by international agreement phased out the substance that were eroding the ozone layer.  It worked exceptionally well and the layer is gradually recovering.  This is possibly saving humanity from hundreds of millions of cases of skin cancer.

The number of oil spills in the ocean has decreased dramatically.  In the 1970s there was an average of 24 oil spills per year.  Since 2000, there has been an average of less than 3.  The quantity of oil spilt has been reduced by 99% between 1970 and 2014.

In wealthy countries deforestation has stopped.  Europe’s forest area grew by more than  0.3% annually.  The global annual rate of forest loss has slowed from 0.18 to 0.008%  since the early 1990s.  In China, the forest cover is now growing by more than two million hectares per year.  Deforestation has declined by 70% since 2005, but it still continues.

Developing countries still have the problem of growing their economies while they decrease pollution.  Moreover, their pollution is not localized to their countries—it spills over into the rest of the world.

The fight over pollution needs to continue and to continue with vigor.  The worst situation is the failure to recognize problems such as global warming.  The problem needs to be recognized before effective remedies can be pursued.  In the United States there are many members of one political party and the presidential candidate of this political party who refuse to recognize the problem of global warming.  These politicians need to be voted out of office, and candidates running for a political position need to be defeated.  These individuals constitute a problem not just for the United States but for the entire world.

If you have yet to do so, go to   It is a very interesting website.  You might find the documentary “Don’t Panic End Poverty” well worth viewing.

© 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.

Life Expectancy and Poverty

October 8, 2016

Life Expectancy and Poverty are chapters 3 and 4 in “Progress:  Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future”  by Johan Norbert.  As the purpose of these blog posts is to update our mental models regarding how much change there has been between now and the past, only the nature of the improvements will be presented, and not the innovations that underlay the improvements.  As it is only a fraction of the improvements that are in the book can be related, so this is a matter of necessity or convenience, depending on your perspective.  If you are interested in the technology and practices that underlay these improvements, please read the book.  Indeed, everyone should benefit from reading this book.

There is an obvious relationship between the two as poverty negatively impacts life expectancy.  Chapter 3 begins,”Throughout humanity’s early history, life was nasty, brutish, and short.  More than anything, it was short because of disease, lack of food, and sanitation.  People died early, as infants or children, and mothers often died giving birth.  The high mortality rate was not primarily because of the prevalence of violence, but because of infectious disease, unsafe water, and bad sanitary conditions.  People lived close to animals, even in cities, and their wast infected their water sources.”

All large towns regularly suffered from the plague.  The plague was an infectious disease cause by bacteria that spread in the air and by physical contact.  Fleas on rats carried the disease.  The disease killed 3 out of 5 victims.  The worst manifestation of the plague was the Black Death in the mid-fourteenth century.  It is estimated that it killed more than a third of Europe’s population.  It emptied entire villages and regions.  To some it seemed like the end of the world.  After this period of the Black Death the plague came back to haunt towns again and again until the eighteenth century.  In Besancon in eastern France, the plague was rerouted forty times between 1439 and 1640.

In the seventeenth century tuberculosis spread throughout Europe and was a major killer in the nineteenth century.  Some estimate that it caused nearly a quarter of all deaths.  Smallpox was a major cause of death and was a permanent presence in large cities.  However, in smaller towns and villages where it was rarer, no one developed immunity, so whole communities could be wiped out when they faced an epidemic.

This was before evidence-based medicine, so prayer was the commonest medicine.  There was little physicians could do.

During prehistoric times, the average hunter-gatherer is estimated to have had a life expectancy of from 20 to 30 years.  In spite of a more stable supply of food during the agricultural revolution, life expectancy did not improve much. According to some accounts life expectancy was reduced as larger settled groups were more exposed to infectious disease.   In Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, life expectancy has been estimated at around 18 to 25 years.  In medieval Britain, estimates range from 17 to 35 years.  Before the year 1800, no country in the world had a life expectancy higher than 40 years.

A research group on aging led by Oskar Burger at the Max Planck Institute has pointed that the bulk of humanity’s mortality reduction has been experienced by only the last 4 of the roughly 8,000 generations of homo sapiens since we evolved around 200,000 years ago.  In 1900, the average life expectancy in the world was 31.  Today, it is 71 years.

Abdel Omran, a professor of epidemiology has divided humanity’s relationship with mortality into three major successive stages.
The Age of Pestilence and Famine.
The Age of Receding Pandemics.
The Age of Degenerative and Man-Made Diseases.

Jane Jacobs has noted that poverty has no causes.  Only prosperity has causes.  Norbert writes that poverty is what  you have until you create wealth.  HM notes that many are born into wealth, so they do not need to create it.

In the old days that have been discussed, the accepted definition of poverty in a country like France was simple.  If you could afford to buy bread to survive another day, you were not poor.  In hard times, towns were filled with armies of poor, dressed in rags, begging for something to eat.

In 1564 in a town with a fortress and garrison, perhaps three-quarters of the failed in the town live in makeshift shelters.  In wealthy Genos, poor people sold themselves as galley slaves every winter.  In Paris, the very poor were chained together in pairs and forced to do the hard work of cleaning the stains.

Humanity had experienced almost no economic development until the early nineteenth century.  According to estimates by the economist Angus Maddison, GDP per capita increased by only 50% between the year 1 ice and 1820.  Of course people did not experience any increase in wealth during their own lifetimes.

In 1820 in the richest countries of western Europe the GDP per capita was the equivalent of around $1500 to $2000 (in 1990 dollars adjusted for purchasing power)  This is less than in present-day Mozambique and Pakistan.

In the early nineteenth century in the United States, Britain, and France, around 40 to 50% of the population lived in what we now call extreme poverty, a rate that you have to go to sub-Saharan Africa to find today.  Homelessness was a common problem.  Between 10% and 20% of the European and American population was classified as paupers and vagrants by officials.

Up until this time the dominant economic school was Mercantilism, in which poverty was necessary.  Adam Smith, in his “Wealth of Nations” disabused people of this and provided the basis for people to work and improve themselves. The Industrial Revolution came along, and, in spite of abuses, the economies began and continue to grown.  Different countries improved at different rates another was Communism.  Communism was still better than Mercantilism, and successful Communist countries opened up to some level of open markets.

Between 1981 and 2015  the population of low— and middle—income countries suffering from extreme poverty was reduced from 54% to 12 %.

If you have yet to do so, go to   It is a very interesting website.  You might find the documentary “Don’t Panic End Poverty” well worth viewing.

Food and Sanitation

October 7, 2016

Food and sanitation are the titles of chapter 1 and 2, respectively of “Progress:  Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future”  by Johan Norbert.  As the purpose of these blog posts is to update our mental models regarding how much change there has been between now and the past, only the nature of the improvements will be presented, and not the innovations that underlay the improvements.  As it is only a fraction of the improvements that are in the book can be related, so this is a matter of necessity or convenience, depending on your perspective.  If you are interested in the technology and practices that underlay these improvements, please read the book.  Indeed, everyone should benefit from reading this book.

Famines are still relatively recent.  In Sweden, as in most if not all European countries failed harvests were not uncommon.  A single famine, between 1695 and 1697, claimed the lives of one in fifteen.  There were references of cannibalism  in oral accounts.   Absent machinery, cold storage, irrigation or artificial fertilizers, crop failures were a common threat, and without modern communications and transportation, failed harvests often spelled famine.

France, which was one of the wealthiest countries in the world, suffered twenty-six national famines in the eleventh century, two in the twelfth, four in the fourteenth, seven in the fifteenth, thirteen in the sixteenth, eleven in the seventeenth and sixteen in the in the eighteenth.  Moreover, there were also hundreds of local famines in each century.  In 1694, a chronicler in Meulan, Normandy, noted that the hungry harvested the wheat before it was ripe, and “large numbers of people lived on grass like animals.”  But they might have been relatively lucky, in central France in 1662, “Some people ate human flesh.”  The years 1695-7 are known in Finland as “the years of many deaths” when between a quarter and a third of the entire population died.  Now this is in  privileged Europe.  Things were far worse in Asia, China, and India.  In India the starving split open the stomachs of the dead or dying and drew as the entrails to fill their own bellies.

Even when times were good in the most developed countries, the food not always was very nutritious, nor could it be kept very long.  Often it had to be procured just before eating.  People dried and salted down their food for storage, but salt was expensive.
Norbert writes, “In an ordinary home in my ancestors’ province of Angermanland a hundred years ago, there were four meals:  potatoes, herring and bread for breakfast; porridge or gruel for lunch; potatoes herring and bread for dinner; and porridge or gruel for supper.  This is what people ate every day except on Sundays, when they had meat soup (if there was any meat) mixed with barley grains.  There being no china, everyone ate from the same dish, using a wooden spoon which was afterwords licked clean and put away in the table drawer.”

At the end of the eighteenth century, ordinary French families had to spend about half their income on grains alone.  The French and English in the eighteenth century received fewer calories than the current average in sub-Saharan Africa, the region which is most tormented by undernourishment.

It has been estimated that just 200 years ago some 20% of the inhabitants of England and France could not work at all.  At most they had enough energy for a few hours of slow walking per day, which condemned most of them to a life of begging.   This lack of adequate nutrition had a serious effect on the population’s intellectual development, since children’s brains need fat to develop properly.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the average daily coloric intake in western Europe was between 2,000 and 2,500 calories, which is below what it is in Africa today.  By 1950 it was already around 3,000.

However, even if they had access to sufficient nutritious food, without adequate sanitation, it would have been for nought.  Water is the source of all life, but throughout history it has also been a source of great suffering.  Even in small settlements it becomes contaminated by human waste and spreads bacteria, viruses, parasites and worms.

Medieval English village homes had no privy.  People would walk “about an arrow shot from the house” when they had to go.  Some people used chamber pots, and in some places there were open trenches with simple seats.  In the homes of the rich and powerful, latrines were often situated under the dining room.  This gave a whiff of danger to every dinner party.  For example, in 1183 the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II organized a great feast while holding court in his castle in Erfurt, Germany.  As the guests were eating the floor of the great hall began to sink and many noble guests fell into the cesspit beneath.  Many drowned.

Although flush toilets have been used in many civilizations, including the Roman Empire, the modern water closet was invented in 1596 for Queen Elizabeth I.   There are accounts of aristocrats soiling the corridors of Versailles and the Palais Royal.  The reason why Versailles’s hedges were so tall was so that they could function as toilet partitions.  And eighteenth-century Versailles could be regarded as “the receptacle of all of humanity’s horrors—the passageways, corridors and courtyards are filled with urine and fecal manner.

At that time taking a bath was rare and even controversial.  Queen Elizabeth 1 was an early adopter and is said to have taken a bath once a month whether she thought she needed one or not.

Europe’s greatest cities  were filled with huge piles of human and animal excrement, and their rivers and lakes were  as fetid swamps, frequently filled with waste.  Waste would be dumped into city streets and rain would wash it into the local watershed.  In 1900 horses supposedly filled New York City streets with more than 2.5 million pounds of manure and 60,000 gallons of urine daily.

The major push for a modern sewerage system came after “The Great Stink” in the summer of 1858, when Benjamin Disraeli compared the Thames to the river running through hell in Greek mythology: “a Stygian pool reeking with ineffable and intolerable horrors.”

During the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century, many cities built modern water and sewer systems, and began systematic garbage collection, and health dramatically improved.  One study found that clean water was responsible for 43% of the total reduction in mortality, 74% of the infant mortality reduction, and 62% of the child mortality reduction.

In 1980, no more than 24% of the world’s population had access to proper sanitation facilities.  By 2015, this had increased to 68%.  82% of the urban population now have access, compared to 51% of the rural population.

If you have yet to do so, go to   It is a very interesting website.  You might find the documentary “Don’t Panic End Poverty” well worth viewing.

Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future

October 6, 2016

HM is not close on the ideological spectrum to Johan Norbert the author of “Progress:  Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future.”  But the data and the reasoning presented in this volume are sound.  HM hopes that readers of the healthy memory blog are not naive realists.  That is they are aware that we do not have direct contact with reality, but rather build mental models on the basis  of our interactions with the external world.  We need to be aware that these models are imperfect and are need of constant updating.  The data in Progress indicate that some of these models are way off the mark  and are in need to massive updating.

The Gapminder Foundation has done several “ignorance” surveys using multiple-choice questions.  In Britain only ten percent thought that world poverty had decreased in the last thirty years.  More than half thought that a it had increased.  In the United States only five percent answered correctly that world poverty had been almost halved in the last twenty years.  Sixty-six percent thought that that it had almost doubled.

Lasse Berg and Stig Karlson are two researchers who traveled to India in the 1970s and had predicted doom in Asia. Their predictions turned out to be wrong, but the Indian people they visited did not think so themselves.  When they visited in the 1970s the villagers complained about oppression, illiteracy and how difficult it was for the family to get enough to eat.  The children, one of whom was named Satto, worked hard in the fields every day.  When Berg and Carlson revisited the village in the 1990s, the woman Sato complained that life was now more difficult and she now had to work hard for her kids.  She said that her childhood had been much easier and that she had just played all day.  So her memory was playing tricks.  Satto is not unique, our memories play tricks on all of us.  When Berg returned again in 2010, Satto was happier with life and the living standard the family had attained, but claimed that she didn’t remember her complaints during the 1990s.  Her memory now at that life was good in the 1990s as well.

The psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky formulated the “availability heuristic,” which said that we judge the frequency of an event in terms of how available they in memory rather than on their objective frequency.  Moreover, we rarely know the objective frequency of any event.  So what is available in memory is rarely commensurate with reality.  Moreover what is usually available in memory is based on the news, and what is most newsworthy are crime, accidents, natural disasters, so that is the information we have to make generalizations about reality or predictions about the future.

The psychologist Steven Pinker has identified this as one of the three psychological biases that a make us think that the world is worse that it really is.  This one is the well-documented fact that “bad is stronger than good” — we are more likely to remember losing money, being abandoned by friends or receiving criticism  than we are to remember winning money, gaining friends or receiving praise.  Negative information receives more processing and contributes more strongly to the final impression than does positive information.

A second basis is the psychology of moralization.  Complaining about problems is a way of sending a signal to others that you care about them, so critics see us as more morally engaged.  Thomas Hobbes also noticed that criticizing the present has a way of competing without rivals and contemporaries, whereas we can easily praise past generations, because they are not our competitors.

A third bias is nostalgia about a golden age when life was supposedly simpler and better.  Arthur Herman observed:  “Virtually every culture past or present has believed that men and women are not up to the standards of their parents and forebears.”  The poet Hesiod, in the seventh century ice, thought that there once had been a Golden Age when humans live in harmony with the gods, and did not have to work since nature provided them with food.  Hesiod lived in the Iron Age, where conflict and mortality reined, and where humans had to toil to survive.  Next came the Silver Age with strife and worry, followed by a Bronze Age with even more strife and worry.  Most cultures, religions, and ideologies have had similar mythologies relating a prehistorical lost paradise to which the decadent present is compared.

So the mechanisms for pessimism are fairly well understood.  The next posts will be devoted to realigning our erroneous mental models so that they correspond more closely to reality.

The progress that is the topic of this book started with the intellectual Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  At this time there were people who began to examine the world with the tools of empiricism, rather than being content with authorities, traditions, superstition, and religions.  The political corollary, classical liberalism, began to liberate people from the shackles of heredity, authoritarianism, and serfdom.  The Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth followed, when industrial power multiplied, and poverty and hunger began to be conquered.  These successive revolutions were enough to free of large part of humanity from the harsh living condition it had always lived under.  With the late twentieth-century globalization, as these technologies and freedoms began to spread around the world, this was repeated on a larger scale and at a faster pace that ever before.

It is essential that we be aware of a real risk of a nativist backlash, one that might be occurring already.  When people do not see the progress the has been made, they begin to search for scapegoats for the problems that remain.  Unfortunately, some might be willing to try their luck with any demagogue who tells us that he has quick, simple solutions to make our nation great again.

Subsequent posts will be covering what Norbert calls Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, which are specific areas in which substantial progress has been made.  In the meantime, go to   It is a very interesting website.  You might find the documentary “Don’t Panic End Poverty” well worth viewing.

© 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.

Donald Trump and Daniel Kahneman

October 4, 2016

What a strange title.  The Republican presidential candidate and one of the leading, if not the leading, cognitive psychologists who also is a Nobel Prize Winner.  What could they possibly have to do with each other?  The answer is that Daniel Kahneman’s Two Process Theory can explain Donald Trump’s appeal.  Kahneman’s Two Process Theory was summarized in his best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.”  Kahneman posits that we have two basic processing systems.  System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.

As for Donald Trump’s appeal to bigots it is natural and resounds soundly to their beliefs.  But what about his appeal to people who are not bigots, but are dissatisfied with the ways things are and want change?  He promises change, and they respond.  The problem is that they respond by not invoking System 2 processes.  System 2 is supposed to monitor System 1 for processing errors.  Basically System 2 is supposed to respond to erroneous System 1 Processes and start thinking.

Clinton supporters have difficulty understanding how apparently intelligent people can support Trump.  He says that he will solve their problems.  But if System 2 processes are invoked they should realize that his proposals will not benefit them.  For example, his tax proposals benefit primary people like himself, not the middle or lower classes.  Most economists say that his proposals are unrealistic and would greatly increase the debt.  There should be no fear of bankruptcy, however, as Trump claims to be an expert on bankruptcy, and here is where his true genius lies.  Of course, his genius for exploiting the prejudices and biases of the general population should not be underestimated.

The problems with building walls and mass deportations have been raised as being unfeasible.  Similarly experts argue that his trade policies would hurt the economy.  Of course, Trump supporters dislike the “elite” and “experts”  so they do not listen to them.  That is understandable as these “experts” along with the “elite” think, something that Trump supporters are not wont to do.

However, there is a dangerous Trump characteristic that should be detectable by even System 1 processes.  That is his emotional instability.  He seems to be unable to control his emotions and strikes out very quickly at anyone who offends him.

Unfortunately, the most important characteristic for a President is emotional stability followed by an understanding of international affairs and the military.

HM has previously stated that Trump is an existential risk to the United States.  This is based on both his ignorance and contempt of the Constitution of the United States and government.  HM thinks that his election would place democracy at risk.  HM urges readers to read “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis.  It is about a legitimately elected presidential candidate who changes the United States into a fascist dictatorship.   The president did not campaign on a platform of changing the country to a fascist dictatorship.  However, people who exercised their System 2 processing could realize that this was a genuine risk.

HM thinks that Trump is an existential risk to the world, because giving him control of nuclear weapons risks a worldwide nuclear holocaust.

© 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.

Wistful Thinking: Why We Are Wired to Dwell on the Past

October 2, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of a piece by Teal Burrell in the 24 September 2016 issue of the “New Scientist.”  The article is about nostalgia.  Most of us experience it at least once a week according to research by Tim Wildschut and his colleagues at the University of Southhampton, UK.  Nostalgia is not the cause of loneliness.  Rather it is the antidote to loneliness.  It springs up when we are feeling low and, in general, boosts well-being.  Reflecting on nostalgic events we have experienced forges bonds with other people, and enhances positive feelings and self-esteem according to Wildschut and his colleagues.

Clay Routledge of North Dakota State University  evoked “personal nostalgia” in volunteers by having them listen to songs that had particular meaning to them, the emotion increased perceptions of purpose in life.  When volunteers were asked questions about the point of it all, nostalgia ramped up.  Rutledge says “When people feel uncertain or uncomfortable or unsure, they might use their memories as a stabilizing force.

One notion is that nostalgia gives us a sense of continuity in life.  Although many things in our lives can change—jobs, where we live, relationships—nostalgia reminds us that we are the same person we were on our seventh birthday party as on our wedding day and at our retirement celebration.  Kristine Batch of Le Moyne College says, “It is the glue that keeps us together, gives us continuity, and we need that, ever more so, in times of change.”

Sociologist Fred Davis compared being nostalgic to applying for a bank loan.  Looking back at out past is like checking our credit history.  Other researchers have found the reflecting on nostalgic memories boosts optimism and makes people more inspired to pursue their goals.

Julia Shaw who studies the fallibility of memory at London South Bank University says that nostalgia is a by-product of how we remember.  Memories are inaccurate:  we filter them to focus on the positive.  Each time we reactivate the memory, we make it susceptible to alteration.  Whenever we summon a memory, we might lose some nuances and add misinformation.

Nostalgic memory is about the emotion, not what really happened.  Specific details are either not accurate at all or we confabulate them.  We might not remember  the precise details, but we remember the emotions surrounding the event.

Shaw says that this bias towards positive emotion is at the heart of theories about why we feel nostalgia.  Nostalgic memories tend to be of the best days.  If we fixate on the negative instead, as depressed people are prone to do, it would leave us from an evolutionary perspective in a worse state in terms of adapting and surviving.

When a group shares a vision of the past, collective nostalgia, it promotes a sense of belonging and strengthens group bonds, which may ave had survival benefits in early triple societies.  But that cohesion comes at the cost of driving discrimination towards outsiders.

Nostalgia can lead to a belief in the carefree past that “never really existed.”  Nativist political campaigns in the UK, France, and the US have all hearkened back to a a fabled golden time—as epitomized by Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again” slogan—but those “good all days” had worse standards of living, higher infant mortality rates, lower life expectancies and plenty of other troubles.  Holding up the ideal of a more homogeneous past also made it easy to scapegoat those who weren’t part of it.  So nostalgia can be used to promote disinformation.