Archive for February, 2018

DeepMind’s Virtual Psychology Lab Seeks Flaws in Digital Minds

February 28, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Chris Baraniuk in the News Section of the 10 February 2018 issue of the New Scientist. A team at Google’s DeepMind has developed a virtual 3D laboratory called Psychlab in which both humans and machines can take a range of simple tests and compare their cognitive abilities.

The tests were originally designed by psychologists to isolate and evaluate specific mental faculties in people, such as the ability to detect a change in an object that disappears and reappears. Now DeepMind is taking the same tests.

It is not surprising that DeepMInd’s software was better at some tasks. For example, it excelled at visual search—finding a given symbol in a group of others. But it failed miserably when asked to track the position of multiple symbols on a screen, a task that people can do fairly well.

One point of the project is to expose weaknesses in AIs that might otherwise go unnoticed. This should help developers improve their own systems. Accordingly, DeepMind has released Psychlab as an open-source project so anyone can use and adapt it to their needs.

Walter Boot at Florida State University says “there may be few similarities between how an AI tackles a test and the way we do. Even if the AI performance matches the human performance, it could be doing task in a completely different to a human.”

Deepmind’s co-founder Dennis Hassabsbis, has a neuroscience background. Miles Brundage at the University of Oxford says, “Comparing AI cognition with human cognition is still tantalising. Psychlab is in this spirit.”

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Olympics and the Brain

February 27, 2018

This post is motivated by an article by Susan Svrluga titled “How gray matter helps Olympians go for gold” in the Metro Section of the 26 Feb 2018 issue of the Washington Post. This article addresses the question “What do neurologists and others who study the brain see when they watch the world’s best athletes in this Winter Olympics? And the answer is “many see brains propelling people to extraordinary things, allowing them to spin and flip without dizziness, to adapt quickly, to anticipant challenges—or, sometimes, to choke.”

Kathleen Cullen, a professor of biomedical engineering and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Hearing and Balance said, “Iike watching really talented, amazing athletes. It’s beautiful to see what the body can accomplish…particularly beautiful. I’m thinking about the computations required to do it.” She explained that a snowboarder flying through a double McTwist or a skater spinning out a triple Lutz or Axel possesses a brain that built models for those intricate maneuvers. What makes Olympic athletes unique is the ability to create really complex models of self-motions and movement they expect as they complete these very sophisticated routines. Moreover, they can recalibrate on the fly. Their ability to adapt to the unexpected during the routine is not something the average person can do.

Professor Cullen studies the neural mechanisms that encode motion. She studies the ways the brain uses information from the vestibular in the inner ear—the “sixth sense” that gives people a sense of where they are, how they’re moving through space, and other sensory mechanisms to help navigate the world.

She said that the sense of vision is very slow. If your slipping on ice and waited for the visual system to tell you you’re slipping, it would be game over. But if the incoming sensory information from the inner ear is different than what the brain expects, that a can be sensed within milliseconds. This helps snowboarders when they’re flying through the air; the brain received moment-to-moment updates about where the head is and from the muscles about where arms and legs are relative to the rest of the body, all of it arriving within milliseconds. Then the brain compares the information it has learned to expect with the snowboarder’s actual motion, so that it can send an appropriate signal to the spinal cord to rapidly adjust balance within milliseconds.

HM has long wondered how these figure skaters can spin without getting dizzy. He feels dizzy after he spins because fluid in the inner ear continues to move, giving the sensation of continued motion. Figure skaters who twirl on the ice teach themselves to counter that natural sensation. She can train herself to use an object after spinning as an anchor to let herself know how she is moving. But after years of repetition in practice the brain learns to better interpret the information coming from the inner ear; it recognizes, in effect, that a sensation of spinning is false when when the body has actually stopped spinning. Professor Cullen says that the abilities to build and recalibrate these models is really impressive.

Nathaniel Sawmill, a neuroscience at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute said the a figure skater who is pitching backward intentionally during his routine, the challenge is resisting the reflex that normally prevents a skater from falling over. Those reflexes are hard-wired in the spinal cord and the brain stem, and trying to override them doesn’t happen perfectly at first. But over time, with repetition they are able to do it.

Dr. Sawmill continued, “Motor skills might seem relatively basic, but there are amazing feats of learning that are really a great scientific puzzle, and a challenge to understand how we do these incredible things. Even the most amazing robot is nothing compared to humans playing sports.”

Jam Ghajar, director of the Stanford Concussion and Brain Performance Center, where they train athletes to improve performance, said “Great athletes brains need to be able to predict what is going to happen and adapt quickly. With Olympic athletes, it’s incredibly important to get their timing, and react to a bump in the snow or a patch of ice at high speed.

Christopher Fetsch, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins says, “That’s what really sets Olympic athletes apart, not their bodies so much as their brains’s speed and flexibility in taking sensory information and translating it into muscle movements. In our day-to-day lives, we make countless small conscious decisions like this. But in the Olympics the stakes are much higher, the world is watching, but the processing going on in the brain is very similar. In these athletes, it has been honed to perfection to perform a particular skill.

Vikram Chib, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins, studies how our brains process incentives and how that influences performance, sees potential parallels between the lab and the Olympics. In his research, when people are paid to do certain tasks, performance increases along with incentive—until the reward gets too big. Then the researchers see the opposite effect. When the subjects see a potential $100 reward, a scan shows “their brain lights up: I have $100 to gain. But when subjects actually do the task, researchers see activity in another part of the brain.”The brain activity looks like they are thinking they have $100 to lose, and performance deteriorates. So when a gold medal is at stake, Chib said, athletes who can keep their minds off the possibility of losing are those more likely to perform well and win.

Ghajar said there’s another thing than can help give athlete an edge that has nothing to do with training in the gym. It’s simple: rest. “A major part of brain performance is getting enough sleep.”

This information led HM to think of another athletic activity that requires complex computations by the brain and the coordination with motor movements. That activity is done by the batter in baseball. The computations done to place a small bat on a small ball that need to be done in an extremely small amount of time are most impressive. Moreover, pitchers change the speed and directions of the ball. Nevertheless, batters mange to accomplish this feat sufficiently often that an interesting game results. HM remember a major league player describing his eye exercises he was doing to improve his hitting. But if the exercises affected only the eyes, and not the brain and subsequent motor activity, then it is doubtful that they would be helpful.

All these activités promote healthy brains and memories. But there is one popular sport that damages brains. Does this make sense? The purpose of athletics is to promote health and teamwork. If the reader wonders what this is all about, the reader should enter CTE into the search block of the healthy memory blog. CTE stands for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. HM is an alumnus of Ohio State University. Nevertheless, he thinks they should close down football. For an educational institution to promote an activity that damages the brain is unconscionable.

To be fair, we should also consider injuries that occur at the Winter Olympics. Broken limbs can be tolerated, by what about paraplegia and quadriplegia. Olympic athletes are highly skilled and appear to be able to protect themselves doing acrobatics. But what about people who are learning? It is difficult to believe that severe injuries do not occur. HM would like to see statistics on this. HM would also like to see how these skills are taught, and if there are any protective measures taken during training.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Love at First Sight is Really Just Lust or Even a False Memory

February 26, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title and an article by Jessica Hamzelou in the News section of the 6 January 2018 issue of the New Scientist. One in three people say they have fallen in love as soon as they laid eyes on someone. A study, however, suggesst that the phenomenon does not exist.

Florian Zsok and his colleagues at the University of Zurich conducted a series of experiments in which volunteers saw new people for the first time. Each volunteer filled in a survey and was asked how they felt about the people they saw or met.

The first experiment was designed to mimic online dating. 282 volunteers were shown pictures on the internet of six people of the gender they found attractive, and then were surveyed on their feelings about them. About half the volunteers were in relationships. They were also asked about the early days of those relationships. A similar experiment involved showing 50 volunteers nine pictures.

Zsok and his team also studied the reactions of 64 people who met each other face-to-face, either at a bar, doing speed dating, or at a food-based event designed to allow people to meet in groups of four.

Of the 396 volunteers across all parts of the study, 32 reported experiencing love at first sight (“Personal Relationships,” doi.org/chkg). However, none of these people matched. Zsok says, “There was no reciprocated love.”

The analyses of the surveys showed that people are most likely to report love at first sight when they find someone physically attractive. We tend to associate a range of positive attributes to good-looking people. This phenomenon is called the halo effect. Zsok says, “This might help explain why people think they are falling love with someone at first sight.

Anna Machin, of the University of Oxford says, “What you feel is lust at first sight and is largely subconscious. Love is an attachment that comes later. It is more complex and involves conscious reflection on a relationship.”

Zsok says, “ In reality, it is unlikely that people ever form this kind of connection upon meeting one another. People like this romantic idea, but you have to read between the lines.”

Then the question is why do so many people feel like it has happened to them? Machin says, “People often misremember the early sates of what is now a successful relationship. It’s an unconscious attempt to underpin a relationship. Telling someone 20 years down the line that you loved them at first sight is a loverly thing to say to maintain a relationship.”

Facebook May Guess Millions of People’s Sexuality to Sell Adds

February 25, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article in the News Section of the 24 Feb 2018 Issue of the New Scientist. Last year Spain fined Facebook 1.2 million Euros for targeting adverts based on sensitive information without first obtaining explicit consent. In May, new EU-wide legislation called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which states that users must be specifically asked before companies collect and use their sensitive information.

Angel Cuevas Rumin at Charles III University of Madrid and his colleagues have been conducting research on how Facebook uses its users’ information to target its adverts. The research team purchased three Facebook ad campaigns. One targeted users interested in various religions, another was aimed at people based on their political opinions, and a third targeted those interested in “transsexualism” or “homosexuality.” For 35 Euros, they reached more than 25,000 people.

Remember that in Europe it is against the law for companies like Facebook to use sensitive information without first obtaining explicit consent from its users. So it would appear that Facebook has broken the law. However, Facebook argues that interests are not the same as sensitive information, so they claim that they are in compliance with the law.

To assess how often sensitive interests are used to target adverts on Facebook, Cuevas and his team created an internet browser extension that analyses how you interact with adverts. Moreover, it also records why you were shown a specific advert. Between October 2016 and October 2017, more than 3000 people from EU countries used the tool, corresponding to 5.5 million adverts. The team found more than 2000 reasons that Facebook had for showing someone an advert that related to sensitive interests, including politics, religion, health, sexuality, and ethnicity. About 905 of the people who used the extension were targeted with ads based on these categories.

Extrapolating from the demographics of the people using the browser extension, the team estimated that about 40% of all EU citizens, some 200 million people, may have been targeted using sensitive interests. (arxiv.org/abs/1802.05030).

Europeans do not like this state of affairs. A survey in 2015 found that 63% of EU citizens don’t trust online firms, and more than half don’t like providing personal information in return for free services.

Neither does HM who no longer uses Facebook.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Social Media Putting Democracy at Risk

February 24, 2018

This blog post is based on an article titled, “”YouTube excels at recommending videos—but not at deeming hoaxes” by Craig Timberg, Drew Harrell, and Tony Romm in 23 Feb 2018
issue of the Washington Post. The article begins, “YouTube’s failure to stop the spread of conspiracy theories related to last week’s school shooting in Florida highlights a problem that has long plagued the platform: It is far better at recommending videos that appeal to users than at stanching the flow of lies.”

To be fair, YouTube’s fortunes are based on how well its recommendation algorithm is tuned to the tastes of individual viewers. Consequently, the recommendation algorithm is its major strength. YouTube’s weakness in detecting misinformation was on stark display this week as demonstrably false videos rose to the top of YouTube’s rankings. The article notes that one clip that mixed authentic news images with misleading context earned more than 200,000 views before YouTube yanked it Wednesday for breaching its rules on harassment.

The article writes, “These failures this past week, which also happened on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites—make it clear that some of the richest, most technically sophisticated companies in the world are losing against people pushing content rife with untruth.”

YouTube apologized for the prominence of these misleading videos, which claimed that survivors featured in news reports were “crisis actors” appearing to grieve for political gain. YouTube removed these videos and said the people who posted them outsmarted the platform’s safeguards by using portions of real news reports about the Parkland, Fla, shooting as the basis for their conspiracy videos and memes that repurpose authentic content.

YouTube made a statement that its algorithm looks at a wide variety of factors when deciding a video’s placement and promotion. The statement said, “While we sometimes make mistakes with what appears in the Trending Tab, we actively work to filter out videos that are misleading, clickbait or sensational.”

It is believed that YouTube is expanding the fields its algorithm scans, including a video’s description, to ensure that clips alleging hoaxes do not appear in the trending tab. HM recommends that humans be involved with the algorithm scans to achieve man-machine symbiosis. [to learn more about symbiosis, enter “symbiosis” into the search block of the Healthymemory blog.] The company has pledged on several occasions to hire thousands more humans to monitor trending videos for deception. It is not known whether this has been done or if humans are being used in a symbiotic manner.

Google also seems to have fallen victim to falsehoods, as it did after previous mass shootings, via its auto-complete feature. When users type the name of a prominent Parkland student, David Hogg, the word “actor” often appears in the field, a feature that drives traffic to a subject.

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Higher Education, Status, and Costs

February 23, 2018

This blog post is motivated by an article by Jay Mathews titled “Franchising the Ivy League: How About Yale at Yreka,” in the Metro Section of the 8 January 2018 issue of the Washington Post. It cited a study by Alan Krueger, former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and Mathematica Policy Research expert Stacy Berg Dale that found that students accepted by selective colleges who chose not to attend these colleges had incomes just as high 20 years later as those who did attend. Only students from low-income families did better after attending selective colleges. This is strong evidence that, unless you are from a low-income family, it is foolish to bother applying to selective colleges, and that you are insane to attend a selective college if you are assuming uncomfortable levels of debt for student loans.

Moreover, the best college to attend depends upon the particular subject matter in which you are interested. If you know your topics of interest you should apply to schools whose scholars interest you. Your hope is to attend a school where you can find an appropriate scholar with whom you can take independent study and perhaps participate in her research. Succeed, and this is the best route to a graduate programs that will further your interests.

If HM remembers correctly, Robert Frost said that attending college was just a second chance to read books you should have read in high school. Robert Frost’s statement is even more true today, given all the additional sources of knowledge that are readily available. Go the the healthy memory blog titled “Mindshift Resources” to find (MOOCS) Massively Online Open Courses. Many of these courses are free. Laura Pickard has a site, nopaymba.com, who writes, “I started the No-Pay MBA website as a way of documenting my studies, keeping myself accountable, and providing a resource for other aspiring business students. The resources on this site are for anyone seeking a world-class business education using the free and low-cost tools of the internet.  I hope you find them useful!” She explains how she got an business education equivalent to an MBA for less than1/100th the cost of a traditional MBA.

Frankly, were HM an employer he would prefer to hire an autodidact who had completed this free online MBA than someone who had paid for and completed a conventional degree. He would do this on the basis of the autodidact who had the interest and the motivation to complete the course. There are many free online courses. The cost usually comes when one wants to get credit towards a degree.

So HM encourages high school students, just as he encourages everyone else, to find their passion and to develop a growth mindset to pursue that passion.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

I Know How Hard It Can Be to Bounce Back When Everyday Things Fall Apart

February 22, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Andrew Reiner in the Health Section of the 6 February 2018 issue of the Washington Post. This article is about resilience, which is the ability to bounce back from obstacles that hinder one from doing what he wants to do. Although this article offers some useful tips, it makes no mention of the best technique for improving resilience, mindfulness meditation. It is amazing not only because the author is missing the main method of improving resilience, but also that the editor of the health section did not call attention to this glaring omission. Obviously these are two people who should be reading the healthymemory blog.

Go to https://centerhealthyminds.org/about/founder-richard-davidson and you will find a researcher, Richie Davidson, who has devoted his career trying to understand why some people have difficulty overcoming the slings and arrows of adverse fortune and in helping them becoming resilient and overcoming adversity. The central technique is mindfulness meditation.

There are many healthy memory blog post on resilience (enter “resilience” into the search block of the healthy memory blog). One blog post, “Resilience”, discusses resilience as one of the six dimensions of Davidson’s Emotional Style. Another blog post, Improving Resilience, presents a specific technique for improving resilience.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Why Do 95% of Defendants Accept Plea Offers?

February 21, 2018

This article is based on an article in by Jeffrey D. Stein titled, “Why an innocent person would accept a plea deal” in the Outlook section of the 14 April 2017 issue of the Washington Post. Jeffrey Stein is a public defender. He writes that his conversation with his clients almost always begins in jail. Usually the prosecution extends a plea offer within a few days and tells the suspect that the offer will expire in a week. A week is rarely a sufficient amount of time to conduct the necessary research about the crime.

He writes that he lays out options for the client. He could go to trial, but that might mean waiting in jail for months, if not years, before a jury hears the case. Of course, if the client can post bail, then he would not need to wait in jail. The other option is to accept the plea offer. Stein notes that in some cases the sentencing difference between accepting and losing at trial can be a matter of decades. This reality answers the question in the title of this post.

But does plea bargaining affect the correct administration? According Registry of Exonerations, 15% of all exonerates, people convicted of crimes later proved to be innocent—originally pleaded guilty. That share rises to 49% for people exonerated for manslaughter, and 66% for those exonerated of drug crimes.

He writes, “The final stage happens in court. Your client has signed the paperwork admitting to something you believe in your gut that he did not do. Maybe he acted in self-defense. Maybe he was standing near the actual perpetrator and were presumed guilty by association because of the color of his skin. Maybe he was the victim of an honest misidentification.”

“The judge turns to you and asks, ‘Does either counsel know of any reason that I should not accept the defendant’s guilty plea?” You hesitate. You want to shout:’Yes, your honor! This plea is the product of an extortive system system of devastating mandatory minimums and lopsided access to evidence. My client faced an impossible choice and is just trying to avoid losing his life in prison.”

“But you stand by your client’s decision, which was made based on experiences and emotions only they can know: You reply: ’No’ your honor.’”

Obviously, the author of this article is a conscientious public defender who has adequate time to work for the client. However, even conscientious public defenders are usually overworked and have neither the time nor the resources to provide the defense they would like to provide.

So, it is usually better to provide your own attorney even if it forces you into debt and perhaps even bankruptcy. That is the price of justice.

Frequently during the police interrogation innocent defendants will confess their guilt. Interrogations can go on for extremely long periods of time even if they are not physically abusive. To get out of the interrogation, the person confesses guilt, knowing he is not guilty and assuming this will come out during the investigation. This is not very likely to happen.

So, as has been frequently mentioned in this blog, the primary problem with the legal system, is that it provides little justice.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

End of Days: Is Western Civilization on the Brink of Collapse?

February 20, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Laura Spinney in the Features section of the 20 January 2018 issue of the New Scientist. This post will feature the role of cognitive science in answering this question. The article notes that cognitive scientists recognize two broad modes of thought— a fast, automatic, relatively inflexible mode, and a slower, more analytical, flexible one. Healthy memory blog readers should recognize Kahneman’s System 1 System 2 model of cognition. System 1 is fast. Most of our normal discourse is System 1. System 1 comes natural to us. It is also the seat of our emotions. System 2 corresponds to what we normally regard as thinking. System 2 is conscious and makes demands on our attentional resources. An important role of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors.

According to the article David Rand, a psychologist at Yale University, argues that populations might actually cycle between the two over time. HM believes, or hopes, that Dr. Rand is being misconstrued. Were either mode of processing to become exclusive, our species would quickly vanish. However, one mode of processing might dominate. A good example of this is occurring in the Trump administration. Not only is science not being used, it is being ignored, or being made difficult to access, or even destroyed. So much damage is being done to the United States that if it is not soon stopped, democracy is seriously threatened.

The problem in the United States has been the ascendancy of the dominance of System 1 processing. System 2 processors are attempting to fight this ignorance and reset System 2 processing into its appropriate role. The problem with Trump was evident before he was elected. See the healthy memory blog post, “Donald J. Trump, Alleged Incapacitated Person.” A lawyer James A. Herb, Esq. filed a lawsuit that strongly supported that Trump should not be allowed to be President. After Clinton won the popular vote, he refiled the lawsuit for the Electoral College. The justification for the Electoral College is to prevent someone who is clearly incapable for the office becoming President. Obviously, the Electoral College failed to perform its function. He filed it again after Trump became President documenting that Trump was indeed unfit. Again his lawsuit fell on deaf ears.

Jonathan Cohen, David Rand’s fellow collaborator, said that a long-standing puzzle regarding societies heading for ruin is: “why did they keep up their self-destructive behavior even though the more analytical people must have seen the danger ahead.” The answer is that the forward thinking System 2 processors were not steering the train.
Let us hope that the System 2 processors regain control of the US train.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Good is Face Recognition Software?

February 19, 2018

From what we see on police shows on TV it is truly amazing. But how good is it? An article titled, “Face-recognition software is perfect— if you’re a white man” by Timothy Revell in the This Week Section of 17 the Feb 2018 issue of the New Scientist.

Three commercially available face-recognition systems created by Microsoft, IBM and a Chinese company Megvii were tested by Joy Buolamwini of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The systems correctly identified the gender of white men 99% of the time. Identifying the gender does not seem to be particularly useful. However, the error rate rose for people with darker skin, reaching nearly 35% for women. So less than half of women had their gender identified correctly? These results will be presented at the Conference of Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency in New York later this month.

Presumably face-recognition software is already being used in many different situations. HM has been led to believe that police use it to identify suspects in a crowd and to automatically tag photos. Unfortunately, inaccuracies can have consequences, such as systematically ingraining biases in police stop and searches.

Artificial intelligence systems are dependent on the data on which they are trained. According to one study, a widely used data set is around 75% male and more than 80% white.

Organizations using face-recognition software need to test its accuracy for correctly identifying individuals for the subject populations of interest, and the results of these tests need to be published. Before selling face-recognition software, organizations need to describe the population on which it was developed and tested, and its accuracy for correctly identifying individuals. The performance of the software tested in this article is highly questionable. It is hard to envision for what applications it might be useful.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

You Think You’re Clairvoyant?

February 18, 2018

The title of this post is the first part of the title by Adam Bear, Rebecca Fortgang, & Michael Bronstein in the Health Section of the 16 January 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The last part of the title is “but your brain is just tricking you.” The three authors are Ph.D. candidates at Yale University.

The article begins, “Have you ever felt as thought you predicted exactly when the light was going to turn green or sensed that the doorbell was about to ring? Imagine the possibility that these moments of clairvoyance occur simply because of a glitch in your mind’s time logs. What happened first—your thought about the doorbell or its actual ringing. It may have felt as if the thought came first, but when the two events (ringing of doorbell, thought about doorbell) occur close together, we can mistake their order. This leads to the sense that we accurately predicted the future when, in fact, all we did is notice the past.

They developed a scale that measures delusion-like ideas. The scale asked participants in this study question such as: “Do you believe in the power of the occult?” Do you ever feel as if you could read other people’s minds?” and “Do you ever feel that you are a very special or unusual person?”

To measure the kind of timing errors that might lead people to mistakenly think they predicted an event that they had already observed, they had participants play a game in which they were asked to quickly predict which of five white squares were about to turn red. Research participants could either indicate that they didn’t have time to finish making a prediction before the red square was revealed, or claim that they did complete their prediction before this event occurred.

The square that turned red from trial to trial was selected randomly. So the researchers knew and the participants could not, that it was impossible to correctly predict the red state with better than 1-in-5 odds. The participants who were more likely to report an implausibly high number of accurate predictions were also more likely to endorse delusion-like ideas in broader contexts. The researchers took measures to ensure that the participants weren’t simply lying to them about their accuracy in the game.

There has been other research where people recalled what they had previously predicted about real events that occur in the world. Their previous predictions were known, so lies could be checked. Nevertheless, it was not uncommon for people to remember that they had correctly predicted, when the had predicted erroneously. It appears that our minds try to protect our egos by informing us we had predicted events, when we have not. So be careful to not let your mind fool you, and at the same time keep your ego intact. You’ll be a better person for it.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Google and Facebook Hooked Us—and How to Break the Habit

February 17, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a post by Douglas Heaven in the Features section of the 10 February 2018 issue of the New Scientist.

In 2009 Justin Rosenstein created Facebook’s “Like” Button. Now he has dedicated himself to atoning for it. Martin Moore of King’s College London said, “Just a few years ago, no one could say a bad word about the tech giants. Now no one can say a good word.” The author writes, “Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon variously avoid tax, crush competition, and violate privacy, the complaints go. Their inscrutable algorithms determine what we see and what we know, shape opinions, narrow world views and even subvert the democratic order that spawned them.”

“Facebook knew right from the start it was making something that would exploit vulnerabilities in our psychology. Behavior design for persuasive tech, a discipline found at Stanford University in California in the 1990s, is baked into much of big tech’s hardware and software. Whether it is Amazon’s “customers who bought this also bought function”, or the eye-catching red or orange “something new” dots on you smartphone app icons, but tech’s products are not just good, but subtly designed to control us, even to addict us — to grab us by the eyeballs and hold us there.”

The article goes on and develops this theme further. Here are data points offered in the article. There are 2 billion Active Facebook Users. 88% of Google’s 2017 income came from advertising. 20% of global spending on advertising goes to Facebook and Google.

And these products have been used to interfere with democracy and to subvert elections.

The article goes on and discusses various regulatory approaches for dealing with these problems, but warns about unintended consequences.

The most telling point follows: “But if big tech’s power is based entirely on our behavior, the most effective brake on their influence is to change our own bad habits.” This point has long been advocated in the healthy memory blog. The web is filled with tips for tuning out as is the healthy memory blog. Entering “technology addiction” will lead you to ways to free yourself from this addiction. Entering “Mary Aiken” will lead you to many posts based on her book “The Cyber Effect,” which you might find are well worth your time.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Anne Treisman Has Passed Away

February 16, 2018

She died Feb 10 and was 82. Many readers are probably wondering who is Ann Treisman. That is a shame as she is one of the leading researchers in human cognition. Early in her career she worked with the British psychologist Donald Broadbent exploring attention, its limitations, and how we cope with these limitations. They studied how the mind can tune out music, laughter, and distracting conversations to focus on a single conversation. This is called the “cocktail party problem.” Her research addressed how we can focus on individual objects in the world and still retain a general sense of our surroundings.

She developed feature integration theory with Gary Gelade, that holds that an object in the world is first perceived not as a unified whole but as a series of discrete features, including color, shape, size, and orientation. It is attention that unites all these features, as the mind focuses on one object and the another. Different portions of the brain respond to different features of an object. In a matter of milliseconds, each feature—the orientation of a tree branch, its green color, its motion in the wind is bound together in a single perception. Attention must be paid for this to occur.

Her research involved both hearing and sight and now informs everything from airport package inspection to the design of classrooms and traffic signals. A former colleague of Treisman’s, Lynn C. Robertson, said, “Dr. Treisman’s theory changed the way we understood our brains and our perception as well as what goes into memory and our whole cognition. We think we see with our eyes, but we actually see with our brains.”

Speaking on the implications of feature integration theory Dr. Treisman said, “The implication was that in some ways we create our experience than it’s being determined directly by a camera-like process. Perception is more like a controlled hallucination than like an automatic registration of stimuli.”

In 1976 she married Daniel Kahneman. Readers of the healthy memory blog should be familiar with Daniel Kahneman and his two process theory of cognition. Kahneman was awarded a Nobel Prize for his development of Prospect Theory with Amos Tversky. Unfortunately, Tversky could not also be given the award as he had already passed away at the time the award was decided. Together Kahneman and Tversky founded the field of behavioral economics.

Dr. Treisman was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama in 2013 for “a 50-year career of penetrating originality and depth that has led to the understanding of fundamental attentional limits in the human mind and brain.” Together with Kahneman they held positions at the University of British Columbia and Berkeley, where they collaborated and shared a lab, before moving to Princeton.

HM was privileged to hear the invited addresses they gave at the University of Michigan.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Rising Inequality Hurts Everyone, Even the Rich

February 15, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Christopher Ingraham in the Business Section of the 11 February 2017 issue of the Washington Post. The article begins, “Over the past 40 or so years, the American economy has been funneling wealth and income, reverse Robin Hood style, from the pockets of the bottom 99% to the coffers of the top 1%. The total transfer, to the richest from everyone else, amounts to 10% of the national income and 15% of the national wealth.

It’s part of a massive concentration of wealth and income among the rich that has put the United States at levels of inequality not seen in this country since before World War II. It’s a trend that economists such as Thomas Piety believe will continue unchecked in the coming decades with the top 1% of American capturing a quarter or more of the national income by 2030.”

Research suggests that the inequality depresses economic growth, leaving less for society to divvy up—regardless of how its members decide to do so. Research has also discovered that inequality, particularly the light level seem today in the United States, promotes criminal behavior. Regardless of whether you’re in the bottom 99% or the top 1% these effects can take a chunk of your paycheck. The article notes “Leading economists and economic organizations are coming around to the idea that to maximize income and wealth for everyone—including those at the top—there have to be meaningful checks on income and wealth inequality.

The following is in bold in the article, “Inequality hurts economic growth especially high inequality (like ours) in rich nations (like ours). The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development a collective of the world’s 35 wealthiest nations including the United States found that rising inequality in the United States from 1990 to 2010 knocked about 5% points off cumulative GDP per capita over that period. Similar effects were seen in other rich countries.

The OECD found, “The main mechanism through which inequality affects growth is by undermining education opportunities for children from poor socioeconomic backgrounds lowering social mobility and hampering skills development. Children from the bottom 40% of households are missing out on pricey education opportunities. That makes them less productive employees, which means lower wages, which means lower overall participation in the economy.”

What might be surprising is that while this is obviously bad news for poor families, it also hurts those at the top. For if you’re a billionaire owner of a retail or manufacturing company, you want people to be able to afford the stuff you’re selling. It is not because of any altruistic impulses that Henry Ford offered his workers high wages, but because he wanted them to buy his cars.

Inequality is not necessarily bad. A 2015 World Bank paper that a certain amount of inequality boosts per capita GDP in developing economies by allowing wealth entrepreneurs to invest more. This effects is reversed in advance economies like our own, because of the detrimental effects on education attainment mentioned above.

Even in advanced countries, not all inequality is harmful. A report by the International Monetary Fund found the inequality could be beneficial to growth at low to moderate levels. Using the Gini coefficient, where 0 means that everyone has the same income and 100 means just one individual has it all, inequality spurred growth in the counties with index values below 27. Too bad for the US where our current Gini index is somewhere around 41, which is well beyond the threshold where inequality because harmful.

To quickly summarize inequality harms overall growth by decreasing per capita income, damaging health and well-being, decreasing disposable income, or enticing middle-class individuals to incur debts they can’t pay.

Of course, this is of no interest to the Trump administration. They are not interested in research studies and instead are relying on Trump’s gut feeling. Moreover, Trump’s tax cut exacerbated the problem of wealth discrepancy and increased the size of the national debt.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Truly Noteworthy Accomplishment

February 14, 2018

Is Bret Parker’s completion of seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. Day 1 was in Antartica. Day 2 in Cape Town, South Africa. Day 3 in Perth, Australia. Day 4 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Day 5 in Lisbon, Portugal. Day 6 in Cartagena, Columbia. Day 7 in Miami Florida. The length of a marathon is 26 miles 385 yards. HM could not walk a marathon anywhere, much less in Antartica.

So this is a remarkable accomplishment for any human being. But Bret Parker has Parkinson’s disease. Rather than suffering from the disease, he has taken it on as a challenge and is winning that challenge. Bret Parker will eventually die, as will we all. But Bret Parker is most definitely a winner.

HM feels compelled to recognize Bret Parker. He is a true inspiration for us all.

This post is taken from an article by Amy Gardner titled “7 Marathons, 7 Days, 7 Continents” in the Health and Science Section of the 13 February, 2018 Washington Post.

Beliefs: Necessary but Dangerous

February 13, 2018

Most of our actions and behaviors are produced by habits and beliefs. Both are necessary and are what Kahneman terms System 1 processes. That is, they occur almost automatically. But we can have bad habits and erroneous beliefs.  Correcting these requires attention to correct via System 2 processes. And this can take significant time and effort.

When we are growing up the default setting for beliefs is to accept them. If we consistently questioned what we were being told, our growth would likely be retarded. Later when we see or hear something that is discordant with our beliefs, the brain notices it. We are aware that this is something new and perhaps wrong. Usually we just ignore the discordant information and go on with what we’re doing. Resolving the discrepancy can take quite a bit of effort to resolve.

The older we get, the more our actions are determined by our beliefs. And our beliefs become more hard set. The term used here is hardening of the categories. We do not question why things happen attributing them to God’s will or nature taking its course.

Beliefs can be dangerous to a democracy. Too be sure, some beliefs are necessary, such as“All men are created equal” and the beliefs as expressed in the constitution. Some people might argue that “all men are not equal,” or what about women? What the phrase means is that all men are equal with respect to rights. At the time it was written, women were not included because they could not vote and did not have rights. Matters have improved as women can vote, but there is still some distance to go. Slaves certainly were not equal. Although slavery has been abolished, civil rights issues remain. The intended meaning of the phrase is that all human beings should have equal rights.

However, with respect to lawmaking beliefs can be pernicious, as they constrain thinking. For example, consider the proposition that the government should provide health care to all residents of the country. The immediate response of some will be to shout “socialism,” cutting off further discussion. One can try to continue the discussion by asking, do you like Social Security, isn’t that socialism? Some would answer they don’t like Social Security. Others might confess to liking social security but claim that it is not truly socialism.

One could also begin a discussion by stating that the United States is the only advanced country that does not provide effectively free medical care to its citizens. This could be followed by the facts that the medical statistics in the United States are much worse than the statistics in the other advanced countries, and their medical costs are much less. All these countries have single payer systems and that payer is the government. So why should the United States not emulate these other countries? Here “exceptionalism” would likely be shouted. The notion here is that the United States is an exception to the other countries of the world. This is a tad similar to Hitler calling the Germans the master race. Exceptionalism is nothing but a belief—an incorrect belief. Stupidity can be readily substituted for exceptionalism.

Some beliefs are good, but they can be compartmentalized. The Christian teaching is to “love they neighbor as thyself.” So one might conclude from this that Christians would strongly be in favor of providing effective medical care for everyone in the country. But many do not because of another belief, that government should be as small as possible. Apparently in cases like these the less inconvenient belief is taken.

Another belief is in the universality of market forces. Now, there is no argument that free enterprise is very good. But one problem is that free markets tend not to last long. Monopolies develop and small players are pushed out. Government needs to intercede here, but bad connotations about government might preclude this. The problem with people seeing the role of market forces to all problems is analogous to the person who only has a hammer and sees all problems as nails.

The common complaint is that the United States has become polarized and that this polarization is precluding us from solving problems. Political parties exacerbate polarization and political parties are based almost solely on beliefs.

Political parties might be necessary for some functions of government, but the best way to lubricate a democracy is to preclude the expression of beliefs in political discourse. Participants would be told that before entering into the discussions they should role up all their beliefs into a ball, and insert it as far as they can up their keister. Courses of action could be argued, but the arguments would need to consist solely of data and logical arguments. When questions arose regarding the validity of the data or the soundness of the arguments, then studies could be done and experiments conducted to resolve the issues. Were we to do these, then we would indeed be worthy of the title homo sapiens. Currently titles such as homo stupididus or homo blow hardidus might be more appropriate.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Most Admirable Multi-Billionaires

February 12, 2018

Two who come immediately to mind are Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. These two (actually three, Melinda Gates is on Bill’s team) are giving away their fortunes, but they are not passing their fortunes on to their children. They think children inheriting their parents’ fortunes is not only bad for their children, but it is also unfair to other children who are not so fortunate. They reason that they have already given their children enough of a chance to succeed.

Ted Turner has pledged half of his fortune after he passes away and is trying to convince other multi-billionaires to do the same. He is meeting with some success, but others just tell him to pass.

It is difficult to understand why multi-billionaires want to acquire more wealth. There is only so much that they can personally consume and enjoy. Many become philanthropists and find this rewarding. It also benefits their personal health. So it is some consolation knowing that greedy multi-billionaires will likely shorten their lives compared to how long they could have lived had they been philanthropic.

It is clear that the goal of some multi-billionaires is to increase their wealth and personal power. This is certainly true of the Kochs and the Mercers. They are giving to websites, networks, and politicians to increase their wealth and personal power. As mentioned earlier, Fred Koch founded the John Birch Society, which was violently anti-communist. How could his descendants be supporting Putin’s support of Donald Trump? The apparent reason was that the Soviet Union was Communist. Russia, however, has been transformed by a former KGB agent into a kleptocracy. Now a kleptocracy is something they can understand. It is clear that Putin wanted Trump to win and that Russia devoted considerable resources, likely enough to tip the electoral college to Trump.

Originally, Republicans were enraged that the Russians had corrupted our election. They wanted to get to the bottom of this and supported Republican Mueller in his investigation. However, now their tune has changed. They are attacking fellow Republican Mueller, the FBI, and the Justice Department to either stop or discredit Mueller’s investigation. The only way that HM can understand this behavior is to think that Republicans have effectively been bought by the Kochs and Mercers. They might not be smart enough to realize that the end goal is a kleptocracy. HM wonders if they’ll continue to react this way if further investigations into Trump’s finances show that he is heavily in debt to Putin and the Russian Mafia, and that Trump is, in effect, Putin’s bitch.
HM is just wondering here, and this is just a conjecture.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The True Meaning of Freedom

February 11, 2018

Ask most Americans what they like most about the United States and they’re likely to say it’s a free country. But some people regard freedom from a personal perspective; they are blind to the freedoms of other people. The most blatant example of this is slavery, which lasted way too long. But diversity is also important, and the United States is a diverse country. And too many people are either blind, callous, or self-righteous when they trample on the freedom of other people.

Prohibiting abortion is perhaps the most blatant example of the disregard for the beliefs of others. As was mentioned in previous healthy memory blog posts, unloved children impose costs on society besides the personal costs of being forcefully brought into this world unloved. It seems that a major activity in which some religions engage in is being judgmental. Google “Judge not that ye be not judged,” and you’ll find citations from the bible. You’ll also find different interpretations from ministers and religious scholars to justify their being judgmental. Some will express alarm at the Islamic concept of sharia. They would likely argue that here there should be a separation of church and state, but some influenced parishioners to vote for Trump so he would appoint Supreme Court justices that would overturn Roe v. Wade making getting abortions more difficult. This is hypocritical, Churches are exempt from taxation, but is this proper when they do engage in political activities? These same churches exert pressure on congress to preclude birth control support to poor countries where a primary problem is overpopulation. These religions exacerbate problems and create unnecessary pain and suffering.

Consider what Dr. Frances writes on this topic in “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” :
“Jesus was one of history’s most forgiving people—but he could not tolerate religious hypocrisy. Here is a sampler from his many denunciations: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.” “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” “You hypocrites! These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” Jesus could accept abortion and he could accept homosexuality, but he could not accept the hypocrisy and lack of charity so baldly displayed by the radical religious right. Faced with Jerusalem versions of Trump, Jesus unceremoniously kicked them out of the temple. He declared that “passage to heaven would be as difficult for a rich man as a camel going through the eye of a needle.”

It is informative to contrast the two political conventions. The Democratic convention had themes of love, diversity, and helping people. The Republican Convention featured fear, hate, and the admiration of Trump. Apparently the majority of Evangelicals attended the Republican convention, and apparently they voted heavily for Trump.

So Americans need to remember that freedom is wonderful, but an important part of one’s personal freedom is the respecting of the freedom of fellow citizens. On both a personal and national level, being judgmental is bad.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Jesus Would Tell His Flock to Vote Righteously, Not Radical Right

February 10, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” by Allen Francis, MD. This is one of the best sections in the book.

Francis begins, “And how does Trump measure up to Christ? ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet are summed in this single command: You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ Trump is a serial adulterer, a business thief, a tax cheat, and a greedy coveter of epic proportions. He brags about being above the law of both God and man in these most remarkable words: ‘I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.’ Trump hasn’t directly killed anyone, but his attempt to deprive health care could kill millions and his promotion of global warming may wind up killing tens, or even hundreds, of millions.

So, how then could Trump win the evangelical vote by a surprisingly wide four-to-one margin and win the white Catholic vote by two-to-one? Dr. Francis writes,”This was no tribute to Trump’s religious purity—rather it was the work of cynical Christian leaders who had sold their souls to Trump in a shady backroom deal. They would influence tens of millions of religious voters to support him in exchange for his support for their hard-line positions against abortion and gay rights. The wheeling and dealing was remarkable testimony to the political skills, as well as religious hypocrisy, of many Christian leaders in the United States. Thirty pieces of silver never exchanged hands, but the teachings of Jesus Christ were surely cast by the wayside.

Jesus didn’t care a fig about abortion or homosexuality. In his time, abortion was legal and widely practiced—but he never once condemned it in all his many preachings. Homosexuality was also accepted and widely practiced—and again Jesus never once condemned it in all his many preachings. Jesus was the champion of the underdog against fat cats like Trump. Christ honored the humble and the weak: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’ ‘For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.’ He would never horse-trade the needs of the poor and the oppressed to further a ‘fundamentalist’ religious agenda and billionaire-inspired right-wing causes.’

Anyone who believes that Jesus could ever support a man like Trump needs lots more Bible study.”

Here is an explanation as to why Jesus didn’t care a fig about abortion. In his infinite wisdom he knew that the most important factor in the development of a healthy child into a healthy adult is that the child be wanted and loved by its mother. There is more than ample data regarding children who have not been loved and wanted by their mothers. One can be fairly confident that most unfortunate events caused by humans have been caused by humans who did not experience this necessary motherly love. If his followers behaved as he desired, they would love their children or place them in the hands of someone they were confident would provide this love. But biological life is irrelevant Souls are what is important here, not biological life. He knew that if a child were aborted that his Father would surely not forget the aborted child’s soul. That soul would be placed into a new life that would have a fortunate future.

HM has evangelical friends who did not vote for Trump and who find the support of any Christian for Donald Trump a profound embarrassment.

 

How Could Trump Triumph—Part Four

February 9, 2018

Dr. Francis, the author of “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” is an amazing scholar. Nevertheless, he comes up short when trying to explain the success of Trump. He mentions Daniel Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of Cognition but fails to understand its relevance to the Trump problem. 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. There was a previous healthy memory blog post, “Donald Trump and Daniel Kahneman’ that provides the basis for understanding how Trump could triumph.

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, but do not invoke 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.

System 2 processes require using one’s attentional processes, exerting cognitive effort. People who don’t do this are what is termed cognitive misers. The simplest explanation of how Trump triumphed is an epidemic of cognitive miserliness. Add to this that emotions are processed using System 1. So emotions, anger, fear are processed directly bypassing System 2. Responding with one’s gut is a System 1 response. Trump appealed directly to fear and anger, gut to gut.

The healthy memory blog post, “Donald J. Trump Incapacitated Person” tells of a lawsuit by a lawyer, James A. Herb, Esq. that attempted to preclude Donald Trump from being elected, and documented how Trump was an incapacitated person and should not be President. The problems that people are recognizing now, were clearly identifiable then. He refiled the suit before the Electoral College voted as the ostensible purpose of the Electoral College is to preclude clearly unqualified people, such as Trump, from becoming President. Obviously the Electoral College failed to do so. As the Electoral College is not performing as planned, it should be abolished and every voters’ vote should count in the election. After Trump became President, he filed the suit again citing actions since becoming President that clearly indicated Trump was an incapacitated person who should not be President.

All this went unnoticed because System 2 processes were not invoked. His many lies and contradictions went unnoticed again because people failed to invoke their System 2 processes.

A real existential threat Trump presents is the possibility of a nuclear war that could wipe out much of the world.

So, in short, Trump triumphed because of cognitive miserliness due to a lack of mental effort, and the failure of the Electoral College to fulfill the function it was supposed to perform.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Could Trump Triumph — Part Three

February 8, 2018

The question posed in this post is identical to a chapter title in “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” by Allen Francis, MD.
“Radical right-wing populism comes from the top. The John Birch Society was started in 1958 by twelve rich guys, including Fred Koch, the father of radical right-wing patrons Charles and David Koch. Its program was so kookily extreme that William F. Buckley Jr. denounced it as “far removed from common sense” and fought any role it had it might have in the Republican Party.” A previous healthy memory blog post titled “Why the Right Lost Its Mind” reviewed an important book by conservative Charles Sykes titled “How the Right Lost Its Mind” as to how the Republicans lost their minds and have been taken over by the Kochs and the Mercers. After the death of William F. Buckley, the radical right reemerged. Dr. Francis writes,”Today’s Republican platform, prejudices, and policies are derived almost plank for plank from the Bircher doctrine. The Koch brothers have been the most influential moving forces in turning extremist doctrine into mainstream Republican policy—and selling it to the common people it helps fleece. They (and their buddy billionaires) have spent tens of billions of dollars creating fake grassroots organizations, political think tanks, an army of political operatives at the state and local level, and training camps for conservative lawyers and judges. These enormous efforts promote science denial, tax breaks for the wealthy, deregulations, pollution, global warming, and minority bashing. Unholy alliances have been formed with the tobacco industry, the National Rifle Association, and extremist religious leaders. Fake populism’s biggest success story is the Koch-conceived, Koch funded Tea Party—which first conquered the Republican Party, then seized the White House.”

This group is expert at perverting populist ideology for their own, cynical and sinister, elitist ends—protecting their power and privilege by playing the “divide and conquer” game. Brilliant political propaganda skillfully co-opts the underclass it is screwing. The legitimate grievances of poor whites, who receive an ever-shrinking slice of the American economic pie, are redirected against blacks, Latinos, women, and immigrants. The elites keep their rich spoils (and their loopholes) by stoking inchoate fears and tribal feuds, and offering trickle-down crumbs. Attacks on “big government” protect the elite from the one institution that might umpire a fairer distribution of wealth. Radical right-wing demagoguery feeds upon and promotes all our social delusions—-using them as disguise for robbing the public purse.”

The John Birch Society was strongly anti-communist, anti-communist to the point where they left the bounds of reality. For example, they accused President Eisenhower of being a communist. So in addition to the efforts of William F. Buckley, they contributed to their own self destruction. What HM had been having difficulty understanding was why the right was bonding with Russia. It took a long time to realize that at that time the Soviet Union was a communist state. Former KGB agent Putin is no longer a communist. He has created a kleptocracy. Now a kleptocracy is something multi-billionaires craving even more wealth and power can cotton to. Their goal is to convert our American democracy into a kleptocracy. This explains why Republicans have no problems with Russia helping Trump get elected. And it explains why they are doing everything they can to either stop or discredit the special prosecutor. There is no relationship between today’s Republican Party and the truly Grand Old Party of the past. The Grand Old Party no longer exists. The Republican Party was sold out and bought. This realization explains a great deal.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Could a Trump Triumph? —- Part Two

February 7, 2018

The question posed in this post is identical to a chapter title in “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” by Allen Francis, MD.

Many people were disturbed as to how an advanced country like Germany could be taken over by the Nazis. Theodor Adorno conducted a survey in the Unites States that revealed that many Americans also have the characteristics of what he called, “the Authoritarian Personality.” These characteristics include strongly defending conventions; being submissive to those above, and domineering to those below; devaluing intellectual activity; overvaluing power and toughness; blaming others; being cynical; and believing conspiracy theories and superstitions. People with this “Authoritarian Personality” obey, rally together and sometimes become powerful and dominating leaders. They respond aggressively to outsiders especially when they feel threatened. By acting tough, Trump displays his own (and plays to his followers) authoritarian inclinations.

It is clear that Trump’s base consists of people with this Authoritarian Personality. This was quite clear to his response to the demonstrators in Charlottesville. He said that there were good people demonstrating with the neo-nazis. He is reluctant to disavow support from the nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. And it is clear why. They constitute the majority of his solid base.

Trump is the ultimate confidence man. There’s the statement “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Trump says our world is broken and that he and he alone can fix it. Francis writes, “But the transparency of Trump’s deceptions did not discourage his faithful followers from accepting that he is truthful and that the reporters he hates are the “most dishonest people on earth.”

“In a fearful and uncertain world, Trump is ever the clever confidence man, cynically trading on the overconfidence that is an inherent part of human psychology. He embodies within himself and unconsciously exploits in others, the “Dunning-Kruger effect.” There have been several healthy memory blog posts on the “Dunning-Kruger effect.” These Cornell psychologists have shown that people with less ability at any given task are more likely to overestimate their own skill and underestimate the skill of others. In effect people are massively ignorant of what they don’t know. They flaunt their ignorance and show contempt for the individuals who have expertise that the ignorant people need. If you don’t know what you don’t know, you can’t correct your ignorance. If you don’t know when you are making a mistake, you’ll keep making it. Francis quotes Shakespeare, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man know himself to be a fool.”

It is next to impossible to campaign against this ignorance. There are ample contradictions in what Trump says himself to discredit him, but his supporters fail to notice these contradictions. And they have contempt for people with the relevant knowledge to deal with the problems we face.

Francis wrote “Trump understood that people who feel desperate, anxious, angry, and helpless are not in a mood to listen to rational arguments. His fear mongering pitch is that we are now living in the worst of worlds, in the worst of times; that there are even worse dangers ahead; that enemies lurk on all sides; and that we can trust him to keep us safe. He daily succeeds in passing off a fusillade of “alternative facts’ because frightened people are ready to accept them. Human irrationality in the face of stress has a long past and may, unfortunately, also enjoy a great future.”

“In the no-holds-barred U.S. political wars, bold untruth has become the most powerful of all political weapons. Ultraright-Wing talk radio, conspiracy theory internet sites, and Fox News spew forth a constant spate of alternative facts and extreme opinions that are often outright lies and always anything but ‘fair and balanced.’ They follow the chilling advice of Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels: ‘It would not be impossible to prove, with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas in disguise.’”

How Could a Trump Triumph? — Part One

February 6, 2018

The question posed in this post is identical to a chapter title in “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” by Allen Francis, MD. There needs to be multiple parts to this post.

Let’s begin with the campaign theme, “Make America Great Again.” The implicit assumption here is that America is no longer great. However, by all indications America was great having been brought back from an economic crisis by President Obama. When he became president, we were on the verge of a depression. He rescued us from that fate where all objective indicators indicated that the United States was already great again, if, indeed, it had ever fallen from greatness. The free nations of the world admired the United States and looked to it for leadership. However, dictatorial oligarchies like Russia, looked at the United States as a rival that needed to be defeated.

It is true that some people were unhappy. But HM would argue that in democracies, people are usually unhappy. This is true even when one’s favored party is in power. It is unlikely that they’re doing everything individuals want. There are also shortfalls due to the economy and what the government can deliver. HM has been unhappy his entire voting life regardless of which party was in power. All other advanced countries are way ahead of us with respect to medical care, many advanced countries offer less costly educational opportunities, and yet other advanced countries offer more freedoms. The term “American Exceptionalism” is frequently invoked to explain why we are different. HM argues that “Stupidity” can be readily and more accurately substituted for “Exceptionalism.”

It is true that since 1970 real wages in the United States have declined. When HM was in elementary school it was unusual for women with children to work. Now working spouses have become the norm. The question here is why have so many married women joined the workforce. Do they have to or do they want to? After all, there are still women who prefer to be full time mothers. But a very large number would be extremely unhappy if they were denied careers.

Middle-aged whites without a college degree (Trump’s most solid base) feel that a they are worse off then their parents. When they think that African-Americans and Latinos are somewhat better than they are, they become angry. So an ethnic factor exacerbates the problem. And, indeed, election time presents an opportunity to correct the situation. But it appears that whites who are not college educated do not widely read, if, indeed, they read at all. Otherwise, they would have realized that Trump’s solution was faulty. The loss of jobs was attributable primarily to automation. Other industries like coal were going out of fashion. Moreover, breaking trade agreements will likely have an adverse effect on the economy. So Trump will likely make the jobs problem worse, not better. Time will tell.

The preceding accounts were from the text. But more recent research questions the belief that job or income losses led to Trumpism. A 2016 study of 125,000 American adults by Gallup’s Pablo Diego-Rosell found that Trump voters had slightly higher incomes than others and were no more likely to be unemployed or exposed to competition from trade and immigration.

Terrorism is a factor exploited by Trump. Since 9/11, an average of only 9 people a year in the United States died from terrorist acts by radical Islamists; while each year more than 250,000 die from medical mistakes, 50,000 from drug overdoses, 37,000 from car accidents, and 33,000 from guns (not wielded by terrorists). Nevertheless, people are worried about terrorists. HM was in high school during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He remembers saying good-bye to his classmates at the end of a school day wondering, along with his classmates, whether we would ever see each other again. In those days, nuclear annihilation was a distinct possibility. At worst, terrorism is a minor nuisance. Even the detonation of a dirty bomb pales in comparison to nuclear annihilation. However, whenever people see a terrorist event on television, they feel threatened. Moreover, most mass killings are the result of the number of guns readily available, and not Islamists. Nevertheless, Trump capitalized greatly on these fears. He went beyond terrorists to immigrants in general.

The world is changing rapidly, and many people have difficulty coping with this change. It’s almost like stop the world, I want to get off. So the campaigning on the theme of “Making the World Great Again” promises a return to the quieter, good old days, if they, indeed, ever truly existed.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Hitler Trump Comparison

February 5, 2018

The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 5 of “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” by Allen Francis, MD.

“Hitler, like Trump, never won a popular election—his best performance at the polls garnered only 44 % of the vote. Hitler, like Trump, had only the greatest contempt for democratic tradition, a free press, the courts, intellectuals, human rights. Hitler, like Trump, regarded truth as negotiable, lies as effective weapons, and morality as excess baggage. Hitler, like Trump, was a conspiracy theorist who surrounded himself with subservient “yes men,” unwilling or unable to challenge his misconceptions and misjudgments. Hitler, like Trump, was a world-class narcissist. Hitler like Trump, was despised and underestimated by the political establishment, who felt he could be used and manipulated to their own purposes. Hitler, like Trump, defied the political establishment and remained true (only) to himself. Hitler, like Trump, felt disrespected and treated unfairly, and had many scores to settle. Hitler, like Trump, claimed infallibility, that he was smarter than his generals and advisors, and that his gut instincts were the nation’s best guide. Hitler, like Trump, exploited the fear, anger, and resentments of his people. Hitler, like Trump, promoted tribalism and reviled minorities as dangerous vermin.”

At this point readers are likely thinking that Dr. Francis is being unfair. Surely Hitler was unlike Trump in some ways. Dr Francis obliges, “For sure, Hitler was unlike Trump in some ways. He was much smarter, better read, more mature, better organized, less ignorant of history, more self-disciplined, less distractible, better mannered, more plausible—and, so far, much more bloodthirsty, ruthless, and deadly.”

Twilight of American Sanity

February 4, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an important book by Allen Francis, MD. The subtitle is “A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump.” The book begins with the following epigraphs:

The iniquity of the fathers will be visited on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.
———EXODUS

As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
——— H. L. MENCKEN

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
———ALBERT EINSTEIN

The title of the Prologue
Trump Isn’t Crazy, We Are

followed by this quote from FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE
Insanity in individuals is somewhat rare. But in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule.

Dr. Francis holds the distinction for being the author of the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He writes, “Trump’s amateur diagnosticians have all made the same fundamental error. They correctly note that the disorder’s defining features fit him like a glove (grandiose self-importance; preoccupations with being great; feeling special; having to hang out with special people; requiring constant admiration; feeling entitled lacking empathy; and being exploitative, envious, and arrogant.) But they fail to recognize that being a world-class narcissist doesn’t make Trump mentally ill. Crucial to the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the requirement that the behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment.” But Dr. Francis does concede that Trump is a bad person. Psychiatrists do have this requirement that the individual must be personally suffering distress to have a diagnosis of mental illness. By doing this, psychiatrists are making their job much easier. Unless a personal realizes they have a problem, the chances of treating it are remote. So to have the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but not being diagnosed as being mentally ill is actually worse, as there is virtually no hope of this individual being successfully treated for this disorder.

Dr. Francis goes on to state that there are three harmful unintended consequences of using psychiatric tools to discredit Trump. “First, lumping him with the mentally ill stigmatizes them more than it embarrasses him. Most mentally ill people are well behaved and well meaning, both of which Trump is decidedly not. Second, medicalizing Trump’s bad behavior underestimates him and distracts attention from the dangers of his policies. Trump is a political problem, not one for psychoanalysis. Instead of focusing on Trump’s motivations, we must counter his behaviors with political tools. And, third, were Trump to be removed from office, his successors (Pence and Ryan) would probably be much worse—more plausible purveyors of his very dangerous policies.” Although what Dr. Francis writes is true of domestic policies, he does not adequately consider the risks Trump presents with respect to foreign policies, control of the military and the nuclear football.

Dr. Francis continues, “But what does it say about us, the we elected someone so manifestly unfit and unprepared to determine mankind’s future? Trump is a symptom of a world in distress, not its sole cause. Blaming him for all our troubles misses the deeper, underlying societal sickness that made possible his unlikely ascent. Calling Trump crazy allows us to avoid confronting the craziness in our society—-if we want to get sane, we must first gain insight about ourselves. Simply put, Trump isn’t crazy, but our society is.”

More posts on this important book will directly follow.