Archive for April, 2018

Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine

April 30, 2018

This post is the second in a series on spiritual growth, which is part of the growth mindsets advocated in this blog. The title of this post is identical to the title of an interesting book by Alan Lightman. Dr. Lightman is a physicist, but a physicist with a large conceptual outlook. This book is a collection of his musings.

His musings about the physical world are both interesting and informing. Many are about matters with which HM was already familiar, but there was also much new information. And much of HM’s knowledge needed brushing up.

Scale can be very difficult to understand. For example, there are several billion stars in our galaxy alone, and a hundred billion galaxies just with the observable universe. Now this is just the observable universe. There are likely stars and galaxies so distant that their light has yet to arrive. The speed of light provides a severe constraint on how much we can learn about the universe. The notion of traveling just to other stars within our own galaxy is severely constrained. Given the large numbers involved, it seems that it is also likely that not only is there other life in the universe, but truly intelligent life. So it is unlikely that any contact will be made with intelligent life.

At the small end of the scale we have atoms. We know that everything consists of atoms. But atoms themselves consist of even smaller particles. And what is even more difficult to understand is that atoms consist largely of empty space. It is difficult to reconcile our apparently solid world with these empty atoms, but this was done and this scientific knowledge developed over several hundred years (and is still developing) due to our use of our System 2 processing and higher (enter “Tri-process Model of Cognition” into the search block of the healthy memory blog). Our minds are truly marvelous instruments provided that we use them.

Fortunately Dr. Lightman is unlike the scientists whose thinking is so constrained that they cannot believe in God. He not only believes in transcendence but picks a relevant passage from the psychologist William James’ book, “Varieties of Religious Experience:”
“I remember the night and almost the very spot on the hilltop, where my soul opened out, as it were, into the Infinite, and there was a rushing together of two worlds, the inner and the outer. It was deep calling unto deep—the deep that my own struggle had opened up within being answered by the unfathomable deep without, reaching beyond the stars. I stood alone with Him who made me, and all the beauty of the world, and love, and sorrow, and even temptation. I did not seek him, but felt the perfect union of my spirit with His…Since that time no discussion that I have heard of the proofs of God’s existence has been able to shake my faith. Having once felt the presence of God’s spirit, I have never lost it again for long, My most assuring evidence of his existence is deeply rooted in that hour of vision in the memory of that supreme experience.” Obviously this was a very vivid religious experience. Such a vivid experience is not necessary. Reassurance can be found in moments of reverie, meditation, or prayer.

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The Dunning-Kruger Effect Writ Large

April 29, 2018

Readers of the Healthymemory blog should be familiar with the Dunning-Kruger Effect from previous posts. The Dunning-Kruger Effect describes the phenomenon of people thinking they know much more about a topic than they actually know, compared to the knowledgeable individual who is painfully aware of how much he still doesn’t know about the topic in question.

In the blog post “The Antithesis of the Enlightenment” HM wondered how people would rate the following statement by David Deutsch,
“Everything that is not forbidden by the laws of nature is achievable, given the right knowledge.”
HM’s own response was, “HM would say that this is an empirical question so we don’t know yet.”

HM was answering on two levels. The Dunning-Kruger Effect states that the more knowledgeable one is, the more uncertain one is of his knowledge. This is certainly true for HM. Since graduating from high school, his learning has informed him of how much more he does not know. He expects this to continue to the end of his lifetime. Moreover, even within his supposed areas of expertise, there is a limit to what he can know and grasp. Much of what HM knows and believes is based on what true experts know. Moreover, HM thinks one should never be certain. Any belief can be overturned with better data or better arguments.

Homo sapiens is constrained by limitations in attentional processing in short term memory. Long-term memory is malleable, and changes over time. So human physiology constrains cognitive abilities. As Daniel Goleman described in his book, Emotional Intelligence, we have a nervous system adapted to performance to the world of early humans were dangers were omnipresent. This can still be seen in the daily violence reported in the news, and in our propensity for warfare, even when it is realized that todays weapons could make homo sapiens extinct.

In the general area of science, there seems to be overconfidence in how much we know. At the turn of the 19th century, some prominent physical scientists apparently thought that virtually everything was known. By 1905 Einstein published his special theory of relativity, to be followed ten years later by his general theory of relativity. And by the mid-twenties quantum physics came on the horizon. We can never know what might be just around the corner.

Unfortunately, science is often viewed as competing with the concept of God, without appreciating how limited current science is. Specific religious beliefs are not required for a belief in God. There are more parsimonious accounts available for all religions, and one of the tenets of science is to accept the most parsimonious explanation. Nevertheless, if someone finds comfort in a religion, that person should not be denied that comfort. The exception to this is when the individual tries to impose his religious beliefs or laws that come from those religious beliefs onto others.  Judge not, that ye be not judged should always be remembered. Live your religious beliefs, but let others live their own beliefs whether they are religious or not. Unfortunately some churches are heavily involved in politics, and wield an unhealthy political influence. Moreover, they are tax-exempt. Any church that is engaged in or that encourages their congregations to vote or work in a political area, should have their tax-exemptions revoked.

The mathematician Blaise Pascal made what HM regards as a compelling justification for a belief in God. Although he made his justification in a different context, the basic form of the argument holds. His argument was in terms of a cost-benefit analysis. He argued that the benefits of believing needed to be weighed against the costs of not- believing. If someone does not believe, and God does exist, then the consequences could be frightening. However, if you believe, and God does not exist, you would never know. And during one’s lifetime one would have the comfort in believing in a just and merciful God. As HM never is certain about anything, this logic compels him to believe in God. And that belief is comforting, even should it be wrong.

© 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.

Building a Firewall Against Folly

April 28, 2018

This post has the same title as a section of the book “Belief: What It Means to Believe and Why Our Convictions are So Compelling” by psychologist James E. Alcock. Dr. Alcock suggests that short of undertaking formal training in critical thinking skills, we can help ourselves think more critically by keeping the following points in mind. Although they clearly are not enough on their own to turn us into great critical thinkers, they can help us all to become better critical thinkers.

“Beware: We can all be fooled. Possibly the most common pitfall with regard to critical thinking is the belief that one is already a good critical thinker. The next step toward building a firewall against folly is to recognize that we can be deceived and that we can frequently deceive ourselves. No matter how good we are at critical analysis, every one of us is likely at times to depart significantly from rationality, especially in situations when emotion or intuition confronts reason. The corollary is that we all probably have pockets of irrationality where erroneous beliefs take shelter.
Be wary of your intuitions: Pay attention to them, but do not trust them. As the products of nonconscious information processing, intuitions can offer important guidance to decision-making when based on considerable past experience. On the other hand, they can also gravely mislead, especially when there has been little experience to back them up. To ignore intuition completely is unwise, but to accept it uncritically is even more so.
3. Be wary of the Fundamental Attribution Error, the tendency that we all have to attribute people’s behaviors to their characters and intentions while overlooking or minimizing the power of the situation, which often plays the greater role in determining people’s actions. It is easy to assume that suicide terrorists are deranged and merciless while ignoring the situation factors that render their actions altruistic in the eyes of their communities, just as it is easy to believe that all homeless people are lazy, or that a student who does poorly lacks intelligence.
4. Be wary of personal validation. While personal experience can be a great teacher, personal validation—judging a claim based only on personal experience—is often a poor guide to its validity. You may have had a powerful dream that seemed precognitive, or the psychic’s palm reading may have been impressive, or the yellow pill may seem to have cured you laryngitis, or your interaction with a memory of a minority group may have been less than pleasant, but this in no way demonstrates the reality of precognition, the psychic powers of the palm reader, the remedial qualities of the yellow pill, or that “those people” are difficult.
5. Beware of reliance on a single source of information. This should be obvious, but it is all too easy to ignore this caveat, especially with regard to the news. We naturally gravitate toward sources that are in line with our beliefs, and this risks sheltering us from information that might challenge what we erroneously take to be fact.
6. Beware of mistaking coincidence for causation. As we have seen, we are born magical thinkers, and magical thinking continues to lurk beneath the surface in wait for reason to falter. It is often difficult to resist the idea of causation when two meaningful events occur one after the other. Challenging automatic assumptions about causality is a key aspect of critical thinking.
7. Be wary of over-interpreting correlations. Just as with coincidence, we can all too readily mistake correlations for cause and effect. Observing that were seems to be more and more petty crime, while at the same time noting that the immigrant population is increasing, does not mean that there is a connection between the two. Moreover, some of the ‘correlations” that we observe may not actually be correlations at all. They may be illusory. For example, many emergency ward physicians and nurses are convinced that admissions jump whenever there is a full moon. Forty % of medical staff surveyed in a 2011 study expressed that belief, while 80% of the nurses and 60% of the physicians who responded to another survey were convinced that here were more mental health admissions during a full moon than at any other time. Such beliefs are in error, for many investigations have all found no evidenced of increased admissions, for either physical of psychiatric reasons, during a full moon. Again, experience can be a poor guide to reality.
8. Compared to what? The question of “compared to what” is vital to critical thinking. A sort of parable: Before the carcinogenic properties of asbestos were understood, some winemakers removed impurities by filtering their wines through asbestos. A 1977 test found asbestos fibers in every one of the fifteen wines tested, and a particular Hungarian wine was withdrawn from liquor store shelves after being measured for having almost two million asbestos fibers per liter. Not long after, a psychologist friend came to dinner bearing a bottle of that very wine. When I informed him of its high asbestos content, he replied—as any good experimental psychologist might—“compared to what?” and jokingly suggested that the city’s water supply might have an even higher asbestos count. The irony was that a newspaper reported a week later that city water at that time was also being filtered through asbestos and its fiber count did indeed exceed that of the wine. Avoid the water too! Asking “compared to what” is also an essential component of scientific inquiry, where it is typically addressed through the use of control groups, a practice that took root only in the early twentieth century but has ultimately become a mainstay of medical and psychological research. Though individuals can hardly be expected to set up control groups, we should all endeavor, as my friend was doing, albeit in humor, to engage in a control-group style of thinking. This comes naturally in some situations but rarely occurs in others.
9. Keep the Scottish verdict in mind and suspend judgment. Juries in criminal trials in Scotland are not forced to choose between guilty and innocent; they can also opt for not proven. It is often tempting to jump to conclusions: “They didn’t invite us because they don’t like us”; “Last night’s dream about today’s fire must have been paranormal.” Such quick conjectures are often wrong. If more information is to be had, then by all means we should seek it out, but in the meantime, rather than rely on whatever explanation comes readily to mind, the wiser strategy is to adopt the equivalent of the Scots’ “Not proven”; suspend judgment about how or why something happened and conclude simply that “I don’t know.”

Disturbing Data on What We Believe and Trust

April 27, 2018

This post is based on information in the book “Belief: What It Means to Believe and Why Our Convictions are So Compelling” by psychologist James E. Alcock. A 2017 Pew Research Poll carried out in the United States reported that 85% of Republicans and Republican leaners, compared to 46% of Democrats, believe that the reports of the traditional news media are having a negative effect on the country. The same research poll found that while 72% of Democrats in their sample consider colleges and universities to be an “overwhelming positive force,” only 36 % of Republicans share that belief, and more than half of Republicans view colleges and universities as having a negative effect on the nation. It is frightening to think that more than half of the people in a major political party regard higher education as having a negative effect.

Dr. Alcock writes, “The core beliefs of dogmatic political or religious fundamentalists are unlikely to change no matter what we do, for those beliefs are well entrenched. Even Marcel Proust observed about the facts of life, “do not penetrate to the sphere in which our beliefs are cherished; they did not engender those beliefs, and they are powerless to change them.”

In terms of Nobel Winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of Cognition, these people are for all intents and purposes System 1 processors. System 1 is termed intuition and refers to our usual mode of thinking fast based on our learning and emotional feelings. To question and reevaluate thoughts, System 2 processing, called reasoning, or more commonly thinking, requires us to use attention. Virtually all learning involves System 2 processing, and System 2 processing is essential for critical thinking.

Republicans having negative views about the news and higher education characterized them as primarily System 1 processors. The world is changing rapidly and the news reports the changes. To understand the news requires System 2 processing, something these Republicans do not want to do. Similarly colleges, at least good colleges, need to advance with the thinking of the times. They need to be critical, but nevertheless there are topics that need to be studied and evaluated. One of the worst deeds these parents can do is to not send their children to college or to send them to colleges with a parochial (in the narrow sense, not necessarily the religious sense view). It is also harmful to the country.

It is important that not all Republicans be painted with the same brush. Republicans who have recognized that Trump is no Republican and have either left the party, as George Will did, or have refused to support Trump are clearly System 2 processors Their System 2 processing clearly indicated that not only is Trump not a true Republican, but that he also is a risk to the country and the world.

However, Dr. Alcock has some hope for people whose beliefs are not so dogmatically anchored that they are beyond influence. Even so, this is an arduous process. University courses that encourage critical thinking to help students distinguish science from pseudoscience have had mixed results. Psychologist Tom Gray assessed the effects of a one-semester university course that both emphasized critical thinking in the evaluation of evidence and offered natural explanations for various supposed paranormal phenomena. He found that, while belief in ESP, alien spacecraft, and reincarnation fell from 85% to 50%, over the course of the term many students simply did not change their beliefs at all. In other research, he found that university-level research methods and statistics courses, which might be expected to stimulate critical acumen, do not on their own enhance general critical thinking ability.

© 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 Questionable Virtue of Hard Work

April 26, 2018

Hard work is regarded as virtuous. Tell someone that you are working hard and they will congratulate you. In the United States we already work more hours per year than our English-speaking counterparts in Britain, Canada, and Australia. But is it not better to work smart than to work hard? Do you enjoy your work? How are the benefits? Is there a better or more efficient way to do your job? Are there other jobs that are preferable? If so, why are they not pursued?

Have you read the Healthymemory blog post “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less”. Even if you have read it, you might want to reread. The post reviews the lives of accomplished people and the importance of rest to their success. So just working hard can be counterproductive.

Athletic success seems to be highly dependent on deliberate practice. That means more practice time is devoted to weak skills. Similarly in nonathletic pursuits, are their certain skills or areas of knowledge that would make work more efficient or profitable?

So do not just work hard. Let your thinking guide your work.

© 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 Facebook Let A Friend Pass My Data to Cambridge Analytica

April 24, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a News & Technology piece by Timothy Revell in the 21 April 2018 issue of the New Scientist. This Is Your Digital Life (TIYDL) is the name of the Facebook App whose data ended up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica. Presumably only 270,000 people used the TIYDL app, but Facebook estimates that Cambridge Analytica ended up with data from 87 million people. These data were used by Cambridge Analytica to perform election shenanigans. The United Kingdom (UK) is gathering claimants to take Facebook to court for mishandling their data.

People who used the TIYDL app gave it permission to access the Facebook public profile page, date of birth and current city for each of their friends, along with the pages they liked. Facebook also says that “ a small number of people gave access to their own timeline and private messages, meaning that posts or messages from their friends would have been scooped up as well.

The TIDYL app was created by University of Cambridge professor Aleksandr Kogan to research how someone’s online presence corresponds to their personality traits. Kogan gave data from the app to Cambridge Analytics, which Facebook says was a violation of its terms of service. The UK’s information commissioner is also investigating whether it broke UK data protection laws. Data collected for research purposes can’t be given to a private company for a different use without consent. Kogan says that Facebook knew his intention was to pass it on and that it was written in the TIDYL app’s terms and conditions.

When reporters told Facebook about the situation in 2015, the firm said Cambridge Analytica had to delete the data. Cambridge Analytica said it did this, but whistle-blower Christopher Wylie said it didn’t.

Now Facebook is informing the people involved. It has released a tool that lets people check if their data were involved (bit.ly/2uXuHOY). The author used the tool and found, to his surprise, that a friend had used the app.

The problem is that to use virtually any software you need to agree to the terms of agreement, which include the privacy policies. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found in 2012 that it would take the average person 76 days to read all the privacy policies that they see each year. Clearly this is unreasonable.

Requirements should be made that these agreements be of reasonable length and understandable to the layperson. Moreover the default options should be “out” and action should be taken by the user to “opt in” This is necessary to be sure that people understand what they are doing.

© 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.

Old People Can Produce as Many New Brain Cells as Teenagers

April 23, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a news piece by Helen Thomson in the 14 April 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The article begins, “People in their 70’s seem to produce just as many new neurons as teenagers. When HM was a graduate student it was dogma that new neurons could not be produced. It is only fairly recently that it was found that the human hippocampus, central to learning and memory, produces new neurons throughout life.

Maura Boldrini of Columbia University and her colleagues have analyzed the hippocampi from 28 people, aged between 14 and 79. These were examined soon after each person’s death to check for the number of new neurons they contained as well as other signs of neuron function and activity. Similar numbers of new neurons were found throughout each hippocampus, regardless of a person’s age. The team estimates that each person was making about 700 neurons a day when they died (Cell Stem Cell, doi.org/cm4z).

Jeff Davies at Swansea University, UK says he would be interested to see the study repeated in people who do and don’t exercise because this would provide some insight into whether the production of new neurons can be modified by environmental factors in humans to promote healthy brain aging. To this HM adds comparing people with high levels of brain activity against people with low levels of brain activity. This is likely one of the factors involved in developing a cognitive reserve and avoiding the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s even if the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles develop.

© 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.

Two Disturbing Articles About Cognitive Decline

April 22, 2018

There were two disturbing articles about cognitive decline in the Aging Issue in the Health & Science section of the 17 April 2018 issue of the Washington Post. To be fair, two were positive articles. One positive article was by Marlene Cimons titled “Many seniors don’t accept stereotypes about aging.” Becca Levy, a professor of Psychology at Yale did a study that found that older adults with positive beliefs about old age were less likely to develop dementia, including those who are genetically disposed. She writes that negative age stereotypes are communicated to children through many sources, ranging from stories to social media. Individuals of all ages can benefit from bolstering their positive images of aging.

Another positive article was by Debra Bruno titled “Even in their 80s, these seniors set a very active pace.” She lists the following eight lessons:
Have a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. Healthy memory blog readers should recognize this as “ikigai.”
Celebrate and cultivate the social connections.
Do not be defined by your obstacles.
Money isn’t as important as you think.
Acknowledge that aging can be lonely.
Have a routine.
Location is important.
Death has no dominion

By far the worst article is by Kirk R. Daffner and is titled “How will I know when it’s time to retire?” This fellow is a neurologist and clinical director of an Alzheimer Center. His advice is to have a “Living Will for his Cognitive Skills” Basically he is conceding defeat and writing an article of surrender. I find it both disturbing and frightening that he is both a neurologist and clinical director of an Alzheimer center. He is woefully ignorant of relevant key research on the topic, and this ignorance does not bode well for patients at his center.

Another article, which is somewhat positive, but still disturbing, is by Lauren Neergaard and is titled, “Scientists study brains of “superagers’ to study their unusual memory. His definition of a superego is a useful brain in the body of someone 80 or older. Rogalski’s team has tested more than 1,000 people who thought they’d qualify, and only about 5% pass. Here is the test:listen to 15 unrelated words, and a half-hour later recall at least nine of them. Neergaard says, “That’s the norm for 50-year olds, but on average an 80-year old recalls five. Some superagers remember them all.

Now when HM was in graduate school, he would not have been able to recall the 5 words that Rogalski says is the norm for an 80 year old. To be sure, his superagers, are truly super, but the problem involves people who read this, do poorly, and conclude that they are in the process of cognitive decline. It is ridiculous to write something like this, and for an editor to publish it. It is a damaging statement. First of all, people should never self-test. And even if they did publish the test, the specific protocol for the test needs to be published (how the words are selected, the method of presentation, the study time, and what is done in the inter-test interval).

The following healthy memory blog posts need to be read: The Myth of Cognitive Decline and More on the Myth of Cognitive Decline (Use the healthymemory blog search block). Research has shown through simulations (which is the only way this issue can be practically studied), is that memory processes become slower as we age because those of us who are active learners acquire magnitudes of order more information across time. HM has a colleague in his nineties who appears to be slow and apologizes for “senior moments”. HM cautioned him never to apologize because his apparent slowness was due to the enormous amounts of information he has acquired over his active learning lifetime.

One of the superagers who will be 87 next month and who joined Rogalski’s study two years ago is interesting. His father developed Alzheimer’s in his 50s. He thinks his own stellar memory is bolstered by keeping busy. He bikes, and he plays tennis and water volleyball. He stays social through regular lunches and meetings wit a men’s group he co-founded. Rogalski’s research is interesting and he is finding anatomical information about the brain that is important.

The article also mentions the research that Claudia Kawas is doing at the University of California at Irvine. She studies the oldest old, people 90 and older. Some have Alzheimer’s. Some have maintained excellent memory, and some are in between. She’s found that about 40% of the oldest-old who show no symptoms of dementia during life nonetheless have full-fledged signs of Alzheimer’s disease in their brains at death, Kawas told the AAAS meeting. The common explanation for this finding is that these individuals had built up a cognitive reserve, presumably due to learning during their lifetimes. Rogalski has also found varying amounts of amyloid and tau, hallmark Alzheimer’s proteins in the brains of some superagers.

Rogalski asks, “Are there modifiable things we can think about today, in our lives to live long and live well.

HM is glad he asked. First of all, live a healthy lifestyle. Then focus on the primary organ, the brain, and how you use it. HM advises to have a growth mindset throughout one’s lifetime. That is to keep learning throughout one’s entire life. HM also has the conjecture, a strongly felt conjecture, that a specific type of processing is important. Nobel prize winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman presented his two process model of cognition in his best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.” System 1, called intuition, is our normal mode of processing. System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds to what we call thinking. Most learning has a heavy involvement of System 2 processing.

HM also thinks that meditation, in general, and the relaxation response, in particular, is beneficial to both personal and cognitive health. Enter “relaxation response” into the search of the healthy memory block to learn more. Meditation and mindfulness develop the ability to focus one’s attention, which is critically important to effective cognition.

© 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.

Bursting Your Twitter Bubble Actually Makes You More Extreme

April 21, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title in a News Piece by Marie LeConte in the 7 April 2018 Issue of the New Scientist. How can people’s minds be altered is the question asked by teams from Duke University, New York University, and Princeton University. More than 1,000 people participated in this research.

Before and after the trial the team measured the political leanings of participants by asking them to rate how much they agreed with such statements as “government is almost always wasteful and inefficient” and “homosexuality should be accepted by society.” These questions were used to identify Republican and Democratic Twitter users. Over the course of a month, Republican Twitter users followed a bot that automatically retweeted posts from Democrat politicians, pundits, and journalists, and vice versa for Democrat Twitter users.

Rather than becoming sympathetic to ideas retweeted by the bots, participants views became more entrenched. After leaving their echo chambers, Republicans became substantially more conservative and Democrats slightly more liberal.

This study does not offer hope to those who want to reduce polarized views. The team concluded, “Well-intentioned attempts to introduce people to opposing political views on social media might not only be ineffective, but counter-productive.”
(SocArXiv, doi.org/cmwx)

Attempts to change people’s views are not only likely to fail, but actually harden those political views. When people think that their beliefs are under attack, they not only put up their defensive shields, but also fire back. This called the Boomerang Effect.

The only known way to affect opposing views is to try to find a point or two of agreement and then work from there. Expressing the same idea or problem differently to attain some degree of agreement can work. If it does, then try to build on this to find other areas potential agreement and then work from there. This is painstaking work.

This article reminds HM of a Prickly City cartoon in the 19 April 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The cat, Winslow asks the human, Carmen, “Why can’t we agree on the truth?”
To which Carmen answers,”Big question”, and continues, “maybe it’s because truth can challenge our deeply held beliefs, making us cling to them harder in the face of reality.”
To which Winslow responds, with the query,”So people would rather feel right than be right?”
and Carmen responds, “That’s about right.”
To which Winslow responds, “Your species is crackers, you know that?”
and Carmen responds, “I’ve often felt that way.”

© 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 Antithesis of the Enlightenment

April 19, 2018

We Americans are living in the antithesis of the Enlightenment discussed in Steven Pinker’s “ENLIGHTENMENT NOW: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.” Consider the two quotes at the beginning of the book

Those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of humankind.
——-Baruch Spinoza

Everything that is not forbidden by the laws of nature is achievable, given the right knowledge.
——-David Deutsch

HM would like to see a poll asking Americans to rate their degree of agreement or disagreement with the two statements.

Consider Spinoza’s statement. One would expect a fairly high degree of agreement for those who espouse the “Golden Rule,” “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” One could regard Spinoza’s statement as being a paraphrase of the Golden Rule. However, many would probably disagree because this is clearly the dreaded socialism.

It would be interesting to see the response to Deutsch’s statement broken down by people with different educational backgrounds. It would not be surprising that there might be some scientists who would strongly agree with this statement. HM would say that this is an empirical question so we don’t know yet.

Now let us consider Donald Trump and his followers, not with respect to how they would rate these statements, but what they reflect in their own statements and behavior.

Donald Trump has one metric, personal wealth. That is how he evaluates himself and his fellow human beings. Service to the country or to fellow human beings matters not. True, he does admire generals for the stars on their shoulders and the power they control, but not John McCain, because he does not value POWs. HIs personal charity has been identified as a sham and what little he does in the way of giving is essentially regifting what has been given to him. He is an extremely shallow and thin-skinned individual. He is constantly harshly responding to what he regards as slights. It is hard to believe that he is an unhappen individual, but he is. Whatever little intellectual capacity he might have is limited by the length of a tweet. So he has no appreciation for science or the arts. He is provided the best intelligence available in the world, but chooses to get his information from Fox news, which supports the alternative reality in which Trump resides.

It is interesting to contrast Donald Trump with the Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller. Both were born rich. Trump’s life goal was to become richer. Robert Mueller devoted himself to public service. Although he could have avoided military service, as Trump did, Mueller volunteered for the Marines during the Viet Nam War. Here is his service record taken from the Wikipedia:
For his service in and during the Vietnam War, his military decorations and awards include: the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V”, Purple Heart Medal, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals with Combat “V”, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with three service stars, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and Parachutist Badge.
He continued his life devoted to public service after he left the Marine Corps. Eventually he was appointed head of the FBI and served his full 10 year term. He is a Republican and he is dedicated to the law.

Trump has had six bankruptcies, where good working people were stiffed due to overly lenient bankruptcy laws. He created and ran Trump University, which was a scam. He has had transactions with organized crime including the Russian Mafia.

It is both infuriating and absurd that Trump can attack and denigrate Robert Miller. And it is hard to believe that the Grand Old Party (GOP) is also attacking fellow Republican Mueller and the Department of Justice. Trump and the GOP continue to deny any collusion with the Russians, although it is a certainty that Putin approves of what is happening while Ronald Reagan is raging in his grave.

Whether Trump is a true billionaire or someone who is in debt for billions of dollars remains an open question as he keeps his finances and tax returns concealed. But he has the attitude of many billionaires that they never have enough, as this is the only way they have for evaluating their success. Their question is where do I stand on the list that Forbes publishes. These billionaires are shallow individuals. They have no intellectual depth. They cannot appreciate the possible satisfaction of giving to charities. The Gates and America’s foremost capitalist, Warren Buffet, plan to effectively give their fortunes away. Moreover, they are against inherited wealth. They do not think it is good for either their children or the country.

Most of the large extant wealth is inherited wealth. So these are people lucky by birth. Donald Trump himself did not start from scratch. He began with money from his father. Some, perhaps many, of these wealthy parties use their wealth to sponsor activities that further their personal wealth. They reason that the system must be good because it has benefitted them. All of this has produced a gross maldistribution of wealth that does not bode well for the country.

Science is regarded by many of these people as something that gets in the way of increasing their wealth. So it is not something to be appreciated, but rather ignored and even destroyed. The United States is currently being raped by Trump appointees who are not only disregarding scientific information, but also destroying scientific information. The next administration will be preoccupied with the task of undoing the considerable damage that is being done to the United States by the Trump administration.

© 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.

Science

April 18, 2018

Dr. Pinker argues in “Enlightenment Now” that the greatest accomplishment of our species is science. HM strongly agrees with this statement. It is certainly responsible for our standard of living. Most of the progress documented by Dr. Pinker would not have occurred without science. This being the case, what could possibly be the problem.

One problem comes from religions who believe scriptures that are clearly wrong and deny Science. The Amish do this, but HM admires the Amish in that they adopt, for the most part, a standard of living commensurate to their ignorance of science. However, most accept the fruits of science while denying scientific findings.

Perhaps the best example of this is their denial of evolution and their embracement of intelligent design. Unfortunately, too many people argue against teaching intelligent design in schools, and for the teaching of evolutionary theory. HM dislikes this because science should not be taught as dogma. Moreover, comparing intelligent design with evolutionary design provides a good means of illustrating the essence of science.

Intelligent design cherry picks species that they argue could only be done by the hand of God. One can easily find living species that make one wonder why they were created, but it is the dead and extinct species that are most informative. What are they? Failures of God? Did God screw up millions to times trying develop the remaining species? What explains them? Don’t they point to an evolutionary process? And what about geological data? Those data, that came to us through many years of research by the more intelligent of our species is to be ignored because of what is said in the bible?

The conflict between science and religion is unnecessary. HM believes in God and there are many religions that do not claim for the literal interpretation of the bible. When there is good scientific data, that should be believed rather than some religious scripture. The Dalai Lama provides a good example. He uses science to inform his religion. And he sends his followers to learn science.

The disrespect of science among American right-wing politicians has led even stalwarts (such as Bobby Jindal) to disparage their own Republican party as the “party of the stupid.” This reputation grew out of policies set in motion during George W. Bush’s administration including the encouragement of the teaching of intelligent design in lieu of evolution, and a shift from the longstanding practice of seeking advice from disinterested scientific panels to stacking the panels with congenial ideologues, may of whom promoted flaky ideas (such as that abortion causes breast cancer) while denying well-supported ones (such as condoms preventing sexually transmitted diseases).

The highest point of this stupidity has been reached with the Incompetent who is currently serving as the President of the United States. Not only is he not using science and denying science, but he is both making scientific information difficult to access and even destroying scientific information.

Dr. Pinker makes every effort to be fair. He notes that there are those on the left of the political spectrum who have stoked panics about overpopulation, nuclear power, and genetically modified organisms. It is important that these potential problems be brought to public attention, but people must do their own reading to get a more balanced understanding of the issues.

There are many criticisms of science that are just irrelevant. One is reductionism. Reductionism is not the aim of all science. Some areas of research employ reductionism. But at different levels, new processes emerge. And research areas are designed for particular areas that emerge at different levels. So one can study neuroscience, but then others study the processes that emerge from neuroscience, such as cognition.

There are also criticisms of science by intellectuals. Frankly, HM attributes most of these criticisms as intellectual jealousy. Although their studies might be interesting, they are not that relevant to the rest of society, and do not contribute much to public welfare.

Regarding public welfare and political disagreements, a scientific approach should be embraced. When a problem is identified and there is disagreement about how to deal with the problem a scientific approach is recommended. Design a study to evaluate the alternative approaches. This could also provide the data for the possible quantification of the magnitude of the benefit or problem, depending on what is being studied. Do not argue “I believe.” Beliefs should be left at home. Points should be argued with logic and data.

© 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 andhealthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reason

April 17, 2018

Steven Pinker has a chapter called Reason in his outstanding book, “Enlightenment Now.” Part of the problem with reason or reasoning are beliefs, as was expounded in a previous healthy memory blog post, “Beliefs: Necessary, but Dangerous.” The legal scholar Dan Kahan has argued that certain beliefs become symbols of cultural allegiance protected by identity-protective connection. People affirm or deny these beliefs to express not what they know but who they are. Endorsing a belief that hasn’t passed muster with science and fact-checking isn’t so irrational. At least not by the criterion of the immediate effects on the believer. The effects on the society and planet are another matter. The atmosphere doesn’t care what people think about it, and if it in fact warms by 4 degrees Celsius, billions of people will suffer, no matter how many of them had been esteemed in their peer groups for holding a locally fashionable opinion on climate change along the way. Kahn concluded that we are all actors in a Tragedy of Belief Commons: what’s rational for every individual to believe (based on esteem) can be irrational for the society as a whole to act upon (based on reality). Technology has the effect of magnifying differences that result in polarization in political and social domains.

A fundamental problem is that accurate knowledge can be effortful and time consuming to obtain. Predictions are very difficulty as some have noted especially when they are about the future. Psychologist Philip Tetlock has studied the accuracy of forecasters. He recruited hundreds of analysts, columnists, academics, and interested laypeople to compete in forecasting tournaments in which they were presented with possible events and asked to assess their likelihood. This research was conducted over 20 years during which 28,000 predictions were made. So, how well did the experts do? On average, about as well as a chimpanzee throwing darts. In other words, not better than chance.

Tetlock and fellow psychologists Mellers and Gardner held another competition between 2011 and 2015 in which they recruited several thousand contestants to take part in a forecasting tournament held by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA). Again the average performance was at chance levels, but in both tournaments the researchers could pick out “superforecasters,” who performed not just better than chimps and pundits, but better than professional intelligence officers with access to classified information, better than prediction markets, and not too far from the theoretical maximum. The accurate predictions last for about a year. Accuracy declines into the future, and falls to the level of chance around 5 years out.

The forecasters who did the worst, were also the most confident, were the ones with Big Ideas, be they left- or right wing, optimistic or pessimistic. Here is the summary by Tetlock & Gardner:

“As ideologically diverse as they were, they were united by the fact that their thinking was so ideological. They sought to squeeze complex problems into the preferred cause-effect templates and treated what did not fit as irrelevant distractions. Allergic to wishy-washy answers, they kept pushing their analyses to the limit (and then some), using terms like “furthermore” and “moreover” while piling up reasons why they were right and others wrong. As a result they were unusually confident and likelier to declare things as “impossible” or “certain.” Committed to their conclusions, they were reluctant to change their minds even when their predictions clearly failed.”

Tetlock described the super forecasters as follows:

“pragmatic experts who drew on many analytical tools, with the choice of tool hinging on the particular problem they faced. These experts gathered as much information from as many sources as they could. When thinking, they often shifted mental gears, sprinkling their speech with transition markers such as “however,” “but,” “although,” and “on the other hand.” They talked about possibilities and probabilities, not certainties. And while no one likes to say, “I was wrong,” these experts more readily admitted it and changed their minds.”

The superforecasters displayed what psychologist Jonathan Baron calls “active open-mindedness” with opinions such as these:

People should take into consideration evidence that goes against they beliefs. [Agree]
It is more useful to pay attention to those who disagree with you than to pay attention to those who agree. [Agree]
Changing your mind is a sign of weakness. [Disagree]
Intuition is the best guide in making decisions. [Disagree]
It is important to persevere in your beliefs even went evidence is brought to bear against them. [Disagree]

The manner of the Superforecasters’ reasoning is Bayesian. They tacitly use the rule from the Reverend Bayes on how to update one’s degree of credence in a proposition in light of evidence. It should be noted that Nate Silver (fivethirtyeight.com) is also a Bayesian.

Steven Pinker notes that psychologists have recently devised debiasing programs that fortify logical and critical thinking criteria. They encourage students to spot, name, and correct fallacies across a wide range of contexts. Some use computer games that provide students with practice, and with feedback that allows them to see the absurd consequences of their errors. Other curricula translate abstruse mathematical statements into concrete, imaginable scenarios. Tetlock has compiled the practices of successful forecasters into a set of guidelines for good judgment (for example, start with the base rate; seek out evidence and don’t overreact or under react to it; don’t try to explain away your own errors but instead use them as a source of calibration). These and other programs are provably effective: students’ newfound wisdom outlasts the training session and transfers to new subjects.

Dr. Pinker concludes,”Despite these successes, and despite the fact that the ability to engage in unbiased, critical reasoning is a prerequisite to thinking about anything else, few educational institutions have set themselves the goal of enhancing rationality (This includes my own university, where my suggestion during a curriculum review that all students should learn about cognitive biases fell deadborn from my lips.) Many psychologists have called on their field to “give debiasing away” as one of its greatest potential contributions to human welfare.”

It seems appropriate to end this post on reason with the Spinoza quote from the beginning of the book:

“Those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of humankind.”

Unfortunately, Now We’re Off the Tracks

April 16, 2018

And that is because of Donald Trump. Most of the following is taken directly from Steven Pinker’s ENLIGHTENMENT NOW:

“Life and Health have been expanded in large part by vaccination and other well-vetted interventions, and among the conspiracy theories that Trump has endorsed is the long-debunked claim that preservatives in vaccines cause autism. The gains have also been secured by broad access to medical care, and he has pushed for legislation that would withdraw health insurance from tens of millions of American, a reversal of the trend toward beneficial spending.

Worldwide improvements in wealth have come from a globalized economy, powered in large part by international trade. Trump is a protectionist who sees international trade as a zero-sum contest between countries, and is committed to tearing up international trade agreements.

Growth in wealth will also be driven by technological innovation, education, infrastructure, an increase in the spending power of the lower and middle classes, constraints on cronyism and plutocracy that distort market competition, and regulations on finance that reduce the likelihood of bubbles and crashes. In addition to being hostile to trade, Trump is indifferent to technology and education and an advocate of regressive tax cuts on the wealthy, while appointing corporate and financial tycoons to his cabinet who are indiscriminately hostile to regulation.

In capitalizing on concerns about inequality, Trump has demonized immigrants and trade partners while ignoring the major disrupter of lower-middle-class jobs, technological change. He has also opposed the measures that most successfully mitigate its harms, namely progressive taxation and social spending.

The environment has benefited from regulations on air and water pollution that have coexisted with growth in population, GDP, and travel. Trump believes that environmental regulation is economically destructive; worst of all, he has called climate change a hoax and announced a withdrawal from the historic Paris agreement.

Safety, too, has been dramatically improved by federal regulations, toward which Trump and his allies are contemptuous. While Trump has cultivated a reputation for law and order, he is viscerally uninterested in evidence-based policy that would distinguish effective crime-prevention measures from useless tough talk.”

“Postwar Peace has been cemented by trade, democracy, international agreements and organizations and norms against conquest. Trump has vilified international trade and has threatened to defy international agreements and weaken international organizations.” He is an admirer of Vladimir Putin. Enough said.

“Democracy depends both on explicit constitutional protections such as freedom of the press and on shared norms, in particular that political leadership is determined by the rule of law and nonviolent political competition rather than a charismatic leader’s will to power.” Trump has exhibited contempt for these norms.

“The ideals of tolerance, equality, and Equal Rights took big symbolic hits during his campaign and early administration. Trump demonized Hispanic immigrants, proposed banning Muslim immigration altogether (and tried to impose a partial ban once elected), repeatedly demeaned women, tolerated vulgar expressions of racism and sexism at his rallies, accepted support from white supremacist groups and equated them with their opponents, and appointed a strategist and an attorney general who are hostile to the civil rights movement.”

“The ideal of Knowledge—that opinions should be based on justified true beliefs—has been mocked by Trump’s repetition of ludicrous conspiracy theories: that Obama was born in Kenya, Senator Ted Cruz’s father was involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination, thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrated 9/11, Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered, Obama had his phones tapped millions of illegal voters cost him the popular vote, and literally dozens of others.” Need more be written?

“Most frighteningly Trump has pushed back against the norms that have protected the world against the possible existential threat of nuclear war.” “Worst of all, the chain of command gives an American president enormous discretion over the use of nuclear weapons in a crisis, on the tacit assumption that no president would act rashly on such a grave matter. Yet Trump has a temperament that is notoriously impulsive and vindictive.”

Steven Pinker ENLIGHTENMENT NOW

April 15, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title of a new and important book by Steven Pinker. The subtitle of the book is “The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Two quotes capture the central message of the book:

Those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of humankind.
——-Baruch Spinoza

Everything that is not forbidden by the laws of nature is achievable, given the right knowledge.
——-David Deutsch

One can ask, is there a need for the Enlightenment Now? Who would argue against reason, science, humanism, or progress?
To which Dr. Pinker answers: “Since the 1960s, trust in the institutions of modernity has sunk, and the second decade of the 21st century saw the rise of populist movements that blatantly repudiate the ideals of the Enlightenment. They are tribalism rather than cosmopolitan, authoritarian rather than democratic, contemptuous of experts rather than respectful of knowledge, and nostalgic for an idyllic past rather than hopeful for a better future.”

Dr. Pinker writes about the future of progress. “Since the Enlightenment unfolded in the late 18th century, life expectancy across the world has risen from 30 to 71, and in the more fortunate countries to 81. When the enlightenment began, a third of the children born in the richest parts of the world died before their fifth birthday; today, that fate befalls 6% of the children in the poorest parts. When the enlightenment began, one % of the mothers in the richest countries did not live to see their newborns, a rate triple that of the poorest countries today, and this continues to fall.”

The world is about a hundred times wealthier today than it was two centuries ago, and the prosperity is becoming more evenly distributed across the world’s countries and people. The proportion of humanity living in extreme poverty has fallen from almost 90% to less than 10%. Catastrophic famine, never far away in most of human history, has vanished from most of the world, and undernourishment and stunting are in steady decline. A century ago, richer countries devoted one% of their wealth to supporting children, the poor, and the aged; today they spend almost a quarter of it. Most of the poor today are fed, clothed, and sheltered, and have luxuries like smartphones and air-conditioning that use to be unavailable to anyone, rich or poor.

The proportion of people killed annually in wars is less than a quarter of what it was in the 1980s, a seventh of what it was in the early 1970s and an eighteenth of what it was in the early 1950s, and a half a % of what it was during WW II. People are also becoming more literate, knowledgeable and smarter. Early in the 19th century, 12% could read and write; today 83% can. The schooling, together with health and wealth, are literally making use smarter—by 30 IQ points, or two standard deviations above our ancestors.

Dr. Pinker details the progress that has been made in life, health, sustenance, wealth, inequality, the environment, peace, safety, terrorism, democracy, equal rights, knowledge, quality of life, and happiness. To be sure, much still remains to be done, but pessimists should not be so pessimistic. The problem is that what is in the news and what is being written about are typically the problems that need to be addressed. Naturally this leads to pessimism. But Dr. Pinker does a reality reset. Much has been done and optimism is justified.

Finland is Up, U.S. Down on the Happiest-country List

April 14, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article in the Health & Science section of the 20 March 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The 2018 World Happiness Report of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) ranked 156 countries according to factors such as GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity, and absence of corruption.

Finland was ranked as the world’s happiest country. In spite of their harsh, dark winters, Finns said access to nature, safety, child care, good schools, and free health care were among the best things about their country. Finland rose from fifth place last year to oust Norway from the top spot. The 2018 top 10 are Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, and Australia. The United States came in at 18th, down from 14th place last year.

All countries in the top ten provide universal health paid for by the government. Moreover, all advanced countries with the exception of the U.S. provide universal health care courtesy of the government. In addition to having poorer health in the United States, people end up in bankruptcy trying to pay for health care. The following two paragraphs are taken directly from the Post article:

“One chapter of the 170-page report is dedicated to emerging health problems such as obesity, depression and the opioid crisis, particularly in the United States, where the prevalence of all three has grown faster than in most other countries.

While U.S. income per capita has increased markedly over the past half-century, happiness has been hit by weakened social support networks, a perceived rise in corruption in government and business, and declining confidence in public institutions.”

Jeffrey Sachs, the head of the SDSN says, “We obviously have a social crisis in the United States: more inequality, less trust, less confidence in government. It’s pretty stark right now. The signs are not good for the U.S. It is getting richer and richer but not getting happier.”

For the first time since the report was started in 2012, the report ranked the happiness of foreign-born immigrants in the 117 countries. Finland also took top honors in this category also. John Halliwell of the University of British Columbia said, “The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born.”

Too Many People Unnecessarily Die of Stroke

April 13, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Kevin Sheth in the Health and Science Section of the 10 April 2018 issue of the Washington Post. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strokes strike nearly 800,00 Americans each year, killing 140,000.

The author of the article is a neurologist who writes, “every single day I am left unable to help victims of stroke, despite an effective treatment in hand, simply because they arrive too late. The blood clots in the brain that cause strokes irreversibly change who we are and burden our families.” As if this personal cost were not enough, the annual cost to society is $34 billion.

For more than two decades, neurologist and emergency providers had a drug available that can restore blood flow to the brain, limiting damage, but only 4% of stroke patients receive the medication. The drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), is a potent blood thinner and was approved as an effective clot-busting treatment by the Food and Drug Administration in1996. However, patients must receive the medication in the first few hours after experiencing a stroke for it to work. So if you have the slightest feeling that you’re having a stroke, quickly go to an emergency room and quickly notify them that you’re having a stroke. Remember that patients with stroke usually don’t have pain, but remember that it is difficult to call 911 if you are alone, paralyzed and unable to speak.

Since 2015, at least eight international trials have shown the efficacy of a mechanical clot-removal procedure that can restore blood flow. The possible window for this treatment can be as long as 24 hours in some patients, but as with tPA, earlier is always better. With 2 million brain cells dying every minute without blood flow, time is brain.

Remember that pain is not usually a symptom of stroke. Here are stroke symptoms taken from the Wikipedia

• hemiplegia and muscle weakness of the face
• numbness
• reduction in sensory or vibratory sensation
• initial flaccidity (reduced muscle tone), replaced by spasticity (increased muscle tone), excessive reflexes, and obligatory synergies.[34]
• altered smell, taste, hearing, or vision (total or partial)
• drooping of eyelid (ptosis) and weakness of ocular muscles
• decreased reflexes: gag, swallow, pupil reactivity to light
• decreased sensation and muscle weakness of the face
• balance problems and nystagmus
• altered breathing and heart rate
• weakness in sternocleidomastoid muscle with inability to turn head to one side
• weakness in tongue (inability to stick out the tongue or move it from side to side)
• aphasia (difficulty with verbal expression, auditory comprehension, reading and writing; Broca’s or Wernicke’s area typically involved)
• dysarthria (motor speech disorder resulting from neurological injury)
• apraxia (altered voluntary movements)
• visual field defect
• memory deficits (involvement of temporal lobe)
• hemineglect (involvement of parietal lobe)
• disorganized thinking, confusion, hypersexual gestures (with involvement of frontal lobe)
• lack of insight of his or her, usually stroke-related, disability
• altered walking gait
• altered movement coordination
• vertigo and or disequilibrium

Remember, not to delay and to seek attention immediately.

How Medicine Got Too Good for It’s Own Good

April 12, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature Article by Wendy Glauser in the Feature section in the 7 April 2018 Issue of the New Scientist. H. Gilbert Welch is both a physician and an academic researcher. He has spend the last 25 years warning of the dangers of overzealous medicine. He fears that doctors are detecting problems too early convincing healthy people they are sick, and treating them too aggressively.

His latest research was published in December in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He found that in US hospital regions with high rates of CT scans, which are typically ordered to check the lungs and abdomen, many more kidneys are removed. Apparently when doctors look at the images they see the kidneys too, and often stumble on innocuous cancers. Welch said, “It’s leading some people to be treated for disease that was never going to bother them. Moreover, there is significant risk. 1 in 50 of those who underwent surgery died within a month.

Welch is a professor at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, He has written three books highlighting unnecessary medical care, as well as dozens of journal articles and call-to-arms pieces in newspapers such as The New York Times. With biomedical companies designing ever more tests, such as breath-tests for cancer, the problem seems poised to worsen. Welch says, “It’s a very frothy industry right now.”

Welch says, “I was taught in medical school that once a cancer was formed, it was going to relentlessly progress to metastatic cancer. We now know it’s a whole lot more complex than that.” Cancers can grow quickly and slowly; some even vanish on their own.

A new test the worries Welch is liquid biopsy, which identifies pieces of “cell-free DNA” in the blood to determine whether someone has cancer and how bad that cancer is. Welch says, “You think, how could you possibly argue with that, until you look under the hood.” We all have cell-free DNA in our blood, and liquid biopsy analyzes about 2000 different mutations in this DNA. An algorithm then determines what thresholds and combinations of mutation equal cancer. Welch worries about a future in which people are told: “You have a positive liquid biopsy, but we don’t know where the tumor is, so we’re gonna have to start looking.”

Richard Baker a radiologist and colleague of Welch’s says the he often dissuades his patients from a biopsy on their thyroids after imaging has found a nodule, even though that is why they’re seeing him. Baker says, “Thyroid biopsies are skyrocketing in this country, yet deaths from thyroid cancer have always been rare in the US and treatment carries risks of its own. These are difficult ideas for both patients and physicians to accept.

Regarding mammography he found that looking at women who were screened every year for a decade from the age of 50, he found that for every 1000 of these women, roughly one will avoid death through breast cancer, more than 500 will have at least one false alarm and 10 will be treated needlessly.

Welch asks if people want medical care as a way to deal with acute problems for things that are bothering them? Or do they want to take the power of medicine to look hard to try to find things wrong with them? In this age of super-sensitive diagnostics, seek and ye shall find.

For more information on this topic go to the healthy memory blog post, “Less Medicine, More Health.” Better yet, read the book by Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, “Less Medicine, More Health.”

Victims of the Dunning-Kruger Effect

April 11, 2018

The Dunning-Kruger Effect describes the phenomenon of people thinking they know much more about a topic than they actually know, compared to the knowledgeable individual who is painfully aware of how much he still doesn’t know about the topic in question.

Donald Trump provides an interesting case of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Many times he has expounded on how much he knows. He knows more than the generals about the military, he knows more than John McCain about being a prisoner of war, in fact he does not like prisoners who were captured, and on and on and on. It is clear that he thinks he knows more about the law than his lawyers do. He has also claimed to be the only one who knows how to solve our problems.

But in fact, he is woefully ignorant. He publicly asked the Russians for Hillary’s emails to aid his campaign. Apparently, he did not know that foreign powers were to play no role in American elections. He keeps claiming that there was no collusion. But here he was in public asking for collusion and the Russians obviously complied.

It is also clear that he could not pass an 8th grade civics test. He did not, or probably still does no know, that the three branches of government, Executive, Legislative, and Judicial are independent. He said on television that he wanted to get rid of Comey as the FBI Director because he was afraid of what he might do. Moreover, he boasted about getting rid of Comey to the Russians. Yet he continues to regard himself and describe himself as a genius.

Then you have Trump’s supporters. They do not like knowledgeable individuals, which they contemptuously call they elite. They are fearful of these individuals as being some conspiratorial dark force (the deep state). And many, if not most, of these people embrace Trump as their savior. In fact they are colluding entities in a very large Dunning-Kruger Effect.

So who are the victims? All Americans, but only some are deserving victims. The rest of us are collateral damage. Another victim, not to be overlooked, is democracy.

© 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 Wikipedia Became the Internet’s Good Cop

April 10, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Noam Cohen in the Outlook Section of the 8 April 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The subtitle is “To combat fake news, tech companies want the wisdom of the crowd.”

Actually it is not only tech companies, but it is everyone who should want the wisdom of the crowd. Moreover, the contributors to the Wikipedia constitute a very smart and intelligent crowd. There is a standard that needs to be reached to remain published in Wikipedia.

Wikipedia has sworn off advertising completely. Cohen writes, “When Tim Berners-Lee conceived the web, he imagined that it would look a lot like Wikipedia; that is, “ system in which sharing what you know or thought should be as easy as learning what somewhat else-knew.”

Wikipedia serves as a remedy to the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Previous healthy memory posts have written about the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The effect describes the phenomenon of people thinking they know much more about a topic than they actually know, compared to the knowledgeable individual who is painfully aware of how much he still doesn’t know about the topic in question. HM experiences this effect practically every time he consults the Wikipedia. He fairly soon becomes somewhat familiar with how much he does not know about the topic, and becomes engaged to remedy this shortcoming. But as the effect describes, the more you learn, typically the more you become aware of how much more there is still to learn.

It is not enough just learning the news of the day. Ultimately, this just results in superficial knowledge. In the Wikipedia, one can read meaningful integrated presentations on different topics. Infrequent trips to the Wikipedia are insufficient. The Wikipedia should become, at least, a daily habit.

The Wikipedia is also an outstanding tool for fostering growth mindsets. The practice of the daily learning of new information is emphasized in the healthy memory blog as being one of the primary means for fostering a healthy memory.

It appears that the Wikipedia has replaced the encyclopedia. In the traditional encyclopedia experts were hired to write about topics. The crowd-sourced Wikipedia provides a more diverse coverage of most topics.

© 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 andhealthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ditch and Switch

April 9, 2018

This post is taken directly from the article titled, “Our Obsession with a ‘free’ internet led to Facebook data row, by Jacob Aron in the 7 April 2018 Issue of the New Scientist. This list offers privacy-respecting alternatives to online services:

Ditch: FACEBOOK
Facebook’s data-slurping habits are legendary, with many users choosing to delete the app from their phone in the wake of recent revelations.

Switch: DIASPORA
Diaspora decentralizes social networks by letting people set up their own servers to host content. Users retain ownership off their data and aren’t required to use their real name.

Ditch: GOOGLE
Google stores your entire search history and uses it to make website and video suggestions, profiles you and sell adverts.

Switch: DUCKDUCKGO
Search engine DuckDuckGo doesn’t store any information. All users see the same search results, so they aren’t tailored to your particular interests.

Ditch: TWITTER
Twitter uses the information it knows about you to sell ads—things like your age, gender or location.

Switch: MASTODON
Mastodon offers similar features to Twitter but is decentralized, meaning that anyone can set up a Mastodon server that is independently owned. Users on one server act as a single community, but can also communicate with people on other servers.

Ditch: GMAIL
Gmail use to make money by scanning your inbox for keywords, then showing you adverts based on your interests. Last year, Google announced it would no longer sell ads in this way—but emails are still scanned to power flight reminders, calendar updates and other Google features

Switch: PROTONMAIL
Protonmail encrypts all of its users’ emails, meaning it has no access to your inbox. A basic account is free, while extra features like folders require a subscription. The service is so secure that Cambridge Analytic reportedly used it.

The New Lesson Plan for Elementary School: Surviving the Internet

April 8, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the digital title of an article by Drew Harwell in the 7 April 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The article describe Yolanda Bromfield’s fifth grade digital-privacy class. The lesson was on online-offline balance, so she asked how would they act when they left school and reentered a world of prying websites, addictive phones and online scams. One student answered, “I will make sure that I don’t tell nobody my personal stuff, and be offline for at least two hours every night.”

Author Harwell writes, “Between their math and literacy classes, these elementary school kids were studying up on perhaps one of the most important and least understood school subjects in American—how to protect their brains and survive the big, bad Web.

This course is part of an experimental curriculum designed by Seton Hall University Law School professors and taught by a legal fellow such as Bromfield. This class has been rolled out in recent months to hundreds of children in a dozen classrooms across New York and New Jersey. These classes are free and are folded into kids’ daily schedules and taught in the classrooms where fifth- and sixth-graders typically learn about the scientific method and the food chain. The director of Seton Hall Law’s Institute for Privacy Protection, Gaia Bernstein, who designed the program, said each class included about a half-dozen lessons taught to kids over several weeks, as well as a separate set of leeches of parents concerned about how “their children are disappearing into their screens.”

The program is funded by a $1.7 million grant that was awarded by a federal judge as part of a class-action consumer-protection settlement pending over junk faxes—to teach students about privacy, reputation, online advertising and overuse at the age when their research found that many American kids get their first cell phones when they are 10 years old.

The Seton Hall instructors said they had no interest in teaching kids digital abstinence or in instructing parents how to be the computer police. They conceded that the internet is a fact of life and children always find ways around their parents’ barriers.

The students’ parents are offered separate classes that focus largely on how parents should deal with kid’s overuse. Of course in a world where much of their homework and friendships play out online, it needs to be defined what normal use even looks like. Bernstein said, “What really bothers parents is how they are losing their children, and how family life is changing.

In February the advocacy group Common Sense Media said it would expand a “digital citizenship” curriculum now offered free at tens of thousands of nationwide public schools. This program addresses the topics of self-image, relationships, information literacy and mental well-being. Lesson plans for the program range from kindergarten (“Going Place Safely,” Screen Out the Mean”) to high school (“Taking Perspectives on Cyberbullying,” “Oops! I Broadcast It on the Internet”).

Let us hope that these activities grow and become standards.

The Shocking Truth of Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiments

April 7, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature article by Gina Perry in the 17 March 2018 issue of the New Scientist. Before discussing the article, Milgram’s research must first be described. The following is taken from a previous healthy memory blog post, “Good vs. Evil:”

Another relevant line of research was conducted earlier by a fellow professor who had grown up in the South Bronx, Stanley Milgram. Milgram was Jewish and wondered how the Germans could commit the atrocities the Nazis committed. And he wondered whether this was a uniquely German affliction. Milgram was at Yale, but he conducted his research at other settings in addition to Yale, Milgram’s experiment was framed as a learning experiment. Two participants arrived at the experiment, although one of the participants was a confidant of the experimenter. There was a pseudo random assignment to the conditions (the experimenter’s confederate was always the student). The student went into an adjacent room. It was set up as a learning experiment, and when the student made a mistake, the other participant, the “teacher,” was told to administer an electric shock. These shocks were (apparently to the trainer) on a panel indicating that the shocks were increasing in intensity. As the trainer progressed up the panel, the “student” indicated increasing amounts of pain. Close to the end, he was shrieking, and at the very end, there was complete silence. Now there were a few “trainers”, perhaps 10% who left at the beginning of the experiment. However, about 65% went all the way to the top. HM has viewed videos of some of these experiments. The trainers were showing obvious signs of distress as they thought they were increasing in intensity, but when the experimenter told them to continue, they continued. In fact, when there were two trainers, the second one being a confederate of the experimenter, 91% of the trainers, influenced by peer pressure, went to the top. Over the many iterations of this experiment there were about 1,000 experimental subjects (the “trainers”). And these research participants could have left the experiment at any time. A more detailed account of this experiment can be found in the Wikipedia.

Dr. Perry, who is a psychologist, has reviewed Milgram’s research materials and accused him of not reporting all his results, and that if all his results had been dutifully reported, the results would not have been so dramatic.

It should be understood that Milgram’s results and his conclusions are extremely important. When he reported his results there were those who said that not only should he not have reported the results, he should not even have done the research.

Milgram was Jewish who was trying to understand how a civilized country like Germany could have committed the holocaust. His going in hypothesis was that this was a character trait specific to Germany. His initial expectations were to demonstrate that such dispositions were not present in Americans. Having proven that, he was going to attempt a replication of the study with Germans. His results amazed him. There was no need to replicate the results in Germany. He found that a large majority of people would be willing to commit similar atrocities in America. Not surprisingly many people do not want to accept results that paint our species in a unfavorable light. Apparently, they would prefer to remain in their ignorance.

Although all research participants were debriefed on the experiment, the research was criticized by some because they thought it gave the majority of the participants an unfavorable opinion of themselves. These criticisms were raised at a time when self-esteem was in vogue. An individual’s self esteem should not be injured, and these results injured people’s self esteem. Arguments were made against competitive sports and activities were arranged where everyone could emerge a winner. However, it was also found that people with high self-esteem were reluctant to participate in new activities where they might fail and injure their self-esteem.

The current view in psychology is that we all should have growth mindsets, where we seek out new activities and subjects to learn. If we fail, we know that we likely will eventually prevail as long as we keep trying. [Enter “growth mindsets” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to learn more about growth mindsets]. High self-esteem discourages growth mindsets.

HM has long thought that the experiences from Milgram’s experiments were valuable to all participants. Even though self-esteem was initially lowered, that lowering of self-esteem was a good experience. The participants were awarded with self-knowledge that might prove to be extremely valuable in the future. They would be much more likely to refuse when told to engage in questionable activity. Moreover, surveys revealed that 84% of the former participants where either very glad or glad that they had participated in the experiment. 15% chose neutral responses. Some correspondence from one of the participants follows:
While I was a subject in 1964, though I believed that I was hurting someone, I was totally unaware of why I was doing so. Few people ever realize when they are acting according to their own beliefs and when they are meekly submitting to authority … To permit myself to be drafted with the understanding that I am submitting to authority’s demand to do something very wrong would make me frightened of myself … I am fully prepared to go to jail if I am not granted Conscientious Objector status. Indeed, it is the only course I could take to be faithful to what I believe. My only hope is that members of my board act equally according to their conscience …[

Another unfortunate outcome of MIlgram’s experiments was the development of institutional review boards (IRBs). Fortunately, these did not exist when HM was a student. Unfortunately, today they are hindering necessary research. Of course, nothing harmful should be done to research participants. But injuring their self-esteem is beneficial, not detrimental.

Replication is the sine qua non of scientific research, but IRBs have precluded the replication of MIlgram’s important research.

© 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.

An Unhealthy Memory

April 6, 2018

This post is motivated by an article sponsored by The Marshall Project and published in the FiveThirtyEight Newsletter, Significant Digits for Thursday April 5, 2018. The title of the article is “The Myth of the Criminal Immigrant.”

The article begins “The Trump administration’s first year of immigration policy has relied on claims that immigrants bring crime into America. President Trump’s latest target is sanctuary cities.” Trump said las week, “Every day sanctuary cities release illegal immigrants, drug dealers, traffickers, gang members back into our communities. They’re safe havens for just some terrible people.”

Unfortunately according to Gallup polls, almost half of Americans agreed that immigrants make crime worse. But do these beliefs correspond to reality? The percent change in immigrant population in American from 1980 to 2016 was an increase of 118%. The percent change in violent crime in American since 1980 is a decrease of 36%.

In a large-scale collaboration by four universities, led by Robert Edelman, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, researchers compared the immigration rates with crime rates for 200 metropolitan areas over the last several decades. The selected areas included huge urban hubs like New York and smaller manufacturing centers less than a hundredth that size, like Muncie, Ind., and were dispersed geographically across the country. Crime fell more often that it rose even as immigrant populations grew almost across the board.

In 136 metro areas, almost 70% of those studied, the immigrant population increased between 1980 and 2016 while crime stayed stable or fell. The number of areas where crime and immigration both increased was much lower—54 areas, which is slightly more than a quarter of the total. The 10 places with the largest increase in immigrants all had lower levels of crime in 2016 than in 1980.

In Orange County, California where the immigrant population in the county has more than doubled since 1980, overall violent crime has decreased by more than 50%.

Previous healthy memory posts have argued that Trumps’s entire campaign is built on lies. Lies make for an unhealthy memory. Trump does not seem to know that he is lying. He could be tested for having a delusional disorder. The test for this disorder is to attach the individual to a polygraph. If he lies and the polygraph fails to detect, it may be concluded that he, and the rest of the country with him, is suffering the adverse effects of a delusional disorder.

Moreover, Trump does not seem to care whether he is lying. This was most evident in his recent debate with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau.

The truth appears to be that the President of the United States is not in touch with reality. It is obvious that he is not doing, and is perhaps incapable of, Kahneman’s System 2 processing. That there are people who still support him leads one to believe that there is an epidemic of unhealthy memories in the United States. These people also are not engaging System 2 processing. Much higher rates of Alzheimer’s and dementia can be anticipated for the future.

© 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.

Nice Prize for Alzheimer’s Work

April 5, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the first half of a title of an article by Jacqui Wise in the news section of the 17 March 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The second half if the title is “shame about the lack of a cure.” The following is directly from the article, “In giving the 1 million Euro prize to four researchers in the UK, Germany, and Belgium, Denmark’s Lundbeck Foundation is likely to rekindle hopes of a cure being within reach. However, translating the work—much of it in animals—into drugs remains as frustratingly out of reach as ever.”

There was a healthy memory post on August 20, 2011 titled “The Myth of Alzheimer’s.” That post was on a book by Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D., and Daniel George, M.Sc.. Dr. Whitehouse had been conducting research on destroying or preventing the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that are the defining characteristics of the disease. His research was quite profitable and would have been continuing today, had he not come to the firm conclusion that this research would never pay off. He switched to conducting research on humans suffering from the disease.

The following is taken from that 20 August 2011 healthy memory blog post:
“The thesis of the book is best captured from the following excerpt from page 220, …”It is unlikely that there will ever be a panacea for brain aging and baby boomers should not rely on extraordinary advancements being made in their lifetimes besides the promises of the Alzheimer’s disease empire that make their way into our headlines. Our attention must begin shifting from mythical cure to hard-earned prevention, from expecting a symptomatic treatment for Alzheimer’s disease to choosing behaviors that may delay the effects “of cognitive decline over the course of our lives.” Many, if not most, of the behaviors he discusses have been mentioned and advocated in the Healthymemory Blog.

The book provides a superb tutorial on the history of Alzheimer’s disease from its unassuming beginnings to the development of an Alzheimer’s disease empire. It reviews the science underlying Alzheimer’s disease and the role of genetics in Alzheimer’s disease. It discusses past and present treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. It explains how to identify someone who might need a prescription for memory loss, and how to prepare for a doctor’s visit. It presents a new model for living with brain aging as well as a prescription for successful aging across the life span. An epilogue is titled ‘Thinking Like a Mountain: The Future of Aging.’”

The key behavior for minimizing the risk of suffering the symptoms of Alzheimer’s is living a healthy lifestyle that includes cognitive activity, that builds a cognitive reserve. This blog has many posts on both how to have a growth mindset and the benefits of a healthy mindset. Many people have died with amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s. Yet these people never knew they had Alzheimer’s as they exhibited none of the behavioral and cognitive symptoms. The reason given for these individuals is that they had a cognitive reserve. Recent research is finding evidence of how the brain changes as the result of cognitive reserve.

HM has a further conjecture that it is a specific type of processing that is beneficial. This is Kahnemans’s Type 2 processing, commonly referred to as thinking. Type 1 processing, our normal mode, called intuition, occurs quickly and with little attentional demands. As we age we tend to slip into more and more Type 1 processing. Entering “Kahneman” into the search block of the healthy memory blog will yield many posts on Kahneman and his Two Process Theory of cognition.

© 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.

Data Lacking for Memory Supplements

April 4, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article from Consumer Reports in the Health and Science Section in the 3 Apr 2018 issue of the Washington Post. According to the Nutrition Business Journal, sales of supplements touted as memory boosters nearly doubled between 2006 and 2015. Unfortunately, according to a review of studies published in December, there’s virtually no good evidence that such products can prevent or delay memory lapses, mild cognitive impairment or dementia in older adults. Moreover, Pieter Cohen, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School says, “some may do more harm than good.”

Fish oils (omega-3 fatty acids); B vitamins such as folate B6 and B12; and ginkgo biloba extract, made from the dried leaves of a ginkgo tree, none of which have demonstrated their benefits. For example, one study published in Lancet Neurology in 2012 found that among 2,854 older adults with memory complaints, those who took ginkgo biloba extract twice a day for five years had no fewer cases of Alzheimer’s than those who took a placebo.

Regarding fish oil, some studies have found that people with diets high in omega-3s—which are found in fatty fish such as salmon—may have a lower risk of dementia. But similar benefits have not been found with supplements. A 2012 review of data on thousands of older adults found that those who took omega—3 fatty acid supplements had no fewer dementia diagnoses or better scores on tests of short-term memory than those who took a placebo.

Nor have B vitamins fared any better. A 2015 review of studies found that supplementation with B6, B12 and/or folic acid failed to slow or reduce the risk of cognitive decline in healthy older adults and did not improve brain function in those with cognitive decline or dementia.

The article states, “Our experts also recommend avoiding branded “memory boosting” blends.”

The article notes that a 2017 Government Accountability Office report analyzed hundreds of ads promoting memory-enhancing supplements and identified 27 making what seemed to be illegal claims about treating or preventing disease such as dementia.

Lon Schneider, professor of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California says, “even legal claims that suggest supplements will improve, boost or enhance your memory don’t have to have any data to justify them.” A statement from the Council on Responsible Nutrition, an industry group responded to the GAO report reads, “Dietary supplements cannot cure, treat or prevent Alzheimer’s, dementia, or any disease.”

Supplements are loosely regulated and some may contain undisclosed ingredients or prescription drugs. Some dangerously interact with medication: For example, ginkgo biloba should never be paired with blood thinners, blood pressure meds, or SSRI antidepressants.

Marvin M. Lipman, Consumer Reports medical adviser says, “Don’t be misled by hype. They are not only a waste of money, but some can also be harmful.”

The article offers three strategies to try instead (which should be familiar to healthy memory blog readers).
“*Do a brain workout. Enhancing reasoning and memory abilities—learning a new language, for instance—might help delay or slow decline. A 10-year trial found that such training (though not computerized “brain games’) can help increase cognitive processing speed an sharpen reasoning skills.

*Exercise your body. In 2011, one study estimated that a million cases of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States were caused by a sedentary lifestyle. Several studies have found that physical activities—walking, weightlifting, yoga, or tai chi, for example—may delay or slow cognitive decline but not prevent it.

*Manage blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure dramatically reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are risk factors for memory loss.”

Psychology to the Rescue

April 3, 2018

Psychologists’ goal is to understand the mind. Psychologist Brendan Lake says,”I really see twin goals here: understanding the human mind better and also developing machines learning in more humanlike ways. I believe that if we can’t program a computer to explain human behavior, then we don’t fully understand it.” Noah Goodman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and computer science at Stanford University says, “Humans are the most intelligent system we know.” (Knowing the intimate failures of HM’s own mind, he finds this hard to believe, but he defers to the expert) Alexa will respond to hundreds of voice commands, but can’t hold a real conversation. Similarly, IBM’s Watson can win at Jeopardy, but still is unable to accomplish some tasks that any one of us could do.

Watson and Google-affiliated Deep Mind are deep neural networks. These networks are inspired by the way that neurons connect in the brain and are related to the “connectionist” way of thinking about human intelligence. In AI, the idea works like this: instead of physical neurons, deep neural networks have neuron-like computational units, stacked together in dozens of connection layers. If you want to create a neural network that can tell the difference between apples and bananas for a visual learning system, then you present it with thousands of pictures of apples and bananas, Each image excites the “neurons” in the input layer. Those “neurons” pass on some information to the next layer, then the next layer and so on. As the training progresses, different layers start to identify patterns at increasing levels of abstraction, like color, texture, or shape. When the information system spits out a guess: apple or banana, if the system’s guess is wrong, then it can adjust the connections among the neurons accordingly. By processing thousands and thousands of training images, the system eventually becomes extremely good at the task at hand—figuring out the patterns that make an apple an apple and a banana a banana. This is a simple task, and the concept of neural networks has existed since the 1940s. Neural networks have increased enormously in complexity. The complexity of Watson truly boggles the human mind.

Unfortunately, neural networks do not provide an understanding into how we humans process information other than to state it is networks of neurons that do it. We humans cannot provide this understanding because we also do not understand how our neurons do this. Although we have access to our conscious processes, the vast majority of our processing is not accessible by our conscious processes. Connectionist-oriented AI researchers believe that if we want to build truly flexible, humanlike intelligence, we will need to not only write algorithms that reflect human reasoning, but also understand how the brain develops those algorithms to begin with. This is a job for psychology, and we psychologists have been working on these problems for close to a century.

Some researchers believe that studying how babies learn can provide insights that help build machines with flexible and humanlike intelligence. Dr. Linda Smith a psychologist and AI researcher at Indiana University, believes that answers to the problem of writing algorithms that a reflect human reasoning and also how the brain develops the algorithms begins with research using human babies.

Dr. Smith said, “My personal view is that babies are the smartest things on earth in terms of learning; they can learn anything and they can do it from scratch. And what babies do that machines don’t do is to generate their own data.”

In one of a series of studies, Dr. Smith and her colleagues are outfitting babies and preschoolers with head-mounted video cameras to closely analyze how they see the world. In one study they found that during mealtimes, 8 to 10-month-old babies looked preferentially at a limited number of scenes and objects—their chair, utensils, food and more—in a way that may later help them learn their first words. They also found that the scenes and objects the babies choose to look at differ from the types of “training images” often seen in computational models for AI visual learning systems (Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. Vol 372, No.1711, 2017).

This is just one example of research being done that provides information to AI researchers. It appears that there is a need for a marriage between code developed from psychological research and connectionist code. This should achieve a true symbiosis benefitting both psychology and computer science.

This post is based on an article by Lea Winerman titled “Making a Thinking Machine” in the April 2018 issue of the “Monitor on Psychology.”

Many thanks to my colleague russvane3 for providing comments on this post.

The Brain and Mindfulness Meditation

April 2, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Bruce Lieberman in the Health & Science section of the 27 March 2018 issue of the Washington Post. His article was based on a recent article in the APS journal Perspectives on Psychological Science (Jan 2018) titled “Mind the Hype: A Critical Evaluation and Prescriptive Agenda for Research and Mindfulness and Meditation.” The title should tip off the reader that this article has a bias and it does. Healthymemory blog readers should be aware that there have been many posts on this topic.

The references include only three citations of Davidson, the most prolific and qualified researcher in the area, and only one for Goleman, who provided the incentive for research in this area. There is no reference to Dr. Benson, a physician and researcher at Harvard medical school who documented the benefits of the relaxation response. He also provided guidance and benefits of the relaxation response on Angina Pectoris, Anxiety, Depression, Hypertension, Stress-related infertility, insomnia, Menopausal, Perimenopausal, and Breast Cancer Hot Flashes, Nausea, Pain-General, Pain-Variations, Parkinson’s Disease, Phobias, Premature Aging, Premature Ventricular Contractions and Palpitations, and premenstrual syndrome. He does advise for treatment with a physician, but if the physician is hostile to meditation, then to look for a more accommodating physician. He also documents epigenetic effects in which meditation fosters healthy readouts from one’s genes. These effects are described in the healthy memory blog post “The Genetic Breakthrough—Your Ultimate Mind-Body Connection.”

HM was amazed by the kind and generous response by Dr. Davidson to the “Mind the Hype” article in his following paper in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, (Jan 2018) “Outstanding Challenges in Scientific Research on Mindfulness and Meditation.” Dr. Davidson is one of the most conscientious and demanding scientists HM knows.

The “Mind the Hype” article does not cite the book by Goleman and Davidson titled, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.”
This is the most exhaustive review of the literature currently available, and it does indicate how much is known about each topic. Dr. Davidson is his own most severe critic. So the best way to learn about the benefits and current limitations of mindfulness and meditation is to read this book. Short of that, read the numerous healthymemory posts that have been based on this book, along with the other healthy memory blog posts on this topic. Just use the search block for this blog. You can also go to Dr. Davidson’s website, https://centerhealthyminds.org/about/founder-richard-davidson

HM’s concern is that this article in the Washington Post based on this “Mind the Hype” review in the Washington Post will discourage people from meditating, in general, and from trying the relaxation response, in particular. There is much to be gained here and it is difficult imaging any risk.

Go to the healthy memory blog “An Update of the Relaxation Response Update” for guidance on how to do the relaxation response.

© 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.

School Shootings Are Rare. We’re Still Terrified

April 1, 2018

The title of this article is identical to the title of an article by David Ropek in the Outlook Section of the 11 March 2018 Washington Post. Mr. Ropek writes, “the murder of children in their classrooms has come to seem common a regular feature of modern American life, and our fears so strong that we are certain the next horror is sure to come not long after the last.

According to the Education Report approximately 50 million children attend public schools for around 180 days per year . Since Columbine, approximately 200 public school students have been shot to death while school was in session, including the recent slaughter at Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, and a more recent shooting in Birmingham, AL. This means that the statistical likelihood of any given public school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 is about 1 in 614,000,000.

Although the article’s author does not mention Kahneman’s Availability, heuristic, this is what underlies the fear. According to Kahneman, it is information that is available and accessible in memory that guides our judgments. Moreover, this is reasonable, given that objective facts are not readily available, and considerable effort is involved in gathering the data Mr. Ropek did to write this article.

Nevertheless, HM is grateful that the students and the public are reacting in this way. The Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School students have been highly articulate and active. May they continue their effort and be joined by the entire country.

The exact wording of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution is
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
This amendment makes sense. Note that the justification for this is to maintain a well regulated militia. The NRA always omits this justification for the amendment. Today’s NRA is not the same our grandfathers’ NRA. In those days the NRA focused on gun safety. Today’s NRA seems to be focused on making every weapon available to everyone. It appears to be motivated by the fear that their guns might be taken away. As the prospect of their losing their guns is not on the horizon, this seems to be institutional paranoia. Unfortunately, a retired Supreme Court Justice appeared to be arguing for the repeal of the 2nd Amendment. This argument did nothing constructive and merely provided justification for the NRA’s paranoia.

Unfortunately, HM suffers from his own paranoia about the NRA. He asks why do they argue for weapons designed for combat? He remembers Charlton Heston, the actor, and HM believes a former president of the NRA, said that his rifle would need to be pried from his cold, dead hand. This leaves the impression that once some fear threshold is reached, the NRA will effectively declare war on the United States and need to be defeated militarily.

Clearly it is time for a sanity check. HM thinks that the majority of families do not have a gun in their homes. This would make gun owners a minority, and should be given the respect all minorities should be given. They have feelings, desires, and beliefs. This is not the time to think that it is morally superior to be anti-gun.

HM has also seen surveys of actual NRA members who seem to have moderate views on gun ownership. It seems that working with NRA members, reasonable gun laws could be passed. But it seems like the NRA is managed by paranoid lunatics. Moreover, they are heavily funded by gun manufacturers and perhaps by the Mercers, the Koch’s, and perhaps even the Russians. This group has essential bought the United States Congress. We can truthfully say that we have the best congress money can buy.

These students are trying to get Congress to pay attention not just to them, but to citizens at large. We all need to work with these students, including sane NRA members, uphold the 2nd Amendment, and assure the safety of all our citizens.

Please submit comments to correct any factual errors in this post.

© 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