Archive for December, 2018

Happy New Year 2019!

December 31, 2018

So it’s time for those new year’s resolutions. HM encourages you to consider marshaling your precious attentional resources. Unfortunately, it seems like the majority of people are unknowingly squandering their attentional resources. Our attentional resources are limited, so we need to try to use them to best advantage. This is key to the development and maintenance of a healthy memory.

The first issue regards the amount of time you are plugged in. Being plugged in subjects you to interruptions that can be harmful. Being plugged in results in superficial processing, which is not good for memory health. There are social issues here, so there is a need to consult with one’s true friends and explain what you are trying to do and why. You might also want to encourage them to join you in this effort.

The next issue, which is clearly related to the first issue, is to restrict use of social media. Do not get news from social media. It can literally lead you down paths to disinformation. There are respected news sources in traditional newspapers and magazines as well as online sources. Evaluate them for their credibility. Previous healthy memory posts have documented the problems resulting from social media news sources, Facebook being the prime example.

Active cognitive processing, System 2 processes in Kahneman’s terminology, contribute to memory health and are likely the best protection against Alzheimer’s and dementia. They also lead to more fulfilling lives and to being better citizens. Learning new skills and subjects require System 2 processing.

System 2 processes along with willpower are limited resources that can be exhausted. If your resolutions are unrealistic and exhaust your willpower, they will not be fulfilled.
Actually, if you are continually hooked in and a social media addict, just getting these problems remedied might be demanding enough. And the reward in memory health would be commensurate.

Previous New Year’s Healthymemory posts have recommended having two resolutions. One which is challenging, and one for which you have a high probability of such seeding. You do not want to go through the new year with an 0fer.

A piece in the 30 December 2018 issue of the Washington Post in the Outlook section by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie disabuses us of the myth that New Year’s Resolutions are useless because they are not kept. A frequently cited statistic is that only 8% of us manage to keep our resolutions. But according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in 2002 found that 46% of resolvers were successful six months later, compared with just 4% of the non resolvers just interested in changing something about their lives. A 2017 Statistic Brain Survey found that 44.8% of participants kept up their resolutions for at least six months, adding, “People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.

© 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 Trump Cult

December 25, 2018

Regarding this post as a Christmas gift from HM. Actually this is actually a regift from a very good friend who sent me the link to this article by Alexander Hurst in the New Republic
https://newrepublic.com/article/152638/escape-trump-cult. If you are a regular reader of the healthy memory blog you should know that HM has long been concerned about Donald Trump and his threat to American democracy. This article by Alexander Hurst in the New Republic presents a good frame for understanding Trump and his success, and also contains suggestions for dealing with this threat.

Although HM is grateful to his friend, he is also ashamed of himself as he has long known of the cited research, but failed to recognize its relevance to the Trump phenomenon.

The research in question began in 1954. Dorothy Martin and dozens of her followers crowded into her home in Chicago to await the apocalypse. They believed that Martin, a housewife, had received a message from a planet named Clarion that the world would end in a great flood beginning at midnight, and that they, the faithful, would be rescued by an alien spacecraft. Three of the group, Leon Festinger, Henry Reckon, and Stanley Schacter, were not there to be saved. The three had infiltrated the pseudo-cult to study Festinger’s recently elaborated theory of “cognitive dissonance.” The theory predicted that when people with strongly held beliefs were presented with contrary evidence, rather than change their minds they would seek comfort and “cognitive consonance” by convincing others to support their erroneous views.

Festinger’s prediction was correct. When neither the apocalypse nor the UFO arrived, the group began proselytizing about how God had rewarded the Earth with salvation because of their vigil. Festinger’s subsequent book, “When Prophecy Fails,” became a standard sociology reference for examining cognitive dissonance. Hurst notes that it is unlikely that the researchers would have predicted that over a half century later Festinger’s theory would be applicable to roughly 25% of the population of the United States and one of its two major political parties. But the theory was timely as it provides an understanding for deprogramming the Trump cult’s acolytes. This effort would require a level of sympathetic engagement on the part of nonbelievers that they have yet to display.

Hurst writes, “Trump, like the populist authoritarians before and around him, has also understood (or, at least, instinctually grasped) how indispensable his own individual persona is to his ultimate goal of grasping and maintaining power. Amidst his string of business failures, Trump’s singular talent has been that of any con man: the incredible ability to cultivate public image. Of course, Trump did not build his cult of followers—his in-group—ex nihilo; in many ways, the stage was set for his entrance. America had already split into two political identities by the time he announced his campaign for president in 2015, not just in terms of the information we consume, but down to the brands we prefer and the penchant for manipulating the media, Trump tore pages from the us-against-them playbook of the European [and Russian] far right and presented them to a segment of the American public already primed to receive it with religious further.”

Jana Lalich, a sociologist who specializes in cults, identified four characteristics of a totalistic cult and applied them to Trumpism: “an all-encompassing belief system, extreme devotion to the leader, reluctance to acknowledge criticism of the group or its leader, and a disdain for nonmembers.” Another sociologist of cults, Eileen Barker, has written that, “together, cult leaders and followers created and maintain their movement by proclaiming shared beliefs and identifying themselves as a distinguishable unit; behaving in ways that reinforce the group as a social entity, live closing themselves off to conflicting information; and stoking division and fear of enemies, real or perceived.”

Hurst notes that his nearly 90% approval rating among Republicans is the more remarkable for his having shifted Republican views on a range of issued from trade, to NATO, and to Putin. His endless rallies small of a noxious sort of revivalism, complete with a loyalty “pledge” curing the 2016 campaign. What is most worrisome is an almost universal unwillingness by Republican congressional leadership to check or thwart Trump’s worst instincts in ay substantive way.

Disdain for nonmembers, the ‘gobalists,” immigrants, urbanites, Muslims, Jews , and people of color. Hurst notes that Woody Guthrie sang in 1950 about his father Fred Trump’s discriminatory policies housing policies. Donald continues in his father’s way about birthirism, that dark-skinned immigrants come from “shithole countries,” his frequent classification of black people as uppity and ungrateful, his denigration of Native Americans, his incorporation of white nationalist thought into his administration, and his equivocation over neo-Nazis.

Hurst writes, “Trump sold his believers an engrossing tale of “American carnage” that he alone could fix, then isolated them in a media universe where reality exists only through Trump-tinted glasses, attacking all other sources of information as “fake news.” In the most polarized media landscape in the wealthy world, Republicans place their trust almost exclusively in Fox News, seeing nearly all other outlets as biased. In that context, the effect of a president who lie an average of ten times a day is the total blurring of fact and fiction, reality and myth, trust and cynicism. It is a world where, in the words of Rudy Giuliani, “truth is no longer truth”. “Who could really know?” Trump said of claims that Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “It is what it is.”

Trump supporters have time and time again displayed either indifference or disbelief when presented with Trump’s actual record, which has fallen short of what he promised on the campaign trail. With respect to his many, many lies, a Trump supporter said “I don’t care if he sprouts a third dick up there.” What actually is is irrelevant; what does matter is that Trump reflects back to his supporters a general feeling of what ought to be and a generation of in their guts. Hurst concludes, “Those caught in the web of Trumpism do not see the deception that surrounds them.
So when confronted with the 17, and still growing charges being levied against Trump and his group, it is unrealistic to think that many will say that the scales have fallen from their eyes and they at last see the danger that Trump presents not just to the nation, but to the entire world.

There are known ways of converting cult followers. A 2011 study by the RAND Corporation concluded that, “Factors associated with leaving street gangs, religious, right-wing extremist groups, and organized crime groups include positive social ties and an organic disillusionment with the group’s beliefs or ideology. Psychologists Rod and Linda Dubrow-Marshall write in “The Conversation,” it’s extremely difficult for people to admit they are wrong, and it’s crucial for them to arrive at that realization on their own.

Hurst writes, “The very things responsible for the success of democratic transition are under near constant assault from Trump and his Republican abettors. Democracy, especially liberal democracy, has always been dependent on the trust and belief of the self-governed. It is one thing to implement tangible measures to prevent the decay of bedrock institutions when we know what these measures should look like. It’s another, far tougher thing, to figure out how to maintain the legacy of the these same institutions—and how to restore it once lost.”

Sociologists and psychologists are agreed that when it comes to helping individuals leave cult-like groups positive social factors are more effective than negative sanctions. It is better to use dialogue to ask questions and reinforce doubts thatcher then to criticize. Testimonials from former cult members can be especially helpful in fueling disillusionment.

Northern Ireland likely most approximates the United States, in that it was part of a wealthy nation with a democratic tradition (though in the 1980s, Northern Ireland was in a far worse situation of political division and communitarion violence).

Maria Power, a researcher in conflict transformation studies at Oxford, sees strategies from Northern Ireland that could be deployed on the other side of the Atlantic. She cited dialogue-building between Unionist and Republican women, who faced much thought obstacles to reconciliation since they were “risking their lives” even time they met in East Belfast during the Troubles. She said that the peace effort in Northern Ireland hinged on incredibly tough person-to-person groundwork carried out by dozens of organizations and ecumenical groups. She emphasized above all the importance of investing time and effort into building trust, first within, and then later between, identity groups.”

Power also said “that conflict transformation in the United States would likely involve local grassroots community development in the areas that Trump lies to hold rallied. “I don’t meat that progressives should go to these communities and start knocking on doors, tat would be the worst thing that could happen exacerbate tensions. I mean that there should be a focus on real comment development in these areas.”

Although Hurst does not mention the outbreak of violence, that should not be overlooked. Why was Russia pouring money into the NRA? Why is their such reluctance against banning assault class weapons?

We all should be cognizant of the Trump problem. All too often people seem to think that this is politics as normal. True norms are being broken, but it must be realized that Trump seeks to emulate Putin and Kim Jong Un.

Merry Christmas 2018

December 25, 2018

Christmas is the time where we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Christ taught us to love our fellow humans, to turn the other cheek and not strike back if we were struck. Compassion and loving our fellow humans are paramount. If we all lived by the teachings of Christ this would be a wonderful world.

So what went wrong? The ironic answer is religion. It is important to remember that religions are human institutions that claim to present the word of God. Many people attend church in the hope that they are checking a box for eternal life. Unfortunately, following what comes from the pulpit will not necessarily lead to eternal life as the messages from the pulpit are frequently contrary to the teachings of Christ.

A primary example is the support that many who profess to be Christians have for Donald Trump. It is difficult to find someone who is any less of a Christian than Donald Trump. He is the very antithesis of a Christian. There are people who call themselves Christians fighting to remove any government support for medical aid to the unfortunate. This at a time when every other advanced nation provides medical care for all its citizens. People who call themselves Christians care not for the well being of their fellow citizens and show hatred and fear of immigrants, forgetting that immigrants have made and should be continuing to make the United States great. Yet the Fraud who claims to make America great again, is making outlandish claims that immigrants present a threat to the United States.

Moreover, these same Christians (be clear not all Christians, many are doing good), instead of doing the work of Christ are trying to force their insipid beliefs, and they are indeed insipid as they do not withstand critical thought, on their fellow citizens. Apparently they have forgotten that the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States guarantees the Freedom of Expression. Each citizen is entitled to her own belief or lack of belief. People can practice any religion they want, but they are forbidden to impose their beliefs on others.

© 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.

Scale of Russian Operation Detailed

December 23, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Craig Timberg and Tony Romm in the 17 Dec ’18 issue of the Washington Post. Subtitles are: EVERY MAJOR SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM USED and Report finds Trump support before and after election. This post is the first to analyze the millions of posts provided by major technology firms to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The research was done by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and Graphic, a network analysis firm. It provides new details on how Russians worked at the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which U.S. officials have charged with criminal offenses for interring in the 2016 campaign. The IRA divided Americans into key interest groups for targeted messaging. The report found that these efforts shifted over time, peaking at key political moments, such as presidential debates or party conventions. This report substantiates facts presented in prior healthy memory blog posts.

The data sets used by the researchers were provided by Facebook, Twitter, and Google and covered several years up to mid-2017, when the social media companies cracked down on the known Russian accounts. The report also analyzed data separately provided to House Intelligence Committee members.

The report says, “What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party and specifically Donald Trump. Trump is mentioned most in campaigns targeting conservatives and right-wing voters, where the messaging encouraged these groups to support his campaign. The main groups that could challenge Trump were then provided messaging that sought to confuse, distract and ultimately discourage members from voting.”

The report provides the latest evidence that Russian agents sought to help Trump win the White House. Democrats and Republicans on the panel previously studied the U.S. intelligence community’s 2017 finding that Moscow aimed to assist Trump, and in July, said the investigators had come to the correct conclusion. Nevertheless, some Republicans on Capitol Hill continue to doubt the nature of Russia’s interference in the election.

The Russians aimed energy at activating conservatives on issues such as gun rights and immigration, while sapping the political clout of left-leaning African American voters by undermining their faith in elections and spreading misleading information about how to vote. Many other groups such as Latinos, Muslims, Christians, gay men and women received at least some attention from Russians operating thousands of social media accounts.

The report offered some of the first detailed analyses of the role played by Youtube and Instagram in the Russian campaign as well as anecdotes about how Russians used other social media platforms—Google+, Tumblr and Pinterest—that had received relatively little scrutiny. That also used email accounts from Yahoo, Microsoft’s Hotmail service, and Google’s Gmail.

While reliant on data provided by technology companies the authors also highlighted the companies’ “belated and uncoordinated response” to the disinformation campaign and, once it was discovered, their failure to share more with investigators. The authors urged that in the future they provide data in “meaningful and constructive “ ways.

Facebook provided the Senate with copies of posts from 81 Facebook pages and information on 76 accounts used to purchase ads, but it did not share posts from other accounts run by the IRA. Twitter has made it challenging for outside researchers to collect and analyze data on its platform through its public feed.

Google submitted information in an especially difficult way for researchers to handle, providing content such as YouTube videos but not the related data that would have allowed a full analysis. They wrote that the YouTube information was so hard to study, that they instead tracked the links to its videos from other sites in hopes of better understand YouTube’s role in the Russian effort.

The report expressed concern about the overall threat social media poses to political discourse within and among nations, warning them that companies once viewed as tools for liberation in the Arab world and elsewhere are now a threat to democracy.

The report also said, “Social media have gone from being the natural infrastructure for sharing collective grievances and coordinating civic engagement to being a computational tool for social control, manipulated by canny political consultants and available to politicians in democracies and dictatorships alike.”

The report traces the origins of Russian online influence operations to Russian domestic politics in 2009 and says that ambitions shifted to include U.S. politics as early as 2013. The efforts to manipulate Americans grew sharply in 2014 and every year after, as teams of operatives spread their work across more platforms and accounts to target larger swaths of U.S. voters by geography, political interests, race, religion and other factors.

The report found that Facebook was particularly effective at targeting conservatives and African Americans. More than 99% of all engagements—meaning likes, shares and other reactions—came from 20 Facebook pages controlled by the IRA including “Being Patriotic,” “Heart of Texas,” “Blacktivist” and “Army of Jesus.”

Having lost the popular vote, it is difficult to believe that Trump could have carried the Electoral College given this impressive support by the Russians. One can also envisage Ronald Reagan thrashing about in his grave knowing that the Republican Presidential candidate was heavily indebted to Russia and that so many Republicans still support Trump.
© 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 Problem Within the Genius Within

December 22, 2018

David Adam is an entertaining writer has written an entertaining book “The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential.” The primary problem is his preoccupation with IQ. He has written responsibly about how the IQ has been misused and has resulted in gross injustices to entire groups of people. What he does not recognize are the individuals who conclude they are dumb because they have low IQs.

Adam has qualified for and joined Mensa, an organization that requires at IQ of at least 130 to join. But he has met with these people and not found anything outstanding about them. There likely are some members of Mensa who have made significant accomplishments in various field. But the vast majority of successful people do not belong to Mensa and see no point to belonging in Mensa.

HM encourages all readers and anyone who’ll listen to him or read what he writes. Do not let anyone define you. Define yourself and work to your definition. The seminal work by Carol Dweck on growth mindsets is critical here. People with growth mindsets refuse to believe that intelligence is fixed, but can and should grow with lifelong learning. Many healthy memory posts have argued that growth mindsets provide perhaps the best means of building a cognitive reserve and warding off dementia. This is true even if one’s brain becomes infected with the neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque, which are the defining features of Alzheimer’s.

Moreover constant learning also leads to a more fulfilling and meaningful like. Never stop until you breathe your last breath.

As for electronic and other enhancements, it is hoped that they can be used to relieve or remediate pathological conditions. They also might assist in performing specific tasks or learning specific materials. These enhancements need to be tested for any unintended consequences, but if they are safe they can be used for the ends of personal fulfillment.

© 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 Genius Within

December 21, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in “The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential” by David Allen. There are two general categories of savants. You have born savants, like the character portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the Rain Man. Although these individuals have what appear to be superhuman abilities, they are severely deficient in other areas. Acquired savants are those who acquire impressive capabilities as the result of some accident. It appears that an accident released some extraordinary capability(ies) from within. Brain scans of acquired savants seem to confirm that no idle regions of their brain springs into life. No part of that apocryphal unused 90% of the brain holds their secret. We all have the same equipment; it’s just that some people use it differently. Many different savant skills have been released by a bang on the head.

Orlando Serrell was ten years old and playing baseball with friends when, racing towards first base, he felt a flash of pain and fell to the ground. Flung by a playmate, the solid ball had struck him high on the left side of his head. Life changed for Orlando that day. It became a lot more memorable. He developed a powerful memory and could recall with remarkable detail the events and weather of every single day since his accident. He found that he could identify the day of the week given any date (so if asked what day 12 September 2018 occurred he would respond Wednesday). He could also tell you what day 6 October 1492 fell on.

Louise, an American woman fell heavily while skiing on a slope and broke her collarbone and banged her head. Over the following weeks she found that she could remember too much. She could recall and recreate with extraordinary deal the floor-plan of every building she had ever been through.

These cases seem to suggest that this information was always resident in memory, and a severe blow somehow gave them access to this information. This is similar to John Elder Robison who was autistic and could not read or feel emotion. After being treated with a magnetic field this capacity seemed to be reawakened in him. It seemed like he might always have had this capability, but there seemed to be something keeping him from gaining access to this capability.

Fortunately, suffering a head injury is not necessary to having an extraordinary memory.
There are people with highly superior autobiographical memories (HSAM), who are able to recall what happened in extraordinary detail on any given day. HM was unaware of these people until he viewed a piece on the TV Program Sixty Minutes. Dr. James McGaugh, a Research Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and a Fellow in the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California-Irvine, became aware of and started studying these extraordinary people. To the best of HM’s knowledge only about 34 such individuals had been identified and studied at that time. The nature of this recall ability as shown on Sixty Minutes was the ability to recall what happened on a specific day in the past. So if you asked one of them what happened on 6 August 1999, they would be able to tell you what day of the week that was, and what they did. They might even be able to tell you what they wore and what they ate. If they had watched a sporting event, they could tell the score and the particulars of the event. Marilu Henner, who most of us know from the TV show Taxi and who has had a very successful acting career, was one of the people on the show. When HM later learned that she had written a book, Total Memory Makeover, he was tempted to buy but was a little put off by the hype in the title. As HM looked further into it he learned that Marilu had a self-improvement business. So his initial decision was not to purchase the book. As time passed, he realized that he could not pass up the opportunity to learn what someone who had such a remarkable memory had to offer. It was a good decision. Here’s what Professor McGaugh wrote in the Foreword to the book. “This book is like no other book about memory, and the insights offered are unique. In these pages we learn from Marilu what it is like to have such a memory, why it is important to her, and why she thinks we can all benefit by taking steps to improve our own remembering. Readers will learn that Marilu is as well organized as she is thoughtful, insightful, enthusiastic, and, well, delightfully humorous. The advice she offers us may not turn all of us (or any of us) into HSAMers, but every reader will learn much about the importance of memory, as well as things we might do to help us maintain memories of our own personal experiences.”

Brain scans of Marilu have shown that certain brain structures important to memory, such as the hippocampus, are larger than normal. But it is important not to confuse cause and effect here. London cab drivers have also been found to have hippocampi larger than normal, but this has been attributed to them having to memorize the entire map of London. So it is likely that Marilu’s larger than normal memory structures are the result of her use of them rather than having been born with them.

HM found her home life significant. Her father emphasized anticipating an event, participating in the event, and then recollecting the event (her book is organized into three sections of anticipating, participating, and recollection). They liked to have parties and enjoyed the anticipation and the recollection of the parties, not just the participation in the parties. As a small child she would not only pay attention to the day, date, and month, but would also remember what happened during the day. Then she would periodically review what happened during a past day, week, or month. HM was gratified to learn this as HM suspected this is what these HSAMers had been doing. Most often, HM does not even know what day it is now and needs to consult a calendar. So HM pays little attention to when something is happening, and he does not systematically review what has happened during these dates. This is something that is entirely feasible, if one has the discipline. Recall actually increases as the time between recall attempts increases. So one might review what happened during the preceding week. Then not review it again until the next month. Then two months, four months, six months, one year, two years, four years. So systematic review is feasible and such review could result in becoming a blossoming HSAMer.

Marilu developed a variety of techniques throughout her life and shares them with you. She also discusses uses of technology and our fellow humans to enhance memory. This is termed transactive memory in the lingo of the healthymemory blog. She discusses memory games for friends, family, and for the development of the memories of children.

The book delivers what the title promises, a Total Memory Makeover. However, there is no requirement that the makeover be total. You can devote as much time as your interest and schedule permits. HM thinks whatever time you devote to this effort will foster a healthy memory. Virtually everything offered in the book will foster a healthy memory.

If you are a parent or grandparent, HM would strongly recommend that you get the book and use some of the games and exercises with your children. Perhaps the best gift you can give them is a healthy, well functioning memory. This is even more important with the temptation to rely increasingly on technology instead of our biological memories.

To learn more about HSAM enter “HSAM” into the search block of the healthy memory blog. For the most part HSAMers appear to be fairly normal, and they did not need to suffer head trauma to develop their impressive abilities.

© 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.

Magnetic Fields

December 20, 2018

This post is based primarily on content in “The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential” by David Allen. The physicist Michael Faraday discovered that waving a bit of metal around inside a magnetic field can induce electronic current. He used this discovery to invent the electronic motor. There was a physician, Franz Anton Mesmer, who claimed human disease was caused by the movements of the sun and moon, which disturbed tides of invisible fluids in the atmosphere and inside the human body. He claimed that the nervous fluid inside people was magnetic, and the imbalance in this animal magnetism cause by the motions of the heavenly bodies could be fixed by applying magnets to the body of the patient.

Mesmer was quite a showman and achieved notable success. This was all quackery, and perhaps Mesmer actually believed his quackery, but if you’re wondering why this was effective consider placebo effects. In his practice he developed what he called mesmerism, but what is called hypnotism today.

There was a previous blog post on John Elder Robison (enter “Robison” into the healthy memory blog search box to find the post). John suffered from the autism spectrum. Specifically John could not feel or read emotions. Otherwise he was highly intelligent and normal as one could be with this disorder. Perhaps it is ironic, but he made his living for some time doing the electronics for rock groups. He understood what they did and how to produce the effects they wanted solely via his understanding of electronics. He had no emotional responses to the music.

John took part in a research study at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston on how people with autism process language. He had 30 minutes of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Because the focus of their research was language, the researchers targeted Broca’s area, part of the frontal lobe. They told him any effect would probably be mild and short-lived. Fortunately for John, they were wrong.

For the first time in his life, he felt emotions. He could now feel a response to music in additional to the intellectual understanding he had had. John revisited past experience and reassessed relationships. He realized that one of his friends was not what he seemed. What he had once thought was friendly chit-chat with him he now identified as ridicule and belittlement intended to single him out as different. John never spoke to him again. John’s wife suffered from serious depression. When he was autistic, this did not present a serious problem. Although he understood her depression, he did not feel her depression. After the treatment, he could feel her depression, and it became unbearable. Read the healthy memory post to learn more about his experiences. Better yet, read his book, “Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening.”

John communicated with a woman called Kim, who had undergone the same treatment and experienced a recovery similar to John’s. Unfortunately, her new ability quickly faded away. Her multicolor life snapped to monochrome. Kim said, “What am I going to do now? It’s like I’m haunted. I got a glimpse of those emotions but now it’s gone. So now I know what life is like for other people but it’s not that way for me.”

HM would very much like to see the results from this study. Were there any other successes? Did they last?

There is no true understanding how or why it worked for John. It’s almost like John’s brain had been making these emotional computations his whole life, but he could never read them out. The next post will contain reports of how some type of blow awakened unknown abilities. Perhaps it was not the specific treatment, but just some new shock to John’s brain that produced the change. Fortunately, this change has maintained.

Current Thinking

December 19, 2018

The title of this post is the same as a chapter title in “The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential” by David Allen. The use of electricity to alter the functioning of the brain and body has a long past. When George Orwell was shot in the throat during the Spanish Civil War in 1937, the medical treatment used to save and restore his voice included a routine blast of direct current, then known as electrotherapy.

While Tom Edison’s team was building the first electric chair, medics at Guy’s Hospital in London had established an Electrical Room to treat both physical and mental disorders. Electrical therapy was given to promote wound healing and to relieve pain and to try to treat various diseases including tuberculosis.

The results of these efforts were mixed, and the theoretical basis offered to support claimed clinical improvements was fuzzy. Some scientists said electricity acted as a fluid passed to the brain through the blood vessels. It was thought to both increase and reduce blood flow; it was described as both a sedative and a stimulant.

Mainstream science rediscovered these techniques in 1999. Psychologists in Germany interested in finding new ways to treat epilepsy used electrical brain stimulation to probe working memory and motor learning. This tinkering with electric current and the brain was not popular with colleagues. Allen writes that due to a shortage of volunteers they were forced to experiment on themselves and their families.

Although consistent definitive results have yet to be achieved, the potential pay-off for research on brain stimulation is extraordinary. Allen included these statement written about the possible applications of brain stimulation by proper scientists in professional academic books and journal, to be read by their equally proper peers:

“Contrary to the popular belief of “no pain, no gain” [brain stimulation] has been shown to accelerate learning and skill acquisition in complex learning tasks that normally take a long time to master and in a range of fundamental human capacities from motor and sensorimotor skills to mathematical cognition, with minimal discomfort or adverse side effects.

And:

Improved attention, perception, memory and other forms of cognition may lead to better performance at work, school,and in other aspects of everyday life. It may also reduce the cost, duration and overall impact of illness.

Still more:

A future with people wearing portable devices helping them stay awake during nightshifts or while driving a car, or improving their motor coordination during an intense track and field training session is becoming a more and more plausible and socially accepted scenario.

The potential, and limited research in this area, which is surprising when the potential big bucks are considered, is the reason there are do it yourselfers (DIYs) who build and purchase equipment to try this out for themselves. Enter ‘electronic brain stimulation’ into Google and you’ll find both equipment and doctors using electronic brain stimulation in their practices. There is also a Scientific American article on this subject.

The skull presents an obstacle to stimulating the brain directly with electricity. Most of the current from electrodes pressed to the outside of the head doesn’t pass through through into the brain. Upping the amount of current and the itchy tickling on the scalp worsens to an unpleasant burning sensation. Up it still further and the burning is not just a sensation.

Some neuroscientists have used lasers for better penetration. Researchers at the University of Texas took a low-level CG-5000 medical laser, approved to improve circulation and relieve muscle pain, and pointed it instead at people’s foreheads. They were trying to activate an enzyme in the frontal cortex called cytochrome oxidase, to help brain cells produce more energy and so work harder. It seemed to work.  Volunteers given the laser treatment performed better on tests of memory and attention.

Another approach is to use magnets, which is the topic of the next post.

So, What Makes a Brain Smart?

December 18, 2018

This post is based on “The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential” by David Allen. He writes, “Rather than being product of a specific brain region, general intelligence seems to come from how effectively various brain regions can work together. To solve a problem, parts of the temporal and occipital lobes, at the base and back of the brain, first take the raw signals that flood in from the eyes and ears and process them. This information is fed into the parietal cortex, a broad arch of brain tissue just under the crown, where it is annotated and labelled with meaning. It then goes forward to regions of the prefrontal cortex, sitting behind the forehead, which manipulates it, packages it into possible ideas or solutions, and tests them. As one solution emerges as preferred, another part of this prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate, is recruited to block the other, incorrect, responses. This model of intelligence is called the Pareto-Frontal Integration Theory (P-FIT). The better this P-FIT circuit works, then the more general intelligence a person will have.

A visible difference is in the way clever people fuel their brain activity. Brain scans of the way glucose is used to release energy, another proxy of mental activity, show that energy demand increases when the brain is put to work. In people who score high on intelligence tests the required increase is smaller. High intelligence is linked to efficient glucose consumption. Those with less effective brains need to burn more glucose to fire more neurons to solve the same problem. This could indicate more intelligent people need to recruit fewer neurons and set into action a smaller number of brain circuits. Understand, that this is not biologically or genetically determined. When we learn, these circuits become more efficient. One way of looking at learning is that it exercises these brain circuits making them more efficient.

Analysis of brain circuitry is a new focus for neuroscience. Intelligence circuits, like all those in the brain, rely on two types of communication: chemical and electrical.

Neuroscientists have shown the way these brain circuits activate is highly personal. Although we all use the brain’s P—FIT system to reason and problem-solve, we each do it in a slightly different way, recruiting a different number of neurons in a different order. Neuroscientists from Yale University found patterns of brain activity so personal that they served as a kind of neuronal fingerprint. The scientists could pick out and identify people from a large group of volunteers by mapping and then looking for their tell-tale patterns of brain connections as they performed cognitive exercises.

The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential

December 17, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a new book by David Allen. David Allen is a British journalist with a highly entertaining writing style. HM is envious of his writing style. So for a more enjoyable presentation of this material read the book. Much of the book will be ignored. Although it is both interesting and scholarly, it contains many red herrings with respect to genius. Foremost among them is the intelligence quotient (IQ). Mr. Allen is so captivated by IQ that he applied for the high IQ group Mensa. To join Mensa you need to have an IQ of at least 130. About 2% of the population would be eligible. Mr. Adam passed and in an effort to raise his IQ after different training attempts he managed to raise it by one point. This is well within the margin of error of IQ tests. He used the drug modafil, but it didn’t seem to help.

Mr. Allen did not find anything exceptional about members of Mensa. They were doing all right in life, but nothing exceptional. Much research has been done on the size and structure of the brain, but this research has not revealed anything substantive.

Mr. Allen does devote space to the evils of IQ testing. It has been used to disqualify large groups and races as being intellectually inferior. It has been used to justify sterilization and even the killing of what was regarded as inferior populations. To learn more about IQ tests enter “Flynn” into the search block of the healthy memory blog. To learn more about the inadequacy of intelligence tests enter “Stanovich” into the search block of the healthy memory blog.

Perhaps the worse effect of IQ is that it has led people to believe that they are not smart and are unlikely to succeed at anything difficult. What has found to be important for IQ is mindset.[enter “mindset” into the search block of the healthy memory blog] The psychologist Carol Dweck has identified two kinds of mindsets: fixed and growth.  People with a fixed mindset believe that we are who we are, and abilities can only be revealed, not created and developed.  They say things like “I’m bad in math” and see that as a fixed feature like being female or left-handed.  The problem with this mindset is that it has serious consequences because a person who thinks they are poor at math will remain poor at math and won’t try hard to improve; they believe this would be pointless.  Whatever potential these people have will not be realized if they think that these skills are immutable.

However, people with growth mindsets believe that skills can be developed if they are worked at. The growth mindset is the true mindset that allows for personal development.  Fixed mindsets are erroneous mindsets that preclude further development. Dweck has conducted experiments that illustrate and provide insight into this difference.  In one experiment she gave relatively easy puzzles to fifth graders, which they enjoyed. Then she gave the children harder puzzles. Some children suddenly lost interest and declined an offer to take the puzzles home.  Other children loved the harder puzzles more than the easy ones and wanted to know how they could get more of these puzzles.  Dweck noted that the difference between the two groups was not “puzzle-solving talent.”  Among the equally adept children, some were turned off by the tougher challenge while others were intrigued.  They key factor was mindset. In another experiment Dweck found that even when people with the fixed-mindset try, they don’t get as much from the experience as those who believe they can grow.  She scanned the brains of volunteers as they answered hard questions, then were told whether  their answers were right or wrong and given information that could help them improve.  The scans showed that volunteers with a fixed mindset were fully engaged when they were told whether their answers were right or wrong, but that’s all they apparently cared about.  Information that could help them improve their answers didn’t engage them.  Even when they’d  gotten an answer wrong, they were not interested in what the right answer was.  Only people with a growth mindset paid close attention  to information that could stretch their knowledge.  For them, learning was a top priority.

Too many people try something, have difficulty doing it, and then abandon it thinking that pursuing it will be a waste of time. However, there are many people who were not discouraged by their initial failures. Rather they regarded these failures as motivation to succeed and became very successful in their pursuits. Barbara Oakley is a prime example. [Enter “Oakley” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to find relevant posts.] Barbara Oakley is someone who despised mathematics, but who eventually decided that mathematics would be critical to her success. She began work slowly but diligently. And she discovered as her skills improved, she began to increasingly like mathematics, which ultimately led her to becoming a highly successful engineer.

The take away lesson here is not to let any one or any test define you. Define yourself and then work diligently to succeed.

Perhaps more important than professional success is personal success and personal fulfillment. Rather than a number, you want to have personal knowledge and skills that result from growth mindsets.

© 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 Disoriented Ape

December 15, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the first part of a title by Emma Young in the Features section of the 15 Dec. 18 issue of the New Scientist. The second half of the title is “Why clever people can be terrible navigators.” Apart from technology, which does little, if anything, to develop an individual’s ability to navigate. It is likely that a heavy reliance on these devices could reduce or destroy any abilities we might have.

There are two main approaches we use to navigate. Route-based navigation involves remembering landmarks on a particular journey: turn left at the church and then right at the park, and so on. This works pretty well in familiar towns or on regular journey, but what do you do if you are forced to take another route?

Mental mapping involves creating, consciously or unconsciously, a mental map of the environment. This approach is sometimes considered superior because it is more flexible and allows one to take shortcuts when appropriate. But it is more cognitively demanding.

Mary Hegarty of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) Spatial Thinking Lab says that most of us use both strategies, the trick being to get the balance right. “Good navigators probably select the best strategy for the job automatically.

Hegarty and colleagues put 140 UCSB students in a virtual reality maze. The maze contained 12 objects, including a chair and a duck, placed at various junctions. After being taught a route through the maze, the volunteers were started off at one object and asked to navigate to another. Sometimes the learned route was the shortest path and at other times it was quicker to take a novel route. Women were more likely to follow learned routes and to wander. Men showed a greater preference for trying to work out shortcuts, which call for mental mapping. On average, males were faster and covered less ground in reaching their target.

Hugo Spiers of University College London conducted a massive study that surveyed people’s navigational abilities using a mobile-phone-based game called Sea Hero Quest. In an analysis of more than 500,000 people from 57 countries, the best performers were living in nations with greater gender equality and greater economic wealth, which is associated with higher levels of education, which improves abstract problem solving. The presence of four Nordic countries in the top 10 has led Spiers to speculate that there may have been selection for good navigational abilities in their Viking and seafaring past. It might also help to have a culture of participating sports requiring navigation, such as orienteering,

Half of the Nobel Prize in 2014 went to John O’Keefe at University College London for discovering place cells in the hippocampus of rats. Each of these cells fired in a specific location at the animal moved around its enclosure. So by remembering patterns of place cell activity, a rat could effectively map its environment. The other half of the prize went to May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology for their discover of grid cells. Located near the hippocampus, they fire in groups, each making a discrete hexagonal region of ground as an animal moves across it. It is though that, by essentially unfurling a grid map over a two-dimensional space as it goes, the rat gets precise information about the distance between objects within it, including itself.

Place cells and grid cells have been found in human brains, as have a variety of other neurons specialized for navigation. Head direction cells encode the orientation of your head, providing a reference point for grid and place cells. Border cells fire when you get close to a boundary, such as a wall. Spatial view cells become active when you look at a place, even if you don’t actually go there.

Speaking Two Languages May Help the Aging Brain

December 13, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Ramin Skibba in the Health and Science Section of the 11Dec 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The article notes that the first main advantage involves what is referred to as executive function. This includes skills that allow us to control, direct and manage our attention, as well as our ability to plan. It also helps us to ignore irrelevant information and focus on what’s important. Having two languages and the languages being activated automatically and subconsciously, the bilingual person is constantly managing the interference of the languages so that the wrong word in the wrong language at the wrong time isn’t said. These same brain areas are also used when trying to complete a task while there are distractions. This task might have nothing to do with language; it could be trying to listen to something in a noisy environment or doing some visual task. The muscle memory developed from using two languages can apply to different skills.

Executive functions are the most complex brain functions that separate us from apes and other animals. They’re often observed in parts of the brain that are the newest in evolutionary terms: the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for advanced processing; the bilateral supra marginal gyro, which plays a role in linking words and meanings; and the anterior cingulate. Studies show that the bilingual experience alters the structure of these areas.

There are increases in gray matter volume. Gray matter refers to how many cell bodies and dendrites there are. Bilingual experience makes gray matter denser, so there are more cells. This is an indication of a healthier brain. Bilingualism also affects white matter, a fatty substance that covers axons, which are the main projections coming out from neurons to connect them to other neurons. White matter allows messages to travel fast and efficiently across networks of nerves and to the brain. Bilingualism promotes the integrity of white matter as we age. It gives us more neurons to use, and it strengthens or maintains the connections between them so that communication can happen optimally.

When the brains of bilingual individuals who have suffered neurodegeneration are examined, their brains look damaged. From their brain scans one might think these people should be more forgetful, or they should’t be coping as well as they are. But this is not the case. A bilingual brain can compensate for brain deterioration by using alternative brain networks and connections when original pathways have been destroyed. Researchers call this theory “cognitive compensation” and conclude that it occurs because bilingualism promotes the health of both gray and white matter.

A continuing theme of the healthy memory blog is that memory health is dependent on staying cognitively active. We need to be continually learning throughout our lifetimes. This provides not only for memory health, but also for a more fulfilling life. As was described in the preceding paragraph, the brain can compensate for brain deterioration by using alternative brain networks and connections when original pathways have been destroyed. As has been described in many previous healthy memory blog posts that autopsies have been done of people whose brains were full of the neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque, which are the defining features for a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, but who never had any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of the disease.

Why Don’t Our Brains Get Bigger?

December 12, 2018

This post is based on an article by David Robson titled “A Brief History of the Brain” in the New Scientist Collection titled “Becoming Human.”

The question raised in the title seems to be reasonable. Most developments are based on our brains aided by technology. Some even raise the fear that technology will outsmart us and take control.

Here is the answer provided in Robson’s article. Perhaps the most obvious answer is that we reached a point at which the advantages of bigger brains started to be outweighed by the dangers of giving birth to children with big heads. Another possibility is that it might have been a case of diminishing returns.

Our brains burn 20% of our food at a rate of about 15 watts, and any further improvements would be increasingly demanding. Simon Laughlin at the University of Cambridge compares the brain to a sports car, which burns ever more fuel the faster it goes.

For example, one way to speed up our brain would be to evolve neurons that can fire more times per second. However, to support a 10-fold increase in the “clock speed” of our neurons, our brain would need to burn energy at the same rate as Usain Bolt’s legs during a 100 meter sprint. The 10,000 calorie a day diet of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps would pale in comparison.

The size of our brains ceased increasing around 200,000 years ago. In the past 10,000 to 15,000 years the average size of the human brain compared with our body has shrunk by 3 to 4 percent. However, size is not everything, and it’s possible that the brain has simply evolved to make better use of less grey and white matter. That seems to fit with some genetic studies, which suggest that our brain’s wiring is more efficient now than it was in the past.

It appears that further development depends on humans developing a neo-symbiotic relationship with technology. See the Healthymemory blogpost, “Neo-Symbiosis and Transactive Memory.”

The Final Post (for the time being)

December 11, 2018

In the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse.” The title of this series promises civil discourse. So here are the guidelines:

Show respect
Respond by reframing
Think and talk at the level of values
Say what you believe

These points are not just a matter of being civil and polite. Ignoring these points would also be nonproductive. When there is disagreement, nothing is to be gained by informing the other party that they are wrong. Rather, propose by reframing another point of view. If the other party is not willing, then just agree to disagree, perhaps to address the topic at another time. It is unlikely that the other party will change views immediately, but it may start them rethinking, perhaps at an unconscious level.

HM agrees with Lakoff that values are important, but at some point facts, data, or possible research should be discussed. Truly advanced democracies would give data and research primary importance. Moreover, a democracy can see what other democracies are doing to see what is working. A good example is medical care. The United States is the only advanced country that does not use the government to provide medical care to everyone. In addition to lower medical costs, all these countries have much better medical statistics and healthcare results than the United States. One would think that the United States would avail themselves of these results and use them to develop their own healthcare.

But the United States continues to ignore the obvious. This is reflected in surveys of country’s welfare. The United States rarely fares well in these surveys and some citizens delude themselves by thinking that they live in the best country in the world.

© 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.

Would Adam Smith Be a Conservative Today?

December 10, 2018

This is the tenth post in the series Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse. Conservatives seem to regard Adam Smith as an excuse for not caring about their fellow humans. That invisible hand takes care of everything. By focusing exclusively on one’s own self interest, everything works out for the best.

Indeed Adam Smith’s capitalism was a gigantic advancement in thinking at that time and did increase the welfare of many. However, Adam Smith was a social philosopher preoccupied with the welfare of humanity. Although he is famed for his “Wealth of Nations,” Smith believed his book “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” to be the superior work. He continued making extensive revisions until his death.

There are many reasons to believe that were Adam Smith alive today he would be painfully aware of the problems of capitalism and would be proposing ideas to make corrections to benefit the public welfare. He would be interested in neuroscience to see what potential benefits it held for public welfare. And he might well have read Lakoff and be using frames in his arguments.

There is every reason that he would be a progressive developing and actively pursing progressive goals.

© 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 Piketty Insight on the Accelerating Wealth Gap

December 9, 2018

This is the ninth post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse, and the title of this post is the title of a chapter in Lakoff’s book. Lakoff notes that this insight of economist Thomas Piketty and his colleagues is an insight that has not yet become framed in public discourse. Here is Piketty’s basic insight. He studied the history, not just of income but of wealth. He observed that there are two fundamentally different kinds of wealth.

Productive wealth. This is the wealth generated by work, by producing and selling things or services, and the kind of wealth Adam Smith talked about. The prototypical case concerns individuals, for example a baker and a furniture maker. Each makes and sells things, and each needs and buys what the other sells. The baker’s income pays the furniture maker, and the furniture maker’s income pays the baker. Each works for himself, produces things, gets paid for it, and in a much oversimplified market, each produces wealth for himself and for the other. This is the kind of wealth, productive wealth, measured by the GDP. Piketty calls it “G.”

*Reinvestment wealth. This is wealth generated by receiving returns on investments and then reinvesting the returns over and over. This kind of wealth grows exponentially, like compound interest. The more you have, the more you invest, and the more you invest, the more you have. Piketty calls it “R.”

Piketty looks at the proportion of the kinds of wealth, that is, the ratio between R and G over a population. Then he asks, how does it change and why?

He studied tax records in many countries dating back to the eighteenth century. He discovered that up until 1913, most wealth was reinvestment wealth. Even during the period of the industrial revolution, which is usually thought of in terms of productive wealth, R was much greater than G, thus showing that the common wisdom is false. Even in capitalist democracies where individual liberty and the market were supposed to allow for productive wealth through work, it turns out that reinvestment wealth was overwhelming. France, a capitalist democracy concerned with egalite, in 1910, 70% of the wealth was reinvestment wealth, held by the very wealthy—not productive wealth distributed over most of the population.

Because of World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, a significant portion of reinvestment wealth was destroyed. Productive wealth became greater, more G than R. Between 1913 and 1980, most of modern economic theory was developed, whether liberal or conservative. It was primarily based on GDP—on G, not R.

In 1980, during the Reagan era in America something changed. Reagan greatly cut taxes on the wealthy, started a major attack on unions and the wages of ordinary workers, cut regulations on business and so on. Margaret Thatcher did the same in England. These economic ideas spread. There was a historic shift around 1980. R became greater than G again. Reinvestment wealth took over the reins or modern economics. Being exponential, reinvestment wealth grew exponentially—like compound interest.

In 1976 in the United States the top 1% had 19.9% of the wealth. In 2010, the top % had 35.4% of the wealth, the top 5% had 63% of the wealth, and the top 20% had 88.9% of the wealth. That left 11.1% for the bottom 80%.

So why should this be a concern? As the share of the nation’s wealth going to the wealthy rises, the share going to everyone else falls. What else falls? The freedom that wealth can buy, the power that wealth can buy. Technically, we may still have one person, one vote (but given the menacing Electoral College, not for Presidential elections). But the effect of one person on elections has gone way down.

Piketty says that this trend is reversible, but it takes political change. But what is the likelihood for political change given the systemic effect of Piketty’s insight:

*Greater political leverage. Wealthy people and corporations have great lobbying power with public officials, and it is getting greater all the time.

*Greater control over public discourse. Wealthy people and corporations can control public discourse in many ways—by owning media outlets, sponsoring shows, massive advertising, and so on. This control works via the brain. Language and imagery that activate conservative frames will also activate conservative morality—strict father morality in general. As conservative morality gets stronger, progressive morality gets weaker in the brains of the public. This effects what people believe unconsciously as well as consciously, and therefore affects how people vote.

*Greater control over the rights of others. Through state control of legislatures, the wealthy can control the voting rights of poorer populations, and state control is cheaper than national control.

The Science Behind Empathy and Morality

December 8, 2018

This is the eighth post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse. Our mirror neuron systems operate in our brains and gives us the capacity to connect with others, to know and even feel what they feel, and to connect with the natural world. It provides the basis of our capacity for empathy.

Certain emotions correlate with certain actions in our own bodies—in facial muscles, in posture, and so forth. When we feel happy our facial muscles are prompted to produce a smile, as opposed to a frown or a baring of the teeth. We also know that the physical cues that broadcast emotion in others will usually trigger in an observer the same brain response that would accompany those physical cues of the same emotion in ourselves. This is why we can usually tell if someone else is happy or sad, or angry or bored—and why a smile is often unconsciously greeted with a smile or a yawn with a yawn.

There is also a brain overlap between imagining and doing. Many of the same neural regions are activated when we form mental images as when we actually see. The same holds true for whether we imagine moving or are actually moving. So we have the capacity to empathize not only with someone present, but also with someone we can imagine, remember, read about, dream about, and so on. Neuroscientists have also found that, when someone is in love and they see their loved one in pain, the pain center in their own brain is activated. So emotional pain is real.

There are some neural complications that affect how we ultimately respond to what we see, hear, and imagine. The regions of the prefrontal cortex are particularly active during the exercise of judgment. These regions contain neurons that are active when we are performing some particular action and less active when we see someone else performing the same action. It is conjectured that this give us the capacity to modulate our empathy—to lessen it or turn it off in certain cases. So the mirror neuron system connects us emotionally to others, but can in certain cases also distance us emotionally for others.

Lakoff writes, “The prefrontal cortex is active in another neural system, too—one that I’ll call the well-being/ill-being system. This is the system that releases certain hormones in your brain when you have experiences that make you feel good, and releases others when experiences make you feel bad. In essence, this system regulates where you have a sense of well-being or ill-being at any given time on the basis of your imagination of what will or won’t bring you well-being.”

Lakoff continues, “The well-being system and the empathy system can interact in different ways. Some people feel satisfaction both when they are personally satisfied and when those they empathize with feel a sense of well-being. Other people do not have the two systems connected in that way. (1) They may have the well-being system overriding the empathy system—with their interests overriding the cares and interests of others. Or (2) they can have a complex interaction in which they maintain their own well-being and balance it with contributing to the well-being of others. Or (3) they may be self-sacrificing, always placing the well-being of others ahead of their own well being. Or (4) they may be part of an in-group, and may place their well-being and that of in-group members first, without empathizing at all with out-group members. This can vary depending on what counts as a given person’s in-group. Since morality is about well-being, your own and that of others, these four alternatives define different moral attitudes.”

Systemic Causation

December 7, 2018

This is the seventh post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse. Lakoff writes “Studying cognitive linguistics has its uses. Every language in the world has in its grammar a way to express direct causation. No language in the world has in its grammar a way to express systemic causation.”

There is a structure to systemic causation—four possible elements that can exist alone or in combination. Driving a complex, systemic problem, there can be one, two, three, or all four of these elements in play. Here is how they might apply to global warming.

A network of direct causes. (1) Global warming heats the Pacific Ocean. That means that the water molecules in the ocean get more active, move with more energy, evaporate more, and move in the air with more energy. (2) Winds in the high atmosphere over the ocean blow from southwest to northeast, blowing the larger amount of high-energy moisture over the pole. (3) In winter, the moisture turns to snow and comes down over the East Coast as a huge blizzard. Thus, global warming can systemically cause major blizzards.

Feedback loops. (1) The arctic ice pack reflects light and heat. (2) As the earth’s atmosphere heats up, the arctic ice pack melts and gets smaller. (3) The smaller amount of arctic ice reflects less light and heat, and more heat stays in the atmosphere. (4) The atmosphere gets warmer. (5) The feedback loop: Even more ice melts, even less ice is reflected, even more heat stays, even more ice melts, and on and on.

Multiple causes. Because of the interaction between the polar vortex and the jet stream, parts of the vortex move south into central North America causing abnormal freezing temperatures as far south as Oklahoma and Georgia.

Probabilistic causation. Many weather phenomena are probabilistic. What is caused is a probability distribution. Although you can’t predict whether a flipped coin will come down heads or tails, you can predict that over the course of a large number of flips, almost exactly 50% will come down heads and another 50% tails.

Systemic causation is common. Smoking is a systemic cause of lung cancer. HIV is a systemic cause of AIDS. Working in coal mines is a systemic cause of black lung disease. Driving while drunk is a systemic cause of auto accidents. Sex without contraception is a systemic cause of unwanted pregnancies, which are a systemic cause of abortions.

Because it is less obvious than direct causation, systemic causation is more important to understand. A systemic cause may be one of a number of multiple causes. It may require special conditions. It may be indirect, working through a network of more direct causes. It may be probabilistic, occurring with a significantly high probability. It may require a feedback mechanism. In general, causation in ecosystems, biological systems, economic systems, and social systems tend not to be direct, but is no less causal. And because it is not direct causation, it requires all the greater attention if it is to be understood and its negative effects controlled. It also requires a name: systemic causation. And systemic causation can be developed to serve as a frame.

Consider how the scientists James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Reto Ruedy authors of “Perception of Climate Change” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences write, “…we can state, with a high degree of confidence, that extreme anomalies such as those in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010 were a consequence of global warming because their likelihood in the absence warming was exceedingly small.”

Scientists have been trained to be guarded in their writing and to caveat any conclusions. You hear conservative politicians say they are not scientists but they do not believe in global warming because they have read studies on both sides. As has been explained in previous healthy memory blog posts, there is a highly paid industry of scientists and writers posing as scientists to make the arguments that industry wants to make. Politicians need to restrict their reading to the refereed scientific literature in reaching their conclusions. To avoid actually having to read the research, they can rely upon established reputable scientists in the field. For their part scientists should use the frame “systemic causation” and proceed from there.

Hypocognition

December 6, 2018

This is the sixth post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse.” Lakoff writes,”When you think you just lack words, what you really lack are ideas. Ideas come in the form of frames. When the frames are there, the words come readily. There’s a way you can tell that you lack the right frames. There’s a phenomenon you have probably noticed. A conservative on TV uses two words, like “tax relief.” And the progressive has to go into a paragraph-long discussion of his own view. The conservative can appeal to an established frame, that taxation is a burden, which allows for the two-word phrase “tax relief.” But there is no established frame on the other side. You can talk about it, but it takes some doing because there is no established frame, no fixed idea already out there.”

The name for this in cognitive science is hypocognition—the lack of ideas you need. The lack of a relatively simple fixed frame that can be evoked by a word or two. The idea of hypocognition came from the late anthropologist Bob Levy who was doing a study in Tahiti. He was also a therapist who addressed the question of why there were so many suicides in Tahiti. He discovered that Tahitians did not have a concept of grief. They felt grief. They experienced it, but they did not have a concept for it or a name for it. They did not see it as a normal emotion. There were no rituals around it, no grief counseling, nothing like it. Since they lacked a concept they needed, they wound up committing suicide all too often.

Lakoff writes that progressives are suffering from massive hypocognition. Conservatives had very few of the concepts that they have today when Goldwater lost in 1964.. In the intervening fifty years conservative have filled in their conceptual gaps, but the conceptual gaps of progressives are still there. Tax relief was provided as an example in the second post in this series.

Lakoff provides the following suggestions for progressives:

First, note what conservatives have done right and where progressives have missed the boat.

Second, remember “Don’t think like an elephant.” If this suggestion does not make sense to you, go back and read or reread the first post in this series.

Third, the truth alone will not set you free.

Fourth, you need to speak from your moral perspective at all times.

Fifth, understand where conservatives are coming from.

Sixth, think strategically, across issue areas.

Seventh, think about the consequences of proposals.
Eighth, remember that voters vote their identity and their values, which need not coincide with their self-interest.

Ninth, unite! And cooperate.

Tenth, be proactive, not reactive.

Eleventh, speak to the progressive base in or to activate the nurturant model of biconceptual voters.

Some Observations on the Two Models

December 5, 2018

This is the fifth post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse.”

Lakoff estimates that probably 35% to 40% of people have a strict father model governing their politics. And about 35% to 40% of people have a nurturant parent view governing their politics. Biconceptuals are people who are conservative on some issues and progressive on others.

Here HM disagrees with Lakoff on this breakdown. He thinks that perhaps a majority of people are biconceptuals. This provides for a somewhat more optimistic view.

Having read the Bible, he thinks that whereas the Old Testament corresponds more with the strict father model, the New Testament corresponds more with the nurturant parent view.

Lakoff writes nothing about gender differences. HM thinks that men tend to lean to the strict father model, and women tend to lean to the nurturant parent view. So individual families likely contain both views.

Lakoff never discusses age. But HM thinks that the strict father model is most heavily represented in aging males. HM predicts that over time the nurturant parent view will grow and eventually prevail. Of course, this assumes that the current president and Republican Party will not abandon democratic values and move into an authoritarian mode of governing.

© 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 Nurturant Parent Model

December 4, 2018

This is the fourth post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse.”

Lakoff begins, “Now let me talk a bit about how progressives understand their morality and what their moral system is. It too comes out of a family model, what I call the nurturant parent model. The strict father worldview is so named because according to its own beliefs, the father is head of the family. The nurturant parent model is gender neutral. Both parents are equally responsible for raising the children. The assumption is that children are born good and can be made better. The world can be made a better place, and our job is to work on that. The parent’s job is to nurture their children and to raise their children to be nurturers of others.”

According to Lakoff nurturance means three things: empathy, responsibility for yourself and for others, and a commitment to do you best not just for yourself, but for your family, your community, your country, and the world. Lakoff continues, “If you have a child, you have to know what every cry means. You have to know when the child is hungry, when she needs a diaper change, and when she is having nightmares. And you have a responsibility—you have to take care of the child. Since you cannot take care of someone else if you are not taking care of yourself, you have to take care of yourself enough to be able to take of the child.”

If you empathize with your child, you want your child to be fulfilled in life, to be a happy person. And if you are unhappy, unfulfilled person yourself, you are not going to want other people to be happier than you are. The Dalai Lama teaches us that. Therefore it is our moral responsibility to be a happy, fulfilled person. This is our moral responsibility. Moreover, it is our moral responsibility to teach our children to be happy, fulfilled persons who want others to be happy and fulfilled. That is part of what nurturing family life is about. It is a common precondition for caring about others.

Lakoff lists some additional nurturant values.

*If you want your child to be fulfilled in life, the child has to be free enough to seek and possibly find fulfillment. Therefore freedom is a value.
*You do not have very much freedom if there is no opportunity or prosperity. Therefore opportunity and prosperity are progressive values.
*If you really care about your child, you want your child to be treated fairly by you and by others. Therefor fairness is a value.
*If you are connecting with your child and empathize with that child, you have to have open two-way communication. Honest, open communication. That becomes a value.
*You live in a community, and that community will affect how your child grows up. Therefore community-building, service to the community, and cooperation in a community become values.
*To have cooperation, you must have trust, and to have trust, you must have honesty and open two-way communication. Trust, honesty and open communication are fundamental progressive values—in a community as in a family.”

The Strict Father Model

December 3, 2018

This is the third post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse.”

Lakoff took the various positions on the conservative side and on the progressive side and came up with two different models of the family: a strict father family and a nurturant parent family. He presented his views at a linguistic convention. At the convention there were two members of the Christian Coalition who were linguists and good friends of his. He thought they were excellent linguists, but did not agree with their politics. They took Lakoff aside at a party afterward and said, “Well this strict father model of the family, it’s close, but not quire right. We’ll help you get the details .” They referred Lakoff to James Dobson and his book, regarded by many conservatives as a classic, “Dare to Discipline.” After reading this book he refined his model as follows:

“The strict father model begins with a set of assumptions: The world is a dangerous place, and it always will be, because there is evil out there in the world. The world is also difficult because it is competitive. There will always be winners and losers. There is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. Children are born bad, in the sense that they just want to do what feels good, not what is right. Therefore they have to be made good.

What is needed in this kind of a world is a strong, strict father who can

*protect the family in the dangerous world.
*support the family in the difficult world, and
*teach his children right from wrong. “

There is an emphasis on physical punishment. The rationale behind physical punishment is they learn not to do it again. That means that they will develop internal discipline to keep themselves from doing wrong, so that in the future they will be obedient and act morally. Without such punishment, the world will go to hell. There will be no morality.”

“Such internal discipline has a secondary effect. It is what is required for success in the difficult, competitive world. That is, if people are disciplined and pursue their self-interest in this land of opportunity, they will become prosperous and self-reliant. Thus, the strict father model links morality with prosperity. The same discipline you need to be moral is what allows you to prosper. The link is individual responsibility and the pursuit of self-interest. Given opportunity, individual responsibility and discipline, pursuing your self-interest should you enable you to prosper.”

“Dobson was very clear about the connection between the strict father worldview and free market capitalism. The link is the morality of self-interest, which is the conservative version of Adam Smith’s view of capitalism. Adam Smith said that if everyone pursues their own profit, then the profit of all will be maximized by the invisible hand—that is, by nature, just naturally. Go about pursuing your own profit, and you are helping everyone. This is linked to a general metaphor that views well-being as wealth.”

Different Ways of Framing

December 2, 2018

This is the second post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse”

Here are two different ways of framing taxes:

tax relief. For there to be relief, there must be an afflicted party, and a reliever who removes the affliction and is therefore a hero. If anyone tries to stop the hero, those people are villains for trying to prevent relief.

Republicans are much better at framing than Democrats. Democrats responded by offering “tax relief for the middle class,” thus strengthening the Republican frame.

So how should the Democrats have responded? One way would be to frame taxation as an investment. Consider:
“Our parents invested in the future, ours as well as theirs, through taxes. They invested their tax money in the interstate highway system, the Internet, the scientific and medical establishments, our communications system, our airline system, the space program. They invested in the future and we are reaping the tax benefits, the benefits from the taxes they paid. Today we have assets—highways, schools and colleges, the Internet, airlines—that come from the wise investments they made.”

or

“Taxation is paying your dues, paying your membership fee in America. If you join a country club or community center, you pay fees. Why? You did not build the swimming pool. You have to maintain it. You did not build the basketball court. Someone has to clean it. You may not use the squash court, but you still have to pay your dues. Otherwise it won’t be maintained and will fall apart. People who avoid taxes, like corporations that move to Bermuda, are not paying their dues to their country. It is patriotic to be a taxpayer. It is traitorous to desert our country and not pay your dues.”

Lakoff writes, “Perhaps Bill Gates Sr. said it best. In arguing to keep the inheritance tax, he pointed out that he and Bill Jr. did not invent the Internet. They just used it—to make billions. There is no such thing as a self-made man. Every businessman has used the vast American infrastructure, which the taxpayers paid for, to make his money. He did not make his money alone. He used taxpayer infrastructure, He got rich on what other taxpayers had paid for: the banking system, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury and Commerce Departments, and the judicial system, where nine-tenths of cases involve corporate law. These taxpayer investments support companies and wealthy investors. There are no self-made men! The wealthy have gotten rich using what previous taxpayers have paid for. They owe the taxpayers of this country a great deal and should be paying it back.”

Another example is the abortion issue. Republicans framed it as “The Right to Life.”
Democrats framed it in terms of women’s rights, failing to consider that their response implied that they did not feel strongly about something as fundamental as the right to life.

The Democrats should have responded that they were “Pro Quality Life.’ This implies that the Republicans did not care about quality. Moreover, the “Pro Quality Life” term allows one to review all the adverse effects of unloved or unwanted children. This impacts not only the children but the costs to the medical and legal systems resulting from maladjusted children. Moreover, would a loving God favor bringing unloved children into the world?

© 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.

Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse

December 1, 2018

In the arena of politics civil debates are becoming exceedingly rare if not extinct. The reason for this is if someone makes a political statement to which one disagrees, one responds as if attacked and launches an offensive. In Kahneman’s Two Process view of cognition, this is a System One process called intuition. It is largely an emotional response, void of deep thinking. Both parties continue in this System One mode with the only result being ill feeling.

George Lakoff has written two books addressing this problem: “Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate”, and “The All New Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate.” Lakoff was strongly influenced by the great linguist Charles J. Fillmore, the father of frame semantics.

Lakoff begins, “We think with our brains. We have no choice. It may seem that certain politicians think with other parts of their anatomy. But they too think with their brains.”

Why does this matter for politics? Because all thought is physical. Thought is carried out by neural circuits in the brain. We can only understand what our brains allow us to understand.

The deepest of those neural structures are relatively fixed. They don’t change readily or easily. And we are mostly unconscious of their activity and impact.

In fact, about 98% of what our brains are doing is below the level of consciousness. As a result, we many not know all, or even most, of what in our brains determines our deepest moral, social, and political beliefs. And yet we act on the basis of those largely unconscious beliefs.”

Frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world. We can’t see or hear frames. They are part of our cognitive unconscious, structures in our brains that we cannot consciously access. What we call “common sense” is made up of unconsciousness, automatic, effortless inferences that follow from our unconscious frames.

All the words we have are defined relative to conceptual frames. Even when you negate a frame, you activate the frame. So if we’re told, “Don’t think of an elephant!,” we can’t avoid thinking of an elephant. Lakoff continues “Not only does negating a frame activate that frame, but the more it is activated, the stronger it gets. The moral for political discourse is clear: When you argue against someone on the other side using their language and their frames, you are activating their frames, strengthening their frames in those who hear us, and undermining our own views.”

Lakoff warns that reframing is not easy or simple. Frames are ideas, not slogans. Reframing is more a matter accessing what we and like-minded others already believe unconsciously, making it conscious and repeating it till it enters normal public discourse. It is an ongoing process. It requires repetition and focus and dedication. Reframing is about learning to express what we really believe in a way that will allow those who share our beliefs to understand what they most deeply believe and to act on those beliefs.

What HM has found most valuable is that framing is also about understanding those we disagree with most. Lakoff writes, “ Tens of millions of Americans vote conservative, For the most part they are not bad people or stupid people. They are people who understand the world differently and have a different view of what is right.”

For most readers, this is novel material that will take some time to digest. And it will take many posts to do justice to this topic. These posts will follow directly.