Archive for January, 2019

A Wealth Tax is Imperative

January 31, 2019

This post is inspired by an article by Jeff Stein and Christopher Ingraham titled “Elizabeth Warren to Propose new ‘wealth tax’ on very Rich Americans, economists say” in the 20 Jan 2019 issue of the Washington Post. In 1960, the top 1% of families owned about as much as the bottom 43% of families. In 2015, the top 1% of families owned as much has the bottom 95%. Two economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California have been advising Warren on a proposal to levy a 2% wealth tax on Americans with assists about $50 million, and a 3% wealth tax on those who have more than 1$ billion.

To understand why it is important to tax wealth and not just income read the healthy memory blog post “The Piketty Insight on the Accelerating Wealth Gap.” Piketty makes the following distinction between Productive Wealth and Reinvestment 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.”

He computes a ratio between productive wealth and reinvestment wealth. Prior to the Reagan era in the United States productive wealth predominated. Now reinvestment wealth predominates

Note that most reinvestment wealth is inherited wealth. In other words the majority of it was inherited rather than earned. Here are some of the pernicious effects when inherited wealth predominates.

*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 (see the healthy memory blog post “Different Ways of Framing”) will also activate conservative morality—strict father morality (see the healthy memory blog post “The Strict Father Model”) in. As conservative morality gets stronger, progressive morality gets weaker in the brains of the public. This affects 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.

Whenever there is a claim that something cannot be done, do not be fooled.
After Republicans once again promoted their false trickle down tax cut that grossly benefited the rich, they warned that there might be needed cuts in social security and medicare.

One can make an argument that taxes on wealth are more justified than taxes on income. There is no reason why free healthcare and free higher education cannot be free for everyone. There is enormous potential funding by taxing wealth. Remember that most of this wealth was inherited and not earned.

It should be remembered that the belief in the United States is that all humans are created equal. Equal in what respect? Certainly not with respect to opportunity. Greater wealth leads to greater opportunity. The greater the discrepancy of wealth in the United States, the lower the opportunity. The point here is not to advocate equal wealth for all people, but rather to illustrate the obstacles created by largely discrepant wealth, some of which were outlined in preceding paragraphs.

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Coping with Blindspots

January 30, 2019

This is the concluding post in the series of posts based on the book Blindsight: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mazarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald. So what can be done to help us dealing with implicit bias? One action to consider is to go to https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ and take selected IATs offered there. This would alert you to your implicit biases and being aware of one’s implicit biases is the first step in dealing with them. Besides these tests are fun and the results are interesting.

One way of dealing with blindspots is blinding. The blinding method used by symphony orchestras simply involved concealing the players as they played their pieces for their audition. This has dramatically increased women’s success in symphony orchestra auditions. Unfortunately, it is an underutilized strategy in many circumstances in which it can work.

Another underutilized strategy is the “no-brainer” solution of developing evidenced-based guidelines to enhance discretion in judgments that might otherwise afford opportunity for hidden-bias mindbugs to operate. When faithfully applied, intelligently developed guidelines will leave little room for hidden biases.

The authors write “We expect the next several years to produce a steady accumulation of research on methods to eradicate or outsmart mindbugs. Although we (presently) lack optimism about fully eradicating mindbugs, we are not similarly pessimistic about prospects for research to develop and refine methods for outsmarting mindbugs.”

Two Facets of Mind: Reflective and Automatic

January 29, 2019

This is the fifth post based on the book Blindsight: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mazarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald. We know our reflective preferences quite well, especially when they concern matters important to us. We can voice our political beliefs. We can articulate why a particular candidate for political office is the right choice.

In contrast, the automatic side of our mind is a stranger to us. We implicitly know something or feel a certain way. Often these thoughts and feelings are reflected in our actions too, The difference is that we can’t always explain these actions, and they are at times completely at odds with our conscious intentions. Tony writes about a business school professor, a teacher of negotiation no less, who went to a dealership to purchase a new car. He had a growing family and left the house intending to buy a sensible family car, good for transporting the dog, the groceries, and the children—a Volvo station wagon, perhaps? A few hours later he found himself pulling into his driveway with a sporty red Porsche!

Tony writes, “We regularly find ourselves attracted to things on the basis of color and shape and still there are features that appeal to preferences that lie below the surface, while we are indifferent to the more sensible features that are clearly more rational. A colleague of Tony’s, Phoebe Ellsworth, once said about making a balance sheet to help her decide which of two jobs to take: “I got halfway through my balance sheet and say, ‘Oh, hell, it’s not coming out right! Have to find a way to get some pluses over on the other side.” This is an example of the convoluted motions of rational debate that we go through, only to subvert it by allowing impulse and intuition rather than reason to make our choice for us.

Tony’s co-author Mazarin routinely describes her Race IAT result as representing a “failing” score. She gives herself a failing grade because the test’s characterization of her as showing automatic White preference is sharply inconsistent with the egalitarian race attitude that she holds in her own reflective mind. So, “failing the test” is her way of reporting her dissatisfaction with the state of her mind revealed by the test.

When the race IAT reveals that they are themselves members of the group they are implicitly biased against is an example of dissociation. Dissociation is the occurrence, in one and the same mind, of mutually inconsistent ideas that remain isolated from one another. The mutually inconsistent that are of interest here are those that are the product of our reflective or rational mind, on one hand, and our automatic or intuitive mind on the other. Tony writes, “It is this barrier between conscious and unconscious, reflective and automatic, that the IAT was designed to reveal, and it has held up its end of the bargain effectively.

Good evidence we have of the impact of unconscious mental content on our judgments and opinions comes from patients with disorders in their ability to remember. In one such study Marcia Johnson and her associates gathered a group of amnesic patients, who suffered from a particular kind of failure of memory. These patients had normal memories of their experiences prior to the time of the onset of their amnesia, but very limited memory of anything that took place in their lives after that time. Johnson asked a group of these patients to look at photos of two men, and then she gave them information about each. They were told that one of them was a good guy—helped his father, received a military commendation for saving a life, and so forth. They were told the the other had stolen things, broken someone’s arm in a fight, and so on. Having learned biographical data about these two people, the patients later took a simple memory test. They were shown the same photos they had seen before and asked to recount all they could remember about the people depicted. As expected, the patients had virtually no recollection of having learned anything about them. However, when the patients were asked whether the person in the photo was a good guy or bad guy, their responses were strikingly accurate. 89% of the time they were able to correctly assess whether the person was good or bad. It seems that the information the had been given about the person had been turned into an impression that was lodged in their minds in the same way as it would be in an intact person. The experiment reveals something similar to the split between automatic and reflective kinds of mental processing.

Most Americans have a strong automatic preference for the young over the old. 80% of Americans have a stronger young = good than old = good association. Only 6% show the reverse preference. Ageism is one of the strongest implicit biases detected across dozens of studies over fifteen years, and it seems to be visible in every country in which we’ve tested it, including countries in Asia.

And this is one implicit bias everyone who lives long enough will suffer.

Does Automatic White Preference Mean Prejudice?

January 28, 2019

This is the fourth post based on the book Blindsight: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mazarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald. Prior to reading this book, HM’s answer to this question would have been “no.” Moreover, if one had implicit bias, but never showed any explicit bias, then one was to be commended for overcoming his implicit bias. However, this book has changed HM’s opinion on this topic.

Because of the large amount of research on this topic two important findings are now established. First we know that automatic White preference is pervasive in American society—almost 75% of those who take the Race IAT on the Internet or in laboratory studies reveal automatic White preference.

Second, the automatic White preference expressed on the Race IAT is now established as signaling discriminatory behavior. ”It predicts discriminatory behavior even among research participants who earnestly (and we believe, honestly) espouse egalitarian beliefs.” Among research participants who describe themselves as racially egalitarian, the Race IAT has been shown, reliably and predictably, to predict discriminatory behavior that was observed in research.

The first experiment to test whether scores on the Race IAT were related to discriminatory behavior was reported in 2001 by Allen McConnell and Jill Leibold of Michigan State University. Without initially informing their research participants that the researchers videotaped these participants during two brief interviews, one conducted by a White woman, the other by a Black woman. During the interviews the participants were asked a series of innocuous preplanned questions such as “What would you change to improve psychology classes? and “What did you think about the difficulty level of the computer task? (The computer task was the Race IAT, which had been presented as if it were part of a separate experiment.)

The purpose of the videotaping was to assess whether strong automatic White preference shown on the Race IAT would predict acting in a friendlier fashion to the White interviewer than to the Black one. After completing both interviews, the experimenters explained the purposes of the videotaping and asked the students to give their permission to analyze the videotapes. Only one did not give permission.

The videotapes of the interviews were scored by counting occurrences of nonverbal behaviors that had been found, in many previous studies, to indicate friendliness or coolness. Indicators of comfort or friendliness including smiling, speaking at greater length, laughing at a joke told by the interviewer, and making spontaneous social comments. Discomfort indicators included speech errors and speech hesitations. Another measure of comfort or discomfort was how closely the subjects positioned their rolling desk chair to each of the interviewers. Immediately after each interview, both of the interviewers also made personal assessments of how friendly and comfortable they thought the subject had seemed during the interaction.

McConnell and Leibold found that subjects with higher levels of automatic White preference on the IAT showed less comfort and less friendliness when talking with the Black interviewer than with the White interviewer.

This was just the first study on the topic. By early 2007, 32 studies had been done in which the Race IAT was administered together with one or more measures of racially discriminatory behavior. These studies were among 184 in a collection that was published in 2009, using the statistical method of meta-analysis to combine all of these results for the purpose of evaluating the IATs success predicting a wide variety of judgments and behaviors.

The authors write, “The meta-analysis answered the most important question about which we had been uncertain in the first several years of the IAT’s existence. It clearly showed that the Race IAT predicted racial discriminatory behavior. A continuing reading of additional studies that have been completed since publication of the meta-analysis likewise supports the conclusion. Here are a few examples of race-relevant behaviors that were predicted by automatic White preference in these more recent studies: voting for John McCain rather than Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election; laughing at anti-Black racial humor and rating it as funny; and doctors providing medical care that we was deemed less satisfactory by their Black patients than by their White patients.”

“The meta-analysis’s findings can be summarized as saying that the IAT scores correlated moderately with discriminatory judgments and behavior. “ But it is important to realize that the forms of discrimination investigated in this research studied involved no overtly racially hostile actions—no racial slurs, no statements of disrespect, and certainly no aggressive or violent actions. The examples of research behavior that were studied—social behaviors in interracial interviews, doctors’ treatment recommendations for a cordial patient, and evaluation of job applications in a hiring situation. These are not the types of negativity or hostility that are generally taken to be characteristic of “prejudice.”

The Race Implicit Association Test (IAT)

January 27, 2019

This is the third post based on the book Blindsight: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mazarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald. A second type of IAT soon followed—-the first Race IAT. The change of procedure was small, replacing names of flowers and insects with the names of famous African Americans and European Americans. The new IAT was expected to reveal whether the method could measure one of our society’s most significant and emotion-laden types of attitudes—the attitude toward a racial group. It might help reveal a type of mental content that Tony and other social psychologists at the time were just beginning to understand—hidden biases that could not possibly be tapped by asking questions because their possessors were unaware of having them. If you would like to try the Race IAT before reading about what results to expect, you can find the Race IAT at implicit.Harvard.edu.

If you prefer not to risk discovering a result different from the one you predicted, you might want to avoid this IAT. About half of those who take this test—Tony and Mazarin among them—obtain a result that deviates from their initial expectation.

The following relates Tony’s feelings taking the test: “It was a rare moment of scientific joy to discover—in midperformance—that the new method could be important. It was also a moment of jarring self-insight. I immediately saw that I was very much faster in sorting names of famous White people together with pleasant words than in sorting names of famous Black people together with pleasant words. I can’t say if I was more personally distressed or scientifically elated to discover something inside my head that I had no previous knowledge of. But there it was—it was as hard for me to link names of Black people and pleasant words as it had been a few months earlier to link insect names and pleasant words.”

After taking that first Race IAT and repeating it several times to see if the first result would be repeated (it was), I did not see how I could avoid concluding that I had a strong automatic preference for White relative to black—just as I had a strong automatic preference for flowers relative to insects.

I then asked myself what any social psychologist would: Is this something that affects my behavior in relation to African Americans whom I regularly encounter—especially students in my classes? Do I act as if I feel less positive toward them than toward White students?”

Precursors to the Implicit Association Test (IAT)

January 26, 2019

This is the second post based on the book Blindsight: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mazarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald. The authors recommend, “To give you a feeling for how the new method works, we ask you to try a hands-on demonstration—quite literally hands-on because you will need to have a deck of playing cards on hand. If at all possible, please find two things—a standard deck of fifty-two playing cards and a watch of clock that displays time in seconds.

Once you have the cards and the timer, first shuffle the deck a few times and hold the cards face up. You will be timing yourself as you perform two slightly different sorting tasks.

First you will sort the cards into two piles, with hearts and diamonds to the left and spades and clubs to the right. The second task is to sort them by putting diamonds and spades to the left, clubs and hearts to the right. Before you begin, think about these two sorting tasks and ask yourself which will be easier.

If you’ve got the cards and the timer you’re ready to start. As fast as you can, first sort the cards into the two piles, hearts and diamonds to your left and spades and clubs to your right. Make a note of the number of seconds you took to do that. Next, reshuffle the deck a few times and repeat the process, but this time diamonds and spades to the left, clubs and hearts to the right.” Make a note of the number of seconds taken to do this second task.

You were most likely faster at the first task, which allowed you to use a simple rule for the sorting—red suits left, black suits right. The second task didn’t offer any such simple rule. Mazarin and Tony (the authors) averaged 24 seconds for the first task and 37 seconds for the second task. Taking about 50% longer to do the second task is a big difference, big enough that they could feel it as they did the sorting.

Another hands-on demonstration follows with the same requirements. This demonstration involves four sets of words:

Flower names: orchid, daffodil, lilac, rose, tulip, daisy, lily.
Insect names: flea, centipede, gnat, wasp, roach, moth, weevil
Pleasant-meaning words: gentle, heaven, cheer, love, enjoy, happy, friend
Unpleasant-meaning words: damage, vomit, hurt, poison, evil, gloom ugly

Your brain has stored years of past experience that you cannot set aside when you do the IAT’s sorting tasks. For flowers and insects, the stored mental content is most likely to help you put flowers together with pleasant words while interfering with your pairing flowers with unpleasant words. Similarly, it will likely be easier for you to connect insects with unpleasant words and harder to connect them with pleasant words.

When categories can be linked to each other via shared goodness or badness, the shared property is what psychologists call valence, or emotional value. Positive valence attracts and negative balance repels. Positive valence, which is shared by flower names and pleasant words, can function as a mental glue that bonds these two categories into one. When there is no shared valence, which is expected for most people when they try to put flower names together with unpleasant words, it is harder to find a connection between the two categories. “

Now go to bit.ly/T8h6uD.

When you have completed this test you will have completed the first version of what we now call an Implicit Association Test (IAT) for short.

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People

January 25, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the title to an informative and important book by Mazarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald. Dr. Banaji was a doctoral student to Dr. Greenwald when he was at Ohio State University. Dr. Greenwald has since moved on to Washington University in Seattle.

Blindspot refers to something we cannot see. We all have a blind spot in each of our eyes. The blind spot occurs where the optic nerve enters the retina. We are unaware of this blind spot because our mind fills in this gap for us. A demonstration of this blind spot can be found by going to the wikipedia. There are blind spots on each side of our cars. Fortunately, technology is available to help us fill in these blind spots.

The authors use the term mindbugs to explain mental blind spots. Mindbugs are ingrained habits of thought that lead to errors in how we perceive, remember, reason, and make decisions. Two famous mindbugs, identified by the psychologists Kahneman and Tversky are availability and anchoring. Examples of the availability heuristic follow.
Consider the following the question: Each year do more people in the United States die from cause (a) or cause (b)?

1, (a) murder (b) diabetes
2. (a) murder (b) suicide
3. (a) car accidents (b) abdominal cancer

When instances of one type of event come more easily to mind than those of another type, we tend to assume that the first event must also occur more frequently in the world. Murder is more likely to receive media attention than both suicide and diabetes, so it is more likely to be judged as more frequently occurring. Similarly car accidents receive more attention that deaths from abdominal cancer, a common cause of death

A behavioral economist at MIT, Dan Ariely, asked students to write down the last two digits of their Social Security number on a piece of paper. Then he asked them to estimate the price of a keyboard, a trackball, or a design book, items easily familiar to MIT students. Then he computed a correlation between their numbers and their price estimates. There was a significant correlation between their numbers and their estimates, a correlation that did not exist in objective reality. This is an example of anchoring. In the absence of anything better, these students were using their digits to make their estimates. The lower their numbers the lower the estimates for each object.

There are also social mindbugs, to which the remainder of the book is devoted. Other members of our species are significant to us in ways that little else in the physical world can compete with. And the primate brain has evolved to pay special attention to others of its kind, and one way in which we do this is to routinely try to predict what might go on in the minds of others.

New research suggests that selective brain regions appear to be active when we imagine the thoughts of another person (Does she believe in Christ the Savior?) and when we try to predict the actions of others (Will he allow our temple to be safe?). These same brain regions do not seem to care when we contemplate the physical aspects of others, such as their height, weight, or eye color. This suggests that the brain has evolved specific regions to help with the tasks of social thinking and feeling. In other words, minds matter to us enough that regions of neural real estate are uniquely engaged for the purpose of making social meaning.

Here’s an experiment you might do with six friends. Ask a group of three of these friends (randomly chosen from the six) to give three reasons why they love their romantic partners, and ask the other three friends to give nine reasons why they love their romantic partners. Then ask both groups of friends this single question: “How satisfied are you with your relationship” Research suggests the those asked to write only three reasons report greater happiness with their partner and their relationship than hose asked to write nine reasons. On second thought, since the result is already known, and you should not want to interfere in the relationships of your friends, do not do this experiment.

The explanation for this result is counterintuitive but simple: Which of us can easily come up with nine good qualities of a partner? The authors write, “Even canonization requires only two miracles!” Those asked to come up with nine reasons have to work harder to come up with them, and it prompts this thought: “Hmm, that was hard! Is it possible my partner isn’t as wonderful as I’d managed?” The researcher that actually conducted this experiment, Norbert Schwarz at the University of Michigan—found that even important and familiar affections are susceptible to the availability bias.

We constantly need to make such judgments such as is this person trustworthy? Will this person be competent for the job? Could this person be difficult to get along with? Using whatever we can to eke out from even the most trivial information, we make assessments within a few seconds or even fractions of a second, and without any visible discomfort at having to do so. We’re able to make these assessments because of social mindbugs.

Social mindbugs can give us both false feelings of faith in people we perhaps shouldn’t trust and the opposite—feelings of distrust towards those who we should trust.

Social mindbugs affect decisions not only about others but also about ourselves. Becca Levy conducted a study at Yale’s School of Public Health and found a stunning correlation. The negative beliefs about the elderly that elderly people themselves held when they were young predicted their vulnerability to heart disease than they became older. The authors write, “This result emerged even after controlling for other factors such as depression, smoking, and family history. We take such evidence as suggestive that stereotypes can be harmful not just to others we assess and evaluated, but also to ourselves.

What Do We Know, What Can We Do?

January 24, 2019

This is the twelfth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” Having raised an enormous number of problems, it is fortunate that the authors also proposed possible solutions.

The military is already training and experimenting for the new environment. The Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana is a continuously operating field laboratory. The laboratory is good not only for training, but also for simulations to respond to different situations, so that possible solutions can be evaluated in a simulation prior to actual conflict. The Army needs to understand how to train for this war. Fort Polk has a brand-new simulation for this task: the SMEIR (Social Media Environment and Internet Replication). SMEIR simulates the blogs, news outlets, and social media accounts that intertwine to form a virtual battlefield.

The authors have also claimed that LikeWar has rules, and has tried to articulate them:

“First for all the sense of flux, the modern information environment is becoming stable. The internet is now the preeminent communications medium in the world; it will remain so for the foreseeable future. Through social media the web will grow bigger in size, scope, and membership, but its essential form and centrality to the information ecosystem will not change.”

“Second, the internet is a battlefield. It is a platform for achieving the goals of whichever actor manipulates it most effectively. Its weaponization, and the conflicts that erupt on it, define both what happens on the internet and what we take away from it.”

“Third, this battlefield changes how we must think about information itself. If something happens, we must assume that there’s likely a digital record of it that will surface seconds or years from now. But an event only carries power if people also believe that it happened. So a manufactured event can have real power, while a demonstrably true event can be rendered irrelevant. What determines the outcome isn’t mastery of the “facts,” but rather a back-and-forth battle of psychological, political, and algorithmic manipulation.”

“Fourth, war and politics have never been so intertwined. In cyberspace, the means by which the political or military aspects of this competition are won are essentially identical. Consequently, politics has taken on elements of information warfare, while violent conflict is increasingly influenced by the tug-of-war for online opinion. This also means that the engineers of Silicon Valley, quite unintentionally, have turned into global power brokers, Their most minute decisions shape the battlefield on which both war and politics are increasingly decided.”

“Fifth, we’re all part of the battle. We are surrounded by countless information struggles—some apparent, some invisible-all of which seek to alter out perceptions of the world. Whatever we notice whatever we “like,” whatever we share, become the next salvo. In this new war of wars, taking place on the network of networks, there is no neutral ground.”

“For governments, the first and most important step is to take this new battleground seriously. The authors write, “Today, a significant part of the American political culture is willfully denying the new threats to its cohesion. In some cases, it is colluding with them.”

“Too often, efforts to battle back against online dangers emanating from actors and home and abroad have been stymied by elements within the U.S. government, Indeed, at the time we write this in 2018, the Trump White House has not held a single cabinet-level meeting on how to address the challenges outlined in this book, while its State Department refused to increase efforts to counter online terrorist propaganda and Russian disinformation, even as Congress allocated nearly $80 million for the purpose.”

“Similarly, the American election system remains remarkably vulnerable, not merely to hacking of the voting booth, but also to the foreign manipulation of U.S. voters political dialogue and beliefs. Ironically, although the United States has contributed millions of dollars to help nations like Ukraine safeguard their citizens against these new threats, political paralysis has prevented the U.S. government from taking meaningful steps to inoculate its own population. Until this is reframed as a nonpartisan issue—akin to something as basic as health education—the United States will remain at grave risk.”

The Conflicts That Drive the Web and the World

January 23, 2019

This is the eleventh post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” The title to this post is identical to the subtitle of the chapter titled “Likewar.” In 1990 two political scientists with the Pentagon’s think tank at the RAND Corporation started to explore the security implications of the internet. John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt made their findings public in a revolutionary article titled “Cyberwar Is Coming!” in a 1993 article. They wrote that “information is becoming a strategic resource that may prove as valuable in the post-industrial era as capital and labor have been in the industrial age.” They argued that future conflicts would not be won by physical forces, but by the availability and manipulation of information. They warned of “cyberwar,” battles in which computer hackers might remotely target economies and disable military capabilities.

They went further and predicted that cyberwar would be accompanied by netwar. They explained: It means trying to disrupt, damage, or modify what a target population “knows” or thinks it knows about itself and the world around it. A network may focus on public or elite opinion, or both. It may involve public diplomacy, measures, propaganda and psychological campaigns, political and cultural subversion, deception of or interference with the local media…In other words, netwar represents a new entry on the spectrum of conflict that spans economic, political, and social as well as military forms of ‘war.’

Early netwar became the province of far-left activists undemocratic protesters, beginning with the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Mexico and culminating in the 2011 Arab Spring. In time, terrorists and far-right extremists also began to gravitate toward net war tactics. The balance shifted for disenchanted activists when dictators learned to use the internet to strengthen their regimes. For us, the moment came when we saw how ISIS militants used the internet not just to sow terror across the globe, but to win its battles in the field. For Putin’s government it came when the Russian military reorganized itself to strike back what it perceived as a Western information offensive. For many in American politics and Silicon Valley, it came when the Russian effort poisoned the networks with a flood of disinformation, bots, and hate.

In 2011, DARPA’s research division launched the new Social Media in Strategic Communications program to study online sentiment analysis and manipulation. About the same time, the U.S. military’s Central Command began overseeing Operation Earnest Voice to fight jihadists across the Middle East by distorting Arabic social media conversations. One part of this initiative was the development of an “online persona management service,” which is essentially sockpuppet software, “to allow one U.S. serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world.” Beginning in 2014, the U.S. State Department poured vast amounts of resources into countering violent extremism (CVE) efforts, building an array of online organizations that sought to counter ISIS by launching information offensives of their own.

The authors say national militaries have reoriented themselves to fight global information conflicts, the domestic politics of these countries have also morphed to resemble netwars. The authors write, “Online, there’s little difference in the information tactics required to “win” either a violent conflict or a peaceful campaign. Often, their battles are not just indistinguishable but also directly linked in their activities (such as the alignment of Russian sockpuppets and alt-right activists). The realms of war and politics have begun to merge.”

Memes and memetic warfare also emerged. Pepe the Frog was green and a dumb internet meme. In 2015, Pepe was adopted as the banner of Trump’s vociferous online army. By 2016, he’d also become a symbol of a resurgent timed of white nationalism, declared a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League. Trump tweeted a picture of himself as an anthropomorphized Pepe. Pepe was ascendant by 2017. Trump supporters launched a crowdfunding campaign to elect a Pepe billboard “somewhere in the American Midwest.” On Twitter, Russia’s UK embassy used a smug Pepe to taunt the British government in the midst of a diplomatic argument.

Pepe formed an ideological bridge between trolling and the next-generation white nationalist, alt-right movement that had lined up behind Trump. The authors note that Third Reich phrases like “blood and soil” filtered through Pepe memes, fit surprisingly well with Trump’s America First, anti-immigration, anti-Islamic campaign platform. The wink and note of a cartoon frog allowed a rich, but easily deniable, symbolism.

Pepe transformed again when Trump won. Pepe became representative of a successful, hard-fought campaign—one that now controlled all the levers of government. On Inauguration Day in Washington, DC, buttons and printouts of Pepe were visible in the crowd. Online vendors began selling a hat printed in the same style as those worn by military veterans of Vietnam, Korea, and WW II. It proudly pronounced its wearer as a “Meme War Veteran.”

The problem with memes is that by highjacking or chance, a meme can come to contain vastly different ideas than those that inspired it, even as it retains all its old reach and influence. And once a meme has been so redefined, it becomes nearly impossible to reclaim. Making something go viral is hard; co-opting or poisoning something that’s already viral can be remarkable. U.S Marine Corps Major Michael Prosser published a thesis titled: “Memetics—a Growth industry in US Military Operations.. Prosser’s work kicked off a tiny DARPA-Funded industry devoted to “military memetics.”

The New Wars for Attention and Power

January 22, 2019

This is the tenth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” The title of this post is identical to the subtitle of the title “Win the Net, Win the Day” of a chapter in the book.

Brian Jenkins declared in a 1974 RAND Corporation report, “Terrorism is theater,” that became one of terrorism’s foundational studies. The difference between the effectiveness of the Islamic State and that of terror groups in the past was not the brains of the ISIS; it was the medium they were using. Mobile internet access could be found everywhere; smartphones were available in any bazaar. Advanced video and image editing tools were just one illegal download away, and an entire generation was well acquainted with their use. For those who weren’t, there were free online classes offered by a group called Jihadi Design. It promised to take ISIS supporters ‘from zero to professionalism’ in just a few sessions. The most dramatic change from terrorism was that distributing a global message was as easy as pressing ”send,” with the dispersal facilitated by a network of super-spreaders beyond any one state’s control.

ISIS networked its propaganda pushing out a staggering volume of online messages. In 2016 Charlie Winter counted nearly fifty different ISIS media hubs, each based in different regions with different target audiences, but all threaded through the internet. These hubs were able to generate over a thousand “official” ISIS releases, ranging from statements to online videos, in just a one-month period.

They spun a tale in narratives. Human minds are wired to seek and create narratives. Every moment of the day, our brains are analyzing new events and finding them in thousand of different narratives already stowed in our memories. In 1944 psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel produced a short film that showed three geometric figures (two triangles and a circle) bouncing off each other at random. They screened the film to a group of research subjects and asked them to interpret the shapes’ actions. All but one of the subjects described these abstract objects as living beings; most saw them as representations of humans. In the shapes’ random movements they expressed motives, emotions, and complex personal histories such as: the circle was “worried,” one triangle was “innocent” and the other was “blinded by rage.” Even in crude animation all but one observer saw a story of high drama.

The first rule in building effective narratives is simplicity. In 2000, the average attention span of an internet user was measured at twelve seconds. By 2015 it had shrunk to eight seconds. During the 2016 election Carnegie Mellon University researchers studied and ranked the complexity of the candidates language (using the Flesch-Kincaid score). They found that Trump’s vocabulary measured at the lowest level of all the candidates, comprehensible to someone with a fifth-grade education. This phenomenon is consistent with a larger historic pattern. Starting with George Washington’s first inaugural address, which was one of the most complex overall, American presidents communicated at a college level only when newspapers dominated mass communication. But each time a new technology took hold, complexity dropped. The authors write, “To put it another way: the more accessible the technology, the simpler a winning voice becomes. It may be Sad! But it is True!

The second rule of narrative is resonance. Nearly all effective narratives conform to what social scientists call “frames.” Frames are proud of specific languages and cultures that feel instantly and deeply familiar. To learn more about frames enter “frames” into the search block of the healthy memory blog.

The third and final rule of narrative is novelty. Just as narrative frames help build resonance, they also serve to make things predictable. However, too much predictability can be boring, especially in an age of microscopic attention spans and unlimited entertainment. Moreover, there seems to be no limit on the quality of narrative. Some messages far exceed the limits of credibility, yet they are believed and spread.

Additional guidelines are pull the heartstrings and feed the fury. Final guidance would be inundation: drown the web, run the world.

The Unreality Machine

January 21, 2019

This is the ninth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” There was a gold rush in Veles, Macedonia. Teenage boys there worked in “media.” More specifically, American social media. The average U.S. internet is virtually a walking bag of cash, with four times the advertising dollars of anyone else in the world. And the U.S. internet user is very gullible. The following is from the book: “In a town with 25% unemployment and an annual income of under $5,000, these young men had discovered a way to monetize their boredom and decent English-language skills. They set up catch websites, peddling fad diets and weird health tips.” They relied on Facebook “shares” to drive traffic. Each click gave them a small slice of the pie from ads running along the side. Some of the best of them were pulling in tens of thousands of dollars a month.

Competition swelled, but fortunately the American political scene soon brought them a virtually inexhaustible source of clicks and resulting fast cash. This was the 2016 presidential election. Now back to the text “The Macedonians were awed by Americans’ insatiable thirst for political stories, Even a sloppy, clearly plagiarized jumble of text and ads could rack up hundreds of thousands of “shares.” The number of U.S. politics-related websites operated out of Veles swelled into the hundreds.

One of the successful entrepreneurs estimated that in six month, his network of fifty websites attracted some 40 million page views driven there by social media. This made him about $60,000. This 18-year-old then expanded his media empire. He outsourced the writing to three 15-year-olds, paying each $10 a day. He was far from the most successful of the Veles entrepreneurs. Some became millionaires, One rebranded himself as as “clickbait coach,” running a school where he taught dozens of others how to copy his success.

These viral news stories weren’t just exaggerations or products of political spin; they were flat-out lies. Sometimes the topic was the proof that Obama had been born in Kenya or that he was planning a military coup. Another report warned that Oprah Winfrey had told her audience that “some white people have to die.”

The following is from the book: “Of the top twenty best-performing fake stories spread during the election, seventeen were unrepentantly pro Trump. Indeed, the single most popular news story of the entire election—“Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President.” Social media provided an environment in which lies created by anyone, from anywhere, could spread everywhere, making the liars plenty of cash along the way”

In 1995 MIT media professor Nicholas Negroponte prophesied that there would be an interface agent that read every newswire and newspaper and catch every TV and radio broadcast on the planet, and then construct a personalized summary. He called this the “Daily Me.”

Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein argues that the opposite might actually be true. Rather than expanding their horizons, people were just using the endless web to seek out information with which they already agree. He called this the “Daily We.”

A few years later the creation of Facebook, the “Daily We,” an algorithmically created newsfeed became a fully functioning reality.

For example, flat-earthers had little hope of gaining traction in a post-Christopher Columbus, pre-internet world. This wasn’t just because of the silliness of their views, but they couldn’t easily find others who shared them. But the world wide web has given the flat-earth belief a dramatic comeback. Proponents now have an active community and aggressive marketing scheme.

This phenomenon is called ‘homophily,” meaning “love of the same.” Homophily is what makes us humans social creatures able to congregate in such like-minded groups. It explains the growth of civilization and cultures, It is also the reason an internet falsehood, once it begins to spread, can rarely be stopped.

Unfortunately falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth. It becomes a deluge. The authors write, “Ground zero for the deluge, however, was in politics. The 2016 U.S. presidential election released a flood of falsehoods that dwarfed all previous hoaxes and lies in history. It was an online ecosystem so vast that the nightclubbing, moneymaking, lie-spinning Macedonians occupied only one tiny corner. There were thousands of fake website, populated by millions of baldly false stories, each then shared across people’s personal networks. In the final three months of the 2016 election, more of these fake political headlines were shared on Facebook than real ones. Meanwhile, in study of 22 million tweets, the Oxford Internet Institute concluded that Twitter users, too, and shared more disinformation, polarizing and conspiratorial content’ than actual news. The Oxford team called this problem “junk news.”

Censorship, Disinformation, and the Burial of Truth

January 20, 2019

This is the eighth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media. Initially, the notion that the internet would provide the basis for truth and independence was supported. The Arab Spring was promoted on the internet. The authors write, “Social media had illuminated the shadows crimes through which dictators had long clung to power, and offered up a powerful new means of grassroots mobilization.

Unfortunately, this did not last. Not only did the activists fail to sustain their movement, but they noticed that the government began to catch up. Tech-illiterate bureaucrats were replaced by a new generation of enforcers who understood the internet almost as well as the protestors. They invaded online sanctuaries and used the very same channels to spread propaganda. And these tactics worked. The much-celebrated revolutions fizzled. In Libya and Syria, digital activists turned their talents to waging internecine civil wars. In Egypt, the baby named Facebook would grow up in a country that quickly turned back to authoritarian government.

The internet remains under the control of only a few thousand internet service providers (ISPs). These firms run the backbone, or “pipes,” of the internet. Only a few ISPs supply almost all of he world’s mobile data. Because two-thirds of all ISPs reside in the United States, the average number across the rest of the world is relatively small. The authors note that, “Many of these ISPs hardly qualify as “businesses” at all. Rather, they are state-sanctioned monopolies or crony sanctuaries directed by the whim of local officials. Although the internet cannot be destroyed, regimes can control when the internet goes on or off and what goes on it.

Governments can control internet access and target particular areas of the country. India, the world’s largest democracy had the mobile connections in an area where violent protests had started out for a week. Bahrain instituted an internet curfew that affected only a handful of villages where antigovernment protests were brewing. When Bahrainis began to speak out against the shutdown, authorities narrowed their focus further, cutting access all the way down to specific internet users and IP addresses.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has poured billions of dollars into its National Internet Project. It is intended as a web replacement, leaving only a few closely monitored connections between Iran and the outside world. Italian officials describe it as creating a “clean” internet for its citizens, insulated from the “unclean” web that the rest of us use.

Outside the absolute-authoritarian state of North Korea (whose entire internet is a closed network of about 30 websites), the goal isn’t so much to stop the signal as it is to weaken it. Although extensive research and special equipment can circumvent government controls, the empower parts of the internet are no longer for the masses.

Although the book discusses China, that discussion will not be included here as there are separate posts on the book “Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall” by Margaret E. Roberts.

The Russian government hires people to create chaos on the internet. They are tempted by easy work and good money for work such as writing more than 200 blog posts and comments a day, assuming fake identities, hijacking conversations, and spreading lies. This is an ongoing war of global censorship by means of disinformation.

Russia’s large media networks are in the hands of oligarchs, whose finances are deeply intertwined with those of the state. The Kremlin makes its positions known through press releases and private conversations, the contents of which are then dutifully reported to the Russian people, no matter how much spin it takes to make them credible.

Valery Gerasimov has been mentioned in previous healthy memory blog posts. He channeled Clausewitz in speech reprinted in the Russian military newspaper that “the role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown. In many cases, they have exceeded the power of the force of weapons in their effectiveness.” This is known as the Gerasimov Doctrine that has been enshrined in the nation’s military strategy.

Individuals working at the Internet Research Agency assume a series of fake identities known as “sockpuppets.” The authors write, The job was writing hundreds of social media posts per day, with the goal of hijacking conversations and spreading lies, all to the benefit of the Russian government. For this work people are paid the equivalent of $1500 per month. (Those who worked on the “Facebook desk” targeting foreign audience received double the pay of those targeting domestic audiences).

The following is taken directly from the text:

“The hard work of a sockpuppet takes three forms, best illustrated by how they operated during the 2016 U.S. election. One is to pose as the organizer of a trusted group. @Ten_GOP called itself the “unofficial Twitter account of Tennessee Republicans” and was followed by over 136,000 people (ten times as many as the official Tennessee Republican Party Account). It’s 3,107 messages were retweeted 1,213,506 times. Each retweet then spread to millions more users especially when it was retweeted by prominent Trump campaign figures like Donald Trump Jr., Kellyanne Conway, and Michael Flynn. On Election Day 2016, it was the seventh most retweeted account across all of Twitter. Indeed, Flynn followed at least five such documented accounts, sharing Russian propaganda with his 1000,000 followers at least twenty-five times.

The second sockpuppet tactic is to pose as a trusted news source. With a cover photo image of the U.S. Constitution, @partynews presented itself as hub for conservative fans of the Tea Party to track the latest headlines. For months , the Russian front pushed out anti-immigrant and pro-Trump messages and was followed and echoed out by some 22,000 people, including Trump’s controversial advisor Sebastian Gorka.

Finally, sockpuppets pass as seemingly trustworthy individuals: a grandmother, a blue-collar worker from the midwest,a decorated veteran, providing their own heartfelt take on current events (and who to vote for). Another former employee of the Internet
Research Agency, Alan Baskayev, admitted that it could be exhausting to manage so many identities. “First you had to be a redneck from Kentucky, then you had to be some white guy from Minnesota who worked all his life, paid taxes and now lives in poverty; and in 15 minutes you have to write something in the slang of [African] Americans from New York.”

There have been many other posts about Russian interference in Trump’s election. Trump lost the popular vote, and it is clear that he would not have won the Electoral College had it not been for Russia. Clearly, Putin owns Trump.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Flynn

January 19, 2019

This is the seventh post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media. A former director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said,”The exponential explosion of publicly available information is changing the global intelligence system…It’s changing how we tool, how we organize, how we institutionalize—everything we do.” This is how he explained to the authors how the people who once owned and collected secrets—professional spies—were adjusting to this world without secrets.

U.S. intelligence agencies collected open source intelligence (OSINT) on a massive scale through much of the Cold War. The U.S. embassy in Moscow collected OSINT on a massive scale. The U.S. embassy in Moscow maintained subscriptions to over a thousand Soviet journals and magazines, while the Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service (FBIS) stretched across 19 regional bureaus, monitoring more than 3,500 publications in 55 languages, as well as nearly a thousand hours of television each week. Eventually FBIS was undone by the sheer volume of OSINT the internet produced. In 1993, FBIS was creating 17,000 reports a month; by 2004 that number had risen to 50,000. In 2005 FBIS was shuttered. The former director of DIA said, Publicly available information is now probably the greatest means of intelligence that we could bring to bear. Whether you’re a CEO, a commander in chief, or a military commander, if you don’t have a social media component…you’re going to fail.”

Michael Thomas Flynn was made the director of intelligence for the task force that deployed to Afghanistan. Then he assumed the same role for the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the secretive organization of elite units like the bin Laden-killing navy SEAL team. He made the commandos into “net fishermen” who eschewed individual nodes and focused instead on taking down he entire network, hitting it before it could react and reconstitute itself. JSOC got better as Flynn’s methods evolved capturing or killing dozens of terrorists in a single operation, gathering up intelligence, and then blasting off to hit another target before the night was done. The authors write, “Eventually, the shattered remnants of AQI would flee Iraq for Syria, where they would ironically later reorganize themselves as the core of ISIS.

Eventually the Peter Principle prevailed. The Peter Principle is that people rise in an organization until they reach their level of incompetence. The directorship of DIA was that level for Flynn. Flynn was forced to retire after 33 years of service. Flynn didn’t take his dismissal well . He became a professional critic of the Obama administration, which brought him to the attention of Donald Trump. He used his personal Twitter account to push out messages of hate (Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL). He put out one wild conspiracy theory after another. His postings alleged that Obam wasn’t just a secret Muslim, but a “jihadi” who “laundered” money for terrorists, and that if Hillary Clinton won the election she would help erect a one-world government to outlaw Christianity (notwithstanding that Hillary Clinton was and is a Christian). He also claimed that Hillary was involved in “Sex Crimes w Children. This resulted in someone going into a Pizzeria, the supposed locus of these sex crimes with children, and shooting it up. He was charged by the FBI for lying about his contact with a Russian official. This was based on a recorded phone conversation. This was a singularly dumb mistake for a former intelligence officer

Crowdsourcing

January 18, 2019

This is the sixth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media. The terrorist attack on Mumbai opened up all the resources of the internet using Twitter to defend against the attack. When the smoke cleared, the Mumbai attack left several legacies. It was a searing tragedy visited upon hundreds of families. It brought two nuclear powers to the brink of war. It foreshadowed a major technological shift. Hundreds of witnesses—some on-site, some from afar—had generated a volume of information that previously would have taken months of diligent reporting to assemble. By stitching these individual accounts together, the online community had woven seemingly disparate bits of data into a cohesive whole. The authors write, “It was like watching the growing synaptic connections of a giant electric brain.”

This Mumbai operation was a realization of “crowdsourcing,” an idea that had been on the lips of Silicon Valley evangelists for years. It had originally been conceived as a new way to outsource programming jobs, the internet bringing people together to work collectively, more quickly and cheaply than ever before. As social media use had sky rocketed, the promise of had extended a space beyond business.

Crowdsourcing is about redistributing power-vesting the many with a degree of influence once reserved for the few. Crowdsourcing might be about raising awareness, or about money (also known as “crowdfunding.”) It can kick-start a new business or throw support to people who might have remained little known. It was through crowdsourcing that Bernie Sanders became a fundraising juggernaut in the 2016 presidential election, raking in $218 million online.

For the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS, the internet was the “preferred arena for fundraising.” Besides allowing wide geographic reach, it expands the circle of fundraisers, seemingly linking even the smallest donor with their gift on a personal level. The “Economist” explained, this was, in fact, one of the key factors that fueled the years-long Syrian civil war. Fighters sourced needed funds by learning “to crowd fund their war by using Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. In exchange for a sense of what the war was really like, the fighters asked for donations via PayPal. In effect, they sold their war online.”

In 2016 a hard-line Iraqi militia took to Instagram to brag about capturing a suspected ISIS fighter. The militia then invited its 75,000 online fans to vote on whether to kill or release him. Eager, violent comments rolled in from around the world, including many from the United States. Two hours later, a member of the militia posted a follow-up selfie; the body of the prisoner lay in a pool of blood behind him. The caption read, “Thanks for the vote.” In the words of Adam Lineman, a blogger and U.S. Army veteran, this represented a bizarre evolution in warfare: “A guy on the toilet in Omaha, Nebraska could emerge from the bathroom with the blood of some 18-year-old Syrian on his hands.”

Of course, crowdsourcing can be used for good as well as for evil.

Sharing

January 17, 2019

This is the fifth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” The authors blame sharing on Facebook rolling out a design update that included a small text box that asked the simple question: “What’s on your mind?” Since then, the “status update” has allowed people to use social media to share anything and everything about their lives they want to, from musings and geotagged photos to live video and augmented-reality stickers.

The authors continue, “The result is that we are now our own worst mythological monster—not just watchers but chronic over-sharers. We post on everything from events small (your grocery list) to momentous (the birth of a child, which one of us actually live-tweeted). The exemplar of this is the “selfie,” a picture taken of yourself and shared as widely as possible online. At the current pace, the average American millennial will take around 26,000 selfies in their lifetime. Fighter pilots take selfies during combat missions. Refugees take selfies to celebrate making it to safety. In 2016, one victim of an airplane hijacking scored the ultimate millennial coup: taking a selfie with his hijacker.”

Not only are these postings revelatory of our personal experiences, but they also convey the weightiest issues of public policy. The first sitting world leader to use social media was Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper in 2008, followed by U.S. President Barack Obama. A decade later, the leaders of 178 countries had joined in, including former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who banned Twitter during a brutal crackdown, has changed his mind on the morality—and utility—of social media. He debuted online with a friendly English-language video as he stood next to the Iranian flag. He tweeted, “Let’s all love each other.”

Not just world leaders, but agencies at every level and in every type of government now share their own news, from some 4,000 national embassies to the fifth-grade student council of the Upper Greenwood Lake Elementary school. When the U.S. military’s Central Command expanded Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS in 2016, Twitter users could follow along directly via the hashtag #TALKOIR.

Nothing actually disappears online. The data builds and builds and could reemerge at any moment. Law professor Jeffrey Rosen said that the social media revolution has essentially marked “the end of forgetting.”

The massive accumulation of all this information leads to revelations of its own. Perhaps the clearest example of this phenomenon is the first president to have used social media before running for office. Being both a television celebrity and a social media addict, Donald Trump entered politics with a vast digital trail behind him. The Internet Archive has a fully perusable, downloadable collection of more than a thousand hours of Trump-related video, and his Twitter account has generated around 40,000 messages. Never has a president shared so much of himself—not just words but even neuroses and particular psychological tics—for all the world to see. Trump is a man—the most powerful in the world—whose very essence has been imprinted on the internet. Know this one wonders how such a man could be elected President by the Electoral College.

Tom Nichols is a professor at the U.S. Naval War College who worked with the intelligence community during the Cold War explained the unprecedented value of this vault of information: “It’s something you never want the enemy to know. And yet it’s all out there…It’s also a window into how the President processes information—or how he doesn’t process information he doesn’t like. Solid gold info.” Reportedly Russian intelligence services came to the same conclusion, using Trump’s Twitter account as the basis on which to build a psychological profile of Trump.

The World Wide Web Goes Mobile

January 16, 2019

This is the fourth post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” On January 9, 2007, Apple cofounder and CEO Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPhone. Its list of features: a touchscreen; handheld integration of movies, television, and music; a high quality camera; plus major advances in call reception and voicemail. The most radical innovation was a speedy, next-generation browser that could shrink and reshuffle websites, making the entire internet mobile-friendly.

The next year Apple officially opened its App Store. Now anything was possible as long as it was channeled through a central marketplace. Developers eagerly launched their own internet-enabled games and utilities, built atop the iPhone’s sturdy hardware (There are about 2.5 million such apps today). The underlying business of the internet soon changed with the launch of Google’s Android operating system and competing Google Play Store that same year, smartphones ceased to be the niche of tech enthusiast, and the underlying business of the internet soon changed.

There were some 2 billion mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide by 2013. By 2020, that number is expected to reach 8 billion. In the United States, where three-quarters of Americans own a smartphone, these devises have long since replaced televisions as the most commonly used piece of technology.

The following is taken directly from the text: “The smartphone combined with social media to clear the last major hurdle in the race started thousands of years ago. Previously, even if internet services worked perfectly, users faced a choice. They could be in real life but away from the internet. Or they could tend to their digital lives in quiet isolation, with only a computer screen to keep them company. Now, with an internet-capable device in their pocket, it became possible for people to maintain both identities simultaneously. Any thought spoken aloud could be just as easily shared in a quick post. A snapshot of a breathtaking sunset or plate of food (especially food) could fly thousands of miles away before darkness had fallen or the meal was over. With the advent of mobile livestreaming, online and offline observers could watch the same even unfold in parallel.”

Twitter was one of the earliest beneficiaries of the smartphone. Silicon Valley veterans who were hardcore free speech advocates founded the companion 2006. The envisioned a platform with millions of public voices spinning the story of their lives in 140-character bursts. This reflected the new sense that it was the network, rather than the content on it, that mattered.

Twitter grew along with smartphone use. In 2007, its users were sending 5,000 tweets per day. By 2010, that number was up to 50 million; by 2015, 500 million. The better web technology offered users the chance to embed hyperlinks, images, and video in their updates.

The most prominent Twitter user is Donald Trump, who likened it to “owning your own newspaper.” What he liked most about it was that it featured one perfect voice: his own.
It appears that it is his primary means of communications. It also highlights the risks inherent in using Twitter impulsively.

An Early Example of the Weaponization of the Internet

January 15, 2019

This is the third post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” In early 1994 a force of 4,000 disenfranchised workers and farmers rose up in Mexico’s poor southern state of Chiapas. They called themselves the Zapista National Liberation Army (EZLN). They occupied a few towns and vowed to march on Mexico City. This did not impress the government. Twelve thousand soldiers were deployed, backed by tanks and air strikes, in a swift and merciless offensive. The EZLN quickly retreated to the jungle. The rebellion teetered on the brink of destruction. But twelve days after it began the government declared a sudden halt to combat. This was a real head-scratcher, particularly for students of war.

But there was nothing conventional about this conflict. Members of the EZLN had been talking online. They spread their manifesto to like-minded leftists in other countries, declared solidarity with international labor movements protesting free trade (their revolution had begun the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, established contact with organizations like the Red Cross, and urged every journalist they could find to come and observe the cruelty of the Mexican military firsthand. They turned en masse to the new and largely untested power of the internet.

It worked. Their revolution was joined in solidarity by tens of thousands of liberal activists in more than 130 countries, organizing in 15 different languages. Global pressure to end the small war in Chiapas built quickly on the Mexican government. And it seemed to come from every direction, all at once. Mexico relented.

But this new offensive did not stop after the shooting had ceased. The war became a bloodless political struggle, sustained by the support of a global network of enthusiasts and admirers, most of whom had never heard of Chiapas before the call to action went out. In the years that followed, this network would push and cajole the Mexican government into reforms the local fighters had been unable to obtain on their own. The Mexican foreign minister, Jose Angel Gurria lamented in 1995, “The shots lasted ten days, but ever since the war has been a war of ink, of written word, a war on the internet.”

There were signs everywhere that the internet’s relentless pace of innovation was changing the social and political fabric of the real world. The webcam was invented and the launch of eBay and Amazon; the birth of online dating; even the first internet-abetted scandals and crimes, one of which resulted in a presidential impeachment, stemming from a rumor first reported online. In 1996, Manual Castells, one of the world’s foremost sociologists, made a bold prediction: “The internet’s integration of print, radio, and audiovisual modalities into a single system promise an impact on society comparable to that of the alphabet.”

The authors note that most forward-thinking of these internet visionaries was not an academic. In 1999, musician David Bowie sat for an interview with the BBC. Instead of promoting his albums, he waxed philosophical about technology’s future. He explained that the internet would not just bring people together; it would also tear them apart. When asked by the interviewer about his surety about the internet’s powers, Bowie said that he didn’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg. “I think the potential of what the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable. I think we’re actually on the cusp of something, exhilarating and terrifying…It’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about.”

Could Sputnik be Responsible for the Internet?

January 14, 2019

This is the second post in a series of posts on a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking titled “Likewar: The Weaponization of Social Media.” Probably most readers are wondering what is or was Sputnik? Sputnik was the first space satellite to orbit the earth. It was launched by the Soviet Union. The United States was desperately trying to launch such a satellite, but was yet to do so. A young HM appeared as part of a team of elementary school presenters on educational TV that made a presentation on Sputnik and on the plans of the United States to launch such a satellite. The young version of HM explained the plans for the rocket to launch a satellite. Unfortunately, the model briefed by HM failed repeatedly, and a different rocket was needed for the successful launch.

The successful launch of Sputnik created panic in the United States about how far we were behind the Russians. Money was poured into scientific and engineering research and into the education of young scientists and engineers. HM personally benefited from this generosity as it furthered his undergraduate and graduate education.

Licklider and Taylor the authors of the seminal paper, “The Computer as a Communication Device” were employees of the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). An internetted communications system was important for the U.S. military was that it would banish its greatest nightmare: the prospect of the Soviet Union being able to decapitate U.S. command and control with a single nuclear strike. But the selling point for the scientists working for DARPA was that linking up computers would be a useful way to share what was at the time incredibly rare and costly computer time. A network could spread the load and make it easier on everyone. So a project was funded to transform the Intergalactic Computer Network into reality. It was called ARPANET.

It is interesting to speculate what would have been developed in the absence of the Soviet threat. It is difficult to think that this would have been done by private industry.
Perhaps it is a poor commentary on homo sapiens, but it seems that many, if not most, technological advances have been developed primarily for warfare and defense.

It is also ironic to think that technology developed to thwart the Soviet Union would be used by Russia to interfere in American elections to insure that their chosen candidate for President was elected.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media

January 13, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking. Many of the immediately following posts will be based on or motivated by this book. The authors have been both exhaustive and creative in their offering. Since it is exhaustive only a sampling of the many important points can be included. Emphasis will be placed on the creative parts.

The very concept that led to the development of the internet was a paper written by two psychologists J.C.R Licklider and Robert W. Taylor titled “The Computer as a Communication Device.” Back in those days computers were large mainframes used for data processing. Licklider wrote another paper titled “Man Computer Symbiosis.” The idea here was that both computers and humans could benefit from the interaction between the two, a true symbiotic interaction. Unfortunately, this concept has been largely overlooked. Concentration was on replacing humans, who were regarded as slow and error prone, with computers. Today the fear is of the jobs lost by artificial intelligence. Attention needs to be focused on the interaction between humans and computers as advocated by Licklider.

But the notion of the computer as a communication device did catch on. More will be written on that in the following post.

The authors also bring Clausewitz into the discussion. Clausewitz was a military strategist famous for his saying, war is politics pursued in other means. More specifically he wrote, “the continuation of political intercourse with the addition of other means.” The two are intertwined, he explained. “War in itself does not suspend political intercourse or change it into something entirely different. In essentials that intercourse continues, irrespective of the means it employs.” War is political. And politics will always be at the heart of human conflict, the two inherently mixed. “The main lines along which military events progress, and to which they are restricted, are political lines that continue throughout the war into the subsequent peace.”

If only we could learn of what Clausewitz would think of today. Nuclear warfare was never realistic. Mutual Assured Destruction with the meaningful acronym (MAD) was never feasible. Conflicts need to be resolved, not the dissolution of the disagreeing parties. Today’s technology allows for the disruptions of financial systems, power grids, the very foundations of modern society. Would Clausewitz think that conventional warfare has become obsolete? There might be small skirmishes, but would standing militaries go all out to destroy each other. Having a technological interface rather than face to face human interactions seems to allow for more hostile and disruptive
interactions. Have politics become weaponized? Is that what the title of Singer and Brooking’s book implies?

The authors write that their research has taken them around the world and into the infinite reaches of the internet. Yet they continually found themselves circling back to five core principles, which form the foundation of the book.
First, the internet has left adolescence.

Second, the internet has become a battlefield.

Third, this battlefield changes how conflicts are fought.

Fourth, this battle changes what “war” means.

Fifth, and finally, we’re all part of this war.

Here are the final two paragraphs of the first chapter.

“The modern internet is not just a network but an ecosystem of nearly 4 billion souls, each with their own thoughts and aspirations, each capable of imprinting a tiny piece of themselves on the vast digital commons. They are the targets not of a single information war but of thousands and potentially millions of them. Those who can manipulate this swirling tide, to steer its direction and flow, can accomplish incredible good. They can free people, expose crimes, save lives, and seed far-reaching reforms. But they can also accomplish astonishing evil. They can foment violence, stoke hate, sow falsehoods, incite wars, and even erode the pillar of democracy itself.

Which side succeeds depends, in large part, on how much the rest of us learn to recognize this new warfare for what it is. Our goal in “LikeWar” is to explain exactly what’s going on and to prepare us all for what comes next.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Donald Trump and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

January 11, 2019

There have been fourteen prior healthy memory blog posts on the Dunning-Kruger effect. Angela Fritz in the 8 Jan 2019 issued of the Washington Post wrote a timely article titled “Psychological phenomenon helps explain the confidence of the incompetent.” The subtitle is “Dunning-Kruger effect drawing a surge of interest during the Trump years.” She writes, “In their 1999 paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Dunning and Justin Kruger put data to what has been known by philosophers since Socrates, who supposedly said something along the lines of “the only true wisdom is knowing when you know nothing.” Charles Darwin followed that up in 1871 with “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Dunning and Kruger quizzed people on several topics, such as grammar, logical reasoning, and humor. After each test, they asked the participants how they thought the did. Specifically, participants were asked how many other quiz-takers they beat. Even though the results confirmed their hypothesis, the researchers were still shocked by the results. No matter, the subject, people who did poorly on the test ranked their competence much higher. On average, test takers who scored as low as the 10th percentile ranked themselves near the 70th percentile. Those least likely to know what they were talking about believed they knew as much as the experts. These results have been replicated in at least a dozen different domains including: math skills, wine tasting, chess, medical knowledge among surgeons, and firearm safety among hunters.

The author notes that during the election and in the months after the presidential inauguration, interest in the Dunning-Kruger effect surged. Google searches for “dunning-kruger” peaked in May 2017, according to Google Trends, and has remained high. Time spent on the Dunning-Kruger Effect Wikipedia entry skyrocketed since late 2015.

The immediately preceding post, “A President Divorced from Reality” documents the enormous knowledge that Trump says he has to accompany his highest IQ. If anything, his delusional disorder only amplifies this effect.

Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at the University of Michigan said, “Donald Trump has been overestimating his knowledge for decades. It’s not surprising that he would continue that pattern into the White House.”

Steven Sloman, a cognitive psychologist at Brown University said, Dunning-Kruger “offers an explanation for a kind of hubris. The fact is, that’s Trump in a nutshell. He’s a man with zero political skill who has no idea he has zero political skill. And it’s given him extreme confidence.”

Sloman thinks that Dunning-Kruger effect has become popular outside of the research world because it is a simple phenomenon that could apply to all of us, as people are desperate to understand what’s going on in the world. Many people “cannot wrap their minds around the rise of Trump,” Sloman said. “He’s exactly the opposite of everything we value in a politician, and he’s the exact opposite of what we thought Americans valued.” It’s clear that this view was not reflective of what too many Americans actually thought.

Additional research by Dunning shows the poorest performers are also the least likely to accept criticism or show interest in self improvement.

Some might argue, what then about Trump’s success as a businessman and celebrity. His celebrity was based on the false belief that Trump was a successful businessman. The truth is that Trump is a failed businessman, who has declared bankruptcy numerous times. According to Donald Trump Jr., his father’s financing comes from the Russians. The Russians have recruited him and are using him for their purposes.

According to Dunning, the effect is particularly dangerous when someone with influence or the means to do harm doesn’t have anyone who can speak honestly about their mistakes. He notes several plane crashes that could have been avoided if the crew had spoken up to an overconfident pilot.

Dunning explained, “You get into a situation where people can be to deferential to the people in charge. You have to have people around you that are willing to tell you you’re willing to make an error.”

HM is more upset about Trump supporters than by Trump himself. Eventually the country should be rid of Trump, but his supporters will remain. How to explain them? Perhaps the Dunning-Kruger effect can be extended to them. These people eschew expertise ascribing expertise to the deep state. And they are highly confident in their contempt for expertise.

HM’s fear is that there is a stupidity pandemic that can be understood by the Dunning-Kruger effect. Research needs to be done on how to overcome this pandemic.

A President Divorced from Reality

January 9, 2019

And who has a sick, unhealthy memory. Trump’s mental issues were discussed in the post “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President” edited by Bandy Lee, M.D., M. Div. It is obvious that Trump is a narcissist. And it also has become obvious that Trump has a delusional disorder. There was a previous post on this topic appropriately titled “Delusional Disorder.”

People with this disorder have lost contact with reality and live in their own world of delusions. Moreover, it appears that this disorder is chronic. And no psychiatric or psychological training is needed to come to the conclusion that his disorder is chronic.

One key indicator is that his lying is ubiquitous, and this is well documented. Moreover, his lies frequently contradict each other. Whatever he believes at the moment, which is also what is convenient at the moment, is what he says.

Hayden, formerly the head of the NSA and CIA, has noted that Trump has no interest in objective truth. Truth for Trump resides in his delusional mind. He refuses to accept the briefings he gets from the intelligence community. It is well documented that Russia did work to get him elected. Yet Putin tells hims that this is false news. Trump says that he believes Putin because Putin told him very strongly that they did not. Trump has recently presented Putin’s own revision of history to fit the new Russian agenda. According to this, Russia invaded Afghanistan to stop terrorism. This is brand new, recently formulated Russian propaganda.

Trump says that he is the greatest (fill in the blank) everything he can think of. He knows more than his generals, more than (fill in the blank). He is not just bragging, he appears to believe what he is saying. He also says he thinks with his gut. One can easily believe this is as it seems that his brain plays a minimal role in his thinking, if any.

Perhaps, the most telling instance was Trump’s presentation before the United Nations. He began by telling the assembly of his successes as President, and the assembly broke out in laughter. He was surprised, because he regards himself as a success.

What is worrying is that although Trump is regarded as a norm breaking President, it is not recognized that he is mentally ill. Actually, impeachment is not appropriate for Trump. Rather the 25th Amendment provides the ability for the removal of the President when he is not longer fit to govern. Being divorced from reality and living in his own world of delusions provide the basis for removal. Here is Section 4 of the Amendment:
“Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President. “

So Republicans are needed to do this. Unfortunately, most true Republicans have left the party, and the remainder remain for the power of their positions and the ability their positions allow them to enrich themselves.

But for the good of the country, and to try to rehabilitate that Grand Old Party and make it grand again, they should invoke the amendment.

© 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.

Hallucinations

January 8, 2019

Part of this post is taken from Helen Thomson’s book, “Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey the World’s Strangest Brains.”

Hearing voices that are not there is often considered a sign of mental illness. In 1973, David Rosenhan, a professor emeritus at Stanford, got himself and seven other completely healthy friends admitted to the mental wards of hospitals across the United States. The point of this experiment was to question the validity of psychiatric diagnosis, but they were surprised to find that it was so easy to be admitted as a mental patient. Each participant phoned a hospital complaining of hearing voices. The rest of their medical history and other life stories were true. All eight were admitted. Seven were diagnosed with schizophrenia, and one with manic-depressive disorder. As soon as they entered the hospital they said their hallucinations had disappeared. Then it was up to each individual to convince the staff to discharge them. This task took between seven and fifty-two days.

Most hallucinations are not associated with schizophrenia. John McGrath, a professor at the Queensland Brain Institute interviewed 31,000 people from eighteen different countries. When participants were asked whether they had ever experienced a hallucination, such as hearing voices that other people said did not exist, 5% of men and 6.6% of women responded yes.

Oliver Sacks said, “The brain doesn’t tolerate inactivity. It seems to respond to diminished sensory input by creating autonomous sensations of its own choosing.” It was noted soon after WW2 that high-flying aviators in featureless skies and truck drivers on long, empty roads were prone to hallucinations.

Psychologists believe that these unreal experiences provide a glimpse into the way our brains stitch together our perception of reality. Our brains are bombarded with thousands of sensations every second of the day. Our brains rarely stop providing us with a steady stream of consciousness. Processing everything that we experience in the world all of the time would be a very inefficient way to run a brain. Instead it takes a few shortcuts. However when this input is low or absent, it creates sensations, that is, hallucinations.

You can create your own hallucinations safely at home. All you need is a table-tennis ball, some headphones and a bit of tape. Cut the ball in half and tape each segment over your eyes, Sit in a room that is evenly lit, find some white noise to play over your headphones, sit back and relax. This is called the ganzfield technique, this technique has been used to investigate the appearance of hallucinations for decades.

Should you not want to bother with this technique you can read the following descriptions that were reported in a paper published in the journal Cortex by Jiri Wackermann at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health.

“For quite a long time were was nothing except a green-grayish fog. It was really boring. I thought, ‘Ah, what a nonsense experiment!’ Then for an indefinite period of time, I was ‘off,’ like completely absent-minded. Then, all of a sudden, I saw a hand holding a piece of chalk and writing on a blackboard something like a mathematical formula. The vision was very clear, but it stayed only for a few seconds and disappeared again…it was like a window into that foggy stuff.’ Later, she saw a clearing in a forest and a woman who passed by on a bike, her long blond hair waving in the wind.”

Another participant felt like she and a friend were inside a cave, ‘We made a fire. There was a creek flowing under our feet, and we were on a stone. She had fallen into the creek, and she had to wait to have her things dried. Then she said to me: ‘Hey, move on, we should go now.’

Here is what the author, Helen Wilson, writes of her own experience with the ganzfield technique. “Nothing happened for at least 30 minutes, other than a myriad of random thoughts and waves of sleep. Just as I was wondering whether I should give up, I saw an image coming out from what seemed like a window full of smoke. It was of a man lying curled up next to me. It appeared for a few seconds, then disappeared. It certainly differed from a dream, or from a random image plucked from my imagination. It was an intriguing demonstration of what can occur when our senses are impaired.”

Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM)

January 7, 2019

This post is based partly on Helen Thomson’s ‘Unthinkable: “An Extraordinary Journey Through the World’s Strangest Brains.” There have been previous healthy memory posts on this topic. HSAMers are people who can recall the events by date (say 12 October 1999) for most of the days of their lives. McGaugh is the psychologist who first identified this and he has made a study of more than fifty people with this condition.

The most famous HSAMer is the actress Marilu Henner who most people should remember from the TV show Taxi. There is a healthy memory post devoted almost exclusively to Marilu (“Who Has a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and What Might She Tell Us?”). She has written a book, “Total Memory Makeover.”

For the most part, these individuals live normal lives. But it has been difficult finding a reason or reasons for these HSAMers. McGaugh did brain scans of these individuals and found some subtle differences in the structure of nine regions. Unfortunately Ms. Thomson only included two of these regions in her write up, an enlarged caudate nucleus and putamen McGaugh seized upon this finding because both of these areas have also been implicated in obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). McGaugh conjectures that these extraordinary powers of memory are rooted in an unconscious rehearsal of their pasts.

Although unconscious rehearsal might provide an explanation in the absence of others, HM takes strong exception to McGaugh using the term OCD. OCD is only a problem, or a disorder as McGaugh so cavalierly claims, if it is regarded by the individual as a disorder or something the individual would like to be rid of. There may be some whose HSAM is causing them difficulties, but they are a distinct minority. Marilu Henner regards her ability as assisting her in being a better actress.

Here is a quote from one of these HSAMers. “You know, one of the best things about having a perfect memory is the ability remember those I have lost. I make sure I think a lot of people I love when they’re alive so that I can go back to any time in their life that was with them and remember it like it was yesterday. Then if they’re no longer with me, it’s like I can still spend time with them. The people I’ve lost don’t feel like they’re truly gone because my memories of them are so clear. I can go back to my younger years of my life and not have to mourn like others do, because I can remember our times together so well. I think about people a lot and appreciate my time with them because once they’ve gone, they won’t be here, but my memories always will be.”

HM does not have HSAM, but he does use his mental ability to time travel and visit past times. He does not remember precise dates, but he can return to his fifth birthday, return to his grades 1- 12, to his undergraduate education, his time in the military, and graduate school. He can recall the time he worked as a musician and taught drum lessons, as well as his professional career. He passed on attending his 50th high school reunion because his best four friends had passed. He can revisit them any time via his memory. Memory is for time travel, into the past, and into the future. It is most precious.

© 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.

Navigation

January 6, 2019

A large part of this post is based on Helen Thomson’s book, “Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey Through the World’s Strangest Brains.” We have two basic means of navigation. One is to have specific landmarks that tell us what to do at that landmark. And the other is to have a map of the area of interest in our mind, a mental map. Although GPS’s might have an analogue of a mental map in the database they are interrogating, the instructions they provide to the user is a series of instructions as what to do when you arrive at what point. Point to point instructions are fine until you get lost or redirected and need to find an alternative route.

At one time cab drivers in London were tested on whether they had stored a mental map of London in the brains. It took years of study to pass this test, but to get the desired license they needed to memorize twenty-five thousand roads within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross station. An interesting and important question was if this knowledge affected their brains, and if so, which part of their brain. To answer this question, Eleanor Maguire scanned the brains of 79 trainee taxi drivers several times over four years as they began to learn what is called the Knowledge. Those who passed the test had a bigger posterior hippocampus than when they started, whereas there were no changes in trainee taxi drivers who had failed their exams or in 31 people whose age, education and intelligence were similar to the taxi drivers’, but who had never attempted to learn the Knowledge. Clearly, the hipppocampi were growing alongside navigational abilities.

How the hippocampus learns to navigate was done buy using rats as subjects. O’Keene placed a set of thin electrodes into their hippocampi, which could record the little spike of electricity that occurs when an individual neuron is communicating with its neighbors. O’keene discovered a type of cell that fired only when the animal was in a specific location. Each time the rat passed through this location—pop!—that cell would fire. A nearby cell seemed to care only about a different location. Pop! It would fire whenever the rat walked through that location. The next cell would respond only to another location, and so on. The combination of activity of many of these cells could tell you exactly where that rat was to within five square cm. O’keene named them place cells and showed how together they told the rest of the brain.

Place cells don’t do this job alone. They receive input from three other kinds of cells in a nearby region called the entorhinal cortex. One type of cell is called a grid cell, and was discovered by May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser. The Mosers realized that our ability to navigate relies on us being able to think about how we are moving and where we have come from. Consider the way you head to the ticket machine in a parking lot and then reverse the movements of your body to return to your car. The Mosers discovered that grid cells were the neurons responsible for integrating this information into our cognitive map.

Our ability to recognize familiar landmarks is so important that there’s a part of the brain that is dedicated to the task.. This is the retrosplenial cortex and when it’s damaged it leads to severe problems in navigating.

Here is something we can do to improve our navigational skills. If you’re in a new area you should return to one point—your home base—often this will help you build a better mental map. You should also pay much more attention to your surroundings, take note of specific landmarks and think about their orientation to one another. And don’t forget to turn around or look backwards from time to time: it’s a trick that animals do to make it easier to recognize their way home.

It is also good to have a fold out map of the area of interest. This is a literal map than can inform your mental map.

Two impressive Memories

January 5, 2019

This post is based on the book written by Helen Thomson titled “Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey Through the World’s Strangest Brains.” One of these impressive memories was that of Solomon Shereshevsky, a Russian journalist. His editor was annoyed with him. He had just come out of a news meeting in which he had given Shereshevsky a list of instructions—people he needed to interview, information about a breaking story, addresses of places he had to visit. Shereshevsky had not taken a single note. The editor called him into his office and told him off for being inattentive. Sherevshevsky did not apologize. He hadn’t needed to take any notes, he said, and proceeded to repeat back his editor’s complicated instructions word for word.

Being quite impressed, his editor persuaded him to pay a visit to Alexander Luria, a Russian psychologist. Luria discovered that the secret to Shershevsky’s performance recall was a condition called synesthesia. Synesthesia is when a person experience the joining of senses that are normally experience apart. For instance, they might taste lemon when they hear the sound of a bell, or see red when they think of a number. Shereshevsky’s linked senses meant that if asked to memorize a word, he would also taste and hear the word simultaneously. This meant that when recalling the word at a later date, he had several triggers to remind him of it. His imagination was so vivid that in one experiment he was able to raise the temperature of one hand while lowering the temperature of the other, merely by imagining one on a stove and one on a block of ice.

Shereshevesky’s talent was natural, but there are many who have learned to perform extraordinary feats of memory. George Koltanowski took up chess at the age of fourteen, and three years later was Belgian champion. He was able to play blindfolded by memorizing his opponents moves after being told them by a referee. In 1937, he set a world record by playing 34 simultaneous games of chess blindfolded. His opponents were sighted, yet he won 24 games and drew ten. That record remains unbeaten today.

There is an entire category in the healthy memory blog about mnemonics and mnemotechnics, which are techniques for memorizing different type of material. Use the search block on the healthy memory blog web page and enter “Moonwalking with Einstein” and learn how these techniques are used in memory competitions.

UNTHINKABLE

January 4, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Helen Thomson. The subtitle is “An Extraordinary Journey Through the World’s Strangest Brains.” In the opening chapter Ms. Thomson provides an overview of the brain. The most recognizable region of the human brain is the cerebral cortex. It forms the outside shell and is divided into two almost identical hemispheres. Each side of the cortex is divided into four lobes, which together are responsible for all our most impressive mental functions. If you touch your forehead, the lobe closest to your finger is called the frontal cortex and it allows us to make decisions, controls our emotions and helps us understand the actions of others. It gives us all sorts of aspects of our personality; our ambition, our foresight and our moral standards.

If you were to trace your finger around either side of your head toward your ear, you would find the temporal lobe, which helps us understand the meaning of words and speech and gives us the ability to recognize people’s faces.

Run you finger up toward the crown of your ear and you’ll reach the parietal lobe, which is involved in many of our senses, as well as certain aspects of language.

Low down toward the nape of the neck is the occipital lobe, whose primary concern is vision.

Hanging of the back of the brain we have a second “little brain,” a distinctive cauliflower-shaped mass. This is the cerebellum and it is vital for our balance, movement and posture. The vast majority of the cerebellum connects to regions of the cortex that are involved in cognition, perception, language and emotional processing.
A review of maps of the cerebellum built from functional MRI brain scans confirmed that all major cortical regions have loops of connections running to and from the cerebellum. The cerebellum has conversations with different areas of the cortex: taking information from them, transforming it and sending it back to where it came from. One of the more unexpected connections was with the prefrontal cortex, which lies far from the cerebellum at the front of the brain and has long been considered the most advanced part of the brain. This region is in charge of abilities such as planning, impulse control, and emotional intelligence. It is disproportionately large and complex in humans compared with our closest species. To learn more about the cerebellum see the healthy memory blog post “The Brain’s Secret Powerhouse That Makes Us Who We Are.”

If you were to pry open the two hemispheres, you would find the brain stem, the area that controls each breath and every heartbeat, as well as the thalamus, which acts as a grand central station, relaying information back and forth between all the other regions.
The brain is full of cells called neurons which are too small to be see with the naked eye. These cells pass messages from one side of the brain to the other in the form of electrical impulses. Neurons branch out forming connections with its neighbors. If you were to count one of these connections every second, it would take you three million years to finish.

Ms. Thomson writes, “We now know the mind arises from the precise physical state of these neurons at any one moment. It is from this chaotic activity that our emotions appear, our personalities are formed. and our imaginations are stirred. It is arguably one of the most impressive and complex phenomena known to man.

So it’s not surprising that sometimes it al goes wrong.”

The Internet is the Best Answer

January 3, 2019

The title of this post is the second part of the title of an article by MeGan McArdle in the 2 Jan ’19 issue of the Washington Post. The first part of the title is “What connects Trumpish figures around the world?” The author notes that in the two years since Donald Trump’s unexpected victory, everyone seems to have developed a strong theory about what’s wrong with modern politics. She writes, “It could be the economic decline of the white working class—or maybe, less charitably, the problem is the white working class’s incorrigible racism. Others prefer to blame immigration, political correctness or simply the overweening arrogance of America’s self-appointed mandarin class.”

She continues, “Proponents of these explanations can point to compelling evidence. But that evidence has the same fatal flaw in each story: the attempt to explain a novel phenomenon by way of some long term factor that hasn’t changed, or else to explain a global phenomenon in terms of some local peeve.”

Columbia University sociologist Musa Al-Gharbi has pointed out some of the flaws in the racism thesis. The most glaring of these is that the United States has been racist for a long time and much more racist in the past than now-but now is when American elected Trump.

One might argue that it took a novel event to fan the embers of the nation’s latent racism, and that the presidency of Barack Obama might have been such a novel event. But Trumpish leaders seem increasingly popular through the world, Rodrigo Détente in the Philippines, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Viktor Orban in the Hungary. So the problem goes beyond latent racism.

MeGan suggests that the most compelling answer is the Internet, and particularly social media, is disrupting politics the way it has disrupted everything else—nearly everywhere, and all at once.

HM suggests that the Internet and social media are the not problem, but rather the way that humans use the internet and social media that is the problem. The internet provides the means of access to a tremendous amount of knowledge, and a means of communicating this knowledge to other human beings. Unfortunately, most who use the internet use it superficially. The stay plugged in, although it is impossible to keep abreast of everything. Their processing of this information is superficial. Moreover, they let themselves be led by the media to find not just superficial information, but disinformation. People need to unplug and use the internet more critically. They need to think, engage in Kahneman’s System 2 processing. This not only reduces one’s being manipulated by external agencies, but it also provides more accurate information in one’s memories, provides for the development of a cognitive reserve and greatly reduces risks of dementia of Alzheimer’s.

© 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

There’s a Deep Neural Connection Between Gratitude, Giving and Values

January 2, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the titled of an article by Christina Karns in the Health & Science Section in the 25 December 2018 issue of the Washington Post.

Psychological research has found that taking time to be thankful has benefits for well-being. Not only does gratitude go along with more optimism, less anxiety and depression, and create goal attainment, but also is associated with fewer symptoms of illness and other physical benefits. Researchers have also found that making connections between the internal experience of gratitude and the external practice of altruism.

The author is a neuroscientist particularly interested in the brain regions and connections that support gratitude and altruism. To study the relationship between gratitude and altruism in the brain, the author and his colleagues first ask volunteers questions meant to test how frequently they feel thankful, and the degree to which they tend to care about the well-being of others. They used statistical analyses to assess the extent to which someone’s gratitude could predict their altruism. As has been previously found, the more grateful people tended to be more altruistic.

Being neuroscientists the next step was to explore about how these tendencies are reflected in the brain. Study participants performed a giving activity in an MRI scanner. They watched as the computer transferred real money to their own account or to the account of a local food bank. Sometimes they could choose whether to give or receive, but other times the transfers were like a mandatory tax, outside their control. They especially wanted to compare what happened in the brain when a participant received money as opposed to seeing money given to the charity instead.

The result was that the neural connection between gratitude and giving is very deep, both literally and figuratively. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a region deep in the frontal love of the brain, is key to supporting both. This regions is wired up to be a hub for processing the value of risk and reward; it’s richly connected to even deeper brain regions that provide a kick of pleasurable neurochemicals in the right circumstances. It does abstract representations of the inner and outer world that help with complex reasoning, one’s representation of oneself and social processing. They also saw how differences in just how active this region was in various individuals.

They calculated a “pure altruism response” by comparing how active the reward regions of the brain were during “charity-gain” vs. “self-gain” situations. The participants identified as more grateful and more altruistic via the questionnaire had higher “pure altruism” scores. That is a stronger response in these reward regions of the brain when they saw the charity gaining money. It felt good for them to see the food bank do well.

Other studies have zeroed in on this same brain region and found that individual differences in self-reported “benevolence” were mirrored by participants’ brains’ response to charitable donations, including the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. So is this brain reward region the key to kindness?

To address this question the author randomly assigned study participants to one of two groups. For three weeks, one group wrote in their journals about gratitude, keeping track of the things they were thankful for The other group wrote about engaging topics from their lives that weren’t specific to gratitude.

Gratitude journaling seemed to work. Keeping a written account about gratitude led people to report experiencing more of the emotion. Other research also indicates that gratitude practice make people more supportive of others and improves relationships.

Study participants also exhibited a change in how their brains responded to giving. In the MRI scanner the group that practiced gratitude by journaling increased the “pure altruism” measure in the reward regions of the brain. Response to charity-gain increase more than those to self-gain.

Practicing gratitude shifted the value of giving in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. It changed the exchange rate in the brain. Giving to charity become more valuable than receiving money oneself. After the brain calculated the exchange rate, you get paid in the neural currency of the reward, the delivery of neurotransmitters that signal pleasure and goal attainment.

So, in terms of the brain’s reward response, it really can be true that giving is better than receiving.

Meditation is another technique to enhance altruism. In particular, loving kindness meditation done by experienced Buddhist monks revealed impressive brain activity.
To learn more about loving kindness meditation enter “loving kindness meditation” into the search block of the healthy memory blog.

Freed from the Feed

January 1, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the titled of a piece by Elise Viebeck in the 25 December ’18 issue of the Washington Post. The piece follows the development of an early Facebook enthusiast.

In 2005 Michael Lampert, a student at the University of Arizona, joined an early version of Facebook. He wrote, “It felt very cool, very hip, very exclusive.” He writes silly anecdotes and ridiculous things about college life.

In MId-2008 he is a recent graduate in the middle of the Great Recession trying to find work. Although Facebook did not help him find work, it did provide a distraction and a connection to far-off-friends. He says, “There was still this sense of happiness that I could go and log on and reignite old memories.”

In Spring 2012 he is a newcomer in fast-changing San Francisco. He endures rising rents and a difficult job in advertising. Unknown to him, a layoff loomed. Facebook became a way to keep track of new friends amid the upheaval. He says, “it helped me build the social circle I have now.”

In Summer 2018 he is thriving in Oakland engaged to be married. He receives congratulations on Facebook. The platform feels different since the 2016 edition. A friend’s decision to delete his account has made him think: “The people I had this artificial sense of relationship with online—how important is it that I maintain that? If I actively care about them, do they actively care about me?”

In late November he is about to be an ex-user of Facebook. He publishes his last post, urging friends to stay in touch by phone and email. He says, “Most people were like, ‘Oh, that’s too cool, good for you.” But weeks later, few of his old contacts have reached out. He says, “I feel like my perspective on social media is very much in the minority.”

Now he is not interested in returning to Facebook. He is pursuing a career in human resources, hoping to make corporate workplaces more humane. He doesn’t think social media is evil, but its ubiquity still has him thinking. He says, “I’m moving more toward a sense of being in the moment.”

May this post assist you in making a New Year’s resolution to break from social media.