Archive for the ‘Human Memory: Theory and Data’ Category

The Quality of Life Lessons We Should Learn from the Allegations Against Paul Manafort

December 18, 2017

This post is based on an article by Michelle Singletary titled “The financial lessons we should learn from the allegations against Paul Manafort in the 1 November 2017 issue of the Washington Post. Ms. Singletary notes that the American economist Thorstein Veblen, in his book, “The Theory of the Leisure Class” coined the term “conspicuous consumption” to describe wealthy people who broadcast their wealth and attempt to boost their reputations by purchasing things. He wrote, “conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentlemen of leisure.”

Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates were living very comfortable lives. But they risked their comfortable lives to achieve even more wealth and apparent prestige. Manafort is accused of laundering more than $18 Million. Here’s what his indictment says:
“Manafort used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income. Manafort, without reporting the income to his tax preparer or the United States spent millions of dollars on luxury goods and services on himself and his extended family through payments wired from offshore nominee accounts to United States vendors. Manafort allegedly withdrew money from offshore accounts to purchase multimillion-dollar properties. Some of his spending also allegedly included the purchase of four Range Rovers that cost a total of $210,705 and a Mercedes-Benz for $62,750; landscaping at a Hamptons property; and improvements to a house in Palm Beach, FL. Manafort also allegedly spent $934,350 on antique rugs at a store in Alexandria, VA; close to $850,000 on clothing at a men’s store in New York between 2008 and 2014; and another half-million dollars at a clothing store in Beverly Hills, CA.”

Ms. Singletary notes a Princeton University economics researcher, Ori Heifetz, who examined the need for people to flaunt their financial status. In a 2004 paper he wrote, “In the signaling game we call life, when deciding upon a course of action, we consider not only the direct effects of our choice, but also the indirect (or social) effects resulting from society observing our choice. Ms. Singletary elaborates on this point, “It matters to man it signals they’ve arrived at some destination point of social standing. It’s a sign of success. People like to tell themselves their BMWs, Mercedes, or Range Rovers are far superior to other vehicles. But on the Consumer Reports 2017 list of the 10 most reliable cars, half are priced under $30,000.”

Perhaps the most obvious examples of conspicuous consumption are Rolex watches. There was a time when one could justify spending a large amount on an Accutron watch, because it kept better time. But a Rolex is bought to impress, as it is no more accurate than inexpensive watches. However, to a cynical psychologist like HM, a Rolex watch reveals an underlying sense of inferiority, and perhaps, an unconscious desire to be mugged.

This post makes the same argument as the preceding post, “It Should Be Life Quality Not Household Income.” Ms. Singletary quotes from the Book of Proverbs, “One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.” Eudaemonia and ikigai provide a road to true happiness that hedonism does not.

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


It Should be Life Quality Not Household Income

December 17, 2017

Being at the forefront of the baby boomers, HM becomes extremely agitated when he reads of how bad the more recent generations have it. The argument usually consists of adjustments of median income, and that this is not keeping up with previous generations. Monetary income is used to quantify life quality. This is extremely shortsighted and wrong.

Do any of these new generations wish they could have been in the good old days of the baby boomers? If they do, then they are fools. Personal computers were not available to say nothing of the internet and mobile computing. Would anyone in these new generations be willing to part with their smartphones? Medical care, automobiles, and other technologies have markedly improved.

Many baby boomers had to register for the draft and fight in the Viet Nam war. They had the privilege of possibly having their names added to the wall on the Mall. Of course, if one was wealthy, it was quite possible to find a physician who would provide the basis for a medical deferment.

Unfortunately, dollars are equated with happiness and life satisfaction. The Gross Domestic Product is the most common means of assessing life satisfaction, if not happiness. A healthy economy requires the GDP to grow. We are placed on a treadmill to continue working to buy more material goods. This is the rat race that is only occasionally mentioned.

There have been several healthy memory blog posts on the expectations HM was given when he was in elementary school. He learned that advances in technology would allow a large increase in leisure time. At that time women with children rarely worked. Now everybody is working longer hours. Why? There is a fear of technology taking away jobs. Why? Why can’t technology be used to increase leisure time and to make life more enjoyable?

A previous post, Flourishing, described what Aristotle and other wise people, both ancient and contemporary, wrote about what constitutes the good life. Rather than hedonism, the goals should be eudaemonia and ikigai, having a purpose in life other than having a job to earn money to engage in a futile effort to achieve happiness. Follow the wisdom of the Dalai Lama and go to

There are metrics for Gross National Happiness that are more relevant to happiness than are gross domestic products. (Enter “Gross National Happiness” into the search block of the healthymemory blog to find relevant posts.)

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

More on the Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World

December 16, 2017

That is from the book written for the Dalai Lama by Daniel Goleman, “A FORCE FOR GOOD: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World.” Five healthy memory blog posts have already been written. Several more months could be spent on posts summarizing more wisdom from the book. Instead chapter titles and headings from the remainder of the book will be written here in the hope that they will persuade to you read the book on your own.

The first two parts, that have been reviewed are titled Part One: A World Citizen and Part Two: Looking Inward.

Part Three is titled Looking outward
Representative titles and headings follow;
Compassion Takes Action
Constructive Anger
The Strength of Altruism
The Empathy Gap
Structural Unfairness
Economics as if People Mattered
Rethinking Economics
The Secret of Happiness
Action for Happiness
Doing Good While Doing Well
Care for Those in Need
Helping People Help Themselves
Women as Leaders
Barefoot College
Heal the Earth
Radical Transparency
Trade-offs, Innovations—and Education
Rethinking Every Thing
How Did That Get Here?
A Century of Dialogue
Beyond Us and Them
The Power of Truth
Harmony Among Religions
Toward a Century of Dialogue
Put-Ups and Win-Wins
Educate the Heart
Mind Training
Reinventing Education
Social and Emotional Learning
A Call to Care
Part Four is titled Looking Back, Looking Ahead
The Long View
Are Things Getting Better or Worse?
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Thinking in New Ways
A Theory of Change
Plant the Seeds for a Better World
Act Now
Take It to Scale
The Human Connection
Think, Plan, Act

Center for Investigating Healthy Minds

December 15, 2017

With the Dalai Lama’s encouragement Richard Davidson founded the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM). Part of its mission is to study the best routes to compassion. A kindness curriculum is being tested at a preschool there. Preschoolers recite together a kindness pledge: “May all I think, say, or do not hurt anyone and help everyone.”

If the children do something kind for someone, they earn a “seed of kindness” planted on a big poster of a “kindness garden.”

They have a practice they call “belly buddies.” Children put a favorite stuffed animal on their bellies, then lie down and quiet themselves by paying full attention to the buddy rising and falling as they breathe in and out. The kindness curriculum includes a variety of methods like these, all aimed at helping the preschoolers learn to be more calm and quiet. This exercise should also prepare the children for the meditations they will do when they are older.

These preschoolers, four- and five-year-olds, are at the cusp of a development phase when kids are known to become more selfish, self-focused, and egocentric. In a test of the kindness program’s effects, the preschoolers were given a challenge after a semester.

Each child received some “cool” stickers (kids at this age are passionate about stickers) and was asked to allot the stickers to several envelopes: one with their own picture on it, one with a picture of their best fiend, the third with a child they did not know, and the fourth with a sick child.

Over the semester, a comparison group of preschoolers who did not participate in the program became more selfish in their sticker allotments—but not the kids in the kindness curriculum. So this usual trend in five-year-olds toward selfishness can be offset. Moreover, this shift toward a warmer heart is not just for children.

The website for this center is provided above. It is certainly worth checking out.

Partnering with Science

December 14, 2017

The title of this post is identical to a chapter in “A FORCE FOR GOOD: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for our World” has been written for the Dalai Lama by Daniel Goleman. The Dalai Lama sees science as but one way of grasping reality, limited by its methodologies and assumptions, like another way of knowing. The Dalai Lama said, “Scientists themselves have emotions that create problems. If we get helpful finding from science about how to create greater well-being and lessen destructive emotions, it’s more convincing and it will also help the scientists.

When Goleman was a pre-doctoral traveling fellow in South Asia, he studied a fifth-century text that provided a sampling of “ancient Indian psychology.” He was amazed at the precision with which this text delineated specific methods to shift our emotional and mental states (not to mention achieving transcendental states, which even today are largely off psychology’s map in the West.) So it is not only the Buddhist religion that offers relevant practices for western psychology, but eastern psychology itself has valuable science for the west.

The Dalai Lama has met many distinguished scientists on his visits to the West, and there have been many western scientists who have traveled to India to meet the Dalai Lama.

When Kiley Hamlin, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia was showing the Dalai Lama a video of a three-month-old preferring a nicer triangle (the triangle was shown as being nicer in the video) to the mean square (which was shown as being a meanie in the video). She concluded, “The very young already like goodness and enjoy being helpful and compassionate.”

Although pleased the Dalai Lama did not take this presentation uncritically. The Dalai Lama responded, “Thinking in terms of statistics, you’ve shown only one child. That is the average response?”

Hamlin reassured him that this test had been replicated with hundreds of children and in cultures around the world.

The Dalai Lama nodded in approval—but still queried, “And was their economic level taken into account?

Hamlin confirmed that they had found the same in children from poorer families and from wealthy ones.

In addition to his travels to meet scientists in the west, regular conferences are held at the Dalai Lama’s residence in India where scientists present their research to the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama says that he’s collecting “ammunition,” findings to support his message in his public talks—and with the press.

The Dalai Lama’s Approach to Religion

December 13, 2017

To be sure, the Dalai Lama’s understanding of the power of compassion comes from his deep spiritual reflections of human suffering and relief from that suffering. However, as a world leader, the Dalai Lama puts aside religion, ideology, or any faith-based belief system in seeking a foundation for this compassionate ethic. He notes that, for centuries, religion provided an ethical base—but with the spin-off of philosophy from theology, postmodernism, and the “death of God.” many people have been left with no absolute foundation for ethics. Moreover, so often the talk about ethics polarizes people who get hijacked by extreme voices, particularly when the discussion revolves around religious belief.

Those who cause the troubles we hear about in the daily news all too often invoke as justification one or another religion—whether Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, or any other. The Dalai Lama says, “then there are those narrow-minded believers who say all creatures are the same but emphasize their own faith, forgetting the larger perspective.”

He observes that “their actions show that ‘deep inside’ they do not take their own religion’s moral values seriously and so distort or carefully select some textual sources while ignoring others, to serve their own needs. If we lack basic conviction in the value of compassion, then the effect of religion will be quite limited.”

Religions have had thousands of years to promote ethics—and have often failed, he says. Besides, while selflessness and kindness are ideals found in most faith-based teachings, these virtues also exist in nonreligious ethical systems. He continues”there are countless people in the world who are concerned for all humanity and yet who do not have religion. I think of all the doctors and aid workers volunteering in such places as Darfur or Haiti or wherever there is conflict of natural disaster. Some of them may be people of faith, but many are not. Their concern is not for this group or that group but simply for human beings. What drives them is genuine compassion—the determination to alleviate the suffering of others.”

He seeks a morality of compassion that all agree upon: “My concern is the seven billion human beings alive now, including one billion nonbelievers.”

A Force for Good

December 12, 2017

The Dalai Lama envisions a force for good. That force begins by countering the energies within the human mind that drive our negativity. To change the future and not repeat the past, The Dalai Lama tells us, we need need to transform our own minds—weaken the pull of our destructive emotions to strengthen our better natures.

Absent that inner shift, we remain vulnerable to knee-jerk reactions like rage, frustration, and hopelessness. These only lead us to the same old forlorn paths.

With a positive inner shift, we can more naturally embody concern for others—and so act with compassion, the core of moral responsibility. The Dalai Lama says that this prepares us to enact a larger mission with new clarity, calm, and caring. We can tackle intractable problems, like corrupt decision-makers and tuned out elites, greed and self-interest as giving motives, the indifference of the powerful to the powerless.

By beginning this social revolution inside our own minds, the Dalai Lama’s vision aims to avoid the blind alleys of past movements for the better. He cites the message of George Orwell’s cautionary parable “Animal Farm:” how greed and lust for power corrupted the “utopias” which were supposed to overthrow despots and help everyone equally, but in the end re-created the power imbalances and injustices of the very past they were supposed to have eradicated.

The Dalai Lama sees that the seeds we plant today can change the course of our shared tomorrow. Some may bring immediate fruits others may only be harvested by generations yet to come. But our united efforts, if based on this inner shift, can make an enormous difference.

The life journey that led the Dalai Lama to this vision has followed a complex course, but we can pick up the final trajectory to this book from the moment he attained a sustained global spotlight.

That global spotlight began when the Dalai Lama earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He was a new breed of celebrity. He was neither thrilled by fame and money nor overly eager for exposure in the world press. His very being seems to tell us you are not the center of the universe—relax your anxieties, drop your self-obsession, and dial down those me-first ambitions so you can think about others too. He immediately gave away the cash award that goes with the Nobel Prize. His main concern was who would be the most worthy recipients.

He refuses to be sanctimonious about himself and laughs at his own foibles. He flavors compassion with joy, not dour and empty platitudes.

Goleman notes that these traits are no doubt grounded in the study and practices the Dalai Lama has immersed himself in since childhood and and still devotes himself to for five hours each day (four in the morning and another hour at night). “His self-discipline in cultivating qualities like an investigative curiosity, equanimity, and compassion undergird a unique hierarchy of values that gives the Daily Lama the radically different perspective on the world from which his vision flows.”

The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World

December 11, 2017

Previous posts on the Dalai Lama have focused primarily on the benefits of different types of mindfulness and meditation. Their focus has been primarily on science. “A FORCE FOR GOOD: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for our World” has been written for the Dalai Lama by Daniel Goleman. It outlines the Dalai Lama’s ideas on how to improve this world. This vision is worthy of your attention and the following posts will try to extract his ideas within the limitations of blog posts. You are strongly encouraged to read the book itself. There is also a website associated with this book, It is certainly worthy of repeated visits.

The following is taken from the Introduction to the book, which is written by the Dalai Lama:
“As a human being I acknowledge that my well-being depends on others and caring for others’ well-being is a moral responsibility I take seriously. It’s unrealistic to think that the future of humanity can be achieved on the basis of prayer or good wishes alone; what we need is to take action. Therefore, my first commitment is to contribute to human happiness as best I can. I am also a Buddhist monk, and according to my experience, all religious traditions have the potential to convey the message of love and compassion. So my second commitment is to foster harmony and friendly relations between them. Thirdly, I am a Tibetan, and although I have retired from political responsibility, I remain concerned to do what I can to help the Tibetan people, and to preserve our Buddhist culture and the natural environment of Tibet—-both of which are under threat of destruction.

The goal of happier human beings living together and supporting each other more fully in a more peaceful world is, I believe, something we can achieve. But we have to look at it taking a broad view and a long-term perspective. Change in ourselves and in the world in which we live may not take place in a hurry; it will take time. But if we don’t make the effort nothing will happen at all. The most important thing I hope readers will come to understand is that change will not take place because of decisions taken by governments or at the UN. Real change will take place when individuals transform themselves sided by the values that lie at the core of all human ethical systems, scientific findings, and common sense. While reading this book, please keep in mind that as human beings, equipped with marvelous intelligence and the potential for developing a warm heart, each and every one of us can become a force for good.

Loving Kindness Meditation

December 10, 2017

Loving-Kindness meditation falls into the class of analytic meditation. Although for many readers Dr. Herbert Benson’s relaxation response will be sufficient, if you want to try a type of analytic meditation, HM strongly recommends loving-kindness meditation. There are several reasons for this. One is that HM finds this meditation personally fulfilling. Another is that researchers have been astounded at the recordings and images of the brain from highly experienced meditators while they are doing this meditation. The third reason is that the world is much in need of love and kindness. Loving-kindness is wanting others to be happy. You should be comfortable doing the relaxation response before trying loving-kindness meditation.

This is taken from Kathleen McDonald’s “How to Meditate.” Be comfortable. Relax your body and mind and let all thoughts and worries subside. Mindfully observe your breath until you are calm and your awareness is focused in the here-and-now. You should think that you are doing this meditation for the benefit of yourself and others: to generate more positive, loving energy in your mind and to send it out to others, to the world.

Start by imagining living beings around you: your mother is on your left, your father on your right, and other relatives and friends are around you and behind you. Visualize in front of you those who dislike or who have hurt you. And extending in every direction, right to the horizon, are all other beings. Feel as if they are there, all in human form, sitting quietly, like you. If it is difficult to visualize all beings, think of as many as you can comfortably. Stay relaxed—don’t feel crowded or tense, but imagine that a sense of harmony and peace pervades everyone.

Consider how nice it would be, for yourself and others, if you were able to love all these beings. Contemplate that everyone wants to be happy and to avoid suffering, just as you do. They are all trying to make the best of their lives, even those who are angry and violent.

Now generate a feeling of love in your heart. You can do this by thinking of someone you love and letting your natural good feelings for this person arise. You might like to imagine your love as a warm, bright light, not physical, but pure, positive energy glowing in your heart.

Before you can love others you need to love yourself as you are, with your personal faults and shortcomings, and recognizing you have the potential to free yourself from all your problems. So, really wish yourself all the happiness and goodness there is. Imagine the the warm energy in your heart expands until it completely fills your body and mind.

Now meditate on your love for others. Start with your family and close friends sitting near you. Say in your mind words such as “May you be happy, may all your thoughts be positive and all your experiences good. May your lives be long and peaceful . Continue in this manner. Imagine the warm luminous energy generating from your body touching them and filling their bodies and minds, bringing them the happiness they wish for. Don’t worry if you don’t actually feel love; it’s enough to say these words and think these thoughts. In time the feeling will come.

Then think of some people you are not so close to and extend the same wishes as before.

The hard part comes last. Turn your attention to the people in front of you, those you are having difficulty with or for whom you have extreme dislike. Contemplate that they also need and deserve your love. Wish them to be free of the confusion, anger, and self-centeredness that drive them to act the way they do. Really want them to find peace of mind, happiness, and finally enlightenment. Think and try to extend the same wishes as in the case of the preceding groups.

Conclude the session by thinking that you definitely have the potential to love everyone, even those who annoy or hurt you and those you don’t even know. Generate a strong wish to work on your own anger, impatience, selfishness and the other problems that prevent you from having such love. Keeping your mind open and trying to overcome ego’s prejudiced attitudes will leave much space in your heart for pure, universal love—and thus happiness for yourself and others—to develop.

Kathleen McDonald likes to dedicate her meditations. In this case, she says, “Finally, dedicate the positive energy of your meditation to all beings, with the wish that they find happiness and enlightenment.

For another version of the loving-kindness meditation, go to the healthy memory blog titled, “SPACE.”

Analytical Meditation

December 9, 2017

This is the advanced deep path meditation. Usually stabilizing meditation (see previous post) is preliminary to analytic meditation. This type of meditation is for the purpose of developing insight or correct understanding of the way things are, and eventually to attain special insight (Sanskrit: vipashyana) into the ultimate nature of all things. Analytical meditation brings into play creative intellectual thought and is crucial to our development: the first step in gaining any real insight is to understand conceptually how things are. This conceptual clarity develops into firm conviction which, when combined with stabilizing meditation, brings direct and intuitive knowledge.

It is doubtful that most readers will want to get into this level of meditation, and fortunately, there are many benefits to just using the relaxation response. However, others might want to try this and see if it is for them. This can lead to retreats and a high level of involvement.

Should you be interested in exploring analytical meditation a good book is “How to Meditate by Kathleen McDonald. In addition to covering the basics, here is what she covers:

Meditations on the Mind which include meditation on the breath, meditation on the clarity of the mind, and meditation on the continuity of the mind.

Analytical Meditations which include Meditation on Emptiness, Appreciating our Human Life, Meditation on Impermanence, Death Awareness Meditation, Meditation on Karma, Purifying Negative Karma, Meditation on Suffering, Equanimity Meditation, Meditation on Love, Meditation on Compassion and Giving and Taking, Dealing with Negative Energy.

Visualization Meditations which include Body of Light Meditation, Simple Purification Meditation, Meditation on Tara, the Buddha of Enlightened Activity, Meditation on Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, Inner Heat Meditation.

And should you be interested in Prayers and Other Devotional Practices
Prayers, Explanation of the Prayers, A Short meditation on the Graduated Path of Enlightenment, Meditation on the Buddha, Meditation on the Healing Buddha, Meditation on the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, Prayer to Tara, Vajrsattva Purification, The Eight Mahayana Precepts, Prostations to the Thirty-five Buddhas.

P.S. HM finds parts of this post, which were taken from Kathleen McDonald’s book disturbing. “For example, This type of meditation is for the purpose of developing insight or correct understanding of the way things are, and eventually to attain special insight (Sanskrit: vipashyana) into the ultimate nature of all things.” Readers of this blog should be know that HM advises never be 100% certain of everything. For critical thinking there always needs to be room, however small, for doubt. So to claim eventually to attain special insight into the ultimate nature of things is a bit of an overshoot. So to meditate to develop insight or correct understanding of the way things are can be an aspirational goal. It is important to understand that there are different ways of knowing, and it is a mistake to pursue only one way. Science is a way of knowing. Contemplative practices of religions are a complementary way of knowing. These are two ways of knowing that complement each other. Unfortunately too many fail to realize this. HM thinks that the Dalai Lama is the first religious leader to use science to inform religious beliefs. He sends his priests to learn about science as he thinks this is essential to effective religious leadership

Stabilizing Meditation

December 8, 2017

This type of meditation is used to develop concentration and eventually to achieve calm abiding, a special kind of concentration that enables one to remain focused on whatever object one wishes, for as long as one wishes, while experiencing bliss, clarity, and peace. Concentration and calm abiding are necessary for any real, lasting insight and mental transformation. In stabilizing meditation, we learn to concentrate upon one object, the breath, the nature of one’s own mind, a concept, a visualized image—without interruption.

Dr. Herbert Benson’s relaxation response is an example of stabilizing meditation. Here is the protocol:
Step 1:  Pick a focus word, phrase, image, or short prayer.  Or focus only on your breathing during the exercise.
Step 2:  Find a quiet place and sit calmly in a comfortable position.
Step 3:  Close your eyes.
Step 4:  Progressively relax all your muscles.
Step 5:   Breathe slowly and naturally.
Step 6: Assume a passive attitude.  When other thoughts intrude, simply think, “Oh,                          well,” and return to your focus.
Step 7:  Continue with this exercise for an average of 12 to 15 minutes.
Step 8:   Practice this technique at least once daily.

Amazing benefits can be achieved with this type of meditation. Read the healthy memory blog “An Update of the Relaxation Response Update” to review some of the benefits.
Stabilizing meditation must first be achieved before going into deep path meditations.

Lists of Paramitas

December 7, 2017

Paramitas means completeness or perfection. Lists of paramitas are virtuous traits that mark progress in contemplative traditions. Among the paramitas of the yogi’s discussed in “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body” are generosity, the giving away of material wealth or of oneself, and ethical conduct, not harming oneself or others and following guidelines for self-discipline.

Additional traits are: patience, tolerance, and composure. These imply a serene equanimity. The Dalai Lama told an MIT audience, “Real peace is when your mind goes twenty-four hours a day with no fear, no anxiety.”

The authors note that there are intriguing dovetails between scientific data and the ancient maps to altered traits. An eighteenth-century Tibetan text advises that among the signs of spiritual progress are loving-kindness and strong compassion toward everyone, contentment, and “weak desires.” The authors note that these qualities seem to match with indicators of brain changes that have been tracked: amped-up circuitry for empathic concern and parental love, a more relaxed amygdala, and decreased volume of brain circuits associated with attachment.

A Tibetan tradition proffers a view that we all have a Buddha nature, but we simply fail to recognize it. In this view, the nub of meditative practice becomes recognizing intrinsic qualities, what’s already present rather than the development of any new inner skill. According to this perspective, the remarkable neural and biological findings among the yogis are signs not so much of skill development, but rather the quality of recognition.

This is an interesting question to ponder. The authors point to an increasingly robust corpus of scientific findings showing, for example, that if an infant watches puppets who engage in an altruistic, warmhearted encounter, or ones who are selfish and aggressive when given he choice of a puppet to reach for, almost all infants choose one of the friendly ones. They say this natural tendency continues through the toddler years.

HM wonders if these same results are found with infants who are unloved. And if it occurs through the toddler years for unloved toddlers.

The authors note that historically meditation was not meant to improve our health, relax us, or enhance work success. They note that although these are the kinds of appeal that has made meditation ubiquitous today, over the centuries such benefits were incidental, unnoticed side effects. This was unfortunate, because the benefits that have made meditation popular today are very real, and can be achieved using the relaxation technique espoused by Dr. Benton for only 20 minutes a day.

What the Yogi’s are able to accomplish require many thousands of hour of meditation in the deep mode.

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

Two Remarkable Yogis

December 6, 2017

Two remarkable yogis receive considerable attention in Goleman and Richardson’s book, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” Matthieu Ricard is not only a remarkable yogi, but one who also holds a Ph.D. in Biology. Initially yogis were reluctant to serve as research participants in Dr. Davidson’s lab. But once Matthieu assured his peers their participation might be of benefit to people, a total of twenty-one yogis agreed. Matthieu helped design the experimental protocol for the lab.

The next yogi to come to the lab was Mingyur Rinpoche, who was also the one with the most lifetime hours of practice 62,000 hours when he entered the lab. When he meditated on compassion there was a huge surge in electrical activity in his brain recorded by EEG. The fMRI images revealed that during meditation his circuitry for empathy jumped in activity by 700 to 800 percent compared to its level at rest. When he left the lab and went on a retreat as a wanderer for four and a half years the aging of his brain slowed. He was 41, but his brain resembled the norm for 33 year-olds.

It is appropriate to remember here what the goal of Siddhartha was on his way to becoming Buddha. His concern was how to deal with human suffering. Ultimately his finding was simple. Suffering is a matter of how the mind interprets conditions. Meditation is a set of techniques for controlling the mind so that one finds peace and rarely suffers.

Mingyur Rinpoche wandered for four and half years. He controlled his mind so that he wandered in a state of bliss. He did not suffer, was content and enjoying his existence. This was the goal that Buddha succeeded in achieving. And the techniques are there for all who want to use them.

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

Meditation as Psychotherapy

December 5, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of Chapter 10 of a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson. The subtitle is “Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. Meditation was not originally intended to treat psychological problems. However, in modern times it has shown promise in the treatment of some disorders, particularly depression and anxiety disorders. A meta-analysis of forty-seven studies on the application of meditation methods to treat patients with mental health problems found that meditation can lead to decreases in depression (especially severe depression), anxiety, and pain. They were about as effective as medications, but had no side effects. To a lesser degree, meditation can reduce the toll of psychological stress. Loving-kindness meditation may be especially beneficial to patients suffering from trauma, especially those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Mindfulness as been melded with cognitive therapy to produce Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). MBCT has become the most empirically well-validated psychological treatment with a meditation basis. This integration is having a wide impact in the clinical world. Empirical tests of applications to an ever larger range of psychological disorders are underway. Although there have been occasional reports of the negative effects of meditation, the findings to date point to the potential promise of meditation-based strategies. The enormous increase in scientific research in these areas makes for an optimistic future.

Mind, Body, & Genome

December 4, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” None of the many forms of meditation studied in this book was originally designed to treat illness. Nevertheless, today the scientific literature is replete with studies assessing whether these ancient practices might be useful for treating illnesses. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR; see the healthy memory blog post “Improving Selective Attention” for more information) and similar methods can reduce the emotional component of suffering from disease, but not cure the maladies. But mindfulness training— as short as three days—results in a short-term decrease in pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are the molecules responsible for inflammation. With extensive practice this seems to become a trait effect, with imaging studies finding in mediators at rest lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, along with an increased connectivity between regulatory circuitry and sectors of the brain’s self system, especially the posterior cingulate cortex.

For experienced meditation practitioners, a daylong period of intensive mindfulness down regulates genes involved in inflammation. The enzyme telomerase, which slows cellular aging, increases after three months of intensive practicing of mindfulness and loving-kindness (Go to the healthy memory blog post SPACE to find a description of loving-kindness meditation).

Long-term meditation may lead to beneficial structural changes in the brain. Current evidence is inconclusive as to whether such effects emerge with relative short-term practice, like MBSR, to only become apparent with longer-term practice. Taken together, the hints of neural rewiring that undergird altered traits seem scientifically credible, although further studies for specifics are needed.

Lightness of Being

December 3, 2017

This post is based on a chapter in a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson titled, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” When we let our mind wander, we hash over thoughts and feelings (often unpleasant) that focus on ourselves, constructing the narrative we experience as our “self.” The default mode circuits quiet during mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation (Go to the healthy memory blog post SPACE to find a description of loving-kindness meditation). In early stages of meditation this quieting of self-esteem entails brain circuits that inhibit default zones. In later practice the connections and activity within those areas wane.

The quieting of the self-circuitry begins as a state effect seen during or immediately after meditation. However, with long-term practitioners it becomes an enduring trait, together with decreased activity in the default mode itself. This resulting decrease in stickiness means that the self-focused thoughts and feelings that arise in the mind have much les “grab” and decreasing ability to hijack attention. This is what is meant by “lightness of being.”


December 2, 2017

This title is the same as a title in a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, “Altered Traits:  Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.”  William James, the founder of American psychology wrote: “The faculty of bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment, character and will; an education which should improve this faculty would the the education par excellence.”

At its root meditation retrains attention, and different types boost varying aspects of attention. MBSR strengthens selective attention, while long-term vipassana (analytic meditation will be described later in the series of posts) practice enhances this even more. Five months after a three-month shamantha retreat meditators had enhanced vigilance, the ability to sustain their attention. But the beginnings of this enhancement also showed up after just seventeen minutes of mindfulness in beginners. This was no doubt a transitory state for the newcomers, and a more lasting trait for the experienced meditators. The same practice-makes perfect maxim likely applies to some other quickie meditation: just ten minutes of mindfulness overcame the damage to concentration from multi-tasking—at least in the short term; only eight minutes of mindfulness lessened mind-wandering for a while. About ten hours of mindfulness over a two-week period strengthened attention and working memory. This also led to substantially improved scores on the graduate school entrance exam. Although meditation boosts many aspects of attention, these are short-term gains; more lasting benefits require ongoing practice.

Primed for Love

December 1, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Goleman and Richardson’s book, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” Learning about compassion does not necessarily increase compassionate behavior. From empathizing with someone suffering to actually reaching out to help, loving-kindness/compassion meditation increases the odds of helping. There are three forms of empathy: cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and empathic concern. People frequently empathize emotionally with someone’s suffering but then tune out to soothe their own uncomfortable feeling. However, compassion meditation enhances empathic concern, activates circuits for good feelings and love, as well as circuits that register the suffering of others, and prepares a person to act when suffering is encountered. Compassion and loving-kindness increase amygdala activation to suffering while focused attention on something neutral like the breath lessons amygdala activity. Loving-kindness acts quickly, in as little as eight hours of practice; reductions in usually intractable unconscious bias emerge after just sixteen hours. The longer people practice, the stronger these brain and behavioral tendencies toward compassion become. The authors conjecture that the strength of these effects from the early days of meditation may signal our biological preparedness for goodness.

A description of loving kindness meditation can be found in the previous healthy memory blog post SPACE. More will be written about loving kindness meditation later in this series of posts.

A Mind Undisturbed

November 30, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Goleman and Richardson’s book, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” A key node in the brain’s stress circuitry, the amygdala, shows dampened activity from just thirty or so hours of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) (enter MBSR into the search box of the Healthymemory Blog to learn more about MBSR). Other mindfulness training shows a similar benefit, and there are hints the these changes are trait like: they appear not simply during the explicit instruction to receive the stressful stimuli mindfully but even in the “baseline” state, with reductions in amygdala activation as much as 50%. More daily practice seems to be associated with lessened stress reactivity. Experienced Zen practitioners can withstand higher levels of pain and still have less reaction to this stressor. A three-month meditation retreat brought indicators of better emotional regulation, and long-term practice was associated with greater functional connectivity between the prefrontal areas that manage emotion and the areas of the amygdala that react to stress, resulting in less reactivity. An improved ability to regulate attention accompanies some of the beneficial impact of meditation on stress reactivity. And finally, the quickness with which long-term meditators recover from stress underlines how trait effects emerge with continued practice.

A Few Words About Buddhism

November 28, 2017

A reasonable response after reading the preceding posts is, if Buddhism is so great, what do they have to show for it. This is a variant of “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” First of all there are many different sects of Buddhism. They range from the highly ascetic Zen Buddhism, to highly commercialized sects that can be readily found in Japan. It should also be realized that, like other religions, there is a wide variance in the practice of the religion. What is particularly disturbing is how the Burmese, who are predominately Buddhist, have been persecuting the Rohingya, who are Moslem. They are killing them. Killing fellow humans is, or should be, anathema to Buddhists. Self-immolation, rather than fighting, was the preferred reaction in Viet Nam.

The Dalai Lama is the leader of Tibetan Buddhism. But as was said in a previous post, the Dalai Lama is not interested in making converts to Buddhism. However, he is interested in making a better world, and he thinks meditation and mindfulness will help in accomplishing this goal. The data in “Altered Traits” supports his thinking.

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


November 27, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Goleman and Davidson’s “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” Aristotle posited the goal of life as a virtue-based eudaemonia, a quality of flourishing, a view that continues under many guises in modern thought. Aristotle said that virtues are attained in part by finding the “right mean” between extremes; courage lies between impulsive risk-taking and cowardice, a tempered moderation between self-indulgence and ascetic denial.

He believed that we are not by nature virtuous, but all have the potential to become so through the right effort. This effort includes what we would call today self-monitoring, the ongoing practice of noting our thoughts and acts. For the Stoics, one key was seeing that our feelings about life’s events, not those events themselves, determine our happiness. This is a fundamental insight at which Siddhartha, the Buddha, arrived. We find equanimity by distinguishing what we can control in life from what we cannot. That creed finds an echo in the popularized Twelve Step version of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Goleman and Davidson write, “The classical way to the ‘wisdom to know the difference’ lay in mental training. Greek philosophers saw philosophy as an applied art and taught contemplative exercises and self-discipline as paths to flourishing. Like their peers to the East, the Greeks saw that we can cultivate qualities of mind that foster well-being.

Goleman and Davidson write “In the Greco-Roman tradition, qualities such as integrity, kindness, patience, and humility were considered keys to enduring well-being. These Western thinkers and Asian spiritual traditions alike saw value in cultivating a virtuous being via a roughly similar transformation of being. In Buddhism, for example , the ideal of inner flourishing gets put in terms of ‘bodhi’ (in Pali and Sanskrit), a path of self-actualization that nourishes ‘the very best within oneself.’”

University of Wisconsin psychologist Carol Ryff, drawing on Aristotle among many other thinkers, posits a model of well-being with six arms:

*Self acceptance, being positive about yourself, acknowledging both your best and not-so-good qualities, and feeling fine about being just as you are. This takes a non-judgmental self-awareness.

*Personal growth, the sense you continue to change and develop toward your full potential—getting better as time goes on—adopting new ways of seeing or being and making the most of your talents. ‘Each of you is perfect the way you are,’ Zen master Suzuki Roshi told his students, adding, ‘and you can use a little improvement’—neatly reconciling acceptance with growth.

*Autonomy, independence in thought and deed, freedom from social pressure, and using your own standards to measure yourself. This, by the way, applies most strongly in individualistic cultures like Australia and the United States, as compared with cultures like Japan, where harmony with one’s group looms larger.

*Mastery, feeling competent to handle life’s complexities, seizing opportunities as they come your way, and creating situations that suit your needs and values.

*Satisfying relationships, with warmth, empathy, and trust, along with mutual concern for each other and a healthy give-and-take,

*Life purpose, goals and beliefs that give you a sense of meaning and direction, Some philosophers argue that true happiness comes as a by-product of meaning and purpose in life.

Ryff sees the qualities as a modern version of eudamonia—Aristotle’s “highest of all human good,” the realization of you unique potential. Goleman and Davidson write,”…different varieties of meditation seem to cultivate one or more of these capacities. More immediately, several studies have looked at how meditation boosted people’s ratings on Ryffs own measure of well-being.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fewer than half of Americans report feeling a strong purpose in life beyond their jobs and family. Healthy memory blog readers should remember that ikigai is the Japanese term for having a purpose in life. Many healthy memory blogs have emphasized its importance.

It was found that after a three-month meditation retreat (540 hours total), those participants who had strengthened a sense of purpose in life during that time also showed a simultaneous increase in the activity of telomerase in their immune cells, even five months later. Telomerase protects the length of telomeres, the caps at the ends of DNA strands that reflect how long a cell will live.

Another study found that eight weeks of a variety of mindfulness practices seemed to enlarge a region in the brain stem that correlated with a person’s well-being on Ryff’s test. But Goleman and Davidson caution that only fourteen people were involved in the study, so it needs to be replicated with a larger group before becoming more than tentative conclusion.

In yet another study, people practicing a popular form of mindfulness reported higher levels of well-being and other such benefits for up to a year. The more everyday mindfulness, the greater the subjective boost in well-being. Again the authors caveat this study by saying that not only was the sample size small, but also a brain measure rather than self-evaluations would have been more convincing.

Goleman and Davidson write, “Studies such as these are often cited as “proving” the merits of meditation, particularly these days, when mindfulness has become the flavor du jour. But meditation research varies enormously when it comes to scientific soundness—though when used to promote some brand of meditation, app, or other contemplative “product,” this inconvenient truth goes missing.”

The authors promise that they have used rigorous standards to sort out fluff from fact. They want to determine what science actually does tell us about the impacts of meditation.

Altered Traits and Neuroplasticity

November 26, 2017

There have been many healthy memory blog posts on neuroplasticity, which is a topic of continuing attention. The first evidence of neuroplasticity was of a negative effect. Bruce McEwen produced evidence of how stressful events produce lingering neural scars. The research used a tree shrew, a small creature, but the research had a gigantic effect. The thinking, or rather dogma of the day, was that the neural system was fixed and could not change. It was research by Marian Diamond and her psychologist colleagues that documented that enriched environments increase the size of rats’ brains. Previous research had focused on the nature vs nurture issue. Genes defined nature and the environment defined nurture. Arguments abounded about whether intelligence and many other topics of interest were affected more by nature or more by nurture. The truth is that there is an interaction between nature and nurture. Traits altered by meditation are further examples of neuroplasticity at the positive end and post-traumatic stress disorder at the negative end.

Goleman and Davidson’s interests go beyond the merely healthy spectrum to an even more beneficial range of wholesome traits of being. Extremely positive altered traits, like equanimity and compassion, are a goal of mind training in contemplative traditions. They use the term altered trait as shorthand for this highly positive range.

Neuroplasticity provides a scientific basis for how repeated training can create those lasting qualities of being they encountered in a handful of exceptional yogis, swamis, monks, and lamas, Their altered traits fit ancient descriptions of lasting transformation at these higher levels.

Goleman and Davidson write, “A mind free from disturbance has value in lessening human suffering, a goal shared by science and meditative paths alike. But apart from lofty heights of being, there’s a more practical potential within reach of every one of us: a life best described as flourishing.

This post is taken from Goleman and Davidson’s “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.”

Altered Traits

November 25, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson. The subtitle is “Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. The following is taken from the Coda of the book: “We are inspired by the vision of the Dalai Lama. He encourages us all to do three things: gain composure, adopt a moral rudder of compassion, and act to better the world. The first, inner calm, and the second, navigating with compassion, can be products of meditation practice, as can executing the third, via skillful actions. Exactly what action we take, though, remains up to each of us, and depends on our individual abilities and possibilities—we each can be a force for good.”

We view this “curriculum” as one solution to an urgent public health need: reducing greed, selfishness, us/them thinking and impending eco-calamities, and promoting more kindness, clarity, and calm. Targeting and upgrading these human capacities directly could help break the cycle of some otherwise intractable social maladies, like ongoing poverty, intergroup hatreds, and mindlessness about our planet’s well-being.”

To be sure, there are still many, many questions about how altered traits occur, and much more research is needed. But the scientific data supporting altered traits have come together to the point that any reasonable scientist would agree that this inner shift seems possible. Yet too few of us at present realize this, let alone entertain the possibility for ourselves.

The scientific data, while necessary, are by no means sufficient for the change we envision. In a world growing more fractured and endangered, we need an alternative to mind-sets snarky and cynical, views fostered by focusing on the bad that happens each day rather than the far more numerous acts of goodness. In short, we have an even greater need for the human qualities altered traits foster.

We need more people of good will, who are more tolerant and patient, more kind and compassionate. And these can become qualities not just espoused but embodied.”

The philosophy espoused here is eudaemonism, which is a system of ethics that bases moral values on the likelihood that good actions will produce happiness. The exact opposite is hedonism, which is hardly an ethical theory, and maintains that pleasure is the highest good and proper aim of human life. There are several problems with hedonism. One is to take care of oneself and to screw everyone else. Poor health often is concomitant with pleasure. There also constraints on the amount of pleasure one can tolerate. Eudaemonism is unconstrained, promotes health, benefits others, and results in happiness. The hope is that eudaemonism is within us human beings and that meditation and mindfulness are activities that foster eudaemonism.

Understand that the goal here is not to convert people to Buddhism. The Dali Lama uses science to inform Buddhist ideology and practices. He sends monks to study science. Most religions at onetime had contemplative practices like meditation, and some still do. Rather than citing words by rote, prayer should be a meditative practice. It is important to realize that all religions, Buddhism included, have been created by human beings. What is spoken from the pulpit should not be taken uncritically. Rather, one needs to assess not only whether it corresponds with the stated doctrine and literature of the religion, but also whether it corresponds to a loving, just, and forgiving God.

Obviously, this book deserves many posts. Coleman and Davidson apply rigorous standards to assessing the data, so the conclusions above are justified. The primary criticism might well be that they are overly optimistic. Nevertheless, they are well worth pursuing.

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

Thanks to Daniel Goleman

November 24, 2017

Fortunately Daniel Goleman’s graduate fellowship to Harvard, where he went to study clinical psychology included a year’s study abroad should his studies require it. He managed to extend the study abroad to two years where he went to India. India was the root source of the meditation practices he wished to study.

What he accomplished in India was remarkable. Here he was in a new culture, dealing with new languages, and with a topic that was complex and hard to penetrate. You need to read his book, “The Meditative Mind: The Varieties of Meditative Experience” to appreciate the complexity of this topic, but he managed to build roadmaps routing the way between these complex topics. This book is not recommended unless you have an interest in eastern religions. They are complex and if not impenetrable, difficult to penetrate.

Fortunately, the technique most recommended in this blog is the Relaxation Response as developed by Herbert Benson, M.D. This involves focusing on your breath and a self-selected simple mantra. This builds focal attention and has both mental and medical benefits that have been discussed in previous blog posts.

Goleman reviews meditation as practiced in different religions to include Hindu Bhakti, Jewish Meditation, Christian Meditation, Sufism, Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, Indian Tantra and Kundalini Yoga, Tibetan Buddhism, and Zen. As you can see not all religions that employ meditation are in the east. Contemplative practices have been employed in many if not most religions. All these religions recognize the proneness of humans to less than desirable thoughts and behaviors. The goal of these practices, regardless of the religion, is to bring humans up to a higher standard to behave well not only with respect to the individual, but also with respect to our fellow human beings.

The father of American psychology, William James recognized the importance of attention. He wrote in his Principles of Psychology the importance of bringing back a wandering attention over and over again as it is the very root of judgment, character, and will. It is essential. An education that would improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.

William James, who was the most prominent nineteenth century psychologist, was keenly interested in religion, both Eastern and Western. He befriended the Indian 
Swami Vivekananda who toured America after speaking at the First World Congress of Religions in 1893. Religion and the occult fascinated James. His book “Varieties of Religious Experience” is still a classic on the psychology of religion. Unfortunately, the scientific bent of modern psychology has lead the great majority of Western psychologists to ignore the teachings of their Eastern counterparts.

Fortunately, Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson are refocusing interest in these teachings of our eastern counterparts.

Revenge, Sweet, but Not Healthy

November 22, 2017

This post is based on an article titled “Revenge” by Jennifer Breheny Wallace in the Health Section of the 14 November 2017 Washington Post. She wrote, “People are motivated to seek revenge—to harm someone who has harmed them—when they feel attached, mistreated or socially rejected. Getting an eye for an eye, Old Testament-style, is thought to bring a sense of catharsis and closure. Unfortunately, a growing body of research suggests it may have the opposite effect.

Evolutionary psychologists think we are hard-wired for revenge. Absent laws and prisons, our earliest ancestors relied on the fear of retaliation to keep peace and correct injustices. Michael McCullough, a professor of psychology at the University of Miami says, “Acts of revenge not only sought to deter a second harmful act by a wrongdoer, but also acted as an insurance policy against future harm by others, a warning signal that you’re someone who will not tolerate mistreatment.”

In modern life, betrayal and social rejection still hurt. According to research reported in the Journal of Personality Psychology the desire to repair that pain and improve our mood may be one of the things that motivates us to seek revenge.

In one experiment 156 college students wrote a short essay to be submitted for comments. Then the essays were randomly given either positive or negative feedback. Next all participants were given a test that measured their emotional state, and then offered a chance to retaliate by sticking pins into a voodoo doll that represented the grader of the essay. Not surprisingly getting revenge felt good such that the moods of the ones given negative feedback were as high as the moods of those given positive feedback.

In another study, 167 participants were invited to play a video game where some players were snubbed by others. Rejected players were given the chance to seek revenge by increasing the volume in the other player’s headphones. But before they could retaliate, some participants received what they were told was a cognition enhancing drug (which was a placebo) that would steady their mood for 60 minutes. Although most wronged players turned up the volume, those who took the placebo, who presumably thought they wouldn’t be given a mood boost for doing so, were less likely to retaliate because we think it will make us feel better, according to David Chester who studies the psychological and biological processes involved in human aggression at Virginia Commonwealth University.

According to new research by Chester revenge may provide a lift, but the positive effects appear to be fleeting. “Revenge can feel really good in the moment,” he says, “but when we follow up with people 5 minutes to 10 minutes and 45 minutes later, they actually report feeling worse than they did before they sought revenge.”

University of Psychology Professor Timothy Willson and colleagues conducted a study on the “paradoxical consequences” of revenge. Research participants played an investment game where they were told that they could earn money if they all co-operated but that if one player betrayed the group, that person would earn more and the other players would earn less. This is called the “free-rider paradigm.” The game was staged so that players were double-crossed and some were given the chance to retaliate. When asked by researcher how they imagined they would feel after seeking revenge, the players predicted it make them feel better. However, when surveyed afterward, those who had retaliated reported feeling worse than players who didn’t get the opportunity to punish and so had “moved on.” Wilson theorizes that seeking revenge when we were wronged and can make an event appear even larger. He says, “by not retaliating, we’re able to find other ways of coping, like telling ourselves that it wasn’t such a big deal.

Ruminating about getting even by stewing over what the person did to you and what you would like to do in return can interfere with day-to-day well-being and happiness. Psychotherapist Beverly Engel says, “When someone persists in revenge fantasies, over time they can develop anxiety and remorse as well as feelings of shame. These feelings can also take up important cognitive resources, depleting you of time and energy that could be better spent on healthier, more constructive ways of dealing with anger, such as learning to accept the injustice, putting yourself in the other person’s shoes or acknowledging that you, too, may have hurt someone in similar ways.”

With respect to valuable relationships McCullough says “what the angry mind ultimately wants is a change of heart from the transgressor.” He cites studies showing the when a victim receives an explanation and an apology, the desire for revenge decreases. Similarly research suggests that doctors who apologize to patients when they have made a mistake may decrease their risk of a lawsuit.

McCullough also says that sometimes the most helpful thing a wronged party can do is to create conditions that make it easier for the person who hurt you to be honest about what they did and to take responsibility. He says, “You’re not giving the person a free pass, but it may be in your best interest to stay open to an apology and to help pave a road that would allow the offender to make it up to you.”

He concludes, “Revenge may make you feel better for a moment. but making the effort to repair a valuable relationship can pay bigger dividends over a lifetime.”

Socrates and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

November 21, 2017

Socrates asked, “How is not this the most reprehensible ignorance, to think that one knows what one does not know?”

There are two parts to the Dunning-Kruger effect.  The first refers to the cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority.  The second part refers to a cognitive bias for highly skilled individuals to underestimate the relative competence of unskilled individuals and assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.

So people who truly know a topic are aware of what they don’t know. But people who think they know a topic can be woefully ignorant of what they don’t know. So knowledgeable people typically qualify there answers. This was the problem President Truman had with economists. They would tell him on one hand there was x, but on the other hand there was y. Truman asked for one-handed economists. It is hoped that he never found one.

There is reason to think that the Dunning-Kruger effect has been magnified in this current era of technology. Life has become an open-book test. All one has to do is to look something up. But true knowledge requires thinking, and thinking takes time and effort. It is not analogous to downloading a file from the computer.

One of the best examples was the response a woman, who was wearing her technology and was well-plugged in to the question of what she thought about Obamacare. She responded that it was terrible and should be repealed. However, when she was asked about the Affordable Care Act, she thought it was wonderful. She did not caveat either response.

First of all, we need to be aware of faux news. So we need to evaluate the source and soundness of everything we see or hear. We should also consider other information that either supports or refutes the new information.

But even for topics we think we know, we need to explore the other side and follow not only the reasoning, but also data. In the case of governments offering health care to all its citizens, every other advanced country does so, and they do so with single payer government systems. Moreover, their medical systems are not only more effective, they are also significantly cheaper. This seems to be a glaring source of ignorance in the United States.

Readers might also consider reading or rereading the healthy memory blog post “Ignorance.”

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

Understanding Cognitive Enhancement

November 20, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the subtitle of an article titled “Better Minds Ahead” by Joe Dawson in the October 2017 issue of Observer, a publication of the Association for Psychological Science. The article provides a summary to the session at the Integrative Science symposium at the 2017 International Convention of Psychological Science, which was held in Vienna.

Daphne Bavelier, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Geneva, conducts research on the effects of action games. Early experiments showed vision improvements such as contrast sensitivity and visual acuity in long-time action gamers as well as experimental short-term gamers. Playing these games for as few as 30 hours per week produced these effects. Moreover, these effects persisted for months after the experiment and video-game playing ended.

Subsequent research suggested that action-game players were not just better at the skills specific to game play, such as vision, but also were better at more cognitive skills. These cognitive skills were driven, at least in part, by improved attentional control.

Other research has shown that young laparoscopic surgeons who play video games, and especially action video games, perform better in the simulators in terms of being faster and not making more errors than most season laparoscopic surgeons on the team. In these games, players must switch tasks and divide their attention. They monitors errors in skill and judgment. They must also plan goals and revise them on the fly. It appears that the combination of demands is what produces the kind of cognitive enhancements seen in relation to commercially available action games.

Arthur Kramer, the senior Vice President for Research and Graduate Education at Northeastern University, has studied the relationship between exercise and cognition for 25 years. Some of the first clues about the effects of exercise were produced by brain scans. Certain regions changed in volume in both long-term exercisers and in intervention groups. Size, white matter, and connectivity measurements all indicated that exercise has lasting effects on the brain. Exercise also seems seems to show benefits in many tests and also in several cognitive tasks. In 2003 meta-analysis of randomized control trial exercise and cognition studies, Kramer and Stanley Colcombe found that exercise positively affects cognition with an effect size of nearly half a standard deviation.

Kramer said, “Fitness interventions have been assessed in early Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment patients, multiple sclerosis patients, Parkinson’s patients and in breast cancer patients. In each case, there have been benefits.”

Kramer wants to do further work trying to establish the limits of cognitive enhancement, assuming there are limits, and determining which interventions and lifestyle choices work best for different individuals.

Illini Singh, a researcher of neuroscience, ethics, and society at the University of Oxford is focused on the present and potential future use of “smart drugs.” Although there are reports about taking drugs for increased attention, focus, mood modulation, or executive function, science has yet to produce convincing evidence that most common “smart” drugs—Ritalin, Adderall, and Modafinl, provide benefits in nonclinical populations. There is a large placebo effect Singh said “what you hear most is that students say they feel more awake,” but this is because these drugs are stimulants.

HM weighs in that drugs are for clinical situations. Inevitably, there are undesirable side effects to drugs, so they should only be used as a last resort.

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

Grand Delusions: Why We all Believe the Weirdest Things

November 19, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature article by Dan Jones in the 18 November 2017 issue of the New Scientist.

Delusions are irrational, and they are idiosyncratic, in that the belief is not widely shared. Moreover, the idiosyncratic nature of delusions makes them isolating and alienating in a way that believing, say, a conspiracy theory does not. Delusions also tend to be much more personal than other irrational beliefs, and they usually conform to one of a handful of themes. Despite being diverse and idiosyncratic, delusions cluster into a few core themes.

Persecutory Delusions: beliefs that others are out to harm you. This is the most common type of delusion, affecting between 10% and 15% of people.

Referential Delusions: beliefs that things happening the world—from news headlines to song lyrics—relate directly to you. Persecutory and referential delusions often go hand in hand.

Control Delusions: beliefs that your thought or behaviors are being manipulated by outside agents. Such delusions are common in schizophrenia.

Erotomania Delusions: beliefs that someone who you don’t know, typically a celebrity, is in love with you.

Grandiose Delusions: unfounded beliefs the you are exceptionally talented, insightful or otherwise better than the hoi polloi.

Jealous Delusions: irrational beliefs that your partner is being unfaithful. This is the type of delusion most commonly associated with violence.

Somatic Delusions: erroneous beliefs about the body. In Ekbom’s syndrome, people believe they are infested with parasites. People with Coward delusion believe they are dead or don’t exist.

Misidentification Delusions: beliefs that changed identity. A classic is Capers delusion, where people believe that a loved one has been replaced by a doppelgänger.

An everyday reason that people hold implausible beliefs is a tendency to jump to conclusions on the basis of limited evidence.The proneness to do this can be measured with a simple experiment. Imagine two jars containing a mix of black and orange beads: one contains 85% black beads and 15% orange, and the other has the reverse proportions. You select a bead from one, without know which it is. Let’s say the bead is orange. You are then asked whether you would like to make a call on which jar you are taking the heads from, or whether you want to draw another bead to help work it out. It is prudent to examine a few beads at least as it is quite possible to draw two orange beads from a jar with mostly black, and vice versa. Yet about 70% of people being treated for delusion make a judgement after seeing just one or two beads. Only 10% of the general population are as quick to jump to conclusions, but the more prone you are to delusional thinking, the fewer beads you are likely to sample before making your decision.

This jumping-to-conclusions bias might seem stupid, but it isn’t s a sign of low intelligence, according to clinical psychologist Phillipa Garety at KIng’s College, London. Instead, she invokes Kahneman’s System 1, System 2 model of cognition. System 1 is the default mode of processing that occurs automatically. System 2, commonly referred to as thinking, takes mental effort. One of System 2’s responsibilities is to monitor System 1 for errors, but that requires mental effort. The more analytic a person is, the more System 2 is engaged. Dr Garety kindly terms people more prone to System 1 processing as “intuitive.” She says, “It’s not that people with a jumping-to-conclusions bias don’t understand or can’t use evidence. They’re just overusing System 1 at the expense of System2.” Her latest study confirms the these “intuitive thinkers” are also more prone to clinical delusions.

The following 21 questions constitute the Peter’s Delusion Inventory, which is the most widely used measure of delusion proneness. Give yourself one point for each “yes” and zero points for each “no” then tot up your score

Do you ever feel as if people seem to drop hints about you or say things with a double meaning?
Do you ever feel as if things in magazines or on TV were written especially for you?
Do you even feel as if some people are not what they seem to be?
Do you ever feel as if you are being persecuted in some way?
Do you feel as if there is a conspiracy against you?
Do you feel as if you are, or destined to be someone very important?
Do you ever feel that you are a very special or unusual person?
Do you ever feel that you are especially close to God?
Do you ever think people can communicate telepathically?
Do you ever feel as if electrical devices such as computer can influence the way you think?
Do you ever feel as if you have been chosen by God in some way?
Do you believe in the power of witchcraft, voodoo, or the occult?
Are you often worried that your partner may be unfaithful?
Do you ever feel that you have sinned more than the average person?
Do you ever feel that people look at you oddly because of your appearance?
Do you ever feel as if you had no thought in your head at all?
Do you ever feel as if the world is about to end?
Do your thoughts every feel alien to you in some way?
Have your thoughts been so vivid that you were worried other people would hear them?
Do you ever feel as if our own thoughts were being echoed back o you?
Do you ever feel as if you are a robot or zombie without a will of your own?
If your score is 1-5 you are less prone to delusions than most. Your thinking style is probably more analytical than intuitive.

If your score is 6-7, Congratulations. You are normal. The average score is 6.7 with no difference between men and women.

If your score is 8-21 you are more prone to delusions than most. You are likely to think intuitively and jump to conclusions.

Brain Implant Boosts Human Memory by Mimicking How We Learn

November 18, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a News piece by Jessica Hamzelou in the 18 November 2017 issue of the New Scientist. The team doing the research says,
“Electrical shocks that simulate the patterns seen in the brain when you are learning have enhanced human memory for the first time, boosting performance on tests by up to 30%.” Dong Song of the University of Southern California says, “We are writing the neural code to enhance memory function. This has never been done before.”

The device mimics brain signals associated with learning and memory, stimulating similar patterns of brain activity in the hippocampus via electrodes. This device was implanted in 20 volunteers who were already having electrodes placed in their brains to treat epilepsy.

The first stage was to collect data on patterns of activity in the brain when the volunteers were doing a memory test. The test involved trying to remember which unusual, blobby shapes they had been shown 5 to 10 seconds before. This test measures short- term memory. People normally score around 80% on this task.

The volunteers also did a more difficult version of the test, in which thy had to remember images they had seen between 10 and 40 minutes before. This measures working memory.

Then the team used this data to work out the patterns of brain activity associated with each person’s best memory performances. The group then made the device electrically stimulate similar brain activity in the volunteers while they did more tests.

A third of the time, the device stimulated the participants brains in a way the team thought would be helpful. Another third of the time, it stimulated the brain with random patterns of electricity. For the remaining third of the time, it didn’t stimulate the brain at all.

Memory performance improved by about 15% in the short-term memory test and around 25% in the working-memory test when the correct stimulation pattern was used, compared to no stimulation at all. Some improved by 30%. Random stimulation worsened performance. Song says the “It is the first time a device like this has been fond to enhance an aspect of human cognition.”

Chris Bird of the University of Sussex, UK thing that such a device may be useful for treating medical conditions. However the prosthesis wouldn’t be able to replace the hippocampus entirely. He says, “The hippocampus is quite a large structure and they are only recording from a very small area.’

Now the team is working on ways to enhance other brain functions. Song says,”The approach is very general . If you can improve the input/output of one brain region, you could apply it to other brain regions. Good candidates for this are skills localized to particular parts of the brain, such as sensation of the outside world, vision, and how we move. Enhancing these might improve a person’s hand-eye coordination. However, cognitive functions like intelligence involve many brain regions working together so wouldn’t make good targets.

There are individuals like Kurzweil who think that their brains can be uploaded to silicon, or that direct connections can run between computers and the brain. What these individuals are ignoring is that communications must be in the language of the brain. The research presented here shows what must be done to communicate and exchange information to the brain.

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

The Importance of Mind-set

November 17, 2017

This post is based on article by Sharon Jayson in the Health Section of the 4 July 2017 issue of the Washington Post titled, “Want to slow down your aging process” Mind-set can be key, oldest seniors say.

For elders, staying vital may be about more than physical or mental agility. Research has found that society’s focus on youth culture and negative stereotypes about aging prompt memory loss and stress. However, older adults who want to dispel notions of becoming feeble have growing ranks to emulate.

Warren Barger, who is 95 earned five gold medals and set a new national high-jump recored in the 95-99 age bracket at competitions held in Birmingham, Alabama. He says that his secret of life is to wake up every morning with something to do. Healthy memory blog readers should recognize this as what the Japanese call ikigai. Warren says that he thinks that some people are old because they allow themselves to get old. When people ask him how I’m able to do what I can do, he says that he never quits trying. Warren is a former insurance salesman and church music director, who plays golf and pickleball once a week and badminton twice a week. He mows his lawn, volunteers weekly at his church, and sings in the senior choir.

David Weiss, an assistant professor of sociomedical science and psychology at the Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University published a study that found that those who don’t accept the inevitability of aging can “counteract the detrimental and self-fulfilling consequences of negative age stereotypes.” He says the his research looks at why no one wants to be old. “They want to set themselves apart from the negatively viewed age group. They just want to distance themselves from stereotypes: ‘I’m just not like the stereotype. I’m different.’ Adults who believe that age is just a number showed better memory performance, but adults who believed aging is set in stone and fixed had fixed had a decrease in memory performance and a stronger stress reaction.” Readers of the healthy memory blog should recognize this as having a growth mindset about which many healthymemory blog posts have been written.

Social psychologist Becca Levy of the Yale School of Public Health said that her studies have found an increase in negative age stereotypes over the past two centuries. She said, “Part of it is due to media and marketing. An ageist culture produces many more negative stereotypes.”

Research published this year by Sarah Barber, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco University found that people blamed routine forgetfulness on their age—as in saying they had had a “senior moment”—because popular wisdom reinforces stereotypes of age-related memory decline. The negative stereotypes about aging made older adults over-attribute every day memory losses we all have to age.” Readers of the healthy memory blog should be aware that memory failures are part of being human. They occur throughout our lives, and it is a mistake to attribute them to aging. Read the healthy memory blog posts, “The Myth of Cognitivee Decline” and “More on the Myth of Cognitive Decline.”

Remember Dr. Ruth (Weistheimer) of television fame? She advises older people to “do as many things that are enjoyable to them as possible and to not sit at home and say “I’m too old to be out there.”

Carl Reiner, the 95-year old writer, comedian, director, and creator of the 1960s-era “The Dick Van Dyke Show” has written his 22nd book, “Too Busy to Die.” He is working on two more books, which are expected to be published at Thanksgiving. Reiner and his longtime friend Mel Brooks, who turned 91 on June 28, have dinner at Reiner’s house most evenings unless the comedic genius behind such classics as “Blazzing Saddles” and “The Producers” is away on business.

So, the key to successful aging is mind-set, having a growth mind-set, and having a reason to get up in the morning, ikigai, having a purpose in life. To this end HM recommends a book by Victor J. Stretcher titled “Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything.” You’ll find many healthymemoty blog posts based on this book. .

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

How to Convert Terrorists

November 16, 2017

This post is based in part on a Feature Article in the19 August 2017 issue of the New Scientist titled, “Anatomy of terror: What makes normal people extremists?” by Peter Byrne. Anthropologist Scott Atran of the University of Oxford’s Centre for Resolution of Intractable Conflicts asks the question, “What makes someone prepared to die for an idea? He suggests that the answer comes in two parts. Jihadists fuse their individual identity with that of the group, and they adhere to “sacred values.” He writes that sacred values are values that cannot be abandoned or exchanged for material gain. They tend to be associated with strong emotions and are often religious in nature, but beliefs held by nationalists and secularists may earn the label too.

Atran argues that individuals in this state are best understood, not as rational actors but as “devoted actors.” “Once they’re locked in as a devoted actor, none of the classic interventions seem to work. However, there can be openings. Although a sacred value cannot be abandoned it can be reinterpreted. Atran relates the case of an imam he interviewed who had worked for ISIS as a recruiter, but had left because he disagreed with their definition of jihad. For him, but not for them, jihadism could accommodate persuasion by non-violent means. As long as alternative interpretations are seen as coming from inside the group, they can be persuasive within it. Atran is now advising the US, UK, and French governments on the dynamics of jihadist networks to help them deal with terrorism.

Atran says that the key to combating extremism lies in addressing its social roots, and intervening early before anyone becomes a “devoted actor.” Until then there are all sorts of things that can be done. He says that one of the most effective countermeasures is community engagement. High-school football and the scouts movement have been effective responses to antisocial behavior among the disenfranchised children of US immigrants, for example.

Perspectives need to be changed. Tania Singer of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany thinks brain training could achieve similar effects. Neuroscientists have identified two pathways in the brain by which we relate to others. One mobilizes empathy and compassion, allowing us to share another person’s emotions. The second activates theory of mind, enabling us to see a situation from the other’s perspective. Her group recently completed a project called ReSource in which 300 volunteers spent nine months doing training first on mindfulness, and then on compassion and perspective training, and corresponding structural brain change were detectable in MRI scans.

Tania Singer notes that compassion evolved as part of an ancient nurturing instinct that is usually reserved for kin. To extend it to strangers, who may see the world differently from us, we need to add theory of mind. The full results from ReSource aren’t yet published, but Singer expects to see brain changes associated with perspective-taking training. She says that “only if you have both pathways working together in a coordinated fashion can you really move towards global cooperation.” By incorporating that training into school curricula, she suggests, we could build a more cohesive, cooperative society that is more resilient to extremism. To all of this, healthy memory say “Amen.’

Previous healthy memory posts have argued that had the prisoners held at Guantanomo been treated differently, an understanding could have been developed that would provide the basis for a new and more compelling narrative for these supposed terrorists. Once they had been converted, mindfulness training such as that in the ReSource program might have been highly effective.

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

Richard Thaler Wins the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2017

November 15, 2017

Assiduous readers of the Healthymemory blog should recognize the name from previous healthy memory blog posts. Richard Thaler is a behavioral economist. Early in his career he met up with the psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman formulated Prospect Theory. Most economic models are normative. That is they describe what a rational human should do if behaving optimally. Prospect Theory explained what people actually do. The theory states that people make decisions based on the potential value of losses and gains rather than the final outcome, and that people evaluate these losses and gains using certain heuristics. The model is descriptive: it describes what people actually do. Kahneman won a Nobel Prize in 2002 primarily for Prospect Theory. Unfortunately Amos Tversky had passed away and was not eligible for the prize.

Prospect Theory was the beginning of behavioral economics. In addition to describing how people actually behave in the economic realm, it develops techniques to nudge people in making good decisions. For example, making what is regarded as the best decision in a list of alternatives the default decision greatly increases the number of people who choose that option. For example, if making deductions for a pension is the default decision, that is the option most likely to be chosen.

Although it is good to know what the theoretical optimal decisions are, if the interest is in public policy, it is important to know what people will actually do. The field of behavioral economics is still young and there is much to be done. But they are working on how best to understand what people will do to better understand how to influence them to make decisions that will benefit them, individually, and society as a whole.

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

Placebos Can Enhance Creativity

November 14, 2017

There have been many posts on the benefits of placebos, so it should be no surprised that they can enhance creativity. The research report can be found at PLOS One, The article was written by Liron Rosenkratz, Avraham E. Mayo, Tomer IIan, Yuval Hart, Lior Noy, and Uri Alon and published 11 September 2017.

The research participants were randomly assigned to a control group (n=45),that rated an odorant, or a placebo group (n=45) who were treated identically but who were also told that the odorant increases creativity and reduces inhibition. Participants completed a recently developed automated test for creativity, the creative foraging game (CFG), and a randomly chosen subset (n=57), also completed two manual standardized creativity tests, the alternate uses test (AUT) and the Torance Test (TTCT). In all three tests participants were asked to create as many original solutions and were scored for originality, flexibility, and fluency.

The placebo group showed higher originality than the control group both in the CFG and in the AUT, but not in the Torrance Test. The placebo also found more shapes outside the standard categories by a set of 100 CFG in a previous study.

The authors concluded that the findings indicate that a placebo can enhance the originality aspect of creativity. This strengthens the view that placebos can be used not only to reduce negative clinical symptoms, but also to enhance positive aspects of cognition. Furthermore, they found that the impact of placebo can be tested by CFG, which can quantify the multiple aspects of creative search without need for manual coding. This approach opens the way to explore the behavioral and neural mechanisms by which placebo might amplify creativity.

So these results encourage much more research into creativity. Placebos should also be used in the workplace, in the schools, and in individual pursuits. Placebo pills can be purchased on Amazon. And placebos are effective, even when people are aware that they are placebos. Research has shown that placebo pills improve symptoms in people with irritative bowel syndrome and chronic pain, even when the people know they are shams.

The placebo effect argues for a positive outlook and a can-do attitude.

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

Brain Changes After Socio-affective and Cognitive Training

November 13, 2017

This post is based on an article titled “Structural plasticity of the social brain: Differential change after socio-affective and cognitive mental training” by Sofie l Valk et al. in Science Advances 04 Oct 2017, Vol 3. no.10, e1700489.,

The objective of this study was to investigate whether targeted mental training of different cognitive and social skills can induce specific changes in the brain. They employed a 9-month mental training intervention from a large sample of adults between 20 and 55 years of age. Training protocols specifically addressed three functional domains: mindfulness-based attention and interoception, socio-affective skills (compassion dealing with difficult emotions and prosocial intervention), and socio- cognitive skills (cognitive perspective-taking on self and others and metacognition).

MRI-based cortical thickness analyses were done to see if the different training modules indicated different changes in the brain.

Training of present-moment focused attention mostly led to increases in cortical thickness in prefrontal regions. Socio-affective training induced plasticity in frontoinsular regions. Socio-cognitive training included change in inferior frontal and lateral temporal cortices.

So module-specific structural brain changes correlated with training-induced behavioral improvements in the same individuals in domain-specific measures of attention, compassion, and cognitive perspective, respectively, and overlapped with task-relevant functional networks.

The longitudinal findings indicated structural plasticity in well-known socio-affective and socio-cognitive brain networks in healthy adults based on targeted daily mental practices.

The authors rightly concluded, “These findings could promote the development of evidence-based mental training interventions in clinical, educational, and corporate settings aimed at cultivating social intelligence, prosocial motivation, and cooperation.

These findings should be replicated with school age populations. If similar results are obtained, such training should be part of the appropriate public school curricula.

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

A Surprising Prediction from Some Knowledgeable Individuals

November 12, 2017

There have been many healthymemory blog posts on the risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from head blows suffered playing football. Sportscaster Bob Costas, Tony Kornheiser, Michael Wilbon, and Christine Brennan were headliners at the University of Maryland’s 12th Shirley Povich Symposium. This panel touched on something that would have been difficult to imagine 14 years ago: a future without football.

Costas said that the most substantial—existential—the existential issue—is the nature of football itself. “The nature of football is this: Unless and until there is some technology which we cannot even imagine, let alone has been developed, that would make this inherently dangerous game not marginally safer but acceptably safe, the cracks in the foundation are there. The day-to-day issues, serious as they may be, they may come and go. But you cannot change the basic nature of the game. I certainly would not let, if I had an athletically gifted 12- or 13-year old sone, I would not let him play football.”

Costas rejected those who are quick to dismiss football’s concussion crisis as part of a “left-wing conspiracy to undermine something that is quintessentially American.” Costa said, “The truth is the truth,” referencing the memoir “Truth Doesn’t Have a Side,” by Bennet Omalu, the researcher credited with discovering CTE.” Costa continued, “Some of the best people I’ve met in sports have been football people, but the reality is that this game destroys people’s brains…That’s the fundamental fact of football, and to me is the biggest story in American sports.”

Kornheiser suggested that football eventually will go the way of horse racing and boxing, two other sports that once were wildly popular. “It’s not going to happen this year, and it’s not going to happen in five or 10 years, but Bob is right: At some point, the cultural wheel turns just a little bit, almost imperceptibly, and parents say, ‘I don’t want my kid to play.’ And then it becomes only the province of the poor, who want it for economic reasons to get up and out, and if they don’t find a way to make it safe—and we don’t see how they will—as great as it is, as much fun as it is…the games not going to be around. It’s not.”

The preceding was taken from as article by Scott Allen in the Sports Section of the 9 November 2017 issue of the Washington Post.

HM has argued previously that the game might be changed by making certain adjustments. One would be to put weight restrictions on the participants so that very large individuals would not have an advantage. There would also be restrictions against hard hitting in blocking or tackling. This might even lead to a faster more exciting version of the game. Players might prefer this version because it minimizes the possibility of disabling injuries. And fans might enjoy a faster, more sophisticated version of the game. The popularity of this game would depend on what really attracts people to watch. A fast moving sophisticated game, or the violence of the game.
© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Suggestions for Improving Our Primary and Presidential Elections

November 9, 2017

HM feels guilty about providing explanations of problems without offering solutions for them. One suggestion is to submit anyone who is running for national office for background investigations. They would need to be cleared for Sensitive Compartment Information (SCI). Presidents will be dealing with Sensitive Compartmented Information, and the information members of Congress can receive is limited if they do not have this clearance.

Remember early in his presidency when Trump had Russian visitors in the Oval Office with American news media excluded. Russian news media were there and they supplied the photographs. There was video of the meeting where Trump was gushing over his Russian visitors trying to please and impress them. Later recordings had Trump bragging about firing FBI Director Comey. He also released classified information to the Russians to impress them. This release of this classified information also resulted in the compromise of intelligence from an ally. The next day the pronouncement was made that Trump had not done anything wrong. This statement was based on a technicality that the President can declassify information, and that was how he was protected. A normal individual would have lost clearance and possibly served jail time.

HM has reviewed individuals for SCI clearances. He would not have recommended granting clearance to anyone who expressed admiration of Putin. Putin is a former KGB agent who is the de facto leader of a ruthless oligarchy. He would also have not recommended granting clearance to anyone as emotionally unstable as Trump. He has a textbook case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and it gets worse from there.

The second recommendation is in setting rigorous standards for debates. The Republican debates were modeled after professional wrestling. The Republicans were happy because the ratings were high. Trump’s boorish and childish behavior, calling people names, precluded any rational debate on the issues. Rational debates would have resulted in the nomination of a candidate well-qualified for the office.

The Democrats made a mistake in agreeing to debate Trump. First of all, they should have made Trump’s releasing his tax returns as a precondition for a debate. Secondly, they should have demanded standards of decorum for the debate.

Civility must be brought back into politics. People who like professional wrestling should stick to professional wrestling and stay out of politics.

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

What Cognitive Science Tells Us About Trump

November 6, 2017

The immediately preceding post reviews three effects from Cognitive Science that explain much of what and why Donald Trump does. The first is the Dunning-Kruger Effect which states people tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. And this is because people who are unskilled in the domain suffer a dual burden: not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. It is clear that Trump could not pass a high school civics test. He is a president who has no idea how government works. He thought he could get things done by firing and threatening to fire people. It worked on his show so he is surprised that it does not work in government. There are three independent branches of government. He has control of only one. He is also the leader of the Republican Party. But party members cannot be ordered to do something; they must be convinced that it is in their and their constituents interest. To do this requires some knowledge of the laws and policies he is advocating. He is very short on knowledge, and his opinions vary over time

He has also said that he does not need advisers, that he knows what needs to be done and he’ll do it. He had his cabinet members sing his praises for what he had done when he had not done anything. This is something that is done in North Korea, not the United States. The President needs to understand many different and complex topics. That he thinks he can operate on his own without advisers shows the depth of his ignorance. He needs advice, good advice, but he is woefully unaware of his own ignorance.

Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition is also relevant here. System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes. Trump rarely, if ever, uses System 2. Indeed, one doubts that he is capable of System 2 processing. He works almost exclusively in the emotional, System 1, domain. So he is unaware when he contradicts himself. It is somewhat ironic, but this is also the basis of his success. Too many citizens never use System 2 processes and work almost exclusively on what they feel in their guts. In this sense, they are simpatico with Trump.

Then there is classical conditioning that Pavlov found with his salivating dogs. He paired the ringing of a bell with the presentation of food. The dogs became conditioned, so that they salivated just upon hearing the bell. Whomever or whatever Trump does not like he attacks with names that become conditioned to the targets of his attacks. “Crooked Hillary,” “Little Marco,” “faux news.” These terms continue to be used over and over. This is how “Big Lies” work.

These factors make Trump the worst president this country has ever suffered, and we can only hope and pray that our country will survive.

Should anyone wonder why this post, which is apparently political, is in the healthy memory blog is because System 2 processing is essential for a healthy memory. It is also important for an effective democracy.

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

Hillary’s High Negatives

November 3, 2017

Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote. Unfortunately, she lost the Electoral College and hence, the presidency. It is interesting that the primary justification for the Electoral College was to prevent a political unknown who did not understand how government worked from being elected. Well, that happened, so it seems that the justification for the Electoral College is gone. So let’s go to a popular election where all citizens’ votes count. There is no justification for the votes of citizens in lowly populated states counting for more than votes of citizens in highly populated states. The argument that politicians will not campaign there is irrelevant. They should campaign where most voters reside. Every state gets two senators so small states already have a disproportionally heavier weight in Congress.

The continual drumbeat throughout the election was that Hillary had high negatives. Now some voters did resent Hillary trying to drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. They are certainly entitled to their opinion, but the failure to modernize will ultimately have disastrous effects. But many seemed to have a seething rage and could not articulate why. A explanation can be found by adding one psychological effect to the Dunning-Kruger Effect and Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition that were discussed in the immediately preceding post. The following is repeated from the immediately preceding post, ““people tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. And this is because people who are unskilled in the domain suffer a dual burden: not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.” Here is how Dunning explained in “Politico” why so many people seemed untroubled by Trump’s ignorance or gaffes. “Many voters, “especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes. They fail to recognize those gaffes as missteps.” He noted that the problem was not simply that voters were ignorant, “it is that they are often misinformed—their heads filled with false data, facts and theories that can lead to misguided conclusions held with tenacious confidence and extreme partisanship…”

According to Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition, System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes.

So the answer to why are so many people willing to believe is that they believe fake news because they wanted to and because it was easy. Ideally we might assume that people want to seek out information that is true, but this is a basic misunderstanding of the human psyche, which feels more comfortable with familiar information or stories that confirm their biases. Kahneman refers to this as “cognitive ease,” the process by which we avoid and resist inconvenient facts that might make us have to think harder. It is much, much easier to bask in a flow of information that tells us that we have been right all along and confirms our view of the world. So many of these facts are so outlandish that it is hard to understand how they can possibly be believed. Cognitive ease is further confounded by the Dunning-Krueger Effect, as more and more false information simply increases the feeling that one truly knows and this can and does build into the construction of alternative (false) realities.

HM’s personal favorite faux belief about Hillary was that she was running a sex ring using children in Washington. Someone even showed up at the place where this sex ring was supposedly being run with a rifle and shot at people.

The other relevant psychological effect is classical conditioning. Most people have heard about Pavlov’s salivating dogs. By pairing a bell with food, the dog’s learn to salivate at the sound of the bell alone. By pairing something bad with the name “Hillary Clinton” negative connotations and denotations are planted in the mind. Hence, high negatives are created. As System 1 is emotional and not cognitive it provides an explanation of negative feelings that could not be articulated. Social media, aided and abetted by Russia had an especially large effect here.

The final paragraph from the preceding post is also relevant here. Social psychology also plays an important role here. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes the power of tribalism in shaping our ideas. He wrote in “The Righteous Mind,” Once people join a political team they get ensnared in its moral matrix. They see confirmation of their grand narrative everywhere, and it’s difficult—perhaps impossible—to convince them that they are wrong if you argue with them outside the matrix. Political Scientist Don Kinder writes that political opinions become “badges of social membership.”

A majority of citizens did vote for Hillary, but they were not rewarded with her winning the presidency. This is especially unfortunate as many believe that she was the most qualified candidate who ever ran for the presidency. And these people could actually articulate their reasons.

Should anyone wonder why this post, which is apparently political, is in the healthy memory blog is because System 2 processing is essential for a healthy memory. It is also important for an effective democracy.

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

The Law is Medieval

October 25, 2017

This post is based on an article by Oliver Roeder on the FiveThirtyEight website on 17 Oct 2017 titled “The Supreme Court is Allergic to Math.”

In 1897, before he took his seat on the Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered a famous speech at Boston University, advocating for empiricism over traditionalism: “For the rational study of the law…the man of the future is the man of statistics and the master of economics. It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV.” HM believes that if Oliver Wendel Holmes were alive today, he would also argue for an understanding of psychology and cognitive science. Much has been learned about how and why we humans perceive, think, and act. Unfortunately there is a poor fit between this knowledge and the law because the law is medieval.

The article notes that this problem was on full display this month, when the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that will determine the future of partisan gerrymandering. The issue here is how to measure a map’s partisan bias and to create a standard for when a gerrymandered map infringes on voters’ rights. A proposed measure is called the efficiency gap. To calculate it, you take the difference between each party’s waster votes for winning candidates beyond what the candidate needed to win—and divide that by the total number of votes case. The aim here is to measure the extent of partisan gerrymandering. Now a threshold needs to be established for deciding when gerrymandering is agreed upon, and that is a reasonable basis for argument. And other metrics can be proposed for measuring gerrymandering. But the only intelligent way of assessing gerrymandering is through a statistic. But apparently, this is too much for some justices mental capacities. HM is asking himself why the term feebleminded was recalled while reading this. This is no esoteric statistical technique. And, indeed, statistical measures provide the only supportable means of addressing this problem. Chief Justice John Roberts dismissed attempts to quantify partisan gerrymandering: “It may be simply my educational background, but I can only describe i as sociological gobbledygook.” To be fair to Chief Justice Roberts, the fault may well lie in the educational system. Previous healthy memory blog posts have argued for teaching some basic statistics before graduating from high school. One cannot be a responsible citizen without some basic understanding of statistics, much less someone deciding questions on the Supreme Court.

Another instance of judicial innumeracy was the Supreme Court’s decision on a Fourth Amendment case about federal searches and seizures. In his opinion Justice Potter Stewart discussed how no data existed showing that people in states that had stricter rules regarding admission of evidence obtained in an unlawful search were less likely to be subjected to these searches. He wrote, “Since as a practical matter, it is never easy to prove a negative, it is hardly likely that conclusive factual data could ever be assembled.

But as the author’s article, Oliver Roeder, wrote “This, however, is silly. It conflates two meanings of the word “negative.” Philosophically, sure, it’s difficult to prove that something does not exist: No matter how prevalent gray elephants are, their number alone can’t prove the nonexistence of polka-dotted elephants. Arithmetically, though, scientists, social and otherwise, demonstrate negatives—as in a decrease, or a difference in rate—all the time. There’s nothing special about these kinds of negatives. Some drug tends to lower blood pressure. The average lottery player will lose money. A certain voting requirement depresses turnout.

Ryan Enos, a political scientist at Harvard, calls this the “negative effect fallacy. This is just one example of an empirical misunderstanding that has proliferated like a tsunami through decades of judges’ thinking, affecting cases concerning “free speech, voting rights, and campaign finance.

Some are suspicious that this allergy to statistical evidence is really a more of a screen—a convenient way to make a decision based on ideology while couching it in terms of practicality. Daniel Hemel, who teaches law at the University of Chicago said: [Roberts] is very smart and so are the judges who would be adjudicating partisan gerrymandering claims—I’m sure he and they could wrap their minds around the math. The ‘gobbledygook’ argument seems to be masking whatever his real objection might be.’

Reluctantly, one comes to the conclusion that there is no objective truth in the law. The corpus of law can be regarded as a gigantic projective test, analogous to the Rorschach Test. Judges can look into the law and see in it what they want to see. Rarely is a decision unanimous. And frequently decisions break down along the strict constructionist philosophy. But the Constitution should be viewed as a changing and growing document as democracy advances. Strict constructionists feel compelled to project themselves back in time and interpret the words literally as written. HM wonders why they would want to go back to a time when slavery existed, women could not vote, and blacks were counted as fraction of a human being. As long as time travel is involved, why not try to think of what they would have been written in light of today’s knowledge. After all, today’s high school science student knows more science than Benjamin Franklin did, who was the most distinguished scientist of his day. And the disciplines of psychology, cognitive science, and inferential statistics did not exist.

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

The Mature Sports Fan

October 22, 2017

The baseball season is into the playoffs and many fans are disappointed in the performance of their teams. Sports writers and commentators are providing their analyses of what went wrong and what needs to be done to get better results next year. The objective of this post is to provide some perspective on this business.

Perhaps the most common complaint is that the players were insufficiently motivated, and they did not want it enough. Given that their livelihoods are at stake, it is doubtful that any fan is more motivated than the players on the field. Moreover, the problem can actually be that the players are too motivated. Motivation is what can be termed a “Goldilocks” variable. That is, the most effective level of motivation, is that it is not too low, or too high, but just right. So a moderate level of motivation is optimal. When the level becomes too high both mental and physical skills can lock up and produce poorer performance.

A 300 hitter is regarded as a good hitter in baseball. This would mean that the hitter is successful 30% of the time and a failure 70% of the time. So expectations of even the best players are modest. But fans tend to think that their good players come through in the clutch. Well, they come through only a minority of the time. Fans tend to remember the successes and forget the failures. A common remark made by announcers is that it is likely after making a good play in the field, the player will lead off the hitting order when he comes in from the field. Well, this happens one out of nine times. It is just that it is remembered when it happens, but overlooked when it does not.

Always remember that these players are human beings. Batters fail more often than they succeed and even the best pitchers have bad days. And it is also the case that a pitcher can pitch a phenomenal game, but make one bad pitch and the game is lost.

Returning to batting, scoring requires sequences of events, none of which are high probability. Even if a batter hits a home run, there is the question of how many runners are on base. The home run can have a value of from one to four. So runners need to get on base and the probability of any one runner getting on base is less than half.

So no matter how good a team is, there is a strong element of luck that determines whether a win will result. Then there need to be many wins and the values of these wins change in the post season.

Washington fans are disappointed as they were eliminated in the first post season series. They feel like they deserve better. Well, they do not and this loss is felt even more profoundly by the players.

So many Washington fans feel that they are cursed. Boston fans talked about the curse of the Bambino, and it was only last year that the Chicago Cubs won a World Series. Be assured that there are no curses. When people are asked to generate random numbers, they fail to generate long strings of particular numbers. What are perceived as curses are actually manifestations of the way that probability works.
It is painful to watch the faces of fans when they lose. They appear to be hurting and hurting badly. Fans live vicariously through their teams. They need to have their own lives. Do not live vicariously through your teams, get a life of your own.

For a healthy memory it is important to have interests and goals of one’s own. So actually participate in sports. Athletics are not required. Educational pursuits are praiseworthy. Hobbies that allow one to grow and develop skills and knowledge can be personally rewarding. Be an autodidact and learn how to teach yourself. You’ll find resources in the healthymemory blog to help you do so.

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

More Memory and Problem Solving Techniques

October 8, 2017

Part of this post is based on the book by Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. titled “A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra).” It is difficult to learn and remember nonsensical material. So you need to look for meaning in what you’re trying to learn. Suppose you were trying to learn a list of words and you noticed that the words belonged to specific categories. When you recall the list you should group your recall by these categories. This makes meaningful chunks for you to remember. So rather than recalling a list of, say eighteen items, you would recall them by chunks, say six categories each of which included three items. Note that this chunking is effectively reducing the number of items to recall from eighteen to six.

Suppose the list consisted of eighteen unrelated words. Your recall strategy should still be to chunk the items into smaller groups. If you can’t find meaning you can simply rehearse the items in these chunks. Chunking effectively reduces the total number of items to be recalled.

You should note that there is an entire category of healthy memory posts called mnemonic techniques. These are specific techniques for making material more meaningful and easier to learn.

Remember the distinction between information that is available in memory and information that is accessible in memory. Information that is accessible in memory can be readily recalled. However, information can be available in memory but cannot be accessed at the moment.

When HM was in college and bought used books, they usually had sections highlighted in them. He wonder how these previous owners used this highlighting. If they just reread the highlighted material, they might fool themselves into thinking that they would remember the material for the test. It is quite possible that although this information was available in memory, the student might not have been able to access the material during testing. So even if the test is going to be multiple choice, you should force yourself to actively recall the material. And to increase your probability of success, actively recall the material many times.

HM never highlighted sections or made notes directly in the book. He would review the book, to assure himself that he was not missing anything, but would actively recall the material he thought would be on the test. Understand he was not memorizing verbatim the text, but rather the meaning and important points of the text.

HM made it through his entire education up to and including his Ph.D without ever pulling an all nighter for a test. All nighters make absolutely no sense. One needs to be alert and at one’s best when taking a test. Moreover, sleep is required for memories to consolidate. So sleep itself is required for test preparation.

Generally speaking cramming is a lousy technique. Research has shown the advantage of spaced over massed practice. So it is good to try to recall material at multiple intervals, with increased spacing between the intervals.

Here are Steps provided by Dr. Oakley for building a powerful chunk
1.  Work a key problem all the way through on paper.
2.  Do another repetition of the problem, paying attention to key processes
3.  Take a break. Study other aspects of the subject or simply do something different. You need to give yourself your diffuse mode (see the immediately preceding post) time to internalize the problem
4.  Sleep. Before you go to sleep, work the problem again. If you get stuck, listen to the problem. Let your subconscious tell you what to do next.
5.  Do another repetition.

Much of this book addresses procrastination. Now there is a ton of material on procrastination and will power in the healthy memory blog. Just enter those terms in the search block of the healthy memory blog.

As was already mentioned, the Mnemonic Techniques category has many posts on techniques and methods for improving memory. That same category also has posts on mindfulness and meditation, which are also techniques that should enhance focus which is essential to effective memory.

But as always, HM cannot do full justice to this book. So reading the original is always recommended.

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


Two Modes of Learning

October 7, 2017

This post is based on the book by Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. titled “A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra).” Since the beginning of he twenty-first century, neuroscientists have been making important advances in understanding two different types of networks that the brain switches between. These are the highly attentive states and the more relaxed resting states. The thinking processes related to these two different modes are the focused mode and the diffuse mode. We frequently switch back and forth between these two modes in our day-to-day activities. We’re in either one mode or the other and are not consciously in both at the same time. The diffuse mode seems to be able to work quietly in the background on something we are not actively focusing on. The diffuse mode is the default mode when we are not actively focusing on something. When we are in the focused mode actively focusing on something we may also flicker for a moment to diffuse-mode thinking.

Focused-mode thinking is essential for studying math and science. It involves a direct approach to solving problems using rational, sequential, analytical approaches. The focused mode is associated with the concentrating abilities of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is located right behind our forehead. When we turn our attention to something the focused mode is on.

Diffuse-mode thinking is also essential for learning math and science. It is associated with “big-picture” perspectives and allows us to suddenly gain a new insight on a problem we’ve been struggling with. Diffuse-mode thinking is what happens when we relax our attention and let our mind wander. This relaxation can allow different areas of the brain to hook up and return valuable insights. The diffuse mode is “diffused” throughout the brain. Dr. Oakley writes that “Diffuse mode insights often flow from preliminary thinking that’s been done in the focused mode (The diffuse mode must have clay to make bricks.”)

Of course, to begin to solve a problem we need to focus on it. However, even early in problem solving switching to diffuse mode thinking might help in bringing additional thoughts to the problem. But then we need to focus on the problem to solve it. Sometimes the solution comes readily to mind, but sometimes the solution evades us as we continue to focus. When stuck, relax and switch to the diffuse mode. The problem solving process can involve many iterations between focused and diffused processing. Knowing when and how frequently to switch develop as our problem solving skills mature.

Sometimes problems cannot be solved during one sitting. Nevertheless, our brains keep working on the problem, and sometimes they suddenly pop into consciousness. This can happen long after you think you have given up on the problem. This is HM’s favorite type of problem solving and it’s called incubation. There are stories of mathematicians and scientists going years without being able to solve an important problem and it suddenly pops into mind.
However, it is important not to rely too heavily on incubation. Continue to return to the problem and try to solve it.

Focused problem solving in math and science is frequently more effortful that focused-mode thinking involving language and people. This is likely because humans have not involved over the millennia to manipulate mathematical ideas, which are usually more abstractly encrypted than those of conventional language. Dr Oakley writes “Obviously we can still think about math and science—it’s just that abstractness adds a level—sometime a number of levels—of complexity.

Dr. Oakley also warns of the Einstellung effect. Here an idea you already have in mind, or your simple initial thought, prevents a better idea or solution from being found. She writes that the Einstellung effect is a frequent stumbling block for students. She continues, “This is precisely why one significant mistake students sometime make in learning math and science is jumping into the water before they learn to swim. …they blindly start working on homework without reading the textbook, attending lectures, viewing online lessons, or speaking with someone knowledgeable. This is a recipe for sinking.”

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

How to Excel at Learning

October 6, 2017

This post is based on another book by Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. titled “A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra).”  Note that the title of this post is different from the title of the book, the reasoning being that this book provides excellent material for learning in general—not just for math and science.

The immediately preceding posts were based on another book by Dr. Oakley, “Mindshift.” After she graduated from high school she enlisted in the army because they would actually pay her to learn another language. She did so well studying Russian that she won an ROTC scholarship. She graduated with honors and found herself commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. She was suddenly expected to become an expert in radio, cable, and telephone switching systems. She went from being on top of the world as an expert linguist, to being thrown into a new technological world where she was as stunted as a stump.

She was made to enroll in mathematically oriented electronics training where she finished at the bottom of the class, and was then sent off to West Germany, where she said she became a pitiable communications platoon leader. She saw that officers and enlisted members who were technically competent were in demand.

She didn’t see a future for herself in the army, but neither did she see much of a future as someone with a degree in Slavic languages and literature. She used the GI Bill to retrain her brain and learn math and science. She writes that it wasn’t easy and that the first semesters were filled with frightening frustration. She writes that she felt like she was wearing a blindfold.

Eventually she began to catch on. She found that part of her original problem was she had been putting her effort forth in the wrong way—like trying to lift a piece of lumber while standing on it. She began to pick up little tricks about not only how to study but also when to quit. She learned that internalizing certain concepts and techniques could be a powerful tool. She also learned not to take in too much at once, and allowed herself plenty of time to practice even if it meant that her classmates would sometime graduate ahead of her because she wasn’t taking as many courses each semester as they were.

She found that as she gradually learned how to learn math and science, things became easier, and just as with studying language, the better she got, the more she enjoyed what she was doing. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and then a master’s in electrical and computer engineering. Eventually she earned a doctorate in systems engineering, with a broad background that included thermodynamics, electromagnetic, acoustics, and physical chemistry. The higher she went, the better she did.

As was mentioned in the first paragraph, this book is for anyone who wants to learn more effectively. Students find that they can do okay in other subjects, but they run into trouble when they hit math and science. Actually, they have poor methods of studying, but they manage to get by without realizing that their studying is deficient until the encounter math and science. Nevertheless, the methods presented in this book will increase learning efficiency regardless the topic.

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


October 4, 2017

“Mindshift” is outstanding book by Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. The subtitle is “Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential.” Growth mindsets are a central theme of the healthymemory blog. Basically, a mindshift is a shift in the focus of a growth mindset.

This concept of mindshift assumes special importance in today’s world, where workers fear being replaced by robots, and in the changing nature of jobs and the need to update skills for jobs.

Dr. Oakley has an interesting and relevant life story. Her father was in the military and she moved constantly doing her childhood. Her father wanted her to attend college and study math and science. Unfortunately, the only thing she was certain about was that she did not like math and science and did not think that she had any aptitude in math and science. However, she did like studying languages so she began studying French and German. At the time there were no available college loans so she enlisted in the military where she could get paid to study a language. So she studied Russian and learned the language.

When she got out of the army, she could not find any interest in her Russian skills. The jobs were in engineering and science and required advanced mathematical skills. So she moved into a new area for which she thought she had no aptitude. However, she found through diligent work that she was able to learn these subjects, and as she became proficient in these subjects, she found that she enjoyed them. So today she is a professor of engineering, firmly planted in the world of math and science. Along with Terrence Sejnowski, the Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute, she teaches the most popular online course in the world—“Learning How to Learn”—for Coursera/UC San Diego.

She writes that a “mindshift” is a deep change in life that occurs thanks to learning, and that is what this book is about. She relates true and inspirational stories of how people change themselves through learning—and who bring seemingly obsolete extraneous knowledge with them that has enabled our world to grown in fantastically creative and uplifting ways.

Diverse examples are provided. Some mindshifts were motivated by necessity. In others, successful people changed their mindsets to pursue new interests and different directions. Readers will be inspired by these examples and by what we know from science of learning to help us grow to achieve our fullest potential.

A recurring theme in the healthymemory blog is to have a growth mindset and to continue to learn to the end of our lives. MIndshift provides additional means for pursuing this end. Not only are instructions on learning how to learn discussed, but available resources for growth mindsets and mindshifts are provided.


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


Ikigai Fosters Healthy Aging

October 3, 2017

This post is based on an article by Judith Graham in the Health Section of the 26 September 2017 issue of the Washington Post titled “Healthy Aging.” Ikigai is a topic that has been addressed in many healthy memory blog posts. It is a Japanese word meaning to have a purpose in life.

Ms. Graham writes, “Over the past two decades dozens of studies have shown that seniors with a sense of purpose in life are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, disabilities, heart attacks or strokes, and more likely to live longer than people without this kind of underlying motivation. “

The article continues by summarizing a report in JAMA Psychiatry that older adults with a solid sense of purpose tend to retain strong hand grips and walking speeds, which are key indicators of how rapidly people are aging. Seniors with a sense of purpose may be more physically active and take better care of their health. Patrick Hill, an assistant professor of psychology and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis says, “Purposeful individuals tend to be less reactive to stressors and more engaged, generally, in their daily lives, which can promote cognitive and physical health.”

Now the question becomes how to achieve ikigai. Obviously taking care of a loved one qualifies. Doing important volunteer is another. And we can create our own sources of ikigai. If there are any degrees that need to be completed, they can be completed. Or you can start work on a new degree. A formal education system is not needed. Goals can consist of learning new bodies of knowledge using the internet and the public library. This healthy memory blog is a source of ikigai for HM.

Ikigai is important for everyone, not just the aging. The healthy memory blog post “Loneliness” discussed the problem of loneliness among the young and means of dealing with it. One means was to find a project you can be devoted to can achieve ikigai to the point that you’ll no longer feel lonely.

This what Steve Cole at UCLA writes about loneliness, “finding a sense of purpose and meaning in life can overcome the negative effects of loneliness. If you think of lonely people as having a world view of threat and hostility, this study suggests that you can attack this underlying psychology by becoming engaged in help others, trying to make the world a better place. I’m kind of excited about that as an obliques attack on loneliness.” All of this fits in with with the work of Victor J. Stretcher, which he describes in his book, “Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Changes Everything.” There have been many healthy memory posts based on this book.

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

Walking to Work or Doing the Vacuuming Can Extend Your Life

October 2, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an In Brief News piece in the 30 September 2017 issue of the New Scientist. One in 12 early deaths could be prevented with 30 minutes of physical activity, five days a week. And you don’t need to be sweating in a gym. Walking to work and household chores also count. So concludes the world’s largest study of physical activity, which analyzed data from more than 130,000 people in 17 countries. The study lasted seven years and participants were followed-up at least twice over the this period to record information about cardiovascular disease and death.

Scott Lear of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada and his colleagues found that 150 minutes of activity per week week reduced the risk of early death by 28% and rates of heart disease by a fifth.

If these goals were met, 8% of early deaths over seven years would be prevented (The Lancet, James Rudd at the University of Cambridge says, “Exercise truly is the best medicine for reducing the odds of an early death.”

HM fears he sees too many people exercising too hard. He was gladdened by this study as he follows the philosophy of famed pitcher Satchel Paige who said that he liked to get the juices jangling.

Also see the healthy memory blog post “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus.” Walking for 40 minutes three times a week increased the volume of that memory important organ, the hippocampus. This also increased serum Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps support the survival of existing neurons and encourages the growth and differentiation of new neurons and synapses.


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

Progress in Developing a Way to Diagnose CTE

October 1, 2017

Much of this post is based on an article by Rick Maese titled “Breakthrough may lead to ability to diagnose CTE in living football players in the Sports section of the 27 September 2017 issue of the Washington Post.

There have been many previous posts, including the immediately preceding one, on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE by researchers from Boston University and the VA Boston Healthcare System studied the brains of 23 former football players who were diagnosed with CTE, in addition to those of 50 non-athletes who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and 18 non-athlete controls. They found significantly elevated levels of a protein related to inflammation called CCL11 in the group of ex-players compared with non-athletes. Dr. Ann McKee, the neuropathologist credited with some of the most high-profile CTE diagnoses was encouraged but cautioned that more research is needed. Until this discovery the diagnosis needed to be performed on cadavers. Now the diagnosis can be made on the living. The hope is that research into the prevention and treatment of the disease can begin to move forward.

Let us indulge in the fantasy that CTE can be cured and consider what the ramifications of that might be. The NFL might be encouraged to continue playing the game as it is currently played and treat players who developed CTE. Their fear is that changing the game could reduce fans and revenues.

But for everyone else, the basic problem would remain. The immediately preceding post discussed children. Why we would ever consider putting them at risk? The same goes for players in secondary schools. Then there is the college game. The college game is also concerned with revenues. It is ironic that institutions whose goal is to foster the development of brains and minds engages in activities the puts the brain and mind at risk. However, one gets the impression that at some schools the brain and mind might well take second place to football. At the University of Alabama, for example, the outside linebacker coach earns more than the president of the university.

The immediately preceding post suggested that the game could be modified to reduce or eliminate head injuries. Football is a fast game that can involve sophisticated offenses and defenses. It seems that the game could be changed so that these features could be maintained and head injuries severely reduced if not eliminated by reducing the hits and the violence. These changes could also reduce the need for linemen to increase their weights to over 300 pounds to be eligible for athletic scholarships. As the number of colleges who actually realize substantial profits for the game is fairly small, this could be the route to go. And perhaps HM is too pessimistic in thinking that it is the violence that has the basic appeal and that professional football could also change.

Much hope is being placed in equipment changes. Unfortunately, in the past this seems to have encouraged harder hitting rather than safer play.
© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Football Before Age 12 Can Lead to Behavior Issues

September 30, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Rick Maese in the Sports section of the 20 September 2017 Issue of the Washington Post.
A study published recently in the medical journal Translational Psychiatry reported that those who participated in football before age 12 were twice as likely to have problems with behavior regulation, apathy, and executive functioning when the get older. Executive functioning includes initiating activities, problem solving, planning, and organizing. The younger football players were three times more likely as those who took up the sport after age 12 to experience symptoms of depression.

One of the authors of this study, Robert Stern is the director of clinical research at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center, said “Perhaps that is a window of vulnerability…It makes sense that children whose brains are rapidly developing should not be hitting their heads over and over again. ”An interesting result was that the findings were not affected by the number of concussions the former players reported, meaning the danger posed by football can’t be boiled down simply to big hits to the head. Research is increasingly focusing on the effects associated with the accumulation of smaller hits that a player might more easily shake off during a game or practice. Stern said, “Concussions are a big deal when it comes to short term problems, and it has to be dealt with. But the dialogue out there needs to now start focusing on these repetitive hits that are part of the game and their potential for long term problems.”

Another study was done by researchers from the Wake Forest School of Medicine. They followed a group of 25 players, ages 8 to 13, for a single season, measuring the frequency and severity of helmet impacts. The players underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests before and after the season, and they showed significant changes in the brain’s white matter. White matter affects learning and brain functions, modulating the distribution of action potentials, acting as a relay and coordinating communication between different brain regions.
None of the participants in that study showed signs or symptoms of concussions, and the players who suffered more hits saw more significant changes to the brain.

The healthy memory blog has many posts on chronic traumatic encephalopathy. At the professional level the damage caused by playing football is costly, and apparently the brain is adversely affected at very young ages.

Football is a very interesting and complicated game, but modifications of the game could make it much safer. This might not be possible at the professional level, because the violence is a big part of the appeal of the game. However, these modifications should be made for young people. Colleges and universities should also consider modifications to make the game safer. It is ironic that institutions whose purpose is education and building healthy brains pursue a sport that damages brains.

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


Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity

September 25, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Adrian F. Ward, Kristen Duke, Eyelet Sneezy, and Maarten Bos in JACR, volume 2, number 2, Published online April 3, 2017.

This article reports two experiments that examine whether the mere presence of someone’s smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity. In the first experiment participants were assigned to one of three phone location conditions: participants in the desk condition were instructed to place their phones face down in a designated location on their desks; participants in the pocket/bag condition carried all of their belongings into the testing room with them and kept their phones wherever they naturally would; participants in the other room condition left all their belongings including their phones in the lobby before entering the testing room.

Two tasks were used to measure available cognitive capacity. The Automated Operation Span Task was used to measure the capacity of working memory. A 10-item subset of Raven’s Progressive Matrices was used to assess the amount of fluid intelligence.

Working memory capacity was highest when the smartphones were left in another room. The pocket/bag and desk conditions did not differ significantly between each other. However, for the fluid intelligence task, the having the smartphones in the other room performed best followed by the pocket/bag condition, and the desk condition.

Experiment 2 assessed whether self-reported ratings of smartphone dependence moderated the effect of smartphone salience on cognitive capacity. The three conditions of phone location (desk, pocket/bag, other room) were repeated. Half the participants were told to keep the power on for their phones, and half were told to completely turn off their devices.

All participants completed a battery of questions intended to assess individual differences in the use of and connection to one’s smartphone. This experiment did not measure fluid intelligence only the working memory span test. Phone locations affected available cognitive capacity at average and high levels of smartphone dependence, but not at low levels of smartphone dependence.

So the salience of smartphones does adversely affect cognitive capacity except for people who had low levels of smartphone dependence. The rule seems to be out of sight out of mind unless you have a low level of smartphone dependence.



Modifying Behavior

September 24, 2017

This is the final chapter in The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. This final chapter is devoted to providing advice on modifying behavior to reduce distractions and to improve the performance of your mind,

Here are the questions Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen say we should ask ourselves:

How might I increase my metacognitive view of how my own mind performs in a given situation, and in what ways are my actions not in line with how I should behave based on my goals and an understanding of my situation, and in what ways are my actions not in line with how I should behave based on my goals and an understanding of my limitations?
How might I change my physical environment to reduce accessibility of potential distractors?
How might I assess whether I am self-interrupting because of boredom, and how might I make the task more interesting to stave off boredom?
How might I recognize when my actions are driven by anxiety about missing out on something in my virtual world, and what steps can I take to reduce the anxiety?

McGill University professor Daniel Levitan urges people to check electronic communications at certain times during the day.. More specifically he writes, “If you want to be more productive and creative, and to have more energy, the science dictates that you should partition your day into project periods. You social networking should be done during a designated time, not as constant interruptions to your day. Email, too, should be done at designated times. An email that you know is sitting there, unread, may sap attentional resources as your brain keeps thinking about it, distracting you from what you’ve been doing. What might be in it? Who’s it from? Is it good news or bad news? It’s better to live your email program off than to ear that constant ping and know that you’re ignoring messages.

Something none of these writers address, at least in this volume, are the social ramifications of your change in behavior. It is advisable to discuss what you’ve learned in this book and that you are determined to deal constructively with a destructive mind. Your should encourage your friends to alter their habits. After all, they will benefit also. Somehow the rudeness of disrupting a social interaction to respond to an alert or message became acceptable. In point of fact, it is rude. The person is saying, wait, this is probably more important than you. Also dinners should be for eating and for conversing with others at the table. Participants who are not physically present have not earned the right to participate.

There is a question as to how best inaugurate these changes in behavior. First, notify your friends as discussed above, so they will not become angry with you. Then the question is whether you should ease into these behaviors of adopt them cold turkey. The latter might be more difficult, but it is easier to explain yourself to your friends. Also your agony should be shorter, if not more severe, at least initially.

The chapter also includes some ideas based on research studies for planning restorative, stress-reducing breaks, each of which will take only a few minutes.

*Exercise—even for only twelve minutes—facilitates brain function and improves attention.
*Train your eyes using the 20-20-20 rule: every twenty minutes take a twenty second break and focus on objects twenty feet away. This changes your focal distance from inches to many feet and requires blood flow to brain areas that are not related to constant attention.
*Expose yourself to nature. Consider using at least part of your break to get away from technology and spend a few minutes in a natural setting. Research has shown that just ten minutes in a natural environment can be restorative; even viewing pictures of nature can be restorative.
*Daydreaming, staring into space, doodling on paper, or any activity that takes you away from performing a specific task activates the “default mode network”—a network of interacting brain areas that most often indicate that you are daydreaming, thinking creatively, or just mind wandering—which is restorative for attention.
*Short ten-minute naps have been shown to improve cognitive function. Longer naps work, too as seen in a study of pilots who improved their reaction time after taking a thirty-minute nap.
*Talking to other human beings, face to face or even on the telephone, reduces stress and has been shown to improve work performance.
*Laugh! Read a joke book, look at comic strips, read a funny blog. A Loma Linda University study found that older adults who watched a funny video scored better on memory tests and showed reduced cortisol and increased endorphins and dopamine, meaning less stress and more energy and positive feelings.
*Grab something to drink and a small snack.
*Read a chapter in a fiction book. Recent research shows major brain shifts when reading immersive fiction.

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

Boosting Control

September 23, 2017

Boosting Control is the penultimate chapter in The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. It begins with this quote from the father of American psychology, William James: “And the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is compos sui he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.”

Gazzaley and Rosen begin by discussing traditional education. They note that the most widely implemented approach is the current system of didactic classroom instruction delivered by a teacher lecturing to a group of students. They write, “Although this long-established, globally adopted, traditional education system varies in its details by geography and historic time period, a common feature is the emphasis on rote memorization via formalized and structured lessons follow by assessments of attained knowledge using formalized testing.“ They note that there seems to be a tension between this traditional model that has largely focused on the delivery of information content and the goal of developing core information-processing abilities of the brain. They do not believe that the objectives of an education system should be directed solely at the transfer of content to young minds. They argue that it is also critical that developing minds build strong cognitive control abilities that allow them to engage flexibly in dynamic and challenging environments. They state that even alternative educational systems that aim to foster real world outcomes may not be developing cognitive control capabilities. There is convincing evidence that superior cognitive control is associated with successful academic performance, but that little is known about whether traditional education actually builds the fundamental information-processing abilities of our brains that underlie cognitive control. They raise the question of whether traditional education is truly an effective form of cognitive enhancement that has the power minimize our control limitations. Put simply, does the current education system help the young Distracted Mind?

The authors point to the Tools of the Mind program developed by psychologists Elana Bodrova and Deborah Leong. It is based on theories and insights into how a system of activities can be designed to boost cognitive control. More details can be found at
The authors also see the need to think increasingly about education as a lifelong process; we have the potential to enhance our cognitive control at any age. “Educational programs across the lifespan directed at boosting and maintaining cognitive control should be the rule, not the exception.” Healthy memory blog readers should recognize this as being in step with the philosophy of the healthy memory blog.

In the section on meditation the authors write, “Accumulating evidence convinces us that there is a strong signal that meditation engineers improvements in cognitive control, and of course there are many reasons beyond improvements in cognitive control, and of course theater are many reasons beyond that encourage us to recommend engagement in mindfulness practices. They caveat this by stating that many studies have methodological limitations. These methodological limitations and the reasons for not being concerned about them were discussed in the immediately preceding post, “The Somewhat Tarnished Gold Standard.” HM believes that meditation is the best means of increasing attentional and cognitive control. Enter “relaxation response” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to learn more about meditation and the benefits of meditation.

There is a section on cognitive exercise (brain games). On the whole, this review is quite favorable. Different games are effective to differential degrees so it is helpful to do some research on specific games. However, HM warns against using these as a prevention to dementia. Although they might help, memory health is a matter of a commitment to cognitive growth, a healthy lifestyle, and meditation. The same point can be made with respect to video games. They can be helpful, but they do not provide a 100% solution.

There are obvious activities that should not be overlooked. There is a theory that contends that interactions with nature can be beneficial. This theory is called attention restoration theory (ART). In 2007, thirty-eight University of Michigan students, armed with a map and tracked by GPS, tool a one-hour walk through either a tree-lined arboretum or a traffic-heady urban center. Before and after these walks they performed a working memory test. A 2008 paper described a significant improvement in their working memory performance after the nature walk, but not after the urban walk. Similar beneficial effects of nature exposure have been shown to occur in children with ADHD and young adults with depression, and amazingly even in response to just viewing nature pictures. In this context, readers might want to review the healthy memory blog post “Awe.”

There is also much data documenting the benefits of physical exercise. This does increase oxygen to the brain, which is definitely beneficial. However, HM also recommends mental exercise that is accomplished by invoking System 2 processing through lifelong learning, meditation, and other activities that have been reviewed.

The authors also review neurofeedback. HM argues that these same benefits and more can be achieved through meditation absent the neurofeedback hookups.

There is a category of healthy memory posts titled Mnemonic Techniques. These are specific techniques for improving memory. Additionally they provide a means of cognitive exercise that enhances memory health. Try some of them. You also should read “Moonwalking with Einstein” to learn what can be accomplished using these techniques.

It is unlikely that there will ever be a cure or preventative vaccine for Alzheimer’s or dementia (See the healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Alzheimers). However, following the activities in the healthy memory blog could well increase the likelihood that you will die without experiencing any of the physical or cognitive symptom’s even if you die with the neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque that are the defining feature of the disease.

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




The Somewhat Tarnished Gold Standard

September 22, 2017

This post is exclusively HM’s. It is being introduced here before the final two posts on “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. The final two posts provide guidance on how to cope with the distracted mind. The authors do a well-intentioned but naive review of research and attempt to rank methods with respect to their level of confidence. This post provides some background for understanding research results and conclusions that should be generally valuable.

Randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded studies called randomized controlled trials or RCTs are the Gold Standard for research. This is a good standard to employ when it is feasible. But it is not always feasible, and attempts to apply it can lead to erroneous conclusions.

Here is an example where the Gold Standard was applied with no adverse consequences. This was the test of the Salk Vaccine for polio. HM was in the second grade at this time. Some test participants were given the Salk Vaccine and others were given a placebo. HM did not know whether he had been given the vaccine or a placebo, nor did the people administering the vaccine. We were assigned randomly, there were placebo controls, and the people administering did not know if we were being given the vaccine or the placebo (number were assigned to identify the conditions, but the administrators did not know what the numbers meant.

Now suppose participants assigned themselves. Here everything falls apart and valid interpretations are not possible.

Now suppose the Gold Standard was employed, but negative results, no evidence that the vaccine worked, were achieved. Does this allow the conclusion that the vaccine does not work? In statistics, you cannot prove a negative. The procedure is to decide to reject the null hypothesis with a certain degree of confidence. It is conceivable that the dose was too small. Another test might be warranted using larger doses.

Suppose the test involved a medication that was self-administered, and the Gold Standard was rigorously applied. What could possibly confound the results? Well the question is how well did the participants self-administer the medication? Differences in the results could be the result of an artifact caused by their being differences in adherence to self administration in the two groups.

The efficacy of meditation has been tested. HM has been pleasantly surprised by the positive results when the training was short and the training period fairly limited. In a study in which a group instructed to meditate is compared to a group instructed to do something else, there is the following possible problem: if participants have been randomly assigned to the groups, some who have been assigned to the meditation group might not believe in meditation and have a negative attitude to training and the entire project. This is different from RCTs in which the participants are passive and the treatment is administered to them.
When HM was a graduate student there was a hotly contested debate regarding whether humans could learn to control their autonomic nervous systems. HM thought this was ridiculous as there were practitioners of certain religions, Buddhism for example, who were able to control their heart rates and reduce them to frighteningly low levels. So HM thought the issue was resolved. But research was being done at colleges in which students were given biofeedback and examined as to whether they could learn to control their heart rates. Since this research failed, these researchers effectively accepted the null hypothesis, and ignored evidence from the millions of humans who were effective controlling their autonomic nervous systems.

HM is a strong advocate of mindfulness meditation. This increases the control of our attentional processes, which gives us increased control of our mind and emotions. The research question is not whether it works, but how much meditation of different types is useful. There is more than ample research indicating the benefits of the relaxation response discussed in healthy memory blogs.

So for RCTs to yield valid results, the experimental design and sample sizes should be adequate. Research participant compliance is another issue. Moreover, there is a much more important issue to which the research community at large has yet to consider. This issue comes from epigenetics: it is not just genes, but what is read out from the genes that is important. Nurture affects what is read out from the gene, so two individuals with identical genes can differ in how these genes are expressed. So identical twins can differ radically. One outstanding example involved two identical twin sisters. One was popular and a successful student. The other was socially withdrawn and a poor student. These twins were raised in the same family. Medications for people with identical genes could still have different effects. So under what conditions, are RCTs are still applicable? Herbert I. Weinberg has raised this issue in his book, “Willful Ignorance: The Mismeasure of Uncertainty.”

Yet another factor for consideration is the distinction between between near and far conclusions. Practically all results and conclusions should be regarded as near studies. Studies showing the cognitive benefits of games provide a useful example. If cognitive tests reveal a difference between people playing games and people who don’t, one can only make conclusions about these immediate benefits. Conclusions about the far effects of these games, say in the prevention of dementia, are questionable extrapolations. How long do these games have to be played? These conclusions await further research.

Now there are good data (see the healthymemory blog post “Cognitive Activity and the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease”) indicating that cognitive activity helps build cognitive reserve which reduces the risk of dementia. Now the brain is always active, even when we sleep. So the question is what types of cognitive activity? HM has strongly argued that effortful processing, what Kahneman terms System 2 processing.

HM is mildly depressed when physical activity is emphasized, and cognitive activity relatively ignored. Sure physical activity is beneficial along with living a healthy lifestyle. But a main effect of physical activity is to increase oxygen flow to the brain. However effortful System 2 processing, activates many pathways in the brain and creates new links. Practically all learning initially involves System 2 processing, and as long as different and new ideas are being considered or new material is being learned, more pathways are activated and new links are made. HM argues it is this that enables the overcoming of the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles that are the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s.

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

Mental, Emotional, and Physical Health

September 21, 2017

This is the twelfth post based on “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. A study performed by Dr. Rosen’s lab of 1,143 teens, young adults, and adults assessed symptoms of psychiatric disorders, daily media and technology use, preference for multitasking, anxiety about missing out on technology use, and technology-related attitudes. Symptoms of psychiatric disorders were predicted by some combination of daily technology use and preference for multitasking even after factoring out the impact of anxiety about missing out on technology and technology-related attitudes.

Another study from Dr. Rosen’s lab led by Dr. Nancy Cheever investigated the effect that technology use, or rather, lack of use, has on anxiety. 163 college students were brought into a lecture hall, with half being told to turn off their phone and store it and all other materials under their seat while remaining quiet and simply doing nothing. The other half of the students were given the same general instructions about storing materials out of sight and doing nothing, but they had their smartphones taken away and replaced with a claim check for later retrieval. 10 minutes later and then twice more during the hour—plus session, each student completed a paper and pencil measure of anxiety. The prediction was that the students holding a claim check for their phone would become anxious, and they did, but no more so than students whose phone was turned off and stored under the desk. They found that the heaviest users of their smartphones—those who were younger and grew up with technology—showed increased anxiety after just ten minutes of not being able to use their phone, and their anxiety continue to increase across the hour as compared to those who used their phone less.

Once we fall asleep, our brain activity goes through four phases from light sleep to deep sleep, which is followed by rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that signifies we re dreaming. In a normal night’s sleep, this process repeats four times, with REM sleep getting longer as the night wears on. During sleep the brain performs a variety of housekeep chores that are called “synaptic rejuvenation” including pruning and memory consolidation. This serves to remove unimportant connections and enhance important ones. Moreover, our nighttime brain flushed out toxins tat are by-products of daytime neural activity, which if not removed can have deleterious effects on neurons in the brain.

Photopigment cells in the retina at the back of our eyes help control the release of melatonin. To produce white light, technology screens must emit light at multiple wavelengths, including blue short wavelengths. The photopigment cells signal our brains that it is time to be alert when exposed to blue light. So using technology in the bedroom right before sleep, we are bombarding our eyes with blue light that signals awake time rather than red light that signals it is time to go to sleep. Moreover, blue light is far stronger when one is looking at a small screen held close to the face.

Meta analysis of sixty-seven studies of the impact of screen time on children and adolescents found that screen time, particularly in the last hour prior to sleep, is related to sleep problems, primarily resulting in fewer nightly hours of sleep and poorer sleep quality. Studies have shown that 46% of college students awaken at night to answer text messages, and 40% awaken to answer phone calls, resulting in 46 minutes less nightly sleep. The authors conclude, “With the vast majority of teens using a variety of technologies prior to sleep as well as awakening during the night to address smartphone alerts, it is like that their brains are not getting the nightly housekeeping that was previously mentioned, which can lead to mental difficulties.

A study of more than 2,000 fourth and seventh graders found that children who slept near a small screen device had nearly 21 minutes less sleep than those children who did not sleep in close proximity to a phone or tablet, and those who slept in a room with a television set reported 18 fewer nightly minutes of sleep.

Additional research in Dr. Rosen’s lab using a series of measurement tools to assess sleep quality, executive functioning, anxiety about missing out on electronic communications, and daily smartphone use discovered four paths to a predicted poor night’s sleep. Poorer executive functioning (the ability to make good decisions) predicted both more smartphone use, and poorer sleep quality and anxiety about missing out predicted more smartphone use and more nighttime awakenings both leading to poorer sleep. So the authors conclude that “both our ability to make smart nighttime choices as wall as our anxiety about what we might miss out in our virtual worlds during sleep combine to disrupt our sleep, which then leads to poorer thinking skills and more nighttime interruptions. This is indeed a downward spiral that results in disrupted mental functioning.”

Some research has examined the impact of sleep duration and quality for workplace adults. One study of US managers and employees found that those who used their smartphones for work at night after 9 p.m. showed impaired cognitive control at work the following day, which was reflected in reduced attention to work and increased depletion of working memory resources. A study of Belgian adults found that having the Internet in the bedroom resulted in similar negative effects in cognitive control.

So disrupting sleep further disrupts the distracted mind.



September 20, 2017

This is the eleventh post based on “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. There have been several posts on the deleterious effects of technology on relationships. To find some of these enter (Turkle) in the search block of the healthy memory blog. Turkle sums up her view on the negative impact that technology has on our attention and our important relationships by saying, “As we distribute ourselves we may abandon ourselves.” Regarding parenting she says, “Young people must contend with distracted parents who with their Blackberries and cell phones may be physical present but ‘mentally elsewhere.’” See the healthy memory blog posts “Cyber Babies” and “Frankenstein and the Little Girl” for more on this topic.

HM marvels that when he attends professional conventions, for which the ostensible purpose is to have scholars travel to a spot and gather together, but finds them sitting alone or in groups working their smartphones. During a lecture a considerable number in the audience will be playing with their smartphones.

Parents take their children to the park only to spend the entire time reacting to alerts and notifications on their phones instead of engaging with their children in all-important free-play activities. Spouses who once watched television together and discussed what they saw and learned, now use a second screen while they attempt to divide their attention among their tablet, phone, or laptop, the content on the televisions, and their loved one. Evidence is starting to indicate that our relationships with each may be one peril of our distracted minds. A 2014 Pew Internet & American Life project report found that one in four cell phone owners in marriage felt that “their spouse or partner was distracted by their cell phone when they were together.

Most have experienced dinner where the table is littered with smartphones. A game has been created called “cellphone stack” where everyone at the table places their phone in the center of the table, one on top of the other, and whoever looks at their device before the check arrives must pay the entire bill.

A research team studying the ‘IPhone Effect” compared partners who did not place their own mobile device on the table or hold one in their hands with those who did and found that conversations between these strangers in the presence of a device were rated as less satisfying and were reported as generating less empathic concern. Another similar study found that “simply the presence of a cell phone and what it might represent (i.e., social connections broader social network, etc.,)” can be similarly distracting and have negative consequences in a social interaction. The authors ask, “If our distracted mind can negatively affect social connections and feelings of closeness just by being in the presence of modern technology during a short conversation with a stranger, what does that imply about how it can impair our real relationships?”

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



September 19, 2017

This is the tenth post based on “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen.

A study of more than 200 employees at a variety of companies studied the facts that predicted employee stress levels. Although having too much work to do was the best prediction, it was only slightly stronger in predicting exhaustion, anxiety, and physical complaints than outside interruptions, many of which were electronic in nature. Gloria Mark summarized one study that “working faster with interruptions has its cost: people in the interrupted conditions experienced a higher workload, more stress, more time pressure and effort. So interrupted work may be done faster, but at a price. Clive Thompson, in a New York Times interview, summed up research results on workplace interruptions by asserting that “we humans are Pavlovian; even thought we know we’re just pumping ourselves full of stress, we can’t help frantically checking our email the instant the bell goes ding.”

Open offices settings further exacerbate this problem. Approximately 70% of US offices—including Google, Yahoo, Goldman Sachs, and Facebook, have either no partitions or low ones that do not make for quiet workplaces. Research has shown that open offices promote excessive distractions. HM personally testifies regarding the disruptive effects of these distractions. A content analysis of 27 open-office studies identified auditory distractions, job dissatisfaction, illness, and stress as major ramifications of this type of workplace.

The bottom line is that being constantly interrupted and having to spend extra time to remember what we were doing has a negative impact on workplace productivity and quality of life. One 2005 study, before the major increase in smartphone usage, estimated that when office workers are interrupted as often as eleven times an hour it costs the United States $558 billion per year.

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



September 18, 2017

This is the ninth post based on “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. Safety is another casualty of the distracted mind.

Ira Hyman and his colleagues at Western Washington University designed a creative situation to illustrate the effects of distraction. They had a clown, fully clothed in a bright purple and yellow outfit, with large shoes and a bright red bulbous nose, pedal a unicycle around a large open square that is crossed often by most campus students. The researchers interviewed more than 150 students who walked through the square and noted if they were walking alone or with someone else, and if they were using a cell phone or listening to music with ear buds. When asked if they saw anything unusual, only 8% of cell phone users reported that they saw the clown. This is compared with one in three students walking alone without technology or listening to music wearing ear buds and more than half of the students who were walking in pairs without using technology. When asked directly if they saw a clown, only one in four of the cell-phone using students reported seeing it compared with half of single walkers, 61% of music listeners, and 71% of walking pairs. Whatever was happening between the user and his or her phone appears to have inhibited the ability to identify a somewhat unusual happening in the immediate neighborhood.

According to one report in Scientific American, data from a sample of 100 US hospitals found that while in 2004 an estimated nationwide 559 people had hurt themselves by walking into a stationary object while texting, by 2010 that number topped 1,500 and estimates by the study authors predicted the number of injuries would double between 2010 and 2015. A recent study by Corey Basch and her colleagues at several universities tracked more than 3,700 pedestrians crossing Manhattan’s most dangerous intersections and discovered that nearly 30% focused their attention on their mobile device while crossing during the “walk” signal, and one in four were even looking at their phones while crossing during the “don’t walk” signal.

Researchers at the University of Washington and Seattle children’s hospital found similar results in their study of more than 1,000 pedestrians. They discovered than 30% were doing something other than just walking while crossing an intersection, including listening to music and texting. The texting pedestrians took an additional few seconds to cross the street and were nearly four times more likely to show at least one unsafe crossing behavior than those who did not have their head down looking at they phone.

In one experimental study, college students were asked to cross the street in a virtual environment either talking on the phone, listening to music, or texting. Those who were texting and or listening to music were more likely to be hit by a simulated car, which the authors attributed to the conflict between the cognitive demands of crossing the street and paying attention to vehicles and the demands of paying attention to the text message conversation or their music. There is an interruption cost, but perhaps a deadly one in this case.

Little will be written here on driving while distracted. There have already been at least eleven posts on this topic (Enter “Strayer” in the healthy memory blog search box to find some). Suffice it to say, do not do it. Driving while talking on a cell phone is comparably to driving while drunk, and texting is even much more dangerous. Hands free laws are irrelevant. The attentional demands here are what is dangerous.

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




The Impact of Constantly Shifting Our Attention on Higher Education

September 17, 2017

This is the eighth post based on “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. In one study by Dr. Rosen’s research team observed hundreds of middle school, high school, and university students studying something important for fifteen minutes in the environment where they normally study. Minute by minute observations showed that the typical student couldn’t stay focused on work for more than three to five minutes. Students were asked to provide their grade point average (GPA) on a four point scale. The predictors of a lower GPA from these extensive data were: percentage of time on task studying strategies, total media time doing a typical day, and preferences for task-switching rather than working on a task until it was completed. Moreover, by examining the websites that students visited during their fifteen minute sample, they uncovered a fifth predictor of a lower GPA. Only one website visited predicted a lower GPA: Facebook. It did not matter whether students visited it one or fifteen times. Once was enough to predict lower grade performance.

In another experiment by Laura Bowman and her colleagues at Connecticut State University, students were randomly assigned to three groups to read a book chapter and then take a test. One group simply read the chapter and took the test. The second group first completed an instant messaging conversation with the experimenter and then read the chapter and took the test. The third group started to read the chapter, were interrupted with the same instant messaging conversation, which was delivered in pieces at various times during reading, and then took the test. All three groups performed equally well on the test. But the third group took substantially longer even when the time spent instant messaging was removed. This result leads to two conclusions. One is that interrupted studying takes significantly more time. And the second conclusion answers why it takes more time. Each time one switches back to the primary task, time is lost switching and reorienting to where in the task one was when interrupted. In addition, working memory may also be compromised, as distractions degrade the fidelity of the information they are trying to maintain during the learning process.

Another study validating the negative impact of classroom multitasking interrupted students during a short video lecture and required them either to text the experimenter or post material on social media, under two conditions: one new text or post every minute, or one new text every thirty seconds. The control group simply watched the video, which was followed by a test. The results found that more texting or social media posting resulted in poorer lecture notes and lower test scores than the control group. A negative linear trend emerged in both lecture notes and test scores, where the highest scores and best notes demonstrated by those students who did not receive any interruptions, followed by lesser scores and notes of students who were interrupted every minute, and, not surprisingly the worst scores and notes of students who were interrupted every thirty seconds.

Several research studies have shown even more far-reaching effects of technology use by college students. One study showed that those students who used cell phones and texted more often during class showed more anxiety, had lower GPAs, and were less satisfied with life than students who used phones and texted less frequently. A different study of more than 770 college students discovered that students who used more interfering technology in the classroom also tended to engage in more high-risk behaviors, including using alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, and other drugs, drunk driving, fighting, and having multiple sex partners. So it appears that college students who use inessential technology during either class sessions or while studying face difficulties on both an academic and personal level.

The Psychology of Technology

September 16, 2017

At the centerpiece of technology is the internet. This is the seventh post based on “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. There is a distinction made in human memory between information that is accessible in memory and information that is available in memory, but not at the moment accessible. A similar distinction can be made for information in transactive memory. Information that can be readily accessed, say via Google for instance, is accessible in transactive memory. However, information that requires more than one step to access is in available transactive memory. Obviously, the amount of information available in transactive memory is enormous, so only information that can be quickly accessed is in accessible transactive memory. So a hierarchy of information knowledge is
accessible personal memory
available personal memory (information that is personal memory but is currently inaccessible)
accessible transactive memory (information readily accessible from technology or a fellow human)
available transactive memory (information that can be found with sufficient searches)

This hierarchy can be regarded as an indication of the depth of knowledge.

Someone who can communicate extemporaneously and accurately on a topic has an impressive degree of knowledge.

Someone who refers to notes is dependent on those notes.

Whenever we encounter new relevant information we are confronted with the problem as whether commit that information to memory, or to bookmark it so it can be accessed when needed. Too much reliance on bookmarks can lead to superficial knowledge and unimpressive presentations.

Dr. Betsy Sparrow and her colleagues at Columbia University studied the ability to remember facts and unsurprisingly discovered that we were much better at knowing where to find the answers to our questions than we were at remembering the answers themselves. She dubbed this the “Google Effect.”

Social media began with email, but this is fundamentally one to one communication. Facebook is the medium for widespread communication. Moreover, there is the business of friending and liking. This tends to be taken to extremes. One cannot have hundreds of meaningful friends, and the continuous seeking of approval through likes can become problematic.

Smartphones are smart because the computer is in the phone making it smart. More than seven in ten Americans own one, more than 860 million Europeans own one, and more than half all cell phone owners in Asia have at least one smartphone if not more. More photographs are taken with smartphones than with digital cameras, and more online shopping is done via smartphones than through standard computers. Smartphone users pick up their phone an average of 27 times a day, ranging from 14 to 150 times per day depending on the study, the population, and the number of years that someone has owned he smartphone—and the number of years that someone has owned the smartphone—those who have owned a smartphone longer check it far more often than those who have recently obtained a phone. Frequently, there is no good reason for them to do so; 42% check their phone when they have time to kill (which rises to 55% of young adults). Only 23% claim to do so when there is something specific for them to do. Feelings of loneliness appear to underlie at least some of this apparently non-needed use of technology (see the healthy memory blog post “Loneliness”).

Multitasking, task switching, and continuous partial attention are serious problems. Remember that we cannot multitask. What is apparently multi-tasking is the rapid switching between or among tasks, and there are attentional costs in doing this switching. Multitasking occurs in every sphere of our world, including home, school, workplace, and our leisure life. Moreover, this is not just limited to the younger generation. One study followed a group of young adults and a group of older adults with wore biometric belts with embedded eyeglass cameras for more than 300 hours of leisure time. Younger adults switched from task to task twenty-severn times an hour, about once every two minutes. Older adults switched tasks seventeen times per hour, or once every three to four minutes. Former Microsoft executive Linda Stone termed this constant multitasking, “continuous partial attention.” This could also be termed half-keistered information processing. Attention is not being distributed optimally.

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

Cognitive Control Limitations

September 15, 2017

This is the sixth post based on “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. A brief summary of cognitive control limitations follows.

Selectivity is limited by susceptibility to both internal and external influences. Only one source can be selected. It takes attention to disregard both internal and external sources that are external to what you’ve selected. This is why libraries are kept silent. Extraneous external sources require attention to be filtered out. This also involves internal sources. For example, you might be trying to concentrate on your homework, but you keep thinking about your upcoming date. Most meditation begins with focusing on your breath and perhaps a word or phrase and ignoring extraneous thoughts and extraneous stimuli.

Distribution of attention results in diminished performance compared to focused attention. This focusing requires attentional effort.

Sustainability of attention over time is limited, especially in extended boring situations. Although multitasking situations are not boring, there is the tendency to switch attention rather than to attend to what one is currently attending.

There are processing speed limitations that affect both the efficiency of allocation and withdrawal of attention.

Our working memory capacity is severely limited as to the number of items that can be held in working memory. The magic number 7 plus or minus 2, is closer to 5 plus or minus 2, and the limit can be as small as one depending on the nature of the information.

The fidelity, or quality of information maintained in working memory, decays over time and as a result of interference.

Multitasking is limited by our inability to parallel process two attention demanding taks. In reality task switching is required, which results in costs to accuracy and speed performance.

Although these are the same limitations homo sapiens have always had, they become much more pronounced due to the way we use our current technology. Moreover, this technology keeps multiplying, which exacerbates this problem further.

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


The Prefrontal Cortex

September 14, 2017

This is the fifth post based on “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. The (pre) in prefrontal cortex refers to its location in the brain. Otherwise it plays central roles in cognition and emotion.

An unfortunate accident first called attention to the prefrontal cortex. In 1848 working on railroad construction in Vermont 25 year old Phineas Gage had an accident which caused a three-foot-long, 1.25 inch diameter, fourteen-pound iron rod to be propelled up through his head, passing below his left eye, and traveling out the top of his skull to land almost one hundred feet behind him. He is reported to have remained awake with a gaping hole in his head during transport in a cart to his boarding house forty-five minutes away, where he received medical care and survived the incident. Although he survived his life deteriorated. Previously he had been a well-mannered man. After the accident he was disposed to fits of rage. He had difficulties planning and controlling his life.

An irony here that is usually missed is that he was 25 years old. The prefrontal cortex takes about that long to mature, so just as this structure reached maturity, it was destroyed. This explains why teenagers can be ill-behaved; they have adult bodies but immature minds. It’s unfortunate that this maturation takes so long. By the age of 25, there has been ample time to make decisions that destroy our lives.

Most people who have heard of prefrontal lobotomies think that it is something bad. People who have had lobotomies emerge zombie like. What is not realized is that Antonio Egas Moniz was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1949 for his pioneering work in doing lobotomies. It is important to realize that at this time psychiatry did not have effective techniques for treating psychotics. The hospitals were referred to as insane asylums with padded walls and straight jackets. They were referred to as snake pits. So even though they were far from being an ideal treatment, lobotomies made an unbearable situation somewhat more bearable. Nowadays there are drugs to treat psychotics, so lobotomies are no longer justified.

So the prefrontal cortex is where decisions are made and it controls and coordinates communication throughout the brain. The American neuroscientist Joaquin Fester offers this explanation of a combined network and modular model, such that higher-order cognition emerges from complex neural networks that functionally connect distributed modules. This is the model he describes in his book “Cortex and Mind:
(1) cognitive information is represented in wide, overlapping, and interactive neural networks of the cerebral cortex; (2) such networks develop on a core of organized modules of elementary sensory and motor functions, to which they remain connected;(3) the cognitive code is a relational code, based on connectivity between discrete neuronal aggregates of the cortex (modules, assembled, or network nodes); (4) the code’s diversity and specificity derive from the myriad possibilities of combination of those neuronal aggregates between themselves; (5) any cortical neuron can take part in many networks, and thus in many percepts, memories, items of experience, or personal knowledge; (6) a network can serve several cognitive functions; and, (7) cognitive functions consist of fuctional interactions within and between cortical networks.

So this is what goes on in our brains every day and night.

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


Cognitive Processes

September 13, 2017

This is the fourth post based on “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. The authors note that “‘Attention’ is likely the most widely used term in cognitive science.” Attention is also used widely by the general public and practitioners from diverse fields of education, philosophy, mental health, marketing, design, politics, and human factors.

To understand what attention means in cognitive science, its most fundamental feature is selectivity. Selectivity is required because attention is limited. Indeed, it is one of our must fundamental constraints. So we need to be selective to use this limited supply where it is most needed. It can be thought of as the spotlight in our cognitive control toolkit. Selective attention also involves suppression of perceptions that are outside of the spotlight. This is also known as the act of ignoring. What is not so well known is that this suppression requires attention which further depletes the limited supply. The amount of suppression required depends on extraneous stimuli in the immediate environment. And it also entails the suppression of thoughts extraneous to what is in the spotlight. Expectation also play a role here as we used our expectations to direct our attention. Expectation is what allows us to transition from the internal world of our goals to our perceptions and actions. Expectation is a critical factor in optimizing our performance by enabling knowledge of past events to shape our future. To a large extent our brains live in the future, using predictive information to bias both incoming stimuli and outgoing responses.

Directionality is another important feature of selective attention, We can direct our limited cognitive resources to stimuli in the environment, but we can also aim it internally at our thoughts and emotions. As in the case for external selective attention, our ability to control internal attention allows us to attend to relevant or ignore irrelevant information in our minds based on our goals. We can direct our attention toward searching memories and/or focusing on feedback from the body, such as a hungry stomach. It is often important to selectively ignore internal information such as suppressing sadness at a time when you need to remain upbeat, or suppressing a recurrent that is interfering with your current activities.

Another critical factor when using selective attention is our ability to sustain it. This is especially true in situations that are not engaging, or boring. Moreover, over time activities that once were engaging can become boring. Vigilance is the area of research concerned with looking for a signal over a long period of time.

Working memory refers to the amount of information we can hold in our active memory at the same time. This amount of information is limited. The exact amount is dependent on the items. George Miller’s original estimate was seven items plus or minus two. Over time this magic number has decreased. It might even be as small as one, depending on the nature of the information. We must keep thinking about or rehearsing this information to maintain it in working memory. And this is another strong constraint in our cognitive abilities.
Goal management is required when we have more than one goal. So when we engage in more than one goal-directed activity at a time, we are switching back and forth between multiple goals, we are multi-tasking. It is more accurate to call multi-tasking task switching as we can only perform one task at a time. We accomplish multi-tasking by rapidly switching between or among tasks, and this switching requires attention. There is also a requirement to review where we are in the goal to which we have switched back.

All tasks require cognitive control. Even if two tasks are not competing for the same sensory resources, mental task switching is required, with perhaps the requirement to determine where we were when we left that task.


September 12, 2017

Infovores is a term that has been coined to characterize we humans as information-seeking creatures. Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen, the authors of “The Distracted Mind”, note that as we are information-seeking creatures, behaviors that maximize information accumulation are optimal. This notion is supported by findings that molecular and physiological mechanisms that originally developed in our brain to support food foraging for survival have now involved in primates to include information foraging. Data that support this assertion are based on observations that the dopaminergic stream, which is crucial for all reward processing, plays a key role in both basic food-foraging behavior in lower vertebrates and higher-order cognitive behaviors in monkeys and humans that are often dissociated from clear survival benefits. The role of the dopamine system has been shown to relate directly to information-seeking behavior in primates. For example, macaque monkeys respond to receiving information similarly to the way they respond to primitive rewards such as food or water. Moreover, “single dopamine neurons process both primitive and cognitive rewards, and suggest that current theories of reward-seeking must be revised to include information-seeking. From this perspective behaviors that are intended to maximize exposure and consumption of new information, but end up causing interference, can be thought of as optimal.

So does this explain why, according to a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center, 96% of all US adults own a mobile phone, and 68% own a smartphone? Among these smartphone users, 97% regularly use their phones to send text messages, 89% to access the Internet, and 88% send and receive email. Worldwide estimates are that 3.2 billion people, 45% of the world’s population, own a mobile phone. Smartphones, desktops, and laptops support multiple apps while web browsers allow numerous simultaneously open tabs and windows, which make it increasingly difficult to attend to a single website or app without having our attention lured away.

So, we can blame our dopamine neurons for our being drawn to all these new sources of information. But it does not appear that we are using these sources of information optimally. Perhaps insights from behavioral ecology. a field that explores the evolutionary basis of behavior by studying interactions between animals and their environments might shed light on our interference inducing behavior.

An important contribution to the field of behavioral ecology has been the development of optimal foraging theories. These theories are built on findings that animals do not forage for food randomly, but rather optimize their foraging activities based on the drive to survive. Shaped by natural selection, foraging behaviors that successfully maximize energy intake are selected and persist over time. Mathematical models of foraging behavior have been developed that can be used to predict the action given their environmental conditions. They describe how an “optimal forager” would behave in any given situation. Although actual behaviors deviate from predictions made from these models, these models are frequently not far off the mark and have served as useful tools to understand the complex interplay between behavior and the environment.

In 1976 evolutionary biologist Eric Charnel developed an optimal foraging model known as the “marginal value theorem” (MVT). This theorem was formulated to predict the behavior of animals that forage for food in “patchy” environments. MVT models predict how much time an animal will spend in a current patch before moving on to a new patch, given environmental conditions.

Optimal foraging theories have already been applied to human information foraging to help us understand how we search the Internet and our own memories, as well as how scholars and physicians search the research literature. Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen state that to the best of their knowledge, such theories have not been used to address the critical question of why we engage in interference-inducing behaviors, even when they are self-destructive. The answer to this question will be pursued in future posts.

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



September 11, 2017

Interference is the title of a chapter in “The Distracted Mind” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. Frequently we feel challenged when trying to fulfill even fairly simple goals. This is the result of interference caused by distractions from irrelevant information and interruptions by our attempts to simultaneously pursue multiple goals. Our sensitivity to interference was not born out of modern technology. Rather, it is a fundamental vulnerability of our brain.

Interference is a term used to describe something that hinders, impedes or derails another process. Goal interference occurs when we reach a decision to accomplish a specific goal (look for something to eat, complete a work assignment, engage in a conversation, drive a car) and something takes place to hinder the successful completion of that goal. This interference can either be generated internally, presenting thoughts within our minds, or generated externally, by sensory stimuli such as restaurant chat, beeps, vibrations or flashing displays. This goal interference, regardless of whether generated internally or externally (frequently both) occurs in two distinct varieties—distractions and interruptions—depending upon how we manage the interference.

Distractions are goal-irrelevant information that we either encounter in our external surroundings or generate internally within our own minds. When it comes to distractions, our intention is to ignore them. For example, we are trying to enjoy a television program, but we start worrying about a meeting tomorrow. This is an internal distraction commonly referred to as mind wandering. Mind wandering is particularly troublesome when we are trying to study. These are internal distractions.
But suppose while we’re trying to watch a television program, but are disturbed by something happening elsewhere in the house. This is an example of an external distraction.

Interruptions are the other major source of goal interference. Interruptions can come from external sources from people or environmental events. But interruptions happen when we make a decision to concurrently engage in more than one task at the same time, even if we attempt to switch rapidly between them. These latter interruptions are commonly referred to as multitasking, although research has shown that we cannot multitask. Rather we can switch between or among tasks, but switching itself entails cognitive costs.

Our brains are extremely sensitive to interference at many levels. The reason why goal interference is so prominent in our lives is the inherent complexity of our goals and the limitations we have in fulfilling them. The authors state that our ability to establish high-level goals is arguably the pinnacle of human brain evolution. The authors continue, “Complex, interwoven, time-delayed and often shared goals are what allow us humans to exert an unprecedented influence over how we interact with the world around us, navigating its multifaceted environments based on our decisions rather reflexive responses to our surroundings. Our impressive goal-setting abilities have permitted the remarkable development of our cultures, communities, and societies and have enabled us to create complex human constructs such as art, language, music, and technology. The sheer magnitude of our impressive goal setting-abilities has resulted in the conditions necessary for goal interference to exist in the first place.

Our proficiency in setting goals is edited by cognitive abilities known as executive functions. These are the skills that include evaluation, decision making, organization, and planning. However, goal setting is only half the battle. We need specialized processes to enact these goals. Out ability to effectively carry out our goals is dependent on an assemblage of cognitive abilities referred to in the book as cognitive control. This includes attention, working memory, and goal management. Our ability to set high-level goals does not necessarily mean that it is inevitable that we are overwhelmed by goal interference. It is conceivable that the goal-enactment abilities of our brain evolved alongside our goal-setting abilities to offset any negative impact of goal interference. The authors conclude that this is not what seems to have happened. Our cognitive control abilities that are necessary for the enactment of our goals have not evolved to the same degrees as the executive function required for goal setting.

The authors continue, “ Our cognitive control is really quite limited: we have a restricted ability to distribute, divide and sustain attention; actively hold detained information mind; and concurrently manage or even rapidly switch between competing goals.”

The authors note that “In many ways, we are ancient brains in a high-tech world.”


The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World

September 10, 2017

The title alone should indicate the importance of this book. Although the distracted mind has always been a problem with which humans have had to deal, modern technology has greatly exacerbated this problem. One of the authors, Dr. Adam Gazzaley, is a cognitive neuroscientist and a leader in the study of how the brain manages distractions and interruptions. Another author is Dr. Larry Rosen who is a psychologist who has studied the “psychology of technology” as a pioneer in this field for more than thirty years. Their complementary perspectives focus on demonstrating why we fail to successfully navigate our modern technological ecosystem and how that has detrimentally affected our safety, cognition, education, workplace, and our relationships with family and friends.

The authors note that there are two equally valid perspectives to conceptualize that magnificent organ tucked between our ears: as the brain—the most extraordinary information processing-system, and complex structure in the known universe—and as the mind—the emergent higher-order function of that biological machine. The mind is the very core of our identity and consciousness, The brain has over one hundred billion processing units (neurons) intricately interwoven by hundreds of trillions of connections (synapses) into a distributed network of staggering. They write that perhaps the most impressive feat of the human brain is its functional offspring: the human mind. “Despite centuries of academic thought and research on this topic, we still find the most effective way to conceptualize the wonder of the mind is to fully appreciate that it is the essence of every emotion we feel, every thought we have, every sensation we experience, every decision we make, every move we take, every word we utter, every memory we store and recall…in the truest sense it is who we are.”

Now move this wonderful mind into our every growing technological world. Dr. Rosen’s research has found that the typical teen and young adult believes that he or she can juggle six to seven different forms of media at the same time. Other studies have found that up to 95% of the population report multitasking each day, with activity in more than one domain occupying approximately a third of the day. What is not realized is that there is no such activity as multi-tasking. What is termed multitasking is more accurately a switching between, or all too often among, tasks. .

Moreover these technological innovations have been accomplished by a shift in societal expectations such that we now demand immediate responsiveness and continuous productivity. Studies have reported that US adults and teenagers check their phone up to 150 time a day, or every six to seven minutes when they are aware. Studies in the UK have found that more than half of all adults and two-thirds of young adults and teens do not go one hour without checking their phones. They’ve found that three in four smartphone owners in the US feel panicked when they cannot immediately locate their phone, half check it first thing in the morning while still lying in bed, one in tree check it while using the bathroom, and three in ten check it while dining with others. According to a Harris Poll, eight in ten vacationers brought or planned to bring at least one high-tech device on vacation, and a substantial portion of vacationers check in in often with their devices.

Drs. Gazzeley and Rosen describe how our cognitive systems cope with these tasks, and present a strategy for coping effectively. They also review the research on how we can increase the effectiveness of our cognitive processes. Plus they include strategies for coping with these overwhelming demands.
Obviously, it will take a substantial number of healthy memory posts to convey a meaningful portion of the valuable contents in this book.

False Beliefs

September 8, 2017

Belief: Crime is rising. Every recent year, 7 in 10 Americans have told Gallup that there is more crime “than there was a year ago.” Donald Trump said in early 2017 that “The murder rate is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” And the Attorney General said that “rising crime is a dangerous and permanent trend.”
Fact: For several decades, both violent and property crime rates have been falling. In 2015, the FBI-aggregated violent crime was less than half the 1990 rate—a downward trend confirmed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics crime-victimization surveys.
HM Comment: Perhaps one of the reasons for this is the prevalence of police and crime shows on television. These shows frequently involve firearms. In point of fact, the majority of police officers retire without ever having fired their weapons (apart from training). A ratio of only 1 in 20 officers having fired their weapons according to “Blue Bloods,” HM remembers.

Belief: Many immigrants are criminals. Horrific true incidents, as in the endlessly retold story of a Mexican national killing a young woman in San Francisco, feed this narrative. Trump’s words epitomize this perception: “When Mexico sends its people…They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
Fact: Poor immigrants may fit our image of criminals, yet some studies report that, compared with native-born Americans, immigrants commit less violent crime.
HM Comment: Never rely on anecdotes, whether or not they are true. Always rely on statistics correctly collected and analyzed.

Belief: Under Obama, unemployment rose and the stock market fell. At the end of 2016, 67% of Trump voters told Public Policy Polling that unemployment increased during the Obama years, and only 41% said the stock market had risen.
Fact: At the end of 2016, the 4.7% US unemployment rate was about half the 2009 rate, while the stock market had more than doubled.

Belief: At the end of the Reagan presidency, more than half of strong Democrats believed inflation had worsened under Reagan.
Fact: In actuality,it had plummeted from 13% to 4%.

This post is based on an article by David G. Myers titled “Misinformation, Misconceptions, and our Teaching Mission” in the Association for Psychological Science publication “Observer”, September 2017.

The Loss of a Neuroscientist Who Should Have Been Awarded a Nobel Prize

September 6, 2017

And that neuroscientist is Marian Diamond who passed away on July 25, 2017 at the age of ninety. Her painstaking research showed that the body’s three-pound seat of consciousness was a dynamic structure of beautiful complexity, capable of development even in old age.

Prior to her research it was strongly believed the nervous system was fixed. We were stuck with the brain we were born with. And any damage to the brain was irreparable. The brain was a static and unchangeable entity that simply degenerated as we age.

Inspired by the research of psychologist Donald Hebb, she began studying the brains of lab rats. Rats that were raised alone, in small and desolate cages, had more trouble navigating a maze than did rats were raised in “enriched” cages, with toys and rat playmates. Through painstaking analyses of these rat brains she found that the cerebral cortices of rats in “enriched” cages were about 6% thicker than the rats in the “impoverished” cages.

Her findings, published in a 1964 paper with three colleagues, were a pivotal contribution to the long-running debate between nature and nurture, which seeks to determine the extent to which a person is shaped by their genes or by their life experiences.. UC-Berkely professor Robert Knight said “The idea that the brain could change based on environmental input and stimulation was felt to be silly, and that’s the boat she completely sank.

Further research generalized these conclusions to humans. Neuroplasticity was found to be ubiquitous. We continue to generate neurons until we die.

Dr. Diamond went on to develop a rich theory of brain plasticity summarized in the phrase use it or lose it. She outlined the following five factors crucial to brain development at any age: diet, exercise, challenge, newness, and love.

Later in her career she was given several sections of Albert Einstein’s brain. She found an unusually high amount of glial cells, which were thought to be a relatively unimportant part of the tissue that held the brain together. This discovery launched renewed interest in the role of glial cells, which are now believed to play a crucial role in cognitive processes.

This post is based in part on an obituary by Harrison Smith in the 31July 2017 Washington Post.


Con Artists

July 31, 2017

This post is based on an article by Marc T. Swogger in the News section of the 29 July 2017 edition of the New Scientist titled, “In the age of the scam we need to know how to see a con coming.”

When Swooger was a graduate student in clinical psychology he interviewed lifelong con artists who had been jailed. Not surprisingly, he found that they tend to think a lot of themselves. Con artists see braggadocio as endearing or dismissed as healthy confidence or benign insecurity. But grandiosity is common in these fraudsters and unabashed boasting is a red light.

In a job interview or on a date they sprinkle in a lot of disarming flattery and vague reference to assumed commonality creating the illusion that you are on the inside of something special. Swogger writes, “your emotional reactions might induce bemusement, unease, confusion and excitement. Note your reaction. It is your cue to take a breath and a step back.

Since the con depends on a show to distract, Swooger advises to be grounded and aware of your feelings, focus on words alone. Rather than nuanced and measured, they are peppered with superlatives. The con artist may also contradict themselves—it is hard for them to keep track of what they have said. Uncoupled from their cracking confidence, their claims raise questions.

Consider the above paragraph and its relevance to the greatest con artist of all time—Donald Trump. What is interesting is that in spite of all the indications he provides that he is a con, people being explicitly warned that he is a con artist, yet they still remain conned.

And even today, with video evidence that he delivered classified material and compromised an ally to the Russians— thus indicating that he is worse than a con man, people are still falling for his con.


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


Mindfulness Against Stress and Racism

July 30, 2017

This post is inspired by an article titled “Stress of poverty, racism raise risk of Alzheimer’s for African Americans, new research suggests” by Frederick Kunkle in the 17 July 2017 Issue of the Washington Post.

Recent research into racial disparities among people with Alzheimer’s disease suggests that social conditions, including stress of poverty and racism, substantially raise risks of dementia for Africa Americans. Four independent studies found that conditions that affect blacks disproportionately compared with other groups—such as poor living conditions and stressful events such as the loss of a sibling, the divorce of one’s parents or chronic unemployment—have severe consequences for brain health later on.

A study at the University of Wisconsin found that stress literally takes years off a person’s life in terms of brain function—an average of four years for African Americans, compared with 1.5 years for whites. A different Wisconsin study showed that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood is associated with later decline in cognitive function and even the biomarkers linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

One of the best, if not the best, means of coping with stress is meditation. Meditation places the mind and its worries at rest. It increases the ability of the mind not to focus on stress and opens up the possibilities of ideas for overcoming stress.

If mindfulness were taught universally in schools, people would already have these coping skills. Mindfulness, universally taught, has the potential for mitigating, if not defeating, racism. Research has also found that mindfulness taught in the schools can propagate up to the parents and siblings of the students. So the benefits go beyond the students themselves.

Growth mindsets, in addition to fostering healthy memories, also have the prospect of enhancing economic outcomes. To understand how, consider Scott Adams book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.” Entering “Scott Adams” into the search block of the healthy memory blog will yield healthy memory blog posts based on this book.

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



July 29, 2017

This post is based on an article by Jo Marchant in the Features section of the 29 July 2017 edition of the New Scientist titled, “Awesome awe: The emotion that gives us superpowers.”

The feeling of awe is something that hopefully most, if not all, of us have experienced. It has only recently become a topic for scientific investigation. In 2003 Dacher Keltner and Jonathan  Haidt published the first scientific definition. They described awe as the feeling we get when confronted with something vast, that transcends our frame of reference, and that we struggle to understand. It’s an emotion that combines amazement with an edge of fear. Wonder, by contrast, is more intellectual—a cognitive state in which we are trying to understand the mysterious.

We might think that investigating such a mystical experience would be a challenge, but Keltner insists it’s not so hard. He says, “We can reliably produce awe. You can get people to go out to a beautiful scene in nature, or put them in a cathedral or in front of a dinosaur skeleton, and they’re going to be pretty amazed.” Then a numerical scale is used so people can report how much awe they are feeling. A physiological measure, the appearance of goosebumps, is second only to cold temperatures as a source of the goosebumps.

Keltner and other researchers have found that even mild awe can change our attitudes and behavior. People who watched a nature video that elicited awe, rather than other positive emotions such as happiness or pride—were subsequently more generous and described themselves as feeling more connected to people in general. Gazing up at tall eucalyptus trees left others more likely to help someone who stumbled in front of them. After standing in front of a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, people were more likely to describe themselves as part of a group. Although it might seem counterintuitive that an emotion we often experience alone increases our focus on others, Keltner thinks it’s because awe expands our attention to encompass a bigger picture, thus reducing our sense of self.

In a large study Keltner found that after inspiring awe in people from the US and China, they signed their names smaller and drew themselves smaller, but with no drop in their sense of status or self-esteem. Neuroscientist Michiel van Elk found that people who watched awe-inducing videos estimated their bodies to be physically smaller than those who watched funny or neutral videos.

At the annual meeting of the Organization of Human Brain Mapping in Vancouver, Canada, in June, van Elk presented functional MRI scans showing that awe quiets activity in the default mode network, which included parts of the frontal lobes and cortex, and is thought to related to the sense of self. Keltner says, “The voice in your head, self-interest, self-consciousness, disappears. Here’s an emotion that knocks out a really important part of our identity. As a result we feel more connected to bigger collectives and groups.”

Keltner’s team has found that feeling awe makes people happier and less stressed, even weeks later, and that it assists the immune system by cutting the production of cytokines, which promote inflammation. A team from Arizona State University found that awe activates the parasympathetic, which works to calm the fight or flight response. Researchers at Stanford University discovered that experiencing awe made people feel as if they had more time—and made them more willing to give up their time to help others.

Awe also seems to help us break habitual patterns of thinking. The Arizona team discovered that after experiencing awe, people were better able to remember the details of a short story. Usually, our memories are colored by our expectations and assumptions, but awe reduces this tendency, improving our focus on what’s actually happening. Increases in curiosity and creativity have also been reported. In one study, after viewing images of Earth, volunteers came up with more original examples in test, found greater interest in abstract painting and persisted longer on difficult puzzles, compared with controls.

Given all these benefits, the question is how to obtain awe experiencing materials. This topic is not discussed in this article. There seems to be business opportunities here. Are there any additional benefits from virtual reality? There is much work to be done.

HM envisions that in the future flat panels will be placed on the walls of our homes, where we have the option of displaying different subjects. Of course, paintings are a likely subject. But consider wrap around flat panels that could place us in the middle of a Redwood Forest, or in the Grand Canyon.

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



July 25, 2017

This post is largely based on a feature article titled “Feeling lonely? You’re not on your own” by Moya Sarner in the 22 July 2017 New Scientist.

Steve Cole at the University of California at Los Angeles says that lonely people are at increased risk of “just about every major chronic illness — heart attacks, neurodegenerative diseases, cancer. A meta-analysis of nearly 150 studies found that a poor quality of social relationships had the same negative effect on risk of death as smoking, alcohol and other well-known factors such as inactivity and obesity. Cacioppo of the University of Chicago says that “Correcting for demographic factors, loneliness increases the odds of early mortality by 26%. That’s about the same as living with chronic obesity,”

One reason is that loneliness lowers willpower, so we are more likely to indulge in self-defeating behavior. We make take risks and make bad decision from choosing unhealthy food to avoiding exercise, Feeling socially isolated also increases the risk of mental health problems such as stress, depression, and eating disorders, all of which aversely effect our physical health.

Cacioppo and Cole compared gene expression in the white blood cells of two groups. One group consisted of six persistently lonely middle-aged adults and in the other group were eight who ranked as consistently socially enfranchised. In the lonelier group, the activity of genes responsible for inflammation was ramped up.

Although inflammation is the body’s first line of defense against injury and bacterial infection, too much inflammation has been linked to cancer, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and obesity. The lonely people also had less activity in the genes that regulate immune response to viral infections.

Too much inflammation changes the brain triggering behaviors that prime for threats. Cole says, “Inflammatory biology makes the brain a little more suspicious, vigilant and irritable.” Cacioppo and his team measured people’s brain activity while they looked at either threatening or neutral pictures and found that lonely people tuned in to social threats faster. This hyper-vigilance could explain the correlation between loneliness and poor sleep quality.

Today young people seem particularly vulnerable. This article does not mention the manner in which technology is used. Being constantly connected and friending could be driven in large part by loneliness. Robin Dunbar, at the University of London (who has appeared in five previous healthy memory blog posts) states that if there’s one factor that stands out in alleviating loneliness, it is the quality, rather than quantity of relationships. He says that this fits our evolutionary past. “For you to live, survive, work, and function well depends on you having a set of very intense close friendships, or family relationships. It turns out that this core group numbers about five close friends and family—and this is very consistent across primates, including humans.” To maintain those crucial five or so relationships, there’s an easy formula. You need to dedicate 40% of your total social effort to them, “ and that means seeing them on a very regular basis.” Small changes like pruning random acquaintances from social media, setting notifications for updates from real friends, and spending time with a core group could all act as a buffer against loneliness.

It seems the best approach is to start with the mind, rather than trying to expand you social network. A meta-analysis of interventions to reduce loneliness found that the most successful dealt with the psychological aspects of loneliness using cognitive behavioral training. The heightened sense of threat lonely people feel means they are more likely to pay attention and remember negative details and events, and behave in ways that confirm their negative expectations, perpetuating the vicious spiral of loneliness.

Research by Cole, who is investigating what factors might make people less likely to succumb to the negative health effects of loneliness, thinks that finding a sense of purpose and meaning in life can overcome the negative effects of loneliness. Cole says, “If you think of lonely people as having a world view of threat and hostility, this study suggests that you can attack this underlying psychology by becoming engaged in help others, trying to make the world a better place. I’m kind of excited about that as an obliques attack on loneliness.” All of this fits in with with the work of Victor J. Stretcher, which he describes in his book, “Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Changes Everything.” There have been many healthy memory posts based on this book.

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


Brain Training Games in Perspective

July 23, 2017

In the July 11, 2017 issue of the Washington Post there was an article by Jenna Gallegos titled “Brain training games fail to deliver exceptional cognitive boost, study finds”. This article summarized a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in which 128 young adults were tested for mental performance after playing either Luminosity brain-training games or regular video games for 10 weeks. Researchers saw no evidence that commercial brain training games lead to improvements in memory, decision-making, sustained attention, or ability to switch between mental tasks.

So what can do these results mean? Luminosity might want to work on developing games that will show improvements in mental performance when compared against regular video games. Suppose that either the current study had or a future study will show improvements in mental performance when compared to regular video games. Although these results would be positive, they would not prove that playing them warded off dementia.

It is already known that cognitive activity does decrease the likelihood of dementia, and that cognitive activity can produce a cognitive reserve such that even when the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s, the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, appear dementia might be delayed or forestalled altogether. After all, there have been autopsies performed on people whose brains were plagued with amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles who never exhibited any cognitive or behavioral symptoms of the disease.

The healthy memory blog has warned against waiting for drugs that prevent or cure Alzheimer’s (see the healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s). The healthy memory blog does recommend a healthy lifestyle that features growth mindsets for continually learning and meditation and mindfulness. Social activities are also an important part of this healthy lifestyle.

HM also argues that it is not just mental activity, but the type of mental activity that is important. Here it is important to understand the different types of cognitive activity Daniel Kahneman described in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow.”

System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. This processing is so fast that it is executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. Learning is associative and slow. For something to become a System 2 process much repetition and practice is required. Activities such as walking, driving, and conversation are primarily System 1 processes. They occur rapidly and with little apparent effort. We would not have survived if we could not do these types of processes rapidly. But this speed of processing is purchased at a cost, the possibility of errors, biases, and illusions.
System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly regard as thinking. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors do slip through. Learning, particularly the early stages, are largely a System 2 process.

System 1 processing occurs rapidly over frequently travelled pathways in the brain. However, System 2 processing involves traveling over many pathways, some which are little used to find supporting, refuting, or conflicting information, or in establishing new links for learning

It is HM’s conjecture that it is System 2 processing that is most beneficial to healthy memories, the formation of a cognitive reserve, and the forestalling or prevention of dementia.

So what types of experiments could test this hypothesis. Here are two possibilities;

One hypothesis is that voters who voted for Trump engaged primarily, if not exclusively ,in System 1 processing. and are more likely to suffer from dementia. Many, if not most, decisions were based on emotions, which are System 1 processes. Other decisions where based on religion or party affiliation. So these people were essentially just following orders. Even if people gave an answer such as jobs or the economy, did they bother to think critically how Trump promised to accomplish his promises, or were they just placing blind faith in Trump?

So the argument here is that voters who did not vote for Trump engaged in System 2 processing that kept them from making the error of voting for Trump. Consequently, they have healthier memories and are less likely to safer from dementia.

Another hypothesis is that viewers of Fox News are more likely to suffer from demential. Fox’s “Fair and Balanced” news is accomplished by presenting news that appeals to existing biases and beliefs. This enables Fox viewers to use System 1 processes almost exclusively and to avoid or minimize System 2 thinking.

But what about viewers who do not view Fox news? As they receive a wider range of views in the news coverage, some, but not all, of the news will require System 2 processing. In other words, these viewers will need to think more, which might well assist in building a cognitive reserve and warding off dementia.

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


Is Blood Doping a Placebo Effect?

July 22, 2017

This post is based on a piece by Chris Cooper titled “Blood Doping: Was Lance Armstrong just wasting his time? in the Comment Section of the July 15 2017 issue of the New Scientist.

There have been many previous posts on the placebo effect (just enter “placebo” into the search block of the healthy memory blog). This article is based on a Dutch study that used amateur riders injecting either EPO, the blood doping drug used by Lance Armstrong, or saline. So all bicycle riders in a road race thought they were being given EPO, but only half received EPO injections and the other half receive saline injections. No difference was found in the performance of the two groups.

This study needs to be replicated, and HM suggests the following addition, and that is the addition of a group that receives neither injection. A placebo effect is expected, so the saline group should perform better than the no injection control. Both the placebo group and the saline group should outperform the no injection group This result would be important. Chris Cooper suggests that, as these cyclists were not elite competitors, the blood oxygen content may not have been limiting performance in the amateurs. Research to determine if EPO only enhances performance when blood oxygen content limits performance would also be informative.

It would also be interesting to try to convince several veteran participants in the Tour de France bicycle race that there was an effective way of making EPO doping undetectable, and then fool any dishonest riders into taking a placebo. Now suppose they either won the race or performed much better than expected. Then wouldn’t it be humorous if these doping agencies prohibited placebos?

There was another report on placebos in the Significant Digits piece on 20 July 2017 FiveThirtyEight Blog. It reports a 2014 knee pain study comparing elective surgical procedures and sham surgeries. People undergoing the sham surgery were aware that it was sham. The study found that faking a surgery (doing all the fasting and knocking them out and fake incisions and the whole routine) provided some benefit to the ailment in 74% of the cases and was as effective as the actual elective surgery in roughly half the time. HM thinks that the placebo effect is the most interesting of all medical effects. The placebo effect wide applications.


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


Ivan Pavlov and American Democracy

July 19, 2017

The question that should come to mind with this title is what does Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, have to do with American democracy? You should remember Pavlov from his drooling dogs. He would pair a sound, a buzzer for example, with food. After sufficient training the dogs would drool whenever they hear the buzzer. This was called the conditioned response (CR), that resulted from pairing a buzzer, the conditioned stimulus (CS), with the food. Pavlov earned a Nobel Prize for this finding. He is also regarded as a psychologist as conditioned stimuli became central to many theories in psychology.

When many conservatives hear about the success of the medical insurance provided to the citizens of other advanced countries their response is “socialism” or “socialized medicine,” and that’s the end to it. It is important to understand why they make these conditioned responses, as the conditioned response is the lowest form of behavior, being a highly simplified version of Kahneman’s System 1 processing. All their lives they have been conditioned to respond to government supplied medical insurance as socialism and to socialism as bad. Many have conflated socialism with communism, which makes it doubly bad.

So when you get this response, explain to them why they’re making this response. It is highly unlikely that they understand that this is a conditioned response rather than any sort of reasoned response that involves actual thinking. So before going further ask them to shove all their beliefs as far up their keisters as they can, and to provide a reasoned response as to their opposition to government provided medical care. Not surprisingly, it is likely that few will be willing to do this, so the interaction should end here. But if they can explain why these systems have been working well in Europe, be prepared to listen.

A response that you might get from someone about why they work in Europe, but will not work here is exceptionalism. HM finds this very concept wreaking of hubris. These countries consist of the same species and are from representatives democracies, not kleptocracies like Putin’s.

That Trump felt honored to meet Putin is very disturbing. In an earlier life, HM worked on classified programs and reviewed people who were applying for security clearances. If any one of them had expressed admiration for Putin, HM would have recommended strongly against their being given access to classified information. Consequently, he is disturbed to have a President who admires Putin.

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



July 18, 2017

A previous post titled “Making People Smart” discussed a course entitled “Ignorance” that has been taught at Columbia University. Guest scientists are invited to speak about what “they don’t know, what they think is critical to know, how they might get to know it, what will happen if they do find this or that thing out, or what might happen if they don’t.” The course focuses on all that is not in the textbooks and thus guides students to think about what is unknown and what could be known. The idea is to focus not on what students themselves don’t know, but what entire fields of science don’t know, with the aim of provoking and directing students to ask questions about the foundations of a scientific field. This course requires that a students ponder not just some set of scientific theories and ideas; it requires that they begin to understand what the entire community has and hasn’t mastered. This course is taught by Stuart Fierstein and he has published the book on which that course is based. The book is titled, appropriately enough, “Ignorance: How It Drives Science.”

HM has read the book. It is well written and fairly short. HM recommends this book to anyone who is interested in science. HM will not be writing further posts on this book, but he will be using it as a point of departure to consider a larger truth the book holds. Previous healthy memory blog posts have noted that the rapid improvements in life on this planet come from science, or more particularly, scientific thinking. Truly effective and innovative scientific thinking comes from looking for areas of ignorance, information that we don’t have. In the words of Donald Rumsfeld, these are unknown unknowns.

Contrast this with how most of us think. We comfort ourselves with what we know. We like to stay close to home. However, growth mindsets encourage us to grow our knowledge and skills continually till the end of life. Staying active and continuing to learn is one of the best, if not the best, means of warding off dementia. Another way of looking at this is to look for areas of our own ignorance, and pursue those areas which we would like to pursue.

Businesses that survive know that it is important to adapt to changes constantly. This is needed if they are, at worst, able to survive, or, at best, to thrive. So they are examining areas of ignorance and making decisions as to which to pursue.

What is generally ignored is that governments need to adapt to survive. They need to identify areas of ignorance and address them or difficulties will be encountered, and, eventually, even survival will be threatened. This is not to say that conservative views are not valued. But there role is to preclude foolish pursuits, not to preclude addressing pressing problems with new ideas.

A good example of this is the problem of healthcare in the United States. The problem is severe as the United States has the most expensive healthcare in the world, but health statistics characteristic of third world countries. Every advanced country has successfully addressed healthcare and is providing healthcare for all its citizens via a single payer system in which the single payer is the government.
It is unbelievable that in the United States that there are people who do not think that healthcare is a right for all people. HM regards people who do not believe this as moral degenerates, and that goes double for such people who profess religious faiths. One party believes in market forces, which are very effective under many circumstances, but not for healthcare. But they continue to believe that market forces are universally applicable. When someone has a hammer, everything looks like a nail, which is the problem here.

Perhaps it is ironic that communism is an ideology that failed because, among other factors, it was too widely applied and ignored market forces. The lesson here is that ideologies preclude effective thinking, and ideologues are the bane of an effective democracy. Think and look around. There are many effective examples of universal healthcare in all advanced countries, except one, the good old USofA.

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

Conclusion: Appraising Ignorance and Illusion

July 16, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of the final chapter of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Unabridged), written by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. The authors note that this book has three central themes: ignorance, the community of knowledge, and the illusion of understanding.

The authors note that ignorance is inevitable simply because there’s too much complexity in the world for any individual to master. The Dunning-Kruger effect, which has been discussed in previous healthy memory posts, is that those who perform the worst overrate their own skills the most. This effect can be found by giving a group of people a task to do and then asking them how well they think they’ve done on the task. Poor performers overestimate how well they’ve done; strong performers often underestimate their performance. This effect has been found many times both in the psychological laboratory and in many real-world environments: among students, in offices, and among doctors. Dunning has collected an impressive amount of evidence that the reason it happens is that those who lack skills also lack the knowledge of what skills they’re missing. Consequently, they think they’re pretty good. However, those who are knowledgeable have a better sense of how matters should be handled and they know what skills they need to improve on. Dunning stresses the importance of this effect because all of us are unskilled in most domains of our lives.

The authors wrote, “As for the community of knowledge, intelligence resides in the community and not in any individual. So decision-making procedures that elicit the wisdom of the community are more likely to produce better outcomes than procedures that depend on the relative ignorance of lone individuals. A strong leader is one who knows how to inspire a community and take advantage of the knowledge within it, and can delegate responsibility to those with the most expertise.”

There are good and bad aspects of the illusion of understanding. We’re more likely to be accurate by avoiding illusion. We have a good idea of what we know and what we don’t know, and this should help us achieve our goals. We won’t take on projects that are beyond us, and we’ll be less likely to disappoint others, and we’ll be better positioned to deliver on our promises.

But they also note that illusion is a pleasure, as many of us spend a significant part of our lives living in illusions quite intentionally. We entertain ourselves with fictional worlds. Illusions can stimulate creative products by inspiring us to imagine alternative worlds, goals, and outcomes. And they can motivate us to attempt what we wouldn’t otherwise attempt.

Many posts have been devoted to this book because it addresses an important topic. It provides us with a more accurate picture of what we know and the consequences of shortfalls in knowledge. The title states “why we never think alone.” Perhaps it should read, “why we should never think alone.” Although he has certainly tried, HM has not done this volume justice, and he encourages you to read it for yourself.


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

Making Smart Decisions

July 15, 2017

This is the twelfth post in the series The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Unabridged), written by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. Making Smarter Decisions is a chapter in this book. Perhaps the one area it is important to make smart decisions is in finance.

Consider the following question: Assume that you deposit $400 every month into a retirement savings account that earns a 10% yearly rate of interest and that you never withdraw any money. How much money do you think you will have in any account (including interest earned): After 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, and 40 years.

Respondents answering these questions responding with a median response of
$223,000.00 after forty years. The correct answer is almost $2.5 million. Use your spreadsheet to prove this for yourself.

HM’s father passed away before he retired, and he was denied a large amount of the pension he should have received. Nevertheless, both his parents had managed their finances carefully. All they invested in were FDIC insured savings accounts and Certificates of Deposit. HM was amazed at the money his Mom accumulated. She was in fine shape, placed no burden on him, and left him a substantial inheritance.

HM’s parents also never carried credit card debt. No one should ever carry credit card debt. This debt is compounded, and increases at a nonlinear rate just as savings accounts do. But unlike savings accounts, debt is subtracted.

Actually the rates that are charged are usurious and should not be allowed. But the financial industry has effectively bought congress. (You should know that the United States has the best congress money can buy). Added to this are the clever programs where you gain rewards for using the card. Using the card and earning rewards is not a problem unless you do not pay off the card monthly when it is due. You should remember if you carry credit debt you are losing money.

Behavioral economics has some effective ideas to aid in better financial decisions (enter, “behavioral economics” into the healthy memory blog search box to find additional posts on behavioral economics). It has found ways to nudge better decisions. Nudging can be done by setting defaults. Rather than have employees opt in regarding retirement contributions, have them opt out if they do not want to contribute. Have being an organ donor being the default option on a driver’s license, and have them opt out if they do not want to be a donor. The big idea of the nudge approach is that it easier and more effective to change the environment that it is to change the person. Once we understand what quirks of cognition drive behavior, we can design the environment so that those quirks help us instead of hurting us.

We can apply these lessons to how we make decisions as part of a community of knowledge. Realizing that people are explanation foes—that we usually don’t have the inclination or even the capability to master he details of all our decisions, we can try to structure the environment to help ourselves make good decisions despite our lack of understanding.

Reduce Complexity
Simple Decision Rules
Just-in-Time Education
Check Out Understanding


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

Making People Smart

July 14, 2017

This is the eleventh post in the series The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Unabridged), written by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. Making People Smart is a chapter in this book.

The authors state, “The illusion of comprehension arises because people confuse understanding with familiarity or recognition. When you reread text at a later time, it seems familiar. Psychologist Paul Kolers provided an extreme case of this by having people read inverted text. More than a year later the same people could read the same text faster than different text they hadn’t read before. Thus, they had retained a memory over the course of a year for how to read specific text.

A problem that we all have is that this sense of familiarity can be confused with actual understanding of the material. It’s one thing to be familiar with some text or to know it by heart, but another to really get a full understanding of its meaning. Comprehension requires processing text with care and effort in a deliberate manner. It requires thinking about the author’s intention. This isn’t obvious to everyone and many students confuse studying with light reading. The knowledge illusion extends to education as well. Learning requires breaking common habits by processing information more deeply.

Sloan and Fernbach neglect to discuss how current technology hinders the development of fuller and deeper understanding. In their chapter on Thinking with Technology they did discuss how technology fools us into thinking we know more than we know. But they did not discuss how being continually plugged in and multitasking prevents fuller and deeper understanding. The belief that we can multitask is mistaken. What we are in reality doing is switching between, or all too often, among tasks, and the act of switching has attentional and cognitive costs. Fuller and deeper understanding comes from concentrating on one topic for a prolonged period of time. Usually many such encounters are often needed for this fuller and deeper understanding. Multitasking fosters superficial, not deep processing.

We suffer from the knowledge illusion when we confuse what experts know with what we ourselves know. The fact that we can access someone else’s knowledge makes us feel like we already know what we’re talking about. We are not built to become masters of all subjects, but we are built to participate in a community.

The authors write, “A real education includes learning that you don’t know certain things (a lot of things). Instead of looking in at the knowledge you do have, you learn to look for the knowledge you don’t have. To do this, you have to let go of some hubris; you have to accept what you don’t know. Learning what you don’t know is just a matter of looking at the frontiers of your knowledge and wondering what is out there beyond the border. It’s about asking why.”

Since 2006, a course entitled “Ignorance” has been taught at Columbia University. Guest scientists are invited to speak about what “they don’t know, what they think is critical to know, how they might get to know it, what will happen if they do find this or that thing out, and what might happen if they don’t.” The course focuses on all that is not in the textbooks and thus guides students to think about what is unknown and what could be known. The idea is to focus not on what students themselves don’t know, but what entire fields of science don’t know, with the aim of provoking and directing students to ask questions about the foundations of a scientific field. This course requires that students ponder not just some set of scientific theories; it requires that they begin to understand what the entire community has and hasn’t mastered.

Being a cognitive psychologist, HM has needed to learn about many disciplines, computer science, neuroscience, statistics, and linguistics, to name just a few. This is vastly more knowledge that one individual can comprehend. So much knowledge is accepted as faith. What distinguishes this faith from religious faith is that there is a higher power to appeal to: namely the power of verification. The Dalai Lama is a religious leader who is unique in that he incorporates scientific results into the Buddhist religion.

It was perhaps when HM graduated from high school that he had high confidence in what he knew. His undergraduate education quickly disabused him of this notion, and his graduate and continuing studies have increased his awareness of how much he does not know.

We all need to become better consumers of information. We need to be skeptical when deciphering the media. As has been noted in previous posts that there is a profitable business in false science and false news. Adrian Chen wrote in the New York Times Magazine of Russian “troll farm”, which was a business whose employees are assigned pro-Kremlin viewpoints and putative information to propagate by blogging, posting on social media sites, and flooding comment sections of news sites, often using false identities. It is sad that this sort of thing goes on all the time in both the political and commercial domains. All of which emphasizes that we should be modest about what we do know, to never have absolute beliefs in anything, and to constantly try to increase our understanding so we can use knowledge more effectively, and perhaps contribute to communal understanding.

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


The New Definition of Smart

July 13, 2017

This is the tenth post in the series The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Unabridged), written by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. The New Definition of Smart is a chapter in this book.

The chapter begins by stating that we tend to be knowledgeable of only a few, and oftentimes one, individuals for an area accomplishment. Martin Luther King, jr., is known by most people as being key to the Civil Rights Movement. In reality, many people over a prolonged period of time were involved in the movement. They write that the tendency to substitute individuals for complicated entities can be seen in how we talk about institutions. We talk about the Eisenhower administration or the Kennedy administration as if the president of the United States personally carried out all the function of the executive branch of government. The Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, runs to about 20,000 or so pages of legalese. The authors ask how much of it do you think that Barack Obama himself wrote? Their guess is none. We speak of great scientists as if they changed the world, but they did not do it alone. Wasn’t it the great physicist Sir Isaac Newton who said that if he saw further than other men it was because he stood on the shoulders of giants?

The authors spend a good deal of time discussing the concept of intelligence, commonly referred to as IQ and how it has developed. Rather then try to summarize their summary consider the title of a presentation that Robert J. Sternberg made at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science in 2017, “Are We Creating a Society of Smart Fools? Lesson from 40+ Years of Research on Human Intelligence, Creativity, and Wisdom”. HM can think of no better expert as an authority on this topic.


Sloan and Fernbach, building on the concept of a group mind come up with the concept of c for collective intelligence. Diversity is important for successful groups. A group in which everyone has the same expertise will unlikely be effective. The question is what are the objectives for a group, and what areas of expertise are needed to fill it. Then one searches for these unique pieces and asks the question, what does a given individual add to the group. As the group advances it is likely that new sources of expertise will be required and that groups will be dynamic. If a new member does improve a group, c increases.

This concept of c is relatively new. A team led by Anita Woolley of the Tepper School of Business is developing this concept. Instead of testing people individually, they gave each of forty teams of these people a variety of tests that included brainstorming the possible uses for a brick, Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices that is often used as a quick assessment of intelligence, a moral reasoning problem, a shopping trip planning task, and a group typing taAnisk. Each team did each task together.

All tasks were positively correlated in that a group who did well on one task was more likely to do well on another task than a group who didn’t do well on the first task. Thus, they uncovered c the factor. The new research being done suggests that the success of a group is not predominately a function of the intelligence of its individuals, but rather by how well they work together with their respective competencies.

Obviously c is a very promising concept, one for which much work still needs to be done.

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



Thinking About Politics

July 11, 2017

This is the ninth post in the series The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Unabridged), written by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. Thinking About Politics is a chapter in this book.

HM remembers when the Affordable Care Act was being debated, a woman was asked what she thought about it. She remarked that she was strongly in favor of it. However, when she was asked about Obamacare, she said that she was strongly against it. Such is the state of politics in the United States. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation in April 2013, found that more than 40% of Americans were not even aware that the Affordable Care Act was Law (12% thought it had been repealed by Congress—it hadn’t.)

Drs. Sloman and Fernbach write that public opinion is more extreme than people’s understanding justifies. Americans who most strongly justified military intervention in the Ukraine in 2014 were the ones least able to identify Ukraine’s location on a map. A survey out of Oklahoma State University’s Department of Agricultural Economics asked consumers whether the labeling of foods produced with genetic engineering should be mandatory. 80% of the respondents thought that it should. But 80% also approved of a law stating that there should be mandatory labels on foods containing DNA. They believe that people have the right to know if their food has DNA. So these respondents thought that all meats, vegetables, and grains should be labeled “BEWARE HAS DNA.” But we would all die if we avoided foods that contain DNA.

We all need to appreciate how little we understand. The authors write, “Taken to its extreme, the failure to appreciate how little we understand combined with community support, can ignite really dangerous mechanisms. You don’t have to know much history to know how societies can become caldrons in an attempt to create a uniform ideology, boiling away independent thinking and political opposition through propaganda and terror. Socrates died because of a desire for ancient Athenians to rid themselves of contaminated thinking. So did Jesus at the hands of the Romans. This is why the first crusades were launched to free Jerusalem of the infidel, and why the Spanish Inquisition drove Jews and Muslims to convert to Christianity or leave Spain between 1492 and 1501. The twentieth century was shaped by the demons of ideological purity, from Stalin’s purges, executions, and mass killings to Mao’s Great Leap Forward: the herding of millions of people into agricultural communes and industrial working groups, with the result than many starved. And we haven’t even mentioned the incarcerations and death camps of Nazi Germany.”

The authors write, “Proponents of political positions often cast policies that most people see as consequentialist in values-based terms in order to hide their ignorance, prevent moderation of opinion, and block compromise. They note the health care debate as a perfect example of this. Most people just want the best health care for the most people at the most affordable price. This is what the national conversation should be about how to achieve this. But this might be technical and boring. So politicians and interest groups make it about sacred values. One side asks whether the government should be making decisions about our health care, focusing the audience on the importance of limited government. The other side asks whether everybody in the country deserves decent health care, focusing on the value of generosity and preventing harm to others. The authors say that both sides are missing the point. All of us should have similar values: we want to be healthy, we want others to be healthy, and we want doctors and other medical professionals to be compensated, but we don’t want to pay too much. The health care debate should not be about basic values, because in most people’s minds basic values are not the issue. The issue is the best way to achieve the best outcomes.

Ideologies and ideologues are the bane of effective government. They constrain alternatives and blind us to obvious solutions. As mentioned in the second post in this series, other advanced countries have effectively addressed the problem of healthy care with a single payer system in which that single payer is the government. There are already proven examples from which to choose. But in the United States, ideology has deemphasized the role of government, and the single payer system is regarded as a radical solution.

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


Thinking About Science

July 9, 2017

This is the eighth post in the series The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Unabridged), written by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. Thinking About Science is a chapter in this book.

Were it not for science and, more importantly, scientific thinking we would still be living in the dark middle ages. Our wealth and health is due to scientific thinking. Yet knowledge about science and belief in scientific facts is lacking. HM admires the Amish. Although they reject science, they live the humble lives dictated by their beliefs. Too many others enjoy the fruits of science yet reject scientific methods and findings. Their lack of respect for science exposes us to the continued risks of global warming and puts unvaccinated children at risk, to name just two problems.

In 1985, Walter Bodmer, a German-born geneticist, who is a professor at Oxford University in the UK, was appointed by the Royal Society of London to lead a team to evaluate the current state of attitudes toward science and technology in Britain. The Royal Society was concerned about antiscientific sentiment in Britain, seeing it as a serious risk to societal well-being. The results and recommendations of the study were published in a seminal paper known as the Bodmer Report.

Previous research had focused primarily on measuring attitudes directly, but Bodmer and his team argued for a single and intuitive idea that opposition to science and technology is driven by a lack of understanding. So via the promotion of better understanding of science, society can promote more favorable attitudes and take better advantage of the benefits afforded by science and technology. This idea about science attitudes is called the deficit model. According to this model, antiscientific thinking is due to a knowledge deficit. Once this deficit is filled, antiscientific attitudes will be mitigated or will disappear.

The paucity of scientific knowledge and abundance of antiscientific beliefs have been documented in all societies that have been studied. Although there is a weak relationship between scientific knowledge and attitudes about science, attempts to address the deficit model have failed. This is in spite of the millions and millions of dollars spent on research, curriculum design, outreach and communication, little to no headway has been achieved.

HM thinks that science is so vast and continually expanding that the deficit is simply too large to fill. Although scientists are knowledgeable in their specialties, as they move away from the specialities that knowledge falls off.

But there is another explanation that scientific attitudes are not based on the rational evaluation of evidence, so providing information does not change them. Attitudes are determined instead by a host of contextual and cultural factors.

These two explanations are not mutually exclusive. They are likely both operative.

One of the leading voices promoting this new perspective is Dan Kahan, a Yale law professor. He argues that our attitudes are not based on rational, detached evaluation of evidence because our beliefs are not isolated pieces of data that we can take and discard at will. Instead these beliefs are intertwined with other beliefs, shared cultural values, and our identities, To discard a belief means discarding a whole host of other beliefs, forsaking our communities, going against those we trust and love, virtually challenging our identities.

Drs. Sloman and Fernbach flesh out this theory by the story of Mike McHargue, who now is a podcaster and blogger who goes by the moniker Science Mike. Mike once attended a fundamentalist church and held fundamentalist beliefs. When he reached his thirties he began reading scientific literature and his faith in these beliefs began to waver. His initial reaction was to lose his faith completely, but for a long time he kept his new beliefs from his community. Eventually a personal experience helped him rediscover his faith and he is now, once again, a practicing Christian, but he continues to reject his fundamentalist church’s antiscientific beliefs.

Here is Science Mike’s response to a caller who has begun to question many of his beliefs:

Do I have advice on how to live when you’re at odds with your community? Absolutely. Do not live at odds with your community… You are a time bomb right now. Because at some point you won’t be able to pretend anymore, and you will speak honestly, and there will be a measure of collateral damage and fallout in your church. It’s time to move on. It’s time to find a faith community that believes as you believe…When that happens, you’re going to lose relationships. Some people cannot agree to disagree and those relationships can become abusive…There is a lot of pain because there are some people who are dear to me that I can’t talk to anymore…It is not possible for us to have the relationship we once had, and it’s rough. I’m not gonna lie. It’s rough.

This poignant response provides useful and important advice.

HM accepts the fundamental thesis of Drs. Sloman and Fernbach, that our knowledge is inadequate. Scientific evidence can be wrong, but at any given time, the scientific evidence available is the best information to use. We ignore it at our peril.

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

Thinking with Other People

July 7, 2017

This is the sixth post in the series The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Unabridged), written by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. Thinking with Other People is a chapter in this book. The evolution of modern humans from other species of hominids was extremely rapid on an evolutionary time scale. It began with the emergence of the genus Homo on the African savannah 2 to 3 million years ago. Sloan and Fernbach note that the great leap that humanity took during that period was cognitive. The brain mass of modern humans is about three times that of our early hominid ancestors.

A compelling hypothesis, the social brain hypothesis, is that the driving force of the evolution of human intelligence was the coordination of multiple cognitive systems to pursue complex, shared goals. Living in a group confers advantages, such as hunting, but it demands certain cognitive abilities. There are needs to communicate in sophisticated ways, to understand and incorporate the perspectives of others, and the sharing of common goals. According to the social brain hypothesis the cognitive demands and adaptive advantages associated with living in a group created a snowball effect: As groups got larger and developed more complex joint behaviors, individuals developed new capabilities to support those behaviors, which in turn allowed groups to get even larger and allowed group behavior to become even more complex.

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar, whom we have encountered previously in healthy memory blog posts, tested the social brain hypothesis against the ecological hypothesis. He collected data on many species of primates on brain size as well as facts about the environment they live in like the extent of their roaming territory and dietary habits, and facts about their societies such as their average group size. Brain size and group size are closely related. Primate species that live in large groups have bigger brains. Environmental measures such as territory size and diet were unrelated.

Increased brain size led to language and what sets people apart from other species is the ability to seamlessly communicate ideas of arbitrary complexity. Members of a hunting party need to understand the intentions of others in the hunting party so that each can play their respective roles.

Sloan and Fernbach argue that we humans have the unique capability of shared intentionality. They argue that this ability is one that no other machine or cognitive system does: We can share our attention with someone else. When we interact with one another, we do not merely experience the same event; we also know we are experiencing the same event. And this knowledge that we are sharing our attention changes more than the nature of the experience; it also changes what we do and what we’re about to accomplish in conjunction with others.

Sloan and Fernbach contine, “Sharing attention is a crucial step on the road to being a full collaborator in a group sharing cognitive labor, in a community of knowledge. Once we can share attention, we can share common ground. We know some things that we know others know, and we know that they we know (and of course we know that they know that we know, etc.) The knowledge is not just distributed; it is shared. Once knowledge is shared in this way, we can share intentionality, we can jointly pursue a common goal. A basic human talent is to share intentions with others so that we can accomplish things collaboratively. HM thinks that Sloan and Fernbach are describing the ideal situation. It is not unusual for consultants and training to be required to make this happen. And many organizations continue to function in a state that is far from ideal.

Sloan and Fernbach note that the knowledge illusion is the flip side of what economists call the curse of knowledge. When we know something, we find it hard to imagine that someone else doesn’t know it. The curse of knowledge sometimes comes in the form of hindsight bias. “The curse of knowledge is that we tend to think what is in our heads is in the heads of others. In the knowledge illusion, we tend to think what is in others’ heads is in our heads. In both cases, we fail to discern who knows what.

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


The Illusion of Understanding

July 4, 2017

This is the third post in the series The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Unabridged), written by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach.

In the 1980s the cognitive scientist Thomas Landauer decided to estimate the size of human memory on the same scale that is used to measure the size of computer memories. He used several clever techniques to measure how much knowledge people have. For example, he estimated the size of an average adult’s vocabulary and calculated how many bytes would be required to store that much information. Then he used that result to estimate the size of the average adult’s entire knowledge base. The answer was half of a gigabyte. Currently HM is looking at his USB flash drive with 32 gigabytes of storage.

Dr. Landauer did another study in which he measured the difference in recognition performance between a group that had been exposed to items and a group that had not. This difference is as pure a measure of memory that one can get. He measured the amount of time people spent learning the material in the first place. This told him the rate at which people are able to acquire information that they later remember. He also found a way to take into account that people forget. His analyses found that people acquire information at roughly the same rate regardless of the details of the procedure used in the experiment to the type of material being learned. People learn at approximately the same rate whether the items were visual, verbal, or musical.

Then Dr. Landauer calculated how much information people have on hand, the size of their knowledge base, by assuming they learn at this same rate over the course of a seventy-year lifetime. The same result of 1 gigabyte was obtained by every technique he tried. This number is just a tiny fraction of what a modern laptop can retain.

Drs. Sloman and Fernbach note that this is only shocking if you believe the human mind works like a computer. The model of the mind a machine designed to encode and retain memories breaks down when you consider the complexity of the world with which we interact. They conclude that it would be futile for memory to be designed to hold tons of information because there’s just too much out there.

Drs. Sloman and Fernbach note that most of cognition consists of intuitive thought that occurs below the level of conscious awareness. Huge quantities of information are processed in parallel. People are not computers in that we don’t just rely on a central processor that reads and writes to a memory to think. We rely on our bodies, on the world around us, and on other minds. There’s no way we could store in our heads, all there is to know about our environment.

We humans are surprisingly ignorant, more ignorant that we think. We also exist in a complex world, one that is even more complex than one might have thought. But if we’re so ignorant, how can we get around, sound knowledgeable, and take ourselves seriously while understanding only a tiny fraction of what there is to know?

The authors’ answer is that we do so by living a lie. We ignore complexity by overestimating how much we know about how things work, by living life in the belief that we know how things work even when we don’t. We tell ourselves the we understand what’s going on, that our opinions are justified by our knowledge, and that our actions are in justified beliefs even hough they are not. We tolerate complexity by failing to recognize it. That’s the Illusion of understanding.

The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Unabridged)

July 1, 2017

“The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone” is an important book by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. An earlier healthy memory blog post with the same title as the book has already been written. That post was based on a summary of the book done by Elizabeth Kolbert for the New Yorker. Having now read the entire book, HM feels that this volume deserves more detailed attention.

Drs. Sloman and Fernbach are cognitive scientists. Cognitive science emerged in the 1950s to understand the workings of the human mind. It asks questions such as “how is thinking possible?” What goes on inside the brain that allows sentient beings to do math, understand their mortality, act virtuously and (sometimes) selflessly, and still do simple things, like eat with a knife and fork? Currently no machine, and probably no other animal, is capable of these acts.

The authors write, “The human mind is not like a desktop computer, designed to hold reams of information. The mind is a flexible problem solver that evolved to extract only the most useful information to guide decisions in new situations. As a consequence, we individuals store very little detailed information about the world in our heads. In that sense people are like bees and society a beehive: Our intelligence resides not in individual brains, but in the collective mind. To function, individuals rely not only on knowledge stored within our skulls, but also on knowledge stored elsewhere: in our bodies, in the environment, and especially in other people.” In the lingo of the healthy memory blog, information not held within our individual brains, is stored in transactive memory. The authors conclude, “When you put it all together, human thought thought is incredibly impressive, but it is a product of a community, not of any individual alone.”

The authors make a compelling argument that we all suffer, to a greater or lesser extent, from an illusion of understanding, an illusion that we understand how things work when in fact our understanding is meager. Unfortunately, we are not adequately aware of the shortcomings in our understanding. We think we understand much much more than we actually do. Readers of the healthy memory blog should be aware of the risks of having absolute beliefs, that all beliefs should be hedged with some reasonable degree of doubt.

The authors note that history is full of events that seem familiar, that elicit a sense of mild to deep understanding, but whose true historical context is different that we imagine. The complex details get lost in the mist of time while myths emerge that simplify and make stories digestible in part to service one interest group or another. There is a very interesting book by James W. Lowen titled “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook got wrong”. He argues that history as taught in the public schools is basically propaganda advanced by the school board selecting texts. HM found this book most instructive. People should be recalled for a defective education, but reading this book is more practical.

It is also important to remember that the study of history is dynamic. New research yields new interpretations of history.

The authors write, “Thought is for action. Thinking evolved as an extension of the ability to act effectively; it evolved to make us better at doing what’s necessary to achieve our goals. Thought allows us to select from among a set of possible actions by predicting the effects of each action and by imagining how the world would be if we had taken different actions in the past.”

It is unlikely that we would have survived had we been dependent on only the limited knowledge stored in our individual brains. The authors write,”The secret to our success is that we live in a world in which knowledge is all around us. It is in the things we make, in our bodies and workspaces, and another people. We live in a community of knowledge.”

But not all of this is knowledge is accurate, meaning that there are degrees of belief and some knowledge is faux. Understanding that our knowledge is not golden can offer us improved ways of approaching our most complex problems. Recognizing the limits of our understanding should make us more humble, and open our minds to other people’s ideas and ways of thinking. The authors note that It offers lessons about how to avoid things like bad financial decisions, and can enable us to improve our political system and help us assess how much reliance we should have on experts versus how much decision-making power should be given to individual voters.

The authors write, “This book is being written at a time of immense polarization on the American political scene. Liberals and conservative find each other’s views repugnant, and as a result, Democrats and Republicans cannot find common ground or compromise.” The authors note, “One reason for this gridlock is that both politicians and voters don’t realize how little they understand. Whenever an issue is important enough for public debate, it is also complicated enough to be difficult to understand.” They conclude, “Complexity abounds. If everybody understood this, our society would likely be less polarized.”

Neuroscience is much in the news as there have been many exciting developments in the field. Little is currently being written about cognitive science, although there are exciting and relevant new findings in cognitive science. The following is directly quoted from “The Knowledge Illusion: ”Our skulls may delimit the frontier of our brains, but they do not limit the frontier of our knowledge. The mind stretches beyond to include the body, the environment, and people other than one’s-self, so the study of the mind cannot be reduced to the study of the brain. Cognitive science is not the same as neuroscience.”

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

The Brain Starts to Eat Itself After Chronic Sleep Deprivation

June 30, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Andy Coghlan in the News & Technology section of the May 27, 2017 issue of the New Scientist. Michele Belles of the Marche Polytechnic University in Italy says the chronic sleep deprivation could explain why a chronic lack of sleep puts people at his age of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.

The brain cells that destroy and digest worn-out cells and debris go into overdrive in mice that are chronically sleep deprived. Although this might b beneficial in the short term, clearing potentially harmful debris and rebuilding worn circuitry might protect health connections. But when this continues in the long term it destroys healthy brain material.

The researchers specifically looked at glial cells, which serve as the brain’s housekeeping system. Previous research had found that a gene that regulates the activity of these cells is more active after a period of sleep deprivation. One type pf glial cell called an astrocyte, removes unnecessary synapses in the brain to remodel its wiring. Another type of cell, called a microglial cell, prowls the brain for damaged cells and debris.

The research suggest that sleep loss can trigger astrocytes to start breaking down more of the brain’s connections and their debris. Bells says, “We show for the first time that portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss.

The researcher found that microglial cells were more active after chronic sleep deprivation (Journal of Neuroscience, 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3981-16.2017). Excessive microglial activity has been linked to a range of brain disorders. Bells says, “We already know that sustained microglial activation has been observed in Alzheimer’s and other forms of neurodegeneration.

This research could explain why a lack of sleep seems to make people more vulnerable to developing such dementias.

It is still not clear whether getting more sleep could protect the brain or rescue if from the effects of a few sleepless nights. The researchers plan to investigate how long the effects of sleep deprivation last.

To learn more about the effects of sleep deprivation, enter “sleep deprivation” into the search block of the healthymemory blog.dem


Memory Biases, Rumination, and Depression: Underlying Mechanisms and Novel Interventions.

June 28, 2017

The title of this blog is identical to the title of a symposium at the 29th Annual Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science. The primary participants were Samantha L. Connoly, Ellis J. Hamlat, and Paula T. Hertel. All these topics have been addressed in previous healthymemory blog posts.

Memory biases are a correlate of and potential cognitive variability factor for depression. This symposium examined novel interventions informed by these relationships.

They used a variety of methodologies including ecological momentary assessment, inhibition bias modification, and memory training.

Overgeneral memory impairs rumination inhibition, verbal fluency and working memory.

Memory specificity training was administered in 4 one hour sessions. Memory strategy training included the method of loci, chunking and other techniques.

The results were promising, but much more work is needed to decrease memory biases and rumination affecting depression.



The Benefits of Mindfulness for Uncertain Waiting

June 27, 2017

Most of us don’t like waiting. Waiting is stressful. This is especially true when we don’t know how long we’ll be waiting. Consider law students who have taken the bar exam and don’t know when they’ll receive their results regarding whether they’ll be admitted to the bar. Professor Sweeney delivered a presentation titled “Bracing later and Coping Better: Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation during an Uncertain Waiting Period” at the 29th Annual Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science.

The study divided law students awaiting the results of their bar exam into two groups. The experimental group was provided an audio presentation for self-guided mindfulness. The mindfulness was of the loving-kindness variety. The participants were asked to practice this mindfulness three times a week. A control group practiced a control activity.

Although the participants who practiced mindfulness worried the same as the participants in the control group, they managed their expectations better and reported coping better. The participants who were at risk for poor coping benefitted most.



Cognitive Restoration Through Interactions in Nature

June 26, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a presentation by Professor David L. Strayer at the 29th Annual Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science. The healthy memory blog has many posts, ten to be exact, on the work of Professor Strayer. Most of these have been on divided attention and the increased risks when one is talking on a cell phone while driving. However, his presentation at this meeting was about the benefits of nature.

The cognitive and emotional benefits from exposure to natural environments are well known. This current research was on the mechanisms of cognitive restoration through interactions with nature. They found that when spending time outdoors near biomarkers of frontal activity decrease, positive emotions and feelings of well-being increase, and event memory improves.

So this gives us some insight as to why we feel so good interacting with nature.



June 25, 2017

EverWalk is a new organization founded by marathon swimmer Diana Nyad and Bonnie Stoll. The goal of this organization is to get more people walking. Check out their website Healthy memory is promoting this organization because physical health underlies memory health.

Perhaps the primary feature of walking is that it does no harm. Perhaps the only other activity for which that can be said is swimming, provided you do not drown. Probably running is the most popular exercise, but HM knows very few runners who do not suffer injuries from running. Sometimes these injuries can be quite severe, but runners tend to persevere because it seems to have an addictive quality. HM’s favorite activity is biking. He once suffered a painful broken collarbone, but resumed biking. As he became a senior citizen he ceased biking, because broken bones can result in swift declines.

The putative purposes of sports are to promote health and, for team sports, sportsmanship. But is it not both counterproductive and ironic when these sports result in physical injuries. Consider football, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is a devastating injury to the brain. It is even more ironic when football is promoted by educational universities. One can even think of universities where the university is basically a justification for a football team.

Try walking. Try walking and meditating, activities that promote healthy memories.

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

Is the Electorate Becoming More Stupid?

June 7, 2017

One of the more interesting, and depressing, presentations during the 29th Annual Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science was Kayla Jordan’s presentation titled “Great Debating: The Influence of the 2016 Presidential Debates on Public Opinion.” She has software that measures the sophistication of English. The software does not measure content, but rather the sophistication in which the content is presented. She used this software to measure the sophistication of the presentations of the different candidates. In the Republican debates basically all the candidates, except one, had fairly sophisticated presentations. Not surprisingly, that low outlier was Donald Trump, who won the Republican primaries. In the debates in the national election, Hillary Clinton was head and shoulders above Donald Trump who won the election. So the likely answer to the question posed in the title is “yes,” and that Donald Trump knew how to pander to this stupidity.

Of course, hope springs eternal, so the initial thought was that this election was an anomaly resulting from peculiarities surrounding this election. To assess whether there was “Balm in Gilead” Dr. Jordan analyzed the speeches done in prior elections. She found a consistent pattern in that the candidates who scored lower in sophistication tended to win the election.

Dr. Jordan went further in analyzing the inaugural addresses of all the Presidents. She found that the most sophisticated inaugural address was George Washington’s, and there was a continuing downward trend thereafter. A colleague who read a draft of this post informed me that Washington’s inaugural address was written almost entirely by Hamilton. This point should be kept in mind when considering these data. Today’s presidents have ready access to speechwriters.

This finding is indeed curious. Both education and technology level have increased since Washington’s time. Many people were illiterate in Washington’s time and illiteracy was a serious problem in fielding an army for World War I. Of course, there is ample data indicating that voters are ill-informed on the issues and that many do not vote in their own interests. Perhaps higher education levels have led many to believe that they know more than they do. Perhaps increases in technology have diluted good messages and introduced lies and false news. Or perhaps, politicians are learning that simpler messages are more persuasive. Let us hope that Trump represents the degenerate case, and that matters will rebound in the future. Otherwise the answer to the title of this post is a resounding YES, and we can kiss off the future of our democracy.

Of course, Donald Trump did not win the popular vote; he won the abomination called the electoral college. It is interesting to read the ostensible justification of the electoral college, which apparently was to prevent someone unfit for the Presidency, like Donald Trump, to win a popular election. It is a tad ironic that many Americans vote only in Presidential elections. Yet, in Presidential elections, the odds are that their vote will not count. Citizens need to demand that all votes count and that there be one vote for each citizen.

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

How to Get Scientists and Politicians Talking the Same Language

June 5, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by David Willetts in the News section of the 3 June 2017 issue of the New Scientist. David Willetts was the UK’s science minister from 2010 to 2014. Currently, he chairs the British Science Association.

Willetts begins, “ELECTIONS can be a frustrating reminder of how deep the mutual incomprehension is between scientists and politicians. And the reasons are that researchers don’t like how politicians appeal to instinct and revere as “intuitive wisdom” what scientists see as ignorance and prejudice, or their use of creative ambiguity rather than precision to reconcile conflicting views. But scientists seem to politicians like a pressure group after funds, one with a patronizing assumption of superiority. The question here is what is the justification for the funds. But the majority of published research has already been paid for. So why not pay attention to it? Moreover, the money, and really big money is to be found in debunking science, not in conducting quality research. Although it might be desirable to drop the patronizing attitude, the scientists are superior in their methods and in their subject knowledge.

An important point that the article misses is that good scientists should caveat their results. Findings can always be wrong and science is always an ongoing project that is subject to change. Nevertheless, it presents the best answers that are available to date. Claims of certainty should always be rejected.

Scientists need to make their voices heard and politicians need to see their value. Every major policy review should include a consideration of the relevant technological advances. In the United States there is a Congressional Budget Office that provides studies on the various costs of different policies. There should also be a Congressional Scientific Office (CSO) that provides the best scientific counsel. The CSO could also conduct research and design experiments to resolve political differences. Of course, this change in the United States would require a new administration.

Willetts also argues about the importance of a good liberal arts education. Nonscientists should learn some science and inferential statistics. Scientists and engineers need to learn some of the humanities. HM remembers that when he attended Ohio State University, a bachelor’s degree in engineering took five years. The engineering faculty had decided that four years of engineering were required to become an engineer, but it was important to have a full year of liberal arts. It is important for politicians also to have some understanding of these issues. One problem is that lawyers predominant and legal thinking alone is dangerous.

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

Back from the 29th Annual Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science (APS)

June 1, 2017

HM attended the very first meeting of the APS. Time really does fly. HM has attended many more meetings since then, and he has become quite proficient at attending these programs. At one time it was common for there to be published proceedings of these meetings. For large meetings one would have several large books to schlep around. Then a transition was made to putting the printed programs on CDs.

However, today the norm has been for there to be no printed records, so one has to try to attend the presentations that are of interest. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for there to be multiple programs of interest at the same time, and a choice has to be made as to which one to attend. Most speakers use slides, and all to often, these slides cannot be read by everyone in the room. Speakers are given an alloted time for their presentations. HM has been a speaker and must confess to making the same mistakes. The primary concern is getting through the presentation in the alloted amount of time. HM used to plan for his presentation to be well within the allotted time, because speakers do go over time with the result of squeezing the remaining speakers of their alloted time. But still HM thinks that most of us do not pace the presentation properly. We do not allow sufficient time for the listeners to think about and process our presentations. And frequently there is insufficient time to take proper notes. The speaker is already on to the next slide before the main points of the preceding slide can be adequately captured. This is HM’s excuse for not adequately summarizing these presentations in his posts. Plus these meetings are mentally exhausting.

This time the exhaustion is even greater due to all the investigations taking place. Watergate took place while HM was a graduate student. That was a time of critical importance for the United States. The current problem portends a much greater importance.

It is already clear that Russia did disrupt the 2016 presidential election. The open questions are whether they stole the election, whether there was collusion between the campaign and the Russians, and financial matters that could have contributed to the problem.

During the election it was disturbing to learn that Trump idolized Putin. Putin worked his way up as a KGB agent and used his skills to become the de facto leader of a kleptocracy. How can a US president idolize such a man? It is doubtful that anyone expressing admiration of a Soviet or Russian leader could ever have gotten a security clearance much less be elected President of the United States.

We learn that a War Room is being set up. A War against what? the truth? It should be understood that given the conclusion that Russia did hack America, it is obligatory that an investigation to undertaken to assess whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. These investigations are not the result of the press or of leakers. Investigations must be done. There are also financial investigations that must be done and they have just begun. It is imperative that we know whether there are any financial dealings resulting in compromises in the Trump administration. This will take some time. All of this could be done more efficiently with the cooperation of Trump. War rooms and tweeter attacks are counterproductive.

There is a good book by Malcolm Nance titled “THE PLOT TO HACK AMERICA: How Putin’s Cyberspies and Wikileaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election.” This book provides an enormous amount of information that can help us follow the current investigations.

Nevertheless, following these investigations on top of the normal fatigue from attending a scientific meeting will likely slow down my blogging about the conference.

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

How to Daydream Your Way to Better Concentration

May 20, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Caroline Williams in the Features Section of the 20 May 2017 Issue of the New Scientist.  Actually the magazine cover featured the title “CONCENTRATION!  How to take control of your wandering mind,” which referred to this article.

The article notes that “if losing concentration sometimes feels inevitable, that’s because it is—your brain is hardwired to give in to distractions and take you away with the fairies.  Unfortunately, science has long promoted the idea that a wandering mind is the enemy of productivity.  Failing to focus had been linked to a lack of success, unhappiness, stress, and poor relationships.  But remember that science should never be 100% confident.  There is always the chance that new research will change beliefs.  Beliefs always should be subject to change.

Psychologists have been wondering why we spend so much time in a state of revery if it’s truly harmful.  They’ve discovered that there are several kinds of mind-wandering, and they don’t all make us unhappy or unproductive.  If we know how to use it, a wandering mind could even be a key weapon in our cognitive arsenal.

Generally speaking, we have two attention systems that constantly keep track of what’s going on around us.  There is a constant tug of war between the executive control network, which is a set of brain areas responsible for goal-oriented thinking and controlling impulses, and the default mode network, which fires up when we think about nothing in particular.  The default mode network uses its time to do various bits of housekeeping—sorting through memories, forward planning and filing new information.  And it is also the brain region that is most active when we daydream.  “Our ability to stay on track largely depends on keeping the volume of chatter between them low.  Too much activity on the default mode network, or too little executive control, leads to a mind that is prone to losing focus.”

The brain seems to find mind-wandering easier than concentrating.  Recent research has shown that the default mode network is highly connected to itself and other brain regions, allowing it to flit between many different mental states with little energy input.  The executive control network is more sparsely connected, so it requires more input to shout over the noise, which is what is happening when we’re trying to concentrate.  Even on a normal day we spend as much as 50% of our time thinking about anything except what we should be doing.

There are advantages to this propensity to drift off.  For instance, we already know that daydreaming brings numerous benefits to do with creativity and forward planning.  After figuring out a flaw in previous research, we’re starting to see that those benefits extend even further.

Until recently, researchers assumed that volunteers asked to do a boring task in the lab would try their hardest to concentrate until mind-wandering unintentionally took over.  They failed to consider that sometimes we intentionally let our mind drift to more appealing topics, especially when doing something boring.

In an experiment, Paul Seli interrupted people during a task to ask if their minds were wandering.  If they were, he asked whether it had happened intentionally, or if their thoughts had just drifted unconsciously.  More than a third of the time, the mind-wandering was intentional.  Questionnaires asking people about their daydreaming habits put the number even higher suggesting that more than half the time it starts of as a choice.   Seli concluded “A considerable portion of our time seems to be spent off in la-la land.”

Seli used brain imaging to find out what’s going on during intentional and unintentional mind-wandering.  Seli and his team last year imaged the brains of people who tended towards one or the other and found that their brains are set up slightly differently.  Both groups did about the same amount of mind-wandering overall, but those who were prone to doing it intentionally had better connectivity between their brains’ executive control and default mode networks.  This result suggests that with intentional mind-wandering, rather than the executive control network losing its grip over the default mode network, it was actually in charge of the whole experience.  So although it feels like daydreaming, we are still in control of our mind.

The distinction between these different styles of mind-wandering is important.  Mind-wandering has been linked to some of the symptoms of ADHD and obsessive compulsive disorder, both conditions in which a lack of control over certain behaviors can interfere with getting things done.  But this recent research shows that this is true only of unintentional mind-wandering, not the more directed kind.

Deliberate mental meandering might also help us remember more when we revise.  The trick is to make our minds wander on topic, by nudging our thoughts to things we’re trying to learn.  According to Karl Szpunar, one way to make this happen is to build mini quizzes into the revision process.  In his experiments, students learned the contents of a 40-minute lecture either by stopping to recap what they had covered every 5 minutes, or by rereading the slides at the end.  Those who regularly self-tested retained more information.  Both groups seemed to mind-wander the same amount, but a second experiment showed that what was different between the groups was that the self-testers were mind-wandering about the lecture, as opposed to something unrelated.  Szpunar suggests “rather than waiting to self-test the night before an exam, make time to do this again and again at increasingly longer intervals.”  This advice applies to any kind of learning.

The psychologist Jonathan Smallwood has found that whether our mental meanderings are focused on the future or the past determines whether they derail us from our goals to  prepare us for challenges to come.  Thoughts about the past are much more likely  to lead to low mood and motivation than those about the future.  Future -related mind-wandering actually seems to boost mood and motivation, even if they are thoughts of flunking out.  As long as there is a future element, Small says that it can at least motivate you back to work.

Key here is the ability to control our thoughts.  Here mindfulness and meditation come to the rescue.  There are many healthy memory blog posts on these topics.

The easiest alternative, according to Christian Olivers is to remind ourselves not to focus too hard.

Smallwood’s latest finding is that although frequent mind-wanderers are worse than other people at focusing on the outside world, they were better than most at retrieving information from memory.  The article concludes, “So if the information is in there somewhere, let your mind wander free.  Your grades might thank you.”  And HM reminds you of the availability accessibility distinction in memory.  Although information might not be available at the moment, most information is eventually accessible.  (enter “availability accessibility distinction”  in the healthy memory blog search block.

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

Narratives and Reasoning

May 19, 2017

This post was inspired by and draws from “The Truth About Language” by Michael C. Corvallis.  The brilliant William James, the founder of American psychology, made a distinction between two types of language, narratives and reasoning. Here is what William James wrote, “To say that all thinking is essentially of two kinds—reasoning on the one hand, and narrative, descriptive, contemplative thinking on the other—is to say what every reader’s experience will corroborate.”

In terms of usage, narratives account for the vase majority of language use.  Many healthy memory posts have spoken of memory as a vehicle for time travel.  We process information incorporating it into memory.  Then we use it  to decide upon course of action in the future.  We imagine future outcomes and draw upon our memories to determine which is most desirable.

Language uses our memories to form narratives.  We tell stories about ourselves and others.  Descriptions of events  take the form of narratives.  The majority of our conversations are narratives with each of the participating parties making contributions.  Narratives can be true, false, or some combination.  Narratives might capture history or traditions of a people.  They can also be for our entertainment as plays, television shows, movies, novels, and short stories.  Indeed these are large, commercial enterprises.  There are standards for narratives.  Are they interesting or entertaining?  Are the funny?  Do they hang together?  Are they coherent?  Do they convey some larger message?  We could go on and on with this.

However, reasoning is much less frequently used, and it is used for different purposes.  Reasoning is needed for critical thinking, for induction, deduction, and abduction.  The objective is to determine whether something is true or internally consistent.  Legal arguments are, or should be, largely a matter of reasoning.  Reasoning often calls upon data or experimental research.

Sometimes specialized languages need to be used such as symbolic logic or mathematics.  Reasoning can be both extensive and intensive.  Reasoning is mental work that can become quite difficult.

A sound argument can be made that faulty reasoning is the source of most problems.  Insufficient or faulty critical thinking is done.  In Kahneman’s terms, reasoning is System 2 processing requiring cognitive effort.

Unfortunately, understanding reasoning is also mentally demanding.  Good narratives will trump good reasoning most of the time for the majority of people.  It is quite likely that the amount of reasoning a person does is dependent both on educational level and the areas of study.

The ability to reason and to think critically is especially important for the members of a democracy.  Unfortunately, politicians with the most appealing narratives will likely win, even when critical thinking would reveal the unappealing aspects of the narratives.

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

The Hippocampus

May 18, 2017

The hippocampus receives considerable attention in “The Truth About Language” by Michael C. Corvallis.  As the hippocampus plays a critical role in memory, it is not surprising that it is central to language and time travel.  As we each have a hippocampus in each hemisphere of the brain, we have two hippocampi.

The importance of the hippocampus was first realized when an Englishman underwent surgery for epilepsy, and the surgery destroyed major parts of both hippocampi.  After this surgery he could no longer form new episodic memories.  Episodic memory involves memories having to do with the specific episodes of our lives.   Although his semantic memory, his general knowledge, remained intact.  Not only was he unable to recall the past, he was also incapable of imagining the future.

In the final years of my Mom’s life she suffered from dementia.  When I visited her, she was always glad to see me.  However, if an attendant took her to the restroom while I was visiting, when she returned she acted as if I had just arrived.  That is, she had stored no memory of my being there.

The hippocampus is the hub of the brain circuit involved in episodic memory and mental time travel.  Brain imaging shows it to be activated both when people remember past events and when they imagine possible future events.  It is also activated when people are asked to imagine purely fictitious  episodes.   Although other brain regions are involved, reflecting the fact that memory and imagination involve information stored in widely dispersed areas, the hippocampus appears to be the most critical component in that damage to it has the most debilitating effect on the ability to mentally escape the present.

The default-mode network, responsible for our mind wandering, is identifiable in primates and even in rats.  The hippocampus plays a critical role in both rat and human memory.  Recording from the hippocampus of the rat reveals that single neurons code where the animal is located in the spatial environment.  These neurons serve as place cells and together generate what has been termed a cognitive map of the environment that tells the rat where it is.  It plays the same role in humans.  Studies have shown that the hippocampus  is enlarged in licensed taxi drivers in London, who are required to memorize the map of London for their licenses.

Research using rats has indicated a similar competence.  In an experiment rats were trained to alternate left and right turns at a particular location in the maze.  Between trials they were introduced to a running wheel and, while they were running, activity in their hippocampi was recorded.  This activity coded which way the rats planned to turn in the maze on the next trial.  Apparently these rats were planning ahead for their next try at the maze.  The researchers also noted that autonomous activity in the hippocampus involved the computation of distances, and also supported the episodic recall of events and the planning of action sequences and goals.  One researcher wrote that “replay in the rat hippocampus can either lead or follow the behavior once the map of space is established.  This suggests that replay phenomena may support ‘mental time travel’ through the spatial map, both forward and backward in time.

Research on human patients about to undergo surgery had electrodes placed in cells in the medial temporal lobe, in an attempt to locate the source of epileptic seizures.  They were then asked to navigate a virtual town on a computer screen and to deliver items to one of the stores in the town.  Then were asked to recall only the items and not the location to which they were delivered.  However, the act of recall activated the place cells corresponding to that location, effectively mirroring the replay of place cells in the rat brain.

In another study, people were shown sequences of four videos of different events.  At one level. narratives were linked to each video, encouraging attention to individual details. At the next level, narratives linked a par of videos, and at the final level a narrative linked all four videos.  As the people processed these narratives, activation in the hippocampus progressed from the rearward end to the forward end as the scale of the narrative shifted from small and detailed to larger and more global.    Dr. Corvallis notes that this probably happens when we read novels.  Page by page, we focus on the details, but as the story progresses we build a more global understanding of what the story is about.  Dr. Corvallis writes, be thankful to your hippocampi that you can make sense of a novel at all.

Dr. Corvallis suggests that although  the generativity spatial mapping is nonlinguistic, it may well underlie the generativity of language itself.  “In the rat these elements may be restricted to simple aspects like sounds or smells, and we may perhaps allow ourselves the luxury of believing our own experiences to be incomparably richer.  Yet the generative component itself probably has a long evolutionary history.  As Darwin famously put it:  ‘The difference in mind between man the the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree, and not of kind.’”

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

Listening to Your Heartbeat Helps You Read Other People’s Minds

May 16, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Helen Thomson in the News & Technology section of the 6 May 2017 issue of the New Scientist.  She writes that “people who are more aware of their heartbeat are better at perceiving the emotions of others—a finding that might help some people with autism.”

According to the Theory of Constructive Emotions, to generate emotions we first need to interpret our body’s internal state—a process called interoception.  So we feel fear only once we recognize an increase in our heart rate or feel our palms get sweaty.

Researchers have suggested that interoception is important for understanding what other people are thinking and even guessing what they think a their person might be thinking.  The notion is that if we have trouble distinguishing our own emotions, we might also find it hard to interpret he emotions and mental states of others.

To investigate, Geoff Bird and his team asked 72 volunteers to sound their heartbeats using their fingers to take their pulse.  This is a measure of interoception.  The volunteers then watched videos of social interactions.  After viewing each video they were asked multiple choice questions testing their ability to infer the characters’ mental states.

When the volunteers were asked feelings about the emotions of the characters, the volunteers who were better at counting their own heartbeat performed better on such questions.  They were more empathetic (Cortex,  However, there was no link between interoceptive ability and accuracy on questions that didn’t involve any emotions.

Bird says that interoceptive difficulties probably play a role in some features of schizophrenia and autism.  There is some evidence that looking in a mirror can improve interception.  Bird says that it has not yet been shown whether interception training also improves empathy, but it’s an experiment that he’d like to try.

Why Be Conscious: The Improbable Origins of Our Unique Mind

May 15, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Bob Holmes in the Feature Section of the 13 May 2017 Issue of the New Scientist.  Consciousness is an interesting topic.  There are philosophers and scientists who maintain that consciousness is epiphenomenal.  By that they do not mean that consciousness is not real, but that it is unnecessary.  They argue that everything takes place on an unconscious level and that conscious experience is an unnecessary artifact that we view.  Many readers will find this view preposterous, but there are people who make their living advancing this proposition.

The view of this blog is that consciousness is necessary.  It is what is used to decide upon courses of action.  We can consciously review the past and imagine the future and evaluate the risks and rewards of possible courses of action.

In 2012 the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness was published.

It begins as follows:
“On this day of July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered at the University of Cambridge to reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviors in human and non-human animals. While comparative research on this topic is naturally hampered by the inability of non-human animals, and often humans, to clearly and readily communicate about their internal states, the following observation can be stated unequivocally:”

The declaration concludes:
“The absence of neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

These scientists were basing their declaration on neuroscience.

The New Scientist article is asking what consciousness is for, and why it evolved so that we may get closer to understanding the nature of our own minds as well as those of other animals.  HM believes that we know why consciousness evolved and we all have a phenomenological awareness of consciousness. However, there is value in trying to understand the minds of other animals.

The philosopher Jesse Prinz argues that, especially in other species, consciousness is largely about perception and emotion.  Prinz asks us to consider “emotion as hedonic valuation.  Much conscious experience consists of perceptions with shades of feeling—objects are comforting or scary, sounds are pleasing or annoying.”  An organism’s interceptive network results in feelings of goodness or badness.

Evolutionary biologist Bjorn Grinde says “Behavior is about moving toward what is perceived as beneficial or moving away from what isn’t.  Feelings are meant to guide us by offering positive and negative rewards.  This makes hedonic valuation a useful evolutionary tool.”  Grinde believes that the sensation—the awareness that something is good (or bad) is happening may represent the dawn of consciousness.

The article lists of 10 signs of consciousness to assess whether an animal is conscious?
Recognizes itself in a mirror
Has insight into the minds of others
Displays regret having made a bad decision
Heart races in a stressful situation
Has many dopamine receptions in its brain to sense reward.
Highly flexible in making decisions
Has ability to focus attention (subjective experience)
Needs to sleep
Sensitive to anesthetics
Displays unlimited associative learning.

So consciousness can be viewed on a continuum.  The more items that can be checked off, the greater the degree of consciousness in the species.  Although egotism demands that humans be at the top of this hierarchy, humans vary regarding their degree of consciousness.  Meditation and mindfulness are practices with the goal of enhancing consciousness.

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

Ramifications of HOW EMOTIONS ARE MADE

May 14, 2017

Lisa Feldman Barrett’s book has repeatedly been called revolutionary.  Why?  First of all,  it is revolutionary in that it has debunked the longstanding view of emotion that has existed for two millennia.  Readers of the healthy memory blog should know that we do not have direct knowledge of the external world.  We develop concepts and models based on the inputs we receive from our senses.  Dr. Barrett has found that our emotions come from the concepts we develop based on our internal world, our interoceptive environment.  This is the theory of constructed emotions. It forms a nice parallel to how we understand the external world.  Our brain is constantly dealing with external and internal inputs forming concepts, models, and interrelating them.  This fits nicely into the scientific principle of parsimony.

This is a nice result for science, but what does it mean to us personally?  The word here is constructive.  We construct our emotions, we are not passive recipients of information that goes to receptors for specific emotions.  In other words, we need to be proactive rather than reactive.  We construct concepts and models of the external world, and we do the same with our internal interoceptive world.  So we can strongly affect, if not control, our emotions, so that we are happier, healthier, and more productive.

At the same time, we need to understand how we can be mislead by affective realism.  Judges need to understand that their interoceptive feelings of hunger can cause them to be more severe in their supposedly rational judgments.  Our interoceptive feelings can be in error and we need to be aware that we need to recalibrate and to refine them.  We should not be governed by our emotions, we need to understand, correct, and refine them.

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

Illness, Other Species, and the Law

May 13, 2017

This post is based on material in a revolutionary book by Lisa Feldman Barrett titled “HOW EMOTIONS ARE MADE.”  Dr. Barrett has chapters on illness, other species, and the law.  It should be clear that illness and emotion are inextricably intertwined.  The same health factors underly both illness and emotion.  Consequently Dr. Barrett devotes considerable effort addressing the healthy lifestyle.  Exercise, sleep, and the whys and wherefores of a healthy diet.

She also has a chapter on emotions in other species.  It’s titled “Is a Growling Dog Angry?”.  Considering the differences within our own species, there should clearly be differences in animal emotions.    She systematically explores what animals are capable of feeling, based on brain circuitry and on experimental research.  She focuses primarily on monkeys and great apes.  She does assume that all animals experience affect.  The question she tries to address is to what extent can different species be capable of developing concepts regarding affect.

It is the law for which Dr. Barrett’s theory of constructed emotion has profound implications.  The law is conceived in terms of rational thought versus emotion.  The role of rational thought is to constrain emotions.  But in constructed emotion rational thought and emotion are inextricably intertwined.  How can the law accommodate this conception?  It cannot be accommodated all at once.  But over time the concept of constructed emotion is likely to chip away at this edifice governed by rational thought.

Already the law is largely oblivious to relevant research in psychology.  To the extent that this ignorance exists, there is a large gap between the legal system and justice.  To read more on this topic go to the healthy memory blog post,  “The Law and Psychological Science.”

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

Mastering Your Emotions

May 12, 2017

This post is based on material in a revolutionary book by Lisa Feldman Barrett titled “HOW EMOTIONS ARE MADE.”   The first item is to remember to keep your body budget in good shape.  Your interoceptive network works day and night, issuing predictions to maintain a healthy budget.  This process is the origin of your affective feelings (pleasantness, unpleasantness, arousal, and calmness).  To feel good your brain’s predictions about your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, temperature, hormones, metabolism, and so forth, must be calibrated to your body’s actual needs.  Otherwise you body budget gets out of whack, and you’re going to feel crappy.  Unfortunately, modern culture seems to be engineered to screw up your body budget.  Work and school schedules can make it difficult to get enough sleep, and junk food is omnipresent.  What can be done about this?  Try to adjust your schedule and diet as best you can.   Regular exercise increases the levels of proteins called anti-inflammatory cytokines, that reduce your chances of developing heart diseases, depression, and other illnesses.

Your physical surroundings also affect your body budget, so if possible, try to spend time in spaces less noisy and crowded, and with more greenery and natural light.  Reading a compelling novel is also beneficial for your body budget.  When you get involved in someone else’s story you aren’t as involved in your own.  These mental excursions engage part of your interoceptive network, known as the default mode network.  And do not ruminate, and if you are ruminating, stop.

After you body budget, Dr. Barrett says that the next best thing to do for emotional health is to beef up your concepts, to become more emotionally intelligent.  Remember that you create your emotional concepts.  Emotional intelligence is about getting your brain to construct the most useful instance of the most useful emotion concept for a given situation.  Sometimes it is important not to construct emotions but instances of some other concept.  Daniel Goleman, the author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” argues that higher emotional intelligence leads to success in academics, business, and social relationships.

Dr. Barrett writes that there are many ways to gain new concepts: walking in the woods, taking trips, reading books, watching movies, trying unfamiliar foods.  She says to be a collector of experiences.  Try on new perspectives the way you try on new clothing.  These kinds of activities will provoke your brain to combine concepts to form new ones, changing your conceptual system proactively so you’ll predict and behave differently later.

Try to develop higher emotional granularity.  A collection of scientific studies indicate that people who could distinguish finely among their unpleasant feelings, say fifty shades of feeling crappy, were 30% more flexible when regulating their emotions, less likely to drink excessively when stressed, and less likely to retaliate against someone who has hurt them.

Rather than ruminating about something unpleasant, keep track of positive experiences.  Each time you attend to positive things, you tweak your conceptual system, reinforcing concepts about those positive events and making them salient in the mental model of your world.

If you deal with children, be positive and try not to say negative things.  Studies have shown that children in low-income homes hear 125,000 more words of discouragement than praise, while their higher-income counterparts hear 560,000 more words of praise than discouragement, all by age four.  If a child is whining incessantly, instead of yelling “Knock it off,” try something like, “your whining its irritating me, so stop it.”

Dr Barrett offers the following tips for mastering feelings in the moment.  She says that the simplest approach is to move your body.  She writes that moving your body can change you’re predictions and therefore your experience.

Another approach is to change your location or situation.  For example, during the Vietnam War, 15% of U.S. soldiers are addicted to heroin.  When they returned home, 95% stayed off the drug their first year back.  Given the strong addictive effects of heroin, this is an extraordinary result.

Dr. Barrett writes that recategorization is a tool of the emotion expert.  The more concepts you know and the more instances you can construct, the more effectively you can recategorize in this manner to master your emotions and regulate your behavior.  So, if you’re about to take a test and feel affectively worked up, you might categorized your feeling as harmful anxiety (“Oh, no, I’m doomed”) or as helpful anticipation (“I’m energized and reading to go!”).

Last, but certainly not least, is meditation.  She notes that key regions in the interoceptive and control networks are larger for meditators, and connections between these regions are stronger.  Some studies have seen stronger connections even after only a few hours of training.  Other studies find that meditation reduces stress, improves the detection and processing of prediction error, facilitates recategorization (termed “emotion regulation,”) and reduces unpleasant affect.

The Origin of Feeling

May 11, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Lisa Feldman Barrett’s revolutionary book “HOW EMOTIONS ARE MADE.”   Both pleasant and unpleasant feelings come from an ongoing process inside us called interoception.  Interoception is our brain’s representation of all sensations from our internal organs and tissues, the hormones in our blood, and our immune systems.  This interoceptive activity produces the spectrum of basic feeling from pleasant to unpleasant, from calm to jittery, and completely normal.

The intrinsic activity in our brains is not random;  it is structured by collections of neurons that consistently fire together, called intrinsic networks.  An intrinsic network has a pool of available neurons.  Each time a network does its job, different groupings of its neurons fire in synchrony.  Intrinsic brain activity  is the origin of daydreams, imagination, mind wandering, and reveries.  Dr, Barrett calls these activities simulations.  We simulate what we might experience in the world.  They assist in helping us to interact with the world.  Intrinsic brain activity ultimately produces every sensation we experience, including our interoceptive sensations, which are the origins of our most basic pleasant, unpleasant, calm and jittery feelings.

Our brains, with only past experiences as a guide, make predictions.  These predictions take place at a microscopic scale as millions of neurons talk to one another.  These neural conversations try to anticipate every fragment of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch that we experiences, and every action we will take.  These predictions are our brains’ best guesses of what’s going on in the world around us and how to deal with it to keep us alive and well.  Through prediction our brains construct the world we experience.  It combines  bits and pieces of our past and estimates how likely each bit applies to our current situation.  Prediction is such a fundamental activity of the human brain that some scientists consider it the brain’s primary mode of operation.  Predictions not only anticipate sensory input from outside our skulls, but also explain it.  Our brains also use predictions to initiate  our body’s movements, such as reaching our arm out to pick up an apple or dashing away from a snake.  We are our brains, and the whole cascade of events is caused by our brains’ predictive powers.

If our brains were merely reactive, they would be too inefficient to keep us alive.  We are always being bombarded by sensory input.  One human retina transmits as much visual data as a fully loaded computer network connection in every waking moment.  Now multiply that  by every sensory pathway we have.

Evolution wired our brains for efficient prediction.  The brain predicts far more visual input than it receives.  Through prediction and correction our brains continually create and revise our mental models of the world.  It’s an enormous, ongoing simulation that constructs everything we perceive which determine how we act.  However predictions are not always correct, when compared to actual sensory input, and the brain makes adjustments.

Dr, Barrett notes that prediction efforts are not problems.  They’re a normal part of the operating instructions of our brains as they take in sensory input.  She continues, “Without prediction error, life would be a yawning bore.  Nothing would be surprising or novel, and therefore our brains would never learn anything new.”   She goes on to summarize,  “the brain is not a simple machine reacting to stimuli in the outside world.  It’s structured as billions of prediction loops creating intrinsic brain activity.  Visual prediction, auditory predictions, gustatory predictions, somatosensory predictions, olfactory  predictions, and motor predictions travel throughout the brain, influencing and constraining  each other.  These predictions are held in check by sensory inputs from the outside world, which our brains may prioritize or ignore.”

The most important mission of the brain is predicting the energy needs of the body.  Our inner-body movements and their interoceptive consequences occur every moment of our lives.  Our brains must keep our hearts beating, our lungs breathing, and our glucose metabolizing even when we’re not playing sport, even when we are sleeping or resting.  Therefore interception is continuous, just as the mechanics of hearing and vision are always operating, even when we aren’t actively listening or seeing.  However, sometimes we experience moments of intense interoception as emotion.  In every waking moment, our brains give our sensations meaning.  Some of these sensations are interoceptive sensations, and the resulting meaning can be an instance of emotion.

Dr. Barrett’s presentation of the interoceptive network is detailed and highly technical.  If interested, please read the book.  What is important for the purpose of this blog is the concept of a body budget that the brain needs to keep our hearts beating, lungs breathing, and our glucose metabolizing.  The requirements of the body budget strongly affect our interoceptive network and the emotions that emerge from this interoceptive network.

Myths of the Triune Brain and the Rational Human Mind

May 10, 2017

This post is motivated in part by Lisa Feldman Barrett’s revolutionary book “HOW EMOTIONS ARE MADE.”  Unfortunately, Carl Sagan popularized the notion of a triune brain in his book “The Dragons of Eden.”  The model begins with ancient subcortical circuits for basic human survival, which we allegedly inherited from reptiles.  Sitting atop those circuits is an alleged emotion system, known as the “limbic system”  that we supposedly inherited from the early mammals.  Wrapped around this so-called limbic system is our allegedly  rational and unique human cortex.  Any expert in brain evolution knows that humans don’t have an animal brain gift-wrapped in cognition.  Neuroscientist Barbara L. Finlay, editor of the journal “Behavior and Brain Sciences” says  that “mapping emotion onto just the middle part of the brain, and reason and logic onto the cortex is just plain silly.  All brain divisions are present in all vertebrates.”  Brains evolve as effective companies do, by reorganizing as they expand to keep themselves efficient and nimble.

Dr. Barrett’s bottom line is this:  “the human brain is anatomically structured so that no decision or action can be free of interoception and affect, no matter what fiction people tell themselves about how rational they are.   Your bodily feeling right now will project forward to influence what you will feel and do in the future.  It is an elegantly orchestrated, self-fulfilling prophecy, embodied with the architecture of the brain.”

One of the most cherished narratives in Western thought, is that the human mind is a battlefield where cognition and emotion struggle for the control of behavior.  Modern neuroscience does not back up this narrative, nor does human behavior.  Much research has clearly debunked this narrative.  There are many posts on this blog on behavioral economics (to find them enter “behavioral economics” into the healthy memory blog search.)  Behavioral economics was born by the research of Kahneman and Tversky.  Unfortunately, mainstream economics is dominated by the assumption of the rational mind.  This assumption makes the underlying mathematics tractable.  They are tractable but wrong.  Mainstream economics did not expect the financial crash of 2008, nor the market crash of 1929 for that matter.

Dr. Barrett writes, “You cannot overcome emotion through rational thinking, because the state of your body budget is the basis for every thought and perception you have, so interoception and affect are built into every moment.  Even when you experience yourself as rational, your body budget and its links to affect are there, lurking beneath the surface.”

How Emotions Are Made

May 9, 2017

“HOW EMOTIONS ARE MADE” is the title of a revolutionary book by Lisa Feldman Barrett.  It’s Subtitle is “The Secret Life of the Brain.”  It is indeed a revolutionary book as it debunks longstanding theories of emotions and substitutes for them a new theory based on detailed experiments and data.  Daniel Gilbert wrote, “A brilliant and original book by the deepest thinker about this topic since Darwin.”

For two-thousand-years the assumption has been that we all have emotions built-in since birth.  “They are distinct, recognizable phenomena inside us.  When something happens, whether it’s a gunshot or a flirtatious glance, our emotions come quickly and automatically.  We broadcast emotions by way of smiles, frowns, scowls, and other  characteristic expressions that anyone can easily recognize.  Our voices  reveal our emotions through laughter, shouts, and cries.”

The classical view of emotion posits that there are circuits of particular sets of neurons for different emotions.  Emotions were thought to be a kind of brute reflex, very often at odds with our rationality.  Our rationality was supposed to control our emotions to keep us from acting out too strongly.

Dr Barrett notes that this view of emotions has been around for millennia in various forms.  “Plato believed a version of it.  So did Hippocrates, Aristotle, the Buddha, Rene Descartes, Sigmund Freud, and Charles Darwin.  Psychologist Steven Pinker, Paul Ekman, and the Dalai Lama also offer descriptions of emotions based on this classical view.  The classical view is found in virtually every introductory college textbook on psychology, and in most magazine and newspaper articles that discuss emotion.  Preschools throughout America hang posters displaying the smiles, frowns, and pouts that are supposed to be the universal language of the face for recognizing emotion.  Facebook even commissioned a set of emoticons inspired by Darwin’s writings.”

Dr. Barrett continues, “And yet…despite the distinguished intellectual pedigree of the classical view of emotion, and despite its immense influence in our culture and society, there is abundant scientific evidence that this view cannot possibly be true.  Even after a century of effort, scientific research has not revealed a consistent, physical fingerprint for even a single emotion.  This notion also held that emotions were universal.  Regardless of where or when people lived, they experienced the same emotion.

Dr Barrett concedes that there are experiments that offered some evidence for the classical view, but many more cast the classical view in doubt.  She presents detailed research in the book that compels the reader to conclude that the classical view is flawed.  For example, emotions vary across cultures, much like languages will vary their vocabularies to reflect the environment in which they reside.

Of course, having debunked the classical view, it is incumbent on the critic to propose something better.  Dr. Barrett calls this view the theory of constructed emotions.  These emotions are constructed on the basis of our interoceptive environments.  She presents a convincing argument that our emotions are built upon our interpretation of our internal environments, that is analogous to the manner in which we develop an understanding of the external world.

Readers of the healthy memory blog should be aware that we do not experience the external world directly.  Rather we develop concepts and models on the basis of what our senses receive from the external world.  In other words, emotions are based on what we feel, that is how we interpret what we receive from our interoceptive environment.  Emotions are interpretations of our interoceptive conditions.  In other words we learn our emotional concepts in an analogous manner to how we learn about the external world.  We have an energy budget and this budget affects feelings of hunger and other bodily conditions.

Dr. Barrett provides a personal anecdote to illustrate how constructed emotions work.  When she was a graduate student a fellow male graduate student asked her out at the end of the day.  Although she had no feelings for this guy, she was tired and thought it would be a good way to kill the evening.  While they were dining, she thought she was beginning to fall for him.  Nothing further happened and she went home and fell asleep exhausted.  The next morning she woke up with the flu and remained in bed for several more days.  Apparently she had misinterpreted her interoceptive environment.  What she had originally interpreted as incipient feelings of love, were really incipient feelings of the flew virus.

TOADS versus Scientists and Responsible Citizens

May 8, 2017

If you do not know who the TOADS are, please read the immediately preceding post (the one immediately below this one).  The motivation that these TOADS have for scientists providing data and analyses on global warming, is that the scientists are doing this so that they receive grants and contracts for further research.  This claim is absurd, as if there was big money to be made doing research in this area.  No the big money is made by the CEOs and their folks who are responsible for global warming.  That’s where the big money is.  True, there are scientists for hire who will argue against global warming for cash.  The first documented activity like this was the Tobacco’s industry’s efforts to deny the research that smoking increased the risk of getting lung cancer. This activity is discussed in the blog “Did Corporate PR initiate the Post Fact Era?”

HM has the deepest contempt for these TOADS.  They are complete hedonists, not eudaemonists.  They are consumed by material things and physical pleasures.  As they are biologically constrained as to the number of physical pleasures they can enjoy, they keep score with their cash and material things that are purchased and developed for prestige.  Numbers are important to them.  They are materialists and too hell with the quality of life.   Their attitude is too hell with people who need money for the quality of their lives and their ability to provide education for their children so that their children can live well.

HM also feels sorry for these individuals.  They are stunted.  They have no appreciation for science.  Pure hedonism stunts growth.  However, scientists and responsible citizens are eudaemonists who are interested in the quality of life, intellectual pursuits such as science and the arts, and are concerned about their fellow citizens who are not so well off.

So what should people do?  They need to educate themselves as a part of a growth mindset.  Watch television programs on science.  Consult the Wikipedia on scientific topics.  The Wikipedia is also a good source for learning about scientific controversies.  Healthy memory blog readers should be aware of the frequent references to the New Scientist.  The New Scientist is a superb source of science information for the general public.  The New Scientist is a British product.  The Scientific American is a fine publication along with Scientific American Mind.  Scientific American Mind is discontinuing its print publication, but if you have not be won over by electronic publications, try them  You’ll learn just as much with much less clutter. Actually there are too many publications to list.  And to online searches for questions of interest.

There is a previous post “Science Should Inform Democracy, which is on a topic that is extremely important.  TOADS abuse science and put democracy at risk.  They are putting the United States and the world at risk.  Use available means, email, conventional letters, and phone messages, to disabuse them of their comments.  This is especially important for TOADS who are your Senators or in your congressional district.  And do not neglect the leader of the TOADS in the United States, its current president.

This post has barely scratched the surface of Dave Levitan’s “NOT A SCIENTIST:  How Politicians, Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science.”  To provide you with a feeling for the variety and complexity of techniques used by TOADS here are the chapter titles.

The Oversimplification
The Cherry-Pick
The Butter-Up and Undercut
The Demonizer
The Blame the Blogger
The Ridicule and Dismiss
The Literal Nitpick
The Credit Snatch
The Certain Uncertainty
The Blind Eye to Follow-Up
The Lost in Translation
The Straight-Up Fabrication

HM has taken it as his responsibility to inform you about the TOADS, the danger they present not only to the country, but to the entire world, and means of combatting their disinformation.  He hopes he has succeeded in his mission.

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

I Am Not a Scientist, but

May 7, 2017

This post is based largely on the book, “NOT A SCIENTIST:  How Politicians, Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science” by Dave Levitan.  In October of 1980 while campaigning against the incumbent President Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan addressed some environmental concerns in his speech.  He said, “I have flown twice over Mt. St. Helens out on our West Coast.  I’m not a scientist and I don’t know the figures, but I just have a suspicion that that one little mountain out here has probably released more sulfur dioxide  into the atmosphere of the world than has been released in the last 10 years if automobile driving or things of that kind that people are so concerned about.”  Someone who was a scientist and represented the Environmental Projection Agency told the New York Times that although the volcano spewed as much as 2,000 tons of sulfur dioxide per day on average, all human sources in the United States produced about 81,000 tons per day.  Globally at the time, the total would have been over 300,000 tons of sulfur activities from human sources each day.  The massive eruption of Mountain St. Helens alone released about 1.5 million tons of sulfur dioxide.  Ten years worth of sulfur dioxide emission from “things that people are so concerned about,” was equal  to more than 200 million tons from the United States alone.

Should you be at a speech where a politician says, “I am not a scientist,” then yell out, “THEN SHUT UP!”

Now the GOP has a strained relationship with science.  Former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has said that the GOP needs to “stop being the stupid party.”  South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham issued the challenge:  “To my friends on the right who deny the science, tell me why. “

Democrats are not immune to criticism.  In 2014 President Barack Obama said that 2014 was the planet’s warmest year ever and repeated this statement several times in 2015.   This was the estimate provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), but the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)  had an estimate of 38%.   NOAA climate scientist Deke Arndt explained it this way:  This may seem pedantic, but it’s an important point:  there is a warmest year on record.  One of the 135 years in that history is the warmest.  2014 is clearly, and by a very large margin, the most likely warmest year.  Not only is its central estimate relatively distant from (warmer than) the prior record, but even accounting for known uncertainties, and their known shapes, it still emerges as easily the most likely warmest of the year.”

It would have been better for Obama to provide both estimates, but he is also not a scientist.  He is a lawyer and a politician so he presents the number that better makes his case.  But too many people in the general public would not be impressed by either the 48% of the 38% estimates.  These are probabilistic estimates and they want certainty.  They are certain in their beliefs, why can’t these scientists be certain?

Going into the 20th century there were some scientists who thought that they knew about all that could be known.  Perhaps a few decimal points could be added, but not much more was needed.  But in 1905  Einstein published his special theory of relativity.  His general theory of relativity came in 1915.  Then subatomic physics presented a whole new ballgame.  Then the social sciences blossomed, molecular biology, epigenetic, and so forth.  There are way too many changes and new sciences to enumerate.  Anyone who is certain about anything is either a fool or a charlatan.

There is a chapter in “NOT A SCIENTIST”  called The Certain Uncertainty.  TOADS (Those who Oppose Action/Deniers/Skeptics) who always raise the issue that scientists are not certain about global warming.  They do not appreciate that scientists are never certain and they regard their uncertainty as there basis for being deniers, skeptics, and opposing action.  But there is a consensus not only that global warming is occurring, but that the consequences of being a denier and opposing action could be catastrophic.  The reality is that even if the risk of global warming were small or if the rate of global warming were pessimistic, the consequences are potentially so catastrophic that taking action still would be indicated.  But TOADS never hedge their bets, because they are certain.

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

Defying Dementia

May 4, 2017

This post is based in part on posts by Kayt Sukel with the title Defying Dementia in the Features Section of 29 April 2017 issue the New Scientist.  Katy Sukel begins, “DEMENTIA isn’t inevitable.  The human brain can stay sharp well past 100 years of life.  The brain does slow down.  (See the healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Cognitive Decline.”)  One of the primary reasons it slows down is that it has accumulated massive amounts of data as a function of age.  And the greater the learning the greater the volume.  In addition, parts of the brain associated with memory and executive function shrink, myelin sheath around our neurons starts to erode, slowing down signaling, and arteries narrow, diminishing blood supply.  But these factors mainly affect speed.  When healthy older people are given extra time to perform cognitive tasks, the results are on par with younger folks.

When it occurs, dementia does alter the cognitive playing field.  In addition to memory, it causes issues with understanding or expressing oneself in language, problems with sensory perception, and disturbances in executive function.

The number of people with dementia might be rising, but most specialists say that is largely because more of us are living longer.  Between 1980 and 2011, the proportion of people over 65 with dementia actually dropped by 20% in England and Wales.   Between 2000 and 2012, dementia rates in that age group dropped by 24% in the US.

Kenneth Langa of the Michigan Center on the Demography of Aging said that there are two driving factors for this change:  A rise in educational attainment and better control of cardiovascular issues.  After the second world war, there was an increase in schooling that averaged out to about an extra year of education across the US population.   Research suggests that people with more education, or those who have done things like learning a new language or learning to play a musical instrument are more resilient to symptoms of dementia.  Langa says, “By challenging your brain during education, you create a more fit brain that can compensate for problems that you have as you age.  It creates a cognitive reserve that boosts the brain’s ability to work around damaged areas, and promotes more efficient processing.  As far as cardiovascular risk factors are concerned, although the prevalence of conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes as risen over the years, there also has been an increase in treatments to limit their damage.

Although there clearly are genetic factors, they tend to increase the probability of Alzheimer’s. There are no genes that directly lead to Alzheimer’s.  So, rather than be concerned about genetics, deal with lifestyle and genetic factors.  Maintaining social connections, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, practicing good sleep habits, and pursuing intellectual changes lead to a healthy memory.

Arthur Kramer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says that regular exercise not only addresses risk factors such as weight and cardiovascular health, but it also increases the creation of brain cells, connections between neurons, and production of nerve growth factors and neurotransmitters.  Dr. Kramer’s research has shown that just an hour long walk a few times a week increases hippocampal growth, and certainly can make a difference.

Healthymemory blog readers should also be aware of the importance of a growth mindset and of the benefits of meditation and mindfulness.  In addition to defying dementia, they provide for a more fulfilling life.

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

The Penultimate Post from “How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still win Big”

May 1, 2017

Scott Adams has chapters on on a variety of other topics, including humor, which is obviously appropriate.  He is big on diet, fitness, and happiness.  His chapter on diet is quite extensive.  Some my want to buy this book on the basis of this chapter alone.  He also provides good advice on how to move to a healthy diet, and the advice sounds compelling.  Similarly his advice on exercise is quite good and this also includes advice on how to realistically exercise when the mood is not appropriate.  Adams emphasizes diet and exercise as they provide the energy that is essential for success.

It was disturbing to find Scientology and Dianetics in Adams’s book.  He asks the question “Does Dianetics work in terms of creating good outcomes for its followers? and responds with, “I have no data to answer that question.”  Is it that Adams is so busy that he is unable to follow the news and the court cases against Dianetics.  Not only does Dianetics not work, but it causes serious harm and has destroyed lives.  It is interesting to note that the founder of Dianetics, L.  Ron Hubbard was a science fiction writer.  He wrote that the way to become rich in today’s world was to create a religion.  So he did so.  He created Scientology, wrote Dianetics, and became obscenely wealthy.  Most of the time he lived on his yacht where it was easy to escape capture.   So here is a case where someone writes that the way to become wealthy is to create a religious scam, and does so.  It is amazing how people can be told that they are going to be defrauded and still be able to be defrauded. Most definitely Scientology is to be avoided.

Adams also has a chapter on happiness that begins with the statement, “The only reasonable goal in life is maximizing your total lifetime experience of something called happiness.”  It is quite clear from this chapter that Adams does not regard happiness as being wealthy.  For him, happiness requires doing something for the public good, and he provides examples in his book  In this respect, Adams book reminds HM of Victor Stretcher’s book, “Life on Purpose” and the distinction between eudaemonic versus hedonic pursuits.  Both agree that eudaemonic but not hedonic pursuits lead to happiness, although Adams does not use the term eudaemonic.  Both also provide advice on healthy lifestyles that are necessary for pursuing success and happiness.

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


April 30, 2017

Of all the skills needed for success, I believe that psychology is the most important.  Of course, being that HM is a psychologist, a degree of bias must be admitted.  Nevertheless HM shall make this argument.

Psychology is frequently confused with psychiatry.  Psychiatry is a medical specialty dealing with mental problems.  Clinical and some counseling psychologists also deal with mental problems, but they represent about half of all psychologists.  Other types of psychology are social psychology, industrial psychology, organizational psychology, engineering psychology, educational psychology, psychologists who work primarily with nonhuman organisms, and psychologists who work with humans.  HM is a cognitive psychologist meaning that he is interested in how we perceive, remember, learn, make decisions, form concepts, solve problems;  that is basically everything we do that involves our brains.

In “How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big” Adams devotes several pages to biases, heuristics, different types of effects, fallacies, illusory correlation and so forth.  Our cognitive processes are very complex, and they need to be understood as well as they can be understood.  We are constrained by a limited attentional capacity that must be understood.  Memory failures can usually be attributed to failures to pay attention, but we are bombarded by much more information than can be processed.  Memories change over time, and every time we recall a memory it changes.  Memories are highly fallible, yet we have a high degree of confidence in them. In short, we need to understand our minds as best we we can so that we are aware of the mistakes we are likely to make, and so that we can use our minds to best advantage.

Adams is writing about success and his examples are how a knowledge of psychology is key to success.  But given that education involves learning, should not students be provided an understanding of how we learn?  And given that education involves memory, should not an understanding of our memory systems be taught?  And should not learning and mnemonic techniques be taught to facilitate learning and memorization?  Should not students be taught problem solving techniques and the traps that can preclude solving problems?

Meditation is beneficial to both learning and emotional health, so should not meditation be taught and regularly practiced in schools?  Mindfulness training provides a basis for understanding why we differ and how best to interact with others who think or behave differently.  Disciplinary problems would largely disappear if both meditation and mindfulness were standard practices in schools.

Many businesses are providing for meditation and mindfulness to be incorporated into their business practices and many more businesses will be adding these practices in the future.  They might also want to add courses on human cognition that are relevant to their respective workplaces.

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


April 29, 2017

As persuasion is an important topic for success and as Adams did an exceptional write up of these skills in “How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big”, more detail will be provided in summarizing its content.  Adams has written a book on persuasion titled “Win Bigly”, which will be published later this year.  Adams provides this list of persuasive words and phrases in “How to Fail…”:

Studies by psychologist Robert Cialdini have shown that people are more cooperative when you ask for a favor using a sentence that includes the word “because,” even if the reason you offer makes little or no senses.  Apparently “because” signals reasonableness and reasonableness allows people to let down their defenses and drop their objections.

Would you mind…?
Adams has found that any question beginning with “Would you mind…” tends to be well received.  The question comes across as honest, and shows concern for the other person.  This is a powerful combination.

I’m not interested
This is used to stop someone from trying to persuade you.  The worst thing to do is to try to give some logical-sounding reason why you’re not interested.  This is a conversational killer with the goal of killing the conversation.

I don’t do that
Again, rather than trying to provide a logical excuse, make a statement that sounds like a hard and fast rule.  And if someone asks for a reason, simply say “I’m not interested.”

I have a rule…
Like the two previous examples, this is another good antipersuasion technique.  This sounds convincing and somewhat polite, while offering no reason whatsoever.

I just wanted to clarify…
is used when statements are so mind-numbingly stupid, evil, or mean, that a direct frontal assault would only start fights.  If the clarification question is phrased correctly, it will shine an indirect light on the problem and provide a face-saving escape path.

Is there anything you can do for me?
This question frames you as the helpless victim and the person you’re trying to persuade as the hero and problem solver.  That’s a self-image that people like to reinforce when they have the chance.  When you deputize someone to be your problem solver, you create a situation in which he or she has a clear payoff.

Thank you
A thank you is like a treat for a human.  When you do something generous or nice, you like to know it’s appreciated.  If you want people to like you, for business or for your personal life, pay special attention to the quality of your thanks.

This is just between you and me
The right approach to sharing a secret is to start small.  Make sure the small secrets stay secret before you try anything riskier.  One way to judge your risk is to be alert for other people’s secrets that are being relayed to you.  Someone who is bad at keeping one kind of secret is probably bad at keeping all secrets.  You won’t be exempt.

Some people act more decisively than others, and this can be both persuasive and useful.  But don’t confuse your artificial sense of decisiveness with a need to be right all the time.

People respond to energy in others.  Energy is contagious.  People like how it feels.  If you show enthusiasm, others will want to experience the same rush.

These examples provide just a brief synopsis of Adams’  advice regarding persuasiveness.  To learn more, just read the book.

Managing Your Attitude

April 27, 2017

“Managing Your Attitude” is the title of a chapter in Scott Adams’ How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big.”  Adams writes, “Your attitude affects everything you do in your quest for success and happiness.  A positive attitude is an important tool.  It’s important to get it right.  The best way to manage your attitude is by understanding your basic nature as a moist robot that can be programmed for happiness if you understand the user interface.”  This is a geeky way of saying that you control your thoughts and by controlling your thoughts you are able to manage your attitude.  This point has been made in previous healthymemory blog posts.

Although Adams makes no mention of this, the best way of managing your attitude is via mindfulness and meditation, about which many posts have been written.  Here are some tips offered by Adams.  “A simple trick you might try involves increasing your ratio of happy thoughts to disturbing thoughts.  If your life doesn’t provide you with plenty of happy thoughts to draw upon, try daydreaming of wonderful things in the future. …If you imagine winning a Nobel Prize, buying your own private island, or playing in the NBA, don’t worry that those things are unlikely. Putting yourself in that imagination-fueled frame of mind will pep you up.  Imagination is the interface to your attitude.  You can literally imagine yourself to higher levels of energy.”

However, if you are in a truly bad mood, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and time are helpful.  Once you return to you baseline level of happiness, you’ll be in a better position to get the benefits of daydreaming.

Adams also writes, “A powerful variation on the daydreaming method involves working on projects that have a real chance of changing the world, helping humanity.  Adams tries to have one or more change-the-world projects going at all times.

Adams also correctly notes that smiling makes us feel better even if the smile is fake.  When you’re in a bad mood the physical act of forcing a smile may trigger the feel-good-chemistry in our brains that is associated with happiness.

This smiling-makes-you-happy phenomenon is part of a larger and highly useful phenomenon of faking it until you make it.  He says that two-way causation can be found in a wide variety of human activities.  He’s discovered that acting confident makes you feel more confident.  Feeling energetic makes us want to  play a sport, but playing a sport will also make us feel energetic.

Adams notes the there is a bonus to smiling, “as it makes us more attractive to others.  When we’re more attractive, people respond with more respect and consideration, more smiles, and sometime even lust.  That’s exactly the sort of thing that can cheer us up.”

Goals Versus Systems

April 26, 2017

Scott Adams wrote the following as the first teaser for reading “How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big”, “Goals are for losers.”  He later concludes, “My worldview is that all success is luck if you track it back to the source. “  By this he means that no matter how good the product or idea is, there were a variety of conditions that resulted in the success of that product or idea.  Absent those conditions, the product or idea would have remained unknown.

So chance plays a large role in success.  This is why he writes “Goals are for losers.” If you meet your goal, fine.  But meeting your goal does not guarantee your success.  And even if you do meet your goal, what’s next?  And if you fail to meet your goal?  What then?

Adams argues for systems rather than goals.  By systems he means those skills and activities that you enjoy.  Different skills can be blended into skill sets.  One works systematically at building these skill sets.  His book explains how he does this, and provides general advice as to how it can be done.

There were many healthy memory blog posts on Angela Duckworth’s book “GRIT.”  Her advice is to find your passion and pursue it.  There were posts written to try to modulate this advice.  Unmodulated passion, not matter how intense, can lead to misery and failure.

These systems, of which Adams writes, can be called passions, although Adams does not do so.  But absent success, they are enjoyable and fulfilling in themselves.  Moreover, continuing to develop and enhance skill sets increases the probability of success.  With perseverance that probability becomes fairly high.

There is a chapter titled “Managing Your Odds for Success.”  It contains the following success formula:  Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.  He further explains that this does not say anything about the level of proficiency you need to achieve for each skill.  Nothing is implied about excellence or being world class.  The notion is that you can raise your market value by being merely good, not extraordinary, at more than one skill.

An example he provides if you are a good, but not great, public speaker, and you know your way around a Powerpoint presentation, you might have a reasonable chance of running your organization, or unit with an organization.  Adams puts this success formula into its simplest form:    Good + Good > Excellent.

Adams also notes that sometimes an entirely inaccurate formula provides a handy way to move in the right direction if it offers the benefit of simplicity.   He provides this example.  When writing a resume, a handy trick is to ask yourself if there are any words in your your first draft you won’t be willing to remove for one hundred dollars each.  Here’s this simple formula  Each Unnecessary Word = $100.

Adams continues, “when you apply the formula to your resume, you’ll surprise yourself by how well the formula helps you prune your writing to its most essential form.  It doesn’t matter that the hundred-dollar figure is arbitrary and the some words you remove are more valuable than others.  What matters is that the formula steers your behavior in the right direction.  As is often the case, simplicity trumps accuracy.  The hundred dollars in this case is not only inaccurate;  it’s entirely imaginary.  And it still works.

Here’s how Scott Adams characterizes his skill set:  “I have poor art skills, mediocre business skills, good, but not great, writing talent, and an early knowledge of the Internet.  And I have a good, but not great, sense of humor.  I’m like one big mediocre soup.  None of my skills are world-class, but when my mediocre skills are combined, they become a powerful market force.

Adams concludes with The Knowledge Formula:  The More You Know, the More You Can Know.

In other words learning and knowledge build upon themselves.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

April 25, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Scott Adams.  The subtitle is “Kind of the Story of My Life.”  Scott Adams is the creator of “Dilbert.”  HM needs to make a confession at the outset and that is that he is an enormous Scott Adams fan.  He’s been reading “Dilbert” religiously ever since he discovered the strip.  He has the collection of DVDs of the video series made for “Dilbert” and greatly laments the loss of “Dilbert”  from the air.  He has also read many of Scott Adams’ books.

Scott Adams is not only humorous and highly creative, there is an element of truth in what he does.  He created “Dilbert” while he was working at Pacific Bell and continued to work there for several years after he had become a commercial success.  The most common comment he hears is,”You must have worked at my company.”  This comment comes from people working in both government and private industry.  So there is a core of truth at the bottom of his humor.

Should you already be a fan of Scott Adams you would certainly enjoy this book and find it interesting.  However, even if you are not a fan of Scott’s, this book is still recommended as it provides solid advice on how to succeed (eventually) and how to live a meaningful and enjoyable life.

Adams documents his many failures on his way to success.  One of his failures was a Meditation Guide the he wrote with a friend.  Adams had meditated for years and found a lot of benefits in meditation.  However, only three copies of this book were sold.  He writes that he learned about local advertising, marketing, and product development from the experience.  Unfortunately, it appears that he overgeneralized this failure to meditation itself.  Meditation does not appear in this book, although there are many areas for which it is highly relevant.

“How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” warrants many posts that shall immediately follow.

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

Science Should Inform Democracy

April 23, 2017

The immediately preceding post, “Can Science Survive in a Democracy?”, focused primarily on the funding of science.  An equally, if not more, important issue is the use of science by a democracy.  Environmental and health issues are in the spotlight, but there is a wide variety of issues that can be usefully informed by science.  The failure to consider scientific evidence can have seriously adverse consequences.

One of the best examples of this failure is the size of the prison population in the United States.  The United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners.  Remember that totalitarian governments imprison political dissidents, but the United States manages to surpass even these totalitarian countries on this grim statistic.  Moreover, this high rate of imprisonment did not address the problems they were supposed to solve.

The problems that were supposedly addressed were crime and drug abuse.  The public thought the best way to address these problems was by getting tough.  Politicians picked up this public sentiment and passed laws that were excessively severe for crime and proscribed drugs.  “Getting tough” might seem like a reasonable approach.  But it is a gut response, an emotional response that involves only System 1 processing according to Kahneman.  If thought processes had been engaged, System 2 processing in Kahneman’s terminology, the question would have been asked, does science have anything that would inform us as to what would be a reasonable policy?  If this question had been raised, the clear answer would have been that “getting tough” would be counterproductive, and it certainly was.

There are very few scientists or engineers, sometimes none, in Congress.  And few normal citizens read articles relevant to science.  As a consequence, they are unaware of their personal ignorance.  So what can be done to correct this widespread ignorance?

In the schools, science is taught primarily as an academic subject, and the subjects covered are typically biology, chemistry, and physics.  This is fine, but the relevance and applications of these sciences need to be taught.  The social sciences and statistics also need to be taught.  Every citizen needs to understand inferential statistics at some level to be a responsible citizen and to make reasonable decisions about personal health.  Unless college is going to be pursued, citizens can get by without understanding geometry or trigonometry.

It is essential that all students receive this education before graduating from high school, and not just students with plans for college.

Public television and a few dedicated cable channels have good programs on these topics, but they need to be increased, and they need to be presented on the major networks.

If done satisfactorily, constituents should inform their representatives as to the importance of these topics.  Then science would not only survive, but would prosper in this democracy.  And public policies would be informed by the best available scientific evidence.

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

Can Science Survive in a Democracy?

April 22, 2017

This post is motivated by an article in the Comments section of the 22 April 2017 edition of the New Scientist by Dave Levit titled “Marchers, raise your banners for the tortoise pace of progress.”  The referenced March is the March for Science taking place today April 22.  His article begins, “The March for Science reflects the growing gap between slow, steady, vital scientific gains and quick-fire opportunist US politics.  A week is a long time in politics.  Science, however, is in it for the long haul.  Whether studying rising sea levels or isolating proteins in fruit fly nerve cells so that many years down the line we might have a new drug for Parkinson’s, science does not fit with the day-to-day fixed-term imperatives of government.

Politicians back fracking ventures that quickly create jobs, but talk down the risks of long-term pollution.  They take credit for the progress made in renewable energy, ignoring the decades of work underlying this progress.  Levit continues “The slow march of scientific progress does not match well with politics even on a good day.  “And today is not a good day.”

The science community has been shocked by the preliminary budget outlines from Donald Trump.  From the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to NASA’s earth science mission, science would get a buzz cut.  This makes perfect sense for Donald Trump.  Levit writes, “the impulsivity and lack of long-term thinking that places science at odds with politics seems less a feature and more a tenet of Trump’s view.   Why fund the NIH properly, helping to produce the medical advances of 2030, when he can’t see past his next tweet? If politics couldn’t handle science’s tortoise pace years ago, it should be no surprise to see this disdain reach a new peak in a faster moving age.”

This March is one day aimed at making people understand how unimportant one day actually is.  March participants are simply trying to drum up greater appreciation for evidence, scientific rigor, methodology, and expertise.  The March of Science is one of slow, steady, incremental progress.

Trump’s proposed cuts would have an immediate effect—less government spending.  But their long-term outcomes, such as delayed development of life saving drugs or preventing seas from rising to swallow Miami, apparently have little effect for many elected officials.

Levit notes that there is a chance cuts will accelerate the pace of impacts until it becomes impossible to ignore them, even though some of the damage would be irreversible.

It remains to be seen whether the March can wake us up before that happens.

Let us hope that it does wake up the congress.

We Dream Much More Than we Know

April 21, 2017

This is the conclusion from a News Piece written  by Chelsea Whyte in the 15 April 2017 issue of the New Scientist.  A new way to detect dreaming has confirmed that it doesn’t only occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and has shown why we don’t often remember our dreams.

Tore Nielsen at the University of Montreal says, “There is  much more dreaming going on than we remember.  It’s hour and hours of mental experience, and we remember a few minutes.  Low-frequency  brainwaves are detectable across the brain.  Francesca Siclari and her colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have discovered that a decrease in these waves in an area at the back of the brain is a sign that  someone is dreaming.  She says, “This zone was a little bit more awake, showing high frequency  brainwaves more common during wakefulness.  This one region seems to be all that’s necessary for dreaming.”

Siclari and her team used EEG caps to map the brain activity of 32 people while they slept.  They woke the sleeper when they showed various patterns of brainwave activity, and asked them if they had been dreaming.  Some participants reported having dreams with a narrative structure, while others were more impressionistic.  One had a dream about reporting a dream

There was such a strong correlation between dreaming and fewer low-frequency  waves in the “Hot zone” that they could successfully predict whether a person was dreaming 91% of the time.

The team found that dreams during REM sleep were linked to a rise in high-frequency brainwaves in areas the are active in waking hours.  The activity matched the brain areas that would have been active if the dreamers had been living our their dreams in real life.  The team found that the participants dreamed during 71% of their non-REM sleep in addition to 95% of their REM sleep.

Many dreams are forgotten.  Sometimes participants had a foggy idea that they had been dreaming, but couldn’t remember  what about.  In a further experiment the team found that being able to later remember a dream was linked to higher activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with memory, while dreaming.  Siclari says, “The region for remembering the dream was different from the region having a dream.

So dreaming is very important for our brains.  The previous posts on willpower have shown the importance of having adequate sleep for effective mental functioning.  It seems like both education and employment typically employ schedules that hinder sufficient sleep.  This issue needs serious public attention.

Journal reference:  Nature Neuroscience, DOI:  10.1038/nn.4545

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

Willpower Wrap Up

April 20, 2017

This is the final post on the book “Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.  The title says the greatest human strength, but it could be called the greatest human weakness as most of us not only fail to adequately foster willpower, but we also fail to make use of its potential. Perhaps a more appropriate title would have been “Willpower:  Discovering the Greatest Human Potential.”

The book also discusses how Eric Clapton and Mary Karr finally managed to stop drinking.  The exploits of David Blaine, who is perhaps the most famous current exploiter of willpower are described along with his methods for accomplishing them.  However, Henry Morton Stanley makes Blaine look like a wuss when it comes to willpower.  Stanley became famous by finding a Scottish Missionary in the deepest parts of Africa and saying, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”  Stanley made many trips into the wilds of Africa and encountered conditions that severely challenged his willpower.  But he never broke.  He said, “Self-control is more indispensable than gunpowder.”

HM’s only complaint with the book is that it does not discuss the relevance of meditation and mindfulness.  HM finds meditation to be a good technique for restoring willpower.  And mindfulness keeps the objectives of willpower in the mind and assists in monitoring progress.  Fortunately, readers of the healthy memory blog have many posts on both meditation and mindfulness.

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

Additional Willpower Strategies

April 19, 2017

This post is based largely on the book “Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.  The power of positive procrastination is another source of willpower.  The “I’ll have it later” trick is an example of positive procrastination.  At least you’re delaying the temptation.  And you might eventually forget about the temptation completely.

Another strategy is the nothing alternative courtesy of Raymond Chandler.  Chandler’s system for writing detective stories was to set aside at least four hours a day for his job, writing.  He did this methodically every day.  In the morning he would wait for inspiration.  When it came, he wrote.  If it didn’t come he would do nothing the entire four hours.  The authors write that the nothing alternative is a marvelously simple tool against procrastination for just about any kind of task.  You just might become bored doing nothing and start doing the desired task.  They key is not to do something else unless you strategically arrange the task as Robert Benchley did (see the first blog in this series, “Willpower:  Discovering the Greatest Human Strength).

The authors call the nothing alternative an offensive strategy.  Offensive strategies for not spending money would be to never carry more cash than you intend to spend, and to never carry a credit card unless it was for a predetermined purchase.  Precommitment is the ultimate offensive weapon.  Buy junk food in small packages or keep them out of the kitchen altogether.  Plan meals by the week, rather than on the spur of the moment.  Set up automatic payroll deductions, IRAs, and 401k plans.

Keeping track is another strategy .  Monitoring is crucial for any kind of plan you make—and it can even work if you don’t have a plan at all.  Weighing yourself every day or keeping a food diary can help you lose weight, just as tracking your purchases can help you spend less.  You can use technology to assist you in keeping track.

An especially important strategy is to reward often.  When you set a goal, set a reward for reaching it.  The authors write that we should steadily award ourselves for successes along the way.  Look for ways to reward yourself along the way to success prior to the big reward when the goal is reached.

Willpower Strategies

April 18, 2017

This post is based largely on the book “Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.  Willpower is constrained by  the availability of energy sources.  One of these is glucose, which is burned up in activities.  The other is mental energy.   Exerting willpower deletes this source, irrespective of the reason for needing willpower.  Consequently strategies are required for utilizing this resource to best advantage.  One strategy is to pick our battles.  Although we can’t control or predict the stresses that come into our lives, we can use the calm periods or peaceful moments to plan an offense such as starting an exercise program, learning a new skill, quitting smoking, reducing drinking, making one or two lasting changes to a diet.  These are all best done during times of relatively low demand, when we can allocate much of our will power to the task.  And we would want to address this tasks individually, one at a time.  Aiming for huge and quick transformations will backfire if they seem impossible.  So only address the possible.

The authors counsel us when budgeting our time, not to give drudgery more than its necessary share.  They tell us to remember Parkinson’s Law:  Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.  We need to set firm time limits for tedious tasks.  If it is a large task it might need to be addressed on different dates.  Only try to do what is realistic.

To-do-lists are good for organizing time and for making sure certain tasks are completed by a certain time.  The authors realize that some readers might not feel like drawing one up because this sounds dreary and off-putting.  So they suggest of thinking of it as a to-don’t list.  This is a list of things that we don’t have to worry about once we write them down.  Making a specific plan mollifies our unconscious minds.  We need to plan the specific next step to take; what to do, whom to contact, how to do it (in person? by phone? by e-mail?)If we can also plan specifically when and where to do it, so much the better, but that’s not essential.  Our unconscious mind can relax as long as we’ve decided what to do and put it on the list.

Whenever we set a goal, we need to be aware of the planning fallacy.  This affects everyone from young students to experienced executives (who continue to fall prey to this fallacy).  This fallacy has been extensively documented and replicated.  An example provided in the book is one by psychologist Roger Bueller and his colleagues.  They asked collegeseniors working on their honors theses to predict when they would probably finish, along with best-case and worst-case scenarios.  On average, the students predicted it would take thirty-four days to finish, but in fact it took them fifty-six days.  Not even half the students finished by they worst-case predicted date.

The authors note that self-control will be most effective if we take basic care of our bodies, starting with diet and sleep.   We need to get enough healthy food on a regular basis so that our mind has adequate energy.  And it is good to begin the day with a healthy breakfast.  The authors write that sleep is probably even more important than food:  The more researchers study sleep deprivation the more nasty effects they keep discovering.  Coffee in the morning is not an adequate substitute for sleeping until our bodies wake up on their own because it has gotten enough rest.  They write,”The old advice that  things will seem better in the morning has nothing to do with daylight, and everything to do with depletion.  A rested will is a stronger will.”

It seems that most schedules for school and work are oblivious of the importance of adequate sleep and breakfast.  This forces people to shortchange themselves on sleep and breakfast.  In turn, these shortages result in inferior performance in both school and work.  Seriously attention needs to be paid to this problem.

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

Smoking and Alcoholism

April 17, 2017

This post is based largely on the book “Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.  Just like dieting, quitting smoking requires your maximum willpower.  So it should be the lone habit you’re trying to rid yourself of.  One research program found that a written contract committing to temporarily stop smoking was nearly 40% more likely than a control group to be nicotine free after a year.  Given an incentive to temporarily restrain their smoking, they were more likely to make a lasting change in their lives.  What began as a recommitment turned into something permanent and more valuable:  a habit.

If you can’t bring your self to quit smoking, try cutting down to two or three cigarettes per day.  This should have health benefits plus it puts you closer to quitting smoking altogether.

Smoking cigarettes had long been regarded as a personal physical compulsion due to overwhelming  impulses in the smoker’s brain and body.  That belief was challenged  in 2008 by an article in the “New England Journal of Medicine” by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler found that quitting smoking seems to spread through social networks.  They fond that kicking the habit seemed to be contagious.  If a member of a married couple quit smoking, the odds of the other spouse quitting increased dramatically.  The odds also increased if a brother, sister or friend quit.  Even coworkers had a substantial effect as long as the people worked together in a fairly small firm.  Generally speaking, smokers who live mainly among nonsmokers tend to have high rates of quitting, indicating the power of social influence and the social support for quitting.

Religions provide large social networks that can assist in quitting smoking.  Of course, religious people are less likely to smoke in the first place, but both new converts along with committed smokers have a good social support network for quitting.  Baumeister and Tierney  also have high praise for Alcoholics Anonymous.  Although they seem to be somewhat skeptical of the method, as good scientists they cannot argue with the results of AA.  AA does not provide an automatic cure.  Rather, it assists in developing the personal discipline using willpower to overcome alcohol abuse.

Smoking and Alcoholism are serious problems and they should be dealt with individually.   Limited willpower should be focused on each separately.

The Perfect Storm of Dieting

April 16, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in the book “Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest  Human Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.   Some of the content will be related plus a few contributions from this blog’s author.

Baumeister and John Tierney write, “If you’re serious about controlling your weight, you need the discipline to follow these three rules:

Never go on a diet.
Never vow to give up chocolate or any other food.
Whether you’re judging yourself or judging others, never equate being overweight with having weak willpower.

The reason for these rules can be attributed to “The Dieter’s Catch-22.”
In order not to eat, a dieter needs willpower.
In order to have willpower, a dieter needs to eat.

Oprah Winfree, along with the experience of others, and perhaps even your personal experience should be proof that diets do not work in the long term.  Although there may be short term effects, eventually we all seem to be able to find that weight that we thought we had lost.

In one experiment, using both dieters and non dieters, the participants arrived at the what researchers call a “food-deprived state.”   In other words they were hungry.  They had not eaten for several hours.  Some were given a small milkshake to take the edge off; others drank two giant milkshakes with enough calories to leave a normal person feeling stuffed.  Then both groups, along with other subjects who hadn’t even given any kind of milkshake, were asked to serve as food tasters.  Each one sat in a private cubicle with several bowls of crackers and cookies and a rating form.  As these people recorded their ratings, they could eat as many from  from each bowl as they wanted and if they finished them all, they could just tell themselves they were doing a thorough job as food testers.  Of course, their ratings didn’t matter.  The researchers were just interested inn how many cookies and crackers they ate, and how the dieters in the group compared with people who were not on a diet.

The non dieters reacted as expected.  Those who had just drunk two giant milkshakes nibbled at the crackers and quickly filled out their ratings.  Those who had drunk the small milkshake ate more crackers.  And those who were still hungry after not eating for hours went on to chomp through the better part of the cookies and crackers.

However, the dieters reacted in the opposite pattern.  The ones who had downed the giant milkshakes actually ate more cookies and crackers than the ones who’d had nothing to eat for hours.    These results have been replicated.  Finally the researchers began to see why self-control in eating can fail even amount people who are carefully regulating themselves.  The researchers gave this phenomenon the scientific term, counterregulaory eating, but this is commonly referred to as the what-the-hell effect.  So once dieters go off their diet they tend to say what-the-hell and behave like sailors on leave.

The key to successful dieting can be attributed to Mark Twain who wrote in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, “To promise not do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing.”

Research has shown the effectiveness of a postponement strategy.  When offered something tempting, rather than denying it, tell yourself that you will enjoy it sometime later.  Apparently it takes less will power to postpone something rather then to deny it.  So rather than a “what the hell” effect,” there can be an “I never managed to get around to it effect.”

The chapter concludes, “So when it comes to food never say never.  When the dessert cart arrives, don’t gaze longingly at forbidden treats.  Know that you will eat them eventually, but just not tonight.”

Weight loss goals should be modest.  And all your willpower needs to be devoted to them.  Large weight losses rarely last.

The following strategies were not in the book, but HM finds them promising.
The book does mention trying to keep track of calories.  This can have the benefit of slowing down your eating.  And the slowing down itself can be quite effective.  Take time to savor each bite of food.  This can also increase your enjoyment of the meal as well as helping your lose weight.

Another tactic is to switch diets for a limited amount of time.  For example, you might become a vegetarian for a week.  This is a variant of the postponement strategy.  You postpone your regular food.  Over a period of a week you are filling up on new food.  And over this period, you might start to enjoy some foods.  You can do this periodically gradually increasing the length of time on the new diet.

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

Willpower 101, First Lesson, Know Your Limits

April 15, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in he book “Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.  It is important to reiterate that your supply of willpower is limited, and you use this same resource for many different things.  Throughout the day you do many things that deplete your willpower of which you are likely unaware.  One activity that definitely depletes willpower is making decisions.  Practically nobody is aware of just how tiring it is to decide.  Even apparently simple decisions such as choosing what to have for dinner depletes willpower..  But deciding where to go on vacation, whom to hire, or where to look for a new job, which purchases to make and how much to spend are all decisions that deplete willpower.

Also remember that what matters is the exertion and not the outcome.  If you struggle with temptation and then give in, you have depleted your willpower regardless of the result.  You even use up willpower when you partake in indulgences that don’t appeal to you.  Forcing yourself to do something you don’t really want to do at the moment, be it chugging tequila, having sex, or smoking a cigar, depletes your willpower.

Unfortunately there is no obvious “feeling” of depletion, so you need to watch yourself for subtle, easily misinterpreted signs.  For example:  Do things seem to bother you more than they should?  Has the volume somehow been turned up on your life so that things are felt more strongly than usual?  Is it suddenly hard to make up your mind about even simple things?  Are you more than usually reluctant to make a decision to exert yourself mentally or physically?  When you notice these feelings, then review the last few hours and see if it seems likely likely that you have depleted your will power?

Although your supply of willpower is limited, it is obvious it can be replenished.  Obviously, a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast should restore your willpower.  But during the day pleasant down time should also do some replenishing.   There is another activity that HM strongly recommends, and that is meditation.  HM finds meditation most definitely to be restorative.  It is unfortunately that Baumeister and Tierney do not have meditation play a more central role.  It is mentioned that meditation rituals are a “kind of anaerobic workout for self control.”  And that “Meditation activates the same brain centers used for self-regulation.”  HM understand why they do not emphasize meditation.  They are conscientious researchers who want controlled research on the topic.  Although HM understands why they do not emphasize meditation, he criticizes their not conducting obvious research on the topic.  HM can, at least, provide his recommendation on the basis of his personal experience.  And that is that, perhaps apart from a good sound night’s sleep, meditation is the most restorative activity.  A short period, a half hour or less, of effective meditation has remarkable restorative powers.  (Enter “relaxation response” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to find relevant posts.  Additional posts can be found by entering “meditation”  or “mindfulness”)

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