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

A Wealth Tax is Imperative

January 31, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Greater control over public discourse. Wealthy people and corporations can control public discourse in many ways—by owning media outlets, sponsoring shows, massive advertising, and so on. This control works via the brain. Language and imagery that activate conservative frames (see the healthy memory blog post “Different Ways of Framing”) will also activate conservative morality—strict father morality (see the healthy memory blog post “The Strict Father Model”) in. As conservative morality gets stronger, progressive morality gets weaker in the brains of the public. This affects what people believe unconsciously as well as consciously, and therefore affects how people vote.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Coping with Blindspots

January 30, 2019

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

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

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

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

Two Facets of Mind: Reflective and Automatic

January 29, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does Automatic White Preference Mean Prejudice?

January 28, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precursors to the Implicit Association Test (IAT)

January 26, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now go to bit.ly/T8h6uD.

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

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People

January 25, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald Trump and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

January 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A President Divorced from Reality

January 9, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallucinations

January 8, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM)

January 7, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Navigation

January 6, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two impressive Memories

January 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

UNTHINKABLE

January 4, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 2, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freed from the Feed

January 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year 2019!

December 31, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trump Cult

December 25, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas 2018

December 25, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

The Problem Within the Genius Within

December 22, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Genius Within

December 21, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magnetic Fields

December 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Current Thinking

December 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

And:

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

Still more:

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

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

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

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

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

So, What Makes a Brain Smart?

December 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential

December 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Disoriented Ape

December 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking Two Languages May Help the Aging Brain

December 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Why Don’t Our Brains Get Bigger?

December 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Final Post (for the time being)

December 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would Adam Smith Be a Conservative Today?

December 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

The Piketty Insight on the Accelerating Wealth Gap

December 9, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Science Behind Empathy and Morality

December 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Systemic Causation

December 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hypocognition

December 6, 2018

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

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

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

Lakoff provides the following suggestions for progressives:

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

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

Third, the truth alone will not set you free.

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

Fifth, understand where conservatives are coming from.

Sixth, think strategically, across issue areas.

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

Ninth, unite! And cooperate.

Tenth, be proactive, not reactive.

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

The Nurturant Parent Model

December 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

Lakoff lists some additional nurturant values.

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

The Strict Father Model

December 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Different Ways of Framing

December 2, 2018

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

Here are two different ways of framing taxes:

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

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

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

or

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

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

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

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

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

Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse

December 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memory Special: How Can Two People Recall an Event So Differently?

November 30, 2018

This post has the same title as a Feature article by Catherine de Lange in 27 Oct ’18 issue of the “New Scientist.” The article begins, “ We each have a personal memory style determined by the brain, so next time you argue with someone about what really happened, remember that you may both be right.”

Signy Sheldon of McGill University notes that memories are only built when we retrieve them. And if they are retrieved a second time, they are built again. So if we’ve had an argument with someone it would be when you called the event to mind that you created a mental representation of what happened. And of all the details you could have picked out, you can bet you didn’t focus on the same ones as your sparring partner.

Sheldon says, “We are now understanding that there are strong individual differences in how people remember. And these differences are etched in our brain. This can be seen in people who have aphantasia, the inability to form mental images in the minds eye. It is not surprising that such people’s memories also lack a visual component, even though they can recall facts.

To study this further Sheldon and her colleagues asked people to complete a questionnaire about how they tend to remember, before having their brain scanned. The researchers found that people’s memory style was reflected in their brain connectivity. Those who were better remembering facts had more physical links between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in reasoning. Those with richly detailed “autobiographical memories”, by contrast, had more connectivity between the hippocampus and areas involved in visual processing. Sheldon says, “People’s brains are wired differently depending on how they naturally approach the act of retrieval.

In addition to individual brain differences, there are other reasons why two people might have conflicting memories of the same event. Their emotional response is one. Sheldon says, “Emotional events can be recalled much more naturally, almost like they are stamped in out minds.” It is as if we shine a spotlight on the things that really matter to us. What we remember will also be affected by whether we consider it useful. This is beneficial as it helps us learn lessons and bond with others. Sheldon notes, “The malleability of memory is often seen as something that’s broken, “but it’s really very adaptive.”

Memory Special: Can You Trust Your Memories?

November 29, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title of a Feature article by Clare Wilson. in the 27 October 2018 issue of the “New Scientist.” There have been many previous healthy memory blog posts on the research of Elizabeth Loftus. Wilson writes, “NO ONE has done more than Elizabeth Loftus to expose the fallibility of human memory. In the 1990s, amid growing panic over claims of satanic child sex abuse rings, the psychologist showed how easy it is for people to develop false memories of events that never happened. All it took was repeatedly being asked to imagine them. At the time, this was a common psychotherapy technique to recover supposed repressed memories.”

Over the last three decades, Loftus, now at the University of California, Irvine has become well known for her work as an expert witness in legal cases. Her continuing research on the fallibility of eyewitness testimony has taken fresh importance in the era of fake news, the Me Too movement and digital image manipulation.

Clare Wilson asks, “The Me Too movement has led to a surge in historic claims of sexual assaults. Do you think some of these could be based on false memories?

Dr. Loftus responded, “It is possible, We have to accept that when there are two people whose versions of an event are different, the man’s version may not be the truth or, alternatively maybe the woman’s version is not the truth. We have to look for other sources of evidence to corroborate either person. But right now, at the height of “Me Too”, people are not as interested in hearing you talk about false accusations as they might have been a year ago. The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of automatically believing the accuser. It used to be too far the other way.

Clare Wilson, “But we know most abuse cases are not successfully brought to trial…

Dr. Loftus responds, “I absolutely see what you’re saying. But as an expert witness on memory, I see a different subset of cases to the ones that most people see. I see the most contentious ones. I hate the idea people will try to point to all the false memory work and use it to deny guilt when they’re truly guilty. I think that probably sometimes happens and it’s just going to be a cost. I don’t know what we can do to stop that.”

Clare Wilson, “What other memory problems has your research shed light on?”

Dr. Loftus responds, “We have been doing some work on the phenomenon called memory blindness. Say that someone is being interviewed after witnessing a crime. They tell you that person was wearing a green jacket. Later on you tell them they told you the jacket was brown. We’re exploring the extent to which people even notice you fed back a different answer from the one you actually gave. Often they don’t. We think this can be a problem in cases where the police are writing out a statement. They say, ‘Here’s what you told me.’ What if there are errors contained in it? It can happen. We are showing that people can fail to detect them and be influenced by them.”

Clare Wilson, Can we misremember our feelings as well as facts?

Dr. Loftus responds, The evidence would suggest so. Another study we’re doing is we take you through a difficult task and ask you to rate your anxiety. I tell you that I rated it at 40 when you really rated it at 60. People often don’t detect you gave them the wrong rating and they start to feel less anxious about the task. When they look back, it was less awful for them. You could do this with kids when they go to the dentist. A former student of mine did some research with kids at a dental clinic, and she got them to remember less fear and pain, and they also behaved better at the next visit.

Clare Wilson, So there could be benefits to fallible memories?

Dr. Loftus responds, “If your kid had a traumatic but minor experience, rather than dwelling on the negatives, it might be better instead to talk them up. To say: “You were so brave, you hardly cried.” It is generally a little easier to plant a positive memory than a negative one. We don’t know why, it just empirically seems to be the case.”

Clare Wilson, Is there any evolutionary reason why memory is so unreliable?

Dr. Loftus responds, “One benefit is that when errors creep in, you can fix them and update memories with true information. Another is that some errors make you feel bette about yourself. These are called prestige-enhancing distortions. A common example is people remembering voting in elections they didn’t vote in, because they like to think of themselves as civic-minded. Sometimes it gets people into trouble, like in “stolen valor cases”, when someone famous says they were a brave soldier on the battlefield and it turns out they were really behind a desk on that day.”

Clare Wilson, So most of the time it is a harmless delusion?

Dr. Loftus responds, “If these kinds of prestige-enhancing distortions aren’t caught, it does allow people to feel better about themselves. People with depression don’t have them as much as everyone else. Such people are sadder but wiser. This is just a correlation, so we don’t know if the lack of prestige-enhancing memory distortions is causing the depression. But it does suggest another possible upside to the untenability of our memories. If there are costs, there have got to be some benefits.”

Memory Special: Can You Choose What to Forget?

November 27, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a feature article by Penny Sarchet in the 27 Oct 2018 issue of the “New Scientist.” Here’s how to choose what memories to forget. It is commonly thought that we can actively strengthen memories, whereas forgetting is a passive process. We now have discovered that forgetting can be intentional.

Jeremy Manning of Dartmouth College has found that just telling people to “push thought out of their head” is enough to make them forget lists of words they have learned to associate with particular cues. He says, “We don’t know how, but some people seem to know how to do it. Justin Hulbert at Bard College says that suppression has been linked to decreased activity in the hippocampus, so we may be unknowingly reducing our hippocampal activity by focusing on the present.

Of course, he is speaking of words learned in an experiment. Memories from private lives can be an entirely different matter. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves intrusive memories that keep coming back—often suddenly and unexpectedly. Studies have found that people with this condition are less able to suppress memories, even those unrelated to traumatic incidents.

There are other approaches to forgetting, including what are known as cognitive vaccines: interventions that can “inoculate” the brain agains the onset of PTSD symptoms if administered soon after trauma.

Some computer games can induce forgetting. Playing Tetris after watching an upsetting film has been found to reduce flashbacks of that film, possibly because thinking about a visual task stopped the brain from processing the visual images of death and injury from the ilm. However, doing a non-visual task, such as playing a general knowledge game, actually increases flashbacks.

Katherine Simon at the University of Arizona and her colleagues found the they could train people to associate a particular sound with the instruction to forget something. Then they taught the volunteers to associate other sounds with specific words. As the volunteers slept, the team reactivated the memories of some of these words using their associated sounds, while also playing the “forget” sound. A week later, the volunteers were worse at remembering these words than words that hadn’t been targeted. Hulbert says being able to exert some control over what you remember probably helps to bolster you resilience in the fact of adversity.

There are downsides, however. Hulbert’s team found that when you try to suppress a memory, you are later less likely to remember things that happened around the time you attempted suppression. Apparently quieting you hippocampus to block a memory causes an “amnesic shadow” that more generally impairs memory function.

Hulbert says that good can come from holding on to even the most awkward of memories. “For sure, bringing one to mind can be cringe-inducing, but it’s important to reflect on the good that certain embarrassing memories can bring, as learning experience that teach us what not to do again.”

Memory Special: What Happens to Your Memories While You Sleep?

November 26, 2018

The title of this post is identical to a feature article by Catherine de Lange in the 27 Oct ’18 issue of the New Scientist.” We don’t need sleep to create a memory, but Bob Stickgold at Harvard Medical School says, “Sleep plays a critical role in determining what happens to newly formed memories.” Sleep determines what goes into long-term storage. It can also select which parts of a memory to retain. It also links new memories with established networks of remembrances. It discovers patterns and rules, and it is doing this every night all night long.

Somehow the sleeping brain chooses which memories to strengthen and which to ignore. Sleep is special. Anna Schipiro, also at the Harvard school says, “During slow-wave sleep, there is this release, a kind of beautiful set of interactions between different brain areas, that is specialized, and it looks different than what we see during awake periods. There is conversation between regions key to memory, including the hippocampus, where memories are processed into the cortex where long-term memories end up. This chatter might be allowing the cortex to pull out and see important information from new memories.

There is no need to recall everything, and sleep favors certain types of memory. It homes in on information that might be useful at a later date, and puts it into longer-term storage. Shapiro has found that merely telling people they will be tested on certain material helps them remember more of it after sleep.

Memories with an emotional component also get preferential treatment—especially negative emotions. Schipiro says, “If you have a memory that was really intense, sleep will help to preserve the memory, but decrease the emotionality. Obviously this could be crucial for our mental health. Stickgold says, “Post traumatic stress disorder might actually be a direct consequence of failure of those sleep-dependent processes that waken the intensity of emotional responses to memories.” And it could also help explain why getting too little sleep is bad for you. Negative memories become dominant over neutral and positive ones, for a start. Stickgold says, “We remember facts and events, but don’t manage to figure out what they really mean for us and our future.”

Here is Schipiro’s advice on studying for exams: “It’s much better to go to sleep between studying and taking a test than to stay awake all night studying.”

Memory FAQ: Answers to the Common Questions That Baffle Us All

November 25, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature Article by Yvaine Ye & Tiffany O’Callaghan in the 21 Oct 18 Issue of the New Scientist.

Why can’t I remember what I did 5 seconds ago?
A good example of this is trying to remember if you locked the door on the way to the car. The answer is that you did not pay attention. Habitual behaviors can occur without conscious thought,. The brain no longer encodes the details of a repeated behavior, so while you remember to lock the door, there’s no specific memory of it. Being on autopilot can be beneficial as it frees up attention for more important things. Unfortunately, this habitual memory can take over when it’s not supposed to, which can lead to mistakes like forgetting to drop a child off and leaving her in the car instead.

Why can’t we remember being babies?
Although babies are constantly learning, only a handful of people have memories before the age of 2. That’s due to the parts of the brain critical for long term memory being immature. Babies can form some memories—a 6-month old can recall how to do certain tasks for up to three weeks-but holding onto them can be tricky. As the brain begins to mature, the neural machinery gets more efficient and memories start to stick—until the age of 7, when there’s a sudden dip. Children recall far more about earlier events in their lives when asked before they are 7 just a year later. This sudden erasure is known as childhood amnesia and may be due to pruning, the brain’s process of snipping lesser-used connections to strengthen those that remain. Although slightly older children remember fewer things, their recollections are more detailed. “The ability to tell a good story is developing,” says Patricia Bauer of Emory University. “You place it in context, you tell me what you did, highlight certain events and activity.” All of those things are part of what we mean by autobiographical memory. This points to a possible strategy for hanging onto more of those early memories, or at least attempting to influence which ones stick. In cultures where family storytelling is a cherished pasttime, people are more likely to retain early childhood memories. Summoning and reviewing these memories, a process known as reconsolidation, can fortify them. So, if you want your child to remember a special trip to the beach, indulge in a little reminiscing, and get them to tell you the story.

Why does being stressed affect your memory?
We secrete stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, when we are emotionally aroused, whether the result of a trauma or a fantastic concert. These hormones trigger the firing of signals in the brain, which improve memory function. However, when trying to retrieve memories, stress can hamper our efforts. It can also prevent us from updating existing memories with new information. This can explain why, despite our best efforts, it is all too easy for the mind to go blank in a stressful setting such as a presentation or the exam hall.

Does closing your eyes truly help you remember?
Yes, as vision is our dominant sense and an important source of new information. Seeing the world in front of you is a major distraction when you try to think of something. Closing your eyes helps limit the distraction. This is especially true when trying to retrieve a highly visual piece of information. Still not everyone finds this beneficial.

Why is it that you only remember some things when other people trigger your memory?
We store much more information than we can intentionally recall. What we retrieve depends largely on the cues given, either from other people or from the environment. An analogy is that memories are like a pile of jigsaw puzzles. Cues are the pictures on the box that activate the connections that memory fragments are attached to. But sometimes a friendly prompt can mess with your memory. Suppose you went to a concert with a friend who later asked: “Remember they sang such-and-such song?” Each time you recall a memory it is vulnerable to change. Even though you don’t actually remember that you’ve heard of this song, your friend looked very confident and you may end up convincing yourself about this experience, and this becomes a new memory.”

What is photographic memory?
Photographic memory is the ability to recall a past scene with great accuracy. Some people have better visual memory than others, especially those with highly superior autobiographic memory (HSAM). Although it is not entirely understand why, but their memory seems to work the same way, yet is somehow better recognized so that it can be recalled more readily and more accurately. Nevertheless, their memory isn’t perfect. Flashbacks as real and precise as photos are a myth.

Memory Special: Do We Even Know What Memory is For?

November 24, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature Article by Alison George in the 27 October 2018 issue of the New Scientist. Readers of the healthy memory blog should know the answer, and that is for time travel. It allows us to recall what has happened or what we have learned to help us deal with the future. We can recall this information and run mental simulations of what would work in the future. Memories enable us to plan for the future.

Imaging studies of the brain show that similar patterns of brain activity underlie both remembering the past and planning for the future. We are able to generate images of scenes in our mind’s eye. Eleanor Maguire at University College London says,” If you think about it, recalling the past, imaging the future, and even spatial navigation, typically involve us constructing scene imagery. Being able to picture the past enabled us to imagine the future, and therefore plan.

If we can’t recall past events and preferences, our ability to make good decisions deteriorates. This is because during the decision-making process, the brain uses previous choices and existing knowledge to assess options and imagine how they might turn out.

Memory is also provides the basis for our relationships with others. When memory is lost in the late stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s, we no longer know who we are.

This is why the healthy memory blog is dedicated to now only maintaining memories, but to building and growing memories.

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

Are the Republicans Complicit with the Russians?

November 2, 2018

The big question seems to be whether the Trump campaign conspired with the Russians. Conspiracy would be the crime, not collusion. Actually there is a more relevant question, and that is the question posed in the title to this post. Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives was discussing Russia with his fellow Republican congressmen. The Republican majority leader Kevin McCarthy expressed the belief that Donald Trump was paid by Russia. Ryan reacted by asking that such suspicions be kept “in the family.” Apparently he thought that an embarrassment within the party was more important than the violation of the sovereignty of the country.

The meeting the heads of the American Intelligence agencies had with Senate majority leader McConnell was reported in a previous healthy memory blog post. McConnell refused to accept what the intelligence agencies were telling him that we were under cyberattack by the Russians. He argued that this was a lie he was being told, that it was entirely political even though these agencies are not political See the Healthymemory blog post “House of TRUMP House of PUTIN” to see the money that McConnell had accepted from the Russians. Republicans have been thwarting the investigations being done by relevant committees in the House and the Senate. Moreover, they are attacking the Department of Justice in exercising its responsibilities as their interest clearly is not in justice, but in protecting Trump.

There is already evidence that Russia is again at work interfering in the mid-term election. And it is also clear that any positive results the Democrats have in the elections will be called fraudulent by Trump. He will charge more false news, a charge he learned from the Russians. So will these charges be resolved and how will they be resolved?

Then there is the Mueller investigation. Will it be stopped by Trump? And even if Mueller has compelling legal charges, will the Republicans still protect Trump?

A previous healthy memory post, the same one cited above based on a book by Craig Unser titled “House of TRUMP House of PUTIN” detailed the large financial dealings of Trump with the Russians. It is clear that both his current wealth and his future wealth is dependent on Russia. How can such a man serve as President? Trump’s interests are in his wealth, not in the country.

Parts based on “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” by Timothy Snyder

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

Will the United States Become a Kleptocracy?

November 1, 2018

“During the Presidential campaign, Trump asked Americans to remember when America was great: what his supporters had in mind were the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s, decades when the gap between the wealthiest and the rest was shrinking. Between 1940 and 1980, the bottom 90% of American earners gained more wealth than the top 1% did. This condition of growing equality was what Americans remember with warmth as the time of American greatness. The welfare state was expanding in the 1950s and the 1960s. Wealth was more evenly distributed, thanks in large part to government policy.”

“Inequality of income and wealth grew drastically from the 1980s through the 2010s. In 1978, the top 0.1% of the population, about 160,00 families, controlled 7% of American wealth. By 2012, the position of this tiny elite was even stronger: it controlled about 22% of American wealth. At the very top the total wealth of the top 0.01%, about 16,000 families, increased by a factor of six over the same period. In 1978 a family in the top 0.01% was about 222 times as rich as the average American family. By 2012, such a family was about 1,120 times richer. Since 1980, 90% of the American population has gained essentially nothing, either in wealth or income, All gains have gone to the top 10%—and within the top 10%, most to top 1%, most to the top 0.1%, and within the top 0.1% most to the top 0.01%.”

“in the 2010s, the United States approached the Russian standard of inequality. Although no American oligarchical clan has yet captured the state, the emergence of such groups in the 2010s (Kochs, Mercers, Trumps, Murdochs) was hard to miss. Just as Russians used American capitalism to consolidate their own power, Americans cooperated with the Russian oligarchy with same purpose—the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, for example. Most likely Trump’s preference for Putin over Obama, was not just a matter of racism or rivalry: it was also an aspiration to be more like Putin, to be in his good graces, to have access to greater wealth. Oligarchy works as a patronage system that dissolves democracy, law, and patriotism, American and Russian oligarchs have far more in common with one another that they do with their own populations. At the top of the wealth ladder, the temptations of the politics of eternity will be much the same in America as in Russia. There is little reason to expect that Americans would behavior better than Russians when place in similar situation.”

HM thinks it would be more accurate to call these oligarchs kleptocrats. Kleptocracy is more accurate than oligarchy since most of this money has been stolen, stolen from the people and given the the precious few. The first post mentioned that the Soviet Union was communistic and regarded as leftist. Indeed, one of the former Kochs founded the John Birch Society to fight communism. The wealthy did not like communism because it took away their wealth. But Russia’s kleptocracy allows them not only to build their wealth, but also to build their influence and power.

Quotes are taken directly from “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” by Timothy Snyder

Cyberwar

October 31, 2018

“Kiselev called information war the most important kind of war. At the receiving end, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party wrote of ‘a war, clearly, but edged on a different kind of battlefield.’ The term was to be taken literally. Carl von Clausewitz, the most famous student of war, defined it as ‘an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.’ What if, as the Russian military doctrine of the 2010s posited, technology made it possible to engage the enemy’s will directly, without the medium of violence? It should be possible as a Russian military planning document of 2013 proposed, to mobilize the ‘protest potential of the population’ against its own interests, or, as the Izborsk Club specified in 2014, to generate in the United States a ‘destructive paranoid reflection. Those are concise and precise descriptions of Trump’s candidacy. The fictional character won, thanks to votes meant as a protest against the system, and thanks to voters who believed paranoid fantasies that simply were not true… The aim of Russian cyberwar was to bring Trump to the Oval Office through what seemed to be normal procedures. Trump did not need need to understand this, any more than an electrical grid has to know when it is disconnected. All that matters is that the lights go out.”

“The Russian FSB and Russian military intelligence (the GRU) both took part in the cyberwar against the United States. The dedicated Russian cyberwar center known as the Internet Research Agency was expanded to include an American Department when in June 2015 Trump announced his candidacy. About ninety new employees went to work on-site in St. Petersburg. The Internet Research Agency also engaged about a hundred American political activists who did not know for whom they were working. The Internet Research Agency worked alongside Russian secret services to move Trump into the Oval Office.”

“It was clear in 2016 that Russians were excited about these new possibilities. That February, Putin’s cyber advisor Andrey Krutskikh boasted: ‘We are on the verge of having something in the information arena that will allow us to talk to the Americans as equals.’ In May, an officer of the GRU bragged that his organization was going to take revenge on Hillary Clinton on behalf of Vladimir Putin. In October, a month before the elections, Pervyi Kanal published a long and interesting meditation on the forthcoming collapse of the United States. In June 2017, after Russia’s victory, Putin spoke for himself, saying that he had never denied that Russian volunteers had made cyber war against the United States.”

“In a cyberwar, an ‘attack surface’ is the set of points in a computer program that allow hackers access. If the target of a cyberwar is not a computer program but a society, then the attack surface is something broader: software that allows the attacker contact with the mind of the enemy. For Russian in 2015 and 2016, the American attack surface was the entirety of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google.”

“In all likelihood, most American voters were exposed to Russian Propaganda. It is telling that Facebook shut down 5.8 million fake accounts right before the election of November 2016. These had been used to promote political messages. In 2016, about a million sites on Facebook were using a tool that allowed them to artificially generate tens of millions of ‘likes,’ thereby pushing certain items, often fictions, into the newsfeed of unwitting Americans. One of the most obvious Russian interventions was the 470 Facebook sites placed by Russia’s Internet Research Agency, but purported to be those of American political organizations or movements. Six of these had 340 million shares each of content on Facebook, which would suggest that all of them taken together had billions of shares. The Russian campaign also included at least 129 event pages, which reached at least 336,300 people. Right before the election, Russia placed three thousand advertisements on Facebook, and promoted them as memes across at least 180 accounts on Instagram. Russia could do so without including any disclaimers about who had paid for the ads, leaving Americans with the impression that foreign propaganda was an American discussion. As researchers began to calculate the extent of American exposure to Russian propaganda, Facebook deleted more data. This suggests that the Russian campaign was embarrassingly effective. Later, the company told investors that as many as sixty million accounts were fake.”

“Americans were not exposed to Russian propaganda randomly, but in accordance with their own susceptibility, as revealed by their practices on the internet. People trust what sounds right, and trust permits manipulation. In one variation, people are led towards even more intense outrage about what they already fear or hate. The theme of Muslim terrorism, which Russia had already exploited in France and Germany, was also developed in the United States. In crucial states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, Russia’s ads were targeted at people who could be aroused by anti-Muslim messages. Throughout the United States, likely Trump voters were exposed to pro-Clinton messages on what purported to be American Muslim sites. Russian pro-Trump propaganda associated refugees with rapists. Trump had done the same when announcing his candidacy.”

“Russian attackers used Twitter’s capacity for massive retransmission. Even in normal times on routine subjects, perhaps 10% of Twitter accounts (a conservative estimate) are bots rather than human beings: that is computer programs of greater or lesser sophistication, designed to spread certain messages to a target audience. Though bots are less numerous that humans on Twitter, they are more efficient than humans in sending messages. In the weeks before the election, bots accounted for about 20% of the American conversation about politics. An important scholarly study published the day before the polls opened warned that bots could ‘endanger the integrity of the presidential election.’ It cited three main problems: ‘first, influence can be redistributed across suspicious accounts that may be operated with malicious purposes; second, the political conversation can be further polarized; third, spreading misinformation and unverified information can be enhanced.’ After the election, Twitter identified 2,752 accounts as instruments of Russian political influence. Once Twitter started looking it was able to identify about a million suspicious accounts per day.”

“Bots were initially used for commercial purposes. Twitter has an impressive capacity to influence human behavior by offering deals that seem cheaper or easier than alternatives. Russia took advantage of this. Russian Twitter accounts suppressed the vote by encouraging Americans to ‘text-to-vote,’ which is impossible. The practice was so massive that Twitter, which is very reluctant to intervene in discussions over its platform, finally had to admit its existence in a statement. It seems possible that Russia also digitally suppressed the vote in another way: by making voting impossible in crucial places and times. North Carolina, for example, is a state with a very small Democratic majority, where most Democratic voters are in cities. On Election Day, voting machines in cities ceased to function, thereby reducing the number of votes recorded. The company that produced the machines in question had been hacked by Russian military intelligence, Russia also scanned the electoral websites of at least twenty-one American states, perhaps looking for vulnerabilities, perhaps seeking voter data for influence campaigns. According to the Department of Homeland Security, “Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards.

“Having used its Twitter bots to encourage a Leave vote in the Brexit referendum, Russia now turned them loose in the United States. In several hundred cases (at least), the very same bots that worked against the European Union attacked Hillary Clinton. Most of the foreign bot traffic was negative publicity about her. When she fell ill on September 11, 2016, Russian bots massively amplified the case of the event, creating a trend on Twitter under the hashtag #Hillary Down. Russian trolls and bots also moved to support Donald Trump directly at crucial points. Russian trolls and bots praised Donald Trump and the Republican National Convention over Twitter. When Trump had to debate Clinton, which was a difficult moment for him, Russian trolls and bots filled the ether with claims that he had won or that the debate was somehow rigged against him. In crucial swing states that Trump had won, bot activity intensified in the days before the election. On Election Day Itself, bots were firing with the hashtag #WarAgainstDemocrats. After Trump’s victory, at least 1,600 of the same bots that had been working on his behalf went to work agains Macron and for Le Pen in FRance, and against Merkel and for the AfD in Germany. Even at this most basic technical level, the war against the United States was also the war against the European Union.”

“In the United States in 2016, Russia also penetrated email accounts, and then used proxies on Facebook and Twitter to distribute selection that were deemed useful. The hack began when people were sent an email message that asked them to enter their passwords on a linked website. Hackers then used security credentials to access that person’s email account and steal its contents. Someone with knowledge of the American political system then chose what portions of this material the American public should see, and when.”

The hackings of the Democratic convention and wikileaks are well known. The emails that were made public were carefully selected to ensure strife between supporters of Clinton and her rival for the nomination, Bernie Sanders. Their release created division at the moment when the campaign was meant to coalesce. With his millions of Twitter followers, Trump was among the most important distribution channels of the Russian hacking operation. Trump also aided the Russian endeavor by shielding it from scrutiny, denying repeatedly that Russia was intervening in the campaign.
Since Democratic congressional committees lost control of private data, Democratic candidates for Congress were molested as they ran for Congress. After their private data were released, American citizens who had given money to he Democratic Party were also exposed to harassment and threats. All this mattered at the highest levels of politics, since it affected one major political party and not the other. “More fundamentally, it was a foretaste of modern totalitarianism is like: no one can act in politics without fear, since anything done now can be revealed later, with personal consequences.”

None who released emails over the internet has anything say about the relationship of the Trump campaign to Russia. “This was a telling omission, since no American presidential campaign was ever so closely bound to a foreign power. The connections were perfectly clear from the open sources. One success of Russia’s cyberwar was the seductiveness of the secret and the trivial drew America away from the obvious and the important: that the sovereignty of the United States was under attack.”

Quotes are taken directly from “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” by Timothy Snyder

Trump’s Money Laundry

October 30, 2018

Russia was an unruly country with lots of crime and violence. Putin brought peace to Russia essentially identifying people with power and buying them off with properties, which actually belonged to the citizens of Russia, and parceling them out to these powerful people, most of whom were gangsters. So Putin bought his power by selling public properties to gangsters creating a kleptocracy. The problem with dirty money is that it needs to be cleansed by laundering it. This is effectively done by buying and selling apartment units.

“Russian gangsters began to launder money by buying and selling apartment units in Trump Tower in the 1990s. The most notorious Russian hit man, long sought by the FBI, resided in Trump Tower. Russians were arrested for running a gambling ring from the apartment beneath Trump’s own. In Trump World Tower, constructed between 1999 and 2001 on the east side of Manhattan near the United Nations, a third of the luxury units were bought by people or entities from the former Soviet Union. A man investigated by the Treasury Department for money laundering lived in the Trump World Tower directly beneath Kellyanne Conway, who became the press spokeswoman for the Trump campaign. Seven hundred units of Trump properties in South Florida were purchased by shell companies. Two men associated with those shell companies were convicted of running a gambling and laundering scheme from Trump Tower. Perhaps Trump was entirely unaware of what was happening on his properties.”

“A Russian oligarch bought a house from Trump for $55 million more than Trump had paid for it. The buyer, Dmitry Rybolovlev, never showed any interest in the property and never lived there—but later, when Trump ran for president, “Rybolovlev appeared in places where Trump was campaigning. Trump’s apparent business, real estate development, had become a Russian charge. Having realized that apartment complexes could be used to launder money, Russians used Trump’s name to build more buildings. As Donald Trump said in 2008. ‘Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.’”

“The Russian offers were hard to refuse: millions of dollars up-front for Trump, a share of the profits for Trump, Trumps’s name on a building—but no investment required from Trump. These terms suited both sides. In 2006, citizens of the former Soviet Union financed the construction of Trump SoHo, and gave Trump 18% of the profits—although he put up no money himself. In the case of Felix Sater, the apartments were currency laundromats. A Russian American, Sater worked as senior advisor of the Trump Organization from an office in Trump Tower two floors below Trump’s own. Trump depended upon the Russian money. Sater bought through an entity known as the Bayrock Group. Sater arranged for people from the post-Soviet world to buy apartments using shell companies. From 2007, Sater and Bayrock were helping Trump around the world, cooperating on at least four projects. Some of these failed, but Trump made money regardless.”

“Russia is not a wealthy country, but its wealth is highly concentrated. It is thus common practice for Russians to place someone in their debt by providing easy money and naming the price later. As a candidate for the office of President, Trump broke with decades of tradition by not releasing his tax returns, presumably because they would reveal his profound dependence on Russian capital. Even after he announced his candidacy for the office of president, in June 2015, Trump was pursuing risk-free deals with the Russians. In October 2015, near the time of a Republican presidential debate, he signed a letter of intent to have Russians build a tower in Moscow and put his name on it. He took to Twitter to announce that ‘Putin loves Donald Trump.’”

“The final deal never went through, perhaps because it would have made the Russian sources of Trump’s apparent success just a bit too obvious at the moment when his presidential campaign was gaining momentum. The fictional character ‘Donald Trump, successful businessman’ had more important things to do. In the words of Felix Sater writing in November 2015, ‘Our boy can become president of the United States and we can engineer.’ In 2016, just when Trump needed money to run a campaign, his properties became extremely popular for shell companies. In the half year between his nomination as the Republican candidate and his victory in the general election, some 70% of the units sold in his buildings were purchased not by human beings, but by limited liability companies.”

Quotes are taken directly from “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” by Timothy Snyder

The Realization of Alexander Hamilton’s Fear

October 29, 2018

“Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?
—ALEXANDER HAMILTON, 1788”

By the late 1990s, Trump was clearly uncreditworthy and bankrupt. “He owed about four billion dollars to more than seventy banks, of which some $800 million was personally guaranteed. He never showed any inclination or capacity to pay back this debt. After his 2004 bankruptcy, no American bank would lend him money. The only bank that did so was Deutsche Bank, whose colorful history of scandal belied its staid name. Interestingly, Deutsche Bank also laundered about $10 billion for Russian clients between 2011 and 2015. Interestingly, Trump declined to pay back his debts to Deutsche Bank.”

“Trump’s advance to the Oval Office had three stages, each of which depended upon American vulnerability and required American cooperation. First, Russians had to transform a failed real estate developer into a recipient of their capital. Second this failed real estate developer had to portray, on American television, a successful businessman. Finally, Russia intervened with purpose and success to support the fictional character ‘Donald Trump, successful businessman’ in the 2016 presidential election.”

Putin’s grandest campaign was a cyberwar to destroy the United States of America. “For reasons having to do with American inequality, Russian oligarchy won an extraordinary victory in 2016. Because it did, inequality became a still greater America problem.”

“The rise of Donald Trump was the attack by ‘these most deadly adversaries of republican government that Alexander Hamilton had feared. Russian leaders openly and exuberantly backed Trump’s candidacy. Throughout 2016, Russian elites said with a smile that ‘Trump is our president.’ Dmitry Kislev, the leading man of the Russian media, rejoiced that ‘a new star is rising—Trump!’ Alexei Sushkov, the chair of the foreign relations committee of the lower house of the Russian parliament, expressed the general hope that ‘Trump can lead the Western locomotive right off the rails.’ Some Russians tried to alert Americans: Andrei Kozyrev, a former foreign minister, explained that Putin ‘realizes that Trump will trample democracy and damage if not destroy America as a pillar of stability and major force able to contain him.’”

“The Russian media machine was at work on Trump’s behalf. As a Russian journalist explained: ‘we were given very clear instructions: to show Donald Trump in a positive way, and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in a negative way.’ The Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik used the #crookedhillary hashtag on Twitter—a gesture of respect and support for Trump, since the phrase was his—and also associated Clinton with nuclear war. Trump appeared on RT to complain that the U.S. media was untruthful, which for RT was the perfect performance: its (RT) entire reason for being was to expose the single truth that everyone lied, and here was an American saying the same thing.”

“When Trump won the presidential election that November, he was applauded in the Russian parliament. Trump quickly telephone Putin to be congratulated. Kislev, the leading man of the Russian media, celebrated Trump as the return of manhood to politics on his Sunday evening program, ‘Vesti Nedeli.’ He was pleased that ‘the words democracy and human rights are not in the vocabulary of Trump.’ Describing a meeting of Trump and Obama, KIselev claimed that Obama was ‘waving his arms, as if he were in the jungle.’ In his commentary on Trump’s inauguration, Kislev said that Michelle Obama looked like the hoVesti Nedeli

usekeeper.”

“‘Donald Trump, successful businessman, was not a person. It was a fantasy born in the strange climate where the downdraft of the American politics of eternity, its fettered capitalism, met the rising hydrocarbon fumes of the Russian politics of eternity, its kleptocratic authoritarianism. Russians raised ‘a creature of their own’ to the presidency of the United States. Trump was the payload of a cyberweapon, meant to create chaos and weakness, as in fact he has done.”

Quotes are taken directly from “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” by Timothy Snyder

Fascism

October 28, 2018

This post is based on Timothy Snyder’s book, “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America.” When the Soviet Union existed it was a Communist nation and was regarded as being on the extreme liberal left. Under Putin, Russia has become a Fascist nation on the extreme right. So it is ironic that the Republican Party that once was strongly anti-communist, has nominated a presidential candidate who was chosen by Putin as the best person to lead the United States. Now this presidential candidate, who was clearly aided by Russia in his campaign, is joined in a mutual admiration union with Putin. And many Republicans are trying to frustrate, if not end, the investigation into Trump and Russia. This is an age of toxic irony.

Fascism is a troubling phenomenon. Germany and Italy were Fascist countries the allies fought and defeated during WW2. Fascism is a strongly authoritarian ideology. As a result of the Nazis an F (for Fascism) Scale was developed, that essentially measured the strength of an authoritarian personality. Two characteristics of Fascism are anti-semitism and a hatred of homosexuality. HM has difficulty understanding the basis of anti-semitism. The justifications for it are clearly fabricated done just to provide the basis for hatred. Actually, HM is grateful to Jews for their many contributions to the arts, science, and humor, just to mention a few. However, HM does think he understands, at least partly, the basis for the hatred of homosexuals. This hatred is found in both the religious right and Fascists. Being a cynical psychologist, who is not a clinician, HM suspects that latent homosexuality is the basis for most of this hatred. Unknowingly, they fear their latent homosexuality and project this on others. The stronger the fear, the greater the hatred. This conjecture occurs to HM whenever he sees Putin without his shirt.

Readers are encouraged to read Snyder’s “The Road to Unfreedom: Russian, Europe, and America. It outlines Putin’s goals to break up Europe into a Russian state Europa. Brexit was a successful effort to this end. He is encouraging right wing parties in the Europe and these parties are gaining increasing strength. Similarly, he is trying to break up the United States into vassal states that will support Russia. He does this by sowing dissension in these countries by various means, but primarily by social media.

Putin was extremely upset when the Ukraine, that was part of the Soviet Union, wanted to join the European Union. He invaded militarily the eastern part of the Ukraine that was largely Russian. However, the remainder of the Ukraine resisted his military efforts so that roughly two-thirds of the Ukraine remained free. During this time HM was able to view RT and saw the splendid propaganda Russian produced. It is so slick that it appears to be news, although the central message was propaganda. At the point of this writing, the situation remains a stalemate. So it appears that Putin can be contained, but Putin’s motives and means must clearly be recognized. All of this is described in Snyder’s book as well as Putin’s other efforts in Europe.

Even Putin’s efforts in the United States can only be touched on in the future posts. Much more of the text of “The Road to Unfreedom: will be copied directly. These portions will be indicated in quotes. Trying to paraphrase would only dilute the message Snyder is excellently communicating.

The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America

October 27, 2018

There is an earlier healthy memory blog post titled, “Fascism in on the March Again: Blame the Internet.’ It was based on an Outlook article in the Washington Post by Timothy Snyder. The article motivated HM to get the book by Timothy Snyder with the title of the current post. However, HM became bogged down in the communist philosophy of the former Soviet Union and now of Russia. These ideological readings do not cite data, but rather state causes of different political conditions and propose ad hoc and convoluted ideological arguments. It was like reading page after page of ideological nonsense.

Fortunately, the passage of time gave HM a second wind and he reengaged. And he is glad he did. He now has a very good understanding of the world we are in that is extremely relevant. There has also been a polar shift in ideologies.

The Soviet Union was a communist country. Americans and others in the free world who gravitated towards communism were regarded as fellow travelers, and if they went the entire way they were communists. These people were on the political left.

The new Russia is technically not a communist country. Although it might have the outward appearance of a democracy, Putin has turned it into a fascist kleptocracy.
The left no longer supports Russia. Western supporters of Russia are from the political right. As the title of the book implies the goal of Putin is to lead Europe and the United States down the road to unfreedom. The goal is to break up Europe into a Russian state Europa. And goal is to break up the United States and make it a fascist client state of Russia.

And it is clear that Putin is achieving his goals. He tried to influence the vote in which Scotland would become free of England and failed, but he was successful in influencing Brexit breaking England from continental Europe. The political right is exercising its strength against central governments in Europe. It uses information warfare as it has and is still doing in the United States. A major objective is to increase internal dissension by exacerbating identity politics and political beliefs. It also promotes its candidates as it successfully did in the United States. And it is successfully influencing one political party to go against the rule of law and attack its own government institutions such as the Department of Justice.

Donald Trump is working directly from the Russian fascist playbook. The charge of false news is one technique. Russia was also first to claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and could not legally become President of the United States. Six more posts on this topic will follow directly.

Growing Pains for a New Democracy

October 26, 2018

That new democracy is Bhutan and it’s wedged between India and China. Bhutan is famed for its stunning scenery and devotion to the principle of Gross National Happiness. There have been many previous Healthymemory blog posts on Gross National Happiness.

Bhutan had a rather unique path to democracy. Instead of voters rising up to fight for the right to elect their leaders, the country’s revered king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, initiated the process of drafting a democratic constitution. This constitution has some atypical features. Buddhist monks, nuns and other clergy are not allowed to vote on the logic that they should remain outside politics. No campaigning is allowed after 6 p.m. Candidates found “defaming” their opponents or straying into certain sensitive topics—such as Bhutan’s oppressively close relationship with India—face fines or reprimands.

Sounds wonderful. So what could possibly go wrong? Dorji Penjore, of the Center for Bhutan, noted that the last survey of the nation in 2015, showed a decrease in two of the nine indicators used to measure Gross National Happiness—psychological well-being and community vitality.

Two reasons have been provided for these problems. Both of which should be familiar to those of us in the US. One problem is social media. Apparently, the election rules were violated over social media and became pretty ugly. The second was party politics.

These two problems are plaguing us in the US. Much has been written about social media, and efforts are being attempted to try to reign in that problem. The second problem, which is not mentioned as much as it should be, is party politics.

According to the US Constitution each of the three branches of government, executive, judicial, and legislative are to provide checks on each other. Unfortunately, all three branches are under the control of the same party. Rather than checking the executive branch, the legislative branch is not only protecting an ill-behaved executive branch, but it is also attacking standing government institutions such as the Department of Justice.

The US Constitution is regarded by many as being sacrosanct. Indeed, one of the qualifying beliefs many have for Supreme Court Justices is that they be Originalists, meaning that they interpret the Constitution as it was understood when it was written. Previous healthy memory blog posts have pointed out that the Constitution as written is both misogynistic and racist. Attempts have been made to eliminate or mitigate these problems, but the fact that party politics could corrupt the vigilance each branch of government was to have on the other was not anticipated.

HM remembers reading that there were founding fathers who feared party politics. HM’s memory informs him that two of these were George Washington and John Adams. It is hard to see how politics would operate without political parties. But there appears to be a need to either eliminate or to mitigate the effectiveness of political parties, or to modify the US Constitution to protect its vulnerability from political parties.

Part of this post was base on the article by Joanna Slatter, “In tiny Bhutan, known for its pursuit of happiness, democracy brings discontent” in the 19 October 2018 issue of the Washington Post.

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

A View of the Reading Brain

October 19, 2018

This post is taken from “READER COME HOME: The Reading Brain in the Digital World” by Maryanne Wolf. Please excuse the detail, but it is important to gain an appreciation of what is involved in reading. The brain’s design is with the principle of “plasticity within limits.” The brain is able to go beyond its original biological functions—like vision and language—to develop biologically unknown capacities such as reading and numeracy. To do so, it forms a new set of pathways by connecting and sometimes repurposing its older and more basic structures. Faced with something new to learn, the human brain not only rearranges its original parts, but is also able to refit some of its existing neuronal groups in those same areas to accommodate the particular needs of the new function. The brain recycles and even repurposes neuronal networks for skills that are cognitive or perceptually related to the new one, Wolf writes, “This ability to form newly recycled circuits enables us to learn all manner of genetically unplanned-for activities—from making the first wheel, to learning the alphabet, to surfing the net while listening to Coldplay and sending tweets. None of the activities is hardwired or has genes specifically dedicated to its development; they are cultural inventions that involved cortical takeovers.” As there is no genetic blueprint for reading, there is no one ideal reading circuit. There can be different ones.

In addition to neuroplasticity, there is the concept of cell assemblies formulated by the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb. The concept is that cells that fire together wire together. These specialist groups build the networks that allow us to see the smallest features of a letter or hear the tiniest elements in the sounds of language, literally in milliseconds. Cell specialization enables each working group of neurons to become automatic in its specific region and to become virtually automatic in its connections to the other groups or networks in the reading circuit. For reading to occur, there must be sonic-speed automaticity for neuronal networks at a local level, which, in turn, allows for equally rapid connections across entire structural expanses of the brain. So, whenever we name even a single letter, we are activating entire networks of specific neuronal groups in the visual cortex, which correspond to entire networks of equally specific language-based cell groups, which correspond to networks of specific articulatory-motor cell groups—all with millisecond precision. Multiply this scenario a hundredfold when the task is to depict what you are doing when reading with complete (or even incomplete) attention and comprehension of the meanings involved.

“In essence, the combination of these principles forms the basis of what few of us would ever suspect: a reading circuit that incorporates input from the two hemispheres, four lobes in each hemisphere (frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital) and all five layers of the brain (from the uppermost telencephalon and adjacent diencephalon below it; to the middle layers of the mesencephalon; to the lower levels of the mesencephalon and myelencephalon).” So anyone who still believes that we use only a tiny portion of our brains hasn’t yet become aware of what we do when we read.

Elusive Experience as Intuition

October 14, 2018

This post is based, in part, on the work by Boyer Pascal titled “Minds Make Societies.” Pascal writes, “To understand modern forms of religious activity, we must consider another recent invention—the connection between religious beliefs and personal experience. In many modern movements, participants assume that religious activity should trigger a special kind of experience, entirely distinct from ordinary conscious activity, that these experiences carry important meaning, that they are crucial for a proper understanding of religious doctrines. Long before these recent developments, scholars in the the study of religions, mostly in the West, for a long time argued that religious experience was quite special. William James, the founder of modern psychology, also assumed that the nature of these exceptional experiences would be fundamental to understanding the emergence and development of doctrines and cults.”

Anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann did a thorough study of a group of American evangelical Christians in an attempt to study these elusive experiences. These evangelicals practice a specific version of mainstream Christianity with a clearly articulated belief that God can talk to them.

Luhrmann found that the definite intuition that an agent is around, that this agent really is God, that God is talking, is a rare occurrence and a frustratingly elusive one. She found that even among the most accomplished of believers a few islands of experience are surrounded by oceans of doubt and disbelief. Although Christian beliefs are held with fervor, the crucial elements, the presence and communication from a superhuman agent, are described as goals to achieve rather than a starting point. Many evangelicals readily admit they have not (or not yet) reached that point—it will take them more work. These evangelicals are to be commended for their honesty.

One of the reasons these Evangelicals are having so much difficulty is by spurning all the devices that people the world over have used. They do not want to open their minds to the deity though the medium of drugs, starvation, meditation, hyperventilation, or the hypnotic repetition of mantras. So the experience desired turns out to be so infrequent, ambiguous, and elusive. As you should note from previous posts, HM believes that meditation is perhaps the best means of establishing a relationship with God.

Although these evangelicals are honest in their beliefs, they have strayed from they key concept in effective religions, the soul. As a result they are unknowingly causing unnecessary pain and suffering in the world. Perhaps the least of which is contributing to the election of the antithesis of a Christian, Donald Trump. These evangelicals want to make abortion illegal, so Trump, who likely has financed abortions, promised to propose judges for the Supreme Court to bring this about.

Their argument is that biological life is being destroyed and lives are lost. But biological life is irrelevant. The soul is not destroyed, and that is what is key. Previous healthymemory blog posts have shown that what is essential for a healthy and happy child is for the mother to want and to love her child. [See the Healthymemory Blog Posts “The Damage Done by Forcibly Separating Children from Parents,” and “Turning on Genes in the Brain’[ When this requirement is not satisfied, developmental problems result. It is reasonable to think that many, if not most, of the disturbing events one reads about every day are the result of an unloved child. This is damaging not only to the mother and the child, but also to the community. A just and merciful God does not want this to happen. Consequently, this God would save the soul of the future child until a more loving mother became available. So rather than outlaw abortion, abortion should be encouraged unless the prospective mother wants to love and nurture the child.

There is nothing in scriptures to justify this belief of the evangelicals. But rather than pursue the work of Christ, helping the sick and the impoverished, they engage in these self-righteous political crusades. Every other advanced country in the world provides government paid health insurance to all its citizens. But evangelicals along with other nonbearing citizens do not tend to support this type of political activity. Consequently, the United States suffers from both extravagant medical costs producing results characteristic of third world countries.

In addition to being ignorant of the importance of souls, these Evangelicals do not understand the concept of religious freedom embedded in the Constitution. One can follow any religion, including atheism, in the United Stated. Unfortunately, some evangelicals and other religious groups are trying to enforce their religious beliefs on others. Abortion provides a good example. So if one thinks that abortion is immoral and should not be allowed, they are free to not practice abortion. But it is unconstitutional for them to impose that belief on others.

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

Organized Religions

October 13, 2018

This post is based largely on the work by Boyer Pascal titled “Minds Make Societies.” As was noted an earlie post, “God & Homo Sapiens” the earliest humans had the notion of a soul from which the notion of God emerged. Formal religions appeared only with the development of large-scale state societies. Pascal writes, “Notions of souls and salvation are a hallmark of what the philosopher Karl Jaspers called the Axial Age, the period between 600 BCE and 100 CE when rather similar forms of religious doctrine appeared in China, India, and the Mediterranean. These new movements emphasized cosmic justice, the notion that the world overall should be fair.” These religions were interested in human morality, and these ideas came with all sorts of personal techniques or disciplines to do with moderation, self-discipline, and withdrawal from excessive greed and competitiveness. Pascal writes, “That is the case, despite obvious differences, with Buddhism, Jainism, and various forms of reformed Hinduism in northern India; of Taoism and Confucianism in China; and of Orphism, Second Temple Judaism, Christianity, and Stoicism in the Mediterranean.

Pascal continues, “The cultivation of the soul is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of these movements, which in very different cultures seemed to recommend very similar attitudes, notably moderate consumption, restraint from sexual excess, and the pursuit of a ‘good life’ characterized by self-discipline and respect for others. The ‘Meditations’ of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, inspired by the Stoic writings, provide a good example of that particular wisdom, which echoes in the Analects of Confucius, most Buddhist texts, and many other writings of the time.”

Pascal continuing on, “To many people in modern societies, this view of the soul as the core of the person, in need of grace or redemption, would seem to be the core of religions. Even people who are otherwise indifferent to religious doctrines see the notion of the soul as crucial to spiritual life. So the Axial Age matters because the movements that appeared at that point in history had a considerable influence on subsequent religions. Indeed, the so-called world religions of today are all descendants of these movements.”

What is difficult to understand is that these religions appear to provide the basis for leading moral lives and caring about one another. That being the case, reality has been harsh, with all types of evil doing up to the point of warfare. Religions ended up fighting each other to the point that within Christianity, different sects fought and killed each other as they did in Islam.

There will be more about this in the following post. However, the reality is that religions, although claiming to speak with the authority of God, are really temporal political entities interested in pursuing power, influence, and wealth. True, there are exceptions. After all, the Salvation Army does not fight anyone, but ministers to the needy and downtrodden of the community.

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

A Thought Experiment About Pantheism

October 12, 2018

Pantheism might be both the simplest notion of God, and the most sophisticated conceptualization of God. So called primitive peoples, long before the development of organized religions, saw God in nature. So perhaps it is time to abandon this notion. But consider this thought experiment.

Suppose you were an entity that could create matter and energy at will, understood everything, and could perfectly predict the future. And you were faced with eternity. From the human perspective, and perhaps also from the perspective of this all knowing and all powerful entity, this likelihood was frighteningly boring. So the entity decided to be part of his creation with the limited knowledge and capabilities of these creatures. Become fallible so challenges would emerge. Death would provide the time to review how the entity fared in these innumerable states. This is truly imponderable for us, but perhaps a way for an all-powerful, all-knowing entity to deal with eternity.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the statement is that God created man in his own image. This statement has bothered HM since he developed an initial facility in critical thinking. There have been many wise people who have said, that God did not create man in his image, but rather that man created God in his image. This statement seems more likely to HM. And, in truth, the statement insults God. Moreover, when we consider that given the enormity of the universe, and the possibility of their being, perhaps, an infinity of universes, there are likely to be some truly intelligent species that bear little of no likeness to ourselves.

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

God & Homo Sapiens

October 11, 2018

This post is based largely on the outstanding book by Reza Azlan titled “God: A Human History.” This book provides an exhaustive review of evidence for religions from, at least, the earliest humans, through the development of the large religious organizations that exist today. Azlan makes a compelling argument that the belief in the soul as separate from the body is universal. Moreover, he argues that it is our first belief, far older than our belief in God, and that it is this belief in the soul that begat our belief in God.

Azlan says that there are numerous studies on the cognition of children that have shown an instinctual propensity for “substance dualism”—the belief that the body and mind/soul are distinct in form and nature. This means that we enter the world with an innate sense—untaught, unforced, unprompted—that we are more than just our physical bodies. Azlan writes, “There are certain cognitive processes that can lead us to apply this inborn belief in the soul to others—human and nonhuman alike. But when it comes to belief in the soul, we are, to put it simply, born believers.

Azlan is a pantheist. He writes, “I worship God not through fear and trembling but through the awe and wonder at the workings of the universe—for the universe is God. I recognize that the knowledge of good and evil that the God of Genesis so feared humans might attain begins with the knowledge that good and evil are not metaphysical things but moral choices, I root my moral choices neither in the fear of eternal punishment nor in the hope of eternal reward. I recognize the divinity of the world and every being in it and respond to everyone and everything as though they were God—because they are . And I understand that the only way I can truly know God is by relying on the only thing I can truly know: myself. As Ibn al-Arabi said, “He who knows his soul knows the Lord.”

“God: A Human History” ends with the disturbing sentence, “You Are God.” This statement derives from the pantheistic belief that God is omnipresent, but HM would have been more comfortable with the statement, “God is within us.” When meditating, HM does definitely feel he is communicating with God.

This is radical thinking for most, but exercising our minds is important for a healthy memory. So do not just reject it out of hand, but rather think about it on occasions.

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

More Love, Less Greed

September 22, 2018

The title of this post summarizes the problem of our times. The immediately preceding post discussed Bezos and other billionaires giving away large sums, even a majority of their wealth. They appear to regard philanthropy as both a duty and a joy. Unfortunately, there are many other billionaires who live in the nature of Donald Trump. Trump values people solely in terms of their wealth. There are some exceptions such as those in the military who command power. At some point, additional wealth can add nothing to one’s pleasure. All humans are biological beings with biological constraints. Yet for many billionaires, such as Trump, money is regarded as a score with the goal being to have as many billions as they can. This is greed at its very worse.

Although money is a means of keeping score for these billionaires, money is a means of survival for many, and to achieving a modest middle class lifestyle for others. Here is a breakdown of wealth in the United States:

Population    % of Wealth
Top 1%            40%
Next 4%           27%
Next 5%           12%
Next 10%         11%
Second 20%      8%
Middle 20%      2%
Fourth 20%       0%
Bottom 20%     -1% (negative net worth)

Clearly there is a gross maldistribution here, and many wealthy could give away more of their wealth without feeling any pain. Moreover, the majority of this wealth is inherited wealth, so for them this wealth has not been earned. It is interesting that neither the Gates, nor Warren Buffet believe in inherited wealth. They think that inherited wealth is not good for their children. If only more of the wealthy shared this belief.

The Trump tax cut increased the wealth of the top 1% people, leaving just crumbs for the rest. And this tax cut irresponsibly increases the debt burden on future generations.

Trump himself gives nothing to charity. Moreover, his Trump Charity is being investigated by the State of New York for fraud.

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

Bezos Pledges $2 Billion to Aid Homeless Families

September 21, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the first part of a title of an article by Abha Bhattarai and Christian Davenport in the 14 Sep 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The remainder of the title is “launch preschool network.” Bezos is the world’s richest man and the founder of amazon.com and also the owner of the Washington Post. He is beginning an initial commitment of $2 billion to create what he is calling the Day One Fund. Bezos said, “We know for a fact that if a kid falls behind it’s really, really hard to catch up. If you can find somebody a leg up when they’re 2, 3 or 4 years old, by the time they get to kindergarten or first grade, they’re much less likely to fall behind. You’re really improving their lives.”

This announcement comes a few weeks after the first major political contribution from Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie—a $10 million gift to a super PAC focused on electing veterans to public office. In January, he said he would donate $33 million to a scholarship fund for young “dreamers,” immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.

Kyle Caldwell, executive director of the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, MI., said “As an individual commitment, $2 billion is pretty high, but it’s not in the league of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which last year had a $50.7 billion endowment. But this is part of a wave we’re seeing within Silicon Valley, where a number of successful entrepreneurs are looking at philanthropy to have a greater impact.

In 2010, Warren Buffet along with Bill & Melinda Gates created the Giving Pledge, which calls on billionaires to pledge the majority of their wealth to charity. Nearly 200 people from 22 countries have signed on, including Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Carl Icahn, T. Boone Pickens, and Ted Turner.

Controlling Our Minds

September 20, 2018

Perhaps the most significant obstacle to living a fulfilling life is learning to control our minds. If we are pessimists and think depressing thoughts we are unnecessarily depressing ourselves and shutting ourselves off from potential opportunities. This can be thwarted by not thinking depressing thoughts and thinking pleasant thoughts. This is captured in the phrase, “let your smile be your umbrella.”

When we encounter failures and disappointments we should not keep dwelling on them. Although it is good to review them to understand what we might have done differently, once these lessons have been learned we need to move on.

Kahneman’s Two process view of cognition is again relevant here. System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are 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 1 process requires much repetition and practice. 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 think of as conscious thought. 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.

Most of the time we are engaged in System 1 processing. However, when we are learning mental skills and information we need to engage System 2. System 2 requires cognitive effort and for many people this is painful and something to be avoided. When HM taught in college he usually was disappointed when he asked students why they were attending college. The typical answers were to get a job, or if they weren’t attending college they would need to be working. It seemed that many students were engaged in trying to get that college degree with a minimum of effort. They still used System 2 processes when absolutely necessary, but otherwise they were in cruise control System 1 processing.

These are the same people who buy the Sunday paper for the coupons and rarely read any content in the paper with the possible exception of the sports pages and TV and movie listings.

But there are those of us who continue learning throughout our lives. We are much less likely to suffer from the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s even if we should develop the defining neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque.

As the preceding blog posts on Daimaisio indicated, emotions are intimately tied up with thinking. Although System 1 processing is primarily about one’s standing beliefs and emotions, System 2 processing is still tied up with emotions. When someone encounters beliefs or stated facts which one believes to be wrong, responses tend to be emotional and on the angry side. This is one of the causes of polarization.

One of the best ways of gaining control of our minds is through meditation. The relaxation response involves focusing on one’s breath and, perhaps, a meditation word or phrase and shutting off one’s mind. This is the difficult part of meditation, as the mind has a mind of its own and is always trying to inform us about it. But we need to shut off these thoughts. This is the difficult part of meditation as these thoughts keep evading our space and we need to flick them gently away and not become frustrated. People beginning meditation tend to ask if they doing it properly. If you are doing it properly, you will know. There is a feeling of calm and bliss that is quite rewarding.

When HM started meditating he wondered how there were priests and gurus who meditated for many, many hours. However, having experienced the calmness and bliss of meditation, HM can envision a time in the future when he might go to a retreat and remain their indefinitely.

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

Is There a Biology Behind the Cultural Crisis?

September 19, 2018

The title of this post is the title of a section in an insightful book by Antonio Damaisio titled “The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures. The title of this chapter is “On the Human Condition Now.”
The answer to the title is “yes,” so if that satisfies your curiosity you can stop reading now.

The physiological rationale and primary content of basic homeostasis is the life of an individual organism within its borders. Basic homeostasis is a somewhat parochial affair, focused on the temple that human subjectivity has designed and erected—the self. It can be extended to the family and the small group. It can be extended further out to larger groups on the basis of circumstances and negotiations in which prospects of general benefits and power are well balanced. But homeostasis, as found in each of our individual organisms is not spontaneously concerned with very large groups, especially heterogeneous groups, let alone with cultures or civilizations as a whole. Conflicts and struggles for power among social groups are integral components of cultures. Sometimes the conflict may even result from the application of an affect-motivated solution to a prior problem. There are blatant exceptions to the rules that govern homeostasis of a natural, individual organism such as malignant conceit and autoimmune diseases; unchecked, they not only fight other parts of the organism to which they belong, but can actually achieve organism destruction.

In the last years of his life, Sigmund Freud saw the bestiality of Nazism as confirming his doubts that culture could ever tame the nefarious death wish that he believed was present in each of us. Earlier Freud had begun to articulate his reasons in the collection of texts known as “Civilization and Its Discontents,” but nowhere are his arguments better expressed than in his correspondence with Albert Einstein. Einstein wrote to Freud in 1932 seeking his advice on how to prevent the deadly conflagration he saw coming, following on the heels of World War I. In his reply Freud described the human forces at play. He had no good advice to offer, no help, no solution. I’m so sorry. The main reason for his pessimism, it should be noted, was the flawed condition of the human. He blamed human beings.

And Damaisio concludes, “The protracted negotiating process required for governance efforts is necessarily embedded in the biology of affect and its accommodations with reason. There is no exit from that condition.”

Here is the conclusion to this chapter. “The strategic pursuit of happiness, just like the spontaneous variety, is predicated on feelings. The motives behind the pursuit—the maladies of life and their pleasurable counterweights—could not have been envisioned without feelings. Thanks to the confrontation with pain and the recognition of desire, it came to be that feelings good and bad, focused on the intellect, gave it purpose, and helped create new ways of regulating life. Feelings and expanded intellect made a powerful alchemy. They freed humans to attempt homeostasis by cultural means, instead of remaining captive to their basic biological devices. Humans were well into this new effort when, in humble caves, they sang and invented flutes and, I imagine, seduced and consoled others as needed. Likewise when they incarnated Moses taking God’s commandments on a mountain; when, in the name of Buddha, they conceived Nirvana; when under the guise of Confucius, they came up with ethics percepts; and when in the roles of Plato and Aristotle and Epicurus, they began explaining to fellow Athenians within earshot how good life could be lived. Their job was never finished.

A life not felt would have needed no cure. A life felt but not examined would not have been curable. Feelings launched and have helped navigate a thousand intellectual ships.”

Subjectivity, Feeling, and Consciousness

September 17, 2018

This is another post based on an insightful book by Antonio Damaisio titled “The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures.” By now the reader should be presuming that subjectivity, feeling, and consciousness emerging with our species is wrong. The emergence of feeling and subjectivity is not exclusively human, and is not recent at all. It is likely to have happened in the Cambrian period. Not only are all vertebrates likely to be conscious experiencers with a variety of feelings, but so are a number of invertebrates whose central nervous system design resembles that of humans as far as spinal cord and brain stem are concerned. Social insects are likely to qualify, and so do charming octopuses with a very different brain design.

The assembly of what became feelings and consciousness was made gradually, incrementally, but irregularly along separate lines of evolutionary history. The fact that we can find so much in common in the social and affective behaviors of single-celled organisms, sponges, hydras, cephalopods, and mammals suggests a common root for the problems of life regulation in different creatures and a shared solution: obeying the homeostatic imperative.

Damaisio writes, “Looming large in the history of homeostatically satisfying accretion is the emergence of nervous systems, Nervous systems opened the way for maps and images, for configurational ‘resemblative’ representations, and that was, in the deepest of senses, transformative. Nervous systems were transformative . Nervous systems were transformative even if they did not and do not work alone, even if they are primarily servants of a larger calling: maintaining productive, homeostasis-abiding lives in complicated organisms .”

Another important part of the strangely ordered emergence of mind, feeling and consciousness, is one that is subtle and easy to miss. Neither parts of the nervous systems nor whole brains are the sole manufacturers and providers of mental phenomena, It is unlikely that neural phenomena alone could produce the functional background required for so many aspects of minds, but it is certainly the case that they could not do so in regard to feelings. A close two-way interaction between nervous systems and the non-nervous structure of organisms is a requirement. Neural and non-neural structures and processes are not just contiguous but continuous partners, interactively. They are not aloof entities signaling each other like chips in a cell phone. In plain talk brains and bodies are in the same mind-enabling soup. To put this in the vernacular, thinking and feeling occur together. Unfortunately, there are times when we are governed primarily by our emotions with little thinking involved. But special abstract procedures like mathematics and logic need to be employed in an attempt to remove feelings from thinking.

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

The Strange Order of Things

September 16, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title to an insightful book by Antonio Damaisio. The subtitle is “Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures.” The author writes, “The title of this book was suggested by two facts. The first is that as early as 100 million years ago some species of insects developed a collection of social behaviors, practices, and instruments that can appropriately be called cultural when we compare them with human and social counterparts. The second fact is that even further back in time, in all likelihood several billion years ago, unicellular organisms also exhibited social behaviors whose schematics conform to aspects of human sociocultural behaviors.”

The conventional view is that something as complex as social behaviors capable of improving life management could only have come from the minds of evolved organisms, not necessarily human, but complex enough and close enough to humans to engender the requisite sophistication. Clearly, this conventional notion is wrong. The social features that emerged early in the history of life are abundant in the biosphere, and did not have to wait for anything humanlike to show up on Earth. Indeed this order is strange, and to say the least, unexpected.

Cooperative strategies did not have to wait for wise and mature minds to appear. Damaisio writes that such strategies are possibly as old as life itself and were never more brilliantly displayed than in the convenient treaty between two bacteria: a pushy, upstart bacterium wanted to take over a bigger and more established one. The battle resulted in a draw, and the pushy bacterium became a cooperative satellite of the established one. Eukaryotes, cells with a nucleus and complicated organelles such as mitochondria, were probably born this way, over the negotiating table of life.

Thanks to the chemical probes installed in their membranes, bacteria are able to sense the presence of others. This is a modest forerunner of our sensory perceptions, closer to taste and smell than to the image-based hearing or seeing.

Damaisio writes, “These strangely ordered emergences reveal the deep power of homeostasis. The indomitable imperative of homeostasis operated by trial and error to select naturally available behavioral solutions to a number of problems of life management. The organisms searched and screened, unwittingly, the physics of their environments and the chemistry within their walls and came up, unwittingly, with at least adequate but often good solutions for the maintenance and flourishing of life. The marvel is that when comparable problem configurations were encountered on other occasions, at other points in the messy evolution of life-forms, the same solutions were found. The tendency toward particular solutions, toward similar schemes, toward some degree of inevitability, results from the structure and circumstances of living organisms and their relation to the environment and depends on homeostasis writ large.
Damaisio writes that cooperation evolved as a twin to competition, which helped select the organisms that exhibited the most productive strategies. He continues,” as a consequence, when we behave cooperatively today, at some personal sacrifice, and when we call that behavior altruistic, it is not the case that we humans have invented the cooperative strategy out of the kindness of our hearts. The strategy emerged strangely early and is now old hat. What is certainly different and ‘modern’ is the fact that when we encounter a problem the can be resolved with or without an altruistic response we now can think and feel through the process in our minds and can, at least in part, deliberately select the approach we will deploy. We have options. We can affirm altruism and suffer the attending losses or withhold altruism and not lose anything, or even gain, at least for a while.”

Damaisio writes that the issue of altruism provides a good means of distinguishing between early “cultures” and the full-fledged variety. The origin of altruism is blind cooperation, but can be deconstructed and taught in families and schools as a deliberate human strategy. Damaisio uses the notion of profit as a means of finding fully developed cultures. Cells have literally been looking for profit for a very long time, by which he means governing their metabolisms so that it yields positive energy balances. Cells that really succeed in life are good at generating positive energy balances, “profits.” But the fact that profit is natural and generally beneficial does not make it necessarily good. Cultures can decide when natural things are good—and determine the degree of goodness—and when they are not.

Consciousness is an Instinct

September 15, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title of the last chapter in Michael Gazzaniga’s outstanding book, “The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind.” This is the conclusion to Gazziniga’s book. It might sound strange because of how most of us think about instincts. So this post should enlarge upon the concept of instinct that most of us have.

Gazziniga goes back to what the father of American psychology, William James wrote more than 125 years ago:

‘Instinct is usually defined as the faculty of acting in such a way as to produce certain ends, without foresight of the ends, and without previous education in the performance…. [Instincts] are the functional correlatives of structure. With the presence of a certain organ goes, one may say, almost a native aptitude for its use. ‘Has the bird a gland for the secretion of oil? She know instinctively how to press the oil for the gland, and apply it to the feather.’”

Bird behavior is one thing, but does it really apply to human cognition and consciousness? James provides the following rationale for how it might all work:

“A single complex instinctive action may involve successively the awakening of impulses….Thus a hungry lion starts to seek prey by the awakening in him of imagination coupled with the desire; he begins to stalk it when, on eye, ear, or nostril he gets an impression of its presence at a certain distance; he springs upon it, either when the booty takes alarm and flees, or when the distance is sufficiently reduced; he proceeds to tear and devour it the moment he gets a sensation of its contact with his claws and fangs. Seeing, stalking, springing, and devouring are just so many different kinds of muscular contraction, and neither kind is called forth by the stimulus appropriate for the other.”

Gazzaniga writes, “Individual instincts can be sequenced in a coordinated fashions for more complex actions that make them look an awful lot like higher-order instincts. The avalanche of sequences is what we call consciousness. James argued that the competitive dynamics that go into the sequencing of basic instincts can produce what appears to be a more complex behavior manifested from a complex internal state. He even adds a description of the animal’s experience of obeying an instinct: ‘Every impulse and every step of every instinct shines with its own sufficient light, and seems at the moment the only eternally right and proper thing to do. It is done for its own sake exclusively.’ It sound like a lot of bubbles are conjoined by the arrow of time and produce something like what we call conscious experience.”

When acting together in a coordinated way, even simple systems can make observers believe other forces exist. James states: “My first act of free will is to believe in free will.” This proclamation is consistent with the idea that beliefs, ideas, and thought can be part of the mental system. The symbolic representations within this system, with all their flexibility and arbitrariness, are very much tied to the physical mechanisms of the brain. Ideas do have consequences, even in the physically constrained brain. No despair called for: mental states can influence physical action in the top-down way.

It should be clear that there is an enormous amount of research on the brain that needs to be done. But Gazzaniga has captured consciousness. He writes, “In the end, we must realize that consciousness is an instinct. Consciousness is part of organismic life.

We have free will and we exercise it via our consciousness. Many will dispute this, argue against free will and look for the locus of consciousness in the brain. But they all will fail. Gazzaniga has concluded an important chapter on neuroscience, cognitive science, and philosophy. He should be awarded for this. But he might have arrived before his time.

The Ubiquity of Consciousness

September 14, 2018

This post is taken from Michael Gazzaniga’s outstanding book, “The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind.” It should be clear that severe brain damage across various locations of the brain cannot stamp out consciousness. Although certain contents of conscious experience may be lost, consciousness itself will not be lost. This fact suggests that there is not a specific “Grand Central” cortical circuit that produces consciousness, but that any part of the cortex can produce it when supported by subcortical processes, and that subcortical processing can support a limited type of conscious experience. So it appears that it is the processing of local modular circuits that provides the contents of conscious experience.

The need for the preceding paragraph might be puzzling for some healthymemory blog readers, because it seems that this is patently obvious. However, there are researchers, some who are highly esteemed, who are trying to find the locus of consciousness in the brain (See the healthy memory blog post “A Needed Post on Consciousness”).

The incessant interplay between cognition and feelings, which is to say between cortical and subcortical modules, produces what we call consciousness. There is obviously a different feel to a wave of intense emotion versus an abstract thought, but each conscious form is an experience that gives us a unique perception of reality. The vast variety of conscious forms and the ubiquity of consciousness in the brain is best explained by a modular architecture of the brain. The conceptual challenge now is to understand how hundreds, if not thousands, of modules, embedded in a layered architecture—each layer of which can produce a form of consciousness—gives us a single, unified life experience at any given moment that seems to flow flawless into the next across time. The key idea is time. It is the unending sequences of modules having their moment.

Conscious vs. Unconscious States

September 13, 2018

This post is taken from Michael Gazzaniga’s outstanding book, “The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind.” The distinction between conscious and unconscious states become urgent once one steps into the clinic. Denying pain medication to a seemingly unconscious patient, who is truly conscious is torture. There is compelling evidence that the cerebral cortex is not necessary to evoke some forms of consciousness. The capabilities of subcortical systems appear competent enough on their own to provide a subjective feeling.

Unfortunately, some children are born with anencephaly (without a cerebral cortex due to genetic or developmental cases) or hydranencephaly (very minimal cerebral cortex, often the result of fetal trauma or disease). The neuroscientist Bjorn Merker became interested in the subcortex early in his career. Frustrated by the limited information on and few case studies of children with hydranencephaly, he joined a worldwide Internet group of parents and caretakers of these children to learn more about them and their condition. He came to know several families and spent a week with them at Disney World. During that week he observed that the children “are not only awake and often alert, but show responsiveness to their surroundings in the form of emotional or orienting reactions to environment events….They express pleasure by smiling and laughing , and aversion by ‘fussing,’ arching of the back and crying (in many gradations), their faces being animated by these emotional states. A familiar adult can employ this responsiveness to build up play sequences predictably progressing from smiling, through giggling, to laughter and great excitement on the part of the child.”

Without a cerebral cortex or the cognition it supplies, these children were feeling emotions, having a subjective experience, and were conscious. No one would mistake them for a child with a cerebral cortex, but they are aware and their emotional response to stimuli is appropriate.

Merker has reached the conclusion that it is the midbrain that a supports the basic capacity for conscious subjective experience. To be sure, the cortex elaborates on the contents of the experience, but the capacity itself arises from the midbrain structures. The ethical implications of this are obvious. Mercer notes that parents often encounter medical professionals who are surprised when asked for pain medication for these children when they are to undergo invasive procedures.

Although the cortex is not necessary for consciousness, it is certainly true that consciousness is enhanced by the cortex.

Neurons to Mind

September 12, 2018

This post is taken from Michael Gazzaniga’s outstanding book, “The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind.” So how to characterize the transition of neurons to mind? Gazzaniga uses the metaphor of bubbling water as a way to conceptualize how our consciousness unfolds. Consciousness is not the product of a special network that enables all of our mental events to be conscious. Instead each mental event is managed by brain modules that possess the capacity to make us conscious of the results of their processing. The results bubble up from various modules like bubbles in a boiling pot of water. Bubble after bubble, each the end result of a module’s to a group of modules’ processing, pops up and bursts forth for a moment, only to be replaced by others in a constant dynamic motion. Those single bursts of process parade one after another, seamlessly linked by time. (This metaphor is limited to bubbles roiling up at a rate of twelve frames a second or faster; or consider a cartoon flip book, where the faster we snap the pages, the more continuous the movements of the characters appear).

Sir Charles Sherrington had a related notion when he observed: “How far is the mind a collection of quasi-independent perceptual minds integrated psychically in large measure by temporal concurred experience? Its separate reserves of sub-perceptual and perceptual brain, if we may so speak, could account for the slightness of the mental impairment following some brain injuries…Simple contemporaneity can conjoin much.”

Gazzaniga writes, “It’s difficult to get our heads around the idea that each bubble has its own capacity to evoke that feeling of being conscious; it rubs up against our own intuitions about the holistic nature of our personal consciousness. What are we and our intuitions missing? We’re missing the illusion part, the part we humans (with our powerful left hemisphere inference mechanism) is so good at missing. We aren’t actually missing the illusion; rather, we are missing the fact that our smoothly flowing consciousness is itself an illusion. In reality it is made up of cognitive bubbles linked with subcortical “feeling” bubbles, placed together by our brain in time.”

Non-living to Living

September 11, 2018

The title of this post is the first part of a chapter titled Non-living to Living and Neurons to mind in Michael Gazzaniga’s outstanding book, “The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind.” Before going further we need to discuss some physics. Quantum physics was created when it was discovered that electromagnetic radiation and matter can be conceived in two states: particle or waves. Quantum mechanics refers to very small matter. These two levels of description are needed to capture physical matter. Quantum mechanics requires probabilities.

These two levels of physics are difficult for many physicists to accept. Einstein said, “God does not play dice with the universe.” To which another physicist responded, “Stop telling God what to think!” Einstein spent the remainder of his career trying to develop a grand unifying theory and failed. There still are physicists trying to develop a unifying theory. However, at this point it is increasingly becoming obvious that two levels of explanation are required. The idea of complementarity, that the two levels of explanation complement each other, captures this reality nicely.

Howard Pattee is a Stanford-educated physicist who moved into theoretical biology during his career at SUNY Binghamton. Patee feels that philosophers have approached the mind/brain divide from the wrong end of evolution. Over the course of his life, Pattee has come to the startling conclusion: duality is a necessary and inherent property of any entity capable of evolving.

Upon reflection, one realizes that the origins of life are typically glossed over. True this was an important event, but how could inanimate matter become animate matter capable of reproducing and evolving? Patee asked this question that motivated his thinking for decades. He asked “How is it possible for us to distinguish the living from the lifeless if we can describe both conceptually by the motion of inorganic corpuscles?” Gazzaniga writes, “Patee saw the logic of the question, but he also saw that evoking the same laws to describe both animate and inanimate matter was not a good enough explanation. In fact, it was no explanation at all. There had to be more to the story.” So, just as in physics, two levels of explanation are required. Patty proposes that the gap between quantum and classical physical behavior is inherent in the distinction between inanimate and living matter.

Gazziniga writes, “There you have it. Pattee proposes that the gap resulted from a process equivalent to quantum measurement that began with self-replication at the origin of life with the cell as the simplest agent…The gap between subjective feeling and objective neural beings didn’t come about with the appearance of brains. It was already there when the first cell started living. Two complementary modes of behavior, two levels of description are inherent in life itself, were present at the origin of life, have been conserved by evolution, and continue to be necessary for differentiating subjective experience from the event itself. This is a mind-boggling idea.”

Where is Consciousness?

September 10, 2018

This post is based on Michael Gazzaniga’s outstanding book, “The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind.” Gazzaniga writes, “We have to think about the aggregate of largely independent modules and how their organization gives rise to the ever-present sense of conscious experience.” We need to think of consciousness as an intrinsic part of many of our cognitive functions. If we lose a particular function, we lose the consciousness that accompanies it, but we don’t los consciousness altogether.

When the connections between the two hemisphere are cut it does little to one’s sense of conscious experience. The left hemisphere keeps on talking and thinking as if nothing had happened even though it no longer has access to half of the human cortex. What is even more important is that disconnecting the two half brains instantly creates a second, also independent conscious system. The right brain now continues carefree from the left, with its own goals, insights, and feelings. One network, split into two, becomes two conscious systems. How could one possibly think that consciousness arises from a particular specific network?

Also consider what the conscious experience is like for the split-brain patient who wakes up from surgery, and each hemisphere now doesn’t know about the other hemisphere’s visual field. The left brain doesn’t see the left side of space, and the right brain doesn’t see the right side. But the patient’s speaking left hemisphere does not complain of any vision loss. The patient tells you he doesn’t notice any difference after the surgery. How can this be when half the visual field is gone? Like a patient with spatial heme-neglect, the speaking left hemisphere neither misses them nor is aware that they were ever there. The memories of having had that visual field are also gone from the left hemisphere. The whole conscious experience of the left visual field is not enjoyed only by the right hemisphere and has completely disappeared from the left hemisphere’s experience. So what does this tell us about consciousness?

We know that local brain lesions can produce various specific cognitive disabilities. But such patients are still aware of the world around them. The patient with severe spatial neglect is not aware of the left half of space, but is still aware of the world around him. The patient with a severe special neglect is not aware of the left half of space, but is still aware of the right.

Gazzaniga writes, “This idea that consciousness is a property of individual modules, not a single network a species might have, could explain the different types of consciousness that exist across species. Animals are not unconsciousness zombies, but what each is conscious of differs depending on the modules it has and how those modules are connected. Humans have a rich conscious experience because of the many kinds of modules we possess. Indeed, humans might well possess highly developed integrative modules, which allow us to combine information from various modules into abstract thoughts. It is difficult to decipher how consciousness arises in humans. but thinking about consciousness as an aspect of multiple functioning modules may guide us to the answer.”

Modules vary in the amount of electrical activity they possess moment to moment, with the result that their contributions to our conscious experiences vary. Here the idea is that the most “active” module wins the consciousness competition and its processing becomes the life experience, the “state” of the individual at a particular moment in time.

Gazzaniga concludes, “We are on the road to realizing that consciousness is not a “thing.” It is the result of a process embedded in an architecture, just as a democracy is not a thing but the result of a process.

Walking But Unconscious; Unmoving but Conscious

September 9, 2018

This post is taken from Michael Gazzaniga’s outstanding book, “The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind.” Strange behaviors can also arise from a fully intact and functioning brain if only part of it is awake. In a layered brain, lots of activities are happening simultaneously and coordinated synchronously. Here is what can happen when things get out of sync.

Mr. A was described by family and friends as a loving family man. He was awakened in his bed by his dogs’ barking and strange voices. Racing downstairs, he was met by several police officers with their guns drawn. Dazed and confused, he was cuffed and locked in the back of a squad car trembling in fear as he tried to assess the situation by listening to the conversation of emergency personnel through the window. He gathered that his wife had been badly hurt and thought that the cops were on the hunt for the person responsible. He didn’t know until later that they had already found their man, and it was he.

The police summarized the incident. Mr. A brutally murdered his wife during what was later determined to be a sleepwalking episode. During this episode, he had gotten up from bed and gone out to fix the pool’s filter, which his wife had asked him to do at dinner. She most have awoken and gone down to coax him back to bed. His concentration on the motor interrupted, he had turned violent and stabbed her 45 times, put his tools away in the garage, returned to find her still alive, and rolled her into the pool where she drowned. He then returned to bed. His neighbor hearing screaming and barking, looked over the fence to see a “bewildered”- appearing Mr. A roll the body into the pool. The neighbor then called the police.

He was tried and found innocent. The jury found that since no identifiable motive, no attempt to hide the body or weapon, and no memory of the event, the jury was convinced that his actions occurred unintentionally and out of Mr. A’s awareness. So, what went on in Mr. A’s mind and brain during this atrocity?

Sleepwalking is a parasomnia, strange behavior that occurs during sleep. Sleep experts have identified two main stages of sleep by recording brain waves—rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep. Sleeping walking usually occurs after abrupt and incomplete spontaneous arousal from non-REM sleep that occurs during the first couple of hours of the night, turning one into a mobile sleeper. Trying to waken sleepwalkers is fruitless and can be dangerous, since the sleepwalker may feel threatened by physical contact and respond violently.

Neuroimaging and EEG has provided a clearer picture of what is happening in the brain during non-REM sleep. The brain appears to be half awake and half asleep: the cerebellum and brainstem are active, while the cerebrum and cerebral cortex have minimal activity. The pathways involved with the control of complex motor behavior and emotion generation are buzzing, while those pathways projecting to the frontal lobe, involved in planning, attention, judgment, emotional face recognition, and emotional regulation are zoned out. Sleepwalkers don’t remember their escapades, nor can they be awakened by noise or shouts, because the parts of the cortex that contribute to sensory processing and formation of new memories are snoozing, temporarily turned off, disconnected, and not contributing any input to the flow of consciousness.

One of the worst brain injuries is a lesion to the ventral part of the pons in the brainstem. The loss of these neurons, which connect the cerebellum with the cortex, leave one unable to move but fully conscious. This happened to Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor in chief of the French “Elle” magazine when he suffered a stroke at the age of 43. Waking up several weeks later from a coma, fully conscious and with no cognitive loss, he was unable to move anything except his left eyelid. He could not talk so he could not tell anyone he was conscious. He had to wait until someone noticed that he appeared to voluntarily move his eyelid. This is called the “locked-in” syndrome. The so-called lucky ones who voluntarily blink or move their eyes, though the movement is small and tiring. This is how they communicate. The unlucky ones cannot.

Bauby was able to blink and he took advantage of his ability to blink his eye to write a book. He described his conscious experience as he lay paralyzed. He would construct and memorize sentences as he lay there. Then for four hours a day, a secretary patiently sat at his bedside going through a frequency-ordered French alphabet so he could blink when the correct letter was spoken. Two hundred thousand blinks later “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” was done. A movie was made based on the book. Both the book and the movie are highly recommended.

Bauby is an example of the endless capacity of human adaptability. Adaptability appears to be the norm for such patients. 75% have rarely or never had suicidal thoughts. Gazziniga writes, “Even with this devastating injury to part of the brainstem, consciousness remains, accompanied b the full range of feelings about both present and past experiences.

The Beginnings of Understanding Brain Architecture

September 7, 2018

The title of this is the same as the title of a chapter in Michael Gazzaniga’s outstanding book, “The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind.” The problem here is determining how 89 billion neurons connect to one another that allow us to strut our cognitive stuff. This problem is not fully understood. And there is disagreement about some points. This post can only sample from this lack of understanding.

In the mid-twentieth century the theoretical biologist Robert Rosen suggested to his daughter one possible dilemma: “The human body completely changes the matter it is made of roughly every eight weeks, through metabolism, replication, and repair. Yet you’re still you—with all your memories, your personality…”

Gazzaniga writes, “Rosen’s comments hint that organization must be independent of the material particles that make up a living system. Indeed, the structural components and the function of a brain are only part of the story. A third, often overlooked, component is necessary to relate the structure of a system to its function. Missing is how the parts are organized, the effects of any interactions between the parts, and the relations with time and environment. This was dubbed “relational biology” by Rosen’s professor Nicolas Rashevsky, a theoretical physicist and mathematician at the University of Chicago. These ideas have filtered down to researchers in electrical engineering and systems biology, but are generally unknown or ignored by molecular biologists and neuroscientists, even fifty years after Rosen’s warning.”

Gazziniga goes into a lengthy discussion about the brain’s layered architecture. Here is the summary paragraph at the end of the chapter: “Bringing the idea of layers to a wildly complex biological thing like you and me is really bringing a viewpoint, a stance on how to think about the gooey biological thing may be working. Breaking matters down into interacting layers gives the engineer a framework for thinking about how to build a brain. While no one is even close to doing so, the perspective does guide a brain. While no one is even close to doing so, the perspective does guide the neurobiologists toiling at their benches, studying individual neurons or small circuits of neurons, in how to think about their findings. It suggest how a complex system full of local parts can be organized to get a very large task done, like designing a opera house.”

The purpose of this post was to provide some understanding or feeling how complex the brain is and how far along science is in understanding that brain. The next post will discuss empirical findings which are not only understandable, but the ramifications of these findings are also understandable.

The Consciousness Instinct

September 6, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an important book by Michael S. Gazzaniga. The subtitle is “Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind. The author is Michael S. Gazzaniga of split brain frame. Much more on that will come in future posts. The book begins with a superb scholarly historical review on this topic. This post will pick up the history with the German Arthur Schopenhauer. In his 1818 publication, “The World as Will and Representation,” he came to the conclusion that “man can indeed do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants.” So what he was writing is not only is the will (which he regarded as our subconscious motivations) in charge, but the conscious intellect does not realize it. Schopenhauer made this clear when describing the will as blind and strong and the intellect as sighted but lame: “The most striking figure for the relation of the two is that of the strong blind man carrying the sighted lame man on his shoulders.”

The mind, with all its rational processes is all very well but the “will,” the thing that gives us our “oomph,” is the key: “The will…again fills the consciousness through wishes, emotions, and cares.” Gazzaniga writes, “Today, the subconscious rumblings of the “will” are still unplumbed; only a few inroads have been made.”

Gazzaniga continues, “”The will, according to Schopenhauer, is the will to live, a drive that wheedles humans and all animals to reproduce. For him, the most important purpose of human life is the ultimate end product of a love affair, offspring, because it determines who makes up the next generation. Schopenhauer puts the intellect in the backseat. It isn’t the driver of behavior and also isn’t privy to the will’s decisions; it’s just an after-hours spokesperson, making up stories as it goes along to explain ex post facto what the will has wrought.

Continuing on, Gazzaniga writes, “Schopenhauer, in reposting conscious intellect, also opened up a Pandora’s box of the unconscious, He described conscious ideas as merely like the surface of a pool of water, while the depths are made up of distinct feelings, perceptions, intuitions, and experiences mingled with out personal will: ‘Consciousness is the mere surface of our mind, and of this, as of the globe, we do not know the interior, but only the crust.’ He said that our real thinking seldom takes place on the surface, and thus can rarely be described as a sequence of ‘clearly conceived judgments.’”

It appears to HM that Schopenhauer accurately captured many members of our species, but not all. For all of us the unconscious mind is largely unknown, yet exerts a large effect on cognition. The remainder of these posts should provide a more complete and better nuanced understanding of the unconscious and the conscious mind.

Kahneman and Identity Based Politics

September 3, 2018

This post was a motivated by an article titled “People Don’t Vote on the Issues. They vote on their identifies” by Kwame Anthony Appiah in the Outlook section of the 2 Sep 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The electronic version has a picture of two men at a Trump rally wearing t-shirts that read “I’d rather be Russian than a Democrat.” As the article points out, these t-shirts at a rally for a Republican president are truly remarkable. Historically, the Republican Party has been pointedly anti-Russian. But Trump is now the Republican nominee and he is changing the Republican party in a frightening manner.

It is easy to see why Trump is pro-Russian. He has been doing business with the Russians since the 1970s. Today, most, if not all, of his financing comes from Russia. So it is easy to understand why he is so pro-Russian. What is difficult to understand is why Republicans are supporting him and his pro-Russian views. And one should wonder, regardless of the results of the Mueller investigation, whether an American President should be financially dependent on the Russians.

Russia might no longer be a Communist country, but it is a de facto dictatorship led by Putin that can most accurately be described as a kleptocracy. Putin used the Russian mafia and fears of terrorism into creating this kleptocracy. Given the support provided Trump by certain multi-billionaires in the United States, one wonders whether there is an effort to turn the United States into a kleptocracy.

It is, however, easy to see how Trump garnered popularity and eventually the nomination of the Republican Party. Although he did not win the popular vote, the distorted vote that determined his electoral college win was apparently due to the areas of the country more governed by identity based politics than by issue based politics. Trump used identity based politics, the identity being white people. After all, his core base constitutes of nazis and white-supremacists. Trump has created fears of Mexicans and other latinos and of moslems that have no basis in fact. But they constitute clear identities against which to fight. Hitler used this tactic successfully.

So where does Kahneman come in here? Understand that HM is using Kahneman’s two process view of cognition to make this argument. In Nobel Lauerate Daniel Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition. System 1, intuition, is our normal mode of processing and requires little or no attention. System 2, commonly referred to as thinking, requires our attention. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1. When we encounter something contradictory to what we believe, the brain sets off a distinct signal. It is easier to ignore this signal and to continue System 1 processing. To engage System 2 requires attentional resources to attempt to resolve the discrepancy and to seek further understanding.

To put Kahneman’s ideas into the vernacular, System 2 involves thinking. System 1 is automatic and requires virtually no cognitive effort. Emotions are a System 1 process, as are identity based politics. Politics based on going with people who look like you requires no thinking yet provides social support.

Much research has shown that the majority of voters know little substantively about whom and what they are voting on. Try asking typical males who their representatives are. The results are likely to be depressing. But ask him about sports and he is likely to go on and on. He’ll tell your what trades his teams should make and what prospects they should draft. The reality is that he is better prepared to be the general manager of one of his teams than to be a citizen in the United States.

The problem is that good political decisions require System 2 processing, something that most are not wont to do. So voters need to be asked, perhaps prompted, about their needs, and then to explain what needs to be done politically to address these needs. There are code words, like “socialism” to immediately cut off debate. In these cases, the response should be that I have no beliefs, but rather I am searching for policies that are likely to effectively address problems. Evidence should be used, such as every other advanced country provides health care for all its citizens. These are single payer systems. Their health care costs are much less than the United States, but the results of their programs are vastly superior to those in the United States. And they do not have people declaring bankruptcy because of health care costs.

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

Research Takes Honest Look at Why People Lie

September 2, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by William Wan and Sarah Kaplan in the 27 August 2018 issue of the Washington Post. Dan Ariely, a psychologist at Duke, says, “The dangerous thing about lying is people don’t understand how the act changes us.”

A 2010 study of the prevalence of lying in America found that in a given 24-hour period, most adults reported not telling any lies. About half the lies recorded in the study could be attributed to just 5% of the participants. Most people avoided lying when they could, turning to deception only when the truth was troublesome.

For most us, lying takes work says Harvard cognitive psychologist Joshua Green. In his research he presented the research participants with a chance to deceive for monetary gain while examining their brains in a functional MRI machine, which maps blood flow to active parts of the brain. Some people told the truth instantly and instinctively. Others opted to lie, and they showed increased activity in their frontal parietal control network, which is involved in difficult or complex thinking, suggesting that they were deciding between truth and dishonesty—ultimately opting for the latter.

In a follow-up analysis he found that people whose neural reward centers were more active when they won money were also more likely to be among the group of liars—suggesting that lying may have to do with the inability to resist temptation.

Scientists don’t really know what prevents all of us from lying all the time. Some believe-truth-telling is a social norm we internalize, or a result of conflict in our brains between the things we want and the positive vision of ourselves we strive to maintain. The curious thing about this preventive mechanism is that it comes from within. Ariel said, “We are our own judges about our own honesty. And that internal judge is what differentiates psychopaths and non-psychopaths.

External conditions also matter in terms of when and how often we lie. We are more likely to lie when we are able to rationalize it, when we are stressed and fatigued, or when we see others being dishonest. And we are less likely to lie when we have moral reminders or when we think others are watching. Ariel said, “We as a society need to understand that when we don’t punish lying, we increase the probability it will happen again.”

Ariely and his colleagues in a 2016 study in the journal Nature Neuroscience showed how dishonesty alters people’s brains, making it easier to tell lies in the future. When people uttered a falsehood, there was a burst of activity in their amygdala. The amygdala is a crucial part of the brain that produces fear, anxiety and emotional responses, which include that sinking, guilty feeling we get when we lie.

But when scientists had their subjects play a game in which they won money by deceiving their partner, they noticed the negative signals from the amygdala began to decrease. Worse yet, when people faced no consequences for dishonesty, their falsehoods tended to get even more sensational.

Ali Sharot, a cognitive neuroscientist at University College London the research leader said, “If you give people multiple opportunities to lie for their own benefit they start with little lies and get bigger and bigger over time.”

It is good to know that most people do not lie. However, it is hard to understand how these people could vote for Donald Trump. Donald Trump’s lying is well documented. It appears to be large enough to classify him as a psychopath. Donald Trump’s lying creates his own reality, and he likely does not know he is lying.

Trump has broken many norms. Let us hope that lying is not one of them.

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

The Science of Voodoo

September 1, 2018

This post is taken from Feature article by David Robson in the 25 August 2018 issue of the New Scientist.

When anthropologists first heard reports of witch doctors killing people with a curse, they looked for rational explanations. These were undermined, however, by the discovery that Western doctors have similar powers. In the 1970s, for example, a man dies just months after doctors told him he had end-stage liver cancer—despite the autopsy revealing that the diagnosis had been mistaken. He hadn’t died from cancer, but from believing he had cancer.

We now know what lies behind these strange goings: the nocebo effect. The “evil” twin of the placebo effect of he placebo effect, it is when putting someone in a negative frame of mind has adverse consequences for their health or well being. Tell people that a medical procedure will be extremely painful, for example, and they will experience more pain than they would otherwise. Similarly warning about the possible side effects of a drug makes it more likely that patients will report experiencing those effects.

The nocebo effect is widespread: about a quarter of participants in clinical trials experience side effects even when they have been given a placebo, a sugar pill. Recent research indicates that it can be even stronger than the placebo effect, particularly when people are anxious or feel that their doctor doesn’t understand or believe them. And the nocebo effect is not just a problem in healthcare. It could also be undermining your efforts to lose weight, shape, cope with stress, and more.

Everyday Placebos

August 31, 2018

This post is taken from Feature article by David Robson in the 25 August 2018 issue of the New Scientist.

Caffeine: If a strong espresso sets your nerves jangling, that may be large to your expectations. Even pure water increased alertness and raised blood pressure in volunteers who were told it contained caffeine. As for those withdrawal symptoms when you can’t get your morning cup of Joe, they might be all in your head, too.

Sports supplements: There is little scientific backing for many of these products, but studies show that people only have to believe they are taking performance enhancers or energy drinks to show greater stamina and strength. Even the effects of steroids may be boosted by a placebo response.

Designer brands: Are they really better than generics? Not necessarily. People tricked into thinking they were wearing designer sunglasses could more easily decipher small writing through the glare of a bright light than those who thought they were wearing less prestigious brands.

Booze: Drinking culture is full of urban myths, including the idea that adding Red Bull to vodka “gives you wings.” Studies reveal that the power of expectation is what really increased feelings of drunkenness.

Lucky charms: They work because we believe they will. Golfers who thought they were using a professional’s putter perceived the hole to be larger and easier to putt—and were more accurate as a result.

Mind Over Matter

August 30, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title of a Feature article by David Robson in the 25 August 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The subtitle is: “You really can think yourself healthier and happier.” The article begins, “A positive mindset isn’t just mental—it can trigger physical changes making you fitter, slimmer, more energetic and less stressed. It will even help you live longer.”

Dr. Alia Crum told the global movers and shakers at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, “Our minds aren’t passive observers simply observing reality as it is; our minds actually change reality. The reality we experience tomorrow is partly the product of the mindsets we hold today.” Dr. Crum heads the Mind & Body lab at Stanford University.

When she read about the placebo effect as a psychology student she had the following eureka moment: if our expectations can influence the effectiveness of a drug, perhaps something similar can happen in other situations also.

In the course of her research she and her fellow researchers have discovered that our mindset affects everything from our weight and fitness to the physical toll of insomnia and stress, even how well we age. Two people could have identical genes and lifestyles, but one can end up healthier than the other, thanks solely to their different thoughts.

There have been many healthy memory blog posts on placebos, so readers should know that placebos are inert pills used in most clinical drug trials. Participants are randomly divided into two groups: half taking the drug being tested, the control group taking an identical looking sugar pill. With no active ingredient, the placebo shouldn’t have any effects. Yet it typically results in measurable changes triggering the release of natural painkillers and lowering blood pressure, for example—all due to people’s expectations. Patients can even show these benefits when they know they are taking a placebo. There is also a nocebo effect. Expectations of a pill can also produce side effects such as nausea and skin rashes.

Crum was surprised that relatively little has been done to understand and harness the facts to improve health and well-being. Governments spend large amounts of money encouraging us to adopt healthier lifestyles. Crum wondered what if our efforts could be boosted or undermined by the very psychological processes that influence a drug’s efficacy through placebo and nocebo effects. She has spent the past decade investigating this possibility.

In one of her first experiments she examined the fitness of 84 hotel cleaners. She suspected that few of them would be aware of the sheer amount of exercise their job entails, and that this might prevent them from gaining the full benefits of that workout. To manipulate their mindsets, she gave half of them detailed information about the physical demands of their work—that their work hoovering burns 200 calories an hour—and told them that their activity met the US surgeon general’s exercise recommendations. One month later, despite reporting no change to their diet or activity outside work, the cleaners who received the information had lost about a kilogram each, and their average blood pressure had dropped from elevated to normal. The others showed no difference. This was a small study and Crum didn’t record actual behavior. She concedes, “It could be that they were putting slightly more oomph into making the beds.”

A follow-up study with a colleague, Octavia Zahrt, bolstered the idea that people’s expectations directly influence their body’s response to exercise. That study used data from health surveys monitoring more than 60,000 people. Zahrt found that the “perceived fitness” of the participants—how they felt compared to the average person—was a better predictor of their risk of mortality than the amount of time they said they spent exercising. Some of them wore accelerometers for part of the survey period. Still, after taking their actual physical activity into account, the influence of how they perceived fitness remained. Overall, people who took a more pessimistic view of their fitness were up to 71% more likely to die during the survey, compared with those who thought they were more active than average—regardless of their exercise routine.

The brain can directly control blood pressure through the autonomic nervous system. Crum suspects that a poor perception of your fitness could be triggering inflammation and the release of hormones such as cortisol, which might help determine how the body responds to stress. Her team is investigating possible mechanisms but, she says, it’s not too early to take advantage of these effects. Cruz’s advice is not to deceive yourself about your fitness, but to make sure that you don’t undervalue the exercise you do, either. Also avoid comparing yourself critically with your peers particularly if they are exceptionally sporty.

Crum has also documented other ways in which our mindset could be harming our health. A nocebo effect could undermine efforts to lose weight by dieting. In 2011, Crum offered volunteers a milkshake at her lab, then measured their levels of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin, which normally drops after a meal. Although everyone received the same shake, some were told it was healthy while others were led to believe they were having an indulgent treat. Those who thought they had drunk a low-calorie shake showed markedly higher levels of ghrelin afterwards, which left them feeling less full.

Ghrelin doesn’t affect appetite alone. By signaling food deprivation, the hormone also slows down metabolism, tipping the body towards storing fat rather than burning it. It makes evolutionary sense to reduce energy consumption when resources are scarce, but it is bad news when we are trying to lose weight. Crum says, “When people think they are eating healthily, that is associated with the sense of deprivation. And that mindset matters in shaping our physiological response. Instead, she suggest, dieters should cultivate a “mindset of indulgence,” savoring the texture and flavors of whatever they are eating.

Non dieters could also fall prey to this effect. When drinking a sugary beverage the brain doesn’t seem to recognize the liquid as a source of energy, and fails to adjust digestion accordingly so that we tend to eat more afterwords than if we have eaten solid food containing the same number of calories. We can subvert this effect by changing our expectation. Richard Mattes at Purdue University primed people to believe that the energy drink would solidify once it reached their stomach. As well as lowering gherkin levels, this increased the insulating response after consumption, leaving them feeling fuller. That was followed by a decrease in the daily energy they consumed.

It should not be forgotten that mind over matter is also important for aging. As has been reported in previous healthymemory posts; people who view aging positively live 7.5 years longer than those who associate it with frailty and senility. Negative perceptions are not merely the result of poor health; they can foreshadow symptoms by as much as 38 years.

House of TRUMP House of PUTIN

August 27, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an important book by Craig Unser. The subtitle is “The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia.” The book begins, “This book tells the story of one of the greatest intelligence operations in history, an undertaking decades in the making, through which the Russian Mafia and Russian intelligence operatives successfully targeted, compromised, and implemented either a willfully ignorant or an inexplicably unaware Russian asset in the White House as the most powerful man on earth. In doing so, without firing a shot the Russians helped put in power a man who would immediately begin to undermine the Western Alliance, which has been the foundation of American national security for more than seventy years; who would start massive trade wars with America’s longtime allies; fuel right-wing anti-immigrant populism; and assault the rule of law in the United States.”

“In short, at a time at which the United States was confronted with a new form of warfare—hybrid war consisting of cyber warfare, hacking, disinformation, and the like—the United States would have at its a helm a man who would leave the country all but defenseless, and otherwise inadvertently do the bidding of the Kremlin.”

“It is a story that is difficult to tell even though, in many ways, Donald Trump’s ties to Russia over the last four decades have been an open secret, hiding in plain sight. One reason they went largely unnoticed for so long may be that aspects of them are so unsettling, so transgressive, that Americans are loath to acknowledge the dark realities staring them in the face.”

The Russian victory is even more remarkable when it is considered from whence it came. The disintegration of the Soviet Union left it without many of its constituent republics and the task of coming up with a new type of economy to replace Communism. Putin was depressed. He wanted to bring Russia back to the international power it once was. He worked in various jobs, currying favor, and learning along the way. His KGB skills proved invaluable.

Russia was in chaos, crying for disorder. The Russian Mafia knew how to capitalize on this disorder. The American Mafia is a bunch of pantywaists compared to the Russian Mafia. The ruthlessness of the Russian Mafia is well captured in this book. It engages in all the crimes gangsters typically do, drugs, prostitution (including children) gambling, protection rackets, virtually every type of illegal activity. Putin was able to organize and control these gangsters to establish order in Russia, something that was sorely wanted.

He warned of the dangers of terrorism, committed a terrorist act, but then blamed it on Chechnya. Thus he made himself a Russian hero and the protector of Russia against terrorism. He ran for President of Russia and might have won legitimately, but Putin is careful not to leave anything to chance. He stepped down and had one of his lackeys serve as president for one term. But now he is back as president and is likely to stay.

Many have pondered the apparent control the Russians have over Trump. This control has been manifest many times, most apparently in Helsinki. It is quite clear what that control is. Trump has been doing business with Russia since the seventies. It began with the purchase of five condos in Trump Tower. The many Trump properties have served effectively as laundromats for Russian illicit activity. Donald Jr. has said that Trump gets all the money he needs from Russian banks. And Putin and the Russian Mafia run and control these banks.

Trump has expressed many times his affinity for Putin and the Russians. He wants to be best friends with Putin and the Russians and screw our traditional allies.

Another troublesome question is why are Republicans, once the foremost bulwark against the Soviet Union and communism, following Trump . Technically, Russia may no longer be a communist nation, but it is no democracy in the western sense. It is a kleptocracy in which the rich exploit the poor. Life might be more peaceful for typical Russians now, and their standard of living improved, but they are nowhere near western democracy.

Unser’s book provides some insights as to why Republicans are behaving as they are. In 2005, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska hired Bob Dole as a lobbyist in 2005. He also tried to hire John McCain, but it should be no surprised that he declined (HM’s guess is that he told Deripaska to stuff himself). Russian conglomerate Alfa paid nearly 2$ million in lobbying fees to Barbour Griffith & Rogers, the lobbying firm cofounded by former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour.

In 2016 millions of dollars in Russian money was funneled to Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and other high-profile Republicans to finance GOP senatorial candidates. McConnell took $2.5 million dollars for his GOP Senator Leadership Fund from two of Blatavatnik’s companies. Others included political action committees for Senator Marco Rubio, and Senator Lindsay Graham.

An earlier healthy memory blog post explained that when the intelligence agencies had confirmed that Russia was interfering in the presidential election, President Obama arranged a meeting between the leaders of the intelligence agencies and the Democratic majority leader in the Senate, McConnell. McConnell refused to believe the intelligence he was receiving claiming that this was a political act by the Democrats (even though the leaders were not Democrats, and some were Republican). So it appears clear that McConnell was bought by the Russians and had, in effect, sold out his country.

This was a new kind of warfare being waged by Russia. It was the first non-linear war. A previous healthy memory blog post about Valery Gerasimov, the chief of he General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, who published a paper in 2013 that became known, appropriately enough as the Gerasimov Doctrine. It concluded that costly armed invasions often fail to advance strategic goals. “In the 21st century we have seen a tendency toward blurring the lines between the states of war and peace. Wars are no longer declared and, having begun, proceed according to an unfamiliar template..The very ‘rules of war’ have changed. The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of the force of weapons in their effectiveness.”

There is much more interesting information that leads one to believe that Trump’s complaints that there has been no evidence of collusion will be answered. There will be loads of evidence supporting collusion. But that needs to await Mueller’s report.

However, this hypothetical needs to be asked. Suppose that Mueller’s report not find any violations of any standing laws. Do we still want to have Trump as President? We would be losing many of our freedoms and likely becoming a kleptocracy like Russia.

This country will not be safe until Trump leaves office. We also need for true Republicans to return to the traditional Republican party. Currently the Republican party belongs to those motivated by gaining power and money by any ends and with anybody.

The book includes an annotated list of Trump’s Fifty-Nine Russia Connections
And the book is well-documented with an extensive list of notes.

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

Fundamental Attribution Error

August 26, 2018

For many years, HM thought that psychology was best taught at colleges and universities. He has since come to the opinion that it needs to be taught in the schools. Topics should be introduced as soon as students are old enough to learn about them. One topic that can and should be taught in elementary school is the fundamental attribution error.

The fundamental attribution error refers to whom or what, the error should be attributed. So when we make a mistake the initial inclination is to blame it on circumstances. For example, I was tired, there was insufficient information, it was out of my skill area, and so forth. However, when another party makes an error, the tendency is to blame it on them. They were careless, stupid, of too low an IQ, and so forth.

For example, conservatives tend to be critical of welfare. There are “welfare queens,” loafers, liars, and so forth. Although there is some truth to this, the vast majority of people on welfare are people in need.

Consider the white man who feels victimized, and discriminated against. To many, this appears to be a ridiculous claim, but their feelings are genuine. And the reason why they are real is the fundamental attribution error. For these white men it is much easier to blame immigrants than to blame themselves. They do not ask themselves, why did I not go back to school, why did I not try to learn needed skills, or why did I not try to start my own business. No, it is these lousy immigrants, these foreigners, that are to blame. Worse yet, these people are of different colors and different religions. It can be argued that Trump owes his presidency to the fundamental attribution error, or more accurately, in how to exploit the fundamental attribution error.

This discrimination against immigrants is not new. Immigrants have always been regarded as a threat to jobs. But immigrants are always the source of needed skills, new ideas and businesses. Immigration has always been the main source of U.S. strength, and immigration needs to continue and to grow.

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

The Special Counsel Investigation

August 24, 2018

The Special Council Investigation led by Robert Mueller who was praised, and justifiably so, when he was appointed. This investigation has been going along smoothly and has made much progress. Trump initially told his lawyer that he was innocent and that they were going to co-operate with Mueller. Were this the case, this was the path for Trump to pursue.

However, as the investigation continued, Trump’s innocence came increasingly in question. So a new strategy was developed. Attack the Mueller investigation as a conspiracy. Attack both the Justice Department and the Intelligence Communities. Books have been written trying to justify this conspiracy and are being read. This is remarkable. This is preposterous. The reason for these attacks is obvious. Trump is guilty as sin. Yet these conspiracy theories are being believed. This manufactured paranoid delusion is contagious and is spreading. This will be a hot topic in psychology, sociology, and political science in the very near future.

Should the investigation be stopped, a constitutional crisis would develop, with a possible outcome of Trump becoming president for life. This is one of his ambitions to become like Putin, ruling a kleptocracy.

Mueller needs to operate within the framework of the law; a constraint that Trump and his supporters don’t have. It is possible that it will not be possible to convict Trump of any law. But it is well known that Trump has been working with the Russian mafia, the kleptocracy supported by Putin. in 1984 Russian David Bogatin spent $6 million (the equivalent of approximated $14.5 in 2018) on five luxury condos in Trump Tower. Thus began the money laundering and other activities with the Russian mob. More will be written on this in a subsequent post.

So it might be that Putin owns Trump, but there is nothing legally to be done about it. There is an emoluments clause that is currently being pursued, but the emoluments clause is small potatoes. This is many orders of magnitude larger.

Putin has accomplished this by information warfare. Information warfare raised doubts and made Hillary Clinton evil. It divided the United States and set it at war with itself and with institutions such as the justice department and the intelligence agencies.

Trump has no objection to this as Putin is one of his sponsors. So consider the outcome in which the Mueller investigation comes up with nought, but the President is owned and controlled by Putin. Apparently our Founding Fathers overlooked this possibility.

So what will Americans do? It appears that this possibility would be welcomed by Trump and his party. One wonders about the considerable expenses incurred by the Defense Department, just to be defeated by the Russians’ sophisticated and highly effective information warfare that moves the United States from NATO and into the Russian kleptocratic orbit.

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

Why Do People Support Trump?

August 23, 2018

The immediately preceding post, “Science Explains the World of Manafort and Gates,” provides part of an answer to this question to which we shall return later. But many wonder how people can support someone who conducts himself as a thug, and makes playground insults and nicknames. Such behavior is not acceptable for an adult, much less the President of the United States.

First of all, there is Trump’s base, which consists of nazis and white supremacists. Fortunately this base is a minority, although a disturbingly large minority. It is difficult to understand why Republicans are supporting Trump, as Trump is no Republican in many ways. Perhaps the most conspicuous difference is his friendly relationship with Putin, which became quite embarrassing at Helsinki. But Trump has expressed his wish that we become allied with the Russians. Nothing could be more unRepublican than this.

But the article about the world of Manafort and Gates made this apparently contradictory behavior understandable. These Republicans are in politics for power and financial gain, which are the same reasons for Trump, although for Trump the need for popularity and marketing his brand should be added. True Republicans have left the party. The one exception that comes to mind is John McCain, but he is severely ill with a brain tumor. Were he well, if he did not leave the party, he would have fought Trump regarding every unRepublican action he took.

The ultimate goal is to create a kleptocracy, where the rich rule. This goal is being pursued by the rich by providing financial support to venues which provide support to Trump like Fox. It does not appear that Trump supporters have any interest in saving democracy, otherwise they would not be kicking back on the Mueller probe. Mueller is an outstanding American, who fought bravely in the Viet Nam war (while Trump found doctors that provided the basis for his draft deferment). Mueller could easily have avoided combat but he fought as a platoon commander, perhaps the most dangerous job in a war. Then he devoted his life to justice working in both the Justice Department and the FBI. And he is very efficiently conducting the probe of Russian involvement. It is much further along than other investigations that have taken place.

There are at least two groups that one could argue are not motivated by greed, but perhaps power. One is the military, who might be seduced by Trump’s budget. However, they should realize that under the continued leadership of Trump they might be participating in war games in which the United States and Russia were allies. But perhaps that would not matter. As long as they get to play soldier, they might not have any ideological commitment.

The second group are some evangelicals. They are against abortion because they believe that it kills babies, and that Trump will nominate Supreme Court justices that are against abortion. Readers should be aware that not all Christians, not even all Evangelicals support their view. Here is an alternative view.

Biological life is not important. Any notion of biological life being required for immortal life is a sham. Biological life is temporal and ends. Here is where the concept of a soul enters. Souls exist in another dimension and are immortal. Remember the child’s prayer:

Now I lay be down to sleep
I pray the lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take

It is the soul that is immortal.

With the exception of some Trump supporters, most American were outraged about children being torn from their parents while trying to immigrate. There were many reports about the serious damage that was being done to these children. What many know, and what healthy memory blog readers should know, is that similar effects can be found with unloving mothers and mothers who do not want their children (see the healthy memory blog post “Memories from Infancy and Early Childhood”).

Under these circumstances, an abortion could be recommended. Souls are no lost. God is merciful. So the goal should not be Pro-life, but Pro-quality life.

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

Science Explains the World of Manafort and Gates

August 22, 2018

This post is based on an article by William Wan in 18 August 2018 its of the Washington Post. The article asks the question are rich people more likely to lie, cheat, and steal?

This is a timely question as Paul Manafort’s trial has revealed details of his alleged crimes: defrauding banks out of tens of millions of dollars, evading taxes by stashing huge sums in offshore accounts and using riches earned through unregistered word for governments to buy $15,000 ostrich and python jackets. Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy testified about the small fortune he spent on globe-trotting infidelities. And last week, Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) was charged with insider trading. Scandals have shown Trump’s Cabinet members flouting government rules and ethics for private jet rides $31,000 dining table sets, $43,000 soundproof booths and questionable business trips abroad.

Dasher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkely has spent decades studying wealth, power, and privilege. He said, “To researchers who study wealth and power, it’s dismaying but not surprising, because it tracks so closely with our findings. The effect of power is sadly one of the most reliable laws of human behavior.” Six years ago, Keltner and a then graduate student in his lab, Paul Piff, published influential innovative research that confirmed many of our worst assumption about the rich and the corrupting power of wealth.

In one study, the researchers stationed themselves at a busy intersection with four-way stop signs and tracked the model of every car whose driver cut off others instead of waiting their turn. People driving expensive cars—like a brand-new Mercedes—were four times more likely to ignore right-of-way laws than those in cheap cars like an old beat-up Honda. Keltner said, “ It told us that there’s something about wealth and privilege that makes you feel like you’re above the law, that allows you to treat others like they don’t exist.”

Next, they had a researcher play a pedestrian trying to cross at a crosswalk and tracked which cars stopped as the law requires and which blew right past him. Every one of the cheapest cars stopped, while half of the expensive cars ignored the pedestrian in the crosswalk, many even making eye contact. Pedestrians need to be aware of this study. It could save their lives.

Religious leaders have been issuing warnings throughout the ages about the corrupting effects of wealth and power. Buddha gave up the rich life of a prince for enlightenment (and found it!). Jesus warned his disciples a camel would have an easier time squeezing through the eye of a needle than a rich man trying to get into God’s kingdom.

In the past few decades, a growing body of psychology research has tried to capture and measure the exact effect of wealth and behavior and morality. This research has shown the rich cheat more on their taxes. They cheat more on their romantic partners. The wealthy and better-educated are more likely to shoplift (HM finds this quite surprising). They are more likely to cheat on games of chance. They are often less empathetic. In studies of charitable giving, it is often the lower-income households that donate higher proportions of their income than middle-class and many upper-income folk.

Keltner and Piff in their 2015 paper found the rich are more likely to literally take candy from children. In that experiment, they first asked 129 subjects to compare their finances with people who had either more or less money. Then they give their subjects a jar of candy and told them the sweets were intended for children in a nearby lab but they could take some if they wanted. Those who felt richer after comparing their finances to poorer people took significantly more candy for themselves.

The findings build on similar research in recent years that suggest wealth and power strip people of their inhibitions, increase risk taking and feelings of entitlement and invulnerability. At the same time, power makes people less empathetic and able to see others’ perspectives.

Adam Galinsky of the Columbia Business School says, “Wealth is basically a mechanism for power and power has a freeing effect on people. It takes away the constraints of society and frees people to act according to their dominant desires.” His experiments have explored how power often propels people’s actions. In some cases, those desires may be altruistic or helpful to society, so power heightened those goals and can give rise to effective philanthropies. Often, however, power leads to self-serving behaviors unrestrained by the usual concerns over rules or the consequences for others.

Because much of the psychological research into wealth and power is relatively new, many of the findings are still being tested and need to be confirmed by replication, researchers say. Michael Kraus, a social psychologist at Yale’s School of Management says, “I wouldn’t say these questions are settled. There are disagreements about the exact effect of wealth on ethics and how large the effect is.” But the research has never seen such booming interest and momentum, with the growing inequality in America and a multimillionaire born into wealth in the White House.

Kraus said, “There’s a lot of reasons we should care about the ethics of wealthy people. Even if research found that they were no more unethical as anyone else, their influence on the world is so much greater. If someone like me steals something, it only affects a handful of people. But if someone like Manafort steals or lies or cheats it affects so many more people. There are foreign governments and banks involved. You start getting into that area where it can affect the whole country and the course of democracy.”

HM thinks that this discussion ignored an extremely important variable, and that is differences in individuals. There are billionaires like Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda Gates who are giving away their fortunes. They do not believe in inherited wealth, which is particularly pernicious. And the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is using the tools of operations research to maximized the benefits of their giving. We need to learn how to produce more rich people to pursue the paths of these three outstanding individuals.

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

The Future

August 21, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of Part IV of “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” by David Christian.” Christian has a quote attributed to Yogi Berra at the beginning of the section, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” So HM is going to write nothing about the future.

However, it is clear that the Good Anthropecene has a large challenge ahead. Unfortunately the United States currently has a Bad Anthropocene as its president. He was elected on the basis of lies. American is great, it does not need to be made great again. He has given invalid statistics about immigration and crime. His campaign began with the lie that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. However, Trump is a genius and he needs to be given credit for his genius. He is in touch with the biases of many residents of the United States and he knows how to exploit them. He uses the techniques developed by the nazi Joseph Goebbels by telling big lies over and over and over again. These techniques worked with enough Germans that Hitler was able to become a dictator, murder millions of innocent people, and start a world war.

Many Americans bought into this because he was speaking to their biases and false beliefs. This is all pure system 1 processing in Kahneman’s two process theory of cognition. System 2, is never evoked. Just emotions and false beliefs.

The Dunning-Krueger effect is also in evidence here. This effect states that people tend to think they know much more than they actually know. Ironically, people with much true knowledge about a topic tend to be guarded in their statements. But the unknowing and ill-informed are convinced that what they believe along with the crap Trump feeds them is the truth.

Trump is truly a genius. He has taken over the Republican party. It is no longer recognizable. They are pursuing policies anathema to true Republicans. It is clear that Trump supporters have no political beliefs and are interested only in power and in the pursuit of ill-gotten gains.

Many Republicans are ignoring the oaths they swore when the took office to defend the constitution. Instead they are threatening the Justice Department and the Mueller investigation. The Mueller investigation would clear Trump if he was innocent. But the actions of Trump and his supporters indicate that he is guilty and attacking the justice system and the investigation is the only way he can survive. The notion that the investigation is a biased conspiracy is absurd, yet it is being embraced by many.

Initially, it was believed that new technology with its increased access to information and the ability to send information would be a boon to democracy. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened. Lies and misinformation seem to predominant. And too many accept these lies and misinformation and fail to invoke the their System 2 processes, more commonly known as thinking.

Unfortunately, backwards right wing forces appear to be advancing in many parts of the world. There appears to be an epidemic of “Bad Anthropocenes.” However a reading of “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” documented the many factors that could have impeded or stopped the advancement to today. Indeed, the chances of Anthropocenes, good or bad, being here today were extremely small. Perhaps we shall be able to muddle successfully into the future.

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

The Good vs. The Bad Anthropocene

August 20, 2018

This post is taken from “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” by David Christian. The “good” here is from a human perspective. The increase in energy and wealth has, for the first time in human history, resulted in consumption levels rising for a growing middle class of billions of people, far more people than the entire population of the world at the end of the agrarian era. Thomas Piety estimates that in modern European countries, 40% of the population control between 45% and 25% of the national wealth. The appearance of a middle class of this size was a new phenomenon in human history. More and more people are joining the new middle class as the numbers living in extreme poverty fall. Unfortunately and paradoxically, increasing wealth also meant increasing inequality, and even as the numbers living above subsistence are rising, the numbers living in extreme poverty remain higher than ever before in human history. Thomas Piety estimates that in most modern countries, the wealthiest 10% of the population controls between 25% and 60% of national wealth, while the bottom 50% controls no more than 15% to 30%. The huge number of people living in extreme poverty today are than there were in the past. In 2005, more than three billion people (more people that the total population of the world in 1900) lived on less than $2.50 a day. Most people in this group have seen few benefits from the fossil-fuels revolution and suffer from the unhealthy, unsanitary, and precarious living conditions of the early industrial revolution that were described by Dickens and Engels.

Still a growing proportion of the human population has benefited from increasing energy and wealth flows and is living well above subsistence. These flows have raised consumption levels and also levels of nutrition and health for billions of people. These changes are reflected in changes in life expectancy. For most of human history, life expectancies at birth were less than thirty years. This was because so many children died young and so many adults died of traumas and infections that would not have killed them today. Life expectancies barely changed for one hundred thousand years. Then in the past one hundred years, average life spans have almost doubled throughout the world because humans have acquired the information and resources needed to care for the young and old much better, to feed more people, and to improve the treatment and care of the sick and injured.

The energy bonanza from fossil fuels was so vast that, in addition to expenditures on reproduction, elite wealth, waste, and the infrastructure for complexity, there was enough left over to raise the consumption levels and living standards of an increasing proportion of humanity. This revolution transformation occurred mostly in just the past 100 years and primarily during the Great Acceleration of the second half of the 20th century.

Now let us consider the Bad Anthropocene. Christian notes that the Bad Anthropocene consist of the many changes that threaten the achievements of the Good Anthropocene. The Bad Anthropocene has generated huge inequalities. In spite of colossal increases in wealth, millions continue to live in dire poverty. And the modern world has not abolished slavery. The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimated that more than 45 million humans today are living as slaves. Christian writes, “The Bad Anthropocene is not just morally unacceptable. It is also dangerous because it guarantees conflict, and in a world with nuclear weapons, any major conflict could prove catastrophic for most of humanity.”

The Bad Anthropocene also undermines the stable climate system of the past ten thousand years and reduces biodiversity. The flows of energy and resources supporting increasing human consumption are now so large that they are impoverishing other species and endangering the ecological foundations on which modern society was built. Rising carbon dioxide levels, declining biodiversity, and melting glaciers are telling us something dangerous is happening, and we should take notice.

Christian concludes, “The challenge we face as a species is pretty clear. Can we preserve the best of the Good Anthropocene and avoid the dangers of the Bad Anthropocene? Can we distribute the Anthropocene bonanza of energy and resources more equitably to avoid catastrophic conflicts? And can we, like the first living organisms, learn how to use gentler and smaller flows of resources to do so? Can we find global equivalents of the delicate proton pumps used to power all living cells today? Or will we keep depending on flow of energy and resources so huge that they will eventually shake apart the fantastically complex societies we have built in the past two hundred years?”

Industrialization and the Anthropocene

August 19, 2018

Before proceeding further mention must be made of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. Somehow Christian makes no mention of this invention. Nevertheless, it was central to the advancement of mankind. The remainder of this post is taken from “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” by David Christian.” Christian writes, “Pressure to find new sources of energy would eventually conjure up the mega-innovations that we describe today as the fossil-fuels revolution. These gave humans access to flows of energy much greater than those provided by farming—the energy locked up in fossil fuels, energy that had accumulated not over a few decades, but since the Carboniferous period, more than 360 million years earlier. In seams of coal, oil, and gas lay several hundred million years’ worth of buried sunlight in solid, liquid, and gaseous forms. To get a sense of the energies locked up in fossil fuels, imagine carrying a car full of passengers over your head and running very, very fast for several hours, then remind yourself that a few gallons of gasoline pack that much energy and more (because a lot of energy is wasted). Like a gold strike, this energy bonanza created frenzied and often chaotic new forms of change and created and destroyed the fortunes of individuals, counties, and entire regions. Charles Dickens, Frederich Engels, and others saw the terrible price that many paid for these changes. But from the frenzy would emerge an entirely new world.”

James Watt’s steam engine gave a first taste of energy flows so vast that they would transform human societies in just two centuries. Energy from fossil fuels provided a pulse of energy that started the technological equivalent of a global chain reaction. Within 25 years, f500 of he new machines were at work in England, and by the 1830s, coal-fired steam engines were the main source of power in British industry. By 1850, England and Wales were consuming nine times as much energy as Italy, and English entrepreneurs and factories had access to prime movers of colossal power.

England was the first country to benefit from the energy bonanza of fossil fuels. By the middle of the nineteenth century, England produced a fifth of global GDP and about half of global fossil-fuel emissions. Global levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide began to rise from about the middle of the nineteenth century. As early as 1896, the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius recognized both that carbon dioxide was a greenhouse gas and that it was being generated in large enough amounts to start changing global climates. But such fears belonged to the future (Arrhenius actually thought that global warming was a positive development because it might stave off a new ice age), and the use of technology grew and spread.

Edwin Drake made the first serious attempt to drill for oil in the Pennsylvania town of Titusville, beginning in 1857. On August 27, 1859, just before funds ran out, Drake’s drill team struck oil. In 1861, drillers struck the first gusher—an oil well that pumped oil under its own pressure, even producing a fatal explosion when the natural gas pumped up with the oil was ignited. Production increased to three thousand barrels a day. Unfortunately, Edwin Drake died in poverty in 1880 despite the fact that he had helped launch the next chapter of he fossil-fuels revolution.

Christian writes, “In the 20th century, we humans began to transform our surroundings, our societies, and even ourselves. Without really intending to, we have introduced changes so rapid and so massive that our species has become the equivalent of a new geological force. That is why many scholars have begun to argue that planet Earth has entered a new geological age, the Anthropocene epoch, or ‘the era of humans.” This is the first time in the four-billion-year history of the biosphere that a single biological species has become the dominant force for change. In just a century or two, building on the energy flows and the remarkable innovations of the fossil fuels revolution, we humans have stumbled into the role of planetary pilots without really knowing what instruments we should be looking at, what buttons we should be pressing, or where we are trying to land. This is new territory for humans, and for the entire biosphere.”

Christian writes the Ahthropocene epoch looks like a drama with three main acts so far and a lot more change in the works. Act 1 began in the mid-nineteenth century as fossil-fuels technologies began to transform the entire world. A few countries in the Atlantic regions gained colossal wealth and power and terrifying new weapons of war.

Act 2 of the Anthropocene was exceptionally violent. It began in the late nineteenth century and lasted until the middle of the twentieth century. During this act, the first fossil-fuel powers turned on one another. In the late nineteenth century, the United States, France, Germany, Russia, and Japan began to challenge Britain’s industrial leadership. As rivalries intensified, the major powers tried to protect their markets and sources of supply and keep out competitors. International trade declined. In 1914 rivalry turned into outright war. For thirty years, destructive global wars mobilized the new technologies and the growing wealth and populations of the modern era.

Act 3 included the second half of the 20th century and the early 21st century. From the bloodbaths of the world wars, the United States emerged as the first global superpower. There were no more major international wars during the era of the Cold War. All parties understood that there would be no victors in a nuclear war. The Soviet Union disbanded and lost its puppet regimes and some of its republics. The new Russia has reorganized and is challenging the United States and its allies. It has developed new techniques of warfare, including cyberwarfare. They are conducting cyberwarfare against the United States including interfering in elections and were a major factor in placing Trump in the office of the President of the United States.

Farming and the First Nation State

August 18, 2018

This post is taken from “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” by David Christian. For the first two hundred thousand years or more of our history our ancestors lived as foragers and hunters. There was a constant trickle of innovations that ensured they would forage with increasing efficiency and in an increasing diversity of environments, until, about ten thousand years ago, at the end of the last ice age, humans were living in most parts of the world. Christian writes, “In the past ten thousand years, human lifeways were transformed by a cascade of innovation that we describe as farming or agriculture.”

Christian continues, “Farming was a mega-innovation, a bit like photosynthesis or multicellularity. It set human history off on new and more dynamic pathways by helping our ancestors tap into larger flows of resources and energy that allowed them to do more things and create new forms of wealth. Like a gold rush, the bonanza of energy would generate a frenzy of change. Eventually it would transform the human relationship to the biosphere because as farming societies grew, they supported much larger populations and evolved many more moving parts than foraging societies. More energy, resources, and people and more links between communities generated positive feedback cycles that accelerated change. For all these reasons, farming resulted in increasing complexity. “

Continuing on, “The potential for transformative innovations had existed since collective learning first took off, but now the potential beginning to be realized as a result of three main Goldilocks conditions: new technologies (and increasing understanding of environments generated through collective learning), increasing population pressure, and the warmer climates of the Holocene epoch.”

Farming is hard grueling work. And farmers needed to develop new tools and technologies and learn about which crops were best, what could harm them, and how best to protect they crops. However, when successful, farming was quite rewarding. Stores of food could be built up. And these stores constituted wealth which could be used for trading other goods. Of course, farmers were vulnerable to the environment. Bad weather and droughts could result in more than poverty, but to starvation and death.

Communities developed around farms. These communities could provide goods and services to the farmers. Over time the size of these communities grew. The grew from villages to cities to larger states and countries. Christian writes that an elite population emerged with one person at the very top, while most people lived close to subsistence.

The notion of an entitled noble class emerged with a hierarchy of titles with a king or some equivalent at the top. These were agrarian civilizations because it was agriculture on which the civilization emerged. Bureaucracies including soldiers and governing entities arose with agriculture at the bottom.

By 1400 a concentrated band of people, cities, and farmlands stretched from the Atlantic Ocean, along both sides of the Mediterranean, through Persia and parts of Central Asia, and into India, Southeast Asia, and China. The riches and most populous empire was ruled by the Ming dynasty in China. In the early fifteenth, the Ming emperor Yongle sent out vast fleets, captained by a Muslim eunuch, Zhen He, to travel through the Indian Ocean to India, Persia, and the rich ports of East Africa. When He’s ships were some of the larges and most sophisticated that had ever been built, and their many voyages provide an interesting foretaste of the globalization that was just around the corner.

Christian writes, “But after 1433, under a new emperor, Hongxi, the Ming abandoned these expeditions. China was wealthy and pretty self-sufficient, so Zhen He’s expeditions had little commercial value. Besides, they were extremely expensive. The new emperor and his advisors decided the the money spent on them could be put to better uses, such as defending the empire’s northern borders from pastoral nomadic invaders.

Clearly, China was way ahead of western civilizations. And it is curious as to why they did not consider colonizing and exploiting these lands as the west would do. Some have argued that the Chinese regarded these people as barbarians and not worthy of their attention. Of course, it is not known whether this is true. But it is clear that China was ahead in technology. Unfortunately, there is little historical record to be analyzed. Apparently dynasties had the unfortunate practice of destroying virtually everything that had been accomplished by the preceding dynasty.

How Our Early Ancestors Lived

August 17, 2018

This post is taken from “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” by David Christian.” Like all large animals, our early ancestors collected or hunted resources and game from their surroundings. But there was a critical difference between those animals and early humans. Although other species hunted and gathered using a repertoire of skills and information that had barely changed over the generations, humans did so with an increasing understanding of their environments, as they shared and accumulated information about plants, animals, seasons and landscapes. Due to collective learning over the generations human communities hunted and gathered with growing skill and efficiency.

At Blombos Cave, on the Indian Ocean shores of South Africa, archaeologist Christopher Henshilwood and his colleagues have excavated sites dating from ninety thousand years ago. The inhabitants of Blombos Cave ate shellfish, fish, marine animals as well as land mammals and reptiles. They cooked in well-tended hearths. They made delicate stone blades and bone points were probably hafted to wooden handles with specially prepared glues. And they were also artists. Archaeologists found ocher stones with geometrical scratch marks on them that look like symbols or even writing. They also made different-colored pigments and ostrich-shell beads. Christian writes, “It is also tempting to see this evidence as a sign that the Blombos communities valued collective learning and the preservation and transmission of information, and that surely means that they preserved and told stories that summed up their community knowledge.

At the Lake Mungo site in Australia, there is compelling evidence for religion. A cremation and burial site from about forty thousand years ago and a scattering of other human remains are evidence of ritual traditions. Other evidence from the site reminds us that Paleolithic societies, like modern human societies, underwent profound upheavals, many were caused by unpredictable climate changes of the most recent ice age. There were regular periods of aridity from the moment humans first arrived in the Willandra Lakes Region, perhaps fifty thousand years ago. About forty thousand years ago, aridity increased and the lake system began to shrink.

Christian writes, “Twenty thousand years later, at the coldest phase of the ice age, there were communities living in tundra-like environments on the steppes of modern Ukraine. At sites like Mezhirich, people built huge marquee-like tents, using skins stretched over a scaffolding of mammoth bones, and warmed them with internal hearths. They hunted mammoths and other large animals and stored meat in refrigerated pits for recovery during the long cold winters. They hunted fur-bearing animals and used needle-like objects with ornamental heads carved from bone to sew warm clothing. As many as thirty people may have lived together at Mezhirich during the long ice-age winters. There are similar sites near Mezhirich. This suggests there were regular contacts between neighboring groups, the sort of networks through which information about new technologies, changing climates, animal movements, and other resources would have been changed, as well as stories.” People would also have moved between neighboring groups.

Christian continues, “The remains left behind the Paleolithic communities offer grainy snapshots of their societies. But each snapshot represents an entire cultural world, with stories, legends, heroes, and villains, scientific and geographical knowledge, and traditions and rituals that preserved and passed on ancient skills. This accumulation of ideas, traditions, and information was what allowed our Paleolithic ancestors to find the energy and resources they needed to survive and flourish and migrate farther and farther in a harsh, ice-aged world.”

Humans Arrive

August 16, 2018

We shall pick up the “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” by David Christian with the arrival of humans. However, to keep matters in perspective it should be realized that 90% of our DNA is identical with the other mammals. Something in the remaining 10% is what makes us different. Christian writes, “The tiny change that allowed humans to share and accumulate so much information was linguistic.”

Michael Tomasello writes, “only one known biological mechanism that could bring about these kinds of changes in behavior and cognition in so short a time…The biological mechanism is social or cultural transmission, which works on time scales many orders of magnitude faster than those of organic evolution. Tomasello calls this process “cumulative cultural evolution” and says that it is unique to our species.

Christian writes, “human languages let us share information about abstract entities or about things or possibilities that are not immediately present and may not even exist outside of our imagination. And they let us do this fast and efficiently.”

Christian continues, “Human language is powerful enough to act like a cultural ratchet, locking in the ideas of one generation and preserving them for the next generation, which can add to them in turn. I call this mechanism collective learning. Collective learning is a new driver of change, and it can drive change as powerfully as natural selection. But because it allows instantaneous exchanges of information, it works much faster.”

The following is by a pioneer memory researcher, Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel: “Althought the size and structure of the human brain have not changed since Homo Sapiens first appeared in East Africa…the learning capability of individual human beings and their historical memory have grown over the centuries through shared learning—that is, through the transmission of culture. Cultural evolution, a nonbiological mode of adaption, acts in parallel with biological evolution as the means of transmitting knowledge of the past and adaptive behavior across generations. All human accomplishments, from antiquity to modern times,are products of a shared memory accumulated over centuries.”

The great world historian W.H. McNeill constructed his classic world history “The Rise of the West” around the same idea: “The principal factor promoting historically significant social change is contact with strangers processing new and unfamiliar skills.”

Timeline

August 15, 2018

The timeline for “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” by David Christian follows:

EVENT: Big Bang: origin of our universe
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 13.8 billion years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 13 years , 8 months ago

EVENT: The first stars begin to glow
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 13.2 (?) billion years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 13 years, 2 months ago

EVENT: New elements are forged in dying large stars
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: Continuously from threshold 2 to the present day
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: Continuously from when the stars began to glow to the present day.

EVENT: Our sun and solar system form
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 4.5 billion years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 4 years, 6 months ago

EVENT: Earliest life on earth
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 3.8 billion years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 3 years, 9 months ago

EVENT: The first large organisms on earth
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 600 million years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 7 months ago

EVENT: An asteroid wipes out the dinosaurs
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 65 million years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 24 days ago

EVENT: The hominid lineage splits from the chemo lineage
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 7 million years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 2.5 days ago

EVENT: Homo erectus
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 2 million years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 17 hours ago

EVENT: First evidence of our species, Homo Sapiens
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 200,000 years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 100 minutes ago

EVENT: End of last ice age, beginnings of Holocene, earliest signs of farming
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 10,000 years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 5 minutes ago

EVENT: First evidence of cities, states, agrarian civilizations
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 5,000 years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 2.5 minutes ago

EVENT: Roman and Han Empires flourish
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 2,000 years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 1 minute ago

EVENT: World zones begin to be linked together
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 500 years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 15 seconds ago

EVENT: Fossil-fuels revolution begins
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 200 years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 6 seconds ago

EVENT: The Great Acceleration: humans land on the moon.
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 50 years ago
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 1.5 seconds ago

EVENT: (?) A sustainable world order?
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 100 years in the future?
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 3 seconds to go

EVENT: The sun dies
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: 4.5 billion years in the future
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: 4 years, 6 months to go

EVENT: The universe fades to darkness; entropy wins
APPROXIMATE ABSOLUTE DATE: Gazillions and gazillions of years in the future
DATE DIVIDED BY 1 BILLION: Billions and billions of years from now

Origin Story: A Big History of Everything

August 14, 2018

The title of this post is the title of an impressive book by David Christian. It begins with the big bang and ends with the hope for a new universe after this one ends. Christian writes, “To understand the history of humanity, you have to understand how such a strange species evolved, which means learning about the evolution of life on planet Earth, which means learning about the evolution of stars and planets, which means knowing about the universe.”

Later, he writes, “Within the creative hurricane of modernity, there is emerging a new, global origin story that is as full of meaning, awe and mystery as any traditional origin story, but is based on modern scientific scholarship across many disciplines. There are two problems with this statement. One problem is that it is unrealistic to think that many people will be able to read this entire tome, although HM has a high opinion of his readers and hopes that many of them will read this book for reasons provided later. The second problem regards the criticism that Michael Gerson offered in his review of the book: epistemological imperialism. HM likes this term and it is right on the mark. Science is extremely valuable and is largely, if not exclusively, responsible for the standard of living that most of us enjoy. But science is not the only means of knowing. No effort will be made to outline the many different ways we humans have of knowing. People can come to know God through many contemplative practices. However, a distinction needs to be made between religions and a belief in God. HM could never bring himself to affiliate with any particular religion because he was being told to believe. He reasoned that God had given him a brain and that he was given that brain for thinking, not believing. And the law of parsimony precluded belief in any specific religion. They all had problems, primary among them being that they claimed they were speaking for God. Well, God can be contacted directly through prayer, meditation, and contemplative practices. So religions are not necessary and can be bypassed entirely, perhaps for the good.

When what you encounter directly conflicts with scientific findings, such as the world was created in seven days, go with the scientific finding rather than a religious book written by men that purports to be the word of God. Previous healthy memory blog posts have argued for teaching both creationism and evolution in the schools, as this provides a good means for contrasting scientific understanding with religious belief. Science can be proven wrong and the theory of evolution undergoes continuous updates. There a loads of data indicating that creationism is wrong, yet that belief persists. Schools should teach the scientific method not just conclusions from scientific research and the contrast between creationism and evolution provides a good subject area to teach a scientific method.

There is so much interesting information in “Origin Story” that posts will of necessity be forthcoming. However, HM hopes that for the purpose of a growth mindset and the engagement of system 2 processes, that readers will read this book itself. And the entire book needs to be read. One can devote different amounts of attention depending on one’s interests, and can skim. But reading the whole book will provide an appreciation for the methods of science and for what is involved in acquiring scientific knowledge. It will also provide an appreciation for physical processes, biological processes, economic forces, plus an appreciation of how humanity developed and the dangers we face in the future.

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

Ivan Pavlov: Socialism

August 13, 2018

Ivan Pavlov was the Russian physiologist who discovered classical conditioning. Pair a bell with the presentation of food to a dog and after a few trials the dog will start drooling at the sound of the bell.

So how does that relate to socialism? To way too many Americans, the response to socialism is evil, no way. For these people, this is a classically conditioned response to the word/idea socialism. Consider in the context of Nobel Winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s two process theory of cognition. System 1 refers to our normal mode of cognition.  It is very fast and allows for fluent conversations and skilled performance.  It is the default mode of cognition.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds to what we colloquially call thinking.  System 2 requires attention and mental effort.  One of the jobs of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors.  However, this requires mental effort and thinking.

System 1 is emotional and it is an emotional response that too many people have to the term socialism. It would be interesting to ask these people to define socialism. Actually the definition would need to be very long. There are many different types and flavors of socialism. Indeed, since we have Social Security and Medicare, some would argue that we have a socialist system. And indeed, there are individual who would like to get rid of both Social Security and Medicare for this reason.

A major problem with political discourse is that it is emotional and almost always a System 1 process. Politicians are asked, “are you a socialist?’ with the implication that if the answer is “Yes”, then they can go to hell.

A good example of the ramifications of this problem is medical care in the United States. The United States has, by far, the most expensive medical system in the world. Unfortunately, in terms of the results of this system, the United States falls to a third level country. Now every other advanced country has solved this problem. And they all have variants of everyone being covered and a single payer, the government. Sure call all these countries socialist. But to use this label to preclude the obvious solution to the health care problem is ridiculous. The excuse provided for not doing the obvious is to say that the United States is an exception. HM would agree and flesh that out by saying the United States is exceptionally stupid.

Labels should be eschewed in politics. Rather needs should be identified and discussed. What are different policies for addressing these needs and what are the costs?

Another statement, which is on the same level as exceptionalism, and that is ‘big government.” Big government is bad and needs to be avoided. The size of government is irrelevant. The question is whether the government, private industry, or some combination could better address the problem. If someone is against big government, then the quickest way to make government smaller would be to eliminate the defense department, veterans affairs, and social security, and to hell with social welfare in general.

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

What Makes a White Nationalist?

August 12, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature article by Peter Byrne in the 9 June 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The most important point in the entire article is a statement by Errol Southers, a terrorism expert at the University of Southern California and a retired FBI agent who wrote on opinion article for “USA Today” linking the violence in the Unite the Rite rally in Charlottesville to Trump’s radicalized rhetoric. The statement to remember is “White nationalists are a greater threat to Americans than jihadists.” Bear in mind that Trump’s base consists of nazis and white supremacists. This leads to the realization that the major terrorist threat exists within Trump’s base.

“The Anti Defamation League reports that in the US, white supremacists were responsible for 18 of 34 terrorist murders in 2017. Seven of the remaining 16 were anti-government extremists, leaving nine tied to Islamist terrorism. Since 2002 there have been three times as many deadly far-right terrorist attacks as jihadist attacks in the US, although the jihadist attacks have claimed more victims overall, reports the New American Federation.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center has catalogued more than 600 active neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups and hundreds of anti-government militias that either have the stated intention to overthrown liberal democracy or historically engaged in armed struggle in the US.

Southers sees similarities between the white extremist and Islamist terrorists: both fit the prevailing notion among researchers that most terrorists are not psychopaths, but relatively typical people motivated by circumstance to protect their “in-group” from dangers, real or imagined. He says, “Given their belief systems, both types of terrorists are acting rationally. Most terrorists are ‘altruists’ who view themselves as soldiers fighting for a noble cause.” The calling to enact political change precedes the calling to violence: the ends justify the means.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and ResponseS to Terrorism (START) produced a paper principally authored by Pete Simi titled “Recruitment and Radicalization among US Far-Right Terrorists.” The paper revealed that white extremists, although not necessarily psychopathic, are often violent before they join extremist groups. Only after joining are they generally schooled in ideologies that justify channeling pre-existing urges into violence towards Jewish people, non-white people and anti-racist groups {The healthy memory blog post “Hating is Belonging: The Ex-White Supremacist” indicated that the indoctrination occurs after they join these groups}. The ideology is the excuse for ultra-violence, not the reason. Ethnographer Kathleen Blee at the University of Pittsburgh notes that this insight challenges thinking on the origins of extremism. She says, “It shows that the embrace of those really terrible ideas could be a consequence of an immersion in the culture, rather than the cause of an attraction to the culture.

Simi’s analysis of his interviews of 103 former white supremacists have found the following answers to What makes a racist?
*Half report witnessing serious acts of violence growing up.
*Half report experiencing physical abuse during childhood.
*One-quarter report being sexually abused during childhood.
*Half report being expelled or dropping out of school
*Three-quarters report a history of physical aggression before they got involved in far-right politics.
*Half report exposure to parental racism
*More than three-quarters report parental divorce
*Half ran away from home during childhood or adolescence
*Half were shoplifters or petty criminals
*Slightly less than half report a family history of mental health problems
*Two-thirds report substance abuse issues
*Two-thirds report attempting suicide.

Here are some verbatim quotes from Pete Simi’s interview with current and former white supremacists,

“I believe I was doing something noble, altruistic, that I was dedicating my life to my people to my race…It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, I’m a hater and I’m proud of it.”” (Donald, White Aryan Resistance)

“We’re here to defend God and defend the people…not oppressing or taking over.” (Callie, American Front)

“Fighting is a lot like a hug. It makes you feel good…It’s always been that way. Ever since I got the s*** beat out of me as a teenager. (Stanley, United Society of Aryan Skinheads).

“It wasn’t about the racism…I knew the whole time that it wasn’t right…But to be accepted, to feel like I belonged… (Kevin, Blood and Honor).

It was more fashion that politics by a huge factor.” (Jacqueline, Society Skin Nation)

“You’re running by yourself in the streets. It’s the camaraderie that draws you in, at first. And then once you see what is really going on in the world politically…you’re like, well, now, I’ve got something to believe in, something to defend, the white race. You feel invincible even when you are getting all beat to s*** by cops or anti-racist skins (Logan, Public Enemy No 1)

The reader will note that not all white nationalists are men. Kathleen Blee of the University of Pittsburgh has written a book in 1991 “Women of the Klan: Racism and genre in the 1920s. Blue found that millions of middle-class white women, including suffragettes, joined the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan supported voting rights for white women to diminish the electoral power of non-white people.

Male leadership in white nationalist organizations is often dependent on the adoration of followers. Blue writes, “Female influence is more informal, indirect, and personal—and so potentially more effective.”

One Drink a Day Might Be Enough to Stop Dementia by Flushing the Brain

August 10, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Clare Wilson in the News section of the 4 August 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The article begins, “Light drinking helps prevent dementia, and now we may know why it revs up the brain’s waste disposal system. Brain cells are surrounded by a network of ultra-thin tubes that flush toxins and cell waste products away. Work in mice shows that low levels of alcohol stimulate this system, while higher amounts hinder it.

If the findings apply to people, the low levels would be equivalent to about two units of alcohol, which is about a pint of beer or a medium glass of beer. This study still needs to be replicated in people, but it is still clear that large levels of alcohol are unhealthy. In the UK, the recommendation is that both men and women are advised to stick to 14 units or fewer a week.

Total abstention from alcohol carries a slightly higher risk than low to moderate drinking. This is the finding, but it had been unclear as to why. According to the article the reason may be the brain’s waste disposal system, known as the glymphatic system. The glymphatic system ramps up its activity during sleep. Among the toxins it clears is a protein called beta-amyloid, which makes up the sticky plaques found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Some studies have suggested that long-term sleep disruption may contribute to Alzheimer’s by causing amyloid build up.

Iben Lundgaard and her colleagues at the University of Rochester looked at the effects of alcohol on this network by injecting alcohol into mouse brains then removing them half an hour later to see how much had got into the tubes. Low doses of alcohol boosted the amount cleared by 40% compared with mice that had no alcohol. Intermediate and high doses had the opposite effect, cutting it by about 30%.

Roxanna Carare of the University of Southhmpton, UK says that the reason a low doses of alcohol have this effect may be because they raised the heart rate, and the pumping of blood helps drive fluid through the glymphatic system.

Readers of the healthy memory should be aware that many people have died with their brains filled with neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque, yet who never had any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The reason given for this is that these individuals, through cognitive activities had built up a cognitive reserve.

To build up this cognitive reserve, the healthy memory blog recommends growth mindsets and meditation along with a healthy lifestyle that includes sleep, a healthy diet, and physical exercise.

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

Self Talk for Growth Mindsets and a Healthy Memory

August 8, 2018

This post is inspired by a book by British psychologist Charles Fernyhough titled “The Voices Within.” Self talk can be used as a technique for fostering growth mindsets. It would feature System 2 processing in Kahneman’s two system view of cognition.
Consider a topic of interest. Are there at least two points of view regarding this topic? Perhaps one point of view is one you espouse and the other point of view is one which you hold in low regard. Use two different personas or voices to have a conversation on this topic. One voice would present the one point of view. Another voice would be critical of this point of view. This can be difficult if you hold one point of view strongly, but the other point of view with disdain. But this is what is done by debating teams. One of the best means of learning how to present and defend your point of view, is to argue the opposing point of view. The ideal here is to reconcile or synthesize the two points of view. This is the thesis, antithesis, synthesis paradigm. But this is hard to achieve. Even so, new knowledge will be acquired.

It is likely that this conversation will not be concluded on its first go around. You’ll likely find a need to go to the computer and look for more information, or to correct some misinformation. Later you can return to this conversation and continue having already added an increment to your growth mindset. If people comment that you appear to be arguing with yourself, an explanation of what you are doing and why might be in order.

These conversations need not be dialectical. You can be querying yourself about what you know about various topics. Later, you can return to your computer and fill in the holes in in the gaps in your knowledge that you located.

There are also walking contemplative meditations, where you meditate while walking. This combines physical exercise with mental exercise and mental peace. This is best done in a park. Walking contemplative meditations can be dangerous if traffic is around.

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

What is Thought?

August 7, 2018

The question in the title is motivated by a book by British psychologist Charles Fernyhough titled “The Voices Within.” There have been psychologists who have argued that thought, solely or largely, consists of these voices within. This cannot be true because the frequencies of these voices varies largely amount individuals. We cannot readily argue that these people are not thinking. It can be argued that these voices within are tools for thinking as are images and symbols we mentally imagine. However, thought is something deeper, something that emerges from our unconscious minds.

HM has had the experience of being unable to recall the name of a friend, although he can recall related reams of information about this friend. How can this be? Later, the friend’s name pops into mind. How did this happen? And how did he know that what popped into his mind was the friend’s name? Psychology has very little to say about this, but knowledge ultimately resides in neural codes in our unconscious minds. When the name matched this neural code, it was recognized. But all this knowledge, all this information is stored in neural codes. When they are retrieved into consciousness is when the words become available and can be used for thinking.

When HM is writing a blog post, he has something he wants to say, but he is not yet able to articulate it. Gradually he retrieves information from memory, thinks about it, puts it into his computer, examines it, and massages it. He evaluates it, elaborates it, and makes changes. At some point he gets to the point where he either likes it or decides it is good enough given the time and the resources available. Essentially what he is evaluating is the correspondence between these external words and the neural codes in his unconscious mind.

Cognitive psychologists have increasingly realized the importance of the unconscious mind, and have developed sophisticated techniques for understanding the unconscious mind. But the major body of work needs to be done by neuroscientists, and that body of work is truly enormous.

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

The Voices Within

August 6, 2018

The title of this post is the title of a book by British psychologist Charles Fernyhough. The subtitle is “The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves. Research suggests that inner speech is a significant part of our mental lives. A quarter to a fifth of our waking moments is a lot of waking moments, a lot of self-talk. It is important to realize that the amount of self talk varies across individuals. However, the question remains, “What is all this language doing in our heads?” By asking when and how people dip into this internal stream of chatter, we might be able to start to clarity what we gain from getting wordy with our thoughts.

Self-talk typically involves two speakers. So the self makes a separation between myself as speaker and myself as listener. When we really to talk within ourselves, the language that ensues has some of the properties of a conversation between different parts of who we are.

Plato wrote in “Theaetetus,” I mean the conversation which the soul holds with herself in consider of anything. I speak of what I scarcely understand, but the soul when thinking appears to me to be just talking—asking questions of herself and answering them, affirming and denying.”

For the father of American psychology William James, writing at the end of the nineteenth century, listening to a verbal thought as it unwinds was a critical part of our being able to “feel its meaning as it passes.” The self speaks, and the self listens, and in doing so comprehends was is being thought.

The American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce, writing around the same time as James, conceived of thinking as a dialogue between different aspects of the self, including a “critical self” or “Me” that questions the “present self” or “I” about what it is doing.

For the philosopher and psychologist George Herbert Mead, thinking involved a conversation between a socially constructed self and an internalized “other,” an abstract internal interlocutor who can adopt different attitudes on what the self is doing.

Self-talk is an important feature of sporting performances. Tennis coaching writer W. Timothy Gallwey in his classic study of tennis in 1974 wrote the following:

“Most players are talking to themselves on the court all the time. “Get up to the ball.” “Keep it to his backhand.” “Keep your eyes on the ball.” “Bend your knees.” The commands are endless. For some, it’s like hearing a tape recording of the last lesson playing inside their head. Then, after the shot is made, another thought flashes through the mind and might be expressed as follows. “You clumsy ox, your grandmother could play better.”

Gallwey analyzed these common kinds of self-talk in terms of a relationship between two selves, the “teller and the “doer.” You speak and the body listens.

Two main kinds of self-talk are in evidence in Gallwey’s reports from the tennis court. One seems to have a cognitive function: exhortation to the self to watch the ball and keep it to the opponent’s backhand—utterances that seem to be about using words to regulate one’s own actions. The second function is motivational, typically with players ticking themselves off after a lousy shot. “That was rubbish,” we might hear them tell themselves. “Pull yourself together.”

Dr. Fernyhough relates the following story about Wimbledon champion Andy Murray. He claimed that he never talked to himself out loud, on the court or off. “That all changed, though, after he let slip a two-sets lead in a final at Flushing Meadows against Novak Djokovic, the then world Number One. Murray took himself off for a toilet break and gave himself a pep talk in front of the mirror. ‘I knew I had to change what was going on inside,’ he told the London Times. So I started talking. Out loud. ‘You are not losing this match,’ I said to myself. ‘You are NOT losing this match.’ I started out a little tentative but my voice got louder. ‘You are not going to let this one slip…Give it everything you’ve got. Leave nothing out there.’ At first it felt a bit weird, but I felt something change inside, I was surprised by my response. I knew I could win.’ Murray carried on talking to himself when he got back on the court, broke Djokovic’s serve, and moved into a three-game lead in the fifth set. He went on to win the US Open, becoming Britain’s first male Grand Slam singles champion in seventy-six years.”

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Boost Your Memory and Learn Better

August 5, 2018

This post is based on a feature article with the same title as this post by Emma Young in the 28 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist. Much of the learning process goes on deep in the mind. If you could improve the unconscious processing and retrieval of memories, you could game the system. Here are the top tips to improve how you recall facts.

If you’re learning facts such as foreign phrases or historical dates, giving our study a boost could be as simple as taking a break. Lila Davachi of New York University found that breaks help to consolidate memories, improving recall later. But for a time out to work, brain cells different to those used during the learning period need to be activated. So, try not to think about what you have just been working on.

It is even better to sleep on it. It is well established that the brain processes memories during sleep, but it will do this more effectively if you leave the optimum time between learning and sleeping. Christoph Nissen at the University of Bern found that a group of 16 and 17 year olds performed best on tests of factual memory if they studied the material mid-afternoon, but they acquired skills involving movements faster if they practiced in the evening. So it appears that the “critical window” between learning and sleep is shorter for movement-related learning that for other types of memory. It isn’t clear whether adults can benefit as much as teenagers from these windows. Nissan says, “There is evidence that adolescents have a higher capacity to learn—and they sleep better.” Moreover, after about age 60 adults generally learn better in the morning.

Bjorn Rasch of the University of Fribourg, Switzerland is investigating another way to boost learning during sleep. He has conducted studies showing that adult language learners remember more when played recordings of foreign words while sleeping. He says, “The literature on targeted memory reactivation is growing rapidly. Most findings are positive.” But it is important that the words are played during non-REM, slow-wave sleep, when factual memories are consolidated. And the volume of the recordings should not be so loud that it disrupts. You could also try using scents to cue learning in sleeping brain. Rasch has found a boost to memory in people who smelled roses while learning a task and then again during slow wave sleep.

Perhaps the most surprising effect is the placebo effect. Yes, there is a placebo effect in memory. In this study volunteers who had to answer multiple-choice questions did significantly better if told that the correct answer would be flashed subliminally just before the question. They were not. The improved performance was all the result of the placebo effect. The researchers think it worked by reducing performance anxiety and priming people for success. However, HM still wants to find successful replications of this experiment.

HM would be remiss if he did not mention that there is an entire category of posts titled Mnemonic Techniques. Included here are classical techniques and techniques develop for remembering numbers. There are also posts here titled “Moonwalking with Einstein,” and “How to Become a Memory Grandmaster’ that describe what can be done with these techniques as well as professional memory competitions.

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Take Control of Pain

August 4, 2018

This post is based on a feature article with the same title as this post by Emma Young in the 28 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist.  Many, if not most, people think that the amount of pain they feel is beyond conscious control. This is not true. Although you can’t influence your physiological pain response to things like an injury or illness, there are ways to reduce the amount of pain you perceive.

Goldstein, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Colorado conducted a series of studies in his lab. After he inflicted pain by heating volunteers’ forearms, they reported being touched by a stranger did nothing to reduce the discomfort, whereas being touched by their romantic partner did. The more empathic the partner, the bigger the effect. Goldstein says,”We already know that touch can communicate different emotions, for example, sadness and happiness. Perhaps we can also transfer our empathy through touch, resulting in analgesia.

We have ways to modulate pain, such as by the release of the body’s own painkillers. Sensory neuroscientist Giandomenico Iannetti of University College, London, says, “Generally you feel what is useful to feel.” But it is also possible to trick the brain into feeling less.

Maria Sanchez-Vives of the Cortical Networks and Virtual Environments in Neuroscience Research Lab in Barcelona, Spain and her colleagues have found another way to do this. Their studies show that if people can take “ownership” of a virtual reality (VR) arm and feel that it is their own, their ability to tolerate painful stimuli applied to their real arm improves. Maria Sanchez-Vives says “VR can be highly immersive, interactive and engaging.”

VR simulations of natural environments and other scenes are currently used in some hospitals to reduce pain, or doses of painkilling medication, when treating burns patients or even during surgery. If you don’t have a VR arm available, you can create a similar effect by moving you body into unfamiliar positions. Ianentti’s team found that getting volunteers to cross one arm over the other was enough to reduce the pain caused b a laser heating the back of one hand. This seems to work by confusing the brain, which normally maps signals from your right hand to the right side of your body and vice versa.

There are other pain-busting strategies, Distraction is effective, as anyone who has ever watched a TV mounted above a dentist’s chair knows. Pleasant smells seem to reduce the intensity of a painful stimulus, as does looking at pictures you find beautiful. Swearing can also work, perhaps by triggering a hormonal response that reduces pain. However, this tends not to work if you usually swear a lot.

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Conquer Your Fears

August 3, 2018

This post is based on a feature article with the same title as this post by Emma Young in the 28 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist. Fear is good. It plays an important role in our survival. Too much fear is a problem. Today, the treatment for a phobia—such as an irrational fear of spiders or dogs—is likely to involve gradually increasing an individual’s exposure to the feared object, while they learn techniques to reduce their anxiety.

In the future, psychologists may directly tap into the unconscious mind to treat phobias without traumatizing people. That is the hope of a team of researchers in Japan and the US. They identified a distinctive pattern of brain activity associated with a fear they had induced in volunteers, and found that it could be reduced simply by rewarding them when their brains displayed it—all the while the subjects were not conscious of this brain activity.

Fear, like any emotion, is underpinned by physical signals in the body. These include a stronger and more rapid heartbeat as well as changes in patterns of blood flow. Such bodily signals are critical to the experience of fear, even though they are usually registered unconsciously.

Lowering their intensity reduces the intensity of the emotion. When we are stressed, we can do this by slowing our breathing rate. This sends a powerful signal that you are not feeling anxious to the part of your brain involved in processing emotion, which then helps regulate your heart rate. For the best results, breathe in for a count of four and out for eiight, and within 5 minutes you should notice a significant reduction in anxiety. Music can have a similar effect, although there’s no one type that works for everyone. Maria-Sanchez-Vives at the Cortical Networks and Virtual Environments in Neuroscience Research in Barcelona, Spain says, “Generally, slower music, of moderate volume, can help to slow down respiration and help us to relax.”

Remember that your unconscious mind can trick you into feeling afraid when you have nothing to fear. In a phenomenon called emotion contagion, we consciously “catch” emotions via other people’s non-verbal signals, such as their tone of voice, posture and even body odor. Empathy specialist Christian Keysers at the University of Amsterdam thinks that when we detect the signals of an emotion like fear in others, our bodies reproduce the relevant physical signals, which our brains interpret as our own. This is hard to consciously safeguard against, except by avoiding people who are fearful—whether that’s face-to-face, on social media or even reading about them. The flip side of this is that you can cultivate positive motions simply by spending more time in the company of happy people.

Lifting the Lid on the Unconscious

August 2, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a feature article by Emma Young in the 28 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist. About 95% of thought happens in our unconscious minds. By understanding how the unconscious mind works, you can game the system to beat your bad habits and unconscious biases.

Emma Young writes, “Your unconscious has many vital functions—from controlling breathing to processing incoming information—but there are also a few glitches. Tweak these and you can make the system work better for you.”

She discusses bad habits and how to break them. Perhaps as much as 40% of our daily behavior is habitual. A good example is when our unconscious is busy driving to work, our conscious mind is free to think about something else.

Ms. Young writes, “Automated behaviors are grouped into distinct routines, or “chunks”—having a cigarette when drinking coffee, perhaps—making bad habits hard to break. To reprogram our unconscious, we must first derail the existing problematic habit. If we always reach for a snack when we walk into the kitchen, for example, move the snacks so that they are out of easy reach.

Use prominent cues to promote more desirable habits. To replace snacking with fruit eating, buy a fruit bowl and put it in a new, easily accessible position in the kitchen.

Repetition is key and it can take anywhere between 15 and 254 days, and perhaps even more, to form a new habit.

Contexts also trigger habitual behaviors, so try breaking a bad habit while away from our normal environment. For example, quit smoking while on a holiday.

A host of unconscious cognitive biases influence much of our thinking and decision-making. They evolved to help our ancestors act fast and effectively, but these days they often trip us up. Knowing how cognitive biases shape our thinking is the first step to consciously controlling them. Here are some common biases.

Anchoring — Focusing on one factor, often the first encountered, when making a decision.

Clustering illusion — Seeing phantom patterns in random events.

Confirmation bias — Preferentially seeking and recalling information that confirms our preconceptions.

Congruence bias — Testing ideas by seeking evidence that a supports rather than refutes them.

Endowment effect — Valuing things more highly simply because they belong to you.

Fundamental attribution error — Attributing people’s behaviors to their personality, not the situation.

Gambler’s fallacy —Believing that past random events alter the likelihood of future ones.

Hyperbolic discounting — Overvaluing what’s available now relative to what you can have later.

In-group bias — Overestimating the abilities and values of your own group relative to others.

Negativity bias — Paying more attention to bad news and feedback than good.

Projection bias — Assuming that most people think like you and hold the same bias.

Status quo bias — Favoring decisions that will leave things just as they are.

In addition, we all have our own implicit biases: prejudices about things like race and gender that affect our judgments of others. Discover yours at implicit.harvard.edu/implicit

Ms. Young offers these five ways to game your unconscious

Take a hot bath. If you’re feeling lonely, a hot bath may make you feel better. Why? Research reveals that we unconsciously associate physical warmth and social warmth. Conversely, holding an ice pack can make you feel lonelier.

2. Think yourself full. Looking at pictures of particular foods decreases your appetite for that type of food. Similarly, spending just a minute imagining that you are full will help you choose a small portion.

3. Smell something fishy. It “smells fishy” is a metaphor for distrust in more than 20 languages. Intriguingly, fishy smells make us more alert to misleading information, perhaps because unconscious vigilance for rotten fish makes us more wary in general.

4. Get you house in order. Crime rates are famously linked with broken windows, litter and graffiti. But even asymmetry and wonky edges promote bad behavior. Such visual disorder may activate mean metaphors such as ‘crooked politician,’ which affect behavior.

5. Don’t be deceived. We are surprisingly bad at consciously spotting liars, possibly because we look for behaviors, such as fidgeting and averted eyes, which don’t actually signal deception. To avoid being duped, it is better to trust your intuition, since we do have an unconscious sense of who is lying to us.

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Find Your Inner Creativity

August 1, 2018

This post is based on a feature article with the same title as this post by Emma Young in the 28 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The article begins “Everyone is familiar with ‘aha’ moments, when the solution a problem suddenly pops into conscious awareness as if from nowhere. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those moments of creative insight came a little more easily, a little more often? It turns out there are ways you can help your unconscious do its work.”

Research by Michael Shadlen at Columbia University revealed that aha moments occur when enough relevant information has accumulated in the unconscious to trigger conscious awareness of a decision. The point when this is reached will vary depending on the task. Moreover, some people seem better at achieving it than others. So how do they differ? There are a variety of possibilities. Studies suggest that creative insight is driven by one of two very different states of mind: concentrated focus and daydreaming. Intrigued by the contradiction, Jonathan Schooler at the University of California, Santa Barbara decided to test them. He found that focused thinking actually undermines inspiration unless you are using an overtly analytical approach to solve a problem. By contrast, letting one’s mind wander, after taking in information, cultivates insight.

He suggests if you want more aha moments, you must first scout some relevant material to give your unconscious something to work on. Then find time for unfocused thinking, This is best done while you’re engaging in an activity that’s not too mentally taxing such as walking or gardening. He says, “Try to disengage from spontaneous thoughts that are mundane, like thought about current concerns or plans for upcoming tasks, or thoughts merely replaying familiar scenes. Engage with thoughts that are a bit more unusual or fantastical. Follow those thoughts to the end or extend them by asking playful, imaginative questions, such as ‘what if x was different?’ or ‘what if x was reversed.?’

Prof. Shadlen seems to think that there are two categories of problems, one that requires analytic thinking and one that doesn’t. However, other researchers have found that many creative solutions involve both focused attention and daydreaming, sometimes referred to as the default mode network. These researchers suggest alternating between these two modes of thinking as the situation dictates.

Prof. Shadlen also suggests modifying one’s emotional state such as listening to positive background music. Researchers think this might be because it triggers the release of dopamine, which is associated with creative thinking.

Christina Fong of Carnegie Mellon University has found that simultaneously experiencing two emotions that aren’t typically felt together, such as frustration and excitement also encourages creative insight. She says that that might be because it signals that you are in an unusual environment, making you alert to the possibility of other unusual relationships, suggesting that life will be more inspiring if we embrace change and novelty.

The article ends with a word of caution that creative insight doesn’t hold the answer to all your problems. Earlier research had suggested that really complicated decisions with lots of variables are better solved by going with our gut rather than “overthinking.” Subsequent research has failed to replicate this finding. Psychologist Magda Osman at Queen May University in London looked at the evidence and found that when it comes to making choices to achieve a goal, conscious thinking works best.

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

Hacking Our Unconscious

July 31, 2018

A few years ago HM posted a piece titled “Strangers to Ourselves.” That post reviewed a book by Timothy Wilson titled “Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious.” The post describes some techniques for coming into contact with our unconscious minds. Of course Wilson’s book discusses more techniques in much more detail.

Most of our processing is unconscious. Our unconscious mind keeps operating below our awareness. We can try to remember someone’s name and fail. If we continue for a while, still fail and give up trying, it is not uncommon for the name to pop into our conscious minds much later. Apparently, the unconscious mind continued the search even though we had consciously given up. There are also accounts of scientific theories and mathematical proofs suddenly popping into consciousness. The unconscious mind had been at work. The 28 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist has a series of feature articles on hacking our unconscious minds. This current post and the following posts will be reviewing these feature articles.

The lead New Scientist article by Emma Young writes, “Far from being a malign adjunct to the conscious mind, the unconscious is responsible for all sorts of important stuff. It is smart and it is often running the show.” Neuroscientist Michael Shadlen of Columbia University says, “The vast majority of thoughts circling in our brains happen below the radar of conscious awareness.” That’s too much to miss out on.

Research into this topic is still in its early days, but already our growing understand of the human mind means we can begin to hack our unconscious powers of inspiration, pain relief, emotional control, memory, and more. The following posts will address these topics.

Daniel Kahneman and Originalism

July 30, 2018

HM does not know if Nobel Winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman had any opinion on the judicial philosophy of originalism, which states that judicial opinions should rely substantially on the text of the statute or constitutional clause under construction as well as the original public meaning of the statue or clause.

What Daniel Kahneman did was to develop his two process theory of cognition. This theory can be found in many places, but perhaps the best source is his best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.” System 1 is fast and allows us to cope with high rates of information in a dynamic environment. Without System 1, we would not have survived as a species. But this fast processing speed has its costs, which sometimes lead to errors. System 2 is slow, and is what can be thought of as thinking. If you know your multiplication tables, if I ask you what is 6 time 7, you’ll respond 42 without really thinking about it. But if I ask you to multiply 67 times 42 you would find it difficult to compute in your head, and would most likely use a calculator or use paper and pencil (which are examples of transactive memory). This multiplication requires System 2 processing without technological aids.

System 1 requires little or no effort. System 2 requires effort. It is not only faster, but also less demanding to rely on System 1 processes. Consider the following question.
A bat and a ball cost $1.10
The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost?
The number that quickly comes to mind is 10 cents. But if you take the time and exert the mental effort you will note that the cost would be $1.20 (10 cents for the ball and $1.10 for the bat). If you do the math, which takes a little algebra, you will find that the ball costs 5 cents (the bat costing a $1.00 more than the ball would be $1.05 and $1.05 plus $0.05 is $1.10). System 2 must be engaged to get the correct answer. This question has been asked of several thousand college students. More that 50% of the students at Harvard, MIT, and Princeton gave the wrong, System 1, answer. At less selective universities more than 80% of the students gave the wrong answer.

Now consider the judicial philosophy of originalism, which states that judicial opinions should rely substantially on the text of the statute or Constitutional clause under Construction as well as the original public meaning of the statute or clause. What could possibly be wrong here? These are the Founding Fathers who wrote the constitution. These are the conclusions which System 1 processing quickly reach.

Now invoke System 2 processing and consider the following.

The fundamental premise of the Constitution is that all men are created equal. Note that the mention of women was omitted and women needed a special constitutional amendment to be granted the right to vote. So it appears that the Founding Fathers were misogynistic.

According to the Constitution blacks were regarded as three-fifths of a human being, and the vast majority of blacks were slaves. So it appears that the Founding Fathers were blatant racists.

Fortunately, the Constitution was eventually amended to correct for these errors. One can infer that these changes were the result of System 2 processing and not strict adherence to originalism.

Knowledge grows and the world changes radically. Today a high school science student knows more about science that Benjamin Franklin ever did.

It is clear that the legal system needs to evolve to accommodate the rapidly changing world, and to remove injustices from older thinking.

Originalism is invoked by people who do not want change; fortunately, or unfortunately, change is needed.

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

A Healthier Heart and a Sharper Mind

July 29, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Tara Bahrampour in the 23 July 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The article begins, “Research presented Wednesday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Chicago found that at-risk people whose blood pressure was kept lower than the recommended level had a significant reduction in mild cognitive impair (MCI), the precursor to dementia/

The trial compared two strategies for maintaining blood pressure for people with an average age of around 68 with increased cardiovascular risk. One group received the standard care strategy at the time targeting systolic blood pressure (taken when the heart beats) to below 140 millimeters of mercury. The other group received the same medication, but in higher doses, with a target blood pressure of 120 mm or less.

Memory tests were also administered to assess participants for probable dementia and early memory loss. The group receiving the intensive approach had a 19% lower rate of new cases of MCI.

A subgroup was also assessed through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), for white matter brain lesions that are associated with a higher risk of stroke, dementia and higher mortality. While both groups showed an increase in white matter lesions, the increase was significantly less in the intensive treatment group.

In the United States the rate of Alzheimer’s dementia is 10% for people 65 and older.

The researchers were excited with the results showing that the lowering of blood pressure with medication could also reduce the probability of dementia.

What the article does not mention is that blood pressure can be reduced without medication. Meditation can reduce blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen consumption. Research has also shown how meditation affected the body’s 40,000 genes and found that those who regularly meditated induced anti-oxidation and anti-inflammatory changes that counteracted the effects of stress on the body. There have been many healthymemory posts on meditation, the first being “The Relaxation Response.” The post provides instruction for getting the relaxation response, and benefits can be realized by doing this for 10 to 20 minutes once or twice a day.

Nor does the article mention that many have died with their brains full of the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles that are the defining characteristic of Alzheimer’s, but who never exhibited any behavioral or cognitive symptoms while they were living.

The reason offered for this fact is that these people had built up a cognitive reserve, presumably through certain types of cognitive activity. The healthy memory blog argues that growth mindsets, which by definition include Kahneman’s Type 2 processing, along with a healthy lifestyle and meditation, provide a means of building a cognitive reserve. These practices can lead to a more fulfilling life free of dementia. There are many, many healthymemoy blog posts on these topics.

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

Are We Living in 1984?

July 28, 2018

The “1984” in the title of this post refers to George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.” In the country depicted in this novel, truth was whatever the leader told you it was. If you have five fingers on one hand, and the leader told you had three, then truth was that you had three.

Recently Trump told people that the only information people should believe was whatever he told them. So he is going way beyond charging the justice department and the press for providing faux news about his investigation. He is saying that everything should be regarded as false unless it comes from him.

Actually this can be more demanding than it seems, as what Trump says is true is also volatile and can change.

This is not the first time that Trump has issued this order. He issued this same command when he was running for president.

Unfortunately, too many people did not see this red light and voted for this xxx authoritarian anyway.

In the event anyone is wondering what all this has to do with a healthy memory, for a healthy memory, objective truth should always be sought and critically evaluated.

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

My Problem was that I was Too Nice

July 13, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the first part of a title in an article by Jamil Zaki in the Health and Science Section of the 20 March 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The second part of the title is “Now I realize the downside of being polite.”

The author is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Stanford University. He asked the question he poses to everyone who graduates from his lab: “What could I have done better?” The departing student replied, “You’re too nice.” When asked to elaborate he said, “you’re so nice to everyone here that we don’t really know what you think about anyone. Some people end up assuming the worst.”

The author concluded that he was addicted to niceness. He wrote, “Not everyone shares my addiction. In fact, our culture is in the middle of a politeness shortage. Imagine a reader from five years ago leafing through today’s Washington Post. She’d probably be shocked at the vulgarity of our national conversation. Social media is overrun with bullying. CNN warns parents they might want to clear the room of small children before the president’s remarks are broadcast. Norms are steadily shredded. The psychologist Steven Pinker claims that modern society is built on a foundation of ‘civilizing’: people’s adherence to common decency. If he’s right, our house is teetering.”

The author has been studying empathy for the past dozen years, the ability to share and understand each others feelings. Empathy comes in different flavors, including distress, an aversion to seeing others in pain. And concern, a desire to improve their well-being. He notes that the pieces of empathy often split apart. He says to imagine a friend about to launch an ill-advised business adventure or to marry someone you know to be unfaithful. If you tell him the bad news, he’ll feel hurt, but he’ll also have information to make wiser choices. Empathetic distress motivates us to avoid causing suffering at all costs, but it can also encourage comforting lies over difficult truths. This is polite, but not kind. If we truly care for people, we often must steer them into hard feelings.

The author writes, “If there is one place that politeness seems useful, it’s the gulf between Us and Them into which our country has fallen. Political discourse increasingly resembles a live-action YouTube comment section; to claw our way back toward stability, niceness seems like a crucial starting point. In the fall Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch preached the importance of politeness, joining a chorus of similar voices from across the political spectrum.”

The author concludes, “I now realized my politeness stemmed from a shallow empathy. I strove to guard others—and probably myself—from pain rather than to enrich us. My question for this year: Instead of doing no harm, how can I do the most good?

Rudeness is as Contagious as a Bad Cold

July 12, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the second half of the title of an article by William Wan in the 27 June 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The first half of the title of the article is “Study’s finding for an age of rage:

Trevor Foulk, who studies organizational behavior at the University of Maryland, likens rudeness to the common cold: It’s contagious. He said, “When it comes to incivility, there’s often a snowballing effect. The more you see rudeness, the more likely you are to perceive it from others and the more likely you are to be rude yourself to others.”

A 2016 study by Christopher Rosen, an organizational scientist at the University of Arkansas, tracked employees over the course of their work days. He and fellow researchers found that individuals who experienced a perceived insult earlier in the day would later strike back at coworkers. Using psychological tests, the researchers linked that reaction to lowered levels of self-control. Rosen said, “When someone is uncivil to you, it forces you to spend a lot of mental energy trying to figure out what.s going on, what caused the rudeness, what it means. All that thinking lessens your capacity for impulse control. So you become more prone to be rude to others…People, in a way, ‘pay it forward.’”

Foulk and others in a series of experiments showed that the more people witness and experiences rudeness, the more they are predisposed to interpret an action as rude and then act toward others in rude ways. Foulk said, “Rudeness is interesting in that it’s often ambiguous and open to interpretation. If someone punches you, we would all agree that it’s abusive. But if someone comes up to you and says in a neutral voice ‘nice shoes,’ is that an insult? Is it sarcasm or something else?’ The more someone has witnessed rudeness, the more likely you are to interpret ‘nice shoes’ as deliberately rude.’

In one study, workers were shown videos every morning before work. On the mornings when those videos included an uncivil interaction, the workers were more likely to interpret subsequent interactions throughout their day as rude.

Foulk found in another study on negotiations that if someone experiences rudeness from a person on the opposing side, the next person they negotiate with is highly likely to perceive them as rude also. Even when the two negotiations took place seven days apart, the contagion effect was just as strong.

In a summary of his findings Foulk wrote, “What is so scary about this effect is that it’s an automatic process—it takes place in a part of your brain that you are not aware of, can’t stop, and can’t control.”

The article continues “But perhaps most worrisome is the effect of all this growing incivility. Mounting research shows rudeness can cause employees to be chronically distracted, less productive, and less creative. Researchers have shown how incivility can lower trust, spark feelings of anger, fear, and sadness, and cause depression. One study found increased incivility at work had personal-life implications, such as a drop in marital satisfaction.”

In 2016 and 2017 two studies found that doctors and nurses in neonatal intensive care units who were scolded by an actress playing the mother of a sick infant performed much more poorly than those who did not—even misdiagnosing the infant’s condition.
One of the authors of this study told the Wall Street Journal, “The results were scary. The teams exposed to rudeness gave the wrong diagnosis, didn’t resuscitate or ventilate appropriately, didn’t communicate well, gave the wrong medications and made other serious mistakes.”

Rosen made the following suggestion. “When you experience incivility, it’s important to take a step back and not act on your impulses. Do things that help you recover your ability to self-regulate, like exercise or taking a break. Our research shows people are often not even aware of their reactions and the way they spread negativity. Some of these recommendation for how to stop it are easier said than done.”

It is our misfortune that President Trump is notorious for his uncivil behavior, and it seems that this uncivil behavior has become an epidemic.

The Inequality Delusion: Why We’ve Got the Wealth Gap All Wrong

July 11, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a feature article by Mark Sheepskin in the 31 March 2018 issue of the “New Scientist.” The article notes that we are unlikely to appreciate just how unequal things are and provides the following means of visualizing it: Take the wealth of the eight richest people on the planet and combine it. Now do the same for the poorest 3.5 billion. The two sums are the same 350 billion Euros. So just eight people own as much wealth as half of the world’s population.

In the United States almost 85% of the wealth is owned by just 20% of the population. The bottom 40% own just 0.3% of it. In 1960, a chief executive in the US typically earned 20 times as much as an average worker. Today it is more like 354 times. When the Pew research center asked people in 44 countries whether they thought the gap between the rich and poor was a “big problem”, a majority in all 44 said it was. A majority in 28 said it was a very big problem. The article does not indicate whether the respondents were aware of the stark statistics at the beginning of the article. It is unlikely that they were, as the question is usually posed so that no additional information is given. The objective of most of these surveys is whether they think this is a problem without biasing them with actual statistics of the state of the world.

Laboratory studies indicate that inequality aversion is a strong motivator of behavior. When people are asked to divide money among themselves and fellow subjects in experiments, there is a clear preference for equal distribution. This desire is so powerful that people often choose to receive smaller but more equal rewards over larger but more unequal ones. In other cases they prefer surplus resources to be be thrown away rather than distributed unequally. It is reasonable to think that the participants in these experiments regard each other as peers.

Researchers asked a representative sample of 5500 Americans about their ideal distribution of wealth in the U.S. On average, people said that the richest 20% should hold 30% of the wealth, and the bottom 20% just 10%. When forced to choose between high levels of inequality and complete equality, most choose the former.

Apparently, people are more concerned with fairness than equality. They recognize that different people make different contributions to society and should be rewarded proportionately. But it does appear that what is generally regarded as fair does not correspond to reality.

A factor not mentioned in this article is that most wealth is inherited wealth. By birth some individuals are much wealthier than others with all its accompanying advantages. It would have been helpful to have survey data on how people felt about inherited wealth.

The article does not raise the question if in the future our economy can produce abundant wealth with machines rather than people doing most of the work, what will be the fair way to distribute the wealth they create. One point is clear. There is more than enough pie to go around. The question is how this pie is distributed. Although people will accept income inequality, they will object to being treated unfairly. If conditions become bad enough, violence will result and place all, even people in gated communities, at risk.

Automation should result in fewer work hours, and more free hours where people could relax, engage in hobbies, and in additional educational and cultural activities. It is likely that some people will engage in substance abuse, but perhaps by that time more will be known regarding how to treat and prevent drug abuse.

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

Wearable Scanner Can Image Your Brain While You’re on the Move

July 10, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article in the News & Technology section of the 31 March 2018 issue of the “New Scientist.” Now, for the first time, babies and young children will be able to have their brain activity scanned, thanks to a portable scanner. The device was made portable by replacing traditional sensors, which require a heavy and bulky calling system, with miniature ones that detect the brain’s magnetic field in a different way. These sensors can be attached directly to the scalp using a 3D-printed helmet that can be personalize to any size of head.

However, the wearer can’t wander too far though; the scanner only works inside a special room that helps counteract Earth’s natural magnetic field. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of possible applications. It could be used to analyze brain activity while people navigate. You can also have more natural interactions between people—two people each wearing a scanner and speaking face-to-face. It is also possible to scan toddlers and babies as well, to study their development. This technology is also useful for imaging the brains of people with movement disorders and other conditions that mean they can’t undergo traditional scans.

Richard Bowtell at the University of Nottingham and his colleagues have designed this magnetoencephalography (MEG) device that is worn like a helmet, allowing people to move freely during scanning. They tested the device on four people while they they moved their fingers and got results similar to those achieved using a standard MEG scanner (Nature, doi.org/cmrw).

HM is looking forward to the future when perhaps devices such as these can be used to record brain activity while people are engaged in daily activities. Perhaps they could distinguish between Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of Human Cognition. System 1 refers to our normal mode of cognition.  It is very fast and allows for fluent conversations and skilled performance.  It is the default mode of cognition.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds to what we colloquially call thinking.  System 2 requires attention and mental effort.  One of the jobs of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors.  However, this requires mental effort and thinking. Then it might be possible to test HM’s notion that it is System 2 processing that builds the cognitive reserve to ward of Alzheimer’s. See the healthy memory blog “Daniel Kahneman and the Stupidity Pandemic.”

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

A Needed Post on Consciousness

July 9, 2018

This post is inspired by an article in the 23 June 2018 issue of the New Scientist by Per Snaprud titled “Consciousness: How We’re Solving a Mystery Bigger than Our Minds.” The truth is that they are not solving a mystery. Unfortunately there are scientists who regard themselves as being rigorous who are strict determinists and who cannot abide the notion of free will. They are trying to solve consciousness as something that we do not control and in which we view our lives in a deterministic manner.

First of all, they need to accept the concept of free will. Entering “free will” into the search block of the healthymemory blog will yield many previous posts on this topic. The post titled “Free Will” is a review of a book by the same title by the philosopher Mark Ballagher. The book is in MIT’s Essential Knowledge Series, and HM would certainly agree that this knowledge is essential.

Consciousness is something we all experience, and we can experience consciousness in a passive mode. As long as we’re awake, we have a conscious experience. And even during sleep we dream. The Global Workspace Theory states that specialized modules send messages into a vast network where they compete for dominance. The winner is broadcast globally and enters consciousness. This is an accurate description of consciousness in its passive mode. What it does not explain is consciousness in the active mode

We can focus consciousness on particular topics. A failure to do so would lead to incoherent, disastrous lives. One of the goals of meditation is to focus and control our consciousness. There are many benefits to meditation. Accordingly, there are many posts on meditation and mindfulness. Undoubtedly our ability to focus and to meditate is one of our executive functions that is found in the prefrontal cortex.

Please review the numerous posts on meditation and mindfulness to review the many benefits of gaining control of our conscious minds. One post of special importance is titled “The Genetic Breakthrough—Your Ultimate Mind Body Connection.” Enter [Mind Body Connection] in the healthymemory blog search block to access this post.

The Brain’s Secret Powerhouse That Makes Us Who We Are

July 7, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Caroline Williams in the Features section of the 7 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The cerebellum is tucked beneath the rest of the brain and only a tenth of its size. In the 19th century phrenologists, who examined the shape of the skull to determine a person’s character, declared the cerebellum to be the root of sexual desire. They thought, the larger the cerebellum, the greater the likelihood of sexual desire.

During World War 1, the British neurologist Gordon Holmes noticed that the main problems for men whose cerebellum had been damaged by gunshot wounds had nothing to do with their sex lives and everything to do with the fine control of movements, ranging from a lack of balance to difficulties with walking, speech, and eye movements. From then on, the cerebellum was considered the mastermind of our smooth and effortless motions, with no role in thinking.

In the mid 1980s when brain imaging came along researchers noted activity in the cerebellum while people were lying still in a brain scanner and thinking. Unsure as to why this was occurring it was explained away as the neural signature of eye movements.

It took until the 1990s that it became undeniable that something else was occurring. Reports emerged describing people who had clear damage to their cerebellums but no trouble with movement. They experienced a host of emotional and cognitive issues, from depression to attention problems and an inability to navigate.

By this time, advances in neuroscience made it possible to trace long-range connections to and from the cerebellum. It was found that only a small proportion of the cerebellum was wired to the motor cortex, which is the brain region involved in making deliberate movements, explaining why movement was unaffected for some people with a damaged cerebellum. The vast majority of the cerebellum connects to regions of the cortex that are involved in cognition, perception, language and emotional processing.

A review of maps of the cerebellum built from functional MRI brain scans confirmed that all major cortical regions have loops of connections running to and from the cerebellum. The cerebellum has conversations with different areas of the cortex: taking information from them, transforming it and sending it back to where it came from.

One of the more unexpected connections was with the prefrontal cortex, which lies far from the cerebellum at the front of the brain and has long been considered the most advanced part of the brain. This region is in charge of abilities such as planning, impulse control, and emotional intelligence. It is disproportionately large and complex in humans compared with our closest species.

Robert Barton, an evolutionary neuroscientist at Durham in the UK says that when compared to primate brains, he found there is something special about the ape cerebellum, particularly our own. Throughout most of mammal evolution, the cerebellum increased in size at the same rate as the rest of the brain. But when apes split off from other primates, something strange began to happen. The ape cerebellum had a runaway growth spurt, becoming disproportionately larger than it evolved in the lesser apes. In our own brains the cerebellum is 31% larger than you would expect scaling up the brain of a non-ape primate. And it is jam-packed with brain cells, containing 16 billion more than you would anticipate finding if a monkey brain were enlarged to the size of ours. By strange coincidence, there are 16 billion neurons in the entire cortex. Neurons are particularly energy hungry cells, so this represents a huge investment of resources of the kind the brain wouldn’t both with without good reason.

Barton suspects that what started this unlikely growth spurt was the challenge of moving a much larger body through the trees. While small primates can run along the branches even gibbon-sized apes are too heavy to do the same, at least without holding on to branches above. This led apes to switch to swinging through the branches, known as brachiation, which in turn made the ability to plan ahead a distinct advantage. Barton says, “Brachiation is a relatively complex locomotor strategy. It involves fine sensory motor control, but it also involved a need to plan your route so that you can avoid accidents.”

To be able to plan a route, it helps to be be able to predict what is likely to happen next. To do that, you need to make unconscious adjustments to the speed, strength and direction of your movements on the fly.

Neuroscientists believe that the cerebellum achieves this by computing the most likely outcome based on previous experience using so-called forward models. Once it has these models in place through learning, it can then update and amend them depending on what is happening now. Narebder Ramnani, a neuroscientist at Royal Holloway University in London says, “Forward models respond very quickly because they allow the brain to generate what are likely to be the correct movements without waiting around for feedback.”

The leap in motor skills that came with brachiation and forward planning doesn’t completely explain the vast increased in the size of the cerebellum. Vineyard-like rows of bushy neurons called purkinje cells are linked by parallel fibers coming from the senses and vertical climbing fibers, which are thought to carry error messenger with which to update the internal model.

This structure is copied and pasted across the entire cerebellum with processing units set up like banks of computers, spitting out predictions all day long. Unlike the cortex, the structure of the cerebellum looks exactly the same regardless of where you look or which part of the cortex it is connected to. The only distinction is that different “modules” connect to different parts of the cortex.

Ramona says, “This suggests that whatever kind of computation that the cerebellum is carrying out for the motor regions of the brain, it is likely to be doing much the same for the cognitive and emotional regions too. And if the cerebellum is learning to automate rules for movements, it is probably doing likewise for social and emotional interactions, which it can call up, adapt and use at lightning speed.

Barton believes that having the ability to learn, plan, predict and updates was a key movement in our evolution, opening up a whole new world of complex behaviors. At first, these behaviors revolved around planning sequential movements to reach a goal, such as adapting twigs as a tool for termite fishing. But eventually thinking unhooked from movement, allowing us to plan our behaviors without moving a muscle. Barton thinks that being able to understand sequences could have allowed our ancestors to decode the gestures of others, setting the stage for the development of language.

The idea that the cerebellum makes and updates forward models contribute to the understanding of how the brain builds a picture of the word around us. The brain makes sense of the cacophony of sensory information with which it is bombarded by using past experience to make predictions that it updates as it goes along. With its forward planning capabilities, the cerebellum plays a more important role in the general working of the brain than we thought.

This new thinking strongly suggests that the cerebellum is involved in everything from planning to social interactions, and has a role in a range of conditions. For example, differences in how the cerebellum and the prefrontal cortex are connected are thought to affects the ability of people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to focus.

Schizophrenia is commonly linked with cerebellum changes, which could result in an inability to balance internally generated models of reality with sensory information entering the brain.

There is some hope that giving the cerebellum a boost using a type of brain stimulation called transcranial magnetic stimulation could help. A clinical trial is under way for schizophrenia.

This stimulation could even do us all some good; a recent study found that applying it to the cerebellum of healthy volunteers improved their ability to sustain attention.

A Few Words on the Fading American Dream

July 5, 2018

A few posts back there was a healthy memory blog post titled “The Fading American Dream May Be Behind the Rise in US Suicides.” The first point is that the American Dream is real. Many have immigrated into the United States in the hope of a better life. This American Dream has been important not only to the immigrants, but also to the United States, because it is these immigrants who have made America great. For America’s greatness to continue it is important that this flow of diverse immigrants not only continue, but also increase.

Unfortunately, many are told that you can be whatever you want to be. Anyone who believes this risks the very real likelihood that they will be disappointed. Although it is true that most of us can accomplish more than we think we can, there are still certain limitations for success. Here is what I believe is Nobel Winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s formula for success:

success = talent + luck
great success = a little more talent + a lot of luck

Here talent should not be interpreted as inborn skill, but rather as how much we develop whatever talents we have. But a very large player in success, both great and moderate, is pure luck.

Successful people should always be aware of this fact that a lot of luck has played in to their success. And people who feel that they have been cheated from the American Dream, the truth is that they have been short on good fortune.

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

Happy Fourth of July!

July 4, 2018

Many will say that we are proud to be Americans. However, when one thinks about this, it is a strange assertion. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, wrath, and sloth). Also consider the immediately preceding post, “Remember This Post on July 4.” There is little basis on which to be proud.

So we should celebrate the Fourth of July by setting aspirational goals regarding what American should be. At the time it was written, the Declaration of Independence was literally revolutionary. All men were created equal and were going to be guaranteed rights in the future Constitution. But at that time, although all men were created equal, women could not vote. And blacks were regarded as three-fifths of a human being and most blacks were slaves. We have been advancing from that point and have achieved moderate success. The goals we should be pursuing have been discussed in posts based on Steven Pinker’s book, “Enlightenment Now,” and on Jon Meecham’s book “The Soul of America.” Consider the following:
Those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of humankind.
——-Baruch Spinoza
and
Everything that is not forbidden by the laws of nature is achievable, given the right knowledge.
——-David Deutsch

Consider how far we have fallen under the current president, who does not believe in objective truth. This is quite evident with his voluminous lies that have been counted and documented. For Trump, what be believes at the moment and what benefits him constitutes truth.

He has no interest in the welfare of mankind and uses lies to foster hate against people of certain religious faiths and people who want to immigrate to thus country. Consider Reagan’s City on the Hill Speech from his Farewell address:
“But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still…And she’s still a beacon and a magnet for all who must find freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

How far we have fallen.

It is amazing that there are Christians who are Trump supporters. Trump is the antithesis of a Christian.

How can this be? A clear distinction needs to be made between religions and churches. Churches function as businesses that are tax exempt. Unfortunately some churches participate in political activities and most definitely shouldn’t be tax exempt. But it should not be forgotten that churches are in the religion business. They need parishioners for both monetary and personal support. Many churches modify their religions to conform with the biases and beliefs of their parishioners to be successful. For most members belonging to and attending a church checks the box that will either insure or increase the likelihood of eternal life. During the services parishioners think they feel the presence of God. HM understands this from both a personal and a psychological perspective. And parishioners receive personal support from their fellow parishioners.

However, parishioners should understand that it is not their religious leaders who will make judgments about eternal life. Those judgments will be made by a true deity. For Christians, the judgment will be regarding how well Christ’s teachings were followed. The love of one’s fellow humans, caring for the sick, and the “turning” of the cheek when struck are Christ’s teachings. An important Christian belief that seems to have been forgotten is the tolerance of other religious beliefs. We need to love and respect all our fellow humans and feel responsible for fostering their well being. It appears likely that many will be surprised on judgment day.

If Christians followed the actual teachings of Christ, the United States would be well on its way to achieving its ideals. This is also true of most other religious beliefs. Unfortunately, many religious leaders have lost touch with what should be their true religions beliefs. It should be mentioned that religions go way beyond the teachings of Christ. Only the actual teachings of Christ are authoritative. Beliefs specific to particular religions can be regarded as arbitrary, at best, and even contrary to the teachings of Christ, at worst.

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

Remember This Post on July 4

July 3, 2018

This post is inspired by an article in the 7 June 2008 issue of the Washington Post by Jeff Stein titled “U.N. study: Safety net was failing before Trump’s election.” The subtitle is “About 40 million Americans live in poverty, report finds.” This report is a product of the United Nations. The report says that among countries in the developed world, America already has the highest rates of youth poverty, infant mortality, incarceration, income inequality and obesity. The reports says Americans “live shorter and sicker lives compare to those living in all other rich democracies.”

About 40 million Americans live in poverty, and 18.5 million live in “extreme poverty.” And that 5 million Americans live “in Third World conditions of absolute poverty.”

Every year about 11 million Americans cycle through a jail or prison every year, with at least 730,000 people incarcerated “on any given day.”

In 2016, a “schockingly high” number of children were living in poverty, about 13.3 million, or 18% of them, with government spending on children near the bottom of the international pack.

Philip Alston blames the American political system for these failings, arguing it deprives African Americans of voting rights, unfairly sends the homeless to jail, and has failed to provide health care and housing programs for its citizens. He writes, “The persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power. With political will, it could be readily eliminated.”

Obviously, Trump is not entirely responsible for all these conditions. Some of the statistics in the early stages of his administration looked good. But it needs to be remembered, that there is a time lag in economic effects. So it is likely that Trump benefited from some of Obama’s policies. But it is also clear that Obama and a non-cooperating Congress were responsible for the general conditions that existed when Trump took over. It is also clear that Trump’s policies will further worsen these already deplorable statistics.

The statement we hear on the Fourth is that the United States is the freest and and best country in the world. The truth is that we are not. We lag far behind other free countries in terms of human welfare. Alston predicts that Trump’s policies will weaken a safety net that has already made America among the stingiest in the world.

Jamila Michener of Cornell University says “my expectation is most if not all these outcomes will look worse post-Trump than they did pre-Trump.

HM has heard Christians say that we are an Christian country. How can such conditions exist in a truly Christian country?

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

The Fading American Dream My Be Behind the Rise in US Suicides

July 2, 2018

The title of the post is identical to the title of an article by Andy Coghlan in the News section of the 30 June 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The article begins, “Shrinking life chances plus the lack of a social safety net may have left middle-aged Americans more vulnerable to suicide than peers in the rich nations.” The annual rate of suicide in the US has risen by almost 28% between 1999 and 2016.

A number of explanations have been advanced for this fact, including the 2008 economic crash, the upsurge in addiction to opiod painkillers and the migration of manufacturing jobs to other countries. But this does not explain why the suicide rate is rising so fast in the US as it falls in other rich countries.

Figures from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that the country’s rate of suicide was 15.6 per 100,000 population in 2016, up from 12.2 in 1999. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the global average rate is 10.6. The rate for the UK in 2016 was 8.9 per 100,000, down from 9.1 in 2000, according to the latest WHO data.

Although globalization and automation are driving job losses in the US, the same pressures have affected all Western economies without a similar increase in the suicide rate. People who work in mental health and suicide contacted by the New Scientist argued that some distinctive elements of US Culture may help explain the rise, Julie Phillips of Rutgers University says ,”I think the US is unique in a few respects. One of the key drivers could be the American dream itself—the idea that you can work hard and climb out of poverty. A growing mismatch between life expectations this brings and the increasingly bleak reality for many US citizens could lead to hardship.”

“This may be particularly felt by middle-aged white Americans, who have the highest suicide rates and the steepest rises. The American dream is deeply ingrained, but it no longer seems to be true for working class, middle-aged people. I think this disjuncture between norms, expectations and reality is one important factor behind the increase.”

“This group is also more likely to be negatively affected by divorce, lower education levels and economic inequality. Among US adults over 50, the divorce rate has doubled since the 1990s. In 1999 suicide rates for middle-aged people with a high school diploma or less were 1.7 times greater than those with a college degree. By 2013, this difference in risk had risen to 2.4 times greater.”

Deborah Stone of the CDC and lead author of this report said, “It is also likely that recent events such as the 2008 financial crash and the current opiod painkiller crisis, are contributing to the rise in the suicide rate. We know that suicides increase in times of economic turmoil. Data also indicate that opiod prescribing rates are higher in countries where there are higher rates of suicide.”

Coghlan writes, “Strong individuals in the US and the lack of social welfare schemes found in many other rich countries may also play a role.” Evidence for this comes from a 2013 report that showed people in the US die earlier than those in comparable nations, though not necessarily from suicide. The joint report by the US National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine revealed that by almost every measure, people in the US were unhealthier and more likely to die prematurely than those in 16 other rich nations.

Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, who headed up the report said, “This problem has deep roots. We believe living conditions are producing a growing sense of desperation that’s causing people to turn to drugs and alcohol and, when all hope is lost, suicide.”

The report also highlights the fact that, unlike the US, governments of rich nations such as Finland, France, and Belgium promote healthcare through non-medical support, including housing, education, and social insurance. “The US spends plenty, but we spend differently,” says Laudan Aron at the Urban Institute in Washington DC.

This rejection of the state and the prioritizing of individual rights, no matter what the potential costs, runs throughout US culture. It explains why people in the US are more likely to indulge in risky behaviors such as overeating and gun-related activity, and tend to defy safety-based but restrictive norms such as wearing seat belts. So, the author asks, “could this attitude also be behind the US suicide rates?

Stone agrees it may have played a part. “but it is possible that the culture around individualism and stigma around seeking help does leave people vulnerable, perhaps more so than in other Western countries, but that needs additional study.”

Others are more convinced. Phillips says says, “The group most affected—less educated, white, middle-aged males—grew up with certain norms surrounding masculinity and self-reliance, and this group doesn’t seem to be seeking help.”

Stone says, “to redress the increasing rates, the CDC issued guidance on preventing suicide. It has recommended social and economic support measures such as providing financial help with paying rent, teaching skills for coping with stressful events and relationship problems, and encouraging a sense of belonging and social connectedness among vulnerable people.”

But Woolf says more radical interventions are needed. “Policymakers need to address widening social inequalities that are placing a vice on the middle class, and releave the distressful living conditions that are driving people to their deaths. Instead they are doing the opposite. Current elected officials are pulling funding out of such programs and enacting new policies which, if anything, will tighten the vice.”

Final Reflections

June 24, 2018

Here’s how Dr. McGonigal ends her important book “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It: “A while back, one of my close friends shared with me that instead of New Year’s resolutions, her family had started to set annual stress goals. Each year, she, her husband, and their teenage son decide how they want to grow in the coming year. Then they choose a personal goal that will be both meaningful and difficult. They talk about what their stress edge will be—what they expect to be challenging, what they might feel anxious about, and the strengths that they want to develop

I fell in love with this idea and immediately began using it myself. Not just for New Year’s resolution but as an orientation to life. In fact, writing this book was one of my big stress goals for the past two years. I knew it would be hard to do justice to the breadth of scientific research, and I was most worried about my ability to honor the incredible range of what people mean when they talk about stress. The strength I needed to develop was my willingness to keep asking people to tell me the truth about their experience of stress—even when it made writing the book more complicated, or forced me to live with questions I knew I couldn’t neatly answer.

Now because this book is a mindset intervention, you’ve probably already recognized that this story is also an invitation to set your own stress goal. Any new beginning or transition is an opportunity to think about how you want to challenge yourself. Birthdays, the start of a new calendar or school year, Sunday evenings, or each morning as you think about the day ahead. Even right now, you could ask yourself, ‘How do I want to grow from stress?’ If there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that any moment can become a turning point in how you experience stress, if you choose to make it one.”

This is the last healthy memory blog post on “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It” Despite the large number of posts, HM has not been able to do justice to this book. You are strongly encouraged to read the entire book on your own.

This is the fourteenth and final post on this book.

How Adversity Makes Us Stronger

June 23, 2018

This post is based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the thirteenth post on this book. People who are less satisfied with their current lives and more anxious about the future are more likely to become depressed. However, the attitudes don’t seem to be the direct result of a person’s painful experiences, but rather the result of their attitude toward them. It is important to understand that it is possible to learn to think about our struggles in a different way. Studies show that when people adopt a more accepting attitude toward their past hardships, they become happier, less depressed, and more resilient.

Choosing to see the upside of our most painful experiences is part of how we can change our relationships with stress. Accepting past adversity is part of how we find the courage to grow from present struggles. It is the attitude that allows us to embrace and transform stress. Although Dr.McGonigal has shared some of the science that supports a growth mindset toward adversity, the evidence for this point of view is already all around us. If we look, we will see the signs of it in our own lives, in the lives of those we admire, and even in the stories of strangers.

How Caring Creates Resilience

June 22, 2018

This post is based Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the twelfth post on this book. Dr. McGonigal received an email that demonstrates how powerful embracing your body’s response to stress can be. This woman was sitting on her back porch listening to Dr. McGonigal’s TED talk on embracing stress. She had just finished explaining how the stress response can provide energy and courage. She had described how a pounding heart was a sign that your body was rising to the challenge. At this moment the woman listening to her TED talk heard a dispute in the house next door. She realized that a father was physically abusing his child. This was not the first time it had happened. Every time before, she had frozen. She had been abused herself as a child, and witnessing this abuse brought her back to her response to that trauma.

In the past she had prayed for the child next door, but had felt too paralyzed to act. However, this time she took the TED talk mindset intervention to heart. She thought, “My body can give me the courage to act.” She called the police. She marshaled her own inner resources and found the strength to call on outside resources for support. The police interviewed her and intervened to protect the child. In addition to helping a vulnerable child, she experienced her own capacity to break the cycle of fear and paralysis. And she shared the story allowing her act to inspire others.

Viewing your stress response as a resource works because it helps you believe. Dr. McGonigal concludes: “Embracing stress is a radical act of self-trust: View yourself as capable and your body as a resource. You don’t have to wait until you no longer have fear, stress, or anxiety to do what matters most. Stress doesn’t have to be a sign to stop and give up on yourself. This kind of mind shift shift is a catalyst, not a cure. It doesn’t erase your suffering or make your problems disappear. But if you are willing to rethink your stress response, it may help you recognize you strength and access your courage.

Beyond Fight or Flight

June 18, 2018

This post comes from Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the ninth post on this book. The common but erroneous idea that the body’s response to stress is an outdated survival instinct and that you should not have a stress response to anything that isn’t a life-threatening emergency. Getting distressed here is seen as a psychological flaw, a weakness to be corrected. Dr. McGonigal writes “This stems from the mistaken belief that every stress response is a full-throttle fight or flight response. A more complete picture of the biology of stress helps us understand why we have these responses throughout the day, and why they are not signs of a flaw at all. Rushing to get your kids ready for school, dealing with a difficult coworker, thinking about criticism you received, worrying about a friend’s health—we have stress responses to all these things because we get stressed when something important to us is at stake. And most important, we have stress responses to help us do something about it.”

She continues, “We get stressed when our goals are on the line, so we take action. We get stressed when our values are threatened, so we defend them. We get stressed when we need courage. We get stressed so we can connect with others. We get stressed so that we will learn from our mistakes.”

And she concludes, “The stress response is more than a basic survival instinct. It is built into how humans operate, how we relate to one another, and how we navigate our place in the world. When you understand this, the stress response is no longer something to be feared. It is something to be appreciated, harassed, and even trusted.”

How to Change Your Mindset

June 16, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Dr. McGonigal’s book, “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the seventh post on this book. The question raised in this section is whether a mind shift will still work if you try to change your own mind about stress, or do you have to be tricked into it?

The placebo effect has been extensively covered in previous healthy memory posts. Included there was the information that placebo effects occur even when the individual knows she is either taking or being given a placebo. So it is reasonable to expect that the same will be true in mindset intervention when people have to choose a new mindset. Dr. Crum thinks that the ideal mindset intervention is less about manipulation and more about choice. Interventions now teach participants about the power of mindsets and invites them to adopt a more positive view of stress.

The first test of this “open-label” mindset interventions took place at a Fortune 500 firm. Employees were invited to participate in stress-management training. 229 mostly middle-aged employees signed up. About half were randomly assigned to a two-hour stress mindset intervention, while the others were put on a wait list.

The training began with research on both the harms and benefits of stress. They they employees learned about the power of mindset, which included the results of Dr. Crum’s previous studies.. The employees were explicitly told that the aim of the training was to help them choose a more positive stress mindset.

“To help them cultivate this new mindset, the employees were asked to reflect on their own experiences with stress, including times when stress had been helpful. They were also taught a three-step processing for practicing the new mindset whenever they felt stressed. The first step is to acknowledge stress when you experience it. Simply allow yourself to notice the stress, including how it affects your body. The second step is to welcome stress by recognizing that it’s a response to something you care about. Can you connect to the positive motivation behind the stress? What is at stake here, and why does it matter to you? The third step is to make use of the energy that stress gives you, instead of wasting energy trying to manage your stress. What can you do right now that reflects your goals and values? The employees were encouraged to remember this three-step process when they experienced stress and to try to practice it at least once a day.

Three weeks later, the researchers checked in with the participants. Those who had gone through the training showed a shift in stress mindset. Before the training, the employees had generally endorsed a stress-is-harmful mindset, but now they are more likely to recognize its upside. They were also better at dealing with stress. The employees reported less anxiety and depression and better physical health. At work, they felt more focused, creative and engaged. The employees whose mindset changed the most—from negative to more positive—showed the biggest improvements. At a final follow-up six weeks after the intervention, these benefits were maintained.

The First Stress Mindset Intervention

June 15, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the sixth post on her book. This intervention took place at the global financial firm UBS during the height of the 2008 economic collapse. Not surprisingly, in the financial places of work as evidenced in a study found that within ten years of entering the industry, 100% of investment bankers developed at least one condition associated with burnout, such as insomnia, alcoholism, or depression. The 2008 economic collapse amplified this pressure. There were widespread reports of increased anxiety, depression, and suicide.

UBS instituted major layoffs and cut employee compensation by 36%. In the middle of this, employees at UBS received an email from human resources inviting them to participate in a stress-management program. A total of 388, half men and half women, with an average age of 38, signed up.

The employees were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group of 164 employees received online training that delivered the typical stress-management message, which reinforces the view that stress is inherently negative. A second group of 163 employees received online training designed to give them a more positive view stress, that was the mindset intervention. A smaller control group of 61 employees received no training at all.

Employees receiving online training received emails with links to three videos that were each three minutes long. Those in the first group were provided statistics like “Stress is America’s number one health issue’, and “Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death.” The videos warned that stress can lead to mood swings, emotional exhaustion, and memory loss. The videos also featured examples of leaders who failed to perform well under stress.

Employees in the mindset intervention group received three very different videos. These videos explained how stress can increase physical resilience, enhance focus, deepen relationships, and strengthen personal values. The videos shared examples of companies that thrived under difficult circumstances, as well as individuals who performed heroically in the face of great stress.

All employees completed surveys before and after the online training. The answer to the research team’s first question—Can you change a person’s mind about stress?—was yes. Employees who watched the negative videos became even more convinced that stress was harmful. However, employees in the mindset intervention group developed a more positive view of stress.

The size of the mind shift was not large. But they did endorse a view of stress that was more balanced than the one they’d had before the intervention. The change was statistically significant, but not a complete reversal. Instead of viewing stress as predominantly harmful, they now saw both the good and the bad in stress.
The second important question was whether this mindset shift was associated with any other changes. The answer was yes. Employees who received the mindset intervention were less anxious and depressed. They reported fewer health problems, like back pain and insomnia. They also reported greater focus, engagement, collaboration, and productivity at work. Note that these improvements took place in the midst of extreme stress. Employees who viewed negative videos, as well as those who received no training, showed no change in these outcomes.

Dr. Crum has gone on to conduct stress mindset interventions and workshops in a variety of settings, including health care professionals, college students, executives, and Navy SEALs. Her work shows that very brief interventions can lead to changes in how people think about and experience stress. Adopting a more positive view of stress reduces what we usually think of as stress-related problems and helps people thrive even under high levels of stress.