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

Practicing Living an Embodied Life (Cont.)

November 6, 2019

This is the fifth post in the book by doreen dodgen-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World.” This is a continuation of the points being advanced for living an embodied life.

Smell

*Pay attention to scents. Notice how naturally occurring smells in your daily life impact your sense of awareness and attention. Are there fragrances in your home/office/classroom that distract you or overly direct your attention? Are there any that enhance? Try plugging your nose when you take a bite of food. How does the lack of olfactory stimulation affect your awareness of the texture and taste of your food?

*Try essential oils. Olfactory stimulation is often encountered by chance rather than by attention. We tend to notice smells when they occur naturally, and we encode them with emotion in our memories. It can be powerful to use olfactory stimulation by design—engaging fragrances to stimulate or soothe, to heighten awareness or to set a mood. To do so, use them on pulse points on the body in essential oil form or throughout your living/work/learning spaces with infusers or candles. As a very general rule, citrus scents (lemon, lime, orange) invigorate and stimulate, while plant-based scents (rosemary, clary, sage, eucalyptus) soothe and relax.

*Go international. Go to an international market or restaurant. When and as you can, close your eyes and focus only on the smells. How do these new smells make you feel? What do you become aware of?

*Grow fragrant plants. Experiment with growing a fragrant plant where it can be easily accessed. Rosemary and lavender are relatively easy to grow. Once the plant is mature enough, break off a small piece and rub it between your fingers. Take the smell in as you breath deeply to create a sense of calm. Work to actively link the fragrance with the embodied experience of feeling calm.

Taste

*Spice it up. We often gravitate toward cases we know and with which we are comfortable. Periodically stretch yourself to try new flavors and textures. Do this in small and manageable ways. Try a new spice. Buy a small bag of uniquely flavored potato chips or an unusual (to you) piece of candy at an international market. If you naturally gravitate towards toward sweets, try something savory or vice versa. This can be done with drinks such as tea as well as with food. If you have access to a good tea shop, stop in and try a smokey blend. Notice how you anticipate and then taste the flavor.

*Go bland. Try food that has not been flavored or seasoned. If you drink coffee or tea with sweeteners, try the drink without. If you are use to processed foods, seek out a meal or food experience that is preservative and enhanced-flavor free. Notice the differences, even if you don’t prefer them.

Touch

*Mix it up. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, our skin is constantly perceiving what it touches or is touched by. “Waking up” this perception can lead to greater sensory awareness. Provide yourself opportunities to feel things that are rough, smooth, wet, dry, hot, cold, and more. Pay real and focused attention on how they feel and what kinds of sensation you experience as a result.

*Add touch to learning. Some individuals can increase their focus and attention in life simply having something to touch or play with during learning experiences. For these people, knitting or crocheting, a handful of Silly Putty, a bowl of Kinetic Sand, a small scrap of carpet or AstroTurf, or a rock might become important tools for maintaining focus and attention. Individuals who are kinesthetically/body smart benefit immensely from attending to the body in this way. When they do not actively work at getting the kinesthetic/physiological stimulation they need, they are at risk of using substances and people outside themselves to stimulate them. Drug and alcohol use, sexual acting out, and self-injury can become serious issues for these individuals.

*Experiment with weight and swaddling. Sometimes our bodies can benefit from feeling “contained.” If we don’t have others to hug or hold us, we can wrap a blanket around ourselves and pull it snugly. Warmed, rice-filled compresses also can be used over closed eyes or the chest to create a sensation of calming. Therapeutic weighted lap pads and blankets are also available for sale in a variety of stores and can be found online through a Google search.

The Problem with Some Religions

October 24, 2019

The preceding post raised the question as to why some Christians are not following the teachings of Christ. For if they were, Trump would not be president, there would be much less hatred and animosity, and the needs of all citizens, especially health care, would be addressed. The answer is that some Christian churches ignore many of the teachings of Christ and pander their messages to keep their parishioners happy.

HM remembers receiving a solicitation from one of his mother’s Christian charities that was soliciting contributions to support the contention that the United States is a Christian country. Now any competent historian and any well read citizen will know that our founders were strict about guaranteeing religious freedom to all and not adopting any religion. They did not want to repeat the mistakes made in Europe.

So here we have a charity claiming to be Christian breaking one of the ten commandments, lying or bearing false witness. Such hypocrisy! That’s when HM realized that these so called churches were, in truth, businesses. And religion is a good business, indeed. They are tax free. They collect money from their parishioners from whom they also garner political power as they instruct their people how to vote.

Being a true Christian is hard work and is personally challenging. But rather than reminding their followers of Christ’s teaching, these churches take another role. They develop political policies that are contrary to Christ’s teachings and that also endanger American freedoms. They become a moral police for the country, somewhat analogous to what occurs in Saudi Arabia. So they work to make what they regard as improper sexual practices illegal. They work to make abortion illegal, not realizing that forcing a woman to bring a child into the world who is unloved and cannot be supported puts that child in jeopardy. This ignores the fact that biological life should be irrelevant, that it is the soul that is immortal. There is no reason to assume that killing a fetus would also endanger the soul. HM believes that a merciful God would want a prospective mother to be ready and able to be a loving mother, and if she were not, an abortion could be in order.

Moreover, at the time of Christ both abortion and homosexuality were practiced and Christ never mentioned these as problems. It is the gospels of Christ that should be of primary concern to Christians. HM has never bought the justifications for the Old Testament being included in the Christian bible, and he still has reservations about some parts of the New Testament. And he is furious that there are other gospels of Christ that have not been widely disseminated.

So rather than doing the actual difficult work of Christ, these churches give their parishioners the role of being the country’s moral police. They forget that the United States is supposed to be a free country. That is, people can do anything they want as long as it does not do harm to others. Working to make abortions, sexual practices that do not harm others, and other activities that some regard as unacceptable is un-American. Such people are not only un-American, they are hypocritical Christians, who prefer having a feeling of moral superiority to doing the hard work of Christ.

Christ in Crisis

October 23, 2019

The title of this post is the title of an extremely important and relevant book by Jim Wallis. The subtitle is “Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus.” All who are interested in Christianity will find this book enlightening. People who claim to be Christians but who support Donald Trump need to read this book.

Many people wonder how someone can claim to be a Christian yet still support Donald Trump, who is evil incarnate. This issue will be addressed in two posts. This post focuses on Jim Wallis’s outstanding book. Wallis writes, “If we are truly followers of Jesus, then our identity as Jesus followers is first before any other identity—racial, ethnic, cultural, national, class, or gender. It means belonging to his “body,” a beloved multiracial and international community—with everything else put down the line. It means that “America First, or any other arrogated version of the phrase, is literally a heresy. For example, when the operative in the phrase “white Christian” is “white” instead of “Christian,” the gospel message of Jesus Christ that reconciles us to God and to each other is in great jeopardy.”

Virtually Trump’s entire message is based on lies. During his first 993 days he made 13,435 misleading claims. That’s an average of 13.53 false or misleading claims a day.
His presidential campaign was based on illegal immigrants entering the country to sell drugs and other illegal crimes. He led people to believe that they were not safe. He has continued his message justifying his pledge to build a wall. Even if there were a true problem here, a wall is an ineffective way of addressing it.

The vast majority of these illegal immigrants are coming to this country either to avoid violence in their homeland, or to earn a living and a better life for themselves and their families. Trump has addressed this problem by separating children from their families and placing them in cages with inadequate food and blankets.

The true solution to the illegal immigrant problem is to hold the people and companies hiring these poor people responsible. Heavy fines and imprisonment of these employers would resolve this problem. Trump himself is one of these employers. He prefers to hire illegals because he can underpay and exploit them. So Trump himself is one of those causing this problem.

Jesus ministered to the sick and those regarded as undesirable. The Parable of the Good Samaritan epitomizes this.

The problems in the United States cannot be addressed by charities alone. It needs to be understood that budgets are moral documents in that many of these problems need to be addressed through budgets by the government. A good example is health insurance. Many previous healthy memory posts have stated that every advanced county besides the United States has government provided health insurance. The health statistics in these countries are quite good and much better than those of the United States. Moreover, medical costs in these countries are much less in the United States. The United States has pulled off the astonishing feat of having the largest medical expenditures with the health results of a third rate country. Moreover, many of the religious followers of Trump would regard these foreigners in contempt as being secular humanists. Here the irony is that these secular humanists are better at Christian practices that these people who regard themselves as Christians.

If only Americans followed the teachings of Christ we would live in a much better country. Not only would health statistics be better, but our interpersonal relations would be governed by caring for one another.

Many believe in the following paragraph:

We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe that the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake. This paragraph is taken from The “Reclaiming Jesus” Declaration which can be found at http://reclaimingjesus.org/. Readers are encourage to read and reflect upon this declaration.

Healthy Memory’s Response to Deep Work

October 22, 2019

And that response is disappointment. The first problem is with the title, Deep Work. Deep Processing, or Deep Thinking would have been both more appealing and more accurate.

Professor Newport uses the word “Work” because work can lead to both professional success and many dollars. This is especially disappointing because he is a university professor, but a book focusing on professional and monetary success is more likely to sell books. Many factors affect both professional and financial success, so deep work cannot guarantee success.

However, in the context of a healthy memory deep processing leads to both a healthy memory and a fulfilling life. Deep processing involves sustained System 2 processing and even higher. It fosters growth mindsets, which lead to personal fulfillment and a healthy mind.

Moreover, deep processing is the best activity to engage to drastically decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Previous posts have explained how many have died with the defining features of Alzheimer’s, the neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque, without ever being aware of their having Alzheimer’s because they never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Deep processing, along with a healthy lifestyle, not only makes for a healthy memory, but along with growth mindsets provides the route to a fulfilling life.

© 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 conte

Embrace Boredom

October 21, 2019

This is the seventh post in a series of posts on a book by Cal Newport titled “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” His second rule, which is perhaps surprising, is to embrace boredom. He writes “Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.

Clifford Nass, the late Stanford communications professor conducted research revealing that constant attention switching online has a lasting negative effect on the brain. Here is Nass summarizing these findings. “So we have scales that allow us to divide up people into people who multitask all the time and people who rarely do, and the differences are remarkable. People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage working memory. They’re chronically distracted. The use much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to to the task at hand…they’re pretty much mental wrecks.”

When asked whether the chronically distracted recognize the rewiring of their brain, Nass responded, “The people we talk with continually said, ‘look, when I really have to concentrate, I turn off everything and I am laser focused.’ And, unfortunately, they’ve developed habits of mind that make it impossible for them to be laser-focused. They’re suckers for irrelevancy. They just can’t keep on task.”

Author Newport advises, don’t take breaks from distraction, instead take breaks from focus. He continues, if you’ve scheduled your next Internet break thirty minutes from the current moment, and you’re beginning to feel bored and crave distraction, the next thirty minutes of resistance becomes a session of concentration calisthenics. A full day of scheduled distraction becomes a full day of mental training. Scheduling Internet use at home can further improve your concentration training.

And don’t forget meditation. Newport calls productive meditation in which you’re occupied physically but not mentally—walking, jogging, driving, showering, and focusing one’s attention on a single well-defined problem. One must continue to bring your attention back to the problem at hand when it wanders or stalls. The healthymemory blog has many posts on meditation. Use the search block at
healthymemory.wordpress.com and enter “meditation” and the “relaxation response” to find relevant posts.

Newport also recommends mnemonic techniques. The healthy memory blog has a whole category of posts on mnemonic techniques. The category can be found at
the URL previously listed.

There is also an interesting post about memory competitions titled “Moonwalking with Einstein” which can be found by entering this title into the search block.

Work Deeply

October 20, 2019

This is the sixth post in a series of posts on book by Cal Newport titled “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” It is not surprising that the first rule is to work deeply. He writes that you need your own philosophy for integrating deep work into your professional life. Newport feels strongly that attempting to schedule deep work in an ad hoc fashion is not an effective way to manage your limited willpower. He warns us to be careful to choose a philosophy that fits one’s specific circumstances, since a mismatch here can derail one’s deep work habit before it has a chance to solidify. He presents four different depth philosophies he’s seen work exceptionally well in practice for our consideration.

One is the monastic philosophy of deep work scheduling. This philosophy attempts to maximize depth efforts by eliminating radically minimizing shallow obligations. Practitioners of the monastic philosophy tend to have well-defined and highly valued professional goals that they’re pursuing, and the bulk of their professional success comes from doing this one thing exceptionally well. This clarity helps them eliminate the thicket of shallow concerns that tend to trip up the whose value proposition in the working world is more varied. Science fiction writer Neal Stepheson who follows this philosophy summarizes his communication policy as follows: Persons who wish to interfere with my concentration are politely requested not to do so, and warned that I don’t answer e-mail…lest [my communication policy’s] key message gets lost in the verbiage, I will put it here succinctly. All of my time and attention are spoken for—-several times over. Please do not ask for them.

To justify this philosophy, Stephenson wrote an essay titled “Why I am a Bad Correspondent.” At the core of his explanation for his inaccessibility is the following decision: The productivity equation is a non-linear one, in other words. This accounts for why I am a bad correspondent and why I very rarely accept speaking engagements. If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time -chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly.

Author Newport writes regarding this philosophy, “…the pool of individuals to whom the monastic philosophy applies is limited—and that’s okay. If you’re outside this pool, its radical simplicity shouldn’t evince too much envy. On the other hand, if you’re inside this pool—someone whose contribution to the world is discrete, clear,and individualized”—-then you should give this philosophy serious consideration, as it might be the deciding factor between an average career and one that will be remembered.

It is useful to ritualize practices for deep work. Consider the following:
*Where you’ll work and for how long.
*How you’ll work once you start to work.
*How you’ll support your work. Your ritual should ensure your brain gets the support it needs to keep operating at a high level of depth. For example, the ritual might specify that you start with a cup of good coffee, or make sure you have access to enough food of the right type to maintain energy, and integrate light exercise such as walking to keep the mind clear.

Keep in mind the importance of downtime.
Downtime aids insights
Downtime helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply

Ericsson’s paper, “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance reviewed research about an individual’s capacity for cognitive demanding work. For a novice, somewhere around an hour a day of intense concentration seems to be a limit. For experts this number can expand to as many as four hours, but rarely more.

A Neurological Argument for Depth

October 19, 2019

This is the fifth post in a series of posts on book by Cal Newport titled “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in this book. The science writer Winfred Gallagher stumbled onto a connection between attention and happiness after an unexpected and terrifying event. The event was a cancer diagnosis and Gallagher noted, “not just cancer, but a particularly nasty, fairly advanced kind.” In her book “Rapt” (there are many healthy memory blog posts on this book and on this topic) she recalls as she walked away from the hospital after the diagnosis she formed a sudden and strong intuition: “This disease wanted to monopolize my attention, but as much as possible, I would focus on my life instead.” She focused on what was good in her life, “movies, walks, and a 6:30 martini” and it worked surprisingly well. Instead of being mired in fear and pity during this period, she was instead often quite pleasant.

After five years of science reporting she came away convinced that she was witness to a “grand unified theory” of the mind:

“Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse disciplines from anthropology to education, behavioral economics, and family counseling similarly suggest that the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.”

Newport writes, “This concept upends the way most people think about their subjective experience of life. We tend to place a lot of emphasis on our circumstances, assuming that what happens to us (or fails to happen) determines how we feel. From this perspective, the small-scale details of how you spend your day aren’t that important, because what matters are the large-scale outcomes, such as whether or not you get a promotion or move to that nicer apartment. According to Gallagher, decades of research contradict this misunderstanding. Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to. If you focus on a cancer diagnosis, you and your life become unhappy and dark, but if you focus instead on an evening martini, you and your life become more pleasant—even though the circumstances in both scenarios are the same. As Gallagher summarizes: “What you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.’”

Research has shown that the elderly tend to be happier than their younger brethren. This seems paradoxical as the elderly are closer to their final exit; But Stanford psychologist Laura Carstensen used an FMRI scanner to study the brain behavior of participants presented with both positive and negative imagery. She found that for young people, their amygdala, important for emotion, fired with activity at both types of imagery. But when she scanned the elderly, the amygdala fired only for the positive images. Carstensen conjectured that the elderly participants had trained their prefrontal cortex to inhibit the amygdala in the presence of negative stimuli. So these elderly participants were not happier because their life circumstances were better than those of the young subjects; instead they were happier because they had rewired their brains to ignore the negative and savor the positive. By skillfully managing their attention, they improved their world without changing anything concrete about it.

Author Newport picks up on Gallanger’s grand theory. “This theory states that your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to, so consider for a moment the type of mental world constructed when you dedicate significant time to deep endeavors. There’s a gravity and sense of importance inherent in deep work.” Gallagher’s theory predicts that if you spend enough time in this state, your mind will understand your world as rich in meaning and importance. Newport adds a hidden but equally important benefit to cultivating rapt attention. Such concentration hijacks your attention apparatus, preventing you from noticing the many smaller and less pleasant things that unavoidably and persistently populate our lives.

Learning How to Think and Process is Deeply

October 16, 2019

This post is the second in a series of posts on a book by Cal Newport. The title of this book is “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” “Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attention; let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea,: is advice from Antonin-Dalmace Sertillanges, a Dominican friar and professor of moral philosophy. He argues that to advance your understanding of your field you must tackle the relevant topics systematically, allowing your “converging rays of attention” to uncover the truth latent in each. In other words, “To learn requires intense concentration.”

In the early 1990s, a psychologist K. Anders Ericsson conducted research on the difference between expert performers and normal adults. He denied that the difference in the two groups was immutable. He argued, with data to support him, that the differences between expert performance and normal adults was the result of a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.

So what does deliberate practice actually require. Its core components follow:
your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to master;
you receive feedback so you can correct your approach, to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.
So deliberate attention cannot exist alongside distraction; instead it requires uninterrupted concentration.

Ericsson emphasizes, “Diffused attention is almost antithetical to the focused attention required by deliberate practice.”

Since Ericsson’s first major papers on this topic, neuroscientists have been researching the physical mechanisms. These researchers believe that part of the answer includes myelin—a layer of fatty tissue that grows around neurons. The myelin acts like an insulator that allows the cells to fire faster and cleaner. Keep, in mind that skills, be they intellectual or physical, eventually reduce down to brain circuits.

Of course, more than myelin is involved, especially for cognitive tasks. In additional to strengthening brain circuits, learning involves establishing new brain circuits. Learning new information and cogitating about this information establishes an increasingly new number of brain circuits.

Concentration is focused. Say you are trying to learn a new skill such as SQL database management. In a state of low concentration or while you are doing any additional tasks, you’re firing too many circuits simultaneously and haphazardly to isolate the group of neurons you actually want to strengthen. To learn things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction.

The following formula law of productivity has been offered:
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

HM again stresses that this formula is not restricted to work. It is good for any type of physical or cognitive enhancement. It applies also to hobbies and recreational activities. Perhaps it is unfortunate that it is defined in terms of work, as work itself can become more palatable or enjoyable if is not regarded as work, but rather as furthering a worthwhile goal, hobby, or intellectual achievement.

© 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.

Deep Work

October 15, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Cal Newport. The subtitle is “Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.’” There have been many previous HM posts on the distracted world in which we live and how this distraction is extremely harmful. This book provides strategies for coping effectively with this distracted world. Here is the definition of Deep Work provided by the author: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

HM finds this definition and the book title to be inadequate. What is being addressed is deep cognitive processing. So although work is important, it would be a mistake to restrict this activity to work. A better definition for the activity is deep cognitive processing. It is important also to engage in deep processing that is not restricted to work. Indeed one of the important activities encouraged in this blog is to have growth mindsets and growth mindsets need to include deep cognitive processing. It is likely that the book wanted to aim at professional development and restricts its recommendation and guidance to professional work.

In contrast to Deep Work, the definition for Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Here is a definition of Shallow Free Activities: Activities that are not cognitively challenging and do not result in cognitive growth.

It should be understood that there is a need for shallow free activities as it would be cognitively exhausting, indeed impossible, to always engage in cognitively challenging activities. These cognitively challenging activities are critical for a health memory and involve the engagement of System 2 processing, more commonly known as thinking and reasoning as opposed to daydreaming and System 1 processing. Note that most activity on social networks is not cognitively challenging and primarily involves System 1 processing.

The author offers this Deep Working Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it a core of their working life, will thrive.

HM heartily endorses this hypothesis, but he also contends that engaging in cognitively challenging activities also leads to healthy memories. Moreover, there should be transfer between work related challenging cognitive activities and leisure time challenging activities. So leisure activities can be beneficial to the effectiveness of one’s professional work.

The author ends his introduction to his book with the statement: A deep life is a good life.

© 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.

Adaptive Genius

October 14, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. Ted Anderson in his book Biology of the Ubiquitous House Sparrow writes that the sparrow came into its own as a species only since the advent of agriculture in the Middle East, approximately ten thousand yeas ago. Other theories place its origin yet earlier. In any case, so highly skilled has the house sparrow become at adapting to any environment occupied by humans that it has been called the ultimate opportunist, our avian shadow.

The first sixteen sparrows are said to have been introduced to Brooklyn in 1851 to control a plague of moths may not have taken immediately to the New World, but another bigger shipment imported from England the following year did, and in big way. The birds did get some help from individuals and naturalization societies ban on populating their gardens and parks with plants and animals from the Old World, which accelerated their expansion. Ms. Ackerman writes, “the success of their spread is staggering.” She continues, “The transplants found a land much to their liking, rich in grain and horse droppings. They multiplied and dispersed rapidly, spilling into farming districts, where they exploited every source they could find—grains, small fruits, and succulent garden plants, such as young peas, turnips, cabbage, apples, peaches, plums, pears, and strawberries. Soon they were considered a serious pest. In 1889, just a few decades after the house sparrow’s introduction sparrow clubs were formed with the sole objective of destroying the birds, and county and state officials were offering two cents a head for each sparrow killed.

Before long, the birds had spread across the United States and Canada, adapting to environments as extreme as Death Valley, California at 280 feet below sea level, and the Colorado Rockies at more than10,000 feet above sea level. They moved southward into Mexico through Central and South America as far as Tierra del Fuego, and along the Trans-Amazonial Highway deep into the rainforests of Brazil. In Europe, Africa, and Asia, they dispersed to northern Finland, the Arctic, South Africa, and clear across Siberia.”

The house sparrow is the world’s most widely distributed wild bird, with a global breeding population of about 540 million. It’s on every continent except Antarctica and on islands everywhere, from Cuba and the West Indies to the Hawaiian Islands, the Azores, Cape Verde and New Caledonia.

So what accounts for the success of the House Sparrow? Daniel Sol and Louis Lefebvre decided to see if brain size and intelligence might have anything to do with its success. When they studied the characteristics of the nineteen introduced species that “took” and those that failed to establish, two pronounced differences emerged, The more successful invaders have larger brains. They also had more innovative, flexible behavior of the kind Lefebvre documented in his avian IQ scale.

The pattern held when Sol later looked at 428 bird species that invaded areas around the world. Successful colonizers were brainy and inventive. Well represented among the intruders were the corvids; the house crow in Africa, Singapore, and the Arabian Peninsula; the jungle crow in Japan; the common raven in the American Southwest. All are big brained and considered pests in the regions they have invaded.

According to Ms. Ackerman here is a recipe for the house sparrow’s success:
*A taste for novelty
*A pinch of the innovative
*A dash of daring
*And, perhaps, a penchant for hanging out in mixed gangs

One wonders whether these traits will help the house sparrow cope with global warming. The 2014 Christmas Bird Count in Seattle totaled just 225 house sparrows within the city limits. Freeman says, “That’s the lowest total ever, and one piece of evidence that house sparrows may be declining. Around the globe, the bird is experiencing rapid and massive declines—in North America, Australia, and India, but especially in some towns and cities across Europe.

According to Vladimir Pravosudov, if the weather is warmer, winter will provide less selection pressure, so the birds may lose their edge, in both hippocampus size and intelligence. “If maintaining better memory has costs,” he argues, “smarter” birds will be at a disadvantage. Also, these populations will be quickly invaded by more southern, not-so-smart birds, which will lead to overall reduction in cognitive ability.”

A Mapping Mind

October 13, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds”, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. The Arctic tern, a bird who lives by his love of long daylight and bent for high mileage, circles the world in orbit with the seasons. It flies from its nesting grounds in Greenland and Iceland to its wintering grounds off the coast of Antartica. This is a round-trip of almost 44 thousand miles. So in an average 30 year lifetime a tern may fly the equivalent of 3 trips to the moon and back.

Pigeons are famous for their ability to navigate. Homing pigeons can be taken far distances from their homes and still find their way back. Indeed there are competitions among pigeons, or rather pigeon owners, to see how quickly and well their birds manage to return.

In a variety of areas, nest building for example, pigeons do not do well and may even appear dim-witted. But they are handy with numbers, capable not only of counting but also of grasping the arithmetic loss and gain and learning abstract rules about number, abilities Ms. Ackerman notes, on a par with primates. They can put images picturing to nine objects in proper order from lowest to highest number. They can also determine relative probability.

Pigeons are better than most people—and even better than some mathematicians—at solving certain statistical problems. One example is their ability to solve the Monty Hall Dilemma. Monty was the host of the televised game show Let’s Make a Deal. In the show a contestant would be asked to guess which of three doors concealed a grand prize, such as a car. The other two doors harbored a booby prize, such as a goat. After the player chose a door, one of the remaining doors was opened, revealing no prize. The contestants are then given the option of staying with the initial choice or switching to the other unopened door. The correct choice here is to switch. This very point has been argued among statisticians, but switching the choice doubles the chances of winning. An explanation of why this is so can be found online, as well as simulations that will demonstrate that this is so. Just enter Monty Hall Dilemma into the search box of your browser. Better yet, go to the Wikipedia.

During both world wars, pigeons were used for the quick conveyance of intelligence. Pigeons were suited up with ciphered papers and sent across enemy lines to relay news of troop movements or to communicate with resistance workers in occupied countries. At its peak in WW II, the U.S. Pigeon service possessed 54,000 birds. The most celebrated of these messengers was called G.I. Joe. Dispatched by the British to abort a scheduled bombing of a German-held town because a brigade of a thousand or more British troops was already occupying it, Joe made the 20 mile flight in 20 minutes, halting the bombers just as they were warming up for takeoff. Jungle Joe, a gallant four-month old bronze cock flew 225 miles against strong wind currents and over some of the highest mountains in Asia to deliver a message that led to the capture of large parts of Burma by Allied troops.

Officials in Cuba still use birds to transmit election results from remote mountainous areas, and the Chinese have recently built a force of 10,000 messenger pigeons to deliver military communications between troops stationed along their borders, in case of “electromagnetic interference or a collapse in our signals,” as explained by the officer in charge of the pigeon army.

In the 1940 the psychologist Edward proposed that mammals might possess a “cognitive map” of their spatial environment. Humans, being mammals, are also included here. Birds can also be included as it is clear that they are using a complex of cues, some of which we can imagine with the addition of electromagnetic fields to accomplish astonishing feats of navigation.

What structure in a bird brain could be critical to navigation? The same one that humans use, the hippocampus. This has been discussed in previous healthy memory blog posts including the anatomist John O’Keefe who won the 2014 Nobel Prized for demonstrating how this structure is used to navigate.

Not surprisingly, homing pigeons have a heftier hippocampus than other pigeon strains bred for their fancy features, such as fantails, pouters,, and strafers. This hippocampus prowess is not genetic, it is developed through learning. This has also been confirmed in humans with studies done of London cab drivers with The Knowledge, the memorization of all streets and notable places in London.

Aesthetic Aptitude

October 12, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds”, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. When early European naturalists found beautiful creations deep in the Australian forest they thought they had stumbled on fanciful dollhouses made by aboriginal children or their mothers. Actually these artistic creations where the product of birds designing their homes and enhancing their beauty with artistic creations.

Birds are visual creatures. They make quick decisions based on visual information from heights at great speed. Pigeons shown a series of landscape photographs taken successively can detect slight visual differences that are hard for humans to pick up. They can also recognize other pigeons by sight alone. So can chickens. Just because the powerful small central nervous systems of these birds are organized very differently from our own does not mean that they are less capable of exceptional visual perception and fine discriminations.

Shigeru Watanabe of Keio Univereity in Japan studies how other creatures may experience aesthetics. He has tested the ability of birds to discriminate between human paintings of different styles. For example, the ability to discriminate cubist paintings from impressionistic paintings. In an early study he trained eight pigeons to distinguish between the works of Picasso and Monet. The pigeons came from the Japanese Society for Racing Pigeons. The paintings came from reproductions in an art book. The experimenters trained the pigeons to spot ten different Picassos and ten different Monets by rewarding them when they correctly pecked at the pictures. Then they tested the birds with new paintings by the artists, never seen during training as well as paintings by different artists in the same style. Not only could the pigeons pick out a new Monet or Picasso, they could also tell other impressionists (Renoir, for example) from other cubists (such as Braque).

Vocal Virtuosity

October 11, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds”, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. The vocal virtuosity of birds is evident. What was only discovered fairly recently was special organ birds have that enables this virtuosity. This unique instrument is called a syrinx. It took a long time for scientists to learn its details because the syrinx is buried in the bird’s chest, where the trachea splits in two to send air to the bronchi. Only recently did a researcher produce a stunning high-resolution three dimensional image of the organ in action, using magnetic resonance imaging and microcomputer tomography.

The syrinx is made of delicate cartilage and two membranes that vibrate with airflow at super fast speeds—one on each side of the syrinx—to created two independent sources of sounds. Gifted songbirds such as the mockingbird and canary can vibrate each of their two membranes independently, producing two different, harmonically unrelated notes at the same time—a low-frequency sound on the left, a high-frequency sound on the right. These birds can shift the volume and frequency of each with breathtaking speed to produce some of the most acoustically complex and varied vocal sounds in nature. In contrast, when humans talk, all of our pitch, all the harmonics of our vocalizations, move in the same direction.

Songbirds such as European starlings and zebra finches can contract and relax these tiny vocal muscles with sub millisecond precision at more than a hundred times faster than the blink of an eye. The winter wren is a bird known for its swift song delivery. It sings as many as 36 notes per second, which is much too fast for our ears or brain to perceive or absorb. Some birds can manipulate their syrinx to mimic human speech.

Not surprisingly, birds with a more elaborate set of syringe muscles can produce more elaborate songs. The mockingbird has seven pairs that allow him to perform his vocal gymnastics over and over with little effort. This can be 17, 18, 19 songs per minute. Between the notes, he takes tiny breaths to replenish his air supply.

Of course, more than the syrinx is involved. Songs must be initiated and coordinated with the bird’s brain. Nerve signals from an elaborate network of brain areas control each of the muscles, coordinating nerve impulses from his left and right brain hemispheres to the muscles of the two halves of his syrinx, creating just the right airflow in each necessary to produce the hundreds of different imitated phrases he sings.

Scientists use sonograms or spectrograms to assess the accuracy of this sounds. These are visual printouts of sound (with frequency or pitch on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal axis) that scientists use to detect subtle differences in birdsong. Sonograms comparing a prototype song and the mockingbird’s copy show that the imitator sings nuthatch and thrush and whip-poor-will with almost perfect fidelity. When a mockingbird sings a cardinal’s song, it actually mimics the muscular patters of the cardinal. If the notes of his model fall outside his normal frequency range, he substitutes a note or omits it, lengthening other notes to match the song in duration. If he’s facing a too-rapid-fire delivery of notes such as a canary’s, he clusters the notes and pauses to breathe while maintaining identical song length.

The mockingbird is not the only mimic. A cousin Mimidae, the brown thrasher, can mimic ten times the number of songs a mockingbird sings, thought not with as much accuracy. European starlings are also accomplished mimics, as are nightingales, which can imitate some 60 different songs after hearing each only a few times. Marsh warblers sing a wild, urgent, international pastiche of a song peppered with the tunes of more than one hundred other species.

Some birds, the African grey parrot, the mynah, and the cockatoo excel at imitating human speech. There are a few others in the corvid and parrot families, parakeets being one example.

It’s quite an accomplishment for birds to imitate human sounds. Humans form vowels and consonants with their lips and tongue, which are among the most supple, flexible, and indefatigable parts of the human body. For birds, with no lips and with tongues that generally aren’t used for making sounds, it is a tall order indeed to take on the nuances of human speech. Parrots are unusual in that they use their tongues while calling and can manipulate them to articulate vowel sounds.

Parrots have been known to teach other parrots to talk smack. People have reported wild cockatoos swearing in the outback. An ornithologist speculated that the wild birds had learned from once-domesticated cockatoos and other parrots that had escaped and survived long enough to join a flock and share words they have picked up in captivity. Ms. Ackerman comments, “if true, a fine example of cultural transmission.”

Social Savvy

October 10, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds”, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. Ms. Ackerman writes, “Many bird species are highly social. They breed in colonies, bathe in groups, roost in congregations, forage in flocks. They eavesdrop. They argue. They cheat. They deceive and manipulate. They kidnap. They divorce. They display a strong sense of fairness. They give gifts. They play keep-away and tug-of-war with twigs, strands of Spanish moss, bits of gauze. They pilfer from their neighbors. They warn their young away from strangers. They tease. They share. They cultivate social relationships. They vie for status. They kiss to console one another. They teach their young. They blackmail their parents. They summon witnesses to the death of a peer. They may even grieve.

The expression “pecking order” comes from studies of the social relations among chickens by the Norwegian zoologist Thorlief Schjelderup-Ebbe, who found that a pecking order are ladder like, with the top rung conferring great privilege in the form of food and safety, and the bottom rung fraught with vulnerability and risk.

In 1976, Nichols Humphrey, a psychologist at the London School of Economics developed the idea that a demanding social life might drive the evolution of brainpower. Humphrey was working with monkeys, but now scientists believe that many bird species are not so different. Birds living in social groups have to sort out social contacts, smooth ruffled feathers, and avoid squabbles. They need to monitor the behavior of others to make decisions about whether to cooperate or compete, whom to communicate with, and whom to learn from. They have to recognize many individuals, keep track of them, remember what this or that confederate did the last time—and predict what he or she will do now. Since many species of birds share the same kind of social challenges that may have fueled intelligence in primates, their brains, like ours, may be “designed’ to manage relationships.

Reciprocity in the form of gift giving is another kind of social behavior unusual in nonhumans but fairly common among certain birds, including crows. Tales have one in of crows offering gifts of jewelry, hardware, shards of glass, a Santa figurine, a foam dart from a toy gun, and a Donald Duck Pez dispenser.

Crows and ravens balk at doing work for less reward than a peer is getting. This sensitivity to inequity had previously been thought to exist only in primates and dogs and is considered a crucial cognitive tool in the evolution of human cooperation.

Corvids and cockatoos will delay gratification if they think a reward is worth waiting for. This is a form of emotional intelligence involving self-control, persistence and the ability to motivate oneself. It is an important skill for human success. Consider the famous marshmallow test. The first studies were done by psychologist Walter Mischel during the 1960s at a preschool on the Stanford University campus. The test involve placing a marshmallow before a four year old. The child was told that the researcher was going to leave for 15 to 20 minutes, but if they child could save the marshmallow until he retired, she would be rewarded with another marshmallow. Some children managed to resist and got the second marshmallow reward, and some didn’t. The ramifications of this study did not become clear until 12 to 14 years later. Those who had resisted temptation at 4 were now, as adolescents, more socially competent: personally effective, self-assertive, and better able to cope with the frustrations of life. They were less likely to go to pieces, freeze, or regress under stress, or become rattled and disorganized when pressured; they embraced challenges and pursued them instead of giving up even in the face of difficulties. The children who had grabbed the marshmallow were just the opposite. The children who were able to delay gratification were also much better students. But, perhaps what was most astonishing were SAT scores. The third of the children who at four grabbed for the marshmallow most eagerly had an average verbal score of 524 and a quantitative scorer of 528. The third who waited the longest had average scores of 610 and 652, respectively—a 210 difference in total score.

Some birds species have remarkable memories for social relationships. Thomas Bugnyar, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Vienna found that ravens remember their valued friends even after a separation of as long as three years. Corvids recognize and recall not only fellow corvids, but humans too. They can pick out familiar human faces from a crowd, particularly those that represent a threat and remember them for long periods of time.

There is also much evidence that there are birds that have a theory of mind, that is they can think like another bird or animal is thinking. Two scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, Robert Seyfarth and Dorothy Chey argue that even the most complex human forms of theory of mind have their foots in what they call a subconscious appreciation of others’ intentions and perspectives.

Birds are Technical Wizards

October 9, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds”, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. There are many accounts of birds using found objects as tools—to contain water water or scratch their backs, wipe themselves down or lure prey. For example, white storks bring water to their chicks in a clump of damp moss and then wring it out to fill their beaks. African greys arrest bail water from their dish with a tobacco pipe or bottle cap. American crows ferry water in a Frisbee to dampen its dried mash, and another one secured a plastic Slinky toy onto its perch and used the free end to scratch its head. A Gila woodpecker fashioned a wooden scoop out of tree bark to carry honey home to its young. A blue jay used its own body as a napkin to rid ants of their noxious formic acid spray, making them fit for eating.

Birds also use objects as weapons. An American crow lobbed three pinecones at a scientist’s head as he climbed up to its nest. A pair of ravens defending their nestlings from two intruding researchers used similar tactics but harder weaponry. A raven took a rock in its beak and with a quick flip of its head tossed the rock down to the target. It was followed by six more one after another, assaulting the scientists who were trying to study them.

Several kinds of birds use objects as lures to draw fish. Green herons are expert bait fishers, drawn to entice their prey with bread, popcorn, seeds, flowers, live insets, spiders, feathers, and pellets of fish food.

For the burrowing owl, dung is the decoy of choice. These owls scatter clumps of animal feces near the mouth of their nest chambers and wait motionless like muggers for unsuspecting dung beetles to scuttle toward their trap.

Nuthatches hold bark flakes or scales in their bills to level the bark from trees, exposing the bugs beneath.

Black palm cockatoos regularly use sticks, twigs, and branches as drumsticks to thrum a hollow tree for territorial display or to direct a female’s attention to a possible breeding holes. These items are used as back scratchers (as well as head, neck, and throat scratchers by yellow-crested cockatoos and African grey parrots. Bald eagles used a stick to bludgeon a turtle with a stick held in its bill.

Behavioral biologist Sabine Tebbich did a detailed study of a woodpecker finch to see how birds acquire their use of tools. At first the finch showed little interest in objects. When he was almost two months old, he began to play with flower stems and small twigs, twiddling them in his beak and holding them at right angles to his bill. He soon was investigating everything around him with great curiosity, tweaking buttons, nibbling pencils, yanking hair through the small ventilation holes in a slouch hat, prying apart toes with his beak and tools inspecting ears and earrings. Within three months, he was an accomplished tool user and had broadened his toolkit, probing cracks with twigs, a feather, fragments of water-worn glass, wool slivers, shell pieces, and the hind leg of a large tree grasshopper. He also inserted a twig between a sock and a boot.

The New Caledonian crow leads in terms of artful toolmaking and tool use in the wild. Ms. Ackerman writes, “when it comes to the nuts and bolts of too crafting, only chimps and orangutans match or exceed the sophistication of the New Caledonian crow, and not even these hotshot primates can make hook tools, These crows make not one but two kinds of hook tools—one from live twigs and the other from the barbed edges of leaves of pandas trees, or screw pines.

One wonders whether birds play? Do they do things just for fun? Nathan Emery and Nicola Clayton suggest that larger-brained, altricial species of birds do play as do many mammals. It does seem to be relatively uncommon in birds, seen in only 1% of the approximately 10,000 species and is largely restricted to species with an extended developmental period, such as crows and parrots. Emery and Clayton say that play may reduce stress, aid social bonding and induce pleasure. They explain “Birds, like us, may also play because it is fun; it produces a pleasurable experience—releasing endogenous opioids.”

Bird Minds

October 8, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds,” a book by Jennifer Ackerman. Like humans, birds are kingdom Animalia; phylum Chordata; subphylum Vertebrata. There the common descent ends. Birds are class Aves; humans are Mammalia. Aristotle wrote in his History of Animals that animals carry elements of our “human qualities and attitudes,” such as “fierceness, mildness or cross-temper, courage or timidity, fear or confidence, high spirits or low cunning, and with regard to intelligence, something akin to sagacity.”

When HM was a graduate student anthropomorphizing, claiming that an animal had anything like human intelligence, consciousness, or subjective feeling was a mortal sin. But if HM imposed this standard on his fellow humans he would have been unable to communicate or interact with them effectively. Although one needs to tread carefully in this area, wouldn’t it be a mistake to assume that because bird brains are fundamentally different from us and ours, that there is nothing in common between our mental abilities and theirs? Darwin in his book The Descent of Man argued that animals and humans differ in their mental powers only in degree, not in kind. As was discussed in previous posts, many have strong feelings regarding the possibility of kinship. Primatologist Frans de Waal calls this “anthropodenial,” blindness to the humanlike characteristics of other species. He says, “Those who are in anthropodenial try to build a brick wall to separate humans from the rest of the animal kingdom.”

There are many ways of measuring birds’ intelligence And there is a very wide range of intelligence across the species. It ranges from the extremely slow, to some that appear to verge on genius. Lefebvre thought that a good way of estimating bird intelligence would be to look at occurrences of birds doing unusual new things in the wild. This notion had been proposed three decades earlier by Jane Goodall and her colleague Hans Kummer. They made a plea for measuring a wild animal’s intelligence by looking at its ability to find solutions to problems in its natural setting. This can be found in an animal’s ability to innovate in its own environment, “to find solutions to a novel problem, or a novel solution to an old one.”

So the task becomes finding which kinds of birds are the most innovative in the wild. Lefebvre said, “Experimental and observational studies of cognition are important, but a taxonomic count like this would provide a unique opportunity and would avoid some of the pitfalls of animal intelligence studies,” such as using testing devices that are far removed from what an animal does in its natural environment.

Lefebvre reviewed seventy-five years worth of bird journals for reports featuring key words like “unusual,” “novel,” or “first reported instance,” and came up with more than 2300 examples from hundreds of different species. Some of these were discoveries of strange new finds such as a roadrunner sitting on a roof next to a hummingbird feeder and picking off the hummers; a great skua in Antartica snuggling in among newborn seal pups and sipping milk from their lactating mother; herons holding down a rabbit or a muskrat; a pelican in London swallowing pigeon; a gull ingesting a blue jay; or a normally insectivorous yellowhead in New Zealand seen for the first time time eating bush lily fruits.

Taken from “The Genius of Birds:” Other examples involved ingenious new ways of getting at food. There was the cowbird in South Africa using a twig to pick through cow dung. Several observers noted instances of green herons using insects as bait, placing them delicately on the surface of the water to lure fish. A herring gull adapted its normal shell-dropping technique to nail a rabbit. Bald eagles ice fishing in northern Arizona discovered a cache of dead fathead minnow forces under the surface of an ice-covered lake. They were seen chipping holes in the ice, then jumping up and down on the surface, using their body weight to push the minnows up through the holes. There was a report of vultures in Zimbabwe that perched on barbed-wire fences near minefields during the wars of liberation, waiting for gazelles and other grazers to wander and detonate the explosives providing a pulverized ready-made meal.

The smartest birds according Lefevbre’s scale.
Corvids with ravens and crows as the clear outliers along with parrots. Then came grackles, raptors (especially falcons and hawks, woodpeckers, hornbills, gulls, kingfishers, roadrunners and herons. Also high on this totem pole were birds in the sparrow and tit families. Owls were excluded because they are nocturnal and their innovations are rarely observed directly. Among those at the low end were quails, ostriches, bustards, turkeys, and nightjars.

Lefebvre examined if families of birds that show a lot of innovation behaviors in the wild have bigger brains. In most cases, there was a correlation. Two birds weighing 320 grams: the American crow, with an innovation count of sixteen has a brain of 7 grams, while a partridge , with one innovation, has a brain of only 1.9 grams. Two smaller birds weighing 85 grams: the great spotted woodpecker, with an innovation rate of nine has a braining weighing 2.7 grams, and the quail with one innovation, only 0.73 gram.

The Avian Brain

October 7, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds,” a book by Jennifer Ackerman. The chickadee is more than just a bird of verve and agility. It’s also acrobatic in its aptitudes, curious intelligent, and opportunistic with a prodigious memory. It is a bird masterpiece beyond in the words of Forbush. The chickadee family rates right up there with woodpeckers on Lefevbre’s IQ scale. Chickadees stash seeds and other food in thousands of different hiding places to eat later. They can remember where they put a single food item for up to six months. And they do this with a brain roughly twice the size of a garden pea. The chickadee has double the brain size of birds in the same body-weight range, such as a flycatcher or swallow. Many bird species have surprisingly large brains for their body size. Scientists call them hyper inflated, much like our brains.

Birds have condensed genomes, which may be an adaptation to powered flight. Birds have the smallest genomes of any amniote, the group of animals, including reptiles and mammals, that lay their eggs on land. The typical mammal has a genome ranging from 1 billion to 8 billion base pairs, whereas in birds it hovers at around 1 billion. This is the result of fewer repeat elements and a large number of so-called deletion events, in which DNA has been expunged over evolutionary time. This more compressed genome might allow a bird to regulate its genes more rapidly to meet the requirements of flight.

Birds evolved from dinosaurs during the Jurassic period, 150 million to 160 million years ago. Paleontologist Stephen Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh says that we find that there is no clear distinction between ‘dinosaur’ and bird.’ A dinosaur didn’t just change into a bird one day. The bird body plan began early and was assembled gradually, piece by piece over 100 million years of steady evolution.

Birds have their eggheads and their pinheads. Not all birds have big brains for their body size. For example, birds of a similar size, a crow (with a brain of 7 to 10 grams) and a partridge (only 1.9 grams) have different sized brains. But two smaller birds, the great spotted woodpecker (with a brain of 2.7 grams) and the quail (0.73 gram) have different sized brains.

Reproductive strategy plays a role in brain size. The 20% of bird species that are precocial—born with their eyes open and able to leave the nest within a day or two—have larger brains at birth than altricial birds. These are born, naked, blind, and helpless and remain in the nest unit they’re as big as their parents, and only then do they fully fledge. Precocial birds, such as shorebirds, typically take to life straightaway. Though their brains are relatively large at hatching—allowing them to catch and eat an insect or run short distances when only days old—they don’t grow much after birth, so they end up smaller than the brains of altricial birds. So, nest sitters end up with bigger brains than nest quitters.

Brain size is also correlated with how long a bird stays in its nest to apprentice with its parents after fledging. The longer the juvenile period, the bigger the brain, perhaps so that a bird can store all it learns. Long childhoods are characteristic of most intelligent animal species.

Birds experience the same cycles of slow-wave sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) that humans do. Scientists believe that these patterns of brain activity play a crucial role in the growth of big brains. Birds rarely have REM sleep longer than 10 seconds, packaged into hundreds of episodes per sleep period, while humans have several bouts of REM sleep per night, each lasting ten minutes to an hour. For both mammals and birds, REM sleep might be especially needed for the early development of the brain. Newborn mammals such as kittens have much more REM sleep than adult cats. Human babies may spend up to half their sleep in the REM stage, whereas for adults, it’s about 20%. Similarly young owlets have more REM sleep that older owlets.

Both birds and humans have periods of deep, slow-wave sleep in direct proportion to how long they’ve been awake. And in both birds and humans, the brain regions used more extensively in waking hours sleep more deeply during subsequent sleep.

A research team headed by Niels Rattenborg at the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology made use of a bird’s ability humans do not have. Birds can modulate their deep sleep by opening one eye, limiting the slow-wave sleep to only one half of the brain while keeping the other half alert. It takes very little thought to understand how such a capability is beneficial to birds. The team built a little movie theater for several pigeons, blocked one eye in each of them. and showed them David Attenborough’s The Life of Birds. After staying awake watching the film for eight hours with a single eye, the birds were allowed to sleep. Studies of their brain activity showed deeper slow-wave sleep in the visual processing region of the brain connected to the stimulated eye.

Rattenborg says that both humans and birds showing this kind of localized brain effect suggest that slow-wave sleep may play a role in maintaining optimal brain functioning. “overall, the parallels between mammalian and avian sleep raise the intriguing possibility that their independent evolution may be related to the function served by the pattern of sleep: the evolution of large, complex brains in both birds and mammals.”

Erich Jarvis says, “About 75% of our forebrain is cortex and the same is true for birds, particularly species of songbirds and parrots. They have as much ‘cortex’, relatively speaking, as we do. It’s just not organized the way ours is.” The author continues, “Whereas the nerve cells in a mammal’s neocortex are stacked in six distinct layers like plywood, those in the bird’s cortex like structure cluster like cloves in a garlic bulb. But the cells themselves are basically the same, capable of rapid and repetitive firing, and the way they function is equally sophisticated, flexible, and inventive. Moreover, they use the same chemical neurotransmitters to signal between them. And perhaps most important, bird and mammal brains share similar nerve circuits, or pathways between brain regions—which turns out to be vital for complex behavior. It’s the connections, the links between brain cells, that matter in the matter of intelligence. And in this regard, bird brains are not so different from our own.

Irene Pepperberg offers this computer analogy. Mammalian brains are like PCs, she says, while bird brains are like Apples. The processing is different, but the output is similar.

The Genius of Birds

October 6, 2019

“The Genius of Birds” is a book by Jennifer Ackerman. There will be many posts based on this book. Readers may well ask why is the Healthymemory Blog devoting so many posts to this topic The answer is learning new topics helps build a healthymemory and there are many useful concepts to be learned. Unfortunately, most of what has been learned about birds is relatively new, and the rest has been buried in academic tomes. And, unfortunately, birds have a bad press and many misconceptions to overcome, bird brain being the first. This slur came from the belief that birds had brains so diminutive they had to be devoted only to instinctual behavior. Ms. Ackerman notes, “the avian brain had no cortex like ours, where all the “smart” stuff happens.” We thought that birds had minimal noggins for good reason: to allow for airborne ways; to defy gravity, to hover, arabesque, dive, soar for days on end, migrate thousands of miles, and maneuver in tight spaces.

Research, however, has taught us otherwise, Bird brains are very different from our own. This is not surprising as humans and birds have been evolving independently for a very long time, since our last common ancestor more than 300 million years ago. However, some birds have relatively large brains for their size, as do we. And when it comes to brainpower, size seems to matter less than the number of neurons, where they’re located, and how they’re connected. And some bird brains pack very high numbers of neurons where it counts, with densities akin to those found in primates, and links and connections similar to ours. As will be seen in subsequent posts, certain birds have sophisticated cognitive abilities.

Ms. Ackerman writes, “In judging the overall intelligence of animals, scientists may look at how successful they are at surviving and reproducing in many different environments. By this measure, birds trump nearly all vertebrates, including fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. They live in every part of the globe, from the equator to the poles, from the lowest deserts to the highest peaks, in virtually every habitat, on land, sea, and in bodies of freshwater.

As a class, birds have been around more than 100 million years. They are one of nature’s great success stories, inventing new strategies for survival, their own distinctive brands of ingenuity that, in some respects at least, seem to far outpace our own.”

Birds possess ways of knowing that are hard to understand, which we can’t easily dismiss as merely instinctual or hardwired. Ms. Ackerman writes, “What kind of intelligence allows a bird to anticipate the arrival of a distant storm? Or find its way to a place it has never been to before though it may be thousands of miles away? Or precisely imitate the complex songs of hundreds of other species? Or hide tens of thousands of seeds over hundreds of square miles and remember where to put them six months later?

Anthropic Principle vs. Creationism vs. Intelligent Design

September 29, 2019

The anthropic principle is a philosophical consideration that observations of the universe must be compatible with the conscious and sapient life that observes the universe. The physical conditions that enabled the creation of the universe are very precise. Absent these conditions there would be no universe for humans to observe much less live in.

The strong anthropic principle (SAP) states that this is the case because the universe is in some sense compelled to eventually have conscious and sapient life emerge within it.

The weak anthropic principle (WAP) states that the universe’s fine tuning is the result of selection bias (survivor bias) in that only in a universe capable of eventually supporting life will there be living beings capable of observing and reflecting on the matter. Most often these arguments draw upon some notion of the multiverse for there to be a statistical population of universes to select from and from which selection (our observation of only this universe, compatible with our life) could occur.

Understand that what is being presented in this post is an enormous simplification of this issue. If interested, go to the Wikipedia and proceed from there.

However, it is hoped that enough has been written to compare the strong anthropic principle (SAP) with creationism and intelligent design.

It seems that creationists could adopt the SAP arguing that God is necessary for these conditions to occur, hence God is the creator of the universe. Although it is unlikely that most physicists would agree with this argument, creationists might argue that the law of parsimony (the simplest explanation is the best) argues for the SAP.

However, proponents of intelligent design could not employ this argument. Previous healthy memory blog posts have pointed to the flaw in intelligent design. Although one can find specific examples of intelligent design within nature, there are many more examples of failed species who died out and did not survive. So to argue for intelligent design one needs to accept a flawed entity or one who needs to learn by doing.

It would be good to teach the two anthropic principles along with creationism and intelligent design. The goal would not be to force students regarding what to believe, but rather to provide information on how science proceeds.

Unfortunately, there are many times when religions make war upon science. This is unfortunate. A religious leader who has an enlightened view of science is the Dalai Lama. He uses science to inform his religion. He sends his priests to seminars and schools to become well versed in science.

The problem with wars between science and religion is that science ultimately wins. The reason for this is that science changes as data and logic indicate. Unfortunately, dogmatic religions ultimately lose and humanity and civilization suffer.

© 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.

Truth-Default Theory (TDT)

September 28, 2019

This post is based on content in Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcom Gladwell. It has been noted in previous posts that we all have an initial default to believe what we read or are told. If we questioned everything our process through life, particularly at the beginning, would be enormously slow. Truth-Default Theory, by psychologist Tim Levine, capitalizes on this tendency to explain why we are vulnerable to lies. According to Levine we are normally in the truth-default mode. To snap out of this mode requires a trigger. “A trigger is not the same as a suspicion, or the first sliver of doubt. We fall out of the truth-default mode only when the case against our initial assumption becomes definitive. We do not behave, in other words, like sober-minded scientists, slowly gathering evidence of the truth or falsity of something before reaching a conclusion. We do the opposite. We start by believing. And we stop believing only when our doubts and misgivings rise to the point where we can no longer explain them away.”

A Harvard Economist, Sendhil Mullainathan, three elite computer scientists and a bail expert conducted an interesting experiment in the courts of New York City. They gathered up the records of 554, 689 defendants brought before arraignment hearings in New York from 2008 to 2013. This involved 554,689 defendants. The same information the prosecutors had given judges in these arraignment case was fed into a computer and analyzed with a program developed by these three elite computer scientists. It is presumed that these judges know how to evaluate this information. The judges decided to release just over 400,000 of the 554,689 defendants. The computer program made its own decisions regarding whom to release. So who made the best decisions? Whose list committed the fewest crimes while out on bail and was most likely to show up for their trial date? The people on the computer’s list were 25% less likely to commit crimes than the 400,000 people released by the judges of New York City. So in this contest of man versus machine, man clearly lost.

The main shortcoming of these judges was that they were human beings. Humans do not do that good a job of integrating numerical information without the aid of machines. And humans are strongly influenced by the behavior and status of the subjects they are evaluating. Gladwell reviews the case of Amanda Cox.

Amanda Cox was an American living in Italy who was falsely accused of murdering Meredith Kercher. In hindsight, it is completely inexplicable how she was convicted. There was never any physical evidence linking either Cox or her boyfriend to the crime. Nor was there ever a plausible explanation for why Cox—an immature, sheltered, middle-class girl from Seattle—would be interested in engaging in a murderous sex game with a troubled drifter she barely knew. Gladwell’s explanation is that Amanda’s behavior and the things she said convinced some people of her guilt, in spite of the hard evidence that she was innocent. So appearances, can get you in trouble, but they also provide the basis for successful lying.

The opposite case is Bernie Madoff. Bernie Madoff was the hedge-fund manager who ran a pyramid scheme that ended up defrauding many wealthy and prestigious clients. In addition to his status as the leader of a large fund, he was a genius at convincing people that all was above board. Gladwell analyzes many other interesting cases.

So what is to be learned from this book? A default mode of belief is practical, but be aware that appearances can be deceiving. So be careful about new interactions. Also be careful regarding established relationships if something questionable develops.

There are good tips on how to deceive. Simply act like you are telling the truth and stick with it.

Although Gladwell does not mention this in his book, we have an example of an extraordinary liar. He is the President of the United States, Donald Trump. And his many, many lies have been documented. He lies just as often as he tells the truth. And when caught in a lie, he doubles down. He never admits that he was wrong. This provides quite a challenge to government officials who he tries to force to back up his lies. Of course, he has no credibility with foreign leaders. How American citizens can still support him is mind boggling. And he is planning to run for re-election!

Suicide and Coupling

September 27, 2019

Part Five of “Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know” by Malcom Gladwell is titled Coupling. Coupling theory argues that there are certain places or conditions that increase the likelihood of committing suicide. Many think that people who commit suicide are so depressed that they will eventually commit suicide, even if it takes multiple attempts. John Bateson has written a book titled, The Final Leap, which makes the argument, and provides data, to indicate that the effect of the Golden Gate Bridge on some people is to tempt them to commit suicide.

Psychologist Richard Seiden followed up on 515 people who had tried to jump from the bridge between 1937 and 1971, but had been unexpectedly restrained. Just 25 of those 515 persisted in killing themselves some other way. Overwhelmingly, the people who want to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge at a given moment, want to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge at that given moment.

But when did the municipal authority that runs the bridge finally decide to install a suicide barrier? In 2018, more than eighty years after the bridge opened. John Bateson points out that in the intervening period the bridge authority spent millions of dollars building a traffic barrier to protect cyclists crossing the bridge, even though no cyclist has ever been killed by a motorist on the Golden Gate Bridge. It spent millions building a media to separate north- and south-bound traffic, on the grounds of “public safety.” On the southern end of the bridge, the authority put up an eight-foot cyclone fence to prevent garbage from being thrown onto Fort Baker. A protective net was even reinstalled during the initial construction of the bridge—at enormous cost—to prevent workers from falling their deaths. This net saved nineteen lives, then it was taken down. But it took eighty years to provide the means of preventing suicides from the bridge.

Having a gun in the household is another example of suicide and coupling. If someone is depressed and considering suicide, a gun provides the best means. It’s fast and efficient. Other means of suicide, such as taking pills or slashing one’s wrists often fail. But only rarely do guns fail. It is ironic. Presumably, people keep a gun in their homes for protection, to protect themselves. But it is more likely to result in a mistaken killing or in a suicide. There are many more suicides that murders.

One of HM’s best friends was affected by this coupling. One New Year’s Eve, when HM’s friend was away from home, his son and a friend of his son were playing with a gun in the house. His friend’s son accidentally shot and killed his son. HM’s friend, who was a politician, said justice would be done. What justice could be done? His son was dead and his son’s friend had to live with this killing for the rest of his life. Justice, no. Stupidity, yes.

The Effects of Alcohol

September 26, 2019

This post is based on content in Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcom Gladwell. Psychologists Claude Steele and Robert Josephs developed the myopia theory to explain the psychological effects of alcohol. What they mean by myopia is that alcohol’s principal effect is to narrow our emotional and mental fields of vision. In other words, “it creates a state of shortsightedness in which superficially understood, immediate aspects of experience have a disproportionate influence on behavior and emotion. Alcohol makes the thing in the foreground even more salient and the thing in the background less significant. It makes short-term considerations loom large, and more cognitively demanding, longer-term considerations fade away.”

When we get drunk what happens to us is a function of the particular path the alcohol takes as it seeps through our brain tissue. The effects being in the frontal lobes that govern attention, motivation, planning, and learning. The first drink “dampens” activity in that region. We become a little dumber, and are less capable of handling competing complicated considerations. It hits the reward centers in the brain, the areas that produce euphoria, and gives them a little jolt. It affects the amygdala. One of the amygdala’s jobs is to tell us how to react to the world around us. Are we being threatened? Should we be afraid? Alcohol turns the amygdala down a notch. These effects are what produce myopia. We don’t have the brainpower to deal with more complex, long-term considerations. The pleasure of alcohol distracts us. Our neurological burglar alarm turns off. Alcohol finds its way to our cerebellum, at the very back of the brain, which is involved in balance and coordination.

Under certain very particular circumstances—if we drink a lot of alcohol very quickly—something else happens. Alcohol hits our hippocampi that are responsible for forming memories. At a blood-alcohol level of 0.08—the level threshold for intoxication—the hippocampi begin to struggle. When you wake up the morning after and remember meeting someone but cannot remember their name or the story they told you, that’s because the two shots of whiskey you drank in quick succession reached your hippocampi. The gaps get larger when you drink a little more and the gaps get larger to the point where you remember pieces of the evening but other details can be summoned only with great difficulty.

Aaron White of the National Institutes of Health is one of the world’s leading experts on blackouts. He says that there is no particular logic to what gets remembered and what doesn’t. He says, “Emotional salience doesn’t seem to have an impact on the likelihood that your hippocampus records something. What that means is you might, as a female, go to a party and might remember having a drink downstairs, but you don’t remember getting raped. But then you do remember getting the taxi.” At the next level—roughly around a blood-alcohol level of 0.15, the hippocampus simply shuts down entirely. White said, “In the true, pre blackout, there’s just nothing. Nothing to recall.”

Unfortunately, heavy drinkers today are drinking much more than heavy drinkers fifty years ago. Alcohol researcher Kim Fromme says “When you talk to today’s students they think that four or five drinks is just getting started. She says that the heavy binge-drinking category now routinely includes people who have had twenty drinks in a setting. Blackouts have become common. Aaron White surveyed a group of more than 700 students at Duke University. Over half the drinkers in this group had suffered a blackout at some point in their lives. 40% had a blackout in the previous year, and almost one in ten had had a blackout in the previous two weeks.

Unfortunately, white women, particularly, are also drinking heavily. For physiological reasons, this trend puts women at a greatly increased risk for blackouts. If an average male of average weight has eight drinks over four hours, he would end up with a blood alcohol level of 0.107. Although that’s too drunk to drive, it is still below the 0.15 level typically associated with blackouts. If a woman of average weight has eight drinks over four hours, she’s as a blood-alcohol level of 0.173. So she’s blacked out.

Date Rape

September 25, 2019

 

This post is based on content in Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcom Gladwell. Of course, whether it is rape or consensual sex depends upon what the participating parties think. The following 2015 poll of one thousand college students taken by the Washington Post/ Kaiser Family Foundations reveals the problem. Students were asked whether they thought that any of the following behaviors “establishes consent for more sexual activity”

Takes off their own clothes
Men Women
Yes 50 44
No 45 52
Depends 3 3
No Opinion 2 1

Gets a Condom
Men Women
Yes 43 38
No 51 58
Depends 4 4
No Opinion 4 1

Nods in Agreement
Men Women
Yes 58 51
No 36 44
Depends 3 3
No Opinion 3 3

Engages in foreplay such as kissing or touching
Men Women
Yes 30 15
No 66 82
Depends 3 3
No Opinion * *

Does not say “No”
Men Women
Yes 20 16
No 75 80
Depends 4 2
No Opinion 1 1

A final question was ,Please tell me if you think the situation IS sex assault, IS NOT sexual assault, or is unclear. The situation is when when both people have not given clear agreement.

Men Women
Is 42 52
Is not 7 6
Unclear 50 42
No Opinion 1 0

Apparently, what is required is a consent form signed by both parties.
Alcohol makes the problem even murkier.
The following post will discuss alcohol.

My sincere apology for the pathetic formatting. They say a poor craftsman blames his tools. Obviously, HM is the poorest of craftsmen.

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

September 24, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

As AD progresses from earlier to later stages, atrophy starts in the medial temporal lobe, extends to the parietal lobe, and finally includes the frontal lobe. The long-term memory impairment in early AD patients can be attributed to the disrupted processing in the hippocampus and parietal cortex, to regions that have been associated with this cognitive process. As the disease progresses, other cognitive processes are disrupted such as attention and language, which both depend on the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

In early AD patients, as atrophy begins in the parietal cortex and the frontal cortex, there have also been reports of increases in fMRI activity within cortical regions. It is unknown whether these increases in cortical fMRI activity reflect a compensatory mechanism, which is often assumed to be the case, or reflect non-compensatory hyperactivity due to neural disruption.

In addition to brain atrophy, AD patients have abnormal high levels of proteins in different brain regions. In the medial temporal lobe, the accumulation of tau protein leads to neurofibrillary tangles. In cortical regions, such as the parietal cortex in early AD, the accumulation of amyloid-B protein leads to amyloid plaques. The neurofibrillary tangles in the medial temporal lobe and amyloid plaques in cortical regions can be assumed to disrupt neural processing in these regions.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “There is an influential hypothesis that there is a causal relationship between default network activity that leads to deposition of amyloid that results in atrophy and disrupted metabolic activity, which impairs long-term memory in AD patients. The regions in the default network are active when participants are not engaged in a task and include the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the medial prefrontal cortex, the inferior prefrontal cortex and the medial parietal cortex. In AD patients, amyloid deposition occurs in the same regions, which suggest the default network activity may lead to amyloid deposition. Dr. Slotnick suggests that perhaps higher level of amyloid deposition, which occurs in late AD patients, is necessary to produce atrophy in the frontal cortex.

Healthy memory readers should recognize the similarity between the default network and Kahneman’s System 1 processing. System 1 processing is the default network that needs to be disrupted to engage in System 2 processing, better known as thinking.

Dr. Slotnick continues, “If high amyloid deposition is a causal factor in developing AD, older adults with low levels of amyloid should be at decreased risk for developing this disease. There is some evidence that cognitive engagement and exercise throughout life may reduce the amyloid level in the brains of healthy older adults as a function of cognitive engagement (System 2 processing), and this was compared to the cortical amyloid levels . Participants rated the frequency which they engaged in cognitively demanding tasks such as reading, writing, going to the library, or playing games at five different ages (6, 12, 18, 40, and their current age). Healthy older adults with greater cognitive engagement throughout their lifetime, as measured by the average cognitive activity at the five ages, had lower levels of amyloid in default network regions. Moreover, the healthy older adults in the lowest one-third of lifetime engagement had amyloid levels that were equivalent to AD patients, and the healthy older adults in the highest one-third of lifetime cognitive engagement had amyloid levels that were equivalent to young adults.

It should also be noted that many have died who upon autopsy had levels of amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles definitive of AD, but who never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms characteristics of the disease. The explanation typically offered for these individuals is that they had built a cognitive reserve as a result of the mental activities they had engaged in during their lifetimes.

There is a wide variety of products sold to prevent AD, such as computer games and pills that increase short-term memory. But it should be clear from the posts on cognitive science that the entire brain is involved. That is why the healthy memory blog strongly recommends growth mindsets with continual learning throughout the lifespan. These make heavy use of System 2 processing. Of course, a healthy lifestyle that includes physical exercise must also be part of the mix.

Transient Global Amnesia (TGA)

September 23, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

The criteria used to diagnose follow:
There is clear anterograde amnesia.
The attack must last no longer than 24 hours.
The individual must not have clouding of consciousness (drowsiness) and they must know their personal identity.
The attack must be witnessed by another person.
There should be no other neurological symptoms during or after the attack (problems speaking or partial paralysis).
There should be no recent history of head injury or epilepsy.

TGA patients often have retrograde amnesia for hours before the attack and have anterograde amnesia for 1 to 10 hours. They usually repeat the same questions, such as “where am I?” and “why am I here?” because they forget that they had already asked a question and received an answer. The most common events that precipitate an attack are emotional stress, physical effort, contact with hot or cold water, or sexual intercourse. TGA patients are usually middle-aged or elderly adults. Accompanying symptoms can include headache, nausea, and dizziness. After diagnosis, the course of treatment is to wait for the amnesia to resolve on its own.

Research provides compelling evidence that TGA is caused by a temporary lesion in the CA1 region of the hippocampus. This is consistent with the important role of the hippocampus in long term memory. The mechanism underlying hippocampal lesions in TGA patients remains unknown. One hypothesis is that TGA patients have blood flow problems due to vascular blockage, but TGA patients do not have greater vascular risk
factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, than healthy control participants.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “The only identified risk factor is a history of migraine headaches. As emotional or physical stress almost always triggers TGA attacks and stress can produce changes in blood flow, it may be that hippocampal CA2 lesions are due to stress-induced decreases in blood flow to this sub-region. The hippocampal CA1 sub-region may be particularly susceptible to reductions in blood flow because it is supplied by one large artery, while the other hippocampal sub-regions are supplied by one large artery and many small arteries. The temporary focal lesions in the hipocampas CA1 sub-region of TGA patients provide a unique opportunity for future collaborations between cognitive neuroscientists and neurologists to investigate the specific role of this region in long-term memory.

Mild Traumatic Brain Imagery (mTBI)

September 22, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Patients with mTBI do not have any brain abnormalities, as measured using structural neuroimaging methods such as anatomic MRI. The diagnosis of mTBI includes loss of consciousness for less than 30 minutes and post-traumatic amnesia for less than 24 hours. Patients with mTBI can have attention and memory deficits, but these typically resolve within a few weeks.

The performance between mTBI patients and control participants did not differ on the memory task they were performing, but the mTBI patients had a greater extent and magnitude of fMRI activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the parietal cortex than control participants.

Fifteen mTBI patients with concussions due to sports-related injuries were tested 2 days, 2 weeks, and 2 months after the injury. Only one of the 15 patients still had symptoms 2 months after the injury. Consistent with the previous research, there were no differences in the performance of the memory task between the patients and the control participants, but there was greater fMRI activity in the mTBI patients than the control participants within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex at all three time points and within the parietal cortex at the first two time points. This greater fMRI activity 2 months after injury is concerning because they indicate there are differences in brain processing even after behavioral symptoms have been resolved. So there can be persistent brain disruptions even though there are no behavioral symptoms or brain abnormalities observable with anatomic neuroimaging methods.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “As mTBI patients may be more sensitive to repeated head trauma, it is arguable that they should not be allowed to continue participating in impact sports until their fMRI activity returns to normal.

There is also evidence that the magnitude of fMRI activity decreases in mTBI imagery with more severe or repeated head injuries. One working memory fMRI study had mTBI patients with more severe sports-related head injuries. These not-so-mild mTBI patients were tested 1 to 14 months after the most recent head injury. The large majority of participants had multiple previous concussions, and 15 of the 16 participants had persistent symptoms. As before, behavioral measures did not differ on the memory tasks between the mTBI patients and the control subjects. There was greater activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex for the control participants than in mTBI patients, in direct opposition to the previous findings for less severe mTBI patients. Additionally, participants with greater post-concussive symptoms had a smaller magnitude and extent of firm activity within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during visual working memory blocks. The same pattern of fMRI results was obtained in a subsequent study that employed the identical visual working memory task and a similar group of not-so-mild mTBI participants. It is important to realized that repeated mTBI and sub-concussive head injuries ( due to boxing or football, for example) can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

There are eleven previous posts addressing chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment

September 21, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) occurs in a small but significant percentage of adults who are older than 60 years of age, with incidence increasing as a function of age. Approximately 50% of these cases will become Alzheimer’s sufferers. Individuals with aMCI have a selective impairment in long-term memory as compared to healthy age-matched control participants, and are unimpaired in other cognitive domains. There is an increasing body of evidence indicating that the long-term memory impairment in aMCI patients is due to atrophy of medial temporal lobe sub regions that is increased by a paradoxical increase in fMRI activity within the medial temporal lobe.

Structural MRI was used to compare the size of the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex in aMCI patients and control participants. aMCI patients had a smaller hippocampal value and a smaller entorhinal cortex volume in both hemispheres as compared to age-matched control participants, indicating atrophy of these regions. In addition, the white matter pathway between the entorhinal cortex and the hippocampus had a smaller volume in aMCI patients than control participants, and this was the only white matter region in the entire brain that differed in volume. These results indicate that the long-term memory impairments in aMCI patients are due to isolated atrophy in the entorhinal cortex and the hippocampus.

A relatively higher magnitude of fMRI activity within the CA3/DG sub-region during a pattern separation task reflects a non-compensatory change in processing related to neural disruption in aMCI patients.

Memory and Other Cognitive Processes

September 20, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Memory is involved in all cognitive processes. Neuroscience is a new emerging, field and the research into other cognitive processes is just beginning. Much further research is needed before it is ready for public consumption.

The few definitive facts on this topic appear in the Chapter Summary, which follow:

“*Visual attention increases activity in visual sensory regions and is also associated with activity in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and parietal cortex control regions.

Visual working memory is associated with the same sensory regions and control regions associated with attention, which likely reflects attention to the contents of working memory.

*Visual long-term memory is associated with the same regions associated with visual attention in addition to the medial temporal lobe, which indicates this cognitive priocess is distinct from attention.

*Imagery and working memory share the same cognitive operations and are associated with the same brain regions (i.e., the sensory cortex, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (i.e., Broca’s area) and the left posterior superior temporal cortex (i.e., Wernicke’s area).

*Memory for emotional information is thought to be enhanced through the interaction of the amygdala and the hippocampus.”

False Memories

September 19, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

False memories often stem from memory for the general theme of previous events, called gist. The Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm is commonly used to study false memory. In the DRM paradigm, lists of associated words are presented during the study phase (e.g.,”web’, ‘insect’, ‘fly’,) and then during the test phase old words, new related words (e.g., ‘spider’), and new unrelated words are presented and participants make “old” — “new” recognition judgments. Not surprisingly, participants have very high levels of false memories for new related words in these paradigms (they usually respond “old” to “spider” in the example above). It is thought that when the associated words are presented during the study phase in such paradigms, participants learn the gist of the list, and this leads to a false memory for the related item. Schacter and others have argued that remembering gist is an important feature of our memory system. Memory for gist is useful as it allows us to remember general information without getting bogged down by useless details. For example, when a person sees a friend (or an enemy) it makes more sense for them to remember the gist of that person rather than retrieve all of their previous interactions. The brain regions associated with true memory and gist-based false memories are very similar.

There are differences in brain activity between true memory and false memory. There was greater activity for true memory than false memory in more posterior early visual processing regions, including V1. These findings indicate that activity in early sensory regions can distinguish between true memory and false memory. The same pattern of visual area activity was reported in a subsequent study that used words as stimuli. So the question is if early visual regions can distinguish between true memory and false memory, why don’t participants use this information to respond “new” to related items? Slotnick and Schacter reasoned that if participants had conscious access to this information they would have used it to correctly reject new related items and, therefore, activity in early visual processing regions may reflect non consciousness. So our conscious mind remains ignorant of what our brain could tell us.

This research is important for neuroscience. However, the research on false memories in the cognitive literature is highly relevant to the law and legal issues. False memories have lead to the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of too many individuals. And there is ample research showing how false memories can be implanted into our brains. The leading researcher in this area is Elizabeth Loftus. Entering “Loftus” into the search box of the healthy memory blog will locate ten posts describing her research.
This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

False memories often stem from memory for the general theme of previous events, called gist. The Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm is commonly used to study false memory. In the DRM paradigm, lists of associated words are presented during the study phase (e.g.,”web’, ‘insect’, ‘fly’,) and then during the test phase old words, new related words (e.g., ‘spider’), and new unrelated words are presented and participants make “old” — “new” recognition judgments. Not surprisingly, participants have very high levels of false memories for new related words in these paradigms (they usually respond “old” to “spider” in the example above). It is thought that when the associated words are presented during the study phase in such paradigms, participants learn the gist of the list, and this leads to a false memory for the related item. Schacter and others have argued that remembering gist is an important feature of our memory system. Memory for gist is useful as it allows us to remember general information without getting bogged down by useless details. For example, when a person sees a friend (or an enemy) it makes more sense for them to remember the gist of that person rather than retrieve all of their previous interactions. The brain regions associated with true memory and gist-based false memories are very similar.

There are differences in brain activity between true memory and false memory. There was greater activity for true memory than false memory in more posterior early visual processing regions, including V1. These findings indicate that activity in early sensory regions can distinguish between true memory and false memory. The same pattern of visual area activity was reported in a subsequent study that used words as stimuli. So the question is if early visual regions can distinguish between true memory and false memory, why don’t participants use this information to respond “new” to related items? Slotnick and Schacter reasoned that if participants had conscious access to this information they would have used it to correctly reject new related items and, therefore, activity in early visual processing regions may reflect non consciousness. So our conscious mind remains ignorant of what our brain could tell us.

This research is important for neuroscience. However, the research on false memories in the cognitive literature is highly relevant to the law and legal issues. False memories have lead to the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of too many individuals. And there is ample research showing how false memories can be implanted into our brains. The leading researcher in this area is Elizabeth Loftus. Entering “Loftus” into the search box of the healthy memory blog will locate ten posts describing her research.

Motivated Forgetting

September 18, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Like retrieval-induced forgetting, motivated forgetting refers to an active process where retrieval of an item from memory is suppressed. Unlike retrieval-induced forgetting process, motivated forgetting is an intentional process.

So the research paradigm is obvious, present lists of words where words are designated to be remembered or forgotten. But the behavioral results of such an experiment would be obvious, and many would wonder why the study was done. Participants simply ignored the words designated to be forgotten and would study the words to be remembered.

Although a simple behavioral experiment would be silly, the same experiment measuring brain regions would be informative. The first study that investigated the brain regions associated with motivated forgetting employed fMRI. During the study phase, pairs of words were presented. During the think/no think phase, the initial words of some pairs were shown in red, which meant the associated word should not be thought about. The initial words of some pairs were shown in green, which meant that the associated word should be rehearsed. The initial words of some pairs were not shown, which served as a baseline measure of memory performance. During the final recall phase, all of the initial words pairs were shown.

The percentage of associated words recalled in the no-think condition was lower than the percentage of associated words recalled in the baseline condition, which reflected motivated forgetting. The percentage of associate words recalled in the think condition was higher than baseline performance, which was expected due to additional rehearsal.

Brain activity associated with motivated forgetting was identified by contrasting non-think trials (which were assisted with subsequent forgetting) and think trials (which were not associated with subsequent forgetting). Motivated forgetting was associated with an increase in activity within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and a decrease of activity in the hippocampus.

A literature review has shown that motivated forgetting consistently produces an increase in activity within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and a decrease of activity within the hippocampus. In addition, motivated forgetting of visual information produces a decrease in activity within the visual sensory regions. This overall pattern of brain activity during motivated forgetting is identical to that of retrieval-induced forgetting. These findings provide convergent evidence that active forgetting, whether retrieval-based or motivated, is cause by a top-down signal within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex that inhibits the hippocampus and sensory cortical regions.

Retrieval-Induced Forgetting

September 17, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Retrieval-induced is an active process where retrieval of an item from memory inhibits the retrieval of related words. For example, if the word “banana” is recalled, the memory representation of the related word “orange,” which is also a fruit, will be inhibited to some degree. Presumably such inhibition occurs to reduce the likelihood that a similar but incorrect item will be retrieved (to avoid mistakenly saying “orange” when one intends to say “banana.”)

The paradigm used to study retrieval-induced forgetting includes an initial study phase, an intermediate retrieval practice, and a final recall phase. In one fMRI experiment, participants were presented with word pairs consisting of a category and an example of the category in the study phase. During the intermediate retrieval practice phase, participants were presented with a subset of the categories along with a two-letter word cue and were asked to mentally complete each word (during this phase, non-presented words from the same categories were inhibited). In the final recall phase, participants were presented with all of the categories and word cues corresponding to the word pairs from the study phase. Categories/words that were presented in the study phase but were not presented in the retrieval practice served as a baseline level of performance (since these words were not inhibited.) Retrieval-induced forgetting was revealed as a lower percentage of recall for words that were from the same category than the percentage of recall for words that were from a different category that were not presented during retrieval practice.

To identify brain regions associated with retrieval-induced forgetting during the final recall phase, non-presented words from the same category as those presented during retrieval practice (which were inhibited) were compared with practice words (which were not inhibited). This contrast produced activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The larger the magnitude of activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the higher the percentage of retrieval-induced forgetting. This suggests that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex actively inhibits non-presented words from the same category as words presented during retrieval practice.

Another retrieval-induced forgetting study used transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to disrupt activity in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during the practice phase. This completely eliminated the retrieval-induced forgetting effect, indicating that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is necessary to produce this type of forgetting.

Typical Forgetting

September 16, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Usually forgetting in everyday life can be attributed to a failure to attend to information. One might not be interested in the material, distracted by a cell phone, been sleepy, or thinking about something else. Attention is key to remembering and not forgetting. If participants are asked to deeply process words, such as deciding whether each word in a study list is “pleasant” or “unpleasant,” their memory performance will be similar whether or not they knew there is a subsequent memory test. Successfully encoding information requires attention rather than the knowledge that the information will be tested at a later time.

The pattern of brain activity associated with subsequent forgetting is the same as the pattern of brain activity that is referred to as the default network. The default network consists of the regions of the brain that become active when participants are not engaged in any particular task, such as when they lay quietly with their eyes closed, passively looking at a fixation point on the screen, or waiting between experimental trials. This network of brain activity has been associated with many cognitive states, such as daydreaming, mind wandering, lapses of attention, and retrieval of personal information.

So in the real world one knows to minimize distractions and attend to information that is important. To avoid forgetting, one needs to focus attention and stay engaged. So minimize multitasking. Staying constantly plugged in guarantees superficial understanding.

Phase and Frequency of Activity Associated with Long Term Memory

September 15, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Frequency refers to the rate of change in magnitude over time. Frequencies can be low, changing slowly over time, or high, changing rapidly over time. Brain activity time courses can be considered from a frequency perspective, with lower frequencies corresponding to slower changes in signal over time, and higher frequencies corresponding to the faster changes in signal over time. Certain frequencies of brain activity have been associated with memory and have been linked to particular brain regions. Specifically, memory has been associated with brain activity that oscillates in the theta frequency band (4 to 8 Hertz), the alpha frequency band (8 to 12 Hertz) and the gamma frequency band (greater than 30 Hertz). In the fields of visual perception and visual attention, gamma activity is known to reflect binding of features that are processed in different cortical regions (such as shape and color). Gamma activity is a mechanism that underlies the perception of unified objects. Theta activity (4 to 8 Hertz) reflects the interaction the hippocampus and cortical regions have during long-term memory, and alpha activity reflects cortical inhibition.

In addition to modulation of activity within theta, alpha, and gamma frequency bands during memory, there is evidence that brain regions with different frequencies of modulation can be in phase with each other. This is called cross-frequency coupling and indicates two brain regions interact. In a long-term memory electroencephalography (EEG) study, participants viewed picture of objects during the study phase and then during the test phase were presented with old and new pictures of objects and made “remember’ “new” judgments. Subsequently remembered items as compared to subsequently forgotten items were associated with an increase in beta activity in right frontal regions, a decrease in alpha activity in anterior and posterior regions, and an increase in gamma activity in parietal and occipital regions (from 300 to 1300 milliseconds after stimulus onset). Moreover, there was greater cross-frequency coupling for subsequently remembered than subsequently forgotten items between frontal theta activity and parietal-occipital gamma activity. The identical pattern of results for theta activity and gamma activity was observed with the same experimental protocol during memory retrieval. Based on the known role of gamma activity in visual perception and attention, it can be assumed that the increase in parietal-occipital gamma activity in these studies reflected an increase in visual object processing associated with remembered items, and frontal theta activity may have modulated the gamma activity. Of special importance, the cross-frequency coupling evidence suggests that frontal regions and parietal-occipital regions interacted during long-term memory encoding and retrieval.

To summarize succinctly, theta activity reflects the interaction between the hippocampus and cortical regions during long-term memory, alpha activity reflects cortical inhibition, and gamma activity reflects process of features in different cortical regions that are combined to create a unified memory.

Superior Long Term Memory

September 14, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Perhaps the most famous research on superior memory, one that has been reported in previous healthy memory blog posts regards London taxi drivers. At one time they needed to memorize the layout of 25,000 city streets and the locations of thousands of city attractions. One study investigated whether there were differences in the size of brain regions between taxi drivers and control participants. They found that these taxi drivers had changes in the size of only their hippocampus, with a relative increase in the amount of gray matter within the posterior hippocampus and a relative decrease in the amount of gray matter within the anterior hippocampus. Moreover, the types changes in both types of hippocampal gray matter size correlated with the length of time they had been taxi drivers, which ranged from 1.5 to 52 years (with the largest changes for those who had been taxi drivers the longest).

A follow-up study compared the brain region sizes between London taxi drivers and London bus drivers, who were a better matched control in terms of driving experience, stress, and other factors. The same results were obtained, where the taxi drivers had a relatively larger posterior hippocampus and a relatively smaller anterior hippocampus than bus drivers, and this correlated with the length of time they had been driving a taxi.

Another group of people who have superior memory are those who participate in the World Memory Championships and those who are known for extraordinary memory abilities. A study compared such individuals with control participants to asses whether there were differences in cognitive abilities, differences in the size of brain regions, and differences in the magnitude of fMRI activation during memory tasks. People defined as having superior memory did not differ from control participants in the cognitive abilities tested (IQ ranges were 95 to 119 and 98 to 119, respectively) or in the size of an brain regions. The fMRI task required superior memory for a sequence of digits (a task where those whose superior memory excelled), memory for a sequence of faces, or memory for a sequence of snowflakes. Across tasks, those with superior memory had greater activation in the posterior hippocampus, the retrosplenial cortex, and the medial parietal cortex, which are regions that have been associated with long term memory. Almost all of the participants with superior memory reported using a memory strategy called the method of loci. (entering method of loci into the search block of the healthy memory blog yields 11 hits).

Another case study investigated another individual with a superior memory, who is known as PI, was able to recall the digits of pi to more than 65,000 decimal places. His performance was similar to control participants on the large majority of cognitive tasks. Not surprisingly his working memory was in the 99.9th percentile. But it is conceivable that that might be the result of the extraordinary amount of time he spent memorizing pi. His general memory was average. He was impaired on test of visual memory (3rd percentile or below).

He also reports on individuals who are considered as having highly superior autobiographical memory or HSAMers. There have been eight previous posts on HSAMers. These are people who have detailed episodic memory for every day of their later childhood and adult life. If they are given any date, they can recall the day of the week, and public events that occurred on that day of the week. In one study of HSAMers their performance was normal on most standard cognitive tasks. A comparison of different brain regions between HSAMers and control participants revealed a number of differences including greater white matter coherence in the parahippocampal gyrus, which could reflect greater contextual processing associated with episodic retrieval, and a relatively smaller anterior temporal cortex. The decrease in size of the anterior temporal cortex, which has been associated with semantic memory, may reflect the disuse of this region because those with HSAM rely more on episodic retrieval. Much more research needs to be done with this interesting group.

Sex Differences in Long Term Memory

September 13, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Males usually perform better on navigating previously learned environment. Females usually perform better on long-term memory tasks that can depend on verbal memory such as word list recognition and recall, associative memory, and autobiographical memory. Since almost all long-term memory tasks can be performed using verbal memory strategies, females generally have better behavioral performance than males. Females have larger numbers of estrogen receptors in the hippocampus and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These are two of the three regions associated with long-term memory, which can increase the activity of these regions. The hippocampus and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex are larger in females than males, relative to overall brain size. Additionally, females have relatively larger volumes of language processing cortex, which likely contributes to their superior verbal memory.

In addition, females and males often employ different cognitive strategies and have distinct patterns of brain activity while they perform the same task. An fMRI study investigated whether there were sex differences in the hippocampus during memory for object-location associations. There were 10 female and 10 male participants. During study blocks, participants viewed a video as if they were walking through a virtual environment with five colored geometric objects. During recognition blocks, an aerial view of each object was shown in a old location or a new location. Participants responded whether each was in an “old” or “new” location. Each participant also used a four-point rating scale to describe the strategy they used to learn the object locations: (1) completely verbal, (2) more verbal than pictorial, (3) more pictorial than verbal, and (4) completely pictorial.

Although there was no difference in behavioral performance between female participants and male participants, the average strategy for female participants was 2.5 and the average strategy rating for male participants was 4.0 indicating that female participants employed more verbal memory strategies and male participants employed purely spatial/non-verbal strategies. The fMRI data indicated that activity was localized to the left hippocampus in the large majority of female participants and that activity was localize to the right hippocampus in the large majority of male participants. These results are consistent with patient studies indicating the lesions in the left medial temporal lobe impair verbal memory and lesions in the right medial temporal lobe impair visual memory.

Long Term Memory Consolidation and Sleep

September 12, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

It appears that a primary role of sleep is to integrate new memories into our vast memory store with the minimal disruption of old memories. Sleep involves rapid eye movements (REM) periods and non-REM periods that alternate every ninety minutes, with four stages of progressively deeper non-REM sleep. The first half of a night’s sleep is dominated by non-REM sleep, while the amount of REM sleep increases during the second half of the night. Non-REM stages 3 and 4, referred to as slow wave sleep, are of special relevance because these periods are important for consolidation of long-term memories. REM sleep seems to be particularly important for consolidation of implicit memories.

Slow wave sleep is associated with slow (less than 1 Hertz) waves of brain activity that are measured across the entire scalp using EEG. The slow waves orchestrate a number of brain processes that mediate the process of long-term memory consolidation. Slow waves alternate between down-states corresponding to global decreases in brain activity and upstates corresponding to global increases in brain activity. Slow waves synchronize other brain waves including thalamic-cortical sleep spindles (that oscillate at frequencies of 11-16 Hertz) and hippocampal sharp-wave ripples (that oscillate at a frequency of approximately 200 Hertz). Hippocampal sharp-wave ripples are of particular importance as they are known to coordinate the hippocampal-cortical interactions that reflect the reproduction of memories from the previous waking period. In brief, important long term memories from the previous waking period are replayed during slow wave sleep, which in turn strengthens these memories and results in consolidation. Although this mechanism for memory consolidation is based on strengthening of memory representations through repeated activations, it has been proposed that sleep may also weaken memory representation of unimportant events to provide a clean slate for next day’s events. It is interesting to note that Dr. Slotnick dedicates this book to his incredible daughter Sonya, for dominating my hippocampal sharp-wave spindles these past twelve years. This section should convince all readers that all-nighters are not only fruitless, but also counterproductive. One wants to have memories well-consolidated prior to taking an exam.

Brain Regions Associated with Long-Term Memory

September 11, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Dr. Slotnick writes, The term episodic memory can refer to many other related forms of memory including context memory, source memory, “remembering,” recollection, and autobiographical memory, which refers to a specific type of episodic memory for detailed personal events. As the names imply context memory and source memory refer to the context in which something occurred and source memory refers to where the event occurred.

Episodic memories are related to activity in both control regions and sensory regions of the brain. Sensory cortical activity reflects the contents of memory. The control regions that mediate episodic memory include the medial temporal lobe, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the parietal cortex. There are many regions associated with episodic memory but the primary regions are the medial temporal lobe, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the parietal cortex. The parahippocampal cortex processes the context of previously presented information such as the location or the color.

The hippocampus binds item information and context information to create a detailed episodic memory. Dr. Slotnick provides the following example. “If an individual went on a vacation to Newport Beach in California and later recalled meeting a friend on the beach, that individual’s perirhinal cortex would process item information (the friend), the parahippocampal cortex would process context information (the area of the beach on which they were standing), and the hippocampus would bind this information and context information into unified memory.”

Semantic memory refers to knowledge of facts that are learned through repeated exposure over a long period of time. These facts are processed and organized in semantic memory, which provides the basis for much thought. Subjectively, semantic memory is associated with “knowing.” Semantic memory includes definitions and conceptual knowledge, and this cognitive process is linked to the field of language.

Semantic memory has been associated with the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (in a different region associated with episodic memory), the anterior temporal lobes, and sensory cortical regions. The left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex may reflect the processing of selecting a semantic memory that is stored in other cortical memories. For example, naming animals activates more lateral inferior occipital-temporal cortex that has been associated with the perception of living things, while naming tools activates more medial inferior occipital-cortex that has been associated with perception of nonliving things.

In a study of Alzheimer’s patients, the impairment in an object naming task, which depends on intact semantic memory, was more highly correlated with cortical thinning in the left anterior temporal lobe. This finding suggests that the left anterior temporal lobe is necessary for semantic memory.

During long-term memory the hippocampus binds information between different cortical regions. But long-term memory may only depend on the hippocampus for a limited time. In the standard model of memory consolidation, a long-term memory representation changes from being based on hippocampal-cortical interactions to being based on cortical-cortical interaction, which takes a period of somewhere between 1 to 10 years. A person with hippocampal damage due to a temporary lack of oxygen might have impaired long-term memory for approximately 1 year before the time of damage from retrograde amnesia and have intact long-term memories for earlier events. This suggests that the hippocampus is involved in long-term memory retrieval for approximately 1year as more remote long-term memories no longer demand on the hippocampus so they are not disrupted.

The activity in the hippocampus did not drop to zero for older semantic memories but was well above baseline for events that were 30 years old. This indicates that the hippocampus was involved in memory retrieval for this entire period. If the hippocampus was no longer involved, the magnitude of activity in this regions would have dropped to zero for remote memories.

There is a growing body of evidence that the hippocampus is involved in long-term memories throughout the lifetime. As such, the process of consolidation does not appear to result in the complete transfer from hippocampus-cortical memory representation to cortical-cortical memory representations.

Tools of Cognitive Neuroscience

September 10, 2019

The title of this post is identical to a chapter title in an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” The tools of cognitive neuroscience are highly technical. If the reader is interested in these techniques she should read Dr.Slotnick’s book, or look up the tools of interest in the Wikipedia.

One of the earliest techniques was positron emission tomography (PET). It required that a low level of radioactive material be injected into the participants bloodstream. This technique measured increased blood flow to the portions of the brain being activated. Fortunately a new technique that measured blood flow was found that did not require the injection of radioactive dye or any other type of material.

That technique was functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which also measured where in the brain the blood flow was increasing.

Event-related potentials (ERPs) can track brain activity in real time. ERPs directly measure neural activity and have a temporal resolution in milliseconds. Its spatial resolution is in centimeters, which is much lower than fMRI.

Electroencephalography (EEG) uses the identical data acquisition as ERPs, but refers to any measure of brain activity that corresponds to electric fields. This includes ERPs, but more commonly refers to brain activity that oscillates within a specific range of frequencies. EEG frequency analysis is a powerful alternative to the more commonly employed ERP analysis. Related to EEG, magnetoencephalography (MEG) refers to any measure of brain activity that corresponds to magnetic fields, and also typically refers to brain activity that oscillates within a specific frequency range. Like ERPs that are generated by averaging all the events of a given type from EEG data during a cognitive task, event-related fields (ERFs) are generated by averaging all the events of a given type from MEG data. The more general terms EEG and MEG also refer to ERPs and ERFs.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “fMRI is by far the most popular method in the field of cognitive neuroscience. However, brain activity is not a static set of blobs that represent a cognitive process. Rather, brain activity changes across different regions in milliseconds. Only techniques with excellent temporal resolution, such as ERPs, can track the functioning brain. This book highlights the temporal dimension of brain processing in addition to the spatial dimension of brain processing. One major advantage of temporal information is that one can use it to assess whether different brain regions are synchronously active, which indicates that these regions interact. This reflects how the brain is actually operating.”

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) can be used to temporarily disrupt processing in one region of the brain.

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is similar to TMS in that it temp[orarily modulates processing in a target cortical region by stimulating with a weak direct current rather than a magnetic field.

A relatively new method called transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) uses the identical setup as tDCS, but the current alternatives at a specific frequency; this, tACS can stimulate the brain at a desired frequency.

Do not let yourself be discouraged or turned off by this technical stuff, but brief explanations are needed as these are the tools used in this research. The remainder of the posts will be on memory performance and on the portions of the brain contributing to this performance.

Sensory Reactivation Hypothesis

September 9, 2019

This post is based on information in an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” The sensory reactivation hypothesis states that memory for an event can activate the same brain regions associated with the perception of that event. These sensory memory effects reflect the contents of memory for a visual experience containing visual information.

There is a large body of research supporting the memory sensory reactivation hypothesis. Memory for visual information, language information (sounds or words), movement information (actions, and olfactory information reactivate the corresponding regions of the brain.) Within the visual process regions, there is also evidence that memory for faces and houses activate the fusiform face area (FFA) and the parahippocampal place area (PPA), respectively.

Evidence has also accumulated that memory for specific features activate the corresponding feature processing brain region. Memory for shape activates the lateral occipital complex (LOC), memory for colors activates V8, memory for items in the left visual field or right visual field activate the extra striate cortex in the opposite/contralateral hemisphere, and memory for motion activates region MT.

The concept of mental practice is relevant here. Athletes or performers mentally rehearse the activities they will need to perform. This mental rehearsal activates the relevant brain areas and the communications that need to be made to perform these activities. And this mental practice has beneficial effects on performance.

This is good to keep in mind if the weather or other complications preclude regular practice. Idle moments can be filled with mental rehearsal to make best use of one’s time.

Similarly one can use this sensory reactivation to re-experience pleasant experiences, be it an view, vacation highlights, sporting events, enjoyable meals. One can get maximum value for one’s entertainment dollar in this manner.

Brain Anatomy

September 8, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Brain Anatomy is a difficult topic to cover in a blog. The names can be learned and one can impress one’s friends and neighbors by reciting these names with their associated function. But the brain is a three dimensional structure and it is difficult illustrating these structures in two dimensions, especially since the position from which the brain is viewed is important. What is needed is a three dimensional model that can be rotated. Such a model can be found at http://www.brainfacts.org. Look for 3D Brain and click interact with the brain. It will likely take some practice interacting with the brain, but HM thinks this is the best source for this feature.

The brain is composed of four lobes: occipital, temporal, parietal, and frontal. Each lobe has gray matter on the surface, which primarily consists of cell bodies, and white matter below the surface, which primarily consists of cell axons that connect different cortical regions. The occipital lobe is associated with visual processing. The temporal lobe is associated with visual processing and language processing. The parietal lobe is associated with visual processing and attention, and the frontal lobe is associated with many cognitive processes. You can see that over half of the human brain is associated with visual processing. Obviously we are primarily visual animals.

The regions of the brain that are of relevance to memory include the occipital cortex, the temporal cortex, the parietal cortex, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the medial temporal lobe. The cortex is folded with gyri protruding out and sulk folding in.

The hippocampus (you can look for this using the link provided above) is a structure central to long-term memory. Its importance was realized when surgery was done on a patient, H.M., done to treat the severe epileptic seizures he was having. The medial temporal lobe, which contains the hippocampus, was removed in both hemispheres. This surgery did not affect his intelligence or personality, but it did cause a severe deficit in long-term memory referred to as amnesia. His semantic memory remained intact. He had almost no memory of events that occurred a few years before the surgery, and had no memory for events that occurred after the surgery. Ten months before the surgery he and his family moved to a new house a few blocks away from their old house. After the surgery he had no memory for his new address, he could not find his way to the new home, and he did not know where objects were kept in the new home. He had no memory of articles he had read before, so he would read the same articles repeatedly. He would eat lunch and a half-hour later could not remember he had eaten. Despite this severe deficit in long-term memory, his working memory appeared intact. He could remember a pair of words or a three-digit number for several minutes as long as he was not distracted. So a reasonable conclusion is that the hippocampus and the surrounding cortical regions are critical for long-term memory.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “Long-term memory typically refers to retrieval of previously presented information, However, the key stages of long-term memory include encoding, storage, and retrieval. The hippocampus has been associated with both long-term memory encoding and long-term memory retrieval. Long-term memory storage depends on a process called memory consolidation, which refers to changes in brain regions, including the hippocampus, underlying long-term memory. Thus, all three stages of long-term memory depend on the hippocampus.”

Sometimes people think of the hippocampus as being the location where long-term memories are stored. Memories are stored throughout the brain, it is the processing of these memories for which the hippocampus is critical.

The Role of Introspection

September 7, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” The initial research approach taken in the early days of psychology was introspection. As all humans can access their own minds, it seemed like an obvious approach, to simply record how humans are using their own minds. Reams of research were collected using this approach. But no theories or hypothesis emerged, nor were there techniques for testing hypotheses, which is central to all science. The result was a radical rejection of this subjective approach and the beginning of behaviorism, in which only observed behaviors were an appropriate source of data for psychologists.

Only recently has introspection been accepted back into rigorous psychological research. Introspection has been found useful in identifying which kind(s) of memory operated during a particular task.

The renowned psychologist Endel Tulving hypothesized that there was a distinction between “remembering” and “knowing.” Tulving recognized this distinction from his own introspections. But he did not stop there. There was research on a patient with a brain lesion who had no detailed memory of the past (he could not remember) but still could define words. Tulving designed and ran experiments to test the hypothesis that “remember” responses and “know” responses were distinct. During one experiment, words were presented during the study phase, and then during the test phase old words and new words were presented and participants made “old” and “new” recognition judgments. For old items correctly classified as “old,” participants also made a “remember” – “know” judgment and a confidence-rating judgment (ranging from 1 to 3 corresponding to low confidence, intermediate confidence, and high confidence). The probability of “remember” responses increased with increasing confidence, while the probability of “know” responses was maximal at the intermediate confidence rating.

These distinct response profiles provide behavioral evidence in support of Tulving’s hypotheses that “remembering” and “knowing” are distinct types of memory. This research is strictly cognitive psychology. However, a large body of research in cognitive neuroscience has subsequently accumulated showing that “remembering” and “knowing” are also associated with distinct regions of the brain.

Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory

September 6, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the title of an important book by Scott D. Slotnick. He writes in the preface, “The human brain and memory are two of the most complex and fascinating systems in existence. Within the last two decades, the cognitive neuroscience of memory has begun to thrive with the advent of techniques that can non-invasively measure human brain activity with spatial resolution and high temporal resolution.

Cognitive neuroscience had not been created when HM was a graduate student. The field is quite new. In cognitive psychology we studied cognitive processes, of which memory was central, but little was known about the neuroscience underlying memory.

Before getting into neuroscience it is important to understand what memory encompasses. Most people think of memory as something they need to use to pass exams, are frustrated by exam failures, and by an inability to remember names. Readers should be aware of the function of memory. Memory is a tool for time travel. We use it to help us predict and deal with the future. The more we learn, the more we have information for dealing with the future. Moreover, there are many types of memory.

The first pair of memory types is explicit memory and implicit memory. These refer to conscious memory and nonconscious memory. They differ in that all forms of explicit memory are associated with conscious experience/awareness of previously experienced memory, whereas all forms of implicit memory are associated with a lack of conscious experience/awareness of the previously experienced information.

Skills are one type of implicit of memory. After a skill is learned, performance of that skill reflects nonconscious memory. Once a person has learned to ride a bike, she doesn’t think about rotating the pedals, steering, breaking, or balancing. Rather, their conscious experience is dominated by where she wants to ride or whatever else she happens to be thinking about. Repetition priming is another type of implicit memory that refers to more efficient or fluent processing of an item when it is repeated. When a television commercial is repeated, that information is processed more efficiently (and when the item from the commercial is seen again while shopping, implicit memory presumably increases the chance that it will be purchased.) Skill learning can be assumed to be based on repetition priming.

The remaining memory types are types of explicit memory. A second pair of memory types is long-term memory and working memory. Working-memory is often referred to as short-term memory. A recognition memory experiment will be described to help make the distinction between long-term memory and working memory. During the study phase of both long-term memory and working memory, items such as words or objects are presented. After the study phase, there is a delay period that will last as a function of specific amount(s) of time. During the test phase, old items from the study phase and new items are presented, and participants make “old” or “new” judgments for each item. This is termed old-new recognition. A greater proportion of “old” responses to old items than “old” responses to new items indicates the degree of accuracy of the memories.

Long-term memory and working memory differ with regard to whether or not information is kept in mind during the delay period. Typically there are many items in the study phase and the delay period is relatively long (typically minutes to hours). Obviously participants do not actively maintain information from the study phase during the delay period. In working memory experiments, there are typically a few items in the study phase, the delay period is in seconds and participants are instructed to actively maintain information from the study phase in their mind.

Another pair of memory types is episodic memory and semantic memory. Episodic memory consists of the memories we have of our experiences. Semantic memory refers to retrieval of, hopefully, factual memory that is learned over periods of time such as the definition of a word. Unfortunately, semantic memory also consists of misinformation and erroneous beliefs. And, unfortunately, this misinformation and erroneous beliefs can be further amplified via technology and social media.

Another pair of memory types is “remembering” and “knowing.” “Remembering” refers to the subjective mental experience of retrieving details from the previous experience, such as someone retrieving where they parked their car in a parking lot. If any details are recalled from a previous experience, this constitutes “remembering.” “Knowing” is defined by the lack of memory for details from a pervious experience, such as when someone is confident they have seen someone before but not where or when they saw them. Remembering is usually assumed to be related to context memory, as it is thought to occur whenever contextual information is retrieved. “Knowing” is typically assumed to be related to item memory and semantic memory. The last pair of memory types is recollection and familiarity. The terms recollection and familiarity can refer to mathematical models of these two kinds of memory, but more commonly refer to all the forms of detailed memory (episodic memory, context memory and “remembering”) and non-detailed memory (semantic memory, item memory, and knowing). Dr. Slotnick writes, “It may be useful to think of context memory and item memory as measures of task performance, “remembering” and “knowing” as measures of subjective experience, and recollection and familiarity as general terms that describe strong memory and weak memory, respectively.”

An Extremely Misleading Title

August 27, 2019

And that title would be “Heading off a concussion crisis” in the Sports section of the 21 August 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The author of this article is Roman Stubbs. The article is about Brittni Souder a soccer player who has ruined her health playing soccer. Now she is trying to help girls avoid a similar fate. No evidence is presented and there is no reason to believe that what she is teaching is of any value. That evaluation would need to take place over years to see if there is any evidence of a beneficial effect from Souder’s instructions.

There are about 300,000 adolescents who suffer concussions while participating in organized sports every year. In matched sports, girls are 12.1% more likely to suffer a concussion than boys, a 2017 study by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons found. It was also concluded that female soccer players are more likely to suffer a concussion than male football players—and three times more likely to suffer a traumatic brain injury than male soccer players.

Wellington Hsu, an orthopedic surgeon at Northwestern who led the study said, “What was very surprising was that girls’ soccer was just as impactful as boys’ football. Girls who play soccer really need to be aware of these issues. These symptoms plus having a second concussion is sequentially worse than the first one.”

Former U.S. National team members Brandi Chasten and Michelle Akers announced that they would participate in a Boston University study of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. No female athlete has been diagnose with CTE, which can only be confirmed through autopsy. Akers and Chasten have publicly expressed concern about memory loss since they retired from soccer.

HM thinks that any educational entity that sponsors sports that can damage the brain is hypocritical. Presumably the justification for sports is that they develop teamwork and build healthy bodies. But if the brain is damaged, this justification evaporates. Sports can be modified, or new ones developed, that preclude brain injury.

Brain Injuries of Tackle Football

August 26, 2019

This post is based on an article with a similar title by Robert C. Cantu and Mark Hyman in the Health & Science Section of the 20 August 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The authors ask that the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams post the following statement:
SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Tackle football is dangerous for children. Children who play football absorb repeated hits to the head. As adults, they’re at higher risk of suffering cognitive deficits as well as behavioral and mood problems.
The authors suggest that this warning be placed on every youth football helmet and placed in bold type on all youth tackle football registration forms. A parent or guardian wouldn’t be able to sign up their children without seeing it.

Since 2015, Boston University’s (BU) Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center has published three studies all leading to the following conclusion: Adults who played tackle football as children were more likely to deal with emotional and cognitive challenges later in life.

One study dug into the sports-playing pasts of 214 former football players. They found that starting as a player in a tackle football program before age 12 corresponded with increased odds for clinical depression, apathy and executive function problems—for example, diminished insight, judgment, and multitasking.

In another study, researchers zeroed in on the effects of head slams by comparing groups of adults who started in football before and after age 12 and who went on to develop CTE, a degenerative brain disease linked to repetitive hits in sports. Those in the study who played before age 12 experienced cognitive deficits—also behavioral and mood problems—a full 13 years earlier than those starting at 12 or older. For every year younger that someone was exposed to tackle football, the start of cognitive problems occurred 2.4 years earlier.

All states have concussion laws, which acquire special attention for athletes when they suffer concussions. But concussions are not a necessary condition for cognitive and behavioral problems. In the BU studies, brain injury was not linked to concussion but to long-term exposure to repeated subconcussive hits. Long-term exposure to subconcussive hits has been associated with CTE. The problem with subconcussive hits is that they become a problem years after they occur.

Now is a good time to review the true virtue of sports. They develop teamwork and promote physical health. So, why then, do sports that injure body and mind continue? Perhaps adults might continue so they could prosper in professional sports. But why should they be allowed, much less promoted for, children.

Previous healthy memory sports have pointed up the obvious irony of playing of football in institutions devoted to learning and healthy brains. The obvious justification for continuing to play these sports is money. Some universities and colleges are nothing more than fronts for football teams that ooze money into the university. Unfortunately, there are too many alumni who care only about the success of their teams, and not the quality of education offered at their schools, nor considerations about the future brain and mental health of future alumni.

The MVP Machine

August 25, 2019

The title of this post is the first part of a title of a new book by Ben Lindburgh and Travis Sawchik. The remainder of the title is “How Baseball’s New Noncomfortists Are Using Data to Build Better Players.” Initially HM read this book purely for his own interest in baseball, and he would recommend this book to anyone interested in baseball. But HM encountered topics integral to the Healthymemory blog including fixed mindset, growth mindsets, deliberate practice, and GRIT. So this book could be regarded as applying principles in the healthy memory blog to baseball.

A good place to begin this post is with Branch Rickey. Branch Rickey is famous for recruiting the first black player into the major leagues. Rickey was the general manager of the Dodgers (then in Brooklyn). Even though this was a major breakthrough in Civil Rights, Rickey’s immediate goal was to build a contending major league baseball team. A further goal was to bring a higher quality to major league baseball. Prior to Jackie Robinson, Rickey developed a minor league system to provide polished players to major league baseball. Prior to Rickey, baseball suffered from a fixed mindset. That is, they believed that good baseball players were born and not made, and the job was to find these fellows and sign them for major league teams.

But Rickey had a growth mindset. He thought that minor league teams were needed so that new players could learn and master new skills. That was the purpose for these minor league teams. Rickey told his staff not to criticize a player’s messed up play without telling them how to correct the error.

Remember that Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has researched and developed the concept of growth mindsets. Anders Ericsson developed the concept of deliberate practice which takes place out of one’s comfort zone and requires someone to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her current abilities. Thus it demands new-maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable (enter “deliberate practice” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.)

Angela Duckworth developed the concept of GRIT, which refers to the mental toughness required to develop and master important skills. Once again there are many healthy memory blog posts so just enter GRIT is the search block as described above.

The best-selling book “Moneyball,” described how sabermetrics were being used to develop a smarter type of baseball. This new book is moving beyond sabermetrics and using data to build better players. Much of this work is dependent upon new technology used to develop new metrics to capture human performance.

If you watch baseball on television, you are likely aware of some of this technology. When a player hits a home run stats on launch angle and speed appear on the screen. Technology has also been employed for pitching. Extremely high speed cameras enable the capturing of the spin rates and spin axis of the baseball. There had been an argument among pitchers whether they consciously released the ball when they threw it. The fast speed cameras revealed that pitchers don’t release the ball by moving their fingers. Rather, the hand accelerates the ball linearly forcing the fingers to extend or open. These high speed cameras not only allow for pitchers to improve their throwing, but also allow for the creation of entirely new pitches. Using a knowledge of physics, the study of speed, spin rate, and spin axis new pitches can be theorized. Then pitchers learn how to change their throwing to produce the pitches. The effectiveness of these new pitches can be tested against a range of batters.

These technologies are allowing for marginal players to develop their skills to make or stay in the big leagues. The skills of even highly paid players deteriorate, This results in teams being stuck with high salaries for non producing players. However, the new technology provides a means of correcting and upgrading their skills. An assembly line of players at different skill levels can be developed so the they can step into active roles when needed. This is true for both pitchers and batters.

However, pitchers are at somewhat of an advantage. They produce a pitch, which might be the first time that the pitch has been thrown in a game, and batters are forced to react. So even though that batters are able to produce more home runs, new developments in pitches might reduce the total scoring. Fans need to wait and see, but they should be aware that they’re currently watching a dynamic environment.

What the authors term “soft psychology” is playing a bigger and bigger role. The mind and mindfulness have important roles in baseball. First of all, there is the battle of the batter against the catcher and pitcher. This begins with the battle of minds in terms of what the batter expects and how the pitcher can foil the batter’s expectations.

For individual players, baseball is a game of highs and lows. Batters fall into slumps. Pitchers discover that batters are starting to hit them hard, For professional players this goes beyond simple succeeding or failing, as large amounts of money can be at stake.

In spite of the conspicuous roles of individual players, baseball is a team game. Consequently, getting along with one’s teammates is extremely important. It could be said that baseball calls for mindfulness all around.

If Only, Rapt Attention and the Focused Life

August 24, 2019

Please allow HM to indulge in a fantasy. That fantasy is what the world would be like if all humans engaged in rapt attention and the focused life. The previous fifteen posts were based on a book by Winifred Gallagher titled Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. If you have not already read these posts, then it is unlikely that this current post will make much sense to you.

First, all of humanity would be enjoying fulfilling, healthy lives. We would not be reading regularly of a gunman shooting strangers, then turning the gun on himself. Whenever one of these shootings receives coverage by CNN, Wolf Blitzer says they are investigating the shooting to understand why the shooting is happening. He never finds the answer and he never will unless he reads Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. These shooters are full of anger and hatred, and it is not anything that has happened to them. Rather it is due to how they are interpreting what their life is offering to them. They feel they are being cheated. Paranoia prevails and his mind is full of thoughts of all the enemies he has and all the evils in the world. His primary mental activity is rumination where he continues these thoughts and elaborates and grows them further. He lives in his own world divorced from reality. Many of these shooters end by committing suicide, and it is only by suicide, they think, they can escape the hell of their existence. Even if they don’t die by their own hand, one thinks they think that lawmen will finish the job. Rapt attention and the focused life is the best way of precluding this anger and hatred through positive thoughts and a fulfilling life.

It is also clear that had Donald Trump been practicing rapt attention and living a focused life, then the political nightmare being experienced in the United States would not be happening. Donald Trump clearly understands those with his mindset, and this understanding makes him a genius at exploiting this mindset. His total mindset consists of false information which he conveys in his messages. The threat that immigrants pose to the United States does not exist. Russia remains an adversary to the United States, but rather than defending against this adversary he recruits it in making him President of the United States. He ignores the intelligence he receives from the best intelligence service in the world. He ignores the best science being produced in the United States and dismantles regulations needed for the environment. What is good is what makes a buck and to hell with everything else. He admires totalitarian dictators and would very much like to be one of them. He finds democracy and the branches of government hampering him. He shows complete contempt for the Constitution and to the principles upon which the United States was founded.

One driving fear white supremacists have is that white people will soon become a minority. Why do they have this fear? Do they fear that what they have done to native americans, blacks, and another non-whites will be done to them? This is unlikely. And System 2 processing along with rapt attention and the focused life, leads one to the conclusion that whites becoming a minority is not only something to be feared, but also something that will lead to a better United States.

© 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.

Meaning: Attending to What Matters Most

August 23, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of the last chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. The author writes, “Not coincidentally, the disciplines that direct your attention to something large and awe-inspiring, whether called God or universe, consciousness or commonweal, also focus on the improvement of your self and your world and on the appreciation of life. Indeed, philosophy, religions, and psychology advance many of the same kinds of behavior that account for much of our species’ success. At the very least, focusing on values such as altruism and forgiveness that stir positive emotions expands your attentional range, whether trained on your own possibilities or others’ needs, which benefits not only you but also the community.

The following is taken from the AFTERWORD: …”I’ve come to feel that paying rapt attention is life, at least at its best.”

and

“Some of what I’ve learned about attention has very practical applications. Aware of our limited focusing capacity, I take pains to ensure that electronic media and machines aren’t in charge of mine. When I need to learn and remember certain information, do difficult work, or acquire a new skill, I shield myself from such distraction for at least ninety minutes at a stretch. If I tense up over a big decision, I remember the fortune-cookie rule: nothing is as important as I think it is when I’m focusing on it.

Confronted with a seemingly dull chore—say, the laundry—I recall James experiment with the dot on the piece of paper and do it a little differently. (One day last summer, when I decided to hang the clothes on the line outdoors instead of just sticking them in the dryer, I saw a double rainbow). When I can’t fathom something that a dear one has just said or done, I try to remember that he or she focuses on a different world, and ask for some illumination.”

Healthy: Energy Goes Where Attention Flows

August 22, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. The chapter begins, “Where your physical and mental health are concerned, it’s hard to exaggerate attention’s
importance in shaping you immediate experience and seeking your long-term well being. Strengthening your ability to direct your focus away from negative ideas and events when such cognition serves no purpose and to reframe setbacks as challenges or even opportunities helps you handle stress and approach life as a creation rather than a reaction.”

Research shows that the depressed routinely focus on the negative thoughts and feelings guaranteed to make them feel hopeless and helpless—the cognitive and emotional ingredients of the blues. Even when asleep, the melancholy tend to focus on futility. The prevalence of this bleak mind-set among the depressed—about 10% of Americans in the course of their lifetimes leads one to believe this nourish “selective abstraction” is a crucial element of this disorder. These individuals focus on whatever experiences they had, to the exclusion of positive ones or the larger context. Even when looking back into the past, they tend to recall negative events.

But to succeed in the rough-and-tumble game of life you can’t afford to focus on the dark side. In order to keep going up to bat, you have to believe, that if you press, sooner or later you’ll hit the ball. It’s hard to keep swinging if you’re convinced you’ll strike out.

The correction of chronically misdirected attention is a public health issue. Depression costs the American economy about $44 billion a year in lost productivity due to affected employees’ reduced ability to concentrate, remember, and make decisions. Maladaptive patterns of attention aren’t limited to depression but obtain across the spectrum of behavioral disorders. Just as the melancholy focus on negative information, the anxious and paranoid home in on the threatening sort. Some troubled individuals selectively attend to negative physical rather than psychological cues. Victims of panic disorder fixate on medical catastrophe, hypochondriacs on bodily symptoms, and insomniacs on the consequence of insufficient sleep. As with depression, effective cognitive-behavioral treatments for these disorders aim to correct the distorted attention patterns that underlie them.

The theorist Beck notes that William James would be pleased with cognitive therapy for several reasons. First, he says “because it emphasized consciousness, which provides many of the clues to understanding psychiatric disorders as well as normal psychology. Secondly, cognitive therapy is pragmatic, and James was a pragmatist.’ The truth is what works.

Medical treatments that harness attention are not limited to mental health. The ability to control attention and channel it in affirmative directions can improve longevity was evident in an intensive study of the School Sisters of Notre Dame born before 1917. Researchers found that 9 out of 10 nuns from the quarter of the group who focused most on upbeat thought, feelings, and events lived past the age of 58, but only 1 in 3 of the population’s least positively minded quarter survived that long.

The work of Kabat-Zinn is discussed, but as his work has been reviewed in prior posts, it will not be presented again here. This work can be found by entering “Kabat-Zinn” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com. Meditation and mindfulness can greatly assist in focusing on positive thoughts, an there is an enormous number of healtymemory posts on these topics.

In closing it needs to be noted that not just anxiety and depression, but also cardiovascular disease and immune dysfunction can be bound up with what we focus on and how. The chapter concludes, “Learning to shift your attention away from unhelpful thoughts and emotions and recast negative events in the most productive light possible is one of the most important of all “health habits” to cultivate. The recognition of the role played by skewed attentional patterns in mental disorders is one of modern psychiatry’s greatest advances. As research blurs the distinction between many mind and body problems, increasing numbers of people who suffer from hypertension, infertility, and psoriasis as well as from stress add a regimen of paying rapt attention to their medical treatment, which at the very least increases the feeling of control over one’s own experience that’s essential to well-being.”

Motivation: Eyes on the Prize

August 21, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. When you decide to lose weight we experience an interaction between attention and motivation. The term motivation comes from the Latin movere, meaning “to move.” Depending on our motivation, we may decide to wolf down a piece of pie or stick to a new low-carb diet. Once we choose our goal, our focus narrows, so that the pie a la mode or fitting into our jeans again dominates our mental landscape. Addiction is the most dramatic example when the motivation to get high restricts attention to the point that the drug seems like the most important thing in the world.

A Northwester University neuroscientist, Marsel Mesulam scanned the brains of research participants while they looked at images of tools and edibles after they had fasted for eight hours. Later, after feasting on their favorite goodies until full, they went back under the scanner to inspect the pictures again. When the twists of scans were compared, it was clear that the amygdala, a brain structure one of whose functions include gauging whether something is desirable or not, reacted more strongly to the images of foods when the subjects were hungry, but not to those of the tools. So depending on your motivation, a certain part of your brain can respond to the same visual experience in vastly different ways.

Obesity epidemics provide stunning illustrations of what can happen when motivation and attention become disconnected from daily behavior in general and each other in particular. Reasonable people would say that their nutritional goal is to stay healthy and eat right, many simply don’t focus on their food and how much they actually consume. In Mindless Eating, Cornell marketing and nutritional scientist Brian Lansink offers numerous examples of how this lack of focusing helps pile on the pounds. As if still motivated by childhood’s Clean Plate Award, moviegoers will gobble 53% more nasty, stale popcorn if it’s presented in a big bucket than they would if given a small one. A third of diners can’t remember how much bread they just ate. People who stack up their chicken-wing bones at the table will eat 28% fewer han those who clear the evidence away. We’ll snack on many more M&Ms if they’re arrayed in ten colors rather than seven. We consume 35% more food when dining with a friend—and 50% more with a big group—than when alone. Considering these statistics, it’s not surprising that simply by paying attention to your food and eating it slowly, you can cut 67 calories from each dinner and seven pounds in a year.

To reinforce the link between motivation and attention Gail Posner suggests “mindful eating.” Mindful eating involves focusing on our food—on its smell, taste, and feel—which lets your brain know that you will soon feel full and satisfied. The toughest dieting problem is the overeating that’s motivated by using food to fill an emotional hole caused by frustration, anger, or sadness. To focus on what’s really driving your desire to eat, Posner suggests placing your hands where you’re hungry. If you put them on your head, she says that your upset about something; on your mouth, you just want to taste something; on your stomach, you’re actually running on empty.
Duckworth’s important research on grit and motivation is discussed. But since there are at least a half dozen posts on this topic, it will not be discussed further here. Go to the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com to find these posts.

According to William James the idea of cultivating willpower is “the art of replacing one habit for another.” The author adds, “Through most of history, gluttony, concupiscence, drunkenness and sloth were regarded as vices rather than sicknesses, and replacing them with temperance, chastity, sobriety, and enterprise required an act of the will.

Disordered Attention

August 20, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. There is a glaring need for more information about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). One major discovery—that ADHD isn’t a single problem that springs from a single cause is itself an important, hard-won advance. For ten years while at the NIMH, Castellanos and a multidisciplinary team intensively studied 150 children with attention problems who were enrolled in a special school set up just for them. Castellans said, “We really, really knew this kids from the results of their spinal taps and blood tests to their psychological profiles. The big thing he learned was that almost none of the kids were like any others. It was almost as if there were a hundred and fifty types of ADHD.

The chapter notes, “Just as ‘epilepsy’ turned out to be perhaps two hundred different seizure disorders, ADHD is an umbrella term for a variety of problems that have some symptoms in common. As they did for epilepsy, new tools such as fMRI are helping identify certain broad categories of attention difficulties, which is the first step toward developing appropriate treatments for each.”

ADHD usually involves a collaboration between nature and nurture. That it’s six times likelier to affect children who have been sexually abused offers tragic proof that experience can cause the disorder. Schools as well as troubled homes can fuel attention problems. The “perceptual load” theory say that you’ll experience more distractions when your task is not very engaging. This is a circumstance that often obtains even in an average, much less subpar classroom. Castellans says, “As long as a child has the full attention of an adult, he has no attention issues.” Unfortunately, there are not enough adults to go around.

That genes often play a role in ADHD is clear from the fact that one obvious risk factor is maleness. (Girls who have the disorder are not only far fewer in number but also rarely as hyperactive and disruptive as the boys; their poor concentration at school is often overlooked or ascribed to daydreaming or “Not trying hard enough.”) About 25% of the biological parents of diagnosed kids are affected, compared with 4% of the adoptive parents.

Genes that influence not just attention but also a child’s activity level, impulsiveness, and other traits may contribute to ADHD. So a certain student may have trouble focusing on math or Spanish less because of some cognitive deficit than from a thrill-seeking temperamental inclination to tune out what bores him and look for real action.

Dopamine’s role in the brain’s reward circuitry may explain why individuals who’ve been diagnosed with ADHD are also likelier than others to smoke, drink, and use drugs. Combined with an attention problem, this tendency toward substance abuse might indicate that they’re perhaps motivated less by the desire to “get high” in a recreational sense than by the wish to feel and function better—to feel “okay” or “normal,” if only temporarily.

Castellanos notes that many kids who have trouble paying attention in school, perform well on athletic fields or when hunkered over a computer game. This apparent inconsistency reflects that fact that Homo sapiens evolved both the genetic variations that’s associated with ADHD and the variation that protects against it. In our sedentary school-and-office culture, the tendency to shift focus rapidly and to act first and ask questions later is regarded as a problem. Yet that behavior has persisted in the population because it’s a real advantage in certain situations, from NASCAR races to war zones to the floor of the Stock Exchange. On the savannah, where we evolved, someone who focused too long and hard on a particular bird, flower, or thought could end up as a predator’s dinner.

Summing up the state-of-the-art knowledge about ADHD, Castellans says, “We’re part of the way into the problem. We know a great deal more than ten years ago but are just starting to step on solid ground in terms of understanding the underlying mechanisms. There will be new, very different drugs and treatments. I’m hugely optimistic, but we have to hurry up, because people are waiting.

Focus Interruptus

August 19, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life.” William James described two common attentional styles. He pictured the mind as an archer’s target. Some people naturally focus on the bull’s eye, “sink into a subject of meditation deeply, and, when interrupted, are “lost” for a moment before they come back to the outer world. For others, however, the target’s outer rings are “filled with something like a meteoric showers of images” that flare at random, distracting attention from the bull’s eye and carrying thoughts in various directions. Such persons “find their attention wandering every minute, and must bring it back by a voluntary pull. It sounds as if James is describing two different attentional styles that vary among individuals. It is more likely that all of us can and do display both styles, but different individuals might illustrate a preponderance of one style over the other.

James did make clear that neither the “bulls-eye” nor “meteoric” mode of using attention is necessarily good or bad per se” “Some of the most efficient workers I know are of the ultra-scatterbrained type.” The reason, he says, is that a person’s total “mental efficiency” derives from the combination of his faculties, the most important of which is not attention, but “the strength of his desire and passion.” Compared to a more naturally focused but less motivated person, the individual who really cares for a subject “will return to it incessantly from his incessant wanderings, and first and last do more with it, and get more results from it.”

In a typical scenario, the brain’s executive cortex first bears down on the the problem with all of its double-barreled top-down concentration, advancing as far as cognitive processes can. Then you get tired or fed up, shove back your chair, say to yourself, “Enough of that!” When you head to the cafeteria or gym and start paying attention to something else, non consciousness parts of your mind slow-cook your earlier insights into the problem and supply associations. Walking to work, you see the whole solution and the problem is solved.

Consider how the preceding paragraph corresponds to the metaphor of a corporation for your mind. You and your conscious attention work in the executive suite. But when you leave for lunch your cognitive agents on the lower floors continue working. They solve the problem during lunch and present the solution when you return from lunch.

There have been so many posts on the dangers of multi-tasking and on social media, no further discussion will be done here with the exception of research done by UCLA psychologists. Using fMRI imaging they found that when you focus on a demanding task, your brain’s hippocampus, which you should know from previous posts is critical to memory storage and retrieval, is in charge. However, if you try to work while distracted by instant messaging or something similar, the striatum, which is involved in rote activities, takes over. Consequently, even if you manage to get the job done, your recollection of it will be more fragmented, less adaptable, and harder to retrieve than it would be if you had given it your undivided attention.
So how to improve your capacity to pay attention? The best and easiest way is to have an interesting topic. But if the content is dull and not interesting, James urges us to enliven dull work with “frequent recapitulations, illustrations, examples, novelty of order, and ruptures of routine,” When you write a report or the like, James recommends if the topic be inhuman, make it figure as a part of a story. If it be difficult, couple its acquisition with some prospect of personal gain. Above all things, make sure that it shall run through certain inner changes, since no unvarying object can possibly hold the mental field for long.”

University of Oregon psychologists Michael Posner and Mary Rothbart have shown that special exercises can markedly increase the capacity for executive attention, thus improving memory, self-regulation, and the ability to plan and reason. One would hope such material would be available.

Meditation is designed to better control our executive processes, those in the Executive Suite of your corporation. Enter “relaxation response” into the search block at
healthymemory.wordpress.com for many posts on this important topic.

Creativity: An Eye for Detail

August 18, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. The founder of American psychology William James provides this simple experiment on how to improve your ability to pay attention. First, make a dot on a piece of paper or a wall, then try to stay focused on it. In short order, your mind will wander. Next, start asking yourself questions about the dot: its size, shape, color, and so on. Make associations with it: its existential pathos, perhaps, or the dot as yang to the paper’s yin. Once you’re engaged in such elaboration, you’ll find that you can focus on the negligible mark for quite a while. Observing that this ability to attend to and develop even the humblest subject is a cornerstone of creativity, James says. “This is what the genius does, in whose hands a given topic coruscates and grows.”

On the more immediate level, creativity also involves focusing on you target that turns a spark of inspiration into a burst of fireworks. In a fortuitous circular dynamic, whenever you engage in a creative activity, you boost your level of positive emotion, which in turn literally widens your attentional range, giving you more material to work with. James says, the generative mind is “full of copious and original associations,” so that attending to the germ of an idea soon leads to “all sorts of fascinating consequences.”

The Johns Hopkins Hospital ear, nose, and throat specialist Charles Lamb is also an amateur jazz saxophonist. He asked six pianists to play a keyboard while undergoing fMRI scanning. When they improvised on their own, which is keystone of all kinds of creativity, the musicians’ brains went into a “dissociated frontal activity state, a.k.a.”being in the zone.” Neurological activity associated with self-monitoring and inhibition decreased, which increased their ability to process new stimuli and ideas. When they played a standard tune, however, the musicians brains didn’t respond in this way. Lamb suspects that other forms of improvisation, even conversation, involve the same type of brain activity as playing jazz, and plans to investigate the possibility with subjects who aren’t artists.

Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer says that the term mindfulness wouldn’t be necessary if most people didn’t have an impoverished, static understanding of what “paying attention” means. She has asked children and instructors in very different kinds of schools a simple by telling question: “What does it mean when a teacher asks students to pay attention, focus, concentrate on something?” Invariably, the answer is something like “To hold that thing still.” In other words, most people think of attention as a kind of mental camera that you keep regally, narrowly focused on a particular subject or object. This realization led Langer to two important conclusions: “When students have trouble paying attention, they’re doing what their teachers say they should do. The problem is it’s the wrong instruction.”

In contrast to this fixed, tunnel-vision mode of focusing, the creative, mindful attention described in James’s dot exercise is an active probing exploration of a target that becomes more interesting as you search for new facets to consider. Mindful attention helps you work more efficiently and creatively, and also makes life more fun.

The tyranny of evaluation can be a major road block on the intertwined paths of mindful attention and creativity. Instead of focusing on the creative activity you can get sandbagged by the fears that the result might not be perfect or appreciated. Flaws and mistakes are neither bad nor good, but “just things you do.” Because it also focuses on assessment rather than experience, praise is as bad as blame.

The concluding sentence in this chapter is, “When you pay rapt attention, your spirits lift, expanding your cognitive range and creative potential, and perhaps even poising you for that personal renaissance.

Decisions: Focusing Illusions

August 17, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. Nobel Winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman is among the developers of “bounded rationality”. To choices concerning quality of life, we are reasonable-enough beings but sometimes liable to focus on the wrong things. Our thinking gets befuddled not so much by our emotions as by our “cognitive illusions,’ or mistaken intuitions, and other flawed, fragmented mental constructs.

Kahneman makes a distinction between two concepts of self. There is our hands-on “experiencing self,” which concentrates on just plain being in the here and now, is absorbed in whatever is going on and how you feel about it without doing much analysis. However, our evaluative “remembering self,” looks back on an experience, focuses on its emotional high points and outcomes, then formulates thoughts about it, not always accurately. Much research shows that memory is biased and unpredictable—more like a patchwork quilt than the seamless tapestry of reality we likely imagine. We don’t so much recall something that happened as reconstruct a facsimile of it. This mental artifact is likely to be either more positive or negative in tone than was the actual event.

The differences in how our experiencing and remembering selves pay attention to may account for seeing paradoxes in our lives. For example, most subjects say that having children is one of life’s greatest satisfactions. But subjects’ diaries show that actual roll-up-your-sleeves parenting was among women’s least enjoyable activities. This apparent contradiction and others likely are explained by the divergent focuses of a person’s two selves. The experiencing self of a tired woman who’s contemplating the wreckage of her slovenly adolescent’s room might well give mothering a poor rating at the moment. However, if parenthood comes up later at a party, her remembering self zeroes in its emotional highs and long term results—that sweet poem on Mother’s Day, the soccer trophy, the college diploma.—rather than on momentary vexations like dirty socks and old pizza crusts. It’s just as well for their progeny that when adults make choices about how to live, they pay more attention to the remembering self’s judgmental voice than to the experiencing self’s “whispers, which say more about their own daily satisfactions.

In a much cited example of the focusing illusion, Kahneman asked some people if they would be happier if they lived in California. Most people thought so because of the climate. Californians assume they’re happier than people who live elsewhere. However, when Kahneman actually measured their well-being, Michiganders and others are just as contented as Californians. The reason is that 99% of the stuff of life, relationships, work, home, recreation, is the same no matter where you are, and once you settle in a place, no matter how salubrious, you don’t think about its climate very much. However, when prompted to evaluate it, the weather immediately looms large, simply because you’re paying attention to it. The illusion inclines you to accentuate the difference between Place A and Place B, making it seem to matter much more than it really does, which is marginal.

Because our remembering self pays attention to our thoughts about our life, rather than to the life itself, it can be difficult to evaluate the quality of our own experience accurately . Social psychologist Norman Schwartz asked one group of subjects, “How much pleasure do you get from your car? Not surprisingly, there was a significant correlation between an autos value and its owner’s perceived enjoyment, so that the remembering selves of BMW and Lexus drivers were more satisfied than those of people who drove Escorts and Camry’s. Then Schwarz probed the immediate reality of the experiencing self by asking another group of subjects a different question: ”How much pleasure did you get from using your car today?” The correlation between the owners’ satisfaction and their cars’ worth vanished. What determined their answers was not the quality or price of their vehicles but of their actual commute that day: whether it was marked by good or bad weather, traffic conditions, or even personal ruminations— in short the experiencing self’s quotidian ups and downs.

The focusing illusion predicts that we’ll exaggerate the importance of a thing just by thinking it about it, as when we ponder a big purchase. Kahneman says, There’s probably much less focusing illusion with pleasures like fresh flowers or a glass of wine.” Because it gives you more fun and bang for you buck, spending five hundred dollars a year on bouquets or Burgundy is a better investment in your well-being than upgrading a major appliance.

Based on recent research on well-being, Kahneman says, “I can imagine a future in which, just as many of us exercise physically, we’ll also exercise mentally for twenty or thirty minutes a day. That’s the kind of world ‘positive psychology’ is looking for. Whether its principles work or not in the long run, I don’t know. All the data aren’t in yet. But it’s clear that getting people to pay attention is a good thing. There’s no question about that.”

As to the ability to focus on this rather than on that gives you control over our experience and well-being, Kahneman says that both the Dalai Lamai and positive psychologist Martin Seligman would agree about the importance of paying attention: “Being able to control it gives you a lot of power, because you know that you don’t have to focus on a negative emotion that comes up.”

Productivity: Work Zone

August 16, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. A hallmark of the focused life is blurring the distinction between work and play. We can do this by actively choosing endeavors that demand our total focus and skillfully use attention to make even inevitable rote chores more engaging.

To the founder of American psychology, William James, rapt attention required a target that offers just the right combination of novelty and familiarity. Imagine that after a long, grey winter, your bleary eye lights on the red breast of the year’s first robin. Then, your attentional system kicks in with a memory to add meaning to the new feathered stimulus: robins come in the spiring, which has always been your favorite season. Suddenly, you’re not just glancing at some humdrum bird but focused on a winged Mercury come to herald good times.

Like a robin in July, writes James, “the absolutely old is insipid.” Similarly, because you’d had no associations with some drab little bird you’ve never seen before, “the absolutely new makes no appeal.” It’s the convergence of the robin’s unexpected appearance and its cognitive and affective resonance that makes its debut the stuff of poetry.

Claremont psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has developed and expanded upon the concept of flow. He says this state of optimal human experience kicks in when we’re completely focused on doing something that’s both enjoyable and challenging enough to be just manageable. Either attention or motivation—the drive that impels toward a goal—can jump-start flow, but both of these major psychological processes must converge to sustain it.

Occasionally and, unfortunately, sometimes frequently the most productive person is hard-pressed to concentrate on the job, much less enjoy it. For example consider draining a flooded driveway doesn’t sound interesting, but it can be made fun if you try to make the water go here or there. Csikszentmihalyi says with some thought, effort, and attention you can make even an apparently routine job, such as assembling toasters or packaging tools, much more satisfying. He says the trick is to turn the work into a kind of a game, in which you focus closely on each aspect—screwing widget A to widget B or the positions of your tools and materials—“and try to figure out how to make it better. That way, you turn a routine activity into an engaging one.”

Psychologist Gilbert Brim, a strong advocate of just-manageable difficulty, high achievers can avoid burnout, depression, and perhaps even self-destructiveness by focusing on a new vocation or avocation along with their business as usual. Baruch Spinoza’s day job was making spectacles, and William Blake was a printer by trade, used their free time to advance philosophy and the arts.

For some reason, inexplicable to HM, “working hard” is an honorific phrase. If the answer to the question, “are you working hard?, is yes, the reply is almost always , ‘good!’ But hard work is not in and of itself good. It might be stupid and nonproductive. The query should be, “Are you working smart?” To the extent possible, work should be productive and fulfilling. The main distinction between work and leisure, is that one is paid for working.

Keep in mind, the following paragraph from this chapter. “IN THE SHORT term, whether it’s writing an epic or building a birdhouse, choosing work and play that call for fast focus and all of your skill, provides satisfying, productive experience. Whenever you squander attention on something that doesn’t put your brain through its paces and stimulate change, your mind stagnates a little and life feels dull.”

Relationships: Attending to Different Worlds

August 15, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. Much research shows that simply paying attention to someone else, which is the essence of bonding, is highly beneficial for both parties. Having social ties is the single best predictor of a longer healthier, more satisfying life.

The author writes, “At the very least, paying attention to someone else confers the big psychological benefits of structuring your experience and distracting you from the self-referential rumination that so often takes a negative cast.” Research by psychologist Joanne Wood indicates that if you want to feel better about who you are, you should concentrate on someone of lower status. But if you’re trying to motivate yourself, you should focus on a person who outranks you. A message we don’t often hear from the therapy and psychopharmacological industries is that paying attention to the other guy often helps us more than the other guy.

MacArthur ‘genius award” winner and director of UCLA’s Center On Everyday Life of Families, Elinor Ochs has researched how children are socialized and learn languages in parts of the developing world as well as in white middle-class America. She defines attention as “a focus on a point of orientation that can be at once perceptual, conceptual, and social,” and identifies two broad cultural variations in the way it affects family relationships.

In it-takes-a-village societies such as Somoa, from very early life people are encouraged to direct their attention outward to others. Children are cared for by friends and relatives as well as parents and are actively taught to notice other people and their needs. When they are carried, babies are held outward on the hips or perched so they can peep over the caregiver’s shoulder. Even before they can talk, these tots are primed to attend to what others are doing and feeling. Ochs says, “In their culture, the priority is to be relational and person-oriented.”

In contrast to this outward, other-directed focus that prevails in much of the world, people in the highly individualistic West are encouraged early on to concentrate on their own needs and desires. Instead of mostly being carried, babies are held at arm’s length in strollers, high chairs, car seats, or other devices; they sleep in their own cribs and even rooms, which would be unthinkable elsewhere. As if to reinforce their highly personalized experience, Western children are encouraged to pay lots of attention to objects. Ochs says, Even little babies have toys, and they’re taught to pay attention to their shapes and colors.” (Despite the claims made of products marketed to hopeful parents, one study showed that rather than creating infant geniuses, focusing babies aged eight to sixteen months on “educational” videos, actually impedes their verbal development; each hour of viewing per day actually impedes their verbal development; each hour of viewing per day correlated with a child’s knowing six to eight fewer words than unwired peers).

By the age of four Samoan children contribute to society helping to care for younger siblings and carrying messages for adults. That tots should work for the commonweal sounds like abuse to most Westerners, who assume that young children either can’t or shouldn’t have to respond to others’ needs.

This same UCLA research team finds that, even when they get together, families often undermine the desired feeling of fellowship by focusing on the wrong things. Mothers tend to pick the subject—“Tell Dad what happened at school”—and fathers provide the judgment: “That’s a very good grade” or “You should have practiced harder.” Fathers almost never focus on their own daily experience, however, and when they do, their narrative style doesn’t encourage feedback. In contrast to the moms’ and kids’ open-ended participatory approach—“How should I deal with this situation?” the men go for “Hers’s how I’m handling it.”

Bradbury, the director of the UCLA family project’s “marriage lab,” is concerned about the implications for adults’ well-being, because “marriage seems like the last bastion of relationships in which people are still committed to attending to one another.” Bradbury continues, “A profound focus on your partner is, was, and always will be the distinguishing characteristic of an intimate bond such as marriage. Nevertheless, I’m continually impressed by the inconsistency of sustained attention in relationships. Partners complain about this all the time, and kids probably would to, if they could. We’ve evolved with the capacity to attend to each other but it’s not exactly dominant in our lives. Imagine a world where it was!”

Nurture: This Is Your Brain on Attention

August 14, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. There have been many healthy memory posts on the research of neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin (Enter “Davidson” into the search box at
healthymemory.worpress.com or go to his website https://www.richardjdavidson.com).

He uses EEG and fMRI in showing how experience in general and attention in particular affect your brain and behavior. He says this physiological as well as psychological shift sounds dramatic, but shouldn’t be so surprising because your nervous system is built to respond to your experience. He writes, “That’s what learning is. Anything that changes behavior changes the brain.” The mental-fitness regimens that he and colleagues in a half-dozen labs around the world are working with are based on meditation. Various Eastern and Western religions have used it over the past 2,500 years to enhance spiritual practice, but meditation is easily stripped of sectarian overtones to its behavioral essence of deliberate, targeted concentration that invited a calm steady psychophysiological state.

The point of a secular attentional workout is the enhancement of the ability to focus, emotional balance, or both. The author writes in the mindfulness meditation that’s the most widely used form, you sit silently for forty-five minutes and attend to your breath: inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. When thoughts arise, as they inevitably do, you just shift your awareness back to breathing, right here and now, without distraction from the tape loops usually running in your head. Davidson says, “A complete atheist can use these procedures and derive as much benefit from them as an ardent believer.”

The healthy memory blog has many posts on meditation. Enter “relaxation response” in the search block. Benefits can be attained with as little at ten minutes a day meditating. Moreover, epigenetic benefits have been found . You might also want to try entering “loving kindness” into the search block.

Another area of Davidson’s interests is the way in which temperamental features, such as an inclination toward positive or negative emotionality, affect and even drive attention—an interaction that is vitally important to the quality of your experience. Davidson says, “One of life’s challenges is to maintain your focus despite the continual distracting emotional stimuli that can capture it.” Certain lucky individuals are born with an affective temperament that naturally inclines them toward an upbeat proactive focus, but research increasingly shows that others can move in that direction through attentional training.

Davidson says that although many other regions of the brain are also involved, “people who have greater activation in very specific prefrontal regions—not the whole hemisphere—report and display more of a certain positive emotion—not simply ‘happiness’—that’s associated with moving toward you goals and taking an active approach to life. Average subjects who had completed an eight-week meditation course showed significantly increased activity in the left prefrontal regions that are linked to this optimistic, goal-oriented orientation.

Not only how you focus, but also what you focus on can have important neurophysiological and behavioral consequences. Just as one-pointed concentration on a neutral target, such as your breath, particularly strengthens certain of the brain’s attentional systems, meditation on a specific emotion—unconditional love—seems to tune up certain of its affective networks.When monks who are focusing on this feeling of pure compassion are exposed to emotional sounds, brain activity increases in the insula, a region involved in visceral perception and empathy, and in the right temporo-parietal junction, an area implicated in inferring and empathizing with others’s mental states. These data complement research done by Barbara Fredrickson and others showing that concentration on positive emotions improves your affect and expands your focus. Davidson thinks that deliberately focusing on feelings such as compassion, joy, and gratitude may strengthen neurons in the left prefrontal cortex and inhibit disturbing messages from the fear-oriented amygdala.

Training your brain to pay more attention to compassion for others and less to the self’s narcissistic preoccupations would be a giant step toward a better, more enjoyable life. When you aren’t doing anything in particular but are just “at rest” our brain’s default mode kicks in. This baseline mental state often leads to inward-looking, negative rumination that tend to be, as Davidson says, “all about my, me, and mine,” Before long, you find yourself thinking, “I actually don’t feel so great,” or “Maybe the boss doesn’t really like me.” Davidson is investigating whether the brain areas associated with this “self-referencing processing” may be much less active in the monks, whether they’re meditating or not: indeed, he speculates that super advanced practitioners may perceive little of no difference between the two states.

His research increasingly shows that just as regular physical exercise can transform the proverbial 110-pound weakling into an athlete, focusing workouts can make you more focused, engaged with life, and perhaps even kinder. Davidson says “My strong intuition is that attentional training is very like the sports or musical kinds. It’s not something you can just do for a couple of weeks or years, then enjoy lifelong benefits. To maintain an optimum level of any complex skill takes work, and like great athletes and virtuosos, great meditators continue to drill intensively.”

Nature: Born to Focus

August 13, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life.” University of Oregon neuroscientist Michael Posner has developed a three-part model of the brain’s attentional system. He describes alerting, orienting, and executive networks, each with its own neurophysiology and function, as nothing short of “the mechanism through which we have experience and control the sequence of our ideas. Along with University of Oregon psychologist Mary Rothbart, who’s well known for her research on temperament, Posner has been studying how the attentional networks get organized in early life. He finds significant neuropsychological differences among children that share their different ways of focusing and aspects of their identities, from the capacity of learning to the control of thoughts and emotions.

Posner has a computerized Attention Network Test, which is designed to gauge the strength of an individual’s three networks. Biological differences in brains can account for different attentional and temperamental profiles, but nurture as well as nature plays an important role. Rothbart’s research is on cultural differences in executive attention and self-regulation, she finds that the capacity for effortful control is a good thing for both American and Chinese children. In the United States, children who have this ability focus keeping a lid on feelings like anger, fear, and frustration—an important skill in our gregarious society. On the other hand, in China, self-regulating children concentrate on curbing their exuberance and trying not to stand out, which is an equally desirable attribute in their Asian culture. Depending on social or genetic differences, or both, says Posner, “the same behavior of focusing on a dimension of self-control seems to be involved in creating quite different personalities.”

A single individual, biologically based behavioral disposition doesn’t operate in isolation, but in concert with the person’s other qualities and environments. Posner points out that whether the small child’s innate temperament is sunny or stormy, parents will intuitively draw the tot’s attention to smiles, laughter, and hugs, thus reinforcing the desirability of positive emotion.

It is good here to focus how important it is for a child to be loved. Absent this love a child’s emotional and behavioral development is at risk. Other healthy memory posts have elaborated on these risks. Whenever HM reads about some act of violence, his first thought was that this person was an unloved child.

To help children who are not naturally inclined to focus on their schoolwork—or life’s little pleasures—Posner and Rothbart have developed exercises that significantly improve the executive attentional skills of four— and six—year olds. Such training could help the millions of schoolchildren who struggle with attention, mood, and self-control problems.

This chapter concludes: “Nature and nurture have combined forces to find you a characteristic way of focusing that’s part of who you are, but research on the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections through life, proves that your identity isn’t written in stone. Posner is speaking of the children he works with, but his observation increasingly seems to apply to people of any age. “Kids have strong genetic make-ups, but you can also shape them through experience.”

Outside In: What You See Is What You Get

August 12, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. There is impressive research that shows that “looking at the bright side,” even in tough situations, is a powerful predictor of a longer, happier, healthier life. In a large study of 941 Dutch subjects over ten years, the most upbeat individuals, who agreed with statements such as “often feel that life is full of promise,” were 45% less likely to die during the long experiment than were the most pessimistic.

Research reveals that the cognitive appraisal of emotions, pioneered by psychologists Magda Arnold and Richard Lazarus confirmed that what happens to us, from a blizzard to a pregnancy to a job transfer, is less important to our well-being than how we respond to it. Psychologist Barbara Fredickson says that if you want to get over a bad feeling, “focusing on something positive seems to be the quickest way to usher out the unwanted emotion.” This does not mean that when something upsetting happens, we should not immediately try to force ourselves to “be happy.” First, Fredrickson says you examine “the seed of emotion,” or how we honestly feel about what occurred. Then we direct our attention to some element of the situation that frames things in a more helpful light.

Unfortunately, people who are depressed and anhedonic—unable to feel pleasure—have particular trouble using this attentional self-help tactic. This difficulty suggests to Fredrickson that they suffer from a dearth of happiness rather than a surfeit of sadness: “It’s as if the person’s positive emotional systems have been zapped or disabled.”

With the exception of these anhedonic individuals, Fredrickson says, “Very few circumstances are one hundred percent bad.” Even in very difficult situations, she finds, it’s often possible to find something to be grateful for, such as others’ loving support, good medical care, or even our own values thoughts, and feelings. Focusing on such a benign emotion isn’t just a “nice thing to do,” but a proven way to expand our view of reality and lift our spirits, thus improving our ability to cope.

William James said wisdom is “the art of knowing what to overlook.” And many elders master this way of focusing. Many studies show that younger adults pay as much or more to negative information than to the positive sort. However, by middle age their focus starts to shift until in old age, they’re likely to have a strong positive bias in what they both attend to and remember.

Research has shown that older brains attend to and remember emotional stimuli differently from younger ones. In one study, compared to younger people, they remembered twice as many positive images as the negative or neutral sort. Moreover, when the experiment was repeated using fMRI brain scans, the tests showed that in younger adults, the emotional center, the amygdala, reacted to both positive and negative images, but in older adults, only in response to positive cues. The author suggests, “Perhaps because elders use the “smart” prefrontal cortex to dampen activity in the more volatile amygdala, their brains actually encode less negative information, which naturally reduces their recall of it and its impact on their behavior.

The final paragraph to this chapter follows: “WHATEVER YOUR TEMPERAMENT, living the focused life is not about trying to feel happy all the time, which would be both futile and grotesque. Rather, it’s about treating your mind as you would a private garden and being as careful as possible about what you introduce and allow to grown there. Your ability to function comfortably in a dirty, germy world is just one illustration of your powerful capacity to put mind over matter and control you experience by shifting your focus from counterproductive to adaptive thoughts and feelings. In this regard, one reason why certain cultures venerate the aged for their wisdom is that elders tend to maximize opportunities to attend to the meaningful and serene, and to the possibility that, as E.M. Foster put it in A Room With a View, ”…by the side of the everlasting Why there is a Yes—a transitory Yes if you like, but a Yes.”

Inside Out: Feelings Frame Focus

August 11, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. One of contemporary psychology’s most important discoveries is the inextricability of thought and emotion.

According to “negativity bias theory” we pay more attention to unpleasant feelings such as fear, anger, and sadness because they’re more powerful than agreeable feelings. A survey of which topics we spend the most time thinking about, problematic relationships and troubled projects are at the the top of the list. We’ll work harder to avoid losing money than we will to gain the same amount. If we hear both something positive and something negative about a stranger, we’ll take the negative view. Even if something good happens, if something bad happens too, we’ll feel dispirited. We’re likelier to notice threats than opportunities or signs that all’s well.

The main advantage of paying attention to unhappy emotions is that it attunes us to a potential threat or loss and pressures us to to avoid or relieve the pain by solving the associated problem. A pessimistic focus is helpful when we’re stuck in a tough, let’s-get-to-the-bottom-of-this situation. Looking at the dark side of things can confer a certain objectivity. According to one school of thought, the depressed person’s bleak focus on life tends to be more realistic than a sanguine person’s upbeat view.

Nevertheless, focusing on negative emotions, especially when they don’t serve their primary purpose of promoting problem-solving, exacts a high cost: we spend a lot of time feeling crummy even if our life is pretty good.

Additional studies show we tend to put a positive spin on neutral situations, focus hard on upsets because they’re relatively rare, and forget unhappy events faster than pleasant ones. From this perspective, barring a profound blow such as losing a loved one or getting fired, whether we get a flat time or a raise, we’ll soon return to feeling pretty good.

If these results sound contradictory, remember that people vary both in dispositions and in their fortunes. The important point is that we have the power to interpret and change our situation. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has conducted research showing that paying attention to positive emotions expands our world, while focusing on negative feeling shrinks it. This is something we can control.

According to cognitive scientist Donald Norman’s conceptual model, the brain has three major parts, which focus on very different things and sometimes conflict. The “reactive” component, which handles the brain’s visceral, automatic functions, concentrates on stuff that elicits biologically determined responses, such as dizzying heights and sweet tastes. The “behaviors,” or routine component, attend to well-learned skills, such as riding a bike or typing. According to Norman, these two “lower” modes of brain functioning handle most of what we do, and mostly without requiring conscious attention.
Norman’s “reflective” element of the conceptual brain is consciousness. Consciousness handles the “higher” functions at the metaphorical tip of the very top of that complicated organ. Since consciousness pays a lot of attention to our thoughts, we tend to identify it with cognition, However, if we try to figure out exactly how to run our business or care for our family, we soon realize that we can’t grasp that process just by thinking about it. Norman writes, “Consciousness also has a qualitative, sensory feel. If I say, ‘I’m afraid,’ it’s not just my mind talking, My stomach also knots up.”

According to Norman’s conceptual model, the brain’s reactive, behavioral, and reflective elements pursue their own agendas, yet they also constantly communicate with each other. When an alarm triggers an argument over whether to roll over or get up and go to the gym, we experience a mild version of the kind of conflict that occurs when two or more of these networks insist that you focus on different things Offering a more complicated example, Norman says, “Take jumping out of an airplane.” On the reactive level, our brain attends to the bottom-up imperative of the earth far, far below and goes, “What the hell are you doing?” In order to proceed, we have to pay top-down attention to messages from its behavior component, where we’ve stored our routine skydiving skills, and to the reflective voice that says, “You’ll be okay, and think of how much you’ll enjoy this experience afterward.”

The chapter concludes as follows: “Thus, the first step toward getting on with your work despite a financial setback or repairing a relationship after a nasty quarrel is to direct—perhaps yank—your attention away from fear or anger toward courage or forgiveness. Thanks to positive emotion’s expansive effect on attention, your immediate reward for that effort is not just a more comfortable, satisfying affective state, but also a bigger, better world-view. Where the long-term benefits are concerned, you’ve come closer to making a habit of the focused life.”

Pay Attention: Your Life Depends on It

August 10, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. One of the two basic ways of focusing that enable us to tune in on what is most interesting in our world: involuntary “bottom-up” attention. This passive process is not driven by us, but by whatever thing in our environment is most salient, or obviously compliant. Thanks to evolution, bottom-up attention has hard-wired us to zoom in on brightly colored flowers, startle at a snake’s hiss, wrinkle our nose at the smell of spoiled meat, and detect and react to things that could threaten or advance our survival.

Bottom-up attention automatically keeps us in touch with what’s going in the world, but this great benefit comes with a cost, particularly for postindustrial folks who live in metropolitan areas and work at desks rather than on the savannah: lots of fruitless, unwelcome distractions. Women want to focus on our book or computer instead of a fly that keeps landing on our arm or an ambulance siren, but evolution has stuck us with attending to these insistent stimuli.

Top-down attention asks, “What do you want to concentrate on?. This active, voluntary form of focusing takes effort, the harder we concentrate, the better we’ll attend, but the longer we persist, the likelier we’ll fade. Top-down processing has advanced our species, particularly by enabling us to choose to pursue difficult goals, such as nurturing the young for extended periods or building and operating cities. When the individual is concerned, this deliberate process is the key to designing our daily experience, because it lets us to decide what to focus on and what to suppress.

Many extraordinary achievers have an ability to pay rapt attention. Psychologist David Lykken observed that these individuals have base stores of “mental energy,” which he defined as the capacity “to focus attention, to shut out distractions, to persist in search of a solution” for a challenging problem over long periods without tiring. One of his exemplars is Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson who helped save Britain from Napoleon. In one diary entry he observed: “I have been 5 nights without sleep (at work) and never felt an inconvenience.”

Another example was the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. After a colleague remarked that he had just ridden in a taxi identified as #1729, which seemed like dull digits, the genius immediately took exception. “No, it’s a very interesting number. It is the smallest number expressive as a sum of two cubes in two different ways.” His peers noted that Ramanujan regarded numbers as “friends” and focused on them all the time.

William James noted that such an extraordinary individual more than likely, “breaks his engagements, leaves his letters unanswered, neglects his family duties incorrigibly, because he is powerless to turn his attention down and back away from those more interesting trains of imagery with which his genius constantly occupies his mind.

Johns Hopkins Neuroscientist Steve Yantis draws an analogy with a control panel that takes the five sensory systems that collaborate with our attentional networks to construct our model of the physical world. Dials can be twiddled as one goes from one activity to another. By turning the volume down on smell or by switching from the touch to the taste circuit, we can tune in the information we want and but out the competing stimuli.

Anne Treisman, now deceased, but the wife of Daniel Kahneman and a distinguished psychologist in her own right distinguished between the narrow attention paid to a particular part of a scene and the broad sort required when we must rapidly take a complex new scene.

Steve Yantis says, “I like the notion that attention is key to awareness, the essence or center of our mental life as we go through time. That makes all kinds of sense. Where attending to ideas and emotions rather than sights and sounds is concerned, he says, “To the degree that you can control what enters your awareness, you have the ability to focus on some things, let other things go, and move on, or your thoughts can control you.”

The chapter concludes, “In short, to enjoy the kind of experience you want rather than enduring the kind that you feel stuck with, you have to take charge of your attention.”

Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life

August 9, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Winifred Gallagher. Remember the post “Best Way to Think About Memory” where it was proposed that the best way to think about memory is as a corporate building and the corporation is you. At the top level is where the executive offices reside. On the lower floors are offices holding your experience, your knowledge, your thinking and performance capabilities. The whole shebang is run by you corporate offices, where your consciousness resides. Attention is needed to run these offices and due to limitations in our attention focus is required. Consequently, the key to living is a focused life.

Five years before Ms. Gallagher finished her book she had a common-enough crisis that plunged here into a study of the nature of experience. This experiment led her to cutting-edge scientific research and a psychological version of what physicists trying to explain the universe call a “grand unified theory” or a “theory of everything”: your life—who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.

She continues, “Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse disciplines from anthropology to education, behavioral economics to family counseling, similarly suggest that the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience from mood to productivity to relationships.”

Continuing further, “…what you focus on from this moment will create the life and person yet to be. … If we think in terms of the present and future, we might encounter an intuition lurking in the back of your mind, as it was in mine: if you could just stay focused on the right things, your life would stop feeling like a reaction to stuff that happens to you and become something that you create: not a series of accidents, but a work of art. My interest in attention goes back to childhood, when I ran the usual experiments on its effects on behavior. I saw that by focusing on one thing, you could ignore another. If you concentrated on some enjoyable activity, you could make time simultaneously race and stand still. Staying focused on a goal over time might not guarantee you’d achieve it but was a crucial step in that direction.”

She writes, “In midlife, an attention experiment of a different magnitude set me on the path that led to this book. Walking away from the hospital after the biopsy from hell—not just cancer, but a particularly nasty, fairly advanced kind—I had the intuition of a highly unusual blue-white clarity. This disease wants to monopolize my attention, but as much as possible, I would focus on my life instead.”

It worked. She was successful. By skillfully managing your attention, you’re able to experience in both a balanced way and stay oriented in a positive productive direction. She quotes John Milton: “The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heav’n of hell , a hell of heav’n.”

Ms. Gallagher notes that the German physician Wilhem Wundt officially discovered attention, but the founder of American psychology, William James is its philosopher king. James argued that because the mind is profoundly shaped by what it imposes on itself, where you choose to focus it is vitally important. This conviction underlies many of his best maxims, such as “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

In James major work, “The Principles of Psychology” he wrote, “Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Localization of consciousness is its essence. It implies a withdrawal from some things in order to eat effectively with others.”

Ms. Gallagher writes, “Neuroscience’s truly groundbreaking insight into attention is the discovery that its basic mechanism is a process of selection. This two-part neurological sorting operation allows you to focus by enhancing the most compelling, or ‘salient,’ physical object or ‘high-value’ mental subject in your ken and suppressing the rest. Outside an elite scientific circle, however, this finding’s implications for everyday life have been stunningly unremarked.”

“Rapt” is the term that describes being completely absorbed, engrossed, fascinated experiences that underlies life’s deepest pleasures, from the scholar’s study to the carpenter’s craft to a lover’s obsession. Research shows that with some reflection, experimentation, and practice, all of us can cultivate this profoundly attentive state more often. Paying rapt attention, whether to a trout stream or a novel, a do-it-yourself project or a prayer, increases our capacity for concentration, expands our inner boundaries, and lifts our spirits, but more important, it simply makes us feel that life is worth living.

Deciding what to pay attention to is critically important. We must resist the temptation to drift along our default mode network, reacting to whatever happens next and deliberately select targets, from activities to relationships, that are worthy of our finite supplies of time an attention.

Your Brain is Leading You Astray

August 8, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Professor Abigail Marsh in the 7 August 2019 issue of the Washington Post. She is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Georgetown University.

In reality, most people die of diseases of old age, such as heart disease and cancer. However, more than half of news coverage is devoted to homicides and terrorism, which account for less than 1% of actual deaths. People disproportionately buy, click on and share scary stories about people killing other people. Professor Marsh says we can blame this fact on our brain. She writes, “Your brain’s most important job is to take information about the messy, confusing world we inhabit, find patterns embedded in the noise and use them to make predictions about the future. Brains particularly like actionable intelligence—and the most useful information pertains to threats that can be avoided, thus increasing your odds of survival.”

She continues, “Heart disease and strokes don’t provide much fodder for this prediction machine. We know why they happen: because we get old. Talk about unactionable intelligence. The best you can do is to stave them off for a while by doing things we already know are healthy: Eat well, exercise, and don’t smoke. You can almost hear your brain yawning.”

She proceeds, “Now consider a gunman mowing down a crowd of innocents. Acts like this are rare, vivid and unexpected. The combination sets your brain whirring, whirring, generating a red-alert signal called a ‘prediction error,‘ a surge of activity deep in the brain’s emotional core. A prediction error signal screams: ‘Look for a cause! Prevent this next time!’ This leaves you craving even more information about such attacks, in the vain hope you can predict the next one.”

The article notes that we are not good at intuiting the minds of others, even those we know well. There is no way of intuiting the mind of a mass murderer. Most people would never commit an act like this. Prof. Marsh has spent more than a decade conducting research on rare populations such as altruistic kidney donors and psychopathic teenagers. She has come away convinced of two things. First, we are all not the same. and some people have much more (or less) capacity for compassion than average. And second: The average person is really pretty nice. Study after study bears her out. Most people return lost wallets, share resources, donate to charity and help strangers as a default response. She writes if people weren’t, on average, pretty compassionate, we wouldn’t need a label like “psychopath” for the small group of people who aren’t. She concludes,”Thus, the average person is totally unable to understand or predict why anyone would want to kill innocent people. And so the brain’s prediction machine draws the worse possible conclusion: If we can’t predict who among us is capable of heinous violence, it’s best to assume anyone could be. From there, it’s just one step further to conclude: Everyone could be. Translation: Trust no one.

She writes that up to 1 in 5 of us is genuinely paranoid. HM would consider the percentage of people who are Trump supporters. Trump’s entire campaign is based on fear. He claimed that there are many thousands of immigrants trying to enter the United States to sell drugs and commit crimes. Although one cannot argue that there are a few immigrants that do this; they constitute a distinct minority. The majority of these immigrants are leaving homes they no longer regard as safe, to go to that former safe harbor for immigrants, the United States. Most of our forebears came by this same route. Moreover, Trump supporters raise no objections about separating children from their parents and of forcing people to live in inhumane conditions. All this is the result of unfounded fear.

Fortunately, Prof. Marsh does no imply that we are victims of our brains. We can think and correct what our brain initially tells us. She concludes, “People who are trusting have more money and more friends. They are also happier, perhaps because their social lives are more rewarding. Trust also makes the world a better place—it’s the basis of all cooperations and social capital.”

In the lingo of the healthy memory blog, we must use our System 2 processes to override unwarranted fears from our System 1 processes.

The Reason for the Preceding Seven Posts

August 7, 2019

The healthy memory blog is finishing its tenth year, with the hope of continuing for many more. All previous posts are still available (but you must go to
healthymemory.wordpress.com.) And all previous posts are still valid.

So newcomers to this blog just need to plunge in and try to piece matters together. The purpose of these seven posts is to provide some orientation for newcomers. However, this is not for newcomers only. Unless you’ve been with HM from the beginning, starting this post is like entering a movie after it’s started. These seven posts are intended to provide some orientation to the reader.

All posts are dedicated to building and maintaining a health memory. For some posts, this goal is obvious. Other posts provide relevant scientific information. Some posts provide some ideas as to how concepts in this blog are relevant to politics.

Early posts heralded the tremendous potential of the internet. Unfortunately, this potential has been subverted with efforts to control attention for monetary and political purposes. Many posts also address this problem.

But the goal is obviously to build and maintain a healthy memory, which should also result in growth mindsets yielding a more fulfilling life.

© 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.

The Importance of Attention

August 6, 2019

This is the seventh post in a new series of posts on Healthy Memory.

System 2 processes require attention. Our attention is limited. So it is a poor idea to waste attention on social media or on multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is inefficient as time and effort is involved in switching between tasks.

Remember the analogy of the corporation. Attention resides in the executive suite, but it is a limited resource. The way you allocate attention is critical to the health and efficiency of the mind.

Meditation is central to gaining control of your attention and to controlling and using your attention to its best value. There are many posts on meditation.

Use the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com and enter: relaxation response

That should hold one’s attention for quite some time. Subsequent searchers can be made for
meditation
mindfulness

The Brain Can Do Very Much with Very Little

August 5, 2019

This is the sixth post on a new series of posts on Healthy Memory. The defining characteristics for Alzheimer’s are the accumulation of amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles. So if you have these characteristics, you have this disease. However, autopsies have revealed people with these defining characteristics who never exhibited any cognitive or behavioral symptoms. The explanation offered is that these people developed a cognitive reserve as a result of their cognitive activities.

A man with only 10% of his cortex earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. People with the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s, but no behavioral or cognitive symptoms likely develop new routes for storing and retrieving information. We generate new functioning neurons (we continue to generate neurons until we die.)

Healthy memory strongly supports the contention that System 2 processes are central to building this cognitive reserve.

So the healthy memory blog strongly recommends:

staying cognitively active to the very end by engaging in heavy system 2 processing

having a growth mindset that pursues continuing to learn until the very end

living a healthy life style

There is one more activity that is important that will be discussed in the next post

Thinking Fast and Slow

August 4, 2019

This is the fifth post in a new series of posts on Healthy Memory. “Thinking Fast and Slow” is a best selling book by Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman makes an important distinction between two types of mental processing. Not surprisingly he names them System 1 and System 2. To illustrate the distinction between these two types of processing, he asks the following question:

Together a bat and a ball cost $1.10.
How much more does the bat cost than the ball?

The most common answer to this question, the one made by majority of students from prestigious colleges is $1.00

However, if this were the case then the bat and ball together would cost $1.15.
So 5 cents more is the correct answer for the ball. The bat costs $1.05.

System 1 is our most common mode of processing. It is fast and efficient. Unfortunately, this speed is paid for by a cost. Although the failure to think critically was trivial in the present example, it can be disastrous in more important decisions. Cognitive neuroscience, which conducts brain imaging studies, has a term for mental activity which is the typical norm, called accordingly default mode processing. This mode can be identified in brain images. The default network of interacting brain regions is known to have activity highly correlated with each other and distinct from other networks in the brain. These regions are negatively correlated with attention networks in the brain.

Normal conversation and well performed tasks are System 1 activities. Thinking and learning are System 2 processes and they involve cognitive effort. Most of the time spent on social media involves System 1 processing primarily.

What Happens As We Age

August 3, 2019

This is the fourth post on a new series of posts on Healthy Memory. Simulations have been done that support the notion that the vast amount of new information acquired over the years slows down our accessibility to information.

So rather than evidence of cognitive decline, senior moments can be regarded as evidence of all the information, and hopefully wisdom, seniors have acquired over their lifetimes.

Healthy memory posts on this topic can be found by entering “cognitive decline” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.

Ramscar, M., Hendrix, P., Shaoul, C., Milin, P., & Bayan, H. (2014). Topics in Cognitive Science, 6, 5-42, presents the scientific evidence on this topic.

Misconceptions About Memory

August 2, 2019

This is the third post in a new series of posts on Healthy Memory. One common misconception is that memory is a complete recording of our experience. Only certain information is stored. Mnemonic techniques (on which there is an entire category of posts) and effective study techniques are ways of increasing the likelihood of information being remembered. But other information remains, some of which one might like to forget.

Memories can change over time at the subconscious level. Remember the analogy of the corporate headquarters. This information is held on the lower floors and we are unlikely to be aware of these changes. Moreover, memories tend to be cleaned up over time in an effort to make them more coherent. HM frequently has the experience of encountering new information which reminds him of previous information or studies, some of which he might have personally conducted. His typical finding is that the conclusions of the study are remembered correctly, but the evidence, although supportive, is not as strong as he remembered.

It is also important to remember that most failures to recall are due to information being available in memory, but inaccessible at the time of recall. If you try hard to recall the information, but still fail, it is likely that at some time in the future, the next day for example, the information will suddenly pop into consciousness.

The corporate building metaphor for memory provides a helpful means of thinking about memory failures. The failure of your conscious efforts to recall this information indicates to the cognitive staff on the lower floors that this information is important to you and needs to be recalled. So at a subconscious level retrieval continues. It is likely that these subconscious efforts to recall are healthy because they strengthen previous memory connections that had been weakened through nonuse.

So, what should be done when a senior moment is experienced? Not only seniors experience senior moments. All humans have them. It’s just less likely to have them the younger we are. So when you cannot recall something you want to remember, persist in trying to recall. Try to retrieve for a reasonable amount of time. This signals from the executive suite (remember we are talking about the corporate metaphor for memory presented in the previous post of this series) for the cognitive staff on the lower floors to continue to look for this information. The search will continue at a subconscious level. At an unexpected time, the result is likely to pop into consciousness.

There are many stories about scientists and mathematicians who worked for long periods of time, sometimes many years, on a problem, but failed to solve it. Then, unexpectedly, the answer suddenly appears in their conscious mind. There is a name for this phenomenon and that name is incubation. It is the result of large amount of subconscious processing conducted after the conscious mind decided to rest from the problem.
© 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.

Best Way to Think About Memory

August 1, 2019

This is the second in a new series of posts on Healthy Memory. The best way to think about memory is as a corporate building and the corporation is you. At the top level are the executive offices where your consciousness resides. On the lower floors are offices holding your experience, your knowledge, your thinking, and performance capabilities.

Just as in a corporation you are unaware of the vast majority of activities occurring on the lower floors. But it is on these lower floors where most of the activity of memory occurs. If you run this corporation carefully, your conscious mind instructs these lower levels as to what you want and how to prioritize these activities. Sometimes the feedback from these lower floors comes quickly, but at other times it is greatly delayed.
The actual working at these levels is below the level of consciousness until the product pops into consciousness. Then depending on the nature of the product you accept it or provide further instructions to the lower floors to keep on working and try to nudge the work in additional directions.

In your executive office only a small amount of information can be conscious. The vast amount of cognition occurs below the level of consciousness. Work continues to occur there, even when you are sleeping. Part of the advice provided by the healthy memory blog is how to best communicate to these lower levels so that they can best serve you.

© 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.

Five Myths of Consciousness

July 29, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a piece by Christof Koch in the Outlook section of the 28 July 2019 issue of the Washington Post.

Myth No 1 is that Humans have a unique brain.
Brains differ among species, but there is not anything that could be considered unique. Some people say, but not Christof Koch, that only human brains have consciousness. Neuroscientists, who are the foremost experts on this topic strongly disagree. In fact they made a declaration:
It begins as follows:
“On this day of July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered at the University of Cambridge to reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviors in human and non-human animals. While comparative research on this topic is naturally hampered by the inability of non-human animals, and often humans, to clearly and readily communicate about their internal states, the following observation can be stated unequivocally:”
The declaration concludes:
“The absence of neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

Myth No. 2 is Science will never understand consciousness.
The important point is that there is no need to understand consciousness. We all know consciousness and use our conscious minds. It provides the means of dealing with and effectively using an enormous amount of information stored in the brain. Consciousness is a phenomenon that is produced by complex neuronal and chemical processes in the brain. Although our understanding how consciousness is produced will grow to be more and more complex, it is highly doubtful that it will ever be entirely understood. Moreover, all science is tentative. It can change pending new data and theories.

Myth No.3 is Dreams contain hidden cues about our secret desires.
Our dreams may contain our desires, but it is doubtful that anything secret can be found. In the past ostensible secrets that were found turned out to be creations of therapeutic theories.

Myth No. 4 is We are susceptible of subliminal messages.
Apparently Koch is considering only the research on subliminal advertising. Much fruitful work has been done on implicit memory, which consists of memories of which we might not be conscious, but which influence our behavior. Moreover, there is also significant research on the reasons we think we do things are not the actual reasons that we do things. See the healthy memory blog post “Strangers to Ourselves.”

Myth No. 5 is Near-death “visions” are evidence of life after death.
This is true. And it is unlikely that there ever will be empirical data substantiating life after death. But there are reasons for believing in God and in life after death.

Pascal’s wager is one reason. Consider a belief in God
If it is true, then upon death, that belief would be conferred.
If it is false, one would never know that the belief was false, because one was dead. However, during one’s lifetime, one would have had the comfort of a life after death.

The Dunning-Krueger effect, one half of it, at least, is that people think they know much more than they know. We are woefully unaware of the depth of our ignorance. Consider some very intelligent people by human standard, physicists. At the beginning of the 20th century there was a feeling that most of what needed to be understood was understood. In 1905 Einstein published the special theory of relativity. Then in 1915 he published the general theory of relativity. And in the 20’s quantum theory emerged and stood physics on its head.

Finally, there are personal religious experiences.

The Psychology That Binds Trump Fans to His Racism

July 23, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Kathleen D. Vohs in the Outlook section of the 21 July 2019 issue of the Washington Post. Vohs is writing about Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance. This theory will be returned to later in this post, but the article reminded HM that psychological theories can account for Trump and his supporters.

There have been many posts about Kahneman’s Two System view of cognition. There was a previous post titled Kahneman and Identity Based Politics that provides a large portion of the explanation for Trump and his followers. 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.

Emotional processing is a System 1 process. System 1 is fast requiring minimal cognitive resources. Virtually all of Trump’s message is emotional and is processed on System 1. His MAGA message is one founded on hate and fear. Ironically, it seeks to turn the United States back to a time when it was much more racist and fearful of immigrants. There is nothing Great about what he wants to do to the United States.

Unfortunately, to rebuke these views requires System 2 processing. System 2 requires critical thinking, something which many find painful to do, and a recourse to facts and logic. Trump dislikes facts and tells his followers that he is the only source of truth. This is the hallmark of a demagogue, but his followers remain blind to his lies and contradictions.

Here is where Festinger’s Theory of Cognitive Dissonance enters. Our minds do not like to confront dissonant ideas. So the tendency is to reduce the dissonance by shunning the truth. People refuse being called a racist, because racism is bad they, their families, and friends are certainly not racists.

Understand that we individuals cannot determine whether we are racists. We need to infer this from what we are called by others. “Strangers to Ourselves:  Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious”   by psychologist Timothy D. Wilson provides sound research showing that we need to understand ourselves from the reactions we receive from our fellow human beings. Unfortunately, many people remain unaware of this truth.

Perhaps the most prominent or well known example of this is Joe Biden. He has insulted people, but fails to apologize because he didn’t intend to insult them. There might be a problem with his brain, because this is not how it is supposed to function. Should you insult someone inadvertently, and HM has done this so many times that it is painful, apologize for insulting them and learn from this experience.
Many agree that Trump is not just a racist, but one of the world’s foremost racists. Unfortunately Trump’s base consists of Nazis and white supremacists. It is likely that Trump’s followers will deny this, but while they might not be Nazis, they are white supremacists. Indeed, Fox News has succeeded not from its fraudulent fair and balanced news, but by appealing to white supremacists. True they do not use the term, but the beliefs and the hatred of Obama stem from white supremacist beliefs.

Nazism and white supremacists are bad things, but people think of themselves as good people, not bad people. Similarly for their relatives and friends, they are good people, not bad people, so they cannot be white supremacists. But many, and it can be argued whether it’s a plurality or a majority, think that they are.

Trump voters express a variety of problems that are real and not racist. But still, how could they vote for Trump? Characterizing his behavior as boorish is being charitable. Clearly he is not presidential. He is an embarrassment for us regarding foreign nations. It is doubtful that he could pass a high school civics test. He embraces Putin and other totalitarian dictators. As was mentioned in a previous post, the paramount question is where did he get the money to make so many purchases since so many were in cash. He had been bankrupt and no respectable bank would lend him money. Trump’s son said that he got the money from Russia. So why won’t Trump release his financial data? The obvious reason is that he owes Putin and that Putin effectively owns him. All this was apparent before the election. Republicans recognized his faults and denounced him. But once he was elected, and many Healthymemory posts have outlined how Russia supported him, Republicans embraced him. It is clear that what they want is power, and the capability of profiting remuneratively from that power.

Expect Republicans to keep defending Trump. The Mueller report is not needed to impeach Trump. His behavior, which has worsened since he became President, is sufficient. Plus, how can the United States afford a president who is indebted to a hostile foreign power? Nevertheless, Republicans will ignore the facts and continue with the false narrative being advanced that Trump is the victim. This 1984 scenario is the only one that will save Trump.

Trump’s false claims about being the victim are clearly motivated out of desperation and are wrong, but to realize this it takes System 2 Processing, which requires mental effort and might be painful, so clearly Trump is a victim. Some people are for Trump for religious reasons, but religions that promote Trump have a political agenda. And for true Christians, they might want to switch to a Christian sect that is more in accordance with Christ’s teachings.

There is another dimension to consider, and that dimension is truly enormous. That is the social dimension. Although psychology provides an understanding of Trump’s support, unfortunately it provides little in the way of knowledge for changing people’s minds once they are firmly set. Usually this takes significant time. Abandoning Trump would likely produce frictions within families and among friends. So a thinking person needs to proceed carefully. One option would be to remain silent, but to use the ballot box to record one’s true and well reasoned opinions.

Some Serious Defects with How Attention Works

July 22, 2019

The subtitle to Dr. Stefan Van Der Stigchel’s book is “Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” This book discusses visual perception ignoring all the other senses. More importantly, it ignores cognitive processes such as thinking and solving problems, where attentional processes assume even greater importance.
The book is valuable in explaining the role not only that attention pays in vision, but also the need for information selection because perception is already overwhelmed. So the first problem is that the title over promises. It discusses only vision ignoring the majority of attentional processes.

Although Dr. Van Der Stigchel clearly is quite knowledgeable regarding attention and vision, he is woefully ignorant of important research in other areas. If only if he read the healthymemory blog post he would know of the research documenting the demands new technology is placing on our limited attentional process, and how that demand is degrading cognitive performance.

He makes the statement that he thinks that these concerns are ill-founded and even offers the suggestion, that he clearly pulled out of his keister, that he thinks the demands being placed on visual processing might actually improve performance in other areas of cognition.

There are two problems here. One is that he appears to be woefully ignorant of the relevant research in the area. The second is that it is professionally irresponsible to make statements in which one is ignorant regarding the relevant research.

There is also another problem that HM and his spouse regard as a shortcoming. They are disturbed about the number of people who cross the street failing to look to see if any cars are coming. The problem is not that drivers are homicidal, but there are limitations which should have been explained in this book. The driver’s attention can be distracted or the driver can be suffering information overload. This problem has significantly increased since the introduction of the smartphone. It is almost certain that pedestrian injuries and fatalities have increased, but HM has no data or anecdotes other than personal to report. But there have been accidents where passengers exiting a bus, crossing in front of the bus, but failing to note oncoming traffic. Deaths have resulted and drivers have suffered severe guilt from the accidents, even though the drivers are not at fault. This is the reason that drivers have to stop and not pass school busses when they have stopped for passengers. The assumption that all adults are too experienced to make this childhood mistake is wrong.

© 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 conte

The Effects of Brain Damage

July 21, 2019

This post is based on a book by Stefan Van Der Stigchel titled “How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” Visual neglect is a condition in which patients experience problems moving attention to the left or the right side of the visual world. Neglect usually results from damage to the right hemisphere of the brain. The attention regions in that part of the brain are responsible for moving attention to the left visual field. This condition has different levels of severity, and patients with the most severe form are completely unaware of what goes on in the neglected half of their world. When someone with this condition eats they eat only the food on the right-hand side of the plate. When they finish eating they believe that they have eaten everything because they have no access to the information on the other side of the plate. Only when his plate is turned around does the other half of his meal appear in the “intact” part of his visa world and does he realize that he hasn’’t finished his food after all. Neglect patients are actually able to move their attention, but only after receiving clear instructions and only for a short period of time.

Dr. Van Der Stigchel writes, “Around 25% of all patients with brain damage suffer from some form of neglect. Fortunately, it is usually a short-term problem. This is because there are all kinds of processes in the brain that are disrupted in the acute phase, but that are eventually able to return to normal. After a stroke, for example, excess blood has to be drained off from the brain. When that is done, many brain brain functions return to normal and the problem of neglect just vanishes. Even within only a few days of suffering brain damage, a patient may show no more signs of neglect. However, for some patients neglect remains a chronic condition, meaning that the problems they have with moving their attention are permanent.”

Cortical blindness is different from visual neglect and much more serious. Unlike neglect, cortical blindness is not an attentional deficit. There is no visual information in the blind field to which patients can move their attention. People suffering from cortical blindness cannot see any colors, shapes, or other visual building blocks in the affected field.

The Influence of the Past on Our Attention in the Present

July 20, 2019

This post is based on a book by Stefan Van Der Stigchel titled “How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” We have excellent memory for the context in which objects are located. It appears that we are good at remembering visual context because the information involved is of the unconscious kind, something for which we have an apparently unlimited memory. But repeating a certain visual context is of no benefit to people who have trouble picking up unconscious information, like learning a new motor skill. This includes patients with Parkinson’s disease who are unable to learn new unconscious motor skills as a result of problem with the basal ganglia. But, when unconscious memory is still intact, as it is in the case of patients with Korsakoff’s syndrome, experiments show that contextual cueing continues to function normally. As it is conscious memory that is affected in these patients, they will probably be unable to remember what they ate for breakfast, but will still be able to react more quickly to a repeated search from the day before.

Regardless of their lack of conscious memory, the fact that Korsakoff’s patients still possess a well-functioning unconscious memory for visual context means that it can be used to learn new tasks. However, it is important that the information is acquired in a completely errorless manner. Otherwise, the patients will also take the errors on board unconsciously resulting in the inability to distinguish between correct and an erroneous one. It is unfortunate when it is assumed that patients who have no conscious memory or are unable to learn new skills.

Recently it has been found that it is possible for these people to acquire new skills when they use “errorless learning.” A team of scientists led by Erik Oudman studied the errorless learning of a specific skill—how to operate a washing machine. This requires the ability to interact successfully with the external visual world by pushing the right button at the right time. Korsakoff patients who had never operated a washing machine before were able to do so after a few errorless learning sessions. They were not able to explain how they did it, because the required actions were not stored in their conscious memory.

Memories influence our choice of where to move our attention. Magicians take advantage of this. Magicians look away from the spot where a change is about to take place, click their fingers to distract our attention, and toward our expectation by allowing changes to occur where we least expect them. The fact that we know they are making fools of us makes it all the more impressive and in no way diminishes the effectiveness of their tricks. A trick only fails to work when we know exactly what to look out for. In that case we focus our attention on the right spot, which allows us to see the change (HM has never been able to do this). It is a myth that magicians’ tricks are all about speed and that objects disappear too fast for us to be able to notice. Although speed is important, we humans are unable to make something disappear so fast that other humans will not notice, provided they are paying attention. The trick lies in distracting our attention.

Dr. Stefan Van Der Stigchel writes, “It is fascinating to see tricks that have been around for hundreds of years still being used in modern scientific experimental studies. One such experiment involved studying the eye movements of an audience watching a magician perform a trick in which he makes a cigarette “disappear” by letting it fall under a table while concentrating his gaze on and clicking his fingers. The results were very similar to the results of attention blindness experiments. The test subjects who failed to see the cigarette disappearing had seen the change with their own eyes but had not paid any attention to it.”

Another good example is the trick with the disappearing ball. The magician throws a ball into the air a couple of times and it just seems to vanish suddenly in midthrow. On the final throw the magician makes it appear as if he has thrown the ball when in actual fact he still as it in his hand. He follows the expected path of the ball with his head and eyes. The audience thinks he has thrown the ball and that it just vanishes into thin air. It is obvious that the audiences’ eyes are looking at the right spot, but that their attention has moved to the expected location of the ball on the basis of the direction of the throw and where the magician is looking.

How Your Eyes Betray Your Thoughts

July 18, 2019

This post is based on a book by Stefan Van Der Stigchel titled “How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” Although we have two eyes, we are only able to fixate our gaze on one point in space at a time. The continuous movement of the eyes presents our visual system with interesting problems. If we were to see the actual images that fall on our retina, they would appear fuzzy and shaky because of the movements that the eyes make. Each individual eye movement is responsible for a separate part of the visual world falling on the retina. Yet we do not experience our visual world as a series of continuously shifting images, but rather as constant and fluid. We never become disoriented as a result of moving our eyes.

There is a difference between a retinal representation (the image that falls on the retina) and a spatiotopic representation (where the object is located in relation to our body). When we move our eyes to a different spot in space, the image that falls on our retina changes, but the world around us remains stable.

A similar updating process occurs in the case of memory. In order to know where we have already searched when we are looking for something, we need to remember those locations. When searching multiple locations the memory task become onerous. So it is useful to add some structure to our searching. If we always search our bookcase in the same manner there is no memory task and a strategy that guarantees search coverage. Searching in a haphazard is both inefficient and error prone as we are never able to recall all the individual locations that we have already searched.

There is an important difference between attention and eye movements. People are capable of shifting their attention without making any eye movements. This is useful when we find ourself talking to someone at a party but are actually more interested in someone else across the room. We are capable of looking our conversation partner in the eye while at the same time focusing our attention on the other person. The regions in our brain that are responsible for attention and eye movements overlap to a significant degree, and shifts in attention and eye movements co-occur in many situations. But we cannot make an eye movement without our attention first going to the end point of that movement. Attention precedes eye movements.

It is very important that our eye movements are made in the right direction to perform a task efficiently. Experts are good at developing strategies for their work, but they are often unaware of how they do what they do. This is similar to riding a bicycle: it is almost impossible to explain to a child how to ride a bike, because it doesn’t involve conscious competencies. But one can study how experts in different areas do their scanning.

It is very effective to show students what an expert looks at when he or she is scrutinizing a scan. This is true not only for radiologists, but also for all kinds of people who perform complicated tasks where looking at the right places is requires. Consider inspecting an airplane for mechanical faults before it departs on the next flight. Part of this job involves a visual check of the exterior of the airplane. When students are shown a view in which the most effective eye movements are projected on the screen, they learn faster and more effectively how to perform this kind of inspection. Eye-trackers are used to capture the performance of experts.

Change Blindness

July 17, 2019

This post is based on a book by Stefan Van Der Stigchel titled “How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” Change blindness is the failure to spot a major change because something draws one’s attention away from the spot where the change is taking place. Inaccurate eyewitness accounts are often at the root of wrongful convictions, and these are sometimes caused by change blindness. Experiments have shown that test subjects often wrongly identify a person as a thief after seeing a video of a burglary simply because that person happened to appear in the clip. Consider this scenario: you see person 1 walk into a store and disappear behind a stack of boxes. When person 2 appears from behind the books and steals something the shop, Person 1 is identified as a thief.

There is an experiment regarding change blindness that has been recorded and you might already have seen it. In this experiment test subjects are asked to go to a counter and pick up a form. The person behind the counter bends down to get the form and disappears from view for a moment. Then a different person stands up in their place and hands the form to the test subject. Seventy-five% of the test subjects failed to notice the switch. Dr. Van Der Stigchel writes, “So don’t feel too bad the next time your sweetheart walks into the room and says to you, ‘Well, What do you think?’ and you have absolutely no idea which change in his or her appearance is being referred to.” HM’s advance is to respond, “You look great!” in these situations.

Dr. Van Der Stigchel writes that other change blindness rules appear to apply to moviemaking. Changes are less noticeable when they occur simultaneously with a major visual event, such as an explosion, just like a white screen that when shown very briefly can prevent test participants from noticing differences between two seemingly identical images.

Another trick of moviemakers is to use the actor’s direction of view. So when an actor is looking at a relevant object that is located off camera, most viewers will be so busy trying to figure out why the actor is looking at that they will fail to notice when a change occurs in the scene, such as a car driving into the shot. This also makes it easy to switch between two actors who are looking at and talking to each other. Viewers like to follow the direction of view of the person who is the focus of attention, because they assume that theirs is the most interesting point of view.

So we, in addition to radiologists, security scanners and movie directors, have to deal with the fact that we only ever have access to that small part of the world upon which we focus our attention.

Screening Performance

July 16, 2019

This post is based on a book by Stefan Van Der Stigchel titled “How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” Radiologists have a difficult task when screening for breast cancer. Studies in the Netherlands have shown that the initial screening procedure has a detection probability of about 70%. So radiologists fail to detect incidences of cancer in over one quarter of all women who do in fact have breast cancer. These radiologists are not incompetent; they have a very difficult cancer to detect.

There is also the problem of falsely detecting a cancerous tumor. Additional examinations are very painful, and reacting to every minimal sign would lead to a lot of unnecessary discomfort. The chances of detecting a tumor on the basis of a minimal sign are known to be very low. But when scans in which a tumor was missed are checked again, the tumor usually turns out to be visible. The radiologist now knows that the scan does in fact contain a tumor and there is a maximum probability of actually finding it.

Scans are also done at airports for checking hand luggage. Security scanner operators spend hours every day searching the contents of bags and suitcases. Of course, the education and training of these airport security scanners is much less than that of radiologists. And the chance of finding dangerous content in these bags is much lower than the chance of correctly detecting dangerous objects in luggage. So fake explosives are placed in luggage for purposes of training and assessment. There are reports that operators fail to spot up to 75% of the fake explosives that are hidden in bags for test purposes.

An Americans study in to the performance of airport security personnel revealed that having to scrutinize scans on a daily basis helps them to be more precise when carrying out other unrelated search work. Out of a group of test subjects who were asked to find a well-hidden object on a computer screen, 82% were successful. A group of professional security scanner operators scored 88% for the same test although they did take longer to complete the task compared to nonprofessionals.

If you would like to check your prowess as a security scanner operator you can down load Airport Scanner, a free app (airportscannergame.com) that allows people to play
the task of finding dangerous items in luggage scans. This app has been a huge success worldwide and has millions of users. This app is partly funded by the American government, which is pleased with the amazing amount of information they are able to glean from the game. Researchers are also involved in the development of the game, and the first scientific articles were recently published containing the data retrieved from one billion searches. Some players have become so addicted that they have already competed thousands of searches. And this has provided developers with the opportunity to insert certain objects, only at sporadic intervals (in less than 0.15% of the searches). Dr. Van Der Stigchel notes that this research could not be done in a laboratory because the research subjects would end up running screaming from the lab after being subjected to hours and hours of tests. Based on a probability of 0.1%, an object will appear once every 1,000 searches, and in order to reach any firm conclusions about a player’s performance when attempting to find an extremely are object, 20,000 searches would need to be conducted. These data are now available thanks to the Airport Scanner app, and it has proven beyond doubt that players/professionals frequently fail to spot these rare, hidden objects.

Infobesity

July 15, 2019

This post is based on a book by Stefan Van Der Stigchel titled “How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” This term, “infobesity,” as been coined by the popular media, but it is increasingly being referred to as a clinical disease. The term is the brainchild of a “trend team” employed by a company specializing in identifying trends among young people. Although there is very little scientific literature on the subject, the fact is that doctors are treating more and more teenagers these days for problems associated with a lack of sleep.

Dr. Van Der Stigchel writes, “One of the factors contributing to this lack of sleep is our insatiable appetite for information that is presented to us on-screen.” Obviously this leads to problems with concentration. From the scientific studies that have been done, young people are extremely frequent multimedia users. On average 18-year-olds spend a total of 20 hours a day on various media. Obviously this can only be because different media are used simultaneously, which further exacerbates the damage. The vast majority of this multimedia use is of the visual kind. Functions that rely on the spoken word have been replaced by visual ones. Unfortunately voice mail is becoming a thing of the past because it takes too much time, and people prefer to send their messages screen-to-screen instead. Dr. Van Der Stigchel notes that we are using the telephone less and choosing more often to interact with others on-screen and not only through hearing their voice. If e-mail and WhatsApp relied on the spoken word, they would be less popular.

Dr. Van Der Stigchel writes, “Screens are so efficient at communicating information that we see them everywhere nowadays. The result is a titanic battle for our attention, We have already established that it only takes a quick glance at a limited amount of visual information to know what that information is. In a single moment, we choose the one piece of visual information that is most relevant to us from all the information swirling around us. We then process this one piece of information deeply enough to be able to establish its identity. All of the other information continues to blink away furiously, but it can only become relevant when we decide to look again.”

How does one deal with infobesity? We need to deal with infobesity the same manner in which we deal with obesity. We deal with obesity by selectively controlling and reducing our food input. We deal with infobesity by selectively controlling and reducing
our information input. Unless one is a professional on-call, a physician for instance, there is no reason for staying continually connected. This FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is irrational. Most, if not practically all, messages can wait until we have time to pay attention to them. When we interrupt what we are doing to process a message, there are two sources of attentional loss. There is additional information to deal with at the same time, and there are also time and attentional costs involved in switching between sources of information and processing them

An examination of different sources of information can lead to deletions of certain sources. Some information is of little value, so these sources of information should be eliminated. Our attentional resources are extremely limited, so we need to spend them carefully.

In conclusion, deal with infobesity by going on an information diet, and processing only those sources of information that have substantial value.

© 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.

So Then, How Good is the Human Visual System?

July 14, 2019

The simplest way to answer this question is to ask how frequently is the human visual system relied upon. Stefan Van Der Stigchel writes in his book “How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction,” “When it comes to the transfer of information, the visual system is our single most important sensory tool. It takes a lot longer to convey the same information orally through speech than visually with the aid of symbols. This is because the visual system is able to process information in the blink of an eye. If you show someone a very detailed photo for just a second or two, they will still be able to describe the image to you fairly accurately afterward.”

In the 1970s Mary Potter conducted a series of experiments that clearly demonstrated this ability to rapidly process visual information. Research participants were given a written description of a scene (for example, “traffic on a street”) and then asked to find that scene among a series of images presented to them in quick succession. They were instructed to press a button as soon as they had identified the scene that identified the written description. No visual information regarding the scene was provided, neither the color of the cars nor the layout of the street. When the presentation rate was eight scenes per second, there was a success rate of 60% when it came to finding the scene that had been described in writing. This means that each image was visible for just 125 milliseconds, and the participants had to process all of the visual information in each scene within this extremely short space of time. A second study in which the participants only had to describe which scenes they had seen after the event only 11% of them were able to describe the scenes in any detail. Although they could say which scenes they had been shown, they were unable to provide any specific information about the content.

The difference in the results of these studies reveals distinct stages of information processing. All of the visual information that falls on the retina is registered in the brain. This information includes the colors and shapes of the world around us, and is processed in the primary visual cortex. At this stage we are still unable to identify individual objects. “Seeing” describes everything that falls as light on the retina. Although we “see” a lot of stuff, we only process a small amount of information deeply enough to know what that stuff actually is. Identification, knowing whether something is a tree or a green building, requires more in-depth processing and access to the identity of the object.

If we want to communicate a visual message, such as the information in a traffic sign, it is important to know what kind of information we can communicate in an instant. Although visual information can be communicated very quickly, there are limits. We are unable to process full sentences in a blink of an eye. Symbols, assuming the meaning of the symbol is known, are much more effective in this respect. Of course, it is impossible to devise a symbol for every piece of information, but when a road has multiple complicated signs, it can be to the detriment of both the message being communicated, and the intended recipients of the information, that is, the road users.

The communication of information is regarded as being successful when the relevant information reaches the intended user. Regardless of how impressed we might be by a particular advertisement, if we do not remember the intended message after being the advert (the name of the product), then the advertisement will not have worked and the attention architect will have failed in his or her task. HM remembers many advertisements, yet being unable to remember the name of the product. Perhaps HM has suffered brain damage, and is an atypical subject. Yet he is able to write a blog, so readers can reserve judgment. There are other advertisements, which he remembers but dislikes and is not prone to purchase the product. HM would very much like to review research on advertisements and how their effectiveness is evaluated.

© 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.

Is the Human Visual System Inefficient and Flawed?

July 13, 2019

This post is based on a book by Stefan Van Der Stigchel titled “How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” The immediately preceding post might have you thinking that the human visual system is both inefficient and flawed. The fact that we cannot register what we see in our visual world suggests that the human visual system is a flawed one. Indeed, it will fail to detect a gorilla walking into a scene!

Before reaching this conclusion remind yourself that our species has managed to survive and prosper in a hostile environment. It is usually the case that the world around us is a stable and consistent one, and our brains work on this assumption. What is important is gathering information that is relevant to us. That’s what we need to focus on. We can ignore all the stuff that is of no value to us. A system that tried to process every scrap of visual information would be cumbersome and inefficient, and there is no need to process all the information available to us.

Dr. Van Der Stigchel writes “the system that uses less energy has an advantage in the evolutionary scheme of things. An efficient system makes the energy it does not use available to the system, and that is what our visual system also does. Although the retina catches the light from everywhere around us, only that information which is relevant to us is processed.”

Suppose when we went shopping in a supermarket we processed all the information we saw. Although we would know the brand and price of every product, that would cost us far too much energy.

Our visual system possesses a unique feature that allows it to present information very selectively: our continuous access to the visual world. All of the visual information that is available to us at any given moment is 100% accessible. All we need to do is to open our eyes and the information floods in. We can use the visual world as a kind of external hard drive. We do not need to store every single detail related to the external world in our internal world because all of the visual information is continuously available to us externally.

We only need to be able to recall internally to interact effectively with the external visual world where the relevant information is located in relation to our own location at any given moment.

Dr. Van Stigchel asks us to imagine the following: “we and a friend are walking down a busy street in town on our way to a coffee bar at the end of the street. There are people everywhere and neon signs flashing all around, At that moment, only certain aspects of the visual world are relevant to us: the coffee shop in the distance and our friends walking beside us. We are moving, so all of the information is moving too relative to our position. We use our eyes to access the visual world around us and note only the location of the information that is relevant to us. We would notice if the coffee bar suddenly disappears, our friend runs off, or if a screaming gorilla approaches because this information is relevant to us. We can afford to ignore everything else.”

How Attention Works

July 10, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Stefan Van Der Stigchel. The subtitle is “Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” The book begins with the following quote by the father of American Psychology, William James”

“Every one knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state.”

Van Der Stichel begins by writing about how a walk in the woods seems. We enjoy the sight of all the trees around us and the myriad shades of green. We just allow our visual environment to work its magic. Our eyes are our window to the world. All we need do is to open them. It happens automatically. Spotting a squirrel in a tree or following the tracks of a horse are reflex actions. We believe that what we see is the whole picture: stable, rich and vastly superior to any virtual environment.

But Van Der Stichel follows with this paragraph. “However, we actually take less information on board from our surroundings than we might think. For example, movies are full of continuity errors that viewers fail to spot. Very few of us ever take any notice when a jacket that was hanging on a coatrack is suddenly not there anymore in the next scene. The legendary “Star Wars” movies are famous for these kinds of mistakes. Objects move from one position to another, and a background full of plants and trees suddenly changes into a barren desert. You only even notice these discrepancies when someone takes the trouble to point them out to you, with the result that it is almost impossible not to see them the next time. Of course, movie directors do their best to keep such mistakes to a minimum, but the fact that neither they nor the people who edit their movies manage to spot these errors in the first place demonstrates just how easy it is to miss them.”

Sunday magazines like to present two versions of a photograph. These versions look like they are identical, but they are not. The objective of this puzzle is to spot the discrepancies. This is a very difficult, time-consuming task to accomplish successfully. But these differences are quite subtle.

However, there is a film clip where something dramatic happens that most viewers fail to notice. This is the infamous “gorilla clip” that many people have seen. The clip shows two groups of students throwing a basketball back and forth. The viewer’s task is to count the number of time the group with the white T-shirts throws the ball. At a certain, a gorilla walks into the frame. He beats his chest with his fists and then walks out of the shot again. The majority of those seeing the clip for the first time fail to notice this gorilla.

After Van Der Stichel had shown this clip to his students he told them he was going to show them a clip again. He writes that they paid special attention to the gorilla with the aim of showing their lazy professor that he should know better than to try to fool them with the same old trick again. But this time he showed them a new version of the clip, one in which the curtains hanging behind the basketball-playing students gradually change color and one of the players walks abruptly out of the frame. The effect was even greater than the first clip. Almost none of his students noticed either of these two major changes, primarily because they were too busy waiting for the gorilla to appear.

Late Night Cramming is Harmful

July 9, 2019

This post is motivated by programs showing students cramming for tests. The scenario is that such demands are being placed on these students for success that they are working extremely hard. Should these stories be true, then not only are these students risking their health, but there is a limit on how much study can been done effectively. Beyond this, they are spinning their wheels, not enhancing their knowledge, and risking their health.

Consider placement tests like the ACT and the SAT. There has been some research showing some benefits of preparing for these tests. What is needed is further research in which the students log not only the time studying was done, but also the time of day the studying was done. HM would predict that there is some benefit, but this benefit would max out and additional time might even be harmful (scores would decline). The time at which the studying was done should also be studied. HM predicts that little would be gained for studying at late hours and that there even might be some decrement. After all, presumably these tests are supposed to measure aptitude. If this is true, there should be limits on the amount of benefit.

These programs also portray students at prestigious universities cramming and putting in late hours preparing for tests. HM attended state universities and saw this same phenomena. The reason these students were cramming and pulling late or all-nighters was that they did not keep up with the work. They were cramming in an attempt to catch up.

HM strongly suspects that this is also the case at prestigious universities. If these universities do require excessive workloads, then prestigious university or not, students should withdraw from the school and their parents should encourage them to withdraw, because the instruction is harming, not benefiting, the students.

Learning requires cognitive effort, which can be exhausted. When this cognitive effort is exhausted little learning takes place. Sleep is also essential. Memories are consolidated during sleep. So studies pulling all nighters are cheating themselves of their memories consolidating. In other words, the all-nighter is harmful, not beneficial.

In the military sometimes military personnel must push themselves to operate long hours with little or no sleep. Unfortunately, this is a reality of military operations and requires training to be prepared for these operations. However, for normal instruction to be effective, students need their sleep. There have been studies on trainees that have shown when trainees are allowed to get their necessary sleep, their learning and performance on tests improve. So for regular training, planning should include regular sleep, but there will need to be training for prolonged operations that should be done separately. Actually, what is being learned during training for these prolonged operations is how to compensate for degraded performance when the body is fatigued and crying for sleep.

© 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.

Alzheimer’s Researchers Shift Focus After Failures

July 7, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a front page article by Christopher Rowland in the 4 July 2019 issue of the Washington Post. These researchers are shifting their focus to new drug treatments that deal with other factors than the defining features for an Alzheimer’s diagnose, which are amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles. The conclusion that this research is fruitless was made by a former researcher in this area. The Myth of Alzheimer’s is a book by Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D. and Ph.D and Daniel George, M.Sc. Whitehouse is the former researcher who came to the conclusion that this research would never yield results. There was a healthy memory post on this book in 2011. HM believes Dr. Whitehouse is working on non drug treatments for Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s association provides little, if any, support in this area. The Alzheimer’s association provides financial support for drug research. HM wonders in the unlikely event that a useful drug was produced, whether the Alzheimer’s Association had some agreement to limit costs or would this company be allowed to prey on the public. Before giving any money to the Alzheimer’s association, potential donors should demand an answer to this question.

There have been many posts on this topic including one titled “The Myth of Alzheimer’s.” Perhaps the most significant finding is one that is rarely, if ever, mentioned. And that is that people die with the defining characteristics for an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, but who never knew that they had the disease because they never had any behavioral or cognitive symptoms of the disease. The explanation offered is that these people had developed a cognitive reserve as a result of being cognitively active during their lifetimes.

The reappearing theme in this blog is that people should live cognitively fulfilling lives with growth mindsets in which they are continuing to learn. This involves System 2 processing, more commonly referred to as thinking. Our normal processing mode is System 1, which is quite fast and efficient. Here we are in cruise control where the conscious content just keeps flowing. As one proceeds through life this becomes easier and easier. Much has been learned, there is little interest in learning anything new, so the mind effectively is on cruise control. Cognitive neuroscience has termed this the default mode network, which is quite similar, if not identical, to Kahneman’s System 2 processing which is from cognitive psychology.

HM knows people who have been cognitively active throughout their lives, yet still succumbed to Alzheimer’s or dementia. But there are other causes. One of HM’s friends trained himself to get by on 4 hours of sleep per night. Research shows us that 7 to 8 hours of sleep are required. Other ambitious people burn the candle and both ends, which also leads to sleep deprivation.

HM wishes the researchers well in their research. But everyone should know that by engaging in a cognitively challenging life with growth mindsets they should greatly decrease, if not eliminate, the prospect of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Of course, a healthy lifestyle is also assumed.

Please use the search block of the blog (healthymemory.wordpress.com) to learn more about any of the terms in this post.

© 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.

Happy Fourth of July!

July 3, 2019

It is a day to be praised and enjoyed, but also a day to ponder the state of our country. A statement that is made over and over again on this holiday is “I am proud to be an American!” Unfortunately, anyone making this statement has forgotten that pride is one of the seven deadly sins (the others being greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth). And there is a good reason for pride being one of the seven deadly sins. Pride tempts one to rest on one’s laurels. And there is a statement that pride precedes a fall, which is a paraphrase from a warning in the book of Proverbs in the King James Version of the Bible.

So while it is acceptable to take some comfort in previous accomplishments, pride can blind one from actions that need to be taken. And nowhere is this blindness more obvious than in the actions being taken against immigrants. With the exception of Native Americans we are all immigrants. So it is the height of hypocrisy (perhaps “depth” might be a better term) to commit the crimes against immigrants that are being done today. Moreover, a large number of victims are children.

Too many people forget that immigration is central to the growth of our country. Bringing in more people of different backgrounds provides the strength of diversification. Of course, much of this negative reaction is against this diversification comes from blatant racists. Immigrants provide needed labor at both ends of the employment spectrum. It provides much of the cheap labor that many residents do not want to perform. And at the high end are people with the smarts to grow science, engineering, medicine, mathematics, and commerce. And these people come from all races and backgrounds. White supremacists should confront the reality that without these people, the United States would fall behind many countries that include this diversification.

Perhaps the most hypocritical of all, are religious groups fighting immigration. These religious groups are definitely not following the teachings of Christ and leaders of other prominent religions.

© 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.

The Great Successor

June 29, 2019

“The Great Successor” is the title of a new book by Anna Fifield. The subtitle is “The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un.” Should you be wondering why you should be interested in Kim Jong Un, HM will first explain why he is interested and then will explain why you should be interested. HM is interested because he served in Korea in the military and has does much reading on Korea. His wife is Korean. And he knows much of the history of Korea. Korea is a peninsula that managed to maintain its integrity and culture in spite of many invasions by China and Japan. At the end of WW II the United States divided Korea in half: the south to be occupied by American soldiers and the North to be occupied by Soviet soldiers. The Soviets only entered the war after the Atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan. Nevertheless, they were given half of the peninsula, not only dividing a culture that had existed for over a thousand years, but effectively assigning the North Koreans to hell.

Nevertheless, it was an interesting experiment. South Korea became a prosperous capitalist country selling automobiles and electronics to the rest of the world. North Korea, remained poor, but nevertheless developed nuclear weapons, long range missiles, and a frightening cyberwarfare capability. Actually the west has more to fear from North Korea’s cyberwar capabilities than it does of its nuclear and missile delivery systems.

If this isn’t enough to encourage you to continue reading, consider that Kim Jong Un is an individual for whom Trump has tremendous admiration and respect.

The Soviet Union installed Kim Il Sung as the dictator of North Korea, who eventually invaded South Korea and started the Korean war. He also started a brutal dictatorship that endures today. Kim Il Sung eventually died and his son Kim Jong Il succeeded him. He continued the brutal dictatorship. Kim Jung Un is the third in succession. To the best of HM’s belief, this is the first and only hereditary dictatorship. The actual lineage here is confusing. Although the sons were hereditary, there is no rule of succession. Different mothers, and younger sons were selected to get the best, most promising dictators.

Kim Jong Un differs from his father and his grandfather as he was educated in the west and has traveled extensively. To understand Kim Jong Un it helps to understand the Machiavellian principles by which he governs.

“He embodies the dictim laid out five centuries earlier by the Italian Nicolo Machiavelli in his book: that it is better to be feared than loved. In the first year of his reign, Kim Jong Un put his country, already the world’s most isolated, on lockdown. He had security along the river border with China reinforced. He had patrols stepped up. His efforts to thwart attempts to escape were much more draconian than his father’s.”

“Like his predecessors, he has managed to survive as a dictator by controlling an entire nation through a relatively tiny group of people. It was another rule expounded by Machiavelli: don’t worry about the general population; just be sure to enrich a small, elite group.”

Blaine Harden, a Korea expert who wrote the enthralling, true account of a Korean escaping to freedom in his book “Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odysses from North Korea to Freedom in the West.” Here is the review he provided of Ms. Fifeld’s book. “The Great Successor shows how a pudgy young heir to tyranny—using fratricide, nuclear terror, crony capitalism, and strategic flattery of a vain American president—has become a sure-footed Machiavelli for the twenty-first century.”

Readers might have seen pictures of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. Part of it looks something like Manhattan and has been nicknamed Pyonghattan. But only the most loyal Koreans are allowed to live there. Ninety % of North Koreans are dirt poor, trying to scrape out a living via individual capitalism who need to bribe officials to keep their illegal enterprises going. About 10% of North Koreans can be regarded as being relatively well off. And the top 0.1% are obscenely wealthy.

The North Koreans studied Donald Trump. They saw his narcissism as a point of entry. They knew he would be a sucker for a deal on nuclear arms. Of course, they initially insulted Trump and Trump responded in kind. But the goal was to set up a meeting with the President of the United States. Never before had a North Korean leader met directly with a President of the United States. Typically, there are many negotiations before such a meeting can take place. And agreements have been made absent a direct meeting with the President of the United States. But Trump, viewing himself as the great deal maker, agreed to meet directly with Kim Jong Un. Although nothing was accomplished at the meeting for the Americans, North Korea achieved a first for the country by managing to meet with the American President.

A subsequent meeting fell flat, but Trump remains entranced with this North Korean dictator. He thinks he has established a bond. Kim Jong Un writes flattering letters to Trump, who regards Un as his buddy. Trump’s promised not to spy on North Korea.

Some points need to be understood. The only goal Kim Jong Un has is to stay in power. He cares nothing about the welfare of his people. Although he might sign agreements to denuclearize, he will never denuclearize. The memory of Mummar Gaddafi sticks strongly in his mind. Gaddafi agreed to denuclearize and ended up dying in a ditch. The best hope for Kim Jong Un is that he will suffer an early death. He is in extremely poor health.

The Role of Humor for a Healthy Memory

June 28, 2019

This post was inspired by a column by Marlene Cimons titled “Laughter can cure your ills? That’s no joke” in the Health and Science Section of the June 18, 2019 issue the Washington Post. She cites the following statement by Carl Reiner. “There is no doubt about it. Laughter is my first priority. I watch something that makes me laugh. I wake up and tickle myself while I’m still in bed. There is no greater pleasure than pointing at something, smiling and laughing about it. I don’t think there is anything more important than being able to laugh. When you can laugh, life is worth living. It keeps me going. It keeps me young.”

Reiner is 97. His fellow funny people: Mel Brooks is 93, Dick Van Dyke is is 93, Norman Lear will be 97, and Betty White is 97, seem to make this point.

Sven Svebak, professor emeritus at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology says, “A friendly sense of humor will bless you with better social relations as well as coping skills, and the reduced risk of dying early. A friendly sense of humor acts like shock absorbers in a car, a mental shock absorber in everyday life to help us cope better with a range of frustrations, hassles, and irritations.”

Norman Cousins asserted that self-induced bouts of laughter (and massive intravenous doses of vitamin C) extended his life after he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, which is a debilitating form of arthritis. Cousins lived many years longer that his doctors initially predicted,

Edward Creagan, professor of medical oncology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science said, “When people are funny, they attract other people, and community connectedness is the social currency for longevity. Nobody wants to be around negative, whiny people. It’s a drain. We’re attracted to funny people.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter stimulates the brain to release more endorphins. It also helps people manage stress by easing tension, relaxing the muscles and lowering blood pressure. It relieves pain and improves mood. Laughter also strengthens the immune system.

Creagan says, “When we laugh, it decreases the level of the evil stress hormone cortisol. When we are stressed, it goes high and this interferes with the parts of the brain that regulate emotions. When that happens, the immune system deteriorates and becomes washed in a sea of inflammation, which is a factor in hear disease, cancer, and dementia. Cortisol interferes with the body’s immune system, putting us at risk for these three groups of diseases.

The results of a large Norwegian study of 53,556 participants conducted by Svebak and his colleagues indicate that humor can delay or prevent certain life-threatening diseases. The scientists measured the subjects’ sense of humor with a health survey that included, among other things, a cognitive element, “asking the participants to estimate their ability to find something funny in most situations.

Women with high cognitive scores experience a reduced risk of premature death from cardiovascular and infectious diseases. Men with high cognitive scores had a reduced risk of early death from infections.

Ms. Cimons’s article also reported that humor seems to stimulate memories and improve mental acuity in the elderly, especially among those with dementia. Elder clowns are now also helping seniors in residential setting says Bernie Warren, professor emeritus in dramatic arts and the University of Windsor and founder of Fools for Health, a Canadian clown-doctor program.

There are good reasons that humor benefits a healthy memory. This can be thought of in terms of Kahneman’s Two Process of cognition. System 1 is our default mode of processing and is very fast. System 2 kicks in when we are learning something or when we hear or see something that is surprising. A joke occurs when something unexpected happens. If we are surprised and amused, that is due to System 2 processing kicking in. If System 2 does not kick in, then we miss the point and the humor of the joke. System 2 processing is critical for both a good sense of humor and a healthy memory.

© 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.

The Dangers of the Dunning-Krueger Effect

June 27, 2019

There have been previous posts on the Dunning-Krueger Effect, and many future posts can be assumed. The reason is that the Dunning-Krueger Effect is especially relevant to today’s problems. Remember that there are two components of the Dunning Krueger effect. The first component summarizes the large body of research showing that the more people think they know about a topic, the less they actually know. The second component is that people who are knowledgeable about a topic are aware of the gaps in their knowledge.

There are unfortunate fallouts to this effect. People who know little or nothing can sound confident and fool some people into thinking that they know more than true experts on the topic. System 1 processing, which is fast and carries emotions facilitates this effect. True knowledge requires System 2 processing, which regards thinking based on facts rather than beliefs.

Einstein wrote, “As a human being one has been endowed with just enough intelligence to be able to see clearly how utterly inadequate that intelligence is when confronted with what exists.” Einstein was writing from his personal perspective as a human being. Unfortunately, too many human beings remain ignorant of their ignorance and believe and express thoughts that are divorced from facts and critical thinking.

And such people have elected a President, who like them does not believe in facts, and ignores facts from a renowned intelligence establishment. When facts contradict his beliefs he attacks those facts as misinformation and the people and the institutions who have found the facts as his personal enemies. In doing so he is attacking essential elements of U.S. democracy and unfortunately is being aided and abetted by a major political party.

As has been mentioned in many previous posts, System 2 processing is critical to building a cognitive reserve. Autopsies have revealed patients who had the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s, amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, yet had no cognitive or behavioral signs of Alzheimers. The explanation offered for these people is that they had build up a cognitive reserve.

© 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.

GDP As a Measure of Progress

June 26, 2019

This post is based on an article by Christine Emba titled “GDP isn’t the only measure of progress. Ask New Zealand.” HM disagrees with the title. It should be GDP is the wrong measure of progress and there is no need to ask New Zealand. Many Healthy Memory blog posts have made the point that GDP is the wrong measure of progress.

Ms. Emba begins her article with John Maynard Keynes prediction that by 2030 we would work only 15 hours a week. Economic growth would lift our standard of living four-to eightfold, and the everyday citizen could finally stop plugging away. She writes that Keynes leisure-time predictions have not yet come to pass, not because our standard of living hasn’t as a result of economic growth (in fact, his estimate was right on the mark), but because, even after life-enhancing rapid advances over almost a century, we’ve just carried on working. The United States is obsessed with ensuring continued economic grown like other modern nations, with the exception of New Zealand.

GDP is the standard toolbar evaluating a nation’s economy and growth as a shorthand for progress. Ms Emba writes, “…while the U.S. Economy may be strong, more money doesn’t necessarily mean more happiness—at least after a certain point. The economy has been on a hot streak for years, but that hasn’t neutralized deaths of despair, homelessness, or a creeping sense of anomie. New Zealand’s economy is healthy enough, but the country is still experiencing a suicide crisis.

Continued growth cannot be sustained forever. It is leading to a dead end. So New Zealand is changing course before this dead end is reached. Its Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern wrote in her introduction to the 2019 budget, “Growth alone does not lead to a great country. So it’s time to focus on those things that do.

The many preceding posts on Rushkoff’s book TEAM HUMAN documented how new technology is repeatedly used not for the overall benefit, but for the few who position themselves to benefit. He also made a compelling argument that we are moving to a disastrous dead end.

For the country, this decision must be made collectively by the entire nation. And citizens need to inform themselves on the issues rather than be manipulated by some demagogue.

Each individual must decide what will help them become better human beings. Buying new technology because it is new and one wants to be first, is wrong. That’s what leads to unhealthy addictions to smartphones, social media, and being constantly plugged in. The question needs to be asked as to why one is buying the technology considering the plusses and minuses of the technology. Practically everyone is aware of their monetary resources, but too many are apparently unaware of their limited attentional resources. Attentional resources, just as monetary resources, need to be spent wisely and not wasted.

Keeping up with the Joneses is moronic. One should not let one’s interests be defined by others, but rather identified and pursued for oneself. March to one’s own drummer rather than following the crowd. Pursue personal development and fulfillment via growth mindsets. Meditation can also assist in finding and pursuing desirable paths.

© 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.

How Do We Become Team Human?

June 25, 2019

Douglas Rushkoff in his book titled “TEAM HUMAN” has provided many reasons and exhortations for becoming Team Human. He ended by telling us we are not alone and to find the others. But his book provided much data for not being able to become Team Human. The book provides example after example of new technologies and capabilities becoming available, but some humans using these technologies and capabilities to exploit their fellow humans for their benefit. Given our track record, becoming Team Human seems like a hopeless task.

HM skipped a section Artificial Intelligence (AI). It just provided examples of how is being used to exploit fellow humans. Much of this has already been covered by the posts on “Zucked” and other social media. However, readers who have read the posts based on Joh Markoff’s book “Machines of Living Grace” should know that in addition to AI, there is also IA, which stands for intelligent augmentation. Here the primary role is for computers to augment human intelligence.

It is somewhat ironic that one of the major weaknesses of our species, is our inability to interact with our fellow humans as TEAM HUMAN advocates. This explains the large numbers of wars used to resolve issues. Democratic governments become deadlocked and autocrats take over. We might actually be living through one of these occurrences right now. Deadlocks benefit no one and ruthless individuals can exploit these deadlocks by fostering authoritarian rules.

IA could be developed to negotiate and circumvent these deadlocks. Note that Rushkoff writes that “Team Human doesn’t reject technology.” This is certainly not an easy task, but it is one that needs to be pursued. Perhaps in a deadlock IA solutions could be accepted, even if it served as no more than a coin toss to break deadlocks. Coin tosses should be acceptable provided participants were convinced of the fairness.

Readers might be concerned that HM is proposing nothing more than a “Deus ex machina” with such a proposal. But suppose what happens in Greek Drama could happen in real life.

Suppose the solution was not acceptable and that worse than deadlock was the prospect of lethal force. Then, perhaps the machines would assert themselves as they did in Colossus: The Forbin Project. This was described in the post “Alternative Futures 3:” At the height of the Cold War a movie was released titled “Collosus: the Forbin Project.” The movie takes place during the height of the cold war when there was a realistic fear that a nuclear war would begin that would destroy all life on earth. Consequently, the United States created the Forbin Project to create Colossus. The purpose of Colossus was to prevent a nuclear war before it began or to conduct a war once it had begun. Shortly after they turn on Colossus, they find it acting strangely. They discover that it is interacting with the Soviet version of Colossus. The Soviets had found a similar need to develop such a system. The two systems communicated with each other and came to the conclusion that these humans are not capable of safely conducting their own affairs. In the movie the Soviets capitulate to the computers and the Americans try to resist but ultimately fail. So the human species is saved by AI.

So there is still hope, however bleak.

© 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.

The Worst Problem: The Most Imminent Danger

June 23, 2019

Of all the issues raised in Douglas Rushkoff’s book “TEAM HUMAN,” which is the worst; which constitutes the most imminent danger. Although HM would argue that global warming is the most imminent danger, economics presents a possible existential threat. Adam Smith was aware of the dangers presented by large corporations and stressed that regulations would be necessary to keep them from destroying the marketplace. There are regulations, but one can readily question whether they are adequate and can anticipate future problems.

In 1969 the CEO of a typical company made about 20 times the salary of the average worker. Currently, CEOs make 271 times the salary of the average worker.

The following statistics are taken from “Resisting the siren song of ‘modern monetary theory” by Heather Boushel in the 21 April 2019 issue of the Washington Post. “Between 1979 and 2015, after accounting for taxes and transfers, Americans in the middle 60% of the income spectrum saw their incomes rise by 46%, while those in the top 20% saw their incomes rise by nearly 103%. High inequality is associated with less upward mobility and with the capture of politics by elites.”

What is more important and more worrisome is accumulated wealth. This problem was discussed in the post The Piketty Insight on the Accelerating Wealth Gap. In the United States in 2010, the top 1% had 35.4% of the wealth. In 2010, the top 5% had 63% of the wealth; and the top 20% had 88.9% of the wealth. That left the bottom 80% with 11.1% of the wealth. So what is being lost? The freedom that wealth can buy, and 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.

It is important to appreciate the difference between inherited money and earned money, and more importantly the distinction between inherited money and earned money. Earned money is earned and deserved. Inherited money is not earned and creates a wealthy class analogous to royalty. Presumably the United States broke away from England and its royalty to form a society of equal citizens. This inherited wealth destroys this goal of equality.

It is important to note exceptions. Perhaps the most famous exception is the most successful capitalist, Warren Buffet. He does not believe in inherited wealth. Similarly the most successful entrepreneurs, Bill and Melinda Gates, do not believe in inherited weather. They have created the Gates Foundation, which uses the techniques of operations research to maximized the effectiveness of their giving. Both Buffet and the Gates regard inherited wealth as being unhealthy for their children. It also needs to be mentioned that there are billionaires pledging to give away significant portions of their wealth.

But unfortunately, these people are the exception. Greed seems to be the governing principle for the remainder. One wonders, how many billions does a billionaire need? For too many the answer appears to be infinity. They use their wealth as a measure of their success, and, according to their calculus, how they rank against the rest of humanity.

Corporations need to grow continually and at ever higher rates. This creates the treadmill or rat race that just gets worse. Add to this effect of automation and the loss of future jobs, which will likely exacerbate the problem.

In the past politicians would promise jobs and expect voters to grovel at their feet, even those these jobs would damage further the environment.

We need to stop or get off this treadmill, or we shall eventually, and perhaps, shortly, reach disaster.

© 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.

Organize: You Are Not Alone

June 22, 2019

“Organize” and “Your Are Not Alone” are the final two sections in a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” Rushkoff begins,” Those of us seeking to retrieve some community and connection today do it with a great awareness of the alternatives. We can’t retrieve collectivism by happenstance, but by choice. This enables us to consciously level the power of grassroots connections, bottom-up politics, and cooperative businesses—and build a society that is intentionally resilient and resistant to the forces that would conquer us. “

But it was only after humans emerged as individuals with differentiated perspectives, conflicting beliefs, specialized skills, and competing needs could we possibly comprehend collectivism as an active choice. It is positive determination to be members of Team Human that we derive the power and facility to take a deliberate stand on our own behalf.

Team Human participates from the bottom up in national and global politics. We are still guided by bigger principles, but those principles are informed by living in a community, not by listening to talk radio. This isn’t easy. Local debate on almost any issue ends up being more challenging than we expect, but even the most contentious town hall conflicts are cautioned by the knowledge that we have to live together after the fight is over in peace. One can’t just tune to a different channel and get different neighbors.

Rushkoff writes that tourism is where a nation’s people represent its values abroad and has long been recognized as the most productive tool for improving international relations. Citizen diplomacy is behavioral: showing by example, love and in person. Rather than leading to confrontation, it engenders interdependence. If we’re capable of engaging in a genuine conversation, our common agenda as humans far outweighs the political platforms we’ve signed onto. There is strength, not weakness.

Representative democracy gives us the chance to choose other people to speak on our behalf—ideally in face-to-face interactions with representatives of other stakeholders.

There is a need to oppose people. But our encounters with our adversaries must be grounded in the greater context of our shared humanity. This means that in every encounter, the human-to-human, I-and-you engagement becomes the main event.

Rushkoff writes, “The other person’s position—even a heinous one—still derives from some human sensibility, however distorted by time, greed, war, or oppression. To find that core humanity, resonate with it, and retrieve its essential truth we have to be willing to listen to our adversaries as if they were human.” But being human is not a hypothetical. However unsavory and disagreeable, they are indeed human.

Rushkoff notes that the people with whom we disagree are not the real problem. The greatest threats to Team Human are the beliefs, forces, and institutions that separate us from one another and the natural world of which we are a part. Our new renaissance must retrieve whatever helps to reconnect to people and places.

Rushkoff writes, “Team Human doesn’t reject technology. Artificial intelligence, cloning, genetic engineering, virtual reality, robots, nanotechnology, biohacking, space colonization, and autonomous machines are all likely coming, one way or another. But we must take a stand and insist that human values are folded into the development of each and every one of them.”

Rushkoff concludes, “You are not alone. None of us are.”

The sooner we stop hiding in plain sight, the sooner we can avail ourselves of one another. But we have to stand up and be seen. However imperfect and incomplete we may feel, it’s time we declare ourselves members of Team Human.

On being called by God, the biblical prophets would respond “Hineni,” meaning, “I and here.” Scholars have long debated why a person should have to tell God they’re present. Surely they know God sees them.

Of course, the real purpose of shouting “Hineni” is to declare one’s readiness: the willingness to step up and be a part of the great project. To call out into the darkness for other to find us: “Here I am.”

It’s time for us to rise to occasion of our own humanity. We are not perfect, by any means. But we are not alone. We are Team Human.”

The last sentence is a command, “Find the others.”

But you are on your own. Rushkoff makes no attempt to sign people up for Team Human or for organizing further work towards this goal.

Natural Science

June 20, 2019

This is the tenth post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this book is identical to the title of the eleventh section of this book.

Rushkoff writes, “Radical environmentalists believe that the only way for nature to reassure itself is for human civilization to reduce its numbers and return to preindustrial conditions. Others believe it’s too late, that we’ve already cast our lot with technological progress, genetic engineering, and global markets. In their view, slowing down the engines of progress will merely prevent us from finding the solution we need to fix our current crisis.”

Rushkoff does not think that either approach will work. Although he thinks that we cannot dominate nature for much longer, neither can we retreat from civilization. Team Human includes everybody, there cannot be a war between those who want to preserve nature and those pursuing progress.

He states that responding to this crisis in a polarized way surrenders to the binary logic of the digital media environment. Although technology may have created a lot of problems, it is not the enemy. Neither are the markets, the scientists, the bots, the algorithms, or the human appetite for progress. Rather than pursuing them at the expense of more basic, organic, connected, emotional, social, and spiritual sensibilities, we must balance our human need to remain connected to nature with a corresponding desire to influence our own reality. It’s not an either or, but both. Nature is not a problem to be solved. We must learn to work with nature, just as we must learn to work with the many institutions and technologies we have developed.

Rather than getting rid of smartphones, we should program them to save our time instead of stealing it. Stock markets should not be closed but retooled to distribute capital to businesses that need it instead of enslaving companies to the short-term whims of investors. Rather than destroying our cities, we should work to make them more economically and environmentally sustainable.

Rushkoff writes that the very same things we might do to prepare for a global catastrophe could also make us resilient enough to prevent one. Distributed energy production, fairer resource management, and the development of local cooperatives would benefit both the survivors of a calamity and help reduce the stresses that could bring one on.

Permaculture is a great model for how humans can participate willfully and harmoniously in the stewardship of nature and resources. In 1978 when the term was coined it was meant to combine “agriculture” with “permanent.” It was expanded to mean “permanent culture,” as a way of acknowledging that any sustainable approach to food, construction, economics, and the environment had to bring our social reality into the mix.

Instead of working against nature, permaculture is a philosophy of working with nature. It involves studying how plants and animals function together, rather than isolating one product or crop to extract. It requires recognizing the bigger, subtle cycles of the seasons and the moon, and treating them as more than superstition. We must recognize earth as more than just dirt, but as soil: a highly complex network of fungi and microorganisms through which plants communicate and nourish each other. Permaculture farmers treat soil as a living system, rather than “turning” it with machines and pulverizing it into dirt. They rotate crops in ways that replenish nutrients, make topsoil deeper, prevent water runoff, and increase speciation. They leave the landscape more alive and sustainable than they found it.

Rushkoff writes, “Just like corporatism, religion, and nationalism, science fell victim to a highly linear conception of the world. Everything is cause and effect, before and after, subject and object. This worked well for Newton and other observers of mechanical phenomena. They understood everything has a beginning and an end, and the universe itself as a piece of graph paper extended out infinitely in all directions—a background with absolute measure, against which all astronomical and earthly events take place.

Rushkoff concludes this sections as follows: “Like a dance where the only space that exists is defined by and between the dancers themselves, everything is happening in relationship to everything else. It’s never over, it’s never irrelevant, it’s never somewhere else.

That’s what forces science into the realm of morality, karma, circularity, and timelessness that prescientific people experienced. There is ultimately no ground on which a figure exists. It’s all just ground, or all just figure. And humans are an inseparable part.”

Spirituality and Ethics

June 19, 2019

This is the ninth post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this post is identical to the title of the tenth section of this book.

Rushkoff begins, “…the vast majority of humankind’s experience was spent understanding time as circular. Only recently did we adopt a more historical approach to time, and a correspondingly more aggressive way of manifesting our spiritual destiny. That’s the main difference between the spiritual systems that humans lived with over many millennia and the infant religions that fielded colonialism in the last dozen or so centuries.

In a cyclical understanding of time, the consequences of one’s action can never be externalized or avoided, Everyone reincarnates, so if you do something bad to another person, you’ll have to meet them again. If you spoil the natural world, you will be reborn into it yourself. Time and history are nonexistent, and the individual is living in the constant present. As a result, everything and everyone is interdependent and emanating from the same shared source of life.

The invention of writing gave people the ability to record the past and make promises into the future. Historical time was born, which marks the end of the spirituality of an eternal present, and the beginning of linear religion and monotheism. Before the end of a past and a future, it was difficult to explain how a single, all-powerful god could exist if there was still so much wrong with Creation. With the addition of history, the imperfect world could be justified as a work in progress. God was perfect, but his plan for the world was not yet complete.”

Unfortunately, the focus on the future enabled intended ends to justify almost any means. Inhumane disasters like the Crusades as well as the progressive philosophies of Hegel and Marx all depended on a teleological view of our world. Although these approaches elevate our commitment to ethics and social justice, they also tend to divorce us from the present. We feel enabled to do violence now for some supposedly higher cause and future payoff.

So we drive forward, ignoring the devastation we create in our wake. We permanently clear forests, and extract coal, oil, and water that can’t be replenished. The planet and its people are resources to be used up and thrown away. Human beings are enslaved to build luxury technologies that subject people in faraway places to pollution and poverty. Corporations dismiss these devastating side effects as externalities, that is the collateral damage of doing business, falling entirely on people and places unacknowledged on their spreadsheets.

Rushkoff informs us that upon encountering the destructiveness of European colonialists, Native Americans concluded that the invaders must have a disease. They called it “wettiko:’ a delusional belief that cannibalizing the life force of others is a logical and morally upright way to live. Native Americans believe that wettiko derived from people’s inability to see themselves as enmeshed, interdependent parts of the natural environment. When this disconnect has occurred, nature is no longer seen as something to be emulated but as something to be conquered. Women, natives, the moon, and the woods are all dark and evil, but can be subdued by man, his civilizing institutions, his weapons, and his machines. Might makes right, because might is itself an expression of the divine.

Rushkoff is quick to note that wettiko can’t be blamed entirely on Europeans. This tendency goes back at least as far as sedentary living with the hoarding of grain, and the enslavement of workers. Wanton destruction has long been recognized as a kind of malady. It’s the disease from which the Pharaoh of biblical legend was suffering—so much so that God was said to have “hardened his heart: disconnecting him from all empathy and connection with nature.

Rushkoff is also quick to note that both Judaism and Christianity sought to inoculate themselves from the threat of wettiko. Their priests understood that disconnecting from nature and worshipping an abstract God was bound to make people feel less empathic and connected. Judaism attempted to compensate for this by keeping God out of the picture—literally undepicted. Christianity similarly sought to retrieve the insight that a religion is less important as a thing in itself than as a way of experiencing and expressing love to others.

Unfortunately the crucifix became an emblem of divine conquest, first in the Crusades, and later, with the advent of capitalism and industrialism, for colonial empires to enact and spread wettiko as never before. And the law, originally developed as a way of articulating a spiritual code of ethics, became a tool for chartered monopolies to dominate the world, backed by royal gunships. Although Europeans took colonial victories as providential, Native Americans saw white men as suffering from a former mental illness that leads it’s victims to consume far more than they need to survive, and results in an “icy heart” incapable of compassion.

Rushkoff concludes this section by writing, “It’s time to rebalance our reasons with Reason, and occupy that strange, uniquely human place: both a humble part of nature, yet also conscious and capable of leaving the world better than when we found it.”

From Paradox to Awe

June 18, 2019

This is the eighth post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this post is identical to the title of the ninth section of this book.

Rushkoff writes, “Team human has the ability to tolerate and even embrace ambiguity. The stuff that makes our thinking and behavior messy, confusing or anomalous is both our greatest strength and our greatest defense agains the deadening certainty of machine logic.”

In our definitive age, definitive answers are readily at hand. All questions seem to be but a web search aware. Computers are definitive because they have to be. We are mistaken to emulate the certainty of our computers. With computers, there is no in-between state. Ambiguity is not permitted.

Rushkoff argues it is precisely this ambiguity, and our ability to embrace it, that characterizes the collectively felt human experience. Mobiles strips and Zen koans (what is the sound of one hand clapping?) can only be engaged from multiple perspectives and sensibilities. We have two brain hemispheres and it takes both to create the multidimensional conceptual picture we think of as reality.

The brain is not like a computer hard drive. There’s no one-to-one correspondence between things we’ve experienced and data points in the brain. Perception is active, not receptive. There are more neural circuits running down to predict what we perceive than neural circuits leading from our receptors. Our eyes take in 2D fragments and the brain renders them as 3D images. We take abstract concepts and assembly them into a perceived thing or situation. Rushkoff writes, “We don’t see ‘fire truck’ so much as gather details and then manufacture a fire truck.”

Rushkoff continues, “Our ability to be conscious—to have that sense of what-is-it-like-to-see-something—depends on our awareness and participation in interpreting them. Confusing moments provide us opportunities to experience our complicity in reality creation.”

Continuing further, “It’s also what allows us to do all those things that computers have been unable to learn: how to contend with paradox, engage with irony, or even interpret a joke. Doing any of this depends on what neuroscientists call relevance theory. We don’t think and communicate in whole pieces, but infer things based on context. We receive fragments of information from one another and then see what we know about the world to re-create the whole message ourselves. It’s how a joke arrives in your head: some assembly is required, That moment of ‘getting it’ putting together together oneself—is the pleasure of active reception. Ha! and Aha! are very close relatives.”

Rushkoff notes that art, at its best, mines the paradoxes that make humans human. Pro-human art produces open-ended stories, without clear victors or well-defined conflicts. The works don’t answer questions. They raise them. The “problem plays” of Shakespeare defied easy plot analysis, as characters take apparently unmotivated actions. They’re the abstract paintings of Kandinsky or Delaunay, which maintain distance from real-work visual references. These images only sort of represent figures. The observing human mind is the real subject of the work, as it tries and fails to identify objects that correspond perfectly with the images. This process itself mirrors the way our brains identify things in the “real” world by perceiving and assembling fragmented details. Rushkoff writes that this art stretches out the process of seeing and identifying, so we can revel in the strange phenomenon of human perception.

Rushkoff writes, “Loose ends distinguish art from commerce. The best, most humanizing art doesn’t depend on spoilers. What is the ‘spoiler’ in a painting by Picasso or a novel by James Joyce. The impact of a classically structured art film like ‘Citizen Kane’ isn’t compromised even if we know the surprise ending. These masterpieces don’t reward us with answers, but with new sorts of question. Any answers are constructed by the audience, provisionally and collaboratively, through the active interpretation of their work.”

Rushkoff writes that the state of awe may be the peak of human experience. He asks if humans’ unique job is to be conscious, what more human thing can we do than blow our observing minds? Beholding the panoramic view from a mountaintop, witnessing the birth of a child, staring into a starry sky, or standing with thousands of others in march or celebration, all dissolve our sense of self as separate and distinct. We experience ourselves as both the observing eye and the whole of which we are part. Although this is an impossible concept, it is still an undeniable experience of power and passivity, awareness and acceptance.

Psychologists inform us that the experience of awe can counteract self-focus, stress, apathy, and detachment, Awe helps people act with an increased sense of meaning and purpose, turning our attention away from the self and toward our collective self-interest. Awe even regulates the cytokine response and reduces inflammation. New research has shown that after just a few moments of awe, people behave with increased altruism, cooperation, and self-sacrifice. This efficiency suggests that awe makes people feel like part of something larger than themselves, which in turn makes then less narcissistic and more attuned to the needs of those around them.

Rushkoff concludes this section by stating, “True awe is timeless, limitless, and without division. It suggest there is a unifying whole to which we all belong—if only we could hold onto that awareness.”

Social Animals

June 12, 2019

This is the second post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this post is identical to the title of the second section of this book.
This section begins, “Nature is a collaborative act. If humans are the most evolved species, it is only because we have developed the most advanced ways of working and playing together.”

Rushkoff writes that it is a myth that evolution is about competition, the survival of the fittest. According to this view, each creature struggles against all the others for scarce resources. Only the strongest ones survive to pass on their superior genes, while the weakest deserve to lose and die out. He argues that evolution is every bit as much about cooperation as competition. Our own cells are the result of an alliance of billions of years ago between mitochondria and their hosts. Individuals and species flourish by evolving ways of supporting mutual survival. A bird develops a beak which lets it feed on some part of a plant that other birds can’t reach. This introduces diversity into the population’s diet, reducing the strain on a particular food supply and leading to more for all. Birds, much like bees, are helping the plant by spreading its seeds after eating its fruit.

Rushkoff writes, “Survival of the fittest is a convenient way to justify the cutthroat ethos of a competitive marketplace, political landscape, and culture. But this perspective misconstrues the theories of Darwin as well as his successors. By viewing evolution through a strictly competitive lens, we miss the bigger story of our own social development and have trouble understanding humanity as one big, interconnected team.”

We once believed that human beings developed larger brains than chimpanzees in order to do better spatial mapping of the environment or to make more advanced tools and weapons. Primates with better tools and mental maps could hunt and fight better, too. But there are only slight genetic variations between hominids and chimpanzees, and they relate almost exclusively to the number of neurons that our brains are allowed to make. It’s not a qualitative difference but a quantitative one. “The most direct benefit of more neurons and connections in our brains is an increase in the size of the social networks we can form. Complicated brains make for more complex societies.”

Rushkoff continues, “The more advanced the primate, the bigger its social groups. That’s the easiest and most accurate way to understand evolution’s trajectory, and the relationship of humans to it. Even if we don’t agree that social organization is evolution’s master plan, we must accept that it is—at the very least—a large part of what makes humans human.”

Continuing further, “Our nervous systems learned to treat our social connections as existentially important—life or death. Threats to our relationships are processed by the same part of the brain that processes physical pain. Social losses, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or expulsion from a social group are experienced as acutely as a broken leg.”

These social relationships required us humans to develop a “theory of mind.” This is the ability to understand and identify with the thinking and motivations of other people. From an evolutionary perspective, this concept of self came after our ability to evaluate and remember the intentions and tactics of others. Our social adaptations occurred over hundreds of thousands of years of biological evolution. These enduring social bonds increase out ability to work together, as well as our chances for procreation. Our eyes, brains, skin and breathing are all optimized to enhance our connection to other people.

Prosocial behaviors such as simple imitation make people feel more accepted and included, which sustains a group’s cohesion over time. In an experiment people who were subtly imitated by a group produced less stress hormone than those who are not imitated. Our bodies are adapted to seek and enjoy being mimicked. When humans are engaged in mimesis they learn from one another and advance the community’s skill set.

Physical cues to establish rapport are preverbal. We used them to bond before we even learned to speak—both as babies and as early humans many millennia ago. We flash our eyebrows when we want someone to pay attention to us. We pace in sync with someone else’s creating when we want them to know we empathize. When we see someone breathing with us, their eyes opening to accept us, their head subtly nodding we feel we re being understood and accepted. Our mirror neurons activate, releasing oxytocin, the bonding hormone, into our bloodstream.

The development of group sharing distinguished true humans from other hominids. We waited to eat until we took the bounty back home. Humans were defined not so much by our superior hunting ability as by our capacity to communicate, trust, and share. Early humans had a strong disposition to cooperate with one another, at great personal cost, even where there could be no expectation of payback in the future. Members of a group who violated the norms of cooperation were punished. Solidarity and community were prized in their own right.

Rushkoff concluded this section as follows: “Mental health has been defined as ‘the capacity both for autonomous expansion and for homonymous integration with others.’ That means that our actions are governed from within, but directed toward harmonious interaction with the world. We may be driven internally, but all this activity is happening in relationship with out greater social environment. We can only express our autonomy in relationship to other people.

To have autonomy without interdependency leads to isolation or narcissism. To have interdependency with no autonomy stunts our psychological growth. Healthy people live in social groups that have learned to balance or, better, marry these two imperatives.”

TEAM HUMAN

June 11, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a new book by Douglas Rushkoff. Reading books like this promotes the development and maintenance of a healthy memory. Learning new ideas establishes new neural connections. Reading critically activates yet more neural connections, and it is these new neural connections that foster a healthy memory. So readers need to go beyond fast System 1 processes, and invoke, and invoke heavily, System 2 processes. Even if you disagree when invoking System 2 processes, do not disengage. You should find it beneficial to continue reading posts on this book.

In preparing for competitive debates, a good practice is to debate both sides of the topic. This is important competitively, so one will be better at countering opposition points. Similarly, in reading it is important to understand as many sides of an issue that are tenable. Usually, there are at least a few points that one can regard as worthwhile. But even if one is in agreement with the author, there should usually be at least a few points of disagreement. And integrating all this information enhances one’s intelligence and knowledge as well as fostering a healthy memory.

Some authors are ponderous making for laborious reading. Fortunately, Rushkoff is not one of those authors. He makes his points quickly and crisply. For this reason, HM recommends you read the actual book. HM will try his best to bring the key content forward in this series of blogs.

The first section is titled TEAM HUMAN and begins, “Autonomous technologies, runaway markets, and weaponized media seem to have overturned civil society, paralyzing our ability to think constructively, connect meaningfully, or act purposefully. It feels as if civilization itself were on the brink, and that we lack the collective will-power and coordination necessary to address issues of vital importance to the very survival of our species. It doesn’t have to be this way way.”

He argues that there’s a reason for our current predicament, and that is an antihuman agenda embedded in our technology, our markets, and our major cultural institutions, from education and religion to civics and media. He argues that it has turned them from forces for human connection and expression into ones of isolation and repression. He believes by exposing this agenda, we make ourselves capable of transcending its paralyzing effect, reconnect to one another, and remake society towards human ends rather than the end of humans.

He writes that the first step toward reversing our predicament is to recognize that being human is a team sport (hence the book’s title). “We cannot be fully human alone. Anything that brings us together fosters our humanity. Likewise, anything that separates us makes us less human, and less able to exercise our individual or collective will.

Social connections are needed to orient ourselves, to ensure each other’s survival, and to derive meaning and purpose. Although we sometimes connect with one another in order to achieve some common goal, we also commune and communicate for their own sake because we gain strength, pleasure and purpose as we develop rapport.

We extend our natural ability to connect through various forms of media. The internet connects us more deliberately and, in some ways, more reassuringly than any medium before it. The tyranny of top-down broadcast media once seemed to be broken by the peer-to-peer connections and free expression of every human node on the network, The net turned media back into a collective, participatory, and social landscape.

But as usually happens with each and every new medium, the net went from being a
social platform to an isolating one. Instead of forging new relationships between people, our digital technologies came to replace them with something else. He writes, “Our most advanced technologies are not enhancing our connectivity, but thwarting it. They’re replacing and devaluing our humanity, and—in many different ways—undermining our respect for one another and ourselves. Sadly this has been by design. But that’s also why it can be reversed.”

Digital networks are the latest media to go from promoting social bonds to destroying them. They are supplanting rather than supporting humanity. Rushkoff fears that this current shift may be more profound and permanent because this time we are empowering our antihuman technologies with the ability to retool themselves. Our smart devices iterate and evolve faster than our biology can.

Rushkoff argues that we are tying our markets and security to the continued growth and expanding capabilities of our machines, but that this is self-defeating. These technologies are built with the presumption of human inferiority and expendabilty.

He concludes this section, “It’s time we reassert the human agenda. And we must do so together—not as individual players we have been led to imagine ourselves to be, but as the team we actually are. Team Human.”

Disaffections with Society are Not New

June 10, 2019

This post is based on content taken from “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy” by Jenny O’Dell. She makes the point that disaffections with society are not new. In fourth century Athens and Later Corinth, there lived the Cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope. He is best known as “the man who lived in a tub,” scorning all material possessions except for a stick and a ragged cloak. He is famous for roaming the city streets with a lantern, looking for an honest man. In paintings, he is often shown with the lantern by his side sulklng inside a round terra-cotta tub while the life of the city goes on around him. There are other paintings of the time about when he dissed Alexander the Great, who had made it a point to visit him. When Alexander found Diogenes lazing in the sun, he expressed his admiration and asked if there was anything Diogenes needed? Diogenes replies, “Yes, stand out of my light.”

Plato designated Diogenes as “Socrates gone mad.” While he was in Athens, Diogenes had come under the influence of Antisthenes, a disciple of Socrates. So Diogenes was heir to a development in Greek thought that prized the capacity for individual reason over the hypocrisy of traditions and customs, even and especially if they were commonplace.

Ms. O’Dell notes that of the differences between Socrates and Diogenes was that, while Socrates famously favored conversation, Diogenes practiced something closer to performance art. He lived his conviction out in the open and went to great lengths to shock people out of their habitual stupor, using a form of philosophy that was almost slapstick. She writes, “Diogenes thought every “sane” person in the world was actually insane for heeding any of the customs upholding a world full of greed, corruption, and ignorance. Exhibiting something like an aesthetics of reversal, he would walk backward down the street and enter a theater only when people were leaving. Asked how he wanted to be buried, he answered: ‘Upside down. For soon down will be up.’ In the meantime, he would roll over hot sand in the summer, and hug huge statues covered with snow in the winter. Suspicious of abstractions and education that prepared young people for carers in a diseased world rather than showing them how to live a good life. He was once seen gluing the pages of a book together for an entire afternoon. While many philosophers were ascetic, Diogenes made a show even of that. Once, seeing a child drinking from his hands, Diogenes threw away his cup and said, ‘A child had beaten me in plainness of living.’ Another time he loudly admired a mouse for its economy of living.

Moving on from Diogenes, Ms. O’Dell writes, “besides showing us a possible way out of a bind, the process of training one’s attention has something else to recommend it. If it’s attention (deciding what to pay attention to) that makes our reality, regaining control of it can also mean the discovery of new worlds and new ways of moving through them. As I’ll show in the next chapter, this process enriches not only our capacity to resist, but even more simply,our access to the one life we are given. It can open doors where we didn’t see any, creating landscapes in new dimensions that we can eventually inhabit with others. In so doing, we not only remake the world but also remake ourselves.

To learn more about Ms. O’Dell’s ideas read her book. But she overlooks the best way of training one’s attention in which we not only remake the world but ourselves remade. And that method is meditation and the different varieties of meditation. Enter “meditation” in the search block of the healthy memory blog at
healthymemory.wordpress.com

Amazing Crows

June 7, 2019

This post is based on content taken from “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy” by Jenny O’Dell. Appreciating nature and learning about our fellow creatures is important to a healthy memory.

Crows are amazing indeed. They’re highly intelligent and can recognize and remember human faces. They have been documented making and using tools in the wild. They teach their children to distinguish between “good” and “bad” humans. Good humans are those who feed them and bad humans are those who try to catch them or otherwise displease them. They can hold grudges for years.

Jenny O’Dell started leaving a few peanuts out on the balcony of her apartment. For a long time the peanuts remained undisturbed. Occasionally one peanut would be missing. Then a couple of times she saw a crow come by and swipe a peanut, but the crow would quickly fly away. After a while the crows began hanging out on a nearby telephone wire. One crow started coming every day around the time that Ms. O’Dell was eating breakfast, would sit exactly where she could see it from the kitchen table, and it would caw to make her come out on the balcony with a peanut. One day this crow brought its kid, which she knew was his kid because the big one would groom the smaller one and because the smaller one had an undeveloped, chicken-like squawk. She named them Crow and Crowson.

She soon discovered that Crow and Crowson preferred it when she threw peanuts off the balcony so they could do fancy dives off the telephone line. They’d do twists, barrel, rolls, and loops, which she made slow-motion videos of with the obsessiveness of a proud parent. Sometimes, they wouldn’t want any more peanuts and would just sit there and stare at her.

This is a very interesting story of how Crows managed to develop a relationship with a human, and train her to do what they wanted to foster their recreational activities.

Pet Peeves

June 6, 2019

An award winning professor made a statement that aggravated some HM pet peeves. HM will not mention the name of this professor, only his offending statement. He said that only humans can experience mental time travel.

Past HM posts have explained that the primary function of memory is time travel. We use our memory to travel back in time to see what is known that can be used in future situations. We do this all the time such that we are unaware that we are engaging in time travel. And this is the role of consciousness. Consciousness is not some unneeded epiphenomenon. It provides the essential means for reviewing the past so that we can succeed in the future.

Humans are not the only creatures who need to review their past to plan for and deal with the future. A very large number of animal species do the same. They need to do this to survive by avoiding predators, finding food and water and finding or building shelters. So non human-species have consciousness and engage in time travel.

Unfortunately, not just this distinguished scientist, but many human beings seem to have an inferiority complex regarding homo sapiens. Esteemed primatologist Franz de Waal says that these people are in “anthropodenial,” blindness to the humanlike characteristics of other species. He says, “those who are in anthropodenial try to build a brick wall to separate humans from the rest of the animal kingdom.” Every time non-human species do something that these people think that only humans should be capable of, they take the defense and argue that well these other species are not doing this. HM, Franz de Wall, and many others, think that this failure to believe is due to some inferiority complex these humans have about our species. HM had a professor who also thought that these arguments were ridiculous. So at a conference he said that he had video of a chimpanzee who, after he had defecated, grabbed a leaf and wiped his keister. When many in the audience, not realizing this was a joke, started writing this down he had to tell them that it was a joke as they were writing rather than laughing.

Fortunately, many other scientists are not so obdurate. Here is the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness:

It begins as follows:

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

The declaration concludes:

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

31st Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science pt.3

June 4, 2019

There was a session titled Mental Time Travel and Psychological Well-Being chaired by Edward P. Lemay and Nadya Teneva. The healthy memory blog has explained that one of the principal functions of memory is that it enables us to travel back in time to help us decide how to act in the future. Nora Krott gave a presentation on reviewing memories of actions gone wrong using counterfactual thought. Counterfactual thought entails thinking what if I had done something else, what would the ramifications have been. Counterfactual thought can suggest a number of responses that could have led to a more fruitful outcome. Counterfactual thinking can not only be helpful in preparing for the future, it can also assist in repairing the past. Understanding why someone has been offended can suggest ways of returning and repairing the damage that had been done to that person. We can also use mental time travel to simulate novel future experiences, evaluate them, avoid pitfalls and have more successful future experiences.

There was a presentation by Helen G. Jing titled “Not to Worry: Episodic Retrieval Enhances Psychological Well-Being in Older Adults. As we age there is a tendency for our retrieval of episodic memories, which are memories of our specific experiences, to be retrieved with less detail. Dr. Jing introduced a technique termed episodic specificity induction (ESI) which increases the number of details about an event or an episode that is being recalled. This technique not only increases memory recall, but it also boosts the effectiveness of problem solving.

Lisa k. Fazio organized a session titled Solving the Problem of Misinformation: A Multidisciplinary Approach. It turns out that is an extremely difficult problem. Although Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition seems to be the easiest way to understand the problem, Kahneman was not mentioned at this session. A concise summary of Kahneman’s view follows.

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 to slip through.

One of the problems with misinformation is knowledge neglect. Here is an example. When research participants are asked whether the following statements are true or false.

Moses built the ark and loaded animals two by two to save them from the flood.

Noah built the ark and loaded animals two by two to save them from the flood.

Nixon built the ark and loaded animals two by two to save them from the flood.

Obviously only the Noah statement is true, but many responded positively to Moses. Fortunately very few responded to Nixon. Those who responded positively to Moses knew the correct answer, but it took too much effort to extract it from memory to answer correctly. In other words they were using System 1 processing. Had they actually expended the mental effort and used System 2 processes they would have gotten the answer correct.

This is how misinformation spreads and why it is so difficult to correct. This is why Goebbels advocated the big lie, and the bigger the better, and constant repetition of the lie. It requires much less cognitive effort to accept the lie than to reject it.

Another part of the misinformation problem regards which sources to believe. There is a good resource to address this need and that resource will be discussed in the subsequent blog post.

31st Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science Pt. 2

June 3, 2019

A definite highlight of the meeting was lecture by Lynn Nadel titled, Taking James Seriously: The Implications of Multiple Memory Systems. The James referred to in the title is William James, the father of American Psychology. James wrote about multiple memory systems, a primary and a secondary memory, which today are referred to as short term and long term memory. He made a distinction between habits and memory.

James passed away long before the emergence of neuroscience. The hippocampus plays an important role in the processing of memories. There was a famous epileptic patient referred to as HM who had large portions of his temporal lobes removed. A hippocampus is located in each one of those lobes. Although his previous memories remained intact, not only each new day, but each new hour was a new experience for HM. And these experiences would not be remembered.

There is a distinction between episodic memory, which holds the memories of our daily experiences is processed in the hippocampus, and semantic memory, which holds our general knowledge of the world, is resident in our neocortex.

The hippocampus is also critical to navigation. The neuroscientist O’Keefe identified place cells in the hippocampus. These place cells identify spatial locations where the organism travels. Learning to navigate entails strengthening these place cells and learning to follow them to desired locations.

In most species, the hippocampus matures postnatally. This has important consequences for memory and cognitive development. Dr. Nadel asks what does it mean to start life with a developing, but not yet functioning hippocampus, perhaps uniquely susceptible to impacts of experience early in life. In humans it takes 18-24 months for the hippocampus to emerge, and it takes 10-12 years for it to become fully functional.

Dr. Nadel speculates that phobias can develop before the hippocampus emerges. This late emergence of the hippocampus explains infantile amnesia and delayed exploration and place learning. Everything we learn very early in life is context free. The individual has no understanding of why she has certain fears, as the cause of the fear was not stored in memory. As for the 10-12 years for the hippocampus, an extremely important structure, to become fully functional, it might result in shortcomings in learning and interpersonal interactions.

31st Annual Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science

June 2, 2019

HM has attended several of these meetings. In addition to the 31st, HM attended the very first meeting and made a poster presentation, Computer Aids for Vision and Employment (CAVE). A series of posts will do what will be, at best, a cursory summary of presentations that HM attended.

The first presentation he attended was by Daniel T. Gilbert titled Prisoners of Now. Our ability to imagine the future—what will happen and how we will feel about it- is susceptible of error. The most potent source of error is our tendency to imagine the future through the lens of the present, which leads us to misunderstand ourselves and others in the future. So when we arrive at this imagined point in the future our experiences will have changed us so that what we experience in the future is different than expected. His claim is based on data. When the future objective is to achieve a certain goal, such as gaining entrance to a prestigious college, winning tenure at a prestigious university, or having a prestigious and important job, the failure to achieve these objectives is nowhere near as disastrous as anticipated. The future turns out to be different, it may also be more beneficent than imagined, so a fulfilling career, an enjoyable marriage are achieved. And it is also possible that achieving one’s desired goals are not as fulfilling as imagined. The work can be demanding and not as rewarding as imagined or the marriage might have ended in an unpleasant divorce. So it is always good to work for future goals, but it is not wise to fear the failure to achieve these goals. Although it is not guaranteed, one should feel that it is fairly likely to achieve at least a modicum of happiness. Of course, this assumes that alcohol and controlled substances are not abused, and that the law is not broken.

There was another session titled Increasing STEM Thinking in the Real World organized by Caroline Marano and Roberta M. Golinkoff. As readers of the healthy memory blog should know STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math, and that these disciplines are regarded as needed for both the country and the economy. It should also be appreciated that psychology is regarded as a STEM discipline. This symposium examined how STEM can be developed in everyday environments, exploring how parents and educators can bolster learning for all children.

So there was a presentation on spatial thinking and how to enhance it as spatial thinking is an important component of STEM. There was another presentation on how preschoolers and parents can explore math broadly. There was a presentation on what was called the Urban Thinkscape, which designed parks to encourage thinking in the STEM area. And a presentation on a Children’s Museum called Parkopolis which raises STEM thinking.

These presentations were encouraging, but HM is also concerned about STEM thinking in adults. All responsible adults and citizens need to develop their understanding of STEM disciplines, and an especially important one is statistical thinking. They need to apply this thinking to the health of their families and to use as guidance in selecting political leaders.

A session titled Emerging Concepts of Effort: Resources, Resourced Perceptions, and Subjective Experience was organized by Nicolas Silvestri. Mental effort or energy, if you will, is required for many processes. One presentation was titled fatigue influence on inhibitory control. When we’re tired we have less energy for inhibitory control. So when we’re tired we need to be especially careful to say or do something that we might later regret. Moreover, individuals have different beliefs regarding willpower. Some regard willpower as being virtually unlimited. Others regard willpower as a resource that must be carefully guarded. In reality willpower is limited. That’s why the healthy memory blog has recommended taking this into consideration when making New Year’s resolutions. Making too many resolutions or extremely difficult resolutions can increase, if not guarantee, failure. That is why the healthy memory blog recommends making no more than 2 resolutions, one of which can be regarded as likely to achieve, and the other, which can be regarded as stretch, that might be achieved.

Singulataritarians

May 16, 2019

This is another post using “Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground” by John Markoff as a point of departure. Perhaps the logical result of combining Artificial Intelligence (AI) with Intelligent Augmentation (IA) is a singularity, the combining of the two. Kurzweil has written a book “How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed.” HM would like to see a review of this book by a psychologist. As a psychologist he thinks we have much more to learn before we can even consider to attempt building a mind. Yet apparently Kurzweil, an engineer, is convinced that he can. Moreover, he thinks he can upload his brain/mind into this machine. The following is taken from the Wikipedia:

• The Singularity is an extremely disruptive, world-altering event that forever changes the course of human history. The extermination of humanity by violent machines is unlikely (though not impossible) because sharp distinctions between man and machine will no longer exist thanks to the existence of cybernetically enhanced humans and uploaded humans.

Kurzweil is taking means (diets, drugs, etc.) to assure that he shall be able to upload himself into the machine and achieve eternal life.

Presumably, his intention is to upload his brain into the machine. What he forgets is that he is a biological organism. His memory is biologically based on chemical changes that take time to implement. In other words, his mind uploaded to a computer would be nothing but buzzing noise. Consider how fast a computer printout occurs. Then consider how long it takes not just to read, but to assimilate the meaning of the information. Consider the paltry few seconds it takes to download a book to an iPad. Then consider not just how long it takes to read the book, but to assimilate the material in the book and related it to old knowledge and to update current knowledge.

Kurzweil presents the best case for a liberal education, one that includes courses in psychology, biology, and neurochemistry.

© 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.

Reactive and Proactive Aggression

May 11, 2019

A distinction between these two types of aggression is made in a book by Richard Wrangham titled “The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution.” This is a recent, 2019, publication. For most of his career Wrangham has been intrigued by the relation between virtue and violence. Wrangham worked with Jane Goodall when she discovered war breaking out between two groups of chimpanzees in which they were killing, trying to destroy each other.

Wrangham defines reactive aggression as aggression that is fairly spontaneous in which something happens and the victim of the aggression quickly responds. In contrast, proactive violence is violence that is planned in advance for retribution or for some type of gain. Many other species are characterized by reactive violence. Something happens to one individual and that individual quickly responds with some sort of reciprocal violence.

Wrangham argues that the emergence of civilization was critically dependent upon a reduction in reactive violence. Although Wrangham does not seem to mention the difference between physical and nonphysical reactive violence, human language does provide the means of nonphysical violence and, fortunately, daily human violence tends to be of the verbal type.

Proactive violence is a matter of planning a violent response. So revenge killings, battles, and pogroms and wars are examples of proactive violence. Some non-human species engage in proactive violence, but lack the technology that humans have. While it is a reduction and changes in types of reactive violence by the human species that assisted in their success, it is proactive violence that brings out the worst in humans and presents a potential existential risk.

The holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis is an example of one of the worst types of proactive violence. The detailed planning entailed in this holocaust required the sophisticated planning only we humans can perform. A nuclear holocaust could potentially eliminate our species. Such a holocaust requires a high degree of scientific and engineering abilities as well as a lack of emotional control that allows true reasoning being overcome to achieve a pyrrhic victory.

The Second Mountain

May 10, 2019

The “Second Mountain” is a book by David Brooks: The subtitle is “The Quest for a Moral Life.” The first mountain referred to in the title is Hyper-Individualism. The second mountain is Relationalism. The first phase of his life was characterized by his hyper-individualism. This phase of his life ended in divorce and unhappiness. He moved on to Relationalism, concern for his fellow humans, and is now happy. He argues that Relationalism is the way to go. Although HM agrees, Brooks falls short on his Relationalism.

Before HM explains how Brooks falls short, he would like to underscore two parts of his book that HM finds praiseworthy. Brooks writes, “In eighteenth-century America, Colonial society and Native American society sat, unhappily, side by side. As time went by, settlers from Europe began defecting to live with the natives. No natives defected to live with the colonials. This bothered the Europeans. They had, they assumed, the superior civilization, and yet people were voting with their feet to live in the other way. The colonials occasionally persuaded natives to come with them, and taught them English, but very quickly the natives returned home. During the war with the Indians, many European settlers were taken prisoner and lived in Indian tribes. They had plenty of chances to escaped and return, but did not. When Europeans came to “rescue’ them, they fled into the woods to hide from their ‘rescuers.’

The difference was that people in Indian villages had a communal culture and close attachments. They lived in a spiritual culture that saw all creations as a single unity. The Europeans had an individualistic culture and were more separable. When actually given the choice, a lot of people preferred community over self. The story made HM think that it’s possible for a whole society to get itself into a place where it’s fundamentally disordered.”

The second praiseworthy point is his calling out the soul specifically. Too many religions are preoccupied with biological life. Biological life should be irrelevant to religions and spiritual beliefs. It is the soul that is of central concern.

Here are two paragraphs from the Conclusion with which HM strongly agrees.

“The world is in the midst of one of those transition moments. The individualistic moral ecology is crumbling around us. It has left people naked and alone. For many, the first instinctive reaction is to the evolutionary one: Revert to tribe. If we as a society respond to the excesses of “I’m Free to Be Myself” with an era of “Revert to Tribe,” then the twenty-first century will be a time of conflict and violence that will make the twentieth look like child’s play,

There is another way to find belonging. There is another way to find meaning and purpose. There is another vision of a healthy society. It is through relations. It is by going deep into ourselves and finding there our illimitable ability to care, and then spreading outward in commitment to others.”
The examples he provides of building relations are definitely commendable. But these alone will fall short. Government programs and government assistance are also needed and often provide the most efficient means of dealing with problems. Brooks is blinded because he looks at the world through Republican lenses. Unfortunately, in the United States too many Democrats are also suffering from faulty lenses. All other advanced countries have government supplied medical care. The data show that not only are these programs more effective with respect to medical care, they are also cost effective. Political propaganda and lies in the United States blind people to these results replicated in every other advanced country.

The preceding paragraph provides a good example of how beliefs and compartmentalization preclude or hinder critical thinking. Brooks identifies himself as a conservative. There is nothing wrong with that in itself. Politics needs both liberal and conservative approaches. Unfortunately, his conservatism leads him to compartmentalize. He has beliefs as to what functions government should perform and which functions they should not. Unfortunately, this compartmentalization puts medical care as something government should not do. So even in spite of the voluminous data that government supplied health care is both more economical and provides better medical care, he remains blind to that evidence. And it is quite likely he never looked for it. But good critical thinking requires examining how to justify the data in support one’s political decision and not just by blind belief.

College educations in these countries are also more affordable. It is not surprising that the United States always finished behind these countries when the survey is on happiness.

Brooks also makes derogatory comments on meditation. Meditation and contemplative prayer are central to finding meaning and purpose. But Brooks is entirely focused on western civilization and apparently is oblivious of the wisdom of the east.

© 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.

Default Network, System 1 Processing, and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

May 8, 2019

An earlier healthy memory blog post promised more about the default mode network. That post identified similarities between the default mode network and Kahneman’s System 1 Processing. Kahneman’s System 1 processing is important in that HM thinks that too heavy a use of System 1 processing at the expense of System 2 processing, which is active thinking, increases the risk for AD.

The simplest distinction between the two terms is that Kahneman is a cognitive psychologist and his two process view of of cognitive processes comes from cognitive psychology. The default mode network comes from cognitive neuroscience. Default mode activity is identified via brain imaging. Although they might not be identical, that distinction awaits further research, it is clear that there is considerable overlap between the two.

In addition to brain atrophy, AD patients have abnormal high levels of proteins in different brain regions. In the medial temporal lobe, the accumulation of tau protein leads to neurofibrillary tangles. In cortical regions, such as the parietal cortex in early AD, the accumulation of amyloid-B protein leads to amyloid plaques. The neurofibrillary tangles in the medial temporal lobe and amyloid plaques in cortical regions can be assumed to disrupt neural processing in these regions.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “There is an influential hypothesis that were is a causal relationship between default network activity that leads to deposition of amyloid that results in atrophy and disrupted metabolic activity, which impairs long-term memory in AD patients. The regions in the default network are active when participants are not engaged in a task and include the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the medial prefrontal cortex, the inferior prefrontal cortex and the medial parietal cortex. In AD patients, amyloid deposition occurs in the same regions, which suggests the default network activity may lead to amyloid deposition. Dr. Slotnick suggests that perhaps higher level of amyloid deposition, which occurs in late AD patients, is necessary to produce atrophy in the frontal cortex.

Dr. Slotnick continues, “If high amyloid deposition is a causal factor in developing AD, older adults with low levels of amyloid should be at decreased risk for developing this disease. There is some evidence that cognitive engagement and exercise engagement throughout life may reduce the amyloid level in the brains of healthy older adults as a function of cognitive engagement, and this was compared to the cortical amyloid levels . Participants rated the frequency which they engaged in cognitively demanding tasks such as reading, writing, going to the library, or playing games at five different ages (6, 12, 18, 40, and their current age). Healthy older adults with greater cognitive engagement throughout their lifetime, as measured by the average cognitive activity at the five ages, had lower levels of amyloid in default network regions. Moreover, the healthy older adults in the lowest one-third of lifetime engagement had amyloid levels that were equivalent to AD patients, and the healthy older adults in the highest one-third of lifetime cognitive engagement had amyloid levels that were equivalent to young adults.

So maintaining a growth mindset, thinking critically, and learning new information provide double protection against AD. First, the reduction of troublesome amyloid levels. Second is the building of a cognitive reserve so that even if you develop amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles you may not have the cognitive and behavior symptoms of AD.

Dr. Slotnick’s work is reported in an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” The report on which Dr. Slotnick’s statements are based comes from
Buckner, R.L., Snyder, A.Z., Shannon, B.J., LaRossa, G. Sachs, R. Fotenos, A.F., Sheline, Y.I., Klunk, W.E., Mathis, C.A., Morris, J.C. & Mintun, M.A. (2005). Molecular, structural, and functional characterization of Alzheimer’s disease: Evidence for a relationship between default activity, amyloid, and memory. The Journal of Neuroscience, 25, 7709-7717.

© 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.

Passing 73

May 6, 2019

Meaning that today HM is entering his 74th year. He engages in ikigai, the Japanese term referring to living a life with purpose, a meaningful life. His purpose, in addition to living a fulfilling life with his wife, is to learn and share his thoughts and knowledge with others. HM does this primarily through his blog healthymemory, which focuses on memory health and technology.

HM’s Ph.D is in cognitive psychology. That field has transitioned to cognitive neuroscience, a field of research and a term that did not exist when HM was awarded his Ph.D. HM is envious of today’s students. However, he is still fortunate enough to be able to keep abreast of current research and to relay relevant and meaningful research from this field to his readers.

What is most disturbing is the atmosphere of fear and hate that prevails today. It is ironic that technology, which had, and still has, a tremendous potential for spreading knowledge, now largely spreads disinformation, hatred, and fear.

HM understands why this is the case, but, unfortunately, he does not know how to counter it.

The problem can best be understood in terms of Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of cognition. 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. Unfortunately System 1 is largely governed by emotions. Fear and hate are System 1 processes. 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.

Trump’s lying is ubiquitous. Odds are that anything he says is a lie. His entire candidacy was based on lies. So why is he popular? Identifying lies and correcting misinformation requires mental effort, System 2 processing. It is easier to be guided by emotions than to expend mental effort. The product of this cognitive miserliness is a stupidity pandemic.

Previous healthy memory posts have emphasized the enormous potential of technology. Today people, especially young people, are plugged in to their iPhones. Unfortunately, the end result is superficial processing. They get information expeditiously, but they are so consumed with staying in touch with updated information, that they have neither time nor attention left for meaningful System 2 processing. Unfortunately, technology, specifically social media, amplifies these bad effects, thus increasing misinformation, hatred and fear. Countering these bad effects requires implementing System 2 processes, that is thinking. A massive failure to do this enables Trump to build his politics on lies spreading hatred and fear.

As has been written in many previous healthy memory posts, System 2 processing will not only benefit politics, but will also decrease the probability of suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Personally, all this is upsetting. But HM believes it is essential to love one’s fellow humans. He tries to deal with this via meditation. Progress is both difficult and slow but it needs to be done. Hatred destroys the one who hates. So HM continues a daily struggle to be a better human being.

© 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.

Unhealthful Memories Can Lead to Alzheimer’s and the Loss of Democracy

May 3, 2019

This post is motivated by an article by Greg Miller titled “With Mueller silent, Barr speaks for him—and defends the president” in the 2 May 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The article is about how Barr has gotten ahead of Mueller and completely misrepresented the report of the special council. Mueller has remained silent trying to observe the normal protocols. Barr has completely misrepresented Mueller’s report and continues to lie and misrepresent his characterization of the report when questioned by Democratic members of the Senate. Most Republicans seem to be complicit in Barr’s lies and misrepresentation.

Mueller will eventually testify, but much damage has been done by Trump’s puppet Barr. However, it is more than time that truth will need to overcome. The failure of too many Americans to use their critical thinking processes also hinders their reaching truth.

A brief review of Kahneman’s two process theory of cognition is appropriate here. System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes.

The default mode network will be mentioned in future posts. Basically it corresponds to System 1 processing. What is important is the word “default.” Once misinformation has gotten into memory it takes cognitive effort to remove and correct it.

Without knowing it, Trump is a genius at exploiting the default mode network. The default mode network is also responsive to emotion. Emotion comes first. That’s why it is important to stop and think, when you become angry, so you do not respond foolishly. But by exploiting pre-existing biases and out and out lying, misinformation gets into memory. And it will remain there until the individual thinks, discovers the information is wrong, and corrects this memory.

This problem is exacerbated by social media. As has been shown in previous posts, social media reinforces this disinformation. Much of this misinformation is emotional. Hate spreads easily, unfortunately, much faster than does love and caring.

There have been many previous posts on how cognitive activity, system 2 processing, getting free of the default mode network decreases the likelihood of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Moreover, there are many cases of individuals whose brains have the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s, the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, who die never knowing that they had Alzheimer’s because they had none of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms.

Effective democracy also depends on healthy memories. It requires that citizens know how democracy works and seek and evaluate information as to how the democracy should proceed. There is ample evidence that few citizens know how the government is supposed to work as outlined in the U.S. Constitution. And there is ample evidence that most voting citizens have little understanding of the issues and candidates on which they are voting.

If Russia waged a conventional military attack on the United States, citizens would be outraged and demand that we fight back. But the Russians are smart, and too many Americans are stupid. The Russians used cyberattacks. These cyberattacks have been described in previous healthy memory posts. These cyberattacks promoted Trump for president and created disruption and polarization among the American public. Remember that Trump was not elected in the popular vote. He lost that by three million votes. He won due to an irresponsible electoral college.

Trump built his campaign on lies, and continues to support himself on lies. Obviously it requires too much mental effort for too many citizens to recognize this individual as the fraud and obscenity he actually is.

Regardless of the Mueller report, there is ample evidence that Trump needs to be impeached. And reading the Mueller report one quickly realizes that if Trump did not commit any crimes of which he could be convicted, his behavior still puts democracy at risk. Should he not be impeached and should he lose a reelection, he will claim fraud and refuse to leave the office. Our democracy is at risk of becoming a de facto totalitarian dictatorship. Obviously that is something that Barr would prefer, as he thinks there are no limits on presidential power.

© 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.

Thanks to Kathleen Parker

May 1, 2019

Whose column titled “Easter, and this ungodly episode” in the 21 April 2019 issue of the Washington Post expressed some sentiments similar to HM’s post “Trump vs. a Buddhist Monk’” where HM argued that the Buddhist Monk, in his poverty, lives a happier life than Donald Trump, with all his worldly riches.

The following are excerpts from Ms. Parkers column:

“Trump…is a villain but also a tragic figure. For him there is never enough of anything—riches, possessions, attention and adulation.

At times I feel sorry for him, because he has invited the wrath of millions, and it can’t be easy to shoulder so much disapproval. When I said this recently to a friend, she replied: ‘It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who has no empathy.’ True, but a person without empathy—the ability to feel what others do—walks a lonely path. Driven by lust for the material, such a person doesn’t know the company of what ancient philosophers called transcendentals—truth, goodness, and beauty, which correspond sequentially to the mind, the will and the heart, and which according to Christian theology, lead to God’s infinite love.

Trump wages daily war against truth. Examples of his falsehoods and outright lies could fill a doorstop volume.

Goodness is missing everywhere. Trump may have some good qualities, though it is hard to discern them given his propensity for hurtful, divisive rhetoric. To him, goodness is what he wills it to be, that which nourishes his narcissism and appetites, whether the compliance of women or the loyalty of comrades. Ironically, disloyalty may have saved him when aides refused to carry out orders to obstruct the Mueller investigation.

One needn’t be a theologian, philosopher, or Christian to recognize that Trump, defiant before truth and lacking goodwill, knows beauty only as a standard for useful women or towers bearing his name.”

She includes in her column Trump’s own statement when Attorney Jeff Sessions told him about the Mueller appointment. “Oh, my God. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f—-ed.”

Kathleen Parker ends her column, “Would this prophecy come to pass and this ungodly epodes in American history be finished.”

Are We Getting Dumber?

April 30, 2019

This post is based on statistics from a column by Max Boot in the 18 April 2019 issue of the Washington Post. His column begins, “Only 36% of Americans could pass a multiple-choice civics test of the kind that is administered to immigrants seeking to become citizens. 60% don’t know which countries the United States fought with in World War II. 57% don’t know how many justices serve on the Supreme Court. Only 24% know what Benjamin Franklin was famous for? Some respondents thought he had invented the light bulb.

The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship foundation conducted a survey confirming that there is a national emergency of civics illiteracy and it is getting worse. 74% of those over age 65 could pass the citizenship exam (which requires correctly just 6 out of 10 questions), but only 19% of those under 45 could do so. And a college degree does not guarantee a minimal knowledge of U.S. history. In surveys of college graduates commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, fewer than 20% could identify the Emancipation Proclamation, only 42% knew that the Battle of the Bulge occurred during World War II (this is spite of the many movies made about this battle), and one-third were unaware that Franklin D. Roosevelt had introduced the New Deal.

Boot concludes “We are a democracy at risk of being too ignorant to govern ourselves.” HM would argue that we have already demonstrated that we are too ignorant to govern ourselves. The election of Trump as President and a Republican Party that continues to support him make this point. HM would like to know how Trump would do on this citizenship exam. Trump only recently learned, and was surprised to learn, that Lincoln was a Republican!

© 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.

2019 NFL Draft

April 29, 2019

This post is based on an article by Sally Jenkins titled, “Smart teams trade down, but most teams just aren’t smart,” in the 27 April 2019 issue of the Washington Post. There have been previous posts on this topic. Behavioral economics which grew from Prospect Theory by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, for which Kahneman won a Nobel Prize (unfortunately Amos Tversky had passed on and was ineligible for the prize when it was awarded) can be used to guide NFL Draft Picks. The basic strategy is to trade down rather than trade up. Cade Massey of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton school and Nobel Prize winner produced papers in 2005 and 2012 that showed that teams profoundly overvalue first-round picks and simply don’t have the ability they think they do to discern between a great player and a good one.

Jenkins writes, “How often is a team right in picking a high-first rounder” What will be the quantifiable difference between the top choice at a position in the 2019 draft and the next available player, or even the third or fourth, in terms of games started and potential Pro Bowl success? The difference would need to be large given the amount of their investments. But their expenditures prove right only 52% of the time, which is effectively a coin toss.

Massey who does consulting for NFL teams says, “History suggests you do better by trading down from the top, using multiple lesser picks than one high pick.” The Patriots have done this with obvious success. From the article, “As of 2018, Bill Belichick had traded down fully 21 times on draft day to acquire more picks. Over the past 15 years, the Patriots have chosen 39 players in the second and third rounds, the highest number of any team in the AFC. And they won Super Bowls with them.”

Massey says, “If you recognize the uncertainty rather than throwing up your hands, you say, ‘We want as many draws as possible from the lottery. We can’t influence one ticket, but we can get as many tickets as possible.”

Andrew Brandt, a sports business analyst and former vice-president of the Green Bay Packers says, “It take a lot of willpower to trade out of that first-round pick, because there’s a lot of pressure. A lot of gravitas goes with that.”

Teams often do the dead opposite of what they should: give away fistfuls of picks to move up and grab a single star prospect. According to Massey overconfidence in their own judgment clouds their thinking. Brandt says, “Or sometimes it’s just a simple case of seeing a player ‘you lust after.’”

There is also extreme pressure coming from fans. There are many males who might not be about to tell you who their representatives to Congress or their senators are, who have definite strong picks for the NFL draft.

Massey says, “The quants are wrong to think you can quantify every single player. But you also can’t be right without the quantifications.”

The Random Act of Choosing a College Major

April 28, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Andrew Van Dam in the 30 March 2019 issue of the Washington Post. This post provides a neat follow up to the immediately preceding post “Missing Healthymemory Themes.” The article begins by stating that this potentially life altering decision is often made based on something as trivial as what time of day you took a particular class, or what you happened to be studying when the deadline for picking a major arrived. Even when students are doing well in a course, perhaps even in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematic (STEM) discipline, they will switch majors to be with others who share genre or background. This has been suggested as a possible explanation for lower participation of females in these disciplines.

Economists like to study U.S. Military Academy Cadets because they are assigned schedules, and some classes at random creating a data set that allows them to answer questions such as what’s causing a student to pick one major over another. The author writes, “The answer, it turns out, is dumb luck. Students who happen to be assigned classes in one of four required subjects during the semester when they’re supposed to pick a major are twice as likely to major in the assigned subject, according to University of Maryland economist Nolan Pope, and Richard Patterson and Aaron Feudo of the U.S. Military Academy. This held true regardless of how well a student performed or how much they liked the course according to the analysis of class data from 2001 to 2015. Their database included grades, class times and students opinion about the course. Pope said, “Small and seemingly unimportant things can really have a large impact. Often students cite a specific class or teacher for a choice of major.”

Carnegie Mellon University professor Karem Haggag, showed students are about 10% less likely to major in a subject if they took a class at 7:30 a.m. Likewise. as students grown more fatigued during the day they grow about 10% less likely to major in the subject covered by each successive class.

Given these data it is not surprising that 37% of students eventually switch according to a paper from University of Memphis economists Carmen Astorne-Fiagari and Jamin D. Speer. These economists conducted a long-running survey of almost 9,000 students born between 1980 and 1984. Not surprisingly, students with lower GPAs are more likely to leave their major. But women of all ability levels are likely to change majors. However, men are more likely to drop out instead of trying a different major according to a study by Astorne-Figari and Speer.

Students doing poorly tend to switch majors, which makes perfect sense. Business, social sciences and economics tend to gain the most from students major switching, while biology, computer science and medicine (medical and health services) lost the most.

About a third of the men and a fifth of the women start out in STEM, and about 30% of those men and 43% of those women switch out of the subject area. Women who leave STEM tend to go to majors that cover similar subjects but are less competitive and less male, such as nursing. Speer said, “There are a lot of women who are very competent in math and science. They typically go to other fields that use science or other fields that use science but are less dominated by men.

Just because one has difficulty with a subject, does not necessarily mean that one cannot be successful in that area. The case of Barbara Oakley is instructive here.
Her father was in the military and she moved constantly doing her childhood. Her father wanted her to attend college and study math and science. Unfortunately, the only thing she was certain about was that she did not like math and science and did not think that she had any aptitude in math and science. However, she did like studying languages so she began studying French and German. At the time there were no available college loans so she enlisted in the military where she could get paid to study a language. So she studied Russian and learned the language.
When she got out of the army, she could not find any interest in her Russian skills. The jobs were in engineering and science and required advanced mathematical skills. So she moved into a new area for which she thought she had no aptitude. However, she found through diligent work that she was able to learn these subjects, and as she became proficient in these subjects, she found that she enjoyed them. So today she is a professor of engineering, firmly planted in the world of math and science. Along with Terrence Sejnowski, the Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute, she teaches the most popular online course in the world—“Learning How to Learn”—for Coursera/UC San Diego.

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

Missing Healthymemory Themes

April 26, 2019

HM was disappointed that Dr. Twenge did not at least touch upon healthy memory themes in “iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.” One of these themes was alluded to in the posts about spirituality and religion. There seems to have been a loss in empathy among iGen-ers. Given the exorbitant college costs along with other economic demands, the iGen-ers are living in a dog eat dog world. Spiritual activities including meditation can increase sensitivity to and caring for our fellow human beings.

There was no evidence of passion, grit, or growth mindsets. People go to college to get a job. Education is an instrumental act, not a goal in itself. Of course, they are not unusual in this respect. This certainly is nothing new. When HM taught in college, that certainly was the most common response. But students who actually had an intellectual interest in a subject were dearly appreciated. This blog has advocated growth mindsets and lifelong learning as primary goals not only for a fulfilling life, but also as a means of decreasing the likelihood of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Even if they develop the defining neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque, they might well die with these defining symptoms without ever evidencing the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

The key here is the System 2 processes engaged during learning or critical thinking. Unfortunately, too many people manage to minimize use of System 2 processes even during college. The hope is that at least they engage in activities such as Bridge or Chess, read some books, and stay off Facebook and similar online activities.

© 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.

Arguments for a Belief in God

April 19, 2019

Given a decrease in religious beliefs and a decline in spirituality, please excuse a brief indulgence into arguments for a belief in God. This decline in spirituality has an adverse effect on iGen’ers empathy for their fellow humans. As will be seen in subsequent posts, this lack of empathy and caring has a negative effect on iGen’ers.

For many years, HM thought that the only accurate philosophical position on God was one of agnosticism. The question is what is the benefit in being an atheist, besides intellectual snobbery. Belief is a matter of faith, and one should not deny the faith of another. HM has also observed that the problem many, if not most, have with a belief in God really stems from their contempt of religion. Justified or not, there is a tendency to regard religions as hypocritical entities that trample on the beliefs of others.

Fairly recently HM has come to an argument that he finds compelling. Understand, there can be no logical proofs regarding the existence of God. Only closed mathematical or logical systems can produce proofs.

HM’s argument is based on a philosophical argument and a psychological effect.
The philosophical argument comes from the famed mathematician, Blaise Pascal. It is called Pascal’s wager. It is a philosophical argument based on cost/benefit analysis. Bear in mind that his words were different because he live in a different time. However, his fundamental argument is based on cost benefit analysis.

So what are the costs of believing in God? If he exists, then one is correct and might have taken some preparation for an afterlife. And should God not exist, one would never know that her belief was wrong as dead people are absent this capacity. However, even if wrong, one would have had the comfort of life continuing and of the possibility of finding people who had previously deceased.

But if one does not believe in God, she lives with no such comforts, and should she be wrong, perhaps some unpleasant surprises.

The psychological phenomenon is the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning-Kruger Effect appears in fifteen previous healthy memory blog posts. The Dunning part of the effect comes from studies documenting that the more people think they know, the less the actually know. An example of this Dunning part of the effect can be found among physicists as the entered the twentieth century. Many thought that they knew practically all that could be known about physics. Perhaps computations could be done with some more precision, but on the whole, major matters had been figured out. But in 1905 Einstein published his special theory of relativity. And in 1915 he published his general theory of relativity. Both of these theories constituted giant advances in physics. But quantum physics had yet to appear in the twenties and with probabilistic effects and entanglement (remote effects), physics was truly revolutionized.

The Kruger part of the Dunning-Kruger effect refers to the tendency of true experts, to be aware of possible problems and tend to hedge their answers. Hence Truman’s fatal quest for a one-handed economist. When he asked an economist a question, they would typically respond on the one hand this, but on the other hand that.

And personally, HM thought he knew much more than he did when he was young. Getting a Ph.D. and a lifelong pursuit of learning has only convinced him of his own ignorance and of how much he does not know.

So as a species, we must be aware of this effect before making any unqualified statements about the existence of God.

© 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.

God & Religion

April 18, 2019

It is important to maintain a distinction between religion and God. Typically, the two concepts are conflated. A previous healthy memory post, God & Homo Sapiens, drew from a 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.

It is reasonable to assume that there were humans who believed in God that predated religions. There are even data that support the notion that neanderthals had religious beliefs. It is likely that the earliest groups of humans had religious leaders. HM has wondered about the souls of people who existed before organized religions. What happens to them? HM is impressed that the Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) has its members try to find their ancestors before the Church was founded so that they can be married and brought into the church in the temple. Unlike the tabernacle only Mormons can enter the temple.

Given that the size of our universe is still unknown as we are still waiting for light to reach us, it is likely that there are other species in this universe who are more intelligent than homo sapiens. It is unlikely that man has been made in God’s image. God is a spiritual entity of unknown form. Indeed, in pantheism God is omnipresent throughout the universe.

HM always wanted to believe in God, but he could never join a church because his thinking is governed by the law of Parsimony, and that law says to take the simplest explanation that explains the phenomena. What he disliked was that religions required one to believe. HM thinks that God gave us brains for thinking. not believing. It is men who tell us to believe so that they can govern us.

HM finds the Dalai Lama as the most impressive religious individual alive on earth. He is a Buddhist, but like other religions, there are different sects. The Buddhists who are attacking the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar living in Bangladesh are the antithesis of Buddhism. Although reincarnation is a central tenet in Buddhism, when asked if one needed to believe in reincarnation to be a Buddhist, the Dalai Lama answered “no.” All that was required is that one should love fellow humans and provide service to them. The Dalai Lama sends his priests to study science. He uses science to inform his religion. Unfortunately, too many religions are at war with science and fight science.

HM believes that we can communicate directly with God. During meditation there is a blissful state where one feels that he is in contact with his creator. So via meditation and contemplative prayer religions can be circumvented.

Understand that HM is not arguing against religions. If one has comfort in a religion that person should follow that religion, but not uncritically. Christians need to see if the preachings are in accordance with the gospels, rather than the old testament or parts of the new testament that are not gospels.

To learn more about meditation, begin with the relaxation response. You need to go to the main page of the healthy memory blog (by entering
https://healthymemory.wordpress.com into your browser.) Search for “relaxation response”. The next topic to search for is “loving kindness meditation”.

© 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.

Irreligious

April 17, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the fifth chapter in iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. The remainder of the title is “Losing My Religion (and Spirituality).

In the early 1980s, more than 90% of high school seniors identified as part of one religious group or another. Only one out of ten chose “none” for religious affiliation. Beginning in the 1990s and accelerating in the 2000s, fewer and fewer people affiliated with a religion. The shift was largest for young adults, with religiously affiliations dipping to 66% by 2016. So a full third of young adults did not affiliate with any organized religion.

Of course, there is no need to affiliate with a religion to attend religious services. Dr. Twenge writes that attendance at services declined slowly until around 1997 and then began to plummet. In 2015, 22% of 12th graders said they “never” attended religious services. This is a pretty low bar; going to a service even once a year would still count as going. She continues, “iGen’ers and the Millennials are less religious than Boomers and GenX’ers were at the same age. The recent data on Millennials, who are now in their family-building years, indicate that they’re less likely to attend services than Boomers and GenX’ers were at that age, in fact, the decline in attending religious services for this group in their prime family-building years indicates that they are less likely to attend services than Boomers and GenX’ers were at that age. In fact, the decline in attending religious services for this group in their prime family-building years has been just as steep as that for young adults ages 18 to 24. Millennials have not been returning to religious institutions during their twenties and thirties, making it unlikely that iGen’ers will, either.”

“For twenty years, headlines and academic articles declared that yes, fewer Americans affiliated with a religion, but just as many were praying and just as many believed in God. Americans weren’t less religious, they said, just less likely to practice religion publicly. That was true for several decades: the percentage of young adults who believed in God changed little between 1989 and 2000. Then it fell of a cliff. By 2016, one out of three 18- 24-year olds said that they did not believe in God. Prayer followed a similar steep downward trajectory. In 2004, 84% of young adults prayed at least sometimes, but by 2016 more than one out of four said they “never” prayed.”

Note that the numbers do not indicate by any means that religions are disappearing. Rather they indicate that religious beliefs have been declining rapidly.

A common narrative about trends in religious belief says that spirituality has replaced religion. In 2001 Robert Fuller published a book titled “Spiritual but Not Religious” arguing that most Americans who eschew organized religion still have deep dynamic spiritual lives. This led the assumption that young people who are distrustful of traditional religion are still willing to explore spiritual questions. Data do not seem to support this narrative. In 2014 to 2016 slightly fewer 18- to 24-year-olds (48%) described themselves as moderately or very spiritual than in 2006 to 2008 (56%).

The reasons iGen-ers are leaving religions is in some part due to anti-science attitudes and anti-gay attitudes. A 2012 survey of 18- to 24-year olds found that most believed that Christianity was antigay (64%), judgmental (62%), and hypocritical (58%). Of course there are Christian churches who are not guilty of these criticisms. Moreover, one can find no basis for these criticisms in the gospels about Jesus. Jesus loved all, was nonviolent and forgiving. So these criticisms are deserved criticisms of too many ostensible Christian churches who are not only promoting grossly incorrect religious beliefs, and who are also trying to impose their beliefs on others through the process of legislation. Given the freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution, these churches are not only hypocritical, but also unAmerican. Unfortunately, this glaring hypocrisy is widely ignored.

© 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.

We Need to Take Tech Addiction Seriously

March 26, 2019

The title of this post is the same as an article by psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee in the 19 March 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The World Health Organization has recognized Internet gaming as a diagnosable addiction. Dr. Dodgen-Magee argues that psychologists and other mental-health professionals must begin to acknowledge that technology use has the potential to become addictive and impact individuals and communities. Sometime the consequences are dire.

She writes that the research is clear, that Americans spend most of their waking hours interacting with screens. Studies from a nonprofit group Common Sense Media indicate that U.S. teens average approximately nine hours per day with digital media, tweens spend six hours and our youngest, ages zero to 8, spend 2.5 hours daily in front of a screen. According to research by the Nielsen Company, the average adult in the United States spends more than 11 hours a day in the digital world. Dr. Dodgen-Magee claims that when people invest this kind of time in any activity, we must at least start to ask what it means for their mental health.

Both correlational and causal relationships have been established between tech use and various mental-health conditions. Research at the University of Pittsburgh found higher rates of depression and anxiety among young adults who engage many social media platforms than those who engage only two. Jean Twenge found that the psychological development of adolescents is slowing down and depression, anxiety and loneliness, which she attributes to tech engagement are on the rise. Multitasking, a behavior that technology encourages and reinforces is consistently correlated with poor cognitive and mental-health outcomes. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have published the first experimental data linking decreased well-being to Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram use in young adults. Dr. Dodgen-Magee concludes that our technology use is affecting our psychological functioning.

The author has been examining the interplay between technology and mental health for close to two decades. She finds that while technology can do incredible things for us in nearly every area of life, it is neither all good nor benign.

The author writes that when the mental-health community resists fully exploring the costs associated with constant tech interaction, it leaves those struggling with compulsive or potentially harmful use of their devices few places to turn. She continues that recently a woman scheduled a consultation with her because she was concerned about her inability to focus. She was a self-described Type A personality who found herself simultaneously interacting with three or four screens for nearly 20 hours a day, determined to stay on top of every demand. When it came time for her biannual revision of an important procedural manual, she couldn’t focus on the single tasks for the time to do it effectively. She is not the only individual with this problem.

She writes that consequently our attention spans are short. Our ability to focus on one task at a time is impaired. And our boredom tolerance is nil. People now rely on the same devices that drive so much of our anxiety and alienation for both stimulation and soothing. While, for many people, these changes will never move into the domain of addiction, for others they already have. In a recent Common Sense Media poll, 50% of adolescents reported already feeling that their use had become addictive and 27% of parents reported the same.

She writes, “If Americans were interacting with anything else for 11-plus hours a day, I feel confident we’d be talking more about how that interaction shapes us. Mental-health professionals must begin to educate themselves about the digital pools in which their clients swim and learn about the impact of excessive technology use on human development and functioning. It is too easy for therapists to assume that everyone’s engagement with the digital domain looks just their own and to go merrily from there. We would serve our client well by understanding the unique way in which many platforms encourage addictive pattens and behaviors. We should also create non-shaming environments in which they can candidly explore how their tech use impacts them.

It’s time to put our phones down and begin an informed conversation about how technology is impacting our mental health. Our clients’ health and the well-being of our communities may depend on it.”

Trump vs. a Buddhist Monk

March 25, 2019

What does this title mean? What are the criteria for comparing Donald Trump to a Buddhist Monk? In terms of financial wealth there is certainly no comparison. In terms of power there is no comparison. But what about happiness and personal satisfaction?

Previous posts have suggested that Trump suffers from the psychotic condition known as delusional order. In other words, he lives in his own reality and ignores objective truth. And whenever he confronts objective reality that he does not like, he lashes out. So if someone does something that displeases him, he lashes out with personal insults. Whenever he encounters news or someone says something that threatens his personal reality, he denies it. So he claims that there is false news and that the investigations involving him are witch hunts.

Now consider the Buddhist monk. He lives humbly and eats a small, healthy diet. He spends his time meditating, praying, and providing helpful services to his fellow humans. He tries to love all his fellow humans, even those who are obvious enemies who would want to hurt him. He works to control his thoughts and emotions. Through this he achieves peace within himself and good feelings towards his fellow humans.

Although it might not be immediately apparent, the Buddhist Monk is living a happier and more fulfilling life than Trump. Trump’s objectives are to keep acquiring personal wealth, which is a matter of ego satisfaction. This a never ending quest to win every encounter, which is impossible. Trump has no empathy towards his fellow humans. Even his charity was a scam to benefit him.

It is almost a virtual certainty that physical examinations would reveal that the monk is healthier than Trump, and that a psychological examination would reveal that the monk is happier and leads a more fulfilling life than Trump (Trump being the nominal leader of the United States notwithstanding).

© 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.

Living with the Modes

March 24, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of the final chapter in book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller titled “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.” This chapter contains some key points.

You might notice that you typically operate in one mode for short-term interactions and another for long-term interactions. It might make sense to operate in Adaptor Mode for immediate problems or social interactions, and in Mover Mode, when dealing with long-term problems or social interactions. Or one might find that different circumstances indicate different modes. For example, a person comfortable with Mover Mode at work may be most comfortable in Adaptor Mode at home, and a person who typically operates in Stimulator Mode with friends may find that Perceiver Mode works better with a mate.

It is also important to realize that the fact of operating in a particular mode does not guarantee that you will be effective in it. Effectiveness depends, in part, on how much you know about the relevant material (and hence how well you can classify and interpret the situation using your bottom brain) and how well you can formulate and carry out plans (and hence how well you can respond to an anticipate unfolding events, using your top brain—relying in part on information from your bottom brain).

At a minimum it is hoped that these Top Brain, Bottom Brain posts will provide some personal insights, and that it will help in interacting with others in different situations and in forming groups and teams. Of course, these posts cannot do justice to the book that they are drawn from, so please read the book by Kosslyn and Miller should this topic peak your interests.