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

A View of the Reading Brain

October 19, 2018

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

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

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

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Elusive Experience as Intuition

October 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organized Religions

October 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Thought Experiment About Pantheism

October 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

God & Homo Sapiens

October 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Love, Less Greed

September 22, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bezos Pledges $2 Billion to Aid Homeless Families

September 21, 2018

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

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

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

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

Controlling Our Minds

September 20, 2018

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

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

Kahneman’s Two process view of cognition is again relevant here. System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. Learning is associative and slow. For something to become a System 1 process requires much repetition and practice. Activities such as walking, driving, and conversation are primarily System 1 processes. They occur rapidly and with little apparent effort. We would not have survived if we could not do these types of processes rapidly. But this speed of processing is purchased at a cost, the possibility of errors, biases, and illusions.

System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors do slip through.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is There a Biology Behind the Cultural Crisis?

September 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subjectivity, Feeling, and Consciousness

September 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

The Strange Order of Things

September 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consciousness is an Instinct

September 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ubiquity of Consciousness

September 14, 2018

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

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

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

Conscious vs. Unconscious States

September 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Neurons to Mind

September 12, 2018

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

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

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

Non-living to Living

September 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Where is Consciousness?

September 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking But Unconscious; Unmoving but Conscious

September 9, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beginnings of Understanding Brain Architecture

September 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

The Consciousness Instinct

September 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Kahneman and Identity Based Politics

September 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research Takes Honest Look at Why People Lie

September 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Science of Voodoo

September 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

Everyday Placebos

August 31, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind Over Matter

August 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House of TRUMP House of PUTIN

August 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fundamental Attribution Error

August 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Special Counsel Investigation

August 24, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do People Support Trump?

August 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is the soul that is immortal.

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

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

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

Science Explains the World of Manafort and Gates

August 22, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future

August 21, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good vs. The Bad Anthropocene

August 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Industrialization and the Anthropocene

August 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farming and the First Nation State

August 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Our Early Ancestors Lived

August 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Humans Arrive

August 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timeline

August 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Origin Story: A Big History of Everything

August 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Ivan Pavlov: Socialism

August 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes a White Nationalist?

August 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self Talk for Growth Mindsets and a Healthy Memory

August 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

What is Thought?

August 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

The Voices Within

August 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Take Control of Pain

August 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Conquer Your Fears

August 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Lifting the Lid on the Unconscious

August 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contexts also trigger habitual behaviors, so try breaking a bad habit while away from our normal environment. For example, quit smoking while on a holiday.

A host of unconscious cognitive biases influence much of our thinking and decision-making. They evolved to help our ancestors act fast and effectively, but these days they often trip us up. Knowing how cognitive biases shape our thinking is the first step to consciously controlling them. Here are some common biases.

Anchoring — Focusing on one factor, often the first encountered, when making a decision.

Clustering illusion — Seeing phantom patterns in random events.

Confirmation bias — Preferentially seeking and recalling information that confirms our preconceptions.

Congruence bias — Testing ideas by seeking evidence that a supports rather than refutes them.

Endowment effect — Valuing things more highly simply because they belong to you.

Fundamental attribution error — Attributing people’s behaviors to their personality, not the situation.

Gambler’s fallacy —Believing that past random events alter the likelihood of future ones.

Hyperbolic discounting — Overvaluing what’s available now relative to what you can have later.

In-group bias — Overestimating the abilities and values of your own group relative to others.

Negativity bias — Paying more attention to bad news and feedback than good.

Projection bias — Assuming that most people think like you and hold the same bias.

Status quo bias — Favoring decisions that will leave things just as they are.

In addition, we all have our own implicit biases: prejudices about things like race and gender that affect our judgments of others. Discover yours at implicit.harvard.edu/implicit

Ms. Young offers these five ways to game your unconscious

Take a hot bath. If you’re feeling lonely, a hot bath may make you feel better. Why? Research reveals that we unconsciously associate physical warmth and social warmth. Conversely, holding an ice pack can make you feel lonelier.

2. Think yourself full. Looking at pictures of particular foods decreases your appetite for that type of food. Similarly, spending just a minute imagining that you are full will help you choose a small portion.

3. Smell something fishy. It “smells fishy” is a metaphor for distrust in more than 20 languages. Intriguingly, fishy smells make us more alert to misleading information, perhaps because unconscious vigilance for rotten fish makes us more wary in general.

4. Get you house in order. Crime rates are famously linked with broken windows, litter and graffiti. But even asymmetry and wonky edges promote bad behavior. Such visual disorder may activate mean metaphors such as ‘crooked politician,’ which affect behavior.

5. Don’t be deceived. We are surprisingly bad at consciously spotting liars, possibly because we look for behaviors, such as fidgeting and averted eyes, which don’t actually signal deception. To avoid being duped, it is better to trust your intuition, since we do have an unconscious sense of who is lying to us.

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Find Your Inner Creativity

August 1, 2018

This post is based on a feature article with the same title as this post by Emma Young in the 28 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The article begins “Everyone is familiar with ‘aha’ moments, when the solution a problem suddenly pops into conscious awareness as if from nowhere. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those moments of creative insight came a little more easily, a little more often? It turns out there are ways you can help your unconscious do its work.”

Research by Michael Shadlen at Columbia University revealed that aha moments occur when enough relevant information has accumulated in the unconscious to trigger conscious awareness of a decision. The point when this is reached will vary depending on the task. Moreover, some people seem better at achieving it than others. So how do they differ? There are a variety of possibilities. Studies suggest that creative insight is driven by one of two very different states of mind: concentrated focus and daydreaming. Intrigued by the contradiction, Jonathan Schooler at the University of California, Santa Barbara decided to test them. He found that focused thinking actually undermines inspiration unless you are using an overtly analytical approach to solve a problem. By contrast, letting one’s mind wander, after taking in information, cultivates insight.

He suggests if you want more aha moments, you must first scout some relevant material to give your unconscious something to work on. Then find time for unfocused thinking, This is best done while you’re engaging in an activity that’s not too mentally taxing such as walking or gardening. He says, “Try to disengage from spontaneous thoughts that are mundane, like thought about current concerns or plans for upcoming tasks, or thoughts merely replaying familiar scenes. Engage with thoughts that are a bit more unusual or fantastical. Follow those thoughts to the end or extend them by asking playful, imaginative questions, such as ‘what if x was different?’ or ‘what if x was reversed.?’

Prof. Shadlen seems to think that there are two categories of problems, one that requires analytic thinking and one that doesn’t. However, other researchers have found that many creative solutions involve both focused attention and daydreaming, sometimes referred to as the default mode network. These researchers suggest alternating between these two modes of thinking as the situation dictates.

Prof. Shadlen also suggests modifying one’s emotional state such as listening to positive background music. Researchers think this might be because it triggers the release of dopamine, which is associated with creative thinking.

Christina Fong of Carnegie Mellon University has found that simultaneously experiencing two emotions that aren’t typically felt together, such as frustration and excitement also encourages creative insight. She says that that might be because it signals that you are in an unusual environment, making you alert to the possibility of other unusual relationships, suggesting that life will be more inspiring if we embrace change and novelty.

The article ends with a word of caution that creative insight doesn’t hold the answer to all your problems. Earlier research had suggested that really complicated decisions with lots of variables are better solved by going with our gut rather than “overthinking.” Subsequent research has failed to replicate this finding. Psychologist Magda Osman at Queen May University in London looked at the evidence and found that when it comes to making choices to achieve a goal, conscious thinking works best.

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

Hacking Our Unconscious

July 31, 2018

A few years ago HM posted a piece titled “Strangers to Ourselves.” That post reviewed a book by Timothy Wilson titled “Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious.” The post describes some techniques for coming into contact with our unconscious minds. Of course Wilson’s book discusses more techniques in much more detail.

Most of our processing is unconscious. Our unconscious mind keeps operating below our awareness. We can try to remember someone’s name and fail. If we continue for a while, still fail and give up trying, it is not uncommon for the name to pop into our conscious minds much later. Apparently, the unconscious mind continued the search even though we had consciously given up. There are also accounts of scientific theories and mathematical proofs suddenly popping into consciousness. The unconscious mind had been at work. The 28 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist has a series of feature articles on hacking our unconscious minds. This current post and the following posts will be reviewing these feature articles.

The lead New Scientist article by Emma Young writes, “Far from being a malign adjunct to the conscious mind, the unconscious is responsible for all sorts of important stuff. It is smart and it is often running the show.” Neuroscientist Michael Shadlen of Columbia University says, “The vast majority of thoughts circling in our brains happen below the radar of conscious awareness.” That’s too much to miss out on.

Research into this topic is still in its early days, but already our growing understand of the human mind means we can begin to hack our unconscious powers of inspiration, pain relief, emotional control, memory, and more. The following posts will address these topics.

Daniel Kahneman and Originalism

July 30, 2018

HM does not know if Nobel Winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman had any opinion on the judicial philosophy of originalism, which states that judicial opinions should rely substantially on the text of the statute or constitutional clause under construction as well as the original public meaning of the statue or clause.

What Daniel Kahneman did was to develop his two process theory of cognition. This theory can be found in many places, but perhaps the best source is his best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.” System 1 is fast and allows us to cope with high rates of information in a dynamic environment. Without System 1, we would not have survived as a species. But this fast processing speed has its costs, which sometimes lead to errors. System 2 is slow, and is what can be thought of as thinking. If you know your multiplication tables, if I ask you what is 6 time 7, you’ll respond 42 without really thinking about it. But if I ask you to multiply 67 times 42 you would find it difficult to compute in your head, and would most likely use a calculator or use paper and pencil (which are examples of transactive memory). This multiplication requires System 2 processing without technological aids.

System 1 requires little or no effort. System 2 requires effort. It is not only faster, but also less demanding to rely on System 1 processes. Consider the following question.
A bat and a ball cost $1.10
The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost?
The number that quickly comes to mind is 10 cents. But if you take the time and exert the mental effort you will note that the cost would be $1.20 (10 cents for the ball and $1.10 for the bat). If you do the math, which takes a little algebra, you will find that the ball costs 5 cents (the bat costing a $1.00 more than the ball would be $1.05 and $1.05 plus $0.05 is $1.10). System 2 must be engaged to get the correct answer. This question has been asked of several thousand college students. More that 50% of the students at Harvard, MIT, and Princeton gave the wrong, System 1, answer. At less selective universities more than 80% of the students gave the wrong answer.

Now consider the judicial philosophy of originalism, which states that judicial opinions should rely substantially on the text of the statute or Constitutional clause under Construction as well as the original public meaning of the statute or clause. What could possibly be wrong here? These are the Founding Fathers who wrote the constitution. These are the conclusions which System 1 processing quickly reach.

Now invoke System 2 processing and consider the following.

The fundamental premise of the Constitution is that all men are created equal. Note that the mention of women was omitted and women needed a special constitutional amendment to be granted the right to vote. So it appears that the Founding Fathers were misogynistic.

According to the Constitution blacks were regarded as three-fifths of a human being, and the vast majority of blacks were slaves. So it appears that the Founding Fathers were blatant racists.

Fortunately, the Constitution was eventually amended to correct for these errors. One can infer that these changes were the result of System 2 processing and not strict adherence to originalism.

Knowledge grows and the world changes radically. Today a high school science student knows more about science that Benjamin Franklin ever did.

It is clear that the legal system needs to evolve to accommodate the rapidly changing world, and to remove injustices from older thinking.

Originalism is invoked by people who do not want change; fortunately, or unfortunately, change is needed.

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

A Healthier Heart and a Sharper Mind

July 29, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Tara Bahrampour in the 23 July 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The article begins, “Research presented Wednesday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Chicago found that at-risk people whose blood pressure was kept lower than the recommended level had a significant reduction in mild cognitive impair (MCI), the precursor to dementia/

The trial compared two strategies for maintaining blood pressure for people with an average age of around 68 with increased cardiovascular risk. One group received the standard care strategy at the time targeting systolic blood pressure (taken when the heart beats) to below 140 millimeters of mercury. The other group received the same medication, but in higher doses, with a target blood pressure of 120 mm or less.

Memory tests were also administered to assess participants for probable dementia and early memory loss. The group receiving the intensive approach had a 19% lower rate of new cases of MCI.

A subgroup was also assessed through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), for white matter brain lesions that are associated with a higher risk of stroke, dementia and higher mortality. While both groups showed an increase in white matter lesions, the increase was significantly less in the intensive treatment group.

In the United States the rate of Alzheimer’s dementia is 10% for people 65 and older.

The researchers were excited with the results showing that the lowering of blood pressure with medication could also reduce the probability of dementia.

What the article does not mention is that blood pressure can be reduced without medication. Meditation can reduce blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen consumption. Research has also shown how meditation affected the body’s 40,000 genes and found that those who regularly meditated induced anti-oxidation and anti-inflammatory changes that counteracted the effects of stress on the body. There have been many healthymemory posts on meditation, the first being “The Relaxation Response.” The post provides instruction for getting the relaxation response, and benefits can be realized by doing this for 10 to 20 minutes once or twice a day.

Nor does the article mention that many have died with their brains full of the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles that are the defining characteristic of Alzheimer’s, but who never exhibited any behavioral or cognitive symptoms while they were living.

The reason offered for this fact is that these people had built up a cognitive reserve, presumably through certain types of cognitive activity. The healthy memory blog argues that growth mindsets, which by definition include Kahneman’s Type 2 processing, along with a healthy lifestyle and meditation, provide a means of building a cognitive reserve. These practices can lead to a more fulfilling life free of dementia. There are many, many healthymemoy blog posts on these topics.

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

Are We Living in 1984?

July 28, 2018

The “1984” in the title of this post refers to George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.” In the country depicted in this novel, truth was whatever the leader told you it was. If you have five fingers on one hand, and the leader told you had three, then truth was that you had three.

Recently Trump told people that the only information people should believe was whatever he told them. So he is going way beyond charging the justice department and the press for providing faux news about his investigation. He is saying that everything should be regarded as false unless it comes from him.

Actually this can be more demanding than it seems, as what Trump says is true is also volatile and can change.

This is not the first time that Trump has issued this order. He issued this same command when he was running for president.

Unfortunately, too many people did not see this red light and voted for this xxx authoritarian anyway.

In the event anyone is wondering what all this has to do with a healthy memory, for a healthy memory, objective truth should always be sought and critically evaluated.

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

My Problem was that I was Too Nice

July 13, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the first part of a title in an article by Jamil Zaki in the Health and Science Section of the 20 March 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The second part of the title is “Now I realize the downside of being polite.”

The author is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Stanford University. He asked the question he poses to everyone who graduates from his lab: “What could I have done better?” The departing student replied, “You’re too nice.” When asked to elaborate he said, “you’re so nice to everyone here that we don’t really know what you think about anyone. Some people end up assuming the worst.”

The author concluded that he was addicted to niceness. He wrote, “Not everyone shares my addiction. In fact, our culture is in the middle of a politeness shortage. Imagine a reader from five years ago leafing through today’s Washington Post. She’d probably be shocked at the vulgarity of our national conversation. Social media is overrun with bullying. CNN warns parents they might want to clear the room of small children before the president’s remarks are broadcast. Norms are steadily shredded. The psychologist Steven Pinker claims that modern society is built on a foundation of ‘civilizing’: people’s adherence to common decency. If he’s right, our house is teetering.”

The author has been studying empathy for the past dozen years, the ability to share and understand each others feelings. Empathy comes in different flavors, including distress, an aversion to seeing others in pain. And concern, a desire to improve their well-being. He notes that the pieces of empathy often split apart. He says to imagine a friend about to launch an ill-advised business adventure or to marry someone you know to be unfaithful. If you tell him the bad news, he’ll feel hurt, but he’ll also have information to make wiser choices. Empathetic distress motivates us to avoid causing suffering at all costs, but it can also encourage comforting lies over difficult truths. This is polite, but not kind. If we truly care for people, we often must steer them into hard feelings.

The author writes, “If there is one place that politeness seems useful, it’s the gulf between Us and Them into which our country has fallen. Political discourse increasingly resembles a live-action YouTube comment section; to claw our way back toward stability, niceness seems like a crucial starting point. In the fall Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch preached the importance of politeness, joining a chorus of similar voices from across the political spectrum.”

The author concludes, “I now realized my politeness stemmed from a shallow empathy. I strove to guard others—and probably myself—from pain rather than to enrich us. My question for this year: Instead of doing no harm, how can I do the most good?

Rudeness is as Contagious as a Bad Cold

July 12, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the second half of the title of an article by William Wan in the 27 June 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The first half of the title of the article is “Study’s finding for an age of rage:

Trevor Foulk, who studies organizational behavior at the University of Maryland, likens rudeness to the common cold: It’s contagious. He said, “When it comes to incivility, there’s often a snowballing effect. The more you see rudeness, the more likely you are to perceive it from others and the more likely you are to be rude yourself to others.”

A 2016 study by Christopher Rosen, an organizational scientist at the University of Arkansas, tracked employees over the course of their work days. He and fellow researchers found that individuals who experienced a perceived insult earlier in the day would later strike back at coworkers. Using psychological tests, the researchers linked that reaction to lowered levels of self-control. Rosen said, “When someone is uncivil to you, it forces you to spend a lot of mental energy trying to figure out what.s going on, what caused the rudeness, what it means. All that thinking lessens your capacity for impulse control. So you become more prone to be rude to others…People, in a way, ‘pay it forward.’”

Foulk and others in a series of experiments showed that the more people witness and experiences rudeness, the more they are predisposed to interpret an action as rude and then act toward others in rude ways. Foulk said, “Rudeness is interesting in that it’s often ambiguous and open to interpretation. If someone punches you, we would all agree that it’s abusive. But if someone comes up to you and says in a neutral voice ‘nice shoes,’ is that an insult? Is it sarcasm or something else?’ The more someone has witnessed rudeness, the more likely you are to interpret ‘nice shoes’ as deliberately rude.’

In one study, workers were shown videos every morning before work. On the mornings when those videos included an uncivil interaction, the workers were more likely to interpret subsequent interactions throughout their day as rude.

Foulk found in another study on negotiations that if someone experiences rudeness from a person on the opposing side, the next person they negotiate with is highly likely to perceive them as rude also. Even when the two negotiations took place seven days apart, the contagion effect was just as strong.

In a summary of his findings Foulk wrote, “What is so scary about this effect is that it’s an automatic process—it takes place in a part of your brain that you are not aware of, can’t stop, and can’t control.”

The article continues “But perhaps most worrisome is the effect of all this growing incivility. Mounting research shows rudeness can cause employees to be chronically distracted, less productive, and less creative. Researchers have shown how incivility can lower trust, spark feelings of anger, fear, and sadness, and cause depression. One study found increased incivility at work had personal-life implications, such as a drop in marital satisfaction.”

In 2016 and 2017 two studies found that doctors and nurses in neonatal intensive care units who were scolded by an actress playing the mother of a sick infant performed much more poorly than those who did not—even misdiagnosing the infant’s condition.
One of the authors of this study told the Wall Street Journal, “The results were scary. The teams exposed to rudeness gave the wrong diagnosis, didn’t resuscitate or ventilate appropriately, didn’t communicate well, gave the wrong medications and made other serious mistakes.”

Rosen made the following suggestion. “When you experience incivility, it’s important to take a step back and not act on your impulses. Do things that help you recover your ability to self-regulate, like exercise or taking a break. Our research shows people are often not even aware of their reactions and the way they spread negativity. Some of these recommendation for how to stop it are easier said than done.”

It is our misfortune that President Trump is notorious for his uncivil behavior, and it seems that this uncivil behavior has become an epidemic.

The Inequality Delusion: Why We’ve Got the Wealth Gap All Wrong

July 11, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a feature article by Mark Sheepskin in the 31 March 2018 issue of the “New Scientist.” The article notes that we are unlikely to appreciate just how unequal things are and provides the following means of visualizing it: Take the wealth of the eight richest people on the planet and combine it. Now do the same for the poorest 3.5 billion. The two sums are the same 350 billion Euros. So just eight people own as much wealth as half of the world’s population.

In the United States almost 85% of the wealth is owned by just 20% of the population. The bottom 40% own just 0.3% of it. In 1960, a chief executive in the US typically earned 20 times as much as an average worker. Today it is more like 354 times. When the Pew research center asked people in 44 countries whether they thought the gap between the rich and poor was a “big problem”, a majority in all 44 said it was. A majority in 28 said it was a very big problem. The article does not indicate whether the respondents were aware of the stark statistics at the beginning of the article. It is unlikely that they were, as the question is usually posed so that no additional information is given. The objective of most of these surveys is whether they think this is a problem without biasing them with actual statistics of the state of the world.

Laboratory studies indicate that inequality aversion is a strong motivator of behavior. When people are asked to divide money among themselves and fellow subjects in experiments, there is a clear preference for equal distribution. This desire is so powerful that people often choose to receive smaller but more equal rewards over larger but more unequal ones. In other cases they prefer surplus resources to be be thrown away rather than distributed unequally. It is reasonable to think that the participants in these experiments regard each other as peers.

Researchers asked a representative sample of 5500 Americans about their ideal distribution of wealth in the U.S. On average, people said that the richest 20% should hold 30% of the wealth, and the bottom 20% just 10%. When forced to choose between high levels of inequality and complete equality, most choose the former.

Apparently, people are more concerned with fairness than equality. They recognize that different people make different contributions to society and should be rewarded proportionately. But it does appear that what is generally regarded as fair does not correspond to reality.

A factor not mentioned in this article is that most wealth is inherited wealth. By birth some individuals are much wealthier than others with all its accompanying advantages. It would have been helpful to have survey data on how people felt about inherited wealth.

The article does not raise the question if in the future our economy can produce abundant wealth with machines rather than people doing most of the work, what will be the fair way to distribute the wealth they create. One point is clear. There is more than enough pie to go around. The question is how this pie is distributed. Although people will accept income inequality, they will object to being treated unfairly. If conditions become bad enough, violence will result and place all, even people in gated communities, at risk.

Automation should result in fewer work hours, and more free hours where people could relax, engage in hobbies, and in additional educational and cultural activities. It is likely that some people will engage in substance abuse, but perhaps by that time more will be known regarding how to treat and prevent drug abuse.

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

Wearable Scanner Can Image Your Brain While You’re on the Move

July 10, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article in the News & Technology section of the 31 March 2018 issue of the “New Scientist.” Now, for the first time, babies and young children will be able to have their brain activity scanned, thanks to a portable scanner. The device was made portable by replacing traditional sensors, which require a heavy and bulky calling system, with miniature ones that detect the brain’s magnetic field in a different way. These sensors can be attached directly to the scalp using a 3D-printed helmet that can be personalize to any size of head.

However, the wearer can’t wander too far though; the scanner only works inside a special room that helps counteract Earth’s natural magnetic field. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of possible applications. It could be used to analyze brain activity while people navigate. You can also have more natural interactions between people—two people each wearing a scanner and speaking face-to-face. It is also possible to scan toddlers and babies as well, to study their development. This technology is also useful for imaging the brains of people with movement disorders and other conditions that mean they can’t undergo traditional scans.

Richard Bowtell at the University of Nottingham and his colleagues have designed this magnetoencephalography (MEG) device that is worn like a helmet, allowing people to move freely during scanning. They tested the device on four people while they they moved their fingers and got results similar to those achieved using a standard MEG scanner (Nature, doi.org/cmrw).

HM is looking forward to the future when perhaps devices such as these can be used to record brain activity while people are engaged in daily activities. Perhaps they could distinguish between Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of Human Cognition. System 1 refers to our normal mode of cognition.  It is very fast and allows for fluent conversations and skilled performance.  It is the default mode of cognition.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds to what we colloquially call thinking.  System 2 requires attention and mental effort.  One of the jobs of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors.  However, this requires mental effort and thinking. Then it might be possible to test HM’s notion that it is System 2 processing that builds the cognitive reserve to ward of Alzheimer’s. See the healthy memory blog “Daniel Kahneman and the Stupidity Pandemic.”

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

A Needed Post on Consciousness

July 9, 2018

This post is inspired by an article in the 23 June 2018 issue of the New Scientist by Per Snaprud titled “Consciousness: How We’re Solving a Mystery Bigger than Our Minds.” The truth is that they are not solving a mystery. Unfortunately there are scientists who regard themselves as being rigorous who are strict determinists and who cannot abide the notion of free will. They are trying to solve consciousness as something that we do not control and in which we view our lives in a deterministic manner.

First of all, they need to accept the concept of free will. Entering “free will” into the search block of the healthymemory blog will yield many previous posts on this topic. The post titled “Free Will” is a review of a book by the same title by the philosopher Mark Ballagher. The book is in MIT’s Essential Knowledge Series, and HM would certainly agree that this knowledge is essential.

Consciousness is something we all experience, and we can experience consciousness in a passive mode. As long as we’re awake, we have a conscious experience. And even during sleep we dream. The Global Workspace Theory states that specialized modules send messages into a vast network where they compete for dominance. The winner is broadcast globally and enters consciousness. This is an accurate description of consciousness in its passive mode. What it does not explain is consciousness in the active mode

We can focus consciousness on particular topics. A failure to do so would lead to incoherent, disastrous lives. One of the goals of meditation is to focus and control our consciousness. There are many benefits to meditation. Accordingly, there are many posts on meditation and mindfulness. Undoubtedly our ability to focus and to meditate is one of our executive functions that is found in the prefrontal cortex.

Please review the numerous posts on meditation and mindfulness to review the many benefits of gaining control of our conscious minds. One post of special importance is titled “The Genetic Breakthrough—Your Ultimate Mind Body Connection.” Enter [Mind Body Connection] in the healthymemory blog search block to access this post.

The Brain’s Secret Powerhouse That Makes Us Who We Are

July 7, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Caroline Williams in the Features section of the 7 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The cerebellum is tucked beneath the rest of the brain and only a tenth of its size. In the 19th century phrenologists, who examined the shape of the skull to determine a person’s character, declared the cerebellum to be the root of sexual desire. They thought, the larger the cerebellum, the greater the likelihood of sexual desire.

During World War 1, the British neurologist Gordon Holmes noticed that the main problems for men whose cerebellum had been damaged by gunshot wounds had nothing to do with their sex lives and everything to do with the fine control of movements, ranging from a lack of balance to difficulties with walking, speech, and eye movements. From then on, the cerebellum was considered the mastermind of our smooth and effortless motions, with no role in thinking.

In the mid 1980s when brain imaging came along researchers noted activity in the cerebellum while people were lying still in a brain scanner and thinking. Unsure as to why this was occurring it was explained away as the neural signature of eye movements.

It took until the 1990s that it became undeniable that something else was occurring. Reports emerged describing people who had clear damage to their cerebellums but no trouble with movement. They experienced a host of emotional and cognitive issues, from depression to attention problems and an inability to navigate.

By this time, advances in neuroscience made it possible to trace long-range connections to and from the cerebellum. It was found that only a small proportion of the cerebellum was wired to the motor cortex, which is the brain region involved in making deliberate movements, explaining why movement was unaffected for some people with a damaged cerebellum. The vast majority of the cerebellum connects to regions of the cortex that are involved in cognition, perception, language and emotional processing.

A review of maps of the cerebellum built from functional MRI brain scans confirmed that all major cortical regions have loops of connections running to and from the cerebellum. The cerebellum has conversations with different areas of the cortex: taking information from them, transforming it and sending it back to where it came from.

One of the more unexpected connections was with the prefrontal cortex, which lies far from the cerebellum at the front of the brain and has long been considered the most advanced part of the brain. This region is in charge of abilities such as planning, impulse control, and emotional intelligence. It is disproportionately large and complex in humans compared with our closest species.

Robert Barton, an evolutionary neuroscientist at Durham in the UK says that when compared to primate brains, he found there is something special about the ape cerebellum, particularly our own. Throughout most of mammal evolution, the cerebellum increased in size at the same rate as the rest of the brain. But when apes split off from other primates, something strange began to happen. The ape cerebellum had a runaway growth spurt, becoming disproportionately larger than it evolved in the lesser apes. In our own brains the cerebellum is 31% larger than you would expect scaling up the brain of a non-ape primate. And it is jam-packed with brain cells, containing 16 billion more than you would anticipate finding if a monkey brain were enlarged to the size of ours. By strange coincidence, there are 16 billion neurons in the entire cortex. Neurons are particularly energy hungry cells, so this represents a huge investment of resources of the kind the brain wouldn’t both with without good reason.

Barton suspects that what started this unlikely growth spurt was the challenge of moving a much larger body through the trees. While small primates can run along the branches even gibbon-sized apes are too heavy to do the same, at least without holding on to branches above. This led apes to switch to swinging through the branches, known as brachiation, which in turn made the ability to plan ahead a distinct advantage. Barton says, “Brachiation is a relatively complex locomotor strategy. It involves fine sensory motor control, but it also involved a need to plan your route so that you can avoid accidents.”

To be able to plan a route, it helps to be be able to predict what is likely to happen next. To do that, you need to make unconscious adjustments to the speed, strength and direction of your movements on the fly.

Neuroscientists believe that the cerebellum achieves this by computing the most likely outcome based on previous experience using so-called forward models. Once it has these models in place through learning, it can then update and amend them depending on what is happening now. Narebder Ramnani, a neuroscientist at Royal Holloway University in London says, “Forward models respond very quickly because they allow the brain to generate what are likely to be the correct movements without waiting around for feedback.”

The leap in motor skills that came with brachiation and forward planning doesn’t completely explain the vast increased in the size of the cerebellum. Vineyard-like rows of bushy neurons called purkinje cells are linked by parallel fibers coming from the senses and vertical climbing fibers, which are thought to carry error messenger with which to update the internal model.

This structure is copied and pasted across the entire cerebellum with processing units set up like banks of computers, spitting out predictions all day long. Unlike the cortex, the structure of the cerebellum looks exactly the same regardless of where you look or which part of the cortex it is connected to. The only distinction is that different “modules” connect to different parts of the cortex.

Ramona says, “This suggests that whatever kind of computation that the cerebellum is carrying out for the motor regions of the brain, it is likely to be doing much the same for the cognitive and emotional regions too. And if the cerebellum is learning to automate rules for movements, it is probably doing likewise for social and emotional interactions, which it can call up, adapt and use at lightning speed.

Barton believes that having the ability to learn, plan, predict and updates was a key movement in our evolution, opening up a whole new world of complex behaviors. At first, these behaviors revolved around planning sequential movements to reach a goal, such as adapting twigs as a tool for termite fishing. But eventually thinking unhooked from movement, allowing us to plan our behaviors without moving a muscle. Barton thinks that being able to understand sequences could have allowed our ancestors to decode the gestures of others, setting the stage for the development of language.

The idea that the cerebellum makes and updates forward models contribute to the understanding of how the brain builds a picture of the word around us. The brain makes sense of the cacophony of sensory information with which it is bombarded by using past experience to make predictions that it updates as it goes along. With its forward planning capabilities, the cerebellum plays a more important role in the general working of the brain than we thought.

This new thinking strongly suggests that the cerebellum is involved in everything from planning to social interactions, and has a role in a range of conditions. For example, differences in how the cerebellum and the prefrontal cortex are connected are thought to affects the ability of people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to focus.

Schizophrenia is commonly linked with cerebellum changes, which could result in an inability to balance internally generated models of reality with sensory information entering the brain.

There is some hope that giving the cerebellum a boost using a type of brain stimulation called transcranial magnetic stimulation could help. A clinical trial is under way for schizophrenia.

This stimulation could even do us all some good; a recent study found that applying it to the cerebellum of healthy volunteers improved their ability to sustain attention.

A Few Words on the Fading American Dream

July 5, 2018

A few posts back there was a healthy memory blog post titled “The Fading American Dream May Be Behind the Rise in US Suicides.” The first point is that the American Dream is real. Many have immigrated into the United States in the hope of a better life. This American Dream has been important not only to the immigrants, but also to the United States, because it is these immigrants who have made America great. For America’s greatness to continue it is important that this flow of diverse immigrants not only continue, but also increase.

Unfortunately, many are told that you can be whatever you want to be. Anyone who believes this risks the very real likelihood that they will be disappointed. Although it is true that most of us can accomplish more than we think we can, there are still certain limitations for success. Here is what I believe is Nobel Winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s formula for success:

success = talent + luck
great success = a little more talent + a lot of luck

Here talent should not be interpreted as inborn skill, but rather as how much we develop whatever talents we have. But a very large player in success, both great and moderate, is pure luck.

Successful people should always be aware of this fact that a lot of luck has played in to their success. And people who feel that they have been cheated from the American Dream, the truth is that they have been short on good fortune.

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

Happy Fourth of July!

July 4, 2018

Many will say that we are proud to be Americans. However, when one thinks about this, it is a strange assertion. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, wrath, and sloth). Also consider the immediately preceding post, “Remember This Post on July 4.” There is little basis on which to be proud.

So we should celebrate the Fourth of July by setting aspirational goals regarding what American should be. At the time it was written, the Declaration of Independence was literally revolutionary. All men were created equal and were going to be guaranteed rights in the future Constitution. But at that time, although all men were created equal, women could not vote. And blacks were regarded as three-fifths of a human being and most blacks were slaves. We have been advancing from that point and have achieved moderate success. The goals we should be pursuing have been discussed in posts based on Steven Pinker’s book, “Enlightenment Now,” and on Jon Meecham’s book “The Soul of America.” Consider the following:
Those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of humankind.
——-Baruch Spinoza
and
Everything that is not forbidden by the laws of nature is achievable, given the right knowledge.
——-David Deutsch

Consider how far we have fallen under the current president, who does not believe in objective truth. This is quite evident with his voluminous lies that have been counted and documented. For Trump, what be believes at the moment and what benefits him constitutes truth.

He has no interest in the welfare of mankind and uses lies to foster hate against people of certain religious faiths and people who want to immigrate to thus country. Consider Reagan’s City on the Hill Speech from his Farewell address:
“But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still…And she’s still a beacon and a magnet for all who must find freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

How far we have fallen.

It is amazing that there are Christians who are Trump supporters. Trump is the antithesis of a Christian.

How can this be? A clear distinction needs to be made between religions and churches. Churches function as businesses that are tax exempt. Unfortunately some churches participate in political activities and most definitely shouldn’t be tax exempt. But it should not be forgotten that churches are in the religion business. They need parishioners for both monetary and personal support. Many churches modify their religions to conform with the biases and beliefs of their parishioners to be successful. For most members belonging to and attending a church checks the box that will either insure or increase the likelihood of eternal life. During the services parishioners think they feel the presence of God. HM understands this from both a personal and a psychological perspective. And parishioners receive personal support from their fellow parishioners.

However, parishioners should understand that it is not their religious leaders who will make judgments about eternal life. Those judgments will be made by a true deity. For Christians, the judgment will be regarding how well Christ’s teachings were followed. The love of one’s fellow humans, caring for the sick, and the “turning” of the cheek when struck are Christ’s teachings. An important Christian belief that seems to have been forgotten is the tolerance of other religious beliefs. We need to love and respect all our fellow humans and feel responsible for fostering their well being. It appears likely that many will be surprised on judgment day.

If Christians followed the actual teachings of Christ, the United States would be well on its way to achieving its ideals. This is also true of most other religious beliefs. Unfortunately, many religious leaders have lost touch with what should be their true religions beliefs. It should be mentioned that religions go way beyond the teachings of Christ. Only the actual teachings of Christ are authoritative. Beliefs specific to particular religions can be regarded as arbitrary, at best, and even contrary to the teachings of Christ, at worst.

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

Remember This Post on July 4

July 3, 2018

This post is inspired by an article in the 7 June 2008 issue of the Washington Post by Jeff Stein titled “U.N. study: Safety net was failing before Trump’s election.” The subtitle is “About 40 million Americans live in poverty, report finds.” This report is a product of the United Nations. The report says that among countries in the developed world, America already has the highest rates of youth poverty, infant mortality, incarceration, income inequality and obesity. The reports says Americans “live shorter and sicker lives compare to those living in all other rich democracies.”

About 40 million Americans live in poverty, and 18.5 million live in “extreme poverty.” And that 5 million Americans live “in Third World conditions of absolute poverty.”

Every year about 11 million Americans cycle through a jail or prison every year, with at least 730,000 people incarcerated “on any given day.”

In 2016, a “schockingly high” number of children were living in poverty, about 13.3 million, or 18% of them, with government spending on children near the bottom of the international pack.

Philip Alston blames the American political system for these failings, arguing it deprives African Americans of voting rights, unfairly sends the homeless to jail, and has failed to provide health care and housing programs for its citizens. He writes, “The persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power. With political will, it could be readily eliminated.”

Obviously, Trump is not entirely responsible for all these conditions. Some of the statistics in the early stages of his administration looked good. But it needs to be remembered, that there is a time lag in economic effects. So it is likely that Trump benefited from some of Obama’s policies. But it is also clear that Obama and a non-cooperating Congress were responsible for the general conditions that existed when Trump took over. It is also clear that Trump’s policies will further worsen these already deplorable statistics.

The statement we hear on the Fourth is that the United States is the freest and and best country in the world. The truth is that we are not. We lag far behind other free countries in terms of human welfare. Alston predicts that Trump’s policies will weaken a safety net that has already made America among the stingiest in the world.

Jamila Michener of Cornell University says “my expectation is most if not all these outcomes will look worse post-Trump than they did pre-Trump.

HM has heard Christians say that we are an Christian country. How can such conditions exist in a truly Christian country?

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

The Fading American Dream My Be Behind the Rise in US Suicides

July 2, 2018

The title of the post is identical to the title of an article by Andy Coghlan in the News section of the 30 June 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The article begins, “Shrinking life chances plus the lack of a social safety net may have left middle-aged Americans more vulnerable to suicide than peers in the rich nations.” The annual rate of suicide in the US has risen by almost 28% between 1999 and 2016.

A number of explanations have been advanced for this fact, including the 2008 economic crash, the upsurge in addiction to opiod painkillers and the migration of manufacturing jobs to other countries. But this does not explain why the suicide rate is rising so fast in the US as it falls in other rich countries.

Figures from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that the country’s rate of suicide was 15.6 per 100,000 population in 2016, up from 12.2 in 1999. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the global average rate is 10.6. The rate for the UK in 2016 was 8.9 per 100,000, down from 9.1 in 2000, according to the latest WHO data.

Although globalization and automation are driving job losses in the US, the same pressures have affected all Western economies without a similar increase in the suicide rate. People who work in mental health and suicide contacted by the New Scientist argued that some distinctive elements of US Culture may help explain the rise, Julie Phillips of Rutgers University says ,”I think the US is unique in a few respects. One of the key drivers could be the American dream itself—the idea that you can work hard and climb out of poverty. A growing mismatch between life expectations this brings and the increasingly bleak reality for many US citizens could lead to hardship.”

“This may be particularly felt by middle-aged white Americans, who have the highest suicide rates and the steepest rises. The American dream is deeply ingrained, but it no longer seems to be true for working class, middle-aged people. I think this disjuncture between norms, expectations and reality is one important factor behind the increase.”

“This group is also more likely to be negatively affected by divorce, lower education levels and economic inequality. Among US adults over 50, the divorce rate has doubled since the 1990s. In 1999 suicide rates for middle-aged people with a high school diploma or less were 1.7 times greater than those with a college degree. By 2013, this difference in risk had risen to 2.4 times greater.”

Deborah Stone of the CDC and lead author of this report said, “It is also likely that recent events such as the 2008 financial crash and the current opiod painkiller crisis, are contributing to the rise in the suicide rate. We know that suicides increase in times of economic turmoil. Data also indicate that opiod prescribing rates are higher in countries where there are higher rates of suicide.”

Coghlan writes, “Strong individuals in the US and the lack of social welfare schemes found in many other rich countries may also play a role.” Evidence for this comes from a 2013 report that showed people in the US die earlier than those in comparable nations, though not necessarily from suicide. The joint report by the US National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine revealed that by almost every measure, people in the US were unhealthier and more likely to die prematurely than those in 16 other rich nations.

Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, who headed up the report said, “This problem has deep roots. We believe living conditions are producing a growing sense of desperation that’s causing people to turn to drugs and alcohol and, when all hope is lost, suicide.”

The report also highlights the fact that, unlike the US, governments of rich nations such as Finland, France, and Belgium promote healthcare through non-medical support, including housing, education, and social insurance. “The US spends plenty, but we spend differently,” says Laudan Aron at the Urban Institute in Washington DC.

This rejection of the state and the prioritizing of individual rights, no matter what the potential costs, runs throughout US culture. It explains why people in the US are more likely to indulge in risky behaviors such as overeating and gun-related activity, and tend to defy safety-based but restrictive norms such as wearing seat belts. So, the author asks, “could this attitude also be behind the US suicide rates?

Stone agrees it may have played a part. “but it is possible that the culture around individualism and stigma around seeking help does leave people vulnerable, perhaps more so than in other Western countries, but that needs additional study.”

Others are more convinced. Phillips says says, “The group most affected—less educated, white, middle-aged males—grew up with certain norms surrounding masculinity and self-reliance, and this group doesn’t seem to be seeking help.”

Stone says, “to redress the increasing rates, the CDC issued guidance on preventing suicide. It has recommended social and economic support measures such as providing financial help with paying rent, teaching skills for coping with stressful events and relationship problems, and encouraging a sense of belonging and social connectedness among vulnerable people.”

But Woolf says more radical interventions are needed. “Policymakers need to address widening social inequalities that are placing a vice on the middle class, and releave the distressful living conditions that are driving people to their deaths. Instead they are doing the opposite. Current elected officials are pulling funding out of such programs and enacting new policies which, if anything, will tighten the vice.”

Final Reflections

June 24, 2018

Here’s how Dr. McGonigal ends her important book “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It: “A while back, one of my close friends shared with me that instead of New Year’s resolutions, her family had started to set annual stress goals. Each year, she, her husband, and their teenage son decide how they want to grow in the coming year. Then they choose a personal goal that will be both meaningful and difficult. They talk about what their stress edge will be—what they expect to be challenging, what they might feel anxious about, and the strengths that they want to develop

I fell in love with this idea and immediately began using it myself. Not just for New Year’s resolution but as an orientation to life. In fact, writing this book was one of my big stress goals for the past two years. I knew it would be hard to do justice to the breadth of scientific research, and I was most worried about my ability to honor the incredible range of what people mean when they talk about stress. The strength I needed to develop was my willingness to keep asking people to tell me the truth about their experience of stress—even when it made writing the book more complicated, or forced me to live with questions I knew I couldn’t neatly answer.

Now because this book is a mindset intervention, you’ve probably already recognized that this story is also an invitation to set your own stress goal. Any new beginning or transition is an opportunity to think about how you want to challenge yourself. Birthdays, the start of a new calendar or school year, Sunday evenings, or each morning as you think about the day ahead. Even right now, you could ask yourself, ‘How do I want to grow from stress?’ If there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that any moment can become a turning point in how you experience stress, if you choose to make it one.”

This is the last healthy memory blog post on “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It” Despite the large number of posts, HM has not been able to do justice to this book. You are strongly encouraged to read the entire book on your own.

This is the fourteenth and final post on this book.

How Adversity Makes Us Stronger

June 23, 2018

This post is based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the thirteenth post on this book. People who are less satisfied with their current lives and more anxious about the future are more likely to become depressed. However, the attitudes don’t seem to be the direct result of a person’s painful experiences, but rather the result of their attitude toward them. It is important to understand that it is possible to learn to think about our struggles in a different way. Studies show that when people adopt a more accepting attitude toward their past hardships, they become happier, less depressed, and more resilient.

Choosing to see the upside of our most painful experiences is part of how we can change our relationships with stress. Accepting past adversity is part of how we find the courage to grow from present struggles. It is the attitude that allows us to embrace and transform stress. Although Dr.McGonigal has shared some of the science that supports a growth mindset toward adversity, the evidence for this point of view is already all around us. If we look, we will see the signs of it in our own lives, in the lives of those we admire, and even in the stories of strangers.

How Caring Creates Resilience

June 22, 2018

This post is based Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the twelfth post on this book. Dr. McGonigal received an email that demonstrates how powerful embracing your body’s response to stress can be. This woman was sitting on her back porch listening to Dr. McGonigal’s TED talk on embracing stress. She had just finished explaining how the stress response can provide energy and courage. She had described how a pounding heart was a sign that your body was rising to the challenge. At this moment the woman listening to her TED talk heard a dispute in the house next door. She realized that a father was physically abusing his child. This was not the first time it had happened. Every time before, she had frozen. She had been abused herself as a child, and witnessing this abuse brought her back to her response to that trauma.

In the past she had prayed for the child next door, but had felt too paralyzed to act. However, this time she took the TED talk mindset intervention to heart. She thought, “My body can give me the courage to act.” She called the police. She marshaled her own inner resources and found the strength to call on outside resources for support. The police interviewed her and intervened to protect the child. In addition to helping a vulnerable child, she experienced her own capacity to break the cycle of fear and paralysis. And she shared the story allowing her act to inspire others.

Viewing your stress response as a resource works because it helps you believe. Dr. McGonigal concludes: “Embracing stress is a radical act of self-trust: View yourself as capable and your body as a resource. You don’t have to wait until you no longer have fear, stress, or anxiety to do what matters most. Stress doesn’t have to be a sign to stop and give up on yourself. This kind of mind shift shift is a catalyst, not a cure. It doesn’t erase your suffering or make your problems disappear. But if you are willing to rethink your stress response, it may help you recognize you strength and access your courage.

Beyond Fight or Flight

June 18, 2018

This post comes from Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the ninth post on this book. The common but erroneous idea that the body’s response to stress is an outdated survival instinct and that you should not have a stress response to anything that isn’t a life-threatening emergency. Getting distressed here is seen as a psychological flaw, a weakness to be corrected. Dr. McGonigal writes “This stems from the mistaken belief that every stress response is a full-throttle fight or flight response. A more complete picture of the biology of stress helps us understand why we have these responses throughout the day, and why they are not signs of a flaw at all. Rushing to get your kids ready for school, dealing with a difficult coworker, thinking about criticism you received, worrying about a friend’s health—we have stress responses to all these things because we get stressed when something important to us is at stake. And most important, we have stress responses to help us do something about it.”

She continues, “We get stressed when our goals are on the line, so we take action. We get stressed when our values are threatened, so we defend them. We get stressed when we need courage. We get stressed so we can connect with others. We get stressed so that we will learn from our mistakes.”

And she concludes, “The stress response is more than a basic survival instinct. It is built into how humans operate, how we relate to one another, and how we navigate our place in the world. When you understand this, the stress response is no longer something to be feared. It is something to be appreciated, harassed, and even trusted.”

How to Change Your Mindset

June 16, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Dr. McGonigal’s book, “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the seventh post on this book. The question raised in this section is whether a mind shift will still work if you try to change your own mind about stress, or do you have to be tricked into it?

The placebo effect has been extensively covered in previous healthy memory posts. Included there was the information that placebo effects occur even when the individual knows she is either taking or being given a placebo. So it is reasonable to expect that the same will be true in mindset intervention when people have to choose a new mindset. Dr. Crum thinks that the ideal mindset intervention is less about manipulation and more about choice. Interventions now teach participants about the power of mindsets and invites them to adopt a more positive view of stress.

The first test of this “open-label” mindset interventions took place at a Fortune 500 firm. Employees were invited to participate in stress-management training. 229 mostly middle-aged employees signed up. About half were randomly assigned to a two-hour stress mindset intervention, while the others were put on a wait list.

The training began with research on both the harms and benefits of stress. They they employees learned about the power of mindset, which included the results of Dr. Crum’s previous studies.. The employees were explicitly told that the aim of the training was to help them choose a more positive stress mindset.

“To help them cultivate this new mindset, the employees were asked to reflect on their own experiences with stress, including times when stress had been helpful. They were also taught a three-step processing for practicing the new mindset whenever they felt stressed. The first step is to acknowledge stress when you experience it. Simply allow yourself to notice the stress, including how it affects your body. The second step is to welcome stress by recognizing that it’s a response to something you care about. Can you connect to the positive motivation behind the stress? What is at stake here, and why does it matter to you? The third step is to make use of the energy that stress gives you, instead of wasting energy trying to manage your stress. What can you do right now that reflects your goals and values? The employees were encouraged to remember this three-step process when they experienced stress and to try to practice it at least once a day.

Three weeks later, the researchers checked in with the participants. Those who had gone through the training showed a shift in stress mindset. Before the training, the employees had generally endorsed a stress-is-harmful mindset, but now they are more likely to recognize its upside. They were also better at dealing with stress. The employees reported less anxiety and depression and better physical health. At work, they felt more focused, creative and engaged. The employees whose mindset changed the most—from negative to more positive—showed the biggest improvements. At a final follow-up six weeks after the intervention, these benefits were maintained.

The First Stress Mindset Intervention

June 15, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the sixth post on her book. This intervention took place at the global financial firm UBS during the height of the 2008 economic collapse. Not surprisingly, in the financial places of work as evidenced in a study found that within ten years of entering the industry, 100% of investment bankers developed at least one condition associated with burnout, such as insomnia, alcoholism, or depression. The 2008 economic collapse amplified this pressure. There were widespread reports of increased anxiety, depression, and suicide.

UBS instituted major layoffs and cut employee compensation by 36%. In the middle of this, employees at UBS received an email from human resources inviting them to participate in a stress-management program. A total of 388, half men and half women, with an average age of 38, signed up.

The employees were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group of 164 employees received online training that delivered the typical stress-management message, which reinforces the view that stress is inherently negative. A second group of 163 employees received online training designed to give them a more positive view stress, that was the mindset intervention. A smaller control group of 61 employees received no training at all.

Employees receiving online training received emails with links to three videos that were each three minutes long. Those in the first group were provided statistics like “Stress is America’s number one health issue’, and “Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death.” The videos warned that stress can lead to mood swings, emotional exhaustion, and memory loss. The videos also featured examples of leaders who failed to perform well under stress.

Employees in the mindset intervention group received three very different videos. These videos explained how stress can increase physical resilience, enhance focus, deepen relationships, and strengthen personal values. The videos shared examples of companies that thrived under difficult circumstances, as well as individuals who performed heroically in the face of great stress.

All employees completed surveys before and after the online training. The answer to the research team’s first question—Can you change a person’s mind about stress?—was yes. Employees who watched the negative videos became even more convinced that stress was harmful. However, employees in the mindset intervention group developed a more positive view of stress.

The size of the mind shift was not large. But they did endorse a view of stress that was more balanced than the one they’d had before the intervention. The change was statistically significant, but not a complete reversal. Instead of viewing stress as predominantly harmful, they now saw both the good and the bad in stress.
The second important question was whether this mindset shift was associated with any other changes. The answer was yes. Employees who received the mindset intervention were less anxious and depressed. They reported fewer health problems, like back pain and insomnia. They also reported greater focus, engagement, collaboration, and productivity at work. Note that these improvements took place in the midst of extreme stress. Employees who viewed negative videos, as well as those who received no training, showed no change in these outcomes.

Dr. Crum has gone on to conduct stress mindset interventions and workshops in a variety of settings, including health care professionals, college students, executives, and Navy SEALs. Her work shows that very brief interventions can lead to changes in how people think about and experience stress. Adopting a more positive view of stress reduces what we usually think of as stress-related problems and helps people thrive even under high levels of stress.

What Is Your Stress Mindset?

June 14, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Dr. McGonigal’s book, “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the fifth post on her book. You should look at the two following mindsets below and consider which set of statements you agree with more strongly—or, at least would have agreed with before you read the immediately preceding posts:

Mindset 1: Stress is Harmful.
Experiencing stress depletes my health and vitality.
Experiencing stress debilitates my performance and productivity.
Experiencing stress inhibits my learning and growth.
The effects of stress are negative and should be avoided.

Mindset 2: Stress is Enhancing.
Experiencing stress enhances my performance and productivity.
Experiencing stress improves my health and vitality.
Experiencing stress facilitates my learning and growth.
The effects of stress are positive and should be utilized.

The first mindset is by far the most common. Dr. Crum and her colleagues have found that while most people can see some truth in both mindsets, they still view stress as more harmful than helpful. Men and women do not differ, and age does not predict mindset. A 2014 survey conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health found that 85% of Americans agreed that stress has a negative effect on health, family, and work. The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey found that most people perceived their own stress as unhealthy. Even people who report relatively little stress believe that the ideal level of stress is below whatever they are currently experiencing. People’s perceptions of a healthy level of stress have actually gone down; when the American Psychological Association started its annual stress survey in 2007, people perceived a moderate level of stress as ideal. Now, survey participants perceived the same moderate level of stress as unhealthy.

However, Dr. McGonigal has evidence that people can see some good in stress. In 2013 she conducted a survey of CEO’s, vice presidents, and general managers who were participating in Stanford University’s Executive Leadership Development Program. 51 % said they did their best work while under stress. In the 2014 Harvard School of Public Health survey, 67% of those who reported the highest levels of stress also said they had experienced at least one benefit from their stress. However, participants in both surveys were also convinced that they should be doing more to reduce stress. This attitude is not peculiar to America. Dr. McGonigal has encountered similar views about stress in Canada, Europe, and Asia. Even when people can recognized some benefits of stress, their overall perception of it is negative.

Dr. Crum considered the possibility that a positive view of stress might be the result of an easier life. But when she looked at the data, she found only a weak link between how people thought about stress and the severity of the stress. There was also a very small correlation between the number of stressful events (such as divorce, changing jobs) that people experienced in the past year and how negative their views of stress were. So it is not the case that people with a positive attitude toward stress have a life free of suffering. Dr. Crum also found that a positive view of stress was beneficial to people whether they were currently under a little or a lot of stress, and no matter how stressful of stress-free the past year had been.

It is true that optimists live longer than pessimists. In addition to optimism, two other personality traits seem to be associated with a more positive view of stress: mindfulness, and the ability to tolerate uncertainty. But Dr. Crum’s analysis showed that none of these personality traits could account for the effects of stress mindsets on health, happiness, or work productivity. Although how a person thinks about stress might be influenced by certain personality traits or experiences, a stress mindset’s effects on health and happiness cannot be explained by either.

Dr. Crum’s research points to the likely possibility that: Stress mindsets are powerful because they affect not just how you think, but also how you act. When you view stress as harmful, it is something to be avoided. Feeling stressed becomes a signal to try to escape or reduce the stress. They are more likely to:
*Try to distract themselves from the cause of the stress instead of dealing with it.
*Focus on getting rid of their feelings of stress instead of taking steps to decrease its source.

People who believe that stress can be helpful are more likely to say the they cope with stress proactively. They are more likely to:
*Accept the fact that the stressful event has occurred and is real.
*Plan a strategy for dealing with the source of the stress.
*Seek information, help, or advice.
*Take steps to overcome, remove, or change the source of the stress.
*Try to make the best of the situation by viewing it in a more positive way or by using it as an opportunity to grow.

Beliefs that Become Mindsets

June 13, 2018

This is the fourth post based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” Dr. McGonigal writes, “The beliefs that become mindsets transcend preferences, learned facts, or intellectual opinions. They are core beliefs that reflect your philosophy of life. When a mindset gets activated—by a memory, a situation you find yourself in, or a remark that someone makes—it sets off a cascade of thoughts, emotions, and goals that shape how you respond to life. This, in turn, can influence long-term outcomes, including health, happiness, and even longevity.”

For example, having a positive view of aging adds an average of almost eight years to one’s life, and it predicts other important health outcomes. The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging tracked adults ages eighteen to forty-nine for thirty-eight years found that those with the most positive views of aging had an 80% lower risk of heart attack. Adults who associated growing older with positive stereotypes such as “wise” and “capable” recovered from a heart attack more quickly than those who endorsed negative stereotypes such as “useless” and “stuck in their ways.” A positive view of aging predicted faster and more complete physical recovery from a debilitating illness or accident. Both studies measure recovery in objective outcomes such as walking speed, balance, and ability to perform daily activities. All these studies controlled for important factors, such as initial health status, depression, and socioeconomic status.

It is likely that health behaviors are the underlying factor in these studies. Those with a negative view of aging are likely to view poor health as inevitable. As they feel less capable of maintaining or improving their health as they age, they invest less time and energy in their future well-being. But people with a positive attitude toward growing older engage in more health-promoting behaviors, such as exercising regularly and following their doctor’s advice. An intervention designed to increase positive views of aging also increased participants’ physical activity. When you have a positive view of growing older, you’re more apt to do things that will benefit your future self. And there are good reasons for having a positive view of aging. Although some find it difficult to believe, studies have consistently shown that people get happier as they get older.

Research at the German Centre of Gerontology in Berlin studied adults over time to examine the impact a serious illness or accident, such as a broken hip, lung disease, or cancer. Those with a positive view of aging responded to the crisis by increasing their commitment to their health. They were more proactive and dedicated to their recovery. In contrast, older adults who had a more negative view of aging were less likely to take actions to improve their health. Consequently those with more positive view of aging ended up report great life satisfaction better health and physical function after their illness or accident.

So these findings about how we think about aging affects health and recovery not through mystical positive thinking, but by influencing goals and choices. This is an ideal example of a mindset effect.

Dr. McGonigal concludes, “It turns out how you think about stress is also one of those core beliefs that can affect your health, happiness, and success. As we’ll see, our stress mindset shapes everything from the emotions we feel during a stressful situation to the way you cope with stressful events. That, in turn, can determine whether we thrive under stress or end up burned out and depressed. The good news is even if you are firmly convinced that stress is harmful, you can still cultivate a mindset that helps us thrive.”

Mindsets

June 11, 2018

Dr. McGonigal relates what she experienced at the Behaviorlal Research Lab at Columbia University. She was holding her right arm out at shoulder length while psychologist Alia Crum was trying to push it down. They struggled for a few seconds. Despite being quite petite, Dr. Alia Crum was quite strong (a former hockey player and an internationally ranked ironman triathlete in fact). So it was not surprising that Dr. McGonigal’s arm gave out.

Dr. Crum instructed Dr. McGonigal, “Instead of resisting me, I want you to imagine that you are reaching your arm toward someone or something you care about.” She asked her to imagine that when she pushed on her arm, she should channel her energy into what she was reaching toward. This exercise was inspired by Dr. Crum’s father, who is a sensei in aikido, a martial art based on the principle of transforming harmful energy. Dr. McGonigal visualized what Dr. Crum had instructed, and then tried again. This time Dr. McGonigal was much stronger, and Dr. Crum wasn’t able to push Dr. McGonigal’s arm down. The more she pushed, the stronger Dr. McGonigal felt.

This single idea motivates all Dr. Crum’s research: How you think about something can transform its effect on you. Crum’s work gets attention because it shows that our physical reality is more subjective than we believe. By changing how people think about an experience, they can change what’s happening in their bodies. Her findings are so surprising that they make a lot of people scratch their heads and say, “Huh? Is that even possible?”

“Mindsets are beliefs that shape our reality, including objective physical reactions, and even long-term health, happiness, and success. More important, the new field of mindset science shows that a single brief intervention, designed to change how we think about something, can improve our health, happiness, and success, even years into the future. The field is full of remarkable findings that will make us think about our own beliefs. From placebos to self-fulfilling prophecies, perception matters. After a crash course in the science of mindsets, you’ll understand why our beliefs about stress matter—and how we can start to change our own minds about stress.

Both the topics of mindsets and placebos have warranted many health memory blog posts in the past. Just enter “placebo” or “mindset” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to find relevant posts.

This blog post is the second post based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.”

When is the best time to take a test or think creatively?

June 9, 2018

The answers can be found in an article titled “Good Timing” by Kirsten Weir in June 2018 issue of “Monitor on Psychology.” Research is finding that one’s cognitive performance fluctuates in predictable patterns throughout the course of a day. And the performance of different tasks can differ as a function of the task and the time of day.

Madhusudan Sanaka, MD, at the Cleveland Clinic and his colleagues studied colonoscopy data from more than 3,600 people and found that physicians identified significantly more abnormalities during morning colonoscopies than during those performed in the afternoon (“The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 104, 7, 2009).

Moods also rise and fall predictably throughout the day. Ph.Ds Scott Golder and Michael Macy at Cornell University studied language from millions of public Twitter posts from around the globe. They found the average Twitter users had a happiness spike around breakfast, hit a grimy slump in late afternoon, and perked up again after dinner (“Science” 333, 6051, 2011). Macy said,“We found an incredibly robust pattern across diverse cultures all over the world.”

The time-sensitive nature of moods can have surprising ripple effects. Jing Chen, Ph.D., at the University of Buffalo School of Management, and colleagues analyzed earnings conference calls and found that financial executives and analysts were upbeat in the morning and became more negative as the day wore on. Those mood changes led the analysts to make more errors related to stock pricing in the afternoon (‘Management Science,” online first publication, 2018).

Given these results, should we schedule important tasks for the morning and give afternoons over to an extended siesta? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. People’s cognitive abilities fluctuate throughout the day in accordance with their personal circadian patterns, or chronotypes.

We tend to fall into different chronotypes, defined by the window of time we feel most alert and energetic. There are strong morning types, moderate morning types, strong evening types, moderate evening types, and those who are neutral, who peak at midday.

Dorothee Fischer, Ph.D., a research fellow at Harvard Medical School/Brigham and Women’s Hospital says “Chronotype isn’t a personality trait, but a biological characteristic.” Our sleep-wake cycles are governed by a master clock known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a cluster of neurons located within the hypothalamus. The SCN does its job with input from environmental factors, largely light exposure. But sunshine is only part of the story. Our underlying rhythms are rooted in our genes.

As we age our circadian rhythmicity shifts. On the whole, young children are more often morning types, but by their teens and early 20s a majority have shifted to favoring evenings, or being neutral, leaning toward evening. In older age, we slide back toward favoring the morning hours. Still, there’s considerable variation among individuals, and that variation translates to differences in our peak times for maximum brainpower.

Lynn Hasher, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Toronto says, “You are way better off doing difficult mental chores at a time consistent with your chronotype. Research has shown that these synchrony effects hold for people of all ages, from adolescent to older adults. One study had adolescents who identified as morning or evening types perform a suite of executive function tasks. The participants took the tests in the morning or afternoon. Lark or owl, students tested during their peak times scored higher on working memory, decision-making and overall executive functioning that a tested at off-peak times (“Developmental Science”, 15, 3, 2102).

In another study older and younger adults were tested at their peak and non peak times. The tests evaluated implicit memory (recall of well-known information) as well as explicit memory (the conscious deliberate effort to process and retrieve information). In both groups, participants had better explicit memory during their peak times during the day. However, for implicit memory the results were flipped: Morning types had better implicit memory in the afternoon, while evening types scored higher in the morning (“Psychological Science”, 16, 2, 2005). These results make sense when you think of daily peaks in terms of distractions. Inhibition is an important part of executive function, allowing us to focus unimportant tasks by filtering out the unimportant details. During off-peak times of day, inhibition wavers and we have a harder time tuning out the irrelevant information. That’s why tasks that require focus and analytic thought are best tackled at peak times.

On the other hand, creative endeavors might best be undertaken at off-peak times. Psychologists Marieke Wieth and Rose Zacks found that people were better able to solve problems requiring a flash of insight during their off-peak times of day (“Thinking & Reasoning,” 17, 4, 2011). May says, “If you’re doing a task when you want to entertain lots of different possibilities and think creatively, then operating at your non optimal time is to your advantage.”

As for people without a strong preference for early mornings or late nights, Hasher and May gave a battery of cognitive tests to two groups of neutral-type adults, ages 17 to 21 and ages 70 to 74. The older adults performed best at midday, with notable timing effects for inhibition, executive function, long-term memory and forgetting. The younger adults showed no differences in peformance when tested in early morning, midday, or evening (“Timing & Time Perception, 5, 2, 2017).

Timing effects might become more important with age. Hasher and her colleagues compared cognitive control between morning-type elderly adults and young adults who trended toward evening type. The participants completed a series of tasks to measure attention and distraction while inside an fMRI scanner. When older adults were tested in the morning, at their peak time, they were more likely to ignore distracting information, performing more similarly to young adults tested in the afternoons. When tested at their peak time, the older participants showed activation in the same brain regions as their younger counterparts. But when tested at non optimal times, older adults were more easily distracted and recruited different neural networks to do the work (“Psychology and Aging”, 29, 3, 2014).

Unfortunately, these time of day effects can adversely affect results on important tests. Hasher and her colleagues gave intelligence tests to 11- to 14-year-olds testing both morning and evening types at optimal and non optimal times of day. IQ estimates were an average of 6 points lower when children tested at their non-peak rather than peak times (“Personality and Individual Differences,” 42, 3, 2007).

Fischer and colleagues conducted an experiment in which they matched shift workers” schedules to their chronotypes. Fischer says, “The earliest group of chronotypes didn’t work the night shift and the later group didn’t work the morning shift. By this simple tweak, we could improve sleep duration, circadian disruption and well being (“Current Biology,” 25, 7, 2015).

Most people can find small ways to tweak their daily schedules for maximum benefit. If you’re a morning person, resist the temptation to go through emails first thing in the morning and try diving into your deep work right away. May says, “You should save the mundane administrative stuff until the afternoon and spend the morning on more difficult tasks like writing manuscripts, analyzing data or planning experiments.”

If you’re meeting with a financial planner to discuss complicated investment options, schedule the appointment at a time when you’re at your cognitive peak. If you’re trying to interpret some puzzling research data, revisit it during your off-peak coffee break.

You can still shift your rhythm a little, says Fischer. Being exposed to bright lights at night can push circadian patterns later into the evening. That’s especially true of the blue light common in electronic devices. But lights are easy to adjust. Fischer says, “Reducing evening light exposure has an advancing effect on your circadian clock.” By dimming lights when it gets dark outside and using light-filtering software on their devices, evening types can shift their biology to a (slightly) earlier rhythm.

Trump and McCarthy

June 7, 2018

This is the second post based on “THE SOUL OF AMERICA: The Battle for Our Better Angels” by Jon Meecham. In looking for somehow who once endangered American democracy as much as Trump does today, HM found Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Before getting to McCarthy, conservative Robert Welch thought that Dwight Eisenhower was guilty of treason. Along with Eisenhower was President Truman’s secretary of defense and of state George Marshall, whom Welch said was “a conscious, deliberate, dedicated agent of the Soviet conspiracy. Eisenhower’s secretary of state was yet another “Communist agent.”

Robert Welch founded the John Birch Society. Welch thought that there was a struggle from which either communism or Christian-style civilization mush emerge with one completely triumphant and the other completely destroyed.

Senator Joseph R. McCarthy picked up on this and told the Ohio County Republican Women’s Club, “Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity. The modern champions of communism have selected this as the time. And, ladies and gentlemen, the chips are down—they are truly down.”

“McCarthy was something new in political life at the time: a freelance performer who grasped what many ordinary Americans feared and who had direct access to the media of the day. He exploited the privileges of power and prominence without regard to its responsibilities; to him politics were not about the substantive but the sensational. The country feared Communism, and McCarthy knew it, and he fed those fears with years of headlines and hearings. A master of false charges, of conspiracy-tonged heroic, and of calculated disrespect for conventional figures (from Truman and Eisenhower, to Marshall), McCarthy could distract the public, play the press, and change the subject—all while keeping himself at center stage.”

Meecham writes that McCarthy was an opportunist, uncommitted to much beyond his own fame and influence. HIs own lawyer, Roy M. Cohn, could not discern any great ideological conviction. Cohn, who later worked for Trump said, ”Joe McCarthy bought Communism in much the same way as other people purchase a new automobile. The salesman showed him the model; he looked at it with interest, examined it more closely, kicked the tires, sat at the whereat, squiggled in the seat, asked some questions, and bought. It was must as cold as that.”

Eleanor Roosevelt remarked, “McCarthy’s methods, to me, look like HItler’s.” President Truman agreed with a correspondent who posited that “there is no difference in kind between Hitlerism and McCarthyism, both being the same form of bacteriological warfare against the minds and souls of men.” Truman said that the net effect of the McCarthyite campaign was to undermine confidence in the country in a time of cold war. He said, “To try to sabotage the foreign policy of the United Staes is just as bad in this cold war as it would be to shoot our soldiers in the back in a hot war.”
Richard H. Rovere wrote that he was the first American ever to be actively hated and feared by foreigners in large numbers.” In 1953, Eleanor Roosevelt, on a trip to Japan, found herself facing question about McCarthyism. “Will you please explain these attitudes?” A Japanese businessman asked the former First Lady, “We are unable to understand why things happen in a great democratic nation like the United States.” Meecham writes, “Part of the answer lies in the nature of democracy itself: Millions of Americans approved of McCarthy no matter what the elites might say or do.” Does this not sound reminiscent of the current suspicion of expertise and the “deep state?”

The Columbia University history professor Richard Hofstadter, wrote at the time, the “growth of mass media in communication and their use in politics have brought politics closer to the people than ever before and have made politics a form of entertainment in which the spectators feel themselves involved. Thus, it becomes more than ever before an arena into which private emotions and personal problems can be readily projected. Communications have made it possible to keep the mass man in an almost constant of political mobilization.”

McCarthy understood the media’s ways and means. He knew that every wire serviceman had to have a lead by eleven’o’clock [for the afternoon newspapers]. There just wasn’t any question about it; you had to have a lead. The senator learned to make sensational charges at just the right moment, forcing reporters to write quick stories that surged across the country by wire, reaching millions of readers before sundown.

When he read coverage he disliked, McCarthy did not keep quiet—he went on the offensive, singling out specific publications and particular journalists. Sound familiar? He said, “if you can show a newspaper as unfriendly and having a reason to be antagonistic, you can take the sting out of what it ways about you. I think I can convince a lot of people that they can’t believe what they read in that newspaper.”

The similarities to Trump should be obvious. For both individuals, objective truth and reality were irrelevant. Supporters believed their obvious lies and the emotional support these lies brought.

All this went on for a long time from around 1950 into 1954. It is difficult to believe that his lies and foolishness lasted for such a long time. But eventually, he was seriously challenged. Edward R. Murrow said, “We will not walk in fear of one another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we did dip in our history and doctrine and remember the we are not descended from fearful men.”

Eventually there were hearings into McCarthy and the U.S. Army in the Senate. Roy Cohn and McCarthy had exerted pressure on the Army to secure favors for David Schine, an intimate of Cohn’s who had been drafted. McCarthy’s ugliness and lack of fidelity to the truth became evident in these hearings.

The counsel for the Army, Joseph N. Welch, attacked McCarthy who attempted impugn the loyalty of a young lawyer on Welch’s team. When McCarthy blundered forward and took up the theme again, Welch was ready and stuck with force. “Let’s not assassinate this lad further, Senator, Welch said. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?”

If only Trump could be reprimanded like this public for his lack of decency for his fellow human beings.

McCarthy faded from public view after this, and drank himself to death.

THE SOUL OF AMERICA

June 6, 2018

The title of this post is the title of a book by Jon Meecham. The subtitle is “The Battle for our Better Angels.” Given the current state of our country, it is a most timely volume. Meecham writes, “To know what has come before us is to be armed against despair. If the men and women of the past, with all their flaws and limitations and ambitions and appetites, could press on through ignorance and superstition, racism and sexism, selfishness and greed, to create a freer stronger nation, then perhaps we, too, can right wrongs and take another step toward that most enchanting and elusive of destinations: a more perfect union.”

Consider from where we started. Although the Declaration of Independence said that all men are created equal, women could not vote. Slavery existed and these blacks were counted as three-fifths of a human being. So the Constitution gave us a starting point from which we were to advance and develop. It is interesting that the founding fathers decided against a parliamentary system of government in which the parliament would choose the executive for the country. Instead, they decided upon a government with three branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial, that were supposed to be independent and to serve as checks and balances on each other. During Watergate this system worked well. Republicans in the legislative branch had no problem holding the Republican president’s feet to the fire for wrongdoing, so he resigned rather than face impeachment.

Unfortunately today Republicans in the legislative branch are waging war against the Judicial Branch to discredit its investigation of the president. The reason they are trying to discredit this investigation is that it appears serious crimes against the American people have been committed by the president. Were the president innocent, the obvious course would be to assist the judicial branch. What is especially discrediting to these attacks is that outstanding Republicans are leading the investigation. Yet terms such as “witch hunt” are repeatedly heard. Such terms make our country sound like some African dictatorship. If the investigation is ended by Trump, it is quite possible that Trump would declare himself, as the leaders he clearly admires, Putin and Xi, effectively did, dictator for life.

Consider Reagan’s City on the Hill speech during his Farewell Address:

“But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still…And she’s still a beacon and a magnet for all who must find freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

HM has heard Trump supporters say they are Reagan Republicans. How can this be? Trump is the antithesis of Reagan.

HM found the most inspirational part of the book to be Lyndon B. Johnson managing to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act was long overdue. Parts of the United States effectively had the apartheid of South Africa. Johnson persisted in convincing enough southerners, against all their lifelong prejudices, that segregation was morally wrong, and put the United States in the same class as South Africa. It took a southerner to be able to convince other southerners of the need for this bill. And it took a super salesman who would not take “no” for an answer, and persisted until he got his way.

But there were repercussions from the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At the time the southern states were, and had been for a long time, strongly Democratic. Typically Republicans did not even bother to run candidates in these states. So these Democrats eventually (some became Dixiecrats first) became Republicans and took their racism with them to the Republican party. This provided the seeds for Trump’s eventual success.

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

It’s True, Trump Doesn’t Lie

June 5, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a column by Dana Milbank in the 30 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The column begins with examples of lies told by Donald Trump. They will not be repeated because everyone has heard these lies many, many times. Milbank writes, “Calling him a liar lets him off easy. A liar, by definition, knows he’s not telling the truth. Trump’s behavior is worse: With each day it becomes more obvious he can’t distinguish between fact and fantasy. It’s an illness, and it’s spreading.

There is a name of the illness that Trump is experiencing and that is the delusional disorder. The test that would confirm this disorder involves hooking him up to a polygraph (lie detector). If documented lies were not detected, that would confirm that he has the delusion disorder. This means that Trump has lost touch with reality. And this is truly frightening with the President who is supposed to have control of the nuclear football (let’s hope that that is wrong). Milbank writes, “Trump’s not a liar. He’s a madman.” Frankly, it does not matter whether Trump has this disease or not. Trump does not care about objective truth, and in his version of reality, what is true is whatever benefits him at the moment.

What is also of concern is what neuroscientist Tali Sharot noted that people “may sensitize to the president’s falsehoods in the same way that they do to overused perfume, making them less likely to act to correct this pattern of behavior.” This might account for why people who carry water for the president, many Republicans, Rudy Giulani, newscasters, and columnists continue to carry water rather than denounce the president.

It is quite apparent that Trump feels he will be found guilty on a number of counts. However, if he can discredit the Justice Department, that might not matter. Giuliani has already announced that this is the strategy. One can gauge the degree of Trump’s guilt by the number and intensity of his attacks on Mueller and the Justice Department. He might even fire Mueller. This would create a Constitutional Crisis from which the worst result would be Trump declaring himself president for life.

Although we all wish for successful negotiations with North Korea, the outcome of these negotiations are irrelevant to Trump’s guilt. Even if he should be successful and win the Nobel Prize, that should not exonerate him from whatever crimes he might have committed.

Remember that Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Prize for negotiations he brought about with North Korea. However, it turned out that North Korea had cheated on the treaty that had been negotiated. So even given ostensibly successful negotiations, it will be some time before it can be accurately assessed whether they had been successful.

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

HM’s Experience in Segregated Schools

June 4, 2018

HM attended segregated schools for the first ten years of his education. HM’s family came from the north and thought segregation was wrong. They told him that Southerner’s were strange and had outdated beliefs. HM attended schools in Virginia, Tennessee, and Florida. Here are some of the things he heard his teachers say.

It’s hard to believe but ignorant colored men were able to vote before decent white women.

Ni——s will not fight. They turn and run away. (HM hopes that all readers have seen the movie “Glory”).

Here’s a riddle What is a co-c—n? Answer a n-nig—-r.

Slavery was a good thing. It is in the Holy Bible. And these coloreds were taught Christianity and were promised eternal life. So what were they and still are complaining about?
The irony of this last assertion strikes HM. Apparently they were regarded as people for the purposes of heaven, but as slaves they were treated like farm animals. And some were treated worse than farm animals.

Understand, that this was not formal education and was not required teaching by the respective states. But it reflects the seething racism among even educated whites.

In 1958, some Virginia schools were ordered to integrate. Consequently, the schools were closed. HM was furious at this, and he thought the President should have sent troops to Virginia to remind Virginians who won the Civil war. HM was alone in his anger. His former friends refused to integrate. HM says former, because he now regarded this individuals with hatred and hoped they would all end up in hell. He now realizes that this was wrong. Hatred is wrong and does damage to the hater. But what started out as slavery, turned into a segregated system that held blacks down and still exploited them. Civil rights have done much to alleviate this problem, but racism remains as a cancer in the United States.

Fortunately HM’s family moved to Ohio and HM had the privilege of attending integrated schools. However, when HM saw the movie about Jessie Owens (Race), he was appalled to see the racism present at Ohio State University when Jessie Owens attended. Racism is not confined to the southern states. In the 1936 Olympics Owens won four gold medals: 100 and 200 meter dashes; 400 meter relay; and the broad jump. As astounding as that was his achievement of setting three world records and tying another in less than an hour at the 1935 Big Ten track meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been called “the greatest 45 minutes ever in sport”[4] and has never been equalled. There are plaques at the site of these feats in Ann Arbor, and HM visited them and marveled at his achievements.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attended segregated schools, just as HM did. But it had a different effect on him. After Obama won the election in 2008, he swore that Obama would never be re-elected. It was clear that this was primary racial, and not political. Yet people, say that polarization is due to both parties, to show that they are broad minded. But the polarization is more pronounced on the Republican than the Democratic side.

Many Americans were proud that we had finally elected a black president. Unfortunately, there were too many others who were offended by the outcome. Racism, along with strong assistance from Russia, resulted in Trump winning the electoral college. Polls show that many white men feel that they have been victimized by blacks and civil rights. When you hear of Trump’s base, it is good to appreciate the composition of Trump’s base: nazis and white supremacists.

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

Conclusion

June 3, 2018

 

bell hooks: How do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?

This is the final post in the series of posts based on the book by Sally Kohn, “THE OPPOSITE OF HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our Humanity.

Kohn reminds us of George Orwell’s novel “1984,” which he published in 1949. The dystopian novel imagines Orwell’s native Britain as the fictional Oceana, which has been taken over by a tyrannical regime that governs with emotional manipulation. Individual thinking is outlawed, and citizens are under constant surveillance, just in case. Most people go along with the regime willingly—in large part because of propaganda of misinformation, fear-mongering, and hate against a mysterious “other.”

Every day in Oceania, all citizens are required to take part in Two Minutes of Hate, when they would watch a film that demeans and demonizes Oceania’s enemies. The Two Minutes Hate shows “row after row of solid-looking men with expressionless Asiatic faces, who swarm up to the surface of the screen and vanished, to be replaced by others exactly similar.” Orwell continues, “Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room…A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like flame of a blowlamp.”

Case Sunstein in 2013 described Glen Beck’s show on Fox News as comparable to Orwell’s Two Minutes of Hate. In 2016, the alt-right publication “Breitbart” said that journalists and celebrities attacking Donald Trump amounted to a daily Two Minutes of Hate. And Trump’s Twitter feed has also been equated to a regular Two Minutes of Hate.

Sally Kohn writes, “The point of Two Minutes of Hate in “1984” was to distract people from the real problems that were affecting them—their own government and its oppressive actions—by directing their attention and anger elsewhere. Reflecting on the lessons of Orwell’s book, a student in Georgia told her teacher, ‘We do need a public enemy, but not like that. Crime or poverty should be more of the public enemy that the world works to fight against.’ What if our hate is not only causing violence and pain and division but getting in the way of us solving the real problems that hurt us all.”

The writer David Foster Wallace told a parable about two young fish who were swimming along when they came across an older fish swimming in the opposite direction. As he swam past, the older fish said to the younger fish, “Morning, boys. How’s the water? The two young fish kept swimming along for some time until finally one fish turns to the other fish and asks, “What the hell is water?” We are swimming in a world full of hate and biases and we become oblivious to them. And many of these reside in our nonconscious minds such that we remain oblivious of them.

Ms. Kohn writes, “What I’ve learned is that all hate is premised on a mind-set of otherizing. The sanctimonious pedestal of superiority on which we all put ourselves while we systematically dehumanize others is the essential root of hate. In big and small ways, consciously and unconsciously, we constantly filter the world around us through the lens of our explicit and implicit biases. This abets rationalization and looking the other way about widespread injustices such as dismissing entire communities that don’t have access to health care, or entire nations blocked in civil war because they fall outside the sphere of moral concern.”

And she continues, “We think we’re good people, but we don’t see how the sphere of moral concern is constricted by hate, by the history and habits and culture of who matters and who doesn’t in our society, which we have all bought into, whether we mean to or not. So we shake our fists against neo-Nazis marching in the streets, but not enough of us admit that they’re reflections of the society we’ve all created, let alone acknowledge that they’re reflections of ourselves.”

Still continuing, “We have a crisis of hate in the United States and around the world, and we can’t begin to address it if we don’t first learn to see it—making the invisible visible—uncovering the inadvertent, implicit, deliberate and conscious forms of hate all around us and in ourselves. ‘Real change is systemic and self-implicating, urging us to see our role in vast complex problems,’ Anand Giridharadas said in a speech at the first Obama Foundation Summit in October 2017. Leo Tolstoy wrote, ‘Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.’ We have to do both. Before it’s too late.”

Surprisingly, Ms. Kohn is optimistic. She writes, “Yes, hate is profound—complicated and vexing as well as ugly and sad. But it is not inevitable, in any given individual or community or institution or system. Alongside the hateful history of the world are stories of transcending that hate: finding peace after genocide, granting liberty after oppression, even just inching toward equality in the wake of horrific injustice. Hate is no more hardwired into our world than it is into our brains. Change is possible.”

She writes that she knows this not only because she reads the psychology and biology and neuroscience research, but because she has met people like Arno, Bassam, Marie-Jeanne and so many others—people who plumbed the greatest depths of hatred in our world and nonetheless managed to find a way out.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Ms Kohn writes that the opposite of hate is not love. You don’t have to love people to stop hating them. You don’t even have to like them. You don’t have to concede the validity of their views. Assam was very clear that he still sees the Israelis in general as his enemies, but at the same time he no longer hates them.
Ms. Kohn concludes, “The opposite of hate also isn’t some mushy middle zone of dispassionate centrism. You can still have strongly held beliefs, beliefs that are in strong opposition to the beliefs of other people, and still treat those others with civility and respect. Ultimately, the opposite of hate is the beautiful and powerful reality of how we are all fundamentally linked and equal as human beings. The opposite of hate is connection.”

Systems of Hate: The Big Picture

June 2, 2018

Martin Luther KIng, Jr. : The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged in the dark abyss of annihilation.

This is the sixth chapter in “The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our Humanity” by Sally Kohn.

It wasn’t until 1920 that all women, including black women, could vote. Although the Fifteenth Amendment passed in 1870 granted voting rights to African American men, ingenious obstacles were developed, and continue to be developed, to discourage or prevent blacks from voting. Even when blacks managed to vote, they were likely to find their names published in the newspaper, which would alert the local KKK gangs to then show up at their homes and threaten them with violence. In 1922 members of the KKK flew over Topeka, Kansas, dropping postcards in black neighborhoods warning against voting. If black people still managed to try to vote, they often found that the KKK would make good on their threats.

In the 1980s the Republican National Committee created the Nation Ballot Security Task Force, in which off-duty police officers armed with their loaded service revolvers patrolled polling stations in black communities. In 1982 the party was sued for violating the Voting Rights Act that had been passed in 1965. But just four years later, a leaked memo from the Republican National Committee detailed how a new “ballot security” program in Louisiana would “keep the black vote down.” Of course the Republicans had a partisan motivation in suppressing Democratic vote, but they could have also tried to suppress the white Democratic vote.

In 2014 Alabama passed a strict requirement that all voters show ID, and then shut down DMV offices in 80% of the state’s blackest counties. Republicans persist in this type of effort. The objective data are that voting fraud rarely occurs, and certainly never affects the outcomes of elections. Trump turned this on its head when he claimed that his failure to win the popular vote had to be due to large scale voter fraud.

Ms. Kohn writes, “Efforts to disenfranchise black voters today are inextricably linked to the past—to slavery and the fact that for centuries black people weren’t recognized as full human beings (they were three quarters of a human being in the original US Constitution), let alone citizens with equal civil rights. And then, amidst whatever the other excuses or explanations may be, that systematic marginalization plays out in other forms, from who gets threatened with violence to whose legitimate right to vote is questioned at all.”

Ms. Kohn continues, “We see the same embedded history of hate in everything from schools to health care to criminal justice and more, and not only in terms of discriminating against black people or women. For instance, as we’ll see, systemic hate in our institutions and norms in the United States also perpetuates bias agains poor and working-class white folks in rural communities.”

Ms. Kohn continues, “ In 2015, Chris Janson—the white southern country singer who wrote the pro-Trump theme song for the 2016 Republican National Convention—penned a song called “White Trash.” One of the lines is, ‘Well if they’d had their way / They’d thrown us away.’ Which J.D. Vance recounts in his memoir, ‘Hillybilly Elegy,’ is what many rural white folks believe liberal elites think about them.”

And Ms. Kohn continues, “ But it’s not just liberals. In 2016, ‘National Review’s Kevin Williamson, writing about the opioid crisis in rural white America, said, ‘The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die.’ It’s arguable that this cultural disdain contributes to the systemic opioid crisis. The United States hates poor black folks and poor white folks, although indifferent degrees and in different forms.”

Consider the systemic problem of school segregation and inequity. What was the result of the Supreme Court decision on “Brown vs. the Board of Education.” White folks segregated themselves. This happened not only in the South, but also in the North. Whites did not want to live next to black families and they didn’t want their kids in school with black kids.

The result is that today in the United States, more than one out of every ten black and Latino students attend so-called “apartheid schools,” in which whites make up less than 1% of enrollment. And apartheid schools are in disproportionately poor communities and because should funding is apportioned mostly through local property taxes, apartheid schools receive less funding than wealthy white schools.

And it’s not just income inequality that black families are forced into poor neighborhoods, but because property taxes are determined by home values, and those values have been affected by decades of redlining policies in the United States, through which banks and government colluded to relegate black families to certain neighborhoods and then devalue the property in those neighborhoods.

It is ironic and surprising that research has found that racial and ethnic diversity is great for communities. One study found that ethnic diversity in a community increases home values and lowers crime. Another study found that as US cities have become more diverse, they have become safer. In the biggest cities in the US, crime “fell as the percentage of the population that is non-white and the percentage that is gay increased.” The same has been found in suburbs. “As suburb diversified, crime rates fell,” another scholar wrote. Plus nationwide polling data show that people who live in racially inclusive communities are happier, more optimistic, and less stressed—all of which corresponds to living healthier and more productive lives. Ms. Kohn concludes, “It’s sort of like the fleeing white folks are just shooting themselves in the foot, along with their children and the rest of us. It’s by demanding integrated schools both racially and socioeconomically, that parents can help to improve the system ‘for all kids.’”

The Omaha Public Schools (OPS) became disturbed by this and redrew school districts to increase equality. It also provided the opportunity for students to choose a school in a different district. One white girl decided to attend a different school because she realized going to school with all white kids wouldn’t prepare her for life in the 21st century. The OPS high school she chose had “students from over 40 different countries. This student ended up winning a $10,000 college scholarship from Coca-Cola because of an essay she wrote “about tutoring her peers from Asia., Mexico, and Sudan.”

At this point, please excuse a digression from HM regarding home schooling. The main concern of these parents seems to be that they don’t want their children attending schools with diverse student populations, and the risk that their children will be exposed to loathsome liberal ideas. HM would argue that a highly important function of public schools is to provide an environment where students learn to interact with different children and do learn that there are a variety of viewpoints. HM feels that home-schooled children are severely handicapped and that there might be a backlash from these students when they appreciate what their parents have done to them.

By definition collective action requires a group, but one person can definitely get the ball rolling. Ms. Kohn cites the example of Nahed Artful Zehr, a Palestinian Christian who emigrated to the United States when she was six and now leads a Muslim rights organization in Nashville, Tennessee. Nahed has a Ph.D. in religious studies and her academic career included teaching Islam and the Quran at the US Naval War College. After running a four-week workshop on “understanding Islam” in her own Presbyterian congregation, she quit academia and became executive director of the Faith and Culture Center, an organization that promotes understand about Muslims and the Islamic faith.

To help more Muslims and non-Muslims share their experiences, Nahed created a series of dinner programs where people could literally break bread together and talk. Just through meeting one another and talking as human beings, people have had completely transformative experiences.

One day a group of Evangelical Christian pastors came to Nahed and asked for her help. They’d been hearing their congregants say some hateful things about Muslims, but the pastors didn’t really know enough about Islam to respond effectively, and what they knew was often rumor and not fact. Meeting and sharing meals together had outstanding results.

Ms. Kohn concludes, “Faith institutions have the capacity to either foster beliefs that fuel hate—or serve as spaces of cultural transformation that pursue hate’s opposite. Just like businesses have an amazing capacity to foster connection—because the places we work are often more diverse than our neighborhoods and schools and congregations, and because the advertisements and products and services businesses help define so much of our culture. All institutions have the opportunity to be part of the problem or part of the solution.”

Ms. Kohn provides examples of how faith institutions serve as spaces of cultural transformation that pursue hate’s opposite. Unfortunately, there are examples of faith institutions that not only foster beliefs that fuel hate, but also are in opposition to democracy. Consider the former terrorist Bassam Aramin. He is a Palestinian fighting with Israeli’s for a space, which they regard as their country. Assam disaggregates the concept of enemy from the feeling of hate. He does not hate them. Even though he regards them as his enemy he still has compassion for them.

Religious freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. Included here is the right not to believe. But there are certain Christian groups who try to impose their religious beliefs on others. There is no need to do this. Their right is guaranteed. Why do they think they have the right to impose their religious beliefs on others? They complain about sharia in Islam, and fail to see that what they are doing is analogous to sharia. There are segments of the Republican party that are preoccupied with imposing their religious beliefs on others through legislation. It seems like they want to have something like the moral police they have in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, they seem to neglect the love, compassion, and forgiveness that Christ taught. They counter efficient means of providing health care, favor harsh punishments, and show a pronounced lack of compassion towards their fellow man. And some of the beliefs they want to impose on others are regarded as insipid by other Christians. They seem to foster hate, rather than the love that Christ taught. They need to concentrate on reading the gospels and ignoring what is being preached from their religious leaders (See the healthy memory blog post “Beliefs vs. Deeds,” and consider joining a different church.)

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

When Hate Becomes Pandemic: The Genocide

June 1, 2018

Valarie Kaur: Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness is freedom from hate.

This is the fifth chapter in The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our humanity by Sally Kohn. The Rwandan genocide is often described as the fastest genocide in world history—a breathtaking average of eight thousand people were murdered every day, many by their own friends and neighbors. Thousands and thousands of ordinary people participated in the genocide. At least two hundred thousand Hutus participated in the genocide. Ms. Kohn writes, “This is what happens when hate, like wildfire, is deliberately spread nationwide.”

For many years, Hutus and Tutsis lived relatively peaceably. Tutsis tended to raise cattle and Hutus tended to farm. Colonial powers changed this by making the Tutsis the dominant power. Gourrevitch writes “Hutus in Rwanda had been massacring Tutsis on and off since the waning days of Belgian colonial rule in the late fifties.” During Rwanda’s struggle for independence in the 1960s, tens of thousands of Tutsis were killed and an estimated 40% to 70 % of the remaining Tutsi population fled the country.

Rwanda’s Hutu president, Juvenal Habyarimana and his wife Agathe had been plotting annihilation of the Tutsis since Habyarimana seized power in a 1973 coup. Agatha Habyarimana coordinated the group of Hutu extremists who meticulously planned the genocide, including recruiting and training the interahahmwe militias. In 1992 Hutu extremists conduct a dry run of their genocidal plans. They killed several hundred Tutsis around the country.

On August 6, 1994 President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down and Habyarimana died. Attacks were planned and the genocide commenced. HM will not recount the atrocities that occurred, but they were many and brutal. And many were done by neighbors against neighbors and friends against friends. As of 2016, there were less than fifty confirmed examples of rescuers during the genocide. They constituted a tiny fraction of Rwanda’s overall population of 5.95 millions. Similarly, during the Holocaust, active resisters of Nazi atrocities against Jews are estimated to have made up just half of 1% of the entire civilian population.

The common response to these atrocities is what kind of monsters were these people? Difficult as it may be to believe, they were normal, not monsters. These Rwandans lived together and made friends with each other. It should be remembered that only a very small percentage of the Germans were punished for war crimes. The vast majority returned to normal lives. Some still have pictures of these atrocities in their photograph collections.

Here it is appropriate to review the work of Stanley Milgram, that has been previously reported in healthy memory posts. Milligram conducted an experiment in which two experimental participants apparently showed up at the same time. One of these individuals was a confederate of the experimenter. He became the apparent subject, the learner in the experiment in which the true subject was to serve as the teacher. The teacher was supposed to administer an electric shock when the faux learner made an error. The shock machine had switches marked from 15 volts (Slight Shock) to 375 volts (Severe Shock) to 450 volts (XXX). Of course, the machine was fake; It didn’t really do anything, but the “teachers” thought it was real. Understand that the teacher could have left any time they wanted, although they were given verbal prompts like “The experiment requires you to continue,” and even “You have no other choice but to continue.” But 65% continued until they administered the supposedly lethal shock of 450 volts. Every single one of the teachers went to at least 300 volts.

This important research was not allowed to continue. But in 2017, a group of researchers basically replicated Milgram’s experiment in Poland. In that experiment 90% of “teachers” were willing to apply the highest voltage shock.

Professor Zimbardo at Stanford University conducted a famous “Prison Experiment” in which participants in the study were randomly assigned as prisoners or guards. Here abuses became so severe that the experiment had to be terminated. Zimbardo had a contract to write a book about the experiment, but Zimbardo had been so disturbed about the results that he was unable to finish the book. What motivated him to finish the book, “The Lucifer Effect,” were the atrocities being committed at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. It is Zimbardo’s strongly held view that this potential for abuse and torture exists within most of us. In his retirement Zimbardo has started “The Heroic Imagination Project” to foster coming to the aid of others during times of trouble. Both these experiments are reported in the healthy memory blog post,”Good Vs. Evil.”

Peer pressure experiments promoting compliance have been conducted in more benign environments. Solomon Asch conducted an experiment in which a subject was brought into a room with people whom they thought were other subjects, but who were actually part of the research team. Asch showed the all three lines of clearly different lengths and then a fourth line that was obviously the same as one, and only one of the first three. Everyone was supposed to say which it matched, which was a simple task, stupidly simple. The correct answer was really obvious. But when the confederates in the room deliberately gave the wrong answer, the subjects would also answer incorrectly 32% of the time. Across twelve similar experiments, 25% of the subject never conformed, but 75% of subjects gave the wrong answer at least once.

A question here is whether the subjects were conforming to the norm, that is going along to get along, or did they honestly think they were giving the correct answer? Gregory Berns and a team at Emory University replicated Asch’s study while subjects had their brains scanned with an fMRI Machine. In this case, the were comparing what looked like Tetris pieces—drawings of two different 3-D objects. The subjects were told to mentally rotate the objects to determine if they were same or different. Again, when the correct answer was super clear. But when accomplices in the room gave the wrong answer, the subjects also answered incorrectly 41% of the time. Berns reasoned that if the subjects were lying, the part of the brain associated with conscious deception would light up. But it didn’t. Instead the parts of the brain associated with visual perception and spatial awareness lit up. So, the subjects weren’t lying. The data suggest their minds were genuinely modifying their actual perceptions to conform with the group: if the rest of the group insisted that they saw a triangle, the subjects who went along with the group literally “saw” a triangle too. Meanwhile, the subjects who went against the group showed brain activity in the right amygdala—suggesting that there’s an emotional toll, potentially even fear, associated with standing up for one’s beliefs.

When Berns and his team performed a version of this experiment in which subjects were tested against computers instead of human researchers, the amygdala didn’t light up. It was concluded that it’s not taking a stand in general but going against one’s peers that caused emotional distress. Christian Crandall and Amy Eshelman studied 105 different kinds of prejudice as they played out in different scenarios— like job discrimination of laughing at hateful jokes—finding that prejudice was highly correlated with the need for social approval from the dominant group. Apparently, this occurs subconsciously.

Aurelia Mok and Michael Morris presented Asian American subjects with pairs of 3-D objects like those in the Berns fMRI study—two shapes that were clearly exactly the same or different. As in the Berns, Asch, and Milgram studies Mok and Morris had researchers pretending to be subjects—who would then give wrong answers. Remember that in Asch’s study 75% of the subjects went along with the obviously wrong answer at least once.

But Mok and Morris got different results. They found that Asian American subjects who demonstrated “low bicultural identity integration”—meaning that they don’t see their Asian and American identities as fully compatible and integrated into one social identity—were more likely to resist peer pressure and give the correct answer, no matter what the confederates did. Ms. Kohn writes, “This makes the case that the way to stop us from discriminating against or hating various identity groups isn’t actually to pretend that those differences don’t exist. The lesson is not that we need some people who feel like outsiders or who haven’t fully integrated their sense of cultural affiliation into a seamless whole—indeed, having low bicultural identity integration is associated with greater rates of anxiety and depression. The lesson is that we need to combat negative otherizing without assimilation or conformity. We can still have groups—the problem is when they are pitted against one another as dominant versus inferior.

John, a Tutsi, fell for a Hutu lady, Marie-Jeanne, and decided to court her. Three days later he proposed (romance moves quickly in Rwanda). Marie-Jeanne’s father had led the Hutu militia that slaughtered John’s family, and John knew it Marie-Jeanne also knew the father had something to do with the murder of John’s family, but she didn’t know the details. When he came to propose, she accepted, but said she still had to talk with her family.

When she shared the idea with her family members, they could not believe their ears. Her mother and sister told her exactly what her father had done. They told her everything. She remained undeterred. Her family pleaded with her that she shouldn’t marry John, that he was only proposing to her for revenge and would mistreat her in retaliation.

She told her family that if my father wronged John’s family, she was the one to blame, She came to the conclusion that this had been her father’s business, not hers.

The American feminist Robin Morgan writes,”Hate generalizes, love specifies.” Through love, we challenge and let go of all kinds of assumptions. John and Marie-Jeanne’s marriage has flourished.

Unconscious Hate

May 31, 2018

Mahatma Gandhi: If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

This is the fourth chapter in The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our humanity by Sally Kohn. HM has come to the firm conclusion that human cognition needs to be taught in the public schools, continuing in elementary school through high school. The reason we do and believe things, unconscious hate among them, is that we are unaware of our nonconscious processing. That is thoughts of which we are unaware but influence what we think and how we act. Moreover, most people think that bias is bad, something to be avoided. The reality is that we receive much more information than we can process. So to select the information that we can process we need to be biased. Heuristics are beneficial biases we employ to process information.

Ms. Kohn writes, “..I don’t think that the vast majority of Americans—right, left, and center—are deliberate explicit bigots. But I do think all of us need to come to terms with the fact that we all hold unconscious ideas about the superiority of some groups and the interiority of others—ideas that may not be expressed like they were in 1950s Virginia but that come from the same history and hateful legacy. And when I say all of us, I really do mean everyone. Myself included. And you, too. “

Research in both neuroscience and psychology can explain why. A professor of neuroscience at the University of Chicago, Jennifer Kubota, has focused her research on implicit bias and the brain. Her research explains how stereotypes are recorded in the brain. It involves a structure in the brain with which healthy memory blog readers should be familiar. There is an amygdala on each side of the center of the brain. The amygdala is involved in the processing of emotions including fear. There is no one “center’ of emotion. The amygdala is involved “in learning about important or threatening or novel things in our environment. When we need it, the amygdala quickly recalls what’s been learned so we can just as quickly evaluate whatever situation we’re in and respond accordingly. The amygdala can be thought of as an efficient filing cabinet for everything society has taught that our brains have absorbed. The amygdala takes in whatever messages that are around it—including the endemic racial stereotypes—that percolate through the media and our education practices and our families and every other single aspect of our existence. In other words, biases are stuck in society’s system and, in turn, get stuck in all of our brains—particularly in our amygdalae. The amygdala doesn’t mean to be hateful. It learns to hate from a hateful society.

john a. powell, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley has extensively studied the research on implicit bias. He says the nonconscious “makes associations based on frequency.” So, for instance, because the news overreport black crime, at an nonconscious level we’ll create a neural linkage between crime and black—whether or not we even personally, consciously believe blacks are more or less likely to commit crime. Implicit biases are like projections of society’s biases etched into our unconscious. It happens to all of us. “It’s the air we breathe,” says powell. “You breathe that until you’re an adult, you’re going to have those associations. Whites will have them. Blacks will have them. Latinos will have them.”

New York University neuroscientist Elizabeth Phelps and her research team conducted a study in 2000 that identified the neural signature of negative stereotypes. The amygdala is activated more when subjects are shown photos of people with fearful facial expressions than when they are presented with photos of people with neutral expressions. This detection of danger, which in turn helps trigger fear, is one of the most well-established functions of the amygdala, and neuroscientists have long believed that greater amygdala activation is due to a greater perceived threat. Phelp’s research team hooked subjects up to an fMRI machine and then flashed random yearbook photos of white people and black people, all of whom had neutral facial expressions; none were fearful. The majority of white subjects showed greater amygdala activation when viewing unfamiliar black compared to familiar white faces. In other words, seeing unfamiliar black faces triggered fear. Phelps and her team then compared the same people’s amygdala activation to their scores on an implicit bias assessment, which they’d taken before the fMRI study. They found that the more implicit bias people had, the more their amygdala lit up.

This implicit associative test, developed by Dr. Anthony Greenwald, has been discussed in previous healthy memory blog posts. You can take this test yourself. Go to
https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

A great deal of research has revealed the pernicious effects of implicit bias in people’s lives. As john a. powell along with a group of other researchers wrote in a comprehensive report that summarized this work, titled “The Science of Equality”, “studies have shown that bias is operating in our schools, our business offices, our medical institutions, and in our criminal justice system.” This research is too voluminous to review and do justice to in this blog post.

One can argue that explicit bias, bias which is intended, is worse than implicit bias. But what matters most is impact—which can be just as pernicious whether rooted in implicit bias or explicit hate. Undetected hate hiding in our brains is still hate. Ms. Kohn writes, “Just like a little cancer is still cancer. You don’t want even a smidgen inside you.”

Fortunately, there is increasing evidence that interventions work. Ms. Kohn calls this “connection-thinking”— the conscious effort to neutralize the stereotypes embedded in our amygdalae. This is generally called “debiasing” and it is getting promising results.

Susan Fiske conducted an experiment that tried a simple strategy to erase people’s bias. When Fiske showed pictures of unknown black faces to white participants, their amygdala activity predictably spiked. But when Fiske instructed the research subjects to guess the favorite vegetable of the people in the pictures, their amygdala activation remained the same, whether they were shown pictures of white people or black people. So just thinking about what vegetable these unknown folks might enjoy, and having to engage in the process of trying to take the perspective of the other, was enough to break down bias.

Phelps and her team did another experiment in which they showed white subjects the faces of well-liked famous people, both white and black. This time their amygdala activation was significantly lower. In other words, just knowing people, just having more real-life exposure to “others” changes the way our brains activate in response. Ms. Kohn concludes, “That’s more great support for the importance of creating more connection-spaces that then help foster connection-thinking.”

Here’s another study that shows promising signs that if we will acknowledge that we have implicit bias, we can consciously train our minds to disregard it. Salma Handler and other neuroscientists at Tel Aviv University hooked subjects up to a fancy computer that allowed them to monitor their fMRI results themselves, watching in real time as their amygdala activation rates were being tested. With a little bit of coaching and a lot of encouragement, when they were shown stimuli that were meant to trigger their fear mechanisms and at the same time were shown a screen where their amygdalae were lighting up, people could deliberately lower their amygdalae stimulation. Just getting that feedback helped people regulate their own unconscious mental processes.

According to Yudkin and Van Bavel, “Acknowledging the truth about ourselves—that we see and think about the world through the lens of group affiliations—is the first step to making things better.” Ms. Kohn concludes, “So the answer isn’t to ignore biases, as with arguments about “colorblindness” or attacks on identity politics, but rather to acknowledge them and keep working at consciously countering them. We’re not going to change our stereotyped thinking overnight, and we certainly won’t change it longterm simply because we imagine someone’s favorite vegetable. But with concerted effort over time, we can make great headway.”

Hating Is Belonging: The Ex-White Supremacist

May 30, 2018

Jhumpa Lahiri: The essential dilemma of my life is between my deep desire to belong and my suspicion of belonging.

This is the third chapter in The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our Humanity by Sally Kohn. Brent Brown writes, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart, We numb. We ache. We hurt others.”

Kohn writes, “The problem starts when our desire to belong leads to identify so strongly with a particular social group that we become fierce in or belonging—to the point of engaging in, or at least condoning, harmful otherizing. This capacity to otherize lies deep within us, bred into us through the long course human evolution.” Evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson writes, “The tendency to form groups, and then to favor in-group members, has the earmarks of instinct.”

Kohn writes, “SOCIAL GROUP IDENTITY was a reality in North America from the moment European colonialists arrived. The fact that they even claimed they ‘discovered’ the ‘New World’ was already indicative of hierarchical us/them thinking—to them, the people already there plainly didn’t matter. Thus, it wasn’t just white people who ‘founded’ the United States but white supremacy—the fundamental idea that the white people of the planet are inherently superior to everyone else and deserve to take whatever they want and do whatever they want. Of course, the very idea of ‘whiteness’ is a social construct; as columnist Michael Harriot puts it, it’s “‘just some dumb shit people made up a long time ago to build a fence around their idea of self-supremacy.’”

Thomas Jefferson who wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” owned more that six hundred black men, women, and children as slaves, apparently not seeing a contradiction between what he wrote and what he did because as Jefferson once said free blacks were “pests in society…as incapable as children of taking care of themselves.” This is just the tip of some of the most vicious racist writings that have ever been written. Moreover, Jefferson bred with these blacks. This should be written on his monument and at his residence, “America’s foremost hypocrite.”

Arno Michaelis was not only a member of a white-supremacist neo-Nazi group; he was also one of the most prominent white-power leaders in North America. In 1987, he became a founding member of the Northern Hammerskins in Milwaukee, which evolved into Hammerskin Nation—the largest white-power skinhead group in the world. Arno was also the lead singer for Centurion, one of the top white-power bands worldwide. Kohn writes, “the thing that surprised me the most about Arno was that he didn’t think of himself as especially hateful toward others, even when he was the leader of a bona fide hate group. He just thought that he was benevolently, even heroically, looking out for his ‘own kind.’ What I ended up learning is that a lot of people who join extremist hate groups don’t even really hate the maligned out-group as much as they crave approval from the in-group they’ve embraced. They’re just looking for belonging. The hate comes later.”

One day Arno went to buy his Big Mac at a McDonald’s filled with a cross-section of MIlwaukee’s black and white and Latina residents, and an older black woman was working the cash register. Arno had seen her there before. Arno ordered his burger and then reached in his pocket and handed the woman his sloppy pile of dimes and pennies and nickels. Which is when she noticed the new swastika tattoo on his finger. “What’s that?” she slowly, even carefully asked.

‘It’s nothing,” Arno whispered, shoving his hand back in his pocket.

Which is when the black woman looked the white supremacist in the eyes and, with a kind voice and even a hint of a smile, said to Arno, “You’re a better person than that. I know that’s not who you are.”

Kohn writes, “Arno grabbed his sandwich, turned on his heel, and fled. He never went back. But he also never saw his life quite the same way again. His views didn’t exactly change overnight, but almost. In fact, one of the most jarring things about Arno’s story is not only how relatively casually he left the white-supremacist movement but also how relatively accidentally he joined it in the first place.” To describe briefly how he joined it: He was a rock singer who fell into a white supremacist band.

In 1994 Dan Koren published a study showing that the surge in violent gang membership in the late 1980s in the US and Europe was driven by kids from “affluent, upscale communities.” Pete Simi, a sociologist at Chapman University who is one of the foremost scholars on domestic right-wing hate groups, found that members of right-wing hate groups come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Another study found that expressions of overt racism by whites were not motivated by fears around economic competition, but by anger about “race mixing”—in other words, not economic anxieties, but cultural supremacy. Contrary to popular belief, hate and violence are not necessarily a recourse of the poor, but are sometimes a luxury of the rich. Hate doesn’t fall in one income bracket.

Pete Simi, who has interviewed more than a hundred former neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members, explains that most white supremacists don’t primarily seek to join a hate group; they’re just looking for belonging. He says they “slide in” from the side more due to camaraderie than doctrine, and they don’t fully confront the racist beliefs until they’re already bonded with the group. “Ideology is important, but it’s not necessarily the initial attraction that draws the person to the group,’ Simi writes. “The ideology is often there early on but it’s not crystallized—it’s like there may be bits and pieces of the ideology that are attractive early on, but rarely do you have someone who has a full appreciation for the ideology and then seeks out the group. Over time, ideology becomes more important as the person becomes more familiar with the ideas.”

Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker has concluded that “Human nature may embrace motives that lead to aggression, but it also embraces motives like empathy, self, control and reason, which, under the right circumstances can outweigh aggressive impulses.

Frans de Waal, who has spent his career studying primates and comparing their behavior to human nature, argues that compassion and kindness traces back through ancient evolution—“probably as old as mammals and birds.” Kohn writes, “So while the desire for belonging may be part of what draws people into hate groups, that innate pull toward empathy turns out to be a powerful antidote to extremist hate. Just as the search for belonging brought Arno into white supremacy, finding that sense of belonging elsewhere was what helped him escape.

How We Hate: The Former Terrorist

May 29, 2018

James Baldwin: I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

This is the second chapter in The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our Humanity by Sally Kohn. The former terrorist is Bassam Aramin. In 2005 he founded Combatants for Peace, a group made up of Palestinians who had engaged in violence against Israelis plus former Israeli soldiers, all now working together to promote understanding between the two sides.

And these two sides have different versions of history. Ms. Kohn describes the Israeli-Palestine conflict is a textbook case of competitive victimhood. She writes, “Palestinians generally think they suffer the most because of the Israelis, and the Israelis think hey suffer the most because of Palestinians. In fact, I’ve talked to people on both sides who think the idea that the other side suffers at all is preposterous. For instance, Palestinians generally articulate a version of history in which they were a peaceful people until they were invaded by Zionists, who resorted to terrorism in their colonial conquest, including the bombing of Palestinian Arab civilians in 1938, the car bomb detonated by Zionists inside Jerusalem in 1947, and the Zionist slaughtering of the people of the Palestinian village of Deir Yasmin in 1948. At the same time, many Israelis dwell on a version of history in which Jews are a constantly persecuted people who merely sought solace from repeated and extended acts of world terrorism only to be victimized by Palestinians, for instance in The Arab riots during the 1920s, the Palestinian Arab revolt in the 1930s, and the Palestinian riots in Jerusalem in 1947.”

Bassam regarded himself as a terrorist and committed what he regarded as terrorist acts. He ended up being sentenced to seven years in prison for acts committed against Israeli military. But the law under which he was convicted applied to terrorist acts against civilians, not the military. Nevertheless, Bassam does not feel as if he was unjustly convicted.

Bassam regards himself as a freedom fighter and among the most humane freedom fighters on earth. His justification is that they are against militants who try to kill us and occupy our land and our people, and we need to kill them for humanity, not for ourselves. He adds that “It’s justified.”

Ms Kohn asks, “It’s justified?” “You know it’s wrong.”

He responds, “No, its not wrong.”

Around the middle of his prison term, the Israeli guards showed a movie about the Holocaust. Assam decided to go watch, because, frankly, he wanted to see Jews being killed—he was sort of trolling the prison and the guards for even showing the film. “I wanted to enjoy to see someone killing and torturing them.”

But somehow, witnessing the brutality of the Holocaust shocked Bassam and tore open a seam in the story of hate h’d believed up until then. The film made him weep, opening his eyes—and mind and heart—to the suffering of his enemy> Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

When Bassam got out of prison, he enrolled in graduate school and got a master’s degree in Holocaust studies. The reason for deciding to get a master’s degree in Holocaust studies was to know his enemy. When you know your enemy, you can defeat them. He still calls Israelis his enemy. They occupy his land, so they are enemies. They are not friends, then are not brothers.

But he still has compassion for his enemy; he does not hate them.

Bassam is disaggregating the concept of enemy from the feeling of hate. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “enemy” describes a “person who is actively opposed to or hostile to someone or something.” In other words, by definition, it’s not that you hate them, but that they hate you. So even if hate is something our enemies do and cherish, something that may literally define them—it doesn’t have to define us.

Why We Hate

May 28, 2018

Why we hate is the topic of the first chapter in The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our humanity by Sally Kohn. The chapter begins with a quote from Booker T. Washington: “I would permit no man…to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.”

In 1977, Lee Ross and some colleagues conducted a study in which Stanford University students were randomly assigned to participate in a fake quiz show, either as questioners, contestants, or audience members. The questioners were asked to come up with ten questions based on their own knowledge, and the contestants had to try to answer those questions. Everyone, including the audience, was well aware that this was the setup—in other words, they knew that by design the people who came up with the questions knew the answers far better than those supposed to answer them. Yet afterwards, the students participating as audience members said they thought the questioners were inherently smarter than the contestants. They discounted the very obvious staged context. What is even more surprising, the contestants themselves rated the questioners as more knowledgeable. These results are truly mind boggling, and these were Stanford University students. When he wrote up this experiment, Lee Ross coined the phrase “fundamental attribution error.”

Two years later, psychologist Thomas Pettigrew took matters one step further by introducing what he called the “ultimate attribution error.” Pettigrew reasoned that if we assume that the negative behaviors of other individuals are attributable to their inherent, internal disposition, the same effect would be magnified in our prejudices against other groups. We are all members of in-groups and out-groups. Our family is an in-group and it is likely that our neighborhood is an in-group also. But the family in the neighborhood on the other side of town is an out-group. Membership in these groups is relative. If you’re primed to think about your entire town versus another town—for example, during a sporting match—suddenly the other neighborhood in your town becomes part of your out-group.

Some demarcations between in-groups and out-groups have become cemented in our society’s collective psyche. In the United States today, race, gender. immigration status, and economic class are categories of identity we’re accustomed to defining ourselves in relation to, and thinking of the people in “our group” as somewhat distinct from “others.” Ms. Kohn continues, “On top of this, like a giant living being, society has its own historical and collective perceptions about which of these groups usually fall in the in-group and which fall out. This is where the very meaningful, albeit complicated and sometimes even annoying, concept of ‘privilege’ comes in—the idea that certain identities and thus certain groups are inherently favored and advantaged in the broader norms and systems of our society, That’s how you end up with a dynamic where, in spite of the fact that women make up more than half the US population and more than half of US voters, more than 80% of those elected Congress are men. We all ingest and imitate society’s in-group and out-group biases.”

The ultimate attribution error gets a powerful assist from another of the fundamental psychological habits of hate: essentialism, which is the tendency to generalize wildly about people, especially those we lump into out-groups. Essentialism is the belief that everyone within a group shares the same characteristics or qualities, generalizations we’re especially likely to make—and assumed are fixed—about out groups. David Livingstone Smith in his book “Less Than Human” writes, “Essences are imagined to be shared by members of natural kinds, kinds that are discovered rather then invented, real rather than merely imagined and rooted in nature.” To which Ms. Kohn responds, “But that’s a myth. The distinctions between us are largely not ‘natural’ but created. We define and demand ‘others’ in large part because of society’s biases, all of which harden into negative and unyielding judgments about others that shape the rest of our perceptions. And this, I learned, is the core of prejudice and discrimination.”

The big question is how to converse with people of differing beliefs or political persuasions. Ms. Kohn has a handy tool taught to her by Matt Kohut and John Neffinger, authors of the book “Compelling People.” The problem that many of us have, HM included, is that we are tempted to respond to something someone says is wrong, by arguing, “No, you’re wrong, and let me explain the three reasons why!” Ms. Kohn used neuroscience to explain why this is not going to be productive. We know from neuroscience that while we need to use our frontal lobes to engage in a reasoned discussion—and to be open to persuasion—when we perceive an argument coming, our frontal lobes shut down and the fight-or-flight part of our brain turns on (the part of the brain that also holds our biases and stereotypes). To keep the possibility of persuasion open, we have to stay conversational.

We need to remember the acronym ABC, which stands for:

Affirm. First you find a feeling that you can genuinely affirm. So if the person said they are afraid of “x” say that you also agree with “x”. You have to mean this, that you authentically agree on this point.

Bridge. This does not stand for “but” or “however”. A bridge is a way of saying “and.” We can just say “and” or “that’s why” or “actually” or “the thing is” or even “the good news is”. You are trying to build means of getting to …

Convince. This is where you say whatever you were inclined to say in the first place.

It is clear that in many, if not most, situations, it will be impossible to do this. In that case, just let the point go. Arguing your point is highly unlikely to be successful, and the risk of a heated argument developing that increases enmity is high. If prevailed upon to give our opinions, it is important to be polite and respective. In other words to be the antithesis of Donald Trump.

The Heresy of Trumpism

May 25, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a column by E.J. Dionne Jr. in the 24 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The substance of this column is the motivation for this post. Dionne writes, “Maybe it takes one of the world’s most elitist institutions—a monarch for goodness sake—to provide a view of Christianity rooted rooted not in conservative cultural warfare (or unrelenting support for President Trump) but in and egalitarian love that will ‘let justice roll down like a mighty stream.’”

Dionne continues, “And the Most Rev. Michael Curry, who preached for a royal couple and the world last Saturday, isn’t finished with us yet. On Thursday, a group of Christians will march to the White House for a candle-light vigil inspired by a declaration titled ‘Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.’ The presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, Curry is a prime mover of a statement suffused with a sense of urgency about ‘a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government.’ While Trump lurks behind almost every paragraph of this passionate assertion of faith, he is never mentioned. This reflects the desire of the endorsers to focus on what it means to proclaim that ‘Jesus is Lord.’ The opening paragraph makes this clear: ‘We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.’”

Dionne continuing further, “At a time when social media and email inboxes bulge with manifestos about the danger posed by Trump, ‘Reclaiming Jesus’ is distinctive; Its vision contrasts sharply with the approach taken by Christians who are invoking religions in apologetics for a president whose actions and policies seem antithetical to almost everything Jesus taught. The Rev. Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical Christian leader and the declaration’s main drafter, credited Curry for encouraging his colleagues to speak out. ‘The two of us talked and prayed about this for months before inviting a group of elders to join us for a retreat on Ash Wednesday to discuss a theological and biblical statement.’”

and further, “Even if its implications about you-know who are unmistakable, the call—issued by 23 prominent Christians with long experience in social struggles—‘wants to be about Jesus, not Trump,’ Wallis said in an interview. The hope is to challenge Christians to reach their political conclusions only after pondering what Jesus and his disciples said. ‘What we believe leads us to what we must reject,’ the signers assert, laying out six core propositions and the conclusions that follow. If ‘ each human being is made in God’s image and likeness,’ then Christians have a duty to repudiate ‘the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership.’ A belief that ‘we are one body’ requires opposition to ‘misogyny’ and ‘the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women.’ Because ‘how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ,’ Christians must oppose ‘attacks on immigrants and refugees’ and ‘cutting services and programs for the poor’ accompanied by tax cuts ‘for the rich.”

The final three assertions were especially pointed about the unnamed president. Because ‘truth-telling is central to the prophetic biblical tradition.’ Christians should stand against ‘the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life.’ It notes that ‘Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood not domination.’ This means resisting ‘any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule.’

The declaration’s most barbed conclusion from Christ’s injunction to ‘go into all nations making disciples.’ This, the signatories say, demands a rebuke to ‘American First’ as a theological heresy.’

‘While we share a patriotic love for our country, they add, ‘we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others as a political goal.’ This is a testing time for the country as a whole, but the moment presents a particular challenge to the Christian churches.

Trump, after all, won a substantial majority of the vote among white Christians. The battle within Christianity (and not just in the United States) can be defined in many ways. It is at least in part between those who would use faith as a means of excluding others on the basis of nation, culture and, to often, race and those who see it as an appeal to conscience, a prod to social decency—and, yes, as an invitation to love.

The question ‘Who is Jesus?’ has been debated for two millennia. It is starkly relevant now.”

Thus ends, E. J. Dionne’s outstanding column. HM has been waiting for a column such as Dionne’s for quite some time.

To understand this problem, it is important to make a clear distinction between religions and God. Religions are human institutions. To believers, God is a true deity. Religions tend to be catered to particular types of believers. And most promise a quality eternal life. But people should realize that it is God who determines who shall enjoy a quality eternal life. And when one looks at Trump supporters, one wonders how they could possibly be following the dictates of Christ? Dionne’s column makes that pretty clear. People need to read the teachings of Christ rather than listening to certain preachers.

Some churches have told their congregants to vote for Trump so that he would appoint a conservative justice who would be in favor of overturning Roe v Wade. One can by sympathetic for people who fear that lives are being lost. But are lives really being lost?

The first point is that lives are not relevant. The issue is the soul. Any hope that eternal life is dependent on biological life is solely mistaken. A suitable means of eternal life is provided by the soul. When HM was a child he would pray,

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I ‘wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

As the Korean War was taking place at this time, he would add
“and bless all the little children in Korea.”

HM did not know this at the time, but he was praying for his future wife.

So it is the soul, not biological life, that it is key.

At this point HM thinks that he is praying to a different God than others who oppose abortion pray to. HM knows that what is essential for the healthy development of a child is a loving and attentive mother. HM also knows the consequences of a child being unloved. The child grows up emotionally and cognitively handicapped. When you read in the paper of the crimes and tragedies that are being committed, the underlying cause is likely to be an unloved child. And to think that there are even those who believe that a woman who is pregnant because she has been raped should be compelled to deliver the child.

HM’s loving and merciful God, being omniscient, knows these facts. HM believes that if a pregnant woman does not think she can be a loving a caring mother, she should get an abortion. He is confident that God is merciful, that the soul will not be lost, and that the soul should find a loving and caring mother.

What is the Key to LeBron James Phenomenal Performance?

May 24, 2018

And the answer is his superior memory. Sally Jenkins captured this in her article, “How is LeBron James always one move ahead? Let’s ask the scientists” in the 18 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. She begins, “Much as his brute-strength shoulders and legs define LeBron James, it’s the stuff in his head that elevates him.”

Ms. Jenkins continues, “Much has been made of James show-offy display of memory in his postgame analysis of Game 1. Replay it and notice not just the accuracy but the detail: in narrating six sequences in proper order, he noted the time on the shot clock, who took each shot and missed what, where the ball was inbounded from, and Jayson Tatum’s use of a Euro-step and right hand on a layup. When he was done, listeners broke into applause.

Zach Hambrick, a cognition-performance expert at Michigan State said, “It’s remarkable, but not surprising.” It is not surprising because there is a strong connection between cognitive science and human performance. Hambrick said, “This is one of the bedrock findings in research on human expertise: that experts have superior memory for information within their domain.”

Research has shown what seems to be “photographic memory” is really extrapolation based on habit-worn paths of knowledge, the vestiges and traces left in the brain by experience.

Adriaan de Groot conducted a famous study of chess players in the 1960s. Pieces were shown on a board for five seconds and then removed. The players were asked to recall what they had seen. Novices remembered poorly. The more expert the players, the more pieces they could recall, and the locations of the pieces. An important point in this study, which is frequently not mentioned, is that the superior recall of the experts only occurred when they pieces on the board were placed in a meaningful manner as would be found in a game between experts. If pieces were arranged in a random, nonsensical manner, the masters’ performance differed little from the novices. If so arranged in a meaningful manner, grandmasters could recall virtually everything.

Masters of games don’t just build static memories, but have a remarkable ability to intuit. Ms. Jenkins writes, “James’s anticipation is inseparable from his memory. Ericsson cited a study of elite soccer players where they were shown a game and the screen was halted at an unpredictable point. The best players remembered not only who was where but also predicted where they would go next.

Ms. Jenkins writes, “Think about the processes involved as James scans the court while moving down the floor. The optic nerves absorb and transmit small peripheral details, then shift to a sudden zoom focus as he throws a glancing no-look bounce pass that hits Kevin Love in the hands mid-stride. Then his attention broadens again stereoscopically to capture the whole floor. The cognitive flexibility to go in and out of those states fluidly is highly learned. And yet little short of magic.”

In 2014 researchers John O’Keefe, Maybritt Moser, and Edvard Moser won the Nobel Prize for explaining how the brain navigates. They answered the questions: How do we perceive position, know where we are, find the way home? O’Keefe found a specific cell in the hippocampus that throws off a signal to mark a specific place. The Mosers found that neurons in the entorhinal cortex fire in fields with regularity. When they drew lines corresponding to the neuronal activity they saw a grid. So LeBron James has a geometric projection in his brain that acts as a computation coordinate system. And so do we, but LeBron makes a much more effective use of this system.

There still is the question as to how James’s brain discriminates among multiple similar memories. Andre Fenton has published a possible answer to this question in the journal “Neuron.” The answer is that the “place” signaling is not so much a constant remapping. Actually it is highly synchronized. Think of the neurons in James’s head as birds. Starlings, “Like a flock of starling that takes on different formations while still maintaining cohesion as a flock,” Fenton said. “He’s not recording like a videotape. He’s not rebuilding. He doesn’t rebuild a picture of what is going on. He watches it evolve continuously and fluidly. There is a flock, and it’s moving down the court, and everybody has a place. All these birds form a structure, and the structure is important. We call it a flock. He calls it a play.”

Fenton says that this is actually what all human beings do. HM would add that this is also what many infra human species do. Our brains learn a series of models over our lives and is constantly making predictions.

Phenoms like James are masters of assessing the likelihoods of things. With an amazingly good set of models and expectations—of opponents, of teammates and of how the ball will move, it can look like total omniscience.

Passing 72

May 6, 2018

Meaning that today I am entering my 73rd year. Time appears to be flying by at an increasingly faster rate. I sleep until I wake up and find that my time is my own. If I did not have growth activities, along with meditation, exercise, and a healthy diet, dementia might be setting in. But I stay cognitively active. I do a great deal of reading and some writing. Unfortunately, there is not enough time to read all the interesting and important things to read. I do, indeed, have a growth mindset. I also do a great deal of walking, much of it with my wife. And at times I do engage in the walking meditation in nature, which I have written about in previous posts. I stay in touch with friends. I meditate daily, sometimes several times a day. And I tend to slip into a meditative state whenever I am forced to wait. I try to spend as much time as I can fostering a healthy memory.

This past year I attended a professional convention, took a tour of the national parks with my wife, and took a cruise out of Amsterdam with port calls in Scotland, Norway, and Iceland. This was an Insight Cruise with lectures in physics and anthropology.

This current year, I plan to attend the convention of the Psychonomic Society in New Orleans, and to take two cruises, one later this year, and one during the winter.

I engage in ikigai, the Japanese term for the activities in Victor Stretcher’s book, “Life on Purpose.” My purpose, in addition to living a fulfilling life with my wife, is to learn and share my thoughts and knowledge with others.

Unfortunately, there is a big negative cloud lying over the heads of us Americans, in particular, and all earthlings, in general. And that is the current President of the United States. He is destroying the United States along with the world. He has destroyed what once was the Grand Old Party (GOP), and is threatening our democracy by attacking our justice system and news media. The hope is this might be stopped with the upcoming midterm elections, but Trump has made no effort to protect those elections. It is clear why he is taking no actions. He is counting on help from the Russians again. They assisted in his election, and they will make efforts to destroy the credibility of the upcoming election.

The hope is that this dark age will end, and that we can begin repairing the damage.

However, there is one action that can be taken now. And that is to test Trump to see if he has a delusional disorder. Trump is a compulsive liar. The question is whether he knows he is lying. He continues to lie even when confronted with objective evidence. He has already passed 3,000 false or misleading claims since becoming president. People with the delusional disorder do not know when they are lying. There is a test that can determine if this diagnosis is accurate. That test involves connecting Trump to a lie detector. Then have him speak. There will be objective data, data which Trump should know. If the polygraph finds no evidence he is lying, that would indicate that Trump does have the delusional disorder. This would mean that Trump is out of touch with reality. In his version of reality, he is indeed the greatest, the most intelligent, and so forth. But this goes beyond ego. It indicates that Trump’s mind has slipped the surly bonds of earth into psychosis. Here the 25th Amendment would offer an easy and efficient way of removing him from office. He would be replaced by Vice-President Pence.

A previous post, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” included writings by psychiatrists, psychologists, a lawyer and other experts. One of the chapters presented a methodology whereby both the Vice-President and President would be examined by a panel of experts annually to asses the mental status of these individuals. This panel would issue an analyses and recommendations that would be presented to Congress. HM thinks that this examination is much more important than the physical examination the President undergoes annually.

Other actions need to be taken to preclude future problematic individuals from occupying the highest office. One is to eliminate the electoral college. This is the second time in recent history in which the electoral college overturned the popular vote. Not only should one person, one vote be the rule, but the current arrangement gives the votes of people with lower educational levels much greater weight than the votes of people with higher educational levels.

It is also the case that the President needs to handle what is called Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). To be awarded clearance for this material, individuals need to undergo a thorough background investigation to assure that they are capable of handling SCI information. Trump provided SCI information to the Russians shortly after he became President. And that is Trump’s first problem. He should not be handling SCI information, something the President needs to be able to do.

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

Getting Just 6 Hours of Sleep is Linked to Mental Health Issues

May 5, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article in the In Brief Section of the 28 April 2018 issue of the New Scientist. Kelly Sullivan and Collins Ordiah at Georgia Southern University conducted a survey of more than 20,000 people in the US. The respondents were asked about their sleep habits and mood over the past 30 days.

The recommended amount of sleep is 7 to 9 hours. Around a quarter of the respondents said they got between 6 and 7 hours. This group was around 70% more likely to report signs of mental health problems—including nervousness and feeling hopeless—compared to those who got more sleep (“Neurology, Psychiatry and Brain Research”,
doi.org/cnm3).

Sullivan does say that it is unclear whether lack of sleep causes mental health problems or if it is the other way around. But Steven Lockley at Harvard Medical School isn’t surprised that a small lack of sleep may have an effect. He says, “The hour we lose to daylight savings time causes a 17% increase in car crashes on the Monday morning after the switch.”

More Education Is What Makes People Live Longer, Not More Money

May 4, 2018

The title of this post is identical the title of an article by Debora MacKenzie in the News & Technology section of the 28 April 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The latest research suggests that education, not money, plays a bigger role in extending lifespan.

In 1975, economists plotted life expectancies agains countries’ wealth, and concluded that wealth increases longevity. This appeared to be self-evident as everything people need to be healthy, from food to medical care, costs money.

However, subsequent research found data that didn’t always fit that theory. Economics upturns didn’t always mean longer lives. However, in the 1980s research found that gains in literacy were associated with greater increases in life expectancy than those related to gains in wealth. Moreover, the more-educated people in any country tend to live longer than their less-educated compatriots. But since such people also tend to be wealthier, it as been difficult to figure out which factor is increasing lifespan.

Wolfgang Lutz and Endale Kebede of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria have managed to untangle the pieces of the puzzle by compiling average data on GDP per person, lifespans, and years of education from 174 countries, dating from 1970 to 2010. They did find that wealth correlated with longevity. But the correlation between longevity and years of schooling was closer, with a direct relationship that didn’t change over time.

When Lutz and Kebede put both factors into the same mathematical model, they found that differences in education closely predicted differences in life expectancy, whereas changes in wealth barely mattered (“Population and Development Review”,
doi.org/cnm6).

Education also tends to lead to more wealth, which is why wealth and longevity are also correlated. But what Lutz says is important is that wealth doesn’t seen to be driving longevity, both are driven by education.

Lutz argues that extreme examples are telling. “Cuba is dead poor, but has a higher life expectancy than the United States because it is well-educated. Meanwhile, in oil rich, but poorly educated Equatorial Guinea, people rarely reach 60.

Some People Do Better Exercising at a Slow-Intensity Pace

May 3, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Amanda Loudin in the Health & Science Section of the 1 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The article begins by relating the story of Liz Wolfert who rode her bike to work, climbed “14ers”, which are mountains that rise more than 14,000 above seal level, took kung fu lessons and swam. But at the age of 32 she learned that she had elevated blood glucose levels, which is a possible sign of pre-diabetes. Her first instinct was to work out harder and faster, but she soon learned that she needed to do the opposite: slow down and exercise at a much easier pace.

Inigo San Millan is the director of the Sports Performance Program at the University of Colorado Sports Medicine Center in Boulder. He’s an exercise physiologist who works with elite athletes who defines metabolic flexibility as the body’s ability to quickly switch between fat and carbohydrates to fuel exercise. He says that individuals with Type 2 diabetes are metabolically inflexible. They have a poor ability to switch back and forth. On the other hand, endurance athletes have an amazing capacity to do so. Fats and carbohydrates are metabolized in the mitochondria, so mitochondrial function is the key element behind metabolic flexibility.

Elite athletes are incredibly efficient at this task because they have a high level of mitochondrial health. He says, “Mitochondria have the job of metabolizing carbohydrates and fats in order to generate energy. As a result, elite athletes are a population practically devoid of Type 2 diabetes. However, the average person may have a metabolism that is less agile, If you are not metabolically flexible, you have a tough time accessing and burning fat for fuel.”

It turns out that the title of this article is inaccurate. Millan notes that “if you look at the exercise workloads of top athletes, they do 70% to 80% of their training at a low intensity. But out on the streets, we often see the opposite: an out-of-shape population jumping in at high intensity.

After taking her test with San Millan, Liz Wolfert began taking 30-to-60-minute walks several times per week. She said, “After several months of this, I climbed a 14er and realized that it was much easier for me. My body began working more efficiently.

HM is reminded of the famous baseball pitcher, Satchel Paige, who was not only likely the best pitcher in baseball, he certainly was the oldest living pitcher baseball ever had. His attitude toward’s exercising was “to get the juices jangling.”

Walking and meditating are two of HM’s favorite activities. He likes to combine them with meditative walking.

There was another article in the same Health & Science Section by Joel Achenbach titled “Big brains are fine, but upright walking was the key. This article reviewed research supporting the nation that upright walking, not just walking, was the key to the development of a larger brain and the success our species has achieved so far. Walking upright provided us with greater use of our hands and easier face to face communication. These activities led, in turn, to the development of a larger brain.

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

Beliefs vs. Deeds

May 2, 2018

This is another healthy memory blog post aimed at spiritual growth, which is part of the growth mindsets advocated by this blog. An argument HM has heard at different times is the debate of whether deeds or beliefs are more important for entering heaven or having a quality afterlife. HM will settle this issue and the reader can accept or reject his resolution.

Here’s the resolution. The answer is deeds. Beliefs are specific to religions which are temporal entities. HM remembers reading about a physician who spent his entire career going to trouble spots where his medical skills were needed. This physician was an atheist. HM believes that the atheistic physician will be surprised upon his death that there is an afterlife and he is being rewarded with a quality spot in that afterlife.

Beliefs are specific to religions. It is difficult to understand that in the 21st century that there are some people who believe there are true religions and that all the others are wrong. The only religion that HM would reject would be one in which caring for one’s fellow humans was not a primary consideration. That there are missionaries who feel compelled to go to other lands and preach the “secret handshake” that they believe is a primary requirement for entering a quality afterlife HM finds amazing. They are good people who are well-intentioned, but whose beliefs preclude their using their System 2 processes. All religions have a begin date and usually begin in a specific part of the world. What about all the humans born prior to that date or in a different part of the world?

It also appears that religions are marketed like cornflakes. One of HM’s friends was a missionary to a foreign country. He was instructed to play down beliefs that would be difficult for potential converts to accommodate. The priority was to sell the convert.

Another example is Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University. This is an evangelical Christian university with a shooting range. One asks, why would any Christian college have a shooting range? Jesus told us to love one another and when struck, to turn the other cheek. The most violent thing Christ ever did was to chase the moneychangers out of the Temple.

So why is the shooting range at Liberty University? Well most of its congregants and potential converts live in a part of the country where guns are highly valued. It is simply a matter of making the product more appealing. Understand that this is no criticism of gun owners, nor does it intend to imply that gun owners are not good Christians. Rather it is intended to show how religions are marketed.

It is important for all to remember that it is God and his designated surrogates that decide who will enter heaven or the quality afterlife. Part of the package offered by most religious leaders is a way to eternal life. So congregants should not blindly believe their leaders, but make their independent assessment of whether all their personal behaviors would pass muster with God. Otherwise, one could end up following their religious leader into hell or a low quality afterlife.

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

God: A Human History

May 1, 2018

This post is another in a series on spiritual growth. The post, “The Dunning-Kruger Effect Writ Large” was the first. Should you wonder what posts on spiritual growth are doing in the healthy memory blog, the answer is that this blog advocates growth mindsets, and spiritual growth is one component. The title of this post is identical to the title of an excellent book by Reza Aslan. Reza Aslan is a superb scholar. Anyone who appreciates scholarship should be attracted to the book for that reason alone. He provides evidence that a belief in something akin to a soul begins with the first humans from which the notion of a god or gods develops, and documents the development of the concept in different religions as the religions advanced in sophistication.

HM will jump to the conclusions at the end of the book. “It is no coincidence that this book ends where it began, with the soul. Call it what you want: whether “psyche”, per the Greeks; or “nefesh”, as the Hebrews preferred;, or “chi”, as in China; or “brahman” in India. Call it Buddha Nature or “purusa”. Consider it comaterial with the mind, or coexistent with the universe. Imagine it reuniting with God after death, or transmigrating from body to body. Experience it as the seat of your personal essence or as an impersonal force underlying all creation. However you define it, belief in the soul as separate from the body is universal. It is our first belief, far older than our belief in God. It is the belief that begat our belief in God.”

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

Dr. Aslan continues, “Whether we remain believers is, once again, nothing more or less than a choice. One can choose to view humanity’s universal belief in the soul as born of confusion or faulty reasoning: a trick of the mind or an accident of evolution.”

Dr. Aslan is a pantheist. In pantheism, God is omnipresent. This can lead to the conclusion that God is within each of us. Perhaps when we meditate we can feel and communicate with the God within us. At times, it certainly does feel like that.

Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine

April 30, 2018

This post is the second in a series on spiritual growth, which is part of the growth mindsets advocated in this blog. The title of this post is identical to the title of an interesting book by Alan Lightman. Dr. Lightman is a physicist, but a physicist with a large conceptual outlook. This book is a collection of his musings.

His musings about the physical world are both interesting and informing. Many are about matters with which HM was already familiar, but there was also much new information. And much of HM’s knowledge needed brushing up.

Scale can be very difficult to understand. For example, there are several billion stars in our galaxy alone, and a hundred billion galaxies just with the observable universe. Now this is just the observable universe. There are likely stars and galaxies so distant that their light has yet to arrive. The speed of light provides a severe constraint on how much we can learn about the universe. The notion of traveling just to other stars within our own galaxy is severely constrained. Given the large numbers involved, it seems that it is also likely that not only is there other life in the universe, but truly intelligent life. So it is unlikely that any contact will be made with intelligent life.

At the small end of the scale we have atoms. We know that everything consists of atoms. But atoms themselves consist of even smaller particles. And what is even more difficult to understand is that atoms consist largely of empty space. It is difficult to reconcile our apparently solid world with these empty atoms, but this was done and this scientific knowledge developed over several hundred years (and is still developing) due to our use of our System 2 processing and higher (enter “Tri-process Model of Cognition” into the search block of the healthy memory blog). Our minds are truly marvelous instruments provided that we use them.

Fortunately Dr. Lightman is unlike the scientists whose thinking is so constrained that they cannot believe in God. He not only believes in transcendence but picks a relevant passage from the psychologist William James’ book, “Varieties of Religious Experience:”
“I remember the night and almost the very spot on the hilltop, where my soul opened out, as it were, into the Infinite, and there was a rushing together of two worlds, the inner and the outer. It was deep calling unto deep—the deep that my own struggle had opened up within being answered by the unfathomable deep without, reaching beyond the stars. I stood alone with Him who made me, and all the beauty of the world, and love, and sorrow, and even temptation. I did not seek him, but felt the perfect union of my spirit with His…Since that time no discussion that I have heard of the proofs of God’s existence has been able to shake my faith. Having once felt the presence of God’s spirit, I have never lost it again for long, My most assuring evidence of his existence is deeply rooted in that hour of vision in the memory of that supreme experience.” Obviously this was a very vivid religious experience. Such a vivid experience is not necessary. Reassurance can be found in moments of reverie, meditation, or prayer.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect Writ Large

April 29, 2018

Readers of the Healthymemory blog should be familiar with the Dunning-Kruger Effect from previous posts. The Dunning-Kruger Effect describes the phenomenon of people thinking they know much more about a topic than they actually know, compared to the knowledgeable individual who is painfully aware of how much he still doesn’t know about the topic in question.

In the blog post “The Antithesis of the Enlightenment” HM wondered how people would rate the following statement by David Deutsch,
“Everything that is not forbidden by the laws of nature is achievable, given the right knowledge.”
HM’s own response was, “HM would say that this is an empirical question so we don’t know yet.”

HM was answering on two levels. The Dunning-Kruger Effect states that the more knowledgeable one is, the more uncertain one is of his knowledge. This is certainly true for HM. Since graduating from high school, his learning has informed him of how much more he does not know. He expects this to continue to the end of his lifetime. Moreover, even within his supposed areas of expertise, there is a limit to what he can know and grasp. Much of what HM knows and believes is based on what true experts know. Moreover, HM thinks one should never be certain. Any belief can be overturned with better data or better arguments.

Homo sapiens is constrained by limitations in attentional processing in short term memory. Long-term memory is malleable, and changes over time. So human physiology constrains cognitive abilities. As Daniel Goleman described in his book, Emotional Intelligence, we have a nervous system adapted to performance to the world of early humans were dangers were omnipresent. This can still be seen in the daily violence reported in the news, and in our propensity for warfare, even when it is realized that todays weapons could make homo sapiens extinct.

In the general area of science, there seems to be overconfidence in how much we know. At the turn of the 19th century, some prominent physical scientists apparently thought that virtually everything was known. By 1905 Einstein published his special theory of relativity, to be followed ten years later by his general theory of relativity. And by the mid-twenties quantum physics came on the horizon. We can never know what might be just around the corner.

Unfortunately, science is often viewed as competing with the concept of God, without appreciating how limited current science is. Specific religious beliefs are not required for a belief in God. There are more parsimonious accounts available for all religions, and one of the tenets of science is to accept the most parsimonious explanation. Nevertheless, if someone finds comfort in a religion, that person should not be denied that comfort. The exception to this is when the individual tries to impose his religious beliefs or laws that come from those religious beliefs onto others.  Judge not, that ye be not judged should always be remembered. Live your religious beliefs, but let others live their own beliefs whether they are religious or not. Unfortunately some churches are heavily involved in politics, and wield an unhealthy political influence. Moreover, they are tax-exempt. Any church that is engaged in or that encourages their congregations to vote or work in a political area, should have their tax-exemptions revoked.

The mathematician Blaise Pascal made what HM regards as a compelling justification for a belief in God. Although he made his justification in a different context, the basic form of the argument holds. His argument was in terms of a cost-benefit analysis. He argued that the benefits of believing needed to be weighed against the costs of not- believing. If someone does not believe, and God does exist, then the consequences could be frightening. However, if you believe, and God does not exist, you would never know. And during one’s lifetime one would have the comfort in believing in a just and merciful God. As HM never is certain about anything, this logic compels him to believe in God. And that belief is comforting, even should it be wrong.

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

Building a Firewall Against Folly

April 28, 2018

This post has the same title as a section of the book “Belief: What It Means to Believe and Why Our Convictions are So Compelling” by psychologist James E. Alcock. Dr. Alcock suggests that short of undertaking formal training in critical thinking skills, we can help ourselves think more critically by keeping the following points in mind. Although they clearly are not enough on their own to turn us into great critical thinkers, they can help us all to become better critical thinkers.

“Beware: We can all be fooled. Possibly the most common pitfall with regard to critical thinking is the belief that one is already a good critical thinker. The next step toward building a firewall against folly is to recognize that we can be deceived and that we can frequently deceive ourselves. No matter how good we are at critical analysis, every one of us is likely at times to depart significantly from rationality, especially in situations when emotion or intuition confronts reason. The corollary is that we all probably have pockets of irrationality where erroneous beliefs take shelter.
Be wary of your intuitions: Pay attention to them, but do not trust them. As the products of nonconscious information processing, intuitions can offer important guidance to decision-making when based on considerable past experience. On the other hand, they can also gravely mislead, especially when there has been little experience to back them up. To ignore intuition completely is unwise, but to accept it uncritically is even more so.
3. Be wary of the Fundamental Attribution Error, the tendency that we all have to attribute people’s behaviors to their characters and intentions while overlooking or minimizing the power of the situation, which often plays the greater role in determining people’s actions. It is easy to assume that suicide terrorists are deranged and merciless while ignoring the situation factors that render their actions altruistic in the eyes of their communities, just as it is easy to believe that all homeless people are lazy, or that a student who does poorly lacks intelligence.
4. Be wary of personal validation. While personal experience can be a great teacher, personal validation—judging a claim based only on personal experience—is often a poor guide to its validity. You may have had a powerful dream that seemed precognitive, or the psychic’s palm reading may have been impressive, or the yellow pill may seem to have cured you laryngitis, or your interaction with a memory of a minority group may have been less than pleasant, but this in no way demonstrates the reality of precognition, the psychic powers of the palm reader, the remedial qualities of the yellow pill, or that “those people” are difficult.
5. Beware of reliance on a single source of information. This should be obvious, but it is all too easy to ignore this caveat, especially with regard to the news. We naturally gravitate toward sources that are in line with our beliefs, and this risks sheltering us from information that might challenge what we erroneously take to be fact.
6. Beware of mistaking coincidence for causation. As we have seen, we are born magical thinkers, and magical thinking continues to lurk beneath the surface in wait for reason to falter. It is often difficult to resist the idea of causation when two meaningful events occur one after the other. Challenging automatic assumptions about causality is a key aspect of critical thinking.
7. Be wary of over-interpreting correlations. Just as with coincidence, we can all too readily mistake correlations for cause and effect. Observing that were seems to be more and more petty crime, while at the same time noting that the immigrant population is increasing, does not mean that there is a connection between the two. Moreover, some of the ‘correlations” that we observe may not actually be correlations at all. They may be illusory. For example, many emergency ward physicians and nurses are convinced that admissions jump whenever there is a full moon. Forty % of medical staff surveyed in a 2011 study expressed that belief, while 80% of the nurses and 60% of the physicians who responded to another survey were convinced that here were more mental health admissions during a full moon than at any other time. Such beliefs are in error, for many investigations have all found no evidenced of increased admissions, for either physical of psychiatric reasons, during a full moon. Again, experience can be a poor guide to reality.
8. Compared to what? The question of “compared to what” is vital to critical thinking. A sort of parable: Before the carcinogenic properties of asbestos were understood, some winemakers removed impurities by filtering their wines through asbestos. A 1977 test found asbestos fibers in every one of the fifteen wines tested, and a particular Hungarian wine was withdrawn from liquor store shelves after being measured for having almost two million asbestos fibers per liter. Not long after, a psychologist friend came to dinner bearing a bottle of that very wine. When I informed him of its high asbestos content, he replied—as any good experimental psychologist might—“compared to what?” and jokingly suggested that the city’s water supply might have an even higher asbestos count. The irony was that a newspaper reported a week later that city water at that time was also being filtered through asbestos and its fiber count did indeed exceed that of the wine. Avoid the water too! Asking “compared to what” is also an essential component of scientific inquiry, where it is typically addressed through the use of control groups, a practice that took root only in the early twentieth century but has ultimately become a mainstay of medical and psychological research. Though individuals can hardly be expected to set up control groups, we should all endeavor, as my friend was doing, albeit in humor, to engage in a control-group style of thinking. This comes naturally in some situations but rarely occurs in others.
9. Keep the Scottish verdict in mind and suspend judgment. Juries in criminal trials in Scotland are not forced to choose between guilty and innocent; they can also opt for not proven. It is often tempting to jump to conclusions: “They didn’t invite us because they don’t like us”; “Last night’s dream about today’s fire must have been paranormal.” Such quick conjectures are often wrong. If more information is to be had, then by all means we should seek it out, but in the meantime, rather than rely on whatever explanation comes readily to mind, the wiser strategy is to adopt the equivalent of the Scots’ “Not proven”; suspend judgment about how or why something happened and conclude simply that “I don’t know.”

Disturbing Data on What We Believe and Trust

April 27, 2018

This post is based on information in the book “Belief: What It Means to Believe and Why Our Convictions are So Compelling” by psychologist James E. Alcock. A 2017 Pew Research Poll carried out in the United States reported that 85% of Republicans and Republican leaners, compared to 46% of Democrats, believe that the reports of the traditional news media are having a negative effect on the country. The same research poll found that while 72% of Democrats in their sample consider colleges and universities to be an “overwhelming positive force,” only 36 % of Republicans share that belief, and more than half of Republicans view colleges and universities as having a negative effect on the nation. It is frightening to think that more than half of the people in a major political party regard higher education as having a negative effect.

Dr. Alcock writes, “The core beliefs of dogmatic political or religious fundamentalists are unlikely to change no matter what we do, for those beliefs are well entrenched. Even Marcel Proust observed about the facts of life, “do not penetrate to the sphere in which our beliefs are cherished; they did not engender those beliefs, and they are powerless to change them.”

In terms of Nobel Winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of Cognition, these people are for all intents and purposes System 1 processors. System 1 is termed intuition and refers to our usual mode of thinking fast based on our learning and emotional feelings. To question and reevaluate thoughts, System 2 processing, called reasoning, or more commonly thinking, requires us to use attention. Virtually all learning involves System 2 processing, and System 2 processing is essential for critical thinking.

Republicans having negative views about the news and higher education characterized them as primarily System 1 processors. The world is changing rapidly and the news reports the changes. To understand the news requires System 2 processing, something these Republicans do not want to do. Similarly colleges, at least good colleges, need to advance with the thinking of the times. They need to be critical, but nevertheless there are topics that need to be studied and evaluated. One of the worst deeds these parents can do is to not send their children to college or to send them to colleges with a parochial (in the narrow sense, not necessarily the religious sense view). It is also harmful to the country.

It is important that not all Republicans be painted with the same brush. Republicans who have recognized that Trump is no Republican and have either left the party, as George Will did, or have refused to support Trump are clearly System 2 processors Their System 2 processing clearly indicated that not only is Trump not a true Republican, but that he also is a risk to the country and the world.

However, Dr. Alcock has some hope for people whose beliefs are not so dogmatically anchored that they are beyond influence. Even so, this is an arduous process. University courses that encourage critical thinking to help students distinguish science from pseudoscience have had mixed results. Psychologist Tom Gray assessed the effects of a one-semester university course that both emphasized critical thinking in the evaluation of evidence and offered natural explanations for various supposed paranormal phenomena. He found that, while belief in ESP, alien spacecraft, and reincarnation fell from 85% to 50%, over the course of the term many students simply did not change their beliefs at all. In other research, he found that university-level research methods and statistics courses, which might be expected to stimulate critical acumen, do not on their own enhance general critical thinking ability.

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

The Questionable Virtue of Hard Work

April 26, 2018

Hard work is regarded as virtuous. Tell someone that you are working hard and they will congratulate you. In the United States we already work more hours per year than our English-speaking counterparts in Britain, Canada, and Australia. But is it not better to work smart than to work hard? Do you enjoy your work? How are the benefits? Is there a better or more efficient way to do your job? Are there other jobs that are preferable? If so, why are they not pursued?

Have you read the Healthymemory blog post “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less”. Even if you have read it, you might want to reread. The post reviews the lives of accomplished people and the importance of rest to their success. So just working hard can be counterproductive.

Athletic success seems to be highly dependent on deliberate practice. That means more practice time is devoted to weak skills. Similarly in nonathletic pursuits, are their certain skills or areas of knowledge that would make work more efficient or profitable?

So do not just work hard. Let your thinking guide your work.

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

Old People Can Produce as Many New Brain Cells as Teenagers

April 23, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a news piece by Helen Thomson in the 14 April 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The article begins, “People in their 70’s seem to produce just as many new neurons as teenagers. When HM was a graduate student it was dogma that new neurons could not be produced. It is only fairly recently that it was found that the human hippocampus, central to learning and memory, produces new neurons throughout life.

Maura Boldrini of Columbia University and her colleagues have analyzed the hippocampi from 28 people, aged between 14 and 79. These were examined soon after each person’s death to check for the number of new neurons they contained as well as other signs of neuron function and activity. Similar numbers of new neurons were found throughout each hippocampus, regardless of a person’s age. The team estimates that each person was making about 700 neurons a day when they died (Cell Stem Cell, doi.org/cm4z).

Jeff Davies at Swansea University, UK says he would be interested to see the study repeated in people who do and don’t exercise because this would provide some insight into whether the production of new neurons can be modified by environmental factors in humans to promote healthy brain aging. To this HM adds comparing people with high levels of brain activity against people with low levels of brain activity. This is likely one of the factors involved in developing a cognitive reserve and avoiding the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s even if the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles develop.

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

Two Disturbing Articles About Cognitive Decline

April 22, 2018

There were two disturbing articles about cognitive decline in the Aging Issue in the Health & Science section of the 17 April 2018 issue of the Washington Post. To be fair, two were positive articles. One positive article was by Marlene Cimons titled “Many seniors don’t accept stereotypes about aging.” Becca Levy, a professor of Psychology at Yale did a study that found that older adults with positive beliefs about old age were less likely to develop dementia, including those who are genetically disposed. She writes that negative age stereotypes are communicated to children through many sources, ranging from stories to social media. Individuals of all ages can benefit from bolstering their positive images of aging.

Another positive article was by Debra Bruno titled “Even in their 80s, these seniors set a very active pace.” She lists the following eight lessons:
Have a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. Healthy memory blog readers should recognize this as “ikigai.”
Celebrate and cultivate the social connections.
Do not be defined by your obstacles.
Money isn’t as important as you think.
Acknowledge that aging can be lonely.
Have a routine.
Location is important.
Death has no dominion

By far the worst article is by Kirk R. Daffner and is titled “How will I know when it’s time to retire?” This fellow is a neurologist and clinical director of an Alzheimer Center. His advice is to have a “Living Will for his Cognitive Skills” Basically he is conceding defeat and writing an article of surrender. I find it both disturbing and frightening that he is both a neurologist and clinical director of an Alzheimer center. He is woefully ignorant of relevant key research on the topic, and this ignorance does not bode well for patients at his center.

Another article, which is somewhat positive, but still disturbing, is by Lauren Neergaard and is titled, “Scientists study brains of “superagers’ to study their unusual memory. His definition of a superego is a useful brain in the body of someone 80 or older. Rogalski’s team has tested more than 1,000 people who thought they’d qualify, and only about 5% pass. Here is the test:listen to 15 unrelated words, and a half-hour later recall at least nine of them. Neergaard says, “That’s the norm for 50-year olds, but on average an 80-year old recalls five. Some superagers remember them all.

Now when HM was in graduate school, he would not have been able to recall the 5 words that Rogalski says is the norm for an 80 year old. To be sure, his superagers, are truly super, but the problem involves people who read this, do poorly, and conclude that they are in the process of cognitive decline. It is ridiculous to write something like this, and for an editor to publish it. It is a damaging statement. First of all, people should never self-test. And even if they did publish the test, the specific protocol for the test needs to be published (how the words are selected, the method of presentation, the study time, and what is done in the inter-test interval).

The following healthy memory blog posts need to be read: The Myth of Cognitive Decline and More on the Myth of Cognitive Decline (Use the healthymemory blog search block). Research has shown through simulations (which is the only way this issue can be practically studied), is that memory processes become slower as we age because those of us who are active learners acquire magnitudes of order more information across time. HM has a colleague in his nineties who appears to be slow and apologizes for “senior moments”. HM cautioned him never to apologize because his apparent slowness was due to the enormous amounts of information he has acquired over his active learning lifetime.

One of the superagers who will be 87 next month and who joined Rogalski’s study two years ago is interesting. His father developed Alzheimer’s in his 50s. He thinks his own stellar memory is bolstered by keeping busy. He bikes, and he plays tennis and water volleyball. He stays social through regular lunches and meetings wit a men’s group he co-founded. Rogalski’s research is interesting and he is finding anatomical information about the brain that is important.

The article also mentions the research that Claudia Kawas is doing at the University of California at Irvine. She studies the oldest old, people 90 and older. Some have Alzheimer’s. Some have maintained excellent memory, and some are in between. She’s found that about 40% of the oldest-old who show no symptoms of dementia during life nonetheless have full-fledged signs of Alzheimer’s disease in their brains at death, Kawas told the AAAS meeting. The common explanation for this finding is that these individuals had built up a cognitive reserve, presumably due to learning during their lifetimes. Rogalski has also found varying amounts of amyloid and tau, hallmark Alzheimer’s proteins in the brains of some superagers.

Rogalski asks, “Are there modifiable things we can think about today, in our lives to live long and live well.

HM is glad he asked. First of all, live a healthy lifestyle. Then focus on the primary organ, the brain, and how you use it. HM advises to have a growth mindset throughout one’s lifetime. That is to keep learning throughout one’s entire life. HM also has the conjecture, a strongly felt conjecture, that a specific type of processing is important. Nobel prize winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman presented his two process model of cognition in his best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.” System 1, called intuition, is our normal mode of processing. System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds to what we call thinking. Most learning has a heavy involvement of System 2 processing.

HM also thinks that meditation, in general, and the relaxation response, in particular, is beneficial to both personal and cognitive health. Enter “relaxation response” into the search of the healthy memory block to learn more. Meditation and mindfulness develop the ability to focus one’s attention, which is critically important to effective cognition.

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

Bursting Your Twitter Bubble Actually Makes You More Extreme

April 21, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title in a News Piece by Marie LeConte in the 7 April 2018 Issue of the New Scientist. How can people’s minds be altered is the question asked by teams from Duke University, New York University, and Princeton University. More than 1,000 people participated in this research.

Before and after the trial the team measured the political leanings of participants by asking them to rate how much they agreed with such statements as “government is almost always wasteful and inefficient” and “homosexuality should be accepted by society.” These questions were used to identify Republican and Democratic Twitter users. Over the course of a month, Republican Twitter users followed a bot that automatically retweeted posts from Democrat politicians, pundits, and journalists, and vice versa for Democrat Twitter users.

Rather than becoming sympathetic to ideas retweeted by the bots, participants views became more entrenched. After leaving their echo chambers, Republicans became substantially more conservative and Democrats slightly more liberal.

This study does not offer hope to those who want to reduce polarized views. The team concluded, “Well-intentioned attempts to introduce people to opposing political views on social media might not only be ineffective, but counter-productive.”
(SocArXiv, doi.org/cmwx)

Attempts to change people’s views are not only likely to fail, but actually harden those political views. When people think that their beliefs are under attack, they not only put up their defensive shields, but also fire back. This called the Boomerang Effect.

The only known way to affect opposing views is to try to find a point or two of agreement and then work from there. Expressing the same idea or problem differently to attain some degree of agreement can work. If it does, then try to build on this to find other areas potential agreement and then work from there. This is painstaking work.

This article reminds HM of a Prickly City cartoon in the 19 April 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The cat, Winslow asks the human, Carmen, “Why can’t we agree on the truth?”
To which Carmen answers,”Big question”, and continues, “maybe it’s because truth can challenge our deeply held beliefs, making us cling to them harder in the face of reality.”
To which Winslow responds, with the query,”So people would rather feel right than be right?”
and Carmen responds, “That’s about right.”
To which Winslow responds, “Your species is crackers, you know that?”
and Carmen responds, “I’ve often felt that way.”

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

The Antithesis of the Enlightenment

April 19, 2018

We Americans are living in the antithesis of the Enlightenment discussed in Steven Pinker’s “ENLIGHTENMENT NOW: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.” Consider the two quotes at the beginning of the book

Those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of humankind.
——-Baruch Spinoza

Everything that is not forbidden by the laws of nature is achievable, given the right knowledge.
——-David Deutsch

HM would like to see a poll asking Americans to rate their degree of agreement or disagreement with the two statements.

Consider Spinoza’s statement. One would expect a fairly high degree of agreement for those who espouse the “Golden Rule,” “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” One could regard Spinoza’s statement as being a paraphrase of the Golden Rule. However, many would probably disagree because this is clearly the dreaded socialism.

It would be interesting to see the response to Deutsch’s statement broken down by people with different educational backgrounds. It would not be surprising that there might be some scientists who would strongly agree with this statement. HM would say that this is an empirical question so we don’t know yet.

Now let us consider Donald Trump and his followers, not with respect to how they would rate these statements, but what they reflect in their own statements and behavior.

Donald Trump has one metric, personal wealth. That is how he evaluates himself and his fellow human beings. Service to the country or to fellow human beings matters not. True, he does admire generals for the stars on their shoulders and the power they control, but not John McCain, because he does not value POWs. HIs personal charity has been identified as a sham and what little he does in the way of giving is essentially regifting what has been given to him. He is an extremely shallow and thin-skinned individual. He is constantly harshly responding to what he regards as slights. It is hard to believe that he is an unhappen individual, but he is. Whatever little intellectual capacity he might have is limited by the length of a tweet. So he has no appreciation for science or the arts. He is provided the best intelligence available in the world, but chooses to get his information from Fox news, which supports the alternative reality in which Trump resides.

It is interesting to contrast Donald Trump with the Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller. Both were born rich. Trump’s life goal was to become richer. Robert Mueller devoted himself to public service. Although he could have avoided military service, as Trump did, Mueller volunteered for the Marines during the Viet Nam War. Here is his service record taken from the Wikipedia:
For his service in and during the Vietnam War, his military decorations and awards include: the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V”, Purple Heart Medal, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals with Combat “V”, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with three service stars, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and Parachutist Badge.
He continued his life devoted to public service after he left the Marine Corps. Eventually he was appointed head of the FBI and served his full 10 year term. He is a Republican and he is dedicated to the law.

Trump has had six bankruptcies, where good working people were stiffed due to overly lenient bankruptcy laws. He created and ran Trump University, which was a scam. He has had transactions with organized crime including the Russian Mafia.

It is both infuriating and absurd that Trump can attack and denigrate Robert Miller. And it is hard to believe that the Grand Old Party (GOP) is also attacking fellow Republican Mueller and the Department of Justice. Trump and the GOP continue to deny any collusion with the Russians, although it is a certainty that Putin approves of what is happening while Ronald Reagan is raging in his grave.

Whether Trump is a true billionaire or someone who is in debt for billions of dollars remains an open question as he keeps his finances and tax returns concealed. But he has the attitude of many billionaires that they never have enough, as this is the only way they have for evaluating their success. Their question is where do I stand on the list that Forbes publishes. These billionaires are shallow individuals. They have no intellectual depth. They cannot appreciate the possible satisfaction of giving to charities. The Gates and America’s foremost capitalist, Warren Buffet, plan to effectively give their fortunes away. Moreover, they are against inherited wealth. They do not think it is good for either their children or the country.

Most of the large extant wealth is inherited wealth. So these are people lucky by birth. Donald Trump himself did not start from scratch. He began with money from his father. Some, perhaps many, of these wealthy parties use their wealth to sponsor activities that further their personal wealth. They reason that the system must be good because it has benefitted them. All of this has produced a gross maldistribution of wealth that does not bode well for the country.

Science is regarded by many of these people as something that gets in the way of increasing their wealth. So it is not something to be appreciated, but rather ignored and even destroyed. The United States is currently being raped by Trump appointees who are not only disregarding scientific information, but also destroying scientific information. The next administration will be preoccupied with the task of undoing the considerable damage that is being done to the United States by the Trump administration.

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

Science

April 18, 2018

Dr. Pinker argues in “Enlightenment Now” that the greatest accomplishment of our species is science. HM strongly agrees with this statement. It is certainly responsible for our standard of living. Most of the progress documented by Dr. Pinker would not have occurred without science. This being the case, what could possibly be the problem.

One problem comes from religions who believe scriptures that are clearly wrong and deny Science. The Amish do this, but HM admires the Amish in that they adopt, for the most part, a standard of living commensurate to their ignorance of science. However, most accept the fruits of science while denying scientific findings.

Perhaps the best example of this is their denial of evolution and their embracement of intelligent design. Unfortunately, too many people argue against teaching intelligent design in schools, and for the teaching of evolutionary theory. HM dislikes this because science should not be taught as dogma. Moreover, comparing intelligent design with evolutionary design provides a good means of illustrating the essence of science.

Intelligent design cherry picks species that they argue could only be done by the hand of God. One can easily find living species that make one wonder why they were created, but it is the dead and extinct species that are most informative. What are they? Failures of God? Did God screw up millions to times trying develop the remaining species? What explains them? Don’t they point to an evolutionary process? And what about geological data? Those data, that came to us through many years of research by the more intelligent of our species is to be ignored because of what is said in the bible?

The conflict between science and religion is unnecessary. HM believes in God and there are many religions that do not claim for the literal interpretation of the bible. When there is good scientific data, that should be believed rather than some religious scripture. The Dalai Lama provides a good example. He uses science to inform his religion. And he sends his followers to learn science.

The disrespect of science among American right-wing politicians has led even stalwarts (such as Bobby Jindal) to disparage their own Republican party as the “party of the stupid.” This reputation grew out of policies set in motion during George W. Bush’s administration including the encouragement of the teaching of intelligent design in lieu of evolution, and a shift from the longstanding practice of seeking advice from disinterested scientific panels to stacking the panels with congenial ideologues, may of whom promoted flaky ideas (such as that abortion causes breast cancer) while denying well-supported ones (such as condoms preventing sexually transmitted diseases).

The highest point of this stupidity has been reached with the Incompetent who is currently serving as the President of the United States. Not only is he not using science and denying science, but he is both making scientific information difficult to access and even destroying scientific information.

Dr. Pinker makes every effort to be fair. He notes that there are those on the left of the political spectrum who have stoked panics about overpopulation, nuclear power, and genetically modified organisms. It is important that these potential problems be brought to public attention, but people must do their own reading to get a more balanced understanding of the issues.

There are many criticisms of science that are just irrelevant. One is reductionism. Reductionism is not the aim of all science. Some areas of research employ reductionism. But at different levels, new processes emerge. And research areas are designed for particular areas that emerge at different levels. So one can study neuroscience, but then others study the processes that emerge from neuroscience, such as cognition.

There are also criticisms of science by intellectuals. Frankly, HM attributes most of these criticisms as intellectual jealousy. Although their studies might be interesting, they are not that relevant to the rest of society, and do not contribute much to public welfare.

Regarding public welfare and political disagreements, a scientific approach should be embraced. When a problem is identified and there is disagreement about how to deal with the problem a scientific approach is recommended. Design a study to evaluate the alternative approaches. This could also provide the data for the possible quantification of the magnitude of the benefit or problem, depending on what is being studied. Do not argue “I believe.” Beliefs should be left at home. Points should be argued with logic and data.

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

Reason

April 17, 2018

Steven Pinker has a chapter called Reason in his outstanding book, “Enlightenment Now.” Part of the problem with reason or reasoning are beliefs, as was expounded in a previous healthy memory blog post, “Beliefs: Necessary, but Dangerous.” The legal scholar Dan Kahan has argued that certain beliefs become symbols of cultural allegiance protected by identity-protective connection. People affirm or deny these beliefs to express not what they know but who they are. Endorsing a belief that hasn’t passed muster with science and fact-checking isn’t so irrational. At least not by the criterion of the immediate effects on the believer. The effects on the society and planet are another matter. The atmosphere doesn’t care what people think about it, and if it in fact warms by 4 degrees Celsius, billions of people will suffer, no matter how many of them had been esteemed in their peer groups for holding a locally fashionable opinion on climate change along the way. Kahn concluded that we are all actors in a Tragedy of Belief Commons: what’s rational for every individual to believe (based on esteem) can be irrational for the society as a whole to act upon (based on reality). Technology has the effect of magnifying differences that result in polarization in political and social domains.

A fundamental problem is that accurate knowledge can be effortful and time consuming to obtain. Predictions are very difficulty as some have noted especially when they are about the future. Psychologist Philip Tetlock has studied the accuracy of forecasters. He recruited hundreds of analysts, columnists, academics, and interested laypeople to compete in forecasting tournaments in which they were presented with possible events and asked to assess their likelihood. This research was conducted over 20 years during which 28,000 predictions were made. So, how well did the experts do? On average, about as well as a chimpanzee throwing darts. In other words, not better than chance.

Tetlock and fellow psychologists Mellers and Gardner held another competition between 2011 and 2015 in which they recruited several thousand contestants to take part in a forecasting tournament held by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA). Again the average performance was at chance levels, but in both tournaments the researchers could pick out “superforecasters,” who performed not just better than chimps and pundits, but better than professional intelligence officers with access to classified information, better than prediction markets, and not too far from the theoretical maximum. The accurate predictions last for about a year. Accuracy declines into the future, and falls to the level of chance around 5 years out.

The forecasters who did the worst, were also the most confident, were the ones with Big Ideas, be they left- or right wing, optimistic or pessimistic. Here is the summary by Tetlock & Gardner:

“As ideologically diverse as they were, they were united by the fact that their thinking was so ideological. They sought to squeeze complex problems into the preferred cause-effect templates and treated what did not fit as irrelevant distractions. Allergic to wishy-washy answers, they kept pushing their analyses to the limit (and then some), using terms like “furthermore” and “moreover” while piling up reasons why they were right and others wrong. As a result they were unusually confident and likelier to declare things as “impossible” or “certain.” Committed to their conclusions, they were reluctant to change their minds even when their predictions clearly failed.”

Tetlock described the super forecasters as follows:

“pragmatic experts who drew on many analytical tools, with the choice of tool hinging on the particular problem they faced. These experts gathered as much information from as many sources as they could. When thinking, they often shifted mental gears, sprinkling their speech with transition markers such as “however,” “but,” “although,” and “on the other hand.” They talked about possibilities and probabilities, not certainties. And while no one likes to say, “I was wrong,” these experts more readily admitted it and changed their minds.”

The superforecasters displayed what psychologist Jonathan Baron calls “active open-mindedness” with opinions such as these:

People should take into consideration evidence that goes against they beliefs. [Agree]
It is more useful to pay attention to those who disagree with you than to pay attention to those who agree. [Agree]
Changing your mind is a sign of weakness. [Disagree]
Intuition is the best guide in making decisions. [Disagree]
It is important to persevere in your beliefs even went evidence is brought to bear against them. [Disagree]

The manner of the Superforecasters’ reasoning is Bayesian. They tacitly use the rule from the Reverend Bayes on how to update one’s degree of credence in a proposition in light of evidence. It should be noted that Nate Silver (fivethirtyeight.com) is also a Bayesian.

Steven Pinker notes that psychologists have recently devised debiasing programs that fortify logical and critical thinking criteria. They encourage students to spot, name, and correct fallacies across a wide range of contexts. Some use computer games that provide students with practice, and with feedback that allows them to see the absurd consequences of their errors. Other curricula translate abstruse mathematical statements into concrete, imaginable scenarios. Tetlock has compiled the practices of successful forecasters into a set of guidelines for good judgment (for example, start with the base rate; seek out evidence and don’t overreact or under react to it; don’t try to explain away your own errors but instead use them as a source of calibration). These and other programs are provably effective: students’ newfound wisdom outlasts the training session and transfers to new subjects.

Dr. Pinker concludes,”Despite these successes, and despite the fact that the ability to engage in unbiased, critical reasoning is a prerequisite to thinking about anything else, few educational institutions have set themselves the goal of enhancing rationality (This includes my own university, where my suggestion during a curriculum review that all students should learn about cognitive biases fell deadborn from my lips.) Many psychologists have called on their field to “give debiasing away” as one of its greatest potential contributions to human welfare.”

It seems appropriate to end this post on reason with the Spinoza quote from the beginning of the book:

“Those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of humankind.”

Unfortunately, Now We’re Off the Tracks

April 16, 2018

And that is because of Donald Trump. Most of the following is taken directly from Steven Pinker’s ENLIGHTENMENT NOW:

“Life and Health have been expanded in large part by vaccination and other well-vetted interventions, and among the conspiracy theories that Trump has endorsed is the long-debunked claim that preservatives in vaccines cause autism. The gains have also been secured by broad access to medical care, and he has pushed for legislation that would withdraw health insurance from tens of millions of American, a reversal of the trend toward beneficial spending.

Worldwide improvements in wealth have come from a globalized economy, powered in large part by international trade. Trump is a protectionist who sees international trade as a zero-sum contest between countries, and is committed to tearing up international trade agreements.

Growth in wealth will also be driven by technological innovation, education, infrastructure, an increase in the spending power of the lower and middle classes, constraints on cronyism and plutocracy that distort market competition, and regulations on finance that reduce the likelihood of bubbles and crashes. In addition to being hostile to trade, Trump is indifferent to technology and education and an advocate of regressive tax cuts on the wealthy, while appointing corporate and financial tycoons to his cabinet who are indiscriminately hostile to regulation.

In capitalizing on concerns about inequality, Trump has demonized immigrants and trade partners while ignoring the major disrupter of lower-middle-class jobs, technological change. He has also opposed the measures that most successfully mitigate its harms, namely progressive taxation and social spending.

The environment has benefited from regulations on air and water pollution that have coexisted with growth in population, GDP, and travel. Trump believes that environmental regulation is economically destructive; worst of all, he has called climate change a hoax and announced a withdrawal from the historic Paris agreement.

Safety, too, has been dramatically improved by federal regulations, toward which Trump and his allies are contemptuous. While Trump has cultivated a reputation for law and order, he is viscerally uninterested in evidence-based policy that would distinguish effective crime-prevention measures from useless tough talk.”

“Postwar Peace has been cemented by trade, democracy, international agreements and organizations and norms against conquest. Trump has vilified international trade and has threatened to defy international agreements and weaken international organizations.” He is an admirer of Vladimir Putin. Enough said.

“Democracy depends both on explicit constitutional protections such as freedom of the press and on shared norms, in particular that political leadership is determined by the rule of law and nonviolent political competition rather than a charismatic leader’s will to power.” Trump has exhibited contempt for these norms.

“The ideals of tolerance, equality, and Equal Rights took big symbolic hits during his campaign and early administration. Trump demonized Hispanic immigrants, proposed banning Muslim immigration altogether (and tried to impose a partial ban once elected), repeatedly demeaned women, tolerated vulgar expressions of racism and sexism at his rallies, accepted support from white supremacist groups and equated them with their opponents, and appointed a strategist and an attorney general who are hostile to the civil rights movement.”

“The ideal of Knowledge—that opinions should be based on justified true beliefs—has been mocked by Trump’s repetition of ludicrous conspiracy theories: that Obama was born in Kenya, Senator Ted Cruz’s father was involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination, thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrated 9/11, Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered, Obama had his phones tapped millions of illegal voters cost him the popular vote, and literally dozens of others.” Need more be written?

“Most frighteningly Trump has pushed back against the norms that have protected the world against the possible existential threat of nuclear war.” “Worst of all, the chain of command gives an American president enormous discretion over the use of nuclear weapons in a crisis, on the tacit assumption that no president would act rashly on such a grave matter. Yet Trump has a temperament that is notoriously impulsive and vindictive.”

Steven Pinker ENLIGHTENMENT NOW

April 15, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title of a new and important book by Steven Pinker. The subtitle of the book is “The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Two quotes capture the central message of the book:

Those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of humankind.
——-Baruch Spinoza

Everything that is not forbidden by the laws of nature is achievable, given the right knowledge.
——-David Deutsch

One can ask, is there a need for the Enlightenment Now? Who would argue against reason, science, humanism, or progress?
To which Dr. Pinker answers: “Since the 1960s, trust in the institutions of modernity has sunk, and the second decade of the 21st century saw the rise of populist movements that blatantly repudiate the ideals of the Enlightenment. They are tribalism rather than cosmopolitan, authoritarian rather than democratic, contemptuous of experts rather than respectful of knowledge, and nostalgic for an idyllic past rather than hopeful for a better future.”

Dr. Pinker writes about the future of progress. “Since the Enlightenment unfolded in the late 18th century, life expectancy across the world has risen from 30 to 71, and in the more fortunate countries to 81. When the enlightenment began, a third of the children born in the richest parts of the world died before their fifth birthday; today, that fate befalls 6% of the children in the poorest parts. When the enlightenment began, one % of the mothers in the richest countries did not live to see their newborns, a rate triple that of the poorest countries today, and this continues to fall.”

The world is about a hundred times wealthier today than it was two centuries ago, and the prosperity is becoming more evenly distributed across the world’s countries and people. The proportion of humanity living in extreme poverty has fallen from almost 90% to less than 10%. Catastrophic famine, never far away in most of human history, has vanished from most of the world, and undernourishment and stunting are in steady decline. A century ago, richer countries devoted one% of their wealth to supporting children, the poor, and the aged; today they spend almost a quarter of it. Most of the poor today are fed, clothed, and sheltered, and have luxuries like smartphones and air-conditioning that use to be unavailable to anyone, rich or poor.

The proportion of people killed annually in wars is less than a quarter of what it was in the 1980s, a seventh of what it was in the early 1970s and an eighteenth of what it was in the early 1950s, and a half a % of what it was during WW II. People are also becoming more literate, knowledgeable and smarter. Early in the 19th century, 12% could read and write; today 83% can. The schooling, together with health and wealth, are literally making use smarter—by 30 IQ points, or two standard deviations above our ancestors.

Dr. Pinker details the progress that has been made in life, health, sustenance, wealth, inequality, the environment, peace, safety, terrorism, democracy, equal rights, knowledge, quality of life, and happiness. To be sure, much still remains to be done, but pessimists should not be so pessimistic. The problem is that what is in the news and what is being written about are typically the problems that need to be addressed. Naturally this leads to pessimism. But Dr. Pinker does a reality reset. Much has been done and optimism is justified.

Finland is Up, U.S. Down on the Happiest-country List

April 14, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article in the Health & Science section of the 20 March 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The 2018 World Happiness Report of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) ranked 156 countries according to factors such as GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity, and absence of corruption.

Finland was ranked as the world’s happiest country. In spite of their harsh, dark winters, Finns said access to nature, safety, child care, good schools, and free health care were among the best things about their country. Finland rose from fifth place last year to oust Norway from the top spot. The 2018 top 10 are Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, and Australia. The United States came in at 18th, down from 14th place last year.

All countries in the top ten provide universal health paid for by the government. Moreover, all advanced countries with the exception of the U.S. provide universal health care courtesy of the government. In addition to having poorer health in the United States, people end up in bankruptcy trying to pay for health care. The following two paragraphs are taken directly from the Post article:

“One chapter of the 170-page report is dedicated to emerging health problems such as obesity, depression and the opioid crisis, particularly in the United States, where the prevalence of all three has grown faster than in most other countries.

While U.S. income per capita has increased markedly over the past half-century, happiness has been hit by weakened social support networks, a perceived rise in corruption in government and business, and declining confidence in public institutions.”

Jeffrey Sachs, the head of the SDSN says, “We obviously have a social crisis in the United States: more inequality, less trust, less confidence in government. It’s pretty stark right now. The signs are not good for the U.S. It is getting richer and richer but not getting happier.”

For the first time since the report was started in 2012, the report ranked the happiness of foreign-born immigrants in the 117 countries. Finland also took top honors in this category also. John Halliwell of the University of British Columbia said, “The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born.”

Too Many People Unnecessarily Die of Stroke

April 13, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Kevin Sheth in the Health and Science Section of the 10 April 2018 issue of the Washington Post. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strokes strike nearly 800,00 Americans each year, killing 140,000.

The author of the article is a neurologist who writes, “every single day I am left unable to help victims of stroke, despite an effective treatment in hand, simply because they arrive too late. The blood clots in the brain that cause strokes irreversibly change who we are and burden our families.” As if this personal cost were not enough, the annual cost to society is $34 billion.

For more than two decades, neurologist and emergency providers had a drug available that can restore blood flow to the brain, limiting damage, but only 4% of stroke patients receive the medication. The drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), is a potent blood thinner and was approved as an effective clot-busting treatment by the Food and Drug Administration in1996. However, patients must receive the medication in the first few hours after experiencing a stroke for it to work. So if you have the slightest feeling that you’re having a stroke, quickly go to an emergency room and quickly notify them that you’re having a stroke. Remember that patients with stroke usually don’t have pain, but remember that it is difficult to call 911 if you are alone, paralyzed and unable to speak.

Since 2015, at least eight international trials have shown the efficacy of a mechanical clot-removal procedure that can restore blood flow. The possible window for this treatment can be as long as 24 hours in some patients, but as with tPA, earlier is always better. With 2 million brain cells dying every minute without blood flow, time is brain.

Remember that pain is not usually a symptom of stroke. Here are stroke symptoms taken from the Wikipedia

• hemiplegia and muscle weakness of the face
• numbness
• reduction in sensory or vibratory sensation
• initial flaccidity (reduced muscle tone), replaced by spasticity (increased muscle tone), excessive reflexes, and obligatory synergies.[34]
• altered smell, taste, hearing, or vision (total or partial)
• drooping of eyelid (ptosis) and weakness of ocular muscles
• decreased reflexes: gag, swallow, pupil reactivity to light
• decreased sensation and muscle weakness of the face
• balance problems and nystagmus
• altered breathing and heart rate
• weakness in sternocleidomastoid muscle with inability to turn head to one side
• weakness in tongue (inability to stick out the tongue or move it from side to side)
• aphasia (difficulty with verbal expression, auditory comprehension, reading and writing; Broca’s or Wernicke’s area typically involved)
• dysarthria (motor speech disorder resulting from neurological injury)
• apraxia (altered voluntary movements)
• visual field defect
• memory deficits (involvement of temporal lobe)
• hemineglect (involvement of parietal lobe)
• disorganized thinking, confusion, hypersexual gestures (with involvement of frontal lobe)
• lack of insight of his or her, usually stroke-related, disability
• altered walking gait
• altered movement coordination
• vertigo and or disequilibrium

Remember, not to delay and to seek attention immediately.

How Medicine Got Too Good for It’s Own Good

April 12, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature Article by Wendy Glauser in the Feature section in the 7 April 2018 Issue of the New Scientist. H. Gilbert Welch is both a physician and an academic researcher. He has spend the last 25 years warning of the dangers of overzealous medicine. He fears that doctors are detecting problems too early convincing healthy people they are sick, and treating them too aggressively.

His latest research was published in December in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He found that in US hospital regions with high rates of CT scans, which are typically ordered to check the lungs and abdomen, many more kidneys are removed. Apparently when doctors look at the images they see the kidneys too, and often stumble on innocuous cancers. Welch said, “It’s leading some people to be treated for disease that was never going to bother them. Moreover, there is significant risk. 1 in 50 of those who underwent surgery died within a month.

Welch is a professor at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, He has written three books highlighting unnecessary medical care, as well as dozens of journal articles and call-to-arms pieces in newspapers such as The New York Times. With biomedical companies designing ever more tests, such as breath-tests for cancer, the problem seems poised to worsen. Welch says, “It’s a very frothy industry right now.”

Welch says, “I was taught in medical school that once a cancer was formed, it was going to relentlessly progress to metastatic cancer. We now know it’s a whole lot more complex than that.” Cancers can grow quickly and slowly; some even vanish on their own.

A new test the worries Welch is liquid biopsy, which identifies pieces of “cell-free DNA” in the blood to determine whether someone has cancer and how bad that cancer is. Welch says, “You think, how could you possibly argue with that, until you look under the hood.” We all have cell-free DNA in our blood, and liquid biopsy analyzes about 2000 different mutations in this DNA. An algorithm then determines what thresholds and combinations of mutation equal cancer. Welch worries about a future in which people are told: “You have a positive liquid biopsy, but we don’t know where the tumor is, so we’re gonna have to start looking.”

Richard Baker a radiologist and colleague of Welch’s says the he often dissuades his patients from a biopsy on their thyroids after imaging has found a nodule, even though that is why they’re seeing him. Baker says, “Thyroid biopsies are skyrocketing in this country, yet deaths from thyroid cancer have always been rare in the US and treatment carries risks of its own. These are difficult ideas for both patients and physicians to accept.

Regarding mammography he found that looking at women who were screened every year for a decade from the age of 50, he found that for every 1000 of these women, roughly one will avoid death through breast cancer, more than 500 will have at least one false alarm and 10 will be treated needlessly.

Welch asks if people want medical care as a way to deal with acute problems for things that are bothering them? Or do they want to take the power of medicine to look hard to try to find things wrong with them? In this age of super-sensitive diagnostics, seek and ye shall find.

For more information on this topic go to the healthy memory blog post, “Less Medicine, More Health.” Better yet, read the book by Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, “Less Medicine, More Health.”

Victims of the Dunning-Kruger Effect

April 11, 2018

The Dunning-Kruger Effect describes the phenomenon of people thinking they know much more about a topic than they actually know, compared to the knowledgeable individual who is painfully aware of how much he still doesn’t know about the topic in question.

Donald Trump provides an interesting case of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Many times he has expounded on how much he knows. He knows more than the generals about the military, he knows more than John McCain about being a prisoner of war, in fact he does not like prisoners who were captured, and on and on and on. It is clear that he thinks he knows more about the law than his lawyers do. He has also claimed to be the only one who knows how to solve our problems.

But in fact, he is woefully ignorant. He publicly asked the Russians for Hillary’s emails to aid his campaign. Apparently, he did not know that foreign powers were to play no role in American elections. He keeps claiming that there was no collusion. But here he was in public asking for collusion and the Russians obviously complied.

It is also clear that he could not pass an 8th grade civics test. He did not, or probably still does no know, that the three branches of government, Executive, Legislative, and Judicial are independent. He said on television that he wanted to get rid of Comey as the FBI Director because he was afraid of what he might do. Moreover, he boasted about getting rid of Comey to the Russians. Yet he continues to regard himself and describe himself as a genius.

Then you have Trump’s supporters. They do not like knowledgeable individuals, which they contemptuously call they elite. They are fearful of these individuals as being some conspiratorial dark force (the deep state). And many, if not most, of these people embrace Trump as their savior. In fact they are colluding entities in a very large Dunning-Kruger Effect.

So who are the victims? All Americans, but only some are deserving victims. The rest of us are collateral damage. Another victim, not to be overlooked, is democracy.

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

The Shocking Truth of Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiments

April 7, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature article by Gina Perry in the 17 March 2018 issue of the New Scientist. Before discussing the article, Milgram’s research must first be described. The following is taken from a previous healthy memory blog post, “Good vs. Evil:”

Another relevant line of research was conducted earlier by a fellow professor who had grown up in the South Bronx, Stanley Milgram. Milgram was Jewish and wondered how the Germans could commit the atrocities the Nazis committed. And he wondered whether this was a uniquely German affliction. Milgram was at Yale, but he conducted his research at other settings in addition to Yale, Milgram’s experiment was framed as a learning experiment. Two participants arrived at the experiment, although one of the participants was a confidant of the experimenter. There was a pseudo random assignment to the conditions (the experimenter’s confederate was always the student). The student went into an adjacent room. It was set up as a learning experiment, and when the student made a mistake, the other participant, the “teacher,” was told to administer an electric shock. These shocks were (apparently to the trainer) on a panel indicating that the shocks were increasing in intensity. As the trainer progressed up the panel, the “student” indicated increasing amounts of pain. Close to the end, he was shrieking, and at the very end, there was complete silence. Now there were a few “trainers”, perhaps 10% who left at the beginning of the experiment. However, about 65% went all the way to the top. HM has viewed videos of some of these experiments. The trainers were showing obvious signs of distress as they thought they were increasing in intensity, but when the experimenter told them to continue, they continued. In fact, when there were two trainers, the second one being a confederate of the experimenter, 91% of the trainers, influenced by peer pressure, went to the top. Over the many iterations of this experiment there were about 1,000 experimental subjects (the “trainers”). And these research participants could have left the experiment at any time. A more detailed account of this experiment can be found in the Wikipedia.

Dr. Perry, who is a psychologist, has reviewed Milgram’s research materials and accused him of not reporting all his results, and that if all his results had been dutifully reported, the results would not have been so dramatic.

It should be understood that Milgram’s results and his conclusions are extremely important. When he reported his results there were those who said that not only should he not have reported the results, he should not even have done the research.

Milgram was Jewish who was trying to understand how a civilized country like Germany could have committed the holocaust. His going in hypothesis was that this was a character trait specific to Germany. His initial expectations were to demonstrate that such dispositions were not present in Americans. Having proven that, he was going to attempt a replication of the study with Germans. His results amazed him. There was no need to replicate the results in Germany. He found that a large majority of people would be willing to commit similar atrocities in America. Not surprisingly many people do not want to accept results that paint our species in a unfavorable light. Apparently, they would prefer to remain in their ignorance.

Although all research participants were debriefed on the experiment, the research was criticized by some because they thought it gave the majority of the participants an unfavorable opinion of themselves. These criticisms were raised at a time when self-esteem was in vogue. An individual’s self esteem should not be injured, and these results injured people’s self esteem. Arguments were made against competitive sports and activities were arranged where everyone could emerge a winner. However, it was also found that people with high self-esteem were reluctant to participate in new activities where they might fail and injure their self-esteem.

The current view in psychology is that we all should have growth mindsets, where we seek out new activities and subjects to learn. If we fail, we know that we likely will eventually prevail as long as we keep trying. [Enter “growth mindsets” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to learn more about growth mindsets]. High self-esteem discourages growth mindsets.

HM has long thought that the experiences from Milgram’s experiments were valuable to all participants. Even though self-esteem was initially lowered, that lowering of self-esteem was a good experience. The participants were awarded with self-knowledge that might prove to be extremely valuable in the future. They would be much more likely to refuse when told to engage in questionable activity. Moreover, surveys revealed that 84% of the former participants where either very glad or glad that they had participated in the experiment. 15% chose neutral responses. Some correspondence from one of the participants follows:
While I was a subject in 1964, though I believed that I was hurting someone, I was totally unaware of why I was doing so. Few people ever realize when they are acting according to their own beliefs and when they are meekly submitting to authority … To permit myself to be drafted with the understanding that I am submitting to authority’s demand to do something very wrong would make me frightened of myself … I am fully prepared to go to jail if I am not granted Conscientious Objector status. Indeed, it is the only course I could take to be faithful to what I believe. My only hope is that members of my board act equally according to their conscience …[

Another unfortunate outcome of MIlgram’s experiments was the development of institutional review boards (IRBs). Fortunately, these did not exist when HM was a student. Unfortunately, today they are hindering necessary research. Of course, nothing harmful should be done to research participants. But injuring their self-esteem is beneficial, not detrimental.

Replication is the sine qua non of scientific research, but IRBs have precluded the replication of MIlgram’s important research.

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

An Unhealthy Memory

April 6, 2018

This post is motivated by an article sponsored by The Marshall Project and published in the FiveThirtyEight Newsletter, Significant Digits for Thursday April 5, 2018. The title of the article is “The Myth of the Criminal Immigrant.”

The article begins “The Trump administration’s first year of immigration policy has relied on claims that immigrants bring crime into America. President Trump’s latest target is sanctuary cities.” Trump said las week, “Every day sanctuary cities release illegal immigrants, drug dealers, traffickers, gang members back into our communities. They’re safe havens for just some terrible people.”

Unfortunately according to Gallup polls, almost half of Americans agreed that immigrants make crime worse. But do these beliefs correspond to reality? The percent change in immigrant population in American from 1980 to 2016 was an increase of 118%. The percent change in violent crime in American since 1980 is a decrease of 36%.

In a large-scale collaboration by four universities, led by Robert Edelman, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, researchers compared the immigration rates with crime rates for 200 metropolitan areas over the last several decades. The selected areas included huge urban hubs like New York and smaller manufacturing centers less than a hundredth that size, like Muncie, Ind., and were dispersed geographically across the country. Crime fell more often that it rose even as immigrant populations grew almost across the board.

In 136 metro areas, almost 70% of those studied, the immigrant population increased between 1980 and 2016 while crime stayed stable or fell. The number of areas where crime and immigration both increased was much lower—54 areas, which is slightly more than a quarter of the total. The 10 places with the largest increase in immigrants all had lower levels of crime in 2016 than in 1980.

In Orange County, California where the immigrant population in the county has more than doubled since 1980, overall violent crime has decreased by more than 50%.

Previous healthy memory posts have argued that Trumps’s entire campaign is built on lies. Lies make for an unhealthy memory. Trump does not seem to know that he is lying. He could be tested for having a delusional disorder. The test for this disorder is to attach the individual to a polygraph. If he lies and the polygraph fails to detect, it may be concluded that he, and the rest of the country with him, is suffering the adverse effects of a delusional disorder.

Moreover, Trump does not seem to care whether he is lying. This was most evident in his recent debate with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau.

The truth appears to be that the President of the United States is not in touch with reality. It is obvious that he is not doing, and is perhaps incapable of, Kahneman’s System 2 processing. That there are people who still support him leads one to believe that there is an epidemic of unhealthy memories in the United States. These people also are not engaging System 2 processing. Much higher rates of Alzheimer’s and dementia can be anticipated for the future.

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

Nice Prize for Alzheimer’s Work

April 5, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the first half of a title of an article by Jacqui Wise in the news section of the 17 March 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The second half if the title is “shame about the lack of a cure.” The following is directly from the article, “In giving the 1 million Euro prize to four researchers in the UK, Germany, and Belgium, Denmark’s Lundbeck Foundation is likely to rekindle hopes of a cure being within reach. However, translating the work—much of it in animals—into drugs remains as frustratingly out of reach as ever.”

There was a healthy memory post on August 20, 2011 titled “The Myth of Alzheimer’s.” That post was on a book by Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D., and Daniel George, M.Sc.. Dr. Whitehouse had been conducting research on destroying or preventing the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that are the defining characteristics of the disease. His research was quite profitable and would have been continuing today, had he not come to the firm conclusion that this research would never pay off. He switched to conducting research on humans suffering from the disease.

The following is taken from that 20 August 2011 healthy memory blog post:
“The thesis of the book is best captured from the following excerpt from page 220, …”It is unlikely that there will ever be a panacea for brain aging and baby boomers should not rely on extraordinary advancements being made in their lifetimes besides the promises of the Alzheimer’s disease empire that make their way into our headlines. Our attention must begin shifting from mythical cure to hard-earned prevention, from expecting a symptomatic treatment for Alzheimer’s disease to choosing behaviors that may delay the effects “of cognitive decline over the course of our lives.” Many, if not most, of the behaviors he discusses have been mentioned and advocated in the Healthymemory Blog.

The book provides a superb tutorial on the history of Alzheimer’s disease from its unassuming beginnings to the development of an Alzheimer’s disease empire. It reviews the science underlying Alzheimer’s disease and the role of genetics in Alzheimer’s disease. It discusses past and present treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. It explains how to identify someone who might need a prescription for memory loss, and how to prepare for a doctor’s visit. It presents a new model for living with brain aging as well as a prescription for successful aging across the life span. An epilogue is titled ‘Thinking Like a Mountain: The Future of Aging.’”

The key behavior for minimizing the risk of suffering the symptoms of Alzheimer’s is living a healthy lifestyle that includes cognitive activity, that builds a cognitive reserve. This blog has many posts on both how to have a growth mindset and the benefits of a healthy mindset. Many people have died with amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s. Yet these people never knew they had Alzheimer’s as they exhibited none of the behavioral and cognitive symptoms. The reason given for these individuals is that they had a cognitive reserve. Recent research is finding evidence of how the brain changes as the result of cognitive reserve.

HM has a further conjecture that it is a specific type of processing that is beneficial. This is Kahnemans’s Type 2 processing, commonly referred to as thinking. Type 1 processing, our normal mode, called intuition, occurs quickly and with little attentional demands. As we age we tend to slip into more and more Type 1 processing. Entering “Kahneman” into the search block of the healthy memory blog will yield many posts on Kahneman and his Two Process Theory of cognition.

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

Data Lacking for Memory Supplements

April 4, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article from Consumer Reports in the Health and Science Section in the 3 Apr 2018 issue of the Washington Post. According to the Nutrition Business Journal, sales of supplements touted as memory boosters nearly doubled between 2006 and 2015. Unfortunately, according to a review of studies published in December, there’s virtually no good evidence that such products can prevent or delay memory lapses, mild cognitive impairment or dementia in older adults. Moreover, Pieter Cohen, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School says, “some may do more harm than good.”

Fish oils (omega-3 fatty acids); B vitamins such as folate B6 and B12; and ginkgo biloba extract, made from the dried leaves of a ginkgo tree, none of which have demonstrated their benefits. For example, one study published in Lancet Neurology in 2012 found that among 2,854 older adults with memory complaints, those who took ginkgo biloba extract twice a day for five years had no fewer cases of Alzheimer’s than those who took a placebo.

Regarding fish oil, some studies have found that people with diets high in omega-3s—which are found in fatty fish such as salmon—may have a lower risk of dementia. But similar benefits have not been found with supplements. A 2012 review of data on thousands of older adults found that those who took omega—3 fatty acid supplements had no fewer dementia diagnoses or better scores on tests of short-term memory than those who took a placebo.

Nor have B vitamins fared any better. A 2015 review of studies found that supplementation with B6, B12 and/or folic acid failed to slow or reduce the risk of cognitive decline in healthy older adults and did not improve brain function in those with cognitive decline or dementia.

The article states, “Our experts also recommend avoiding branded “memory boosting” blends.”

The article notes that a 2017 Government Accountability Office report analyzed hundreds of ads promoting memory-enhancing supplements and identified 27 making what seemed to be illegal claims about treating or preventing disease such as dementia.

Lon Schneider, professor of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California says, “even legal claims that suggest supplements will improve, boost or enhance your memory don’t have to have any data to justify them.” A statement from the Council on Responsible Nutrition, an industry group responded to the GAO report reads, “Dietary supplements cannot cure, treat or prevent Alzheimer’s, dementia, or any disease.”

Supplements are loosely regulated and some may contain undisclosed ingredients or prescription drugs. Some dangerously interact with medication: For example, ginkgo biloba should never be paired with blood thinners, blood pressure meds, or SSRI antidepressants.

Marvin M. Lipman, Consumer Reports medical adviser says, “Don’t be misled by hype. They are not only a waste of money, but some can also be harmful.”

The article offers three strategies to try instead (which should be familiar to healthy memory blog readers).
“*Do a brain workout. Enhancing reasoning and memory abilities—learning a new language, for instance—might help delay or slow decline. A 10-year trial found that such training (though not computerized “brain games’) can help increase cognitive processing speed an sharpen reasoning skills.

*Exercise your body. In 2011, one study estimated that a million cases of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States were caused by a sedentary lifestyle. Several studies have found that physical activities—walking, weightlifting, yoga, or tai chi, for example—may delay or slow cognitive decline but not prevent it.

*Manage blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure dramatically reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are risk factors for memory loss.”

The Brain and Mindfulness Meditation

April 2, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Bruce Lieberman in the Health & Science section of the 27 March 2018 issue of the Washington Post. His article was based on a recent article in the APS journal Perspectives on Psychological Science (Jan 2018) titled “Mind the Hype: A Critical Evaluation and Prescriptive Agenda for Research and Mindfulness and Meditation.” The title should tip off the reader that this article has a bias and it does. Healthymemory blog readers should be aware that there have been many posts on this topic.

The references include only three citations of Davidson, the most prolific and qualified researcher in the area, and only one for Goleman, who provided the incentive for research in this area. There is no reference to Dr. Benson, a physician and researcher at Harvard medical school who documented the benefits of the relaxation response. He also provided guidance and benefits of the relaxation response on Angina Pectoris, Anxiety, Depression, Hypertension, Stress-related infertility, insomnia, Menopausal, Perimenopausal, and Breast Cancer Hot Flashes, Nausea, Pain-General, Pain-Variations, Parkinson’s Disease, Phobias, Premature Aging, Premature Ventricular Contractions and Palpitations, and premenstrual syndrome. He does advise for treatment with a physician, but if the physician is hostile to meditation, then to look for a more accommodating physician. He also documents epigenetic effects in which meditation fosters healthy readouts from one’s genes. These effects are described in the healthy memory blog post “The Genetic Breakthrough—Your Ultimate Mind-Body Connection.”

HM was amazed by the kind and generous response by Dr. Davidson to the “Mind the Hype” article in his following paper in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, (Jan 2018) “Outstanding Challenges in Scientific Research on Mindfulness and Meditation.” Dr. Davidson is one of the most conscientious and demanding scientists HM knows.

The “Mind the Hype” article does not cite the book by Goleman and Davidson titled, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.”
This is the most exhaustive review of the literature currently available, and it does indicate how much is known about each topic. Dr. Davidson is his own most severe critic. So the best way to learn about the benefits and current limitations of mindfulness and meditation is to read this book. Short of that, read the numerous healthymemory posts that have been based on this book, along with the other healthy memory blog posts on this topic. Just use the search block for this blog. You can also go to Dr. Davidson’s website, https://centerhealthyminds.org/about/founder-richard-davidson

HM’s concern is that this article in the Washington Post based on this “Mind the Hype” review in the Washington Post will discourage people from meditating, in general, and from trying the relaxation response, in particular. There is much to be gained here and it is difficult imaging any risk.

Go to the healthy memory blog “An Update of the Relaxation Response Update” for guidance on how to do the relaxation response.

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

School Shootings Are Rare. We’re Still Terrified

April 1, 2018

The title of this article is identical to the title of an article by David Ropek in the Outlook Section of the 11 March 2018 Washington Post. Mr. Ropek writes, “the murder of children in their classrooms has come to seem common a regular feature of modern American life, and our fears so strong that we are certain the next horror is sure to come not long after the last.

According to the Education Report approximately 50 million children attend public schools for around 180 days per year . Since Columbine, approximately 200 public school students have been shot to death while school was in session, including the recent slaughter at Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, and a more recent shooting in Birmingham, AL. This means that the statistical likelihood of any given public school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 is about 1 in 614,000,000.

Although the article’s author does not mention Kahneman’s Availability, heuristic, this is what underlies the fear. According to Kahneman, it is information that is available and accessible in memory that guides our judgments. Moreover, this is reasonable, given that objective facts are not readily available, and considerable effort is involved in gathering the data Mr. Ropek did to write this article.

Nevertheless, HM is grateful that the students and the public are reacting in this way. The Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School students have been highly articulate and active. May they continue their effort and be joined by the entire country.

The exact wording of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution is
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
This amendment makes sense. Note that the justification for this is to maintain a well regulated militia. The NRA always omits this justification for the amendment. Today’s NRA is not the same our grandfathers’ NRA. In those days the NRA focused on gun safety. Today’s NRA seems to be focused on making every weapon available to everyone. It appears to be motivated by the fear that their guns might be taken away. As the prospect of their losing their guns is not on the horizon, this seems to be institutional paranoia. Unfortunately, a retired Supreme Court Justice appeared to be arguing for the repeal of the 2nd Amendment. This argument did nothing constructive and merely provided justification for the NRA’s paranoia.

Unfortunately, HM suffers from his own paranoia about the NRA. He asks why do they argue for weapons designed for combat? He remembers Charlton Heston, the actor, and HM believes a former president of the NRA, said that his rifle would need to be pried from his cold, dead hand. This leaves the impression that once some fear threshold is reached, the NRA will effectively declare war on the United States and need to be defeated militarily.

Clearly it is time for a sanity check. HM thinks that the majority of families do not have a gun in their homes. This would make gun owners a minority, and should be given the respect all minorities should be given. They have feelings, desires, and beliefs. This is not the time to think that it is morally superior to be anti-gun.

HM has also seen surveys of actual NRA members who seem to have moderate views on gun ownership. It seems that working with NRA members, reasonable gun laws could be passed. But it seems like the NRA is managed by paranoid lunatics. Moreover, they are heavily funded by gun manufacturers and perhaps by the Mercers, the Koch’s, and perhaps even the Russians. This group has essential bought the United States Congress. We can truthfully say that we have the best congress money can buy.

These students are trying to get Congress to pay attention not just to them, but to citizens at large. We all need to work with these students, including sane NRA members, uphold the 2nd Amendment, and assure the safety of all our citizens.

Please submit comments to correct any factual errors in this post.

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

 

Global Warming

March 27, 2018

There have been many previous healthy memory blog posts on global warming. The question is whether this global warming is anthropogenic. Although one can try to reason this out oneself, there have been reams of research done on this by professional scientists. So, why not just read what these professional scientists have written? The problem is that some of these professional scientists are not genuine scientists but, rather, hired guns paid to provide the results that industries want. These are industries that are adversely affected by efforts to slow down, stop, or reverse global warming. The problem here is analogous to the efforts made by tobacco companies to mislead and provide lies about the dangers of smoking. The misinformation industry is quite profitable. That being the case it is ironic that these companies argue that global warming is a myth promulgated by scientists who want to continue their research and win research grants on the topic.

Actually the earnings of honest scientists are fairly modest. The big bucks are found in the companies who have a vested interest in arguing that global warming is either not happening or not anthropogenic (caused by humans). Then there are news organizations who feel compelled to present both sides of an issue. Unfortunately, when this is done, the viewer is not clear what the preponderant view is.

The best way to get to the preponderant view of quality research on a topic is by reviewing the refereed research. Refereed research is research that has been reviewed by multiple reviewers with expertise in the topic. Fortunately, a review of the refereed research on the topic of anthropogenic global warming literature is available.

Powell and Stern have published a paper in the refereed and prestigious Science Journal published 25 Nov 2015. According to that article a recent survey found that exactly four out of 69,406 authors of peer-reviewed articles in the scientific literature rejected the hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming. That is a ridiculously small number, 005763190502% to be exact that rejected the hypothesis of human caused global warming.

So it is safe to close the issue of anthropogenic global warming. Anything you read that was published in 2017 that rejects anthropogenic global warming (not caused by humans) is the work of a hired gun working for industry. So you still will find people arguing against human caused global warming, but they are either woefully lacking in knowledge or, most likely, hired guns.

Go to climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus
for more information.

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

Fear

March 25, 2018

In addition to posts on Emotional Intelligence, there have been many healthy memory blog posts that discussed fear. A common tactic that is used to make us behave in certain ways is to create fear in us. For a healthy memory it is important to review available information to see if that fear is justified.

Fear is used to convince us to arm ourselves. So a reasonable question is to ask if having a personal gun or guns will make us safer. This might seem like a reasonable thing to do. If someone threatens us with a gun, should we not be able to defend ourselves? Here are some facts along with personal (HM) anecdotes to consider.

Police shows are popular and guns frequently play a role. On the basis of television one might well conclude that it is a dangerous world for police and ourselves. But…
the majority of peace officers retire without ever firing a weapon in the course of their duties.

Guns are used more often in suicides than in homicides. Moreover, a gun is the best tool to use for suicide. It is quicker and more effective. This has been used as an argument against having a gun.

Now for a couple of personal anecdotes. When HM was a child, he slept through this incident. This is how it was related to him by his parents. They heard someone in our backyard. They shouted, “Who is out there?” Someone answered back, “Who do you think it is?” This response frightened my parents. They told me that if they had had a gun, they would have probably shot the intruder. The intruder turned out to be HM’s brother. In retrospect, my parents said that they shouldn’t have been frightened as our dog was in the yard, and he was a very good watchdog. But he recognized HM’s brother and didn’t bark. In retrospect, HM’s brother’s response was reasonable. But when the emotion of fear comes, reason and logic can fly out the window. HM’s mom used this story to make the point that we think that people keeping guns at home were fools.

On New Year’s Eve, the eldest son of one of HM’s close high school friends was fooling around with a rifle along with his best friend. Accidentally he shot and killed my friend’s eldest son. My friend, who was a politician, said that justice would be done. The question here is what justice? His son is dead, and his son’s friend needs to live with the memory that he killed his best friend. I’m sure that my friend took the precaution of keeping the guns locked up and instructed his children in gun safety. But HM’s question to his friend, which he had the sense never to ask, was why did you think you needed a gun in the house? What was it protecting you from?

Many bad things can happen when a firearm is in the house. Accidents are one. Accidental shootings are another. Suicides yet another. What is the real risk that a gun can prevent? Then rate that risk against the risk of these other unfortunate possible outcomes.
The insurance industry runs on fear. And you can buy insurance for practically everything. Just keep in mind that insurance companies make their profit by taking in more money from insurance sales than they lay out in claims. So as a general rule, insurance is a bad bet. The reason for insurance is if the cost of what the insurance is protecting against is large enough so that it would be disruptive to your personal finances. If you can observe the cost with little or no pain, don’t buy insurance.

Medical insurance is something almost everyone should have as medical costs can and do result in personal bankruptcies. Even if you have medicare, medicare does not cover everything, and what it doesn’t cover could be large enough to cause a personal bankruptcy.

Dental insurance is backwards. Typically they pay fully for inexpensive charges, and pay only partially for expensive charges. Unless the dental insurance provides better rates, don’t buy it.

In cases where insurance is required by law, definitely buy it.

Beware of the politics of fear. Trump ran on the politics of fear. The premise was to make America great again. But the reality was that America was still great. In terms of its economic performance agains other countries, American was at or near the top. Clearly, there were individuals who were not well off, but that’s the nature of capitalism. Trump said he felt their pain, and that he would fix things, without any plausible explanations as to how. People just believed in him.

Then Trump engaged in the politics of fear against Mexicans and Moslems. If one bothered to examine the relevant statistics rather than the claim, one would have concluded that they were bogus.

Trump lies. He’s very good at it because there is every reason to believe that he is suffering from delusional disorder. He could be tested for this by hooking him up to a polygraph (lie detector). There would be no indications that he was lying. It appears that he exists in his own reality where he is always telling the truth. Apparently Trump supporters are also living in their own realities, or they should be noting the lying and the inconsistencies.

A good rule is never to believe any politician. Check what they say and whether they contradict themselves. Let them change their minds, because they should be changing their minds on the basis of new information. Increase your degree of belief as warranted by additional information.

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

Schooling the Emotions

March 24, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of the last chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” The chapter begins with calling the roll for a class in Self Science at the Nueva School. Each student responds not with “here” or “present” but with a number from 1 to 10. 1 means low spirits and 10 high spirits. They explain their ratings and low numbers can warrant considerable discussion.

The subject in Self Science is feelings—your own and those that erupt in relationships. The nature of the topic demands that teachers and students focus on the emotional fabric of a child’s life—a focus that is determinedly ignored in almost every other classroom in America. The strategy includes using the tensions and traumas of children’s lives as the topic of the day. Teachers speak to real issues—hurt over being left out, envy, disagreements that could escalate into a schoolyard battle. As Karen Stone McOwen, the developer of the Self Science Curriculum and founder of Nueva, put it, “Learning doesn’t take place in isolation from kid’s feelings. Being emotionally literate is as important as instruction in math and reading.”

The chapter includes a discussion of the Cooperation Squares game, in which students team up to put together a series of square-shaped jigsaw puzzles. The catch: their teamwork is all in silence, with no gesturing allowed. The class is divided into three groups, each assigned to a different table. Three observers, each familiar with the game, get an evaluation sheet to assess, for example, who in the group takes the lead in organizing, who is a clown, who disrupts.

One group finishes quickly; a second group starts slowly at first, but then finishes; the third group struggles. The teacher offers some encouragement: “Those of you who have finished can give one specific hint to those who are still working. A suggestion is made and the puzzle is solved.

During a discussion mulling over the object lessons in teamwork that were learned an argument breaks out as to what gesturing is and whether it is allowed. The argument begins to get somewhat loud and the teacher says “This isn’t a criticism—you cooperated very well, but Tucker, try to say what you mean in a tone of voice that doesn’t sound so critical. The discussion as to how best to be positive in making a point and in providing advice.

Students in Self Science learn that the point is not to avoid conflict completely, but to resolve disagreement and resentment before it spirals in and out-and-out fight. Assertiveness as distinct from aggression or passivity is taught at Nueva from third grade on. It emphasizes expressing feelings forthrightly, but in a way that will not spiral into aggression. Writing this, HM had the thought that, perhaps, Self Science should be taught in the US Congress. Self Science has been effective in the inner city. On second thought, yes, perhaps in the inner city, but not in the US Congress.

Dr. David Hamburg, a psychiatrist and president of the Carnegie Corporation, which has evaluated some pioneering emotional-education programs, sees the years of transition into grade school and then again into junior high or middle school as marking two crucial points in a child’s development. From ages 6 to 11 school is a crucible and a defining experience that will heavily influence children’s adolescence and beyond. A child’s sense of self-worth depends substantially on his or her ability to achieve in school. A child who failed in school sets in motion the self-defeating attitudes that can dim prospects for an entire lifespan. Among the essentials for profiting from school are an ability to postpone gratification, to be socially responsible in appropriate ways, to maintain control over their emotions, and to have have an optimistic outlook—in other words, emotional intelligence.

Puberty, because it is a time of extraordinary change in the child’s biology, thinking capacities, and brain functioning, is also a crucial time for emotional and social lessons. As for the teen years Hamburg observes that “most adolescents are 10 to 15 years old when they are exposed to sexuality, alcohol and drugs, smoking and other temptations.”

Hamburg notes that as students are entering middle school just on the cusp of adolescence, there is something different about those who have had emotional intelligence classes: they find the new pressures of peer politics, the upping of academic demands, and the temptations to smoke and use drugs less troubling than do their peers. They have mastered emotional abilities that, at least for the short term, inoculate them against the turmoil and pressures they are about to face.

The following stop light is used in self science for impulse control:
Red light 1. Stop, calm down, and think before you act.
Yellow light 2. Say the problem and how you feel.
3. Set a positive goal.
4. Think of posts of solutions.
5. Think ahead of the consequences.
Green Light 6. Go ahead and try the best plan.

SELF SCIENCE OBJECTIVES

EMOTIONAL SELF-AWARENESS
* Improvement in recognizing and naming own emotions.
* Better able to understand the causes of feelings
* Recognizing the difference between feelings and actions

MANAGING EMOTIONS

* Better frustration tolerance and anger management
* Fewer verbal put-downs, fights, and classroom disruptions
* Better able to express anger appropriately, without fighting
* Fewer suspensions and expulsions
* Less aggressive or self-destructive behavior
* More positive feelings about self, school, and family
* Better at handling stress
* Less loneliness and social anxiety

HARNESSING EMOTIONS PRODUCTIVELY

* More responsible
* Better able to focus on the task at hand and pay attention
* Less impulsive; more self-control
* Improved scores on achievement tests

EMPATHY: READING EMOTIONS

* Better able to take another person’s perspective
* improve empathy and sensitivity to other’s feelings
* Better at listening to others

HANDLING RELATIONSHIPS

* Increased ability to analyze and understand relationships
* Better at resolving conflicts and negotiating disagreements
* Better at solving problems in relationships
* More assertive and skilled in communicating
* More popular and outgoing friendly and involved with peers
* More sought out by peers
* More concerned and considerate
* More “pro-social” and harmonious in groups
* More sharing, cooperation, and helpfulness
* More democratic in dealing with others

Some might argue that teachers are already overloaded. How can more demands be place upon them? The answer is that increasing emotional intelligence will not only make them better and more effective students, but is also likely that these lessons will also have beneficial effect for many families.

The Cost of Emotional Illiteracy

March 23, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” To get a sense of the cost of emotional illiteracy just watch the news or read the newspaper, and ask yourself, how many incidents were the result of a lack of emotional intelligence?

We have been, and we still are suffering from an emotional malaise. Consider children. Too many children are plagued by the following problems:

*Withdrawal or social problems: preferring to be alone; being secretive; sulking a lot; lacking energy; feeling unhappy; being overly dependent.

*Anxious and depressed: being lonely; having many fears and worries; needing to be perfect; feeling unloved; feeling nervous or sad and depressed.

*Attention or thinking problems: unable to pay attention or still daydreaming; acting without thinking; being too nervous to concentrate; doing poorly on schoolwork; unable to get mind off thoughts. Perhaps it is ironic that the new technology has contributed to thinking problems. Plugged in children are checking to see if they’re liked. They’re flitting from topic to topic; superficially processing and rarely engaging in detailed thinking.

*Delinquent or aggressive: hanging around kids who get in trouble; lying and cheating; arguing a lot; being mean to other people; demanding attention; destroying other people’s things; disobeying at home and at school; being stubborn and moody; talking too much; teasing a lot; having a hot temper.

Goleman writes, While any of these problems in isolation raises no eyebrows, taken as a group they are barometers of a sea change, a new kind of toxicity seeping into and poisoning the very experience of childhood, signifying sweeping deficits in emotion competencies. The emotional malaise seems to be a universal price of modern life for children.

Urie Bronfenbfrenner, the eminent Cornell University developmental psychologist who did an international comparison of children’s well being said: “In the absence of good support systems, external stresses have become so great that even strong families are falling apart. The hecticness, instability, and inconsistency of daily family life are rampant in all segments of our society, including the well-educated and well-to-do. What is at stake is nothing less than the next generation, particularly males, who in growing up are especially vulnerable to such disruptive forces as the devastating effects of divorce poverty and unemployment.

Bullying is a recognized problem. Moreover, technology has provided yet another means of bullying. This bullying has resulted in suicides of the bullied parties. Not all angry children are bullies; some are social outcasts who overreact to being teased or to what they perceive as slights or unfairness. The one perceptual flaw that unites such children is that they perceive slights where none were intended, imagining their peers to be more hostile toward them than they really are.

Depression should not just be treated, but prevented in children. Even mild episodes of depression in children augur more severe episodes later in life. Of course, every child gets sad from time to time; childhood and adolescence are like adulthood, time of occasional disappointments and losses large and small with attendant grief. The need for prevention is not for these times, but for those children for whom sadness spirals downward into a gloom that leave them despairing, irritable, and withdrawn—a far more severe melancholy.

The cost to children goes beyond the suffering caused by depression itself Kids learn social skills in their peer relations such as what to do if you want something and aren’t getting it, seeing how other children handle the situation and then trying it yourself. But depressed kinds are likely to be among the neglected children in a school, the ones other kids don’t play with much.

Depression can be short -circuited by stopping depressionogenric ways of thought. Just as with adults, pessimistic ways of interpreting life’s defeats seem to feed the sense of helplessness and hopelessness at the heart of children’s depression. Research has found that children are more prone to melancholy toward this pessimistic outlook before they become depressed. This provides a window of opportunity for inoculating them against depression before it strikes.

There was a study of low-level depression, which is depression not severe enough to say it was beyond ordinary unhappiness, at a high school in Oregon. Seventy-five of the mildly depressed students learned to challenge the thinking patters associated with depression, to become more adept at making friends, to get along better with their parents, and to engage in more social activities they found pleasant. By the end of the eight-week program, 55% of the students had recovered from their mild depression, while only about a quarter of equally depressed students not in the program had begun to pull out of their depression. A year later a quarter of those in the comparison group had gone on to fall into a major depression as opposed to only 14% of students in the depression-prevention program. The eight session program seemed to have cut the risk of depression in half.

Steven Asher, a University of Illinois psychologist has designed a series of “friendship coaching” sessions for unpopular children. He identified third and fourth graders who were least liked in their classes. Asher gave them six sessions in how to “make playing games more fun” through being friendly, fun, and nice.” To avoid stigma, the children were told that they were acting as “consultants” to the coach, who was trying to learn what kinds of things make it more enjoyable to play games. This mini course in getting along had a remarkable effect: a year later the children who’re coached—all of whom were selected because they were the least liked in class—were now solidly in the middle of classroom popularity.

Problems such as eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse need to have special programs.

Goleman argues for no more wars on such problems. Rather a final common preventive pathway to prevention is needed. In a five-year project sponsored by the W.T. Grant Foundation, a consortium of researchers studied the research and distilled the active ingredients that seemed crucial to successful programs. The emotional skills include self-awareness, identifying, expressing, and managing feelings; impulse control and delaying gratification; and handling stress and anxiety. A key ability in impulse control is knowing the difference between feelings and actions, and learning to make better emotional decisions by first controlling the impulse to act, then identifying alternative actions and their consequences before acting. Many competencies are interpersonal: reading social and emotional cues, listening, being able to resist negative influences, taking others’ perspectives, and understanding what behavior is acceptable in a situation.

The next post will provide an answer to the question, “What would an education in emotions look like?”

Temperament Is Not Destiny

March 22, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Goleman writes, “The clearest answer to this question comes from the work of Jerome Kagan, the eminent psychologist at Harvard University.” For those who do not want to continue reading this post, the answer is that temperament is most definitely not destiny. For those who want to understand why this is the case, please continue reading.

Kagan posits that there are at least four temperamental types—timid, bold, upbeat, and melancholy—and that each is due to a different pattern of brain activity. There are likely innumerable differences in patterns of brain activity, each based on innate differences in temperamental endowment, each based on innate differences in emotional circuitry; for any given emotion people can differ in how easily it triggers, how long it lasts, and how intense it becomes. Kagan’s work concentrates on the dimension of temperament that runs from boldness to timidity.

Mothers have been bringing their infants and toddlers to Kagan’s Laboratory for Child Development for decades. Kagan and his coresearchers noticed early signs of shyness in a group of twenty-one-month old toddlers brought in for experimental observations. In free play with other toddlers, some were bubbly and spontaneous, playing with other babies without the least hesitation. However, others were uncertain and hesitant, hanging back, clinging to their mothers, quietly watching the others at play. Almost four years later, when these same children were in kindergarten, Kagan’s group observed them again. Over the intervening years none of the outgoing children had become timid, while two thirds of the timid ones were still reticent.

Kagan believes that the difference between the timid and the bold lies in the excitability of a neural circuit centered in the amygdala. Kagan proposes that people who are prone to fearfulness are born with a neurochemistry that makes this circuit easily aroused, so they avoid the unfamiliar, shy away from uncertainty, and suffer anxiety. Those who have a nervous system calibrated with a much higher threshold for amygdala arousal, are less easily frightened, more naturally outgoing, and eager to explore new places and meet new people.

When young men and women who were quite shy in childhood are measured in a laboratory while exposed to stresses such as harsh smells, their heart rate stays elevated much longer than for their outgoing peers. This is a sign that surging norepinephrine is keeping their amygdala excited and, through connected neural circuits, their sympathetic nervous system aroused. Kagan found that timid children levels of reactivity across the range of sympathetic nervous system indices, from higher resting blood pressure and greater dilation of the pupils, to higher levels of norepinephrine markers in their urine.

Moving to the upbeat-melancholy continuum, some people’s emotions seem to gravitate toward the positive pole. These people are naturally upbeat and easygoing, while others are dour and melancholy. This dimension of temperament—ebullience at one end, melancholy at the other—seems linked to the relative activity of the right and left prefrontal areas. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, someone who has appeared in many previous healthymemory blog posts, discovered that people who have greater activity in the left frontal lobe compared to the right, are by temperament cheerful; they typically take delight in people and in what life presents them with.

The encouraging news from Kagan’s studies is that not all fearful infants grow up hanging back from life—temperament is not destiny, Kagan’s research team found that some of the mothers held to the philosophy that they should protect their timid toddlers from whatever was upsetting; others felt it was more important to help their children learn how to cope with these upsetting moments, and so adapt to life’s small struggles. The protective belief seems to have abetted fearfulness, probably by depriving the youngsters of opportunities for learning how to overcome their fears: The “learn to adapt” philosophy of childrearing seems to have helped fearful children become braver.

Kagan’s conclusion: “It appears that mothers who protect their highly reactive infants from frustration and anxiety in the hope of effecting a benevolent outcome seem to exacerbate the infant’s uncertainty and produce the opposite effect.

Some children, though shy by temperament, who were more emotionally competent, spontaneously outgrew their timidity. Being more socially skilled, they were far more likely to have a succession of positive experiences with other children. For example, even if they were tentative about speaking to a new playmate, once the ice was broken they were able to shine socially.

Even innate emotional patterns can change to some degree. A child who comes into the world easily frightened can learn to be calmer, or even outgoing, in the face of the familiar. Fearfulness—or any other temperament—may be part of the biological givens of our emotional lives, but we are not necessarily limited to a specific emotional menu by our inherited traits. Our emotional capacities are not a given; with the right learning, they can be improved. The reasons for this lie in how the human brain matures.

Psychotherapy can be systematic emotional relearning. It stands as a case in point of the way experience can both change emotional patterns and shape the brain. One of the most dramatic demonstrations of this point comes from a study of people being treated for obsessive-compulsive disorders. Hand washing is one of the more common compulsions which can be done so often, even hundreds of times a day, that the person’s skin cracks. PET scan studies show that obsessive-compulsives have greater than normal activity in their prefrontal lobes. Half of the patients in the study received the standard drug treatment, fluoxetine (better known by the brand name Prozac), and half behavior therapy. During the therapy they were systematically exposed to the object of their obsession or compulsion without performing it; patients with hand-washing compulsions were put at a sink, but not allowed to wash. At the same time they learned to question the fears and dreads that spurned them on—for example the failure to wash would mean that they would get a disease and die. Gradually, through months of such training, the compulsions faded, just as they did with the medications. A PET scan test showed that the behavior therapy patients had as significant a decrease in the activity of a key part of the emotional brain, the caudate nucleus as did the patients successfully treated with the drug fluoxetine.

Several brain areas critical for emotional life are among the slowest to mature. The sensory areas mature during early childhood, and the limbic system by puberty, the frontal lobes—seat of emotional self-control, understanding, and artful response, do not fully mature until the mid twenties.

One of the most essential emotional lessons, first learned in infancy and refined throughout childhood, is how to soothe oneself when upset. This art of soothing oneself is mastered over many years and with new means, as brain maturation offers a child progressively more sophisticated emotional tools. The frontal lobes, so important for regulating limbic pulse mature into the mid-twenties. Another key circuit that continues to shape itself through childhood centers on the vagus nerve, which at one end regulates the heart and other parts of the body, and at the other sends signals to the amygdala via other circuits, prompting to secrete the catecholamines, which is the prime fight-or-flight response. A University of Washington team that assessed the impact of childrearing discovered that emotionally adept parenting led to a change for the better in vagus-nerve function. John Gotten, the psychologist who led the research explained, “Parents modify their children’s vagal tone”—a measure of how easily triggered the vagus nerve is—“by coaching them emotionally: talking to children about their feelings and how to understand them, not being critical and judgmental, problem-solving about emotional predicaments, coaching them on what to do like alternatives to hitting, or were better able to suppress the vagal activity that keep the amygdala priming the body with fight-or-flight hormones—and so were better behaved.

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