Two Scientists in Congress

November 25, 2016

At the time of writing “Head In The Cloud”  by William Poundstone there were only two scientists total in the United States Senate and House of Representatives.  That is of 535 representatives only 2 (0.3%) are scientists.  It seems only appropriate that a low-information electorate have a low intelligence congress.  HM says low intelligence as it is science that has produced advancement and modernity.   Absent science we would be living in filth and ignorance.  Included here are both the physical and social sciences.

It is more than scientific knowledge that is important.  The empirical basis of science together with evaluation methodologies and statistics are important.  We need these to have a rational basis for policies and for a means of evaluating the benefits and dangers of different policies.  When debates in Congress are based upon data, rigorous research can be done to assist in defining the ways to proceed.  Scientists do not always agree.  Nor are the initial results of investigations always correct.  But eventually there is convergence with resulting better ideas and policies.  This is the democracy of the future.  Will it ever be achieved?

The low-information electorate complements nicely argumentation based on beliefs.  People fail to realize that beliefs are double-edged stores where both edges are blunt. One blunt edge makes it difficult, if not impossible, to see the problems with one’s own beliefs.  The other blunt edge makes it difficult, if not impossible, to see alternative ideas and courses of action.

Some religious beliefs force religion into its historical role of retarding science and keeping humans ignorant.  Moreover, many of the people holding these religious beliefs are not satisfied with the religious freedom guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.  Rather, they feel compelled to enforce their beliefs on others by changing the laws of the land. What happened to, “Judge not that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7 1-3). These same people are appalled at the sharia practiced by some Muslems, yet fail to perceive that what they are doing in the United States is indeed sharia.  These same beliefs forbid the teaching of science and engaging in scientific and medical practices that can advance humankind and relieve a great deal of misery.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 Thanksgiving 2016!

November 23, 2016

HM would argue that what we have most to be thankful for is our marvelous memory.  Without our memory, we would not even know who we are.  Our memory is a devices for time travel.  They use data from our senses to develop models of the external world, and we use these models to interact with the external world.  Memory is the mechanism for personal growth.

Thanksgiving is the day to be dedicated to giving thanks.  The best way we can show thanks for our memory is to develop it by employing growth mindsets.  The activity generated by growth mindsets promotes memory health and builds cognitive reserves to ward of dementia and Alzheimer’s.  They also provide for an enjoyable and fulfilling life.

Mindfulness is also essential to healthy memories.  Meditation not only relaxes, but also gives us greater control over attention, which has a tendency to wander.  Mindfulness also increases our empathy with others.

The Low-Information Electorate

November 22, 2016

“The Low Information Electorate” is the title of Chapter Five in “Head In The Cloud”,  an important book by William Poundstone.  Both conservatives and liberals agree about how spectacularly dumb the great mass of conservatives and liberals are.  Poundstone notes that this statement is true and proceeds to prove his point.

Ignorance is probably most pronounced in judicial races.  In 1992  the well-respected California judge Abraham Aponte Khan lost an election to a virtually unknown challenger who had been rated “unqualified” by the Los Angeles County Bar Association.  The name of he challenger was Patrick Murphy, a name that sounded less foreign than “Khan.”  Should you ever have problems with judicial decisions, perhaps  the first factor to consider is how they are chosen.  There are ample data to show that judicial elections are a bad idea.

Poundstone conducted a survey of adults to name the holders of fourteen elected offices—national, state, and local.  He found that essentially everyone can name the president, 89% were able to name the vice-president, 62% could identify at leas one of their state’s US senators.  Slightly less than half could name both and 55% knew their district’s congressperson.  81% were able to name the governor of their state.  Barely half of those who said they lived in a municipality with a mayor or city manager were able to name that official.  These offices were the limit of the typical citizen’s knowledge.  Less than a third of the respondents could name the current holders of other offices.  These participants were asked to describe their political preferences on a five-point scale from “very conservative” to “very liberal.”  There was no correlation between these ratings and knowing the names of elected officials.

However, Poundstone did find a correlation between knowing the name and knowing something about the individual.  A voter who does not know the name of a mayor is unlikely to know much else about her, such as the issues she ran on and any accomplishments, failures, or criminal convictions that would bear on a bid for reelection.

in 2014 the Annenberg Public Policy Center conducted a survey of adults on facts that they should have learned in civics class.

*If the Supreme Court rules on a case 50 to 4, what does it mean?
21% answered, “The decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration.”  Wrong!

*How much of a majority is required for the US Senate and the House of Representatives to override a presidential veto?
Only 27% gave the correct answer, two-thirds.
*Do you happen to know any of the three branches of government?  Would you mind naming any of them?
Only 36% were able to name all three (executive, legislative, judicial)

What is also striking is the ignorance among professional politicians.  In a 2015 speech presidential candidate Rick Perry quoted a great patriot:  “Thomas Paine wrote the ‘duty of a patriot’ is to protect his country from his government.”  Paine did not write this.  It appears in the writings of radical-left environmentalist Edward Abbey.

In 2011 another presidential contender, Michele Bachman told Nashua, New Hampshire, supporters, “You’re the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord.”  As the sharp readers of the healthy memory blog likely know that those towns are in Massachusetts.

Of course, these individuals are failed presidential candidates.  Bill Clinton, however, is a two-term president.  On October 16,1996 he said, “The last time I checked, the Constitution said, “Of the people, by the people and for the people”  That’s what the Declaration of Independence says.”  Unfortunately those words are from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and are not in either of the documents he cited. Bill Clinton has said many times, that Hillary is better than he is.  That is undoubtedly true, but unfortunately she had not proofread his speech.  All three individuals have staffs who should be vetting their speeches.  So what gives???

One might think that character can override ideology.  We hear of swing voters who say they will decide between two ideologically different candidates based on character, likability, or simply being the “better man or woman for the job.”  Unfortunately UCLA political scientist Lynn Vavreck has found the split-tickets—those who vote for candidates from more than one party—are less informed than those who hold to a party line.  She surveyed a sample of 45 thousand Americans, asking them to name the current occupations of politicians such as Nancy Pelosi and John Roberts.  She compared the survey results to voting patterns.  Those who fell in the bottom third of political knowledge stood a 12% chance of voting for senatorial and presidential candidates from different parties in the 2012 election.  Among the best-informed third, the chance of a split ticket was only 4%.

Under informed voters were also more likely to describe themselves as undecided on hot-button issues such as immigration, same-sex marriage, and increasing taxes on the wealthy.  These finds fit in with the notion of a “mushy muddle.”  Political pollers recognized that many who identify themselves as moderates are really just those who “don’t know.”

Poundstone writes, “We hope that voters in the middle supply a reality check to partisanship and help promote the compromise necessary to a democratic society.  There “are” voters who hold strong, well-reasoned political convictions that happen to lie in between those of the two parties.  There just aren’t too many of these voters, it seems.”

Given this epidemic of ignorance, how do democracies survive?   Here is an explanation offered by Poundstone.   “One way to think of it is that democracies are like casinos.  They exploit human irrationality—and, come to think of it, there aren’t many firmer foundations than that.  There are enough “irrational” voters to channel the wisdom of crowds and select candidates who are in tune with public sentiment and who are , usually not all that bad.”

HM is always annoyed and exhortations “to vote.”  The exhortation should be to get informed, and when once informed, consider voting.  There is already significant noise in elections.  What is the point of increasing the noise?

Poundstone concludes the chapter that relates knowledge of elected officers to personal wealth.  When he asked his respondents to name the current occupants of these seven elected offices:  at least one of your state’s two US senators, your state’s governor, you state senator, your county sheriff, your city of town councilperson, and your local school board representative.  The average adult can name only about three of the seven.  Those who could name all seven offices made about $43,000 more per year than those who couldn’t name any of the offices.

This fact points to the importance of certain information being in one’s brain rather than being found some place in the cloud.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 One-in-Five Rule

November 21, 2016

The One-in-Five Rule is chapter four of “Head In The Cloud” is an important book by William Poundstone.  Survey makers are aware of this rule, and so should you.  About 20% of the public believes just about any nutty idea a survey taker dares to ask about.  A 2010 “Huffington Post article sample survey reported that under informed 20%ers
* believe that witches are real
* believe the sun revolves around the earth
* believe in alien abductions
* believe Barack Obama is a Muslim, and
* believe the lottery is a good investment

Poundstone has a heading in this chapter titled “The Paranoid Style in American Cognition,” although HM is more inclined to believe that this paranoid style is a human problem rather than one specific to America.  However, the examples provided are regarding Americans.

In 2014 psychologists Stephan Lewandowsky, Gilles E. Gignac, and Klaus Oberauer reported a survey asking for True or False responses to the following experiences:

* The Apollo moon landings never happened and were staged in a Hollywood film studio.
* The US government allowed the 9/11 attacks to take place so the it would have an excuse to achieve foreign and domestic goals (e.g., the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and attacks on American civil liberties) that had been determined prior to the attacks.
* The alleged link between secondhand tobacco smoke and ill health is based on bogus science and is an attempt by a corrupt cartel of medical researchers to replace rational science with dogma.
*US agencies intentionally created the AIDS virus and administered it to black and gay men in the 1970s.

These respondents were also asked whether they agree or disagreed with the following statements:

* The potential for vaccinations to maim and harm children outweigh their health benefits.
* Humans are too insignificant to have an appreciable impact on global temperature.
* I believe that genetically engineered food have already damaged the environment.

Poundstone concludes the chapter with the following paragraph”
“Those who believed in flat-out conspiracy theories were also more likely to agee with the above statements ()the first two are wrong, and the third is unproven).  Unlike the typical  conspiracy theory, these beliefs affect everyday behavior, both in the voting booth and outside it.  Should I vaccinate my kids?  Are hybrid cars worth the extra cost? Which tomato do I buy?  The One-in-Five American casts a long shadow.”

More Facts Citizens Should Know

November 20, 2016

This post is based on information in “Head In The Cloud”  by William Poundstone. From 1993 to 2010 the US violent crime rate dropped precipitously.  The firearms homicide rate dropped from 7.0 to 3.6% per 100,000, almost in half.  The nonviolent crime rate plunged to a little more that a quarter of what it had been.  It is difficult to think of another major social problem that had shown such dramatic improvement, but were people aware of this improvement?

A 2013 Pew Research Center poll asked whether gun crimes had gone up, down, or stayed the same over the last twenty years.  56% thought that the crime rate had gone up (wrong), and 26% thought it had stayed the same (also wrong).  Just 12% thought it had gone down.

It is interesting that both sides of the gun issue believe that they have a better remedy for a surging crime rate that doesn’t  actually exist.

Poundstone did a survey for an estimate of “the average amount of memory for a new tablet computer.”  The most common answer, 10-99 gigabytes was the most reasonable one at the time of the survey.  This answer got 40% of the responses.  The second most common answer was gigabytes and that got slightly over 20% of the responses.  So at least these respondents had the correct prefix before bytes.  But the range of responses  was from less than a kilobyte to more than hundreds of petabytes.

Poundstone also found that Americans think that there are far more Blacks, Asians, Gays and Moslems than there are actually are.   In the public mind, Latinos, black, Asians, gays, and Muslims constitute about 25%, 23%, 13%, 11%, and 15% of the populations, respectively.   This adds up to 87% of the population.  Poundstone notes that even when you account for overlap, these high-profile minorities account for about two-thirds of the US population.  So according to what these people think, whites are already a minority, and they feel threatened. The correct values are 17%, 15%, 6%, and 1%, respectively, which yields a total of 39%.

Facts Citizens Should Know

November 19, 2016

This post is based on information in “Head In The Cloud”  by William Poundstone.  It might be difficult to find someone who did not know what the national debt was.  And it would seem to be reasonable for citizens to have at least ballpark estimates of its size.  In October 2013 Internet Panel survey that was conducted by “Business Insider” when Ted Cruz was engineering a partial shutdown of the federal government over the federal deficit.  The survey asked a representative sample of 500 respondents nationwide to estimate the size of the US deficit.  The question was multiple choice, and guesses were grouped by order of magnitude.  The most common answer was the range $1 billion to just under $10 billion.  This answer was chosen by 23% of the respondents.  The actual 2013 deficit was $642 billion, which is about a hundred times bigger than the typical response.  Others estimated the deficit even more drastically.  More than 10% put it at a few million dollars or less.  Poundstone notes “That segment of the public inhabits an alternative universe in which a retired optician in Boca Raton could write a check covering this year’s federal deficit.

It is possible to think that these numbers are so large that they are incomprehensible to the average Joe.  So the survey also asked what had happened to the deficit in the previous year.  Was it bigger, smaller, or about the same?  As Poundstone writes “Well-informed citizens would have known that the slowly recovering economy, spending cuts, and tax increases had combined to cut the deficit from $1.09 trillion in 2012 to $642 billion in 2013.  Still, 68% believed that the deficit was larger in 2013.

Poundstone followed up on this survey with a similar one using the same Internet panel firm.  A new randomized national sample was asked the same two questions, except he replace the word “deficit” with “debt”.  Many people confuse these two terms, but they are quite different.  Deficit refers to a budget shortfall.  Debt refers to borrowed money for which the government is responsible.  Deficits are annual and debt is cumulative.  It can either increase or decrease.

Poundstone provides historical context for the national debt.  Under George Washington the United  States ran up huge Revolutionary War debt that wasn’t paid off until 1830,  The United States remained debt free for about a decade after than, but since 1840 the United States has always had debt.  At the time of the survey the US debt stood at more than $17 trillion.  Only 27% picked the correct range ($10-100 trillion) and it was not the most popular response.

The meaningful statistic is per capita debt.  But to compute per capita debt one needs to know the population of the US.  A National Geographic survey asked participants to pick the US population from four multiple-choice ranges.  69% picked outrageously wrong answers or said they didn’t know.

What do citizens know about the distribution of individual wealth?  Psychologist Dan Ariely and business professor Michael I. Norton ran an Internet Panel survey asking 5,522 Americans to estimate the distribution of wealth in 2011.  The participants were instructed to divide the nation into quintiles (fifths of the population) by wealth.  There would be the wealthiest 20%, the second-wealthiest 20% and so on down to the poorest 20%.  The survey was regarding wealth and not income.  It asked about net worth defined as the total value of everything someone owns minus any debt.

The reality is the the top 20% of American possess about 84% of the wealth.  The second and middle quintiles split between themselves almost everything else.  The two poorest quintiles account for only 0.2% and 0.1% of the total.  This bottom 40% is living mostly paycheck to paycheck if they have paychecks.

Although the public is aware  that there is a lopsided distribution of wealth, they have a poor idea of how lopsided this distribution is.  Survey subjects gestated that the top quintile holds about 58% of the total wealth and that a each succeeding quintile has progressively less, down to about 3% of the poorest group.  In other words the public estimated the top quintile to be 20 times richer than the bottom quintile.  The top quintile is 840 times wealthier in reality.

When asked to describe the ideal wealth distribution, the top fifth would hold about 32% of the nation’s wealth and the bottom fifth would have 10%.  So the top to bottom quintile shrinks to barely threefold.

A surprising finding was that there wasn’t much variation among the estimates, either actual or ideal, made by different political and demographic groups.  As expected Republican voters and men favored a bit more wealth inequality than Democratic voters and women did, but not much.  The wealthy had a better ideal on how much the top quintile owned, and they envisioned a utopia with greater wealth disparity than the poor did, but, again, the difference was only a few percentage points.

Another study by Michael Norton an Sorapop Kiatpongsan asked a sample of 55,000 respondents in 40 industrialized nations to estimate the actual and ideal incomes of unskilled worked in their respective nations.  They also asked for the actual and ideal incomes of the CEO of a large corporation.  Using these responses they computed CEO-to-worker ratios, based on the estimates, and compare them to the reality.

In the United States the ratio in the book was 354 to 1.  It continues to worsen year after year.   But Americans estimated it to be only 30 to 1.  The expressed ideal pay ratio was 6.7 to 1.  The discrepancies between actual pay ratio and ideal pay ratio hell throughout the world, but they were no where as outlandish as in the United States.

Please allow HM a digression here as it is something he feels very strongly about.  A business professor he published CEO to worker pay ratios with the intention of showing how outlandish they were.  Unfortunately, the law of unintended consequences raised its ugly head.  Corporate boards of directors used this as a metric for hiring under the following assumption:  to get the best CEOs they needed to increase their compensation.  CEOs from entirely different industries are hired on the assumption that they have a certain genius.  HM argues that there usually is someone within the company who can do a much better job, one who knows the companies workings and problems intimately.

The result is that corporate governance in the United States is rotten.  The Board of Director scratches the CEOs back and the CEO returns the favor.  The result is not good for individual stockholders, employees, or customers.  Employees have the most interest in the actual company and in the long-term welfare and growth of the company.  This is not true for either the CEO or the Board of Directors who might be interested in flipping the company or getting involved in some merger that most often does not benefit employees or customers, and might not provide long-term benefits to individual stockholders, especially value investors.

The benefits of CEO compensation can be compared across nations.  There is absolutely no evidence that the exorbitant compensation of CEOs has any benefits for anyone other than the CEO and the Board of Directors.

An obvious solution might be to require legitimate elections in publicly owned companies where there are at least two candidates for every position.  Although obvious, this might be difficult to implement.  One might argue that stockholders do not know whom they are voting for, but one could provide evidence that this is also the case in democracies.  But a more viable solution might be to do what they do in Germany. In Germany half of the board of directors must be employees.  Employees are not only interested in wages and benefits, but they have a long standing interest in the health and growth of the company.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Head In The Cloud

November 18, 2016

“Head In The Cloud” is an important book by William Poundstone.  The subtitle is “Why Knowing Things Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up.”  Psychologists make the distinction between information that is accessible in memory and information that is available in memory.  Information that you can easily recall is obviously accessible in memory.  However, there is other information that you might not be able to recall now, but that you know that you know it.  This information eventually becomes accessible and can appear suddenly unsummoned in consciousness.

Transactive memory refers to information you can get from our fellow humans or from technology.  Most information available in technology can readily be summoned via Google searches.  An extreme view argues that since all this information is available, we do not need to remember the information itself as long as we know how to search for the information.  Whenever we encounter new information we are confronted with the question as to whether we need to commit this information to our biological memory.  This is a nontrivial question as committing information to memory requires cognitive effort, thinking, or in terms of Kahneman’s Two Process Theory, engaging our System 2 processes.  The healthy memory blog  has a category devoted to mnemonic techniques explicitly designed to assist in memorizing information as well as other discussions regarding how to make information memorable.  But all of this involves effort, so why bother if it can simply be looked up?  “Head in the Cloud” explains the benefits of moving some information from the cloud into our brains.

Poundstone describes an experiment done in 2011 by Daniel Wegner.  He presented volunteers with a list of forty trivia facts—short, pithy statement such as “An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain.”  Half of the volunteers were told to remember the facts.  The other half were not.  Within each of these groups half were informed that their work would be stored on the computer, and half were told that their work would be immediately erased after the task’s completion.    All these volunteers were later given a quiz on the facts they typed.  It did not matter whether they had been instructed to remember the information or not.  It only mattered if they thought their work was going to be erased after the task.  These volunteers remembered more regardless of whether they were told to remember the information.

The following is directly from the text “It is impossible to remember everything.  The brain must constantly be doing triage on memories, without conscious intervention.  And apparently it recognizes that there is less need to stock our minds with information that can be readily retrieved.  So facts are more often forgotten when people believe the facts will be archived.  This phenomenon has earned a name—the Google effect—describing the automatic forgetting of information that can be found online.”

HM does not disagree with any of the above quote.  However, he is alarmed by what is omitted.  That omission regards a conscious decision as to whether the information should be further processed to increase its accessibility without technology and whether it is related to other information that might require further research.  It is true that we are time constrained, so that depending on the situation the time available for such consideration will be important.  But as Poundstone will show, it is important to get some information out of the cloud and into the brain, and we can consciously alter the processing we give to the retrieved information.  Sans attention, it will likely remain in the cloud.

Poundstone reports an enormous amount of research conducted by a new type of polling called an Internet panel survey.  These are conducted by an organization that has recruited a large group of subjects (the panel)  who agree to participate in surveys.  When a new survey begins, the software selects a random sample of the panel to contact.  E-mails containing links are sent to the selected participants, typically in several waves to achieve a demographic balance closely approximating the general populations.  The sample can be balance for sex, age, ethnicity, education, income, and other demographic markers of interest to the research project.

A prior healthy memory blog post appropriately titled “The Dunning-Kruger Effect” discusses the Dunning-Kruger Effect.  Dunning is a psychology professor and Kruger was a graduate student.  The effect is that “Those most lacking in knowledge and skills are least able to understand their lack of knowledge.”  The flip-side of this effect is that those most knowledgeable are most aware of any holes in their knowledge.

“Actor John Cleese concisely explains the Dunning-Kruger effect in a much-shared You Tube video:  ‘If you’re very, very stupid how can you possibly realize that you’re very, very stupid?  You’d have to be relatively intelligent to realize how stupid you are…And this explains not just Hollywood but almost the entirety of Fox News’”

The chaos and contradictions of the current political environment can perhaps best be characterized as a glaring example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.  Just a few moments of contemplation should reveal the potential danger from this effect.  Poundstone’s book reveals the glaring lack of knowledge in many important areas by too many individuals.  He also provides ample evidence of the benefits of moving certain information from the cloud and into our brains.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

 

Can the US Heal Its Political Rift

November 16, 2016

This blog is motivated by an article in the November 5, 2016 New Scientist’s Analysis Section titled, “Make America whole again:  how the US can heal its political rift.”  This article reviews proven approaches to get groups that differ, sometimes radically, in their beliefs or political positions, to work together productively and achieve useful objectives.  At one time these approaches would have worked in the United State.  But these approaches require that the different parties want to be able to work together.  They also require people to have open minds and be willing to think.

Unfortunately, in the United States there is only one party to clap.  The second party, Trump’s Party, and it is called Trump’s party because this person is no Republican, although he did win the Republican Primary.  Trump not only has no desire to work with the Democratic Party, he has little interest in working within his own Party.  He spoke using fear, bigotry, and misogyny and used the first person, “I”, not “we.”  It is the talk of a potential dictator.  It is extremely depressing to see so many people attracted to him.  Apparently, these people are long on fear and bigotry, and short on thinking.  Correction, they do not think.  Consequently, there is no basis for reasoned deliberation.

The New Scientist article notes that there is evidence that genetics may play a role in determining which party we side with.  Unfortunately, as John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln notes, this makes it difficult to change their opinions.  Hibbing argues that conservatives are more “threat-sensitive”.  Threatening images or sounds elicit a stronger physiological response from them than from liberals.

Another researcher, neuroscientist Read Montgue has also found a link between a person’s politics and the character of their emotional responses.  He put research participants into a brain scanner and measured their response to a series of images chosen to evoke a disgust response from images of feces to dead bodies to insect-covered food.  After they emerged from the scanner, they are asked if they would like to take part in another experiment.  If they say, “yes’ they take a ten minutes to answer a political ideology survey.  They are asked questions about their feelings on gun control, abortion, premarital sex, and so on.  Montague found that that the more disgusted a participant is by the images, the more politically conservative they are likely to be.  The less disgusted, the more liberal.  The correlation is so strong that a person’s neural response to a single disgusting image predicts their score on the political ideology test with 95% accuracy.  This score is remarkably high.

HM would like to see this experiment replicated with the following change.  Anonymity would be assured, numbers would be assigned, but the survey would be administered before the brain scanning.  Actually, this experiment would need to be replicated across a representative sample of US voters.  But if this result could be replicated and found to be extremely robust could anything be done?  Brain scanning at polls with medication administered where indicated?  This question is raised to illustrate how intractable this problem really is.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

System 2 Processing for Building a Cognitive Reserve

November 14, 2016

The immediately preceding post suggested a mechanism for building a cognitive reserve to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Although it is frequently said that Alzheimer’s disease cannot be prevented or cured, there have been autopsies done of people whose brains had  defining amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles required for a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, but who never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms.  So there have been individuals who had Alzheimer’s, but who never knew that they had the disease!  The explanation for these individuals is that they had built up a cognitive reserve.

The healthy memory post “Cognitive Activity and the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease” summarizes a study in which reported cognitive activity was the best predictor of a decreased risk for Alzheimer’s.  This finding held even when the factors of educational level and job prestige were statistically controlled.  The post “How Cognitive Activity Decreases the Risk of Alzheimer’s”  proposed a mechanism to identify how cognitive activity decreases the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Our brains are working constantly even when we sleep.  So how can the type of cognitive activity that builds this cognitive reserve be identified?  This explanation depends upon understanding Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of Cognition.  This theory was expanded upon in Kahneman’s best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.”  System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes.  Stanovich has elaborated System 2 in the development of a more comprehensive intelligence quotient.  But for our purposes, this discussion included Stanovich’s concept as it involves even more thinking and attentional processes.

System 1 is fast because it uses defaults to expedite processing with minimal cognitive resources.  Whenever we read or hear something that corresponds to our beliefs or expectations only System 1 is involved.  However, one of the responsibilities of System 2 is to monitor System 1  processes to check for erroneous processing.  Whenever we hear or read something that does not correspond to our beliefs, there is an identifiable response in the brain, which signals the initiation of System 2 processes.  System 2 can decide to curtail further processing and to move on, or to engage in a more thorough process of memory search, checking for logical contradictions, and so on.  All of this is thinking and requires cognitive effort.

Similarly when we are learning new information or a skill, System 2 is engaged.  This is why learning can be frustrating and demanding.  System 2 stays engaged until learning begins and then gradually disengages until it becomes an almost automatic System 1 process.  This learning is a matter of engaging different parts of the brain, establishing new neural pathways.  It is also likely that old neural pathways are  reactivated.

So System 2 processing establishes new neural pathways and reactivates related previous neural pathways.  So regardless of what happens with respect to amyloid plaque or neurofibrillary tangles, the brain remains healthy and our memories remain healthy and can continue to grow cognitively..

When we are doing System 1 processing our brains are effectively on cruise control.  When we are doing System 2 processing we are engaged in cognitively effortful processing and are thinking.  But is there a way to identify System 2 processing?  Does System 2 processing have a signature?

It is possible that there is. Research has been done in which statements are played to research participants while their brains are being monitored.  When a statement is presented with which a subject disagrees, there is a noticeable response.  Perhaps this response could be used as a signature for System 2.

Even if this works, there is an implementation problem,  How would this be done?  It might be possible to evaluate different cognitive processes with respect to the amount of effortful processing.  This could be an area of research that would generate a large volume of research papers with the concomitant reward of faculty tenure.

Perhaps a simpler way would be to compare Trump Voters against those who did not vote for Trump.  The respective samples would be monitored to see how many suffered from Alzheimer’s at what ages.  For HM, the only conceivable way that individuals could vote for Trump would be to do very little, if any, System 2 processing regarding him.

A related approach would be to compare viewers of Fox news  against a control sample who did not watch Fox news.  Both groups would be tracked to see who fell ill with Alzheimer’s at what age.  The appeal of Fox news is that it is designed to cater to the biases of viewers and to minimize any disturbing or conflicting news.  It can be viewed in cruise control rarely, if ever, having to engage in System 2 processing.  This is probably why Fox news is so popular—it requires little, if any, cognitive effort.  On the other hand those poor viewers of unbalanced news have to engage in System 2 processes to ascertain credibility levels for their news.  The  prediction would be for higher and earlier incidences of Alzheimer’s for Fox News viewers.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Cognitive Activity Decreases the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

November 12, 2016

This explanation depends upon understanding Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of Cognition.  This theory was expanded upon in Kahneman’s best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.”  System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and requires our attentional processes.  Stanovich has elaborated System 2 in the development of a more comprehensive intelligence quotient.  But for our purposes, this discussion includes Stanovich’s concept as it involves even more thinking and attentional processes.

System 1 is fast because it uses defaults to expedite processing with minimal cognitive resources.  Whenever we read or hear something that corresponds to our beliefs or expectations only System 1 is involved.  However, one of the responsibilities of System 2 is to monitor System 1 processes to check for erroneous processing.  Whenever we hear or read something that does not correspond to our beliefs, there is an identifiable response in the brain, which signals the initiation of System 2 processes.  System 2 can decide to curtail further processing and to move on, or to engage in a more thorough process of memory search, checking for logical contradictions, and so on.  All of this is thinking and requires cognitive effort.

Similarly when we are learning new information or a skill, System 2 is engaged.  This is why learning can be frustrating and demanding.  System 2 stays engaged until learning begins and then gradually disengages until it becomes an almost automatic System 1 process.  This learning is a matter of engaging different parts of the brain, establishing new neural pathways.  It is also likely that old neural pathways are  reactivated.

So System 2 processing establishes new neural pathways and reactivates related previous neural pathways.  So regardless of what happens with respect to amyloid plaque or neurofibrillary tangles, the brain remains healthy and our memories remain healthy and continue to grow.

This explains the cognitive reserve, which is the explanation of why there are individuals whose brains are filled with amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles but who never exhibit any of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms.  Cognitive activity keeps the necessary pathways open and continues to find new ones.

However, absent sufficient activity the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles gradually destroy the brains ability to function.

The reason the healthy memory blog recommends growth mindsets is to promote this cognitive activity.  This quote by the humorist Art Buchwald is appropriate here.
“To remain mentally sharp, you have to deal with familiar things in novel ways. But most important of all, you have to have a sense of curiosity. If interest and curiosity stop coming automatically to you, then you’re in trouble, no matter how young or old you are.”

The healthy memory blog also strongly recommends meditation and mindfulness.  There are two reasons for this recommendation.  One is to promote emotional control and affective communications with others.  The second reason is to increase our focus and to gain control over our attention.  Our minds rarely stop.  Meditation helps us gain control of our attention.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Cognitive Activity and Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

November 9, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the titled of an article by Robert S. Wilson and David A. Bennet in “Current Directions in Psychological Science”, 2003, 87-91.  HM expresses his sincere apology for not reviewing this article earlier as it is central to the theme and purpose of the healthy memory blog.  HM is also livid that he has not seen this article frequently cited.

Wilson and Bennett begin their article by noting that the idea that frequent intellectual activity might help one’s mental faculties in old age predated the Roman empire.  Then they begin their review.  The examine three issues bearing upon cognitive activity and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  They first consider whether cognitive activity accounts for the association between education and occupational attainment and risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  They next address the behavioral mechanisms underlying the association.  Then they discus neurobiological mechanisms underlying the association.

They found that cognitive activity did decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  What is especially interesting is that even when educational level and occupational prestige were controlled for statistically, cognitive activity appeared to be the primary factor bearing upon decreased risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

As for the behavioral mechanisms reducing the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, they note that cognitively active people begin old age with better cognitive skills than less cognitively active people and these skills might be less subject to decline.  They cite two studies that support these contentions.

They address the benefits of cognitive training programs, but note that these benefits appear to be specific to the skill(s) that were trained.  They also cite studies that have found that frequency of cognitive activity, but not of physical activity is related to risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  Cognitive activity appears to be primarily associated with reduced decline in processing skills like perceptual speed and working memory.  These skills are involved in nearly all kinds of intellectual activity, so it makes sense that they would  benefit the most from the frequency of such activity.

Regarding neurobiological  mechanisms underlying the association, they discuss two possibilities.  The first is that cognitive activity directly slows the build up of the neuritic plaques and neurofibrillary tangles  that define the disease.  The second is that cognitive activity  affects the risk of Alzheimers by affecting the development or maintenance of the interconnected neural systems that underlie different forms of cognition.

The data clearly indicate that the second explanation regarding the benefits of cognitive activity is accurate.  A given amount of Alzheimer’s disease pathology was associated with less cognitive impairment in a person with more education than in a person with less education.  In other words these data suggest that variables related to education, or variables related to education such as cognitive activity affect the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia by somehow enhancing the brain’s capacity to tolerate Alzheimer/s disease pathology.

In their conclusion they write, “Because few identifiable  risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease have been identified, this area of research has important public-health implications.  Much remains to be learned, however.”

A central questions is when during the life span is cognitive activity important.  HM encourages everyone to be cognitively active, but can it start too late to be beneficial.  Absent the necessary research, the answer should be that it is never too late.  But a larger question is why is there so little research activity on this topic.  The cynical, but HM believes accurate, answer is that money is in drug treatments targeted at the defining physical symptoms, and that cognitive activity is painful and will be avoided by large numbers of people.

Perhaps these findings were not available when this paper was written, but the study makes no mention of the research that has found the brains of cadavers full of the defining plaques and tangles of the disease, whose owners of the brains never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of the disease when they were alive.

The statement is frequently made that there is no current cure for Alzheimer’s.  That cure is being sought in the prevention or curing of the physical symptoms.  Although there might not be a cure, there does appear to be an effective method of precluding the cognitive and behavioral manifestations—cognitive activity.

And that is why the healthy memory blog places such heavy emphasis on growth mindsets.  Mnemonic techniques is one of the blogs categories.  Mnemonic techniques, in addition to improving memory are ideal types of cognitive activity.  Mental imagery is central to many of these techniques, so they involve both hemispheres of the brain.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Does Talk By Trump Constitute a Threat?

November 7, 2016

This post is based on an article by the same title written by Colby Itkowitz in the 1 November 2016 issue of the Washington Post in the Metro Section.  This article is about a winner of a MacArthur Award, which is better known as the “Genius” Award.  She used her award to fund the Dangerous Speech Project.  Her name is Susan Benesch, a law professor at American University, who also is a Harvard University faculty associate.

As a young lawyer, she did international work in the aftermath of the ethnic conflicts in Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s.  Beseech was drawn to the question of whether one could detect warning signs for genocide before one occurred.  She did her first field study for the Dangerous Speech Project in Kenya leading up to its presidential election held in March 2013.  While there she helped oversee several projects that sought to diminish the impact of dangerous-speech, including one writing four episodes of a popular Kenyan courtroom comedy in which the actors discredited inflammatory statements.  This election produced little violence.

According to Benesch, to rise to he level of dangerous speech, at least two of these five indicators must be true:

A powerful speaker with a high degree of influence over the audience.

The audience has grievances and fears that the speaker can cultivate.

A speech act that is clearly understood as a call to violence.

A social or historical context that is propitious for violence, for any of a variety of reasons, including long-standing competition between groups for resources, lack of efforts to solve grievances or previous episodes of violence.

A means of dissemination that is influential in itself, for example because it is the sole or primary sources of news for the relevant audience.

She concludes that Trump does not meet these criteria.  HM disagrees.  He thinks the first two have clearly been met, and that Fox News could constitute a third indicator.  She rightly concludes that what appear to be calls to violence have been presented in an ambiguous manner.

There will be a data point in several days, which should tell us who reached the correct conclusion.  HM sincerely hopes he is wrong.

Sick Memory

November 5, 2016

The title of this post is the antithesis of the title of this blog.  There is a growing epidemic of sick memories.  No memory is highly preferable to sick memory.  There is an article titled “Trolls for Trump” by Andrew Marantz in the October 31, 2016 issue of the “New Yorker.”  The subtitle of the article is “How the alt-right spreads fringe ideas to the mainstream.”  The article details how this works and how dangerous it is.  Take Donald Trump and multiple him hundreds of thousands of times, perhaps even millions of times.
They can be found on the internet, the radio, and cable.  Unfortunately they affect legitimate news media.

Their content is based solely on beliefs, many of which are racist, misogynist, and move into facism, although not labeled as such.  There is virtually no evidence although some might be fabricated.  But rarely are there attempts to fabricate evidence.  As it all hinges on beliefs, and the more absolute, the more strongly expressed, the better.  They condemn what they call political correctness, which in other quarters is regarded as common decency.

They deny any evidence that contradicts their beliefs, much as Trump denies direct evidence that he did and said certain things.  Imaginary conspiracies rage that must be thwarted.  When frustrated or stymied, then the system is rigged, just at Trump has already condemned the election.  It is useful to note that Trump declared that the Republican nomination process was rigged, but he won.  So one might conclude that it was rigged in his favor.

There is no way to argue with these people or to debunk what they say.  Evidence is irrelevant in the alternative universe they have created.

Let me remind you how memory works.  Memory is a system for time travel.  We use it to consult the past to decide upon courses of action for the future.  We never have direct access to reality.  What we perceive has already happened and is stored in intermediate memory stages.  From this information we construct models of reality, which we use to guide our behavior.  As we learn we refine our models of the external world.  This is based on experience derived from external data.  In a way we are all scientists developing our models of the world based on our personal experience and what we find in transactive memory, which is information derived from our fellow humans and technology.

This lunatic fringe’s memories are sick because they just construct an artificial reality that is never checked against or modified by information from other sources.  The only thing of interest is more stuff that supports their beliefs.  There is no role for critical thinking and logic.  Hence these are sick memories, and these sick memories threaten our society and the progress of all societies.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Vote for Christian Values, Not for Trump

November 2, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Dustin Wahl, Paige Cutler, and Alexander Forbes in the 26 October, 2016 issue of the Washington Post.  The authors are  students of Liberty University who are incensed by the president of their university endorsing Donald Trump.

The article notes that Mark DeMoss, the chair of Liberty’s executive committed criticized Trump’s “politics of personal insult,” saying “It’s not Christ-like behavior that Liberty has spent 40 years promoting with its students.”  For this statement he was asked to resign from the executive committee.  Demoss left Liberty University ending his decades-long career of service to Liberty University.

Last week the students began circulating a statement titled “Liberty Against Trump” expressing their opposition to President Falwell’s endorsement and disassociating themselves from Trump.  So far, more than 2,000 Liberty students and faculty have sighed the statement.

The Post article continues, “”Evangelical conservatives who vote for Trump to get a favorable Supreme Court must realize that doing so requires trusting the words of the most unabashedly untruthful presidential candidate in modern history.  Trump has changed his position on nearly every issue of importance at least once, sometimes in mid-speech.  There is little reason to believe that he is worried about the same issue we are.  It makes more sense to believe that Trump is happy many Christians are worried because it allows him to do what all demagogues do:  offer strength in time of fear.”

They continue, “ Trump is the antithesis of our values; there is no reason to revisit his vices here.  Most non-Christians recognize Trump as amoral and self-centered.  If we ignore this fact and buy in to his promise of strength, what will it tell the world about how seriously we Christians esteem our values.”

HM applauds these students for their intelligence and their courage.  But he feels compelled to say something about many, if not most, evangelicals.  They do not understand that the First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees, among other rights, the freedom of religion for the individual.  The Constitution makes a clear distinction between church and state to the effect that neither impinges on the other.  So we can each believe what we want and worship as we want, as long as we do not trample on the rights of others.  But what many evangelicals regard as religious freedom is their right to impose their religious beliefs on others by changing laws and the interpretation of laws of the land.  When this is done they are imposing on the religious beliefs of others as well as secular humanists, who also have beliefs.  What they are doing is identical to the Sharia they find so repugnant in Islam.  What hypocrites they are!.  They do not perceive the mote in their own eye (Matt 7:3).

A classical religious debate is which is more important: beliefs or deeds.  HM argues that it is unequivocally deeds.  Beliefs are specific to religions and religions are institutions created by human beings.  Beliefs are the special sauce, if you will, to either frighten or attract people to the particular religion.  However, GOD is eternal and predates all religions.  HM believes that deeds are important to GOD and that GOD is indifferent to beliefs.  HM believes that GOD has given us brains and expects us to use them.  These students used their brains and came to correct conclusions different from their religious leader.  I would encourage readers to do the same.  When churches are encouraging questionable practices, you can likely find a church closer to your understanding as to what GOD wants.  There are plenty of churches from which to choose.  But a church is not required.  Individuals can develop their own relationship with GOD through prayer and meditation.  A church is only required when social interactions are important.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Donald Trump Manages to Do It

November 1, 2016

This post is inspired by a piece in the October 29, 2016 edition of  the “New Scientist” by an article titled, “Lying feels bad at first but our brains soon adapt to deceiving.”  The article reported an experiment run by Tali Sharot of University College London and her team.  This experiment encouraged volunteers to lie.  They were shown jars of pennies filled in varying degrees and asked to send estimates of how many there were to partners in another room.  The partners were shown blurrier images of the jar, so they relied on the volunteers’ estimates to guess the number of pennies in order to win a reward for each of them.

The volunteers were told that they would get a higher personal reward if their partner’s answer were wrong, and that the more inaccurate the answer, the greater the reward would be.  They started telling lies, which were small at first but then escalated.  For example a person who might have started with a lie that earned them one pound sterling, might have ended up telling fibs worth eight pounds sterling.

Brain scans showed that the first lie was associated with a burst of activity in the amygdalae, which are involved in emotional responding.  But this activity lessened as the lies progressed (Nature Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1038/nn.4426).

Donald Trump has had a long career lying, and his lies have rewarded him well.  HM doubts if there is any activity in his amygdalae when he lies.  Trump’s lies frequently contradict each other, so it is clear that he fails to remember lies.  The question is whether he is even aware that he is lying.  When confronted with the truth, including unequivocal evidence of the truth, he still denies it.  He invents conspiracies, which he apparently believes.  At first he complained that the Republican primary was rigged.  If so, it was rigged in his favor.  Now he threatens to disavow the results of the presidential election should he not be elected.  One concludes from this that Trump lives in an alternative reality, one which is largely divorced from reality.  A president who is divorced from reality would be disastrous.

Unfortunately, political polls have indicated that many have chosen to join Trump in his alternative reality.  This is frightening for democracy, and the size of the Trump vote will provide a good index of how frightened we should be.

One of the many ironies of this presidential election, is that Hillary Clinton is accused of lying and voters say that they do not believe her.  First of all, she is a politician.  Although the term politician has negative connotations, politicians are essential to a working democracy.  Saying that Hillary Clinton has lied is as enlightening as saying the Pope is a Catholic.  Even Honest Abe Lincoln lied.  Fact checkers have been monitoring  both candidates.  Comparing Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump regarding lies is like comparing the Chicago fire (Trump) to someone in his back yard burning leaves (Clinton).
Here is a link well worth clicking:

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Anything But a Healthy Memory

October 31, 2016

Paul McDevit, who edits Feedback Column of the New Scientist noted in the 13 August 2016 edition of the New Scientist that Donald Trump is a man who doesn’t lie so much as see the truth as a bad investment.  The following quotes are taken verbatim from his Twitter feed.

“I predicted the 9/11 attack on American in my book “The America We Deserve”” (29 December 2011).

“Not only are wind farms disgusting looking, but even worse they are bad for people’s health” (23 April 2012).

“An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud” (6 August 2012).

“Remember, hew “Environmental friendly” lightbulbs can cause cancer.  Be careful—the idiots who came up with this stuff don’t care.”  (17 October 2012).

“If we didn’t remove incredibly powerful fire retardant asbestos & replace it with junk that doesn’t work, the World Trade Center would never have burned down.” (17 October 2012).

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”  (6 November 2012).

“How amazing, the State Health Director who verified copies of Obama’s ‘birth certificate’ died in a plane crash today.  All others lived”  (12 December 2013)

“Snowing in Texas and Louisiana, record setting freezing temperatures throughout the country and beyond.  Global warming is an expensive hoax!”  (29 Januaty 2014)

“Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes—AUTISM.  Many such cases.” (28 March 2014).

“The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back.  People that go to far away places to help out are great—but must suffer the consequences!”  (2 August 2014).

“I am being proven right about massive vaccinations—the doctors lied.  Save our children and their future.”  (3 September 2014).

“Ebola is much easier to transmit that the CDC government representatives are admitting.   Spreading all over Africa—and fast.  Stop flights”  (2 October 2014)

“We must suspend immigration from regions linked with terrorism until a proven vetting method is in place.”  (26 June 2016)
McDevit concludes with “Feedback can at least are with one bombastic pronouncement from the ornery demagogue:  “The global warming we should be worried about is the global warming caused by NUCLEAR WEAPONS in the hands of crazy or incompetent leaders!”
“Quite”

Wealth and Empathy

October 30, 2016

This post is motivated by an Opinion piece in the Outlook Section of the 23 October issue of the Washington Post by Karen Weese.  The title of the piece is “How can you tell if someone is kind?  Ask how rich they are.”

Past healthy memory blog posts have reported arguments by some who say that humans have the quality of empathy, which computers can never have.  HM has never bought these arguments.  One might argue that computers might not be able to feel empathy, computers can, and perhaps already have, shown the capacity to show empathy.  Moreover, this facility will increase over time.  If you read some of the healthymemory blog posts based on the book “Progress,” one finds scant historical evidence for empathy. Current events lead to the belief that perhaps most of the world’s problems can be attributed to a famine of empathy.

Ms. Weese begins with an anecdote about the tips she and a friend left at a Denny’s restaurant.  The bill was $11 and her friend tossed a $5 tip on the table.  Ms Weese was amazed.  Her friend worked as a caregiver and was raising two children on less than $19k a year.  Her friend explained, cocking her head at their waitress, who was visibly pregnant and speed-walking from table to table with laden platters in the busy restaurant.  “She’s been on her feet for probably six hours already and has three more to go, she has a baby on the way, you know she’s exhausted, and somehow she still took great care of us like she’s supposed to.  She needs it more than I do.”

Reese writes that “There’s little question that people find it easier to give when they see something of themselves in the recipient.”  She notes that families of cancer survivors participate eagerly in fundraising walks.  She also argues that it is also why hedge fund manager John Paulson gave $400 million last year to endowment rich Harvard University, and not to, say, Habitat for Humanity.

A study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that affluent people in homogeneously wealthy zip codes are less generous than equally affluent people in mixed-income communities.  People in homogeneous rich communities are less likely to see homeless people.

A study by Yale professor Michael Kraus found that when shown human faces with different expressions, lower-income participants are better than their more affluent counterparts at identifying the emotions correctly.

University of California psychology professors Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner recorded video at four way stop signs.  They found that the drivers of Toyotas and other inexpensive cars were four times less likely to cut off other drivers than the people steering BMWs and other high-end cars.  In a related experiment, drivers of more modest cars were more likely to respect the right-of-way of pedestrians in a cross-walk, while half the drivers of high-end cars motored right past them.  Other experiments have shown that lower income subjects were less likely than high income subjects to cheat, lie, and help themselves to a jar of candy meant for kids.

Other research has shown that just thinking about money can make people act more selfishly.  An experiment by University of Minnesota professor Kathleen Vohs primed some study participants with images of money or asked them to unscramble lists of words than included terms like “cash” and “bill”.  They were less likely than the unprimed participants to give money to a hypothetical charity.  And when a research assistant appeared to accidentally drop a box of pencils on the floor right beside the participants, money-primed subjects were less willing to help pick them up.

Of course, the question is why does this difference occur.  Initial evidence indicates that the difference can be found in brain activity.  When Keely Muscatell of the University of North Carolina Keely Muscatell showed high and low income subjects photos of human faces with accompanying human stories, the brains of the low-income subjects demonstrated much more activity in the areas associated with empathy than the rich subjects’ brains.

When Jennifer Stellar of the University of Toronto showed videos of children at St. Jude’s hospital undergoing medical procedures, lower-income viewers exhibited more heart-rate deceleration than their higher-income counterparts.  Scientists use heart-rate deceleration as a measure of compassion.

So, how can rich people become more empathetic?  Other research has found that rich subjects began to act more empathetically toward others when shown a vivid, emotional video about kids in poverty.

Regardless of wealth, it is well known that people respond better to the plight of a single case than that of a whole group.  This has been termed the “identifiable victim bias.”

Reese ends her piece as follows: “Perhaps all of us who do not worry about where our next meal is coming from could stand to widen our lens.”

HM believes that meditation will increase empathy.  Should it not increase empathy, then it is not being done properly.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 Video Games Luring Men From the Workforce?

October 29, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Ana Swanson in the 24 September issue of the Washington Post.  It begins with the story of a high school graduate who has dropped out of the workforce because he finds little satisfaction in the part-time, low wage jobs he’s had since graduating from high school.  Instead he plays video games, including FIFA 16 and Rocket League on Xbox One and Pokemon Go on his smartphone.

The article notes that of last year 22% of the men between the ages of 21 and  30 with less than a bachelor’s degree reported not working at all in the previous year.  This is up from 9.5% in 2000.  These young men have replaced 75% of the time they used to spend working with time on the computer mostly playing video games.

From 2004 to 2007, before the recession, unemployed men averaged 5.7 hours on he computer, whereas employed men average 3.4 hours. This included video game time.  After the recession, between 2011 to 2014 unemployed men average 12.2 hours per week, whereas employed men averaged 4.7 hours.  With respect to video games from 2004-07 unemployed men averaged 3.4 hours per week versus 2.1 hours fro employed men.  During the period from 2011-2014 unemployed men average 8.6 hours playing video games verses 3.2 hours for employed men.

Researchers are arguing that these increases in game playing are partially  due to the games appeal having been increased. The estimate runs from one-fifth to one-third of the decreased work is attributable to the rising appeal of video games.  HM believes that prior to these games most unemployed were confronted primarily to daytime television, which provided a strong inducement to seek work.  Today video games provide an entertaining alternative to seeking work.  As the games improve and become more sophisticated, the argument is that they have become even more appealing.

The article notes that the extremely low cost makes these games even more accessible.  It states that recent research has found that households making $25K to $35K a year spent 92 more minutes a week online that households making $100K or more per year.

The article also notes that for the first time since the 1930s more U.S. men ages 18 to 34 are living with their parents than with romantic partners according to the Pew Research center.

The article argues that these men are happy.  HM feels that this happiness is likely to be short-lived, and that there is a serious risk that these men will end up as adults who are stunted intellectually and emotionally.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Understanding Anxiety and How to Control It

October 27, 2016

This post is based largely on an article by Linda Geddes in the Feature Section of the 8 October 2016 issue of the “New Scientist” titled “Why we worry:  Understanding anxiety and how to control it”.  The reason why we worry is because we have brains to protect us from danger.  The prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex amplify negative information and makes us pay attention to it.  Emotional memories and our learned reactions to them are stored in the amygdala.  When active, it triggers the release of hormones responsible for the fight-or-flight response.

In 1980 the American Psychological Association estimated that between 2% and 4%of people in the US had anxiety disorder.  Of course, that was before wired technology and smart phones.  Today, some studies suggest it’s more like 18% in the US and 14% in Europe.

It is normal to be anxious when confronted by threats.  It is the frequency and severity of anxiety that makes it maladapting.  Moreover, people can be anxious to specific events.  The most common type of anxiety disorder is social anxiety disorder, where you might believe the blushing will result in people laughing or shunning you.  This type of disorder  is persistent and overwhelming fear before, during and after social events.

If you have panic disorder you might think you are having a heart attack if your heart starts to race.  Then the physical symptoms of anxiety—a pounding heart, difficulty breathing, feeling dizzy or flushed come on in a rush.  From time to time everyone can experience such panic attacks, but in panic disorder the attacks are regular and become a source of anxiety themselves.

Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by worrying about a range of different events or activities for at least six months.  Should you have this condition, the belief driving your anxiety, or that you have responsibilities that you must meet at all costs.

According to the article, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is likely to be the gold standard in treatment that addresses the maladaptive  beliefs that drive your anxiety.  Once they have been identified, CBT helps you address them.  Although there is a shortage of therapists, this shortage has spurred the development of online delivery of CBT.  Try searching for online CBT.

Frankly, HM would recommend Cognitive Based Mindfulness Therapy.  HM would also say you should consider just trying meditation and mindfulness.  This should not be surprising given all the HM posts on mindfulness and meditation.  Mindfulness meditation should serve as a preventive in the first place.  And it is never too late to try to regain control of your mind and emotions via mindfulness and meditation.

Physical exercise is another remedy for anxiety.  It triggers the release of mood-boosting endorphins, and forces you to concentrate on something other than your own thoughts.

Try medications only as the last resort and only under the treatment of a physician.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Tired All the Time?

October 25, 2016

Tired all the time is the title of a feature piece by Emma Young in the 15 October 2015 New Scientist.  The subtitle of the piece is “Why fatigue  isn’t just about sleep.”  Perhaps the most obvious answer is that life is more exhausting than it has ever been.  There are the many competing demands of work and family together with the ever-present smartphone notifications.  Today’s omnipresent technology is a likely reason that we feel as if we’re running on empty.  There is a book titled “Exhaustion:  A history” written by Anna Katharina Schaffner, who is a historian at the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK.  She has documented that “people through the ages have consistently complained of being worn out, and harked back to the relative calm of simpler times.”  Throughout the centuries fatigue has been blamed on the alignment of the planets, a lack of godliness, and even an unconscious desire to die.  Schaffer says that “Freud argued that a very strong part of ourselves longs for a state of permanent  physical and mental rest.”

In the 19th century the American physician George M. Beard claimed that neurasthenia was caused by exhaustion of the nervous system and was responsible for physical and mental fatigue as well as irritability, hopelessness, bad teeth, cold feet, and dry hair.  Beard blamed neurasthenia on the advent of steam power and newfangled inventions such as the telegraph.  Schaffer says that “Beard feared that the modern subject was unable to cope with such chronic sensory overload.”

A lack of sleep is another apparent cause of fatigue.  Researchers are able to distinguish between the need for sleep and fatigue, considering them to be closely related but subtly different.  The sleep latency allows the subtle distinction between sleep and fatigue.  It is widely used in sleep clinics and is based on the idea that if you lie down somewhere quiet during the day and fall asleep within a few minutes, you are either lacking sleep or potentially suffering from a sleep disorder.  If you don’t drop off within 15 minutes or so, yet still feel tired, fatigue might be the problem.

Mary Harrington is one of the researchers looking for a tell tale biological signal.  One possibility is that daytime fatigue stems from a problem with the circadian clock, which regulates periods of mental alertness through the day and night.  This regulation is done by the brain’s suprachiasmastic nucleus (SCN), which coordinates hormones and brain activity to ensure that we feel generally alert during the day.  Normally, the SCN orchestrates a peak in alertness at the start of the day, a dip in the early afternoon, and a shift to sleepiness in the evening.   The amount of sleep you get at night has little impact on this cycle.  How alert you feel depends on the quality of the hormonal and electrical output signals from the SCN.  The SCN uses the amount of light hitting the retina to set its clock, so that it keeps in line with the solar day.  Too little light in the mornings, or too much at night, can disrupt SCN signals, and either can lead to a lethargic day.  Harrington says  “I think circadian rhythm disruption is quite common in our society and is getting worse with increased use of light at night.”  She says the if you spend the day feeling as if you have never quite woken up properly, but are not sleepy at bedtime, a poorly calibrated SCN might be to blame.  She recommends spending at least 20 minutes outside every morning and turning off screens by 10 pm to avoid tricking the SCN into staying in daytime mode.   Another way to reset the SCN is through exercise.  Studies have linked exercise to reduced fatigue.  Harrington says that exercise can make a big difference.  People who start exercising regularly often report sleeping better when some studies show that they don’t actually sleep any longer.  Quality of sleep appears to be more important than quantity.

Reducing fat levels can also be helpful.  Body fat not only takes more energy to carry around, but also releases leptin, a hormone that signals to the brain that the body has adequate energy stores. People who carry excess fat also show higher levels of inflammation.  Body fat stores large levels of cytokine, which are released into the bloodstream.  In addition to stimulating the immune system, cytokines also make you feel drained of energy.

Even if you are not overweight, inflammation could still be running you down.  A sedentary lifestyle, regular stress, and poor diet have all been lined to chronic lower-level inflammation.  There is also preliminary evidence that disruption of circadian rhythms can increase inflammation.

Low dopamine is also implicated in depression as it reduces availability of serotonin.  Since the vast majority of people with major depression report severe fatigue, it’s not surprising that depression is also a potential common in fatigue.

Harrington’s advice is not to let fatigue stop you doing something you enjoy.  Force yourself to keep at it because a potent reward could trigger the release of dopamine in brain areas linked to motivation and alertness.  Or do something stressful:  the release of adrenaline could help you overcome lethargy.  Ideally put stress and enjoyment together.

Evolution Evolves: Beyond the Selfish Gene

October 23, 2016

The title of this post is identical to title of a short piece written by Kevin LeLand and and published in the 24 September 2016 issue of the “New Scientist.”   The cover of the issue notes that the theory of life needs an update.  The changes in the theory of evolution have been monumental.  In HM’s humble opinion, they are comparable to the changes between Newton and Einstein in physics.  Kevin Leland has provided a precise summary.

Gone is the radical notion of the selfish gene, which argues the goal of genes is to propagate themselves, and we are merely vehicles for that propagation.  Gone also is the nature vs. nurture issue.  Genes interact with the world.  They provide inputs, but perhaps for some exceptionally rare occasions, they are not deterministic.

Natural selection is not solely in charge as the way that an organism develops can influence the direction and rate of its own evolution and its fit to the environment.

Inheritance goes beyond genes and includes epigenetic, ecological, behavioral, and cultural inheritance.  Similar to, but different from, Lamarkian transmission, acquired characteristics can be passed to offspring and play diverse roles in evolution.

Phenotypic variation is not random.  Individuals develop in response to local conditions such that novel features they possess are typically well suited to their environment.

Evolution is much more rapid than previously viewed.  Developmental processes allow individuals to respond to environmental changes and mutations with coordinate changes in suites of traits.  The new view is organism-centered, with broader conceptions of evolutionary processes.  Individuals adjust to their environment as they develop and modify selection processes.  Additional phenomena explain macroevolutionary changes by increasing evolvability,  the ability to generate adaptive diversity.  They include plasticity and niche construction.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Another Quote Worth Pondering

October 21, 2016

This is from Chapter 12, “All in the Mind” in “The Epigenetics Revolution” by Nessa Carey. The quote is from John Milton.
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”
We should use this quote as a reminder to ourselves substituting “My” for “The”.
We are the ones who determine our own happiness.  This is one of the reasons that HM recommends meditation.

A similar quote comes from Victor Frankl; a survivor of Auschwitz (and a neurologist and psychologist):  “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:  the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance, to choose one’s own way.”

What makes Dr. Frankl’s statement so remarkable is that it was made under the most adverse of circumstances.

Siddhartha, who became the first Buddha was a wealthy man who left his wealth in his quest to remove misery from the world.  His solution was found in the mind in mindfulness and meditation.
Should you want to see the first healthymemory blog post worth pondering enter  “A Quote Worth Pondering” into the healthy memory search block.  It will be worth your while.

The Epigenetics Revolution

October 20, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title  of a book by Nessa Carey.  The Subtitle is How Modern Biology is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance.  The research has shown how naive the nature nurture distinction was and how wrong headed was IQ research that estimated numerical contributions of genes and environment to IQ.  Presumably the immediately preceding post has disabused you of those issues.  But Flynn does not specifically mention how epigenetics further muddies any distinction.

Epigenetics refers to how information is read out of our genes.  Carey tries to make the topic easy, but it is a very complicated topic.  It is better to have the modest goal of understanding the ramifications of the topic.

Even identical (monozygotic) twins can vary.  A television program presented the case of two identical twin sisters.  One was quite successful both academically and socially.  The other was autistic.  To be sure, such extreme cases are exceedingly rare, but the differences between identical twins increase as they age.  Much of this can be attributed to errors in the readout from the genes.  But childhood experiences can affect this readout.

Go to the healthy memory blog post “Turning on Genes in the Brain” to learn how adverse childhood experiences can cripple a child psychologically for life and lead to drug addiction and criminal behavior.  Moreover, the negative changes in the DNA of the child can be passed on to her children.

However, good habits and good experiences can lead to beneficial epigenetic experiences.  There is a series of healthy memory blog posts on how meditation can produce these changes.  First go to the post “An Update of the Relaxation Response Update. Then ago to the next in the series, “The Genetic Breakthrough—Your Ultimate Mind-Body Connection.”  Then go to “Cancer and the Genetic Horizons on the Mind
Body Treatment.”  Then go to “Cognitive Benefits of the Relaxation Response and Mindfulness.”  You might also want to review “The Two Step Process,” and for some personal tips on meditation, “Personal Tips on Meditation Techniques In General and the Relaxation Response in Particular.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Does Your Family Make You Smarter?

October 18, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of a very important book by Professor James R. Flynn.  The subtitle is ”Nature, Nurture, and Human Autonomy.”  Flynn is the founder of the “Flynn Effect,” which describes the inflation of the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) over time.  This effect has been so large and consistent that the IQ has to have been periodically updated and recalibrate so that the mean would be 100.  Flynn had argued that this must be an artifact as we apparently had not become as smarter as the recalibration of the test indicated.  However, further research and collaboration with his colleague W. T. Dickens led to the conclusion that we were becoming smarter, and an explanation of how we were becoming smarter.

“Does Your Family Make You Smarter” is highly technical.  For those whose area of interest is this topic, then reading is mandatory.  However, this book should be of interest to everyone, so HM shall try to summarize the salient points that are of general interest.

Historically, IQ has been a hot topic with respect to the distinction between genetic and environmental effects.  Although we can distinguish between the two factors with mathematics, it is important to realize that in the real world we cannot view genetic as distinct from environment effects.  HM is reminded of a story, perhaps apocryphal, of an experiment that was done to determine what was the true language for humans.  So the plan was not to interact or speak with a newborn baby.  They thought that when the baby did speak, they would know what the true human language was.  Of course, in this environment the baby would never learn a language and would be severely handicapped.

The truth is that the effects of genes and environment are inextricably intertwined.   Flynn does not even touch the topic of epigenetics, which refers to the information that is read out from the genes.  Recent research has found that the nature of this readout can be beneficial or detrimental depending on the nature of the environment.

Flynn’s colleague Dickens posited that genes and environment become more highly correlated as we age, meaning that their influence was additive.  The potency of the environment was based by combining the two, which erroneously had been ascribed to genes alone in the twin studies.  By the time we reach maturity, current environment has only a feeble memory of past environments except under unusual  circumstances such as brain trauma.

What has been happening is that modernity is causing our habits of processing information to adapt so that we can more readily handle abstract concepts. So most of us have become more intelligent.  There is a social multiplier effect, which is aided and abetted by technology.  The example provided is basketball.  The televising of basketball games enabled everyone to see how the game was played by experts.  Young players try to model on the playground what they saw on television.

There are adverse effects of new technology, such as the spread of misinformation.  But there are also good effects as better ways of thinking and doing things can be readily communicated.

Flynn speaks of family effects.  Family effects include genes and the environment provided by the family.  A family of professionals will have a higher level of communication and will follow more media with better quality information.  These effects continue until the young adult leaves home.  Intelligence should continue to develop depending upon the environments in which she works and plays.  In good environments intelligence should continue to grow.  This growth can stop when people retire unless they continue to foster their cognitive development with mental and social activities that promote continued growth.

Healthy memory readers should immediately recognize that this is in consonance with the message that is repeated over and over in this blog.  Should you not have recognized this consonance, then you have a lot of remedial reading to do.  Start by entering “growth mindsets” into the search block of the healthy memory blog.

Dr. Flynn is 82 years old and provides an ideal individual to try to emulate.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Pain and the Second Dart

October 16, 2016

This post is taken in part from “Siddhartha’s Brain”  by James Kingsland.   The Buddha used two darts as a metaphor to understand how to deal with pain.  “It is if a man were pierced by a dart and, following the first piercing, he is hit by a second dart.  He worries and grieves, he laments, beats his breast and is distraught.  So he experiences two kinds of feeling: a bodily and a mental feeling.  Someone who has not been taught how to cope with painful sensations resists and resents them.  The only way he knows to escape the suffering is by distracting himself with sensory pleasures, which come with dangers of their own attached.”  On the other hand, he said, “ a well-taught, noble disciple, O monks, when he is touched by a painful feeling he will not worry nor grieve and lament, he will not beat his breast and wail, nor will he be distraught.”  So even if the first dart had found its mark, the second one could no longer hurt him.

The developer of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Kabat Zin, learned as a young man enduring grueling Zen meditation sessions is that if you can turn your full attention on pain without pursuing the emotional narratives that usually accompany it, you suffer much less as a consequence.  He teaches this skill to patients with chronic pain.  He says, “We don’t just tell people, ‘accept it and it will be okay.  But paradoxically when you begin to befriend your pain—move into it, embrace it, hold it in awareness—you begin to see that the suffering lies in thinking ‘this is going to last forever’ and ‘it’s destroyed my life, I’m never going to be better again.’  That’s not actual pain, those are just thoughts.” He admits that this change in perspective is a challenging thing to ask of someone experiencing debilitating pain, but he says the key to reducing suffering associated with an intense sensation is to turn toward it rather than try to run away from it.  “That’s where the rubber meets the road.”

In 1982 Kabat-Zinn published the results of the first clinical investigation into the efficacy of mindfulness meditation for easing chronic.  The 51 patients who participated in this study were experiencing various types of pain, mostly lower back, neck and shoulder pain, and headache.  After completing a ten week course, 65% saw their pain reduced by more than a third when scored on a standard index the combines pain intensity and unpleasantness.  For half of these patients pain ratings had fallen by more than 50%.  The changes in the patients’ ability to cope with their pain were accompanied by significant improvements in mood and psychiatric symptoms.

Since then there have been thousands more studies with clear benefits established for pain, stress, and anxiety.  The program has also been successfully adapted to prevent relapse in depression and to treat addiction.

These findings reminded HM of similar finding in hypnosis research.  In the cold pressor task, a participant’s hand is immersed in ice water.  This quickly becomes very painful and participants have difficulty keeping their hands in the ice water.  The participants are also asked to provide ratings of the pain.  However, when given hypnotic suggestions, participants are able to keep their hands immersed, while also providing the pain ratings that were comparable to what they were when they were not given hypnotic suggestions.  Apparently, they were able to reinterpret the pain so it was much less distressing just as in the situations described above.  Some people have even undergone surgery while under hypnotic suggestion.  In the most impressive example of which HM is aware, a patient had a tumor removed from his scrotum while hypnotized.

The following are instructions for Open-Minded Guided Meditation that were provided at the end of the Second Dart Chapter.

“A great way to return your mind to its “ground state,” neither overexcited nor torpid, simply alert and open, is to become aware of the natural rhythm of the breath as you inhale and exhale.  This is focused attention, prerequisite for the second state of mindfulness meditation:  insight.

Start by focusing on the sensation of the breath entering and leaving you body at the nostrils.  Remember, you are observing your breathing rather than controlling it.  Follow each inhalation and exhalation from the start to the finish.  Notice any slight gap between the in-breath and out-breath.

Don’t be hard on yourself if your mind wanders or you get distracted by a noise.  This is all perfectly normal.  Just remind yourself:  “That’s how the mind works,” and return to the breath.  With repetition, you will get better at noticing when you have lost focus and develop greater mindfulness of the present moment.

Now that you have quieted your mind, allow your attention to broaden.  Whenever a positive or negative feeling arises, make it the focus of your meditation, noticing the bodily sensations associated with it:  perhaps a tightness, the heart beating faster or slower, butterflies in the stomach, relaxed or tensed muscles.  Whatever it is, address the feeling with friendly, objective curiosity.  You could silently label whatever arises in the mind, for example:  “There is anxiety,” “There is calm,: There is joy,” “There is boredom.”   Remember, everything is on the table, nothing is beneath your attention.

If you experience an ache or a pain, snitch or any other kind of discomfort, treat it in exactly the same way.  Turn the spotlight of your attention on the sensation but don’t allow yourself to get caught up in it.  Imagine that on the in-breath you are gently breathing air into the location where the sensation is strongest, then expelling it on the out-breath.  You may notice that when you explore the sensation with friendly curiosity—not trying to change it in any way, neither clinging to it or repressing it—the feeling will start to fade of its own accord.  When it has gone, return your full attention to your breath.

Mindfulness instructors will sometimes talk about “surfing” the wave of an unpleasant sensation such as pain, anxiety, or craving.  Instead of allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by the wave of feeling, you get up on your mental surfboard and ride it.  You experience it fully, but your mind remains detached, dignified, and balanced.  Knowing that the power of even the most fearsome wave eventually dissipates, you ride it out.

If a thought, emotion, or feeling becomes too strong or intrusive, you can always use the breath as a calm refuge, returning you whole attention to the breathing sensations at your nostrils.  Similarly if you feel you can’t cope with a pain such as stiffness in your legs, neck, or back, shift your posture accordingly.  But make your attention move to a mindful close rather than a reflex, and make the movement itself slow and deliberate.”

A previous healthy memory blog post, “Controlling Pain in Our Minds” explores this topic further and discusses the possibility of there being two different neural pathways processing the “two darts.”

Mindfulness and Alzheimer’s

October 15, 2016

This post is taken in part from “Siddhartha’s Brain”  by James Kingsland.  There is evidence that one of the benefits of mindfulness is to slow age-related cognitive decline and perhaps even protect against Alzheimer’s Disease.  Deposits of beta-amyloid, the protein plaques that are characteristic of the disease are concentrated in the default mode network.  This includes its principal hub, the posterior cingulate cortex, and the medial temporal lobe, where structures such as the hippocampus create and store long-term memories.  When people are not focused but performing an externally directed task, the parts of the brain that become active closely match the areas most vulnerable to the damage associated with Alzheimer’s.  Animal research, using mice genetically engineer to develop amyloid plaques, built up exclusively in areas of high nerve activity.

So, in theory, not just mindfulness but any pastime that hold’s the mind’s eye steady and stops attention from wondering, whether it’s a sport  solving puzzles, math, reading, studying, or the mindfulness awareness of everyday activities cultivated by meditation, will give the brain’s default mode network a break and make it less likely that amyloid plaque will accumulate.

Although this is good news, readers of the healthy memory blog should be aware that people have died with the defining physical symptoms, the neurofibril tangles and amyloid plaque, without knowing that they have had the disease.  That is they never evidenced any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of he disease.  The explanation for these people is that through the way they used their brains during their lifetimes they built up a cognitive reserve.  The healthy memory blog promotes activities that should build up a cognitive reserve.

Kingsland notes that there is preliminary evidence that meditation can slow or even reverse age-related brain degeneration, helping to maintain the thickness of the cortex and prevent loss of gray matter (nerve cell bodies) and white mater (merve fibers or “axons”.  The reference for this is
Luders, E.  (2014) “Exploring Age-Related Brain Degeneration in Meditation Practioners,”  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1307:82-88.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Siddhartha’s Brain

October 14, 2016

“Siddhartha’s Brain” is a book by the veteran science writer James Kingsland.  The subtitle of the book  is “Unlocking the Ancient Science of Enlightenment.”  Should you not know, Siddhartha, a well off noble who became a pauper to learn about suffering and, more importantly, how to deal with it, became known as the Buddha.  If people think they know one thing about Buddhism, it is probably that Buddhists believe in repeated rebirths after death.  However, when the Dalai Lama  was asked whether it is necessary to believe in rebirth to be a Buddhist, he emphatically replied:  “It doesn’t matter!   The most important thing was to practice the essence of the Buddha’s teaching—impermanence, selflessness, and compassion.”  He went on to say that with increasingly refined states of meditation, one would invariably  gain the insight that rebirth was real and that to escape from the cycle of suffering, one must attain nibbana. The Dalai Lama does not proselytize Buddhism.  What he does strongly advocate is secular humanism.  Even Buddhists in traditional schools dismiss any speculation about rebirth as a waste of time.  They believe instead that we  should focus on the karma that determines out psychological well being in this life.   It is important to realize that Buddhism is not a belief system.  Rather it is a religious approach based on experience.

Nor is it claimed that Buddhists developed meditation.  Rather it is believed that individual humans stumbled upon the meditative experience.  Moreover, meditation has been practiced by contemplatives in virtually every substantive religion.  Meditation can and should be expanded into mindfulness.  One is tempted to attribute the current state of the world, as well as the historical record, to a famine of mindfulness.  It is hoped that some day there will be a feast of mindfulness,  The practice of mindfulness involves regarding oneself in the third person and trying to understand others from their perspectives, and to be concerned about their well-being.

One learns much about Siddhartha and Buddhism in this volume to include practices of meditation and mindfulness. But it does not cover all the different branches  of Buddhism.  They range from the extremely ascetic Zen Buddhism to highly commercial versions.  There are Buddhist priests who marry and have families.  HM has been to Japan several times and has marveled at the selling of fortunes by some versions.

There are Buddhists who strongly object to the way the private companies have adopted mindfulness and meditation practices.  Philosophically, they are far from the Dalai Lama who presses for secular humanism.  Regardless, HM predicts that in the future it will be commonplace for businesses and agencies to have dedicated spaces for meditation and mindfulness.  Dedicated facilities for physical exercise have become commonplace, but dedicated facilities for meditation and mindfulness will not only promote physical health, they will also promote psychological health and beneficial interactions among personnel.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Epilogue

October 12, 2016

Epilogue is, appropriately enough, the final chapter of “Progress:  Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future”  by Johan Norbert.  Readers should be aware that we do not have direct contact with reality, but that we build mental models on the basis of our interactions with the external world.  This book, and it is hoped that the posts based on this book, provided ample data that contemporary people believe that things are bad and are getting worse.  The reason why people think this is based on the availability heuristic formulated by Kahneman and Tversky.  People base their estimates on information that is available.  The media focuses on what goes wrong and what is being done wrong.  This is the cause of the pessimistic assessments.  This is not a matter of a conspiracy by the media.  This is the type of news that sells.  A headline that there were no significant data comprises would be boring, unless the headline came after  serious data comprises.

The final chapter begins with the following Inscription on a stone from Chaldea in 2800 bce :
We have fallen upon evil times
and the world has waxed very old and wicked.
Politics are very corrupt.
Children are no longer respectful to their parents.

So it appears that pessimism and alarm might be the defaults for our species.  The subtitle is “SO WHY ARE YOU STILL NOT CONVINCED?
Frankly if you are not already convinced on the basis of these blog posts, HM would say that it would be pointless to read the book.  But this would be because HM has concluded you are intellectually compromised.  But the truth might be that HM failed to communicate effectively and perhaps you should read the book.  Even if you are already convinced, HM touched only barely on the books content, so it would be worthwhile for you to read it.

HM must confess to have been already convinced of the book’s thesis before reading.  He has long thought that he would rather be a person of modest means living in the present than a rich, influential individual living in the past.  This book has strongly justified this sentiment.  Moreover, HM would likely bet on a better life in the future.

Of course, this better life is not given.  Matters could go wrong.  We must to continue to grow our minds, think critically, and work for a better future.  The risk here is that there are indications that too many people do not use their minds much, and do not think critically.  Unfortunately there is a tendency for too many not to think critically and to fall under the influence of demagogues.  Demagogues succeed by inducing fear via big lies about the present and what they will do in the future.  It is remarkable, but people are convinced by promises absent any plans as to how this will be done.  Moreover, they exhibit an ignorance of government and a rejection of science.  Unfortunately, if the President of the United States thinks that global warming is a hoax, this places not just
the United States in jeopardy, but the entire world.  And, unfortunately, at present this appears to be a risk.

If you have yet to do so, go to http://www.gapminder.org.   It is a very interesting website.  You might find the documentary “Don’t Panic End Poverty” well worth viewing.  This is the last call for this important and informative website.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Equality and the Next Generation

October 11, 2016

Equality and the Next Generation are chapters 9 and 10, respectively, of “Progress:  Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future”  by Johan Norbert.  As the purpose of these blog posts is to update our mental models regarding how much change there has been between now and the past, only the nature of the improvements will be presented, and not the innovations that underlay the improvements.  As it is only a fraction of the improvements that are in the book can be related, so this is a matter of necessity or convenience, depending on your perspective.  If you are interested in the technology and practices that underlay these improvements, please read the book.  Indeed, everyone should benefit from reading this book.

The chapter Equality begins with the following quote from Charles Darwin:  “As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would teach each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him.  This point once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extend to all men of all nations and races.”

Norbert writes, “The fact that a country is a democracy does not guarantee that it is a liberal democracy that gives individual rights to all its citizens regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual orientation.  After winning the Second World War against the Nazis’ brutal form of racism, the Allied democracies showed how many problems still remained among themselves.  When General de Gaulle wanted French troops to lead the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944, American and British commanders accepted it on the condition that no black colonial forces were included, even though they made up two-thirds of the Free French forces.”

Norbert notes that racism has been a natural part of most people’s mindset since ancient times.  The hostility towards (and even enslavement of) other ethnic groups was a regular occurrence.  There is one long historical record of hatred agains peoples that were considered inferior.  Anti-semitic programs continue for centuries in Europe.  Jews were blamed for the plague, and were frequently slaughtered wholesale.  1492 was not only the year that Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but when Spain emerged as a unified Christian country.  Its rulers expelled all Jews who refused to convert.  Shortly thereafter, Spanish Muslims were forced to choose between conversions and exile.  Conversion proved fruitless as a hundred years later those who did convert were expelled.

Europe was plagued by religious wars in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  The irony here is that these religions preached love, tolerance, forgiveness, and non-violence, yet fought vicious wars and committed atrocities in the names of their respective religions.

There were no religious wars in the United States so they had do make due with deadly riots against almost every ethnic and religious minority, including Catholics, Jews and Protestant sects, and Germans, Italian and Irish.  In the late nineteenth century there were more than 150 lynchings of African American per year.

Eventually more humanitarian attitudes began to take root and ethnic violence was reduced.  In the mid-nineteenth century deadly riots began to decline in Europe and lynchings in the United States begin to decline in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  With the exception of isolated case, they ended in the 1940s and 1950s.  Legal racism continued until the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968.  Although racial discrimination continues in the United States, it is illegal.

One could argue that our genes predispose us to racism, although modern views of genetics would reject that view.  The opening quote from Charles Darwin provides a more progressive and positive view.    The nineteenth century Irish historian William E. H. Lecky suggested that the advance of civilization and education makes us expand the circle of those whose interest we take into consideration:  “At one time the benevolent affections embraced merely the family, soon the circle, then a nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity, and finally, its influence is felt in the dealing of man with the animal world.”

The ability to empathize and to consider oneself in the position of others is key to defeating racism.  Michal Sheerer talk about the principle of interchangeable perspectives.  To change position and put ourselves in someone else’s shows is a complex mental abstraction,  Empathy requires contemplation.  The first arguments for tolerance came from Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, who wrote in 1689 that “neither Pagan nor Mahometan, nor Jew, outgo to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion.  Norbert does not mention that these concepts have long been part of Buddhism.

Norbert does mention the Flynn Effect, but he does not mention how the Flynn’s concept of the Flynn Effect has changed.  Initially, Flynn was skeptical of IQ tests and argued that IQ increases across generations that required the renorming of the test were bogus.  However, subsequent research lead him to conclude that these increases were real.  Steven Pinker has talked about a “moral Flynn Effect,” where our increased ability to abstract from concrete particulars of our immediate experience makes it possible to take in the perspective of others.  Flynn and his brother tried to get their father to give up racial prejudices by using a thought-experiment.  They asked him, “What if you woke up one morning and discovered your skin had turned black?  Would that make you less of a human being?”  Their father answered:  “Now , that’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever said.  Who ever hear of a man’s skin turning black overnight?’  Unfortunately, it is HM’s observation that the “moral Flynn Effect” is not as widespread as one might hope, and that too many are stuck in the thought process of Flynn’s father.

Norbert also covers the Global Gender Gap Index.  Globally, almost 96% of the gap in health outcomes between men and women has closed, and 95% of the gap in educational attainment.  But only 59% of the economic outcomes gap and 23% of the political outcomes gap has closed.

The chapter The Next Generation begins with this quote from Julian Simon:  “The main fuel to spark the world’s progress is our stock of knowledge;  the brakes are our lack of imagination and unsound social regulations of these activities.  The ultimate resource is people—especially skilled, spirited, and hopeful young people endowed with liberty—who will exert their will and imaginations for their own benefits, and so inevitably they will benefit the rest of us as well.”

Norbert begins with a discussion of child labor. He notes that the common impression that child labor was a result of the Industrial Revolution, but rather this was the first time when people began to react to child labour, write about it and demand an end to it.  In 1851 28% of  children aged between 10 and 14 were recorded was working.  Although this is a high number and it did not include the numerous girls who were working unpaid at home looking after younger siblings or generally helping out.  Still, it is much lower that it was in non-industrialized countries even 100 years later.  In 1950 the child labour rate in China had been estimated at 48%, in India 35%, and in Africa 38%.  Even in Italy the child labor rate was 29% in 1950.

The rate of child labor in England and Wales went from 28% in 1851 to 21% in 1891 and to 14% in 1911.  Soon it disappeared altogether.  This is what happened in every industrialized country.  The same change is now taking place in low- and middle-income countries.

It would be a mistake to conclude that the problem of child labor has disappeared.  It is still with us.  The International Labour Organization estimates the number of children between 5 and 17 years old and working.  In 2012 there were 168 million child laborers in that age group globally, down from 245 million in 2000, a reduction from 16% to 10.6% of all children.

The proportion of children between 5 and 11 years old in hazardous work—work in dangerous or unhealthy conditions has been reduced even faster, by two-thirds between 2000 and 2012 from 9.3% to 3.1%.

It is clear that more needs to be done, but it is also clear that progress has been extraordinary.  The next generation should be even better, but there is always the prospect of our fouling up.  This can come about in democracies by electing leaders who do not follow or believe in scientific findings.  Or by leaders either in democratic or authoritarian countries who engage in pointless conflicts.  In short, overconfidence is dangerous.  Not thinking critically and following demagogues rather than competent leaders can risk not just the failure to improve, but also to losing some of the significant advancements that have already been achieved.

If you have yet to do so, go to http://www.gapminder.org.   It is a very interesting website.  You might find the documentary “Don’t Panic End Poverty” well worth viewing.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Literacy and Freedom

October 10, 2016

Literacy and Freedom are Chapters 7 and 8 of “Progress:  Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future”  by Johan Norbert.  As the purpose of these blog posts is to update our mental models regarding how much change there has been between now and the past, only the nature of the improvements will be presented, and not the innovations that underlay the improvements.  As it is only a fraction of the improvements that are in the book can be related, so this is a matter of necessity or convenience, depending on your perspective.  If you are interested in the technology and practices that underlay these improvements, please read the book.  Indeed, everyone should benefit from reading this book.

One could make a good argument that a literate society is a prerequisite for a truly free society.  The chapter on literacy begins with the following quotation from Plutarch:  “The Mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.  Literacy is one of the most important skills as it is the capacity to acquire even more capacity.  It makes it possible to make much greater use of knowledge that others, even others who long ago have passed away.  Literacy makes it possible to pick up skills and ideas that make us more productive and able to use technology better.  It is also required to be an active an informed citizen and to follow and participate in the world of knowledge.  It has a very strong influence on our health and the health of our children.

According to the OECD’s best estimate two hundred years ago 12% of the world’s population could read and write.  Until then, literacy was mostly a tool for the bureaucracy, the Church and the merchant class.  Many of the elite and slaveowner’s should they be considered elite thought it dangerous for the poor to become literate.  The fear was that they would become unhappy with their lives and stop accepting their lot in life.

Initially charity groups and philanthropists started schools for the poor.  Then, as governments realized that educating the poor would increase their productivity and, perhaps, participate in government began funding schools.  There was immediate feedback here in that economic benefits were clearly recognized.  Even when public schools were very few, there were literate people who instructed the illiterate.  One Swede noted that in the sparsely populate northern part of Sweden, “that, although public schools are very few, nevertheless the literate instruct the others with such enthusiasm and the greater part of the common people and even the peasants are literate.”

Progress in literacy followed economic development quite closely.  In western Europe, the United States and Canada around 90% of children attended school in the late nineteenth century.  In 1900 less than 10% of the population in South Asia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa had received basic education.  By the 1900s around half had.  Today it is around 75%.  In Latin America, the proportion increased from 23% in 1900 to 94% in 2010
The global literacy rate increased from around 21% in 1900 to almost 40% in 1950, and in 2015 it was 86%.

The chapter  Freedom begins with a discussion of slavery.  Norbert notes that slavery is the most brutal form of oppression the world has known.  Chattel slaves were the property of someone else, who could order them around, beat them at will, give them away or rent them. Moreover, slavery once existed everywhere.  Slavery once was so common that even the few vocal opponents owned slaves.  They were forced to perform chores and crafts, to work in the fields or down mines, and even into prostitution.

According to the Greek historian Herodotus, slaves in Ancient Sparta outnumbered free individuals by seven to one.  Even in democratic Athens there were likely more slaves than free men.  It was a sign of utmost poverty not to own at least one slave and the literation is filled with scenes  of slaves being flogged for disobeying their masters.

Julius Caesar brought slave traders with him on his campaigns and sold prisoners directly to them.  When he defeated a Germanic drive he sold all 53,000 survivors as slaves on the spot.  These slaves lived extraordinarily difficult lives in brutal circumstances.

As Spain and Portugal took control of America in the 1500s, the indigenous people were oppressed and enslaved.  There were a few brave opponents to this practice, the most prominent of whom was the Spanish Dominican friar, Bartolome de las Casas.  He argued that indigenous people had the right to their own persons, beliefs and properties.  Las Calas was an early, and perhaps the first proponent of human rights theory.

Nevertheless, slavery became a, if not the, central feature of the settlement of the new world.  Even European economies benefited. Even states in the northern United States where slavery was not practiced benefitted from the economy that was based on slavery.  England took the courageous act of banning slavery.  It took a Civil War in the United States to end legal slavery.

The abolishment of slavery was indeed an important step in the advancement of freedom.  Yet in the year 1900, exactly  zero % of the world population lived in a real democracy in which each man or woman had one vote.  Even the most modern and democratic countries excluded women, the poor or ethnic minorities from elections.By 1950, the share of the world population living in democracies had increased from zero to 31%, and by 2000 increased to 58% according to Freedom House, the civil liberties watchdog.  Norbert notes that today even dictators have to pay lip service to democracy and hold staged elections.

Communism in the west was abolished peacefully.  It still exists in Asia, most notably in China and most notoriously in North Korea.  Norbert notes that peaceful mass movements against dictatorships stand a better chance of successful democratic than violent revolutions.  Unfortunately neither peaceful nor democratic movements are presently succeeding.  And if a regime is ruthless enough, consider Assad in Syria, it is difficult to depose given an alliance from another authoritarian regime.  HM would argue that  peaceful demonstrations work when there is some predisposition on the part of the existing regime to concede.

In 1991 Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman mentioned that a London Newspaper          200 years earlier explained that 742 million people were led by arbitrary government and only 33.5 million people live in reasonably free countries.  That meant that freedom deprived people outnumbered free people by 22 to 1.  When Friedman spoke, he updated those numbers using Freedom House’s estimates and said that the ratio had fallen to about 3 to 1.  Friedman concluded that “We are still very far from our goal of a completely free world, but on the scale of historical time, that is amazing progress.  More in the past two centuries than in the prior two millennia.”

According to Freedom House 40% of the world population now lives in free countries, while another 24% live in partly free countries.  Norbert notes that this is more progress in two decades than in two millennia.

If you have yet to do so, go to http://www.gapminder.org.   It is a very interesting website.  You might find the documentary “Don’t Panic End Poverty” well worth viewing.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Violence and the Environment

October 9, 2016

Violence and The Environment are Chapters 5 and 6 of “Progress:  Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future”  by Johan Norbert.  As the purpose of these blog posts is to update our mental models regarding how much change there has been between now and the past, only the nature of the improvements will be presented, and not the innovations that underlay the improvements.  As it is only a fraction of the improvements that are in the book can be related, so this is a matter of necessity or convenience, depending on your perspective.  If you are interested in the technology and practices that underlay these improvements, please read the book.  Indeed, everyone should benefit from reading this book.

HM had been extremely skeptical of Stephen Pinker’s argument that the present is the most peaceful time in the history of humanity.  Although I definitely dispute beliefs that terrorism makes this the most terrible time of all.  Terrorism is not new, but people of my age lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I remember when we left high school one afternoon not knowing whether we would see each other again.  This was during the prolonged period when nuclear annihilation was a real possibility under the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction, which had the appropriate acronym (MAD).  Today’s terrorism is a definite problem, but the probability of any individual being harmed by a terrorist act is extremely small.

Norbert’s arguments have brought me in compliance with Pinker’s views, a scholar for whom I have the utmost respect.  Pinker stated that the dramatic drop in violence that has occurred “may be the most important thing that has ever happened in human history.”  Norbert cites a study that compared violence on British television before 9 p.m. and in nursery rhymes, and came to the conclusion that the frequency of violence in nursery rhymes is around eleven times that feature in television considered safe in children.”  So violence has been a longstanding component of culture.

Norbert reviews the Ancient Greek epics with they catalogues of killing.  And he also reviews the Good Book, the Holy Bible, and its brutal violence, perpetuated by the good guys.  In the Old Testament people casually kill, enslave and rape even family members.  When Moses discovered that some of his people worshipped a golden calf he executes 3,000 of them, and goes on a merciless ethnic cleansing spree, which he claims is ordered by God: ‘ do not leave alive anything that breathes.  Completely destroy them — the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizites, Hives, and Jebusites —as the Lord thy God has commanded you’ (Deuteronomy 20:16—17).  At one point Moses scolds his men for letting women and children survive, so he orders them to go back: ‘Now kill all the boys.  And kill every woman who as slept with a man, but save for yourself every girl who has never slept with a man’ (Numbers 31:17-18).  Presumably, God even gives advice on rape itself:  “if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife’ (Deuteronomy 21:11).  Reading this reminded HM of some of the atrocities committed by ISIS.

Everyone knows the Gladiators fought to the death and that naked women were tied to stakes and raped or torn apart by animals.  At the higher rungs of Roman society, 39 of the 49 Roman Emperors who ruled before the empire was divided were murdered.

Torture and mutilation were regularly applied in all great civilizations, from the Assyrians, Persians, and Chinese to the African kingdoms, and the the Native American tribes.  But Norbert notes that ‘the medieval Christian culture was more creative than most, and some of the era’s best minds were occupied with coming with ways of inflicting as much pain as possible on people before they confessed and died.  Medieval torture was not even a primitive and brutal way of trying to keep public violence at bay.  Most the the crimes that sent people to the rack or stake were non-violent offenses, sins rather than crimes that we would recognize, like blasphemy, apostasy, gossip, scolding, unconventional sexual acts, and, not surprisingly, criticism of the government.  “The Spanish Inquisition probably killed something like 350,000 people and tortured countless others, sometimes on suspicion of having clean underwear on a Sunday or being known to take baths.

HM wonders where was empathy, the trait that some use to distinguish us from computers.  Empathy does appear in the New Testament of the Bible, but it does appear that it had an immediate effect.

Matters gradually changed.  Eventually human sacrifice was abolished in all cultures, often at first replaced by animal sacrifice.  According to Steven Pinker’s sources, the average annual death rate for non-state societies, and this includes everything from hunter-gatherer tribes to gold rush societies in California, is 524 per 100,000.  If we add all the deaths from wars, genocide, purges and man-made famines in the 20th Century, we still don’t get a rate higher than 60 per 100,000 annually.

The chapter on the environment begins with the following quote from Indira Gandhi:  “Are poverty and need the greatest polluters?…How can we speak to those who live in villages and in slums about keeping the oceans, the rivers and air clean when their own lives are contaminated at the source?  The environment cannot be improved in conditions of poverty.”  Then it discuses the Great Smog that settled over London near the end of 1952.  It stayed for four horrible days.  Cold weather had made Londoners burn more coal, and the smoke, combined with pollutants from industrial processes, from vehicles and from across the English Channel, formed a thick layer over the city.  Cars were abandoned..  People felt their way home along railings.  The smog penetrated clothes and blackened undergarments.   This was the most lethal instance of smog, but London often suffered from it by different degrees as do many big cities in developing countries today.

This pollution of the environment was  a product of the affluence and development that saved humanity from poverty and early death.  Now the future looked nightmarish unless something was done.  People envisioned a world without forests, with acid rain, and where people had to wear surgical masks to protect themselves from emission.  Most species were extinct and humanity suffered from an explosion in cancer because of all the chemicals being used in nature.  The conclusion seemed to be that wealth and technology were not compatible with a green breathing planet.

To prevent this conclusion from becoming a reality a green movement picked up speed in the West, led by intellectuals and activists.  These concerns were taken seriously and policies and technological solutions were developed and large parts of today’s world are avoiding these crisis scenarios.  But the dangers still exist and the battle needs to continue to be fought.

In 1972 the Club of Rome warned:  “Virtually every pollutant that has been measured as a function of time appears to be increasing exponentially.”  However pollution did not just stop increasing, it began to decrease dramatically.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, total emission of six leading air pollutants were reduced by more than two-thirds- from 1980 to 2014.  Volatile organic compounds were reduced by 53%, nitrogen dioxide by 55%. direct particulate matter by 58%, carbon dioxide by 81% and lead by 99%.

In the 1980s the international community recognized that a huge hole in the ozone layer over Antartica was expanding and could expose life on earth to damaging ultraviolet light.  Countries by international agreement phased out the substance that were eroding the ozone layer.  It worked exceptionally well and the layer is gradually recovering.  This is possibly saving humanity from hundreds of millions of cases of skin cancer.

The number of oil spills in the ocean has decreased dramatically.  In the 1970s there was an average of 24 oil spills per year.  Since 2000, there has been an average of less than 3.  The quantity of oil spilt has been reduced by 99% between 1970 and 2014.

In wealthy countries deforestation has stopped.  Europe’s forest area grew by more than  0.3% annually.  The global annual rate of forest loss has slowed from 0.18 to 0.008%  since the early 1990s.  In China, the forest cover is now growing by more than two million hectares per year.  Deforestation has declined by 70% since 2005, but it still continues.

Developing countries still have the problem of growing their economies while they decrease pollution.  Moreover, their pollution is not localized to their countries—it spills over into the rest of the world.

The fight over pollution needs to continue and to continue with vigor.  The worst situation is the failure to recognize problems such as global warming.  The problem needs to be recognized before effective remedies can be pursued.  In the United States there are many members of one political party and the presidential candidate of this political party who refuse to recognize the problem of global warming.  These politicians need to be voted out of office, and candidates running for a political position need to be defeated.  These individuals constitute a problem not just for the United States but for the entire world.

If you have yet to do so, go to http://www.gapminder.org.   It is a very interesting website.  You might find the documentary “Don’t Panic End Poverty” well worth viewing.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Life Expectancy and Poverty

October 8, 2016

Life Expectancy and Poverty are chapters 3 and 4 in “Progress:  Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future”  by Johan Norbert.  As the purpose of these blog posts is to update our mental models regarding how much change there has been between now and the past, only the nature of the improvements will be presented, and not the innovations that underlay the improvements.  As it is only a fraction of the improvements that are in the book can be related, so this is a matter of necessity or convenience, depending on your perspective.  If you are interested in the technology and practices that underlay these improvements, please read the book.  Indeed, everyone should benefit from reading this book.

There is an obvious relationship between the two as poverty negatively impacts life expectancy.  Chapter 3 begins,”Throughout humanity’s early history, life was nasty, brutish, and short.  More than anything, it was short because of disease, lack of food, and sanitation.  People died early, as infants or children, and mothers often died giving birth.  The high mortality rate was not primarily because of the prevalence of violence, but because of infectious disease, unsafe water, and bad sanitary conditions.  People lived close to animals, even in cities, and their wast infected their water sources.”

All large towns regularly suffered from the plague.  The plague was an infectious disease cause by bacteria that spread in the air and by physical contact.  Fleas on rats carried the disease.  The disease killed 3 out of 5 victims.  The worst manifestation of the plague was the Black Death in the mid-fourteenth century.  It is estimated that it killed more than a third of Europe’s population.  It emptied entire villages and regions.  To some it seemed like the end of the world.  After this period of the Black Death the plague came back to haunt towns again and again until the eighteenth century.  In Besancon in eastern France, the plague was rerouted forty times between 1439 and 1640.

In the seventeenth century tuberculosis spread throughout Europe and was a major killer in the nineteenth century.  Some estimate that it caused nearly a quarter of all deaths.  Smallpox was a major cause of death and was a permanent presence in large cities.  However, in smaller towns and villages where it was rarer, no one developed immunity, so whole communities could be wiped out when they faced an epidemic.

This was before evidence-based medicine, so prayer was the commonest medicine.  There was little physicians could do.

During prehistoric times, the average hunter-gatherer is estimated to have had a life expectancy of from 20 to 30 years.  In spite of a more stable supply of food during the agricultural revolution, life expectancy did not improve much. According to some accounts life expectancy was reduced as larger settled groups were more exposed to infectious disease.   In Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, life expectancy has been estimated at around 18 to 25 years.  In medieval Britain, estimates range from 17 to 35 years.  Before the year 1800, no country in the world had a life expectancy higher than 40 years.

A research group on aging led by Oskar Burger at the Max Planck Institute has pointed that the bulk of humanity’s mortality reduction has been experienced by only the last 4 of the roughly 8,000 generations of homo sapiens since we evolved around 200,000 years ago.  In 1900, the average life expectancy in the world was 31.  Today, it is 71 years.

Abdel Omran, a professor of epidemiology has divided humanity’s relationship with mortality into three major successive stages.
The Age of Pestilence and Famine.
The Age of Receding Pandemics.
The Age of Degenerative and Man-Made Diseases.

Jane Jacobs has noted that poverty has no causes.  Only prosperity has causes.  Norbert writes that poverty is what  you have until you create wealth.  HM notes that many are born into wealth, so they do not need to create it.

In the old days that have been discussed, the accepted definition of poverty in a country like France was simple.  If you could afford to buy bread to survive another day, you were not poor.  In hard times, towns were filled with armies of poor, dressed in rags, begging for something to eat.

In 1564 in a town with a fortress and garrison, perhaps three-quarters of the failed in the town live in makeshift shelters.  In wealthy Genos, poor people sold themselves as galley slaves every winter.  In Paris, the very poor were chained together in pairs and forced to do the hard work of cleaning the stains.

Humanity had experienced almost no economic development until the early nineteenth century.  According to estimates by the economist Angus Maddison, GDP per capita increased by only 50% between the year 1 ice and 1820.  Of course people did not experience any increase in wealth during their own lifetimes.

In 1820 in the richest countries of western Europe the GDP per capita was the equivalent of around $1500 to $2000 (in 1990 dollars adjusted for purchasing power)  This is less than in present-day Mozambique and Pakistan.

In the early nineteenth century in the United States, Britain, and France, around 40 to 50% of the population lived in what we now call extreme poverty, a rate that you have to go to sub-Saharan Africa to find today.  Homelessness was a common problem.  Between 10% and 20% of the European and American population was classified as paupers and vagrants by officials.

Up until this time the dominant economic school was Mercantilism, in which poverty was necessary.  Adam Smith, in his “Wealth of Nations” disabused people of this and provided the basis for people to work and improve themselves. The Industrial Revolution came along, and, in spite of abuses, the economies began and continue to grown.  Different countries improved at different rates another was Communism.  Communism was still better than Mercantilism, and successful Communist countries opened up to some level of open markets.

Between 1981 and 2015  the population of low— and middle—income countries suffering from extreme poverty was reduced from 54% to 12 %.

If you have yet to do so, go to http://www.gapminder.org.   It is a very interesting website.  You might find the documentary “Don’t Panic End Poverty” well worth viewing.

Food and Sanitation

October 7, 2016

Food and sanitation are the titles of chapter 1 and 2, respectively of “Progress:  Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future”  by Johan Norbert.  As the purpose of these blog posts is to update our mental models regarding how much change there has been between now and the past, only the nature of the improvements will be presented, and not the innovations that underlay the improvements.  As it is only a fraction of the improvements that are in the book can be related, so this is a matter of necessity or convenience, depending on your perspective.  If you are interested in the technology and practices that underlay these improvements, please read the book.  Indeed, everyone should benefit from reading this book.

Famines are still relatively recent.  In Sweden, as in most if not all European countries failed harvests were not uncommon.  A single famine, between 1695 and 1697, claimed the lives of one in fifteen.  There were references of cannibalism  in oral accounts.   Absent machinery, cold storage, irrigation or artificial fertilizers, crop failures were a common threat, and without modern communications and transportation, failed harvests often spelled famine.

France, which was one of the wealthiest countries in the world, suffered twenty-six national famines in the eleventh century, two in the twelfth, four in the fourteenth, seven in the fifteenth, thirteen in the sixteenth, eleven in the seventeenth and sixteen in the in the eighteenth.  Moreover, there were also hundreds of local famines in each century.  In 1694, a chronicler in Meulan, Normandy, noted that the hungry harvested the wheat before it was ripe, and “large numbers of people lived on grass like animals.”  But they might have been relatively lucky, in central France in 1662, “Some people ate human flesh.”  The years 1695-7 are known in Finland as “the years of many deaths” when between a quarter and a third of the entire population died.  Now this is in  privileged Europe.  Things were far worse in Asia, China, and India.  In India the starving split open the stomachs of the dead or dying and drew as the entrails to fill their own bellies.

Even when times were good in the most developed countries, the food not always was very nutritious, nor could it be kept very long.  Often it had to be procured just before eating.  People dried and salted down their food for storage, but salt was expensive.
Norbert writes, “In an ordinary home in my ancestors’ province of Angermanland a hundred years ago, there were four meals:  potatoes, herring and bread for breakfast; porridge or gruel for lunch; potatoes herring and bread for dinner; and porridge or gruel for supper.  This is what people ate every day except on Sundays, when they had meat soup (if there was any meat) mixed with barley grains.  There being no china, everyone ate from the same dish, using a wooden spoon which was afterwords licked clean and put away in the table drawer.”

At the end of the eighteenth century, ordinary French families had to spend about half their income on grains alone.  The French and English in the eighteenth century received fewer calories than the current average in sub-Saharan Africa, the region which is most tormented by undernourishment.

It has been estimated that just 200 years ago some 20% of the inhabitants of England and France could not work at all.  At most they had enough energy for a few hours of slow walking per day, which condemned most of them to a life of begging.   This lack of adequate nutrition had a serious effect on the population’s intellectual development, since children’s brains need fat to develop properly.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the average daily coloric intake in western Europe was between 2,000 and 2,500 calories, which is below what it is in Africa today.  By 1950 it was already around 3,000.

However, even if they had access to sufficient nutritious food, without adequate sanitation, it would have been for nought.  Water is the source of all life, but throughout history it has also been a source of great suffering.  Even in small settlements it becomes contaminated by human waste and spreads bacteria, viruses, parasites and worms.

Medieval English village homes had no privy.  People would walk “about an arrow shot from the house” when they had to go.  Some people used chamber pots, and in some places there were open trenches with simple seats.  In the homes of the rich and powerful, latrines were often situated under the dining room.  This gave a whiff of danger to every dinner party.  For example, in 1183 the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II organized a great feast while holding court in his castle in Erfurt, Germany.  As the guests were eating the floor of the great hall began to sink and many noble guests fell into the cesspit beneath.  Many drowned.

Although flush toilets have been used in many civilizations, including the Roman Empire, the modern water closet was invented in 1596 for Queen Elizabeth I.   There are accounts of aristocrats soiling the corridors of Versailles and the Palais Royal.  The reason why Versailles’s hedges were so tall was so that they could function as toilet partitions.  And eighteenth-century Versailles could be regarded as “the receptacle of all of humanity’s horrors—the passageways, corridors and courtyards are filled with urine and fecal manner.

At that time taking a bath was rare and even controversial.  Queen Elizabeth 1 was an early adopter and is said to have taken a bath once a month whether she thought she needed one or not.

Europe’s greatest cities  were filled with huge piles of human and animal excrement, and their rivers and lakes were  as fetid swamps, frequently filled with waste.  Waste would be dumped into city streets and rain would wash it into the local watershed.  In 1900 horses supposedly filled New York City streets with more than 2.5 million pounds of manure and 60,000 gallons of urine daily.

The major push for a modern sewerage system came after “The Great Stink” in the summer of 1858, when Benjamin Disraeli compared the Thames to the river running through hell in Greek mythology: “a Stygian pool reeking with ineffable and intolerable horrors.”

During the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century, many cities built modern water and sewer systems, and began systematic garbage collection, and health dramatically improved.  One study found that clean water was responsible for 43% of the total reduction in mortality, 74% of the infant mortality reduction, and 62% of the child mortality reduction.

In 1980, no more than 24% of the world’s population had access to proper sanitation facilities.  By 2015, this had increased to 68%.  82% of the urban population now have access, compared to 51% of the rural population.

If you have yet to do so, go to http://www.gapminder.org.   It is a very interesting website.  You might find the documentary “Don’t Panic End Poverty” well worth viewing.

Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future

October 6, 2016

HM is not close on the ideological spectrum to Johan Norbert the author of “Progress:  Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future.”  But the data and the reasoning presented in this volume are sound.  HM hopes that readers of the healthy memory blog are not naive realists.  That is they are aware that we do not have direct contact with reality, but rather build mental models on the basis  of our interactions with the external world.  We need to be aware that these models are imperfect and are need of constant updating.  The data in Progress indicate that some of these models are way off the mark  and are in need to massive updating.

The Gapminder Foundation has done several “ignorance” surveys using multiple-choice questions.  In Britain only ten percent thought that world poverty had decreased in the last thirty years.  More than half thought that a it had increased.  In the United States only five percent answered correctly that world poverty had been almost halved in the last twenty years.  Sixty-six percent thought that that it had almost doubled.

Lasse Berg and Stig Karlson are two researchers who traveled to India in the 1970s and had predicted doom in Asia. Their predictions turned out to be wrong, but the Indian people they visited did not think so themselves.  When they visited in the 1970s the villagers complained about oppression, illiteracy and how difficult it was for the family to get enough to eat.  The children, one of whom was named Satto, worked hard in the fields every day.  When Berg and Carlson revisited the village in the 1990s, the woman Sato complained that life was now more difficult and she now had to work hard for her kids.  She said that her childhood had been much easier and that she had just played all day.  So her memory was playing tricks.  Satto is not unique, our memories play tricks on all of us.  When Berg returned again in 2010, Satto was happier with life and the living standard the family had attained, but claimed that she didn’t remember her complaints during the 1990s.  Her memory now at that life was good in the 1990s as well.

The psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky formulated the “availability heuristic,” which said that we judge the frequency of an event in terms of how available they in memory rather than on their objective frequency.  Moreover, we rarely know the objective frequency of any event.  So what is available in memory is rarely commensurate with reality.  Moreover what is usually available in memory is based on the news, and what is most newsworthy are crime, accidents, natural disasters, so that is the information we have to make generalizations about reality or predictions about the future.

The psychologist Steven Pinker has identified this as one of the three psychological biases that a make us think that the world is worse that it really is.  This one is the well-documented fact that “bad is stronger than good” — we are more likely to remember losing money, being abandoned by friends or receiving criticism  than we are to remember winning money, gaining friends or receiving praise.  Negative information receives more processing and contributes more strongly to the final impression than does positive information.

A second basis is the psychology of moralization.  Complaining about problems is a way of sending a signal to others that you care about them, so critics see us as more morally engaged.  Thomas Hobbes also noticed that criticizing the present has a way of competing without rivals and contemporaries, whereas we can easily praise past generations, because they are not our competitors.

A third bias is nostalgia about a golden age when life was supposedly simpler and better.  Arthur Herman observed:  “Virtually every culture past or present has believed that men and women are not up to the standards of their parents and forebears.”  The poet Hesiod, in the seventh century ice, thought that there once had been a Golden Age when humans live in harmony with the gods, and did not have to work since nature provided them with food.  Hesiod lived in the Iron Age, where conflict and mortality reined, and where humans had to toil to survive.  Next came the Silver Age with strife and worry, followed by a Bronze Age with even more strife and worry.  Most cultures, religions, and ideologies have had similar mythologies relating a prehistorical lost paradise to which the decadent present is compared.

So the mechanisms for pessimism are fairly well understood.  The next posts will be devoted to realigning our erroneous mental models so that they correspond more closely to reality.

The progress that is the topic of this book started with the intellectual Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  At this time there were people who began to examine the world with the tools of empiricism, rather than being content with authorities, traditions, superstition, and religions.  The political corollary, classical liberalism, began to liberate people from the shackles of heredity, authoritarianism, and serfdom.  The Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth followed, when industrial power multiplied, and poverty and hunger began to be conquered.  These successive revolutions were enough to free of large part of humanity from the harsh living condition it had always lived under.  With the late twentieth-century globalization, as these technologies and freedoms began to spread around the world, this was repeated on a larger scale and at a faster pace that ever before.

It is essential that we be aware of a real risk of a nativist backlash, one that might be occurring already.  When people do not see the progress the has been made, they begin to search for scapegoats for the problems that remain.  Unfortunately, some might be willing to try their luck with any demagogue who tells us that he has quick, simple solutions to make our nation great again.

Subsequent posts will be covering what Norbert calls Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, which are specific areas in which substantial progress has been made.  In the meantime, go to http://www.gapminder.org.   It is a very interesting website.  You might find the documentary “Don’t Panic End Poverty” well worth viewing.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Donald Trump and Daniel Kahneman

October 4, 2016

What a strange title.  The Republican presidential candidate and one of the leading, if not the leading, cognitive psychologists who also is a Nobel Prize Winner.  What could they possibly have to do with each other?  The answer is that Daniel Kahneman’s Two Process Theory can explain Donald Trump’s appeal.  Kahneman’s Two Process Theory was summarized in his best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.”  Kahneman posits that we have two basic processing systems.  System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.

As for Donald Trump’s appeal to bigots it is natural and resounds soundly to their beliefs.  But what about his appeal to people who are not bigots, but are dissatisfied with the ways things are and want change?  He promises change, and they respond.  The problem is that they respond by not invoking System 2 processes.  System 2 is supposed to monitor System 1 for processing errors.  Basically System 2 is supposed to respond to erroneous System 1 Processes and start thinking.

Clinton supporters have difficulty understanding how apparently intelligent people can support Trump.  He says that he will solve their problems.  But if System 2 processes are invoked they should realize that his proposals will not benefit them.  For example, his tax proposals benefit primary people like himself, not the middle or lower classes.  Most economists say that his proposals are unrealistic and would greatly increase the debt.  There should be no fear of bankruptcy, however, as Trump claims to be an expert on bankruptcy, and here is where his true genius lies.  Of course, his genius for exploiting the prejudices and biases of the general population should not be underestimated.

The problems with building walls and mass deportations have been raised as being unfeasible.  Similarly experts argue that his trade policies would hurt the economy.  Of course, Trump supporters dislike the “elite” and “experts”  so they do not listen to them.  That is understandable as these “experts” along with the “elite” think, something that Trump supporters are not wont to do.

However, there is a dangerous Trump characteristic that should be detectable by even System 1 processes.  That is his emotional instability.  He seems to be unable to control his emotions and strikes out very quickly at anyone who offends him.

Unfortunately, the most important characteristic for a President is emotional stability followed by an understanding of international affairs and the military.

HM has previously stated that Trump is an existential risk to the United States.  This is based on both his ignorance and contempt of the Constitution of the United States and government.  HM thinks that his election would place democracy at risk.  HM urges readers to read “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis.  It is about a legitimately elected presidential candidate who changes the United States into a fascist dictatorship.   The president did not campaign on a platform of changing the country to a fascist dictatorship.  However, people who exercised their System 2 processing could realize that this was a genuine risk.

HM thinks that Trump is an existential risk to the world, because giving him control of nuclear weapons risks a worldwide nuclear holocaust.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Wistful Thinking: Why We Are Wired to Dwell on the Past

October 2, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of a piece by Teal Burrell in the 24 September 2016 issue of the “New Scientist.”  The article is about nostalgia.  Most of us experience it at least once a week according to research by Tim Wildschut and his colleagues at the University of Southhampton, UK.  Nostalgia is not the cause of loneliness.  Rather it is the antidote to loneliness.  It springs up when we are feeling low and, in general, boosts well-being.  Reflecting on nostalgic events we have experienced forges bonds with other people, and enhances positive feelings and self-esteem according to Wildschut and his colleagues.

Clay Routledge of North Dakota State University  evoked “personal nostalgia” in volunteers by having them listen to songs that had particular meaning to them, the emotion increased perceptions of purpose in life.  When volunteers were asked questions about the point of it all, nostalgia ramped up.  Rutledge says “When people feel uncertain or uncomfortable or unsure, they might use their memories as a stabilizing force.

One notion is that nostalgia gives us a sense of continuity in life.  Although many things in our lives can change—jobs, where we live, relationships—nostalgia reminds us that we are the same person we were on our seventh birthday party as on our wedding day and at our retirement celebration.  Kristine Batch of Le Moyne College says, “It is the glue that keeps us together, gives us continuity, and we need that, ever more so, in times of change.”

Sociologist Fred Davis compared being nostalgic to applying for a bank loan.  Looking back at out past is like checking our credit history.  Other researchers have found the reflecting on nostalgic memories boosts optimism and makes people more inspired to pursue their goals.

Julia Shaw who studies the fallibility of memory at London South Bank University says that nostalgia is a by-product of how we remember.  Memories are inaccurate:  we filter them to focus on the positive.  Each time we reactivate the memory, we make it susceptible to alteration.  Whenever we summon a memory, we might lose some nuances and add misinformation.

Nostalgic memory is about the emotion, not what really happened.  Specific details are either not accurate at all or we confabulate them.  We might not remember  the precise details, but we remember the emotions surrounding the event.

Shaw says that this bias towards positive emotion is at the heart of theories about why we feel nostalgia.  Nostalgic memories tend to be of the best days.  If we fixate on the negative instead, as depressed people are prone to do, it would leave us from an evolutionary perspective in a worse state in terms of adapting and surviving.

When a group shares a vision of the past, collective nostalgia, it promotes a sense of belonging and strengthens group bonds, which may ave had survival benefits in early triple societies.  But that cohesion comes at the cost of driving discrimination towards outsiders.

Nostalgia can lead to a belief in the carefree past that “never really existed.”  Nativist political campaigns in the UK, France, and the US have all hearkened back to a a fabled golden time—as epitomized by Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again” slogan—but those “good all days” had worse standards of living, higher infant mortality rates, lower life expectancies and plenty of other troubles.  Holding up the ideal of a more homogeneous past also made it easy to scapegoat those who weren’t part of it.  So nostalgia can be used to promote disinformation.

There Will Be a Hiatus in Healthymemory Blog Posts

September 18, 2016

There Will Be a Hiatus in Healthymemory Blog Posts

HM will be attending the International  Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.  HM will also need some time to assimilate and recover.  He should not be missed.  There are 820 posts on this blog.  Use the search box of the blog to find posts of interests.  Here are some suggestions for searches:

myth
cognitive reserve
Herbert Benson
Kahneman
Davidson
Siegel
Mindfulness
Growth Mindsets

Trump, The World’s Greatest Troll

September 17, 2016

This title was bestowed on Trump by Nate Silver, a statistician and the best campaign prognosticator.  What makes him the greatest troll is the devastating effect he has had on the American political system.  Trump plays to the mob, and in cyberspace the cyber mob.  Donald Trump has a unique and disturbing leadership style.  Rather than demonstrating gravitas and intelligence with measured remarks and diplomacy, he succeeds with brutal populism and personal attacks.  As Dr. Mary Aiken notes, “ he seems to relish being nasty—even sadistic, at times.”  Dr Aiken continues, “Power no longer centers on leadership but on followership.”  The norms of cyberspace, where cruelty is amplified, escalated, and encouraged, have jumped into politics.

“Trolls” appear to be the greatest attention—seekers online.  They have chosen the appellation, “trolls.”  Dr. Aiken believes that the motivation for trolling behaviors is a combination of boredom, revenge, pleasure, attention, and a desire to cause disruption and acquire power.  On multiplayer gaming sites they test and taunt children and then post video or audio of the children crying.  On dating sites trolls are capable of anything from cyber-stalking to sexual harassment and threats.

Dr. Aiken argues that Trump’s success as a presidential candidate is a vivid example of what she calls cyber-socialization.  “Leading by building followers, he employs many of the tactics of a malicious online bully, from his use of taunts and name-calling of fellow candidates (“Crooked Hillary” and “Crazy Bernie” and “Lying Ted”) to his obsession with physical appearance (“Little Marco”) and special hostility for women (“”dogs,” “pigs” and “disgusting”).

Trump has 8.19 million followers on Twitter and dominates the social media landscape of the election.  Unfortunately, social media have become an environment where pathological behavior is gaining ground and being normalized.  There is a loss of empathy online, a heightened detachment from the feelings and rights of others, which is seen in extreme cyberbullying and sadistic trolling.

Psychologists have found a relationship between individuals who comment frequently online and identify themselves as “trolls” with three of the four components of what is known as the dark tetrad of personality, a set of characteristics that are found together in a morbid cluster:  narcissism (the characteristic not included), sadism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism.  In the case of Trump, HM thinks that narcissism could also be appropriate.  The researchers concluded that trolling was a manifestation of “everyday sadism.”

The concluding sentence is Dr. Aiken’s essay is “Sadly for those of us trying to eradicate cyber-bullying and online harassment, and educate children and teenagers about the great emotional costs of this behavior, our job becomes much harder when high-profile leaders use cruelty as strategy—and win elections for it.

Dr. Aiken’s essay, from which large portions of this post have obviously be taken, can be found at time.com and searching for Welcome to the Troll Election.

The Cyber Frontier

September 15, 2016

“The Cyber Frontier” is the final chapter of the “Cyber Effect,”an important book by Mary Aiken, Ph.D., a cyberpsychologist.   She writes, “If we think of cyberspace as a continuum, on the far left we have the idealists, the keyboard warriors, the early adopters, philosophers who feel passionately about the freedom of the Internet and don’t want that marred or weighted down with regulation and governance.  On the other end of the continuum, you have the tech industry with its own pragmatic vision of freedom of the Net—one that is driven by a desire for profit, and worries that governance costs money and that restrictions impact the bottom line.  These two groups, with their opposing motives, are somehow strategically aligned in cyberspace and holding firm.”  She writes that the rest of us and our children, about 99.9%, live somewhere in the middle, between these two options.

She says that we should regain some societal control and make it harder for organized cybercrime.  Why put up with a cyberspace that leaves us vulnerable, dependent, and on edge?

Dr. Aiken writes that the architects of the Internet and its devices know enough about human psychology to create products that are a little too irresistible, but that don’t always bring out the best in ourselves.  She calls this the “techno-behavioral effect.”  The developers and their products engage our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, instead of engaging our strengths.  They can diminish us while making us feel invincible and distract us from things in life that are much more important, more vital to happiness, and more crucial to our survival.  She writes that we need to stop and consider the social impact or what she called the “techno-social effect.”

Dr Aiken argues that in the next decade there’s a great opportunity before us— a possible golden decade of enlightenment during which we could learn so much about human nature and human behavior, and how best to design technology that is not just compatible with us, but that truly helps our better selves create a better world.  If we can create this balance, the cyber future can look utopian.

Dr. Aiken argues that we should support and encourage acts of cyber social consciousness, like those of Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Paul Allen, Pierre and Pam  Omiya, and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.

Tim Berners-Lee, the father of today’s internet has become increasingly ambivalent about his creation and has recently outlined his plans for a cyber “Magna Carta.”  (Go to http://www.theguardian.com and enter Tim Berners-Lee into the search box.)  Dr. Aiken argues for a global initiative.  She writes, “The United Nations could lead in this area, countries could contribute, and the U.S. could deploy some of its magnificent can-do attitude.  We’ve seen what it has been capable of in the past.  The American West was wild until it was regulated by a series of federal treaties and ordinances.  And if we are talking about structural innovation, there is no greater example that Eisenhower’s Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which transformed the infrastructure of the U.S. road system, making it safer and more efficient.  It’s time to talk about a Federal Internet Act.”

There are already countries who have taken actions from which we can learn.  Ireland has taken the initiative to tackle legal but age-inappropriate content online.  South Korea has been a pioneer in early learning “netiquette: and discouraging Internet addictive behavior.  Australia has focused on solutions to underage sexting.  The EU has created the “right to be forgotten,” to dismantle the archives of personal information online.  Japan has no cyberbullying.  Why?  What is Japanese society doing right?  We need to study this and learn from it.  Antisocial social media needs to be addressed.

What Lies Beneath: The Deep Web

September 14, 2016

“What Lies Beneath:  The Deep Web”  is Chapter 8 of The Cyber Effect” an important book by Mary Aiken, Ph.D., a cyberpsychologist.  Dr Aiken likens the Deep Web to the pirates of the Caribbean in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  She writes that it a vast uncharted sea that cybercriminals navigate skillfully, taking advantage of the current lack of governance and authority—or adequate legal constructs to stop them.
Although cybercriminals can be found anywhere on the Internet, they have a much easier time operating in the murky waters of the darkest and deepest parts.

Almost any kind of criminal activity—extortion, scams, hits, and prostitution—can be ordered up, thanks to well-run websites with shopping carts, concierge hospitality, and surprisingly great customer service.  Cybercriminals are con artists who are expert observers of human behavior, especially cyberbehavior.  They know how to exploit the natural human tendency to trust others, as well as how to manipulate to give up their confidential, information, or what is called a socially engineered attack.  Regarding  identity theft or cyber fraud, it is usually much easier to fool a person into giving  you a password that it is to hack it.  This type of social engineering is a crucial component of cybercriminal tactics, and usually involves persuading people to run their “free” virus—laden malware or  dangerous software by peddling a lot of frightening scenarios (which is called shareware).  Fear sells.

The Deep web refers to the unindexed part of the Internet.  Dr. Aiken says that it accounts for 96 to 99 percent of content on the internet.  Most of the content is pretty dull stuff, a combination of spam and storage—U.S. government databases, medical libraries, university records, classified cellphone and email histories.  Just like the Surface Web, it is a place where content can be shared.

What makes the Deep Web different is that content on the Deep Web can be shared without identity or location disclosure, without your computer’s IP address and other common traces.  Since these sites are hot indexed they are not searchable by typical browsers like Chrome or Safari or Firefox.  For software that protects your identity, an add-on browser like Tor is one of the most common ways in.  Tor is an acronym for “the online router” because of the layers of identity-obscuring rerouting.  The Deep Web was first used by the U.S. government, and the protocols for the browser Tor were developed with federal funds so that any individuals whose identity needed to be protected—from counterintelligence agents to journalists to political dissenters in other countries—could communicate anonymously with the government in a safe and secure way.  But since 2002, when the software for Tor became available as a free download, a a digital black market has grown there.  This criminal netherworld is populated by terrorists networks, criminal gangs, drug dealers, assassins for hire, and sexual predators looking for images of children and new victims.

Monitoring and policing the Deep Web is a problem because there is almost an infinite number of hiding places, and most illegal sites are in a constant state of relocation to new domains with yet another provisional address.  Many of these sites do not use traceable credit cards or PayPal accounts.  Virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin are the coins of this realm.

Hidden services include crimes for hire and the selling of stolen credit information or dumps.  McDumpals is one of the leading sites  marketing stolen data  has a clever company logo featuring familiar golden arches and a McDumplas mascot, a gagster-cool Ronald McDonald.

Silk Road was an online black market, the first of its kind—offering drugs, drug paraphernalia, computer hacking and forgery services as well as other illegal merchandise—all carefully organized for the shopper.  Ross William Ulbricht ran the Silk Road for 2.5 years.  Silk Road attracted several thousand sellers and more than one hundred thousand buyers.  It was said to have generated more than  $1.2 billion dollars in sales revenue.  According to a study in “Addiction”, 18% of drug consumers in the U.S. between 2011 and 2013 used narcotics bought on this site.  The FBI estimated that Ulbricht’s black market had brought him $420 million in commissions, making him, according to “Rolling Stone” “one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the dot-com age.

According to the U.S. District Judge who sentenced Ulbricht at his 2014 trial, Silk Road created drug users and expanded the market, increasing demands in places where poppies are grown for heroin manufacture.  This black market site had impacted the global market.  The prosecutors alleged that Ulbricht had ordered up and paid for the executions of five Silk Road sellers who had tried to blackmail or reveal his identity.  Prosecutors traced the deaths of six people who had overdosed on drugs back to Silk Road, and two parents who had lost sons spoke at the trial.   Ulbricht was found guilty of seven drug and conspiracy charges and was given two life sentences, another of twenty years, another for fifteen years, and another for five years, without the chance of parole.

Shortly after the arrest of Ulbricht and the shutting down of the Silk Road in 2013, Silk Road 2.0 emerged.  Many more copycat sites sprang up  like Evolution, Agora, Sheep, Blackmarket Reloaded, AphaBay and Nucleus, which are often referred to as cyryptomarkets by law enforcement.

Dr. Aiken goes into the morality of the users of the Deep Web, the psychology of the hacker, and Cyber-RAT (routine activity theory) in more depth than can be related in a blog post.

Cyberchondria and the Worried Well

September 13, 2016

“Cyberchondria and the Worried Well” is chapter 7 of The Cyber Effect” an important book by Mary Aiken, Ph.D., a cyberpsychologist.  Reports estimate that up to $20 billion is spent annually in the U.S. on unnecessary medical visits.  Dr. Aiken asked how many of these wasted effects are driven by a cyber effect?  A majority of people in a large international survey said they used the Internet to look for medical information, and almost half admitted to making self-diagnoses following a web search.  A follow-up survey found that 83% of 13,373 respondents searched the Internet often for information and advice about health, medicine or medical conditions.  People in “emerging economies” used online sources for this purpose the most frequently—China (94%), Thailand (93%), Saudi Arabia (91%), and India (90%) led the table of twelve countries.

Dr. Aiken writes that 20 years ago when people experienced any physical condition that persisted to the  point of interfering with their activities they would visit a doctor’s office and consult a doctor.  In the digital age, people might analyze their own symptoms and play doctor at home.  She notes that about half of the medical information offered on the Internet has been found by experts to be inaccurate  or disputed.  HM feels compelled to insert here the conclusion expressed by Ioannidis’s 2005 paper, which is still believed by most statisticians and epidemiologists, “Why Most Published Research Findings are False.”  This implies that the on-line information is similar to the information available in the research world.  And physicians are working with a questionable data base, so the problem of accurate research information is real and not an artifact of the internet.  [To learn more about Ioannidis see the following healthy memory blog posts,”Liberator of Knowledge from Tyranny of Profit,” “Thinking 2.0,” “Most Published Research Findings are False,’ and “The Problem with Scientific Journals, Especially Elite Ones.”]

There are also online support groups such as the website MDJunction.com.  These groups do provide a place where thousands meet every day to discuss their feelings, questions, and hopes with like minded friends.  Although these places provide support, they might not be the best sources of information.  And MDJunction.com does have a fine print disclaimer at the bottom of the page—“The information provided in MDJunction is not a replacement for medical diagnosis, treatment, or professional medical advice.”

The term “cyberchondria” was first coined in a 2001 BBC News report that was popularized in a 2003 article in “Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry,” and later supported by an important study by Ryen White and Eric Horvitz, two research scientists at Microsoft, who wanted to describe an emerging phenomenon engendered by new technology—a cyber effect.  In the field of cyberpsychology, cyberchondria is defined as “anxiety induced by escalation during health-related search online.”

The term “hyperchondria” has become outdated due to the Fifth Edition (DSM-5) of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”  About 75% of what was previously called “hypochondria” is now subsumed under a new diagnostic concept called “somatic symptom disorder,” and the remaining 25% is considered ‘illness anxiety disorder”.  Together these condition are found in 4 to 9% of the population.

Most doctors regard people with these disorders as nuisances who take up space and time that could be devoted to truly sick people who need care.  And when a doctors informs the patient that they do not have a diagnosable condition they become frustrated and upset.

Conversion disorders are what was called “hysterical conditions,’ which formerly went by such names as “hysterical blindness” and ‘hysterical paralysis.”  These have been renamed “functional neurological symptom disorder”, formerly called “Munchhausen syndrome”, is a psychiatric conditioning which patients deliberately produce or falsify symptoms or signs of illness for the principal purpose of assuming the sick role.

Iatrogenesis is a Greek term meaning “brought forth,” which refers to an illness “brought forth by the healer.”  It can take many forms including an unfortunate drug effect or interaction, a surgical instrument malfunction, medical error, or pathogens in the treatment room, for example.  A study in 2000 reported that it was the third most common cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer.  So having an unnecessary surgery or medical treatment of any kind means taking a big gamble with your life.

In 1999 the estimate was of between 44,000 and 98,000 deaths annually in the United States  when the Institute of Medicine issued its infamous report, “To Err is Human.  HM is proud to note that a one of his colleagues, Marilyn Sue Bogner, was a pioneer in this area of research.  The first edition of her book “Human Error in Medicine predated the IOM report.  In 2003 she published “”Misadventures in Health Care:  (Inside Stories:  Human Error and Safety.”  Unfortunately, she has recently passed away.  And, unfortunately, matters seem to be getting worse.  In 2009 the estimates of each due to failures in hospital care rose to an estimated 180,000 annually.  In 2013 the estimates ran between 210,00 and 440,000 hospital patients in the United States die as a result of a preventable mistake.  Dr. Aiken believes that part of this escalation is due to the prevalence of Internet Medical searches.

So we have a difficult situation.  Cyberspace has erroneous information, but the underlying medical research also contains erroneous information and doctors are constrained by these limitations.  We should be aware of these limitations and be cognizant that the diagnosis and recommended treatment might be wrong.  The best advice is to solicit multiple independent opinions and to always be aware that “do nothing” is also an option.  And it could be an option that will safe your life.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Cyber Romance

September 12, 2016

Cyber Romance is Chapter 6 in The Cyber Effect” an important book by Mary Aiken, Ph.D., a cyberpsychologist.   This chapter looks at the ways cyber effects are shifting mating rituals and romance. Romantic love manifests itself in its expression in the brain.  The left dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) becomes active, as well as the insula, caudate, amygdala, accumbent temporo-parietal junction, posterior cingulate cortex, medial prefrontal cortex, inferior parietal lobule, precuneus, and temporal lobe.

Dr Aiken discusses a paradox know as the “stranger on the train syndrome.”  This refers to people feeing more comfortable disclosing personal information to someone that they may never meet again.  She also mentions the cyber effects of online disinhibition and anonymity.  We feel less at risk of being hurt by a partner who has not seen us in real life.  An urgent wish to form a bond might induce us to disclose intimate details of our lives without much hesitation.  The risks of doing this should be obvious.  However, online we might overshare and confess, revealing too much personal information with a potential love interest online doesn’t help predict compatibility the way it might in the real world.

Communications expert Joseph Walther describes hyper personal communication as a process by which participants eagerly seek commonality and harmony.  The getting-to-know-you experience is thrown off-kilter.  The two individuals—total strangers really—seek similarities with other rather than achieving a more secure bond that will allow for blunt honesty or clear-eyed perspective.    When we are online, free of face-to-face contact, we can feel less vulnerable and not “judged.”  This can feel liberating but be dangerous.  Dr. Aiken does not comment as to whether the use of visual media, such as Skype, might mitigate this problem.  But she does say that dating online involves four selves—two real-world selves and two cyber ones.

Relying on normal, as opposed to cyber, instinct can lead vulnerable individuals into true danger.  A woman who meets a man in a bar might never consider accepting a ride with him after only one encounter.  Yet that same woman, after only a few days of interacting through email and texts with a man she’s met on an online dating site, may fire out her address because she feels such a strong connection with him.

Dr. Aiken cites a February 2016 report by the U.K. National Crime Agency (NCA) of a sixfold increase in online-dating related rape offenses over the previous five years.  The team analyzing the findings presented potential explanations, including people feel disinhibited online and engage in conversations that quickly become sexual in nature, which can lead to “misdirected expectation” on the first date.  Seventy-one percent of these rapes took place on the first date in either the victim’s or offender’s residence.     The perpetrators of these online date-rape crimes did not seem to fit the usual profile of a sex offender; that is, a person with a criminal history or previous conviction.  So we don’t fully understand the complexity of online data and associated sexual assault, but the cyber effects of syndication and disinhibition are clearly important.  The NCA offers the following helpful advice for online data:

Meet in public, stay in public
Get to know the person, not the profile
Not going well?  Make excuses and leave.
If you are sexually assaulted, get help immediately.

Nevertheless, the online data industry has been successful.  The industry was profitable almost immediately.   By 2007, online data was bringing in $500 million annually in the U.S., and that figure had risen to $2.2 billion by 2015, when match.com turned twenty years old.  By then, the website claimed to have helped create 517,000 relationships, 92,000 marriages, and 1 million babies.

When you make assumptions about a person based on their profile photo, it’s termed impression management.  When you filter, fix, and curate your own profile photo it’s impression management.  The mere act of choosing a picture to use on a data site—active, smiling, unblemished, or nostalgic—requires that you imagine how you look tooters and aim to enhance that impression.

Here are some impression—management tips for your profile photo.

Wear a dark color
Post a head—to—waist shot
Make sure that the jawline has a shadow (but no shadow on hair or eyes)
Don’t obstruct the eyes (no sunglasses)
Don’t be overtly sexy
Smile and show your teeth (but please no laughing)
Squinch

If you don’t know how to squinch, here are some tips
“It is a slight squeezing of the lower lids of the eyes, kind of like Clint Eastwood makes in his Dirty Harry movies, just before he says, “Go ahead.  Make my day.”  It’s less than a squint, not enough  to cause your eyes to close or your crow’s feet to take over your face.  If you want a tutorial on how to produce the perfect one, Dr. Aiken recommends one by professional photographer Peter Hurley, available on YouTube, called “It’s All About the Squinch.”

Another risk in cyberspace is identity-deception.  People can make-up identities that they present in cyberspace.  There have always been tricksters, con artists and liars who pretend to be somebody they aren’t.  Technology has now made this so much easier.

Dr. Aiken also warns about narcissists in cyberspace.  Narcissists need admiration, flattery, loads of attention, plus an audience.  The problem is that given the way they ooze confidence and cybercharm, it may be harder of spot them—and know to stay away.  Here is a mini-inventory of questions to ask yourself:

*Doe they always look amazing in their photos?
*Are they in almost all of their photos?
*Are they in the center of their group photos?
*Do they post or change their profile constantly?
*When they post an update, is it always about themselves?

There is also a topic called Cyber-Celibacy.  A government survey in Japan estimated that nearly 40% of Japanese men and women in their twenties and thirties are single, not actively in a relationship, and not really interested in finding a romantic parent either.  Relationships were frequently described as bothersome.  The estimation, if current trends continue, Japan’s population will have shrunk by more than 30% by 2060.   Do not make the mistake of assuming that the explosion of  virgins is restricted to Japan.

Dr. Aiken provides more material than can be summarized in this blog.  The bottom line warning for Cyber Romance is the same as it is for all activities in cyberspace, be careful and proceed cautiously.

Teenagers, Monkeys, and Mirrors

September 11, 2016

“Teenagers, Monkeys, and Mirrors” is chapter 5 in The Cyber Effect” an important book by Mary Aiken, Ph.D., a cyberpsychologist.  This post will say nothing about monkeys and mirrors.  To read about monkeys and mirrors in this context you will need to get your own book.

Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers did valuable research into how a young person develops identity.  He describe self-concept as having the following three components:
The view you have of yourself—or “self-image.”
How much value you place on your worth—or “self-esteem.”
What you wish you were like—or “the ideal self.”

Carl Rogers lived long before the creation of cyberspace.  Were he alive today it is likely he would have added a fourth aspect of “self.”  Dr. Aiken calls this “the cyber self”—who you are in a digital context.  This is the idealized self, the person you wish to be, and therefore an important aspect of self-concept.  It is a potential new you that now lives in a new environment, cyberspace.  Increasingly, it is the virtual self that today’s teenager is busy assembling, creating and experimenting with.  The ubiquitous selfies ask a question of their audience:  Like me like this?  Dr. Aiken asked the question, which matters the most: your real-world self or the one you’ve created online?  Her answer is probably the one with the greater visibility.

Adolescents are preoccupied with creating their identity.  The psychologist Erik Erikson described this period of development between the ages of twelve and eighteen as a state of identity versus role confusion, when individuals become fascinated with their appearance because their bodies and faces are changing so dramatically.  So this narcissistic behavior  is considered a natural part of development and is usually outgrown. However, in this age of cyberspace fewer young adults are moving beyond their narcissistic behavior.  A study of U.S. college students found a significant increase in scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006.

Plastic surgery is another area that has been impacted by technology.  The easy curating of selfies is likely linked to a rise in plastic surgery.  According to a 2014 study by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), more than half of the facial surgeons polled  reported an increase in plastic surgery for people under thirty.  Surgeons have also reported that bullying is also a cause of children and teens asking for plastic surgery.  This is usually a result of being bullied rather than a way to prevent it.

Another problem is Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).  “Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder are obsessed with imagined or minor defects, and this belief can severely impair their lives and cause distress.  Individuals with BDD are completely convinced that there’s something wrong with their appearance—and no matter how reassuring friends and family, or even plastic surgeons, can be, they cannot be dissuaded.  In some cases, they can be reluctant to seek help, due to extreme and painful self-consciousness  But if left untreated, BDD does not often improve or resolve itself, but become worse over time, and can lead to suicidal behavior.

Dr. Aiken notes that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have pledged to donate 99% of their Facebook shares to the cause of human advancement.  That represented about $45 billion of Facebook’s current valuation.  She respectfully suggests that all of this money be directed toward human problems associated with social media.

Dr. Aiken notes that eighty years ago the American philosopher and social psychologist George Herbert Mead had something very relevant to say about how we think about ourselves—and express who we are that has special relevance today.  Mead studies the use of first-person pronouns as a basis for describing the process of self-reflection.  How we use “I” and “me” demonstrates how we think of self and identity.  There is “I”.  And there is “me”.  Using “I” shows that he or she has a conscious understanding of self on some level.  Using “I” speaks directly from that self.  The use of “me” requires the understanding of the individual as a social object.  To use “me” means figuratively leaving one’s body and being a separate object.  “I” seems to have been lost in cyberspace.  The selfie is all “me”.  It is an object—a social artifact that has no deep layer.  Dr. Aiken writes,  “This may explain why the expressions on the facies of selfie subjects seem so empty.  There s no consciousness.  The digital photo is a superficial cyber self.

Dr. Aiken advises to do what you can to pull kids back to “I’ and not let them drift to “me.”.  This is strengthened by conservations such as

*Ask them about their real-world day, and don’t forget to ask them about what’s happening in their cyber life.

*Tell them about risks in the real world, accompanied by real stories—then tell them about evolving risks online and how to not show vulnerability.

*Talk about identity formation and what it means—distinguishing between the real-world self and the cyber self.

*Talk about body dysmorphia, eating disorders, body image, and self-esteem—and the ways their technology use may not be constructive.

*Tell your girls not to allow themselves to become a sex object—and tell your boys not to treat girls as object online—or anywhere else.

HM is often envious of of the technology available to today’s youth.  And he is envious of cyberspace with the exception of the difficulties created by the perverse way that technology is being used that exacerbates the transition through adolescence.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Frankenstein and the Little Girl

September 10, 2016

“Frankenstein and the Little Girl” is Chapter 4 in “The Cyber Effect”  an important book by Mary Aiken, Ph.D., a cyberpsychologist.  Frankenstein refers to online search.  This chapter examines the online lives of children four to twelve years old. This is the age group that is most vulnerable on the Internet in terms of risk and harm.  This age group is naturally curious and wants to explore.  They are old enough to be competent with technology, and in some cases, extremely so.  But they aren’t old enough to be wary of the online risks and don’t yet understand the consequences of their behavior there.
The psychologist John Suler has said “Your wouldn’t take your children and leave them alone in the middle of New York City, and that’s effectively what you’re doing when you allow them in cyberspace alone.”

According to the journal “Pediatrics” 84% of U.S. children and teenagers have access to the internet on either a home computer, a tablet, or another mobile device.   More than half of US children who are eight to twelve have a cellphone.  A 2015 consumer report shows that most American children get their first cellphone when they are six years old.

There are some benefits and research has shown a positive relation between texting and literacy.  And there is an enormous amount of good material on the web.  However, some developmental downsides of persistent and pervasive use of technology are apparent.  Jo Heywood, a headmistress of a private primary school in Britain has made the observation, which is shared by other educators, that children are starting kindergarten at five and six years old with the communications skills of two- and three-year olds, presumably because their parents or caregivers have been “pacifying” them with iPads rather than talking to them.  Moreover, this is seen in children from all backgrounds, both disadvantaged and advantaged.

A national sample of 442 children in the United States between the ages of eight and twelve were asked how they spent their time online.  Children from eight to ten spent an average of forty-six minutes per day on the computer.  Children from eleven to twelve years spent an average of one you and forty-six minutes per day on the computer.

When asked what kinds of sites they visited, YouTube dominated significantly, followed by Facebook, and game and virtual-world play sites—Disney, Club Penguin, Webkinz, Nick, Pogo, Poptropica, PBS KIds, and Google.  Why is Facebook on this list?  You are supposed to be thirteen years old to activate an account.  One quarter of the children in the US study reported using Facebook even thought it is a social network meant for children and adults.  According to “Consumer Reports” twenty million minors use Facebook, 7.5 million  of these are under thirteen.  These underage users access the site by creating a fake profile, often with the awareness and approval of their parents.

Cyberbullying is an ugly topic that has received coverage in the popular press.  Cyberbullying has resulted in suicides.  Dr. Aiken notes the existence of bystander apathy in these events.  Few, if any, seem to come to the aide of those being bullied.  In a poll conducted in 24 countries, 12% of parents reported their child had experienced cyberbullying, often by a group.  A U.S. survey by “Consumer Reports” found that 1 million children over the previous year had been “harassed, threatened, or subjected to other forms of cyberbullying on Facebook.

It appears that the younger you are, the number of friends increases.  In a 2014 study of American users on Facebook, for those sixty-five years old, the average number of friends is 102.  For those between forty-five and fifty-four years old, the average is 220.  For those twenty-five to thirty-five years old, the average is 360.  For those eighteen to twenty-four, the average is 649.  Dare we extrapolate to younger age groups?  Dunbar’s number has been discussed in previous healthy memory blog posts.  It is based on the size of the average human brain and is the number of social contacts or “casual friends” with whom and average individual can handle and maintain social relationships is around 150.

Be a Cyber Pal was conceived as an antidote to cyberbullying, and was about actively being a kind, considerate, supportive, and loyal friend.  And it is cause for hope that it became the most downloaded poster of the campaign that year.  She thinks that the positive message gave teachers and families something that’s easier to talk about.

Dr. Aiken is using an approach she calls the math of cyberbullying using digital forensics to identify both victims and perpetrators.  She is working with a tech company in Palo Alto to apply this algorithm to online communication.

She discusses pornography, which she terms The Elephant in the Cyber Room.

Let me conclude by presenting a four-point approach developed by a panel of experts to protect children online.

1.  Using technical mediation in the form of parental control software, content filters, PIN       passwords, or safe search, which restricts searching to age-appropriate sites.
2.  Talking regularly to your children about managing online risks.
3.  Setting rules or restrictions around online access and use.
4.  Supervising your children when they are online.

Cyber Babies

September 9, 2016

“Cyber Babies” is chapter 3 in Dr.  Aiken’s new book “The Cyber Effect.”   She begins by relating a story of when she was traveling on a train watching a mother feeding her baby.   She held the baby’s bottle in one hand  and a mobile phone in the other.  Her head was bent looking at the screen.  The mother looked exclusively at her phone while the baby fed.  The baby gazed upward as babies do looking adoringly at the mother’s jaw, as the mother gazed adoringly at her phone.   The feeding lasted about 30 minutes and the mother did not make eye contact with the infant or once pull her attention from the screen of her phone.  Dr. Aiken was appalled as eye contact between baby and mother is quite important for the development of the child.  She mentioned that parents frequently ask her  at what age is it appropriate for a baby to be introduced to electronic screens.  She agrees that this is an important question but asks the parents first to think about this question:  What is the right age to introduce your baby to your mobile phone use?

She elaborates on the importance of face time with a baby.  They need the mother’s eye contact.   They need to be talked to, tickled, massaged, and played with.  She writes that there is no study of early childhood development that doesn’t support this.

She continues, “By experiencing your facial expressions—your calm acceptance of them, your love and attention, even you occasional groggy irritation—they thrive and develop.  This is how emotional attachment style is learned.  A baby’s attachment still is created by the baby’s earliest experiences with parents and caregivers.”  She further notes “A mother and her child need to be paying attention to each other.  They need to engage and connect.  It cannot be simply one-way.  It isn’t just about your baby bonding with you.   Eye contact is also about bonding with your baby.”

In a 2014 study in the journal “Pediatrics” fifty-five caregivers with children were observed in fast food restaurants, forty caregivers used mobile devices during the meal and sixteen used their devices continuously with their attention directed primarily at the device and not the children.  Dr. Aiken wishes that the following warning be placed on mobile phones:  “Warning:  Not Looking at your Baby Could Cause Significant Delays.”

She devotes considerable space to products that promise early childhood development, products such as the Baby Einstein Products.  Very little, if any, research has gone into the development of these products, and evaluations of these products provide no evidence that they are effective.

The research is clear that the best way to help a baby learn to talk or develop any other cognitive skill is through live interaction with another human being.  Videos and television shows have been shown to be ineffective in learning prior to the age of two.  A study of one thousand infants found that babies who watched more than two hours of DVDs per day performed worse on language assessments than babies who did not watch DVDs.  For each hour of watching a DVD, babies knew six to eight words fewer than babies who did not watch DVDs.  She does note that quieter shows with only one story line, such as “Blue’s Clues” and Teletubbies” can be more effective.   Still babies learn best from humans and not machines.

Some early-learning experts believe there is a connection between ADHD and screen use in children.  ADHD is now the most prevalent psychiatric illness of children and teenagers in America.  The number of young people being treated with medication of ADHD grows every year.  More than ten thousand toddlers, ages two and three years old, are among the children taking ADHD drugs, even though prescribing these falls outside any established pediatric guidelines.

Dr Aiken offers the following ideas for parents pending more guidance and information on proper regulation:

Don’t use a digital babysitter or, in the future, a robot nanny.  Babies and toddlers need a real caregiver, not a screen companion, to cuddle and talk with.  There is no substitute for a real human being.

Because your baby’s little brain is growing quickly and developed through sensory stimulation, consider the senses—touch, smell, sight, sound.  A baby’s early interactions and experiences are encoded in the brain and will ave lasting effects.

Wait until your baby is two or three years old before they get screen time.  And make a conscious decision about the screen rules for them taking into account that screens could be impacting how your child is being raised.

Monitor you own screen time.  Whether or not your children are watching, be aware of how much your television is on at home—and if the computer screen is always glowing and beckoning.  Be aware of how often you check you mobile phone in front of your baby or toddler.

Understand that babies are naturally empathetic and can be very sensitive to emotionally painful, troubling, or violent content.  Studies show that children have a different perception of reality and fantasy than adults do.  Repetitive viewings of frightening or violent content will increase retention, meaning they will form lasting unpleasant memories.

Don’t be fooled by marketing claims.  Science shows us that tablet apps may not be as educational as claimed and that screen time can, in fact, cause developmental delays and may even cause attention issues and language delays in babies who view more than two hours of media per cay.

Put pressure on toy developers to support their claims with better scientific evidence and new studies that investigate cyber effects.

Designed to Addict

September 8, 2016

Designed to Addict is the title of the second chapter in “The Cyber Effect” by Dr. Mary Aiken.  Although the internet was not designed to addict users, it appears that it is addicting many.  Of course, humans are not passive victims, they are allowing themselves to be addicted.  Dr. Aiken begins with the story of a twenty-two year old mother Alexandra Tobias.  She called 911 to report that her three-month old son had stopped breathing and needed to be resuscitated.  She fabricated a story to make it sound as if an accident had happened, but later confessed that she was playing “Farmville” on her computer and had lost her temper when her baby’s crying distracted her from the Facebook game.  She picked up the baby and shook him violently and his head hit the computer.  He was pronounced dead at the hospital dead from head injuries and a broken leg.

At the time of the incident “Farmville” had 60 million active users and was described by its users in glowing terms as being highly addictive.  It was indeed addictive so that “Farmville” Addicts Anonymous support groups were formed and a FAA page was created on Facebook.    Dr. Aiken found this case interesting as a forensic cyberpsychologist for the following reason:  the role of technology in the escalation of an explosive act of violence.  She described it as extreme impulsivity, an unplanned spontaneous act.

Impulsivity is defined as “a personality trait characterized by the urge to act spontaneously without reflecting on an action and its consequences.”  Dr. Aiken notes “that the trait of impulsiveness influences several important psychological processes and behaviors, including self-regulation, risk-taking and decision making.  It has been found to be a significant component of several clinical conditions, including attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, borderline personality disorder, and the manic phase of bipolar disorder, as well as alcohol and drug abuse and pathological gambling.”  Dr. Aiken takes care to make the distinction between impulsive and compulsive.  Impulsive behavior is a rash, unplanned act, whereas compulsive behavior is planned repetitive behavior, like obsessive hand washing.  She elaborates in cyber terms.  “When you constantly pick up your mobile phone to check your Twitter feed, that’s compulsive.  Then  you read a nasty tweet and can’t restrain yourself from responding with an equally  nasty retort (or an even nastier one), that’s impulsive.”

Joining an online community or playing in a multiplier online game can give you a sense of belonging.  Getting “likes” meets a need for esteem.  According to psychiatrist Dr. Eva Ritvo in her article “Facebook and Your Brain” social networking “stimulates release of loads of dopamine as well as offering an effective cure to loneliness.  These “feel good” chemicals are also triggered by novelty.  Posting information about yourself can also deliver pleasure.  “About 40 percent of daily speech is normally taken up with self-disclosure—telling others how we feel or what we think about something—but when we go online the amount of self-disclosure doubles.   According to Harvard neuroscientist Diana Tamir, this produces a brain respond similar to the release of dopamine.”

Jack Panksepp is a Washington State University Neuroscientist who coined the term affective neuroscience, or the biology of arousing feelings or emotions.  He argues that a number of instincts such as seeking, play, anger, lust, panic, grief, and fear are embedded in ancient regions of the human brain built into the nervous system as a fundamental level.  Panskepp explains addiction as an excessive form of seeking.  “Whether the addict is seeking a hit from cocaine, alcohol, or a Google search, dopamine is firing, keeping the human being in a constant state of alert expectation.”

Addiction can be worsened by the stimuli on digital devices that come with each new email or text to Facebook “like,” so keep them turned off unless there is a good justification for keeping them on, and then only for a designated amount of time.

There is technology to help control addictive behavior.  One of these is Breakfree, an app that monitors  the number of times you pick up your phone, check your email, and search the web.  It offers nonintrusive  notifications and provides you with an “addiction score” every day, eery week, and every month to track your progress.  There are many more such apps such as Checky and Calm, but ultimately it is you who needs to control your addictions.

Mindfulness is a prevalent theme in the healthy memory blog.  It is a Buddhist term “to describe the state of mind in which our attention is directed to the here and now, to what is happening in the moment before us, a way of being kind to ourselves and validating our own experience.”    As a way of staying mindful and keeping track of time online, Dr. Aiken has set her laptop computer to call out the time, every hour on the hour, so that even as she is working in cyberspace, where time flies, she is reminded very hour of the temporal real world.”

Internet addictive behavior expert Kimberly Young recommends three strategies:
1.  Check your checking.  Stop checking your device constantly.
2.  Set time limits.  Control your online behavior—and remember , kids will model
their behavior on adults.
3.  Disconnect to reconnect.  Turn off devices at mealtimes—and reconnect with                  the family.
Some people find what are called internet sabbaths helpful and disconnect for a day or a weekend.  Personally HM believes in having a daily disciplined schedule to prevent a beneficial activity from becoming a maladaptive behavior.

Much more is covered in the chapter, to include compulsive shopping, but the same rule applies.  To be aware of potential addiction monitor your behavior, and make the appropriate modifications.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 Cyber Effect

September 7, 2016

“The Cyber Effect” is the title of an important book by Mary Aiken, Ph.D., a cyberpsychologist.  The subtitle of the book is “A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online.”  She is the director the CyberPsychology Research Network and an advisor to Europol, and has conducted research and training workshops with multiple global agencies from INTERPOL to the FBI and the White House.  She is based in Ireland.

This book should be read by anyone who spends nontrivial amounts of time in cyberspace.  It should be compulsory reading for anyone with children who uses mobile devices.

The internet has had an enormous impact on our lives.  Perhaps some are not aware of this impact as it gradually increased its affects on the way we live.  Dr. Aiken defines cyberpsychology as “the study of the impact of emerging technology on human behavior.”  She continues, “It’s not just a case of being online or offline; “cyber” refers to anything digital , anything tech—from Bluetooth to driverless cars.  That means I study human interactions with technology and digital media, mobile and networked devices, framing, virtual reality, artificial intelligence (AI), intelligence amplification (IA)—anything from cellphones to cyborgs.  But mostly I concentrate on Internet psychology.  If something qualifies as “technology” and has the potential to impact or change behavior, I want to look at how—and consider why.”

Dr. Aiken is not one of those who decry how technology is some evil entity that has upended our lives, nor as something that inevitably leads to utopia.  She writes, “Technology is not good or bad in its own right.  It is neutral and simply mediates behavior—which means it can be used well or poorly by humankind.”  “Any technology can be misused.”

One of her earliest influences was J.C.R. Licklider, a psychologist who wrote a seminal paper in 1960, “Man Computer Symbiosis,” which predated the Internet and foretold the potential  for a symbiotic relationship between man and machine.  Licklider  has been one of HM’s idols since HM was an undergraduate, and it has been a lifelong frustration that a true symbiosis is yet to be realized.

As “The Cyber Effect” is such an important book, I plan to devote a post to each of the chapters excluding the first chapter.  The first chapter is titled “The Normalization of a Fetish” and discusses how cyberspace technology has change sexual behavior.  In addition to fostering new perversions, or at least ones unknown to HM, it explains how cyberspace has expanded contact with others in cyberspace, contacts that would have remained unknown without cyberspace.  Moreover, it has increased the acceptance of formerly proscribed behaviors.  Nothing more will be written in this blog on this topic.  To learn more, read the book, which you should be doing in any case.

Here are the chapters that will have a post devoted to them.  These are the individual topics, which are more informative than the chapter titles:  internet addiction; the effects of cybertechnology on babies; the effects of cybertechnology on children;  the effects of cybertechnology on adolescents; romance in cyberspace;  cyberchondria, which is hypochondria  fostered in cyberspace;  the deep web, where illegal activity occurs; and the final chapter the discusses important topics that need to be considered for the future.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

2016 Labor Day Post

September 5, 2016

It is a healthymemory tradition that on or about Labor Day, HM laments about the adulthood and retirement he was promised in elementary school in the 1950s.  During this time it was highly unusual for mothers to work.  One of the primary benefits from technology was to be a large amount of leisure.  The economist John Maynard Keynes predicted in 1930 that the work week would shrink to 15 hours by 2030.  Actually, technology advanced further and faster than was predicted.  Wi fi and smart phones were never imagined, along with the internet.  Now more people, including mothers, are working more hours.  What happened?

Current economies are based on Gross Domestic Products (GDPs).  Economic growth requires increasing GDPs.  Eventually this model runs out of resources and steam.  Yet we have to work more and consume more to foster this growth.

Not only has technology advanced, product quality has improved.  An inexpensive watch has the same accuracy as a ROLEX.  People pay for more expensive products for prestige.  There is ample research showing that scotch drinkers pay substantially more for high quality scotch yet are unable to distinguish the difference when drinking blind.  Scotch drinkers are just provided as an example.  Premiums are paid for many products for prestige, not for the utility of the product.

Voters grovel at the feet of politicians for jobs.  Jobs lost to trade are a primary focus in the current elections in the United States.   However, the trade problem is minuscule compared to the lost of jobs that will be taken by technology.

The following data and projections have been taken from David Ignatius’s column in the 12 August 2016 Washington Post article titled “When robots take all the jobs.”  McKinsey & Co. estimate that  in manufacturing, 59% of activities could be automated, and that includes 90% of what welders, cutters, solderers and brazers do.  In food service and accommodations, 73% of the work could be performed by machines.  In retailing, 53% of the jobs could be lost.  If computers can be programmed to understand speech as well as humans do, 66% of jobs in finance and insurance could be replaced.  So, to use the vernacular, we ain’t seen nothing yet!

Economic security can be addressed by a greatly expanded earned-income tax credit, or by large public works programs.  But the topic of the immediately preceding post, a Universal Basic Income, is inevitable or violence will break out and public disorder will become the order of the day.

Under a Universal Basic Income, everyone would have enough income to live comfortably.   To increase one’s standard of living, or to purchase prestige, employment would be required.  But people could drop out of the economy and pursue an education, training, artistic pursuits,, travel, whatever would increase the quality of life.

The reader should be aware that this view of automation creating enormous job losses is not shared by all.  So some regard this as a pseudo problem.  But HM would still argue for changes that would provide the freedom and leisure activities that would result from technology that were promised him back in the nineteen fifties.  HM has retired, so he finally has leisure time.  His wish applies to all that there be vastly increased amount of leisure time.

Consider reading or rereading HM blog posts, “Gross National Happiness (GNH) and “The Wellbeing of Nations: Meaning, Motive, and Measurement.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 on the Universal Basic Income (UBI)

September 3, 2016

A previous post dealt with the topic of a Universal Basic Income (enter “Universal Basic Income” into the healthy memory search block).  Articles in the June 20, 2016 New Yorker by James Surowiecki and by Hal Hodson in the Features Section of the June 25 2016 New Scientist  titled “What Happens if we pay everyone just to live”  provide the motivation for this current post.   Surowiecki is the regular “New Yorker” correspondent for economics, business, and finance.  He has also written a book that Healthymemory would highly recommend, “The Wisdom of Crowds.”  His article in the New Yorker is titled “Free Money.”

Both articles describe an unusual experiment in the Canadian province of Manitoba in mid-nineteen seventies.  The town of Dauphin sent checks to thousands of residents every month to guarantee that all residents received a basic income.  The title of this project was Mincome.  The goal of the project was to see what happened.  Did people stop working?  Did poor people spend foolishly and stay in poverty?  A Conservative government  ended  the project in 1979 and buried Mincome.

Many years later an economist at the University of Manitoba, Evelyn Forget, dug up the numbers on the project.  She found that life in Dauphin improved markedly.  More teenagers stayed in school.  Hospitalization rates fell.  Work rates had barely dropped at all.  The program worked about as well as anyone could have hoped.  The earlier healthy memory blog post on this topic found that similar results were found for 20 villages in India.

The Hodson article notes that UBI has long history.  Thomas Paine, a US Founding Father, believed that natural resources were a common heritage and that landowners sitting on them should be taxed and their income redistributed. This idea of a UBI returned to the fore in the sixties and is now popular again among economists and policy folks.  According to Hodson the idea has been graining adherents across the  political spectrum.  In the UK proponents include the left-wing Green party and a right-wing think tank, the Adam Smith Institute.  In Canada, testing the approach forms part of the policy platform of the Liberal Party, which was elected to power last year.  There are many versions of this idea, but one would provide every adult citizen in the U.S. a stipend, say $10K, with children receiving smaller amounts. This would increase a willingness to take risks in jobs and to invest in education.  There were small scale experiments with basic income guarantees in the seventies and they showed  young people with a basic income were more likely to stay in school.  In New Jersey the chances of students graduating from high school increased 25%.  The fear that a UBI produces lazy unmotivated workers does not appear to be true.  The examples of the many direct-cash-grant programs in the developing world suggest that, as Columbia economist Chris Boatman puts it, “the poor do not waste grants.”

In Alaska an annual dividend from state oil revenues is paid to citizens each year.  This amounted to $2012 per person in 2015.  Economist Scott Goldsmith at the University of Alaska points that the state is the only one in the US in which the income of the poorest 20$% grew faster than that of the top 20% between the 1980s and  2000.

Now experiments are afoot to test such effects more exactingly.  As many as 10,000 Finns will get a no-strings attached monthly income for two years.   The sum is designed to guarantee subsistence, covering housing, food, and services like water and electricity.  The point is to test whether a basic income gets more people working.  The government is interested in removing disincentives to joining the labor force.  The ideal is to encourage people to enter the labour market on their own terms.

A study of 1000 children by Kimberly Noble of Columbia University found a strong positive correlation between family income and brain development.   One theory is that families with a secure income can focus extra resources on their children.  “But with purely correlational data we can’t say which way the arrow is pointing,” says Noble.  To find out she is running an experiment in which 1000 low-income mothers across the US will receive a basic income for three years.  One group will receive a nominal $20 a month, the other $333.   Noble’s focus is on brain development, not economics. But in a pilot study in New York in which money was handed on trackable, prepaid debit cards found that of 1100 transactions most of the money went on groceries.  Just three happened at a liquor store.

A basic income would be costly.  Depending on how the program was structured, it would likely cost at least twelve to thirteen percent of the GDP.  Of course, GDP is another problem.  There have been many previous healthy memory blog posts, particularly around Labor Day, arguing that the GDP is the wrong measure of economic success.  Requiring constant growth in GDP will eventually destroy itself.  There are better metrics of the health of the economy.

Surowiecki concludes that at the moment the prospects of a UBI do not seem favorable, but that the most popular social-welfare programs in the US seemed utopian at first.  Healthy Memory would argue that increasing job insecurity along with the a need for increased education throughout the lifespan, a UBI is all but guaranteed for sometime in the future.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Reading, Personal Development, & Empathy

September 2, 2016

A great deal of emphasis in education is placed on  the so-called STEM disciplines.  STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  I agree with this emphasis, and have correctly argued that psychology is one of these STEM disciplines, and technology can certainly enhance instruction in these disciplines.  However, some critics have noted some downsides of technology.  Actually it is how technology is used rather than technology per se that constitute these downsides.  One author titled his book “The Dumbest Generation” and cites evidence that book reading, especially the reading of good literature is on the decline.  Sherry Turkle in her book “Reclaiming Conversation,” argues that the smartphones are a means of staying connected most of the time, and that these phones are used in placed of conversation.  At professional conventions you see attendees seated in a group, concentrating on their smartphones and not interacting.  The bottom line that emerges from reading both these books is that information is timely, but is used in a superficial manner.  Human interactions are largely superficial, and little of this information reaches the level of understanding or knowledge.

Another growing concern is that technology will result in more and more of the population losing jobs.  It is interesting to note that one of the strengths of humans versus machines is our ability to be empathetic.  It is also interesting to note that one of the best ways of developing empathy is through literature.  So it appears that the current use of technology is taking us away from developing empathic skills when it is exactly these skills that give us an edge over technology in the performance of technology.

David Denby’s book “Lit Up:  One Reporter, Three Schools. Twenty-Four Books That Can Change Lives” justifies the importance of reading and the proper teaching of literature.  Here is a quote from the Introduction:  “A child, read to and talked to, undergoes an initiation into a useful life; she may also undergo an initiation into happiness.”  Later in the Introduction he wrote, “the liberal arts in general, and especially reading seriously, offer an opening to a wider life, the powers of active citizenship (including the willingness to vote).”  He continues, “ Every great civilization, including ours, has had a great literature and great readers.  If literature matters less to young people that it once did, we are all in trouble.”

Indulge me in a personal note here.  Fortunately I began school in the first grade and was not forced into pre-school.  Consequently I had an additional year, at least, of freedom, of which many of my peers were deprived.  However, my Mom did read to me.  I vividly remember three books that she read to me:  Peter Pan, Tom Sawyer, and Touchdown Pass.  Touchdown Pass was a story about a high school football player, Chip Hilton and his teammates at Vally Forge High School.  This book was written by Clair Bee who wrote a whole series of books about Chip Hilton and his friends playing football, basketball, and baseball in both high school and college.  After I did learn to read, I reread these books myself, and I read all of Clair Bee’s books.

When my Mom read me these books, I just marveled and all the information and enjoyment that came from these black symbols on a page.  Today, my Mom would be reading me these books on an iPad, which would have been just as effective.

Denby attended 10th and 12th grade English classes at three different schools over several years.  Beacon was a special school in a run down building on West 61st street in Manhattan.  James Hillhouse  High School, was an inner city school in New Haven (the city where Yale University is located) with a largely poor African American population.  Mamaroneck is in a wealthy New York suburb.

The teaching techniques varied among the teachers, but they each had these features in common.  The teachers had an inordinate amount of patience and continued to challenge the students to think about the books and to participate actively in class.  Written journals were kept by students throughout the school year  100% success was never achieved, but successes were clearly achieved in all these schools.

Frankly I was envious of these students.  I wish I had had instructors like these not only in my high school classes, but also in my University classes.  “Lit Up” clearly is an accurate title because many of these students were indeed “Lit Up.”

I concluded that there are ingredients that were essential to the success of these efforts.  The correct teachers are the most important.  These teachers need not only to have incredible patience, but they also need to be able to creatively challenge students, and they need to have a good knowledge of literature.  Moreover, they need to be given the freedom to choose their own reading lists.  Defining a required reading list, by any entity other that the teacher teaching the class, would be counterproductive.

I hope that educators read “Lit Up” and try to encourage the type of teaching exemplified in the book.  The need for this human touch is especially great in the technological era, and the rewards in terms not just of test scores, educational achievements, and jobs, but also in terms of meaningful and productive lives would be enormous.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Another Post on Psychology as a STEM Discipline

September 1, 2016

HM likes to address this topic at the beginning of the school year.  Psychology is officially a STEM discipline.  STEM stand for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and these are the disciplines highly prized for our economy.  Many are probably surprised that psychology is a STEM discipline because they think of psychology in a clinical sense and often confuse these psychologists with psychiatrists.

Well there is a scientific version psychology, parts of which are frequently termed neuropsychology because of the neurological structures and brain imaging techniques that are used.  For the student interested in science psychology is recommended because it crosses many levels of science.  Some psychologists image the brain and make recordings and measurements of the brain.  Cognitive psychologists study perception, memory, decision making, problem solving, and creativity.  Social psychologists study how groups of people interact.  Organizational psychologists study how organizations work and prosper.  Each of these sub-disciplines of psychology has special methodologies for dealing with these problems.  There are also mathematical psychologists and engineering psychologists.  HM had the privilege of serving as President of Division 21 of the American Psychological Association (APA) which is the Division for Engineering and Applied Experimental Psychology.

Although there are marketing psychologists, if you are interested in marketing it might be better to study marketing in a Business College.  If you are interested in how others think and feel, you might be better advised to study literature or drama in college.  Literature is known for fostering empathic understanding, which might be more of what you are interested.  Although HM has not seen any literature on The benefits of studying drama, he has a hunch that the study of and participation in drama might have similar benefits.  However, if you are interested in the scientific study of humans, then psychology would be a good choice.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Cognitive Science Should Be Taught in Elementary School

August 30, 2016

For a long time, HM thought that the study of psychology should be put off until college.  However, he has recently come to the opinion that certain parts of human cognition should be taught as soon as possible.  This would provide some insight for the students in to how they think and learn.  The importance of focus and attention, and the fact that bias is inherent to our thinking.

Students likely think of their memory as something they need to use to past tests.  What they need to understand is that their memory is a machine for time travel.  They use it not just to remember stuff for tests, but as a means of searching what they have learned and experience in the past, to decide what to do in the future.  In other words, it goes far beyond remembering stuff for tests.

Information gets into our memories from our senses.  What we perceive  is limited by what we can sense.  Color, for example, does not exist in the external world.  Color is created by what our eyes can sense.  People who have different kinds of color blindness are limited by the absence of specific color sensing sensors (cones).

Our brains process these inputs and create internal models of what exists in the world.  Optical illusions provide good examples of what we think we see may not be accurate.  There are also cognitive illusions when what we think does not correspond to reality.  Essentially learning is a process of building better and better cognitive models.  As the result of learning we are able to refine and correct our cognitive models.  But this requires thinking and thinking requires attention.  Usually when we do not remember, it is due to our not paying attention in the first place.  So, paying attention in class is important for effective learning.  Students would learn not only how we make decisions and solve problems, but also better ways to make decisions and solve problems.

They would also learn about Daniel Kahneman’s Two Process View of Cognition.  System 1 is called is called intuition and is very fast.  This speed is the product of learning and is bought at the price of biases used in System 1 Processing.  System 2 is called reasoning and is what we commonly think of as thinking.  One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors

Our default bias is to believe new information.  This is called the confirmation bias.  If we did not have this as a default bias, we would probably never have survived as a species.  But it does create problems.  We tend to look for information that confirms what we believe.  Unfortunately, this carries the risk of failing to correct our biases.  Science is structured to look for information to disconfirm current theories or beliefs.
One of the biggest problems is correcting disinformation.  This is why the big lie is so successful.  If something is heard frequently enough, the tendency is to believe it, regardless of whether it is true or not.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Mindfulness Needs to Be Taught in the Public Schools

August 28, 2016

And at least by the fourth grade according an article in the Washington Post that was reviewed in the healthy memory blog post, “A New School of Thoughtfulness.”  The article notes that the idea of getting squirmy kids to sit still or angst-ridden teens to meditate might seem far fetched, but it works.  It finds that kids often to take to it, readily turning the practice as a way to self-soothe, and they take these techniques home with them.

One fourth grade student said, “When I’m mad and get into a fight with my brother or anyone in the family, I go up to my room, and I start breathing and doing mindfulness. It calms me down a little so things get back to normal.”

A classmate says that when she has trouble sleeping, she’ll count her breaths and listen to the ticking of her watch to relax.

It appears that mindfulness is being learned by the parents from their children, which they are finding is improving them as parents.

Another student said, “I thought it was totally weird at first., then I realized that it totally helped…with everything in my life.”  The “everything in my life” quote is especially important.  Mindfulness will not only benefit their behavior, but should also benefit their schoolwork.  Usually the failure to learn is due to a failure to attend.  These students are learning how to focus their attention on what hey need to learn.

Yet another student was playing volleyball and getting angry at her losing team.  She said that she was about to yell at them them for not doing the right thing, but then she recalibrated, did not yell, and made positive suggestions.  Mindfulness is teaching them to consider the situation from perspectives different from their own.  This will increase the effectiveness of group and team work.  It should also significantly decrease the incidence or arguments and fights.  Many of the problems stem from a lack of discipline and mindfulness is a positive strategy that increase discipline.

HM does not know how widely spread mindfulness is in the public schools.  But it needs to be spread universally in all schools.  Mindfulness provides the key to successful learning and living.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 Need for Mathematics, Probability, and Statistics

August 26, 2016

It strains credulity that some people are actually arguing about teaching mathematics.  Mathematics is certainly one of the most supreme accomplishments of the human mind.  People need to both appreciate that and to be able to do some mathematics.  What is needed is more research on fostering mathematical thinking.

Unfortunately, probability and statistics are two subjects missing from most high school curricula.  This is a glaring lacuna as we have to deal with probabilities throughout our lives.  Consequently, we need to have some facility in understanding probabilities and in making computations.  Statistics is another topic we all need.  Public policies, health, and scientific topics that lay people should understand require some knowledge of statistics.  Trigonometry and calculus are subjects that are taught in high school, yet these topics are needed only  in specific areas of study and professions.  However, statistics needs to be understood by everyone.

Unfortunately, to understand statistics, one needs to understand algebra at least through quadratic equations.  So any students who do complete introductory algebra should be required to take a course in statistics.

So what about students who do not take algebra?  Research is required here to provide some rudimentary understanding of both probabilities and statistics without a facility in algebra.  Perhaps this can be done through graphics and pictorial representations. Specific applications can be developed to this end.  Perhaps students can be fooled into learning statistics via games.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Computers in Our Brains

August 25, 2016

This post is based primarily on an article by Elizabeth Dworkin in the 17 April 2106 issue of the Washington Post titled “Putting a computer in your brain is no longer science fiction.”  It describe the research done by Silicon technology entrepreneur Bryan Johnson at his company Kernel, website is kernel.com.  It does not appear that Johnson has already put a computer into the brain, but rather is in the process of designing a computer to put into the brain.  The article also cites work by biomedical researcher Theodore Berger who has worked on a chip-assisted hippocampus for rats.  This work has yet to advance to humans.  And it probably will be many years before any fruits from this research will be realized.

This post is filed under transactive memory, which included posts on using external technology to build a healthy memory.  Now work is progressing on moving computer technology inside the brain.  Of course, anything that assists memory health will be welcomed.

An interesting conjecture is how this new technology would be used.  The statistics reported in the immediately preceding post made HM wonder to what extent people were making use of the biological memory they had.  It may be that when some people age their cognitive activity decreases.  And it may be that this failure to use it that is the primary cause of dementia.  This appears to be even more likely when there is evidence that people who have the defining physical features of Alzheimer’s never show any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms.

So a reasonable question is how many people would benefit from computer implants?  It would be surprising if no one benefited, but it is not a forgone conclusion that everyone would benefit.  Some people might shut down cognitively even given a computer enhancements.  Of course, this is just a conjecture by HM.

HM would hope that people would still engage in the activities advocated by HM, to include growth mindsets, meditation, and mindfulness, in addition to general practices for personal health.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Social Activities May Help Protect Memory

August 24, 2016

The title of this blog is identical to a title of an article by Elizabeth Agnvall in the April21, 2016 online AARP.  HM has a number of comments on this article the first of which is that this title is way, way too cautious.  There is no question that social activities help protect memory.  Although there is no claim that social activities prevent dementia, there is no doubt that they help reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment, a condition that is often—but not always — a  precursor to Alzheimers.

The article reports results of a study of about 2000 men and women age 70 and older participating in the long-running Mayo Clinic Study of Aging.  Two numbers are reported regarding the reduced risk  of people who used the computer at least once a week.  In the article proper the number provided is 42%, but in a table summarizing the studies results it is 44 %.

Those who read magazines at least once a week had a 30% reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment

Those who had engaged in crafts (for example, knitting) at least once a week had a 16% reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment.

Those who engaged in playing games at least once a week had a reduced risk of 14% or mild cognitive impairment.

These are reduced risks from what?  Is the original risk 100%? 75%? 50%? 25%?

Apart from the risk of mild cognitive impairment HM wonders what are these people doing with the rest of their time?  Watching television?    Watching Lucy reruns? Presumably the reciprocals of these values are the percentages of people who are at risk?  This is my peer group and HM is astounded at the low level of these activities and the finding that such low levels resulted in reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment.  It appears that my peers are largely cognitively disengaged.  This is difficult to believe.

As readers of the healthy memory blog should know, our recommendation is to remain cognitively engaged through growth mindsets on a daily basis, along with daily physical activity, daily meditation, and daily social activity.  Such a regimen should yield much larger reduced risks of mild cognitive impairment.  It is quite possible that you will be one of those whose brain has the defining symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but who never experiences any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  In other words, you may never have known that you had Alzheimer’s.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 When Matters are Objectively Good Do We Feel So Bad? Part Two

August 21, 2016

HM had heard commentators raise the question of why when matters are objectively good, do people feel so bad.  These two posts are an effort to provide explanations.  Part One of this article was basically an explanation of how the news can make us feel bad contrary to the objective situation.   Part Two explains how a particular type of news network can dissociate your feelings from objective reality.  Specifically this is Fox News (which bears no relationship to the Fox in the immediately preceding post).   Fox advertises fair and balanced news, which it is true if you are a right wing conservative.  Conservatives were prone to complain of a bias in the news, almost to the point that there was a conspiracy to conceal the truth.  HM needs to be cautious here and not claim that only conservatives see biases in the news.  Any of us can have a feeling of bias when the presentation is not in accordance with out beliefs, HM knows that he does.  But then he kicks in his higher order thinking processes and realizes that others have different views from his, and that tthere might be some value in this other view.  But this requires him to move from System 1 intuitive information processing to System 2 reasoning.  In laymen terms, he has to think.  This can be time consuming and, for some, painful.

Roger Ailes is given the credit for creating Fox news.  Everyone believes that his motives are political.  However, even if the goal were profit, this would still be a good format.  And in fact, it is profitable, as HM thinks that Fox is the most profitable news network.  First of all, the default position for most people is conservative, particularly if they belong to a racial or socioeconomic group that is benefiting under the present system.  And news consistent with their views that will not cause them to think is highly palatable.

The problem is that the world is dynamic.  It changes and there is a necessity for governments to adapt to these changes.  But this requires people to think, and they find this uncomfortable.  Moreover, they double down on not thinking and become dogmatic.  Dogmatism is anathema to any democracy as democracies require not only changes, but also give and take.

But the motives of Fox News are indeed political.  It plays the same role for conservatives that Pravda played for the former Soviet Union.  When not in power, the message is that the situation is bad.  The best example here is what Trump says and objective reality.  Obama took the United States from the verge of a worldwide economic collapse to one of the leading economies today, but Fox viewers tend to be oblivious to these facts.

Another example is Hillary Clinton and her negatives.  Admittedly, she contributed to some of these negatives, but they are largely the result of being consistently hammered for many years by Fox news.  If Fox  news did to Mother Teresa what they have done to Hillary Clinton, Mother Teresa would also have high negatives.

Fox news has become a running joke.  The satirical review group, The Capitol Steps, featured Hillary Bashing multiple times in their latest CD, “What  to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 When Matters are Objectively Good Do We Feel So Bad? Part One

August 19, 2016

By any objective standard, matters are quite good in the United States.  Just eight years ago, the world was on the verge of an economic collapse.  That collapse did not materialize,and today unemployment is low and the economy in the United States is among the best in the world.  So why are people saying that this country is on the wrong track?  Why are some people willing to vote for an emotionally unstable individual with none of the skills for the job for President of the United States?  There are a number of reasons for this, but this current post will focus on the following article in the Insight section of the 6 August 2016 issued of the New Scientist, titled “July was bad news but I’m fine—so why do I feel so terrible?”  The author notes that July brought an unusual dump of bad headlines including the televised deaths of Philander Castile and Alton Sterling, police being killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge, terror attacks in Istanbul, Baghad, Nice and Saint-Etieene-du-Rouvray, plus other acts of violence in Germany and Japan.

Peter Ayton who studies decision-making at City University in London says that we should be wary of the idea that there’s something in the water.  “This is an attempt at induction: grouping events on the idea of some force or influence may be engineering the shape of the days.”  Even if news stories are random, statistically we should still expect to see runs of more upsetting headlines.

Elaine Fox of the University of Oxford notes that we are predisposed to focus on bad stuff.  “Threat information activates the fear system, while positive news activates the reward system.  The fear system is stronger, and works to shut down the rational part of our brain.  Once we are in a fearful state, we’re conditioned to see out more bad news.

Fox continues, “The sense of immediacy provided by 24-hour rolling news means the brain is saying, “this is a real threat to me.”  This explains why we feel so personally affected even though chances of being caught up in a shooting or terrorist attack are vanishingly small.  The vividness of images may also skew our sense of risk.  In October 2014 after several months of disturbing TV reports from West Africa, a Gallup Poll found that 22 % of people in the US were worried about contracting Ebola, despite only six people in the country being infected and none picking it up on home soil.

Ayton notes that we underestimate our ability to adapt to huge changes.  A 1978 study showed that after two years, people paralyzed in accidents and lottery winners showed little change in overall happiness, instead habituating to their new state.  This finding has been replicated many times.

How to Debunk Misinformation

August 17, 2016

The immediately preceding healthy memory post described how difficult it is to correct misinformation, and promised that this post would provide some helpful information.  This post is taken from “The Debunking Handbook” by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky.  The authors begin by debunking the information deficit model, which says that if only people had the correct information, they would know better.  Moreover, attempts to correct the misinformation can have a backfire effect.  For those who are strongly fixed in their views, encountering counter-arguments can even cause them to strengthen their views.

Cook and Lewandowsky argue that an effective debunking requires:
Core-facts—a refutation should emphasize the facts and not the myth.  Only key facts should be presented to avoid an Overkill Backfire Effect.
Explicit warnings—before any mention of a myth, text or visual cues should warn that a the upcoming information is false.
Alternative explanation—any gaps left by debunking need to be filled.  This can be achieved by providing an alternative causal explanation for why the myth is wrong or, optionally, why he misinformers promoted the myth in the first place.
Graphics—if possible, core facts should be displayed graphically.

The authors note that a simple myth is more cognitively attractive than an overcomplicated correction.  Unfortunately writing at a simple level runs the risk of sacrificing the complexities and nuances you wish to communicate.  At Skeptical Science, where the authors work, they publish rebuttals at several levels.  Basic versions are written using short, plan English text and simplified graphics.  More technical Intermediate and Advanced versions are also available with more technical language and detailed explanations.

You can download “The Debunking Handbook” as a pdf file from
skeptical science.com/docs/Debunking_Handbook.pdf

This is the best information available of which HM knows.  Still  this debunking is a difficult task.  Once the ego feels threatened, a defensive mechanism is elicited that exerts large mental efforts in defending the misbelief or misinformation.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 Facts Don’t Matter

August 15, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of a column written by David Ignatius in the 5 August edition of the Washington Post.  Ignatius began his column by asking, “How did Donald Trump win the Republican nomination despite clear evidence that he had misrepresented or falsified key issues throughout his campaign?”  Also read or reread the healthy memory blog posts “Donald Trump is Bending Reality to Get Into the American Psyche” and “Trick or Tweet or Both?  How Social Media is Messing Up Politics.”  Trump makes outrageous statements, contradicts himself, and betrays a woeful ignorance about government and international relations, and makes claims that he is going to fix problems without providing any plans as to how he is going to fix them.  Nevertheless, people say that they are going to vote for him.  When pressed they say that are unhappy with current politics and the country is going in the wrong direction.  To this HM asks, so the bridge is crowded and slow moving, does that mean you are going to jump off the bridge, even though you don’t know that you’ll survive the jump or that you might be eaten by the crocodiles in the water?

There have been prior posts about the confirmation bias and the backfire effect.  The confirmation bias refers to our bias to believe statements or facts that are in consonance with our beliefs.  The backfire effect refers to the effect when efforts to correct misinformation actually strengthen beliefs in the misinformation.  Ignatius is referencing an article by Christopher Graves in the February 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review.  Research by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifer showed the persistence of the belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in 2005 and 2006 after the United States had publicly admitted that they didn’t exist.  They concluded “The results show that direct factual contradictions can actually strengthen ideologically founded factual belief.

Graves also examined how attempts of debunk myths can reinforce them, simply by repeating the untruth.  This study in the Journal of Consumer Research is titled “How Warnings About False Claims Become Recommendations.  It seems that people remember the assertion and forget whether it’s a lie.  The authors wrote, “The more often older adults were told that a given claim was false, the more likely they were to accept it as true after several days have passed.”

Graves noted that when critics challenge false assertions, say, Trump’s claim that thousands of Muslims cheered in New Jersey when the twin towers fell—their refutations can threaten people rather than convince them. And when people feel threatened, they round up their wagons and defend their beliefs.  Ego involvement generates large mental efforts to defend their erroneous beliefs.    Not only does the Big Lie Work, but small lies also work

Social scientists understand  why the buttons that Trump’s campaign pushes are so effective.  “When the GOP nominee paints a dark picture of a violent, frightening American, he triggers the “fight or flight’ response that is hard-wired in or brains.  For the body politic, it can produce a kind of panic attack.

So attempts to correct misinformation can backfire and have the opposite effect.  So what can be done?  Some possible approaches will be found in the next HM post.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How to Improve Your Mind: Twenty Keys to Unlock the Modern World

August 14, 2016

The title of this post is the title of a book by Prof. James R. Flynn.  There have been three posts that have been motivated by this book, “A Major Reason for the Ridiculously Increasing Costs of a College Education,”How Healthy Memory Differs from the Post Modernists or Radical Constructivists,” and “Intelligent Design.”  Perhaps you have already been able to infer from these posts that this is not you typical mind improvement book.   The title is a tad overstated.  Reading and understanding this book should definitely improve your mind and provide insights on the complexities of the modern world.  However, it is left to you should you read the book to decide how much your understanding of the modern world has been unlocked.

The essence of this work is critical thinking, a skill that is woefully absent from our present world.  Critical thinking needs to be considered in terms of Stanovich’s Three Process View of cognition (See the healthy memory blog post, “The Tri-Pricess Model of Cognition and Critical Thinking).  System 1 is called the autonomous mind by Stanovich and intuition by Kahneman.  This our default mode of cognitive processing and is very fast and efficient.  System 2 is called the algorithmic mind by Stanovtich and Reasoning by Kahneman . System 2 is what is commonly thought of as thinking.  One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 2.  Stanovich has also added the reflective mind, System3, as his work on the development of a Rational Quotient has led him to believe that the reflective mind needed to be added. The reflective mind, when invoked, ponders the output of System 2.  If you are to benefit from this outstanding work, you need to put your beliefs and principles where the sun does not shine and read with an open mind.  Then you can decide what to accept, what to reject, and what requires a great deal more pondering and reflection.

“How to Improve Your Mind”  is divided into five Parts.
Part 1 is titled Arguing About Right and Wrong divided into the following sections
Logic and Moral Debate
Getting Rid of Tautologies
The Naturalistic Fallacy and Its Consequences —be Judgmental
But that is Unnatural—Words Best Never Said

Part 2 is titled The Truth About People divided into the following sections
Random Sample—Quality Not Size
Intelligence Quotient—Hanging the Intellectually Disabled
Intelligence Quotient
Control Group—How Studying People Changes Them
The Sociologist’s Fallacy—Ignoring the Real World

Part 3 is titled The Market and its Church divided into the following sections
Creating a Market—Not a Frankenstein
Market Forces—How they Take Their Revenge
Market Worship—No Ritual Sacrifices
The Economic Collapse of 2008
What is to be Done?

Part 4 is titled Enemies of Science
Reality—What Scientists Really Say About Science
History, Science, and Evolution—Only One Kind of Each

Part 5 is titled Nations and their Goals divided into the following sections
Understanding Nations—Understanding Anyone
Four Cases—Making Sense Out of Nonsense
Conclusion

It should be obvious from the preceding text that this is written at college level, and not an the dumbed down college level that HM has found some current texts to be.
In case you do not read the book, here are two take aways from Dr. Flynn worth considering:
The world is still vulnerable to another possible financial crisis.
How long before American finds that economic interdependence with China will force her to coordinate her policies with China as an equal?

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Intelligent Design

August 12, 2016

Intelligent Design provides an excellent example of what defines science and the importance of different domains of knowledge staying within their domain of knowledge (see the healthymemory blog posts “Domains of Knowledge,” and “A Longstanding heated Debate That Can Easily Be Resolved”).  Advocates of intelligent design point to all the wonders of nature and conclude, how could such things emerge without an intelligent designer, who is God.  What they fail to acknowledge are all the extinct species that didn’t survive.  When they are considered, some sort of random selection process is needed. Or, as the humorist Tony Kornheiser noted when he was simultaneously suffering from nausea and diarrhea, “what a perverse sense of humor God had when he designed the human body.”  For intelligent design to be a science, there must be a means of disproving intelligent design.  Absent that, it is no science.

Actually religious people would be better off arguing the anthropic principle.  The conditions under which the universe was created were quite specific and absent these specific values of critical factors, it could not be created.  Apparently few religious people have the knowledge of physics or cosmology to make this argument.

Intelligent Design provides a good example of why different domains of knowledge need to stay in their appropriate domains.   People are entitled to whatever  beliefs they may hold, except when their beliefs have adverse effects on other domains of knowledge and on their fellow human beings.  Actually HM is in favor of teaching both intelligent design and evolution in the public schools, as that shows, unless improperly taught, the essence of science.  Evolution should not be taught as a dogma, but as a finding from science and an example of how science is done.  Students should be taught how to think rather than what to believe. Absent evolution, biology and medicine, at the very least, would be severely constrained.

James Flynn, the author of “How to Improve Your Mind:  Twenty Keys to Unlock the Modern World,”makes the following interesting observation, “Obscurantist churches talk about “intelligent design” as an alternative science, and some university lecturers say, “reality is a text.”  The latter have less excuse for talking nonsense.  The universities are fields on which a great battle rages.  It is a contest pitting those who attempt to help students understand science, and how to use reason to debate  moral and social issues, against those of whom it might be said that every student who comes within range of their voices is a bit worse off for the experience.  It is up to the rest of us to point out the error of their ways, so that students can think clearly enough to filter their words and distal something of value.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Healthy Memory Differs from the Post Modernists or Radical Constructivists

August 11, 2016

HM did not think this would be necessary, but if James Flynn  the author of “How to Improve Your Mind:  Twenty Keys to Unlock the Modern World,” thought this topic worthy  of the attention he gave it, then HM also needs to clarify his position so he will not be confused as a post modernist.  According to Flynn these folks believe that everyone constructs their own version of reality.  HM is still not sure whether these folks think that there is no external reality, or that this external reality is unknowable.  So please comment should you be informed on these topics.

HM has stressed that we do not have direct knowledge of the external world.  We build models of the real world on the basis of our experience.  This is essentially what science does, although science uses and develops defined methods for both developing and evaluating these models of the external world.   But HM and scientists certainly believe that a there is a real external world for which we are developing models.  HM further conjectures that due to limitations in  the nervous systems of homo sapiens we might be incapable of ever truly understanding this external world, although our approximations might get fairly close.

However, Prof. Flynn is not entirely dismissive of these Post Modernists or Radical Constructivists.  He writes the following in a section titled, “Even Muddled Minds can Teach us Something:”
“”If you are stuck with a post-modernist as a Ph.D supervisor, do not despair.  Once you reject his or her confusions, you may salvage something from what he or she says.  Sadly, when you write your dissertation you may have to preface the important stuff with some gibberish about texts, narratives, and so forth.  But remember, after you get your degree you can stop that and get on with what makes sense:  using science to understand the real world without any apology.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

 

Healthy Memory (HM) Sincerely Apologizes

August 7, 2016

For not strongly recommending  “The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness:  How to Optimize Brain Health and Performance at Any Age” by Alvaro Fernandez, Elkhonon Goldberg, Ph.D., and Pascale Michelon, Ph.D.  The healthy memory blog reviews many books and bases posts on excerpts from many books, but HM does not believe that he has ever written that it is imperative to have a book.  The apology is for not recommending this book earlier as the second edition was published in 2015.

It is imperative because every human being has a brain.  And for most of us, it is our most important organ.  Even if you are like Woody Allen, it should be at least your second most important organ.  Perhaps you are young and think that you can put off your concern about your brain until later in life. Yet a poll asking respondents to rank the brain functions that are important for thriving personally and professionally in the 21st Century found the top three to be
Ability to handle stressful situations
Concentration power to avoid distractions
Being able to recognize and manage one’s emotions

All of the above are brain functions and are extensively treated in the Guide.   Moreover, as you will find out, everything in the Guide is important to building a cognitive reserve. The following paragraph explains what is meant by a cognitive reserve.

The common caveat is that there is no cure for Alzheimer’s.  This is true with regarding to the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s, the amyloid plaque and the neurofibril tangles.  But in 1989 Robert Katzmann and his colleagues described 10 cases of cognitively normal older adults who, at death, were found to have advanced Alzheimer’s disease pathology in their brains.  The researchers hypothesized that the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s did not manifest themselves because they had more neurons, more connections between them,   The notion is that by having this “reserve” of neurons and abilities can offset the losses caused by Alzheimer’s and other dementias so that the brain can tolerate progressive brain pathology without demonstrating failure.

Another possible explanation that is rarely, if ever, offered is that neuroplasticity enables the brain to withstand serious insult and damage by rewiring and relearning.  There is ample evidence that the brain does so to heal itself against other insults and injuries.  It should also be noted that these hypotheses are not mutually exclusive.

Nevertheless, there is reason to think that many people have had the defining features of Alzheimer’s, but died never knowing that they had the disease.  See the healthy memory blog post “Alzheimer’s and a Cognitive Reserve” to learn about the research that Dr. Bennet has been conducting and the database he has been keeping on this topic.

The Guide begins by describing the brain, its organization, how it changes throughout life and lifelong neuroplasticity.  It encourages the reader to be a coach and not a patient, and not to outsource one’s brain.  The role of physical exercise and the kinds of exercise that are most beneficial are reviewed.  The roles of food and drink are discussed.  It discusses the benefits of mental challenge, investing in your cognitive or brain reserve, the lifelong effects of cognitive exercise, the roles of education and occupation as well as leisure activities to build a brain reserve.  The importance of social engagement is discussed as well as the types of social engagement that are most beneficial.   A chapter is devoted to managing stress and building resilience.  Meditation is discussed under this topic.  Brain cross-training is discussed and the final chapter is titled “How to Be Your Own Brain Fitness Coach.”

This entire area of research is advancing very quickly, so I encourage you go to
sharpbrains.com to get the latest news and findings.  There is a free newsletter to which you can subscribe.  You can also purchase the Guide to Brain Fitness at this website.

But please do no forget HM.  He shall continue to do his best at writing posts relevant to memory health and closely related topics that open minds.  Open minds are healthy minds.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 Major Reason for the Ridiculously Increasing Costs of a College Education

August 5, 2016

There have been previous healthy memory blog posts about the inexcusable increases in the costs of a college education.  Instead technology should be seriously reducing these costs.  With respect to public institutions, significant decreases in support from states provides a partial reason, but no justification.  University presidents once were supplied with a house on the campus and a reasonable stipend.  But today at the prestigious universities presidents expect mega millions. Even at non-prestigious universities, not just six figures, but well up into six figures seems to be the norm.

A book by James R. Flynn, the James Flynn who identified IQ inflation and a continuing need to recalibrate the IQ quotient, has written a book, “How to Improve Your Mind:  Twenty Keys to Unlock the Modern World,” that offers some profound insights into this problem. He has identified a flow of power from the academics, who do the actual teaching and research, toward he administrative center.  Flynn laments that gone are the days when Deans were elected by academics from their number who, if they wanted a second term, had to stand for re-election.  So the salaries of both presidents and deans are grossly inflated.  The fundamental problem is that the administration controls basically all the power, which, of course, includes funding.

C. Northcotte Parkinson, the author of the famous Parkinson’s Law, “Work expands as to fill time available for its completion” made a highly insightful study of bureaucracies.   Bureaucracies grow and feed upon themselves without providing benefit to the organizations they are supposed to be supporting.  Indeed, they can be decreasing the effectiveness of the organizations they are supporting.  At the last place I worked, I estimated that the efficiency of the organization would be increased if the correct percentage of the staff were eliminated.

The same is true of colleges and universities.  Administrations have been growing at the expense of working academics and students.  Moreover, as it is the administrations who have the power and control the pursestrings, if budget cuts are required, they are made at the expense of the academics and the students.  They will reduce research support fire faculty and make higher reliances on graduate students and adjunct faculty.

The problem with providing student financial aid is that colleges and universities simply adjust tuition and their various special fees, and likely expand the bureaucracy.  The only agency here that can effect the situation is the government.  The government can tie increased funding to cuts specifically in the administration.  If this is done, then it is likely that not only costs will go down, but the administrations will become more effective as they will have reduced themselves from unnecessary burdensome bureaucracy.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

There have been previous healthy memory blog posts about the inexcusable increases in the costs of a college education.  Instead technology should be seriously reducing these costs.  With respect to public institutions, significant decreases in support from states provides a partial reason, but no justification.  University presidents once were supplied with a house on the campus and a reasonable stipend.  But today at the prestigious universities presidents expect mega millions. Even at non-prestigious universities, not just six figures, but well up into six figures seems to be the norm.

A book by James R. Flynn, the James Flynn who identified IQ inflation and a continuing need to recalibrate the IQ quotient, has written a book, “How to Improve Your Mind:  Twenty Keys to Unlock the Modern World,” that offers some profound insights into this problem. He has identified a flow of power from the academics, who do the actual teaching and research, toward he administrative center.  Flynn laments that gone are the days when Deans were elected by academics from their number who, if they wanted a second term, had to stand for re-election.  So the salaries of both presidents and deans are grossly inflated.  The fundamental problem is that the administration controls basically all the power, which, of course, includes funding.

C. Northcotte Parkinson, the author of the famous Parkinson’s Law, “Work expands as to fill time available for its completion” made a highly insightful study of bureaucracies.   Bureaucracies grow and feed upon themselves without providing benefit to the organizations they are supposed to be supporting.  Indeed, they can be decreasing the effectiveness of the organizations they are supporting.  At the last place I worked, I estimated that the efficiency of the organization would be increased if the correct percentage of the staff were eliminated.

The same is true of colleges and universities.  Administrations have been growing at the expense of working academics and students.  Moreover, as it is the administrations who have the power and control the pursestrings, if budget cuts are required, they are made at the expense of the academics and the students.  They will reduce research support fire faculty and make higher reliances on graduate students and adjunct faculty.

The problem with providing student financial aid is that colleges and universities simply adjust tuition and their various special fees, and likely expand the bureaucracy.  The only agency here that can effect the situation is the government.  The government can tie increased funding to cuts specifically in the administration.  If this is done, then it is likely that not only costs will go down, but the administrations will become more effective as they will have reduced themselves from unnecessary burdensome bureaucracy.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Ten Fundamentals of Brain Plasticity

August 3, 2016

These ten fundamentals come from Dr. Merzenich’s book, “Soft-Wired” with elaboration and comments by Healthy Memory (HM).

1. Change is mostly limited to those situations in which the brain is in the mood for it.
If you force it the learning will be inefficient and of poor quality.  I find it surprising that Dr. Merzenich, in spite of his participation in the conferences at Mind and Life Institute in Dharmsala, India  with the Dalai Lama that have demonstrated the pronounced effects of meditation, he makes no mention of meditation.  Meditation is one of the best, if not the best, means of restoring the mind.

2.  The harder we try, the more we are motivated, the more alert we are, and the better (or worse) the outcome, the bigger the brain change.
Once again HM marvels that Dr. Merzenich, in spite of his participation in the conferences at Mind and Life Institute in Dharmsala, India  with the Dalai Lama that have demonstrated the pronounced effects of meditation.  Meditation provides an ideal means of gaining control of one’s attention, and an ideal means of focusing attention.

3.  What actually changes in the brain are the strength of the connections that are engage together, moment by moment, in time.
Both neurorgenesis, the forming of new neurons, and synaptogenesis, the forming of new connections among neurons are involved.  It is also important to realize that these neurons are not necessarily adjacent to each other.  Neurons transmit signals through axons that can be quite long.  So a single neuron in the prefrontal cortex can be sending a signal to another neuron in a distant part of the brain.  These connections can be quite long and complicated.  Their interactions have been described as being conversations within the brain.

4.  Learning-driven changes in connections increase cell-to-cell cooperation, which is crucial for increasing reliability.
So the process of learning involves increasing this cell-to-cell cooperation, cells which can be quite far apart depending upon the type of learning, and the reliability of the learning.

5.  The brain also strengthens the connections between those teams of neurons representing separate moments of activity that represent each little part of an action or thought.
So these signals need to be strengthened in terms of the time sequence of the actions or thoughts.

6  Initial changes are just temporary.
So with the exception of certain extraordinary conditions, these changes will be lost unless they are strengthened by further activity.

7.  The brain is changed by internal mental rehearsal in the same ways, and involving precisely the same processes, that construct changes with the external world
So thinking alone will strengthens these processes.  Thinking and mental rehearsal are very important.

8.  Memory guides and controls most learning.
Indeed, memory is key.  Memory is a device for time travel.  It reviews what it can find in memory and then uses it to solve problems, to consider alternative courses of action, to make a joke, or for pleasure.

9.  Every moment of learning provides a moment of opportunity for the brain to stabilize and to reduce the disruptive power of—potentially interfering and background or “noise.
This is all good.

10.  Brain plasticity is a two-way street; it is just as easy to generate negative changes as it is to produce positive ones.
So brain activity can be destructive.  Thinking negative thoughts and having a fixed mindset are damaging and do not allow us to fulfill our potential.  HM is reminded of an incident that took place in his last place of employment.  He was riding down in an elevator and one of the fellow passengers in the elevator remarked to his friend, that when he retired he was going to do absolutely nothing.  If all he could find on television were Luci reruns,, he would just watch “I Love Lucy.”  HM would place a large wager that serious dementia was not too far in this individual’s future.

HM would like to add a couple of more comments.
Please read the healthy memory blog post “The Myth of Cognitive Decline”, and “More on the Myth of Cognitive Decline.”  The longer we live, the more we have in memory, and if we have growth mindsets we have even more in memory.  This might appear to slow us down, but in reality we have rich mindsets with brains with many long interconnections within them.  In addition to adding to these mindsets it is healthy to review old memories.  Writing a biography or a family history can be enriching.

It is also important to realize that our brains continue to work even when you stop thinking about something.  My wife and I are frustrated when we know something, the name of an actress,for example, but can’t remember it.  We become frustrated, but find that the name comes into consciousness, unsolicited at some later time.  HM thinks this is very healthy, so he resists trying to google something that he is sure he knows.  He will try for a while to remember it.  He knows that when he stops consciously thinking about it, his brain will continue searching and will probably eventually find it.  HM believes that this unconscious bran activity is reactivating memory circuits and providing for memory health.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Dr. Michael Merzenich’s Soft-Wired

August 1, 2016

Dr. Michael Merzenich is one of the key players in research into neuroplasticity.  “Soft-Wired” is the title of his book, with the sub-title “How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life.  Dr. Merzenich has appeared in previous healtymemory blog posts.  Soft-wired implies that the brain can change for the better, but he also notes that it can change of the worse.

Dr. Merzenich writes well and presents good explanations of how the brain works, how it creates “you,”  and how the brain changes throughout one’s lifetime.   Included there are not only descriptions of normal aging, but also of injuries and diseases that cause problems.  However, the section on normal aging is quite depressing.  One is likely to give up and quit reading without the promise that this can be mitigated or corrected via neuroplasticity.

He does offer a description of daily activities that contribute to the Maintenance of a Healthy Brain.  He has a chapter devoted to how he has organized his life  so he can continue to thrive and grow.  He discusses navigating the modern world and taking a holistic approach to improving our lives.  The final chapter is titled, “Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life—Begin the Transformation to a New, Better Life Right Now.”

What I found to most most disappointing was his failure to discuss what was discussed in the healthymemoy blog post “Alzheimer’s and a Cognitive Reserve.”  Even if he was not aware of the research of Dr. David A. Bennet, and there is little excuse for his lack of awareness, he makes no mention of the fact frequently mentioned in the healthy memory blog that there have been many people whose brains were wreaked with the defining neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque of Alzheimers, yet who never evidenced any behavioral or cognitive symptoms.

He does have a chapter titled, “Programs for Brain Rejuvenation and Brain Recovery—Features of Effective, Internet-Delivered, Neuroscience-Based Programs Designed to Grow, Rejuvenate, and Recover—Then Sustain—Brain Health.  Dr. Merzenich does have a company, Posit Science that develops and administers these programs.  HM believes in the claims he makes for these programs, and Dr. Merzenich does note that these programs are not mandatory for brain health.  There are many, centenarians included, who have died without exhibiting any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s (even though they could have had the defining clinical symptoms of Alzheimer’s).

Dr Merzenich does neglect the wisdom coming from the East.  Even though he offers perfuse complements about the Dalai Lama and has participated in the conferences at Mind and Life Institute in Dharmsala, India that have demonstrated the pronounced effects of meditation, he makes no mention of meditation.  Although he does not explicitly invoke mindfulness, some of his exercises are of the “being in the moment” type.  He does have a complementary single sentence on Tai Chi, but that’s it (Healthymemory readers should be expecting some health memory blog posts on Tai Chi later this year).

HM reiterates the importance of meditation and the fostering of growth mindsets for a healthy memory.  The extra ingredients of  GRIT including passion can be added. But it needs to be understood that these are a matter of lifestyle rather than taking specific training.  Even if one avails oneself of this online training, one must continue the training.  There are no short-term fixes for memory health.  Memory health is dependent on brain health and brain health is like body health, sometime that needs to be maintained throughout ones’ lifetime.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 Longstanding Heated Debate That Can Be Easily Resolved

July 29, 2016

One of the most notable findings in the original “Freakonomics” is how the authors related the legalization of abortion in the 1970s to the increase in crime that did not happen that had been anticipated for the 1990s.  Their theory was that a rise in abortion meant that fewer unwanted children were growing up in the sort of difficult circumstances that increase the likelihood of criminality.  Here you should read or reread the healthy memory blog post “Turning on Genes in the Brain.”  It notes that the single best predictor for the healthy growth of a baby is to ask its mother, “Did you want this child?”  Research has documented what happens to children whose mother answered “No” to this question.  The short answer is a troubled childhood followed by a troubled adulthood (Read the blog  for justification for this statement), with adverse consequences to society.

You should also read or reread the healthy memory blog “Domains of Knowledge.”  There are many domains of knowledge, but two especially that should be kept distinct:  science and religion.  Historically, religion has tried to stand in the way of science; fortunately, it failed, or our existence today would be quite primitive.   Even today there are religious people who interfere with the accurate teaching of science, with the implication of policies based on science,  and with the conducting of important research.

Biological life is essentially irrelevant to religion.  Souls are what is important.

Imagine someone is being questioned by God or one of his subordinates as he tries to enter heaven and argues that he is entitled to enter because he is pro-life.  God might well be insulted and ask, “Don’t you think I’m a loving and merciful God?  Do you think I advocate a policy that not only makes the child’s life miserable, but also does myriad damages to society?.  Or do you think I am a vengeful God and want to punish someone who did not follow my commandments even though that punishment would have many adverse effects?  Or do you think that I am incompetent and am incapable of saving the soul when physical life is destroyed?

HM would not have this problem as he is pro-quality life.  There might be other obstacles to prevent him from entering heaven, but he would get a pass on the abortion question.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How to Persuade People Who Do Not Want to Be Persuaded?

July 28, 2016

The title of this post is identical to a chapter in “Think Like a Freak” by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubnar.   They begin the chapter by asking us to understand that this will be a difficult task.  One problem is that logic and fact are no match for ideology.   However, they do not address why it is difficult to persuade people who do not want to be persuaded.  I think Kahneman’s two process view of cognition provides the best basic for understanding the difficulty.  Remember that System 1, intuition, is fast, emotional, and our default mode for processing.  System 2, called reasoning, is slow and effortful.  So when we try to persuade people who do not want to be persuaded, their System 1 processing effectively filters out our message as being nonsensical.  This is why debates are rarely useful.  The two parties are effectively talking past each other given the protection provided by their System 1 processes.

The only helpful information, besides not insulting the party we are trying to win over, is that stories provide an effective means of communication.  Unfortunately, they are not necessarily a means of persuading someone who does not want to be persuaded.  Persuading someone who does not want to be persuaded requires the invocation of their System 2 processes. If a story does this, then it just might work.

They key to persuasion is to find a point of agreement, this breaks down System 1 defenses, and to  build from the point once System 2 processes are activated.  Sometimes this can be done by introducing a new perspective from which the topic can be considered.  This can invoke System 2 processes which can bring the argument into the framework of the individual being persuaded.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 Upside of Quitting

July 27, 2016

The title of this post is identical to a chapter in “Think Like a Freak” by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubnar.  Given the many posts that this blog has devoted to “GRIT,” it is obligatory to pay some time to the benefits of quitting.  The posts on “GRIT” did offer some cautions on choosing passions, on compromising on passion, and of indicating the plausibility of searching out new passions.

The “Think Like a Freak” authors offer three biases against quitting.  The first is a lifetime of being told that quitting is a sign of failure.  The second is the notion of sunk costs.  It is tempting to believe that once we’ve invested time, money, and sweat equity into a project, it seems counterproductive to quit.  However, continuing this activity can result in additional costs without any guarantee of success.  Perhaps the best example of the sunk cost fallacy is the War in Viet Nam.  However, noble the original motivation, more and more resources were put into it, and lives lost without a good result.  In the end, no victory was achieved.  Losses and lives could have been saved the earlier the United States withdrew from Viet Nam.

The third force that keeps us from quitting is a tendency to focus on concrete costs and pay too little attention to opportunity costs.   For every moment and dollar spent on the effort could have been better spent on a an effort with more potential.  The authors note that for every ten Freakonomics research projects they take up, roughy nine are abandoned within a month.  Although they do not say so, it is possible that had they not abandoned these projects it is unlikely that they would have enough successful material to fill three books.

The authors do offer a methodology to help decide if quitting is appropriate.  It is called a “premortem” by the psychologist Gary Klein.  It is common for institutions to conduct a postmortem on failed projects, with they hope that they can learn exactly what killed the project.  This risk can be mitigated can be avoided by doing a premortem as a preventive measure.  This involves thinking of all the factors that could lead to failure of the effort.  Then assess the likelihood of these factors occurring, as well as how these factors are dependent on each other.  That is what needs to occur before other factors can succeed?  This task involves subjective probabilities.  One can do both optimistic and pessimistic projections.  It is your overall subjective assessment as to whether to proceed.  This procedure does not guarantee success, but it should be helpful in identifying points of failure and provide some estimate regarding the likelihood of success.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 Are the Three Hardest Words in the English Language?

July 26, 2016

According to the authors of “Think Like a Freak” they are “I don’t know.”  People have opinions about virtually everything.  There is a saying, cleaned up here, opinions are like anal sphinchters, everyone has one.   Experts have opinions, but they are frequently not correct (enter “Tetlock” into the search block to learn more).  What’s even worse, is that we are rarely reluctant to make predictions about the future, and the physicist Niels Bohr liked to say, “Prediction is very difficult, especially it its about he future.”

A good post to read or reread here is  “Understanding Beliefs.”  We do not know the world directly.  On the basis of our experience with the world, we develop models of the world.  As the result of experience and learning, we need to revise and refine these models.  All our beliefs should be probabilistic and should be revised as the result of new learning and experience.

This is the primary problem with ideologues and ideologies.  They bias information processing, hindering the development and refinement of our knowledge of the world.  This is problematic because our knowledge is always imperfect.

Strictly speaking, we should never say, “I know,” or “I believe” if what we know or believe can be changed.  It is better to say, “To the best of my knowledge,” or “my thinking leads me to believe.”

Most importantly, we should never be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”  We live in a complicated and dynamically changing world where we can be familiar with only a small part of it.  Even in HM’s field of cognitive psychology, there is simply too much to understand, and if he says, “I don’t know,”  it is a reasonable response, one
which he is not only entitled to say, but one which he is obligated to say.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Think Like a Freak

July 24, 2016

The title of this post is the title of a book by ”Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubnar.  The subtitle is “The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain.”  The beginning chapter offers the following two  sentences, “The modern world demands that we all think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally, that we think from a different angle, with a different set of muscles, with a different set of expectations, that we think with neither fear nor favor, with neither blind optimism nor sour skepticism.  That we think like—ahem-a Freak.

Their first two books, “Freakonomics,” and “Superfreakpnomics” were animated by the follow set of ideas:
Incentives are the cornerstones of modern life.
Knowing what to measure, and how to measure it, can make a complicated world less so.
The conventional wisdom is often wrong.
Correlation does not equal causality.

They also warn us about letting our biases color our view of the world.  “A growing body of research suggests that even the smartest people tend to seek out evidence that confirms what they already think, rather than new information that would give them a more robust view of reality.”   HM would like to inset here that one of the major sources of biases are from ideologies.  Ideologies are dangerous as are the ideologues who promulgate them.

They also warn us about running with the herd.  “Even on the most important issues of the day, we often adopt the views of our friends.”

The authors also note, “Another barrier to thinking like a Freak is that most people are too busy to rethink the way we think—or to even spend much time thinking at all.”  To underscore this point they quote George Bernard Shaw, a world-class writer and a foundered of the London School of Economics who wrote, “Few people think more than two or three times a year.”  He reportedly said, “I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.”

HM would like to cast these statements in terms of Kanheman’s  Two System view of cognition.  System 1 is fast, automatic, and emotional.  System 2 requires mental effort and can be thought of as thinking.  Clearly Shaw was speaking about serious and prolonged System 2 processing.

There will be several more posts base on “Think Like a Freak,” but there is much more to be found by reading the book.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 Dunning-Kruger Effect

July 22, 2016

HM had an embarrassing experience when his friend, a physicist, asked him about the Dunning-Kruger effect and he had to express ignorance.  HM was embarrassed because this effect is in the same field in which HM’s interests lay.  After learning about the effect, the relevance of the effect to the current phenomena known as Trump became evident.

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

HM will address the second part first.  A fundamental difficulty HM has in teaching is to overestimate what students do and can understand.  HM is not implying that these students are stupid, although this might be the simplest explanation.  However, it is the teacher’s responsibility to teach to the level of what the student can understand.  As a result of repeated experience with students of a certain level, the teacher can and should identify the appropriate level to teach and proceed accordingly.

Dunning and Kruger were not the first to recognize this effect.  Confucius said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”  Bertrand Russell said, “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”  This statement reminds HM of the phrase, “Ignorance is bliss.”  Charles Darwin wrote, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”  Shakespearean “As You Like It”  wrote “The Foole doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a Foole.”

Trump followers appear to be extremely confident in Trump.  How anyone can be confident in Trump given the content of the previous Healthymemory blog posts is completely baffling to HM.  But then, HM is assuming that Trump followers have knowledge that they don’t have.

It would be interesting to have discussion groups with Trump devotees.  The objective of these discussions would not be to try to persuade them to change their opinion, but rather to discuss how the different branches of government work, the role of the Constitution and the Supreme Court.  There would also be discussion regarding the economy, foreign trade, and the subtleties and intricacies of international relations.
I think the results of these discussion group would be extremely depressing.  But they would also be informative.

Palatable, informational presentations might actually urge these followers to think and to invoke their System 2 processes.  Arguing directly regarding the potential disaster Trump could cause the county will not work because people will become defensive.  However, for those who can actually be induced to think might change their minds on their own.

There is some evidence that the Dunning Kruger Effect might be specific to western cultures.  A number of studies using East Asian participants suggest that different social forces are at play in difference cultures.  East Asians tend to underestimate their abilities and see underachievement as a chance to improve themselves and to get along with others.  If only this attitude could be fostered in our culture.

Another Western culture showing the Dunning-Kruger Effect is Great Britain’s Brexit vote.  The Prime Minister assumed that a reasoned discussion of the benefits from remaining in the EU versus the costs in leaving the EU would result in a vote to remain, but just the opposite occurred.  One problem was that a reasoned discussion did not take place.  Rather it became a rowdy political contest in which lies and misrepresentation were made.  HM needs to bring Kahneman’s two process view of cognition into this discussion.  Remember that System 1, intuition, is fast, emotional, and our default mode for processing.  System 2, called reasoning, is slow and effortful.  It became clear that remain arguments had the flavor of System 2 processing.  They were well-reasoned and thought out and supported by data.  Unfortunately, exit arguments smack primarily of System 1 processes that were largely emotional.   They wanted to be British and they wanted to prevent immigration.

For more on the Dunning-Kruger effect and for more specific references see the Wikipedia.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Trick or Tweet or Both? How Social Media is Messing Up Politics

July 20, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article in the Technology section of the July 16-22, 2016 issue of the New Scientist.  Donald Trump has given fact checkers plenty to do over the past eight months.  According to Eugene Kiely  at FactCheck.org  Donald Trump has made an inordinate number of false claims.  PolitFact.com looked into 158 claims made by Trump since the start of his campaign and found that  four out of five were at best “mostly false.”

Unfortunately, roughly six in ten US adults get their news primarily from social media, so the issue of accuracy  is even more important.  Psychologist Julia Shaw says, “One of the things that give social media  potency to impact political views is the immediacy of it.  You might even get an opinion before the information, which can color people’s judgment.”

Should the comics be regarded as social media?  Regardless, Garry Trudea in the strip “Doonesbury”  has noted how often Trump surpasses everyone on the planet.
These are direct quotes from Trump.
“NO ONE is more conservative than me!”
“NO ONE  is stronger on the second amendment than me.”
“NO ONE respect women more than me!”
‘NO ONE reads the Bible more than me.”
“There’s NOBODY more Pro-Israel than I am!”
“There’s NOBODY that’s done so much for equality as I have!”
“There’s NOBODY who feels more strongly about women’s health issues!”
“NOBODY knows more about taxes than me, maybe in the history of the world!”
“I have studied the Iran deal in great detail, greater by far than anyone else!”
“NOBODY’S ever been more successful than me!”
“NOBODY knows banking better than I do!”
“NOBODY knows more about debt than I do!”
“NOBODY’S bigger or better at the military than I am!”
“I’m the least RACIST person you’ll ever meet!”
“NOBODY knows the system better than me!”
“NOBODY knows politicians better than me!”
“NOBODY builds better walls than me!”
“NOBODY knows more about trade than me!”
“There’s NOBODY more against Obamacare than me!”

The following are positions for which Trump has said that he is both for and against:
Taxing the rich
Raising minimum wage
Nuclear proliferation
Abortion choice
Abortion punishment
Ordering torture
Troops to fight ISIS
Assault weapons ban
Background checks
Guns in classrooms
Legalizing drugs
Ethanol subsidies
Privatization of SS
Defaulting on debt
Invasion of Iraq
Releasing tax returns
Total Muslim ban
Self-funded campaign
Debating Sanders
Iran Deal
Accepting Syrian Refugees

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Donald Trump is Bending Reality to Get Into the American Psyche

July 18, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article in the Comment section of the July 16-22, 2016 issue of the New Scientist.  The article asks the question ”How is is possible that a self-absorbed, egoistical billionaire who criticizes Muslims, Mexicans and women could win more primary votes than any Republican candidate in history?

The answer is that reality does not matter to Trump, who sees himself as more powerful than the facts, nor does it matter to those attracted to his claims.  Yale philosopher Jason Stanley  says that figures such as Trump ruthlessly prey on public fears to reconstruct reality to pander to them.

Psychologist Bryant Welch notes that many people feel beleaguered trying to keep pace with change places ever greater demands on the brain, and this combines with worried about immigration, the economy, unemployment, terrorism, climate change and security.  Anxiety makes crowds turn to a power fun commander.   Unfortunately, the more this happens, the weaker and less capable people become.  Welch makes the comparison to a heroin addict craving larger and larger doses to get the same high.  Welch says, “People are mainlining the Trump drug, a cocktail or absolute certainty, strong opinion, and talk of control.”  Trump demonizes his opponents saying that they are not just wrong, but idiots.  This demonization triggers a primal response, both calming fears and awakening tribal instincts.

Being unhampered by facts and expert evidence, Trump promises:  “don’t worry about climate change, it’s not happening; don’t worry about terrorism, we can stop it with force; don’t worry about jobs, we can build a wall to protect yours; don’t fret abut the economy, we can just rip up free-trade deals.”  These versions of reality are mentally more comfortable than dealing with uncertainty and anxiety.  Trump does not bother with persuading; rather he manipulates fear.

The article concludes as follows:  “After the fireworks, the big question will be; will fear, insults, and hate win the White House?”

Previous healthymemory blog posts have used Kahneman’s Two Process theory of cognition, where System 1 is fast, emotional, and System 2 is slow, methodical and requires mental effort.  The vernacular term for System 2 is thinking.  For democracies to survive, thinking is essential.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

July 16, 2016

This post is an attempt to address the question raised in the immediately preceding post, “If Antidepressants Don’t Work Well, Why Are They So Popular?”  The current post is based upon an article titled “Is Mindfulness the Future of Therapy?” by Barry Boyce in the August 2016 issue of Mindful magazine.

Before proceeding further, here are some facts.  16 million adults are affected by depression.  In 2014, nearly 16 million adults aged 18 or older in the US had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.  According to the World health Organization depression is the leading cause of disability for women of all ages.

There have been previous posts on mindfulness and on cognitive behavioral therapy,  MIndfulnesss-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is a combination of the two.. The therapy provides insight as well as skills to use this insight.  An overly simplistic view is that people are taught how to think their way out of depression.  To learn more about MBCT  go to mbct.com.  The goal is to have effective online therapies

Currently, there is a shortage of trained MBCT therapists, but resources are available and many of the resources can be found at mbct.com.  Psychologists suffer from the western bias in education.  In previous posts I’ve discussed problems stemming from the western bias in education, which ignores wisdom from in east.  When I was a graduate student, a big research question was whether we could control our own autonomic nervous systems (heart rate, for example).  When I pointed out that there were Buddhists who could do this par excellence, I was told that they were using some sort of trick.  Well the trick was  meditation, and the powerful effects of meditation have only been appreciated recently, largely as a result of interaction with the Dalai Lama.

So, unfortunately, in spite of its popular press, there are many psychologists who do not appreciate its possibilities.  And even among those psychologists who do appreciate its possibilities, many do not practice mindfulness themselves.  The situation is a bit analogous to when it was officially recognized that smoking contributes to lung cancer.   Doctors, who were smoking, had to tell their patients to stop.

HM is fairly confident that psychologists will increasingly come on board to the mindfulness wagon and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy will become more widespread.

So the answer to the question “If Antidepressants Don’t Work Well, Why Are They So Popular?”  is that there is a current shortage of resources to provide MBCT.  However, even if these resources become plentiful, there will still be people resorting to antidepressants because a pill, even if it is ineffective, provides a quick answer.  The situation is a tad analogous to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (enter this into the healthy memory search blog to find the post), which continues to be used in spite of its ineffectiveness.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

If Antidepressants Don’t Work Well, Why are They so Popular?

July 15, 2016

The title of this blog post is identical to the title of a piece of the Insight  section in the June 18 20016 Issue of the New Scientist.  Several previous healthy memory blog posts have questioned  the value of antidepressants (enter “antidepressants” into the search block of the healthy memory blog).  The New Scientist piece begins, “Another week, another study casting doubt on antidepressants.  This one says that for children and for teenagers with major depression, 13 or the 14 drugs analyzed don’t work.”  The article also notes that previous research for adults using the Prozac class of antidepressants , which involve selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors is no better than a placebo, at least for people with mild or moderate depression.  The article does not that some other research finds that these drugs do word for adults with major depression.

Although antidepressants can be life-savers for those with severe depression, they are being dished out too easily for people with everyday sadness.  Although UK guidelines say that talking therapies should be the first option for people with mild depression, it can take over a year to get seen.  So family doctors not being aware of the benefits of meditation and mindfulness, take the easy option and prescribe antidepressants.

Many patients do feel that their antidepressants are helpful, but it is likely the result of a strong placebo effect.

The article also mentions the chemical imbalance myth, which is promoted by the manufacturers.  They argue for the feel good effects of serotonin.  Although the drugs do boost serotonin, there is no proof  that low levels cause depression.  Although there are many theories, what triggers depression is unknown.

Unfortunately, antidepressants do have downsides that include withdrawal symptoms, loss of sex drive and weight gain.  What is worse is that they trigger violent or suicidal thoughts in some people.

The article neglects to discuss meditation and mindfulness, techniques that can readily be taught with no side effects.  Moreover, they can be highly effective.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 On Flynn and the Flynn Effect

July 13, 2016

The Flynn Effect has been discussed on previous healthy memory blog posts.  The Flynn effect refers to the gain in IQs over time.  IQs seem to have risen about 3 points per decade since about 1930. Gains have been larger for fluid than for crystallized intelligence. A wide range of reasons for this increase have been offered to include nutrition, schooling, urbanization, technology, television, the preschool home environment, and so forth.  Originally Flynn did not endorse any of these causes and questioned whether gains in intelligence were real.

From what healthy memory read in “GRIT,” it appears that Flynn has modified his views.    Digging through the raw scores of IQ tests taken over the years, he found that the improvement on some tests were much bigger than others.  The IQ tests had climbed most sharply for scores assessing abstract reasoning.  For example young children today might answer the question, “Dogs and rabbits:  How are they alike? by noting that  both are alive, or that they’re both animals.  These answers would only earn a half credit.  If the child noted that they’re both mammals, she would be awarded a full credit for that insight.  In contrast, young children a century ago might look at you quizzically and note, “dogs have rabbits.”  That response would earn zero points.  So Flynn believes that we are getting better and better at abstract reasoning.

To explain why this improvement might be occurring he told a story about basketball and television.  Flynn played basketball and remembers the game changing even within a few years.  Once television became a fixture in homes and the telecasting of basketball games on television, more kids started playing the game, trying to emulate what they were seeing on television.  The kids started trying left-handed layups, crossover dribbles, graceful hook shots, and other skills that were routine for the star players on TV.  By getting better each kid inadvertently enriched the learning environment for the kids being played against.  One thing that makes a player better at basketballs playing with players who are just a little more skilled.

Flynn calls this virtuous cycle of skill improvement the social multiplier effect, and he used the same logic to explain generational changes in abstract reasoning.  Over the past century more and more of our jobs and daily lives asks to think analytically, logically.  We goto school longer, and in school, we’re asked more and more, to reason rater than to rely on rote memorization.  These effects are multiplied socially, because each of us enriches the environment of all of us.

Where’s the Passion?

July 11, 2016

(10th Post on GRIT)

The two ingredients of GRIT are perseverance and passion.  Absent passion, there can be no GRIT.  So how can passion be fostered?  Dr. Duckworth does offer suggestions  on how parents can offer opportunities from which passion can result.  To return to the writings of the founder of American Psychology, William James from the “Energies of Men.”  “Compared with what we ought be, we are only half awake.  Our fires are damped, our drafts are checked.  We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.”James continued, “Of course there are limits.  The trees don’t grow into the sky.  But these boundaries of where we will eventually stop improving are simply irrelevant for the vast majority of us:  “The plain fact remains that men the world over possess amounts of resource, which only ver exceptional individuals push to their extreme of use.”

HM knows very few people with passion.  His experience teaching in college was that although he had passion, he was quite unable to pass on his passion to students.  Students were taking the class to fulfill requirements to enter a good job and a middle class lifestyle.  Questions regarding the class rarely went beyond, “Are all the tests multiple choice?  Will a paper or a project be required?  Occasionally  students with a genuine intellectual interest would come along and these students were enjoyed and highly prized.    A friend of mine during graduate school, and this was before PCs, could not stand visiting his relatives because they did not have a dictionary.  He used one several times every day and was incredulous that people could live without one,

But this lack of passion goes considerably beyond the frustrations of HM’s students.  Serious problems of substance abuse among middle class youth stem from a lack of not just passion, but also of even the slightest interest in a panoply of interesting subjects and projects to pursue.  So their default mode is to follow their peers into substance abuse, which is not only a problem for the individual, but for the population at large.

It is important to distinguish between people who are intelligent and people with intellectual interests.  HM knows many people who, although they are highly intelligent, have virtually no intellectual interests.  Intellectual interests involve ideas.  Many intelligent people only use their brains for subjects of immediate interest to them.  Sports are usually included here because we enjoy vicarious pleasure when our teams win.  Moreover, sports are frequently they only topic for conversation as religion and politics are usually not safe.  Unless people have the same beliefs, people talk past each other and this talk often becomes violent.  But these talks rarely go beyond beliefs.  Rarely are data discussed, or the way that different countries deal with the same issue.

A colleague of mine, who is a college graduate, was entranced with a TV program that showed how different products were produced.  However, when I tried to speak with him about medical issues confronting the country, he drew a complaint blank.  He did not know that medical costs were the highest in the United States among all countries, with relatively poor results.  As a citizen he should have had some knowledge about this topic.

But topics are most frequently based on beliefs, beliefs that were learned growing up and reinforced by interacting with people of the same beliefs.  So none of these people need to think.  Unfortunately, democracies need people who think, rather than believe.  Ideologies and principles can be the bane of democracies.  Topics need to be discussed using data and logic, with the exclusion of the statement, “I believe.”

Unfortunately, thinking is painful, and not only intellectuals, but also citizens need to think.  To use Kahneman’s terms, thinking involves System 2 processes and requires mental effort.  However, cruising along with only System 1 processes and one’s beliefs is much easier.

As you should know, HM is big on growth mindsets.  We need to grow our minds, which will be beneficial to our brains.  Grit can assist in this. Look around for your passion.  When you think you’ve found one, try to stick with it and persevere.  Don’t abandon your effort once you encounter difficulty.  Try to work your way through it.  However, should your  passion wane, look for another.  Even if you become a chronic passion pursuer, keep trying.  From HM’s  perspective, the goal is to train our minds to benefit our brains.  It is better to have a little knowledge about many topics than to know virtually nothing about any topic

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Compromises in Pursuing Passion

July 10, 2016

(9th Post on GRIT)

Healthy memory (HM) has had a longstanding passion in human memory and cognition that began in high school.  He earned a Bachelor’s degree with Distinction in Psychology from Ohio State University and a Master’s Degree and a Ph.D in Psychology from the University of Utah.  Past blogs have indicated his frustration when psychologists were debating whether humans could control their autonomic nervous systems.  HM argued that Buddhist monks and priests were able to do this, so why was this an open question?  He was informed that some trick was employed by these Buddhists, and that this had to be proven within the constraints of an experimental laboratory.  As college students could not be trained to control their autonomic nervous systems in the limited hours of training on the tasks, the conclusion was that it could not be done.  The “trick” that these Buddhists were using was thousands of hours of meditation.  Had HM tried to enlist my passion in insisting on studying this problem, he would have been forced out of graduate school.  In graduate school the student needs to seek out an advisor with compatible interests and propose and work on a project agreed to by the advisor and committees for Master’s Degrees and Doctoral Dissertations.

Faculty positions were difficulty to find, particularly faculty positions at research universities where research could be pursued.  HM was unable to find one.  He could have looked for a postdoctoral research position, but postdocs can sometimes become migratory labor for scholars with no tenure track positions ever materializing.  If someone is fortunate enough to become an assistant professor with a track to earning tenure, one then has about six years to produce enough published research to earn tenor and be promoted to an associate professor.

HM found a  civil service job with the Army Research Institute (ARI) foe the social and behavioral sciences.  Here the work was related to his passion, but had to, appropriately enough, address the needs of the U.S. Army.  While at ARI HM later found new hires who had not achieved tenure and had been forced to leave their colleges or universities.  So by going directly into ARI, HM had several years seniority over these new hires.  ARI was staffed by both government and contractor psychologists.  The contractor psychologists were managed by government psychologists.  The commander of ARI was a full colonel along with his staff officers.

HM left ARI and became a contractor working for defense and intelligence agencies.  The work here was close to, but not directly on, his passion.  The research is in the general area of applied experimental and engineering psychology.  This is Division 21 in the American Psychological Association and HM was honored to serve as president of this division.  HM has also done a substantial amount of work in statistics and experimental design.

One of the advantages of this work was that HM had the privilege of working with brilliant individuals in other disciplines, something that was highly unlikely to happen in academe.  HM encountered individuals like himself, who were not able to fully exercise their passions.  This is a serious problem that is unrecognized.  There is an amazing amount of intellectual capital that is wasted or misused.  I have a colleague who is a Ph.D. physicist with a specialty in subatomic physics.  He is one of the most brilliant individuals HM has had the privilege to meet.  He had become part of a highly educated migratory work force moving from post doc to post doc.  When he decided that the research he was doing had come to a dead end, it was questionable whether he could get a post doc in a different area.  In any case, he had become tired of migratory work and decided to become a contractor like myself.  He has amazing talents not just in physics, but also in mathematics and computer science, but he is still frustrated in finding projects that fully use his considerable talents.

Why this intellectual talent is wasted is an interesting question that should be addressed.  Problems stem from bureaucratic structures that are slow, ponderous, and work from the top down so that the brains at the bottom of the organization, and that is where the brains are typically found, have no input.

Another problem involves managers who do not have the background to understand the skills of the personnel they are managing.  Typically these are conscientious people who work hard.  Unfortunately the government, and much too much of private industry, believe that management is a general skill that transfers to any endeavor.  This is mistaken.  To manage properly, the manager must understand what skills he is managing.  There are other skills that managers need to know to effectively manage.  In the last place HM worked, managers needed to have a basic understanding of statistics and experimental design to manage many of the projects for which they were responsible.  Unfortunately, this was not recognized by the government, and they were given responsibility for projects without the skills needed to manage them.  Worse yet, they were unaware that they needed these skills.  HM could have briefed statistical nonsense to these managers and they would have never been the wiser.  HM recommended that he accompany them to meetings where statistics were going to be presented, but his offers were declined.  And these statistical decisions involved important projects.

HM retired.   Fortunately, his jobs paid well, he had good 401K plans, and he saved and invested wisely.  Consequently, he is now in a position to pursue his passions.  This blog is just one of those manifestations.  Some books and speaking engagements are anticipated for the future.  Basically he has been able to award himself the personal equivalent of MacArthur “genius” fellowships.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 a Passion Worth Pursuing?

July 9, 2016

(8th Post on GRIT)

Dr. Duckworth does not address the question raised in this post, is a passion worth pursuing?  But this is an important question.  The costs involved in pursuing a passion include the time taken from the rest of our lives.   These costs are considerable, so there are practical issues in choosing passions.  If the passion provides both personal and financial rewards, then there is little, if any problem.  If the passion involves a scholarly, altruistic, or artistic pursuit, although these do provide value to the community, financial rewards might be iffy.  Passions that benefit society are commendable, but people still need to satisfy their financial needs.

The United States is a country in which sports are highly valued.  This becomes particularly evident in an Olympic year.  There are several Olympic sports that provide handsome financial rewards for athletes who succeed in them.  However, most Olympic sports do not offer handsome financial rewards.  No specific sports will be mentioned so that no one will be offended.  We shall see video clips of individuals showing how hard they work at their respective sport, and these film clips are highly laudatory.  In many cases, the sport is all time consuming.  HM often wonders, why is this individual making this investment?  How can it be justified?  If the effort is being made to win a Gold Medal, the prospects of success are extremely small.  HM also read that bronze medal (3rd place) finishers feel better than do silver medal (2d place) finishers.  The reason being is that silver medal winners feel that they lost the Gold medal, whereas Bronze Medal finishers are happy that they won a medal.  This is something to be happy about  as only an extremely small percentage of Olympic participants win any medal.  Of course, the spirit of the Olympics is to participate and do one’s best.  However, it seems like these ideals of the Olympics are largely forgotten.

HM would like to hear from readers from other countries regarding the priority placed on sports.  HM frequently walks past baseball fields and sees very small children dressed in uniforms playing baseball.  Unfortunately, the level of performance is quite low.  Informal games and drills might be better for these children than uniforms and competition.  Not all the children appear to be enthusiastic, which makes HM wonder if these children are being forced to participate.

Passions are important.  They greatly enhance lives.  But there are also high costs in pursuing passions, so they should be chosen carefully.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 Power of Passion

July 8, 2016

(7th Post on GRIT)

In her book “GRIT:  The Power of Passion and Perseverance” Dr. Duckworth notes that “Follow Your Passion” is a common theme for commencements.  And throughout her book there are many examples of individuals who did follow their passion, persevered and were eminently successful.  She contrasts this with the usual advice given to students that they should look for a job with a good salary and prestige.  Should the two objectives come together such that an individual’s  passion was in an area offering both power and prestige, the problem is mitigated, but there still is the problem should the individual fail in the endeavor.  The argument can always be made that had the individual persevered longer, success would have been achieved.  Whether this is true remains unknown and can only be resolved by the death of the person.  Another post will be devoted to practical issues involved in following one’s passion.

Personally, HM has a problem with the term GRIT.  In Dr. Duckworth’s use of the term, passion provides the motivation to persevere.  My question is what what about tasks that require us to persevere, but for which we have no passion. Unfortunately, there are tasks we need to do that are unpleasant to do.  These are the tasks HM would say require grit.  Grit has connotations of grinding one’s teeth.   She has defined a useful psychological construct and named it Grit.  So Grit it is  and Grit it shall remain.  Still a term is required for which perseverance is needed, but which are annoying or painful to perform.

Dr. Duckworth does note that in a 2014 Gallup poll, more than two-thirds of adults said they were not engaged at work, a good portion of whom were “actively disengaged.”  In a survey of 141 nations, Gallup found that every country but Canada has even higher numbers of “not engaged” and “actively disengaged” workers than the United States.  Worldwide, only 13 % of adults call themselves “engaged.  I find these numbers difficult to reconcile with the percentile breakdown of Grit ratings provided by individuals.  Of course, it is possible, and let us hope it is likely, that many indulge their passions in their pastimes and hobbies.  But there will be another healthy memory blog post on an apparent paucity of passion.

Nevertheless, the Grit of which Dr. Duckworth writes so admiringly, and even more importantly, effectively pursued, is a goal that should be most beneficial to individual fulfillment and healthy memories.  There are issues with avenues for success, which result in productivity losses, which shall also be addressed in a subsequent post.

Nevertheless the many successful examples are both inspirational and informative, which certainly justifies reading the book.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Cultures of GRIT

July 7, 2016

(6th Post on GRIT)

Pete Carroll is literally the poster boy for Mindfulness in that he’s been on the cover of Mindful magazine.  And the chapter, A Culture of GRIT begins with Pete Carroll.  So here is what Pete Carroll has to say about GRIT.

“I will tell you that we’re looking for great competitors.  That’s really where it starts.  And that’s the guys who really have grit.  The mindset that they’re always going to succeed, that they’ve got something to prove.  They’re resilient, they’re not going not going to let setbacks hold them back.  They not going to be deterred, you know by challenges and hurdles and things…It’s that attitude—we refer to it as grit”

HM’s initial response, is that whether GRIT is appropriate depends upon an organization.  A team, where people actually try out for the team is a good candidate.  And there are organizations like West Point, where the value of GRIT is quite evident.  However, GRIT is not appropriate  for all organizations and cultures.  And there are likely size constraints that are yet to be defined.  One can always look for GRIT when hiring, but there probably are other factors to consider as well.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

GRIT Parenting

July 7, 2016

(5th Post on GRIT)

Dr. Duckworth provides two examples of effective GRIT parenting.  One example is of authoritarian parents.  The other example is 180 degrees opposite to authoritarian parenting.  She shows how both parenting styles can foster GRIT.  Key to both styles of parenting is that the parents are believing and supportive.  Absent loving and supportive parents, all bets are off.

Regarding perseverance and passion, perseverance is the easier of the two to develop.  Parents should not let children quit.  There should always be an agreed upon period that the child will stick at the activity.  And this can be done in both authoritarian and open parenting styles.  However, the open parenting style cannot be so open that the child can quit at any time.

The more difficult component is passion.  Passion cannot be forced, it must be found.  So the child should be encouraged to look for potential interests.  And when a candidate interest is found, some requirement for perseverance should be established.  It is quite possible that no passion will be found.  There will a healthy memory post lamenting the fact that few people seem to have genuine passions besides perhaps their families.  But that might be good enough.

Although Dr. Duckworth does not specifically make this point, HM feels compelled to make the point.  A failure to induce some level of passion or some level of interest in a topic or skill, increases the risk that the child will fall prey to substance abuse.  They will be bored, fall in with some other bored friends, and self-medicate.  This is disastrous.  Although parents are typically concerned about the friends of their child, they should also be concerned if the child has no passion or serious interests.  This void motivates them to seek out others like themselves, which can lead to substance abuse.  However, should there be a passion or interest that the child’ is pursuing, then the child is likely to have friends with the same interests or passion.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Directed Practice, Flow, and Continuous Improvement

July 7, 2016

(4th Post on GRIT)

These concepts have been covered in prior healthy memory blog post, but they are being reiterated here as Dr. Duckworth regards them as central to GRIT

Directed practice comes from the research of Ericsson who has documented that it is not just the amount of practice that is done, but more importantly the nature of that practice.  Experts become experts by focusing their practice on their weaknesses.  Dr. Duckworth provides interesting descriptions of the directed practice employed by successful swimmers.  They focus on minute aspects of the task such as the shaping of their hands and fingers.  Virtually no  part of the body that influences the passage of the body through water is neglected.

Flow refers to the state an expert is in during peak performance.  Flow was identified by Mihaly Csikszenmihali.  In the flow state everything runs smoothly and one looses a sense of time.  One can regard flow as something that can be achieved in certain types of performance after many hours of directed practice

Finally, there is “Kaizen” which is Japanese for resisting the plateau of arrested development.  It’s literal translation is “continuous improvement,” sometimes referred to as continuous process improvement.  Dr. Duckworth writes “After interviewing dozens and dozens of grit pardons, I can tell you that they all exude Kaizen.  There are no exceptions.”

Growth Mindsets and Grit

July 6, 2016

(3rd Post on GRIT)

The mention of Growth Mindsets is fairly frequent in healthy memory blog posts.  And having a Growth Mindset is touted as being key to a healthy memory.  So to appreciate how much Grit and Growth Mindsets have in common, statements that undermine growth mindsets and grit will be compared with statements that promote growth mindsets and grit.  When speaking with children teammates, friends or anyone about whom you care, make sure to use statements that promote Growth Mindsets and Grit

In the following comparisons the first statement undermines Growth Mindsets and Grit, whereas the second statement promotes Growth Mindsets and Grit.

“You’re  a natural!  I love that.” versus “You’re a learner I love that.”

“Well, at least you tried!”   versus    “That didn’t work.  Let’s talk about how you                                   approached it and what might work better.”

“Great job!  you’re so talented”  versus    “Great job!  What’s one thing that could have                             been even better?”

“This is hard.  Don’t feel bad if you can’t do it”  versus “This is hard.  Don’t feel bad if                                        you can[t do it yet.”

“Maybe this just isn’t your strength.  Don’t worry—you have other things to contribute”

vs.

“I have high standards.  I’m holding you to them because I know we can reach them together.”

The first statements in eacb comparison are examples of fixed mindsets.

So Growth Mindsets and Grit and excellent concepts.  How do they differ?  Grit adds passion.  Although passion is important, it entails additional considerations that should be become evident in subsequent posts.  However, Growth Mindsets are always commendable.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 GRIT Scale

July 5, 2016

(2nd Post on GRIT)

The GRIT scale consists of  the following ten items:

1.New ideas and projects sometimes distract from me.
2. Setbacks don’t discourage me.  I don’t give up easily.
3.  I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one.
4. I am a hard worker.
5, I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete.
6. I finish whatever I begin.
7. My interests change from year to year.
8. I am diligent.  I never give up.
9. I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest.
10. I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge.

The rating scale runs
Not all like me        5 on odd items    1 on even items

Not much like me        4 on odd items    2 on even items

Somewhat like me        3 on all items

Mostly like me        2 on odd items    4 on even items

Very much like me        1 on odd items    1 on even items

Just ask yourself how you compare—not just to your coworkers, friends, or family—but to most people.

The GRIT scale is calculated by adding up all the points and dividing by 10.
The scale has two components:  passion and perseverance.
For the passion score, add up the points for the odd-numbed items and divide by 5.
For the perseverance score, add up the points for the even numbered items and divide by 5

Here is the percentile break out by GRIT score

Percentile    GRIT Score
10%        2.2
20%        3.0
30%        3.3
40%        3.5
50%        3.8
60%        3.9
70%        4.1
80%        4.3
90%        4.5
95%        4.7
99%        4.9

Dr. Duckworth provides her GRIT score at 4.6.  Her perseverance score was 5.0 and her passion score was only 4.2.  She writes that it is a consistent pattern that perseverance is rated higher then passion.  A later healthy memory blog post will lament the paucity of passion.  HM believes that it is lower than scales indicate.  I would like to see follow up questions on passion added to the questionnaire.

Even though HM is basing many posts on Dr. Duckworth’s book, there is no way that this blog can do the book justice.  So HM’s strong recommendation is to read this book.

GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

July 4, 2016

GRIT is a significant book written by Angela Duckworth.  There is a previous post on Angela Duckworth’s presentation at the 27th Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science.  There will be a series of posts based on her book.  Angela’s father had been telling her that she was no genius from the time when she was quite young.  Her IQ was not high enough for her to be placed in gifted and talented classes.  Yet she did manage to attend Harvard and earn a degree in neurobiology.   She then earned a Marshall Scholarship that allowed her to attend Oxford and earn a Master’s degree.  They she worked at the high priced consultant firm, Mckinsey.  She left her highly paid job at Mckinsey to pursue her true love, which was teaching.  To understand more about teaching and how people learn and succeed she attended the University of Pennsylvania and earned a Ph.D in psychology from an outstanding psychology faculty.

In 2013 she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, better known as the genius award.  Then she was able to show her father that she was indeed a genius.  Her research had convinced her that what we eventually accomplish depend more on our passion and perseverance than on our innate talent.   This should remind healthy memory blog readers of Carol Dweck and her book “Mindset” and of the importance of having a “growth” mindset.  .

Dr. Duckworth notes that her insights are not new, but rather have been forgotten.
Darwin wrote, “I have always maintained that, excepting for fools, men did not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work.”  Darwin was certainly intelligent, but insights did not come to him in lightning flashes.  He was a plodder.  Darwin wrote in his autobiography, “I have no great quickness of apprehension that is so remarkable in some clever men.  My power to follow a long and  purely abstract train of thought is very limited.  So poor in one sense is my memory that I have never been able to remember for more than a few days a single date or a line of poetry,”

Darwin also wrote, “I think  I am superior to the common run of men in noticing things which easily escape attention, and in observing them carefully.  My industry has been nearly as great as it could have ben in the observation and collection of facts.  What is far more important, my love of nature science has been steady and ardent.”  One biographer describes Darwin as someone who kept thinking about the same questions long after others would move on to different—and no doubt—easier problems.

The founder of American psychology, William James,  published an article in the Journal Science titled, “The Energies of Men.”  “Compared with what we ought be, we are only half awake.  Our fires are damped, our drafts are checked.  We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.”  James continued, “Of course there are limits.  The trees don’t grow into the sky.  But these boundaries of where we will eventually stop improving are simply irrelevant for the vast majority of us:  “The plain fact remains that men the world over possess amounts of resource, which only very exceptional individuals push to their extreme of use.”
Three of the McKinsey firm’ partners published a report called “The War for Talent.”  Talent was defined as the sum of a persons intrinsics gifts.  According to “The War for Talent”, the companies that excel are those that aggressively promote the most talented employees while just as aggressively culling the least talented.  In such companies huge disparities in salary are not only justified, but desirable, because a competitive winner-take-all environment encourages the most talented to stick around and the least talented to find alternative employment.

The journalist who’s done the most in-depth research on McKinsey to date, Duff McDonald,  has suggested that this particular business philosophy would be more aptly titled “The War on Common Sense.”He pointed out that the companies highlighted in the original McKinsey report as exemplars of their doctrine didn’t do so well in the years after the report was published.

Macomb Gladwell has also criticized “The War for Talent.”  Enron epitomized the McKinsey philosophy.  The performance review system  for Enron  consisted of grading employees annually and summarily firing the bottom 15%, regardless of their absolute level of performance.  And everyone should know of the disaster that befell Enron.

Dr. Duckworth asks the question what is the downside of television shows like “America’s Got Talent,” “The X Factor”, and “Child Genius”?  She asks why shouldn’t we separate children as young as seven or eight into two groups:  those with few children who are “gifted and talented” and the  many, many more who aren’t?  What harm is their, really,  in a talent show being names a “talent show”?

To which she answers, “In my view, the biggest reason a preoccupation with talent can be harmful is simple:  By shining our spotlight on talent, we risk leaving everything else in the shadows.  We inadvertently send the message that the other factors—including grit— don’t matter as much as they really do.”

In other words, Dr. Duckworth thinks that as much as talent counts, effort counts twice.

Labels Do Not Imply Understanding

July 2, 2016

For too many people labels do imply understanding.   As HM tried to argue in the immediately preceding post, MBTI indicators do not imply understanding, but unfortunately they do imply understanding to too many people.  A much older example are the signs of the Zodiac.   Both they and astrology have thrived.  Nancy Reagan is said to have brought an astrologer into the White House.  At best, a label provides an entry to understanding.  Consider the shooter in the Orlando case.  Many would probably be satisfied with the label that he was crazy.  However, today there is a meaningful distinction between being a gunman who is crazy, and being a gunman who is a militant Islamist.  Usually being a militant Islamist implies that the individual belongs to and was directed by a militant organization.  However, the Orlando gunman was apparently a lone wolf, in that he was not attached with any particular group.  Indeed, some of the groups to which he pledged allegiance were diametrically opposed to each other, so his pledges of allegiance were contradictory.  He was also upset and conflicted by his sexual orientations.  Had he accepted them, this would not have been a problem, but as he regarded them as being in conflict with his religious beliefs, it became a very large problem. Plus, he had been bullied as a child.   At the bottom of all this, he was an extremely angry individual who acted out with violence.   Out of this hodgepodge of problems lay and enormous reservoir of anger and a propensity to act violently.  One can conclude that he was crazy, but that would not imply any understanding of all of the dimensions of his craziness.

As was alluded to above, even saying that someone is a militant Islamist does not imply much understanding.  One needs to know what kind of violent Islamist and is the individual acting under orders from any particular group.  Even then, one wants to know why the individual belongs to this group.  There are several narratives, which provide further understanding.as to why the individual is doing what he is doing.  But one seeks a deeper understanding.  It seems reasonable to believe that if our understanding was thorough enough, defenses could be developed that would reduce or eliminate recruitments, and perhaps even convert radicals away from their radicalism.

HM has become convinced of the need to incorporate mindfulness in all K through 12 curricula, along with psychology courses reflecting the current state of psychological knowledge.  Mindfulness training would provide a basis for students to have a more accurate understanding of themselves.  They would also learn how to understand others and how to interact with them effectively.  Basically what is needed is what the Dalai Lama calls secular ethics.  The current educational system is largely medieval, and unfortunately many adults remain stuck in medieval beliefs.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

June 30, 2016

When people learn that Healthymemory (HM) is a psychologist, they frequently tell me they know about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to indicate to me that they, also, know about psychology.  What they do not realize is that they are indicating to me that they have a profound ignorance of psychology.  First of all, the developers of the MBTI, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, were not psychologists, nor did they have any psychological training.  Moreover, they developed their theory from Carl Jung’s writings in his book “Psychological Types.”  Carl Jung was psychotherapist in the early days of psychiatry.   Today, he is mainly of historical interest and his impact on current psychiatry or personality theory is small.  Psychometric tools have metrics for assessing utility.  Two standards for assessing psychometric tools are validity (does it measure what it purports to measure ) and reliability (are the measurements consistent).  The MBTI fails on both metrics having poor validity and poor reliability (It will sometimes give different results for the same person on different occasions).

Nevertheless, the MBTI is quite popular in the business sector and in government, including the intelligence agencies.  Moreover, if HM informs a client that the MBTI is garbage, they are still likely to insist on its use.  So, so-called hard nose business people would rather use something that is known and is worthless that they know about, rather than some other tool with measurable value.

When agencies are asked why they find the MBTI useful, you usually get responses such as Harry is always late responding, and now I understand why.  Or Fred does sloppy work, and now I understand why.  For some reason they think that a label implies understanding.  Frankly ,when HM worked in a group, he quickly learned who was reliable,  who was timely, and so forth, and planned his management accordingly.  HM believes that these people who think the label told them something were already aware of the idiosycrancies of their staff.

The only apparent redeeming value of the MBTI is that it has some correlation with four of the Big Five personality traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.  These Big five traits are somewhat contentious.
One of the problems with personality traits is that individuals can exhibit different traits in different circumstances.  Moreover, these traits are not fixed, they can change.

Consequently, HM would steer you away from these Big five traits and towards Davidson’s Six Dimensions of Emotional Style.  They are resilience, outlook, self awareness, social intuition, sensitivity to context, and attentional style.  HM would argue that resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversity, is clearly the most important of these attributes, bu resilience is absent from many personality characterizations.

A primary advantage of Davidson’s approach is that provides a means to grow and adapt.  That is, it employs a growth mindset as opposed to the fixed mindsets provided by previous personality type characterizations.

Enter “Davidson” into the healthy memory search block to learn more about Davidson, his dimensions of emotional style, and also to find exercises to help you change you emotional style.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Stanovich and the Rational Quotient

June 28, 2016

This post is based on a paper, “The Comprehensive Assessment of Rational Thinking” in the January-March 2016 issue of the “Educational Psychologist.”  This paper constitutes the 2013 Thorndike Award Address by Stanovich.  The award was for Stonovich’s work in the areas of reasoning and reading.  Stanovich is the primary author of the Tri-Process Model of Cognition, which is an elaboration of Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition.

Stanovich has long been of the strong opinion that the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) does not adequately capture intelligence.  He and his colleagues have been working for more than twenty years to compensate for the shortcomings of this quotient.  This work has been most fruitful and Stanovich and his colleagues now have developed a Rational Quotient (RQ).  They have developed a rational thinking assessment instrument called the Comprehensive Assessment of Rational Thinking (CART).  This research is highly technical, but the goal of this post is to provide some flavor for the RQ and to what it captures that is missed by the IQ.

Rationality is a central concept in cognitive science.  Two types of rationality are recognized:  instrumental and epistemic.  The simplest definition of instrumental rationality involves behaving in the world so that you get exactly what you most want, given the resources (physical and mental) available to you.  More technically, instrumental rationality is the optimization of the individual’s goal fulfillment.   Economists and cognitive scientist have refined the notion of optimization goal fulfillment into the technical notion of expected utility.

Epistemic rationality concerns how well beliefs map on to the actual structure of the world. In other words, how much do you really know, how accurate are your beliefs.  Mahketelow has emphasized the practicality of both types of rationality by noting that they concern two critical things:  what is true and what to do.  “For our beliefs to be rational they must correspond to the way the world is—they must be true.  Healthy Memory (HM) feels compelled to note here that our knowledge of the world should always be tentative and that this knowledge should consist of different probabilities of belief.  We only have our internal models of the world to work with, and we should be continuing to update these models based on our experiences and what we learn.  For our actions to be rational, they must be the best means to our goals—they must be the best things to do based on what we know

To be instrumentally rational, one must choose among options based on which option has the highest expected utility.  Decision situations can be broken down into three components:  possible actions, possible states of the world, and evaluations of the consequences of possible actions in each state of the world.  HM must once again make the point that in many, if not most, of the cases, this can be computationally demanding and difficult to do.  Perhaps in the near future there will be apps to help us do this.  But in the meantime, the best we can do is to satisfice.

Rational thinking subsumes critical thinking.  Critical thinking is important, but it is a type of thinking rather than a domain of knowledge.  The best way to assess critical thinking is to assess how well it fosters rationality.  “We value certain thinking dispositions because we think that they will at least aid in bringing belief  in line with the world (epistemic rationality) and in achieving our goals (instrumental rationality).  Critical thinking is important.  Assessing critical thinking along the lines of epistemic rationality and instrumental rationality seem to be good routes for both assessing and developing critical thinking.

HM hopes this post has been helpful.  Perhaps future posts will make it clearer.  The key take away is that CART and the RQ has begun.  It will mature in the future, with the hope that measures of mental ability will improve.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Journalism Shapes Public Discourse

June 26, 2016

This post is motivated by an article by Lisa Grossman in the Features section of June 18 20016 Issue of the New Scientist.  The topic is the concern among whites that in just a few decades most people in the US won’t be white.  The article reports research done by Jennifer Richeson.  She is addressing the increasingly prevalent media narrative in the US the because a rapidly changing racial demographics, the country will become a so-called majority-minority country.  If all members of self-identified  racial ethnic groups—Asian Americans, black Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, multi-ethnic individuals, and so on, somewhere around 2045 those groups will add up to 50.1% of the population, with white people in the “minority.”  Jennifer Richeson wanted to know how people are responding to this information.

So she asked white Americans to read about the changing demographics that point to this so-called majority-minority distinction.  Control groups of white American read information about other aspects of demography.  Afterwards the first group expressed more negative attitudes to a variety of racial groups, black, Latinos, Asian American.  She asked questions like “How much do you like members of these groups and found it on measures of unconscious racial attitudes tool.  It is a robust effect.   Moreover, when whites read about these racial shifts, they were also more likely to endorse politically conservative policies that were not race related such as drilling for fossil fuel in the Alaska wildlife refuge.

It is important to understand that this response is not unique to whites.  The same type of experiment was done with black Americans, but this time it was tailored to highlight growth and the threat of the Latino population.  The same basic result was obtained including a general shift to conservatism.  So Richeson argues that the issue is not racism, but other the threat of losing status.  This is psychologically threatening and a way to cope with this is by becoming more conservative.

In follow on research Richeson did  studies reminding whites that even if they were in a numerical minority they would still have greater wealth, better jobs, and better education and so are still going to be doing well in the status hierarchy, regardless of changes in the US racial distribution.  This reduced white people’s perceived threat about what’s going to happen to them, and then they show no difference in their expression of racial bias or conservatism than participants in the control condition.

At this point Healthy Memory (HM)  will ask the question as to why this issue was raised in the first place.  Is this some conspiracy by the conservative press to elicit racial disharmony and enhance conservative attitudes?  HM does not think so.  HM thinks that the motivation of the press is to increase readers, and contentious issues such as this increases readers.

Currently in the US there is the phenomenon of Donald Trump.  Trump has earned many millions of dollars in free press coverage because of his outlandish statements and insults.  Moreover, many of his statement are contradictory, yet he thrives.

There is an explanation for this phenomenon, but first a quick overview of Kahneman’s Two Process Theory is needed.  The fast processing which we normally do and allows us to respond so quickly is called System 1.  System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. It is so fast that operations are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1.  System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through.  (To learn more enter “Kahneman” into the healthy memory blog search block).

Our default mode is System 1.  System 2 requires thinking and mental effort.  Trump supporters do not do much System 2 processing, thinking, so little, if any, of what Trump says is evaluated.  His statements resonate with their biases so they become strong supporters.

Unfortunately for democracies to thrive, System 2 processing, thinking, is required.  The upcoming election will indicate whether there is sufficient System 2 processing for our democracy to survive and thrive.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Alzheimer’s and a Cognitive Reserve

June 21, 2016

The healthy memory blog has made frequent mention of the fact that many people have died with the defining amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles of Alzheimer’s, yet who never exhibited any behavioral or cognitive symptoms of the disease.  Although healthy memory regards this as the most important fact bearing upon Alzheimer’s, it is rarely mentioned or discussed.  The cognitive reserve is assumed to result from studies and activities which enriched the brain earlier in life.

The July/August issue of “Scientific American Mind” contained an article titled “Banking Against Alzheimer’s” by Dr. David A. Bennet.  He is the Director of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, where about 100 scientists are searching for ways to treat and prevent a range of common neurodegenerative disorders.  For almost a quarter of a century he has led two longitudinal investigations—the Religious Orders Study and the Rush Memory and Aging Project—which have enrolled more than 3200 older adults across the U.S.  These volunteers enter these studies dementia free, anywhere from their mid-50s, to their 100s and agree to hours of testing each year.  They undergo comprehensive physical examinations, detailed interviews, cognitive testing, blood draws and, in some cases, brain scans.  Most importantly, they all donate their brains after death for research.  To date tens of thousands of clinical evaluations and more han 1,350 autopsies provide an unprecedented set of data.

These autopsies have indicated that it is rare to grow old with a completely healthy brain.  Virtually every brain examined exhibits at least some of the neuron killing tangles associated with Alzheimer’s disease, which is, by far, the most common cause of dementia.  In about half of the autopsies, scars of previous strokes, both big and small, are found.  In almost a fifth of the autopsies so-called Lewy bodies—abnormal protein clumps that are the mark of Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia are found.  But when they trace these laboratory finds back to each individual’s records, they can account for only about half of the cognitive changes measured on tests of memory, processing speed and the like.  In other words, the condition of someone’s brain post-mortem only partially tells how well it functioned in the years leading up to the person’s death.

So why is this the case?  What provides this cognitive reserve?  Rush epidemiologist Martha Claire has found that the so-called MIND diet—which is rich in berries, vegetables, whole grains and nuts—dramatically lowers the risk of developing the defining physical symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

But other life choices seem to actually bolster the brain’s ability to cope with the disease, helping it compensate for any loss of mental firing power.  In particular, they have found that the more engaged our volunteers stay throughout their live, socially and intellectually—the more resilient they are to dementia at its end.   Reader should note that the healthy memory blog has been sending the same message, to which healthy memory will add, having a purpose in living.  In fact, there is a Japanese word for this, “ikigai.”
Here are some tips for building a better brain.

Get a good education, a second language and music lessons.  Avoid emotional    neglect.
Engage in regular cognitive (building a growth mindset) and physical activity.
Strengthen and maintain social ties.
Get out and explore new things (growth mindset)
Chill and be happy.
Avoid people who are downers, especially close family relatives.
Be conscientious and diligent.
Spend time in activities that are meaningful and goal-directed.
Be heart-healthy:  what’s good for the the heart is good for the brain.
Eat a MIND Diet
Remember ikigai and have a purpose for living.
Professor Clive Holmes and his co-workers at the University of Southhampton in the UK found that research participants with gum disease for over the next six months was more rapid for those with gum disease.  Gum disease is associated with increased biomarkers for inflammation.  Research has shown that illnesses that cause inflammation such as chest infections, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes are linked to greater cognitive impairment.

HM would add the following items
meditate and be mindful

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Physics Killed Free Will and Time’s Flow. We Need them Back

June 19, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of an important article by physicist Nicolas Gisin the May 20, 2016 edition of the “New Scientist.”  Descartes stated, “I THINK, therefore I am.  Most humans would agree with this statement.  After all, are we active agents free to influence our thoughts and decisions, or are we just passive laundry machines through which thoughts happen to pass?.

Gisin  notes that the ability to ask the question seems to require the first interpretation, yet modern science—in particular—modern physics—almost unanimously plumps for the second.  According to modern physics in a deterministic universe, where one thing leads inevitably  to the next, any conception we have of free will is an illusion.

Gist does not buy this.  He thinks that we are missing something fundamental to our formulation of science.   “And the solution of the problem of free will is linked to another glaring deficiency  of today’s physics—its insistence that time as we know it does not exist.”

Jules Lequyer, a French philosopher of the 19th century wrote, “Without free will, the certainty  of scientific truths would become illusory.”  We need free will to decide which arguments we find convincing, and which we dismiss, which is the essence of doing science.

Gisin  wrote, “What irony, then, that the search for scientific truth seemed to kill free will.  That started with Newton and his universal law of gravitation.  Derived from observations of the solar system bodies, it speaks of a cosmos that operates like clockwork and can be described by deterministic theories. Everything that happens today was set in motion yesterday, and indeed was determined in the initial conditions of the big bang; nothing truly new ever happens.

Gisin further writes, “Things became even more inscrutable with Einstein’s relativity, which showed that there was no unique definition of simultaneous events.  To square that with a deterministic universe, a picture known as the “block universe” emerged.  Here we dispense not just with free will, but also with a flowing time.  Past, present, and future are al frozen in one big icy block.  The present in which we are free to think and be—in which exercise free will—is just as illusory as free will itself.”

And, believe it or not, philosophers of science bend over backwards to explain why we think we have free will.  They argue that we are programmed to always make choices that correspond to a predetermined necessary future.  So the feeling that our choices are free is illusory.

This presumed reasoning is obviously nonsense and it is depressing to realize that so many intelligent people buy it.

Gisin is a quantum physicist and he argues that real numbers are not real at all.  He notes that most real numbers are never ending strings of digits that can contain an infinite amount of information.  He notes that they could encode the answers to all possible questions that can be formulated in any human language, but that a finite volume of space-time can only hold a finite amount of information.  So the position of a particle, or the value of any filed or quantum state in a fine volume, cannot be a real number.  Real numbers are non-physical monsters..

Gisin notes that free will chimes with the dominant “Copenhagen” interpretation of quantum theory, made popular by Werner Heisenberg.  Making a measurement “collapses” the wave function describing a quantum system into one of a number of pre-ordained states.  Quantum theory is a random, non-deterministic theory, but it creates a determined world—and seems in no way incompatible with a common sense conception of free will.  So, God can play dice with the universe and win.  Quantum theory is frequently used in practical scientific and engineering problems.

Gisin also frees up the flow of time.  He notes that there is a time before a non-necessary event happens and there is a time after it happens, and these times are different.  This happening of a non-necessary event, like the result of a quantum measurement, is a true creation that can’t be captured by a mere evolution parameter.  He calls the sort of time this requires “creative time.”

Gisin concludes by stating that “creative time’ is extraordinarily poorly understood by today’s science, but that could change with future physics, such as quantum theories of gravity that might replace Einstein’s theories that spawned the block universe.  Time passes, and free will exists—any other way, science makes no sense.

Gisin is not the only physicist who advocates free will Roger Penrose (who healtymemory (HM) believes was on the dissertation committee of Stephen Hawking)  is a distinguished physicist, mathematician, and philosopher, who extols consciousness and the role of quantum effects in consciousness and free will.  Penrose’s book, “The Emperor’s New Mind goes into considerable detail on these topics.  He formulates the notion of Correct Quantum Gravity (CQG).  Although this book was written for the general public parts involve heavy sledding.  Nevertheless it is good to know that an extremely intelligent and knowledgeable scholar is on the same or similar train of thought.  Unfortunately, Roger is much further down these tracks than HM is.  Should healthy memory ever manage to make it further down these tracks, he will get back to you.

Outside of physics there have been many HM blog posts on consciousness and free will.  Even though we all have intimate experience with our own consciousness, there are still many who contend that this is epiphenomenal.  HM argues that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon with adaptive value.  It is essential  to effective interactions with the environment and for choosing courses of action.  Neuroscientists have stated that all mammals, some invertebrates such as the octopus, and many birds are conscious and there consciousness has adaptive value.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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 Good Reference on Meditation

June 18, 2016

That reference would be “How to Meditate” by Kathleen McDonald.  Should one be interested in learning more about the meditation techniques employed by the Buddhist Monks that were discussed in the post “Transforming the Emotional Mind,”  then this reference is highly recommended.  Many of the benefits from meditation can be gained just by practicing the relaxation response (see the healthy memory blog post, “An Update of the Relaxation Response Update”).  Moreover, the time demands for this type of meditation are quite reasonable.

Kathleen McDonald was born in California in 1952.  In 1973 she took her first courses in Buddhist meditation in Dharmsala, India.  Dharmsala is where the Dalai Lama resides since his exile from Tibet.  She was ordained  as a Tibetan, Buddhist in 1974.  In 1978 she moved to England to continue her higher Buddhist studies, and in 1982 helped establish the FPMT’s Dorje Pamo Monastery for Buddhist nuns in France.  From 1985 until 1987 she taught in Australia, then for a year in Nepal, followed by eleven years as resident teacher at FPMT’s Amitabh Buddhist Center in Singapore.  Since 2000 she has been teaching around the world, taking a break in mid-2005 for a year’s solitary retreat in Spain.

Ms. McDonald writes concisely and is easily understood.  She does not proselytize.  Instead she shows how other religious beliefs can be incorporated into meditations. The information provided about Buddhism is in the context of how to do the different types of meditation.

Healthy Memory is not a Buddhist, but he finds many of the ideas and practices of Buddhism promote a healthy memory.  Unlike some religions, which are anti-science and preach against evolution of global warming, the Dalai Lama’s Buddhism is pro-science and incorporates scientific findings rather than rejecting them.

Now What?

June 16, 2016

“Now What” is the title of the final chapter in Sharon Begley’s outstanding book, “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain:  How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves.”   The answer to this question is that the future has arrived and that we are the beneficiaries of a revolution in the understanding of the brain and human potential.

There are three key discoveries.  One is that neurons are created until we die.
The second is neuroplasticity that the brain can rewire itself.
The third is that we can effect these changes with how with think, that is, with our minds.  Hence the title, “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.

Sometimes there are problems in the brain, and these can be corrected  by the way we think and exercises that can effectively make corrections to our neuroplastici brains.  But we can also build upon and improve our minds.  The future is virtually limitless.
Begley reviews some of the exciting research of Merzenich, which shall not be reviewed here as there shall be many future posts about the work of Merzenich.

A critical topic is that of secular ethics, a term Healthymemor believes was coined by the Dalai Lama.  The Dalai lama does not proselytize for Buddhism.  Rather he argues for a new basis for a modern ethics, one that appeals to the billions of people who adhere to different religions or to no religion, one that supports basic values such as personal responsibility, altruism, and compassion.

The problem is that a scientific literate person or anyone who gives a cursory glance at newspaper science stories may well react to that a message with some skepticism.  Modern science seems to be offering a radically different view of human responsibility.  Critics call this view neurogenetic determinism, the belief, ascendant from the early 1990s and propelled by the mystique of modern genetics, that ascribes causal power to the genres one inherent from one’s parents.  Should a reader still adhere to this view they are urged to read or reread all the posts devoted to Begleys book.  Genes are affected by the environment and, what is important, are epigenetic, which refers to what is read out from genes.  The environment has strong effects as do meditative practices.  There is a related wrong view and that is strict determinism.  We are victims to neither our genes nor to our environments.  Our minds, how we think about the world along with meditative practices, can and do effect changes.

Healthy memory shall conclude this post with the Begley’s final paragraph.  “The conscious act of thinking about one’s thoughts in a different way changes the very brain circuits that do that thinking, as studies show how psychotherapy changes the minds of people with depression show.  Such willfully induced brain changes require focus, training, and effort, but a growing number of studies show how real those changes are.  They come from within.  As discoveries of neuroplasticity, and this self-directed neuroplasticity, trickle down to clinics and schools and plain old living rooms, the ability to willfully change the brain will become a central part of our lives—and our understanding what it means to be human.”

Transforming the Emotional Mind

June 13, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of Chapter nine of Sharon Begley’s “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.”  In the 1970s, Davidson and his colleagues discovered striking differences in the patterns of brain activity that characterize people at opposite ends of the “eudaemonic scale,” which provides the spectrum of baseline happiness.  There are specific brain states that correlate with happiness.

Secondly, brain-activation patterns can change as a result of therapy and mindfulness meditation, in which people learn to think differently about their thoughts.  This has been shown in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder and with patients suffering from depression.  Mental training practice and effort can bring about changes in the function of the brain.

Given these two facts Davidson built the hypothesis that meditation or other forms of mental training can, by exploiting the brain’s neuroplasticity, produce changes, most likely in patterns of neuronal activation, but perhaps even in the structure of neural circuitry that underlie enduring happiness and other positive emotions.  Then therapists and even individuals by exploiting the brain’s potential to change its wiring can restore the brain and the mind to emotional health.

In 1992 Davidson and his colleagues found that activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, as detected by EEG, is a reflection of a person’s emotional state.  Asymmetric activation in this region corresponds to different “affective styles.”  When activity in the left prefrontal cortex is markedly and chronically higher than in the right, people report feeling alert, energized, enthusiastic, and joyous, enjoying life more and having a greater sense of  well-being.  In other words, they tend to be happier.  When there is greater activity in the right prefrontal cortex, people report feeling negative emotions including worry, anxiety, and sadness.  They express discontent with life and rarely feel elation or joy.  If the asymmetry is so extreme that activity in the right prefrontal cortex swamps that in the left, the person has a high risk of falling into clinical depression.

The Dalai Lama has noted that the most powerful influences on the mind come from within our own mind.  The findings that, in highly experienced  meditators, there is greater activity in the left frontal cortex “imply that happiness is something we can cultivate deliberately through mental training that affects the brain.”

Research has shown that every area of the brain that had been implicated in some aspect of emotion had also been linked to some aspect of thought:  circuitry that crackles with electrical activity  when when the mind feels an emotion and circuitry  that comes alive when the mind undergoes cognitive processing, whether it is remembering, or thinking, or planning, or calculating, are intertwined as yarn on a loom.  Neurons principally associated with thinking connect to those mostly associated with emotion, and vice versa.  This neuroanatomy is consistent with two thousand years of Buddhist thought, which holds that emotion and cognition cannot be separated.

Using fMRI Davidson measured activity in the brain’s amygdala, an area that is active during such afflictive emotions as distress, fear, anger,and anxiety.  Davidson said, “Simply by mental rehearsal of the aspiration that a person in a photo be free of suffering, people can change the strength of the signal in the amygdala.  This signal in he fear-generating amygdala can be modulated with mental training.

Eight Buddhist adepts and eight controls  with 256 electrodes glued to their scalps engaged in the form of meditation called pure compassion, in which the meditator focuses on unlimited compassion and loving-kindness toward all living beings.  This produces a state in which love and compassion permeates the whole mind, with no other considerations, reasoning, or discursive thoughts.  The brain waves that predominated were gamma waves.  Scientists  believe that brain waves of this frequency reflect the activation and recruitment of neural resources and general mental effort.  They are also a signature of neuronal activity that knits together far-found brain circuits.  In 2004 the results of this study were published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Not surprisingly the results of the monks were quite pronounced.  But it was encouraging to discover that some of the controls who received a crash crash course and only a week’s worth of compassion meditation, showed a slight but significant increase in the gamma signal.

fMRI images were also taken.  The differences between the adepts and the controls were quite interesting.  There was significantly greater activation in the right ins and caudate, a network that other research has linked to empathy and maternal love.  These differences were most pronounced in monks with more years of meditation.  Connections from the frontal regions to the brain’s emotion regions seemed to become stronger with more years practicing meditation.  It was clear that mental training that engages concentration and thought can alter connections between the thinking brain and the emotional brain.

A surprising finding was that when the monks engaged in compassion meditation, their brains showed increased activity in regions responsible for planned movement.   It appeared that the monks’ brains were itching to go to the aid of those in distress.  Another spot of activation in the brains of the meditating monks jumped out in  an area in the left prefrontal cortex, the site of activity association with happiness.  Activity in the left prefrontal swamped activity in the right prefrontal  to a degree never before seen from purely mental activity.

Davidson concluded, “ I believe that Buddhism has something to teach us as scientists about the possibilities of human transformation and in providing a set of methods and a road map of how to achieve that.  We can have no idea how much plasticity there really is in the human brain until we see what intense mental training, not some weekly meditation session, can accomplish.  We’ve gotten the idea in Western culture, that we can change our mental status by a once-a-week, forty-five intervention, which is completely cockamamy.  Athletes and musicians train many hours every day.  As a neuroscientist, I have to believe that engaging in compassion meditation every day for an hour each day would change your brain in important ways.  To deny that without testing it, to accept the null hypothesis, is simply bad science.”

Davidson continues, “I believe that neuroplasticity will reshape psychology in the coming years.  Much of psychology had accepted the idea of a fixed program unfolding in the brain, one that strongly shapes behavior, personality, and emotional states.  That view is shattered by the discoveries of neuroplasticity.  Neuroplasticity will be the counter to the deterministic view (that genes have behavior on a short leash).  The message I take for my own work is that I have a choice in how I react, that who I am depends on the choices I make, and that who I am is therefore my responsibility.”

Turning on Genes in the Brain

June 12, 2016

The seventh chapter of “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain” by Sharon Begley explains how genes in the brain are turned on.  This chapter begins by explaining the plight of many Romanian orphans after the dictator Ceausescu was overthrown.  The terrible neglect of these orphans produced severe cognitive and emotional shortcomings, which will not be reviewed.

The single best predictor of the growth of a baby is to ask its mother, “Did you want this child?”  In 2005 scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison designed a study showing what can happen to children whose parents answer “no” to this question.  The researchers studied children who were “reared in extremely aberrant social environments where they were deprived of the kind of caregiving typical for our species.  This meant that for seven to forty-two months after their birth, the twelve girls and six boys had lived in Russian or Romanian orphanages  that the World Health Organization described as poor to appalling.  These environments were generally void of stimulation and human interaction.  The children seldom experienced the love and caring of adults who recognized and responded to their needs.

These children were adopted by American families.  Within a year, most of their medical problems—ear infections and stomach problems, malnutrition and delayed growth—vanished.  Nevertheless, due to their legacy of neglect many of the children were diagnosed with attachment disorders, an inability to form emotional bonds to those closest to them.

Animal studies have identified two brain hormones as crucial to establishing social bonds and regulating emotional behaviors.  These are oxytocin and vasopressin that are associated with the emergence of social bonding and parental care.  Oxytocin, in particular, seems to be the brain’s social hormone.  When you have warm personal contact with someone you are close to, levels rise generating a sense of security and safety that lays the foundation for you to go out and have social interactions.  So we make friends and form close emotional attachments.  Vasopressin seems to be the “Oh, it’s you!” hormone.

The scientists tracked down eighteen of the Roumanian orphans who lived in Wisconsin.  They collected two urine sample from each child, a week or two apart, soon after the children played a computer  game while sitting on the lap of their mother or one of the female scientists.  Throughout the thirty-minute game, the mother or the scientist would whisper to the child, pat him on the head, tickle him or count his fingers and let him count hers, turning the otherwise impersonal game into a bit of a cuddle session.

These orphanage children had lower levels of vasopressin, suggesting that social deprivation may inhibit the development of the vasopressin system.  The children’s level of oxytocin after playing a game with their mother or a scientist was even more depressing.  Levels of this social-bonding hormone were not expected to rise after the interactions with the stranger, and they did not, in either the orphanage children or the control children.  However, after the children born to loving families sat on their mother’s lap and cuddled, their levels of oxytocin rose.  These levels did not rise in the orphanage children.  “Oxytocin is the system that cements the bonds between children and those who love them, producing a sense of calm and comfort that provides a base from which the children and those who love them, producing a sense of calm and comfort that provides a base from which children go out and embrace the world, form childhood friendships and, eventually, deep relationships .  This system was not what it should have been in the orphanage children.

“This research suggests that the lives we lead and the behavior of those who care for us can alter the very chemistry of DNA.  Genes are not destiny.  Our genes, and thus their effects on the brain, are more plastic than we ever dreamed.”

Richie Davidson said, “This work beautifully illustrates the mechanisms by which maternal influence can occur, and that it can occur in ways that affect gene expression.  This is powerful evidence for the impact of parenting on the capacity to change the brain and raises the issue of how we can promote better parenting.”

The Dalai Lama opined, “So the key thing is a peaceful mind.  Naturally and obviously, anger, hatred, jealously, fear, these are not helpful to develop peace of mind.  Love, compassion, affection—these are the foundations of a peaceful mind.  But then the question, how to promote that?  My approach, not through Buddhist tradition, I call secular ethics.  Not talking about heaven, not of nirvana or Buddhahood, but a happy life for this world.   Irrespective of whether  there is a next life or not.  Doesn’t matter.  That’s individual business.”

Mental Activity Changes the Brain

June 11, 2016

The sixth chapter of “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain” reviews how mental activity changes the brain.  The notion that the mind can act downward on the brain is a concept alien to most scientists.  The first esteemed scientist to argue that the mind cn act down on the brain was Nobel Prize—winning neuroscientist Roger Sperry who developed scientifically rigorous themes  of the position that the mind can act on the brain, which he called mentalism or emergent mentalism.  He theorized that there is a “downward control by mental events over the lower neuronal events.”  He suggested that mental states can act directly on cerebral states even effect electrochemical activity in neurons.  Healthy memory blog readers should realize that this is the position of healthy memory.  However, in the 1990s this was a radical concept. one which is still refuted by mainstream scientists in spite of ample evidence that it is correct.

Neuropsychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz is a practicing Buddhist who became intrigued with the therapeutic potential of mindfulness meditation.  Mindfulness, or mindful awareness, is the practice of observing one’s own inner experience in a way that is fully aware  but nonjudgmental.  One stands outside one’s own mind, observing the spontaneous thoughts and feeling that the brain throws up, observing all this as if it were happening to someone else.  Dr. Schwartz was treating patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  OCD sufferers are troubled by obsessions and compulsions that become all-consuming.  In most cases the intrusive thoughts and fixations  feel as if they are arising from a part of he mind that is not the real self.

According to brain imaging studies OCD is characterized by hyperactivity in two regions:  the orbital frontal cortex and the striatum.  The main job of the orbital frontal cortex seems to be to notice when something is amiss.  It is the brain’s error detector, its neurological spell checker.  In OCD patients it fires repeatedly, bombarding the rest of the brain with the crushing feeling that something is wrong.  The second overactive structure, the striatum, receives inputs from other regions, including the orbital frontal cortex  and the amygdalae that are the seat of dread.  Together, the circuit linking the orbital frontal cortex and the striatum has been dubbed “the worry circuit” or “the OCD circuit.

In mindfulness-based cognitive therapy patients learn to think about their thoughts differently.  So when an obsessive thought popped up, the patient would think, “My brain is generating another obsessive thought.  Don’t I  know it is not real but just some garbage thrown up by a faulty circuit.  This is not really an urge to do something, but rather a brain-wiring problem.”

Dr. Schwartz used the brain-imaging technique positron-emission tomography (PET).  He would show patients their PET scans emphasizing that their symptoms arose from a faulty neurological circuit.  One patient responded immediately, “It’s not me, it’s my OCD”.  Other patients responded similarly.  The week after patients started relabeling their symptoms as manifestation of pathological brain process, they reported that the disease was no longer controlling them, and they felt that they could do something about it.

In a formal research study they performed PET scans on eighteen OCD patients before and after two weeks of mindfulness-based therapy.  None of the patients took medications for their OCD, and all had moderate to severe symptoms.  Twelve patients improved significantly.  PET scans in these patients showed that activity in the orbital frontal cortex had fallen dramatically.

Dr. Schwartz concluded, “This was the first study to show that cognitive-behavioral  therapy has the power to systematically change faulty brain chemistry in a well-defined brain circuit.”  He continued that the ensuing brain changes “offered strong evidence that willful, mindful effort can alter the brain function, and that such self-directed brain changes—neuroplasticity are a genuine reality.  The mind can change the brain.”

Mindfulness-based therapy is also more effective treating depression and produces longer lasting effects that do pharmaceutical products.  In 2002, Helen Mayberg discovered that anti-depressants and inert pills—placebos have identical effects on the brains of depressed people.

Toronto scientists used PET imaging to measure activity in the brains of depressed patients.  They had fourteen depressed adults undergo fifteen to twenty sessions of cognitive-behavior (mindfulness) training. Thirteen other patients received parozetime, the generic name for an antidepressant.  Depressed patients responded differently to the two kinds of treatment.  With cognitive-behavior therapy activity in the frontal cortex was turned down, activity in the hippocampus was turned up, which was the opposite pattern of  antidepressants.  Cognitive therapy targets the core, the thinking brain reshaping how your process information and change your thinking pattern, which are key activities to defeating depression.  Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, working from the top down, keeps the depression circuit from being completed.

Yet another study involved having piano students practice playing a simple piece in their heads.  The result was that the region of the cortex that controls piano-playing fingers expanded in the brains of volunteers who merely imagined playing the piece just as it did in the brains of those who actually played it.

Even though neuroscientists do not know exactly how the mind influences the brain, neuoscientis have evidence that it somehow involves paying attention.  All participants in this research focused intently.  The chapter concludes by noting that an enormous amount of information bombards the brain, but unless that information is attended to, there is a high probability that it will be lost.

Sensory Experience Reshapes Adult Brains

June 10, 2016

The fifth chapter of “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain” is concerned with how sensory experience reshapes adult brains.  Pascual-Leone and his colleagues wanted to see what would happen if sighted adults suddenly lost their vision, so they conducted a blindfold experiment.  They recruited people with normal vision and blindfolded them.  These volunteers were blindfolded all day, every day, from a Monday morning to a Friday evening.  With this sudden, new disability, these volunteers were able to get around their rooms at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center In Boston, by touch and sound with only a minimum number of bruises.

Before the enforced blindness, the visual cortices of the volunteers only showed activity when they looked at something.  However, after a mere five days of enforced unemployment, the visual cortex started taking on new tasks.  According to fMRI readings, they were handling tactile and auditory information.  When the volunteers listened to tones to determine whether their pitch was the same or different, or when they fingered Braille symbols, their “visual” cortices became active.  Pascal Leone said that five days was not long enough to establish new neuronal connections.  Pascal-Leone said, “some rudimentary somatosensory and auditory connections to the visual cortex must already be present” left over from brain development when neurons from the eyes and ears and fingers connect to many regions of the cortex rather than just the ones they’re supposed to.  Regardless of age, faced with sensory deprivation like blindness or deafness, the brain taps its power of neuroplasticity to reorganize, using the sensory inputs it it does have.

One of the more impressive examples of neuroplasticity  can be found with stroke patients.  Edward Taub developed a therapy that came to be known as constraint-induced movement therapy.  This therapy involves putting the stoke patient’s good arm in a sling and her good hand in an oven mitt so she could not use either.  So if she wanted to hold something or feed herself, get dressed, or do the laborious rehabilitation exercises through which he puts patients, she ended to use her damaged arm.  The rehab had community was united in opposition to this ideas that therapy after a stroke could reverse the neurological effects of the stroke.  The official position of the American Stroke Association was that rehab for patients with chronic stroke only increases a patient’s muscular strength and confidence, but does nothing to address brain damage.

After just ten days of therapy Taub found that patients regained significant use of an arm they thought would always hang uselessly.  They could put on a sweater, unscrew a cap on a jar, and pick up a bean on a spoon and put it into their mouth.  They could perform almost twice as many of the routines of daily living as patients who served as the controls and did not receive therapy.  This therapy worked even for patients who started the therapy more than a year after suffering their stroke.

Another study in which twenty-one patients received constraint-induced therapy showed large improvements in the quality and use of their impaired arm compared to the control group.  Two-years later, the constraint-induced group had retained their edge and were able to use their impaired arm, which was hardly impaired at this point, significantly mor and better than those who did not received this training.

One of the drawbacks of this training is that it is extremely time-consuming.   Consequently Taub and his colleagues developed what he calls AutoCITE, for automated constrain-induced therapy extension.  Research evaluating this remote system has produced favorable results.

The brain is undergoing continuous change as connections between one neuron and another are formed to establish memories.  But neuroplasticity goes beyond that.  It produces wholesale changes in the job functions of particular areas of the brain.  Cortical real estate that use to serve one purpose is reassigned and begins to do another.The brain remakes itself through life, in response to outside stimuli—to its environment and experience

As Taub sees it, neuroplasticity is evolution’s way of letting the brain break the bonds of “of its own genome,” escaping its initial organization.  The brain is neither immutable nor static, but is instead continuously remodeled by the lives we lead.  However, there is a catch.  These changes occur only when the person is paying attention to the input that causes them.  So attentional process are key to neuroplasticity.

The Neuroplasticity of Young Brains

June 9, 2016

The fourth chapter of “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain”  by Sharon Begley is concerned with the neuroplasticity of young brains.  It reviews an enormous amount of research that can best be summarized in the following paragraphs taken from the text.

“…the key sensory cortices are, for the first decade of life and perhaps longer, like a flighty new college gradate hopscotching from job to job, responding to the best offer.  No signals from the eyes arriving?  No problem; the visual cortex will handle a different sense and even a non sensory job such as language.  No transmission from the ears?  The auditory cortex will be happy to help out with peripheral vision.  By the early years of the millennium, it was clear that these structures should really be referred to as he “visual cortex” and the “auditory cortex” in quotation marks.  “Visual information is going into the auditory cortex and auditor information is going into the visual cortex,” the researcher Neville told the Dalai Lama as she ended her presentation.  “This isn’t supposed to be how our brain is wired.  But what the research has shown is that the primary visual cortex is not inherently different from the primary auditory cortex.  Brain specialization is not a function of anatomy or dictated by genes.  It is a result of experience.  Who we are and how we work comes from our perceptions and experiences.  It is the outside world that determines the functions properties of the brain’s neurons.  And that’s what our work has been about: how experience shapes the functional capabilities of the brain.”

“Usually, the pathways from the ears to the visual cortex and from the eyes to the visual cortex remain scarcely traveled if traveled at all, like back roads.  In people with normal vision and hearing, superhighways  carry signals from the eyes to the visual cortex and from the ears to he auditory cortex just fine, swamping any activity  along the back roads of he brain.   As a result, the wayward connections all away soon after birth , when the brain figures out where signals are supposed to go.  But in the absence of normal sensory input, as when neurons from the retina are unable to carry signals to the visual cortex or neurons from the ears to carry signals to the auditory cortex, the preexisting but little-used connections become unmasked and start carrying traffic.  The “visual” cortex hears, and the “auditory cortex sees, enabling the brain to hear the lightning and see the thunder.  (“In Buddhism,” Thupten Jinpa added, “there is a claim that an advanced meditator can transfer sensory functions to different organs, so that visual activity can be performed by something other  than the ears.  In this case, a meditator can read with “closed eyes.”)  In what Alvaro Pascual -Leone and colleagues call “the intrinsically plastic brain,” more permanent structural changes then kick in, as neurons grow and sprout more connections to other neurons.  This may be how the visual cortex adds higher cognitive function to its repertoire, too.”

Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis

June 8, 2016

Chapters 2 and 3 of Sharon Begley’s “Train Your MInd, Change Your Brain” cover neuroplasticity and neurogenesis.  Prior to discussing neuroplasticity, how learning takes place needs to be discussed.  To explain how learning takes place psychologist Donald Hebb conceived of cell assemblies.  He proposed that learning and memory were based on the strengthening of synapses.
Somehow either the neuron that fires first in the chain (the presynaptic neuron) or the neuron that fires next (the postsynaptic neuron), or both, change in such a way that the firing of the first is more likely to cause the firing of the second.  Learning and memory involve the firing of large assemblies of these cells.  Hence Hebb’s theory is called cell assembly theory.  Hebb’s maxim is that cells that fire together wire together.

Virtually all the research on neuroplasticity involved animals.  This is because surgery was almost always required. Sensory  or motor connections might be severed, and then observations would be made regarding the effects of these operations.  Sometimes connections were rewired so that animals would see sound or hear light. The late nineteenth psychologist William James had wondered , were scientists were able to alter neuron’s paths so that exciting the ear activates the visual cortex and exciting the eye the auditory cortex, we would be able to  “hear the lightning and see the thunder.”  So James was correct.  And all this research invalidated the longstanding dogma that the nervous system could not be rewired or rewire itself underscoring the reality that the nervous system can and does rewire itself.

The longstanding dogma that new neurons  could not be created, neurogenesis, was more difficult to disprove.   Before cells divide, they make a copy of their DNA.  As cells can’t conjure the double helix out of thin air, biochemicals snag the requisite ingredients from within the cell and assemble them.  One element of DNA, thymidine, lets a radioactive  molecules glom on to it.  When the thymidine becomes incorporated into the brand-new DNA, the DNA has a spot of radioactivity, which can be detected experimentally.  Old DNA does not have this glow.

Joseph Altman, a new neuroscientist at MIT, decided to try the new trick on brains.  By scanning neurons for tell tale glows he figured he would be able to detect newborn DNA, and newborn cells.  He found neurons of adult rats, cats,  and guinea pigs with thymidine—indicating that they had been born after Altman had injected them with the tracer.  He published these finding in three prestigious scientific journals in 1965, 1967, and 1970, yet his claims were ignored,   Altman was denied tenure at MIT and joined the faculty of Purdue University.

Research was done using nonhuman  animals with rich environments.  That is animals who lived in enriched environments with exercise wheels and novel features were compared to animals living in impoverished environments.  The formation and survival  of new neurons increased 15% in a part of the hippocampus called the dentate gyros, which is involved in learning and memory.

To this point humans had not been involved in the research, the reason being that noninvasive brain imaging could not address this issue.  Brains needed to be taken from   dead research participants.  Oncologists injected BrdU into cancer patients because is marks every newborn cell.  This allowed them to assess how many new cancer cells were developing.  The researchers were able to enlist the cooperation of oncologists and their patients.  After these patients succumbed to cancer, their brains could be examined to see if any new  noncancerous cells had been generated.  Thanks to these patients and their oncologists, new neurons, indicating neurogenesis, were found in the hippocampus.

An interesting find was that forced exercise does not promote neurogenesis.  The neuroscientist Gage explained to the Dalai Lama, “Running voluntarily increases neurogenesis and increases learning even in very, very old animals.  It seems like the effects of running on neurogenesis and on learning are dependent on volition.  It has to be a voluntary act.  It is not just the physical activity.

When the neuroscientist Fred Gage sat down with the Dalai Lama it was clear that new neurons arise from neural stem cells in the adult human brain, which persist and support ongoing neurogenesis.  This discovery expanded the possibilities for neuroplasticity.  The neural electrician is not restricted to working with existing wiring, he can run whole new cables through the brain.

In humans new neurons might do more than help with learning.  The hippocampus plays an important role in depression.  In many people suffering from depression, the dentate gyrus oaf the hippocampus  has drastically shrunk.  There is a question of cause and effect, whether another factor caused the hippocampus to shrink leading to depression, or whether depression caused the shrinkage.

New research suggests that people who are suffering from depression are unable to recognize novelty.  Gage said this to the Dalai Lama, “You hear this a lot with depressed people.  Things just look the same.  There is nothing exciting in life.”  “There is also evidence,” Gage said, “that if you can get someone with depression to exercise, his depression lifts.”  So neurogenesis might be the ultimate anti-depressant.  When it is impaired for any reason, the joy of seeing life with new eyes and finding surprises and novelty in the world vanishes.  But when it is restored the world is seen anew.

It is clear that chronic stress impairs neurogenesis, at least in mice.  Gage’s colleague, Peter Ericsson suspects that holds lessons for humans also.  “In lab animals, chronic stress dramatically decreases neurogenesis as well as spatial memory..  When people under stress experience severe memory problems—forgetting their way to work, going into the kitchen and then no remembering why they went in—it is likely that what they’re experiencing is the very negative of stress on the function of the hippocampus due to decreased neurogenesis.”

Buddhism’s Concept of Self

June 7, 2016

According to Buddhism a person can be viewed as an amalgam of five elements—the physical body, feeling or sensations, ideation or mental activity, mental formations or perceptions, and consciousness.  According to the scholar and monk Wallace, these five aggregates “are in a constant state of flux, never, never static even for a moment, and the self is simply imputed  upon the basis of these psychophysical aggregates.  Gold told the group, “The environment  and our experiences change our brain, so who you are as a person changes by virtue of he environment you live in and the experiences you have.”  The psychologist Richie Davidson called that discovery “a point of intersection with Buddhism.”

A little introspective thought should convince you of the truth of this proposition.  We are constantly changing.  Most of the time these changes are slow and incremental, but there are times when they can be large and life changing.  Epiphanies and insights can produce large changes in our thoughts.

Given that a we are constantly changing, it seems prudent to have the goal of changing for the better.  Continual learning through growth mindsets as well as continual improvement in our life processes through meditation and mindfulness capitalize on our ever changing selves.

This post is short to leave time for thought and contemplation.

The Dalai Lama, Science, and Buddhism

June 6, 2016

The Dalai Lama, whose shortened religious name is Tenzin Guyatso, is the 14th Dalai Lama.  Dalai Lamas are important monks of the Gelug school, which is the newest school of Tibetan Buddhism.  This current Dalai Lama was interested in science from a very early age, and this interest in science has grown as he has matured.  Although science and religion are often portrayed as chronic opponents and sometimes even enemies.  There is no historic antagonism between Buddhism and Science as there has been between science and the Roman Catholic Church.  The Roman Catholic Church put Copernicus’s work on the Index of forbidden books and tried Galileo by the Inquisition, found him “vehemently suspect of heresy”, forced him to recant, and to spend the rest of his life under house arrest.  Both Buddhism and science share the goal of seeking the truth, with a small t.  For science truth is, or should be, always tentative and always subject to refutation by the next experiment.  For Buddhism, especially as the Dalai Lama sees it, even core teachings can and must be overturned if science proves them wrong.  Most importantly, Buddhist training emphasizes the value of investigating reality and finding the truth of the outside world as well as the contents of one’s mind.  According to Alan Wallace, who spent years as a Buddhist monk before turning in his robes to become a Buddhist scholar and who is a long time participant in the dialogues between scientists and the Dalai Lama, “Four themes are common to Buddhism at its best:  rationality, empiricism, skepticism, and pragmatism.”

In 1983, the Dalai Lama traveled to Austria for a conference on consciousness where he met Francisco Varela, a thirty-seven-year-old Chilean born neuroscientist who had begun practicing Buddhism in 1974.  It was not surprising  that the Dalai Lama had never met an eminent neuroscientist who was also knowledgeable about Buddhism, so the young researcher and the older Buddhist hit it off immediately.   Even with his busy schedule the Dalai Lama told Varela he wished he could have such conversations more often.

The following year Varela heard about a plan that Adam Engle, an entrepreneur in California was working on.  When Engle heard from Varela about the Dalai Lama’s interest in science he decided he wanted to put some energy into making the Dala Lama’s interest in science something more than a passing fancy.

After having put a great deal of energy into the effort in October 1987, the Dalai Lama hosted the first conference of what had been named the Mind and Life Institute in Dharmsala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile.  Many conferences of the Mind and Life Institute have followed.  Many parts of this book are taken directly from these meetings between scientists and Buddhist scholars in Dharmsala.

Some scientists saw the Dalai Lama as a bridge between the world of spirituality and the world of science, someone whose expertise in mental training might offer western science a perspective that has been lacking in its investigations of mind and brain.  He was invited to address the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in 2005, but not without controversy.  Some five hundreds members signed a petition protesting his appearance arguing that religion has no place as a scientific conference.  The Dalai Lama has offered the following answer, “Spirituality and science are different but complimentary  investigative approaches with the same greater goal of seeking truth.”  He told neuroscientists that although Eastern contemplative practices and western science arose for different reasons and with different roles, they share an over-riding purpose.  They both investigate reality.  “By gaining deeper insight into the human psyche, we might find ways of transforming our thoughts, emotions and their underlying properties so that a more wholesome and fulfilling way can be found.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain

June 5, 2016

The title of this blog post is the title of a book by Sharon Begley.  Please ponder this title for a moment and consider its ramifications.

It overturns two longstanding dogmas.  One is that the brain is hardwired and fixed.  The second is that although we are conscious, this consciousness is epiphenomenal in that his consciousness cannot change the brain.

Healthy memory was pleased to learn that William James, the father of experimental psychology in the United States, first introduced the word “plasticity to the science of the brain.  In 1890 James posited that “organic matter,” especially nervous tissue, seems endowed with a very extraordinary degree of plasticity.”As Ms. Begley notes, “But James was ‘only’ a psychologist, not a neurologist (there was no such thing as a neuroscientist a century ago) and his speculation went nowhere.”Santiago Ramon y Cajal was a great Spanish neuroanatomist who won the Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1906.  In 1913 near the conclusion of his treatise on the nervous system he declared, “In the adult center the nerve paths are somewhat fixed, ended and immutable, thus stating that the physiology of the brain itself could not be changed. Nevertheless, he did continue with the hope, “It is for the science of the future to change, if possible, this harsh decree.”  Fortunately, empirical evidence that emerged in the 1990s and will be discussed in subsequent posts found that this statement is wrong.

The second dogma, that consciousness is epiphenomenal and that only the brain is made of solid stuff that science can study was never accepted by the Buddhists.  In Buddhism the mind is contra and can be used not only to influence but to change the brain.  The Dalai Lama ins very much interested in science and uses science to alter religious beliefs.  This will be discussed in the immediately following post.

As this is an important book, healthy memory shall devote many posts to it.  Even so, Healthymemory will not be able to do Sharon Begley’s book justices.  Thus, healthy memory encourages you to read the book, and Healthymemory is egotistical enough to think that there will be added value in also reading the posts.

Trump and Behavioral Economics

June 2, 2016

On the June 6 & 13, 2016 “New Yorker” Financial Page there is an article by James Surowiecki.  He is the regular “New Yorker” correspondent for economics, business, and finance.  He has also written a book that Healthymemory would highly recommend, “The Wisdom of Crowds.”  His article is titled “Losers” and it is about how behavioral economics explains the attitude of Trump supporters.  The field of behavioral economics was founded by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. There have been many, many healthy memory blog posts on this topic and about these authors.   Prospect Theory is key to behavioral economics and resulted in a Nobel Prize being awarded to Kahneman.  Unfortunately Tversky had already passed away when the award was made.

Surowiecki notes that Trump plays to one of the most powerful emotions in economic life, which is what behavioral economics call loss aversion.  The basic idea is that people feel the pain of loses much more than they feel the pleasure of gains.  Empirical studies estimate that, in general, losing is twice as painful as winning is enjoyable. Consequently, people will go to great lengths to avoid losses, and to recover what they’ve lost.

Suroweicki notes that Trump’s emphasis on losing is unusual  even in bleak times.  But he believes that it has worked for him, because it resonates with what many Republican voters already feel.  A study by the Pew Research Center last fall found that 79% of those who lean Republican believe that their side is losing politically.  A RAND survey in January found that voters who believed that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does” were 86.5% more likely to prefer Trump.  Trump supporters feel that they, and the country, are losing economically, too.  In the RAND survey, Trump did better  with the people who were the most dissatisfied with their economic situation, and exit polls from the Republican primaries show that almost 70% of those who voted for Trump were “very worried” about the state of the economy as compared to only forty-five % of all voters in Democratic primaries.

Surowiki notes some surprising things about all this.  The first is that, in objective terms, plenty of Trump supporters haven’t lost that much.  We’re familiar with Trump’s appeal among white working class voters, many of whom truly have seen wages stagnate and jobs dry up.  But Nate Silver has recently pointed out that the median Trump voter is actually better educated and richer than the average American.  But an important point of Kahneman and Tversky’s work is that people don’t look at their status objectively, they measure it relative to a reference point, and for many Republicans that reference point is a past time when they had more status and more economic security.  Kahneman argues that even people who simply aren’t doing as well as they expected to be doing feel a loss.  And people don’t adapt their expectations to new circumstances.  A study of loss aversion by Jack Levy concluded that, after losses, an individual will “continue” to use the status quo ex ante as her reference point.”  Suroweicki notes that Trump’s promise is precisely that he’s going to return America to the status quo ex ante.  He tells his supporters that he will will help recoup their losses and safeguard what they have.

Suroweicki goes on to say that the other surprising thing is that you might expect loss-averse voters to be leery of taking a risk on an unpredictable outsider like Trump, since loss aversion often makes people cautious:  offered the choice between five hundred dollars and a 50 % chance at a thousand dollars or nothing, most people take the sure thing.  However, loss aversion promotes caution only when people are considering gains; once people have sustained losses, impulses change dramatically.  Offered the choice between losing five hundred dollars and a 50% chance of losing a thousand dollars or nothing, most people prefer to gamble—opposite of what they did when presented with the chance to win a thousand dollars.  People are willing to run huge risks to avert or recover loses.  In the real world , this is why people hold falling stocks, hoping for a rebound rather than cutting their losses, and it’s why they double down after losing a bet.  For Trump’s voters, the Obama years have felt like a disaster.  Taking a flyer on Trump actually starts to feel sensible.

Suroweicki continues, noting that historical parallels are always tendentious, that loss aversion has been instrumental in the success of authoritarian movements around the world.   The political scientist Kurt Weyland has argued that it played a crucial role in the rise of such regimes in Latin American, where the fear of Communism drove putatively democratic societies toward the radical solution of strongman rule.  Suroweicki notes that Trump may not quite be an American Peron, but, to his his supporters, his unpredictability is a selling point rather than a flaw.

It is important to remember that the basis thesis of behavioral economics, a thesis that has ben consistently supported, is that humans do not behave or think rationally.  Rather they are driven by emotions.

Healthy memory feels compelled to note other facets of human cognition that contribute to flawed political decisions.  One is the success of the big lie and the continued persistence of these lies.  It is extremely difficult to correct these lies.

Another problem is  the fallibility of memory and how selective memory makes it difficult to correct erroneous beliefs.  Consider the Iraq war that the younger Bush took us into.  The weapons of mass destruction, on which the invasion was predicated, were never found.  France and Germany were urging Bush to delay an invasion until the inspection were completed and the existence of these weapons could have been ascertained.

It was also the case that the King of Jordan and Henry Kissinger warned Bush that an invasion would result in a broken country that would serve as a base for radical Islamist groups..  This is exactly what has happened.  So the costs of this war not just monetary, which added to the national debt, but more importantly human, produced a situation that is worse, not better, than what prevailed, before the beginning of the war.

People also seem to have forgotten the financial crisis left by the Bush administration that resulted in the very real possibility of a depression.  In spite of recalcitrant Republicans, Obama managed to prevent the depression and aid in an important economic recovery.  By most objective standards, the U.S. economy is in good shape, and the American economy is one of the best performing economies.

Healtymemory still wonders about Trump.  It is difficult for him to imagine Trump curling up with a copy of Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow.”  It is also difficult imagining Trump taking consul with an expert informing him how to exploit human information processing shortcomings for political gain.  Using the word “instinct” is inappropriate here, but Trump has a flair for exploiting human information processing shortcomings so that System 2 processing is avoided and System 1 prevails resulting in emotions rather than reasoning governing their voting.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

HSAM and OCD

May 31, 2016

HSAM stands for Highly Superior Autobiographic Memory (You can learn more about HSAM by entering HSAM into the search block of the healthy memory blog).  There have been several television shows regarding HSAMers, which you might have seen.  If you ask these folks what they were doing on a particularly day they can provide a remarkably accurate summary  OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  A piece in the April 9, 2016 New Scientist titled “People who never forget their past could have unique kind of OCD).

The article summarized a couple of studies trying to determine what makes a person a HSAMer.  The research indicated that no particular ability underlies HSAM.  HSAMers  scored only slightly better, and only on certain tests, than a comparable control group.  The HSAMers and the comparable control group had comparable recall of events from the preceding week.  HSAMers,. however, had a far superior memory of the more distant past.  The conclusion was that HSAMers are no better at acquiring memories, but are much better at retaining memories.

The researchers did note that HSAMers often show obsessive compulsive behaviors.  The researchers do not believe that HSAMers do not actively try to memorize the past.  Rather they might accidentally strengthen their memories by habitually recalling and reflecting upon their own lives.

I was extremely gratified to read this explanation.  After reading Marilu Henners’ book “Total Memory Makeover” I had come to a similar conclusion.  Although Marilu Henner did not describe this as a technique she used, her past life was important to her and she had a tendency to review it.  She did find that being a HSAMer helped her as an actress.

Healthymemory is the polar opposite of an HSAMer.  If you asked him what today is, he would need to consult a calendar, so it is highly unlikely he would be able to tell you much about today ten years from now.

Be aware that very few people with OCD are HSAMers.  And Healthymemory would not regard habitually recalling and reflecting about one’s life to be a disorder.  Healthy memory thinks it is beneficial and knows of no negative side effects.   Some obsessive. behaviors can be beneficial.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Sleep

May 29, 2016

The Cover Page of the 28 May 2016 New Scientist has SLEEP THE GOOD SLEEP as the title.  According to Matt Walker of he University of California, Berkeley, “sleep has been labelled he this pillar of good health, along with diet, exercise.  But that’s underselling it:  sleep is the foundation on which these other two pillars rest.  There is no tissue within the body and no process within the brain that is not enhanced by sleep, or demonstrably impaired when you don’t get enough.”

Besides the well recognized benefits for memory consolidation, repair and growth sleep—or the lack of it— is now though to have a host of other ill effects.  Too little sleep messes with our emotions and our ability to make sound decisions.  It affects our immune systems and appetites, and has been linked to metabolic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.  Increasingly, a lack of sleep is implicated in mental health problems to include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.  One of the articles even makes the claim that too much sleep can be harmful, but other articles raise issues that seem to contradict this claim.  One of the reasons for this might be due to genetics and individual differences.

To account for these differences, the best rule of thumb is that we should not need an alarm clock to wake up in the morning.  In other words, we should wake up naturally.

Shift work has bad effects on health.  Unfortunately,  the jobs of many people require shift work.  Quantitative estimates of the damage caused by shift work would be useful for these people in determining whether they should seek different types of employment.  Catching up during weekends for lost sleep, although necessary, does not appear to make up for adverse healthy effects.  The thinking is that the dangers here might be comparable to those incurred via shift work.

Here are the phases of sleep.

AWAKE

REM — 25% of sleep at night.  First occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep, then every 90 minutes.  These phases get longer later in the night.

STAGE 1 — light sleep.  Happens when we first doze off and just before waking.  Typically lasts for up to 7 minutes.  During this phase we’re prone to twitches, or hypnagogic  jerks.

STAGE 2 — deeper sleep.  Lasts up to about 25 minutes.  Brainwaves become slower and researchers can pick up “sleep spindles,” distinct patterns of brainwaves associated with memory consolidation.

STAGE 3 + 4 — final and deepest stages of non-REM sleep.  heart rate slows.  Lasts up to about 40 minutes.  Brain activity switches to “slow waves.”  Less aware of external noises.  If you’re aroused  from this stage of sleep, it can take up to an hour to become fully alert.

One might conclude from these stages of sleep that napping will not be beneficial.  This is not so.  According to a piece by Catherine de Lange a “nano-nap” lasting just 10 minutes can boost alertness, concentration, and attention for as much as 4 hours.  A “nano-nap”  takes 20 minutes and you increase your powers of memory and recall, too.  We are unlikely  to enter deeper stages of sleep, so we’ll avoid the phenomenon known as sleep inertia, which is the groggy feeling that can occur when waking from deep sleep.

Deep sleep does provide the biggest boost to learning.  Opt for a nap between 60 and 90 minutes, says Walker.  His research shows this aids learning by shifting memories from short-term storage in the brain’s hippocampi to lockdown in the prefrontal cortex, like clearing space on a USB memory stick.   In addition to aiding the retention of factual information, longer naps can increase motor memory, which is useful for training skills such as sport or playing a musical instrument.

A longer nap can also improve equanimity.  When we’re feeling emotional, we should try snoozing for 45 minutes or more.  This should take us through a stage of REM sleep, and brain scans of people following a REM sleep nap showed more positive responses to images and to pleasant experiences.

This post will conclude with statistics that can come in handy when conversations lull.

29 % of people in the US take their cellphones into the bedroom and use it when trying to get sleep (this is not a good idea).

34 minutes is the average extra sleep people get per night after drinking sour cherry juice before bed for 7 days.

67% of the time when men dream about people it’s about other men.  Women dream equally about men and women.

1.2  minutes of sleep is lost per night for each cigarette smoked during the day.

5 is the number of minutes it takes us to fall asleep if were sleep deprived.  The ideal is 10-15 minutes.

100 times an hour:  how often someone with sleep apnea might stop breathing in the night.

The Risks of Acetaminophen

May 27, 2016

Acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient in the United States.  It is an ingredient in more then 600 medicines.  About a quarter of all Americans take acetaminophen every week.  However, there are risks to acetaminophen according to an article by Amy Ellis Nutt  in the Health Section of the May 17 2016 edition of the Washington Post, titled, “You don’t feel my pain? Blame acetaminophen.”

The article report research published online  in the journal Social  Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience conducted  by scientists from the National Institutes of Health and Ohio State University.  The results come from two experiments involving more than 200 college students.

In one experiment 80 participants were asked to drink a liquid.  Half the participants received something containing 1,000 milligrams of acetaminopheh.  The other half constituted the control group that drank something without the drug.  An hour later all were asked  to rate the pain experienced by characteristics in eight different fictional scenarios.  In some of the stories, the characters went through a physical trauma, whereas in others an emotional trauma.  In general, those who had taken the acetaminophen rated the pain of the characters as less severe than those who had taken the placebo.

The second experiment exposed participants to brief blasts of white noise.  As one who has experienced brief blasts of white noise, these are extremely discomforting.  They were then asked to rate the pain of another (anonymous) study participant who had also been subjected to the blasts of white noise.  Research participants who had received acetaminophen rated the pain of this anonymous individual as being less severe than those who had taken the placebo.

In another test in which participants had to judge online skits involving social rejection, they showed the same effects as in the noise experiments.  “In this case, the participants had the chance to empathize with the suffering of someone who they thought was going through a socially painful experience.  Still those who took the acetaminophen  showed a reduction in empathy.  They weren’t as concerned about the rejected person’s hurt feelings.

This research built on previous studies identifying a brain region that appears to be key to a person’s empathic response.  The anterior insula, located deep in the folds between the front and side of the brain, is a place where mind and body are integrated.  It also plays a key role in awareness, including emotional awareness.  The less pain a person feels, the less able he or she is to empathize with someone else’s pain.

The researchers note, “Because empathy regulates prosocial and antisocial behavior, this drug-induced reduction in empathy raise concerns about the broader social side effects of acetaminophen.”

Empathy vs. Compassion

May 25, 2016

This post is based on an article by Emma Young titled “How sharing other people’s feelings can make you sick,” in the May 14, 2016 issue of the New Scientist.  As this article notes empathy is undeniably a good thing.  The primatologist Frans de Waal has suggested that being affected by another’s emotional state was the earliest step in our evolution as a collaborative species.

The distinction between what we and others feel isn’t terribly clear to our brains.  Tania Singer and her colleagues demonstrated this in 2004 when they put 16 romantic couples into an MRI scanner.  When they gave these volunteers a painful electric shock,this elicited activity in brain regions known to respond to physical pain and also in regions tuned to emotional pain.  However, when volunteers saw their loved partners  get a shock, no activity registered in their physical pain center, but their emotion regions lit up like fireworks.  Subsequently many other studies have confirmed that this “empathy for pain” network exists, and that it does not distinguish whether the pain we’re observing is physical or psychological.

Moreover, we don’t just catch pain from those we are intimate with.  People in the care giving professions  such as hospice staff, nurses, psychotherapists, and pediatricians often see and feel the stress and pain of others, which leads to a kind empathy burnout.  This empathy burnout has be given names such as “secondary traumatic stress” and vicarious  traumatization.”  Symptoms include lowered ability to feel empathy and sympathy, increased anger and anxiety, and more absenteeism.  Studies have linked these symptoms with an indifferent attitude to patients, depersonalization and poorer care.  Apparently anyone can catch stress any time they understand someone else’s pain and share in it.  This activate empathy for the individual’s pain network.  Singer’s research ha shown that for some people the physical effects of emotional contagion apply even when they observe a person they don’t know suffering distress.  Experiments have shown that people who watched a 15-minute newscast reported increased anxiety afterwards, with their anxiety decreasing only after an extended relaxation exercise.

Other research has shown that empathy can be regulated, just as emotions can be regulated.  Christian Keysers and his colleagues have looked at how people diagnosed with psychopathy, who are commonly thought to lack all capacity for empathy, react when the see images of people in pain.  Initially the team presented images without any instructions as to what to feel.  Predictably, the psychopaths showed less activity in areas association with areas associated with empathy for sensations, and in the insult, than the brains of healthy people.  When Keysers asked these psychopaths to consciously empathize, something very different happened;  their brain responses were identical to healthy people.

Research has shown that the training Buddhist monks undergo give them a heightened ability to manipulate their neural circuitry for empathy.  Richard Davidson  asked these monks to engage in a form of compassion meditation known as loving kindness meditation, in which one is encouraged to gradually extend warmth and care from your self and others.  Davidson found that this process changed the firing of the monks’ neural circuitry.  It suppressed activity  in the anterior insult and in the amygdala a regions involved in threat detection but recruited during empathic responses.  But when one monk was asked to empathize with suffering instead of engaging in compassion, his empathy for pain network lit up, and almost immediately, he begged the proctor to stop the experiment, calling the feeling unbearable.  The subtle distinction is that compassion is feeling for and not with the other.

Research is being done on training people this distinction between compassion and empathy.  The initial results are promising. Let us hope that such training will be readily available to caretakers and others in need of this training.

Ten Brain and Brain Health Myths

May 22, 2016

These myths are copied directly from the SharpBrains website because these are common myths that need to be corrected.  This is an extremely good website with much information on brain and brain health sharpbrains.com

Top 10 brain and brain health myths, debunked:

Myth 1. Genes deter­mine the fate of our brains.
Fact: Life­long brain plas­tic­ity means that our lifestyles and behaviors play a significant role in how our brains (and therefore our minds) evolve physically and functionally as we get older.

Myth 2. We are what we eat.
Fact: We are what we do, think, and feel, much more than what we eat. (Even if, yes, nutrition plays a role)

Myth 3. Med­ica­tion is the main hope for brain health and enhance­ment.
Fact: Non-invasive inter­ven­tions such as aerobic exercise and meditation can have com­pa­ra­ble and more durable benefits, and free of side effects.

Myth 4. There’s nothing we can do to beat Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline.
Fact: While nothing has been proven to prevent the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, there is abundant research showing we can delay the onset of symptoms for years.

Myth 5. There is only one “it” in “Use it or Lose it”.
Fact: The brain presents many neural circuits supporting a variety of important cognitive, emotional, and executive functions. Not just one. (Which is one of the reasons we should stop thinking about magic pills and silver bullets)

Myth 6. Intervention XYZ can help reverse your brain age 10, 20, or 30 years.
Fact: The concept of “brain age” is a fic­tion. Some brain functions tend to improve, and some to decline, as we get older. Nothing can be said to “reverse brain age” in a general sense.

Myth 7. There is a scientific consensus that brain training doesn’t work.
Fact: A group of scientists did issue such a statement, which was promptly contradicted by a larger group of scientists. Consensus…that is certainly not. Brain training, when it meets certain conditions, has been shown to transfer into real-world outcomes.

Myth 8. Brain training is primarily about videogames.
Fact: Evidence-based brain training includes some forms of med­i­ta­tion, cog­ni­tive ther­apy, cog­ni­tive training, and bio/neurofeedback. Interactive media such as videogames can make those interventions more engaging and scalable, but it is important to distinguish the means from the end, as obviously not all videogames are the same.

Myth 9. Heart health equals brain health.
Fact: While heart health contributes significantly to brain health, and vice versa, the heart and the brain are separate organs, with their respective functions and relevant interventions. What we need is to pay much more systematic attention to brain health, so it can advance as much as cardiovascular health already has.

Myth 10. As long as my brain is working fine, why should I even pay attention to it?
Fact: For the same reasons you add gas to your car, and change the oil regularly– so that it works well, and for a long period of time.

The only response Healthymemory would quibble with concerns Myth 4.
Myth 4. There’s nothing we can do to beat Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline.
Fact: While nothing has been proven to prevent the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, there is abundant research showing we can delay the onset of symptoms for years.
Although it is true that nothing has been proven that the pathology of Alzheimer’s Disease can be prevented, proof is a very high standard.  And it would be very difficult if not impossible to present an iron clad proof.  Nevertheless, Alzheimer’s is by no means inevitable and there have been many people whose brains were wracked with the amyloid plaque and neurofibril tangles that constitute the definitive diagnosis who never exhibited any of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms.  It is said that these people had built up a cognitive reserve.  So the advice of the healthy memory blog is to strive to build this cognitive reserve.  Moreover, it is quite possible that although the physical indicators of Alzheimer’s cannot be prevented, the neuroplasticity off the brain might preclude any cognitive or behavioral symptoms.  It is these symptoms that are of primarily importance.  Neuroplasticity is likely the result of maintaining a healthy and active mind along with physical health and mindfulness.

There is also a myth that there are drugs that slow Alzheimer’s.  This myth was debunked by Thomas E. Finucane, a professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in a note in the April 30, 2016 Washington Post titled “Drugs don’t (yet) slow Alzheimer’s.”  To quote from this note, “The Food and Drug Administration required package insert for cholinesterase inhibitors comes to a different conclusion: “There is no evidence that donepezil (Aricept) alters the course of the underlying dementing process.”

The National Institutes of Health conference on Minimal Cognitive Impairment came to the same conclusion.

Belief that drugs can slow the progression of dementia is carefully cultivated by Big Pharma, but scientists do not believe that currently available drugs have any effect on the underlying brain disease.”

If you read the healthy memory blog post “The Myth of Alzheimer’s” you will find that Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D. does not believe that either a medical cure or a medical vaccination will be developed.  Dr. Whitehouse worked for many years  to find such a drug.  Moreover, research in this field is quite lucrative.  Nevertheless, Dr. Whitehouse believes that this is a dead end.  His currently research involves working with people who have Alzheimers’s.  Given neuroplasticity and some remarkable treatments for some severely debilitating conditions.  See the healthy memory blog post, “The Latest Discoveries in Neuroplasticity.”  For more details see the books by Dr. Norman Doidge, “The Brain’s Way of Healing:  Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity.  This is the sequel to his earlier book, The Brain That Changes Itself.  In the view of Healthymemory, this approach is more likely to yield results that looking for the silver bullet.  Of course, the best means of maintaining a healthy memory  is to have a growth mindset and meditation.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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.

Domains of Knowledge

May 20, 2016

Healthymemory has used this phrase in at least one prior blog post and feels it incumbent upon him to elaborate.  Healthyemory has argued that it is science or rather the scientific method that is responsible for the rapid advancement of the species.  However, Healthymemory has also argued that there are other domains of knowledge and that to be stuck in one level of knowledge is to be an intellectual runt.

Perhaps this can best be illustrated by healthymemory’s  academic discipline, psychology.  This is scientific psychology as opposed to clinical or counseling psychology, although those disciplines can and do make use of the scientific method.  Psychological science is practiced in a wide variety of areas.  Let us start at the bottom and work our way up.  At the most molecular level are psychologists who do studies with animals, then take biological assays of the brains to see how the brains changed as the result of learning.  Then there are studies in which electrodes are placed in the brains of animals and research is done to determine which structures accomplish what.  Human brains are studied using EEGs and a variety of brain imaging techniques to examine how the brain functions.  As a result many cognitive psychology programs are renaming themselves as cognitive neuroscience programs.  Then there are studies of human learning, memory, language processing, concept formation, problem solving and so forth.  At the group  level studies are done regarding the interactions among individuals and team performance.  There are also industrial and organizational programs, which study psychological processes in business and industry.  Moreover this listing is not exhaustive.

Each of these areas use scientific methods, but the scientific method needs to be applied differently depending upon the specific area of investigation.  Studying these different areas provides a wide understanding of the scientific method.  Healthy memory’s personal experience working with many scientists and engineers, is that they understand how to do good science in their specific areas, but that this knowledge often does not transfer to other areas of investigation.  This is why healthy memory argues  that scientific psychology is a good major if the goal is to develop a thorough knowledge of the scientific method.

However, Healthymemory argues that if you want to understand people, then literature would be a better method.  Literature increases empathy, the ability to think and feel as others think and feel.  As everyone is different it is best to read literature dealing with as many different people as possible.  This constitutes an important domain of knowledge that is important for interacting with our fellow human beings.

Theater is a related discipline that develops the same strengths.  This is particularly true if one actually gets into acting where the requirement is to be, to think and act like a specific individual.

Then there is music, which involves the sense of hearing.  And music provides enjoyment and access to a wide range of emotional feelings.
Then there is dancing and learning to express oneself through movements of the body.

And there are athletics each with its own domain of athletic skills.

This list could go on and on, and we could discuss and argue as to what activities, areas of knowledge should qualify as domains of knowledge.

Perhaps the simplest cut is between science and the humanities.  Much has been discussed and argued about these two cultures.  The important point is that they exist and they both need to be appreciated. Another domain, which needs to be included, is the spiritual domain.  Religions and beliefs are present in all cultures, and they provide another needed domain of knowledge.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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.

Consciousness as an Emergent Phenomenon

May 19, 2016

Healthy memory has a great deal of difficulty trying to prove the obvious.  It is obvious to healtymemory that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon.  It is an output that emerges from the complex neuronal activity of the brain.  Moreover, this emergent phenomenon has a function.  And that is to use experience and information stored in the brain to make decisions and to decide on courses of action.  These conscious decisions imply a necessity for free will. Neuroscientists have concluded that all mammals and some invertebrates such as the octopus and many birds are conscious.  And presumably the reason for this is so that these creatures can decide among different courses of action.

As the vast majority of the activity of the brain is below the level of awareness actions can be taken on cognitive automatic pilot and errors can be made.  Consider how many times we need to say we’re sorry for saying or doing something.  This is due to a lack of conscious involvement.  One of the goals of the conscious mind is to monitor and make the best use of the nonconscious mind.  One can use Kahneman’s System One System Two distinction.  System One operates nonconsciously. System Two operates consciously and one of its responsibilities is to monitor outputs from the nonconscious mind.

It appears that many psychologists feel their status as scientists is questionable.  Consequently they see a need to appear to be rigorous.  The first example of this was behaviorism, where cognitive processes could not be included.  When it became quite obvious that this exclusion was severely hampering the progress of psychology, the cognitive revolution occurred.  Nevertheless, the question of whether humans could control their autonomic nervous systems ramained.  At the time there was plenty to data in the affirmative to indicate that humans could control their autonomic nervous systems.  Many Buddhist priests and monks, along with meditators of a variety of ilks.  These rigorous scientists regarded rigorous science as being an activity taken using college studies.  When students were unable to learn to monitor their autonomic nervous systems because they were unable to do so in the several hours that could be devoted to these rigorous experiments, these rigorous scientists concluded that humans could not control their autonomic systems.  As for these successful meditators, they were using some type of trick.  This trick was meditating for many hours.

Using the mind to change both the brain and the body will constitute the next stage of advancement in both psychology and medicine.  Using the mind implies free will.
Many psychologists and physicians are having difficulty accepting this and will need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future.  But that is where the future lies.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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 Self

May 18, 2016

The final cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is “The Self.”  It does make the important point that we do not entirely know ourselves.  Our conscious mind represents an infinitesimal part of our selves.  Only a limited amount of our mind is even accessible.  Very often we do not understand what we do or why we did it (See the healthy memory blog post, “Strangers to Ourselves”).  “Strangers to Ourselves:  Discovering  the Adaptive Unconscious” explains how we can use self-narratives and introspection to understand ourselves.  Note that Wilson is one of they key researchers documenting the errors of introspection.  Nevertheless he explains to us how we can learn to use our introspections to help ourselves.  I did not find any indication of his work in this chapter on “The Self.”

This entire chapter makes no reference to Kahneman, Tversky, or Stanovich.  These authors are discussed in healthy memory blog posts.  They, along with Wilson provide a meaningful conceptual structure for understanding the self.  This chapter rambles on and on to no good effect.

The worst part of this chapter is that it condemns free will.  Moreover, it uses Libet’s experiment (go to the Wikipedia to learn about this experiment) to condemn free will.  To quote, “Libet revealed that Free Will is an illusion.”  However, Libet himself did not conclude that Free Will is an illusion.  In fairness to the authors, many do cite Libet to support this conclusion. But this is a matter of sloppy scholarship.  The authors cherry pick the literature.

See the healhymemory blog post “Free Will.  This post reviews a book that provides an authoritative review of the issue.  Healthymemoy finds the philosophical arguments for Free Will compelling.  If one is not persuaded by the philosophical arguments consider the empirical data.  What is happening during meditation?  What is producing changes in the physical brain during meditation?  Placebo effects are based on the mind’s belief  can be seen in specific activities of the brain”

If philosophical arguments and empirical data are not sufficient, then do a cost/benefit analysis.
Who do you think will be healthier and more successful,
A believer in free will who believes the mind affects the brain and the body or
someone who believes that everything is determined and that they are only along for the ride.
The mind is going to be a central concept in all human endeavors.
QED

Please consider reading or rereading the healthy memory Post “The Relevance of Consciousness and the Brain to a Healthy Memory.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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

May 17, 2016

The penultimate cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is “God.” The authors’ begin with Pascal’s Wager, which is a compelling argument for believing in God.  It is presented in terms of Cost Benefit analysis.  The authors’ argue that people do not form their belief in God in terms of cost/benefit analysis and continue the chapter with explanations as to why people believe in God, but that these beliefs do not constitute a proof of God’s existence.  After all these years of philosophical debate, it should be conceded that  proofs are not possible, and that belief is basically a matter of faith.

Healthymemory’s argument is that a cost/benefit analysis of the belief provides a rational basis for believing in God.  Pascal was arguing in terms of the century in which hie lived.  Healthy memory is taking the liberty of phrasing his analysis in contemporary terms.

Suppose that God does not exist and that you do not believe in God.  Although you might be proud of your hard-nosed belief, you cannot know that you are correct.  The only prospect is a possibly unpleasant surprise awaiting you after you die.

Suppose that you do believe in God and that God exists.  if you believe and you have lived in accordance with your beliefs, then death should have a pleasant outcome.  However, suppose that God does not exist.  Well you will never know because you will not exist after death to learn that you belief was incorrect.  However, during your life you will have lived with all the comforts your belief affords you.

Healthy memory is strongly of the belief that one should never be certain about anything.  All beliefs and models of the external world are probabilistic.  But even if one thinks that the probability of God existing is infinitesimally small.  You should still believe because you will enjoy the comforts of believing and will never learn that you were wrong (dead men tell no tales—even to themselves).

You might argue that this argument is specious, and that one is only fooling oneself.
Healthy memory would argue that when we are living we are constantly fooling ourselves.  There is an enormous amount of research indicating that we are more optimistic than justified by objective reality.  But this optimism is adaptive.  It causes us to persevere and to keep on trying.

Healthymemory has found that many of the difficulties people have with God are really difficulties they have with religions.   Religions are created and operated by humans.  If all religious people behaved according to the dictates of their faiths, the world would be a much better place.  But religions have been and continue to be the basis of innumerable wars.  It is quite possible, and perhaps even desirable, to believe in God and not to affiliate with any religious faith.

Healthy memory extols science and accords science for being responsible for the advancement of humankind.  Yet science provides one kind of knowledge.  There are other domains of knowledge and one is deficient if one is restricted to scientific knowledge.  That individual, in effect, becomes an intellectual runt.

The Dalai Lama has literally had a lifelong interest in science as this interest began in childhood.  He has said that were it not for his responsibilities as a religious leader, he would have been an engineer.  He has worked with a wide variety of scientists and has established a Mind and Life Institute.  Psychologist Richard Davidson has worked closely with the Dali Lama, who has provided Buddhist monks and priests in Davidson’s research on meditation.  This research has revealed notable changes in the brain during and after meditation.  Both basic and applied research  will show large advances from this research.  The emphasis is on the mind and how it can enhance lives.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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 Dead

May 16, 2016

The seventh cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is The Dead.  The stated purpose of this chapter is “”Why—and how—humans perceive the minds of the deceased so vividly is the subject of this chapter.”  There is no need for this explanation.  One would expect that the explanation of the living mind would be extended to individuals after they died.  Even people who do not believe in life after death would likely use expressions based on knowledge of the living individuals mind.  The real purpose of this chapter is to lay the groundwork for the final two seriously flawed chapters.

Much of the chapter discusses philosophy and the differences between monist and dualist philosophers.  This discussion is irrelevant as psychology and cognitive science are empirical enterprises.  The authors note, “Modern psychology generally refutes dualism as the mind can be measured though electoral and magnetic activity and relies heavily on physical brain structures.”  Unfortunately this statement ignores the research on how the mind influences the brain.  When I was a graduate student I was frustrated by the question of whether the autonomic nervous system could be controlled.  Experimental psychologists would run experiments in which psychology students participated in experiments in which attempts were made to control some part of the autonomous nervous system, such as the heart.  As these experiments only lasted several hours, it is not surprising that students were unable to do this.  These psychologists ignored the Buddhists monks who were able to slow their heart rates to frightingly low rates.  Psychologists said ignored this saying that it was done with some trick.  True science consisted of using college students in limited experimental studies.  Psychologist found that  the “trick” involved many hours of meditation.  Recent brain imaging studies have illustrated striking effects of meditation on the brain.  The title of Sharon Begley’s new book, “Train Your Mind Change Your Brain” reflects the real truth (this book will eventually be reviewed in the healthy memory blog).

It should also be realized that for about half o the twentieth century American experimental psychologists could not speak of thinking.  This was not rigorous enough.  Finally, in the second half of the century the necessity of using cognitive activity was realized and the cognitive revolution began.  Psychologists seem to be self conscious about not being regarded as true scientists and feel a need to stress the rigor of their thinking.  Rigor is good, but not when it ignores relevant empirical evidence.  And there is more than ample evidence that the mind does act upon the brain.  Indeed that is where the future of cognitive psychology lies.

There its another problem that I shall term intellectual arrogance.  This was exhibited on the eve of the twentieth century when some physicists had concluded that just about all of physics had been developed, and that all that was need was some work to refine decimal points.  In just a few years Einstein formulated his special theory of relativity which revolutionized physics.  Ten years later the general theory of relativity further revolutionizing the discipline.  Then came quantum mechanics that operated under different rules than Einstein’s physics.  The advances in physics both astronomical and sub-atomical have been, to repeat the term, astronomical.  Modern Physics is producing theories that would new-ager Shirley Maclaine to shame.

Compared to physics, psychology has taken just a few baby steps.  Moreover, I think psychology will prove to be more complicated than physics, so the relative distance that psychology as to go is likely more than astronomical.

So psychologists need to be guarded in their statements.  The Healthymemory Blog will try to disabuse some of the ideas advanced in the final two chapters of “The Mind Game.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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 Group

May 15, 2016

The sixth cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is “The Group.”   The first question the authors raise is whether groups have a mind.  The mind is intimately related to brains, and groups certainly do not have brains.  Then they note that brains themselves are merely groups of neurons, which themselves are merely groups of neurons.  The authors raise the idea that the group mind might be created by emergence.  So individuals in a group might be unaware of the mind entity just as individuals neurons are unaware of a group mind.  Although individuals in a group might be unaware of an entity such as the group mind, they are aware of many of the beliefs of the other members in the group.

A question that can be difficult is how to define a group.  The authors choose to use Gestalt psychology’s five principles of groupiness:  proximity, similarity, closure, continuation, and common fate.  Combining these principles yields a measure of groupies  that is typically given the more scientific name of “entitivity”—how much something is an entity.

Research suggests that anyone seems dumber in a group to include teenagers, college students, and even the elderly.  Note that this list should not be considered exhaustive.  Psychologists Adam Waltz and Liane Young investigated this notion with the hypothesis that the strength of this effect hinged upon the entitivity of the group, the less mind that individual members should be perceived to possess.  To test this hypothesis, participants rated the minds of individuals  belonging to low-entitivity group like Facebook  users or golf players and high-entitivity groups like the U.S. Martine Corps or the New York Yankees.  It  is unclear how these researchers defined this classification.  It appears that they did an ad hoc definition.

The finding was that the more entitlve group members were stripped of their individual minds.  Unfortunately, this result can be easily misinterpreted.  It is not saying that the individuals of these groups did not have individual minds, but rather that the perception of others were that they did not have individual minds.  One can argue that mission-oriented entities such as the Marine Corps and the Yankees need high entitivity as compared against other groups.

There are two reasons for reporting this study.  One is that psychologists are capable of conducting poorly conceived, executed, and reported research.  The second reason is that research in this area is fairly loose.

This is unfortunate as an understanding of groups is important.  There are dangerous groups such as the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.  A particularly unfortunate characteristics is that they make the individual anonymous and more likely to commit harmful, destructive, and discriminatory acts.

Conspiracy theories are a product of the group mind and provide a depressing view of the stupidity in our species.
Unfortunately, the author used histograms to report the results I want to present.  Had they used a table rather than histograms to report these data I could provide accurate numbers rather than having to glance over to the ordinate and try to infer the value.  This is due to the misconception that graphical presentations are preferable to numerical presentations.  The primary consideration for the presentation of results concerns the accuracy and speed by which the information can be interpreted. So I am going to do the best I can given the shortcomings of the presentation format chosen by the authors.

Moon landing hoax                            5%
CIA introduced crack cocaine        12%
Vaccines and autism                       20%
UFO Crash Coverup                        21%
New World Order                            25%
Global Warming Hoax                   35%
JFK Conspiracy                               50%

These results make one question the accuracy of naming our species Homo Sapiens,

The Silent

May 14, 2016

The fifth cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is The Silent.  This chapter is about those we cannot communicate with who, because of trauma to the brain, cannot communicate with us.  The EEG can be used to take measurements.  Disordered conscious states can be diagnosed by the EEG patterns.  An ordering of conscious states follows:

Wakefulness
Locked in syndrome
Minimally conscious
Coma
Vegetative State
Brain Death

It is unfortunate that unless EEG measurements are done along with further diagnosis the Locked in syndrome can be mistaken for a lower level of consciousness.

The term locked-in syndrome was coined by Fred Plume and Jerome Posner.  For many years it was not realized that someone was actually locked-in.  Healthy memory remembers watching a movie when someone asked suppose some is locked inside the unconscious state.  The reply was that that was something too horrible to imagine.  But there are real people who can accomplish some impressive feats.  Jean-Dominique Bauby was an editor who suffered a stroke and found himself locked-in.  But he was able to communicate by blinking his one eye that was functioning.  It took him 200,000 blinks to write the Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  He lived to see the book published, but he died before he saw the enormous success of the book and the beautiful movie  with the same title that was based on the book.

People react and adapt to this locked-in state differently.  Bauby could have continued a productive career had he not died.  But an Englishman, Tony Nicklinson, did not and wanted to commit suicide.  However, being locked-in he could not commit suicide.  He petitioned the court to allow doctors to provide an assisted suicide.  After much deliberation, the courts decline.  However, he did manage to commit suicide by refusing to swallow.

In addition to EEGs, fMRIs can provide very useful information.  The primary problem with fMRI’s is that they are expensive.

To read more about current research on this topic, see some of the healthy memory blog posts by Dehaene (see the Healthymemory blog post titled, “The Ultimate Test”).

The authors of  “The Mind Club” also examine the other end of life.  That is, when does life begin.  This is a large religious issue that can impact people of different religious beliefs.  A symposium organized in 1968 by the Christian Medical Society affirmed that “the preservation of fetal life…may have to be abandoned to maintain full and secure family life, as well as in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and threat to the mother’s well-being, whether physical or emotional.  However, evangelical opinion swung after church leaders such as the eminent Jerry Falwell reacted to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and advocate a “life at conception” interpretation of the Bible.   As the Catholic Church claims that life begins at conception certain Protestant sects did not want to appear remiss.

However, if memory serves healthy memory correctly, at one time there were arguments among Catholic philosophers as to when the soul entered the body.  Furthermore, healthy memory believes that there were different times depending upon whether a male of female was involved.  If any readers can help me out on this particular point, it would be much appreciated.

Nevertheless, it is healthymemory’s belief that the soul is the issue.  The soul is a religious entity and the argument should be argued in theological terms.  Biological terms are irrelevant.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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 Enemy

May 13, 2016

The fourth cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is the Enemy.  The most conspicuous example of the enemy is in warfare when there is an explicit enemy to be fought.  Enemies are usually demonized.   However, there are more subtle examples of the enemy.  When cheap labor was needed during the colonization of North American, Africans were regarded as being sub-human.  Consequently, they could be captured sold into slavery and treated as farm animals. Frequently, they were treated worse than farm animals.  Then, there were the native americans who already occupied North America.  They were the unfortunate occupants of the land these Europeans wanted.  Consequently, they were dehumanized and regarded as the enemy.

How could the holocaust happen?  Through an extensive and elaborate propaganda program conducted by the Nazis, Jews were dehumanized.  There were side benefits of this dehumanization.  Jewish property was confiscated and the Jews provided a cheap source of labor.  However, Nazi ideology required that Jews be exterminated.  This extermination was so important to the Nazis that when they were losing the war, they devoted sources needed to fund the war effort to the extermination of the Jews instead.

Actually it is easier to understand what the Nazis did that what the remainder of the free world did not, with a few notable exceptions, do.  And that was to offer refuge to the refugees.  While Jews were not explicitly the enemy, they still had a lower status that allowed them to be ignored.

The response to the holocaust was “Never Again.”  But it has occurred “again” and several times already, and it will continue to occur.

Research has indicated that it is remarkably easy to create enemy groups.  The authors state that three elements are required to form these enemy groups.  The first is the opportunity for kindness or cruelth, situations in which people can interact either nicely or nastily.  The second element is reciprocity.  Reciprocity is when you are friendly to people who treat you nicely and unfriendly to people who treat you nastily.  Healthy memory feels compelled to state that while these elements might be required in research designed to study artificially created enemy groups, this certainly was not true of the Jews in Germany.  Utilitarian need is more likely the requirement in the real world.  The third element is transitivity.  Transitivity means sharing your group’s opinion of others—liking the group’s friends and disliking the group’s enemies.

Research has indicated how easy it is to form us versus them groups.  To do this, social psychologists have created the “minimal-groups paradigm.”  In one experiment participants were shown hundreds of dots and asked them to guess the number.   The researchers knew the exact average of the number of dots and divided the participants into two groups, “Underestimators” and Overestimators.”  People in each group were kind to those in their group, but cruel to people in the other group.

A creative third-grade teacher, Mrs. Jane Elliot, in rural Iowa as a result of the assassination of the Rev Martin Luther King, Jr., wanted her students to learn firsthand about the pernicious effects of prejudice.  She made a new racial distinction proclaiming that children with brown eyes were inferior to children with blue eyes.  In no time the blue-eye children grew smug and powerful and treated their brown-eye classmates with condescension and cruelty, seeing them as less than human.

The social psychologist Muzafer Sherif conducted the classic “Robbers Cave” experiment at a boys’ summer camp.  The camp had two cluster of cabins dividd by a small forest, and boys randomly assigned to one side, “the Eagles,” or the other, “the Rattlers.”  In short order the boys had bonded strongly with their own groups and held nothing but contempt toward the other group., in spite of them all being fundamentally the same.  The authors note that in real life boys no older than those in this Robber’s Cave Study are told that they are a Crip( blue) or a Blood (red) and are expected to show unwavering allegiance to their brothers and ruthless cruelty to their rivals.  In these gangs handguns are used to claim and hold drug-distribution territory.

Another group that is technically not the enemy, but which is regarded as being unworthy are the homeless.  These people are regarded as psychotic, substance abusers, or bums, and not worthy of our consideration.  This provides a means of avoiding the problem rather than feeling empathy towards these people and working to solve the problem.

Can anything be done about this problem?  One approach is to get people in the different groups to work together to solve a problem  During wartime in the military it has been found that different racial groups need to depend upon each other in combat.  Consequently, they bond and there are few interracial problems.  There was a very good documentary on this topic during the Viet Nam war titled “same mud, same blood.”
Racial problems are more likely in support units who are more likely fighting boredom than the enemy.

One group doing yeoman’s work to address this issue is the Southern Poverty Law Centers https://www.splcenter.org/what-we-do  .In addition to programs on teaching tolerance they have worked with individual members of hate groups to remove the source of their hate.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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 Patient

May 12, 2016

The third cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is the Patient.  The authors expand the concept of patient well beyond the medical context.  “Patients are perceived to have experiences and to be sensitive and susceptible to the actions of others.  Whereas agents are the thinking doers of the world, patients are the vulnerable feelers.  The word patient is likely to bring to mind the concept of pain.  The experience of pain  forces to focus on the present and how to deal with it.”

The authors wrote “Pain may have overwhelming psychological power, but the physical reality is comparatively unsubstantial.  Pain is a mental construction resulting from a handful of nerve signals.  The intensity of pain  stems only from the microscopic electrical pulses of neurons.  Moreover, pain can be triggered by nothing at all as in the case of people with neuropathic pain who live in constant agony due to a few rogue neurons.

Phantom limb pain, although quite real, indicates the fickleness.  This pain is the pain amputees feel in their amputated limb.  Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachanadran developed a special box with a mirror and two holes into which the patients place each of their arms.  The mirror faced the still-presents right hand and its reflection provided he patient with what appeared to be an intact missing limb.  Seeing this illusion significantly reduced the patient’s pain.

The placebo effect provides strong evidence on the mind’s power to influence pain.  Studies of popular drugs such as Tylenol or paracetamol for back pain, and Prozac, Effexor, or Paxil of mild depression suggest that they are no more effective than the combination of sugar pills and optimism.  Previous healthy memory blog posts have reported research in which placebos are effective even when the patients know they are placebos.

As you should know from previous healthy memory blog posts there is also a nocebo effect.  One study  found that people felt real pain after researchers put sham electrodes onto their heads  and pretended to send electric current through them.

Neuroimaging studies suggest that there is both a sensory component and an affective component to pain.  The sensory component represents actual tissue damage.  The affective component is its felt badness, its aversiveness and unpleasantness.  These components can be dissociated.  For example, morphine eliminates the aversive affect while keeping the sensory experience.    A car-accident victim treated with morphine described his experience of traumatic injury as “Pain…but not painful.”  That is the unpleasantness was dulled, but specific sensations remained intact.

In some circumstances tissue damage does not automatically translate to pain even without drugs as has been found in combat situations where soldiers carry on the battle even after having suffered grievous injuries.

Empathy is an important concept and an important skill.  Proximity is an important factor affecting empathy.   The philosopher Peter Singer formulated this thought experiment.  Imagine you are walking by a pond, wearing a new three-hundred dollar suit, when you see a drowning child.  Should you save the child even if doing so would ruin the suit?  You likely wouldn’t hesitate  to dive in.  Now consider a different scenario.  You are walking down he street after payday when a charity canvasser tells you that twenty dollars will save the life of a starving child.  Chances are you would keep your money and let the child die, even though saving the child costs a fraction of the cost of the suit.  Of course, there are factors in the comparison other than proximity.  You can actually see the drowning child, but you might have questions about the honesty of the solicitor.  But you should get the general point.

Our capacity for empathy is limited.  Although some empathy is helpful, too much can be counterproductive causing our empathy to shut down.  Psychologists Daryl Cameron and Keith Payne did an experiment illustrating the “collapse of compassion.”  They presented participants with pleas from either one or eight suffering victims.  In spite of the objectively greater total suffering of eight victims, the participants were overwhelmed by it and demonstrated less compassion.

The authors note how the Patient Mind can be mistreated as the Machine Mind.  Recent advances in neurobiology have focused attention away from human suffering and feelings and toward drugs that influence brain circuits and neurotransmitters..  Thomas Szasz has described this new psychiatry as mechanomorphic, treating patients like “defective machines” rather than fellow human beings.  The authors note “Paradoxically, physicians of the mind may fail to see their patients as members of the mind club.”

Research by Stephanie Brown of the University of Michigan has revealed that helping others can add years to your life.  She examined the mortality of older people who were the pimrary caregivers of their ill spouses.  This is a highly stressful role as caregiver must manage every aspect of their spouses’s treatment and take ultimate responsibility for the spouse’s life.  In spite of stress being linked to early death, these caregivers lived significantly longer, presumably because of increased feelings of agency.

Some time will be given to plants before ending this post.  Taking care of plants can increase longevity.  In one study,m nursing home residents given responsibility  for a houseplant outlived those who had plants that were looked after by nursing home staff.