Gone to the Annual Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science

May 22, 2017

So although there will be a hiatus in new posts, there are already close to one thousand posts already available.  So that should be more than sufficient until the new posts resume.

Use the search block of the healthy memory blog to find posts of interest.
Here are some suggestions:
cognitive reserve
suggestible you
relaxation response
ikigai
growth mindset
system 2
emotion

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How to Daydream Your Way to Better Concentration

May 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Narratives and Reasoning

May 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hippocampus

May 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Truth About Language

May 17, 2017

“The Truth About Language” is a most informative book by Michael C. Corvallis.  Its subtitle is “What It Is and Where It Came From.”  The title and the subtitle informs the reader exactly what the book is about.  This is an enormously complex topic.  There are more than six thousand languages today and they vary among themselves tremendously.  Moreover, this language ability is the skill that puts our species in a unique leadership place.

The question as to where it came from is still highly contentious.  Dr. Corvallis presents his analysis and conclusion, one which HM finds compelling, but there is no consensus on this topic.

This blog is posted under the category “Transactive Memory.”   Transactive Memory is memory storage external to our personal memories.   So this includes information stored in the memories of other humans, and memories storied in external media.  In this case the storage medium was a book and the presentation device was an iPAD.  There is a tremendous wealth of memory here.  Dr. Corvallis is a scholar of the highest caliber who is drawing from the knowledge of a very large number of outstanding minds.  And a reader applying attention to this book derives a large amount of knowledge.

There is a personal interest for HM here.  The book discusses the behaviorist B.F. Skinner’s tome, “Verbal Behavior.”   As an undergraduate, he argued Skinner’s thesis before a linguistics class.  Although his performance was pitiable, a charitable professor gave him an “A” for the class.  As a graduate student, he taught undergraduates Chomsky’s Transformational Generative Grammar.  His post-doctoral work did not involve linguistics, so he lost touch with the topic.  Dr. Corvallis’s book brought him up to date and reignited his interest.

So it is clear why HM is interested in this book.  Should any readers have a general interest in this topic, it provides fuel for a growth mindset which helps foster a healthy memory.

It is not known when language began.  Presumably sometime during the hominins, but that is debatable.  There is also no general agreement as to how long it took for language to develop.  There are two general schools.  One is that it developed suddenly.  This school is found in certain religions and with the linguist Noam Chomsky.  Dr. Corvallis is in the second school; it developed gradually over an unknown but probably long period of time.

Dr. Corvallis argues that the development involved gestures. It is interesting note here that deaf babies gesture.  It is also important to note that American Sign Language is recognized as a legitimate language.  The development was gradual and occurred over time.

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

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

May 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

When the volunteers were asked feelings about the emotions of the characters, the volunteers who were better at counting their own heartbeat performed better on such questions.  They were more empathetic (Cortex, dos.org/b6m2).  However, there was no link between interoceptive ability and accuracy on questions that didn’t involve any emotions.

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

Why Be Conscious: The Improbable Origins of Our Unique Mind

May 15, 2017

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

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

In 2012 the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness was published.

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

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

These scientists were basing their declaration on neuroscience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ramifications of HOW EMOTIONS ARE MADE

May 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

Illness, Other Species, and the Law

May 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Mastering Your Emotions

May 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Origin of Feeling

May 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myths of the Triune Brain and the Rational Human Mind

May 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

How Emotions Are Made

May 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOADS versus Scientists and Responsible Citizens

May 8, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Am Not a Scientist, but

May 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passing 71

May 6, 2017

Meaning that today I am entering my 72nd year.  Time appears to be flying by at an increasingly faster rate.  Unfortunately, this is the best time of my life, so I really wish it were not flying by so fast.  When I retired I told people that it was the happiest time of my life since I was five years old.  I am eternally grateful to my parents for keeping me out of organized activities until I entered school in the first grade.  But from then on, I was continuously occupied with education, the military, more education, and then professional activities.

Now I am a free man.  I sleep until I wake up and find that my time is my own.  If I did not have growth activities, along with meditation, exercise, and a healthy diet, dementia would likely be setting it.  But I stay cognitively active.  I do a great deal of reading and some writing.  Unfortunately, there is not enough time to read all the interesting and important things to read.  I do indeed have a growth mindset.

I also do a great deal of walking, much of it with my wife.  And at times I do engage in the walking meditations in nature I wrote about in the preceding post.

I stay in touch with friends.

I meditate daily; sometimes several times a day.  And I tend to slip into a meditative state when I am forced to wait.  I try to spend as much time as I can fostering a healthy memory.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be attending the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science in Boston.  Shortly after we return we’ll be off again on a tour of National Parks.  In August we’ll be taking a cruise out of Amsterdam, with port calls in Scotland, Norway, and Iceland.  This is an Insight Cruise with lectures in physics and anthropology.

I engage in ikigai, the Japanese term for the activities in Victor Stretcher’s book, “Life on Purpose.”  My purpose, in addition to living a fulfilling life with my wife, is to learn and share my thoughts and knowledge with others.  That is the purpose of this blog, and at some time in the future a book or books might be in the offing.

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

Smartphones and Nature

May 5, 2017

My wife and I enjoy walking in the woods.  And while walking we frequently encounter a disturbing sight.  And that is someone walking in the woods with their face buried in their smartphone.  It is understood that there are good reasons for having a smartphone while walking in the woods.  An emergency might be encountered, or maybe it needs to be consulted for a reference regarding a bird, plant, tree, or some other aspect of nature.  But walking in the woods with one’s face buried in a smartphone largely defeats the benefits of walking in the woods.

First of all, walking, even with one’s face buried in a smartphone, still is good exercise.  But research has shown that walking in a natural setting as opposed to an urban setting is particularly beneficial.  Walking and appreciating nature is even more beneficial.  And what is most beneficial is a walking meditation in nature, being in the moment experiencing nature.

So go ahead and bring your smartphone with you in the woods.  Just do not bury your face in it and try walking meditation.

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

Defying Dementia

May 4, 2017

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

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

The number of people with dementia might be rising, but most specialists say that is largely because more of us are living longer.  Between 1980 and 2011, the proportion of people over 65 with dementia actually dropped by 20% in England and Wales.   Between 2000 and 2012, dementia rates in that age group dropped by 24% in the US.

Kenneth Langa of the Michigan Center on the Demography of Aging said that there are two driving factors for this change:  A rise in educational attainment and better control of cardiovascular issues.  After the second world war, there was an increase in schooling that averaged out to about an extra year of education across the US population.   Research suggests that people with more education, or those who have done things like learning a new language or learning to play a musical instrument are more resilient to symptoms of dementia.  Langa says, “By challenging your brain during education, you create a more fit brain that can compensate for problems that you have as you age.  It creates a cognitive reserve that boosts the brain’s ability to work around damaged areas, and promotes more efficient processing.  As far as cardiovascular risk factors are concerned, although the prevalence of conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes as risen over the years, there also has been an increase in treatments to limit their damage.

Although there clearly are genetic factors, they tend to increase the probability of Alzheimer’s. There are no genes that directly lead to Alzheimer’s.  So, rather than be concerned about genetics, deal with lifestyle and genetic factors.  Maintaining social connections, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, practicing good sleep habits, and pursuing intellectual changes lead to a healthy memory.

Arthur Kramer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says that regular exercise not only addresses risk factors such as weight and cardiovascular health, but it also increases the creation of brain cells, connections between neurons, and production of nerve growth factors and neurotransmitters.  Dr. Kramer’s research has shown that just an hour long walk a few times a week increases hippocampal growth, and certainly can make a difference.

Healthymemory blog readers should also be aware of the importance of a growth mindset and of the benefits of meditation and mindfulness.  In addition to defying dementia, they provide for a more fulfilling life.

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

The Different Kinds of Dementia

May 3, 2017

The following statistics come from a series of posts by Kayt Sukel in the Features Section of 29 April 2017 issue the New Scientist.   The terms Alzheimer’s and dementia are frequently used interchangeably, but Alzheimer’s is but one of the diseases falling under the rubric dementia.  Here is a breakdown.

Alzheimer’s (62%)  Causes problems with memory, language and reasoning.  5%of cases start before age 65.  The defining characteristics required for a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s  are the physical presence of amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles.  There are people who have had these physical characteristics but died never knowing they had Alzheimer’s.  The physician Alzheimer was never convinced that he had found a unique disease.  When there are cognitive symptoms they involve memory, language, and reasoning.

Vascular Dementia (17%) Symptoms are impaired judgment, difficulty with motor skills and balance.  Heart disease and stroke increase its likelihood.

Mixed Dementia (10%) Several types of dementia contribute to symptoms.  Most common in people over 85.

Dementia with Lewy Bodies (4%)  Caused by Lewy body proteins.  Symptoms can include hallucinations, disordered sleep.

Frontotemporal Dementia (2%)  Personality changes and language problems.  Most common onset between the ages of 45 and 60.

Parkinson’s Disease (2%)  Can give rise to dementia symptoms as the condition progresses.

Other (3%)   Conditions such as Creutzfield-Jacob disease; depression; multiple sclerosis.

Globally,  1 in 20 people lives with the condition.

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

Why Politicians Lie

May 2, 2017

A previous healthy memory blog post titled, “The Low-Information Electorate,” is based on a chapter titled “The Low Information Electorate” in a book titled “Head In the Cloud” by William Poundstone.  Poundstone effectively documented how little the electorate knows.  Other research has documented that voters do not vote in their own interests.  Scott Adams in his book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” explains why politicians lie, which provides insights into how people vote.  The following paragraph is taken in its entirety from Adams’s book.

“When politicians tell lies, they know the press will call them out.  They also know it doesn’t matter.  Politicians understand that reason will never have much of a role in voting decisions.  A lie that makes a voter feel good is more effective than a hundred rational arguments.  That’s  even true when he voter knows the lie is a lie.  If you’re perplexed at how society can tolerate politicians who lie so blatantly, you’re thinking of people as rational beings.  That worldview is frustrating and limiting.  People who study hypnosis start to view humans as moist machines that are simply responding to inputs with programmed outputs.  No reasoning is involved beyond eliminating the most absurd options.  Your reasoning can prevent your from voting for a total imbecile, but it won’t stop you from supporting a half-wit with a great haircut.”

Should you wonder how democracies manage to function, read “The Low Information Electorate.”  However, do not expect an explanation that will provide an assurance that democracies will always work.

The Penultimate Post from “How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still win Big”

May 1, 2017

Scott Adams has chapters on on a variety of other topics, including humor, which is obviously appropriate.  He is big on diet, fitness, and happiness.  His chapter on diet is quite extensive.  Some my want to buy this book on the basis of this chapter alone.  He also provides good advice on how to move to a healthy diet, and the advice sounds compelling.  Similarly his advice on exercise is quite good and this also includes advice on how to realistically exercise when the mood is not appropriate.  Adams emphasizes diet and exercise as they provide the energy that is essential for success.

It was disturbing to find Scientology and Dianetics in Adams’s book.  He asks the question “Does Dianetics work in terms of creating good outcomes for its followers? and responds with, “I have no data to answer that question.”  Is it that Adams is so busy that he is unable to follow the news and the court cases against Dianetics.  Not only does Dianetics not work, but it causes serious harm and has destroyed lives.  It is interesting to note that the founder of Dianetics, L.  Ron Hubbard was a science fiction writer.  He wrote that the way to become rich in today’s world was to create a religion.  So he did so.  He created Scientology, wrote Dianetics, and became obscenely wealthy.  Most of the time he lived on his yacht where it was easy to escape capture.   So here is a case where someone writes that the way to become wealthy is to create a religious scam, and does so.  It is amazing how people can be told that they are going to be defrauded and still be able to be defrauded. Most definitely Scientology is to be avoided.

Adams also has a chapter on happiness that begins with the statement, “The only reasonable goal in life is maximizing your total lifetime experience of something called happiness.”  It is quite clear from this chapter that Adams does not regard happiness as being wealthy.  For him, happiness requires doing something for the public good, and he provides examples in his book  In this respect, Adams book reminds HM of Victor Stretcher’s book, “Life on Purpose” and the distinction between eudaemonic versus hedonic pursuits.  Both agree that eudaemonic but not hedonic pursuits lead to happiness, although Adams does not use the term eudaemonic.  Both also provide advice on healthy lifestyles that are necessary for pursuing success and happiness.

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

Psychology

April 30, 2017

Of all the skills needed for success, I believe that psychology is the most important.  Of course, being that HM is a psychologist, a degree of bias must be admitted.  Nevertheless HM shall make this argument.

Psychology is frequently confused with psychiatry.  Psychiatry is a medical specialty dealing with mental problems.  Clinical and some counseling psychologists also deal with mental problems, but they represent about half of all psychologists.  Other types of psychology are social psychology, industrial psychology, organizational psychology, engineering psychology, educational psychology, psychologists who work primarily with nonhuman organisms, and psychologists who work with humans.  HM is a cognitive psychologist meaning that he is interested in how we perceive, remember, learn, make decisions, form concepts, solve problems;  that is basically everything we do that involves our brains.

In “How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big” Adams devotes several pages to biases, heuristics, different types of effects, fallacies, illusory correlation and so forth.  Our cognitive processes are very complex, and they need to be understood as well as they can be understood.  We are constrained by a limited attentional capacity that must be understood.  Memory failures can usually be attributed to failures to pay attention, but we are bombarded by much more information than can be processed.  Memories change over time, and every time we recall a memory it changes.  Memories are highly fallible, yet we have a high degree of confidence in them. In short, we need to understand our minds as best we we can so that we are aware of the mistakes we are likely to make, and so that we can use our minds to best advantage.

Adams is writing about success and his examples are how a knowledge of psychology is key to success.  But given that education involves learning, should not students be provided an understanding of how we learn?  And given that education involves memory, should not an understanding of our memory systems be taught?  And should not learning and mnemonic techniques be taught to facilitate learning and memorization?  Should not students be taught problem solving techniques and the traps that can preclude solving problems?

Meditation is beneficial to both learning and emotional health, so should not meditation be taught and regularly practiced in schools?  Mindfulness training provides a basis for understanding why we differ and how best to interact with others who think or behave differently.  Disciplinary problems would largely disappear if both meditation and mindfulness were standard practices in schools.

Many businesses are providing for meditation and mindfulness to be incorporated into their business practices and many more businesses will be adding these practices in the future.  They might also want to add courses on human cognition that are relevant to their respective workplaces.

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

Persuasion

April 29, 2017

As persuasion is an important topic for success and as Adams did an exceptional write up of these skills in “How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big”, more detail will be provided in summarizing its content.  Adams has written a book on persuasion titled “Win Bigly”, which will be published later this year.  Adams provides this list of persuasive words and phrases in “How to Fail…”:

Because
Studies by psychologist Robert Cialdini have shown that people are more cooperative when you ask for a favor using a sentence that includes the word “because,” even if the reason you offer makes little or no senses.  Apparently “because” signals reasonableness and reasonableness allows people to let down their defenses and drop their objections.

Would you mind…?
Adams has found that any question beginning with “Would you mind…” tends to be well received.  The question comes across as honest, and shows concern for the other person.  This is a powerful combination.

I’m not interested
This is used to stop someone from trying to persuade you.  The worst thing to do is to try to give some logical-sounding reason why you’re not interested.  This is a conversational killer with the goal of killing the conversation.

I don’t do that
Again, rather than trying to provide a logical excuse, make a statement that sounds like a hard and fast rule.  And if someone asks for a reason, simply say “I’m not interested.”

I have a rule…
Like the two previous examples, this is another good antipersuasion technique.  This sounds convincing and somewhat polite, while offering no reason whatsoever.

I just wanted to clarify…
is used when statements are so mind-numbingly stupid, evil, or mean, that a direct frontal assault would only start fights.  If the clarification question is phrased correctly, it will shine an indirect light on the problem and provide a face-saving escape path.

Is there anything you can do for me?
This question frames you as the helpless victim and the person you’re trying to persuade as the hero and problem solver.  That’s a self-image that people like to reinforce when they have the chance.  When you deputize someone to be your problem solver, you create a situation in which he or she has a clear payoff.

Thank you
A thank you is like a treat for a human.  When you do something generous or nice, you like to know it’s appreciated.  If you want people to like you, for business or for your personal life, pay special attention to the quality of your thanks.

This is just between you and me
The right approach to sharing a secret is to start small.  Make sure the small secrets stay secret before you try anything riskier.  One way to judge your risk is to be alert for other people’s secrets that are being relayed to you.  Someone who is bad at keeping one kind of secret is probably bad at keeping all secrets.  You won’t be exempt.

Decisiveness
Some people act more decisively than others, and this can be both persuasive and useful.  But don’t confuse your artificial sense of decisiveness with a need to be right all the time.

Energy
People respond to energy in others.  Energy is contagious.  People like how it feels.  If you show enthusiasm, others will want to experience the same rush.

These examples provide just a brief synopsis of Adams’  advice regarding persuasiveness.  To learn more, just read the book.

Skills Needed for Success

April 28, 2017

Scott Adams listed skills that he thinks every adult should gain a working knowledge in his book “How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big”  He writes that mastery isn’t necessary and that luck has a good chance of finding you if you become merely good in most of these areas.

Public speaking is a skill the need for which should be obvious.  Adams himself took a Dale Carnegie course on public speaking which he found quite useful.  Today he can make $100,000 for a single speaking engagement.

Business writing is another needed skill.  The emphasis here is not on business, but rather that good business writing is both concise and informative.  It provides a good model for effective writing in general.

Accounting is essential not only for businesses, but also for managing one’s household.  An understanding is also necessary for evaluating stocks.

Adams writes that in today’s world we’re all designers, whether we like it or not.  PowerPoint presentations, Web sites, or flyer’s for your child’s school events.  Furnishing you home, buying clothes to look nice to others, and so on are needed.  Design once was the exclusive domain of artists and other experts, but now we’re all expected to have a working understanding of design.

Adams notes that few people are skilled conversationalists.  Most people just talk, which is not the same thing as conversation.  The difference is that skilled conservationalists know techniques that are surprisingly non obvious to a lot of people.  Adams goes into some detail about effective conversations, and he also notes that it is a learnable skill.

Overcoming shyness is important to overcome for obvious reasons. He says that we can overcome shyness with a little practice.  It is worth the effort or one can find oneself socially drowning at every gathering or public talk. He provides examples regarding how to overcome shyness.  He writes that the single best tip for avoiding shyness is  to harness the power of acting interested in other people.

Learning a second language can qualify one for a large range of jobs and opportunities compared to monolingual peers.

He notes that the old cliche is that business gets done on the golf course.  As Adams enjoys golf, both business and enjoyment can be done at the same time.  However, HM likes to watch golf, but when he sees the difficulties and problems the best golfers in the world have, he has difficulty understanding how it can be enjoyed.  HM is in agreement with Mark Twain who said that “golf is a good walk spoiled.”

Proper grammar is important.  He provides examples of common grammar gaffes that can cause others to lower their opinions of you.

Today one also needs to have at least a working knowledge of technology at the hobby level.

He recommends having proper voice techniques noting that it’s helpful to have different vocal strategies for different situations.

Adams goes into considerable detail on each of these topics.

Two topics on his list, persuasion and psychology, will each have a post devoted to them.

Managing Your Attitude

April 27, 2017

“Managing Your Attitude” is the title of a chapter in Scott Adams’ How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big.”  Adams writes, “Your attitude affects everything you do in your quest for success and happiness.  A positive attitude is an important tool.  It’s important to get it right.  The best way to manage your attitude is by understanding your basic nature as a moist robot that can be programmed for happiness if you understand the user interface.”  This is a geeky way of saying that you control your thoughts and by controlling your thoughts you are able to manage your attitude.  This point has been made in previous healthymemory blog posts.

Although Adams makes no mention of this, the best way of managing your attitude is via mindfulness and meditation, about which many posts have been written.  Here are some tips offered by Adams.  “A simple trick you might try involves increasing your ratio of happy thoughts to disturbing thoughts.  If your life doesn’t provide you with plenty of happy thoughts to draw upon, try daydreaming of wonderful things in the future. …If you imagine winning a Nobel Prize, buying your own private island, or playing in the NBA, don’t worry that those things are unlikely. Putting yourself in that imagination-fueled frame of mind will pep you up.  Imagination is the interface to your attitude.  You can literally imagine yourself to higher levels of energy.”

However, if you are in a truly bad mood, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and time are helpful.  Once you return to you baseline level of happiness, you’ll be in a better position to get the benefits of daydreaming.

Adams also writes, “A powerful variation on the daydreaming method involves working on projects that have a real chance of changing the world, helping humanity.  Adams tries to have one or more change-the-world projects going at all times.

Adams also correctly notes that smiling makes us feel better even if the smile is fake.  When you’re in a bad mood the physical act of forcing a smile may trigger the feel-good-chemistry in our brains that is associated with happiness.

This smiling-makes-you-happy phenomenon is part of a larger and highly useful phenomenon of faking it until you make it.  He says that two-way causation can be found in a wide variety of human activities.  He’s discovered that acting confident makes you feel more confident.  Feeling energetic makes us want to  play a sport, but playing a sport will also make us feel energetic.

Adams notes the there is a bonus to smiling, “as it makes us more attractive to others.  When we’re more attractive, people respond with more respect and consideration, more smiles, and sometime even lust.  That’s exactly the sort of thing that can cheer us up.”

Goals Versus Systems

April 26, 2017

Scott Adams wrote the following as the first teaser for reading “How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big”, “Goals are for losers.”  He later concludes, “My worldview is that all success is luck if you track it back to the source. “  By this he means that no matter how good the product or idea is, there were a variety of conditions that resulted in the success of that product or idea.  Absent those conditions, the product or idea would have remained unknown.

So chance plays a large role in success.  This is why he writes “Goals are for losers.” If you meet your goal, fine.  But meeting your goal does not guarantee your success.  And even if you do meet your goal, what’s next?  And if you fail to meet your goal?  What then?

Adams argues for systems rather than goals.  By systems he means those skills and activities that you enjoy.  Different skills can be blended into skill sets.  One works systematically at building these skill sets.  His book explains how he does this, and provides general advice as to how it can be done.

There were many healthy memory blog posts on Angela Duckworth’s book “GRIT.”  Her advice is to find your passion and pursue it.  There were posts written to try to modulate this advice.  Unmodulated passion, not matter how intense, can lead to misery and failure.

These systems, of which Adams writes, can be called passions, although Adams does not do so.  But absent success, they are enjoyable and fulfilling in themselves.  Moreover, continuing to develop and enhance skill sets increases the probability of success.  With perseverance that probability becomes fairly high.

There is a chapter titled “Managing Your Odds for Success.”  It contains the following success formula:  Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.  He further explains that this does not say anything about the level of proficiency you need to achieve for each skill.  Nothing is implied about excellence or being world class.  The notion is that you can raise your market value by being merely good, not extraordinary, at more than one skill.

An example he provides if you are a good, but not great, public speaker, and you know your way around a Powerpoint presentation, you might have a reasonable chance of running your organization, or unit with an organization.  Adams puts this success formula into its simplest form:    Good + Good > Excellent.

Adams also notes that sometimes an entirely inaccurate formula provides a handy way to move in the right direction if it offers the benefit of simplicity.   He provides this example.  When writing a resume, a handy trick is to ask yourself if there are any words in your your first draft you won’t be willing to remove for one hundred dollars each.  Here’s this simple formula  Each Unnecessary Word = $100.

Adams continues, “when you apply the formula to your resume, you’ll surprise yourself by how well the formula helps you prune your writing to its most essential form.  It doesn’t matter that the hundred-dollar figure is arbitrary and the some words you remove are more valuable than others.  What matters is that the formula steers your behavior in the right direction.  As is often the case, simplicity trumps accuracy.  The hundred dollars in this case is not only inaccurate;  it’s entirely imaginary.  And it still works.

Here’s how Scott Adams characterizes his skill set:  “I have poor art skills, mediocre business skills, good, but not great, writing talent, and an early knowledge of the Internet.  And I have a good, but not great, sense of humor.  I’m like one big mediocre soup.  None of my skills are world-class, but when my mediocre skills are combined, they become a powerful market force.

Adams concludes with The Knowledge Formula:  The More You Know, the More You Can Know.

In other words learning and knowledge build upon themselves.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

April 25, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Scott Adams.  The subtitle is “Kind of the Story of My Life.”  Scott Adams is the creator of “Dilbert.”  HM needs to make a confession at the outset and that is that he is an enormous Scott Adams fan.  He’s been reading “Dilbert” religiously ever since he discovered the strip.  He has the collection of DVDs of the video series made for “Dilbert” and greatly laments the loss of “Dilbert”  from the air.  He has also read many of Scott Adams’ books.

Scott Adams is not only humorous and highly creative, there is an element of truth in what he does.  He created “Dilbert” while he was working at Pacific Bell and continued to work there for several years after he had become a commercial success.  The most common comment he hears is,”You must have worked at my company.”  This comment comes from people working in both government and private industry.  So there is a core of truth at the bottom of his humor.

Should you already be a fan of Scott Adams you would certainly enjoy this book and find it interesting.  However, even if you are not a fan of Scott’s, this book is still recommended as it provides solid advice on how to succeed (eventually) and how to live a meaningful and enjoyable life.

Adams documents his many failures on his way to success.  One of his failures was a Meditation Guide the he wrote with a friend.  Adams had meditated for years and found a lot of benefits in meditation.  However, only three copies of this book were sold.  He writes that he learned about local advertising, marketing, and product development from the experience.  Unfortunately, it appears that he overgeneralized this failure to meditation itself.  Meditation does not appear in this book, although there are many areas for which it is highly relevant.

“How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” warrants many posts that shall immediately follow.

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

Can Democracy Survive the Internet?

April 24, 2017

The title of this post is part of the title of a column by Dan Balz in the 23 April 2017 issue of the Washington Post.  The complete title of the column is “A scholar asks, ‘Can democracy survive the internet?’  The scholar in question is Nathaniel Persily a law professor at Stanford University.  He has written an article in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Democracy with the same title as this post.

Before proceeding, let HM remind you that the original purpose of the internet was to increase communication among scientists and engineers.  Tim Berners-Lee created and gave the technology that gave birth to the World Wide Web.  He gave it to the world for free to fulfill its true potential as a tool which serves all of the humanity. The healthy memory blog post “Tim Berners-Lee Speaks Out on Fake News” related some of the concerns he has regarding where the web is going.

Persily’s concerns go much further.  And they go way beyond Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.  He notes that foreign attempts to interfere with what should be a sovereign enterprise are only one factor to be examined.  Persily argues that the 2016 campaign broke down previously established rules and distinctions “between insiders and outsiders, earned media and advertising, media and non-media, legacy media and new media, news and entertainment and even foreign and domestic sources of campaign communication.”  One of the primary reasons Trump won was that Trump realized the potential rewards of exploiting what the internet offered, and conducted his campaign through new, unconventional means.

Persily writes that Trump realized, “That it was more important to swamp the communication environment than it was to advocate for a particular belief or fight for the truth of a particular story.”  Persily notes that the Internet reacted to the Trump campaign, “like an ecosystem welcoming a new and foreign species.  His candidacy triggered new strategies and promoted established Internet forces.  Some of these (such as the ‘alt-right’ ) were moved by ideological affinity, while others sought to profit financially or further a geopolitical agenda.  Those who worry about the implications of the 2016 campaign are left to wonder whether it illustrates the vulnerabilities of democracy in the Internet age, especially when it comes to the integrity of the information voters access as they choose between candidates.”

Persily quotes a study by a group of scholars that said, “Retweets of Trump’s posts are a significant predictor of concurrent news coverage…which may imply that he unleashes ‘tweetstorms’ when his coverage is low.”

Persily also writes about the 2016 campaign, “the prevalence of bots in spreading propaganda  and fake news appears to have reached new heights.  One study found that between 16 September and 21 October 2016, bots produced about a fifth of all tweets related to the upcoming election.  Across all three presidential debates, pro-Trump twitter bots generated about four times as many tweets as pro-Clinton bots.  During the final debate in particular, that figure rose to seven times as many.”

Clearly, Persily raises an extremely provocative, disturbing, and important question.

What’s Next for The March for Science?

April 24, 2017

To find out go to https://satellites.marchforscience.com

And remember that science is essential for a healthy memory!

Science Should Inform Democracy

April 23, 2017

The immediately preceding post, “Can Science Survive in a Democracy?”, focused primarily on the funding of science.  An equally, if not more, important issue is the use of science by a democracy.  Environmental and health issues are in the spotlight, but there is a wide variety of issues that can be usefully informed by science.  The failure to consider scientific evidence can have seriously adverse consequences.

One of the best examples of this failure is the size of the prison population in the United States.  The United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners.  Remember that totalitarian governments imprison political dissidents, but the United States manages to surpass even these totalitarian countries on this grim statistic.  Moreover, this high rate of imprisonment did not address the problems they were supposed to solve.

The problems that were supposedly addressed were crime and drug abuse.  The public thought the best way to address these problems was by getting tough.  Politicians picked up this public sentiment and passed laws that were excessively severe for crime and proscribed drugs.  “Getting tough” might seem like a reasonable approach.  But it is a gut response, an emotional response that involves only System 1 processing according to Kahneman.  If thought processes had been engaged, System 2 processing in Kahneman’s terminology, the question would have been asked, does science have anything that would inform us as to what would be a reasonable policy?  If this question had been raised, the clear answer would have been that “getting tough” would be counterproductive, and it certainly was.

There are very few scientists or engineers, sometimes none, in Congress.  And few normal citizens read articles relevant to science.  As a consequence, they are unaware of their personal ignorance.  So what can be done to correct this widespread ignorance?

In the schools, science is taught primarily as an academic subject, and the subjects covered are typically biology, chemistry, and physics.  This is fine, but the relevance and applications of these sciences need to be taught.  The social sciences and statistics also need to be taught.  Every citizen needs to understand inferential statistics at some level to be a responsible citizen and to make reasonable decisions about personal health.  Unless college is going to be pursued, citizens can get by without understanding geometry or trigonometry.

It is essential that all students receive this education before graduating from high school, and not just students with plans for college.

Public television and a few dedicated cable channels have good programs on these topics, but they need to be increased, and they need to be presented on the major networks.

If done satisfactorily, constituents should inform their representatives as to the importance of these topics.  Then science would not only survive, but would prosper in this democracy.  And public policies would be informed by the best available scientific evidence.

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

Can Science Survive in a Democracy?

April 22, 2017

This post is motivated by an article in the Comments section of the 22 April 2017 edition of the New Scientist by Dave Levit titled “Marchers, raise your banners for the tortoise pace of progress.”  The referenced March is the March for Science taking place today April 22.  His article begins, “The March for Science reflects the growing gap between slow, steady, vital scientific gains and quick-fire opportunist US politics.  A week is a long time in politics.  Science, however, is in it for the long haul.  Whether studying rising sea levels or isolating proteins in fruit fly nerve cells so that many years down the line we might have a new drug for Parkinson’s, science does not fit with the day-to-day fixed-term imperatives of government.

Politicians back fracking ventures that quickly create jobs, but talk down the risks of long-term pollution.  They take credit for the progress made in renewable energy, ignoring the decades of work underlying this progress.  Levit continues “The slow march of scientific progress does not match well with politics even on a good day.  “And today is not a good day.”

The science community has been shocked by the preliminary budget outlines from Donald Trump.  From the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to NASA’s earth science mission, science would get a buzz cut.  This makes perfect sense for Donald Trump.  Levit writes, “the impulsivity and lack of long-term thinking that places science at odds with politics seems less a feature and more a tenet of Trump’s view.   Why fund the NIH properly, helping to produce the medical advances of 2030, when he can’t see past his next tweet? If politics couldn’t handle science’s tortoise pace years ago, it should be no surprise to see this disdain reach a new peak in a faster moving age.”

This March is one day aimed at making people understand how unimportant one day actually is.  March participants are simply trying to drum up greater appreciation for evidence, scientific rigor, methodology, and expertise.  The March of Science is one of slow, steady, incremental progress.

Trump’s proposed cuts would have an immediate effect—less government spending.  But their long-term outcomes, such as delayed development of life saving drugs or preventing seas from rising to swallow Miami, apparently have little effect for many elected officials.

Levit notes that there is a chance cuts will accelerate the pace of impacts until it becomes impossible to ignore them, even though some of the damage would be irreversible.

It remains to be seen whether the March can wake us up before that happens.

Let us hope that it does wake up the congress.

We Dream Much More Than we Know

April 21, 2017

This is the conclusion from a News Piece written  by Chelsea Whyte in the 15 April 2017 issue of the New Scientist.  A new way to detect dreaming has confirmed that it doesn’t only occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and has shown why we don’t often remember our dreams.

Tore Nielsen at the University of Montreal says, “There is  much more dreaming going on than we remember.  It’s hour and hours of mental experience, and we remember a few minutes.  Low-frequency  brainwaves are detectable across the brain.  Francesca Siclari and her colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have discovered that a decrease in these waves in an area at the back of the brain is a sign that  someone is dreaming.  She says, “This zone was a little bit more awake, showing high frequency  brainwaves more common during wakefulness.  This one region seems to be all that’s necessary for dreaming.”

Siclari and her team used EEG caps to map the brain activity of 32 people while they slept.  They woke the sleeper when they showed various patterns of brainwave activity, and asked them if they had been dreaming.  Some participants reported having dreams with a narrative structure, while others were more impressionistic.  One had a dream about reporting a dream

There was such a strong correlation between dreaming and fewer low-frequency  waves in the “Hot zone” that they could successfully predict whether a person was dreaming 91% of the time.

The team found that dreams during REM sleep were linked to a rise in high-frequency brainwaves in areas the are active in waking hours.  The activity matched the brain areas that would have been active if the dreamers had been living our their dreams in real life.  The team found that the participants dreamed during 71% of their non-REM sleep in addition to 95% of their REM sleep.

Many dreams are forgotten.  Sometimes participants had a foggy idea that they had been dreaming, but couldn’t remember  what about.  In a further experiment the team found that being able to later remember a dream was linked to higher activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with memory, while dreaming.  Siclari says, “The region for remembering the dream was different from the region having a dream.

So dreaming is very important for our brains.  The previous posts on willpower have shown the importance of having adequate sleep for effective mental functioning.  It seems like both education and employment typically employ schedules that hinder sufficient sleep.  This issue needs serious public attention.

Journal reference:  Nature Neuroscience, DOI:  10.1038/nn.4545

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

Willpower Wrap Up

April 20, 2017

This is the final post on the book “Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.  The title says the greatest human strength, but it could be called the greatest human weakness as most of us not only fail to adequately foster willpower, but we also fail to make use of its potential. Perhaps a more appropriate title would have been “Willpower:  Discovering the Greatest Human Potential.”

The book also discusses how Eric Clapton and Mary Karr finally managed to stop drinking.  The exploits of David Blaine, who is perhaps the most famous current exploiter of willpower are described along with his methods for accomplishing them.  However, Henry Morton Stanley makes Blaine look like a wuss when it comes to willpower.  Stanley became famous by finding a Scottish Missionary in the deepest parts of Africa and saying, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”  Stanley made many trips into the wilds of Africa and encountered conditions that severely challenged his willpower.  But he never broke.  He said, “Self-control is more indispensable than gunpowder.”

HM’s only complaint with the book is that it does not discuss the relevance of meditation and mindfulness.  HM finds meditation to be a good technique for restoring willpower.  And mindfulness keeps the objectives of willpower in the mind and assists in monitoring progress.  Fortunately, readers of the healthy memory blog have many posts on both meditation and mindfulness.

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

Additional Willpower Strategies

April 19, 2017

This post is based largely on the book “Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.  The power of positive procrastination is another source of willpower.  The “I’ll have it later” trick is an example of positive procrastination.  At least you’re delaying the temptation.  And you might eventually forget about the temptation completely.

Another strategy is the nothing alternative courtesy of Raymond Chandler.  Chandler’s system for writing detective stories was to set aside at least four hours a day for his job, writing.  He did this methodically every day.  In the morning he would wait for inspiration.  When it came, he wrote.  If it didn’t come he would do nothing the entire four hours.  The authors write that the nothing alternative is a marvelously simple tool against procrastination for just about any kind of task.  You just might become bored doing nothing and start doing the desired task.  They key is not to do something else unless you strategically arrange the task as Robert Benchley did (see the first blog in this series, “Willpower:  Discovering the Greatest Human Strength).

The authors call the nothing alternative an offensive strategy.  Offensive strategies for not spending money would be to never carry more cash than you intend to spend, and to never carry a credit card unless it was for a predetermined purchase.  Precommitment is the ultimate offensive weapon.  Buy junk food in small packages or keep them out of the kitchen altogether.  Plan meals by the week, rather than on the spur of the moment.  Set up automatic payroll deductions, IRAs, and 401k plans.

Keeping track is another strategy .  Monitoring is crucial for any kind of plan you make—and it can even work if you don’t have a plan at all.  Weighing yourself every day or keeping a food diary can help you lose weight, just as tracking your purchases can help you spend less.  You can use technology to assist you in keeping track.

An especially important strategy is to reward often.  When you set a goal, set a reward for reaching it.  The authors write that we should steadily award ourselves for successes along the way.  Look for ways to reward yourself along the way to success prior to the big reward when the goal is reached.

Willpower Strategies

April 18, 2017

This post is based largely on the book “Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.  Willpower is constrained by  the availability of energy sources.  One of these is glucose, which is burned up in activities.  The other is mental energy.   Exerting willpower deletes this source, irrespective of the reason for needing willpower.  Consequently strategies are required for utilizing this resource to best advantage.  One strategy is to pick our battles.  Although we can’t control or predict the stresses that come into our lives, we can use the calm periods or peaceful moments to plan an offense such as starting an exercise program, learning a new skill, quitting smoking, reducing drinking, making one or two lasting changes to a diet.  These are all best done during times of relatively low demand, when we can allocate much of our will power to the task.  And we would want to address this tasks individually, one at a time.  Aiming for huge and quick transformations will backfire if they seem impossible.  So only address the possible.

The authors counsel us when budgeting our time, not to give drudgery more than its necessary share.  They tell us to remember Parkinson’s Law:  Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.  We need to set firm time limits for tedious tasks.  If it is a large task it might need to be addressed on different dates.  Only try to do what is realistic.

To-do-lists are good for organizing time and for making sure certain tasks are completed by a certain time.  The authors realize that some readers might not feel like drawing one up because this sounds dreary and off-putting.  So they suggest of thinking of it as a to-don’t list.  This is a list of things that we don’t have to worry about once we write them down.  Making a specific plan mollifies our unconscious minds.  We need to plan the specific next step to take; what to do, whom to contact, how to do it (in person? by phone? by e-mail?)If we can also plan specifically when and where to do it, so much the better, but that’s not essential.  Our unconscious mind can relax as long as we’ve decided what to do and put it on the list.

Whenever we set a goal, we need to be aware of the planning fallacy.  This affects everyone from young students to experienced executives (who continue to fall prey to this fallacy).  This fallacy has been extensively documented and replicated.  An example provided in the book is one by psychologist Roger Bueller and his colleagues.  They asked collegeseniors working on their honors theses to predict when they would probably finish, along with best-case and worst-case scenarios.  On average, the students predicted it would take thirty-four days to finish, but in fact it took them fifty-six days.  Not even half the students finished by they worst-case predicted date.

The authors note that self-control will be most effective if we take basic care of our bodies, starting with diet and sleep.   We need to get enough healthy food on a regular basis so that our mind has adequate energy.  And it is good to begin the day with a healthy breakfast.  The authors write that sleep is probably even more important than food:  The more researchers study sleep deprivation the more nasty effects they keep discovering.  Coffee in the morning is not an adequate substitute for sleeping until our bodies wake up on their own because it has gotten enough rest.  They write,”The old advice that  things will seem better in the morning has nothing to do with daylight, and everything to do with depletion.  A rested will is a stronger will.”

It seems that most schedules for school and work are oblivious of the importance of adequate sleep and breakfast.  This forces people to shortchange themselves on sleep and breakfast.  In turn, these shortages result in inferior performance in both school and work.  Seriously attention needs to be paid to this problem.

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

Smoking and Alcoholism

April 17, 2017

This post is based largely on the book “Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.  Just like dieting, quitting smoking requires your maximum willpower.  So it should be the lone habit you’re trying to rid yourself of.  One research program found that a written contract committing to temporarily stop smoking was nearly 40% more likely than a control group to be nicotine free after a year.  Given an incentive to temporarily restrain their smoking, they were more likely to make a lasting change in their lives.  What began as a recommitment turned into something permanent and more valuable:  a habit.

If you can’t bring your self to quit smoking, try cutting down to two or three cigarettes per day.  This should have health benefits plus it puts you closer to quitting smoking altogether.

Smoking cigarettes had long been regarded as a personal physical compulsion due to overwhelming  impulses in the smoker’s brain and body.  That belief was challenged  in 2008 by an article in the “New England Journal of Medicine” by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler found that quitting smoking seems to spread through social networks.  They fond that kicking the habit seemed to be contagious.  If a member of a married couple quit smoking, the odds of the other spouse quitting increased dramatically.  The odds also increased if a brother, sister or friend quit.  Even coworkers had a substantial effect as long as the people worked together in a fairly small firm.  Generally speaking, smokers who live mainly among nonsmokers tend to have high rates of quitting, indicating the power of social influence and the social support for quitting.

Religions provide large social networks that can assist in quitting smoking.  Of course, religious people are less likely to smoke in the first place, but both new converts along with committed smokers have a good social support network for quitting.  Baumeister and Tierney  also have high praise for Alcoholics Anonymous.  Although they seem to be somewhat skeptical of the method, as good scientists they cannot argue with the results of AA.  AA does not provide an automatic cure.  Rather, it assists in developing the personal discipline using willpower to overcome alcohol abuse.

Smoking and Alcoholism are serious problems and they should be dealt with individually.   Limited willpower should be focused on each separately.

The Perfect Storm of Dieting

April 16, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in the book “Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest  Human Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.   Some of the content will be related plus a few contributions from this blog’s author.

Baumeister and John Tierney write, “If you’re serious about controlling your weight, you need the discipline to follow these three rules:

Never go on a diet.
Never vow to give up chocolate or any other food.
Whether you’re judging yourself or judging others, never equate being overweight with having weak willpower.

The reason for these rules can be attributed to “The Dieter’s Catch-22.”
In order not to eat, a dieter needs willpower.
In order to have willpower, a dieter needs to eat.

Oprah Winfree, along with the experience of others, and perhaps even your personal experience should be proof that diets do not work in the long term.  Although there may be short term effects, eventually we all seem to be able to find that weight that we thought we had lost.

In one experiment, using both dieters and non dieters, the participants arrived at the what researchers call a “food-deprived state.”   In other words they were hungry.  They had not eaten for several hours.  Some were given a small milkshake to take the edge off; others drank two giant milkshakes with enough calories to leave a normal person feeling stuffed.  Then both groups, along with other subjects who hadn’t even given any kind of milkshake, were asked to serve as food tasters.  Each one sat in a private cubicle with several bowls of crackers and cookies and a rating form.  As these people recorded their ratings, they could eat as many from  from each bowl as they wanted and if they finished them all, they could just tell themselves they were doing a thorough job as food testers.  Of course, their ratings didn’t matter.  The researchers were just interested inn how many cookies and crackers they ate, and how the dieters in the group compared with people who were not on a diet.

The non dieters reacted as expected.  Those who had just drunk two giant milkshakes nibbled at the crackers and quickly filled out their ratings.  Those who had drunk the small milkshake ate more crackers.  And those who were still hungry after not eating for hours went on to chomp through the better part of the cookies and crackers.

However, the dieters reacted in the opposite pattern.  The ones who had downed the giant milkshakes actually ate more cookies and crackers than the ones who’d had nothing to eat for hours.    These results have been replicated.  Finally the researchers began to see why self-control in eating can fail even amount people who are carefully regulating themselves.  The researchers gave this phenomenon the scientific term, counterregulaory eating, but this is commonly referred to as the what-the-hell effect.  So once dieters go off their diet they tend to say what-the-hell and behave like sailors on leave.

The key to successful dieting can be attributed to Mark Twain who wrote in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, “To promise not do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing.”

Research has shown the effectiveness of a postponement strategy.  When offered something tempting, rather than denying it, tell yourself that you will enjoy it sometime later.  Apparently it takes less will power to postpone something rather then to deny it.  So rather than a “what the hell” effect,” there can be an “I never managed to get around to it effect.”

The chapter concludes, “So when it comes to food never say never.  When the dessert cart arrives, don’t gaze longingly at forbidden treats.  Know that you will eat them eventually, but just not tonight.”

Weight loss goals should be modest.  And all your willpower needs to be devoted to them.  Large weight losses rarely last.

The following strategies were not in the book, but HM finds them promising.
The book does mention trying to keep track of calories.  This can have the benefit of slowing down your eating.  And the slowing down itself can be quite effective.  Take time to savor each bite of food.  This can also increase your enjoyment of the meal as well as helping your lose weight.

Another tactic is to switch diets for a limited amount of time.  For example, you might become a vegetarian for a week.  This is a variant of the postponement strategy.  You postpone your regular food.  Over a period of a week you are filling up on new food.  And over this period, you might start to enjoy some foods.  You can do this periodically gradually increasing the length of time on the new diet.

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

Willpower 101, First Lesson, Know Your Limits

April 15, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in he book “Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.  It is important to reiterate that your supply of willpower is limited, and you use this same resource for many different things.  Throughout the day you do many things that deplete your willpower of which you are likely unaware.  One activity that definitely depletes willpower is making decisions.  Practically nobody is aware of just how tiring it is to decide.  Even apparently simple decisions such as choosing what to have for dinner depletes willpower..  But deciding where to go on vacation, whom to hire, or where to look for a new job, which purchases to make and how much to spend are all decisions that deplete willpower.

Also remember that what matters is the exertion and not the outcome.  If you struggle with temptation and then give in, you have depleted your willpower regardless of the result.  You even use up willpower when you partake in indulgences that don’t appeal to you.  Forcing yourself to do something you don’t really want to do at the moment, be it chugging tequila, having sex, or smoking a cigar, depletes your willpower.

Unfortunately there is no obvious “feeling” of depletion, so you need to watch yourself for subtle, easily misinterpreted signs.  For example:  Do things seem to bother you more than they should?  Has the volume somehow been turned up on your life so that things are felt more strongly than usual?  Is it suddenly hard to make up your mind about even simple things?  Are you more than usually reluctant to make a decision to exert yourself mentally or physically?  When you notice these feelings, then review the last few hours and see if it seems likely likely that you have depleted your will power?

Although your supply of willpower is limited, it is obvious it can be replenished.  Obviously, a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast should restore your willpower.  But during the day pleasant down time should also do some replenishing.   There is another activity that HM strongly recommends, and that is meditation.  HM finds meditation most definitely to be restorative.  It is unfortunately that Baumeister and Tierney do not have meditation play a more central role.  It is mentioned that meditation rituals are a “kind of anaerobic workout for self control.”  And that “Meditation activates the same brain centers used for self-regulation.”  HM understand why they do not emphasize meditation.  They are conscientious researchers who want controlled research on the topic.  Although HM understands why they do not emphasize meditation, he criticizes their not conducting obvious research on the topic.  HM can, at least, provide his recommendation on the basis of his personal experience.  And that is that, perhaps apart from a good sound night’s sleep, meditation is the most restorative activity.  A short period, a half hour or less, of effective meditation has remarkable restorative powers.  (Enter “relaxation response” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to find relevant posts.  Additional posts can be found by entering “meditation”  or “mindfulness”)

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

Eat (and Sleep) Your Way to Willpower

April 14, 2017

This post is based on the book “Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.  Glucose depletion can turn the most charming companion into a monster.  The advice of eating a good breakfast applies all day long, particularly when you’re  physically or mentally stressed.  If you have a test, an important meeting, or a vital project, don’t take it on without glucose.  Don’t thrash out serious problems with your partner just before dinner.

Don’t skimp on calories when you’re trying to deal with more serious problems than being overweight.  If you’re trying to quit smoking, don’t try quitting while your also on a diet.  You might even consider adding some calories, because part of what seems to be a craving for a cigarette may actually be a craving for food once you’re no longer suppressing your appetite with nicotine.  When sugar tablets were given to smokers trying to quite, sometimes the extra glucose has led to higher rates of success, particularly when the sugar tablets were combined with other therapies such as the nicotine patch.

When you eat, go for the slow burn,  The body converts just about all sorts of food into glucose, but at different rates.  Foods that are converted quickly are said to have a high glycemic index.  Included here are starchy carbohydrates like white bread, potatoes, white rice, and plenty of offerings on snack racks and fast-food counters.   Eating them produces boom-and-bust cycles, leaving you short on glucose and self-control, and too often unable to resist the body’s craving for quick hits of starch and sugar from doughnuts and candy.

To maintain steady self-control, we’re  better off eating foods with a low glycemic index.  Included here are most vegetables, nuts (like peanuts and cashews), many raw fruits (like apples, blueberries, and pears), fish, meat, olive oil, and other “good” fats.

When you’re sick, save your glucose for your immune system.  Before driving to work when you’re sick consider this:  Driving a car with a bad cold has been found to be even more dangerous than driving when mildly intoxicated.  That’s because your immune system  is using so much of your glucose to fight the cold that there’s not enough left for the brain.

Sleep when your are tired.  We adults routinely shortchange ourselves on sleep with the result of less self control.  By resting we reduce the body’s demands for glucose, and we also improve its overall ability to make use of the glucose in the bloodstream.  Sleep deprivation has been shown to impair the processing of glucose, which produces immediate consequences for self-control, and, over the long term, a higher risk of diabetes.

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

April 13, 2017

The  immediately preceding post, Irresistible described the increasing addictive dangers of technology.  This and the immediately following posts will outline the solution.  That solution is willpower, and is covered in detail in a book with the title of this post  Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.   In the concluding chapter of this book they write that they’re still bullish on the future of self-control, at both the personal and social levels.  And they concede that temptations are getting more sophisticated, but so are the tools for resisting them.

Charles Darwin wrote in “The Descent of Man,” “The highest possible state in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts.  Most personal problems, both personal and social, center on the failure of self-control:  compulsive spending and borrowing, impulsive violence, underachievement in school, procrastination at work, alcohol and drug abuse, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, chronic anxiety, explosive anger.  Poor self-control correlates with practically every kind of individual trauma: losing friends, being fired, getting divorced, and ending up in prisons.  It contributed to the epidemic of risky loans and investments that devastated the financial system.  Ultimately, self-control let’s you relax because it removes stress and enables you to conserve willpower for the important challenges.

There are two important facts to understand about willpower.  There is a biological constraint on willpower.  When glucose levels are low, willpower declines.  And there is an additional constraint on willpower that is psychological.   There is a limited supply of willpower, and exercising willpower depletes this limited supply.  We use the same resource for doing different things.  This is why it is pointless to have many New Year’s Eve resolutions.  The fewer you have, the less likely any of them will be successful.  In previous healthy memory posts the recommendation was to have, at most, two resolutions.  One should be fairly easy, so at least there will be one victory, and the other should be challenging so that the success of that resolution would be grounds for cheering.  But do them in succession, say easy first, then difficult, rather than trying to do them both at the same time.

Many strategies and techniques for effectively using one’s willpower that are based on sound research are presented in the book.  One of them is positive procrastination.  For example, you might want to  have some tasty treat, but you tell yourself to procrastinate, to have it sometime later.  There is also a humorous example provided by  Robert Benchley, my favorite humorist.  In one of his essays he writes that he is often asked how he manages to accomplish so much work, given that he appears to be so dissipated.  He explained how he could summon the discipline to read a scientific article about tropical fish, build a bookshelf, arrange books on said shelf, and write an answer to a friend’s letter that had been sitting in a pile on his desk for twenty years.  All he had to do was to draw up a to-do list for the week and put these tasks above his top priority—his job of writing an article.  He wrote, “The secret of my incredible energy and efficiency in getting work done is a simple one.  The psychological principal  is this:  anyone can do any amount of work, provided that it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.”  I encourage readers to look up Robert Benchley on the Wikipedia.  Much of his work is still available on amazon.com.

The following is from the concluding chapter of Willpower.  “People with stronger willpower are more altruistic.  “They’re more likely to donate to charity, to do volunteer work, and to offer their own homes as shelter to someone with no place to go.  Willpower evolved because it was crucial for our ancestors to get along with the rest of the clan, and it’s still serving that purpose today.  Inner discipline still leads to outer kindness.”

You are strongly encouraged to read Willpower even though the following posts will be based on his book about this important topic, they can only scratch the surface.  Erick Clapton, Mary Karr, David Blaine, and Henry Morton Stanley. Should you not know Henry Morton Stanley, he is famous for finding a Scottish missionary in the wilds of Africa and saying, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”  He is a legendary figure in willpower.  He makes David Blaine look like a wuss.

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

Irresistible

April 12, 2017

“Irresistible” is the title of a book by Adam Alter.  Its subtitle is “The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.”  This is an important book because it addresses an important problem, the addiction to computer games.  The World of Warcraft (WOW) is perhaps the most egregious example in which lives have been and are continuing to be ruined.  The statistics will not be belabored here.  They are well presented in “Irresistible” along with numerous personal stories.  “Behavioral addiction” was discussed in a previous healthymemory blog post “Beware the Irresistible Internet.”  There is a series of posts based on Dr. Mary Aiken’s book, “The Cyber Effect” that has addressed this problem. Additional healthy memory posts on this topic can be found by entering “Sherry Turkle” into the search block of the healthymemory blog.  What is especially alarming is that Adam Alter makes a compelling argument that game makers are getting better at making their games irrestible, that is behaviorally addicting.

Of course, not all games are bad.  “Gamification”  is a term for games devoted to beneficial ends, such as education.  This can be very beneficial when learning, that could be tedious, is transformed into an entertaining game, which could be played for its entertainment value alone.  Good arguments can be made for these games provided that their educational benefits are documented.  However, even if it were possible, it would be dangerous if all of education were gamefied.  Not everything in life is enjoyable, and part of the educational process should be learning to assure the students persevere even when learning becomes difficult and frustrating.

Alter also does a commendable review of treatments for behavioral addictions and preventive measures to decrease the likelihood of addiction.  The book begins with Steve Jobs telling the New York Times journalist Nick Bilton that his children never used the iPAD, “We limit how much technology our kids use in theme.”  Bolton discovered that other tech giant imposed similar restrictions.  A former editor of “Wired,” Chris Anderson, enforced strict time limits on every device in his home, “because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand.”  After relating the way tech giants controlled their childrens’ access to technology lAlter wrote, “It seemed as if the  people producing tech products were following the cardinal rule of drug dealing:  never get high on your own supply.”

Perhaps one of the most informative studies related in “Irresistible” is not specifically about addiction.  It related a paper published by eight psychologists in the journal “Science.”  In one study they asked a group of undergraduate students to sit quietly for twenty minutes.  They were told that their goal was to entertain themselves with your thoughts as best you can.  That is, your goal should be to have a pleasant experience, as opposed to spending time focusing on everyday activities or negative things.”  The experimenters hooked up  to a machine that administers electric shocks, and gave them a sample shock  to show that the experience of being shocked isn’t pleasant.   The students were told that they could self-administer the shock if they wanted to, but that “Whether you do so is completely up to you.”  It was their choice.
One student shocked himself one hundred and ninety times.  That’s once every six seconds, over and over for twenty minutes.   Although he was an outlier, two thirds of all male students and about one in three female students shocked themselves at least once.  Many shocked themselves more than once.  By their own admission in a questionnaire they didn’t find the experience pleasant, so they preferred to endure the unpleasantness  of a shock to the experience of sitting quietly with their thoughts.

Upon rereading this experiment HM became convinced that the teaching of mindfulness and meditation should be mandatory in the public school.  If so these students would have taken advantage of the situation to be “in the present ” and to meditate, just as they would if they found themselves stuck in traffic or being forced to wait.  (See the healthy memory blog post, “SPACE”)

Perhaps HM is a “goody two-shoes” but he has never been attracted to games.  He never cared how much he scored on a pin ball machine.  He is the same with respect to computer games.  They strike him as pointless activities, so he never plays them.

It strikes HM that public education is avoiding a key responsibility.  Students need to understand from an early age that their time on earth is limited.  This should not send them into panic or to avoid enjoyable pursuits.  But a question should be asked regarding any pursuit is what value does the pursuit have.  It is okay for some pursuits to be pursued for enjoyment alone.  But there are also pursuits, which in addition to being enjoyable, provide both personal benefits as well as societal benefits.

Ideally one should pursue a life with purpose as was related in the posts on Victor Strecher’s book “Life on Purpose.”  This provides for a benefiting an fulfilling life.  In the healthymemory blog post “SPACE” Stretcher argues for pursuing a healthy lifestyle to further the ends of living a life with purpose.

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

Inside knowledge: What’s Really Going On in the Minds of Animals

April 11, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature article by Michael Brooks in the Features section of in the 1 Apr 2017 New Scientist.   The article begins, “Bright animals from chimps to crows know what they know and what others are thinking.  But when it comes to abstract knowledge, the picture is more mixed.”  Some qualifications need to be placed on “what others are thinking.”  There are definite limits as we humans often have difficulty trying to know what our fellow humans are thinking.

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

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

The full statement can be found at http://fcmconference.org/img/CambridgeDeclarationOnConsciousness.pdf

Fortunately, the scientists here are neuroscientists, which gives the statement more gravitas than had it been made by psychologists.  But psychologists are involved in designing experiments to assess how much and what kinds of abstract knowledge can be achieved by different species.  And there is a long row of research ahead of them.  HM was much encouraged by this declaration as he has long thought that dogs were man’s best friend, rather than men being man’s best friend, because dogs had the neurological substrates for love and loyalty, but were lacking in neocortex that allowed for rationalization and deviousness.

There is a tendency to evaluate what animals know with respect to what humans know.  Sometimes this research seems to reflect an inferiority complex in showing what these are things we can do that nonhuman species cannot. They also need to be evaluated with respect to the capabilities of the species and the environments in which they operate.

We need to consider species with respect to their sensory caoacities. Consider are best friend, dogs, for example.  The vision of most dogs is not that good, but their hearing is outstanding, and their sense of smell is extraordinary.  When we think of someone, we tend to see them in our mind’s eye.  However, when a dog thinks of a person it is likely in terms of how that person smells.

Recent research has indicated that non-human species are more human than has traditionally been thought.  This research is to be applauded.  We look forward to what we’ll learn from future research, but it should go beyond what they can do compared to what we can do.

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

Inside Knowledge: Why Knowing Thyself is the Hardest Thing

April 10, 2017

The title of this post is identical to a Feature article by Anil Ananthaswamy in the 1 April 2016 issue of the New Scientist.  As Anil writes, We are within ourselves, so any attempt to build a full picture is fraught with our own cognitive biases and problems of self-reference.  Moreover a big part of our self perception is tied up with how others see us, yet we can never now the biases that cloud their perception.

Philosophical investigation and scientific observation of human behavior allow us to delineate the question of what the self is a little more sharply.  There are several ways of doing this.

There is the phenomenal self.  This corresponds to our signs of existing, and that there is a distinct entity in our mind that experiences this existence.  The self is very real to each of us:  it’s a sense of being a body situated in the here and now, and also of being a person existing over time.  Unfortunately, this is not always a reliable source of true knowledge.  There is a rate neurological disorder Cotard’s syndrome in which the individual has the distinct and disturbing experience of non existence—a  subjective self-knowledge clearly at odds with the truth.  There are also people who do not feel that parts of their bodies, say particular limbs, are not theirs.  And when we dream we have a robust sense of self while being completely deluded about who and where we are.

The epistemic self is a more sophisticated type of self-knowledge.  The epistemic self is a sense of self that knows it knows.  The epistemic self is aware of the working of the phenomenal self, and can make us more aware of our motivations.  It is a new way of relating to oneself.

Imagine you are sitting in a mind-numbing meeting and start fantasying about an exotic vacation.  Your phenomenal self wanders with you into this dream world, but as you snap back to the reality of your meeting and become aware you’ve been daydreaming, your epistemic self flashes into action, only to disappear again as you mind focuses (or wanders) once more.

The aim of mindfulness and meditation is to enhance the epistemic self.  Doing so gives us greater mental autonomy, “the capacity to stop or better control what we’re thinking, feeling, and doing.”  There are many healthy memory posts on mindfulness and meditation.

Inside Knowledge: The Maximum Any One Person Can Ever Know

April 9, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature Article by Sean O’Neill in the 1 April 2017 issue of the New Scientist.  The preceding post explained why Homo Sapiens will never know everything.  This post estimates the maximum any one person can know.

A human brain has approximately 100 billion neurons connected in labyrinthine ways by 100 trillion synapses.  According to a 2015 estimate from the Salk Institute, this amounts to an information storage capacity measured in petabytes, which are millions of gigabytes.  In comparison the Large Hadron Collider, the particle smasher as CEN, pumps out some 30 petabytes of data in use one year.  A recent paperer published jointly by researchers using the collider credited 5000 people with producing and analyzing the data.

Of course creating knowledge is about a lot more than assimilating data.  Our brains are not an empty petabyte stick.  As O’Neill notes, if it were, you would send it back to the shop, disappointed in its slow upload rate.

What is relevant is how much an individual brain can know as we have never filled one up.  We reach a time limit before we reach a processing limit.  Hyperpolyglot Alexander Arguelles is already competent in over 50 languages.  He says, “Give me total freedom of time…and I could conceivably do 100 languages.”  O’Neill notes that this would be at the expense of everything else.

Cesar Hidalgo of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has dubbed the amount a person can realistically learn in a lifetime a personbyte.   He notes that the knowledge you would need to throw a beautiful clay pot is less than 1 person byte.  But if you want to build an F-22 Raptor fighter jet complete with on-board missile-guidance systems, you’re going to need many thousands of person bytes.

O’Neill optimistically concludes that “we should not let our brains meagre bandwidth get us down.  And if the amount and complexity of human knowledge has increased over time, so the means of acquiring it have steadily improved too, with spoken knowledge, written language, the printing press and now the internet.  In that profusion of information, the barrier to progress lies not in the quantity of knowledge our brains can hold, but in its quality.”

Although what O’Neill writes is true, especially in putting the emphasis on the quality of knowledge instead of the quantity, we still need to be humble about how much we think we know.  HM writes “think we know” because we can never be sure of what we know.  Regardless of the technology, there are biological limits to the rate of knowledge acquisition and the capacity of short term memory.  So we need to walk and talk humbly.

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

Inside Knowledge: Why We’ll Never Know Everything

April 8, 2017

The title of this post identical to the title of an article by Richard Webb in the Features Section of the 1 Apr 2017 New Scientist.   There are many limitations, but let us just consider computational power.  One can argue that computational power is only a temporary limitation.  Webb notes, however powerful we make them, computers rely on human input to program them.

Webb goes on to comment “…human thought is a glorious, uproarious, complex mess. Statements like “this statement is false, hating someone yet loving them and yes, that small-yet-large jumbo shrimp, both compute and do not compute.”  Panofsky, an information scientist at the City University of New York says, “language is an expression of the mind, and my mind is full of contradictions.”

This flexibility allows us to think creatively, while remaining firmly grounded.  Webb says that “because we are predicated on contradiction, we see contradiction everywhere. But “the defining feature of reality is that it admits no contradiction.   Quantum objects apparently act as waves or as particles depending how we choose to measure them.”  Physicist Richard Feynman called this confusing duality “the only mystery” of the quantum world.  Webb conjectures, “In all probability, the basic building blocks of reality are neither wave nor particle, but something else entirely.  It’s just something that we lack the experience or cognitive ability to express.”

When HM was a naive undergraduate he did not want to waste time on philosophy courses where questions were raised, solutions were presented and argued about, but resolution or general agreement, was never achieved.  So he took courses in symbolic logic where, he thought, definitive conclusions could be reached.  Logic and mathematics is supposedly a cleaner, neutral language for a trained brain to describe in abstract terms what it cannot visualize.  What HM learned in symbolic logic was that there were logical limitations on both logic and mathematics.

For example, there is the well-known injunction that you should never divide a number by zero.  If you do, you can begin to do things like prove 1 = 2.  This can’t be allowed if mathematics are the language of a flawless universe.   Panofsky says, “if you want mathematics to continue without contradiction than you have to restrict yourself.”

Kurt Godel showed in the 1930s that any system of logic containing the rules of arithmetic is bound to contain statements that can be neither proved nor disproved.  It will remain “incomplete” , trapped in the same inconsistency as we are.  Model incompleteness is a mathematical expression of the logical-illogical statement “this statement is false.”  So there is no way for anything, be it a simple sentence, system of logic, or a human being to express the full truth about itself.

Webb continues “This problem of self-reference is endemic.  Godel’s contemporary Alan Turing showed that you cannot ask a computer program in advance whether it will run successfully.  Quantum mechanics sprouts paradoxes because we are part of the universe we are trying to measure.”

And Webb concludes, “So the sobering truth is that we can build the most powerful telescopes, microscopes and computers we want, we we will never overcome the limitations of our minds.  Our perspective on reality will always be skewed because we—and the jumbo shrimp—are part of it.”

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

Inside Knowledge: How to Tell Truth from Lies

April 7, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Tiffany O’Callaghan in the Features section of the 1 Apr 2017 New Scientist.  This article notes there are hardcore relativist philosophers who argue that there’s no such thing as objective truth that exists outside our minds.  This is absurd.  What they might be intending to mean, and is something that HM thinks, is that we shall never find objective truth (see the immediately preceding post that follows this one, blog style).  Science is a systematic method for achieving an increasingly better understanding of objective truth.  The risk in believing that one has objective truth is the same as having beliefs having certainty.  They blind us to other better options.

Very often in both science and math, simplifying assumptions are made to make the research problem tractable.  These simplifying assumptions are necessary and bring us closer to objective truth.  However, it must always be remembered that these results were obtained using simplifying assumptions.

Unfortunately, we live in a world in which there are businesses devoted to making lies (see the healthy memory blog post, “Lies, Inc.”).

Steve Sloman says that as individuals, we hardly know anything.  “But most of us do very well, and as a society we create incredible things.  We sent  a person to the moon.  How is this possible”?  Because of the knowledge of other people.”

The article presents the following advice for treading the fine line between healthy skepticism and destructive cynicism.  “First, think critically and assess the credentials, track record and potential bias of the sources we rely on.” wrote Peter van Inwagen. He continues, “If someone is telling me this, what motives could that person have for wanting me to believe that, other than that it’s true?”

We should ask how do we know?  How do they know? We need to ask ourselves whether our reaction to new knowledge is rooted in something trustworthy or something else, like wishful thinking.  Those not believing in global warming in spite of scientific evidence might require them to do a certain amount of rather inconvenient stuff, stuff that would have financial costs, so they really rather not believe and start to make the sacrifices we would all have to make.

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

Inside Knowledge: What Makes Scientific Knowledge Special

April 6, 2017

The title of this post is identical to an article by Michael Brooks in the Features Section of the 1 Apr 2017 New Scientist.   The article begins, “NULIUS in verba:  “take nobody’s word for it”.  This is the motto of the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science.  This encapsulates the spirit of scientific inquiry.  The article continues, “Thanks to what science tells us about human physiology, the universe’s history, nature’s forces and Earth’s geology, flora and fauna, we know the earth isn’t flat, the universe is nearly 14 billion years old, and that there are no dragons or unicorns.  We live longer and in more comfort, and can send space probes to the edge of the universe.

But there are people who still contend the earth is flat.  Other people say the universe is 6000 years old.  Still others doubt the the theory of evolution by natural selection.  And there are people who question the reality of human-made climate change.  Unfortunately, some of these people are in positions of power like Donald Trump and his appointees.  For this, HM apologizes to the rest of the world.  However, a majority of the American voters did not vote for Trump.  Trump did not win the popular vote. He was elected by an electoral college, an institution developed to deny the principle of one citizen, one vote.

What is worse is there is an industry devoted to publishing and promoting scientific lies (see the healthy memory blog post, “Lies, Inc).  It needs to be understood that the scientific facts cited above could change.  Science is always an approximation of the truth.  Absolute truth is a destination we will likely never reach.  But to change science, experiments that produce data are required.  And there must be a means of disproving scientific theories.  There must be a way of disproving creationism, or it is not a scientific theory.  And there are arguments that question human-made climate change.  Unfortunately, some of these arguments come from Lies, Inc.  However, to be fair, there are scientists who question not the effects of humans on climate change, but on the rate at which these effects are taking place.  In this case, the opinion goes to the majority of research that argues climate change is real and is increasing at an alarming rate.

Philosopher Edward Hall of Harvard says “Authority in science is earned—at least, when a scientific community is functioning well—by  predicting and more generally at analyzing empirical phenomena.”

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

Inside Knowledge: Why We Like to Know Useless Stuff

April 5, 2017

This blog post has the same title as a Feature article by Daniel Cossins in the 1 Apr 2017 New Scientist. The author notes that knowledge is more than just information.  “Even the nematode worm caenorhabditis elegant, the owner of one of the smallest brains we now, forages to maximize information about its environment, and so its chances of staying alive and reproducing.”  This is the typical analysis offered by scientists.  It seems like the entire point is for species to evolve and to reproduce.  However, evolution offers the hope that we can evolve into something better.  Homo sapiens as a whole is quite depressing.  We seem to be preoccupied with warfare and have developed weapons that can lead to our own extinction.  However, there are some members of our species who espouse transcendental values, which leads to the hope that we might become something better.

Cousins writes, “The precise details of how we first came to love knowledge may always elude us.  But it is easy to see how it would have spurred our success as individuals and as a species furnishing us with the tools—often literally, if you think of  cutting blades or fire—to survive and prosper.”

So the argument is that we are addicted to knowledge because it has served us so well in the past.  It still does today, in everyday life as well as the frontiers of technological progress.  The term infovores has be used to describe this propensity (enter “infovores” into the search block of the healthy memory blog).

Abraham Flexner, the founder of the Institute of Advanced Study (IAS) at Princeton pointed out in a 1939 essay “The usefulness of useless knowledge,” radio communications and all that came with it wasn’t ultimately the inventions of Guglielmo Marconi.  It was down to James Clerk Maxwell and Heinrich Hertz, scientist who worked out the basics of electromagnetic waves with no practical objectives.”

The current director of IAS, Robbert Dijkgraaf has written a companion essay to a reissue of Flexner’s original.  He wrote, “The theory of general relativity is used every day in our GPS systems, but it was not the reason Einstein solved it.

The problem is that too many people reject science.  Some reject science on the basis of religious texts.  Others are fundamentally ignorant.  What is most depressing is the leader of the United States rejecting scientific research.  For this HM apologizes.  Although he did not win the popular vote; he was chosen by the electoral college, an anachronism that denies the sacred principle of one citizen, one vote.

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

Inside Knowledge: What Separates Fact from Belief

April 3, 2017

The title of this post is identical to an article by Richard Webb in the Features Section of the 1 Apr 2017 New Scientist.  HM answers this question by saying that it is the degree of belief.  Research has indicated that absent any indications to the contrary when we hear or see a fact, the default is to believe it.  When supposed facts are heard or read that do not correspond to the individual’s belief system, a noticeable signal is recorded in the brain.  This indicates that System 2 thinking has been invoked and this fact will either be rejected or postponed until further information and thinking can be performed.  Kahneman terms System 1 intuition and System 2 reasoning.  System 1 is fast, that’s why it’s the default processing system.  System 2 is slow and requires further thinking.  System 2 is supposed to protect us from false beliefs.  At the turn of he 20th century there were many physical scientists who believed that practically everything that needed to be known about the physical sciences was known.  All that was needed was to add some more decimal places of precisions.  Just five years later Albert Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity.  Beliefs should always be subject to change and should never reach certainty.

Technology has developed at such an alarming rate that there are an enormous number of facts to evaluate.  All of science, both physical and social, is producing facts that lay people do not have the knowledge to evaluate. Moreover, there is a business of deliberately publishing false facts (See the healthy memory blog post, “Lies, Incorporated.”)

The remainder of this post is motivated by the box titled “Where Knowledge Comes From”  at the bottom of the article.  One way of classifying knowledge is by how we acquire it.

Perceptual knowledge comes from our senses but involves significant processing by our brains.  Basically the brain builds models of the world using this information, but it must be appreciated that we do not have direct knowledge of the world.  The truth is that we infer it, and this knowledge changes as information grows.  Everyone should be familiar with perceptual illusions, in which the psychological interpretation does not agree with the physical representation.

Testimonial knowledge comes from other people and media.  Here belief should largely hinge on the source of the information.  Different sources have different biases, as these biases must be taken into consideration.  The credentials of the sources are of primary importance.  Whether there is scientific evidence for the facts is especially important.  Sources that contradict scientific data must be evaluated with skepticism.

Our inner sense, the awareness of our own feelings and states, such as pain and hunger would appear to be highly credible, but some times we are out of touch with our senses.  Beliefs can actually greatly deaden pain in many cases.  Enter “placebos”  into the search block of the healthy memory blog.  (Enter “placebos” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to learn more about their effectiveness)

Inferential knowledge goes beyond actual facts in assessing the credibility of facts, and in making inferences about facts.  Critical thinking is key here.

Beliefs can blind us to facts.  A good example of this is the problem of health care in the United States.  Health care in the United States is the most expensive in the world, yet health statistics in the United States approach those in the third world.  Every advanced country in the world has a national system of health care except the United States.  The reason for this is that the Republican party sees government as the problem and not the solution to health care.  But all other advanced countries have successful health care systems in which the governments play a central part.  The affordable health care act, frequently referred to as Obamacare, used the government to increase access to health care.  It was a small effort that fell far short of Obama’s goals.  Trump promised that Trumpcare would be much better than Obamacare.  Had he formulated an improvement over the affordable care act, it would have been welcome.  However, the plan that was formulated was woefully short of the Affordable Care Act, and was defeated.

Republicans trumpet the value of market forces in health care.  But back in 1963 Nobel Prize winning economist Kenneth Arrow offered an explanation as to why markets do not work well in health care.  There is a huge mismatch of power information between the buyer and seller.  For example, if a salesman tells us to buy a particular television, we can easily choose another or just walk away.  However, if a doctor insists we need a medication or procedure, we are far less likely to reject the advice.  Arrow also noted that people don’t think they don’t need health care until they get sick, and then they need lots of it.

Beliefs are frequently compartmentalized and this has adverse effects on inferential knowledge.  Here again the Republican Party and healthcare provide a good example.  It should be understood that both parties have religious beliefs, but Republicans are especially strong in their beliefs which center on loving our neighbors, and caring for the needy and sick.  Yet compartmentalization of the Republican beliefs about the role of government blocked addressing religious beliefs about caring for the sick  with the result of increased unnecessary suffering among their fellow human beings

Beliefs are necessary, but they should never be absolute.  They are dangerous in that they can foreclose meaningful solutions to critical problems.  And they can hinder effective inferential knowledge.  A useful exercise is occasionally to try to ignore one’s beliefs and explore the ramifications of ignoring those beliefs.

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

Pedestrian Deaths Soar in the Uneven Battles with Cars

April 2, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article written by Ashley Halsey III in the 30 March 2017 issue of the Washington Post.  Pedestrian deaths soared by 25% nationally between 2010 and 2015.  Pedestrians now account for 15% of all traffic deaths.  Preliminary data for 2016 indicate that a the number of pedestrian deaths increased by 11% over 2015, with 6,000 people being killed in collisions with vehicles.  A number of reasons for this increase were noted, but the one that caught HM’s eyes was the use of smartphones—both by drivers and people on foot.

The article includes engineering and safety measures that need to be undertaken to reduce pedestrian deaths.  HM applauds these efforts, but this post is devoted to the measures pedestrians need to take to protect themselves.

The first is to not use smartphones, both as drivers and pedestrians.   Many, many healthy memory posts have been written on the dangers of distracted driving.  The personal risks to smartphone use by pedestrians are even greater.  I’ve seen pedestrians walking, engrossed in their smartphones, who step into traffic without checking for oncoming vehicles.  The HM has almost hit several of these pedestrians.  Fortunately he did not.  But an accident with one of these pedestrians would have haunted him for the rest of his life even though he would not have been at fault.

There are a couple of reasons pedestrians might be so careless.  One is that they have never ever been hit by a vehicle, so they think vehicles are not going to hit them.  What they fail to realize is that drivers certainly do not want to hit drivers, but drivers need to be given sufficient time to respond to avoid a collision.

Pedestrians also seem to assume a symmetry between their perception of automobiles and the automobile drivers’ perception of them.  This problem is particularly acute at night.  Although it is easy for pedestrians to see cars with their blazing lights, pedestrians are small usually dressed in dark clothing, which can make them almost impossible to see.

When HM was in public schools there were posters that were prominently displayed, “Where white at night.”  What has happened to these signs?  They need to be resurrected and placed in many prominent places.  Today reflectors are more readily available, but why don’t pedestrians make more use of them?

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

Perhaps Tim Berners-Lee Did Not Anticipate This Problem

April 1, 2017

And this problem can be found in a front page article by Elizabeth Dwoksin and Crain Timberg titled “Advertisers find it hard to avoid sites spawning hate” in the 25 March 2017 issue of the Washington Post.

This article begins, “As the owner of a small business in liberal Massachusetts, John Ellis was a natural sympathizer of the nationwide call for advertisers to boycott Breitbard News, with its hard-edge conservative politics and close ties to President Trump.  But it made Ellis wonder about other more extreme right-wing sites:  Who is placing adds on them?  A few clicks around the Internet revealed a troubling answer:  He was.”

He found an add for his engineering company company, Optics for Hire, on a website owned by white nationalist leader, Richard Spencer.  Of course, this meant that he was unknowingly supplying funding for this website.

The Post article continues that  in the booming world of Internet advertising, businesses use the latest in online advertising technology offered by Google, Yahoo, and their major competitors are increasingly finding their ads placed alongside politically extreme and derogatory content.

The reason for this is that the ad networks offered by Google, Yahoo, and others can display ads on vast numbers of third-party websites based on people’s search and browsing histories.  This strategy gives advertisers an unprecedented ability to reach customers who fit a narrow profile; it dramatically curtails their ability to control where their advertisements appear.

This week AT&T, Verizon and other leading companies pulled their business from Google’s AdSense network in response to news report that ads had appeared with propaganda from the Islamic State and violent groups.

A Washington Post examination of dozens of sites with politically extreme and derogatory content found that many were customers of leading ad networks, which share a portion of revenue gleaned from advertisers with the site’s operators.  The examination found that the networks had displayed ads for Allstate, IBM, DirectTV and dozens of other household brand names on websites with content containing racial and ethnic slurs, Holocaust denial and disparaging comments about African Americans, Jews, women, and gay people.

Other Google displayed ads, for Macy’s and the genetics company 23andMe, appeared on he website My Posting Career, which describes itself as a “white privilege zone,” next to a notice saying the site would offer a referral bonus for each member related to Adolph Hitler.

Some advertisers also expressed frustration that ad networks had failed to keep marketing messages from appearing alongside reader comments—even on sites that themselves do not promote extremist content.

Clearly more attention needs to be devoted to this topic along with better screening algorithms.  And perhaps some companies will need to make a choice between profits and offending content.

A Good Example of What Tim Berners-Lee Fears

March 31, 2017

It can be found in an article by Anthony Failoa and Stephanie Kirchner on page A8 in the 25 March issue of the Washington Post titled, “In Germany, online hate stokes right-wing violence”.

The Reichsburgers are an expanding movement in Germany with similarities to what are known as sovereign citizens groups in the United States.  Reichsburgers  reject the legitimacy of the federal government, seeing politicians and bureaucrats as usurpers.  After authorities  seized illegal weapons from his home, they charged Bangert, a Reichsburger, and five accomplices with plotting attacks on police officers, Jewish centers and refugee shelters.

Jan Rathje, a project leader at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation says, “It’s an international phenomenon of people claiming there are conspiracies going on, people with an anti-Semitic worldview who are also against Muslims, immigrants, and the federal government.  He continued, we’ve reached a point where it’s not just talk.  This kind of thinking is turning violent.”

Preliminary figures for last year show that at least 12,503 crimes were committed by far-right extremists—914 of which were violent.  The worst act was the fatal shooting of a German police officer by a Reichsburger member.  The preliminary figures roughly compete with levels in 2015, but they amount to a leap of nearly 20% from 2014.

Of course, Germans are especially sensitive about this as one time they were governed by Nazis.  Officials say they last time numbers surged this high was in the early 1990s, when Germany recorded a large but short-term jump in neo-Nazi activity following reunification.  Authorities believe the the surge is due, in part, by the arrival of early, mostly Muslim, asylum seekers.   Last year, there were nearly 10 anti-migrant attacks per day, ranging from vandalism to arson, to severe beatings.  Officials say the rise of conspiracy theorist websites, inflammatory fake news, and anti-federal government/right-wing activism have thrown more factors into the mix.

The Reichsburger movement consist of nearly 10,000 individuals who reject the authority of federal, state and city governments.  Some claim that the last real German government was the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler.  Although the Reichsburger movement may be uniquely German, its type of fringe thinking is universal.  German intelligence officials describe some of the tools used by the members, such as fake passports and documents used to declare their own governments, are nearly identical to those used by American sovereign citizens groups.

In October, a 49-year old Reichsburger  declared his home an “independent state,” shot and killed a police officer assigned to seize his hoarded weapons.  Last August, a former “Mr. Germany” and 13 of his supporters tried to prevent his eviction from his “sovereign home” by shooting at police.  Police fired back, severely injuring Ursache.  Two officers were also hurt.  This raid, along with the raid of 11 other apartments found evidence against Bangert and five other people suspected of having formed a far-right extremist network  They are believed by prosecutors to have been planning armed attacks agains police officers, asylum seekers, and Jews.

As the title of the Washington Post article suggests, online hate is stoking much of this right-wing violence.  It would be interesting to compare the number of right wing hate groups in Germany with right wing hate groups in the US.  This article provides some limited information on Germany.

To find evidence about dangerous hate groups in the US go to https://www.splcenter.org
At one time the FBI monitored these dangerous groups.  HM hopes they are continuing these activities.  However, The Southern Poverty Law Center does more than just monitor these groups.  They have programs that have reformed members of these hate groups, and they continue to develop more programs for this essential service.

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

Tim Berners-Lee Speaks Out on Fake News

March 30, 2017

The title  of this post is identical to the title of an article in the Upfront Section in the 18 March 2017 issue of the New Scientist.  Tim Berners-Lee is the creator of the World Wide Web.  He gave it to the world for free to fulfill its true potential as a tool which serves all of the humanity.  So it is interesting what he thinks of the web’s 28th birthday that was reached on 12 March.

Berners-Lee wrote an open letter to mark the web’s 20th birthday.  He wrote that it is too easy for misinformation to spread, because most people get their news from a few social media sites and search engines prioritize content on what people are likely to click on.

He also questioned the ethics of online political campaigning, which exploits vast amounts of data to target various audiences.  He wrote, “Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups,” is that democratic?”

He also said that we are losing control of our personal data, which we divulge to sign up for free services.

Berniers-Lee founded The Web Foundation that plans to work on these issues.

Conclusions for Suggestible You

March 29, 2017

There have been a dozen posts on Erik Vance’s “Suggestible You:  The Curious Science of your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal” because there is so much interesting material that is relevant to a healthy memory.  Nevertheless, these posts just scratch the surface.  Readers are encouraged to read the original book.

The power of our minds is enormous.  Our brains are an extremely valuable gift.  We need to use them to best advantage and to help them grow.  It is hoped that these dozen or so “Suggestible You” posts have accomplished  that.

Not much has been written about meditation, not because meditation was not covered in the book.  It was covered, but HM thought that the importance of meditation had been covered fairly well in other healthy memory blog posts.  And there will be many more posts on mindfulness and meditation in the future.

Suggestibility can have an enormous effect on many medical conditions, but not all of them.  Although Parkinson’s responds well to placebos, Alzheimer’s does not.  This makes sense, because suggestibility  involves the brain and Alzheimer’s destroys the brain.  The healthy memory blog has many posts on how to build a cognitive reserve.  There are many people who died with the defining amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles of Alzheimer’s, have never shown any of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms.  It is said that a cognitive reserve precluded the cognitive and behavioral symptoms.

Anxiety responds to placebos, as does depression.  The pharmaceutical companies are spending a fortune trying to beat placebo effects.   But obsessive-compulsive disorders traditionally do not respond well to placebos.  Although the pain and nausea of cancer can be eased with placebos, tumors cannot.  Vance writes that the spontaneous regression—the sudden retreat of a tumor for no obvious reason is more common than you might think, but is not a product of suggestion (at least not that we know of).

And don’t forget to be suggestible to yourself.  When sad, remember that you can cheer yourself up, and that it is your mind and the chemicals in your body that affect your mood.  And you do have an ability to control your emotions due to your own suggestibility.  Meditation and mindfulness can also help here.

© 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.

Rules from Suggestible You

March 28, 2017

The author Erik Vance closes with several rules that HM feels obliged to pass along to you.

Rule #1:  Don’t endanger yourself.   Some alternative health remedies are physically dangerous.  For example, Mercury is a poison, incorrect chiropractic treatment can seriously damage your spine, and a careless hypnotist can implant terrifying memories that a may not be yours.  HM adds that you need to be aware not only of hypnotists, but also of misguided psychotherapists who can also implant false memories.

Rule #2:  Don’t Go Broke.  Be suspicious of expensive placebos.   Although more expensive placebos might work somewhat better than cheaper ones, there is a limit.  People have gone broke on treatments and approaches that do not work.  HM adds that they key component of all of these treatments is your mind, and you mind costs nothing aside from the time and cognitive effort.

Rule #3:  Don’t send any creature to extinction.  HM would be surprised if this warning was relevant to any HM readers.  But avoid any treatments that endanger animals.

Rule #4:  Know yourself.  Stay within your limits and use your common sense.

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

Suggestible You 11

March 27, 2017

“Suggestible You” is the title of a book by Erik Vance.  The subtitle is “The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform and Heal.  This is the eleventh post on this book. This post deals with depression.

Vance describes depression as like being chemically sedated into someone you don’t recognize.  He writes that given the choice, he might prefer excruciating chronic pain to depression, then goes on to note many people suffer from both.  He notes that about 7%  of Americans will experience clinical depression this year, losing the United States more than $200 billion.

It is clear that placebos are effective against depression.  Remember that to be declared effective the drug is compared against a placebo.  But when antidepressant drug tests are examined about 75% to 80% of their efficacy can be attributed to placebo effects.  Moreover, there was no real difference between high and low doses, which is odd.  Differences are expected with truly effective drugs.

Moreover, over the past few decals, scientists have noticed a distinct uptick in the power of the placebo effect on pain and depression trials.  Some experts even say that if Prozac had to compete against the placebo effect today, it would not have been cleared by the FDA.  Once a drug clears the Phase III, placebo-controlled trial, it is certified regardless of how it performs in later experiments.

For drug manufacturers trying to get new drugs approved, this is a problem.  But it should not be a problem for depression sufferers.  Remember the reason of including placebos in these tests is that placebo effects are real.  Placebos are much less expensive than the drugs, and carry no side effects.  HM wonders, as long as they are 75% to 80% effective, why take the drug.  Physicians should also be asking the same question.  Now it is clear why drug companies continue to try to develop new anti-depressants.  But after some many decades of research, with all the antidepressants already approved, and with placebos being largely effective without any adverse effect why bother.? At some point the difficulty in exceeding the effect of the placebo might prove so expensive that drug companies might abandon the effort.

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

Suggestible You 10

March 26, 2017

“Suggestible You” is the title of a book by Erik Vance.  The subtitle is “The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal.     This is the tenth post on this book.  This post describe the role of  placebos in addiction.

Approximately 1 in 10 Americans is addicted to some kind of drug—mostly alcohol, although opioid addiction is gaining quickly.  Traditionally addiction has been viewed as a moral failing or a lack of willpower.  Today we understand addiction is mostly physiological, specifically around dopamine.  This is not surprising since this neurotransmitter deals with the anticipation and enjoyment of rewards.  Vance note that this includes sugar, sex, money, a high score on Grand Theft, as well as drugs.

Unfortunately, drug use doesn’t just change the way you feel for a couple of hours: it can also change the brain itself.  When the nervous system is presented with an abundance of pleasurable chemical stimulation through drug use, the nervous system gets overwhelmed and shuts down its production of dopamine to bring itself back into equilibrium.  This creates a bad feedback loop in which the person finds himself short on dopamine whenever he’s not using the drug.   Food no longer tastes as good, and sex can lose its thrill.  Taking the drug that caused this problem is the only way to get back to something close to normal.

Addiction literally changes the way the brain works.  Not only do addicts have less dopamine from drug overuse, but also their  dopamine receptors are affected (either changing their numbers or changing how well they transmit messages).  Regular drug uses twists memories so both the drug and the circumstances surrounding the drug use.  Addiction causes the brain’s impulse control centers to shut down, which greatly increases the chances of relapse.  If cocaine addicts are shown an image of blow for as little as 33 milliseconds, which is too fast to register in consciousness, they will have immediate cravings.

Vance sees addiction as sort of a perversion of all the brain circuits and processes  in his book.  Consequently he thinks that suggestion and expectation may hold the answers to overcoming it.  Naloxone, the drug that first helped expose the chemical nature of placebos and blocks placebo responses altogether, wasn’t invented for placebo research.  It serves a crucial role in medicine as an emergency treatment for drug overdoses.  It’s also pretty effective at blocking the effects of heroin or oxycodone.
A closely related drug, naltrexone, is one of the most effective treatments for alcohol abuse.

People get tipsy when a nonalcoholic beer is substituted for an alcoholic beer.  This also works the other way.  A study at Minot State University doctored root beer to give it the same alcohol level as regular beer.The researchers offered the doctored drink to a group of unsuspecting volunteers, while another group received regular beer.  Not surprisingly, both groups got tipsy after a few drinks. What is interesting is that those who drank beer actually absorbed more alcohol into their blood than those who thought they were drinking soda but were in fact consuming just as much alcohol.

It is clear that work on treatment is still a work in progress, but progress is being made.

Some two million Americans are addicted to prescription opioid drugs and about 19,000 died from overdoses in 2014.  This is about twice the number who died from heroin overdoses, and three times the number who died from cocaine.  One theory of pain is that after an injury, the pain never leaves, it just gets gradually covered up by the body’s internal medicine.  A team led by Bradley Taylor gave naloxone to patients who had recovered from an injury and for many of them the pain came right back as if pain had been hiding under the surface for this whole time.  These patients displayed some of the hallmarks of opioid withdrawal.  During the process of recovering from pain, we actually become dependent on our own opioids.   Taylor thinks that this may be the key to understanding not only addiction, but also the switch from short-term to chronic pain.

Given this understanding, NIH researcher Luana Colloca, whom we have encountered previously, is studying the role placebos my play.  She mixed a few placebo pills into a group of pain patients’ medication.  Each week they have five or six pain pills and one or two placebos.  As the week progressed, she upped the placebos and topped the opioids until the artificial was administered only about half the time.  The results of the project are not reported, but the idea is clear.  The patient is trained to expect pain relief when taking a pill.  Gradually she takes the pill away and lets the patient’s own expectation cover the pain relief.  The patient uses her expectations to switch from an external drug to an internal one.

“Suggestible You” is the title of a book by Erik Vance.  The subtitle is “The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal.     This is the tenth post on this book.  This post describe the role of  placebos in addiction.

Approximately 1 in 10 Americans is addicted to some kind of drug—mostly alcohol, although opioid addiction is gaining quickly.  Traditionally addiction has been viewed as a moral failing or a lack of willpower.  Today we understand addiction is mostly physiological, specifically around dopamine.  This is not surprising since this neurotransmitter deals with the anticipation and enjoyment of rewards.  Vance note that this includes sugar, sex, money, a high score on Grand Theft, as well as drugs.

Unfortunately, drug use doesn’t just change the way you feel for a couple of hours: it can also change the brain itself.  When the nervous system is presented with an abundance of pleasurable chemical stimulation through drug use, the nervous system gets overwhelmed and shuts down its production of dopamine to bring itself back into equilibrium.  This creates a bad feedback loop in which the person finds himself short on dopamine whenever he’s not using the drug.   Food no longer tastes as good, and sex can lose its thrill.  Taking the drug that caused this problem is the only way to get back to something close to normal.

Addiction literally changes the way the brain works.  Not only do addicts have less dopamine from drug overuse, but also their  dopamine receptors are affected (either changing their numbers or changing how well they transmit messages).  Regular drug uses twists memories so both the drug and the circumstances surrounding the drug use.  Addiction causes the brain’s impulse control centers to shut down, which greatly increases the chances of relapse.  If cocaine addicts are shown an image of blow for as little as 33 milliseconds, which is too fast to register in consciousness, they will have immediate cravings.

Vance sees addiction as sort of a perversion of all the brain circuits and processes  in his book.  Consequently he thinks that suggestion and expectation may hold the answers to overcoming it.  Naloxone, the drug that first helped expose the chemical nature of placebos and blocks placebo responses altogether, wasn’t invented for placebo research.  It serves a crucial role in medicine as an emergency treatment for drug overdoses.  It’s also pretty effective at blocking the effects of heroin or oxycodone.
A closely related drug, naltrexone, is one of the most effective treatments for alcohol abuse.

People get tipsy when a nonalcoholic beer is substituted for an alcoholic beer.  This also works the other way.  A study at Minot State University doctored root beer to give it the same alcohol level as regular beer.The researchers offered the doctored drink to a group of unsuspecting volunteers, while another group received regular beer.  Not surprisingly, both groups got tipsy after a few drinks. What is interesting is that those who drank beer actually absorbed more alcohol into their blood than those who thought they were drinking soda but were in fact consuming just as much alcohol.

It is clear that work on treatment is still a work in progress, but progress is being made.

Some two million Americans are addicted to prescription opioid drugs and about 19,000 died from overdoses in 2014.  This is about twice the number who died from heroin overdoses, and three times the number who died from cocaine.  One theory of pain is that after an injury, the pain never leaves, it just gets gradually covered up by the body’s internal medicine.  A team led by Bradley Taylor gave naloxone to patients who had recovered from an injury and for many of them the pain came right back as if pain had been hiding under the surface for this whole time.  These patients displayed some of the hallmarks of opioid withdrawal.  During the process of recovering from pain, we actually become dependent on our own opioids.   Taylor thinks that this may be the key to understanding not only addiction, but also the switch from short-term to chronic pain.

Given this understanding, NIH researcher Luana Colloca, whom we have encountered previously, is studying the role placebos my play.  She mixed a few placebo pills into a group of pain patients’ medication.  Each week they have five or six pain pills and one or two placebos.  As the week progressed, she upped the placebos and topped the opioids until the artificial was administered only about half the time.  The results of the project are not reported, but the idea is clear.  The patient is trained to expect pain relief when taking a pill.  Gradually she takes the pill away and lets the patient’s own expectation cover the pain relief.  The patient uses her expectations to switch from an external drug to an internal one.

Suggestible You 9

March 25, 2017

“Suggestible You” is the title of a book by Erik Vance.  The subtitle is “The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive”, Transform, and Heal.  This post is about the placebo response and related phenomena.   This is the ninth post on this book.

This post is on what might be called “marketing placebos.”  You can market yourself to yourself through what you think about yourself and via self talk.  “I  have a chance, I think I should apply for the job, position, …”  “versus “I have no chance for the job, position, …, so I’m not going to apply.”  A much larger example might be, “life is not worth living” versus, “Such an opportunity life presents, think of all the things I can learn, all the things I can do, the nice friends I can have.”  In fact, just forcing ourselves to smile can make us feel better.

Marketing placebos are like pain placebos in that they require healthy input from the reasoning prefrontal parts of the brain.  Most companies achieve this in one of two ways.  One way is by creating, cultivating, and enhancing a particular brand.  The other is via the price tag.  If a company tells you it has a new line of brain-enhancing drinks, and you believe it, you’ll likely find that, your cognitive performance actually improves after drinking it.  And if they tell you it’s an especially expensive brand, your performance will likely go up even more.  This same principle applies to branding.  Vance notes that studies suggest that athletes perform better when they drink favored water out of a Gatorade bottle.  And students’ test scores rise when they use a pen labeled “MIT.”

The researchers who did these studies correlated the subjects’ level of suggestibility to how they thought about the nature of intelligence and learning.  Those who thought of intelligence as more or less fixed were more suggestible to brands than those who saw intelligence as fluid.  So readers of the healthy memory blog should not be as suggestible to brands  as people who do not read this blog.  This is because growth mindsets are repeatedly advocated in this blog.  If this point is not obvious, enter “growth mindsets” or “Carol Dweck” into the healthy memory blog search block.

Fad diets can be regarded as an example of marketing placebos.  Key to the success of these diets, is a good story that makes the diet compelling.  The placebo effect likely plays a large part in the initial success of the diet.  And in the long term, few of them work.  Lost weight usually finds a way to return.

Vance argues that this same expectation applies to most of the “toxins” we read about.   He writes, “Evil free radicals and toxins are just stories.  We buy them or we don’t.”  And remember the role that social inputs play in amplifying placebo effects.

These effects extend to athletics.runners who thought they were getting blood doping shaved 1.2% of their times.  Another study demonstrated that weight lifters improved their performance by 12% to 16% when they were taken caffeine (a known, albeit legal performance enhancer), but were actually only taking placebos.

Suggestible You 8

March 24, 2017

“Suggestible You” is the title of a book by Erik Vance.  The subtitle is “The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal.  This post is about the placebo response and related phenomena.   This is the eighth post on this book.

“Satan Worshippers, Aliens, and Other Memories of Things That Never Happened” is the title of Chapter 6.  It begins with the following quote from Josh Billings, “There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory.”  This post will explain why this is so, and that a misunderstanding of memory and how memory works led to much misery between and among families and to the false imprisonment of innocent people.

As healthy memory blog readers should know, we do not have direct contact or knowledge with the physical world.  See the healthy memory blog posts “Understanding Beliefs,” “Revising Beliefs,” and “More on Revising Beliefs.”  We construct mental models based on the data coming from our senses.  As we experience more and learn more we develop new models, revise old models, and form connections among related or associated models.

Too many people think that our eyes and ears act like video cameras and tape recorders, that we see and hear what is and that these recordings are permanent and accurate.  Consequently, in the courts a great deal of belief is put on eyewitness testimony, when data indicate that eyewitness testimony is flawed and prone to error.

In reality, our eyes and ears are taking light and sound and turning them into electrical signals in the brain.  The brain then constructs a version of what is being perceived and what makes sense.  Expectations from prior models play an important role in this process.  Our brains have to make assumptions and take shortcuts and sometimes makes mistakes.  Optical illusions, blind spots, and hallucinations are all examples of how our brains misinterpret what is being perceived—sometime to very confusing and dangerous ends.

Similarly, memories are not like flash drives.  Memory is an integrated constructive process that is constantly refining itself, rebuilding, restructuring, and finding shortcuts.  And sometimes, our memories play tricks on us,  Memory processes can be divided into three stages.  First the information has to be encoded.  Then there is the process of consolidation during storage.  The third phase is retrieval, which is the recall of the memory.  Changes occur throughout this process and some changes can be erroneous.

The failure to understand how memory works and its malleability that can lead produce errors resulted in teachers and caretakers being falsely accused of sexually abusing children, and of Satanic rituals.  As near as can be understood, the people who conducted these investigations honestly believed that these children were being sexually abused.  But their beliefs poisoned their investigations.  They asked leading questions and repeatedly questioned these children to the point of exhaustion.  Unfortunately, the courts and juries, who were equally ignorant of how memory works, sent innocent people to jail.  This problem continued for much longer than it should have, and it took way too many years for these erroneous convictions to be overturned.

There were also too many cases of clinical psychologists and psychiatrists, many with Freudian conceptions of sex and repressed memories, inadvertently place memories of sexual abuse in the patients’ and clients’ minds.  Innocent parents were accused by their own children of sexual abuse.  These nightmares outdid the fiction of  Franz Kafka.   Imagine the pain that this caused within families. HM thinks that most of theses errors have been corrected, but he still fears that there are still therapists who should be avoided.  Be vary careful when choosing a therapist, and keep a watchful eye out doing the therapy.

Elizabeth Loftus is the leading psychologist who conducted research in this area, and who spent countless frustrating hours testifying in court.

Enter “false memory” into the healthy memory search block to find more posts on this 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.

Suggestible You 7

March 23, 2017

“Suggestible You” is the title of a book by Erik Vance.  The subtitle is “The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal.  This post is about the placebo response and related phenomena.   This is the seventh post on this book.

This post is about hypnosis.  During the late 50s and early 60s researchers at Stanford and Harvard came up with 12-step scales to quantify how suggestible to hypnosis someone is.  Their research led these researchers to conclude that hypnotic susceptibility is a fixed trait.  Susceptibility to hypnosis doesn’t change much  from late adolescence until death.  The most spectacular  forms of hypnosis  work only on the most hypnotizable 10% or so of the population.  Another 10% do not respond to hypnosis at all, and 80% fall somewhere in between.

A Canadian psychologist Pierre Rainville successfully hypnotized one group not to feel any pain from hot water poured on their hands and another group to believe that they could feel pain but that it would not bother them.  Their brains were scanned with positron emission tomography (PET) and found two very different neural reactions to pain.  This suggested that the sensation of pain and the emotions associated with it have separate triggers as well a how crucial emotion is to our experience of pain.  There is also neurological evidence that there are two different pathways for pain.  One dealing with the response to the pain itself, and the second to the interpretation of the pain.  It is this latter response that characterized chronic pain.  See the previous healthy memory blog posts “Pain and the Second Dart,”  “To Treat Chronic Pain, Look to the Brain Not Body,” and “Controlling Pain in Our Minds.”

Rainville’s work indicates that hypnosis often involves parts of the brain associated with attention, emotion regulation, and pain.  People seem  to be wired differently for hypnosis, and that this doesn’t change much over the course of our lives.  Research has also shown that the capacity to be hypnotized is not tied to intelligence or willpower.

Some tend to think of hypnosis as being another placebo.  The consensus  is that they are not related.  Hypnotic susceptibility remains relatively stable throughout one’s life, whereas placebo responsiveness can change from day to day.  And the drug naloxone, which is effective at blocking placebo responses doesn’t block hypnosis.  So although they are not the same, they both tap into a deep force in the brain:  expectation.

Psychologist Marcel Kinsbourne says, “There is a wave of bottom-up information coming up from the external world, up into your brain.  There is a wave of information coming from the cortex that consists of your evaluations, your beliefs, your expectations.  Consciousness is these two waves hitting each other.  It’s a collision.  And this is where hypnosis and placebos do their work.”

Suggestible You 6

March 22, 2017

“Suggestible You” is the title of a book by Erik Vance.  The subtitle is “The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal.  This post is about the placebo response and related phenomena.   This is the sixth post on this book.

This post is on nocebos.  Remember that placebo is Latin for “I shall please.”  Nocebo means “I shall harm.”  So nocebos can be thought of as negative placebos.

In 1886 a physician named John Mackenzie was treating a woman with a serious case of hay fever and asthma.  For a variety of reasons, he was not convinced that the patient’s condition was fully authentic.  For her next visit he place a rose in his office.  As soon as she sat it she had powerful allergic reaction that brought on an asthma attack.  The flower was artificial and served as the nocebo.

Cholecystokinin (CCK) is a key messenger in activating intestinal functions, including digestion and the release of gastric acid and bile.  It also plays a role in making you feel full after a good meal.  But if you inject CCK into someone, it causes anxiety and nausea and can induce panic attacks.  It also seems to increase pain by lessening the impact of internal opioids.  Fabrizio Benedetti set up an experiment with patients recovering from  minor surgery in which he gave them a drug and told them it would make their pain worse when it was actually just saline.  The patients did report more pain with the saltwater injection.  Then Benedetti blocked their brains’  CCK release with another drug.  Now the patients felt better when the CCK was blocked.  Vance wrote,”What opioids are for placebos is what CCK is for nocebos; a mechanism giving expectation power in the body.  And whereas blocking opioids killed the placebo response and made patients feel worse, blocking CCK actually supercharged pain relief by allow the brain’s internal pharmacy to run wild.”

Nocebo effects are much easier to create than placebo effects.  Negative expectations can be stronger than positive expectations.  Vance note that nocebos and placebos in the brain take two different routes.  They look similar, go to similar places, share some of the same highways, but still are totally different routes, and nocebos take all the best shortcuts.  This does make  sense, as the aversion to pain is fundamental not just to being human, but also to being alive.  Colloca notes that although the nocebo affects the same reward/expectation regions in the brain, it also includes one more that placebos do not:  fear.  The hippocampus plays a key role in the storage of memories and it also plays a key role in fear conditioning anxiety.  Brain imaging indicates that while the hippocampus is mostly absent from placebo effects, it lights up during the experience of nocebos.

Fear is at the heart of nocebos, and fear is a powerful emotion.  Fear headlines in the news elicit much stronger responses that do pleasant ones.  In 2014, even before anyone had died of Ebola in the United States, 25% of Americans were worried they or their families could contract it.  Thousands of people visited doctors claiming they had signs of the virus, and 650 of those people had symptoms serious enough for their cases to be passed on to federal officials.  As it turned out, only four people in the United States had the disease:  a visitor who got it in Liberia, two nurses who had treated him, and a doctor who had been working in an Ebola.

So we need to be careful to not let our fears get out of hand.  And let us hope that doctors make more use of nocebos in treating pain.

Suggestible You 5

March 21, 2017

“Suggestible You” is the title of a book by Erik Vance.  The subtitle is “The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal.  This book is about the placebo response and related phenomena.   This is the fifth post on this book.

Vance describes the story of a man diagnosed ten years ago being severely debilitated in late stage Parkinson.  He volunteered for an experiment in which the medication was directly injected into a critical part of the brain.  To control for the placebo effect, these experiments require sham surgery that copies everything about the surgery except for the critical drug injected into the brain.  The study involved 51 participants.  Twenty-four people got the real surgery and 27 got the sham surgery.  The drug proved to be a failure.  However, the participant of interest did show a remarkable recovery.  However, he was one of those who had received sham surgery.

This dramatic example makes the point that there are large individual differences in the response to placebos.  Kathryn Hall of Harvard University was interested in studying possible genetic bases for this enhanced responsively.  She discovered the COMT gene.  The COMT genes codes for an enzyme in the brain, also called COMT, or catechol-O-methyltransferase.  Vance writes that this is one of the best-studied brain pathways in the world, and may be the most fascinating link he has discovered as a science writer.

Here’s how it works.  Dopamine has enormous power and is important for body movement and good moods.  However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.  A mechanism is need to sweep up the bits we don’t need—the extra dopamine molecules floating around our skull that aren’t doing anything useful.  COMT gets rid of the excess dopamine molecules.  COMT is an extremely long and complicated enzyyme.  Fortunately, it is one within its machinery that defines how well it works.  Depending upon an individual’s genetics there are two types of this crucial portion of the enzyme:  valine (val) or methionine (met).  If one’s brain has val in that one spot, the enzyme performs its job of removing excess dopamine.  However, if the enzyme has met in that one spot, it is much less effective.  The brain is left with lots of excessive dopamine.

Remember that each trait in the body is a combination from each of the parents.  COMT works in a similar manner.  So we have val/met, but also val/vals and met/mets.  So 25% of the population are val/vals,and 25% are met/mets, 50% of the population are val/mets.

Hall conducted an experiment pairing COMT genes with placebos.  She enrolled 262 patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) into an experimental treatment involving acupuncture.  She selected patients with either moderate or severe cases of IBS and then divided them into three groups. One group, the true control group, was put on a waiting list and given nothing.  The other two groups were told that they would get acupuncture, but they were unknowingly given fake acupuncture.  Half of the participants got treatment from a comforting, caring acupuncturist while the others got treatment from a cold, uncaring acupuncturist.

Here are the results.  People on the waiting list stayed the same regardless of their genes.

Met/mets with the uncaring acupuncturist  did better than the val/vals, but just barely.

Val/vals with the caring acupuncturist did about as well as the val/vals with the uncaring acupuncturist and all the people on the waiting list. In short, no placebo effect.

The val/mets who got the caring acupuncturist did about five times better.

The results of the met/mets who got the caring doctor went through the roof.

Clearly the kind words  meant something totally different to one genotype than it did with the others.  Hall had divided the placebo responders into measurable groups.Met/mets—those people who were born with lazy enzymes and a little too much dopamine in their responses were more prone to placebo responses.

Although the COMT gene plays a large role in the creation of the COMT enzyme, it’s not the only gene that does so.  Other genes help build the enzyme that can boost or cripple its performance, as well as all the other genes in you body that affect dopamine.    COMT also goes after epinephrine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that are key to regulating adrenaline, cardiac, function, and our response to stress.

So, in summary, the interactions are complex.  But different factors that contribute to the immune response are being identified.  Genes, the administrator of the placebo, and our fellow human beings are factors.

Suggestible You 4

March 20, 2017

“Suggestible You” is the title of a book by Erik Vance.  The subtitle is “The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal.  This book is about the placebo response and related phenomena.   This is the fourth post on this book.

An important question is whether there is a way to enhance the placebo effect, or even make it permanent.  In 2015 Karin Jensen, a placebo researcher at Harvard,  published an experiment that showed how our brains can self-medicate even when we are not paying attention.  She set up a two phase experiment in which subjects wore a painful heat pad that flared up whenever they saw a picture of a certain face and died down when they saw another, similar face.  The brain learns that one face is bad and the other face is good.

In the next phase, after the relationship had been ingrained in the participant, she turned the heat to somewhere in the middle.  This time she showed the picture for only a fraction of a second, so the participants could barely see the face.  The subconscious mind could spot the difference, but the conscious mind could not.  Nevertheless the participants continued to feel pain with the bad face, and less pain with the good face, even when they could not consciously distinguish the faces.  With enough practice, people can unconsciously trigger the placebo effect with the flash of one face, even though their conscious mind has no idea its happening.

The placebo effect can also be altered by peer pressure.  One of Wager’s students, Leonie Koban, set up an experiment in which people  rated various levels of heat pain applied to their arms by a metal pad.  After gauging each person’s pain threshold, she asked them to rate how much pain they expected to feel before she applied it, but with one additional crucial element.  They would also be able to see how other people had rated the same pain.  These previous reports of pain were totally made up.  Still, people who felt a strong pain rated it lower if that’s what they thought others had done.  And people who were told others had felt a lot of pain rated the pain highly even if it was mild.  This peer pressure placebo effect was twice as strong as the normal placebo effect!  As a check, Koban recorded their skin conductance, which is a physiological response to pain.  On the basis of skin conductance it was impossible to differentiate from a genuine experience.

It seems that people are programmed with a preexisting need to go with the herd.  People quickly tapped into a more powerful placebo response than if they had spent hours conditioning themselves.  So someone else’s opinion is not only powerful, but it can be more powerful than your experience and even more powerful than repeated conditioning.  So we are hardwired to follow other people’s opinions.

Vance suggests that there might be some biochemistry involved in this interaction.  Luana did an experiment similar to the one reported in Suggestible You 2 in which a green screen induced a placebo effect.  The participants in this new experiment were given a dose of vasopressin before the green screen experiment. In yet another experiment the participants were given a dose of a related hormone, oxytocin.  These drugs greatly enhanced the placebo effect.  These hormones play a large role in social interactions among people.  Vasopressin seems to regulate social communication and conciliatory behavior.  Oxytocin seems to be involved in experiences of empathy, trust, and social learning.  So the same chemicals that draw us together as humans and allow us to work together can also boost the placebo response altogether.

Suggestible You 3

March 19, 2017

“Suggestible You” is the title of a book by Erik Vance.  The subtitle is “The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal.  This book is about the placebo response and related phenomena.   This is the third post on this book.

Irving Kirsch took up psychology out of a philosophical curiosity about the brain.  He mentored Ted Kaptchuk, a researcher who earned a Chinese doctorate in Eastern medicine and was an expert in acupuncture and other alternative therapies.  These two set up a lab at Harvard and for a long time their names have been synonymous with placebo research.  Kaptchuk’s work spans many complicated aspects of placebo research—genetic, biochemical—but Vance’s favorite study is a relatively simple one.  He handed patients pills and told them it was a placebo.  He explained that placebos had been shown to be very effective agains all manner of conditions, and so forth.  When these patients took the pill, it still worked.  Not as well as a secret placebo—but it worked, even though the people taking it knew it wasn’t real.

Tor Wager conducted research using functional magnetic resonance imaging f(MRI).  fMRI measures blood flow in the brain.  This blood flow is used to infer brain activity.  It is captured in voxels. A single voxel has about 63,000 neurons in it (and four times as much connective).  Nevertheless, fMRI has been invaluable in gaining insights regarding the brain.  Wager used fMRI to capture the placebo effect in action.  The first experiment used electric shock.  The research participants saw either a red or a blue spiral on a screen warning them hey would get either a strong or a mild shock, which would hit between 3 and 12 seconds later to keep them off guard (and build expectation).  Wager  looked two skin creams explaining that a one was designed to reduce the  pain and the other was a placebo.  Actually both skin creams were placebos, but the research participants said they felt less pain with the “active” cream.

The second experiment used a hot metal pad that seared the skin for 20 seconds.  This time the screen just read, “Get Ready,” and then the pad heated up.  As in the first experiment, the research participants received placebo and “pain killing” creams, both of which were actually placebos.  Wager surreptitiously lowered the temperature of the heat pad on the fake “active” cream, fooling the research participants into thinking that the cream was reducing the level of pain they felt.  Then, in the last phase (as Collca had with Vance’s shocks), he kept the temperature high.  Researchers carefully recorded how much pain the subjects reported feeling, and Wager also had their fMRI brain scans.  What the research participants reported about their pain tracked perfectly with the activation of several parts of the brain associated with pain, such as the anterior cingulate cortex (which plays a role in emotions, reward systems, and empathy), the thalamus (which handles sensory perception and alertness), and the insula (which is related to consciousness and perception).  Those reporting less pain from the placebo effect showed less activity in the key pain-related brain regions.  And those who felt less of the placebo effect showed more activity.  So these research participants were not imaging less pain; they were feeling it.

More importantly, Wager observed the route that the placebo response takes from anticipation to the release of drugs inside the brain.  Pain signals normally begin in the more primitive base of the brain (relaying information from wherever in the body the pain starts) and radiate outwards.  What Ager observed was backward, with the pain signals starting in the prefrontal cortex—the most advanced logic part of the brain with executive functions—and working back to the more primitive regions.  Vance noted that this seemed to suggest a sort of collision of information:  half originating in the body as pain, and half originating in the advanced part of the brain as expectation.  Whatever comes out of that collision is what we feel.

The following summary comes directly from Vance’s book,”Pain, like any sensation, starts in the body, goes up the spine, and then travels to the deeper brain structures that distribute that information to places like the prefrontal cortex, where we can contemplate it.  Placebos, on the other hand, seem to start in the prefrontal cortex (just behind the right temple) and go backward.  They work their way to parts of the brain that handle opioids and release chemicals that dull the pain.  That also seem to tamp down activity in the parts of the brain that recognize pain in the first place.  And you feel better.  All in a fraction of a second.”

How powerful these placebo effects are varies.  In some people they barely register.  However, in others the opioid dumps can be so powerful that people become physically addicted to their own internal opioids, similar, in theory, to how people become addicted to laudanum. One theory even suggests that chronic pain might be the result of a brain addicted to its inner pharmacy, in essence, looking for a fix.

More than opioids are involved.  Over the past few decades, other brain chemical have been shown to trigger the placebo effect.    Our inner pharmacy also stocks endocannabinoids—the same chemicals found in marijuana that play an important role in pain suppression—and serotonin,  which is important intestinal movements and is the primary neurotransmitter involved in feelings of happiness and well-being.

Suggestible You 2

March 18, 2017

“Suggestible You” is the title of a book by Erik Vance.  The subtitle is “The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal.  This book is about the placebo response and related phenomena.   This is the second post on this book.

Vance participated in an experiment in Luana Colloca’s laboratory on the campus of the National Institutes of Health.  Dr. Colloca attached a variety of devices to Vance including two on his left hand.  One device delivered the shock, the other, on his middle finger.  She said that this device will tap into the A-B fibers in his hand that will occasionally interrupt the shocks, nearly cutting the pain altogether.  As he explained it, the difference between the weak shock and the powerful shock would be that one has a crossing guard and the other does not.  He was told that he would know which one was coming via a screen that will turn green when the A-B fibers are blocking the pain and red when they are not.

Vance said that the small shock feels like a pinprick or a pinch, but the bigger shock doesn’t feel like a bigger pinprick. He said that it’s more like a dull squeeze wrapped in fire, localized in his hand but seemingly all over his body as well.  Colloca slowly increased the strength of the shock, working Vance up a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the worst tolerable pain), testing his pain threshold.  He agreed to a shock level of 6, although he said that this was very uncomfortable.  He went through two rounds of 12 shocks each.

On the third round he noticed that the green (weak) shock) had gotten slightly worse—maybe from a 1 to a 2.   He thinks there might be a problem with the shock blocker.  They ran through 11 more trials and the torture session was over.  When Colloca returned she told him his pain threshold was smack in the middle of the bell curve for pain, which is 100 hertz of electricity.  She remarked that pain thresholds vary tremendously among individuals.

Then Colloca pointed to a sheet of paper showing Vance’s third round and dropped a surprise telling him, “In Block 3 we used green and red both at 100 hertz.  You felt the green as less painful, compared to the red, when actually you received the same, and that is the placebo effect.”  There never was any magic pain-lessening wire.

The question regarding why the placebo effect works was addressed by a team in Scotland in 1975.  We do have a form of homemade opioids called endorphins.  These endorphins play a number of tiles in our brain, such as regulating circadian rhythms,  appetite and body temperature.  They are the primary chemicals that make sex feel so good.  Two neurologists, Jon Levine and Howard Fields conducted a simple experiment with people in pain after dental surgery.

The plan was to give a group of patients who had recently had a dental procedure either a placebo or naloxone.  Naloxone blocks the endorphins.  They told all of the patients that they were receiving a painkiller.  As expected, many of those  who got the placebo felt less pain, whereas the naloxone group felt miserable, as their own natural opioid (endorphin) generator was being blocked.  When naloxone was given to the genuine placebo group, they also felt miserable.  So this study does show that pain placebos work because the brain self-medicates with the opioid like drug endorphins.

Suggestible You

March 17, 2017

“Suggestible You” is the title of a book by Erik Vance.  The subtitle is “The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal.  This book is about the placebo response and related phenomena.  One of HM’s pet peeves is the expression,”It’s just a placebo response.”  For HM, the placebo response is the most interesting effect in medicine.

Artificial intelligence pioneer Daniel Dennet has written.  “A mind is fundamentally an anticipator, an expectation-generator.”  Expectation is a system of shortcuts our brains have developed to get through the day.  Otherwise we would be stopping every few seconds to figure things out.  Consequently if what you anticipate is negative your mind will make things look (or feel) worse than they actually are.  However, if you expect the best some amazing things can happen in your body.  Somewhere between this expectation and reality lies the mind’s power to heal itself.  Erik Vance writes, “Our uncanny ability to deceive ourselves has startling implications for our health and well-being… Everyone’s door to expectation has a different key, and everyone is susceptible in a slightly different way.  But once that door is unlocked we have access to an amazing power to heal ourselves.”

Placebo comes from the Latin for “I shall please,” and traditionally refers to anything inert that has an effect on a patient.  Vance writes, “…usually lasting less than a day but sometimes longer:  a sugar pill, a saline injection, or sham surgery, often mixed with a little smoke and mirrors.  In other words, nothing.  But in the world of expectation, sometimes nothing is more powerful than something—if it’s wrapped in the right packaging.”

Vance writes that this packaging is different for everybody.  What allows a placebo to work is a topic of continuing research, the most recent of which is presented in his book.    It involves psychology, chemistry, and genetics, aided by the power of storytelling.  The manner in which the placebo is presented is important, which does not necessarily involve deception.  Placebos can be effective even when the recipient knows that it is a placebo.

Vance writes of the importance of theater or how the placebo is presented and to individual differences.  For example, depression patients respond better to yellow placebo pills than to blue ones.  Bigger ones work better than smaller ones, but only to a certain point.  Bear this in mind should you purchase placebo pills on Amazon, and there is a wide variety of placebos available on Amazon.  Fake injections work better than fake pills.  Vance goes on to note that “if you’re French, suppositories work better than either.  Take a quiet moment to ponder the significance of that.”

Placebos are a very complex topic, so a series of posts will be required, which shall follow immediately.

The Happiness U-Curve

March 16, 2017

This post is based on a section with the same subtitle in “The Cognitive Upside of Aging” an article by Alexandra Michel in the February 2017 “Observer”, a publication of the Association of Psychological Science (APS).

Despite all the negative components of aging, researchers consistently find a happiness paradox:  As the body declines, happiness tends to increase.  Across the lifespan this “Positivity effect” follows a U-shaped pattern:  happiness starts out high in late adolescence, bottoms out in middle age, and reaches a second zenith in old age.

A 2011 Gallup analysis of 500,000 phone interviews found that “a septuagenarian is far more likely than someone in their 30s to have high emotional health.  This happiness advantage held true even after controlling for demographic factors, including gender, race, education, marital status, employment, and regional location.

This happiness U-shape appears across the world.  Economists Andrew Oswald and David G. Blanchfower documented this pattern in more than 500,000 people living in more than 70 different countries.  Their analysis concluded that from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, people around the world tend to be happiest in their old age regardless of their nationality.

Oswald says, “Only in their 50s do most people emerge from the low period.  But encouragingly, by the time you are 70, if you are still physically fit then on average you are as happy and mentally healthy as a 20 year old.  Perhaps realizing that such feelings are completely normal in midlife might even help individuals survive this phase better.”

This universality of happiness U-curve implies the aging may play a positive role in the brain.  A team of Australian researchers led by Leanne Williams, who is now at the Stanford University School of Medicine, argues that a combination of neurological changes and life experiences account for this phenomenon.  Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor emotional processing as people of various ages viewed photographs of different facial expressions, the researchers found that older people were more emotionally stable and less reactive to negative emotional stimuli than younger people.

Contrary to the ubiquitous negative stereotypes of declining memory and cognitive integrity, Williams and colleagues found emotional well-being may increase with normal aging.  Their study included 242 individuals (122 males and 120 females) divided up into four major age categories:  12-19 years, 20-29 years, 30-49 years, and 50-79 years.  Participants were assessed in the scanner for the neural activation evoked by emotions of threat and happiness depicted in facial expressions.  After being shown a photograph of a face, participants had to select the best option for identifying the emotion being displayed in the photograph.  They also rated on a 1-to-5 scale, the intensity of the emotion being displayed.
Rather than showing an inevitable decline across all functions, the images displayed a linear increase in emotional stability with age, meaning that people in their 70s ultimately experience better emotional well-being than most people in their 20s.

The fMRI results suggest that as we age, the way our brains process emotional stimuli  changes in ways that favor emotional stability.  The brain scans indicated that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), which is a brain area involved in the governance of emotional functions, processed stimuli differently across the lifespan, contributing to better emotional stability for older adults.  As we age, the mPFC areas become increasingly active while processing negative emotions compared with positive ones, suggesting that older people were comparatively better at controlling negative emotions.

This article ends as follows: “Ultimately Williams and colleagues argue that as we age this combination of neural processing, as well as an accumulation of life experience, provides older adults with the neural tools to take life in stride—a capability their younger counterparts will just have to wait for.”

Finding Focus

March 15, 2017

This post is based on a section with the same subtitle in “The Cognitive Upside of Aging” is an article by Alexandra Michel in the February 2017 Observer, and publication of the Association for Psychological Science (APS).  This study  used data collected from TestMyBrain.org and was published in “Psychological Science.”  It found another unexpected boom for aging brains:  Sustained attention tends to improve over time, peaking in the mid-40s.

This study was led by Francesca C. Fortenbaugh, Joseph DeGutis, and Michael S. Esterman of the Boston Attention and Learning Laboratory at the VA Boston Healthcare System.  This study tested sustained attention across 10,430 adults using a specialized task for identifying individual differences in people’s ability to focus on a single task over 4 minutes.  DeGutis said in a statement, “While younger adults may excel in the speed and flexibility of information processing, adults approaching their middle-years may have the greatest capacity to remain focused.  One current hypothesis  is that compared to younger adults, adults in their mid-years mind-wander less, leading to better sustained attention performance.  This sample was larger than all previous efforts to model changes in sustained-attention performance during development, aging, or across the life span combined, which allows us to more precisely model transition periods in performance across the life span using segmented linear regression”

Sustained attention underlies several important cognitive processes, including learning, perception, and memory.  Lapses in attention can lead to serious problems ranging from difficulty at work to an increased risk of car accidents.  Measuring attention across individuals is itself a challenge; attention fluctuates, sometimes dramatically, from moment to moment.

The researchers used a new tool they developed:  the gradual-onset continuos performance task (gradCPT).  Participants were shown serious of grayscale photographs go 10 city scenes and 10 mountain scenes.  One photograph gradually transitioned into the next every 800 milliseconds, so that as one image faded, a new image steadily took its place.

There were 5,027 male and 5,403 female participants between  10 and 70 years old who completed the gradCPT on TestMyBrain.org between March and September of 2014.  The participants were told to press the space bar whenever they saw a city scene, but to withhold a response when the image was a mountain scene.  Here the goal was to create a task that required frequent responses from participants while having a relatively low cognitive demand.  Identifying the differences between the two scenes was easy, but carefully attending to the transitions repeatedly became challenging over time.

By analyzing mean reaction time, reaction time variability, hits, misses, discrimination ability, and criterion (a measure of strategy or willingness to respond in the case of uncertainty), the researchers were able to tease apart the changes in unsustained attention across the lifespan.  From the ages 10 through 16, gains in both reaction times and discrimination ability were extremely large.  After age 16, gains in these skills were much smaller until they peaked around age 43.

A factor analysis of the results suggests than people also begin to use different cognitive strategies as they age.  Younger individuals demonstrated faster reaction times (due to either super information-processing speed or more liberal response strategy), whereas older individuals showed a slower, more cautious strategy and evidence they made more adjustments after a mistake.

The Cognitive Upside of Aging

March 14, 2017

“The Cognitive Upside of Aging” is an article by Alexandra Michel in the February 2017 “Observer”, a publication of the Association for Psychological Science (APS).  This article corrects some major misconceptions about memory and aging.  This realization is important as the expectation is that “the next ten years will witness an increase of about 236 million people aged 65 or older throughout the world.”

A 2014 survey on perceptions of brain health and aging conducted by the AARP found that people believed that the brain peaks at age 29 before beginning to deteriorate by age 53.  Now these are opinions regarding brain health and aging.  Actual research on this topic reveals how woefully in error these conceptions are.

Joshua K. Hartshone of Boston College, and Laura Germine of the Harvard Medical School reanalyzed an old set of scores from the Wechsler IQ and memory tests taken by a geographically diverse group of adults in the 1990s.  Scores from 2,450 test-takers were divided into 13 age categories representing people between the ages of 16 and 89.  The researchers then charted peaks in a variety of cognitive skills, ranging from memory to vocabulary, from adolescence through old age.

There was no single apex in overall cognitive skill.  Instead, there was a huge variation in cognitive capabilities across the lifespan.  The cognitive peaks were all over the place.  Hartshone said that this was the “smoking gun” that it’s not all downhill for the aging brain.

Although these data were important, the pool of participants was too small to make any solid conclusions.  Most psychological research is done with people in their late teens and early 20s.  Getting people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s into the lab is a major obstacle.

Hartshone and Germine were quite creative in addressing this obstacle.  The decided to use viral Internet quizzes.  Along with Ken Nakayama of Harvard University Germine founded TestMyBrain.org.   This website hosts a variety of short cognitive tests that users can complete within minutes.  Since the site’s foundation in 2008, data has been collected from more than 1.7 million volunteers across the country.  Hartshone has founded a website called GamesWithWords.org as a “Web-based laboratory” for studying language.

Both Hartshone and Germine thought it important for the tests on the websites to be short and engaging  to ensure that participants enjoyed taking each one so much that they would be interested in taking a few more or even forwarding them to friends.  They wanted to make taking a cognitive battery just as easy and fun as taking one of the not-so-scientific personality tests people like to take on social media sites.  More than 3 million people have taken quizzes on the two websites.

In this new set of studies Hartshone and Germine used TestMyBrain.org and GamesWithWords.org to collect large samples of data across five specific cognitive tasks.  Three of these tasks, digit symbol coding, verbal working memory, and vocabulary, overlapped with the tasks from the Wechsler exam used in the previous study.  The researchers also included a widely used test of emotional perception, which was not included in the original Wechsler tests.

These test data collected from online participants shows a very clear picture of cognitive peaks across the lifespan, one that largely matched the same pattern of results from the decades-old Wechsler tests.  Information processing speed crested early in life, around the age of 18 or 19.  Short-term memory improved until age 25 before beginning to decline around 35.

However, many cognitive proficiencies, vocabulary, math, general knowledge, and verbal comprehension did not peak until much later in life.  These results make sense because people should continue to learn new things and gather new experiences as they age.  These skills are usually regarded as belonging to crystalized intelligence.  Vocabulary skills had no single high point and continued to improve well into participants’ late 60s and early 70s.  The Wechsler data show vocabulary skills topping out mostly in the 40s.  To reconcile these results Germine and Hartshone inconcluded the General Social Survey, which has been testing people’s vocabularies for decades.  These data confirmed that there really has been a steady shift in vocabulary performance  over the last few decades.

Germine and Hartshone wrote, “With the increase in the proportion of adults engaged in cognitively demanding careers, it may be that ages of peak performance are later in the more recent Internet sample, particularly for vocabulary.  This could be related to the Flynn effect that IQ has increased steadily in modern times, possibly because of increasing amounts of time devoted to mental activity.”

The Flynn Effect refers to the need to recalibrate the IQ test so that they would have a mean of 100.  For years, Flynn argued that this must be some sort of artifact.  See the healthy memory blog post “More on Flynn and the Flynn Effect” to learn how Flynn decided that this increase was real and not an artifact.  Moreover, he attributed it not just to the amount, but also to the types of cognitive processing people were doing.

Emotional skill also improved with age.  To test this ability, researchers asked participants to identify the mood of a person based only on a photograph of the individual’s eyes.  A menu provided a selection of potential options such as  fearful, tentative, or playful for each photograph.  Adults in their 40s and 50s consistently outperformed much younger adults.  This ability had a much longer plateau than any of the other cognitive skills that were tested.  Germaine and Hartshone wrote “The peak in emotion-recognition ability was also much broader than any of the other tasks, which reflects a long period of relative stability in performance between the ages of 40 and 60 years.”

The researchers recruited another large set of more than 18,000 online participants between the ages of 10 and 73 to confirm their visual and verbal working-memory findings.  The replication found the same pattern of cognitive peaks as the other experiments.

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

Denying the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts that Will Save Us

March 13, 2017

“Denying the Grave:  Why We Ignore the Facts that Will Save Us” is the third of three books of three books to be reviewed from an article titled, “That’s What You Think:  Why reason and evidence won’t change our minds” by Elizabeth Kolbert in the 27 February 2017 issue of “The New Yorker.”

The authors of this book are a psychiatrist, Jack Gorman, and his daughter, Sara Gorman, a public health specialist.  They probe the gap between what science tells us and what we tell ourselves.  Their concern is with those persistent beliefs which are not just demonstrably false, but also potentially deadly, like the conviction that vaccines are hazardous.

The Gormans argue that ways of thinking that now seem self-destructive must at some point have been adaptive.  They dedicate many pages to the confirmation bias, which they claim has a physiological component.  This research suggests that people experience genuine pleasure—a rush of dopamine—when processing information that supports their beliefs.  They observe,”It feels good to ‘stick to our guns’ even if we are wrong.”

The Gormans do not just want to catalogue the ways we go wrong;  they want to correct them.  Providing people with accurate information does not seem to help; people simply discount it.  They write that “the challenge that remains is to figure out how to address the tendencies that lead to false scientific belief.”

The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone

March 12, 2017

“The Knowledge Illusion:  Why We Never Think Alone” is  the second of three books to be reviewed from an article titled, “That’s What You Think:  Why reason and evidence won’t change our minds” by Elizabeth Kolbert in the 27 February 2017 issue of “The New Yorker.”

The authors of this book, Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach also believe that sociability is the key  to how the human mind functions, or, more accurately, malfunctions.  In a study conducted on Yale University, graduate students were ask to rate their understanding of everyday devices to include toilets, zippers, and cinder blocks.  Then they were asked to write detailed step-by-step explanations of how the devices work, and to rate their understanding again.  Doing this revealed to the students their own ignorance, because their self-assessments dropped.

Sloan and Fernbach call this the “illusion of explanatory depth” and find this effect just about everywhere.  They say that what allows us to press in this belief is other people.  This is something we are very good at.  We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hang together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history.  They argue that we collaborate so well that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.  They argue that this borderlessness is crucial to what we consider progress.  “As people invented new tools for new ways of living, they simultaneously created new realms of ignorance;  If everyone insisted on, say, mastering the principles of metalworking before picking up a knife, the Bronze Age wouldn’t have amount to much.  When it comes to new technologies, incomplete understanding is empowering.”

Where this gets us into trouble, according to Sloan and Fernbach, is in the political domain.  “It’s one thing for me to flush a toilet without knowing how it operates,  and another for me to favor (or oppose) an immigration ban without knowing what I’m talking about.”

Sloan and Fernbach cite a survey conducted in 2014, not long after Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.  Respondents were asked how they thought the U.S. should react, and also to locate Crimea on a map.  The farther off base they were about the geography, the more likely they were to favor military intervention.

The Enigma of Reason

March 11, 2017

“The Enigma of Reason”  by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber is the first of three books to be reviewed from an article titled, “That’s What You Think:  Why reason and evidence won’t change our minds” by Elizabeth Kolbert in the 27 February 2017 issue of “The New Yorker.”

Ms. Kolbert notes hat since research in the nineteen-seventies revealed that we humans can’t think straight and that reasonable—seeming people are often totally irrational, the question remains:  How did we come to be this way.  “The Enigma of Reason” is the first book to be discussed that attempts to address this question.  The argument of Mercier and Sperber is that our biggest advantage over other species is our ability to cooperate.  Cooperation is difficult to establish and also difficult to sustain.  They argue that reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; instead it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in cooperative groups.

Mercier and Sperber write “Reason is an adaptation to the hyper social niche humans have evolved for themselves.”  Habits of mind that seem to be weird or goofy or just plain dumb from and intellectual point of view prove shrewd when seen from an “interactionist” perspective.

They use confirmation bias to further their argument.  This is the tendency we have to embrace information that supports our forms of faulty thinking.  “Confirmation bias” is the subject of entire textbooks’ worth of experiments.  One of the most famous was conducted at Stanford.  Researchers rounded up a group of students who had opposing opinions on capital punishment.  Half of these students were in favor of it and thought that it deterred crime;  the other half were against it and thought that it had no effect on crime.

These students were asked to respond to two studies, which the students did not know had been made up.  One of these studies was pro and the other was anti and presented what were, objectively speaking, equally compelling statistics.  The students who had originally supported capital punishment rated the pro-deterrence  highly credible and the anti-deterrence data unconvincing.  The students who’d originally opposed capital punishment did the reverse.  At the end of the study, the students were again asked about their views.  The only difference was that this time the students were more in favor of their original views than they had been originally.

To further their point Mercier and Sperber suggest what would happen to a mouse that thinks as we do.  If such a mouse were bent on confirming its belief that no cats were around, he would soon be dinner.  To the extent that confirmation bias leads people to dismiss evidence of new or under appreciated threats, it’s a trait that should have been selected against.  The fact that we both have survived, Mercier and Sperber argue, proves that it must have some adaptive functions, and they maintain that that function is related to our “hypersociability.”

Mercier and Serber prefer the term “myside bias” to “confirmation bias.”  They point out that we humans are not randomly credulous.  Presented with someone else’s argument, we’re quite adept at spotting the weaknesses.  In an experiment illustrating this post by Mercier and some European colleagues participants were asked to answer a series of simple reasoning problems.  Then they were asked to explain their responses, and were given a chance to modify them.  Only fifteen% changed their minds in step two.

In step three, participants were shown the same problems, along with their answer and the answer of another participant who had come to a different conclusion.  However, the responses presented to them as some else’s  were actually their own and vice versa.  Only about half the participants realized what was going one,  Among the remaining half, suddenly people became much more critical.  Almost 60% rejected the responses they’d earlier been satisfied with.

Bill Gates’ Robot Tax Alone Won’t Save Jobs: Here’s What Will

March 10, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Sumit Paul-Choudhury in the 4 March  2017 issue of the New Scientist.   Bill Gates argued that we should raise the same amount of money by taxing robots as we would lose in payroll taxes from the humans they supplant.  Then this money could be directed towards more human-dependent jobs, such as caring for the young, old and sick.  EU legislators rejected just such a proposal due to lobbying efforts by the robotics industry.

The article makes the valid assertion that automation is the biggest challenge to employment in the 21st century.  Research has shown that far more jobs are lost to automation than to outsourcing.  Moreover, this will get worse as machines become ever more capable of doing human jobs—not just those involving physical labor, but ones involving thinking also.

The common argument from the robot revolution is that previous upheavals have always created new kinds of jobs to replace the ones that have gone extinct.  But previously when automation hit one sector, employees would decamp to other industries.  However, the sweep of machine learning means that many sectors are automating simultaneously.  So perhaps it’s not about how many jobs ar left after the machines are done taking their pick, but which ones.

The article suggests that the evidence might not be very satisfying.  The rise of the “gig economy”, in which algorithms direct low-skilled human workers.  Although this might be an employer’s dream, it is frequently an insecure, unfulfilling and sometimes exploitative grind for workers.

The article argues that to stop this, it’s employers that need to be convinced, not the people making the technology, but it will be difficult to convince the employers who have huge incentives to replace all-too-human workers with machines that never stop working and never get paid.

Although the article fails to mention this, there is the danger of extremely high unemployment, particularly among the well-educated and formerly  well-off.  There have been several previous healthy memory blog posts by HM in which he discusses the future he was offered in the 1950s.  In elementary school we were told that by today technological advances would vastly increase leisure time.  Bear in mind that in the 50s very few mothers worked.  Moreover, technology has advanced far more than anticipated.  So, why is everyone working so hard?  Where is this promised leisure?

Unfortunately modern economies are predicated on growth.  They must grow which requires people to purchase junk and to keep working.  These economies are running towards disaster.  People need to demand the leisure promised in the 50s.   Paul-Choudry’s article does suggest that a business friendly middle ground might be for governments to subsidize reductions in working hours, an approach that has fended off labour crises before.  HM thinks that Paul-Choudhury has vastly underestimated the dangers of job losses.  HM thinks that this is of a magnitude that will threaten the stability of society.  So the working week will need to be drastically shortened to 20 hours (See the Healthymemory Blog Post “More on Rest”).

There have been previous healthy memory blog posts on having a basic minimum income, which also will need to be passed.

The primary forces arguing for these changes are the risks of societal collapse.

However, people need to have a purpose (ikigai) in their lives.  They need to have eudaemonic not hedonic pursuits.  Eudaemonic pursuits build societies; hedonic pursuits destroy society.

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

What We Know

March 9, 2017

The following section from Victor Strecher’s Book, “Life on Purpose”  can be regarded as the major take away from the book:

“*A strong, transcending purpose in life is good for you health and well-being and protects against disease and death.

*Purpose is a high-level goal (which is motivating) that is deeply valued (which is also motivating).

*The type of values that constitute a purpose matters.

*A strong, transcending purpose in life reduces defensiveness to change.

*Your purpose in life might be revealed by God…but it might not (hardly a conclusion!).

*Purposeful living is a dynamic process the requires energy and will power.

*Five positive behaviors that can improve energy and willpower are sleep, presence, activity, creativity, and eating well (SPACE).

*Purposeful living is not just a higher-order aspiration for the well-heeled.  It’s for everyone.”

HM hopes that these posts have convinced you to lead a life with purpose (ikigai).  If he has not, he has failed and encourages you to read Dr. Strecher’s book.  Even if you have been convinced, you will find more detailed guidance in his book.

Learning How to Think

March 8, 2017

This post is another in the series of posts on Victor Strecher’s Book, “Life on Purpose.”  In section 13 titled SAILING THROUGH STORMS is this quotation from David Foster Wallace:

“Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise control over how and what you think.  It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how to construct meaning from experience.  Because if you cannot or will not exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”

This quote bears serious pondering.  It provides an implicit message from the healthy memory blog.  Learning to think is key to a healthy memory.  And exercising control over what we think is central to a healthy memory.  Maintaining control over how we think is the reason for all the posts on mindfulness and meditation.

This quotation of Wallace warrants daily review.

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

SPACE

March 7, 2017

SPACE is the title of Part Three of Victor Strecher’s Book, “Life on Purpose.”  The Japanese have a word for “Life on Purpose” and that is ikigai, which is used in these posts because it has an earlier appearance in this blog and is shorter.

SPACE is an acronym that stands for Sleep, Presence, Activity, Creativity, and Eating.  An entire chapter is devoted to each of these topics, as the author goes into great detail regarding the importance and the implementation of these activities.  Only Presence will be addressed in the healthy memory blog.

Presence begins with this quote from Steve Jobs:
“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is.  If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to  hear more subtle things—that’s when  you intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more.  Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment.  You see so much more that you could see before.  It’s a discipline; you have to practice.”

Jobs is talking about meditation.  He personally consulted Zen masters and made periodic trips to Japan to sharpen his meditations.

Much has been written in the healthy memory blog about meditation.  What will be included here is “LOVING-KINDNESS MEDITATION.”  This particular meditation is famous.  One reason for its popularity comes from the recordings of the brains of Buddhist monks while doing this meditation.  The phrase, “off-the-charts” might capture these recordings.

*Find a comfortable place to sit, either in a chair or on the floor (HM reclines, which is okay provided you do not fall asleep).  Close your eyes.  Take a few moments to just be, noticing the sounds, smells, and feelings.  Allowing yourself to settle down, turn your attention to your breathing.

*Notice the way you body automatically, effortlessly inhales and exhales.

*Don’t try to manipulate you breath in any way.  Notice the feeling of air moving in and out of the nose and the easy, natural way your body moves

*Imagine yourself in a beautiful place.  As you continue breathing in and out, say to yourself, “May I be happy and free of suffering.”  (You can use many other salutary phrases here such as “health” or “strength”—or create your own.)

*Next, imagine a new person entering your beautiful place.  This is a person you care for a great deal.  Again, as you continue breathing in and out, say to yourself, “May you be happy and free of suffering.”

*Now move to another person entering your beautiful place.  This is a person who provokes no feeling of like or dislike.  A neutral person.  It could be a bank teller or a waitress you recently interacted with.  As you continue breathing in and out, say to yourself, “May you be happy and free of suffering.”
*Now move to another person.  A person who provokes feelings of dislike.  Again as you continue breathing in and out, say to yourself, “May you be happy and free of suffering.”

*Finally, extend these feeling of loving-kindness to the world.  To all living beings.  Bring them into your special place and say to yourself. “May all beings be happy and free of suffering.”

*Take a minute or so with your eyes shut before going back to your daily routine.

Self-Transcendence

March 6, 2017

Self-Transcendence is the title of Chapter 4 in Victor Strecher’s Book, “Life on Purpose.”  The Japanese have a word for “Life on Purpose” and that is ikigai, which is used in these posts because it has an earlier appearance in this blog and is shorter. It begins with two quotes.

The first is from Viktor Frankl, the psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz and helped fellow prisoners through the horror.
“Only to the extent that someone is living out this self-transcendence of human existence is he truly human or does he become his true self.  He becomes so, not by concerning himself with his self’s actualization, but by forgetting himself and giving himself, overlooking himself and focusing outward.”

The second is from band member Chrissie Hyde.
“Make the other band members look and sound good.  Bring out the best in them; that’s your job.”

Dr. Strecher writes, “This emphasis on individual’s own actualization heralded the “me generation”—baby boomers intent on jogging, dieting, and meditating (or navel-gazing, in the words of their detractors) to reach “self-realization” and “self-fulfillment.”

Viktor found this self-focus was narcissistic and ultimately detrimental to the self.  He suggested that valid fulfillment in life occurs only when a person transcends the self.  As was noted in an earlier blog, psychologist Abraham Maslow understood in the latter part of his career the importance of Frankl’s words.  In 1969 he wrote, “The fully developed (and very fortunate) human being working under the best conditions tends to be motivated by values which transcend his self.  They are not selfish anymore in the old sense of that term.”

Maslow found the “transcenders” were better able to see connections between disparate ideas, which make them better innovators and discoverers.  He discovered that transcending scientists exhibited “humility, a sense of ignorance, a feeling of smallness, awe before the tremendousness of the universe.”

Dr. Strecher finds it remarkable that Abraham Maslow, at the pinnacle of his field, would change his hugely popular model, saying essentially, I was wrong.”  Dr Strecher asks , “Who does that?”

Dr Stretcher notes that “It’s commonly believed that people are naturally selfish and need to be taught—by parents, schools, churches—to become transcending, altruistic, and empathic.”  Isn’t being selfish most beneficial.  If self-transcended is part of the nature of living things, wouldn’t animals act this way.

Dr. Strecher writes that the biologist Frans de Waal has shown altruistic behavior among dolphins, whales, elephants, chimpanzees, and bonobos and has concluded that “there is increasing evidence that the brain is hardwired for social connection, and that the same empathy mechanism propose to underlie human altruism may underlie the altruism of other animals.

Finding Your Purpose

March 5, 2017

The title of this post is the same as the title of a section in Victor Strecher’s Book, “Life on Purpose.”  The Japanese have a word for “Life on Purpose” and that is ikigai, which is used in these posts because it has an earlier appearance in this blog and is shorter.

Dr. Strecher notes that many people confuse or conflate “purpose” with “meaning” in life.   He makes a very important distinction.  It is, “Meaning in life asks the question ‘Why am I here?”  He notes that responses to this question vary greatly and may even include ‘No reason.’  Purpose in life is concerned  with what we most deeply value, and purposeful living is concerned with whether we’re living for what matters most.”

However, he then goes into a six step procedure for finding you purpose followed by making a written statement.  Although HM sees some value in making a written statement, needing such a detailed process to identify purpose makes me think that individual is unlikely to be successful in pursuing “ikigai.”

Ikigai is supposed to define the purpose that makes us want to get up in the morning.  This should be fairly obvious.  An additional proviso should be that this purpose is to achieve eudaedonomic  rather than hedonic ends.  And as was mentioned previously, this purpose can be divided into sub purposes, which can change overtime

Of course, it is good to follow your progress.  Depending upon individual preferences a written record can be kept or a summary mental review can be done before going to sleep.

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

In Search of the Daimon Inside

March 4, 2017

The title of this post is the title of a section in Victor Strecher’s Book, “Life on Purpose.”  The Japanese have a word for “Life on Purpose” and that is ikigai, which is used in these posts because it has an earlier appearance in this blog and is shorter.

The daimon is the term the Greeks used to represent the inner self.  Dr. Strecher and his research team was interested in learning how the affirmation of core values works in the brain.  This research was led by Emily Falk of the University of Pennsylvania.  The researchers started with already-identified  part of the brain related to the “self.”  It’s in an area called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC).  This part of the brain becomes active when we are processing information about our selves.

The researchers invited a group of sedentary people who would benefit from physical activity and gave each of them an accelerometer to measure activity changes.  After a week of learning about each participant’s activity patterns, the researchers used fMRI.  They asked half of them about the values they cared about most while scanning their brains.  For example, they’d ask a person who valued religion to “think of a time when religious values might give you a purpose in life.  Participants in the control group were asked to think about the values they cared least about.

Four four weeks following the scanning session, while their physical activity was still being monitored,  all participants were sent messages about increasing it.  Participants in the values affirmation group also received messages about their most important values, whereas those in the control group received messages about their least important values.

Compared to the control group, those in the group who considered their most important core values had greater activation of their vmPFC and went to increase their physical activity over the next month.  Moreover, the more the vmPFC became activated, the more physical activity occurred over the next month.  So the affirmation of core  purposeful values seemed to “open their minds” to change.

In another study psychologist Jennifer Crocker and her colleagues asked study participants either to write about their most important core value and why it was meaningful to them (the values affirmation group) or to write about their least important value and why it might be important and meaningful to other people (the control group).  Then, the participants were asked to rate how the essay they wrote made them feel.  Finally, they tested the participants’ defensiveness.  Participants affirming their most important values felt love, connectedness, and empathy, and these transcending feelings reduced their defensiveness.

Our Best Purpose

March 3, 2017

This is another in a series of blogs based on Victor Strecher’s Book, “Life on Purpose.”  The Japanese have a word for “Life on Purpose” and that is ikigai, which is used in these posts because it has an earlier appearance in this blog and is shorter.

Aristotle’s name means “best purpose.”  Victor Strecher’s best purpose, as stated by him, follows:
“My purpose is to help others create a purpose in their lives, to teach every student as if they were my own daughter, to be an engaged husband and father, and to enjoy love and beauty”

Actually Dr. Strecher reveals four sub purposes in his overall best purpose.  Careful consideration indicates that, as time is limited, they can sometimes conflict with each other.   This needs to be recognized and time and effort needs to be prioritized.  Circumstances will required reprioritizing these sub purposes over time.

Dr, Stretcher recognizes that there are different goals for the different roles in one’s life.  This is clear from his overall best purpose.  He makes the following recommendation:
“So let your purpose be big, lofty, even outrageous!  I want to wake up in the morning with my purpose foremost in my mind and go to bed at night knowing that I worked toward it.  Did I help other create  purpose in their lives?  Did I spend enough quality time with my students?  With my wife?  Did I take time to enjoy my walk to work?  If not, I’ve got some explaining to do—to myself.”

When Dr. Strecher was in Germany  one of the participants in his group raised his hand and said, “Well, Dr. Strecher, we know that Hitler had a purpose.”  He responded with this warning.  Philosophy can be a dangerous thing.  A bad purpose can go horribly wrong, HANDLE WITH CARE! So how, exactly, do we handle our purpose with care?  This is where Aristotle, again, helps us out, giving us buoys to guide our boat.  What are the values we should value most deeply?  Aristotle’s answer:  courage, temperance, generosity, magnificence, justice, ambition, good temper, truthfulness, wittiness, friendliness, and modesty.  Dr. Strecher suggests that today, “awesome” might be more appropriate than “magnificence.”

He goes further to note that “A great  purpose in life follows from values that reflect an understanding of the world.”

People with a strong life purpose are more likely to live longer, healthier lives.  They engage in healthy behaviors and are more willing to change unhealthy behaviors.  There have been many studies examining the impact of self-affirmation on reducing defensiveness to change.  “Affirming core values has been shown to increase resistance to disease, to improving physical activity and diet, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol consumption and excessive sun exposure, among other self-improving behaviors.”

Research Into Eudaemonia vs. Hedonia

March 2, 2017

This is another in a series of blogs based on Victor Strecher’s Book, “Life on Purpose.”  The Japanese have a word for “Life on Purpose” and that is “ikigai”, which is used in these posts because it has an earlier appearance in this blog and is shorter.

Aristotle stated that eudaemonia is found more among those who have “kept acquisition of external goods within moderate limits” and that “any excessive amount of such things must either cause its possessor some injury, or, at any rate, bring him no benefit.  Niemiec and colleagues were interested in whether eudaemonic versus hedonic aspiration  of individuals just beginning their careers had an influence on well-being.  So they did a study of graduating college students, and found first, and not surprisingly, that they were more likely to attain what they had aspired to.  Those who placed importance on hedonic pursuits, money, fame, and image were more likely to find them, whereas those who aspired to eudaemonic pursuits, greater personal growth, relationships, and community, were more likely to achieve them.

The key finding follows:  Those who attained hedonic aspirations reported greater anxiety and  physical symptoms of poor health, whereas those attaining eudaemonic aspirations reported greater life satisfaction, self-esteem, and positive feelings.

The next question is whether we vary in our neural responses to eudaemonic versus hedonic rewards.  To address this question researchers examined activation in the ventral striatum of adolescents when engaged in eudaemonic versus hedonic decision making.  The ventral striatum is located in a part deep in the brain that’s associated with rewards. The adolescents’ brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while making eudaemonic decisions to donate money to others or hedonic decisions to keep the money.  Adolescents who had more blood flow to the ventral striatum during eudaemonic versus hedonic choices could be identified.  The symptoms of depression were measured in the beginning of the study and one year later.  After a year, adolescents with greater activation of their brain’s reward system while giving money had, on average, a decline in depressive symptoms, whereas those with greater activation in this system when keeping the money had an increase in depressive symptoms.

Dr. Strecher concludes, “This further confirms that eudaemonic and hedonic forms of happiness are indeed different and that they produce very different effects.”

Eudaemonia vs. Hedonia

March 1, 2017

This is another in a series of blogs based on Victor Strecher’s Book, “Life on Purpose.”  The Japanese have a word for “Life on Purpose” and that is ikigai, which is used in these posts because it has an earlier appearance in this blog and is shorter.  It is important to realize that there are two kinds of happiness that need to be understood to achieve effective ikigai.

The ancient Greeks thought that every person had an inner daimon and that we should find and live in harmony with it.  Aristotle used the word eudaemonia  to describe the connection with the true self. This concept of a true self that transcends one’s ego-focused desires is found in many Western and Eastern religions as well as in more modern psychological approaches.  Abraham Maslow eventually felt required to add self-transcendence above self-actualization, esteem, love/belonging, safety, physiological in his hierarchy of needs.

Aristotle asserted that the happiness attained by the self-transcending state of eudaemonia may be contrasted with self-enhancing “hedonia,”  which concerns hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure  derived from gratifying short-term desires.  Aristotle understood that we all seek hedonic pleasure, but he warned against the excess of it, stating, “The many, the most vulgar, would seem to conceive the good and happiness as pleasure…Here they appear completely slavish, since the life they decide is a life for grazing animals.”

The American philosopher David Norton asserted that “most of us today have no sense of an oracle within…Turning our backs to the void, we become infinitely distractible by outward things, prizing those that ”demand our attention,  We secretly treasure the atmosphere of world crises, for the mental ambulance-chasing it affords.  Meanwhile we armor ourselves with mirrors to deflect the inquiring eyes of others.”  David Norton passed away in 1995 before smart-phones.  Today, Norton’s sentiments need to be increased by several orders of magnitude.

Dr. Strecher says that if Aristotle were alive today, he might counsel, “Listen to your heart and don’t act like Charlie Sheen.”  HM believes that Aristotle would choose Donald Trump over Charlie Sheen.  Trump has taken narcissism to new levels.  Here is the definition of  the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) “a long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of understanding of others’ feelings.[4][5] People affected by it often spend a lot of time thinking about achieving power or success, or about their appearance. They often take advantage of the people around them. The behavior typically begins by early adulthood, and occurs across a variety of situations.”

HM also finds it amusing to think of Trump as a “grazing animal.”

But there are many people who are eudaemonic.  Pope Francis is one who quickly comes to mind.

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

Research on Ikigai

February 28, 2017

Research on ikigai, or purpose in life, is usually measured with statements such as, “I have a sense of direction and purpose in life,” and “Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.  Respondents then assess these statements using scales that range from one to seven.  Bear in mind that these are just examples, the assessment form includes many more such statements.  The responses to all these statements are combined to form an overall index of purpose.  Although this might appear to be a simple form of evaluation, it delivers reliable and validated results.

Studies using these measures have demonstrated that people reporting a strong purpose in life live longer lives, on average, that those with a weak purpose.  A recent study that followed over seven thousand middle-aged America adults for fourteen years found that even a one-point increase on a seven-point scale of purpose resulted in an over 12% reduced risk of dying.  The person’s age or whether they’ retired did not matter.  What is even more impotent is that general measures of happiness or sadness did not influence the risk of death, not did they affect the impact of purpose in life.

Dr. Strecher spends his days at work studying facts that make us healthy or unhealthy.  Together, tobacco use, a poor diet, inactivity, stress, and other lifestyle factors contribute to about half of disease and early death.  This is not news.  There are many articles written on these issues, yet you rarely read about ikigai, or having a meaningful purpose in life, but current evidence indicates that it contributes at least as much to disease and death as do these other factors.

In a study of over 1,500 adults with heart disease followed for two years, every one-point increase a six-point purpose-in-life scale resulted in a 27% lower risk of suffering a heart attack.  In a study of over 6,000 adults follows for four years, every one-point increase on a six-pint scale resulted in a 22% reduced risk of stroke.

Great pains are taken in this research to avoid mistaking correlation for causation.  Other factors  that might actually be causing changes in the outcomes of interest are statistically controlled.

Patricia Boyle and her colleagues at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center followed over nine hundred seniors for seven years, looking for the incidence of Alzheimer’s.  Over that period, seniors with a low purpose in life were 2.4 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those with a high purpose in life.  In a different study the same research team found a slower progression of the disease among those who had developed Allzheimer’s and had a high purpose in life.

People with ikigai, or a strong purpose in life, on average, do better psychologically and socially than those without.  They sleep better, have better sex, and are less likely to become depressed and are more relaxed.   Diabetics with ikigai are more likely to have their blood glucose under control.  People who have received drug and alcohol rehab are half as likely to relapse six month later if they started treatment with a strong purpose.  There are physiological factors underlying these results.  Ikigai is associated with an increase in natural killer cells that attack viruses and cancerous cells.  Ikigai is also associated with  reduction in inflammatory cell production and an increase in HDL (good cholesterol.)

These outcomes also translate into reductions in health-care costs.  After statistically controlling for initial demographics, health behaviors, and health status, every point improved on a six-point purpose-in-life scale resulted in a 17% reduction in nights spent in the hospital.  Someone on a six-point scale,  with a purpose of five would have an average of 36% fewer hospital nights per year than a person who had a purpose of two.  Dr. Strecher knows of no other lifestyle behavior that produces this effect on health care.

The 2009 Nobel Prize winner in medicine, Elizabeth Blackburn, discovered the role of telomeres. Telomeres are located at the end of our chromosomes and act a bit like the plastic caps that keep shoelaces from fraying.  When our telomeres shorten, our chromosomes are more susceptible to damage and we’re more likely to get sick.

Stress damages chromosomes.  Meditation has been shown to reduce stress, so Blackburn and her colleagues created an experiment that randomly enrolled some subjects in a three-month meditation program, and others to a waiting list for the program.  The research question was whether meditation would reduce stress, which might, in turn, increase an enzyme, telomerase, that a fuels telomeres.

Compared to the control group, the meditators did have more telomerase.  However, they also found that the meditators were developing a stronger purpose in their lives, and it was this purpose in life, and not the meditation, that was associated with the higher levels of telomerase.

Life on Purpose (Ikigai)

February 27, 2017

The title of this post is the title of a book by Dr. Victor Stretcher.  Its subtitle is “How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything.”  This book was referenced previously in the healthy memory blog post, “Ikigai Cuts the Risk of Alzheimer’s in Half.”  Although Dr. Strecher never uses “Ikigai”  HM will continue to use it because it is concise, captures the meaning precisely, and has been used previously in this blog.

Dr. Strecher asks the reader to consider if purpose (Ikigai) were a drug.  “So let’s imagine a drug that was shown to add years to your life; reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke; reduce you risk of Alzheimer’s disease b more than half;  help you relax during the day and sleep better at night;  double your chances of staying drug- and alcohol-free after treatment; activate your natural killer cells;  diminish your inflammatory cells; increase your good cholesterol and repair your DNA.  What if this imaginary dog reduced hospital stays so much tat it put a dent in the national health-care crisis?  Oh, and as a bonus, gave you better sex?”

Your response might well be what kind of snake-oil is this.  However, there is empirical research backing these claims.  The difficulty is that this is not a pill.  It is a matter of lifestyle governed by Ikigai, having a meaningful purpose in life.  Reading this book is interesting.  However, achieving the results cited in the previous paragraph requires a lifestyle and a manner of thinking.  Dr. Strecher’s book provides guidance on how to do this.  Many healthy memory posts will be based on this work, but they can only scratch the surface.

It’s Never Too Late

February 26, 2017

This true account of the Canadian athlete Olga Kotelko is taken from Pang’s book “Rest.”  Olga won hundreds of senior track and field events before her death at 94.  Her regimen had a dramatic effect on her brain’s structure.  Compared to other people her age, Kotelko’s brain had greater white matter integrity (this correlates with increased capacity for reasoning, self-control, and planning).  Along with her levels of fractional anisotropy (a measure of brain connectivity), and her healthier brain helped he perform better on cognition and memory tests.  She grew up on a farm and spent a career as a teacher.  What makes her so remarkable is that she didn’t start competing until late in life:  she started training at 77.

More on Rest

February 26, 2017

That is the book “Rest” by  Alex Soojung-Kim Pang that was reviewed in the immediately preceding post.  Remember that the major points of this book were that there is a limit of about four hours for effective mental work, and that non work time needs to be spent in restorative activities.  Previous healthy memory blog posts have mentioned that when I was I elementary school in the 1950s I was told that by now time at work would have been drastically reduced due to technology.  Technology has advanced beyond our wildest dreams.  And back in the 50s it was highly unusual for mothers to work.  Yet today, everyone is working many more hours than in the 50s.

So what happened?  Moreover, there is genuine concern about all the jobs that will be lost due to technology.

It seems that the solution to this problem is to recalibrate using guidance from Alex Soojung-Kim Pang.  Cut the standard work week to 20 hours and use remaining time to recreate and engage in restorative activities.

This should not only solve a dangerous unemployment problem, but it should also result in an increase in the quality of work.

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

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less

February 25, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a new important book by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang.  HM wishes he had read this book a very long time ago, as he learned the lessons  of this book through personal pain.  HM’s original goal was co complete his bachelor’s degree in three years.  Unfortunately, he learned that his brain turned to mush trying to learn at that rate.  However, he did manage to earn his degree with distinction in psychology in 3.5 years.  Later during graduate school he would have liked to put in sixteen hour days working for his doctorate.  However, the mush brain problem surfaced again.  He could only work effectively for a limited number of hours.  The rest of the time he walked, swam, and went to bars.

What HM learned reading “Rest” that there is a limit of about four hours for effective mental work.  Moreover, non work time needs to be spent in restorative activities. Part I is titled Stimulating Creativity.  The titles of the chapter are Four Hours, Morning Routine, Walk, Nap, Stop, and Sleep.  Pang explains the importance of each of these topics to creativity and he documents their effectiveness by discussing the practices of famous scientists, mathematicians, novelists and other creative artists, and successful business people.

Part II is titles Sustaining Creativity and has chapter on Recovery, Exercise, Deep Play, Sabbaticals.  He again explains why these activities are restorative and provides interesting examples of the famous people who practiced them.

The book’s conclusion is titled The Restful Life.  It begins with the following quote from Thomas Jefferson:  “It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation, which give happiness.”  So the book transcends working.  It is providing guidance for leading a fulfilling life.

HM’s primary complaint about the book is that the most effective practices for effective rest and restoration and for a fulfilling life are barely mentioned.  These are the practices of meditation and mindfulness.  The word “meditation” occurs five times and the word “mindfulness” only once.  This is most ironic because Pang’s previous book is “The Distraction Addiction.”  Ten healthy memory blog posts were based on this book. The final chapter pf this book is titled “Eight Steps to Contemplative Computing.”  Meditation and mindfulness are central to this work.  Why they are omitted from this book  is baffling.  Perhaps he thought that he had adequately covered mindfulness and meditation in that book.  Regardless, he should have cited that work in “Rest” and repeated the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.
© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

There Will Be a Hiatus in the HealthyMemory– Blog But It Shall Return

February 12, 2017

There should new no problem finding healthy memory blogs to read in the interim.  There are over 900 posts, none of which can be regarded as being out of date.

Just enter any topic of interest into the healthymemory blog search block.

Here are some suggested search terms:

Relaxation Response
Growth Mindsets
Kahneman
Davidson
Stanovich
Cyberpsychology
Mary Aiken
Flynn
epigenetics
Moonwalking with Einstein

An Infuriating Article About Alzheimer’s

February 11, 2017

And that article is “After many disappointments, the search for Alzheimer’s drugs is more urgent than ever by Melissa Bailey in the Health Section of the 7 February 2017 issue of the Washington Post.  Regular readers of the healthy memory blog should understand why HM is infuriated.  See the healthy memory post, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s.”  The senior author of this book is Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D..  Dr. Whitehouse conducted research for many years into drugs for Alzheimer’s.  He came to the conclusion that effective drugs would never be found, and that research should be concentrated on activities that would prevent, mitigate, or help people suffering with Alzheimer’s.  He remains quite confident that a drug research is a dead end.  Yet it continues.

The reason for this is  money.  Money is in the drugs.  It is especially infuriating that the government is funding this research.  Congress funds this research because it has the appearance of dealing with a serious problem. However, in the highly unlikely case that drugs are found, the drug companies would charge exorbitant fees for them.  Remember that the United States is the only advanced country that does not control drug costs, so perhaps the adjective “advanced” is incorrect.

This drug research is targeted at the neurofibrillary plaque and neurofibril tangles that are the defining symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  Research on the protein tau, is conducted for its role in creating tangles in the brain.  Anti-amyloid drugs  will not work.  Yet there have been many people who have these defining symptoms, but who never exhibit any of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  Many people have died, mentally sharp, not knowing that they had Alzheimer’s disease.  By far this is the most significant fact about Alzheimer’s that is rarely, if ever, mentioned.  Apparently, Melissa Bailey, the author of this article, is oblivious of this fact.

The explanation offered for these individuals who have the physical markers, but none of the behavioral symptoms, is that they have built up a cognitive reserve.  Cognitive activity along with a healthy lifestyle greatly decrease the probability of cognitive symptoms.  Just having a purpose in life reduces the risk of cognitive decline by half (see the Healthymemory blog post, “Ikigai Cuts the Risk of Alzheimer’s in Half”).

Consequently the healthy memory blog strongly recommends growth mindsets throughout one’s life.  Becoming a cognitive couch potato greatly increases the risk of Alzheimer’s (enter “Stupidity Pandemic” into the healthy memory blog) to learn more about these risks.

Although there is a widespread use of technology, this technology is used in a superficial manner (see the healthy memory blog post “Notes on Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age”).  One of the best examples of this is the woman was asked what she thought of “Obamacare”?  She was against it, but when asked what she thought of “The Affordable Care Act,” she thought that was a good idea.

Given the stupidity pandemic and little critical thinking, the incidence of Alzheimer’s will likely increase.  And drugs will not come to the rescue.  People need to start thinking, thinking with purpose, and thinking more deeply.

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

US Scientists Can Look to Canada for Ways to Fight a Stupidity Pandemic

February 10, 2017

This post is based on an Insight Piece in the 4 February 2017 issue of the New Scientist titled “US scientists can look to Canada for ways to fight a crackdown.”  “Stupidity Pandemic” is a term used in prior healthy memory blog posts, and it has been substituted for “crackdown” as it accurately characterizes what is happening in the United States.

The article notes that George Orwell, the author of “1984” said that  “Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”  Empirical facts are especially unwelcome to a political establishment that wants to provide their own “alternative” facts.

Already during just his first week in office, Trump launched orders to gag scientists in federal agencies, and raised the possibility that political officials may now need to clear empirical findings before they can be published.  The Environmental Protection Agency was hit with a freeze on all contracts and grants.  All existing information published by the EPA would also be examined, and the release of new work put on hold pending possible case-by-case scrutiny.  Agency staff have also been barred from updating its social media accounts or taking to the press without clearance from the top.  Does this not have some of the flavor of 1984?

The Department of Health and Human Services was ordered not to communicate with external officials.  This proscription included members of Congress.  The Department of Agriculture reminded staff to get clearance before talking to the press and its research division was old not to issue public statements.

The New Scientist article notes that this patten of gagging and censoring scientists will have a familiar ring in Canada.  During the conservative government of Stephen Harper between 2006 and 2015,  he sacked more than 2000 fisheries and environmental scientists, and cut climate, Arctic and air pollution research.

During this “war on science” libraries journal collections were trashed and researchers reported being leaned on to allay politically sensitive conclusions.   Federally employed scientists were banned from speaking in public or to the press without permission, and this permission was often denied or delayed.   Government chaperones sat in on press interviews.  Some scientists learned not to speak up at all.  Climate stories all but vanished from the press.

Michael Oman-Reagan of Memorial University in St John’s Canada says,”The lesson from the Canadian war on science for US scientists is:  speak out now, organize, stand in solidarity, be an activist, and resist.”

Some US scientists are doing this.  US scientists have started making additional precautionary backups of publicly funded environment data sets.  A scientists’ march on Washington is in the works, and an action group is trying to get more scientists to run for public office.
George Orwell said keep restating the empirically obvious—because “the quickest way of ending a war is to lose it.”

The good news is that Canada managed to recover.  Let us hope that US  citizens have the intelligence of ridding the country of an anti-science, anti-truth government.

A Painful Reminder for Donald Trump of Why Torture is Pointless

February 9, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Comment piece in the 4 February 2017 issue of the New Scientist.  This article begins ,”PRESIDENT Donald Trump says his nation should ‘fight fire with fire’ by using torture on terror suspects, insisting it works.”  The article ends, “The lesson for Trump is simple:  fighting fire with fire burns down the neighborhood.”

The purpose of torture, is similar to the purpose of much of science, to get reliable, replicable and verifiable information.  Professional interrogators say torture is the worst possible method for this.  Torture fails utterly as a means of getting at the truth, even more so compared with non-coercive investigative methods.  To be sure, torture gets the victim to respond, but why should the response be related to the truth?  In fact, the victim might not have the desired information, but if tortured enough, there will be a response.

Neuroscience agrees with the professional interrogators.  Imposing extremes of pain, anxiety, hunger, sleep deprivation and the threat of drowning does not enhance interrogation.  It degrades it.  This should not be surprising.  Behind the wheel of a car, even mild states of sleep deprivation are as risky as being drunk.  Reactions are slowed, judgement is impaired, and recollection is damaged.  The torturer hopes that enough residual function is unaffected so that intelligence can be gathered. However, the result is that people say whatever is needed to make the torture stop.

The article asks, what’s the alternative?  It is to talk because humans like to talk.  It is estimated that 40% of what we say to other people consists of self-disclosure.  Brain imaging shows that during self-disclosure, the brain’s reward system is activated.  We like talking about ourselves.

The legendary German interrogator Hanns-Joachim Scarf debriefed more than 500 allied airmen during the second world war.  He never used coercion, but cross-checked information carefully.  He never asked a direct question and never indicated any interest in any answer he received.  He was adept at taking the pilots’ perspective and actively listening.  The article notes, “these skills can be learned and are not so different from the skills of a highly trained doctor.

Ikigai Cuts the Risk of Alzheimer’s by Half

February 7, 2017

This finding comes from an article in the 28 January 2017 issue of the New Scientist by Teal Burrell titled “A meaning to life:  How a sense of purpose can keep you healthy.”  Ikigai is the Japanese word for having a purpose in life.  Ikigai also helps prevent heart attack(27%) and stroke (22%), enables people to sleep better, have better sex and live longer, and cuts the risk of Alzheimer’s by more than half according to a study by Patricia Boyle and her colleagues at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

Burrell quotes Nietzsche, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”  Burrell gives the Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl who survived four Nazi concentration camps credit for studying of how purpose influences our health.  We encountered Viktor before in a healthy memory blog post titled “Another Quote Worth Pondering.”  That quote was “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.”

The critical reader might well ask, how do we know about the benefits of having a purpose in life?  A more parsimonious explanation might be that purposeful people may exercise more or eat better.  However, over the past ten years the findings about the health benefits have been remarkably consistent revealing that alcoholics whose sense of purpose increased during treatment were less likely to resume heavy drinking six months later.  People with  higher purpose were less likely to develop sleep disturbances with age, and that women with more purpose rated their sex lives as more enjoyable.  Victor Stecher, a public health researcher at the University of Michigan found that these findings persist “even after statistically controlling for age, race, gender, education, income health status and health behaviors.  Stecher is the author of the book, “Life on Purpose.”

A study of 7000 middle-aged people in the US found that even small increases in sense of purpose were associated with big drops in the chances of dying during a period of 14 years.  An analysis of more than 9000 English people over 50 years old found that after adjusting for things like education, depression, smoking, and exercise—those in the highest quartile of purpose had a 30% lower risk of death over nearly a decade compared with those in the lowest quartile.

Some might argue that this sense of purpose is confounded with wealth.   However, a 2007 Gallup poll of 141,000 people in 132 countries found that  even though people from wealthier countries rate themselves higher on measure of happiness, people from poorer countries tend  to view their lives as more meaningful.  Shierhio Oishi of the University of Virginia suspects this is in part because people in developing countries have more concrete things to focus on.  He says, “Their goals are clearer perhaps:  to survive and believe.  In rich countries, there are so many potential choices that it could be hard to see clearly.”

Another explanation could be in terms of religious faith.  Oishu’s study find that nations with the highest ratings of meaningful  life were also the most religious.  And religious people do tend to report having more purpose.  However, efforts to disentangle the two have revealed differences.  For example, religiosity does not  predict a lower risk of heart attack or stroke.

Steven Cole of the University of California at Los Angeles says , “If people are living longer, there’s got to be some biology underpinning it.”  Cole has spent years studying how negative experiences such as loneliness and stress can increase the expression of genes promoting inflammation, which can cause cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, or cancer.

Cole has examined the influence of well-being.  He has focused on two types of well-being:  hedonic, from pleasure and rewards, and eudaemonic, for having a purpose beyond self-gratification.  Participants were measured by having them note down their well-being over the previous week, how often they felt happy (hedonic), or that their life had a sense of direction (eudaemonic).  Scoring highly on one often meant scoring highly on the other and both correlated with lower levels of depression, but they had opposite effects on gene expression. People with higher measures of hedonic well-being had higher expression of inflammatory genes and lower expression of genes for disease-fighting antibodies.  It was just the opposite for people scoring highest on eudaemonia who had lower expression of inflammatory genes, and higher expression of genes for disease-fighting antibodies.  Cole suspects the eudaemonia, with its focus on purpose, decreases the nervous systems reaction to sudden danger that increases heart rate and breathing and surges of adrenaline.  Over-activation of this stress-response system causes harmful inflammation.  Cole says there be something saying “be less frightened, or less worried, anxious or uncertain.”

An alternative, but not mutually exclusive theory for how purpose could affect biology is by preserving the telomeres, which are the caps on the chromosomes that protect DNA from damage, but that shorten with age and stress.  Research has also indicated that stress reduction through meditation has found that it could defend telomeres.  Close analysis showed the the benefit was down to a change in sense of purpose, not the meditation directly:  the greater a person’s purpose became, the more of the protein telomerase they had to protect their telomeres.

Of course, a key question is how can people boost heir sense of purpose if it is lacking?  The article suggests several different strategies.  Meditation can have an effect. Eudaemonic  well-being is strengthened  by carrying out random acts of kindness.  Cole has found that having a purpose that benefits others may be particularly helpful;.

Stretcher recommends setting a different purpose for each o four domains in life—family, work, community and personal—and acknowledging that you focus will shift among them over time, and the goals themselves can shift too.

Dolores Gallagher-Thompson has found that cognitive behavioral therapy can promote meaningfulness.  She encourages patients to consider their legacy and how they might prove a good example for children and grandchildren.

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

Do Proponents of “Originalism” Have Healthy Memories?

February 6, 2017

Originalism refers to the notion that judges should attempt to interpret the words of the Constitution as they were understood at the time they were written.  The first question is how can judges do this?  The judges need to accomplish both time travel and mind reading.  That is, they need to travel back in time and somehow understand what these now deceased individuals were thinking.

But even if this could be accomplished, is it desirable?  According to the Constitution at that  time, slavery was legal, but blacks were counted as two-thirds of a human being, and woman could not vote.  So what is the point of going back in time?  Textualists are judges who only consider  the words of the law being reviewed should be considered, neither the writers’ intent nor the consequences of the decision.  So words rather than their intended meanings and results are what is important?

Fortunately, these gross injustices were corrected by amendments to the Constitution. This was the result of the Founding Fathers realizing that there would be a need to amend the Constitution.  It seems clear that they viewed the Constitution to be a fluid document that would need to be changed over time.

So why do these concepts still prevail? Individuals who advocate these concepts are actually insulting the Founding Founders.  HM is certain that if Founding Fathers were asked about this mind reading task, they would tell people of the future not to try to travel back in time.  HM is able to make this assertion from the reading of the Constitution without having to take recourse to time travel and mind reading.

Unfortunately, these beliefs of originalism and textualism are litmus tests for some Senators in approving Supreme Court nominees.  HM thinks that any judge holding to these beliefs does not belong in Traffic Court, much less the Supreme Court.  This acceptance of originalism provides a key insight as to the break between the legal system and justice.

In case the reader has still not inferred the answer to the question posed in the title, the answer is no.

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

How to Become a Memory Grandmaster

February 5, 2017

The following is taken from THE MEMORY ILLUSION by Julia Shaw.  Although many posts have been based on her book, these posts covered only a sampling of interesting material.  Reading this source is highly recommended.

To become a Memory Grandmaster you need to demonstrate to the World Memory Sports Council that you are able to accomplish the following:

Memorize 1,000 random digits in an hour
Memorize the order of ten decks of cards in an hour
Memorize the order of a deck of cards in under two minutes.

Ed Cooke is a Memory Grandmaster who has said, “What you have to understand is that even average memories are remarkably powerful if used properly.”

To learn more about expert memory performance and memory competitions read
“Moonwalking with Einstein:  The Art and Science of Remembering Everything” by Joshua Foer.

To read more about this topic in this blog enter either “Foer” or “Moonwalking with Einstein” into the search block of the healthy memory blog.

Media Multi-tasking

February 4, 2017

Media multitasking is another important topic addressed by Julia Shaw in “THE MEMORY ILLUSION.”  She begins this section as follows:  “Let me tell you a secret.  You can’t multitask.”  This is the way neuroscientist Earl Miller from MIT puts it, “people can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves…The brain is very good at deluding itself.”  Miller continues, “When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly.  And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.”

A review done in 2014 by Derk Crews and Molly Russ on the impact of task-switching has on efficiency concluded that it is bad for our productivity, critical thinking and ability to concentrate, in addition to making us more error-prone.  Moreover, they concluded that these consequences are  not limited to diminishing our ability to do the task at hand.  They also have an impact on our ability to remember things later.  Task switching also increases stress, diminishing people’s ability to manage a work-life balance, and can have negative social consequences.

Reysol Junco and Shelia Cotton further examined the impact of task-switching on our ability to learn and remember things. Their research was reported in an article entitled ‘No A 4 U’.  They asked 1,834 students about their use of technology and found that most of them spent a significant amount of time using information and communication technologies on a daily basis.  They found that 51% of respondents reported texting, 33% reported using Facebook, and 21% reported emailing while doing schoolwork somewhat or very frequently.  The respondents reported that while studying outside of class, they spent an average 60 minutes per day on Facebook, 43 minutes per day browsing the internet, and 22 minutes per day on their email.  This is over two hours attempting to multitask while studying per day.  The study also found that such multitasking, particularly the use of Facebook and instant messaging, was significantly negatively correlated with academic performance; the more time students reported spending using these technologies while studying, the worse their grades were.

David Strayer and his research team at the University of Utah published a study comparing drunk drivers to drivers who were talking on their cell phones.  It is assumed here that most conscious attention is being directed at the conversation and the driving has been relegated to automatic monitoring.  The results were that “When drivers were conversing on either a handheld or a hands-free cell phone, their braking reactions were delayed and they were involved in more traffic accidents than when they were not conversing on a cell phone.’  HM believes that this research was conducted in driving simulators and did not engender any carnage on the road.  Strayer also concluded that driving while chatting on the phone can actually be as bad as drunk driving, with both noticeably increasing the risk for car accidents.

Unfortunately, legislators have not understood this research.  Laws allow hand-free use of cell phones, but it is not the hands that are at issue here.  It is the attention available for driving.  Cell phone use regardless of whether hands are involved detracts from the attention needed during driving when emergencies or unexpected happenings occur.

Communications researchers Aimee Miller-Ott and  Lynne Kelly studied how constant use of our phones while also engaged in other activities can impede our happiness.  Their position is that we have expectations of how certain social interactions are supposed to look, and if these expectation are violated we have a negative response.
They asked 51 respondents to explain what they expect when ‘hanging out’ with friends and loved ones, and when going on dates.  They found that just the mere presence of a visible cell phone decreased the satisfaction of time spent together, regardless of whether the person was constantly using it.  The reasons offered by the respondents for disliking the other person being on their cell phone included the involution of the expectation of undivided attention during dates and other intimated moments.  When hanging out, this expectation was lessened, so the presence of a cell phone was not perceived to be as negative, but was still often considered to diminish the in-person interaction.  Their research corresponded to their review of the academic literature, where there is strong evidence showing that romantic partners are often annoyed  and upset when their partner uses a cell phone during the time spent together

Marketing professor James Roberts has coined the term ‘phub’— an elision of ‘phone’ and ‘snub’ to describe the action of a person choosing to engage with their  phone instead of engaging with another person.  For example, you might angrily say, “Stop phubbing me!”  Roberts says that phone attachment  leading to this kin of use behavior has ben lined with higher stress, anxiety, and depression.

Freud and Repression

February 3, 2017

The psychotherapists  who did the inadvertent memory hacking reported in the immediately preceding post where either Freudians or strongly of the Freudian persuasion.  Freud thought that many mental problems were due to repressed memories of childhood abuse.  Freud was correct in pointing to not only the existence but also the importance of the subconscious mind.  The brain is constantly active, with only a small percentage of this activity reaching conscious awareness.  But Freud’s repressed traumas are not buried there.

Freud was a brilliant creative individual, but he was no scientist.  After 12 years of Freud being nominated for the Nobel Prize, the Nobel Prize Committee hired an expert to inquire into his work.  The expert came to the conclusion that “Freud’s work was of no proven scientific value.”

So not only was Freud’s work of no scientific value, his influence on psychotherapists resulted in a nightmare of false accusations of childhood abuse.  So be aware of this when there are reports of childhood sexual abuse (although it certainly does occur, children must be interviewed carefully to assure that false memories are not hacked into their brains).  And should you find yourself in therapy and the therapist suggests probing your mind for repressed memories, you should seriously consider changing therapists..

There is no such thing as false memory “syndrome.”  Although false memories are an omnipresent problem, there is no syndrome.  In 2015, out of 325 cases where modern DNA testing proved innocence beyond reasonable doubt, 235 cases involved eyewitness misidentification.  So false memories play an absolutely critical role in the imprisonment of the innocent.  Human memory is fallible, people are overconfident not only in their own memories, but also in the memories of others.  But this is do to normal memory processes.  There is no “syndrome.”

© 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.

Memory Hacking

February 2, 2017

There have been many healthy memory blog posts on the topic of false memories,  To find these posts enter “Loftus” or “false memory” in the healthy memory blog search block.  Psychologist Julia Shaw she says that she is a memory hacker in her book, “THE MEMORY ILLUSION.”  By that she means that she knows how to induce false memories.  In addition to discussing how she does this in the laboratory she also discusses how this is done in the wild.  She also notes that not only outside sources can dramatically alter our recollections of emotional events; we are also prone to distortion from internal influences.

Research by Alan Brown and Elizabeth March has demonstrated that simply showing people photos of particular locations makes them more likely to erroneously report having visited those places when asked a week or two later.  Participants were more likely  to misremember visiting places that were mundane than unique places.  This finding makes sense because they were investigating memory for visiting locations on a college  and mundane locations included things that exist on a college campus, such as classrooms, libraries and streets.  Unique locations included photos of statues, artwork and particularly ornamental buildings. 87% of the participants claimed to have visited at least one mundane location and 62% claimed to have visited one unique location.  None of the photos were from the campus the students actually visited.

The problem becomes even worse when researchers manipulated images or introduced misinformation to suggest that people did things that they never did.  Research done in 2002 by Wade, Garry, Read, and Lindsay showed that half of the participants in a study could come to recall details of a hot-air ballon ride that they have never taken simply through being asked to remember the supposed event while being shown a photoshopped image of themselves in the ballon basket.

Another study by Stephen Lindsay and his colleagues showed that the photos didn’t necessarily need to be altered.  They had half of their participants imagine experiencing three events from childhood, while the other  half were asked to do the same thing while looking at a real photos of their former school classmates.  Participants were then asked to recall their memories of the events in question.  Two of these events had actually happened (information about these true events had been provided ahead of time by the participants’ parents) but the third was a fictional event that had been invented by the team.  Of those who were asked to picture the event happening, 45% formed false memories of it, while 78% of those who pictured the event and were exposed to true pictures of old classmates formed false memories. So giving pictures to the participants who were trying to remember events made them more likely to create memories of things that never actually happened.  Dr. Shaw writes, “These real pictures served as a foundation that the participants could meld into their false accounts making them feel more real.”

Psychotherapists have inadvertently hacked memories..  These psychotherapists planted false memories of childhood sexual events into their patients’ memories.  These psychotherapists were falsely guided by the notion that repressed sexual memories were the source of their patients’ mental problems.  Can you imagine the nightmares of these parents when they were falsely accused by their children of sexual abuse?  It was not only parents but also teachers and staff at day care centers who were falsely accused of sexual abuse as the result of debriefings done by incompetent investigators.  They kept suggesting over and over to the children that they had been sexually abused.  The justification these investigators provided was that children needed to be coached to uncover the sexual abuse.  These investigators were wrong. Consequently, many were falsely imprisoned in a Kafkaefsque  nightmare.

© 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.

Flashbulb Memories

February 1, 2017

Flashbulb memories is one of the many interesting topics discussed in discussed in the book, “THE MEMORY ILLUSION,” by psychologist Julia Shaw.  Flashbulb memories refer to memories regarding such events as where were you when 9/ll happened, when the Challenger Shuttle exploded, or when JFK was shot.  These types of question imply that we have the capacity for immediate powerful recollections of the circumstances we were in at particular significant moments.

Harvard University researchers Roger Brown and James Kufic have investigated these kinds of memories.  They sent out a questionnaire to 80 people to ask about what made them remember important historical events such as assassinations, highly newsworthy occurrences and personally important experiences.  They concluded from the questionnaire responses that many people have memories of considerably perceptual clarity for important historic events.  People would report more correct details with higher confidence for certain kinds of events, with these events having three main characteristics.

First , the event needed to generate a high level of surprise,  It could not be trivial or expected event.

Second, the event needed to carry important consequences for the person or for people in general—referred to as having a high level of consequentiality.

Finally, the event had to generate high levels of of emotional arousal—the individual needed to experience fear, sadness, anger or some other strong emotion.

These reports are of perceptually vivid events, and the respondents have high degrees of confidence in their reports.

Follow on research replicated these vivid memories reported with confidence.  However, when these memories were checked against known facts, discrepancies were found, and the accounts of these vivid memories varied when they were repeated at different times.

Some respondents became aware of the unreliability of these vivid memories when they remembered where they were at the time and found their recollections to be inconsistent with the true times and places they actually were at the time.  So although these memories were perceptually vivid, they were not accurate.

This is a serious problem regarding our memories.  We can be extremely confident in false or inaccurate memories.  We need to be aware of this overconfidence, and to be cautious in our reporting.

And we should regard highly confident reports of memory with caution.  Unfortunately, juries tend to place high credibility in memories reported with high confidence.  These reports are likely to be erroneous or even coached.  The reports of someone who is not quite sure of memories of what happened actually deserve a higher degree of credibility.  It is likely that many are serving prison sentences because they were unfairly convicted by juries who placed a high degree of credibility in testimony that was delivered with high confidence.

© 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.

Overconfident Memories

January 30, 2017

This post is based on Julia Shaw’s book “The Memory Illusion.”   Julia Shaw is a criminal psychologist.   Consequently, she is concerned with the accuracy of witnesses and the confidence that witnesses have in their testimony.  As witnesses are human beings, like most, if not all, humans we are overconfident in our memories.  She conducted research regarding whether or not British police officers knew more about memory and other psychological processes than members of the general public.  She distributed a 50-item questionnaire and found that, overall, the police had as many misconceptions about issues in psychology and the law as the general public, but that they were more confident in their responses.  14% endorsed the myth that “Memory is like a video camera and 18% believed that “People cannot have memories of things that never actually happened.”

Dr Shaw then goes on to briefly summarize the outstanding work of “The Innocence Project, which is an organization dedicated to getting innocent people exonerated through DNA testing.  Its research has helped to release at least 337 people who were wrongfully convicted.  On the average these people served 14 years in prison for a crime they did not commit.  Faulty memory played a role in at least 75% of the cases.  These figures are just for the US, so worldwide the problem is much larger.

There are cases in which police need to close a case and are more concerned with getting a conviction than finding the guilty person (See the healthy memory blog , “Why False Confessions Trump Evidence”).   The natural biases of memory can cause police to develop “tunnel vision” and fail to consider relevant evidence.  As Dr. Shaw writes, “when we need to make sense of an event but do not have enough information to do so, we tend to import other plausible content to fill in the gaps.  Events in our minds need to have a linear progression, connections, reasons.  Once we have this kind of plausible narrative, we can become incredibly confident in its accuracy.  But what exactly is the relationship between confidence and accuracy, and how does it all tie in with memory.

Remember Garrison Keillor and Lake Wobegon, where all the children were above average?  This phenomenon is not unique to Lake Wobegon.  Most of us humans regard themselves as being above average.  Research has found this overconfidence effect in all kinds of areas.  Dr. Shaw writes, “Police are overconfident in their ability to detect liars. Students are overconfident about their course grades.  CEOs are overconfident in their business decisions.  Teachers are overconfident in their teaching ability.”  In a 2011 article published in “Nature,” social scientists Dominic Johnson and James Fowler argued that “Humans exhibit many psychological biases, but one of the most consistent, powerful and widespread is overconfidence.”

Dr Shaw suggests “that we have a tendency to overestimate our positive qualities and to underestimate our negative traits.  This is a characteristic that is inherently linked to memory, because in order to think about our positive traits we need to be able to remember the good things we have done in our lives that provide evidence of those traits.  For example, you may think about all the times you have done chores around the house, and think to yourself you are a really good spouse.  You took out the trash, bought groceries, cooked, and did the dishes.  However, you may be forgetting or diminishing the times when you did not do any of those things and actually made more work for your spouse, leaving her frustrated and with extra work to do.”

There is at least one more illusion that might play into our tendency to be overconfident.  This illusion is related to the greater strength and accessibility of our memories to our own actions and insights compared to those of others.  This is the illusion of asymmetric insight.  Emily Pronin and her colleagues at Stanford University published a paper on this bizarre bias titled, “you don’t know me, but I know you.”

The team found over six studies showing that we think we know close friends and roommates better than they know us.  Research participants were told that we are all like icebergs, with part of our true selves being observable by others and part hidden from view.  The participants were then asked to pick a picture of an iceberg that best represented their friend from a selection showing icebergs at various levels of subversion.  Then the participants did the reverse task, thinking about how their friend would answer these same questions about them.  The different studies used this same methodology but for different types of relationships.

“Pronin and her team found that participants  believed that their own quintessential qualities, including their intimate thoughts and feelings, were mostly kept internal but that those of others were more likely to be observable.  They were more submerged icebergs, while other people were more visible icebergs.  This make sense from a memory perspective because we have direct access to our own thoughts and feeling and so appreciate that they can be complicated and nuanced—which makes them difficult for other people to understand.  On the other hand, it can be difficult or even impossible to appreciate the complexity of the thoughts and feelings of others in other than a basic ‘surface’ way—we tend towards assuming that is all that there is to understand.  Our general outlook is “I’m a riddle, but my friend is an open book.”

This phenomenon of asymmetric insight is ubiquitous.  Liberals and conservatives each thinks they understand the other part better than the other party understands them.

We all need to be aware of the fallibility of our memories and our overconfidence in our fallible memories.

Attention and Memory

January 29, 2017

Dr. Shaw, in her book ‘THE MEMORY ILLUSION,” tells the story of her first day in the first memory class she ever took at a university.  The professor picked up a piece of paper and waited  for the class to settle down.  He held up the sheet of paper and proclaimed, “This is what happens  in the world around us.”  Then he folded the paper in half.  “This is what you perceive,”  He folded the paper in half again.  “This is what you pay attention to.”  He folded the paper in half again.  “This is what you  are interested in.”  Another fold.  “This is what the brain makes into engrams.” he folded the paper one final time; it was now a small fraction of its original size.  “And this is what you are able to access and recall later on.”

This is a splendid demonstration, and HM shall use it at his next opportunity.  Memory is critically dependent on attention.  HM knows the mnemonic technique for associating names with faces.  Unfortunately, he never uses them.  He is always distracted by something and spends the rest of the time trying to catch the individual’s name in the conversations.  This is especially embarrassing if you are regarded to be an expert in memory.

Any advertisements that advertise easy learning, that is learning that does not require attention are bogus.  This is especially true if babies are involved.  In the case of babies, it is not just that techniques will not work, but that they can also cause harm.  These dangers were previously discussed in the healthy memory blog post, “Cyber Babies.”

Other research conducted by Judy DeLoache and her team from the University of Virginia studied all 12- to 18-month  old children learned language from a popular brand of baby media.  They found that children who viewed the educational videos for four weeks did not learn any more or any fewer words than if parents were given no instructions to teach language at all.  But they did find that the tots learned significantly more words if they were not exposed to any video but instead were taught words during everyday activities.  It seems that babies  prefer the live show.  Other  studies have produced similar results.  Live presentation of language and tasks have been shown bo be far more effective for developing babies’ memories than any kind of media simulation.

What is more worrisome are the negative results that can occur.  Frederick Zimmerman and his team at the University of Washington found baby television exposure to have highly detrimental effects on language development.  They called 1,008 parents of young children and asked them about their children’s media viewing habits.   They also asked them to complete the short form of the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory, which measures language development in children.  The survey found that for every hour of baby media watched per day by infants between 8 and 16 months, they were found to know six to eight fewer words.

In 2011 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) clearly said the children under two should have no screen time at all.  Instead, parents should use play and live interaction
if they want to give their babies the best possible developmental help.

It is likely you have seen videos of change blindness. Change blindness is the result of two bottlenecked processes that need to filter a great deal of information. The first bottleneck is our limited ability to perceive the world through our senses.  The second is our limited short-term memory capacity.  In one of the videos you are asked to watch a short video of a group of people passing a ball, and to count the number of times the ball was passed.  After the video ends, you are asked for your count.  Then you are asked did you see a gorilla cross the scene.  About 46% of the viewers failed to notice the gorilla in the video.  There are several similar demonstrations.

Daniel Levin and his team at Kent State University demonstrated change blindness blindness.  They asked participants how likely it was that they would notice change in four different situations.  Three of these situation had been previously tested and had produced change blindness rates in 100% of participants; the fourth was one where participants were approached by a lost pedestrian asking for directions and the person switched during the conversation after being briefly hidden from view.  But across the four conditions between 70% and 97.6% of participants thought they would detect the changes described and they did so with high confidence ratings.

MEMORY WIZARDS

January 28, 2017

“MEMORY WIZARDS”  is the title of a chapter in “THE MEMORY ILLUSION” by psychologist Julia Shaw, Ph.D.  The subtitle is HSAMs, braincams, and islands of genius.  The teaching point of the chapter is “Why no one has infallible memory.”

The idea of a braincam was that memory was like a video recorder keeping track of everything we do.  This idea was promulgated by American neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield in his 1952 publication, “Memory Mechanisms.”  Penfield’s work as a neurosurgeon required him to probe different portions of the brain, so that he could identify the correct areas to perform surgery.  During this probing, his patients who were awake, the brain does not feel pain itself, patients would report vivid memories of particular instances in their lives.  Not surprisingly, this led to the notion of a braincam effectively recording each of our lives.  However, in spite of the vividness of the recall, there was no way to confirm the accuracy of these recalls and to distinguish them from visions generated from the stimulation.  After much additional work was done regarding memory, the notion of a braincam was discarded, and memory was found to be highly error prone.  Moreover, the confidence expressed in a memory did not correlate well with the accuracy of the memory.

HSAM stands for highly successful autobiographical memory.  There have been several prior HM posts on HSAM.  Perhaps one of the most interesting HM posts is titled “The Importance of Memory.”  The actress Marilu Henner, who was one of the stars on the TV Program “Taxi” is also a HSAMer.  She has written a book “Total Memory Makeover,” which has been summarized in the HM post “Who Has a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and What Can She Tell Us.”  HSAMers can provide detailed accounts of their lives by date.  That is, if you asked what happened to them on 29 August 1999, they could tell you in an amazing amount of detail.  Still, they cannot tell you everything, and what they do provide can sometimes, but not frequently, contain an error.  In other respects, their memories are similar to the rest of us.  If given a list of words to remember, their performance will correspond to the rest of us.   And they make similar errors as we do with respect to false memories.  Dr. Shaw says that she does not see any particular advantage that HSAMers have.  Apparently, she has not read Marilu Henner’s book, because Henner says that her ability has helped her as an actress.  She feels that her ability has provided insights into the why and wherefores of others.

Photographic memory is another topic on which most people have misconceptions.  The technical term for photographic memory is eidetic memory.  Here’s how it is tested.  An unfamiliar picture is shown to participants on an easel for 30 seconds.  This might not seem like much time, but researchers often this limited viewing time because most people neither continue encoding detail nor care to after 30 seconds  looking at the same picture.  After the image has been removed the person is instructed to describe everything they can about the picture.   People with eidetic  memory report that they can still see the picture, that they can scan and examine their personal memory of the image as if it were still in front of them.  Eidetic images differ from regular visual memories which can arguably last forever.  Eidetic images  can last only a couple of minutes.  The images usually fade away piece by piece  rather than as a whole, and the eidetiker  has no control over which components remain in memory.  However, even eidetikers  can misremember entire objects and forget pieces of scenes.  So their exceptional memories for a particular image can still have some flaws.

Moreover, it appears that this kind of memory only exists in children.  In one of the few reviews of the literature on this topic dated  back to 1975, researchers Cynthia Gray and Kent Gummeran estimated that 5% of children have eidetic  memory and 0% of adults do.

Then there are the idiot savants such as depicted in the Oscar winning movie Rain Man.  Here the exceptional memories are linked to some abnormality such as autism.  So these memories are purchased at an outrageous cost.  The simple point is that forgetting is needed.  It is obviously needed in cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, where traumatic memories either need to be forgotten or accommodated.

The teaching point of the chapter is more than  “Why no one has infallible memory.”  It is “no one wants an infallible memory.”  Infallible memories lead to too many memories, memories that interfere with the important information that needs to be remembered.

The Healthymemory blog is a strong advocate of meditation and mindfulness.   Meditation helps us gain control of our valuable, but limited, resource of attention.  We need to be able to focus our attention to use it to best advantage.

© 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.

Memories from Infancy and Early Childhood

January 27, 2017

This post is based on Chapter 1, “I Remember Being Born” in “THE MEMORY ILLUSION” a book by the psychologist Julia Shaw, Ph.D.  Many millions of people remember being a baby.  Fewer people, but still in the millions remember being born, and even fewer people, but still in the millions remember being in the womb.  These people are wrong as “research has long established that as adults we cannot accurately retrieve memories from our infancy and early childhood.  To put it simply, the brains of babies are not yet physiologically capable of forming and storing long-term memories.  People have these misconceptions about remembering due to the creative component of memory that strives to make meaning of the world.

The estimated average age at which we can begin to form memories that last into adulthood is 3.5 years of age, but according to some such as Qi Wang of Cornell University this figure is likely to depend on the individual and can be anywhere between 2 and 5 years of age.

The parts of the brain responsible for long-term memory, including part of the frontal lobe and the hippocampus, begin to grow at around eight or nine months.  According to Harvard professor Jerome Kagan, one clue that children start to develop memory at about nine months is that this is typically when they become less willing to leave their parents.  Being able to miss their mothers is taken as a sign that the infants have a memory of their mother having just been present, and notice when she leaves.  “If you’re five months old, it’s out of sight, out of mind.  You’re less likely to cry because you just forgot that you mother was ever there, so it’s not as frightening.”

Long-term memory capabilities develop quickly as we age, both in duration and complexity.  We increasingly understand how the world around us works and what we should consider important.  The basic functions of long-term autobiographical memory are established within the first fews years of life.  But the main structures involved in memory (the hippocampus and related cognitive structures) actually continue to mature well into early adulthood.  This finding has contributed to the notion of an ‘extended adolescence’ that lasts all the way to the age of 25, since the brain continues substantial maturation until at least this age.

The baby brain  at two to four weeks of age is about 36% of the final adult volume, 72% at one year of age, and 83% of the final adult volume by two years.  By the age of 9 the brain reaches about 95% of the adult volume, and it is not until about the age of 13 that our brains reach their full adult size.

While the baby brains undergo rapid growth they also undergo massive neuronal pruning.  That is. individual neurons disappear.  This process begins almost from birth, and finishes by the time we hit puberty.  According to Maja Abitz and her team, adults actually have a whopping 41% fewer neurons than newborn babies in important parts of the brain that play a role in memory and thinking, such as the mediodorsal nucleus of the thalamus.

There is also an overproduction of synaptic connections in infancy followed by persistence of high levels of synaptic density into late childhood or adolescence.  As we enter late childhood, our brains start to become better at knowing what connections we need to keep and which are superfluous.  From there on until mid-adolescence our brains undergo a short of spring-cleaning.  So perhaps “when you were five years old you could list all of the dinosaurs, but did you really need all that information?  Probably not, says your brain and erases the connections and neurons responsible for much of this knowledge.”  “So, due to structural insufficiencies, as well as organizational and linguistic deficits, memories of early childhood events cannot last into childhood.

This research does not suggest that just because we cannot remember them, that early childhood events are unimportant.  According to a 2012 review of the long-term repercussions of adversity experience in early life by medical doctor Jack Shonkoff and his colleagues experiencing adversity, even at an age before we can consciously remember it as adult, can have lasting effects.  “Early experiences and environmental influences can leave a lasting signature of the genetic predisposition that affect emerging brain architecture and long-term health.”

To read more about the negative effects in early childhood read the healthy memory blog post,”Turning on Genes in the Brain.”  The single best predictor of the healthy 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

© 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 MEMORY ILLUSION

January 26, 2017

“THE MEMORY ILLUSION” is the title of a book by psychologist Julia Shaw, Ph.D.   The subtitle is “Remembering, Forgetting and the Science of False Memory.  This is an outstanding book on a very important topic that is well-written by an excellent author, one that is strongly recommend reading by HM.  Due to the importance of this topic, many posts  will be written based on the book.

There are many misconceptions regarding human memory.   This book is devoted to correcting the most egregious of these misconceptions.  People tend to think of memory in a very limited sense.  It’s thought of as something you need during tests, and as something that fails you when you can’t recall a name.  But readers of the healthy memory blog should know that memory is central to all cognition and to our very being.

Consider someone in the last stages of Alzheimer’s.  That person no longer remembers who he is, what he did during his life, his immediate  family and, of course, his friends.  Absent memory there is no you-ness.

There are different types of memory.  Semantic memories are our knowledge about the world.  Procedural memory is about how different procedures are performed such as riding a bike.  Autobiographical memory is about ourselves, and episodic memory is about the specific events or episodes that occurred during our lifetimes.

There is also something important regarding both how our memories work and how to make them work better.  This is called metamemory.   We need to be aware of how our memories fail, so we do not fall victim to them, and so that we can compensate for their failures and shortcomings.

As Dr. Shaw writes, “Any event, no matter how important, emotional or traumatic it may seem, can be forgotten, misremembered, or even entirely fictitious.”

As she also writes, “Due to our psychological and physiological configuration all of us can come to confidently and vividly remember entire events that never actually took place.”

And as she continues,  “The Memory Illusion” will explain the fundamental principles of our memories, diving into the biological reasons we forget and remember.  It will explain how our social environments play a pivotal role in the way we experience and remember the world.  It will explain how self-concept shapes, and is shaped by our memories.  It will explain the role of the media and education in our misunderstanding of the things we think memory is capable of.  And it will look in detail at some of the most fascinating, sometimes almost unbelievable, errors, alterations and misapprehensions our memories can be subject to.”

Donald Trump and Climate Change

January 25, 2017

It is not surprising that the “New Scientist” is alarmed by the presidency of Donald Trump as a threat to science and critical thinking.   The 21 January 2017 issue of the New Scientist offers 4 articles on the potential threats of a Trump Presidency.   It could have offered many more articles, and perhaps it will.  Two of the four published articles will be shared in healthy memory blog posts.  The preceding post was the first.  This post is the second

This article is titled, “Resisting Trump:  How scientists can fight a climate witch-hunt.”  Donald Trump has argued that global warming is a hoax created by China to damage US manufacturing.  As president-elect, he has chosen a climate change denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and his pick for the helm of the energy department (DOE) is Rick Perry, who once suggested dismantling it.  If carbon dioxide emissions rise faster as a result, the consequences for the global climate will be. dire.  “We can’t take a four-year break,” says Marcia DeLonge at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in Washington, D.C.

Moreover, a Trump presidency won’t just be a problem for climate change.  It could also spell trouble for the scientists trying to stave it off.  The Trump transition team asked for a list of DOE employees and contractors who worked on climate change or had attended climate change meetings.  Correctly, the agency refused, but the incident sent a chill through the scientific community, particularly in light of the Republicans revival of the Holman rule.  The Holman rule allows for specific federal employees have their pay slashed to $1.

These fears of being targeted are legitimate.  Already there has been an uptick in Freedom of Information Act requests for the scientists’ private emails, said Peter Fountainee, the lawyer who defended climate scientist Michael Mann in a case against the State of Virginia.  If such tactics also come from within their own agencies, federal scientists might leave en masse.

The director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Peter Frumhoff, says this would permanently erode federal agencies’ ability to use science to inform public decisions.   He begs scientists not leave because if they leave they’ll lose their ability to know whats’s going on.

Even if they do stay, they may be forced to stop pursuing certain lines of research.  The Trump transition team suggested as much when it said NASA should shift its focus away from “politically correct environmental monitoring.”  Apparently, we are entering a new era of political management, “Management by Thuggery!”

Fears that data will be insured or altered have prompted crowd-sourcing to back up federal climate and environmental data.  Climate Mirror is a distributed volunteer effort supported by the Internet Archive and the Universities of Pennsylvania and Toronto.

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

Donald Trump and Nuclear Weapons

January 24, 2017

It is not surprising that the “New Scientist” is alarmed by the presidency of Donald Trump as a threat to science and critical thinking.   The 21 January 2017 issue of the New Scientist offers 4 articles on the potential threats of a Trump Presidency.   It could have offered many more articles, and perhaps it will.  Two of the four published articles will be shared in healthy memory blog posts.

One of these articles is titled: “Resisting Trump:  How his chaotic nuclear policy might play out.”  He has said that the US nuclear capability is broken.  As this nuclear capability can destroy the world many times over betrays his woeful ignorance on the topic.  Moreover, the United States is already modernizing its nuclear force along with Russia.  Nuclear official Bill Perry warns, “We seem to b sleepwalking into this new nuclear arms race.”  As planned this modernization would deal the final blow to the tottering Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.  Any testing of new weapons would kill the 1992 nuclear testing moratorium and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

This nuclear arms race could induce smaller nuclear powers to expand as well.  Moreover, Trump has encouraged additional countries to develop their own nuclear weapons.   And by abrogating the agreement to Iran, the additional of a new Nuclear threat will soon emerge.  And it is likely that Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt would develop nuclear weapons.

The New Scientist does its best to give Trump the benefit of any doubts.  Trump says that he will stop Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear threat.  Trump had said that he will talk with Kim.  The New Scientist article incorrectly states that talks have worked before halting North Korean weapons development in 1994—until their cessation let it resume.  The truth is that the North Koreans’ effort never ceased.  They continued their work in secret.

The article also mentions that Trump could take US missiles off their alert status.  This idea is especially relevant during the Trump presidency.  Trump does not control his emotions well.  He is childish in his responses to anything remotely sounding like criticism.  What is worse is that these responses are made quickly without any time for reflection.  In any case, he should not be given the nuclear football until it is installed with some safeguards.  To think that the world could end because Trump felt his honor was impugned.

© 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.

Politics Needs Science

January 22, 2017

The article in the 21 January 2017 issue of the Washington Post by Sarah Kaplan titled “New group encourages scientists to enter politics” was good news.  STEM the Divide is a group that will push to have more scientists involved in politics.  This initiative was set up by the political action committee 314 Action.  The goal  is to connect people with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math to the expertise and money needed to run a successful campaign.   The article stated that scientists who have been interested in getting into politics were rarely encouraged and sometimes discouraged.

Shaughnessy Naughton  is the founder of this organization.  When asked whether this raised a risk of politicizing science—framing scientific questions as ideological questions, rather than matters of fact—Naughton argued that that ship has already sailed.  Her  response follows:  “People might think that science is above politics, as it should be, but increasingly we see that politics is not above bringing itself into science.  At a certain point, there’s diminishing returns to not getting involved.”  HM would change “diminishing returns” to “serious existential dangers.”

Moreover, the question she was posed, “framing scientific questions as ideological issues, rather than as matters of fact,” betrays the erroneous concept that science is simply a bunch of facts.  Science can be an ideology, an ideology that should provide the basis for governing.  Science is not a monolithic entity, but rather a set of methodologies devoted to arriving at truth in the various disciplines.  This truth is arrived at by reasoning and data.  Moreover, it is fluid in that as circumstances or facts change, truth is corrected or refined.  Science provides the basis for our standard of living, and it can be argued that social problems are due to the failure to apply scientific approaches to social problems.

A good example of this is medical care in the United States.  Medical care in the United States is the most expensive in the world, with results suitable for a third world country.  All other advanced countries provide superior medical care for all their citizens at a fraction of the costs in the United States.  The Affordable Care Act was the best that could be done given the political environment.  One party wants either to exclude the federal government entirely or severely limit its participation due to ideology.  They use fear, lies, and misinformation to destroy attempts to bring the United States into line with the truly advanced countries of the world.

A good question is why this is the case.  The general argument is against big government.  Any argument about the size of government without considering the question of  what the government can best do versus what private industry can best do is moronic.  Yet it is repeated ad nauseum.

People say that they are followers of Reaganism with great pride.  Ronald Reagan is also regarded as a great communicator, which he was.  But what is overlooked is the reason his ideas were so easy to communicate is that they were so simple.  Reagan demanded that his staff provide brief descriptions of the issues so he could formulate brief descriptions of his policy.

The problem is that simple ideas do not adequately solve complex problems. For example, people will say that they believe in free markets.  One would be hard pressed to find many economists who do not believe in free markets, but they also realize that free markets do not remain free for long.  They are manipulated and monopolies emerge.  The manipulations achieve a variety of ends, one being the financial collapse of 2008.

Moreover, there are always complaints about the excessive regulations that come from big government.  Just think back over time and consider what life would be like without government regulations.  How long would the work week be?  What would salaries be without the minimum wage?  If these are exclusively left to “market forces” they would leave the majority of people in misery.  Were it not for unions, it is quite likely that Marx’s prediction of the revolution of the proletariat would have occurred.  But Marx’s analysis was superficial and did not consider the possibility of workers organizing to achieve a decent wage and working conditions.

Government regulations have also goaded businesses into actions that benefited them.  Gas mileage standards is an example.  And God protect us from what the atmosphere would be like absent government regulations.  One of the costs that decreased the competitiveness of the US Auto Industry in the international market, were the costs of medical insurance.  Had medical insurance been provided by the government, the industry would have been more competitive.  Their ideology acted against their business interests.

One of the most disturbing actions that Trump has promised to undertake is the dismantling of financial regulations taken to prevent another market collapse.  It should be obvious by now that the financial industry does not self regulate.  Smart manipulators cash in, while everyone else in the country and the country itself collapses.

The argument here is not that business is evil and government is good.  There are ample examples of government being a monster.  The reality is that the individual citizen stands between two giants, business and government.  Either one can step on and crush the individual citizen.  The citizen needs to be watchful of both and play each against the other to get the best result.

How should this be done?  By employing science, conducting research, and analyzing data to decide what policies are, and who should do what.  This does not guarantee a good result, but science is self correcting.  So when something does not work, the reason why it didn’t work will be studied, and new approaches will be developed and evaluated.

The fundamental problem is with the individual voter.  Thee is ample evidence that voters do not vote in their own interest.  See the healthy memory blog post, “The Low Information Electorate.” It is also true that voters are governed by their emotions rather than carefully considered opinions.  Previous posts have argued that decisions of most people are governed by their guts, which are System 1 processes.  That certainly is the best explanation of the results of the 2016 presidential election.  People need to invoke their System 2 processes.   System 2 processes require cognitive effort.  The vernacular term for them is thinking.  Entering “System 1” or “System 2” or “Kahneman” into the healthymemory blog search block should yield ample posts on this topic.

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

The Alt-Right and the President-elect (via the Electoral College)

January 20, 2017

U.S Citizens should understand the ramifications that the alt-right has for the President-elect.  A quick way of accomplishing this is to read the e-book by Jon Ronson, “The Elephant in the Room:  A Journey into the Trump and the “Alt-Right.”  Jon Ronson can be regarded as the foremost expert on Alex Jones.  And Alex Jones is one of the foremost voices of the alt-right.  The President-elect has appeared on Jones’s radio talk show.

We’ll skip to the concluding paragraphs of this book, which was published before the election.

“But the alt-right’s appeal remains marginal because the huge majority of young Americans like multiculturalism.  They aren’t paranoid or hateful about other races  Those ideas are ridiculous to them.  The alt-right’s small gains in popularity will not be enough to win Trump the election.  This is not Germany in the 1930’s.  All that’s changed is that one of Alex’s fans—one of those grumpy looking middle-aged men sitting in David Icke’s audience—is now the Republican nominee.

But if some disaster unfolds—if Hillary’s health declines furthure, or she grows ever more off-cuttingly secretive—and Trump gets elected, he could bring Alex and other with him.  The idea of Donald Trump and Alex Jones and Roger Stone and Stephen Banning having power over us—that is terrifying.”

Might we be Germany in the 1930’s?

“The Elephant in the Room” is available from amazon.com for $1.99.  It is free for Amazon Prime members.

An Example from Lies Incorporated

January 19, 2017

This example was reported in the 7 Jan 2017 issue of the Washington Post.  The title of the article by Anthony Faiolo and Stephanie Kirchner is “Breitbart report triggers a backlash in Germany.”

The article begins, “Berlin—It was every God-fearing Christian’s worst nightmare about Muslim refugees.  “Revealed”, the Breitbart News Headline screamed, “1,000-Man Mob Attack Police, Set Germany’s Oldest Church Alight on New Year’s Eve.”  The only problem:  Police say that’s not what happened that night in the western city of Dortmund.”

So what did the police say?  They did not dispute that several incidents took place that night, but nothing to the extremes suggested by the Breitbart report.  They said the evening was comparatively calmer than previous New Years Eves.

The motivation for the false report is clear, To foster the alt-right agenda to create fear of the Moslems.  And this is Breitbart’s mission—to spread propaganda for the alt-right.  This swill is harmful to peace in the world, and pollutes healthy memories.

© 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.

Lies, Incorporated

January 18, 2017

Lies, Incorporated is the title of a book by Ari-Havt and Media Matters for America.  This book is so thoroughly researched that it could not have been done by one individual, consequently the research of Media Matters for America is key.  The sub-title of this book is “The World of Post-Truth Politics.”  An earlier healthymemory blog post titled “Did Corporate PR Initiate the Post-Fact Era” discussed the beginning of the post-fact era by discussing the false scientific effort to document that smoking was safe.  That post also including the false scientific effort to argue against global warming.  “Lies Incorporated” elaborates on these topics and then has chapters titled “Lie Panel:  Health Care,”  “Growth in a Time of Lies:  Debt,” “On the Border of Truth:  Immigration Reform,” “Two Dangerous Weapons:  Guns and Lies,”  “One Lie, One Vote:  Voter I.D. Laws,” “Shut That Whole Lie Down:  Abortion,”  “A Lie’s Last Gasp:  Gay Marriage.”

The book begins with the statement, “Richard Berman is a Liar.”  He relished the title of “Dr. Evil” and develops the nastiest PR campaigns to undermine and discredit truth.  Berman’s motivation appears to be one of money.  He’ll sell himself to the highest bidder.  For others, the motivation is one of convenience.  If you are in the petroleum business, global warming is indeed an “inconvenient truth.”  HM admittedly chooses to ignore the true dietary guidance his wife offers because it is an “inconvenient truth.”  But many are simply ideologues.  They know what they believe and force facts into those ideologies by ignoring genuine facts and generate their version of facts.   This is termed “motivated reasoning.”  The criteria of truth is ignored.

Perhaps the most blatant example is provided by the “Death Panel Lie” generated to defeat the Affordable Care Act.  In June 2014 “The Washington Post” reported the story of a woman and her husband who were employed but receiving no benefits and would rather pay a penalty for being uninsured than participate in Obamacare.  They were afraid of the discredited notion of “Death Panels” and were paying serious out-of-pocket medical costs stemming from chronic conditions.  These people were not alone.  A November 2014 Gallup Poll found that 35% of uninsured Americans would rather pay the fine prescribed by law than receive health insurance.  There were people who said that they did not want government involvement, but that hands should be kept off their Medicare.  This, in part, explains why the United States has the most expensive medical costs with the results of a third world country.  It leads one to think that if there were a Stupidity Olympics, the United States might well dominate the competition.

One of the most disturbing realizations was that there are people with degrees who are dominated by their ideologies and should know better.  Perhaps this is not surprising as there were scientists who were fascists and supported totalitarian regimes with vigor.

The following two paragraphs are taken directly from the text.  “The purveyors of misinformation have a built-in advantage.  Lies are socially sticky, and even after one has been thoroughly debunked, it will still have advocates among those whose worldview it justifies.  These zombie lies continue to rise from the dead again and again, impacting political debate and swaying public opinion on a variety of issues.
Misinformation is damaging to those who read and absorb it.  Once a lie—no matter how outrageous—is part of the consciousness of a particular group, it is nearly impossible to eliminate, and like a virus it spreads uncontrollably within the affected communities.”  Richard Berman explained to energy executives that once you “solidify [a] position,” in a person’s mind, regardless of the truth, you have “achieved something the other side cannot overcome because it’s very tough to break common knowledge.  That “common knowledge” is repeated on radio, television, in print, and at the water cooler.  With each new citation, the lie becomes more entrenched.”

It is commonly known that certain politicians use “code words” to disguise racist statements.  HM found it interesting that in this book the author of these words was Lee Atwater, who was a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who helped elect Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.  Here’s Atwater’s explanation of the delicate balance the Republican Party must play when using racially tinged issues to win election without appearing outwardly racist—by “getting abstract” when talking about race:
“You start out in 1954 by saying, “n——-, , n——-, n——-.”  By 1968 you can’t say
n——-, that hurts you, backfires.  So you stay stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff.  And you’re getting so abstract now that you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking  are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worst than whites.  And subconsciously maybe that is part of it.  It is getting that abstract, and that coded, then we’re doing away with the racial problem one way or the other.”

So what can be done about this political cesspool?  Be aware and do not allow yourself to be pulled in.  Finding the truth has been made more difficult, but we must all persevere.  Availing ourselves of such sites as factcheck.org, politifact.com,
https://thinkprogress.org, and http://mediamatters.org.

A Field Guide to Lies

January 16, 2017

A Field Guide to Lies is a recent book by Daniel J. Levitin.  The  subtitle is “Critical Thinking in the Information Age.”  This information age is embedded in an age of lies.  Hence Levitin’s book is most timely.  One of Levitin’s previous books is “The Organized Mind.”  This book was reviewed in previous healthy memory blog posts.  To find relevant posts enter “Levitin” into the search box of the healthy memory blog.

The importance of being able to think critically in this age of lies cannot be overestimated.  The first part of  “A Field Guide to Lies”  is titled “Evaluating Numbers.”  Here he discusses the role of plausibility in the assessment of numerical values.  They should be read critically and subjected to sanity checks.  He has a section titled “Fun with Averages” which illustrates how averages can be used to mislead.  Similar tricks can be done with graphs, which he addresses in a section titled “Axis Shenanigans.”  There are hijinks in how numbers are reported that need to be understood if one is to think critically.  Shenanigans and hijinks can occur early on when the numbers are collected.  As virtually all information is probabilistic, probabilities need to be understood.  People need to be able to think probabilistically, and Levitin provides advice as to how to proceed.

Part Two is titled “Evaluating Words.”  It begins by discussing how we know.  Particularly in this age of misinformation and of organizations whose mission it is to mislead, it is important to identify expertise.  It is also important to identify potential motivation behind a given expertise.  A common failure is not to consider alternative explanations, and when they are considered, to undervalue them.  The final section in Part Two is titled Counterknowledge.  HM thinks that this section might have the wrong title.  Although most certainly there is legitimate counterknowledge, today counterknowlede is often a set of well-conceived and well-designed lies.  Very frequently, these lies are outlandish, but yet they are still believed.

Part Three is titled “Evaluating the World.”  The best way of evaluating the world is with science.  Consequently, “How Science Works” is the title of the first section.  The section on logical fallacies is HM’s  favorite.  For many years HM has been annoyed at Dr. Watson’s asking Holmes how did he deduce something or other.  Apparently, Arthur Conan Doyle did not understand what deduction is.  Deduction is drawing a correct conclusion from a set of premises.  But this is not what Holmes did.  Holmes used abduction to solve crimes.  That is, he came up with a conjecture or hypothesis, which he then proved through evidence.

Knowing what you don’t know is another subsection of Evaluating the World.  Remember Rumsfield, “…as we know, there are known knowns;  there are things we know we know.  We also know that there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things that we do not know.  But there are also unknown unknown’s—the ones that we don’t know we don’t know.”  To these statements Levitin adds, “A final class that Secretary Rumsfeld didn’t talk about are incorrect knowns—things  that we think are so, but aren’t.  Believing false claims falls into this category.  One of the biggest causes of bad, even fatal, outcomes is belief in things that are untrue.”     To this, HM would add, that most of what we know is probabilistic, not absolute, and this complicates the thinking processing further.

Bayesian thinking is needed.  Levitin discusses Bayesian thinking in Science and Court, and illustrates this thinking with Four Case Studies.  However, Bayesian thinking is not restricted to just Science and Court.  It should be part of our daily thinking.  Fortunately Levitin dedicates an appendix to the Application of  Bayes’ Rule.

Levitin’s book provides a good introduction to critically thinking.  Unfortunately we live in an era where lying is epidemic and lying has become a business.  The next post is titled “Lies Incorporated.”

© 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.

Keep Track of Your Body in Space

January 15, 2017

HM works from his iPAD.  This is the print title of an article by Anil Ananthaswamy in the October 1 issue of the New Scientist.  The healthy memory blog has stressed the importance of the unconscious mind and provided suggestions as to how to make use of your unconscious mind.  This and the previous blog posts taken from this issue of the New Scientist elaborate on these ideas.

Proprioception is a much under-rated ability.  It is the result of unconscious processing and results from a constant conversation between the body and the brain, allowing us to know where our limbs are and what they are doing, and adds up to an unerring sense of a unified, physical “me.”

Proprioception predicts the cases of the various sensory inputs it receives — from nerves and muscles inside the body, and from the senses detecting what’s going on outside the body.  What we are aware of is the brain’s best guess of were the body ends and where the external environment begins.

In the famous rubber-hand illusions a volunteer puts one hand on the table in front of him, and a rubber hand is put in front of him.  A second person they strokes the real and rubber hands simultaneously with a paintbrush.  Within minutes many people start to feel the touches on the rubber hand and even claim it as part of their body.  The brain makes its best guess as to where the sensation is coming from and the most obvious option is the rubber hand.

Newer research suggests that this sixth sense extends to the space immediately surrounding the body.  Arvid Gutersam of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and his colleagues repeated the rubber-hand experiment, stroking the real hand but keeping the brush 30 centimeters above the rubber hand.  Participants still sensed the brush stokes above the rubber hand, implying that as well as unconsciously monitoring our body we keep track of an invisible “force field” around us.  Gutersam suggests this might have evolved to help us pick up objects and move through the environment without injury.

Make Decisions

January 14, 2017

HM works from his iPAD.  This is the print title of an article by Caroline Williams in the October 1 issue of the New Scientist.  The healthy memory blog has stressed the importance of the unconscious mind and provided suggestions as to how to make use of your unconscious mind.  This and the following blog posts taken from this issue of the New Scientist elaborate on these ideas.

Ap Dijksyrthuis of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands proposed this counter-intuitive idea 12 years ago.  He had found that volunteers asked to make a complex decision—such as choosing between different apartments based on a baffling array of specifications—made better choices after being distracted from the problem before deciding.  He reasoned that this is because unconscious thought can move beyond the limited capacity of working memory, so it can process more information at once.

Although his reasoning as to why unconscious thought might be superior is correct, the conclusion that important decisions should be based on unconscious thought is not only wrong, but dangerous.  Important decisions need to be reviewed by conscious thought before they are implemented.  In fact, there have been many healthy memory posts recommending to say “let me sleep on it,” before any important decisions are made.  This provides ample time for both conscious and unconscious processing.

Many think that unconscious processing is important for creativity, including HM.  As Dijksyrthius suggested, unconscious processing circumvents the constraints of working memory, primarily as there are no time constraints on unconscious processing, which can also occur while we’re sleeping.  Just taking a break from work can be quite helpful.

© 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 Make the Unconscious Conscious

January 13, 2017

HM works from his iPAD.  This is the print title of an article by Caroline Williams in the October 1 issue of the New Scientist.  The healthymemory blog has stressed the importance of the unconscious mind and provided suggestions as to how to make use of your unconscious mind.  This and other blog posts taken from this issue of the New Scientist elaborate on these ideas.

Russell Hurlburt, a psychologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas uses the following technique to make the unconscious conscious.  He asks volunteers to wear an earpiece linked to a beeper, which goes off at random intervals six times a day, prompting them to note they thoughts.  At the conclusion of the day, Hurlburt conducts an hour long interview to tease out what people were thinking and how.  After four decades of research, Hurlburt has concluded that most people have no idea of what is running through their minds, but that they can be taught to tune into it in just a few days.

Hurlburt believes that we’re conscious of such thoughts while having them, but then they vanish “like a dream upon waking.”  The beeper is similar to mindfulness meditation.  Zen monks have a similar system —they sound a gong and you  pay attention to what’s going on right now.

Research has shown that regular meditators were quicker than others to consciously register a decision made by the unconscious mind.  There are many healthy memory blog posts on mindfulness and meditation.  And this is one of the many reasons for mindfulness and meditation, to get in touch with our unconscious minds.

Anyone with a cellphone can download Dr. Hurlburt’s app, IPromptU, cogtherapy.com

Predict the Future

January 12, 2017

HM works from his iPAD.  This is the print title of an article by Diana Kwon in the October 1 issue of the New Scientist.  The healthy memory blog has stressed the importance of the unconscious mind and provided suggestions as to how to make use of your unconscious mind.  This blog post taken from this issue of the New Scientist elaborates on this idea.

Every moment the brain takes in an enormous amount of information, more than it can process on the fly.  To cope effectively with this enormous amount of information, the brain constantly makes predictions that it tests by comparing incoming data against information.  And most of this is done via unconscious processing.

Just imagining the future is enough to put the brain in motion.  Imaging studies have shown that when a sound or image begin to appear, the brain generates an anticipatory signal in the sensory cortex.

The brain is continuously predicting the sounds, words, and meanings that we are trying to produce or communicate..

Moreover, the senses are used to inform each other.  When a recording of speech is degraded so that it is nearly unintelligible, the words sound clearer if you have previously read the same words in subtitles.  Matt Davis at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, says that “the sensory parts of the brain are comparing the speech we’ve heard to the speech we’ve predicted.”

Our brains also make predictions on the basis of emotional signals coming from our bodies.  Moshe Bar, a neuroscientist at Bar-Han University in Israel, suggests that we only consciously recognize an object once our unconscious mind has calculated its importance based on what our senses and emotional reactions our saying.  For example, the conscious fear of a snake on a hiking trail comes after the brain has processed the shape and initiated jumping out of the way.

There are downsides to making predictions. Incorrect inferences reinforced by repetition can be hard to reverse.  Stereotyping is an even more troublesome example of the same thing.  When it comes to human interactions it can lead to negative biases and discrimination.  Bar says that “stereotypes and prejudices are predictions working as they do with everything else, but in a way that is not desirable.”  Some neuroscientists also believe that the hallucinations experienced in psychosis are the result of expectations gone awry.  Despite its flaws predictions are necessary.  Otherwise our species never would have survived.

Run Your Life on Autopilot

January 11, 2017

HM works from his iPAD.  This is the print title of an article by Anil Ananthaswamy in the October 1 issue of the New Scientist.  The healthy memory blog has stressed the importance of the unconscious mind and provided suggestions as to how to make use of your unconscious mind.  This and the following blog posts taken from this issue of the New Scientist elaborate on these ideas.

An enormous part of our day-to-day lives, driving, making coffee, or touch typing, happens without conscious thoughts.  Unlike many of the brain’s other unconscious habits, these skills had to be learned before the brain can automate them.  How it does this could potentially provide a method for us to think our way out of bad habits.

Ann Graybiel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her colleagues  have shown that a region deep inside the brain called the striatum is key to habit formation.  When we undertake an action, the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in planning complex tasks, communicates with the striatum, which sends the necessary signals to enact the movement,  Over time, input from the prefrontal cortex fades, to be replaced by loops linking the striatum to the sensorimotor cortex.  The loops, together with the memory circuits, allow us to carry out the behavior without having to think about it.  Practice makes perfect and no thinking is required.  The obvious upside is that we no longer  need to focus our attention on a frequent task, the spare processing power can be used for other things.  Unfortunately, similar circuitry is involved in turning all kinds of behavior into habits, including thought patterns, and once any kind of behavior becomes a habit, it become less flexible and harder to interrupt.  This is fine for good habits, but when bad habits are ingrained, its equally hard to get rid of it.  You lose the moment of choice when we can decide not to do something.

Fortunately, even with the most ingrained habits, a small area of the prefrontal is kept online, in case we need to take alternative action.  This offers hope to any of us looking to break a bad habit and to those suffering from habit-related problems such as obsessive compulsive disorder and Tourette’s syndrome  — both of which are associated with abnormal activity in the striatum and its connections to other parts of the brain.  These circuits are potential targets for future drug treatments.  However, for now the best way to get a handle on bad habits is to become aware of them.  Then, focus all your attention on them and hope that it’s enough  to help the frontal regions resist the call of the autopilot.  An alternative approach is to teach ourselves a new habit that counters the bad one.

Think While You Sleep

January 10, 2017

HM works from his iPAD.  This is the print title of an article by Simon Makin in the October 1 issue of the New Scientist.  The healthy memory blog has stressed the importance of the unconscious mind and provided suggestions as to how to make use of your unconscious mind.  This and the following blog posts taken from this issue of the New Scientist elaborate on these ideas.  This first post reviews a study done in 1999.  A team at the University of Libek in Germany put 15 volunteers to bed at midnight.  The team either told the participants they would wake them at 9 am and did, or told them they would wake them at 9 am, but actually woke them at 6 am, or said they would wake them at 6 am and did.

The last group had a measurable rise in the stress hormone adrenocorticotropin from 4:30 am, that peaked around 6 am, when these participants were told they would be awakened.  The participants woken unexpectedly at 6 am had no such peak.  The researchers concluded  that the unconscious mind can not only keep track of time while we sleep, but also set a biological alarm to jump-start the king process.

A 2014 study by Sid Koulder of the Ecole Normale Superireure in Paris and his colleagues found that the sleeping brain can also process language.  They trained participants to push a button with their left or right hand to indicate whether they heard the name of an animal or object as they fell asleep.  They monitored the brain’s electrical activity  during training and when the participants heard the same words when asleep.   Activity continued in the brain’s motor regions even when asleep, indicating that the sleepers were preparing to push the correct button.  The participants could also correctly categorize new words first heard after they had dropped off to sleep, indicating that they were genuinely analyzing the meaning of the words while asleep.

A more recent study found that while language processing continues in REM sleep for words heard just before bed, once in deep sleep all responses disappear as the brain goes “offline” to allow the day’s memories to be processed.  Boulder says that “your cognition about things in the environment  declines progressively towards deep sleep.  Sleep is not all-or-none in terms of cognition, it’s all-or-none in terms of consciousness.”

Less Medicine, More Health

January 8, 2017

HM had intended  at the end of the immediately preceding post, “Understanding the Science of Elusive Health Risks”  to provide a reference to an earlier healthy memory blog post on medical care.  After  several exhaustive attempts he was unable to provide this reference.  So the current post is one he intended to post but apparently forgot.  That’s unfortunate as this is an important post on an important topic.  This book is titled “Less Medicine, More Health:  7 Assumptions That Drive Too Much Medical Care, “ by Dr. Gilbert Welch.  The previous post dealt with understanding information on health risks.  Welch’s book is more relevant as to how to interact with you physician.  This book is an easier read and less technical than the Science of Elusive Health Risks.

As Dr. Welch has a Master of Public Health (MPH) in addition to his MD and has worked as an epidemiologist as well as a primary care physician.  As the subtitle indicates, there can be too much medical care that leads to adverse conditions.  A good example of this was given in my personal anecdote in the previous post about the Prostate Specific Antigen Test (PSAT).  At one point this test was virtually mandatory.  Later, it became a test to use only under special circumstances.  One might question, what is the harm in testing?

Prostate cancer is something that eventually occurs in all males.  However, many males will likely die of something else before they die from prostate cancer.  And the treatments for prostate can be uncomfortable and some can lead to incontinence and impotence.  There are discomfort and risks to most cancer treatments.  And cancer screening does reveal false positives, that is a mistaken result, as well as failures to detect. Then there is the speed of the cancer.  If it is very slow it is possible that the person will outlive the cancer and die from something else.  All the studies on the benefits of cancer screening are based on survival rates of people who tested positive.  But HM has yet to see a comparison of the death rates between people who were not screened versus people who were screened.  If screening did beneficially impact the overall death rate, the result would be compelling indeed.  Should anyone know of such a study, please reply.

I am going to copy the table of contents as it provides the basic guidance being offered.  HM strongly recommends reading the entire book.  Should you question any of the assumptions, then it is imperative for you to read the book.

“ASSUMPTION #1:  ALL RISKS CAN BE LOWERED
Disturbing truth:  Risks can’t always be lowered—and trying creates risks of its         own.
ASSUMPTION #2:  IT’S ALWAYS BETTER TO FIX THE PROBLEM
Disturbing truth:  Trying to eliminate a problem can be more dangerous than         managing one.
ASSUMPTION #3:  SOONER IS ALWAYS BETTER
Disturbing truth:  Early diagnosis can needlessly turn people into patients
ASSUMPTION #4:  IT NEVER HURTS TO GET MORE INFORMATION
Disturbing truth:  Data overload can scare patients and distract your doctor from         what’s important.
ASSUMPTION #5:  ACTION IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN INACTION
Disturbing truth:  Action is not reliably the “right” choice.
ASSUMPTION # 6:  NEWER IS ALWAYS BETTER
Disturbing truth:  New interventions are typically not well tested and often wind up     being judged ineffective (even harmful).
ASSUMPTION #7:  IT’S ALL ABOUT AVOIDING DEATH
Disturbing truth:  A fixation on preventing death diminishes life.

CONCLUSION:  Seeking medical care is not the most important thing you can do for         your health.

Although these assumption sound reasonable, perhaps even eminently reasonable, Dr Welch effectively debunks them.  Should you doubt this, read the book.

Dr. Welch personalizes his advice by writing what he does under various conditions.

Unfortunately the medical system in the United States is primarily one of fee for service.  So the incentive is to treat and the financial incentive is to provide costlier treatments.

It is a shame that this book was not on the best seller list.  Perhaps it’s not too late.

Some individuals prefer to place themselves in the hands of their doctors.  This is a matter of personal choice.  However, the practice of medicine is done by humans, and we all are fallible.  And there is ample evidence of the failures of medicine.  So it is your option to ask questions, conduct research, and make your own decisions.

© 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 the Science of Elusive Health Risks

January 6, 2017

The title of this post is the subtitle of “Getting Risks Right” a book by an American epidemiologist and cancer researcher Geoffrey C. Kabat. He is a senior epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  Understanding these health risks is an extremely difficult task and Kabat makes a strong effort to assist us in executing this task.

The Preface asks the question “Why do things that are unlikely to harm us get the most attention?’  The simple answer is that science takes time and moves slowly, but people want quick answers.  The popular press publishes apparent answers that are a long way from being validated.

The first chapter is titled, “The Illusion of Validity and the Power of ‘Negative Thinking,’ and begins with the following quote from Francis Bacon:  “It is the peculiar and perpetual error of human understanding to be more moved and excited by affirmatives.
The root of all superstitions is that men observe when things hit but not when they miss; and commit to memory the one and forget to pass over the other.”

Chapter 2 describes the fundamentals of studies in the area of public health.  Ioannidis’s landmark article “Why Most Published Research Findings are False” (PLOS Medicine, 2, 3124. Doi:101371/journal pmed, 0020124, 2005) has been cited in several previous healthy memory posts.  The consensus among epidemiologists and statisticians is one of general agreement.  But most people remain ignorant of the situation.  The only article in the popular press of which HM is aware is Why Most Published Research Findings are False” (PLOS Medicine, 2, 3124. Doi:101371/journal pmed, 0020124, 2005).  Kabat discusses additional scientific difficulties in conducting scientific research in the area of health.  Please read his book to understand the relevant issues.

However, health research has additional difficulties because here the science is embedded in a society that is highly attuned to the latest potential or breakthrough.   Kabat writes, “Findings from rudimentary studies often are reported as if they were likely to be true when, in fact, most research findings are false or exaggerated, and the more dramatic the result, the less likely it is to be true.”  Later he writes, “Reports of exaggerated findings can, in turn, give rise to ‘information cascades’—highly publicized campaigns that can sow needless alarm and lead to misguided regulation ad policies.  These difficulties are thoroughly aired in Chapter 3.

The final four chapters of the book discuss 4 areas of research.  Chapter 4 explores the question of whether exposure to radio frequency energy causes brain cancer.  The issue, whether the worldwide adoption of a novel technology within a short time span could be causing a fatal disease.  Kabat documents the extensive research carried out over two decades provides no strong or consistent evidence to support this possibility.

Chapter 5 explores the main lines of preoccupation with “endocrine disrupting chemicals” in the environment hypothesis.  Although this certainly was a legitimate concern, Kabat documents how false ideas based on poor data got enormous attention.  He explains how to make sense of a bitter controversy that is currently raging in the scientific and regulatory communities in Europe and the United States.

Chapter 6 describes a little-known success story.  By linking a long-standing enigmatic disease in the Balkans to dietary exposure to a toxic herb that has been used in traditional cultures throughout history.  Research on aristolochic acid contained in certain varieties of the herb Aristolochia has  led to new insights on the carcinogenic process as well as highlighting the threat posed by the woefully inadequate regulation of thousands of products marketed as “dietary supplements.”  More than half of Americans use these products to the tune of $32 billion a year.  Unfortunately, naive consumers
wrongly believe that the government requires manufacturers to report all adverse effects and that the FDA must approve supplements before they are sold.  Few consumers of supplements are aware of the implications of the Dietary Supplements and Health Education Act (DSHEA), passed by Congress is 1994 with strong support from the supplements  industry and its political allies.  By defining herbal supplements and botanicals as “dietary supplements,” DSHEA excluded them from the more rigorous standards used in regulating prescriptions and even over-the-counter drugs.  By not making herbal supplements and botanicals subject to testing, US citizens are being put at risk.  This point is underscored by the following quote from Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst :  “Just because something is natural does not mean that it is good, and just because something is unnatural does not mean that it is bad.  Arsenic, cobra poison, nuclear radiation, earthquakes, and the Ebola virus can all be found in nature, whereas vaccines, spectacles, and artificial hips are all man-made.”  In this context HM would like to comment on the labeling of Genetic Modified Organisms (GMOs) as being bad.  To the contrary, they might be the only option for feeding an increasingly growing population.  The also offer the prospect of both better tasting and affordable products.

Chapter 7 recounts another success story, the long-standing question of what causes cervical cancer led, over a period of thirty years, to the identification of a small number of highly specific carcinogenic subtypes of the humanpapillomavirus (HPV).  The persistent infection with one or more of these subtypes is necessary to cause the disease.  This knowledge has led to the development of vaccines that have the potential to virtually eliminate cervical cancer as well as to fundamental new knowledge about how the virus evolved to cause cancer.

Kabat comes to the following conclusion, “the need for a more nuanced and realistic view of science, which acknowledges the enormous challenges, promotes skepticism toward widely circulated but questionable ides, and at the same time pays attention to what science can achieve at its best.

At this point please indulge HM in a personal story.  When he was working, he received a call from a representative of his insurance company.  This representative encouraged an annual checkup to include the prostate specific antigen test (PSAT).  For decades this had been a standard recommendation to men of my age.  However, HM tries to keep up with the literature.  He had read that urologists, the individuals most knowledgeable about the benefits of this test, had changed this long-standing recommendation.  Now the test is recommended only in certain high risk patients, and then, only after consulting with a physician.  However, it took another year before the rest of the medical community followed the lead of the urologists.

© 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 Constitutes Proof that Alzheimer’s or Dementia Could be Cured or Prevented?

January 4, 2017

Two excellent questions for consideration.  The first question, what constitutes a cure can be easily answered, that is the administration of operations or medications that would eliminate the affliction.  Currently, the only medications for Alzheimer’s do not cure the disease, but rather slow the progression.  One can question whether this prolongs meaningful or enjoyable life, or merely prolongs suffering.  This is a question for individuals to decide.
With respect to Alzheimer’s, there are many individuals who died with the defining features of the disease—neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque, but who never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive characteristics of the disease.  Apparently there were many people who died not knowing that they had the disease.  So for these individuals, at least, the debilitating features of the disease had been prevented.  The only explanation that has been provided for this prevention is that they had built up a cognitive reserve during their lifetimes, by using their brains.  This is the justification for advocating growth mindsets.  But there are other factors such as being socially active, which also requires the use of one’s mind.

The only way of trying to determine the factors fostering prevention is through longitudinal studies.  There are two longitudinal investigation—the Religious Orders Study and the Rush Memory and Aging Project, which have enrolled more than 3200 older adults across the United States.  This studies are being led by David A. Bennet at the Rush Alzheimer’s  Disease Center in Chicago.  The volunteers enter these studies dementia-free, anywhere from their mid-50s to their 100’s and agree to hours of testing each year.  They all have agreed to undergo autopsies once they have died.  Here are the two primary findings that have emerged from these investigations.

Virtually all brains in old age contain some pathological signs of Alzheimer’s disease, but only some people suffer any symptoms as a result.  Those who do not develop dementia appear to have greater cognitive reserve to fall back on.

Choices we make throughout life, from learning a second language or studying music in childhood to finding purpose and remaining physical, intellectually, an socially active in retirement can build cognitive reserve and dramatically reduce the risk of dementia.

It is hoped that growth mindsets capture the general nature of intellectual activity.  Mindfulness and meditation foster greater control over one’s cognitive activity and lead to better control over one’s emotions and enhance personal interactions.  The healthy memory blog certainly endorses physical activity and a healthy lifestyle which includes, obviously, a healthy diet.

Regarding the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s, the neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque, seem to have little or no effect on individuals who have built up this cognitive reserve.  And there has been little success in the development of drugs to treat these physical symptoms.  One of the foremost experts in this area, Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D, who is the senior author of “The Myth of Alzheimer’s”  does not think that successful medications will ever be developed.

Perhaps one of the best resources on the extensive research that has been done in the area can be found in the book, “Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind” by Pamela M. Greenwood and Raja Parasuraman.

Dr. Michael Merzenich has been called “the father of brain plasticity,” and the co-founder of Scientific Learning and Posit Science.  You can go to brainhq.com
and find brain training exercises.  These exercises can be helpful, but by themselves cannot be regarded as providing a cognitive reserve.  Building a cognitive reserve requires a lifestyle devoted to cognitive and physical health.  Dr. Merzenich also has an interesting book, “Soft-Wired:  How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life.”

Research reviewed by Norman Doidge, M.D.  has documented the extreme plasticity of the brain.  It is truly plastic in its ability to recover from severe injury.   His research is documented in two books,”The Brain that Changes Itself” and The Brain’s Way of Healing:  Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity.”

HM would like to see extensive research done on individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s who apparently failed to build up this cognitive reserve.  What level of recovery might be achieved through exercises designed to recover lost capacity?  And at what level of dementia might individuals still be recoverable?  HM believes that money spent on this research would be more valuable that the extensive work that is being done on drug treatments that are likely to be doomed to failure.  Unfortunately, the money is in potential drug sales.

There have been many previous HM posts on these topics.  Enter “Bennet,”  “Whitehouse,”  “Parasuraman,”  “Merzenich,”  “Doidge,”  “The Relaxation Response Update,’ and  “Mindfulness” to find them.

© 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 New Years 2017: Some Suggested Resolutions

December 31, 2016

If you are not actively building growth mindsets, being mindful, or engaging in meditation, start doing them.  The advice from the beginning of this blog has been to grow your mind continually as long as you live.  Even if the term growth mindset was not used, growth mindsets were what was implied.  What also became clear in Carol Dweck’s, “Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success” was that growth mindsets are key to effective interpersonal relationships, parenting, coaching, and business, virtually in every aspect of living.  In addition this cognitive practice will produce a cognitive reserve, which is the best means of warding off dementia and Alzheimer’s.  Enter “Growth Mindsets” into the search box of the healthy memory blog to find posts relevant to this topic.  However, it is hoped that all posts in this blog contribute to cognitive growth

Mindfulness provides a means of effectively dealing with life, better health, better interpersonal relations, and effective focus and control of attention.  Attention is key to learning, so it is also key to an effective growth mindset.  A central part of mindfulness is meditation.  Regular readers of the healthy memory blog should be aware that attention is key to getting information into long term memory.  Very often when we cannot remember something, it is because we did not adequately attend to it in the first place.  Concentration and the ability to focus is central to effective thinking. Our attentional resources are both limited and precious, so we cannot afford not to use them efficiently.  Meditation helps us to control our attentional resources.  They are especially important to controlling the executive functioning of our brains.  Before responding in any situation it is important to remember the acronym STOP, which stands for
S – Stop. Simply pause from what you are doing.
T –Take a few slow, deep, breaths with awareness and tune in.
O – Observe and curiously notice your thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
P – Proceed with whatever you were doing with awareness and kindness.
Effective cognitive functioning also fosters good interpersonal relations.

The healthy memory blog post “An Update to the Relaxation Response Update” will provide more information on how to induce the relaxation response.  To learn about the medical benefits of the relaxation response see the post “The Relaxation Response Update.”

If you are already engaging in these practices, congratulations, and use the occasion of this new year to rededicate yourself to their practice.  I am going to do this myself.  Have a happy and fulfilling new year.

© 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.