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.

Regarding that New Year’s Eve Hangover

December 30, 2016

This post is based largely on an article by Richard Webb titled “Hung over:  What science says about why you feel so rough in the 7 December 2016 issue of the New Scientist.

First of all, alcohol is not the reason you feel so bad.  The onset of a hangover means that the blood’s concentration of ethanol is zero.  Moreover, there probably isn’t just one cause for all the hangover symptoms.  It could be the impact on sleep quality of forcing your body to break down a large amount of fluid substance.

Dehydration is a side effect.  The pounding head and mouth probably result from alcohol’s suppression of the antidiuretic hormone vasopressin.  This increases the desire to urinate.  During the hangover vasopressin  snaps back to a higher level than normal, but there does not appear to be a correlation between that or any other drink-induced hormonal imbalance and the severity of the hangover.

The delayed onset of a hangover means that the metabolic products of ethanol are prime suspects.  A study in Japan found that people with inactive genes for making enzymes that break down acetaldehyde, a highly reactive by-product of ethanol, experienced a hangover after fewer drinks.  However, an earlier Scandinavian study showed that acetaldehyde concentration were generally low when a hangover was most severe suggesting that its effects are indirect or delayed.  Perhaps it is acetate, which occurs further down the line as a product of acetaldehyde breakdown.

A recent study of the urine of a group of hung-over Dutch students found that ethanol concentration  was correlated with severity of symptoms that include sleepiness, sweating, concentration problems, nausea, thirst, and to a lesser extent, confusion headache, weakness and regret.  However, the same correlations were not present in a self-described hangover-immune group that had drunk a similar amount.  These people also had less alcohol in their urine.

So it seems the the ability to rapidly metabolize alcohol is more important than the amount consumed in determining hangover severity.   But this does not explain why we can have a severe hangover when we hardly drank anything, and at other times when we have drunk heavily experience only a mild hangover.

Some think that congeners, chemicals produced during fermentation, other than ethanol, that give each drink a distinctive aroma and taste, play a role.  According to a study that compared hangover severity in bourbon and vodka, dark spirits are worse than clear ones in inducing severe hangovers.  On the other hand, research in Japan found that higher levels of congeners of whiskies might inhibit the breakdown of ethanol and at least delay the onset of hangovers.

It should be clear that in all these studies there are uncontrolled confounding variables.

The advice offered by HM is to not drink so much.  There is no cure and there is unlikely that one will be developed.  Excessive alcohol consumption does not foster a healthy memory.

Read the below list of a 2011 survey of 1410 hung-over Dutch students. This is the order of frequency of hangover symptoms that should serve as a reminder to be cautious:  Fatigue, thirst, drowsiness, sleepiness, headache, dry mouth, nausea, weakness, reduced alertness, concentration problems, apathy, increase reaction time, reduced, appetite, clumsiness, agitation, vertigo, memory problems, gastrointestinal complaints, dizziness, stomach pain, tremor, problems with balance, restlessness, shivering, sweating, disorientation, auto sensitivity, photosensitivity, blunted emotions, muscle pain, loss of taste, regret, confusion, guilt, gastritis, impulsivity, hot/cold flashes, vomiting, pounding heart, depression, palpitations, tinnitus, nystagmus (uncontrolled eye movement), anger, respiratory problems, anxiety, suicidal thoughts.

And whatever you do, do not drink and drive.

© 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.

Did Corporate PR Initiate the Post-Fact Era?

December 28, 2016

This post is based on an article published in the Washington Post by Ari Rabit-Havt titled “Big business taught politicians a better way to lie.”  The article begins, “Donald Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes recently told WAMU’s Diane Reahm that ‘there’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.’”  Rabin-Havt continues, “She’s right and that’s the problem.  We now disagree not just on our political philosophies, but on whether the facts are true.  In this world, Hughes’s  observation is the last self-evident truth:  Facts are a thing of the past. …Americans may find it impossible to debate politics clearly because of a lack of agreement on basic matters of fact; that was certainly the case during this year’s election.  And no one has taken more advantage of this than Trump…”

Rabin-Havt does not credit Trump for creating this world.  He says that this is a result of a decades-long strategy devised by a number of public affairs practitioners who recognized that lies were the most potent weapon in the fight against progress and that Trump emulated some of these disinformation techniques gleaned from big business during his campaign.

Sixty-three years ago the tobacco industry had a problem, namely the compelling evidence of the severe damage smoking did to one’s health.  John Hill, the founder of the Public Relations conglomerate Hill & Knowlton, recommended that they form a public relations institute, to argue that their products were safe.  Together with the tobacco executives Hill created public relations operation veiled as a scientific institute, to argue that their products were safe.  They created the Tobacco Industry Research Committee, a sham organization designed to spread corporate propaganda to mislead the media, policymakers and the public at large.

Rather than trying to convince the majority of Americans that cigarettes did not cause cancer, they sought to muddy the waters and create a second truth.  One truth emanated from the bulk of  the scientific community and the other from a cadre of people primarily in the employment of the tobacco industry.

Although their efforts to muddy the waters were successful for a time, truth eventually prevailed.  So it appears that Hughes’ statements and Rabin-Havt’s conclusion are a bit overstated.  Nevertheless, they are real.  And this same scene is being repeated regarding global warming.  The clear consensus is that global warming is real and the consequences a dangerous.  Unfortunately, this is portrayed on networks that include both Fox and the PBS New hours by having one representative of each position on their shows.  Although this appears to be even-handed, what is lost on the general public is that the overwhelming consensus is that global warming is real.

There is a more realistic position is that global warming is occurring, but how quickly it is occurring is debatable.  This is not arguing that it is not occurring or that it is, as Trump said, a hoax introduced by China.  Here one needs to outline both the probability of the risks of different models and the costs of delaying different remedies.
With respect to the problem global warming, it is clear what the motivation is and by whom to either deny or to downplay global warming.  And these industries have big bucks to fund questionable research.  It is interesting that certain critiques of global warming contend that scientists finding evidence of global warming are motivated by the money they receive from research grants.  Comparing the funding of these researchers against the funding of big oil is like comparing some guy in his back yard burning leaves with the Chicago fire.  But these people cannot think in terms of truth, rather they think in terms of beliefs and how to argue their beliefs.

There has been a larger victim of these science efforts funded by special interests is a general loss of confidence in science and the establishment.  Both Brexit and Trump are examples of his loss of confidence in the establishment.

Rabin-Havt’s article also mentions Sarah Palin’s “Death Panels” critique to the Affordable Care Act.  The acceptance of this critique indicates there is virtually no limit to the stink of fecal material people will swallow.  And Sarah Palin’s being a candidate for the Vice-President of the United States is an indication of the pathetic state of American politics.

The situation has worsened with the alt-Right movement (see the Healthymemory blog post, “Sick Memory).  This has become a profitable industry.   At least with the examples of bad science done by businesses for their financial industry, they actually conducted research.  One of the reasons that the alt-Right industry is so profitable is that it requires no research.  Just think of something and post it.  Build upon other lies to create even more fantastic lies.

All of the efforts are bad for our memories and contribute to the Stupidity Pandemic discussed in the previous post.  It calls for critical thinking using System 2 attentional processing.  Truth is our only hope.  It needs to be constantly sought.  Beliefs need to be periodically reconsidered for flaws and needs for correction.  Facts, true facts, need to be considered.

© 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.

Daniel Kahneman and the Stupidity Pandemic

December 26, 2016

In case you haven’t noticed there is a stupidity pandemic.  It’s a pandemic because it rages throughout the world.  Perhaps the most conspicuous example are the religious wars.  These wars are several centuries out of date.  Terrorism is a religious war being largely fought within the Islamic faith with some terrorists groups targeting the west.  Then there is Brexit, a phenomenon that was not predicted by professional politicians.  In general there is lack of faith in what is called the “establishment” and in bodies of knowledge such as science.

In the United States there is the phenomenon of Donald Trump.  When Trump began his campaign it was regarded as a joke and was quite funny.  It is still a joke, but one that is no longer funny.  If every vote had counted in the United States, the Trump problem would not exist.  But an archaic and stupid institution called the electoral college elected Trump, therefore nullifying the will of the majority of US citizens.

So what has Nobel Lauerate Daniel Kahneman have to do with this?  His two process theory of human cognition provides a means of understanding this pandemic.  System 1 refers to our normal mode of cognition.  It is very fast and allows for fluent conversations and skilled performance.  It is the default mode of cognition.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds to what we colloquially call thinking.  System 2 requires attention and mental effort.  One of the jobs of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors.  However, this requires mental effort and thinking.

Experiments have been run where statements are presented to the research participant.  The brain is monitored.  When a statement conflicts with a participant’s individual beliefs, a signature is reported from the brain.  The question is whether this statement will be ignored, or whether the participant engages in deeper thought to reconsider this statement.  There is a cognitive cost here and the simplest reaction is to ignore the statement and regard it as a mistaken belief.

Trump’s  victory was a victory for System 1 processing.  System 1 appeals to fears, emotions, bigotry, and so forth.  Trump is a genius at connecting with and exploiting the System 1 processes of people.  Trump himself rarely uses System 2 processing.  He does not read books, does not think he needs to attend briefings because he knows everything already.  His gut, his System 1 processing, tells him what is true.  However, Trump does not care what is true.  It is whatever he believes at the moment, and this does change from moment to moment.  This is one of the reasons he is such an effective liar.  He does not care what is true.  It is whatever is expedient for the moment.  When confronted with his lies, he denies the truth.  His promise to make America great again was predicated on the lie that the United States is not regarded throughout the world as a great country.  Enemies dislike the politics of Americans, but nevertheless respect its greatness.

Totalitarian countries have exploited the big lie, and so does Trump.  See the healthy memory blog “Sick Memory.”  Lying has become a profitable industry.  Dana Milbank had an interesting column in the 21 December 2016 Washington Post title “Hoping that he didn’t really mean it.”  Milbank pointed out that many areas of the country that went for Trump will suffer deeply from cuts in government spending that will occur if Trump acts on his promises.  The title of Milbank’s article provides the explanation of how these voters reconcile their vote with the adverse effects that will affect them personally.
It is clear that these people did not employ System 2 processing when they voted.  There is justification for believing that these people rarely engaging in System 2 processing.  Like Trump, they go with their gut feelings.  Unfortunately, there is some question if such people will ever realize that they have screwed themselves.  Trump can continue to exploit their fears and bigotry to keep them in line.

© 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 Game Theory Guide to a Happy Family Holiday

December 21, 2016

This post is taken from a piece by Paul Raebun and Kevin Zollman titled “No more drama:  The game theory guide to a happy family holiday” in the 17 December 2016 issue of the New Scientist.  This piece asks the question how do we encourage our families to behave themselves in a way that reflects how, deep down, they truly love each other?  The answer, turn to game theory, the science of strategic thinking.

If there needs to be a decision of who will host,  you can draw straws.  If there are three choices you can use a Borda count:  Each person ranks their preferences, the numbers are added, and the host with the lowest score wins.

What about the question as to who is going to bring which dish.  As the authors note many people have delicious alternatives they would love to provide, but no one wants to hurt someone’s feelings, so those under appreciated dishes are lightly touched.  So frames can be switched regarding the dishes.  For example, seize on a change of time or venue.  Then say, for instance, “Since we’re at Dad’s house this year, let’s change dishes.”

It is  recommended that political discussion be off limits, so the squabble will probably be over who gets the last roast potatoes or the final sliver of something else.  To keep bickering to a minimum, game theorists recommend using I cut, you pick.  If there are two people hankering after the last of the yule log, one slices and the other chooses.

A common problem is that there is too much food and people are begged to take home leftovers. Everyone brings way too much food because of the incentives.  There’s no real penalty for bringing an excessive amount, but somebody might be offended if they bring too little.  So change the incentives.  Give a prize to the cook whose dish is totally gone, or make the guest with the most leftovers host next time.  Now it’s not a measure of love, it’s a game.

What about unruly children misbehaving?  To stop their misbehavior, there needs to be a credible threat.  A simple warning might not be credible.  However, a threat to make the children do the dishes will likely be credible and effective.

What to do about a guest who does not pitch in and help out?  You can put empirical expectations to make him work.  Make a point of having someone clean up around him so can see them doing it.  He just might feel obliged to pitch in.

What about arguments as to what game to play?  Propose an auction by having the opposing camps  bargain by offering to do chores.  Whoever makes the best offer—finish washing the dishes and tidy up the kitchen—gets to pick.

Don’t forget the ultimatum game.  How should two kids with a small box of chocolates divvy up the candy?  Ask one to keep some for herself and offer the rest to the other.  If the second party should regard the offer as unfair, then neither one gets any of the chocolates.

The authors, Paul Raeburn and Kevin Zollman have both written and are splitting credit for their book, “The Game Theorists Guide to Parenting.”  Perhaps this might be a Christmas gift for someone.

Super-you: Fine-tune Your Life by Making Goals Into Habits

December 20, 2016

In the 10 Dec 2016 issue of the New Scientist there was a series of articles whose titles began super-you.  HM is reviewing a select sample of these pieces.   The title of this post is identical to the title of a piece by Julia Brown.  At the beginning of the article she writes , “your environment controls you, as do habits that you don’t even know you have.  But realize what’s really pulling your strings, and you can work out how to manipulate yourself for the better.

Wendy Wood of the University of Southern California and her colleagues have shown how almost half of the behaviors we adopt in any given situation are habitual.  That is an automated action learned by repetition until we do it without thinking.  In Kahneman’s terms these are System 1 processes that include eating, napping, watching TV, and exercising.

We work this way because we have to.  If every act we perform required us to be deeply involved in thought, our species never would have evolved.

Brown writes that identifying how your unconscious is working provides you with ways to fine-tune your behavior.  If you want to change habits, look at where and how you enact them.  If you want to stop smoking, avoid places where you are likely to light up, or move your cigarettes out of sight.  If you want to start eating more healthily, stop meeting friends for lunch as a burger restaurant.

Val Curtis, who studies behavior change at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has used these insights to develop ways to encourage hand washing with soap in India and to modify the tendency for mothers in Indonesia to feed their children unhealthy snacks.  She says we can all prime ourselves in similar ways.  So if you think you ought to do some exercise but don’t feel like it, put you running gear on anyway, and wait and see what happens.  You let your running gear control your behavior and it takes you for a run.

Super-you: Train Your Brain to Beat the Inbuilt Fear Factory

December 18, 2016

HM has written in previous posts about how annoyed he is about people’s fears of terrorists attacks.  HM lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis where the threat of nuclear annihilation was very real.  The threat of terrorism pales in comparison.  The probability of an individual suffering a terrorist attack is extremely small.  And even the number of lives lost during 9/ll was minuscule compared to the loss if a nuclear warhead had exploded over Manhattan.  As a result of 9/ll many people stopped flying and got into their cars,  The annual death toll on the road was on average 1100 higher than in the five preceding years.

The New Scientist piece that inspired this post has the same title as this post and was written by Sally Adee.    She begins the article noting that evolution has given us an inbuilt fear factory.  But by engaging a different way of thinking we can stop panicking and assess the real risks.

Adee draws upon Kahneman’s Two Process concept of cognition.  System 1 is fast and the product of evolved biases shaped over many thousands of years.  This worked well.  If you saw a shadow in the grass and it was a lion and lived to tell the tale, you’d make sure to run the next time you saw a shadow in the grass.   This inbuilt fear factory is highly susceptible to immediate experience, vivid images and personal stories.  Security companies, political campaigns, tabloid newspapers and ad agencies prey on it.  Adee notes that System 1 is good at catastrophic risk, but less good at risks that build up slowly over time—thus our lassitude in the face of climate change or our expanding waistlines.

She advises that when your risk judgment is motivated by fear, stop and think:  what other, less obvious risks might I be missing?  This amounts to engaging the more rigorous, analytical System 2 outlined by Kahneman.  People who deal with probability and risk professionally, and have excelled at it use System 2 quite heavily.  Successful bookies, professional card players and weather forecasters are heavy users of their System 2 processes.  Risk consultant Dan Gardner notes that even though meteorologists get a bad rap, they tend to be highly calibrated, unlike most of us.  One can never be right all the time.  But one should be attempting to calibrating risk assessment with the objective world.

Andy Spicer, who studies organizational behavior at City University of London notes that part of the problem in the run-up to the financial collapse of 2008 was that individuals were no longer accountable for their own actions.  “At banks, there was no direct relationship between what you did and the outcome.  That produced irrational decisions.

Gardner says, “there’s one feature you see over and over in people with good risk intelligence.  I think it wouldn’t be too grandiose to call it the universal train of risk intelligence—humility.”  The world is complex, so be humble about what you know an you’ll come out better.

HM would note that there is such a thing as risk intelligence and that it can be increased.  See the healthy memory blog post “Risk Intelligence.”

© 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.

Super-you: How to Harness Your Inner Braggert

December 16, 2016

In the 10 Dec 2016 issue of the New Scientist there was a series of articles whose titles began super-you.  HM is reviewing a select sample of these pieces.  This inner braggart piece was written by Tiffany O’Callaghan.  She begins the article, “Think you’re saner, smarter and better-looking than average?  Well, so does everyone else.  Recognizing our delusions is the first step to doing better.  She asks, “Ever had the sense that everyone else is an idiot?  Have you seen how those jerks drive?  As Garrison Keillor tells it, all the children in Lake Wobegon are above average.  This is not unique to Lake Wobegon.  When it comes to smarts, looks, charisma, and general psychological adjustment, there’s no denying that we’re a cut above the average person in the street.

O’Callaghan notes that viewing ourselves as above average applies across human ages, professions, and cultures, and to capabilities from driving to playing chess.  She notes that this does have advantages.  “People who are more impressed with themselves tend to make better first impressions, be generally happier and may even be more resilient in the fact of trauma.  Anthropologist Robert Trivers of Rutgers University says that high self-estimation might also let us get ahead by deceiving others.  He argues that once we’ve tricked ourselves, we don’t have to work so hard to trick others.

Confidence also helps in finding a romantic partner, which also increases the probability of reproduction.  Men appear to be worse offenders at overestimating their looks than women.  A study by Marcel Yoder and his team at the University of Illinois found that some men seem to suffer from a “frog prince” delusion:  They accurately asses other people’s lesser perception of them, while persisting in a more positive perception of themselves.

Problems come when we’re less aware of how others perceive us.  Those who are self-confident without being self-aware are likely to be seen as a jerk.  Yoder says, “It’s hard to come off as humble or modest when you’re clueless  about how other people see you.”  Moreover, we can make bad decisions on the basis of an inflated sense of expertise or understanding.

This is particularly dangerous in the political arena.  A “bias blind spot”, a belief that our world view is based on objective truth, while every else is a deluded fool can become problematic, especially as the echo chamber of social media exposes us to fewer contrary views (“Bias Blind Spot:  Structure, Measurement, and Consequences”, Scopelliti et al, http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2014.2096).  It can make opposing parties feel that the other side is too irrational to be reason with says Wenje Yan.

So the question is how can we preserve the goods while avoiding he downsides.  There are different strategies and training programs for overcoming our inbuilt biases.  Most begin by making people aware of them and how they can affect our decision making.  Psychologists have an exercise called perspective taking.  Irene Scopelliti says that the amounts to trying to see a dispute from the other person’s point of view.  She points out that acting when you’re all riled up—in a state of high emotion—exacerbates the problem by entrenching our bias.  She says, “ We know how o make unbiased decisions, but often emotion biases us, or we aren’t willing to put in the effort.  Nevertheless she maintains that practice can make us better.

Super-you: Use Your Better Instincts to Crush Your Inner Bigot

December 14, 2016

In the 10 Dec 2016 issue of the New Scientist there was a series of articles whose titles began super-you.  HM is reviewing a select sample of these pieces.  This instincts piece is written by Caroline Williams.  HM does not like this use of the word “instincts.”  “Predisposing biases” would have been a more fortunate choice.  However, this article accounts for much of the ugliness prevalent throughout the world.  The quick explanation is that these people are in their default mode of feeling and thinking.  But this is a very low level of thinking.  It is System 1 processing using Kahmeman’s terms.

The unpalatable truth is that we are biased, prejudiced and racist.   We put people into mental boxes marked “us” and them”.  Implicitly we like, respect and trust people who are similar to us and feel uncomfortable around everyone else.  This tendency towards in-group favoritism is so ingrained that we often don’t realize we are doing it.  “It is an evolutionary hangover affecting how the human brain responds to people it perceives as different.

A study from 2000 found that just showing participants brief flashes of faces of people of a different race was enough to activate the amygdala (Neuroreport 11(11):2351-5, September 2000 can be found at researchgate.net).  HM readers should know that the amygdala is a key component of the brain’s fear circuitry.  But the amygdala doesn’t just control fear; it responds to many things and calls on other brain areas to pay attention.   Although we’re not automatically scared of people who are not like us, we are hardwired to flag them.  As Williams notes, “evolutionarily, that makes sense:  It paid to notice when someone from another tribe dropped by.”

When Susan Fiske of Princeton University scanned volunteers’ brains as they looked at pictures of homeless people, she found that the prefrontal cortex, which is activated when we think about other people, stayed quiet.  Apparently these volunteers seemed to process these homeless people as subhuman (Social cognitive ad affective neuroscience, 2007 Mar. 2(1) 45-51.)

Fiske says “The good news is that his hard-wired response can be overcome depending on context.”  In both the homeless study and a rerun of the amygdala study Fiske found that fear or indifference quickly disappeared when participants were asked questions about what kind of food the other person might enjoy,   Fiske continues, “As soon as you have a basis for dealing with a person as an individual, the effect is not there.”

What we put in “them” and “us” boxes is flexible.  Jay Van Bavel of New York University created in-groups including people from various races, participants still preferred people in their own group, regardless of race.  It seems that all you have to do to head off prejudice is to convince people that they are on the same team (Pers Soc Psychol Bull, December 2012, 38, 12, 2012  1566-1578. pop.sagepub.com).

It appears that we are instinctively cooperative when we don’t have time to think about it.  Psychologist David Rand of Yale University asked volunteers to play gambling games in which they could choose to be selfish, or corporate with other players or a slightly lower, but shared, payoff.  When pressed to make a decision people were much more likely to cooperate than when given time to mull it over.

Williams concludes her article thusly:  “So perhaps you’re not an asshole after all—If you know when to stop to think about it and when to go with your gut.  Maybe, just maybe, there is hope for the world.”

© 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.

Super-you: We’re All Reading Each Others Minds, All the Time

December 13, 2016

In the 10 Dec 2016 issue of the New Scientist there was a series of articles whose titles began super-you.  HM is reviewing a select sample of these pieces.  This mind reading piece is written by Gilead Amit.  As Amit notes,being able to predict what other people think is the secret sauce of culture and social connections.

According to psychologist Joseph Call we all possess a “theory of mind” that informs us every waking moment.  “When we get dressed in the morning, we’re constantly thinking about what other people think about us.”  He says that no other animal can match our ability to think about the minds of others and that this is the essential lubricant for social interactions that sets humans apart.  We humans are not unique in this ability, but our ability is superior to other species.

Artists need to imagine what their audiences will think of their characters.  A theory of mind is critical to compelling TV soaps, sculptures or books.  Some think William Shakespeare had a particularly well-developed theory of mind to create such rich, complex characters (See “Shakespeare:  Unleashing a tempest in the brain” by David Robson in the 15 April 2014 issue of the New Scientist).

Mind reading establishes society norms.  People not only respond to what we do, but to what we intend to do.  For example, if you hit someone with your car, the difference between a verdict of murder or manslaughter depends on your intent.

Psychologist Rory Devine notes that we can’t all read minds equally well.  Most of us have difficulty when attempting nested levels of mind reading.  For example, think of Sally hunting for her cake, but imagine where she might look if we take into account  what she thinks about how Andy’s mind works.  The more recursive steps we add, the more  difficult it becomes.  Call says, “When you go beyond five levels, people get really bad.  HM does not believe that he can get even close to four levels, much less five.

Obviously being a good mind reader is an important skill.  Children who are relatively proficient later report being less lonely and their teachers rate them as more sociable.

Devine says that that “the ability to read minds is something we might learn gradually from the guidance of others.”  This mind reading apparatus mostly develops before the age of 5, and the principal factor that determines its development is whether our families and friends talk much about the emotions and motivations of others.

Perhaps the first step is to think about what it’s like to be in other people’s shoes.  Devine and his colleagues showed that this learning can continue far beyond early childhood.  When they asked 9 and 10 year old children to read and discuss short vignettes about social situations, the children developed better mind reading skills than children in a control group.  It appears that we’re never too old to be a better mind reader.  Similar improvements have also been seen in people over the age of 60.

Super-You: You Have a Superstitious Mind—to Protect You

December 12, 2016

In the 10 Dec 2016 issue of the New Scientist there is a series of articles whose titles began super-you.  HM is reviewing a select sample of these pieces.  This superstitious mind piece is written by Graham Lawton.  Lawton writes, “The vast majority of people are religious, which generally entails belief in a supernatural entity or three.”  Nevertheless, among the oceans of religiosity are archipelagos of non belief.  Conservative estimates are that half a billion people around the world are non-religious.

However, among the scientists who study the cognitive foundations of religious belief, there is a widespread consensus that atheism is only skin-deep.  Should you scratch the surface of a non-believer and you’ll likely find a writhing nest of superstition and quasi-religion.

Lawton writes that this is because evolution has endowed us with cognitive tendencies that, while useful for survival, make us very receptive to religious concepts.  Psychologist Ara Norenzayan of the University of British Columbia says, “there are core intuitions that make supernatural beliefs easy for our brains.”

One of our cognitive abilities is known as theory of mind which enables us to think about and intuit other people’s thoughts.  That’s certainly useful for a social species like us, but it also tricks us into believing in disembodied minds with mental states of their own.  The idea that mind and body are distinct entities seems to come instinctively to us.  When teleology —the tendency to seek cause and effect everywhere and see purposes where there is none—it is obvious why the human brain is superstitious (See the healthymemory blog post (“Thinking 2.0).

Presumably these same thought processes underlie beliefs supernatural phenomena such as ghosts, spiritual healing, reincarnation, telepathy, astrology, lucky numbers and Ouija boards.  Three-quarters of Americans admit to holding at least one of ten common supernatural beliefs.

Lawton writes, “With all this supernatural equipment filling our heads, atheism and scientific materialism are hard work.  Overriding inbuilt thought patterns require deliberate and constant effort, plus a learned reference guide to what is factually correct and what is right and wrong.  Just like a dieter tempted by a doughnut, will power often fails us.”

Experiments have shown that supernatural thoughts are easy to invoke even in people who consider themselves skeptics.  Asked if a man who dies instantly in a car crash is aware of his own death, large numbers answer “yes”.  People who experience setbacks in their lives routinely invoke fate, and uncanny experiences are frequently attributed to paranormal phenomena.

Of course, it is impossible to prove that everyone falls prey to supernatural instincts.  The supernatural exerts a pull on us that is hard to resits.  It is likely that the belief that we are rational creatures is wishful thinking.

One can argue that Pascal’s Wager does provide a rational justification for a belief in God.   See the healthymemory blog post  “God.”

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

Reading a Novel Affects the Connectivity in the Brain

December 11, 2016

This post is based on an article in BRAIN CONNECTIVITY, Volume 3, Number 6,
DOI:  10.1089/brain.2013.0166 titled “Short and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain.”

This study used fMRI recording resting states both before and after reading a novel.   The novel was “Pompeii: A Novel” by Robert Fawcett.  Nineteen participants read this novel over a nine day period.  Resting-state  networks (RSNs) were assessed before and after reading on each of the nine days.  Baseline RSNs were taken five days before the experiment proper and for 5 days after the conclusion of the novel.

On the days after the reading, significant increases in connectivity  were centered on hubs in the left angular/supramarginal gyri and right posterior temporal gyri.  These hubs correspond to regions previously associated with perspective taking and story comprehension, and the changes exhibited a time course that decayed rapidly after the completion of the novel.  Long-term changes in connectivity, which persisted for several days after the reading, were observed in the bilateral somatosensory cortex, suggesting a potential mechanism for “embodied semantics.”  What the authors are referring to in embodied semantics is that the body is responding emotionally to the reading.

What HM finds most interesting about this study is that it provides data showing the
changes that take place in the brain as the result of reading.  This can be regarded as “cognitive exercise” that activates brain circuits and System 2 processing building a cognitive reserve decreasing the likelihood of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

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

Why Do We Sleep?

December 10, 2016

The question raised by the title of this post is highly relevant given that about one-third of our lives is spent sleeping.  A brief piece  titled “A bad night’s sleep messes with your brain’s memory connections in the In Brief Section of the August 27, 2016 Edition of the “New Scientist” provides a compelling answer.  The piece begins with the following sentence, “This is why you feel so awful after a bad night’s sleep—your brain is jammed with yesterday’s news.”

The research was done by Christoph Nissen and his team at the University Medical Center in Freiburg, Berman.  They examined the brains of 20 people after they’d slept well, and after a night of disruption.  They found that after a bad’s night sleep, people had higher levels of theta brainwaves, and it was easier to stimulate their brains using magnetic pulses (“Nature Communications.” DOI”10.1038/ncomms12455).

The findings support the theory that sleep serves to weaken memory connections, making way for new ones.  Nissan says that without this synaptic downscaling, the brain loses the capacity to for novel connections, impairing the encoding of novel memories.  The theory is that sleep evolved so that connections in the brain can be pruned down during slumber, making room for fresh memories to form the next day.

The idea that sleep is important to memory is not new.  And memory is certainly important enough that we need to devote about one-third of our lives supporting it. Of course, it is likely that memory is not the only capacity to benefit, but it is likely that other capacities that benefit are closely related to memory.

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

Sleep-deprived Drivers are as Dangerous as Drunk Drivers

December 9, 2016

This post is based on an article by Ashley Halsey III titled “Sleep-deprived drivers have plenty in common with drunk drivers, on page A2 of the 7 December 2016 edition of the Washington Post.  Her article is based on a report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released 6 December.   According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about 35% of people get fewer than the needed seven hours of sleep, and 12% say that they sleep for five hours or less.

Previous research by the AAA Foundation found that 21% of fatal crashes involved a sleep-deprived driver.  This new report uses data from the National Motor Vehicle’s Crash Causation Survey to asses how much driving ability decreases based on the lack of sleep.  The executive director of the foundation, David Yang, says that the new research shows that a driver who has slept for less than five hours has a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk.  The report says that those who slept for less than 4 of the past 24 hours had an 11.5% higher risk of getting into a crash; drivers who slept 4-5 hours had a 4.3% higher risk; 5-7 hours had a 1.9% higher risk; and 6-7 hours had a 1.3% higher risk.  The following caveat is added to these results:  “The study may underestimate the risk of driving while sleep-deprived, because data on crashes that occurred between midnight and 6 a.m. were not available, and other studies have shown that the effects of sleep deprivation…are greatest during the morning hours.”

Tom Calcagni of AAA’s Mid-Atlantic Office said, “The crash risk associated with having slept less than 4 hours is comparable to the crash risk associated with a blood-alcohol content of roughly .12 to .15.  The legal limit is .08.

So add driving while being sleepy to the other activities you should not do while driving:  texting and talking on the phone regardless of whether your hands are free or not, and drunk driving.

The importance of sleep to health in general should not be underestimated.  Our brains are very active while we sleep, consolidating memories and cleaning up junk in the brain.  By failing to get enough sleep we are effectively damaging our brains.  This damage might eventually lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s.

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

A High Risk But Viable Alternative to Kurzweil’s Singularity

December 7, 2016

Kurzweil’s Singularity consists of uploading the information in human biological brains into the silicon of computer hardware.  Kurzweil even regards this as possibly occurring during his own lifetime, so Kurzweil is doing everything possible to extend his life.  HM has previously indicated that this is highly unlikely because Kurzweil is ignoring the reality that silicon and biology differ.

The 29 October 2016 issue of the “New Scientist” has an article titled, “$100 million project to make intelligence-boosting implant.”  Entrepreneur Bryan Johnson launched the company Kernel earlier this year.  Johnson is working with Theodore Berger at the University of Southern California, who is looking at the hippocampus.  Healthy memory blog readers should know that the hippocampus is a key brain region involved in the retrieval of memories.  There is a hippocampus in each hemisphere, so we have two hippocampi.

Berger is working with people who already have electrical implants in their brains to treat epileptic seizures.  Instead of using these implants to stimulate the brain, his team has been harnessing them to record brain activity, to learn more about how our memory works.   Johnson says that once we know how a healthy brain functions, we should be able to mimic it.  The goal is to restore function in people with memory disorders by stimulating the same pattern of activity.  Berger has had enough success with animals that he has begun experiments with people.

Johnson says, “The idea is that if you have a loss of memory function, then you could build a prosthetic for the hippocampus that would help restore the circuitry and restore memory.”

It is both appropriate and fair that people with memory disorders will be the first to try the device.  Johnson says, “The first potential superhumans are those who have deficits to start with.”  He then plans to develop the prosthesis to enhance memory and potentially other functions in healthy people.  His vision of the future is one in which it is normal for people to walk around with chips in their brains, providing them with a cognitive boost.

Johnson has put up $100 million of his own to go on developing such a device.  It will be as tiny and easy to implant as possible, while still being able to record or stimulate multiple neurons.  The research also involved working on ways to develop rules that underly patterns of activity that dictate normal brain function for an individual.

Johnson says “If we can mimic the natural function of the brain, then I posit the question, what can’t we do?”  Could we learn a thousand times faster?  Could we choose which memories to keep and which to get rid of?  Could we have a connection with our computers?”

Note that Johnson is asking questions and not making promises.  To be sure this is high risk research, but it is one that is based on viable approach, unlike Kurzweil’s proposal.  Johnson has identified necessary first steps on the way to a marriage between the brain and silicon.

© 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.

Motivated Reasoning, Cognitive Dualism, and Scientific Curiosity

December 4, 2016

This post is based on a Feature Article by Dan Jones titled “Seeing reason:  How to change minds in a ‘post-fact’ world, in the December 3, 2016 issue of the New Scientist.   The article notes that politicians spin and politicians lie and that that has always been the case, and to an extent it is a natural product of a free democratic culture.  But Jones goes on to note, “Even so we do appear  to have entered a new era of ‘post-truth politics’, where the strongest currency is what satirist Stephen Colbert had dubbed ‘truthiness’:  claims that feel right, even if they have no basis in fact, and which people want to believe because they fit their pre-existing attitudes.”

However, facts are important, as Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College notes, “We need to have discussions that are based on a common set of accepted facts, and when we don’t, it’s hard to have a useful democratic debate.”  As Jones writes, “In the real world of flesh-and-blood humans, reasoning often starts with established conclusions and works back to find “facts” that support what we already believe.  And if we’re presented with facts that contradict our beliefs, we find clever ways to dismiss them.”  Psychologists call this lawyerly tendency motivated reasoning.

A Pew Research Center survey released  before the US election showed that compared with Democrats, Republicans are less likely to believe that scientists know that climate change is occurring, that they understand its causes, or that they fully and accurately report their findings.  They are also more likely to believe that scientists’ research is driven by careerism and political views.  Many liberals think this is a product of scientific illiteracy, which if addressed would bring everyone around to the same position.  Unfortunately, research by Dan Kahan at Yale University has shown that, in contrast to liberals, among conservatives it is the most scientifically literate who are less likely to accept climate change.  Kahn says, “Polarisation over climate change isn’t due to a lack of capacity to understand the issues.  Those who are most proficient at making sense of scientific information are the most polarized.

Kahan attributes this apparent paradox to motivated reasoning, the better one is at handling scientific information, the better one is at confirming his own bias and writing off inconvenient truths. For climate-change deniers studies suggest that motivation is often the endorsement of free-market ideology, which includes objections to government regulation of business that is required to address climate change.  Psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Bristol says, “If I ask people four questions about the free market, I can predict attributes towards climate science with 60% accuracy.”

Jones writes, “But liberal smugness has no place here.  Consider gun control.  Liberals tend to want tighter gun laws, because, they argue, fewer guns would translate into fewer gun crimes.  Conservatives typically respond that with fewer guns in hand, criminals can attack the innocent with impunity.”

In spite by the best efforts of criminologists, the evidence on this issue is mixed.  Kahan has found that both liberals and conservatives react to statistical information about the effects of gun control in the same way:  they accept what fits in with the broad beliefs of their political group, and discount that which doesn’t.  Kahn writes, “The more numerate you are, the more distorted your perception of the data.”  Motivated reasoning is found on other contentious issues from the death penalty and drug legalization to fracking and immigration.

The UK’s Brexit both provides another compelling case study on the distorting power of motivated reasoning.  Researchers at the Online Privacy Foundation found that both Remainers and Brexiteers could accurately interpret statistical information when it came to assessing whether a new skin cream caused a rash, their numeracy skills abandoned them when looking at stats that undermined rationales for their views such as figures on whether immigration is linked to an increase or a decrease in crime.

It is not just a matter of political ideology.  Although the bogus link between autism and the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella is often portrayed as a liberal obsession, it cuts across politics.  Nyhan says, “There’s no demographic factor that predicts who is most vulnerable to anti-vaccine claims.”

It should not be concluded that myth-busting is a waste of time.   Nyhan and Reifler found that during the 2014 midterm elections in the US fact-checking improved the accuracy of people’s beliefs even when it went against ingrained biases.  Both Democrats and Republicans updated their beliefs after having a claim debunked.

Emily Thomson of George Washington University found that misconceptions of issues like how much of the US debt China owns, whether there’s  a federal time limit for receiving welfare benefits, and who pays for Social Security could be fixed by a single corrective statement.

Unfortunately the bad news is that myth-busting loses its power on salient and controversial issues.  Nyhan says, “It’s most effective for topics that we’re least concerned about as a democracy.  Even the release of President Obama’s birth certificate had only a limited effect on people’s belief that he wasn’t born in this country.”  Thomson has found that even when corrections work, for example getting to accept that a congressman accused of taking campaign money from criminals did no such thing—the taint of the earlier claim often sticks to the innocent target.  This phenomenon is termed “belief echoes.”

Graphical presentation of information can be more effective than verbal presentations, but this benefit requires that people be able to read graphs.  Many people have difficulty understanding graphs, so simple graphs have a higher likelihood of success.

Kahan calls the ability to hold two seemingly contradictory beliefs at the same time “cognitive dualism.”  Cognitive dualism was found in a recent Pew survey on climate change:  just 15% of conservative Republicans agreed that human activity was causing climate change, but 27% agreed that if we change our ways to limit carbon emissions it would make a big difference in tackling climate change.  This same dualism was found among US farmers.  A 2013 survey found that only a minority accepted climate change as a fact.  Yet a majority believed that some farmers would be driven out of business by climate change, and the rest will have to change current practices and buy more insurance against climate-induced crop failures.  By buying crops genetically engineered to cope with climate change and purchasing specialist insurance polices, many of them already have.

Kahan has discovered something interesting about people who seek out and consume scientific information for personal pleasure,  He calls this trait scientific curiosity.  He has devised a scale for measuring this trait.  He and his colleagues have found that, unlike scientific literacy, scientific curiosity is linked to greater acceptance of human-caused climate change, regardless of political orientation.  On many issues, from attitudes towards porn and the legislation of marijuana, to immigration and fracking,scientific curiosity makes both liberal and conservatives converge on views closer to the facts.

So exploiting cognitive dualism and fostering scientific curiosity appear to be the most promising avenues to pursue.  It is important to remember that it is scientific curiosity rather than scientific literacy that is important 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.

To Treat Chronic Pain, Look to the Brain Not Body

December 3, 2016

This post is taken from a Feature Article by Jessica Hamzelou, “Hurt Blocker:  To treat chronic pain, look to the brain not body” in the 26 November 2016 Issue of the New Scientist.  It is becoming increasingly clear that the root causes of chronic pain will require more than drugs to break the cycle.  The answer lies in how the brain processes pain.

As has been mentioned in previous posts, there are two pathways for pain.  One is from the actual physical injury, whereas there is a second pathway for emotion linked pain.  Recent research indicates that signals from psychological pain networks may take over when the problem becomes chronic.

People can be trained to more directly influence their own brain activity and, potentially, turn down the pain signal.  Neurofeedback can be provided by placing electrodes on participants’ scalps that provide a real-time display of the brain’s electrical activity.  People can learn to alter their brain activity to dial down their pain.  Initial research suggest that neurofeedback might be useful for people with fibromyalgia, as well as those with chronic pain resulting from spinal cord injuries and cancer.

Mindfulness meditation can achieve something similar.  The goal is to achieve a state of ‘detached observation,’ which can help cope with pain.  Studies have suggested that it improves  various types of chronic pain, including fibromyalgia and lower back pain.  A study of 17 people who practiced mindfulness-based stress reduction found that, over time, meditators experienced increases in grey matter in regions of their brains involved in learning, memory, and emotion.  All of these influence pain perception.

The following is taken from a previous healthy memory blog post “Pain and the Second Dart:”
“A great way to return your mind to its “ground state,” neither overexcited nor torpid, simply alert and open, is to become aware of the natural rhythm of the breath as you inhale and exhale.  This is focused attention, prerequisite for the second state of mindfulness meditation:  insight.

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

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

Now that you have quieted your mind, allow your attention to broaden.  Whenever a positive or negative feeling arises, make it the focus of your meditation, noticing the bodily sensations associated with it:  perhaps a tightness, the heart beating faster or slower, butterflies in the stomach, relaxed or tensed muscles.  Whatever it is, address the feeling with friendly, objective curiosity.  You could silently label whatever arises in the mind, for example:  “There is anxiety,” “There is calm,: There is joy,” “There is boredom.”   Remember, everything is on the table, nothing is beneath your attention.
If you experience an ache or a pain, stitch or any other kind of discomfort, treat it in exactly the same way.  Turn the spotlight of your attention on the sensation but don’t allow yourself to get caught up in it.  Imagine that on the in-breath you are gently breathing air into the location where the sensation is strongest, then expelling it on the out-breath.  You may notice that when you explore the sensation with friendly curiosity—not trying to change it in any way, neither clinging to it or repressing it—the feeling will start to fade of its own accord.  When it has gone, return your full attention to your breath.

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

If a thought, emotion, or feeling becomes too strong or intrusive, you can always use the breath as a calm refuge, returning you whole attention to the breathing sensations at your nostrils.  Similarly if you feel you can’t cope with a pain such as stiffness in your legs, neck, or back, shift your posture accordingly.  But make your attention move to a mindful close rather than a reflex, and make the movement itself slow and deliberate.”
A previous healthy memory blog post, “Controlling Pain in Our Minds” explores this topic further and discusses the possibility of there being two different neural pathways processing the ‘two darts’.”

© 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.

Superagers with Amazing Memories Have Alzheimer’s Brain Plaques

November 30, 2016

The title of this post is identical to an UpFront News article in the 19 November 2016 issue of the New Scientist.  HM is hoping that healthymemory blog readers are asking, “Is this news?  I thought this was well known!”   Although this is not news, it remains a little known fact in the general public about  Alzheimer’s, when it is the most substantive fact existing about Alzheimers.

The article briefly summarizes work done by Aras Rezvanian and his colleagues at Northwestern University on brain samples donated by superagers to try to understand their exceptional memories.  Of the eight donated samples, two contained so many plaques and tangles that they looked like severe cases of Alzheimer’s.

But to repeat, this finding is not new.  Many such people have died.  Moreover these two individuals were not known to have Alzheimer’s.  After all, they were superagers.  And they died not knowing that they had the definitive symptoms for a diagnosis.

It would be good go  back and read the healthymemory blog “The Myth of Alzheimer’s.”   The senior author of this book is Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D, who was once a researcher earning a lucrative income looking for drugs to mitigate or eradicate Alzheimer’s. He came to the conclusion that such work is fruitless and is now working as a clinician treating and mitigating dementia cases.  Here is his advice, “”It is unlikely that there will ever be a panacea for brain aging and baby boomers should not rely on extraordinary advancements being made in their lifetimes in spite of the promises of the Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) empire that make their way into our headlines. Our attention must begin shifting from mythical cure to hard-earned prevention, from expecting a symptomatic treatment for AD to choosing behaviors that may delay the effects “of cognitve decline over the course of our lives.” Many, if not most, of the behaviors he discusses have been mentioned and advocated in the Healthymemory Blog.

The explanation for people living with the physical symptoms of Alzheimer’s but absent any of the behavioral and clinical symptoms of Alzheimer’s is that they have build up a cognitive reserve.  Cognitive activity, learning new things, is what builds up this cognitive reserve.  There are healthy memory blog posts on theoretical mechanisms for building cognitive reserves, but these posts are hypothetical conjectures.

That cognitive decline can be avoided by staying active has been known at least since the time of the Romans.   The Roman statesman Cicero held a view much more in line with modern-day medical wisdom that loss of mental function was not inevitable in the elderly and “affected only those old men who were weak-willed.”  HM would substitute  “not cognitively active” in the place of “weak-willed.”

When HM taught at a university he was amazed how so many students were able to get their degrees while spending a minimum of cognitive effort.  Other HM blog posts have argued that choices of News shows and political candidates might well be indications of the desire to spend the minimum in the way of cognitive effort.
In closing this post it should be noted that Alzheimer’s is not an inevitable consequence of aging, no matter how great an age is attained.  There are numerous documented supercentenarians (people living to 110+) that experienced no serious cognitive impairment.

© 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.

Move Knowledge from the Cloud Into Your Head

November 29, 2016

There is much in Poundstone’s “Head In the Cloud” that is not covered in this blog.  HM encourages the interested reader to read the book.  Poundstone provides strategies for sorting through the vast amounts of available information.  However, HM wants to make a single point.  The notion that everything can be found, so nothing needs to be remembered, is dangerously in error.  Hence the title of this post, Move Knowledge from the Cloud into your biological brain.  Of course, it would be both impractical and impossible to move everything to our biological brains.  Most information can be ignored.  Some information can be made available, but not immediately accessible.  This is information that can be readily found via searching, bookmarking, or downloading to another storage device.  However, there is other information that needs to be accessible in your biological memory.  The problem is how much information and where should it be stored.  The answer to this question is reminiscent of Goldilocks.  That is not too much, and not too little.  This varies from individual and depends upon the nature of the topic.

Poundstone seems to imply that what information needs to go where is a triage problem solved by the brain.  What he neglects to mention is that this should be a conscious process.  Do not passively assume that the brain will perform this function effectively.  It needs input from your conscious mind.  It requires thinking, Kahneman’s System 2 processing.  Effective cognition requires effective communication among what is available in technology and our fellow humans, what we can readily access from technology and our fellow humans, and what needs to be held in our biological brains.

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

Research Ties Fake News to Russia

November 28, 2016

The title of this post is identical to a front page story by Craig Timberg in the 25 November 2016 issue of the Washington Post.  The article begins, “The flood of ‘fake news’ this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump, and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.”

The article continues, “Russia’s increasingly sophisticated machinery—including thousands of bonnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts—echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers.  The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with the nuclear-armed Russia.”

Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment.  The sophistication of these Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news.”

Research was done by Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute has been tracking Russian propaganda since 2014 along with two other researchers,s  Andrew Weisburg and J.M. Berger.  This research can be found at warontherocks.com, “Trolling for Trump:  How Russia is Trying to Destroy our Democracy.”

Another group, PropOrNot, http://www.propornot.com/
plans to release its own findings today showing the startling reach and effectiveness of Russian propaganda campaigns.

Here are some tips for identifying fake news:

Examine the url, which sometimes are subtly changed.
Does the photo looked photoshopped or unrealistic (drop into Google images)
Cross check with other news sources.
Think about installing Chrome plug-ins to identify bad stuff.

The Fox News Effect

November 27, 2016

In 2012 a Fairleigh Dickinson University Survey reported that Fox News viewer knew less about current events that those who didn’t follow the news at all.  The survey did not include items on esoteric knowledge but rather basic facts such as “Which party has the most seats in the House of representatives, right now.  Fox News had failed to impart which party held the majority to many of its viewers.

Another survey involved twelve questions spanning current events, geography, science, religion, and personal finance.  Fox News viewers averaged 57% correct.  This was better than the no-news crowd, but the lowest of all the actual news sources.  The most informed news audiences, scoring over 65% included those who followed PBS, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and, believe it or not, The Daily Show.

Poundstone presents a variety of explanations for these results, even though they are based on correlational studies, so cause and effect cannot be ascertained.  These are all conjectures.

Since this is HM’s blog he is free to presents his own conjectures, so here they are, but readers should be aware that they are only conjectures.  Fox advertises that it presents fair and balanced news, but the fairness and the evenness of the balance depends on a particular point of view.  Fox has identified that point of view and caters its presentations to it.  As it has the largest audience, one can only conclude that it has been successful.

But this fairness and balancing requires neglecting certain information, information that might have been on the survey.  Even though many, if not most, Fox viewers have other sources of information, they tend to identify Fox with truth and neglect contrary information.  With a remote in hand a viewer can easily ignore information that is not validated by Fox.

The problem might not be so much one of being ill-informed, but of being wrongly informed.  HM’s interaction with Fox viewers has led him to believe that they live in an alternative reality that is not reflected in the lower performance of Fox viewers on these surveys.  HM has found this alternative reality to be most disturbing.

© 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 Knowledge Premium

November 26, 2016

The Knowledge Premium is a section in “Head In The Cloud,”  an important book by William Poundstone.  In this section he computes the monetary value of having facts in our brains as opposed to being in the cloud.  He uses regression techniques  to relate the scores on his knowledge of facts tests and to hold constant demographic variables such as differences in age and education.  This allows the computation of a knowledge premium, the increased income accountable to the test scores alone.  Poundstone created a trivia quiz that found that individuals who aced the test earned $94,959 and those who scored zero earned $40,360.  The difference, or knowledge premium is $54,599 a year.  Here are some of the questions that were used on this ten item test.

Who was Emily Dickinson—a chef, a poet, a designer, a philosopher or a reality-show star?
Which happened first, the US Civil War or the Battle of Waterloo?
Which artist created this painting?  (Shown was Picasso’s 1928 Painter and Model)
Which nation is Cuba? (Respondents had to locate it on a map)

These questions were characterized as trivial not because the information is unimportant, but because it seems to have nothing to do with basic survival or with make money.  But the statistic computed from this test says that it has a lot to do with making money.

Answers:  Dickinson was a poet; the Battle of Waterloo.  The Emily Dickinson question was answered by 93% correct, with about 70 to 75% answering the other questions correctly.

Two Scientists in Congress

November 25, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving 2016!

November 23, 2016

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

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

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

The Low-Information Electorate

November 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The One-in-Five Rule

November 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Facts Citizens Should Know

November 20, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Facts Citizens Should Know

November 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Head In The Cloud

November 18, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Can the US Heal Its Political Rift

November 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

System 2 Processing for Building a Cognitive Reserve

November 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Cognitive Activity Decreases the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

November 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cognitive Activity and Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

November 9, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does Talk By Trump Constitute a Threat?

November 7, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sick Memory

November 5, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vote for Christian Values, Not for Trump

November 2, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Donald Trump Manages to Do It

November 1, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything But a Healthy Memory

October 31, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wealth and Empathy

October 30, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are Video Games Luring Men From the Workforce?

October 29, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding Anxiety and How to Control It

October 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tired All the Time?

October 25, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evolution Evolves: Beyond the Selfish Gene

October 23, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Quote Worth Pondering

October 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

The Epigenetics Revolution

October 20, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does Your Family Make You Smarter?

October 18, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pain and the Second Dart

October 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mindfulness and Alzheimer’s

October 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Siddhartha’s Brain

October 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Epilogue

October 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Equality and the Next Generation

October 11, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Literacy and Freedom

October 10, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Violence and the Environment

October 9, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Expectancy and Poverty

October 8, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food and Sanitation

October 7, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future

October 6, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald Trump and Daniel Kahneman

October 4, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 2, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There Will Be a Hiatus in Healthymemory Blog Posts

September 18, 2016

There Will Be a Hiatus in Healthymemory Blog Posts

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

myth
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Herbert Benson
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Mindfulness
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Trump, The World’s Greatest Troll

September 17, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cyber Frontier

September 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Lies Beneath: The Deep Web

September 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cyberchondria and the Worried Well

September 13, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cyber Romance

September 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teenagers, Monkeys, and Mirrors

September 11, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frankenstein and the Little Girl

September 10, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cyber Babies

September 9, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Designed to Addict

September 8, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cyber Effect

September 7, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 Labor Day Post

September 5, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on the Universal Basic Income (UBI)

September 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading, Personal Development, & Empathy

September 2, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Post on Psychology as a STEM Discipline

September 1, 2016

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

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

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

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

Cognitive Science Should Be Taught in Elementary School

August 30, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mindfulness Needs to Be Taught in the Public Schools

August 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Need for Mathematics, Probability, and Statistics

August 26, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Computers in Our Brains

August 25, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Activities May Help Protect Memory

August 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why When Matters are Objectively Good Do We Feel So Bad? Part Two

August 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why When Matters are Objectively Good Do We Feel So Bad? Part One

August 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

How to Debunk Misinformation

August 17, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Facts Don’t Matter

August 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intelligent Design

August 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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