Posts Tagged ‘Albert Einstein’

Twilight of American Sanity

February 4, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an important book by Allen Francis, MD. The subtitle is “A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump.” The book begins with the following epigraphs:

The iniquity of the fathers will be visited on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.
———EXODUS

As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
——— H. L. MENCKEN

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
———ALBERT EINSTEIN

The title of the Prologue
Trump Isn’t Crazy, We Are

followed by this quote from FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE
Insanity in individuals is somewhat rare. But in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule.

Dr. Francis holds the distinction for being the author of the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He writes, “Trump’s amateur diagnosticians have all made the same fundamental error. They correctly note that the disorder’s defining features fit him like a glove (grandiose self-importance; preoccupations with being great; feeling special; having to hang out with special people; requiring constant admiration; feeling entitled lacking empathy; and being exploitative, envious, and arrogant.) But they fail to recognize that being a world-class narcissist doesn’t make Trump mentally ill. Crucial to the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the requirement that the behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment.” But Dr. Francis does concede that Trump is a bad person. Psychiatrists do have this requirement that the individual must be personally suffering distress to have a diagnosis of mental illness. By doing this, psychiatrists are making their job much easier. Unless a personal realizes they have a problem, the chances of treating it are remote. So to have the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but not being diagnosed as being mentally ill is actually worse, as there is virtually no hope of this individual being successfully treated for this disorder.

Dr. Francis goes on to state that there are three harmful unintended consequences of using psychiatric tools to discredit Trump. “First, lumping him with the mentally ill stigmatizes them more than it embarrasses him. Most mentally ill people are well behaved and well meaning, both of which Trump is decidedly not. Second, medicalizing Trump’s bad behavior underestimates him and distracts attention from the dangers of his policies. Trump is a political problem, not one for psychoanalysis. Instead of focusing on Trump’s motivations, we must counter his behaviors with political tools. And, third, were Trump to be removed from office, his successors (Pence and Ryan) would probably be much worse—more plausible purveyors of his very dangerous policies.” Although what Dr. Francis writes is true of domestic policies, he does not adequately consider the risks Trump presents with respect to foreign policies, control of the military and the nuclear football.

Dr. Francis continues, “But what does it say about us, the we elected someone so manifestly unfit and unprepared to determine mankind’s future? Trump is a symptom of a world in distress, not its sole cause. Blaming him for all our troubles misses the deeper, underlying societal sickness that made possible his unlikely ascent. Calling Trump crazy allows us to avoid confronting the craziness in our society—-if we want to get sane, we must first gain insight about ourselves. Simply put, Trump isn’t crazy, but our society is.”

More posts on this important book will directly follow.

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The Loss of a Neuroscientist Who Should Have Been Awarded a Nobel Prize

September 6, 2017

And that neuroscientist is Marian Diamond who passed away on July 25, 2017 at the age of ninety. Her painstaking research showed that the body’s three-pound seat of consciousness was a dynamic structure of beautiful complexity, capable of development even in old age.

Prior to her research it was strongly believed the nervous system was fixed. We were stuck with the brain we were born with. And any damage to the brain was irreparable. The brain was a static and unchangeable entity that simply degenerated as we age.

Inspired by the research of psychologist Donald Hebb, she began studying the brains of lab rats. Rats that were raised alone, in small and desolate cages, had more trouble navigating a maze than did rats were raised in “enriched” cages, with toys and rat playmates. Through painstaking analyses of these rat brains she found that the cerebral cortices of rats in “enriched” cages were about 6% thicker than the rats in the “impoverished” cages.

Her findings, published in a 1964 paper with three colleagues, were a pivotal contribution to the long-running debate between nature and nurture, which seeks to determine the extent to which a person is shaped by their genes or by their life experiences.. UC-Berkely professor Robert Knight said “The idea that the brain could change based on environmental input and stimulation was felt to be silly, and that’s the boat she completely sank.

Further research generalized these conclusions to humans. Neuroplasticity was found to be ubiquitous. We continue to generate neurons until we die.

Dr. Diamond went on to develop a rich theory of brain plasticity summarized in the phrase use it or lose it. She outlined the following five factors crucial to brain development at any age: diet, exercise, challenge, newness, and love.

Later in her career she was given several sections of Albert Einstein’s brain. She found an unusually high amount of glial cells, which were thought to be a relatively unimportant part of the tissue that held the brain together. This discovery launched renewed interest in the role of glial cells, which are now believed to play a crucial role in cognitive processes.

This post is based in part on an obituary by Harrison Smith in the 31July 2017 Washington Post.

 

Some Words from Einstein Worth Pondering

December 24, 2013

I found the following in Mindsight by Daniel J. Siegel (p.255): “In 1959 Albert Einstein received a letter from a rabbi who had lost one of his two daughters to an accidental death. What wisdom could he offered, the rabbi asked to help his remaining daughter as she mourned her sister? Here is what Einstein replied:

A human being is part of a whole. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and foundation for inner security.”

What Einstein’s Brain Tells Us

November 19, 2013

Fortunately Einstein’s heirs allowed for the removal of his brain for study after his demise. As the title of the Washington Post Article indicates “Einstein’s brain was more connected than most. His large corpus callosum, which helps the left and right hemispheres work together, is part of what made the physicist so creative, researchers say.”1 The corpus callosum runs nearly the full length of the brain from behind the forehead to the nape of the neck. Its dense network of neural fibers carries electrical signals between the two hemispheres that make brain regions with very different functions work together.

Peter U. Tse is a neuroscientist at Dartmouth College who studies the underpinnings of artistic, scientific, and mathematical creativity. He argues that “the ways in which we use our brains – and the consistency with which we do so – may matter more as we age.” “He noted that, while Einstein’s brain was much better connected than those of similarly aged men, it was not so different than those of young and healthy controls.”

“That might reflect the fact that Einstein continue to exercise his brain strenuously, forestalling much of the atrophy that comes with age.”

Although we are not Einsteins, it is the continuing theme of the healthmemory blog that we need to continue to exercise our brains strenuously.

1(2013) Healy, M. The Washingtonpost, 13 October, A4.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, 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 Temporal Doppler Effect

May 19, 2013

The Doppler Effect refers to frequencies of sound or light increasing as an object approaches and decreasing as the object recedes. The most familiar example of the Doppler Effect is of the frequency of a train whistle increasing as the train approaches and decreasing as the train whistle recedes. The most esoteric example of the Doppler Effect is the red shift of light indicating the age of the universe as the Big Bang recedes. Now it appears that there is also a psychological Doppler Effect.1

In one study, 95 undergraduates were asked either to think ahead to exactly one month from today or to think back to exactly one month ago today. The target day’s psychological distance was reported using a scale from 1 (a really short time from now) to 10 (a really long time from now). One month in the future was reported as being closer than one month in the past.

In another study, 98 Boston commuters were asked to think ahead to exactly one year from today or to think back to exactly one year from today. Again, one year in the future was perceived as being closer than one year in the past.

Yet a third study used Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk Service. 333 participants completed an online survey for $0.75. Participants took the survey either eight days before or seven days after Valentine’s Day. The survey consisted of a scale ranging from -3 (an extremely short time from now) to 3 (an extremely long time from now) to rate the psychological distance to or from Valentine’s Day. Again the results showed that the time ahead was perceived as shorter than the time past.

The final study used a virtual reality simulator to move the participants either forwards or backwards. Immediately after this virtually reality experience, the participants rated how far an event either three weeks in the future or three weeks in the past felt to them. Those who had had the virtual reality experience of moving forward again experienced the future as being closer than the past. However, this effect was mitigated for those who had experienced the backwards virtual reality experience. Although the simulation did mitigate the feeling of the future being more distant than the past, the difference was not statistically significant. Although the study involved 80 research participants, 40 experiencing forward virtual reality and 40 experiencing backwards virtual reality, it would not be surprising if a much larger research sample did achieve statistical significance at a conventional alpha level of 0.05 (the probability of incorrectly accepting the null hypothesis). The power of the statistical test (the probability of detecting a true difference) was not reported

There are both theoretical physicists and philosophers who have argued that time has no unique direction. Einstein remarked that time’s arrow is” …a gratuitous assumption).2 3 Regardless of the direction of time, it does have a psychological direction affected by the spatio-temporal direction. It would also appear to have adaptive value, as we need to cope with the time dominant future and draw upon the less time dominant past to help us succeed.

1Caruso, E.M., Boven, L.V., Chin, M., & Ward, A. (2013). The Temporal Doppler Effect: When the Future Feels Closer Than the Past. Psychological Science, a http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/03/07/09567612458804

2Einstein, A. (1955 March 21). [Letter to Vero Besso & Bice Rusconi-Bosso]. Albert Einstein Archives (7-245.10) Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.

3Mehlbert, H. (1962). Review of the book, The Direction of Time by H. Reichenbach. The Philosophical Review, 71, 99-104

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.