Posts Tagged ‘David Allen’

The Genius Within

December 21, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in “The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential” by David Allen. There are two general categories of savants. You have born savants, like the character portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the Rain Man. Although these individuals have what appear to be superhuman abilities, they are severely deficient in other areas. Acquired savants are those who acquire impressive capabilities as the result of some accident. It appears that an accident released some extraordinary capability(ies) from within. Brain scans of acquired savants seem to confirm that no idle regions of their brain springs into life. No part of that apocryphal unused 90% of the brain holds their secret. We all have the same equipment; it’s just that some people use it differently. Many different savant skills have been released by a bang on the head.

Orlando Serrell was ten years old and playing baseball with friends when, racing towards first base, he felt a flash of pain and fell to the ground. Flung by a playmate, the solid ball had struck him high on the left side of his head. Life changed for Orlando that day. It became a lot more memorable. He developed a powerful memory and could recall with remarkable detail the events and weather of every single day since his accident. He found that he could identify the day of the week given any date (so if asked what day 12 September 2018 occurred he would respond Wednesday). He could also tell you what day 6 October 1492 fell on.

Louise, an American woman fell heavily while skiing on a slope and broke her collarbone and banged her head. Over the following weeks she found that she could remember too much. She could recall and recreate with extraordinary deal the floor-plan of every building she had ever been through.

These cases seem to suggest that this information was always resident in memory, and a severe blow somehow gave them access to this information. This is similar to John Elder Robison who was autistic and could not read or feel emotion. After being treated with a magnetic field this capacity seemed to be reawakened in him. It seemed like he might always have had this capability, but there seemed to be something keeping him from gaining access to this capability.

Fortunately, suffering a head injury is not necessary to having an extraordinary memory.
There are people with highly superior autobiographical memories (HSAM), who are able to recall what happened in extraordinary detail on any given day. HM was unaware of these people until he viewed a piece on the TV Program Sixty Minutes. Dr. James McGaugh, a Research Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and a Fellow in the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California-Irvine, became aware of and started studying these extraordinary people. To the best of HM’s knowledge only about 34 such individuals had been identified and studied at that time. The nature of this recall ability as shown on Sixty Minutes was the ability to recall what happened on a specific day in the past. So if you asked one of them what happened on 6 August 1999, they would be able to tell you what day of the week that was, and what they did. They might even be able to tell you what they wore and what they ate. If they had watched a sporting event, they could tell the score and the particulars of the event. Marilu Henner, who most of us know from the TV show Taxi and who has had a very successful acting career, was one of the people on the show. When HM later learned that she had written a book, Total Memory Makeover, he was tempted to buy but was a little put off by the hype in the title. As HM looked further into it he learned that Marilu had a self-improvement business. So his initial decision was not to purchase the book. As time passed, he realized that he could not pass up the opportunity to learn what someone who had such a remarkable memory had to offer. It was a good decision. Here’s what Professor McGaugh wrote in the Foreword to the book. “This book is like no other book about memory, and the insights offered are unique. In these pages we learn from Marilu what it is like to have such a memory, why it is important to her, and why she thinks we can all benefit by taking steps to improve our own remembering. Readers will learn that Marilu is as well organized as she is thoughtful, insightful, enthusiastic, and, well, delightfully humorous. The advice she offers us may not turn all of us (or any of us) into HSAMers, but every reader will learn much about the importance of memory, as well as things we might do to help us maintain memories of our own personal experiences.”

Brain scans of Marilu have shown that certain brain structures important to memory, such as the hippocampus, are larger than normal. But it is important not to confuse cause and effect here. London cab drivers have also been found to have hippocampi larger than normal, but this has been attributed to them having to memorize the entire map of London. So it is likely that Marilu’s larger than normal memory structures are the result of her use of them rather than having been born with them.

HM found her home life significant. Her father emphasized anticipating an event, participating in the event, and then recollecting the event (her book is organized into three sections of anticipating, participating, and recollection). They liked to have parties and enjoyed the anticipation and the recollection of the parties, not just the participation in the parties. As a small child she would not only pay attention to the day, date, and month, but would also remember what happened during the day. Then she would periodically review what happened during a past day, week, or month. HM was gratified to learn this as HM suspected this is what these HSAMers had been doing. Most often, HM does not even know what day it is now and needs to consult a calendar. So HM pays little attention to when something is happening, and he does not systematically review what has happened during these dates. This is something that is entirely feasible, if one has the discipline. Recall actually increases as the time between recall attempts increases. So one might review what happened during the preceding week. Then not review it again until the next month. Then two months, four months, six months, one year, two years, four years. So systematic review is feasible and such review could result in becoming a blossoming HSAMer.

Marilu developed a variety of techniques throughout her life and shares them with you. She also discusses uses of technology and our fellow humans to enhance memory. This is termed transactive memory in the lingo of the healthymemory blog. She discusses memory games for friends, family, and for the development of the memories of children.

The book delivers what the title promises, a Total Memory Makeover. However, there is no requirement that the makeover be total. You can devote as much time as your interest and schedule permits. HM thinks whatever time you devote to this effort will foster a healthy memory. Virtually everything offered in the book will foster a healthy memory.

If you are a parent or grandparent, HM would strongly recommend that you get the book and use some of the games and exercises with your children. Perhaps the best gift you can give them is a healthy, well functioning memory. This is even more important with the temptation to rely increasingly on technology instead of our biological memories.

To learn more about HSAM enter “HSAM” into the search block of the healthy memory blog. For the most part HSAMers appear to be fairly normal, and they did not need to suffer head trauma to develop their impressive abilities.

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

Magnetic Fields

December 20, 2018

This post is based primarily on content in “The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential” by David Allen. The physicist Michael Faraday discovered that waving a bit of metal around inside a magnetic field can induce electronic current. He used this discovery to invent the electronic motor. There was a physician, Franz Anton Mesmer, who claimed human disease was caused by the movements of the sun and moon, which disturbed tides of invisible fluids in the atmosphere and inside the human body. He claimed that the nervous fluid inside people was magnetic, and the imbalance in this animal magnetism cause by the motions of the heavenly bodies could be fixed by applying magnets to the body of the patient.

Mesmer was quite a showman and achieved notable success. This was all quackery, and perhaps Mesmer actually believed his quackery, but if you’re wondering why this was effective consider placebo effects. In his practice he developed what he called mesmerism, but what is called hypnotism today.

There was a previous blog post on John Elder Robison (enter “Robison” into the healthy memory blog search box to find the post). John suffered from the autism spectrum. Specifically John could not feel or read emotions. Otherwise he was highly intelligent and normal as one could be with this disorder. Perhaps it is ironic, but he made his living for some time doing the electronics for rock groups. He understood what they did and how to produce the effects they wanted solely via his understanding of electronics. He had no emotional responses to the music.

John took part in a research study at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston on how people with autism process language. He had 30 minutes of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Because the focus of their research was language, the researchers targeted Broca’s area, part of the frontal lobe. They told him any effect would probably be mild and short-lived. Fortunately for John, they were wrong.

For the first time in his life, he felt emotions. He could now feel a response to music in additional to the intellectual understanding he had had. John revisited past experience and reassessed relationships. He realized that one of his friends was not what he seemed. What he had once thought was friendly chit-chat with him he now identified as ridicule and belittlement intended to single him out as different. John never spoke to him again. John’s wife suffered from serious depression. When he was autistic, this did not present a serious problem. Although he understood her depression, he did not feel her depression. After the treatment, he could feel her depression, and it became unbearable. Read the healthy memory post to learn more about his experiences. Better yet, read his book, “Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening.”

John communicated with a woman called Kim, who had undergone the same treatment and experienced a recovery similar to John’s. Unfortunately, her new ability quickly faded away. Her multicolor life snapped to monochrome. Kim said, “What am I going to do now? It’s like I’m haunted. I got a glimpse of those emotions but now it’s gone. So now I know what life is like for other people but it’s not that way for me.”

HM would very much like to see the results from this study. Were there any other successes? Did they last?

There is no true understanding how or why it worked for John. It’s almost like John’s brain had been making these emotional computations his whole life, but he could never read them out. The next post will contain reports of how some type of blow awakened unknown abilities. Perhaps it was not the specific treatment, but just some new shock to John’s brain that produced the change. Fortunately, this change has maintained.

Current Thinking

December 19, 2018

The title of this post is the same as a chapter title in “The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential” by David Allen. The use of electricity to alter the functioning of the brain and body has a long past. When George Orwell was shot in the throat during the Spanish Civil War in 1937, the medical treatment used to save and restore his voice included a routine blast of direct current, then known as electrotherapy.

While Tom Edison’s team was building the first electric chair, medics at Guy’s Hospital in London had established an Electrical Room to treat both physical and mental disorders. Electrical therapy was given to promote wound healing and to relieve pain and to try to treat various diseases including tuberculosis.

The results of these efforts were mixed, and the theoretical basis offered to support claimed clinical improvements was fuzzy. Some scientists said electricity acted as a fluid passed to the brain through the blood vessels. It was thought to both increase and reduce blood flow; it was described as both a sedative and a stimulant.

Mainstream science rediscovered these techniques in 1999. Psychologists in Germany interested in finding new ways to treat epilepsy used electrical brain stimulation to probe working memory and motor learning. This tinkering with electric current and the brain was not popular with colleagues. Allen writes that due to a shortage of volunteers they were forced to experiment on themselves and their families.

Although consistent definitive results have yet to be achieved, the potential pay-off for research on brain stimulation is extraordinary. Allen included these statement written about the possible applications of brain stimulation by proper scientists in professional academic books and journal, to be read by their equally proper peers:

“Contrary to the popular belief of “no pain, no gain” [brain stimulation] has been shown to accelerate learning and skill acquisition in complex learning tasks that normally take a long time to master and in a range of fundamental human capacities from motor and sensorimotor skills to mathematical cognition, with minimal discomfort or adverse side effects.

And:

Improved attention, perception, memory and other forms of cognition may lead to better performance at work, school,and in other aspects of everyday life. It may also reduce the cost, duration and overall impact of illness.

Still more:

A future with people wearing portable devices helping them stay awake during nightshifts or while driving a car, or improving their motor coordination during an intense track and field training session is becoming a more and more plausible and socially accepted scenario.

The potential, and limited research in this area, which is surprising when the potential big bucks are considered, is the reason there are do it yourselfers (DIYs) who build and purchase equipment to try this out for themselves. Enter ‘electronic brain stimulation’ into Google and you’ll find both equipment and doctors using electronic brain stimulation in their practices. There is also a Scientific American article on this subject.

The skull presents an obstacle to stimulating the brain directly with electricity. Most of the current from electrodes pressed to the outside of the head doesn’t pass through through into the brain. Upping the amount of current and the itchy tickling on the scalp worsens to an unpleasant burning sensation. Up it still further and the burning is not just a sensation.

Some neuroscientists have used lasers for better penetration. Researchers at the University of Texas took a low-level CG-5000 medical laser, approved to improve circulation and relieve muscle pain, and pointed it instead at people’s foreheads. They were trying to activate an enzyme in the frontal cortex called cytochrome oxidase, to help brain cells produce more energy and so work harder. It seemed to work.  Volunteers given the laser treatment performed better on tests of memory and attention.

Another approach is to use magnets, which is the topic of the next post.

So, What Makes a Brain Smart?

December 18, 2018

This post is based on “The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential” by David Allen. He writes, “Rather than being product of a specific brain region, general intelligence seems to come from how effectively various brain regions can work together. To solve a problem, parts of the temporal and occipital lobes, at the base and back of the brain, first take the raw signals that flood in from the eyes and ears and process them. This information is fed into the parietal cortex, a broad arch of brain tissue just under the crown, where it is annotated and labelled with meaning. It then goes forward to regions of the prefrontal cortex, sitting behind the forehead, which manipulates it, packages it into possible ideas or solutions, and tests them. As one solution emerges as preferred, another part of this prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate, is recruited to block the other, incorrect, responses. This model of intelligence is called the Pareto-Frontal Integration Theory (P-FIT). The better this P-FIT circuit works, then the more general intelligence a person will have.

A visible difference is in the way clever people fuel their brain activity. Brain scans of the way glucose is used to release energy, another proxy of mental activity, show that energy demand increases when the brain is put to work. In people who score high on intelligence tests the required increase is smaller. High intelligence is linked to efficient glucose consumption. Those with less effective brains need to burn more glucose to fire more neurons to solve the same problem. This could indicate more intelligent people need to recruit fewer neurons and set into action a smaller number of brain circuits. Understand, that this is not biologically or genetically determined. When we learn, these circuits become more efficient. One way of looking at learning is that it exercises these brain circuits making them more efficient.

Analysis of brain circuitry is a new focus for neuroscience. Intelligence circuits, like all those in the brain, rely on two types of communication: chemical and electrical.

Neuroscientists have shown the way these brain circuits activate is highly personal. Although we all use the brain’s P—FIT system to reason and problem-solve, we each do it in a slightly different way, recruiting a different number of neurons in a different order. Neuroscientists from Yale University found patterns of brain activity so personal that they served as a kind of neuronal fingerprint. The scientists could pick out and identify people from a large group of volunteers by mapping and then looking for their tell-tale patterns of brain connections as they performed cognitive exercises.

The Genius Within: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential

December 17, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a new book by David Allen. David Allen is a British journalist with a highly entertaining writing style. HM is envious of his writing style. So for a more enjoyable presentation of this material read the book. Much of the book will be ignored. Although it is both interesting and scholarly, it contains many red herrings with respect to genius. Foremost among them is the intelligence quotient (IQ). Mr. Allen is so captivated by IQ that he applied for the high IQ group Mensa. To join Mensa you need to have an IQ of at least 130. About 2% of the population would be eligible. Mr. Adam passed and in an effort to raise his IQ after different training attempts he managed to raise it by one point. This is well within the margin of error of IQ tests. He used the drug modafil, but it didn’t seem to help.

Mr. Allen did not find anything exceptional about members of Mensa. They were doing all right in life, but nothing exceptional. Much research has been done on the size and structure of the brain, but this research has not revealed anything substantive.

Mr. Allen does devote space to the evils of IQ testing. It has been used to disqualify large groups and races as being intellectually inferior. It has been used to justify sterilization and even the killing of what was regarded as inferior populations. To learn more about IQ tests enter “Flynn” into the search block of the healthy memory blog. To learn more about the inadequacy of intelligence tests enter “Stanovich” into the search block of the healthy memory blog.

Perhaps the worse effect of IQ is that it has led people to believe that they are not smart and are unlikely to succeed at anything difficult. What has found to be important for IQ is mindset.[enter “mindset” into the search block of the healthy memory blog] The psychologist Carol Dweck has identified two kinds of mindsets: fixed and growth.  People with a fixed mindset believe that we are who we are, and abilities can only be revealed, not created and developed.  They say things like “I’m bad in math” and see that as a fixed feature like being female or left-handed.  The problem with this mindset is that it has serious consequences because a person who thinks they are poor at math will remain poor at math and won’t try hard to improve; they believe this would be pointless.  Whatever potential these people have will not be realized if they think that these skills are immutable.

However, people with growth mindsets believe that skills can be developed if they are worked at. The growth mindset is the true mindset that allows for personal development.  Fixed mindsets are erroneous mindsets that preclude further development. Dweck has conducted experiments that illustrate and provide insight into this difference.  In one experiment she gave relatively easy puzzles to fifth graders, which they enjoyed. Then she gave the children harder puzzles. Some children suddenly lost interest and declined an offer to take the puzzles home.  Other children loved the harder puzzles more than the easy ones and wanted to know how they could get more of these puzzles.  Dweck noted that the difference between the two groups was not “puzzle-solving talent.”  Among the equally adept children, some were turned off by the tougher challenge while others were intrigued.  They key factor was mindset. In another experiment Dweck found that even when people with the fixed-mindset try, they don’t get as much from the experience as those who believe they can grow.  She scanned the brains of volunteers as they answered hard questions, then were told whether  their answers were right or wrong and given information that could help them improve.  The scans showed that volunteers with a fixed mindset were fully engaged when they were told whether their answers were right or wrong, but that’s all they apparently cared about.  Information that could help them improve their answers didn’t engage them.  Even when they’d  gotten an answer wrong, they were not interested in what the right answer was.  Only people with a growth mindset paid close attention  to information that could stretch their knowledge.  For them, learning was a top priority.

Too many people try something, have difficulty doing it, and then abandon it thinking that pursuing it will be a waste of time. However, there are many people who were not discouraged by their initial failures. Rather they regarded these failures as motivation to succeed and became very successful in their pursuits. Barbara Oakley is a prime example. [Enter “Oakley” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to find relevant posts.] Barbara Oakley is someone who despised mathematics, but who eventually decided that mathematics would be critical to her success. She began work slowly but diligently. And she discovered as her skills improved, she began to increasingly like mathematics, which ultimately led her to becoming a highly successful engineer.

The take away lesson here is not to let any one or any test define you. Define yourself and then work diligently to succeed.

Perhaps more important than professional success is personal success and personal fulfillment. Rather than a number, you want to have personal knowledge and skills that result from growth mindsets.

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