Posts Tagged ‘Kahneman’

Grand Delusions: Why We all Believe the Weirdest Things

November 19, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature article by Dan Jones in the 18 November 2017 issue of the New Scientist.

Delusions are irrational, and they are idiosyncratic, in that the belief is not widely shared. Moreover, the idiosyncratic nature of delusions makes them isolating and alienating in a way that believing, say, a conspiracy theory does not. Delusions also tend to be much more personal than other irrational beliefs, and they usually conform to one of a handful of themes. Despite being diverse and idiosyncratic, delusions cluster into a few core themes.

Persecutory Delusions: beliefs that others are out to harm you. This is the most common type of delusion, affecting between 10% and 15% of people.

Referential Delusions: beliefs that things happening the world—from news headlines to song lyrics—relate directly to you. Persecutory and referential delusions often go hand in hand.

Control Delusions: beliefs that your thought or behaviors are being manipulated by outside agents. Such delusions are common in schizophrenia.

Erotomania Delusions: beliefs that someone who you don’t know, typically a celebrity, is in love with you.

Grandiose Delusions: unfounded beliefs the you are exceptionally talented, insightful or otherwise better than the hoi polloi.

Jealous Delusions: irrational beliefs that your partner is being unfaithful. This is the type of delusion most commonly associated with violence.

Somatic Delusions: erroneous beliefs about the body. In Ekbom’s syndrome, people believe they are infested with parasites. People with Coward delusion believe they are dead or don’t exist.

Misidentification Delusions: beliefs that changed identity. A classic is Capers delusion, where people believe that a loved one has been replaced by a doppelgänger.

An everyday reason that people hold implausible beliefs is a tendency to jump to conclusions on the basis of limited evidence.The proneness to do this can be measured with a simple experiment. Imagine two jars containing a mix of black and orange beads: one contains 85% black beads and 15% orange, and the other has the reverse proportions. You select a bead from one, without know which it is. Let’s say the bead is orange. You are then asked whether you would like to make a call on which jar you are taking the heads from, or whether you want to draw another bead to help work it out. It is prudent to examine a few beads at least as it is quite possible to draw two orange beads from a jar with mostly black, and vice versa. Yet about 70% of people being treated for delusion make a judgement after seeing just one or two beads. Only 10% of the general population are as quick to jump to conclusions, but the more prone you are to delusional thinking, the fewer beads you are likely to sample before making your decision.

This jumping-to-conclusions bias might seem stupid, but it isn’t s a sign of low intelligence, according to clinical psychologist Phillipa Garety at KIng’s College, London. Instead, she invokes Kahneman’s System 1, System 2 model of cognition. System 1 is the default mode of processing that occurs automatically. System 2, commonly referred to as thinking, takes mental effort. One of System 2’s responsibilities is to monitor System 1 for errors, but that requires mental effort. The more analytic a person is, the more System 2 is engaged. Dr Garety kindly terms people more prone to System 1 processing as “intuitive.” She says, “It’s not that people with a jumping-to-conclusions bias don’t understand or can’t use evidence. They’re just overusing System 1 at the expense of System2.” Her latest study confirms the these “intuitive thinkers” are also more prone to clinical delusions.

The following 21 questions constitute the Peter’s Delusion Inventory, which is the most widely used measure of delusion proneness. Give yourself one point for each “yes” and zero points for each “no” then tot up your score

Do you ever feel as if people seem to drop hints about you or say things with a double meaning?
Do you ever feel as if things in magazines or on TV were written especially for you?
Do you even feel as if some people are not what they seem to be?
Do you ever feel as if you are being persecuted in some way?
Do you feel as if there is a conspiracy against you?
Do you feel as if you are, or destined to be someone very important?
Do you ever feel that you are a very special or unusual person?
Do you ever feel that you are especially close to God?
Do you ever think people can communicate telepathically?
Do you ever feel as if electrical devices such as computer can influence the way you think?
Do you ever feel as if you have been chosen by God in some way?
Do you believe in the power of witchcraft, voodoo, or the occult?
Are you often worried that your partner may be unfaithful?
Do you ever feel that you have sinned more than the average person?
Do you ever feel that people look at you oddly because of your appearance?
Do you ever feel as if you had no thought in your head at all?
Do you ever feel as if the world is about to end?
Do your thoughts every feel alien to you in some way?
Have your thoughts been so vivid that you were worried other people would hear them?
Do you ever feel as if our own thoughts were being echoed back o you?
Do you ever feel as if you are a robot or zombie without a will of your own?
If your score is 1-5 you are less prone to delusions than most. Your thinking style is probably more analytical than intuitive.

If your score is 6-7, Congratulations. You are normal. The average score is 6.7 with no difference between men and women.

If your score is 8-21 you are more prone to delusions than most. You are likely to think intuitively and jump to conclusions.

Advertisements

What Cognitive Science Tells Us About Trump

November 6, 2017

The immediately preceding post reviews three effects from Cognitive Science that explain much of what and why Donald Trump does. The first is the Dunning-Kruger Effect which states people tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. And this is because people who are unskilled in the domain suffer a dual burden: not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. It is clear that Trump could not pass a high school civics test. He is a president who has no idea how government works. He thought he could get things done by firing and threatening to fire people. It worked on his show so he is surprised that it does not work in government. There are three independent branches of government. He has control of only one. He is also the leader of the Republican Party. But party members cannot be ordered to do something; they must be convinced that it is in their and their constituents interest. To do this requires some knowledge of the laws and policies he is advocating. He is very short on knowledge, and his opinions vary over time

He has also said that he does not need advisers, that he knows what needs to be done and he’ll do it. He had his cabinet members sing his praises for what he had done when he had not done anything. This is something that is done in North Korea, not the United States. The President needs to understand many different and complex topics. That he thinks he can operate on his own without advisers shows the depth of his ignorance. He needs advice, good advice, but he is woefully unaware of his own ignorance.

Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition is also relevant here. 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. Trump rarely, if ever, uses System 2. Indeed, one doubts that he is capable of System 2 processing. He works almost exclusively in the emotional, System 1, domain. So he is unaware when he contradicts himself. It is somewhat ironic, but this is also the basis of his success. Too many citizens never use System 2 processes and work almost exclusively on what they feel in their guts. In this sense, they are simpatico with Trump.

Then there is classical conditioning that Pavlov found with his salivating dogs. He paired the ringing of a bell with the presentation of food. The dogs became conditioned, so that they salivated just upon hearing the bell. Whomever or whatever Trump does not like he attacks with names that become conditioned to the targets of his attacks. “Crooked Hillary,” “Little Marco,” “faux news.” These terms continue to be used over and over. This is how “Big Lies” work.

These factors make Trump the worst president this country has ever suffered, and we can only hope and pray that our country will survive.

Should anyone wonder why this post, which is apparently political, is in the healthy memory blog is because System 2 processing is essential for a healthy memory. It is also important for an effective democracy.

© 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.

Hillary’s High Negatives

November 3, 2017

Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote. Unfortunately, she lost the Electoral College and hence, the presidency. It is interesting that the primary justification for the Electoral College was to prevent a political unknown who did not understand how government worked from being elected. Well, that happened, so it seems that the justification for the Electoral College is gone. So let’s go to a popular election where all citizens’ votes count. There is no justification for the votes of citizens in lowly populated states counting for more than votes of citizens in highly populated states. The argument that politicians will not campaign there is irrelevant. They should campaign where most voters reside. Every state gets two senators so small states already have a disproportionally heavier weight in Congress.

The continual drumbeat throughout the election was that Hillary had high negatives. Now some voters did resent Hillary trying to drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. They are certainly entitled to their opinion, but the failure to modernize will ultimately have disastrous effects. But many seemed to have a seething rage and could not articulate why. A explanation can be found by adding one psychological effect to the Dunning-Kruger Effect and Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition that were discussed in the immediately preceding post. The following is repeated from the immediately preceding post, ““people tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. And this is because people who are unskilled in the domain suffer a dual burden: not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.” Here is how Dunning explained in “Politico” why so many people seemed untroubled by Trump’s ignorance or gaffes. “Many voters, “especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes. They fail to recognize those gaffes as missteps.” He noted that the problem was not simply that voters were ignorant, “it is that they are often misinformed—their heads filled with false data, facts and theories that can lead to misguided conclusions held with tenacious confidence and extreme partisanship…”

According to Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition, 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.

So the answer to why are so many people willing to believe is that they believe fake news because they wanted to and because it was easy. Ideally we might assume that people want to seek out information that is true, but this is a basic misunderstanding of the human psyche, which feels more comfortable with familiar information or stories that confirm their biases. Kahneman refers to this as “cognitive ease,” the process by which we avoid and resist inconvenient facts that might make us have to think harder. It is much, much easier to bask in a flow of information that tells us that we have been right all along and confirms our view of the world. So many of these facts are so outlandish that it is hard to understand how they can possibly be believed. Cognitive ease is further confounded by the Dunning-Krueger Effect, as more and more false information simply increases the feeling that one truly knows and this can and does build into the construction of alternative (false) realities.

HM’s personal favorite faux belief about Hillary was that she was running a sex ring using children in Washington. Someone even showed up at the place where this sex ring was supposedly being run with a rifle and shot at people.

The other relevant psychological effect is classical conditioning. Most people have heard about Pavlov’s salivating dogs. By pairing a bell with food, the dog’s learn to salivate at the sound of the bell alone. By pairing something bad with the name “Hillary Clinton” negative connotations and denotations are planted in the mind. Hence, high negatives are created. As System 1 is emotional and not cognitive it provides an explanation of negative feelings that could not be articulated. Social media, aided and abetted by Russia had an especially large effect here.

The final paragraph from the preceding post is also relevant here. Social psychology also plays an important role here. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes the power of tribalism in shaping our ideas. He wrote in “The Righteous Mind,” Once people join a political team they get ensnared in its moral matrix. They see confirmation of their grand narrative everywhere, and it’s difficult—perhaps impossible—to convince them that they are wrong if you argue with them outside the matrix. Political Scientist Don Kinder writes that political opinions become “badges of social membership.”

A majority of citizens did vote for Hillary, but they were not rewarded with her winning the presidency. This is especially unfortunate as many believe that she was the most qualified candidate who ever ran for the presidency. And these people could actually articulate their reasons.

Should anyone wonder why this post, which is apparently political, is in the healthy memory blog is because System 2 processing is essential for a healthy memory. It is also important for an effective democracy.

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

Why the Right Lost Its Mind

October 31, 2017

“How the Right Lost Its Mind” is an important book by the conservative, Charles J. Sykes. He reviews the history of the political right from the John Birch Society through William F. Buckley up to Breitbart and Donald Trump. At one time Sykes was a respected conservative. No longer. George Will resigned from the Republican Party, and Ronald Reagan is probably thrashing about in his grave. Sykes reviews the history of the reasons for this change that includes the key individuals, organizations, and the revolutionary changes in technology. He provides a compelling account of the reasons for the insanity in which we are living. The purpose of this post is to provide some key parts of cognitive psychology to explain why such chaos has resulted.

To Sykes credit, he includes these concepts in the book. They are especially important here because they are also examples of what makes memories unhealthy. One is the Dunning-Kruger effect, which has been written about in this blog previously. Research has found that “people tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. And this is because people who are unskilled in the domain suffer a dual burden: not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.” Here is how Dunning explained in “Politico” why so many people seemed untroubled by Trump’s ignorance or gaffes. “Many voters, “especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes. They fail to recognize those gaffes as missteps.” He noted that the problem was not simply that voters were ignorant, “it is that they are often misinformed—their heads filled with false data, facts and theories that can lead to misguided conclusions held with tenacious confidence and extreme partisanship…”

Much has been written in this blog about Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel 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.

For new information, our default is accept. We would advance very slowly if we questioned everything we heard, everything we encountered. However, it is the role of System 2 processes to monitor System 1 to correct any errors. This can be illustrated by presenting statements to a participant and monitoring responses recorded from the brain. If the statement accords with the person’s beliefs, there is little activity. However, if the statement does not accord with a the person’s beliefs, there is a noticeable signal in the brain. At this point the person can either ignore the information or decide to think about it further. Remember that System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking. And remember that System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes.

So the answer to why are so many people willing to believe is that they believe fake news because they wanted to and because it was easy. Ideally we might assume that people want to seek out information that is true, but this is a basic misunderstanding of the human psyche, which feels more comfortable with familiar information or stories that confirm their biases. Kahneman refers to this as “cognitive ease,” the process by which we avoid and resist inconvenient facts that might make us have to think harder. It is much, much easier to bask in a flow of information that tells that we have been right all along and confirmed our view of the world. So many of these facts are so outlandish that it is hard to understand how they can possibly be believed. Cognitive ease is further confounded by the Dunning-Krueger Effect, as more and more false information simply increases the feeling that one truly knows and this can and does build into the construction of alternative (false) realities.

Social psychology also plays an important role here. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes the power of tribalism in shaping our ideas. He wrote in “The Righteous Mind,” Once people join a political team they get ensnared in its moral matrix. They see confirmation of their grand narrative everywhere, and it’s difficult—perhaps impossible—to convince them that they are wrong if you argue with them outside the matrix. Political Scientist Don Kinder writes that political opinions become “badges of social membership.”

Why Does Misinformation Spread?

September 9, 2017

Psychological science has identified several seeds of false beliefs.

One is the power of mere repetition.
How often have people heard or read it: Climate change is a hoax. Islamic terrorism is a grave threat to the United States (never mind that, of 230,000 murders since 9/11, only 123 have been perpetuated by Muslims. Moreover, Islamic terrorists have killed many orders of magnitude more fellow Mulsims then Christians.
Mere repetition makes statements easier to process and remember. The power of familiar, hard-to-ease falsehoods and fake news is appreciated by political manipulators, from those in Orwelll’s “1984” to those running today’s presidential campaigns. Unfortunately, rebuttals sometimes backfire because they repeat the myth.

The power of confirmation bias.
In a may 2016 national survey, those favorable to Trump believed Obama was Muslim rather than Christian by a 65% to 13% margin. Those unfavorable to Trump believed the reverse by a mirror image of 64% to 13%.

The power of cognitively available anecdotes.
A brutal crime may make the world seem more violent that it actually is. Do not believe anecdotes. Insist upon data and statistics. Remember, the plural of anecdote is not data.

The power of group polarization. Groups tend to have similar beliefs. Indeed that is likely why the group has formed. However, do not blame this on the internet. (See the healthy memory blog post, “The Truth About the Internet.”

To understand why misinformation spreads as well as how to counter this misinformation. Kahneman’s Two Process View of Cognition can be quite helpful. System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. Islamophobic responses are essentially System 1 responses. Learning is associative and slow. For something to become a System 1 process requires much repetition and practice. Activities such as walking, driving, and conversation are primarily System 1 processes. They occur rapidly and with little apparent effort. We would not have survived if we could not do this types of processing rapidly. But this speed of processing is purchased at a cost, the possibility of errors, biases, and illusions. System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through.

Moreover, System 1 is the default mode of processing. So when you read or hear something, the default mode is to believe it. Then further repetitions serve to consolidate this belief. Remember that one of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors. However, to do so require cognitive effort, thinking. So it pays to examine your beliefs carefully to see if they’re justified and whether they should be disbanded or modified.

This post is largely based on an article by David G. Myers titled Misinformation, Misconceptions, and our Teaching Mission in the Association for Psychological Science publication “Observer, September 2017.

© 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.

Effectively Countering Islamophobia

September 2, 2017

The immediately preceding post on Obama’s Prime-time Address After the Mass Shooting in San Bernadino indicated that President’s Obama’s appeal to our better nature failed. Worse yet, it was counterproductive, with Islamophobia increasing, not decreasing. As promised, here is a more effective presentation President Obama made two months after that original piece. This time Obama spent little time insisting on the value of tolerance. Instead he focused overwhelmingly on provoking people’s curiosity and changing their perceptions of Muslim Americans. He told us that many of the slaves from Africa were Muslim; Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had their own copies of the Koran; the first mosque on U.S. soil was in North Dakota; a Muslim American designed skyscrapers in Chicago. Obama again spoke of Muslim athletes and armed service members but also talked of Muslim police officers and firefighters, teachers, and doctors.

So what was wrong with Obama’s original address? He was telling many in his audience that their emotional responses were wrong. Kahneman’s Two System view of cognition can be helpful. System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. Islamophobic responses are essentially System 1 responses. Learning is associative and slow. For something to become a System 1 process requires much repetition and practice. Activities such as walking, driving, and conversation are primarily System 1 processes. They occur rapidly and with little apparent effort. We would not have survived if we could not do this types of processing rapidly. But this speed of processing is purchased at a cost, the possibility of errors, biases, and illusions. System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through.
In addition to engaging System 1 processes, many in the audience needed to justify their feelings. Consequently they made Google searchers hardening their views.

However, in his second address he bypassed System 1 processes by providing new information processing to System 2, which is what we commonly regard as thinking. So their views were not directly challenged in this nonthreatening presentation. New information was presented that might be further processed with a resulting decrease in Islamophobia.

Changing hardened beliefs is very difficult. Directly challenging these beliefs is counterproductive. So the approach needs to employ some sort of end run around these beliefs. That is what Obama did by providing nonthreatening information in his second address.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has developed some effective approaches in which people of different beliefs work together to solve a problem. This approach is difficult and time consuming but it has worked in a variety of circumstances. This approach is not likely to be universally applicable as it does require people of different beliefs to interact.

© 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.

Brain Training Games in Perspective

July 23, 2017

In the July 11, 2017 issue of the Washington Post there was an article by Jenna Gallegos titled “Brain training games fail to deliver exceptional cognitive boost, study finds”. This article summarized a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in which 128 young adults were tested for mental performance after playing either Luminosity brain-training games or regular video games for 10 weeks. Researchers saw no evidence that commercial brain training games lead to improvements in memory, decision-making, sustained attention, or ability to switch between mental tasks.

So what can do these results mean? Luminosity might want to work on developing games that will show improvements in mental performance when compared against regular video games. Suppose that either the current study had or a future study will show improvements in mental performance when compared to regular video games. Although these results would be positive, they would not prove that playing them warded off dementia.

It is already known that cognitive activity does decrease the likelihood of dementia, and that cognitive activity can produce a cognitive reserve such that even when the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s, the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, appear dementia might be delayed or forestalled altogether. After all, there have been autopsies performed on people whose brains were plagued with amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles who never exhibited any cognitive or behavioral symptoms of the disease.

The healthy memory blog has warned against waiting for drugs that prevent or cure Alzheimer’s (see the healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s). The healthy memory blog does recommend a healthy lifestyle that features growth mindsets for continually learning and meditation and mindfulness. Social activities are also an important part of this healthy lifestyle.

HM also argues that it is not just mental activity, but the type of mental activity that is important. Here it is important to understand the different types of cognitive activity Daniel Kahneman described in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow.”

System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. This processing is so fast that it is executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. Learning is associative and slow. For something to become a System 2 process much repetition and practice is required. Activities such as walking, driving, and conversation are primarily System 1 processes. They occur rapidly and with little apparent effort. We would not have survived if we could not do these types of processes rapidly. But this speed of processing is purchased at a cost, the possibility of errors, biases, and illusions.
System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly regard as thinking. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors do slip through. Learning, particularly the early stages, are largely a System 2 process.

System 1 processing occurs rapidly over frequently travelled pathways in the brain. However, System 2 processing involves traveling over many pathways, some which are little used to find supporting, refuting, or conflicting information, or in establishing new links for learning

It is HM’s conjecture that it is System 2 processing that is most beneficial to healthy memories, the formation of a cognitive reserve, and the forestalling or prevention of dementia.

So what types of experiments could test this hypothesis. Here are two possibilities;

One hypothesis is that voters who voted for Trump engaged primarily, if not exclusively ,in System 1 processing. and are more likely to suffer from dementia. Many, if not most, decisions were based on emotions, which are System 1 processes. Other decisions where based on religion or party affiliation. So these people were essentially just following orders. Even if people gave an answer such as jobs or the economy, did they bother to think critically how Trump promised to accomplish his promises, or were they just placing blind faith in Trump?

So the argument here is that voters who did not vote for Trump engaged in System 2 processing that kept them from making the error of voting for Trump. Consequently, they have healthier memories and are less likely to safer from dementia.

Another hypothesis is that viewers of Fox News are more likely to suffer from demential. Fox’s “Fair and Balanced” news is accomplished by presenting news that appeals to existing biases and beliefs. This enables Fox viewers to use System 1 processes almost exclusively and to avoid or minimize System 2 thinking.

But what about viewers who do not view Fox news? As they receive a wider range of views in the news coverage, some, but not all, of the news will require System 2 processing. In other words, these viewers will need to think more, which might well assist in building a cognitive reserve and warding off dementia.

© 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.

 

Ivan Pavlov and American Democracy

July 19, 2017

The question that should come to mind with this title is what does Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, have to do with American democracy? You should remember Pavlov from his drooling dogs. He would pair a sound, a buzzer for example, with food. After sufficient training the dogs would drool whenever they hear the buzzer. This was called the conditioned response (CR), that resulted from pairing a buzzer, the conditioned stimulus (CS), with the food. Pavlov earned a Nobel Prize for this finding. He is also regarded as a psychologist as conditioned stimuli became central to many theories in psychology.

When many conservatives hear about the success of the medical insurance provided to the citizens of other advanced countries their response is “socialism” or “socialized medicine,” and that’s the end to it. It is important to understand why they make these conditioned responses, as the conditioned response is the lowest form of behavior, being a highly simplified version of Kahneman’s System 1 processing. All their lives they have been conditioned to respond to government supplied medical insurance as socialism and to socialism as bad. Many have conflated socialism with communism, which makes it doubly bad.

So when you get this response, explain to them why they’re making this response. It is highly unlikely that they understand that this is a conditioned response rather than any sort of reasoned response that involves actual thinking. So before going further ask them to shove all their beliefs as far up their keisters as they can, and to provide a reasoned response as to their opposition to government provided medical care. Not surprisingly, it is likely that few will be willing to do this, so the interaction should end here. But if they can explain why these systems have been working well in Europe, be prepared to listen.

A response that you might get from someone about why they work in Europe, but will not work here is exceptionalism. HM finds this very concept wreaking of hubris. These countries consist of the same species and are from representatives democracies, not kleptocracies like Putin’s.

That Trump felt honored to meet Putin is very disturbing. In an earlier life, HM worked on classified programs and reviewed people who were applying for security clearances. If any one of them had expressed admiration for Putin, HM would have recommended strongly against their being given access to classified information. Consequently, he is disturbed to have a President who admires Putin.

© 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 Two Causal Reasoners Inside

July 5, 2017

This is the fourth post in the series The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Unabridged), written by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in that book. Drs. Sloman and Fernbach state that we are engaged in some type of causal reasoning almost all the time, but that not all causal reasoning is the same. Some of it is fast. It’s quick and automatic as when a man concludes that the reason his hand hurts is because he bashed it against the wall. Another type of causal reasoning is when we try to remember the causes of WW I.

This two process distinction goes beyond causal reasoning and can be used for all cognitive processing. Daniel Kahneman formulated this distinction in his best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.” There have been many previous posts on this topic. There are sixty-nine hits using Kahneman in the healthy memory blog search box. Normal conversation, driving, and skilled performance are dominated largely by System 1. System 1 is called intuition. When we have to stop and think about something, that is an example of System 2 processing, which is called reasoning. The psychologist Stanovich breaks down System 2 processing into instrumental and epistemic processing in his efforts to develop a Rational Quotient (RQ) that improves upon the standard IQ.

Professor Shane Frederick has introduced a simple test to determine whether a person is more intuitive or more deliberative. It’s called the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT). Here’s an example problem.

A bat and a ball cost $1.10. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

Do you think the answer is 10 cents? If you do, you’re in good company. Most people report that as the answer (including the majority of students in Ivy League colleges). !0 cents pops into almost everyone’s mind. This is the product of System 1 processing. However, if System 2 is engaged, one realizes that if the ball costs 10 cents and the bat costs $1 more than the ball, then the bat costs $1.10 and together they cost $1.20. So 10 cents is the wrong answer. The small proportion of people whose System 2 processes kick in, realize that 10 cents is wrong, and they are able to calculate the correct answer. Frederick refers to such people as reflective, meaning that they tend to suppress their intuitive reasons and deliberate before responding.

Here is another CRT problem.

In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it take 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half the lake?

The answer 24 comes to most people’s mind. But if the patch doubles in size every day, then if the lake is half covered on day 24, it would be fully covered on day 25. But the problem states that the lake is fully covered on day 48, so 24 can’t be correct. The correct answer is one day before it’s fully covered, day 47.

Here’s another CRT problem.

If it takes 5 machines to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?

Try to solve this on your own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The correct answer is 5 minutes (each machine takes 5 minutes to make one widget).

The solution to all three problems requires the invoking of System 2 processing. Less than 20% of the U.S. population gets all three problems correct. This finding might reflect a reluctance to think and might account for many of the problems the United States is facing. About 48% of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) got all three problems correct, but only 26% of Princeton students did.

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

Narratives and Reasoning

May 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myths of the Triune Brain and the Rational Human Mind

May 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

Science Should Inform Democracy

April 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside Knowledge: What Separates Fact from Belief

April 3, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

July 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

Think Like a Freak

July 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

July 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald Trump is Bending Reality to Get Into the American Psyche

July 18, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s the Passion?

July 11, 2016

(10th Post on GRIT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Journalism Shapes Public Discourse

June 26, 2016

This post is motivated by an article by Lisa Grossman in the Features section of June 18 20016 Issue of the New Scientist.  The topic is the concern among whites that in just a few decades most people in the US won’t be white.  The article reports research done by Jennifer Richeson.  She is addressing the increasingly prevalent media narrative in the US the because a rapidly changing racial demographics, the country will become a so-called majority-minority country.  If all members of self-identified  racial ethnic groups—Asian Americans, black Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, multi-ethnic individuals, and so on, somewhere around 2045 those groups will add up to 50.1% of the population, with white people in the “minority.”  Jennifer Richeson wanted to know how people are responding to this information.

So she asked white Americans to read about the changing demographics that point to this so-called majority-minority distinction.  Control groups of white American read information about other aspects of demography.  Afterwards the first group expressed more negative attitudes to a variety of racial groups, black, Latinos, Asian American.  She asked questions like “How much do you like members of these groups and found it on measures of unconscious racial attitudes tool.  It is a robust effect.   Moreover, when whites read about these racial shifts, they were also more likely to endorse politically conservative policies that were not race related such as drilling for fossil fuel in the Alaska wildlife refuge.

It is important to understand that this response is not unique to whites.  The same type of experiment was done with black Americans, but this time it was tailored to highlight growth and the threat of the Latino population.  The same basic result was obtained including a general shift to conservatism.  So Richeson argues that the issue is not racism, but other the threat of losing status.  This is psychologically threatening and a way to cope with this is by becoming more conservative.

In follow on research Richeson did  studies reminding whites that even if they were in a numerical minority they would still have greater wealth, better jobs, and better education and so are still going to be doing well in the status hierarchy, regardless of changes in the US racial distribution.  This reduced white people’s perceived threat about what’s going to happen to them, and then they show no difference in their expression of racial bias or conservatism than participants in the control condition.

At this point Healthy Memory (HM)  will ask the question as to why this issue was raised in the first place.  Is this some conspiracy by the conservative press to elicit racial disharmony and enhance conservative attitudes?  HM does not think so.  HM thinks that the motivation of the press is to increase readers, and contentious issues such as this increases readers.

Currently in the US there is the phenomenon of Donald Trump.  Trump has earned many millions of dollars in free press coverage because of his outlandish statements and insults.  Moreover, many of his statement are contradictory, yet he thrives.

There is an explanation for this phenomenon, but first a quick overview of Kahneman’s Two Process Theory is needed.  The fast processing which we normally do and allows us to respond so quickly is called System 1.  System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. It is so fast that operations are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1.  System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through.  (To learn more enter “Kahneman” into the healthy memory blog search block).

Our default mode is System 1.  System 2 requires thinking and mental effort.  Trump supporters do not do much System 2 processing, thinking, so little, if any, of what Trump says is evaluated.  His statements resonate with their biases so they become strong supporters.

Unfortunately for democracies to thrive, System 2 processing, thinking, is required.  The upcoming election will indicate whether there is sufficient System 2 processing for our democracy to survive and thrive.

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

Trump and Behavioral Economics

June 2, 2016

On the June 6 & 13, 2016 “New Yorker” Financial Page there is an article by James Surowiecki.  He is the regular “New Yorker” correspondent for economics, business, and finance.  He has also written a book that Healthymemory would highly recommend, “The Wisdom of Crowds.”  His article is titled “Losers” and it is about how behavioral economics explains the attitude of Trump supporters.  The field of behavioral economics was founded by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. There have been many, many healthy memory blog posts on this topic and about these authors.   Prospect Theory is key to behavioral economics and resulted in a Nobel Prize being awarded to Kahneman.  Unfortunately Tversky had already passed away when the award was made.

Surowiecki notes that Trump plays to one of the most powerful emotions in economic life, which is what behavioral economics call loss aversion.  The basic idea is that people feel the pain of loses much more than they feel the pleasure of gains.  Empirical studies estimate that, in general, losing is twice as painful as winning is enjoyable. Consequently, people will go to great lengths to avoid losses, and to recover what they’ve lost.

Suroweicki notes that Trump’s emphasis on losing is unusual  even in bleak times.  But he believes that it has worked for him, because it resonates with what many Republican voters already feel.  A study by the Pew Research Center last fall found that 79% of those who lean Republican believe that their side is losing politically.  A RAND survey in January found that voters who believed that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does” were 86.5% more likely to prefer Trump.  Trump supporters feel that they, and the country, are losing economically, too.  In the RAND survey, Trump did better  with the people who were the most dissatisfied with their economic situation, and exit polls from the Republican primaries show that almost 70% of those who voted for Trump were “very worried” about the state of the economy as compared to only forty-five % of all voters in Democratic primaries.

Surowiki notes some surprising things about all this.  The first is that, in objective terms, plenty of Trump supporters haven’t lost that much.  We’re familiar with Trump’s appeal among white working class voters, many of whom truly have seen wages stagnate and jobs dry up.  But Nate Silver has recently pointed out that the median Trump voter is actually better educated and richer than the average American.  But an important point of Kahneman and Tversky’s work is that people don’t look at their status objectively, they measure it relative to a reference point, and for many Republicans that reference point is a past time when they had more status and more economic security.  Kahneman argues that even people who simply aren’t doing as well as they expected to be doing feel a loss.  And people don’t adapt their expectations to new circumstances.  A study of loss aversion by Jack Levy concluded that, after losses, an individual will “continue” to use the status quo ex ante as her reference point.”  Suroweicki notes that Trump’s promise is precisely that he’s going to return America to the status quo ex ante.  He tells his supporters that he will will help recoup their losses and safeguard what they have.

Suroweicki goes on to say that the other surprising thing is that you might expect loss-averse voters to be leery of taking a risk on an unpredictable outsider like Trump, since loss aversion often makes people cautious:  offered the choice between five hundred dollars and a 50 % chance at a thousand dollars or nothing, most people take the sure thing.  However, loss aversion promotes caution only when people are considering gains; once people have sustained losses, impulses change dramatically.  Offered the choice between losing five hundred dollars and a 50% chance of losing a thousand dollars or nothing, most people prefer to gamble—opposite of what they did when presented with the chance to win a thousand dollars.  People are willing to run huge risks to avert or recover loses.  In the real world , this is why people hold falling stocks, hoping for a rebound rather than cutting their losses, and it’s why they double down after losing a bet.  For Trump’s voters, the Obama years have felt like a disaster.  Taking a flyer on Trump actually starts to feel sensible.

Suroweicki continues, noting that historical parallels are always tendentious, that loss aversion has been instrumental in the success of authoritarian movements around the world.   The political scientist Kurt Weyland has argued that it played a crucial role in the rise of such regimes in Latin American, where the fear of Communism drove putatively democratic societies toward the radical solution of strongman rule.  Suroweicki notes that Trump may not quite be an American Peron, but, to his his supporters, his unpredictability is a selling point rather than a flaw.

It is important to remember that the basis thesis of behavioral economics, a thesis that has ben consistently supported, is that humans do not behave or think rationally.  Rather they are driven by emotions.

Healthy memory feels compelled to note other facets of human cognition that contribute to flawed political decisions.  One is the success of the big lie and the continued persistence of these lies.  It is extremely difficult to correct these lies.

Another problem is  the fallibility of memory and how selective memory makes it difficult to correct erroneous beliefs.  Consider the Iraq war that the younger Bush took us into.  The weapons of mass destruction, on which the invasion was predicated, were never found.  France and Germany were urging Bush to delay an invasion until the inspection were completed and the existence of these weapons could have been ascertained.

It was also the case that the King of Jordan and Henry Kissinger warned Bush that an invasion would result in a broken country that would serve as a base for radical Islamist groups..  This is exactly what has happened.  So the costs of this war not just monetary, which added to the national debt, but more importantly human, produced a situation that is worse, not better, than what prevailed, before the beginning of the war.

People also seem to have forgotten the financial crisis left by the Bush administration that resulted in the very real possibility of a depression.  In spite of recalcitrant Republicans, Obama managed to prevent the depression and aid in an important economic recovery.  By most objective standards, the U.S. economy is in good shape, and the American economy is one of the best performing economies.

Healtymemory still wonders about Trump.  It is difficult for him to imagine Trump curling up with a copy of Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow.”  It is also difficult imagining Trump taking consul with an expert informing him how to exploit human information processing shortcomings for political gain.  Using the word “instinct” is inappropriate here, but Trump has a flair for exploiting human information processing shortcomings so that System 2 processing is avoided and System 1 prevails resulting in emotions rather than reasoning governing their voting.

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

Consciousness as an Emergent Phenomenon

May 19, 2016

Healthy memory has a great deal of difficulty trying to prove the obvious.  It is obvious to healtymemory that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon.  It is an output that emerges from the complex neuronal activity of the brain.  Moreover, this emergent phenomenon has a function.  And that is to use experience and information stored in the brain to make decisions and to decide on courses of action.  These conscious decisions imply a necessity for free will. Neuroscientists have concluded that all mammals and some invertebrates such as the octopus and many birds are conscious.  And presumably the reason for this is so that these creatures can decide among different courses of action.

As the vast majority of the activity of the brain is below the level of awareness actions can be taken on cognitive automatic pilot and errors can be made.  Consider how many times we need to say we’re sorry for saying or doing something.  This is due to a lack of conscious involvement.  One of the goals of the conscious mind is to monitor and make the best use of the nonconscious mind.  One can use Kahneman’s System One System Two distinction.  System One operates nonconsciously. System Two operates consciously and one of its responsibilities is to monitor outputs from the nonconscious mind.

It appears that many psychologists feel their status as scientists is questionable.  Consequently they see a need to appear to be rigorous.  The first example of this was behaviorism, where cognitive processes could not be included.  When it became quite obvious that this exclusion was severely hampering the progress of psychology, the cognitive revolution occurred.  Nevertheless, the question of whether humans could control their autonomic nervous systems ramained.  At the time there was plenty to data in the affirmative to indicate that humans could control their autonomic nervous systems.  Many Buddhist priests and monks, along with meditators of a variety of ilks.  These rigorous scientists regarded rigorous science as being an activity taken using college studies.  When students were unable to learn to monitor their autonomic nervous systems because they were unable to do so in the several hours that could be devoted to these rigorous experiments, these rigorous scientists concluded that humans could not control their autonomic systems.  As for these successful meditators, they were using some type of trick.  This trick was meditating for many hours.

Using the mind to change both the brain and the body will constitute the next stage of advancement in both psychology and medicine.  Using the mind implies free will.
Many psychologists and physicians are having difficulty accepting this and will need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future.  But that is where the future lies.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Plague of Our Time: Naive Realism

April 24, 2016

Everyone, not just healthy memory blog readers, should have a basic understanding of how our cognitive processes function. Absent this understanding, people are unknowingly likely to be naive realists. Naive realism has a restricted view in social psychology with respect to the perception of other people, but the broader meaning of naive realism is that people have direct knowledge of the world.

If you are a regular reader of the healthy memory blog, or if you only have read the immediately preceding post, you should be disabused of this notion.  Our cognitive processes build models of the external world.  These models are used by our memories to help us deal with the future.  Through learning these models are refined, but they are never complete and always need to be subject to change.  Absent any other information, we have the tendency to believe.  So as the result of our upbringing, schooling, and social acquaintances, we have a vast store of unexamined beliefs.  Our brain responds whenever information discordant with stated beliefs is encountered.  Remember Kahneman’s System 1 System 2 distinction.  System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1.  System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through. System 2 can be thought of as thinking.  Discordant information requires thinking.  The easiest route is to disregard the discordant information and go the cognitive miser route.

Our memories are highly fallible, and these shortcomings need always be taken into consideration.  Scientific reasoning provides methodologies for minimizing the fallibilities and shortcomings.  The scientific method provides the Gold Standard for accepting or rejecting beliefs.  Near the beginning of the eleventh century, al_Haytham, an Islamic scholar who lived in Basra and Cairo, wrote the Book of Optics,which included a theory of vision and a theory of sight.  According to one authority, “Ibn al-Haytham was the pioneer of the modern scientific method.  His book changed the meaning of the term “optics” and established experiments as the norm of proof in the field.  His investigations were not based on abstract theories, but on experimental evidence, and his experiments were systematic and repeatable.  Unlike the Greeks, in his theory of vision rays of light came from the objects seen rather than from the eyes that see them.  Some of the European contributors to the development of the scientific method are Robert Grosseteste (c. 1125-1253), Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1294), Galileo (1564-1642), Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Rene Descartes (1596-1650), and, of course, Isaac Newton(1643-1727).

The scientific method advances slowly, the speed of which has been accelerating.  It is primarily responsible for the development of our society today.  Actually, our society would have benefited from a greater application of the scientific method.  Unfortunately, too many do not believe scientific findings.  For example, in the United States, one of its major political parties refuses to accept the evidence for global warming.

Most of our problems stem from ideologies, and the True Believers (see Eric Hoffer) in these ideologies.  Ideologues do not need to think.  Their ideology informs them what the truth is and what to believe.  Any one or any organization demanding following ideological beliefs are to be avoided like the plague, because they are they plague incarnate.

Moreover, ideologues are the bane of democracy.  Democracy requires the consideration and evaluation of beliefs and evidence.  And they require compromise and negotiation, two requirements that are the bane of ideologues.

It needs to be understood that in our lives we never encounter absolute truth.  Rather we try as best we can through learning and science what are the best models to believe.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Socrates)

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Healthy Memory Revisited

April 21, 2016

As the healthy memory blog is coming back from a hiatus, it might be a good time to review its themes.  The first theme is the importance of having a growth mindset.  There are many healthy memory posts on this topic.  Basically it is a matter of wanting to learn and in believing that you can learn.  So a positive attitude is essential along with a desire to learn.  Having a growth mindset is important not only to having a healthy memory,  but also to living a fulfilling life.

Currently there is much concern about the ravages and costs of Alzheimer’s Disease.  An enormous amount of research is going on to develop drugs that will prevent or cure the disease.  These drugs target the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles that provide the signatures for an accurate diagnosis of this disease.  To this point, the few drugs that have been approved only slow the progression of the disease.  And some knowledgeable people believe that drugs will never be developed that actually prevent or cure the disease (se the healthy memory blog, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s).

A common assertion is that Alzheimer’s cannot be  prevented.  This statement is true if it is referring to the amyloid plaque or neurofibrillary tangles that are needed for a definitive diagnosis.  What is not usually mentioned is that many autopsies have been done on deceased individuals whose brains are wreaked with these neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques, but who never had any of the behavioral or cognitive manifestations of Alzheimer’s.  Whether these people would have ever exhibited any of the behavioral of cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s if they had lived longer will never be known.  The explanation offered for these people is that they had built up a cognitive reserve that prevented the cognitive and behavioral symptoms.  So even though they had the defining neurological substrates of the disease, there were no behavioral of cognitive manifestations.

The healthy memory blog asserts that having and using a growth mindset is key to developing this cognitive reserve.  Of course, exercise and a healthy lifestyle is important.  I find it ironic that physical exercise is always cited as beneficial, but rarely, if ever, the exercise of the most relevant organ, the brain.  Using a growth mindset exercises the brain.  I believe that certain computer games can be useful, along with playing bridge or doing crossword puzzles.  But a healthy memory mindset involves continuing to learn as long as one lives.  Be aware that new neurons continue to be created throughout one’s lifespan. but these new neurons quickly die unless they are engaged.  Engaging with one’s fellow humans as well as with technology (this is transactive memory ) is also essential.

An important part of a growth mindset is understanding how cognition works.  This is the second theme of the healthy memory blog, Human Memory:  Theory and Data. It is important to understand that we have no direct knowledge of the external world, as naive realists believe.  Rather we develop mental models of the external world.  The role of memory is more that one of storing information.  Memory takes in information and constructs models.  The purpose of memory is actually one of time travel.  It is using information from the past and models constructed from that information to predict the future.  Sometimes mental simulations are run to decide among different courses of action.

Another important concept is that of Noble Prize winning psychologist, Daniel Kahenman.  He has identified two processing systems.  System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1.  System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through. System 2 can be thought of as thinking.Kahneman

When new information is encountered, by default, it is believed.  Without this default, our learning would be dangerously slow.  However, whenever the brain encounters information that contradicts what we know, the brain responds and System 2 is activated.  System 2 requires attention and mental effort.  The easiest route is to discard or ignore discordant information.  This is the route chosen by the cognitive miser, who is not willing to expend the effort.  In the long run, the cognitive miser route leads to hardening of the categories, where we do not challenge and remain constant to our beliefs.  Of course, questioning everything would be maladaptive, so this must be done selectively.  But growth mindsets require heavy System 2 processing and the selective reexamination of prevailing beliefs.

Kahneman has identified biases that develop to help us better deal with processing limitations, but which are biases nevertheless.  Our memories also are highly fallible.  Unfortunately, the confidence we exhibit is usually unreliable.  We are flawed information processors and need to always be aware of these flaws and limitations

The mind is constrained by a limited attentional capacity.  The brain remains active 24 hours a day, even when we sleep.  The vast majority of the brain’s processing is unconscious.  Once we try fail to recall something or fail to solve a problem, our unconscious mind will keep working on it, and the solution can pop into our minds unsummoned at a later time.

We need to learn to focus and control this attentional capacity.  This is where mindfulness and meditation become important and they constitute the third theme of the healthy memory blog.  .  There are many posts on mindfulness and meditation, some of which can be found under the category of mnemonic techniques.  Mindfulness and meditation are essential not only to a healthy memory, but also to a heathy body.  Meditation has even be shown to have beneficial epigenetic effects (see the healthy memory blog, “The Genetic Breakthrough—Your Ultimate Mind Body Connection”).

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cognitive Misers, Cognitive Spendthrifts, and Democracy

March 4, 2016

I fear that an earlier post, “Cognitive Misers and Democracy,” did not adequately explain the term “cognitive miser.”  It referenced previous healthy memory blog posts, but unless you went back and read those posts or are an assiduous healthy memory blog reader, I do not think that the term was clear.  To make the term clearer, I have created a new term, cognitive spendthrift.

Here is a quick synopsis of how we process information.  The default upon the receipt of new information is to believe it. This is Kahneman’s System One processing. This default value makes sense because if we questioned everything when we came out of the womb, we would not be able to survive.  When we receive new information, if it is in accord with previous information, it is accepted.  However, when discordant information is received, the brain responds so that it is obvious from brain recordings.  This is an example of Kahneman’s System 2 processing.  An important role for System 2 is to monitor the processing from System 1.  To resolve this discordant information requires thinking, searching for, and trying to discover additional information.   This is effortful System 2 processing.  This can require substantial effort. This is basically what scientists do.  They look for discrepant information, and then conduct research to resolve this discrepant information.  Of course this is an oversimplification of the process, but it is a very brief synopsis of what occurs.  And it is science, the systematic use of tis process, that provides the basis for the advancement of civilizations.

So, by default we are cognitive misers.  Moreover, we have defense mechanisms that makes us feel that we know more and perform better than we actually do, but these mechanisms will be discussed in another post (until then, enter “overconfidence” into the healthy memory blog search block).  Unfortunately the internet typically facilitates further biased searches, which exacerbate the problem further.The term cognitive spendthrift refers to someone who questions and thinks about many things.  The internet is an ideal too for cognitive spendthrifts when they use the internet to explore contrary opinions and new information.   If too much cognitive capital is spent, mental illness and other adverse consequences result.  Even scientists ned to be focused on a subset of questions that they can handle.

The healthy memory blog encourages growth mindsets.  Growth mindsets require the spending of cognitive capital to think and to grow, but this expenditure of cognitive capital must be expended with regard to a budget.  You grow within the constraints in which you are comfortable and continue to grow.

The primary point of “Cognitive Misers and Democracy” was to encourage people to think.  Democracy is important enough to warrant the expenditure of cognitive capital.  And politics is an area where beliefs can be deeply held.  But these deeply held beliefs do need to be questioned.  They always need to be amenable to change.  This is why I was so disturbed by the survey indicating beliefs and principals were more important than the willingness to compromise.  Without  any compromise, democracies cannot survive.

Watching the political debates in one of the parties this year suggests that some opinions are not even being governed by beliefs, but rather by anger and disenchantment.  I am not sure that the opinions these people offer even make it to the cortex.  They see to come directly from the limbic system,

© 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 Wellbeing of Nations: Meaning, Motive and Measurement

August 26, 2015

This excellent text is by two researchers in England, Paul Allin and David J. Hand.  It is written in the spirit of Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, which is usually abbreviated as The Wealth of Nations.  Smith is commonly regarded as the father of capitalism.  Although this is true, he is misrepresented by many politicians.  Smith was concerned with increasing the wellbeing of nations and their inhabitants.  Smith wrote an earlier book titled The Theory of Moral Sentiments.  He argued that moral sense was based on mutual sympathy, a term best captured today with the concept of empathy.   Smith advocated progressive taxation, in which the wealthier paid a higher percentage of their income to taxes than the poor.  Often politicians argue for a “flat tax”  for simplifying the tax code.  Progressive taxation is not responsible for the complexity of the tax code, but the many specific benefits and costs written into the tax code are.  The Gini coefficient is an index of the spread of wealth in an economy.  And healthier economies require that wealth be distributed among the citizens of a country.  As one Texan put it, “Money is like manure; it’s no good unless it is spread around.”

The authors note, “It looks as if the capitalist business model has evolved over the centuries into one that relies on population growth and expects economic growth.”  Clearly, this is a model for ultimate disaster.  There is no doubt that capitalism has been a success, but it is time for fine-tuning.  There have been several healthy memory blog posts wondering what has become of all the leisure time that was promised to be available today.  When I was a child few mothers worked.  Today, everybody works, and for longer hours.  Why?  John Maynard Keynes envisaged a time in which increased leisure time would enhance the quality of life for all.  Why has that time not arrived?

I believe that if Adam Smith were alive today he would have joined Allin and Hand in authoring The Wellbeing of Nations, or would have written his own complementary volume.  The starting point for this  volume is that Gross Domestic Product (GDP), although important, should not be the primary metric for economies.  Previous healthy memory blog posts had described the metric of Gross National Happiness (GNH).  Although this is a promising start, the problem is quite complicated.  It requires a variety of disciplines such as the social sciences and statistics that had either not yet developed or were still in the early stages of development when Adam Smith lived.

Although I am praising this work, I am not recommending that you read it.  It is technical and complicated.  For most of us understanding that this is a problem that needs to be addressed and is being addressed is enough.  However, if you are interested in the topic and are willing to expend the effort, this is an excellent text that cites many references and resources.

I do not mean to imply that a the solution to this problem will be easy.  One must always be aware of the dangers of unintended consequences.  When a psychologist who won a Nobel Prize in Economics, Daniel Kahneman, was asked about the speed of research and progress in this area, his advice was that it be slow and reversible.  That is, provisions should be made so that any mistakes could be easily reversed.
As the immediately preceding blog post, the Automation of Journalism suggested, many skilled jobs might disappear.  Now the disappearance of jobs could be good, if they resulted in increased leisure time where people could enjoy themselves and pursue their interests.  However, if significant proportions of the population become alienated, there will be trouble indeed.  As was mentioned at the outset, capitalism is in need of fine tuning.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Understanding Beliefs

August 3, 2015

Understanding Beliefs is a book by Nils J. Nilsson in The MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series.  Perhaps a better title for the book would be “How We Should Believe,”  the reason for this should become clear by the end of this post.  Nilsson is one of the founders of artificial intelligence, and putting the concept of belief into computer science is quite valuable.

He does not work entirely  in the domain of artificial intelligence as he notes contributions from psychologists and neuroscientists.  He invokes Kahneman’s concepts of System One and System Two processes that have been discussed previously in the healthy memory blog.  System One processes run off more or less automatically.  System Two processes are more in the vein of what is regarded as thinking and require mental effort.  Our beliefs are processed automatically through System One and there is little evidence of additional brain activity..  When information contradicts our beliefs, the brain becomes active and if not immediately revoked, System 2 and effortful processing is engaged to deal with the conflicting belief.

Nilsson discusses his own beliefs.  He does not believe that we ever have contact with an external world.  Rather we form concepts or beliefs based on the sensory inputs from an external world and the subsequent cognitive activity.  Moreover, these beliefs are weighted in terms of probabilities.  Nothing is certain.  That is, there are no beliefs with values of 0.0 or 1.0, regardless of how strongly the belief or disbelief is felt.   My views are identical.  These views are common among scientists and philosophers.  Here are some exemplary quotes:

“Objects” do not exist independently of conceptual schemes  We cut up the world into objects when we introduce one of another scheme of description.”  Hilary Putnam, philosopher.

“There was no way to hook up ideas with things…because ideas—mental representations—do not refer to things; they refer to other mental representations.”  Louis Menand, author, referring to thoughts of the philosopher C.S. Pierce.

“There is no quantum world.  There is only an abstract physical  description.  It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to found out how nature is.  Physics concerns what we can say about nature.”  Niels Bohr, physicist.

“The physicist constructs what he terms the physical world, a concept which arises from a peculiar combination of certain observed facts and the reasoning provoked by their perception.”  Robert Lindsay and Henry Margenau, physicists.

Nilsson advocates the scientific method as being the gold standard for confirming or rejecting beliefs.   When beliefs are modified, probabilities are adjusted, but beliefs are no entirely confirmed or discounted.  Near the beginning of the eleventh century, al_Haytham, an Islamic scholar who lived in Basra and Cairo, wrote the Book of Optics,which included a theory of vision and a theory of sight.  According to one authority, “Ibn al-Haytham was the pioneer of the modern scientific method.  His book changed the meaning of the term “optics” and established experiments as the norm of proof in the field.  His investigations were not based on abstract theories, but on experimental evidence, and his experiments were systematic and repeatable.  Unlike the Greeks, in his theory of vision rays of light came from the objects seen rather than from the eyes that see them.

Some of the European contributors to the development of the scientific method are Robert Grosseteste (c. 1125-1253), Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1294), Galileo (1564-1642), Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Rene Descartes (1596-1650), and, of course, Isaac Newton(1643-1727).

Problems arise when the problem is how to change erroneous beliefs.  The default for people is what they already believe, and much effort is involved in changing beliefs.  Moreover, we tend to seek out information that confirms rather than disconfirm our beliefs.  The internet has exacerbated this problem.  Different sites cater to different beliefs and we tend to search for information that confirms our beliefs.

The psychologist Daniel T. Gilbert describes two separate mental activities for processing a new piece of information, comprehension and assessment.  Assessment involves comparing  what is comprehended with other information.  It is much easier to reject than to accept information that does not correspond with existing beliefs.  Moreover, people do not like to suspend judgment.  Closure is preferred.  However, doubt us a valuable defense against belief traps.

Great minds can embrace doubt  The physicist Richard Feynman said, “I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing—I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing that to have answers that might be wrong.  I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things but I’m not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about.”

I fear that if we contrasted what  Feynman said with the typical individual on the street, we would find that most people have definite opinions about many things the know nothing about.  And many of these beliefs fly in the face of accepted scientific opinion—evolution for example.

Nilsson believes that the scientific method offers the best way discovered so far to invent  and evaluation beliefs.  And he believes that the best antidote to belief traps is to express our belies to the reasoned criticisms of others.  But as you should remember from the previous healthy memory blog post on belief, that beliefs are extremely difficult to change.  The viability of Nilsson’s  remedies will be discussed in the next healthy memory blog post.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

There Will Be Another Brief Hiatus in New Posts

February 1, 2015

Nevertheless with more than 550 Healthymemory Blog posts I think there is sufficient reading material.  If I had to recommend one blog post to read it would be “The Myth of Cognitive Decline.”  This can be found by entering this title in the search box of the healthy memory blog.  This search block can be used to identify blog posts on the following topics.

Posts based on whom I regard as the most important cognitive psychologists:  Nobel Prize Winner Kahneman, plus Stanovich and Davidson.  There are posts on the important topics of attention and cognitive reserve.  Other topics of potential interest are The Flynn Effect, mindfulness, meditation, memory champs, contemplative computing, behavioral economics, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.

Of course, you are encouraged to enter any of your favorite topics into the healthymemory blog search block

Enjoy.  I shall return.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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.

Labor Day Message 2014

August 31, 2014

 

Regular readers of the healthymemory blog might receognize some striking similarities between this message and the 2013 message. Unfortunately, not much has changed. When I was in elementary school the predictions were that due to technology we would have much more leisure time (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leisure) in the future. I’ll remind you that at this time it was highly unusual for married mothers to be working. In my view, some of the technological achievements, particularly in computing and in broadband, have vastly exceeded these predictions. So I ask you, why are we working so hard? We’re working much harder than when I was in elementary school. And it’s getting worse. Americans now work for eight and a half hours more a week than they did in 1979.

I would further ask, exactly what are we producing? Suppose only those who provided the essentials for living and for safety went to work. What percentage of the working population would that be? Make your own guess, but mine would be less than 10%, so what is going on here?. Currently we are working hard to achieve an unemployment rate at or below 5%. But is this a realistically achievable unemployment rate? Remember that the previous two occasions when the employment rate was at or below 5%, the economic prosperity was bogus. There was the dot com bogus, when people expected to become rich via the internet. Then there was the bogus finance/real estate boom where riches were created via bogus and unsubstantiated financial instruments. So why, absent some other fictitious basis for a boom, do we expect to get back to 5% unemployment

To examine the question of why we are working so hard, I present the following study tht can be found in Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.It found that being poor is bad. Of course, this finding is not surprising. The surprising finding is that a household income of $75,000 represented a satiation level beyond which experienced well being no longer increased. And this was in high cost living areas. In other areas the number would be lower. So, it is clear that we are working more for no real benefit. Why?

The world’s environmental and resource issues also need to be considered here. As the undeveloped world develops, the demands on resources, the pollution of the environment, and the rate of global warming will increase as the developing world hops on the same exhausting treadmill that the developed world has been on.

I think the problem is that classical economics has outlived its usefulness and has become destructive. Economics needs to undergo a paradigm shift. Classical economics is based on the rationale theory of man. Socials scientists have debunked this theory quite well as have behavioral economists. Computing the Gross National Product (GNP) in terms of hard dollars might seem to b objective, but reminds one of the drunk who is looking for his car keys under the streetlamp rather than in the dimly illuminated part of the parking where he dropped them. Economists need to consider subjective, relevant measures as happiness and life satisfaction, but these measures are given only glancing consideration. Perhaps this is due to the extreme economics supermeme that plagues us and has been discussed in previous healthymemory blog posts.

Once appropriate measures and appropriate philosophies regarding self fulfillment and self actualization are adopted we can get off the treadmill and enjoy the fruits of technology and our lives.

You also might visit or revisit the Healthymemory Blog Post “Gross National Happiness.” There is also an entry on this topic on wikipedia.org.

Regression to the Mean

August 3, 2014

Regression to the mean is a little-known and a difficult-to-understand concept. Nevertheless it is quite important. Let me begin with an anecdote from Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. John Brockman, the editor of the online publication Edge, asked scientists to report their favorite equations. Kahneman’s contributions were as follows:

success = talent + luck

great success = a little more talent + a lot of luck

It’s important to appreciate that there is a component of luck in all success (see the healthymemory blog post, “The Matthew Effect”). Talent and preparation can increase the probability of success, but there is always a component of luck, of being in the right place at the right time. I believe that historically there have been many outstanding people who were never recognized as such. The lack of connections, plus being in the wrong place at the wrong time is the likely reason. Today I believe that there are many more people making notable contributions, or potential contributions, who are never noticed given the vast amount of content in cyberspace.

Regression to the mean was discovered and named late in the nineteenth century by Sir Francis Galton. This was two hundred years after the theory of gravitation and the development of calculus. The definitive article was published in 1886 with the title “Regression towards Mediocrity in Hereditary Stature.” He found that offspring did not tend to resemble their parent in size, but to tend to be more mediocre than their parents. If their parents were large, they tended to be smaller than their parents. If their parents were small, they tended to be larger than their parents. Remember that the mean is average, and the tendency is for extremes to regress to the average.

This phenomenon provides just one of many reasons control groups are needed. Suppose you read an article that reported that depressed children treated with an energy drink improved significantly over a three-month period. Would you accept the conclusion that the energy drink reduced the depression? You shouldn’t unless there was a control group of depressed children who were not given the energy drink. The reason for this is extremes regress to the mean, so you would expect improvement on these statistical grounds alone. So the control group is needed to assess the amount of improvement that can be attributed to statistics alone.

Should you find this concept of regression to the mean difficult, you are not alone. Lawyers hate to make this argument to a jury.

We humans do not like to accept statistical explanations. We like to look for causes. Consider the following true statement:

Highly intelligent women tend to marry men who are less intelligent than they are.

I’m sure you can think of reasons that this might be the case. Moreover, the reasons might be true, but the following statistical result can also account for this relationship, “The correlation between the intelligence scores of spouses is less than perfect.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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.

 

 

Stupidity Pandemic

April 1, 2014

Picking up from the previous blog that left with the exhortation not to follow the Krell to extinction it would be well to ask, where do we stand now? We are at the peak of scientific knowledge, but too much of the world lives at a subsistence level, and there are numerous wars and conflicts. Millions of people are displaced and have neither homes nor prospects. Terrorists are preoccupied with jihad. Even in the so-called advanced countries stupidity reigns. Many people cling to discredited dogmas and reject scientific findings. I find it quite annoying that many people enjoy the benefits of medicine and technology that result from science, yet reject the scientific basis on which these benefits depend. Worse yet, these individuals’ beliefs risk further advancements in science, technology, and medicine. Moreover, they prevent or hinder responding to problems with a strong scientific basis that need to be addressed. There is a member of the U.S. Congress who believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible and enforces his beliefs in his legislative actions. What is even more depressing is that citizens of a presumably advanced country elected such a man to office.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson proposed that Congress double funds for medical science, but to cut the entire social and behavioral sciences budget of the National Science Foundation. Although she is to be applauded for doubling funds for medical science, it is regrettable that she fails to see the relevance of the social sciences. One can well argue that most of our problems need to be addressed by the social and behavioral sciences, (To read more on this topic, enter “STEM’ into the search block of the healthymemory blog).
Debates in the United States center on whether someone is for or against Big Government. This is a meaningless question and a meaningless topic for debate. What is Big Government? Perhaps it could be defined in terms of the percentage of the GNP spent by the government, but that would still be a pointless basis for debate. The debate should be on what services should be provided by government and which by the private sector. Moreover, this debate should not be on the basis of what people believe, but on the basis of reasoning and evidence. Public policy should be evidence-based. Sometimes the evidence is there for the asking, but often experiments need to be done. When this happens, there is some evidence of intelligence. Unsupported beliefs indicate stupidity. To put this in Kahnman’s terms, we need System 2 processes, not System 1 processes (if this is not understood, enter “Kahneman” into the search block of the healthymemory blog.).
Too often a false dichotomy is made between science and religion; that you follow one or the other. Science and religion are not incompatible. First of all, it needs to be appreciated that science and religion are alternative, not competitive, means of knowing. The Dali Lama is a strong proponent of this point of view and also a strong believer in science. Next, a distinction needs to be made between religions and God. Religions are constituted of and by human beings, and religious promulgations and texts are from men. It is up to us individuals to decide whether they are the word of God. A belief in God should begin with an appreciation of our brains. If you believe in God, then the brain is a gift that came through evolution, and we need to make the most of this gift. This brain is the vehicle by which we work to understand the world. Science is a rigorous means of gaining this understanding. It is clear that this understanding comes gradually.
For a long time, the advancement of human knowledge proceeded at a glacial pace. I would argue that true scientific advancement began with Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and their use of the scientific method. Copernicus formulated the heliocentric theory of our solar system with the earth at its center. Galileo’s research putt him at odds with the Roman Catholic Church who saw his research as an assault on the Church’s monopoly on truth. They placed him on trial. Fortunately, others followed in their footsteps. As more engaged in these pursuits, knowledge advanced at an increasingly rapid rate. One of the ironic features of this advancement of scientific knowledge is that we have become more aware of what we don’t know. Dark matter is just one of these areas.
Unfortunately religious dogmas have had a depressing effect on the advancement of knowledge. This should never be allowed. What we learn through science, which is, or should be, the antithesis of dogma. Scientific knowledge is always subject to change subject to new information and new theories. Although we can never be certain, scientific knowledge provides us the best available information regarding what to believe and how to act. Science requires heavy use of System 2 processes, thinking. Dogmas allow us to rely on System 1 processes so we don’t have to think.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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 Tri-Process Model of Cognition and the Mind’s Three Distinctive Functions

November 6, 2013

To flesh out the Tri-Process Model of Cognition (see the immediately preceding post) it is helpful to discuss it in terms of the Mind’s Three Distinctive Functions (2002). These three basic functions are thinking, feeling, and wanting. Thinking creates meaning, makes sense of our lives, and of specific subjects and interests. Judging, perceiving, analyzing, clarifying, determining, comparing, and synthesizing are all acts of thinking. Feeling tells us not only how we are feeling, but how we are doing. We can be happy, sad, depressed, anxious, stressed, calm, worried, excited, and so forth. Wanting is what motivates us and drives us to act as we do. Goals, desires, purposes, agendas, values, and motives are all components of wanting. And wanting leads to our doing. All four of these functions interact with each other.

What is important is that feelings and desires (wanting) do not correct themselves. They can be changed only through our thinking. Thinking is key to controlling feeling and wanting, and by taking command of our thinking we can take command of all three functions of the mind and our lives. So we need to control our thinking.

Now how do the three distinctive functions of the mind map on to the Tri-Process Model of Cognition? Emotions (feelings) are clearly a System 1 process for Kahneman, and what Stanovich calls the autonomous mind. I would also argue that wanting is also primarily a System 1 or autonomous function. Remember that according to Kahneman, one of the roles of System 2 is to monitor and correct the output of System 1. For Stanovich, it is the role of both the algorithmic and the reflective mind to monitor and correct the output of the autonomous mind. Both Kahneman and Stanovich are saying that thinking needs to control out emotions and wants.

Often it is not clear how to control our emotions. We cannot let them take control us, we need to control them. We need to invoke mindfulness (enter “mindfulness” into the healthymemory blog search block). Here is an excerpt from the healthymemory blog post, “A Simple Tip to Spark Mindfulness”: “An easy way to remember how to be mindful in the course of a busy day, or when you are overwhelmed, preoccupied, worried, angry, or uncomfortable, is the acronym mnemonic STOP”

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.”

It is also important to invoke the reflective mind. “Reflective” refers to the purpose of the reflective mind and that is to reflect upon our own thinking. It is essential to how effectively we control our wants, govern our own lives, and interact with others. It is essential for effective critical thinking.

Reference
Paul. R.W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking. Pearson Education, Inc.

© 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.

Intelligence and the Tri-Process Model of Cognition

November 3, 2013

The immediately preceding post was on the Flynn Effect, which referred to a 3-point increase in IQ scores over the course of each decade since 1930. However, Flynn himself did not think that there had been an actual increase in intelligence over time, but rather an increase in IQ scores. Criticisms of the IQ test are nothing new. Stanovich has been criticizing the IQ test for years and has started research to address this shortcoming (enter “Stanovich” into the healthymemory blog search box to find more posts on Stanovich).

Stanovich (2011) is doing this by building on Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition (See the healthymemory blog post “The Two System View of Cognition”). System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. Learning is associative and slow. For something to become a System 1 process requires much repetition and practice. Activities such as walking, driving, and conversation are primarily System 1 processes. They occur rapidly and with little apparent effort. We would not have survived if we could not do these types of processes rapidly. But this speed of processing is purchased at a cost, the possibility of errors, biases, and illusions.

System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through.

It is clear that System 2 is very important and covers a lot of territory, but there remains much to be done to develop System 2. This is precisely what Stanovich is doing. He calls System 1 the Autonomous Mind. System 2 is divided into what Stanovich terms the Algorithmic Mind and the Reflective Mind. It is the Reflective Mind that catches errors in System 1 processing. However, the Algorithmic Mind can still commit errors and terminate processing prematurely. The algorithmic mind engages in serial associative cognition. Consider the now famous bat and ball problem. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 total. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? The mind tends to offer the answer $0.10 because the answer seems simple, just the parsing of the $1 from the $0.10 In fact, 50% of Princeton students and 56% of the students at the University of Michigan came up with this answer. But this answer is wrong. If the bat costs $1 more than the ball and the ball costs $0.10, then the bat would cost $1.10, which when added to the ball cost would reach $1.20. The correct answer is $0.05. That would mean that the bat costs $1.05, and the two added together would yield the desired $1.10. Now if the Reflective Mind is on the job, the Algorithmic Mind will run a check and discover that the ball costing $0.10 would yield an erroneous total of $1.20, conduct some mental arithmetic and arrive at the correct answer of $0.05.

Wason’s four card selection task provides another example of how the Tri-Process Model works. A research participant is presented four cards: K, A, 8, and 5. She is told that there is a letter or number on the opposite side of the card. The rule is that if a card has a vowel on its letter side, then it has an even number on its opposite side. The task is to decide which card or cards must be turned over to determine if the rule is true or false. The correct answer is A and 5, the only two cards that could show that the rule is false. However, the majority of research participants typically respond A and 8. So presumably they are engaging the Algorithmic Mind and making choices that would confirm the hypothesis. If the Reflective Mind is doing its job, it will catch this error and engage in simulations of all the possibilities and discover that there could be an even number on the other side of the K. The Reflective Mind might also be aware that a confirmation bias pervades most of our thinking and that we typically look for confirming, not disconfirming information. But it is disconfirmation information that refutes rules or hypothesis.

There is no way I can do justice to the Tri-Process Model of Cognition, but it is fleshing out the Two System View and addressing serious problems in intelligence tests. Perhaps Stanovich can develop a Rational Quotient (RQ) in addition to the IQ, or perhaps a more comprehensive intelligence test can be developed.

Reference
Stanovich, K.E. (2011). Rationality & the Reflective Mind. New York: The Oxford University Press..

© 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.

How Our Brain and Mind Work

May 5, 2013

Aristotle and his contemporaries believed that the mind resided in the heart. It was Hippocrates who argued that the brain is responsible for thought, sensation, emotion, and cognition. However, it took almost 2500 years for the next major advance. At the beginning of the 20th century the Spanish anatomist Santiago Ramon y Cajal identified the neuron as the building block of the brain. He identified different types of neurons and advanced the “connectionist” view that it was the connections and communications among the neurons that characterized the activities of the brain.

There are four basic types of neurons. Sensory neurons transmit signals from the brain to the rest of the body. Motor neurons send signals to parts of the body to direct movement, such as muscles. Interneurons provide connections between other neurons, Pyramidal neurons are involved in many areas of cognition.

The connectionist network is amazing. There are about 100 billion neurons in our brains. Each has about 1000 synapses connecting with other neurons. So there are about 100 trillion interconnections in our brain. Our brains are remarkably flexible. This plasticity is due to a special class of neurotransmitter that serve as “neuromodulators.” These neuromodulators “…alter the amount of other neurotransmitters released at the synapse and the degree to which the neurons respond to incoming signals. Some of these changes help to fine tune brain activity in response to immediate events, while others rewire the brain in the long term, which is thought to explain how memories are stored.

Many neuromodulators act on just a few neurons, but some can penetrate through large swathes of brain tissue creating sweeping changes. Nitric oxide, for example, is so small (the 10th smallest molecule in the known universe, in fact) that it can easily spread away from the neuron at its source. It alters receptive neurons by changing the amount of neurotransmitter released by each nerve impulse, kicking off the changes that are necessary for memory formulation in the hippocampus.”1

Much of this brain activity takes place outside our conscious awareness. According to Kahneman’s Two Process View of Human Cognition, there are two basic systems for processing information. information in a dynamic environment. System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. Learning is associative and slow. For something to become a System 1 process requires much repetition and practice. Activities such as walking, driving, and conversation are primarily System 1 processes. They occur rapidly and with little apparent effort. We would not have survived if we could not do these types of processes rapidly. But this speed of processing is purchased at a cost, the possibility of errors, biases, and illusions. Without System 1, we would not have survived as a species. But this fast processing speed has its costs, which sometimes lead to errors.

System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through. System 2 can be thought of as thinking. If you know your multiplication tables, if I ask you what is 6 time 7, you’ll respond 42 without really thinking about it. But if I ask you to multiply 67 times 42 you would find it difficult to compute in your head, and would most likely use a calculator or use paper and pencil (which are examples of transactive memory). This multiplication requires System 2 processing without, or most likely with, technological aids.

System 1 requires little or no effort. System 2 requires effort. It is not only faster, but also less demanding to rely on System 1 processes. Consider the following question.

A bat and a ball cost $1.10

The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.

How much does the ball cost?

The number that quickly comes to mind is 10 cents. But if you take the time and exert the mental effort you will note that the cost would be $1.20 (10 cents for the ball and $1.10 for the bat). If you do the math, which takes a little algebra, you will find that the ball costs 5 cents (the bat costing a $1.00 more than the ball would be $1.05 and $1.05 and $0.05 is $1.10). System 2 must be engaged to get the correct answer. This question has been asked of several thousand college students. More that 50% of the students at Harvard, MIT, and Princeton gave the wrong, System 1, answer. At less selective universities more than 80% of the students gave the wrong answer. Good students tend to be suspicious of a question that is too easy!

So what happens to the brain as we age? The psychologist Dr. Stine-Morrow has an interesting hypothesis about cognitive aging.2 She argues that choice in how cognitive effort, attention, is allocated may be an essential determinant of cognitive change over the life span.  So relying too much on our System 1 processes could increase our risk of suffering dementia. New experiences and new learning call upon our System 2 processes as do any problems that require active thinking. The neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques that define Alzheimer’s Disease have been found in both living and dead individuals who never showed any symptoms of the disease. They evidenced no cognitive impairment. The notion is that they had built a cognitive reserve that protected them from the disease.

So what might this cognitive reserve be? It is reasonable to believe that it consisted of rich interconnections in the brains of these individuals. The brain is remarkably plastic, so even when the plaques and tangles were present, apparently the interconnections were rerouted around them.

So how can someone build up this cognitive reserve? Lifelong learning, continuing to learn throughout one’s lifetime is key. Challenging the mind with tasks that require attention is important. It is also important to revisit those old memory circuits laid down years ago. Trying to remember all acquaintances and events can reactivate those circuits. Sometimes it will be difficult to recall these memories. Nevertheless, your unconscious mind will continue searching after your conscious mind has given up. All of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere it will just pop into your mind. Trivia games and games such as Jeopardy can be fun and potentially beneficial to a healthy memory. Reminiscing can also be beneficial provided the reminiscing is not always about the same old memories.

The healthymemory blog is devoted to building a cognitive reserve. The Mnemonic Techniques Category provides blog on mnemonic techniques that not only improve memory, but also provide cognitive exercise. Blog posts on meditation and mindfulness can also be found here. The Transactive Memory Category provided information on how technology and your fellow humans can foster memory health. The Human Memory: Theory and Data includes posts on memory and related topics bearing on a healthy memory.

1O’Shea, M. (2013). The Human Brain. New Scientist Instant Expert 31.

2Stine-Morrow, A. L. (2008).  The Dumbledore Hypothesis of Cognitive Aging.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 295-299.

© 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.

Review of The Washington Post’s The Aging Brain

December 7, 2011

This piece1 is informative and offers some good advice, but is woefully deficient in some areas that should have been included. The article is basically an annotated diagram that begins with the first step of the eye seeing something. The second step is the information arriving at the visual cortex that identifies what the eyes see. The third step is the information flowing through the associative cortex to develop further understanding. The fourth step is the information arriving at the hippocampus (actually it should be hippocampi as there is one hippocampus in each hemisphere of the brain. Information must be processed by these hippocampi if it is to be recalled later. People who have lost their hippocampi via surgery, accidents, or dementia, are unable to learn/remember new information. But it is the prefrontal cortext decides whether this new information warrants processing by the hippocampi for later use. The prefrontal cortex is an important part of the brain as it not only decides what is worth remembering, but it is involved in all the decisions we make and is responsible for regulating our behavior. Unfortunately, it is late maturing (not until our twenties) and early to decline (sometime after age 50). So far this description is accurate and it is understood that there would be similar, but not identical stages of processing for other modalities of information.

There is another section of the article on how to slow the effects of aging that provides the following advice:

Calm Down – this is good advice as the piece correctly states that stress can destroy synapses , it fouls up the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. It does not mention that the various types of meditation are beneficial in helping us to calm down.

Exercise – this is good advice as the increased blood flow and oxygen uptake it engenders is beneficial to the brain.

Make friends – more good advice. There have been a number of Healthymemory Blog Post extolling the benefits of socialization.

Sleep well – more good advice. Getting adequate sleep is important not only to general health, but is also critical to important brain and memory processes.

Ask about estrogen – Ladies, you can judge this one for yourselves. This recommendation is based on one study. Given the somewhat uneven results from estrogen therapies, some skepticism might be in order.

Do what you do best – Although it is true that expertise is maintained well into old age and that you are less likely to lose what you know well, it is a somewhat misleading strategy for slowing the effects of aging. Although it is fine to continuing growing in your area of expertise, it would be a mistake not to expand into some new areas. Research has indicated that maintaining brain and cognitive health should not be a reactive, defensive matter, but rather a proactive effort to continue growing cognitive competence.

An interesting question to ask, is why does the prefrontal cortex start to decline after age 50? Is it solely a matter of aging? There is the Dumbledore Hypothesis regarding the effects of aging on the brain (See the Healthymemory Blog posts, “More on Attention and Cognitive Control,”, “Passing 65,” and “Memory and Aging.). This hypothesis fits well with the Two System View of Cognition (see the Healthymemory Blog post “The Two System View of Cognition.”). According to this view, there are two primary means of processing information. System One is fast and automatic. It is the result of prior learning. This is the system that is doing the majority of the processing when we converse, drive a car, etc. System Two is slow, effortful, and demands attention. This is what is at work when we are trying to learning something new, to solve a math problem, or recognize something that is illogical or contradictory in what the person we are conversing with has said (or in our own conversation if we recognize something illogical or contradictory in what we have said. According to the Dumbledore Hypothesis as we age we increasingly rely on System One processing because we have learned much and don’t need to do as much processing as a younger person who does not have such a wealth of experience to draw upon. The problem is that since we do less System Two processing we use our prefrontal cortex less. The use it or lose it advice that we know from physical exercise also applies to cognitive exercise. When we use our prefrontal cortex more glucose is sent there. So the loss in the functioning in the prefrontal cortex might not be solely do to aging. It might be in part, perhaps in large part, to a loss in the frequency of its use.

So the new idea is to challenge our minds and to continue to learn new things as we age. (See the Healthymemory Blog post, “A Quote Worth Pondering.”) It is not too late to learn a new language, or new subject matter. These activities will engage the prefrontal cortex. Mnemonic techniques have the benefit of not only being a technique that enhances memory, but are also means of providing cognitive exercise that exercises the prefrontal cortex and activates both cortices of the brain. So aging should not cause us to be reactive and defensive, but we should go on offense, be proactive, and continue to grow cognitively.

1Berkowitz, B. & Cuadra, C. (2011). The Aging Brain in The Washington Post Health & Science Section, E1, 6 December.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.