Posts Tagged ‘Psychology’

Labels Do Not Imply Understanding

July 2, 2016

For too many people labels do imply understanding.   As HM tried to argue in the immediately preceding post, MBTI indicators do not imply understanding, but unfortunately they do imply understanding to too many people.  A much older example are the signs of the Zodiac.   Both they and astrology have thrived.  Nancy Reagan is said to have brought an astrologer into the White House.  At best, a label provides an entry to understanding.  Consider the shooter in the Orlando case.  Many would probably be satisfied with the label that he was crazy.  However, today there is a meaningful distinction between being a gunman who is crazy, and being a gunman who is a militant Islamist.  Usually being a militant Islamist implies that the individual belongs to and was directed by a militant organization.  However, the Orlando gunman was apparently a lone wolf, in that he was not attached with any particular group.  Indeed, some of the groups to which he pledged allegiance were diametrically opposed to each other, so his pledges of allegiance were contradictory.  He was also upset and conflicted by his sexual orientations.  Had he accepted them, this would not have been a problem, but as he regarded them as being in conflict with his religious beliefs, it became a very large problem. Plus, he had been bullied as a child.   At the bottom of all this, he was an extremely angry individual who acted out with violence.   Out of this hodgepodge of problems lay and enormous reservoir of anger and a propensity to act violently.  One can conclude that he was crazy, but that would not imply any understanding of all of the dimensions of his craziness.

As was alluded to above, even saying that someone is a militant Islamist does not imply much understanding.  One needs to know what kind of violent Islamist and is the individual acting under orders from any particular group.  Even then, one wants to know why the individual belongs to this group.  There are several narratives, which provide further to why the individual is doing what he is doing.  But one seeks a deeper understanding.  It seems reasonable to believe that if our understanding was thorough enough, defenses could be developed that would reduce or eliminate recruitments, and perhaps even convert radicals away from their radicalism.

HM has become convinced of the need to incorporate mindfulness in all K through 12 curricula, along with psychology courses reflecting the current state of psychological knowledge.  Mindfulness training would provide a basis for students to have a more accurate understanding of themselves.  They would also learn how to understand others and how to interact with them effectively.  Basically what is needed is what the Dalai Lama calls secular ethics.  The current educational system is largely medieval, and unfortunately many adults remain stuck in medieval beliefs.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


The Dead

May 16, 2016

The seventh cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is The Dead.  The stated purpose of this chapter is “”Why—and how—humans perceive the minds of the deceased so vividly is the subject of this chapter.”  There is no need for this explanation.  One would expect that the explanation of the living mind would be extended to individuals after they died.  Even people who do not believe in life after death would likely use expressions based on knowledge of the living individuals mind.  The real purpose of this chapter is to lay the groundwork for the final two seriously flawed chapters.

Much of the chapter discusses philosophy and the differences between monist and dualist philosophers.  This discussion is irrelevant as psychology and cognitive science are empirical enterprises.  The authors note, “Modern psychology generally refutes dualism as the mind can be measured though electoral and magnetic activity and relies heavily on physical brain structures.”  Unfortunately this statement ignores the research on how the mind influences the brain.  When I was a graduate student I was frustrated by the question of whether the autonomic nervous system could be controlled.  Experimental psychologists would run experiments in which psychology students participated in experiments in which attempts were made to control some part of the autonomous nervous system, such as the heart.  As these experiments only lasted several hours, it is not surprising that students were unable to do this.  These psychologists ignored the Buddhists monks who were able to slow their heart rates to frightingly low rates.  Psychologists said ignored this saying that it was done with some trick.  True science consisted of using college students in limited experimental studies.  Psychologist found that  the “trick” involved many hours of meditation.  Recent brain imaging studies have illustrated striking effects of meditation on the brain.  The title of Sharon Begley’s new book, “Train Your Mind Change Your Brain” reflects the real truth (this book will eventually be reviewed in the healthy memory blog).

It should also be realized that for about half o the twentieth century American experimental psychologists could not speak of thinking.  This was not rigorous enough.  Finally, in the second half of the century the necessity of using cognitive activity was realized and the cognitive revolution began.  Psychologists seem to be self conscious about not being regarded as true scientists and feel a need to stress the rigor of their thinking.  Rigor is good, but not when it ignores relevant empirical evidence.  And there is more than ample evidence that the mind does act upon the brain.  Indeed that is where the future of cognitive psychology lies.

There its another problem that I shall term intellectual arrogance.  This was exhibited on the eve of the twentieth century when some physicists had concluded that just about all of physics had been developed, and that all that was need was some work to refine decimal points.  In just a few years Einstein formulated his special theory of relativity which revolutionized physics.  Ten years later the general theory of relativity further revolutionizing the discipline.  Then came quantum mechanics that operated under different rules than Einstein’s physics.  The advances in physics both astronomical and sub-atomical have been, to repeat the term, astronomical.  Modern Physics is producing theories that would new-ager Shirley Maclaine to shame.

Compared to physics, psychology has taken just a few baby steps.  Moreover, I think psychology will prove to be more complicated than physics, so the relative distance that psychology as to go is likely more than astronomical.

So psychologists need to be guarded in their statements.  The Healthymemory Blog will try to disabuse some of the ideas advanced in the final two chapters of “The Mind Game.”

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

October 18, 2015

The title of this post is the same as the title of a book by psychologist Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.  The book was cited in the previous healthy memory post, “The Importance of a Growth Mindset.”  This book was a best seller in hardcopy and is now a best selling paperback book (as well as a kindle version).  It is good news that so many people have read this book and are reading this book, but having read it myself I think that everyone should read it.  This is especially true for students, parents, educators, and coaches.  I regret not having read the book earlier.  I agreed with the title, but I thought I knew enough about this topic and would get to it later.  I was wrong.  Dr. Dweck has taken this concept, explained its ramifications, and thoroughly developed its applications.

She contrast two types of mindsets:  fixed mind sets, where abilities are basically fixed.  And growth mindsets, in which knowledge and abilities are grown.  Understand that these are attitudes.  It’s a question of which mindset you choose for yourself and others.

The developer of the first IQ Test, Alfred Binet, did not believe that intelligence was a fixed ability.  He developed the test to identify students who required special attention.  Darwin and Tolstoy were considered ordinary children.  The legendary golfer Ben Hogan was completely uncoordinated and graceless as a child.  The great actress Geraldine Page was advised to give acting up for lack of any talent.  Dr. Dweck cites many other compelling examples.

Here is an example of the fundamental difference between the two mindsets.  People with a fixed mindset who fail a test will likely conclude that they failed because they lacked intelligence.  However, a person with a growth mindset will conclude that they didn’t not study enough and they work to understand what and how they failed and how they improved.  So it is obvious that having a fixed mindset is a severe handicap one places on oneself.  Success is unlikely.  However, those with a growth mindset are much more likely to succeed.

It is not only one’s own mindset that is important.  It is also the mindset one imposes on others.  If your child or student fails, do you conclude that they are stupid?  Or do you conclude that the potential is there, but it needs to be grown and developed?

I was, and remain, impressed by how thoroughly Dr. Dweck developed these ideas.

Chapter 1 develops the concept of mindsets.

Chapter 2 takes us inside mindsets asking whether is success about learning—or proving you’re smart.  Mindset changes the meanings of failure and effort.

Chapter 3 elucidates the truth about ability and accomplishment.  This includes the relationship between mindset and school.  It raises serious question about the notion that artistic ability is a gift.  It alerts us to the danger of praise and positive labels as well as explaining negative labels and how they work.

Chapter 4 is titled Sports:  The mindset of a champion.  It discusses the idea of the natural “character.”  It asked what is success and what is failure and explains how to take charge of success.  It asks the question, “What Does It Mean to Be a Star? and write about hearing the mindsets.

Chapter 5 is titled Business:  Mindset and Leadership and has subsections titled
Enron and the Talent Mindset
Organizations That Grow
A Study of Group Processes
Groupthink versus We Think
The Praised Generation Hits the Workforce
Are Negotiators Born or Made?
Corporate Training:  Are Managers Born or Made?
Are Leaders Born or Made?

Chapter 6 is titled Relationships:  Mindsets in Love (or Not) with subsections titled
Relationships are Different
Mindsets Falling in Love
The Partner as Enemy
Competition:  Who’s the Greatest?
Developing in Relationships
Bullies and Victims:  Revenge Revisited

Chapter 7 is titled Parents, Teachers, and Coaches:  Where Do Mindsets Come From”
Parents (and Teachers):  Messages About Success and Failure
Teachers (and Parents):  What Makes a Great Teacher or (Parent?
Coaches:  Winning Through Mindset
Our Legacy

Chapter 8.  Changing Mindsets has the following subsections:
The Nature of Change
The Mindset Lecture
A Mindset Workshop
More About Change
Taking the First Set
People Who don’t Want to Change
Changing Your Child’s Mindset
Mindset and Willpower
Maintaining Change
The Road Ahead

Subsequent healthy memory blog posts will address some of these topics more deeply.

I am curious about the relationship between a growth mindset and Alzheimer’s and dementia.  I would make a substantial wager that a growth mindset effectively wards off Alzheimer’s and dementia.  With respect to the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles that constitute the definitive diagnosis, there is the question of people whose autopsies were wracked with plaque and tangles, but who never showed any of the behavioral or cognitive disorders of Alzheimer’s.  I would make an even larger wager that these people had growth mindsets.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Psychology is a STEM Discipline

August 22, 2015

STEM is an acronym referring to the academic discipline of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  It  is significant in that it recognizes the importance of these disciplines to economic competitiveness and, accordingly, stresses their importance to educational  policy,  Psychology is recognized as a STEM discipline by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  These STEM disciplines affect immigration policy.

Unfortunately, there are people who confuse psychology with psychiatry, a medical specialty.  Although clinical psychology does deal with mental illness, and clinical psychologists do work with psychiatrists, it is but one branch of psychology, as is counseling psychology.  Psychology is concerned with how humans and animals behave.  This interest extends beyond just behavior and is heavily involved with cognitive processes and neuroscience.  This includes the behavior and interactions of groups of people.  There is a branch known as industrial and organizational psychology that deals with businesses and organizations.  One of the divisions of the American Psychological Association (APA) is the Division of Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology.  I have had the honor of serving as president of this division.

Although psychology is an important discipline and deserves recognition as a STEM discipline, I had long thought that it was best to postpone psychology courses until college.  However, my thinking has changed.  I have long advocated that statistics and experimental design be taught in high school.  The reason for this is that it is difficult to be a responsible citizen, or to make informed decisions about medical care, without a fundamental understanding of statistics.   However, I think all adults should have some understanding about how human cognition works, and the information processing shortcomings and biases we are all prey to.  People need to learn how we understand and come into contact with our environment and our fellow human beings.   People need to understand that we are conscious of only a small percentage of our cognitive processes.  And we all need to learn about mindfulness so we can deal better not only with our own cognitive processes, but also with our interactions with our fellow human beings.

I have also found that psychology, that is scientifically based psychology, provides an expert platform for learning about science.  Psychology involves more than neuroimaging.  There are psychologists who use biological assays in their research.  Cognitive psychology is concerned with how cognition works to include memory, perception, concept formation, problem solving, language, and creativity.  Educational psychology studies the best ways to learn including teaching and computer assisted instruction.  Social psychology is concerned with how groups of humans act, how opinions are formed, and the best ways to persuade.  Industrial organizational psychology is concerned with how organizations work, and how their functioning can be performed.  This includes the performance of teams.  Different areas of research require different techniques, so a wide variety of experimental methods and statistical approaches are used.

It has been my experience that many, certainly not all, but many, from the physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering, know well the methods and techniques needed for their disciplines.  But they still lack a general ability to apply the scientific method.  The function more as technicians in their disciplines, rather than as broadly trained scientists.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

We Can’t All Be Math Nerds & Science Geeks

April 4, 2015

This is the title of a Outlook piece in the March 29th edition of the Washington Post. by Fareed Zakaria.  His article excoriates our obsession with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and argues that it will make it harder for America to innovate.  He quotes Florida governor Rick Scott’s rhetorical question “Is it vital to the state to have more anthropologists?” and supplied the governor’s answer, “I don’t think so.”  Well I would argue that many, if not most, of Florida’s problems involve people which implies the social sciences of which anthropology is one.  The failure to recognize that social science is science and that the study of the many areas of psychology provide an understanding of the many areas in which the scientific method is being applied is not generally understood  (enter “STEM” into the healthymemory blog search blog to find relevant posts).  Zakaria provides statements by Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg attesting to the importance of liberal arts in the tech world.  Although I, being a liberal arts major, strongly believes in the value of a liberal arts education, I do not agree with his conclusion that everything is hunky dory.  I think there are serious problems in the educational system and that some of them can be found in the hard sciences, engineering, and mathematics.

I am an applied cognitive psychologist who designs experiments and uses statistics.  I work intimately with hard scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.  Please understand that what I am going to write does not apply to all scientists, engineers, and mathematicians as many are brilliant scholars and read widely.  And due to their scholarship and wide reading they have covered up large holes in their formal training.  All scientists and engineers understand the data analyses of their research areas.  But there knowledge is specific to their research areas.  I view them more as technicians than as scientists.  Similarly with mathematicians.  I know mathematicians with a very deep knowledge of certain areas of mathematics, but who do not know the basics of experimental design or statistical analysis.  Zakaria extols education in critical thinking, and I strongly agree with him.  However, I have never seen a book on critical thinking that includes the general linear model (GLM).  The GLM is not some esoteric mathematical formula.  It can be understood by anyone who has had a course in high school algebra.  And it forms the basis of thinking about factors and how they interact.  It needs to be explicitly included in books and courses on critical thinking.

Moreover, I think it important that statistics be taught no later than high school.  Only students who go on to certain fields will need trigonometry or calculus, but every individual needs to have some fundamental understanding of statistics to be an effective citizens and to make informed decisions on their personal lives.  They need to understand both descriptive and inferential statistics.  I believe courses can be made simple enough so that all can have at least a rudimentary understanding of these important disciplines.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Everything is Obvious* How Common Sense Fails Us

July 20, 2014

The asterisk in the title points to “once you know the answer.” This is the title of an interesting and important book by Duncan J. Watts. Duncan majored in physics as an undergraduate and finished with a Ph.D, in engineering. His dissertation was on the mathematics of small-world networks. However, after finishing his formal education he came to the conclusion that most of the important problems that needed to be addressed were in the social sciences.

I certainly agree with Dr. Watts. In the past I’ve written how it was a mistake to exclude psychology from the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) disciplines. Unfortunately when the sciences are mentioned people tend to think of the hard sciences and engineers wearing lab coats. Indeed in 2006 Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson proposed to cut the entire social science budget of the National Science Foundation. So she was, in effect, recommending that the NSF budget be cut where it is most needed.

Everything is Obvious is divided into two parts: Part One is titled “Common Sense,” Part Two is titled “Uncommon Sense.” One of the problems is that too many people think of the social sciences as dealing with problems that can be solved with common sense. Moreover, common sense has favorable connotations. Dr. Watts disabuses us of this notion, showing how common sense is often wrong, and that many problems remain unsolved because of mistaken notions regarding common sense. Dr. Watts elaborates on the difficulties of most important problems and the difficulties involved in making accurate predictions. Finally, he discusses approaches for dealing with these apparently intractable problems.

Everything is Obvious should be a must read not only for the sciences, but for anyone interested in any activity, be it politics, business, marketing, philanthropy, that involves understanding, predicting, changing, or responding to the behavior of people.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


December 14, 2013

When I was in high school I wanted to be a psychiatrist. I read Freud and learned about the id, the ego, and the superego. I read Carl Gustav Jung and learned about individuation, extroversion, introversion, and archetypes as well as the collective unconscious. I read Alfred Adler and learned about individual psychology and the inferiority complex. The patients in case histories were identified with mysterious initials. But when I attended psychology and started taking psychology courses I became obsessed with learning how memory works, how we perceive, and how we form concepts and make decisions. So I studied in the area of human experimental psychology and earned a Ph.D. In the working world, I addressed applications and worked in the area of applied experimental and engineering psychology. I became a cognitive psychologist studying cognitive science. Psychology had been divided into half. One half, consisting of what most people think of as psychology, clinical and counseling psychology. And the other half, consisting of people with more of a scientific bent interested in basic and applied psychology. Historically, there has been little interaction between these two halves of the field of psychology.

So when I read Mindsight by Daniel Siegel, M.D, and saw him addressing clinical problems using the language of cognitive science and relating clinical problems to brain structures, I was overwhelmed. Moreover, in his case histories he uses first names, rather than cryptic initials. Daniel Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and co-director of the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. Mindsight refers to gaining insights not only in to how our own minds work, but also in the ways the minds of our fellow human beings work. I believe that mindsight is central not only to a healthy memory and our own mental functioning, but also is key to effective relationships. I could go on and further argue that this is important to government policies, but I shall not belabor that here.

I strongly recommend Mindsight to everyone, especially healthymemory blog post readers. I think it would make a great and valuable Christmas Gift.

Obviously mindsight involves mindfulness. Many healthymemory blog posts on mindfulness can be found by entering mindfulness into the healthymemory search block.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Consciousness and the Association for Psychology Science (APS) Keynote Address

June 19, 2013

I need to preface this blog post with an overview of the status of the concept of consciousness in psychological science. Today the prevalent view seems to be that consciousness is an epiphenomenon. That is, it is unneeded, because all our actions are determined before they enter consciousness. This flies in the face of common sense, because our “folk psychology” believes that our consciousness, our minds, determine what we do. Although there might be factors of which we are unaware, nevertheless we are in charge.

Obviously psychologists who practice “talk” therapy do not subscribe to this, but many academics in the more scientific areas of psychology do. The reader should also understand that for a large portion of the twentieth century behaviorism was the dominant methodology of experimental psychology, and behaviorism focused on behavior and speculation about thinking and the mind was prohibited. Although cognitive psychology emerged in the latter part of the twentieth century, it was still wary of speaking of a homunculus in the head, and the role of consciousness, if any, remained ill-defined.

Gazzaniga‘s Keynote Address was titled “Unity in a Modular World.” He was speaking of the brain consisting of modules performing different functions, and interacting and reorganizing themselves. It reminded me of Minsky’s “The Society of Mind,” except that Minsky was not writing about modules and Gazzaniga was certainly not talking about the mind. He gave examples of how these modules cued each other. He had videos of some of his split brain subjects. When told to do something with the hand controlled by the hemisphere that understood the instruction, the hand was able to do it. However, the hand controlled by the other hemisphere was not able to execute the function without looking at how the hand that had performed the function and then mimicking it. He also showed video of an orchestra performing without a conductor, the message being there is no one in control of our minds. This demonstration would have been more compelling if it were followed by a series of orchestras firing their conductors.

I found Gazzaniga’s address disappointing because someone of his stature could make a strong statement about consciousness, but he didn’t. I think scientific psychology is falling behind the times. Just last year the neurosciences made a statement that on the basis of the necessary brain structures, all mammals, birds, and octupi were conscious (See the healthymemory blog post, “Consciousness in Both Human and Non-Human Animals). A reasonable view is that consciousness is a phenomenon that emerges when the nervous system reaches a certain degree of complexity. That is, consciousness is an emergent phenomenon that has emerged with a purpose, to manage a highly complex nervous system.

Fortunately, there was a later presentation by Edwin Locke of the University of Maryland, “Whatever Happened to the Consciousness Mind.” For Locke, the existence and function of consciousness is an axiom that needs no proof. This is similar to Descarte‘s “I think, therefore I am.” But this implies Cartesian Dualism, which is out of favor in philosophy and psychology. This is unfortunate as it ignores both common sense and contradictory evidence. Meditation can have profound effects on the body. It can allow the regulation of the autonomic nervous system, a capability that I was taught didn’t exist as a graduate student in spite of the existence of meditators who were able to do control their autonomic nervous systems,

I think this shows the immaturity of academic psychology. This period is analogous to the imperious reign of behaviorism. But for cognitive psychology to advance it must embrace the concept of mind and how the mind can affect behavior.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Gone to APS

May 23, 2013

That is, the Convention of the Association for Psychological Science. The program is quite impressive with many interesting sessions. Unfortunately, some interesting sessions overlap meaning that I shall not be able to go to all the sessions I want to attend. I believe there will be some interesting and thought provoking healthymemory blog posts resulting from my attendance.

The Importance of Fiction

November 16, 2011

An Article1 in Scientific American Mind extolled the value of fiction in understanding others and in learning to empathize with others. It presents a variety of data, both behavioral and brain images, that support this contention. I also find this intuitively plausible. Fiction takes one into the minds and feelings of others. You develop a sense of the characters in the piece as to what motivates them and why they do what they do. The article reminded me of an old television series, Remington Steele, about two private detectives, one who has an encyclopedic knowledge of movie plots. Any given case they need to solve reminds him of a relevant movie plot which led to the solution of the crime.

I’ve long thought that an understanding of Shakespeare’s plays would provide an very thorough understanding of humans and their interactions. Certainly, Shakespeare is not required, but I don’t think that all fiction provides this understanding. Tom Clancy writes thrilling novels, but his character development is a tad thin. The fiction that is beneficial in helping us to understand and to interact well with others has characters who reveal their thoughts and feelings.

My degrees are in psychology, and I believe that many students choose psychology as a major because they want to understand and interact well with others. I think these students would both benefit more and enjoy more a major emphasizing literature. I think that too many of us psychologists are not as well practiced in interpersonal skills as we should be (I exclude clinicians and counselors here). But I do think that psychology is a good major for someone who wants to understand science. Psychologists study everything from individual neural cells to large groups of people, and they need to know experimental design, statistics, and mathematical modeling. Unfortunately, the understanding of students in the physical sciences and engineering tends to be constrained to their respective disciplines. I hurry to add, however, that I know many personal exceptions to this statement.

I become extremely annoyed when I do not here psychology in the category of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math ) disciplines as it is regarded as a soft discipline. Psychology is involved in all these disciplines. Moreover, when you consider the critical problems we face today, you should find that most fall into the so-called soft areas of science.

1Oatley, K. (2011). In the Minds of Others. Scientific American Mind, November/December, 63-67.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Dreams Can Work For You

November 9, 2011

An article1 by Deidre Barret recounts incidents in which dreams resulted in creative discoveries. Perhaps the most famous is the dream of a snake of atoms biting its tale that lead to his discovery of the benzene ring. Others include Mendeleyev’s dream enabling him to come up with the final form of the periodic table. A dream enabled Loewi to design a neuroscience experiment that ultimately lead to a Nobel Prize. Paul Horowitz dreamed of the designs for laser telescope controls and Alan Huang dreamed of laser computing.

It is not just science and engineering, bu dreaming has had beneficial impacts on the arts. Mary Shelly‘s dreams helped her write Frankenstein. Dreams also helped Robert Louis Stevenson write Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. As for music, Beethoven, Paul McCartney, and Billy Joel all awoke with ideas for new themes and tunes. An in the area of social activism, Mahatma Gandhi reported that it was a dream that lead him to call for a nonviolent protest of British Rule of India.

Leonardo da Vinci made it a practice to mull over a problem before falling to sleep.

That dreaming can be productive should not be too surprising to readers of the Healthymemory Blog, as a large part of mental activity takes place below the level of conscious awareness. Our minds are actively working even when we are not aware that they are working. Dreaming is just another cognitive state; one that can result in productive results. Barret reports a variety of studies that report some success in setting up people so that their dreams will solve problems. Often, the results are nil, but sometimes they are fruitful.

Barret provides the following tips on how to intentionally try to dream about a problem in the hope that it will lead to a solution:

At bedtime, imagine yourself dreaming about the problem, awakening, and writing on a notepad besides your bed.

If possible, arrange objects connected to the problem on a bedside table or on the wall across the room.

Write down a brief description and keep this note close to your bed. Also keep pen, paper, and a flashlight besides it.

Then review the problem for a few minutes before actually going to bed.

When in the bed, imagine the problem, as a concrete object if possible.

Convince yourself that you want to dream about the problem before your drift off to sleep.

Lie quietly when you awake before you get out of bed. Try to recall as much of the dream as you can and write it down.

If you are interested in this topic, Barret has written a book, The Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists, and Athletes Use Dreams for Creative Problem-Solving__and How You Can Too. Crown (Random House) 2001. The International Association for the Study of Dreams also has a website:

1Barrett, D. (2011). Answers in Your Dreams. Scientific American Mind, November/December, 27-33.

Conscious Thought

August 14, 2011

The topic of consciousness has been addressed in a number of Healthymemory Blog Posts (“Change Your Brain by Transforming Your Mind,” “We Are the Law: Free Will, The Human Mind, and the Limits of Determinism,” “Consciousness and the Grandmother Cell,” “Fluid Intelligence and Working Memory,” “What is Incubation,” “How Do We See,” “Brain, Mind, and Body,” “What is Consciousness,”, and “Attention”) because it is an important topic. For most lay people, consciousness is psychology. It is how we deal with the world on a daily, and nightly, basis. It is a tad ironic, that for many academic psychologists consciousness is an epiphenomenon that we view in our minds, and that most, if not all, behavior and thought occur below the level of consciousness. So consciousness is viewed by some as a movie we see in our head as we proceed through our life. The believe it has no real function.

Consequently, it was refreshing to hear the presentation by Ray F. Baumeister at this year’s annual meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA) titled the “What, Why, and How of Consciousness.”1 Most theories that contend that consciousness is epiphenomenal focus on input and or output processes. Baumgartner does not address these theories as for him the role of consciousness is central to what occurs between input and output processes. He argues that conscious thought is for internal processing that facilitates downstream interaction with the social and cultural environment. Consciousness enables the construction of meaningful, sequential thought. These constructions are found in sentences and narratives, logical reasoning, quantification, causal understanding, and narratives. In short, it accounts for intellectual and social life. It is used for the simulation of events.

It is estimated that people focus an average of 30% to 40% of their thoughts on concerns that are unrelated to their present behavior. Some people’s minds wander from the here and now more than 90% of the time. Even when tied to present behavior, conscious thoughts are often used for to recall similar behaviors from the past, anticipating the consequences of present behaviors, or considering alternative courses of action.

Baumeister contends that thought sequences resemble film clips that the brain makes for itself, allowing different parts of the brain and mind to share information. The production of conscious thought is linked to the production of speech, because the human mind evolved to facilitate social communication and information sharing. This led to culture and the adaptive success of humankind as the social species.

1Although it might be difficult obtaining this address, much of its content and the citations found in this blog post can be found in “Conscious Thought Is For Faciliting Social and ‘Cultural Interactions: How Mental Simulations Serve the Animal-Cultural Interface” by Roy F. Baumeister and E.J. Masicampo in the Psychological Review, (2010), 117. 945-971.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Buddha’s Brain

February 13, 2011

Buddha’s Brain: the practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom1 is not a book proselytizing Buddhism. Its authors are Rick Hanson, Ph.D., and Richard Mendius, MD, who are a neuropsychologist and a neurologist, respectively. They address the intersection of three disciplines: Psychology, Neuroscience, and Contemplative Practice. In doing so, they avail us of wisdom from the East, wisdom that is not addressed by the West, in general, and by the Western educational system, in particular. Buddha’s Brain provides readers with a great deal of potential for cognitive growth and personal fulfillment.

Here are some basic facts from Buddha’s Brain. The brain consists of about 1.1 trillion cells, 100 billion of which are neurons. The average neuron receives about 5,000 connections, synapses, from other neurons. Chemicals called neurotransmitters carry signals across these synapses. A typical neuron fires from 5 to 50 times a second. The number possible neurons firing or not firing is about 10 to the millionth power (1 followed by a million zeroes). Now the number of atoms in the universe is estimated to be about 10 to the eightieth power. Conscious mental events, which represent a small percentage of brain activity, are based on temporary coalitions of synapses that form and disperse. Although the brain is only about 2 percent of the body’s weight, it consumes from 20 to 25 percent of the bodies oxygen and glucose. The brain is constantly working and uses about the same amount of energy whether you are sleeping or thinking hard. The brain interacts with the rest of your body and is shaped by the mind as well. Your mind is made by your brain, body, and natural culture as well as by the mind itself.

Buddha’s Brain covers the structures of the brain and neurotransmitters and explanations of what does what and how the different structures interact. More importantly, Buddha’s Brain explains how you can affect these structures and processes and mold your own brain and behavior. Readers of the Healthymemory Blog should know the importance of attention and selective attention to effective memory. Buddha’s Brain covers how to control and expand attention as well as how to control your emotions to lead to, as the title promises, happiness, love, and wisdom. People who are deeply into contemplative practices are able to control heart rate and blood pressure.

One prediction that I have read, and which I believe, is that within twenty years meditative practices will have become as frequent as aerobic exercising is today.

Some future blog posts will be based on excerpts from Buddha’s Brain, but they cannot do justice to the entire book. I strongly recommend its reading.

1Hanson, R., & Mendius, R. (2009). Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc. 

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Yet Another Justification for Writing This Blog

January 5, 2011

 Several blog posts back I wrote about an article in the Washington Post that contained errors and missed some important information (scroll down several posts and you’ll find it). I have found another example of misinformation contained in the popular press. This one is the cover article in Newsweek1. The article states “Blueberries and crossword puzzles aren’t going to do it. But as neuroscientists discover the mechanisms of intelligence, they are identifying what really works.” The author goes way beyond this and debunks other diets, drugs, and training regimens before getting to the big three that do work at the end of the article. The author uses an evaluation done by the National Institutes of Health. The citation for this study is not provided, however. The principal justification for this claim is that there are very few rigorous well-controlled studies. Now the gold standard for evaluations are randomized controlled trials. Unfortunately, randomized controlled trials frequently are neither feasible nor practical. For example, the studies documenting the health hazards of smoking are epidemiological. That is, they are correlational and subject to other interpretations. The famous statistician, Sir Ronald Fisher, who was also a heavy smoker, refused to accept the evidence against smoking because the data were correlational. So he refused to the accept the evidence. Now would not the health of our nation be in fine shape if data from randomized controlled trials had been required before taking actions to get people to stop smoking?

It is not generally understood that a failure to find that something does work is not proof that it does not work. This is a subtle, but important, distinction that is understood by people who know inferential statistics. There could be many reasons why an effect was not found to be statistically significant. It could be the result of insufficient statistical power, too small a sample, or a biased sample. It should also be realized that the conclusions apply to the group. It is quite possible that although the group as a whole did not benefit, that there were individuals in the group who did. This notion has increased acceptance due to the emergence of epigenetics. Moreover, the primary interest is in whether these benefits will extend well into old age. Conclusions here await longitudinal studies that have yet to be completed. And for we baby boomers, by the time these studies have been completed, it will be too late.

It is true that there is much hucksterism and that claims should be regarded skeptically. But there are also many legitimate researchers doing the best they can with the resources available. This Healthymemory Blog reviews such research. So if you are eating blueberries, doing puzzles, or doing something else you enjoy, keep doing it. If something is costing you money, you might want to be more cautious and perhaps switch to less costly activities.

Also, use your common sense in evaluating activities. The Healthymemory Blog recommends mnemonic techniques, and evidence is presented in this blog regarding the effectiveness of these techniques. But it is also known that mnemonic techniques require the learning of new information, creativity, and involve both hemispheres of the brain as well as information transfer across the corpus callosum. So there are good reasons to believe that they should foster a healthy memory.

The Newsweek article presents neuroscience as a new science that will tell us what really works. It appears that the NIH Study that the article was based on was written by neuroscientists with a pronounced disciplinary bias. Well neuroscience, like any vibrant science, is in a constant state of flux. When I was a graduate student, the notion of plasticity in the human nervous system was anathema. Had I been an advocate of plasticity in the human nervous system it is unlikely that would have been able to earn a Ph.D.

There are three items that do work according to the article. They are physical exercise, meditation, and some video games. This Healthymemory Blog has no argument with these conclusions. However, it is ironic that these conclusions are attributed to neuroscience. Now it is my turn to demonstrate my disciplinary bias. These conclusions could be based entirely on psychological research. Indeed, the data justifying these conclusions are necessarily performance data based on psychological studies. To be sure, neuroscience is helpful. It can provide theoretical ideas that are helpful. Imaging studies of the brain along with other physiological data can provide a warm fuzzy feeling to us psychologists. But the critical data are psychological and involve behavioral performance.

1Begley, S. (2011) Grow Your Mind: The Truth About How to Boost Your Brain’s Performance. Newsweek, January 10 & 17, 40-45. 

© Douglas Griffith and, 2010. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.