Posts Tagged ‘Superhuman’


March 3, 2020

This post is based on a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity. As we leaned in the post Longevity, resilience is a strong contributor to a longer life. Resilience also increases the success of our activities during this longer life.

There are a variety of factors contributing to resilience, but this post is focusing on those we can control. Ann Masten, a psychologist at the Center for Neurobehavioral Development at the University of Minnesota, calls the power of resilience “ordinary magic.” She thinks it is magic anyone can use. Nimbi Hutnik’s team at London South Bank University says resilience, although a complex mix of biology, psychology, and environment, has the potential to be taught. It is worth noting that exercises in mental resilience can be learned, and can be used to promote health and well-being..

Hooper writes, “The capacity to be super resilient may be there even in us normal people, but we need guidance and support to find it, maybe from psychotherapy, maybe from friends. We need help to be optimistic, encouraged to take control, and empowered to be responsible. We need a certain amount of self-love. A touch of narcissism is good! We need to stand up for ourselves so we are not mistreated at work or in relationships, we need to be assertive without devaluing others, and have a self-image that is positive without being conceited, This mixture of personality traits will drive you forward. Some of them can be constructed, if you do not have them naturally.”

HM adds, being super resilient is certainly desirable, but plain old vanilla resilience can be quite good. HM also adds that meditation is extremely useful in the pursuit of resilience.

Look forward to more posts on this important topic.

Longevity: How Long Will We Live

March 2, 2020


This post is based on a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity. The longest lived person on record is Jeannae Calment who died in 1917 at the age of 122. It is recorded that she did smoke, but only one or two cigarettes per day. Her diet was rich in olive oil and chocolates (1 kilo per week).

Blue Zones is the name for areas were centenarians tend to cluster. The people on Okinawa’s western edge are the longest lived people in the world. Not surprisingly these people have been well studied for clues to their remarkable lifespan. Their diet is high in tofu, fresh vegetables, and fresh fish. Their social structure is tight-knit and supportive. Their lifestyle includes activities such a bashofu (a traditional form of fabric weaving) plus the habit of hara hachi, which is a Confucian practice of eating only until you are 80% full.

There are other blue zones such as Sardinia, in the Italian Mediterranean, and the Nicola peninsula of Costa Rica, and the Greek island of Ikaria.

There is one Blue Zone in the United States the city of Loma Linda, in California. HM’s sister-in law lives there. Men in Loma Linda have a life expectancy of 88, and women a year more. The town has been extensively settled by members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Seventh Dayers don’t drink or smoke (smoking is banned in the town) and most are vegetarians. According to the scientist at the New England Centenarian Study, this is the baseline lifespan for the rest of us if only we ate well and took better care of ourselves.

Mental resilience is another important factor. According to the biographer of Jeannae Calment, she was biologically immune to stress. She had a saying, “If you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.” She also ascribed her longevity to her calm approach to stress.

There is a common Japanese expression, sho ga nai, which means “nothing can be done about it.” A variant, shikata ga nai, is similar meaning “it cannot be helped.”

If you’re counting on your genes carrying you well into old age, stop counting. Genetics do play a factor, but not as large as many think. Moreover, specific genes have been identified that contribute to aging, but each of these genes has a small effect, and there needs to be a large group to achieve a noticeable effect. The have also identified a disease-associated gene, but there have been long living individuals who managed to outlive this gene.

The reader can draw their own conclusions from this post. HM would suggest living as healthy a life style as one can tolerate. Maintain healthy social interactions. Shun stress and foster resilience. Meditation should be extremely useful in shunning stress and fostering resilience. There is a very large number of posts on meditation. Just enter “relaxation response” in the search block at Follow this with entering “meditation” in the search block.


March 1, 2020

This post is motivated by a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity.

Here is a famous poem by E.A. Robinson

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
‘Good-morning,’ and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

The following taken from Voltaire, Notebooks

“We all look for happiness, but without knowing where to find it: like drunkards who look for their house, knowing dimly that they have one.”

So happiness appears to be an elusive concept. Actually, happiness is easy to achieve provided that one has an appropriate frame of mind. Take people with the locked-in syndrome, for example. In the extreme form of the locked-in syndrome, the sufferers have no means of interacting with the external world.

But Jean-Dominique Bauby was still able to blink his eyes after suffering a devastating stroke, He managed to write the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by blinking his eye. This book was made into a highly recommended motion picture. He died shortly after this book was published.

Brain imaging has identified living individuals who were locked in and had no means, even eye-blinking. This finding was extremely depressing. Yet, to the best of HM’s knowledge, none of these individuals requested that their lives be ended.

Hooper relates the stories of several individuals who are classified as being locked in as their means of interacting with the world are severely limited, yet who are happy in their lives. One of these individuals said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that my brain’s default setting is happiness.” Others, while not attributing their happiness to their brain setting, showed resilience in adapting to their condition.

It is likely that the majority of humans believe that wealth paves the road to happiness, although that was certainly not the case with Richard Cory; and there are wealthy people who do commit suicide.

Researchers Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers found that as income increases, so does happiness, although it increases at increasingly smaller amounts. This kind of measure of happiness is called lifetime evaluation.

A more accurate technique for measuring happiness is called experiential sampling. In this method, you buzz people randomly on their mobiles throughout the day, and ask them, “How happy are you right now, on a scale of 1 to 10. Using the experimental sampling measure there is no increase beyond $75,000. As that study was done a few years ago, that amount has obviously increased. The point is that what is commonly regarded as a good salary hits the effective maximum. In other words, a million dollars a year does not make you happier. This study’s done by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton of Princeton University that analyzed 450,000 experimental response from 1000 US citizens.

Yet there are billionaires still motivated to earn more and more billions. As these people can live only one life, and their extend families can only extend so far, one wonders why. Apparently, it is simply a matter of ego. These people do give money, but it is usually black money given to politicians or to organizations that support politicians that will fight tax increases and any laws they fill will restrict their growth of income. They also want to restrict and control the lives of fellow citizens so that they march to the drummer they want these citizens to march to.

One would think that via philanthropy, they can increase the well-being of others. Excellent examples of these people are Warrant Buffet, one of the world’s foremost capitalists, and William and Melinda Gates, who are using both their wealth and operations research to maximize the effects of their giving. Both Buffet and the Gates are against inherited wealth because they do not think it is good for their children. It is also not good for the health of the country. Inherited wealth has a pernicious effect.

There are also people who achieve happiness by working directly for the public and the needy. There is a post on this blog, Trump vs. a Buddhist Monk that argues that the Buddhist Monk is the happier of the two.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2020. 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.


February 29, 2020

Be true to the thought of the moment and avoid distraction. Other than continuing to exert yourself, enter into nothing else, but go to the extent of living single thought by single thought.”

—Yamamoto Tsunetomo (c. 1710)

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity. Michael Easterman is a cofounder of the Boston Attention and Learning Lab at Boston University. He says, “The science shows that when people are motivated, either intrinsically, i.e., they love it; or extrinsically, i.e., they will get a prize, they’re better able to maintain consistent brain activity, and maintain readiness for the readiness for the unexpected.” Motivation means this consistency doesn’t fall off over time.

In one experiment, participants were shown a random sequence of photographs of cities and mountain scenes, one every 800 milliseconds, while in an fMRI brain scanner. They needed to press a button whenever they saw a city scene (which occurred 90% of the time) and avoid pressing the button when a mountain scene appeared (the remaining 10%). Sometimes the trials were rewarded, In these cases participants earned 1 cent for each city scene they responded to, and 10 cents for not responding to a mountain scene. They were also penalized for getting it wrong. Other trials had no reward or penalty. The results of their brain activity showed that without the motivation of reward, the participants acted as “cognitive misers”: they didn’t bother engaging the brain’s attentional resources until their performance had dipped. [‘cognitive miser] is a term that has been used many times in this blog; enter “cognitive miser” into the search block at to see how many times and where] Until, in other words, they had dropped out of the zone. When they were motivated by reward, however, the participants were “cognitive investors,” happy to engage their brain and concentrate in order to stay focused on the task.

In 2015, Yi-Yuan Tang, Michael Posner at the University of Oregon, and Britta Holzel at the Technical University of Munich published a review of the evidence in Nature Reviews Neuroscience. They concluded that more than twenty years of research into meditation supports the idea that it is beneficial for physical and mental health, and that it improves cognitive performance. Basically, it improves brain power.

Joshua Grant at the University of Montreal scanned the brains of Zen practioners who had racked up more than a thousand hours of practice. These seasoned meditators show less activity in a few areas of the the brain than non meditators: in the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, and the hippocampus. These are areas are respectively concerned with (among other things) awareness of pain, the processing of emotions such as fear, and memory storage. But some parts of the brain process pain were thicker in the meditators. There is no contradiction here: meditators process the pain but let it bother them less.

Meditative practice leads to changes in the structure of the brain. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the insula, a deep fold in the cerebral cortex, two areas of the brain known to be key to our ability to focus attention, both grow in people who meditate. These regions, along with parts of the front midline of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus, are activated during cognitive tasks. For example, the ACC aids in the maintenance of focus by preventing other systems of the brain from barging in and demanding attention. Hooper writes, “When we are performing tasks that have been practiced over and over such as adjusting the sails on a trimaran or changing gears in a racing car, the autonomic nervous system plays a big part in carrying them out. That’s the part of the nervous system that acts automatically, performing functions such as regulating the heart rate and digestion. When we are in an effortless state of flow this occurs below the level of conscious awareness, and the ACC and the insula together help the autonomic nervous system achieve it.

There is a very large number of posts on meditation in the healthy memory blog. Just enter “meditation” into the search block at It might be a good idea to first enter “relaxation response” as the relaxation response provides the entry into more advanced meditation techniques.


February 28, 2020

Memory is the title of a chapter in a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity.

This is one of the quotes at the beginning the chapter:
“I’m more than my brain but my memories are what makes me, so if I don’t remember then who am I?…I don’t know when to say goodbye
-Nicola Wilson, Plaques and Tangles (2015)

This poor man is suffering from Alzheimer’s. One can infer this from the title, Plaques and Tangles, as amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles are the defining features of Alzheimer’s. Even though these are the defining features, many have died who have had autopsies showing this defining evidence of the disease, but who never experienced andy of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms of the disease. The explanation is that these individuals had developed a cognitive reserve to protect them. The Healthymemory blog is dedicated to providing advice and content to help people develop cognitive reserve. Staying cognitively active throughout one’s life is important. Engaging in Kahneman’s System 2 processing, more commonly referred to as critical thinking is important. There are many posts on this topic including growth mindsets. This is a matter of growing your memory learning skills and topics throughout one’s lifetime. Meditation and mindfulness are helpful. And using mnemonic techniques to be discussed next provide for healthy memories. There is an entire category of posts for mnemonic techniques.

Memory champions are able to accomplish astounding features. There are annual World Memory Championships. The 2016 world champion was the first person to memorize in under 20 seconds the order of a deck of shuffled playing cards, and the first to memorize more than 3,000 single-digit numbers in one hour.

Joshua Foer won the 2006 World Memory Championships. Enter “Moonwalking with Einstein: the Bottom Line” in the search block at
to read about these memory contest and what true mnemonists are able to accomplish. There is also an entire category of posts on this topic under the category Mnemonic Techniques

Martin Dressler of the Donders Institute of Brain, Cognition and Behavior at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands has shown that anyone can use the techniques of memory athletes through a function magnetic resonance image (fMRI) scanner.

When Dressler put volunteers who were new to memory training through six weeks of instruction on the memory palace technique he found that they typically doubled their ability to remember words from a random list. Plus the activity patterns of their brains had started to converge with that seen in the champion memorizers.

People with Highly Successful Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) are also discussed in the chapter. There have been many previous HM blog posts on this topic. These are people who seem to be able to recall what they did and what happened when given da date such as 14 July 1996. The actress Marilu Henner has this ability, and she has found this ability to be helpful in her acting career. She is the only example that HM knows of that has used this exceptional capability in their careers.

The chapter covers the important category of eyewitness testimony. Unfortunately, the courts have put a high level of credibility on eyewitness testimony, but eyewitness testimony is extremely unreliable. Some have the misconception that this unreliability is restricted to people of different races. This is wrong. Eyewitness testimony is poor across the board.

HM is fascinated when watching crime shows and the police try to get information from witnesses. Even when these eyewitnesses are trying to help, their memories are more likely than not to be wrong. HM marvels that the police are able to solve crimes.

Felipe De Brigard says that memory isn’t just for remembering. He argues that misremembering is so common it shouldn’t be seen all the time as a malfunction. In his view, many cases can help us construct scenarios of past events that might have happened, so as to better simulate possible events in the future, An unreliable memory may also destabilize your personality. Although you may think that your personality is something unchangeably intrinsic to you, a study in 2016 that measure personality traits over a sixty-year period showed they can profoundly alter over a lifetime.

Felipe De Brigard’s view of memory is similar to that expressed in the healthy memory blog. Memory is for time travel so that we can travel back in time to what we’ve learned an experienced, to travel into the future to assess what types of action are required to deal with these new situations.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2020. 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.

True Human Machine Symbiosis

February 6, 2020

A mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups: a perfect mother and daughter symbiosis. This is a definition of symbiosis plus an example. The concept of symbiosis and a slight enhancement of symbiosis, neo-symbiosis has occurred in previous healthymemory posts. This particular post was inspired by the Conclusions chapter in a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity.

Hooper writes that in 2016 and 2017 there were unprecedented breakthroughs in the understanding of the ancient game of Go. An artificial intelligence (AI) called AlphaGo competed against the world’s top human players, and crushed them. It played moves that had never been seen before in the game’s three-thousand-year history. The best humans in the world at this game upped their game. Lee Sodol of South Korea, and Ke Jie of China changed and improved the way they played because of what they had learned from AlphaGo. Jie said, ”After my match against AlphaGo, I fundamentally reconsidered the game, and now can see that this reflection has helped me greatly. Although I lost, I discovered that the possibilities of Go are immense and that the game has continued to progress.” Jie then went on a twenty-two-game winning streak.”

Dennis Hassabas the cofounder of Google DeepMind, the London-based lab that developed AlphaGo, and its even more impressive successor AlphaZero said that the response of Jie and Sodol shows want AI can do for humanity. We fear that AI will take our jobs, but this is misplaced. AI show us who we can be.  Hassabas says that human ingenuity augmented by AI will unlock our true potential.

We should examine what AI can tell us about other realms of endeavor besides games like this.