Posts Tagged ‘System 2’

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

September 24, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

As AD progresses from earlier to later stages, atrophy starts in the medial temporal lobe, extends to the parietal lobe, and finally includes the frontal lobe. The long-term memory impairment in early AD patients can be attributed to the disrupted processing in the hippocampus and parietal cortex, to regions that have been associated with this cognitive process. As the disease progresses, other cognitive processes are disrupted such as attention and language, which both depend on the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

In early AD patients, as atrophy begins in the parietal cortex and the frontal cortex, there have also been reports of increases in fMRI activity within cortical regions. It is unknown whether these increases in cortical fMRI activity reflect a compensatory mechanism, which is often assumed to be the case, or reflect non-compensatory hyperactivity due to neural disruption.

In addition to brain atrophy, AD patients have abnormal high levels of proteins in different brain regions. In the medial temporal lobe, the accumulation of tau protein leads to neurofibrillary tangles. In cortical regions, such as the parietal cortex in early AD, the accumulation of amyloid-B protein leads to amyloid plaques. The neurofibrillary tangles in the medial temporal lobe and amyloid plaques in cortical regions can be assumed to disrupt neural processing in these regions.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “There is an influential hypothesis that there is a causal relationship between default network activity that leads to deposition of amyloid that results in atrophy and disrupted metabolic activity, which impairs long-term memory in AD patients. The regions in the default network are active when participants are not engaged in a task and include the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the medial prefrontal cortex, the inferior prefrontal cortex and the medial parietal cortex. In AD patients, amyloid deposition occurs in the same regions, which suggest the default network activity may lead to amyloid deposition. Dr. Slotnick suggests that perhaps higher level of amyloid deposition, which occurs in late AD patients, is necessary to produce atrophy in the frontal cortex.

Healthy memory readers should recognize the similarity between the default network and Kahneman’s System 1 processing. System 1 processing is the default network that needs to be disrupted to engage in System 2 processing, better known as thinking.

Dr. Slotnick continues, “If high amyloid deposition is a causal factor in developing AD, older adults with low levels of amyloid should be at decreased risk for developing this disease. There is some evidence that cognitive engagement and exercise throughout life may reduce the amyloid level in the brains of healthy older adults as a function of cognitive engagement (System 2 processing), and this was compared to the cortical amyloid levels . Participants rated the frequency which they engaged in cognitively demanding tasks such as reading, writing, going to the library, or playing games at five different ages (6, 12, 18, 40, and their current age). Healthy older adults with greater cognitive engagement throughout their lifetime, as measured by the average cognitive activity at the five ages, had lower levels of amyloid in default network regions. Moreover, the healthy older adults in the lowest one-third of lifetime engagement had amyloid levels that were equivalent to AD patients, and the healthy older adults in the highest one-third of lifetime cognitive engagement had amyloid levels that were equivalent to young adults.

It should also be noted that many have died who upon autopsy had levels of amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles definitive of AD, but who never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms characteristics of the disease. The explanation typically offered for these individuals is that they had built a cognitive reserve as a result of the mental activities they had engaged in during their lifetimes.

There is a wide variety of products sold to prevent AD, such as computer games and pills that increase short-term memory. But it should be clear from the posts on cognitive science that the entire brain is involved. That is why the healthy memory blog strongly recommends growth mindsets with continual learning throughout the lifespan. These make heavy use of System 2 processing. Of course, a healthy lifestyle that includes physical exercise must also be part of the mix.

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The Importance of Attention

August 6, 2019

This is the seventh post in a new series of posts on Healthy Memory.

System 2 processes require attention. Our attention is limited. So it is a poor idea to waste attention on social media or on multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is inefficient as time and effort is involved in switching between tasks.

Remember the analogy of the corporation. Attention resides in the executive suite, but it is a limited resource. The way you allocate attention is critical to the health and efficiency of the mind.

Meditation is central to gaining control of your attention and to controlling and using your attention to its best value. There are many posts on meditation.

Use the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com and enter: relaxation response

That should hold one’s attention for quite some time. Subsequent searchers can be made for
meditation
mindfulness

The Psychology That Binds Trump Fans to His Racism

July 23, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Kathleen D. Vohs in the Outlook section of the 21 July 2019 issue of the Washington Post. Vohs is writing about Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance. This theory will be returned to later in this post, but the article reminded HM that psychological theories can account for Trump and his supporters.

There have been many posts about Kahneman’s Two System view of cognition. There was a previous post titled Kahneman and Identity Based Politics that provides a large portion of the explanation for Trump and his followers. In Nobel Lauerate Daniel Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition, System 1, intuition, is our normal mode of processing and requires little or no attention. System 2, commonly referred to as thinking, requires our attention. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1. When we encounter something contradictory to what we believe, the brain sets off a distinct signal. It is easier to ignore this signal and to continue System 1 processing. To engage System 2 requires attentional resources to attempt to resolve the discrepancy and to seek further understanding.

Emotional processing is a System 1 process. System 1 is fast requiring minimal cognitive resources. Virtually all of Trump’s message is emotional and is processed on System 1. His MAGA message is one founded on hate and fear. Ironically, it seeks to turn the United States back to a time when it was much more racist and fearful of immigrants. There is nothing Great about what he wants to do to the United States.

Unfortunately, to rebuke these views requires System 2 processing. System 2 requires critical thinking, something which many find painful to do, and a recourse to facts and logic. Trump dislikes facts and tells his followers that he is the only source of truth. This is the hallmark of a demagogue, but his followers remain blind to his lies and contradictions.

Here is where Festinger’s Theory of Cognitive Dissonance enters. Our minds do not like to confront dissonant ideas. So the tendency is to reduce the dissonance by shunning the truth. People refuse being called a racist, because racism is bad they, their families, and friends are certainly not racists.

Understand that we individuals cannot determine whether we are racists. We need to infer this from what we are called by others. “Strangers to Ourselves:  Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious”   by psychologist Timothy D. Wilson provides sound research showing that we need to understand ourselves from the reactions we receive from our fellow human beings. Unfortunately, many people remain unaware of this truth.

Perhaps the most prominent or well known example of this is Joe Biden. He has insulted people, but fails to apologize because he didn’t intend to insult them. There might be a problem with his brain, because this is not how it is supposed to function. Should you insult someone inadvertently, and HM has done this so many times that it is painful, apologize for insulting them and learn from this experience.
Many agree that Trump is not just a racist, but one of the world’s foremost racists. Unfortunately Trump’s base consists of Nazis and white supremacists. It is likely that Trump’s followers will deny this, but while they might not be Nazis, they are white supremacists. Indeed, Fox News has succeeded not from its fraudulent fair and balanced news, but by appealing to white supremacists. True they do not use the term, but the beliefs and the hatred of Obama stem from white supremacist beliefs.

Nazism and white supremacists are bad things, but people think of themselves as good people, not bad people. Similarly for their relatives and friends, they are good people, not bad people, so they cannot be white supremacists. But many, and it can be argued whether it’s a plurality or a majority, think that they are.

Trump voters express a variety of problems that are real and not racist. But still, how could they vote for Trump? Characterizing his behavior as boorish is being charitable. Clearly he is not presidential. He is an embarrassment for us regarding foreign nations. It is doubtful that he could pass a high school civics test. He embraces Putin and other totalitarian dictators. As was mentioned in a previous post, the paramount question is where did he get the money to make so many purchases since so many were in cash. He had been bankrupt and no respectable bank would lend him money. Trump’s son said that he got the money from Russia. So why won’t Trump release his financial data? The obvious reason is that he owes Putin and that Putin effectively owns him. All this was apparent before the election. Republicans recognized his faults and denounced him. But once he was elected, and many Healthymemory posts have outlined how Russia supported him, Republicans embraced him. It is clear that what they want is power, and the capability of profiting remuneratively from that power.

Expect Republicans to keep defending Trump. The Mueller report is not needed to impeach Trump. His behavior, which has worsened since he became President, is sufficient. Plus, how can the United States afford a president who is indebted to a hostile foreign power? Nevertheless, Republicans will ignore the facts and continue with the false narrative being advanced that Trump is the victim. This 1984 scenario is the only one that will save Trump.

Trump’s false claims about being the victim are clearly motivated out of desperation and are wrong, but to realize this it takes System 2 Processing, which requires mental effort and might be painful, so clearly Trump is a victim. Some people are for Trump for religious reasons, but religions that promote Trump have a political agenda. And for true Christians, they might want to switch to a Christian sect that is more in accordance with Christ’s teachings.

There is another dimension to consider, and that dimension is truly enormous. That is the social dimension. Although psychology provides an understanding of Trump’s support, unfortunately it provides little in the way of knowledge for changing people’s minds once they are firmly set. Usually this takes significant time. Abandoning Trump would likely produce frictions within families and among friends. So a thinking person needs to proceed carefully. One option would be to remain silent, but to use the ballot box to record one’s true and well reasoned opinions.

Alzheimer’s Researchers Shift Focus After Failures

July 7, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a front page article by Christopher Rowland in the 4 July 2019 issue of the Washington Post. These researchers are shifting their focus to new drug treatments that deal with other factors than the defining features for an Alzheimer’s diagnose, which are amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles. The conclusion that this research is fruitless was made by a former researcher in this area. The Myth of Alzheimer’s is a book by Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D. and Ph.D and Daniel George, M.Sc. Whitehouse is the former researcher who came to the conclusion that this research would never yield results. There was a healthy memory post on this book in 2011. HM believes Dr. Whitehouse is working on non drug treatments for Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s association provides little, if any, support in this area. The Alzheimer’s association provides financial support for drug research. HM wonders in the unlikely event that a useful drug was produced, whether the Alzheimer’s Association had some agreement to limit costs or would this company be allowed to prey on the public. Before giving any money to the Alzheimer’s association, potential donors should demand an answer to this question.

There have been many posts on this topic including one titled “The Myth of Alzheimer’s.” Perhaps the most significant finding is one that is rarely, if ever, mentioned. And that is that people die with the defining characteristics for an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, but who never knew that they had the disease because they never had any behavioral or cognitive symptoms of the disease. The explanation offered is that these people had developed a cognitive reserve as a result of being cognitively active during their lifetimes.

The reappearing theme in this blog is that people should live cognitively fulfilling lives with growth mindsets in which they are continuing to learn. This involves System 2 processing, more commonly referred to as thinking. Our normal processing mode is System 1, which is quite fast and efficient. Here we are in cruise control where the conscious content just keeps flowing. As one proceeds through life this becomes easier and easier. Much has been learned, there is little interest in learning anything new, so the mind effectively is on cruise control. Cognitive neuroscience has termed this the default mode network, which is quite similar, if not identical, to Kahneman’s System 2 processing which is from cognitive psychology.

HM knows people who have been cognitively active throughout their lives, yet still succumbed to Alzheimer’s or dementia. But there are other causes. One of HM’s friends trained himself to get by on 4 hours of sleep per night. Research shows us that 7 to 8 hours of sleep are required. Other ambitious people burn the candle and both ends, which also leads to sleep deprivation.

HM wishes the researchers well in their research. But everyone should know that by engaging in a cognitively challenging life with growth mindsets they should greatly decrease, if not eliminate, the prospect of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Of course, a healthy lifestyle is also assumed.

Please use the search block of the blog (healthymemory.wordpress.com) to learn more about any of the terms in this post.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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 Role of Humor for a Healthy Memory

June 28, 2019

This post was inspired by a column by Marlene Cimons titled “Laughter can cure your ills? That’s no joke” in the Health and Science Section of the June 18, 2019 issue the Washington Post. She cites the following statement by Carl Reiner. “There is no doubt about it. Laughter is my first priority. I watch something that makes me laugh. I wake up and tickle myself while I’m still in bed. There is no greater pleasure than pointing at something, smiling and laughing about it. I don’t think there is anything more important than being able to laugh. When you can laugh, life is worth living. It keeps me going. It keeps me young.”

Reiner is 97. His fellow funny people: Mel Brooks is 93, Dick Van Dyke is is 93, Norman Lear will be 97, and Betty White is 97, seem to make this point.

Sven Svebak, professor emeritus at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology says, “A friendly sense of humor will bless you with better social relations as well as coping skills, and the reduced risk of dying early. A friendly sense of humor acts like shock absorbers in a car, a mental shock absorber in everyday life to help us cope better with a range of frustrations, hassles, and irritations.”

Norman Cousins asserted that self-induced bouts of laughter (and massive intravenous doses of vitamin C) extended his life after he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, which is a debilitating form of arthritis. Cousins lived many years longer that his doctors initially predicted,

Edward Creagan, professor of medical oncology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science said, “When people are funny, they attract other people, and community connectedness is the social currency for longevity. Nobody wants to be around negative, whiny people. It’s a drain. We’re attracted to funny people.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter stimulates the brain to release more endorphins. It also helps people manage stress by easing tension, relaxing the muscles and lowering blood pressure. It relieves pain and improves mood. Laughter also strengthens the immune system.

Creagan says, “When we laugh, it decreases the level of the evil stress hormone cortisol. When we are stressed, it goes high and this interferes with the parts of the brain that regulate emotions. When that happens, the immune system deteriorates and becomes washed in a sea of inflammation, which is a factor in hear disease, cancer, and dementia. Cortisol interferes with the body’s immune system, putting us at risk for these three groups of diseases.

The results of a large Norwegian study of 53,556 participants conducted by Svebak and his colleagues indicate that humor can delay or prevent certain life-threatening diseases. The scientists measured the subjects’ sense of humor with a health survey that included, among other things, a cognitive element, “asking the participants to estimate their ability to find something funny in most situations.

Women with high cognitive scores experience a reduced risk of premature death from cardiovascular and infectious diseases. Men with high cognitive scores had a reduced risk of early death from infections.

Ms. Cimons’s article also reported that humor seems to stimulate memories and improve mental acuity in the elderly, especially among those with dementia. Elder clowns are now also helping seniors in residential setting says Bernie Warren, professor emeritus in dramatic arts and the University of Windsor and founder of Fools for Health, a Canadian clown-doctor program.

There are good reasons that humor benefits a healthy memory. This can be thought of in terms of Kahneman’s Two Process of cognition. System 1 is our default mode of processing and is very fast. System 2 kicks in when we are learning something or when we hear or see something that is surprising. A joke occurs when something unexpected happens. If we are surprised and amused, that is due to System 2 processing kicking in. If System 2 does not kick in, then we miss the point and the humor of the joke. System 2 processing is critical for both a good sense of humor and a healthy memory.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Passing 73

May 6, 2019

Meaning that today HM is entering his 74th year. He engages in ikigai, the Japanese term referring to living a life with purpose, a meaningful life. His purpose, in addition to living a fulfilling life with his wife, is to learn and share his thoughts and knowledge with others. HM does this primarily through his blog healthymemory, which focuses on memory health and technology.

HM’s Ph.D is in cognitive psychology. That field has transitioned to cognitive neuroscience, a field of research and a term that did not exist when HM was awarded his Ph.D. HM is envious of today’s students. However, he is still fortunate enough to be able to keep abreast of current research and to relay relevant and meaningful research from this field to his readers.

What is most disturbing is the atmosphere of fear and hate that prevails today. It is ironic that technology, which had, and still has, a tremendous potential for spreading knowledge, now largely spreads disinformation, hatred, and fear.

HM understands why this is the case, but, unfortunately, he does not know how to counter it.

The problem can best be understood in terms of Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of cognition. In Nobel Lauerate Daniel Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition. System 1, intuition, is our normal mode of processing and requires little or no attention. Unfortunately System 1 is largely governed by emotions. Fear and hate are System 1 processes. System 2, commonly referred to as thinking, requires our attention. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1. When we encounter something contradictory to what we believe, the brain sets off a distinct signal. It is easier to ignore this signal and to continue System 1 processing. To engage System 2 requires attentional resources to attempt to resolve the discrepancy and to seek further understanding. To put Kahneman’s ideas into the vernacular, System 2 involves thinking. System 1 is automatic and requires virtually no cognitive effort. Emotions are a System 1 process, as are identity based politics. Politics based on going with people who look like you requires no thinking yet provides social support.

Trump’s lying is ubiquitous. Odds are that anything he says is a lie. His entire candidacy was based on lies. So why is he popular? Identifying lies and correcting misinformation requires mental effort, System 2 processing. It is easier to be guided by emotions than to expend mental effort. The product of this cognitive miserliness is a stupidity pandemic.

Previous healthy memory posts have emphasized the enormous potential of technology. Today people, especially young people, are plugged in to their iPhones. Unfortunately, the end result is superficial processing. They get information expeditiously, but they are so consumed with staying in touch with updated information, that they have neither time nor attention left for meaningful System 2 processing. Unfortunately, technology, specifically social media, amplifies these bad effects, thus increasing misinformation, hatred and fear. Countering these bad effects requires implementing System 2 processes, that is thinking. A massive failure to do this enables Trump to build his politics on lies spreading hatred and fear.

As has been written in many previous healthy memory posts, System 2 processing will not only benefit politics, but will also decrease the probability of suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Personally, all this is upsetting. But HM believes it is essential to love one’s fellow humans. He tries to deal with this via meditation. Progress is both difficult and slow but it needs to be done. Hatred destroys the one who hates. So HM continues a daily struggle to be a better human being.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Unhealthful Memories Can Lead to Alzheimer’s and the Loss of Democracy

May 3, 2019

This post is motivated by an article by Greg Miller titled “With Mueller silent, Barr speaks for him—and defends the president” in the 2 May 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The article is about how Barr has gotten ahead of Mueller and completely misrepresented the report of the special council. Mueller has remained silent trying to observe the normal protocols. Barr has completely misrepresented Mueller’s report and continues to lie and misrepresent his characterization of the report when questioned by Democratic members of the Senate. Most Republicans seem to be complicit in Barr’s lies and misrepresentation.

Mueller will eventually testify, but much damage has been done by Trump’s puppet Barr. However, it is more than time that truth will need to overcome. The failure of too many Americans to use their critical thinking processes also hinders their reaching truth.

A brief review of Kahneman’s two process theory of cognition is appropriate 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.

The default mode network will be mentioned in future posts. Basically it corresponds to System 1 processing. What is important is the word “default.” Once misinformation has gotten into memory it takes cognitive effort to remove and correct it.

Without knowing it, Trump is a genius at exploiting the default mode network. The default mode network is also responsive to emotion. Emotion comes first. That’s why it is important to stop and think, when you become angry, so you do not respond foolishly. But by exploiting pre-existing biases and out and out lying, misinformation gets into memory. And it will remain there until the individual thinks, discovers the information is wrong, and corrects this memory.

This problem is exacerbated by social media. As has been shown in previous posts, social media reinforces this disinformation. Much of this misinformation is emotional. Hate spreads easily, unfortunately, much faster than does love and caring.

There have been many previous posts on how cognitive activity, system 2 processing, getting free of the default mode network decreases the likelihood of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Moreover, there are many cases of individuals whose brains have the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s, the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, who die never knowing that they had Alzheimer’s because they had none of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms.

Effective democracy also depends on healthy memories. It requires that citizens know how democracy works and seek and evaluate information as to how the democracy should proceed. There is ample evidence that few citizens know how the government is supposed to work as outlined in the U.S. Constitution. And there is ample evidence that most voting citizens have little understanding of the issues and candidates on which they are voting.

If Russia waged a conventional military attack on the United States, citizens would be outraged and demand that we fight back. But the Russians are smart, and too many Americans are stupid. The Russians used cyberattacks. These cyberattacks have been described in previous healthy memory posts. These cyberattacks promoted Trump for president and created disruption and polarization among the American public. Remember that Trump was not elected in the popular vote. He lost that by three million votes. He won due to an irresponsible electoral college.

Trump built his campaign on lies, and continues to support himself on lies. Obviously it requires too much mental effort for too many citizens to recognize this individual as the fraud and obscenity he actually is.

Regardless of the Mueller report, there is ample evidence that Trump needs to be impeached. And reading the Mueller report one quickly realizes that if Trump did not commit any crimes of which he could be convicted, his behavior still puts democracy at risk. Should he not be impeached and should he lose a reelection, he will claim fraud and refuse to leave the office. Our democracy is at risk of becoming a de facto totalitarian dictatorship. Obviously that is something that Barr would prefer, as he thinks there are no limits on presidential power.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Get A Life!

April 9, 2019

This is the final post of a series of posts based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled: “Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Perhaps the best way of thinking about Facebook and related problems is via Nobel Winning Lauerate Daniel Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition. System 1 is fast and emotional. Beliefs are usually the result of System 1 processing. System 2 is slow, and what we commonly regard as thinking.

The typical Facebook user is using System 1 processing almost exclusively. He is handing his life over to Facebook. The solution is to Get a Life and take your life back from Facebook.

The easiest way to do this is to get off from Facebook cold turkey. However, many users have personal reasons for using Facebook. They should take back their lives by minimizing their use of Facebook.

First of all, ignore individual users unless you know who they are. Ignore likes and individual opinions unless you know and can evaluate the individual. Remember what they say about opinions, “they’e like a—h—-s, everybody has one.” The only opinions you should care about are from responsible polls done by well known pollsters.

You should be able to find useful sources on your own without Facebook. Similarly you can find journalists and authors on your own without Facebook. Spend time and think about what you read. Is the article emotional? Is the author knowledgeable?

If you take a suggestion from Facebook, regard that source skeptically.

Try to communicate primarily via email and avoid Facebook as much as possible.

When possible, in person meetings are to be preferred.

In closing, it needs to be said that Facebook use leads to unhealthy memories. And perhaps, just as in the case of Trump voters, HM predicts an increased incidence of Alzheimer’s and dementia among heavy Facebook users.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Zucking

March 29, 2019

This is the second post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Roger writes, “Zuck created Facebook to bring the world together.’ What he did not know when he met Zuck, but that he eventually discovered was that Zuck’s idealism was unbuffered by realism or empathy. Zuck seems to have assumed that everyone would view and use Facebook the way he did, not imagining how easily the platform could be exploited to cause harm. He did not believe in data privacy and did everything he could to maximize disclosure and sharing. Roger writes that Zuck operated the company as if every problem could be solved with more or better code. “He embraced invasive surveillance, careless sharing of private data, and behavior modification in pursuit of unprecedented scale and influence. Surveillance, the sharing of user data, and behavioral modification are the foundation of Facebook’s success. Users are fuel for Facebook’s growth and, in some cases, the victims of it.”

The term “behavioral modification” is used here in a different sense than how it is usually meant. Typically behavioral modification is used to modify or eliminate undesirable behaviors, such as smoking. Although sometimes this involves the use of painful stimuli, there are effective techniques that avoid aversive stimuli.

The behavioral modification involved in Zucking can best be understood in terms of Kahneman’s two process view of cognition. The two process view of cognition provides a means of understanding both how we can process information so quickly and why cognition fails and is subject to error. There are several two systems views of cognition, all of which share the same basic ideas. Perhaps the most noteworthy two system view is that of Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahenman.

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 typically 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.

Zuck’s behavioral modification involves System 1 processing almost exclusively. System 1 is largely emotional and involves little, if any thinking. “Likes” are largely emotional responses. People like something because it is something they agree with and invokes a favorable emotional response. Similarly, when someone accesses a site, it is most likely a site that they like and have a favorable response.

Facebook collects the data to send users to sites that they like and are interested in. Most of this processing occurs at a non conscious level so users are not conscious that they are being manipulated. But they are being manipulated which can lead to poor decisions. Moreover, they are directed to like-minded individuals, so there is minimal chance that they will know about different opinions and different ideas.

This behavior that is being modified is all beneficial to Facebook. Facebook wants to keep users on Facebook as long as possible. This results in increased ad revenues for Facebook. The critical resource here is attention. And Facebook’s procedures are extremely effective at capturing and keeping attention.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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 Relationship Among Key Healthy Memory Themes

February 17, 2019

The immediately preceding post was on the role of mindsets in supporting resettling refugees. Specifically, people with growth mindsets tended to support resettling refugees. Resettling refugees is a progressive topic; it is likely that people with growth mindsets will tend to support progressive ideas.

Readers of the healthymemory blog should know that growth mindsets are important to healthy memories. There is also a relationship between growth mindsets and 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.  System 2 is central in learning, so it is also key to effective growth mindsets. Both growth mindsets and System 2 processing are central to building a cognitive reserve which serves to thwart Alzheimer’s and dementia.

To elaborate a tad further System 2 processing and growth mindsets also leads to a more fulfilling life, and in advocating progressive ideas, a better country and a better world.

Previous posts have written of a stupidity pandemic. Perhaps it has always been existent, but Trump’s presidency makes it apparent in its glaring stupidity. This makes growth mindsets, System 2 processing, and compassion for our fellow humans all the more critical.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Happy New Year 2019!

December 31, 2018

So it’s time for those new year’s resolutions. HM encourages you to consider marshaling your precious attentional resources. Unfortunately, it seems like the majority of people are unknowingly squandering their attentional resources. Our attentional resources are limited, so we need to try to use them to best advantage. This is key to the development and maintenance of a healthy memory.

The first issue regards the amount of time you are plugged in. Being plugged in subjects you to interruptions that can be harmful. Being plugged in results in superficial processing, which is not good for memory health. There are social issues here, so there is a need to consult with one’s true friends and explain what you are trying to do and why. You might also want to encourage them to join you in this effort.

The next issue, which is clearly related to the first issue, is to restrict use of social media. Do not get news from social media. It can literally lead you down paths to disinformation. There are respected news sources in traditional newspapers and magazines as well as online sources. Evaluate them for their credibility. Previous healthy memory posts have documented the problems resulting from social media news sources, Facebook being the prime example.

Active cognitive processing, System 2 processes in Kahneman’s terminology, contribute to memory health and are likely the best protection against Alzheimer’s and dementia. They also lead to more fulfilling lives and to being better citizens. Learning new skills and subjects require System 2 processing.

System 2 processes along with willpower are limited resources that can be exhausted. If your resolutions are unrealistic and exhaust your willpower, they will not be fulfilled.
Actually, if you are continually hooked in and a social media addict, just getting these problems remedied might be demanding enough. And the reward in memory health would be commensurate.

Previous New Year’s Healthymemory posts have recommended having two resolutions. One which is challenging, and one for which you have a high probability of such seeding. You do not want to go through the new year with an 0fer.

A piece in the 30 December 2018 issue of the Washington Post in the Outlook section by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie disabuses us of the myth that New Year’s Resolutions are useless because they are not kept. A frequently cited statistic is that only 8% of us manage to keep our resolutions. But according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in 2002 found that 46% of resolvers were successful six months later, compared with just 4% of the non resolvers just interested in changing something about their lives. A 2017 Statistic Brain Survey found that 44.8% of participants kept up their resolutions for at least six months, adding, “People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.

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

Controlling Our Minds

September 20, 2018

Perhaps the most significant obstacle to living a fulfilling life is learning to control our minds. If we are pessimists and think depressing thoughts we are unnecessarily depressing ourselves and shutting ourselves off from potential opportunities. This can be thwarted by not thinking depressing thoughts and thinking pleasant thoughts. This is captured in the phrase, “let your smile be your umbrella.”

When we encounter failures and disappointments we should not keep dwelling on them. Although it is good to review them to understand what we might have done differently, once these lessons have been learned we need to move on.

Kahneman’s Two process view of cognition is again relevant here. 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 do slip through.

Most of the time we are engaged in System 1 processing. However, when we are learning mental skills and information we need to engage System 2. System 2 requires cognitive effort and for many people this is painful and something to be avoided. When HM taught in college he usually was disappointed when he asked students why they were attending college. The typical answers were to get a job, or if they weren’t attending college they would need to be working. It seemed that many students were engaged in trying to get that college degree with a minimum of effort. They still used System 2 processes when absolutely necessary, but otherwise they were in cruise control System 1 processing.

These are the same people who buy the Sunday paper for the coupons and rarely read any content in the paper with the possible exception of the sports pages and TV and movie listings.

But there are those of us who continue learning throughout our lives. We are much less likely to suffer from the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s even if we should develop the defining neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque.

As the preceding blog posts on Daimaisio indicated, emotions are intimately tied up with thinking. Although System 1 processing is primarily about one’s standing beliefs and emotions, System 2 processing is still tied up with emotions. When someone encounters beliefs or stated facts which one believes to be wrong, responses tend to be emotional and on the angry side. This is one of the causes of polarization.

One of the best ways of gaining control of our minds is through meditation. The relaxation response involves focusing on one’s breath and, perhaps, a meditation word or phrase and shutting off one’s mind. This is the difficult part of meditation, as the mind has a mind of its own and is always trying to inform us about it. But we need to shut off these thoughts. This is the difficult part of meditation as these thoughts keep evading our space and we need to flick them gently away and not become frustrated. People beginning meditation tend to ask if they doing it properly. If you are doing it properly, you will know. There is a feeling of calm and bliss that is quite rewarding.

When HM started meditating he wondered how there were priests and gurus who meditated for many, many hours. However, having experienced the calmness and bliss of meditation, HM can envision a time in the future when he might go to a retreat and remain their indefinitely.

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

Ivan Pavlov: Socialism

August 13, 2018

Ivan Pavlov was the Russian physiologist who discovered classical conditioning. Pair a bell with the presentation of food to a dog and after a few trials the dog will start drooling at the sound of the bell.

So how does that relate to socialism? To way too many Americans, the response to socialism is evil, no way. For these people, this is a classically conditioned response to the word/idea socialism. Consider in the context of Nobel Winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s two process theory of cognition. System 1 refers to our normal mode of cognition.  It is very fast and allows for fluent conversations and skilled performance.  It is the default mode of cognition.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds to what we colloquially call thinking.  System 2 requires attention and mental effort.  One of the jobs of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors.  However, this requires mental effort and thinking.

System 1 is emotional and it is an emotional response that too many people have to the term socialism. It would be interesting to ask these people to define socialism. Actually the definition would need to be very long. There are many different types and flavors of socialism. Indeed, since we have Social Security and Medicare, some would argue that we have a socialist system. And indeed, there are individual who would like to get rid of both Social Security and Medicare for this reason.

A major problem with political discourse is that it is emotional and almost always a System 1 process. Politicians are asked, “are you a socialist?’ with the implication that if the answer is “Yes”, then they can go to hell.

A good example of the ramifications of this problem is medical care in the United States. The United States has, by far, the most expensive medical system in the world. Unfortunately, in terms of the results of this system, the United States falls to a third level country. Now every other advanced country has solved this problem. And they all have variants of everyone being covered and a single payer, the government. Sure call all these countries socialist. But to use this label to preclude the obvious solution to the health care problem is ridiculous. The excuse provided for not doing the obvious is to say that the United States is an exception. HM would agree and flesh that out by saying the United States is exceptionally stupid.

Labels should be eschewed in politics. Rather needs should be identified and discussed. What are different policies for addressing these needs and what are the costs?

Another statement, which is on the same level as exceptionalism, and that is ‘big government.” Big government is bad and needs to be avoided. The size of government is irrelevant. The question is whether the government, private industry, or some combination could better address the problem. If someone is against big government, then the quickest way to make government smaller would be to eliminate the defense department, veterans affairs, and social security, and to hell with social welfare in general.

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

Conclusions

July 1, 2018

This is the sixth post based on Margaret E. Roberts’ “Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall.” Although this is an outstanding work by Dr. Roberts, the conclusions could have been better. Consequently, HM is providing his conclusions from this work. It is divided into two parts. The first part deals with implications for authoritarian governments. The second part deals with implications for democracies.

Authoritarian Governments

Mao Tse Tung initially used a heavy handed approach to the control of information. Although he managed to maintain control of the regime, it was an economic and social disaster. Beginning with Den Xiapong policies of reform and opening were begun. This evolved slowly and serially. The dictator’s dilemmas were discussed in the first post, “Censored.” One dilemma is when the government would like to enforce constraints on public speech, but repression could backfire against government. Censorship could be seen as a signal that the authority is trying to conceal something and is not in fact acting as an agent for citizens. Another dilemma is that even if the dictator would like to censor, by censoring the autocrat has more difficulty collecting precious information about the public’s view of government. The third dilemma is that censorship can have economic consequences that are costly for authoritarian governments that retain legitimacy from economic growth.

China has apparently handled these three dilemmas via porous censorship. As China has a highly effective authoritarian government it appears that porous censorship is highly effective. One could argue that China has provided a handbook for authoritarian governments, explaining how to maintain power, have a growing economy, and have a fairly satisfied public. It still is an open question for how long this authoritarian government can maintain. Although many Chinese are wealthy, and some are extremely wealthy, the majority of the country is poor. Although, in general, the standard of living has improved for virtually everyone, the amount of improvement largely differs. China has emerged as one of the leading powers in the world.

The question is whether they are satisfied being an economic power, or does it also want to be a military power? It is devoting a serious amount of money to its military forces and has built its first aircraft carrier. Other countries in the area, along with the United States, are justly concerned with China’s growing military power, especially its navy and air force. China has made it clear that they want to dominate the South China Sea. There is also the possibility that when they think the time is right, they will invade Taiwan. It is clear that the United States does not want another land war in Asia. But US Naval forces would be stretched very thin. And the loss of a couple of super carriers could result in a very short war.

Democracies

One can argue that democracy is already plagued with flooding. There is just way too much stuff on the internet. One could also argue that this is just too much of a good thing, but one would be wrong. Placing good information on the internet requires effort. Apart from entertainment, objective truth needs to be a requirement for the internet. Unfortunately, there are entities and individuals such as the current president of the United States, such as the alt-right that do not care about objective truth. So it is easy to post stuff on the internet that has no basis in objective reality. It is easy to spin conspiracy theories and all sorts of nonsense. So there is a problem on the production side. Information based on objective-truth takes time to produce. Eliminate this goal of objective truth and letting the mind run wild provides the means of producing virtually endless amounts of nonsense, at least some of which is harmful.

But there is also effort on the receiving side. Concern with the objective truth requires the use of what Kahneman terms, System 2 processing, which is more commonly know as thinking. This requires both time and mental effort. However, a disregard for objective truth such as what is produced by the alt-right, requires only believing, not thinking. It involves System 1 processing which is also where our emotions sit.

Given that objective truth requires System 2 processing both for its production and its reception, and that a disregard for objective truth such as illustrated in alt-right products and conspiracy theories, requires only System 1 processing with emotional and gut feelings, the latter will likely overwhelm the former. This could spell the death of democracy. If so, the Chinese have provided an effective handbook for managing authoritarian governments.

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

Trump, Russia, and Truth (Cont.)

May 21, 2018

This post is a continuation of the post of the same title taken from the book by Michael Hayden titled “The Assault on Intelligence: American Security in the Age of Lies.” This is the third post in the series.

Gary Kasparov, Soviet chess champion turned Russian dissident outlined the progression of Putin’s attacks. They were developed and honed first in Russia and then with Russian-speaking people nearby before expanding to Europe and the U.S. These same Russian information operations have been used to undercut democratic processes in the United States and Europe, and to erode confidence in institutions like NATO and the European Union.

Hayden notes, “Committed to the path of cyber dominance for ourselves, we seemed to lack the doctrinal vision to fully understand that the Russians were up to with their more full-spectrum information dominance. Even now, many commentators refer to what the Russians did to the American electoral process as a cyber attack, but the actual cyber portion of that was fairly straightforward.”

Hayden writes, “Evidence mounted. The faux personae created at the Russian bot farm—the Saint Petersburg—based Internet Research Agency—were routinely represented by stock photos taken from the internet, and the themes they pushed were consistently pro-Russian. There was occasional truth to their posting, but clear manipulation as well, and they all seemed to push in unison.

The Russians knew their demographic. The most common English words in their faux twitter profiles were “God,” “military,” “Trump,” “family,” “country,” “conservative,” “Christian,” “America,” and “Constitution,” The most commonly used hashtags were #nuclear, #media, #Trump, and #Benghazi…all surefire dog whistles certain to create trending.”

It was easy for analysts to use smart algorithms to determine whether something was trending because of genuine human interaction or simply because it was being pushed by the Russian botnet. Analysts could see that the bots ebbed and flowed based upon the needs of the moment. Analysts tried to call attention to this, but American intelligence did not seem to be interested.

Analyst Clint Watts characterized 2014 as year of capability development for the Russians and pointed to a bot-generated petition movement calling for the return of Alaska to Russia that got more than forty thousand supporters while helping the Russians build their cadre and perfect their tactics. With that success in hand in 2015 the Russians started a real push toward the American audience, by grabbing any divisive social issue they could identify. They were particularly attracted to issues generated from organic American content, issues that had their origin in the American community. Almost by definition, issues with a U.S. provenance could be portrayed as genuine concerns to America, and they were already preloaded in the patois of the American political dialogue, which included U.S. based conspiracy theorists.

Hayden writes, “And Twitter as a gateway is easier to manipulate than other platforms since in the twitterers we voluntarily break down into like-minded tribes, easily identified by or likes and by whom we follow. Watts says that the Russians don’t have to “bubble” us—that is, create a monolithic information space friendly for their messaging, We have already done that to ourselves since, he says, social media is as gerrymandered as any set of state electoral districts in the country. Targeting can become so precise that he considers social media “a smart bomb delivery system.” In Senate testimony, Watts noted that with tailored news feeds, a feature rather than a bug for those getting their news online, voters see “only stories and opinions suiting their preferences and biases—ripe condition for Russian disinformation campaigns.”

Charlie Sykes believes “many Trump voters get virtually all their information from inside the bubble…Conservative media has become a safe space for people who want to be told they don’t have to believe anything that is uncomfortable or negative…The details are less important than the fact that you’re being persecuted, you’re being victimized by people you loathe.”

What we have here is an ideal environment for System 1 processors. They can feed their emotions and beliefs without ever seeing any contradicting information that would cause them to think and invoke System 2 processing.

Republican Max Boot railed against the Fox network as “Trump TV,” Trump’s own version of RT,” and its prime-time ratings czar Sean Hannity as “the president’s de facto minister of information. Hayden says that there are what he calls genuine heroes on the Fox Network, like Shepard Smith, Chris Wallace, Charles Krauthammer, Bret Baier, Dana Perino and Steve Hayes, but for the most part he agrees with Boot. Hannity gave a platform to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange shortly before Trump’s inauguration, traveling to London to interview him at the Ecuadorian embassy, where Assange had taken refuge from authorities following a Swedish rape allegation.

Hayden writes, “When the institutions of the American government refuse to kowtow to the president’s transient whim, he sets out to devalue and delegitimize them in a way rarely, if ever, seen before in our history. A free (but admittedly imperfect) press is “fake news,” unless, of course, it is Fox; the FBI is in “tatters,” led by a”nut job” director and conducting a “witch hunt”; the Department of Justice, and particularly the attorney general, is weak, and so forth.”

It is clear that Trump has experience only with “family” business, where personal loyalty reigns supreme. He has no experience with government and is apparently ignorant of the separation of the three branches of govern, legislative, judicial, and executive. The judicial and legislative branches are to be independent of the executive.

Apparently the White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, asked Trump whether he was guilty. Obviously, Trump said he was innocent, so Cobb told Trump to cooperate with Mueller and that would establish his innocence quickly and he could devote full time to his presidential duties.

Obviously, he is not innocent. On television he told Lester Holt that the reason he fired Comey was that he would not back off the Russia investigation. In other words, he has already been caught obstructing Justice.

During the campaign he requested Hillary’s emails from the Russians. So he was conspiring with the Russians and this conspiracy was successful as he did indeed get the emails.

There are also questions regarding why is he so reluctant to take any actions against Russia? One answer is that it is clearly in Trumps’ interest for the Russians interfering in the mid term election as he is concerned that the Democrats could regain control of both the House and the Senate, which would virtually guarantee that he would be impeached.

A related question regards his finances. Why has he never released his tax forms? There are outstanding debts that are not accounted for, and he seems to be flush with cash, but from where? The most parsimonious answer to this question is that he is in debt to Putin. In other words, Putin owns him.

We do not know what evidence Mueller has, but it appears that it is very large.

And Trump is behaving like a guilty person. Of course he denies his guilt and proclaims his innocence vehemently, but this only makes him appear guilty. He is viciously attacking the government and the constitution to discredit them, since he will not be able to prove his innocence. And the Russians have and will continue to provide the means for helping him try to discredit the justice system, the intelligence community, and the press.

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

End of Days: Is Western Civilization on the Brink of Collapse?

February 20, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Laura Spinney in the Features section of the 20 January 2018 issue of the New Scientist. This post will feature the role of cognitive science in answering this question. The article notes that cognitive scientists recognize two broad modes of thought— a fast, automatic, relatively inflexible mode, and a slower, more analytical, flexible one. Healthy memory blog readers should recognize Kahneman’s System 1 System 2 model of cognition. System 1 is fast. Most of our normal discourse is System 1. System 1 comes natural to us. It is also the seat of our emotions. System 2 corresponds to what we normally regard as thinking. System 2 is conscious and makes demands on our attentional resources. An important role of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors.

According to the article David Rand, a psychologist at Yale University, argues that populations might actually cycle between the two over time. HM believes, or hopes, that Dr. Rand is being misconstrued. Were either mode of processing to become exclusive, our species would quickly vanish. However, one mode of processing might dominate. A good example of this is occurring in the Trump administration. Not only is science not being used, it is being ignored, or being made difficult to access, or even destroyed. So much damage is being done to the United States that if it is not soon stopped, democracy is seriously threatened.

The problem in the United States has been the ascendancy of the dominance of System 1 processing. System 2 processors are attempting to fight this ignorance and reset System 2 processing into its appropriate role. The problem with Trump was evident before he was elected. See the healthy memory blog post, “Donald J. Trump, Alleged Incapacitated Person.” A lawyer James A. Herb, Esq. filed a lawsuit that strongly supported that Trump should not be allowed to be President. After Clinton won the popular vote, he refiled the lawsuit for the Electoral College. The justification for the Electoral College is to prevent someone who is clearly incapable for the office becoming President. Obviously, the Electoral College failed to perform its function. He filed it again after Trump became President documenting that Trump was indeed unfit. Again his lawsuit fell on deaf ears.

Jonathan Cohen, David Rand’s fellow collaborator, said that a long-standing puzzle regarding societies heading for ruin is: “why did they keep up their self-destructive behavior even though the more analytical people must have seen the danger ahead.” The answer is that the forward thinking System 2 processors were not steering the train.
Let us hope that the System 2 processors regain control of the US train.

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

Beliefs: Necessary but Dangerous

February 13, 2018

Most of our actions and behaviors are produced by habits and beliefs. Both are necessary and are what Kahneman terms System 1 processes. That is, they occur almost automatically. But we can have bad habits and erroneous beliefs.  Correcting these requires attention to correct via System 2 processes. And this can take significant time and effort.

When we are growing up the default setting for beliefs is to accept them. If we consistently questioned what we were being told, our growth would likely be retarded. Later when we see or hear something that is discordant with our beliefs, the brain notices it. We are aware that this is something new and perhaps wrong. Usually we just ignore the discordant information and go on with what we’re doing. Resolving the discrepancy can take quite a bit of effort to resolve.

The older we get, the more our actions are determined by our beliefs. And our beliefs become more hard set. The term used here is hardening of the categories. We do not question why things happen attributing them to God’s will or nature taking its course.

Beliefs can be dangerous to a democracy. Too be sure, some beliefs are necessary, such as“All men are created equal” and the beliefs as expressed in the constitution. Some people might argue that “all men are not equal,” or what about women? What the phrase means is that all men are equal with respect to rights. At the time it was written, women were not included because they could not vote and did not have rights. Matters have improved as women can vote, but there is still some distance to go. Slaves certainly were not equal. Although slavery has been abolished, civil rights issues remain. The intended meaning of the phrase is that all human beings should have equal rights.

However, with respect to lawmaking beliefs can be pernicious, as they constrain thinking. For example, consider the proposition that the government should provide health care to all residents of the country. The immediate response of some will be to shout “socialism,” cutting off further discussion. One can try to continue the discussion by asking, do you like Social Security, isn’t that socialism? Some would answer they don’t like Social Security. Others might confess to liking social security but claim that it is not truly socialism.

One could also begin a discussion by stating that the United States is the only advanced country that does not provide effectively free medical care to its citizens. This could be followed by the facts that the medical statistics in the United States are much worse than the statistics in the other advanced countries, and their medical costs are much less. All these countries have single payer systems and that payer is the government. So why should the United States not emulate these other countries? Here “exceptionalism” would likely be shouted. The notion here is that the United States is an exception to the other countries of the world. This is a tad similar to Hitler calling the Germans the master race. Exceptionalism is nothing but a belief—an incorrect belief. Stupidity can be readily substituted for exceptionalism.

Some beliefs are good, but they can be compartmentalized. The Christian teaching is to “love they neighbor as thyself.” So one might conclude from this that Christians would strongly be in favor of providing effective medical care for everyone in the country. But many do not because of another belief, that government should be as small as possible. Apparently in cases like these the less inconvenient belief is taken.

Another belief is in the universality of market forces. Now, there is no argument that free enterprise is very good. But one problem is that free markets tend not to last long. Monopolies develop and small players are pushed out. Government needs to intercede here, but bad connotations about government might preclude this. The problem with people seeing the role of market forces to all problems is analogous to the person who only has a hammer and sees all problems as nails.

The common complaint is that the United States has become polarized and that this polarization is precluding us from solving problems. Political parties exacerbate polarization and political parties are based almost solely on beliefs.

Political parties might be necessary for some functions of government, but the best way to lubricate a democracy is to preclude the expression of beliefs in political discourse. Participants would be told that before entering into the discussions they should role up all their beliefs into a ball, and insert it as far as they can up their keister. Courses of action could be argued, but the arguments would need to consist solely of data and logical arguments. When questions arose regarding the validity of the data or the soundness of the arguments, then studies could be done and experiments conducted to resolve the issues. Were we to do these, then we would indeed be worthy of the title homo sapiens. Currently titles such as homo stupididus or homo blow hardidus might be more appropriate.

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

Effortless Thinking: The Fake News That Takes us All In

January 17, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Kate Douglas in the series of articles in the 16 December 2017 Issue of the New Scientist titled “EFFORTLESS THINKING: Why some ideas come naturally to us—and why they’re usually wrong.”

Confabulation is common in dementia when people fabricate stories to fill gaps in memory. It is also possible to demonstrate confabulation in the laboratory. Researchers asked research participants to pick the favorite of two images, and then surreptitiously swapped it for the other before asking the participant why she liked it best. Researchers found that people often launched into a justification of why they chose the image they had actually spurned.

Michael Gazzaniga, who pioneered confabulation research in the 1960s dubbed the part of the brain that creates such narratives “the interpreter.” He argues that this interpreter is behind our unified sense of self. The interpreter integrates information from different parts of the brain. It rationalizes decisions we make based on subconscious processing that is not accessible to our conscious mind. Kahneman calls this processing System 1 processing. And it fills in the gaps when the information coming from the outside world doesn’t fit with our expectations. The interpreter creates narratives that help us make sense of our world.

It is clear that we have evolved a “drive for sense-making.” We derive pleasure from joining the dots between disparate information to create simple stories that explain our complex world. So we find it difficult to accept information that doesn’t fit into our world view. Ms. Douglas writes, “It can lead to fantastic confabulations too: religion, for example, may be the result of trying to make sense of a bunch of cognitive glitches. No wonder we are so susceptible to conspiracy theories and fake news.”

We should be aware of the tendency concocting stories as System 1 processes that need to be checked with Kahneman’s effortful System 2 processes. If one cannot readily reject or acknowledge the information, one should adopt an agnostic stance and make no decision unless more information becomes available.

© 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.

Effortless Thinking: Beware the Voice of Your Inner Child

January 12, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Graham Lawton in the series of articles in the 16 December 2017 Issue of the New Scientist titled “EFFORTLESS THINKING: Why some ideas come naturally to us—and why they’re usually wrong.” The article begins, “The wind is alive, heat flows and the sun moves across the sky—childish intuitions shape our world, and can skew views on things like climate change.”
By the time children enter school, they have filled their minds with utter nonsense about how the world works. The job of science education is to unlearn these “folk theories” and replace them with evidence-based ones. Lawton writes, “For most people, it doesn’t work, and even for those who go on to become scientists, it is only partially successful. No wonder the world is so full of nonsense.”

Folk theories have been documented across all domains of science. In biology, children often conflate life with movement, seeing the sun and wind as alive, but trees and mushrooms as not being alive. They also see purpose everywhere: birds are “for” flying, rocks are for animals to scratch themselves on, and rain falls so flowers can drink. In physics, children conclude that heat is a substance that flows from one place to another, that the sun moves across the sky, and so on. For most everyday purposes, these ideas are serviceable, but they aren’t true.

Children cling to these folk theories even when they grow up. And when they encounter difficult concepts, they cling even harder. Many intuitively see evolution as a purposeful force that strives to endow animals and plants with the traits they need to survive. These folk theories do get knocked back as we move through education, but they never go away. Psychologist Andrew Schulman says, “They can be suppressed by a more scientific world view, but cannot be eradicated altogether. Intuition can be overridden but not overwritten.”

Shulman’s group revealed this resilience by presenting people with a variety of statements about the natural world and asking them to say which were true and which false. Some were designed to be intuitively true but scientifically false, such as “fire is composed of matter”; others were intuitively false but scientifically true, such as “air is composed of matter”. People who got the correct answer still took significantly longer to process intuitively false but scientifically true statements. This was true even in the case of those who had been scientists for decades.

Similar results come from brain scans. When people watch videos that are consistent with the laws of physics but intuitively wrong—such as light and heavy objects falling at the same rate—the error-detecting parts of their brains light up, suggesting that they are struggling to reconcile two competing beliefs. The error-detecting parts of their brains lighting up are evidence for System 2 processes checking and correcting System 1 processes. The persistence of folk theory is revealed in people with Alzheimer’s disease too. Tests of their science knowledge show that they often revert to folk theories as their higher executive functions decline. These higher executive functions that decline are System 2 processes. Earlier healthy memory blog posts have suggested that the infrequent use of System 2 processing might have led to their cognitive decline.

The article concludes, “The upshot is that scientific thinking is hard-won and easily lost, and that persuading most people of the validity of things like evolution, climate change, and vaccination will always be an uphill struggle.”

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

Effortless thinking: Thoughtlessly thoughtless

January 10, 2018

The Cover Issue of the 16 December 2017 Issue of the New Scientist is titled “EFFORTLESS THINKING: Why some ideas come naturally to us—and why they’re usually wrong.” This issue features many articles on effortless thinking and its costs. The lead article in this issue was written by Graham Lawton and has the same title at this post. Lawton writes, “You might even argue that our predilection for fake news, conspiracy theories and common sense politics suggest we are less inclined to think than ever. Our mental lassitude is particularly shocking given that we pride ourselves on being “Homo sapiens,” the thinking ape. How did it come to this?”

Lawton continues, “The truth is, we are simply doing what people have always done. The human brain has been honed by millions of years of evolution—and it is extraordinary, However, thinking is costly in terms of time and energy, so our ancestors evolved a whole range of cognitive shortcuts. These helped them survive and thrive in a hazardous world.”

Lawton continues, but does not mention 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.

The cognitive shortcuts Lawton mentions are essentially System1 processes. They are fast, efficient, and do not make attentional demands. And they work. Consequently, humankind existed in a fairly primitive state for a very long time. System 2 processes are supposed to monitor System 1 processes for errors. Cultural advances occur when System 2 processes are invoked result in better thinking and better ideas. Unfortunately, civilizations have tended to abandon System 2 processing with resulting declines. The formulation of science provided new System 2 processes that are responsible for the advanced age we live in. Unfortunately, not all enjoy this new age, and there is a regression to System 1 processing that is causing disruptions in advanced societies. Hostility is being expressed towards knowledgeable individuals, who are regarded as elites, and uncomfortable facts are regarded as fake news.

These System 1 processes that come to us almost effortlessly can get us into a lot of trouble. Lawton writes, “The first step to avoiding these pitfalls is to identify them. To that end, we bring you the “New Scientist” guide to sloppy thinking…”

This guide is a fairly extensive sequence of articles that will be addressed in the following healthy memory blog posts.

© 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.

Effortless Thinking: Why We’re All Born to be Status Quo Fans

January 9, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Graham Lawton in the series of articles in the 16 December 2017 Issue of the New Scientist titled “EFFORTLESS THINKING: Why some ideas come naturally to us—and why they’re usually wrong.”

The article begins, “There are no right answers in the world of politics—but whether we’re drunk or just pressed for time, the less we think, the further to the right our answers are.”

When researchers in the US loitered outside a bar in New England about their political views, they found that the drunker the customer, the more right wing their leanings. This wasn’t because right-wing people drink more, or get pissed more easily. Wherever people stood on the political spectrum when sober, alcohol shifted their views to the right.

The researchers, led by Scott Eidelman at the University of Arkansas, point out that alcohol strips away reasoning to reveal the default state of the mind. This is why they chatted with drunks: they were using drunkenness to test the hypothesis that low-effort, automatic thought promotes political conservatism.

The researchers also found that they could push people to the right by distracting them, putting them under time pressure, or simply telling them not to think too hard. However, participants who were asked to deliberate more deeply shifted their political thinking to the left. Similar effects have been seen with the three core components of conservative ideology: preference for the status quo, acceptance of hierarchy, and belief in personal responsibility. The researchers say that all three come naturally to the human mind. We think that way without trying, without even noticing. In contrast, more liberal views require effortful deliberation.

Our political views are shaped by many factors, including personality, upbringing, and education. As early as the 1950s, however, psychologists probing the appeal of fascism found that right-wing ideology was associated with dislike of ambiguity and cognitive complexity. The relationship between IQ and political leanings is complex. Broadly speaking, people with lower-than-average IQs tend to be lefties. This is likely due to economic self-interest. People of moderately above-average intelligence lean right for the same reason. But the top 20% swing left again, although highly intelligent people are also over-represented in the libertarian camp.

Nevertheless, dislike of—or lack of training in—analytical thinking is strongly associated with preference for the status quo. Conversely, people who are politically liberal tend to think more analytically than their conservative peers, and having studied science is strongly associated with progressive views.

The author concludes, “Whether you think our intuitive conservatism is good or bad probably depends on your personal politics, With around 85% of the world population’s largely untrained uncritical thinking, preference for the status quo is the clear winner. Nevertheless, progressive change does usually happen eventually.”

HM reminds readers of Kahneman’s System 1 System 2 distinction. System 1 is intuitive and occurs easily without cognitive effort. System 2, which involves reasoning and thinking requires cognitive resources and is effortful. Since System 2 involves cognitive effort, people who do not use System 2 can be called cognitive misers.

The problem of getting people to think critically has become much larger given the rapid changes in society and technology. Many are overwhelmed and take comfort in the old ways of thinking and doing things. Unfortunately, both society and technology are rapidly changing, and these changes need to be adapted with critical thinking.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this problem was the election of Donald Trump. Here is an individual who sees no need to think or to consult with experts because he already “knows” everything. But it is clear that he does not know how government is supposed to work and finds the Constitution to be an annoyance. It appears that his supporters are gradually recognizing his failures. But they have been obvious from the start for people using their System 2 processes. The many lies and contradictions make it obvious that he cannot be believed or trusted. So the problem is an overwhelming number of cognitive misers and a shortfall in System 2 processors.

At least one earlier healthymemory blog post predicted that people who voted for Trump will have a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s, than people who engaged in System 2
processing.

© 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.

Who is the Greatest Liar?

December 20, 2017

Psychologist Bella DePaulo has spent the first two decades of her career studying liars and their lies. She thought she had developed a sense of what to expect from them. Then along came President Trump, She says “His lies are both more frequent and more malicious than ordinary people’s.

At the University of Virginia she asked 77 college students and 70 people from the nearby community to keep diaries of all the lies they told every day for a week. They handed them in with no names attached. The researchers categorized each lie as either self-serving (told to advantage the liar or protect the liar from embarrassment, blame or other undesired outcomes), kind (told to advantage, flatter or protect someone else), or cruel (told to hurt or embarrass someone).

The Fact Check at the Washington Post has been tracking every false and misleading claim and flip-flop made by Trump during his first year as president. The inclusion of misleading statements and flip-flops is consistent with the definition of lying the researchers gave to their participants: “A lie occurs any time you intentionally try to mislead someone.” She notes that in the case of Trump’s claims, though, it is possible to ascertain only whether they were false or misleading and not what Trump’s intentions were. And while the subjects of her research self-reported how often they lied, Trump’s falsehoods were tallied by The Post.

Dr. DePaulo categorized the most recent 400 lies that The Post had documented through Mid-November in the same way the researcher had categorized the lies of the participants in their study.

The college students in the previous research told an average of two lies a day, and the community participants told one. A more recent study of the lies 1,000 U.S. adults told in the previous 24 hours found hat people told an average of 1.65 lies per day; the authors noted that 60% of the participants said they told no lies at all., while the top 5% of liars told nearly half of all the falsehoods in the study.

In Trump’s first 298 days in office he made 1,628 false or misleading claims or flip-flops by The Post’s tally. That’s about six per day, far higher than the average rate in the previous studies. Of course, reporters have access to only a subset of Trump’s false statements—the ones he makes publicly. That rate has been accelerating starting in early October. The Post’s tracking showed that Trump told a remarkable nine lies a day, outpacing even the biggest liars in previous research.

Dr. DePaulo notes that the flood of deceit is not the most surprising finding about Trump. Usually people lie to make themselves appear better. These lies are self-serving. Sometimes people lie to be kind. That is they do not want to hurt or offend the recipient of the lie. And sometimes people lie to be cruel and hurt people.

Here is how these different types of lies break down for Trump, Community Members, and College Students.

Self-serving Trump (64.8%) Community Members (56.7%) College Students (45.5%)
Kind Trump (9.8%) Community Members (24.4%) College Students (25.7%)                    Cruel Trump (50.2%) Community Members (2.4%) College Students (0.8%)

More than half of Trump’s lies are to hurt people or to get back at them for some perceived wrong. More than 90% of this lies are self-serving or vindictive.
Some of Trump’s lies are both self-serving and vindictive. For example, “Senator Bob Corker ‘begged me’ to endorse him for reelection in Tennessee. I said ‘NO’ and he dropped out.

Polls have reveal that fewer than 40% of Americans see Trump as honest. This roughly corresponds to what is regarded as Trump’s base. Remember that the default we humans have is to believe. This is a reasonable default to believe unless there is reason to not believe.

How can Trump’s base still believe in him? As has been mentioned in previous healthy memory blog posts these people are System 1 processors virtually exclusively. System 1 processing is fast, can be regarded as intuitive, and is highly emotional. System 2 processing is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes. One of the roles of System 2 processing is to detect errors in System 1 processing, which is something that does not happen in Trump’s base.

Less than 40% should not be something to worry about, Unfortunately due to gerrymandering and the electoral college, the will of the majority of Americans is ignored. Remember that Trump lost the general election. Trump is not a true Republican; still too many Republicans support him because they like to have power. Were these Republicans to value Country first rather than Party first, the country would not be in its present danger.

Dr. DePaulo’s research was taken from her article titled “I study liars. I’ve never seen one like President Trump.” in the Outlook section of the 10 December 2017 issue of the Washington Post.

What makes Trump especially dangerous as President is that he has been diagnosed as having a delusional disorder. The delusional disorder is a “stealth” disorder because such individuals can seem perfectly normal, logical, high functioning and even charming as long as the delusion itself is not challenged. Having the delusional disorder Trump is not aware that he is lying. He exists in an alternative reality wherein he is infallible and what he says is true. If he was hooked up to a lie detector, his lies would not be detected, because he does not believe he is lying. Someone with such a disorder should not be the president. The quickest way this could be done is with the Twenty-fifth Amendment. The Republicans would have to do this, but if they recognized that he is not a true Republican and that they need to be country rather than party first, this hazard could be quickly removed.

© 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.

 

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.

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: 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.

Reading a Novel Affects the Connectivity in the Brain

December 11, 2016

This post is based on an article in BRAIN CONNECTIVITY, Volume 3, Number 6,
DOI:  10.1089/brain.2013.0166 titled “Short and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain.”

This study used fMRI recording resting states both before and after reading a novel.   The novel was “Pompeii: A Novel” by Robert Fawcett.  Nineteen participants read this novel over a nine day period.  Resting-state  networks (RSNs) were assessed before and after reading on each of the nine days.  Baseline RSNs were taken five days before the experiment proper and for 5 days after the conclusion of the novel.

On the days after the reading, significant increases in connectivity  were centered on hubs in the left angular/supramarginal gyri and right posterior temporal gyri.  These hubs correspond to regions previously associated with perspective taking and story comprehension, and the changes exhibited a time course that decayed rapidly after the completion of the novel.  Long-term changes in connectivity, which persisted for several days after the reading, were observed in the bilateral somatosensory cortex, suggesting a potential mechanism for “embodied semantics.”  What the authors are referring to in embodied semantics is that the body is responding emotionally to the reading.

What HM finds most interesting about this study is that it provides data showing the
changes that take place in the brain as the result of reading.  This can be regarded as “cognitive exercise” that activates brain circuits and System 2 processing building a cognitive reserve decreasing the likelihood of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

© 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.

Donald Trump and Daniel Kahneman

October 4, 2016

What a strange title.  The Republican presidential candidate and one of the leading, if not the leading, cognitive psychologists who also is a Nobel Prize Winner.  What could they possibly have to do with each other?  The answer is that Daniel Kahneman’s Two Process Theory can explain Donald Trump’s appeal.  Kahneman’s Two Process Theory was summarized in his best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.”  Kahneman posits that we have two basic processing systems.  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.

As for Donald Trump’s appeal to bigots it is natural and resounds soundly to their beliefs.  But what about his appeal to people who are not bigots, but are dissatisfied with the ways things are and want change?  He promises change, and they respond.  The problem is that they respond by not invoking System 2 processes.  System 2 is supposed to monitor System 1 for processing errors.  Basically System 2 is supposed to respond to erroneous System 1 Processes and start thinking.

Clinton supporters have difficulty understanding how apparently intelligent people can support Trump.  He says that he will solve their problems.  But if System 2 processes are invoked they should realize that his proposals will not benefit them.  For example, his tax proposals benefit primary people like himself, not the middle or lower classes.  Most economists say that his proposals are unrealistic and would greatly increase the debt.  There should be no fear of bankruptcy, however, as Trump claims to be an expert on bankruptcy, and here is where his true genius lies.  Of course, his genius for exploiting the prejudices and biases of the general population should not be underestimated.

The problems with building walls and mass deportations have been raised as being unfeasible.  Similarly experts argue that his trade policies would hurt the economy.  Of course, Trump supporters dislike the “elite” and “experts”  so they do not listen to them.  That is understandable as these “experts” along with the “elite” think, something that Trump supporters are not wont to do.

However, there is a dangerous Trump characteristic that should be detectable by even System 1 processes.  That is his emotional instability.  He seems to be unable to control his emotions and strikes out very quickly at anyone who offends him.

Unfortunately, the most important characteristic for a President is emotional stability followed by an understanding of international affairs and the military.

HM has previously stated that Trump is an existential risk to the United States.  This is based on both his ignorance and contempt of the Constitution of the United States and government.  HM thinks that his election would place democracy at risk.  HM urges readers to read “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis.  It is about a legitimately elected presidential candidate who changes the United States into a fascist dictatorship.   The president did not campaign on a platform of changing the country to a fascist dictatorship.  However, people who exercised their System 2 processing could realize that this was a genuine risk.

HM thinks that Trump is an existential risk to the world, because giving him control of nuclear weapons risks a worldwide nuclear holocaust.

© 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.

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.